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Jesus myth theory

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This article concerns the debate on whether Christianity had one single founder, or whether the early church just rallied around the myth of such a man. For simplicity the wide range of definitions used for the term have been daughtered out into Christ Myth Theory. For the evidence put forward in favor of the suggestion that Jesus actually once existed as a real-life, flesh-and-blood human being, see our article on Evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ.
The Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the sun, in which they put a man called Christ in the place of the sun, and pay him the adoration originally paid to the sun.
Thomas Paine, An Essay on the Origin of Free-Masonry,[1] written 1803-1805.

The Jesus myth theory (also known as the Christ myth theory, Jesus mythicism and the nonexistence hypothesis, as well as Jesus ahistoricity) refers to several hypotheses that regard the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus as so filled with myth and legend (as well as containing internal contradictions and historical irregularities) that at best one can extract no meaningful historical verification regarding Jesus of Nazareth (including his very existence) from them.[2]

Some academics have accepted the Jesus myth theory.[3][4][5] As Archibald Robertson[6] stated in his 1946 book, Jesus: Myth Or History, at least as far as John M. Robertson[7] 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".[8] This definition is echoed by Ehrman (himself not a mythicist) in his 2012 book Did Jesus Exist?, when he states: "In simpler terms, the historical Jesus did not exist. Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity".[9] In contrast, people who accept that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood man have been called Christ mythers. The most infamous of these was Sir James George Frazer[10] ("My theory assumes the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth"),[11] who along with John M. Robertson was grouped with those "who contested the historical existence of Jesus" by no less than Albert SchweitzerWikipedia's W.svg.[12][13]

Background and origins[edit]

Proponents of Jesus-myths point to early beliefs in a non-corporeal Jesus (docetism, as condemned in 2 John 1:7, which would help explain the lack of historical evidence for a human seed), and to close correspondence of the Jesus story with many other myths current at the time (a correspondence first noted by the 2nd-century apologist and saint Justin Martyr). The Jesus-myth theory in its broadest definition can be traced as far back as the concept of Docetism and CelsusWikipedia's W.svg (around 180 CE) and there is a possible hint of it in Justin Martyr's "Dialogue with Trypho".[14] The modern revival of the myth goes back to the 1790s with the ideas of Constantin-François VolneyWikipedia's W.svg and of Charles-François DupuisWikipedia's W.svg.

However, Volney and Dupuis did not agree on a definition of the Christ myth. Dupuis held that there was no human being involved in the New Testament account, which he saw as an intentional extended allegory of solar myths. Volney, on the other hand, allowed for confused memories of an obscure historical figure to be integrated in a mythology that compiled organically.[15] So from nearly the get-go the modern Christ Myth theory had two parallel lines of thought:

  1. There was no human being behind the person portrayed in the New Testament.
  2. Confused memories of an obscure historical figure became woven into the mythology.

For the most part, the no human being behind the New Testament version is presented as the Christ myth theory, ignoring Volney's confused memories of an obscure historical figure version.

In fact, as the John Frum cargo cult shows, even in as short a time as some 11 years after a message starts being noticed by unbelievers, the question of the founder being an actual person or a renamed existing deity is already unclear[16] and in a few more years the oral tradition has forgotten the possible human founder (illiterate native named Manehivi who caused trouble using that name from 1940 to 1941 and was exiled from his island as a result) and replaced him with a version (literate white US serviceman who appeared to the village elders in a vision on February 15, late 1930s) better suited to the cult.[17][18]

Problems with definitions[edit]

One of the biggest problems is thanks to Volney and Dupuis having different views regarding the Christ myth the term (be it "Jesus myth theory", "Christ myth theory", or "Ahistorical Jesus") includes ideas that accept Jesus existed as a human being. The terms of "myth", "historical" and "fiction" are no help either as what exactly they mean varies from author to author. In fact the very term "historical Jesus" has a huge spectrum of hypothesis. Touched on by Remsberg in 1909,[note 1] by Rudolf Bultmann in 1941 (and used by Richard Carrier in 2014[19]), and reiterated by Biblical scholar I. Howard Marshall in 2004,[20] the two ends of this range (the italicized clarifiers are from Marshall) are:

  1. Reductive theory (Remsburg's Jesus of Nazareth): "Jesus was an ordinary but obscure individual who inspired a religious movement and copious legends about him" rather than being a totally fictitious creation like King Lear or Doctor Who
  2. Triumphalist theory (Remsburg's Jesus of Bethlehem): "The Gospels are totally or almost totally true" rather than being works of imagination like those of King Arthur.

Marshall warns "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."[20]

However, as 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)".[21]

Too many times when apologists talk about a historical Jesus they are actually talking about the Jesus of Bethlehem and too many times Christ mythers are trying to disprove the Jesus of Bethlehem rather than a possible Jesus of Nazareth.

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

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 existed as a person but 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.[20]

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 categories are "admittedly over simplistic", "ideal-typical", and a "useful heuristic" and therefore 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 is why one needs to nail down just what what one means when talking 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 the following.

Christ (philosophical) myth theory (fringe)[edit]

"Jesus Christ is a pure myth—that he never had an existence, except as a Messianic idea, or an imaginary solar deity."[22]

Jesus began as at a Myth with historical trappings possibly including "reports of an obscure Jewish Holy man bearing this name" being added later.[23][24]

"Jesus never existed at all and that the myth came into being through a literary process."[25]

All trace of a historical person, if there was ever one was to begin with, has been lost. (Jesus agnosticism)[26]

The Legendary Jesus thesis - "The term 'legend' has various meanings in different contexts. In some academic circles, i.e., certain sectors of folkloristics, the term has come to refer to a transmitted story set in the relatively recent, or at least the historical, past that, though believed to be true by the teller, may or may not be rooted in actual history. On the multiple uses and definitional complexities of the term ‘legend'—including its relationship to 'history'—see [reference list omitted]."[27]

Christ (historical) myth theory (the narrative is essentially false), ahistorical, or reductive (fringe)[edit]

"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."[22]

"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."[25]

There is just enough to show there was a first century teacher called Jesus and little else.[26] (The lower end of Marshall's historical Jesus spectrum.)

Triumphalist theory or extreme historical (fringe)[edit]

"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."[22]

"The New Testament is basically true in all of its accounts except that there are natural explanations for the miracle stories."[25]

Moderate historical, Christ (Historical) Myth (the narrative is essentially true)[edit]

"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."[22]

"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."[25]

A historical Jesus did exist but was very different from the gospel Jesus.[26] (This is very close to the ahistorical category above)

Arguing the wrong Jesus and the Jesus myth[edit]

As is shown above the more moderate "Jesus (as a Historical) Myth" theory has gone mainstream but the more extreme "Jesus (as a Philosophical) Myth" is still very much fringe. Compounding matters is the fact the Jesus story 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. A good amount of bad Christ Myth theory can be seen in Kersey Graves' 1875 book The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors[28] and many armchair Christ Mythers unknowingly reference material in that work. Of course bad Christ Myth is helped by bad historical Jesus positions which try to use the very same points in support of a historical Jesus.

Born on December 25[edit]

The December 25 date was set by Imperial 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.[29][30]

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) gave 25th day of Pachon (May 20) and the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi (April 19 or 20),[31] while others 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).[32]

This means any argument that Jesus was a myth or historical 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.

Virgin birth[edit]

While it is true that our versions of Matthew and Luke have virgin birth stories there are hints that these are late comers to the Jesus 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's link to David is through the male line: i.e. through Joseph) and in Galatians 4:4 stated "God sent his Son, born of a woman" using the word gune (woman) rather than parthenos (virgin).[33] Admittedly if one looks at the original Greek Romans 1:1-3 is simply bizarre as Paul normally uses gennaô for birth while here he uses the same work for God’s manufacture of Adam’s body from clay, and God’s manufacture of our future resurrection bodies in heaven (ginomai) [34] but these two points would seem to point to the idea 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 ca. 140 CE, his Luke (Evangelikon) 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.[35][36]

This means that the virgin birth was added sometime between Paul's letters and whenever Matthew was written (some time before ca. 180 CE).

More over Irenaeus' Against Heresies (c 180 CE) documents the existence of a sect of Christianity led by Cerinthus who "represented Jesus as having not been born of a virgin, but as being the son of Joseph and Mary according to the ordinary course of human generation, while he nevertheless was more righteous, prudent, and wise than other men."[37]

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"[38] as well as being an "attempt to explain an individual's superiority to other mortals. Generally Mediterranean peoples looked at one's birth or parentage to explain one's character and behavior" and "veneration of a benefactor." [39] Caesar Augustus, Alexander the Great, Plato were all stated as being born of virgins and we know they were actual historical people—so the term 'born of a virgin' was never meant to be taken literally.

The "star" of Bethlehem[edit]

On occasion the "star" of Bethlehem is presented as a reference for a possible date, but there are several problems here. Only Matthew mentions this "star" and there is much debate over just what (if anything) this star was. Hypotheses range from a comet (Halley's Comet of 12 BCE is popular), a nova recorded by c. 5 BCE Chinese and Korean stargazers,[40][41] a series of planetary conjunctions from 3 to 2 BCE, or a pious fiction.[42] As this rough sampling above shows, the dates, nature of the "star", and even its very existence are guesswork and so are totally useless at forming a date. Never mind that it is trying to prove the Gospel Jesus of Matthew existed rather than a hypothetical ordinary flesh-and-blood Jesus.

The correct Jesus to argue about and the gray area between historical and mythical (the ahistorical realm)[edit]

Because of the huge variance of what constitutes a historical Jesus (and by extension a Jesus Myth) Carrier set three criteria for the minimal historical Jesus:

  1. An actual man at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life who continued as an identifiable movement after his death
  2. This is the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his followers to have been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities
  3. This is the same Jesus some of whose followers soon began worshipping him as a living god (or demigod)

"If any one of these premises is false, it can fairly be said there was no historical Jesus in any pertinent sense, And at least one of them must be false for any Jesus Myth theory to be true."[43]

"But notice that now we don't even require that is considered essential in many church creeds. For instance, it is not necessary that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Maybe he was, But even if we proved he wasn't that still does not vindicate mysticism. Because the 'real' Jesus may have been executed by Herod Antipas (as the Gospel of Peter in fact claims) or by Roman authorities in an earlier or later decade then Pilate (as some early Christians really did think) Some scholars even argue for an earlier century (and have some real evidence to cite)[44] ... My point at present is that even if we proved proved the founder of Christianity was executed by Herod the Great (not even by Romans, much less Pilate, and a whole forty years before the Gospels claim), as long as his name or nickname (whether assigned before or after his death) really was Jesus and his execution is the very thing spoken of as leading him to the status of the divine Christ venerated in the Epistles, I think it would be fair to say the mythicists are then simply wrong. I would say this even if Jesus was never really executed but only believed to have been Because even then it's still the same historical man being spoken of and worshiped."[45]

Carrier gave a lot of leeway with his criteria and also put forth five criteria for a minimal mythical Jesus:

  1. At the origin of Christianity, Jesus Christ was thought to be a celestial deity much like any other.
  2. Like many other celestial deities, this Jesus 'communicated' with his subjects only through dreams, visions and other forms of divine inspi­ration (such as prophecy, past and present).
  3. Like some other celestial deities, this Jesus was originally believed to have endured an ordeal of incarnation, death, burial and resurrection in a supernatural realm.
  4. As for many other celestial deities, an allegorical story of this same Jesus was then composed and told within the sacred community, which placed him on earth, in history, as a divine man, with an earthly family, companions, and enemies, complete with deeds and sayings, and an earthly depiction of his ordeals.
  5. Subsequent communities of worshipers believed (or at least taught) that this invented sacred story was real (and either not allegorical or only 'additionally' allegorical).

"That all five propositions are true shall be my minimal Jesus myth theory."[46]

However, there are are a lot of ways that one can fall between these two criteria and have a hypothetical Jesus who is neither historical or mythical by Carrier's standard but who can be both by other people's criteria:

  • John Robertson's 1900 idea that the Gospel Jesus was a composite character or that a person inspired by Paul's writings took up the name Jesus, tried to preach his own version of Paul's teachings, and possibly got killed for his troubles fails both criteria.[47]
  • The idea expressed by Remsberg that there was a Jesus but his following wasn't an identifiable movement until Paul and later the writers of the Gospels got ahold of it also fails Carrier's two sets of criteria: "Jesus, if he existed, was a Jew, and his religion, with a few innovations, was Judaism. With his death, probably, his apotheosis began. During the first century the transformation was slow; but during the succeeding centuries rapid. 'The Judaic elements of his religion were, in time, nearly all eliminated, and the Pagan elements, one by one, were incorporated into the new faith."
  • G. A. Wells' Jesus Legend (1996) with its mythical Paul Jesus + 1st century teacher who was not executed fails the "same Jesus" criteria and so is not a "historical Jesus in any pertinent sense". Carrier's classified this position as "ahistoricitical".
  • Dan Barker's "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"[25] would also fail Carrier's criteria as Baker's first century personality need not be named "Jesus" or if he did his movement was not identifiable until much later.

Jesus Frum a.k.a. John Christ[edit]

See also: John Frum

The real world examples of Melanesian cargo cults (and other examples, such as Ned Ludd) show that it is not an inherently crazy that a major movement's "leader" is originally entirely mythical but is then quickly (in a matter of decades) placed into a historical framework.[48] Richard Carrier goes into detail on why such things happen in his peer reviewed On the Historicity of Jesus as Element 29 of his examples.[49]

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 because everything the Christian apologists claim couldn't have happened in the development of Christianity appears to have happened with the John Frum cargo cult: It evolved from pre-existing beliefs without a clear and definitive founder and one variant even said the mythical John Frum was related to a real living person (Prince Philip is the brother of John Frum in this variant even though Prince Philip has no brothers)

Carrier states regarding the plugging of a mythical person into history "the same thing happened in Melanesian Cargo Cults, which still revere completely mythical heroes who were nevertheless quite rapidly placed in history and believed to be real (most famously 'Tom Navy' and 'John Frum'), again within decades of their supposed appearance."[50]

"Further supporting the previous element is the fact that what are now called 'Cargo Cults' are the modern movement most culturally and socially similar to earliest Christianity, so much so that Christianity is best understood in light of them."[51]

"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."[52]

However, if you examine the John Frum cargo cult in detail one can see possibly of one or more inspired believers deciding to become Jesus even if Jesus originally started out as nothing more than a celestial being. So it is well within reason as John Robertson implied in 1900 that one or more people inspired by Paul's writings took up the name Jesus, preached their own view of Paul's message, and possibly got killed for it. It is one way to read Paul's 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 warning of minds being "corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" by "another Jesus, whom we have not preached," "another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted".

Guiart's 1952 Oceania paper also shows the complexity involved regarding determining if Jesus was a man or a celestial being.[53]

We are told that "A man named Manehevi had posed as a supernatural being by means of ingenious stage management." But later we are also told "From elsewhere rail the rumour that, in spite of the Administration statement, Manehevi was not John Frum, and that the latter was still at liberty."

Here we are told John Frum was a "supernatural being" while the believers are saying he is an actual man who "was still at liberty"

If that isn't enough we are also told "John Frum, alias Karaperamun, is always the god of Mount Tukosmoru, which will shelter the planes, then the soldiers."

Here we are told that John Frum is Karaperamun (who is a long existing volcano god) but we were also told that Manehevi was (or pretended to be) John Frum and that John Frum was another person who was still at liberty.

As you can see from Guiart's 1952 article, a mere 11 years after the John Frum movement become noticeable by nonbelievers it is not clear if John Frum is simply another name for Karaperamun (the High god of the region), a name that various actual people use as leader of the religious cult, or the name of some other person who inspired the cult perhaps as much as 30 years previously. If to confuse things further it has been suggested that Tom Navy, a companion to John Frum, is based on a real person: Tom Beatty of Mississippi, who served in the New Hebrides both as a missionary, and as a Navy Seabee during the war.[54]

Arguments against a "historical" Jesus[edit]

Some (but not all) of these points also appear in regards with moderate "Christ mythers" in the Jesus likely existed but the Gospels tell us nothing (or next to nothing) about the actual man or his real teachings vein.


See the Paul of Tarsus article on this topic.

The main issue is that of all the "evidence" for a historical Jesus only the writings of Paul (Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1st Thessalonians and Philemon) can be said to be of a true possible contemporary to a Jesus who supposedly lived c 6 BCE to 36 CE and Paul is emphatic that all his knowledge is coming from visions and revelation not from human sources.[55][56]

Some versions of the Christ myth theory (such as Kenneth Humphreys'[57]) suggest that Paul was a fictional person. To put it bluntly, this is one of the places where parts of the Christ myth goes off the rails and enters tin foil hat land.

Saying Paul was fictional would make sense if he provided a "smoking gun" to the pro-historical Jesus debate but the fact is he brings nothing to the table; his Jesus is a being only seen via visions. Paul supposedly talks with people who based on the Gospels should have known the living Jesus and yet Paul doesn't give one actual detail regarding Jesus's activities on Earth. Also, someone wrote the authentic/early Pauline epistles and calling that author Ed, Bill or RamaLamaDingDong doesn't change the fact that these letters were an important influence on Christianity. You don't have to accept the clearly embroidered version in Acts to find the Pauline authorship of these early epistles historically plausible. Contrast Jesus, from whom we have no letters or other writings and who is portrayed through and through in the supernatural light seen in other myths and legends, with Paul, who in his own letters doesn't claim any supernatural powers, except for his opinion that he has some sort of mental hotline to God and Jesus.

From an Occam's Razor standpoint a fictional Paul doesn't make any sense; it just adds an unneeded level of complexity to the Christ Myth Theory. Moreover, what actual purpose does such an idea even serve? If anything, claiming Paul is a fictional creation smacks of the kind of Illuminati level conspiracy theory nonsense seen in Joseph Wheless' 1930 Forgery In Christianity that only convinces most people that the Christ myth theory does belong in the same land of crazy as those who deny the Holocaust or Moon landings.


See Gospels as history for more details.

The Gospels are anonymous documents with dates that are "arbitrary ballpark figures with don't really have much basis in facts." The only thing that can be said with certainty is the Gospels have a range that ends in the mid to late 140s.[58] Even if the usually accepted dates of c. 70 CE for Mark, c. 80 CE for Matthew, c. 90 for Luke-Acts, and c. 100 for John are correct it can be shown there is a strong correlation between the Jesus of Mark regarding the Passover and the actions of a would-be messiah named Jesus ben Ananias (66-70 CE) written about in Josephus's Jewish Wars (c. 75) [59] meaning that Mark (and therefore Matthew, Luke, and John) could be in reality a Robin Hood like series of stories with Jesus ben Ananias being one of the elements used to flesh out Paul's earlier writings of a visionary Jesus.

R. G. Price asserts that the Gospel of Mark is the first story of Jesus’ life that was written. And that all other accounts of Jesus’ life are derived from Mark (in agreement with Michael Goulder’sWikipedia's W.svg thesis). Per Price, the author of Mark knew that Jesus was not a real person and knew that the story he was putting forward was “fictional” (now diverging from Goulder’s thesis, who believed that Mark was the only “true” historical account of the canonical gospels).[note 2][60]


See Josephus for more details.

Josephus's work, Antiquities of the Jews, mentions Jesus twice. The first is in Jewish Antiquities XVIII.3.4 (also known as the Testimonium Flavium, or TF), and the second one is in Jewish Antiquities XX.9.1.

It can be shown that the Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus has been tampered with and is not fully authentic[61], though most historians say that some part of it is genuine.[62] However, as Carrier's examples of John Frum and Ned Ludd show, the more then 50 years between 36 CE and when Antiquities was written (c. 90 CE) is more then enough time for a possible founder's origin to be entirely replaced or a narrative to be built around a founder who may have never existed in the first place. Even in the form we have the passage is insanely short when compared to Athronges: a "mere shepherd, not known by anybody" who with his brothers gets some five paragraphs and Josephus gives details on Athronges' actions.

As for Jewish Antiquities XX.9.1, mythicists such as Richard Carrier believe that this reference is an interpolation and actually references a figure named Jesus ben Damneus who is identified at the end of the passage as becoming high priest.[63] Moreover "Christos" was used in the Old Testament to refer to high priests so even though the majority of contemporary scholars believe the phrase is authentic[64][65][66] it need not refer to the Jesus of the Gospels.

In fact, for a long time tradition held that James brother of the Lord died c. 69 CE but the James in Josephus died 62 CE. Furthermore, it was stated that James brother of the Lord was informed of Peter's death (64 CE or 67 CE) via letter[67], long after the James in Josephus was dead and gone.

Never mind, as seen with John Frum's brother Prince Philip, a supposed founder can be said to be related to real people, even when those relations are not supported by fact.


Origen's comments regarding the passage of James in Josephus he is referencing shows that it also had Josephus directly connected the death of James with the "fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple"[68] raises doubt about the reliably of the "the brother of Jesus, him called Christ, whose name was James" passage.


Often cited as evidence of a historical Jesus, Roman historian Tacitus' Annals have problems.

First, it is known the passage was tampered with. The "Chrestian" in the passage was changed to "Christian" after the fact.

Second, the word rendered as "Christus" or "Chrestus" (seemingly based on if the transcriber/translator wants to connect it to Suetonius) is in reality "Chrstus".

Third, the part of the Annals covering the period 29-31 (i.e. the part most likely to discuss Jesus in detail) are missing.

Fourth, two fires had destroyed much in the way of official documents by the time Tacitus wrote his Annuals so he could have simply gone to the Chrestians themselves or written to his good friends Plinius the Younger and Suetonius for more on this group.

Finally, the account is at odds with the Christian accounts in the apocryphal "Acts of Paul" (c. 160 CE) and "The Acts of Peter" (150-200 CE) where the first has Nero reacting to claims of sedition by the group and the other saying that thanks to a vision he left them alone. In fact, the Christians themselves didn't start claiming Nero blamed them for the fire until 400 CE.


Given neither Josephus or Pliny the Elder mention Christians in Rome during the time of Nero there are serious questions about Suetonius' account. Carrier suggests that like Tacitus, Suetonius was actually writing about Chrestians and "corrected" by a later Christian scribe.[69] Even if the passage Suetonius is genuine it only shows the existence of the Christian movement and that their punishment was part of a general housecleaning of Rome by Nero. As John Frum cargo cult shows a movement need not have an actual founder.


Although there are some early accounts of Jesus (none being contemporary), a number of them are not helpful for affirming the historicity of Jesus. Scholars have been convinced by our sources, whereas mythicists are more skeptical regarding their validity -- although, it must be admitted, some are simply too skeptical and try to find holes where there are none. Because of some of the more fringe views of mythicism, the atheistic historian Maurice Casey says that many proponents of the mythicist position are "extraordinarily incompetent".[70]

The other timelines and their problems[edit]

See also: Dating Events

Paul of Tarsus gives no details or temporal references to exactly when the Jesus he talks of walked the Earth. In fact all that can be pulled from his writings is that his conversion must have happened before 37 CE. The problem is that if the relationship between Aretas and Damascus Paul relates is accurate then the vision is pushed that back to no later then 33 CE and possibly as early as 28 CE. John the Baptist's death is also known with it being put as late 36 CE, giving Jesus only months (certainly not the three years suggested by John) to have his ministry.

While the conflict between the birthdates (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's 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).[71][72] Theologian Robert M. Grant cross references Irenaeus' Demonstration and Against Heresies which together firmly puts Jesus's crucifixion just before the age of 50 somewhere between 41 and 54 CE.[73]

Carrier clarifies that this the 83 BCE is the Babylonian Talmud (compiled in the 3rd to 5th centuries) and that the writers knew only of a Jesus killed under Jannaeus, not of one killed during the time of Pontius Pilate. Furthermore Epiphanius confirmed that some denominations of Christianity preached that Jesus lived in the time of Jannaeus.[74][75] If correct then this of course invalidates the canonical Gospel account.

The same is true if as Lena Einhorn, PhD suggests the "Egyptian Prophet" (between 52 and 58 CE based on the descriptions in Jewish War 2.259-263 and Jewish Antiquities 20.169-171) was the basis for the Gospel Jesus.[76]

Carrier's suggestion that Jesus ben Ananias [Ananus] of 66-70 CE[77] was used as a kind of raw template for the Passover section of "Mark"[78] would also mean the canonical Gospel accounts are not history.

Moreover in Book III, Chapter 21 Paragraph 3 of Against Heresies Irenaeus stated "for our Lord was born about the forty-first year of the reign of Augustus" (i.e. 14 CE) which would place Jesus's crucifixion at a minimum of 44 CE...long after Paul's vision (which is no later than 37 CE). Now some apologists point to Tertullian's account which states “in the forty-first year of the empire of Augustus, when he has been reigning for 10 and 8 years after the death of Cleopatra (30 BCE), the Christ is born.” as evidence that the count wasn't from 27 BCE but rather 44 BCE.[79] The problem here is that Herod the Great died in 4 BCE or two years before Jesus was born by this calculation. This argument also ignores the fact that Irenaeus, in Book II, Chapter 22 of Against Heresies, goes into a long argument of how Jesus had to be in his 40s if not in his 50s when he was crucified and that in Demonstration 74 Irenaeus expressly states Jesus was crucified in the reign of Claudius Caesar and Herod "King of the Jews".[80] Tertullian himself also suggests that the destruction of the Jewish temple (70 CE) happened 22.5 years after Christ's crucifixion but this results in 47 CE. Tertullian gets around this by playing fast and loose with the reigns of Claudius, Tiberius, Gaius and Nero to where "he is able to squeeze the 72½ years from 2 BCE (the birth of Jesus) to the burning of the temple, into 52½ years (7½ hebdomads)."[81] The key here is both Irenaeus and Tertullian put Jesus's crucifixion 22.5 years before the destruction of the Temple or around 47 CE which conflicts with the Gospel account.

So, at best the Gospel Jesus is either a time-shifted preacher of c. 83 BCE, 40s CE, or 50s CE, or a composite person made up of several would-be messiahs. This would totally invalidate the idea that the canonical Gospels are even remotely accurate history.

Raglan's hero pattern[edit]

See the main article on this topic: hero pattern

Every so often Lord Raglan's Hero Pattern is presented as "evidence" that Jesus is a philosophical myth. The flaw here is it can be shown that known historical people can score high on Lord Raglan's Hero Pattern and known fictional characters come in on par with known historical figures of antiquity. For example, Tsar Nicholas II comes in at 14[82] or higher than the Jesus described in Mark (11) or John (13) or even Apollo (11). Similarly, Anakin Skywalker gets a 10.5[83] or roughly on par with Augustus Caesar (10). For reference, King Arthur and Robin Hood, whose historical existence is debated, scored 19 and 13 respectively.

So the Lord Raglan's Hero Pattern is poor evidence for a character being a philosophical myth.

Academic consensus[edit]

The increasingly common view of Jesus among New Testament scholars as of 2007 is that "historical research can indeed disclose a core of historical facts about Jesus", but "the Jesus we find at this historical core is significantly different from the legendary view presented in the New Testament".[26] Some scholars maintain there were several possible "Jesus" candidates with no indication of which of them (if any) is "the" historical Jesus.[84][85] Bertrand Russell expressed some doubt about the existence of Jesus, though he did not fully embrace the Jesus didn't exist as a human being part of the myth theory.[86]

Ironically, based on some of the definitions provided,[87][88][89][90] these could be said to qualify as Christ myth theory positions.

A small minority, past[note 3] and present,[note 4] believe there is insufficient justification to assume any individual human seed for the stories, representing an extreme in the other end of belief.

It should be noted that at least one anthropology paper states in both its abstract and main text "there is not a shred of evidence that a historical character Jesus lived".[91]

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".[92]

Common objections[edit]

There are several objections to questioning a historical Jesus.

"Most scholars think Jesus existed"[edit]

As stated above, arguments regarding Jesus as a historical person tend to improperly mix reductive and triumphalist theories. So instead of debating the existence of an ordinary man one gets a lot of nonsense about miracles, earthquake, and darkness (any argument involving Thallos) with the historical method, for the most part, being out to lunch. That said the whole "most scholars think Jesus existed" is an argument from authority fallacy.

A related problem as also demonstrated above is just what is meant by the "Jesus Myth" varies and includes positions that could fall in the "Jesus existed as a human being" (i.e. he was "historical") category. It's worth asking the question "What are their qualifications?" followed by "Who is this scholar and what do they mean when they say 'Jesus existed'?" and "Are there any widely accepted views in the field that could push a scholar to a certain conclusion?"[93]

It is important to note that few theologians are historians (and those who are aren't very good at it)[94] and fewer are historical anthropologists, the two fields critical to the "Did Jesus exist?" question.[95]

Scholars such as Avalos, Carrier and Price are trying to bring the tools of historical anthropology and its new layer of writer/cultural dynamics to the historical method to the issue but those tools are either not understood or are outright ignored by most "historical" Jesus supporters.

Hector Avalos details the differences between the seminary and secular streams of Bible-related study in his 2007 book The End of Biblical Studies, which had some impact on the field.[96] It should be noted that some apologists for a historical Jesus are fundamentalists, such as Lee Strobel, who are rarely taken seriously in mainstream academia. Others are liberal Christians such as Marcus Borg, or flat-out agnostics, such as Bart Ehrman and Robert , are more respected in mainstream academic circles (there are also quite a few Jewish New Testament scholars such as Amy Jill-Levine or Geza Vermes). Even taking scholars like Ehrman into account, mythicists such as Richard Carrier believe that the methodology of Jesus-related historical studies is of a much lower standard than the historical method used for comparable periods.

Historians who are skeptical of the historicity of Jesus are often painted by theologians and apologists as fringe lunatics even when that skepticism is regarding how Jesus is depicted in the NT rather then him existing as a human being. However, these arguments rarely go beyond ad hominem attacks.[97] with any points ignored. To be fair, there is as much or even more nonsense on the Christ Myth side of things, but trying to say people like Robert M Price and Richard Carrier are in the same class as Acharya S. or Joseph Wheless is at best an insult.

As Richard Carrier correctly points, there is a large variety of material on both sides of the historicity argument ranging from the absurd to the somewhat reasonable. The problem on the mythicist side is that most of the theories involve great amount of elaborations making the theory more complicated than it needs to be. The problem on the historical side of things is "arguing there are flaws (mostly flaws of exaggeration) in the scholarship of the mythicists, yet without demonstrating that any of these flaws are actually relevant."[98]

"There is more evidence for Jesus than for X"[edit]

When discussing the evidence for Jesus' existence, a common claim made by apologists is that there is "more evidence for Jesus than X".[99]

Regarding this position Richard Carrier in one of his blogs states:[100]

Just FYI, most experts are historicity agnostics about Aesop and Zoroaster, and odds favor non-existence for both.

Meanwhile, many scholars are agnostic about Homer and Pythagoras (the latter is outside our ability to know, while every expert agrees no one author composed the works of Homer any more than one author composed Genesis, so the historicity of Homer is on the same level as “the author of Genesis”: obviously such an author existed, since the text didn’t write itself, but there was more than one of them over centuries, and we know nothing about them).

Similarly, all experts agree no one person lies behind the writings of “Hippocrates” and we know nothing reliable about “Democritus”, only that he wrote some things that were later quoted and talked about–which entails someone wrote those things, regardless of their name, so “Democritus” is as good a stand-in term for them as anything.

Likewise the evidence for Epicurus is a bit better than we have for Jesus (e.g. unlike Jesus, we have the actual writings of Epicurus himself.)

And so on.

So you really don’t get anywhere with an argument like this. Especially since no good case for the non-existence of Jesus rests on our merely not having records of him.

While it is is impossible to cover all the ancient figures and events Jesus has been compared to there are a few popular ones that show just how shaky the position really is (It should be noted that this sometimes mixed with the more accurate than Homer argument).

  • Sun Tzu (Sun Wu) (544–496 BCE?): his very existence is debated in scholarly circles [101] despite reference in the Records of the Grand Historian and Spring and Autumn Annals which used earlier official records that haven't survived.
  • Confucius (Kong Qiu) (551–479 BCE): the Records of the Grand Historian used archives and imperial records as source material (which themselves have not survived). Its author Sima Qian noted the problems with incomplete, fragmentary, and contradictory sources stating in the 18th volume of the 180-volume work "I have set down only what is certain, and in doubtful cases left a blank." Moreover, Kong Qiu was the governor of a town in Lu and ultimately held the positions of Minister of Public Works and then Minister of Crime for the whole Lu state, not exactly minor positions one could create a fictitious person to fill.
  • Leukippos (shadowy nearly legendary figure of early 5th century BCE): very existence doubted by Epicurus (341 – 270 BCE).[102]
  • Socrates (c469 – 399 BCE): written about by contemporaries Plato, Xenophon (430 – 354 BCE) and Aristophanes (c446 – 386 BCE).
  • Plato (428 – 347 BCE): written about by contemporaries Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), Xenophon, and Aristophanes.
  • Alexander the Great (July 20, 356 – June 11, 323 BCE)[103]: official historian Callisthenes of Olynthus, generals Ptolemy, Nearchus, and Aristobulus and helmsman Onesicritus were all contemporaries who wrote about Alexander. While their works were eventually lost, later works that used them as source material were not. Additionally there are known contemporary accounts that survive: Isocrates, Demosthenes, Aeschines, Hyperides, Dinarchus, Theocritus, Theophrastus, and Menander.[104] And on top of all that there are the contemporary inscriptions and coins.
  • Hannibal (247 – 182 BCE): Written about by Silenus, a paid Greek historian who Hannibal brought with him on his journeys to write an account of what took place, and Sosylus of Lacedaemon who wrote seven volumes on the war itself. Never mind the contemporary Carthaginian coins and engraved bronze tablets.
  • Julius Caesar (July 100 – 15 March 44 BCE): Not only do we have the writing of contemporaries Cato the Younger and Cicero but Julius Caesar's own writings as well (Commentarii de Bello Gallico a.k.a. The Gallic Wars and Commentarii de Bello Civili a.k.a. The Civil War). Then you have the contemporary coins, statues and monuments.
  • Pontius Pilate (unknown – c 37 CE): Some apologists try to imply that people at one time thought this person didn't exist. In reality, no evidence of anyone having ever stated that Pontius Pilate didn't exist could be found.[105] In fact, known contemporary Philo does mention Pontius Pilate in what survives of Embassy to Gaius (c.40 CE) and near contemporary Josephus describes in detail several conflicts that Pilate had with his Jewish subjects.
  • Apollonius of Tyana (c15 CE – c100 CE): Often referred to as the "Pagan Christ". Fragments of Apollonius' own writings are part of the Harvard University Press edition of The Life of Apollonius of Tyana (1912) ISBN-13: 978-0674990180 as documented in Carrier's Kook article. Interestingly some people are suggesting that the Gospels are actually based on Apollonius' exploits though there are some obvious problems with this idea (key of which is Paul was writing about a dead and resurrected Jesus about 40 years before Apollonius died.
  • Boadicea (d. 60 CE): Tacitus himself would have been a 5-year old boy when she poisoned herself c. 60 CE, making him contemporary to her. Furthermore, his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola served under Gaius Suetonius Paulinus during the revolt. So Tacitus was not only an actual contemporary, but he had access to Gaius Suetonius Paulinus' records and an actual eyewitness.
  • Muhammad (570 – c. June 8, 632 CE): Contrary to the picture some apologists like to paint, there are non-Muslim references by people who would have been contemporary with Muhammad. The earliest is the personal notes of an unnamed monk c. 636 CE mixed in with his copying of the gospels which mentions that "many villages were ruined with killing by [the Arabs of] Mụhammad and a great number of people were killed and captives"[106] and in 661 CE Sebeos writes about Mụhammad and is believed to be an eyewitness to many of the events he recorded. As if that wasn't enough, the Quran and other writings about Muhammad can be traced to identifiable people who actually were with him during his lifetime (as in the case of Alexander the Great).[107]

Now compare those to Jesus:

  1. The only known possible contemporary is Paul (Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1st Thessalonians and Philemon) who not only writes some 20 years after the events but seems more intent on the Jesus in his own head than any Jesus who actually preached in Galilee. In fact, even though in his own account Paul meets "James, brother of the Lord" we get no details of Jesus' life, not even references to the famous sermons or miracles. And in any case, Paul never met or even saw Jesus in person.
  2. The Gospels are anonymous documents written sometime between 70 CE to 140 CE and there are no references to any of them until the early 2nd century.

"A viable theory of historicity for Jesus must therefore instead resemble a theory of historicity for Apollonius of Tyana or Musonin Rufus or Judas the Galilean (to list a few very famous men who escaped the expected record more or less the same degree Jesus did.)"[108]

In his article "So What About Caligula? How Do You Know HE Existed!?"[109] Richard Carrier demonstrated the total non sequitur of these arguments with N.T. Wright's comparison of the material regarding Jesus being on par with Caligula. Saying the evidence for these two people is not even in the same ballpark is generous; more realistically they aren't even in the same solar system in terms of evidence. Carrier concludes this blog with "All that this shows is how incompetent and irrational defenders of historicity are. Incompetent, because a real historian would know these claims weren’t true, or know they’d better check first (and thus would discover they aren’t true, before saying they are). And irrational, because they have no grasp of how evidence works or that they should check, yet feel the desperate need to hyperbolically assert total confidence in completely ridiculous things."

Holocaust comparison[edit]
Or, how to scrape the bottom of a barrel in the stupidest way possible.

Comparing the quality of Jesus to that of any major person after the invention of the printing press in the west (1436) is bad enough but when people compare denying Jesus as a historical person to Holocaust denial[110][111][112][113][114][115] they are either ignorant of just how much material evidence there is for the Holocaust or are making a strawman...and simultaneously flirting with Godwin's Law.

For the record there were 3,000 tons of truly contemporary (i.e. between 1938-1945) records presented at the 1945-1946 Nuremberg Trials.[116] The 1958 finding aids (eventually the index to the Holocaust evidence) was 62 volumes--just 4 books shy of the number of books (66) traditionally in the entire Bible! Then between 1958 and 2000 they added another 30 volumes, bringing the total to 92.[117]

It is an emotional argument and a totally unfair one as Jesus to the best of our knowledge never had the quantity or quality of evidence that shows the Holocaust happened.

"Jesus was an unnotable minor figure"[edit]

The other argument presented is that Jesus was in reality an obscure person who was largely ignored during his lifetime. There are some figures whose existence is historically questionable. However, they tend to be more minor figures who most people haven't heard of (a non-biblical exception would be Aesop).

American historian Richard Carrier writes on the problems with this view:

One could say that Jesus was an insignificant, illiterate, itinerant preacher with a tiny following, who went wholly unnoticed by any literate person in Judaea. However, this would not bode well for anyone who wished to maintain he was God, or did any of the more amazing things attributed to him. It is very implausible, for instance, that a biography would be written for the obscure itinerant philosopher Demonax in his own lifetime (by Lucian), yet God Incarnate, or a Great Miracle Worker who riled up all Judaea with talk, should inspire nothing like it until decades after his death. And though several historians wrote on Judaean affairs in the early 1st century (not just Josephus and Tacitus, but several others no longer extant), none apparently mentioned Jesus (see the Secular Web library on Historicity). Certainly, had anyone done so, the passages would probably have been lovingly preserved by 2nd century Christians, or else inspired angry rebuttals.

For instance, the attacks of Celsus, Hierocles, and Porphyry, though destroyed by Christians and thus no longer extant (another example of the peculiar problem of Christian history discussed above), nevertheless remain attested in the defenses written by Origen, Eusebius, and Macerius Magnes. But no earlier attacks are attested. There is no mention of Christians in Plutarch's attack On Superstition, nor a rebuttal to any attack on Christianity in Seneca's lost work On Superstition (which ruthlessly attacked pagans and Jews, as attested in book 10 of Augustine's City of God), so it seems evident Christians got no mention even there, in a text against alien cults, by a man who would have witnessed the Neronian persecution of 64 CE (alternatively, the fact that this is the only work of Seneca's not to be preserved, despite the fact that Christians must surely have been keen to preserve an anti-pagan text by a renowned pagan, might mean it contained some damning anti-Christian material and was suppressed, though Augustine clearly had access to the work and says nothing about such content). All of this suggests a troubling dichotomy for believers: either Jesus was a nobody (and therefore not even special, much less the Son of God) or he did not exist.[118]

In one of his blogs Carrier spelled out the problem:

It is also problematic to claim Jesus was a nobody. I grant that’s an out. But it comes with consequences. Because if it’s so, you are conceding the Gospels are lying (egregiously…and evidently, successfully) and that Jesus never said or did anything in life that would inspire fanatical worshipers or warrant anyone considering him worth dying for–because nothing Jesus ever said or did in life is ever relevant to the gospel preached anywhere in the authentic letters of Paul... which begs [sic] the question how he convinced anyone he was the Messiah and Savior who would soon return on clouds of glory if he never said or did anything anyone thought impressive enough to ever discuss until a lifetime later.[119]

So this line of reasoning creates the issue of how did such a supposedly minor person get elevated to the status of the character in the Gospels and if Acts 7-9 is to be believed had supposedly inspired followers in three provinces (Galilee, Samaria, and Judea) by 37 CE?[120] Similarly, if the Gospels and Acts are wild propaganda then how can anything they stated about Jesus or his following be regarded as history?

However, there are examples of people who were thrust into prominence that, when you look at the evidence, is greatly inflated. Ephraim McDowell (November 11, 1771 – June 25, 1830) is one such example. When you really look at his work it is not that important in the grander picture. Because his operations depended on a mixture of ridiculous luck, patients with stamina to withstand being cut open without anathesia, a passion for being meticulously clean when doing his operations (the merits of which would not be fully understood for decades) and crediting his success to divine providence (he tended to do his operations on Christian holy days), his contribution to the field of medicine in his own day was effectively nil.[121] Without the printing press just how good would our knowledge of McDowell's achievements be?

A even more relevant example to this can be said of John Ballou Newbrough (1828–1891), the founder of the obscure Oahspe cult; even with the power of the printing press, our knowledge of it is relatively minor. Relegated to just another leader of just another Third Great Awakening movement that went nowhere, he has been elevated to prominence unknown in his own time based largely on him being one of the first people to use the term "star-ship".[122][123] Jesus could have been like McDowell or Newbrough.

"Most people Jesus preached to were illiterate"[edit]

One hypothesis that comes up with regards to the nonexistence of truly contemporary evidence for Jesus is that he preached to people who were illiterate.

The problem with this idea is it is basically ad hoc (i.e. untestable). There is no agreement on the literacy level of the Roman Empire in general (ranging from 5% to 30%) or Palestine in particular. In fact, there is an argument that the Roman Empire in general and Palestine in particular was far more literate than once supposed.[124][125][126]

Even if Palestine was more literate, there is still the issue of any contemporary writing of Jesus' actions and deeds either surviving the elements and two revolts that followed 36 CE or being copied by someone else.

Christianity proves Christ[edit]

It is sometimes argued that Christianity's mere existence necessitates a Christ.

Early Christianity[edit]

For example, it is claimed that the handful of early Christian churches "prove" "a man named Jesus existed as the leader of a religious movement" based on the theory that people do not usually make up leaders for all that they aggrandize, and mythologize them. That theory can be easily shown to be nonsense with such counterexamples as Ned Ludd and various Malaysian Cargo cults where this very thing happened.[48] Similarly, the 1982 and 1995 editions of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J use this "story of" definition for Christ myth and make no comment regarding whether Jesus the man is regarded as mythical.

For comparison, other stories of semi-mythical figures such as King Arthur or Robin Hood appear to have no original author,[note 5] instead being legends that accreted — possibly from a basis of one original person, possibly from several, or possibly from pure invention. For example, John FrumWikipedia's W.svg is a claimed cargo cult founder that many anthropologists have written about since 1952, well within living memory of his supposed late 1930s appearance to the village elders, but even for him we don't have enough evidence to establish whether or not he was a real person - we just don't know whether the stories started from any actual person or just accreted spuriously.

Modern Christianity[edit]

Further, the existence of modern Christianity proves only that Paul of Tarsus — the man who revolutionized Christianity by pitching it to non-Jews — existed, and that Paul spoke of Jesus the Christ, based on oral stories going round and his own vision. The existence of a founding figure who can reasonably be tagged Paul is quite good as these things go, with textual analysis showing that several of the Biblical texts attributed to Paul do indeed seem to have been written by the same single hand. This is comparable to the evidence we have for the existence of figures such as Socrates and PythagorasWikipedia's W.svg; as with Paul, their existence is secondary to their body of work.

"Myth, madman, or Messiah"[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Lewis Trilemma

Alternately, the "Lunatic, Liar, or Lord" argument and a specific case of a false dichotomy.

All too often, the "historical existence of Jesus" debate turns into the Myth, Madman, or Messiah argument: the concept that Jesus has to be either a myth (both types), madman, or essentially what the Gospels describe. The key issue is that this really argues for the Jesus of the gospels rather than the gospel story being inspired by an actual person. It also relies on the (false) a priori assumption that the Gospels are essentially providing us with an unvarnished historical record of Jesus' life.

The argumentum ad martyrdom of "Would the Disciples die for a lie?" falls into this category and ignores that there are many examples of people dying for beliefs which turned out to be false, deceptive, or poorly understood (Hong Xiuquan's Taiping Rebellion followers, Jonestown, Heaven's Gate, Branch Davidians, etc.)[127]

The "skeptics just don't want to be accountable for their sins" and "skeptics have blind faith in the words of man" are essentially two sides of the same argument that also falls into this category. Here again this is arguing that the Gospel Jesus is a historical person, not arguing that the stories were inspired by a quite normal man.

How did the myth of Jesus start?[edit]

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

  1. One of the views, held by J. M. Robertson and others, is that the Jesus myth was 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.[citation needed]
  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.[128] 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

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Surveys of early 20th century proponents of an ahistorical Jesus figure per the Gospels:

  • Robertson, J. M. (1932). "VIII. The Making of Christianity". Courses of study (3 ed.). London: Watts & Co. pp. 77ff.
  • Dujardin, É. (1938). "L'évolution des théories mythiques sur l'origine du christianisme: à propos d'un livre récent" (in French). Revue De L'histoire Des Religions, 117, 90-104.
  • Price, R. M. (2011). "The 'Pre-Christian Jesus' Revisited". The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems. American Atheist Press. ISBN 978-1-5788-4017-5. 387ff.


  • Barker, Dan (2006). Losing Faith in Faith. 
  • Bromiley, Geoffrey W., ed (1982). International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0802837851. 
  • Bromiley, Geoffrey W., ed (1995). International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0802837820. 
  • Carrier, Richard C. (2014). On the Historicity of Jesus. Sheffield Phoenix Press. ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2. 
  • Dodd, C. H. (1938). "Christ Myth Theory". History and the Gospel. Manchester University Press. 
  • Dundes, Alan, ed (1984). Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520051928. 
  • Eddy, Paul R.; Boyd, Gregory A. (2007). The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker Academic. 
  • Frazer, James George (1913). The golden bough: a study in magic and religion. 9. London: Macmillan. p. 412. 
  • Grant, Michael (1995). Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels. Scribner. 
  • Holding, James P. (2008). Shattering the Christ Myth. Xulon Press. ISBN 978-1606472712. 
  • Houlden, J. Leslie, ed (2003). Jesus in history, thought, and culture: an encyclopedia. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC Clio. ISBN 978-1-57067-856-6. 
  • Lal, Brij V.; Fortune, Kate (2000). The Pacific Islands: an encyclopedia. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0824822651. 
  • Lossing, Benson J. (1850). Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution. II. 
  • Marshall, Ian Howard. I Believe in the Historical Jesus. 2004: Regent College Publishing. 
  • Price, Robert G. (2018). Deciphering the Gospels: Proves Jesus Never Existed. Lulu Publishing Services. ISBN 978-1-4834-8782-3. 
  • Price, Robert M. (2000). Deconstructing Jesus. Prometheus Books. 
  • Price, Robert M. (2009). "Jesus at the Vanishing Point". In Beilby, James K.; Eddy, Paul Rhodes. The Historical Jesus: Five Views. InterVarsity. 
  • Price, Robert M. (2012). The Christ-Myth and Its Problems. 
  • Robertson, Archibald (1946). Jesus: Myth Or History. 
  • Russell, Bertrand A. W. (1927). Why I am not a Christian. London: Routledge. ISBN 9780415325103. 
  • Walsh, George (1998). The Role of Religion in History. Transaction Publishers. 
  • Worsley, Peter (1957). The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of "Cargo" Cults in Melanesia. London: Macgibbon & Kee. 


  1. "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". Remsburg then clarifies this position by stating "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".
  2. R. G. Price does not specifically address or answer how and why the other gospels were derived—after the Gospel of Mark. He does propose that it seems that the author of Luke believed in the literal truth of the Markan narrative and thought he was writing a real biography of a real person. As for Matthew and John, Price offers no conclusion, saying that its not clear if whoever wrote those accounts believed that Jesus was a real person or understood that the story was “fictional”.
  3. Bruno Bauer (19th century German Biblical historian), George Wells (20th century historian of Germany)
  4. scholars Richard Carrier (historian), Robert M. Price (theologian), and author Earl Doherty (writer)
  5. Although Geoffrey of Monmouth has a fair claim with King Arthur.


  1. Shai Afsai, "Thomas Paine's Masonic Essay and the Question of His Membership in the Fraternity". PhilalethesWikipedia's W.svg 63:4 (Fall 2010), 140–141.
  2. Eddy & Boyd 2007, pp. 24-27.
  3. Holding 2008, p. 277.
  4. Houlden 2003, p. 660.
  6. See the Wikipedia article on Archibald Robertson (atheist).
  7. See the Wikipedia article on John M. Robertson.
  8. Robertson 1946.
  9. Ehrman, Bart, Did Jesus Exist? (2012), Harper Collins, p. 12.
  10. See the Wikipedia article on James George Frazer.
  11. Frazer 1913, p. 412.
  12. Schweitzer, Albert (2014). "12: Literary studies during my medical course". Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 9781466882942. Retrieved 31 Jan 2019. "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."
  13. Bennett, Clinton (2001). In Search of Jesus: Insider and Outsider Images. London: Continuum. p. 205. ISBN 9780826449153. Retrieved 31 Jan 2019. 
  14. Carrier 2014, p. 350: "But Christ--if He has indeed been born, and exists anywhere--is unknown, and does not even know Himself, and has no power until Elias come to anoint Him, and make Him manifest to all. And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake are inconsiderately perishing."
  15. Wells, G. A. "Stages of New Testament Criticism," Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 30, issue 2, 1969.
  16. Guiart, Jean (1952) "John Frum Movement in Tanna" Oceania Vol 22 No 3 pg 165-177
  17. Worsley 1957, pp. 153-159.
  18. Lal & Fortune 2000, p. 303.
  19. Carrier 2014, pp. 26-30.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Marshall 2004, pp. 27-29.
  21. Carrier 2014, p. 30.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 Remsburg, John (1909). The Christ.
  23. Walsh 1998, p. 58.
  24. Dodd 1938, p. 17.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 Barker 2006, p. 372.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 Eddy & Boyd 2007, pp. 24-25.
  27. Eddy & Boyd 2007, p. 13.
  28. Carrier, Richard (2003) "Kersey Graves and The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors
  29. While there is some debate the temperature in 1st century Judea in December this doesn't change the fact no census that would have required travel would have been done in that month as night temperatures dipped below freezing and road conditions were poor. - United Church of God Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe?
  30. In fact, between 2,500 and 1,500 years ago there were two protracted cold periods that Florida State University Professor of Oceanography Doron Nof suggest caused ice to form on the Sea of Galilee and that was what Jesus walked on.
  31. John James Bond (1887) Bond's Handy-book for Verifying Dates pg 22
  32. "Born on December 25th" Jesus Police (Internet Archive)
  33. "Mary Was a Virgin" Jesus Police (Internet Archive)
  34. Carrier, Richard (Oct 18, 2017) The Cosmic Seed of David
  35. Waite, Charles B. (1881) History of the Christian Religion to the Year Two-Hundred
  36. Tyson, Joseph B (2006) Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle University of South Carolina Press; annotated edition ISBN-13: 978-1570036507
  37. Irenaeus (c 180 C Against Heresies Book I, Chapter 26, Paragraph 1)
  38. Tucker, Bob (2009) "Was Jesus Virgin Born?" Foundation of Contemporary Theology- Internet archive
  39. Talbert, Charles H. (2006) “Miraculous Conceptions and Births in Mediterranean Antiquity.” Pp. 79-86 in A.J. Levine, D.C. Allison and J. D. Crossan (eds.), The Historical Jesus in Context. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press
  40. Mark, Kidger. "Chinese and Babylonian Observations"
  41. Colin Humphreys, 'The Star of Bethlehem', in Science and Christian Belief 5 (1995), 83–101.
  42. Brown, Raymond E. (1993), The Birth of the Messiah, Anchor Bible Reference Library, p. 188
  43. Carrier 2014, p. 34.
  44. Price 2012, pp. 387-388.
  45. Carrier 2014, p. 33.
  46. Carrier 2014, p. 53.
  47. Robertson, John (1900) Christianity and Mythology pg 125
  48. 48.0 48.1 Carrier 2014, pp. 9-11.
  49. Carrier 2014, pp. 159-163.
  50. Carrier 2014, pp. 9-10.
  51. Carrier 2014, p. 159.
  52. Dawkins, C. Richard (2006). The God Delusion. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 202-206. ISBN 978-0-618-68000-9. 
  53. Guiart, Jean (1952) "John Frum Movement in Tanna" Oceania Vol 22 No 3 pg 165-177
  54. Brian Dunning (March 30, 2010) Cargo Cults Skeptoid #199
  55. Galatians 1:11-12
  56. Carrier 2014, p. 515.
  57. St Paul the Apostle – Could it all be a fabrication?
  58. Carrier 2014, pp. 264-270, 387-509.
  59. Carrier, 2014 & 427 433.
  60. Price 2018.
  61. A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum
  64. Theron, Daniel Johannes, ed. Evidence of tradition: selected source material for the study of the history of the early church, introduction and canon of the New Testament. Bowes & Bowes, 1958.
  65. Semen, Petre. "Jesus' Brothers." Analele Ştiinţifice ale Universităţii» Alexandru Ioan Cuza «din Iaşi. Teologie Ortodoxă 1 (2011): 5-15.
  66. Harrison, Everett F. A Short Life of Christ. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1968.
  67. "The epistle in which the same Clement, writing to James the Lord's brother, informs him of the death of Peter, and that he had left him his successor in his chair and teaching..." Recognitions (Preface)
  68. Against Celsus 1.47, 2.13
  69. Carrier 2014, p. 349.
  70. Quotes on Jesus as a historical person
  71. Irenaeus (c. 180 CE)Demonstration (74)
  72. Price 2009, pp. 80-81.
  73. Grant,Robert M. (2006) Irenaeus of Lyons pg. 33
  74. Efrón, Joshua (1987) Studies on the Hasmonean Period Brill Academic Pub Page 158
  75. Carrier 2014, pp. 284-285.
  76. Lena Einhorn, PhD (Nov.17-20, 2012) Jesus and the "Egyptian Prophet" Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting
  77. Jewish War 6.301-302
  78. JW 6.301 = Mk 14.2; Mk 11-17; Both quote the same chapter of Jeremiah; JW 6.306 = Mk 14.49; JW 6.304, 306, 309 = Mk 13.17; JW 6.300, 309 = Mk 13.2; JW 6.302 = Mk 14.43; Mk 14.58; Mk 14.60; Mk 14.65; Mk 15.1; JW 6.305 = Mk 15.2-4 (this is actually three different points); JW 6.304 = Mk 15.15 JW 6.305 is inverted in Mk 15.34; JW 6.308-309 = Mk 15.34 (two points); Mk 15.37 - Carrier, Richard (2014) On the Historicity of Jesus Sheffield Phoenix Press ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2 pg 428-430.
  79. Raskin, Jay (2002) "A Discovery, The Crucified, Simon, Zealots and Essenes" 9/1 Journal of Higher Criticism
  80. At best only three Herods formally had this title: Herod the Great (died 4 BCE), Herod Agrippa I (42-44 CE), and perhaps Herod Agrippa II (c48-c100 CE)
  81. Raskin, Jay (2002) "A Discovery, The Crucified, Simon, Zealots and Essenes" 9/1 Journal of Higher Criticism
  82. Nicholas II, Tsar of All the Russias (14 points)
  83. List of Lord Raglan evaluations from Beacon Library
  84. Is This Not the Carpenter?: The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus, Ed. By Thomas L. Thompson and Thomas S. Verenna, 2012
  85. Philip Davies' article Does Jesus Exist? at
  86. Russell 1927.
  87. Robertson, Archibald (1946) Jesus: Myth Or History
  88. Price 2000, p. 85.
  89. Bromiley 1982.
  90. Bromiley 1995.
  91. Fischer, Roland (1994) "On The Story-Telling Imperative That We Have In Mind" Anthropology of Consciousness. Dec 1994, Vol. 5, No. 4: 16
  92. Richard Carrier (July 17, 2013) Update on Historicity of Jesus
  93. Horace Mitchell Miner's darkly satirical 1956 paper "Body Ritual among the Nacirema" showed how preconceptions could influence not only data collection but the conclusions of that data
  94. Akenson, Donald (1998). Surpassing wonder: the invention of the Bible and the Talmuds. University of Chicago Press. pp. 539–555. "...The point I shall argue below is that, the agreed evidentiary practices of the historians of Yeshua, despite their best efforts, have not been those of sound historical practice..."
  95. Meier, John. "Finding the Historical Jesus: An Interview With John P. Meier". St. Anthony Messenger. "...I think a lot of the confusion comes from the fact that people claim they are doing a quest for the historical Jesus when de facto they’re doing theology, albeit a theology that is indeed historically informed. Go all the way back to Reimarus, through Schleiermacher, all the way down the line through Bultmann, Kasemann, Bornkamm. These are basically people who are theologians, doing a more modern type of Christology [a faith-based study of Jesus Christ]..."
  96. Hector Avalos. The End Of Biblical Studies. Prometheus, 2007. ISBN 1591025362.
  97. e.g. "General Thoughts on Jesus Not Existing", "Jesus mythers & creationists: common grounds (?)"
  98. Carrier 2014, pp. 6-8.
  99. e.g. "There's More Evidence that Jesus Lived than x Person" Statements thread" at
  100. Richard Carrier (May 10, 2014) "On the Historicity of Jesus: What Would You Look Up?"
  101. Sawyer, Ralph D. (2005), The Essential Art of War, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-07204-6
  102. Diogenes Laërtius x. 7
  103. Carrier 2014, p. 21, citing E. P. Sanders.
  104. Carrier 2014, pp. 22.
  105. Kapyong (2011) Pontius Pilate's Personal Logs
  106. W. Wright, Catalogue Of Syriac Manuscripts In The British Museum Acquired Since The Year 1838, 1870, Part I, Printed by order of the Trustees: London, No. XCIV, pp. 65-66. This book was republished in 2002 by Gorgias Press.
  107. Nigosian, Solomon Alexander (2004). Islam: Its History, Teaching, and Practices. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-21627-3. pg 6
  108. Carrier 2014, pp. 291.
  110. Bart Ehrman, interview with Reginald V. Finley Sr., "Who Changed The New Testament and Why", The Infidel Guy Show, 2008 repeated in Ehrman, Bart D. (March 20, 2012) Did Jesus Exist? Huffington Post and referenced by John Blake, CNN (April 7th, 2012) The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth
  111. Nicholas Perrin (2008) Lost In Transmission?: What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus pg 32)
  112. McClymond, Michael James (2004) Familiar Stranger: an Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth pp. 23-24
  113. Powell, Mark Allan (1998), Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee, Louisville: Westminster John Knox p. 168
  114. Piper, John (2006) Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, Wheaton: Crossway, pp. 14-15
  115. Michael R. Licona, in Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007, p. 112
  116. Combating Holocaust Denial: Evidence of the Holocaust presented at Nuremberg United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  117. Combating Holocaust Denial: Evidence of the Holocaust presented at Nuremberg United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  118. Richard Carrier, 2002. "Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity (2002)"
  119. On the Historicity of Jesus: What Would You Look Up? Richard Carrier (May 12, 2014) On the Historicity of Jesus: What Would You Look Up? comment 33.1
  120. Oxford University Press (2006) The Catholic Comparative New Testament pg 851-967
  121. SIlverberg, Robert (1966) The Great Doctors Publisher:Scholastic Book Services ASIN: B000N7CWZG pg 131-144).
  123. Oahspe Book of Divinity 16:14
  124. Di Renzo, A (2000) “His master's voice: Tiro and the rise of the Roman secretarial class,” Journal of technical writing and communication, vol. 30, (2) 155-168
  125. Dupont, Florence. (1989) Daily Life in Ancient Rome Tr. Christopher Woodall. Oxford: Blackwell; pg 223
  126. Millard, Alan (2003) Literacy in the Time of Jesus - Could His Words Have Been Recorded in His Lifetime? Biblical Archaeology Review 29:04, Jul/Aug 2003.
  127. "Would someone die for a lie?" (