Here are three methodologies used by mainstream biblical scholars for enquiring into the arguments for the historical Jesus with which I have had some direct contact.
The first is by an early twentieth century scholar of some repute even today; the second by an “reverent agnostic” scholar; and the third by a liberal Christian scholar (guess).
1. Albert Schweitzer’s method for researching and addressing the arguments for a mythical Jesus
- Read all the mythical Jesus publications that have been printed.
- Present an annotated bibliography of this mythical Jesus literature.
- Discuss in some detail the full mythical Jesus arguments of each author, and the development of each argument across an author’s career, and the relationship of the arguments to one another.
- Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each of these arguments.
- Admit the logical premise on which all historical methodology is based, and go two steps further and admit that the study of Christian origins is doubly problematic since all its sources are themselves Christian: there are NO external controls in order to enable even a statement of “positive probability”.
- Argue that the Church ought to build its foundation on a metaphysic, and not on any historical datum. Seriously admit the theoretical possibility of having to abandon an historical Jesus.
- Lament the insulting tones in which the debate has been conducted.
- Appeal for civility and reason, and an acceptance at least of the legitimacy of the mythical Jesus arguments and questions.
- Concede that the evidence of Josephus and Tacitus is worthless for establishing the historicity of Jesus.
- Disagree with the mythical Jesus arguments in a civil and professional manner, and even advise what mythicists need to do to establish their case more persuasively. This advice is constructive in terms of type of argumentation needed, and not sideways putdowns such as “getcha self a peer review!”
That was in the early twentieth century. By the end of the century and at the turn of the new, Dr Jeffrey Gibson offered his research and rebuttal methodology.
2. Jeffrey Gibson’s method for researching and addressing the arguments for a mythical Jesus
- Do not read any publication — not even online ones — by mythical Jesus authors.
- Insult the arguments one has not read or understood.
- When challenged over one’s ignorance of the arguments, insult whoever does the challenging.
- Claim that the arguments were rebutted long ago and then cite works in which it is demonstrated that the arguments were not rebutted.
- Insult anyone who pulls you up for not actually having read the books you know have already rebutted the mythical Jesus arguments.
And most recently, leaving aside the crudity of the agnostic, a liberal Christian introduced an approach that at first glance has some similarities with the above, but on closer inspection is definitely a more nuanced and sophisticated approach.
3. James McGrath’s method for researching and addressing the arguments for a mythical Jesus
- Don’t read any publications — not even online ones — by mythical Jesus authors.
- Think a lot about the arguments one has not read.
- Assess parallels of “mythicism” with “creationism”. (e.g. they both end in ‘ism’, both have different shades of opinion)
- Solicit blog comments from all and sundry for your research data. Toss out a word game like “I am really open to the possibility of a mythical Jesus” as bait for the unwary. (This might be called the “armchair-wolf-in-sheepskin” research method.)
- Issue a challenge to anyone who appears to be sympathetic to mythicism to address the arguments and evidence of mainstream scholars.
- Ignore or insult any who do address the evidence and arguments of mainstream scholars and, even worse, demonstrate its absence and/or logical flaws.
- Reword any arguments you find difficult in order to make them look ridiculous (e.g. deny the technical meaning of “primary source” and argue as if “eyewitness source” is meant)
- Do not seriously read replies of anyone appearing sympathetic to mythical Jesus arguments, but skim quickly and gather a preconceived impression of what was written and then respond to that. Do not read any such replies with a sense of seriousness. This could require some work and effort being brought to the exchange.
- Cite in support apologists who also have only half-read the arguments they oppose, and who argue at length against windmill figments of their own imaginations (e.g. thinking that anyone sympathetic of mythical Jesus arguments denies that some ancient documents are useful even when we don’t know their authors or provenance, and miss the key point about external controls completely.)
- Cite in support atheists who have their own publicly confessed agendas for denying mythical Jesus arguments.
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