Savior? Shaman? Myth? Ink Blot? — Views of Lataster, McGrath and Godfrey

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by Neil Godfrey

Raphael Lataster has been making his mark recently on The Conversation and The Washington Post along with the predictable response by James McGrath. Yours truly has also put in a cameo appearance now alongside these two rivals in The Humanist and on Valerie Tarico’s blog.

The longer version of the interview on Valerie’s website:

Savior? Shaman? Myth? Inkblot? — Why Christianity’s Main Man Remains So Elusive

Posted on December 26, 2014by Valerie Tarico

Historical JesusWas there a man behind the myths? — Three Bible scholars* debate the question.

(* As everyone who knows me knows I am not a “professional scholar” but my request to change this moniker was politely declined for mainly editorial reasons and the option to use the term in its most generic sense. My status is nonetheless clarified in the article anyway.)

A few days earlier a “slightly abridged” version appeared in the January-February 2015 issue of TheHumanist.com 


Raphael LatasterRaphael Lataster teaches in the department of Religious Studies and Philosophy at the University of Sydney. He wrote a master’s thesis on Jesus ahistoricity theories, continues to publish on the topic in peer-reviewed journals, and is currently engaged in doctoral studies analyzing major arguments for the existence of a deity. Lataster says he is respectful towards and fascinated by religion, especially traditions that focus more on right living than right belief. When it comes to his own hypotheses about reality—well, the title of his book minces no words: There was No Jesus, There is No God(2013).

Neil GodfreyNeil Godfrey runs the website Vridar, a repository of articles and debates about Jesus including a “who’s who” of mythicists and Jesus agnostics, meaning those who argue that our sources are too poor to answer the question. Godfrey is most interested in understanding the Gospels and Epistles as products of the literary and philosophical contexts of their authors. He finds those explanations entirely adequate without seeing any need to add a historical Jesus to the mix.

James McGrathJames McGrath teaches New Testament studies at Butler University in Indianapolis. McGrath is equally scornful of mythicists and biblical literalists. He blogs about religion, the Bible, science fiction, evolution, and more atExploring Our Matrix, where his scorching critique of my first article on this topic caught my eye. His books include John’s Apologetic Christology (2004), The Only True God (2009), and (for a more popular audience) The Burial of Jesus (2008).






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9 thoughts on “Savior? Shaman? Myth? Ink Blot? — Views of Lataster, McGrath and Godfrey”

  1. Mr. Godfrey, you say

    Much of the ancient history I learned in high school — about the Hittites, the spread of Indo-European languages, the Amorite invasions — is now known to be wrong.

    Can you please elaborate on this?

    1. I am embarrassed to say that the text we used in high school ancient history classes was the second edition of Ancient Times by James Henry Breasted. Our teacher was at the time doing his PhD in Hittite studies and he did warn us that what we were learning was being revised even then. Scholars have learned since then not to take the face-value of Hittite inscriptions of political exploits as gospel; further, theories of the origins and spread of Indo-European languages have undergone considerable challenge and revisions as Wikipedia articles can testify; and regarding the Amorites, I think I meant to write Aramaean invasions – but no matter since evidence and understandings of the nature of both have been revised significantly. I understand that the old idea of a non-semitic race sweeping across the Middle East and wiping out civilizations in some “dark age” has been considerably re-rewritten. The ages of the first urban and agricultural developments have been revised, and certainly the explanations for the rise of “civilization” in Mesopotamia that I was taught are no longer heard of (e.g. it is now recognized that difficulties in the environment, not lack of them, promoted urban and organized agricultural infrastructure).

      1. Indo-European (including Hittite) studies continue in flux, especially with the Out-of-India and “Turkish” origin issues. The ideological influences remain, though largely round the other way since WW2, so to speak. As a novice, though, my money will be on scholars like J.P.Mallory (JIES) and M.L.West. The Cosmic Battle of the Divine Hero against the Evil Reptile is a key theme in both “Aryan” and “Semitic” cultures.

  2. “Many people cannot imagine Christian origins apart from the general outline of the Gospels and Acts. ”

    This sentence of yours from the article…is simply gold.

    Once I began to see beyond the NT as the ultimate collection of rubrics for understanding my own faith,
    I saw the potential of how syncretic exchange among multiple cultures creates a background for early
    Christian origins; it forces a radical adjustment specific to the issue, and creates an array of doubts.

    I no longer fear any wrath of any deity from any ancestral line, therefore, I know what it is like to experience
    individual freedom of conscience.

  3. “it is not doubt about the historicity of Jesus, but insistence that Jesus is unlikely to have been historical”

    Classic McGrath. Obfuscating that the two clauses are mirror images of each other by using “insistence” to poison the well against the second position. It is easily seen through of course, even more classic McGrath. Finally, the problem McGrath has with the second position is that it over the 50% line where “true” scholars dare not go. His problem isn’t actually the arguments used to come to that conclusion, because he studiously avoids those arguments. Super classic McGrath.

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