The Genesis Of The Modern Critique Of The Christ Myth Theory.
It has been a number of years since the appearance of the modern Christ Myth literature, so it is fitting that a cumulative critique by Christ Historicists has begun. The foundational mythicist literature includes Doherty’s “Jesus Puzzle;” Price’s “The Incredible Shrinking Son Of Man” and “The Christ Myth Theory And It’s Problems;” Fitzgerald’s “Nailed” and “Mything In Action vols 1-3,” Lataster’s “Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists;” and the main proponent with the first peer reviewed volume supporting mythicism in recent memory, Carrier’s “On the Historicity Of Jesus,” as well as the supporting general audience volume “Jesus From Outer Space.”
My own peer reviewed essay critiquing the Christ Myth Theory will be out soon, and so as a preamble for those who might be new to the debate, here is a podcast with Christ Myth critic Tim O’Neil from the other day which outlines some problems with the mythicist interpretation of Christian origins:
So, for example of what you’ll see in the video, Carrier argues that when Paul says Jesus is born of a woman, he means it figuratively. Dr. James Tabor has countered this with the argument “born of a woman” is just another way of saying “human,” and so for instance the NT says John the Baptist was the greatest of those “born of a woman.” O’Neil points out this latter usage is widely attested to in the literature of the time, and so Paul’s statement is most straightforwardly read as meaning Jesus was “born of a woman” meaning human, not a celestial deity that was never on earth. I would add that the phrase “born of a woman” would most readily be understood by Paul’s readers in the mundane fashion given the way it is used in antiquity, so mythicists would have to argue the absurd point that Paul was deliberately trying to be misunderstood by the average reader/listener of his letter. Carrier’s Pauline cosmic sperm bank hypothesis for the Pauline Seed of David passage falls on the same sword.
As for my own upcoming essay on the mythicist interpretation of Christian origins topic, this completes a trilogy of essays on a secular interpretation of Christian origins that follow from inquiry questions. Jesus was the most influential figure in our history (whether you regard him as human or myth), so I want to know about him: (i) My first essay looks at Christian origins through the lens of John 7:8-10, and asks if the Gospel of John goes out of its way to establish the events really happened (as even Carrier admits), why does the exemplary first miracle let the educated Jewish reader know it didn’t really happen as it is recapitulating ideas in Jewish literature? (ii) My second essay critiques the vicarious blood magic atonement interpretation of the cross (which is the usual one that mythicists also ascribe to), and asks if the cross is seen as a one time super blood magic (infinitely greater than traditional animal sacrifice) atonement sacrifice that once and for all deals with sin, why does Paul say that it doesn’t ultimately deal with sin – and if Christ is not raised we are still in our sin (1 Cor 15:17)? (iii) Finally, my upcoming essay critiquing the Christ Myth Theory as a theory of Christian Origins argues mythicism doesn’t work because it misunderstands the early Christian appropriation of the Yom Kippur goats (sacrificial pure goat and scapegoat), and so once we understand this we can move beyond vicarious atonement theology that abolishes the law, to Jesus as fulfilling the law.
From the point of view of historiography, I am not trying to do a unified systematic theology of Christian Origins. Analogous with the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament was written over a number of decades by different authors who often had different theological agendas and interpretive ideas about Jesus. So, there are points at which the essays are internally and externally “in tension,” which is deconstructively (Derrida’s translation of Heidegger’s “Destruktion”) appropriate. They are three different paths through the Christian origins forest that have different entry points, different destinations, and all three overlap, but occasionally diverge. As Heidegger says: “Not Works, but Ways …”