Taking mythicists seriously. Seriously?

Despite the profound implications of the question of whether Jesus existed historically (or only as a figure from literature – a myth) it seems there is no discussion of this issue because it is not taken seriously by those whose work is most closely affected by it:

It is fair to say that mythicists as a group, and as individuals, are not taken seriously by the vast majority of scholars in the fields of New Testament, early Christianity, ancient history, and theology. This is widely recognized, to their chagrin, by mythicists themselves. Archibald Robertson, in one of the classic works in the field, says with good reason, “The mythicist… does not get fair play from professional theologians. They either meet him with a conspiracy of silence or, if that is impossible, treat him as an amateur whose lack of academic status robs his opinion of any value…”

If  in fact mythicists do not get fair play by established academics, then we can certainly look forward to this situation being corrected now that the secret is out. Ehrman goes on to give examples of others who summarily dismiss the views which are so antithetical to their own (John Meier and I Howard Marshall).

Having established that, in his view, mythicists are treated unfairly by academics in his field, Ehrman goes on to mention some whose arguments must be considered:

As I will indicate more fully later, I think Wells – and Price, and several other mythicists – do deserve to be taken seriously, even if their claims are in the end dismissed.

Which is in the end the ideal – ideas are not simply to be ignored nor dismissed without a hearing – even if it becomes clear that the evidence does not support a theory at this time it is fruitful to know where it fails and how it might be instructive to look at old ideas from a fresh perspective. Even if mythicism does not succeed in persuading, some of the critiques it offers may be beneficial in testing hypotheses of the current consensus.

 

Knowing that Ehrman intends to take some mythicists seriously, we are about to embark for the meat of the matter. But before we do Ehrman treats his readers to a couple of appetizers, authors who he does not feel should be taken seriously: D M Mudock whose work includes The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold and Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy whose book The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God? comes under some scrutiny.

While it is useful to provide a taste of the sensationalist claims that one can find in this literature, I do not think that the serious authors who have pursued a mythicist agenda (for example G A Wells, Robert Price, and now Richard Carrier) can be tarnished with the same brush or be condemned with guilt by association. Their work has to stand or fall on its own. independent of the foibles and shortcomings of the sensationalists.

That’s good to know, because in my experience many who have taken up the historicist agenda make it quite clear that ‘guilt by association’ is a major pillar of their mode of argumentation. That is when they’re not simply ignoring mythicists, or condemning the on the basis of what credentials they hang on their office walls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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