Jesus of Nazareth, known to his worshipers as Christ, is one of, if not the most influential person who ever lived. But that was 2000 years ago, and a lot of information can get lost in that time. As a believer I have taken for granted that he existed, but what if I told you that there were people who believed he didn’t. That’s the question I’m going to be exploring in this new series.
Let me tell you a story. It starts in 2007, the early years of YouTube. It was at this point that the internet began to resemble what we are familiar with today, and video streaming was just beginning to become a viable thing. In June of that year an independently made documentary called “Zeitgeist: The Movie” took the internet by storm. Based on a stage performance by Peter Joseph, the ease and convenience of YouTube allowed the documentary to gain far more traction than it would have otherwise.
Zeitgeist used a combination of archival footage, animations, and narration to illustrate three points. The film has been, and more or less at the time was, negatively panned by more critical audiences. Divided into three sections, one portion of the documentary talked about 9-11 conspiracies, borrowing a lot of the arguments from another conspiracy documentary, Loose Change. Another portion of the film covered conspiracy theories around the U.S. Federal Reserve. Despite these two areas covering the most politically relevant conspiracies they were not what caught most people’s attentions. The first section of the film made a series of claims about Jesus of Nazareth being a fictional character that had elements borrowed from Egyptian gods like Horus and Osiris. This section of the film garnered the most attention, and spawned a cottage industry of homemade documentaries countering the claims made in Zeitgeist. Just search Zeitgeist on YouTube and you’ll find over 400 thousand results, and about half of them will be people refuting the first section of the film.
I remember coming across the film at the time and immediately rejecting it on premise. Even when I took the time to actually watch it I was constantly deriding it. (footage of me watching movie) It was years before I got past that first section of the movie to realize that the entirety of it was a conspiracy theory documentary. The latter two ideas I was very familiar with as conspiracy theories, but the first one just seemed like an over reaching atheist who was losing an argument. I eventually learned that this idea was not a new one, and it even had a name, The Christ Myth Theory.
There are many aspects to the Christ Myth Theory, many of which I plan to cover in this series, but ultimately the Theory, more accurately hypothesis, challenges the historicity of Jesus. What is historicity you ask? Well, Historicity is the actuallness of a person or event. Did an event actually happen, or did a person actually exist? Someone who believes the Christ Myth Theory questions whether or not the person Jesus of Nazareth existed in the flesh, and will attempt to argue this by questioning the authenticity of the primary sources, or claiming that he has too much in common with other characters that we know to be fictional.
A person who believes the Christ Myth Theory is referred to as a Mythicist. Now, there are a bunch of different uses of the word Myth, but within the context of the CMT they use the word to refer to a completely fictional thing. So a Mythicist believes that the Jesus of the Bible is a completely fictional character.
Within the realm of Mythicists, however, there are two broad camps. One camp believes that a historical Jesus may have existed in first century Palestine, but we know nothing about him, and that the Jesus of the New Testament has nothing to do with him, and or the deeds of the fictional Jesus were later attributed to this unknown Jesus.
I like to refer to the people in this camp as “Soft Mythicists” because they leave open the option that a historical Jesus may have existed, but that we know nothing about him.
The other broad camp believes that not only is the Jesus of the New Testament completely fictional, but that there was never a human person like Jesus. They see the story of Jesus similar to that of King Arthur, a fictional character who was later historicized. These people leave no room for a historical Jesus, so I like to refer to them as “Hard Mythicists.” Most Mythicists can be classified into one of these two camps.
Now, what do academics have to say about the issue? Surprisingly enough, not a lot. Most scholars in the fields of New Testament or Biblical studies don’t pay attention to Mythicists or the Christ Myth Theory. If they are confronted with the idea they swiftly renounce it. The Academic Consensus on the Issue is that Jesus was an actual person, was Jewish, and was born and crucified in first century Roman Palestine. The reasons for this will be elaborated in later episodes as arguments made by Mythicists are brought forward, but before we go any further I want to make my position on the Christ Myth Theory very clear.
I side with the academics. The evidence for Jesus having existed, and lived a life more or less as described in the Gospels, is overwhelming. I freely admit that I am a practicing Christian and therefore have a bias towards believing, but you don’t have to be a believer to come to the conclusion that Jesus existed. Even atheist scholars such Dr. Bart Erhman, who wrote a book on the issue, believes Jesus existed So, if the academic consensus is so much against this idea, then why am I making this series?
There are three reasons: First, as my videos on Secession and Monarchism should make obvious, I have a fascination with niche and fringe ideas. Second, this was the subject I wrote my senior thesis on, and I’ll be damned if I don’t make use of the research I did. And third; academia’s ignoring of it hasn’t made the idea go away. In fact, it has only grown. There are at least 7 popular documentaries that either feature the Christ Myth Theory as its main focus, or as a side point. Books on the subject continue to be published, and the internet’s ability to preserve communities based around blatantly false or antiquated ideas has made the CMT gain wider adherence. Today they may be non-existent within educational institutions, but if their numbers keep growing they may eventually gain access by force of sheer numbers.
This series is going to go over the intellectual history of the CMT, the different types of arguments used to support it, and the evidence that experts use to prove that Jesus did in fact exist. So make sure you hit that subscribe button and the bell icon so you don’t miss episode 2 when we go over the Primary Sources that Historians use to construct the historical Jesus.