In my recent post, I pointed out the overwhelming academic consensus that there was a historical Jesus, but that the Jesus of the consensus was a pretty irrelevant fellow. All the things that make Jesus important, that make him … well, Jesus … are mythical — according to mainstream scholarship on Jesus.
So if you are a mythicist because it is blindingly obvious that the Jesus Christ of Christianity is a mythical figure, then you’re in agreement with the consensus.
So the same friend mentioned in the last post wrote me:
So if Jesus isn’t the Jesus of the New Testament, and isn’t the Jesus everyone knows, why insist that it is the same Jesus at all? Why not just say that there must have been lots of preachers at the time who were more or less like that three line biography. Lots of JBap followers, lots of wannabe messiahs who got themselves killed, lots of them called Joshua/Jesus.
[NB: I’m going to call the historical figure ‘Joshua’, and the mythical figure ‘Jesus’ to keep them separate here: both English names are valid translations of the same Aramaic name, so I’m not suggesting either is right or wrong].
I interpret this question to mean “What does it mean to say that the Joshua of academic historians is the ‘same’ as the Jesus of Christian mythology?”
The answer is that there is a continuity of people involved, from the followers of Joshua through the key people in the early Christ movement, to the key people in the early church. It seems likely that at least Peter (if not more) was both a Joshua follower, and one of the people who claimed to have witnessed the resurrection. And since Paul (who also claimed to have witnessed the resurrection) claimed to know Peter, we move into the early church with some continuity.
It is in that sense that we say there was a historical Jesus, even while admitting that all we can know about him with any confidence would also apply to other people of the time.
And it is the acceptance of that continuity – a connection of people between an unexceptional historical figure and the exceptional world-impacting faith that arose in his name – which means I am not a mythicist. But the more I talk to self-declared mythicists, particularly in the atheist blogosphere, the more I realize the they often define their mythicism in other ways. Even in ways that would make me and most of the academics I know, mythicists. Well, so be it, I’m never fussed about saying what language is supposed to mean. It means what people use it to mean. But if you want to know why those same people refuse to call themselves mythicists, that is why. Not because they believe Jesus Christ isn’t a mythical figure, but because they believe Christianity traces back to one particular historical figure.