IN BRIEF: dates, Q, Aramaic, heavenly or earthly — they make no difference to the mythical Jesus view

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by Neil Godfrey

  1. An early or late date for the gospels does not, of itself, make any difference to the arguments for or against the historicity of Jesus;
  2. Whether one accepts or rejects Q, or whether one accepts Aramaic or other sources for the Gospels, makes no difference to the arguments for or against the historicity of Jesus;
  3. Whether one views Paul’s Jesus as an entirely heavenly entity or an earth-dwelling human makes no difference to the arguments for or against the historicity of Jesus.

Every detail of Jesus’ life that is asserted by Sanders, Meier, Crossan, Crossley, Fredriksen, Wright, whoever, to be historical rests on a circular argument. Every one of their arguments for whether Jesus said or did this or that begins with the assumption that there was a historical Jesus.

It is not true that this circularity of itself means that the was no historical Jesus. There may have been, but we need external evidence to break the circularity and increase the probability level.

Contrasting with other persons from ancient history

It is not true that these Jesus historians use the same starting assumptions and methods as nonbiblical historians.

Nor is it true that if my criticisms were taken on board by other historians then we would have to declare just about every other person we know about in ancient history to be a myth.

We have primary evidence — that is, physically contemporary evidence, for the existence of other persons from ancient times (e.g. Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great) — and this gives us good probability grounds for thinking other persons, those associated with these definitely historical people in a literature that can elsewhere be independently verified, may also have existed.

Dating the gospels

What is important about the gospels as evidence is their nature as literature. If we can see that they describe Jesus in ways that are drawn entirely from other literature, and if after removing all that can be attributed to other literature from the Jesus accounts we have no-one left but an invisible man, then it makes no difference to the question of historicity as to when the Gospels were written.

Other historical figures are also described in mythical terms, but we always see a real person being described. The mythical is added on to other features and details about the real person; in the case of Jesus we have someone made up entirely of mythical or borrowed literary elements.

Equally important is that the gospels are but one small subset of early Christian literature. But that’s another discussion.

Q or Aramaic or other?

It makes no difference if the Gospels relied on an Aramaic or any other source, written or oral, to the arguments that Jesus was not historical. To assert that a particular source is earlier to when the events in a certain narrative are supposed to have happened, is to assume that the narrative is historical to begin with.

In other words, it is circular reasoning to claim that an earlier source of the gospels is evidence of the historicity of their narratives. It makes no difference whether we think that source was in Aramaic or Greek or merely oral tradition in either language.

Earthly or heavenly Jesus

It is “immaterial” to the question of historicity of Jesus whether Paul argued for a part-time earthly human or an entirely heavenly spirit Jesus. Doherty’s view of the mythical Jesus (an entirely heavenly entity) is recent, and mythicist arguments have been working with the ‘part-time earthly human’ Jesus ever since the eighteenth century.