Once again, was Jesus a real person?

This will be short (I hope). Two articles have come to my attention about the existence of a person on whom the Biblical Jesus was modeled. The newest one, “A growing number of scholars are questioning the historic existence of Jesus“, is at the Big Think. It takes a more skeptical view of the question, and here are a few excerpts:

What we do have are lots of sources completed several decades after the fact, by authors of the gospels who wanted to promote the faith. The gospels themselves are contradictory. For instance, they tell competing Easter stories. Another problem, there aren’t any real names attached to many of them, but rather an apostle’s who “signed off” on the manuscript. There is also evidence that the gospels were heavily edited over the years.

. . . St. Paul is the only one to write about events chronologically. Even then, few facts about Jesus are divulged. Paul’s Epistles rest on the “Heavenly Jesus,” but never mention the living man. For such an important revolutionary and religious figure, there are surprisingly no eyewitness counts. And the writings we do have are biased. Roman historians Josephus and Tacitus do make a few, scant remarks about his life. But that was a century after Jesus’s time. So they may have garnered their information from early Christians. And those threadbare accounts are controversial too, since the manuscripts had been altered over time by Christian scribes whose job it was to preserve them.

. . . Of course, there may very well have been a Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef (as would have been Jesus’s real name) who gathered a flock around his teachings in the first century. Most antiquarians believe a real man existed and became mythicized. But the historical record itself is thin.

The last bit is my view: that “antiquarians” are going on thin evidence—almost entirely the Bible itself—and all we can say is “We don’t know.” And perhaps we never will. The fact is that we have far more evidence about the historicity of Julius Caesar than we do about Jesus.

The other, and longer, piece—”The Truth about Jesus” (from 2012)—is at Truthdig, and deals with the work of the Jesus Seminar of the Westar Institute, which attempts to parse out what words Jesus actually said, which were attributed to him, and which were fictional. That endeavor uses a combination of textual analysis, reconstruction of an original “Q” Gospel, and examination of the non-canonical Gospels. The underlying assumption seems to be that there was a historical person on whom Jesus is based. But the attempts to parse out his message seems dicey at best.

I won’t go into the details, but the article says things like this:

The truth about Jesus is that he was a human being who lived and died as every person born ever has. Jesus was most likely born and was certainly raised in Nazareth in the province of Galilee—not in Bethlehem. The Bethlehem story was added to the Gospel accounts (note that Paul never speaks of a miraculous birth of Jesus) to match the royal lineage and miraculous births of other “great men” of Greco-Roman culture. (Alexander the Great, for instance, was said to have been conceived by a god in the form of a serpent.)

Jesus was a Jewish wisdom teacher and exorcist/healer who lived in the Galilee province of the Roman Empire between 4 B.C. and 30 A.D. His mother was known as Mary. His father was likely Joseph.

The truth about Jesus is that he never intended to start a church or a new religion. He did not understand himself to be the divine son of God, but rather the “son of [hu]Man[ity],” or an “average Joe” with no place to lay his head.

That, of course, is begging the question: assuming that Jesus lived and then trying to find out his nature and message.

I continue to be skeptical, trying to wear my scientist’s hat while listening to what the scholars say. But I can’t help but feel that many scholars have an a priori commitment to Jesus’s existence as a real model for the person in the Bible, and that they are relying too heavily on speculative reconstruction. I would not for a minute deny absolutely that there was a person on whom the Biblical Jesus was based. I just want more evidence.

So, a question to readers: what do you make of this? Are you convinced that such writings give us confidence that a real Jesus-person existed? If so, why? If not, why not?

But there was one thing that I’m pretty sure of, and it’s that a Jesus-person didn’t look like this:



  1. Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Do we have evidences about the historicity of Socrates?

    • John Crisp
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Lair, I don’t see the relevance. No one claimed that Socrates was born of a virgin and is one of the dimensions of the tripartite creator of the universe. There is some biographical interest in the person of Socrates (he was purportedly ugly and henpecked, he “corrupted” Alcibiades, and may have been his lover, he was anonymously mocked in a play by Aristophanes, he was condemned to death for mocking the gods and corrupting the youth…).

      But even if he didn’t exist, he was the mouthpiece for ideas debated by one of the greats of early western philosophy, and it makes no difference to that philosophy if he was fictional. Whereas Christianity without a real Jesus…

      • Troy Avery
        Posted January 1, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        “Lair, I don’t see the relevance. No one claimed that Socrates was born of a virgin and is one of the dimensions of the tripartite creator of the universe.”

        Then you missed the point. The virgin birth is not the same claim as that of his existence. Scholars aren’t defending the virgin birth, they do defend his existence. They are two separate claims.

        Alexander the Great claimed to be a demigod, obviously he wasn’t. He did exist. His being an actual son of a “god” is not historical, that he made such a claim in error is, but the fact is he was just as humans as your or I. Same is true of the historical Jesus, with one exception. He himself never made these claims, like many popular figures in history, his followers attached the miracle claims to his memory later on. Once again, none of this has any bearing on the claim of whether he existed or not.

        The problem I consistently see with those that are fighting the existence of Jesus, is the conflation the of the miracle claims with the claim of human existence. Being unable to see how they should be treated separately.

        • GBJames
          Posted January 1, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          Without all the miracle/divinity claims, all you have is some fellow with some name. The claim of historicity becomes just trivial pursuit of an undocumented person living a couple thousand years ago. Why spend any energy at all on such a proposition?

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted January 1, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink


    • Sshort
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      As Hitchens observed, it may well be that Socrates did not exist. But that does not take away one whit from the value of the teachings.

      Take away Jesus, the virgin born god-man come to give a propitiary death to relieve us of all sin so we may enjoy eternal life in heaven… the whole edifice collapses.

      • Sshort
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        I see I was a but tardy to the discussion here. Well said, Mr. Crisp.

        It also pays to observe literary intent, to discern the difference between fable and myth. Socrates may have been a fable, an idealized teacher to hold Plato’s teachings at one remove and give them an artificial authority. This device can be used to allow more vigorous and impartial argumentation. But the Jesus story is clearly of mythic structure.

        • John Crisp
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

          More elegantly put, and I like the contrast between fable and myth…

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        The Sermon on the Mount (so-called) and, to a lesser extent, the Sermon on the Plain, hold up pretty well as lit and as moral teaching.

        So, once you get past the gospels’ hoodoo and voodoo, pretty much a similar deal as Socrates.

        • Carl
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

          As moral teaching? I hate to quote Hitchens at you (not really), but it was “Jesus meek and mild” who brought us the concept of hell.

          And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

          – from The Sermon on the Mount

          The “sermon” contains vast amounts of nonsense. Maybe you’ve been reading the Jefferson version?

          • JonLynnHarvey
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

            Much of the culture had already absorbed the concept of hell from Zoroastrianism. Jesus is simply the first Biblical reference to hell.

            I really wish the atheist trope that he invented the notion of hell would just die.!!

            • Carl
              Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

              My point is that Jesus is preaching hell in the sermon on the amount. I’m disputing Ken’s claim the sermon is good moral teaching.

              The Hitchens point is that Jesus ushers the concept into the Bible, where even the hideous Old Testament doesn’t use it.

              Christianity is a weird fusion of many religions, in particular Greek mystery cults, where Christianity gets the central resurrection theme.

              • JonLynnHarvey
                Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

                POint taken.
                At Matt Dillahunty’s Iron Chariots site, there’s a very interesting critique of the S of M.

                In much of the SoM, hell is the destination of religious hypocrites and one gets the impression J-guy would place many TV preachers and predator clergy, but he does have a nagging references to sexual misconduct that seems to be a reference to thought-crime. This has been used needlessly to terrorize many newly adolescents.

                It remains a matter of debate if he was referring to a temporary or eternal punishment after death.

                Confusingly, the New Testament translates both “Sheol” (the place of rest for ALL dead, good and evil alike in the Old Testament) AND “Gehenna” (literally a garbage dump with a perpetual fire burning in it outside Jerusalem) as “hell”. It’s usually the latter in SofM, but whether Jesus thought people were punished there forever remains an open question.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

            I didn’t mean to hold up the Sermon on the Mount as a manual of modern morality. All I meant was that, as a historical document, once you strip away the metaphysical concepts (like “hell”), it holds up reasonably well as both literature and ethical reflection. (“For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”) We could flyspeck Socrates and find passages to take exception to, as well.

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          But Christianity isn’t just the Beatitudes. (And whatever -tudes come from the other sermon.)

          If it were, things would be so much better.


    • Achrachno
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      “Do we have evidences about the historicity of Socrates?”

      No, he’s probably fictional too. People like to make up entertaining and inspirational stories, I’ve noticed. The Jesus tales have been popular (and diverse) for a long time.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. That’s why I gave up praying to the deity Socrates long ago.

      There may have been a historical Greek, however, who inspired Plato to record the Socratic dialogues. You never know.

    • steve oberski
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      When the existence of Socrates is used to justify misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, genocide, the rape and murder of children then your question will be relevant.

    • Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      I would say there is evidence. There is testimony by his students (Alcibiades, Antisthenes, Isocrates, Xenophon, Plato) and his contemporaries (Aristophanes, Gorgias, Critias, Euripides, Sophocles, Diogenes, Prodicus.)

      • Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        Nice. Each Gospel is a testimony by his followers too.

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

          Except that we know who Socrates’ people are, and their testimony is credible and not of miracles. There is a chain of evidence. The existence of MML&J is as flimsy as the existence of JC.

          • Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

            Yes, the gospels are all anonymous writings, by persons still (and forever, I’d predict) unknown. They were circulated and quoted for a couple of decades before the “authors” were tacked on in an attempt to give them authority.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

            As to the gospels, we know they almost certainly weren’t written by the persons whose names they bear. Beyond that, we know not much of their provenance.

        • Charles Minus
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

          There are many scholars (Richard Carrier, Robert Price, and many others) who demonstrate that Mark was the first gospel and the others are just rewrites of that book, which, incidentally, has all the earmarks of fiction.

    • Kevin
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

      No one ever, Einstein included, matters if they existed. But Christians need Real Jesus or their house comes down. That’s why “Jesus is real” has no parallel.

  2. Colin
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    There’s a possibility that there was some eccentric, wandering preacher (actually, the historians tell us that there were many of them), but there is no good evidence that the Jesus character as we’ve come to think of, ever existed. If it weren’t for Constantine making the Christian cult the official state religion (for political purposes) it would have died out just like all the others.

    I’ve always enjoyed this audio interview with Robert M. Price:


    • Achrachno
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      The linked article is a classic of the “Excuses for no evidence” school of apologetics. The burden of proof is on those who argue for something/someone existing. Where is the actual evidence that Jesus existed? Where are the eyewitnesses (unreliable as they individually might be)?

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        If you are a classical Christian, then you want to claim strong evidence for the existence of Jesus, but for a historian the fall-back position is simple agnosticism.

        There is a centuries-old debate among medieval historians over the historicity of Robin Hood, with the emerging consensus being probably Yes, but with some uncertainty remaining.

        But no historian claims that the default assumption is that he did not exist.

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

          The default is “show me the evidence or I don’t believe it” — always.

          There is approximately zero evidence that Jesus ever existed. Maybe he did, but the evidence is so weak that it’s miles short of compelling. It doesn’t take much evidence to establish the existence of an ordinary mortal who preached and had followers, yet that minimal evidence does not exist for Jesus. Xians trip over a VERY low bar.

          I’d not insist Jesus never existed (there were people around in the 1st century, some of them were preachers, some of them were even named Joshua/Jesus, etc.) but no one can tie the Bible stories to anyone in particular (to any identifiable person).

          One could claim that there was some guy named Julius who performed fantastic tricks with mackerel in Jerusalem in 42 C.E. Fine — where’s the evidence? Why believe that? There really are mackerel and magicians (stage variety), but those facts are hardly evidence, except of the weak background sort. Yet, that’s about where we are with Jesus.

          • JonLynnHarvey
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

            It would be more correct to say we have a fair amount of contaminated and unclear evidence, and from it non-Christians historians still think there is a more than 51% chance Jesus existed.

            One key argument in the essay cited above
            “As noted above, far from conforming closely to expectations about the coming Messiah, the Jesus story actually shows many signs of being shoehorned into such expectations and not exactly fitting very well.”

  3. Ben
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    This is a great write up, Jerry. I’m hoping as our technologies improve we might find more conclusive data.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted December 30, 2016 at 3:34 am | Permalink

      The question is if a new ‘Dead Sea Scroll’ was found that gave evidence of a purely human peripatetic apocalyptic preacher called Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef would it cause people to revise their views or would spur a new round of apologetics?

      I’ve come to the view that the mythological Jesus *might* have been based on Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef (or perhaps a pastiche of such preachers) but the myth has outrun reality so far that it no longer matters if ‘fresh’ evidence shows his existence to be true or not. Much the same as Robin Hood, really.

  4. Ron Mexico
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    No shot.

  5. Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Of course he did not look like that! He looked like this:

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      I am pretty sure if Jesus was a real person, he would show us his taxes. WHew…that guy is ugly.

      • Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        Agreed 🙂 Also – from the RNC: “Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new king.”

    • Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      I wouldn’t hold my hands out like that if I were he.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        He’s celebrating the Miracle of Proportionate Hands.

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

          Actually they look kinda small compared to his head 🙂

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        We know that’s not Donald Trump. The picture’s faked. Donald Trump’s hands look like this:


    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Less-ridiculous hair, at least.

  6. Malky
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Pretty much the same can be said about Muhammed

  7. busterggi
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Considering that the name Yeshua can also be a title (which is ignored much too much) rather than a name there need not be any single person who was THE Jesus.

    As no contemporary noticed him I’m still going with the character as an amalgam of the Essenes ‘Teacher of Righteousness’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teacher_of_Righteousness with a helping of Theudas the Egyptian https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_(prophet) (note that Jesus was also ‘from Egypt’ according to ‘Matthew’) and a lot of wishful thinking.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted December 30, 2016 at 3:46 am | Permalink

      According to Wikipedia (the extent of my knowledge, others please chip in) Yeshua in Hebrew is a verbal derivative from “to rescue”, “to deliver”.

      So Jesus Christ means the ‘Anointed Rescuer’ – which to my mind sounds like a Super Hero name. And we know that fictional Super Heroes satisfy many of our narrative desires. There are plenty of them.

      • chris moffatt
        Posted December 30, 2016 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        At least with super heroes we know they existed. They are well-documented. We even have contemporary pictures of them.

        • busterggi
          Posted December 30, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

          Indeed, we often know their backstory in excruciating detail that must be true if you subscribe to the criteria of embarrassment.

  8. Tom
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Since the somewhat skewed first century evidence of an historical Jesus appears ONLY in the New Testament, then should those stories be only pious fictions we have no evidence of a real Jesus atall and truthfully, no necessity to think he ever existed
    For centuries scholars have decried euhemerism yet the only way to “save” Jesus is to adopt it.
    Not a very pleasing prospect I imagine.

    • Johan Richter
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      There are mentions from outside the NT of Jesus.

      • Colin
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

        Nope. Only that there are these people called “Christians” who follow a Jesus, which is tantamount to saying that homeopathy is true because there are people who believe in it.

      • Achrachno
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        From the 19th century perhaps? There is nothing contemporary with his supposed lifetime. Yes, years later people talked about Jesus. Hercules too.

      • Tom
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, not in the 1st century, all are in the 2nd and beyond.
        Pliny the Younger and the the earliest wrote in 113 CE
        Tacitus was even later.
        The letter of Clement (if genuine) is the only existing 1st century source and is a christian polemic and does not mention anything like a Jesus biography.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

          The Testimonium Flavianum in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews dates to a decade or two earlier, though I doubt that has much impact on your point, especially given the doubts regarding its authenticity.

          • busterggi
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            Are you referring to the interpolated fraudulant mention of Jesus the Christ?

            • Carl
              Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

              I’m guessing yes. Ken is being overly charitable with “the doubts regarding its authenticity.” The “addition” belongs with the shroud of Turin.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

                You know me, Carl, always with the understatement. 🙂

              • Carl
                Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

                The clumsiness of the forgery introduced into Josephus always reminds me of Nietzsche’s sister. She took some complimentary letters Nietzsche had written to friends and penciled in her own name as the recipient, doing not too good a job erasing beforehand.

      • busterggi
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        Seriously, do we have to rehash that lie again? No, there are no contemporary references to Jesus outside the NT and strictly speaking, even the NT is not contemporary with Jesus’s supposed lifetime.

  9. Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I’m pretty much in the same school of thought as Jerry is. There are no contemporary records and the writings we do have contradict each other on too many points. There’s just no real evidence that a divine person existed, performed miracles, was crucified and then rose from the dad and ascended to heaven.

    • Bob Wilson
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      This is not a debate about Jesus’s divinity. It’s about whether the Jesus movement was inspired by a real man. I have no idea, but my gut says yes. Someone had to inspire the movement, and it makes most sense to me that this guy named Jesus gathered a following too small to attract attention from the large culture but grew in mythology after Pilate (who killed a whole lot of people) had him crucified.

      • Paul S
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

        Hold the phone. If this is down to, did a real man inspire the Jesus movement, we’ve not only lowered the bar, we’ve buried it.
        There is a Jesus movement and someone lead it, so someone had to inspire it, just as L. Ron Hubbard inspired Scientology.
        When discussing if Jesus was a real person it would be best to define the qualities that make The Real Jesus™ different from the average Jesus.

  10. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t read the articles but read the post by PCC(E): Call it cynicism, or perhaps it is a psychological trick – but by now when I hear this stuff about the existence of Jesus, it seems to me that for some reason, the answer is supposed to have bearing upon the essence of Christianity- that he was born of a virgin and was resurrected. That is, I think the authors of these things let the audience generate the hype on their own the way a cold-reading psychic would do. When I finally snapped out of it, what was left is a meaningless study of whether a man existed who might have been a guru. Did he? Yes, there were probably lots of such people – this is an idea I got from WEIT posts. Did he rise bodily? No. To heaven? No. Etc.

  11. Mark R.
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    A couple years back Ben Goren posted this question to readers. After reading his “challenge” and the hundreds of posts it elicited, I came to the conclusion that jebus was purely mythical.

  12. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I could be kinder to some versions of mythicism, but some of the ones in current circulation seem to be on very thin ice indeed.
    The central claim of Earl Doherty that Jesus “was a celestial being who existed in a realm just below the lunar sphere and was not considered an earthly being at all until later.” strikes me as bogus, and the mere existence of parallels between Jesus and other mythical figures is not in itself per se a good argument for mythicism.

    However, many mainstream efforts to reconstruct the real Jesus also seem dubious. I’m not convinced he was primarily the political agitator that John Crossan reconstructed though that may have been a note in his teaching. (Crossan has to come up with a drastically different motive for Jesus’ execution than given in the gospel narratives to sustain this.)

    The Gospels may be similar to “fan fiction” about real people, like the myriad of detective novels in which everyone from Aristotle to Eleanor Roosevelt or Alfred Hitchcock helps solve a crime.

    I was at the debate between Bob Price and Bart Ehrman in Milwaukee and Price was poorer than I expected as many observed. Later in a video, the debate moderator Matt Dillahunty concluded that “mythicism is not ready for prime-time.”

    As I have repeatedly posted here, I think Ehrman makes a good case that Jesus existence is very plausible but moderately overstates the strength of his case.


    Of various widely circulating images of what Jesus may have really (More or less) looked like, I rather like this the best.

    • Christopher
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Now there’s a guy who’d get kicked of an airplane in ‘Merca!

      • Christopher
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink


      • Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        To be honest (and with the hope that my Christian friends won’t step on this comment), I also wouldn’t issue Jesus a visa.

    • Somite
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      I was there at the Milwaukee debate and it seemed Ehrman had two main points.

      1) The consensus of scholars.
      2) That the text of the new testament can be traced to an aramaic writing style.

      I later thought of asking Ehrman how can the consensus of bible scholars be valid if most bible scholars are religious, or at least have a religious background like Ehrman himself.

      The second point by Ehrman was new to me and haven’t anything to back it up.

      One argument of Price was very interesting. If you take out the miracles of Jesus then there would be nothing to write about, in other words, it is myth writing.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

        Ehrman backs up point 2 moderately well in his writings. Euphemistic phrases that make more sense if they originated in Aramaic.

        My English copy of “Dream of the Red Chamber” was translated from Chinese into English by someone whose original language was Chinese.
        I can see signs on every page that it is not an English original, for example, by the use of the phrase “enhance my hospitality”, a common Chinese expression but not a common English one.

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

          There’s a certain je ne sais quoit about that particular ouvre. I mean, is it totally inconceivable that one should lend verisimilitude to a memoir by quoting the lingua franca?

          When in Rome, veni, vidi, vinci!

          Hasta la vista, baby!


          • JonLynnHarvey
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

            Perhaps, but usually don’t you then just use the phrase from the original language, rather than a clumsy translation of it, thus reflecting that languages have different ways of framing ideas, reflecting divergent patterns of thinking.

            I wonder how frequently the phenomenon Ehrman discusses actually occurs in the NT narratives. When this occurs often, it is always a sign of translation.

            Example 2: On every page of any translation of Friedrich Nietzsche there are signs that the original is in German.

            (I can also tell that Nietsche’s “The Gay Science” is from a different era of history since the title was a common European euphemism for the craft of writing poetry. [The fellow who called economics “the dismal science” was making a contrasting play on the phrase.])


            Nearly 20 years ago, I compiled my own top 15 signs of cultural illiteracy list in the style of David Letterman, of which I thought my best was “not seeing the movie Malcolm X because you never saw Malcolms one through nine”, but I can now add a new item: saying “I don’t know what je ne sais quoit means”.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        Also a bit over 30% of the Gospel of Matthew is Jesus’ teaching & preaching sans miracles.

      • Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

        Jesus as a Jewish man, possibly a rabbi, may or may not have existed. There is no convincing evidence. Jesus as the Christ is a figment of imagination that accrued different attributes over centuries to meet the needs of different cultures. The New Testament representation of Jesus and his teachings is not consistent from one gospel to the next and, therefore, incoherent. The history of Christianity has proven that a “consensus of bible scholars” is not possible; never has been, never will be. Numerous “bible scholars” after having religiously studied Christianity, become agnostics or atheists, not religionists. Ehrman, for example, is not

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      I would be interested to know why you find Doherty’s views “bogus”. His starting point is the (surely remarkable) fact that the earliest Christian writings, the 6 or 7 “genuine” epistles of “Paul” contain virtually no information about the life and teaching of a man who is supposed to have lived barely 20 years earlier. Indeed, they mostly refer to Jesus as if he were a purely spiritual being. Most Christian writers have no convincing answer to this puzzle.

      • Colin
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        Given that most of Christianity hangs on what Paul said, it ought to be called “Paulianity”. *And BTW, while Paul has been saddled with much reverence, wisdom etc from/by the church, I suspect that he was actually a nut-job.

        • Carl
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

          You might find The Myth Maker, Paul and the Invention of Christianity by Hyam Maccoby interesting. It’s a scholarly book that adduces much evidence for the truth of its subtitle.

          He doesn’t picture Paul as a nut job, more of a shrewd, and ultimately successful schismatic who invented Christianity.

          It seemed pretty persuasive to me when I read it several years ago. If true, his thesis entails that Jesus and the apostles did actually exist.

          • Colin
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

            For those who’d like to read a wall of text:

            From Michel Onfray’s book “Atheist Maifesto”:

            The Pauline Contamination

            Ravings of a hysteric. Paul took hold of this concept, clothed him, and supplied him with ideas. The early Jesus hardly ever spoke out against the customs of everyday life. Two sentences (Mark 7:15 and 10:7) show him unopposed to marriage and indifferent to the appeal of the ascetic ideal. We seek in vain for rigid prescriptions concerning the body, sexuality, sensuality. This relative benevolence toward the things of everyday life went hand in hand with praise for and the practice of gentleness. Paul of Tarsus transforms Jesus’ silence on these questions into a deafening hubbub thundering out hatred of the body, of women, and of life. Christianity’s radical anti-hedonism proceeds from Paul-not from Jesus.

            Initially Paul, a hysterical, fundamentalist Jew, had taken pleasure in the persecution and brutal treatment of Christians. When fanatics stoned Stephen to death, Paul was one of their number, and on other such occasions, it seems. His conversion on the road to Damascus in 34 arose from pure hysterical pathology: he fell to the ground (not from a horse, as Caravaggio and the painterly tradition have it), was blinded by an intense light, heard the voice of Jesus, and remained sightless for three days, neither eating nor drinking throughout that time. He recovered his sight after the laying on of hands by Ananias – a Christian sent by God in missi dominici … Paul at once sat down to table, ate, and then set out on long years of fevered proselytizing all over the Mediterranean basin.

            The medical diagnosis seems clear. Such crises are invariably witnessed and attested to by other people, and this was the case with Paul. His fall, the blindness which modern experts have diagnosed as hysterical (unless it was just a passing loss of vision), his deafness, his three-day loss of the sense of smell and of appetite, his tendency to mythomania (he claimed that Jesus spoke to him in person), and after all that his thirty-year mission to dramatize an imaginary character, the elect of God, chosen by him to transform the world … it all adds up to histrionics, to moral exhibitionism. Indeed his crisis reads unmistakably like a passage from a manual of psychiatry, chapter heading Neuroses, subsection Hysteria … This was true hysteria … a hysterical conversion!


            Infecting the world with neuroses. How are we to live with our neuroses? By making them the model for the world to follow, by inflicting our neuroses on the world … Paul created the world in his own image. A deplorable image, fanatical, moving with a hysteric’s irresolution from enemy to enemy, first Christians, then Gentiles; sick, misogynistic, masochistic. How could we fail to see in our own world a reflection of this portrait of a man so clearly controlled by the death instinct? For the Christian world eagerly experiments with such ways of being and doing: ideological brutality, intellectual intolerance, the cult of poor health, hatred of the vital body, contempt for women, pleasure in inflicting pain, disdain for the here and now in the name of a gimcrack beyond.

            Small, thin, bald, and bearded, Paul of Tarsus provides no details on the illness he metaphorically describes. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, he confides that Satan gave him a thorn in the flesh, an expression later adopted by Kierkegaard. No details, except for one occasion when he draws attention to his haggard appearance while addressing the Galatians, after he had suffered a beating that left visible marks … So that for centuries critics have piled up theories on the nature of that thorn. It is hard to resist offering a solemn inventory of their diagnoses: arthritis, renal colic, tendonitis, sciatica, gout, tachycardia, angina pectoris, itchy rash, skin sores, boils, eczema, leprosy, shingles, plague, rabies, erysipelas, gastritis, intestinal cramps, kidney stones, chronic ear infection, sinusitis, bronchitis, bladder infection, urinary retention, Maltese fever, filariosis, malaria, pilariosis, ringworm, pilonidal cyst, headache, gangrene, suppuration, abscesses, chronic hiccups (!), convulsions, epilepsy … His joints, tendons, nerves, heart, stomach, bowels, anus, ears, sinus, bladder, head, all were involved.

            All except the sexual register …The etiology of hysteria includes a weakened (if it exists at all) libidinal potential. Disturbances arising from sexuality, a tendency for example to see it everywhere, to indulge in extremes of eroticism. How can we not recall all this when Paul’s pen drips ad nauseam a hatred, a contempt, a permanent mistrust for the things of the body? His loathing of sexuality, his praise of chastity, his worship of abstinence, his approval of the widowed condition, his passion for celibacy, his appeal to his listeners to conduct themselves as he did (clearly expressed in the First Epistle to the Corinthians 7:, his reluctant consent to marriage, but only as the best of bad choices (he would have preferred renunciation of all things corporeal). These are all obvious symptoms of hysteria.

            The above conclusions are borne out by a number of undeniable facts, foremost among them Paul’s failure to acknowledge any kind of deep-seated pathology whatsoever. We can frankly admit to abdominal pain or arthritic joints. Rampant skin disorders are noticeable, as are repeated hiccups. It is less easy to admit to sexual impotence, which can however be very obliquely hinted at under the cover of metaphor (the “thorn” accomplished this). Sexual impotence or any fixation of the libido on a socially indefensible object, a mother, a human being of the same sex, or any other perversion in the Freudian sense of the term. Freud locates the roots of hysteria in the struggle against repressed terrors of sexual origin, and their partial realization in the form of a conversion in the psychoanalytical sense, but the other meaning also fits.

            There is a kind of law that appears to have held sway over the planet since the beginning of time. In homage to La Fontaine, let us call it the “fox and grapes complex”: It consists in making a virtue of necessity in order to avoid losing face. Life inflicts sexual impotence or a problematic libido on Paul of Tarsus. His response? He gave himself the illusion of freedom, of autonomy and independence, by believing that he had freed himself from what defined him. Celibacy was not imposed upon him; it was a choice, a decision he had made. Unable to lead a sex life worthy of the name, Paul declares null and void all forms of sexuality for himself (of course) but also for the rest of the world. A desire to be like everyone else by demanding that everyone else emulate him, whence his determination to make all humankind bow to the rule of his own limiting circumstances.


            A weakling’s revenge. This logic is clearly apparent in a proclamation of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (12:210), in which he affirms, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, hardships, insults, persecutions and calamities, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” This comes close to a straightforward acknowledgment of the logic of compensation that held captive the hysteric who collapsed on the road to Damascus. From the starting point of his own dilapidated physique, Paul militated for a world that resembled him.

            His hatred of self turned into a vigorous hatred of the world and all its concerns: life, love, desire, pleasure, sensations, body, flesh, joy, freedom, independence, autonomy. There is no mystery about Paul’s masochism. He saw his whole life through the prism of difficulties: he loved problems, he rejoiced in them, craved them, longed for them, manufactured them. In the epistle in which he confirms his taste for humiliation, he makes a list of what he suffered in order to preach to the crowds: five floggings – thirty-nine strokes each time, three scourgings with rods, one stoning at Lystria in Anatolia where he actually came close to dying, his body being left for dead on the ground, three drownings, one of them involving a day and a night immersed in icy water-without mentioning the dangers endemic to travel over roads infested with brigands, dangerous river crossings, the fatigue of marches beneath a leaden sun, countless nights without sleep, forced fasting, thirst, the cold of Anatolian nights. Add to those his prison terms, two years in a dungeon, exile … A masochist’s dream!

            Sometimes he found himself in humiliating situations. On the Agora in Athens, for example, where he tried to convert Stoic and Epicurean philosophers to Christianity by speaking of the resurrection of the body, sheer nonsense for Hellenes. The disciples of Zeno and Epicurus laughed in his face, but he took their insults without flinching. On another occasion, to flee popular rage and the anger of the ethnarch of Damascus, he escaped in a basket lowered from a window down the city ramparts. Since ridicule never kills, Paul survived.

            This hatred of self Paul transformed into hatred of the world and of the need to be able to live with it, partly to dispel it, keep it at a distance. The opposite of what tormented him would henceforth haunt his reality. The contempt of the individual Paul for his body, so incapable of scaling the heights that it might have aspired to, became a discrediting of all flesh in general, of all bodies and of all people. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 he confesses, “I pummel my body and I subdue it,” and he asks of men, “Pummel your body and subdue it. Do as I do …”

            Whence, as we know, praise of celibacy, chastity, and abstinence. No Jesus in all this; just the revenge of the weak. In 1 Corinthians 15:8-9, Paul says, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me,” and he feels unworthy to be numbered among the apostles: “I am the least of the apostles … I am not meet to be called an apostle.”

            Unable to have women? He loathes them … Impotent? He despises them. An excellent occasion for recycling the misogyny of Jewish monotheism, later bequeathed to Christianity and Islam. The first verses of the first book of the Bible set the tone: Genesis radically and irrevocably condemns woman, the first sinner, the source of all of the world’s evil. And Paul embraced this disastrous, this infinitely disastrous idea as his own.

            Hence the prohibitions rained upon them throughout the Pauline writings, epistles, and acts: fragile beyond repair, women’s destiny is to obey men in silence and submission. Eve’s descendants must hold their husbands in awe and refrain from teaching or from trying to control the supposedly stronger sex. Temptresses, seductresses, they may of course hope for salvation, but only in, through, and for motherhood. Two thousand years of punishments visited on women simply to exorcise the neuroses of a weakling!


            In praise of slavery. Paul the masochist articulates the ideas with which Christianity will one day triumph. These include delight in the joys of submission, obedience, passivity, total subservience to the powerful on the false grounds that all power comes from God and that the social position of the poor, the modest, and the humble emanates from a heavenly will and a divine decision.

            God, good, compassionate, etc., approves the diseases of the diseased, the poverty of the poor, the tortures of the tortured, the servility of servants. Addressing the Romans in the heart of their empire, Paul spoke with most timely enthusiasm of the need to obey magistrates, officials, the emperor. He called on everyone to pay his due: taxes to the tax inspectors, fear to the army, the police, and dignitaries, honor to senators, ministers, monarchs.

            For all power came from God and proceeded from him. Disobeying the powerful was rebelling against God, hence his extolling of submission to order and authority. Hence his injunction to flatter the powerful, legitimize and justify the destitution of the poor, respect those wielding the sword. The church now entered a partnership with the state, which from the start set it squarely on the side of tyrants, dictators, and autocrats.

            Sexual impotence transfigured into power over the world, the inability to enjoy women turned into an engine of hatred for women, contempt for self transformed into love of one’s tormentors, hysteria sublimated into the construction of a social neurosis – what wonderful material for a psychiatric portrait! Jesus took on substance by becoming Paul’s hostage. Bland and without substance on questions of society, sexuality (and with good reason, for ectoplasm does not become flesh overnight), and politics, the man of Nazareth assumed ever clearer features. Construction of the myth went on apace, gaining ever greater precision.

            Paul read no Gospel during its author’s lifetime. He himself never knew Jesus. Mark wrote the first Gospel, either in the very last years of Paul’s life or after his death. Beginning with the second half of the first century of our era, the teacher from Tarsus propagated the myth, visited multitudes of men, told his fables to thousands of individuals in dozens of countries: the Asia Minor of pre-Socratic philosophers, the Athens of Plato and Epicurus, the Italy of the Epicureans of the Campagna or the Stoics of Rome, the Sicily of Empedocles. He visited Cyrene, the city where hedonism was born with Aristippus. He also made a detour via Alexandria, Philo’s city. Everywhere, he contaminated. Soon Paul’s disease infected the whole body of the empire.


            At war with intelligence. Hatred of self, of the world, of women, of freedom: Paul of Tarsus added to this deplorable roster, “hatred of intelligence”. Genesis had already preached loathing of knowledge, for we must never forget that tasting the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was the original sin, the unforgivable fault transmitted from generation to generation. Wishing to know, and not remaining content with the obedience and faith demanded by God, that was what was unforgivable. To rival God in knowledge, to prefer education and intelligence to the imbecility of the obedient, these were so many mortal sins.

            And Paul’s education? Nonexistent, or almost: the Old Testament and the certainty that God spoke through it. His intellectual training? We have no idea whether he was a bright student or undertook prolonged studies. Rabbinical training, in all likelihood. His profession? Maker and seller of tents for nomads. His verbal style? Heavy, derivative, complex, oral in fact. His Greek? Clumsy, graceless, possibly dictated to him as he went about his manual trade. Some have even concluded that he could not write. The opposite of a Philo of Alexandria, the philosopher and Paul’s contemporary.

            This uneducated man, openly scoffed at by the Stoics and Epicureans in the public square of Athens, faithful to his technique of making a virtue of necessity, transformed his lack of culture into a hatred of culture. He called on the Corinthians and Timothy to turn their backs on “the addled and foolish questionings” and “hollow frauds” of philosophy. The alleged correspondence between Paul and Seneca is clearly a forgery of the first order. Paul was not a learned man and he addressed not philosophers but his peers. His audience, throughout his wanderings around the Mediterranean, was composed of humble folk and never included intellectuals, philosophers, men of letters. In the second century, Celsus wrote Alethes logos (“True Discourse” or “The True Word”), a polemic against Christianity, in which he characterized Christians as tanners, cleaners, craftsmen, carpenters, and the like. So Paul did not need culture. Demagoguery was enough, and with it its perpetual ally: hatred of intelligence.

            • Scote
              Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

              “Ravings of a hysteric. Paul took hold of this concept, clothed him, and supplied him with ideas. The early Jesus hardly ever spoke out against the customs of everyday life.”

              I’m a little confused about this timeline.

              I used to think of Paul as utterly contaminating the teachings of Jesus, yet Paul’s letters were written *before* any of the Gospels. The Gospels could just as easily be attempts to refute Paul.

              • DiscoveredJoys
                Posted December 30, 2016 at 3:58 am | Permalink

                If you dig around in the internet you can find works which argue that a lot of Paul’s writings were specifically worded to argue against the other popular (Greek) philosophy of the times, Epicureanism. It’s argued that Epicurus got such a bad press from Christians because it was popular and undermined the ‘importance’ of god(s).

            • Posted December 30, 2016 at 5:44 am | Permalink

              Bear in mind that almost everything “known” about Paul’s conversion comes from Acts. There is no reason to think that it is any more reliable that the rest of the book of myths.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        You say they “mostly refer to Jesus as if he were a purely spiritual being.”

        The most common reading of Paul’s letters is that he evidently thought of Jesus as heavenly being of some sort who descended to earth in human form. This isn’t crystal clear in his writings but it is the most straightforward reading of them. Doherty’s claim that Jesus fought evil powers somewhere around the orbit of the moon rests entirely on a problematic (and improbable) reading of one single passage.

        Ehrman observed that since Paul was basically in the business of writing letters to specific churches to settle matters of teaching and practice. Thus he would not necessarily have tried to develop a thorough compendium of his life and teaching.

        I myself am inclined to think Paul was still regarded as a maverick by the Christian church in Jerusalem for much longer than the Acts of the Apostles lets on. The Jerusalem church was still requiring Christians to become Jewish first.

        • DiscoveredJoys
          Posted December 30, 2016 at 4:06 am | Permalink

          I’ve read that around this time it was quite normal for people to believe that gods could become human (for various reasons) and that humans could become gods (for various reasons). So Paul believing in the descent and ascent of Jesus is not particularly unusual, and may even have been a ‘requirement’ to explain miraculous deeds.

          Nowadays we ‘expect’ miracles to prove divinity, not the other way around.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted December 30, 2016 at 4:48 am | Permalink

            Good point. Just off the top of my head, the Ptolemies were ‘gods’, Roman emperors were either deified immediately on their deaths or (some) became gods while they were still alive, Zeus was notoriously in the habit of taking human – or other – form any time he wanted a bit on the side… the line between divinity and corporeal form was pretty well blurred.

            I notice a distinct parallel between Zeus’s amatory exploits and Yahweh’s seduction by (alleged) proxy of Mary, by the way. In particular, Zeus posed as Alcmene’s husband in order to have his wicked way and Hercules was the result… now what does that remind me of…


  13. Achrachno
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I’ve noticed that defenders of J’s supposed existence often spend more time explaining away their lack of evidence than presenting positive evidence. They seem to be a tad short on things definite and concrete.

  14. Christopher
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    ah, see, the problem is, you are insisting that Jesus must be “observable” history, that history which we can see in real time (at least until it becomes the past), when he’s clearly just “historical” history, which can can only make inferences, and as Ken Ham clearly knows, if it isn’t “observable”, then we can’t be sure it happened. But, then, unlike the geological record, the fossil record, radioactive decay, basically the whole of physics, chemistry, geology, paleontology, well, science, the Christians have a bible and that’s true and therefor both “observable” and “historical” and he was real because the Bible said so, and besides, Jesus is real in OUR HEARTS, so there! Take that, Science!

    That’s basically the argument for a real jebus, no?

    btw, did anyone else see the repeat of that crap Nova program trying to build a floating ark? Nice of PBS to bend over backwards to blanket the arse of religion with it’s kisses for the holiday season.

    • Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Did it promptly sink?

      • Christopher
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        yep. It immediately starting taking on a great deal of water, but they brought on board some gas-powered pumps to constantly expel the water. In fairness, there was a bit of skepticism in the program (including tying it to Gilgamesh), but it was clear what the purpose was; to “prove” the story was plausible.

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

          Did they talk about what brand of pump Noah used?

          The results were as I’d expected — I just hope they pointed out the problems to their viewers.

          • Christopher
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

            They did show them bringing the pumps on, but still ended the program with a distance shot of the boat floating triumphantly down the river…with jets of the pumped water just barely visible.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      I much preferred the Nova program where they built a working trebuchet (‘catapult’). And yes, it did work.

      What’s that got to do with Jesus and the ark? Nuthin’ I guess. Just much more interesting.


  15. Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Imagine if you were to try and establish whether a contemporary person named Jack exists or existed with no physical description, no firm birth date, parents named Mary and Joe, unknown residence for most of his life, hearsay evidence about multiplying bread and fishes, dead but no body, etc. It is a nutty quest.

    • Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the Christian position is truly hopeless.

      • Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        Is that like the missionary position?

        • Achrachno
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

          Christians do have a lot of missionaries for their position.

    • busterggi
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      And really, who does know Jack?

  16. darrelle
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I think it is indisputably plausible that there was a real person that was the starting point for the Jesus myths of Christianity. However, I don’t think there is convincing evidence that there actually was such a person.

    The paltry evidence supports just as well that there were many persons of a certain general sort (street preachers, whatever) that were the starting point for the myths. Or that Jesus was purely an invention. Unless new evidence comes to light I don’t see how to narrow the field.

    In any case, to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, even if believers were able to definitively show that there was a real man named Jesus that their Jesus claims are based on, all of their work would still be before them.

    • Achrachno
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      But they cannot even accomplish that first tiny bit of work, which I find endlessly amusing.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      “indisputably plausible” — there’s a phrase could keep an ontologist busy. 🙂

      • darrelle
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink


        I’m unintentionally creative that way. Thank goodness for Steven Pinker.

      • Kevin
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

        Or a judge and jury.

      • Carl
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 11:06 pm | Permalink


    • colnago80
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      It may be that Yeshua ben Yusef was an amalgam of several iterate preachers.

  17. Johan Richter
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    People who are skeptical of the historical existence of Jesus should consider what alternative theories there are. It is not just all the evidence in form of Paul’s letters, the Gospels, Tacitus, Josephus and so on. If we had nothing of that preserved but only the outline of the Jesus legend historians would still think it was likely the story was based on a real character, I think.

    It is simply so much easier to explain how the Jesus legend grew through additions and distortions from a real story of an executed Messiah claimant, than explaining why people would start believing in such a story if it were wholly fictional. Some atheists may not see this because they have an exaggerated view of how similar the Jesus story is to pagan myths, or because they do not see how different the Jesus story is from Jewish messianic expectations at the time.

    Yes, it is within the realm of possibility that the Jesus story is pure invention. But as far as I can see, there is zero evidence for that possibility, it is just a barely possible speculative possibility.

    • Somite
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Just like Joseph Smith and Paul made their stories out of whole cloth. It’s just appealing fiction.

      • Christopher
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        sorry, but I think you misspelled a word. I think you meant “appalling” fiction. 😁

        • Somite
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

          Ha! You are absolutely right.

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          Appauling, indeed.

    • Colin
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      It should give you pause that Paul never met or knew the Jesus character. Tacitus & Josephus’ et al accounts have all been debunked & explained ad nauseum.


    • Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      than explaining why people would start believing in such a story if it were wholly fictional.

      Most gods of past times — Zeus, Baal, Ra, etc — were purely fictional rather than deriving from a real person. That didn’t stop people believing in them.

      … or because they do not see how different the Jesus story is from Jewish messianic expectations at the time.

      Much of the Jesus story can actually be traced back to the Old Testament. The “different from expectations” argument is perhaps exaggerated.

      It is not just all the evidence in form of Paul’s letters, …

      Paul’s letters are actually the best evidence *against* an actual historical Jesus.

      Paul never talks of anyone meeting Jesus (except in visions). He appears totally unaware of any Jesus as a recently-lived human that the other Christians he is dealing with have actually met.

      He never distinguishes between people who had met Jesus and people who had not. He never says: “As X tells us Jesus said …” or anything like it. He appears totally unaware of stories that later appeared in the gospels, and appears unaware of any proto-gospels or oral traditions about Jesus as a living human.

      [There is one exception, in a mention of a last-supper ritual.]

      He makes a point of telling us that none of his message derives from what other Christians have told him. He is openly disparaging of other Christians who would have (if Jesus had existed) actually met and lived with Jesus, and he is dismissive of their authority, pulling rank on them.

      He has no conception that any of these people could reply: “Listen mate, unlike you I actually lived with Jesus for three years and he repeatedly said …”.

      Most bizarre of all is this: What would you do if you learned that the Messiah Himself had recently lived nearby, and that you could go and talk to people who actually lived with him to learn all about Him!

      Does Paul do that? Why no, he tells us that after becoming a Christian he just ignores them all and, err … wanders round Arabia for three years, only much later bothering to go to Jerusalem.

      That makes no sense if Paul thought that Jesus was a recently lived human. It does make sense if Paul thinks that Jesus is someone you learn about (1) through visions, and (2) through the Old Testament scripture. Which, indeed, is exactly what he does say!

      Now if *Paul* has no conception of a recently lived Jesus, and if his letters make no sense if that were the case, then the case for historical Jesus is pretty much sunk.

      • Johan Richter
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        What you say is popular in certain mythicist circles, but it is flat out wrong. The Gospels try to make parallels with the Old Testament, but to a large extent they are unsuccessful because the story of Jesus is not at all close to a fulfillment of any OT prophecies. And Paul absolutely thought Jesus was a human who walked on earth in recent times, according to his letters. As has been pointed out many times, he mentions meeting Jesus’ brother!

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          the story of Jesus is not at all close to a fulfillment of any OT prophecies.

          Well Paul, for starters, cites the OT about 100 times (whereas he says vastly less that could be considered proto-gospel), so Paul certainly thinks of Jesus as heavily linked to the OT.

          As has been pointed out many times, he mentions meeting Jesus’ brother!

          Or, more exactly, he uses the phrase “brother of the Lord” about James, a few sentences after using the same Greek word for “brother” in a context where by “brothers and sisters” he clearly means “fellow Christian”. One can argue about what Paul intended by the phrase “brother of the Lord”, but it is clear cut.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

            That’s consistent with the RCC’s interpretation of “brother of Jesus,” inasmuch at it contends He was born of a perpetual virgin.

        • busterggi
          Posted December 30, 2016 at 8:34 am | Permalink

          And I’m sure Jesus’ brother showed him the family photo album to back up his claim.

      • Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        How would you rebut the “James, brother of the Lord” issue?


      • jimroberts
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        “[There is one exception, in a mention of a last-supper ritual.]”

        Except that Paul never refers to the ritual as a last supper.

        • Kingasaurus
          Posted December 30, 2016 at 5:53 am | Permalink

          Right. Paul always calls it “The Lord’s Supper” which is a little suspicious.

          Also, am I the only one who is equally suspicious about something else? When Paul talks about the Coming of the Lord to usher in the end of the world, he never uses the words “again”, “return” or “Second Coming”, terms that Christians routinely use today. If Paul had known that Jesus had already been on earth, it’s a little strange that those terms are never used.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        “Most gods of past times — Zeus, Baal, Ra, etc — were purely fictional”

        What, Zeus wasn’t real? But then who was Hercules’ father? There’s hundreds of hours of detailed videotape evidence by dozens of different authors that Hercules existed and that he had a stormy relationship with his father Zeus. They can’t all be making it up!


    • Billy Bl.
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      The invention of Jesus by early Christians smells like a conspiracy theory to me. What would be the point? I’m no Christian, but it seems to me that the probability is much higher for a religion to be based on the teachings of a real person than on group deception.

      • Colin
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        Not when you consider and appreciate the staggering level of superstition, ignorance and illiteracy of the people of that time & place.

        • busterggi
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

          Or today.

      • busterggi
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        Then I take it you believe the angel Gabriel dicated the Koran to Mohammad and that the angel Moroni dictated the book of Mormon to Joe Smith and that Xenu teleported (whatever) Dianetics into L. Ron Hubbard’s brain?

        • Billy Bl.
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

          Not following your logic.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

          No, the only analogy to what Billy Bl said is that Mohammad probably existed. (Joe Smith and L Ron are a quite different category).


      • Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        I agree. The modern cults known to me are founded by historical people.

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

          But the historical founder is not always the object of the cult. For example, Joseph Smith and Mormonism.

          Paul seems a candidate for the historical founder of Christianity (or, at least, the surviving Christian tradition).

          It seems to me that the gospel writers were creating a backstory for Christ incarnate, to bolster the Christian tradition in some way, and wove together stories about any number of apocalyptic preachers from around the “right” time.


          • Ken Kukec
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

            I recall reading an analysis making the case that cults that successfully transition into widespread religions do so in a two step process: begun by a charismatic leader, who’s then succeeded by an organizational technocrat. Two of the many examples given were Jesus/Paul and Joseph Smith/Brigham Young.

            And, yeah, the gospel writers created so much backstory, they qualify as the proto-practitioners of retcon.

          • Posted December 31, 2016 at 5:28 am | Permalink

            I agree that Paul was historical founder of surviving Christian tradition, but think that Christian movement already existed when Paul joined it. He himself admits being a latecomer and having persecuted Christians. I suppose he couldn’t deny inconvenient facts witnessed by too many people.

        • busterggi
          Posted December 30, 2016 at 8:31 am | Permalink

          Like Paul?

          • Posted December 31, 2016 at 5:25 am | Permalink

            To me, it seems that Paul hijacked a movement already well under way. I think he planned a career among Christians, similarly to Lucian’s Peregrinus, but the Romans ended it early.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      “why people would start believing in such a story if it were wholly fictional”

      Maybe because an unfounded rumor that the Messiah came and the Romans killed him played into their political biases, much as unfounded conspiracy theories about 9/11 and Obama’s birthplace play into political biases today.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        Catalyzed by destruction of the Jewish Second Temple in CE 70.

    • Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      All right, let’s look at “all the evidence” – the sources you listed, lined up in chronological order:

      Paul’s letters don’t say anything about Jesus as a human teacher – to Paul, he was a celestial being, an intermediary between God and earth. Paul was quite adamant that he got all his information from personal revelations and esoteric readings of Scripture, and not from any eyewitnesses to a corporeal Jesus. He was writing to already-established Christian congregations all around the eastern Roman Empire, who obviously also believed in this celestial-being Jesus – and that fact alone is utterly devastating to the idea that Christianity started out with the pronouncements of a human teacher.

      The Gospel of Mark could be an account of amazing events that somehow went unnoticed by every contemporary writer, but it looks more like a thinly-disguised retelling of Old Testament stories in allegory. We don’t know who wrote it, nor where, nor why, nor when, except that it alludes to events that took place in either the 70s or the 130s AD, which means that it was written several generations after the events it describes, and it is full of historical and geographical mistakes that no one who lived in first-century Palestine would have made. Taken all together, this strongly suggests that it was a piece of fiction set a long time ago in a country far, far away.

      The Gospels of Matthew and Luke both copy long passages from Mark, which shows that they came later still. These books add layers of additional story elements, like the two incompatible birth stories (Matthew’s We Three Kings birth story, and Luke’s Little Drummer Boy story). Obviously the early Christians didn’t hesitate to make up new stuff to push their various versions of the emerging religion.

      The Gospel of John portrays Jesus as some kind of eternal, divine being, not a human at all.

      So Paul and the four gospels are obviously not independent witnesses to the historical Jesus – they’re not independent, and none of them even claims to be a witness!

      Josephus appears to mention Jesus only twice, and both times his text has obviously been tampered with by later Christian copyists.

      Tacitus wasn’t even born until AD 56. He mentioned things that Christians believed, which of course isn’t independent attestation of an actual historical figure.

      Then you say “and so on”, but no, that’s basically all there is. Outside of the highly doubtful Gospel of Mark, there isn’t a single bit of evidence of an actual person at the root of the Christian religion from the first entire century.

      So how did the idea of a corporeal Jesus get started? I like Robert Price’s idea that the first gospel was cooked up by one of many competing Christian sects in a power grab. As long as people believed in Paul’s celestial Jesus who appeared only in personal visions and insights, anybody could claim pretty much anything. But if one group could say its priests were taught by priests who were taught by followers of Jesus Christ himself, then they could claim to be the only ones who knew the real deal. So they made themselves a gospel, and invented the apostolic succession. By the fourth century this sect became the Catholic (“Universally Accepted”) Church, due in no small part to the patronage of the emperor of Rome. Their theology became “orthodox”, and any objectors were declared “heretics” and their writings were suppressed. The rest, you might say, is history!

  18. Posted December 29, 2016 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Evidence of tampering with the gospels, contradictions between the gospels etc. all seems besides the point. There is no doubt that even if Jesus existed most of the stories about him are made up anyway.

    I think it boils down to which scenario one finds more plausible:

    That a real human third-rate cult leader was deified by his followers, or

    That a god had believers who wrote fantasy novels about him walking around as a human, and who subsequently forgot that those were only fantasy novels.

    To me at least it seems as if the first is standard procedure among religions and even some of the weirder political movements. There are lots of examples even from the last few decades. The second – does that ever really happen? Why should it?

    There is also the additional problem that the older gospels appear to be the ones that have Jesus most human, and the latest written gospel is the one that has him most spiritual. That does not seem to fit people turning him slowly into a human, but it does seem to fit people slowly deifying him.

    • busterggi
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Same process happened to Superman and his powers – would you bet that a century from now there won’t be someone who worships a mythical character?

      How about Moroni?

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        I understand that somewhat loony preachers, prophets & activists were à la mode in the Middle East 2,000 years ago. The idea that unsullied reports re one of these characters has come down to us today is just ridiculous. And if he was so charismatic how is it there’s a huge gap of 18 years in his CV?

        A sizeable number of people today assume Sherlock Holmes to be real only 129 years after the publication of the first story about the consulting detective [AD 1887] – this is in a fairly literate culture compared with the first two centuries of the Christian era. More ‘adventures of Sherlock’ are devised every year in various media & it wouldn’t shock me if he became more ‘real’ in centuries to come.

        P.S. From Wiki: “Conan Doyle repeatedly said that Holmes was inspired by the real-life figure of Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, whom Doyle met in 1877 and had worked for as a clerk. […] It is not known if Conan Doyle read “Maximilien Heller”, but in that 1871 novel, [the writer] Henry Cauvain imagined a depressed, anti-social, polymath, cat-loving & opium-smoking Paris-based detective.”

        • busterggi
          Posted December 30, 2016 at 8:29 am | Permalink

          “loony preachers, prophets & activists were à la mode in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.”

          Still are.

      • Posted December 30, 2016 at 1:00 am | Permalink


        Are you saying that antiquity had something like Superman comics? Or that there are people now who believe that Superman really existed?

        And yes, what about Moroni? He is supposed to be an angel. Call me when the Mormons forget that and start claiming that he was a human.


        Not sure how many educated Romans would have been unable to recognise Romulus and Remus as mythical, but that is besides the point because you cannot really compare the two cases. The mythicist case on Jesus is equivalent to this: Romans believe Jupiter is the supreme father-god. Some Romans write novels in which Jupiter is born to human parents, walks around Rome, and behaves exactly like real life cult leaders. Romans then completely forget that Jupiter was supposed to be a god in heaven. I am still reasonably sure something like that is unlikely to happen.

        I’d say that “Paul’s Jesus is purely spiritual” is already an interpretation, and thus squarely in begging the question territory as far as resolving the historicity of Jesus is concerned.

        • Posted December 30, 2016 at 3:15 am | Permalink

          Romans then completely forget that Jupiter was supposed to be a god in heaven.

          Hold on! If the mythicist case is right, and Christians personalised a Jesus who had originally been a spiritual god, at no point did they “forget” that he was also a god. No Christian writings say that.

          • Posted December 30, 2016 at 4:24 am | Permalink

            They forgot that he was supposed to live only in heaven, thus “a god in heaven”.

            Also, there were intermittently quite a few Christian sects who taught that Jesus was only a human, they merely lost out and were persecuted out of existence.

            • Posted December 30, 2016 at 4:28 am | Permalink

              But Roman, Greek and OT gods often visited or interacted with Earth, far more than gods do today, so they wouldn’t have had an “only” in heaven doctrine.

              • Posted December 30, 2016 at 4:44 am | Permalink

                Okay, on the one hand we have a god coming down for a moment, having a fling with a mortal woman, thus making his wife jealous, and then placing the woman into the sky as a constellation to keep her safe from the wife’s wrath. Neat little origin story for constellations, right. Repeat a few times to explain other features of the universe.

                On the other hand we have an elaborate story in which Jesus just so happens to behave precisely like we would expect a deranged sect leader to behave: demanding strict obedience, demanding people give up their families and earthly goods, threatening vengeance to villages that reject his teachings, predicting the end of the world to come soon (embarrassingly even before the gospels were written – why did they put that in if they could write what they wanted?), incoherent rambling sayings that are largely cribbed from other traditions, the whole lot. And he moves around only in an area that one would plausibly expect an itinerant preacher to move around in, not even making an appearance in, say, Greece, despite how important those parts would have been to many of his followers when the gospels were written.

                Are you arguing that the two are in any way comparable?

    • Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      The second – does that ever really happen?

      Yes it does (or did). The Greek and Roman gods were beings who could visit Earth and interact with humans. The Rome-founding story of Remus and Romulus is an example of a clearly fictional and mythical story that came to be regarded as about real people. The division between myth and history didn’t matter so much back then.

      There is also the additional problem that the older gospels appear to be the ones that have Jesus most human, and the latest written gospel is the one that has him most spiritual.

      However, Paul’s letters are even earlier than the earliest gospel and in them Jesus is purely spiritual. Further, it’s the middle two gospels in which he is most human. The first, “Mark”, has much less about him as a person, and is mostly teachings, miracles and allegory.

      • Johan Richter
        Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        Paul’s letters most certainly do not depict Jesus as purely spiritual. He mentions meeting Jesus’ earthly brother, claims Jesus was a descendant of the earthly king David, mentions him being born of a woman, etc.

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

          The “born of a woman” thing is a weird thing to say about anyone, and seems to be about the later docetism heresy.

          And he never says “earthly brother”, he says “brother of the Lord” a few sentences after using the same Greek word for “brother” in a context where by “brothers and sisters” he clearly means “fellow Christian”.

          If he really thought that James was actually Jesus’s brother, why is he so dismissive of him?

          Why would he say just before: “the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it …”.

          So he thinks that James was Jesus’s brother, yet he has learned nothing at all from him?

          He says that on receiving the revelation of Jesus: “my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia.” Does that make any sense is he thinks that those in Jerusalem were actual companions of Jesus, including his brother?

          Then later he says about James et al: “As for those who were held in high esteem–whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism–they added nothing to my message”

          Does that make any sense if he thought that James was actually Jesus’s brother?

          • Carl
            Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

            It makes sense if Paul was creating a new religion, and James and the other apostles – who remained observant Jews – were his opponents in this. See Acts for supporting details.

        • Carl
          Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

          People should read Acts carefully. It recounts Paul coming to Jerusalem and meeting James (brother of Jesus) and other apostles. The apostles are concerned with Paul not following Jewish(!) law and preaching contrary to it. They force him to undergo a ritual purification. Then a mob grabs Paul and gives him a good beating, from which he is rescued by Roman soldiers. Thought provoking stuff.

          • Posted December 30, 2016 at 3:12 am | Permalink

            The problem with Acts is that it is dated to about CE 130 (See Acts Seminar), and we don’t know who wrote it, and it seems to have been written mostly for theological reasons rather than as history.

            Yes, people in CE 130 thought that Jesus was a real person, but that doesn’t mean that Paul did in CE 50 or 60.

          • busterggi
            Posted December 30, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink

            Yet somehow the Pauline epistles, at least the ones considered genuine (or mostly) don’t mention any of this.

            Selective memory? Retroconning by the author of Acts?

  19. Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    The parallels between the Jesus/Yeshua and the Buddha stories are striking, with some making the claim that Jesus was a Buddhist, or at least learned of the Buddha during the 17 missing years of Jesus’ life. There are many similarities in their life accounts and their teachings. Whoever wrote the gospels cribbed a lot from Buddhist writings 600 years earlier. My favorite parallel is the story of the Woman at the Well.

  20. Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Frankly, except for Xians, who cares?

    If you want an interesting take on Yeshua, read Nick Tosches’s “Under Tiberius”.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Read Tosches’s Me and the Devil last summer. Belles-lettres and kinky sex, reminded me of Henry Miller.

  21. Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    It seems obvious to me that Jesus of the bible, with his miracles and resurrection, never existed.

    It seems plausible to me that someone named Jesus (or several people, at least one of them named or titled Jesus) did exist. An itinerant preacher in an area stirred by strong religious feelings and political oppression. People recorded his words, attributed to him other people’s wise words that surely he must have spoken, and attributed to him or wrote new various miracle stories.

    The real Jesus (or Jesuses) doesn’t really matter because the religion based on him depends on the miracles and especially the resurrection, and they are fiction. But I think there probably was a nucleus around which all those stories crystalized.

    • Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      The problem with that viewpoint is that these followers were Jews, and there is no way they would deify a mere human.

      Plus, the time and place of the supposed J.C. was very well attested. There was a lot of observation being recorded. We know of quite a few itinerant preachers, and messianic preachers, and revolutionary troublemakers. Indeed, we know of more than ten of them named Jesus! But there is zero mention of the man who might be Jesus Christ. Zero mention of someone performing miracles and gathering crowds. Absence of evidence IS, therefore, evidence of absence.

      On the other hand, the construction of a much-needed philosophical and spiritual hero, based upon OT scripture with subsequent historification simply fits the evidence much better.

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted December 30, 2016 at 4:21 am | Permalink

        The problem with that viewpoint is that these followers were Jews, and there is no way they would deify a mere human.

        The early followers were Jews but Paul (a Greek) was writing to Jews living elsewhere surrounded by Greek culture. The Greeks (and many other cultures of the time) viewed the boundary between gods and humans as quite porous.

        And there are ‘Jews for Jesus’ living today.

  22. Posted December 29, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    If only Jeshua had said (presciently) ‘revere the double helix’ we might be able to give some credence to the other stuff he supposedly did, said or magicked.


  23. BobTerrace
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Jesus exists and has a Facebook account:

    Hay Zeus

  24. Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Jesus Christ, son of god Evidence: 0

    deluded man who thought he was the messiah: evidence: none, but possible

    Christians still have no historical magical man.

  25. Carl
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Until some compelling evidence is proposed, whether “Jesus” existed or not seems like a debate where believers can at least hold their own. This is fine when kept among atheists, but in conversation with Christians it gets in the way of more substantial things that can be said.

    • jimroberts
      Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      Quite right. In conversation with somebody who believes that Adam, Noah, Abraham, David and Solomon existed, you aren’t going to make any impression by suggesting that Jesus didn’t live on Earth.

  26. Randy Bessinger
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think there is enough evidence to say for sure either way. I am an atheist but I am skeptical of those who are sure there was no preacher named Jesus. In this case, I don’ t think you can definitely say one way or another. Those that are sure seem to me to have an agenda.

  27. Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Greetings, everybody!

    Just doing a drive-by. For those wondering, married life is wonderful…even though Dad died on our wedding day. Long story, as you can imagine — but I only have time for this quick drive-by. Married life….

    Those suggesting the usual stuff along the lines of, “How could it possibly have happened without some kernel of truth?” are, as is very common, thinking that the Christian Bible is a reasonably representative and complete telling of the tale. In reality, it only gives a very distorted and highly incomplete picture. Indeed, imagine a future with a cult of Harry Potter where the only commonly-known “documentation” of 20th Century England was a copy-of-a-copy of JK Rowling’s books; it would be equally likely that the common belief included an historical Harry.

    The very short version is that Jesus is an ancient Jewish demigod who first appears in the historical record in the Old Testament, likely before the founding of Rome, centuries before the time of the Caesars. There’s more than one example, but the best is in Zechariah, where he’s the architect and high priest of YHWH’s celestial temple, the Prince of Peace, crowned (anointed / christened) with many crowns, and has another epithet that translates both as “The Branch” and “The Rising.” He has all the theological attributes of the Christian Jesus, but, aside from the (not uncommon) name, completely lacks familiar biography.

    Contemporary with his alleged ministry, Philo of Alexandria was describing the Jesus of Zechariah as an human man who was the embodiment of the Hellenistic Logos which was the focus of Philo’s life’s work. It is particularly worth noting that, though Philo equated Zechariah’s Jesus with the Logos, and though he was in and around Jerusalem at the time the Christian Jesus was supposedly personifying the Logos in the flesh, Philo didn’t even vaguely tangentially hint of anything remotely resembling the events of the Gospels.

    The next we hear of Jesus is in Paul’s familiar writings. The ones typically considered authentic are theologically indistinguishable from Philo’s, save Paul’s focus is on Jesus entirely and he makes no mention of Zechariah (that I know of). As with Philo, Paul, too, writes nothing of the events in the Gospels…

    …with one notable footnote. The closest he comes is when he introduces the Eucharist, by way of telling the story of the Last Supper. But we know from other early Christian writers that the cult of Mithra already had an established nearly-identical ritual. Add in the fact that Tarsus was the focal point of Mithra worship, and it becomes clear that Paul was “borrowing” the Eucharist and introducing it into Christianity.

    Over the next few decades, others wrote of Jesus, but in ways that didn’t at all resemble the Gospel accounts. The still-scanty biography was radically different, with none of the familiar stuff and lots of unfamiliar.

    Then, after (long after?) the fall of Jerusalem to Rome in 70 CE, pseudonymous “Mark” wrote his eponymous Gospel, a palindrome in classic Homeric style.

    Everything written after “Mark” either repeats him or “corrects” him or otherwise builds on or references his Gospel.

    Put all those facts together, and there’s no room left over for an historical Jesus as an human being anywhere. Nor is there any need — any more than there’s a need for an historical Orpheus or Hercules or Perseus. Even though, throughout history, especially in the Classical Roman Era (when all this happened), lots of people thought those were real historical figures who had done their deeds just a generation or three before.

    Through something of a quirk of history, mostly involving power politics, the Christian Church inherited the Roman Empire. The Pope ultimately traces his authority directly back, not to Jesus Christ, but Gaius Julius Caesar. The only reason people still think Jesus had a real biography is because that was the official propaganda of the Empire for centuries, and the maintenance of that propaganda is essential to the Empire’s inheritors.

    …and, as I noted up top, that’s the short version….



    P.S. My email is down at the moment…apologies for the inevitable bounce should you attempt to send my something…. b&

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted December 30, 2016 at 6:21 am | Permalink

      Good to hear from you again, and I’m glad you’re enjoying married life. I for one miss your comments.

    • GBJames
      Posted December 30, 2016 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Welcome back, Ben. Drop in again sometime!

      • GBJames
        Posted December 30, 2016 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        Erf. Forgot the check box.

  28. trou
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    There was no earthly Jesus because:
    There was no Nazareth in existence at that time. See Rene Salm’s book.
    There is no mention of him in writings of the time.
    The dating of the gospels and epistles are being pushed back into the 2nd century by those scholars who have no Christianity to defend.

  29. Colin
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    It should also give Christians great pause to consider why Jesus has a Mexican name! Hmmm? Betcha never thought of that eh? LOL

    • Posted December 29, 2016 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

      Of course we do. We thank Jesus for our food, don’t we?

  30. J. Quinton
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the thing that sticks out the most when it comes to the writings of biblical scholars.

    They’ll tell you things about how we know what Jesus said because his “closest associates” were enraptured by his sayings. This is a pretty sneaky non-sequitur that becomes glaring once you think about it, and really undermines my confidence that they’re unbiased about their Jesus scholarship.

    We actually have no writings or second hand reports or quotes of quotes of *anyone* who had any sort of personal relationship with Jesus. Biblical scholars may scoff and say otherwise because we have the sayings of Jesus, but I posit that I can also quote people I have absolutely no personal relationship with.

    I can quote Putin, or Obama, or even fictional characters like Hercules or Fred Flintstone. This doesn’t mean that I knew them, or that I know someone who knew them (or that I know someone who knew someone who… who knows them).

    When you read the biographies of many other ancient persons, they usually have some sort of personal detail about the person that evidences that someone actually saw this person and interacted with them in the flesh: They talk about their big nose or their thick neck, or their temperament or some other aspect of their personality. E.g., Marcus of the XIV legion liked to play the fiddle on weekends but really hated it when it rained. SOMETHING.

    We have none of that for Jesus. Jesus functions more like a disembodied mouthpiece that just has a bunch of cool episodes that are meant to contextualize some speech or saying. Crowds and individuals appear and disappear as the narrative needs. They fawn over him one minute and want him executed the next as the narrative requires. It’s like watching a whole bunch of Saturday Night Live skits, or some sort of p**n where they have the flimsiest and absurd setups to get to the real action.

    This makes me think that any sort of non-supernatural Jesus is pretty irrelevant to Christianity. Maybe some guy did exist that it’s based on, but the religion is so removed from that person (or persons) that it’s like looking for the historical Wonder Woman: yes, the comic character was based on the creator’s wife. But it seems kind of absurd to call the creator’s wife the “historical” Wonder Woman.

  31. Damien McLeod
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    I do not believe Jesus was a real person. He was a made up fairy story just like his father Yahweh and all the other Sky-Fairies.

  32. Posted December 29, 2016 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    I recently read a couple of books on the recording history of the Beatles. One covered every song the Beatles recorded in the studio and the other just focused on 1966 and the making of Revolver. Even though the events depicted in this book occurred just 5 decades ago, there are many myth stories that have been focused on the Fab Four.

    Lennon joked how he would drop nonsensical references into his lyrics because so many people were searching them for some cosmic meaning. We saw how tragically awry this could go when a fan was mentally unstable with violent tendencies, like Charles Manson, believed there were messages in the Beatles’ songs meant for him.

    One of the most bizarre and persistent myths that people believed was the infamous “Paul is dead” conspiracy theory. I remember attending a discussion on the subject back in 1984 given by an author of a book on this myth. I admit it was a fascinating presentation of all of the “clues” left by The Beatles letting us know McCrtney had died in 1966 and was replaced by a darn talented lookalike. (Read about the conspiracy theory at http://turnmeondeadman.com/the-paul-is-dead-rumor/)

    It would have been easy to disappear down the rabbit hole but reality just wouldn’t allow me to do so. If you can convince people that in 1966 Paul McCartney was killed in an auto accident, that his death was kept secret, that he was quickly replaced by a doppelganger who could produce iconic music and that once The Beatles broke up as a band, no one bothered to mention Sir Paul’s passing, then you can convince people that a 1st Century resident of Galilee founded a radical sect of Judaism that quickly evolved into separate religion known as Christianity. Or as Lennon told me over a few pints one night, “Here’s another clue for you all, the Walrus was Paul.”

    Humans don’t need historical evidence to invest in a faith-based worldview. They may pretend that it matters to them but when confronted with the facts, they always find a way to dismiss it and continue believing in the supernatural. Now let me explain how the moon landings were faked by NASA…

  33. peltonrandy
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    I think it most probable that there was no historical Jesus. I like the approach that Richard Carrier took in his book On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. There he applied Bayes Theorem and concluded that there is a significantly higher probability that Jesus did not exist than the probability that he did.

    • Tom
      Posted December 30, 2016 at 4:42 am | Permalink

      Agreed, it is a matter of probability.
      Also, none of the gospels appeared until after Paul, our only probable source for the very earliest teachings of christianity was safely dead.

  34. z
    Posted December 30, 2016 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    An honest question: what best explains the rise of the early Christian movement, if not the fact that there was a leader/teacher/healer called Jesus, who was charismatic enough that a bunch of people started worshipping him? I take it that the existence of a movement in the early first century A.D. based around worshipping a guy called ‘Jesus’ is not seriously in question. That there was a charismatic leader called ‘Jesus’ who got the ball rolling seems like a pretty good explanation for this fact. Are there other plausible explanations?

    • Posted December 30, 2016 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      A con man named Paul, desiring fame and fortune, created a mystery religion. Mystery religions were a fad at the time. There were tons of them, with numerous common themes, including virgin births, rising from the dead, sundry miracles, and spiritual communions involving bread and wine. He borrowed a common name of itinerant Palestinian preachers as the basis of his imaginary, spirit world diety.

      • z
        Posted January 2, 2017 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

        Thank you. I suppose I would have to delve into the scholarly literature on all this to make up my mind, but, at first glance, I’m not convinced that this is a better explanation. First, did Paul really stand to gain fame and fortune by creating a new religion? I would have thought that he would forego fortune and open himself up to Jewish persecution by starting such a heretical movement. Secondly, is there evidence of the existence of a Christian movement before Paul’s conversion?

  35. David Baca
    Posted December 30, 2016 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    S.H.Cooke, an Old Testament scholar in the 1950s and 1960s, wrote that of the four canonical gospels only Matthew and Luke give accounts of the birth and childhood of Jesus.

    Cooke points to OT narratives of remarkable births as well as Sumerian and Babylonia creation myths from which both Luke and Matthew had drawn from.

    Cooke writes that the gospel writers wanted to ” find in the life of Jesus a recapitulation of the experience of Israel, as well ad that of Moses. For them, Jesus embodied both a new Moses and a New Israel.

    Jesus is a myth , a product of the time and place and in my opinion, a work of art.

  36. zytigon
    Posted December 30, 2016 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    I think the stories about Jesus are fictional due to how they don’t add up.

    What if there were real events on which to base the stories and some of the Jewish folk had faith of delusional proportions ?

    If Judas Iscariot had come from a gang of Jewish freedom fighters and if he had delusional faith in Jesus claims about being the Son of God, able to come back to life then he might have hoped that as the Roman soldiers attempted to crucify Jesus that this would unleash the wrath of God and bring down Exodus style plagues of lightning, hailstones, death angels on the Roman empire wiping them all out and thus freeing the Jewish people to be sole survivors in the region as Moses indicated he thought Yahweh wanted. He might have imagined that even if this did not happen prior to Jesus death that it would soon after with Jesus storming back from death with the whole league of angels to take revenge. So from this perspective it would have been a kiss of admiration, reverence & eager expectation done in good faith with which Judas kissed Jesus in the Garden of Olives.Why didn’t Luke 22v48 have Jesus say, “Bless you Judas, you have great faith, you will see the Son of God coming in all his glory” Judas could have acted with deluded confidence that no real harm would befall Jesus, that he was indestructible and it was with the horror of seeing nothing happen that Judas became disillusioned and committed suicide.

    The crowd before Pilate could have been calling, “Yes crucify Jesus ” and secretly thinking, then you’ll get what for, we’ll have our revenge & victory. We will double trick the Romans, titter titter.

    In a similar manner those watching Jesus on the cross might have chanted like cheer leaders with great faith, “He saved others, He will save himself, just you wait, any minute he’ll call down all the powers of heaven to take revenge on the Roman empire, wipe the floor with them and be our eternal physical living King on Earth”

    When nothing spectacular happened the Roman soldier shouted sarcastically, “Yeh, right, he was the Son of God – NOT”
    However if the angels really had started to terminate all the Romans then that soldier would have yelled in terror, “Oh my god, he really was a son of a god” before being blasted by cosmic laser.

    So when Jesus cried, “They know not what they do” it was because he suddenly twigged that his followers had mistakenly been interpreting his sayings literally rather than in the symbolic & metaphorical way he intended.

    It has just been a terrible case of misunderstanding.

    • busterggi
      Posted December 30, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      I’m trying to figure out why the Roman authorities needed Judas to identify Jesus – a man who supposedly had thousands of followers, made mass public demostrations of magical powers, personally debated with the high priests of the temple, made a triumpful entry into the city, personally led an attack on the temple grounds, etc….you couldn’t have gotten more public recognition back then than all those events would have generated.

  37. Larry
    Posted December 30, 2016 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    So it seems all the discussion about the historicity or mythology of this alleged person comes to down to the following:
    1. There are stories.
    2. These stories are unverifiable.
    3. There are no mutually-supporting eye-witness accounts.
    4. Bizarre traits (virgin birth, son of a god, ability to answer prayers, etc.) of the alleged individual pre-exist among other, previous alleged supernatural entities.
    5. Belief in said individual, or in the anecdotes of said individual, are based on faith or wishful thinking.

  38. michael
    Posted December 30, 2016 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    The story of Jesus’ birth being in one place while his ‘parents’ were from another makes me think Jesus was real. If the story were being made up out of whole cloth, so much easier to invent a preacher from Bethlehem as called for in the OT. To make up a census that requires everyone to travel to the towns of their birth seems made up to reconcile the prophesy with the facts of a real-life preacher from Nazareth.

    My hobby is genealogy, and I know of know census in any time or place that expected people to return to their birthplaces for enumeration. The idea is absurd.

    • Posted December 30, 2016 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      To me, the ludicrous pregnant woman on a donkey story shows the merger of myths. Everyone “knows” Robin Hood lived in Sherwood Forest. If you want Robin to fulfill a prophecy set in London, you will need to create a story to get him to London but this in no way makes Robin Hood any more real.

      Some archeologists have concluded that Nazareth did not exist until the end of the first century. The forgers of the gospels confused Jesus the Nazarene – a member of a religious sect – and turned it into Jesus from Nazareth – a town that did exist when the stories were written down but not when the stories were supposed to have occurred.

  39. Posted December 30, 2016 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    Matthew refers to Barabbas only as a “notorious prisoner”.

    Barabbas? Bar Abba? Son of the Father?

    Sound familiar? Son of my Father in Heaven?

    In my opinion Jesus and Barabbas were one and the same person, conflated somehow.

    Jesus was crucified as a rebel on the orders of Pontius Pilate.


    Consider his followers, Peter who carried a sword he used to cut off the ear of an official.

    Judas the D?aggerman


    Eisenman translates the names of two apostles as the “Rocky” brothers, the hard men.


    I reckon the apostles would today be considered terrorists. And Jesus their mentor.

  40. Posted December 30, 2016 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    The 12 apostles are symbols. These people supposedly spent 3 years following god around and listening to his every word and poof, the pretty much vanish. Almost nothing is known about them. Most barely get names.

    On the other hand, 12 is a common number in mythology. There are 12 disciples, including Gemini, er Thomas, the twin. What a coincidence.

  41. chris moffatt
    Posted December 30, 2016 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Was there a Yeshue bar Yussef? Doesn’t matter. Was there a Haile Selassie? Doesn’t matter. Both have become mythicised to the point of divinity because that is what was needed for religious purposes. Doesn’t matter if they ever existed or not. And for christians it’s a metter of faith anyway, not evidence. Faith keeps the whole religious enterprise going; keeps the faithful donating their hard-earned cash.
    One might think that a real deity would want there to be no equivocation and obfuscation of what it wanted; that it would make the message clear again and again and again so there would be no mistakes, no misunderstandings. This “father in heaven” deity who somewhere along the line took over from the yahweh one, seems to think once and done two thousand years ago is all that’s needed. Obviously it never played post office when a child. Never occurred to it that the message, whatever it was, might have gotten just a little corrupted over the twenty centuries since it left town. Just have faith mes enfants; no knowledge required.

  42. uh-oh
    Posted December 30, 2016 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised after all these comments to see only one mention of Carrier’s ‘On the Historicity of Jesus’. It’s all in there, the complete scholarly mythicist thesis that answers all the questions such as ‘how come a religion got started if Jesus wasn’t real’. In conjunction with his earlier ‘Not the Impossible Faith’ I think he has supplied a comprehensive explanation of how Christianity could arise without a historical Jesus that should satisfy any scientifically-minded truth-seeking person. It doesn’t actually matter all that much whether Jesus was mythical or one of many historical possibilities. The weight of OT tradition and splintering of Judaism around those times was such that if there wasn’t such a guy trolling around the landscape you’d have to invent him anyway. It just so happens that when you (ie Carrier) consider all the evidence, it’s all easier to explain if he was mythical.

  43. Ronald Wall
    Posted December 30, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    For most of my adult life I’ve had an interest reading about religion in general and Christianity in Particular. I was a big fan of Prof. Bart Ehrman and read many of his books. Then, I began reading his book on whether Jesus really existed (Prof. Ehrman says yes). It really destroyed my faith in him as a New Testament historian when I reached the chapters where he based his argument on “textual analysis” and a no longer existing “Q” document (if there ever was one). History is a type of science, One in which the historian attempts to reconstruct past events from often slim evidence. It is fine to say one has the opinion Jesus was an apocalyptic Jewish itinerant preach, it is quite something else to use a source, which, like Jesus, seems to be a myth and to which the historian has no access to back up his claim. Historians like scientists should be held to “hard” evidence and not to evidence that cannot be examined and peer reviewed. Frankly, I began reading, “Did Jesus Exist?” thinking that Prof. Ehrman had some real evidence, pro or con, to settle the argument. I was terribly disappointed.

  44. Ronald Wall
    Posted December 30, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Blond, blue-eyed northern European? I think not.

  45. drew
    Posted December 30, 2016 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    So, a question to readers: what do you make of this? Are you convinced that such writings give us confidence that a real Jesus-person existed? If so, why? If not, why not?

    My take on the question has always been that the person of Jesus is most probably an amalgam of a bunch of the itinerant apocalyptic preachers that you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting (apparently) in the day.

    So, no, Jesus was not an actual person per se: Rather as Paul was going around forming churches in the early-late 50s there were a bunch of just so stories from the older peoples who remembered these preachers and superimposed the identity of Jesus upon them.

    This has the benefit of introducing regional variations that might help to explain some of the seemingly contradictory differences between the gospels themselves, and with the Pauline letters

  46. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted December 31, 2016 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    what do you make of this? Are you convinced that such writings give us confidence that a real Jesus-person existed? If so, why? If not, why not?

    It is unlikely a historical Jesus-person existed.

    The prior is that religious founders at the time, before widespread literacy due to the printing press, are derived from the religious myths themselves.

    The posterior is that no historical accounts exist.

    Moreover, the source of the latter abbreviated myth – with an addition of detail and reformulation the younger the myth text is – is Saul on a first stressful merchant travel, describing something else entirely.

    Saul recounts being blind for three days and having visions of a contemporary messianic figure. That figure was prevalent in the local myths at the time, the myths Saul had spent years studying. A feasible explanation for his symptoms could be a stroke, with a ‘miraculous’ remission to boot.

    The later myth elaboration in Acts and finally a large number of Gospels has quite openly based a ‘birth date’ for the mythical Jesus-person on Saul’s age at the time.

    With every problem of the posterior even a guarded low probability diminish towards the neighborhood of zero. The posterior basis is an anecdote, with the expected process of myth elaboration and adaptation between the anecdote and the successful myth account well documented.

    If I was a historian interested in historical fact and historical process I would likely note that this sits seamlessly in such a frame. It is an excellent example of myth construction – from the first documentation in the Dead Sea Scrolls over the documented abbreviation and adaptation to the final assemblage – correlated with historical and archaeological ages!

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted December 31, 2016 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Oops, “the latter abbreviated myth” – the later abbreviated myth.

  47. Mike
    Posted December 31, 2016 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    You would think someone who had walked on water, turned water into wine, raised himself and others from the dead , let the blind see and cured lepers ,would get more than a passing reference from Josephus a Century later. Don’t believe he ever existed, at least not the way he;s portrayed by Christians.

  48. Jim
    Posted January 2, 2017 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Richard Carrier has written extensively on this: using bayesian analysis, Mr Carrier makes a very convincing case that Jesus is a fictional character.

    Bart Ehrman has defended the historical Jesus, but not convincingly.

    I go with a mythical Jesus.

  49. Posted January 20, 2017 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    As evidenced by the 200 (and counting) comments, this post obviously hits a nerve with people on both sides of the discussion. As a (developing) biblical scholar (undergraduate degree as well as a Master of Divinity), I wholeheartedly agree Jesus was not white, nor did he have blue (or hazel or green) eyes, or have hair that was a light hue. He was likely around 5′-5’2′” with incredibly UN-Anglo feature.
    As far as whether He was real or not, I guess it is hard to not have some sort of a priori argument, though here is an archaeological discussion that may interest you:http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/did-jesus-exist/?mqsc=E3862010&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHDDaily%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=E6BD12
    also, if you look at my blog posts there are 2 that may interest you. “The Curious Case of the Sensational Messiah” and “Imago de Me”

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