The idea that Jesus may not have existed is still very controversial. It is difficult to raise the subject and present argument and evidence because frankly, few people are willing to listen. “Everybody has always believed in the historical Jesus” or “No serious scholars doubt that Jesus really lived” or “how can so many people be wrong?” are usual responses. Therefore, to even begin an argument, we need to get rid of some common objections. I’ve listed a few below, with my retort.
1. There is no evidence for the Christ Myth theory.
“The evidence is clear: The Jesus-myth is a groundless speculation, contrary to all evidence, and totally without basis. Here are our concluding thoughts on the matter: I have personally come to the conclusion that adherence to the “Jesus-myth” is not the result of careful deliberation of the evidence, but rather, is the product and province of skeptical minds in the grips of an obsession.” http://www.tektonics.org/jesusexist
The Christ Myth theory is considered groundless speculation because there is no physical evidence that Jesus Christ did not exist. This is like arguing that, because there is no physical evidence that a giant purple monster is not standing on my head, I cannot prove that there is not one there. It is based on a logical rule that you can’t prove a negative, or can’t prove something that wasn’t there.
The flip-side of this criticism, however, is usually that there is evidence for a historical Jesus. This is nonsense. If there were such evidence, there would be no controversy – it would be ridiculous to claim that Jesus Christ was a myth if there were irrefutable evidence that he actually existed. In actuality, there is no evidence for Jesus whatsoever that is not hotly contested, which only shows that both theories are equally based on groundless speculation; the Christ Myth theory, however, is able to explain and answer a great many questions and historical factors which proponents of the historical Jesus are forced to ignore.
2. The Christ Myth is just a “proof from silence”.
A common attack on Christ Myth theory is that it often starts from a “proof from silence” argument. Many Christ Mythers try to show that there are few historical references to Jesus, and insinuate that, had Jesus existed, there would have been more. Critics argue that silence alone proves nothing; there were no TV or news casters in those days, and anyway, Jesus “flew under the radar” by staying mostly in the countryside. While I agree that the lack of historical references cannot prove anything about Jesus, I feel that critics miss the overall significance of this point. If there were any solid historical references to Jesus, then the Christ Myth theory is obviously untenable.
While Christians have been, for at least 1,000 years, adamantly affirming the historical reliability of a few selected texts which they claim verify the historical Jesus, a Christ Myther, as well as any historian or secular scholar, (even those who believe that Jesus was historical,) can point out that these same historical documents are not reliable; their authorship and genuineness are continuing subjects of debate. Therefore, to even begin a Christ Myth hypothesis, it is highly relevant to show (as we have done in Evidence for the Historical Jesus) that the assumption of Jesus’ ministry being the “most heavily documented event in the history of the world” is blatantly false. Only after we have cleared away the assumptions surrounding the historical Jesus can we begin to look for the Mythical Jesus.
3. Christ-Mythers are not scholars.
There have been only a small handful of marginally academic writers who have published on the Christ Myth theory, and critics point out that they are “out of their field.” They don’t have Ph.D’s in relevant studies, they may not be trained in the rigorous investigation, clear logic and referencing that is now demanded in intellectual circles, and they may allow their passion for the subject to a) quote from sources they haven’t personally checked or b) make comparisons and assumptions that can’t be proved empirically. They may even (heaven forbid!) self-publish, or publish with an ill-reputed publishing company.
In an attempt to tear apart the Christ Myth theory some critics will demonstrate that all of its proponents are uneducated attention seekers – and yet, the largest claims of the Christ Myth theory opens windows into Christian tradition which refuse to be shut again. In the proverbial “finger at the moon” story, a Zen master points at the moon and says “don’t focus on the finger – look at what I’m pointing to.” Criticism based on undermining professional experience simply cuts off the finger, hoping that without it, the moon will disappear. As more and more people become familiar with the Christ Myth theory, and recognize in it some questions that cannot be swept away by criticizing the author’s biography, there may eventually be too people looking at the moon to cut off all the fingers.
4. No “real” scholars agree with the Christ Myth.
I find this unfortunate, but can guess several reasons why traditional scholars have not yet supported the Christ Myth theory. First of all, the tendency of the academia is to focus on and study the specific, not the general. They may begin with a B.A. in Philosophy, then an M.A. in Religious Literature, and finally get a Ph.D. in “The Influence of Paul’s Theology on the Writing of Mark’s Gospel.” They may be the experts of the details, but the Christ Myth theory is really about the big picture – comparing and making relationships between many historical and literary documents, from many cultures and time periods, and analyzing their similarities and possible influences.
For example, a scholar might find the remains of a Roman crucifixion, analyze the wood and the nails, and determine with certainty exactly how the punishment was inflicted; these could be interpreted by other researchers as applicable to the death of Jesus Christ. The Christ Myther, on the other hand, will search into mythology and religious traditions to find stories that echo the biblical description of Christ’s passion, and then, finding an underlying spiritual theme, try to interpret the story as a metaphor and release its original meaning. It is unfair to compare a historian with a Christ Myther because they aren’t really in the same field; Christ Mythers are primarily concerned with textual analysis and literary criticism. When placed in the field of “World Literature” or “Sociology”, their methods no longer stand out as being unempirical.
Further, it is ridiculous to dismiss the Christ Myth theory by trying to separate it from the Academic Community, because almost all scholars do agree that nearly everything in the gospels and in Christian tradition came from Pagan tradition. All professors of Religion or Theology recognize that Christianity developed out of previous traditions and that many of its ideas and symbols are not new. Most scholars also agree that when we cut out all of the Pagan influences, there is virtually nothing left to be said about the historical Jesus. The only difference between Christ Mythers and the average scholar is that, faced with a complete lack of evidence concerning the historical Jesus, scholars engage in sorting through the wreckage, dusting off the pieces, and trying to imagine what the historical Jesus would have been like. If he was a carpenter, what would his shop have been like? If he was married, what would his relationship have been like?
In short, taking the Biblical testimony as a starting ground, they form a hypothesis and then try and support it through historical research. Allowing that their foundation is nothing more than the assumed historical Christ, is the Christ Myther any less credible? Lastly, I want to point out that the academia is not necessarily the best birthing ground for Truth. Being a researcher or a professor at a University is a public career, and depends on both innovative research and peer review. Backing a controversial theory is not a good idea for most scholars, who are concerned with career, status and nice things, just like everyone else.
5. Christ-Mythers make comparisons and connections that cannot be verified.
I find it amazing that Christians can discredit Christ Mythers as fanatics, whose theories are absolutely without basis, because they see similarities between Jesus and other miraculous, dying and resurrecting sons of god. Even if we ignore every modern attempt to compare Jesus with other traditions, it is more than enough to provide just one quote from Justin Martyr, a Christian apologist who acknowledged the similarities between Jesus and Pagan gods around 1800 years ago.
“When we say that the Word, who is first born of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he, Jesus Christ, our teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven; we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter (Zeus).” Justin Martyr, First Apology
If, as Justin testifies, Christianity’s central articles of faith (crucifixion, resurrection, ascension) are identical to Pagan mythology, is it any wonder Christ Mythers seek out more similarities, or question where these similarities came from? And while it is the overwhelming conclusion of modern scholars that Jesus was a historical person, there is plenty of evidence, especially from the first several centuries BC, that there has always been a debate over the historical Jesus. There were many heresies, decades after the alleged death of Jesus, that claimed Jesus had been born in appearance only, and was never an actual human being. Why should we believe the tradition of our Christian heritage, rather than investigating the claims of those other communities? Is it irrational, or crazy, to try to understand history from another point of view? Everyone knows that history is written by the winners; is there any reason to assume that in this case alone, the history written was absolutely free from prejudice?
The Christ Myth theory is not a modern idea; it is a revival of a very ancient and very common criticism of Christianity: that Jesus did and said some things that other, earlier, Pagan god-men did and said. Critics try to knock down these similarities by either questioning the source, or calling them “coincidences” by playing up their differences. While Jesus was born of a Virgin, some other savior was born “without sexual union”. While Jesus was crucified on a cross, some other savior was nailed to a tree, or a rock, or a T-shaped bar, or somewhere in the skies. The problem with focusing on the differences rather than the similarities is that, while it may work in one or two isolated cases, it cannot be applied to absolutely every proposed similarity without weakening in effect. And it also doesn’t work on more specific cases; like Jesus was called “son of God”, as were others, or born on December 25th, as were others.
In response to these claims, critics will say that many of the so-called similarities really were added on to the story of Jesus by Pagan influences, but that these don’t change the core Christian message. First off, if you agree that Christianity absorbed some of its symbols from mythological traditions, then you are a Christ Myther. Relegating our position to a simple “Jesus did not exist” is too easy: what we intend to show is that the person worshiped by Christians, along with all of his miraculous titles and abilities, is indebted to earlier traditions. It is meaningless to argue that Jesus was a historical person, but that motifs like his birth date, the virgin birth, crucifixion and resurrection, his role as son of god and savior were added into the tradition (and into the Bible!) by Pagans, and also that Jesus is still the Way, Truth and Life. What good is using this argument against Christ Mythers, and ending up with a human Jesus with no divine attributes?
Critics will also argue that mythology may have prefigured Jesus in some way, but the things said about those Pagan gods were just stories, while Jesus was a real, physical human being. This doesn’t answer why there should be any similarities at all. The only argument ever used to explain the similarities between Jesus and early Pagan saviors, which is continued by Christians in many ways today, is called “Diabolical Mimicry”. This argument can only be accepted through a faith-based Christian paradigm that believes in a struggle between God and Satan, and for a non-Christian, it doesn’t go far explain how a historical person mistakenly acted out the precise details of hundreds of diverse cultural mythologies.
6.) Christ-mythers have an agenda: to disprove the existence of Jesus.
They already thought of the end result and take material and twist it to fit into their hypothesis. All historians should know this is not how research is conducted.
Again, this is an easy way to dismiss Christ myth theory without actually looking at the evidence it presents. Criticizing the methodology, the intention, and the characters of the people challenging traditional Christian history is like a magician’s sleight of hand – great at keeping your eyes focused on the wrong thing entirely because, if you were to look at the truth, the illusion would disappear.
I’m not beyond accepting that the Christ Myth theory may turn out to be wrong. It seems to me, given the available evidence, to be a very reasonable and highly probable version of Christian history, but I won’t be upset if further evidence later induces me to change my ideas. However, what I find both disturbing and dangerous, is any attempt to disprove or vilify a hypothesis without referring to the argument itself or the evidence provided. To assume that the Christ Myth theory is false, because it wasn’t convincing the first time it was given, and that every subsequent version of it is likewise false, shows an aversion to truth that is difficult to respond to.
The articles in this section are part of a 50,000 word treatise on the historical Jesus and Christ Myth Theory, dealing with Christian history, the mystical significance of Christian symbols, and the mistaken belief that Jesus Christ was a historical person. You can download the entire collection for free as a PDF file ebook by clicking here!