Early mythicists: Jesus as a solar deity

In Ehrman’s brief history of mythicism, he names a few authors with whom I am not familiar:

The first author to deny the existence of Jesus appears to have been the eighteenth-century Frenchman Constantin Francois Volney, a member of the Constituent Assembly during the French Revolution. Volney published an essay (in French) called “Ruins of an Empire.” In it he argued that all religions at heart are the same – a view still wildly popular among English-speaking people who are not religion scholars, especially as articulated in the second half of the twentieth century by Joseph Campbell.  Christianity too, for Volney, was simply a variant on the one universal religion. This particular variation on the theme was invented by early Christians who created the savior Jesus as a kind of sun-god.

Apparently Volney was respected by some influential Americans including Thomas Jefferson (who helped translate “Ruins of an Empire” into English) and Abraham Lincoln (who is said to have been an ‘avid reader’ of the work).

http://www.neoclassicism.us/Content/TheUsesOfAntiquity

Although Volney’s views may be out of favor in today’s climate, he does not appear to have been out of step with the intellectual atmosphere of the Enlightenment.

Several years later a much more substantial and influential book was published by another Frenchman, Charles-Francois Dupuis, who was secretary of the revolutionary National Convention. The Origin of All Religions (1795) was an enormous work 2,017 pages in length. Dupuis’s ultimate objective was to uncover the nature of the “original deity” who lies behind all religions… Dupuis subjected the fragmentary information that survived to his day to careful scrutiny, as he argued that such gods as Osiris, Adonis (or Tammuz), Bacchus, Attis, and Mithra were all manifestations of the solar deity. Dupuis agreed with his compatriot Volney: Jesus too was originally invented as another embodiment of the sun-god.

Likewise Dupuis was a respected intellectual of the Age of Enlightenment whose astronomical work seems to have influenced his views on religion.

Dupuis devoted himself to the study of astronomy (his tutor was Lalande) in connection with mythology, the result of which was his magnum opusOrigine de tous les Cultes, ou la Réligion Universelle. It appeared in 1795 in quarto or octavo format, profusely illustrated (in 12 volumes); an abridgement (1798) spread his system more widely among the reading public. In Origine he advocated the unity of the astronomical and religious myths of all nations, an aspect of the Enlightenment‘s confidence in the universality of human nature. In his Mémoire explicatif du Zodiaque, chronologique et mythologique (1806) he similarly maintains a common origin for the astronomical and religious opinions of the Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, Persians, and Arabians.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Fran%C3%A7ois_Dupuis

In the first flush of freedom from religious dogma it seems several highly respected intellectuals were willing to go on record considering the notion that Jesus might not have lived at all outside of literature.  This was still a time of conflict between dogmatism and rational thought, and those willing to express views in dissent against the assertions of orthodox christians were still in danger of life and limb.

Cayetano Ripoll (allegedly from Solsona 1778 – Valencia 26 July 1826) was a schoolmaster in Valencia, Spain, who was executed for allegedly teaching deist principles. Ripoll was a soldier in the Spanish army during the Peninsular War (1807–1814). He was captured by French forces and was a prisoner of war. While being held by the French he was taken to France and there he became aware of deism. He soon became a deist. Upon returning to Spain, he used his position as a school master to teach others about deism. He was accused by the Spanish Inquisition of being a deist and of teaching his students about deism. He was arrested for heresy and held in jail for close to two years. The clergymen of the Spanish Inquisition demanded Ripoll be burned at the stake for his heresy, however, the civil authorities chose to hang him instead. Allegedly, the Church authorities, upset that Ripoll had not been burned at the stake, placed his body into a barrel, painted flames on the barrel and buried it in unconsecrated ground. Other reports state that the Church authorities placed his body into a barrel and burned the barrel, throwing the ashes into a river.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cayetano_Ripoll

It is interesting that even in such tumultuous times there were some willing to take the position that not only was Jesus not a god, or the son of a god, or even a wise man, but was very likely a representative figure and not a real historical person at all any more than Osiris, Adonis or Mithras were thought to be.

It was these early thinkers who threw down the gauntlet of treating the christian religion on a level playing field with other religious notions, and treating its literature on a par with devotional literature of the kind christians were accustomed to treating with contempt.

The Jesus of Faith a myth?

In the previous post, I discuss the unspoken common ground between the ‘historical Jesus’ and the ‘Jesus of Faith’ and how Ehrman uses this to portray ‘mythicists’ as a minority view. It’s safe to say that a great number of teachers in theological seminaries and divinity schools (and I think many in ‘secular’ colleges and universities) believe that Jesus not only existed, but worked miracles, rose from the dead, and was the son of a god, and communes with believers from his seat in Heaven. Up until now Ehrman has downplayed this fact.

In the first chapter An Introduction to the Mythical View of Jesus Ehrman does have something to say about these ‘real scholars’ and the Jesus they teach:

The Jesus proclaimed by preachers and theologians today had no existence. That particular Jesus is (or those particular Jesuses are) a myth.

Here Ehrman betrays that all is not well in the Jesus academy – the Jesus of Faith (the Jesus or Jesuses accepted by many if not most of the teachers in theological seminaries, divinity schools, and colleges and universities) is a myth.  It would hardly come as a surprise if many of them have a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus, invoke him in their prayers, and view his ministry on Earth as the single most important even in human history. Doesn’t this seem to undermine his contention that ‘nearly every trained scholar on the planet’ is exercising a dispassionate interest in maintaining that Jesus – his words and deeds – is the real cause of christianity?

It appears as though Ehrman is being a bit disingenuous, and insulting the intelligence of his readers, if he can use these real scholars to try and make mythicists out to be a ‘very small minority voice’ and then just as quickly quietly discard them when he has no further use of them. Ehrman is trying to walk a very thin line here, and perhaps hoping his readership won’t notice that the evidence that convinces the bulk of believers in the reality of a Jesus of Nazareth is informed by faith.

Having wrapped himself in the lion’s skin of ‘all the experts on the planet’ Ehrman intends to speak for them knowing full well his own view is most likely a minority opinion among these ‘experts’.

For now I want to stress the most foundational point of all: even though some views of Jesus could loosely be labeled myths (in the sense that mythicists use the term: these views are not history but imaginative creation), Jesus himself was not a myth. He really existed.

Having first embraced these believers in mythical Jesuses because like him the also believe Jesus really existed, Ehrman now is prepared to throw them under the bus.

Historical Jesus vs the Jesus of Faith vs the Mythical Jesus

Chapter One of Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? is titled An Introduction to the Mythical View of Jesus opens with a discussion of some of the variety of views held by some scholars about who this Jesus might have been:

Modern scholars of the New Testament are famous – or infamous – for making claims about Jesus that contradict what most people, especially Christians, believe about him.

Ehrman gives examples such as Jesus as a political revolutionary, an ancient Cynic philosopher, a kind of proto-Marxist, a proto-feminist, a Pharisee, an Essene, a bourgeois, a gay man, and so on.

I think it is important here to mention that the term ‘historical Jesus’ as Ehrman will be using it is in contrast to the ‘Jesus of Faith’, that is that when Ehrman is describing an ‘historical Jesus’ he does not mean a Jesus as accepted by most christians: the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, capable of performing miracles, uttering true prophecies, or raising others or himself from the dead, or really appearing as a spirit or some such thing to real humans after a resurrection. The sort of Jesus Ehrman is proposing to establish the real existence of is a mortal man like any other who is born, lives his life, and eventually dies and stays dead.

Now assuming that most christians believe in the “Jesus of Faith’ who did indeed exercise miraculous powers and did rise from his tomb we can see that these scholars choose to believe something contrary to evidence that a great majority of people find very convincing. In point of fact it’s not abundantly clear how many teachers in theological seminaries, divinity schools, major and minor colleges and universities hold to this mortal ‘historical Jesus’ model. Unless we can see the research on how many real scholars of the New Testament adhere to one or the other view it’s difficult to accept any claim that most or (unlikely) all of them think Jesus was merely a mortal man like any other.

Yes, it may well be that virtually all the experts believe Jesus really existed, but that doesn’t mean they believe in an ‘historical Jesus’ as Ehrman defines it. This is I think a major difficulty for Ehrman’s thesis because on the one hand he wants to stack the deck in favor of the historical existence of Jesus by citing the united front of ‘all New testament scholars’, but to do so he has to include the many, many people – scholars and laymen alike – who are convinced on the evidence that Jesus was a real miracle-worker who could raise the dead, raise himself from the dead, and was if not a god in his own right the son of a god. For most people Jesus was not a failed prophet, a street-corner rabble-rouser, or a social reformer: Jesus was Lord and Savior, the long-promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, Son of God reigning even now in Heaven, coming soon to judge the living and the dead.

If Erman were to acknowledge this inconvenient truth, his ‘consensus of scholars’ would shrink, if not to a minority, at least to a mere plurality. The force of his rhetoric would lose much of its power if he were forced to admit ‘many scholars believe in a mortal Jesus’ instead of the ‘overwhelming majority’ he’d like to have his readers believe. Thus far Ehrman has chosen to leave his readers in ignorance of this embarrassing reality.

This is a point to keep in mind when Ehrman tries to scoff at mythicists as being a minority opinion – it would appear he is himself arguing from a minority opinion.

As evidenced in the quote above, Ehrman cannot escape the fact that even among this group of scholars that there is no consensus – there are many ‘historical Jesuses’ touted by those who think Jesus was merely a mortal man.

Despite this enormous range of opinion, there are several points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree. Jesus was a Jewish man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea. Even though this is the view of nearly every trained scholar on the planet, it is not the view of a group of writers who are usually labeled, and often label themselves, mythicists.

As you can see, there is nothing in this definition of his ‘historical Jesus’ which an ordinary christian would deny either. It’s all found in their Bibles.

Now against this view of Jesus acting in history – whether as a god or a man – there are mythicists:

In a recent exhaustive elaboration of the position, one of the leading proponents of Jesus mythicism, Earl Doherty, defines the view as follows: it is “the theory that no historical Jesus worthy of the name existed, that Christianity began with a belief in a spiritual, mythical figure, that the Gospels are essentially allegory and fiction, and that no single identifiable person lay at the root of the Galilean preaching tradition.” In simpler terms, the historical Jesus did not exist. Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity.

And in the simplest terms of all, the question of this debate is this:  is the real existence of a single person named Jesus necessary to explain the existence of the New Testament literature and christianity? Many say yes, this includes the vast majority of christians and (some) New Testament scholars. Some say no, and these are the mythicists.

It’s critical to understand that this is the ultimate question – Lord? Liar or Lunatic? Or Legend?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mythicism: like Creationism and Holocaust denial?

I have reserved a couple of Ehrman’s assertions in his introduction to Did Jesus Exist? for discussion in detail so as not to dilute their significance with the rather more casual characterizations of mythicists. Those were bad enough, but in my reading these two examples fairly leap off the page as being especially revealing.

In his argument about the expertise of academic Jesus scholars Ehrman gradually turns up the heat:

Those who do not think Jesus existed are frequently militant in their views and remarkably adept at countering evidence that to the rest of the civilized world seems compelling and even unanswerable… The reality is that whatever else you may think about Jesus, he certainly did exist.

…the view that Jesus existed is held by virtually every expert on the planet.

This is where Ehrman begins to contrast the expert to the amateur – you want your dentist to be an expert, or your architect to draw up your house plans, don’t you? Professionals with years of training and experience. He goes on to bring this contrast to the field of history.

It may be the case that some of my students get the bulk of their knowledge of the Middle Ages from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but is that really the best place to turn? So too millions of people have acquired their “knowledge” about early Christianity – about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the emperor Constantine, the Council of Nicaea – from Dan Brown’, author of the aforementioned The Da Vinci Code. But at the end of the day, is that such a wise choice?

Ironically, both Monty Python and Dan Brown in their works of fiction posit that Jesus did in fact exist. It would be interesting if Ehrman acknowledged that shallowness and a passion for conspiracy is part of the worldview of some who share his conviction that Jesus was a real historical person. Indeed, may get their ideas about Jesus from the devotional literature of the New Testament, a body of literature riddled with problems as almost universally admitted among everyone who’s done any study of it (including Ehrman himself!). But perhaps that would introduce too many shades of gray in the black and white portrait he’s trying to draw.

Serious historians of the early Christian movement – all of them – have spent many years preparing to be experts in their field. Just to read the ancient sources requires expertise in a range of ancient languages: Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and often Aramaic, Syriac, and Coptic, not to mention the modern languages of scholarship (for example, German and French). And that is just for starters. Expertise requires years of patiently examining ancient texts and a thorough grounding in the history and culture of Greek and Roman antiquity, the religions of the ancient Mediterranean world, both pagan and Jewish, knowledge of the history of the Christian church and the development of its social life and theology, and, well, lots of other things.

Indeed we are all indebted to the work of scholarship for much of whatever we may believe about early christian history and the stories of the New Testament. Even the humble Bibles used by believer and skeptic alike is only accessible because of the work of translation from ancient into modern language. It’s no secret that the work of experts have contributed mightily to shaping whatever knowledge we might have about the literature and history of early christianity.

And today’s academic scholars are likewise indebted to past scholars for their training and the theoretical framework within which they practice their discipline. For more than a thousand years scholarship was the preserve of that same Christian church, and its concerns and agenda controlled what could and could not be studied and what could and could not be published. Sometimes to the point of outright murder of dissenters. Only gradually over hundreds of years could an academia free of dogmatic oversight begin to produce a secular body of independent scholarly literature.

Nonetheless, even today a significant part of the academic world – especially in Jesus studies – is still under the thumb of religious control. And when Ehrman includes teachers at theological seminaries and divinity schools among his body of experts he tacitly admits that fact.

Moreover simply because one attends or is employed at a secular school it does not necessarily preclude one from being a person of the christian faith. Indeed in our society most people identify themselves as being christians of one stripe or another – the one unifying theme of christianity being belief in Jesus whatever doctrinal differences divide them. Even those who do not subscribe to christianity are very likely to have been raised as christians in a society awash in christian beliefs. Even free thinkers are likely to simply accept that Jesus existed by osmosis.

So I think it is fair to say that belief that there was a Jesus – whether you accept theological claims about him or not – is the almost universal axiomatic jumping off point for just about  everyone. Which is reflected in thinking about ancient times. We mark time from the supposed date of the birth of Jesus, and it’s non-controversial for anyone talking about the period to refer to it as ‘the time of Christ’. It appears that the notion of Jesus as an historical person is part of the warp and woof of our culture.

These considerations go a long way, I believe, in explaining why New Testament scholars never thought to try and demonstrate that this Jesus really existed. It’s a given.

These considerations also go a long way, I think, in explaining Ehrman’s puzzlement about the existence of people who deny the existence of Jesus.

Of course Jesus existed. Everyone knows he existed. Don’t they?

The idea that the central figure in the field of study so many have devoted their lives to might be a myth must have been a shock. Ehrman makes a couple of comparisons to express just how shocking this ‘radical skepticism’ is:

It is striking that virtually everyone who has spent all the years needed to attain these qualifications is convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure. Again, this is not a piece of evidence, but if nothing else, it should give one pause. In the field of biology, evolution may be “just” a theory (as some politicians painfully point out), but it is the theory subscribed to, for good reason, by every real scientist in every established university in the Western world.

In this analogy Jesus is to history as evolution is to biology. To deny the real existence of Jesus is like denying the realty of evolution. To be a mythicist is like being a creationist.

Now, as Ehrman tells us, biologists subscribe to evolution as an explanatory theory for good reason. The question is, do New Testament scholars subscribe to the historical existence of Jesus for equally good reasons? After all there is literally tons of evidence for evolution – there are so many fossils that museums can’t display them all and new evidence is discovered every day. Is Ehrman really trying to imply there is the same overwhelming unambiguous glut of hard evidence for Jesus?

If there isn’t a similar state of the evidence in both cases, then Ehrman’s comparison fails. Can we really accept that some of the prestige enjoyed by evolutionary science can rub off onto New Testament studies in this way? I don’t think so.

Now if Jesus scholars aren’t much like evolutionary biologist in the significant way Ehrman implies, are mythicists in any significant way like creationists?

In the face of the growing accumulation of evidence for evolution creationists by and large have only a couple of tacks available to them: that the evidence is faked, that naturalistic explanations couldn’t work even if it’s not fake, and that the traditional explanation of magical intervention is more likely.

Now it is known that some of the New Testament materials are fakes, even by the New Testament scholars. This is just a problem everyone interested in the study of early christianity has to cope with. This is a rather important distinction between the state of evidence for biological evolution and Jesus studies. So it’s hardly controversial that people who reject the historicity of Jesus acknowledge this fact.

As far as I know most mythicists are willing to acknowledge that the historical Jesus hypothesis could work if there were sufficient evidence – it is known that legends can grow up around real historical persons.

Finally, it seems to me most mythicists propose a thoroughly naturalistic explanation for the development of christianity as a distinct religious movement.

On this score I think Ehrman’s comparison of mythicists to creationists also fails. Can we reasonably accept that some of the distaste and disdain for creationists should rub off on mythicists? No.

Now having tried to make an analogy along these lines Ehrman goes directly to another comparison:

Still, as is clear from the avalanche of sometimes outraged postings on all the relevant Internet sites, there is simply no way to convince conspiracy theorists that the evidence for their position is too thin to be convincing and that the evidence for the traditional view is thoroughly persuasive. Anyone who chooses to believe something contrary to evidence that a majority of people find overwhelmingly convincing – whether it involves the fact of the Holocaust, the landing on the moon, the assassination of presidents, or even a presidential place of birth – will not be convinced. Simply will not be convinced.

This is the most egregious slur against mythicists, attempting to put them in the same boat as a laundry-list of familiar cultural ‘bad guys’ and whipping boys.

Mythicists are people who are not persuaded of what a majority believes, so they are part of the ‘anyone’ Ehrman excoriates. And what is this ‘evidence’ that this majority finds overwhelmingly persuasive? Mostly it’s the Bible. And the weight of more than a thousand years of cultural domination of christian dogma.

I find it appalling that Ehrman trivializes the Holocaust by dragging it into his argument in a transparent attempt to tar mythicists with the same broad brush. Is this how a scholar is supposed to conduct himself? And this is no slip of the pen – he makes the same comparison in articles and interviews during the media blitz advertising his book.

By choosing to frame the debate about whether or not Jesus really existed in such Manichean terms it appears to me that Ehrman is betraying some insecurity as to whether a dispassionate examination of the evidence will be persuasive, and thus resorts to poisoning the well. He seems to be trying to inoculate his readership against taking the arguments of mythicists with an open mind and freely and fairly judging them on their merits. Because he has planted this seed in their minds that to listen to them will be like giving a sympathetic hearing to Holocaust deniers, creationists, and conspiracists.

Even if Ehrman privately thinks this way, he would have been better served to let the evidence and the arguments speak for themselves. By giving vent to such an emotional outburst Ehrman gives discerning readers good reason to doubt that he gives scholars who are not persuaded of the existence of an historical Jesus a fair hearing.

“Out of context!”

Now I’m aware that certain objections can and will be raised in my depiction thus far of the introduction of Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? on the score that it is a perverse reading and not at all what the author intended. By digging out certain telling phrases Ehrman writes for consideration I am simply ‘quote-mining’ the text in a manner that misrepresents the message. In terms used by apologists I am ‘taking things out of context’ and twisting his words.

However, in writing about a book there’s a certain inevitability to quoting the author’s words. If I don’t quote Ehrman there’s the objection that I’m not showing where he says this, that, or the other thing. It’s a sort of Catch-22 situation: damned if I do and damned if I don’t. All I can do is present my own interpretation as best I can and support it with the best available evidence.

It’s very possible that I am misunderstanding what I read – that’s always a danger in communication of any kind. Only an extended dialog can have any hope of disentangling the deficiencies of language. To someone of a different background to my own it may be that Ehrman’s introduction of himself and the problem his book is intended to address is utterly uncontroversial and merely bland statements of objective facts.

But I didn’t have to troll through the whole book to find a few unrepresentative phrases whose context blunt their literal meaning – all this is found in the densely-packed 7 pages of the introduction. Moreover this introduction of only 16 paragraphs is recursive on the twin themes of the expertise of Ehrman and professors of New Testament studies versus the amateur status and the vociferousness of the mythicists. All the valorizing of Ehrman and his colleagues doesn’t occur in one spot and all the demonizing of mythicists doesn’t occur in another discrete section: thus it’s necessary when considering one or the other some discriminating reading is required.

It’s my judgement that this is a fair reading of what Ehrman writes: two camps are delineated and set in opposition. Ehrman uses rather loaded words associated with the mythicist camp and creates a kind of paranoid narrative of an alarming  insidious influence which he intends to counter because ‘evidence matters’.

Even if what I am pointing out about Ehrman’s writing is accurate, is it not a true representation of the situation? Aren’t the professors in New Testament academia disinterested experts whose opinions should carry weight in comparison to the amateur mythicists? No doubt there is a great deal of expertise among those who teach at seminaries, divinity schools, and colleges and universities. No doubt there are many among the mythicists whose credentials are less prestigious, and necessarily ‘amateur’ as Ehrman defines it: not employed as teachers of religious studies.

If all we had to consider was the credentials of the parties involved we’d probably tend to plump for the more impressive resume.

However, there’s more to making a persuasive argument than simply flashing curricula vitae at one another like peacocks shaking their tails.

As Ehrman contends academic Jesus scholars haven’t actually made a case for the historical existence of Jesus it’s rather difficult to to dismiss those who do make a case against that proposition out of hand. Indeed it appears that the existence of Jesus is simply assumed as an axiom among New Testament scholars. Small wonder that their opinion that Jesus certainly existed suffers from a certain skepticism among people who are interested in whether it is true or not. One is hardly inclined to accept an argument that is never offered.

In fact this is the reason Ehrman feels compelled to write this book: no one has made the case for Jesus’s existence, and he fears that the case that Jesus did not in fact exist outside of literature appears more persuasive because of that deficiency among New Testament academics.

I think this is also why Ehrman needs to include a refutation of mythicism in his book outlining his case for an historic Jesus of Nazareth: the ‘not proven’ camp is the only one trying to make any case at all.

Now as to the charges against mythicists of ‘passion for conspiracy’, ‘shallowness of historical knowledge’, ‘vociferousness’, ‘radical skepticism’, ‘militancy’, ‘agenda driven’ and the like – these are all claims that remain to be demonstrated.

Are there mythicists who exemplify one or more of these traits? I wouldn’t be surprised – the world is full of people of all kinds of characters and qualities. On the other hand are there among those who believe there really was a Jesus who also share one or more of these traits? It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. It’s my contention that by deliberately associating these ‘negative’ traits only to the mythicists without acknowledging the likelihood that believers in a real Jesus may just as easily share them is putting an undue spin on the debate. Ehrman is casting things in a ‘good guy versus bad guy’ story form with himself and his colleagues wearing the white hats.

It’s this sort of behavior which undermines my confidence in Ehrman’s claim to be a ‘dispassionate historian’ and perhaps an unreliable narrator in what is to follow.

Heroes! …and Villains

To continue with Ehrman’s book –

In the last episode you may recall it seems to me Bart Ehrman was positioning himself (and the whole weight of New Testament academia) as the ignored and disdained underdogs in a debate about the existence of a real Jesus in history. Slight miscasting I’m inclined to point out.

But like any Hero, Ehrman must be opposed by a Villain – or better yet a big Gang of Super-Villains. It’d be nice if the had an Evil Plan up their sleeves…

In this story the role of the villain is to be filled by the ‘mythicists’ – those who doubt there ever was a real man named Jesus who served as the catalyst for the creation of christianity and that this figure is a mythical character of literature.

Sometimes Ehrman is (sometimes) inclined to be generous to (some of) them.

[While] none of this literature is written by scholars trained in New Testament or early Christian studies teaching at the major, or even the minor, accredited theological seminaries, divinity schools, universities, or colleges of North America or Europe (or anywhere in the world)… a whole body of literature, some of it highly intelligent and well informed, makes this case.

But a couple of bona fide scholars – not professors teaching religious studies in universities but scholars nonetheless, and at least one of them a PhD in the field of the New testament – have taken this position and written about it.

…and the smart ones among them need to be taken seriously…

For the introduction this is as far as Ehrman is willing to go in giving (some) mythicists any credit – there are some who (though woefully lacking in proper credentials and the right sort of training and not even professors!) are intelligent and well informed.

But of mythicists in general he paints a less sanguine portrait.

Some of them [mythicist books and articles] rival The Da Vinci Code [the historical Jesus novel] in their passion for conspiracy and the shallowness of their historical knowledge…

..they do occupy a noteworthy niche as a (very) small but (often) loud minority voice. Once you tune in to this voice, you quickly learn just how persistent and vociferous it can be.

a quick Internet search reveals how influential such radical skepticism has been in the past and how rapidly it is spreading even now. For decades it was the dominant view in countries such as the Soviet Union.

Rarely do mythicists define what they mean by the term myth, a failure that strikes real scholars of religion as both unfortunate and highly problematic…

Those who do not think Jesus existed are frequently militant in their views and remarkably adept at countering evidence that to the rest of the civilized world seems compelling and even unanswerable.

…there are several loud voices out there, whether you tune in to them or not, who are declaring Jesus is a myth. This mythicist position is interesting historically and phenomenologically, as part of a wider skepticism that has infiltrated parts of the thinking world

these claims are seeping into the popular consciousness at an alarming rate. Jesus existed, and those vocal persons who deny it do so not because they have considered the evidence with the dispassionate eye of the historian, but because they have some other agenda that this denial serves.

You see, Ehrman has quite a bit more to say, in much stronger terms, about mythicists as a group than the few backhanded compliments he reserves for a few exceptional cases.

This last bit is interesting, as he accuses mythicists of having a ‘passion for conspiracy theories’ yet he boldly proclaims that mythicists have a secret agenda!

But I think I observe in the great deal he does say about mythicists as a class the outlines of a familiar story: a vociferous and militant minority, radical skeptics, have set themselves against the views of the rest of the civilized world: alarmingly, they are infiltrating the thinking world from strongholds such as the Soviet Union to fulfill a mysterious hidden agenda.

Has Hollywood been notified? Red Dawn has got nothing on this.

———–

I have left a couple of passages out of Ehrman’s litany on the diabolical nature of the mythicist menace because I think they deserve a little more discussion than his broad-brush depictions listed above.

Another cliff-hanger to keep you on the edge of your seats!