James McGrath, Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University, left a comment on my blog post discussing Richard Carrier's upcoming work, On the Historicity of Jesus Christ. Anyway, we have sort of got ourselves into a debate over whether Jesus existed or not. I am agnostic on Jesus' existence, but I will argue in favor of the mythicist position because so far I believe it is at least plausible.
Let me spell out the current Jesus Myth thesis, similar to what Earl Doherty argues:
The earliest Christians did not really believe Jesus was a historical flesh-and-blood person, but rather, a supernatural cosmic entity who was crucified at the hands of demons and Satanic forces. They believed that this was revealed to them through mystical visions and through finding secret meanings in Old Testament Scripture.
Alright, so now that we have got that out of the way: James argues that no one would really make up a saviour who was crucified at the hands of Roman officials. It would have been too humiliating and unbecoming of the messiah to be cast this way, so there obviously was a historical Jesus. Shrouded in myth, maybe. But there.
At first this seems like a knock-out argument for historicism. But let's go back to the mythicist position:
Early Christians believed that this was revealed to them through mystical visions and through finding secret meanings in Old Testament Scripture.
Let's look at Psalms 22:
"Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced [a] my hands and my feet."
What would 'pierced hands and feet' have meant to a jew living in a province occupied by Romans? Crucifixion!
The next point that James made that I would like to address is this: If Jesus were based on the 'dying and rising' saviour gods of the time, wouldn't Paul have tried to find common ground with them rather than telling them to give up their idols?
No. Christianity "budded off" from Judaism, and it ended up inheriting the concept of monotheism, even though it clearly retained some pagan characteristics. I would also like to add that I am not so sure that the early Christians were aware of the fact that they were influenced. Their own religion, Judaism, along with the religions of the surrounding cultures (this includes the Romans, who occupied Judea at the time) was all that they had ever known. Let me ask you something: Do you consider musicians to be original? I mean, do you think rock stars purposefully try to copy one another? Most of them do not. But here's something to think about: When you are listening to the radio, do you often find that listening to a song for so much as thirty seconds enables you to figure out whether it was written in the 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s? Where all the artists in the 60s copying one another? Of course not. But they did, consciously or unconsciously, influence one another.
Another point which McGrath makes is that early Christians would not invent a messiah which did not fulfill messianic expectations (by being crucified or by not being a political leader), or who was supposed to have lived just years ago. My reply is three-fold: First, that the gospels were written as allegorical fiction. Listen to what Sallustius wrote:
"We may well inquire, then, why the ancients forsook these doctrines and made use of myths. There is this first benefit from myths, that we have to search and do not have our minds idle.
That the myths are divine can be seen from those who have used them. Myths have been used by inspired poets, by the best of philosophers, by those who established the mysteries, and by the Gods themselves in oracles. But why the myths are divine it is the duty of philosophy to inquire. Since all existing things rejoice in that which is like them and reject that which is unlike, the stories about the Gods ought to be like the Gods, so that they may both be worthy of the divine essence and make the Gods well disposed to those who speak of them: which could only be done by means of myths.
Now the myths represent the Gods themselves and the goodness of the Gods - subject always to the distinction of the speakable and the unspeakable, the revealed and the unrevealed, that which is clear and that which is hidden: since, just as the Gods have made the goods of sense common to all, but those of intellect only to the wise, so the myths state the existence of Gods to all, but who and what they are only to those who can understand.
They also represent the activities of the Gods. For one may call the world a myth, in which bodies and things are visible, but souls and minds hidden. Besides, to wish to teach the whole truth about the Gods to all produces contempt in the foolish, because they cannot understand, and lack of zeal in the good, whereas to conceal the truth by myths prevents the contempt of the foolish, and compels the good to practice philosophy."
If Christianity was a mystery cult, or something heavily influenced by the mystery cults of the time (and I believe we can show this is the case) then it makes perfect sense of why the Christians would create a narrative.
On the second coming: This is a very persuasive argument - but only at first. The phrase "second coming" is not found once in the New Testament (Via a look through my Strong's Exhaustive Concordance and a search on Biblegateway). Is the concept of a second coming in the new testament? As far as I have found, the NT only talks of a "coming" (See 1 Thess. 4:13-18). There is no indication that this was the second time for Jesus to come.
I am planning on writing more to support some of my assertions as time goes on.