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Old 12 May 2007, 04:25 PM
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Icon215 Is Jesus a myth?

The language of religion, Tom Harpur says, is myth, metaphor and allegory. The stories in scripture are not meant to be seen as history, but as ways to understand the private struggles needed to bring about personal enlightenment.

Harpur's latest book is in many ways a follow-up to his bestselling The Pagan Christ, a 2004 book in which he argues that Jesus never existed, but was invented by early gospel writers drawing on pagan myths from many cultures and countries, especially Egypt.

http://www.thestar.com/Life/article/212226
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Old 12 May 2007, 04:48 PM
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Originally Posted by snopes View Post
The language of religion, Tom Harpur says, is myth, metaphor and allegory. The stories in scripture are not meant to be seen as history, but as ways to understand the private struggles needed to bring about personal enlightenment.

Harpur's latest book is in many ways a follow-up to his bestselling The Pagan Christ, a 2004 book in which he argues that Jesus never existed, but was invented by early gospel writers drawing on pagan myths from many cultures and countries, especially Egypt.

http://www.thestar.com/Life/article/212226
You know, his points aren't all bad.

For example, when he says:

Quote:
"The stories are about you. They're not about some person 2,000 years ago," he says
He's half right. The church has long held that the scriptures are supposed to speak with a new voice afresh to each generation, a new and personalised meaning. So the first sentence, "The stories are about you" is entirely correct. Of course, anchoring their multivalence means that the scriptures, while being about you, are always still supposed to be about Jesus as well, so the second sentence is wrong. But he's onto a good general idea there, right?

But then he gets into that "jesus never existed" nonsense that we've had many threads about before. Except notice he's rather nuanced. He's not debating the historical existence of Jesus per se - as in he himself is not prepared to get into the argument - rather he is simply arguing that the gospel authors themselves never intended to present a historical account - a historical Jesus. This is not so much about whether the Jesus story is accurate history, but more about whether the gospel authors intended to present the Jesus story as such. Thus he says:

Quote:
The stories in scripture are not meant to be seen as history,
That's a claim about the gospel author's intent: they did not intend their writings to be seen as history.

He makes this clearer later in the article:

Quote:
Harpur believes the gospel writers never meant their stories to be taken literally. Instead, they were an attempt to tell in narrative form the personal and spiritual struggles necessary to achieve individual divinity.
The problem is that this does not accord with what at least one of the gospel writers themselves states about their own intent. Luke points out at the beginning of his gospel:

Quote:
1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
Not only does Luke claim he's offering a historical account, he boasts that it's a well researched one!

So what do we have?

We have Harpur saying the gospel author did not intend to present accurate history, and a gospel author saying that he intended to present accurate history.

One of them is wrong.
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Old 12 May 2007, 08:19 PM
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We have Harpur saying the gospel author did not intend to present accurate history, and a gospel author saying that he intended to present accurate history.

One of them is wrong.
At least one of them pretty much has to be.

In another thread, I introduced my opinion that the four Evangelists may have added details to the account. The extreme subservience of John the Baptist, for instance: that is very much "out of character" for the leader of a socially withdrawn sect and/or cult. (Can you imagine David Koresh saying, "But don't listen to me; this other guy, here, knows more about religion than I could ever hope to learn?")

The fulfillment of various OT prophecies ("Not a bone of him shall be broken," etc.) also seems a bit strained.

And there are the little problems such as the recounting of details that no one could possibly know, such as the falling of the Roman Guard into a deep sleep...

I agree that the Gospels are more intellectually honest than a modern Chick Tract...but not as honest as, say, the historical writings of Barbara Tuchman.

Silas
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Old 12 May 2007, 09:06 PM
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I agree that the Gospels are more intellectually honest than a modern Chick Tract...but not as honest as, say, the historical writings of Barbara Tuchman.
And yet, when From Time Immemorial was published, Tuchman blurbed the book as "an historical event," which speaks to callee's point in a different thread about human fallibility, even amongst those who ardently strive to avoid it in the pursuit of historical truth.

This aside, I think you'll find a much better argument for the mythological relevance of Jesus in the works of Joseph Campbell, a man who appears to have had a much stronger grasp on Biblical studies/criticism than Tom Harpur.
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Old 13 May 2007, 02:31 PM
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Originally Posted by snopes View Post
The language of religion, Tom Harpur says, is myth, metaphor and allegory. The stories in scripture are not meant to be seen as history, but as ways to understand the private struggles needed to bring about personal enlightenment.

Harpur's latest book is in many ways a follow-up to his bestselling The Pagan Christ, a 2004 book in which he argues that Jesus never existed, but was invented by early gospel writers drawing on pagan myths from many cultures and countries, especially Egypt.

http://www.thestar.com/Life/article/212226
Harpur's "drawing on pagan myths" scholarship has already been thoroughly debunked. A scholar in Canada (where Harpur is from) sent his list of the comparisons to Egyptian mythology (Harpur's primary focus) to a bunch of the leading Egyptologists, and you can read what they had to say about it here:
http://hnn.us/articles/6641.html
Basically, the things he claims were parts of Egyptian mythology from which the Jesus story drew, aren't parts of Egyptian mythology at all.

And if you go to the bottom of this page: http://www.tektonics.org/harpur01.html , a guy uses Harpur's methods to prove that the Toronto Maple Leafs are a fictional team based on pagan mythology, basically showing that using Harpur's methods, you can prove that pretty much anything is based on mythology.

David
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Old 13 May 2007, 05:55 PM
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...you can prove that pretty much anything is based on mythology.
Isn't that the role mythology is supposed to play? An archetypal focal point in which personal lives/examples reference?
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Old 13 May 2007, 08:21 PM
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Harpur's "drawing on pagan myths" scholarship has already been thoroughly debunked. . . .
I think, instead, he has been shown to have been far too eager, and stretched a valid point beyond its legitimate utility.

There were gods prior to Jesus who died via ritual sacrifice and returned again. This kind of imagery would be common to any civilization that has become aware of the cycle of the seasons.

So: Harpur may have tried too hard -- just as Robert Graves and James Frazier did -- heck, some of us even have a bit of trouble with Joseph Campbell, holding that he crammed the facts into a framework they didn't always fit -- rather like when one has to sit on the suitcase to get it to close. But his basic premise is far from debunked.

It's a little like the difference between, say, Freud and Von Daniken. The former was wrong an awful lot of the time, yet did honestly seek to explore the very dark caverns of the unconscious, using what light he could devise. The latter was just a fraud and liar. Von Daniken, you debunk; Freud, you must simply apologize for, without surrendering your ability to admire him for giving it an honest try.

Silas

ETA: heck, you and I would probably put each other into that category!
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Old 13 May 2007, 10:43 PM
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I think, instead, he has been shown to have been far too eager, and stretched a valid point beyond its legitimate utility.

There were gods prior to Jesus who died via ritual sacrifice and returned again. This kind of imagery would be common to any civilization that has become aware of the cycle of the seasons.

So: Harpur may have tried too hard -- just as Robert Graves and James Frazier did -- heck, some of us even have a bit of trouble with Joseph Campbell, holding that he crammed the facts into a framework they didn't always fit -- rather like when one has to sit on the suitcase to get it to close. But his basic premise is far from debunked.
I guess what I'd need to see in order to convince me that it's any kind of valid approach, is to see at least one person trying to make a convincing case for it without using fabricated data. Some have tried to make a very general argument without getting into specifics (harder to debunk that way, I guess), but I'd like to see at least one person try to make a case, using specifics, that would pass review from other scholars, and would still be convincing.

David
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Old 13 May 2007, 11:44 PM
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Originally Posted by KingDavid8 View Post
I guess what I'd need to see in order to convince me that it's any kind of valid approach, is to see at least one person trying to make a convincing case for it without using fabricated data. Some have tried to make a very general argument without getting into specifics (harder to debunk that way, I guess), but I'd like to see at least one person try to make a case, using specifics, that would pass review from other scholars, and would still be convincing.
I'm confused, then: I had thought that the "Mithras as presursor to Jesus" idea was accepted by nearly everyone.

Silas
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Old 13 May 2007, 11:53 PM
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Isn't the burden of proof generally on someone who would claim that a myth has some basis in reality?
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Old 14 May 2007, 01:33 AM
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Isn't the burden of proof generally on someone who would claim that a myth has some basis in reality?
Aye...but the burden of proof is also on someone who would claim that one story is inspired by another story, which is something of the position I'm in. I don't think there is any single burdened (or non-burdened) viewpoint, but, instead, a number of fine gradations.

Just to take the broadest issue, the existence of an historical Jesus. The first burden of proof is on those who say there was such a person. And they have satisfied this by citing the Gospels and Josephus. But a number of people (myself included) aver that this is not sufficient; it indicates a possibility, but falls short of being unarguable. At this point, those who hold this rebutting viewpoint have a new burden of proof: establishing that any system of guidelines and standards that can view Jesus' existence as proven is of insufficiently compelling historicity.

The biggest problem is that neither viewpoint can be "proven." Jesus' existence is not proven, only supported by evidence. The responding argument, that this evidence is insufficient, is also impossible to prove. It's kind of as if a judge were challenged to "prove" the doctrine of "preponderance of evidence." He can't; it's merely the standard he subscribes to.

Silas
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Old 14 May 2007, 03:01 AM
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pfft. Jesus is not a myth!

He's a Mithter. Obviouthly.
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Old 14 May 2007, 03:34 AM
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Christian author John Stott said that if Jesus wasn't who he said he was (the Son of God) and if he didn't do what the Bible says he did (sacrificed himself for the sins of the world), the whole superstructure of Christianity falls apart. Jesus was not only a teacher or prophet or role model; he is an integral figure in Christianity, and as such, a good many of the Bible's claims about him must be factually true if Christianity is to be a valid religion.
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Old 14 May 2007, 05:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Grand Illusion View Post
Christian author John Stott said that if Jesus wasn't who he said he was (the Son of God) and if he didn't do what the Bible says he did (sacrificed himself for the sins of the world), the whole superstructure of Christianity falls apart. Jesus was not only a teacher or prophet or role model; he is an integral figure in Christianity, and as such, a good many of the Bible's claims about him must be factually true if Christianity is to be a valid religion.
Well, don't forget that some Christians insist that this is true for absolute Biblical inerrancy also, i.e., if Noah did not actually build an ark, if Adam did not actually give up a rib, etc. etc., then the entire faith is false. Wiser heads, by and large, have prevailed, and know enough to reject this absurd absolutism.

There is room for an austere, "minimalist" Christianity, in which Jesus could be seen as a Buddha-like spiritual advisor. (Just as, in the opposite way, there is room for outrageous "miracle cult" Buddhism, where the Enlightened One's fingers are the columns to be found at the far distant end of the cosmos.)

Jesus already has many different interpretations: from the loving lamb-child who comforts the children to the fiery-eyed zealot rampaging through the temple with his scourge, from the mortal man who bled to the abstract "word" that has only a spiritual existence.

For instance: Did Jesus ever make a mistake? Did he ever stub his toe, or take the wrong road, or splash ink on his robe? There are Christians who say yes, and Christians who say no. At least one of those viewpoints is false, and thus, the interpretation of Jesus advocated by at least some of the faithful did not exist.

Silas
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Old 14 May 2007, 10:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Silas Sparkhammer View Post
I'm confused, then: I had thought that the "Mithras as presursor to Jesus" idea was accepted by nearly everyone.

Silas
Whether a certain number of people "accept" that Jesus was influenced by Mithras, I can't say, but I do know that the evidence that I've seen doesn't support it, and I've never heard any scholar who wasn't a Christ-myther agree with any of it. If there's evidence I haven't seen to back up their claims, I'd like to see it.

What I have seen suggests that Mithras (at least his mythology) did exist prior to Jesus' time in Persia, but that version of the story had no significant parallels to Jesus' story, except that Mithras performed miracles (though not the same ones Jesus did). Some parallels to the Jesus story (birth attended by shepherds, 12 disciples, sacrifice) were added later in the Roman version of Mithraism, but there's no evidence that they were added any earlier than the 2nd century A.D., suggesting influence by Christianity, not upon.

David
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Old 14 May 2007, 11:13 AM
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Aye...but the burden of proof is also on someone who would claim that one story is inspired by another story, which is something of the position I'm in. I don't think there is any single burdened (or non-burdened) viewpoint, but, instead, a number of fine gradations.

Just to take the broadest issue, the existence of an historical Jesus. The first burden of proof is on those who say there was such a person. And they have satisfied this by citing the Gospels and Josephus. But a number of people (myself included) aver that this is not sufficient; it indicates a possibility, but falls short of being unarguable. At this point, those who hold this rebutting viewpoint have a new burden of proof: establishing that any system of guidelines and standards that can view Jesus' existence as proven is of insufficiently compelling historicity.

The biggest problem is that neither viewpoint can be "proven." Jesus' existence is not proven, only supported by evidence. The responding argument, that this evidence is insufficient, is also impossible to prove. It's kind of as if a judge were challenged to "prove" the doctrine of "preponderance of evidence." He can't; it's merely the standard he subscribes to.

Silas
I agree that Jesus' existence is only supported by evidence, not absolutely proven. But couldn't we argue that the existence of any ancient historical figure (at least whose body we haven't found, which is most of them) is merely supported by evidence, and not proven? I think we usually say "proven" when we find the evidence overwhelming enough that we don't see the need to question it, and find no compelling evidence to the contrary. But that's pretty much where most people are with Jesus' existence.

David
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Old 14 May 2007, 11:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Silas Sparkhammer View Post
Well, don't forget that some Christians insist that this is true for absolute Biblical inerrancy also, i.e., if Noah did not actually build an ark, if Adam did not actually give up a rib, etc. etc., then the entire faith is false. Wiser heads, by and large, have prevailed, and know enough to reject this absurd absolutism.

Silas
Actually, there is one item that I'd say, if false, collapses the Christian faith. At least it would for me, personally, and probably would for the majority of the rest. That would be Jesus' resurrection. If Jesus was not bodily resurrected, then the people who wrote the NT were clearly deluded at best (and liars at worst), and I see little reason to trust the Bible as anything more than book of spiritual advice, if that.

David
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Old 14 May 2007, 11:57 AM
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I'm confused, then: I had thought that the "Mithras as presursor to Jesus" idea was accepted by nearly everyone.
where did you get that impression? outside of a handful of "parallels" (which are often misrepresented, e.g. his being formed from rock described as a "virgin birth") there's little in common between the two. further, as pointed out by KingDavid8, many of the parallels do not appear until into the Christian era, making it less clear who was borrowing from who.

See here for a fairly good examination of the idea.
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Old 14 May 2007, 12:49 PM
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Did Jesus ever make a mistake? Did he ever stub his toe, or take the wrong road, or splash ink on his robe?
I always thought this [John 7:8-10, NIV] was interesting:

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You go to the Feast. I am not yet[a] going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come." 9Having said this, he stayed in Galilee.

10However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.

[a] Some early manuscripts do not have 'yet'.
someone made sure to add the word 'yet' for that reason
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Old 14 May 2007, 12:55 PM
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how does "I am not going up to this feast, because for me the right time has not yet come" relate to him making or not making a mistake?
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