I quite often get asked what my views on mythicism are with regard to Jesus. Do I believe that Jesus was a real and existent figure or was he created by third parties such that he is entirely mythological?
Mythicism has gained a lot of traction again over the last few years, largely due to Richard Carrier becoming an outspoken advocate and writing books arguing in a detailed manner for its higher probability over a more historical reality of his existence.
For some reason, people often think I would or should be a mythicist. I am not. However, my position is pretty much synonymous, and here’s why.
To give a massive subject a very short and simplistic summary, I think Jesus existed because there is more probability, given all of the evidence, that a real Jesus figure existed than didn’t. I think to create someone entirely out of thin air is fairly uncommon in history (as opposed to myth). Yes, this is where it gets a bit tricky. Why can Jesus not be seen as myth, as a genre almost, like so many other deities? Am I assuming a historical reality merely on account of the cultural milieu in which I find myself.
But I think that, with reference from contemporaneous sources, and given the rise of the Christian cult, and given the pushback from Jews and Jewish thinkers, Jesus existed. It’s rather like David Koresh; he existed, but I wouldn’t exclusively go to his remaining followers for good historical accounting of who he was and what he did.
What differentiates me from the Christian is the notion that Jesus was God and the things claimed of him in the Gospels were in any way true. I don’t think the Gospels contain any significant truths and he was not divine, more likely an itinerant and charismatic preacher who garnered a good following who themselves believed him to be the Messiah. Upon his unforeseen and unexpected death, his followers underwent some serious cognitive dissonance (and his present followers seem to have followed in this predilection) and overlayed his real historical existence with myth, hearsay and agenda (whether purposefully or not). We can see similar such activity concerning Sabbatai Zevi. On converting to Islam, this famous supposed Jewish Messiah figure still had many followers who underwent cognitive dissonance at his conversion, and there were many miracle stories that came out from them subsequent to this. He, too, became overlaid with a mythological veneer.
What the Gospels have done is effectively create a mythical character from reality, overlaying the real Jesus (a human) with so much myth that the end result (the Gospels) are so far removed from the truth that you might as well call them myth. Jesus existed alright (I believe), but he was nothing like what you read in the Gospels. A human mythologised.