I have been talking to a number of Jesus mythicists lately and they have been putting forth something called the Raglan scale. This is a scale that puts together all sorts of categories common to mythical heroes. The idea is that the higher a person ranks on this scale, the more likely they are mythical and the lower they rank, the more likely they are historical. In the link above, Jesus is ranked as 19 (out of 22), which would put him clearly in the mythical category. For a person to be historical, you would want them to be 6 or lower. There are all sorts of problems with this scale, but for the sake of argument, let us take it as it is. I decided to not just accept the score but to actually put Jesus as we find him in the gospels (and not as later church tradition interpreted him) through this scale to see how he did. Here are the categories:
1. The hero’s mother is a royal virgin
2. His father is a king and
3. often a near relative of the mother, but
4. the circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
5. he is also reputed to be the son of a god
6. at birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or maternal grandfather, to kill him, but
7. He is spirited away, and
8. Reared by foster-parents in a far country
9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
11. After a victory over the king and or giant, dragon, or wild beast
12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
13. becomes king
14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
15. Prescribes laws but
16. later loses favor with the gods and or his people and
17. Is driven from from the throne and the city after which
18. He meets with a mysterious death
19. often at the top of a hill.
20. his children, if any, do not succeed him.
21. his body is not buried, but nevertheless
22. he has one or more holy sepulchres.
Here are my results:
1. No indication that Mary was royal.
2. Assuming you are talking about Joseph (otherwise this would overlap with 5) he was not a king.
3. Father was not a near relative of the mother.
4. Definitely unusual.
5. Described as the Son of God.
6. No attempt by father or grandfather to kill him.
7. Was spirited away.
8. Was not reared by foster-parents.
9. We are told something about his childhood.
10. He does not seem to have his own kingdom at manhood, he preaches the kingdom of God but it is not his.
11. I’m not sure what victory over a dragon is being referred to here. While that was later attached to what Jesus did at the cross and his resurrection, that is absent in the gospels.
12. Jesus never got married. Sorry Dan Brown.
13. Is Jesus a king? In a sense, although he has no kingdom in this world which is probably what is being referred to here. I will give this to you but I am being generous.
14. I do not see any uneventful reign in the gospels.
15. Jesus does not proscribe laws. He enters into the conversation of interpretation that the other Jewish leaders were involved in but that is very different from proscribing.
16. He does lose favour with the people.
17. Driven from a throne? Where in the gospels? He is not even driven from the city.
18. A mysterious death? Nothing mysterious about crucifixion. Thousands of people died this way.
19. I will give you the hill.
20. No children.
21. His body was buried.
22. He had a tomb but I would not call that a holy sepulchre. The later church may have done that but it is not found in the gospels.
How does Jesus do here? By my count, Jesus scores a 6 on this scale based on what we find in the gospels. I believe that is the range in which a historical figure is expected. This is very interesting.