Just read a fascinating summary of an old book called 'The Hero' by someone called Lord Raglan. Published in 1936, the book is a study of many of the great mythical heroes from various civilizations. The book identifies a list of the 22 main characteristics common to these mythical heroes. None of the stories of the heroes actually contains all 22 elements, but each of these is common to several heroes. The list is as follows:
- He is born of a virgin mother.
- His father is a King.
- The father has a unique relationship with the mother.
- The circumstances of the child's conception are unusual, often humble.
- He is reputed to be the son of a god.
- There is an attempt to kill the child/god shortly after birth.
- He is spirited away, escaping a premature death.
- The child is raised by foster parents in a far country.
- We are told virtually nothing of his childhood years.
- On reaching manhood, usually at age 30, he commences his mission in life.
- He successfully overcomes the most severe trials and tests.
- He marries a princess.
- He is acknowledged as a king.
- He rules.
- He prescribes laws.
- He loses favour with the Gods or his subjects.
- He is forcibly driven from authority.
- He meets with a violent death.
- His death occurs on the top of a hill.
- His children, if any, do not succeed him.
- His body is not buried conventionally.
- He has one or more holy resting places.
The Jesus story echoes 19 out of these 22 points. This is more than Hercules who only scores 17 and Robin Hood only manages 13 of them. Oddly enough, Moses manages to outscore Jesus, managing 20 out of 22 and Oedipus is the highest scoring myth with a whopping 21 out of 22.
By contrast, the highest scoring definitely 'historical' person is Alexander the Great, who only scores 7.
If this analysis is in any way valid (and I'm not really claiming that it is) then it would imply that Jesus is either a mythical character entirely, or that a great many legendary stories have been added on to the real Jesus.
As usual, the problem becomes how to filter the truth from the legend.