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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

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"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Saturday, March 29, 2003

The Myth of "The Jesus Myth"

A search of the Net soon reveals that the old nineteenth century canard of the “Jesus Myth” has been well and truly resurrected and is alive and well in cyberspace. Now, one is free to believe whatever one wants to, and to defend whatever one believes, but if, one ignores the overwhelming scholarly consensus then one can legitimately be dubbed as either a revisionist or a conspiracy theorist. It is not that the thesis "Jesus did not exist" is impossible; it is that, when it is weighed and assessed on historical grounds, it is highly improbable.

The primary motivation for rejecting the historicity of Jesus has nothing to do with history or evidence but has everything to do with metaphysical and ideological prejudice and bias. Christ could be a myth, he may never have existed. But the point is that such a view is NOT taken seriously by the overwhelming majority of historians and New Testament scholars - whether they be atheist, agnostic or theist, Christian, Jewish or secular, Protestant or Catholic, liberal or conservative. It is telling, for example that very few, if any, Christ mythers, are trained historians. For example, the most vocal of recent proponents of the theory, G. A. Wells, is a Professor of German. And even he, in his latest works on the subject, has had to back track somewhat form his earlier dogmatic position.

For those who claim to represent and espouses rationalism, logic, reason, evidence and skepticism as the highest virtues, to argue forcefully and dogmatically that Jesus never existed, is to bury their heads in the sand of a desert of purely ideological and subjective assumptions and presuppositions. It is to ignore the actual weight of scholarly consensus based upon the evidence both of the witness of history and the logic of history. One should be skeptical of an idea that is so roundly dismissed in terms such as “idiotic” “irresponsible” “crazy” “unwarranted” by the broadest range of historians and NT scholars.

I simply present a selection of comments from this broad range of scholarly opinion ( by scholarly opinion I mean just that - recognized, qualified authorities upon the subject.)

Historian Michael Grant, perhaps the greatest contemporary historian of the Greco- Romean world notes:

This skeptical way of thinking reached its culmination in the argument that
Jesus as a human being never existed at all and is a myth.... But above all,
if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as
we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we
can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a
mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never
questioned. Certainly, there are all those discrepancies between one Gospel
and another. But we do not deny that an event ever took place just because
some pagan historians such as, for example, Livy and Polybius, happen to
have described it in differing terms.... To sum up, modern critical methods
fail to support the Christ-myth theory. It has 'again and again been
answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars.' In recent years, 'no
serous scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus' -- or
at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much
stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary....

Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, pp 199-200.

The radical liberal Rudopf Bultmann, an historical skeptic himself about much of the NT material, is quite adamant that the Jesus-myth approach is not “sane”:

"Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not
worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder
behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by
the Palestinian community.”
Rudolf Bultman, Jesus and the Word, p 13.

This from Robert Van Voorst, THE authority on the extra- Biblical references to Jesus:

“Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed their arguments as
so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore
them completely.... The theory of Jesus' nonexistence is now effectively
dead as a scholarly question.”
Robert Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament, pp 6, 14.

“Today, nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus
existed and that the gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which as to
be weighed and assessed critically. There is general agreement that, with
the possible exception of Paul, we know far more about Jesus of Nazareth
than about any first or second century Jewish or pagan religious teacher."

Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, pp 140-41.

“ The doubts which have been cast on the historical reality of Jesus are, in my judgment, unworthy of serious attention.”
Sir James Frazer. The Golden Bough Macmillan 1913, Vol 9 p 412

“Theories about the non-existence of Jesus have again and again been answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars.”
Roderic Dunkerley Beyond the Gospels, Penguin 1957, p12

“No serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus”
Otto Betz. What do we know about Jesus? SCM press, 1968, p 9

This small selection of quotes only skims the surface of the well of such comments that have been made by reputable scholars. It is obvious that the diverse and almost unanimous opinion of modern Jesus scholars and relevant historians - whatever their background -is to dismiss completely the unconvincing arguments of the Jesus myth proponents.

I will finish with a quote from the Humanist, Will Durant:

The Christian evidence for Christ begins with the letters ascribed to Saint
Paul. Some of these are of uncertain authorship; several, antedating A.D.
64, are almost universally accounted as substantially genuine. No one has
questioned the existence of Paul, or his repeated meetings with Peter,
James, and John; and Paul enviously admits that these men had known Christ
in his flesh. The accepted epistles frequently refer to the Last Supper and
the Crucifixion....

The contradictions are of minutiae, not substance; in essentials the
synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of
Christ. In the enthusiasm of its discoveries the Higher Criticism has
applied to the New Testament tests of authenticity so severe that by them a
hundred ancient worthies--e.g., Hammurabi, David, Socrates--would fade into
legend. Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the
evangelists, they record many incidents that mere inventors would have
concealed--the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom,
their flight after Jesus' arrest, Peter's denial, the failure of Christ to
work miracles in Galilee, the references of some auditors to his possible
insanity, his early uncertainty as to his mission, his confessions of
ignorance as to the future, his moments of bitterness, his despairing cry on
the cross; no one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure
behind them.

That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and
appealing a personality, so loft an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human
brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the
Gospel. After two centuries of Higher Criticism the outlines of the life,
character, and teaching of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute
the most fascinating feature of the history of Western man.
Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, at 555.

11:36:00 pm