What they’re saying about Mythicism

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by Neil Godfrey

Time to catch up here with blog posts that have appeared in recent weeks addressing mythicism.

There’s now a blog devoted to mythicism: The Mythicism Files. A good many of its articles look like good future reference material. I was worried at first by the the apparently large space that appeared to be devoted to Acharya S (D. Murdock) but relieved to see Quixie’s very fair discussion of her contribution and criticisms it faces. The Otagosh blog addresses questions a number of us will have about the anonymity of the blog’s provenance. If Quixie is a regular contributor, however, that’s certainly a positive attribute. I’ve seen him write good stuff around various discussion groups and blogs (and in comments on Vridar iirc).

Speaking of Otagosh, he also tells us about the current leader of my old cult wading into the mythicist debate. Predictably a pabulum effort from the great apostle or whatever he’s called now.

Peter Kirby has endeavoured to bring some serious balance into the discussion by posting a detailed case, or rather “best case”, for the historicity of Jesus that he thinks can be made. The Best Case for Jesus. This is good to see. So few anti-mythicists [not that Peter himself falls into that “anti” camp — see his comment below] appear willing or able to argue their case with any real awareness of what mythicists actually say. They also seem to fall back on ad hoc responses too often. Comments are welcome in Peter’s blog, of course, but there is also a discussion on the same at the Biblical Criticism & History Forum

Thomas Colignatus, a econometrician and supporter certain mythicist views I personally consider questionable and less than adequately rigorous in scholarly approach, reviews Richard Carrier’s book On the Historicity of Jesus. See A first reaction on Richard Carrier “On the historicity of Jesus”. Thomas has his own take on the mythicist question that one can see in his online pdf article, How a mainstream historical method creates its own Jesus.

Daniel Gullotta has a more conventional background and approach and recently reviewed Robert Price’s latest volume, Review: The Historical Bejeezus: What a Long, Strange Quest It’s Been. He gives 2 out of 5 stars.

And what post on mythicism would be complete without reference to our good friend Professor James McGrath? He once again misses the irony of his own comments in his post Mythicism isn’t Skepticism. He links to an article (Standing Up For Skepticism) that links to another article (Deniers are not Skeptics) explaining the difference between scepticism and denialism. Everything in the article and similar articles like 

alerts readers to the critical importance of methods and attitudes. To be honest with articles like these one has to suggest it is those who knee-jerk their rejection of exponents of mythicism who do indeed address the flawed methods and apologetics of the academy who fall on the denialist side of the fence.



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20 thoughts on “What they’re saying about Mythicism”

  1. I find in this Intro to Prof. Steven Davies recent book: “…Recently an intellectual movement called Mythicism has received considerable attention. Mythicism argues that Jesus of Nazareth never existed at all. It claims that the Christian movement invented him as a founder figure, a mythical heavenly entity come down to earth. The reports of the sayings attributed to him, and the deeds supposedly performed by him, are entirely invented or mistaken according to Mythicism. The Mythicists’ argument is founded on the fact that our earliest surviving Christian texts, the New Testament epistles, show almost no interest in the life or teachings of Jesus. Except for his last week on earth, there is almost no such interest shown in the Acts of the Apostles. Interest in Jesus’ life story was surprisingly late to develop, and when it developed it did so almost entirely through the reworking and creation of ahistorical legends and miracle stories and, in the case of the Gospel of John, accounts of a divinity come to earth. Indeed, there really are only two accounts, that of Mark and that of John, and the latter may be dependent on the former for its basic narrative. I will endeavor to explain why this was the case, and to show how Christianity first came into being, and why the historical Jesus was of little interest to the first Christians. I am not making a Mythicist argument here, but I do think that the Mythicists have discovered problems in the supposed common-sense of historical Jesus theories that deserve to be taken seriously.”
    Davies, Stevan (2014-12-19). Spirit Possession and the Origins of Christianity (p. 3-4)

    The question is always the same question: if the mythicists are correct (and they are) that religions typically begin with some sort of religious experience (hallucinations, visions, revelations, dreams, possessions, etc), why would you make that Paul’s (or Pillars’), rather than that of say Jesus of Nazareth?


    1. Thanks for alerting me to Davies’ new book. I have just completed James C. Hanges’ “Paul, Founder of Churches” and he makes a similar comment in his conclusion. After clearly understanding all the way along that Paul was founding churches at the command of the god (Jesus) by means of vision, and at the same time admitting the Jerusalem “Jesusites” where there before him, he suggests that Jesus had founded them without a thought that they, too, may well have taken their commands and foundations from the same visions as Paul.

  2. Neil Godfrey “I was worried at first by the the apparently large space that appeared to be devoted to Acharya S (D. Murdock)”

    Yes, of course, it must be censored and attacked immediately before anybody actually studies her work for themselves to find out how badly the critics have misrepresented her work.

    It’s gets old, Neil, grow up. You seem to get excited any time somebody criticizes her no matter how inaccurate or even dishonest as you have proven repeatedly. It does not in any way help the cause for mythicism to dishonestly trash one of the very best mythicists alive today. I thought you would’ve figured that out by now.

    Quixie: “The Christ Conspiracy (the only one of her books that I’ve read).”

    That is the problem I see far too often, people try to bludgeon her to death with her first book when she has written several other excellent books since then that are outstanding. Plus, she already announced a 2nd edition for “Christ Conspiracy” anyway but, these haters always omit all of that. It’s an embarrassment to the mythicist movement.

    Since this blog is titled, “What they’re saying about Mythicism” I feel a duty to provide the following for those who care about accuracy and the facts instead of the same old smears:

    Scholars and others who’ve actually read Acharya’s work are supportive of it:

    “…In recent months or over the last year or so I have interviewed Frank Zindler and Richard Carrier and David Fitzgerald and Robert
    Price all on the issue of mythicism … when I spoke to these people
    I asked for their expertise collectively and what I got, especially
    from Fitzgerald and Robert Price, was that we should be speaking to
    tonights guest D.M. Murdock, author of ‘Did Moses Exist? The Myth of the Israelite Lawgiver’.”
    – Aron Ra


    “I find it undeniable that many of the epic heroes and ancient patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament were personified stars, planets, and constellations.” “I find myself in full agreement with Acharya S/D.M. Murdock”

    – Dr. Robert Price, Biblical Scholar with two Ph.D’s

    “I have no objection to postulating a ‘prehistoric’ (i.e., prior to our earliest horizon on Christianity) phase to the heavenly Christ cult in which observations of the heavens helped shaped the Christ myth.” “Acharya has that aspect of things sewn up!”

    – Earl Doherty

    Earl Doherty defers to Acharya for the subject of astrotheology:

    “A heavenly location for the actions of the savior gods, including the death of Christ, would also have been influenced by most religions’ ultimate derivation from astrotheology, as in the worship of the sun and moon. For this dimension of more remote Christian roots, see the books of Acharya S”

    – Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, (2009) page 153

    “Your scholarship is relentless! …the research conducted by D.M. Murdock concerning the myth of Jesus Christ is certainly both valuable and worthy of consideration.”
    – Dr. Ken Feder, Professor of Archaeology

    “I can recommend your work whole-heartedly!”
    – Dr. Robert Eisenman

    “I’ve known people with triple Ph.D’s who haven’t come close to the scholarship in Who Was Jesus?”
    – Pastor David Bruce, M.Div, North Park Seminary

    “…I have found her scholarship, research, knowledge of the original languages, and creative linkages to be breathtaking and highly stimulating.”
    – Rev. Dr. Jon Burnham, Pastor, Presbyterian Church

    1. I always get deeply bitter and personal attacks at any mention of Acharya S. I have never “attacked” A in the way her supporters have attacked me. I do criticize her methods but I have tried to do so fairly and factually without all the slurs and insults that too often come from her side of the fence.

  3. Give me a freaking break. Acharya herself, and her fanboys, are the biggest embarrassment mythicism has going. Propping up a third-rate hack as a legitimate scholar may soothe Acharya’s ego–and I’m sure it’s HARD work–but it’s a huge disservice to mythicism. One of the best things that could even happen for mythicism would be if her shit just disappeared from the internet altogether. Maybe then critics would quit dying of laughter.

    1. What’s wrong with calmly and methodically addressing the flaws in her work without carrying on like a hostile, defensive bigot? It’s bad enough when scholars use this tone. Laypeople should not follow their example.

          1. It isn’t like she hasn’t been rationally criticized to death already–by you. Frankly, just continuing to discuss her in ANY light garners her more respect than her “work” merits, AFAIAC.

  4. I’ll back Guiseppe’s recommendation of Davies’ “Spirit Possession”. I really thought that his “Jesus the Healer” was insightful. This takes the conclusions of that book a little further. Personal opinion – if Davies’ observations about the contributions of Jesus to Christanity don’t get historicists and Christians questioning their own beliefs about Christianity, then they aren’t being honest. I can’t say that Davies is a mythicist but it soon becomes a relatively moot point anyway.

    1. I’ve begun reading Davies’ book now. Coincidentally I am also reading another work by James C. Hanges in which he argues that Christianity spread be means of “spirit possession”; Paul himself put himself in the vanguard of this movement. (Davies is not a mythicist, however; he has made that very clear on other occasions, including a few comments here some time back.)

      1. I will begin to read Davies’book too. At present I remember his view that
        ”an understanding of the nature of a spirit will precede an undestanding of a person possessed by that spirit”.

        This reminds me of the passage of Galatians 4:14

        …and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.

        where Paul says he was mistaken by the Galatians with the angel that (probably) possessed him when he visited that community, i.e. ”Christ Jesus”. So, trying to predict what will really argue the prof Davies in his book (I ‘m very curious), I wonder: ” Jesus Christ ” is only the name of the Spirit which possessed the early Christian apostles or ”Jesus” is the name of the first guy who felt possessed by the Spirit (and from his followers identified with him)?

        I know that Roger Parvus argues that Simon self-identified in life with the Son Jesus. It would be interesting to know his view about that passage of Galatians.

        p.s.: curiosity: prof Davies is a believer also or only historicist?


  5. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for the mention. About: “is, I think, to be followed up by another adding to the argument for historicity.” Maybe this is a typo, or maybe I was really unclear. What I want to do is to write more posts regarding Pauline authenticity, about the meaning of the early letters and treatises, about the genre and intent of the gospels, and about the timeline of plausible non-historicist hypotheses … as I can find time to write, of course. This puts me basically in the so-called “agnostic” position, but I might venture that there’s a tilt to the evidence one way or another.

    If it is a typo, it’s unfortunate to be followed by, “This is good to see. So few anti-mythicists appear willing or able to argue their case with any real awareness of what mythicists actually say.” This might not be your intent, but someone could read it and think of me as “anti-mythicist.” I’m not really trying to be anti or pro anything, I hope. But I do agree readily with this comment of course. It is partly because of this that I wrote the post under discussion … it is my impression that (perhaps because they just don’t take it seriously enough?) the case for historicity, such as it is, needs to be set out more clearly than it typically has been.

    My short essay glides over many important issues, breezily dealing with thorny problems, but I think it hit the highlights in outline form … based on the limited response to it I’ve seen so far, anyway. The ‘criteria’, the ‘tempo of myth making’, and the ‘scandal of the cross’ arguments are not represented, so perhaps I can follow up also with a look at these (flawed) arguments.

    Peter Kirby

    1. Thanks for bringing your concerns about my post to my attention, Peter. I’ll make amendments to be clearer (and to correct my faulty memory or comprehension on one point). I’ve often thought of doing something like what you have done — trying to prepare a strong case for historicity. I’ll try to pass on and contribute to your views what does come to mind.

      1. No worries! Thanks for the link and of course for your many valuable contributions, both on this blog and on the Biblical Criticism and History Forum. You and Tim here have been amazingly prodigious with a brand of constructive commentary that is in short supply in this area (online or off), and it’s definitely appreciated.

    2. It seems it has required someone who is not anti-mythicist 😉 to provide the first case for historical existence which actually made me stop and think maybe Jesus existed after all. Thank you for that!

  6. In a little-known quote, Voltaire, in God and Human Beings (Dieu et les hommes, 1769; Prometheus Books, 2010) wrote:

    “I saw some disciples of Bolingbroke, more ingenious than educated, who denied the existence of Jesus because the story of the three wise men and the star and the massacre of the innocents are, they said, the height of eccentricity; the contradiction of the two genealogies that Matthew and Luke gave is especially a reason that these young men allege to persuade themselves that there was no Jesus. But they drew a very false conclusion.

    “Our compatriot Howell had a very ridiculous genealogy made in France; some Irishmen wrote that he and Jansen had familiar spirits who always gave them aces when they were playing cards. They made up a hundred crazy stories about them. This does not prevent them from really existing; whoever lost their money to them was well convinced of this.”

    I’ve cited this to show that, according to Voltaire, there was mythicism in England as early as the 1720s, i.e. much earlier than the critics of mythicism are prepared to acknowledge,

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