7 comments on “5 Reasons to Suspect Jesus Never Existed

  1. As for the historical existence of Jesus…

    Jesus himself was no myth, but a genuine historical personality, like Pythagoras, the Buddha or Mahavira, around whom contradictory legends have arisen (the resurrection, genealogies, the virgin birth, etc.).

    First century Pythagoreanism is described in detail in The Life of Apollonius of Tiana. The ancient texts records this neoplatonic philosopher and miracle worker having a divine birth, absorbing the wisdom of Pythagoras, practicing celibacy, vegetarianism, as well as voluntary poverty; healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, exorcising demons, foretelling the future, and teaching the innermost secrets of religion. Finally, the text says he never died, but went directly to heaven in a physical assumption.

    Sound familiar?

    Secular historian Dr. Martin A. Larson, an atheist, would have no personal interest in proving Jesus to be a genuine historical personality. But he debunks the argument that Jesus was a “myth.” He writes:

    “…Bruno Bauer, around 1840 became the first to maintain the non-historicity of Jesus… In time he declared that Jesus himself was only a myth. When his opponents marshaled evidence to the contrary, he was eventually forced into the position that the Christian religion originated during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, 175 AD; that all of its primary documents were forged by a group of unknown conspirators; that Peter, Paul, Clement, Ignatius, Papias, Justin Martyr, Marcion, etc. were invented by them; that all documents attributed to these writers were likewise forgeries concocted late in the second century; that all references to Christianity in Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny, and all mention of early Christian authors in Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrnus, Irenaeus, etc. were interpolations.

    “The historicity of Paul, of course, if accepted, establishes that of Peter and Jesus also; for Paul teems with historical detail and refers often to them; and in Galatians 1:18 he states categorically that he dwelt fifteen days with Peter in Jerusalem. Certainly, no Christian would have invented the bitter feud between Peter and Paul. Bauer might almost as logically have denied the historicity of the Roman Empire.”

    Dr. Larson writes:

    “In Josephus we have three passages, one about Jesus, a second about John the Baptist, and a third concerning the stoning of James the Just, ‘the brother of Jesus,’ at Jerusalem.”

    According to Dr. Larson, scholars accept the third passage as genuine, and NOT a later forgery or interpolation by Christians:

    “It implies no belief in Christianity; it belongs in the context; the references to James and Jesus are written in as minor details; and the important element to the author is the unprincipled seizure of power by the High Priest, Ananus. It bears every mark of authenticity and constitutes conclusive evidence that by 62 AD there were in Jerusalem organized Christians…”

    According to Dr. Larson, “Once the authenticity of the passage in Josephus is admitted, there is no difficulty in accepting as genuine the celebrated passage in Tacitus, written soon after 100 AD:

    “‘Nero fastened the guilt’ for the burning of Rome ‘on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontus Pilate; and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea… but even in Rome… and became popular.’

    “This is not the kind of forgery that a Christian, or, for that matter, any one else would have composed,” writes Dr. Larson. “We must, therefore, believe that Christians were numerous both in Jerusalem and in Rome between 60 and 65 AD; that it was common knowledge that a certain Jesus, also known as the Christ or Christos (Messiah), executed by Pilate, was their founder; and that they were generally regarded as abominable and contemptible wretches…

    “Nor is the passage in Tacitus our only early classical reference to Jesus to Christianity. Pliny the Younger, in a letter to Trajan dated about 111 AD, concerning the Christians of Bithynia, calls their religion ‘an absurd and extravagant superstition,’ which was already flourishing for over twenty years in that province. Suetonius, after detailing the enormities of which Nero was guilty, lists among his good works that he ‘inflicted punishment on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.

    “For all practical purposes, these meager texts exhaust our authentic independent testimony; yet they prove that there were organized Christian movements in Jerusalem and in Rome before 65 AD, and that, according to common knowledge, their founder was a certain Jesus, who was called the Christ, and who suffered at the hands of the Roman procurator Pilate. The authenticity of all this cannot be successfully assailed.

    “Whoever comprehends the nature of evidence will know that Gautama the Buddha, Mahavira, Zoroaster, John the Baptist, Simon Magus, and Manes were actual individuals, just as certainly as were Julius Caesar or George Washington; for we know certain definite facts about them in their historical setting which would never have been created mythologically.

    “By the same token, we know also that Athena, Aphrodite, Mithra, Dionysus, Attis, Bromius, Demeter, Persephone, and Priapus were myths only, that is, purely ideological creations.

    “Concerning Jesus, the evidence is much stronger than with older prophets or saviors, for when he came written records were well kept and his life is definitely fixed in the framework of current history. If we deny his historicity, we must also deny that of Peter, of Paul, of Clement of Rome, of Ignatius, of Papias, and of many others, which few indeed have ventured to do; and we must devise a sound theory to explain their writings, which bear every earmark of authenticity.

    “We cannot deny that there were many Christians in Rome and Jerusalem by 62 AD, nor can we doubt that the leaders of the cult at that time proclaimed their personal acquaintance with Jesus. It is simply inconceivable that such a gospel could have developed in thirty years without some historical basis.

    “The internal evidence favoring the historicity of Jesus is even more decisive; it is far more conclusive… Not only is the synoptic (Matthew, Mark, Luke) story between the baptism and the empty tomb forthright and consistent: it is also filled with details and elements which never would have been found in a myth… he traveled clandestinely by night so that he might not be apprehended; he died in utter despair, believing that God had forsaken him, he announced his coming and Day of Judgment at the middle of his career and so proved himself a false prophet We must accept Matthew 10:23 as genuine, since no believer would, at a later date, have invented a prophecy which proved false almost with its utterance.

    “Nor would writers of many years later have made Jesus promise a Second Coming during his own generation. The fact that all this and more, which is so very human, appears in the Synoptics establishes the historicity of Jesus. All such material is deleted from the gospel as revised in John, where the authentic (historical) Jesus disappears entirely.”

  2. To me, and I think to most people, the game-changing question isn’t whether the Jesus stories derive from a historical kernel but whether and to what extent the stories in the Bible are mythology. I care about moving toward a world in which our shared priorities are not driven by the worship of Iron Age texts, a world in which individuals can embrace reason and compassion, unshackled by viral ideas we know to be false and harmful, including many that have been written in stone by the Abrahamic religions. Given my goals, I have little emotional investment in the question of whether most Jesus stories are historicized mythology or mythologized history.

    Most scholars who approach the gospels from an academic perspective rather than an apologetic perspective (ie. as defenders of faith), agree that the biblical stories are highly mythologized. In a world where almost half of Americans say the Bible is the literally perfect word of God, this is what lay people need to know. The debate between mythologists and historicists is interesting in part because it opens up to lay people the arguments and methods relevant to this question.

    If I had been more privy to the these methods and arguments before writing this article, for example, if I had spoken with Bart Ehrman in addition to David, or had read some of Ehrman’s frustrated rants on the topic, I would have worded some things differently. But while I assume that the consensus position is probably correct, I don’t dismiss the mythicists or their position, for several reasons. 1. The mythicists I know may or may not be right, but in contrast to the accusations hurled against them, they are serious and rigorous in their approach. 2. I come at this as a psychologist, not a classics scholar, and one lens that psychology brings to this debate is the knowledge that humans are highly prone to historicizing otherwise vague stories. Psychological processes in which this happens include confabulation (when alcohol addled brains invent histories to fill gaps) and false memory syndrome, in which an expert asking leading questions actually prompts a person to create memories which become more detailed and solid over time. In split brain research a message can be sent to the right side of the brain, for example, go get a diet coke. When the person stands up and the left side of the brain is asked why, it provides a perfectly coherent story. To my mind, in other words, psychological and social mechanism exist that would make the mythicist position feasible.

  3. 5. Secular History Supports the Theological Position that Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi Nailed to a Roman Cross.

    During 1989-1990, in a series of theological discussions with my friend Rankin Fisher, a former Missionary Baptist minister, I told him I’d read an interview with a Catholic priest in the Los Angeles Times. The priest was saying the Romans, not the Jews, were responsible for the crucifixion. I told Rankin statements like these could help end anti-semitism.

    One of the first books I ever read on the subject of biblical vegetarianism in 1986 was The Essene Christ by Dr. Upton Clary Ewing. (1961) According to Josephus, the Jewish historian who lived during the time of Jesus, there were only three Jewish sects: the Pharisees, the Sadduccees, and the Essenes. Dr. Ewing makes the case that Jesus was an Essene, the Essenes were vegetarian, therefore, Jesus was a vegetarian.

    Dr. Ewing then proceeds to document vegetarianism in Christianity: the earliest Christians, the writings of the early church fathers (who wrote extensively on the subject), the lives of the saints (Catholicism) and religious reformers (Protestantism) …including Schweitzer, whom he quotes at length. In drawing an analogy to the way 19th century Southern churches upheld human slavery on biblical grounds with the way we treat animals today, Dr. Ewing foreshadowed the contemporary animal rights movement.

    According to Dr. Ewing, the Romans were responsible for the crucifixion, and not the Jews.

    Christian theologian Dr. Upton Clary Ewing writes:

    “The wrongful blaming of the Jews for the death of Jesus has been one of the most effective roadblocks ever placed in the highway leading to the brotherhood of man. It is not only shameful, but completely illogical, for one to continue to hold that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. As all the evidences of comparative beliefs seem to verify, Jesus and the Pharisees were more in agreement on religious issues than they were in disagreement.

    “As for Jesus’ declaring himself to be the Messiah, the Jewish hierarchy would have been more amused than hostile at the audacity of anyone from Galilee making such a claim. The Jews, with very few exceptions, were far from being averse to the principles of Jesus. Even those who were annoyed by his jibes and his admonitions would not have felt justified in taking severe measures against him. There were great multitudes of Jews who, although they dared not protest to the Romans, wept deeply as they followed Jesus to crucifixion. Even the gospel of Luke openly admits the sincere affection the Jews had for Jesus. ‘And there followed him a great company of people and of women who also bewailed and lamented him.’ (Luke 23:27)

    “The trial and execution of Jesus was strictly a Roman responsibility. It was prompted by and carried out in accord with strict Roman ordinances which extended little leniency to a Jew. The Jews under Roman authority were tolerated only when they conformed to all the articles of strict obedience. To be involved in the slightest misdemeanor, even among themselves, could mean the lash or other harsh, humiliating punishment.

    “During the Roman occupation of Judea, it was the custom of the time to mete out severe punishment for a Jew for an offense that would hardly warrant the arrest of a Roman citizen. One does not need other historical evidence to confirm this; verification is found where Paul is charged with disturbing the peace: ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman?’ (Acts 22:24-29)

    “The crucifixion of Jesus is explicable on one ground only: that he was sentenced to death and executed by Roman authority as a sower of sedition against Roman rule. A sentence by the Sanhedrin was imagined, and condemnation pronounced on the grounds that Jesus laid claim to be the Son of God. Jesus, as all four evangelists are compelled to admit, was condemned to death by Pilate on political grounds as ‘King of the Jews,’ that is, as a Messianic agitator who laid claim to some kind of royalty in Israel, which automatically made him subversive of the imperial government. Historically, the case of Jesus is intelligible only if we admit from the outset that he was sentenced to death by Pilate alone, acting as a representative of Roman authority.

    “Crucifixion was strictly a Roman means of execution. Death by stoning was the method used by the Jews, and this was ordered by the Sanhedrin only upon conviction of blasphemy; i.e., for cursing or denying the existence of God, which Jesus did not do. Up to the time of Jesus the Sanhedrin had not imposed a death sentence in over 200 years. In fact even if they had desired to do so they could not, for capital punishment was administered solely by Roman authority for crimes against imperial law…they nailed a sign on the cross to show their contempt for the Messianic claims of Jesus: ‘Behold Him the king of the Jews.’ These words which appear in all four gospels spell out examples of Roman vituperation, not Jewish judgment.”

    The New Testament says Pilate unwillingly sentenced Jesus to death, but Josephus says Pontius Pilate was so brutal he was recalled to Rome because of too many executions! Luke 13:1-5 reveals the real Pilate of history: “…the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices…”

    6. It’s Possible Jesus was an Essene

    Aside from the Pharisees, the gospels and Book of Acts mention the Sadducees as the only other major school of Judaic thought. The Sadducees tended to be rich, nationalist and secularist.

    The Jewish historian Josephus, who lived during the time of Jesus, wrote that the “Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances…which are not written into the laws of Moses and” which “the Sadducees reject,” but they “are able to persuade none but the rich,” whereas “the Pharisees have the multitude on their side.”

    Thus Jesus never rejected Mosaic Law (Matthew 5:17-19; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 16:17); only its Pharisaic excesses.

    Obviously, Jesus was neither Pharisee nor Sadducee. No analysis of the history of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus can ignore the Essenes. The Jewish historian Josephus, who lived during the time of Jesus, wrote that there were but three Jewish sects in his day: the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes. Josephus actually spent time in an Essene monastery and compiled a detailed account of their doctrines and way of life–similar to primitive Christianity.

    New Testament scholars such as Bahrdt (1784-1792), Venturini (1800), Gfoerer (1831-38), Hennel (1840) and von der Alm (1863), have all suggested that Jesus may have been an Essene. The Pharisees and Sadducees appear in the gospels and book of Acts as parties inimical to the new church, but no mention is made of the Essenes.

    It is quite possible Christianity grew out of Essenism. Essenism began around 180 BC as a reaction to Hellenistic influence among the Jewish people. They called themselves the Zadokites or the Hasidim (pious). In addition to the canonical books of the Old Testament, they composed and studied their own scriptures, commentaries and prophecies, written between 170 and 60 BC. These scriptures were uncovered by modern archaeology in the Essene monastery at Khirbet-Qumran, west of the Dead Sea. The Essenes flourished until 69 AD, when they were killed by the Romans.

    The Essene community called itself by the same name (“Edah”) used by the early Christians to denote the church. The same term used to designate its legislative assembly was also used to denote the council of the early Christian church. There were twelve “men of holiness” serving as general guides for the community — strikingly similar to the twelve apostles. These men had three superiors, designated as pillars of the community — exactly the positions held by John, Peter and James in the early Christian church. (Galatians 2:9)

    Both the Essenes and the earliest Christians referred to themselves as “the poor in the world,” “the sons of light” and “the chosen of God who shall judge the nations at the end of time.” The earliest Christians called themselves “the saints,” “the brethren,” “the elect,” “the believers,” “those in Messiah,” “those of the Lord,” “the sons of peace,” “the disciples” and “the poor.” The word most used to refer to Christians in the New Testament is “brethren.” The Manual of Discipline and other Essene texts, found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, indicate that they spoke of each other as “brethren.”

    During the Last Supper, Peter motioned to one of the disciples “to ask who it was of whom he (Jesus) spoke.” (John 13:24) This was consistent with the practice of the Essenes when they met together in sessions: “Nor shall a man speak in the midst of the words of his neighbor, before his brother finishes speaking. Neither shall he speak before his proper order.” It appears the disciple next to Jesus held a higher rank in the group than Peter, and was the one posing the question to Jesus.

    The Essene monastery communal meal resembles the Last Supper of the New Testament. In both meals, only men participated in a large upper room. (Mark 14:15) In both groups the recognized leader presided over the meal. Lastly, the leader blessed both the bread and the drink. Because of these close parallels, the depiction of the Last Supper more closely resembles the communal meals of the Essenes than it does the Passover meal, which is traditionally a patriarchal family rite in which the father of a family presides.

    The epistle of James is regarded as one of the earliest epistles in the New Testament. It is addressed to the twelve Jewish tribes of the Dispersion. Its writer, James the Just, the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19), held a leading position at the Church in Jerusalem. (Acts 12:17, 15:13, 21:13) James (4:5) appears to quote directly from Essene scripture.

    He asks, “Do you think that scripture says in vain, ‘The spirit which God made to dwell in us lusteth to envy?'” The scripture he refers to are not the canonical books of the Old Testament, because such a statement cannot be found in them. However, a similar statement can be found in the Manual of Discipline: “God has made two spirits to dwell in us, each rivaling the other; the evil one lusteth and envies the good.”

    Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-17 concern disputes among the brethren. He mentions evidence, witnesses and an already existing church hierarchy. Jesus was quoting a set of Essene rules which can be found in the Manual of Discipline.

    John the Baptist is said to have been raised in the desert from childhood. The Essene monastery was not far from where John supposedly lived. The Essenes were the only Jewish sect with a celibate priesthood, practicing baptism. The Manual of Discipline says they followed Isaiah 40:3, “go to the wilderness to prepare there the way… make level in the desert a path for the Lord.”

    This was John’s description of himself, as found in the canonical gospels (John 1:23). “Repent,” he preached, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) The Essenes believed they belonged to a “covenant of repentance.” (Zadokite Document)

    John the Baptist said that one greater than he would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. The Manual of Discipline declares that the time would come when God would cleanse man through the Holy Spirit and through His Messiah, God would make His chosen know the Holy Spirit.

    Josephus writes that the Essenes adopted children and brought them up in God’s service. According to the gospels, John the Baptist was in the desert from boyhood until the day of his showing in Israel. The gospels are also silent about Jesus’ life from the age of twelve to thirty. Both Jesus and his relative John were about the same age. According to Jewish tradition, a student must reach his thirtieth birthday before he can qualify as a priest or rabbi. Both Jesus and John met this requirement. John, a few months older than Jesus, was the first to preach. Jesus followed shortly thereafter.

    The title of “Rabbi” was conferred by the priests of the synagogue or temple. Neither Jesus nor John received this honor from either the Pharisees or the Sadducees. Joesphus mentions only three sects: the Pharisees, Sadducees and the Essenes. (Antiquities G.13,1,2; Antiquities B.13,5,9; Wars of the Jews B.2,8,2)

    “Both Mark and Matthew describe the Baptist as eating ‘locusts and wild honey’ (Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6),” writes Joseph A. Grassi in his 1975 work, Underground Christians in the Earliest Church. “This is the typical diet of a vegetarian who took seriously the injunction in Genesis that God had originally created the plants of the earth as man’s food, and had only reluctantly permitted him later to kill animals for meat. (Genesis 1:29, 9:3) Jesus’ first disciples came from John the Baptist (John 1:35-51; Acts 1:21-22). Jesus was influenced enough by John to be baptized by him.”

    The Essenes were vegetarian. One of their earliest scriptural texts, the Zadokite Document proclaims: “Let not a man make himself abominable with any living creature or creeping thing by eating them.”

    “Thou hast created plants
    for the service of man
    and all things that spring from the earth
    that he may be fed in abundance
    and to them that acknowledge Thy truth
    Thou has also given insight
    to divine Thy wondrous works.”

    —Hymns of the Initiates, X,14 – XI,2

    These verses appear to be based on Genesis 1:26-31 and Daniel 1:9-21.

    Epiphanius, a Christian bishop during the fourth century, wrote that “the Essenes eschewed the flesh of animals.” According to Josephus, “they all sit down together to one sort of food… live the same kind of life as those whom the Greeks call Pythagoreans.”

    The French philosopher Voltaire observed, “It is well known that Pythagoras embraced the humane doctrine of anti-flesh-eating. There was a rivalry as to who could be the most virtuous — the Essenes or the Pythagoreans.”

    Philo of Alexandria wrote, “They live the longest lives… about a hundred years, owing to the simplicity of their diet.” The Roman teacher Porphyry, a vegetarian, also spoke of the Essene meals as a “single simple dish of pure, clean food.” St. Jerome admired the Essenes: “those men who perpetually abstained from meat and wine and had acquired the habit of everyday fasting.”

    According to Philo, “Not a single slave is to be found among them, but all are free, exchanging services with each other, and they denounce the owners of slaves… they have shown themselves especially devout in the service to God, not by offering sacrifices of animals, but by resolving to sanctify their minds.” Josephus writes, “they do not offer sacrifices because they have more pure lustrations of their own; on which account they are excluded from the common court of the temple.”

    The Essenes were pacifists. “As for darts, javelins, daggers, or the helmet, breastplate or shield,” Philo explained, “you could not find a single manufacturer of them nor, in general, any person making weapons or engines or plying any industry concerned with war; nor, indeed, any of the peaceful kind which easily lapse into vice.”

    These descriptions parallel Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 5:9,39,43-44, 26:52) where he blesses the peacemakers, tells his followers to “turn the other cheek” if attacked, to bless and pray for their enemies and to refrain from taking up arms.

    “They do not hoard gold and silver,” continues Philo, “but provide what is needed for the necessary requirements of life…they have become moneyless and landless by deliberate action…” Jesus also told his followers to seek the treasures in heaven, calling for the renunciation of earthly possessions and family ties. (Matthew 6:19-21, 6:25-34, 10:34-39, 19:20-21,29; Luke 9:57-62, 14:25-26,33)

    The Essenes observed the Sabbath in synagogues and shared their homes and possessions. These were the practices of the apostles and the earliest Christian communities. (Acts 1:13, 2:44,46, 4:32-37) According to Philo, “They are trained in piety, holiness, justice, domestic and civil conduct, knowledge of what is good through the love of God, love of virtue, and love of men. Their love of God they show by a multitude of proofs: by religious purity constant and unbroken throughout their lives, by abstinence from oaths, by veracity…by their freedom from the love of either money or reputation or pleasure; by self-mastery and endurance; again by frugality, simple living, contentment, humility, respect for the law; steadiness and all similar qualities.”

    Like the Essenes, Jesus taught his followers not to use oaths (Matthew 5:33-37), to serve God rather than Mammon (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13), and to respect both civil and religious authorities. (Matthew 22:21, 23:1-3) Jesus also emphasized humility and servitude over glory, honor and exaltation. (Matthew 20:24-28; Mark 10:41-45; Luke 9:46-48, 14:7-11, 17:7-10; John 13:3-17)

    Josephus wrote that the Essenes faced death calmly and joyfully at the hands of the Romans, knowing “their bodies shall decay and become dust…the souls are immortal, and shall live eternally.” The Essenes, said Josephus, taught that in worldly existence, the soul is chained to the body like a prisoner to his cell, but when set free from the flesh, then “already tasting heavenly bliss, it soars up to the bright kingdom of joy and peace.” (Compare Matthew 13:43)

    Around 1830, Thomas de Quincey wrote an essay claiming the Essenes never existed; that Josephus merely mistook early Christians for these godly people. It would be sacreligious, he argued, to accept the existence of such large communities of worshippers, with doctrines and practices identical to those found in Christianity, prior to Jesus’ life and ministry!

    No historical evidence proving a relationship between the Essenes and early Christianity has ever been found. The striking similarities between the two faiths, however, strongly suggests that the earliest Christians were influenced by the Essenes. No serious student of Christian thought can ignore the direct influence of Judaism and the possible influence of the Essenes (and the Dead Sea Scrolls) upon the theological development of early Christianity.

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