|Hi Ian,I heard that the Christian story was just a mashup of myths that were around at the time. Virgin birth, miraculous healing, rising from the dead – all in the air waiting to plucked and placed into the perfect religion. One of my super-Christian acquaintances at college said if that the devil wanted to counterfeit the truth he would tell a credible lie. He didnt seem to realize that argument cuts both ways. I think the devil made him say it. Got anything to add?
This has been a theme in religious studies for some time, influenced by the new field of anthropology. A guy named Joseph Cambell perfected the art of describing every religion in terms of symbolic myths, because of cause there cant be any real truth in it… Well it suits anthropology to narrow its gaze like that, but reality is bigger than any one field of enquiry. This guy takes a torch to look at the claims of myth-making. Follow the links if you want to follow his argument:
The stories about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, as reported in the 27 New Testament documents, were all written down within 70 years of Jesus’s death. In fact, most of the documents were written within 50 years of his death. Given that average life expectancy in first century Palestine was around 30 years, this means that, conservatively, most of these documents were written within two generations of Jesus’s death.
Many skeptics of Christianity claim that even 50 years is enough time for myths and legends to completely obscure the central facts around the life of Jesus. Skepticism runs the gamut from “Jesus never existed” to “we know only a few trivial facts about Jesus and nothing more.”
Can we test the rate of myth-making in the ancient near east? Maybe we can. The famous historian A. N. Sherwin-White addressed the issue of whether the central facts around a historical event could be obscured by myth-making in his book Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. Sherwin-White identifies the work of ancient Greek historian Herodotus as a means to test myth-making. Why Herotodus? Sherwin-White explains:
Is if fair to compare Herotodus to the Gospel writers?
Can modern historians extract accurate historical facts from Herotodus?
How, then, can we use Herotodus to test the tempo of myth-making? We’ll cover that in part 2.
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