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.

Or

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.

%d bloggers like this: