2019-11-18

Review, part 2 (Damnation upon that Christ Myth Theory!) : How the Gospels Became History / Litwa

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by Neil Godfrey

M. David Litwa declared at the outset of his book How the Gospels Became History

Whether or not the evangelists did report actual events is a separate question and is not my concern. (p.3)

So I remain mystified by his decision to make his first chapter entirely about the “Jesus Myth Theory”. It adds nothing to his argument about the “How the Gospels Became History” — which was the argument I wanted to read about when I sought out the book.

Litwa does excuse his discussion of the Jesus myth theory by explaining that the three “mythicist” views he will address are

examples of how comparison ought not to be done. (p. 22)

But he further delays this discussion by irrelevantly accusing most “nonscholarly mythicists” of being disgruntled and obsessed former fundamentalists.

[Maurice Casey] successfully showed that most of them were responding to their previous Fundamentalist views of Jesus. (p. 23)

Litwa cites nothing more than Casey’s assertions, magically transforming his baseless claims into a “successful demonstration”. I demonstrated that Casey’s assertions were lacking in any evidentiary foundation, with the abundance of evidence actually contradicting his claim. See Who’s Who: Mythicists and Mythicist Agnostics. Not a single testimony or publication (internet or print publication) of anyone who has left a fundamentalist or cultic church that I have read has “blamed Jesus” or expressed a desire to banish Jesus from history, though I suppose, given the bigness of the world, that there must be some exceptions somewhere. Former fundamentalists are generally either thankful to Jesus for bringing them out of their cultic associations or simply treat Jesus as an “innocent bystander”, the mere object of belief, while the villainy is always placed squarely on manipulative humans. I myself returned to mainstream churches after my cult experience and was very thankful and happy to do so. It was only after ongoing questioning that I eventually left mainstream Christianity after becoming an atheist, and even later still before I took any interest in the question of the historicity of Jesus.

I do have to wonder if M. David Litwa genuinely read Maurice Casey’s book against mythicists (Casey also personally attacks non-mythicists, anyone whom he appears to think has unfairly dared to criticize his work in the past) because the intellectual level of the book is surely an embarrassment to any professional scholar. Raphael Lataster remarked,

I find the posts by Hoffman, Maurice Casey, and Stephanie Fisher to be too mean-spirited, scornful, unconvincing, polemical, and amateurish to be even remotely worthy of consideration here. (Lataster, 133)

and I also posted some responses that are now archived here.

So Litwa informs readers that “nonscholarly mythicists” are

dispelling a phantom from their own tormented past[s] (though the daimon often returns — seven times as strong) 

and that their mythicist belief is

born of seething resentment and (un)spoken rage against Fundamental Christianity (p. 24)

— without explaining what any of this has to do with his thesis that he has already said is not concerned with the question of historicity. Yet he does insist that there are serious Christ Myth scholars who are not former fundamentalists and that their arguments need to be taken more seriously. Why, or how this advances the thesis of his book, he does not explain. But having thoroughly poisoned the well Litwa proceeds to tackle the arguments of Bauer, Brodie and Carrier.

Bruno Bauer

Litwa manages to discuss Bauer’s “mythicist” views without once mentioning Paul or the New Testament epistles even though it was Bauer’s study of Paul that led him to conclude Jesus had not existed.

At the end of his investigation of the Gospels, Bauer is inclined to make the decision on the question whether there ever was a historical Jesus depend on the result of a further investigation which he proposed to make into the Pauline epistles. (Schweitzer, 139, my emphasis)

As long as Bauer studied the gospels he remained open to the possibility of a historical Jesus as the beginning of Christianity.

So Litwa’s claim to demonstrate how the Jesus Myth theory is an example of how comparison work on the gospels ought not to be done falls flat from the start. He does, however, manage to colour his discussion with further gratuitous well-poisoning: “anti-Jewish”, the gospel Jesus “can only inspire dread and horror!”, “Christ-hater”, “suspected atheism”, “resolutely against the entire theological world”, “Bauer tried to promote himself as something of an academic martyr”, “lost a good deal of respectability”, “wilder and more extreme Bauer’s books became”, “he denies the whole of theology, he hates the unspeakable theologians, he punishes them horribly; he is a fanatic for atheism, he is superstitiously unbelieving”…. through to

The connection of Jesus Myth Theory to militant (anti)religious atheism is a theme that persists to this day. (p. 29)

Litwa appears to be unaware that there are militant anti-religious atheist online forums that excoriate Jesus myth theorists and that a good number of mythicists have historically had very positive things to say about religion in general and Christianity in particular (e.g. Paul Louis Couchoud, Tom Harpur, Robert M. Price — not to overlook Thomas L. Brodie).

Thomas L. Brodie

Brodie gets much kinder treatment. He remains, after all, a devout Christian:

his personal faith has continued strong . . . Brodie, now in his eighth decade, continues to believe in Christ in a way that is both rich and enduring . . . Brodie has been a productive scholar and has lived a model Christian life. (pp. 30-31)

Litwa’s objection to Brodie’s arguments (see the posts on Brodie’s autobiographical journey to the Jesus myth theory: Brodie: Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus) come down to claiming that Brodie merely “imagines” parallels between the gospels and the Septuagint even though he “uses criteria”. The criteria are not scrutinized, simply dismissed with the added note that “the present writer is not aware of anyone who uses Brodie’s methods to deny the historical existence of Jesus….” The links, Litwa points out, are often “mind-bogglingly complex” and a symptom of a “strange attraction to extremes.” No quarter is allowed for any of the other parallels that are patently obvious and widely recognized in the scholarly literature.

Litwa concludes his discussion of Brodie with a statement that should have led him to reconsider writing any of this chapter at all:

Even if the Christ of the gospels is pure myth, Jesus may still have existed . . . (p. 33)

That is exactly the view that has been expressed by all three scholars Litwa discusses in this chapter. Not one of them argues that the mythical nature of the Christ figure in the gospels proves that Jesus was not historical. Not even Brodie. And certainly not the third scholar in Litwa’s discussion. Litwa has simply over-reached in a misguided effort to attack a thesis he initially indicated was “a separate question and is not my concern.”

Richard Carrier

For now, my conclusion is that we can ascertain nothing in the Gospels that can usefully verify the historicity of Jesus. But neither do they prove he didn’t exist. As evidence, they simply make no difference to that equation. . . . The Gospels, therefore, must be discarded as evidence. (Carrier, 509, 616)

Not even Carrier uses comparisons in the gospel narrative to argue that Jesus did not exist. So what is to be Litwa’s critique here?

Firstly, Carrier is depicted as a very undesirable person. If Brodie wore a halo Carrier spouts horns. Carrier is not even introduced as a scholar. He is introduced, rather, as “an American writer”. Across three full pages Litwa steadily creates an image of Carrier that is

  • intellectually fickle: (. . . but did not undergo a thorough education in either Bible or church history. At age fifteen, he became a philosophical Daoist after picking up the Daodejing in a bookstore. By age twenty-one, he had shifted into secular humanism. . . . An associate encouraged him to read the Bible from cover to cover. Carrier obediently did so, using the New International Version translation (produced chiefly by Evangelical scholars). “When I finished the last page,” Carrier reported, “though alone in my room I declared aloud: ‘Yep, I’m an atheist.’” . . . . Carrier’s cavalier dismissal of the Bible. . . .)
  • yet also inflexible and rigid: (Carrier’s thinking is rationalistic, black and white, and seemingly untouched by developments in postmodern philosophy over the past thirty years. . . )
  • psychologically disturbed: (In his Daoist phase, in fact, Carrier had profound visions . . . He left open whether it was a hallucination or a “supernatural encounter.”)
  • with a deep-seated personal hatred of God and Jesus: (Carrier’s atheism can be described as a virulent hatred of the biblical God. . . . According to Carrier’s characteristically heated language, the God of the Old Testament is a “demonic monster . . . worthy of universal condemnation, not worship. . . . (Interestingly, Carrier’s interpretation of Yahweh as a daimon accords with ancient gnostic Christian views.))
  • extremist, superficial and fringe: (responding to the extremes of Fundamentalism with equally extreme views . . . Carrier’s scholarship exists, it would seem, to prove Christianity (or Carrier’s understanding of it) wrong. . . . . he uses seemingly scholarly methods and arguments to deny the historicity of Jesus. He is a trained scholar, even if he exists on the fringes of the academic guild.) — (all quotes from pages 33 to 35)

So having introduced Carrier through such a neutral and objective perspective Litwa says we must always be scholarly in our treatment of the myth thesis:

Whatever Carrier’s motivations, if his claims are to be opposed, it must be on the level of careful argument. (p. 35)

It’s always good to see a scholar sticking to the issues and not letting personal quirks get in the way.

In place of summing up Carrier’s principal method and argument, Litwa instead singles out (removed from context) four points addressed by Carrier in On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Have Reason to Doubt.

Point 1: The Hero Pattern

Litwa explained at the outset that the reason for discussing Carrier’s (and Bauer’s and Brodie’s) arguments was to demonstrate how comparisons ought not to be done. Yet when Litwa discusses Carrier’s points about the Rank-Raglan hero pattern he repeatedly misrepresents Carrier’s method of comparison and even the whole rationale for the Rank-Raglan list.

To begin with, Litwa curiously infers (pp. 36-37) that for a literary hero to meet many of the Rank-Raglan points the author must have had such a pattern in mind and that he or she must have consciously copied from it, and that Jesus was more likely copied from Jewish heroes (as if the R-R reference class were irrelevant to Jewish mythology). First of all, Moses himself scores high in the Rank-Raglan list, 20 out of a possible 22! Second, no-one suggests that a hero conforming to the R-R pattern was consciously modelled on some form of a R-R scheme.

Litwa next singles out the R-R points which do not apply to Jesus as if that makes any difference to the fact of the many more matches. There is not a single hero in the literature that meets all 22 in the list (the highest scorer is Oedipus with 21 matches) but that does not invalidate the list as a general descriptor of certain hero types.

Further, Litwa protests that some of the Jesus comparisons derive from an allegorical interpretation of Jesus.

Carrier avers, for instance, that though Jesus failed to marry a princess, he took the church as his bride. (p. 37)

Litwa identifies the source for this assertion as page 233 of On the Historicity of Jesus. But when we turn to that page we read that Carrier makes a point of NOT counting that detail in his list of comparisons:

However, the peculiar absence of that last element practically advertises the fact that he does merit that element allegorically, from the earliest time Jesus was imagined to have taken the ‘church’ as his bride, which was indeed understood to be the ‘daughter’ of his predecessor (the nation of Israel). So in all honesty we could assign him that element as well. But as it is not ‘literal’ I will leave his score at twenty. (Carrier, 233)

I earlier questioned whether Litwa seriously expected readers to read for themselves Maurice Casey’s attack on mythicists. I have to assume that Litwa does not expect readers to check for themselves his (false) inference that Carrier added an allegorical interpretation of Jesus to augment his Rank-Raglan match.

There are more flaws in Litwa’s criticism. He interprets qualified statements as if they are unqualified (e.g. “an attempt is made to kill the infant, usually by his father or maternal grandfather” become “[Jesus] father or grandfather did not try to kill him”) and entirely ignores the place and function of the Rank-Raglan reference class in Carrier’s larger argument. No, Carrier most certainly does not use it to declare that Jesus did not exist. Carrier points out — despite Litwa’s overall suggestions to the contrary — that historical persons do feature to varying extents on the reference class as well as mythical ones.

Point 2: The Sky Daimon Hypothesis

Carrier turns to another argument, which I will call the sky daimon hypothesis. (p. 37)

Such a statement makes me wonder how seriously Litwa has read Carrier’s book. Litwa sounds as if he thinks each of these points is one of numerous arguments, as if each argument is added to another, to mount up a case for mythicism. Litwa demonstrates no awareness of how Carrier analyses each of these points or where and how he fits each one into his larger enterprise, whether it serves as background information, whether it is a conclusion or a premise, whether it is open to alternative explanations, and so forth.

Litwa continues:

How the daimons actually affixed a spiritual being to a spiritual cross and how this spiritual being could die is not explained. (p. 38)

He goes so far as to mock the very idea of there being trees in heaven,

Trees do not grow in the sky. Likewise, crosses do not hover in the heavens; they are sunk in the soil. (p. 38)

That’s simply not so. Carrier explains,

Element 38: (a) In this same popular cosmology, the heavens, including the firmament, were not empty expanses but filled with all manner of things, including palaces and gardens, and it was possible to be buried there, (b) In this worldview everything on earth was thought to be a mere imperfect copy of their truer forms in heaven, which were not abstract Platonic forms but actual physical objects in outer space.

This cosmological view is explicit in Hebrews . . .  (Carrier, 194)

Further, even the Book of Revelation speaks of trees growing in heaven and of there being literal streets there, too.

(I happen to have doubts about Carrier’s application of this fact to the crucifixion of Jesus (one derived from Doherty) but that is beside the point here. Carrier explains each step of his proposition in detail.)

A key text in Carrier’s argument is the Ascension of Isaiah. Litwa flatly declares that this is an “early second-century” text (p. 38), yet other scholars have dated it even earlier (see Dr McGrath: Doherty was right after all about the date for the Ascension of Isaiah.)

Litwa further denies that a passage in the more recent versions of the Ascension of Isaiah was a later interpolation even though most AoI specialist scholars have in the past argued that it was not original. A more recent work by Norelli has argued against this traditional view and Litwa uses his work to declare dogmatically that all previous views were wrong (p. 38). I have referred to Norelli’s revisionist argument and would like to discuss it in more detail soon, but till then it does seem a tad unfair to fault Carrier for hewing to the conventional wisdom on this text and not mentioning a work that is available only in Italian.

Point 3: Dying and Rising Gods

Carrier repeatedly makes an appeal to James George Frazer’s category of “dying and rising gods.” (p. 39)

This reminds us of Litwa’s earlier complaint:

Carrier frequently appeals to what is called “the hero pattern.” (p. 35)

Normally in a scholarly work I would expect a footnote pointing to the grounds on which assertions are made. In neither case does Litwa demonstrate that “repeatedly” or “frequently” appeals to these points, nor does he indicate in what context and to what end Carrier makes such “repeated/frequent” appeals. My reading of Carrier is that he makes specific reference to each point in a specific context for a limited claim that is but one of many parts to a much larger argument. I expect scholarly standards when I read works by scholars. Yet Litwa continues by stating, of the Mesopotamian myth of Inanna, that

Carrier leaves unexplained, however, how this extremely ancient story could have actually influenced the gospel writers in Syria, Palestine, and Rome from 70 to 100 CE. (p. 39)

Again, has Litwa seriously attempted to read Carrier’s book, because Carrier sets out in detail the evidence for that ancient Mesopotamian myth continuing to be an influential factor right through to the era of Christian origins? He refers to Origen’s discussion of the influence of the myth in the practices of the second century CE Roman world and of Lucian’s discussion referencing the Syrian-originated myth half a century before Origen (Carrier, p. 170).

Moreover, Carrier does not refer to Frazer’s treatment of the dying and rising gods theme at all but does turn to modern scholars who underscore his point. In particular, Carrier relies upon the Church Fathers of antiquity themselves to provide the explicit evidence that the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection was in the ancient world deemed comparable to myths of pagan deities dying and rising in various ways. Litwa simply detours around Carrier’s actual argument as if it did not exist and that he could rely on no readers to check his characterization of Carrier’s claims for themselves. Even more oddly, Litwa strains to note differences between the Jesus myth and myths of dying and rising gods, clearly oblivious to the fact that he could equally well point to differences between any one of those myths from another. Such differences clearly do not belie the fact of an “ideal type“.

By denying the facts of Carrier’s actual argument Litwa does nothing to demonstrate how Carrier offers us an example of “how comparison ought not to be done.” Would Litwa really protest that Origen and Justin went off the deep end in acknowledging the parallels between the Christian and other myths and that there no pagan critics in their day were making such comparative observations?

Point 4: Nonexistent Heroes

Litwa opens this section with an argument that surely rebounds back into his face:

Finally, Carrier makes the point that some ancient heroes—even those featured in biographies—never existed. He gives the example of Romulus, first king of Rome, and Daniel, the Jewish sage said to have lived in the Babylonian court. Carrier fails to note that ancient Romans never seemed to have questioned the existence of Romulus. Likewise, Jews in antiquity apparently never denied that Daniel lived. It is modern historians, people with little to no investment in these heroic characters, who so readily detect their fictionality. (p.41)

Is Jesus as historical as Romulus? Should we expect only scholars with no investment in the historicity of heroic characters to be more reliable? In that case, should we dismiss all Christian scholars for the obvious reason that they have as much investment in the existence of Jesus as conservative ancient Romans might have had in the historicity of Romulus?

But Litwa’s most detailed argument is based on comparing the Jesus myth or history with that of Homer. Keep in mind that Litwa’s point of this section is to demonstrate “how comparison ought not to be done.”

Homer is a historicized fictional character, and we can deduce he was fictional because

  • we hear nothing of Homer until the sixth century even though he was supposed to have lived in the eighth;
  • Homer is an unusual Greek name
  • there is a thesis that a guild of poets invented a single founder named Homer to add authority to their poems

And all of the above is unlike our information about Jesus insofar as

  • we first hear of Jesus with Paul, soon after Jesus was supposed to have lived
  • Jesus is a common Jewish name
  • Paul believed Jesus was a flesh and blood human being (pp. 41-42)

The conclusion from the above contrasts between the evidence for Homer and Jesus? Litwa is emphatic:

This lack of correspondence with Homer indicates that one should take the historicity of Jesus more seriously as a hypothesis. (p. 42)

I propose that Litwa has just demonstrated “how comparison ought not to be done.” I could draw up many such contrasts: how Heracles is known to be fictional, how Superman is known to be fictional, . . . but because those reasons do not apply to Jesus we must conclude on that basis that we have reasonable starting points for believing Jesus to be historical?

No, Carrier bases his argument for the nonhistoricity of Jesus on Paul. Carrier sets aside any comparative data in the gospels as inconclusive and therefore not to be considered as a factor in deciding the question one way or the other.

Litwa repeats his misdirection:

Never mind that these parallels come from radically different times and cultures; never mind that they are shorn of their context and mean almost nothing as individual units; never mind that the parallels never add up to a coherent story that looks anything like the portraits of Jesus in the gospels— the parallels, in shards, are there. And if the parallels are there, then nothing in the gospels is genuine, or—going even farther—Jesus must not have existed. Needless to say, this sloppy logic is hardly compelling. So why, we might ask, do mythicists constantly repeat it? (p. 43)

Did Litwa not read Carrier with any seriousness?

For now, my conclusion is that we can ascertain nothing in the Gospels that can usefully verify the historicity of Jesus. But neither do they prove he didn’t exist. As evidence, they simply make no difference to that equation. . . . The Gospels, therefore, must be discarded as evidence. (Carrier, 509, 616)

Litwa lets slip his apologetic bias when he accuses mythicists of hoping to “deprive Christ of his power”!

By removing him from history, mythicists suppose that they can deprive Christ of his power . . . Hence removing Jesus from history is the quickest way to undercut “gospel truth.” (p. 44)

Brodie maintains “gospel truth” through his mythical Jesus, but Brodie is a good man, a Christian of good repute.

Litwa appeals to the creative imagination that must necessarily come into play when attempting serious historical reconstructions from the hard evidence:

. . . Historiography needs to be imagined just as much as myth. . . 

A trained historian might claim that historiography is the work of the disciplined imagination while mythos represents the imagination run amok. Yet again, this binary model does not really work in actual practice. It is rare when dealing with ancient heroes to find one represented as either pure fiction (utterly fantastical) or purely historical (utterly “normal”). The two kinds of representations are always mixed. It is true that ancient intellectuals such as Plutarch tried to historicize mythic heroes such as Theseus and Romulus. Yet the end product was never pure historiography, at least in the modern sense. It was mythic historiography: a kind of writing in which ancient intellectuals experienced the truth of their cultural heritage while supposing they had risen above the folly of popular credulity. (p. 44)

If the gospels are no more guarantors of the historicity of their central figure than are the ancient writings of Theseus and Romulus then what has been the point of writing a chapter to demand that readers think of a mythical Jesus as a sign of a tortured and fallacious reasoning and that Jesus must certainly have existed for the sake of perpetuating the good Christian lives?

I wish Litwa had not written this chapter at all and had held fast to his plan to explain to us “how the gospels became history”. After all, he did state at the outset,

Whether or not the evangelists did report actual events is a separate question and is not my concern. (p.3)

To order a copy of How the Gospels Became History: Jesus and Mediterranean Myths at the Footprint Books Website with a 15% discount click here or visit www.footprint.com.au

Please use discount voucher code BCLUB19 at the checkout to apply the discount.


Litwa, M. David. 2019. How the Gospels Became History: Jesus and Mediterranean Myths. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

–o–

Carrier, Richard. 2014. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press.
Schweitzer, Albert. 2001. The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

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Neil Godfrey

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12 Comments

  • db
    2019-11-18 14:07:12 GMT+0000 - 14:07 | Permalink

    Clearly an Appendix topic, which makes me question the editors common sense at Yale University Press. But then again we have the example of Thomas Paine’s bones. i.e. ask the wrong questions and even a great patriot becomes anathema.

  • 2019-11-18 16:37:54 GMT+0000 - 16:37 | Permalink

    This all reminds me of Jared Diamond’s Collapse. Biblical scholars are following the pattern.

  • nightshadetwine
    2019-11-18 17:47:36 GMT+0000 - 17:47 | Permalink

    I agree with a lot in this post.

    If anyone’s interested, I posted some of my disagreements with Litwa’s book at https://www.reddit.com/r/AcademicBiblical/comments/dxt6pl/the_gospels_myths_and_history_a_response_to_david/f7yiy85/?context=3

    It’s mainly just to do with saviors/heroes though.

  • Bob Jase
    2019-11-18 19:07:30 GMT+0000 - 19:07 | Permalink

    For most of the past two thousand years it was illegal on pain of death to not believe in biblical ‘history’. And believers would bring that back if they could.

  • 2019-11-19 17:24:29 GMT+0000 - 17:24 | Permalink

    “In place of summing up Carrier’s principle method and argument…”
    “principle” should be “principal”

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-11-21 01:25:08 GMT+0000 - 01:25 | Permalink

      Thank you

  • 2019-11-19 18:04:23 GMT+0000 - 18:04 | Permalink

    Just re-reading his again and smacking forehead (again).

    “It was mythic historiography: a kind of writing in which ancient intellectuals experienced the truth of their cultural heritage while supposing they had risen above the folly of popular credulity.”

    Self awareness???????

    Laughable.

  • db
    2019-11-19 18:05:54 GMT+0000 - 18:05 | Permalink

    OP: “Not even Carrier uses comparisons in the gospel narrative to argue that Jesus did not exist.”

    • Yet people who should know this, do not seem able to comprehend it.

    Carrier (31 October 2019). “Kamil Gregor on the Historicity of Jesus”. Richard Carrier Blogs.

    [I] conclude Jesus himself is also probably mythical. . . . I do not conclude this because the Gospels are wholly myth. I consider the Gospel question a wash: I find it’s at best 50/50 whether the Gospels contain any historical information about Jesus, so they count for nothing as evidence either way. . . . if we knew for certain that the Gospels were 100% myth, Gregor would be right: that does not, in itself, affect the probability Jesus existed. Except by removing evidence historicists would otherwise appeal to. So in OHJ, I have the Gospels affect that probability not at all, neither increasing nor decreasing it. With one exception Gregor will get to: the connection between the extent of their mythologization of Jesus, and the expectancy that a subject of such mythologization existed. Which is whatever the base rate of that is likely to be. How often do figures that mythologized turn out actually to exist?

    • 2019-11-19 20:11:44 GMT+0000 - 20:11 | Permalink

      Yeah, I disagree with Carrier on that though. Of course the historicity of the Gospels matters.

      I also don’t agree with logic like, ” the connection between the extent of their mythologization of Jesus, and the expectancy that a subject of such mythologization existed. Which is whatever the base rate of that is likely to be. How often do figures that mythologized turn out actually to exist?”

      I don’t agree with generalizations or these types of calculations and equivalencies. Every case is different, this isn’t stats.

      As I argue in DtG, the fact that the first account of Jesus being a person is a fictional allegory, or if we don’t like that term, a story in which the main character and his teachings are based on the Paul the apostle, and the narrative is based on the story of Elijah and Elisha, with all of the scenes being derived from scriptures, tells us something.

      This is the problem I have with so much of “mythicism” and how so many people think about this issue. So many people imagine this as just some fog of “mythologizing”, but that’s not what the evidence shows. The evidence shows an intentionally crafted fiction that was created with extreme care and precision, not some “fog of myths”.

      Now, that all biographies of Jesus descend from this single fictional story doesn’t leave us in a position where we can only say, “well its 50/50, since these stories tell us nothing”.

      No, since we can understand the methods that these people used to craft their narratives and see the literary underpinnings, this tells us that these Gospel writers had no information to go on other than these literary sources, which clearly don’t originate from any accounts of a real person. This is especially important in regard to Luke, who by academic consensus, was trying his best to put together a real biography and to hunt down real sources. Yet we can see that all he was able to find was Mark, Matthew, Paul and some other random bits that don’t trace back to Jesus, like potentially Josephus, etc.

      So, if Luke isn’t history, it doesn’t just leave us with “lack of evidence” so that all we can do is say “we don’t know”. If Luke lacks anything that traces back to Jesus or even rumors of Jesus, if all of Luke is accounted for as having been sourced from Mark, Matthew, Paul, etc., then this is positive evidence that someone in the late 1st century tried his best to find real accounts of Jesus and came up empty handed. This isn’t mere “lack of evidence”, this is critical evidence against historicity.

      If one person wrote a fictional story and three other people copied it and tried turning into a biography, that’s not just something to set aside, that’s meaningful evidence. And this is exactly how classicists deal with other such figures, like Orpheus or Musaeus, etc. Classicists trace back the literary development of a figure to see if its just a bunch of literary development and borrowing from one to the next with literary flourishes for narrative desires, etc. When Classicists see that the first account is clearly made up, and all of the other accounts just build from that one, that’s when they are comfortable saying, “this guy was just a myth”.

      But here is the thing, the case against Jesus is far stronger than a figure like Orpheus, precisely because of the proximity of the documentation. With Jesus, this figure supposedly lived in the early first century and our fictional accounts and evidence of lack of real account sis from the last first century. So within less than 100 years we already have strong evidence that no one knew anything real about this figure.

      With Orpheus, however, the early documentation from the 5th century BCE is so foggy we can’t draw much conclusion. Certainly the Orpheus of legend, who lived before the Trojan War is just myth, but its much harder to say that the earliest Orphic theogonies weren’t really produced by someone named Orpheus, or that there wasn’t some figure from the 7th or 6th century BCE named Orpheus who started the Orphic school or thought. Same goes with Homer. The case against Jesus sis FAR stronger than the case against Homer, again because Homer is so far back in time and such a blur. Even if all the legend about his were made up its hard to conclude that there wasn’t someone named “Homer” who had something to do with the establishment of the tales about Troy or the early Greek pantheon.

      But Jesus is not a blur. Jesus didn’t supposedly live way back in some mythic age. Jesus supposedly lived right smack in the middle of the Roman Empire, surrounded by historians and news reporters scribes and priests. Yet all we have if a fictional story and copies of it, despite efforts within 100 years of his supposed life to get real details about him, yet clearly none were to be found.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2019-11-21 01:32:13 GMT+0000 - 01:32 | Permalink

        The point in the post is that Litwa has misrepresented Carrier’s argument. You may disagree with Carrier but that’s a different discussion.

  • Steven C Watson
    2019-12-10 19:14:41 GMT+0000 - 19:14 | Permalink

    I admire your fortitude and patience with this book, Neil. Even if I’d bought it at an 85% discount, it would have gone in a skip before I was a quarter of the way through it. There are very few books I would skip rather than give to charity. An historical Jesus is irrecoverable. That is what should have been the first sentence. Secondly, echos cannot be heard in the past. If G.Mk and the Pauline Epistles have some relation to one another, it is very unlikely to be because Paul was familiar with G.Mk. In the same fashion I doubt the Didache derives from G.Mt. rather than the other way around. Arguments for an “Oral Gospel” and a “Q” stand for little when the Canonical Gospels can be explained perfectly well without them.

    Dr Litwa would have been better starting out with a brief paragraph stating that the Jesus of the texts had already been mythologised before the Gospel authors put pen to papyrus. Since we cannot get behind the mythological or mythologised Christology of the genuine Epistles, so an historical Jesus, even if there was such a person, is irrecoverable. All that results from such hazards are Jesus Christs who resemble the “scholars” who dream them up. For every dozen “scholars”, a baker’s dozen Christs.

    I don’t understand, much as R.G. Price doesn’t understand, why anyone should see the Canonical Gospels as moot for arguments either for or against an historical Tiberian Jesus. If you take out all the magical nonsense, there is nothing coherent left behind. The residual Jesus is not someone anyone would follow; let alone someone to found a religion on. We hear of perhaps half a dozen people renacting “Hebrew” myth/history but they gained a following by the deed before being duly massacred by the Legions or Auxillia. To generate something you can launch a religion off would seem to require a mythology be it the Pauline; the Johannine variety; or some other variety.

    I hope there is something substantial and positive to be gained from the rest of the book to make it worth you toil; but I am not getting my hopes up. As the punchline of the joke goes – “Well Suh; I wouldn’t start from here.”

    • db
      2019-12-10 20:15:02 GMT+0000 - 20:15 | Permalink

      why anyone should see the Canonical Gospels as moot for arguments

      Tribal atheists and their Credulous belief in “the consensus” is absolute. However a “canary in a coal mine” testcase, to see how “absolute” is ongoing at: https://freethoughtblogs.com/geekyhumanist/2019/12/03/deciphering-the-gospels-proves-jesus-never-existed-review-chapter-one/

      • Raphael Lataster describing Bart Ehrman’s approach to the Gospels:

      The generally unreliable, untrustworthy, and fiction-filled Gospels can occasionally be considered excellent sources of objective and accurate historical information because of their foundational written sources, which do not exist, which contained many fictions if they did, and which cannot now be scrutinised for authorship, age, genre, intent, and so forth. These hypothetical written sources are themselves based on oral traditions, that also cannot be scrutinised, that changed over time, and that may well have been made up whole cloth. Therefore we have conclusive proof that Jesus definitely existed.

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