In the wake of my release of my ebook “The Origins of Christianity and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, the daring Danish scholar Dr. Christian Lindtner has come for with a bold statement regarding academia, the Christian church and the mythicist position.
Dr. Lindtner received his PhD in Buddhist Studies from the University of Copenhagen in 1982 and has spent some 30 years studying ancient texts in Sanskrit as well as other languages.
In her most recent essay, “The Origins of Christianity and the Quest for the Historical Jesus”, the American scholar Acharya S /D.M.Murdock argues, forcefully and boldly, in favour of the thesis that Jesus was not at all a historical person, but rather – as so many other sons of God in those days of old – a personification of the Sun.
In support of this point of view – one that she is not the first to advocate, but for which she deserves credit in graciously attending the advocacy – she adduces Christian as well as non-Christian sources, primary as well as secondary. Unremittingly, she reminds her readers of the fact that nearly everything that is said or written about the Jesus called Christ, had already at an earlier date been reported about the Buddha – or the Buddhas (too many to count), about Krishna, about Horus, about Prometheus, and, indeed, about numerous other now less known mythical figures.
That this is actually the case, no scholar familiar with Hellenistic religion and syncretism will be able to deny. Should he venture to deny, as some still do, then his colleagues can only deplore his ignorance of the relevant sources. Should anyone, moreover, wish to claim that Jesus – as opposed to so many other sons of God – is a historical person, then that defender of the old faith has a very heavy burden of proof resting upon his shoulders.
Our theologians, as a rule, simply postulate that there is no reason to doubt that Jesus was or is a historical person. There may be doubt, they admit, about the nature of that person, about the credibility of the evangelists in certain details etc., but about his existence, no, no, there can be no doubt.
Such a stand is apologetic and anything but scientific. An appeal to mere faith is an appeal to sheer ignorance.
Under such circumstances, our professional historians of religion would be expected to raise a storm of protest. They do, as a rule, fail to protest, and their failure is nothing short of a disgrace. Educated historians ought to enlighten and warn the public that there is neither solid external or internal evidence in support of the claim that Jesus was in any way a historical person.
Did Jesus really exist? – the question is not a new one. The great German theologian, Adolf Harnack once (back in 1909, before he became von Harnack) called it “the embarrassing question”, i.e. embarrassing for those who raised it (viz. Kalthoff, Jensen, Drews). We must now say that von Harnack got it wrong. The question is now embarrassing – and even more so now than then – for those who fail to account for the lack of external and internal evidence, and for the parallels that are now much more numerous and close than they were in 1909. (Adolf Harnack, “Hat Jesus gelebt?” in: Aus Wissenschaft und Leben, Zweiter Band, Giessen 1911, pp. 167-175.). Above all, new Buddhist sources, in Sanskrit, have provided numerous literal parallels, i.e. direct loans.
The reason for clinging to the myth of Jesus as a historical person is, I assume, double: First of all, it is not easy to rid oneself of old and inveterate misconceptions. Such struggle not only requires freedom of mind but also personal courage – both are rare at a time where a higher Classical education and civilization with emphasis on human character have been banned from our universities and now are but remnants of brighter days.
Then there is the fear of loss of livelihood. If the story of Jesus is merely a solar myth – then our priesthood will have lost all its credibility. Who can make a living by talking about the Sun?
The edifice of Christianity – in any form it may be – rests on a ground of nonsense neatly summarized in the Apostles’ Creed – that the mother of Jesus, who went to hell, was a virgin etc. etc.
If the thesis that Jesus is a mere solar myth is correct – and who is there to rebuke its validity on solid scholarly grounds? – then this must have serious consequences not just for conscientious Christian individuals, but also for a society that considers itself to be Christian in this or that respect.
The Danish church – not unlike other Lutheran or reformed churches – considers itself to be fairly “open and broad, ” I am told. But is it “open and broad” enough to give room for the view that Jesus never existed, and for infidels taking that stand?
In Denmark (and elsewhere) we recognize and allow other religions, provided they do not violate certain rules or standards of decency and decorum – reflecting a Classical, and not at all a Christian tradition, I may add. The concept of decency or decorum may not be altogether clear to a modern mind, but no matter how we agree about definitions, it would be hard to leave out honesty and truthfulness from that definition. How can we have decency without honesty?
If, thus, honesty and truthfulness be recognized as natural and essential parts of decency and decorum, it follows, surely, that our professional professors of theology, along with our bishops and our priests find themselves facing a difficult dilemma: Either they must, openly and boldly, step forward to defend their honour and refute the thesis that Jesus be merely a solar myth, or they must, should they choose to remain silent, fear the disgraceful charge that their lack of honesty – not to speak of “Lutheran boldness” – makes them violate the standards of decorum and decency.
In other words: If our professional theologians do not respond and come up with strong arguments against the thesis of Jesus as a solar myth, then they will, day by day, transform the church and Christian society that for centuries have provided them with even more than their daily bread into institutions the nature of which is increasingly infested by dishonesty and lack of decency – until the day of the final and total collapse of the ancient myth.
Christian Lindtner, PhD
November 22nd, a.D. 2009