• On the Historicity, Part 1a.

    This part of my review will look at one particular issue within Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. Other parts of my review can be found here.

    The Mythic Hero Archetype.

    Oddly, on p.230 Carrier lists criteria 18 of the hero pattern as “His body turns up missing,” which is not one of Raglan’s original criteria. That seems like an odd oversight, but this might be due to Carrier’s reliance on Alan Dundes’ work (who I think, modified some of Raglan’s original criteria). At some point I am hoping to get Dunde’s book ‘In Quest of the Hero’ and check for myself.

    Carrier lists a total of fourteen heroes who score 12 or higher on the Raglan scale, all of whom are mythical:¬†Oedipus, Moses, Theseus, Dionysus, Romulus, Perseus, Hercules, Zeus, Bellerophon, Jason, Osiris, Pelops, Asclepus, and Joseph (the biblical Joseph, of ‘many colored coats’ fame).

    Based upon information I have obtained from Monmouth college (see here and here), the following mythical characters score 12 or higher:

    Krishna, Watu Gunung, Beowulf, Nyikang, Samson (yes, scholars agree Samson was mythical see page 1460 Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church), Penelope, Princess Leia, Hero (from “Much Ado About Nothing”),

    The following historical characters score 12 or higher:

    Mithradates,* Mohammed, Buddha, Czar Nicholas II, Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Nefiriti, Tori Amos.

    There is one hero whose existence we should be agnostic about: King Arthur. Scholars continue to debate his existence (for example: R. Castleden, King Arthur: The Truth Behind the Legend, p.7).**

    All in all, we have 22 mythical characters and 8 historical figures who fit the archetype. As such, a realistic estimate shows that over 73% of characters who fit the archetype are mythical.

    On the other hand, if we counted all 3 of the mythical biblical heroes as historical, and counted King Arthur as historical as well, we would end up with a 19 to 12 ratio of mythical to historical figures (in other words, sixty-one percent). In fact, if we added 7 people to the historical side of the ratio, that would mean that any given person who fits the mythic hero archetype has only about a 50% chance of existing.

    Of course, might object to doing things this way (perhaps for using a lot of characters outside the time and context in which Christianity was born). But on the other hand, there are some advantages to the way I have done things: there’s a larger number of figures taken into account, for one thing. For another thing, I’ve worried a little bit about whether Lord Raglan (and his successors, like Alan Dundes) haven’t taken a random sample (after all, most of them have mainly focused on mythological people). Adding in some additional analyses seems like a good a way to help overcome such difficulties.


    * Carrier disputes the scoring of Mithradates in a footnote (p.232). I have not checked the sources on this issue and as yet have no opinion as to whether he is correct about this. For now, I will assume Carrier is wrong on this point.

    ** Ironically, all of the reasons Castleden lists for doubting the existence of King Arthur apply to Jesus too! Arthur’s existence is doubted because of the lack of contemporaneous evidence, because the dates of his life activities seem grossly inconsistent (compare to Jesus: some Christians though he had lived in 70 BCE!), incredible claims are made about his life (i.e. Arthur is said to have killed 960 men in a single battle, compare to Stephen Law’s ‘contamination principle‘), and because the whole story may have originated from a pre-Celtic god (just as Jesus could have been derived from the logos / heavenly Adam figure of Philo).

    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: Nicholas Covington

    I am an armchair philosopher with interests in Ethics, Epistemology (that's philosophy of knowledge), Philosophy of Religion, Politics and what I call "Optimal Lifestyle Habits."