I have been arguing with an assortment of sceptics on a message board, many of whom can be described as "Jesus mythers." The pure Jesus myther is one who believes that Jesus did not exist as a man in history, but was made up as a fictional character. Who made him up and why can get very complex. The other major requirement for being a myther is the belief that in some sense Jesus is patterned after the dying/rising savior gods of the ancient world such as the Hours from Egypt and the Turkish Attis, and Persian/Roman cult Maitra (Mithras). The problem is, it is hard to find a pure "Myther." Most scpetics will begin to argue about Jesus and our knowledge of him, but when push comes to shove will admit that "I think he probably existed, but we don't know much about him." What I find is that most people can't keep stairght what the argument is about. They confuse arguments for Jesus as a man in history with Jesus as the son of God and both of those issues with the idea that the New Testament has no authority historically, but is a pack of lies. I find that most sceptics are very confused and have no clear understanding of these issues, but their agenda is such that they embrace anything that assists in destroying Christianity.
The mythers and quasi mythers both have little sense of history. Most of them have no idea what historians do or why they arrive at the conclusions that they do. In place of a true understanding of historiogrophy they have placed the evening News. Their basic argument is just that, where is Jesus on the 6:00 news? There is no tarnscript of the ancient world from the local news that speaks of Jesus in an up-to-the-minute way, so there must not have been a Jesus. "There is no contemporary record of his existence." Well, we can show that the basic sotry that makes up the Pre Markan redaction was used by all four Gospels, and that it was circulating as early as AD 50, that's just 18 years after the original events. That closes the gap between the Gospels as we know them in their final form and the original events in an amazing way. The mythers, however, are not impressed. They demand evidence from during Jesus life time and from the every same time as the events were "breaking." This is the evening news syndrome. They seem blissfully unaware of how remote everything was back then and how slow the news would have spread..
There are many reasons why we don't have a lot of contemporary records of Jesus' doings. He wasn't important to anyone elite enough to write until years latter after his followers became numerous enough to start going to Rome. Rome was the center of everything, Jerusalem was a backwater for which the Romans could not have cared less.. Jesus was not important enough in a worldly way, to the elites and the powerful people, to be the subject of contemporary writing.The writers whose works were important enough to survive that era were mostly in Rome, or a few other places like Alexandria, but not Jerusalem and certainly not Galilee. Yet the mythers and their confussed coheart of skeptics trnslate this lack of evening news immediacy into what they think is an iron clad argument that Jesus didn't exist. Had existed, they reason, he would have been on the evening news. Most of Jesus' followers were illiterate and poor, but this doesn't even phase the mythers. With no sense f history all they know is, everything that is important is on the evening news.
The news argument goes hand in hand with the general argument "there's just no proof Jesus existed." The problem here is that to achieve a "proof free zone" around the topic they to get rid of the major artifact that proves Jesus existed, the New Testament. They accomplish this setting up phony criteria, criteria that real historians think is silly, and then using that to just totally ignore the NT completely. Any attempt to bring the NT into the argument is met with "that's by biased people who had visions and believed in supernatural so it has to be wrong." I brought all of this up to the historian from whom I was TA, a few years ago when I first began doing apologetics on the net. This man has a big name reputation and he is a well respected historian, Cambridge educated.He said to me "why spend your time arguing with idiots?" This guy was not a Christian, he was an atheist. He thinks the Jesus myther thing is stupid, and so do most real academic historians, and he explained why: Because the same criteria they use to dismiss the NT could be used to dismiss 90% of what we know about the ancinet world. Historians do not see a mythological source and say "O that' can't have any truth in it because it's mytholgoical." No, this histoiran told me of reports of battles in which gods fight with men and it is said that so many people were in the battle that it was more people than lived on earth at that time. But historians do not decide that the battle didn't happen! they do not rule out sources just because they are infected with mythology. Most ancient world sources were biased, had visions and were polemical and religious, which is all the major criteria through which the mythers write out the New Testament. The supreme irony is that the very sources the mythers use to argue for the pattern of dying/rising savior god, which suppossedly undergirds the Jesus story, comes from these same kinds of soruces, people who had visions and were believers in supernatural and myth, polemical and religious.
In his book Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, Atheist historian Michael Grant completely rejected the idea that Jesus never existed.
This sceptical way of thinking reached its culmination in the argument that Jesus as a human being never existed at all and is a myth.... But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. Certainly, there are all those discrepancies between one Gospel and another. But we do not deny that an event ever took place just because some pagan historians such as, for example, Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms.... To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ myth theory. It has 'again and again been answered and annihilated by first rank scholars.' In recent years, 'no serous scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus' or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.
Speaking of their being no proof, there is cerainly no proof for the Jesus myth hypoethesis. There is no tone single soruce anywhere before the ninteeth century who ever suggested that Jesus didn't exist. He's proven to have existed alright, many times over, no one ever denied it! There is no a shread of proof for any of the Jesus myth world view because it requies one supposition after another all of which are unfounded, such as a quasi Christian type group going before Jesus time whcih would have the motive to make up such a figure.The author of this theory of Jesus fiction is Earl Doherty, no formal crednetials in Biblical studies, who has championed the cause of Jesus mythism. Doherty quotes Helmutt Koster as an authoirty, but Koster says outright "do not conclude that there was a cyncial or stoic hellinism in Galilee, and that's exactly what Doherty bases his view upon. So he can't follow the adivce of his own sources. The theory also requires that myth run backwards, it must move from an abstraction based upon idealized types and an etherial nature, to a concrete history made up latter to cover for the etheral backdrop. This is totally contrary to any example of mythology. So the mythers have absoltuely no basis for their views, no evidence to back it up, the whoel things is based upon argument from silence and doubious connections and bait and switch to ignore the major Christian evidence. But what's a little hypocracy for a skeptic?