Since the eighteenth century, scholars and historians studying the texts of the Bible have attempted to distil historical facts and biography from the mythology and miracles described there. That trend continues into the present day, as scholars dissect the gospels and other early Christian writings to separate the 'Jesus of history' from the 'Christ of faith'. But in "The Messiah Myth" Thomas L. Thompson argues that the quest for the historical Jesus is beside the point, since the Jesus of the gospels never existed. Like King David before him, the Jesus of the Bible is an amalgamation of themes from Near Eastern mythology and traditions of kingship and divinity. The theme of a messiah - a divinely appointed king who restores the world to perfection - is typical of Egyptian and Babylonian royal ideology dating back to the Bronze Age. In Thompson's view, the contemporary audience for whom the Old and New Testament were written would naturally have interpreted David and Jesus not as historical figures, but as metaphors embodying long-established messianic traditions.
Challenging widely held assumptions about the sources of the Bible and the quest for the historical Jesus, "The Messiah Myth" is sure to spark controversy and heated debate.
Thomas L. Thompson is the author of The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past. He currently teaches at the prestigious Biblical Studies programme of the University of Copenhagen. He lives in Copenhagen, Denmark.