Posted by: info | December 15, 2008

The Jesus myth hypothesis

The Jesus myth hypothesis (also referred to as the Jesus myth theory, the Jesus myth, or the Christ myth) brings the historical existence of Jesus into question. It ranges from the idea that figure of Jesus of Nazareth is not a historical figure, but an entirely fictional construct of various forms of ancient mythology, through the idea that he is a composite character created through the transfers from and embellishments on the life of an earlier religious teacher who lived sometime during the 1st or 2nd century BCE, ending with the idea that the Gospel Jesus has had so much added that no details regarding an actual historical person can be determined. Proponents hold that there is inconclusive historical evidence for the existence of the Jesus of the New Testament, and that there are significant mythological parallels between the narrative of Jesus in the gospels and mystery religions of rebirth deities of the Roman Empire such as Mithraism.

The hypothesis was first proposed by the French Enlightenment thinkers Constantin-François Volney and Charles François Dupuis in the 1790s, but was not addressed by scholars until 1840 when historian and theologian Bruno Bauer began work which would become influential in biblical studies during the early 20th century. Authors such as Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price and George Albert Wells have recently re-popularized the argument. However, this position remains controversial, and is not supported by a large number of biblical historians and scholars. This position is not to be confused with a comparative mythology analysis of Jesus, which holds that while there may have been a historical preacher named Jesus, important aspects of his persona as described in the New Testament are heavily influenced by other Bronze Age and Iron Age religions, including the Roman mystery religions mentioned above; this latter position has mainstream acceptance today. Indeed, for many scholars, the portion of the “Jesus Myth” view that holds that Jesus is entirely fictional is incidental to the more interesting questions surrounding the influences of early Christian thought.

Richard Burridge and Graham Gould state that the Jesus Myth hypothesis is not accepted by mainstream critical scholarship. Robert E. Van Voorst has stated that biblical scholars and historians regard the thesis as “effectively refuted”.[80] Graham N. Stanton writes, “Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed and that the gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which has to be weighed and assessed critically. There is general agreement that, with the possible exception of Paul, we know far more about Jesus of Nazareth than about any first- or second century Jewish or pagan religious teacher.” Atheist New Testament scholar William Arnal writes, “No one in mainstream New Testament scholarship denies that Jesus was a Jew.”

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