Answering: The Mythic Origin of Jesus

There are plenty of people, both layman and those who hold highly valuable degrees, that try and persuade themselves and others into thinking that Jesus was a fabrication. They use various arguments, as shown below, that seems solid on the surface but when you open them up, they fall apart. 

  • The earliest Christian traditions make no mention of a historical Jesus and clearly worshipped a purely heavenly, mythic-based being or person.  There are no references to an earthly Jesus in any of the earliest New Testament texts, the letters of Paul."

The first question I always ask, "have you read the source you're referring to?".  The majority of the layman who tries to throw arguments out there that involve Biblical sourcing, have never read it. A basic of Pauline Theology is that he's refuting arguments presented by Jews, he's involved with correcting doctrine and so forth. He does, however, make references to Jesus' earthly life in many places.  He says Jesus was born as a human, of a human mother, and born a Jew (Galatians 4:4).  He repeats that he had a "human nature" and that he was a human descendant of King David (Romans 1:3).  He refers to teachings Jesus made during his earthly ministry on divorce (1 Cor. 7:10), on preachers (1 Cor. 9:14) and on the coming apocalypse (1 Thess. 4:15).  He mentions how he was executed by earthly rulers (1 Cor. 2:8) and that he died and was buried (1 Cor 15:3-4).  And he says he had an earthly, physical brother called James who Paul himself had met (Galatians 1:19).

So Mythicist theorists then have to tie themselves in knots to explain how, in fact, a clear reference to Jesus being "born of a woman" actually means he wasn't born of a woman and how when Paul says Jesus was "according to the flesh, a descendant of King David" this doesn't mean he was a human and the human descendant of a human king.  These contrived arguments are so weak they tend to only convince the already convinced. 

  • "The ancient writer X should have mentioned this Jesus, yet he doesn't do so.  This silence shows that no Jesus existed."

The issue with presenting this argument begins with them having to also show that it shouldn't be before this silence can be given any significance. This is known as an argument from "silence". In 1909 the American "freethinker" John Remsberg came up with a list of 42 ancient writers that he claimed "should" have mentioned Jesus and concluded their silence showed that Jesus ever existed.  But the list has been widely criticised for multiple reasons and should not be taken seriously, as ancient writers do in fact mention Jesus. 

The strongest "silence" argument would be of Philo, who was a contemporary of Jesus, who was writing various things including events on Pontious Pilate. So it makes sense that he could have mentioned Jesus but this argument falls short because Philo never mentions any other Jewish rabbi, preachers, prophets, faith healers, or anything of the sort. If Philo had mentioned Anthronges and Theudas, or Hillel and Honi or John the Baptist, but didn't mention Jesus, then a solid argument from silence could be made.  But given that Philo seems to have had no interest at all in any of the various people like Jesus, the fact that he doesn't mention Jesus either makes no sense to argue this from silence.

The question arises: is there any writer who covers the Jewish healers, rabbi's, preachers and prophets of that time? Yes, virtually all of them are derived from the works of Josephus. In fact, since this would be the historian to mention Jesus, if he hadn't mentioned him, it would be an issue for Christians. However, he mentions Jesus twice. The Antiquities XX.9.1 mention of Jesus is universally considered genuine and that alone sinks the Mythicist boat, even taken into consideration the possible debate of fraud for the other account. (For more on this see citations and articles). 

So now you have to ask the question of "How did Jesus come to be?" This is where most Mythicist go off the deep end and into waters they are not familiar with. They become conspiracy theorist. 

"Jesus was a celestial being who existed in a realm just below the lunar sphere and was not considered an earthly being at all until later." 

This was introduced by self-published Mythicist author, Earl Doherty, first in The Jesus Puzzle (2005) and then in Jesus: Neither God nor Man (2009).  Doherty's theory has several flaws that we can briefly go over. To start, he claims that this mythic Jesus was based on a Middle Platonic view of the cosmos that held that there was a "fleshly sub-lunar realm" in the heavens where gods and celestial beings lived and acted out mythic events.  This is the realm, Doherty claimswhere Jesus was crucified and rose again.  Not only does he not back up his claim but he portrays that this thinking was active during the time of Jesus but this was  actually a hypothesis developed entirely by Doherty himself.  He makes it seem like this idea is common knowledge amongst specialists in Middle Platonic philosophy, while never quite spelling out that it's something he's made up. The atheist Biblical scholar Jeffrey Gibson has concluded:
 

"... the plausibility of D[oherty]'s hypothesis depends on not having good knowledge of ancient philosophy, specifically Middle Platonism. Indeed, it becomes less and less plausible the more one knows of ancient philosophy and, especially, Middle Platonism."

 
Secondly, Doherty's thesis requires the earliest Christian writings about Jesus, the letters of Paul, to be about this "celestial/mythic Jesus" and not a historical, earthly one.  Except, as has been pointed out above, Paul's letters do contain a great many references to an earthly Jesus that don't fit with Doherty's theory.

There are a few other theories out there but all of them fall short and all of them are denied by the general populis of Biblical Scholars, atheist and non-atheist alike. The Origin of Jesus is something that should be considered by everyone. This again goes to my argument that CS Lewis first portrayed. 

If Jesus existed, we must examine his claims. 
If Jesus was telling the truth, we must listen. 

History is on the side of Christians and it would take a great deal of back peddling on the skeptics part to try and overcome the data. 

Articles and Citations:

 

 

 

 

 

RC