5 Questions to Ask Jesus Mythicists

EgyptThe Jesus Myth Theory claims that Jesus never existed and that the narratives of the Gospels are based on pagan myths. In my recent book, Unmasking the Jesus Myth, I attempt to give practical advice on how to respond to the Jesus Myth.

If you ever find yourself in conversation with a Jesus Mythicist, I would recommend you ask them these five questions.

  1. Have you ever read any of the actual myths (as opposed to summaries in mythicist books)?
  2. If you were to contact any random professor of ancient history at a secular university and asked them if there is enough evidence to believe that Jesus was historical, what do you think they would say?
  3. Can you name one Josephus scholar who believes that Josephus did not mention Jesus and that the Testamonium Flavianum is a complete forgery?
  4. Why do mythicists claim that certain gods/heroes were virgin born when the myths say that they were conceived in intercourse?
  5. Why should ancient documents be discounted as historical evidence if they are considered to be scripture for a religious group?

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3 thoughts on “5 Questions to Ask Jesus Mythicists”

  1. 1. Reading about mythology has been a hobby of mine for over 20 years, so much so that I consider myself an amateur mythologist, especially in regards to ancient Near East mythology. I have a Masters in English Literature, took courses on Arthurian legend, and I did my thesis on the different stages of mythological development.

    2. I would assume that they would tell you that the question is beyond the scope of ancient history in general and that you should contact someone who has researched the historical evidence behind that specific question.

    3. Josephus scholars who believed the Testimonium to be a complete forgery include: Schurer, Niese, Norden, Zeitlin, Lewy, Juster, von Dobschutz, Karl Kautsky, S.G.F. Brandon, Charles Guignebert, and Twelftree.

    4. The question brings an erroneous assumption. It is equivalent to asking “Why do Christians say Jesus was virgin born when the Gospel of Mark says that his mother believed her son to a mortal crazy person?” (Mark 3:21). The answer to both questions is that different sources provide contradictory answers. I could bring up Perseus’ mother, who was impregnated by a shower of golden light, but really the whole argument misses the point. The motif of virgin birth is symbolic of single motherhood. The Jewish tradition, as handed down by the Talmud, the Toledot and Celsus make a great deal about Jesus being a bastard, and this motif, whether historical or not, is in turn implied by the single motherhood in Mark, the fact that the four women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy are notable for having questionable purity, and the saying recorded by the Gospel of Thomas: “Whoever knows the father and the mother will be called the child of a whore.”

    In any case, the virgin birth motif is hardly the most important shared theme. The dying-and-rising god Dumuzi, or Tammuz, was called both a Shepherd and a Fisherman, he was killed and raised under “the great apple tree” just as Jesus was said to have been crucified on the Tree of Life in Eden, the festival of his death is at the same time as the Jewish Festival of the Booths and the festival of his resurrection is marked him his name on the Jewish calendar, he had a sacrament of bread and water similar to the bread and wine sacrament of Communion (plus his sister is a wine goddess and later iterations of the dying-and-rising god like Dionysus would use wine instead of water), he guarded the gates of heaven similar to St. Peter and only allowed the Kassite Adam, named Adapa, to enter heaven only after Adapa sympathized with his death, he was associated with the serpent and his companion was associated with the same serpent pole (asklepian/caduceus) that Moses used for healing and that Jesus referenced as a symbol of his resurrection, the Song of Solomon is made up of his sex poetry, he was ritually mourned by women at the Jerusalem Temple, and Jerome claimed that the shrine to Jesus in Bethlehem was at one time dedicated to Dumuzi-Adonis instead. Dumuzi’s father Enki created an immortal land like Eden, got sick after eating a “forbidden fruit”, was healed by a rib goddess, gave Dumuzi’s wife the Sumerian mi “the Knowledge of Good and Evil”, and built the ark that survived the flood.

    5. The Gospels and epistles are not discounted as historical documents because they are religious documents. The degree of historicity afforded various statements in the Bible depends on how it accords with the contradicting details in other books from the Bible, reported facts in historical documents, and metaphorical fictions in mythological documents. Although Luke claims to be writing history, the author of Mark and Matthew make no similar claim, so it is the reader that is working under the assumption that the author intended those gospels to be historical non-fiction.

  2. >>Jeffrey, I looked up some of the names on your list of scholars… Got through about 4 names and all are deceased ( I am assuming all are deceasef due to your use of believe in the past tense). I am not saying that should discount their scholarship, but do you have a list of current scholars who believe the Josephus references to be complete forgery? Besides carrier and price, I am having a hard time finding any. Thanks


    According to Géza Vermès, the vast majority of nineteenth century scholarship believed that the entire Testimonium to be fraudulent.


    Josephus scholar Louis H. Feldman surveyed the scholarship between 1937 and 1980 and found:

    4 scholars regarded it as entirely genuine
    6 as mostly genuine
    20 accept it with some interpolations
    9 with several interpolations
    13 regard it as being totally an interpolation.


    Feldman, who is still alive, appears to be a skeptic of the Testimonium himself.

    In my opinion, the reason there was a shift in opinion is because the passage appears disjointed and appears to be extremely positive language grafted unto a more neutral passage. I agree with this assessment but the problem I have with assuming the more neutral passage comes from Josephus is that it still does not fix other problems like the reference the next paragraph makes to the “terrible misfortune that put the Jews in disorder” in the preceding paragraph as if the Testimonium doesn’t exist. So in my opinion, the passage is a double-forgery, the first interpolation using positive language and the second interpolation using extremely positive language. A Christian revision adding a Testimonium to the Greek War of the Jews shows the practice of forgery was common enough for this scenario to not be unlikely.

    Even assuming the passage is partially or completely authentic, we are then presented with the question of whether Josephus is reporting a news event he was familiar with or whether he is just repeating a synopsis of the gospel story as he heard it. If he was just repeating a synopsis of the gospel, then his reference only proves that the gospel story had become well known by the 90s, and does nothing to prove a historical Jesus existed. If he was familiar with it as a news event, then the first thing he would know about Jesus is that he was arrested for holding up the activities of the Jerusalem Temple, in which case Josephus could not possibly have provided even a neutral account of his acts but would have condemned him as yet another agitator. In every other instance, Josephus shows disdain for protesters and would-be Messiahs. He also always tries to explain both the Jewish side and the Roman side of the problem, usually blaming an incident on a particularly bad Roman official and/or Jewish agitator. But in this one instance, he basically says that both the “principal” Jews and Pilate killed a wise, tolerant, popular and beloved teacher of truth for no stated reason, and he does it in only a couple of sentences, whereas he spends five paragraphs talking about the unknown shepherd Athronges. Thus, even if the passage is authentic, which itself is highly doubtful in my opinion, the passage would have to be based on a short story synopsis that Josephus heard and passed along as history, just as he does with the apocryphal stories of Moses.

    The James passage in Josephus is even more problematic. John Dominic Crossan points out there are a lot of implicit questions about how an illiterate Galilean peasant like James could have become involved with the priestly circles within Jerusalem and then become so important that a high priest from a priestly family that dominated the city for 60 years would be deposed over it. Given that James was replaced by someone named Jesus, son of Damneus, it seems very likely the original passage may have identified James as the brother of that Jesus.


    Philo makes no mention of Jesus but he does identify the Logos with the “Righteous Branch” or “Rise” of the East, a Messianic figure in Zechariah 6:11-13 that associates the Branch with a high priest who sits at the right hand of God, named Joshua, son of Jehozadak, which is pretty close to Jesus, son of Joseph.

    The only other first-century Galilean historian that we know of, Justus of Tiberias, lived 15 miles away from Nazareth but made no mention of Jesus according the ninth century patriarch, Photius.

    In contrast, the Talmud, the Toledot Yeshu, and Mara Bar Serapion claims that Jesus lived in the first century B.C. Even accepting Josephus as authentic, that’s 3 vs. 1.

    A source used by Epiphanius also claims that Jesus lived during that time and inherited his kingship from the first century B.C. Jewish king, Alexander Jannaeus.

    In fact, the belief that Jesus lived during the first century B.C. was not just one popular belief but was once THE Jewish belief about Jesus is confirmed by the 12th century Spanish philosopher, physician, and historian, Abraham ben Daud, who is recorded in Dr. Adolph Neubauer’s Medieval Jewish Chronicles from 1887 as saying:

    “The Jewish history-writers say that Joshua ben Perachiah was the teacher of Yeshu ha-Notzri, according to which the latter lived in the day of King [Alexander] Janni; the history-writers of the other nations, however, say that he was born in the days of Herod and was hanged in the days of his son Archelaus. This is a great difference, a difference of more than 110 years.”

    Alvar Ellegård, a Swedish linguist who correctly solved the puzzle of who the 18th-century political writer Junius was, also wrote a book hypothesizing that Jesus lived in the first century B.C. without any knowledge of these sources, based solely on his analysis of Biblical and apocryphal texts.




  3. What needs to be properly understood in this debate is that historical documents, just like all other kinds of evidence, are always interpreted from within a pre-existing, foundational worldview. For men like Richard Carrier, that worldview is atheistic materialism, and such men will always prefer just about *any* explanation of the gospels, no matter how implausible, that avoids the fact that supernatural events really occurred, and God really does exist.

    In other words, it’s futile to try to convince a hardened atheist that Jesus was the son of God by merely appealing to historical testimony. Rather, what needs to first be demonstrated is that the materialistic worldview itself is self-contradictory and insufficient. Only once the foundation of atheism is dismantled will people be able to honestly consider the evidence of history that says Jesus is the son of God.

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