Help with mythicist claim!

(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

According to this video, Jesus scores twenty points in the Raglan hero pattern, whilst real people score much lower. How true is this. And how would you respond?

(Lynn Munter) #2

Just because elements that make up good stories, or good heroes, are rare in real life doesn’t mean that our stories aren’t based on real life. We know King Arthur was based on a real person, and he scored high on that too. I think most legendary figures, even pagan gods, were based somewhere on actual people.

This guy doesn’t seem very convincing to me. Arguing that Jesus is too much of a perfect hero to be real is basically another argument from incredulity, and I’m not even sure I’d grant all 20 of those points he did.

Was the story of Jesus embellished in some ways over the years? It would be shocking if it hadn’t been. But does that mean he’s fictional? Hardly.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #3

There is also Mithradates of Pontus. Known to be real, yet he scores even higher than Jesus. So maybe this isn’t strong enough evidence for a mythical Christ.

Elsewhere he seems to parrot the false claim that Jesus was a purely spiritual being in the mind of Paul. I’m tempted to call this a PRATT or Argumentum ad Nauseum.

(Steve Schaffner) #4

I would cite this article, which points out all the changes that have to be made to the Raglan hero pattern in order to make Jesus fit it.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #5

There are three main reasons why I see a historical Jesus as probable:

  1. He was crucified, a terrible move for PR if Jesus was simply made up by Christians, given how crucifixion was seen as a highly demeaning punishment. If Jesus simply evolved from existent traditions this also fails, since there was no precedent for a dying Messiah in Second Temple Jewish literature.

  2. Josephus’ mention of James the brother of Jesus. I often see this passage glossed over by mythicists, who focus on the more well known Josephan passage. It was quoted by Christians too early in Christian history to be an interpolation. It couldn’t have been a High Priest called ‘Jesus Ben Damneus’ (as is claimed by some mythicists) because this Jesus was 1) called Messiah, a title never given to high priests, and 2) Josephus was careful to distinguish between two people who held the same name, if he meant Jesus Ben Damneus, he would have made it clear. This Jesus then was unique, mentioned in contemporary sources and shares more than a few similarities with the Jesus of the gospels. We can safely say then that a messianic figure called Jesus, who had a brother called James likely did exist in first century Judea.

  3. He was said to be from Nazareth. Accounts of the Bethlehem Nativity are contradictory, and generally held to be ahistorical, likely invented as an attempt to shoehorn his birth into Biblical prophecy. This fact is somehow given by mythicists as “evidence” for their cause, Yet one must ask why the gospel writers would go through the trouble of making up this story, The simplest explanation is that Jesus really did come from Nazareth (Not Bethlehem, as was prophesied) in real life, and this fact was embarrassing to early Christians.


Reggie, I would suggest considering @glipsnort’s comments. The claim of Jesus scoring ‘high’ on the Rank-Raglan scale derives from Richard Carrier’s book On the Historicity of Jesus. Glipsnort pointed you to Daniel Gullotta’s paper in the JSHJ (Brill), the first published response in an academic journal to Carrier’s book (which was actually released in the last month). Gullotta examines a number of Carrier’s claims, including his use of the Rank-Raglan scale. I have read this paper.

The relevant part of the refutation of Carrier is on pp. 340-344. First, he notes that modern scholars simply do not use the Rank-Raglan scale because it is quite Euro-centric and ethno-centric, and instead they opt to use other reference classes that are more rigorous and take into account that cultural and temporal context of each story/narrative/person in question. Thus, Carrier’s use of the Rank-Raglan scale is bad methodology to begin with. Gullotta also notes that if any of these other reference classes were used, Jesus would never score high enough to qualify as myth.

Secondly, Gullotta notes that Carrier actually significantly alters Rank-Raglan’s original criteria in order to make it fit better with Jesus. For example, while one of the original Rank-Raglan criteria for a myth was that the person in question ‘becomes king’, whereas Carrier alters it into ‘crowned, hailed, or becomes king’ in order to include Jesus. Another of the Rank-Raglan criteria is ‘mother is a royal virgin’, whereas Carrier reproduces it much more ambiguously as ‘mother is a virgin’ in order to include Jesus. In fact, Gullotta shows that Carrier alters a significant number of the criteria, and that if we actually use Rank-Raglan’s original reference class, Jesus actually doesn’t qualify. Thus, the only time we ever see Jesus actually qualifying as a myth according to this reference class is when Carrier alters a significant number of the criteria so as to allow Jesus to qualify. Gullotta remarks that Carrier never informs his readers that he has alterd the criteria, nor has he explained why he has done so.

So, in conclusion, the Rank-Raglan reference class is not ideal to use in the first place, and scholars prefer other reference classes, all of them if used would show Jesus is not a myth. Furthermore, even if we use the Rank-Raglan class, Jesus still doesn’t qualify. The only time Jesus ever qualifies as a myth is when Carrier modifies the Rank-Raglan class in a significant number of ways. This is enough to show the entire argument is disingenuous and another of Carrier’s confections in place of his lack of evidence for his thesis.

Carrier responded to Gullotta’s paper on his blog. It’s very unconvincing. For example, when trying to respond to Gullotta’s exposing of him by showing he actually modified the Rank-Raglan class to make Jesus fit into it, Carrier claimed he was “improving” it! LOL. Suffice it is to say, this is a ridiculous argument when critically examined. You should consider reading Gullotta’s paper in full.

(EDIT: I will reproduce this post under the comment section of the YouTube video you offered)


I watched only a minute this video; it’s time I’ll never get back. But I will say that we have different criteria for evaluating people from antiquity. And even in more recent times a mythology of sorts develops about a historical person (e.g. George Washington chopping down the cherry tree).

(Igor Terleg) #9

Gullotta’s review is behind a paywall, but there’s also a good takedown of Carrier’s treatment of the RR scale here:

(OTOH the guy seems overall convinced by Carrier.)


Thanks. I’ve already read that one