Is the Crucifixion derived from Prophecy or Mythology?
In my humble, non-scholarly opinion, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ either happened precisely as stated in the Gospels, or it is myth. I see no room for a historicized Jesus who was crucified for some crime, and who was later diefied. I think the Bible leaves us with only two hardline options.
I am not impressed with the supposed ‘Messianic Prophecies” of Scripture. The Gospel of Matthew in particular seems obsessed with citing Old Testament passages as foreshadows for the future life and ministry of Jesus Christ. However, most who have studied these passages will come to the conclusion that most are taken out of context, irrelevant, or even in a few cases, misquoted. Messianic Prophecy of the type that Matthew utilizes is extremely unimpressive to me. It is little more than prooftexting and cherry-picking of Scriptures by the Evangelist. As a matter of fact, the book that did grave damage to my Christian faith was Herbert Lockyer’s All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible. That evangelical book showed me beyond all doubt what a smokescreen ‘Messianic Prophecy’ really is.
Now with that said, there is another type of foretelling device used in Scripture that I find much more interesting. That is the ‘similitude’, or ‘type’, or ‘model’, that is, the Old Testament contains episodes that seem to foreshadow events in Jesus’ life and ministry. Depending on your orientation, you will either view these as divinely inspired prophecies, or mere source material for Gospel fiction. Some of these contrived models are too forced, for instance the tri-pillared porch of the tabernacle is said by the eager Dr. Lockyer to model the Trinity of the Godhead. But there are some episodes in the Old Testament that are so close to events in Jesus’ ministry that, in my view, we are left with only two options: either 1) the Gospel events were miraculously foretold by Divine Inspiration or, 2) the Gospel events are nothing more than myth-building, inspired by events in the Old Testament. There are episodes in the Gospels where it is too improbable for a historical Jesus to map so closely to similar Old Testament events by mere coincidence. There are dozens, if not hundreds of examples of this.
Let’s look at one of my favorite examples. The Akedah – the story of Abraham’s offering of Isaac. It is a well-known story, and often used as an example by skeptics of God’s cruelty. But let’s look at how that story inspired a crucial event in the New Testament – the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I will reprint the entire story here – the majority of Genesis chapter 22. Don’t panic – it is not that long. When you read it, see for yourself how closely this story matches the crucifixion story, with Abraham playing the role of God, and Isaac that of Jesus Christ.
Genesis 22 (New King James Version)
1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
Sorry, ‘only son’? What happened to Isaac’s older brother Ishmael? Apologists will state that this is by design. Does this verse sound familiar? Of course it does. Compare it to John 3:16.
3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
Why did God have Abraham travel so far to carry off this event? The land of Moriah is traditionally placed near Jerusalem. This event, along with Zechariah 9:9 may have inspired Jesus triumphal entry, on a donkey, into Jerusalem, that inaugurated his Passion Week.
4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off.
Third day? How many days was Jesus to be in the tomb? Mark 9:31
5 And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”
6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together.
I see blatant myth building by the Gospel writers right here. The burden of sacrifice is laid on Isaac. Mark, Matthew and Luke have Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross up the hill for Jesus. John carries the analogy further and has Jesus carry the cross. I think it is an attempt by John to drive this analogy to Isaac even further in a way that the other three evangelists didn’t consider.
7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.
In the story, Abraham says this to put up a stall. John takes it to a whole new level and uses the analogy of God providing a Lamb for an offering directly to Jesus Christ – John 1:36. This analogy is built from numerous other inferences in the Old Testament, most notably the Passover sacrifice and feast (Numbers 9:9ff). Apologists also take this opportunity to state that the two of them ‘went together’ is more precisely translated as the two of them went ‘in agreement’, although there is no justification for this that I can see. The implication is that Isaac went as a willing sacrifice just as Jesus went as a willing sacrifice. This is an inference at best, and is nothing more than modern myth building by Christian apologists.
9a Then they came to the place of which God had told him.
This place is the Mountains of Moriah, which is somewhere near the city of Jerusalem. Legend has it that this event occurred on the same spot as Solomon’s Temple. That may be intentional if this story was edited during the Temple Period. Some modern apologists have driven this analogy even further by claiming that Abraham offered Isaac on the exact spot that Jesus was crucified! How is that for modern-day myth building?
9b And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.
10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
11 But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.”
12 And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
Christian apologists claim that the name of the mountain prophetic. ‘The LORD Will Provide’ is an inference to the LORD providing a human sacrifice on or near that same location.
The parallels are obvious to me. I understand that there are numerous other parallels in the Old Testament, for this Gospel episode and others (not to mention numerous parallels in Greek Mythology), but I just focused on the Akedah. Skeptics who view Jesus as an entirely fictional character will claim that these episodes from the Old Testament inspired the mythology of his life and ministry. In this case, the Akedah was the inspiration for the crucifixion mythology. Christians, on the other hand, will claim that this is another form of inspired Messianic Prophecy, and evidence of God’s handiwork in the Scriptures.
In my opinion, either view you take leaves out little room for a historical, demythologized, secular Jesus in certain Gospel episodes, like the crucifixion. The events are either just too coincidental for a historical character to fit, or the episode is pure myth. In this case, I am claiming that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as described in the Gospels is pure mythology.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is a hardline event. It is a central theme in Christianity, and if there is a way to ‘historicize’ it I don’t see it. It is all or nothing.