Nothing New Under the Sun

The old adage that there is nothing new under the sun applies even to the Jesus Myth. Though popularized on the internet, the notion has been around for a long time.

The origins of the modern Jesus Myth may be traced back to 19th century historian Bruno Bauer. As he became more and more sceptical of the historical worth of the New Testament, he finally reached the point of denying the historicity of Jesus himself. Few scholars paid him much heed at the time. Eventually the scholarly community responded with various tracts and articles and speeches (many of which were put forth in German). This opposition was diverse including Jewish, liberal, conservative, Catholic, and Protestant scholars. Eventually, in the early 20th century, some leading scholars published book-length treatments of the Jesus Myth. These scholarly responses seem to have resolved the question as far as historians and New Testament scholars were concerned. I have discussed their treatements of the Jesus Myth here:

bullet Shirley J. Case The Historicity of Jesus
bullet Fred C. Conybeare The Historical Christ
bullet Maurice Goguel Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History
bullet Herbert Wood Did Christ Really Live?

Since then, most Mythologists -- like mathematician William B. Smith and professor of German George A. Wells -- were learned in their respective field but untrained in historical studies. They have solicited few scholarly responses, some of which I mentioned below. Today, the question of Jesus' historicity is effectively dead in the scholarly community.

In his book Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, classical historian Michael Grant accurately describes the state of the question.

This sceptical way of thinking reached its culmination in the argument that Jesus as a human being never existed at all and is a myth.... But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. Certainly, there are all those discrepancies between one Gospel and another. But we do not deny that an event ever took place just because some pagan historians such as, for example, Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms.... To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ myth theory. It has 'again and again been answered and annihilated by first rank scholars.' In recent years, 'no serous scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus' or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.
I have discussed some of the few responses to the Jesus Myth by more contemporary scholars here:

bullet I. Howard Marshall I Believe in the Historical Jesus
bullet R.T. France The Evidence for Jesus
bullet Morton Smith "The Historical Jesus," in Jesus in Myth and History
bullet Robert Van Voorst Jesus Outside the New Testament (Chapter 1)

The most recent development in this arena of fringe theories is the popularity of Early Doherty and his minions of intenet disciples. Earl Doherty has been unable to get any traction in the scholarly community, so he and his apostles have been making good use of the internet to evangalize their mythicism. Because historians and New Testament scholars generally cannot be bothered to respond to internet popularizers, it has fallen largely to internet-based laypeople to respond to them. For the convenience of the reader, I include a few links to these responses:

-Bede's Library devotes a section to the question of whether Jesus existed or not. In the interest of full disclosure, I am the principal contributor to it. (Also see my discussion of Josephus' references to Jesus, which respond to Doherty's arguments on the subject). also devotes a full section to responding directly to Earl Doherty. Elsewhere on J.P. Holding's site you can find articles relevant to the Jesus Myth. You can start here.

-A newcomer to the field, Liberal Christian Research, has several articles relating to the historicity of Jesus.

-There is another promsing website, The Jesus Jigsaw, here.

-Seasoned internet veteran Metacrock has a series of articles on the historical Jesus and a series of articles evaluating the Jesus Myth.

For those interested in pursuing this subject, I recommend that you not neglect the earlier resources discussed above. You'll be surprised to learn that many of the arguments have not changed much over the decades. The scant contemporary scholarly comments are also very helpful, as is the lay responses provided on the internet.

But perhaps the best advice is that you not neglect the bigger picture. Though not directly responding to the Jesus Myth, modern scholarship has a lot of resources to offer in refuting it. Since the Jesus Myth' defeat in the early 20th century, modern scholarship has provided even more reasons for rejecting it. For a list of scholarly resources useful in refuting the Jesus Myth, check out my Listmania List on that subject.


BK said…
A good list of resources. Don't forget that CADRE member Mark McFall has a number of excellent articles on the topic of the historical Jesus on his fine website Frontline Apologetics. Also, anyone interested in reading a wide range of articles on this topic may want to check out the CADRE Historical Jesus page.
Layman said…
Please, anyone who can think of additional resources add them here. I hope to put together a master list for permanent posting at the Cadre or Bede's Library.

And please note that I've recently updated my Listmania List on to include explanations as to how each resource fits into the picture.

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