One of the characteristics of myth is that details about the past increase rather than decrease with time. The legends of King Arthur, Robin Hood and William Tell are all excellent examples. If you examine contemporary records you find that very little details are provided. After some time passes by, perhaps a few decades or maybe a century, you find that many details have been added, but the tales still aren't very elaborate. But with the passage of more time more and more stories become added until the myth finally becomes rich and complex.
Could the same be true of the story of Jesus? The Romans kept meticulous records, and yet despite all the turmoil caused by Jesus's ministry, despite the sermon on the mount and the sermon and the plain, despite all the miracles, Jesus received not a single contemporaneous mention. He was greater than John the Baptist, yet John the Baptist is mentioned contemporaneously and Jesus isn't.
The letters of Paul seem to know little about Jesus. There is no mention of his being born of a virgin. In fact, in Galatians 4:4 Paul says, "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law," and in Romans 1:1-3 he says, "I Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and separated onto the gospel of God...concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh." If Paul were aware of a virgin birth he would have mentioned it in these passages.
Paul also seems unaware of almost any of Jesus's famous sayings, nor the three days in the tomb, nor the ascension to heaven, nor the appearances to the apostles and crowds in Jerusalem.
By the time we reach Mark, the earliest Gospel, the outline of the story of Jesus's ministry is now known, but significant events like the sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain are missing. These are only filled in by the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which also now include the details of his birth and early life.
This increase with time of details about the life of Jesus are consistent with the properties of myth, and it raises an intriguing possibility. Is it possible that Jesus didn't really live in the 1st century AD, thereby explaining the absence of any contemporaneous mention? Might Jesus have actually been the Teacher of Righteousness described in the Dead Sea Scrolls who lived in the 1st or 2nd century BC, or some other pre-Christian saint? In other words, did the real Jesus actually live and die before the Jesus described in the Gospels was ever born?
This would require a reinterpretation of the early history of the Christian church, which would go something like this. The Christian church grew out of a collection of loosely aligned churches of the Jewish Diaspora of the early 1st century AD, perhaps developing out of the Essene movement. In other words, the churches of Corinth and of the Galatians who received letters from Paul existed long before Paul ever began his ministry. These churches were in the habit of receiving missionaries like Paul, each of whom preached their own religious philosophies, and were all roughly but not completely in agreement with one another. One of the disagreements between Paul and Peter is described in Paul's Epistle to the Galatians 2:11-21. And many of Paul's letters are admonitions to these churches to not follow the way of other missionaries, but to instead listen to Paul's message.
Around the time of Paul the missionaries began spreading the word that a highly respected preacher named Jesus of a century or so before had actually been the Messiah, the son of the God, the chosen one who would lead the Jews to freedom and salvation. He had been crucified and suffered for our sins, and now sat at the right hand of God awaiting the time to return. This message was quickly taken up by the churches of the Jewish Diaspora of the 40s and 50s AD, and Paul played a critical role in spreading this message. In fact, it was his particular version of the message that eventually won out. Sometime later, probably late in the 1st century AD or in the first half of the 2nd, these church communities produced the Gospels we know today, providing Jesus with a life and history he never knew, and somehow moving the time forward into the first third of the first century AD, which, coincidentally, corresponds with the beginning of Paul's ministry.
The Bidstrup stuff was pretty interesting - thanks for the link. I was surprised how congruent our views were, though he seems to have done a lot more in-depth research. My views developed from reading books by people like Bidstrup, such as Eisenman, Wise, Spong and Mack, et al, and they apparently have a lot in common with Bidstrup.
I've heard the name Yeshua ben Pantera before, but I'm afraid I can provide no information.
What a wonderful argument. I was especially impressed by the evidence for Paul's opinion regarding the natural heritage of Jesus. "born under the law" i.e. legitimately? And "made of the seed of David according to the flesh." Which sounds like he had a very human father.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why some Christian churches reject Pauline doctrine. I believe the Lutheran may be one of them.
It is easy to see how the church communities of the Jewish Diaspora might have produced the gospels. After enough time had passed, say by around 100 AD, any details of Jesus's life were no longer current. During Paul's ministry and up to his death in the 50's the churches did not need to be told who Jesus was. He was a venerated preacher and saint of the previous century, perhaps even the Teacher of Righteousness, who had been crucified and gone to be with the Lord. But by AD 100 this information was no longer known, somehow lost or forgotten amidst all the unrest and strife of the period, particularly the Roman seige of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple around AD 70. Or perhaps it was known, but the details of when, precisely, he had died had kind of faded with the passage of time, and now Paul and the Apostles and Jesus were all just part and parcel of the same long ago period. Think how long ago 1930 seems to us.
And so these church communities wondered when and how Jesus had died. From Paul's letters they knew that Paul never knew the living Jesus, and so they speculated that Jesus had died shortly before Paul began his ministry. And though Paul had never met the living Jesus, other people Paul mentions like Cephas (Peter) could have met him, indeed, could have been one of the twelve, and so the myth spinning began.
Paul is clear that Jesus was crucified, and while this could only happen at the hands of the Romans since it was the uniquely Roman punishment of the period, the blame is somehow instead placed on the Jews. This lends further confidence for dating the gospels to the 1st century AD, because it would take the passage of a significant amount of time for the churches of the Jewish Diaspora to become sufficiently Christianized that they had lost their earlier feelings of Jewish association.
But where do the stories of Jesus's birth , the star of Bethlemhem, the three wise men, the three days in the tomb, the ascension to heaven and the appearance to the apostles and the crowds in Jerusalem come from, for these are never mentioned by Paul? For these questions there is no more an answer than for any other myth. Someone, somewhere thought it up, or perhaps it developed out of a group dynamic, but made up they were.
A redating of the gospels to the 1st half of the 1st century AD does not much change reconstruction of which sources were used. Clearly Mark was written first, and both Matthew and Luke drew upon Mark, and they all drew upon the Q document, the Gospel of Thomas, and other documents extant at the time.
But what of the Gospel of John? Most scholars date John to much after the synoptic gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, perhaps around 100 AD. But there seems no need to change this date, and so it raises the possibility that instead of being the last gospel, John is possibly the first!
quote: had kind of faded with the passage of time, and now Paul and the Apostles and Jesus were all just part and parcel of the same long ago period. Think how long ago 1930 seems to us.
This is a very important point.
I mean look at the folk-lore that has built up around Jesse James, William Bonney, and the Earp brothers ... and that's just over a hundred years ago.
Also, in regard to the OP, the Robin Hood legend as is now is an amalgamation of several 'songs' abut different Robin Hoods (a pseudonym common for outlaws) from different regions of England ... over time they have been amalgamated into a single legend.
While I wouldn't go so far as to claim that the Nativity stories were intentional inventions I agree that it is likely that they are legend rather than fact (especially Matthew's).
The clear discrepencies between the two accounts quite clearly indicate that both Luke and Matthew were unaware of or rejected the sources used by the other.
(For instance the Matthean account explicitly places Jesus' birth towards the end of the reign of Herod the Great, while the Lukan story fits best with the census taken when Rome finally annexed Judaea, ten years after the death of Herod.)
quote:But where do the stories of Jesus's birth , the star of Bethlemhem, the three wise men, the three days in the tomb, the ascension to heaven and the appearance to the apostles and the crowds in Jerusalem come from, for these are never mentioned by Paul? For these questions there is no more an answer than for any other myth. Someone, somewhere thought it up, or perhaps it developed out of a group dynamic, but made up they were.
During the Pax Romana, itinerant preachers of various faiths evidently nicked details from each other's tales, and it seems that the Jewish traditional messiah-mythology gained lots of pagan adaptations to survive in the competitive environment during this time.
The Persian god Mithras had a popular cult in the early Christian era, and shares a lot of his bio with Jesus: he was identified with a bull, so the shepherd-attended manger birth follows as a matter of course. Pagan astrology always included celestial signs, so the star of Bethlehem is easy to understand in that context. The sun-god narratives of various cults influenced the cyclical death-and-resurrection motif that Christianity adopted. Illiterate societies used a lot of numerology (as a mnemonic device, surely, but also to convey meanings hard for us to understand today) and so we see a lot of threes in the Jesus story.
I too read Spong with great interest, and I'm surprised he overlooks the common pagan mythology that was co-opted by the early Christian mythologists. I admit to being greatly entertained by Gore Vidal's 'Live from Golgotha,' an equally scholarly but rather less reverent treatment of the same subject.
I just wanted to say I am really enjoying reading all your posts.
I am far from being a biblical expert, but a few months ago, I came upon this site describing the pagan god (with Asian origins) Attis. The similarities to Jesus were startling. I had never heard of Attis before, but it's possible that Jesus' resurrection was inspired by his myth.
As for the Nativity, it's possible, as MrHambre stated above, that the old Persian god, Mithra, may have been the inspiration. See the following from www.bartleby.com/196/84.html :
quote: Among the gods of eastern origin who in the decline of the ancient world competed against each other for the allegiance of the West was the old Persian deity Mithra. The immense popularity of his worship is attested by the monuments illustrative of it which have been found scattered in profusion all over the Roman Empire. In respect both of doctrines and of rites the cult of Mithra appears to have presented many points of resemblance not only to the religion of the Mother of the Gods but also to Christianity. The similarity struck the Christian doctors themselves and was explained by them as a work of the devil, who sought to seduce the souls of men from the true faith by a false and insidious imitation of it. So to the Spanish conquerors of Mexico and Peru many of the native heathen rites appeared to be diabolical counterfeits of the Christian sacraments. With more probability the modern student of comparative religion traces such resemblances to the similar and independent workings of the mind of man in his sincere, if crude, attempts to fathom the secret of the universe, and to adjust his little life to its awful mysteries. However that may be, there can be no doubt that the Mithraic religion proved a formidable rival to Christianity, combining as it did a solemn ritual with aspirations after moral purity and a hope of immortality.
Indeed the issue of the conflict between the two faiths appears for a time to have hung in the balance. An instructive relic of the long struggle is preserved in our festival of Christmas, which the Church seems to have borrowed directly from its heathen rival. In the Julian calendar the twenty-fifth of December was reckoned the winter solstice, and it was regarded as the Nativity of the Sun, because the day begins to lengthen and the power of the sun to increase from that turning-point of the year. The ritual of the nativity, as it appears to have been celebrated in Syria and Egypt, was remarkable. The celebrants retired into certain inner shrines, from which at midnight they issued with a loud cry, “The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing!” The Egyptians even represented the new-born sun by the image of an infant which on his birthday, the winter solstice, they brought forth and exhibited to his worshippers.
No doubt the Virgin who thus conceived and bore a son on the twenty-fifth of December was the great Oriental goddess whom the Semites called the Heavenly Virgin or simply the Heavenly Goddess; in Semitic lands she was a form of Astarte. Now Mithra was regularly identified by his worshippers with the Sun, the Unconquered Sun, as they called him; hence his nativity also fell on the twenty-fifth of December.
The Gospels say nothing as to the day of Christ’s birth, and accordingly the early Church did not celebrate it. In time, however, the Christians of Egypt came to regard the sixth of January as the date of the Nativity, and the custom of commemorating the birth of the Saviour on that day gradually spread until by the fourth century it was universally established in the East. But at the end of the third or the beginning of the fourth century the Western Church, which had never recognised the sixth of January as the day of the Nativity, adopted the twenty-fifth of December as the true date, and in time its decision was accepted also by the Eastern Church. At Antioch the change was not introduced till about the year 375 A.D. 3
What considerations led the ecclesiastical authorities to institute the festival of Christmas? The motives for the innovation are stated with great frankness by a Syrian writer, himself a Christian. “The reason,” he tells us, “why the fathers transferred the celebration of the sixth of January to the twenty-fifth of December was this. It was a custom of the heathen to celebrate on the same twenty-fifth of December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and festivities the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day and the festival of the Epiphany on the sixth of January. Accordingly, along with this custom, the practice has prevailed of kindling fires till the sixth.”
The heathen origin of Christmas is plainly hinted at, if not tacitly admitted, by Augustine when he exhorts his Christian brethren not to celebrate that solemn day like the heathen on account of the sun, but on account of him who made the sun. In like manner Leo the Great rebuked the pestilent belief that Christmas was solemnised because of the birth of the new sun, as it was called, and not because of the nativity of Christ.
Well what can I say interesting but yet just another stint at trying to prove the infallibility of Christ. The way I see it many people attempt to disprove the claims of the Jesus Christians believe, but to no avail. Time seems to be one of the ways people do this. People come up with the idea that if there were critics who didn't accept this and that concerning Christ (e.g the epistles that Paul wrote etc) then that must mean Jesus was not true. What people neglect to understand or believe is that Jesus was rejected by the people who he came to save. They saw him demostrate his miraculous powers and yet they wanted him crucified. I mean if some one today came out of no where and started healing the blind, the sick, the deaf and raise people from the dead,would not the majority of people believe in this person? I know I would. But there would still be a few that wouldn't beleve right? Of course there would and in the case of Jesus he had to defend himself against the rulers of the day, who were ultimately the reason why he was crucified. I mean imagine someone going to America preaching and teaching against the beliefs of George bush and the Government, would not they do everything in their power to get rid of him? Yes they would, even if the people were against them doing it. You see no matter how much people try to disprove Christ there is historical evidence, literature and people who can claim his existence. Okay maybe we dont have any of his clothing or his actual body (Which by the way has never been found because it rose) but the fact is he revealed himself to atleast 400 people after he rose again and there is historical information that documents this....The Bible, The Works of Josephus to name a few. You see people will always try and prove the non-existence of Christ and thats okay, but until they can prove it with evidence just like Christians can concerning his existence than it will never happen. Jesus is alive and there aint nothing no body can do about it!
[This message has been edited by Souljah1, 07-23-2003]
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why some Christian churches reject Pauline doctrine. I believe the Lutheran may be one of them.
Luther himself was very Pauline, and he rejected James and Hebrews on the basis of views he adopted from Galatians, Romans, and Ephesians. It would surprise me if even liberal Lutherans reject Paul.
Very liberal Mennonite churches probably reject Pauline doctrine. Not too many "mainline" churches do, because, after all, it was Paul's line of churches that succeeded way back in the Roman empire. He became much more well-known than even Peter.