Jerry Coyne Again Batting for Jesus Mythicism

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by Neil Godfrey

From Jerry Coyne of Why Evolution Is True:

It’s time to ponder whether a Jesus really existed

I’m always surprised at how much rancor is directed toward “mythicists”—those who deny that there was a real Jesus who, whether or not he was divine, was the nucleus around which Christianity accreted. I’m also surprised at how certain many biblical scholars are that Jesus existed (Bart Ehrman, to give a prominent example).

Yet although I am the first to admit that I have no formal training in Jesusology, I think I’ve read enough to know that there is no credible extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus’s existence . . . . As a scientist, I’ll say that I don’t regard the evidence that Jesus was a real person as particularly strong—certainly not strong enough to draw nearly all biblical scholars to that view. It’s almost as if adopting mythicism brands you as an overly strident atheist, one lacking “respect” for religion. There’s an onus (animus?) against mythicism that can’t be explained by the strength of evidence against that view.

Coyne discusses the recent Brian Bethune’s Maclean review of Bart Ehrman’s and Richard Carrier’s new books:

[I] agree with Carrier that mythicism appears to be rejected by Biblical scholars for mere psychological reasons. . . . And I’m still puzzled why Bart Ehrman, who goes even farther in demolishing the mythology of Jesus in his new book, remains obdurate about the fact that such a man existed.

One can already hear the predictable responses from the anti-mythicist guild ….. area of expertise… not qualified… consensus…

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6 thoughts on “Jerry Coyne Again Batting for Jesus Mythicism”

  1. McGrath just can’t get it. He can’t understand why intelligent people who are clearly not into conspiracy theories or astrology or any fringe thing don’t agree with theologians who quietly believe Jesus is alive today as their saviour despite having — and here the theologians make their views public — really died 2000 years ago: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/04/its-time-to-think-about-whether-evolution-really-happened.html#dq

    And note one commenter writes:

    I think Coyne is unaware of how historians work. Or perhaps confuses academic historians with apologists.

    I really do sometimes think I have to conclude that people who follow McGrath are lazy or fearful and don’t bother to read any of the contrary arguments at all but rely entirely upon the depiction of them by people like McGrath who also demonstrate that they only half read some of them and presume the rest.

  2. 150 years ago, most Academics would have said that the Trojan War was just a mythic history
    told by the Greeks. Likewise, 100 years ago, most Academics would have said that Moses was
    a mythic hero told by the Jews. 250 years ago, some Academics, though perhaps intellectuals
    might be a better description, began to wholly doubt whether Jesus ever lived.

    If Jesus was just an imagined founder to Peter/Paul/John/James and whomever else decided
    to “create Christianity” why in the world have Him crucified and be Jewish ? Why would the
    early Apostles not only have to deal with worshipping a man the Romans crucified but that
    the Jews handed over to be crucified and who would then persecute any Jew who followed
    Christ Jesus. If you want Him to be Jewish, have Him be just a prophet. If you want Him to be
    anti-Roman have Him be a Zealot.

    While the Apostles, under the Mythic Theory, could have led poor souls into believing that
    Jesus lived and was the Son of God, it is very hard to understand why the Apostles would endure
    whippings, being stoned to death, crucifixion, beatings for something they knew was wholly false.
    The persecution of the followers of the “Way” is too severe by the Jewish leaders for a man they
    knew never existed – they feared Jesus when He was alive and feared Him even more after His

    We have no proof that 99.999 % of people in Ancient Times ever lived, do you doubt they did ?
    Most of us will leave no proof once the CD’s of Public Records dissolve in the sands of time.
    Would you say 99.9 % of the people of the 20th Century never existed ?

    Ancient people were not stupid, if they were going to make up Jesus, they would have made
    it a much tidier story and one that would not have offended the authorities.

    Let’s make it obvious, if you wanted to start a new religion would you have gone to Iraq under
    Saddam and stood up and said he was in league with the devil and should be overthrown and then
    just waited for his torturers to come and rip your fingers off, gouge out your eyes, burn your flesh,
    beat you with out mercy for weeks on end ? Or would you just preach a peaceful form of Islam that
    asked you to live a simple life of devotion to God as his prophet – you supply the name – taught.
    A little stall in an International Airport handing out brochures about your peaceful prophet seems far
    better than being tortured in Iraq under Saddam.

    Little reason to doubt Jesus lived.
    Only your free will can decide whether to accept Jesus as your Saviour.

    1. Jews, Romans, Greeks and probably every other culture in history has admired and deeply revered the hero who has been righteous yet unjustly and cruelly condemned by godless authorities. That’s a very common and very popular myth. One could say it has universal appeal. Just like the Jesus story. See, for example:

      Christianity won over paganism by epitomizing pagan ideals
      Why Christianity spread so rapidly to become the main religion of the Roman empire
      Jesus, the ideal Greek-Roman hero? (No embarrassment criterion here)

      There is no evidence that the followers of Jesus went out and died martyr deaths for their beliefs. That is all part of the fairy tale myth that arose relatively late in history. That point is even argued by a scholar who mocks mythicism: Candida Moss in Myth of Persecution

      The fact remains that we have more evidence for the historical existence of a mere slave in a noble Roman family, a stammering philosopher who left no written works or a school of followers, a Greek philosopher who never left a written word himself, than we have for the historical existence of the man who was supposed to have been responsible for starting Christianity and changing the history of the world. If you are really interested in the historical evidence and how historical inquiry works I can point you to dozens of posts on this blog.

      It appears you have only read what your belief system and faith communities have told you to read and never questioned and explored beyond those boundaries. Fear?

  3. Neil, I agree with you. I am from Poland, a country where religion unfortunately plays an important role in political and social life. The attempt to show the zealous Catholic arguments that Jesus is a mythical figure is a fight with windmills. They do not allow it to themselves.

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