Scholars disagree about how Jesus understood his life and his mission. Countless labels have been applied to him: cynic sage, apocalyptic prophet, rabbi, exorcist, Messiah. But everyone agrees that he existed, right?
Historians and religion scholars do. But a surprising number of people hold the view that the existence of Jesus is a myth: he is not just a heavily mythologized historical figure, but pure or nearly pure fabrication from start to finish. Jesus mythicists have a substantial web presence, and their views have been promoted in films such as Religulous and Zeitgeist.
It might seem best to ignore such fringe claims. But as we know from debates over evolution and other subjects, views that no expert finds persuasive can still have an impact on public discourse, education and much else.
As a group, the Jesus mythicists can seem like a strange mirror of the state of scholarly thinking on Jesus: the only thing they agree on is Jesus' nonexistence. Yet a few major trends are discernible.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Did Jesus Exist?
Anyone who has spent anytime in New Testament studies knows that there is a lot discussion and debate surrounding the historical Jesus. Did such and such event really happen?Did he say this or that? Did he think he was the messiah? And a lot of ink has and continues to be spilled over these questions and many others.
But every now and again I will meet or read about someone who suggests that Jesus never existed. That the whole story doesn't have any historical fabric and that Jesus was made up by the Apostle Paul and the early church as a way to start a new religious movement. And while this might sound crazy to "true believers" and frustrate the heck out of scholars, there is a small but vocal contingent of what is called Jesus Mythicists. And while we might be tempted to ignore them with the hope they will go away, there are some who are engaging them on a regular basis.
My friend and Colleague, Professor James McGrath, is one of those scholars. Over at his blog Exploring our Matrix, James has been actively engaging mythicists and their arguments for some time now. And the interaction has been quite stimulating from both sides.
In the recent issue of Christian Century, James explains what Jesus Mythicism "is" and why it is important to engage with it proponents. Here is a bit of what James has to say in the article.