I'm going to write a post about this article on this very site: catholic.com/thisrock/2008/0803fea1.asp I was directed to this article by LukeK, and I'd like to spend a little time explaining how it actually supports -- rather than refutes -- the argument that the Gospels are myths.
First, a caveat: a prerequisite to participating in this thread is that you do not advance what I call "The Matrix argument," which I have thoroughly debunked here: forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=485473
If you intend to respond to this thread with something like, "Bah, evidence! You don't even have evidence that there's a world outside of your mind!" then I encourage you to read my other thread and respond there. Those of you who are sane -- and not first-year college students in love with the premise to a so-so Keanu Reeves movie -- are invited to read on.
The overview: My claim is that there is insufficient evidence to accept that the magical parts of the Jesus stories are true.
It is possible (actually, quite probable) that there was a person upon whom the Jesus stories were based, a person who was a charismatic moral teacher and who was executed for being a political rabble-rouser. Thus, I am saying that there is a good chance that Jesus "existed" in the same sense that King Arthur "existed" -- that is, there probably was an historical individual who served as the basis of fantastic stories of magic. The historical figure probably existed, but there is insufficient evidence to say that any of the magical elements of the story ever happened.
But, but, I hear you all saying out there...don't we have the Gospels??
The Gospels, you see, are documents written by anonymous non-eyewitnesses decades (at the earliest) after the supposed events occurred. There's not a single contemporary eyewitness account of Jesus, nor a single piece of evidence that confirms any of the magical parts of the story.
On top of this, there is the additional fact that we know that eyewitness testimony is insufficient to establish claims of the supernatural: all of us reject certain supernatural claims supported only by eyewitness testimony. There are, for example, countless cases of people -- people who are alive today -- who claim to have been abducted by aliens or who claim to have experienced psychic phenomena. In many cases, there are mutliple people who claim to have experienced one particular abduction or psychic phenomenon.
The eyewitness testimony of these people is insufficient to accept these claims -- so, obviously, anonymous non-eyewitness testimony written decades after a supposed supernatural event is insufficient to accept that the supernatural event took place.
Let's see what the article on your website has to say about all of this. The argument really begins about halfway into the article: the article states that since the text of one of the Gospels claims that the author is reporting historical fact, "[The Gospel's] historical content should be judged not against tales of unicorns and Easter bunnies, but against other first-century works of history and historical narrative."
And this is fair enough -- but before moving on, let's note that the article consistently uses the term "the author" when describing whoever wrote the Gospel in question. While the article never explicitly admits that the Gospels are anonymous, its tendency to refer to the author of a particular Gospel as "the author" combined with its open admission that scholars date the Gospels from various times within the first century (and decades, at the earliest, after the supposed events) confirms that the author of this article, Carl Olson, knows and implicitly agrees with the scholarly consensus that we don't know who wrote the Gospels.
Ancient Histories and Magic
The article says:
Those supernatural elements—especially the miracles of Jesus and his claims to divinity—are, as we’ve noted, why skeptics call the Gospels "myth" while remaining unruffled about anything written about Julius Caesar and the Rubicon by Velleius Paterculus, Plutarch, Suetonius, and Appian.
The article then goes on to make the astonishing following claim:
Yes, Suetonius did write in his account (Lives of the Twelve Caesars) about "an apparition of superhuman size and beauty . . . sitting on the river bank, playing a reed pipe" who persuaded Caesar to cross the river, but it has not seemed to undermine the belief that Caesar did indeed cross the Rubicon on January 11, 49 B.C.
In the first place, no one questions that Caesar crossed the Rubicon because of the strength of the evidence we have for it, including documents written personally by the people involved (Caesar among them!) and the subsequent history of Rome, which reflects the outcome of the event.
But in the second place -- and this is the truly baffling part -- Olson admits that ancient histories sometimes contain magical elements (such as an apparition appearing to Caesar)...and he admits (implicitly) that no one takes the magical parts seriously...yet he still appears to be saying that we should accept the magical parts of the Jesus stories.
Yes, the fact of the matter is that ancient histories describe magical and supernatural happenings that we, today, do not accept. Read histories of other Roman emperors, Roman generals, and other charismatic leaders...you might be surprised at how much magic is ascribed to them.
These ancient cultures were steeped in superstition, and it's not at all surprising that accounts of a great, charismatic teacher would have supernatural elements attributed to them. The article is proving my point for me here.