The Mything Person Department

Tom Flynn

Was there a historical Jesus of Nazareth? Or is he best understood as, pardon the expression, a mything person? Infidels, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and humanists have been divided for hundreds of years now over whether the scriptural figure of Jesus has some historic veracity (if never as a god-man, at least as a man) or whether Jesus Christ is as utterly fictional as are so many of the claims Christianity has made on his behalf.

In two recent issues, Free Inquiry published critiques of mythicism—the position that Jesus was wholly mythical—by independent scholar/activist and former Center for Inquiry staff member Bill Cooke (“Why Secular Humanists Should Abandon the Myth Theory of Jesus,” December 2016/January 2017 and “The Mythical Jesus Argument: What’s the Key Issue?,” October/November 2017). In this issue, three advocates of the Christ Myth position fire back.

Robert M. Price and David Fitzgerald respond specifically—and forcefully—to Cooke’s objections. Michael Paulkovich focuses on a curious attack upon his own mythicist stance that he only became aware of well after its publication. None other than Bill Cooke closes the section with an essay that summarizes his objections to mythicism.

Why won’t mythicism—and its opposite, the scholarly “quest for the historical Jesus”—go away? Aren’t both those who contend that Jesus never existed and those who insist that he did, well, “mything the point”? And yet over generations, scholars and advocates on both sides have found this vexed question irresistible. What more conclusive proof could one ask for either for, or against, the notion that Christianity’s message rests on some firm foundation? “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain,” declared the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15:14, KJV). Never mind being resurrected, how much more certain are Christian preaching and Christian faith in vain if Jesus never even was? Conversely, what Christian apologist would not be overjoyed to obtain sure, objective knowledge that there truly was a man Jesus—to be able to cow doubters and heretics with the conviction that, if nothing else, every person can be sure that this fundamental reed on which so much of the Christian enterprise rests is incontestably genuine?

The mythicism/historicity debate has long continued with no resolution in sight. It would be foolish to hope that this mini-symposium in Free Inquiry would bring this dispute to a close. (Further, having showcased both sides of the debate in this issue, we plan not to carry more articles relating to the controversy for a while—would-be authors of rebuttals, you have received fair warning.)

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).


Was there a historical Jesus of Nazareth? Or is he best understood as, pardon the expression, a mything person?

This article is available to subscribers only.
Subscribe now or log in to read this article.