Readers who spend much time on the internet know there is a lot written on the popular level on this topic; namely, that Jesus / Christianity was just the newest manifestation of standard paganism. I know of only one “real” academic (Tom Harpur) who defends this idea, which should tell you how idiosyncratic it is. There are no doubt others, but that handful against thousands (again) tells you that there must be reasons why the vast majority of scholars of all persuasions don’t buy the idea.
The problem is basically a methodological one. This 1955 (and so somewhat dated) Harvard Theological Review article by Bruce Metzger would give readers some insight into the methodological problems and errors involved in the “pagan Christ” view. Some of it requires knowledge of Greek, but not much. You’ll see the logical disconnects. Metzger, for those who don’t know the name, was for many years a professor of New Testament at Princeton. His specialty was textual criticism, and his name is nearly synonymous with the field. He died a couple years ago.
Lastly, a couple of recent books deflate much of what’s written on the popular Jesus = a pagan god front. I recommend The Jesus Legend, by Boyd and Eddy, and a more dense work, written for scholars, called The Riddle of the Resurrection; Dying and Rising Gods of the Ancient Near East. This book takes on Frazer’s work (Golden Bough) on dying and rising gods in the ancient Near East and finds the thesis considerably wanting.1
- I had an extra copy of this $60 book to give away to the first person who emailed me for it. It’s gone now! ↩