by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S
September 1, 2009
from StellarHousePublishing WEbsite
In our quest to determine what is "mythicism," we discover that this movement was epitomized by Dr. David F. Strauss, who had come out in 1835 with The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, a book highly critical of Christianity that pointedly identified as myth much of the gospel story regarding Christ .
Strauss was not an atheist or skeptical mythicist, however, as he did not dismiss the gospel story as "mere" fairytales. Rather, being a Christian minister, he attempted to imbue the Christian mythos with spiritual, if not allegorical, meaning. This perspective represents one plank of the mythicist position, as mythicism in its totality does not dismiss myth simply as something fabricated but instead recognizes the ancient wellspring of profundity and comprehension from which it draws.
It appears that Strauss was encouraged
in his efforts by the success of German biblical criticism - most
widely known through the group called the "Tübingen School," as
established by Dr. Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860),
whose own work in comparative religion was considered
This book, Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte des Johannes, took the perspective that Christ was a mythical character based on Jewish, Greek and Roman religious ideas and mythology, created during the second century, with the gospel of John, for instance, being a product of the Jewish community out of the large and important Egyptian city of Alexandria.
These Jews represented a sort of "third party" in addition to the "first party" stricter followers of Judaism, who depicted God as "wholly other," separate and apart from humanity, while the "second party" is that of the Pagans, who "leant towards the union of God and Man."
Bauer's perspective vis-a-vis this third party is summarized by christian apologist Rev. George Matheson:
Although they brought forth novel notions, Baur, Strauss and Bauer were preceded in fact by many others who stepped out from the shadows of the Inquisition to voice unpopular ideas that had doubtlessly circulated surreptiously for centuries.
Indeed, prior to this seemingly sudden burst of mythicism appeared the voluminous writings published in 1795 by Professor Charles François Dupuis (1742-1809), as well as those of Count Volney (1757-1820) and Rev. Dr. Robert Taylor (1784-1844), who spent three years in prison in the late 1820's and early 1830's for two convictions of "blasphemy," based on his popular lectures asserting that Christ was a myth.
This punishment did not deter Taylor from publishing a number of books on the subject, including The Syntagma (1828), The Diegesis (1829), and The Devil's Chaplain (1831).
Yet, his ordeal was so horrifying that
it haunted evolutionist
Charles Darwin, who feared his own
writings would land him a similar fate. Following this brouhaha, in
1840 an individual wisely maintaining his anonymity by calling
himself merely a "German Jew" (J.C. Blumenfeld?) published a series
of pamphlets in a volume entitled, The Existence of Christ
Disproved by Irresistible Evidence.
Another earlier scholar who extensively dipped into mythicism was Sir Godfrey Higgins (1772-1833), although he was not a mythicist per se but an evemerist who believed that under all of the mythical attributes of various godmen lay a "real person."
This evemerist or euhemerist
perspective, named for the Greek philosopher
cent. BCE), who posited that the gods of old were in reality kings
and assorted other heroes who were deified, remains one of the most
commonly held opinions regarding Jesus Christ, along with the
believing and mythicist perspectives.
As I relate in The Gospel According to Acharya S (71-72):
In The Gospel, I further discuss the use of the word "Mises" or "Mise" in ancient Orphic hymn pertaining to Dionysus/Bacchus, as well as relating the analysis of such by Bishop Dr. Simon/Symon Patrick in the 17th century.
Unlike Voltaire, Dupuis, Volney or
Taylor, however, these earlier individuals could not be deemed "mythicists"
in the sense that they believed the biblical figures to have been
myths; rather, they were attempting to trace the derivation of the
Greek and Roman myths to the Hebrew religion, which they believed to
Explaining further, Force and Popkin remark:
This "skeptical crisis" led to the
publication of much scholarship addressing ancient mythology and
polytheistic religions, including the massive work by the liberal
"Christian apologist" Vossius, published in 1641, which, again,
sought to salvage the Judeo-Christian tradition by making the
ancient Greek and Roman myths, etc., derivative of the Bible's
"history," rather than the Judeo-Christian "history" in fact
representing myths based on these other religions.
While this position constitutes the recognition of important comparisons between Judeo-Christianity and the Pagan religions, mythicism turns this perspective on its ear and asserts that the former represents a historicized and Judaized version of the latter.
This form of true mythicism, in fact, followed on the heels of this Vossian scholarship, to the degree that it became an all-consuming occupation for a generation of scholars throughout Europe and in the U.S. The mythicist position today largely revolves around this latter premise, which was significantly developed also in the multivolume work by Dupuis at the end of the 18th century.
The French scholar's influence included many of the European elite, such as not only Volney but also Napoleon Bonaparte, who, following his personal tutoring by Dupuis and Volney, is said to have remarked that the question of Jesus's historicity was a good one.
Certainly after Dupuis mythicism was no
longer confined to viewing only non-biblical characters as being
largely or wholly mythical, as in a German work from 1815, we find
reference to "biblische Mythicismus" or "biblical mythicism." (Jenaische,
These voices include those known today only through their detractors, such as,
Neither of these critics appeared to have blindly accepted the tales of the Christians as being any more historical than those of the Pagans, and they were certainly not alone in this doubt over the centuries.
Naturally, however, for the long stretches when the Catholic Church and its Inquisition reigned supreme, this opinion was not readily articulated, and the rampant illiteracy of the time also did not help this thrust of scholarship.
The wholesale burning of hundreds of
thousands of book has likewise left a huge void in our collective
literary past that largely prevents us from following the mythicist
trail from antiquity.
I myself have three published books specifically about the mythical nature of Jesus Christ, while a fourth investigates the non-historical character of the gospels:
The first three texts in this list delve
specifically into comparative religion and mythology, demonstrating
that there is little original or "historical" about the Christ
myth as a whole. The last inspects the canonical gospels themselves
to see whether they could possibly be considered reliable history.
These various approaches constitute the main planks of mythicism
in a nutshell.
cultural commentator Bill Maher's "Religulous" also touches upon the