Religion Magazine

Three False Christs: The Myth, the Mortal, and the Gur

By Stjohnpa @faith_explorer

by Carl E. Olson

Albert Schweitzer, in the opening pages of his famous and influential 1906 book The Quest of the Historical Jesus, wrote, “And so each subsequent epoch in theology found its own ideas in Jesus, and could find no other way of bringing him to life. Not only epochs found themselves in him. Each individual recreated him in the image of his own personality.”

Examples abound:

  • Many atheists insist that Jesus didn’t even exist or that, if he did, he is either lost in the mists of time or misused by Christian zealots.
  • Rationalists tend to depict Jesus as a philosopher of good or questionable abilities and intentions.
  • Socialists often present Jesus as a protoMarxist and liberation leader whose struggle was ultimately political, not religious or spiritual. Other leftists paint a portrait of Jesus the community organizer or community agitator.
  • Denizens of the New Age realm regularly equate Jesus with Buddha and speak of “Christ-consciousness.”
  • Some Christians speak of a friendly, all-inclusive Jesus who hardly warrants interest, let alone worship, while others preach a Jesus who is judging and angry and hardly warrants charity, let alone discipleship.

Some of these “Christs” are simply false; some are, more specifically, also heretical. “Every heresy has been an effort to narrow the Church,” wrote G. K. Chesterton in St. Francis of Assisi. Likewise, these heresies seek to narrow the person of Jesus Christ. Here, then, are three popular depictions of Jesus Christ that are not only flawed but dangerous to one’s intellectual and spiritual health.

Jesus the Myth

The belief that Jesus Christ never even existed but was the creation of early Christians is increasingly common but also increasingly crude and crack-brained. It is summed up well enough by the skeptics at “Christianity was the ultimate product of religious syncretism in the ancient world. Its 

Three False Christs: The Myth, the Mortal, and the Gur
emergence owed nothing to a holy carpenter. There were many Jesuses but the fable was a cultural construct.”

The claim of syncretism is standard and has found its way into all sorts of popular fiction and entertainment, most notably The Da Vinci Code. The nonfiction The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light, written by former Anglican priest Tom Harpur, is a good example of an attempt at putting a scholarly veneer on the enterprise. Harpur argues that Christianity is almost entirely derived from ancient mystery religions–especially Egyptian–and based around Horus, the son of the goddess Isis. In turn, Harpur often draws upon the work of Gerald Massey, a 19th-century freethinker, who posited that true Christianity was thoroughly Egyptian in origin and Gnostic in theology. Harpur concludes that a human Jesus never existed but was created by a corrupt, power-hungry hierarchy, a recurring theme in such literature.

The roots of this approach go back to the 18th century, when Charles Francois Dupuis (1742-1809) wrote The Origin of All Religious Worship, one of the first attempts to show that all religions, including Christianity, are essentially the same and that Jesus was the mythical creation of early Christians drawing upon pagan myths. This This position gained currency in the United States in the late 1800s with the publication of of The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors(or Christianity before Christ), written in 1875 by Kersey Graves (1813-1883). Jesus, the book asserted, was not an actual person but a creation based on earlier stories of deities or god-men saviors who had been crucified and who descended to and ascended from the underworld. Graves, born into a Quaker family, was an atheist who employed spiritualism to gain insights into historical events and personages. His methods and findings have been thoroughly discredited–even by many atheist scholars–but his book continues to …(Read the entire article here)

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