Conservative Christian bloggers seem to be even more hostile to the Jesus “mythers” (as proponents of the mythological Jesus theory are known in the blogosphere). Even Bible believing bloggers who are generally willing to engage in cordial debate with atheists and agnostics will draw the line at the mythers. In a way, I don’t blame. Some of the mythers roaming the blogosphere can be fairly obnoxious. The worst of them will just repeat their own arguments ad nauseum without addressing the points their opponents make and they will treat any argument that even plausibly seems to favor their side as ironclad proof of their entire position. Of course there are many conservative Christians who act like that as well, and I suspect that such behavior can be found on both sides of every issue that gets debated on the internet.
I don’t consider myself a myther, but I find it hard to discount the possibility that the historical Jesus may be virtually beyond recovery. The main problem I see with the theory of a completely mythological Jesus is that the mythers’ position would have to be the right one on each and every disputed issue while the historical Jesus prevails if the mythers are only wrong once. Still, I find some of the myther arguments really interesting and I like to try to get conservative Christians to respond to them. I have to be careful in how I raise the issue though, lest I be perceived as a lunatic myther rather than a respectful agnostic.
For me, the most interesting point on the myther side of the ledger is that our earliest Christian writings, Paul’s epistles, don’t demonstrate any knowledge of Jesus’ life and ministry prior to the night before he was crucified. Consider all the questions that Paul leaves unanswered:
- Where was Jesus from? Was it Nazareth, or could he have been from Egypt or Rome, or Schenectady?
- Where was Jesus crucified? Was it in Jerusalem, or could he have been put to death in Samaria or Damascus, or Poughkeepsie?
- When did Jesus live and die? Was it a few years before Paul’s time, a few decades before, or more than a century before?
- How long did Jesus preach and teach before he was arrested?
- Did any one Paul knew have personal contact with Jesus prior to his resurrection? Did Jesus teach his followers about ethics and morality?
- Did Jesus say anything about having a divine nature?
The hardcore myther explanation for this lack of detail is that Paul didn’t believe that Jesus was a historical individual at all. According to this theory, Paul’s Jesus was an entirely spiritual being and his death and resurrection played out in some heavenly dimension rather than on earth in first century Palestine. These mythers think that it was the writer of Mark’s gospel who invented an allegorical story about a Jesus who actually walked the earth. While I haven't studied the issues that closely, I cannot help but be struck by the fact that the teachings in Paul’s letters don’t seem to depend on an actual historical person doing or saying any of the things that the gospels say Jesus said or did during his earthly ministry.
So I guess I come down at about the same place on the existence of the historical Jesus as I come down on the existence of God. I’m agnostic. I don’t find the evidence sufficiently compelling in either direction.