Like the shorter original text of which this book is an expansion, The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus, Earl Doherty's newest effort is an excellent work analyzing the Christian conundrum using finely honed skills of perception as well as extraordinary erudition that stands out on every page. Jesus: Neither God Nor Man - The Case for a Mythical Jesus is a tour de force of scholarship rarely matched by either professional or lay experts. Despite the fact that he is not a professional New Testament scholar or theologian--or, rather, because of that fact--Doherty is able to cut through the often biased and self-interested "historical scholarship" that, in the case of religion, frequently sees common sense and logic sacrificed in favor of blind belief and fervent faith.
As we know from history, faith and belief constantly cloud and color reality in an unseemly manner, and scholarship and academia have suffered badly from this lack of unbiased approach. Fortunately, Doherty has no vested interest in upholding the status quo in order to maintain his vocation, the main reason the field of Jesus mythicism has been populated significantly by outsiders possessing no such investment. It is unfortunate that the hallowed halls of American academia frequently have not transcended their foundations as religious institutions, as was the case with Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Princeton, to name just a few. Yet, it is extremely encouraging that lay scholars like Doherty have stepped up to the plate to present an impartial perspective so that the average person can deal with all the data, rather than what is selectively filtered through partisan institutions.
Doherty's latest endeavor reeks of hard work and penetrating thought processes from the very beginning, as he presents his material in an orderly and professional manner worthy of publication by an academic press such as E.J. Brill, Peeters and Walter de Gruyter. Indeed, august members of the Dutch, Danish and German schools of Bible criticism over the centuries would likely find this oeuvre absorbing and reflective of scholarly integrity.
Laying out the 12 "pieces of the Jesus puzzle," Doherty succinctly expresses the thesis he spends the next nearly 800 pages demonstrating; each of these pieces is factual, logical and scientific, as seen throughout the work. The conclusion--that the "Jesus Christ" of the New Testament gospel story is a mythical figure--is likewise logical and scientific, especially for those who have studied the issue in depth and have seen that there simply is no historical core to the mythological onion and that a composite of numerous "people" is no one. As Doherty understands well, countless books have been written about the "real" Jesus, whom the authors assume a priori to be a historical figure without first establishing the evidence for such a claim. Earl handily demonstrates there is no credible, scientific evidence for this assumption; thus, proceeding from there to sketch a "biography" of such an individual represents treading in murky waters, as honest Christian scholars such as Dominic Crossan and John Meier will admit.
In this carefully crafted work, Doherty raises numerous facts many people will not be aware of, such as that ancient and modern scholarship has cast doubt on the authorship of practically every book in the New Testament--an important fact the average person, especially the believer, has the right to know but which has not been widely disseminated to the masses. Of greatest interest to me, of course, are Earl's discussions of comparative mythology and the purported extrabiblical "evidence" for Christ's existence. Others, such as those Gnostically inclined, will doubtlessly find fascinating Earl's examination of more cosmic concepts such as Christ's perceived existence in non-third-dimensional planes, rather than as a "historical" and material savior. For a skeptic, Doherty has an amazing grasp of these flowery, complex and difficult concepts--certainly one of the best such comprehensions in modern scholarship. Without this context of Gnosticism and Docetism, early Christian history is essentially incomprehensible.
In this massive effort, Doherty shines the critical spotlight on practically every aspect of the gospel story found in the four canonical texts. Whereas my works tend to show parallels in other religions and mythologies, Earl enjoys dissecting the texts themselves, drilling down into the original Greek, of which he has superior knowledge and is well qualified to analyze. He also examines numerous extrabiblical Christian epistles and gospels.
Doherty is most at home when analyzing the Pauline epistles, drawing on an earlier lineage of scholars who recognized there is next to nothing in them indicating a "historical" Jesus. In this regard, Earl correctly identifies that when Paul is speaking of "scripture" and "prophetic writings," he is referring to the Old Testament, specifically the Greek translation or Septuagint. In that book, the word "Christos" appears some three dozen times, and it is evident that, in his revelation of Christ, Paul is building upon so-called "messianic prophecies," not the words or deeds of a "historical" Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, the canonical Christ represents not "fulfillment of prophecy" but, rather, a patchwork of Old Testament "messianic scriptures," amalgamated with Pagan philosophical notions and mythical motifs, along with both Jewish and Gentile wisdom sayings. Christ is, through and through, a literary figure, handily demonstrated in this lengthy book.
The only major weakness I see in Doherty's fine work is his uncharacteristically uncritical acceptance of mainstream dating for the canonical gospels, a position that hinders efforts at determining who could have written them, since their authors were ostensibly not the disciples to whom they are attributed. The fact is that the canonical gospels as we have them do not appear clearly in the historical record until the end of the second century.
Mythicism is to religious studies what logic is to philosophy. Doherty's book represents a major achievement in the long and venerable field of mythicism, standing on the shoulders of or side by side with such excellent and erudite luminaries as the Viscount Bolingbroke, Charles Dupuis, Count Volney, Thomas Paine, Rev. Dr. Robert Taylor, John E. Remsburg, Dr. William Benjamin Smith, John M. Robertson, Dr. Arthur Drews, Dr. John G. Jackson and Dr. Robert M. Price.
--D.M. Murdock is an independent scholar of comparative religion and mythology, and the author of The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled, Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of The Christ and Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection. Raised a Christian, she has been studying Jesus mythicism in multiple languages for some 20 years.