Defining Mythicism: Explaining ‘Jesus Possibilianism’

Recently I have become acquainted with the concept of Possibilianism (and I think it best represents what I am now).  But not only does it fit me epistemologically, but I think it fits my position on the figure of Jesus as well.  Steven Carr has asked (I think, since at times it is difficult to get at his meaning) about my agnosticism, as if I am suggesting I sort of just sit on the fence about it.  And that isn’t necessarily my position at all, as I do not just throw my hands up in the air and say, sighing, “Well, I guess my job is done now since I don’t have a specific definitive position on historicity.”  But I was wont to explain it in more detail as I hadn’t quite had an opportunity to weigh out what exactly my position was.  Thankfully, it seems Possibilianism has proven to be quite useful.  I’d like then to propose a new term for your consideration and one I’d like to become accepted within the community, Jesus Possibilianism.  Essentially, as it should be defined:

Jesus Possibilianism: (noun) The position that, while not accepting current trends in mythicism (or as I call it, Zeitgeist Mythicism) nor aligning oneself with the theistic epistemological positions on Jesus, refuses to take any hardline approach on historicity (that is, not accepting nor denying affirmitively historicity) while actively engaging in attempting to discover (through academic pursuits) the reality of the multiple positions on the figure of Jesus as they are today, were in the past (both distant and near), and will be in the future (through meme theory).

That is to say, while I doubt historicity, I still seek to determine the value of historicity and do not refuse the possibility, as I recognize the limitations of the evidence and the differences in interpretation which can be as valid (or more valid, in some instances) as those produced by those who call themselves mythicists.


10 Responses

  1. I like the idea of “seeking to determine the value of historicity.” That strikes me as the right way to frame the question, however I suspect that the term “Possibilianism” may describe too narrow a category of thought to be a really useful term. The reason I think that “historical Jesus agnosticism” best describes my position is that I think it unlikely that the limitations of the evidence can be overcome sufficiently to justify taking a specific definitive position on historicity.

  2. ‘That is to say, while I doubt historicity, I still seek to determine the value of historicity and do not refuse the possibility…’

    My position exactly!

  3. I saw a quote (haven’t checked the original) of Bart Ehrman.

    ‘I think the evidence is just so overwhelming that Jesus existed, that it’s silly to talk about him not existing. I don’t know anyone who is a responsible historian, who is actually trained in the historical method, or anybody who is a biblical scholar who does this for a living, who gives any credence at all to any of this.” Bart Ehrman, interview with David V. Barrett, “The Gospel According to Bart”, Fortean Times (221), 2007’

    How can one Biblical scholar think the evidence is ‘overwhelming’ when the correct position is agnosticism?

    How can Ehrman be so grossly wrong as to think that the evidence is overwhelming?

  4. […] Deirdre Good mentioned Rembrandt’s portrait(s) of Jesus (which was featured in the NY Times). Richard Hall quoted Käsemann on not knowing what to do with Jesus. Andrew Perriman discussed 1 Peter as a “revelation of Jesus.” Tom Verenna discussed Jesus possibilianism. […]

  5. I assume that Jesus possibilianism is on a continuum with Achilles possibilianism, Hercules possibilianism, Socrates possibilianism, William Tell possibilianism and Romulus possibilianism. Where would he line up with those figures?

  6. Evan, the evidence for Jesus is interpretive in a manner that might (and in fact, it has) lead to an acceptance of historicity. In these other cases you have listed above, the evidence is not so clear.

  7. Tom, I included Socrates on the list as well as Hercules. Would you say that the evidence for Jesus is better than both of those individuals or is he somewhere between?

  8. I would say the evidence for Socrates and Jesus are comparable but in one respect completely different. Don’t forget we have contemporary enemy attestation (Aristophanes’ Clouds) for Socrates. We do not have that for Jesus. So with this evidence we can be more certain of Socrates’ existence than we can of Jesus’.

    Hercules, I do not believe we can say he was historical based upon the evidence.

  9. Tom, but certainly it is possible that Hercules existed, correct?

  10. I don’t know if you ran into this the other day, but here it is:

    I know that I’m now on the other side of the bridge from you on this issue, but I thought I’d bring it to your attention, in case you missed it.

    I largely agree with Sam Harris and PZ on this issue, about the general possibilianism term, but I actually agree with your “Jesus Possibilianism” pretty closely.

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