Frank Zindler’s Response to Bart Ehrman: The Parable of the Cheshire Cat

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Frank Zindler’s response to Bart Ehrman is now online, Clarice O’Callighan of the JesusMysteries Forum alerts us. See his online article Bart Ehrman and the Cheshire Cat of Nazareth

His opener:

When all that is left of a Cheshire cat is its grin, how can we be sure it is in fact the grin of a cat? To be sure, if we have watched a grinning cat disappear progressively until all we see is its grin, we can have some confidence that the aerial grin we perceive to remain is in fact that of a cat. As the grin further dissolves into the fog and mist of a perplexing day, however, it becomes harder and harder to determine if the motes that float before our eyes are still the remnants of the grin or just the random rubbish of polluted air. At some point, however, we will have to admit that the cat is gone—completely gone.

This all seems obvious enough and uncontroversial. But what if someone else were to walk by as you were standing at the wayside peering into the low branches of a tree and fixing your gaze on the fading remnants of the grin?

Then there’s this gem:

If Q was a true listing of the wise sayings of Jesus, then Ehrman could probably argue that Jesus had been well educated in Greek literature—including Aesop’s Fables! In fact, Jesus had had such a good Hellenisic education that he even quoted Aesop in one of his sayings that is reported in Q and adapted as Matthew 11:17 and Luke 7:32.

And what must historicists try to do?

Having no authority more credible than the fabled witness of the disembodied grin of a Cheshire cat, historicists must look to see if there are any dots or spots or splotches in the blurred and broken image of the past that they can connect in such a way that it can produce a convincing and unambiguous picture of even a character they might call Jesus of Nazareth. Then, the picture must be sharp enough to convince not just themselves but skeptics as well that the character was an actual man—not just a description of a character in a work of fiction. And most importantly: they must take care to insure that the picture at which they gaze is not their own image in a mirror.

And on the brothers of Jesus?

If James be accepted on flimsy evidence to be a brother of Jesus, what reason might we give for rejecting Thomas as his twin brother?

And of method?

The sentence ‘The Jesus of the gospels once lived somewhere or other,’ however, is meaningless. There is no conceivable way to falsify it.

And the end of the matter

We have come now to a point where the Historical Jesus is not yet completely gone, even though Ehrman himself has helped to cause the disappearance of his arms and legs and most of his torso. Nevertheless, soon all that will be left will not be the face of the Historical Jesus; it will be the grin of a cat that can’t be traced to Cheshire.

Like Alice in Wonderland, the reader of this essay has just witnessed the progressive dismantling and dissolution of a fascinating creation of the human mind. Like the Cheshire cat, Jesus of Nazareth was never a real, living organism. Like the Cheshire cat, who could not be beheaded because he had already lost his body, Jesus of Nazareth could not be ‘beheaded’ by the loss of his Nazareth identity. New Testament critics including Bart Ehrman had already hacked away most of his body by the time that empty excavations at Nazareth had erased the testimony of the empty tomb at Jerusalem. All that now remains is the fictive face on the Shroud of Turin—the laser display-like death mask of the Cheshire cat of Nazareth. Sometime soon, everyone including Bart Ehrman will have to admit that the cat is gone—completely gone.

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

23 thoughts on “Frank Zindler’s Response to Bart Ehrman: The Parable of the Cheshire Cat”

  1. Funny and true. A nice metaphor: the Cheshire Cat, and its grin.

    One element of the Bible Jesus after another has been disproved, even in part by HIstoricists themselves. From the “miracles of Gensis,” thru the contradictions of the gospels; thru the unfulfilled prophesies of a kingdom, “soon,” of Revelation.

    Today there is nothing left of Jesus except the grin.

    And specifically, the new interest in Jewish movements in “Nazareth” or Galilee, or traces of Aramaic in the Greek of the New Testament, are just the last distracting novelties. They add little to what we already know about Judaism from Jeruslaem. And they have no real bearing on proving the existence of Jesus. Since these only reflect extremely wide cultural developments, and not the existence of any particular individual.

  2. I looked quickly for the original fable.
    What was immediately available, without spending much time is:

    The Fisherman Piping

    A FISHERMAN skilled in music took his flute and his nets to the
    seashore. Standing on a projecting rock, he played several tunes
    in the hope that the fish, attracted by his melody, would of
    their own accord dance into his net, which he had placed below.
    At last, having long waited in vain, he laid aside his flute, and
    casting his net into the sea, made an excellent haul of fish.
    When he saw them leaping about in the net upon the rock he said:
    “O you most perverse creatures, when I piped you would not dance,
    but now that I have ceased you do so merrily.”

    This version does not include the “sang a dirge, did not mourn” part, which could have been from another fable, or an expansion of the first one.
    Anyway the telling of fables was a free-for-all game, without any copyrights involved.
    There must be a Greek source from the existing Greco-Roman literature of the 1st century for the whole tale told by Matthew and Luke including both parts, available to educated readers of the time. This was the one used by the writer of Matthew Gospel, probably sitting in the great library of Alexandria. It’d be interesting to know that real source including the two parts, if it has been identified.

    This search goes back to Bruno Bauer (1809-1882), the first scholar to claim that the whole content of the NT was informed and shaped by Greco-Roman influences.
    Unfortunately, most of his books were never translated into English. Only people like William Benjamin Smith, Paul-Louis Couchoud and George Albert Wells could read Bruno Bauer in the original German.

  3. Amusingly, Dale Allison, in his Matthew: A Shorter Commentary – W. D. Davies, Dale C. Allison, Jr. – Google Books, p. 180, Mat 11:1-30, claims it was a children game.
    “It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another…”. An interesting game those children played, reminiscent of a high-school mixer.

    But Allison simply offers a paraphrase without indicating the real source in existing Greco-Roman literature. The game must have been inspired by the tale. I wonder whether any scholar has really identified the textual source.

      1. That’s an excellent reference. The document is short and fun.
        But all this tends to prove Bruno Bauer’s original intuition that the Gospel writers were imbued with both popular and literary Greek culture, and Greek philosophy, and that they used their erudition and education in an easy, natural way, rather than in a contrived imitation or adaptation of a foreign culture, or as accessory quotes (contra Elend below).

        It is revealing that so many reliable scholars have found traces and influences of Homer, Josephus, Philo, Euripides, and Aesop as well, on the writers of the gospels.

        Not only were they well educated in many areas of Greek culture in a natural and easy manner, but they had been privileged to have access to a first-class library.

        So the guess that they were probably sitting in the Library of Alexandria, or in a well-equipped library in Rome — with all the volumes of Homer, Aesop, Josephus, Euripides and Philo at hand or accessible — seems not only plausible, but also likely. Probability rating must be pretty high.
        Richard Carrier must think along those lines too, but the idea was first enunciated and promoted by Bruno Bauer.
        The idea that they copied obscure unknown Egyptian engravings to give body to their story seems, if not straight-out ludicrous, at least far-fetched and illusory.
        Those Gospel writers were Greek scholars, with a Jewish background or some knowledge of Jewish culture, enough to mine-quote the Septuagint, and adapt what they could have learnt from reading the Greek Tanakh, and conversing with local Jewish scholars.

        Paul before them and like them, knew knew little about Hebrew life and rituals, nor could he read of speak the language. Paul and the Gospel writers knew their Greek cultural background too well to convince us that they were of pure Jewish descent. And they could have easily sprinkled their text with a few Aramaic phrases for local color.

        Maurice Casey must be living a dream pipe. No doubt, in a high-context environment.

        1. Roo,

          That is a highly marginal position, and I think (but correct me if you are wrong) that you are concluding it is “not only plausible, by also likely” more out of desire than anything else. All examples Zindler mentions are highly tenuous, or even (as with the point with the fable they are mistaken.Furthermore, they do not prove the type of education or enterprise that you suggest (and people couldn’t just get in to the Library at Alexandria by the way, in fact we don’t even know if it existed during the time of the N.T…) . Aeosop’s fables were popular morality tales not high-brow literature, and the suggestion that Mark’s gospel was based on Homer, has been disputed in a monograph by Karl Olav Sandes in his “The Gospel ‘According to Homer and Virgil’: Cento and Canon” published a couple of years ago, and Homer was by far the most popular text in antiquity and the text that boys learned to read Greek from. If you can show that they engaged in themes that were part of higher education (i.e. rhetoric and philosophy) that would be more (though not necessarily) significant- and there are studies that argue this, but Zindler’s piece doesn’t.

          1. I have read the exhausting 11,500 word piece by Zindler. There are some fascinating nuggets of information. The man has read much more than I shall ever.

            But what strikes me most is the dilution of every fact, every idea, every argument. Instead of getting new, fresh, exciting information with each new line, or every two or three lines, no, each item is unbelievably stretched and amplified to occupy dozens of lines, even pages, with notes as long as the text. All this is immensely tiring, and quickly, boring. Which is a shame, because the facts and arguments are vastly interesting. And the whole article has to be read “en suite”.

            I am a veteran of reading 45,000-word, nay, even 60,000-word articles by Doherty. But even Doherty is capable of covering a fact or an idea in fewer lines, and saying more for the same space. So much padding and lengthening in Zindler could be eliminated by a professional editor. Just as a guess, I feel that all this essay could have been written in half, if not a third, of its length. I wish Zindler would try to rewrite it in half the space.

            The Cheshire cat image is stretched and stretched until it looks like a marshmallow rather than a grin. For the same idea of the disappearing “historical” Jesus, Arthur Drews used the image in vogue around 1900: “resolved into mythical mist.” The “shadow fading in the mist” became the prevailing standard image, and it held sway until this new upstart, the Cheshire cat grin, appeared, or started to disappear, on the stage. And when Drews had used the 3-word phrase, that was it. Maybe it got repeated a few pages later as an echo, but never more than with one or two lines to set this 3-word phrase. With Zindler, the Cheshire cat keeps grinning for paragraphs and pages on end. We are like babies being fed on liquid stuff, not solid nuggets of thought.

            Why is it that we experience such a joy of understanding, or loading our brain with meaningful bits of prose when we read the old authors, those writing before WWII? Because they spoke their mind immediately, “in medias res”, came straight to their argument, told their bit, and passed on to the next. Now writers have to describe every tiny aspect of the whole caboodle to make sure they are understood, even if this is wasted effort.

            I suspect this is because some of the old writers had first learnt to write by hand (with only one hand having to do the whole work), with a pen, and switching to the typewriter used up a lot of energy as well, with many manual calls about paper, carbon, ribbons, etc…The physical labor involved drove them to be succinct, to come to the point as efficiently as possible, and not to drag on for ever. Many fuelled their ardor with booze.

            And we should not use Gibbon as a counterexample. When you read him, you can see that his length is not due to interminable volubility, but to the immensity of facts he has to cover. His style is slightly verbose, granted, but this is due to the rhetorical way in fashion in the 18th century. Nothing comparable to the modern unnecessary prolixity about details.

            But now, with the computer, finger fatigue can be postponed much longer than when writing by hand or the typewriter. The old writers used to work three, four hours, for instance in the morning, then take a long break for lunch and socializing, before returning to the table. Now, with the keyboard, a writer can work ten, fifteen hours non-stop, and even longer. Inflation of prose is a direct consequence. Books used to be 300 pages, now they are 800 to 1,000 pages long. Doherty stopped his magnum opus at 800 pages, but he could easily have gone on to 2,000 pages.

            This is a disastrous development. Inflation of product, loss of brevity, means a cheapening of value, and a cheapening of valuation. Each scholar now produces thousand and thousand of pages that nobody will ever read unless strictly obligated to do so, and even then, as Ehrman has shown, he can skip the job. Although, in his writing style, Ehrman is more direct and less inclined to padding dilution and unnecessary verbiage than most. His specialty is in the invention of unnecessary traditions that nobody has ever encountered or will ever read.

            Writers don’t seem to realize that the longer their expose, the less impression it makes on the mind of the reader, and the less memorable it becomes. A long book drowns the reader. Mozart, writing operas, knew the reality of the impact on his audience. He criticized Shxpr for making the speech of the ghost in Hamlet far too long. A shorter speech would have been much more powerful. Wagner was not impressed, and could go on with the same melody for half an hour, even a full hour. The result, at the Met in New York, is obvious: most of the orchestra audience spends the evening asleep.

            Mark, writing his Gospel, was the king of brevity. But his power is without equal. Karl Marx had a problem with unstoppable garrulousness, but he wrote the Communist Manifesto in 12,100 words, about the same length as Zindler’s article. But what impact did he get with his text! And how memorable it became.

            1. Roo, you wax prolix against prolixity. Poor Doherty. He’s damned when we writes a 12 point summary and when he writes a short book and he’s damned when he writes a long book — the latter largely by popular demand. I’m more interested in content than the fashions and personal tastes in style. The depth of Doherty’s analyses exceeds anything we once read by earlier mythicists. If you prefer others to Zindler and Doherty then let’s debate the intellectual contents rather than page numbers and word-counts.

            2. Dudes! Remember Zindler’s audience!

              Remember: who needs to hear a simple, and colorful characterization, and hear it over and over and over again? Until they understand it?

              Highly propograndized/brainwashed, and not too intellectually demanding believers, that’s who.

              Still, I like the simplicity of it. While admitting it repeats too much … for some of us.

              Probably can’t repeat things too much though, for his intended audience. One of the nauseating aspects of church services, is their endless, hypnotic repetition of a few all-too-simple ideas; drilled into your head over and over.

              I think the author is engaged simply in counter-propaganda, counter-programming here; that’s the reason for repeating yourself over and over.

              And over.

              1. Bretton Garcia:
                Very good point. Each reader comes along with his/her needs and knowledge.

                Repeating things ad nauseam is a good way to hammer in a message, like in the Army. That’s what the Hebrew prophets did, and Paul, and the Gospels, and all those Biblical scholars.

                You are absolutely correct. We must not forget the market of ordinary readers, and we must never underestimate their ignorance and gullibility. Doherty is right to spell everything out, and leave no detail unsaid, and Zindler to harp on his Cheshire Cat grin, to make sure we get it.

  4. On the question of dancing fish. The Gospels (or Jesus) might have picked up this fable from a non-Greek source. as Ehrhardt noted “”Since J. Wellhausen’s time it seems to be agreed that his verse [matt 11:17] reproduces an Aramaic original because of “the antithetic parallelism, rythm and even rhyme which are found in this couplet” whever it is read in the various Syriac translations” Furthermore, he notes that “the parallel is one of concept rather than of actual wording [of Aesop’s]”. Also S. Hirsch’s 1985 “Cyrus’ Parable of the Fish: Sea Power in the Early Relations of Greece and Persia” concludes that it is a oriental fable. Additionally, the evidence that Aesops fables quote well known eastern fables is confirmed by the fact that Jewish Rabbis from the 1st century quote them (e.g. see http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/874-aesop-s-fables-among-the-jews). So all this proves is that Jesus was perhaps quoting an Eastern fable that was then quoted in Aesops fables, and, in any case, even if was a Greek original, educated Jewish teachers seem to have used them and that Jesus integrated this into his message.

  5. Of course, Aesop’s fable is not the subject of Frank Zindler’s essay, but it is the image of the Cheshire Cat and his disappearing grin: “When all that is left of a Cheshire cat is its grin, how can we be sure it is in fact the grin of a cat?”

    Now, that is a wonderful rephrasing of a major problem that preoccupied NT critics in the great days of German Historical criticism in the 1850-1900 period.

    German Historical Criticism of the NT had been so successful, starting with David Strauss in 1835 with his extraordinary Life of Jesus, that it had some unexpected dramatic consequences, very well analyzed by Arthur Drews in his Christ Myth (1909 and 1912):

    1) A general skepticism about the validity of the New Testament: “there is nothing, absolutely nothing, either in the actions or words of Jesus, that has not a mythical character or cannot be traced to parallel passages in the Old Testament or the Talmud.” Historical criticism <resolves all details of the Gospel story in "mythical mist" and makes it impossible to say “that there ever was such a person” (Ch. 12). This “mythical mist” is the first phrasing of the disappearing Cheshire Cat grin. After eliminating and reducing so much of the NT documents, what is really left of the character of Jesus? Just a shadow in the mist.

    2) A loss of the meaning and impact of the Jesus character for early Christianity: “But what [a liberal theologian] leaves intact of the personality and story of Jesus is so meagre, and so devoid of solid foundation, that it cannot claim any historical significance.” (Ch. 8) The “human Jesus” of liberal theologians, found by reduction and elimination of supernatural and other unwanted features, is so bloodless and uninspiring that it could have never sparked off the emotional fervor of a new spiritual movement, let alone a new full-fledged religion.

    In Zindler’s terms, how can you excite a population into ecstatic reverence on the basis of a disappearing Cheshire Cat grin?

    Not only have the great German Historical Critics of the 19th century managed to reduce the figure of Jesus to something “historical”, but evanescent, they’ve also made it impossible to explain how this evanescent, misty historical shadow, could have motivated the slaves, women and sick of the Roman Empire to join the new mystery cult.

    ” Let’s get together tomorrow-morning at dawn and sing our song to that pale Cat’s grin in the sky?” Does not even sound plausible, let alone likely. Even the learned brains of the Jesus Seminar could not convincingly figure it out.

    1. ROO:

      It is very, very often claimed, as one of the main arguments against critics of Christianity, that if Jesus wasn’t the son of God, a person with a great teaching, it is therefore impossible to imagine why millions of people would have followed him. “Why would millions of people follow and die for, something that is not true,” it is constantly, plaintively asked.

      But this massively-common objection just doesn’t really stand up to closer inspection. For this reason first of all: 1) historically we know lots of people followed false ideas, myths: millions of Greeks followed Zeus for example. Therefore, by the above-argument, Zeus must have been real? Or say, tens of millions of Germans fought and died for Hitler; therefore Hitler must have been a true savior?

      2) Here Roo offers a version of this common assertion: if Jesus was only a myth, why would so many followers have suddenly followed him? On what basis? What were they following?

      But the answer is in part, the above; people will follow anything, true or not, real or not: Zeus; Hitler; Jesus.

      Specifically by the way, they will often follow myths – believing they are real.

      3) For that matter? The Bible itself warned constantly about this; about a) persons following say, “false prophets,” and even b) “false Christ”s. Furthermore? The Bible even warned that one day we would discover that the whole “world” had been deceived. By a false Christ (Rev. 13).

      So how could it happen that millions and millions of people could end up following a false idea? Lots of ways.

  6. LIkely the most influences on the New Testament, by simple quantity, were from the Old Testament Jewish tradition to be sure. But the all-important new , definitive elements, that made Christianity different from Judaism … seem very, very largely from Greco-Roman culture.

    This particular fish story is interesting. But by the way it is by no means the best evidence we have for cross-cultural borrowing in the Judeo-Christian tradition; remember that huge parts of Daniel – and more Daniel tales besides – can be found in other cultures. While the Flood seems common in many cultures. Even Noah tales. But especially central were tales of Dying and Rising Gods of course; and influences from Plato. And I would suggest, Greco-Roman dying hero tales (from 2 Mac. 7, stories of Plato’s Socrates, tales of Roman soldier martyrs, etc).

    Influence from the Mystery Religions is often suggested. By the way, the standard old one-volume Colmbia Ency. account of the “Eleusinan Mysteries,” asserted that some of THIS mystery at least, was known; it centered around the myth of Demeter and Persephone; the goddess who goes underground to Hades for three winter months; to rise up, with the vegetation – reborn – in the Spring. (This encyclopedia was very highly spoken of by scholars as quite definitive for a simple one-vol. source. I use the 3rd ed 1963, printed 1968, p. 642. No doubt there was some solid scholarship behind This information somewhere.)

    Some scholars assert that there were no traces of this cult being worshipped in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. But of course, these WERE “mystery” cults. Or for that matter? The core information of the myth is about … planting in the spring. Which by this time would have been widespread knowledge…. Much of the NT uses planting and “sowing” and “seed” metaphors.

    By the way? The way Mythologists do comparisons of myths, is to use a “structural” or “parallel” method: break down the stories into major structural elements, analytically; and see how many elements there are in common.

    To be sure, it often happens that novices to the method overdo it. But after a few dozen examples, you get the hang of it. The more elements, the higher the percentage of common points of structure in any given sub-element, the better. This should be done with imagination, but then documented carefully and conservatively; otherwise we get accused of “parallelomania” of course.

  7. This is simply to amplify Bretton Garcia’s comments about the Greco-Roman crowds believing in Zeus.

    Arthur Drews, as the key propagandizer of the idea that Jesus had been a purely ideal character, and not a historical figure, prefers to contrast the success of the Mithras cult to the Jesus Christ cult. The Mithras mysteries were very important as they had spread all over the Roman Empire and were pre-eminent for many centuries, until probably the 4th century.

    Mithras was a very appealing figure, and an exciting one too. In the bull-killing scenes, he is always pictured as a young, handsome hero, a fighter, and a victor. He appealed to the masses of young males, especially in the legions. Mithraism was a much more real competitor of early Christianity than Zeus ever was.

    Arthur Drews, in a chapter entitled The “Strong Personality” , (Ch. 12 of The Witness of the Gospels, Part IV of Christ Myth II, 1912) first quotes the famous French Charles-Francois Dupuis, in his magnum opus, Origins of all Cults, or the Universal Religion (1795)

    ” ‘Each man fights for his own chimera, not for history…in matters of religion the belief of many generations proves nothing but their own credulityA great error is propagated more easily than a great truth, [Here again comes that famous saying] because it is easier to believe than to reflect,[the great conviction of the Enlightenment that reason will displace religion, but that the use of reason is hard, the result of effort and training, and is not automatically granted to the masses] and men prefer the wonders of romance to the plain facts of history… we might urge against Christians that the faith of any people in the miracles and oracles of its religion proved its truth; I doubt if they would admit the argument, and we will do the same with theirs. I know that they will say that they alone have the truth; but the other people say the same.’ “

    Then Drews tackles one major argument of the liberal theologians, that the force of personality of a “human Jesus” was at the source of Christendom’s spread. And it is striking that Albert Schweitzer, after all his historical critique of the fantastic Lives of Jesus that sprouted in the 19th Century, has nothing more to fall back on to explain the spread of Christianity.

    Drews disputes this Romantic notion of the “great man” inspiring masses and shaping up the course of history. The Christ cult replaced the Mithras cult for reasons other than the force of personality”

    “…the Persian Mithra was a very shadowy form beside Jesus, who came nearer to the heart, especially of women, invalids, and the weak, in his human features and on account of the touching description of his death. But that shows at the most that the more concrete idea has the better prospect of triumphing in a spiritual struggle than the more abstract; it proves nothing as regards the historical reality of the idea. Moreover, history teaches us that it was quite different causes—partly external and accidental causes of a political nature, such as the death in the Persian war of the Emperor Julian, one of the most zealous followers of Mithra—that gave Christianity the victory over Mithraism.”

    Not only the early death of Julian changed the course of history and removed a major barrier to the expansion of the Jesus Christ cult, but also the actions of the two Roman Emperors, Constantine and Theodosius, were the fundamental boosters to the spread of the new cult. The new cult gained two vastly powerful imperial sponsors, who put the recently illegal cult on the world stage. This political factor is too often neglected in dithyrambic accounts of the “triumph” of Christianity.

    It had taken 1,000 years of patient struggles and constant annexations to build up the immense Roman Empire. And Theodosius, in 380, in an impetuous decision, simply gave the keys to this ready-made Empire to the new Christian religion, which had been stigmatized for nearly four hundred yeas as a dangerous superstition and a threat to the stability and the unity of the Empire.

    That became the only authentic miracle in the history of Christianity. Those political actions were more decisive than any inherent features of the Jesus cult. Christianity’s triumph over Mithraism was not primarily due to the strength and value of its beliefs, but to the backing of the rulers of the age.

    They explain why Christian leaders started copying the Imperial style, with great palaces, rich garments, huge retinues and accumulation of immense riches and territories.
    As Alfred Loisy had wittily commented: Jesus had been announcing the Kingdom of God, but it is the Church that came.

    1. Drews’ explanation is speculative, not definitive. There is no evidence that the “force of the personality of Jesus” was a factor in Christianity’s origins. On the contrary, there is no “personality” in Paul’s Jesus. Mark’s Jesus is a theological symbol of parable devoid of any personality. What Drews appears to be addressing are possible ideas that might explain later developments in history long after Christianity’s birth. The notion that Jesus in a later period surpassed the best attributes of Mithras and the compassionate Isis has long been a commonplace in history books.

  8. As a clarification, the “Strong Personality” was the major theme of Romantic History at the end of the 19th century. History was explained by the actions of “great men”, i.e. heroes, or movers-shakers. This was the time when John E. Remsburg had published in 1906 his famous book, Six Historic Americans: Paine, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Lincoln, Grant, the fathers and saviors of our republic, all freethinkers (The Truth Seeker Company, NY)

    In 1907, the French philosopher Henri Bergson, had published his Elan Vital (Creative Evolution) where he argued similarly that great minds are great forces propelled by the life instinct, a biological adaptation and expansion of the Romantic theory of great men of history. This theory won him the Nobel Prize in 1927.

    All those ideas were offshoots from Hegel’s philosophy, where the World-Spirit comes to consciousness through the minds of great thinkers.

    This concept was used by Protestant theologians who had developed after David Strauss, the concept of historical Jesus, or human Jesus stripped from supernatural and mythical elements. This was the cornerstone of liberal theology that Drews opposed and criticized. This personality argument was construed after the fact of the spread of Christianity to explain it. This idea was never endorsed by Drews, on the contrary he devotes a lot of space in the Christ Myth to demolish it.

    In the same vein, Drews is not concerned by commonplace notions in the history books. He quotes and deals only with the crème de la crème of German scholarship, all Ph.Ds in the most prestigious universities, and the few foreign writers who have proved their excellence, such as W. B. Smith.

    In the case of Mithras, his unique reference is to a book published by John MacKinnon Robertson in 1903, Pagan Christs, in four parts. Part III is entirely dedicated to Mithraism, p. 281-338, or a total of 58 pages, with an immense quantity of references from the best researchers of Ancient Mythology.

    Drews only dealt with the very best of erudition and research. He never bothered to check the commonplace notions of history books that are of interest only to the non-specialist market of ordinary readers and students.

    And as soon as his Christ Myth came out, it was examined with a magnifying glass and criticized by some 70 top scholars in Germany, England, the US, and France, all Ph.D.s in the most prestigious universities. They published a flurry of books or articles in the top theology journals against Drews’s ideas. Every scholar wanted to join in the controversy to defeat the new theory that put their scholarship in a state of crisis.

      1. Well Roo, I at least appreciate your quick summaries! I wish our American schools had covered Drew much better….

        I’m hoping for pretty advanced commentary … alternating with some basic histories, to allow others to catch up?

        And with the end in mind, maybe, of a nice basic – and print-publishable – summary of the “New Mythicist” position; with lots and lots of historical references….

        With Neil’s permission….

  9. Roo wrote:

    “It is revealing that so many reliable scholars have found traces and influences of Homer, Josephus, Philo, Euripides, and Aesop as well, on the writers of the gospels.

    Not only were they well educated in many areas of Greek culture in a natural and easy manner, but they had been privileged to have access to a first-class library”

    Eisenman thinks something similiar and lists a number of possible candidates in JBJ pp. 793-801 “who could have written the original accounts, upon which so many of our Gospel episodes in the form we have them are based … While employing the warp and woof of Jewish Messianism, this is exploited basically to produce a pro-Roman, spiritualized, Hellenistic-style mystery religion … Out of it proceeds the positive portrayal, where possible (it almost always was), of Roman officials and Herodion puppets … The writers were exremely able craftsmen, who knew their material thoroughly … This was a substantial intellectual feat, which could only have been effected by extremely able and well-informed minds” who also had “a very substantial knowledge of Josephus’ works.”

    Among them are:







    1. Such fascinating links. Each person an intriguing character. And how amazing that most of the basic information on each of them is directly drawn from Josephus, with Tacitus a distant second source.

      What is perplexing about Josephus is how he estimated numbers, of soldiers, of victims in a battle or a war. When he says 50,000 dead, then 1 million, you wonder, how could he, writing in Rome, decades after the events, have a real grip on the numbers? They must be all invented, based on his opinion of the quantities involved.

      The accuracy of all the numbers in reports from Antiquity is highly questionable. Even worse in the Tanakh (remember the “millions” of Jews leaving Egypt with Moses!), and in the New Testament too.

      When you read in the Gospels that a “crowd” was surrounding Jesus, or a vast “multitude” (a wonderful word, still usable), we may reasonably conclude that Mark or Matthew were imagining perhaps 5 or 10 people, in some cases 20. When it comes to the massacre of children in Bethlehem ordered by Herod, Matthew mentions no number, but ancient commentators have seized on the chance to imagine numbers, up in the thousands (all this in a tiny village in the countryside, if it existed at all). Everything is estimated through the magnifying glass of creative imagination. Bruno Bauer was justified to claim that everything in the Gospels was pure fiction.

      1. What you say seems right. Though some of this may be because of translation? I recall some translators of the Bible saying that their translations of numbers especially, were modernized versions. They claim that if an ancient writer said a “big crowd” and ment 50 people, then to convey that sense of bigness to us today, we need to say “a crowd of 1,000,000.”

        One way to try to get some real numbers, is to look at anthopological and other estimations of the human population of the entire world. Which they estamated hovered around 6 million total people, for the entire earth; for hundreds of thousands of years. Till the growth spurt; c. 1000 BC?

        Even allowing for the huge, exponential increases beginning c. 1000 BC – 1000 AD, though, we might well agee with you; that many ancient population estimates were exaggerated.


    Since we’ve been mentioning Mithraism as a competitor with Christianity until the death of Emperor Julian, here is the link to John M. Roberston’s book on Pagan Christs:
    This book is a superb compendium of the state of research in 1903-1911, and was used by Arthur Drews for all his statements about Mithras.

    Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson [1911]. 2d ed.

    Part III. Mithraism

    § 1. Introductory
    § 2. Beginnings of Cult
    § 3. Zoroastrianism
    § 4. Evolution of Mithra
    § 5. The Process of Syncretism
    § 6. Symbols of Mithra
    § 7. The Cultus
    § 8. The Creed
    § 9. Mithraism and Christianity
    § 10. Further Christian Parallels
    § 11. The Vogue of Mithraism
    § 12. Absorption in Christianity
    § 13. The Point of Junction

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading