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Muhammad mythicism and the fallacy of Jesus agnosticism

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I used to say I did not see myself as a Jesus mythicist. That was because I thought the idea of Jesus’ existence or nonexistence was less important than being able to explain the evidence we have for the origins of Christianity — wherever that explanation might lead. The interest, surely, is in understanding how Christianity happened. (Many Christians may want to investigate a “historical Jesus” but that sounds to me more like a faith interest, not a historical one.)

R. Joseph Hoffmann describes himself as a Jesus agnostic because he has concluded that “the sources we possess do not establish the conditions for a verdict on the historicity of Jesus”.

That sounds reasonable to me.

(The essay by Hoffmann, and my reply to it and Hoffmann’s rejoinder, that prompted this post, can be found at Did Jesus Exist? Yes and No on Hoffmann’s New Oxonian blog.)

We have primary evidence to corroborate the existence of people such as  Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and George Washington.

Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm acknowledged the advisability of not assuming the historicity of a narrative of a particular Robin Hood type “social bandit” merely on the strength of narratives that lacked independent corroboration. Mere plausibility of a narrative, even claims of eye-witness memory, are insufficient without independent corroboration.

So thus far, given that “the sources we possess do not establish the conditions for a verdict on the historicity of Jesus”,  Jesus agnosticism is the only logical way to go.

So if someone like Doherty attempts to explain the origin of Christianity without a historical Jesus, and even sees the Jesus of that religion emerging over time as a mythical construct, as a Jesus agnostic I might express some interest in examining his thesis.

If the evidence is suggestive enough, I might even find myself leaning from agnosticism on Jesus towards the view that Jesus was always from the beginning a mythical construct, and not a historical person who was eventually buried beneath the later mythical overlays.

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