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Is Jesus a Myth?

Isis with the infant Horus, faience, Ptolemaic period

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I’ve spent most of my time at Counter-Currents focusing on issues that unite us rather than those that divide us. This hasn’t been out of any tepid desire to avoid controversy: I really do think the issues that unite us are far more important than those on which our community is split. Thus, I’ve been hesitant to risk sowing discord over side issues where we need unity more than ever.

But the truth of our side’s take on the issues that unite us—if you ask me—is obvious, and this just doesn’t always lend itself to interesting conversation. As a writer, I can only repeat the obvious for so long before desiring more of a challenge.

So to make it abundantly clear that this argument is posed with no hostility, I’ve decided to collaborate with Christopher Robertson to make this a sort of Bible Week at Counter-Currents. While I publish a discussion of the possibility that Jesus never existed as a historical figure, Robertson will be publishing a sort of Bible study (which he agreed to do by my insistence—I genuinely found it interesting). This way, the overall tone of Counter-Currents won’t be skewed towards either its Christian or non-Christian readers. And I hope that this token of good faith will help defuse any sense of hostility potentially created by this essay. Also note that in the future I’ll be discussing my disagreements with modern “atheists” in just as much detail.

First off, my background . . .

I was raised—initially homeschooled—in a small Southern town, with young-earth creationist parents. For those who don’t know, this is where someone adds up the genealogies listed in the Old Testament from Adam to Jesus and comes to a figure of 4,000 years, adds this to the 2,000 years or so we’ve seen Anno Domini, and concludes that the Universe must be approximately 6,000 years old.

I didn’t even encounter anyone I knew to be non-religious until somewhere around the age of 15.

And then I went on a manic spree, reading everything I could get my hands on—from Richard Elliott Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? to the little-known third part of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, subtitled Examination of the Prophecies.

My deconversion process was slow and torturous, because my mother was convinced I was on the way to an eternity in hell—a matter that completely superseded all interests I may have had in my earthly life entirely. If focusing on the matter of my eternal soul meant neglecting all other aspects of my education altogether . . . well, even 100 years spent starving and homeless followed by an eternity in Heaven would be better than 100 years spent in luxury followed by an eternity in Hell. It occurred to me that this attitude was entirely compatible with her premises, and that anyone who claimed to hold the worldview that she did without behaving the same way would have to be some kind of hypocrite.

I ended up forced into debates with pastors, forced to read countless works of apologetics, and ultimately spent several years in what amounted to some kind of ad hoc seminary.

In short, I didn’t come to appreciate the idea of mythicism because of some teenage act of rebellion, or juvenile attempt to snub my nose up at Christians and prove my superior intellect; I was sincerely interested in the truth, and curious to analyze all the different possibilities left by the gaps in the historical record. It was also a deeply personal process for me, because at the time, I was also taking the idea that I might be condemning myself to an eternity in Hell because of the conclusions I was arriving at in complete and total, unironic seriousness.

So, what is mythicism?

Mythicism is the thesis that Jesus is a myth, not a historical figure.

The most common objection to mythicism is that it’s impossible to prove a negative: if the mythicist has an arrogant attitude towards people who claim to know that a historical Jesus really existed, don’t they deserve the same amount of arrogance in return for claiming to know that he didn’t?

But this misses the point that a mature version of mythicism should really be aiming to prove: the idea is not supposed to be “hey, here’s why you can’t prooove Jesus was a real historical man! Neener neener!” but something more like this: “We’ve looked at what most religions around AD 1 were like, and what the background beliefs of the population in question were mostly like. Here’s our most plausible account of how Christianity arose in history. As you can see, this account of Christian origins just doesn’t involve a historical founder. We don’t need a historical founder because we have a better account of the origins of Christianity, that explains the facts as we find them, that just doesn’t involve one.”

In other words, the idea is not to ask “Can we prove a man named Jesus existed in history around AD 1?” but rather: “What is the most plausible account of how the religion we now know as Christianity began?” That account will either involve a historical Jesus, or it won’t.

Now, in this essay, my aim is even more modest than that: I don’t intend to prove within the span of a couple of essays that the mythicist account is the most plausible story of how Christianity arose, but simply that an intelligent and mature mythicist account is possible. I’ll achieve this first by showing why there are enough gaps in the historical record to allow one to question if a historical Jesus really existed, and then by outlining one conceivable origin account that demonstrates what an alternative that doesn’t involve a historical founder might look like.

What is mythicism not?

You may remember a well-circulated, amateurish underground conspiracy “documentary” from about ten years back called Zeitgeist.

This is an excellent demonstration of what mythicism is not. After peddling 9/11 conspiracy theories, the documentary does a lazy job of summarizing bullet points of rough similarity between Jesus and the gods of previous religions: supposedly, the sacrificial God born of a virgin only to be crucified and resurrected is a constant motif throughout ancient religion. The documentary makes this claim of Mithra, Horus, and Dionysus, among others. Yet, when comparisons like these are made by amateur mythicists, they almost always reveal a deeply pseudo-intellectual comprehension of the pagan objects of comparison with Jesus.

Mithra, for example, wasn’t born of a virgin; he emerged fully formed as an adult . . . out of a rock. [1] And he was never killed, let alone crucified. [2]

Dionysus was born from Zeus having sex with Semele:

“And Semele, daughter of Kadmos was joined with him [Zeus] in love and bare him a splendid son, joyous Dionysos,–a mortal woman an immortal son. And now they both are gods.”–Hesiod, Theogony. 940 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic 8th or 7th centuries BC)

Then he was torn into pieces by the titans.[3] And the only account in which Dionysus was resurrected and ascended to Heaven afterwards, the Contra Celsum, was written in AD 248—and therefore could not have inspired the story of Jesus (more likely it was the opposite).

Horus was born when Isis took the form of a bird, “revivified the sexual member of [then-dead] Osiris and became pregnant by him, eventually giving birth to their child . . .” [4]

I can’t imagine any Christian telling the story of how after Mary died, the Holy Spirit resurrected her vagina and impregnated her dead body while in the form of a bird to conceive Jesus.

A mature and reasonable mythicism is not drawn from overly simplistic and lazy comparisons of the story of Jesus with the motifs of other religious figures. But this is the form of “mythicism” that people are most likely to be familiar with. So part of my task is to show that there are indeed forms of mythicism that are far more mature and intelligent than this sort of tripe.

God and the Gaps

Though traditional scholarship places the circulation of the first written Gospel (by almost all accounts of current scholarship, The Gospel of Mark) around AD 70, it isn’t until around AD 170 that we have any official record of how they acquired their modern names. That was when Irenaeus, a Roman bishop, published Against Heresies, a refutation of various forms of Gnosticism.

In Book 3, Chapter 1, he claims:

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

What were Irenaeus’ sources, a full hundred years after the fact? How can we trust him to know the identities of the authors of the Gospels? In fact, even mainstream Christian scholarship tends to doubt the authorship of the Gospels. As Craig Blomberg writes in The Case for Christ, “It’s important to acknowledge that strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous.” Furthermore, as this essay on Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels notes,

. . . the first church fathers who alluded to or quoted passages from the Gospels, for nearly a century after their composition [that is, until the time of Iranaeus], did so anonymously. Since these sources do not refer to the Gospels by their traditional names, this adds further evidence that the titles bearing those names were not added until a later period (probably in the latter half of the 2nd century AD), after these church fathers were writing.[4] And, if the manuscript titles were added later, and the Gospels themselves were quoted without names, this means that there is no evidence that the Gospels were referred to by their traditional names during the earliest period of their circulation. Instead, the Gospels would have more likely circulated anonymously.

So we should make it very clear that when we refer to “Matthew,” “Mark,” “Luke,” and “John,” this is primarily a matter of convention, and not any real identification of the books’ authors. The proper title for the book I will call “Mark” is “The Gospel According to Mark,” and it obtained that name well over some hundred years after Jesus would have been dead.

As mentioned previously, the first Gospel—very probably Mark—is near–unanimously believed by scholars to have entered circulation around AD 70. Together, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the “synoptic” gospels (from the Greek σύν; syn, “together” and ὄψις; opsis, “view”), because they copy a great deal of content from one another—content differs between Matthew and Luke, but both contain lines throughout which are copied verbatim, or almost verbatim, from Mark. Thus, the current scholarly consensus is that Mark came first, and some years later Matthew and Luke both separately worked with Mark, as well as a hypothetical document called “Q” collecting the sayings of Jesus, or perhaps some other figure, used to explain lesser amounts identical content contained in Matthew and Luke but not originally appearing in Mark. The second leading theory is that the shared content between Matthew and Luke occurs because Luke copied directly from Matthew (a theory which dispenses with the need to hypothesize about “Q”). The Griesbach hypothesis differs from this consensus by supposing that Matthew was written first, and that Luke used Matthew as a source, while Mark then used both Luke and Matthew.

One problem for these second two theories can be demonstrated with an easy example: Mark contains no story of Jesus’ birth. Matthew and Luke both add birth narratives to the story, and the details of their narratives couldn’t differ more totally. Luke 2:1–7 says:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

As it so happens, we know that this census took place in AD 6.

Yet, when Matthew tells the story in Chapter 2, he claims that: “. . . Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod . . .” And as it so happens, we know that Herod the Great died in 4 BC—ten years before Quirinius was appointed Imperial Legate of the province of Roman Syria and conducted his census.

The two Gospels, therefore, place Jesus’ birth a full ten years apart in time.

And they do so with narratives that never once overlap on any of the key important points. Matthew tells a story of King Herod ordering the murder of all newborns in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the newborn Jesus:

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under . . . (2:16)

While it isn’t impossible that such an event could have taken place, the anonymous “Gospel According to Matthew,” written some decades after the events in question, is the sole source for it in all of history. And Luke never mentions it, either.

Matthew then claims that Joseph was warned by an angel to flee Bethlehem because of Herod’s plan, notes that Joseph “got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod” (v.14–15), and then claims that this all happened to fulfill “what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son”” (v.15).

Now, this verse is more interesting than it appears at a glance. Matthew has the unique trait of searching far and wide to make claims of Jesus having fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. But anyone who isn’t committed to taking an apologetic approach from the outset, I think, will find these claims not only unconvincing, but downright disconfirming of its author’s reliability.

This particular prophecy, for example, comes from Hosea 11:1.

Now, here is what Hosea 11:1–2 says:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.

Not only is it clear that v.1 is a historical reference to the nation of Israel, and not a prophecy about the coming of a future prophet or son of God, but it is abundantly clear that v.2 could not apply to Jesus—certainly no Christian would want it to, because it would have Jesus rebelling against God making sacrifices to the gods of foreign religions.

The discrepancies don’t end there. While Matthew has the family of Jesus fleeing to Egypt until Herod’s death (2:15, 2:21–23), Luke has them staying in Nazareth the entire time from the very beginning, going away to Jerusalem every year without fail (2:41 – “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover”) and staying alone for three days in the Temple of Jerusalem (2:46–47 – He was “. . . sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.”) Surely this would have caught King Herod’s eye! But according to Luke’s account, Jesus wasn’t born until King Herod was already ten years dead. Luke’s story has Joseph and Mary start in Nazareth, then journey to Bethlehem and back again, while Matthew’s has the family start in Bethlehem, then flee to Egypt, then find a new home in Nazareth. There literally isn’t a single point of overlap between their two accounts. It’s hard to see how to explain this, except by concluding that they were both separately filling in gaps left in Mark’s story.

See A Synoptic Gospels Primer: Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark & Luke for an overview of the various approaches to this issue, and see here for further discussion of the existence of the hypothetical document known as “Q.”

The Gospel of John, meanwhile, is not believed to have entered circulation until at least AD 90—and likely not even until after AD 100.

So, how good are the Gospels as records of the life of a historical Jesus?

Less scholarly apologists who address themselves to popular audiences would like us to believe that what we have in the Gospels are four independent but corroborating, eyewitness accounts of the life of the historical Jesus. But even according to mature Christian scholarship, this very probably isn’t the case.

Instead, what we appear to have is one anonymously written work that appeared at a bare minimum almost four whole decades after the hypothetical date at which Jesus’ death would have taken place, two that copied extensively from it, and one that was most likely not written for still yet at least a few more decades. Generally speaking, this reduces the evidence represented by the Gospels down more or less to the evidence represented by Mark: whether or not the Gospels represent strong evidence for a historical Jesus, in other words, basically depends on whether or not the Gospel According to Mark does.

I’ll discuss this further in the next entry, and then discuss the one set of Christian documents we have which precede the dating of the Gospel According to Mark: the letters of Paul.

Notes

1. Mithraic Studies: Proceedings of the First International Congress of Mithraic Studies (1975), p. 173; Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 8 (1994), p. 757.

2.  Richard Gordon, Image and Value in the Greco-Roman World (Aldershot: Variorum, 1996), p. 96

3. Paus. viii. 37. § 3; Diod. iii. 62; Phurnut. N. D. 28.

4. Richard Wilkinson, Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (2003), p. 146.

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44 Comments

  1. Lyle Bright
    Posted July 18, 2017 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    I am happy to see that there are people who share the general vision of the Nouvelle Droite and the Alt-Right who are vitally concerned for Christian metaphysics. I was influenced by Houston Chamberlain and his notion that Christianty formed at a time of a great ‘chaos of peoples’ and incorporates confused ideas along with sublime ideas, but I have largely concluded that it is not nor will it be possible to simply dismiss Christianity away, nor Catholicism, nor the ‘world-picture’ of the Great Chain of Being in one easy gesture, but rather that it all has to be carefully gone through and thought about. Toward that I have great respect for Werner Jaeger’s ‘Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture’. It seems to me that Christian notions are so intricatley interwoven with Greek rationalism and all ‘our traditions’ of culture and understanding that it is unwise to image it and they can be pushed aside.

    But the thing that interests me is to develop a Christian/Catholic vision and philosophy that is capable of being exclusive. I mean this in relation to reestablishing a strong, a solidly founded and a totally believable white identity: a pan-Europeanism that, with few hesitations, recognizes the Negro element as non-desirable, and at the same time is capable of strict and hard definitions in relation to the Meso-American, the Middle Eastern. How can a strong and self-identified but also metaphysical Christianity define such a self-centric, strong and communicable posture around which a Pan-Europeanism can develop? Strengthen itself, come back into itself, come back into its power and confidence? I have definitely been influenced by Bowden’s ideas about this and, at the same time, have been thinking of a person like Savitri Devi with her ‘mathematical certainties’ about the rightness of her metaphysical principles.

    If Christianity and Catholicism have been ‘polluted’ and weakened because of a sentimental universalism and inclusiveness, how can the positive aspect of this universalism be held to while strict and sharp definitions — hierarchies — are understood and maintained? Where is the precedent for this attitude to be found within, say, the Catholic tradition itself? (Aldous Huxley opined in ‘Proper Studies’ that he Church had been entirely realistic about social, intellectual and cultural distinctions). How can one strengthen a solid and genuine Catholic/Christian doctrine while simultaneously holding to exclusive notions? Ultimately, the question is (I think): How can one honestly define an intelligible, a moral and ethically defensible White Ethnic Nationalism while maintaining the essence of what is meant by the word ‘charity’? For me in any case this is a difficult problem.

    The further one goes back in time from this our present, and the more that one investigates Christian and Catholic metaphysics, the more one must agree to surrender what has come to be called ‘modernism’. But what I find interesting is that in turning back to consider truths that are held within metaphysical views that, like it or not, we find hard to believe (even if we want to believe in the ‘essences’), the more we find ourselves attempting to recover an ‘olde metaphysic’. For example: The Elizabethan World Picture which stands upon The Great Chaim of Being. How odd that to recover *value and meaning* we are forced to ‘mine’ truth and meaning and value within these old metaphysical forms which seem to be incompatable with modernistic points-of-view. We become philosophically amphibious!

    • derWanderer
      Posted July 18, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      For those of us who won´t have the time to go through lengthy, exegetical works, but are nonetheless interested, could you please explain just the part about why the inspired gospels got such divergent dates and stories about the birth Jesus Christ?

      • Lyle Bright
        Posted July 18, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        You may have mistakingly responded to my post, above, instead of to the author of this article.

      • Posted July 18, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        In reply to deWanderer: Thanks for your interest. There is too much to say, and there has to be a lot of ground work laid out first. I find that when I’ve talked about the historical reliability of the Gospels with people, I spend most of my time just removing all the smokescreens and gross misunderstandings that people have. Questions relating to text transmission, variant readings, oral tradition and textual criticism are all involved. I’ll spare you this.

        If you’re really interested in a couple of books that explain such concepts well in terms of the average person, I recommend two works by Craig Blomberg, ‘The Historical Reliability of the Gospels’ and his ‘Jesus and the Gospels.’

        The older but still relevant work by F.F. Bruce, ‘The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?’ is worthy of a read. Bruce was a first-rate biblical scholar.

        For more advanced works, I recommend the following:

        Luke Timothy Johnson, ‘The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels.’

        Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, ‘Rethinking Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture.’

        Special mention should go to Daniel B. Wallace, ‘Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence.’

        The point is, there’s nothing new under the sun. The polemics raised by skeptics has been answered in-depth by a host of biblical scholars years past and today. The problem is that most people don’t have a clue how to ferret this stuff out, and the greater number of Christians are both doctrinally weak and historical ignorant. Most of what is passed off as ‘contradictions’ in the New Testament has been assiduously rebutted in scholarly and exegetical commentaries, entire tomes which have been written on the subject, theological journals which devote entire articles to such alleged ‘errors,’ and specific books written to answer such common objections by skeptics.

        I know because this was an important subject that I struggled with back in the 1980s.

        I hope this helps in some way.

  2. Stage IV
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    I would like to bring something to the table. Not specifically related to this subject (of endless hair-splitting), but something much more important.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._Scott_Peck#The_four_stages_of_spiritual_development

    Read these very carefully.

    Aedon Cassiel really has an axe to grind. Maybe this will calm him a little. Protestantism is a curse, by the way. Marthin Luther is born out of the bane of mankind. No wonder Aedon ended up the way he is. But there is hope, you dont have to be forever stuck on stage III.

  3. Posted July 17, 2017 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I read with interest Aedon Cassiel’s article and, in many respects, I’ve heard it all before. I’ll touch lightly on a few things that I’ve seen time and time again by those who have departed from a more theologically conservative form of Christianity. I hope my words will not be interpreted as a personal attack on the character of Cassiel. This is not my intention.

    Cassiel tells us he grew up in a small, Southern town among parents and others who were young earth creationists. Sounds to me like he was brought up in a strictly fundamentalist home with all the accompanying close-mindedness and anti-intellectualism common among Bible-thumpers.

    In fact, he tells us he didn’t really encounter anyone non-religous until around 15 years of age. So, basically he lived in a theological and philosophical bubble. His parents, I presume, didn’t prepare him for the real world of skepticism by introducing him to higher critical arguments against the Bible and how responsible, well-infomed Christian scholars have responded over many years.

    In my opinion, this is something Christian parents need to do, especially as the world turns more and more hostile to the claims of Christ. We need to prepare our children for this sort of thing. The problem is that far too many Christian parents are intellectually lazy, and really don’t understand the historical roots and doctrine of their faith.

    Thus, when Cassiel came across works that had as their intent to refute the authenticity of the New and Old Testament’s, it sounded convincing. It was all so new to him. Often these types become rabid anti-Christians and feel robbed because they were never told what unbelieving Bible critics had to say about Jesus, and the allegedly conflicting Gospel accounts, etc. In some cases when they are finally exposed to what mature, conservative biblical scholars have written (e.g., R.D. Wilson, J.H. Greenlee, Gleason Archer, Walter C. Kaiser, D.A. Carson, and a host of others), they quickly dismiss them because their minds are already made up. As the old saying goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

    These kind of folks are not anything like the late James G. Machen, who was bombarded with higher critical arguments against the Bible’s inerrancy and historical truth at Princeton Seminary in the 1920s, yet he meticulously ferreted through the polemics and regained his faith based on the evidence and the fallacies of the critics. He went on to author a number of books refuting the arguments of higher critics.

    Cassiel claims to have been on a search for truth, and perhaps he was. However, having read his articles on the historicity of Jesus and the Gospel of Mark, I can see clearly that he has been overly-influenced by one side of the story. I’ve been reading anti-Christian polemics and their rebuttals by Christian scholars since 1980, and I immediately discerned a host of flaws in his argumentation at times. I question whether he’s been as fair to the evidence as he purports.

    For example, in quoting the use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15, it’s obvious he fails to understand the various New Testament uses of the Old Testament. Contrary to a fundamentalist Christian understanding of messianic prophecy which sees it always as a direct, literal, and one-on-one methodology, the Gospel authors employed a variety of uses of the Hebrew scriptures (e.g., thematic parallels, typology, historical analogies, and the like).

    There are a host of works on this subject that would’ve easily went into detailing explaining in clear terms what Matthew was attempting to do and why. Thus, both critics of the Bible and fundamentalist Christians get it wrong because they both assume that Matthew and other Gospel writers are always following a strictly linear and literal uses of Old Testament passages. This would have been prevented had the writer read more widely and thought through the textual issues a little deeper. Before one accuses Matthew of an error (or whoever is believed to be the writer)m it would be wise to first discern his purpose or intention in quoting the Book of Hosea.

    Also, Cassiel raised instances of contradictions and discrepancies between the Gospel writers on the birth and certain events of Jesus’ life. There are a host of Bible-believing authors who would have carefully and exegetically resolved these. I doubt that Cassiel has thoroughly worked through these arguments. I tend to think he may have read some of them, but didn’t take their counter-arguments seriously because they failed to comport with his critical prior-assumptions. Most likely it was a cursory reading at best. I’ve seen this sort of thing many times having engaged in countless intellectual debates with atheists, Jewish anti-missionaries, and skeptics. The same old and tired arguments are raised time and again with little awareness of their refutations by evangelical Bible scholars. Even the seemingly more sophisticated objections raised by Bartman (spell?), Harris and others are in large measure just rehashed older unbelieving polemics. Nothing new under the sun.

    The point is, there are textually sound and hermeneutically valid arguments to those objections raised by Cassiel, including the issues surrounding Jesus’ historicity. I hope readers will consider this and seek out such works, even if they don’t agree with some of the points I’ve raised.

  4. Hugh
    Posted July 17, 2017 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    I remember in catholic school what they taught was that the gospels we passed on orally through “camps”. Each apostle had their own congregation and he would preach to them orally because they believed that Jesus would be returning within their lifetime. That explains why the texts weren’t written down until decades later.

  5. Posted July 15, 2017 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    The issue of Jesus’s existence is far less important than the substance of his claims. Bear in mind that Thomas Jefferson recorded all his purported statements in his ‘Jefferson Bible ‘and could not find enough criteria to support the concept of the ‘Christ’ Paul made him out to be.

    Consequently, Christianity can not claim to be the claims of Jesus but the claims of Paul about Jesus.

    But what about the Old Testament claims of a coming Messiah? I quote from Professor Michael Heiser, a linguist of middle eastern languages and historian, a ‘bible-believing’ fundamentalist in his book “The Unseen Realm”, page 248 “The identity and purpose of the Messiah are unknowable from a Bible verse – even many Bible verses” and “The Messianic portrait can only be discerned by assembling a hundred terms, phrases, metaphors and symbols, which themselves take on meaning only when their patterns and convergences are detected”. Which is to say, it is all gobbledegook except to self-appointed cognoscenti.

    This is a classic example of an ‘attitude’ creating a policy, rather than a reaction to facts. There isn’t enough Old Testament certitude to explain Christ as a savior, much less identify him as a person. Consequently, the Bible itself, looked at objectively outside of the delusions of supposed ‘doctrines’, is the best evidence we have that Christianity is merely a faith based upon ‘belief’.

    Does that mean it is all a lie purportedly for political reasons? Well, no. I think it is all true. But just back then what happened wasn’t necessarily understood by the people it was happening too. When you add to that ‘context’, the inimitable understanding of a person in the realm of that activity impossible to know to someone outside that cultural and personal reality, and add to it a lexicon interpreted from colloquial to Aramiac, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Old English or whatever – PLUS the interpretation of individual words – you get a situation impossible to accurately interpret.

    So it is a good thing that ‘Christians’ live by faith – they can’t hang their hat on anything else but ethics.

  6. Mac Tírè
    Posted July 15, 2017 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    I too read Carrier’s On The Historicity of Jesus. Very persuasive, exhaustive work showing that he was a myth later historicized.

  7. Peter Quint
    Posted July 15, 2017 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Christianity is nothing more than long-term psychological warfare against the masses, read Joseph Atwill.

  8. ex South African
    Posted July 15, 2017 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    Religion is also a question of ethics and morals in times of disease, war, chaos and economic distress, which must provide steadfastness and hope in such times. Does this religion still offer this moral compass for most people?

    Then if you take away this moral compass, what will replace it? Something of a lesser value? You can talk about these things to intellectuals, but the man on the street wants something of immediate practical value, and at the moment this is Christianity, irrespective if Jesus was a myth or not (he does not even think that far). Some convert to other religions, like Islam or Buddhism, but is that not the case of replacing the pest with cholera? Christianity was molded to our Western nature. The other religions not.

  9. Frank
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    I believe that existed a historical Jesus. But certainly was a mundane jewish preacher at the time. But I believe that the first elements of christianity was developed from him, becoming very popular within the masses, after his death.
    Along the time, myths about him, begined to appear and spread within people, crystallized in the gospels, as a guy that is the child of god and produced miracles.

  10. Jules
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    The question about the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity has been answered by Francesco Carotta. The Gospel of Marc is nothing but a naive retelling of the Roman civil war, beginning with the crossing of the Rubicon and ending with Caesars funeral and his apotheosis.
    Divus Julius is Jesus. The Christian tradition is older than the Gospels and traces clearly back to Roman origins.
    More details can be found under:
    https://www.carotta.de/subseite/texte/jwc_e/contents.html
    there is also a video on youtube “The Gospel of Ceasar” which might be a good introduction:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvga-98x6Nk

  11. Peter Quint
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Okay, I’ve scanned all the comments. Shame on all of you; I can’t believe that I am the only one that has read Joseph Atwill’s great books.

  12. Peter Quint
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Of course Jesus never existed, read Joseph Atwill’s “Caesar’s Messiah,” and “Shakespeare’s Secret Messiah.” Joseph Atwill has another book in progress, but he has found so much evidence that he has delayed its publication. It was the Flavian emperors that financed the creation of the new testament, one of the earliest, and most successful psychological operations–long-term warfare against the masses.

  13. Othmar Regin
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    You can debate till “Kingdom come” if (((Jesus))) or Cuckristianity is real or not – IT DOES NOT MATTER.
    What matters is what influence it has on us what it gave us and what it takes from us.

    You might argue about a few positive things it has maybe brought us, but you can’t deny Cuckristianity was and is antithetical to everything we where as Evropeans (and yes we molded Cuckristianity later to fit us better). But if compared to our “Pagan” Nature based beliefs and culture Cuckristianity is a still-born child of the mind of Jewish rabbis and the Middle Eastern mind-set. It is an intellectual Cuckcoo which has been forced upon us by the Sword and for which we have paid dearly ever since it’s inception.

  14. Leon Haller
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    There are some ancient references to Jesus outside of the Gospels. But this is the wrong way to look at the issue (especially from a White Preservationist perspective). It is possible that Christ never lived, but extremely improbable when considered psychologically. The Christian religion is very different from others. Granted, a lot of pagan superstition seeped into it over time, but at bottom it promises an eternal life which no one can physically sense in exchange for making a lot of very real sacrifices in this life that we know is real. Why did the earliest Christians accede to such a seemingly “raw” deal, up to the point of gruesome martyrdom experienced by many? Because they had the evidence of the Resurrection – either directly, or obviously very powerfully indirectly conveyed to them.

    Who would believe such nonsense? I realize that legions of people believe all sorts of garbage, but do they exhibit willingness to endure great suffering on behalf of it? From a “naturalist” perspective, the rise of early Islam makes material sense. Primitive morons are allowed to indulge in rapine and pillage, and if instead they die on jihad, they go to a mythic Paradise. By contrast Christianity only promises mostly hardship (or at least abnegation) in this world. And the early Christian communities were almost certainly composed of more intelligent and sophisticated persons than the early Islamic one.

    I think the efflorescence of Christianity in light of its otherworldliness is the best (historical) argument for its essential truth (which does not mean that everything conventionally associated with Christian belief is necessarily true – or must be considered true even if one grants truth status to the religion’s core doctrines). But the issue of Christ’s actual existence is completely irrelevant to the contemporary relation between Christianity and WP. Christianity today can be argued to be actually antagonistic to WP. The real issue for WPs is, must this be so? Is Christianity necessarily (doctrinally) antagonistic to the survival of ethnocultural particularisms? Or is contemporary Christianity’s apparent embrace of (the cult of) Diversity either non-mandatory, or even heretical?

    IOWS, the proper approach for even atheistic WPs to take wrt questions of religion is to challenge the Church’s stance on Diversity from the standpoint of orthodox doctrine (assuming, as I do, that orthodoxy does not disallow group patriotism, and thus that Church support for Diversity represents human error that can be corrected), rather than trying to undermine the entire religion by going the atheist or mythicist routes. After all, as I have argued for a long time, as a matter of purely empirical political sociology, most atheists are racial leftists, whereas many White Christians are instinctively the opposite, but remain morally confused, and thus their potential WP remains muted. In essence, the chief task for WPs wrt Christianity is to persuade White Christians that it is morally acceptable to be WPs – to be White patriots as well as disciples of Christ.

    Indeed, ethically harmonizing WP and Christianity is, imo, the most important task WPs face or will face for the foreseeable future.

    • Ike
      Posted July 17, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      “Pagan superstition,” Funny, I was always under the impression that the superstition came from christianity in regards to our European Paganism. Less and less of our people believe in this semitic foreign desert religion every year. It’s on its way out. When they’re having gay orgy’s in the Vatican I think it’s safe to say that it’s done because obviously its highest clergy doesn’t believe in it anymore either. That’s significant when you’re talking about a very top down dogmatic hierarchical religion like christianity. We don’t need to waste time trying to prop up this coke machine, let it fall.
      Ike.

      • Leon Haller
        Posted July 18, 2017 at 6:05 am | Permalink

        You didn’t understand the implications of what I wrote. You are also obviously someone with limited intellectual background – a classic “vulgar atheist”.

        Well, even your type ought to be respectful of the faith that built (and civilized) the West. It is overwhelmingly conservative Christians – and they alone – who are resisting White dispossession. There just aren’t many White nationalists, as every poll in every nation continuously demonstrates. But there remain a lot of White Christians, and they will be the foundation of any long term campaign of White preservation. There simply isn’t anyone else. White liberalism is a mental defect, one which, however, seems to parallel atheism quite tightly – again, as every inconvenient poll attests. Atheism and Diversitism are practically twins.

        • Lyle Bright
          Posted July 19, 2017 at 4:30 am | Permalink

          “But there remain a lot of White Christians, and they will be the foundation of any long term campaign of White preservation. There simply isn’t anyone else. White liberalism is a mental defect, one which, however, seems to parallel atheism quite tightly – again, as every inconvenient poll attests. Atheism and Diversitism are practically twins.”

          I venture to say: it is imperative that white nationalists who are antagonistic to Christian forms, and even ‘despise’ Christianity, to do more research and reading. To be antagonistic to those Christian forms is to inadvertently take the side of the cultural acids eating away at European Identity. Be a part of the resurrection of powerful and also ethical and moral cultural identity and protectionism rather than taking the side of those blind and narrow forces seeking to undermine it. That may well involve a re-masculinization of a feminized Christianity: the warrior-protector.

          We have to build bridges not destroy them.

        • Ike
          Posted July 20, 2017 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

          I’m not an atheist. Ancient Greece, Rome, Persia weren’t christian. Oh sorry, Constantine adopted it when Rome began to fail to consolidate power. Yes larping as new age jews has really been helpful with the Inquisition and the Thirty Years War that saw at least a third of Germany killed. Not too mention the English Civil War. Yup, this religion really works well for us doesn’t it. All these wars between Catholics and Protestants, good stuff. What’s not to like. Our people have slowly been turning away from it since these terrible wars ended and there’s no going back. They don’t want this religion. It’s foreign and feels it. Don’t pretend to know someone you’ve never met. I didn’t do that to you, don’t do it to me. I’m rather tired of the christian argument that if we all don’t become christians than we’re doomed. The Czech Republic has more unbelievers than any country in Europe and they have a much more healthy sense of survival than all of Western Europe and America.

    • Lyle Bright
      Posted July 19, 2017 at 4:20 am | Permalink

      “But the issue of Christ’s actual existence is completely irrelevant to the contemporary relation between Christianity and WP. Christianity today can be argued to be actually antagonistic to WP. The real issue for WPs is, must this be so? Is Christianity necessarily (doctrinally) antagonistic to the survival of ethnocultural particularisms? Or is contemporary Christianity’s apparent embrace of (the cult of) Diversity either non-mandatory, or even heretical?”

      Hello. Very relevant post. This is precisely my area of concern. If you or I can be influenced to allow ‘ethnocultural particularisms’ then many others can.

  15. B.B.
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    Despite my distaste for his character and politics, Richard Carrier in On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt made a thorough and very convincing case for mythicism.

    • James O'Meara
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      Yes, on both character and book.

  16. Jud Jackson
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never before heard anybody cite Paine’s “Age of Reason”. That was the book that caused me to lose my faith in Catholicism. I read it when I was 16. That put me over to Deism. Next was Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” at which point I became an Agnostic.

  17. Samuel Nock
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    I’m looking forward to this series, on both sides of the debate.

    A few thoughts based on this initial segment:

    The question of Was Jesus a Myth? can mean different things:
    1. Jesus did not exist as a historical person / actor.
    2. Jesus existed as a historical person / actor, and myths were constructed about various aspects of his life and teachings.
    3. Jesus existed as a historical person / actor, and myths were constructed about various aspects of his life and teachings, INCLUDING his resurrection and divinity.

    Only the 1st and 3rd of these would invalidate the truth of the religion. Whether, for example, the story of the Maji and Herod and other recountings of his youth and ministry are myths or not, are irrelevant to the truth of Christianity as a religion, which ultimately comes down to the resurrection.

    I know the segment on Paul has not been posted yet, but I will comment now in any case. As noted in your article, the Pauline Epistles are the earliest composed documents in the New Testament. It is notable that Paul has little to nothing to say about Jesus’ life or his sayings. He focuses almost entirely on the crucial matter of the resurrection and significance of belief in the resurrection. Given that Paul never met Jesus during Jesus’ lifetime, it is perhaps unsurprising that Paul would not comment much on his biography. But it goes to the point that one of the earliest Church fathers was not overly concerned about Jesus’ life (until his death), i.e. even if there was subsequent mythmaking about Jesus’ life by others, it would not militate against the evidence that Paul emphasized the resurrection as the core of the religion.

    The more important point, to my mind, about the Pauline letters is as follows: There is general scholarly consensus (among both Christian and non-Christian scholars) that at least the first seven of Paul’s epistles are authentic. This means that, unless (1) EVERY mention by Paul in the epistles of his acquaintance with any of the original eleven apostles (e.g. Peter) as well as other witnesses of Jesus are later interpolations and therefore spurious and/or (2) every single such person (apostles and other witnesses) were lying to him or under mass delusion, Jesus must have existed as a historical person. And this is evidence that must be dealt with as to the truth claim of the resurrection. Paul met Peter; Peter knew Jesus during his life and claims to have met him after the resurrection. Was Peter a liar? Delusional? Paul knew that what Peter was relating was a “myth” and, despite his own vision of Jesus, decided to play along in his letters that it was not a myth? To me, there are the strongest evidence for Jesus’ historical existence and of the truth claims of the religion.

    I look forward to the rest of this series.

  18. Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    The Pharisees in their texts seemed to have spent a great deal of time agonizing over a person that supposedly didn’t exist.

    Less questionable is: If Christianity (excluding the Protestant crap) did not exist, nor would have Western High Culture.

    Whether as a real person or as a mythic figure, Jesus nonetheless remains the epitome of the rebel against materialism.

    • Nordmannen
      Posted July 17, 2017 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      The premise is wholly incorrect, as Western High Culture exists not in any thanks to Christianity but despite of it. The many great aesthetic achievements that depict any “messianic symbolism” is simply our collective essence being channelled through it.

      Just as it has with works prior to the Abrahamic advent upon our lands, so shall our artistic accomplishments again appear without the need of this forced foreign fable of a false farce.

  19. Chris Robertson
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    I became an atheist when I realized that Jesus was a myth.
    I became a Christian again when I realized that being a myth wasn’t identical to being false, and might in fact, be superior to being merely “true,” in the historical sense.

    In any case, excellent rundown.

    • Lemur
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

      If Jesus never existed, or was just a dissident religious teacher, Christianity could still be true. Christianity is the idea of God entering the world. Since God exists outside space and time, his entry is eternal. It’s only from our limited perspective things like ‘past’ and ‘future’ matter.

      • Leon Haller
        Posted July 14, 2017 at 3:57 am | Permalink

        Almost all serious Christian thinkers have held that the faith stands or falls with the Resurrection, which is understood to have been an actual historical event (something occurring within regular human history).

        • Lemur
          Posted July 14, 2017 at 8:13 am | Permalink

          Christianity evolves over time. The Trinity was deduced centuries after Jesus. There’s no reason why a new understanding of what being a Christian means cannot emerge. Certainly Protestants are entitled to do that. We can have a reformation of the Reformation.

          At any rate, you can make the case from the Christian ontological model the historical manifestation is Jesus Christ. Essentially, you can create a Bayesian equation where there is a prior probability of a God who is likely to intervene in human affairs, and a conditional probability he did based upon the historical evidence and the religious tradition that emerged from it.

  20. Dave
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    A spear to the abdomen is not instantly fatal, but in the absence of modern surgical techniques and antibiotics, you will die of septic shock in about three days.

    The customary coup de gras for a crucified person was to smash both femurs, causing immediate death from suffocation and massive hemorrhaging. If the Romans had done that to Jesus (and cut off his head, just to be sure), he would not have been walking around the next day with scabs on his wrists and feet. I wonder if some of them decided to go easy on Jesus because he was obviously not a criminal, and just might be the real deal.

    When you strike at the King, you must kill him. When a man claims to be King of the Jews and Son of God, and you decide to prove him wrong by executing him like a common criminal…

    • Myles Davidson
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 1:05 am | Permalink

      An interesting fact about Roman crucifixion is that they always left the body on the cross as a graphic reminder and deterrent for those who might be harbouring fantasies of revolution. That Jesus was taken down to be buried would have been highly unlikely (according to NT scholar Bart Erhman)

  21. Lemur
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Like you Aedon, I was raised as a fundamentalist protestant believing the Genesis account was literally true and so forth. As I grew older, the tribal information boundaries which sustains these beliefs broke down, and I started re-examining the basis for what I believed.

    I read quite a lot of new atheist, and apologetic literature. I concluded both the supernatural and naturalist historical schools were arguing past one another. The real truth claim made by Christianity proceeded from the ontological level (Being itself). Recall on Mars Hill Paul says “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said.” Paul moves from philosophy to the historical particularity of Christ later in his sermon. The latter does not make sense without the former, or my accurately, you can’t get to the former through the latter. Even if we could be certain supernatural acts like a man being raised from the dead occurred, it would not follow this was the God of the universe. It could have been the Demiurge.

  22. cecilhenry
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    Discussion of such an important topic is always welcome.

    Haberman has some good arguments for the existence:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxvQePW6FsU
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81ZhpThWnL8

  23. Myles Davidson
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Bart Ehrmans book “Did Jesus Exist?” is probably the best argument for the ‘yes’ camp.

    Robert Price for the ‘no’ camp. (debates between these two are fun).

    To me, it seems highly unlikely that the early Christians would make up a story about a crucified messiah. It was such a foreign concept to that time and place that it’s far more likely Jesus was a real guy, thought he was the messiah (a common occurrence), was a crucified for it (also a common occurrence), and one or more of his disciples had visions and constructed a narrative around it (and a very clever narrative at that!).

    I’m keen to hear your opinions on Pauls letters because they are dated much earlier than the gospels and require a lot more explanation to support the mythicist view.

    • James O'Meara
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      >Bart Ehrmans book “Did Jesus Exist?” is probably the best argument for the ‘yes’ camp.

      If so, the Mythicists have won! Other than lots of ad hominem arguments against individual Mythicists (No degrees! Not peer reviewed! Supports Trump!) Ehrman accepts every move of the Mythicists, seemingly backing himself into a corner, then turns around and argues that even if there is NO historical content in the Gospels, they are BASED ON historical traditions.

      But this is just a dirty debate trick: he assumes his audience (laymen) don’t know that the “traditions” are hypothetical, postulated by scholars to explain various things about the Gospels, and DON’T EXIST; even if they ever existed, we don’t have them, and can’t evaluate them. We don’t know if they are as sound as Gibbon or just more fairy tales.

      Robert Price for the ‘no’ camp. (debates between these two are fun).

      Richard Carrier (see comment above) thought the Ehrman/Price debate was a disaster for the Mythicist side. His detailed analysis of what Price did wrong is a good cheat sheet for how to debate, and an excellent summary of the Mythicist evidence.

      http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/11435

      >To me, it seems highly unlikely that the early Christians would make up a story about a crucified messiah. It was such a foreign concept to that time and place that it’s far more likely Jesus was a real guy, thought he was the messiah (a common occurrence), was a crucified for it (also a common occurrence), and one or more of his disciples had visions and constructed a narrative around it (and a very clever narrative at that!).I’m keen to hear your opinions on Pauls letters because they are dated much earlier than the gospels and require a lot more explanation to support the mythicist view.

      Actually, the Epistles are the clearest evidence that the “historical” Jesus was a later innovation; Paul has almost no historical detail, and what there is seems like a Gnostic myth about events in the 7th heaven (what we would call ‘outer space’).

      • Leon Haller
        Posted July 18, 2017 at 6:30 am | Permalink

        Carrier seems like a legit scholar. And yet – why can’t he get his books published by academic presses? There is certainly no atheist disqualification among the Ivy League (unlike the informal prohibition on the type of books c-c publishes).

  24. margot metroland
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Curious subject. My take:

    These debates about the ‘historical Jesus’ have been going on for 1900 years. Surely in AD 117 there were many who noticed the contradictory accounts in the Gospels (including the non-canonical ones) and dreamt up the notion that Jesus was a mythical beast. The trouble with this theory is that a nonexistent mythical figure who is supposed to have lived three generations earlier is unlikely to have so many minor points of dispute. The lives of real people generate multifarious stories and opinions; accounts of fictional and mythological people do not. There are countless biographies of Napoleon, often in firm disagreement with each other; but very few variations on the story of Peter Rugg (q.v.).

    That’s my simple-horsesense argument about this ‘historical Jesus.’ But there’s a more important, more fundamental point to be made. Religious writing did not end with the Biblical canon; theological texts have been cranked out continually for these past 1900 years, and most rest on the assumption that Jesus Christ was an historical figure; that he did in fact walk the earth. You can debate his divinity or his parentage, but before you do that you have to accept his existence as axiomatic. Otherwise you have a nonsense argument, like saying William Shakespeare did not actually write Shakespeare’s plays, they were really written by a contemporary whose name was coincidentally William Shakespeare.

    Finally, Christianity in the West took its basic shape from the scholars and theologians of the Patristic times through the Middle Ages. It is a living faith, not some Belief System or Guide to Living based upon fables and events of the First Century AD. It’s completely pointless to put yourself into an imaginary Wayback Machine and travel to Palestine in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in hopes of finding out something useful and profound about Christianity and the One True Christ. You can’t go there, and even if you did you might not make sense of what you saw.

    • James J OMeara
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      “Otherwise you have a nonsense argument, like saying William Shakespeare did not actually write Shakespeare’s plays, they were really written by a contemporary whose name was coincidentally William Shakespeare.”

      As Mark Twain said, the Germans have proved that the works of Homer were not written by Homer, but by another Greek of the same name.

      Obviously, “Shakespeare’s plays” were written by Shakespeare, but that only means that if we discover they were written by Bacon or Marlowe, they should be called “Bacon’s plays” or whatever. As I mentioned in my review of Alan Watts in the Academy, the works that the mediaevals considered to be “the writings of St. Dionysus,” Athenian convert of Paul’s and hence second only to the Epistles in reverence, were actually written much later, and are today attributed to “Pseudo-Dionysus,” as are many other “Pseudo-X” works.

      More importantly, Jesus did not write the Gospels (except, I suppose, in the extended sense of being “inspired by God (=Jesus)). The Gospels are about Jesus, not by him. If we say that “Shakespeare wrote Hamlet” we are attributing the play to an otherwise more or less well attested historical figure (we have his birth registry, his wedding document, his will, mentions in letter of contemporary figures, etc.) We are saying this historical figure, WS, not that one, Bacon or Marlowe, wrote this play. (Unlike Homer, hence the joke; we know nothing else about this Homer).

      Whether characters like Jesus, Hamlet or Lear are historical figures is a whole other question. In the case of Hamlet and Lear, we have (if I recall correctly) real evidence, outside Shakespeare, of some real historical guys these characters were based on. With Jesus, we don’t. Considering that Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and was himself resurrected, it’s especially odd that no one notice at the time. (I’ve always been especially concerned about all those folks who climbed out of their graves after the crucifixion; didn’t even their families notice? Whatever happened to them?). The simplest explanation is that he’s not an historical figure.

      (Note that I didn’t say he didn’t exist. The earliest versions of the story, like Paul’s Epistles, are clear: Jesus was real, was born, crucified, and resurrected… in outer space) .

      • Margot Metroland
        Posted July 14, 2017 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        To reiterate my last point: the granular details of what happened in Palestine circa 30-33 AD are irrelevant. You don’t have them at hand, and even if you did you people would still dispute them endlessly. Okay, I saw him crucified and rise from the dead, and I stuck my hand in his abdominal wound like Doubting Thomas, but I still think maybe it was an imposter, put there just to fool me when I traveled back in time.

        You can do this game forever. It is frivolous, and it is arrant, childish egotism. Better minds than yours or mine have been teasing these questions for nearly two millennia. Just let it go. They are irrelevant to history, irrelevant to Christianity, and help no one but the Pharisees.

    • Aedon Cassiel
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      The trouble with this theory is that a nonexistent mythical figure who is supposed to have lived three generations earlier is unlikely to have so many minor points of dispute.

      Well, I’ll be addressing a specific hypothesis about why the Gospel According to Mark was written in the next entry to the series. This will also address some of the reasons why the later gospels changed his story.

      In some cases, we can see exactly why they wrote the stories they did: for instance, and to spoil a point I’ll be repeating later, none of the synoptic gospels mention the tale of Doubting Thomas touching the open wounds in the resurrected Jesus’ hands. But John—the last written, by far, of the canonical gospels, does. Why? How does this story suddenly emerge, dozens of years after the fact, out of nowhere?

      Well, in the time between the writing of the synoptic gospels and the appearance of John, we had a Gnostic community crop up under the banner of Thomas which had its own gospel, The Gospel According to Thomas. The term ‘Gnosticism’ represents a variety of beliefs, whose details are often unclear, but we have a pretty good idea that this community didn’t believe Jesus was literally resurrected in the flesh.

      Suddenly, it makes perfect sense that the author of John would have invented this story as a snub against the Thomist community. It was a way to portray their founder as a man who was known for his weak faith, and simultaneously claim that he was the apostle Jesus chose to give hard evidence refuting the Gnostic understanding of the resurrection to. But there’s absolutely no evidence of any tradition carrying this story forward prior to the circulation of The Gospel According to John, so while this doesn’t prove in and of itself that the whole life of Jesus was fabricated (yet…), it does show that these writers were in the practice of inventing stories for the purpose of making doctrinal points—or political points against outside schools. It’s really not very different from what’s happening when the mainstream media gets all excited about using shoddy science to ‘prove’ Hitler was Jewish.

      In any case, I think what I’m going to show in the next essay explains all this quite well. Spoiler: the title will be something along the lines of, “The Gospels Are Works in the Genre of Neurotic Jewish Self–Criticism”. I’m having a hard time wording that unwieldy concept in a way that makes it “punch,” though. Either way, this first post is just the introduction … the next one is where it will get interesting.

      • Margot Metroland
        Posted July 14, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        Yes, undoubtedly stories were invented or embellished to make doctrinal points. But what of it? The Gospels, including the non-canonical ones you allude to, were written up as storybooks to satisfy a growing audience that wanted stories of the Life of Christ. They were published without the aid of fact-checkers, annotations, bibliographies, or other apparatus.

        It’s very much like more recent hagiography. For some reason there was a huge interest in St Richard of Chichester after he died, and a story arose about how an Oxford student had a songbird that had its tongue cut out and began to sing again… And now, every time you read about St Richard, you get the bird story too. So it is with the Gospels.

        But instead of wasting time wondering whether the bird story is true, why not test whether praying to St Richard is efficacious? That’s what the Oxford student did. Maybe the whole thing’s a lie. But at least try it out and judge for yourself, instead of getting caught up in the physiology of songbirds.

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