Was Jesus made up by the Romans?

I guess this “news” has been circulating for over a year, but it’s been off my radar screen. We all know about the squabbles dealing with the existence of Jesus: was he really a divine, wonder-working son of God (WIlliam Lane Craig), an apocalyptic preacher who wasn’t divine at all (Bart Ehrman), or was there simply nobody who ever existed who could even form the nucleus of the Jesus myth (Richard Carrier, Ben “Intenstines” Goren)?

Now there’s a bit of publicity about evidence for the last possibility: a claim that the myth of Jesus was fabricated by Roman officials as a kind of “psychological warfare” to pacify  militant Jewish sects in their Empire.  Jesus, says Biblical scholar Joesph Atwill, was made up to promulgate a Judaism resting on a peaceful Messiah, thereby quelling Jewish dissent.  As PRWeb notes:

“Jewish sects in Palestine at the time, who were waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah, were a constant source of violent insurrection during the first century,” [Atwill] explains. “When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare. They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system. That’s when the ‘peaceful’ Messiah story was invented. Instead of inspiring warfare, this Messiah urged turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and encouraged Jews to ‘give onto Caesar’ and pay their taxes to Rome.”

Was Jesus based on a real person from history? “The short answer is no,” Atwill insists, “in fact he may be the only fictional character in literature whose entire life story can be traced to other sources. Once those sources are all laid bare, there’s simply nothing left.”

Atwill, who will be presenting his theory in London this Saturday, claims to have evidence for his notion:

Atwill’s most intriguing discovery came to him while he was studying “Wars of the Jews” by Josephus [the only surviving first-person historical account of first-century Judea] alongside the New Testament. “I started to notice a sequence of parallels between the two texts,” he recounts. “Although it’s been recognised by Christian scholars for centuries that the prophesies of Jesus appear to be fulfilled by what Josephus wrote about in the First Jewish-Roman war, I was seeing dozens more. What seems to have eluded many scholars is that the sequence of events and locations of Jesus ministry are more or less the same as the sequence of events and locations of the military campaign of [Emperor] Titus Flavius as described by Josephus. This is clear evidence of a deliberately constructed pattern. The biography of Jesus is actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar.”

How could this go unnoticed in the most scrutinised books of all time? “Many of the parallels are conceptual or poetic, so they aren’t all immediately obvious. After all, the authors did not want the average believer to see what they were doing, but they did want the alert reader to see it. An educated Roman in the ruling class would probably have recognised the literary game being played.” Atwill maintains he can demonstrate that “the Roman Caesars left us a kind of puzzle literature that was meant to be solved by future generations, and the solution to that puzzle is ‘We invented Jesus Christ, and we’re proud of it.'”

Well, this sounds like a pretty thin conspriacy theory to me. (Note that Atwill is also peddling a book about his theory, as well as a movie, “Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus“).  The main problem for me is the unlikelihood of a Roman government confecting a religion and successfully selling it to people of another faith without convincing evidence of its central figure.  Now religions can be invented out of whole cloth, and even catch on: Scientology and Mormonism are two examples.  But more telling is that Atwill seems to have bypassed the scholarly review system for his claims.

Even more telling is Richard Carrier’s dissection and demolition of Atwill’s claims in one of his characteristically long posts (you might want to read it if you’re one of Carrier’s avid fans who span the globe), and appears to demolish Atwill’s claims on the grounds of both low prior probability and distorted or unbelievable evidence—in other words, poor scholarship. It seems to be a deliberate tour de force.

If anyone is so moved to attend Atwill’s symposium on the theory this Saturday at London’s Conway Hall from 9:15 to 5:00 p.m., which includes a free screening of Atwill’s movie, let me know how it goes. I’m guessing the man is a crank—the symposium includes only one speaker besides Atwill—but I’d like to hear more.

h/t: Bradley

127 Comments

  1. Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    //

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      2

  2. Marella
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    No, he wasn’t. Sign me up for the “Jesus never existed” team, but Atwell is barking up the wrong tree here. Conspiracy theories are huge fun, but the world really isn’t that well organised.a

    • Chris
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

      Agreed. Inventing a prophet for a new religion was a completely un-Roman solution to a situation.

      • Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

        Indeed, if they really would have done it, why then waste all their military might on supressing those nasty people?

  3. Cara
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    Subscribe.

  4. Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    This is complete and utter made up rubbish.

    RationalWiki article: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Roman_Piso

    Richard Carrier knocks it out of the park: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4664

    This is such a crank theory that even Acharya S doesn’t buy it.

    • Kirk
      Posted October 17, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      David, that wiki article was written by you, and the blog is a dead link.
      The only comments on that wiki’s talk page are by you as well.

      You aren’t linking to something supporting your comment, you’re just repeating your comment.

      • Posted October 17, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

        The link works for me. I suggest you read it.

  5. Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    Joseph Atwill’s theory reminds me of an interpretation of the life of Jesus included in a 1989 film _Jesus of Montreal_:”the biological father of Jesus was a Roman soldier, who left Palestine shortly afterwards.”

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_of_Montreal

    • Dominic
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:49 am | Permalink

      I have read that elsewhere as a serious suggestion – was it Jewish tradition that called him the bastard son of a Roman soldier?

      A book by a Swedish academic – cannot recall who (have it at home) – I think suggested that Jesus & St. Paul were the same person & that Jesus was placed 70 odd years too early.

      If it is still available there is the historical novel by Robert Graves (always worth reading), King Jesus

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Jesus

      • Dominic
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:51 am | Permalink

        Come to think of it, I think there have been suggestions that Jesus is set 100 years too late as well….!

        • pulseteresa
          Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

          Yeah, I think that is or was Robert Price’s hypothesis.

      • Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:52 am | Permalink

        Thank you Dominic. I will try to find the Graves novel.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

        Hmmm, haven’t read any Robert Graves since working with his son William (briefly). Going on ‘I, Claudius’ and ‘Claudius the God’ … that’s probably worth reading. Make a change from stratigraphy textbooks.
        Noooo, not more books!

      • jeremyp
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

        Bastard son of a Roman soldier? That sounds familiar. It wasn’t the well known centurion Nautius Maximus was it?

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPGb4STRfKw

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 17, 2013 at 12:20 am | Permalink

          Yes, I was struck by the resemblance of that idea to the well-documented life of Brian…

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted October 17, 2013 at 12:27 am | Permalink

            In which connection, of course, the scene jeremyp linked to is (IMO) the funniest in all of comedy.

      • Posted October 16, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        I seem to remember (having only read pieces) that it appears in the Talmudic tradition, somewhere. Hundreds of years after the supposed fact, though.

    • TJR
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      I always thought Jesus was the bastard son of Dean Friedman?

    • lee
      Posted December 12, 2013 at 3:43 am | Permalink

      veronica I think you have gotten the jesus de montreal film mixed up with Monty Pythons Life of Brian.. and the messaihs dad being a roman legionary called naughtius maximus!!!

  6. Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    I saw a debate between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris once and all he (i.e. WLC) had to offer it was a lame deductive argument.

  7. Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    Speaking of conspiracy theories, how come we’ve never seen Jesus’ birth certificate? :)

    • Dominic
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      Perhaps Jesus was born in Hawaii…

      • kennyrb
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        Wow! So Jesus is a Muslim? It all makes sense now.

        • Posted October 16, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

          According to Islam, he presumably is, at least now.

  8. Sarah
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    This reminds me of the arguments that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays or that they contained some fiendishly clever code full of secret information.

    • Dominic
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:58 am | Permalink

      Yet another new book/theory about that – the Earl of Oxford supporters –

      http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jul/04/shakespeare-identity-debate-reignited

      • colnago80
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        As one of the commenters on the Guardian site mentions, how can one explain how De Vere wrote at least two of the plays that are known to have been written after he died.

        • Dominic
          Posted October 17, 2013 at 1:58 am | Permalink

          de Vere was Jesus! He rose from the grave…

        • Posted October 17, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

          Defibrillator?

          b&

    • Dominic
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      In fact if you substitute the words ‘(King) Arthur,’ for ‘Jesus’ there are as many theories as you can dream of, from plausible to unlikely. Because there is no substantial evidence for either (though that does not mean they did not exist).

      Has anyone suggested that Jesus was King Arthur?!

      • kevinj
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

        There are legends connecting both Jesus and Arthur to Glastonbury Tor. So bit of quick rearranging and could manage it.

      • pulseteresa
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

        You have! Write a book. If all it takes is finding parallels in the stories, a little creativity and you’re all set. In fact, make it a series of books. Future titles could be:

        -Was Jesus the Buddha?

        -Was Jesus All Twelve Apostles plus Paul?

        -Was Jesus Joshua?

        -Was Jesus Pontius Pilate’s step cousin-in-law thrice removed?

        -The 20th Century Coming of Christ: The Wizard of Oz

        -Jesus: Lingham, Labia, or Lard?

        -Jesus: Both Fully Human and Fully Fig Tree

        -Cleopatra: The Male Jesus

        -Was Jesus George W Bush? No.

        • Dominic
          Posted October 16, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

          Perhaps we could do it like a game of ‘Consquences’ between WEIT readers!

  9. moleatthecounter
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    I think also Robert M. Price cares little for Atwell’s ‘theory’.

  10. Alex Shuffell
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    I’m quite proud of my atheist/skeptic friends. This should be exciting news but everyone is far too suspicious. Discoveries like his aren’t kept secret until a press conference they also don’t come with book/movie deals. If he wants t o be taken seriously he’s doing it all wrong.

    As for the existence of Jesus, I see it plausible that a bloke named Jesus went around shouting weird apocalyptic stuff, drowning pigs, covering blind peoples eyes in mud and then spitting on them and all this weird stuff. If he existed today he would be locked up, back then the equivalent was public execution for a very naughty boy.
    If my Mother cheated on my Father, got pregnant and then lied about it to avoid being put to death, then kept that lie up throughout my life I think I would also be an egomaniacal nob too. His supposed father (Joseph) was probably distant (he would have been distrustful of Mary and her weird kid) and the father Jesse thinks he has (god) is even more distant, and his Mum’s been lying to him for his whole life. Then this story was passed on a few generations before being written down in a different language and culture, then copied and translated and copied and reinterpreted and copied again, mixing the Jewish theology with Greek theology, more modern and relevant to the author’s culture. Thus we get the New Testament.

    Making up stuff is quite fun, I don’t think I’m going to make a career out of it like Atwill has.

    • Dominic
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:11 am | Permalink

      Well the book has been out for a while – 2011.

      • Alex Shuffell
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        There’s an earlier version that came out in 2005.

    • Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      The problem with your theory is that, not only is it completely unsupported by any evidence, it is contradicted by all the evidence we actually have.

      I gave a few pointers in my post at #11. If you think you have substantive evidence to support your theory, I’d love to hear it….

      b&

      • Alex Shuffell
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        I have no evidence, I once read the Bible and this is how I interpreted it. I admit to making up my conspiracy theory in the last sentence.

        • Posted October 16, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

          Then you might wish to examine some of the actual evidence for yourself before expressing such confidence in your opinions. I’ve given some quick pointers in this thread….

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Alex Shuffell
            Posted October 16, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

            It was meant to be a joke, there was nothing serious about what I said. The only confidence was that I thought my humour obvious. I’ve been reading up on Pliny and Passing of Peregrinus. I’m very grateful to you for introducing me to Lucian. Chattering Courtesans and Other Sardonic Sketches is in my Amazon basket. x

            • Posted October 16, 2013 at 10:37 am | Permalink

              Ah…sorry. I might have just yesterday bemoaned the blight that’s destroyed all our irony meters….

              b&

  11. Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    You nailed it, Jerry. Atwill’s correct in that Jesus was made up, but the Romans didn’t even have a clue about the Christians until after they were already causing problems for them. See Pliny the Younger’s correspondence with Emperor Trajan, for example. There’s no doubt but that the Christians were simply yet another wacky cult, no different from today’s Raelians or what-not.

    Atwill’s thesis is pure conspiracy theory, of the “Look at all the coincidences, and you can’t prove me worng!” variety. Never mind, of course, that his coincidences are of the expected variety, not very strong to begin with, and we already know the origins of the Jesus myth. Just read Lucian of Samosata on the passing of Peregrinus, and get your confirmation by reading Justin Martyr. And then do a quick survey of other Classical-era death / rebirth / salvation religions just to be sure that they’re all equally fictitious.

    Cheers,

    b&

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Atwill’s scholarship is atrocious (which Richard Carrier has pointed out) but just think about this for a minute – the Romans weren’t bothered horribly by the Jews or the Christians. They saw them as just a hassle; as I’ve said before, they were not Hannibal.

    We also know quite a bit about the mystery cults (of which Christianity was one) even though they were kept secret — why would we not therefore have evidence of such a mass conspiracy as a made up messiah? Puhleese!

  13. darrelle
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Pareidolia. Pattern recognition run amok.

    And, Ben “Intestines” Goren? MMWWWAAHAHAHAHAaa! Funny, and fitting.

    • Marta
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Even funnier in the OP: “Intenstines”. Might be my favorite neologism ever.

  14. Richard Olson
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    sub

  15. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Where this conspiracy theory falls down for me is at this point :

    [Atwill] explains. “When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare.

    The Romans had not “exhausted conventional means”. They hadn’t even exhausted their standard repertoire. You can tell this by the fact that there were people still alive after the Romans had finished.
    They had no compunction about slaughtering an entire population who were causing them trouble. Even fewer concerns than Oliver “Kill them all and let God sort them out” Cromwell had in his approach to the “Irish Problem”. Witness Masada. What they did have concern about was the practical difficulty of needing to re-populate the country if they did slaughter everyone. Which puts the problem of Jewish rebelliousness into the category of “inconvenient and expensive to deal with”, not something that requires new tactics and special handling.
    No denigration of the Romans, but subtlety was never one of their stronger points. They somewhat looked down on the Greeks (once they’d been conquered) for using such prissy degrees of intellection.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      No one comes back from rebelling against the Romans. You typically received financial punishment afterwards as well. There is a Boudicca burn layer in London for a reason.

      • kevinj
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        The damage to Colchester, London and St Albans was by the rebels not the Romans.
        Britannia did have several rebellions on top of Boudicca some more successful than others although in all cases there isnt much information left today.

        The withdrawal from the Antonine wall one example where the Romans seem to have decided it wasnt worth the hassle.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 16, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

          True but the Romans torched the farm land all around in a slash and burn so it wasn’t usable for years, after they slaughtered tens of thousands of Britons.

          • stephen
            Posted October 16, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

            Where in Britannia do you say this happened, Diana? The “slaughter” is subject to the same cautions as any propaganda: Tacitus is a reliable source, but a very rhetorical one.Furthermore, I suggest that the longevity of the Roman Imperium, its foundations ( the alliances with others, termed “socii”) and its reputation, indicate a comparatively benign attitude for the ancient world.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

              Yes, I learned it from Tacitus. That they went and did a slash and burn after that rebellion.

              Romans usually gave you a choice when conquering you as well – surrender peacefully and you’ll get a decent deal. Fight us and we’ll also make you pay for the expense we incurred in fighting you.

              For the ancient world, I’d agree – the Romans were not bad. They had a hands off policy with local administration though there was a lot of corruption so that whoever was running the show could make sure he got his extra money from the population. The Romans didn’t force Latin on the population but the conquered soon learned that learning Latin was a sure fire way to move up in the Roman world so they tended to do so voluntarily.

              • Posted October 17, 2013 at 7:10 am | Permalink

                It’s depressing how much that resembles the actions of so many empires since then…including the American one. Halliburton in Iraq, anybody?

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted October 18, 2013 at 4:34 am | Permalink

                I thought it was frugal of them to actually tally up the cost of putting down your rebellion then tax you so you paid for it…literally paid for it.

          • kevinj
            Posted October 16, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

            As far as I am aware the Romans didnt take any punitive action near those cities, indeed London gained in importance albeit at Colchester’s expense. The burn layer is urban and down to the rebels.

            There was retaliation against the Iceni but that would take place in Norfolk and I dont think any archaeological evidence has been found showing slash and burn, not surprising though given the terrain. Venta Icenorum was founded around that time, with the suspicions being it came from a military base but quickly became a prosperous town.
            There certainly is no evidence for any action along the lines of Carthage

            While records are limited Britannia does seem to have been a rather troublesome province with a high number of troops stationed there(Britannia and Judaea are mentioned together in one vague text as giving serious problems at about the same time).

            Anyway getting offtopic beyond the broader how much of history has been lost and shows what a task getting evidence either for or against a historical Jesus is.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

              Now I want to read more about the whole Boudicca uprising. Admittedly, my Roman Britain knowledge is sketchy – the only stuff I really remember is the Cambridge Latin course where the Roman soldiers complained, “I hate this island; the sun never shines”.

              • kevinj
                Posted October 17, 2013 at 3:06 am | Permalink

                Its an interesting area although frustratingly thin on texts covering it. We have Tacitus and the archaeological evidence in the towns, although neither of the major battlefields.
                On a more on subject note found the reference to the Jews and British.
                “Indeed, when your grandfather Hadrian held imperial power, what great numbers of soldiers were killed by the Jews, what great numbers by the Britons” (Marcus Cornelius Fronto).
                For the Jews it would be the Bar Kokhba revolt, for the Britons its unknown exactly when or who was involved.
                The heavy troop presence, Hadrians visit and the wall all give some supporting evidence but nothing firm.
                Significant chunks of history which are simply lost.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted October 17, 2013 at 4:34 am | Permalink

                Yes there were lots of battles with the britunculi :)

                I like to tell people that the Tams had to build a whole wall to keep my ancestors out. :)

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 17, 2013 at 4:27 am | Permalink

        Yeah, their subtlety and respect for family life was in full display there. How to win friends and influence people.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 17, 2013 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

          It always used to amaze me that it used to be regarded as a mark of erudition and refinement to know a dead language last used by a totalitarian, fascist, corrupt military empire which retained power by terror and whose punishment for minor infractions was typically death by torture. ;)

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted October 18, 2013 at 4:32 am | Permalink

            It wasn’t all bad. They had a sophisticated legal system that some still study today and they had a complex series of public offices. For the times, they were a fairly just society. They were also great with the cement and their military tactics are still studied and used today.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted October 18, 2013 at 4:58 am | Permalink

              It’s probably my iconoclastic anti-establishment streak that makes me sympathise with the underdog and give credence to, for example, Terry Jones series ‘the Barbarians’ where he argues that the so-called Barbarians were just as enlightened in their own ways as the Romans, just that historical views depend on who was doing the recording. I’m actually reluctant to use the term ‘vandal’ for (modern-day) thugs and despoilers out of a suspicion it’s an unjustified stereotype and a slur on the tribe of that name.

              I’m not denying the Romans their technical and civic advances.

            • dick chenary
              Posted October 18, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

              > They had a sophisticated legal system

              Be wary of folk who “Rule of Law” tout,
              such is what Fascism is all about.
              ‘Tis mindset that gladly throws “Justness” out.

              • Posted October 18, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

                The rule of law is also what protects us from lynch mobs and vigilantes. And from excessive amounts of rat shit in your meat. And, for that matter, it’s what lets you have reasonable confidence that you’ll make it alive to the other side of that busy intersection. And, for that matter, it’s ostensibly what is supposed to protect us from the rise of tyranny itself.

                That tyrants, once they have seized power, pervert the rule of law to their own selfish ends is no reason to embrace lawlessness. Indeed, in theory at least, the path out of tyranny with the least bloodshed and most positive potential outcome is to apply the rule of law to the tyrants themselves. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem there….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted October 18, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

                I should probably clarify my ‘vandal’ comment – I think the modern use of it is probably an unfair and unjustified slur on the ancient Vandals, who had the ill-fortune to fall foul of some Roman historian. I have nothing but contempt for modern-day people who wantonly damage stuff (who I refuse to call ‘vandals’ but I have trouble finding another descriptive term for them).

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 19, 2013 at 3:00 am | Permalink

            Oh, be fair. The death by torture was for major infractions. Minor infractions would only get you flogged until the bone showed or branded on the face.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted October 19, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

              Except, of course, when mass crucifixions were perpetrated for deterrent purposes (state terrorism, I’d call it).

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted October 22, 2013 at 3:08 am | Permalink

                Point.

  16. Seyram B.
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    IF this were to be true, then it seems like the ancient Jewish people may have had the last laugh, at the expense of the Romans.

  17. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    sub

  18. cornbread_r2
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Credit where it’s due: Richard Carrier owes much of his argument to Earl Doherty, author of *The Jesus Puzzle*.

  19. Nate
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Bart Ehrman touched on this topic on his FB page. (He has a members-only website (about $20/year) but he writes a short sneak-peak to his posts on FB:

    “MORE CONSPIRACY NONSENSE

    Poor Hercules, trying to fight the Hydra. Once he lops off *one* head….

    So I’ve received several emails over the past couple of days about the breathtaking new announcement to be made on October 19 (assuming the world still is functioning after October 17!) in London by “American Biblical scholar” Joseph Atwill (whom – I have to admit – I have never even heard of, to my recollection) In this announcement Mr. (so far as I can tell, from his blog, he is not a “Dr.”; in what sense is he a “scholar”? Is it because he’s read a bunch of book? Hmm….) Atwill will “prove” that “the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ.”

    In other words – brace yourself – Jesus is in fact a myth. Has anyone heard this before?

    For the full story, go to:

    http://uk.prweb.com/releases/2013/10/prweb11201273.htm

    Atwill is a different breed from most mythicists. That’s probably good and bad. Good because, well, you wouldn’t like to be like the others. Bad because, well, you really shouldn’t want to be one at all. In any event, here is Mr. Atwill’s case in a nutshell, as described in this earth-shattering press release (referenced above):

    “Atwill asserts that Christianity did not really begin as a religion, but a sophisticated government project, a kind of propaganda exercise used to pacify the subjects of the Roman Empire. “Jewish sects in Palestine at the time, who were waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah, were a constant source of violent insurrection during the first century,” he explains. “When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare. They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system. That’s when the ‘peaceful’ Messiah story was invented. Instead of inspiring warfare, this Messiah urged turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and encouraged Jews to ‘give onto Caesar’ and pay their taxes to Rome.”

    The operative word in this description is the second one: “asserts.” I know sophomores in college who could rip this assertion to shreds. For now, let me just put out some talking points, in hopes that I don’t have to talk about them at any length.

    • Does Mr. Atwill have….

    To read this and other posts in full http://ehrmanblog.org/conspiracy-nonsense-members/ and join the blog by clicking the “Register” button!”

    • pulseteresa
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      One disappointing thing about Ehrman is his dogmatic adherence to the Jesus was a real person line. This is currently the standard New Testament scholarship consensus, but Ehrman isn’t even willing to take the best mythicist arguments seriously.

      • Sines
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

        I’m somewhat enclined to agree. While I don’t accept the arguments of the mythicists, they seem to me to be in that range of “Reasonably possible, but not particularly probable”. Not a realm where you can dismiss people who support it as cranks.

        Perhaps, to a proper scholar, the evidence for Jesus’ existence is undeniable, but the evidence he’s presented to the lay public that I’ve seen is insufficient to completely rule out mythicism. His strong stance against it is somewhat bothersome.

        It also doesn’t help that what constitutes an historical Jesus is somewhat loose and many versions aren’t overly fulfilling. Was there a Jewish Rabbi who ended up getting crucified named Yeshua? If that’s all it takes for there to be a historical Jesus, then I’d bet on that happening on it’s own any further evidence. A religious zealot pisses of the romans, enough that the romans kill him? Not exactly a radical claim.

        But the closer you get to the real Jesus (even without the miracle working) the evidence you have is thinner and thinner on the ground. There’s just too much mythical build-up around him that picking out more truth than the utter basics (Rabbi named Jesus who was crucified) is going to be difficult, if not impossible.

        I still find it more likely that there was a real Jesus than not, but that’s primarily because a historical Jesus is such a mundane claim. Mythicists make a slightly more fantastical claim, but hardly an unprecedented one.

        • Posted October 17, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

          But the mythicist claim isn’t fantastical at all. Indeed, it’s the exact same claim made repeatedly and emphatically by Justin Martyr, the earliest of the Christian apologists: that Jesus was no different from Hercules, Perseus, Bellerophon, or any of the innumerable other “Sons of Jupiter” that we’re all familiar with and none of which we, today, would even think for a moment were even vaguely historical. Of course, Martyr attributed stories of Jupiter’s sons to demons with the power of foresight wishing to blunt the message of the coming Christ, but I think we can safely ignore that bit.

          And, as you point out, your hypothesized “real” Jesus was so unlike any Jesus known for centuries after the time of the Caesars that nobody would even for a moment mistrake the one for the other. So of what possible rational sense could it mean that this one random schmuck who had nothing at all in common with Jesus was actually Jesus? For that matter, was your Jesus even Crucified? Maybe he was just knifed in a dark alley by a Centurion. And was his name even Jesus? Was he even Jewish? Was he even in Jerusalem?

          And the mythicists are the ones who get the bad name…go figure….

          Cheers,

          b&

  20. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I must admit I agree with Carrier that there are so many bad mythicist arguments that it’s hard to get a hearing for a decent one.

    There is nothing wrong per se with writing about the Bible without being a trained historian in the subject, but Atwill is not a “Biblical scholar”, at least not professional ly. He’s a software engineer.

    As mythicist theories go, I find Robert Price’s early view that Jesus was a composite of two or more historical people more plausible than Doherty’s notion of a heavenly being morphed by a later generation into an earthly one, the latter of which Carrier is promulgating. Ehrman’s view that Jesus was a mistaken apocalypticist rightly or wrongly continues to dominate secular academia.

    • Posted October 16, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      The first problem with all varieties of historicism is that they’re completely unsupported by actual evidence, only a naïve incredulity that Christianity couldn’t possibly be devoid of factual foundation. The next problem is that we’ve got lots of evidence about the origins of Christianity, and not only is none of it consistent with an historical interpretation, much of it is violently antagonistic to such a thesis.

      In short, there are no contemporary or near-contemporary hints of rumors of murmurings about anything remotely resembling Jesus or the events of the Gospel. The earliest mentions of Jesus are all of a savior deity indistinguishable from all the other ones popular in the region at the time, save for the names of the characters. Those mentions are most emphatically not of some random schmuck, but rather of the divine creative force that spoke the world into existence and sacrificed himself for the salvation of humanity. Not only are the next references obvious amalgams of popular pagan myths, the earliest Christian apologists go to great extents to describe them as such, only attributing the pagan myths to demonic forces anticipating the coming of the Christ and planting false trails to deceive honest men. When the Pagans finally notice the Christians, they uniformly dismiss them as lunatic nutjobs just like we do the Raelians today. And at least one of those Pagans — Lucian of Samosata — describes in detail how a certain notorious prankster got the Christians to incorporate pagan “mysteries” wholesale into Christianity. To wrap a bow around it, there is not one single biographical element of Jesus that isn’t obviously stolen from some popular myth of the day, and we have no doubt but that those myths themselves are entirely fictional.

      The only way you can arrive at an historical conclusion is if you take Christian propaganda at face value — and then you’re left with concluding that a passage that describes a zombie invasion is also reliable evidence of a botched execution. In other words, it’s conspiracy theory bullshit that makes even Atwill look rational.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        I agree, the case for a historical Jesus does hang on a rather thin thread. But you still have the issue of the seven out of the 13 letters attributed to Paul believed to authentic on the basis of intertextual evidence. These do not at all prove the existence of Jesus, but they do however imply that the existence of Jesus, not as a sky-figure re Doherty but as an earthly figure, was the accepted belief in the early Christian community within 20 years of its having been formed. You have earlier claimed that this should be dismissed on the grounds that Christians were self-evidently pathological liars. But I think that confuses skepticism with nihilism.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted October 16, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        I should add I decided to study Bayes’ theorem in more depth to be better able to follow Richard Carrier on this.

        It may be like the figure of Robin Hood, concerning which historians have not the faintest idea whether he existed or not- the scholars community is split 50/50.

        But seriously, Paul says that while he himself knows of Jesus only by revelation, he pegs himself as an exception to the rule as “one untimely born”, that he personally met blood brothers of Jesus, and although in one epistle Paul describes Jesus as killed by demons, in the very early epistle of Thesselonians he describes Jesus as having been killed by Jewish religious authorities. I need a more specific reason to dismiss this than the generally delusional nature of Christianity.

        • Posted October 16, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          Paul is easy.

          The one and only instance where Paul gives us any biographical detail of Jesus is ostensibly the story of the Last Supper…except, of course, that he’s relating instructions on how to perform the Eucharist. And we know from Martyr that the Eucharist was originally a central Mithraic rite…and, ohbytheway, Tarsus, as in “Paul of,” was the capital of Cilicia, the home base of the pirates who had long been notorious for their worship of Mithras.

          Paul establishes his own bona fides with his personal meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus, with said meeting being in the Spirit exactly the same as the other hundreds of people witnessed Christ.

          And it was the “archons of that age” whom Paul credited with the Crucifixion. He never even hints at Pilate or the Sanhedrin.

          And, thus, the only way you get a mortal random wandering schmuck of a preacher Jesus out of Paul is by presupposing the premise and snatching upon out-of-context words here and there. Using the exact same techniques, I could just as easily prove that Jesus was really an invisible pink unicorn pony, and probably have even better Biblical evidence to support the claim.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted October 16, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

            “Using the exact same techniques, I could just as easily prove that Jesus was really an invisible pink unicorn pony, and probably have even better Biblical evidence to support the claim. “

            I want to see you do this.

            • Posted October 16, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

              Well, the invisible part is easy — nobody ever actually saw him. And, considering the number of people who swoon over Jesus, one would have to assume that he’s pretty studly, so that’s the pony part taken care of. Unicorn? Tradition has him being a virgin and the Bible doesn’t suggest otherwise, and that’s close enough. As for pink…well, he’s mainly depicted as Caucasian, with pink skin.

              Done, done, done, and done.

              What do I win?

              b&

              • Posted October 16, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

                Oh COME ON. I demand something involving a horse and a horn. I WANT MY MAGICAL UNICORN PONY.

              • Posted October 16, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

                Erm…are you absolutely certain that you rally want something with an horny horse?

                If you’re really into that sort of thing, I imagine I could figure out a way to supply you…but it’ll cost extra….

                b&

              • teacupoftheapocalypse
                Posted October 19, 2013 at 6:11 am | Permalink

                How about a Catholic magic unicorn? http://goo.gl/gTtbUv

              • Posted October 19, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

                Poor guy so doesn’t get it….

                b&

          • JonLynnHarvey
            Posted October 16, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

            The meeting on the road to Damascus occurs only in the Book of Acts, which has been generally discredited as a reliable source for information on Paul’s life. It contradicts a lot of material in his authentic letters especially his itinerary, the nature of his conflict with the Jerusalem church and why he is preaching to the Gentiles. In the epistles, Paul from Day 1 is commissioned to preach to non-Jews, whereas in Acts everywhere he goes he first tries to convert Jews, fails and then goes to preach to pagans. For this reason, lots of scholars regard much of the material in Acts as fabricated (if not out of whole cloth), and as it is the !*only*! source of the road to Damascus conversion, it should be regarded as dubious.

            However, it is in Corinthians (with no mention of Damascus at all!!) that Paul says Jesus after his resurrection appeared to a bunch of his disciples “last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also”.

            Paul indeed attributes the death of Jesus to archons early in Corinthians, but he attributes Jesus’ death to Jews in 1st Thessalonians, though admittedly many scholars view this latter as an interpolation.

            Christopher Hitchens on the subject http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMo5R5pLPBE
            (Skip ahead to a bit after 2:30)

            • Posted October 16, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

              [I]t is in Corinthians (with no mention of Damascus at all!!) that Paul says Jesus after his resurrection appeared to a bunch of his disciples last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

              Exactly.

              Paul makes crystal clear that his meeting with Jesus was exactly the same as everybody else’s meeting with Jesus. It’s the primary basis on which he claims authority for everything he writes.

              So, either Paul actually met Jesus in the flesh — a proposition that I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody espouse before — or nobody actually met Jesus in the flesh.

              Or, of course, one could dismiss the whole thing as unreliable…and, at the same time, toss out the window the earliest peek into Christianity we have.

              If you’ve got another interpretation that preserves Jesus as an actual, real, physical, corporeal human being, I’m all ears. Eyes. Whatever….

              b&

              • JonLynnHarvey
                Posted October 16, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

                Well, the standard citations are Paul’s claim that Jesus was born of a woman (Galatians 1) born under the law of Moses (Romans) and had a biological blood brother James (Galatians 1 again)(not the Apostle James). I realize it’s not a lot to go on.

                Long after Pauline Christianity was generally successful, there remained a Jewish Christian church that rejected Paul’s notions which claimed to be managed by successors of James the Just, who in turn is presupposed to be the biological relative of Jesus referred to in Galatians. However, info about him is even scarcer than that about Jesus. (Wikipedia notes “According to Eusebius, the Jerusalem church escaped to Pella during the siege of Jerusalem by the future Emperor Titus in 70 and afterwards returned, having a further series of Jewish bishops until the Bar Kokhba revolt in 130″).

                Nothing in 1 Corinthians 15 indicates that the alleged post-resurrection appearances related there are meant to be Jesus’ !*first ever*! appearance to Peter, James, etc. (though I suppose it’s a possible reading) though Paul certainly seems to think it is Jesus’ first appearance towards specifically him.

              • Posted October 16, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

                Shall I list all the Pagan demigods born of a woman? Hercules, Perseus, Bacchus, just off the top of my head? And how many of them had siblings? You’re damned straight it’s nothing to go on.

                And, again, the whole point in Paul’s mentioning of Jesus’s appearances to others is to set up his own close encounter with Jesus. Not only does nothing in the text suggest that the appearances were in any way different, the whole point of the mentioning is for Paul to equate himself with the others. The analogy is crystal clear: Paul’s relationship with Jesus is no different from anybody else’s, which is why Paul’s authority is valid.

                Even this is ignoring the whole question of how Jesus could have gone from some random schmuck of a street preacher to the creative force who spoke Paul’s universe into existence, again, with nobody noticing a thing. Or how one is supposed to connect Paul’s Jesus, entirely devoid of biography save for that which he stole from Mithras, with the Jesus who was born of Mary, walked on water, and was crucified by Pilate. It’s overwhelmingly, unquestionably, plainly clear that Paul knew nothing of that Jesus, so who, exactly was the Jesus whom Paul knew?

                Was his name even, “Jesus”?

                b&

              • JonLynnHarvey
                Posted October 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

                Ben,
                I may be too much of a “cultural Christian” for this to seem like the more likely scenario to me. But why the problem of Jesus morphing from super-sky-God to man-on-earth is any less problematic than the other direction (other than that Paul’s letters were written before the Gospels) eludes me.

                Paul was regarded by the Jerusalem Christian community as an outsider for a longer time than is immediately evident from the Christian scriptures, and we have no reason to believe he had extensive access to their sources. We only know that in its final form Christianity is a synthesis between the Christ invented by Paul and the (somewhat mutually contradictory and miracle-laden) Gospel accounts of Jesus.

                There are no strong arguments for Jesus’ existence, only arguments for provisionally assuming it. (Atheist) historian Michael Grant argues that the social milieu was so antithetical to Jesus’ ideas that only a highly charismatic personality could have promulgated these with force. This is a subjective argument and Grant seems clearly to be a “cultural Christian” albeit an atheist.

                Cheers, JLH

              • Posted October 17, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

                Jon, I think you’re right. You’re too much of a cultural Christian to see that Jesus was never a mere mortal. It wasn’t until loooooong after the fact that apologists, faced with the challenges of the obvious ahistoricity of the whole thing, started to shrink Jesus into the remaining spaces.

                For at least the first few centuries of the common era, you will not find a single work in which Jesus could be mistraken for a random schmuck. The closest you get are a couple sentences for dramatic effect where he takes on mortal guise…and then, well before the end of the passage, he’s walking on water or making pigs fly or getting his intestines fondled or some such.

                The apologists latched on to those snippets as “evidence” that Jesus really was a random schmuck who just happened to be the catalyst for some very remarkable events, which therefore somehow proves that he really was divine…and, oh, by the way, here, eat this cracker.

                The modern scholarly historicist Jesus is exactly the same as the apologetic one, except sometimes without the “here, eat this cracker” bit.

                A random schmuck who ignited Christianity is every bit as astonishing and uncharacteristic as a random schmuck who flew into the sky, and nobody would believe it if it weren’t for the centuries, at least, of very similar Christian propaganda that permeates our culture.

                Ask yourself: how different, really, is the historicist thesis from the one that the door-to-door Jesus salesmen might present to you, except in the punch line? That should tell yourself something right there.

                For the kicker, apply the outsider test. How many other Classical demigods do you think were founded on real people? Hercules? Dionysus? Mithra? Osiris? What is it about Jesus, aside from his PR department, that would make you think that he’s any different?

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Thomas22
              Posted October 18, 2013 at 5:32 am | Permalink

              Jon, I discussed this with Ben on the post about Reza Aslan. It turned out to be a waste of time.

              Jesus was either a man turned into a myth or a myth turned into a man. Since there is no compelling prior reason to prefer one theory to the other then it doesn’t take much to tip the scales one way or the other. In my opinion, the reference to Paul’s meeting with “James, the brother of the lord” tips the scales towards historicism.

              Mythicists have tried, unsuccessfully in my view, to explain this away. Ben’s response to this evidence was particularly silly. He claimed that since Paul imagined that he met Jesus, he must also have imagined that he met Jesus’ brother. It’s no wonder that Richard Carrier regards other mythicists as an embarrassment.

              • Posted October 18, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

                Thomas, Paul established his bona fides by citing his imaginary experience with Jesus precisely because it was the exact same type of experience as everybody else had. And he never gave any substantive biographical details about Jesus, with the sole exception being when he interpolated the Mithraic Eucharist into Christianity and transformed it into the Last Supper.

                When you have an author who so clearly didn’t think of Jesus as some random schmuck and who had such a thin grip on reality and who was so casual about fabrication of “facts,” it hardly seems prudent to trust him as a reliable witness. Whether he really thought he met James, whether such a meeting took place in the flesh or his head, whether James’s brotherhood was understood as biological or titular…that’s all rather like arguing over whether the stray hairs on the coat of the Boy who cried, “Wolf!” were from a dog, cat, horse, wolf, fox, or whether they were just decorative threads woven in by his mother.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Thomas22
                Posted October 19, 2013 at 3:06 am | Permalink

                Ben, let’s take your argument to its logical conclusion. Let’s say that Paul is such an unreliable witness that everything he says should be stricken from the record. That leaves the gospels. In the gospels we see a clear progression. Mark (the first gospel) gives the most mundane portrayal of Jesus. The portrayals become increasingly fantastic, ending with John, the most fantastic. This is most compatible with the idea of Jesus as man turned into myth.

                The argument against this is that Paul’s writings precede the gospels and they don’t give a mundane portrayal of Jesus. In other words, mythicists need Paul to be reliable. They rely on Paul to accurately represent the views of the Jesus cult at the time he was writing. That is what you did when you said that Paul’s encounter with Jesus was the same as the encounters that others had. If Paul is a lone, unreliable eccentric then the mythicist argument is weakened.

                However, I don’t want to get bogged down arguing for the existence of a historical Jesus. I will just say that it is safer in my opinion for atheists not to rely on mythicism. Atheists can accept the possibility that Jesus existed without accepting any of the extraordinary claims made about him.

              • Posted October 19, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

                Mark (the first gospel) gives the most mundane portrayal of Jesus.

                Eh, that’s like describing Boehner as the most rational Republican in the House. Mark might be less fantastical than the others, but it’s still unabashed fantasy. Even Mark’s Jesus walks on water, feeds the masses with table scraps, raises, the dead, makes pigs fly, and much more.

                If your whole thesis is that the story of the fish that got away started out as a 500-pound trout and grew into Leviathan in subsequent tellings, so therefore it’s reasonable to suggest that it really did happen but only with a neon tetra…well, you do see how it might be hard to take you seriously, don’t you?

                b&

              • Thomas22
                Posted October 20, 2013 at 6:00 am | Permalink

                If an alleged biography attributes miraculous deeds to its subject then the subject didn’t exist. I’ll have to remember that.

              • Posted October 20, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

                No.

                When all the alleged biographies of an individual attribute multiple miraculous deeds to the subject, and when no credible sources independently verify the accounts of the fantastical biographies, and when the biography of the individual in question is practically indistinguishable from countless other clearly fictional heroes, then it becomes pretty obvious that the subject didn’t exist.

                And, yes. You would do well to remember this, for it’s something that most people figure out at about the same age as they realize that Santa isn’t real.

                …you do know that Santa isn’t real, don’t you?

                Cheers,

                b&

  21. dwdeclare
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Did Jesus exist? Watch “The God Who Wasn’t There (2005)”

  22. Notagod
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    It is reasonable to assume that there wasn’t a geebus that performed supernatural acts and it is unreasonable to assume that there was a geebus that caused supernatural acts to occur. There were probably a lot of people that wandered around preaching and gathering gullible followers so in reality a geebus would have been one of many.

    The christian handbook seems to me to be a collection of tales semi-intelligently designed to sooth the masses while justifying the whims and will of the ruling class, from justification for wars to why it is noble to die a warrior, from justification for torment to why it is a blessing to suffer. As it is now, the preachers are in the same bed with the politicians, as it has been through thousands of years and likely was at the time of the geebus myths.

    Once it is clear that the christian handbook wasn’t written to report facts or truth, the only question is who was to gain from having the book written. If all the people trust in the christian handbook with few that reject it then, the people are unchained slaves to the preachers and politicians.

    I’m not able to assess Atwill’s scholarship but, I am able to read the christian handybook and determine to whom it could be useful as a tool of control. For what other reason would a book be written in the way the christian handbook is written given the circumstances of the time?

  23. Mcbart
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne,

    Perhaps you could like separate your anti-religion rants from the rest of your content. Maybe move them over to an ‘atheist angst’ section or something. I love your blog, but when I visit I gotta scroll thru all the shit to get to the good meat. I don’t know what the above post is about but it’s probably a good candidate for my proposed new section of your blog. You should consider my awesome suggestion. Anyway, I love the non-idealogical stuff. Keep on rockin’, professor! Take care.

    • Notagod
      Posted October 16, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      I don’t like the table you have in your kitchen you should move it out in the back and let the dogs play on it. That way I wouldn’t need to think about you consuming a meal while sitting at the ugly thing.

      You’ve got a great place. Rock on Mcbart.

  24. Posted October 16, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I agree with you–I’d need a little bit more before I gave this theory any credence…the fact that this hasn’t been vastly peer reviewed is another caveat….

  25. Toto
    Posted October 16, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I saw the movie in Los Angeles, and it is actually very good, with good production values and a lot of informative content. Atwill, or his producer, has located four other people who *do not agree with his conspiracy theory* but were willing to discuss various aspects of early Christian history.

    In Loa Angeles, Atwill was accompanied by Robert Eisenman, who is featured in the film and has an actual PhD in the subject matter, who seemed just a little bit frustrated that he could not get through to Atwill.

    Atwill himself comes across as intelligent and not obviously nuts. He made a lot of money in software, enough so that he could devote his life to his crazy theory in spite of continual rejection for the past decade.

    If I were in London, I would consider attending this event, for the entertainment value. Kenneth Humphreys, who has the website jesusneverexisted.com, should be good, and the film will be good.

    But I can’t help wondering why Atwill couldn’t have spent all that time and money on legitimate scholarship, or some other more useful hobby.

  26. Posted October 17, 2013 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    It’s crazy to suppose that Christianity was created by conspiracy? It doesn’t seem all that crazy to me.

    Christianity is ether real or made up. If it’s not real, then either one or multiple people made it up. If more than one person, then there’s your conspiracy. That’s Atwill’s conspiracy. The title was foisted on him by his initial publisher that specializes in conspiracy theories. (Simon and Schuster weren’t interested for some reason.) His original title is “The Roman Origins of Christianity”.

    The confession that’s being referred to in the press release is certainly the thing Atwill calls the “Flavian Signature”. Here’s a youtube video of him discussing it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UqG8w7ezUQ

    The video can’t do it justice, though. It has to be read to be fully appreciated.

    If somebody did make Christianity up, what better suspect than the guy who fulfills Jesus’s prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction to the letter exactly 40 years after the ostensible fact? Also, read the story of the lunatic woe-saying Jesus character from Josephus (or of Cannibal Mary) before dismissing this out of hand.

    The sin committed by the “sinful generation” was simply rebellion against Rome.

    Carrier hasn’t bothered to read it, by his own admission.

    I hope Richard Dawkins will read the book. At the very least, it discusses some very strange things in Josephus that probably aren’t otherwise collected in one place. Robert Price is widely cited for rejecting the thesis, but he does call Atwill brilliant. Atwill notices a huge amount of new stuff, but some stuff in Josephus was already thought strange and the conventional explanations, when they exist, that I’ve found, seem very pale compared to Atwill’s.

    Thank you Professor C. C. for not flatly declaring it bunk.

    Please look into it before dismissing it because if it’s true it’s very powerful. I find the argument completely convincing. Beyond that, I don’t understand why it’s so hard for atheists to contemplate that Christianity was made up for cynical reasons. It’s just like Scientology or Mormonism. The thing that I doubt is that any major organized religion was created innocently.

    • Posted October 17, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      Is it crazy to suppose that Paganism was created by conspiracy? Zeus and the rest of the Olympians are either real or made up. If they’re not real, then either one or many people made them up. If more than one, there’s your conspiracy.

      Please carefully consider the possibility that every god of every religion throughout all history is actually the result of a conspiracy perpetuated upon us by the Lizard Masonic Illuminati Society before dismissing it, because it’s very powerful. Powerful enough to erect the Pyramids with UFO technology and even to direct the entire course of human history.

      I hope Stephen Hawking takes this theory seriously, because there’re just too many unexplained coincidences not to.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Dave Lush
        Posted October 17, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        Ben, actually, no reptillian people are needed for this one. Just a few guys with a lot of power, an agenda, and an entire religion creating bureaucracy (i.e., the caesarian cult) at their beck and call.

        • Posted October 17, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

          ORLY? “An entire religion creating bureaucracy”?

          Aside from Atwill’s conspiratorial Bible Code parallels, can you offer up any actual evidence of Rome actually creating an actual religion?

          As has been repeatedly noted, that just ain’t Rome’s style. Look at Masada and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE for exactly how the Romans really did deal with those problematic Jews.

          Why fuck around with elaborate and excessively subtle conspiracies when you can just send in a couple companies of Centurions and be done with it?

          Really, it makes about as much sense as claiming that Scientology was created not by Hubbard but by some sort of secret CIA plot. Why bother, and to what purpose?

          b&

          • Dave Lush
            Posted October 17, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

            The imperial cult created the religions of worshipping the caesars. What more do you need? They handled the whole Roman state religion when it was pagan plus caesars, and then transitioned over to Christianity when that became the official religion. They had hats like the pope’s. People were required to show fealty to the emperors under threat of death. It was real enough.

            If quashing the Jewish rebellion was so easy why did it take centuries and mutltiple wars? You sound like Don Rumsfeld, Ben. Whether it works or not, a propaganda war is much cheaper to wage than an actual war so why wouldn’t they try it? Atwill cites other justifications as well, including as the commenter below observes. Also, according to Atwill, the claim that Vespasian was the true messiah of the Jews (as supposedly revealed to Josephus in his hideout) was useful to achieve his deification by the senate, which was important for consolidating Flavian power.

            Nobody is saying it was a secret plot that needed a lot of people to keep quiet about it. It’s more like saying Hubbard had a concept for a religion and implemented it with help from some friends. Scientology then had to grow a bureaucracy from scratch. Titus didn’t need to do it. There were imperial cult headquarters all over already.

            • Posted October 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

              Eh, I think you’re dramatically misrepresenting the nature of official religion in Rome. They no more “manufactured” a new religion with each new Caesar than the modern church does when it chooses (or eventually beatifies) a new pope. Was there lots of official business to update everything when a new Caesar came into power? Sure, but even modern companies have a flurry of activity when they get a new logo.

              And what’s this with “centuries”? It was 70 years from the start of the First Jewish War to the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, with the Kitos War between, and each one only lasting a few years and ending in an overwhelmingly decisive Roman victory followed by at least a couple generations of pacification and ultimately ending in the Diaspora.

              Again, your (and Atwill’s) revisionist history bears almost no relation with actual events.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Dave Lush
                Posted October 17, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

                I was remembering Atwill saying the Maccabee’s held sway for over a hundred years up to the first war, and then on to at least the Bar Kokhba Revolt, without being too specific in my mind. Looking on wikipedia, although the Maccabee rebellion was initially against the Selucids, it has the first Roman intervention with the Hasmoneans by Pompey, which puts it at least well over a century (closer to two) from then to Bar Kokhba, does it not? Anyhow, I think it is pretty obvious these wars had to be costly when they occurred, and during times of ongoing revolt tax collections were surely down, so it doesn’t seem ridiculous that Rome would have been open to any approaches that might help, and especially one that cost next to nothing to implement.

                As Atwill tells it, usually letting the conquered people keep their gods and just put up a statue of caesar in their temple kept the peace. The Jews refusal to go along with this common practice must also have been infuriating to people who didn’t deal well with insubordination.

                Atwill describes another psychological trick the Romans used, I forget what it is called, where they sacrificed one of their own soldiers to the gods of the adversary, before a battle. This should demonstrate that they did use psychological warfare on occasion.

              • Posted October 17, 2013 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

                So, where’s the god whom the Romans invented to defeat the Gauls?

                Show me that, and I might sit up.

                Was Wotan a Roman invention, too?

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted October 17, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

                Moreover, the state gods were not created by the state but just a part of Roman culture. They did not see a separation of state business and religious business. The Pontifex Maximus was a major office in Roman government and there were sacrifices and haruspex readings, etc. at official events. The gods of the state were those associated with the founding of Rome (Venus was important to the Romans for this reason) and if you did not worship those gods as part of state functions, you were committing treason because you were sort of saying it was okay to bring bad shit down on Rome. No group of Romans got into a room and said, “hey, let’s create a state religion”. It grew organically from the OCD nature of Roman culture and reilgion.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted October 17, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

              Nope the definitely did not worship the Caesars (I don’t know if you mean the Julio-Claudian emperors or the later emperors who took the title “Caesar”). The Romans were as offended by that as you or I would be. The closest they got was Augustus claiming divine ancestry through Venus and the founders of Rome and even when he did this, he was walking a really fine line (but Augustus was good at that). Emperors wouldn’t even appear in heroic style in their imagery (naked) because it implied god status (and there was an early heroic pose of Augustus that was sort of hidden away).

              Yeah, the easiest way to get assassinated as an emperor is to 1) Say you are a god 2) Say you are a king.

      • Dave Lush
        Posted October 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        BTW, my expression of hope that Richard Dawkins will read the book is not out of the blue, but rather based on that it was a tweet by Richards about the upcoming seminar (or whatever they’re calling it) in London that brought this to expanded attention.

  27. Posted October 17, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    The goal of inventing Jesus was not to persuade the Jews, but to rally the Romans.

    The Romans completely fabricating the Jesus story makes perfect sence, unlike the tale itself.

    The only convincing part of the Jesus story is that a person was made an example publicly by means of a painful bloody execution for the slightest religious infraction. There were most likely many candidates, that rendered specific details unnecessary.

    Public religious execution still go on today in great numbers in the Islamic world, including crucifixion, but without the fanfare. Because Islam, Muslims believe, is the final word of Allah, and idolatry is strictly forbidden.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 17, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      It makes as much sense as a controlled demolition of the Twin Towers or that Jews, Masons or the illuminati secretly run the world or that the Boston bombings were a false flag. Any of these conspiracy theories can have a seemingly logical explanation on the surface, but once you scratch the surface, you find out that the evidence is not there to support it. This is what we have with Atwill’s conspiracy theory – his just takes place ~2000 years ago.

  28. Dermot C
    Posted October 17, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    The problem with the argument for ahistoricity from the original exalted interpretation of Jesus is that it’s not true. Very early on Jesus was described as mortal by the proto-Christians and (post Antioch) Christians.

    Carrier notes.

    When the sayings of Jesus first began to circulate, the early Christians probably had a very different conception of who he was than Christians a century later did…the earliest Christian might not have believed Jesus was literally God… Mark even appears to deny it (in Mark 10:18, 13:32 and elsewhere). And only once does any Pauline letter directly call him God (Romans 9:5), rather than a son, king or intermediary between man and God, and that one direct attribution could be a later scribal interpolation.

    There is no ab initio exaltation in Carrier’s hermeneutics.

    Furthermore, the late 1st century Didache (dating: the consensus of Biblical scholars) merely calls Jesus a ‘servant’ of God.

    We give thanks, our Father,
    for the holy vine of David your servant,
    which you have made known to us
    through Jesus, your servant;
    to you be the glory forever.

    Didache 9:2

    Jesus is no more exalted than King David. For the Jews, a mortal. There is no way that the Bishops who determined the text of the Nicene Creed could agree to this low Christology. One of the reasons that the Didache is not in the Canon.

    For the Synoptics Jesus was a Prophet, a Messiah, but then so was Cyrus the Great; for Paul he was the Son of God, an illustrious title, which he shared with other Judaistic sons of God like King David and the people of Israel, so even Paul, with his own peculiar mystical definition of the term, was at best equivocal about Jesus’ divinity. There is no particular reason, in these pericopes, to view Jesus as any more grand than the ascended Moses, a man who was only fit to look upon God’s arse (Exodus 33:23).

    Slaínte.

    • Posted October 17, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      the earliest Christian might not have believed Jesus was literally God Mark even appears to deny it

      Oh, what stuff and nonsense.

      More modern notions about Trinitarianism and the subtleties of the nature of the divine are entirely irrelevant. The climax of G. Mark involves the heavens turning dark, the very Earth trembling, and a zombie invasion. And with a Roman Centurion proclaiming him to really, truly, honestly be a genuine grade-A demigod, just in case there was any doubt in the matter.

      Really, Dermot. The only other types of sources where I hear this sort of thing are unapologetic Christian apologists. You’ve got to be seriously devoted to some form of alternate reality to even begin to hint that Jesus is portrayed as some random schmuck in G. Mark, of all places. That there’re fragments of scenes where, for dramatic effect, Jesus is portrayed as an humble fill-in-the-blank is perfectly irrelevant when, by the end of the chapter at the latest, he’s walking on wine or riding a flying pig into the setting zombie.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Dermot C
        Posted October 17, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        Then I suggest you take up your argument regarding the earliest Christian low/high Christology with Carrier himself.

        Here’s the roughly contemporaneous Pliny the Elder, that admirable polymath and rationalist, (after a fascinating description about the cutting of marble into thin slabs) on the mining of gold:

        …in our part of the world – not to speak of the Indian gold obtained from ants or the gold dug up by griffins in Scythia – obtained in three ways: in the detritus of rivers…by sinking shafts or in the fallen débris of mountains…

        Pliny: Naturalis Historia 33:21

        The mixture of the real and the magical. Even the best of our ancestors (he sailed into the Vesuvian cataclysm to rescue any survivors – and to die) could mix the real and the fantastic.

        This is not apologetics just because you say it is: this is an understanding of what Jews understood by what they were claiming. If it were apologetics, then it would be claiming that Jesus was always claimed as God – equal to the Father, not second in any way – right from the start. Which is what you are claiming.

        Slaínte.

        • Posted October 17, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

          Er…Dermot, we’re not discussing ancient theories of mineralology, but rather whether or not, in your particular example, the author of the Gospel of Mark described Jesus as somebody whom the early Christians would have denied divinity.

          And, as I already noted. Mark even went so far as to have the Roman Centurion proclaim Jesus’s divinity.

          Now, did the early Christians think that Jesus was YHWH incarnate? Who gives a fuck? Hercules wasn’t considered Zeus incarnate, but he most emphatically was Zeus’s son, and it was said sonship that established him as divine — as a demigod, just like Jesus.

          So, yeah. Intentionally or otherwise, you’re spouting apologetics, the same tired old line about how it all was really real because the early Christians said Jesus was a man, and it’s not so hard to believe in a man, now, is it? Believe me, I’ve heard that one a thousand times — I really ought to be able to recognize it by now.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Dermot C
            Posted October 18, 2013 at 12:25 am | Permalink

            Once again these are the substantive points which you have not addressed.

            1. Mark’s denial of Jesus’ Goddiness (10:18, 13-32 and passim)
            2. The question of the interpolation in Romans 9:5, the sole theolegomenon in which Paul calls Jesus ‘God’
            3. An analysis of the low Christology of the Didache
            4. A recognition that if all Christian texts claimed Jesus as equal to the Father then we would probably have many more books in the NT
            5. A nuanced comment on the Christologies of Paul and the Synoptics

            Errors of fact:

            1. The earth didn’t tremble in Mark
            2. No zombie invasion – an allegation by some necrophile that Jesus had risen
            3. An affirmation by the Roman centurion of Jesus’ ‘Son of Godness’ – your ‘demigod’ ascription is rhetoric, not quotation – of Jesus as a person favoured by God. An evident interpolation designed to attract gentiles to the new faith.

            For some reason you associate the early interpretation of Jesus as mortal with some form of apologetics about Trinitarianism. This does not make sense. It is your idea of Jesus as always God which forms part of the argument about the Trinity. A mortal Jesus, as in the Didache, for example, could not be part of the Trinity.

            Slaínte.

            • Posted October 18, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

              Dermot, I didn’t address your “substantive” points because they’re nothing but yet more irrelevant Bible Code nonsense.

              The question isn’t whether you can suss out the odd fragment here or there which, taken out of context, could be viewed as not inconsistent with your thesis.

              The question is, what was the author’s primary message?

              The Crucifixion scene is clearly the climax of the Gospel of Mark, and that’s when the author pulls out all the stops and uses every literary trick in his arsenal to portray Jesus as larger than life, even to the point of coming right out and stating, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” And he even set that line in the voice of the one man present who would be most inclined to believe otherwise, just to make sure there could be no question.

              Your attempts to pervert the primary, central, most important message in the Gospel of Mark, into supporting your bizarre thesis that no early Christian thought of Jesus as divine thoroughly demolish any sort of credibility you might have. It’s as if you cited Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as evidence that he really was a white supremacist who thought that niggers should be locked in chains. Your thesis is every bit as violently and diametrically opposed to the one so clearly intended.

              And, again. This isn’t some subtle theological debate about Trinitarianism. The precise nature of the relationship the author of Mark saw between Jesus and YHWH is irrelevant. What’s never in question is Jesus’s divine origins and his (demi)godhood.

              Cheers,

              b&

  29. db
    Posted November 2, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Look, all we need to do is find a mosquito who was trapped in amber who, prior to being entrapped, was nourishing herself on the blood of Jesus. Then all we have to do is extract the blood from that mosquito and take it to the lab. If the baby that results from the cloning exercise produces a glowing, magical baby then we will know once and for all that Jesus really did exist. It’s that simple.


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