The Trick of Euhemerus

Everybody agrees that almost all the gods and their divine agents—angels, miracle workers, and all the rest of them—are fictional characters. Osiris, Romulus, Dionysus, Zalmoxis, Mithras—none of them are divine or even historical. I say “almost all” because, of course, for some gods and their agents people make an exception. These exceptions just happen to be the divine beings in which they believe. The ones in which they don’t believe are obviously false.

None actually existed

Jesus—like Osiris or Romulus—was a remarkable figure in history because of the remarkable acts he is said to have performed and that occurred around him. Some say that we must not attribute to him all those supernatural abilities; he was, after all, an itinerant preacher with a message, like so many preachers of his time and place. It was only later that the supernatural stuff got tacked on. That’s how myths grow, right? Like a game of telephone.

Actually, no. It often goes like this: Zoroaster hallucinates a conversation with the angel Vohu Manah; Muhammad hallucinates a conversation with the angel Gabriel; Joseph Smith hallucinates a conversation with the angel Moroni; Saul of Tarsus hallucinates a conversation with the angel Jesus; etcetera. It is only later that the myth is historicized and humanized, or, after the Greek mythologist Euhemerus, euhemerized—myth masquerading as history.

So Jesus was just a preacher among many with no particularly compelling message. The secular historians who are sure of his historicity insist on this. Stripped of all the impossibilities, this is what we’re left with. But surely he existed, right? The historians readily admit that the gospels that tell us his biography were written decades after he lived, without the benefit of any records, and that they are contradictory and wildly fictitious. Yet none of the other dozens of preachers’ lives were recorded or embellished. Like Jesus, they don’t appear in any contemporaneous historical records because they also were unremarkable. To be sure, they had friends and family, but it didn’t matter. They are lost to history along with nearly every other human being who actually lived.

Why would we know about somebody like Jesus so many decades after he died when we don’t know about the dozens of others of his time and location? Somebody would have to do something very remarkable to stand out from the pact. Like miracles. But, like real magic, miracles are impossible. People don’t walk on water or through cast spells whither fig trees. Demons don’t possess pigs. The sun doesn’t go out for three hours without somebody noticing. Ditto all the graves of Jerusalem opening up and spitting out the walking dead.

Sure, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. By why would we know about this particular poor preacher and not others? We wouldn’t. That’s why we don’t know about them. If the myth comes first, and it is a myth this a dying and rising god that is very appealing to people of that day (and still to this day), then it is just a matter of historicizing the myth, creating a biography of a man and inserting him into history—like Osiris. That’s especially easy when there’s no records that could attest to him actually existing—like Osiris. All of this goes on without anybody noticing until almost a century after he supposedly lived. That’s ample time to manufacture a person to fit the myth, a myth that just happens to claim that the word was made flesh. Roswell. The Cargo Cults. But with state backing.

Euhemerus was a Greek mythographer at the court of Cassander, king of Macedon.

Robert Price put it this way: one builds a comic book around Superman not Clark Kent. You only know about Clark Kent because he’s Superman. Superman’s the draw. Clark Kent humanizes him. You put Superman in history to help the audience suspend their disbelief. He fits into the background until he stands out as a hero. The remarkable against the mundane. But Superman is fictional. Just like Clark Kent.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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