Even Otto Pfleiderer, an advocate of the mythical thesis almost one hundred years ago, agrees here. He points out that myths cannot provide the direct cause for the resurrection appearances to the disciples, for these occurrences were real experiences linked to historical facts and not legendary parallels.^15
Other problems also abound with this legendary thesis, examples of which can only be briefly mentioned here. It is common for the similarities with the mystery religions to be reported without also noting the great differences between them and the origins of Christianity. Again, Pfleiderer acknowledges the validity of this concern.^16 For example, Wells notes the pagan mythical deities who were said to
13 For one list, see Amedee Brunot, “The Gospel Before the Gospels,” The Sources for the Life of Christ, ed. by Henri Daniel-Rops, transl. by P.J. Hepburne-Scott (New York: Hawthorn, 1962), pp. 110–114; cf. pp. 114f.
14 Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man, p. 91.
15 Otto Pfleiderer, The Early Christian Conception of Christ: Its Significance and Value in the History of Religion(London: Williams and Norgate, 1905), pp. 157–158; cf. pp. 77– 78, 102.
16 Ibid., pp. 153–154, 159.
have returned to life on the thirdday, without mentioning those believed to have regained life on the first, second, or fourth days.^17
Even more persuasively, there is no known case of a mythical deity in the mystery religions where we have both clear and early evidence that a resurrection was taught prior to the late second century AD, obviously much later than the Christian message. Whether or not the mystery religions borrowed this aspect from Christianity is not the issue. Rather, it would appear fruitless to charge that the earliest believers were inspired by such later teachings.^18
Further, the mystery gods were not even historical persons. This is certainly in contrast to the early Christian insistence that its beliefs have solid, factual underpinnings.
Lastly, scholars now realize that there was very little influence from the mystery religions in first century Palestine. Michael Grant notes that this is a major problem with Wells’ thesis: “Judaism was a milieu to which doctrines of the deaths and rebirths of mythical gods seems so entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit.”^19 Other scholars agree with this assessment.^20
4.Late-dating of the Gospels
A fourth major problem in Wells’ thesis is his late-dating of the Gospels, in conjunction with his belief that no New Testament source prior to AD 90 links the death of Jesus with Pilate. Such dates for the Gospels may have been popular in the nineteenth century, but are abandoned today by the vast majority of critical scholars, and for good reason. Although it is not in the scope of this book to take an in-depth look at the dates of the Gospels, most critical scholars date Mark about AD 65–70, and Matthew and Luke about AD 80–90, which is about twenty to twenty-five years earlier than Wells’ dates. John is usually dated at the end of the first century (AD 90–100) rather than in the second century. Some even accept dates earlier than these, but the vast majority of critical scholars differ with Wells’ conclusions.^21