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.

5 Comments:

Blogger Kevin H said...

This looks solid. I often hear the objection that Philo should have mentioned Jesus but does not. Might be something to add.

K

7/12/07, 7:39 AM  
Blogger Dan Sawyer said...

Another argument from Biblical Ahistoricity points out that the structure and many of the lines of the Passion narrative are midrash on Psalm 22, removing from possible consideration as history those very details considered by historical Jesus proponents as most "human" and "genuine" feeling.

7/12/07, 10:41 AM  
Blogger Zachary Moore said...

Good call on Philo, Kevin. He fits in (almost) with argument 4 of the "Arguments from Silence."

I'm not sure if the midrashic composition of the Passion plays better as a separate argument or combined with argument 1... either way, we'll definitely get to it.

Does anyone know of any other comprehensive assessments of the Mythicist Hypothesis?

7/12/07, 11:07 AM  
Blogger exapologist said...

Wow -- this is an excellent, excellent blog. Hats off to you folks!

7/19/07, 3:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

This is a helpful summary of the main lines of argument for the mythicist position. That said, I'm more convinced than ever that this entire line of argument is a non-starter. A traditional Christian will certainly reply along these lines:

The arguments from silence are weak, as such arguments generally are. I can't see any Christian who has studied the primary sources of secular history losing any sleep over them.

The Osiris/Dionysus, Tammuz, Attis, Asclepius, and Adonis parallels have all been answered long ago. You may catch out some people who haven't heard of them, but they won't stand up to serious inspection.

Philostratus's Life of Apollonius of Tyana is probably a deliberate rip-off on the life of Christ. Note that Philostratus wrote a little after A.D. 200.

MacDonald's attempted parallel of the gospel of Mark and Acts with Homer is ... well ... hilarious. I can't wait for someone to "prove" that the gospels were ripped off from Winnie the Pooh using the same methods.

The historical details in the gospels line up well enough with Josephus and other historical sources bearing on those times that no serious historian thinks they were a forgery.

The interpretation of I Cor 15 suggested here is extremely unpersuasive.

In sum, I don't think this line of argument should persuade anyone. Probably it will, anyway. But that's not an ethically supportable reason to use it.

1/13/08, 6:00 PM  

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