Let’s just make it nice and obvious there is evidence for mythicism as well as a lack of evidence for historicity, just to demonstrate that anyone who makes the claim that mythicism has “no evidence” is flagrantly lying.
1. Jesus is a god or demigod. They tend not to exist.
Evidence for mythicism: This the starting point from which historicity must recover, which is possible with good evidence.
Evidence for the premise: Without doing a formal count of historical figures that accrued theological appellations and wild legends like Caesar Augustus or Alexander the Great versus purely mythological characters like Baal, Romulus, Osiris, Inanna, Hercules and the like, it seems highly plausible that most ancient gods were myths.
In Herodotus’ Histories (4.94-96), he recounts the story of the god Zalmoxis who disappeared, was thought dead, and later reappeared to the Thracians claiming he had been resurrected. After recounting the story, Herodotus seems uncertain about Zalmoxis’ existence, though ultimately he judges it more likely that Zalmoxis is a legendized historical figure. Herodotus’ exact words are:
”Now I neither disbelieve nor entirely believe the tale about Salmoxis and his underground chamber; but I think that he lived many years before Pythagoras; and as to whether there was a man called Salmoxis or this is some deity native to the Getae, let the question be dismissed.”
Here’s something to think on: if an ancient person, more fully aware of the ancient cultural context than you or I will be, doubted the existence of a resurrecting god man, we should also have skepticism about resurrecting god men that came out of that same ancient cultural context.
A more rigorous and slightly different argument is advanced by Richard Carrier (OHJ) who notes that virtually all known characters who score at least 12/22 points on the Raglan mythic hero archetype are mythological. There are many comparison classes we could place Jesus in for which most or at least an uncomfortably large fraction of the other examples are mythological: gospel characters like Barabbas, Judas, Lazarus, Satan; ancient messiahs like the one supposedly secretly imprisoned beneath the city of Rome or annually atoning for sins in the Garden of Eden (Who witnessed all that?!).
2. There are 0 eyewitness accounts of Jesus.
Expected on mythicism, unexpected on historicity.
This isn’t a killer argument because you can still use hearsay as a source, but it shows how weak the evidence for historicity is. No matter what arguments are made from the sources, they cannot be as strong as an eyewitness account would have been. Historicity enthusiasts often forget this and overstate their confidence. This is a point in favour of mythicism.
3. Christianity is a mystery cult.
These cults kept “mysteries”, so taking the words they said outside of their inner circle at face value would be foolish. They also spoke as if their fictional gods were real.
Evidence for mythicism: If Jesus was historical he would somehow have to make the transition to mystery cult status, but Occam’s Razor says he started as a mystery cult god as this is his earliest form on record.
4. Philo of Alexandria came up with a similar figure, so we know such a demigod could be created without basing it on a real person. He even quotes a passage where the figure’s name is “Jesus” in the unquoted half of the sentence.
This is evidence for mythicism. Historicists must argue that this is a coincidence, which lowers their probability due to their ad hoc excuse. [edit: while I think the ‘Jesus’ of Philo increases the plausibility of mythicism, I am not sure it is ‘evidence’ of mythicism since some group could have identified a real person with a mythological angel, whereas mythicism hypothesizes as much in saying a mythological angel was given an earthly narrative. But Philo’s ‘Jesus’ is a strongly comparable figure to the Christian Jesus who is mythological and dovetails the argument from point 1 nicely].
5. The oldest Christian creeds: e.g. Philippians 2: 5-11, 1 Corinthians 2: 6-10, and 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8, show the first Christians believed a pre-existent archangel had descended, become incarnate and died, rose again and then appeared to select people to tell them this. This is never said to happen on earth.
This is a major point for mythicism and against historicity. Historicists are forced to make up ad hoc explanations to excuse Paul’s behaviour and even to explain away why the people Paul is quoting have also never heard of a historical Jesus.
6. Paul himself never unambiguously places Jesus on earth, despite writing over 20,000 words extolling Christianity.
This is literally unbelievable on the hypothesis of historicity. This is overwhelming evidence supporting mythicism. The believers in historicity are forced to ignore this point or create convoluted ways to import assumptions into Paul’s writings that do not exist in the text.
To get a sense of how unlikely this is: Peter is mentioned by Paul far less frequently and with less detail, and it is nonetheless abundantly clear Peter was an earthly man and not a sky god (Galatians 2:11: “When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.“).
On the other hand, even the ‘best examples’ of Paul allegedly speaking of an earthly historical Jesus are also said about other mythological sky gods, which firmly highlights their weakness and ambiguity. Aphrodite (the Grecoroman Ishtar) and Jesus (Romans 1:3) are both made from semen; Naram-Sin of Akkad claimed to be the husband of Ishtar (p.260) [a heavenly mythological god having a documented historical ‘husband’ is no more fantastic than such having a brother!] and other near Eastern rulers claimed to be adopted by the gods just as some are said to be the ‘brother’ of the Lord Jesus Christ (a designation specifically said to be nonbiological per Romans 8:29; in all but two contested passages ‘brothers’ is meant fictively and not literally and therefore in all probability is meant figuratively in those remaining two passages as there are no solid contextual reasons for believing otherwise. There is no depiction of Jesus with biological brothers until the largely symbolic gospel of Mark, who gives Jesus’ brothers names of great Israeli Patriarchs (Part 3, Point 4) as if symbolizing the theology that Jesus was king of a new Israel).
There are other ambiguous (and much weaker) passages sometimes used to argue for historicity, the bulk of which is addressed throughout “On the Historicity of Jesus” by Richard Carrier.
7. Wherever Paul cites a source for Jesus: he cites visions or scripture. This is a major problem for historicity as he should be expected to mention the existence of anyone who met Jesus on earth or who had at least heard of Jesus existing on earth, but instead we have exactly what mythicism predicts: no sources for a real Jesus.
This cannot be ignored. It must be explained by historicity, and it must be accounted for with evidence: not ad hoc excuses.
8. Not just Paul but every other source that could precede Mark is also silent about Jesus existing on earth: e.g. Hebrews, 1 Peter, 1 Clement. This is much more likely if Jesus did not become a historical character until Mark was written (or after, as Mark appears to be symbolic fiction and never claims to be historical). We’re not sure exactly of the dates so this is weaker evidence but still a problem for historicity.
9. The gospels are anonymous fictions in the wrong language at the wrong time in the wrong place. They are theologically motivated and sourced. They cite no sources leading back to Jesus. The sources we can trace do not go back to Jesus. They are not independent. It’s hard to think of a worse source.
If a historicist argument relies on trusting the gospels, they are building a house of cards. But this is exactly what we should expect from a mystery cult making up stories.
We cannot use the gospels to decide whether Jesus was a real man or a sky god; this would only be possible if the gospels were trustworthy enough for us to believe they would NOT represent a sky god as an historical figure. This precisely happens in Matthew 4:8 when Satan, the ’prince of the air’ (Ephesians 2:2) is represented as having been to Earth to tempt Jesus by showing him all kingdoms from the top of an exceedingly high mountain (on what surely was a small, flat earth).
The Lord’s Supper, depicted as an earthly event that real people were present at, was learned originally by Paul through a vision (‘I passed on to you what I received from the Lord’ 1 Cor. 11). A vision was transformed into a historical scene. Similarly, John invents a real Lazarus whereas in Luke Lazarus is only a character in a parable. Thus, transforming a god seen in visions into a god seen by eyewitness or a sky god into an earthly historical figure is eminently plausible to the gospel authors, thereby defeating their useas evidence against the mythicist thesis.
The earliest gospels Mark and Matthew lack any reference to eyewitness source or the reality of their purported events, whereas Luke (1:4) and John (21:24-25) do. So there is broad agreement among new testament scholars that the timeline of the gospels is apparently mythological stories came first and second came the insistence they really happened. This is an odd pattern on historicity, but expected on mythicism.
10. Christians made up fake evidence and destroyed contradictory evidence.
A lot. So many forged epistles, gospels, passages in other authors, lacunae or entirely destroyed works that we know only from mentions or quotations. Who was doing all this? The winning historicist sect. They even forged “eyewitness accounts” to cover for the total lack of genuine ones.
Anyone arguing that the texts we have require no textual criticism or distrust is arguing from faith, not from reason.
This kind of extirpation of early church history is expected on mythicism, where there was no Jesus to preserve; but is unexpected on historicity, where there would supposedly have been a Jesus tradition to preserve.
11. Revelation Evinces a Mythological Christ. Revelation’s only named earthly locales for Jesus are Sodom and Egypt (11:8), explicitly noted as “allegorical,” and Jesus is also placed in the sky, even at birth(12:1-6), without the setting receiving a qualification as only ‘allegorical.’ This pattern is easier to explain if the author held a Plutarchian belief in which the true abode of the gods is in the upper air and that stories can be told about the gods on earth if they are “allegorical,” than if the author believed Jesus was born on earth and only figuratively born in the sky.
12. Contradictory Timelines More Likely On Mythicism Than Historicism.
Outside the canonical gospels, Jesus is depicted as having died in 70 BCE (Sepher Toledoth Yeshua) around 50 CE (Irenaeus, Victorinus) or having died at the hands of Herod instead of Pilate (Gospel of Peter). These wild variations are impossible to explain as memories of a real man, and nearly impossible to explain as derivatives of memories, but are at once explicable if we turn back to Revelation 11:8 where Jesus is impossibly crucified in both Sodom and Egypt because the placement is non-literal.
No Doubt Historically?
There is another argument related to the “no evidence for mythicism” claim that mythicism wasn’t heard of until the eighteenth century, dreamed up by radical skeptics of the bible, and that no ancient source doubts or questions the existence of Jesus.
If this statement is technically true, it turns out to be a very contrived point to make, and highly contrived points are not strong. 2 Peter 1:16 (a mid-second century forgery, notice the first century documents never contain any such statement) warns that ‘For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.’ It is evidently the case that some critic or rival Christian sect was teaching the gospel or some teaching(s) about Jesus was a ‘cleverly devised story’ along the lines mythicists say the gospels in fact are. Even if the author meant no more than to distinguish Jesus from mythological gods of his day, doesn’t that only admit the validity of mythicist comparisons? The Ancient pagan critic Porphory likewise designates the gospels as ‘Mythoi’ and points out similarities to the dying-and-resurrecting god Aristaeus whose ‘grave’ is discovered empty just like Jesus; Porphyry likewise lambasts the gospel authors’ fictive Sea of Galilee (only a lake in the region, he says) which, if true, is a larger invention than a historical Jesus would be!
Though none of these sources precisely say ‘Jesus did not exist,’ in saying the gospels are mythological, these critics, for all we can tell, may have been mythicists or open to the idea of mythicism and it would be overly presumptive to assert they were not, given such statements. In combination with the skepticism of the historicity of the dying and rising god Zalmoxis from Herodotus, all of this builds firm plausibility for mythicism from ancient sources.
I’m not going to bother making an exhaustive list as this is sufficient to out any liars claiming there is no evidence for mythicism. Go forth and ignore any apologists you catch using such a lie.
Special thanks to Joel Pearson for allowing me to repost this writing of his with my own modest edits and additions -NRC.