2014-03-09

Who’s Who Among Mythicists and Mythicist Sympathizers/Agnostics

by Neil Godfrey

This is a followup to my previous post, Casey’s Mythicist Myth Busted, where I set out Casey’s list of

the most influential mythicists who claim to be ‘scholars’ today (p. 10)

Casey’s list counted seventeen names. Of those seventeen we saw that six were not mythicists at all (e.g. Bart Ehrman) and one was deceased some years before Casey even began to write his draft for his book.

For easy reference I set out here in two tables the names of

  • genuine contemporary mythicists along with their religious backgrounds,
  • others who raise the question of mythicism or examine Christian origins without reference to assumptions of a historical Jesus.

Three possible conclusions to be drawn from these tables (updated 10th March):

  1. Liberal religious backgrounds are twice as likely as American Fundamentalism to breed future mythicist or mythicist sympathizers (15 to 7);
  2. Ex-fundamentalists who are mythicists are more as likely to be favourably disposed towards Christianity as disinterested in or opposed to it;
  3. Pending further investigation, it appears that American Fundamentalists are the least likely to gravitate towards mythicism or mythicist sympathies than those with liberal or no religious backgrounds.

I’m tongue-in-cheek, of course. But the tables do demonstrate that claims that mythicism is a symptom of psychological derangement among ex-fundamentalists is as ignorant and bigoted as stereotyping Jews with hook-noses and greedy.

Since Casey proposes what he calls the “striking fact” that . . .

the majority of people who write books claiming that Jesus did not exist, and who give their past history, are effectively former American fundamentalists, though not all are ethnically American (p. 2)

. . . I list the names according to their past religious affiliations using Casey’s own accounts as my primary source. (Casey’s point about “claiming to be ‘scholars’” is a bit of puerile churlishness that I ignore. Earl Doherty does not claim to be a professional scholar and other names are well known to have recognized academic credentials in related or other fields.)

I have added seven names to Casey’s list. Two of those have not published arguments that Jesus did not exist but they are of interest in this context because they have written (in print and/or online) radical hypotheses on the identity of Paul. The names of those whose methods of argument are controversial among mythicists and/or who appear to be promoting a belief system that approximates to a contemporary version of gnosticism (Freke and Gandy) or pantheism (Murdock) are in italics.

Let me know if I have overlooked any significant names. (HJ = Historical Jesus)

Mythicists

Fundamentalist Background

Roman Catholic Background

(Note N. American/Australian Catholicism is a notoriously liberal form of Catholicism)

Liberal or No Church Background

Unknown

Tom Harpur (very positive towards Christianity) Earl Doherty Richard Carrier ["Freethinking Methodist"] George Albert Wells
Robert M. Price (very positive towards Christianity) Thomas Brodie (Irish Catholic. Very positive towards Christianity) Roger Viklund (Den Jesus som aldrig funnits = The Jesus Who Never Was) [Source: comment] Peter Gandy
Frank R. Zindler Roger Parvus (Paul) Derek Murphy (Jesus Potter Harry Christ) [Episcopalian]
Jay Raskin (The Evolution of Christs and Christianities)
David Fitzgerald (Nailed) Joe Atwill (Source: Caesar’s Messiah) Dorothy Murdock [liberal Congregationalist]
Stephan Huller
Raphael Lataster* René Salm (now Buddhist and atheist) Timothy Freke [Source: ch.3 Mystery Experience]
Francesco Carotta (very positive towards Christianity) Herman Detering (Paul — also denies HJ) (very positive towards Christianity)
Raphael Lataster* Sid Martin (Secret of the Savior: source online email)
Ken Humphreys (jesusneverexisted.com) [no church background]
Raphael Lataster*
R. G. Price [See comment below]

* Raphael Lataster, author of There Was No Jesus, There Is No God, had has quite a spiritual journey. Unfortunately Casey does not have a category for  ambiguity.

.

Open to the Question of Mythicism / Bypass historical Jesus assumptions to explain Christian Origins

Fundamentalist Background

Roman Catholic Background

(Note N. American/Australian Catholicism is a notoriously liberal form of Catholicism)

Liberal or No Church Background

Unknown

Neil Godfrey Thomas L. Thompson (Danish/European)  Neil Godfrey Kurt Noll
Tim Widowfield (HJ agnostic) Thomas S. Verenna  Robert Eisenman (?) Arthur Droge
Hector Avalos (Mexican Pentecostal: HJ agnostic) Steven Carr
Philip R. Davies

.
Yep, I know. I’m there twice. My earliest upbringing was in a liberal Methodist Church. After I strayed into Armstrongism I returned to a liberal Christianity once again. Like a return home, you might say. I found myself for a few years happily fellowshiping and worshiping with liberal Catholics, Anglicans and Baptists. (SEE “About Vridar” in the right margin here.) Stephanie who informed Casey of my past religious experiences knew this. Casey does not explain why only one of my religious backgrounds was selected for comment.

.

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28 Comments

  • 2014-03-09 05:37:42 UTC - 05:37 | Permalink

    North American Catholics are often “liberal,” speaking practically and empirically (whether or not this makes them “good Catholics” based on a doctrinal interpretation of the RCC).

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-03-09 09:18:39 UTC - 09:18 | Permalink

      Good point. I realized I omitted one name that is of some importance to me from the second table’s “Liberal or No Church Background” — I’ve added it now.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2014-03-09 07:35:14 UTC - 07:35 | Permalink

    I have just noticed on page 156 of Casey’s book that he drops this on Freke and Gandy:

    Freke and Gandy claim that . . . ‘in [Paul's] day the great schism between Gnostics and Literalists had yet to occur.’ This is almost true. Its only problem is their description of ‘Literalists’, which seems to have more to do with their past lives as fundamentalists, than with the Church Fathers.

    Then further down the same page:

    Freke and Gandy begin by claiming: ‘Traditionally, Paul is viewed as a bastion of orthodoxy and a crusader against the heretical Gnostics.’ As usual, they give no references, and appear to be firing at the conservative Christians whom they used to be, rather than at genuinely critical scholars.

    In the introduction Casey explicitly said he had not been able to find much information about their past lives. He was clearly looking for evidence of any association with “American fundamentalism” and obviously found none.

    No matter, when looking to find things to pull apart in their work Casey casually tells readers they were once fundamentalists, anyway!

    I’d prefer to think this is another sign of dementia than an outright lie or deliberate attempt to deceive readers. (One does encounter anti-mythicist scholars (no names please) accusing mythicists of deliberately trying to deceive their readers so when one sees this sort of thing the word “projection” does come to mind.)

  • Steven Carr
    2014-03-09 09:22:13 UTC - 09:22 | Permalink

    Timothy Freke says he loves ‘the expansive love of Christianity’, but that he has never seen himself as part of any particular spiritual tradition.

    I imagine Casey’s psychic powers were used up that day reading Aramaic wax tablets he can’t see, and so his normal superhuman powers of psychic readings were a little low that day.

    • Geoff Barrett
      2014-03-09 21:01:19 UTC - 21:01 | Permalink

      Let’s just say that Casey’s observation is not based on empirical findings.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-03-09 21:14:54 UTC - 21:14 | Permalink

      I’ve updated the table to reflect this. Stephanie used to so loudly assure us what very nice people she and Casey and colleagues all were — obviously they were too polite and feared making a nuisance of themselves if they actually tried to ask people what they wanted to know for their book.

  • JohnG
    2014-03-10 00:05:28 UTC - 00:05 | Permalink

    Would you count Hector Avalos as ‘Open to the question …’/agnostic? He seems to have a fundamentalist background.

    http://amestrib.com/sections/opinion/columns/hector-avalos-who-was-the-historical-jesus.html

    “Yes, unless some new dramatic evidence is raised, we are at an impasse, historically.

    So, who was the historical Jesus? My honest answer is that I don’t know.”

  • 2014-03-10 02:19:13 UTC - 02:19 | Permalink

    Avalos writes there:

    My own opinion, as an academic biblical scholar, is that there is not enough evidence to settle the question one way or the other. I am an agnostic about the existence of the historical Jesus.

    That’s pretty clear. He expressed positive remarks about Earl Doherty’s contribution to the question in The End of Biblical Studies.

    If you can give me some clear source on his background I will add him to the second table.

    Thanks.

  • Geoff
    2014-03-10 03:04:31 UTC - 03:04 | Permalink

    He was a Pentecostal minister:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hector_Avalos

    I believe he mentions it here:

  • JohnG
    2014-03-10 05:07:39 UTC - 05:07 | Permalink

    Thanks Geoff for the video. I should also have linked to Wikipedia.

    So, further down the alphabet we have a full-blown mythicist Bruno Bauer.

    http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/reviews/bauer_christ_caesars.htm

    “Bruno Bauer maintained that the historical Jesus had never had any existence at all, being rather a fictive character created by the evangelist Mark!”

    http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2011/2011-19.pdf

    discusses his religious beliefs which start as orthodox Protestant. He ends up an atheist.

  • JohnG
    2014-03-10 05:37:27 UTC - 05:37 | Permalink

    Re Atwill:
    http://caesarsmessiah.com/About/about.html
    “Atwill continues, “Though I had drifted away from the Catholic faith, my study of Christianity never stopped.”

  • Neil Godfrey
    2014-03-10 09:22:39 UTC - 09:22 | Permalink

    Thanks everyone. I’ve updated the first table and have had to revise the “conclusions” to which our growing sample now “leads” us:

    1. Liberal religious backgrounds are twice as likely as American Fundamentalism to breed future mythicist or mythicist sympathizers (15 to 7);
    2. Ex-fundamentalists who are mythicists are more likely to be favourably disposed towards Christianity as disinterested in or opposed to it;
    3. Pending further investigation, it appears that American Fundamentalists are the least likely to gravitate towards mythicism or mythicist sympathies than those with liberal or no religious backgrounds.

    I have been taking a closer look at the book in prep for more comments and I see another “interesting” detail. Although Casey identifies Earl Doherty as a Roman Catholic in his introductory remarks, in the body of his work he regularly associates him with “fundamentalist” religion and “American fundamentalists”. But there are so many other contradictions and elementary logical gaffes and meandering defensiveness over irrelevant points that as someone pointed out recently, it’s easier to put such misrepresentation down to dementia than to deliberate dishonesty (or am I being naive again?):

    Doherty believes in Kloppenborg’s ‘Q’ . . . In support of this view he rejects the view of Goodacre and others . . . and argues that Luke would have copied various parts of Matthew if he had known of them. It is at such points that this mythicist, once a very conservative American Catholic, argues like a fundamentalist. (p. 112)

    Where did Casey learn Doherty was a very conservative Catholic?

    Doherty . . . quotes R. H. Stein, Senior Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a major centre of American fundamentalism, who could not possibly imagine Luke finding anything uncongenial in Matthew, and who is in any case bound by his ideological commitments to harmonize the two. . . (p. 114)

    And then note how Casey in effect accuses the majority of New Testament scholars of arguing like fundamentalists. In order catch one fish for dinner he dynamites the whole lake and kills the lot:

    What is remarkable about Doherty’s arguments [i.e. "Doherty's determination not to believe the view of Goodacre and others"] is that they are virtually fundamentalist Christian arguments.

    • Steven Carr
      2014-03-10 09:29:41 UTC - 09:29 | Permalink

      Fundamentalist Christian arguments?

      This is coming from the man, who claims the disciples in Gethsemane would have heard Jesus’s prayer, despite the Bible saying they were asleep, and Casey comes up with something straight from the Josh McDowell play book to explain how the disciples would fall asleep, wake in time to hear Jesus’s prayer, fall asleep again, wake up in time to hear Jesus’s prayer a second time, fall asleep again etc, etc?

      The chutzpah of Casey is amazing, as he harmonises with Synoptic passage with another, while all the while claiming to despise fundamentalist arguments.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2014-03-10 10:14:14 UTC - 10:14 | Permalink

        Casey’s arguments are primarlly driven by a quest to harmonize the Gospels, either through Aramaic threads or some of the most dizzying array of hypotheticals that would leave Occam hyperventilating. All the while he is accusing “mythicists” of thinking the gospels should be “harmonized” because that’s what they thought when they were fundamentalists.

  • Sili
    2014-03-11 01:15:10 UTC - 01:15 | Permalink

    It’s of course easy to suggest early onset dementia, but I’d prefer to see a comparative analysis with his early work, before throwing such diagnoses around. Supposedly it work retrospectively on Iris Murdoch’s oeuvre.

    • 2014-03-11 03:37:04 UTC - 03:37 | Permalink

      I probably should not have said that. I was being kind of sarcastic by appearing to want to avoid accusing the old fella of lying. It’s hard to have respect for someone of his and Stephanie’s ilk. I keep trying to remind myself I don’t know them personally and who knows what I might learn if I ever did.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2014-03-12 02:55:34 UTC - 02:55 | Permalink

    I have updated the tables with additional names of published mythicists and some of their works.

    So far the liberal or no church background group is winning by a mile. Looks like the most effective innoculation against a future attack of mythicism is to experience a fundamentalist religious experience.

  • 2014-03-18 16:59:24 UTC - 16:59 | Permalink

    I’m reading this on an I-phone so I have no idea if you have Francesco Carotta or not. He appears to come from a European Catholic background, is positive about Catholic Christianity (he states that he seeks to save the honor of the Catholic Church) and has concluded that the Historic Jesus (NT Jesus) is based not on any historical Jesus but on Julius Caesar.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-03-18 18:02:55 UTC - 18:02 | Permalink

      Thanks for reminding me. I had overlooked Carotta but have updated the table now. I saw his book in a bookshop at some airport once and snapped it up but have to confess it has sat on my shelf unopened since.

      • Joss
        2014-09-03 16:07:03 UTC - 16:07 | Permalink

        Carotta is a clear historicist, with the only twist that Julius Caesar was the historical person behind the Christ figure in the Gospel, and that the Gospel is a diegetic transposition of the histories about the Roman civil war etc. He says that there was in fact a true historical Christ, and this means (at least in my book) that he can’t be a mythicist. Which doesn’t mean that the mythicists’ arguments don’t support his theory, but that’s a different matter.

        (However, he completely agrees that there was no “historical Jesus”, i.e. “Jesus of Nazareth”, Yeshu ben Yosef etc., whatever you want to call this allegedly historical figure. In his book he seems to be even more staunch in this respect than the real mythicists, but that’s understandable, because if there was a “historical Jesus”, it would disprove his Caesar theory with one single blow.)

        • Neil Godfrey
          2014-09-03 19:30:23 UTC - 19:30 | Permalink

          Ditto for A. Ellegard and J. R. S. Mead. (I can’t recall if Atwill would fit here, too.) It comes down to definition. The arguments of all of these “For” the Jesus of the Gospels being a myth are “mythicist” — what distinguishes them from others is their proposed solution or alternative explanations. Yet G. A. Wells used to argue (maybe still does) for the possibility of a Jesus who has become completely lost in time — a figure real or imagined who may have lived long before the setting of the gospel narrative. That argument was long considered an almost default mythicist position.

          Lately it seems that the celestial Christ option — via Doherty and Carrier — is the favoured option that is being identified with mythicism per se. But there are alternatives. Roger Parvus represents one of those: that the celestial Christ was also a figure who appeared on earth as a man for a time.

          On the other hand, I think many liberal scholars fully concede that the Gospels are myth and there is no history to be found about any real person in them. Yet they believe there was a historical Jesus behind it all. It’s just assumed. The argument is entirely rhetorical: How else could it have started?

          So in reality it seems to me there is a blurring of categories at the edges of both historicist and mythicist positions.

          • Joss
            2014-09-04 00:13:50 UTC - 00:13 | Permalink

            Yes, and those liberal scholars are (in my view) historicists, even if it’s just a hardcore minimal position. (Parvus would then be a historicist, too; if a divine Christ became this Galilean itinerant preacher, then “Jesus” was a historical figure at some point, of course.)

            As for Carotta, the way I see it, Christ is neither historical nor mythical in his theory; he’s just a character in a hypertext. The historicist aspect in his theory (the origin) comes from a different place altogether. But if I had to choose only between the two prominent categories, I would count Carotta among the mythicists, because there is at least some overlap with their arguments, compared to the historicists, with whom there’s no overlap at all.

  • JohnG
    2014-03-19 04:51:05 UTC - 04:51 | Permalink

    Robert Eisenman in the ‘Open to the question’ category?

    http://vridar.org/2012/05/16/robert-eisenman-interview-and-opportunity-to-engage-in-discussion/

    “Eisenman isn’t quite a “mythicist””

    He identifies as Jewish, but I don’t know if he is religious. Certainly not a fundamentalist Christian anyway.

    http://roberteisenman.com/articles/territorial.htm
    “Not since the Second Temple Period, have we, the Jews, really been a “Territorial People.” “

  • Pingback: Vridar » Maurice Casey’s Failure to Research Mythicists — More Evidence

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  • 2014-09-03 19:40:56 UTC - 19:40 | Permalink

    Well, you can add my name to the list under Liberal/No church background (raised nominally Protestant) if you want.

    My stuff:
    Books:
    Jesus a Very Jewish Myth http://www.lulu.com/shop/rg-price/jesus-a-very-jewish-myth/paperback/product-2079912.html
    The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory http://www.lulu.com/shop/rg-price/the-gospel-of-mark-as-reaction-and-allegory/paperback/product-2542400.html

    Web pages:
    http://rationalrevolution.net/articles/jesus_myth_history.htm
    http://rationalrevolution.net/articles/jesus_myth_followup.htm
    http://rationalrevolution.net/articles/gospel_mark.htm

    I’m currently working on a piece that I think will be definitive is showing that Jesus never existed. I’m quite certain its the most definitive case yet, based mostly on an analysis of the Gospels, including both canonical and non-canonical gospels.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-09-03 20:03:02 UTC - 20:03 | Permalink

      Thanks. Done.

  • 2014-09-03 19:45:08 UTC - 19:45 | Permalink

    Also, I’ll add that while I’ve been an atheist pretty much forever, I started out as an anti-mythicist, who put together several papers debunking Acharya S. and Freke and Gandy style mythicism. In the process of debunking that stuff, which I still view as total bunk, I came to my own conclusions about historicity based on my own avenues of analysis, focused largely on independent literary analysis of the New Testament texts.

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