Re: Arguments Jesus Mythicists Should NOT Use

A blog post at the link below and my response below that:

Arguments Jesus Mythicists Should NOT Use

1. Cite the work of Freke and Gandi.

It is a good general rule to be wary of referencing in a scholarly debate any writer who acts as a popularizer of ideas.  Popularizers serve a purpose, but they usually do so by simplifying.  There are exceptions to this rule as some popularizers are also good scholars, but I agree that Freke and Gandy aren’t exceptions.

2. Cite the work of Achyara S or Zeitgeist the Movie.

Along with the first general rule, I’d add that anyone claiming to be a scholar should be judged by their scholarship (assuming that person making the judgment is claiming to be scholarly).  This requires reading the author to a significant extent, but sadly few critics of Acharya/Murdock ever read her work (beyond maybe an online article). 

As for Callahan, I assume you realize she wrote a rebuttal (http://stellarhousepublishing.com/skeptic-zeitgeist.html).  As for her claims about Egyptian connections, she also wrote an almost 600 pg book (Christ In Egypt). 

In it, she references the contemporary mythicist scholars Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price, G.A. Wells, and she has a large section where she discusses her disagreement with Richard Carrier.  Both Price and Doherty praise her work and reference it, and Price wrote a foreword to one of her books (Who Was Jesus?). 

Also, here are some of the modern Egyptologists she references: Rudolf Anthes, Jan Assman, Hellmut Brunner, Claas J. Bleeker, Bob Brier, Henri Frankfort, Alan H. Gardiner, John Gwyn Griffiths, Erik Hornung, Barry Kemp, Barbara Lesko, Bojana Mojsov, Siegfried Morenz, William Murnane, Margaret A. Murray, Donald B. Redford, Herman te Velde, Claude Traunecker, Reginald E. Witt, and Louis V. Zabkar.

I don’t care if you disagree with her, but just do so based on facts and rational arguments.

3. Cite pagan parallels to Jesus which you have not read about yourself from ancient sources.

This is good advice to strive towards, but isn’t practical for the average person.  The scholars have spent their lives reading the originals and the many translations.  And scholars are constantly arguing over specific words that can alter the entire meaning of a text.  This takes years if not decades of study to comprehend.

Also, translations can be deceiving if you don’t know the original language.  You have to read many translations before you can even begin to grasp a particular myth.  Plus, many translations and inscriptions aren’t available online.

Furthermore, the ancients usually had numerous versions of any given story.

So, yes read what is available to you.  But don’t necessarily base your opinion on a single translation of a single version of a single myth.  However, when making a specific argument, it is wise to cite specific examples that you are familiar with… which isn’t to say you can’t also cite reputable scholars on examples you’re less familiar with. 

Still, it depends on your purpose and your audience.  If you’re simply involved in an informal discussion, then primary sources aren’t required.

4. Argue that pagan parallels to Jesus prove he did not exist.

This is very true.  A number of mythicist scholars don’t deny a historical Jesus (e.g., Robert M. Price) and some even accept a historical Christ (e.g., G.A. Wells).  The two issues are really separate debates even though they’re often covering the same territory.

5. Argue that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

True, but… the absence of evidence where one would expect evidence corroborates an argument of absence and increases its probability.  Despite the commonality of prophets and messiahs, the fact that no contemporary of Jesus wrote about him is surprising considering the claims made about him and his followers. 

However, (discounting the historical validity of the grandiose claims of the gospels) if we just take Jesus as any other insignificant historical figure, then your point stands.

Response to an Apologist about The Jesus Mysteries

An apologist wrote a review about the book The Jesus Mysteries by Freke and Gandy.  I normally try to avoid getting involved in discussions with apologists, but I felt like responding this time for some strange reason.  As always, I don’t actually feel like arguing about any of it.  I just wanted to show that scholarly opinion is not so clear.  I suppose it’s unlikely an apologist would consent to any significant doubt, but hopefully he won’t delete my comment so that readers of his blog may see it and make up their own mind.

http://1peter315.wordpress.com/2009/03/11/jesus-mysteries/

I have this book, but it’s been a few years since I read it.  Even though I enjoy their work, I think there are more scholarly writers out there.

“First of all, they too easily discount the evidence for the historical Jesus.  They gloss over Josephus, Paul and the Gospels, even though if this was for any other historical figure it would be plenty of evidence.”

Many scholars doubt or dismiss the mention of Jesus Christ by Josephus.  You can find those who do accept it, but there is no consensus of its authenticity.  The Wikipedia article about Josephus on Jesus does a fairly good job of showing the complexity of debate.

As for Paul and the Gospels, there are many theories.  It’s an endless debate also without concensus amongst scholars.  However, if you’re looking for more scholarly support for Freke and Gandy, then I’d advise checking out Robert M. Price and Earl Doherty.

“Secondly they artificially blend a number of gods into a composite being that no ancient person would recognize.  They claim that Jesus is a form of Osiris-Dionysus and by that they mean that they can take little bits from a dozen or so unrelated myths and see some similarity with the Gospels. ”

Actually, Osiris-Dionysus was a name of the godman that was syncretized during the Hellenistic period prior to Christianity.  Egyptian religion and Hellenism were very syncretistic, and this combining of attributes and names was very common.  If you want more scholarly support for this, then check out Christ in Egypt by D.M. Murdock.

“Thirdly, they misrepresent the role of Gnosticism.  I think they are right to see Gnosticism as playing a parellel role to the pagan mystery religions, socially if not theologically.  However, they fall into the popular trap of saying that there were numerous Christianities right from the beginning, suggesting that Gnosticism might even have been earliest, with orthodox Christianity only later emerging.”

Yes, this is speculative because so little survived from the first century, but there is support for it.  The earliest commentators on the New Testament were all Gnostics (Basilides being the earliest).  In particular, some of the earliest commentators (Marcion and Valentinus) wrote the first commentaries on the earliest NT texts (Paul). 

“The earliest Christian texts that we have (which are found in the New Testament) are in continuity with what became orthodox Christianity and in opposition to Gnosticism.  To get where they want to be, they have to make some ridiculous claims such as Paul being a Gnostic and many of the New Testament books having a late date, well into the second century.”

There are other scholars that argue that Paul never writes about a historical figure and never gives physical details.  Doherty, in particular, writes extensively about Paul.

There is a logical reason for arguing for a late dating for NT books.  As I understand, the earliest copies come from the second century.  It’s traditional to date them earlier, but there is no hard evidence from the first century.

“They are totally out of touch even with critical scholarship and their claims are far from the evidence.”

They’re not out of touch, but they present just one perspective.  Scholars show a great variety in their conclusions.