Tuesday, 9 April 2013

TalkHistoricity Draft - What is Mythicism?

Some time ago, James McGrath of the Exploring our Matrix blog set up TalkHistoricity, a wiki intended to set out mainstream scholarly views on the historical Jesus and rebut mythicist claims about Jesus. 

Not much has happened with the wiki since it was set up, so I've decided to add a few entries myself in the hope that it will stimulate others too add their own contributions. 

To get started, I've written a draft "introduction to mythicism" type entry, adapted from an earlier post I wrote on the subject. If you have any suggestions for corrections, additions, or stylistic improvements please make them below. Otherwise, I'll upload the entry to the wiki in a few days. Once I've done that, I hope to follow up with an entry on mythicists' (mis)use of the argument from silence.


If you look at the Wikipedia entry for Jesus, and compare it to the entries for other figures such as Julius CaesarSocrates, or Pythagoras, you might, if you read carefully, notice something interesting: there is a section devoted to the question of Jesus’ existence, and to the “mythical view”, that Jesus did not exist. In fact, there is a separate, and fairly extensive, wiki page devoted to the topic. But there is nothing similar for Caesar, Socrates, or Pythagoras: their existence does not appear to be in doubt. So is the existence of Jesus less certain than that of these historical figures?

There is a group of people who say that it is. These people are most commonly known as mythicists. Mythicists claim that there is no single historical person who lies behind the New Testament figure of Jesus. For mythicists, the figure of Jesus is nothing more than a religious or literary invention of early Christians. 

The arguments that mythicists make and the conclusions that mythicists reach are rejected by the overwhelming majority of scholars. That is, virtually all scholars of antiquity or the Bible agree that Jesus existed. Figures such as James McGrath, R. Joseph Hoffmann, Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey, Stephanie Louise Fisher, and Larry Hurtado and have written extensive criticisms of mythicism. However, despite a lack of scholarly support, mythicist views have gained a certain degree of popularity,  particularly on the internet and among atheist activists. 

As evidence for their views, mythicists put forward a range of arguments, including unreliability of the Christian New Testament as a historical source, the relative lack of ancient references to Jesus from non-Christian sources, similarities between the figure of Jesus and characters of Pagan and Jewish mythology, and to perceived bias or incompetence among New Testament scholars.

The purpose of this wiki is to show how and why mythicist claims about Jesus, Christian origins, and New Testament scholarship are wrong. Rebutting mythicist claims is not the same as arguing for particular Christian beliefs about Jesus, such as that he was the Messiah or the pre-existent second person of the Trinity. Thus the purpose of this wiki is not Christian apologetics but instead to show why mainstream Biblical scholars reject mythicist claims about Jesus. Many Biblical scholars are of course Christians, but many others are Jewish, agnostic, or atheist.
A seperate wiki has been set up to set out the "positive" case for the existence of Jesus.


  1. Where is the article that you intend to upload?

    1. It's in the post above, below the asterisks. It's not really an article, it's an outline for an introduction to the wiki and mythicism.

  2. Thanks for the info. Perhaps it might help if you gave the name of one or two mythicists or mentioned any of their books.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Steven. I recently added to the suggested contents section of the wiki the idea of a separate section introducing the most important mythicists and their work. I thought it might be better to give them their own entry or entries rather than going into detail in the introduction.

  3. Here is Bart Ehrman claiming that the earliest Christians regarded Jesus Christ to have been an angel. (It affects a LOT in terms of New Testament interpretation.- says Bart)

    Don't forget to put in your Wiki how eminent scholars regarded this as a 'crazy idea' and then read the Bible and saw what it actually said, rather than what they had been brought up to believe it said.


    Here’s a bit from my chapter 7 of How Jesus Became God where I talk about why I think Paul understood Jesus, before coming to earth, to have been an angel. There’s more to the argument than just this, but it’s a start. As you’ll see, this isn’t just a crazy idea I had. I learned this from some very smart colleagues in the field, who have convinced me. It’s one of the HUGE surprises that I’ve had writing this book, coming to this realization. It affects a LOT in terms of New Testament interpretation.


    Many people no doubt have the same experience I do on occasion, of reading something numerous times, over and over, and not having it register. I have read Paul’s letter to the Galatians literally hundreds of times in both English and Greek. But the clear import of what Paul says in Galatians 4:14 simply never registered with me, until, frankly, a few months ago. In this verse Paul indicates that Christ was an angel. The reason it never registered with me is because the statement is a bit obtuse, and I had always interpreted it in an alternative way. But thanks to the work of other scholars, I now see the error of my ways.

    In the context of the verse Paul is reminding the Galatians of how they first received him when he was ill in their midst, and they helped restore him to health. This is what the verse in question says:

    Even though my bodily condition was a test for you, you did not mock or despise me, but you received me as an angel of God, as Jesus Christ.