Yeah, I didn’t mean to suggest the oversimplification was intentional, just that we ended up talking past each other a little. When I said, “we must content ourselves with searching for what’s plausible, whereby we swiftly eliminate the theological Christ…” I was putting the critical-historian’s hat on and I was also assuming David Hume’s point about miracle stories (and my Medium article on that point).
I’m not actually a historian so I don’t always write with those standards in mind. Usually I write as a philosopher, which is why I’ve many articles that examine the theistic and theological arguments directly, without giving them short shrift. It’s just that the question at hand was specifically historical: Did the Jesus of the gospels walk on earth?
Are you asking me now, then, whether I reject out of hand Paul’s Christ figure? Paul doesn’t interest me so much, since I’m not a Christian. If you want to study Gnosticism, why not go directly to the treasure trove of Gnostic documents that were discovered some decades ago? Paul was preaching a Judaized version of Hellenistic ideas to appeal to a Hellenistic audience, and he was minimizing the historical question to puff himself up as an apostle, arguing from authority rather than with much philosophical heft. His writings are crucial to the rise of Christianity as a bastardized (syncretized) movement that managed to survive the downfall of Temple-based Judaism.
If the question is whether Paul was talking about a historical figure, certain ambiguous passages in Paul’s letters would be crucial, namely the ones for which mythicists have ahistoricist readings. And the question is whether the mythicist’s interpretations are at least as good as the historicist’s, given critical-historical standards.
The awkward question for the historicist is how Paul was able to dehistoricize Jesus so early in the formation of Christianity. We know why he did so: he says his authority as an apostle is due to his vision of the resurrected Jesus, so his subject was that resurrected figure, not the fellow who supposedly was crucified for his teachings nearby, just a few decades earlier.
But if Jesus were historical, then either (a) he really did perform miracles and rise from the grave and appear to Paul and to others, (b) lots of folks back then were extremely gullible and prone to wild speculations such as those found all over Paul’s epistles, or (c) Paul was effectively conning his audience, using his charms and his knowledge of Judaism and Greek philosophy to sell certain people on a cult.
The second and third options seem far simpler and more plausible than the first one, especially since lots of people even today are likewise very credulous and victims of mob mentalities and cult-like thinking. The current president of the US is the leader of nothing short of a cult. If it can happen here and now, after humans put men on the moon and built nuclear power plants, it could all the more easily have happened two thousand years ago in a backwoods province of the Roman Empire.