By John Litteral
In the conclusion of my recent book, I added some thoughts about the historical Christ. It has become increasingly argued by skeptics that the entire Bible is a myth, including the accounts of the existence of Jesus. There is a large spectrum of beliefs about what is considered historical and what is considered myth when it comes to the contents of the Bible. Some believe that the contents of the Bible should only be understood as parables and strictly didactic, and not historical. There are some scholars out there that argue a theory that they label as the “Jesus Myth.”
I have listened to one of those scholars for years, Dr. Robert Price. I highly respect Dr. Price because he is intellectually honest and is well researched. Dr. Price actually admires the teachings attributed to Christ and even calls himself a “Christian Atheist,” which is an oxymoron, but according to Price he actually does try to live by the moral teachings that have been attributed to Christ, but he does not believe Jesus is literally a historical person. I found his debate with Dr. Bart Ehrman to be quite interesting, both being atheists, but Bart defended the historical Jesus. Dr. Price often points out in many of his talks and interviews about how Christianity and its doctrines draws from earlier ancient religions and myths. Price believes that Christianity is a historicized blend of mainly Egyptian, Jewish, and Greek mythologies, and that the early Christians adopted the model for the figure of Jesus from the popular Mediterranean dying-rising savior myths of the time, such as that of Dionysus.1 There is absolutely no doubt that there is a tremendous amount of similarity between the stories in the Bible and those earlier myths and religions.
Even the Flood account in the book of Genesis is very similar to other stories given in other myths and religions. But does this mean that the Bible and the stories of Jesus are simply myths that were used by the Biblical authors and then reworked? Absolutely not! My perspective about this is perhaps outside of the common paradigm that many Christians argue from. I believe that it is quite possible that these earlier stories that contain concepts that are found in the Bible and run very parallel are concepts that were planted into the minds of mankind by God and were early manifestations of the fuller truth that would be revealed later. Often Christian apologists will take a rigid and more defensive position and declare that early pagans could not have had anything revealed to them by God, and any revelations would come from the demonic side.
But even the Bible itself gives some examples of Divine revelations being revealed to pagans, such as the sorcerer Balaam who prophesied of the coming Messiah, and the Magi who recognized that prophesy by the signs in the sky. John Henry Newman tackled this argument very well concerning if Christianity took concepts from earlier traditions.
“The phenomenon, admitted on all hands, is this:—That great portion of what is generally received as Christian truth is, in its rudiments or in its separate parts, to be found in heathen philosophies and religions. For instance, the doctrine of a Trinity is found both in the East and in the West; so is the ceremony of washing; so is the rite of sacrifice. The doctrine of the Divine Word is Platonic; the doctrine of the Incarnation is Indian; of a divine kingdom is Judaic; of Angels and demons is Magian; the connection of sin with the body is Gnostic; celibacy is known to Bonze and Talapoin; a sacerdotal order is Egyptian; the idea of a new birth is Chinese and Eleusinian; belief in sacramental virtue is Pythagorean; and honors to the dead are a polytheism. Such is the general nature of the fact before us; Mr. Milman argues from it, —’These things are in heathenism, therefore they are not Christian:’ we, on the contrary, prefer to say, ‘these things are in Christianity, therefore they are not heathen.’ That is, we prefer to say, and we think that Scripture bears us out in saying, that from the beginning the Moral Governor of the world has scattered the seeds of truth far and wide over its extent; that these have variously taken root, and grown as in the wilderness, wild plants indeed but living; and hence that, as the inferior animals have tokens of an immaterial principle in them, yet have not souls, so the philosophies and religions of men have their life in certain true ideas, though they are not directly divine. What man is amid the brute creation, such is the Church among the schools of the world; and as Adam gave names to the animals about him, so has the Church from the first looked round upon the earth, noting and visiting the doctrines she found there. She began in Chaldea, and then sojourned among the Canaanites, and went down into Egypt, and thence passed into Arabia, till she rested in her own land. Next she encountered the merchants of Tyre, and the wisdom of the East country, and the luxury of Sheba. Then she was carried away to Babylon, and wandered to the schools of Greece. And wherever she went, in trouble or in triumph, still she was a living spirit, the mind and voice of the Most High; ‘sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions;’ claiming to herself what they said rightly, correcting their errors, supplying their defects, completing their beginnings, expanding their surmises, and thus gradually by means of them enlarging the range and refining the sense of her own teaching. So far then from her creed being of doubtful credit because it resembles foreign theologies, we even hold that one special way in which Providence has imparted divine knowledge to us has been by enabling her to draw and collect it together out of the world, and, in this sense, as in others, to ‘suck the milk of the Gentiles and to suck the breast of kings.’”2
Fritz Springmeier also gave an excellent argument in an unpublished article that he wrote,
“The arguments that Christ never existed boil down to 2 pts. 1) doubters feel the evidence for his existence is weak, & 2) doubters think the gospel stories are myths. Now how or why do they feel the evidence is weak? Well, they throw out anything written by Christians as biased. And then they throw out half a dozen Roman records of Jesus by making excuses (lame in my opinion). Next, they claim the Jewish historian Josephus (36 A.D.-100 A.D.) did not write about Christ in his Jewish Antiquities history book that came out around 93 A.D. Supposedly the Christians tampered with the manuscripts of his books. Then having made outrageous excuses for why we should not believe the historical evidence that is there, they say, if he was real there would be more evidence! I have not heard how they discount the Jewish Mishnah, written by Jesus’ enemy that says, ‘On the eve of Passover they hanged Jesus of Nazareth.’ While the Jewish religious leaders were definitely hostile to Jesus, they never denied his existence. And there are too many clues that could not have been faked by Christians.
How about the Christian acrostic found in recent years buried in Pompeii by the volcano that covered Pompeii in 79 A.D? And how about all the ruins of churches scattered everywhere? And what about the Roman soldier’s graffiti mocking Christians found by archeologists? Are you going to tell me all the writers of the NT conspired to create a hoax, and that tens of thousands of people across the Roman empire were involved also? The truth is this…the teachings and the Christian traditions had to come from somewhere. And fragments of the NT show that parts had been written not that long after Christ was crucified. (Certainly not centuries later like skeptics want to believe!) Now critics claim the Bible books were invented by various people–in one theory supposedly an elite Roman invented them. Yeah right. I would like to see anyone in the elite invent something like the NT–and the teachings of Christ did not support the Roman elite…which is why every few years the Romans tried to exterminate the Christians. What convoluted thinking. No matter what evidence surfaces or is mentioned, you will continue seeing skeptics say, ‘There is no contemporary evidence outside of the New Testament that Jesus ever existed.’ And that is patently false.
Practically everything that could be, has been nitpicked and questioned. For instance, supposedly Matthew did not write Matthew. Well Matthew was an educated tax collector who knew math & writing. It is thought that he was the unofficial historian for the 12 disciples. So there is no problem with him writing the book MT. Why isn’t there more contemporary writings documenting Jesus?? 99%, if not more, of the writing from that first century are forever lost. Two of the four Roman historians of that period mention him. For instance, Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus describes Christ suffering under prefect Pontius Pilate. He began writing his Annales (Annals) in 95 A.D. about the time John was writing the Apocalypse. Speaking about Pilate, supposedly he was too brutal to have ever said Christ was innocent. But if we look at all the details about Pilate’s personality, he may have been brutal but he was also an astute politician. He did not want to execute a popular preacher/healer on the eve of the Passover…so the NT account is very consistent with his personality. He had been a governor in Celtic Britannia before transferring to Judaea, and a very prominent question the Celtic bards taught him was, “What is truth?” There are only thousands of other ridiculous nit picky issues raised by people.
On the surface it sounds legit…the mythicists take a little of this and some of that pagan myth…the problem is they borrow from all over & a close look at the pagan myths show they don’t resemble the account of Jesus at all. You can’t take myths from different places and sources and clobber them together to explain Jesus. Pagans did believe in dying & rising gods…but Jesus’ resurrection was grounded in the messianic beliefs of the Jewish people that God through an eschatological event i.e. the resurrection, would regain control over the earth. Jesus was a public figure appearing to many thousands of people. Within 30 years of his crucifixion, the various gospels were already in circulation about this very public figure. Where are all the writings by the multitudes of people who lived in the lands he travelled in, who would have written about how no one remembers anything like that??? An obvious hoax about a public figure would have been easy to spot. But we find no one protesting how the Christians have created a mythological person.”3
1 Price, Robert M. (2000). “The Christ Cults”. Deconstructing Jesus. Prometheus. pp. 86, 88, 91, 93. ISBN 978-1-61592-120-1.
2 John Henry Newman, Chapter 8. Application of the Third Note of a True Development—Assimilative Power, https://www.newmanreader.org/works/development/chapter8.html
3 Fritz Artz Springmeier, Written Dec. 5, 2016, https://litteraltruth.com/2021/12/07/the-biblical-christ-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt-a-discussion-on-the-evidence-for-yahshua/