Friday, March 13, 2009

Jesus and Pagan Mythology

One of the more common attacks on the historical Jesus making the Internet rounds these days is that Christianity borrowed from pagan religions / mythology.

Now, this was a popular argument around the turn of the 20th century, but has been all but abandoned by scholars today. But that does not keep this objection from making the rounds and finding its way into freshman seminars in college.

Here is a good article which discusses it--Jesus and Pagan Mythology--and also the chapter by noted historian Edwin M. Yamauchi in The Case for the Real Jesus.


Richard said...

Another that I hear is that there is very little or no supporting evidence for Jesus, especially the resurrection OUTSIDE of Scripture.

This is generally followed by berating the most famous Josephus reference as an editorial added long after the time of Josephus.

Can anyone help with this?

blog admin said...

Hello Richard. That is a common objection. But I would encourage you to challenge the premise. Why must we look outside the NT if the earliest and best historical documents are the New Testament?

In other words, if I am in conversation with someone, I am not appealing on the basis of inspired infallible Scripture that Jesus was raised from the dead. I am saying let's look at the historical evidence and there are 27 different historical documents to consider. So for example, Paul makes the case for the resurrection 1 Cor 15. No liberal scholar denies pauline authorship and they all accept a date of around 53 AD. That is within 20 years of Jesus' crucifixion. Allowing for the received / delivered language of 1 Cor 15:1-5 (a technical term for the passing of oral tradition in Judaism), Several prominant scholars (J.Dunn, L.Hurtado, R. Bauckham, G. Habermas) have made compeeling arguments that this tradition goes back ot within a couple of years of the crucifixion.

The best palce to start is The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and then track down the scholars above).

Brian said...

In response to Richard...

We can confirm seven things about Jesus outside of Scripture.

1) Jesus was a Jewish teacher
2) Many people believed that He performed healings and drove out demons.
3) Some people believed Him to be the Messiah.
4) He was rejected by the Jewish leaders.
5) He was crucified under Pilate in the region of Tiberius.
6) Despite His shameful death, His followers who believed He was still alive grew in numbers in Palestine and reached Rome by 64 A.D.
7) All classes of people, master and slave, poor and rich, followed Him.

And that is all without ever opening the Bible. We are able to get a basic outline of who He was. These come from three sources, Josephus, Taticus, and Pliny the Younger.

And in reference to the passage Josephus, many scholars believe that Christians added to it later on. But they agree that Josephus did originally write it.

Three things are commonly believed by scholars to be interpolations added later.

1) "if indeed we ought to call him a man."
2) "He was the Christ"
3) "On the third day he appeared to them restored to life."

All three of those points show a belief in Jesus that He was the Messiah and rose form the dead. Josephus would have stated somewhere in his extensive writings that he changed his mind to believe in Jesus. So for that reason, scholars believe those three lines to be false.

However, most of them agree, that the rest of it is believed to be written by Josephus. It fits the tone of his writing and the rest of the passage does not meet the usual standards of how Christians of the time would talk about Jesus. For instance, in the beginning, he calls Jesus a wise man. A Christian would have surpassed that.

The rest of the passage is unexceptional apart from the three lines taken out above. Christians would most likely have romanticized it much more than what is written here.