Sunday, July 22, 2007

New to Jesus Mythicism

This is a brief posting to address those fellow Christians new to these ideas. I spoke a little on the last podcast about this but wanted to put something here as well.

1. If you haven't had a pastor or other influential spiritual personality hammer proper exegesis into your head by now, consider this a hammering. A considerable amount (though, obviously, not nearly all) of the mythicist position and other objections to the historicity of the Gospel accounts rest on exegeting Scripture. If you are not on your game in this area, these objections can seem very overwhelming and cause you to lose heart. Read through the texts mentioned very carefully, and judge for yourselves.

2. Judge for yourselves the validity and soundness of the arguments. Guys like Robert M. Price are very persuasive and have great personalities, which can make them difficult to wrestle with. As with any other careful study, don't let anything intimidate you; rather, deal with the arguments themselves and make sure you are careful. (This, of course, is not at all to suggest that the force of Price's arguments rest on his presentation--quite the opposite. It is merely to caution those who might get distracted and feel that they are on the losing side simply because the person sounds right.)

3. Study history! I'll admit it: my grasp of history is woeful; however, that is the case only insofar as I am terrible at remembering important dates and names, &c. Read and study history not merely to take in facts, but also to see how history works and operates.

4. Study those who disagree with you. If you listen to the podcast or read this blog, you probably already do that. But, as Price says, if you go into this thinking you'll be undone, you've given up the game already.

5. Consider where you rest your hope. We have seen historically the damage done by those who attempt to wed Aristotelian or Platonic or Cartesian or Nietzschean philosophy with Jesus and create a more palpable or logically understandable product. If we are honest, we know we are dealing with an incredibly complex issue (indeed, if we say that God does exist--and I do, I don't think it gets much more complicated than that!) Marrying one metanarrative to another does not always solve problems; often-times it only creates more of them. Remember that what we believe is "foolishness" so don't expect everything to come together as cleanly as we would all like.

Listen to the podcasts and wrestle with this stuff. I'm walking through it with you and it's all pretty new to me, too.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Arguments for Mythicism

Arguments from silence:
  1. Paul does not corroborate any of the narrative details about Jesus' life as described in any of the Gospels.
  2. Paul does not cite Jesus' teachings when it would be beneficial for his arguments if he had done so.
  3. The Testimonium Flavianum is a suspect interpolation, with the implication that the Jewish historian Josephus was unaware of Jesus' ministry, as well as several historical details mentioned in the Gospels.
  4. Contemporary pagan historians are unaware of any individual Jesus, and any reports (Tacitus, Pliny, etc.) are distinctly second-hand (i.e., refer to circulating stories and rumors).
Arguments from similarity:
  1. The character of Jesus shares many archetypical characteristics with previous and contemporary mythical figures (Osiris-Dionysus, Tammuz, Attis, Adonis, etc.)
  2. The essential Gospel narrative shares many narrative elements with previous and contemporary mythical and fictional stories (The Odyssey, The Illiad, Chaereas and Callirhoe, etc.)
  3. The deeds of the character Jesus are very similar to previous and contemporary legends about great men (Apollonius of Tyana, Pythagoras, Asclepius, etc.)
  4. Many aspects of the character of Jesus are very similar to those of previous Jewish literary characters (Moses, Joshua, Elijah, etc.)
Arguments from Biblical Ahistoricity:
  1. Matthew and Luke base their accounts on Mark, and add extravagant details in a manner that suggests legendary development.
  2. Key details in the Gospels do not conform to established historical facts germane to their setting.
  3. There is evidence of later orthodox revision and redaction in the Gospels, Pauline Epistles, and Pastoral Epistles.
  4. Paul's conception of Jesus was that of a spirit-being, rather than as a historical person, who became a savior through deeds performed in pre-historical celestial time.

Arguments for the Historicity of Jesus

Courtesy of Dan:
  1. Very few of the relevant myths predate Christianity, and the common elements between them and Christianity (such as communion, virgin birth, resurrection) have a different significance and/or are cast in a different light.
  2. Because of #1, the parallels are largely apparent with very little true substance, so borrowing and/or influence could not be said to exist.
  3. Currently popular, advanced in "Reinventing Jesus": In cases where the correspondence is legitimate, it is more likely that influence goes the other way, with pagan religions borrowing from Christianity.
  4. alternate argument to #3 advanced by Justin Martyr in the 2nd century: The correspondence is legitimate, and exists because demons read the prophecies about Jesus and tried to discredit him in advance by counterfeiting what he would do so that he wouldn't be believed when he did come.
  5. alternate argument to #3 and #4 advanced by C.S. Lewis: Christianity copies other religions because God saw the yearnings of the human heart working themselves out in the stories men told, and decided to fulfill them in actual fact.
  6. Robert Van Voorst in "Jesus Outside the New Testament" makes an affirmative (rather than defensive) case for historicity. R.T. France does the same in "The Evidence For Jesus." Alastair McGrath has some material on the topic in "The Genesis of Doctrine"
  7. Good historians take historical texts as being generally accurate while attempting to control for bias, and the gospels (particularly Luke) are definitely written as history. In absence of contradictory evidence the gospels should be accepted as generally accurate history.