As most of the readers of this blog know by now, in my new book, Did Jesus Exist, I take on the claims made by that vociferous group of nay-sayers who call themselves “mythicists.” For those still not familiar with this rare breed, it comprises a growing cadre of writers – many of whom have published books (Acharya S [a.k.a D. M. Murdoch], Earl Doherty, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, Tom Harpur, Robert Price, Thomas Thompson, and many others), and many more of whom are a loud presence on the Internet (as you can see for yourself; just do a couple of obvious Google searches) – who all claim that Jesus of Nazareth did not actually exist, but that he was invented by the early Christians out of whole cloth to be a savior, comparable to the divine men “known” in pagan religions.
In my book I show why this view is completely wrong. Whether we like it or not (some of us do, some of us don’t) Jesus certainly existed. What he was like is another story.
One of the most common claims of the mythicists is that there were numerous other divine men in Jesus’ day who were very similar – in fact, in almost every respect – to Jesus.
A terrific example of an exaggerated set of mythicist claims comes in a classic in the field, the 1875 book of Kersey Graves, The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors: Christianity Before Christ, which has been reprinted for wide circulation here in recent years. A number of untrained mythicists (i.e., those who have not actually done graduate work in the fields of New Testament, early Christianity, classics,and so on) simply take Graves’s word for it when he claims that Jesus was just like all the other invented figures of his day.
Early on his “study” Graves states his overarching thesis:
Researches into oriental history reveal the remarkable fact that stories of incarnate Gods answering to and resembling the miraculous character of Jesus Christ have been prevalent in most if not all principal religious heathen nations of antiquity; and the accounts and narrations of some of these deific incarnations bear such a striking resemblance to that of the Christian Savior – not only in their general features but in some cases in the most minute details, from the legend of the immaculate conception to that of the crucifixion, and subsequent ascension into heaven – that one might almost be mistaken for the other. (p. 29)
Grave goes on to list thirty five such divine figures, naming them as Chrisna of Hindostan, Budha Sakia of India; Baal of Phenicia; Thammuz of Syria; Mithra of Persia, Cadmus of Greece; Mohamud of Arabia; and so on. Already the modern, informed reader sees that there are going to be problems. Buddha, Cadmus, and Mohammed? These had lives that were remarkably like Jesus’, down to the details? But as Graves goes on to contend:
These have all received divine honors, have nearly all been worshiped as Gods, or sons of Gods; were mostly incarnated as Christs, Saviors, Messiahs, or Mediators; not a few of them were reputedly born of virgins; some of them filling a character almost identical with that ascribed by the Christian’s Bible to Jesus Christ; many of them, like him, are reported to have been crucified; and all of them, taken together, furnish a prototype and parallel for nearly every important incident and wonder-inciting miracle, doctrine, and precept recorded in the New Testament, of the Christian’s savior.” (pp. 30-31)
Virtually everything Graves says is wrong.
Take the idea that divine men in the ancient pagan world were thought to be born of virigins. It’s not true. What is true is that remarkable men – demigods, emperors, powerful figures of all kinds – were often thought to have been miraculously born. But it was not because their mothers did not have sex—which is what the early Christians said about Jesus and his mother. On the contrary, the mothers of these pagan divine men certainly did have sex. In fact, they had sex with a god to conceive their miraculous children. One might say they had divine sex.
The god Zeus was well known for his love of mortal women, and he was thought to have made a number of them pregnant by various means – never by allowing her to remain physically untouched, however. ….
If you would like to see a couple of examples, I go into greater detail as I continue this post on my membership site. Please join!