At the beginning of ‘the year of our Lord 2013’ it must be noted with amazement that still not a single Biblical Studies professor, whether tenured or not tenured, publicly endorses the mythicist viewpoint regarding Jesus of Nazareth. (Please correct me if I’m wrong. See first comment below.—R.S.) This startling fact is a testament to the monolithic refusal of both scholarship and society to embrace the results of scientific investigation and reason. In the field of religion, mankind still lives in the Stone Age.
Yet, the facts—laboriously brought to light by maverick scholars over the last two hundred years—show that Jesus of Nazareth is the chimera of a bygone era, an invented figure. From the virgin birth to the resurrection, from the walking on water to the raising of Lazarus, from the Transfiguration to the dying gasp on the cross, the entire story of Jesus is rank fiction, the stuff of fantasy. In the New Testament we have “The Big Lie” written large.
Many in the academic mainstream are now becoming uncomfortably aware of “Jesus mythicism” while ignoring it. Others now ridicule it—a sign of progress along the four Gandhian stages: ignore – ridicule – fight – accept. We are even seeing some ‘fight’ emerge, as a scholar such as R. Joseph Hoffmann sets forth the “true” elements in the gospels, enumerated here as 35 in number. Hoffmann even promises a book on the matter.
Neil Godfrey writes: “But like Bart Ehrman, Hoffmann thinks it is time to come out and say that though just about everything you read in the gospels is a myth, if you look carefully you will see that it can all be rationalized so that at least its foundation is not myth” (emphasis added). This is the ‘fight’ stage, a desperate attempt to salvage historicity from what is increasingly perceived as myth. But the arc of history is bending, and it is bending towards Jesus mythicism.
It is no coincidence that Christianity conquered Europe and has been a useful tool to aggressively promote the expansion of European culture. The religion quite early aligned itself with major western institutions and mores (read: Hellenism), so that it truly lies at the heart of western civilization. Over the centuries Christianity has befriended capitalism while shunning communism, has proven itself patriarchal while seeing woman as subservient, has fostered xenophobia while viewing other religions as threats. As Realpolitik, the spread of Christianity may be termed “domination.” As religion, it may be termed “evangelism.” As sociology, it may be termed “assimilation.” Whatever we call it, the ‘gospel of peace and humility’ has also been consummately hypocritical.
Jesus mythicists should realize that what we are about entails nothing less than a revolution in western civilization. In medical parlance, this is not an ‘office procedure.’ The patient is so sick that open heart surgery is the only option: we must take the heart out of western civilization and replace it with a new one. Interpreted, we must replace faith with reason.
In ridding the West of Jesus of Nazareth, mythicists are doing more than deleting the central character of history. We are changing the meaning of the words ‘western civilization.’ For some, we are in fact deleting western civilization. The struggle is ultimately between faith and reason. On one side are the reactionary and conservative elements of mankind, those averse to change and ultimately driven by emotion and fear. On the other side are the forward looking and progressive elements of mankind, those which accept change as part of life and repose confidence in mankind’s rational faculty knowing, after all, that only reason can guide us securely into the unknown.
Though the Jesus mythicist is not yet included in the confraternity of bible scholars, he is not alone but has natural allies in the various domains of science, history, and atheism. Many who are now positively disposed to the mythicist thesis will champion it when that thesis becomes better known. Many nominal Christians, too, can be expected to change if and when it becomes politic to do so. Only committed Christians need Jesus of Nazareth. Truth be told, however, I think surprisingly few “committed Christians” will be found once all the hyperbole and bluster is removed…
The challenge before Jesus mythicism now is to make itself better known. Mythicists should neither hide nor feel squeamish about airing their views in any forum. All platforms are open and the truth need not defer to anything nor anyone. In the history of western religion this is a unique privilege and a unique time, for in bygone eras those professing radical religious ideas met summary execution at the hands of Christians hypocritically professing “the love of Jesus.” Today, we have the freedom to air the most controversial view of all views, that Jesus Christ did not exist. But we must be responsible in that airing, knowing that we are touching a raw nerve and attacking the most sacred tenet of western man. As we persuade, cajole, and probe, we must keep in mind that we are not attacking people but a view. Ours is essentially a task of instruction, carried out with tact and due consideration, for we are asking a great deal from the average Christian who has never even thought about these matters and who has placed enormous stock in his and her “savior of the world.”
[Charts and maps above courtesy of the Washington Post.]