Search Results for: myth


2015-04-05

Curious Contacts Between John’s Gospel and the Asclepius Myth

by Tim Widowfield

I’ve been trying to think of something worthy of posting on this Easter Sunday, 2015. All I can come up with at the moment is a subject I’ve had on the back burner for some time, namely the handful of references in the Fourth Gospel (FG) that remind us of Asclepius. Longtime readers may recall Neil’s description from his review of Jesus Potter Harry Christ.

Asclepius the gentle and personally accessible deity, lover of children, gentle, exorcist and healer, and one whose cult was considered at certain times the greatest threat to Christianity.

Several scholars have remarked upon the parallels in terminology and legends that surround both Jesus and Asclepius. Of course, the most obvious things that come to mind would include the designations of savior (sōtēr | σωτήρ) and healer or physician (iatros | ἰατρός). But I’m more interested for now in the specific events or ideas presented in the Gospel of John.

Rod of Asclepius

Rod of Asclepius (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bronze Serpent and the Rod of Asclepius

I’ll start with the most obvious connections and proceed to the more tenuous. The most prominent correlation between Asclepius and the FG has to be the brazen serpent.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. (John 3:14-15, KJV)

In the United States, especially, we tend to confuse the caduceus and the Rod of Asclepius. We should associate the caduceus with the god Hermes; hence, it’s a symbol for traders, heralds, or ambassadors. The Rod (or Staff) of Asclepius, on the other hand, is a symbol of healing.

The bronze serpent or Nehushtan in the Hebrew Bible also had specific healing properties.

And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:9, NASB)

Oddly enough, we read that during Hezekiah’s reign, the bronze serpent was destroyed as a part of his reform movement. read more »


2015-03-18

Reading Mythicist Arguments Cautiously

by Neil Godfrey

ChristInEgyptI recently posted the following on the Biblical Criticism and History Forum. I post it here to explain the main reason I am very cautious about the works of one group of Christ Myth advocates and hopefully to encourage them to a more constructive and critical approach to the debate. I do hope that the supporters of this perspective will try to understand that my failure to take their views on board is not motivated by any sort of hostility towards the author or their proposed thesis itself but is based upon their failure to appreciate the fundamentals of sound argument and critical thinking.

Let’s start with the positive. In defence of D. M. Murdock’s (aka Acharya S’s) discussion in Christ in Egypt about “crucified” Egyptian gods I think she does an interesting job of detailing the evidence for the various deities, especially with respect to Osiris, including the function of the djied cross or pillar, and early Christian interpretations of these — pages 336 to 352.

I think this is interesting background information that should rightly be factored into any historical and literary analyses that considers the origins of the Gospel of John’s miracle of the raising of Lazarus (as addressed in detail by Randel Helms in Gospel Fictions), Secret Mark (with its patent links to the raising of Lazarus story in John’s gospel) and the stories of Alexandrian provenance for certain early Christian authors.

But then on pages 353 to 356 it seems Murdock crashes into a brick wall by trying to overstate her case.

Or am I missing something that she has explained elsewhere to justify her argument?

We come to the heading “Divine Man” Crucified in Space. Referring to Massey’s discussion of the phrase “crucifixion in space” Murdock writes:  read more »


2015-03-12

Mythicism Making Christianity More Meaningful

by Neil Godfrey
Edward van der Kaaij

Edward van der Kaaij

Herman Detering posted on Facebook a link to the latest news of the Dutch pastor who has “come out” claiming that Jesus never existed. The news is an update on the fate of pastor Edward van der Kaaij who made the news a month ago in the NLTimes:

Jesus didn’t exist, but a “myth”, says banned pastor

That February NLTimes article said van der Kaaij was cointinuing to preach; I think the update alert from Herman Detering is telling us that that has changed. He is no longer able to preach.

Here are a few excerpts from the earlier February article:

“When someone reads Genesis 1 as a scientific explanation of how the world came into being, and concludes that the beginning was not about 13 billion years ago (as we know now) because the Bible states that it was about 70,000 years ago, then you do not properly understand the Bible,” explained van der Kaaij.

“The gospel is telling us a deeper truth, that goes far beyond the facts of life. That’s why I say: it did not happen like this and it is a fact that Jesus did not exist (I give a lot of proofs in my book to underline this).”

9789402206999_cover_kleinHis book is De ongemakkelijke waarheid van het christendom (=The uncomfortable truth of Christianity). That link is to a Dutch bookseller. I copy here the Google machine translation of that site’s blurb (my own bolding throughout):

Jesus is a mythical, archetypal figure in a historical context. The uncomfortable truth gives a fresh perspective on faith and solves puzzles. So is the riddle of the three years of birth of Jesus addressed. You can find the answer to the question why nothing is known about the life of Jesus from his twelfth to his thirtieth year. How come the resurrection of Lazarus was not in the newspaper? What makes Jesus greater than the greats? At first glance, this book lays the ax to the roots of the faith, but on closer inspection the faith is richer.

Returning to the NLTimes February article:

“I am a Protestant and an important aspect of our belief is that the Bible is God’s Word (although written by men) and the starting point of our belief,” said van der Kaaij to NL Times. “So it is important to explain the Bible properly.”. . .

The gospel gets more value when you read it according to what it is: a myth. Note that the word ‘myth’ does not have a negative meaning, on the contrary it is positive!read more »


2015-03-06

Richard Carrier Replies: McGrath on the Rank-Raglan Mythotype

by Neil Godfrey

Richard Carrier continues his response to James McGrath’s criticism of Carrier’s On the Historicity of JesusMcGrath on the Rank-Raglan Mythotype. He begins: 

Yesterday I addressed McGrath’s confused critique of portions of On the Historicity of Jesus (in McGrath on OHJ: A Failure of Logic and Accuracy). He has also published a second entry in what promises to be a series about OHJ, this one titled “Rankled by Wrangling over Rank-Raglan Rankings: Jesus and the Mythic Hero Archetype” . . . . This entry is even less useful than the first. Here are my thoughts on that.

Once again Neil Godfrey already tackles the failures of logic and accuracy in the very first comment that posted after the above article. Which he has reproduced, with an introduction, in better formatting on his own blog: Once More: Professor Stumbles Over the Point of Rank-Raglan Mythotypes and Jesus.

I could leave it at that, really.

TL;DR: McGrath doesn’t understand the difference between a prior probability and a posterior probability; he uses definitions inconsistently to get fake results that he wants (instead of being rigorously consistent in order to see what actually results); and he shows no sign of having read my chapter on this (ch. 6 of OHJ) and never once rebuts anything in it, even though it extensively rebuts his whole article (because I was psychic…or rather, I had already heard all of these arguments before, so I wrote a whole damned chapter to address them…which McGrath then duly and completely ignores, and offers zero response to).

That’s pretty much it.

But now for the long of it…

McGrath on the Rank-Raglan Mythotype

 


2015-02-11

Darwin Day — and exploding some myths about Charles Darwin

by Neil Godfrey

12th February is Darwin Day.

There is an International Darwin Day website that is currently making a special pitch at Americans for recognition. For good reason, no doubt, given that today’s newsletter from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science contains the following (with my emphasis):

As a universal figure of such profound importance, his birthday should be a national celebration — a day to honor the advances brought about by reason and science. 

But a resolution to this effect, introduced in the U.S. Congress, has little support outside a handful of Democrats. Frighteningly, Darwin is still considered a controversial figure, especially among conservative Republicans.

For anyone who does not yet know, just about everything we have that Darwin produced is available in digitized format at Darwin Online.

And I happily live in a suburb where the Beagle crew called in back in 1839 and work at a university that eventually took the name of Charles Darwin.

But here’s the highlight of this post, brought to us by Freethought Blog The Ace of Glades:

Darwin was no racist, and Hitler was no ‘Darwinist’


2015-01-24

What they’re saying about Mythicism

by Neil Godfrey

Time to catch up here with blog posts that have appeared in recent weeks addressing mythicism.

There’s now a blog devoted to mythicism: The Mythicism Files. A good many of its articles look like good future reference material. I was worried at first by the the apparently large space that appeared to be devoted to Acharya S (D. Murdock) but relieved to see Quixie’s very fair discussion of her contribution and criticisms it faces. The Otagosh blog addresses questions a number of us will have about the anonymity of the blog’s provenance. If Quixie is a regular contributor, however, that’s certainly a positive attribute. I’ve seen him write good stuff around various discussion groups and blogs (and in comments on Vridar iirc).

Speaking of Otagosh, he also tells us about the current leader of my old cult wading into the mythicist debate. Predictably a pabulum effort from the great apostle or whatever he’s called now.

Peter Kirby has endeavoured to bring some serious balance into the discussion by posting a detailed case, or rather “best case”, for the historicity of Jesus that he thinks can be made. The Best Case for Jesus. This is good to see. So few anti-mythicists [not that Peter himself falls into that “anti” camp — see his comment below] appear willing or able to argue their case with any real awareness of what mythicists actually say. They also seem to fall back on ad hoc responses too often. Comments are welcome in Peter’s blog, of course, but there is also a discussion on the same at the Biblical Criticism & History Forumread more »


2015-01-12

The Ostrich War On Mythicism

by Neil Godfrey

head-in-sand-1024x808After opting to respond to Raphael Lataster in a less than fully civil or professional manner for daring to publicly raise legitimate questions about the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus, Christian gentleman and scholar Michael Bird has followed up with a two minute video-clip of Bart Ehrman addressing a mythicist’s question. Needless to say Bart Ehrman is once again vague and lost in his reply, doing nothing more than appealing to authority, incredulity, disinformation and false analogies to “make his case”.

If you have been wondering how Bart Ehrman has been able to avoid engagement with mythicist questions since his book Did Jesus Exist? so emphatically demonstrated that he had not even read with any seriousness the mythicist books he claimed to be addressing you can find his explanation for this disengagement in his most recent post, Defending Myself.

Ehrman simply keeps himself shielded from any serious critique that does not come through channels he modulates himself. His blog is set up to ensure mostly sympathetic readers only will engage with it and he chooses to avoid public engagement with critics as a rule. Curiously he can say that though he by and large avoids any serious communication with mythicists (he apparently will read the odd email from one, it seems) he can nonetheless affirm that:

And I know that the attacks by these conservative Christians pale in comparison with the attacks by the mythicists

read more »


2015-01-07

Why Believers Ought Not To Get Involved in the Christ Myth Question

by Neil Godfrey

Raphael Lataster article that recently appeared in The Washington Post as well as The Conversation opened with these words:

Did a man called Jesus of Nazareth walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the “Historical Jesus” actually existed primarily reflect disagreements among atheists. Believers, who uphold the implausible and more easily-dismissed “Christ of Faith” (the divine Jesus who walked on water), ought not to get involved.

Christian evangelist scholar John Dickson saw red and responded:

No student – let alone an aspiring scholar – could get away with suggesting that Christians “ought not to get involved” in the study of the historical Jesus. This is intellectual bigotry and has no place in academia, or journalism.

I read Raphael’s words as a bit of common-sense advice. How can anyone whose faith commits them to believing in the divine Jesus who walked on water possibly approach the question with a truly open mind? One would expect from such people little more than hostility and insults. And that’s exactly how two believers have responded in print to Raphael’s article.

John Dickson has very little to say (at least honestly or accurately) in response to Raphael Lataster’s alerts to various problems with both the evidence for the historical Jesus and the methods Bible scholars have generally used to study him but he does have a lot of good old Christian and scholarly invective to vent:

“Mythicists” are the historical equivalent of the anti-vaccination crowd in medical science. They are controversial enough to get media attention. They have just enough doctors, or doctors in training, among them to establish a kind of “plausible deniability.” But anyone who dips into the thousands of secular monographs and journal articles on the historical Jesus will quickly discover that mythicists are regarded by 99.9% of the scholarly community as complete “outliers,” the fringe of the fringe. And when mainstream scholars attempt to call their bluff, the mythicists, just like the anti-vaccinationists, cry “Conspiracy!” This is precisely what Raphael does . . . . It is as if he thinks he wins the game by declaring all its rules stupid and inventing his own path.

And later we read this:

[Lataster's article] underlines the impropriety of a student in religious philosophy, whatever his faith perspective, assuming the mantle of academic historian.

Of course Raphael nowhere even hints the word “conspiracy” nor does he “assume the mantle of an academic historian”. In fact what he does is bring to the public attention what every critical scholar knows about the state of evidence and problems with traditional methodologies in relation to the historical Jesus.

John Dickson is a Christian evangelist who attempts to argue in his various publications that sound historical methods leave the objective inquirer in no doubt about the fundamentals of the Gospel narratives about Jesus. I suppose he therefore has good reason to fear a publicizing of the the simple facts about the problems with the evidence and methods that critical scholars know only too well. As a believer he can hardly be expected to seek to argue against Latater’s article solely on a rational level.

Raphael has in fact sought to publicly debate John Dickson without success:

John Dickson surprisingly (we have always been very friendly) defriended me after he wrote a (grossly inaccurate) reply article to my own on Jesus’ possible ahistoricity, and continues to refuse to debate with me on Jesus’ resurrection (i.e. the Jesus he actually believes in). I would think that believers would relish the chance to show their courage and defend their faith. I’m not that scary… If anyone would like to see this debate happen, do let John and I know. John’s contact:

http://www.johndickson.org/contact.html

Michael Bird, too

Meanwhile a colleague of John’s, Michael Bird, (editor and co-author of How God Became Jesus, a response to Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God), joined the fray on Euangelion with Taking on the Jesus Mythicists. I didn’t think anyone could surpass JD for ad hominem, distortions and blatant inaccuracies in a response but Michael Bird certainly did.  read more »


2014-12-27

Savior? Shaman? Myth? Ink Blot? — Views of Lataster, McGrath and Godfrey

by Neil Godfrey

Raphael Lataster has been making his mark recently on The Conversation and The Washington Post along with the predictable response by James McGrath. Yours truly has also put in a cameo appearance now alongside these two rivals in The Humanist and on Valerie Tarico’s blog.

The longer version of the interview on Valerie’s website:

Savior? Shaman? Myth? Inkblot? — Why Christianity’s Main Man Remains So Elusive

Posted on December 26, 2014by Valerie Tarico

Historical JesusWas there a man behind the myths? — Three Bible scholars* debate the question.

(* As everyone who knows me knows I am not a “professional scholar” but my request to change this moniker was politely declined for mainly editorial reasons and the option to use the term in its most generic sense. My status is nonetheless clarified in the article anyway.)

A few days earlier a “slightly abridged” version appeared in the January-February 2015 issue of TheHumanist.com  read more »


2014-12-24

Once more: Professor Stumbles Over the Point of Rank-Raglan Mythotypes and Jesus

by Neil Godfrey

Part two of a scholar’s review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus has appeared on the Bible and Interpretation site and once again the reviewer has deftly avoided any mention of Richard Carrier’s argument. More positively, however, he has managed to insinuate the possibility that Carrier is “deliberately misleading” (character smear is de rigueur for some anti-mythicists) and incompetently demonstrated his own ignorance of the nature and origin of twenty-two elements commonly listed in the “Rank-Raglan” hero archetypes. But he is a renowned “credible scholar” and is called upon to deliver papers against mythicism at conferences, so no doubt among his peers will be those who read exactly what they want to read in his review.

Here is the response I posted at Bible and Interpretationread more »


2014-12-19

The Jesus Myth Question Comes to The Washington Post

by Neil Godfrey
Raphael Lataster

Raphael Lataster

Mythicism — the term widely assigned to the modern-day claim that there was no historical Jesus at the start of what became Christianity — has made its presence felt in The Washington Post today. At this moment Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up has attracted over 5000 comments. Be sure you read them all before you add your own: you don’t want to repeat what someone has already said.

The author is fellow Aussie Raphael Lataster and his article is a reprint of the one he originally posted in the academic blog The Conversation. There it was titled Weighing up the evidence for the ‘Historical Jesus’. He is a PhD candidate and tutor at the University of Sydney.

He is also the author of There was no Jesus, there is no God: A Scholarly Examination of the Scientific, Historical, and Philosophical Evidence & Arguments for Monotheism.

Among his articles published in the scholarly literature is one titled ”Bayesian Reasoning: Criticising the ‘Criteria of Authenticity’ and Calling for a Review of Biblical Criticism” in the Journal of Alternative Perspectives in the Social Sciences (2012) Volume 5 No2, 271-293. Anyone who knows of Richard Carrier’s addition to Bayesian reasoning in historical studies by applying it to the question of the historicity of Jesus will understand what this article is addressing.

Predictably one theologian well known for his frenzied vendetta against mythicism has already protested Raphael’s “superficial”, “incomprehensible”, “ridiculousness”. (The most vocal critics don’t care what the arguments are; all that matters is finding some angle to attack and mix with a very large dose of ad hominem.) I imagine our crusading theologian will become apoplectic when he wakes up to find the same article has since reached The Washington Post.

That’s the trouble with mythicism. It’s not behaving itself. It was supposed to disappear into oblivion after a few sharp attacks on the motives and credentials of some of its exponents not too many years ago. read more »


2014-12-16

Jesus Mythicism: An Introduction

by Neil Godfrey

An English language version of Minas Papageorgiou’s book is due out in March 2015. (It has only been available in Greek until now.) You can find details on a dedicated Facebook page.

jesusproject

The range of names interviewed and types of mythicism represented in the book is very wide indeed. Here is the back cover blurb with some of the details: read more »


2014-11-11

Turning Remembrance Day into a New Myth to Justify War

by Neil Godfrey

last_postI recall as a little boy at school grown men leading solemn ceremonies pleading with us in prayerful tones never to forget the sufferings and horrors of war — Never again. Futility was a word I learned the meaning of. It was a moment for tears. The message was clear. Hate war. The idea of following the “example” of those who suffered (both those dead and living) was the very antithesis of what the day was all about.

Today Remembrance Day falls at a time our government is eager to send more soldiers to war, to be part of the fight, to show our loyalty to the cause. Volunteers in the services are sent with good pay.

How the message has changed today.

The Great War which we remember today . . . was also the crucible in which our nation was formed.

Of a population of under 5 million; more than 400,000 volunteered, more than 300,000 served overseas, more than 150,000 were wounded and more than 60,000 never came home.

It was sacrifice on a stupendous scale. . . . 

As well as suffering, there is another legacy; a legacy of comradeship under fire, of service and sacrifice, of duty in a good cause.

Of the original ANZACs the official war historian Charles Bean said, “their example rises, as it will always rise, above the mists of ages; a memorial to great hearted-men and for their nation, a possession forever.”

And so today we remember all of them, we remember all who have worn our country’s uniform – we remember them – and dedicate ourselves to be worthy of their example.

Lest we forget.

Now the suffering is presented as not an obscene horror never to be repeated but a noble nation-making, character-building experience.

It was not a horrific waste; it was all for a good cause. It was a duty.

The voices of those who led services when I was a little boy are lost. They are replaced by the words of the leading propagandist historian of the day, the one whose accounts were carefully censored so as to encourage more volunteers to go and kill and die, Charles Bean. read more »


2014-10-22

Dispelling the Jesus Mythicist Myth

by Neil Godfrey

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 6.57.16 pmJames McGrath directs readers interested in learning more about mythicism to read Dispelling the Jesus Myth, a blogpost by Simon J. Joseph. So I did. Simon’s post introduces nothing new into the discussion. It is the same litany of objections to mythicism one has run across countless times before so I was about to move on and forget about it when it occurred to me that the reason we keep reading these same weary objections may to some extent be because it is too easy to simply ignore them. So for what it’s worth this time I’m taking the time to respond to Simon’s post.

(“For what it’s worth” . . . . One does wonder, especially given the all too commonly observed failure of scholars who protest the loudest against mythicism to bother even to find out what the arguments of mythicists actually are.)

Discrediting and debunking?

Simon Joseph’s first criticism is that

For many, Jesus-Mythicism serves as an effective tool in discrediting the Cornerstone of . . . “Christianity”. Most mythicists are not interested in participating in Jesus Research; they want to debunk it.

From the outset we have here a criticism that is going to shut down any serious thought of genuinely looking into mythicist arguments. No doubt one will find many people among those declaring Jesus never to have existed who want to debunk Christianity. I posted about one such author only a few days ago. I also pointed out that polemics are not what seriously argued mythicism is about.

I have posted here at length on the views of Thomas L. Brodie whose mythicist views have served only to enhance his appreciation of Christianity.

Tom Harpur similarly speaks very positively about Christianity as a direct result, not in spite of, his mythicist view of Jesus Christ.

Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy likewise object only to fundamentalist or literal interpretations of the Gospels — a criticism shared by a significant number of non-mythicist liberal Christians such as John Shelby Spong.)

Robert M. Price has also spoken positively of Christianity since coming to his conclusion that Jesus had no historical existence.

A little while ago I presented in detail the views of an earlier mythicist, Paul-Louis Couchoud whose adoration of Christianity led him to write panegyrics to the faith. See, for example, his conclusion to The Creation of Christ.

Herman Detering remains a church pastor, I believe. I don’t believe anyone ever read a single “debunking” word on Christianity in anything published by Alvar Ellegård and G. A. Wells.

And I suspect names like Kurt Noll, Philip Davies and Arthur Droge who are not mythicists but have expressed an interest in seeing mythicist views addressed more seriously are not motivated by any wish to debunk anything. Thomas L. Thompson appears to hold views that I have also come to embrace with respect to the mythicist question. Debunking and discrediting Christianity are nowhere on the radar in any of his publications.

Very likely those who are the most seriously interested in mythicism are primarily interested in the historical question per se and are not likely to risk such a serious enquiry with polemical distractions. There are some exceptions, of course, but such names have certainly not featured often or always positively on this blog.

Yet the myth persists that “most mythicists” or “many” of them are motivated by a desire to debunk. “Most” and “many” are relative terms. I think I have demonstrated from the above that a good many mythicist authors are actually positive towards Christianity. Most mythicist authors, I would suggest (and see the Who’s Who tables to get some rough idea of the relative numbers), avoid any anti-Christian polemic in their publications.

So why do we regularly read this little bit of ad hominem? read more »