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Defending Mythicism: A New Approach to Christian Origins

Jesus a Myth

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today continues our four-part series on the historical evidence for Jesus. Popular atheist writer Richard Carrier began Monday with an article titled "Questioning the Historicity of Jesus". Yesterday, Catholic writer Jimmy Akin responded with his piece, "Jesus Did Exist". Today, Richard offers his take on “Four Reasons I Think Jesus Really Existed" by Trent Horn. Finally tomorrow, Trent will provide a rejoinder.


 
Strange Notions has featured two articles defending the historicity of Jesus, and I was asked to write a short piece on how we advocates of the alternative view respond to the kind of arguments in them. I addressed one of them in a previous installment. Here I’ll address the other.

In “Four Reasons I Think Jesus Really Existed”, Trent Horn offers four reasons to conclude Jesus existed. The fourth is that this is currently the mainstream position. But so once was the view that Moses was historical, as I explained in my previous article. The mainstream position now is that he was not. And that change began with a small number of scholars challenging the mainstream position of the time. So we must be wary of arguments from authority. Particularly when the authorities in question have no working methodology and can reach no consensus on which historical Jesus the evidence supports (as I’ve shown in chapters 1 and 5 of Proving History). As I noted in my previous article, even some of those authorities affirming historicity (like professor Philip Davies) agree mythicism is at least worth examining.

Horn’s remaining reasons are the same ones mythicists have long found suspect, for reasons even Jimmy Akin was aware, as I noted in my article (see Akin’s “Did Jesus Exist? An Alternate Approach”.)

Horn’s third reason is that there is evidence corroborating the Gospels. But there actually isn’t. He relies on the references in Josephus—which I explained in Part I are both too suspect to count as evidence. But even if they were counted, they cannot be shown to be independent of the Gospels, and thus are not known to independently corroborate them. Likewise the passage in Tacitus, which comes twenty years later (nearly a hundred years after the movement began).

Horn’s second reason is that “the early church fathers don’t describe the mythicist heresy,” but we have no writings from “church fathers” until the late second century, a century and a half after the movement began and almost a century after the Gospels were even written. What was being said in those missing 50-100 years? We pretty much don’t know. We don’t know what heresies, for example, Papias mentioned—because only a few scattered quotations of him were preserved. The church threw his books away so we don’t get to read them. And yet even he wrote most likely near the mid-second century, so even if we had his works it might not be much help. Who was writing in the late first century about the various “alternative sects” of Christianity then, when the Gospels were first spreading a historical version of Jesus? We don’t even have a single name. Much less any book on the subject. Not even a quotation. We simply don’t know what was being said then. And we can’t argue from the silence of authors and documents we don’t have.

There is some evidence of mythicist sects that slipped through medieval church censors and selectors. The New Testament itself mentions a rival sect teaching that the Gospels were fabricated myths (2 Peter 1:16-2:2, commonly agreed to be a forged letter most likely originating in the second century). And manuscript evidence suggests that the second century apocryphal text The Ascension of Isaiah originally depicted Jesus being killed by Satan and his demons in the lower heavens (and not on earth), exactly as the mythicist thesis proposes. Even some of the “other sects” discussed by later authors like Irenaeus appear to have imagined Jesus was born in the heavens, not on earth, and regarded stories about him to be allegories, not biographies.

But we don’t expect more than hints to survive. Because the sect that gained power in the fourth century and decided what documents to preserve or quote and which to discard or leave in silence had no reason to preserve anything that challenged their version of Christian origins. We thus see that east of the Roman Empire, a sect of Christians beyond their reach still believed Jesus was killed around 80-70 B.C. (under the reign of king Jannaeus) and not under Roman rule a century later. This sect was in fact the original Torah observant sect, still called the Nazorians (as I explained in Part I, one of the original names for the Christian movement). But we only know about this because Epiphanius chanced once to mention it, and this was the only sect the authors of the Babylonian Talmud knew. We otherwise have not a single surviving document from or about them.

So arguments from silence cannot prevail against mythicism. We have no reason to expect any such evidence to survive, and yet still even have some hints in the evidence that did survive.

Finally, Horn's first reason is that “St. Paul knew the disciples of Jesus.” This is a common myth of modern times. It is a myth because Paul never once calls anyone a disciple. The word is nowhere to be found in his writings. Paul only knows of apostles like himself, and so far as he ever mentions, apostles became apostles by receiving visions of Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:5-8; Galatians 1), not by having met him in person. Paul never once mentions anyone having done so. Which is actually strange. It’s one of the strangest things there is about the epistles of Paul, and one of the main reasons serious scholars are considering mythicism as a viable alternative of Christian origins.

Horn concludes with what mythicists do generally concede is “the most powerful argument against the Christ-Myth theory,” that Paul mentions having met “brothers of the Lord” (although not “brothers of Jesus” or “brothers of Jesus in the flesh”). But all Christians were “brothers of the Lord.” Jesus was “the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). All baptized Christians were the adopted “sons of God” (Romans 6:3-10) and thus were only “brothers” because they were brothers of their common Lord (Romans 8.15-29, 9.26; Galatians 3.26-29, 4.4-7). We cannot tell from his letters themselves whether Paul means brother of the Lord by adoption, or brother of the Lord biologically. So we cannot conclusively prove that he is referring to actual brothers of a historical Jesus, rather than spiritual brothers of a celestial Jesus.

Obviously a great deal more can be said on all these points. As I noted in Part I, I treat all the objections and suggestions and debates surrounding all the evidence in my forthcoming book. I was asked here to be brief. But this at least can give you an idea of where this new approach to Christian origins is coming from. There can be good and bad arguments on either said of the debate. And nothing I have said here ends any argument. But when all the bad arguments are cleared, I find that all the good arguments left over weigh more strongly against historicity. Not, perhaps, enough to be certain Jesus didn’t exist. But certainly enough to be uncertain if he did.
 
 
(Image credit: Thoughtful Christianity)

Dr. Richard Carrier

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Dr. Richard Carrier is a published historian and philosopher, specializing in the philosophy of naturalism and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome. He's a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard with a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in History and Classical Civilizations, and a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University. He has written extensively for the Secular Web and in various periodicals and books, and discussed his views in public all over the country and on TV. He is best known as the author of Sense and Goodness without God, Not the Impossible Faith, and Why I Am Not a Christian. His latest book is Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. He is currently working on his next books, On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire, and Science Education in the Early Roman Empire. Follow Richard through his website, RichardCarrier.info.

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  • Randy Gritter

    It strikes me that Carrier is really not interacting with anyone who trusts the New Testament in any way. Such a person would never say the "brother of the Lord" reference is the strongest argument against mythicism. That would only be true of someone who already dismissed the gospels as credible sources of information. That means they don't really accept the traditional Christian ideas about who Jesus is. His assumption that people would obviously not believe Moses was historical is another tip off.

    It seems like what needs to be discussed is the deeper assumptions about how to view supernatural claims. That is where modern historical scholarship has gone off the rails in my view. It is good that they do the exercise. It is good that they try and make sense of the data with the assumption that nothing supernatural occurred. To the extent that they fail, and they fail almost completely, it becomes a proof that the assumption is wrong.

    • picklefactory

      So your argument is that atheist historians like Dr. Carrier should jump to more conclusions because lack of evidence means a miracle happened?

    • Andrew G.

      The conclusion that the Gospels are not historically reliable and that Moses didn't exist do not require any supernatural assumptions. Everything we've discovered via archaeology about Israelite origins tells us that there is no basis for the exodus/conquest narrative; everything we've discovered about the other regional tribes contributes to dating the OT stories to the first millennium BC (not the second), and so on.

      Likewise, as long as you don't approach the Gospels (and Acts) with a prior commitment to belief, the evidence of their content, authorship (and anonymity thereof), probable date and textual relationships with each other, with the OT, and with other literature of the time, weighs against their value as a record of historical events even without considering the supernatural content.

    • AThanatos

      This coupled with the complete rejection of any current standing authority on New Testament literature is a red flag in my opinion. Having a new angle on something does not automatically mean that it is false but we are justified in considering it within the general body of already extant work.

      Another major difficulty is that the tools used by historians that conclude that Moses and other OT biblical figures may have not been historical have already been applied to the Gospels. We have the fruits of this in already 3 generations of the search for the historical Jesus.

      • Ignorant Amos

        Having a new angle on something does not automatically mean that it is false but we are justified in considering it within the general body of already extant work.

        The misconception is that mythicism is a new angle...if that is what you mean...it is centuries old, but suppressed.

        • AThanatos

          I was referring to the argument in regard to the scholarly scene of studying the historical Jesus, not traditional christian belief, if that is what you are referring to by calling it suppressed. I am stating that the authorities on this matter do count because similar historical studies have taken place (most notably in the last 300 years) and mythicism pertaining to the very person of Jesus has not caught on.

          I also take issue with Dr. Carrier's use of "apostle" defined as those that received a vision of the risen Christ. In Paul's list of those who Jesus appeared to after the Resurrection, 1 Cor 15:3-8, he mentions more than 500 brothers that Jesus has appeared to. These are never called apostles. Now the argument can be made that "apostle" refers to one who has seen the Risen Jesus and was given a mission by him. This is not how it is used in this context, however.

          What is said in 1 Cor. 15:3-8 matters a great deal, since it is the scholarly consensus that this may in fact be the earliest tradition recorded in the New Testament. Paul says that he has "received it." Some scholars are even willing to date the origin of this text to three years after Jesus died all the way down to mere months after the event.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I am stating that the authorities on this matter do count because similar historical studies have taken place (most notably in the last 300 years) and mythicism pertaining to the very person of Jesus has not caught on.

            "Although the majority of scholars today believe that a Jesus lived on earth, the reasons for this appear suspicious once you consider the history and evolution of Jesus scholarship. Hundreds of years ago all Biblical scholars believed in God. Considering their Christian beliefs, they would, of course, believe in a historical Jesus. In the last two centuries, the school has loosened up a bit, and today they even allow atheists into their study rooms. But even today you had better allude to a historical Jesus even if you question the reliability of the sources, otherwise, you may not have a job. If, indeed, Bible scholars did allow skeptics of a historical Jesus into their studies, and they presented a convincing case, that could threaten the very branch of Jesus scholarship that studied a historical Jesus. It could very well disappear like that of euhermerism."

            "Although some secular freethinkers and atheists accept a historical Jesus (minus the miracles), they, like most Christians, simply accept the traditional view without question. As time goes on, more and more scholars have begun to open the way to a more honest look at the evidence, or should I say, the lack of evidence."

          • AThanatos

            Amos,

            I am happy that you responded but you may want to check your sources.

            I wholeheartedly agree with the quote. Thomas Paine did well to question the scholarship that went on during the 18th century and I think that you will find that Atheists are allowed into the study rooms of modern Religious Studies departments.

            A quick google found your quote here:
            https://www.facebook.com/channelsforum/posts/572404786104984

            If you are going to make a claim in response to contemporary scholarship, please please use a source that is not more than 200 years old... And do us the favor of citing it as you quote it. This proves that Atheists have had a seat at the scholarly table for a long time now.

          • Ignorant Amos

            This proves that Atheists have had a seat at the scholarly table for a long time now.

            No one is denying this, but the debate is on mythicism. Atheists and agnostics with a seat at the scholarly table only do so by accepting the historical Jesus position. Even though that is as far as they will concede, it is enough to get a seat at the table. Those that buck the trend are ostracized and made pariah to the school.

            I know who made the quote., apologies for not citing the author, I presumed too much..it continues...

            "So for those who wish to rely on scholarly opinion, I will give a few quotes from Biblical researchers and scholars, past and present:

            When the Church mythologists established their system, they collected all the writings they could find and managed them as they pleased. It is a matter altogether of uncertainty to us whether such of the writings as now appear under the name of the Old and New Testaments are in the same state in which those collectors say they found them, or whether they added, altered, abridged or dressed them up."

            -Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)

            The age of the quote matters not if the content applies to the contemporary.

            Bart Ehrman is a good example of the sort of thing that the mythicist have to deal with. A recap of the exchange can be reviewed here...

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1794

            Here is an excerpt...

            "Ehrman intimates that any professor who entertains this hypothesis will be fired or otherwise never hired, that he will in effect suffer career persecution. He does not say this with sadness, but with glee, satisfaction even. Indeed Ehrman’s own article represents a variety of this persecution: ridicule and the slandering of credentials. Thompson may have only felt free to be honest about his views after he retired, when no one could fire him or persecute his career. I personally know a few professors who themselves also feel this way: they do not touch this topic with a ten foot pole, precisely because they fear the kind of thing Ehrman is doing and threatening. They do not want to lose their jobs or career prospects and opportunities. They do not want to be ridiculed or marginalized."

            "This makes Ehrman’s observation that no mythicist presently has a professorship (a distinction he did not make, but I am) a self-fulfilling prophecy: since Ehrman has all but explicitly stated that professors in “accredited institutions” do not have academic freedom, that indeed Ehrman opposes that freedom, verbally and institutionally, and endorses persecuting, verbally and institutionally, any who dare exercise it, who else do you think is free to challenge the consensus on this issue? Obviously, only outsiders can."

            Even creationists got their day in court.

          • AThanatos

            Amos,

            Are you familiar with the development of the historical Jesus branch of New Testament scholarship aside from the sites you get your information from? There has been a paradigm shift since the 18th Century and I do not think that the Paine quote applies, particularly since the in depth study of both New and Old Testaments have born fruit in a copious catalog of source theory (how the texts developed, what schools of thought are responsible for what edition or addition, etc).

            Your second quote raises an entirely different issue which is pertinent to the discussion. The accusation that the institution of New Testament scholarship is wholly corrupt and not open to discussion is a serious one. I think that you will agree that having a bad apple (presumably Ehrman in this case) does not sour the bunch.

            It almost seems a bit too convenient for the outsider that we can waive away centuries of research (again, since Paine, not before him) by saying that the scholars persecute those that do not agree with them.

            Whether or not one is an insider or an outsider, the requirement for entering the argument is that one has a grasp of the scholarship that has gone before. In this instance I think that it means realizing scholars have made the Gospels the most scrutinized text in all of history and that the claims made by these same scholars are just as offensive to Christians as saying that Jesus did not exist (historical Jesus scholars are notorious in Christian circles for denying the Resurrection, without which it makes little sense to ardently argue for the historicity of Jesus as the basis for a religion).

            While it does not grant a basis for the mythcist position, the best argument for the non-historicity of Jesus is the lack of non-Christian historical witnesses. If you really want to argue for this position, I would explore this further. Once we start arguing from the New Testament texts themselves (as Carrier has) we have to start considering the voluminous amount of research that has gone before.

  • Peter Piper

    I find it frustrating that Carrier makes so many vague allusions to things which I can't easily check. For example:
    And manuscript evidence suggests that the second century apocryphal text The Ascension of Isaiah originally depicted Jesus being killed by Satan and his demons in the lower heavens (and not on earth), exactly as the mythicist thesis proposes.

    I had a look at the Ascension of Isaiah, and it appears to me to say pretty clearly that Jesus was killed on Earth. But I don't know what manuscript evidence Carrier has in mind. Does anyone know what he is talking about here?

    • picklefactory

      Discussed at exhaustive length here and later here.

      • Andrew G.

        No, those seem to relate to 11Q13 (Melchizedek), a separate document found at Qumran, which is a pesher (interpretation of "hidden" meanings) referring to the actual book of Isaiah (not the Ascension).

        • picklefactory

          Oops. You're absolutely correct. Wrong bookmarks.

          Still fascinating, though (if you have a couple of hours.)

    • http://manojpontificates.blogspot.com/ Manoj
      • Peter Piper

        Thanks.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I have an M.A. in English Literature, so I have lots of experience coming up with novel interpretations of literary texts, and I also write stories for fun and profit.

    One thing I've learned is that all kinds of theories--in fact, practically any theory--can be used to explain practically any text.

    I think Carrier's thesis is an example of this.

  • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

    ****"Paul only knows of apostles like himself, and so far as he ever mentions, apostles became apostles by receiving visions of Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:5-8; Galatians 1), not by having met him in person. Paul never once mentions anyone having done so. Which is actually strange. It’s one of the strangest things there is about the epistles of Paul, ...."****
    This seems to be a very suspect description of Paul's texts and views. Calling Paul's assertion in 1 Cor 15 a "vision of Jesus" is contrary to the fact that Paul is describing his "appearing" to Cephas and the Twelve and the other brothers as an appearance of the *person* of Jesus, resurrected. These are indeed, from Paul's view, *personal* encounters with the Risen Christ.
    And as to "mentioning" anyone having met Jesus "in person"--shouldn't it be self-evident that when one mentions Peter, the Twelve, and James, the Brother of the Lord, one is actually mentioning people who met Jesus "in person"--even including Matthias in the Twelve, who was able to replace Judas in the Twelve precisely *because* Matthias had been a witness of Jesus' public ministry?

  • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

    Just a heads up for everyone: Richard will offer some further thoughts on mythicism and our series here at Strange Notions next week, over at his personal blog. He may answer some of the questions posed in our comment boxes, but no guarantee.

  • http://decentfilms.com/ SDG

    Carrier argues that the historical consensus that Jesus really existed offers "no consensus on which historical Jesus the evidence supports."

    I'm not sure what Carrier means by "which historical Jesus" -- obviously there are different historical interpretations of Jesus' life, career, self-understanding, factors leading to his death and so on. For that matter, much the same could be said (though obviously to very different degrees) of Julius Caesar, William the Conqueror, Martin Luther or Abraham Lincoln.

    But there is a significant consensus on some basic biographical facts about Jesus. N. T. Wright, in Jesus and the Victory of God (pp. 147ff), lays out the basics of this consensus view:

    Jesus was born sometime around 4 BC and grew up in Galilee, in Nazareth. His public career began around AD 30, "in the context of the initially similar work of John the Baptist." He traveled around the villages of Galilee proclaiming a message of repentance and the imminence of "the kingdom of God."

    His work was notable for his use of striking parables, remarkable cures including exorcisms, and his habit of table-fellowship with a "socio-culturally wide group," including eating with "sinners." Among his followers a group of twelve were given special status. His characteristic use of "Abba" for God was notable if not unique.

    His activities earned him the hostility of some elements in Judaism, including the high-priestly establishment, perhaps in connection with a dramatic action in the Temple at Jerusalem. Partly because of this, he fell into the hands of the Romans and was executed "in the manner regularly used for insurrectionists." And, of course, his followers soon afterwards began proclaiming that he was raised from the dead.

    There is more that could be said, but this is enough of a foundation to allow us to speak of a consensus view regarding a "historical Jesus" without being overly troubled that regarding differing opinions on the exact nature of Jesus' message, public work or self-understanding.

    • Ignorant Amos

      Jesus was born sometime around 4 BC ...

      If born at all, it was at least 4 BC, and necessarily earlier, but only to fit Matthew's Nativity narrative. How could Jesus be born after Herod's death?

      According to Luke, Jesus was born during the Census of Quirinius. Now given that there is some 10 years between the death of Herod and the Census of Quirinius...when was Jesus allegedly born?

      Hard one is it not?

      I laugh when I hear Jesus was born 4 years before Jesus was born.

      The irony is that the calender used by most folk today is based upon the unknown birth year of a person who might well not have been born at all.

      • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

        "According to Luke, Jesus was born during the Census of Quirinius. Now given that there is some 10 years between the death of Herod and the Census of Quirinius...when was Jesus allegedly born? Hard one is it not?"

        No, it is not hard. And I can only assume your commenting handle explains your confusion. The contradiction is only apparent:

        http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2011/11/luke-22-and-historical-accuracy-in.html

        "I laugh when I hear Jesus was born 4 years before Jesus was born."

        You must be laughing at your own joke then, because nobody claims this--here or elsewhere. By accusing others of promoting clear self-contradictions, you shut down the possibility of fruitful dialogue. Please see our commenting policy which expressly prohibits straw man argument.

        "The irony is that the calender used by most folk today is based upon the unknown birth year of a person who might well not have been born at all."

        It's comments like this that led us to run the current series on mythicism, despite the large majority of atheists and Catholics refusing to believe anyone seriously doubted Jesus's existence. Do you have any good reasons to believe Jesus may not have been born? Or do you have any reasons to deny the overwhelming amount of evidence he was?

        • Mikegalanx

          Carrier's argument against the idea presented in your link that Luke was referring to an earlier census:

          "The Date of the Nativity in Luke";
          scroll down to the section

          "Did Luke Mean "Before" Qirinus?"

          http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html

        • Ignorant Amos

          No, it is not hard. And I can only assume your commenting handle explains your confusion.

          Well that's poor form Brandon, especially coming from a site moderator. Should I have inferred right back at you that your opinion on this is that of being from an ignoramus, I'm dead certain you'd feel somewhat disparaged enough to take me to task over it.

          The contradiction is only apparent:

          http://catholicdefense.blogspo...

          The contradiction is a bit more than apparent. Why is the appeal to consensus fair enough when it suits your argument, yet when no consensus exists, it's of no relevance? Many biblical scholars are of the opinion that the Nativity Narratives are purely theological constructs.

          As for that other apologetic in defence of your belief in a sound refutation of Carriers position, did you even read Carriers essay at the link Mikegalanx provided?

          http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html

          http://www.tektonics.org/af/ce...

          Has some of the same misguided apologetic's refuted by scholarly believers. In the book "God, Reason and the Evangelicals: The Case Against Evangelical Rationalism", Nick Gier writes...

          "In a letter to me, F. F. Bruce concedes that conservative apologists have been too eager to declare Luke's inerrancy. So eager was W. M. Ramsey to prove Luke correct about the enrollment in Bethlehem that he, according to Bruce, "unwisely damaged his well-founded reputation as a very considerable scholar." In his Anchor Bible commentary Catholic scholar J. A. Fitzmyer lists other historical mistakes in Luke's writing and offers the most definitive argument against Ramsey's claims about the famous Christmas census."

          You must be laughing at your own joke then, because nobody claims this--here or elsewhere.

          I never mentioned I laughed because I heard it from anyone here, so who is building the strawmen now Brandon? But to suggest nobody claims this elsewhere is not true. Indeed, Carrier gives more credence to the Lukan nativity of 6 AD as opposed to Matthews account which places the birth of the messiah at 4 BC(Before Christ) given Herod the Greats year of death.

          By accusing others of promoting clear self-contradictions, you shut down the possibility of fruitful dialogue.

          What others do you refer to? I'm accusing the gospels of promoting clear self-contradictions, particularly the two contradictory accounts of the nativity.

          Please see our commenting policy which expressly prohibits straw man argument.

          I haven't made a strawman argument, I'm defending a position held by the author of the OP, which if you had read you'd be aware of, or if you have read, you are willfully ignoring. I've associated with holocaust denial, being an ignoramus and ironically, a creationist. Ironic because it was the position of all believers until proven wrong. But hey hoo, it's only the kooks that believe in creationism, right?

          It's comments like this that led us to run the current series on mythicism, despite the large majority of atheists and Catholics refusing to believe anyone seriously doubted Jesus's existence.

          Okay, help me out here, so when was Jesus born?

          Do you have any good reasons to believe Jesus may not have been born?

          Only the hypotheses posited by Richard Carrier, which I'd be interested in seeing irrefutably demolished, which hasn't happened to date.

          "Some people actually believe that just because so much voice and ink has spread the word of a character named Jesus throughout history, that this must mean that he actually lived. This argument simply does not hold. The number of people who believe or write about something or the professional degrees they hold say nothing at all about fact. Facts derive out of evidence, not from hearsay, not from hubris scholars, and certainly not from faithful believers. Regardless of the position or admiration held by a scholar, believer, or priest, if he or she cannot support a hypothesis with good evidence, then it can only remain a hypothesis."

          "While a likely possibility exists that an actual Jesus lived, another likely possibility reveals that a mythology could have derived out of earlier mythologies or possibly independent archetypal hero worship. Although we have no evidence for a historical Jesus, we certainly have many accounts of mythologies from the Middle East during the first century and before. Many of these stories appear similar to the Christ saviour story."

          Or do you have any reasons to deny the overwhelming amount of evidence he was?

          The problem is that evidence is far from overwhelming, hence the debate, if it was so overwhelming, this argument would be moot, which it is not. Unlike the creationist argument or the holocaust denial argument, which have been well and truly demolished.

          • inqwizit0r

            Okay, help me out here, so when was Jesus born?

            About 4 BCE

            hey, fun follow-up question: So when was Julius Caesar born?

  • http://www.davidlgray.info/ David L. Gray

    Mr Carrier, I'm confused . . . Is crafting a response in which the only argument presented is the argument from silence a real response at all? As a former Agnostic even I know very well that there were great arguments that could have been presented to defend your case here, but the one above is extremely lacking . . . to say the least.

  • jasmine999

    Re "...But we don’t expect more than hints to survive," this is a real problem, though, isn't it? There isn't enough evidence, period. The church cleansed the record, but that, alone, says nothing, as we don't know what they censored. Imaginatively filling in a vacuum isn't history, but historical fiction. We can assume that Jesus didn't raise the dead, or rise from the dead himself, but aside from that? Who can tell.

    Also, Gilgamesh was a real ruler. Saint Nicholas was a real bishop. King Arthur may have been real. There really was a city of Troy, and a Trojan War. There may have been an Atlantis. Myths were created around each of these, so that it's surprising to hear that they were, in fact, real. imo same goes for Jesus.

  • Steven Carr

    The mainstream view is that Moses did not exist.

    But Jesus met Moses at the Transfiguration?

    How does a fictional person like Moses get to meet a real person like Jesus?

    • David Nickol

      How does a fictional person like Moses get to meet a real person like Jesus?

      This is a problem for those who believe that Jesus was a real person and everything in the Gospels is literally true. It is not a problem for those who believe that Jesus was a real person and that the Gospels are (1) based on oral tradition that was elaborated as it was passed along and (2) are theological and not historical in nature. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says:

      By labeling the event a vision, Matthew may give a clue to the nature of the event: some have regarded it as a vision accorded to Peter in the context of a study of Scripture during the feast of Tabernacles, through which he receives insight into the role of Jesus. Thus the story is seen as the externalization of an inner event—whether pre- or -post-Easter is impossible to say.

      D. E. Nineham in the volume Saint Mark from the Pelican New Testament Commentaries has this interesting footnote to Mark's mention of a high mountain

      Speculation about the identity of the mountain is quite idle. Very possibly St. Mark himself had no ideas on the subject. For him the significance of this trait in the story will have lain in the fact that a mountain top was traditionally the setting for theophanies and supernatural revelations . . . .

      Those who take this event as historical would have to explain how the apostles present recognize Moses and Elijah. Judaism prohibited images of any kind, so there would have been no paintings or sculptures that even gave hint as to what Moses and Elijah might have looked like.

      Every commentary I have checked notes that Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets. One question to be asked is whether Matthew, Mark, and Luke themselves thought they were writing an account of a historical event (the Transfiguration) or understood the story to be a theological statement about Jesus's relationship to the Law and the Prophets. J. C. Fenton, in the volume Saint Matthew from the Pelican New Testament Commentaries says:

      What kind of basis has it in history? What really happened? We shall see, when we come on to the detailed study of Matthew's account of it, and compare that with Mark's, that Matthew has added certain features that were not in his source: he has 'embroidered' Mark. If this could happen to a written account, how much more will it not have happened before anything was put in writing—i.e. before mark wrote his Gospel in the sixties of the first century? And how shall we know what features in the Marcan account are additions, and what are historical?

      Given that mythicists believe nothing in the Gospels actually happened, and yet we have detailed accounts of events like the Transfiguration, it is certainly not a major blow to those who believe that Jesus was a real person that some things in the Gospels did not actually happen. In fact, it would be the view of many (I would say most) contemporary exegetes that much of what is in the Gospels did not happen at all, and much did not happen the way it is described.

      • Steven Carr

        This is an excellent point.

        How do we know the unknown author of Mark even intended to write about historical events such as a real Jesus meeting real people?

        • David Nickol

          I have quoted this many, may times in other forums, but it illustrates an excellent point. In Saint Mark by D. E. Nineham, a volume in the Pelican New Testament Commentaries, there is this passage (Mark 2:23-24):

          One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck ears of grain. And the Pharisees* said to him, “Look, why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”

          A footnote says,

          It is idle to ask what the Pharisees were doing in the middle of a cornfield on a sabbath day. The process of oral tradition has formalized the stories, hence the considerable element of truth in the comment: "Scribes and Pharisees appear or disappear just as the compiler requires them. They are part of the stage-property and scenery, like ‘the house’ and ‘the mountain.'”

          It is extraordinarily difficult and perhaps impossible to figure out what was going on in the heads of the Gospel authors when they were writing. If Mark thought the Transfiguration was a remarkable historical event from the life of Jesus, wouldn't he have been interested enough to want to know what mountain it occurred on? Who knows? The Gospels sometimes have little details that seem very specific. For example, on the carrying of the cross, Mark says, "They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross." (And yet John 19:17 says Jesus carried his own cross.) So we are told the names of Simon of Cyrene's children, but the Transfiguration happened on "a high mountain." If Matthew and Luke did indeed use Mark as a source (which is believed to be the case by the vast majority of biblical scholars), they took many liberties, frequently rewriting Mark's account. Exactly what did they think they were doing? I think it is clear they did not believe themselves to be writing historical or journalistic accounts. But certainly they did not regard Mark as pure fiction that they could plagiarize to write their own fictional accounts.

    • newenglandsun

      "The mainstream view is that Moses did not exist."

      Or at least had his life elaborated with other traditions. I'm of the position that...you never know.

  • Mikegalanx

    Two interesting posts, one by Richard Carrier, on why atheists should NOT use the "Jesus was mythical" argument (unless they are scholars in the field themselves). Basically, when the experts agree on something- in this case, the person Jesus existed- it should be accepted (provisionally,of course) by non-experts.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2013/10/on-atheists-attempting-to-deny-the-historical-jesus/

    "Why? Because the historical consensus is that there was a historical
    Jesus. Responsible, mainstream, qualified history scholars who
    judiciously disregard supernaturalistic claims about Jesus and have no
    agenda to promote Christianity nonetheless, as a matter of academic
    consensus, believe there was a historical Jesus. Could they be wrong? It’s possible. But if they are, that is for qualified historians to prove, not laypeople. And it is for the field of ancient history to be persuaded to change its consensus before laypeople
    go around making claims that Jesus did not exist. I think it’s
    perfectly fine that Richard Carrier thinks he has a good case to make to
    the scholars of ancient history that there never was a historical
    Jesus. I enjoy listening to his arguments and am happy to pass his work
    on as a resource. But that is a debate for him to have with other
    historians and for secular historians to at least become widely divided
    over before atheists start advocating for one side or the other
    routinely and prominently. In the meantime, we should either be agnostic
    on the issue (as I am), defer to historical consensus, or, if we really
    find Carrier’s arguments compelling still be cautious and qualified in
    our declarations, acknowledging that we are agreeing with a minority
    view (and one that even Carrier seems far from certain about.)"

    And Richard Carrier in agreement:

    "Fincke Is Right: Arguing Jesus Didn’t Exist Should Not Be a Strategy"

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4733#more-4733

    • Ignorant Amos

      Exactly. I'm 60-40 agnostic. But the argument has not been proven conclusively one way or the other. Carriers argument is carrying me more than the historicity side is doing. If the game is a slam dunk, then the religious wouldn't be arguing and the mythicists would be gone.

      History is replete with the appeal to authority when it has subsequently been proven completely erroneous. Sheep will be sheep.

  • newenglandsun

    It should be noted that the word "mythos" as understood in that time was the highest quality of mystical truth and does not render that they believed the entire story was invented.

    Another point is that The Ascension of Isaiah dealing with the Lower Heavens can also be overlooked as well. If it "depicted Jesus being killed by Satan and his demons in the lower heavens (and not on earth), exactly as the mythicist thesis proposes" it does not necessarily equivocate to the notion that the authors of that did not maintain that there was no historical Jesus.

    I'll have to read Part I to determine if it addresses the references Horn uses to justify his position on Tacitus and Josephus as well.

    We do have St. Ignatius from the early second century C.E.

    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/

    You make a good point with the brother factor.