The Screenwriter’s Jesus: The Storyteller’s Guide to Movies, Myth and Mnemohistory

Jesus on a Boat

“Even if there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn’t one any more. All attempts to recover him turn out to be just modern remythologizings of Jesus. Every “historical Jesus” is a Christ of faith, of somebody’s faith. So the “historical Jesus” of modern scholarship is no less a fiction.” 

Dr. Robert M. Price Jesus: Fact or Fiction

 Unless you’ve been tucked away in a confessional these pasts few years, it is impossible to have missed the Jesus historicity debate raging through Western academia and the Internet. For all the handwringing and vitriol, it could lead to one of the most impactful upheavals of the information age. [1]

While there are those who wonder why it matters, biblical scholars, historians, mythologists and theologians have jumped into the fray for a full on Manichaean donnybrook.

Leading the charge against a conservative consensus of historists who, “claim the prestige of the university while following the rules of the seminary”, is a growing guild of academic upstarts, including: Dr. Peter Boghossian, Dr. Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, Sam Harris, Raphael Lataster, Dr. John W. Loftus, Dr. Matthew S. McCormick, Mark Paulkovich, Dr. Robert Price, and Dr. Valerie Tarico.[2]

To the lay audience, much of the exegesis will sound like Tolkien geeks parsing over passages of The Lord of the Rings, arguing for or against the existence of Hobbits. Upon further investigation, one will find a stimulating debate that is likely to knock the nimbus off the two thousand year old body and church of Jesus Christ.[3]

No longer content to argue messiahhood or divinity, these scholarly skeptics are waging unholy war on whether the person Jesus ever walked the earth, let alone on water.

Applying Bayes’ Theorem of historical probability, Dr. Richard Carrier, the author of On The Historicity of Jesus, rates the chance of a blood and flesh Jesus as low as six percent. [4] So, if you’re betting on the risen Christ vouchsafing your voyage to Valhalla you may want to rethink your odds.

As legions of horrified Christians rise to forefend their beloved savior from the graveyard of the gods, and understandably so, the evidence is so compelling we have to consider whether this is a belief system in its death throes. [5]

Ironically, from the storyteller’s point of view, Jesus is much more valuable to us as myth than as the messiah of faith or star-crossed rabbi of dubious history.

Once recognized as a marvelous creation of humankind’s irrepressible imagination, Jesus may be better poised to save humankind — not from temptation, or the “original sin” of an errant ancestry, but from fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism, and the mesmerizing thrall of magical thinking.[6] [7]

“For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie– deliberate, contrived and dishonest– but the myth– persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forbearers. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy Yale Commencement Address 1962

Indeed, we may yet learn the ‘truth that will set us free’. Not from some expiating act of human sacrifice, but from Jesus’s forensic journey from myth, to historicity and back again.

“It is one of the great lessons of our study [of religions] that for the vulgar, ill- or uninstructed mind, myths tend to become history.”  Joseph Campbell Cooper Union Forum Lectures

[1] Did Jesus Exist? The Trouble with Certainty in Historical Jesus Scholarship | Thomas Verenna -Academia.edu https://www.academia.edu/1825948/Did_Jesus_Exist_The_Trouble_with_Certainty_in_Historical_Jesus_Scholarship

[2] Jack Tsonis’ interview with Professor Dale Martin cited in “Is There a Christian Agenda Behind Religious Studies Departments?” By Raphael Lataster, University of Sydney Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 23 January 2013

[3] Christians need to face the bad news about Christianity http://theweek.com/articles/555392/christians-need-face-bad-news-about-christianity

[4] Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus– April 24, 2012 by Richard Carrier Prometheus Books

[5] From the Internet: Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss: Religion could be largely gone in a generation http://www.salon.com/2014/11/04/cosmologist_lawrence_krauss_religion_could_be_largely_gone_in_a_generation/

Why the Internet is slowly strangling religion http://www.salon.com/2014/11/14/why_the_internet_is_slowly_strangling_religion_partner/ via @Salon

The Internet: Where religions come to die http://youtu.be/0Rqw4krMOug

The End of Christianity John W. Loftus Prometheus Books; July 26, 2011

[6] The Bible: So Misunderstood it’s a sin Kurt Eichenwald Newsweek” “When the illiteracy of self-proclaimed Biblical literalists leads parents to banish children from their homes, when it sets neighbor against neighbor, when it engenders hate and condemnation, when it impedes science and undermines intellectual advancement, the topic has become too important for Americans to ignore, whether they are deeply devout or tepidly faithful, believers or atheists. http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html

[7] Hence it was Suetonius* speaking in the language of his party, who calls the Christians Genus hominum superstionis maleficae, ‘the men of the magical superstition.’

Copyright MCW 2016

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