| Christ died so that we may|
write articles about
|A multi-chef broth|
|Devil's in the details|
|The pearly gates|
| Tomorrow is a mystery,|
but yesterday is
|Wie es eigentlich gewesen|
“”The Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the sun, in which they put a man called Christ in the place of the sun, and pay him the adoration originally paid to the sun.
|—Thomas Paine, An Essay on the Origin of Free-Masonry|
Jesus myth theory (also the Christ myth theory, Jesus mythicism, and the nonexistence hypothesis as well as Jesus ahistoricity) refers to several hypotheses that hold that the New Testament account of the life of Jesus is so filled with myth and legend as well as internal contradictions and historical irregularities that at best no meaningful historical verification regarding Jesus of Nazareth (including his very existence) can be extracted from them. It has been accepted by some academics.
However, as Archibald Robertson stated in his 1946 book, Jesus: Myth Or History, at least as far as John M. Robertson was concerned, the myth theory was not concerned with denying the possibility of a flesh and blood Jesus being involved in the Gospel account, but rather, "What the myth theory denies is that Christianity can be traced to a personal founder who taught as reported in the Gospels and was put to death in the circumstances there recorded." Ehrman in his 2012 book Did Jesus Exist? echoes this version when he defines the term as "In simpler terms, the historical Jesus did not exist. Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity"
Moreover, people who accepted that Jesus was a flesh and blood man have been called Christ mythers. The most infamous of these was Sir James George Frazer ("My theory assumes the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth") who along with John M. Robertson was grouped with those "who contested the historical existence of Jesus" by no less then Albert Schweitzer.
Background and History
Proponents point to early beliefs in a non-corporeal Jesus (docetism, as condemned in 2 John 1:7, which would help explain the lack of historical evidence for a human seed, and close correspondence of the Jesus story to many other myths of the time (a correspondence first noted by early apologist and saint Justin Martyr). The theory in its broadest definition can be traced as far back as the concept of Docetism and Celsus (around 180 CE) and there is a possible hint of it in Justin Martyr's "Dialogue with Trypho", though its modern revival goes back only to the 1790s with the ideas of Constantin-François Volney and Charles François Dupuis.
However, Volney and Dupuis did not agree on what the Christ myth was. Dupuis held that there was no human being involved in the New Testament account which he saw as an intentional extended allegory of solar myths while Volney allowed for confused memories of an obscure historical figure to be integrated in a mythology that compiled organically. So from nearly the get go the modern Christ Myth theory had two parallel lines of thought: There was no human being being behind the New Testament and confused memories of an obscure historical figure were woven into the mythology. For the most part the 'no human being being behind the New Testament' version is presented as the Christ myth theory ignoring Volney's confused memories of an obscure historical figure version.
In fact, as the John Frum cargo cult shows, even in as short as some 11 years after the message starts being noticed by unbelievers the nature of the founder being an actual person or renamed existing deity is already unclear and in a few more years the oral tradition has forgotten the possible human founder (illiterate native named Manehivi who caused trouble using that name from 1940 to 1941 and was exiled from the island as a result) and replaced him with a version (literate white US serviceman that appeared to the village elders in a vision on February 15, late 1930s) better suited to the cult.
"Jesus Myth Theories"
As mentioned before Volney and Dupuis had different views regarding the Christ myth which resulted in a large range of number of ideas beings called "Jesus myth theory", "Christ Myth theory", or "Ahistorical Jesus" (including ones that accept Jesus existed as a human being):
- Jesus is an entirely fictional or mythological character created by the Early Christian community. (Effectively Dupuis position)
- Jesus Agnosticism: The Gospel story is so filled with myth and legend that nothing about it including the very existence of the Jesus described can be shown to be historical.
- Jesus began as a myth with historical trappings possibly including "reports of an obscure Jewish Holy man bearing this name" being added later. (Effectively Volney's position)
- The Gospel Jesus is in essence a composite character (that is, an amalgamation of several actual individuals whose stories have been melded into one character, such as is the case with Robin Hood), and therefore non-historical by definition.
- The Gospel Jesus didn't exist and GA Wells' Jesus Myth (1999) is an example of this. Note that from Jesus Legend (1996) on Wells has accepted there was a historical Jesus behind the hypothetical Q Gospel and that both Jesus Legend and Jesus Myth have been presented as examples of the Christ Myth theory by Robert Price and Eddy-Boyd. while Richard Carrier has used them as examples of an ahistorical Jesus.
- Christianity cannot "be traced to a personal founder as reported in the Gospels and was put to death in the circumstances there recorded." A Jesus who died of old age or only preached 'End of the World is nigh' speeches to small groups fit under this version.
- (The Christ myth 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" 
- "This view (Christ Myth theory) states that the story of Jesus is a piece of mythology, possessing no more substantial claims to historical fact than the old Greek or Norse stories of gods and heroes..." Remsburg held to the idea Jesus the man existed (in some manner) but the various accounts that survive tell us nothing truly historical about that person. There are modern examples of stories of known historical people "possessing no more substantial claims to historical fact than the old Greek or Norse stories of gods and heroes"--George Washington and the Cherry Tree; Davy Crockett and the Frozen Dawn; Jesse James and the Widow to mention a few. King Arthur and Robin Hood are two more examples of suspected historical people whose stories are most likely fictional in nature. This was Remsburg's view
- Christ-myth theories are part of the "theories that regard Jesus as an historical but insignificant figure."
As the above shows some versions or the Jesus myth theory are not in the Jesus didn't exist as a human being category. Worse the very terms "myth", "historical", and "fiction" in relation to this matter are not used in anything resembling a consistent manner.
Meaning of "historical Jesus"
The biggest problem with talking about a "historical Jesus" is that there are two "historical" Jesus Christs forming the ends of a huge spectrum of hypothesis. Touched on by Remsberg in 1909, by Rudolf Bultmann in 1941 (and used by Richard Carrier in 2014), and reiterated by Biblical scholar I. Howard Marshall in 2004, these two ends (the italicized clarifiers are from Marshall) are:
- Reductive theory (Remsburg's Jesus of Nazareth): "Jesus was an ordinary but obscure individual who inspired a religious movement and copious legends about him" rather than being a totally fictitious creation like King Lear or Doctor Who
- Triumphalist theory (Remsburg's Jesus of Bethlehem): "The Gospels are totally or almost totally true" rather than being works of imagination like those of King Arthur.
Marshall warns "We shall land in considerable confusion if we embark on an inquiry about the historical Jesus if we do not pause to ask ourselves exactly what we are talking about."
However, as Carrier notes, "Either side of the historicity debate will at time engage in a fallacy here, citing evidence supporting the reductive theory in defense of the triumphalist theory (as if that was valid), or citing the absurdity of the triumphalist theory as if this refuted the reductive theory (as if that were valid)"
Too many times when apologists talk about a historical Jesus they are actually talking about the Jesus of Bethlehem and too many times Christ Mythers are trying to disprove the Jesus of Bethlehem rather than a possible Jesus of Nazareth.
Meaning of "fiction"
In the Jesus: Fact or Fiction? debate between Dr. Robert Price and Rev. John Rankin, Price states "there are four senses in which Jesus Christ may be said to be a 'fiction:'"
- "the central figure of the gospels is not based on any historical individual", i.e. the Jesus of the Gospels is little more than "a synthetic construct of theologians, a symbolic 'Uncle Sam' figure."[note 1]
- "the "historical Jesus" reconstructed by New Testament scholars is always a reflection of the individual scholars who reconstruct him" to the point that "even if there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn't one any more."
- "Jesus as the personal savior, with whom people claim, as I used to, to have a 'personal relationship' is in the nature of the case a fiction, essentially a psychological projection, an 'imaginary playmate.'"
- "Christ is a fiction in that Christ functions, in an unnoticed and equivocal way, as shorthand for a vast system of beliefs and institutions on whose behalf he is invoked."
Again many apologists either forget or ignore the more moderate definitions in favor of those that turn the Jesus Myth theory into a strawman.
Examples of the confusion regarding the meaning of "Mythist" and "Christ Myth theory"
"The gist of his position was in a large measure like the mythical theory of David Strauss, which created a sensation fifty years ago. Strauss held that there was verily a historic Christ, but that a vast mass of miracle and supernatural wonders had been woven like wreaths around the head of Jesus. Drews goes further. He alleges that there never was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth."
"In wide circles the doubt grows as to the historical character of the picture of Christ given in the Gospels. (...) If in spite of this any one thinks that besides the latter a Jesus also cannot be dispensed with; but we know nothing of Jesus. Even in the representations of historical theology, he is scarcely more than the shadow of a shadow. Consequently it is self-deceit to make the figure of this 'unique' and 'mighty' personality, to which a man may believe he must on historical grounds hold fast, the central point of religious consciousness." (Drews, Arthur (1910) The Christ Myth)
John M. Robertson
"(John) Robertson is prepared to concede the possibility of an historical Jesus, perhaps more than one, having contributed something to the Gospel story. "A teacher or teachers named Jesus, or several differently named teachers called Messiahs " (of whom many are on record) may have uttered some of the sayings in the Gospels.
1 The Jesus of the Talmud, who was stoned and hanged over a century before the traditional date of the crucifixion, may really have existed and have contributed something to the tradition.
2 An historical Jesus may have "preached a political doctrine subversive of the Roman rule, and . . . thereby met his death "; and Christian writers concerned to conciliate the Romans may have suppressed the facts.
3 Or a Galilean faith-healer with a local reputation may have been slain as a human sacrifice at some time of social tumult; and his story may have got mixed up with the myth.
4 The myth theory is not concerned to deny such a possibility. What the myth theory denies is that Christianity can be traced to a personal founder who taught as reported in the Gospels and was put to death in the circumstances there recorded"
John Remsburg (Remsberg)
John Resmburg's 1909 The Christ has a list of 42 historians during or shortly after the supposed times of Jesus who should have, but did not, record anything about Jesus, his apostles, or any supposed acts that we find only in the Bible making him a popular source for armchair Christ Mythers generally in the Jesus didn't exist as a human being vein. The problem is that is not what Resmburg was doing:
|This volume on "The Christ" was written by one who recognizes in the Jesus of Strauss and Renan a transitional step, but not the ultimate step, between orthodox Christianity and radical Freethought. By the Christ is understood the Jesus of the New Testament. The Jesus of the New Testament is the Christ of Christianity. The Jesus of the New Testament is a supernatural being. He is, like the Christ, a myth. He is the Christ myth. [...] It is not against the man Jesus that I write, but against the Christ Jesus of theology [...] Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of humanity, the pathetic story of whose humble life and tragic death has awakened the sympathies of millions, is a possible character and may have existed; but the Jesus of Bethlehem, the Christ of Christianity, is an impossible character and does not exist. [...] While all Freethinkers are agreed that the Christ of the New Testament is a myth they are not, as we have seen, and perhaps never will be, fully agreed as to the nature of this myth. Some believe that he is a historical myth; others that he is a pure myth. Some believe that Jesus, a real person, was the germ of this Christ whom subsequent generations gradually evolved; others contend that the man Jesus, as well as the Christ, is wholly a creation of the human imagination. After carefully weighing the evidence and arguments in support of each hypothesis the writer, while refraining from expressing a dogmatic affirmation regarding either, is compelled to accept the former as the more probable.|
Resmburg's work was to show the total disconnect between the records we have and a possible human Jesus; it did not support the idea Jesus didn't exist as a human being.
G. A. Wells
Wells accepted that there was a 1st century Jesus in both Jesus Myth (1996) and Jesus Legend (1999)--yet these books were labeled as examples of the Mythical Jesus Thesis (defined as the idea of "Jesus tradition is virtually--perhaps entirely--fictional in nature" (sic)) in Eddy and Boyd's 2007 The Jesus Legend Baker Academic on pp. 24.
Other people on both sides of the issue have similarly labeled these books as Christ Myth books:
"The year 1999 saw the publication of at least five books which concluded that the Gospel Jesus did not exist. One of these was the latest book (The Jesus Myth) by G. A. Wells, the current and longstanding doyen of modern Jesus mythicists."
"Christ-myth theorists like George A. Wells have argued that, if we ignore the Gospels, which were not yet written at the time of the Epistles of Paul, we can detect in the latter a prior, more transparently mythic concept of Jesus... 
"In recent years the existence of Jesus has been debated heatedly on the Internet. The most thoroughgoing and sophisticated statement of this theory has been set out in five books by G. A Wells; the most recent is the Jesus Legend (1996)"
Based on his 2014 book Carrier uses "Ahistoricity" (ie not Christ Myth but not historical either) to classify G.A. Wells work
"Books by Contemporary Scholars Defending Ahistoricity: (...) George Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus (1988); Who Was Jesus? (1989); The Jesus Legend (1993); The Jesus Myth (1998); Can We Trust the New Testament? (2005)" (handout for Richard Carrier's 2006 Stanford University lecture "Did Jesus Even Exist?")
Wells himself in his The Jesus Legend "[In Did Jesus Exist] I agued that Paul sincerely believed that the evidence (not restricted to the Wisdom Literature) pointed to a historical Jesus who had lived well before his own day; and I leave open the question as to whether such a person had in fact existed and lived the obscure live that Paul supposed of him. (There is no means of deciding this issue.)
This sampling over the course of 100 years shows the problem with defining the terms "mythist" and "Christ Myth theory"--the terms have been used with people have accepted the existence of a flesh and blood Jesus in the 1st century but do not accept the Gospels as an accurate description of the life of that man as well as those who say there is no flesh and blood Jesus to be found.
The Historical Jesus spectrum or color me completely confused
Biblical scholar I. Howard Marshall writes that there are "two views of the historical Jesus which stand at the opposite ends of a spectrum of opinion about him." At one extreme is the view that Jesus never existed, and that the gospels describe an essentially fictional person. At the other extreme is the view that the gospels portray events exactly as they happened, and each event depicted in the New Testament is the literal truth.
As with any spectrum there are "colors" (or categories) and over the course of a century at least three people (Remsburg, Barker, and Eddy-Boyd) have taken a stab as what those colors are. However, as Eddy-Boyd points out these the categories are "admittedly over simplistic", "ideal-typical", and a "useful heuristic" they should not be taken as absolute definitions.
In fact, if you look at the definitions provided by these three authors as well as some others you will notice that the four categories don't always match up which in turn means the boundaries between the definitions are not sharp and clear...even to scholars and experts. This is why one needs to nail down just what what one means when talking about the "Jesus myth theory" or the "historical Jesus."
The four "colors" of the historical Jesus spectrum (and their current status with the academic community) are:
Christ Myth theory (Philosophical myth) (Fringe)
"Jesus Christ is a pure myth—that he never had an existence, except as a Messianic idea, or an imaginary solar deity."
"Jesus never existed at all and that the myth came into being through a literary process."
All trace of a historical person, if there was ever one was to begin with, has been lost. (Jesus agnosticism)
The Legendary Jesus thesis - "The term 'legend' has various meanings in different contexts. In some academic circles, i.e., certain sectors of folkloristics, the term has come to refer to a transmitted story set in the relatively recent, or at least the historical, past that, though believed to be true by the teller, may or may not be rooted in actual history. On the multiple uses and definitional complexities of the term ‘legend'—including its relationship to 'history'—see [reference list omitted]."
Christ Myth theory (Historical myth via the narrative is essentially false), ahistorical, or Reductive (Fringe)
"Many radical Freethinkers believe that Christ is a myth, of which Jesus of Nazareth is the basis, but that these narratives are so legendary and contradictory as to be almost if not wholly, unworthy of credit."
"Other skeptics deny that the Jesus character portrayed in the New Testament existed, but that there could have been a first century personality after whom the exaggerated myth was pattered."
There is just enough to show there was a first century teacher called Jesus and little else.
Triumphalist theory/Extreme Historical (Fringe)
"Christ is a historical character, supernatural and divine; and that the New Testament narratives, which purport to give a record of his life and teachings, contain nothing but infallible truth."
"The New Testament is basically true in all of its accounts except that there are natural explanations for the miracle stories."
Moderate Historical (mainstream)
"Jesus of Nazareth is a historical character and that these narratives, eliminating the supernatural elements, which they regard as myths, give a fairly authentic account of his life."
"Jesus did exist, and that some parts of the New Testament are accurate, although the miracles and the claim to deity are due to later editing of the original story."
A historical Jesus did exist but was very different from the gospel Jesus.
Arguing the wrong Jesus
Richard Carrier in his 2014 peer reviewed On the Historicity of Jesus by Sheffield Phoenix Press using Rudolf Bultmann of 1941 as his baseline gave two levels by which Jesus can be "historical":
- Reductive theory: "Jesus was an ordinary but obscure individual who inspired a religious movement and copious legends about him"
- Triumphalist theory: "The Gospels are totally or almost totally true."
Carrier notes, "Either side of the historicity debate will at times engage in a fallacy here, citing evidence supporting the reductive theory in defense of the triumphalist theory (as if that was valid), or citing the absurdity of the triumphalist theory as if this refuted the reductive theory (as if that were valid)". Additionally the Jesus story has picked up many oral traditions 'that are not in the Bible at all and there are clues that the versions of the Gospels we have are not what were originally written. A good amount of bad Christ Myth theory can be seen in Kersey Graves' 1875 book The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors and many armchair Christ Myther unknowingly reference material in that work.
Born on December 25
The December 25 date was by Emperor decree to compete with the popular Sol Invictus worship and first appears on a Roman calendar in 334 CE. Luke tells us that shepherds were tending their sheep in the fields when Jesus was born, something that shepherds did June until November.
In fact, before the decree there was much debate regarding when Jesus was born. Tertullian (c 160–220 CE) and Hippolytus (c 170-235 CE) said March 25; Clement (c 150-215 CE) gave 25th day of Pachon (May 20) and the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi (April 19 or 20), while others were saying January 6 (the birthday of Osiris), and still others pointed to the Essenes whose couples had sex in December so their child would be born September (the holy month of Atonement). 
This means any argument that Jesus was a myth based on the December 25 date is doomed from the start because that part of the story isn't even in the Bible and didn't appear until well into the 4th century.
While it is true the our versions of Matthew and Luke have virgin birth stories there are hints that these are late comers to the Jesus myth story.
Paul in Romans 1:1-3 states that Jesus came "from the seed of David, according to the flesh" (the belief at the time was that women were the earth into which men planted their seed so here Paul expressly states that Jesus link to David is through the male line ie Joseph) and in Galatians 4:4 stated “God sent his Son, born of a woman” using the word gune (woman) rather than parthenos (virgin). Both these points show that Paul not only did not know of a virgin birth but expressly denied it.
When Marcion of Sinope put together the first Christian bible c140 CE his Luke (Evangelikon) had no birth story. While his critics claimed he removed this portion it is more likely that the Luke as we know it today was written in response to Marcion's Luke.
This means that the virgin birth was added sometime between Paul's letters and whenever Matthew was written (some time before c180 CE)
In fact, it has been suggested that being born of a virgin was the ancient equivalent of being born with a silver spoon in one's mouth and signified the "extraordinary personal qualities exhibited by an individual" as well as being an "attempt to explain an individual's superiority to other mortals. Generally Mediterranean peoples looked at one's birth or parent-age to explain one's character and behavior" and "veneration of a benefactor."  Caesar Augustus, Alexander the Great, Plato were all stated as being born of virgins and we know they were actual historical people; so the term 'born of a virgin' was never meant to be taken literally.
The "star" of Bethlehem
On occasion the "star" of Bethlehem is presented as a reference for a possible date but there are several problems here. Only Matthew mentions this "star" and there is much debate over just what (if anything) this star was. Hypotheses range from a comet (Halley's Comet of 12 BCE is popular), a nova recorded by c. 5 BCE Chinese and Korean stargazers, a series of planetary conjunctions from 3 to 2 BCE, or a pious fiction. As this rough sampling above shows, the dates, nature of the "star", and even its very existence are guesswork and so are totally useless at forming a date. Never mind that it is trying to prove the Gospel Jesus of Matthew existed rather than a hypothetical ordinary flesh-and-blood Jesus.
The correct Jesus to argue about and the gray area between historical and mythical (the Ahistorical realm)
Because of the huge variance of what constitutes a historical Jesus Carrier set three criteria for the minimal historical Jesus:
1) An actual man at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life who continued as an identifiable movement after his death
2) This is the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his follower to have been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities
3) This is the same Jesus some of whose follower soon began worshiping as a living god (or demigod)
"If any one of these premises is false, it can fairly be said there was no historical Jesus in any pertinent sense, And at least one of them must be false for any Jesus Myth theory to be true."
"But notice that now we don't even require that is considered essential in many church creeds. For instance, it is not necessary that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Maybe he was, But even if we proved he wasn't that still does not vindicate mysticism. Because the 'real' Jesus may have been executed by Herod Antipas (as the Gospel of Peter in fact claims) or by Roman authorities in an earlier or later decade then Pilate (as some early Christians really did think) Some scholars even argue for an earlier century (and have some real evidence to cite) ... My point at present is that even if we proved proved the founder of Christianity was executed by Herod the Great (not even by Romans, much less Pilate, and a whole forty years before the Gospels claim), as long as his name or nickname (whether assigned before or after his death) really was Jesus and his execution is the very thing spoken of as leading him to the status of the divine Christ venerated in the Epistles, I think it would be fair to say the mythicists are then simply wrong. I would say this even if Jesus was never really executed but only believed to have been Because even then it's still the same historical man being spoken of and worshiped."
Carrier give a lot of leeway with his criteria and also put forth five criteria for a minimal mythical Jesus:
1) At the origin of Christianity, Jesus Christ was thought to be a celestial deity much like any other.
2) Like many other celestial deities, this Jesus 'communicated' with his subjects only through dreams, visions and other forms of divine inspiration (such as prophecy, past and present).
3) Like some other celestial deities, this Jesus was originally believed to have endured an ordeal of incarnation, death, burial and resurrection in a supernatural realm.
4) As for many other celestial deities, an allegorical story of this same Jesus was then composed and told within the sacred community, which placed him on earth, in history, as a divine man, with an earthly family, companions, and enemies, complete with deeds and sayings, and an earthly depiction of his ordeals.
5) Subsequent communities of worshipers believed (or at least taught) that this invented sacred story was real (and either not allegorical or only 'additionally' allegorical).
"That all five propositions are true shall be my minimal Jesus myth theory."
However there are are a lot of ways that one can fall between these two criteria and have a hypothetical Jesus who is neither historical or mythical by Carrier's standard but who can be both by other people's criteria:
- John Robertson's 1900 idea that the Gospel Jesus was a composite character or that a person inspired by Paul's writings took up the name Jesus, tried to preach his own version of Paul's teachings, and possibly got killed for his troubles fails the criteria.
- The idea expressed by Remsberg that there was a Jesus but his following wasn't an identifiable movement until Paul and later the writers of the Gospels got a hold of it also fails Carrier's criteria: "Jesus, if he existed, was a Jew, and his religion, with a few innovations, was Judaism. With his death, probably, his apotheosis began. During the first century the transformation was slow; but during the succeeding centuries rapid. The Judaic elements of his religion were, in time, nearly all eliminated, and the Pagan elements, one by one, were incorporated into the new faith."
- G. A. Wells' Jesus Legend (1996) on with its mythical Paul Jesus + 1st century teacher who was not executed fails point 2 (they are not the same Jesus) so by Carrier's criteria is NOT a "historical Jesus in any pertinent sense" (This does explain Carrier's classification of this work as 'ahistoricitical')
- Dan Barker's "Other skeptics deny that the Jesus character portrayed in the New Testament existed, but that there could have been a first century personality after whom the exaggerated myth was pattered." would also fail Carrier's criteria as Baker's first century personality need not be named "Jesus" or if he did his movement was not identifiable until much later.
Jesus Frum; John Christ
The real world examples of Melanesian cargo cults (and other examples, such as Ned Ludd) show that it is not an inherently crazy that a major movement's "leader" is originally entirely mythical but is then quickly (in a matter of decades) placed into a historical framework. Richard Carrier goes into detail on why such things happen in his peer reviewed On the Historicity of Jesus as Element 29 of his examples.
Thanks to the wealth of material available one can use the particular example of the John Frum cargo cult on how the Jesus myth theory has validity because everything the Christian apologists claim couldn't have happened in the development of Christianity appears to have happened with the John Frum cargo cult: It evolved from pre-existing beliefs without a clear and definitive founder and one variant even said the mythical John Frum was related to a real living person (Prince Philip is the brother of John Frum in this variant even though Prince Philip has no brothers)
Carrier states regarding the plugging of a mythical person into history "the same thing happened in Melanesian Cargo Cults, which still revere completely mythical heroes who were nevertheless quite rapidly placed in history and believed to be real (most famously 'Tom Navy' and 'John Frum'), again within decades of their supposed appearance."
"Further supporting the previous element is the fact that what are now called 'Cargo Cults' are the modern movement most culturally and socially similar to earliest Christianity, so much so that Christianity is best understood in light of them."
"Unlike the cult of Jesus, the origins of which are not reliably attested, we can see the whole course of events laid out before our eyes (and even here, as we shall see, some details are now lost). It is fascinating to guess that the cult of Christianity almost certainly began in very much the same way, and spread initially at the same high speed. [...] John Frum, if he existed at all, did so within living memory. Yet, even for so recent a possibility, it is not certain whether he lived at all."
However, if you examine the John Frum cargo cult in detail one can see possibly of one or more inspired believers deciding to become Jesus even if Jesus originally started out as nothing more than a celestial being. So it is well within reason as John Robertson implied in 1900 that one or more people inspired by Paul's writings took up the name Jesus, preached their own view of Paul's message, and possibly got killed for it. It is one way to read Paul's 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 warning of minds being "corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" by "another Jesus, whom we have not preached," "another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted"
Guiart's 1952 Oceania paper also shows the complexity involved regarding determining if Jesus was a man or a celestial being.
We are told that "A man named Manehevi had posed as a supernatural being by means of ingenious stage management." But later we are also told "From elsewhere rail the rumour that, in spite of the Administration statement, Manehevi was not John Frum, and that the latter was still at liberty."
Here we are told John Frum was a "supernatural being" while the believers are saying he is an actual man who "was still at liberty"
If that isn't enough we are also told "John Frum, alias Karaperamun, is always the god of Mount Tukosmoru, which will shelter the planes, then the soldiers."
Here we are told that John Frum is Karaperamun (who is a long existing volcano god) but we were also told that Manehevi was (or pretended to be) John Frum and that John Frum was another person who was still at liberty.
As you can see from Guiart's 1952 article, a mere 11 years after the John Frum movement become noticeable by nonbelievers it is not clear if John Frum is simply another name for Karaperamun (the High god of the region), a name that various actual people use as leader of the religious cult, or the name of some other person who inspired the cult perhaps as much as 30 years previously. If to confuse things further it has been suggested that Tom Navy, a companion to John Frum, is based on a real person: Tom Beatty of Mississippi, who served in the New Hebrides both as a missionary, and as a Navy Seabee during the war.
Arguments in favor of the case
The main issue is that of all the "evidence" for a historical Jesus only the writings of Paul (Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1st Thessalonians and Philemon) can be said to be of a true possible contemporary to a Jesus who supposedly lived c 6 BCE to 36 CE. And Paul is emphatic that all his knowledge is coming from visions and revelation not from human sources.
The Gospels are anonymous documents with dates that are "arbitrary ballpark figures with don't really have much basis in facts." The only thing that can be said with certainty is the Gospels have a range that ends in the mid to late 140s. Even if the usually accepted dates of c. 70 CE for Mark, c. 80 CE for Matthew, c. 90 for Luke-Acts, and c. 100 for John are correct it can be shown there is a strong correlation between the Jesus of Mark regarding the Passover and the actions of a would be messiah named Jesus ben Ananias (66-70 CE) written about in Josephus' Jewish Wars (c. 75)  meaning that Mark (and therefore Matthew, Luke, and John) could be in reality a Robin Hood like stories with Jesus ben Ananias being one of the elements used to flesh out Paul's earlier writings of a visionary Jesus.
Josephus work, Antiquities of the Jews mentions Jesus twice. The first is in Jewish Antiquities XVIII.3.4 (also known as the Testimonium Flavium, or TF), and the second one is in Jewish Antiquities XX.9.1. It can be shown that the Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus has been tampered with and is not fully authentic, although historians have rejected that it is a forgery as well. As for Jewish Antiquities XX.9.1, mythicists such as Richard Carrier believe that this reference is an interpolation and actually references a figure named Jesus ben Ananias later mentioned in the text of Josephus, although there is no evidence for this position and it has enormous problems on top of that. Furthermore, all respected contemporary scholars believe it is authentic. Josephus does speak of Jesus, and this is traditionally considered one of the supportive cases against mythicism.
Origen's comments regarding the passage of James in Josephus he is referencing shows that it also had Josephus directly connected the death of James with the "fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple" raises doubt about the reliably of the "the brother of Jesus, him called Christ, whose name was James" passage.
One early historian that does mention Jesus is the Roman historian Tacitus. Tacitus writes in his Annals 15.44; ...But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular... There is no evidence of any interpolations in the text. The respected scholar Bart Ehrman comments "I don’t know of any trained classicists or scholars of ancient Rome who think” that the reference to Jesus in Tacitus is a forgery", and one of the renowned Roman historian James Rives states "I’ve never come across any dispute about the authenticity of Ann. 15.44; as far as I’m aware, it’s always been accepted as genuine, although of course there are plenty of disputes over Tacitus’ precise meaning, the source of his information, and the nature of the historical events that lie behind it. There are some minor textual issues (the spelling ‘Chrestianos’ vs. ‘Christianos’, e.g.), but there’s not much to be done with them since we here, as everywhere in Tacitus’ major works, effectively depend on a single manuscript." Although Tacitus is a strong source for Jesus, mythicists sometimes assume that his testimony does not close the question because he wrote several decades after Jesus had died. Tacitus highly detested Christianity, and thus was unlikely to get his source from actual Christians.
Given neither Josephus or Pliny the Elder mention Christians in Rome during the time of Nero there are serious questions about Suetonius' account. Carrier suggests that like Tacitus Suetonius was actually writing about Chrestians and "corrected" by a later Christian scribe. Even if the passage Suetonius is genuine it only shows the existence of the Christian movement and that their punishment was part of a general housecleaning of Rome by Nero. As John Frum cargo cult shows (below) a movement need not have an actual founder.
Although there are some early accounts of Jesus (none being contemporary), a number of them are not helpful for affirming the historicity of Jesus. Scholars have been convinced by our sources, whereas mythicists are more skeptical regarding their validity -- although, it must be admitted, some are simply too skeptical and try to find holes where there are none. Because of some of the more fringe views of mythicism, the atheistic historian Maurice Casey says that many proponents of the mythicist position are "extraordinarily incompetent".
The other timelines and their problems
While the conflict between the births dates (10 years apart) presented in Matthew and Luke is generally well known, what is less known is that there were other accounts that placed Jesus life in other times which have been provided by Robert M. Price. In one piece Price points out that the Talmud has Jesus crucified under Alexander Jannaeus c. 83 BCE and that Irenaeus had him crucified under Claudius Caesar (41-54 CE)
Carrier clarifies that this is the Babylonian Talmud (complied in the 3rd to 5th centuries) and that the writers knew only of a Jesus killed under Jannaeus not of one killed during the time of Pontius Pilate. Furthermore Epiphanius confirmed that some denominations of Christianity preached that Jesus lived in the time of Jannaeus.  If correct then this of course invalidates the canonal Gospel account.
The same is true if as Lena Einhorn, PhD suggests the "Egyptian Prophet" (between 52 and 58 CE based on the descriptions in Jewish War 2.259-263 and Jewish Antiquities 20.169-171) was the basis for the Gospel Jesus.
Carrier's suggestion that Jesus ben Ananias [Ananus] of 66-70 CE was used as a kind of raw template for the Passover section of "Mark" would also mean the canonal Gospel accounts are not history.
So, at best the Gospel Jesus is either a time shifted preacher of c 83 BCE or 50s CE, or a composite person made up of several would be messiahs totally invalidating the idea the canonal Gospels are even remotely accurate history.
Raglan's Hero Pattern
Every so often Lord Raglan's Hero Pattern is presented as "evidence" that Jesus is a philosophical myth. The flaw here is it can be shown that known historical people can score high on Lord Raglan's Hero Pattern and known fictional characters come in on par with known historical figures of antiquity. For example, Tsar Nicholas II comes in at 14 or higher than the Jesus described in Mark (11) or John (13) or even Apollo (11). Similarly, Anakin Skywalker gets a 10.5 or roughly on par with Augustus Caesar (10). For reference, King Arthur and Robin Hood whose historical existence is debated scored 19 and 13 respectively.
So the Lord Raglan's Hero Pattern is not definitive proof of a character being a philosophical myth.
The increasingly common view of Jesus among New Testament scholars as of 2007 is that "historical research can indeed disclose a core of historical facts about Jesus" but "the Jesus we find at this historical core is significantly different from the legendary view presented in the New Testament". Some scholars maintain there were several possible "Jesus" candidates with no indication of which of them (if any) is "the" historical Jesus. Bertrand Russell expressed some doubt about the existence of Jesus, though he did not fully embrace the Jesus didn't exist as a human being part of the myth theory.
A small minority, past[note 2] and present,[note 3] believe there is insufficient justification to assume any individual human seed for the stories, representing an extreme in the other end of belief.
It should be noted that at least one anthropology paper states in both its abstract and main text "there is not a shred of evidence that a historical character Jesus lived".
In June 2014, Richard Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt Sheffield Phoenix Press. ISBN 1-909697-49-2 became "the first comprehensive pro-Jesus myth book ever published by a respected academic press and under formal peer review".
- See the Paul of Tarsus article on this topic.
Some versions of the Christ Myth theory (such as Kenneth Humphreys') suggest that Paul was a fictional person. To put it bluntly this is one of the places where parts of the Christ Myth goes off the rails and enters tin foil hat land.
Saying Paul was fictional would make sense if he provided a "smoking gun" to the pro historical Jesus debate but the fact is he brings nothing to the table; his Jesus is a being only seen via visions. Paul supposedly talks with people who based on the Gospels should have known the living Jesus and yet Paul doesn't give one actual detail regarding Jesus activities on Earth. Also, someone wrote the authentic/early Pauline epistles, and calling that author Ed, Bill or RamaLamaDingDong doesn't change the fact that these letters were an important influence on Christianity. You don't have to accept the clearly embroidered version in Acts to find the Pauline authorship of these early epistles historically plausible. Contrast Jesus, from whom we have no letters or other writings and who is portrayed through and through in the supernatural light seen in other myths and legends, with Paul, who, in his own letters, doesn't claim any supernatural powers, except for his opinion that he has some sort of mental hotline to God and Jesus.
From an Occam's Razor standpoint a fictional Paul doesn't make any sense; it just adds an unneeded level of complexity to the Christ Myth. More over what actual purpose does such an idea even serve? If anything, claiming Paul is a fictional creation smacks of the kind of Illuminati level conspiracy theory nonsense seen in Joseph Wheless' 1930 Forgery In Christianity that only convinces most people that the Christ Myth theory does belong in the same land of crazy as those who deny the Holocaust or Moon Landings happened.
There are several (ultimately flawed) objections to questioning a historical Jesus.
"Most scholars think Jesus existed"
As stated above, arguments regarding Jesus as a historical person tend to improperly mix reductive and triumphalist theories. So instead of debating the existence of an ordinary man one gets a lot of nonsense about miracles, earthquake, and darkness (any argument involving Thallos). That said the whole "most scholars think Jesus existed" is an argument from authority fallacy.
A related problem as also related above is just what is meant by the "Jesus Myth" varies and includes positions that could fall in the Jesus existed as a human being (ie he was "historical") category. It's worth asking the question "What are their qualifications?" followed by "Who is this scholar, and what do they mean when they say 'Jesus existed'?" and "Are there any widely accepted views in the field that could push a scholar to a certain conclusion?"
It is important to note that few theologians are historians (and those who are aren't very good at it) and fewer are historical anthropologists, the two fields critical to the "Did Jesus exist?" question.
Scholars such as Avalos, Carrier, and Price are trying to bring the tools of historical anthropology to the issue but those tools are either not understood or out right ignored by some "historical" Jesus supporters.
Hector Avalos details the differences between the seminary and secular streams of Bible-related study in his 2007 book The End of Biblical Studies, which had some impact on the field. It should be noted that some apologists for a historical Jesus are fundamentalists such as Lee Strobel who are rarely taken seriously in mainstream academia. Others are liberal Christians such as Marcus Borg, or flat-out agnostics such as Bart Ehrman and Robert Grant who are more respected in mainstream academic circles (there are also quite a few Jewish New Testament scholars such as Amy Jill-Levine or Geza Vermes). Even taking scholars like Ehrman into account, mythicists such as Richard Carrier believe that the methodology of Jesus-related historical studies is of a much lower standard than the methodology of other historical study of comparable periods.
Historians who are skeptical of the historicity of Jesus are often painted by theologians and apologists as fringe lunatics even when that skepticism is regarding how Jesus is depicted in the NT rather then him existing as a human being. However, these arguments rarely go beyond ad hominem attacks. with any points ignored. To be fair there is as much or even more nonsense on the Christ Myth side of things but trying to say people like Robert M Price and Richard Carrier are on in the same class as Acharya S. or Joseph Wheless is at best an insult.
As Richard Carrier correctly points there is a large variety of material on both sides of the historicity argument ranging from the absurd to the somewhat reasonable. The problem on the mythicist side is that most of the theories involve great amount of elaborations making the theory more complicated than it needs to be. The problem on the historical side of things is "arguing there are flaws (mostly flaws of exaggeration) in the scholarship of the mythicists, yet without demonstrating that any of these flaws are actually relevant."
"There is more evidence for Jesus than for X"
When discussing the evidence for Jesus' existence, a common claim made by apologists is that there is "more evidence for Jesus than X".
Regarding this position Richard Carrier in one of his blogs states:
|Just FYI, most experts are historicity agnostics about Aesop and Zoroaster, and odds favor non-existence for both.
Meanwhile, many scholars are agnostic about Homer and Pythagoras (the latter is outside our ability to know, while every expert agrees no one author composed the works of Homer any more than one author composed Genesis, so the historicity of Homer is on the same level as “the author of Genesis”: obviously such an author existed, since the text didn’t write itself, but there was more than one of them over centuries, and we know nothing about them).
Similarly, all experts agree no one person lies behind the writings of “Hippocrates” and we know nothing reliable about “Democritus”, only that he wrote some things that were later quoted and talked about–which entails someone wrote those things, regardless of their name, so “Democritus” is as good a stand-in term for them as anything.
Likewise the evidence for Epicurus is a bit better than we have for Jesus (e.g. unlike Jesus, we have the actual writings of Epicurus himself.)
And so on.
So you really don’t get anywhere with an argument like this. Especially since no good case for the non-existence of Jesus rests on our merely not having records of him.
While it is is impossible to cover all the ancient figures and events Jesus has been compared to there are a few popular ones that show just how shaky the position really is (It should be noted that this sometimes mixed with the more accurate than Homer argument).
Sun Tzu (Sun Wu) (544–496 BCE?): his very existence is debated in scholarly circles  despite reference in the Records of the Grand Historian and Spring and Autumn Annals which used earlier official records that haven't survived.
Confucius (Kong Qiu) (551–479 BCE) the Records of the Grand Historian used archives and imperial records as source material (which themselves have not survived). Its author Sima Qian noted the problems with incomplete, fragmentary, and contradictory sources stating in the 18th volume of the 180-volume work "I have set down only what is certain, and in doubtful cases left a blank." Moreover, Kong Qiu was the governor of a town in Lu and ultimately held the positions of Minister of Public Works and then Minister of Crime for the whole Lu state, not exactly minor positions one could create a fictitious person to fill.
Leukippos (shadowy nearly legendary figure of early 5th century BCE): very existence doubted by Epicurus (341 – 270 BCE).
Socrates (c469 – 399 BCE): written about by contemporaries Plato, Xenophon (430 – 354 BCE), and Aristophanes (c446 – 386 BCE).
Plato (428 – 347 BCE): written about by contemporaries Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), Xenophon, and Aristophanes.
Alexander the Great (July 20, 356 – June 11, 323 BCE): official historian Callisthenes of Olynthus, generals Ptolemy, Nearchus, and Aristobulus and helmsman Onesicritus were all contemporaries who wrote about Alexander. While their works were eventually lost, later works that used them as source material were not. Additionally there are known contemporary accounts that survive: Isocrates, Demosthenes, Aeschines, Hyperides, Dinarchus, Theocritus, Theophrastus, and Menander. And on top of all that there are the contemporary inscriptions and coins.
Hannibal (247 – 182 BCE): Written about by Silenus, a paid Greek historian who Hannibal brought with him on his journeys to write an account of what took place, and Sosylus of Lacedaemon who wrote seven volumes on the war itself. Never mind the contemporary Carthaginian coins and engraved bronze tablets.
Julius Caesar (July 100 – 15 March 44 BCE): Not only do we have the writing of contemporaries Cato the Younger and Cicero but Julius Caesar's own writings as well (Commentarii de Bello Gallico aka The Gallic Wars and Commentarii de Bello Civili aka The Civil War). Then you have the contemporary coins, statues and monuments.
Pontius Pilate ( unknown - c 37 CE): Some apologists try to imply that people at one time thought this person didn't exist. In reality, no evidence of anyone having ever stated that Pontius Pilate didn't exist could be found. In fact, known contemporary Philo does mention Pontius Pilate in what survives of Embassy to Gaius (c.40 CE) and near contemporary Josephus describes in detail several conflicts that Pilate had with his Jewish subjects.
Apollonius of Tyana (c15 CE - c100 CE): Often referred to as the "Pagan Christ". Fragments of Apollonius' own writings are part of the Harvard University Press edition of The Life of Apollonius of Tyana (1912) ISBN-13: 978-0674990180 as documented in Carrier's Kook article.
Boadicea (d. 60 CE): Tacitus himself would have been a 5-year old boy when she poisoned herself c. 60 CE, making him contemporary to her. Furthermore, his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola served under Gaius Suetonius Paulinus during the revolt. So Tacitus was not only an actual contemporary, but he had access to Gaius Suetonius Paulinus' records and an actual eyewitness.
Muhammad (570 – c. June 8, 632 CE): Contrary to the picture some apologists like to paint there are non-Muslim references by people who would have been contemporary with Muhammad. The earliest is the personal notes of an unnamed monk c. 636 CE mixed in with his copying of the gospels which mentions that "many villages were ruined with killing by [the Arabs of] Mụhammad and a great number of people were killed and captives" and in 661 CE Sebeos writes about Mụhammad and is believed to be an eyewitness to many of the events he recorded. As if that wasn't enough, the Quran and other writings about Muhammad can be traced to identifiable people who actually were with him during his lifetime (as in the case of Alexander the Great).
Now compare those to Jesus:
1) The only known possible contemporary is Paul (Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1st Thessalonians and Philemon) who not only writes some 20 years after the events but seems more intent on the Jesus in his own head than any Jesus who actually preached in Galilee. In fact, even though in his own account Paul meets "James, brother of the Lord" we get no details of Jesus' life, not even references to the famous sermons or miracles. And in any case, Paul never met or even saw Jesus in person.
2) The Gospels are anonymous documents written sometime between 70 CE to 140 CE and there are no references to any of them until the early 2nd century.
"A viable theory of historicity for Jesus must therefore instead resemble a theory of historicity for Apollonius of Tyana or Musonin Rufus or Judas the Galilean (to list a few very famous men who escaped the expected record more or less the same degree Jesus did.)"
Comparing the quality of Jesus to that of any major person after the invention of the printing press in the west (1436) is bad enough but when people compare denying Jesus as a historical person to Holocaust denial they are either ignorant of just how much material evidence there is for the Holocaust or are making a strawman.
For the record there were 3,000 tons of truly contemporary (i.e. between 1938-1945) records presented at the 1945-1946 Nuremberg Trials. The 1958 finding aids (eventually the index to the Holocaust evidence) was 62 volumes--just 4 books shy of the number of books (66) traditionally in the entire Bible! Then between 1958 and 2000 they added another 30 volumes, bringing the total to 92.
It is an emotional argument and a totally unfair one as Jesus to the best of our knowledge never had the quantity or quality of evidence that shows the Holocaust happened.
"Jesus was an unnotable minor figure"
The other argument presented is that Jesus was in reality an obscure person who was largely ignored during his lifetime. There are some figures whose existence is historically questionable. However, they tend to be more minor figures who most people haven't heard of (a non-biblical exception would be Aesop).
American historian Richard Carrier writes on the problems with this view:
|One could say that Jesus was an insignificant, illiterate, itinerant preacher with a tiny following, who went wholly unnoticed by any literate person in Judaea. However, this would not bode well for anyone who wished to maintain he was God, or did any of the more amazing things attributed to him. It is very implausible, for instance, that a biography would be written for the obscure itinerant philosopher Demonax in his own lifetime (by Lucian), yet God Incarnate, or a Great Miracle Worker who riled up all Judaea with talk, should inspire nothing like it until decades after his death. And though several historians wrote on Judaean affairs in the early 1st century (not just Josephus and Tacitus, but several others no longer extant), none apparently mentioned Jesus (see the Secular Web library on Historicity). Certainly, had anyone done so, the passages would probably have been lovingly preserved by 2nd century Christians, or else inspired angry rebuttals.
For instance, the attacks of Celsus, Hierocles, and Porphyry, though destroyed by Christians and thus no longer extant (another example of the peculiar problem of Christian history discussed above), nevertheless remain attested in the defenses written by Origen, Eusebius, and Macerius Magnes. But no earlier attacks are attested. There is no mention of Christians in Plutarch's attack On Superstition, nor a rebuttal to any attack on Christianity in Seneca's lost work On Superstition (which ruthlessly attacked pagans and Jews, as attested in book 10 of Augustine's City of God), so it seems evident Christians got no mention even there, in a text against alien cults, by a man who would have witnessed the Neronian persecution of 64 CE (alternatively, the fact that this is the only work of Seneca's not to be preserved, despite the fact that Christians must surely have been keen to preserve an anti-pagan text by a renowned pagan, might mean it contained some damning anti-Christian material and was suppressed, though Augustine clearly had access to the work and says nothing about such content). All of this suggests a troubling dichotomy for believers: either Jesus was a nobody (and therefore not even special, much less the Son of God) or he did not exist.
In one of his blogs Carrier spelled out the problem:
|It is also problematic to claim Jesus was a nobody. I grant that’s an out. But it comes with consequences. Because if it’s so, you are conceding the Gospels are lying (egregiously…and evidently, successfully) and that Jesus never said or did anything in life that would inspire fanatical worshipers or warrant anyone considering him worth dying for–because nothing Jesus ever said or did in life is ever relevant to the gospel preached anywhere in the authentic letters of Paul…which begs [sic] the question how he convinced anyone he was the Messiah and Savior who would soon return on clouds of glory if he never said or did anything anyone thought impressive enough to ever discuss until a lifetime later.|
So this line of reasoning creates the issue of how did such a supposedly minor person get elevated to the status of the character in the Gospels and if Acts 7-9 is to be believed had supposedly inspired followers in three provinces (Galilee, Samaria, and Judea) by 37 CE? Similarly, if the Gospels and Acts are wild propaganda then how can anything they stated about Jesus or his following be regarded as history?
However, there are examples of people who were thrust into prominence that, when you look at the evidence, is greatly inflated.
Ephraim McDowell (November 11, 1771 – June 25, 1830) is one such example. When you really look at his work it is not that important in the grander picture. Because his operations depended on a mixture of ridiculous luck, patients with stamina to withstand being cut open without anathesica, a passion for being meticulous clean when doing his operations (the merits of which would not be fully understood for decades) and credited his success to divine providence (he tended to do his operations on Christian holy days) his contribution to the field of medicine in his own day was effectively nil. Without the printing press just how good would our knowledge of McDowell's achievements be?
A even more relevant example to this can be said of John Ballou Newbrough (1828–1891), the founder of the obscure Oahspe cult; even with the power of the printing press, our knowledge of it is relatively minor. Relegated to just another leader of just another Third Great Awakening movement that went nowhere, he has been elevated to prominence unknown in his own time based largely on him being one of the first people to use the term "star-ship". Jesus could have been like McDowell or Newbrough.
"Most people Jesus preached to were illiterate"
One hypothesis that comes up with regards to the nonexistence of truly contemporary evidence for Jesus is that he preached to people who were illiterate.
The problem with this idea is it is basically ad hoc (i.e. untestable). There is no agreement on the literacy level of the Roman Empire in general (ranging from 5% to 30%) or Palestine in particular. In fact, there is an argument that the Roman Empire in general and Palestine in particular was far more literate than once supposed.
But even if Palestine was more literate there is still the issue of any contemporary writing of Jesus' actions and deeds either surviving the elements and two revolts that followed 36 CE or being copied by someone else.
Christianity proves Christ
It is sometimes argued that Christianity's mere existence necessitates a Christ.
For example, it is claimed that the handful of early Christian churches "prove" "a man named Jesus existed as the leader of a religious movement" based on the theory that people do not usually make up leaders for all that they aggrandize, and mythologize them. That theory can be easily shown to be nonsense with such counterexamples as Ned Ludd and various Malaysian Cargo cults where this very thing happened. Similarly, the 1982 and 1995 editions of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J use this "story of" definition for Christ Myth and make no comment regarding whether Jesus the man is regarded as mythical.
For comparison, other stories of semi-mythical figures such as King Arthur or Robin Hood appear to have no original author, instead being legends that accreted — possibly from a basis of one original person, possibly from several, or possibly from pure invention. For example, John Frum is a claimed cargo cult founder that many anthropologists have written about since 1952, well within living memory of his supposed late 1930s appearance to the village elders, but even for him we don't have enough evidence to establish whether or not he was a real person - we just don't know whether the stories started from any actual person or just accreted spuriously.
Further, the existence of modern Christianity proves only that Paul of Tarsus — the man who revolutionized Christianity by pitching it to non-Jews — existed, and that Paul spoke of Jesus the Christ, based on oral stories going round and his own vision. The existence of a founding figure who can reasonably be tagged Paul is quite good as these things go, with textual analysis showing that several of the Biblical texts attributed to Paul do indeed seem to have been written by the same single hand. This is comparable to the evidence we have for the existence of figures such as Socrates and Pythagoras; as with Paul, their existence is secondary to their body of work.
"Myth, Madman, or Messiah"
Alternately, the "Lunatic, Liar, or Lord" argument and a specific case of a false dichotomy.
All too often historical existence of Jesus debate turns into the Myth, Madman, or Messiah argument where the concept that Jesus has to be either a myth (both types), madman, or essentially what the Gospels describe. The key issue is that this really argues for the Jesus of the gospels rather than than the gospel story being inspired by an actual person. It also relies on the (false) a priori assumption that the Gospels are essentially providing us with an unvarnished historical record of Jesus' life.
The Argumentum ad martyrdom of "Would the Disciples die for a lie?" falls into this category and ignores that there are many examples of people dying for beliefs which turned out to be false, deceptive, or poorly understood (Hong Xiuquan's Taiping Rebellion followers, Jonestown, Heaven's Gate, Branch Davidians, etc.)
The Skeptics just don't want to be accountable for their sins and Skeptics have blind faith in the words of man are essentially two sides of the same argument that also fall into this category. Here again this is arguing that the Gospel Jesus is a historical person not arguing that the stories were inspired by a quite normal man.
How did the myth of Jesus start?
There are several natural explanations, some more valid than the others.
1) One of the views, held by J. M. Robertson and others, is that the Jesus myth patterned after a story found in the Jewish Talmudic literature about the illegitimate son of a woman named Miriam (Mary) and a Roman soldier named Pandera, sometimes called Joseph Pandera. In Christianity and Mythology, Robertson writes: “…we see cause to suspect that the movement really originated with the Talmudic Jesus Ben Pandera, who was stoned to death and hanged on a tree, for blasphemy or heresy, on the eve of a Passover in the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (106-79 B.C.E.).”) Dr. Low, an accomplished Hebraist, is satisfied that this Jesus was the founder of the Essene sect, whose resemblance to the legendary early Christian has so greatly exercised Christian speculation.
2) Another view is that the Jesus myth grew out of a pre-Christian cult of Joshua. Some suggest that the New Testament story about swapping Jesus for Barabbas (meaning “son of the father”) arose from the tension between Joshua factions. Origen mentioned a “Jesus Barabbas.” The name “Jesus” is the Greek for Joshua (“Yeshua” in Hebrew). In Mark 9:38 the disciples of Jesus saw another man who was casting out devils in the name of Jesus (Joshua). The Sibyllene Oracles identify Jesus with Joshua, regarding the sun standing still.
3) W. B. Smith thinks there was a pre-Christian Jesus cult of Gnosticism. There is an ancient papyrus that has these words: “I adjure thee by the God of the Hebrews, Jesus.” The Jesus Mysteries: Was the Original Jesus a Pagan God? Makes a compelling case that the original Christians were indeed Gnostics and that the story of Jesus was invented by Hellenistic Jews in Alexandria as a mystery play patterned after the Osiris/Dionysus mystery cults, and was not to be taken literally. The play depicted a god-man who died and came back to life. It was only after Constantine in the fourth century that the life of Jesus became suddenly “historical.”
4) Randall Helms in the article “Fiction in the Gospels” in Jesus in History and myth presents another view. Helms notices that there are many literary parallels between Old Testament and New Testament stories. He calls this “self-reflexive fiction.” It is if there are some skeletal templates into which the Jews placed their stories. One example is the comparison between the raising of the son of the window of Nain in Luke 7:11-16 and the raising of the son of a widow of Zarephath in I kings 17. Not only is the content similar, but the structure of the tale is almost identical. Other examples are the storm series in Psalms and Jonah compared with the New Testament storm story in Mark 4:37-41, and the story of Elijah’s food multiplication with that of Jesus. The first-century Jews were simply rewriting old stories, like a movie remake. This view, in and of itself, does not completely account for the entire Jesus myth, but it does show how literary parallels can play a part in the elaboration of a fable.
5) John Allegro suggested that the Jesus character was patterned after the Essene Teacher of Righteousness, who was crucified in 88 B.C.E. He wrote that the Dead Sea Scrolls prove that the Essenes interpreted the Old Testament in a way to make it fit their own messiah. Allegro writes: “When Josephus speaks of the Essene’s reverence for their ‘Lawgiver’…we may assume reasonably that he speaks of their Teacher, the ‘Joshua/Jesus’ of the Last Days. By the first century, therefore, it seems that he was being accorded semi-divine status, and that his role of Messiah, or Christ, was fully appreciated.” (The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth)
6) R.G. Price argues that Jesus was originally constructed as a spiritual concept by Hellenistic Jews, which later eventually turned Jesus into "historical" and was sure that Jesus was "of the flesh" for theological reasons. Christians had to construct Jesus to be made of the flesh for two reasons: 1) Suffering and a flesh and blood sacrifice were required to create a new covenant and 2) The resurrection of a flesh and blood Jesus proved that resurrection of the flesh was possible. To achieve the completion of the mythical Jesus, the following steps had to be taken:
- Development of apocalyptic and Messianic traditions in Judaism from the 6th century BCE to the 1st century CE
- Fusion of apocalyptic and Messianic Judaism with Hellenistic culture
- Emergence of "Jesus Christ" mystery religion among Hellenistic Jews
- Development of "flesh" based Christ theology within the mystery religion
- Writing of allegorical Christ narrative(s?)
- Writing of pseudo-historical Christ narratives
- Development and defense of historical Christ theology
- Development of post-canon dogma
- Elimination of remaining non-historical Christ theologies
- Jesus Malverde
- Evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ
- Biblical contradictions
- Life of Brian
- ↑ An interesting comparison, given that Uncle Sam is purported to be based on a real person but there was a 'Uncle Sam' reference in the original 1775 "Yankee Doodle" lyrics.
- ↑ Bruno Bauer (19th century German Biblical historian), George Wells (20th century historian of Germany)
- ↑ scholars Richard Carrier (historian), Robert M. Price (theologian), and author Earl Doherty (writer)
- ↑ Shai Afsai, "Thomas Paine's Masonic Essay and the Question of His Membership in the Fraternity". Philalethes 63:4 (Fall 2010), 140–141.
- ↑ Eddy & Boyd 2007, pp. 24-27.
- ↑ Holding 2008, p. 277.
- ↑ Houlden 2003, p. 660.
- ↑ http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Jesus_mythicism
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 Robertson 1946.
- ↑ Ehrman, Bart (2012) Did Jesus Exist? Harper Collins, p. 12
- ↑ Frazer 1913, p. 412.
- ↑ "I especially wanted to explain late Jewish eschatology more thoroughly and to discuss the works of John M. Robertson, William Benjamin Smith, James George Frazer, Arthur Drews, and others, who contested the historical existence of Jesus. It is not difficult to pretend that Jesus never lived. The attempt to prove it, however, invariably produces the opposite conclusion." - Schweitzer, Albert (1931). Out of my life and thought: an autobiography pg 125
- ↑ Carrier 2014, p. 350: "But Christ--if He has indeed been born, and exists anywhere--is unknown, and does not even know Himself, and has no power until Elias come to anoint Him, and make Him manifest to all. And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake are inconsiderately perishing."
- ↑ Wells, G. A. "Stages of New Testament Criticism," Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 30, issue 2, 1969.
- ↑ Guiart, Jean (1952) "John Frum Movement in Tanna" Oceania Vol 22 No 3 pg 165-177
- ↑ Worsley 1957, pp. 153-159.
- ↑ Lal & Fortune 2000, p. 303.
- ↑ Grant 1995, p. 199.
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 Eddy & Boyd 2007, pp. 24-25.
- ↑ 17.0 17.1 Walsh 1998, p. 58.
- ↑ 18.0 18.1 Dodd 1938, p. 17.
- ↑ 19.0 19.1 Price 2000, p. 85.
- ↑ Price 2009, p. 65.
- ↑ Mead, G. R. S. The Talmum 100 Years B.C. Story of Jesus", "Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?", 1903.
- ↑ 22.0 22.1 Doherty, Earl "Book And Article Reviews: The Case For The Jesus Myth: "Jesus — One Hundred Years Before Christ by Alvar Ellegard" review
- ↑ Eddy & Boyd 2007, p. 24.
- ↑ Carrier, Richard (2006) Did Jesus Even Exist? Stanford University presentation May 30, 2006
- ↑ Doherty, Earl (2009)Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. Age of Reason, pp. vii-viii
- ↑ Ehrman, Bart (2012) Did Jesus Exist? Harper Collins, p. 12
- ↑ 27.0 27.1 Bromiley 1982.
- ↑ Wood, Herbert George (1934) Christianity and the nature of history. New York: MacMillan / Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 40
- ↑ "Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of humanity, the pathetic story of whose humble life and tragic death has awakened the sympathies of millions, is a possible character and may have existed; but the Jesus of Bethlehem, the Christ of Christianity, is an impossible character and does not exist." Remsburg then clarifies this position by stating "That a man named Jesus, an obscure religious teacher, the basis of this fabulous Christ, lived in Palestine about nineteen hundred years ago, may be true. But of this man we know nothing. His biography has not been written."
- ↑ Carrier 2014, pp. 26-30.
- ↑ 31.0 31.1 Marshall 2004, pp. 27-29.
- ↑ Marshall, Ian Howard. I Believe in the Historical Jesus. Regent College Publishing, 2004, p. 27-29.
- ↑ 33.0 33.1 Carrier 2014, p. 30.
- ↑ Lossing 1850, Supplement XIV.
- ↑ (February 06, 1910) "JESUS NEVER LIVED, ASSERTS PROF. DREWS; Stirs Germany Deeply by Publicly Attacking Basis of the Christian Religion." The Times
- ↑ Price, Robert M (1999) "Of Myth and Men A closer look at the originators of the major religions-what did they really say and do?" Volume 20, Number 1 (Winter, 1999/2000') Free Inquiry magazine
- ↑ Stanton, Graham (2002) The Gospels and Jesus. Oxford University Press, p. 143.
- ↑ G A Wells The Jesus Legend Open Court Publishing Company 1996 p. 19
- ↑ 39.0 39.1 39.2 39.3 Remsburg, John (1909). The Christ.
- ↑ 40.0 40.1 40.2 40.3 40.4 Barker 2006, p. 372.
- ↑ Eddy & Boyd 2007, p. 13.
- ↑ Carrier, Richard (2003) "Kersey Graves and The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors
- ↑ While there is some debate the temperature in 1st century Judea in December this doesn't change the fact no census that would have required travel would have been done in that month as night temperatures dipped below freezing and road conditions were poor. - United Church of God Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe?
- ↑ In fact, between 2,500 and 1,500 years ago there were two protracted cold periods that Florida State University Professor of Oceanography Doron Nof suggest caused ice to form on the Sea of Galilee and that was what Jesus walked on.
- ↑ John James Bond (1887) Bond's Handy-book for Verifying Dates pg 22
- ↑ "Born on December 25th" Jesus Police (Internet Archive)
- ↑ "Mary Was a Virgin" Jesus Police (Internet Archive)
- ↑ Waite, Charles B. (1881) History of the Christian Religion to the Year Two-Hundred
- ↑ Tyson, Joseph B (2006) Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle University of South Carolina Press; annotated edition ISBN-13: 978-1570036507
- ↑ Tucker, Bob (2009) "Was Jesus Virgin Born?" Foundation of Contemporary Theology- Internet archive
- ↑ Talbert, Charles H. (2006) “Miraculous Conceptions and Births in Mediterranean Antiquity.” Pp. 79-86 in A.J. Levine, D.C. Allison and J. D. Crossan (eds.), The Historical Jesus in Context. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press
- ↑ Mark, Kidger. "Chinese and Babylonian Observations"
- ↑ Colin Humphreys, 'The Star of Bethlehem', in Science and Christian Belief 5 (1995), 83–101.
- ↑ Brown, Raymond E. (1993), The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library, p. 188
- ↑ Carrier 2014, p. 34.
- ↑ Price 2012, pp. 387-388.
- ↑ Carrier 2014, p. 33.
- ↑ Carrier 2014, p. 53.
- ↑ Robertson, John (1900) Christianity and Mythology pg 125
- ↑ 60.0 60.1 Carrier 2014, pp. 9-11.
- ↑ Carrier 2014, pp. 159-163.
- ↑ Carrier 2014, pp. 9-10.
- ↑ Carrier 2014, p. 159.
- ↑ Dawkins, C. Richard (2006). The God Delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 202-206. ISBN 978-0-618-68000-9.
- ↑ Guiart, Jean (1952) "John Frum Movement in Tanna" Oceania Vol 22 No 3 pg 165-177
- ↑ Brian Dunning (March 30, 2010) Cargo Cults Skeptoid #199
- ↑ Galatians 1:11-12
- ↑ Carrier 2014, p. 515.
- ↑ Carrier 2014, pp. 264-270, 387-509.
- ↑ Carrier, 2014 & 427 433.
- ↑ http://chs.harvard.edu/CHS/article/display/5871/ A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum
- ↑ http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/crj_summarycritique/crj_summarycritique.htm
- ↑ https://muse.jhu.edu/article/492357/pdf
- ↑ http://historyforatheists.blogspot.ca/2016/07/richard-carrier-is-displeased.html/ Richard Carrier is Displeased
- ↑ Theron, Daniel Johannes, ed. Evidence of tradition: selected source material for the study of the history of the early church, introduction and canon of the New Testament. Bowes & Bowes, 1958.
- ↑ Semen, Petre. "Jesus’ Brothers." Analele Ştiinţifice ale Universităţii» Alexandru Ioan Cuza «din Iaşi. Teologie Ortodoxă 1 (2011): 5-15.
- ↑ Harrison, Everett F. A Short Life of Christ. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1968.
- ↑ Against Celsus 1.47, 2.13
- ↑ Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus exist?: The historical argument for Jesus of Nazareth. Harper Collins, 2012.
- ↑ https://ehrmanblog.org/fuller-reply-to-richard-carrier// Fuller Reply to Richard Carrier
- ↑ Carrier 2014, p. 349.
- ↑ http://www.is-there-a-god.info/belief/jesusrealquotes// Quotes on Jesus as a historical person
- ↑ Irenaeus (c. 180 CE)Demonstration (74)
- ↑ Price 2009, pp. 80-81.
- ↑ Carrier 2014, pp. 284-285.
- ↑ Lena Einhorn, PhD (Nov.17-20, 2012) Jesus and the "Egyptian Prophet" Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting
- ↑ Jewish War 6.301-302
- ↑ JW 6.301 = Mk 14.2; Mk 11-17; Both quote the same chapter of Jeremiah; JW 6.306 = Mk 14.49; JW 6.304, 306, 309 = Mk 13.17; JW 6.300, 309 = Mk 13.2; JW 6.302 = Mk 14.43; Mk 14.58; Mk 14.60; Mk 14.65; Mk 15.1; JW 6.305 = Mk 15.2-4 (this is actually three different points); JW 6.304 = Mk 15.15 JW 6.305 is inverted in Mk 15.34; JW 6.308-309 = Mk 15.34 (two points); Mk 15.37 - Carrier, Richard (2014) On the Historicity of Jesus Sheffield Phoenix Press ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2 pg 428-430.
- ↑ Nicholas II, Tsar of All the Russias (14 points)
- ↑ List of Lord Raglan evaluations from Beacon Library
- ↑ Is This Not the Carpenter?: The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus, Ed. By Thomas L. Thompson and Thomas S. Verenna, 2012
- ↑ Philip Davies' article Does Jesus Exist? at bibleinterp.com
- ↑ Russell 1927.
- ↑ Robertson, Archibald (1946) Jesus: Myth Or History
- ↑ Fischer, Roland (1994) "On The Story-Telling Imperative That We Have In Mind" Anthropology of Consciousness. Dec 1994, Vol. 5, No. 4: 16
- ↑ Richard Carrier (July 17, 2013) Update on Historicity of Jesus
- ↑ St Paul the Apostle – Could it all be a fabrication?
- ↑ Horace Mitchell Miner's darkly satirical 1956 paper "Body Ritual among the Nacirema" showed how preconceptions could influence not only data collection but the conclusions of that data
- ↑ Akenson, Donald (1998). Surpassing wonder: the invention of the Bible and the Talmuds. University of Chicago Press. pp. 539–555. "...The point I shall argue below is that, the agreed evidentiary practices of the historians of Yeshua, despite their best efforts, have not been those of sound historical practice..."
- ↑ Meier, John. "Finding the Historical Jesus: An Interview With John P. Meier". St. Anthony Messenger. "...I think a lot of the confusion comes from the fact that people claim they are doing a quest for the historical Jesus when de facto they’re doing theology, albeit a theology that is indeed historically informed. Go all the way back to Reimarus, through Schleiermacher, all the way down the line through Bultmann, Kasemann, Bornkamm. These are basically people who are theologians, doing a more modern type of Christology [a faith-based study of Jesus Christ]..."
- ↑ Hector Avalos. The End Of Biblical Studies. Prometheus, 2007. ISBN 1591025362.
- ↑ e.g. "General Thoughts on Jesus Not Existing", "Jesus mythers & creationists: common grounds (?)"
- ↑ Carrier 2014, pp. 6-8.
- ↑ e.g. "There's More Evidence that Jesus Lived than x Person" Statements thread" at bibleforums.org
- ↑ Richard Carrier (May 10, 2014) "On the Historicity of Jesus: What Would You Look Up?"
- ↑ Sawyer, Ralph D. (2005), The Essential Art of War, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-07204-6
- ↑ Diogenes Laërtius x. 7
- ↑ Carrier 2014, p. 21, citing E. P. Sanders.
- ↑ Carrier 2014, pp. 22.
- ↑ Kapyong (2011) Pontius Pilate's Personal Logs
- ↑ W. Wright, Catalogue Of Syriac Manuscripts In The British Museum Acquired Since The Year 1838, 1870, Part I, Printed by order of the Trustees: London, No. XCIV, pp. 65-66. This book was republished in 2002 by Gorgias Press.
- ↑ Nigosian, Solomon Alexander (2004). Islam: Its History, Teaching, and Practices. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21627-3. pg 6
- ↑ Carrier 2014, pp. 291.
- ↑ Bart Ehrman, interview with Reginald V. Finley Sr., "Who Changed The New Testament and Why", The Infidel Guy Show, 2008 repeated in Ehrman, Bart D. (March 20, 2012) Did Jesus Exist? Huffington Post and referenced by John Blake, CNN (April 7th, 2012) The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth
- ↑ Nicholas Perrin (2008) Lost In Transmission?: What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus pg 32)
- ↑ McClymond, Michael James (2004) Familiar Stranger: an Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth pp. 23-24
- ↑ Powell, Mark Allan (1998), Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee, Louisville: Westminster John Knox p. 168
- ↑ Piper, John (2006) Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, Wheaton: Crossway, pp. 14-15
- ↑ Micael R. Licona, in Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007, p. 112
- ↑ Combating Holocaust Denial: Evidence of the Holocaust presented at Nuremberg United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- ↑ Combating Holocaust Denial: Evidence of the Holocaust presented at Nuremberg United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- ↑ Richard Carrier, 2002. "Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity (2002)" infidels.org.
- ↑ On the Historicity of Jesus: What Would You Look Up? Richard Carrier (May 12, 2014) On the Historicity of Jesus: What Would You Look Up? comment 33.1
- ↑ Oxford University Press (2006) The Catholic Comparative New Testament pg 851-967
- ↑ SIlverberg, Robert (1966) The Great Doctors Publisher:Scholastic Book Services ASIN: B000N7CWZG pg 131-144).
- ↑ http://gailallen.com/rel/Oahspe/index.htm
- ↑ Oahspe Book of Divinity 16:14
- ↑ Di Renzo, A (2000) “His master's voice: Tiro and the rise of the Roman secretarial class,” Journal of technical writing and communication, vol. 30, (2) 155-168
- ↑ Dupont, Florence. (1989) Daily Life in Ancient Rome Tr. Christopher Woodall. Oxford: Blackwell; pg 223
- ↑ Millard, Alan (2003) Literacy in the Time of Jesus - Could His Words Have Been Recorded in His Lifetime? Biblical Archaeology Review 29:04, Jul/Aug 2003.
- ↑ Although Geoffrey of Monmouth has a fair claim with King Arthur.
- ↑ "Would someone die for a lie?" (ironchariots.org)
- ↑ http://rationalrevolution.net/articles/jesus_myth_history.htm#14
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