The Religious Wars

The Religious Wars  by Nicholas D. Kristof (NYT)

(My comment is posted at Kristof’s blog post about this article: A Truce in the Religious Wars?)

The moderate and open-minded view of religion has been around for a long time, but you wouldn’t know it for all the publicized conflict between the Fundamentalists and the New Atheists.

There was a great surge of open religious discussion in the late 1800s to the early 1900s, but then the conservative religious bent returned to suppress liberal-minded inquiry for many decades.  As new Gnostic texts came to light and gained more attention, slowly but surely a new generation of scholars began presenting alternative viewpoints.

Joseph Campbell set the stage for the contemporary liberal strain of religious studies, but his influence became less obvious after he died.  Apparently, there was no one at the time to take Campbell’s place as he had large shoes to fill.  At the same time, conservative Evangelicals had been gaining power and have managed to be very influential in recent decades.  Liberal scholars still did great scholarship, but they weren’t able to get as much public attention.

Finally, liberal scholarship is regaining popularity again.  It seems that Karen Armstrong is in a position to take up the role Campbell once played.  The public is tired of the endless friction between the extremists on either side of the theist/atheist divide.

RE: Top Ten Problems With the Jesus Myth Theory

I every so often check out the blog by the apologist Stephen J. Bedard.  I noticed some new comments and one particular comment was quite nice.  I’ll quote this comment in full because it’s such a perfect summary of the Jesus Myth position.  I’d been meaning to fully respond to this post of Bedard’s for a while, but just had only answered Bedard’s first criticism and so it has remained unposted until now.  I’ll first give my limited response, then share the other commenters response, and after that I’ll respond to Bedard’s response to the commenter.  Clear?

Top Ten Problems With the Jesus Myth Theory

1) The rejection of the Gospels as historical sources.  They are seen as faith documents and not modern biographies.  That is true but we do not have any unbiased ancient texts that meet the criteria of modern biography.  If we reject the Gospels, we would also have to reject most of what we know about ancient history.

Some mythicists may reject the Gospels as historical sources, but this has nothing directly to do with the mythicist theory.  The parallels are relevant whether or not there is any relevant historical references in the Gospels.  Besides, I doubt any mythicist claims that the Gospels entirely lack history.  In fact, all the mythicists I know of agree that the writers (and interpolators) were purposely adding history to make the Christ myth more convincingly real.  The difference from literalists is that mythicists either see the historical additions as coming later in the development of Christianity or they see a historical figure that was evemerized and whose biographical details now are (mostly or entirely) lost.

It’s a rather complex issue since the limited info allows for endless speculation.  There might’ve been a historical Jesus who was lost beneath mythology and then the later historicizing of the gospel writers may have attempted to reconstruct the hypothetical evemerized Jesus.  Or there might’ve been many historical figures that became amalgamated by which they were given a unified and coherent story through mythological motifs.  We conveniently don’t even have the unmodified writings (or even the first commentaries) of the earliest Christians/Gnostics to determine how they perceived their own process of storytelling.

All of this shows a difference in thinking styles.  To the degree that someone is a literalist, they think in black and white terms.  A literalist historical Jesus can’t be mythical (even if one allows for superficial mythical accretions).  The mythicist position, on the other hand, can allow for a historical Jesus.  As such, mythicists (unlike apologists) are in a better position to adapt to the evidence as it arises for they have no singular fixed position, no belief system held above doubt and question.  A difference here is that a historical Jesus is unimportant to a mythicist because history doesn’t prove theology nor does it disprove the mythicist theory.  Even if the litealist can prove a historical Jesus, it is utterly meaningless because what they’re really trying to prove is that he is the Son of God who died for our sins… which is outside of the proof of history.

Oddly enough, a number of Christians have supported mythicism even while they affirmed historicism, but these aren’t your typical literalists.  One of the greatest New Testament scholars was Rudolf Bultmann.  He believed in mythological parallels, but the apologist prefers to ignore Christians like him.  Another example is C.S. Lewis who is a favorite of apologists, and yet he accepted that Pagan parallels existed before Christianity.  Actually, the earliest apologists didn’t try to deny any of this, but some just said the Devil foresaw the coming of Christ and taught the Pagans false doctrines ahead of time in order to deceive.  Lewis followed a different tradition of interpretation (Justin Martyr speaks of “seeds of truth among all men” within 1 Apology 44. See: preparatio evangelica).  He argued that the pre-Christian parallels strengthened Christianity.  If the pre-Christian parallels were false, then Christianity would be false as well.  However, maybe Christianity took the truth of Paganism and added further truth to it.  What had been just mythological was now historically real… or so the argument goes.  But this ignores the fact that many Pagans believed their myths were also historical.  Anyways, it is insightful how apologists overlook this part of Lewis’ writings.

To be fair, I should point out that Bedard isn’t a simpleminded apologist (see: Reading the Bible Literally).  Bedard seems to be more in the latter camp as he was influenced by C.S. Lewis (see: Mere Christianity).  He accepts that Christian holidays are Pagan in origin (see: The Bible and Pagan Holidays), that the earliest Christian iconography copied Pagan images (see: Christ as Orpheus), and that the Judeo-Christian tradition was contributed to by Pagan ideas (see: Hellenistic Influence and the Resurrection).  To me, this seems to be as literalist as a Christian can be while maintaining some basic rational dignity, and Bedard claims his beliefs are based on rationality.

But if one were to take all of those Pagan elements away, what would be left?  A historical figure?  Well, Pagans had historical claims about their godmen.  A savior who is the Son of God?  Well, this motif can also be found outside of Christianity.  Bedard, obviously, feels there is something unique here… but exactly what?

Bedard at times does show his literalist tendencies in a black and white thinking.  No mythicist is using modern standards of biography to judge the Gospels.  It is absurd to argue we’d have to reject most of ancient history if we reject the Gospels.  That almost doesn’t even deserve a rational response.  For one, secular historians aren’t trying to prove anything theologically and so they always start from a position of questioning and doubt.  There is no reason to accept any text as true until other sources of info validate it.  In the case of the Gospels, they lack confirming sources.  No ancient historian spoke about Jesus while he was alive even though there were numerous historians (including Jewish historians) in the area Jesus supposedly lived.  Also, Romans were meticulous record keepers and the records of the time survived for us to inspect, and yet we discover no Jesus in them.  This lack of evidence may not be remarkable for an average person of the time, but Christians claimed Jesus had great impact on the Roman World.

Let me add one last point on this issue.  I was listening to Richard Carrier on the proper defense and improper defense of the Jesus Myth(scroll down).  Carrier makes an interesting point.  People aren’t idiots for believing in Jesus’ historicity.  They’re just looking at different data.  Just a few pieces of data not assimilated or countered by historical arguments won’t disprove it, but a few hundred pieces of data that promotes doubt causes one to consider alternative theories.  However, most people never get to that point.  This is particularly true for many (most?) New Testament scholars who are Christians (which is a large percentage) and hence who don’t have much motivation to seek out and seriously consider all of the contradictory data.  According to Carrier, it’s a bad argument to try to support mythicism by claiming silence on Jesus’ historicity.  The evidence that has survived could be interpreted as proof of a historical Jesus, but it could also be interpreted in other ways when placed in context of other evidence.  If one doesn’t take into account the plethora of Pagan parallels (either out of ignorance or dismissal), it isn’t irrational per se if one were to claim Jesus’ historicity.  However, as an apologetic argument, it’s just an empty claim that one can say little about… not that apologetics is meant to have substance beyond the belief motivating it.

Michael’s response to Bedard:

“As I sit here watching the documentary on Tom Harpur’s Pagan Christ, I find myself reminded of all the problems that I see in the Jesus myth theory. I will share my top ten problems with this theory. This is not a detailed analysis but rather my opportunity to vent on the glaring problems with this theory.

1) The rejection of the Gospels as historical sources. They are seen as faith documents and not modern biographies. That is true but we do not have any unbiased ancient texts that meet the criteria of modern biography. If we reject the Gospels, we would also have to reject most of what we know about ancient history.”

For the most part, proponents of the Jesus Myth (JM) regard the gospels as allegorical first and faith documents second. Also, proponents of the JM do highlight the fact that the early catholic church used purely theological arguments for the existence of Jesus and did not defer to historical sources. Barnabbas and Clement are very curious because when they refer to the passion of Christ they simply quote Isaiah 53… which is an odd thing to do if the exploits of Christ had been a matter of recent history and were purported to be world reknown.

And there does exist a good selection of actual historical documents from the 1st century, such as Pliny’s Natural History and Josephus’ Testimonium… the four gospels do not mirror the style and format of any known works of historical record from the time period they are alleged to have been composed in.

“2) The claim that Paul never mentions the historical Jesus. This is simply not true. Paul quotes Jesus, mentions aspects of his life and in 1 Corinthians 15 he challenges his readers to check out the surviving witnesses.”

That Paul “quotes” Jesus is not problematic for proponents of the JM. There’s nothing that prohibits the idea that the cosmic divine messiah taught his apostles. That Paul is aware of a sacred meal is not problematic either. Sacred meals are virtually universal. And in 1st Corinthians 15 Paul never differentiates between the nature of his experience with Jesus (revelatory vision) and the experience of the other apostles. Doesn’t Paul say at some point in the epistles, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?” Paul wrote that there was no difference between his experience with Jesus and the other apostles experience. And in verse 45 Paul actually says that Jesus was not a human and draws a stark contrast between Adam and Jesus to illustrate the point.

You seem to be basing your 10 points off of a very faulty understanding of the JM, which is regrettable but predictable.

“3) The rejection of Josephus as a testimony of Jesus. Some authors reject Josephus as evidence for Jesus because it is clear that there is Christian tampering. Most scholars see an original core testimony that has been augmented by Christians not created. Plus we have what Josephus says about John the Baptist and James, the brother of Jesus.”

I am always very doubtful of anyone who says anything along the lines of “most scholars”. This kind of appeal to authority and reliance upon an alleged consensus is the heighth of intellectual laziness.

“4) The claim that gnosticism was an equally original valid of Christianity along side what became orthodox Christianity. The fact is that there is a clear continuity with our first century Christian documents as found in the New Testament and what became orthodox Christianity. Gnosticism with its rejection of the Jewish God, Jewish Scriptures, material world, and its focus on gnosis rather than sin were a later (mid to late second century) break away from Christianity.

5) The misuse of pagan myths. Many claims are made about the pagan myths by these authors but when you look at the myths themselves, these claims are often not accurate. You are expected to rely on their secondary sources and not to look at the primary sources.

6) Pagan myths are described in Christian language to strengthen their connection to Jesus. Mithras is said to be born of a virgin even though he was born of a rock. Horus is said to be born of virgin even though he was conceived in the post-death intercourse of his married parents.”

It is not a fact that there is clear continuity between canonical texts and what became orthodox Christianity. There is a record of development from the 1st century to the 2nd of an evolving human Jesus doctrine. This can be seen in primitive “gospel” references throughout Barnabbas, Polycarp, Clement, Paul, Ignatius, etc. and it leads all the way to the end of the 2nd century with the crystallization of the four gospels as referred to by Irenaeus in Against Heresies.

Please note that, unlike your baseless assertion this is an argument that is logical and supported by the documentary evidence.

Also, you over-state the case for pagan influences. You’re building one heck of a strawman. Certainly there was pagan influence, but any proponent of the JM worth his/her salt will tell you that the biographical data that came to be expressed in the gospels was drawn almost entirely from the Old Testament.

Again, your understanding the JM seems to be incredibly flawed.

“7) No respect for the dates of texts. Authors use pagan texts to establish connections to Jesus but sometimes (as in the case of Mithras) the texts post-date the New Testament. How do we know that the pagans did not borrow from the Christians?

8 ) Use of post-biblical traditions. Authors demonstrate pagan influence on the three wide men, the ox and ass, December 25 and a number of other traditions. The problem is that those are not biblical traditions. These things were added to the tradition later and any pagan influence says nothing about the origins of the Jesus story.

9) Misunderstanding of pagan influence on art. There are valid examples of pagan influence on Christian art such as Isis holding baby Horus being used as a model for Mary holding baby Jesus. It make sense that the new movement of Christianity would look beyond itself as it was developing its artistic side. This says nothing about pagan origins for the story.

10) The patchwork use of pagan myths. It is difficult to find large chunks of pagan myth that look like the Gospels. Jesus myth theorists take a word here and a phrase here, from dozens of myths from many cultures and say “Here is the Gospel!” If you start with enough stories, you can reconstruct almost any historical figure, ancient or minor.”

Strawman strawman strawman.

“These are just a few of the problems that I have with the Jesus myth theory. Unfortunately, it is not likely to go away any time soon.”

No, it won’t go away any time soon, in fact it is gaining traction.

– – –

I generally agree with this assessment of the Jesus Myth theory.  Bedard responded to this comment, but the commenter didn’t return.  So, let me have a crack at Bedard’s comment.

Regarding the Gospels, even the great allegorist Origen did not take them as strictly allegorical. While not exactly the same as Josephus, the Gospels do have much in common with ancient histories. They are closer to ancient biographies with Luke-Acts having stronger historical leanings. And as for the early church, they did not just rely on allegory or OT interpretation. They also stated these events as being historical events.

Yes, there was a great variety in early Christianity.  It was common practice for Christians to take some of the Bible allegorically, but there was disagreement about which parts were allegorical and exactly how they should be interpreted.  Some Christians even believed that Jesus was entirely allegorical or at least entirely spiritual (non-physical/non-historical)… allegorical and spiritual being related in the ancient mind.

I personally wouldn’t argue that the Gospels entirely lack commonality in certain aspects of style with some ancient histories.  It wasn’t uncommon in the ancient world for history to be mixed with allegory (whether allegory as spiritual truth or as moral storytelling), and it’s not easy to tell how literally ancients took any given text as the common understanding would likely never have been written down.  The claims of emperors as godmen, for example, can be found in supposedly historical accounts.  Did the Romans actually believe their emperor was a godman?  I’m sure some did… just consider how gullible some modern people are even though modern education is far superior.

The Gospels show commonalities with many types of writing and storytelling and that is part of the point of the Jesus Myth theory.  There are a few comparisons that can be made.  Alan Dundes wrote the book Holy Writ as Oral Lit in which he shows the similarities of the Bible with folklore texts.  Other scholars have pointed out the similarity of the Gospels to the genre of Spiritual Romances which were a type of fiction popular at the time.  As an example of a novel of that time period, read The Life of Aesop which supposedly tells the biographical story of Aesop’s life and the style of it is reminiscent of the Gospels.  I’m not implying that there is any causal connection between the Gospels and The Life of Aesop, but I’m merely pointing out that this genre of storytelling was extremely popular in the early centuries of the Roman Empire.

Regarding Paul and the historical Jesus, in the first verses of 1 Cor 15 where Paul speaks of the resurrection historically and tags his experience to the witness of others. As for verse 45, Paul is contrasting Jesus with Adam but he is not denying that he is human. Read the passage from Genesis that he is quoting and you will see that the whole verse is about Adam. Paul is saying Jesus is a complete Adam.

I have no particular opinion about this.  Jesus and Adam are equally mythological and both were taken as historical figures by some believers.  On the other hand, there were also believers who interpreted the Bible as spiritual allegory which isn’t exactly fiction but which is far from historical fact.  The purpose of spiritual allegory is to point to a more profound truth.  The question is which belief was closest to the original Christians.  Well, I don’t know if there was any singular group of Christians that was orginal.  What I do know is that the Gnostics were the earliest Christians to organize the Gospels into a single book, were the earliest Christians to comment on the Gospels, and were among the earliest prominent Christian leaders both within and outside of the Catholic Church.

I hear what you are saying about “most scholars” but I have trouble when there is a strong consensus among a wide variety of scholars (not just Christian) and just a few scholars, usually those with a theory like the Jesus myth to promote, who deny the passage.

My opinion is that the concensus in Biblical studies isn’t the same thing as a concensus in science.  Most Biblical scholars have been and still are Christians or at least were raised in Christianity.  Most of the Biblical scholarship in the past was done as overt apologetics, and many scholars still act as apologists and see no contradiction in their ability to think objectively and critically.  Bedard himself is an apologist who has beliefs such as the virgin birth that contradict the concensus of scientists.  Shouldn’t the concensus of scientists supercede the concensus of apologists when it comes to a subject such as the biological possibility of virgin births in homo sapiens?

As examples of the importance of distinguishing apologetics from scholarship, read the following blogs and articles.  I also threw in some other responses to specific apologetic arguments just for good measure.

Robert W. Funk:

A letter of Concern for Prof. Dr. Gerd Luedemann

April DeConick:

Choosing your method

What do I mean by ‘confessional’?

The never-ending confusion about perspective

Robert M. Price:

Protestant Hermeneutical Axiomatics: A Deconstruction

Is There a Place for Historical Criticism?

MUST WE TAKE A LEAP OF FAITH? (HAVE WE ALREADY?)

Paradigm Shifting and the Apologetics Debate

Introducing the Journal of Higher Criticism

N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God

By This Time He Stinketh

Earl Doherty:

Challenging the Verdict

Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case

D.M. Murdock:

Is the Bible True?

Richard C. Carrier:

Bayes’ Theorem for Beginners

Epistemological End Game

Experimental History

History Before 1950

Related to apologetics is the issue of scientific understanding in the ancient world… and sadly the issue of scientific understanding in the modern world.

Richard C. Carrier:

Stark on Ancient Science

Books on Ancient Science

Science and Medieval Christianity

Statistics & Biogenesis

Yockey on Biogenesis

Defining the Supernatural

To continue with my response to Bedard:

I disagree with your statement about the continuity. Orthodox Christians agreed that Jesus’ Father was the God of the OT and that Jesus was human and divine. All of this found in the NT but denied by gnostics.

The Gnostics were the first to collect scriptures into a single book we now call the Gospels.  The Gnostics intentionally left out Jewish scriptures because the purpose of their creating the Gospels was because they specifically believed the OT God and the NT God were separate Gods (enemies even).  The Gospels were created for the purpose of demonstrating the distinct uniqueness of the Christian God.  Yes, there were some Jewish or Jewish-influenced Christians early on, but there is no proof that they were the first Christians.  Obviously, Judaism was a part of the milieu of early Christianity and so were a number of other religions.  As the earliest commenters on the Gospels were Gnostics who were also the creators of the Gospels as a singular canon, I think it’s fair to give them precedence on it’s interpretation… or at least it’s fair not to dismiss them out of hand.

Regarding the pagan influence. I agree that there is a stronger case that the Gospels are based on the OT than on pagan sources but the Jesus myth people I have encountered (Tom Harpur, Peter Gandy, Timothy Freke) have focused mostly on the pagan sources.

As I see it, it isn’t either/or.  Yes, many biographical details were lifted at some point from the OT.  But, some argue, that this was simply a matter of Hellenistic Jews and other related groups reading the OT through the lense of Greco-Roman philosophy, theology and mythology.  In the ancient world, a new religion was deemed unworthy if it didn’t have precedent in an already existing religious tradition.  So, a new religion had to prove itself by interpreting older texts in a new light.  But this was just a matter of convenience and they weren’t trying to stay true to the original intent and purpose of those texts.  The Jesus story that they created was in contradiction to the traditional Jewish expectation of a Messiah, but all that mattered is that Jesus was portrayed as Jewish which gave him the appearance of respectability.  They had to detail his Jewish lineage in order to substantiate their claims.  However, from a strictly traditional Jewish perspective, such superficial reinterpretations were meaningless and outright blasphemous.

Let me make one last point about Bedard’s scholarship.  It’s obvious he lacks any full understanding of mythicism.  The three Jesus myth people he mentions (Harpur, Gandy, and Freke) are just popular writers.  He admits to having never read any serious scholarship about mythicism.  I appreciate popularizers for they communicate ideas to the general public, but there are several scholars I can think of offhand who are way more respectable than those three.  I linked some of these scholars above, but there are a few more besides.  I should mention Karen Armstrong.  She is a respectable scholar who, although doesn’t identify as a mythicist, seems to support the connections between pagan mythology, classical thought, allegorical thinking and early Christianity.  If you want to know more about the Christ myth theory and the scholars who have supported this position, then check out the Wikipedia article which gives a good overview.

As an apologist, it doesn’t matter that Bedard’s knowledge of mythicism is limited.  However, as a scholar, it’s very important.  Bedard is not only a published scholar but has specifically written a book about mythicism.  He presents himself as an expert and he is an expert in other areas of Biblical studies but not in mythicism.  I first commented on Bedard’s blog around the beginning of this year (2009) and the year is almost ended.  One of the comments I made to Bedard at that time was specifically that he claimed to have only read the popularizers of mythicism and that if he was serious about his scholarship then he should read some serious scholarship on the subject.  I was just perusing his blog and saw no evidence that he has since read any high quality scholarship on mythicism.

As far as I can tell by my brief interactions, I respect Bedard as a person.  He is one of the most easygoing apologists I’ve ever met.  Also, I read one of his articles published in a journal and I was impressed.  But none of that changes the fact that he isn’t an expert nor has read any experts in the field of mythicism.  His opinions about mythicism are no more worthy than the mythicist popularizers he has criticized.  As such, his writings on mythicism mostly serve the purpose of apologetics rather than scholarship.

That is fine if that is all he wants to do, but he seems to have a mind that is capable of so much more.  I’d love to see him (or some other apologist) do an in-depth analysis of the full range of mythicist scholarship.  I’m waiting…

Thomas Verenna: Character and Scholarship

The blogger hambydammit on his blog Life Without a Net posted a book recommendation of Thomas Verenna’s new book Of Men and Muses (here).  I’ve left a few comments:

 – – –

I understand he is a friend and so you obviously have a different kind of relationship with him than others who’ve known him from online. Even so, I think it’s unfair of you to imply that only one person ruined his credibility. I’ve seen him around in many discussions and he has a way of irritating all kinds of people and let me say it has nothing to do with being smarter than everyone else. He apparently lacks certain practical interpersonal skills.

I originally knew of him through his alias and didn’t know his real name. I accidentally came across his blog without realizing who he was and he acted like a righteous know-it-all. He seemed unable to admit when he didn’t know something. That isn’t to say that he isn’t intelligent. I generally agreed with much that he said, but he just had such a disagreeable personality… or at least that is how he seems online… maybe he’s more easygoing and friendly in normal life.

Anyways, I won’t judge his scholarship based on his personality. I’ll check for some more reviews of his book and see what others think. His name is well enough known in the onine biblical studies community and so publicity shouldn’t be a problem. This book will be the test of whether his scholarship can actually stand up to criticism.

 – – –

Sounds like you have a balanced attitude. I have a couple of responses to Verenna.

First, many people have criticized him of making dishonest and misleading statements (from plagiarism to claiming he knows what he doesn’t). I can’t verify many of these criticisms, but in my own dealings with him he does seem to lack humility and an openness to new perspectives. He certainly doesn’t take criticism well and practically invites people to dismiss him in his own dismissal of others.

Second, I do give his scholarship a chance as Robert M. Price reviews his work positively. I respect Price, but I mistrust Verenna’s using Price as a reference for his own views. Verenna dismissed out of hand the work of D.M. Murdock all the while admitting he had never read her work, but in the same discussion throws out the name of Price. The problem is that Price changed from criticism to praise once he read Murdock’s work and even wrote an introduction to one of Murdock’s books. Verenna’s attitude toward Murdock (who has more respectable credentials than he does) demonstrates an intellectual sloppiness not to mention an unfounded righteousness that is just plain annoying.

So, I’m mixed. He does have some intelligence and there is potential that he might add something worthy to the discussion of biblical studies. For me, the jury is still out. I’ll keep my eyes out for further book reviews before deciding whether to buy this book.

 – – –

I generally agree with your attitude.  I’m not a fan of web drama and haven’t directly been involved with the conflicts involving Verenna, but it seems that Verenna himself wasn’t shy about web drama and at least in the past was a willing partner to some of the conflict.

I tend to ignore criticisms if I only hear them once or only from one person.  However, the criticisms of Verenna involve large numbers of people in very extensive discussions on respectable forums.  It’s hard to ignore.

Even so, I still would’ve not given much credence to it all if he didn’t act the way he did in the discussions I had with him.  I judge him on my personal experience (when I didn’t even know who he was and so I wasn’t judging him based on any preconceived biases about his character).  It isn’t ad hominem.  He in fact dismissed authors he himself admitted to having not read.  So, that much would seem to be a fact.

It is clear to me that he does (unless he has remedied the situation by further study) lack knowledge about certain issues he speaks about authoritatively (and so that fairly places doubt on his scholarship in general).  If he hasn’t read Murdock, he shouldn’t claim to have a worthy opinion.  Both Price and Murdock have more credentials than he does, and Price respects Murdock.  None of this is ad hominem or mere web drama.  This is a fact, but I’m open to this fact being revised (by either his recanting his uninformed judgment or else by informing his judgment on this matter).  I truly hope he has studied further since I last interacted with him, but in order for that to happen he’d first have to humbly admit he lacked knowledge about it.  Personality issues only rub me the wrong way when they influence a person’s intellectual ability.

Valid criticisms can’t be ignored as just web drama.  It’d be much easier to ascertain the worth of Verenna’s scholarhip if he himself had originally ignored (rather than fed) the web drama.  His scholarship is mired in web drama because of his own actions.  As a counter-example, Price has managed to remain above the fray of web drama and his scholarship is clearly respectable partly for that very reason.

However, it does appear that Verenna is trying to become more respectable.  I wish him well in that endeavor.  Maybe this book is a step in that direction.  If his scholarship is worthy, then I’m more than happy to consider his viewpoint.  So far, I’ve looked around at the book reviews and haven’t seen any in-depth analysis of what he writes about.  He does seem to have a few people who strongly support him and so I’m hoping one of them will go into more detail.  I look forward to seeing more discussion.

 – – –

I understand your perspective.  I don’t care that much about the web stuff other than I tend to look at multiple viewpoints when researching a subject.  It’s basically impossible to do a web search about multiple perspectives without coming across web drama.  I mostly avoid web drama and it was an accident that I came across Verenna’s blog.

I’m more interested in the questions than specific answers.  At the same time, I’m interested in how questions are asked and how answers pursued.  Specifically about Verenna, I am extremely curious about the subject he writes about and my views aren’t too far off from his.

I guess that I’m just not sure at the moment what his scholarship offers in respect to the scholarship of others.  There are quite a few active authors who write about mythicism and who are critical of literalism.  Is he adding new insight… if so, precisely what insight?  Or is he writing for laymen and so bringing clarity to a complex subject?  Either insight or clarity is worthy, but a little of both would be wonderful.

I would buy his book right now, but I’m not as yet prepared to spend the money and time on it.  Sadly, I can’t read everything that catches my attention.  I truly am hoping that his book sparks discussion because then I could better see what he is bringing to the table.

Re: Helping the Historicists Get it Right: What is Mythicism?

A link to a blog by Thomas Verenna and my discussion with him from the comments section:

Helping the Historicists Get it Right: What is Mythicism?

Benjamin Steele Says:
April 6, 2009 at 2:46 pm “More recent mythicist arguments deal with exegesis, Gospel genre (if the Gospels weren’t written for the purpose of “telling what happened” but rather “telling a good story” there clearly is reason to doubt the historicity of Jesus Christ), intertextuality (the models used by the authors of the Gospels to create narrative—and how much of the Gospel can be traced back to models), Jewish socio-cultural studies in the Hellenistic and Roman periods (did the Jews of the original “Christian” sect expect a historical savior or a spiritual one?), religious-meme change (how quickly did religious trends change and how much could they have changed over that period of time—for example, euhemerizing a legendary figure of Jesus into a historical setting), and proto-Christian origins (was there a “Christianity” before the first-century CE and where did it originate?) . Clearly April would be correct if the mythicist position was reliant only on pagan myth parallels. It’s a good thing then that modern mythicists generally do not rely on pagan parallels whatsoever.”

I agree with you about mythicism not being reliant only on pagan myth parallels. On the other hand, I disagree with how you seem to be rather critical of those who point out those parallels such as Acharya. It isn’t a matter of either/or thinking. I’m not a defender of Acharya, but I am an interested party who seeks out all viewpoints. I’ve read a variety of mythicist theorists and I think all of them have something useful to add.

Anyways, Acharya doesn’t simply rely on pagan parallels. If you dismiss Acharya based on this assumption, then you are falling into the same trap as the historicist scholars. She goes out of her way to consider the subject from multiple perspectives. There is no need to try to smash Acharya’s head down in your attempt to climb the scholarly ladder of peer respectability. In case you didn’t know, both Doherty and Price have given positive reviews of Acharya’s work.

Tom Verenna Says:
April 6, 2009 at 3:58 pm I agree with you about mythicism not being reliant only on pagan myth parallels. On the other hand, I disagree with how you seem to be rather critical of those who point out those parallels such as Acharya. It isn’t a matter of either/or thinking. I’m not a defender of Acharya, but I am an interested party who seeks out all viewpoints. I’ve read a variety of mythicist theorists and I think all of them have something useful to add.

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but that’s a rather naive opinion. Not all scholars have something useful to add. Some have nothing useful. Some have a lot to offer while others have a mix of useful and unhelpful points that, overall, make their contributions mediocre at best. Acharya S does not have anything useful to add (in my opinion–others are welcome to disagree). I’ll give my reasons for thinking this below.

Anyways, Acharya doesn’t simply rely on pagan parallels. If you dismiss Acharya based on this assumption, then you are falling into the same trap as the historicist scholars. She goes out of her way to consider the subject from multiple perspectives. There is no need to try to smash Acharya’s head down in your attempt to climb the scholarly ladder of peer respectability. In case you didn’t know, both Doherty and Price have given positive reviews of Acharya’s work.

My problem with Acharya S is more than just pagan parallels. She uses grossly outdated source material. Here are a few examples:

http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com/sources.htm

Gerald Massey, John Remsburg, Albert Churchward, Edward Carpenter, Franz Cumont, and so on. None of these individuals lived past the middle of the twentieth century. Their scholarship is so dated that using them can only hurt her points, not help make them. This is the underlying problem with Acharya S; she does not adequately research modern credible sources–only dated sources. If only dated sources can be used to make her points, then she needs to reevaluate her points. To give you an analogy of how horrific it is to use dated sources in academia, it would be akin to using a science book from the nineteenth century to back up a new model for the theory of relativity–without using anything that Albert Einstein, or any contemporary era physicist, had written. Her whole astrotheology perspective which she promotes comes from these sources–comes from parallelism that is dated and useless–and thus her usefulness is nil. That may be a hard criticism, but its one she should take to heart and consider.

Despite what you may have read or think you know, my criticisms of Acharya S have nothing to do with me “climbing the scholarly ladder”. It has everything to do with individuals such as yourself, who are trying to do honest research into the question of mythicism, who get sidetracked by this garbage–passed off as academia (of which it is not). The fact that you think she has something useful to say at all is evidence that you’ve bought into her deception. But how can you know, as a layman, what is credible and what isn’t? You have to have done an extreme amount of research to fact-check her claims to know she is full of it. If you haven’t done the research because you think she is an authority (I’m not claiming I am, either, by the way), then you’re the person I’m trying to reach. It is because serious intellectuals like you want to be educated that I come down hard on her–you need to know that what she has to say is severely flawed.

I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I don’t use sources that are from the 1880’s. Unlike Acharya S, I change my opinions to fit the facts (she is stubborn about changing her opinion and has not retracted anything she has been wrong about, not that I’ve seen or read anyway). I want my readers to be able to fact-check me and be able to raise contentions with what I write if they need to. Acharya S, on the other hand, has a group of fanboy cronies who she sends out from her message board to attack any dissenter. Often times these cronies spam other message boards and blogs with more garbage in a trollish and annoying fashion. I wouldn’t hold Acharya S responsible for her fan base, but she sends them out.

Now I’m not attacking Acharya S personally. I don’t know her personally. I can only judge her material. And I’m not the only one. While Bob Price and Earl Doherty speak of her kindly (which is their right), Richard Carrier and others have been outspoken about her inaccuracy. So just because two scholars speak favorably does not mean the whole community of experts agree. And while I respect Earl Doherty a great deal, I am dismayed that he uses her for source material and, unfortunately, he is also guilty of using dated material as well. (Doherty is far better at using modern sources for his material than Acharya S is, however, and overall Doherty’s work is substantially more credible)

To be clear: I would, in fact, be quite interested if Acharya S dropped her pseudonym (as I did) and start using her real name, started revising her theories to conform to existing, relevant, current data, and published academically or, at least, had a group of scholars review her work and offer suggestions (which she should consider, at least). I would read that book and, if it were credible, I would even promote it. But as of yet, that is a future I do not see her ever attaining. Not because she can’t, but because she has no desire to.

Benjamin Steele Says:
April 6, 2009 at 5:11 pm You can call my opinion naive if it makes you happy. By my comment, I didn’t mean one should be undiscerning about what one reads. I was just implying that all perspectives should be considered in order to grasp a more comprehensive understanding.

If your main source of info about Acharya is from Zeitgeist, then that explains a lot. She only consulted on that project once it had already begun, and she didn’t agree with all of the details.

BTW she wrote a supplement that can be obtained as an e-book that was intended to supply more supporting evidence for the Zeitgeist claims, and she then wrote a nearly 600 page book to flesh it out (Christ In Egypt). Also, she does now go by her real name (D.M. Murdock) which is the name on her recent book.

In Christ In Egypt, she attempted to synthesize all of the scholarly work that has been done so far that relates to the connections between Horus nd Jesus. She references works never published in English before and works never published at all before (such as the academic journals of a German scholar). She probably references Egyptologists more than any other type of scholar, but she does reference other contemporary mythicists (G.A. Wells, Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price, and Richard Carrier).

In particular, she has a whole section where she describes a disagreement with Carrier about the Luxor inscriptions. I’m sure Carrier claims she is inaccurate, and Acharya claims he is inaccurate (http://www.stellarhousepublishing.com/luxor.html). If you want to see a neutral viewpoint (by someone they both respect), check out Doherty because he discusses this disagreement on his site. I noticed that Carrier considers Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle to be the best presentation of the mythicist position.

She intentionally uses a wide range of scholars from older to newer, from Christian to non-Christian, from academia to the Catholic Encycopedia, etc. She does this so people like you have no basis to simply dismiss her claims. Anyways, before criticizing older scholarship, I’d recommend you read this article by Robert M. Price:

http://www.atheistalliance.org/jhc/Pricejhc.htm

How can I, as a layman, know what is credible or not? I guess I do it like anybody else who seriously studies a subject. I read a wide variety of authors, and I debate the issues with other informed individuals.

As for her being stubborn about her opinion, I don’t specifically know what your talking about. If you could detail your allegation, I would gladly research it for myself. As for her defenders, I always advise looking at the argument and the evidence rather than the person presenting it. Too often mythicists get dismissed by mainstream scholars who haven’t read their work, but it is even more shameful when other mythicists do this as well.

The last issue you bring up, I can’t speak for her. But, as I said, her theories do take into acount “existing, relevant, current data”. I don’t know if she plans on publishing academically and I don’t know what scholars may or may not have reviewed her work. I do know that Price wrote a foreword to her book Who Was Jesus?, but I can’t say if he reviewed it. One of Acharya’s sources is Massey and he is often dismissed even though his work was reviewed by some of the best scholars of the time (http://www.stellarhousepublishing.com/who-is-gerald-massey.html).

Benjamin Steele Says:
April 7, 2009 at 1:35 pm

In case that wasn’t adequate, I’ll give a 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’ve noticed many mythicists use Hornung as a reference. Another interesting scholar (from an earlier time) is Wallis Budge. Acharya/Murdock along with other mythicists reference him. I was having a discussion with an apologetic NT scholar recently, and I noticed in a peer-reviewed article by him that he had also referenced Budge.