Exploring Mythcist Thinking

McGrath's Blog on the second article linked by J.D. "Microexistence vs. Macroexistence." I am just selecting a few comments that I think are interesting. I urge the reader to read the original because are many interesting comments I'm not reflecting here. There's an intereseting discussion between McGrath, Vinny, and several others on criteria and the limits of criteria for establishing valid evidence of historical existence (or the even the desirability thereof).

This first one is from Vinny, a former member of the CADRE.

Dr. McGrath, Suppose that Paul’s Jesus was mythological or suppose that Paul’s understanding and preaching of Jesus was based entirely on the visionary experience he had of the risen Christ and had nothing to do with anything that an actual person said or did. Further suppose that some of the things described in Mark’s gospel happened to actual people or were said by actual people, and that Mark attributed these sayings and events to Paul’s Jesus. Would that make the Jesus of the gospels historical or mythological? I am troubled by the argument that the mythicist position fails “[i]f even one saying of Jesus, or action by him, or something done to him such as the crucifixion, is clearly more likely to represent authentic historical information rather than something invented.” As a matter of probability, it seems likely to me that something described somewhere in the gospels happened to an actual historical human being who may even have been named “Jesus.” On the other hand, it also seems possible to me that the Christian movement sprang from the ecstatic visions experienced by the members of a cult in first century Jerusalem and that it was only coincidentally related to any actual historical person. If it could be shown that there was an actual historical person named Arthur Pendragon, wouldn’t we still think of King Arthur of Camelot as a myth?

Those are interesting possibilities but it doesn't seem likely that Paul's view has nothing to do with what he heard from the Church in Damascus and Jerusalem, not to mention Peter. But it's obvious that his own experiences were the primary guide. He adapts credial statements and recites slogans and sayings and make reference to others so was aware of them. Helmutt Koester, in Ancient Christian Gospels theorizes that Paul had a saying source of Jesus' from which he took the teachings of Jesus to which he alludes, he may also have had a narrative Gospel. If not he clearly learned man of the stories because he alludes to synoptic and other stories from the canonical Gospels. I have made a chart of the passage to which Koester refers.

It seems to me that the mythicitist position is one of a series of bait and switches. First they start with the premise that Jesus is a big copy cat, we disprove the copy cat approach so they reboot and do another approach, the mystery cult approach. We beat up on that one so they retrench into the "reasonable historian" approach and just rely upon the idea that some aspects are mythical some may not be but we have much information and we don't know. We accept that position becuase its reasonable then they snap back to the original position, we don't have much info so therefore he didn't exist.

Anthony Flew (when he was an atheist) once observed that "the death of a fine brash hypothesis comes by a thousand qualifications." That's true and with that he pretended to kill the gardener parable. But the problem is the myther view should be dying that death of a thousand qualifications but they cheat. When they make their thousand qualifications they then act like that dismisses the cirticisms that caused them to qualify it and they are back in business with the original premise. It seems the myther position is a will-of-the-wisp. it's here, it's there, it means now one thing now another, you can't pin it down to a true meaning.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Another fine post. I suppose an important is being satisfied that the usual criteria for assessing the authenticity of Jesus's sayings do not themselves beg the question of Jesus's existence. Can we be satisfied that they do not?

I think he's blurring the distinction between the presumption of historical "fact" and criteria for determining truth. There are no historical criteria for deciding if people existed. In graduate school in history programs they don't have any course with title's like "detecting existing people 101." The historians I worked for as a TA were not Christians. The older one who had the big name in Persian studies was a nominal Christian but not real concerned about it's truth content. He was a Brit from Cambridge and he wasn't real concerned with what one might call Spiritual truth but was content to accept religious affiliation as a means of social stability. He argued that the reasons Jesus myth people give for rejecting Jesus existence could be extended to any figure in history. There is no way really to guarantee that we know any particular person existed. We know because people wrote things or because other attest to their existence. But Homer was thought to have exist and have written something and there have been crtitics of Homer's existence for the last couple of centuries. Shakespeare wrote some very important works he's at the center of English literature and there's better than average evidence that he didn't exist, or that if he did he didn't write much of what we take to be his works. We have questioned the existence of Robin Hood and King Arther for centuries, now it looks like it really a case for those two of both "yes,they did actually exist, but no not really." How can you exist and not exist at the same time. There is  a way, we like Robin Hood or King Arther who may have existed in some form but not the form that their stories claim for them.

That puts us back with Jesus, becasue the Jesus myth position winds up being a bait a switch when it comes on as a confident and cocky assertion that Jesus did not exist and winds up being an admission that maybe he did but not as literally or clearly as the Evangelicals would have us believe. The evidence that Jesus existed as a Jewish Rabbi or teacher, prophet of the first century who may have made claims or was taken by his people to have made claims of being Messiah, was existed by the Romans and claimed to have risen by his followers, that evidence is much stronger an the evidence for Arther or Robin.

The thing is criteria doesn't always help. When there's not enough information it doesn't matter how strong your criteria. The problem in this issue of Jesus of Nazareth and his historicity is not that the criteria beg the question, or that they aren't strong enough, there's no problem with criteria at all, the problem is we don't have enough information. What we do have is much stronger for most historical figures of the era. But it's not as strong as that for George Washington or Marie Antoinette, obviously. Pontias Pilate was doubted to exist at tone time by most historians. We found two extra biblical references to him and zap, like magic now he exists. Jesus has a lot more going for his existence than just two extra Biblical mentions. Those two references can be gotten through Josephus ( who can be deafened well) and the Celsus/the Talmud, which count as one source because they are linked. You have to scoll to Celsus on both pages. Then there are other arguments that can be made for extra Biblical back up on Jesus' existence. The strength of it far outweighs that of Pilate but it doesn't equal the strength of George Washington. We need more information and we always will, but we do have enough to rule out the kind of claims made by the mythers. We can't make the kind of case we could for a figure like Washington but we can make a better case than the mythers are willing to accept.


I must admit that I had not considered the significance of the phrase “as to one abnormally born.” I agree that Paul seems to be highlighting some difference between himself and the others who encountered the risen Christ, but is that difference that the others had known Jesus during his earthly ministry? Isn’t the difference that Paul had been a persecutor of the church when Jesus appeared to him as Paul points out in the next verse?

I take that phrase to be a mark of humility. He's saying "I am not as worthy as Peter or John because I wasn't there at the right time, but I still make it in because of the grace of God."

Anonymous Vincent said...
(I'm not really sure who said this)

Let's bring out into the open the fact that it is not a requirement for NT PhD candidates to investigate the mythicist case. It is universally accepted that other religions deities such as the Egyptian, Indian, Greek, Roman and more are mythical, and there are scholars who specialize in them. Only when it comes to Jesus do scholars fall over themselves to claim he must have existed, all the while even Christian NT scholars can't agree on what credible evidence to base their beliefs on. The whole thing smells of an absurd double-standard rooted in cultural biases and prejudice.
This approach is just confussing several different aspects at once.

(1) He's to turn the fact that Jesus is taken as a true figure in history (a "historical fact" in other words) into a liability and he's trying to say that the assumption of facticity is a prpori a falsehood, when he still has nothing more to base that upon except the usual lack of total absolute evidence. So they are unwillling to accept the verdict of the academy or the verdict that all histoirans have accepted for 2000 years and they try to turn into a libabilty for the histoiran.

(2) The pretense that there is some kind of criteria that's going to prove it (of course guess which side has that criteria?).

(3) Historians just aren't trained right because they being taught that Jesus didn't exist, that would be one proper criterion.

(4) In not accepting a prori that any notion of a divine human be a mythological figure, not automatically making the assertion that Jesus is a myth the historians are being inadequately trained. that's why they need amateurs to show them how to think.

The argument is often made that "no NT scholar with a PhD says that Jesus is a myth." In the first place, that generalization is false, as there certainly have been biblical scholars who have had the honesty to question whether or not Christ is myth. Secondly, it seems you cannot be a respected NT scholar unless you tow the Christian party line by at least accepting a historical Jesus a priori.
look he speaks of those who say "Jesus is a myth" then says no one says this because they aren't honest enough to ask, as though to ask the question is to automatically conclude that he is. Of course if you think about it and don't come to that conclusion then you are not being honest! As to his last comment, what sort of Christian would believe that Jesus didn't exist? One can work in a seminary and believe Jesus  didn't exist, these guy are just ignorant of seminaries if they think otherwise. But I assume there's a difference in being Christian who is a historian and being  "a historian of Christianity." This guy is carping because the professionals wont let the armatures lead them and because people insist upon taking their beliefs seriously. Everyone knows we should take our beliefs likely and take that guy's beliefs seriously!

Attempting to compare mythicists with creationists only demonstrates that point. Academia should be thoroughly embarrassed by its utter ignorance of the profound arguments on the side of mythicism. But a serious inquiry into the case for mythicism is obviously against their own interests - as it has been for centuries.

That's just special pleading. You are just saying you should allow us to commit fallacies you don't allow others to commit becasue we are spherical, we have good arrangements, To me the mysticists position is no stronger than creationism is. In fact that's once you can figure out what exactly the position is, if it ever stops  vacillating between just saying we don't know much so the Christian view of Jesus is mythical and saying Jesus himself didn't exist. All these guys are rebelling against being compared to creationists but their abhorrence is not based upon the logic of the comparison but the ideology of not liking the creationists.

Even though few scholars therefore know much about the mythicist position - and there is a HUGE body of literature on this subject - mythicism is heckled, ridiculed, smeared and distorted right out of the gate - and this is just by the NT scholars. From their writings, it is obvious that the bulk of NT scholars know next to nothing about this subject - this serious FIELD OF STUDY - and are thus not experts on it to be making any claims. HJers are apparently very afraid of the mythicist position, evidently because it so clearly reveals that their "historical Jesus" is made of straw.

My profs were not Christians, the once who said "why are you wasting your time arguing with idiots?" the one who actually said that was an atheist! The other one wished he had said but his attitude toward them was the same. This kind bravado is what is so annoying. He wants to pretend that his position is stronger becuase real historians make fund of it. So he turns historical abhorrence into a liability for historians rather than for his position. He also pretends that it's only Christian historians who act that way when in reality that's not the case. Carrier, who needs to build a career, may well be the Jeff Maldrum of Jesus mythers, (Of Jeff Maldrum is the Richard Carrier of Saskquchery). But this guy has to assume that to make fun of his positoin only proves it's true. The fact that historians ignore it is only proof that Historians have something to hide. It often proves to be the case with such fringe hobby horse rangers that the best evidence for their position is the lack of evidence of agaisnt it. This spawns my old dictum, the best evidence is none at all.

The Mythicist Position

Evemerist vs. Mythicist Position

"There are two simple principles to keep in mind when it comes to the mythicist position:

"1. When the mythological layers of the story are removed, there is no core to the onion.

"2. A composite of 20 people is no one.

"Mythicism represents the perspective that many gods, goddesses and other heroes and legendary figures said to possess extraordinary and/or supernatural attributes are not “real people” but are in fact mythological characters. Along with this view comes the recognition that many of these figures personify or symbolize natural phenomena, such as the sun, moon, stars, planets, constellations, etc., constituting what is called “astromythology” or “astrotheology.” As a major example of the mythicist position, it is determined that various biblical characters such as Adam and Eve, Satan, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, King David, Solomon and Jesus Christ, among other entities, in reality represent mythological figures along the same lines as the Egyptian, Sumerian, Phoenician, Indian, Greek, Roman and other godmen, who are all presently accepted as myths, rather than historical figures."

- Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection by D.M. Murdock page 12

* Christ in Egypt: Reviewed by Dr. Robert M. Price
An exercise in begging the question. This guy has bought into what the mythers want to sell, that the frenge elements who were considered crack pots in their day ware not sold as major academics of the past when in reality they were never accepted or admired, but thier crack pot hallucinations are just accepted as fact becuase those touting them assert it and those buying it wish it were so. Jesus is not put in that class any real historian. But these guys know better than all those uninitiated historians who aren't in the know as they are.

Vincent, (responding to the guy above)

“A composite of 20 people is no one” might reasonably be called a principle. “When the mythological layers of the story are removed, there is no core to the onion” isn’t a principle; it’s a conclusion. Moreover, it is a conclusion upon which reasonable minds might differ.

Rich Griese said...

I've been asking people for any scholars that have rebutted the Doherty argument, as outlined in his book, or here, and so far I have not found a single person who has been able to give even one scholar who has.


First. let me tell you why that is. Then I will contradict your claim.

That is not becuase he's so right and so great and so well argued that even professional academics can't refute him. the follow anecdote explains the reason. When I was a TA (UT Dallas history of ideas, Ph.D. Candidate) I ask the guy I worked for (who was a big name in the study of Persian history) what he thought of Doherty. He said "why are you wasting your time on idiots?" that's just what he said I promise you he did. He is not a Christian.

I asked my dissertation Chairman what he thought of Doherty. I had to explain who he was and what he said. My Charmian said "why are wasting your time arguing with idiots?" He was an atheist.

Of course I know you will write that off as bias, professional arrogance, Well that may be. But it does explain, it's not because Doherty is irrefutable, but because arguing with him is deemed beneath the expertise of the academic historian. I am not trying to call Doherty names. I debated Doherty on an old email list that's gone now, but that was disrupted and we didn't Finish. But I would not call him an idiot, he's very bright. I would call him arrogant and well sold on his own knowledge (that is certainly not a flaw unknown in the halls of the academy). He is not an idiot. But I tell you this to demonstrate why academic historians do not refuted him.

Secondly, this is not my field. I was trained as a historian, but in history of ideas. So that means I did modern and early modern thought not ancinet world. I was a scholar,I published a scholarly journal and presented articles at professional conferences, and taught university classes, I was unable to finish my Ph.D. (family tragedies not bad grades) and am not working as a scholar making a living in academia. So I wont feel badly if you say I don't count. But I do have a Maters degree in theological studies (history of doctrine) and am ABD on Ph.D. in history of ideas.

I have refuted Dohterty, for what it's worth.

I did a short thing on his little 12 part summary of the Jesus Puzzle website.

Jesus Puzzle

I have several part response to his evolution of Jesus thing:

Evolution of Jesus (7 parts)

all of my mythological Jesus pages


Anonymous said…
I thought Vinny had been an agnostic for a really long time (20 or so years)...if so, that's interesting that he used to be a member of CADRE.
Anonymous said…
Cool story you got here. I'd like to read something more about this theme. The only thing it would also be great to see here is some pictures of some gizmos.
John Watcerson
Phone Blocker
He's been a Christian on again off again. He was one a couple of years ago I believe, but I may be confusing him with Peter Kirby. He was in the CADRE around 2001-4 something like that, he was in the liberal vein.
"Cool story you got here. I'd like to read something more about this theme. The only thing it would also be great to see here is some pictures of some gizmos."
John Watcerson

HU? sorry, story? gizmos? You mean the profs saying "don't argue with idiots?" what gizmos?

The Persian historian said that there two basic reasons that mythers reject the NT, on grounds of "It's religious" and "It's political." By that he meant its a polemic of one faction against another. Then he added "there is not a source of information in the first century that can't be said to have those two qualities. If we went with the Myther's way of doing history we would have no knowledge of the first century at all.
Anonymous said…

That anonymous commentator is a spammer. You can always tell by the vagueness of the response ("I really like what I read here") and the completely irrelevant link at the end of the message. I wish they'd drop off the face of the Earth.
yea I had a spammer on my boards that said "I have come here because I heard I could get good information." We have had about a million jokes about getting good info now.
Vinny said…
I have not been an evangelical Christian since the mid-1970's. I have been an agnostic for as long as I have been roaming the blogosphere.

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