by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S
The terms “mythicism” and “mythicist” may be new to many people, even though they have been around for a couple of centuries. “Mythicist” was first coined in German and English to describe people who doubted the historical veracity of the Judeo-Christian Bible. The word is used these days particularly to define scholars, researchers and others who investigate whether or not the New Testament character of Jesus Christ was a real, historical person or a myth along the lines of the gods, godmen and heroes of other cultures, such as Hercules, Mithra or Horus. Therefore, the word “mythicist” has come into greater currency of late, because of the increasing popularity of one of its main foci: To wit, the evident non-historicity of Jesus Christ.
A mythicist may also question the historicity of other biblical figures such as Adam, Eve, Satan, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon and so on. When the religion and mythology of other ancient cultures are studied, there exists good reason to doubt that these figures are historical, especially since we possess no credible and scientific archaeological or historical evidence for their existence as real people. The Bible is often the only purported proof we have of these individuals’ alleged reality as historical personages.
The Definition of Mythicism
The term “mythicism” as it has come to be developed in the present day may be defined as I have done in my book Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection (12):
Mythicism represents the perspective that many gods, goddesses and other heroes and legendary figures said to possess extraordinary and/or supernatural attributes are not “real people” but are in fact mythological characters. Along with this view comes the recognition that many of these figures personify or symbolize natural phenomena, such as the sun, moon, stars, planets, constellations, etc., constituting what is called “astromythology” or “astrotheology.” As a major example of the mythicist position, it is determined that various biblical characters such as Adam and Eve, Satan, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, King David, Solomon and Jesus Christ, among other entities, in reality represent mythological figures along the same lines as the Egyptian, Sumerian, Phoenician, Indian, Greek, Roman and other godmen, who are all presently accepted as myths, rather than historical figures.
A “mythicist” thus represents in part someone who perceives certain biblical characters as mythical, the same as the gods, godmen and heroes of other cultures. In short-
a person who views various figures of antiquity, including both pagan gods and major biblical characters, as mythical.
Moreover, a mythicist may also recognize the origins of these myths as based in nature worship and what is called “astrotheology.”
The Mythicist Position and Astrotheology
One of the major planks of mythicism is recognizing the ancient astrotheology and nature worship engaged in by the cultures of antiquity whose religions and myths contributed to the formation of the Bible-based, Abrahamic faiths such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam in particular, but other religions as well. This astrotheology can be summed up in a nutshell as the reverence for and personification of the sun, moon, earth, planets, stars and constellations, as well as other celestial bodies and natural phenomena. The study of mythicism, astrotheology and archaeoastronomy reveals a very ancient body of knowledge that is both highly fascinating and far too overlooked in today’s society.
The astrotheological aspect of mythicism may be seen in remarks such as those by the ancient Greek writer Diodorus Siculus (c. 90-21 BCE):
“Now when the ancient Egyptians, awestruck and wondering, turned their eyes to the heavens, they concluded that two gods, the sun and the moon, were primeval and eternal; and they called the former Osiris, the latter Isis…” (Murphy, 14)
Latin writer Macrobious (c. 400 AD/CE) also wrote about the astrotheology of the ancients, asserting that “all the gods of the Greek and Roman mythology represent the attributes of the one supreme divine power-the sun.” In the modern era, archaeologists and archaeoastromers have confirmed this ancient astrotheology in numerous sites throughout the world, as summarized by astronomer Dr. Edwin C. Krupp in his book In Search of Ancient Astronomies:
“At Stonehenge in England and Carnac in France, in Egypt and Yucatan, across the whole face of the earth are found mysterious ruins of ancient monuments, monuments with astronomical significance. These relics of other times are as accessible as the American Midwest and as remote as the jungles of Guatemala. Some of them were built according to celestial alignments; others were actually precision astronomical observatories… Careful observation of the celestial rhythms was compellingly important to early peoples, and their expertise, in some respects, was not equaled in Europe until three thousand years later.”
The mythicist position brings forward the ancient astrotheology as expressed in these numerous cultures and ties it into the more modern religious traditions, which in many aspects are simply rehashes of the earlier religion and mythology of antiquity: To reiterate, Jesus Christ is a mythological character along the same lines as the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Sumerian, Phoenician, Indian or other mythical gods, goddesses, godmen and heroes. This particular field is called “Jesus mythicism,” while its adherents are sometimes (derogatorily) labeled “Christ mythers.”
The History of Mythicism
Although many people may not be aware of the long-term and voluminous studies involved in what is called “mythicism,” the questioning of the Bible as representing mythology goes back several centuries. Much of the major work in this field has occurred in Europe, especially in France and Germany. In France, at the end of the 18th century appeared the multi-volume work of Professor Charles François Dupuis (1742-1809), who put together a massive amount of evidence showing that many of the ancient gods and goddesses were solar in nature and that biblical characters such as Jesus shared numerous aspects in common with these deities. Dupuis was followed by Count Volney (1757-1820), both of whom tutored French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who himself is reported as having stated that it was a “big question” whether or not Jesus Christ really existed.
In the 19th century, these French scholars were followed by Dr. F.C. Baur of the Tübingen School in Germany, along with his pupil Dr. David F. Strauss, who was attacked and lost his occupation for writing a “Life of Jesus” asserting that much of the gospel story was mythical. Strauss practically defined “mythicism” for a time, but was followed famously by Dr. Bruno Bauer (1809-1882), who likewise cast doubt on the Bible as “history.”
Although they brought forth novel notions, Baur, Strauss and Bauer were preceded by many others who stepped out from the shadows of the Catholic Inquisition to voice unpopular ideas that had doubtlessly circulated surreptitiously for centuries. Prior to this seemingly sudden burst of mythicism, there appeared in addition to the voluminous writings published in 1795 by Dupuis, as well as those of Volney, the works of Rev. Dr. Robert Taylor (1784-1844), who spent three years in prison in the late 1820’s and early 1830’s for two convictions of “blasphemy,” based on his popular lectures asserting that Christ was a myth. This punishment did not deter Taylor from publishing a number of books on the subject, including The Syntagma (1828), The Diegesis (1829), and The Devil’s Pulpit (1831). Yet, his ordeal was so infamous and horrifying that it haunted evolutionist Charles Darwin, who feared his own writings would land him a similar fate. Following this brouhaha, in 1840 an individual wisely maintaining his anonymity by calling himself merely a “German Jew” (J.C. Blumenfeld?) published a series of pamphlets in a volume entitled, The Existence of Christ Disproved by Irresistible Evidence.
Strauss and Bauer were also succeeded by the publication in 1841 of The Christian Mythology Unveiled, whose anonymous author later published under the name of Logan Mitchell. Mitchell was followed by lay Egyptologist Gerald Massey (1828-1907), whose monumental works highlighted the comparisons between Christianity and the Egyptian religion. Another earlier scholar who extensively dipped into mythicism was Sir Godfrey Higgins (1772-1833), although he was not a mythicist per se but an evemerist who believed that under all of the mythical attributes of various godmen lay a “real person.”
The Evemerist Position
The evemerist or euhemerist perspective, named for the Greek philosopher Euhemerus (4th cent. BCE), who posited that the gods of old were in reality kings and assorted other heroes who were deified, remains one of the most commonly held opinions regarding Jesus Christ, along with the believing and mythicist perspectives.
Although many people believe evemerism to be a “reasonable” position, often expressing that, while they do not believe Jesus was the Son of God, they do believe he was a “real person,” the fact is that there simply exists no valid, scientific evidence for this “real person,” such as any historical record or archaeological remains. Moreover, when the mythological layers are peeled, there remains no “historical” core to the onion. To paraphrase Massey, a composite of 20 people is no one. Evemerism is generally the result of skepticism as concerns miracles, yet lacking an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the mythicist position.
The evemerist position has been popular enough for a definition to be widely available in dictionaries and encyclopedias, while the mythicist position does not likewise enjoy such widespread recognition. Considering that mythicism was the major thrust of many well respected scholars for centuries in Europe-as well as an interest of several American Founding Fathers and European dignitaries-this oversight would seem to be both contrived and egregious. We hope that this article will help to establish this previously marginalized and ignored position as a viable option worthy of respect and scientific study.
Mythicism in Modern Times
In modern times, there exists a real reluctance within the hallowed halls of academia to delve into mythicism, despite the mountain of fascinating evidence, expressed now and again by individual scholars within a variety of fields. With the treatment endured by Dr. David Strauss, Rev. Robert Taylor and others, this hesitancy may be viewed as understandable. However, the burying of this massive body of astromythological information, which reflects virtually the entire modus vivendi of certain cultures such as that of ancient Egypt, has been at the core of much cultural degradation and loss. The resurrection of this ancient astrotheological knowledge as one of the foundations of mythicism may indeed constitute one of the most important, world-changing events we can strive to achieve, a paradigm shift comparable to that of Galileo.
Despite the pitfalls, more than a few scholars, researchers and writers in the 20th century and today fall within the category of “mythicists” as well. Individuals who continued the mythicist position into the modern era include John E. Remsburg (1848-1919), Dr. William Benjamin Smith (1850-1934), John M. Robertson (1856-1933), Dr. Arthur Drews (1865-1935), Edouard Dujardin (1861-1949), Herbert Cutner (fl. 1950), Dr. John G. Jackson (1907-1993), Dr. Frank Zindler, Dr. Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, Ken Humphreys and others. I myself have three published books specifically about the mythical nature of Jesus Christ, as well as other popular religious figures, while a fourth investigates the non-historical character of the gospels:
The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold
Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled
Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection
Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of The Christ
The first three texts in this list delve specifically into comparative religion and mythology, demonstrating that there is little original or “historical” about the Christ myth as a whole. The last inspects the canonical gospels themselves to see whether they could possibly be considered reliable history. These various approaches constitute the main planks of mythicism in a nutshell, which, again, often highlights the astrotheological origins of the myths, such as I demonstrate throughout my books, articles and ebooks, including:
Jesus as the Sun throughout History
The Companion Guide to ZEITGEIST, Part 1
A popular form of mythicism may be seen also in the first part of internet movie “ZEITGEIST,” which purportedly has been viewed over 100 million times worldwide and for which my work served as a significant source. Comedian and cultural commentator Bill Maher’s “Religulous” also touches upon the subject of the Horus-Jesus comparisons, which serve as a significant basis for the mythicist position and which can be found in my book Christ in Egypt.
The Value of Mythicism
Mythicism has much to offer to those who find it difficult to believe in the gospel story as “history” but who wish to know the deeper meaning behind the story. Indeed, the mythicist position importantly serves as a bridge between theism and atheism, as it does not seek to discount or denigrate the long and exalted history of thought concerning religion and mythology, dating back many thousands of years, as manifested in the religious and spiritual practices of man beginning millennia ago and continuing since then. The pinnacle of mythicist cultures-more specifically those based on astrotheology-can be seen in the massive and mysterious civilization of Egypt, for example. Rather than being ignored and dismissed, such wondrous creations should be explored and treasured as unique and glorious contributions to the overall human accomplishment.
One criticism as concerns the mythicist position is that it has not been taken seriously by mainstream academia because it is “absurd.” But, what is more “absurd,” accepting the fabulous fairytales of a particular culture as “historical” without a shred of credible, scientific evidence, or suspecting these tall tales to be along the same lines as those of other cultures, such as the Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman, which are currently accepted as myths? When it comes to the gods of all other cultures, including those of the ancient religions and extending to those still in currency in “modern” faiths such as Hinduism, Christians and mainstream non-Christian and atheistic scholars alike are in agreement that these entities are myths. Hercules, Zeus, Athena, Neptune, Diana, Ganesha, Hanuman-these are all myths. Therefore, as concerns the non-biblical characters in religions globally for eons, Christians and mainstream scholars are mythicists. It is only the biblical figures who receive special consideration and pleading. In reality, in dismissing mythicism, Christian believers are in effect negating themselves.
Again, mythicism allows us to step outside the theist-versus-atheist box and to value the vast human creation of religion and mythology, without being either antagonistic toward it or believing it as dogma. Mythicism goes beyond the ceaseless theist-atheist debate, in fact, which is in the end futile, since cases for both perspectives can be and have been made ad infinitum, under a variety of circumstances, and since experience shows us that this discussion will never be resolved-except, indeed, in the mythicist position, which neither believes nor dismisses but which understands and appreciates humanity’s longstanding interest in religion and spirituality. The mythicist position does not necessarily accept religious traditions as based in third-dimensional reality and history. Nevertheless, mythicism itself is rooted in reality and is an end product of freethought and scientific endeavors as well as the recognition of profound human imagination and creativity. The mythicist position allows us to create greater harmony by acknowledging and enjoying the similarities and differences in religious traditions founded upon valid evidence grounded in natural phenomena.
Sources & Further Reading
Force, James E. and Popkin Richard H., Essays on the Context, Nature, and Influence of Isaac Newton’s Theology, Springer, 1990.
Jenaische Allegemeine Literatur-Zeitung vom Jahre 1815, IV, Leipzig, 1815.
Matheson, George, Aids to the Study of German Theology, T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 1876.
Murphy, Edwin, The Antiquities of Egypt: A Translation, with Notes, of Book I of the Library of History of Diodorus Siculus, Transaction Publishers, 1990.
Nampon, Adrien, Catholic Doctrine as Defined by the Council of Trent, Peter F. Cunningham & Son, Philadelphia, 1869.
Röhr, Johann Friedrich, Kritische Prediger-Bibliothek, Johann Karl Gottfried Wagner, 1836.
Strauss, David Friedrich, Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet, Verlag von C.F. Osiander, Tubingen, 1835.
–The Life of Jesus, or A Critical Examination of His History, Taylor, Smallbrook, Birmingham, 1844.
–The Opinions of Professor David F. Strauss, as Embodied in His Letter, John Chapman, London, 1844.
The History of Mythicism
Astrotheology of the Ancients
Was Jesus God, Man or Myth?
Evemerist v. Mythicist Position
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