A Mythicist Statement by René Salm

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by Neil Godfrey

René Salm has posted Jesus Mythicism and the Impotence of Biblical Studies on his Mythicist Papers website. He uses The End of Biblical Studies by Hector Avalos as a springboard for many of his points.

Given the recent fiasco of Joseph Hoffmann thinking he could easily toss challenges to his Galatians 4:4 nonsense but then walking away, muttering curses in Hebrew, without addressing a single one of the actual criticisms of his thesis detailed in two posts here it is easy to relate to much of René’s argument. (To avoid unnecessary embarrassment we will overlook that unfortunate attempt to spin a morphological argument presumably intended to befuddle others into thinking how unwrong he really was with his slip-ups over the dictionary meaning of a Greek word and misidentifying another word in the manuscripts.)  If this is the historicists’ answer to Ehrman’s dismal attempt to rebut mythicism, mythicism’s future looks promising. By the time hostile critics of mythicism begin to grasp that in certain quarters mythicist arguments really do deal with the scholarship and the scholarly tools and the full range of the evidence, it may be too late to regain control of the wider public agenda. Or maybe deep down they do realize their intellectual vulnerability and that they really do have no weapons other than personal attack and ridicule.

Some excerpts from René Salm’s statement:

aligning themselves with popular opinion and institutional power, scholars continue to steadfastly refuse to seriously consider anything which might shake the tent of tradition . . . . .

biblical researchers who approach the study of Christianity with a posture of faith render themselves intellectually impotent. . . . .

Biblical studies in the U.S. have historically not been “research” so much as a defense of the tradition against the continuing progress of science. At heart, biblical studies as currently conducted are not science but obstructionism. They are a quest for legitimacy. . . . .

The present generation possesses unprecedented tools when it comes to investigating Christian origins. . . . .

We now live in a between-times when the mythicist of yesteryear is emerging from the cellar to the shock and dismay of the prim and proper inhabitants of the upper floors. . . . .

These are just a few snippets. You may not agree with every detail in the full statement, but there is much that may well be prescient.


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18 thoughts on “A Mythicist Statement by René Salm”


    Rene Salm’s article is extremely insightful and appropriate to the times.
I only hope that his elegant language and flowery images do not hide the directness and relevancy of his criticisms.

    That is a danger with some NT scholars. They become so eager to enrich their prose with literary embellishments that the potency and clarity of their criticisms tend to get lost. An extreme case of this trend is none other than our dear friend R. Joseph Hoffmann, whose prose does become literally unintelligible in his maniacal pursuit of cleverness, to a point that nobody can remember exactly what points he is making. In fact he seems interested not so much in scoring points as in the complex barbs he likes to deliver about anybody and anything.

    A key passage in Salm’s essay is as follows:

    Right now it is fashionable to lampoon mythicism as a crank view held by a tiny number of fringe amateurs, a view that has ‘suddenly’ appeared and which must soon pass. But this is ill-taken. Jesus mythicism has its roots in scholarship itself and has been around for a long time. Like a plant whose roots have long been hidden underground, its flourishing at this time is not an aberration but a sudden blossoming above ground, the natural result of a process which has benefited from a good deal of preparation.

    It is an illusion, mostly shared by academic scholars of NT studies, that the denial of the historicity of Jesus Christ is a recent phenomenon that is supposed to have recently come to the attention of Bart Ehrman or R. Joseph Hoffmann, and that it is the result of current publicizing efforts by the likes of Robert Price, Richard Carrier or Earl Doherty.

    Nothing is farther from the historical truth. Proponents of the idea that Jesus Never Existed have been known under many labels: deniers of the existence of Jesus Christ, radicals, Jesus historicity deniers, non-historicists, a-historicists, now, since 1946, mythicists, thanks to Archibald Robertson who coined the word in his 1946 book Jesus: Myth or History?

    The first academic scholar who expressed his serious doubts about the historicity of Jesus was Bruno Bauer, a young professor in Berlin and Bonn. In 1842, only 33 years old, he was expelled from his Bonn university job and never taught again. He spent the next 40 years of his life further researching and expanding his theory. After his death in 1882, Friedrich Engels, who, along with Karl Marx, had been a friend and ally during their youth, wrote a famous eulogy of this pioneer.

    All of Bruno Bauer’s books were in German, and few were ever translated into English. Reading German was vital for getting an acquaintance with his scholarship and conclusions.

    In Germany itself academics, still defending classical theology, did their best to bury Bruno Bauer’s work and his name, and made sure he was quickly forgotten. Nobody wanted to endure the same fate, at a time when no other jobs were available for an expelled professor.

    However in the States, one American academic could read German (and was even published in German), William B. Smith, who started amplifying on Bruno Bauer’s ideas then known only of a handful of scholars.

    In Germany, Albert Kalthoff, an active priest in Bremen, started having his own doubts, and was moved to revive Bruno Bauer’s thesis in a couple of important books.

    Kalthoff caught the attention of Arthur Drews, who reconnected with Bruno Bauer, and also was cognizant of William B. Smith’s work.
Drews had an intense interest in the history of religion and mythology, and had excellent knowledge of the vital contributions of James Frazer and John MacKinnon Robertson in England in constructing the concept of dying-and-rising god in the Greco-Roman and ANE world.

    Arthur Drews combined all those influences to produce the Christ Myth, a bombshell that resonated all over the world. He squarely put Bruno Bauer’s original thesis on the map of world scholarship.
Drews did more worldwide for the spread of the assumption of non-historicity than any other New Testament scholar has ever done since and ever will, and he has given the strongest and most compelling arguments.

    Drews is the historical reason why the question of Jesus historicity has now come into the field of NT studies with such a splash, emerging in the public consciousness thanks to the Internet, and bypassing the barrage of established academics.

    Drews’s assertion was that the character of Jesus was a combination of four factors:

    * The figure of the Suffering Servant of God in Isaiah 53, Jeremiah, Job, Zechariah, Ezechiel, etc… especially as presented in the Greek version of the Septuagint.

    * The Suffering Victim in crucial Psalm 22, supported by Job and other Psalms, such as passages in Psalms 1, 8, 15, 23, 24, 34, 37, 43, 69, 103, 109, 110, 116, 118, 121, 128…

    * The character of Wisdom in the Book of Wisdom, and Sirach, notably Wisdom 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 (with an echo in Proverbs 8)

    * The whole syncretic mix being thickened by the input of Frazer’s concept of the dying-and-rising god.

    Drews summarized his ideas as follows:

    “Isaiah’s suffering servant of God, offering himself for the sins of men, the just of Wisdom in combination with the mythic ideas of a suffering, dying, and rising god-saviour of the nearer Asiatic religions — it was about these alone, as about a solid nucleus, that the contents of the new religion crystallised. The ideal Christ, not the historical Jesus of modern liberal theology, was the founder of the Christian movement… It is more probable that Jesus and Isaiah are one and the same person than that the Jesus of liberal theology brought Christianity into existence…”

    (Ch. 13, The Witness of the Gospels in The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus, Part IV, 1912)

    In a short expression, Drews’s theory was
Jesus = Suffering Servant of Yahweh + Suffering Victim of Psalm 22 + Wisdom + flying features of Dying-and-Rising God

    William B. Smith is not given enough credit for his own contribution, which Drews acknowledges in every book.

    Arthur Drews became the direct inspiration and source for Paul-Louis Couchoud and G. A. Wells, who both could read German fluently and were able to read Arthur Drews and Bruno Bauer in the original German. Without Drews, the question would have never gained the public prominence it has.

    George Albert Wells, a professional expert in German, had access to all the writings of Drews and Bruno Bauer. He amplified Drews’s hypothesis that the personification of the character of Wisdom in the Wisdom of Solomon was the foundation for the character of Christ, for Paul and for the Gospel writers. This theory has been developed by Wells, following Drews, over now forty years.

    It is significant that Earl Doherty, late in life, simply came to the field as an interested amateur most likely by reading Wells, no doubt about it. He simply added another ingredient to the pot, by expanding Wells’s theory with the assumption that the “rulers of the age” were operating in a celestial level of the mythical representation of the earth and its atmosphere, and that Jesus spent all his mythical life in that aetherial region of the Ancients’ imagination.

    Robert Price, Richard Carrier, and Earl Doherty have done a valuable service by spreading the Jesus denial theory essentially to the modern young crowd, who have no knowledge of history whatsoever, and who represent an immense market of millions.
This does not change the fact of history. It is true that for modern youth, whatever happened before their time has no relevance to their lives and practically had no existence (in an interesting phenomenology of existence = perception), and for them, the birth of mythicism coincides with their personal discovery thanks to the modern writers and the Internet.

    And now, every writer and scholar in NT studies worth his salt or his tenure, is jumping on the band-waggon and has a major book in the works on so-called mythicism or the Christ Myth, a theory that was started nearly 200 years ago, and given its first full world-wide exposure more than 100 years ago.

    Those are the basic facts implied in Rene Salm’s terse phrasing.

    1. I suspect a main reason the Hoffmann’s and McGrath’s have opted to avoid direct engagement with mythicist arguments is their discovery that they are far more grounded in familiarity with the evidence and the scholarship and scholarly tools than they had anticipated. Hence McGrath’s claim that he does not want to be seen as giving the arguments any legitimacy. Of course he doesn’t. He knows damn well if they get an airing and a genuine exchange with historicism then they look very good indeed and traditional historicist arguments are exposed as all too vulnerable. Far safer to keep aloof within one’s own castle and yell taunts at the enemy than ever come out to engage in a genuine contest of ideas.

      1. Neil: “Far safer to keep aloof within one’s own castle and yell taunts at the enemy than ever come out to engage in a genuine contest of ideas.”

        I like McG’s theatrical 180-degree spin move to face the choir, palms up, asking: “What am I to do with Godfrey?!”

  2. Rene’s post reminded me of a recent post by Peter Enns over on Patheos: “‘If They Only Knew What I Thought’: The Sad Cycle of Evangelical Biblical Scholarship.”

    He writes:

    Just two weeks ago I had the latest in my list of long conversations with a well-known, published, respected biblical scholar, who is under inhuman stress trying to negotiate the line between institutional expectations and academic integrity. His gifts are being squandered. He is questioning his vocation. His family is suffering. He does not know where to turn.

    I wish this were an isolated incident, but it’s not.

    I wish these stories could be told, but without the names attached, they are worthless. I wish I had kept a list, but even if I had, it wouldn’t have done anyone much good. I couldn’t have used it. Good people would lose their jobs.

      1. The most chilling bit of the post:

        “He asked his former professor, now colleague, why he was sent to graduate school with so many gaps in his learning. The answer: ‘Our job was to protect you from this information so as not to shipwreck your faith.'”

        1. Isn’t this exactly what the McGrath’s and the Hoffmann’s are doing as they heap all the rhetorical manure they can upon mythicism (and even a blog that gives certain mythicist arguments a fair hearing)? Are they not attempting to warn by intimidation all bystanders off doubting the legitimacy of their specific intellectual interests and standing?

    1. I went and read that.
      I am reminded of the path taken by Thomas L Thompson in his rocky career.
      He outlines such in the preface to “The Mythic Past” – detailing how writing the truth, as he saw it [since vindicated] prevented him from getting his PhD, how he did not compromise, spent years house painting, got a job as professor, lost it when his new book was deemed ‘incompatible’ with his job at a Catholic uni by the authorities but ‘lucked’ into a stable position.
      Thats a very short summary.
      The essence of it is that he refused to become a propagandist and be silenced, therefore suffered but was able to hold his head high and win in the long run.

      Perhaps those at the site linked above need to read that preface and have a bit of a think.

      1. This is a remarkable and unique citation.
        Why don’t you post the full preface? It is a vital document, proving that a few people can preserve their integrity in a world of rampant commercialism. I suppose that the Vridar page is large enough to accommodate the full text of the preface.

        Preserving one’s integrity is a very difficult stance to maintain, especially if you have a family to support. Among German scholars, Luther did it, Nietzsche did it, and Arthur Drews did it too, each in his own way, and for his own fundamental convictions. “Hier Stehe Ich”, (Here I stand) was what Luther is said to have proclaimed in 1521 at the Diet of Worms.

        Of course, an underlying belief concerning religion makes it easier to refuse to compromise.
        Still, Thomas Thompson’s case is pretty rare and worth citing.

        1. I started to Roo, but I’m a really lousy typist with minimal net skills. I’m sitting here now with a chunk of the preface handwritten on paper.
          Here are a few bits [not verbatim], unfortunately lacking context, the whole relevant bit of the preface is some pages long.
          ” 1975 …The controversies over my book on the patriarchies shut me out of university teaching.I became a full time house painter and handyman …After nearly a decade of such isolation my exclusion from the field reached an unexpected end.
          I was appointed by the Catholic Bible Assn as annual prof to the EB in Jerusalem in 1985 The climate of biblical scholarship had shifted ….Afer returning to a brief period of housepainting I was awarded an Nat. End Fellowship for 1987 ….
          1992 new book
          The reactions to this book were even stronger than those to my book on the patriarchs had been…..
          My work was found “incompatible with the Catholic mission of the university”

          Then he got Copenhagen.
          There is lots more.
          Maybe someone here [thats a hint Neil] with the necessary combination of access to the “Mythic Past”, net skills and knowledge of copyright could enable a better slice of this preface.

          There are, of course, other persons who have had similar stories quite recently and in the past.
          Kung for example and just recently a couple of American college scholars have encountered problems.

          I suspect its endemic in the system.

          1. That’s already something. The transition to Copenhagen would have been interesting.
            And what luck for Thompson. Copenhagen is such a charming city, much more attractive and livable than any average American university town, the people are first-class, handsome and reliable. And the food is great too. God rewarded him for his constancy and fortitude.

            I had forgotten about the copyright angle, but excerpts are allowable. And permission from the author for the whole preface might be obtainable.

            A great reminder of the reality of biblical studies as a job.
            Just think about the number of Ph.D.s in theology and biblical studies in the US, and the number of openings. Each professor lasts 40 years and produces dozens of Ph.D.s The arithmetics of succession are against getting a teaching job leading to tenure.

        2. Against the few who do “make it” we can only guess at the numbers who never do. Time and circumstance (luck) is often a factor in the exceptional cases. But not everyone would consider having one’s thesis rejected and being forced out into the cold for lengthy periods being a “break through”. Besides, TLT is still necessarily muted in relation to Jesus and has been slandered as an anti-semite across US academia.

          All but the last page of the Preface to “The Mythic Past” can be read on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Mythic-Past-Biblical-Archaeology-Israel/dp/0465006493 I would not post the entire Preface without explicit permission from the copyright holder — who is more commonly the publisher rather than the author.

          The same book was published as “The Bible In History”.

          Some posts in which I have discussed The Mythic Past and some of its controversial contributions: http://vridar.wordpress.com/category/book-reviews-notes/thompson-mythic-past/

          1. Thanks to the juvenile, purposeful misspelling by a certain self-styled super genius, sometimes when I read the word “mythic” I hear “myth-tic” in my head. That word is now Hoffmangled for me.


            1. v.t., to obfuscate purposely with dense prose and ineffective, pedantic wordplay.

            2. v.t., to ruin a word or group of words via Hoffmangling (see 1.).

            Also, “Hoffmanngle,” chiefly Brit.

            “That paragaraph is so Hoffmangled I can’t tell whether I agree with it or not!”

            1. This is a wonderful coinage. And we should use it as much as possible.
              Unfortunately there are not too many writers prone to Hoffmangling.
              For the word to gain currency, a lot of instances have to be collected by dictionary editors.
              If this should ever succeed, Hoffmann should be grateful that his name would be passed on to some future generations thanks to his linguistic prowess.

              We could visualize some future professor of creative writing advising his students: “And if you want to reap prizes, above all, don’t Hoffmangle. But if you want to confuse your opponents in some debate, and you are short of substantial arguments, don’t hesitate, Hoffmangling can become a powerful weapon. Hoffmangle, again and again, until your opponent withdraws in disgust.

  3. By way of making the point of the fundamental fallacy of mythicism, I offer the following paraphrase of a basically nonsensical statement from Neither God Nor Man by Earl Doherty, substituting but one word, “Universe” for “Christianity” : “The advent of the Internet has introduced an unprecedented ‘Lay’ element of scholarship in the field – the absence of peer pressure – – has meant that the study of [Universe] origins is undergoing a quantum leap in the hands of a much wider consistency than traditional academia” [the discipline of Quantum and Relativity Physics]. The atheist stance can hardly recognize the traditional academia Guild of NT Studies as a legitimate discipline. E.g. Ehrman may well make some case for the existence of Jesus; as the paradox of an atheist head of a department of NT Studies, it at least would be self-serving. What Ehrman, or any atheists or mythicists, psychologically cannot do, given the Christian problem (the “Jesus Puzzle”: we now know that none of the writings of the NT is apostolic witness), is to entertain the concept that we do have a NT source which can be taken as apostolic witness to the real Jesus.
    None of the writings of the NT is the original and originating witness that the early church mistook took them to be in judging them to be apostolic, thus they are not a reliable sources for Jesus reconstruction. We now know in sufficient detail both how and why this fateful historical mistake was made. Further, we can now locate our most certain historical NT Scriptural source for this original and originating apostolic witness. Should there be interest see: Ed Jones – A viable historical solution to the Jesus Puzzle.
    Earl, should you be listening, in general I agree with your statement: “The arguments for Q are far less flawed than those used by Goodacre (to defend Luke using Matthew), Q is a watershed of material which represents a pre-Markan movement Mark belonged to and inherited. Q is infinitely better than no Q at all.” I think you will find this to be consistent with my reconstruction: Ed Jones Dialogue – Vridar.

    1. Hi Ed,

      Your comments are regularly pushing the same message. Why not place them all in the page I set up for your discussion? We can continue dialogue there.

      This way all your comments will not be clashing or at odds with the general theme of the other comments. I am happy to engage with you in discussion in the Ed Jones Dialogue page.


      I have since removed the Ed Jones Dialogue page — Neil, 14th November, 2012

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