Jesus Eclipsed: Part 1

For several years, I have posted comments here on Debunking Christianity, most often when the discussion has involved the mythicist/historicist debate. A few weeks ago, I published a book, Jesus Eclipsed: How Searching the Scriptures Got in the Way of Recounting the Facts, which is now available on Amazon. John has kindly invited me to write a series of guest posts discussing some of what I have written. In this initial post, I want to share a bit about who I am and what led me to write the book.

In 1970, when I was a sophomore in high school, the album Jesus Christ Superstar was released. As might have been expected, kids loved the album, but many parents considered it sacrilegious. In the song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” Mary Magdalene says concerning Jesus, “He’s a man. He’s just a man. And I’ve had so many men before. In very many ways, he’s just one more.” Daring to express that sentiment stirred up a great deal of controversy. But there was another song that made me stop and think; it was called “Heaven on Their Minds.” In that song, Judas Iscariot asserts, “If you strip away the myth from the man, you will see where we all soon will be.”

As I would learn in a college class several years later, the attempt by scholars to “strip away the myth from the man” is what efforts to reconstruct the historical Jesus are all about. In that class, we read Schweitzer’s classic study The Quest of the Historical Jesus, which included a chapter devoted to Bruno Bauer’s claim that “there never was any historical Jesus.” Schweitzer found Bauer’s arguments unconvincing, but he did at least take them seriously. Most scholars did not. One of the other books we read in that class was Rudolf Bultmann’s Jesus and the Word. There Bultmann writes, “Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as the founder behind the historical movement [i.e., Christianity].” He gave his readers the impression that the issue had been settled definitively.

Fast-forward to the year 2009. In the intervening years, I had attended seminary, been ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and pastored several churches. One day, while browsing in the religion section at a bookstore, I came across a paperback entitled The Historical Jesus: Five Views. Four of the contributors identified on the cover held views that were familiar, so I almost returned the book to its place on the shelf. Fortunately, I resisted that urge, because Robert Price (the writer whose view was unfamiliar) was making a startling claim: “I will argue that it is quite likely there never was a historical Jesus.” Intrigued, I purchased the book and read Price’s chapter, “Jesus at the Vanishing Point.” His essay introduced me to an array of literature that likewise questioned whether Jesus of Nazareth ever existed. I have explored a great deal of that material, and I have also re-read, more critically, historical Jesus research that challenges the mythicist position.

In the meantime, like a growing number of clergy colleagues, I have now left the church to join the ranks of unbelievers. Though I have repudiated the doctrines of the Christian faith, I have not forgotten what I learned over the years about the Bible, particularly the Gospels. In my book Jesus Eclipsed, I help readers understand how the biblical accounts of Jesus likely originated and the difference that makes concerning what historians can say about Jesus.