What is a Mythicist?

The biblical scholar Acharya S (AKA D.M. Murdock) in her blog has posted a couple of links to articles she wrote about mythicism (and she also has many other articles on her Truth Be Known website about mythicism and related subjects such as astrotheology).

What is a Mythicist? by Acharya S

I have created two new articles:

What is a Mythicist?

The History of Mythicism

These articles deal with the third option in the believing versus non-believing debate as concerns various religious traditions, specifically Christianity and bibliolatry in this case.

I appreciate those articles.  A major problem of discussions is that many people don’t even know basic definitions.

There is only one issue I’d like to see clarified further.  As I see it, theories about myth and theories about history inform eachother but aren’t dependent on eachother.  They should be discussed separately rather than conflated.

In terms of Jesus mythicism, I think it’s irrelevant whether an actual person existed because we can never know.  Mythicism definitely undermines historical claims, but it doesn’t entirely disprove the possibility.  Even though I think the evidence is extremely weak to say the least, there are rational arguments for a historical Jesus because it always depends on how the evidence is interpreted.

The problem with conflating theories about mythology and history is that it creates an all-or-nothing polarization.  This just leads to heated debate that too often lacks nuanced understanding.

I for example am strongly in support of mythicism but mostly indifferent of whether or not Jesus is historical.  To feel strongly about one doesn’t necessitate I feel strongly about the other.  Even if Jesus were somehow proven to have actually lived, it wouldn’t change my mind about mythicism as the stories about Jesus would still only have a loose connection to any supposed history.

A person could simultaneously think that there was both a historical Jesus and a mythical Jesus.  They could do this by accepting that there is a distinction between the Jesus of scholarship and the Jesus of faith.  Maybe the two understandings of Jesus simply have nothing to do with eachother.  I was raised in New Thought Christianity and I can tell you many of the Christians I grew up around didn’t have a faith in Christ that was dependent on history.

2 thoughts on “What is a Mythicist?

  1. Acharya S said: “I frankly do not understand what point you are trying to get across.”

    If you understood my point, then we probably wouldn’t be disagreeing. I personally don’t disagree with your general view. I frankly don’t find my view difficult to understand and so I frankly don’t understand the misunderstanding between us. You wrote nothing in your reply to me that actually disagreed with anything I was trying to communicate. There is an obvious miscommunication.

    I’m arguing that there are two issues that are related but not identical. The scholarship about history informs the scholarhip about mythology and vice versa, but they still can be studied separately. Neither field is dependent on the other. If you don’t unerstand that, I don’t know how else to explain it.

    To understand where I’m coming from, you would need to have a fair grasp of certain thinkers: Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Karen Armstrong, Patrick Harpur, Ken Wilber, etc. If you did a detailed study of the imagination and the imaginal, you’d understand my view of mythology. Mythology works in parallel with history, but works according to its own mechanisms. At the same time, history and mythology interact in various ways. Sometimes history inspires mythology and sometimes mythology interprets history, and it’s impossible to entirely separate the two which is especially true the further one goes back in history.

    My main point is that history is secondary to understanding mythology. You don’t need to disprove a historical argument to prove a mythological argument. The problem I see in most discussions of biblical scholarship is a lack of subtle insight and a lack of larger context. Too many people are trying to prove or disprove issues where the data is skimpy on both sides of the argument. What annoys me is that this ends up just being bickering over details. People miss the forest for the trees.

    The reason it’s dangerous to have one’s arguments rely too heavily on history is that history is never black and white. We’re forced to assess according to probability. We have to weigh and measure various documents and weigh and measure the sources (and translations and alterations) of those documents and weigh all of the conflicting evidence. There is no formula to ascertain a specific probability. It demands much guesswork and subjective interpretation. It’s very imprecise.

    So, there is no evidence that convinces me of the probability of Jesus existing. But then again there is no evidence that absolutely disproves Jesus existed. It just doesn’t matter to me. And I must admit I feel frustrated that others believe this is the most important issue. What does matter to me is that if a man named Jesus lived it has little to do with later Christianity. There may have been a single person who was called or came to be called Jesus and who inspired early Christians, but if such a man existed all relevant details of him have been lost. Nonetheless, it’s perfectly rational to accept that it’s possible that Jesus actually lived. I won’t say it’s probable, but neither will I say it’s improbable. There just is no way to make an objective judgment.

    The arguments about the historical proof of Jesus are simply moot. So, why don’t we just ignore it and focus on more interesting issues which aren’t dependent on it (such as mythology).

    I brought up the biblical scholar April DeConick to demonstrate the problem of conflating the debates about history and mythology. DeConick seems to be a rational, intelligent and educated person. She is the type of person who should be easy to convince of mythicism, but apparently is wary of it. My suspicion is that she is wary of it because of how it’s often presented. She is very far from being a bible-thumping Christian and yet her professional assessment is that Jesus may have existed. Because of the entangling of mythicism with historical arguments, someone like DeConick ends up judging mythicism based on the historical arguments. This is very bad news because it’s unecessary. The worth of mythicist arguments doesn’t rely upon any conclusion about history. DeConick represents the openminded mainstream biblical scholar that is unconvinced, but unconvinced because she probably hasn’t studied it in depth. Part of shifting public opinion is by making one’s actual view clear. Obviously, mythicists have been entirely successful in explaining their actual position.

    Joseph Campbell, for example, did know how to explain these type of issues. He knew how to invite people to consider to perspectives. In biblical discussions, there is way too much antagonism from all sides (not just from Christians). Campbell knew how to avoid conflict because he understood conflict closes minds rather than opens them. If mythicists want to actually change public opinion, they need to learn new tactics. Separate the issues into smaller fights that can be won. Let the literalists waste their time mired in pointless historical arguments and meanwhile undermine their entire position from a direction that they don’t even see it coming.

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