This is a republication of an article by the late Burton Mack (1931–2022, formerly Professor Emeritus at Claremont School of Theology). “On Redescribing Christian Origins” was originally presented as one of the papers at the inaugural session of the Society of Biblical Literature Consultation on Ancient Myths and Modern Theories of Christian Origins (Philadelphia, 1995) and then published in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 8:3 (1996), pp. 247–269. Following this reprint are a series of contemporary scholars connecting Mack’s approach, as outlined in this paper, to their own research in other fields, thereby demonstrating the relevance of his work for the wider field.
What has been called secular criticism among some scholars in the Society of Biblical Literature has been pursued as a critique and alternative to traditional theological studies. The question is whether the term secular is being used to describe a method, characterize the biblical literature, or propose a postmodern hermeneutic for a secular age. The article explores these issues to find that secular criticism has not been able to escape the assumption of biblical authority by criticizing theological interpretations. The alternative would be to study the Christian myth embedded in the Bible and render a cultural critique.