What is the Jesus Mythicist's Position?
The Rational Response Squad is a Jesus-Free™ team. What does this mean? It means we are all Jesus Mythicists. You may ask yourself, what is a Mythicist? (And more importantly, are you one as well?) These are excellent questions and you probably have more, which is what this bulletin is about to cover.
Here is one brief synopsis into what the Jesus Mythicist stance is:
- Earl Doherty argues that Christianity began as a mystical-revelatory religion, very different from the "deviant" sect that won the propaganda war to become the eventual "orthodoxy." The latter gained prominence in the 2nd century and achieved total victory by the 4th. According to this theory, the idea of an historical progenitor was not original to the faith even in Paul's day, but evolved over the course of the later 1st century. As Doherty argues, "Jesus Christ" (which means "The Anointed Savior") was originally a heavenly being, whose atoning death took place at the hands of demonic beings in a supernatural realm halfway between heaven and earth, a sublunar sphere where he assumed a fleshly, quasi-human form. This and the rest of the "gospel" was revealed to the first Christians in visions and inspirations and through the discovery of hidden messages in the scriptures. After the confusion of the Jewish War and persistent battles over power in the church, rooted in a confused mass of variant sectarian dogmas, a new cult arose with the belief that Jesus actually came to earth and was crucified by Jews with the complicity of the Roman authorities. To defend itself against sects more closely adhering to the original, mystical faith, the new church engaged in polemics and power politics, and eventually composed or adopted writings (chiefly the canonical Gospels) supporting its views.
The "scandalous" consequence of Doherty's theory is that Jesus didn't exist. But it cannot be emphasized enough that Doherty's thesis is not "Jesus didn't exist, therefore Christianity started as a mystical-revelatory Jewish sect" but "Christianity started as a mystical-revelatory Jewish sect, therefore Jesus didn't exist." This is significant. Most scholars who argue that Jesus didn't exist (who are called "ahistoricists," because they deny the "historicity" of Jesus, or "mythicists," because they argue Jesus is mythical) have little in the way of reasons beyond a whole complex of arguments from silence. Doherty, in contrast, uses arguments from silence only to support his thesis. He does not base it on such arguments, but rather on positive evidence, especially a slew of very strange facts that his theory accounts for very well but that traditional historicism ignores, or explains poorly. By far most of the criticism or even dismissal of Doherty's work is based on the criticism or dismissal of the Argument from Silence, or his (often supposed) deployment of it. This completely misses the strongest elements of his case: evidence that Christianity did in fact begin as a mystical-revelatory religion.
(This is Richard Carrier’s overall synopsis of The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus, a work by Earl Doherty; Canadian Humanist Publications: Ottawa, Canada; revised edition, 2000)
A simpler summary is that around the turn of the First Century CE, a Hellenized cult formed around Jesus Christ (Greek: Iêsou Christou) who was a spiritual being which brought about the Gnosis (knowledge) of the Logos (The forethought, or first thought) – sometimes referred to as the Monad or “one” (The Secret Book of John) by which was only achieved through Sophia (or wisdom). It is even said that this being was also a rank, achievable just by attaining Gnosis. (Gospel of Thomas)
The confusion of the early centuries of the Common Era (CE) bring on multiple different interpretations of this cult, and from it springs Orthodox Christianity. Over time, and various slander wars, the Orthodox Church wins out and crushes the Gnostic and Mystics movement. They burry or destroy the texts and canonize the books that fit their philosophy. What doesn’t fit originally is made to fit with forgeries and minor altercations of the texts. (Codex Siniaticus, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus, etc…)
This is the Mythicist standpoint. The fact that a spiritual and non-physical Christ became euhemerized into history.
There may be some of you out there who seem to think you have evidence of a historical Jesus’ existence. You feel you have texts, although you’ve probably never read them yourself, that prove Jesus’ existence as a historical person. Of course there’s always a few of you. Let’s look at the evidence quickly (I’ll only include a few in this thread, the rest will be available on this board):
- (1) Suetonius wrote in the year 115 CE, so this is FAR from a contemporary account. He doesn't cite or list sources and Christianity would have been decently established by this time.
- (2) Surely no one will contend that Christ was inciting riots at Rome 15 years after he was supposedly crucified at Jerusalem. And why would Jews be led by Jesus to begin with? But by citing this you are assuming this is the case.
- (3) This passage contains no evidence for the historicity of Jesus, even if we substitute "Christus" for "Chrestus." Christus is merely the Greek-Latin translation of "anointed" and the phrase "at the instigation of Christus" could refer to a group of people just as much as it could have meant one person. This is reminiscent of the name Theophilus mentioned in the beginning of Acts and Luke, (whom the narrator/author of the books are addressing the prose too) which simply means "lover/friend of God." Which can apply to many people instead of one singular person (maybe even a congregation of people).
- (4) "Chrestus" was not only a familiar personal name, it was also a name of the Egyptian Serapis or Osiris, who had a large following at Rome, especially among the common people. Hence "Christians" may be either the followers of a man named Chrestus, or of Serapis. Historians know what evil repute the Egyptian people, which consisted mainly of Alexandrian elements, had at Rome. While other foreign cults that had been introduced into Rome enjoyed the utmost toleration, the cult of Serapis and Isis was exposed repeatedly to persecution. The lax morality associated with their worship of the Egyptian gods and the fanaticism of their worshippers repelled the Romans, and excited the suspicion that their cults might be directed against the State.
- (5) Vopiscus said, "Those who worship Serapis and the Chrestians,.... They are a turbulent, inflated, lawless body of men." Is it not possible that the reference to Chrestus and the Chrestians has been too hastily applied to Christos and Christians? The "Chrestians," who were detested by the people for their crimes,..., are not Christians at all, but followers of Chrestus, the scum of Egypt, the apaches of Rome, a people on whom Nero could very easily cast the suspicion of having set fire to Rome.
- (6) The name in the text is not "Christus" but "Chrestus," which by no means is the usual designation of Jesus. It was a common name, especially among Roman freedman. (Cicero, Epistulae ad Familiares, book 2, letter 8, section 1; "What! Do you suppose that I meant you to send me an account of gladiatorial matches, of postponements of trials, of robberies by Chrestus, and such things as, when I am at Rome, nobody ventures to retail to me?") Hence, the whole passage may have nothing whatever to do with Christianity.
- (7) As one source mentioned it, "Thus much we seem to learn from both passages: but the most enlightened men of that age were singularly ill-informed on the stupendous events which had recently occurred in Judea, and we find Suetonius, although he lived at the commencement of the first century of the Christian aera, when the memory of these occurrences was still fresh, and it might be supposed, by that time, widely diffused, transplanting Christ from Jerusalem to Rome, and placing him in the time of Claudius, although the crucifixion took place during the reign of Tiberius." (Suetonius: The Lives of the Twelve Caesars; An English Translation, Alexander Thomson. Philadelphia. Gebbie & Co. 1889.) What is interesting to note here is that if these events had recently just happened (in the Gospels or anything similar) you'd think those who wrote about it would have written about these events and got them down as they remembered them. Apparently this isn't the case.
- (8 ) From Suetonius, "He suppressed all foreign religions, and the Egyptian and Jewish rites, obliging those who practiced that kind of superstition, to burn their vestments, and all their sacred utensils. He distributed the Jewish youths, under the pretence of military service, among the provinces noted for an unhealthy climate; and dismissed from the city all the rest of that nation as well as those who were proselytes to that religion, under pain of slavery for life, unless they complied. He also expelled the astrologers; but upon their suing for pardon, and promising to renounce their profession, he revoked his decree." (Lives of the Caesars; Tiberius, 36) What is important to note here is that Tiberius (not just Claudius) also revoked the Jews religious rites and expelled them from Rome. (This is also mentioned in Acts) As this is the case, and upon reading Cicero, it could have easily been in Seutonius' interest to apply the name "Chrestus" to the instigator of the Jewish expulsion. (Read also Josephus, Ant.18:5.)
- (1) It is extremely improbable that a special report found by Tacitus had been sent earlier to Rome and incorporated into the records of the Senate, in regard to the death of a Jewish provincial, Jesus. The execution of a Nazareth carpenter would have been one of the most insignificant events conceivable among the movements of Roman history in those decades; it would have completely disappeared beneath the innumerable executions inflicted by Roman provincial authorities. For it to have been kept in any report would have been a most remarkable instance of chance.
- (2) The phrase "multitudo ingens" which means "a great number" is opposed to all that we know of the spread of the new faith in Rome at the time. A vast multitude in 64 A.D.? There were not more than a few thousand Christians 200 years later. The idea of so many just 30 years after his supposed death is just a falsehood.
- (3) The use of the Christians as "living torches," as Tacitus describes, and all the other atrocities that were committed against them, have little title to credence, and suggest an imagination exalted by reading stories of the later Christian martyrs. Death by fire was not a punishment inflicted at Rome in the time of Nero. It is opposed to the moderate principles on which the accused were then dealt with by the State.
- (4) The Roman authorities can have had no reason to inflict special punishment on the new faith. How could the non-initiated Romans know what were the concerns of a comparatively small religious sect, which was connected with Judaism and must have seemed to the impartial observer wholly identical with it.
- (5) Suetonius says that Nero showed the utmost indifference, even contempt in regard to religious sects. Even afterwards the Christians were not persecuted for their faith, but for political reasons, for their contempt of the Roman state and emperor, and as disturbers of the unity and peace of the empire. What reason can Nero have had to proceed against the Christians, hardly distinguishable from the Jews, as a new and criminal sect?
- (6) It is inconceivable that the followers of Jesus formed a community in the city at that time of sufficient importance to attract public attention and the ill-feeling of the people. It isn't the most popular way to convert and bring people into their religion.
- (7) The victims could not have been given to the flames in the gardens of Nero, as Tacitus allegedly said. According to another account by Tacitus these gardens were the refuge of those whose homes had been burned and were full of tents and wooden sheds. Why would he risk burning these by lighting human fires amidst all these shelters?
- (8 ) According to Tacitus, Nero was in Antium, not Rome, when the fire occurred.
- (9) Three years of the Histories of the Roman Empire and its Provinces are missing from Tacitus. Alarmingly, they are the years 30 – 33 CE, the same three years scholars date Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion and resurrection. There is some scholarly speculation that these years vanished during the early days of Orthodox Christianity, when scribes embarrassingly realized that there was no mention of their savior present in any of them.
- (10) And lastly, Suetonius doesn't mention this event in his histories.
For more thorough reviews of the evidence, visit THIS LINK and check out my "Examination of the Evidence for a Historical Jesus." You can also check out the Rational Response Squad’s $666 Prize for contemporary evidence of Jesus. Here are the Rules and the Thread where you can list your evidence, and here is the Peanut Gallery to discuss it.
Here is a free clip and some show information!
Show 22 with Steve Gregg: Christian Intervention: Steve Gregg a Christian Radio Talk show host was referred to us by a Christian who claims Steve is one of the best most rational defenders of his faith out there. Rook and Steve square up for one of our more animated discussions on the Rational Response Squad so far.
Show 22 with Rook Hawkins discussion on the Origins of Christianity: Rook Hawkins Lecture. Rook Hawkins Squad member and Biblical expert presents a short discussion, explaining parts of his dissertation. Rook is on the verge on some important findings that will help prove that Yeshua the Christ didn't exist. Rook has stumbled upon something big in his research
Show 25 with Richard Carrier and Rook Hawkins: Richard Carrier join us again to discuss his dissertation that he is currently writing to receive a Doctorate from Columbia University. As you may well know, Richard has a bachelors and two Masters degrees already! Rook will also further discuss the dissertation we heard in show 22, that he's currently working on.
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