[This post is a work in progress as part of the CAA Catechism.]
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Summary in 400 words or less:
Did Jesus Christ ever live? Some skeptics such as Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, and Dan Barker have promoted Mythicism. Other skeptics such as Bart Ehrman, Tim O’Neill, and Neil Carter have rejected the theory, while a few such as Hector Avalos have expressed uncertainty concerning the issue.
Mythicism is the theory that the four traditional Gospel accounts, Acts, and traditional NT epistles portray Jesus Christ as a divine entity without having any basis in real history to claim even that a man known as Jesus (Yeshua) ever lived in human form as an itinerant rabbi (in 1st century C.E. Palestine).
Pseudo-historical Mythicism posits that the Jesus of the Gospels represented a different historical figure. Julius Caesar and Emperor Titus have been suggestions put forth. As for those suggestions, given that a Caesar cult and emphasis to follow Rome preceded Christianity, it would be hard to imagine Jesus as a Roman invention to maintain order. The sporadic persecution of Christians by Rome also suggests against this theory.
Pagan Mythicism posits that Jesus was based on earlier heroes, gods, or philosophies. Osiris, Dionysus, Horus, Mythras, Krishna, and others have been suggested. Claims of similarities are largely superficial, unsubstantiated, or take pagan texts out of their context. Moreover, most versions of this theory do not convincingly account for the Jewish cultural and textual origins of Christianity. Additionally, most pagan deities were not crucified.
Celestial Mythicism posits that Jesus was based on real dreams and or visions from real people. It argues for alternative interpretations of some NT passages and may contend that some of the NT is inauthentic.
Multiple attestation supports Jesus’ historicity and consequently helps refute Mythicism. Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 18:3:3-4 and 20:9:1 [in Jewish cultural context]), Paul (Rom. 9:4-5; 1st Cor. 9:14; Gal. 4:4; 2nd Tim. 2:8), the Gospel writers (Mark 3:1-6; Matthew 13:54; Luke 7:36-43 [in Jewish cultural context]), Tacitus (Annals 15:44), and church fathers take Jesus’ historicity as a given fact.
Additional reasons to reject Mythicism:
1. Textual criticism analysis reveals that early creedal NT Jesus confessions are original, not interpolations.
2. The scholarly consensus overwhelmingly rejects Mythicism and its arguments from absence.
3. Even a less-than flawless source text would not equate to the non-existence of the characters mentioned by the source.
4. For some ancient historians, we simply do not know if they mentioned Jesus or not. Their writings have been lost.
Scripture for YouVersion: Matthew 16:13 and 1st John 4:3
Bart Ehrman and Reginald Finley. “Did Jesus Exist?” Posted 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdqJyk-dtLs.
Phil Fernandes. “Did Jesus Really Exist?” 2015. http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=429151149253.
Three questions (one fill-in-the-blank, one multiple choice, one discussion question):
1. Even non-Christian New Testament scholars and commentators such as _________ and Maurice Casey have rejected Jesus-Mythicism.
2. Which characters have not been seriously proposed as the inspiration for the Jesus of the Gospels or as a character that Jesus was supposed to represent?
A. Zalmoxis and Romulus
B. Osiris and Horus
C. Dionysus and Mythras
D. Krishna and Zoroaster
E. Julius Caesar and Emperor Titus
F. All of the above have been proposed
3. If it is so clear that Jesus was based on a pagan deity or was meant to represent a more well-known character like Caesar, then why have so many characters been proposed as being those characters? Given the Jewish culture in first century Palestine, where most of the Jesus story takes place, is it really likely that the Jesus character would be based on multiple pagan gods?
References for further reading:
Phil Porvaznik. “Evidence for Jesus and Parallel Pagan ‘Crucified Saviors’ Examined.” 2007. http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/JesusEvidenceCrucifiedSaviors.htm. Accessed 2014. Web
Albert McIlhenny. A Quick Survey of Jesus Mythicism: New Scholarly Paradigm or Internet Anti-Christian Polemics? 2015 [revised version].
Gary R. Habermas. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ.
James H. Charlesworth and Petr Pokorny, Eds. Jesus Research: An International Perspective. [Princeton-Prague Symposia Series on the Historical Jesus]. Eerdmans, 2009.
James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy, eds. The Historical Jesus: Five Views. InterVarsity Press, 2009.
Maurice Casey. Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? London or New York: Bloomsbury, 2014.
Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd. The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker, 2007.
Robert E. Van Voorst. Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Eerdmans , 2000.
James M. Rochford. “A Critique of Joseph Atwill’s Caesar’s Messiah.” Evidence Unseen. http://www.evidenceunseen.com/theology/book-reviews/a-critique-of-joseph-atwills-covert-messiah/.
Shlomo Pines. An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1971.
Note: When complete and reviewed, Mythicism PowerPoints would be good to include here.
#60-Is Christ a Myth?
#62-Defending Jesus’ Historicity
#63-Defending Jesus’ Historicity Part 2
#64-Mythicism and Extra-Biblical Evidence
Collaborators: Z.E. Kendall, David Marshall
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