Jesus Always Existed

a place for the best evidence of the historical Jesus

The Raglan Reduction

When it comes to “copycat” Jesus-mythicists, we repeatedly see three errors: Information is often made up or copied uncritically; parallels are often drawn using equivocation; parallels often require questionable use or interpretation of the available evidence. The first and third primary errors are fairly straightforward and require little elaboration. Upon the second, though, one might find a certain raft of complexities afloat, and a fair amount of denial from mythicists that “equivocation” is in fact their game. This most complex of the three errors therefore warrants further discussion.

A Raglan Reduction

One of the modern sources of what we will hereafter call the “Error of Equivocation (EOE), are the efforts of the amateur British scholar Lord Raglan. In a work published in 1934 titled, The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth and Dreams, Raglan laid out a list of twenty-two “incidents,” which were said to occur in the stories of mythic heroes. The inevitable message: Jesus, fulfilling so many of these incidences, fits the mold of a “mythic hero.” Raglan himself was not apparently a full-fledged Jesus-mythicist, but his work has been taken advantage of by mythicists for the benefit of their case.2

Mythicists will claim that a rather significant number of the 22 incidents are applicable to Jesus, with estimates usually in the 18-20 range…but Raglan’s list ends up exemplifying the fallacy that lies at the very heart of the EOE, as can be seen by an examination of each element when attempts are made to apply them to Jesus.3

Hero’s mother is a royal virgin.

“Virgin,” yes. “Royal,” in the case of Jesus, no. Mary, though descended from David, was not of the royalty, but was of the peasant class. Equivocation occurs inasmuch as anyone descended from a royal personage is deemed “royal,” which results in an illicit expansion. Many Jews in the time of Jesus could (or did) claim to be “royal,” in the same sense as descendants of David’s family, on the other hand, many critics of the New Testament claim that both Luke and Matthew are giving Joseph’s line, and neither is giving Mary’s!

There is also equivocation in the use of the term “virgin,” although not as applied to Mary, but as applied broadly to other candidates. We have already seen this in examples of “pagan Christs” in previous chapters. Some analysts even manage to grant this criterion on the grounds that the figure’s mother was a virgin up until the incident of sexual intercourse that produced the hero! In all of this, blatant equivocation occurs as “virginal” is used to classify everything from the act of creative fiat that produced Jesus in Mary’s womb, to the impregnation of Attis’ mother via a piece of fruit carrying divine seed.

I therefore would be hesitant to grant this point at any level, even though “virgin” is correct. So, in keeping score, I will record a “generous” score (allowing as much as possible), and a “restricted” score (allowing only clear matches which do not involve equivocation). A generous score allows for a half-point under the definition of “virgin” (0.5). A restricted score remains at 0.

His father is a king.

The equivocation here is the same as it is when “royalty” is applied to Jesus, whether we are referring to Joseph (who, though descended from David, was of the peasant-artisan class), or to God (who, though called a “king” often in Scripture, is clearly that as a function of being God)…but once again, generosity allows for a half-point; restricted scoring, none. 1.0/0.

His father is often a near relative of his mother.

Mythicists have claimed this one to be true, but it is difficult to see how it is so. Joseph and Mary are never indicated to be related. There is no match. 1.0/0.

The circumstances of his conception are unusual.

What does this mean? Truly, “anything and nothing.” The word “unusual” is so broad as to lack any meaning whatsoever in this context, and this point also overlaps the concepts of Point 1, but since it does at least work out, the point must be granted on a generous scale. 2.0/0.

He is also reputed to be the son of a god.

This matches Jesus, but there is arguably some equivocation in the way this is applied to other candidates, because to be a “son of the gods” would mean very different things to a Jew than it would to a Roman, for example. Inherent within the word “son” is some meaning of how the person became

a “son” (per the “virgin” point). So once again, generosity grants a point; restriction does not. 3.0/0.

At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grandfather to kill him.

The “at birth” criteria may seem to work, save that Matthew’s record indicates that Jesus was at least two years old at the time Herod sent his assassins out to kill Jesus. The “father or grandfather” bit will not work under any circumstances for Herod. 3.0/0.

He is spirited away.

If we assume “spirited away” to mean taken away, we have an indisputable match. 4.0/1.0.

Reared by foster-parents in a far country.

There are three elements here: 1) “foster” parents, which would not apply to Jesus; 2) “reared” and 3) “far country.” These last two leave open doors for equivocation. Though Jesus did indeed spend time in Egypt, it is hard to say that he was “reared” there as his family returned to Judaea within a few years while Jesus was still young. In addition, Egypt would not qualify as a “far” country from Judaea. So no match can be granted, even generously. 4.0/1.0.

We are told nothing of his childhood.

This is false of Jesus, as we are told at least of the Temple incident in Luke at age 12. However, even without this, this point cannot be granted, because the lack of details about Jesus’ childhood is a function of the genre of the Gospels as ancient Greco-Roman biography. Because ancient people regarded personality as static rather than developing, a person’s childhood was considered unimportant; at most, particular events (like the Temple incident) might be reported if they foreshadowed what the person was to become. Only generosity could permit a point here. 5.0/1.0.

On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future Kingdom.

Jesus spoke of his Kingdom as future, but “not of this world,” and he did not “return” or “go” to it on reaching manhood. The Kingdom of God was an ideological one, not a physical kingdom associated with lands and subjects. Only a half-point may be granted. 5.5/1.5.

After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast…

Perhaps Satan would count as one of these, especially given the motif of Revelation, so a match can be granted. 6.5/2.5.

He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor…

Despite The Da Vinci Code, there is no match here. 6.5/2.5.

And becomes king.

The New Testament certainly teaches this of Jesus. 7.5/3.5.

For a time he reigns uneventfully.

It seems difficult to describe Jesus’ life of conflict and travel as “uneventful” unless “uneventful” is defined so broadly as to mean whatever we want it to. No match. 7.5/3.5.

Prescribes laws.

Equivocation occurs here as “laws” is often allowed to describe anything that is taught by the figure. Moreover, prescribing laws is merely a function of becoming a king, and so these two elements do not deserve to be separated. Generosity may allow for a point; restriction does not. 8.5/3.5.

Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects.

There is arguably a match found in Jesus’ flip-flop reception from Palm Sunday to the day of his crucifixion…but here I disagree. The crowd rejecting Jesus before Pilate clearly consisted of Temple functionaries (of which, the priesthood had thousands at their disposal), and not the same group that appeared on Palm Sunday. Generosity allows a match, but a strict historical view does not, at the very least because a clear match of identity is assumed between the two crowds. 9.5/3.5.

Is driven from the throne and city, after which…

Jesus was not driven from any throne or city. The trip outside Jerusalem’s walls was a function of the process of execution, not the deposition of a reigning monarch, and in any event, his kingship would be from heaven; it was not from Jerusalem. 9.5/3.5.

He meets with a mysterious death...

It was certainly a death, but nothing about it was “mysterious.” Crucifixions occurred by the thousand at times in Rome’s history and involved no mysteries. A broader equivocation may point to how quickly Jesus died compared to most crucifixion victims, or to events such as the darkening of the sun that occurred at Jesus’ death, rather than the death itself, but the broader the net is cast the more vague (and therefore worthless) the criterion becomes. “Mysterious” is a broad term that might be called upon to describe virtually anything. 9.5/3.5.

Often at the top of a hill.

This may be granted. 10.5/4.5.

His children, if any, do not succeed him.

Jesus had no children. How some find a match here is hard to decipher, though some do so by pointing to “if any” saying “well, he had none, so this is a match.” This is illicit; the fulfillment requires that children be present, not absent. 10.5/4.5.

His body is not buried, but nevertheless…

Jesus’ body was indeed buried. How a match is found here by mythicists cannot be deciphered, that his body did not stay buried does not create a match. 10.5/4.5.

He has one or more holy sepulchres.

Since the oddity of this lies in the former criterion (“not buried”) being assumed valid (as in not in the actual possession of a tomb), no match can be taken. However, even if granted, the idea of multiple tombs cannot be found until centuries later, when efforts were made to decide in which single tomb Jesus was buried—the NT itself refers to only one tomb. 10.5/4.5.

What becomes clear from this analysis is that application of stricter (indeed, more accurate) rules of interpretation tends to reduce the force of parallels. A corresponding notion is that generous interpretive rules allow for more “hits.” The lack of worth in Raglan’s schema, and others like it (especially as applied by mythicists), may also be exposed by application of the criteria to real historical figures, using the same generous methods of interpretation. Reputedly, Augustus Caesar, whom no one doubts existed, received a score of 10. More damaging is the case made in a parody by an

author named Francis Lee Utley, who in a work titled, Lincoln Wasn’t There, determined that Lincoln fulfilled all of Raglan’s criteria. Of course, Utley was required to perform a certain amount of equivocation to make Lincoln fit, which is precisely the point. The same must be done to make Jesus fit the schema; so likewise must mythicists engage in equivocation to make their case. Let’s see how Utley, with our analysis added, made Lincoln a fit in specific instances, even when the evidence was against him.

The hero’s mother is a royal virgin. The nation of America is of course not a monarchy, so we would expect certain adjustments for this criterion. Lincoln confided to a friend, William Herndon, that his mother Nancy Hanks, was the natural child of Lucy Hanks and “a well-bred Virginia planter.” This is as close to royalty as the Americans came in this period: the aristocratic upper class.

The “virgin” aspect is likewise fulfilled, though with expected adjustments. Lincoln’s age and thereafter was the time of the blossoming of science, and of eminent rationalists such as Thomas Paine and David Hume. A typical “virgin birth” story would hardly have been accepted. What we get on equal terms is reported by Utley. A field interview with a person living in the area where Lincoln’s mother reputedly resided reveals that Nancy Hanks was hired by a gentleman named Abraham Enloe, who had a reputation for adulterous affairs. Nancy was “presumably a virgin before Enloe seduced her.” Furthermore, Nancy became, after Lincoln’s death, a subject of sermons that compared her to the Virgin Mary, and Lincoln referred to Nancy as his “angel mother,” which clearly places Nancy “in the ranks of the supernatural.”

His father is a king. This aspect is covered by the claim that Lincoln’s grandfather was a well-bred member of the aristocratic class.

His father is often a near relative of his mother. Utley notes that Nancy was reputedly related to Robert E. Lee, and that within the culture of the period there were numerous relationships among cousins. It is likely that Nancy was related to Thomas Lincoln, Lincoln’s actual father, or one of the several purported fathers through one of these relationships.

The circumstances of his conception are unusual. The evidence on this account is overwhelming. Over fifteen cities claim to be the birthplace of Lincoln; surely if the man existed, and was so important, such confusion would not have been possible. Moreover, accounts testify that Nancy was of a mystical nature during her pregnancy with Abraham, wandering the fields in a rapt daze, undoubtedly communing with divine powers as Mary and Elizabeth did. Utley also reports the account of the popular writer Tolstoy of

an interview with a Circassian chief who said that Lincoln “spoke with a voice of thunder,” and added that “the angels appeared to his mother and predicted that the son whom she would conceive would become the greatest the stars had ever seen.” Abraham was born as “the worst blizzard in anyone’s memory” raged outside, and would have died had not a neighbor come and rubbed the baby and fed it with turkey fat. One writer says of this: “God came down to the world that February morning” and went with that neighbor. Interestingly, this neighbor’s name was Isom Enlow, a match for one of Lincoln’s putative fathers, Abraham Enloe.

He is reputed to be the son of a god. This is found throughout the literature on Lincoln. A freed slave said that Lincoln “walked de earth like da Lord.” Lincoln biographer Richard Current commented, “[Lincoln] has grown into a protean god who can assume a shape to please almost any worshipper.” This is of course an adjustment for a scientific age, but nonetheless fits.

Utley also notes that a characteristic of a mythical hero is an identification with totem animals. Lincoln was regularly identified in this way. One newspaper referred to him as “a cross between a sand-hill crane and an Andalusian jackass.” Elsewhere he was called the Royal Ape, Fox populi, and Old Hoss, and was also often identified with the hog or pig. One commentator said that Lincoln “sucks flattery as a pig sucks milk.” Hogs or pigs were often the subject of Lincoln’s stories or jokes, and a Senator reputedly remarked that the existence of hogs running uncontrolled around Washington showed that they were favored by Lincoln. Finally, Utley notes that Lincoln’s stature—he was six foot four, among the tallest of men—reflects an aspect of the god-hero.

At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or material grandfather, to kill him…. Utley notes that this is found implicitly in the story of Abraham Enloe, a putative father of Lincoln, who drove out Nancy Hanks after seducing her. Moreover, the story of the blizzard and Abraham’s danger at birth, reveals an enmity with the forces of nature—the secular age’s equal to enmity with the sky gods.

But he is spirited away.... Utley finds that this may be displaced to the time when Lincoln’s body, after death, was stolen. There is also a story, told allegedly by Lincoln himself, of how a “Negro nurse swapped [him] off for another boy just to please a friend....”

Reared by foster parents in a far country... This obviously connects to the above, as the original father, Enloe, was substituted for Thomas, who brought the young Lincoln from Kentucky to Illinois. That isn’t a “far” trip, but given that the nation was much smaller at that time, and that only

untamed wilderness lay beyond, this is an expected practical constraint.

We are told nothing of his childhood. Indeed, we know very little of Lincoln’s childhood. As Lincoln biographers say, “the truth was that Lincoln felt embarrassed about his log-cabin origins and never liked to talk about them.” Lincoln himself said that his early life could be condensed into a single sentence: “The short and simple annals of the poor.” In his own auto- biographical notes, Lincoln “[t]ry as he might...could not remember much about Kentucky, and nothing at all about the log-cabin farm....”

On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom. This is clearly represented by Lincoln’s career in the “kingdom” of politics, beginning in Illinois.

After a victory over a king, and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast…. The rational age had disposed of giants and dragons, so again not surprisingly we have a substitute. Utley notes a work in which Lincoln is symbolically portrayed as the victor over “the Black Dragon slavery,” but more likely this is represented by Lincoln’s many political opponents: Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and other lesser antagonists. Davis in particular fits the mythical portrait of the doppelganger, or the legendary twin. Some thought they had the same father. They also were born in the same state, some say in the same log cabin, and both lost a son (a dynastic successor) during the war. Their wives went to the same dressmaker. The myth is completed by the report that after victory in war against the South, Lincoln took it upon himself to sit in Davis’ vacated chair in the Confederate leader’s office. Stephen Douglas also fits the doppelganger/anti-hero myth. Lincoln was tall; Douglas was short. A newspaper described Lincoln’s countenance as “happy, good-humored,” and Douglas’ as “black and repulsive enough to turn all the milk in Egypt sour.” Douglas also matches the mythical pattern of the enemy-turned-friend, found also for example in the ballads of Robin Hood and Little John, and his debates with Lincoln reflect the myth of the sacred combat, adjusted of course for the times.

He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor.... This is matched in Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, having aristocratic status. We also see in Lincoln’s love life an outworking of the Great Mother archetype, in which the hero is entangled with the affairs of both a white and a dark goddess. The white goddess was Lincoln’s early love, Ann Rutledge, a slim, fair-skinned and fair-haired woman, who died at an early age. Mary Todd easily is seen as the dark goddess, as can be seen in reports of her ill treatment of Lincoln.

It is worthwhile to also note in Lincoln’s alleged past, a story told by him of eloping with a girl in a covered wagon. Utley perceives in this tale a form of the sacred marriage in a processional barge, similar to tales of ancient Egypt and Babylon.

He becomes king. This is quite obvious, as Lincoln became President, the closest office to a king in this period. Interestingly, however, Lincoln was often disparagingly referred to as a king, dictator, or emperor.

For a time he reigns uneventfully. This is also adjusted for culture, matching the time between Lincoln’s election in 1860 and his inauguration in 1861.

He prescribes laws. This is fulfilled not only in Lincoln’s presidential duties, but especially in his production of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Later he loses favor with the gods or his subjects. This is represented in two ways: Firstly, the secession of the Southern states from the Union under Lincoln’s watch. Utley notes the mythical nature of this war, reflected by the peculiar names of its battlegrounds: Antietam, Shiloh (a name with mythical, messianic connotations), Chickamagua, and Bull Run (a clear allusion to mythical bulls); Secondly, by Lincoln’s adversaries within his own administration, such as McClellan and Seward. Utley notes clear clues of mythical dualistic doubling: the freed slave Frederick Douglass, and Stephen Douglas; Jefferson Davis and David Davis, one of Lincoln’s campaign managers; and Ann Rutledge and Archibald Rutledge, who attacked Lincoln’s body after his death.

He is driven from the throne and city. He meets a mysterious death. Often at the top of a hill. All three of these points are merged in Lincoln’s assassination. Utley notes a mythical quality of the anti-hero in John Wilkes Booth. Little is known of Booth’s early life. He reportedly liked shooting animals, including Lincoln’s totem animal, the hog. The “top of the hill” may have been Capitol Hill, but is more likely modernized into Lincoln’s place in a box at the Ford’s Theater, higher than the rest of the audience. Adding to the mythic mix: A parallel to the legend of another myth, that of Jesus Christ. “The time of [Lincoln’s] death is proof positive that we have no real history before us, but a plain syncretic myth. For the shooting was on Good Friday,” the same date as the execution of Christ.

His children do not succeed him. This was fulfilled quite dramatically by the American political system, where leaders are elected, and not part of a dynasty. However, as a compensative match, two of Lincoln’s sons died very early, and a third died with a not much longer life. Only one child survived,

Robert Lincoln, and his life as president of a private railroad company, in which position he denied higher wages to Negro porters, shows him to be the epitome of the apostate. Significantly also, Lincoln’s actual “heir” to the throne, Vice President Andrew Johnson, was also an anti-hero: reportedly he was illiterate, and had to be awakened from a deep sleep after a drunken spree to take his Presidential oath.

His body is not buried. He has one or more holy sepulchres. These two points are fulfilled by the various localities that competed for Lincoln’s tomb. New York, Washington, and Springfield, Illinois all competed for the honor. There was also confusion when Mary Todd (the dark goddess) rejected the original burial plot and chose another. Lincoln therefore had a number of places where his body was not buried and ended up with several holy sepulchres.

Clearly, any schema which can be equitably applied to a real person with such success, with equivocation allowed as needed, is worthless for determining that person’s historicity (to say nothing of what actually occurred in their lives in history). Utley cleverly and accurately captured the technique of the mythicists: Use of broad categories and the contrivance of “development” or “adjustment” for circumstances when the criterion is not accurately borne out.

Terminological Equivocation

When it comes to comparing Jesus with pagan figures, we have seen a number of examples of equivocation, but perhaps three in particular serve best as examples, which we will continue to use in this chapter: The concept of a “virgin birth”—reckoned, as noted, to cover everything from the act of divine fiat that resulted in the creation of Jesus’ body in Mary’s womb, to the impregnation of the mothers of demigods with divine seed—“salvation,” or how a given religion or cult provides an answer to problems; and the concept of “resurrection.” In the latter case, popular usage has allowed “resurrection” to mean any return from death, but that is far from precise enough. “Resurrection” entailed a specific process wherein a dead body was brought back to life and empowered with the energies of God. Mythicists often make use of the popular definition of “resurrection” to include such non-resurrections as that of Osiris into the mix of parallels.

What can mythicists say when charged with EOE? Mythicist Robert Price argues, in essence, “Well, okay, it isn’t exact matches we have, but it’s close enough!”5 Thus eminent Catholic Biblical scholar Raymond Brown, who rejected what Price calls the “truckload of comparative religious parallels to the miraculous birth of Jesus,” because of the significant differences e.g., physical intercourse with gods vs. divine fiat, is answered with the plaintive

plea, “But, we have to ask, how close does a parallel have to be to count as a parallel? Does the mother have to be named Mary? Does the divine child have to be named Jesus?” No, and no one has demanded such a level of precision before a parallel can be drawn. What would be acceptable, merely to begin making a case, is another case of conception by divine fiat—the parallels must be specific, not generalized.

Broadening the concept to “unusual birth” to achieve a parallel between a conception by fiat, and a conception by impregnation with a pomegranate, is clearly generalizing…in the same way Utley did to get “royalty” out of the American upper-class. Indeed, we may once again call upon the person of Abraham Lincoln to make this point more apparent.6

The following list is a popular one which counts eighteen allegedly uncanny similarities between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy:

1. Both Lincoln and Kennedy were concerned with civil rights.

2. Lincoln was elected President in 1860. Kennedy in 1960.

3. Both were slain on a Friday and in the presence of their wives.

4. Both were shot from behind and in the head.

5. Their successors, both named Johnson, were Southern Democrats and both were in the Senate.

6. Andrew Johnson was born in 1808. Lyndon Johnson in 1908.

7. John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839. Lee Harvey Oswald in 1939.

8. Booth and Oswald were Southerners who favored unpopular ideas.

9. Both Presidents lost children through death while in the White House.

10. Lincoln’s secretary, whose name was Kennedy, advised him not to go to the theater.

11. Kennedy’s secretary, whose name was Lincoln, advised him not to go to Dallas.

12. John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in a theater and ran to a warehouse.

13. Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse and ran to a theater.

14. The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.

15. The names Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson each contain 13 letters.

16. The names John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald each contain 15 letters.

17. Both assassins were killed before being brought to trial.

18. Lincoln was shot in the Ford’s Theater. Kennedy was shot in a Ford car. (And, as a matter of was a Lincoln!)

However, more uncanny than this list, is how well it represents mythicist tactics. Certain items are simply erroneous i.e., Booth was born in 1838,

not 1839 (7), and there is no record of a Lincolnian secretary named Kennedy (10). Items like “killed on Friday” (3) are of little significance—the odds of such a coincidence are not that great, first because the odds of being killed any day are one in seven, and second because Presidents, like all of us, are most apt to go out on or around the weekend when they can enjoy themselves and the public can come out and see them. Items like “shot in back of head” (4) are no surprise either; the back of the head is a vulnerable area that is likely to be selected by any assassin (since they won’t do as well approaching from the front). In these we find parallels both to mythicist tendencies to err or make up facts, and to declaring something commonplace like “Jesus and Dionysus both did miracles” to be unusual.

A couple of items on this list rely on some form of equivocation to make an equation. #1, “concerned with civil rights,” seems impressive, until we realize just how vague it is—one may as well say that both were “particularly concerned” with national security (the preservation of the Union, the Cuban missile crisis), and this “parallel” does not even begin to address such matters as the respective Presidential motivations for being “involved” in “civil rights” in the first place. #12 fudges the terminological data: Booth ran to a storage barn, not exactly a “warehouse”!

A creative author could create even more parallels, and that out of real history, by terminological equivocation. Lincoln had asked a strong man named Thomas Eckert to accompany him to Ford’s Theater, but Eckert was busy elsewhere and declined. Kennedy was offered a bulletproof top for the vehicle he rode in, but declined. These two events are barely similar, but to achieve a parallel could be generalized into, “Lincoln and Kennedy both had a chance to protect themselves, but did not do so.”

Again, at Ford’s Theater, a special arrangement had been made for Lincoln’s party. Lincoln and his party sat in a presidential box, a balcony seat. The box was actually two boxes, but a partition had been removed to make way for Lincoln’s full party. Lincoln preferred a rocking chair to the normal seating, and the brother of the theater owner provided one. The box was so high that most of the audience could not see the President. On the other hand, Kennedy rode in custom vehicle, longer than most such models of its type, that also had two jump seats. The rear seat rose over 10 inches at the flick of a switch. Different as these elements are, mythicist imagination would render them both, “Lincoln and Kennedy both had unique seating arrangements,” and declare this to be an uncanny parallel.

If this seems extreme, it is not. Earl Doherty, though primarily a “silence” theorist, has recently defended some aspects of the “copycat” thesis, particularly concerning the use of terminology. Here, he defends the idea of

finding parallels in concepts of “salvation”:

Scholars have gone so far as to question whether the pagan mystery cults should be styled “salvation” religions, an even more drastic attempt at disassociation from Christianity. This, too, we shall look at, though a preliminary response to such a tactical move ought to be the question: if they did not cater to the Hellenistic preoccupation, a signal manifestation of the age, to realize personal salvation to a better life and more glorious existence after death, what could have been their appeal? What made them the premiere religious expression of the period? Why were they regarded with such fervor, such exaltation, by those who became initiates, introduced to such wonders and insights that they regarded their lives and hopes as transformed? (Sound familiar?)7

Doherty’s tactic is manifest: By collapsing down the varied expressions of salvation into a few vague phrases, so general that they can describe all of the expressions accurately, if not succinctly as “better life,” “more glorious existence after death,” “lives and hopes transformed”…he has created a parallel but one without any significance of which to speak. Indeed, remove the words “after death,” and one could as accurately be describing attempts to win the state lottery. Once again, Utley’s parody hits the mark.

Doherty excuses his reasoning by declaring, of baptism for example, “It matters not that there are distinctions between the two expressions in the individual ideas, there is clearly a commonality of underlying basic concepts.” However, that is the very point that “Underlying basic concepts” do not create meaningful parallels. The underlying concept of being “shot in the back of the head” does not create a parallel, for quite practical reasons. Offers of “salvation” do not create a parallel from a “basic underlying concept” because salvation is offered, whatever it is, to adherents as a solution to a common problem (death, and what happens after it). Within that scope of problems, we can only expect a certain range of acceptable solutions, and this is the natural explanation for similarities in “basic underlying concepts.” It does not take “borrowing” charges to explain such things as basically similar answers to the same problem.

Quite independently of each other, Ben Franklin (1706-1790), and a Czechoslovakian scientist and priest named Prokop Divis (1698-1765), invented lightning rods. That they should have arrived at similar designs and ideas is hardly surprising, since the nature of the problem was the same for each. Yet, by mythicist logic that they both arrived at the same “basic underlying concept,” would be sufficient to declare a parallel that required an explanation of influence.

Mythicists often simply quietly pass over or dismiss claims of difference. We have discussed, in some depth in another chapter, the significant conceptual differences between the resurrection of Jesus and the reconstitution of the Egyptian deity Osiris. Doherty mentions none of this, and merely dismisses the issue of what Osiris underwent, and whether it could be called a resurrection, as an “esoteric point,”8 and immediately shifts the discussion to the matter of how Osiris offered benefits in the afterlife. Doherty does his best to put a “reverse spin” on the errors of mythicists in this regard and writes:

Defenders of Christian distinctiveness—if not uniqueness—have often done their best to describe and define the elements of Christianity in ways which present the best face of differentness to that of the mysteries; then they appeal to such differences as ‘proving’ the distinctiveness if not uniqueness of Christianity.10

In saying that “defenders” have “done their best,” Doherty fails—throughout his own defense—to answer the question, “Is it nevertheless true that the elements of Christianity are different in a meaningful way?” Doherty clearly evades this question resorting to terminological equivocation, as for example here when discussing “resurrection”:

I have made the point earlier that there are different forms of ‘resurrection’. All are variants on the basic idea of ‘conquest of death’ by the god, and all have the same result regardless of their differences, namely the guarantee of some form of positive afterlife for the initiate.11

Again, the death-reversals of figures like Osiris are not “different forms” of resurrection. Doherty has merely shifted the goalposts to a more generalized location—“basic idea of ‘conquest of death’”—to create a meaningless parallel. This is the failure of this sort of mythicist argument: It admits the differences are there, but then contrives or changes the rules of what constitutes a meaningful parallel.

It is simply incidental to claim, as Ferguson does, the distinction between the pagan gods’ fate after death with that of Jesus…both are designed to confer the same effect on the believer, which is precisely what actually matters. If Osiris “became ruler over the dead, not the living,” the same can be said for Jesus. The resurrected Christian who goes to heaven is part of “the dead,” and not “the living,” in the sense of the departed from this world, the same as “the dead” pagan. And Christ in heaven is the same as Osiris in the under-world, as both are rulers over “the dead” in that same sense.12 And so on. Doherty merely declares, arbitrarily, the details to be

“hardly significant,” which is a rather odd argument from someone who bases his entire myth-thesis on the premise of meaningful silences in matters of detail! Focus is instead on vaguer, more generalized categories such as “the effect on the believer,” and “the dead,” and “departed from this world”—a parallel achieved by equivocation.

In all of this, Doherty accuses “apologists” of trying to defend a view that Christianity was “dependent, at least in part, on the flavors of the time.” That is perhaps how some have approached the issue, but it is not our answer here…not quite that is. Rather, it is that Christianity was designed to address the problems of the time, and that it might do so (as a genuine solution) in a way that is similar, at a most elemental level, to other religious traditions, and that fact does not require a thesis of “borrowing” or “influence” to be concocted.

Doherty is certainly aware of this answer. He quotes the very same answer from religion specialist (and non-Christian) Jonathan Z. Smith, who identifies the parallels in terms of “analogous processes, responding to parallel kinds of religious situations, rather than continuing to construct genealogical relationships between them….” Doherty’s reply is most instructive: “This is a valid and commendable proposal, but it is also a case of putting the best face on the matter, in that it seems designed to absolve Christianity of the crime of direct borrowing.”13

So, as is typical of many mythicists, Doherty’s final resort is not an appeal to facts or to reason, but to shameless accusation of bias and manipulation for the sake of Christian belief AND even when the person involved is not a Christian! Doherty’s further comment also speaks volumes:

Whether Paul is caught with his hand in the neighbor’s cookie jar or has bought the ingredients in the public market to bake his own, is a distinction that may bring comfort to some, but hardly removes Christianity from the general category of ancient savior god cults, or bestows on it the garland of divine truth.14

Of course, putting Christianity into a “general category” of “ancient savior god cults” is no more problematic or disturbing than placing it into a “general category” of “world religions” today. Nor is placement in such a category relevant to whether or not it, or any other tradition, is “divine truth.” However, for mythicists, whose theory is difficult enough to defend as is, such retreats into the “similarities” found in vague and generalized categories are likely the best that can be done under trying academic circumstances. Perhaps a far more uncanny resemblance than anything

found between Jesus and pagan savior figures is the patently obvious resemblance between comments like those made by Doherty above, and the parodic efforts of Francis Lee Utley!


[1] Several points in this section I owe to a classical scholar who wrote for me under the pseudonym “Justin Martyr." His article may be found at <>.

[2] Most promoters of Raglan’s theories, or of similar ideas, such as Joseph Campbell, tend to assume Jesus existed, but that elements from Raglan’s list were fictitiously added to the story of Jesus’ life.

[3] Analysis is a combination of my own observations, those of “Justin Martyr,” and Mike Licona, Review of Brian Flemming’s DVD ‘The God Who Wasn’t There’, <> Accessed April 9, 2008.

[4] Material concerning Lincoln is derived from a project I composed using four premier Lincoln biographies, as well as from Utley’s book. See <>

[5] Robert Price, Deconstructing Jesus (Prometheus Books, 2000), 89.

[6] This list can be found in many places, but I drew it from <> Accessed April 11, 2008.

[7] <> Accessed April 11, 2008.

[8] Ibid.

[9] <> Accessed April 11, 2008.

[10] <> Accessed April 11, 2008.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. Doherty further builds similarities by appeal to his readings of the NTE in favor of a mythicist position. It might be added that “resurrected Christians” are nowhere biblically described as “going to heaven”—this is modern terminology—and those who are resurrected are emphatically numbered among the living, not the dead.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.