Friday, January 25, 2013

The Myth About All Those Internet 'Mythicist Debates'

I hate 'debates' about the Bible.  If you're after the truth, you're not going to find it by fighting.  It's one thing to have a discussion or what they used to call a 'friendly debate.'  But the so-called 'mythicist' debates which rage on the internet do nothing to further the truth.  Indeed the longer they have been going on the more unbelievable the respective positions of both sides have become.

I have nothing against Earl Doherty's experimental interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews.  He has a lot of interesting ideas, and it is worthwhile to spend as much time as possible contemplating interesting ideas.  But do I think that there were any Christians anywhere in antiquity who believed that Jesus never appeared on the earth or didn't know a gospel narrative framed around this historical event?  Of course not.  But at the same time I think it is very dangerous to allow those who most vehently oppose 'mythicism' - i.e. American neo-Protestantism - to pretend that they stand anywhere near the truth either.

The fact that it 'makes it easier' to understand Jesus in limited terms of him 'being a man' and only a man, doesn't mean that this is what early Christianity actually preached.  Yes certainly there were always heretics who understood Jesus in these terms.  But that's the point isn't it?  The exclusively human Jesus wasn't taken to be an acceptable position - ever - or at least until American Protestants of the modern age came to dominate the Christian identity.

There used to be a time when Christians were quite happy to split the difference.  Jesus was a god born from a woman.  But we should take the fact that there was an ancient compromise developed in the second and third centuries that the 'human interpretation' was the 'true' one and the 'God interpretation' something which developed from exaggeration.  Indeed the ease by which this intellectual falsification takes place in otherwise intelligent American Protestants is no less miraculous than the claims of the Jesus mythicists.

As we already noted the fact that making Jesus exclusively human makes the gospel narrative 'easier to understand' or 'easier to believe' is not the same thing as being faithful to the original sources.  But this is the essential banality of American neo-Protestantism.  'Faith' can only be for them 'what makes people believe' - or perhaps more intellectually truthfully - 'what makes me believe' rather than simply being faithful to the original sources or to what the truth is.

The truth is that Christianity was originally a very sophisticated mystery religion.  Indeed as much as we would like to speculate that there was this 'primitive Christianity' from which the religion of Justin, Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria developed, these ideas have no more reality than Earl Doherty's experiments.  And the biggest red herring in the debate is the inevitable appeal to 'what the Jews must have believed.'   Haven't these people ever read the common theme to many of the Qumran texts - the expectation of a divine visitation and the raising of an elect community centered around a messiah?  Why is this 'Judaism' inevitably ignored when these neo-Protestant American play their 'Jew card' in the debates with mythicists?

As I said, I don't think that these feigned 'debates' are all that useful for settling the truth about 'mythicism.'  I actually hate the term 'mythicism.'  But it is my unshakable opinion that all these controversies only distract us from the truth because neither side is really that interested in uncovering the actual ground of early Christianity.  They suffer from that all too modern vanity disguised as virtue that is - 'being right' all the time.  The truth is still buried out there somewhere.  It just isn't going to be uncovered in debates carried on blogs in the full view of the general public.  There's a good chance that the answer will be found in the place we used to look for it - our surviving literary sources from antiquity.  Let's put them to good use.

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