The Jesus myth

A debate between Richard Carrier and Dennis MacDonald draws attention to how little is actually known about Jesus.

Last year Dennis MacDonald and I [Carrier] had a moderated conversation on the PineCreek channel regarding the plausibility of Jesus never really being a person in history. MacDonald is famous for proposing the Gospels construct myths about Jesus partly from Homeric and other other Gentile models, and partly from Jewish Old Testament models. His Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark is still an enduring classic. His equally important work on the Septuagint parallels is the lesser known Two Shipwrecked Gospels. But his latest survey of both features in constructing the mythology of Jesus is Mythologizing Jesus: From Jewish Teacher to Epic Hero.

In all of this MacDonald is a minimalist but not a mythicist. He believes almost everything said about Jesus in the Gospels is mythical. But he also believes there is some, albeit scant, data supporting some sort of real historical Jesus.

Except for the local Southern Baptists, who are adamant for Biblical inerrancy, it must be obvious to anybody of ordinary intelligence that there is a wide space between the literary Jesus and the historical Jesus (if such a person ever existed). The only thing that may be said with certainty is that there is no attestation of Jesus’ existence outside the canonical Gospels, written decades after Jesus’ death — nothing. When Pastor Bubba howls and bellows that he knows Jesus said this and wants you to do that, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, he is merely repeating Christian traditions, not sharing scholarship.

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