Quixie on Mythicism #1 – Idea Non Grata

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by Neil Godfrey

Leo Quix has an interesting post discussing the current (and historical) reception of the idea that Jesus was not a historical figure.

Quixie on Mythicism #1 – Idea Non Grata

It sums up pretty much the main point about mythicism per se that I have attempted to express here on this blog. Leo Quix also discusses the phenomenon of the “new mythicists” on the internet within the broader context of mythicism. It’s a good read.


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59 thoughts on “Quixie on Mythicism #1 – Idea Non Grata”

  1. Dear Neil,

    I think his article touches on an important issue. He may be realizing that what we call “Bible scholarship” and/or “the religion industry” is really a subset of Christian apologetics. While they try to appear like scientists, using reason, and methods we often see in science, the material they produce is tailored and self limited so that they do not appear to be disproving basic Christian supernatualistic dogma. It is a very subtle distinction, and it may not be understood by the beginner in the study of the subject, but it becomes more clear as one studies the subject more.

    If you read Noam Chomsky’s _understanding power_ you can learn a bit about the basics on how an industry self governs itself. You don’t have to tell a CBS news caster not to say certain things. you simply set up a process where only certain types of people will eventually become major spokesman for CBS, and the folks that want to reach that level will learn the unspoken rules, and will abide by them if they want to reach the highest levels.

    It is the same thing in the academic religion industry. Certain topics are taboo, and if you address them you don’t get to participate in the industry. Take for example Robert M. Price. Price became involved in the Jesus Seminar BEFORE he had an established teaching tenured position. Sort of at the beginning of his career. And to this day, Bob is pretty much unable to get a job teaching NT studies and any university. Anyone that knows Bob, knows that his knowledge of the subject is good, and broad, and he has all the degrees required to teach in the industry, but he has never been able to attain a position. I would submit that he has in effect been shunned by the industry, because he has broken the unwritten rule of what can be written about. Now, John Dominic Crossan was also a member of that group, but his participation came after he was well established in the industry, so his story is different.

    I think that if you look closely at the industry you will find that it sort of works like this. You can write and are encouraged to write on topics. But you are not supposed to even write on subjects that question a few of the fundamental beliefs of Christian members. You can for example, write that the virgin birth is a later legendary addition, because of number of Christian groups believe this as part of their faith. But, you cannot write that there was no actual Jesus, since not a single Christian faith group holds this view, and your writing would offend ALL christian believing groups.

    The industry encourages articles that appear to be “scientific”, or “scholarly”, or use “reason” (that became popular since the enlightenment), but they must allow for the Christian member to read your article, and not be threatened in the basic supernatualistic assumptions of Christian dogma.

    So you don’t have to be like the apologists of old, but it is still apologetics. It is if not encouraging, at least not dispelling the supernaturalistic dogma’s of the Christian member. You are expected to write in a way that will allow you to shine intellectually, and allow the Christian member to have things to think about, but you are not allowed to directly dispel the Christian members acceptance of the supernatural. You always have to leave enough wiggle room, so that no matter what you write, the Christian member can incorporate your “academic” information into the most basic of Christian supernaturalistic beliefs.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  2. Ok, I have a REALLY stupid question about mythicism versus historicism. I just want that stated up front. I know this question is stupid.

    What’s the dividing line between a mythicist and historicist position?

    I know that theoretically it should be whether or not Jesus was an actual person. But what does it mean to say that Jesus was an actual person? If there were some guy, not named Jesus, who was a preacher and who was executed by the Romans, would that be enough? Is it a question of a sort of chain of custody, where some line has to be drawable between that hypothetical guy, no matter what he was like, and the present myths about Jesus? What if there were like three guys, and some stories came from each of them? Is it a question about whether the early church believed Jesus to be an actual, living person? Is it a question about whether the early church believed that, combined with whether they were correct?

    I’ve tried to analogize to other literary characters, and I keep coming up short of comprehension. If Popeye were based on an actual person, would there be a historical Popeye? What if the author based Popeye on three historical persons? How close to the historical person would the fictional Popeye have to be in order to make that historical person count as the historical Popeye? I get nowhere.

    So what’s the dividing line? What’s the big point of dispute? I don’t understand what the debate is really about.

    1. Patrick: “What’s the dividing line between a mythicist and historicist position?”

      Well, it is basically what you go on to say – that a historicists hold to the idea that the gospel Jesus was a historical figure (or at least a real flesh and blood figure, ie a historical figure needs some evidence of having lived) and that a mythicist position denies that the gospel Jesus is a historical figure or a flesh and blood human figure. So, the line is drawn very clearly – no grey area here. The gospel preacher man named Jesus who was crucified under Pilate either did or did not exist as a human being. No half way measures.

      What do the historicists mean when they claim that the gospel Jesus was a flesh and blood figure? Simply that this figure was a preacher man who lived and was crucified under Pilate. (26 ce to 36 ce). That is their bottom line. On top of that they will add things like Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, a wisdom sage, a revolutionary, etc. In other words – feel free to add your very own dressing to the basic Jesus model – designer Jesus.


      What if there were three guys that were used to create the literary gospel Jesus figure? Indeed, a composite Jesus figure is a more probable scenario than a straightforward historical person X has become mythologized as the gospel Jesus. After all, we are dealing with a Jewish story and Jews were not in the habit of turning men into gods. This does not mean that a particular historical figure X was not seen to be primary. It simply means that the Jewish creators of the Jesus character needed to be very mindful of Jewish sensibilities. The way around this sensibility would be to create a composite Jesus figure. A composite figure that reflected other historical lives as well as that of the primary historical figure of interest.

      George Wells has put forward a theory re a “fused” gospel Jesus. In his case a flesh and blood Galilean preacher and the supernatural Jesus of Paul – such a “fused” creation being the gospel crucified Jesus.

      Earl Doherty has also admitted that a composite Jesus is a possible construct:

      “I can well acknowledge that elements of several representative, historical figures fed into the myth of the Gospel Jesus, since even mythical characters can only be portrayed in terms of human personalities, especially ones from their own time that are familiar and pertinent to the writers of the myths. However, just because certain models were drawn on, this does not constitute the existence of an historical Jesus.” (I don’t see the relevance of Earl’s final sentence here – obviously, a composite, literary, gospel Jesus character can have no counterpart in history…)


      Once one is dealing with a composite Jesus figure (a mythicist position allows for this, it opens the way, for such a composite figure when it rejects the historicists Jesus figure) then that’s when things can start to become interesting – because then one can start to turn the pages of history…

      The big point of dispute? Historicity verse non-historicity of the gospel preacher, named Jesus, who was crucified under Pilate. Or perhaps in other terms – theology is striving to keep the door shut on history. 😉

  3. Patrick, it’s not a stupid question and it’s one that I keep asking of historicists and they seem to never quite want to answer. Sherlock Holmes and Clark Kent are undoubtedly based on historical individuals, as is your example of Popeye. If Jesus is as historical as they are then to me there really is no reason to continue the discussion. From my point of view a mythicist believes that the character of Jesus of Nazareth in the gospels is a literary fiction constructed from archetypes primarily from the Hebrew Scriptures and nearby pagan mystery religions.

    It is indubitable that there was a Jew who lived in the first century CE whose name in Greek would be Jesus (Josephus makes this very clear), but this entails no natural connection to the tales of the Gospel.

  4. Hi Rich, I think the biblical studies “industry” is somewhat more nuanced than you are proposing here. There is no doubt that many of its practitioners are Christians a perusal of the prefaces or concluding paragraphs in so many of their books — including Crossan’s — enables one to quickly notice their confessional bias. But not all are “supernaturalists”. There are also atheists and agnostics (and probably a Buddhist-leaning person or two) among them. In studies of ancient Israel it is now possible to maintain a respected professional standing while denying the historicity of the Biblical Davidic-Solomonic Kingdom of Israel, the Exodus and the Patriarchs, and even the “Divided Monarchy” scenario as narrated through much of 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles. Maybe this is less “kosher” in some quarters in the United States, but that’s a U.S. thing with its own culture and history.

    But even among those who do have a “supernaturalist” bias, I don’t see that bias in itself is necessarily a problem. No doubt there are a few scientists who are staunch evolutionists who also believe in a personal God. The historian Hobsbawm whom I’ve quoted here (not that I’ve “quote-mined” him by the way, since I became quite immersed in Hobsbawm’s work as an undergraduate, including being assigned a task of writing a full length review of a thick book of his) was a left-wing historian, but his work earned wide respect and demanded serious attention by historians of all persuasions. Bias that is recognized by the author and which the author consciously attempts to guard against is par for the course.

    The problem with this particular bias (for the historicity of Jesus as the foundation of Christianity) is that it does more than skew interpretations of the evidence and direction of arguments. It disallows certain questions from even being asked. But even worse, it hides from view the circularity at the very foundation of early Christian or Historical Jesus studies. The bias enables the emperors to believe they have clothes when they are really naked.

    Political bias among historians may lead to selections and interpretations of hard evidence being skewed.

    But a cultural bias for the historical Jesus hides the fact that there is nothing but the self-testimony of the Christian community itself as evidence. In any other field of study this would immediately be recognized as problematic to begin with. And a few biblical scholars do recognize the problem (e.g. Dale Allison, Albert Schweitzer). But that is okay so long as the problem is kept at a theoretical level only.

    This is where I agree with you completely in bringing up Chomsky’s model of how institutional power works.

    I began this blog by addressing a wide spectrum of views among biblical scholarly publications. A few scholars even, including even James McGrath himself and “N.T. Wrong”, contributed some positive feedback in comments to some of those posts. But I kept raising questions that some of the conclusions of those studies seemed to beg to be asked.

    That inevitably raised the question of New Testament literature originating in something other than the presumed historicity of the Gospels’ narrative.

    There was no problem until I kept pushing those questions and the evidence itself according to those studies to its logical conclusion. Suddenly McGrath found fault with everything I write. (There used to be big “Congratulations” and “welcomes” whenever a new biblical studies blog reached the “top 10” list of biblioblogs according to Alexa rankings, but there was quite amusing to observe the dead silence when this blog entered those ranks, and “N.T. Wrong” has since refused even to classify this blog among amateur atheist biblical studies blogs.)

    The message is clear. It is very good of me to discuss scholarly works as I have often done here. But once I keep pushing the questions that some of those works cry out to be asked I am persona non grata. I have never actually made a specific argument for mythicism. I have pushed questions about the scholarly studies, about the evidence, and about method. And I have made a few arguments about method in particular.

    Most of my own “conclusions” are tentative and in flux. For example, I have often raised the question about Justin’s knowledge of the canonical Gospel narratives. But I have never argued a conclusion that he definitely did not know them. I recognize the evidence cited in support of the argument that he did know them, but I have attempted to point out why that strikes me as inconclusive. I will also explore arguments on the assumption that the Gospels in their basic canonical form were known well before the time of Justin.

    It is the mere questioning of the foundational assumptions of (New Testament) biblical studies that is forbidden. Or if one does question, it is forbidden to embrace any answers that fall outside the spectrum of historicity of the Gospel narrative.

    The bias is more cultural than supernaturalistic. Okay, many are “supernaturalistic” in their bias. But not all. That’s why I see it as a cultural bias.

    1. Cultural bias? Yeah. I think a lot of them have no great animus toward Vridar in particular; they just don’t want to have to deal with the nice, clean, Christian folks in the community who wouldn’t understand their tolerance.

      It reminds me of the old lady in “Blazing Saddles” who visits Cleavon Little in jail, offers a bit of an apology, and ends by saying, “Of course, you’ll have the common decency not to mention I spoke to you.”

    2. “…and “N.T. Wrong” has since refused even to classify this blog among amateur atheist biblical studies blogs.)”

      I just noticed that you’re classified as “5. Fringe-Dwellers and Conspiracy Theorists” on the biblioblogs page.

      Strange to see you classified as “fringe-dweller” and yet inerrantists don’t have a second class stats on that list.

      1. Stranger still that I ground most of my posts in presenting and raising questions on mainstream scholarly publications and have never actually presented a case as such for “mythicism” per se. I suspect you will find on my blog far more discussion — including summary outlines, some of which run into multiple posts in order to capture the depth of the arguments — of mainstream scholarly books and articles than you will find on other blogs over a similar time span.

        Are Spong, Levenson, Pervo, Tyson, Ashton, Engberg-Pedersen, DeConick, Davies, Thompson, et al — would Bruno Buaer be — “fringe-dwellers and conspiracy theorists”?

        Compare some of the so-called biblioblogs that are the most popular and you find a high dosage of nonbiblical posts, and some have now followed Jim West in tossing in “depravity” type news posts, and many devotional type pieces. But very little “biblioblogging” that I can see. Or maybe I haven’t had the patience to look long and closely enough.

        1. I think that for most people on that list, people like Pervo and Tyson are “scholars non grata” (or “on the fringe”/”radical”).

          And yes, I think your blog is more of a “biblioblog” than many others that are not in the “trash bin”.

          1. They may be controversial but they are all with recognized legitimate standing and are published, reviewed and discussed among their academic peers. I am sure it is not because I have discussed the works of such scholars that this blog has been targeted the way it has. It is the questions I have raised in the light of such works that is the problem, I believe. But no, that’s not the whole story either — I have attempted to zero in on and expose the logical fallacy at the heart of HJ studies, and no-one has presented me with a reasoned argument to rebut that point. And demonstrating how unlike normative historical studies are in other fields seems to have rubbed salt into this exposure.

            It seems if reasoned argument is out of reach the only response can be insult, denigration and the rest.

  5. Hi Patrick, Even — to toss in my two bits here:

    By definition a character in a literary document is a literary character. He or she is the literary craftsmanship of the author.

    The question of historicity asks whether that literary person is based on the life of a real person in the nonliterary world.

    In the absence of external controls and given the uncertainty about genre (evidence of authorial intention) of the gospels let’s first work with thy hypothesis that there was a Jesus who did some things that were the basis of what we find in the literary narrative.

    So we have stepped outside the literary world of the narrative for a moment and are now seeking to play with this hypothesis.

    What are the sorts of questions or tests that might be introduced to test this hypothesis? What does this hypothesis predict we will find?

    That’s one way to approach the question of the historicity of Jesus.

    I personally think that the conventional Jesus narrative makes no sense as an explanation for the origins of Christianity. It relies entirely on a most implausible scenario of followers who did not understand him while alive suddenly having a psychological experience that persuades them he is resurrected and in/with them and divine, and in their ability to persuade former enemies and other cultural groups who had never heard of him that their experiences had an objective reality, and that contrary to all historical cultural norms and precedents, that this mortal executed as a failed criminal or subversive was the Son of God at the right hand of God who would return to judge the world.

    As a realistic historical explanation that is bollocks, surely. That explanation works much better and more persuasively if you keep in all the original narrative miracles in tact.

    But if there is another explanation that works that begins with a historical Jesus then we need to ask what we would expect to find in the evidence, and what we would not expect to find — what would falsify the hypothesis.

    I can imagine sparks flying over an attempt to arrive at a set of test-questions. This is one advantage of some mythicist arguments. They may not have set out formally such a list of questions to test the hypothesis, but they have raised a number. I would like to see historicists tackle the question seriously enough to do something similar.

    1. Hey, no fair. I don’t think I argued on the basis of consensus, did I? I did say that there were reasons (specific contents and theological/political interests (e.g. re Paul), style, reluctance of “church” itself to accept both epistles . . .). I think I stated that many of these arguments are listed in commentaries.

      If my memory is failing me and I did argue on the basis of consensus let me know and I will go back and strike thick red ink through whatever I wrote! 🙂

  6. Wow – has James McGrath finely stumbled and revealed his true colours?

    “ Mythicism is at its heart a rejection of the existence of the “Christ of faith.”

    The End of the (Mythicist) Age


    So, the man has no rational argument against the mythicist position re the non-historicity of the gospel preacher man who was crucified under Pilate – so, dear mythicists, it’s your lack of Faith that is leading you all to……..


    1. Oh Yawn! He is simply too lazy or whatever to ever bother to actually take a real mythicist argument, something mythicists actually do say, and deal with it. It’s always the same old “mythicists say” without any effort to tie his posts to reality. How many times now has he gone on about mythicists supposedly saying “something is possible therefore it is true” rot?

      Let him bagpipe away.

      (He has backed himself into a corner with his constant declamations that mythicists are ignorant simpletons who only scour scholarly literature to mine quotes to support whatever biases they like to spout in their supposedly anti-intellectual and anti-Christian agenda. He has to keep up that refrain no matter what, now, and is looking sillier each time he tries to repeat it.)

    2. Do you think what McGrath might be getting at there with his “Christ of faith” comment is not so much that we are hostile anti-Christians (though he has certainly conveyed in personal responses to me that he does indeed accuse “us/me” of this) but rather that he thinks we are poor dumbasses who don’t understand that the scholars themselves make a distinction between the Christ of faith and the historical Jesus. I suspect that’s his point here — that he’s trying to paint us as pointy headed ignoramuses who don’t know the distinction in the scholarly discussion of the historical Jesus.

      1. Probably me being otherwise ;-). Whatever McGrath’ intention with his statement: “Mythicism is at its heart a rejection of the existence of the “Christ of faith.”, I’ve read it as it stands. Which is that the statement has linkied the mythicist position to a position on the Christ of faith – leading him to propose that mythicism is also a rejection of a “Christ of faith” position – which it is not. In other words – if that sounds strange – one can be a mythicist and still have faith in the spiritual Christ construct of Paul. That position does not need a historical gospel Jesus. From a mythicist position, there never was a historical gospel Jesus to begin with – and yet Paul was able to develop his spiritual construct without a historical gospel Jesus. Thus, Christianity can well survive the downfall of its assumed historical gospel Jesus. Remember one of your favourite quotes, 😉

        “. Modern Christianity must always reckon with the possibility of having to abandon the historical figure of Jesus.” Albert Schweitzer.

        Christianity is not, has never been, dependent upon a historical gospel Jesus. That’s just wishful thinking and illusion talking. Sure, there has always been plenty of heresies doing the rounds – but heresies can’t turn a mythological figure, a dying and rising god figure, into historical reality.

  7. I think I understand what McGrath is saying.

    We don’t realise that scholars make a distinction between the Christ of faith and the historical Jesus by removing all the supernatural elements from the story , leaving the historical Jesus as the residue once the supernatural has been removed.

    But mythicists don’t like the implications of supernatural resurrections and are under the impression that Christianity could only spread because a miracle occurred to convince Christians that a crucified criminal was the agent through whom God had created the world, while scholars know that no miracle was necessary for Gentiles to start believing that a Jewish preacher was the agent through whom God had created the world and who had died a shameful death on the cross ,just as Mussolini died a shameful death – hung upside down on a lamppost.

    But because mythicists think a miracle was needed to get people to regard a crucified criminal as the Son of God, and they don’t like the implications of miracles, they reject the Gospel stories.

    Did I paraphrase McGrath accurately?

    1. If I understand McGrath correctly from his various comments and one of his publications, he reasons that in place of the miracle of the resurrection there was some “not fully or quite understood” inner experience of the disciples and likes of Paul etc. So where miracles are needed he substitutes an unknown psychological experience. That’s for his discussion in terms of “historical explanation”. But in his self-published book aimed at his fellow believing Christians, he does directly opine that that unknown experience was not unlike the experiences he and his audiences have had at their conversions.

      I have more time for the N.T. Wrights and the Luke Timothy Johnsons who come right out and admit the Eusebian-Acts model of Christian origins (as variously paraphrased and secularized by modern scholars) makes no sense at all without the literal fact of the miracles.

      (Of course, there are still a lot of things that would not make sense even then, but at least they can see a good measure of the problem with the basic “modern scholarly” historicist model.)

    2. You’re close, Steven. But I think his main point is that historians (read “HJ scholars presenting themselves as historians”) are in between two extremes. He writes.

      “But historians have long been investigating, and finding evidence for, a ‘Jesus of history’ who looks very different from the Christ that fundamentalist and mythicist apologists go back and forth about, and either accept or deny in his entirety.”

      So in McG’s sermon, mythicists are the straw men who stand at the other extreme from fundamentalist apologists. Actually, both extremes are apologists — they argue from a position of irrational bias, relying on received truth or the wholesale rejection of it. To him, both extremes are bad. By placing himself in the middle (a middle of his own artifice, of course) he demonstrates he’s clever, rational, moderate, and so on.

      Grathilocks tried the first bowl of porridge, but it was too hot. Then Grathilocks tried the second bowl of porridge, but it was too cold. Finally, Grathilocks ate from the third bowl, and it was ju-u-u-u-ust right.

      1. Are you sure you are not misrepresenting McGrath, Tim? Because as it stands the quote is quite muddled or ignorant. (The result of attempting to impose a polarity where none exists?) If McGrath is really upset about mythicists merely “going on about” the “Christ of faith” then how can there be any problem?

        But your point ties in with Mark Goodacre’s own stated impressions. He sees mythicists “belabouring” over evidence that he is sure must contradict their position. This indicates to him something of the opposite extreme of faith, “hypersceptism”.

        1. It is muddled and ignorant, yes. In fact his whole last paragraph appears to be trying to sum up points he never quite made in the preceding paragraphs.

          Am I misrepresenting his position? Could be. I had read it as the typical accusation that mythicists reject all evidence from the NT while fundamentalist apologists accept it all on faith.

          On further review I think his point is that “some mythicists” (never named and never cited, of course) misunderstand the evidence because they interpret it improperly. To him, they are wholly misguided because they “understand the meaning of terms like ‘resurrection’ and ‘Messiah,’ the nature of Jesus, and the appropriate way to interpret the Bible (as allegory) not in the way scholars and historians do, but (perhaps somewhat ironically) in the manner advocated in certain strands of the Christian faith.

          His point seems to be that when authors such as Doherty or Origen say that “Brother of the Lord” meant something different from a literal brother, it drives McG crazy, because he knows what Paul really meant. When Paul writes brother, he means brother. James was clearly the brother of Jesus.

          On the other hand, when Paul says the risen Jesus appeared to 500 brothers, it doesn’t mean literal brother. Jesus didn’t have 500 brothers. Those 500 believers were clearly not his brothers.

          So you see, the “appropriate way to interpret the Bible” is to make it say what you want it to say, provided it coincides with the mainstream position.

          I gotta be careful or I’m going to start sounding like Carr. 😉

      2. One might add that if this really were the substance of McGrath’s objection to mythicism (and not just a rhetorical ploy) then might we not expect to see him attack fundamentalists in much the same spirit as he attacks mythicists? After all, they would seem to be far more a serious challenge to true scholarship and winning public minds against all that is sound in biblical academia, yes?

  8. Dear Neil,

    To expand on my prior comment that the academic religion industry is primarily church apologetics in disguise, and that is the reason, as your article points out examinations of the Jesus legends, and certain other topics have historically never truely been examined.

    The professional religion industry is all about “perception”, but it is a very deceptive perception.

    The religion industry “product” (it’s writings) are consumed almost exclusively by the Christian faith community. In addition, the religion industry’s primary funding comes from the Christian faith community.

    Many if not the majority of folks in this industry believe in the supernatural. But… they want this downplayed if not hidden while they write books proporting to be somewhat scientific about the subject. (I say “somewhat” because even actual history departments are not science departments. I am speaking in general, in that today, even auto mechanics and bakers use the tools of science, and value reason, as opposed to say pre enlightenment times, when supernaturalism was a dominant authority). Yet, it is the Christian faith community that reads and supports most of the work output of the religion academic community.

    This is where the deception comes in.

    The religion industry professional must not get the reputation as a “atheist” or be labelled too much of a “skeptic” or the Christian faith community will generally not purchase their book. Granted an occassional atheistic book may be required reading in the Christian faith community. Although, only the subset of the faith community will read these books. For example, the average Catholic grandmother, while being a supernaturalist, has not read Richard Dawkins _The God Delusion_, yet a young Calvinist may as a means of doing “opposition research” for future apologetic arguments with others. But, in general, the Christian faith community wants to read books that come from the religion academic community that do not threaten their basic Christian faith beliefs, but give them sort of intellectual extras to feel that; “wow… it’s great that those scholars are confirming that my faith is based on some real historical events, and not just legends.”

    So the religion industry professional must not get the reputation of being someone that is “against the faith”. Yet there is the other end of the problem.

    The religion professional does not want it to appear in the academic community that their world is supernaturalisticly faith driven. Granted, old school apologists proudly proclaimed their supernaturalistic belief. But the new breed of apologist carefully downplays or hides their supernaturalistic belief. They want to appear as scientists, not as apologists promoting Christian legends. Certain accepted key phrases have been designed within the industry so that the academic professional can identify himself to the faith community while still allowing their academic careers not to be seen as purely apologetical.

    Your first commenter, James McGrath, is an example. Self identifying as a Christian. But if called a supernaturalist will deny this. He will call being called a supernaturalist a ‘accusation’. And, on his blog where he has control edits and/or delete posts that talk about him being a supernaturalist. Clearly it is a term that he wishes to avoid, and not have associated with himself. But… at the same time, to the faith community he is sold as being a “liberal Christian”.

    So, a liberal christian is a Christian that does not believe in the supernatural?

    Odd… When you look up supernatural in Oxford you will find;

    supernatural |ˌsoōpərˈna ch (ə)rəl|
    adjective; (of a manifestation or event) attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature : a supernatural being.
    • unnaturally or extraordinarily great : a woman of supernatural beauty.

    So, the liberal Christian, like James McGrath, is a Christian that does not believe in a supernatural being.

    So, here is the trick. How to make sure that the Christian faith community does not understand that “liberal Christian” in this case means atheist. I would submit that if the faith community realized that James McGrath, in claiming not to believe in the supernatural, is admitting to being an atheist, that his book sales and interest in the faith community would drop.

    So the religion industry professional needs to constantly work to be accepted by the Christian faith community as someone that is not “attacking the faith” or an atheist, but at the same time has to downplay or hide their belief in the supernatural in the academic community which would knock them out the the ability to be seen as a scientist or objective researcher.

    This deception drives the industry. The professional has to constantly be wary of being labeled in the wrong way. Their label will determine if the Christian faith community will support them or shun them. And since the Christian faith community is both the source of financial support, and the purchasers of the religion industry product, the scholar must make sure that they are perceived in a particular way by the Christian faith community, if they wish to exist in the industry.

    This greatly affects what topics will be examined, and how.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

    1. Hi Rich, I accept much of what you say here. I would add, though, the need for academics to advance their own careers through publication and citation among their scholarly peer audience. Among this audience there is much that never or rarely reaches the broad Christian “consumer community”. That was one of my motives for starting this blog — to share some of the thoughts being published among biblical scholars that did not generally reach the wider public.

      Certainly there is an anti-Enlightenment strand among quite a number of New Testament scholars. (And not only among biblical scholars, either.) This is what needs to be challenged, I would think. I would think it is wiser to call for biblical scholars to be exiled to the seminaaries on the grounds that they defy Enlightenment values.

      It is also a mistake for scholars who do embrace the Enlightenment values to be professionally engaging with those who do not, thus bestowing respectibility on pre-scientific thinking and diminishing their own professional respectability in the process.

  9. Earl Doherty wondered the same thing recently. It does seem bizarre and I can only speculate as an armchair amateur psychologist.

    There is one fairly prominent internet personality who claims to be an atheist and is most strident (and hostile) against “mythicism”, and that is one known as Tim O’Neill. (He has other names, too.) But I have also seen evidence that he is really a Christian believer, which leads one to wonder if he is a bit of a split-personality case who is playing games with his internet egos. I don’t know. (I have also found out first hand that he is a liar, quite capable of deliberately falsifying documents to portray his opponents (e.g. Richard Carrier) as saying something they never did say.)

    But one thing this Tim O’Neill did say several times on the Richard Dawkins forum some time back was that he thought “mythicists” were embarrassing other atheists by making them look like alien abductionists or flat-earthers.

    Thinking about this fear of embarrassment motive for attacking “mythicism”, it makes me wonder if people like that somehow have a sense of insecurity about their atheism.

    But I don’t know.

    So why did I bother to type this comment? :-/

    1. Neil: “But one thing this Tim O’Neill did say several times on the Richard Dawkins forum some time back was that he thought “mythicists” were embarrassing other atheists by making them look like alien abductionists or flat-earthers.”

      That sounds like a plausible reason and there may be others. Years ago I asked the question of a JM moderator who you may have known (LET), an atheist, HJer, and scholar–can’t remember which university in Louisiana. Earl knew him. I asked LET why HJ mattered to him. He said that he cared about truth.

      As an aside, this pious man became so angry at the list that he had Yahoo delete all of his 299 posts (screaming intellectual property). My turn to be angry. I confronted him at Xtalk including saying that he had deprived others of all of that knowledge. This to shame him. As a professor he knew better.

      Maybe he didn’t think of the fact that his work would remain in the posts of others. My consolation. Or he just wanted to make a statement.

    2. Yeah, that O’Neill character. I had a go-round with him on the reconstituted RD forums right after the big flap about shutting down the old site (I was using the ‘nym Pierce Inverarity –I just love that name). He is extremely hostile to the idea, and the sense I get from him and other nominal atheists who seem to feel the same way is just that: it’s a crackpot idea in their minds and they only want to see atheism associated with sober, evidence-based beliefs. My last post in the exchange was an intemperate tirade. And I haven’t been back.

      1. I don’t really understand why any atheist should be worried about being associated with crackpot ideas. Atheism is just a position one takes about the state of life, universe and everything. There are no gods or goblins in the act anywhere.

        I take strong exception to some political views expressed in some atheist publications (in particular Hitchens’ and Harris‘s and Dawkins’ views on Islam). But I don’t associate those views with atheism. They are political and social and are found across atheists, Christians, Buddhists, whatever.

        Ditto for flat-earthers. I have no idea what religious or nonreligious views flat earthers have, but it would not offend or even register with my atheism if I were to learn that atheists were found among their number.

    3. There is one fairly prominent internet personality who claims to be an atheist and is most strident (and hostile) against “mythicism”, and that is one known as Tim O’Neill. (He has other names, too.) But I have also seen evidence that he is really a Christian believer… I have also found out first hand that he is a liar

      Neil, what was the evidence? I’ll let Tim know. Was it that Frank Walton / Thomas Thompson / Tom Verenna kerfuffle?

      It might be good to let Tim clear his name, though I suspect that he would be more concerned with being called a Christian than a liar. He’s currently posting on a board ripping into some Christians on the Resurrection.

      1. ‘He’ (Tim o’Neill) currently posting on a board ripping into some Christians on the Resurrection.’

        Are his postings still full of personal abuse against other people?

        Occasionally, even the moderators at RD.net had to ban O’Neill for weeks because of the personal, vile abuse he put in his postings.

        Of course, many Christians are happy to tolerate abuse, but will shut down the conversation if you ask them questions or use the e-word 🙂

    4. Deary me, look at this.

      In order:

      “who claims to be an atheist”

      I am an atheist. Have been for over 25 years. Though recently I’ve found that many Mythers can’t resist the cheap shot of insinuating that I’m not. That these are often the same Mythers who get all prim about anything that could be construed as an ad hominen attack is richly ironic.

      “is one known as Tim O’Neill. (He has other names, too.)”

      I do? News to me. Years ago I used to post on some Roman history fora as “Thiudareiks”, but these days I tend to use my own name only. Unlike some who are very coy about their real world identity, I don’t feel the need to hide behind pseudonyms. So, what are these alleged “other names” Neil? Do tell. I suspect you’re getting rather muddled. I’ll assume that rather than more sinister possibilities.

      “But I have also seen evidence that he is really a Christian believer”

      ROTFL! Really, Neil? “EVIDENCE”, Neil?! How astounding! So, let’s see it Neil and let’s see if it stands up to scrutiny.

      “I have also found out first hand that he is a liar, quite capable of deliberately falsifying documents to portray his opponents (e.g. Richard Carrier) as saying something they never did say.”

      My, I sound quite the villain! Many names, possibly lying about who and what I am. Defaming poor little Carrier. Care to elaborate on that one Neil, because I have no idea what you’re talking about.

      “But one thing this Tim O’Neill did say several times on the Richard Dawkins forum some time back was that he thought “mythicists” were embarrassing other atheists by making them look like alien abductionists or flat-earthers. ”

      I don’t recall saying precisely that, but I did say that those who peddle the kookier or more crackpot end of the Myther spectrum (“Acharya S”, Zeitgeist, Atwill, Freke and Gandy, Carotta) make unbelievers like us look like kooks. I also said there are other Myther theories which are academically respectable and sober (Doherty) but that I simply find them unconvincing.

      “Thinking about this fear of embarrassment motive for attacking “mythicism”, it makes me wonder if people like that somehow have a sense of insecurity about their atheism. ”

      That would be a very odd thing to think. If you came across a lot of atheists concluding that the earth was flat, would you be “insecure” in your atheism for pointing out this makes atheists look kind of dumb?

      “So why did I bother to type this comment? :-/”

      Beats me. Most of it was total garbage.

      1. I used to think that T. O’Neill was Frank Walton, but realised that nobody could be that deranged and still post reasonably coherently. O’Neill also used to abuse people in a different style from Walton, which persuaded me that they were different people.

        Another theory shot down by evidence….

        Happily, the ‘Judas , Barabbas,Thomas,Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea etc’ did not exist’ theory will never be shot down by evidence:-),and the Jesus of the Gospels will remain as mythical as the Popeye of the cartoons, even if scholars manage to convince me that the character of Popeye was based on a real person.

        1. One thing we know about the historical Popeye is he had massive forearms. Why would anybody invent such an embarrassing feature?

          Seriously, Steven, if we start to doubt the historicity of Popeye, who’s next? Olive Oyl? Wimpy? Bluto? Alice the Goon? The list goes on. This is what happens when you place an intolerable burden on the comic text.

          1. Someone sent me notice that the “Tim O’Neill” is about to review a mythicist publication. http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/2011/01/apologies.html?showComment=1299957411868#comment-c879785058977499970 The strange comment here is a reference to “the atheist community”. Moreover this “community” is said to be woefully ignorant of history. How many atheists think of themselves as constituting a community? Atheists cover all walks of life, all political and social ideas, . . . It strikes me as a bit like saying there’s a blue-eyed community.

            I have seen adverts for atheists to meet from time to time but I wonder who and what sort of “atheists” attend those things. What do they talk about? How odd it is to believe in a god? Not for me. Atheism is not an obsession or whatever. It’s simply my understanding of life and the world etc. There are real issues to live for and communities to be part of. Atheism isn’t one of them. Atheism just is. Like the air we breathe.

            1. Tim O’Neill replied to this but I decided not to publish it because of inappropriate language, abusive insults directed at Richard Carrier, and overall evidence of a very disturbed author (who knows who anyone is in forums such as these?) in need of some mental help.

              One line of his I will quote, however: “PS You never did come back and substantiate your lies above about me having “other names” and your claim you have “evidence” that I’m a “Christian believer”.”

              Tim, I left your denial on the record and leave it here again, for the record twice over.

              Tim, if you read this and want your comments posted then refrain from spewing abusive language and make an effort to comprehend what you are responding to, including what is understood by different types of communities.

            2. Tim expressed no concern over my accusation that he doctored sentences by Richard Carrier in order to accuse Richard Carrier of saying something he did not say.

              The evidence for that is here: ….forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?p=2684618#p2684618 [Link no longer active: 21st August, 2015 — Neil]

  10. Another of my wonderments that I feel safe about asking here is that some Christians around the blogosphere are saying that they discount Jesus’ resurrection and other miracles. Would not that boil down to worshipping a man and not a god?

    1. Well, God works in mysterious ways, don’t you know. So the idea of a fully human, miracle-free Jesus is something like: God, in his infinite wisdom, sent us a “divine” figure that his superstitious contemporaries and biographers had to put in the “messiah” or “wonder-worker” categories, but we enlightened moderns know that miracles can’t happen, so we redefine “divine” along naturalistic lines: Jesus was a great teacher, Jesus’s healings should be understood as faith healings in the idiom of anthropology, he was a charismatic who was so inspiring to his followers that his presence was still powerful enough in their minds after his untimely demise that “resurrection” can have some non-miraculous interpretation as “the Easter experience.” It’s all fairly muddled, but my late father held views similar to this about his Christian faith, so I know that such beliefs can contribute to a compassionate “Christian” way of life much more in keeping with humanist values than miracle-believing fundamentalism.

    2. Hi, Clarice
      What a wonderful thing to say – to feel safe asking something on Neil’s blog! You could not have come to a more friendly place, Neil is the perfect gentleman 😉

      As to your question – that depends. Once the supernatural is removed from the gospel Jesus and the Christians, or some of them, are happy with the ordinary flesh and blood man they assume is there – then, logically, they should not be worshipping such a man. What should be happening is that worship is placed back upon god. But even here, once the theistic god is denied his earthly spirit begotten son – the very idea of theism, its usefulness, or more correctly its uselessness, is brought into question.

      It’s here that Christianity will have problems. Theism is about a god who will, supposedly, give a hand once in a while. 😉

      I had a discussion early last year on the blog of Eric Reitan. (author of Is God A Delusion: A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers). And, yes, he is also a gentleman…
      This is what he said:

      Eric Reitan: “But Jendi is right that an important dimension of the Christian narrative, at least for traditional Christians, is the idea that we are transformed/redeemed/saved not by our own efforts but by something that God has done IN HISTORY. God reaches down into the time-and-space-bound realm of human existence, meeting us THERE, in our own finitude, and through that contact does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

      “Can the Jesus narrative be divorced from its historicity without THIS message being lost? Or, perhaps the question should be this: What DEGREE of mythicism in the inherited Jesus narrative is consistent with preserving the message that God redeems us through an act of genuine solidarity, expressed by really participating in our corporeal existence?

      Well, the answer to that of course is that theism is in trouble without a historical Jesus, the only begotten son of god – and that is very possibly one reason why the mythicist position re the gospel Jesus figure meets with so much opposition from theists.

      Of course, one can believe that there is a God, and still be a mythicist regarding the gospel storyline re Jesus. God concepts are not dependent upon having a historical Jesus and a historical crucifixion. That position is more in line with a theistic God who intervenes in a very specific manner.

      So, yes, Christian theism could well be a position that would not want to move from the assumption of a historical Jesus, to a Jesus that is not a historical figure. It’s theistic god is in trouble….But trouble for Christian theology has been on the cards for some time…

      The Coming Radical Reformation
      Twenty-one Theses : Robert W. Funk


      1.The God of the metaphysical age is dead. There is not a personal god out there external to human beings and the material world. We must reckon with a deep crisis in god talk and replace it with talk about whether the universe has meaning and whether human life has purpose.

      6. We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus’ divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God.

      1. Thank you, Mary Helena who wrote: “As to your question – that depends. Once the supernatural is removed from the gospel Jesus and the Christians, or some of them, are happy with the ordinary flesh and blood man they assume is there – then, logically, they should not be worshipping such a man. What should be happening is that worship is placed back upon god. But even here, once the theistic god is denied his earthly spirit begotten son – the very idea of theism, its usefulness, or more correctly its uselessness, is brought into question.”

        And think of the Trinity with a father, non-divine HJ son (no longer a god-man), and a holy ghost. How would that work?

        1. Clarice:
          Once the Jesus Christ figure is viewed as simply a flesh and blood man then the doctrine of the Trinity becomes rather useless as a god theory. The one and only Son, the one and only Incarnation, is bottom up…

          Lloyd Geering has an interesting article online (it’s a two page article)


          Christianity Minus Theism


          It is often said that theism is common to Jew, Christian and Muslim. Yet the Christian God and Allah are very different. Jews and Muslims may well be theists, but Christians abandoned pure theism in the early centuries. If the classical Christian teaching in the creeds is said to be theism then it is theism in a radically modified form. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not theism.

          The doctrine of the Holy Trinity which it arrived at is no more than a humanly devised formula to safeguard certain very important areas of Christian experience which were thought to be beyond human understanding. Christian experience of the first centuries was very varied, fluid and complex.

          a. Christianity had inherited from the Jews the iconoclastic rejection of the many gods as supreme beings. The one God they worshipped was related to the world and to human history.

          b. They had inherited from the apostles the influence of the man Jesus of Nazareth.

          c. They experienced within the fellowship of the church a new vitality which they called the Holy Spirit.

          The Trinity was a humanly devised formula which seemed to safeguard all three and affirm the underlying unity of all three. But it was no longer pure theism.

          The doctrine of the Trinity made a radical transformation of theism by incorporating the new doctrine of the Incarnation.

          ….in the first place Christianity made a radical departure from pure theism in the early centuries. And in the second place because in modern times it is taking that radical departure to its logical end, which is the abolition of theism.

      2. Feeling safe? You make the virtual world sound like a wild jungle. But I do acknowledge I have to keep the McGraths, the Stephs, the Crossleys, the Holdings, the Joel Watts’s, and miscellaneous “here-to-save-your-soul” types at bay.

  11. If Jesus were only a man we need to think through all the implications of that:

    It is a curious fact that chimps don’t worship Jesus as their saviour.

    Considering that he shared 96% of his DNA with chimps, Jesus would have made a very fitting Messiah for them too, so maybe this t-shirt might help convert some of our atheist cousins to Christianity.

    Actually, don’t count on it – chimps are highly intelligent and after all and seem to be quite happy to be atheists.

    from http://www.damnedifgodexists.com/Jesus-was-96-percent-chimp-atheist-t-shirt.html

  12. Hi Mary Helena,

    I wrote” “some Christians around the blogosphere are saying that they discount Jesus’ resurrection and other miracles. Would not that boil down to worshipping a man and not a god?” And, thank you for your replies.

    Just to mention further (something obvious if I’m getting it right) that if we have an HJ minus the supernatural there would be no resurrection and, hence, no life after death with Jesus or God and those who ‘accepted Jesus as my lord and savior.’ It would be interesting to know how this sits with the Christians who have renounced the resurrection aspect of their tradition. Maybe they’ve come up with a way to keep this part.


    1. Clarice: Two minds sort of thing…room for logic and room for theological speculation. No historical Jesus only removes the whole atonement theology of the crucifixion that is based upon that assumed historicity – it can’t remove hope in some after death life. Wishful thinking can continue! Are people who reject an after death resurrection still Christians? Of course, Christianity is what you want it to be. The NT is able to accommodate literal and mythological interpretations. Science can take the literal reading to the cleaners – but the mythological or allegorical interpretations remain safe and secure.

      Those New Atheists on their down with religion bandwagon are setting themselves up for a rude awakening – it’s theology infiltrating social/political structures that has to be check-mated – what people think and wish for is their own business. Of course, society will function much better if we are all rational – but one can only bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. 🙂

  13. I’m a big fan of this blog . . . . Thanks for linking to my first piece in the series. I’m up to part 3 now. (feedback is welcome)
    I started writing on this because I’m sick and tired of apologists disguising themselves as authoritative experts on stuff they obviously just accept by rote.

  14. Sorry, I meant all the leoquix links in this post are dead. The blog is still there, but as it stands there are only a few posts for each year after 2010. The latest is from August 2015. I had a quick scan through the post summaries, but didn’t see any announcements about a change of direction or deletion of old posts.

    I did know about the wayback machine, but I thought you might want to update the links in the post and comments.


    1. Thanks. Hopefully I can schedule a new round of link updates in the coming months. Right now I’m traveling o/seas on holidays and then I’ll be in catch up mode at work.

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