“Historical Jesus” and the View from Antiquity

If one were to be reductionist, you could say progressive Christian’s tend to present themselves as caring most about the philosophy and teachings of Jesus, while conservative evangelicals care about the historical reality and saving grace of the crucifixion and resurrection events. However, both often place importance on their view of the “historical Jesus”.

In his research, Dr. Richard C Miller has confirmed what others have noted. In antiquity the question, “Did it historically happen?” when it came to confirming spiritual truth was barely on the radar. That question is almost a completely modern preoccupation. 

To summarize part of what he found, based on a sprawling interview:

In all the surviving texts outside the New Testament, of early Christian figures discussing and defending the faith, they do not defend Jesus based on whether something “actually occurred” or not. They did not feel the need to substantiate the resurrection that way. Instead they simply defend Jesus as superior to other figures. 

At the time, missing bodies of a person achieving the status of deification and post-mortem appearances were all the rage. One difference is in the Christian case,  instead of deifying an emperor or person of status, a relative nobody from the backcountry in Jesus of Nazareth receives that treatment.

Dr. Miller goes as far as to argue that from what he can tell by the evidence, the resurrection and exaltation narratives and other motifs were used primarily to support the main meal. The main meal was the worldviews and philosophies of the Biblical and Christian authors and sects. 

In order for Christian worldviews to gain the level of traction they did in the whole Greco-Roman world outside of Jewish circles, it needed the central figure of Jesus to compete with Greco-Roman heroes. Jesus’s resurrection and rise to divinity was necessary to legitimize the whole faith, because it was a common prerequisite in the Greco-Roman mind.

Christianity from the get go was primarily about worldview and teachings. In so far as when the apostle Paul places Jesus’s death and resurrection central, it is in support of his particular theological concerns (such as his view on a general resurrection). He doesn’t actually seem to care about “historical Jesus” or to know anything if much about the “historical Jesus”. He is largely silent when it comes to things like biographical details that could tell us about Jesus’s life and teachings.

Conservative evangelicals and progressive Christian’s, in a time that is becoming both more postmodern and more informed, might to their own detriment focus heavily upon the “historical Jesus” or historicity of events people don’t find convincing anymore. Christians may not have even cared about historicity on that level in the very beginning of the religions construction.

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Niiick's profile picture

Christianity quickly in its earliest days became something removed from any sense of “historical Jesus”. Now we are even further removed from that early Christianity. So the religion is now a shadow that extends far, but for which an original copy cannot be found. The theorist Baudrillard might put it as “simulation and simulacra”

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Niiick's profile picture

This was based on Mythvision’s recent interview videos with Dr. Richard C Miller. Some of them are only on Patreon still but they are being released to the public youtube channel.

Mythvision is such a great podcast for public access to cutting edge scholarship btw. Mythvision along with other associated podcasts the scholars circle in. Derek’s access to scholars he interviews have also led to uncredited online courses that hobbyists like me can take. Check them out.

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