2012-10-17

Mythicism and Positive Christianity

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by Neil Godfrey

Though several New Testament scholars have attempted to accuse mythicism of being invalid on the grounds that it is supposedly driven by an agenda hostile to religion generally and Christianity in particular, there is abundant evidence to demonstrate that this is an ignorant accusation. If I recall correctly Dr Robert M. Price has made no secret of his affection for religious trappings; René Salm (Myth of Nazareth) has clear sympathies with Buddhism; and Paul-Louis Couchoud, as I quoted in my recent series of posts on his work, expressed the highest admiration for the Christian religion. Now we have Thomas L. Brodie (Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus), writing compassionately of belief in God and Jesus as a literary symbol.

Recall from my earlier quotation from Brodie’s Prefatory Introduction, this time with different bolding:

The essence of what I want to say is simple. Having joined the Dominicans because it seemed right to do so, and having been assigned to study the Bible, there came a period in my life, 1972-1975, which eventually led me to overwhelming evidence that, while God is present in creation and in daily human life, the Bible accounts of Jesus are stories rather than history.

The accounts are indeed history-like, shaped partly like some of the histories of biographies of the ancient world, and they reflect both factual aspects of the first century and God’s presence in history and in people, but they are essentially symbolic, not factual.

Then later in the same introduction:

To say Jesus did not exist as a historical individual does not mean he has been eliminated. . . . He is not eliminated, but seen in a new way. . . . (After comparing the Copernican revolution that disturbed many people but did not do away with the earth — only leading them to see earth in a different way . . . ) Jesus too loses one aspect of his solidity. But he does not lose his central place. In fact, his central place as ‘an image of the invisible God’ (Col. 1.15) can become clearer than ever.

Brodie reflects on one head of the Dominican Order who thrilled to realize that the Council of Chalcedon was not the end of the search to comprehend the mystery of Christ, but “another beginning”. So now, today, the idea of another beginning is even more conceivable. Early Christians connected the understanding of Christ with their understanding of creation. Well, our understanding of creation has changed much since then, so why not allow ourselves to revisit our understanding of Christ?

Beginnings are difficult. . . . But it seems appropriate that part of that new beginning should be a renewed understanding of the meaning of Christ, and even if the journey ahead looks challenging, it is better not to turn back. . . .

So,

The story in the Gospels, then, is not the story of an individual who lived two thousand years ago. It is the story of a vital life that has been at work since time began but that became dramatically clearer to many people two thousand years ago. It is a life that, when seen initially, may seem like a killjoy, but when taken in fully, gives people increased breathing space, a greater sense of the full dimensions and possibilities of life. It is a life that the Gospels put in picture form, pictures that shaped Christianity and its rituals — and like great art, these pictures are radically true.

Brodie has more to say in the last chapters of his book. But let the first words sink in before we go there.

I am reminded of a story I have told several times already. I once asked a Jesus Seminar Anglican priest and scholar what he thought might be potential consequences for Christianity should we learn that Jesus was a mythical construct after all. After a moment’s thought he suggested that “If Judaism can survive without a literal Abraham . . . “

4 Comments

  • Roger Parvus
    2012-10-17 22:32:18 UTC - 22:32 | Permalink

    Is there any indication in the book whether Brodie still enjoyed good standing in the Dominican order at the time of publication? If so, I will be shocked if that doesn’t change very soon!

    • 2012-10-18 06:59:11 UTC - 06:59 | Permalink

      I have not read it all yet, but will let you know. Maybe Brodie is e-contactable.

  • Grog
    2012-10-19 08:11:06 UTC - 08:11 | Permalink

    I have always maintained that a mythical Jesus is no less than the very same Jesus that was believed in by Paul and by modern Christians. Whether the events in the NT are “historical” or not doesn’t change faith in Jesus Christ. It is belief in Jesus in a different way, in the way that I believe the original Christians believed in him, as the heavenly intercessor, the illuminator, the Saviour in the sense that he illuminated the truth and the way to salvation. Whether or not he was actually crucified by Romans outside Jerusalem is not really relevant.

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