Sunday, April 5, 2009

Arguments Jesus Mythicists Should NOT Use

As I've said many times before, I am not a Jesus Mythicist, I am agnostic on whether Jesus existed or not. However, I'd like to take some time out to give Jesus mythicists some advice on what NOT to do:

1. Cite the work of Freke and Gandi. I have read "The Jesus Mysteries" and I have to say I was not impressed. When dealing with parallels between Jesus and pagan deities, oftentimes no ancient text is cited, and instead is the work of an 18th or 19th century mythologist. This is problematic because oftentimes these mythologists of old were imposing there own interpretations upon ancient myths, which means that the pagan parallels to Jesus are not as clear cut as you might think. I also agree with Skeptic Wiki's summary of "The Jesus Mysteries":

When researching the references that are supposed to back up Freke and Gandy's claims, several problems are found. In some cases, Freke and Gandy cite a claim in their main text and endnote it, but the source cited actually supports a different claim which is mentioned in the endnote but not the main text. In other cases, the source itself is misleading, sometimes because it is ambiguous, sometimes because it is unevenly reliable, and sometimes because the source is simply wrong. In still other cases, the source will even be misquoted. There are even claims which are bald assertions backed up by no sources at all, though this is disguised by surrounding them with claims for which sources are given. Often, these problems even appear in combination. The problems go beyond sourcing issues; Freke and Gandy also grossly misinterpret evidence.

2. Cite the work of Achyara S or Zeitgeist the Movie. Most of their claims are simply false. Tim Callahan has written an excellent article explaining why.

3. Cite pagan parallels to Jesus which you have not read about yourself from ancient sources. Although there are similarites between Jesus and other pagan gods, there is so much misinformation going around on the internet these days that simply need to find a translation of the ancient texts which describes these pagan gods and read about them for yourself.

4. Argue that pagan parallels to Jesus prove he did not exist. They don't. Certain themes in the lives of pagan gods may have been borrowed and pasted onto the Christian memory of Jesus, but this does not mean he didn't exist. A better argument would be that since Jesus has much in common with gods that other cults made up, it is simpler to suppose that there was no historical jesus (unless some historical evidence exists of him).

5. Argue that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. The fact that no contemporary of Jesus wrote about him is not at all surprising. Prophets and messiahs were as common in Jesus' time as Starbucks are in our time. Jesus' ministry only lasted a few years, and he lived in Nazareth, a fairly small village. It is perfectly reasonable to suppose that Jesus existed but that not too many people cared about his message.

11 comments:

Hambydammit said...

I can't really disagree with anything you've said. As you probably know, I am also not a mythicist, but I lean towards believing that there was no significant figure who could legitimately be called a "historical Jesus."

I will make note of one important thing, though. Lack of contemporary evidence for Jesus doesn't prove there was no Jesus, but it doesn't help the case of someone trying to prove that there was. While someone claiming Jesus didn't exist can certainly point to the lack of contemporary mention as a piece of corroborating evidence, a historicist has to overcome this fact by positing a plausible reason that such an influential person didn't inspire anyone at all to write about him, or at the very least, why there is good reason to believe such writings once existed.

You're absolutely right about Achyara, though. Woe be unto you if you cross her fanboys, though. As far as citing pagan parallels, all I'll say to that is that such parallels can certainly be used to make guesses about the origins of the literary Jesus story, but they certainly don't have anything to do with whether or not there was originally a human inspiration to a legend that grew into myth.

Luke said...

Right on!

Baconeater said...

I think being an agnostic to the historical Jesus is comparable to being an agnostic to God.
There is absolutely no evidence for either, and this is why I'm an "atheist" on both counts.

AIGBusted said...

I wouldn't say its akin to being agnostic about God. I just don't see strong evidence to support the historical jesus hypothesis or the mythical jesus hypothesis.

This could easily change in the future though.

Conrad said...

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Joannah

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Baconsbud said...

I agree with what you have said and for the most part go along. I have a couple of questions kind of. Reading and writing, until recently, has mainly been used by only those in positions of power. Could this be why you find so little about a possible historical figure? I know if I was in power I would try to keep some facts repressed if they might take some of my power from me. Can any of the ancient writings truly be relied on? Look at people in positions of power, many try to change how recent history is seen by writing things out differently then they happened. An example is how many christian leaders claim that this nation is founded on christian principles.
Myself I figure the odds are there were several people that the biblical Jesus was based on,not just one.

Tim O'Neill said...

"Myself I figure the odds are there were several people that the biblical Jesus was based on,not just one."

As a secularist who has studied the history of the origins of Christianity for about a quarter of a century now, I come across statements like the one above regularly. Except, when I ask what evidence this idea is based on I am usually met by silence.

Do you have any evidence to support these "odds" or is this simply an appealling idea but not one you've actually critically analysed? Because I can't think of any evidence that supports this idea at all.

Baconsbud said...

No can't really say I have evidence but you do see though history where stories are combined to make one. An example is the story of Jesus's birth. They combine elements from Luke and Matthew to make one story. Most of the evidence that might have existed was destroyed though acts of people and nature. Yes it does make more sense to me that several people were combined into one story. I did say it was my opinion not fact. I am not really worried about the lack of evidence since it really doesn't matter to me if Jesus was one person, a combination of people or never existed. I don't see the religion based on the stories in the bible as real. I don't see that proving anything about Jesus is important to me and not out here trying to prove he didn't exist. Half the time I make a comment, it is because I am interested it what others have to say about the topic posted. So if anyone knows how to rss just the comments let me know will make less comments then lol.

Marmalade said...

1. Cite the work of Freke and Gandi.

It is a good general rule to be wary of referencing in a scholarly debate any writer who acts as a popularizer of ideas. Popularizers serve a purpose, but they usually do so by simplifying. There are exceptions to this rule as some popularizers are also good scholars, but I agree that Freke and Gandy aren't exceptions.

2. Cite the work of Achyara S or Zeitgeist the Movie.

Along with the first general rule, I'd add that anyone claiming to be a scholar should be judged by their scholarship (assuming that person making the judgment is claiming to be scholarly). This requires reading the author to a significant extent, but sadly few critics of Acharya/Murdock ever read her work (beyond maybe an online article).

As for Callahan, I assume you realize she wrote a rebuttal (http://stellarhousepublishing.com/skeptic-zeitgeist.html). As for her claims about Egyptian connections, she also wrote an almost 600 pg book (Christ In Egypt).

In it, she references the contemporary mythicist scholars Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price, G.A. Wells, and she has a large section where she discusses her disagreement with Richard Carrier. Both Price and Doherty praise her work and reference it, and Price wrote a foreword to one of her books (Who Was Jesus?).

Also, here are some of the modern Egyptologists she references: Rudolf Anthes, Jan Assman, Hellmut Brunner, Claas J. Bleeker, Bob Brier, Henri Frankfort, Alan H. Gardiner, John Gwyn Griffiths, Erik Hornung, Barry Kemp, Barbara Lesko, Bojana Mojsov, Siegfried Morenz, William Murnane, Margaret A. Murray, Donald B. Redford, Herman te Velde, Claude Traunecker, Reginald E. Witt, and Louis V. Zabkar.

I don't care if you disagree with her, but just do so based on facts and rational arguments.

3. Cite pagan parallels to Jesus which you have not read about yourself from ancient sources.

This is good advice to strive towards, but isn't practical for the average person. The scholars have spent their lives reading the originals and the many translations. And scholars are constantly arguing over specific words that can alter the entire meaning of a text. This takes years if not decades of study to comprehend.

Also, translations can be deceiving if you don't know the original language. You have to read many translations before you can even begin to grasp a particular myth. Plus, many translations and inscriptions aren't available online.

Furthermore, the ancients usually had numerous versions of any given story.

So, yes read what is available to you. But don't necessarily base your opinion on a single translation of a single version of a single myth. However, when making a specific argument, it is wise to cite specific examples that you are familiar with... which isn't to say you can't also cite reputable scholars on examples you're less familiar with.

Still, it depends on your purpose and your audience. If you're simply involved in an informal discussion, then primary sources aren't required.

4. Argue that pagan parallels to Jesus prove he did not exist.

This is very true. A number of mythicist scholars don't deny a historical Jesus (e.g., Robert M. Price) and some even accept a historical Christ (e.g., G.A. Wells). The two issues are really separate debates even though they're often covering the same territory.

5. Argue that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

True, but... the absence of evidence where one would expect evidence corroborates an argument of absence and increases its probability. Despite the commonality of prophets and messiahs, the fact that no contemporary of Jesus wrote about him is surprising considering the claims made about him and his followers.

However, (discounting the historical validity of the grandiose claims of the gospels) if we just take Jesus as any other insignificant historical figure, then your point stands.

Conrad said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Joannah

http://keyboardpiano.net

Vincent Harrison said...

"2. Cite the work of Achyara S or Zeitgeist the Movie. Most of their claims are simply false. Tim Callahan has written an excellent article explaining why."

It's probably not a good idea to cite Tim Callahan as Acharya has responded:

Skeptic Mangles ZEITGEIST
(and Religious History)


Christ in Egypt video

I would add that it's probably not wise to create a list of "Arguments Jesus Mythicists Should NOT Use" when one doesn't know much about those arguments.