Salon has published a deeply deceptive piece
by a psychologist named Valerie Tarico, who claims that a "growing number of scholars" believe Jesus to be a myth. (The article first appeared on Alternet
.) Although Tarico has written some good stories in the past, this offering is infuriating. In fact, it is downright fraudulent.
To prove her point, Tarico quotes Bart Ehrman (whom I greatly admire) in such a way as to convey the impression that he is among the "growing number" of mythicists. But he isn't. What Tarico has done here crosses the line separating sloppy research from deliberate misrepresentation.
Ehrman is the author of book called Did Jesus Exist?,
which concludes that a real man stands behind the writings we have about Jesus. According to Ehrman, the contention that a "growing number" of scholars believe in the mythicist position is itself a myth. From his introduction:
Every week I receive two or three e-mails asking me whether Jesus existed as a human being. When I started getting these e-mails, some years ago now, I thought the question was rather peculiar and I did not take it seriously. Of course Jesus existed. Everyone knows he existed. Don’t they?
But the questions kept coming, and soon I began to wonder: Why are so many people asking? My wonder only increased when I learned that I myself was being quoted in some circles—misquoted rather—as saying that Jesus never existed. I decided to look into the matter. I discovered, to my surprise, an entire body of literature devoted to the question of whether or not there ever was a real man, Jesus.
I was surprised because I am trained as a scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity, and for thirty years I have written extensively on the historical Jesus, the Gospels, the early Christian movement, and the history of the church’s first three hundred years. Like all New Testament scholars, I have read thousands of books and articles in English and other European languages on Jesus, the New Testament, and early Christianity. But I was almost completely unaware—as are most of my colleagues in the field—of this body of skeptical literature.
I should say at the outset that none of this literature is written by scholars trained in New Testament or early Christian studies teaching at the major, or even the minor, accredited theological seminaries, divinity schools, universities, or colleges of North America or Europe (or anywhere else in the world). Of the thousands of scholars of early Christianity who do teach at such schools, none of them, to my knowledge, has any doubts that Jesus existed.
I'm pretty sure that the "scholars" cited by Tarico are not teachers of early Christianity at any university. And before you raise a tiresomely predictable objection: No, major universities do not have policies of hiring only Chistianity-friendly profs. That's not how it works at places like UCLA and Oxford. Specialists in early Christianity are often agnostics, atheists, unconventionally religious or adherents of non-Christian faiths.
Until recently, I knew of only one historian with a PhD who embraced the "Christ myth" theory: Robert Price. (His book is interesting but unconvincing; his podcasts are annoying.) Now we have a second: Richard Carrier, one of those by-now all-too-familiar zealots for atheism. From one scholar to two scholars: Does that
count as a "growing number"?
Tarico shows her true colors when she approvingly cites Peter Joseph's 2007 movie Zeitgeist
, even though she grudgingly admits that it contains "known errors." Errors?
Is she kidding? The problems with that movie go far beyond a few "errors": Nearly every word in that presentation is total fucking lunacy. Compared to Peter Joseph, Alex Jones is a model of scholarship.
As I wrote in a previous post
on Zeitgeist and the mythicist position:
Let's look at an example. This comes from the Joseph's film:
Broadly speaking, the story of Horus is as follows: Horus was born on December 25th of the virgin Isis-Meri. His birth was accompanied by a star in the east, which in turn, three kings followed to locate and adorn the new-born savior. At the age of 12, he was a prodigal child teacher, and at the age of 30 he was baptized by a figure known as Anup and thus began his ministry. Horus had 12 disciples he traveled about with, performing miracles such as healing the sick and walking on water. Horus was known by many gestural names such as The Truth, The Light, God's Anointed Son, The Good Shepherd, The Lamb of God, and many others. After being betrayed by Typhon, Horus was crucified, buried for 3 days, and thus, resurrected..If you know anything at all about Egyptology, you'll see right away that Joseph pulls nearly all of these facts straight out of...well, out of an orifice which Aleister Crowley jokingly called "the eye of Horus."
Hit Google, hit the library, double check what I'm about to say as thoroughly as you can: You won't prove me wrong. Horus was not born on December 25. His Mom Isis was no virgin; she was married to a guy named Osiris, who may or may not have spent some time trapped in a tree stump (depending on which version of the myth you prefer). Horus was never called the Good Shepherd or the Lamb of God or any of that crap.
Sweet merciful Ra, where did Peter Joseph come up with the notion that Horus was crucified? No ancient Egyptian ever wrote down a story like that. I don't know of any ancient myth that has Horus trotting across H2O or teaching at the age of twelve or gathering twelve disciples.
Bottom line: Nearly every word that Peter Joseph has written is pure crap. His entire movie operates on this same low level. The guy is a toon.
Tarico's own "five reasons" for favoring the myth position are, of course, the kind of puerile stuff one would expect from someone who was able to sit through Zeitgeist
without banging her head against the desk.
No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.
If modern record-keeping is what you require, then how can you prove the existence of any other
peasant from Galilee? Hell, how can you prove the existence of (say) Messalina? Where's her birth certificate, her death certificate, the court records...?
The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts. Paul seems unaware of any virgin birth, for example. No wise men, no star in the east, no miracles.
In his book, Ehrman shows that we actually get a lot
of information about Jesus from Paul and the Gospel of Mark.
Tarico's reference to the nativity stories is both inane and deceptive. Few responsible scholars take those sections of the Gospels at face value, and no
responsible scholar believes that the question of historicity rests on the nativity narratives.
I've yet to encounter a historian who doubts that Apollonius of Tyana was a real man, even though the most important text about his life includes a yarn in which he battles a vampire. Scientologists will tell you fanciful tales about L. Ron Hubbard, but those exercises in fiction cannot be used to argue that L. Ron Hubbard did not exist.
Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.
Actually, John makes that claim (John 21:24). I personally don't accept the claim at face value, but the claim does exist within the text. (Before you say it: Yes, I know all about the arguments over the final chapter. Let's get one thing straight, kids: I'm probably older than you are, and I've been following this stuff since around the time Richard Carrier was born. For a layman, I know my way around this terrain fairly well.)
Does Tarico have any idea how many other historical figures are now known to us through non-firsthand accounts? Once again, let's use Messalina as an example. (Why her? Because she's so much fun
.) I'm going on memory here, so correct me if I'm wrong, but I think our main sources on her are Seutonius and Tacitus, both of whom wrote long after her death. In fact, I'm confident that the Gospel of Mark is closer to the time of Jesus than Tacitus is to the time of Messalina.
The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.
Just noticed that, Valerie? Good for you, kid. Of course, lots of other people saw the same thing -- centuries before you were born. I guess every generation is shocked, shocked
to learn of those contradictions, and every generation pretends that they were the first to spot them.
Of course, if you get deep into the studies of any other pre-modern figure, you'll run into contradictory source material. Even if you concentrate on more recent times, you are likely to find contradictory accounts of controversial personages -- and even of some personages who aren't very controversial. Hell, if I were to attempt a thorough reconstruction of the life of Valerie Tarico (or Bart Ehrman, or nearly anyone else), I'd probably run into contradictory information.
Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.
Scholars have also dished up wildly differing Hitlers. (You should take a look at Ron Rosenbaum's book Explaining Hitler
. Yow!) What does this prove? Simply this: People disagree. They are particularly prone to disagree when discussing contentious, "hot button" issues and historical personalities. If you are a New Testament specialist, and if you presume that academic advancement depends on your ability to come up with an original interpretation of familiar evidence, you are almost forced
to offer up a Jesus unlike all previous Jesi.
So much for Tarico's five "proofs."
Allow me to close by repeating a few points made on an earlier occasion
So why do these young, arrogant ninnies want to believe that Jesus was a completely mythical personage? Because -- to put it bluntly -- they've got a bug up their asses about Christianity, and because these smirky twerps like to think that they're smarter than other people. For most of these kids, fundamentalist Protestant Christianity is the only variant they know, and I can certainly understand why they've learned to dislike it. For them, the "myth" theory fulfills a psychological need. It's their way of exacting revenge.
Psychologist, analyze thyself