Around 2010 there was intellectual sparring going on between Prof James McGrath of the Exploring Our Matrix blog (now the Religion Prof blog) and Neil Godfrey of the Vridar blog. James argued for the historical Jesus, while Neil was skeptical.
One of the issue that James hung his historicist hat on was the conundrum of the crucified Messiah. Why, if Jesus never existed, would the first Christians frame their portrait of Jesus in Davidic messianic terms, but then have Jesus not achieve what the Davidic messiah was supposed to (eg., restore the throne of David) in any visible sense?
Godfrey responds that
- “McGrath’s entire argument rests on a blinkered reading of our evidence. Let’s set aside the question-begging assumptions and consider the evidence of both Paul’s letters and the gospels. We will see that Jesus is consistently presented as the Davidic Messiah who has conquered all enemies, including death itself. Cognitive dissonance is only a possibility if followers were trying to convince their neighbours that a dead man was their saviour. (W. Loftus, John; M. Price, Robert. Varieties of Jesus Mythicism: Did He Even Exist? (pp. 354-355). Hypatia Press. Kindle Edition).“
- The evangelists partly modelled Jesus on the David who was first and foremost a pious exemplar who suffered. David was renowned as the psalmist who suffered despite his piety. (W. Loftus, John; M. Price, Robert. Varieties of Jesus Mythicism: Did He Even Exist? (p. 356). Hypatia Press. Kindle Edition).”
- So did the first disciples struggle with cognitive dissonance over the embarrassment of seeing their hoped-for messiah crucified? Did they somehow manage to convert enough followers to start a new religion by preaching that a dead failure was the Christ? Certainly, “—being executed by the Romans before establishing one’s throne disqualified one’s claim to be the one to restore the Davidic dynasty to the throne” would disqualify a historical messianic claimant. But the mythicist argument asserts that such a problem only exists on the assumption of the story being historical. That’s not what Paul or the first Christians appear to have believed for a moment. They believed that it was through crucifixion and resurrection that Jesus conquered the powers of death and would come to finish the task by conquering his human opponents in the final judgement. Crucifixion qualified Jesus and this was proven by his resurrection. (W. Loftus, John; M. Price, Robert. Varieties of Jesus Mythicism: Did He Even Exist? (p. 358). Hypatia Press. Kindle Edition) .
I think there is reason in both arguments. Jesus failed to conquer Israel’s earthly enemies and restore the Davidic throne, but he did conquer sin and death. There remain issues to be addressed, though. For one, what are we to make of those who killed Jesus? Thematically, does it make sense that they could have been mythicist sky demons, or did people need to be the culprit? Similarly, does it make sense to say Jesus’ death broke the power of sin and Satan, to be finalized proleptically at a later time, or does the vicarious atonement blood magic interpretation of the cross that Carrier’s mythicism (via a certain reading of Hebrews) depends on fall apart under scrutiny? If the mission was to be realized at a later date, why bother with the cross at all? Certainly sin still held man hostage after the cross. And, if the cross was the thing, why does Paul say if Christ is not raised you are still in your sin, suggesting the resurrection is the thing? These are issue I will address in the future.
If you are interested in reading this chapter by Godfrey, the two other McGrath issues addressed are:
The “If Jesus Had a Brother” Argument (W. Loftus, John; M. Price, Robert. Varieties of Jesus Mythicism: Did He Even Exist? (p. 358). Hypatia Press. Kindle Edition.)
The “Evidence for Things Said and Done” Argument (W. Loftus, John; M. Price, Robert. Varieties of Jesus Mythicism: Did He Even Exist? (p. 364). Hypatia Press. Kindle Edition).