The Failures of Exploring Reality’s Attack on Jesus Christ Mythicism

In this article, I respond to Exploring Reality’s YouTube video titled “Did Jesus Exist? The Failures of Mythicism.” It was released on Sept. 18th, 2021, and has a runtime of 25 minutes and 21 seconds.

I don’t know whether or not there was a historical Jesus, but I am interested in the topic. I’ve been thinking about doing these videos for awhile and decided this would be my first. Let me know if you think I got anything wrong or if I missed anything in my presentation.

Having a small, not-yet-monetized YouTube channel and working towards becoming a full time YouTube educator are two things that Exploring Reality and I share in common. We also share interest in some of the same topics. For these reasons, I formally invite Exploring Reality to get on camera with me to discuss anything from this video that he disagrees with or that he wants to clarify. If he doesn’t want to continue the discussion, no worries. My hope is that this video will help him conduct research of a higher quality in the future. My other hope is that people can learn from this video and rest assured that they’re getting solid, evidence based information.

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Chapters

The original video can be split up into 5 main chapters. I’m going to go through these one by one.

0:00-4:57 – Introduction

4:58-10:27 – Mythicist Argument 1: Nazareth Didn’t Exist

10:28-15:23 – Mythicist Argument 2: Gospels Are Highly Problematic Historical Sources

15:24-19:16 – Mythicist Argument 3: Gospels Are Filled With Legendary Material Not Meant To Be Read As Historical Narrative

19:17-25:21 – Mythicist Argument 4: The Gospels Are A Rehashed Old Testament

Introduction

@0:48 – “While it is a fringe view that is not taken seriously in the academic world, there are few in academia who do hold the view.”

He contradicts himself here by saying the academic world doesn’t take mythicism seriously in the same breath as saying part of the academic world does take it seriously. He would have been better off saying that most of the academic world doesn’t take it seriously, but some do.

When he said this, he showed pictures of Dr. Richard Carrier and Dr. Robert M Price. Carrier has a PhD in Ancient History and Price has a PhD in the New Testament. More on this later.

@0:55 – “And a large amount of internet skeptics who hold this view as well.”

When he said this, he showed pictures of Godless Engineer (GE), The Atheist Troll (TAT), and Derek Lambert (DL). GE is a mythicist. I don’t know TAT that well so I can’t speak for him. I do know DL well and know he’s not a mythicist. I did drop a comment about DL and Than edited the description to say “CORRECTION: I had a picture of Derek Lampert in the video saying he was mythicist. I was mistaken about that so PLEASE ignore his picture I’m here as I was mistaken. Thank you!”. He botched Derek’s last name but at least he owned up to the mistake.

@1:10 – Three things he said he will cover:
1 – “Mythicist Arguments”
2 – “Historical Methodology”
3 – “Positive Case for a Historical Jesus”

He only covers part of one of these in this video.

@1:11 – “So, did Jesus exist? Did Julius Caesar exist? Did Cicero exist? Socrates or Aristotle or Mark Anthony? It seems like nobody questions whether or not these people existed. So why is it that Jesus mythicists dispute that Jesus existed?”

Things are not always as they seem. I’ve questioned, and I know many others who have also questioned, whether or not those people really existed.

@1:40 – “Skeptics like to say that we don’t have the originals of any of the Gospels for the New Testament. And they also like to say that we don’t have any historical records of Jesus from his days. Funny enough, they are right. But it’s also true of virtually everyone who lived at this time. Including powerful and important figures such as Pontius Pilate and Josephus, a Jewish historian. So why arbitrarily assign a higher standard of evidence for the historical Jesus?”

The Pilate Stone is dated to the days of Pontius Pilate and the works of Josephus are dated to the life of Josephus. Why he said otherwise, I don’t know. I’m interested in hearing his argument but he didn’t include one in the video. The assertion was thrown out there without any citation.

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Mythicist Argument 1: Nazareth Didn’t Exist

@5:33 – He showed a quote from Carrier’s book:

“One would expect to find evidence supporting the historical existence of not just any-old Jesus. Rather, one anticipates learning the evidence supporting the existence of a Jesus who lived in a place called Nazareth at the turn of the era.”
Dr. Carrier (2013)

The quote is attributed to page 381 of Dr. Carrier’s Bart Ehrman and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (2013).

@5:38 – “Now what’s astonishing to me is that a PhD like Richard Carrier would say “Nazareth never existed”.”

Where exactly does Carrier say this? The quote above has a book title and page number included so people can check where exactly the quote originated. Why wasn’t the same treatment applied here to the much more sensational claim that Carrier said Nazareth never existed?

@5:44 – “There are several lines of reasoning I’ve seen him and others use to argue that Nazareth never existed and the majority of which are just arguments from silence.”

@5:59 – He mentions that arguments from silence are considered logical fallacies. I wonder what his thoughts are on the burden of proof and strawman arguments.

@6:06 – “So his claim that there is no evidence of Nazareth is false to begin with. So now the question is what kind of evidence do we have for Nazareth?”

Where does Carrier claim that there is no evidence of Nazareth?

@6:24 – The first piece of evidence he mentioned was announced in 1962. It’s one of three marble fragments that were allegedly discovered in the same year on an excavation site in Caesarea. Fragment A is the one with the Hebrew word for Nazareth inscribed on it. It was a unique find because it’s the only known mention of Nazareth in an inscription. Also, aside from the Gospels and the so-called “pilgrims’ texts”, it was the earliest known mention of Nazareth.[2]

This “Nazareth inscription” could be evidence for the existence of Nazareth around 70 CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple. As far as proving that Nazareth existed at any point in the ancient world, this could possibly be evidence. It does date at the earliest to the late 200’s-early 300’s, but this dating is anything but certain.[3, p.176] If we grant this dating, this could be considered evidence reporting an event about 130 years after it had occurred. Which isn’t ideal but it does put the name in existence at the turn of the 4th century.

However, a case has been made that Jerry Vardaman is responsible for organizing the creation and discovery of the inscription. He was an assistant to the director of the dig and was responsible for the section in which Fragment A was found. I’ll have to look into this more before casting any final judgements, but Jerry has been accused of bribery and forgery unrelated to this 1962 discovery.[4] If it does turn out to be fraudulent, then it wouldn’t be any type of early evidence for Nazareth.

@6:35 – “Funny enough, this has only been confirmed by later discoveries.”

He says this after mentioning that some Jewish priests and their families had to relocate after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. So @6:35, he makes the claim that this event took place and was confirmed by later discoveries. Due to discoveries being plural, at least two would need to be presented to substantiate this claim. Possibly one is presented, but even that is up for debate.

@6:39 – “For example, in 2009, the first Nazarene home dated from Jesus’ time was excavated by archeologists.”

The dating was a 200 year window that included the C1st BCE and C1st CE.[5] This might confirm the relocation event, but it’s not anywhere certain that this house was related to that. Does it prove Nazareth was a real ancient city? Maybe. But again, to my knowledge, Carrier doesn’t argue that Nazareth never existed, which makes this whole section against Carrier’s alleged argument nothing more than a strawman.

@6:59 – He shows a picture of Dr. Ken Dark and falsely attributes a quote to him. The quote belongs to David Keys. He wrote an article published by The Independent in April 2020 where he talks about Dr. Dark’s research. Dark is quoted in the article, but Exploring Reality didn’t use any of those quotes. Unlike the book and page number citation given to Carrier, this quote didn’t have any citation aside from Dark’s name.

@7:30 – A quote attributed to Yardenna Alexandre is shown with no citation. It can be found in [6]. It’s not evidence for post-Jewish war events.

@8:04 – Another David Keys quote is falsely attributed to Ken Dark.

@9:01 – “Now, the default reaction for those like Carrier when they’re confronted with this evidence for Nazareth is then to say that Nazareth just wasn’t that big.”

Is there any example of this happening with Carrier? Where exactly has this happened with anyone?

@9:22 – A picture of Dr. Carrier is shown next to a quote attributed to his book “On the Historicity of Jesus”. No page number included this time.

@10:13 – He showed another quote attributed to Ken Dark. Yes, the quote does rightfully belong to David Keys.

To summarize, this was about 5 and a half minutes of attacking an argument wrongly attributed to Dr. Carrier.

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Mythicist Argument 2: Gospels Are Highly Problematic Historical Sources

@11:12 – He listed 4 of the reasons mythicists allegedly give for why the Gospels are highly problematic historical sources. No citation was given for these 4 reasons.

1 – No original MSS

2 – Anonymous authors

3 – “Discrepancies and contradictions”

4 – Non-historical information is included

@11:55 – He showed a quote from Bart Ehrman with book and page number citation. This quote goes to support reason #4 above.

@12:21 – He showed another quote from Ehrman with book and page number citation.

@12:30 – He says “…we might not have the originals…”. Does anyone argue that we do? If he’s going with consensus scholarship, then he would accept that we for a fact do not have the originals, which supports reason #1.

@12:41 – Another Ehrman quote is shown but no book or page number was included this time. The quote comes from the paragraph after the Obama analogy.

@12:47 – “What about the accusation that we don’t know the authors of the Gospels? Again, I will argue for the traditional authorship at some point in this series but for now I’m going to operate on the assumption that we don’t know the authors of the Gospels. It seems to me that this accusation is irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus lived. The debate on whether or not Jesus lived is done on many other grounds that are not related to the authorship of the Gospels.”

I did find it odd that he didn’t mention Ehrman maintains anonymous authorship, given that it’s in the very next paragraph after the “planet” quote. This is Ehrman agreeing with the claim in reason #2, even if the conclusion differs. So far the claims in reasons #1, 2, and 4 are confirmed as supported by scholarship that has been shared in his video.

As for relevancy, it is a relevant piece of information. Knowing who wrote what, when, where, and under what circumstances is a core part of putting these texts into context. To call all these details irrelevant is an unwarranted handwave. Regardless of the debate being done on other grounds, it’s done on these grounds too.

@13:30 – Reason #3 becomes the focus. Exploring Reality claims it’s irrelevant and then gives an analogy. The fact of the matter is that the Gospels do contain discrepancies and contradictions, from Jesus’ birth family’s lineage to what was written on the Cross when he died.

@14:10 – Reason #4 becomes the focus. The claim was already supported by Ehrman earlier on in this part of the video. The conclusions differ but the claim in the reason does check out.

He uses discrepancies about George Washington as an example but this isn’t a very strong example because the evidence we have for GW outweighs the evidence for Christ by a landslide. Do we have anything written by Jesus? No. We have hundreds of letters written by GW.[7] This is just one example of the difference in historical evidence between the two people.

To summarize, this 5-ish minute long part shows that mythicists use the base facts of scholarship and arrive at a different conclusion on whether Jesus existed. Both historicists and mythicists for the most part agree on the 4 points. They only disagree on what can be concluded from those points. I think a historical Jesus is possible, but I also think that these are reasons to be skeptical, and to want more context before generating any serious convictions for a conclusion.

Mythicist Argument 3: Gospels Are Filled With Legendary Material Not Meant To Be Read As Historical Narrative

Isn’t this basically just reason #4 from the last part?

@15:37 – He summons Dr. Robert M. Price to the stand. He says Price says “because there’s so much legendary speak of Jesus, he did not exist”. Where exactly does Price say this? No citation was given.

@16:16 – He accuses Price of abusing the criterion of dissimilarity.

@17:39 – Where does Ehrman say Price is abusing that criterion? Or any scholar for that matter?

@18:53 – He says it’s unlikely Christians would make up the humiliating crucifixion. What literature exists on things C1st Jews and Greeks found humiliating? I’d be interested in reading some of it.

@18:58 – “We have multiple independent sources that corroborate each other on this story.”

What are these sources?

This 4ish minute long segment wasn’t sourced at all.

Mythicist Argument 4: The Gospels Are A Rehashed Old Testament

@19:48 – A quote from Ehrman is shown with book and page number citation. Why couldn’t this luxury have been afforded to any or all of the claims under the Argument 3 part?

@19:55 – A quote from Price is shown with book and page number citation, but only the “Christ-Myth Theory” part of the title is shown, and it’s misspelled too. I ignored the misspelling of Carrier’s book earlier because misspelling happens, but due to it continuing to happen, I figured I’d point it out. The full title is “The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems”.

@21:42 – Thompson’s “The Messiah Myth” is shown in a picture. I haven’t read this book, but from a quick search for info on it, it appears he argues that the Biblical Jesus didn’t exist. It’s unclear to me if he argues that there was no historical Jesus that inspired the writing of the story of the Biblical Jesus.

@24:20 – “In summary, the arguments that Mythicists will make against the Gospels as evidence for a historical Jesus fall incredibly short and are fallacious. We’ve covered a vast majority of the arguments and shown how they fall short and implications of their lines of logic.”

Where’s the complete list of mythicist arguments? If only 4 is the vast majority, it can’t be that long of a list.

My own summary for this video is that Exploring Reality started off poorly by wrongly claiming Derek Lambert to be a mythicist. He continued missing the mark by attacking a strawman argument, wrongly attributing quotes to Dr. Dark, and not including citations for important and/or sensational claims. I don’t think he showed that all the mythicist arguments fall incredibly short or that they are all fallacious.

The Comment Section

Exploring Reality and I had a short back and forth in the comment section under his video. When I dropped the comment, I had only watched the first minute or two of the video. The topic about relevant fields for assessing the existence of a historical Jesus came up during our chat. Here’s a screenshot of that:

To say all that shortly, ER claimed Ehrman said that expertise in ancient history is irrelevant in this debate. When I asked where, ER provided a link where Ehrman said:

“There is no scholar in any college or university in the Western world who teaches Classics, Ancient History, New Testament, Early Christianity, any related field, who doubts that Jesus existed.”

Here Ehrman lumps ancient history in with the related/relevant fields, thereby proving ER to have been wrong (again). This means Dr. Carrier and Dr. Price have degrees in relevant fields.

Closing Thoughts

Carrier

I did reach out to Dr. Carrier on Facebook to see what he thought was the best argument for Mythicism and he quickly responded to tell me that Mythicism is best supported through a cumulative case argument, that is multiple arguments working together. To say it in his own words:

“It isn’t possible to argue for that conclusion from any single premise. One needs a combination of at least two: the oddness of Paul’s letters and the inability to extract any verifiable history from any other extant sources.”

Exploring Reality didn’t mention Paul’s letters as being key to any of the Mythicist arguments. Chapter 2 focuses on the Gospels being problematic historical sources, but none of the 4 reasons argue this due to unverifiability. In my personal opinion, if you want to argue that someone is wrong about something, you’ll benefit from critiquing what that person thinks is the best argument for their case. Maybe ER will do this in a future video.

Godless Engineer

I chatted about Mythicism with Godless Engineer and Vided Rhino on The Sunday Show on July 4th earlier this year. You can listen to my appearance which starts around the 53 minute mark in the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOFwUi2gsfc&t=3965s). Godless Engineer argued that Paul’s letters were the best argument for Mythicism. So if Exploring Reality wants to engage with arguments made by proponents of mythicism, I would say Paul’s letters would be the place to start. Given that both Carrier and Godless Engineer mention them in what they think are the best arguments for the Mythicist position.

Let me know what you think of my response to the video. Did I miss anything? Did I get anything wrong? I want to hear your thoughts.

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References:

[1] – Exploring Reality. “Did Jesus Exist? The Failures of Mythicism” (18 Sept. 2021). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVbRLvrSkN0&lc=UgxeUqusuigPTrgLWxV4AaABAg.9TUdq1zBr0i9TUqJNPUtvy. Accessed 14 Oct. 2021.

[2] – AVI-YONAH, M. “A List of Priestly Courses from Caesarea.” Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 12, no. 2, Israel Exploration Society, 1962, pp. 137–39, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27924896. Accessed 14 Oct. 2021.

[3] – Leibner, Uzi. Settlement and History in Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Galilee: An Archaeological Survey of the Eastern Galilee (Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism). First Edition, Mohr Siebeck, 2009. https://books.google.com/books?id=bsxkXam_QzwC&dq=%22The+inscription+was+dated+by+Avi-Yonah+to+the+third-fourth+centuries+on+the+basis+of+paleographic+considerations.+These+parameters,+however,+are+of+doubtful+value+when+it+comes+to+stone+engraving%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s. Accessed 14 Oct. 2021.

[4] – René Salm. Scandal 9: The 1962 forgery of the so-called “Caesarea inscription” (Uploaded Nov. 4, 2013. Updated June 30, 2014.). http://www.nazarethmyth.info/scandalnine.html. Accessed 14 Oct. 2021.

[5] – Hadid, Diaa. “First Jesus-era house discovered in Nazareth” (21 Dec. 2009). https://phys.org/news/2009-12-jesus-era-house-nazareth.html. Accessed 14 Oct. 2021.

[6] – Keys, David. “New archaeological evidence from Nazareth reveals religious and political environment in era of Jesus” (17 Apr. 2020). https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/archaeology/jesus-home-town-nazareth-archaeological-discovery-research-a9470716.html. Accessed 14 Oct. 2021.

[7] – Library of Congress. George Washington Papers. https://www.loc.gov/collections/george-washington-papers/about-this-collection/. Accessed 14 Oct. 2021.

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