Christ myth theory  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Christ myth theory (also known as the Jesus myth theory and the nonexistence hypothesis) is the hypothesis that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical person, but is a fictional or mythological character created by the early Christian community. Some proponents of the hypothesis argue that events or sayings associated with the figure of Jesus in the New Testament may have been drawn from one or more individuals who actually existed, but that those individuals were not in any sense the founder of Christianity.

Arguments in support of the theory emphasize the absence of extant reference to Jesus during his lifetime and the scarcity of non-Christian reference to him in the first century. In determining how early Christians viewed Jesus, proponents prioritise the New Testament epistles over the gospels, on the basis that many of the epistles pre-date the gospels. Some proponents contend that Christianity emerged organically from Hellenistic Judaism, and draw on perceived parallels between the biography of Jesus and those of Greek, Egyptian, and other gods.

The history of the idea can be traced to the French Enlightenment thinkers Constantin-François Volney and Charles François Dupuis in the 1790s. Notable proponents include Bruno Bauer in the 19th century, Arthur Drews in the early 20th century, and G.A. Wells, Robert M. Price, and Earl Doherty more recently. The theory remains essentially without support among biblical scholars and classical historians.

Jesus was the Jewish manifestation of a pan-Hellenic cult

Some critics have maintained that Christianity isn't founded on a historical figure, but rather on a mythical creation. This view proposes that the idea of Jesus was the Jewish manifestation of a pan-Hellenic cult, such as Osiris-Dionysus, which acknowledged the non-historic nature of the figure, using it instead as a teaching device. Author Brian Branston has argued that Christianity adopted many mythological tales and traditions into its views of Jesus. According to Branston these traditions, largely from Greco-Roman religions, have parallels to the story of Jesus.

The position that Jesus was not a historical figure is rare among Bible scholars. Opponents of the Jesus Myth hypothesis, such as James H. Charlesworth, caution against using parallels to with life-death-rebirth gods in the widespread mystery religions prevalent in the Hellenistic culture to conclude that Jesus is a purely legendary figure.


Osiris-Dionysus, Dionysus

The story of Dionysus, son of the Greek Olympian God Zeus, has been seen by several writers as containing parallels to the story of Jesus. Harris writes in his book Understanding the Bible that

"...the myth of Dionysus foreshadows some later Christian theological interpretations of Jesus' cosmic role. Although Jesus is a historical figure and Dionysus purely mythological, Dionysus's story contains events and themes, such as his divine parentage, violent death, descent into the Underworld, and subsequent resurrection to immortal life in heaven, where he sits near his father's throne, that Christians ultimately made part of Jesus' story. Like Asclepius, Heracles, Perseus, and other heroes of the Greco Roman era, Dionysus has a divine father and human mother. The only Olympian born to a mortal woman, he is also the only major deity to endure rejection, suffering, and death before ascending to heaven to join his immortal parent. The son of Zeus and Semele, a princess of Thebes, Dionysus was known as the "twice born.""

Harris claims Dionysus also parallels the life of Jesus as he and Demeter gave humanity two gifts to come into communion with the divine: grain (or bread) to sustain life and wine to make life bearable. The Athenian playwright Euripides (485-406 BCE) writes in his The Bacchae:

Next came the son of the virgin. Dionysus.
bringing the counterpart to bread. wine
and the blessings of life's flowing juices.
His blood, the blood of grape,
lightens the burden of our mortal misery...
it is his blood we pour out
to offer thanks to the gods. And through him.
we are blessed.

Harris alludes that "long before Jesus linked wine and bread as part of the Christian liturgy the two tokens of divine favor were associated in the Dionysian tradition. In the Bacchae (worshippers of Bacchus, another name for Dionysus), Euripides also has the prophet Tiresias observe that Demeter and Dionysus, respectively, gave humanity two indispensable gifts: grain or bread to sustain life and wine to make life bearable. Tiresias urges his hearers to see in Dionysus's gift of wine a beverage that brings into communion with the divine.

See also

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