Many foes of the historical Jesus make comments like, “The earliest New Testament books, the non-Gospel letters, etc., do not mention a real historical Jesus,” and “The Gospel story, with its figure of Jesus of Nazareth, cannot be found before the Gospels.”
When the original premise is false, the entire syllogism fails. The Epistles and other New Testament books do mention a historical Jesus (a Jewish “holy person” recently executed in Palestine/Judea), although that figure is frequently not their primary concern. Therefore, the claim that Jesus as a historical person does not appear in non-Gospel scriptural texts is false and the rest of the argument fails.
But it does speak volumes that the Mythicists soemtimes tend to delete/omit historical Jesus references in their discussions of the issue; their verbal and mental acrobatics attempting to make plainly historical Jesus references into plainly UNhistorical Jesus references are unconvincing, to say the least.
The real issue – about which none of the Mythicists have persuaded me – concerns what the scholarly consensus considers as the seven authentic Pauline letters, in which Paul mentions his personal knowlege of Jesus’ own brother and other intimate eyewitness disciples of Jesus and his ministry. That Paul mentions these “Pillars” in a mostly sardonically critical light satisfies the Criterion of Embarrassment and strongly argues for the early existence of historical Judean Jesus-believers and therefore implicitly for a historical Jesus.
If one wishes to establish the Mythicist program beyond a reasonable doubt, one must successfully complete four separate tasks:
1. Prove that all non-Gospel historical Jesus references are really NOT historical Jesus references; and
2. Prove that all of Paul’s letters – including the seven authentic letters – are not authored by Paul and are not authentic references to a historical Jesus and his historical followers.
Further, to address the claim, “The Gospel story, with its figure of Jesus of Nazareth, cannot be found before the Gospels”:
1. The first issue is that Mythicism itself frequently works to falsify that statement. Examples of god-men, demigods, god-heroes, great spiritual figures who who exorcise, heal the sick, work wonders, die sacrificial deaths, teach wonderful things, confer experience of God, ensure immortality for adherents, are persecuted, rise from the dead, who come from and then return to God, etc., are replete in non-and-pre-Christian societies. If the Mythicist Jesus is only one more example of these figures, then obviously his essential story can – and according to Mythicist principles – indeed must be “found before the Gospels”. This internal contradiction is one which some Mythicists seem reluctant to address.
2. The second is that cross-cultural anthropology has proven that religious “seers” and visionaries, exorcists, divine union mystics, “god-realized” and/or “Enlightened” people, wonder-workers, healers, holy people, shamans, magicians, religious sages, social prophets, charismatic mediators, and revitalization movement founders are real, documented human religious types. It can be cogently argued that Jesus was one of these figures. That being so, there is no a priori need to leap to Mythicism to explain the cross-culturally documented features of Jesus’ life and ministry.
The Mythicist Jesus is a most implausible figure. Yet, should Jesus be convincingly imbued with Mythicism, as a Jungian-Campbellian, I and people like me would still be left with the inherent profundity of Jesus Myth, despite the loss of the Historicist Jesus: a pleasing case of having one’s cake and being able to eat it too.