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Thread: Jesus Christ from Outer Space

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    I read the book, and I find it to be a short and easily-readable introduction to Jesus mythicism.

    Richard Carrier proposes Earl Doherty's hypothesis that Jesus Christ was originally a sort of archangel who was crucified in outer space by "the demon powers of the world". This archangel would communicate to the earliest Xians in dreams and visions, and only later was he reinterpreted as having had an earthly experience. As far as we can tell, that started off with the Gospel of Mark, and RC argues that it was essentially an extended allegory about that archangel. But it described an earthly existence, and that became widely accepted among early Xians. To the point of some of them composing rival biographies of him.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    As to why there is no surviving outside documentation of JC's earthly life, RC points out two possibilities.

    The first of them is that there was a historical JC, but that he was not very famous and that he did not do anything big or spectacular. That would have meant that he would have escaped the attention of local chroniclers. The Gospels would therefore have a greatly exaggerated picture of his fame.

    I agree with RC that that is a sensible solution.

    The second of them is that the documentation of JC is so good that to doubt his existence would be like doubting the existence of several people from around his place and time. RC does not consider that very sensible, and he rebuts it by examining several proffered examples.

    Socrates, Julius Caesar, Tiberius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Pontius Pilate, Caligula, Hannibal, Spartacus

    They have a variety of sources and none of them are depicted as miracle-working godmen. RC notes that some ancient historians noted at least some of their sources and assessed those sources. There is nothing of the sort in the Gospels, not even Luke, with its preface where its author brags about all the work that he did. He also notes inscriptions and coins, evidence that does not exist for JC. The temple of Asclepius at Epidaurus had numerous testimonials from former patients written on it. Are those testimonials evidence of the existence of that deity?

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Richard Carrier describes eastern-Mediterranean savior cults or mystery religions around the time that JC was described as having an earthly existence. He lists common features of them:
    • They were about personal salvation, and they were derived from earlier communal agricultural cults.
    • They were about getting a good place in the afterlife, something not very common before them.
    • One joins such a cult, rather than automatically being a member as part of some community.
    • They are fictive kin groups - brothers and sisters.
    • They often had water rituals for joining: baptism.
    • They had regular sacred meals: communion.
    • They had secret teachings reserved for members, and sometimes for high-ranking members.
    • They had a lot of vocabulary in common, like "children" vs. "adults" (level of initiation), "milk" vs. "meat" teachings, physical bodies as cloaks, tents, or tombs, ...
    • They were syncretistic, merging these common features with features of its surrounding culture. The Osiris cult was Egyptian, the Adonis cult was Mesopotamian, the Bacchus cult was Greek, and Xianity was Jewish.
    • They had some supreme god that other deities were subordinate to or were aspects of.
    • They were about individual salvation, not community salvation.
    • They were cosmopolitan, crossing a lot of boundaries.

    Their savior figures:
    • They are savior gods, sometimes named that, as Jesus Christ was.
    • They are often sons of the supreme god, and in at least one case, a daughter.
    • They go through an episode of suffering or struggle, a "passion".
    • It's often a death, then followed by a resurrection and triumphant ascension.
    • This "passion" is a victory over death.
    • They share this victory over death with their followers with baptism and communion.
    • They all have stories of them set in human history.
    • But as far as we can tell, none of them actually existed.

    Mix these features with Judaism, and one gets Xianity.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    RC is careful note that Xianity is not exactly like any other one of these -- and they were not exactly like each other either. They shared a miraculous conception of their savior figure, but these conceptions differed in a lot of details. The deaths and resurrections of many of them also differed in many details.

    He notes that the story of Jesus and Barabbas is a human version of the scapegoat ritual, where the sins of the nation are put on two goats, with one goat sacrificed and the other goat released.

    Then the narrative style of GMark, as it's sometimes called. It has "Markan sandwiches", a bit of narrative, then some other narrative, then a followup of that original bit of narrative. That's not what real people's biographies look like.
    • Birth, receiving Holy Spirit (1:1-13) - death, releasing Holy Spirit (15:34-49) - heavens ripped in both (literally, then symbolically), Elijah allusion
    • Beginning (1:14-34) - ending (10;46-52) - of a peripheral ministry
    • (1:35-38) - (10:17-45) - people wanting nice things from him, but JC instructs people instead
    • travels over Galilee (1:39-45) - travels outside of Galilee (10:1-6)
    • Can forgive sin (2:1-12) - dangers of sin (9:33-50) - at Capernaum
    • (2:13-3:12) - (9:14-32) - problems and controversies
    • (3:13-19) - (9:14-32) - important gathering on a mountain
    • JC accused of working with the Devil, anyone who rejects him is damned (3:20-35) - JC accuses Peter of working with the Devil, anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit is damned (8:27-9:1)

    The Sea Narrative of Chapters 4 - 8:

    3 repetitions of "Jesus meets with crowds by the sea, with an uneventful trip in a boat; followed by an eventful crossing of the sea; and after landing, healings and exorcisms."

    In between, 2 repetitions in reverse order -- 2 stops and a tour, then a tour and 2 stops. The tour is "going around" the villages.

    The fig-tree story surrounds the Temple temper tantrum:
    • JC curses a fig tree for not having figs for him (11:12-14)
    • His Temple temper tantrum (11:15-18)
    • The fig tree withers and dies (11:19-22)

    RC says about this: "This was a common device in ancient literature: when one story is wrapped around another, each is meant to illuminate the meaning of the other."

    "Mark does this again with the similarly implausible (and thus obviously made-up) tale of the raising of Jairus’s twelve-year-old daughter, which Mark wrapped around a symbolically related story of a woman who had bled for twelve years."

    RC points out that this is a rewrite of a similar story about the prophet Elisha in the Old Testament - Mark has rewrites of stories about Moses and Elijah and other such heroes.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Richard Carrier also notes parallels between Mark's bio of JC and the bio of Aesop, that great fabulist, in turn inspired by legends about Socrates.
    • 1. ​They all came from a humble background (Socrates was the son of a stonemason; Aesop was a slave; Jesus, a carpenter’s son).
    • 2.​ And yet all were exalted as a moral hero and exemplary man, who was in the right all along, and whose teachings one ought to follow.
    • 3.​ And that despite all of them having opposed and denounced the established religious authorities and having challenged the received wisdom of their people.
    • 4. ​All of them were also given a “gift of the spirit” from God before their ministries began.
    • 5. ​All attacked the sin and greed of the religious and political elite.
    • 6.​ All attended the parties of sinners and ate and drank with them.
    • 7. ​Yet all consistently denounced sinners, and sought to reform them.
    • 8. ​All taught with questions, parables, and paradoxes.
    • 9. ​All taught to love truth, despise money, and live with compassion for others.
    • 10. ​All taught that they wanted to save everyone’s soul.
    • 11. ​All were despised by some and beloved by others for their teachings.
    • 12. ​All were publicly mocked in some way.
    • 13. ​All were executed by the state for blasphemy, a crime their tales affirm they did not commit.
    • 14. ​All were actually executed for speaking against the sin and greed of the authorities.
    • 15. ​All voluntarily went to their deaths, despite all having had the power to escape.
    • 16. ​All prophesied that God’s wrath would befall their killers; and all were right.
    • 17. ​And all were subsequently revered as martyrs.

    The eighteenth feature Jesus soon acquired as well, thus illustrating how readily he continued to be conformed to mythotypes: Aesop, Socrates, and eventually Jesus were all renowned to be ugly or deformed. Though not found in our extant Gospels, for Jesus this idea is affirmed (even derived from scripture) in Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Clement of Alexandria; even the critic Celsus took it as standard Christian belief decades before them.
    That's not how Jesus Christ is usually pictured - a good-looking young man.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    The eighteenth feature Jesus soon acquired as well, thus illustrating how readily he continued to be conformed to mythotypes: Aesop, Socrates, and eventually Jesus were all renowned to be ugly or deformed. Though not found in our extant Gospels, for Jesus this idea is affirmed (even derived from scripture) in Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Clement of Alexandria; even the critic Celsus took it as standard Christian belief decades before them.
    That's not how Jesus Christ is usually pictured - a good-looking young man.
    That's the Roman state propaganda element popping in; after Christianization, Jesus started to be depicted (if he was at all) in the same manner and fashion as the Roman deities in former times. But the authors listed above lived before Constantine.

    St. Paul, though, is described to this day by church doctrine as having been short, bald, and unibrowed. So perhaps he took over the mythic role on that.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Mark didn't stop there. "His tale also emulates over twenty tropes from a commonly repeated mythotype of the betrayed but celestially vindicated hero who ascends to heaven in glory—indeed, in many cases this mythotype already featured an outright dying-and-rising godman." Also earlier Jewish stories of "abused and vindicated" righteous men, and at least one woman, as described by George Nickelsburg. GN finds that Mark's Passion narrative fits right in.

    Also,
    By the time Matthew and Luke had embellished Mark’s narrative, the passion narratives of Romulus and Jesus would share twenty features in common (fully cataloged with cited scholarship in On the Historicity of Jesus). But already in Mark several features of this trope appear. Shared by Romulus and Jesus: the hero is the Son of God; he is killed by a conspiracy of the ruling council (the Senate, for Romulus; the Sanhedrin, for Jesus); his death is accompanied by prodigies;

    and the land is covered in darkness; the hero’s corpse goes missing; he then receives a new immortal body; which on occasion has a bright or shining appearance (for Jesus, prefigured in his transfiguration; and symbolized by the boy in a bright white garment at his grave); the names of those present at these events are given (even though none of these events happened, and none of those witnesses existed); and those witnesses are frightened by the hero’s appearance or disappearance, or both; in response to either, some witnesses flee the scene; and though his followers are initially in sorrow over the hero’s death, it is soon revealed, indeed “at the break of dawn” (just as in Mark), that the hero has risen from the dead, and that his body is “no longer here” because he has ascended to godhood; which event occurs outside of their capital city. Does this all sound familiar?
    Romulus was supposedly the son of a god and a virgin. Now where have we heard of that before?

    Both JC and Romulus deliver a Great Commission when they appear to their followers before rising up into heaven.

    JC “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:15-18, NIV)

    Romulus (Livy, History of Rome, Book I)
    The tradition runs that Proculus Julius, a man whose authority had weight in matters of even the gravest importance, seeing how deeply the community felt the loss of the king, and how incensed they were against the senators, came forward into the assembly and said: "Quirites! at break of dawn, to-day, the Father of this City suddenly descended from heaven and appeared to me. Whilst, thrilled with awe, I stood rapt before him in deepest reverence, praying that I might be pardoned for gazing upon him, 'Go,' said he, 'tell the Romans that it is the will of heaven that my Rome should be the head of all the world. Let them henceforth cultivate the arts of war, and let them know assuredly, and hand down the knowledge to posterity, that no human might can withstand the arms of Rome.'" It is marvellous what credit was given to this man's story, and how the grief of the people and the army was soothed by the belief which had been created in the immortality of Romulus.
    Livy's History of Rome - by Rev. Canon Roberts, 1905
    for Proculus Julius, a person whose testimony, as we are told, deserved respect in any case, even of the greatest importance, while the public were full of grief for the king, and of displeasure against the senators, came out into an assembly of the people, and said, “Romans, yesterday at the dawn of day, Romulus, the parent of this our city, descending suddenly from heaven, appeared before me; and when, seized with horror, I stood in a worshipping posture, and addressed him with prayers, that I might be allowed to behold him without being guilty of impiety, Go, said he, tell the Romans that it is the will of the gods that my Rome should be the metropolis of the world. Let them therefore cultivate the arts of war; and be assured, and hand this assurance down to posterity, that no human power is able to withstand the Roman arms. After these words, he went up, and vanished from my sight.” It was wonderful how readily the story was credited on this man’s word; and how much the grief of the people, and of the army, was assuaged, by their being satisfied of his immortality.
    The History of Rome, Vol. 1 - Online Library of Liberty - by George Baker, 1823

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    RC notes: "In Plutarch’s biography of Romulus we are told he was the son of god, born of a virgin; an attempt is made to kill him as a baby; he is saved, and raised by a poor family, becoming a lowly peasant; then as a man he becomes beloved by the people, hailed as king, and killed by the conniving elite; then he rises from the dead, appears to a friend on a road from the city to tell the good news to his people, and ascends to heaven to rule from on high." - just like JC in gMatthew and gLuke

    Both accounts also feature alternative hypotheses of the disappearance of the godman's body.

    Now my favorite part. Lord Raglan's mythic-hero profile. RC revises it to better fit the myths.
    • 1, The hero is conceived by a virgin.
    • 2. ​His father is a king or the heir of a king.
    • 3. ​The circumstances of his conception are unusual.
    • 4.​ He is said to be the son of a god.
    • 5. ​An attempt is made to kill him when he is a baby.
    • 6. ​To escape which he is spirited away from those trying to kill him.
    • 7 .​He is reared in a foreign country by one or more foster parents.
    • 8. ​We are told nothing of his childhood.
    • 9. ​On reaching manhood he returns to his future kingdom.
    • 10.​ He is crowned, hailed, or becomes king.
    • 11. ​He reigns without war or national catastrophe.
    • 12. ​He prescribes laws.
    • 13. ​He then loses favor with the gods or his subjects.
    • 14. ​He is driven from the throne or city.
    • 15. ​He meets with a mysterious death.
    • 16. ​He dies atop a hill or high place.
    • 17.​ His children, if any, do not succeed him.
    • 18. ​His body turns up missing.
    • 19. ​Yet he has one or more tombs (in fact or fiction).
    • 20. ​Before taking a throne or a wife, he battles and defeats a great adversary (such as a king, giant, dragon, or wild beast).
    • 21. ​His parents are related to each other.
    • 22. ​He marries a queen or princess related to his predecessor.
    • 23. (RC) Performing miracles (in life or as a deity after death).
    • 24. (RC) Having been a mortally incarnated preexistent superbeing.
    • 25. (RC) Being subsequently worshiped as a savior god.
    • 26. (RC) Fulfilling ancient prophecies in their lives.
    RC's version is somewhat rearranged relative to Lord Raglan's original. I've added RC's proposed additions with (RC).

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Mark:14 features -- 2, 4, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
    Matthew: add 6 -- 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9
    Luke: add 4 -- 1, 3, 9 -- remove 1 -- 8
    John: add 1 -- 3 -- remove 1 -- 2

    Luke has that story of his snottiness in the Jerusalem Temple, so I bumped the childhood one down for Luke. John has a metaphysical sort of origin as a sort of emanation from God, so I bumped down the human-father one for John.

    This means 20 out of the 22 features of the Rank-Raglan mythotype. All but JC's parents being closely related and JC marrying a princess. There is a widespread noncanonical speculation that Mary Magdalene was JC's girlfriend, a speculated supported by the noncanonical Gospel of Philip. But she was a commoner, as far as I can tell.


    RC revised Lord Raglan's own scoring, but he still finds that at least 14 legendary heroes score high in this profile. Moses, Joseph (Book of Genesis), Oedipus, Theseus, Dionysus, Romulus, Perseus, Hercules, Zeus, Bellerophon, Jason, Pelops, Osiris, and Asclepius all score over half of the 22 criteria. I've found that Krishna and the Buddha do likewise.

    He then goes on to note that if there was a historical Jesus Christ, then he is the most mythologized person in history, starting with the very first surviving biography of him, the Gospel of Mark.

    Count up everyone in history who from their earliest record is all at once a worshiped savior-lord, a dying-and-rising demigod, a culture hero and heavenly founder, a conveniently named godman, a miracle-working sage, a preexistent incarnated being, a revelatory space alien, appearing only in sacred literature, who dies and rises from the dead, and whose life improbably fulfills numerous prophecies, and whose only biographies build him out of prior religious heroes he is meant to supersede, and are rife with fabulous and improbable events; whose biographies name no sources, discuss no sources, and have no known sources; and who becomes that mythologized in under forty years time … and who actually existed.

    Good luck.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Richard Carrier then discusses the issue of how Jesus Christ got reinterpreted as a historical person, after first being apparent in personal experiences like what Paul was experiencing. There isn't any documentation of what happened between the composing of Paul's letters (around 50 CE) and the composing of gMark (70 CE or later)

    As to the letters attributed to him in the Bible, we have Authorship of the Pauline epistles
    • Yes: 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philemon, Philippians, Romans, 1 Thessalonians
    • Doubtful: Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians
    • Pastorals (unlikely): 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus
    • No: Hebrews


    RC then notes that the mainstream non-fundie view of JC's resurrection is much like his overall scenario for JC: dreams and visions that got reinterpreted as history.

    He has an interesting speculation: "Christianity appears to have experienced a first-century bottleneck of failure and subsequent revival." He notes Pliny the Younger's letter on early Xians and what to do about them, and he suspects that Xianity reached a nadir around 100 CE before it started growing again. Its original form was Pauline, with dreams and visions of JC, and its later form was based on the Gospels, first Mark, then Matthew and Luke and John and a host of others that did not make the canonical cut in the church that won.


    RC then addressed two issues that are sometimes cited as evidence of historicity.

    JC being born of the seed of David - RC concludes that he was "made" from it, some of David's semen in a cosmic sperm bank. Semen = Latin word for seed, sperma = Greek word for seed, this body fluid was long considered a sort of seed juice.

    Then "brothers of the Lord". RC concludes that that was a title that some early Xians had used.

    And so I end.

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