New Book Critiquing Jesus Mythicism

Another bad day for the Zeitgeist crowd.

Prof. Larry Hurtado (Emeritus, University of Edinburgh) alerted his blog readers to a new book by Prof. Maurice Casey (Emeritus, Nottingham University). The title is Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

Hurtado writes:

It will be apparent from the title that Casey (along with practically every scholar who has considered the matter) doesn’t buy the “mythicist” case.  He is a long-time acquaintance and a well-published and noted scholar in NT.  Because identifying a person as a traditional Christian is sometime invoked (by self-styled “sceptics”) as an excuse to ignore whatever he/she says about Jesus or anything to do with Christian origins, I’ll also mention that this hardly applies to Casey.  He doesn’t argue with a view to trying to protect Christian belief or believers.  Whatever the strength of his arguments, he’s not doing apologetics!

 

From the publisher’s website:

Did Jesus exist? In recent years there has been a massive upsurge in public discussion of the view that Jesus did not exist. This view first found a voice in the 19th century, when Christian views were no longer taken for granted. Some way into the 20th century, this school of thought was largely thought to have been utterly refuted by the results of respectable critical scholarship (from both secular and religious scholars).

Now, many unprofessional scholars and bloggers (‘mythicists’), are gaining an increasingly large following for a view many think to be unsupportable. It is starting to influence the academy, more than that it is starting to influence the views of the public about a crucial historical figure. Maurice Casey, one of the most important Historical Jesus scholars of his generation takes the ‘mythicists’ to task in this landmark publication. Casey argues neither from a religious respective, nor from that of a committed atheist. Rather he seeks to provide a clear view of what can be said about Jesus, and of what can’t.

 

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Joseph Atwill’s Josephus Code

I’ve blogged this subject over at my Naked Bible blog, but it also belongs here at Paleobabble. What follows is borrowed from that post and appended with reviews and updates.

Joseph Atwill, self-proclaimed (and credential-less) biblical scholar has recently busied himself with a new PR campaign to promote a rehashing of his 2006 book, Caesar’s Messiah. It was supposedly a bestseller — but have you ever heard of it? Well, he’ll make sure you do this time around.

The basic thesis is, from the Amazon description, that:

“Was Jesus the invention of a Roman emperor? The author of this ground-breaking book believes he was. ‘Caesar’s Messiah’ reveals the key to a new and revolutionary understanding of Christian origins. . . . The clues leading to its startling conclusions are found in the writings of the first-century historian Flavius Josephus, whose ‘War of the Jews’ is one of the only historical chronicles of this period. Closely comparing the work of Josephus with the New Testament Gospels, ‘Caesar’s Messiah’ demonstrates that the Romans directed the writing of both. . . . Atwill noticed a series of parallels occurring in sequence between the military campaign of the Roman Caesar Titus Flavius and the ministry of Jesus. His findings led him to a startling new conclusion about the origins of Christianity – that a Roman imperial family, the Flavians, had created Christianity to pacify the Jews’ rebellion against Rome, and even more incredibly, they had placed a literary satire within the Gospels and ‘Wars of the Jews’ to inform posterity of this fact.”

Basically, Atwill is doing something of a Dan Brown, giving us The Josephus Code. For sure that would have been a sexier title. No doubt the media would have pumped it more the first time around had the word ‘code’ been in it.

So what do we have here? Instead of the Zeitgeist conspiracy we get the notion that the NT gospels were written by Romans. And boy, were those Romans ever clever. They decided to mimic Josephus’ accounts of Titus Flavius in their presentation of Jesus. . . . Now wait a minute. . . . So, the Jews were influenced to pacificism by a guy who didn’t really exist . . . but who were they following around?  Not really . . . the gospels were written later, after the fact . . . Gullible people (and of course subsequent early Christians) just read about him and accepted what they read about the guy’s existence . . . in accounts that were patterned after the chronology of a Roman emperor’s life . . . who lived in the past a little later than the guy didn’t exist. . . . as clever propaganda. So the Jewish or Christian readers of the later gospels wouldn’t really have known Jesus didn’t exist. They just took it on faith because the Roman-generated gospels told them that guy existed. . . . And so no later Christian or Jew who believed in, or didn’t like, Jesus would ever have known Jesus wasn’t actually real . . .  because they’d never see the parallels between what Josephus wrote and the gospels that Atwill did . . . because . . . well . . . they didn’t read Josephus . . . no, they did that. . . . It has to be because Atwill is so much smarter. . . . Yeah, that’s it . . . because the early Christians and any of their opponents could have read Josephus. They just didn’t see the coded messaging that would have made the case that Atwill sees. Even Josephus experts haven’t seen that. . . . Or experts in the gospels. . . . Gosh, Atwill is smart.

Clear now?

Many real scholars of the New Testament, the gospels, and the historical Jesus (from varied theological persuasions) have weighed in on Atwill’s thesis:

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Acharya S and Bart Ehrman

I recently came this post on Ben Stanhope’s Remythologized blog: “Bart Ehrman Spanks Acharya S’ Christ Conspiracy.” It really does reflect the attitude of mainstream scholars toward the über skepticism of the Jesus-myther school (the wacky Zeitgeist conspiratorial hermeneutic). Ehrman of course describes himself as an near-atheist agnostic, so he’s no friend of conservative thinking about Jesus. But he knows nonsense when he reads it.

I’ve had the personal experience of being at academic conferences and dropping specific names of PaleoBabblers that multitudes out there on the internet presume know what they’re talking about only to have scholars laugh (literally). Real scholars are aware of the nonsense out on the web about Jesus being an amalgam of pagan gods, ancient astronauts, and [fill in the blank with some other point of nonsense]. They think it hilarious, not threatening. They don’t write about it because they consider it beneath them or a waste of the time they want to devote to publishing.

It’s just something you should know.

 

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Bart Ehrman Smacks Down Jesus Mythicism

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, well known to non-specialist readers as a critic of evangelical views of Jesus (Ehrman is an atheist1) recently published a book entitled Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. Ehrman’s answer is that he did. His book therefore provides a succinct overview of the evidence for a historical Jesus. It also serves as a succinct critique to the “Jesus Mythicists” (think Freke and Gandy here2), folks who, in the spirit of the Zeitgeist movie (is that a tautology?), deny Jesus ever existed. Needless to say, they aren’t happy that a scholar of Ehrman’s stature would dare affirm the historicity of Jesus, even if (perhaps “especially since”) he has no faith in what the New Testament writers say theologically about Jesus’ divinity or Savior status. The same can be said for the way Jesus Mythicists have turned apoplectic over the Jesus Family Tomb controversy (if it is the tomb of Jesus, they’re wrong — he existed).

Ehrman’s book was recently reviewed by a scholar named Richard Carrier. Carrier’s review is exceptionally nasty and, frankly, not befitting intelligent discourse. (One would have thought the review was by Don Rickles — dating myself there, I know — or Bill Maher). At any rate, Ehrman has responded at length to Carrier. I recommend his response (and it is indeed very long) to PaleoBabble readers. It’s clear and unpretentious.

(Hat tip to Tim for this item).

 

  1. This is my estimation. Ehrman actually isn’t clear on whether he’s atheist or agnostic — but he’ll answer that if you pay him. I’m not paying for the answer. I’m not sure what bit of sophistry would allow one to deny the existence of God and yet not be an atheist. Even if one opts for some sort of “consciousness” position as God, that is a naturalistic view and results in a non-personal non-deity. That isn’t “God” in the understanding of anyone who’d ask the question. But I’m guessing since I’m not forking over any money for clarity.
  2. The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God?

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Modern Mythology of the Precession of the Equinoxes

I’d like to alert PaleoBabble readers to Jason Colavito’s series on the modern myth of precession.  Here are the first and second posts.

For those to whom the term “precession” is new, as Jason notes, it is the idea that our lives are controlled by the mechanical movements of the stars caused by the wobble in the earth’s axis and, further, that history is propelled by this cycle, the proof of which is recorded in human myth and religion, as all of that “records” precessional movement via the cycling of the constellations.

Confused? Understandable. Here’s a better and more detailed explanation of the astronomical phenomenon of precession and the idea that it contributed to ancient religions.

 

New Book on Zeitgeist/Jesus Mythicist Nonsense

I’m currently in Chicago attending the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature (along with satellite meetings by scholarly organizations like the American Schools of Oriental Research). These meetings are also attended by dozens of major academic publishers. Consequently, there are hundreds of books available here at “once a year only” discounts that help those of us who care about data and coherent thinking battle paleobabble. I came across what apparently looks to be an important one today, “Jesus: Evidence and Argument, or Mythicist Myths” by Maurice Casey (T & T Clark, 2013).

Yes, that’s 2013.

You won’t find the title in Amazon in any form. However, Professor Casey has published other items on Jesus as a historical figure. I’m guessing this work will be something of an update or perhaps fuller presentation. The book will be important because Casey is not what anyone in the academy would call an evangelical or “Bible believer” in the pop religion sense. He’s a high profile scholar of New Testament and Christian origins.

For those Zeitgeist fundamentalists out there, Casey’s work will likely take its place alongside that of atheist New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman (Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth), who also thinks the claims of Zeitgeist are nonsense.

 

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New Testament Resurrection Theology Based on Ancient Egyptian Religion?

Anyone who has seen the internet video Zeitgeist likely recalls this assertion about New Testament theology. Those in academia know that Zeitgeist’s content is deeply flawed, but that hardly matters, since most of the people who but into its ideas aren’t scholars or anyone else working in the fields of New Testament Studies or Egyptology.

Toward exposing this truckload of paleobabble, I submit this article by Nicholas Perrin entitled, “On Raising Osiris in 1 Corinthians 15.” It’s a scholarly piece, but I think it’s readable for the non-specialist. It exposes the problems with this popular correlation.

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