As I sit here watching the documentary on Tom Harpur’s Pagan Christ, I find myself reminded of all the problems that I see in the Jesus myth theory. I will share my top ten problems with this theory. This is not a detailed analysis but rather my opportunity to vent on the glaring problems with this theory.
1) The rejection of the Gospels as historical sources. They are seen as faith documents and not modern biographies. That is true but we do not have any unbiased ancient texts that meet the criteria of modern biography. If we reject the Gospels, we would also have to reject most of what we know about ancient history.
2) The claim that Paul never mentions the historical Jesus. This is simply not true. Paul quotes Jesus, mentions aspects of his life and in 1 Corinthians 15 he challenges his readers to check out the surviving witnesses.
3) The rejection of Josephus as a testimony of Jesus. Some authors reject Josephus as evidence for Jesus because it is clear that there is Christian tampering. Most scholars see an original core testimony that has been augmented by Christians not created. Plus we have what Josephus says about John the Baptist and James, the brother of Jesus.
4) The claim that gnosticism was an equally original valid of Christianity along side what became orthodox Christianity. The fact is that there is a clear continuity with our first century Christian documents as found in the New Testament and what became orthodox Christianity. Gnosticism with its rejection of the Jewish God, Jewish Scriptures, material world, and its focus on gnosis rather than sin were a later (mid to late second century) break away from Christianity.
5) The misuse of pagan myths. Many claims are made about the pagan myths by these authors but when you look at the myths themselves, these claims are often not accurate. You are expected to rely on their secondary sources and not to look at the primary sources.
6) Pagan myths are described in Christian language to strengthen their connection to Jesus. Mithras is said to be born of a virgin even though he was born of a rock. Horus is said to be born of virgin even though he was conceived in the post-death intercourse of his married parents.
7) No respect for the dates of texts. Authors use pagan texts to establish connections to Jesus but sometimes (as in the case of Mithras) the texts post-date the New Testament. How do we know that the pagans did not borrow from the Christians?
8) Use of post-biblical traditions. Authors demonstrate pagan influence on the three wide men, the ox and ass, December 25 and a number of other traditions. The problem is that those are not biblical traditions. These things were added to the tradition later and any pagan influence says nothing about the origins of the Jesus story.
9) Misunderstanding of pagan influence on art. There are valid examples of pagan influence on Christian art such as Isis holding baby Horus being used as a model for Mary holding baby Jesus. It make sense that the new movement of Christianity would look beyond itself as it was developing its artistic side. This says nothing about pagan origins for the story.
10) The patchwork use of pagan myths. It is difficult to find large chunks of pagan myth that look like the Gospels. Jesus myth theorists take a word here and a phrase here, from dozens of myths from many cultures and say “Here is the Gospel!” If you start with enough stories, you can reconstruct almost any historical figure, ancient or minor.
These are just a few of the problems that I have with the Jesus myth theory. Unfortunately, it is not likely to go away any time soon.
For more information, visit my Jesus Myth Theory page.