It is often said that “there is no smoke without fire.” What those who use this expression mean by it is that their wish to believe any story of part of a story makes it historically true. They never apply it to a story which they know to be historically untrue, however much “smoke” it may have emitted. […] It should be clear that the veracity and earnestness of a narrator and the vividness and verisimilitude of a narrative are no criteria of historicity; that many men have believed stories which are now known to be quite untrue; and that the truth of a story is to be judged by evidence alone.
Raglan went on to provide some interesting examples of the limits of memory and history. Raglan immediately notes that: “Interest in historical fact, which is notoriously rare among moderns, is gratuitously assumed to have been universal among the ancients.” Raglan provides some case studies that suggest this could not have been the case. He notes that in the backwoods of Europe, not fifty years after Napoleon’s death, the details of his life were forgotten, and in one folk ballad he was believed to be a contemporary of St. George! In a still earlier example, he describes how the medieval peoples of England who were demonstrably the descendants of the Danes and the Norse (who had settled eastern England) had entirely forgotten this within a few generations, considered themselves English, and thought of the Danes and Norse as foreign enemies. The point is that even the histories a people tell of themselves are more myth and fiction than fact. How then could we possibly believe that a people who claimed descent from the gods generations upon generations ago were really genetically engineered hybrids?
Lord Raglan, however, was a man of his times. He refused to classify Jesus as following the hero-pattern he identified, despite its evident identity with it—from the virgin birth to the divine parentage to the sacrificial death. Like James Frazer before him (and Erich von Däniken after him), he understood the Jesus story to fit into his broader theory but feared offending delicate sensibilities.