Bronze-level articleJesus myth theory

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Jesus myth theory, variously called Christ myth theory and the nonexistence hypothesis, among other names,[1][2][3] is a term that has been applied to several theories that at their heart have one relatively common concept: the New Testament account of the life of Jesus is so filled with myth and legend as well as internal contradictions and historical irregularities that at best no meaningful historical verification regarding Jesus of Nazareth (including his very existence) can be extracted from them.[4]

However, as Archibald Robertson stated in his 1946 book, Jesus: Myth Or History, at least as far as John M. Robertson was concerned, the myth theory was not concerned with denying the possibility of a flesh and blood Jesus being involved in the Gospel account, but rather, "What the myth theory denies is that Christianity can be traced to a personal founder who taught as reported in the Gospels and was put to death in the circumstances there recorded."[5]

In fact, as the John Frum cargo cult shows that the cult version (literate white US serviceman that appeared to the village elders in a vision on February 15, late 1930s) and historical version (illiterate native named Manehivi who caused trouble using that name in 1941 and was exiled from the island as a result) of religion's "founder" can become effectively two different people in as short as 17 years.[6][7]

The theory in its broadest definition can be traced as far back as the concept of Docetism and Celsus (around 180 CE), though its modern revival goes back only to the 1790's with the ideas of Constantin-François Volney and Charles François Dupuis.[8] The theory has been supported by a number of influential thinkers and Bertrand Russell expressed some doubt about the existence of Jesus, though he did not fully embrace the myth theory.[9] The idea seems to have gained a considerable amount of popularity among the secular community in recent years.

In June 2014, Richard Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt Sheffield Phoenix Press. ISBN 1-909697-49-2 became "the first comprehensive pro-Jesus myth book ever published by a respected academic press and under formal peer review".[10]


[edit] Inherent problems in the arguments for and against

The biggest problem with the arguments both for and against is that the meaning of the words "myth", "historical", and "fiction" are rarely clarified.

[edit] Meaning of "myth" in Christ/Jesus myth debate

Citing David Strauss and John Fiske, John Remsburg stated in his 1909 book The Christ that there were three kinds of myths: Historical, Philosophical, and Poetical.

A Historical myth is "a real event colored by the light of antiquity, which confounded the human and divine, the natural and the supernatural. The event may be but slightly colored and the narrative essentially true, or it may be distorted and numberless legends attached until but a small residuum of truth remains and the narrative is essentially false. A large portion of ancient history, including the Biblical narratives, is historical myth. The earliest records of all nations and of all religions are more or less mythical."

"A Philosophical myth is an idea clothed in the caress of historical narrative. When a mere idea is personified and presented in the form of a man or a god it is called a pure myth. Many of the gods and heroes of antiquity are pure myths."

"A Poetical myth is a blending of the historical and philosophical, embellished by the creations of the imagination. The poems of Homer and Hesiod, which were the religious text books of the ancient Greeks, and the poetical writings of the Bible, which helped to form and foster the Semitic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism, belong to this class."

Remsburg stated that "(i)t is often difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish a historical from a philosophical myth. Hence the non-agreement of Freethinkers in regard to the nature of the Christ myth. Is Christ a historical or a philosophical myth? Does an analysis of his alleged history disclose the deification of a man, or merely the personification of an idea?"

While he doesn't break down myths as Remsburg did Biblical studies professor J. W. Rogerson covers much the same ground in his paper "Slippery words: Myth"[11] which shows just how complex the word "myth" really is.

[edit] Meaning of "historical Jesus" in Christ/Jesus myth debate

Biblical scholar I. Howard Marshall explains that the term "historical Jesus" itself has two meanings: that Jesus existed, rather than being a totally fictional creation like King Lear or Doctor Who, or that the Gospels give a reasonable account of historical events, rather than being unverifiable legends such as those surrounding King Arthur. Because of this slipperiness in the meaning of "historical Jesus", Marshall states "We shall land in considerable confusion if we embark on an inquiry about the historical Jesus if we do not pause to ask ourselves exactly what we are talking about."[12]

Remaburg in 1909 put it this way:

"Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of humanity, the pathetic story of whose humble life and tragic death has awakened the sympathies of millions, is a possible character and may have existed; but the Jesus of Bethlehem, the Christ of Christianity, is an impossible character and does not exist."

Later Resmburg clarifies the problem "That a man named Jesus, an obscure religious teacher, the basis of this fabulous Christ, lived in Palestine about nineteen hundred years ago, may be true. But of this man we know nothing. His biography has not been written."

Richard Carrier in his 2014 peer reviewed On the Historicity of Jesus by Sheffield Phoenix Press gave a slight variant of Marshall's two meanings using Rudolf Bultmann of 1941 as his baseline:

  1. Reductive theory: "Jesus was an ordinary but obscure who inspired a religious movement and copious legends about him"
  2. Triumphalist theory: "The Gospels are totally or almost totally true."

Carrier notes, "Either side of the historicity debate will at time engage in a fallacy here, citing evidence supporting the reductive theory in defense of the triumphalist theory (as if that was valid), or citing the absurdity of the triumphalist theory as if this refuted the reductive theory (as if that were valid)"[13]

Too many times when apologists talk about a historical Jesus they are actually talking about the Jesus of Bethlehem.

[edit] Meaning of "fiction" in Christ/Jesus myth debate

In the Jesus: Fact or Fiction? debate between Dr. Robert Price and Rev. John Rankin, Price states "there are four senses in which Jesus Christ may be said to be a 'fiction:'"

  1. "the central figure of the gospels is not based on any historical individual", i.e. the Jesus of the Gospels is little more than "a synthetic construct of theologians, a symbolic 'Uncle Sam' figure."[14]
  2. "the "historical Jesus" reconstructed by New Testament scholars is always a reflection of the individual scholars who reconstruct him" to the point that "even if there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn't one any more."
  3. "Jesus as the personal savior, with whom people claim, as I used to, to have a 'personal relationship' is in the nature of the case a fiction, essentially a psychological projection, an 'imaginary playmate.'"
  4. "Christ is a fiction in that Christ functions, in an unnoticed and equivocal way, as shorthand for a vast system of beliefs and institutions on whose behalf he is invoked."

Again many apologists either forget or ignore the more moderate definitions in favor of those that turn the Jesus Myth theory into a strawman.

[edit] Meaning of the whole term

The term "Jesus myth theory" or "Christ Myth theory" has been used to describe the following ideas (going from totally imaginary to partly historical):

  • Jesus Agnosticism: The Gospel story is so filled with myth and legend that nothing about it including the very existence of the Jesus described can be shown to be historical.[16]
  • Jesus is an entirely fictional or mythological character created by the Early Christian community.
  • Jesus began as a myth with historical trappings possibly including "reports of an obscure Jewish Holy man bearing this name" being added later.[17][18]
  • The Gospel Jesus is in essence a composite character (that is, an amalgamation of several actual individuals whose stories have been melded into one character, such as is the case with Robin Hood), and therefore non-historical by definition.[19]
  • Jesus was historical but lived around 100 BCE.[20][21]
  • The Gospel Jesus didn't exist and GA Wells' Jesus Myth (1999) is an example of this.[22] Note that from Jesus Legend (1996) on Wells has accepted there was a historical Jesus behind the hypothetical Q Gospel and that both Jesus Legend and Jesus Myth have been presented as examples of the Christ Myth theory by Robert Price, Richard Carrier,[23] and Eddy-Boyd.[24]
  • Christianity cannot "be traced to a personal founder as reported in the Gospels and was put to death in the circumstances there recorded."[25]A Jesus who died of old age or only preached 'End of the World is nigh' speeches to small groups would qualify.
  • (The Christ myth is) "the theory that no historical Jesus worthy of the name existed, that Christianity began with a belief in a spiritual, mythical figure, that the Gospels are essentially allegory and fiction, and that no single identifiable person lay at the root of the Galilean preaching tradition.[26] "In simpler terms, the historical Jesus did not exist. Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity" [27]
  • "This view (Christ Myth theory) states that the story of Jesus is a piece of mythology, possessing no more substantial claims to historical fact than the old Greek or Norse stories of gods and heroes..."[28] There are modern examples of stories of known historical people "possessing no more substantial claims to historical fact than the old Greek or Norse stories of gods and heroes"--George Washington and the Cherry Tree; Davy Crockett and the Frozen Dawn; Jesse James and the Widow to mention a few. King Arthur and Robin Hood are two more examples of suspected historical people whose stories are most likely fictional in nature.
  • Christ-myth theories are part of the "theories that regard Jesus as an historical but insignificant figure."[29]

[edit] Examples of the confusion regarding the meaning of "Mythist" and "Christ Myth theory"

[edit] David Strauss

"The gist of his position was in a large measure like the mythical theory of David Strauss, which created a sensation fifty years ago. Strauss held that there was verily a historic Christ, but that a vast mass of miracle and supernatural wonders had been woven like wreaths around the head of Jesus. Drews goes further. He alleges that there never was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth."[30]

[edit] Arthur Drews, John M. Robertson, and James George Frazer

"My theory assumes the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth"(Frazer, Sir James George (1913) The golden bough: a study in magic and religion, Volume 9 pg 412)

"In wide circles the doubt grows as to the historical character of the picture of Christ given in the Gospels. (...) If in spite of this any one thinks that besides the latter a Jesus also cannot be dispensed with; but we know nothing of Jesus. Even in the representations of historical theology, he is scarcely more than the shadow of a shadow. Consequently it is self-deceit to make the figure of this 'unique' and 'mighty' personality, to which a man may believe he must on historical grounds hold fast, the central point of religious consciousness." (Drews, Arthur (1910) The Christ Myth)

"I especially wanted to explain late Jewish eschatology more thoroughly and to discuss the works of John M. Robertson, William Benjamin Smith, James George Frazer, Arthur Drews, and others, who contested the historical existence of Jesus. It is not difficult to pretend that Jesus never lived. The attempt to prove it, however, invariably produces the opposite conclusion." [31]

"(John) Robertson is prepared to concede the possibility of an historical Jesus, perhaps more than one, having contributed something to the Gospel story. "A teacher or teachers named Jesus, or several differently named teachers called Messiahs " (of whom many are on record) may have uttered some of the sayings in the Gospels.

1 The Jesus of the Talmud, who was stoned and hanged over a century before the traditional date of the crucifixion, may really have existed and have contributed something to the tradition.

2 An historical Jesus may have "preached a political doctrine subversive of the Roman rule, and . . . thereby met his death "; and Christian writers concerned to conciliate the Romans may have suppressed the facts.

3 Or a Galilean faith-healer with a local reputation may have been slain as a human sacrifice at some time of social tumult; and his story may have got mixed up with the myth.

4 The myth theory is not concerned to deny such a possibility. What the myth theory denies is that Christianity can be traced to a personal founder who taught as reported in the Gospels and was put to death in the circumstances there recorded" [32]

[edit] G. A. Wells

Wells accepted that there was a 1st century Jesus in both Jesus Myth (1996) and Jesus Legend (1999)--yet these books were labeled as examples of the Mythical Jesus Thesis (defined as the idea of "Jesus tradition is virtually--perhaps entirely--fictional in nature" (sic)) in Eddy and Boyd's 2007 The Jesus Legend Baker Academic on pp. 24.

Other people on both sides of the issue have similarly labeled these books as Christ Myth books:

"The year 1999 saw the publication of at least five books which concluded that the Gospel Jesus did not exist. One of these was the latest book (The Jesus Myth) by G. A. Wells, the current and longstanding doyen of modern Jesus mythicists."[33]

"Christ-myth theorists like George A. Wells have argued that, if we ignore the Gospels, which were not yet written at the time of the Epistles of Paul, we can detect in the latter a prior, more transparently mythic concept of Jesus... [34]

"In recent years the existence of Jesus has been debated heatedly on the Internet. The most thoroughgoing and sophisticated statement of this theory has been set out in five books by G. A Wells; the most recent is the Jesus Legend (1996)"[35]

"Books by Contemporary Scholars Defending Ahistoricity: (...) George Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus (1988); Who Was Jesus? (1989); The Jesus Legend (1993); The Jesus Myth (1998); Can We Trust the New Testament? (2005)" (handout for Richard Carrier's 2006 Stanford University lecture "Did Jesus Even Exist?")

This sampling over the course of 100 years shows the problem with defining the terms "mythist" and "Christ Myth theory"--the terms have been used with people have accepted the existence of a flesh and blood Jesus in the 1st century but do not accept the Gospels as an accurate description of the life of that man as well as those who say there is no flesh and blood Jesus to be found.

[edit] The Historical Jesus spectrum or color me completely confused

Biblical scholar I. Howard Marshall writes that there are "two views of the historical Jesus which stand at the opposite ends of a spectrum of opinion about him." At one extreme is the view that Jesus never existed, and that the gospels describe an essentially fictional person. At the other extreme is the view that the gospels portray events exactly as they happened, and each event depicted in the New Testament is the literal truth. [36]

As with any spectrum there are "colors" (or categories) and over the course of a century at least three people (Remsburg, Barker, and Eddy-Boyd) have taken a stab as what those colors are. However, as Eddy-Boyd points out these the categories are "admittedly over simplistic", "ideal-typical", and a "useful heuristic" they should not be taken as absolute definitions.

In fact, if you look at the definitions provided by these three authors as well as some others you will notice that the four categories don't always match up which in turn means the boundaries between the definitions are not sharp and clear...even to scholars and experts. This why one need to nail down just what what one means when one talks about the "Jesus myth theory" or the "historical Jesus."

The four "colors" of the historical Jesus spectrum (and their current status with the academic community) are:

[edit] Christ Myth theory (Philosophical myth) (Fringe)

"Jesus Christ is a pure myth—that he never had an existence, except as a Messianic idea, or an imaginary solar deity."[37]

Jesus began as at a Myth with historical trappings possibly including "reports of an obscure Jewish Holy man bearing this name" being being added later. [38][39]

"Jesus never existed at all and that the myth came into being through a literary process." [40]

All trace of a historical person, if there was ever one was to begin with, has been lost. (Jesus agnosticism)[41]

[edit] Christ Myth theory (Historical myth on the narrative is essentially false) or Minimalist (Fringe)

"Many radical Freethinkers believe that Christ is a myth, of which Jesus of Nazareth is the basis, but that these narratives are so legendary and contradictory as to be almost if not wholly, unworthy of credit."[42]

"Other skeptics deny that the Jesus character portrayed in the New Testament existed, but that there could have been a first century personality after whom the exaggerated myth was pattered."[43]

There is just enough to show there was a first century teacher called Jesus and little else.[44]

[edit] Moderate Historical (mainstream)

"Jesus of Nazareth is a historical character and that these narratives, eliminating the supernatural elements, which they regard as myths, give a fairly authentic account of his life."[45]

"Jesus did exist, and that some parts of the New Testament are accurate, although the miracles and the claim to deity are due to later editing of the original story."[46]

A historical Jesus did exist but was very different from the gospel Jesus.[47]

[edit] Total/Extreme Historical (Fringe)

"Christ is a historical character, supernatural and divine; and that the New Testament narratives, which purport to give a record of his life and teachings, contain nothing but infallible truth."[48]

"The New Testament is basically true in all of its accounts except that there are natural explanations for the miracle stories."[49]

[edit] Arguing the wrong Christ

One of the problems with the Jesus myth being taken seriously is that many people base their argument on the wrong Jesus. Jesus has picked up many oral traditions that are not in the Bible at all and there are clues that the versions of the Gospels we have are not what were originally written.

[edit] Born on December 25

The December 25 date was by Emperor decree to compete with the popular Sol Invictus worship and first appears on a Roman calendar in 334 CE. Luke tells us that shepherds were tending their sheep in the fields when Jesus was born, something that shepherds did June until November.

In fact, before the decree there was much debate regarding when Jesus was born. Tertullian (c 160–220 CE) and Hippolytus (c 170-235 CE) said March 25; Clement (c 150-215 CE) said May 20, some were saying January 6 (the birthday of Osiris), and still others pointed to the Essenes whose couples had sex in December so their child would be born September (the holy month of Atonement). [50]

This means any argument that Jesus was a myth based on the December 25 date is doomed from the start because that part of the story isn't even in the Bible and didn't appear until well into the 4th century.

[edit] Virgin Birth

While it is true the our versions of Matthew and Luke have virgin birth stories there are hints that these are late comers to the Jesus myth story.

Paul in Romans 1:1-3 states that Jesus came "from the seed of David, according to the flesh" (the belief at the time was that women were the earth into which men planted their seed so here Paul expressly states that Jesus link to David is through the male line ie Joseph) and in Galatians 4:4 stated “God sent his Son, born of a woman” using the word gune (woman) rather than parthenos (virgin).[51] Both these points show that Paul not only did not know of a virgin birth but expressly denied it.

When Marcion of Sinope put together the first Christian bible c140 CE his Luke had no birth story. While his critics claimed he removed this portion it is more likely that the Luke as we know it today was written in response to Marcion's Luke.[52][53]

This means that the virgin birth was added sometime between Paul's letters and whenever Matthew was written (some time before c180 CE)

In fact, it has been suggested that being born of a virgin was the ancient equivalent of being born with a silver spoon in one's mouth and signified the "extraordinary personal qualities exhibited by an individual"[54] Caesar Augustus and Alexander the Great were both stated as being born of virgins but it was never meant to be taken literally.

[edit] Arguments in favour of the case

[edit] The usual "contemporary proofs"

See the Non-Biblical evidence section of the Evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ article on this topic. The below has been culled of redundancy and needs sourcing and merging.

[edit] Josephus

With respect to the "James, the brother of Jesus, the Christ" in Antiquities...

James as a Forgery

  • Remember there are good reasons to suspect the passage by Josephus is another Christian interpolation: it also appeared only in Eusebius' work. Moreover, Origen, also in possession of his work is surprised at the silence of Josephus on Jesus:
"A century after Josephus, Christian father Origen writes Contra Celsum, lamenting in I:XLVII that Josephus does not believe Jesus was 'the Christ'—whereas the interpolation in Antiquities claims that he so believed."[55]

Keep in mind, this is the same Eusebius who forged the works as stated above, as he was writing he had more then ample time to edit in this little bit.

  • The only usually undisputed allusion to Jesus in Josephus is actually only a passing reference in the context of the trial of James. James is identified, not as James son of (whoever) as one would normally expect but as brother of Jesus. While this passage is more likely to be authentic than the one above, it is not without problems. Origen knows and cites this passage, and is unaware of the Testimonium Flavianum above, providing some evidence for its presence in the Antiquities before its Christian reworking. On the other hand, Origen's version contains the unlikely addition in which Josephus also says that it is as punishment for the execution of James that Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed. The possibility suggests itself that even Origen's Josephus has undergone Christian reworking, simply of a different variety, in which, perhaps, the insulting Testimonium has been expunged, and James has been introduced as a pious Jewish hero."

Who Was James?

  • James (the one mentioned by Paul as the bishop of Jerusalem) NEVER acknowledged Jesus as his "brother". Jesus NEVER acknowledged James as his "brother". The Gospel of Thomas, one of the gospels rejected by the framers of the Bible, tells us Jesus did not recognize James as his brother.
  • After the death of Jesus, when the Apostles scattered over the world, James the Lesser (St. James the Lesser/Just) remained behind as Bishop of Jerusalem. History supposedly has two accounts of the death of James the Lesser. According to Josephus, St. James was stoned to death in 62 A.D, but Hegesippus, a second century ecclesiastical historian, claims that James was thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Pharisees and clubbed to death when the fall didn't kill him and the time markers in the account put this at c. 70. (So just how and more importantly when was he killed? Who do you believe?)
  • The question is who was James? This is not a cut and dried issue among Christians. Was he a half-brother of Jesus? A cousin?, A "brother in spirit?" Jesus never claimed James as his "brother" nor did James ever claim to be Jesus's brother. So who the hell was "James," Christians don't agree!

Which James?

  • There is a dirty little secret that Christians doesn't bother to tell you is that there are various theories about James and the brothers of Jesus, who they were, who their mother was, who their father was, what relation might they have had to the Twelve, and what sense one can make of the multiple persons named "James" in the N.T. In other words, some Christians have hinged their "proof" on a person whose identity and parentage are much disputed! You might say that the Bible's cup "runneth over with Jameses"(60 of them!)
  • One point that is ignored by Christians today is that as late as the early part of the 20th century that a c. 170 CE work by Hegesippus was often used as reference for the death of James the Just until it was realized that it put his death c. 70 while the Josephus account puts it at c. 64.
  • What Christians have neglected to tell us is that there are many different theories exist pertaining to the brother of Jesus. Let's ignore the minor theories and go for the two major theories that dominate the Christian culture:
  • The Eastern Theory vs The Western Theory
  • The eastern view maintains that Mary was a virgin not only at the time of the birth of Jesus, but remained so throughout her entire life. The bottom-line is that Joseph had the 4 alleged brothers with another woman prior to Mary and brought them to the marriage.
  • The western view is stricter because it claims that BOTH Mary and Joseph remained virgins throughout their entire lives. "These brothers are merely cousins that seem to come onto the scene."
  • Of course Jesus may also have had half-brothers and half-sisters via Mary and Joseph, the most common assumption among Protestants. The point is that the Bible is NOT clear about the parentage of any siblings.

Naming the Jameses

  • Let's keep it simple and concentrate on just 4 of these "Jameses" and use their "common" names to keep them straight. If you explore the literature you will come across the appellations for James:
  1. James the Great
  2. James the Lesser (Little)
  3. Jame the Just
  4. James, son of Alphaeus
  • Now the plethora of James is just one problem (We have only listed a minimum ) The second one is that the Catholic Church and many Protestant sects don't agree on just "who" the "Jameses" are! Now if you really want to know just how contentious the "James" situation is go here and read more scenarios of how Jesus came by a half-brother (a true blood-brother because Mary is hypothesized to have been married to or impregnated out of wedlock by a number of different candidates for the father of "James"):
  • Essays on James the Brother of Jesus
  • The real truth is that James, the alleged brother of Jesus is a shadowy figure of unknown and highly disputed pedigree (is he a cousin/brother, a step-brother, a true half-brother?). Realize what MacDowell et al have done is attached the historicity of another shadowy, disputed figure (Jesus) to that of an individual whose existence is not certain. He then uses a DISPUTED passage from Josephus as an extra-biblical source to claim that this James (a cousin/brother? or a step-brother, or is he a half-brother?) and Jesus are both true historical figures.

[edit] Tacitus

Tacitus (CE c.55-CE c.117, Roman historian) mentions "christus." The mistake in the use of the title of "procurator" for Pontius Pilatus rather than his actual title of prefect convince many Jesus Myth theory supporters that the passage it at best Tacitus repeating what the Christians claimed.

  1. It is extremely improbable that a special report found by Tacitus had been sent earlier to Rome and incorporated into the records of the Senate, in regard to the death of a Jewish provincial, Jesus. The execution of a Nazareth carpenter would have been one of the most insignificant events conceivable among the movements of Roman history in those decades; it would have completely disappeared beneath the innumerable executions inflicted by Roman provincial authorities. For it to have been kept in any report would have been a most remarkable instance of chance.
  2. The phrase "multitudo ingens" which means "a great number" is opposed to all that we know of the spread of the new faith in Rome at the time. A vast multitude in 64 A.D.? There were not more than a few thousand Christians 200 years later. The idea of so many[How much is not enough?] just 30 years after his supposed death is just a falsehood.
  3. The use of the Christians as "living torches," as Tacitus describes, and all the other atrocities that were committed against them, have little title to credence, and suggest an imagination exalted by reading stories of the later Christian martyrs. Death by fire was not a punishment inflicted at Rome in the time of Nero. It is opposed to the moderate principles on which the accused were then dealt with by the State.
  4. The Roman authorities can have had no reason to inflict special punishment on the new faith. How could the non-initiated Romans know what were the concerns of a comparatively small religious sect, which was connected with Judaism and must have seemed to the impartial observer wholly identical with it.
  5. Suetonius says that Nero showed the utmost indifference, even contempt in regard to religious sects. Even afterwards the Christians were not persecuted for their faith, but for political reasons, for their contempt of the Roman state and emperor, and as disturbers of the unity and peace of the empire. What reason can Nero have had to proceed against the Christians, hardly distinguishable from the Jews, as a new and criminal sect?
  6. It is inconceivable that the followers of Jesus formed a community in the city at that time of sufficient importance to attract public attention and the ill-feeling of the people. It isn't the most popular way to convert and bring people into their religion.
  7. The victims could not have been given to the flames in the gardens of Nero, as Tacitus allegedly said. According to another account by Tacitus these gardens were the refuge of those whose homes had been burned and were full of tents and wooden sheds. Why would he risk burning these by lighting human fires amidst all these shelters?
  8. According to Tacitus, Nero was in Antium, not Rome, when the fire occurred.
  9. The blood-curdling story about the frightful orgies of Nero reads like some Christian romance of the Dark Ages and not like Tacitus.[citation needed] Suetonius, while mercilessly condemning the reign of Nero, says that in his public entertainments Nero took particular care that no lives should be sacrificed, "not even those of condemned criminals."
  10. It is highly unlikely that he mingled with the crowd and feasted his eyes on the ghastly spectacle. Tacitus tells us in his life of Agricola that Nero had crimes committed, but kept his own eyes off them.
  11. Some authorities allege that the passage in Tacitus could not have been interpolated because his style of writing could not have been copied. But this argument is without merit since there is no "inimitable" style for the clever forger, and the more unususal, distinctive, and peculiar a style is, like that of Tacitus, the easier it is to imitate. Moreover, as far as the historicity of Jesus is concerned we are, perhaps, interested only in one sentence of the passage and that has nothing distinctively Tacitan about it.
  12. Tacitus is assumed to have written this about 117 A.D., about 80 years after the death of Jesus, when Christianity was already an organized religion with a settled tradition. The gospels, or at least 3 of them, are supposed to have been in existence. Hence Tacitus might have derived his information about Jesus, if not directly from the gospels, indirectly from them by means of oral tradition. This is the view of Dupuis, who wrote: "Tacitus says what the legend said." In 117 A.D. Tacitus could only know about Christ by what reached him from Christian or intermediate circles. He merely reproduced rumors.
  13. In no other part of his writings did Tacitus make the least allusion to "Christ" or "Christians." Christus was a very common name, as was Jesus. In fact Jospehus lists about 20 in the time Jesus was supposedly said to have existed.
  14. Tacitus is also made to say that the Christians took their denomination from Christ which could apply to any of the so-called Christs who were put to death in Judea, including Christ Jesus.
  15. The expression "Christians" which Tacitus applies to the followers of Jesus, was by no means common in the time of Nero. Not a single Greek or Roman writer of the first century mentions the name. The Christians who called themselves Jessaeans, Nazoraeans, the Elect, the Saints, the Faithful, etc.[citation needed] were universally regarded as Jews. They observed the Mosaic law and the people could not distinguish them from the other Jews. The Greek word Christus (the anointed) for Messiah, and the derivative word, Christian, first came into use under Trajan in the time of Tacitus. Even then, however, the word Christus could not mean Jesus of Nazareth. All the Jews without exception looked forward to a Christus or Messiah. It is, therefore, not clear how the fact of being a "Christian" could, in the time of Nero or of Tacitus, distinguish the followers of Jesus from other believers in a Christus or Messiah. Not one of the gospels applies the name Christians to the followers of Jesus. It is never used in the New Testament as a description of themselves by the believers in Jesus.
  16. Most scholars admit that the works of Tacitus have not been preserved with any degree of fidelity.[citation needed]
  17. This passage which could have served Christian writers better than any other writing of Tacitus, is not quoted by any of the Christian Fathers. It is not quoted by Tertullian, though he often quoted the works of Tacitus. Tertullian's arguments called for the use of this passage with so loud a voice that his omission of it, if it had really existed, amounted to a violent improbability.
  18. Eusebius in the 4th century cited all the evidence of Christianity obtained from Jewish and pagan sources but makes no mention of Tacitus.
  19. This passage is not quoted by Clement of Alexandria who at the beginning of the 3rd century set himself entirely to the work of adducing and bringing together all the admissions and recognitions which pagan authors had made of the existence of Christ Jesus or Christians before his time.
  20. Origen in his controversy with Celsus would undoubtedly have used it had it existed.
  21. There is no vestige or trace of this passage anywhere in the world before the 15th century. Its use as part of the evidences of the Christian religion is absolutely modern. Although no reference whatever is made to it by any writer or historian, monkish or otherwise, before the 15th century (1468 A.D.), after that time it is quoted or referred to in an endless list of works including by your supposed historian.
  22. The fidelity of the passage rests entirely upon the fidelity of one individual (first published in a copy of the annals of Tacitus in the year 1468 by Johannes de Spire of Venice who took his imprint of it from a single manuscript) who would have every opportunity and inducement to insert such an interpolation.
  23. In all the Roman records there was to be found no evidence that Christ was put to death by Pontius Pilate. If genuine, such a sentence would be the most important evidence in pagan literature. How could it have been overlooked for 1360 years?
  24. Richard Carrier explains that we are actually missing three years in Tacitus, "We are enormously lucky to have Tacitus--only two unrelated Christian monasteries had any interest in preserving his Annals, for example, and neither of them preserved the whole thing, but each less than half of it, nd by shear luck alone, they each preserved a different half. And yet we still have large gaps in it. One of those gaps is the removal of the years 29, 30, and 31 (precisely, the latter part of 29, all of 30, and the earlier part of 31), which is probably the deliberate excision of Christian scribes who were embarrassed by the lack of any mention of Jesus or Gospel events in those years (the years Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection were widely believed at the time to have occurred). There is otherwise no known explanation for why those three years were removed. The other large gap is the material between the two halves that neither institution preserved. And yet another is the end of the second half, which scribes also chose not to preserve (or lost through negligent care of the manuscript, etc.)."
  25. Suetonius doesn't mention this event in his histories.
  26. And lastly, the style of the passage is not consistent with the usually mild and classic language of Tacitus

[edit] The other timelines and their problems

While the conflict between the births dates (10 years apart) presented in Matthew and Luke is generally well known, what is less known is that there were other accounts that placed Jesus life in other times which have been provided by Robert M. Price. In one piece Price points out that the Talmud has Jesus crucified under Alexander Jannaeus c. 83 BCE and that Irenaeus had him crucified under Claudius Caesar (41-54 CE)[56][57]

[edit] Irenaeus fails history... badly

The Irenaeus example Price provides is actually far worse than Price presents it. The actual passage in Demonstration (74) is "For Herod the king of the Jews and Pontius Pilate, the governor of Claudius Caesar, came together and condemned Him to be crucified." and this one sentence is so full of historical inaccuracies that it is unbelievable that few have pointed them out.

The key issue is the title "King of the Jews". When Herod the Great died, his kingdom was broken up between this three sons: Herod Archelaus (Ethnarch of Judaea 4 BCE – 6 CE), Herod Antipas (Tetrarch of Galilee 4 BC - 41 CE), and "Herod" Philip II (Tetrarch of Batanea 4 BCE – 34 CE). Archelaus was removed 6 CE with Judea governed by Roman prefects until Herod Agrippa I came to power 41 CE. Furthermore, while some later books have called Herod Agrippa II "king of the Jews", he in truth never ruled over the Judea province.[58]

So the only Herods close to the supposed life of Jesus (c6 BCE to c36 CE) that were "King of the Jews" (ie ruled the Judea province) were Herod the Great and Herod Agrippa I. Moreover, we have a reasonable history of Herod Agrippa I from 34 CE (death of John the Baptist) to his death in 44 CE:

  1. Due to expressing the desire for Tiberius to hurry up and die so his friend Caligula could become emperor, Herod Agrippa I was thrown in prison and not released until 37 CE when Caligula came to power. By that time Pontius Pilate had been replaced by Marcellus.
  2. While Herod Agrippa I did come to Judea as governor in the final year of Caligula's rule (41 CE), he answered to Prefect Marcellus, who in turn answered to Tetrarch Herod Antipas.
  3. Due to Herod Agrippa I's advice Claudius became Caesar in 41 and as a reward a year later Marcellus and Herod Antipas were replaced by Herod Agrippa I resulting him being "like Herod the Great before him, king of the Jews." [59]

So why was Irenaeus so sloppy in his history? One possible answer is in Against Heresies 2:22:4, where Irenaeus argued that Jesus had to be a minimum of at least 46 if not 50 years old when he was crucified. Irenaeus himself quotes Luke, establishing that Jesus was about 30 when he was baptized and when this was: "fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar" (c29 CE).

Even if you push Jesus's supposed birth date in Matthew to c6 BCE (Herod the Great killing children two years old and younger), putting Jesus at 34 in c29 CE (there is no year zero), you don't get to the required minimum 46 years of age until 41 CE, which requires the Caesar to be Claudius (41-54 CE) and the Herod "king of the Jews" to be Agrippa I (42-44 CE). That leaves the problem of Pontius Pilate, who not only had been recalled to Rome in 36 CE, but with a Herod "king of the Jews" in charge would not have been needed.

[edit] Jesus Frum; John Christ

The Melanesian Cargo Cults (along with such people as Ned Ludd) show that the idea that a major movement "leader" may be originally a philosophical myth and then quickly (in the space of mere decades) placed into a historical framework is not inherently crazy as there are real world examples of this actually happening.[60] Richard Carrier goes into detail on why such things happen in his peer reviewed scholarly published On the Historicity of Jesus as Element 29 of his examples[61]

Thanks to the wealth of material available one can use the particular example of the John Frum cargo cult on how the Jesus myth theory has validity.

According to the cult today, John Frum was a literate white US serviceman that appeared to the village elders in a vision in the late 1930s.[62] However as early as 1949 there were people saying the "origin of the movement or the cause started more than thirty years ago" ie putting "John Frum" in the 1910s[63] Interestingly, until the 1950s John Frum's identity varied from Melanesian native, to black serviceman, to white navy serviceman before more or less settling into the literate white US serviceman view seen currently though these older variants can still be found.

However, the closest thing actual recorded history shows is not one but three illiterate natives taking up the name John Frum and being exiled or thrown into jail for the trouble they stirred up in the 1940-1947 period:: Manehivi (1940-41), Neloaig (1943, inspired people to build an airstrip), and Iokaeye (1947, preached a new color symbolism)[64][65]

The John Frum cult caused so many problems that in 1957 there was effort made to prove John Frum didn't exist--it totally failed.[66]

By the 1960s, the natives were carrying around pictures of men they believed to be John Frum. In 2006, when asked why they still believed in his coming after some 60 years of waiting, the Chief said “You Christians have been waiting 2,000 years for Jesus to return to earth, and you haven’t given up hope.”[67]

"Unlike the cult of Jesus, the origins of which are not reliably attested, we can see the whole course of events laid out before our eyes (and even here, as we shall see, some details are now lost). It is fascinating to guess that the cult of Christianity almost certainly began in very much the same way, and spread initially at the same high speed. [...] John Frum, if he existed at all, did so within living memory. Yet, even for so recent a possibility, it is not certain whether he lived at all."[68]

Everything the Christian apologists claim couldn't have happened regarding Christianity appears to have happened with the John Frum cargo cult – it evolved from the preexisting beliefs without a clear definitive founder. Moreover in a seven year period we see various believers taking up the mantel of "John Frum" despite being totally difference in terms of literacy, nationality, and race not even a decade later. There is a hint in Paul's own writings (2 Corinthians 11:3-4) that this had happened with Jesus as he warns against the Gospels of other Jesuses then the ones he and his followers were preaching.

Finally, as seen with the Prince Philip Movement, there are variants of the cult that connect the mythical John Frum to real living people (Prince Philip is the brother of John Frum in this variant even though Prince Philip has no brothers), something the Christian apologists claim couldn't have happened with Jesus.

It should be mentioned not all Melanesian Cargo Cults have philosophical myths as founders; some, such as the Rusefel (Roosevelt) and Johnson Cargo Cults, latched on to the name of a real person as their founder...even if that person could not have been their cult's founder.

[edit] How did the myth of Jesus start?

There are several natural explanations, some more valid than the others.

1) One of the views, held by J. M. Robertson and others, is that the Jesus myth patterned after a story found in the Jewish Talmudic literature about the illegitimate son of a woman named Miriam (Mary) and a Roman soldier named Pandera, sometimes called Joseph Pandera. In Christianity and Mythology, Robertson writes: “…we see cause to suspect that the movement really originated with the Talmudic Jesus Ben Pandera, who was stoned to death and hanged on a tree, for blasphemy or heresy, on the eve of a Passover in the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (106-79 B.C.E.).”) Dr. Low, an accomplished Hebraist, is satisfied that this Jesus was the founder of the Essene sect, whose resemblance to the legendary early Christian has so greatly exercised Christian speculation.

2) Another view is that the Jesus myth grew out of a pre-Christian cult of Joshua. Some suggest that the New Testament story about swapping Jesus for Barabbas (meaning “son of the father”) arose from the tension between Joshua factions. Origen mentioned a “Jesus Barabbas.” The name “Jesus” is the Greek for Joshua (“Yeshua” in Hebrew). In Mark 9:38 the disciples of Jesus saw another man who was casting out devils in the name of Jesus (Joshua). The Sibyllene Oracles identify Jesus with Joshua, regarding the sun standing still.

3) W. B. Smith thinks there was a pre-Christian Jesus cult of Gnosticism. There is an ancient papyrus that has these words: “I adjure thee by the God of the Hebrews, Jesus.” The Jesus Mysteries: Was the Original Jesus a Pagan God? Makes a compelling case that the original Christians were indeed Gnostics and that the story of Jesus was invented by Hellenistic Jews in Alexandria as a mystery play patterned after the Osiris/Dionysus mystery cults, and was not to be taken literally. The play depicted a god-man who died and came back to life. It was only after Constantine in the fourth century that the life of Jesus became suddenly “historical.”

4) Randall Helms in the article “Fiction in the Gospels” in Jesus in History and myth presents another view. Helms notices that there are many literary parallels between Old Testament and New Testament stories. He calls this “self-reflexive fiction.” It is if there are some skeletal templates into which the Jews placed their stories. One example is the comparison between the raising of the son of the window of Nain in Luke 7:11-16 and the raising of the son of a widow of Zarephath in I kings 17. Not only is the content similar, but the structure of the tale is almost identical. Other examples are the storm series in Psalms and Jonah compared with the New Testament storm story in Mark 4:37-41, and the story of Elijah’s food multiplication with that of Jesus. The first-century Jews were simply rewriting old stories, like a movie remake. This view, in and of itself, does not completely account for the entire Jesus myth, but it does show how literary parallels can play a part in the elaboration of a fable.

5) John Allegro suggested that the Jesus character was patterned after the Essene Teacher of Righteousness, who was crucified in 88 B.C.E. He wrote that the Dead Sea Scrolls prove that the Essenes interpreted the Old Testament in a way to make it fit their own messiah. Allegro writes: “When Josephus speaks of the Essene’s reverence for their ‘Lawgiver’…we may assume reasonably that he speaks of their Teacher, the ‘Joshua/Jesus’ of the Last Days. By the first century, therefore, it seems that he was being accorded semi-divine status, and that his role of Messiah, or Christ, was fully appreciated.” (The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth)

6) R.G. Price argues that Jesus was originally constructed as a spiritual concept by Hellenistic Jews, which later eventually turned Jesus into "historical" and was sure that Jesus was "of the flesh" for theological reasons. Christians had to construct Jesus to be made of the flesh for two reasons: 1) Suffering and a flesh and blood sacrifice were required to create a new covenant and 2) The resurrection of a flesh and blood Jesus proved that resurrection of the flesh was possible.[69] To achieve the completion of the mythical Jesus, the following steps had to be taken:

  1. Development of apocalyptic and Messianic traditions in Judaism from the 6th century BCE to the 1st century CE
  2. Fusion of apocalyptic and Messianic Judaism with Hellenistic culture
  3. Emergence of "Jesus Christ" mystery religion among Hellenistic Jews
  4. Development of "flesh" based Christ theology within the mystery religion
  5. Writing of allegorical Christ narrative(s?)
  6. Writing of pseudo-historical Christ narratives
  7. Development and defense of historical Christ theology
  8. Development of post-canon dogma
  9. Elimination of remaining non-historical Christ theologies

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Holding, J. P. Shattering the Christ Myth, 277
  2. Houlden, J. L. Jesus in history, thought, and culture: an encyclopedia, Volume 1, 660
  4. Eddy, Paul R. and Boyd, Gregory A. The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker Academic, 2007, pp. 24–27.
  5. Robertson, Archibald (1946) Jesus: Myth Or History
  6. Worsley, Peter (1957) The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of "Cargo" Cults in Melanesia London: Macgibbon & Kee pp. 153–9.
  7. Lal, Brij V.; Kate Fortune (2000) The Pacific Islands: an encyclopedia; University of Hawaii Press; ISBN: 978-0824822651; Pg 303
  9. Russell, B. Why I am not a Christian at
  10. Richard Carrier (July 17, 2013) Update on Historicity of Jesus
  11. Dundes, Alan (ed.) (1984) Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth University of California Press ISBN: 9780520051928 62-71
  12. Marshall, Ian Howard. I Believe in the Historical Jesus. Regent College Publishing, 2004, p. 27-29.
  13. Carrier, Richard (2014) On the Historicity of Jesus Sheffield Phoenix Press ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2 pg 30
  14. An interesting comparison, given that Uncle Sam is purported to be based on a real person but there was a 'Uncle Sam' reference in the original 1775 "Yankee Doodle" lyrics (Benson J. Lossing, Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution, Volume II, Supplement XIV (1850)).
  15. Grant, Michael. Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels. Scribner, 1995; first published 1977, p. 199
  16. Eddy, Paul R. and Boyd, Gregory A. The Jesus Legend Baker Academic, 2007. pg 24-25
  17. Walsh, George (1998) The Role of Religion in History Transaction Publishers pg 58
  18. Dodd, C.H. (1938) History and the Gospel under the heading Christ Myth Theory Manchester University Press pg 17
  19. Price, Robert M. (2000) Deconstructing Jesus Prometheus Books, pg 85
  20. Mead, G. R. S. The Talmum 100 Years B.C. Story of Jesus", "Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?", 1903.
  21. Price, Robert M. "Jesus at the Vanishing Point" in James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy (eds.) The Historical Jesus: Five Views. InterVarsity, 2009, p. 65
  22. Doherty, Earl "Book And Article Reviews: The Case For The Jesus Myth: "Jesus — One Hundred Years Before Christ by Alvar Ellegard" review
  23. Carrier, Richard (2006) Did Jesus Even Exist? Stanford University presentation May 30, 2006
  24. Eddy and Boyd (2007), The Jesus Legend pp. 24
  25. Robertson, Archibald (1946) Jesus: Myth Or History
  26. Doherty, Earl ( 2009)[I]Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. Age of Reason[/I],, pp. vii-viii
  27. Ehrman, Bart (2012) Did Jesus Exist? Harper Collins, p. 12
  28. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J 1982, 1995 by Geoffrey W. Bromiley
  29. Wood, Herbert George (1934) Christianity and the nature of history MacMillan (New York, Cambridge, [Eng.]: The University Press pg 40
  30. The Times 1910
  31. Schweitzer, Albert (1931)Out of my life and thought: an autobiography pg 125
  32. Robertson, Archibald. (1946) Jesus: Myth or History?
  33. Doherty, Earl "Book And Article Reviews: The Case For The Jesus Myth: "Jesus — One Hundred Years Before Christ by Alvar Ellegard" review
  34. Price, Robert M (1999) "Of Myth and Men A closer look at the originators of the major religions-what did they really say and do?" Volume 20, Number 1 (Winter, 1999/2000') Free Inquiry magazine
  35. Stanton, Graham (2002) The Gospels and Jesus. Oxford University Press, p. 143.
  36. Marshall, Ian Howard. I Believe in the Historical Jesus. Regent College Publishing, 2004, p. 27-29.
  37. Remsburg, John (1909) The Christ
  38. Walsh, George (1998) The Role of Religion in History Transaction Publishers pg 58
  39. Dodd, C.H. (1938) History and the Gospel under the heading Christ Myth Theory Manchester University Press pg 17
  40. Barker, Dan 2006) Losing Faith in Faith pg 372
  41. Boyd-Eddy (2007), The Jesus Legend: a Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, p. 24-25
  42. Remsburg, John (1909) The Christ
  43. Barker, Dan 2006) Losing Faith in Faith pg 372
  44. Boyd-Eddy (2007), The Jesus Legend: a Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, p. 24-25
  45. Remsburg, John (1909) The Christ
  46. Barker, Dan 2006) Losing Faith in Faith pg 372
  47. Boyd-Eddy (2007), The Jesus Legend: a Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, p. 24-25
  48. Remsburg, John (1909) The Christ
  49. Barker, Dan 2006) Losing Faith in Faith pg 372
  50. "Born on December 25th" Jesus Police (Internet Archive)
  51. "Mary Was a Virgin" Jesus Police (Internet Archive)
  52. Waite, Charles B. (1881) History of the Christian Religion to the Year Two-Hundred
  53. Tyson, Joseph B (2006) Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle University of South Carolina Press; annotated edition ISBN-13: 978-1570036507
  54. Tucker, Bob (2009) "Was Jesus Virgin Born?" Foundation of Contemporary Theology- Internet archive
  55. Paulkovich, Michael, No Meek Messiah. Annapolis: Spillix, 2012, p. 194.
  56. Irenaeus (c180 CE)Demonstration (74)
  57. See Robert M Price. "Jesus at the Vanishing Point," in James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy (eds.) The Historical Jesus: Five Views. InterVarsity, 2009, p. 80-81.
  58. Gelb, Norman (2010) Kings of the Jews: The Origins of the Jewish Nation pg 205
  59. Crossan, John Dominic (1996) Who Killed Jesus?: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story pg 94
  60. Carrier, Richard (2014) On the Historicity of Jesus Sheffield Phoenix Press ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2 pg 9-11
  61. Carrier, Richard (2014) On the Historicity of Jesus Sheffield Phoenix Press ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2 pg 159-163
  62. Raffaele, Paul "In John They Trust" Smithsonian magazine, February 2006. 18 Sept 2013
  63. Guiart, Jean (1952) "John Frum Movement in Tanna" Oceania Vol 22 No 3 pg 165-177
  64. Guiart, Jean (1952) "John Frum Movement in Tanna" Oceania Vol 22 No 3 pg 165-177
  65. Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound, pp. 153–9.
  66. Lal, Brij V.; Kate Fortune (2000) The Pacific Islands: an encyclopedia; University of Hawaii Press; ISBN: 978-0824822651; Pg 303
  67. Raffaele, Paul (2006) "In John They Trust" Smithsonian magazine, February 2006
  68. Dawkins Richard (2006) The God Delusion pgs 202-203

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