Against Mythicism: A Case for the Plausibility of a Historical Jesus, by Edmund Standing

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Tyro said...

This position of strong scepticism holds that the gospels are entirely mythological texts and that we are mistaken in reading them as embellished accounts of a man who lived and preached in the Middle East around 2000 years ago.Mythicism does not come from a "position of strong scepticism" so he's wrong footed from the start. He sticks with this strawman and never once gets around to addressing any of the mythicist arguments. It's a real shame that so many apologists of all sides attempt to attack mythicism without first understanding what arguments it offers.

Brother Crow said...

"The fact that hopes for eschatological transformation and claims of the coming of a Messiah are nothing more than religious mythological notions does not preclude there having been a historical figure to which these hopes were attached." No, but it does not prove, justify or in any other way speak to that proposition either. That's like saying "just because hot dogs are kind of pink does not preclude the fact that dogs bark." ???? Eschatological hopes and dreams were held by communities all throughout the ancient mid-east - the Quram/Essene community was devoted to eschatological and prophetic musings and even activism. This whole article is based on a premise that is not well thought out. On the one hand, I think there are some substantial arguments to support the historicity of Jesus...on the other hand, this article is not one of them. Before we read the gospels as in any way reflective of historical truth, we have to come to grips with the notion that this may all be myth. From that point, we can construct a meaningful apologetic for or against faith.

Evan said...

There really is no argument here. We have a verifiable historical figure of the most recent century who has had legends develop about him, in ways similar to those that have developed about other verifiable historical figures such as Caesar Augustus or George Washington.

To go on and argue that because there are legends about historical figures, all legends must hearken back to such figures is easy to dispute by giving counterexamples such as Paul Bunyan or Hercules.

Only someone credulous would stomach the argument that because legends developed about Elvis, Mickey Mouse must have been a real person, and this is the level of this argumentation.

It's shoddy and embarrassing to the historicist position, really.

ZAROVE said...

Wile I also find the Myther idea ridiculous, on the bssis of all evidence we know form hisotry, I have to agree with Crow and Tyro in sayign this particular artilce is rather weak.

In addiiton to what Tyro said baout not addresisng Mythesist arguments, It seems the author doesnt bother to address nay of the actual arugments for Jesus existing.

I do think anyone who hodls ot the idea that Jeuss didnt eixst and was just a myth is usually driven by a desire to see this as the case, and isnt using reason at all, but that doesnt mean all arguments agaisnt mythsissm are nessisarily good either, and htink you shoudl have linked to a better aritlce refuring it.

On that note, I hope this doeesnt mean you, John, are leanign towards Mythsissm.ableadl

mdf1960 said...

This piece makes the case that is is ~possible~ for Jesus to have been a historical figure. I don't disagree with that.

I find it interesting that the mythicist position is something that has appeared rather recently. Most non-Christians have always accepted a historical Jesus. If mythicism is correct, one wonders why we don't see ancient writings claiming that Jesus was totally made up.

Steven Carr said...

Standing has gone for Sherlock Holmes-historicity, as he has little idea.

Standing has proved that Sherlock Holmes existed because the character of Sherlock Holmes was based on a real, living person.

'What the strange case of Haile Selassie demonstrates is that it is perfectly possible for a real historical figure to become so overlaid with mythology and religious notions that very little factual historical data remains.'

That's all you need for Sherlock Holmes to have existed.

All you need is a real, historical figure to be so overlaid with fictional elements that very little factual historical data remains in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Standing claims the following person really did exist and sceptics would be crazy to deny his existence.

'Looking at the status of Haile Selassie in the Rastafari religion we find the following:

The coming to earth of a messianic figure who was prophesied in the Old Testament

A birth accompanied by miracles

A child with immense divinely given wisdom who possessed miraculous powers

A Messiah whose actions were prefigured in Old Testament writings

A man who could perform miracles and in whose presence miracles occurred

A man who was worshipped and held to be divine by thousands who had not even met him

A man who was the incarnation of God and who continues to live on despite evidence of his death

A man who is prayed to and communicated with by his followers

A saviour who will one day return to gather up a chosen people who will live under his rule in a kingdom of God'

Standing is crazy to say that this person existed.

Selassi might have existed , but the person Standing has just described no more existed than Sherlock Holmes did.

Standing's article about Selassi is utterly irrelevant to Jesus.

For every real Selassi, there is a mythical Maitreya, a mythical William Tell, a mythical Ned Ludd.

OrneryPest said...

There's one big non-parallelism between Jesus and Haile Selassie. The stories about Haile Selassie began in Ethiopia, his own country. The stories about Jesus began among Greek-speaking people living in Europe and Asia Minor who didn't appear to be very familiar with the geography of Palestine nor the customs of its people.

Danny Boy, FCD said...

As a Jesus agnostic, I find the article fraught with cluelessness over arguments of mythicists. His caricature bears no resemblance to the theories of Wells, Doherty, or even Price.

He does not engage, for instance, the mythicists' contention that Paul never referred to a historical Jesus but a heavenly Christ of faith.

Bart said...

The Haile Selassie analogy to a Jesus of history is useless as a tool of discovery.

All that has been shown is that in modern time, an otherwise well known historical figure has spawned legendary beliefs. I use the term legendary rather than mythical since the reality of the figure under discussion is firmly attested. He was not a figure of mythological origin. That stories of a ridiculous nature accrued to him following his death show legendary development.

The mythicist position on the figure of Jesus is based on several facts:

1. All we know, or think we know, about Jesus is based on the single anonymous source; the Gospel of Mark, itself of uncertain date. The other canonical gospels are derivative of Mark, and add embellishments (Q) from unknown origin, most likely several persons or movements. Thus the claims for a historical personage are tenuous at best.

2. The figure of Jesus bears a striking resemblance to the mystery saviour-god-men of the Hellenized world.

3. Virtually all the "facts" of the Jesus narrative can be shown to have their origin in Jewish scriptures or apocrypha.

4. The earliest Christian writings present Jesus as a cosmic rather than an earthly figure.

The fact that legends can develop from a historical person (usually a well known person) in no way lends credence to an expectation that all such stories are ultimately grounded in a real person.

The most that can be drawn from the Selassie phenomenon is that even in well documented modern times, impossible legendary beliefs can be attached to real people. Did such legends develop in antiquity regarding real people? Undoubtedly yes, but there are far more examples of the development of myth in a superstitious world for which there are no apparent historical persons at their base.

There is no analogy between Selassie and Jesus unless the historicity of Jesus is first firmly established.

eheffa said...

Great summary Bart.


Steven Carr said...

Imagine then that the only records of Selassie's existence that had survived were the devotional accounts of Rastafarians. The only story historians would have to work with would be made up of layers of mythology.

Standing makes a good point.

Historians should not work with the only evidence available to them.

Because they might be wrong.

Instead, they should adopt the historicist position, which Standing makes seem like 'Hey, all the evidence points just one way, but who cares?'

Standing not only constructs a strawman mythicist position, he also constructs a strawman historicist position!

He can't really be claiming that historians should conclude the opposite of what the evidence says, surely?!?

Jeff said...

Without repeating too much what the others have said here, I agree that this is not a strong argument. Were it reversed - if he were giving an example of another figure who had significant mythology, but did not exist as an actual figure, this could be a decent argument for the mythicist position. But I don't think most mythicists would argue that Jesus couldn't have existed, only that he didn't. Certainly the legends could be based around an actual figure, and so all this is doing is proving something that no one really disputes.

However, at the same time, it was educational. I didn't know much about Rastafarians, but now I have learned a little more about them :)

Basil said...

mdf1960 said...

"If mythicism is correct, one wonders why we don't see ancient writings claiming that Jesus was totally made up."

We do see ancient Christian apologists backing up the Mythic Christ claim.

For example, Justin Martyr...

"This abominable congregation should be rooted out . . . a religion of lust and fornication. They reverence the head of an ass . . . even the genitals of their priests . . . . And some say that the objects of their worship include a man who suffered death as a criminal, as well as the wretched wood of his cross; these are fitting altars for such depraved people, and they worship what they deserve . . . . Also, during initiations they slay and dismember an infant and drink its blood . . . at their ritual feasts they indulge in shameless copulation."

or Minucius Felix...

"These and similar indecencies we do not wish to hear; it is disgraceful having to defend ourselves from such charges. People who live a chaste and virtuous life are falsely charged by you with acts which we would not consider possible, except that we see you doing them yourselves. 2Moreover (nam), when you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander far from the truth in thinking that a criminal deserved, or that a mortal man could be able, to be believed in as God. 3Miserable indeed is that man whose whole hope is dependent on a mortal, for such hope ceases with his (the latter's) death . . . ."