Questioning the “Gospel of Marcion”—Pt. 5

The prior posts in this series have alerted us to the dual meanings of “gospel” in antiquity, and also to the argument—apparently broached here for the first time—that Tertullian (the primary ancient witness to Marcion’s “gospel”) never had a text of the arch-heretic in mind at all. In support of this view one can point to the astonishing fact that in all of Tertullian’s five books Against Marcion (AM), one nowhere encounters a clear citation from a text that we could call the “Gospel of Marcion” (see below). This is damning, for it is impossible that the Church Father would critique a text while never offering a quotation from that text! Who critiques a text without repeatedly citing it? After … Continue reading

The early bodiless Jesus—Pt. 1

In the last several posts we looked at Marcion’s critical role in early gospel formation, and at two recent scholarly views that propose a new synoptic paradigm: Marcion’s gospel predated all four canonical gospels. This includes the Gospel of Mark which, accordingly, now moves to the mid-second century CE. Prof. Markus Vinzent, in particular, has proposed that it was Marcion of Pontus who, in the first half of the second century, ‘invented’ the figure of Jesus of Nazareth (more correctly: Jesus the Nazarene). Vinzent writes: Marcion created a powerful narrative of a transcendent, pre-existing figure who appeared on this alien earth, in the midst of history, to liberate human beings from these physical chains of ignorance, greed, law, sin, judgement … Continue reading

My journey as a “spiritual atheist”—Pt. 3

Motive, means, and opportunity Reflecting upon Jesus’ virgin birth, resurrection, and everything in between, I was now convinced that his various biographies as presented in the gospels are pure fiction. Liberal scholarship has amply confirmed this and shown, for example, that the birth stories in Matthew and Luke are incompatible and preposterous as history. King Herod did not murder the babies of Bethlehem—no Roman writer noted such an atrocious act. No star stood still over the village. No census required people to return to their birthplace—a prescription for social chaos, otherwise unknown, that the practical Romans would never have mandated. In other words, Christianity is founded on an invented story—indeed, upon a “lie.” That is a harsh word, but no … Continue reading

What is mythicism?

The question is harder to answer than might first be suspected. I’ve been waiting a few years for the word “mythicist” to appear in dictionaries—applied, that is, to the Christ myth theory. To my knowledge, it hasn’t yet. “Mythicist” in mainstream dictionaries still refers to (1) a student of myths, or (2) an interpreter of myths. Wikipedia makes a disparaging nod in the direction of mythicism by calling it a “19th century theology.” Those who hold the view today are, presumably, passé. About a century ago, “mythicist” (Eng.) and “mythiste” (Fr.) did refer to those espousing the Christ myth theory. But then the mythicist point of view was effectively forced out of discussion. Since the closing decades of the 20th … Continue reading

Ten steps to the birth of Christianity: My view

1. A PREACHER (“Teacher”) is born in Palestine towards the beginning of the common era. He claims to have found answers to the ultimate questions facing mankind and attempts to teach others the “Way” to understanding and fulfillment. His teachings conform to the Gnostic type and are fundamentally secular—the exercise of human reason and the application of effort towards the “understanding of life” (Mandaic: manda d’hayye).   2. THE REBELLION: The Teacher challenges the religious institutions of his time and place (as did the Buddha and Zoroaster before him). He considers Jewish teachings useless and misleading: cant, rite, sacrifice, and obedience. Though born a Hebrew, he rebels against Judaism. 3. THE BEGINNING OF A NEW RELIGION: Some followers listen to … Continue reading

B. Ehrman’s “Misquoting Jesus”

A critique of Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperOne 2005) Chapter Six: “Theologically Motivated Alterations of the Text” by René Salm Even the avid reader will have a hard time keeping up with Bart D. Ehrman. By my count he’s written twenty-three books and his next, “Did Jesus Exist?” (of particular interest to Jesus mythicists) appears this March. Yet, I have heard it declared that Ehrman has not written many books but has written one book many times. Perhaps I can be excused then for not having read all of his oeuvre, and for critiquing but one chapter of this book, with the modest hope that what I have to say … Continue reading

Mythicists, docetists, Nazoreans (Salm)

The present confrontation between Jesus mythicists and the tradition may seem new to some. Others may suppose that it dates as far back as the eighteenth century, when scholars began to question the historicity of Jesus. However, I suggest in this statement that mythicism is a modern name for ancient docetism—Christianity’s “twin” born along with the religion itself. In his Panarion (29.6.1) Epiphanius writes of a sect of “Nasarenes” whom he denominates as heretics. He writes that “the Nasarene sect was before Christ and did not know Christ.” The Church Father carefully distinguishes these Nasarenes (with sigma) from later “Nazoreans” (with zeta) whom he accepts as “Christians.” Other indications also exist of a pre-Christian movement somehow attached to the Greek … Continue reading