2010-07-14

Three Pillars of the Traditional Christ Myth Theory

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by Neil Godfrey

A few posts back I listed 3 reasons scholars have embraced the Christ Myth theory, 6 “sound premises” of the early Christ Myth arguments, and the weaknesses of 6 traditional arguments against the Christ Myth idea (all archived here), as published by Hoffmann in his introduction to Goguel’s book.

So why not complement those posts with Price’s 3 pillars of the traditional Christ Myth theory? These are from his Jesus at the Vanishing Point chapter in The Historical Jesus: Five Views.

Pillar #1 Why no mention of a miracle-working Jesus in secular sources?

Pillar #2 The Epistles, earlier than the Gospels, do not evidence a recent historical Jesus.

Pillar #3 The Jesus as attested in the Epistles shows strong parallels to Middle Eastern religions based on the myths of dying-and-rising gods.

On the latter, it is worth drawing attention to the word “epistles”, and to the fact (as per pillar 2) that these preceded the Gospels. Some critics of the Christ Myth appear to fail to notice these details and launch off into non sequiturs by way of rebuttal.

Price summarizes in broad strokes here the relationship between these myths and Christianity. Population relocations and a kind of urban cosmopolitanism from Hellenistic times and throughout the Roman Empire coincided with a revised function of ancient myths.

The myths now came to symbolize the rebirth of the individual initiate as a personal rite of passage, namely new birth. (p.75)

Price outlines the evidence that these myths definitely did predate Christianity, as affirmed by both archaeology and the testimony of the Churh Father apologists themselves. Price once again addresses the pedantry of the attempts of J.Z. Smith to claim minor differences invalidate any attempt to compare any ancient myths with any of the Christian ones.

One book I have not yet read, but that Price tempts to me to read, is Gilbert Murray’s Five Stages of Greek Religion. The link is to the full text on Project Gutenberg. It is probably also on Googlebooks. Rich — has this one been added to Webulite, yet?

Price invites me to read it with these comments:

I must admit that when I first read of these mythic parallels in Gilbert Murray’s Five Stages of Greek Religion, it hit me like a ton of bricks. No assurances I received from any Christian scholar I read ever sounded like anything other than specious special pleading to me, and believe me I was disappointed. This was before I had ever read of the principle of analogy, but when I did learn about that axiom, I was able to give a name to what was so powerful in Murray’s presentation.

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0 thoughts on “Three Pillars of the Traditional Christ Myth Theory”

  1. Pillar #1 Why no mention of a miracle-working Jesus in secular sources?

    Doherty envisions a whole Q community of miracle working itinerant preachers. Why should a miracle-working Jesus be mentioned in secular sources when that community is not? Paul claims that the church performed healings, prophecies and mighty works, even claims he himself did them. Why no mention?

    Pillar #2 The Epistles, earlier than the Gospels, do not evidence a recent historical Jesus.

    Yes they do. “From the Israelites according to the flesh”, “First fruits”, “God sent His Son in the fullness of time”, etc.

    Pillar #3 The Jesus as attested in the Epistles shows strong parallels to Middle Eastern religions based on the myths of dying-and-rising gods.

    And so? Even if true, why does that necessarily support ahistoricism?

    1. Your anti-Doherty obsession is showing. My post was addressing “traditional” theories. Besides, you ought to know Doherty’s Q community to which you refer is one he acknowledges debt to mainstream scholars who accept the historical Jesus. Your obsessive vendetta against Doherty does not strike me as particularly healthy.

      Maybe an answer to your first question has something to do with Jesus being such an astonishing miracle worker that we are told thousands flocked from far and wide to see and hear him, while the ordinary everyday miracle workers throughout the empire were more like the traveling buskers hoping to pick up a few bucks whereever they performed. Maybe you are attempting to fault the simplified summary wording of the point and seeking to play pedantic games with all the caveats I deliberately avoided.

      As for #2, you sure got me beat on that one. How any of those quotes points to a “recent historical Jesus” sure beats me. Maybe there were more hidden in the “etc” that I should have twigged to.

      And as for #3, well, I guess you will have to read the books that explain the arguments. But again I detect a whiff of pedantry here. You know and I know that parallels per se do not “necessarily” support ahistoricism. Compare Hadrian and Hercules.

      Sorry you cannot understand the difference between rubrics and full arguments. But a tendency to jump on headings and take exception to them because you can find caveats that only a full discussion can address, suggests to me a tendentious pedantic kind of enquiry.

  2. Doherty writes, on page 3 of his “Jesus: Neither God Nor Man”:

    “The itinerant prophets of this new ‘counter-culture’ expression announced the coming of the kingdom of God and anticipated the arrival of a heavenly figure called the Son of Man who would judge the world. They urged repentance, taught a new ethic and advocated a new society; they claimed the performance of miracles, and they aroused the hostility of the religious establishment.”

    On page 384:

    “As for miracles, there is no question that the Q prophets, as preachers of the kingdom, would have claimed the performance of signs and wonders, for every sectarian movement of the time had to possess that facility. These, especially miraculous healings, were the indispensable pointers of the kingdom.”

    We have no evidence of such miracle workers in secular sources.

    Paul writes:

    1Cor12:

    7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

    1 Cor 12:

    “27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the *best gifts.”

    Nothing in secular sources of such a group going around performing healings.

    As for #2, you sure got me beat on that one. How any of those quotes points to a “recent historical Jesus” sure beats me. Maybe there were more hidden in the “etc” that I should have twigged to.

    Probably. How about starting with the first one I gave? What does Rom 9 say about the timing? Paul seems to be saying that Christ came some time after Moses. Let’s get this one pinned down, at least:

    Romans 9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came

    And as for #3, well, I guess you will have to read the books that explain the arguments. But again I detect a whiff of pedantry here. You know and I know that parallels per se do not “necessarily” support ahistoricism.

    Correct.

    Sorry you cannot understand the difference between rubrics and full arguments.

    Sure I do. Full arguments are what the other person needs to provide.

  3. Hey Neil,

    Thanks for the link to Gilbert Murray’s _Five Stages of Greek Religion_. I downloaded it, an turned it into a 7 hour mp3 file. I have about an hour and a half to go, and am up to him just finishing with Epicurus. I expected something different. This seems more like a history of philosophy, but perhaps he is going to end with some more religion oriented stuff. In any event. Thanks, and I also made a not of that librarything.com site to look for other stuff another time.

    Keep up the good work.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

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