Thursday, June 11, 2009

Revisiting the Christ Myth

I don't think I will ever come to understand this breed of wannabe pseudo-intellectuals. There is a reason why no reputable scholar takes their claims seriously - and it has something to do with the fact that their claims fall on their face without a second thought.

As Robert E. Van Voorst summed up in his Jesus Outside the New Testament:An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence:
"The theory of Jesus' nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question."
I guess one could claim it is still a question...however, just not scholarly.

Who's Who?
Let's just see the big names they have to convince us of the legitimacy of their position. I found a great list on

  • Albert Schweitzer.1901, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God. 1906, The Quest of the Historical Jesus.
We're meant to believe that Albert Schweitzer - who wrote a number of works on the fact that Jesus existed has anything to do with fueling the non-historical Jesus hypothesis? Schweitzer's work actually marked an end to the hobbyist claims that Jesus did not exist...

  • George Albert Wells, 1975, Did Jesus Exist? 1988, The Historical Evidence for Jesus. 1996, The Jesus Legend. 1998, Jesus Myth. 2004
A German language professor who eventually gave up the position of the Christ Myth. He used flawed and grossly inaccurate premises that were picked up by this man:

  • Earl Doherty, 1999, The Jesus Puzzle. Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ?
Doherty (another non-NT Scholar) picked up the failed arguments Wells eventually abandoned. Nothing really new - I believe he got an ego boost when the JHC published his article.

  • Michel Onfray, 2005, Traité d'athéologie (2007 In Defence of Atheism)
A non-historian and non-NT scholar who claims that one of the chief reasons why Jesus is a myth is because he was crucified. People were apparantly not crucified but stoned in the period. I dare this man to actually read Josephus. Does he have any idea how many people were crucified in the late Second Temple Period?!?!? Here is justone example of Alexander Jannaeus:

"As he was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of all the city, he ordered about eight hundred of them to be crucified; and while they were living, he ordered the throats of their children and wives to be cut before their eyes." (Antiquities 13:14:2)
  • Gerd Lüdemann, 1998, The Great Deception: And What Jesus Really Said and Did. 2002, Paul: The Founder of Christianity. 2004, The Resurrection Of Christ: A Historical Inquiry.
I just read some of The Resurrection of Christ today! And on page 17 (if my memory serves me correctly) it said something along the lines of the crucifixion being one of the most certain events of history. Look, I might not run my own website on a dead hypothesis but the fact that he constantly makes reference to a historical Jesus with historical certainty - doesn't that kinda imply a historical Jesus?

So, what we actually find here is that the scholars fit into two categories:
  • Unqualified (and frankly historically ignorant in many cases)
  • Actually support a historical Jesus.

A Test Case
I guess it is only fair that we test out one of the key criteria in. That is, "Paul never made reference to a historical Jesus figure. If Jesus was historical - why didn't Paul mention the events of Jesus' life?"

This is a rather simple question to answer. Succinctly put:
  1. Paul does mention a historical Jesus . He mentions a Jesus that died and rose again - a Jesus who was seen by over 500 witnesses. (1 Corinthians 15:3-7). Witnesses who died for their belief in the risen Jesus. Witnesses who Paul met - including James "the Lord's brother". (Galatians 1:19).
  2. Why should Paul mention all the events of Jesus' life? He was writing purpose-written Epistles (letters) not biographies to communities and churches who already knew who Jesus was.
But don't take my word for this. I rounded up some scholarly support.

An exert from F.F. Bruce's 'Paul and Jesus' which outlines some of the historical details we know from the Pauline epistles:
"Paul is out earliest literary authority for the historical Jesus. True, he does not tell us much about the historical Jesus, in comparison with what we can learn from the Evangelists, but he does tell us a little more than that Jesus was born and died. Jesus was an Israelite, he says, descended from Abraham (Gal 3:16) and David (Rom. 1:3); who lived under the Jewish law (Gal. 4:4); who was betrayed, and on the night of his betrayal instituted a memorial meal of bread and wine (I Cor. 11:23ff); who endured the Roman penalty of crucifixion (I Cor. 1:23; Gal. 3:1, 13, 6:14, etc.), although Jewish authorities were somehow involved His death (I Thess. 2:15); who was buried, rose the third day and was thereafter seen alive by many eyewitnesses on various occasions, including one occasion on which He was so seen by over five hundred at once, of whom the majority were alive twenty-five years later (I Cor. 15:4ff). In this summary of the evidence for the reality of Christ’s resurrection, Paul shows a sound instinct for the necessity of marshalling personal testimony in support of what might well appear an incredible assertion..

Paul knows of the Lord’s apostles, of whom Peter and John are mentioned by name as “pillars” of the Jerusalem community (Gal. 2:9), and of His brothers, of whom James is similarly mentioned (Gal. 1:19; 2:9). He knows that the Lord’s brothers and apostles, including Peter, were married (I Cor. 9:5), and incidental agreement with the Gospel story of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:30). He quotes sayings of Jesus on occasion, e.g., His teaching on marriage and divorce (I Cor. 7:10f) and on the right of gospel preachers to have their material needs supplied (I Cor. 9:14); and the words He used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:24ff).

Even when he does not quote the actual sayings of Jesus, he shows throughout his works how well acquainted he was with them. In particular, we ought to compare the ethical section of the Epistle to the Romans (12:1-15:7), where Paul summarizes the practical implications of the gospel for the lives of believers, with the Sermon on the Mount, to see how thoroughly imbued the apostle was with the teaching of his Master. Besides, there and elsewhere Paul’s chief argument in his ethical instruction is t example of Christ Himself. And the character of Christ as portrayed in the Gospels. When Paul speaks of “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (II Cor. 10:1), we remember our Lord’s own words, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). The self-denying Christ of the Gospels is the one of whom Paul says, “Christ did not please himself” (Rom. 15:3); and just as the Christ of the Gospels called on His followers to deny themselves (Mark 8:34), so the apostle insists that, after the example ofo Christ, it is our Christian duty “to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1)….” (pp. 19-20)

Now to the issue of why there isn't much biographical information in letters:

"But Paul’s letters tell us very little about the life and message of Jesus. This does not mean that Jesus’s historical life was unimportant to Paul, as some scholars have suggested. Rather, Jesus mattered greatly to Paul. Paul spoke of Jesus as Lord and as God’s Son, as did early Christians generally. He wrote about life “in Christ,” “Christ crucified,” and “imitating Christ.” But narrating the story of Jesus was not the purpose of his letters. Rather, as the literary genre of “letters” indicates, Paul was writing to Christian communities about issues that had arisen in their life together."
Marcus Borg, Jesus p.32

And James Dunn addresses Well's and the issue directly:

"Professor G. A. Wells, Professor of German in the University of London, has concluded from Paul's virtual silence regarding Jesus' own ministry and teaching that the Jesus of the Gospels never existed. Jesus: the Evidence rightly noted that his view is shared by almost no other scholar, but still gave the view some prominence. Suffice it to underline the fact that the relative silence of Paul regarding 'the historical Jesus' is well known to all scholars working in this area. None that I know of shares Professor Wells' opinion. Other explanations are much more plausible. For example, that Paul was so absorbed by his faith in the risen and exalted Christ that he had little need or occasion to refer back to Jesus' earthly ministry apart from the central episode of his death and resurrection. Or, that the traditions about Jesus were sufficiently familiar to his congregations and non-controversial, so that he need do no more than allude to them, as he quite often does.

The alternative thesis that within thirty years there had evolved such a coherent and consistent complex of traditions about a nonexistent figure such as we have in the sources of the Gospels is just too implausible. It involves too many complex and speculative hypotheses, in contrast to the much simpler explanation that there was a Jesus who said and did more or less what the first three Gospels attribute to him. The fact of Christianity's beginnings and the character of its earliest tradition is such that we could only deny the existence of Jesus by hypothesizing the existence of some other figure who was a sufficient cause of Christianity's beginnings - another figure who on careful reflection would probably come out very like Jesus!"
James G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus. p.29

I think all the conclusions are self evident. Take care.

No comments:

Post a Comment