The Christian Reaction to Jesus Mythicism

Evangelical Christian apologist David Marshall, who has written several books and comments here under fire, provides for us the typical reaction to the atheist claim that there is no man behind the Jesus we find in the four canonical gospels. Writing to me he said:
Your man Richard, while clever and full of esoteric sources as usual, has made a fool of himself by going full-in for a ridiculous position that discredits himself and everyone else who takes it, allying himself with cranks wearing party hats with arrows through their heads and big red clown noses, blustering and insulting and then getting offended easily, and taking on Ehrman in a battle he can't win. Furthermore, a good portion of your fan base is lined up to jump into the same vat of cheap red party wine.

I would bet that right now, there are some thoughtful young people who are drawn to the skeptical side, who are asking themselves, "If so many atheists are that gullible, that strongly drawn to crack-pot, looney-tune, 'Barack Obama was born in Kenya and the United States attacked itself on 9/11 types theories, what else are they wrong about? Can I trust anything Carrier, or Myers, or all these Internet fanatics, have to say? Maybe they've missed all kinds of other important things. Maybe they've overlooked evidence for God, too, 'suppressing the truth in unrighteousness,' as Paul put it." Link.
For the record, Carrier is no fool. He's brilliant and a much better informed scholar than Marshall is, or ever will be.

But in some ways I share his concern. What Marshall said is probably the impression almost all evangelicals get upon hearing atheists claim Jesus probably didn't exist at all. So I distance myself from it in hopes of being able to reach across this great divide of ours. Christians will be more likely to listen to me than someone who claims Jesus probably didn't exist at all.

But I do think there is a man behind the four Gospels. It makes sense. It's a simple hypothesis. I could be wrong though, since historical studies are fraught with many difficult problems.

People have asked me to enter the fray and make my arguments that Jesus existed. There are two reasons I won't do this. The first is that I consider this whole debate a detour from my goals given the fact that my time is limited. I have a life. I have to work for a living. I am not a tenured scholar at an institution who will pay me to blog. I am a focused, passionate man, who is single mindedly intent on debunking Christianity. This issue will not do the job for the simple fact of what evangelicals like David Marshall think of such a claim. It's too far removed from what they will consider a possibility. I'd like to hear of the vast numbers of Christians who abandoned their faith because they were convinced Jesus didn't exist. I just don't see that happening at all. Christians will not see their faith is a delusion until they first see that the Bible is unreliable and untrustworthy, and that the doctrines they believe are indefensible, which is my focus. Now it might be that Christians could come to the conclusion the Bible is unreliable upon reading arguments that Jesus never existed, but they will be much less likely to read those very arguments because that thesis is too far removed from what they can consider a possibility.

The second reason why I won't enter the fray is because I don't have to do so. Biblical scholars are making my arguments for me, although, it should be clear when I disagree with some of their arguments. I'll continue letting them do what they do.

I did, however, make an argument in chapter 12 of The Christian Delusion that "at best Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet." It's a chapter about which David Marshall said:
I found John's argument in this chapter emotionally mature in tone for the most part and challenging in substance. Jesus promised to return soon, he argues, but failed to do so. Therefore he was a false prophet, and his other claims should not be trusted. Link.
Notice the difference between what Marshall said of my chapter and what he said about Carrier's arguments? There is a big difference don't you think?

In that chapter, in order to keep any disagreements between the authors in my anthology to a minimum, I included a substantive footnote, number 5, where I wrote:
Probably the best three books discussing the claim that Jesus was a fictional character are Robert M. Price, Deconstructing Jesus (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000), Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle (Ottawa: The Age of Reason Publications, 2005), and Richard Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, forthcoming, which I have not yet seen.

It can be very difficult to establish what may or may not have happened in the past, so agnosticism about the historicity of Jesus is a reasonable position. On the poor evidence of historical evidence, see chapter 8 in my book Why I Became an Atheist (in the revised book I linked to, it's chapter 7). When it comes to the historicity of the founder of the Jesus cult, the dominant theory, in Earl Doherty’s words, is this: "In their fervor and distress following the crucifixion, the followers of Jesus . . . ran to their bibles and began to apply all manner of scriptural passages to him, especially those looked upon as messianic by the Jewish thinking of the time. But they turned as well to contemporary Hellenistic mythology about the Logos, supplementing it with the Jewish equivalent in the figure of personified Wisdom, throwing in for good measure . . . myths about descending-ascending heavenly redeemers.” Earl Doherty argues instead for an alternative skeptical theory:
[T]he Christian movement was not a response to any human individual at one time and location. Christianity was born in a thousand places, out of the fertile religious and philosophical soil of the time, expressing faith in an intermediary Son who was a channel to God, providing knowledge, love and salvation. It sprang up in many innovative minds like Paul’s, among independent communities and sects all over the empire, producing a variety of forms and doctrines. Some of it tapped into traditional Jewish Messiah expectation and apocalyptic sentiment, other expressions were tied to more Platonic ways of thinking. Greek mystery concepts also fed into the volatile mix. . . . Paul and the Jerusalem brotherhood around Peter and James were simply one strand of this broad salvation movement, although an important and ultimately very influential one. Later, in a mythmaking process of its own, the Jerusalem circle with Paul as its satellite was adopted as the originating cell of the whole Christian movement. Link
The reason why a vast majority of scholars do not accept the skeptical theory is not necessarily because they are believers, although most of them are. It’s because the dominant theory seems to be a simpler one. It is much simpler (and hence easier) they conclude, to conceive of an original movement with a human founder that splintered into a multiple number of groups than it is to conceive of a multitude number of similar groups arising at the same time across the known world who soon came together to identify themselves as Christians.

A recent book of five views discussing this issue is The Historical Jesus: Five Views, eds. James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009). Unfortunately, the apocalyptic view of Jesus did not get a chapter of its own, probably because the editors are evangelicals and they tend to ignore it.
People can comment below as they like, but don't expect me to respond. As I said, I'm not interested in doing so. What we know, what we can prove, what is beyond doubt, is that the Jesus we read in the New Testament did not exist. There was no incarnate God born from a virgin who healed the lame, atoned for our "sins," arose from the dead, ascended into the sky and will come again. This should be good enough.

Atheists might disagree vehemently with what I think, but they should at least recognize I have a better chance to reach out to Christians because of what I think. If they distance themselves from me because of this one issue, or try to argue me into submission, then they are shooting themselves in the foot.