Well … Bart’s comments on the historicity of the gospels strikes me as a bit strange. He says outright that the only reason that some people don’t consider the gospels to be historical is because they are “in the Bible”. Really. “.. the Gospels of the New Testament are separated from all other pieces of historical evidence and given a different kind of treatment because they happen to be found in the Bible”. And, with this statement he immediately pegs his opponents as reactionary wackos without actually discussing their arguments. As far as I’ve ever seen, the gospels aren’t considered history because they are the miracle filled story of god walking around on earth. And nobody seems to reject the Epistles as being historical documents, even though they are in the Bible, since the, you know, the central characters are human beings. So, the accusation doesn’t really seem to hold up. Bart’s stance on this almost seems to be a hold over from fundamentalism (that atheists just reject “the Bible” and have no real reason to not believe in gods).
How to interpret the gospels seems to be a key aspects of the Christ Myth theory, from what I’ve seen. And Bart doesn’t even really discuss the issue. He just pushes it aside, then moves right on along. That’s a bit disappointing for me, because modern scholars method of digging out the “kernel of truth’ in a story filled with miracles is one of the things I’ve always wondered about. Without an actual method, what can they use other than an outright rejection of the supernatural? Even the Apocalyptic prophet model Bart accepts of Jesus is supernatural in some sense, since the knowledge of the coming end was gained through supernatural means. And passages that do not contain miracles might be told simply as a narrative bridge, to teach a moral lesson, or simply explain an event or opinion held by the church.
I’m not saying that a method of finding a plausible scenario from miraculous stories isn’t available, just that Bart doesn’t mention one. Using models of New Religious Movements developed by anthropologists and sociologists attained through empirical observation, we can see that many movements have indeed sprang up because of apocalypticism in one form or another, usually breaking off from a pre-existing religion. They can either die out when ‘the end’ doesn’t happen, or they can re-double their proselytizing and survive. But, unless Bart actually mentions this, it’s hard to know if that’s what he’s using, or if he’s other critical methods. Or, just repeating things he’s heard other scholars say with no idea as to the reason.
He does describe the typical issues with language in some Biblical sayings, that some, because of the words and sentence structure that they use, seem to have originated in Aramaic, while others seem to have originated in Greek. That’s neat, but it really only shows that the sayings in Q and the gospels where gathered from a multitude of sources, not that a guy named Jesus said them on a hill top. Bart seems to imply that it’s proof positive that the gospels began as an oral history.
All in all, I’m finding the book disappointing. The Christ Myth theory is interesting, even if I don’t ultimately accept it, and Bart seems to glance past the issues that it brings up, rather than actually discussing them. It appears as if Bart’s got a bunch of prepared speeches and he constructed this book by pasting them together. The letters of Papias and Ignatius are probably the most convincing pieces of early evidence,but there’s only a couple of pages devoted to them, with not actual discussion of how strange the Ignatius story is.
I’m not sure if this book will work for most people or not. I don’t think it will convince any real Mythicists (those that have actually studied the issues). But, some people take the mere existence of a debunking book as being proof, whether it does the job or not.