Defining Mythicism: Myth and History or Myth or History?

As an addendum to the earlier post on Galatians, I see a lot of either/or proposals put forth by certain mythicists and I can’t fathom why.  For example, they will say something akin to:

Jesus is either historical or he was made up.


Jesus is either historical or he wasn’t, he can’t be both.

My first thought is: ‘what world are you living in where the past is so black and white?’

There are so many variables at play that claiming one or the other shows only ones ignorance about the past rather than an understanding of it.  Jesus might very well be historical; maybe he went by another name, maybe his name really was Jesus.  Maybe everything we know about him is made up, but that doesn’t negate the possibility that the figure of Jesus from the New Testament wasn’t based upon an actual historical figure who did do some of the things recorded, albeit in an exaggerated fashion, in the Gospels and Pauline Letters (like the breaking of the bread).  The fact is, we do see figures of the past fully mythologized and some are partially mythologized.  In either case, proposing an ‘either/or’ position is unrealistic and simply wrong.

There are other factors to consider when making these sorts of statements as well; cultural memory (or virtual memory, as my colleagues in Copenhagen would put it), types of literature in question, socio-cultural constructs and limitations, the value of the diachronic vs. synchronic understanding of language, and so on.  One just doesn’t rush to conclusions about black and white positions unaware of these factors and history is too inductive to make claims so strongly.

I am not saying I believe the figure of Jesus was historical–maybe he wasn’t–but what I am saying is that making broad or sweeping generalizations about the past is not helpful and will hurt ones position rather than strengthen it.

Defining Mythicism: Galatians, the Historical Figure of Jesus, and the Mythical Jesus

I grow tired of hearing people repeatedly use Gal. 1.1 and 1.11-12 to suggest that this disproves the historicity of the figure of Jesus.  It doesn’t.  Why?  Because someone can receive revelatory information (be it delusional or hypnotic or otherwise) from formerly historical individuals.  Just because Paul felt he received information from revelation does not ipso facto imply that Jesus never existed historically. When people use this as an argument against the historicity of Jesus by itself they only make themselves look bad.  Paul does appear to make claims for historicity which must be dealt with before one can claim something like this; but even then one could not make this particular claim in regards to Gal. 1.1 or 1.11-12.  Neither of these claims by Paul deal with the function historicity.  Paul is dealing with a theological message here; where did he receive his ‘truth’.  Now, one might argue that Paul cared little about the function of historicity, but you cannot just cite Galatians and announce ‘QED’ and presume you’ve defeated historical Jesus scholarship.

Carnival Coming Soon

Just putting on a few finishing touches.  I am pushing it out early this month because of all the Halloween-themed posts out there.  It seems silly to publish them after Halloween.  SO expect to see the Carnival out tonight or tomorrow morning.



Please consider sending me your favorite posts from this month to include on the Biblical Studies Carnival for November; if not, you risk the chance that it will not appear on it!  I also have a request from all Bibliobloggers; consider writing one Halloween-themed blog post like this one or one of your own making and submit it to me for the carnival.  You can either post it in the comments section of this post or email it to me.  Please do this by Friday!


It’s the End of the World as we Know it (Part Two)!

…and I feel fine.  Seriously, except for a few clouds outside, the day is pretty nice.  And even though at one point my dog nearly destroyed my place chasing after the cat, the day has been very uneventful.  It has been several months since his failure in May and since that time Camping  has warned that, while he was wrong about the date, he was right about the event.  He just has to tweak his eisegesis a bit more and BAM!, October 21.   So the world (well, okay, this is an exaggeration) waited to see if the followers of Camping would go up to heaven on the revised date 9f October 21.  We are not well into midday and, lo and behold, not a single rapture.



The Most Ignored NT Verses: Matt 5.17-18

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

These words seem to go largely ignored by almost everyone.  Jesus is quite clear; the statutes of the Hebrew Bible are still in effect until heaven and earth pass away–which means they will never be irrelevant (since heaven is eternal, even if the earth is not).  Yet it seems many Christians have adopted heretical viewpoints about this text.  Indeed, it is as if Marcion had risen instead of Jesus for many denominational Christians who have completely forgotten about this verse.

A friend of mine had told me her priest had recently said, during a prayer group, that Jesus had done away with the laws of the Hebrew Bible and that had been a radical perspective for his day.  But I wonder where the priest is pulling this information from, as Jesus states–directly, in fact–the complete opposite of what this priest is saying.  Marcion, of course, would approve of such a maneuver, since he felt that the laws of the Hebrew Bible were derived from a false God and that such laws were inconsequential to Christians who followed the new laws of Christ Jesus.  Indeed, Tertullian even made note of the fact that Marcion had expunged the verse from his versions of Matthew:

It is, however, well that Marcion’s god does claim to be the enlightener of the nations, that so he might have the better reason for coming down from heaven; only, if it must needs be, he should rather have made Pontus his place of descent than Galilee. But since both the place and the work of illumination according to the prophecy are compatible with Christ, we begin to discern that He is the subject of the prophecy, which shows that at the very outset of His ministry, He came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but rather to fulfil them; for Marcion has erased the passage as an interpolation. (Against Marcion 4.7)

And in case anyone argues Jesus changed the laws or abuse the Sabbath, Tertullian states:

Thus Christ did not at all rescind the Sabbath: He kept the law thereof, and both in the former case did a work which was beneficial to the life of His disciples, for He indulged them with the relief of food when they were hungry, and in the present instance cured the withered hand; in each case intimating by facts, I came not to destroy, the law, but to fulfil it,  although Marcion has gagged His mouth by this word. For even in the case before us He fulfilled the law, while interpreting its condition; moreover, He exhibits in a clear light the different kinds of work, while doing what the law excepts from the sacredness of the Sabbath and while imparting to the Sabbath day itself, which from the beginning had been consecrated by the benediction of the Father, an additional sanctity by His own beneficent action. For He furnished to this day divine safeguards, — a course which His adversary would have pursued for some other days, to avoid honouring the Creator’s Sabbath, and restoring to the Sabbath the works which were proper for it. Since, in like manner, the prophet Elisha on this day restored to life the dead son of the Shunammite woman, you see, O Pharisee, and you too, O Marcion, how that it was proper employment for the Creator’s Sabbaths of old to do good, to save life, not to destroy it; how that Christ introduced nothing new, which was not after the example, the gentleness, the mercy, and the prediction also of the Creator. (Against Marcion 4.12)

So why is this passage ignored?  Why has modern Christianity done away with the hundreds of statutes in the Hebrew Bible which even Jesus followed and commanded his followers to hold in esteem?  It seems as though very half-cocked theological eisegesis is done in order to account for the gagging of these words, as Tertullian might say.  Some argue that since Jesus did fulfill the law, by being crucified and resurrected, that this verse becomes fulfilled and no longer matters.  But one cannot make such an argument since this verse seems to have been very important during the authorship of the Gospels–decades later than when Jesus had lived.  Clearly it was a statement to not only the readers of Matthew’s Gospel as late as the second century CE, but also in Tertullian’s day some generations later!   To say that these words are no longer relevant actually places ones soul in jeopardy (Matt 5:19a):

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…

This is quite the pronouncement!  So the question one must ask is why do Christians ignore this directive from Jesus?  Who do some state that he has abolished the value of the Hebrew Bible and the laws therein?  Why do some claim that the Hebrew Bible should be ignored as a source for ones lifestyle?

Stop Forcing Ancient Figures to Fit your Ideological Perspectives

There is a word for trying to force false theological meanings upon ancient texts; it’s call eisegesis.  So when you tie a figure like Jesus to a political or ideological message, you’re committing the same error.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a Tea Party supporter who believes in a pro-war, white-majority Jesus or  you’re a democrat trying to make Jesus into some sort of free-health-care supporting, dove-like hippie.  This goes especially for those bloggers who so adamantly discourage those on one side of the fence from doing it; don’t in turn pick up the banner, in the same facet, by posting a sign like this:

First, stop trying to make a point by saying Jesus wasn’t white.  Art History will show you quite clearly that Jesus was whatever the demographic wanted him to be; he has been a Greek, a white Roman with curly hair and no beard, a Jew holding a magic wand, a man of African descent, a olive-toned individual, and he’s even been made of chocolate.  So it is unfair to deny one part of his ancient heritage tradition.  Still, he was not an average white American.   That is not the same thing as saying Jesus wasn’t white.  If such a figure existed historically, we don’t have any archaeological evidence to base a study on to determine his color.  Also, Obama is an African-American; your sign makes it seem like he isn’t.

Second, Jesus wasn’t anti-war.  He might have dissuaded his disciples from committing a violent crime on occasion, but this was done to preserve his ability to do what he needed to do: die and become resurrected.  The theological value of the scene where he stays the hands of his disciple from killing a soldier come to bring him back to the Sanhedrin, is that had a fight broken out Jesus might have been killed prematurely, before the planned time–at the passion.  But Jesus was certainly violence-minded.    He turned over the money-changers tables at the temple and drove out those who were there.  In Luke 19:25-27, Jesus says, “And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.'” Jesus is speaking in parable yes, but he is portrayed as the one who created the parable and he is speaking of the parable favorably! I don’t think one can say Jesus was ‘anti-War’ or ‘anti-violence.’  After all, he did not come to bring peace, “but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34)  That doesn’t mean Jesus was ‘pro-war’, but he certainly wasn’t portrayed as ‘anti-war’.  The figure of Jesus, as portrayed in the Gospel narratives, is one who comes after the first Jewish War, after the temple is already destroyed.  There is a strong contextual meaning to these passages and those passages which seem to imply he was ‘anti-war.’   By making Jesus into an ideologue who fits into your modern political ideology you destroy this context and greatly take for granted the words of Jesus.

The same is true for free healthcare.  I challenge anyone to find a verse which promotes free healthcare.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that anyone would be hardpressed to find a verse like this, since ‘healthcare’ didn’t exist in antiquity.  Jesus healed the sick, but only those who believed and followed him.  In almost every case, Jesus only healed those who proved they were worthy of the Kingdom and believed in who he was; seldom is he ever portrayed as just helping anyone.  Jim West is absolutely correct in his understanding of the early Church and their devaluation (for lack of a better word) of those outside the fold.

Applying modern politics to Jesus is an anachronistic way of destroying the message of the Gospels.  If you are someone who values their theological message, then you probably don’t want to damage its meaning.  Every time you tie a verse to ideology, you are creating a whole new Gospel account.  You are fabricating a completely new message.  That’s fine if that is what you want to do, but don’t then claim that these are Jesus’ perspectives, or Jesus’ views.  They aren’t.  And they weren’t.

Second Call for Submissions: November Biblical Studies Carnival

First, my apologies to readers and my fellow Bibliobloggers for not being more active this year.  Unfortunately, school and personal matters have kept me busy.  First the call, then some updates:

  • The Publisher has confirmed that the volume of collected essays I edited with Thomas Thompson will be published in April.  This is good news, especially since Equinox has only just recently moved and I’m told that such activities can push back publication.  Also, a copy will be on display at the SBL meeting in November, so all those who happen to be within the area, please feel free to check it out.
  • I know this is a continuing issue with Carnivals but I need more people to submit things to me.  I’ve got the Reference Library working for me and RSS feeds, but frankly I have only received a handful of  submissions.  I just don’t have the time to look over the thousands of posts daily to pick from them suitable ones to post.  While I am pulling from over 50 active blogs, there is no guarantee that yours is among them.  I also would like to have a strong presence of women Bibliobloggers in my carnival because, clearly, they need more representation.  So please, for the love of Pete, either post your blog links in the comments section of this post or email me your submissions.
  • On a personal note: I recently discovered I am the descendant of a German Baron whose line goes back as far as the 1500’s, and whose wife’s line (a Baroness) goes all the back to the 1150’s.  This Baron was excommunicated by the Catholic Church c. 1700’s and the family came over to the United States in the 1730’s.  The one son of the Baron’s was a Revolutionary War hero and Captain in the local militia.  The research into this took up most of my time over the past three weeks.  Thankfully, much of it was done by family and it had only been a matter of filling in some blank names.   Still, this was exciting news.  You often don’t think to find that you’re descended from nobility.

Brian LePort asks: How much of your Christianity can be ahistorical?

LePort asks:

What events recorded in Scripture must be historical for you to affirm the truthfulness of Christianity?

How much of your Christianity can be ahistorical?.

As someone who was once a very devout Christian (Catholic, if anyone asks), now an apostate, I can tell you that this is a very important question, but perhaps no longer relevant. One must ask if the first Christians who wrote about the Gospels accepted it all as historical–certainly Christians like John Dominic Crossan don’t even need the resurrection–as it is recounted in the Gospel narratives–to be historical in order for him to accept Christ.  At the same time, others like NT Wright (or these guys) have to accept even the most outrageous positions on historicity–like the dead rising from the graves and walking all over Jerusalem from Matthew’s Gospel (27.52-53).

The difficulty in this question is in deciding, for yourself, which is more important: the historical truth or the theological truth?  I am certain that early Christian minimalists didn’t care for the historical reality of the Gospels–if they did, there would not four canonical ones (and there certainly would be dozens of noncanonical ones!).  The theological message above all else seems to have been more valuable a truth and thus why we have multiple theological messages in the narratives (even between the epistles and pastorals).  The historical value of the text was only useful when it suited the functions of the theology.

For example, Paul believed that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical, functional event (whether on this earth or another, is still up for debate in my opinion), but then again Paul does not once quote Jesus on anything nor does he cite any specific examples of his life to make a point (except for matters of theological significance like the crucifixion and resurrection).  It is not until the church fathers (mainly from late antiquity and Latin Christendom) that we find the historical value of the narratives taking a precedence towards explaining theological values.

However this is a slowly dying trend; I believe with the continued advancement of science many will search the Bible for that theological meaning as the historical value continues to diminish.  Still, I would become a Christian immediately if the resurrection of the figure of Jesus was proved to be a historical event.  Likewise, if the resurrection of Ishtar were proved to be a historical event, I would start singing her praises.

Call for Submissions: October Biblioblog Carnival

That’s right, yours truly is hosting this month’s carnival.  So be sure to send in your submissions now and jump on the bus early!  To be really generous (and efficient), please send me an email with whatever articles you’ve written that you’d like to submit and Subject it ‘October Submission’ so I can sort them.

Of course, I will be attempting to do a Halloween-themed carnival.

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