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Approaching the Jesus Problem

Jesus Problem

Back in 1917, an author named J.M. Robertson wrote a book called The Jesus Problem: A Restatement of the Myth Theory. I thought I would go through his book and respond to some of his ideas.

You might think there is no point responding to a book written over a hundred years ago. Why not an author more contemporary? From my experience talking to Mythicists, these older authors are often still very influential. Many of their arguments still reappear even in the internet age.

Who was J.M. Robertson? Do not expect him to be a professional historian, biblical scholar, Egyptologist or classicist. Like many Mythicists, especially of that time, he comes without professional credentials. He was a journalist and a would-be politician.

In his first chapter, The Approach, he introduces how is going to go about examining the Jesus Myth. He acknowledges that it is one this to critique the historical value of the documents and note similarities with pagan god-men, it is another to provide an explanation for how the Jesus story emerged. At one point he says:

It will be no adequate answer to that to say, as will doubtless be said, that the outline of the evolution of the myth is unsatisfying. In the very nature of the case, the connections of the data must be speculative. It may well be that those here attempted—some of them modifications of previous theories—will have to be at various points reshaped; and I invite the reader to weigh carefully the views of Professors Drews and Smith where I diverge from them. The complete establishment of a historical construction will be a long and difficult task. But in its least satisfying aspect the myth-theory is a scientific substitution for what is wholly dissatisfying—the entirely unhistorical construction furnished by the gospels.

He acknowledges that it is difficult to describe the “creation” of the Jesus story but ultimately he sees such speculation much more satisfying than reading the gospels historically. This is perhaps why Mythicism is such a minority position. For most scholars, Christian or not, reading the Gospels as at least semi-historical is much more convincing than believing that someone (or some people) just made up everything.

Robertson mentions those who attempt to get to the historical Jesus by removing the supernatural bits from the Gospels. He suggests that is is an easy and natural step to continue on and remove the remaining natural bits of the story.

Another interesting point he makes is that the pushback against the Jesus Myth Theory was not by orthodox Christians but rather rationalist Unitarians. Since orthodox Christians already believe in miracles, there is no reason not to believe in a historical Jesus. But the more naturalist believers only have a historical Jesus and his teachings and so they fight harder to hold on to it.

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