2009-04-30

A spectrum of Jesus mythicists and mythers

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by Neil Godfrey

First, a lesson in lexicology for some who wish to advertise their contempt  for the mythicist position. (Presumably a display of contempt serves as an excuse for neither understanding nor taking up the mythicist challenges.)

Myther is an alternative spelling of mither. Its meaning has nothing to do with one who thinks Jesus originated as a mythical character that was later historicized. It means nagger, whiner, annoying pesterer, irritator. I am reminded of Socrates seeing himself as a gadfly to the establishment. Maybe mythicists should embrace the label ‘myther’ after all, and keep up their Socratic challenges — the way WW2’s British Desert Rats embraced with pride Rommel’s contemptuous label for them.

Anyway, to continue a thought train begun in my last post and responding thoughts, maybe one can divide the mythicists into 4 broad categories:

The fundamentalist mythicist

This mythicist is something of a counterpart to any Christian fundamentalist or historicist who spouts arguments for the historicity of Jesus without seriously investigating the facts. Any half awake reader will recognize that this mythicist’s audience consists of fellow think-alikes. Acharya S‘s The Christ Conspiracy reminds me a lot of Alexander Hislop‘s The Two Babylons. “Parallelomania” seems the primary methodology of both.

This is the only brand of mythicist whose arguments fail on rational or scholarly grounds. This is a pity, because some of the material brought into the arena by such mythicists is deserving of a serious look. Unfortunately it is introduced in a less than scholarly, and even intentionally provocative, manner.

The maverick mythicist

Some mythicists come across as untrained in scholarly standards and make their mark through sheer dedication and prodigious personal effort. These authors can often pick out new insights that range from interesting and thought provoking to something many see as “a bit over the top”.

The spiritual mythicist

I only tease this one out as a distinct “group” because it belies the charge that mythicists are necessarily “atheists” or coming from an “anti-supernatural bias.” As for quality of argument, there is overlap here with the next group, the scholarly-rationalist mythicist.

Freke and Gandy (The Jesus Mysteries) utilize their research as a platform to propagate their form of gnostics, but on the other hand it is very hard to find a scholarly treatise on the historical Jesus by a Christian scholar whose work is not laced with preaching asides, especially in their final chapters. Among the worst counterpart offenders in the scholarly guild are probably Elaine Pagels and Karen King (Reading Judas). The likes of Freke and Gandy by any measure offer readers far more thorough factual research material to digest than Pagels and King. These latter authors composed a popular tract that disgracefully betrays their public by a string of careless factual inaccuracies (Huggins has saved me the need to publish these myself). But their work really belongs in the ‘meditations and sermons’ section of any bookstore. The Gospel of Judas is used as a foil throughout to preach the need to be more openminded about differences among those who see themselves as Christian, and to learn to ingest spiritual gold and critique the chaff in any and all ancient Christian texts, the NT included, by implication.

The likes of Freke and Gandy have far more respect for their readers and take the trouble to present the available research publications in a way that allows readers to engage the debate critically themselves.

Spiritual mythicists who are also scholars seem to write with respect for themselves as scholars and for their audiences who expect scholarly standards from them. They have come a long way since Theosophist Gerald Massey.

Rene Salm is a Buddhist, so one might also place him in this bracket. But again his primary focus is on the published facts, the research history, and his spiritual leanings are kept in an appendix or separate link. He is really a scholar who happens to be a Buddhist without hiding the fact.

The scholarly-rationalist mythicist

This ‘group’ did not begin with F.C. Baur, though his works are conveniently seen as a beginning point for the mythicist position among “black-sheep” scholars, or those who may not belong to the scholarly guild, but who nonetheless apply research and logical argument that deserves serious consideration by scholars and lay alike. (Price – yep, I know he does not profess to be a ‘mythicist’, but . . .  -, Salm, Doherty, Zindler, Wells, et al.)

One often hears historicists dismiss this group by claiming that their arguments and assumptions were shattered by more knowledgable scholars long ago. That claim, as far as I have been able to determine, is a myth. What has happened since long ago is that their arguments have been basically ignored. There have been a few publications (e.g. by Case, Goguel, and more recently Eddy & Boyd, Van Voorst et al.) that have claimed to have addressed the mythicist case seriously, but apart from a few welcome exceptions they too often either only tackle the twigs or flagrantly misrepresent what they claim to be the mythicist arguments. (See, for example, Doherty’s Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case).

Another critique of some of these is that they did not gain their doctorate in the field of New Testament studies, or that they did not gain a doctorate at all. This sort of dismissal is a cop out, in effect an ad hominem and rationalization for failing to make the effort to risk challenging one’s own belief system.

Doherty has come under some of the most intense criticism. Yet I have yet to read a single “scholarly biblical-studies establishment” critique of Doherty that addresses his arguments. Some critics indeed seem bent on perversely misreading and misrepresenting his words. These responses are clearly no more rationally grounded than that of any knee-jerk fundamentalist.

Apology for the above divisions

People are rarely so easily classified. I initially had 3 divisions in mind, and one could probably compile a rich taxonomy of qualities of mythicist arguments.

But historicists who lump all mythicist arguments as one are either ignorant or in denial.

As the good book saith in Proverbs 18:13

He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.

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Neil Godfrey

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3 Comments

  • 2009-05-01 10:58:14 GMT+0000 - 10:58 | Permalink

    I can’t wait for Carrier’s book on the subject.

  • Pingback: fsd « Vridar

  • aziz
    2010-02-23 09:21:15 GMT+0000 - 09:21 | Permalink

    Putting Acharya in the fundy mythicist category and claiming her work is “without seriously investigating the facts” is way off base.

    I see those types of false assumptions from people who’ve never actually studied her work and those same people are still holding *ANY* errors both real or perceived in Christ Conspiracy over her head as if she’s never written 5 books since Christ Conspiracy was written in 1999. How long will the intellectually dishonest keep riding that scooter? They often tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to the word “Conspiracy” in the title as well as her pen name “Acharya S,” that among others has been addressed at her FAQ

    freethoughtnation. com /forums/viewtopic. php?p=4756#p4756

    Acharya/Murdock gets the most intense outrageous knee-jerk criticism. Plus, all the misogyny, smears and libel. The works by Acharya are far better than she’ll ever get credit for.

    Read her book, Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of The Christ, with an almost all Christian authority bibliography essentially admitting that they’ve got no credible evidence for a historical Jesus. And a foreword by Dr. Price.

    Also her book, Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection, It’s almost 600 pages and contains nearly 2,400 footnote/citations to primary sources and expert commentary on them from a wide variety of backgrounds & expertise from over 900 bibliographical references to scholarly journals, books, articles etc and 60+ images and a map.

    stellar house publishing. com /christinegypt. html

    Acharya S/Murdock currently has six books with over 2,100 pages of text, including over 5,700 footnotes/citations to primary sources and the works of highly credentialed authorities from a wide variety of relevant fields, adding up to over 1,600 bibliographical sources. Her books also contain over 300 illustrations.

    These 30 year scholars (& more) strongly disagree with your views on Acharya S/Murdock –

    Archaeologist endorses ‘Christ in Egypt’
    freethoughtnation. com /index. php?option=com_content&view=article&id=262:archaeologist-endorses-christ-in-egypt&catid=47:astrotheology

    Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection Reviewed by Dr. Price
    robertmprice. mindvendor. com /reviews/murdock_christ_egypt. htm

    And Gerald Massey was definitely *NOT* a theosophist:

    “A misconception about Massey’s religious beliefs stems from his connection with the Most Ancient Order of Druids. The position required no formal membership. To Massey, at least, it was not a religion and did not involve forms of initiation, ceremonial dress or attendance at active meetings at megalithic sites; indeed, Massey did not believe in such pagan ceremony and made his interest in the Druids plain:

    “I cannot join in the new masquerade and simulation of ancient mysteries manufactured in our time by Theosophists, Hermeneutists, pseudo-Esoterics, and Occultists of various orders, howsoever profound their pretensions. The only interest I take in the ancient mysteries is in ascertaining how they originated, in verifying their alleged phenomena, in knowing what they meant, on purpose to publish the knowledge as soon and as widely as possible.”

    – Gerald Massey

    gerald-massey. org .uk /massey/index. htm

    Who Is Gerald Massey?
    stellar house publishing. com /who-is-gerald-massey. html

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