Requests seem to be increasing for refutations of the “Jesus was a rehash of pagan myths” claim by modern atheists. In answering one recently, I realized American Vision has apparently sold out of hard copies of Manifested in the Flesh. We still have the PDF download available here, but this revelation has prompted us to start planning a reprint. I say “planning” because this will give me an opportunity to make a few revisions and additions to the first edition.
Meanwhile, those interested in this topic may also benefit from my video series Defeating the Mythstorians, which is essentially a video version of much of the work in Manifested, with a few additions. That formerly DVD product is now available in MP4 video download or streaming.
Also available in this genre is my answer to the movie Zeitgeist, which took the Jesus mythicist claims to stratospheric heights of exaggeration. My book is Zeitgeist—the Movie: Exposed. Searching to answer my recent requests, I realized we did not even get this product listed in our new store. It is now available again in PDF download, and we plan another print run as well.
Why does this question keep coming up? There are two levels to this question. The first is that fringe atheists love it, and the second is that too many Christians waste their time interacting with fringe atheists.
Let’s be clear: no atheist of serious academic reputation in history takes the Jesus-mystery religion claims seriously. (Oh, you can find an exception? Then I’ll revise my statement: such atheists do exist, they’re just one-in-a-million.)
Take for example, renowned atheist/agnostic Bart Ehrman, whose works were often cheered by the very same fringe atheists who toss about the Jesus-myth arguments. These atheists were quite chagrined when Ehrman published Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth in 2012. In that book, Ehrman took essentially the same approach I did in Manifested: the Jesus-myth people’s arguments from silence are poor, and their positive evidence for Jesus-myth parallels are non-existent. Here’s how Ehrman put it in an interview:
There are no writings from Jesus—absolutely true. There are no Roman sources from Jesus’ day that mention Jesus—again, true. Our only sources come decades later by biased individuals who believed in Jesus, and that they’re not trustworthy sources. Those are their negative arguments.
I deal with all of those arguments. I lay them out as fairly as I can and then show why they’re not very good arguments, even though they sound really good. When you actually investigate them they’re actually not that strong.
Their positive argument is: they claim that there were other divine beings from the time of Jesus who were thought to have existed—gods who were thought to have died and risen again. They argue that Jesus is modeled along the lines of these other dying and rising gods. He was just a Jewish version, invented to be a parallel to these pagan gods.
I show in the book why this simply can’t be true. In part, because we have very little evidence, if it exists at all, that there were any dying and rising gods in the pagan world.
Ehrman goes on to make some rather startling claims about Jesus for which I would rebut him, but he is absolutely correct in his approach to the fringe atheists on these points.
But why is there an influx of such fringe belief today? Ehrman notes that it has been around for some time, actually:
There have been people arguing this since the 19th century. Vladimir Lenin read one of their books, and for that reason it became the dominant view in the Soviet Union throughout the 20th century. It’s the dominant view now in some parts of the West, including Scandinavia. And it’s a view that is widely found in agnostic and atheist circles in the United States.
So why the growth today? Largely because the web has made it cheap to spread information. Modern atheists—mostly young and with no idea of what it means to execute actual scholarlship—have picked up the communist propaganda versions of 19th century higher criticism mixed with evolutionary “history of religions” school nonsense (which has long since been discarded in academia), mixed also with a good bit of work from fringe esoteric scholars, influenced by new ageism and freemasonic versions of Egyptology—you see the problem? This is a postmodern smorgasbord for young, loose-cannon atheists who don’t care much for veracity.
This actually comports well with what I was trying to relate in Manifested, when answering the question, “Why now?”:
Why have mystery religions become a public issue at this point in time? The answer presents an ominous parallel to the early Church era, when the apologists had to defend the Scriptures against pagan attacks. Charles Norris Cochrane gives the classic account of the decline of the Roman Empire from the earliest of the Caesars who allowed himself to be worshipped as a political god. From this point the seeds of “barbarism and superstition,” which the Empire claimed to eliminate, “were enshrined at the very heart of the system itself in the worship of the divinized sovereign.” The State grew progressively more powerful in its lust to play a Messianic role in the earth. The military grew, civil law expanded, private law fell to the State, and taxation skyrocketed. Religion, philosophy, and culture became subservient as well. The arid heritage of Graeco-Roman philosophy and religion presented the people with only fate or chance as ultimate principles. Religion was, therefore, depersonalized, and the people forced beneath the press of a merciless and purposeless world. As with all Messianic states, “It was, in a word, the tragedy of men who, being required to play the part of gods, descended to that of beasts.” That such a state of affairs would inevitably lead to decline was foreshadowed when one of the earliest of the Caesars, Tiberius, said, “After me: the deluge.”
Into this environment entered, especially by military travels, an influx of Eastern mystery religions. These secretive cults presented emotional rituals and myths that involved personal gods. They met the needs of an overly-rationalized populace who longed to escape the coldness of the State religions. The cults emphasized cyclical history, drawing from the cycles of nature, to assure members that the decline of society that they saw around them simply belonged to the grand scheme of the natural evolution and fall of civilizations. These remained secluded and underground for the most part—in some cases they were even persecuted—until the late second to early third centuries. At that point, when the roots of the classical republic had all but eroded away, and, “The voice of Greek and Latin literature . . . was almost stilled,” then, “Orientalism in its grosser forms broke in wave after wave upon the capital.” This “orientalism” was nothing less than the extravagant—and often bloody—ritualism of the mystery religions.
The appearance of the mystery religions in great numbers, therefore, corresponded to the final stages of the decaying Messianic State. At a time of impersonal beliefs and failed political saviors, the mystery religions provided the personalism, sense of participation and purpose in the cosmos, and emotional stimulation that so many people wanted. It should not surprise us then to see the same recurrence in our day. On the heels of Darwinism, which denies the Hand of the personal Creator and Sustainer in the universe, we have a critical era of religious, philosophical, and political apostasy. Many in main-line denominations have abandoned the Scriptures and endorsed every pagan idea imaginable, homosexuality being only one of the most talked about. “Philosophy” as well, that two-headed snake, has once again hung itself at a fork in the road: one side devolves every question into its most minute “analytical” fragments of grammar and syntax, the other ignores technicality almost completely in favor of passion, emotion, images, symbols, and intuition. Meanwhile, the State continues to assume more power as it tries to address every perceived crisis in every area of life. Militaristic police and bureaucrats multiply: “For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof” (Prov. 28:2). Our time is little different from the failed Roman Empire of the early Christian era, and the influx of religions offering escapism, secret knowledge, and transcendence above history draws as big an audience now as it did then (Manifested, 17–19).
I stand by this, and I will also stand by the claim than many Christians are failing just as poorly in this area because they run to the same two extremes as the pagans: centralist tyranny or romantic escapism. Actually, the modern Christian reaction is usually a combination of both.
More on these particular failure by Christians to come. . . .