Why Mythicism Should Not Be Taken Seriously

Should Christ-mythicism really be treated as a respectable position? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Many of my friends in this field have already taken the official stance that they do not debate people who claim Jesus never even existed. I’m not one of them. I will still debate mythicism, but that is because these people need to be answered if not for them, for those who are watching. That more and more people are coming to this position shows that it is a problem.

Note they’re not coming to the position because they’re doing good research! On the contrary! They’re coming to the position because of poor research! Their main authorities on people on YouTube and people who write blogs and those people they’re interacting with are not reading scholarly material. Some of you could say that I am not a scholar. You are certainly right! What you will find here by contrast to mythicist works is a constant interaction with scholarship. On the podcast, you will hear interviews with Christian scholars who have done the hard work. For now, consider this place a conduit to get the scholarly information. I still urge you to always be open to checking everything that I say.

Yet mythicism is a position that has come about because of the age of the internet where people might read much, but they will study little. These people will accept just without any research the claims of someone on the internet the way the Christians they condemn will accept the claims of Scripture or their minister. Now of course I want you to accept the claims of Scripture, but I want you to also research and test those claims using the best information on both sides.

To show an example of what I am talking about, consider a group shown to me recently of Mythicists in Milwaukee. In a debate with them on the Unbelievable? group, I was told that they had an exposing quote to show me. In fact, the quote supposedly came from an early church father. Who was this father?

Celsus.

celsusjesusmyth

Some readers who have not looked at this issue might wonder what the problem is.

To begin with, Celsus was NOT a church father. In fact, he was an opponent of the early church. To say a statement like him is exposing is like saying a statement from Ken Ham that evolutionary theory is not true is exposing on evolutionary theory or that a statement from Richard Dawkins on why creationism is false is exposing on creationism.

That’s the first mistake there. Anyone who had done five minutes of research would know Celsus was not a church father. Just for the heck of it, I even did a Google search and the descriptions of the web pages in fact told me that Celsus was an opponent of Christianity.

It is hard to say how it could get worse, but it does. Celsus was an opponent of Christianity but he never once denied that Jesus existed. In fact, no early opponent of Christianity ever made such a claim.

And it gets worse from there! Not only did Celsus hold that Jesus existed, he also agreed that Jesus did many works considered miracles. He just attributed it to sorcery that Jesus learned in Egypt.

Yet the case gets even worse for these people! The arguments we were given amounted to the quotes coming from “Against Origen.” Anyone who knows this field knows we don’t have Celsus’s words themselves. We only know what he said because Origen quoted it profusely!

Is there more? Yes there is! The quote itself is not right! Here is what it really says.

“The Jew continues his address to those of his countrymen who are converts, as follows: Come now, let us grant to you that the prediction was actually uttered. Yet how many others are there who practise such juggling tricks, in order to deceive their simple hearers, and who make gain by their deception?— as was the case, they say, with Zamolxis in Scythia, the slave of Pythagoras; and with Pythagoras himself in Italy; and with Rhampsinitus in Egypt (the latter of whom, they say, played at dice with Demeter in Hades, and returned to the upper world with a golden napkin which he had received from her as a gift); and also with Orpheus among the Odrysians, and Protesilaus in Thessaly, and Hercules at Cape Tænarus, and Theseus. But the question is, whether any one who was really dead ever rose with a veritable body. Or do you imagine the statements of others not only to be myths, but to have the appearance of such, while you have discovered a becoming and credible termination to your drama in the voice from the cross, when he breathed his last, and in the earthquake and the darkness? That while alive he was of no assistance to himself, but that when dead he rose again, and showed the marks of his punishment, and how his hands were pierced with nails: who beheld this? A half-frantic woman, as you state, and some other one, perhaps, of those who were engaged in the same system of delusion, who had either dreamed so, owing to a peculiar state of mind, or under the influence of a wandering imagination had formed to himself an appearance according to his own wishes, which has been the case with numberless individuals; or, which is most probable, one who desired to impress others with this portent, and by such a falsehood to furnish an occasion to impostors like himself.”

See Chapter 55

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with paraphrasing at times, but if you claim something is a quote, you should make sure that it is a quote.

So what do we have here?

We have a group of mythicists saying that Celsus was a church father (He wasn’t) as if that bolsters their claim (It doesn’t) and that the book comes from a work called Against Origen (That doesn’t exist) and the quote itself is inaccurate!

When I say this position is not to be granted respect in the academic community, I mean it. No one who wants to consider themselves an academic should hold to such a view. The academic community does not take this seriously at all. The claims that are really popular on the internet are not at all discussed by academic scholars in the field.

And that’s not because these scholars are Christian! A great number of them in the field are not! It is because these claims are dead. They do not pass peer-review. They do not get serious treatment. You might as well talk about the Earth being flat or the holocaust never happening.

And if you think I’m making this stuff up about these people using these sources, I am not. Just look for yourself.

Acharya S. and Peter Joseph as sources? Where are the scholars in the field? You will not find them because scholars do not support this stuff!

Now some might think I am giving them undue attention. Sadly, one has to to expose this material, but let it be clear that this position should be treated like a joke. If you meet someone who holds a position on this, just laugh and ask “Do you really believe that?” Let it be the case that people are ashamed of holding to a stance like this one.

Now if you want to hold the position that Jesus existed but He was not the Son of God and/or never claimed to be or He was not the Messiah and/or never claimed to be and that He never did miracles even if it was believed that He did and that He never rose from the dead, then fine. I disagree with those positions, but you will find scholars who side with you on that one.

By all means, mythicists must be answered lest they continue spreading to those who do not do research, but when answering it, do not treat the position with any respect whatsoever. How you respond to the person can differ, but the position itself is not a serious one at all. Make it clear that those who hold to this position have zero respect in the scholarly and academic community.

We could end this by asking this position one question that we already know the answer to.

scholarship

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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27 Responses to “Why Mythicism Should Not Be Taken Seriously”

  1. J.W. Wartick Says:

    Thank you very much for this post. I think that it is important to be engaging with mythicists but my area of research is far afield of this area, so I appreciate you sharing these insights. Did you happen to see Eric Chabot (tag)’s article on this recently: http://chab123.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/four-tactics-of-jesus-mythers/

  2. labreuer Says:

    I went to a talk by Richard Carrier in SF on 2014-03-29 and he made three relevant claims; here are the notes I took:

    1. Argues in book on importance of history, that we cannot trust history done by historians earlier than 1950.
    2. Published three peer-reviewed articles which are the first ones to demonstrably criticize alleged ancient evidences of Jesus.
    3. Carrier is leading scholar on historicity of Jesus who argues against his existence.

    As to 1., I’m reminded of the Diglotting review of Carrier’s Proving History. The sense I get is that Carrier wants to use mathematical modeling on history, which is a noble enterprise, but it’s not at all clear that we have enough data and sufficiently good universal priors to do this.

    As to 2., it smells very much like the creationists’ accusations that there is a giant conspiracy in the evolutionist camp. It’s like the specter of ‘gratuitous evil’ which depends on precisely the same foundation as ‘irreducible complexity’. The extent to which atheists and skeptics are acting like creationists is astounding. It’s almost as if those tendencies are human and not religious.

    As to 3., it’s a little sad that Carrier has so few peer-reviewed articles. It begins to sound like Carrier is the leading scholar on the historicity of unicorns (a reference to The A-Unicornist). It’s easy to be the “leading scholar” on a position that is very poorly supported by the evidence.

  3. Boxing Pythagoras Says:

    To be fair, there are two mythicists who actually are scholars in the field. Robert M. Price holds a PhD in New Testament, and Richard Carrier is a PhD in History whose research focuses on the Roman Empire. That said, I really don’t find either of their arguments to be very convincing, and even they will fully admit that the majority of mythicists hold untenable positions.

    • apologianick Says:

      Yes. Neither one of them teaches at an accredited university and the works do not pass peer-review. These are the fringe of the fringe. Even John Dominic Crossan tore into Robert Price in “Five Views on the Historical Jesus.”

  4. chab123 Says:

    Argues in book on importance of history, that we cannot trust history done by historians earlier than 1950.

    What???????????????????????????

  5. chab123 Says:

    J.W., Nick responded in the comment section of that post by me. You can read it.

  6. Derek_M Says:

    These clowns are also plagiarists. A lot of their page on Mithras is a copy and paste job from a paper written by a high school kid in 1993. Here is an example:

    From the original essay:

    http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Periods/Roman/Topics/Religion/Mithraism/David_Fingrut**.html

    Mithraism was quite often noted by many historians for its many astonishing similarities to Christianity.

    The faithful referred to Mithras as “the Light of the World”, symbol of truth, justice, and loyalty. He was mediator between heaven and earth and was a member of a Holy Trinity. According to Persian mythology, Mithras was born of a virgin given the title ‘Mother of God’.

    Here is the Mythicist Milwaukee page:

    http://mythicistmke.publishpath.com/mithraism-a-devil-inspired-religion

    Mithraism was quite often noted by historians for its many astonishing similarities to Christianity. The faithful referred to Mithra as “the Light of the World,” symbol of truth, justice and loyalty; and Mithra was mediator between heaven and earth and was a member of a Holy Trinity. Other parallels and highlights of the Mithra story that you might find familiar:

    According to Persian mythology, Mithra was born of a virgin who was given the title ‘Mother of God’.

    This is so blatant it is embarrassing. Also, they copied the same bibliography but added an extra reference to Cumont at the top which is improperly formatted and not in alphabetical order which suggests incompetence in sources. How do I know they copied it? Well aside from the fact that is exactly the same 6 references (excluding the one attached at the beginning) there is a mistake in the bibliography which cites the book “Iran: Elements of Destiny” as being published in London by McClelland and Stewart. The book was published by McClelland and Stewart but they publish in Toronto, the book was published by Collins in London. If the Mysthicist Milwaukee page looked at that book what are the chances they would make the same mistake in citation? The book has been properly cited by several sources which you can check on Google Books.

  7. TruthSeeker Says:

    Arrggh! You people are insufferable! Jesus never existed. We can say this because there is no evidence of his existence outside of mere belief that he existed, not based on evidence. All you people do is create convoluted processes, i.e. mental gymnastics, by which you can crate a philosophical opinion that Jesus existed. It’s quite frankly pathetic as you would never go to such lengths if the topic was, say, Hercules. If a Jesus existed he is not portrayed in the New Testament at all. Jesus would not even be his name. The Gospel of Mark was most likely the first gospel written and it clearly parallels Homer’s Odyssey, not to mention that Mark clearly takes the Discouri (Cator and Pollux) and turns them into James and his brother John. He gives several hints this is what he did in the text, even going as far as having Jesus name them “Sons of Thunder” (Zeus = god of thunder). If there ever was a man for which Christianity was based then you cannot say almost anything about him. So the fact that you so vehemently defend his existence is fruitless. I don’t know how much longer it will take but eventually all the kooky religionists in Biblical scholarship will be removed and secular scholars will eventually concede that Jesus didn’t exist. No more special pleading. Your made up god man is no better than all the other made up god men.

    • labreuer Says:

      Suppose, for a moment—despite your vehemence against the idea—that Jesus was real, did the miracles he did, was crucified, truly died, and was truly resurrected ~3 days later. Suppose for some reason you became 100% convinced of this.

      Would your life change one iota, other than a change in belief about the historical Jesus? I mean, why does being able to do miracles lend any credence to your speech whatsoever? Jesus didn’t give much in the way of directions to repeat his magic, and the directions he did give don’t seem very effective.

      Would you be any more likely to be convinced that Jesus is a Renaissance Man, the most perfect person, or to use a relevant Greek term, a kalos kagathos? I don’t see why you would be any more likely to go near these things. Actually, there’s one reason: you have only so many people to consider as role models, and so you need a way to pick. But surely that doesn’t apply to you, given all your knowledge about Jesus and the textual tradition and whatnot.

      Honestly, when I do my best to simulate your position, the historicity of Jesus is largely irrelevant. After all, isn’t it true that isought? But perhaps I am wrong; perhaps I have overlooked something or gotten you quite wrong. Please correct me!

    • apologianick Says:

      Sorry, but MacDonald’s idea of the Gospel being copied from Mark has gained pretty much zero traction from scholars for a reason.

    • labarum Says:

      “Arrggh! You people are insufferable! Jesus never existed. We can say this …”

      Who is we? You and some crackpots on the internet? Certainly not anyone of consequence.

      “he Gospel of Mark was most likely the first gospel written and it clearly parallels Homer’s Odyssey …”

      Ah, the MacDonald thesis again. Perhaps you should read the actual scholarly responses to it where it is demonstrated to be little more than playing fast and loose game of connect the dots and let’s pretend such as …

      “Mark clearly takes the Discouri (Cator and Pollux) and turns them into James and his brother John. He gives several hints this is what he did in the text, even going as far as having Jesus name them “Sons of Thunder” (Zeus = god of thunder).”

      Clearly? Find some scholars who would consider that clear or even feasible. Where are the similarities? I guess the best you have is the “sons of thunder” but Castor was not the son of Zeus but of Tyndareus the king of Sparta (there were obviously some funny things going on in this story). When they were killed, Pollux asked Zeus if he could share his immortality with his brother and thus they became the constellation Gemini. I recall James being martyred in Jerusalem quite early and John living on to a ripe old age. They were also not twins – fraternal or otherwise.

      “I don’t know how much longer it will take but eventually all the kooky religionists in Biblical scholarship will be removed and secular scholars will eventually concede that Jesus didn’t exist.”

      The number of notable historians or NT scholars – regardless of their beliefs on the miracles in the NT Gospels – who think it even conceivable that Jesus never existed could be counted on your fingers. Even MacDonald did not think that and his work is the basis of your claim. Frankly, secular scholars think most Jesus mythicists are conspiracy theorists operating from ideological presuppositions and not worth taking seriously.

  8. labarum Says:

    I did a search for the quote from Celsus as given by MM and it appears to be taken from Freke & Gandy:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=fH39Zlg0YjYC&pg=PA25&dq=%22assume+for+the+present+that+he+foretold+his+resurrection.%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ai64U6LzOcOPyASO1YDICA&ved=0CCMQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%22assume%20for%20the%20present%20that%20he%20foretold%20his%20resurrection.%22&f=false

    That anyone would base anything on such a questionable source is bad enough but even F&G never claimed it came from a work titled “Against Origen” by Celsus! lol!! Just when I think it has reached rock bottom someone like MM gets out the jackhammers and starts drilling.

  9. The Strange World of Mythicist Milwaukee | Labarum Says:

    […] of bizarre claims on the internet, while vacationing I came across a post by Nick Peters over at Deeper Waters that called my attention to a group known as Mythicist Milwaukee who appear to be knee deep into […]

  10. Tyn Says:

    http://jesusbirthermovement.tumblr.com/post/51446102697/the-official-jesus-challenge-of-the-jesus-birther

  11. Tyn Says:

    If Jesus actually existed and was all that the Bible says he is, then the criteria should be no problem for any apologist. Go for it! Take the challenge.

    • apologianick Says:

      Again, why should anyone accept the criteria? I know of no professor of ancient history who accepts such a criteria for anyone in the ancient world.

      • Tyn Says:

        We aren’t speaking of just “anyone” in the ancient world. We are speaking of Jesus Christ, who said,

        “. . . all things are possible to him that believeth.” Mark 9:23King James Version (KJV)

        Maybe he was wrong, or maybe there’s less faith, here, than I thought.

      • apologianick Says:

        What do you think about king Herod offering half his Kingdom to a girl who danced for him? Was that a “literal” claim?

  12. The jBM Says:

    The jesus Birther Movement (jBM) Research Database Directory: http://tmblr.co/ZkpfQtaKiFCa

  13. Mythicist Milwaukee Redux | Labarum Says:

    […] days ago, I mentioned Nick Peters’ post about some silly claims by a group called Mythicist Milwaukee that has since generated comments […]

  14. Really Recommended Posts 7/25/14- Lewis, Jesus Myth, the Bible, and more! | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" Says:

    […] Why Mythicism Should Not Be Taken Seriously- Nick Peters looks into some of the issues with the “Jesus Myth” movement. In particular, he examines the historiographic approach of those who are trying to show that Jesus never existed. It’s a fascinating read about a strange topic. […]

  15. labarum Says:

    Speaking of MM, thought you might enjoy this:

    http://labarum.net/having-fun-with-mythicist-milwaukee-how-not-to-do-textual-criticism/

    • apologianick Says:

      The answer to your question is

      “No. They don’t research anything. They hear it on the internet and just puke it out again without really digesting it. These guys do with the internet exactly what they condemn most Christians for doing with their pastors.”

  16. ralfellis Says:

    Ralph’s seminal work, “King Jesus”, was published in 2008. In this book, Ralph proposes that the gospel story is semi-mythical: it was based upon real events, but subsequently embellished and fictionalised by the gospel authors and editors. The proposed foundation for this semi-mythical gospel story is the history of King Izates of Adiabene, who Josephus Flavius claims was the leader the Jewish Revolt. Apparently, Josephus also calls this monarch, King Izas.

    This was followed in 2012 by a sequel, “Jesus, King of Edessa”. This work follows the same reasoning, but attempts to further explore and refine the historical evidence for Josephus’ otherwise semi-mythical monarch, King Izas. The result is a claim that Adiabene is actually a reference to Edessa in Mesopotamia; and therefore King Izas must be King Manu VI of Edessa. So the Edessan king was called King Izas Manu, while Jesus was called King Jesus (Em) Manu-el.

    In addition, Ralph claims that the traditional crown** of the Edessan monarchs is a plaited crown of thorns, and therefore similar to the gospel description.

    Ralph

    ** Image of an Edessan king, wearing his plaited Crown of Thorns.

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