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Christ myth theory

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The Christ myth theory (also known as Christ mythicism, Jesus mythicism or the Jesus myth) found its origin in Germany and greater European thinking during the time of enlightenment during the 19th century. Jesus mythicsts started to propose questions pertaining to the existence of Jesus of Nazareth in history. With varying degrees of skepticism the Christ myth theory directly sets itself apart from and against orthodox Christian claims and beliefs about the historicity of Jesus. In doing so there is a kind of literary criticism expressed against the Gospels of the New Testament labeling them as contradictory and mythological in their form, rather than articulations of a real person that actually lived. (See: Ancient biography)

The Christ myth theory has many different kinds of supporters ranging from lay people, Internet communities and others who try to popularize the theory. Also highly respected New Testament scholars from atheists, skeptics, and adherents of other religions. Among them all there is a general skepticism of supernatural claims. A methodology was originally put forth in the work of Bruno Bauer during the 19th century.[1] Generally seen as the originator responsible for an intellectual shift in tone and argument. Essentially discrediting the New Testament and its portrayal of Jesus. This new line of skeptical thinking overturns the traditional and orthodox atmosphere that had been so prevalent in European scholarly circles. Given the attacks that question traditional religious claims, and the influential movement of the enlightenment produced an atmosphere of scientific flourishing. The result is a lifting up of the mind of man over the guiding claims in historical ancient texts. A new light was beginning to shine on ancient texts and a new critique emerged. This ultimately created a new way to read the Bible, and thus created highly critical readings that changed interpretations and challenged conservative religious scholars. Particular focus was on the theological and miraculous claims that are accredited to Jesus. A new category is created that deems them metaphorical. Metaphors that at their core actually contradict what science is shown to prove, that is that they are outside of human experience and so actually contradict it.

Beyond a general supernatural skepticism used to read the Bible there are common arguments that are found in most treatments of the Christ myth theory and characterize the movement. First, there is usually an appeal to the argument from silence. A somewhat justified criticism because there does seem to be a lack of texts that deal with the life of Jesus outside of the New Testament. For the majority of the 20th century the historicity of Jesus thesis generally does rely on the Pauline epistles primarily and the Gospels to a lesser degree as its textual evidence. (See: Minimal facts method) However there are extra biblical texts that do specifically deal with Christ and the Christian movements. For instance there is mention of a person "Christus" that is found in the Annals by Tacitus, written AD 116, around 80 years after Jesus lived.[2] There is also a reference, although a bit more obscure due to Christian interpolation, in the work of Josephus a Jewish historian.[3] Secondly, the syncretism of early Christianity is supported by Jesus mythicists. Essentially the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are not considered actual historical events but rather constructed by the Christian authors by aggregating many ancient yet diverse and often contradictory belief systems into a religious worldview. The early disciples of Christ are viewed as desperately trying to support the crucial events in the life of Jesus, like the crucifixion and death of what they considered as their God. Mythicists see Jesus as merely a man, and the way in which the early Christian authors manufacture a belief system becomes theologically uniquely Christian, with a dying-and-rising god at the center of the faith. Critics state that followers surveyed contemporary and ancient literature, pulling from Egyptian mythology to contemporary Paganism. Scholars of the theory argue that Jesus is a mythological construct around a person in history named Jesus of Nazareth, or even further in some fringe circles, a symbolic fiction with no historical basis at all.

There has to be legitimate connection of historical events with textual or archaeological evidence and accompanied with a robust explanatory framework (See: Historical method) that connect what is being written about and the source of that text. A mythical Christ constructed from purely analogy by modern readers with little historical criticism in the first place enables the practice of parallelomania.[4] Because of the slippery slope of parallelomania, and other historical considerations and reasons, the warranted assumption operating in the academic world today is that the early Jesus movement as well as the New Testament literature of the first century AD should be viewed in light of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, a real historical figure, and by the social world of Hellenistic Palestinian Judaism.[5] The writers of the New Testament were not inspired because of Pagan or Egyptian culture and mythology, but rather their real experiences with the the risen Christ which they believed to be physically real (See: Resurrection). A stance made clear in the history of religions and comparative mythology because unlike the historical Jesus of Christianity, pagan mystery religions and their texts of the Roman empire according to GA Wells, never really "assigned" deities "to historical times".[6]

That Jesus existed is very different than what popularizers of the Christ myth theory would lead the general public to believe. Many mistakenly posit that Jesus never existed as a person in history and that many scholars would agree. In regard to serious scholars there is ample evidence that Jesus existed. Some notable to mention are; Bart Ehrman[7], Michael Licona, John Domonic Crossan, NT Wright, William Lane Craig, Christopher Hitchens, John Lennox, and Michael Ruse. Prominent historical Jesus scholars and skeptics that outright dismiss the more extreme variants or hypotheses put forth by radical critics. In fact the majority of scholars active in the fields of ancient history, early Christianity and historical Jesus studies, those who are actively writing and engaging debate assume that Jesus of Nazareth was a person in history who can be studied from, not just the point of view of ancient history, but even from a literary and theological perspective as well.[8]

It was once fashionable to claim that Jesus could not be known as a figure of history and that even if he could be known in that way the result would not be of interest for faith. Both contentions have been laid to rest over the past twenty years.[9]


The origin of what later became called the Christ myth theory finds itself within the work of David Strauss[10] and Bruno Baur, both German intellectuals of the 19th century. They essentially took the first intellectual steps toward skepticism of individual elements as well as the entire historical portrait of Jesus Christ generally.[11]

Bruno Bauer, who was very important in establishing the template, or "threefold argument" for denying the existence of Jesus, especially tried to discredit both the epistles and Gospels, attempting to "devalue the New Testament".[1] His radical views were challenged by all sides, academics and apologists making Bauers thesis "effectively refuted in the minds of most."[1]

Reading Ancient Texts

Christ myth theory includes a process of reading into different ancient texts and forming an interpretation by modern thinking. Parallels are drawn and given a causal relationship. This line of thinking which reads different ancient texts or the same ancient text in a side-by-side manner can lead to an exegetical approach. Consistent exegesis in this type of critical manner can bring out of the compared texts literary patterns, like genres and themes, and the authors overall intent. Leading to a more honest representation of what the author meant, and thus the truth of a specific text. This is important because it allows the proper understanding of cultures mythologies that describe their dying-and-rising god or gods.

Those that popularize the Christ myth theory seem to rarely deal with the primary texts that contain the original myths and legends about the god used to show that Christian authors copied. Even the relevant secondary source material that translates and provides commentary on the primary texts are not consulted. This develops into eisegesis, which inserts the readers worldview while at the same time bracketing out the writers personal worldview, culture and background. It is a way of reading ancient texts that is essentially postmodern and leads to erroneous interpretations by many readers and defenders of the non-existence of Jesus, especially in regards to the origins of Christianity.[12]

Because of the preference for the analogical as opposed to the historical important contexts are not engaged by popular defenses of the Christ myth theory. Exegesis founded in the; socio-cultural realities of first century Palestine, and historical, therefore developmental relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament is usually lacking. As well as a consideration of both Egyptian mythology and Christianity being able to be influenced by something common that pre-dates both, namely Hebrew scripture and culture. This train of thought was used by ancient apologists of early Christianity to demonstrate the corrupt imitations of what was correctly and truthfully revealed within the life and resurrection of Jesus.

New Atheism

Less extreme variants of the Christ myth theory diverge from the stream of thought that utterly denies the existence of Jesus by granting his historicity but questioning the miracle claims in the New Testament. The new atheist movement is rediscovering the whole range of skeptical arguments against the actions and claims of Jesus that were originally founded during the enlightenment. While the operating assumption within the new atheist movement, is that Jesus existed, most of the arguments made ultimately question the clearly supernatural events that take place in history like the death and resurrection stories for instance. Of course while new atheists may indeed grant that Jesus existed, they will still argue for the authoritative truth found in science (See: Scientism) as the only meaningful language. Therefore new atheists cannot lend any meaning to philosophical or theological language, and are usually hyper skeptical toward the existence of God based on those grounds.

Historical Jesus

Main Article: Historical Jesus

The term historical Jesus refers to the scholarly reconstruction of the first century figure Jesus Christ most notably written about in the first century text of the New Testament. Since around the 18th century, the quest for the historical Jesus in biblical scholarship consists of rigorous historical methods and European Enlightenment ideals like logic and reason as opposed to faith.[13] Historical Jesus research is an in-depth process that culls together in a critical manner many diverse sources in search of evidence for a historical portrait of the person Jesus Christ. During the process employing a broad spectrum of interrelated fields within modern academia such as; psychology, theology, anthropology, history and science.

Minimal Facts Method

Main Article: Minimal facts method

The minimal facts method is a historical apologetic that makes the case for the supernatural resurrection of Jesus Christ. The minimal facts method is also called the minimal facts approach and was pioneered in the 1970's by the philosopher, historian and prominent Christian apologist Gary R. Habermas. It is considered within specifically historical apologetics as a scholarly approach to establish specific reliability in the Bible showing the central doctrine of Christianity as historical fact.[14]

Comparative Mythology


The specific names attributed and myth surrounding Horus are usually stretched to represent striking similarities with the New Testament presentation of Christ and have been used as a way to determine that He is a fictitious copy cat of pagan myths. It is important to note that Egypt is not far from Palestine where Jesus walked, and Jews did live in Egypt before Christ during the times of these creative myths.

Myths surrounding Osiris, Isis and Horus and in fact the whole of Egyptian Mythology is rarely seen by Jesus Myth proponents as its own exclusively Egyptian expression with only nature as a significant overarching influence. The story of Horus may show similarities but the critics presentation is usually lacking critical scholarship, and surrounding features of the source texts (ancient Egyptian literature as opposed to the New Testament) are considerably different. The alleged similarities cause Jesus Myth proponents to produce a stolen Christianity. Many early and modern Christian writings as well as contemporary scholarly critiques have dealt with these specific criticisms of borrowing and have formed unique apologies.[15][16][17][18]


Early proponents

  • David Strauss (1808–1874)
  • Bruno Bauer (1809–1882)
  • Edwin Johnson (1842-1901)
  • Dutch Radical School (1880-1950)
  • Albert Kalthoff (1850–1906)
  • W. B. Smith (1850–1934)
  • J. M. Robertson (1856–1933)
  • Thomas Whittaker (1856-1935)
  • Arthur Drews (1865–1935)
  • Paul-Louis Couchoud (1879-1959)

Modern proponents

  • G. A. Wells - The Jesus of the Early Christians (1971), Can We Trust the New Testament?: Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony (2004)
  • Michael Martin - The Case Against Christianity (1991)
  • Alvar Ellegard
  • Thomas Thompson
  • Thomas Brodie - Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery By Thomas L. Brodie (2012)
  • Robert Price - Deconstructing Jesus (2000), The Case Against the Case for Christ (2010)
  • Richard Carrier
  • Earl Doherty - The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? (1999), Challenging the Verdict: A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ" (2001), Jesus: Neither God Nor Man - The Case for a Mythical Jesus (2009)
  • Tom Harpur - The Pagan Christ (2004)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Eerdmans Publishing, 2000), pg. 9
  2. The Annals Book 15, Chapter 44 By Wikipedia
  3. Josephus By Wikipedia
  4. Parallelomania By Wikipedia
  5. William Lane Craig Q&A Response: "For Jesus and his disciples were first century Palestinian Jews, and it is against that background that they must be understood. The Jewish reclamation of Jesus has helped to make unjustified any understanding of the Gospels' portrait of Jesus as significantly shaped by mythology." [1]
  6. George Albert Wells Can We Trust the New Testament?: Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony (Open Court 2004), pg. 4
  7. See: Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart D. Ehrman (2012)
  8. See: The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (Cambridge University Press, 2001), written by 17 leading international scholars, takes it as a starting point, among others, that Jesus of Nazareth can be studied as a subject of ancient history. The introduction states; "This Companion takes as its starting point the realisation that Jesus of Nazareth cannot be studied purely as a subject of ancient history, ‘a man like any other man’. History, literature, theology and the dynamic of a living, worldwide religious reality all appropriately impinge on the study of Jesus."
  9. Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Eerdmans Publishing, 2000)
  10. See David Strauss, "The Life of Jesus Critically Examined", Calvin Blanchard, 1860.[2]
  11. Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Eerdmans Publishing, 2000), pg. 9-10
  12. Zeitgeist the Movie By Wikipedia
  13. A Review of; The Historical Jesus: Five Views by Beilby, James K., and Paul Rhodes Eddy, eds. Review written by Pieter F. Craffert for the Review of Biblical Literature. 2011[3]
  14. A historical fact is what historians consider knowable history; they do not necessarily mean it to be a logical proof.
  15. Origen Against Celsus. Book VI, Chapter XLVII
  16. Tom Harpur's The Pagan Christ: A Critique By Tektonics Education and Apologetics Ministry
  17. Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context, page 34 By John H. Walton, Zondervan: 1989
  18. God Who Wasn't There: An Analysis Part 2 By Glenn Miller

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