In 1914 a book the renowned biblical scholar Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare addressing the Christ Myth arguments of the day was published:
Conybeare, F. C. (Frederick Cornwallis). 1914. The Historical Christ : Or, An Investigation of the Views of Mr. J. M. Robertson, Dr. A. Drews, and Prof. W. B. Smith. London : Watts.
The following year saw a response by William Benjamin Smith (the last named “mythicist” discussed by Conybeare)
Smith, William Benjamin. 1915. “Conybeare on ‘The Historical Christ.’” The Open Court 3 (4): 27.
How familiar Smith’s comments sound today! He responds to Conybeare’s criticism of Smith’s book, Ecce Deus.
Inasmuch as Conybeare’s “searching criticism,” so far at least as it touches my work (and it would be officious as well as impertinent for me to mingle in his fray with others), concerns itself mainly with details, rarely considering the case on its general merits . . .
Conybeare holds that if Jesus never lived, neither did Solon, nor Epimenides, nor Pythagoras, nor especially Apollonius of Tyana. By what token? The argument is not presented clearly. One cannot infer from the Greek worthies to Jesus, unless there be close parallelism ; that there is really any such, who will seriously affirm? . . .
[Conybeare writes:] “Jesus, our authors affirm, was an astral myth.” But Smith is one of “our authors” and, as Conybeare knows, affirms nothing of the kind. At best, Conybeare’s statement is one-third false. . . .
[Conybeare writes:] “In these earliest documents [Mark] Jesus is presented quite naturally as the son of Joseph and his wife Mary, and we learn quite incidentally the names of his brothers and sisters.” Who by reading this is prepared for the fact that Mark never mentions Joseph, who is named only in Matt. i. and ii., Luke i., ii., iii., (acknowledged late fictions), iv. 22, and John i. 45, vi. 42, also late? Moreover, Mark introduces Jesus without any family reference and only in two passages refers to any “brethren,” in one of which Jesus declares his mother and brethren to be spiritual . . . .
[Conybeare writes that:]W. B. Smith is named among those that “insist on the esoterism and secrecy of the cryptic society which in Jerusalem harbored the cult,” p. 31. W. B. Smith does naught of the kind, has never said aught of any such society in Jerusalem.
Conybeare quotes (p. 32) as a “naive declaration” a statement on page 74 of Ecce Deus; but he fails to hint the reasons there assigned. This misleads the reader, who naturally thinks of naivete as unsupported by reasons.
[Conybeare writes:] “W. B. Smith’s hypothesis of a God Joshua” (p. 35). Conybeare knows I have made no such hypothesis, nor ever used such phrase. He is seeking to identify my views with Mr. Robertson’s, though knowing quite well they are widely distinct. . . .
[Conybeare writes:] “The name Jesus, according to him,means. . . .Healer.” How can Conybeare write thus? Where have I said that Jesus means Healer? . . . .
[Conybeare writes:] “It would appear, then, that Apollos was perfectly acquainted with the personal history of Jesus.” For this important thesis, where does Conybeare offer the faintest semblance of proof ? The word “then” suggests that reasons have been given; but what are even hinted? . . . .
The rest of page 38 is mere wild assertion. . . .
Conybeare thinks it “verges on absurdity” to refer “the things concerning the Jesus” (Mark v. 27) to “the doctrine about Jesus.” He gives no reason, merely affirming the hemorrhagic woman was hysterical, and that “in the annals of faith-healing such cures are common.” On the contrary, I hold that “the doctrine about the Jesus” is meant, that the healing is purely symbolic like all other healings. . . . .
Conybeare’s discussion of the Paris papyrus is simply confident assertion, no proof is attempted. . . .
Conybeare’s discussion of the epithet Nazorean is too slight for consideration; its force lies in such phrases as “Smith jumps to the conclusion that the Christians were identical with the sect of Nazorsei mentioned in Epiphanius as going back to an age before Christ.” If the reader will refer to the original discussion (in Der vorchristliche Jesus, pp. 54-69), he will see how cautiously inch by inch this jump was effected. . . . .
Similarly, p. 58, Conybeare says of an “ancient solar or other worship of a babe Joshua, son of Miriam,” that “it looms large in the imagination of……..Professor W. B. Smith.” As I havenever anywhere alluded to any such “ancient worship,” it would seem that Conybeare is at best a diviner of sub-conscious imaginations.
Apparently Conybeare urges no arguments against the symbolic interpretation of the miracles, especially of demon-expulsion. He merely complains that Smith’s exposition “is barely consonant with the thesis of his friends,” which may be irritating but does not touch the logical situation, since Smith is not accountable for any thesis but his own. . . .
How scandalous is the exaggeration of Conybeare may be clearly seen from two points of view. . . .
Page 69. Conybeare complains again of want of harmony between “Mr. Robertson and Mr. Drews” and “Prof. W. B. Smith.” Well, what of it? . . . .
Pp. 84-85, Conybeare sets forth his view of Mark’s Gospel, protesting against the notion that Mark represents Jesus as divine, insisting that it is John that deifies. But all this is unsupported assertion; Conybeare never grapples nor comes to close quarters. He passes by the minute discussion in Ecce Deus, with a mere “we rub our eyes.” Indeed, a hopeful symptom, but Bacon does better; he not only rubs but also opens. . . .
Page 123, Conybeare assumes (without any proof) everything in dispute, declaring that “all these documents are independent of one another in style and contents, yet they all have a common interest—namely, the memory of a historical man Jesus.” I traverse this pleading in toto. It is not true that any of these documents has for its “interest” “the memory of a historical man Jesus.” The “common interest” in question is not a “memory” at all, neither of an historical nor of an unhistorical man Jesus. The “common interest” is in a dogma or body of dogmas, a “doctrine about the Jesus,” . . . .
[Conybeare writes:] Page 148, “Smith withholds from his readers the fact that Jerome regarded James the brother of Jesus as his first cousin.” He [Smith] also withheld countless other facts just as irrelevant. . . .
Page 160, Conybeare alludes to my contention that the Tacitus passage is spurious, but his misrepresentation of my argument is almost too gross for correction. Evidently he presumes that his readers will never see Ecce Deus [Smith’s book] pp. 238-265, otherwise he surely would never have printed his own pages. . . . .
Page 161, Conybeare states, “It is practically certain that Clement writing about A. D. 95, refers to it” (Nero’s persecution). Discreet traditionalists maintain no such thing. . . .
Page 176, Conybeare says that in the “basal documents Mark and Q” “Jesus first comes on the scene as the humble son of Joseph and Mary to repent of his sins etc.” What must be said of such writing? Is it reckless or merely “daring, bold, and venturous”? Compare it with the facts, that Q as restored by Harnack contains no mention of any baptism of Jesus, that its first reference to Jesus declares he “was upborne into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the Devil, etc.,” all of which is strictly supernatural; also that Mark says naught about Jesus as “humble son of Joseph and Mary,” naught about his confessing sins but merely says “he came and was baptized, and immediately upon his going up from the water he saw the heavens rent asunder etc.” . . . .
Hoo boy! One would think Conybeare’s The Historical Christ set the tone for Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?
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3 thoughts on “The more things change . . . .”
• Comparing Conybeare and Ehrman
Conybeare, Frederick Cornwallis (1914) [now formatted and bolded]. “Epilogue”. The Historical Christ: Or, An Investigation of the Views of Mr. J. M. Robertson, Dr. A. Drews, and Prof. W. B. Smith. Watts & Company. p. 223.
“Freedom From Religion Foundation Lecture“. YouTube. Bart D. Ehrman. 14 August 2014.
• Robertson also replied to Conybeare.
Robertson, John Mackinnon (1917). The Jesus Problem: A Restatement of the Myth Theory. Watts & Company.
“[59:50] I think that atheists have done themselves a disservice by jumping on the bandwagon of mythicism because, frankly, it makes you look foolish to the outside world. If that’s what you are going to believe, you just look foolish.”
Because believing that God impregnated a virgin with himself to make himself a sacrifice to himself doesn’t make on look foolish, like, at all.