Did Jesus Exist?

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This article written by former Interim President of American Atheists and current member of the Board of Directors Frank Zindler and is reprinted from the Summer 1998 edition of American Atheist magazine.

I have taken it for granted that Jesus of Nazareth existed. Some writers feel a need to justify this assumption at length against people who try from time to time to deny it. It would be easier, frankly, to believe that Tiberius Caesar, Jesus’ contemporary, was a figment of the imagination than to believe that there never was such a person as Jesus.
– N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Fortress, 1996)

For most of my life, I had taken it for granted that Jesus, although certainly not a god, was nevertheless an historical personage – perhaps a magician skilled in hypnosis. To be sure, I knew that some of the world’s greatest scholars had denied his existence. Nevertheless, I had always more or less supposed that it was improbable that so many stories could have sprung up about someone who had never existed. Even in the case of other deities, such as Zeus, Thor, Isis, and Osiris, I had always taken it for granted that they were merely deified human heroes: men and women who lived in the later stages of prehistory – persons whose reputations got better and better the longer the time elapsed after their deaths. Gods, like fine wines, I supposed, improved with age.

About a decade ago, however, I began to reexamine the evidence for the historicity of Jesus. I was astounded at what I didn’t find. In this article, I would like to show how shaky the evidence is regarding the alleged existence of a would-be messiah named Jesus. I now feel it is more reasonable to suppose he never existed. It is easier to account for the facts of early Christian history if Jesus were a fiction than if he once were real.

Burden of Proof

Although what follows may fairly be interpreted to be a proof of the non-historicity of Jesus, it must be realized that the burden of proof does not rest upon the skeptic in this matter. As always is the case, the burden of proof weighs upon those who assert that some thing or some process exists. If someone claims that he never has to shave because every morning before he can get to the bathroom he is assaulted by a six-foot rabbit with extremely sharp teeth who trims his whiskers better than a razor – if someone makes such a claim, no skeptic need worry about constructing a disproof. Unless evidence for the claim is produced, the skeptic can treat the claim as false. This is nothing more than sane, every-day practice.

Unlike N. T. Wright, quoted at the beginning of this article, a small number of scholars have tried over the centuries to prove that Jesus was in fact historical. It is instructive, when examining their “evidence,” to compare it to the sort of evidence we have, say, for the existence of Tiberius Cæsar – to take up the challenge made by Wright.

It may be conceded that it is not surprising that there are no coins surviving from the first century with the image of Jesus on them. Unlike Tiberius Cæsar and Augustus Cæsar who adopted him, Jesus is not thought to have had control over any mints. Even so, we must point out that we do have coins dating from the early first century that bear images of Tiberius that change with the age of their subject. We even have coins minted by his predecessor, Augustus Cæsar, that show Augustus on one side and his adopted son on the other.Citation 1 Would Mr. Wright have us believe that these coins are figments of the imagination? Can we be dealing with fig-mints?

Statues that can be dated archaeologically survive to show Tiberius as a youth, as a young man assuming the toga, as Cæsar, etc.Citation 2 Engravings and gems show him with his entire family.Citation 3 Biographers who were his contemporaries or nearly so quote from his letters and decrees and recount the details of his life in minute detail.Citation 4 There are contemporary inscriptions all over the former empire that record his deeds.Citation 5 There is an ossuary of at least one member of his family, and the Greek text of a speech made by his son Germanicus has been found at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt.Citation 6 And then there are the remains of his villa on Capri. Nor should we forget that Augustus Cæsar, in his Res Gestæ (“Things Accomplished”), which survives both in Greek and Latin on the so-called Monumentum Ancyranum, lists Tiberius as his son and co-ruler.Citation 7

Is there anything advocates of an historical Jesus can produce that could be as compelling as this evidence for Tiberius? I think not, and I thank N. T. Wright for making a challenge that brings this disparity so clearly to light.

There is really only one area where evidence for Jesus is even claimed to be of a sort similar to that adduced for Tiberius – the area of biographies written by contemporaries or near contemporaries.Note A It is sometimes claimed that the Christian Bible contains such evidence. Sometimes it is claimed that there is extrabiblical evidence as well. Let us then examine this would-be evidence.

The Old Testament “Evidence”

Let us consider the so-called biblical evidence first. Despite the claims of Christian apologists, there is absolutely nothing in the Old Testament (OT) that is of relevance to our question, apart from the possible fact that some prophets may have thought that an “anointed one” (a rescuer king or priest) would once again assume the leadership of the Jewish world. All of the many examples of OT “predictions” of Jesus are so silly that one need only look them up to see their irrelevance. Thomas Paine, the great heretic of the American Revolution, did just that, and he demonstrated their irrelevance in his book An Examination of the Prophecies, which he intended to be Part III of The Age of Reason.Note B

The New Testament “Evidence”

The elimination of the OT leaves only the New Testament (NT) “evidence” and extrabiblical material to be considered. Essentially, the NT is composed of two types of documents: letters and would-be biographies (the so-called gospels). A third category of writing, apocalyptic,Note C of which the Book of Revelation is an example, also exists, but it gives no support for the historicity of Jesus. In fact, it would appear to be an intellectual fossil of the thought-world from which Christianity sprang – a Jewish apocalypse that was reworked for Christian use.Citation 8 The main character of the book (referred to 28 times) would seem to be “the Lamb,” an astral being seen in visions (no claims to historicity here!), and the book overall is redolent of ancient astrology.Citation 9

The name Jesus occurs only seven times in the entire book, Christ only four times, and Jesus Christ only twice! While Revelation may very well derive from a very early period (contrary to the views of most biblical scholars, who deal with the book only in its final form), the Jesus of which it whispers obviously is not a man. He is a supernatural being. He has not yet acquired the physiological and metabolic properties of which we read in the gospels. The Jesus of Revelation is a god who would later be made into a man – not a man who would later become a god, as liberal religious scholars would have it.

The Gospels


The notion that the four “gospels that made the cut” to be included in the official New Testament were written by men named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John does not go back to early Christian times. The titles “According to Matthew,” etc., were not added until late in the second century. Thus, although Papias ca. 140 CE (‘Common Era’) knows all the gospels but has only heard of Matthew and Mark, Justin Martyr (ca. 150 CE) knows of none of the four supposed authors. It is only in 180 CE, with Irenæus of Lyons, that we learn who wrote the four “canonical” gospels and discover that there are exactly four of them because there are four quarters of the earth and four universal winds. Thus, unless one supposes the argument of Irenæus to be other than ridiculous, we come to the conclusion that the gospels are of unknown origin and authorship, and there is no good reason to suppose they are eye-witness accounts of a man named Jesus of Nazareth. At a minimum, this forces us to examine the gospels to see if their contents are even compatible with the notion that they were written by eye-witnesses. We cannot even assume that each of the gospels had but one author or redactor.

It is clear that the gospels of Matthew and Luke could not possibly have been written by an eye-witness of the tales they tell. Both writers plagiarizeNote D (largely word-for-word) up to 90% of the gospel of Mark, to which they add sayings of Jesus e and would-be historical details. Ignoring the fact that Matthew and Luke contradict each other in such critical details as the genealogy of Jesus – and thus cannot both be correct – we must ask why real eye-witnesses would have to plagiarize the entire ham-hocks-and-potatoes of the story, contenting themselves with adding merely a little gravy, salt, and pepper. A real eye-witness would have begun with a verse reading, “Now, boys and girls, I’m gonna tell you the story of Jesus the Messiah the way it really happened…” The story would be a unique creation. It is significant that it is only these two gospels that purport to tell anything of Jesus’ birth, childhood, or ancestry. Both can be dismissed as unreliable without further cause. We can know nothing of Jesus’ childhood or origin!

Mark

But what about the gospel of Mark, the oldest surviving gospel? Attaining essentially its final form probably as late as 90 CE but containing core material dating possibly as early as 70 CE, it omits, as we have seen, almost the entire traditional biography of Jesus, beginning the story with John the Baptist giving Jesus a bath, and ending – in the oldest manuscripts – with women running frightened from the empty tomb. (The alleged postresurrection appearances reported in the last twelve verses of Mark are not found in the earliest manuscripts, even though they are still printed in most modern bibles as though they were an “authentic” part of Mark’s gospel.) Moreover, “Mark” being a non-Palestinian non-disciple, even the skimpy historical detail he provides is untrustworthy.

To say that Mark’s account is “skimpy” is to understate the case. There really isn’t much to the gospel of Mark, the birth legends, genealogies, and childhood wonders all being absent. Whereas the gospel of Luke takes up 43 pages in the New English Bible, the gospel of Mark occupies only 25 pages – a mere 58% as much material! Stories do indeed grow with the retelling.

I have claimed that the unknown author of Mark was a non-Palestinian non-disciple, which would make his story mere hearsay. What evidence do we have for this assertion? First of all, Mark shows no first-hand understanding of the social situation in Palestine. He is clearly a foreigner, removed both in space and time from the events he alleges. For example, in Mark 10:12, he has Jesus say that if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. As G. A. Wells, the author of The Historical Evidence for JesusCitation 10 puts it,

Such an utterance would have been meaningless in Palestine, where only men could obtain divorce. It is a ruling for the Gentile Christian readers… which the evangelist put into Jesus’ mouth in order to give it authority. This tendency to anchor later customs and institutions to Jesus’ supposed lifetime played a considerable role in the building up of his biography.

One further evidence of the inauthenticity of Mark is the fact that in chapter 7, where Jesus is arguing with the Pharisees, Jesus is made to quote the Greek Septuagint version of Isaiah in order to score his debate point. Unfortunately, the Hebrew version says something different from the Greek. Isaiah 29:13, in the Hebrew reads “their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote,” whereas the Greek version – and the gospel of Mark – reads “in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” [Revised Standard Version). Wells observes dryly [p. 13], “That a Palestinian Jesus should floor Orthodox Jews with an argument based on a mistranslation of their scriptures is very unlikely.” Indeed!

Another powerful argument against the idea that Mark could have been an eye-witness of the existence of Jesus is based upon the observation that the author of Mark displays a profound lack of familiarity with Palestinian geography. If he had actually lived in Palestine, he would not have made the blunders to be found in his gospel. If he never lived in Palestine, he could not have been an eye-witness of Jesus. You get the point.

The most absurd geographical error Mark commits is when he tells the tall tale about Jesus crossing over the Sea of Galilee and casting demons out of a man (two men in Matthew’s revised version) and making them go into about 2,000 pigs which, as the King James version puts it, “ran violently down a steep place into the sea… and they were choked in the sea.”

Apart from the cruelty to animals displayed by the lovable, gentle Jesus, and his disregard for the property of others, what’s wrong with this story? If your only source of information is the King James Bible, you might not ever know. The King James says this marvel occurred in the land of the Gadarenes, whereas the oldest Greek manuscripts say this miracle took place in the land of the Gerasenes. Luke, who also knew no Palestinian geography, also passes on this bit of absurdity. But Matthew, who had some knowledge of Palestine, changed the name to Gadarene in his new, improved version; but this is further improved to Gergesenes in the King James version.

By now the reader must be dizzy with all the distinctions between Gerasenes, Gadarenes, and Gergesenes. What difference does it make? A lot of difference, as we shall see.

Gerasa, the place mentioned in the oldest manuscripts of Mark, is located about 31 miles from the shore of the Sea of Galilee! Those poor pigs had to run a course five miles longer than a marathon in order to find a place to drown! Not even lemmings have to go that far. Moreover, if one considers a “steep” slope to be at least 45 degrees, that would make the elevation of Gerasa at least six times higher than Mt. Everest!

When the author of Matthew read Mark’s version, he saw the impossibility of Jesus and the gang disembarking at Gerasa (which, by the way, was also in a different country, the so-called Decapolis). Since the only town in the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee that he knew of that started with G was Gadara, he changed Gerasa to Gadara. But even Gadara was five miles from the shore – and in a different country. Later copyists of the Greek manuscripts of all three pig-drowning gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) improved Gadara further to Gergesa, a region now thought to have actually formed part of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. So much for the trustworthiness of the biblical tradition.

Another example of Mark’s abysmal ignorance of Palestinian geography is found in the story he made up about Jesus traveling from Tyre on the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee, 30 miles inland. According to Mark 7:31, Jesus and the boys went by way of Sidon, 20 miles north of Tyre on the Mediterranean coast! Since to Sidon and back would be 40 miles, this means that the wisest of all men walked 70 miles when he could have walked only 30. Of course, one would never know all this from the King James version which – apparently completely ignoring a perfectly clear Greek text – says “Departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the Sea of Galilee…” Apparently the translators of the King James version also knew their geography. At least they knew more than did the author of Mark!

John

The unreliability of the gospels is underscored when we learn that, with the possible exception of John, the first three gospels bear no internal indication of who wrote them. Can we glean anything of significance from the fourth and latest gospel, the gospel of John? Not likely! It is so unworldly, it can scarcely be cited for historical evidence. In this account, Jesus is hardly a man of flesh and blood at all – except for the purposes of divine cannibalism as required by the celebration of the rite of “holy communion.”

“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with god, and the word was god,” the gospel begins. No Star of Bethlehem, no embarrassment of pregnant virgins, no hint that Jesus ever wore diapers: pure spirit from the beginning. Moreover, in its present form, the gospel of John is the latest of all the official gospels.[Note F]

The gospel of John was compiled around the year 110 CE. If its author had been 10 years old at the time of Jesus’ crucifiction in the year 30 CE, he would have been 80 years old at the time of writing. Not only is it improbable that he would have lived so long, it is dangerous to pay much attention to the colorful “memories” recounted by a man in his “anecdotage.” Many of us who are far younger than this have had the unpleasant experience of discovering incontrovertible proof that what we thought were clear memories of some event were wildly incorrect. We also might wonder why an eye-witness of all the wonders claimed in a gospel would wait so long to write about them!

More importantly, there is evidence that the Gospel of John, like Matthew and Luke, also is a composite document, incorporating an earlier “Signs Gospel” of uncertain antiquity. Again, we ask, if “John” had been an eye-witness to Jesus, why would he need to plagiarize a list of miracles made up by someone else? Nor is there anything in the Signs Gospel that would lead one to suppose that it was an eye-witness account. It could just as easily have been referring to the wonders of Dionysus turning water into wine, or to the healings of Asclepius.

The inauthenticity of the Gospel of John would seem to be established beyond cavil by the discovery that the very chapter that asserts the author of the book to have been “the disciple whom Jesus loved” [John 21:20] was a late addition to the gospel. Scholars have shown that the gospel originally ended at verses 30-31 of Chapter 20. Chapter 21 – in which verse 24 asserts that “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true” – is not the work of an eye-witness. Like so many other things in the Bible, it is a fraud. The testimony is not true.

Saint Saul And His Letters

Having eliminated the OT and the gospels from the list of possible biblical “evidences” of the existence of Jesus, we are left with the so-called epistles.

At first blush, we might think that these epistles – some of which are by far the oldest parts of the NT, having been composed at least 30 years before the oldest gospel – would provide us with the most reliable information on Jesus. Well, so much for blushes. The oldest letters are the letters of St. Saul – the man who, after losing his mind, changed his name to Paul. Before going into details, we must point out right away, before we forget, that St. Saul’s testimony can be ignored quite safely, if what he tells us is true, namely, that he never met Jesus “in the flesh,” but rather saw him only in a vision he had during what appears to have been an epileptic seizure. No court of law would accept visions as evidence, and neither should we.

The reader might object that even if Saul only had hearsay evidence, some of it might be true. Some of it might tell us some facts about Jesus. Well, allright. Let’s look at the evidence.

According to tradition, 13 of the letters in the NT are the work of St. Saul. Unfortunately, Bible scholars and computer experts have gone to work on these letters, and it turns out that only four can be shown to be substantially by the same author, putatively Saul. g These are the letters known as Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians. To these probably we may add the brief note to Philemon, a slave-owner, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians. The rest of the so-called Pauline epistles can be shown to have been written by other and later authors, so we can throw them out right now and not worry about them.

Saul tells us in 2 Corinthians 11:32 that King Aretas of the Nabateans tried to have him arrested because of his Christian agitation. Since Aretas is known to have died in the year 40 CE, this means that Saul became a Christian before that date. So what do we find out about Jesus from a man who had become a Christian less than ten years after the alleged crucifixion? Precious little!

Once again, G.A. Wells, in his book The Historical Evidence for Jesus [pp. 22-23], sums things up so succinctly, that I quote him verbatim:

The…Pauline letters…are so completely silent concerning the events that were later recorded in the gospels as to suggest that these events were not known to Paul, who, however, could not have been ignorant of them if they had really occurred.
These letters have no allusion to the parents of Jesus, let alone to the virgin birth. They never refer to a place of birth (for example, by calling him ‘of Nazareth’). They give no indication of the time or place of his earthly existence. They do not refer to his trial before a Roman official, nor to Jerusalem as the place of execution. They mention neither John the Baptist, nor Judas, nor Peter’s denial of his master. (They do, of course, mention Peter, but do not imply that he, any more than Paul himself, had known Jesus while he had been alive.)

These letters also fail to mention any miracles Jesus is supposed to have worked, a particularly striking omission, since, according to the gospels, he worked so many.

Another striking feature of Paul’s letters is that one could never gather from them that Jesus had been an ethical teacher… on only one occasion does he appeal to the authority of Jesus to support an ethical teaching which the gospels also represent Jesus as having delivered.

It turns out that Saul’s appeal to the authority of Jesus involves precisely the same error we found in the gospel of Mark. In 1 Cor. 7:10, Saul says that “not I but the Lord, [say] that the wife should not separate from the husband.” That is, a wife should not seek divorce. If Jesus had actually said what Saul implies, and what Mark 10:12 claims he said, his audience would have thought he was nuts – as the Bhagwan says – or perhaps had suffered a blow to the head. So much for the testimony of Saul. His Jesus is nothing more than the thinnest hearsay, a legendary creature which was crucified as a sacrifice, a creature almost totally lacking a biography.

Extrabiblical “Evidence”

So far we have examined all the biblical evidences alleged to prove the existence of Jesus as an historical figure. We have found that they have no legitimacy as evidence. Now we must examine the last line of would-be evidence, the notion that Jewish and pagan historians recorded his existence.

Jewish Sources

It is sometimes claimed that Jewish writings hostile to Christianity prove that the ancient Jews knew of Jesus and that such writings prove the historicity of the man Jesus. But in fact, Jewish writings prove no such thing, as L. Gordon Rylands’ book Did Jesus Ever Live? pointed out nearly seventy years ago:

…all the knowledge which the Rabbis had of Jesus was obtained by them from the Gospels. Seeing that Jews, even in the present more critical age, take it for granted that the figure of a real man stands behind the Gospel narrative, one need not be surprised if, in the second century, Jews did not think of questioning that assumption. It is certain, however, that some did question it. For Justin, in his Dialogue with Trypho, represents the Jew Trypho as saying, “ye follow an empty rumour and make a Christ for yourselves.” “If he was born and lived somewhere he is entirely unknown.”

That the writers of the Talmud [4th-5th centuries CE, FRZ] had no independent knowledge of Jesus is proved by the fact that they confounded him with two different men neither of whom can have been he. Evidently no other Jesus with whom they could identify the Gospel Jesus was known to them. One of these, Jesus ben Pandira, reputed a wonder-worker, is said to have been stoned to death and then hung on a tree on the eve of a Passover in the reign of Alexander Jannæus (106-79 BC) at Jerusalem. The other, Jesus ben Stada, whose date is uncertain, but who may have lived in the first third of the second century CE, is also said to have been stoned and hanged on the eve of a Passover, but at Lydda. There may be some confusion here; but it is plain that the Rabbis had no knowledge of Jesus apart from what they had read in the Gospels.Citation 11

Although Christian apologists have listed a number of ancient historians who allegedly were witnesses to the existence of Jesus, the only two that consistently are cited are Josephus, a Pharisee, and Tacitus, a pagan. Since Josephus was born in the year 37 CE, and Tacitus was born in 55, neither could have been an eye-witness of Jesus, who supposedly was crucified in 30 CE. So we could really end our article here. But someone might claim that these historians nevertheless had access to reliable sources, now lost, which recorded the existence and execution of our friend JC. So it is desirable that we take a look at these two supposed witnesses.

In the case of Josephus, whose Antiquities of the Jews was written in 93 CE, about the same time as the gospels, we find him saying some things quite impossible for a good Pharisee to have said:

About this time, there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.Citation 12

Now no loyal Pharisee would say Jesus had been the Messiah. That Josephus could report that Jesus had been restored to life “on the third day” and not be convinced by this astonishing bit of information is beyond belief. Worse yet is the fact that the story of Jesus is intrusive in Josephus’ narrative and can be seen to be an interpolation even in an English translation of the Greek text. Right after the wondrous passage quoted above, Josephus goes on to say, “About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder…” Josephus had previously been talking about awful things Pilate had done to the Jews in general, and one can easily understand why an interpolator would have chosen this particular spot. But his ineptitude in not changing the wording of the bordering text left a “literary seam” (what rhetoricians might term aporia) that sticks out like a pimpled nose.

The fact that Josephus was not convinced by this or any other Christian claim is clear from the statement of the church father Origen (ca. 185-ca. 154 CE) – who dealt extensively with Josephus – that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, i.e., as “the Christ.” Moreover, the disputed passage was never cited by early Christian apologists such as Clement of Alexandria (ca.150-ca. 215 CE), who certainly would have made use of such ammunition had he had it!

The first person to make mention of this obviously forged interpolation into the text of Josephus’ history was the church father Eusebius, in 324 CE. It is quite likely that Eusebius himself did some of the forging. As late as 891, Photius in his Bibliotheca, which devoted three “Codices” to the works of Josephus, shows no awareness of the passage whatsoever even though he reviews the sections of the Antiquities in which one would expect the disputed passage to be found. Clearly, the testimonial was absent from his copy of Antiquities of the Jews.Citation 13 The question can probably be laid to rest by noting that as late as the sixteenth century, according to Rylands,Citation 14 a scholar named Vossius had a manuscript of Josephus from which the passage was wanting.

Apologists, as they grasp for ever more slender straws with which to support their historical Jesus, point out that the passage quoted above is not the only mention of Jesus made by Josephus. In Bk. 20, Ch. 9, §1 of Antiquities of the Jews one also finds the following statement in surviving manuscripts:

Ananus… convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned.

It must be admitted that this passage does not intrude into the text as does the one previously quoted. In fact, it is very well integrated into Josephus’ story. That it has been modified from whatever Josephus’ source may have said (remember, here too, Josephus could not have been an eye-witness) is nevertheless extremely probable. The crucial word in this passage is the name James (Jacob in Greek and Hebrew). It is very possible that this very common name was in Josephus’ source material. It might even have been a reference to James the Just, a first-century character we have good reason to believe indeed existed. Because he appears to have born the title Brother of the Lord,Note H it would have been natural to relate him to the Jesus character. It is quite possible that Josephus actually referred to a James “the Brother of the Lord,” and this was changed by Christian copyists (remember that although Josephus was a Jew, his text was preserved only by Christians!) to “Brother of Jesus” – adding then for good measure “who was called Christ.”

According to William Benjamin Smith’s skeptical classic Ecce Deus,Citation 15 there are still some manuscripts of Josephus which contain the quoted passages, but the passages are absent in other manuscripts – showing that such interpolation had already been taking place before the time of Origen but did not ever succeed in supplanting the original text universally.

Pagan Authors Before considering the alleged witness of Pagan authors, it is worth noting some of the things that we should find recorded in their histories if the biblical stories are in fact true. One passage from Matthew should suffice to point out the significance of the silence of secular writers:

Matt. 27:45. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour… Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection [exposed for 3 days?], and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

Wouldn’t the Greeks and Romans have noticed – and recorded – such darkness occurring at a time of the month when a solar eclipse was impossible? Wouldn’t someone have remembered – and recorded – the name of at least one of those “saints” who climbed out of the grave and went wandering downtown in the mall? If Jesus did anything of significance at all, wouldn’t someone have noticed? If he didn’t do anything significant, how could he have stimulated the formation of a new religion?

Considering now the supposed evidence of Tacitus, we find that this Roman historian is alleged in 120 CE to have written a passage in his Annals (Bk 15, Ch 44, containing the wild tale of Nero’s persecution of Christians) saying “Therefore, to scotch the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus…” G.A. Wells [p. 16] says of this passage:

[Tacitus wrote] at a time when Christians themselves had come to believe that Jesus had suffered under Pilate. There are three reasons for holding that Tacitus is here simply repeating what Christians had told him. First, he gives Pilate a title, procurator [without saying procurator of what! FRZ], which was current only from the second half of the first century. Had he consulted archives which recorded earlier events, he would surely have found Pilate there designated by his correct title, prefect. Second, Tacitus does not name the executed man Jesus, but uses the title Christ (Messiah) as if it were a proper name. But he could hardly have found in archives a statement such as “the Messiah was executed this morning.” Third, hostile to Christianity as he was, he was surely glad to accept from Christians their own view that Christianity was of recent origin, since the Roman authorities were prepared to tolerate only ancient cults. (The Historical Evidence for Jesus; p.16).

There are further problems with the Tacitus story. Tacitus himself never again alludes to the Neronian persecution of Christians in any of his voluminous writings, and no other Pagan authors know anything of the outrage either. Most significant, however, is that ancient Christian apologists made no use of the story in their propaganda – an unthinkable omission by motivated partisans who were well-read in the works of Tacitus. Clement of Alexandria, who made a profession of collecting just such types of quotations, is ignorant of any Neronian persecution, and even Tertullian, who quotes a great deal from Tacitus, knows nothing of the story. According to Robert Taylor, the author of another freethought classic, the Diegesis (1834), the passage was not known before the fifteenth century, when Tacitus was first published at Venice by Johannes de Spire. Taylor believed de Spire himself to have been the forger.

So much for the evidence purporting to prove that Jesus was an historical figure. We have not, of course, proved that Jesus did not exist. We have only showed that all evidence alleged to support such a claim is without substance. But of course, that is all we need to show. The burden of proof is always on the one who claims that something exists or that something once happened. We have no obligation to try to prove a universal negative.Note J

It will be argued by die-hard believers that all my arguments “from silence” prove nothing and they will quote the aphorism, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” But is the negative evidence I have referred to the same as absence of evidence? It might be instructive to consider how a hypothetical but similar problem might be dealt with in the physical sciences.

Imagine that someone has claimed that the USA had carried out atomic weapons tests on a particular Caribbean island in 1943. Would the lack of reports of mushroom-cloud sightings at the time be evidence of absence, or absence of evidence? (Remember, the Caribbean during the war years was under intense surveillance by many different factions.) Would it be necessary to go to the island today to scan its surface for the radioactive contamination that would have to be there if nuclear explosions had taken place there? If indeed, we went there with our Geiger-counters and found no trace of radioactive contamination, would that be evidence of absence, or absence of evidence? In this case, what superficially looks like absence of evidence is really negative evidence, and thus legitimately could be construed as evidence of absence. Can the negative evidence adduced above concerning Jesus be very much less compelling?

It would be intellectually satisfying to learn just how it was that the Jesus character condensed out of the religious atmosphere of the first century. But scholars are at work on the problem. The publication of many examples of so-called wisdom literature, along with the materials from the Essene community at Qumran by the Dead Sea and the Gnostic literature from the Nag Hammadi library in Egypt, has given us a much more detailed picture of the communal psychopathologies which infested the Eastern Mediterranean world at the turn of the era. It is not unrealistic to expect that we will be able, before long, to reconstruct in reasonable detail the stages by which Jesus came to have a biography.

They Should Have Noticed

John E. Remsburg, in his classic book The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence (The Truth Seeker Company, NY, no date, pp. 24-25), lists the following writers who lived during the time, or within a century after the time, that Jesus is supposed to have lived:

JosephusJuvenalLucanus
Philo-JudæusMartialEpictetus
SenecaPersiusHermogones Silius Italicus
Pliny ElderPlutarchStatius
ArrianPliny YoungerPtolemy
PetroniusTacitusAppian
Dion PruseusJustus of TiberiusPhlegon
PaterculusApolloniusPhædrus
SuetoniusQuintilianValerius Maximus
PausaniasDio ChrysostomLysias
Florus LuciusColumellaPomponius Mela
LucianValerius FlaccusAppion of Alexandria
Quintius CurtiusDamisTheon of Smyrna
Aulus GelliusFavorinus

According to Remsburg, “Enough of the writings of the authors named in the foregoing list remains to form a library. Yet in this mass of Jewish and Pagan literature, aside from two forged passages in the works of a Jewish author, and two disputed passages in the works of Roman writers, there is to be found no mention of Jesus Christ.” Nor, we may add, do any of these authors make note of the Disciples or Apostles – increasing the embarrassment from the silence of history concerning the foundation of Christianity.

Notes

  1. It is sometimes claimed that the “miraculous” spread of Christianity in the early Roman Empire is evidence of an historical Jesus – that such a movement could not have gone so far so fast had there not been a real person at its inception. A similar argument could be made, however, in the case of the earlier rapid spread of Mithraism. I am unaware of any Christian apologists who would argue that this supports the idea of an historical Mithra!
  2. A profusely annotated paperback edition of Paine’s book is available from American Atheist Press for twelve dollars. (Order No. 5575, click here) [back]
  3. An apocalypse is a pseudonymous piece of writing characterized by exaggerated symbolic imagery, usually dealing with the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm wherein the deity destroys the wicked and rewards the righteous. Apocalyptic writing abounds in hidden meanings and numerological puzzles. Parts of a number of Judæo-Christian apocalypses other than Revelation have been preserved, but only the latter (if one does not consider the Book of Daniel to be entirely apocalyptic) was accepted into the Christian canon – and it almost didn’t make it, having been rejected by several early Church Fathers and Church Councils.
  4. The opposite theory, often referred to as “Griesbach’s hypothesis,” that the author of Mark had “epitomized” the two longer gospels, keeping only the “essential” details, is today almost entirely rejected by bible scholars. While the arguments to support this nearly universal rejection are too involved to even summarize here, it may be noted that shortening of miracle stories is completely out of keeping with the principles of religious development seen everywhere today. Stories invariably get “better” (i.e., longer) with the retelling, never shorter!
  5. There is compelling evidence indicating that these alleged sayings of Jesus were taken from another early document known as Q (German, for Quelle, ‘source’). Like the so-called Gospel of Thomas found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, Q appears to have been a list of wisdom sayings that at some point became attributed to Jesus. We know that at least one of these sayings (“We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced…” Matt. 17:11; Luke 7:32) derives from Æsop’s Fables, not from a sage of Galilee!
  6. I say “official gospels” because there are, in fact, many other gospels known. Once people started making them up, they sort of got stuck in over-drive. Only later on in Christian history did the number get pared back to four.
  7. Even the letters supposed to contain authentic writings of Saul/Paul have been shown by a number of scholars to be as composite as the gospels (e.g., L. Gordon Rylands, A Critical Analysis of the Four Chief Pauline Epistles: Romans, First and Second Corinthians, and Galatians, Watts & Co., London, 1929). According to such analyses, the core Pauline material in these letters is what might be termed a pre-Christian Gnostic product. This material is surrounded by often contradictory material added by proto-Catholic interpolators and redactors who succeeded thus in claiming a popular proto-Gnostic authority for the Church of Rome. In any case, the Greek text of these letters is heavy with terms such as Archon, Æon, etc. – jargon terms popular in the more astrologically conscious forms of Gnosticism. It would appear that the Christ of Paul is as astral a being as the Lamb of Revelation. Like the god of Revelation, the god of Paul communicates via visions, not physically, face-to-face.
  8. Originally, this would have been the title born by a member of a religious fraternity associated with the worship of Yahweh, who in Greek was always referred to as kurios (‘Lord’). This was carried over into primitive Christianity, where we know from I Cor. 9:5 that there existed a governing class coordinate with apostles that was called “Brothers of the Lord.” Misunderstanding of the original meaning of the title led to the belief that Jesus had siblings – an error that can be found already in the earliest of the canonical gospels. Interestingly, the embarrassing passages in the gospels where Jesus is rude to his mother and brethren would seem to derive from a period where a political struggle had developed between apostolically governed sects and those governed by “Brethren of the Lord,” who claimed authority now by virtue of an alleged blood relationship to Jesus – who had by then supplanted Yahweh as “Lord.” The apostolic politics of the gospel writers could not resist putting down the Brethren Party by having Jesus disregard his own family. If Jesus didn’t pay serious attention to his own family, the argument would go, why should anyone pay attention to their descendants? This is the only plausible explanation for the presence of such passages as John 2:4 (“Woman, what have I to do with thee?”) or Mark 3:33 (“Who is my mother, or my brethren?).
  9. Latinists often dispute the possibility of the passage being a forgery on the grounds that Tacitus’ distinctive Latin style so perfectly permeates the entire passage. But it should be noted that the more distinctive a style might be, the easier it can be imitated. Then too, there is a lapse from normal Tacitean usage elsewhere in the disputed passage. In describing the early Christians as being haters “of the human race” (humani generis), the passage reverses the word order of normal Tacitean usage. In all other cases, Tacitus has generis humani.
  10. Curiously, in the present case, it would seem that such proof is in fact possible. Since Jesus is frequently referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth,” it is interesting to learn that the town now called Nazareth did not exist in the first centuries BCE and CE. Exhaustive archaeological studies have been done by Franciscans to prove the cave they possess was once the home of Jesus’ family. But actually they have shown the site to have been a necropolis – a city of the dead – during the first century CE. (Naturally, the Franciscans cannot agree!) With no Nazareth other than a cemetery existing at the time, how could there have been a Jesus of Nazareth? Without an Oz, could there have been a Wizard of Oz?

References

  1. Illustrated in Robin Seager, Tiberius, Eyre Methuen, London, 1972. For more detailed numismatic documentation of Tiberius, see also C. H. V. Sutherland, Roman History and Coinage 44 BC-AD 69, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1987; by the same author, Coinage in Roman Imperial Policy 31 B.C.-A.D. 68, Sanford J. Durst Numismatic Publications, NY, 1978.
  2. Illustrated in Seager, op. cit.
  3. Illustrated in Seager, op. cit.
  4. Examined in Sutherland, 1987, op. cit. See also Victor Ehrenberg and A. H. M. Jones, Documents Illustrating the Reigns of Augustus & Tiberius, 2nd Edition, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1955.
  5. See Inscriptiones Latinæ Selectæ, edidit Hermannus Dessau, reprinted in 4 vols. by Ares Publishers Inc., Chicago, 1979.
  6. Illustrated in Seager, op. cit.
  7. See Acta Divi Augusti, Regia Academia Italica, Rome, 1945.
  8. In her Anchor Bible Volume 38, Revelation (Doubleday, Garden City, NJ, 1975), J. Massyngberde Ford proposed that the core of Revelation was material written by Jewish followers of John the Baptist. Even if the Baptist had been an historical figure (which is extremely doubtful), this still would make Revelation in essence a pre-Christian, Jewish apocalypse.
  9. For more astrological aspects of Revelation, see Bruce J. Malina, On The Genre And Message Of Revelation: Star Visions and Sky Journeys, Hendrickson, Peabody, MA, 1995.
  10. George A. Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY, 1982, p. 13.
  11. L. Gordon Rylands, Did Jesus Ever Live?, Watts & Co., London, 1929, p. 20.
  12. This so-called Testimonium Flavianum appears in Bk 18 Ch 3 §3 of Josephus: Jewish Antiquities Books XVIII-XIX, IX, translated by L. H. Feldman, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1981, pp. 48-51.
  13. J. P. Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Græca, Tomus CIII. Photius Constantinopolitanus Patriarcha, Garnier Fratres, Paris, 1900, Cod. 47, 76, and 238. [back]
  14. Rylands, op. cit., p. 14.
  15. William Benjamin Smith, Ecce Deus: Studies Of Primitive Christianity, Watts & Co., London, 1912, p. 235.

69 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for an excellent introduction to a complex and fascinating subject. I first took a course in “the historical Jesus” at a conservative Catholic university fifty years ago, and have been keeping up with the scholarship ever since.

    There is ample reason to think Jesus is a literary fiction. This was the conclusion of the second century scholars Celsus and Porphyry. The Church responded by destroying all copies of their books and the documents they researched. And today Book III of Tacitus’ History is missing from all surviving copies. It covered the middle years of the reign of Tiberius, the very time Jesus is alleged to have lived. Coincidence?

    A man who performed supernatural feats for three full years in the most economically important part of what would eventually be Roman Judaea could not have gone so totally unnoticed by his contemporaries. It’s inconceivable that a man known to have power over the spirits would not have been summoned to Rome to demonstrate his magic for Tiberius. It would have been quite a feather in the cap of Herod Antipas, the obsequious Roman-installed tetrarch of Galilee, to curry his lord’s favor this way.

  2. “Man is a religious animal. He is the only religious animal. He is the only animal that has the true religion-several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven…..the higher animals have no religion. And we are told they are going to be left out in the hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste.” Mark Twain
    ” Chloroform in print.” Mark Twain on the Book of Mormon.” if Joseph Smith composed this book the act was a miracle–keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate.”

    • ” The whole history of these books (the Gospels) is so defective and doubtful that is seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played within their text and within the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the new Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are the fabric of very inferior minds. It is easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.” Thomas Jefferson.

  3. Another simple point to be made, is the credibility of the source. The Vatican has not exactly proven to be honest about anything else, and lying is a daily part of their publicity agenda. Finances are not disclosed, cover-ups and denials are routine, evasion and escape is their method of dealing with authorities, and this behavior matches typical behavior of the standard con man who comes to town. American churches must pay the diocese, and the diocese must pay the Vatican. This is the epitome of the money changers in the temples.
    Protestants are just a watered down useful extension. Meanwhile , spirituality is a road best traveled alone, and any priest should know that. Monks and the like have always sought people to finance their journey. Christianity is the military corporate model for this. It’s a twofer. Hearts and minds plus land and resources.

  4. Holy sticks in the mud, Batman.

    I don’t care if someone believes, doesn’t believe. There are many people who don’t believe in the B-I-B-L-E.
    And the “Holy Land” of Israhell is full of atheists, Zionists Plug Uglies, apartheid zealots.

    My personal faith is just that . . . personal. I won’t share what I know, or share my personal experiences because there are many people, like Ian, who will slander my story and malign me with names. Nothing personal, right Ian? Although name calling really isn’t necessary at all. But if he wants to call people names like “nutters,” and that give him a sense of superiority . . . Amen to that.

    I have my personal faith. It’s just that.
    PERSONAL. It has developed over time.

    I’m content in my belief, and Ian and his like-mind other nutters don’t sway me from my faith.
    If Ian and his like-mind other nutters want to lump all of us into the same “belief” system . . . YIKES!

    If Ian needs to make sense of the world in which we live in his way, good for him.

    I make sense of my world and experiences in the manner that rings true to me. Faith is a personal path. Always has been.
    Luke 5:16
    Matthew 4:1

    • Your personal faith is irrelevant to the discussion of whether Jesus actually existed. I wonder if you actually bothered to read the article as you quote Luke and Matthew and in the article it explains how those two gospels are useless as historical documents as they are nothing more than plagiarisms of Mark. Do you realise that you have never actually read the bible? Not unless you can read ancient Greek that is. What you have read is a distorted, manipulated and grossly altered bastardisation that has been messed with so much over the centuries after the supposed life and death of christ as to bear little relation to the original texts. Just as all these crooks and swindlers posing as evangelical preachers that pollute the US today are in it for the money, power and fame and will manipulate and lie and cheat to line their own pockets, so in the past, similar characters posing as holy men have swindled and cheated and manipulated the ‘faithful’ for their own gain. Jimmy Swaggert and his ilk are modern versions of the popes of Rome, utterly corrupt, not holy in the slightest, nothing more than crooks and conmen. These conmen, for centuries, fiddled with and altered the bible, changing key names, distorting geography, even removing or adding entire books, all in order to keep their grand con going and continue bilking the people. So you go ahead and believe what you want to believe, but facts remain facts and there is no getting round or away from the fact that the bible, in the form we all know it, is an utter fraud concocted by conmen posing as holy men in order to keep their grand money making schemes going.

    • Well, and also regarding it being personal, Christianity is a foreign entity that has actively sought to subvert the civic laws of our society and have grossly affected the military policy, so it is a legitimate question to inquire as to the validity of the story. I personally consider it a topic of paramount importance to our national security. Your personal faith, cannot possibly be tied to this story without subversive acts of a foreign entity.
      You bash the jews one day, and support this fabrication the next. That’s a win for Judeo/Christian incursion.
      Winning hearts and minds is a military objective, and Christianity was used in conjunction with military forces everywhere it went, just like oil companies. That is personal for me as a veteran. From a strictly military perspective, it would be best if we taxed all monies being funneled to religions. They are foreign entities.

    • Ian, what do You mean by the word “facts”? That Your source is reliable, but some others is not? Doesn’t that sound something like my god is bigger than Yours or Incredible Hulk is stronger than Superman. I have doubts on both of them, maybe liars both. So who do I trust, myself, sorry but not likely, just learning to try to get one answer right after years of asking how many went wrong.

      Conceptual continuity, although ancient Crete was changed with sword to less than 4000 years old indo Greek language, some things never changes. How to feed a small budget orchestra with only few portions of fish and chips – Building bridges. Burning bridges may give some street gred, but when the bridges gone You are nothing. I don’t understand that collective soul assault on individual MOAB, who has personal experience of the Truth instead of the collective unexperience of the untrue of Good old war.

    • https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fact

      As for the rest, I can’t engage in a debate over such spurious nonsense as ‘collective soul assault’ or ‘personal experience of the Truth’; there is nothing to discuss other than how ludicrous it is to claim one has experienced some kind of ‘Truth’ due to adhering to a bunch of ancient mythology. No-one has had their ‘soul’ assaulted here. I find it deeply ironic and a little amusing that Christians are so touchy about criticism of their fraudulent religion, they have spent two millenia trying to shove their lies down people’s throats, often violently, at the point of sword or gun, but the moment anyone criticises their lie system, they act like you just murdered their puppy in front of them.

    • David, You already stole Indian Land, and now You are trying to steal Indian Voice. So, how about keeping Your mouth shut and let them Indians speak for themselves.

    • Ian, it was You that bombarded Hamburg and Dresden. And You ask me, which “You” did I mean. Ask Your mirror, in case Your language can’t tell between individual and collective.

    • WTF are you talking about? I bombed cities? I wasn’t even alive in the 1940s. What has the bombing of Germany have to do with the existence of Jesus? Keep your comments on-topic instead of this nonsense.

  5. Ian Greenhalph,
    Did you read the letter by an Armenian King sent to Jesus, asking Jesus to live with him the King due to the harsh treatment, but then Jesus wrote to the King stating that I must my fathers work?

    The Gospels are written so many times over the years that in the next one hundred years as Jesus name shall no longer exist with in the so called Gospels and already has begun. All the different Christian denominations and cults have changed the translation of the original Gospels for which I myself have read; for example, one of three languages written above Jesus has Hebrew that never existed instead was Aramaic. So Ian than why you never mentioned this in the article?

    Why Ian does not mention in his biography the country of birth or living today, but wrote an article how these people in Britain planning to due in the Russians in Syria?

    The Gospels are an ancient writing upon verbal words upon verbal words.

  6. Dear Ian, namaste…

    To publish this delicate history within the adeveniat time is tuff. The risk to be misunderstood is high, however, it is everybody its own, to believe in given, constantly manipulated history and stories, someone agreed with for their own purpose and profit.
    There is no doubt, that the Human Beings are successfully deceived since close to 2000 years and the Anti-Christ-forces of evil are not getting tired to confuse and fill up their MSM with more fairy tale.
    Did Jesus exist? The chances to say yes are way better than no, because you did not focused your investigation to the History of the Atlantis-Germans, especially the folks in the known territory of Saxons. There are so many evidences, that couple; Josef and Maria-Magdalena were looking for a Beth le hem. In the old German dialect beth=bett / engl. bed and hem=home. So, looking for a bed in a home. Magdalena is a name from the Germans als well………

    Ian, I would like to send you more thoughts and investigations about that big issue, the limmit on words is blocking in form nations.
    Can you provide me an adress to sent you the fully text. Greatings from Nova Scotia in Canda : robert.

  7. “For all the Christians who suffer from the false belief that they are second-class citizens in God’s Kingdom because the nation of Israel is God’s Chosen people, I have a message for you: you were Chosen first. Do not believe that satanic lie from the pit of hell about how you’re somehow beneath those who have historically been called the apple of God’s eye. It’s simply not true.”

    Since it was first published in 1909, the Scofield Reference Bible has made uncompromising Zionists out of tens of millions of Americans. When John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), said that “50 million evangelical bible-believing Christians unite with five million American Jews standing together on behalf of Israel,” it was the Scofield Bible that he was talking about.

    Religious Studies in my secondary school was taught using the Scholfield reference Bible only. The Chapel that i attended for Bible classes, Harvest Festivals, Easter, Christmas etc was the Zion Chapel. Thinking back was the name linked in anyway with Schofield’s tampered writings.

    https://wideawakegentile.wordpress.com/2017/12/07/scofield-reference-bible-from-christ-killers-to-gods-chosen-peoplee/

  8. When Mao became an old man and settled into his daily exercise regimen, a daily splash in the river was included. As is with heroic figures, his every movement becomes an exciting adventure.
    His river splash, accompanied by an entourage of doctors, nurses, writers, etc.,turned into an 80 mile olympic swim. One has to imagine, that New Testament protagonist, Jesus, was no different than Mao. Eating a meal turned into a great banquet, accompanied by his followers with every spoken word containing a memorable message. Bible one liners are analyzed and debated as to their meaning. Heroes are made, not born.

  9. Please enlighten us , oh brilliant minds , of the Proof that ‘ God ‘ is a Man . You can not ,in any sense of the Word prove that fact, not Muslims, not Christians , not Jews . Preach till the cows come home , that simple fact leaves all your ‘ books ‘ in the muck of religious slime .

    • Bonnie rat 70… where in man’s name did you come up with Muslims believing that God is a man. Please get your facts straight.

  10. For all the Christians who suffer from the false belief that they are second-class citizens in God’s Kingdom because the nation of Israel is God’s Chosen people, I have a message for you: you were Chosen first. Do not believe that satanic lie from the pit of hell about how you’re somehow beneath those who have historically been called the apple of God’s eye. It’s simply not true.

    God had the Romans trash the second temple, not one stone left upon another, had most of the Jew leaders slaughtered and then drop kicked the remainder to southern Russia.

    God then made these fools believe that God he had left one wall to which they could pray for forgiveness.

    The truth is that God has a wicked sense of humor and they were praying to the wall of a Roman forte. This way, his son Jesus gets to laugh his ass off every day as he watches them pray.

    Amen.

    • It is a delicious irony and a perfect commentary on “faith” that the supposedly holiest site in Judaism is the foundation of a great Hellenized temple built by an Idumean prince who was passionately hated by his Jewish subjects during his lifetime.

      Seeing those poor souls at the wall in their bizarre costumes chanting and swaying so very precisely really gives weight to the theory that religion is basically institutionalized obsessive-compulsive disorder.

      As Monty Python asked, what did the Romans ever do for us? Uh, paved roads, indoor plumbing, safe streets, membership in a great global culture, why, even lower taxes than the Temple priesthood demanded, gosh. Pretty good deal for descendants of nomadic barbarians who wandered at the edges of mankind’s first great civilizations incessantly whining about how sinful and frightening they were.

  11. To greenbaugh
    “We’ve had to suffer this shit for 2000 years …..and it is time to say no more”
    Lol
    Tell that to all the crazy psychotic so-called Christian Zionists who are helping ruin my country and probably in all likelihood will succeed, exactly as the genius George Washington so presciently predicted way back in 1797 when he warned present and future Americans in the sterner of ways to avoid at all costs having “A passionate attachment”
    to a foreign country or it will surely ultimately be our destruction.
    Israel will suredly be our destruction!

  12. In Wikipedia (article: Jesus) I found the following footnote, that I believe reflects the reigning consensus:

    “ In a 2011 review of the state of modern scholarship, Bart Ehrman wrote, “He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees”.[15] Richard A. Burridge states: “There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more”.[16] Robert M. Price does not believe that Jesus existed, but agrees that this perspective runs against the views of the majority of scholars.[17] James D. G. Dunn calls the theories of Jesus’ non-existence “a thoroughly dead thesis”.[18] Michael Grant (a classicist) wrote in 1977, “In recent years, ‘no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus’ or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary”.[19] Robert E. Van Voorst states that biblical scholars and classical historians regard theories of non-existence of Jesus as effectively refuted.[20]”

  13. Whether or not he be a comic book hero; I find comfort in being a follower of the Criminal Carpenter from Nazareth (PBUH) who threw the money changers from The Temple and saved me from the Old Testament with Matthew 7:12.
    I sought and I found.

    • Yes, a timeless message for the ages! Some things never change……now they need to be thrown out of D.C. and 50 state governments!

    • You might consider that Hitler said the moneychanger story was his favorite Biblical passage, for it furnished him with his example of how to deal with Jews – harshly.

      In the ancient world temples functioned as state central banks. The Jerusalem Temple complex covered 75 acres and was guarded by a 2,000 man Jewish police force and a full Roman Cohort (600 men) of the Third Legion. Jesus could not have “overturned” such a heavily guarded facility.

      Paying a small fee (usually 4% to 8%) to have your coins exchanged for silver was accepted practice everywhere. I suspect Jesus’ problem was the fact that the Temple priesthood accepted only silver Shekels minted in Tyre. These were adorned with the head of the Phoenician deity Melkart, with an eagle on the reverse, and would certainly be seen as abominations to such a fundamentalist nationalist.

      There is also very recent archaeological evidence that coins of this design were struck within the holy temple itself, as the Tyrian mint was debasing the silver, and this might at last furnish the clue to understanding what the garbled Gospel account was based upon.

  14. Can anyone among the Atheist friends prove there is NO God by facts or mathematically?
    Simple answers is NO.
    If no one can, logic tells you that non believer has only 50% probability of correctness against a believer.
    This fact entitles the believers be considered the same as non believers, and of course they do deserve some respect just like everybody.
    We all know all the religions & their practices including islam has been corrupted & altered over the years. Only Quran is an exception. This could be proven easily. We can trust all the scientific facts & Quran that support each other. These references are more than enough to us as people to live peacefully in this world.

    • No rational atheist claims to have proof of the nonexistence of god. Such a statement would contain a logical impossibility: you cannot prove that a thing does not exist. What you can do is critique the evidence offered to support the theory of god’s existence, and we atheists maintain that such proofs fail every time in every particular. No matter in what new guise in which they are presented, from creationism to the “god of the gaps”, they fail to prove their hypothesis.

      The fundamental premise of theism is that there are unseen powers in the world that are responsible for what occurs within it. This hypothesis introduces a curious presupposition that there are exceptions to materialistic or physical causality. Hidden spiritual agencies are held to be responsible for what occurs in nature. In seeking to explain natural phenomena whose causal mechanisms were not apparent, ancient peoples attributed them to animistic causes. Our ancestors theorized that other animals and even material objects possessed an inner consciousness just as humans do. Such magical, anthropocentric thinking is the natural state of pre-logical cultures.

      Then came science, and causality is no longer occult, or even controversial.

  15. The author (Zindler) is quick to conclude with an airy kind of lightness – ostensiby not without some pride. But of course he is right that the extant written sources have been dated to at least one or two generations after the fact. He mentions his own sources too: G A Wells, L Gordon Ryland, Josephus, Tacitus and … Bhagwan. Me wonders if the last one is the same one as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Indian guru and sect leader with his following in orange jumpsuits?
    Any way, I thought Zindler funny when he compared Jesus with a mushroom cloud on a Carribean island! It shows that even deniers have a lively phantasy – apocalyptic one might say.

  16. each of us creates god in our own image. why? hardened beliefs based on imagined truths. unlike science that tries to derive natural laws from physical measurements and observations, requiring both statistical data accumulations and independent verification.

    • Quantum mechanics, the paradigm reluctantly discovered by Max Planck, a conservative theoretical phsyicist dealing with investigation of matter at the micoroscopic level, has just kept on throwing up paradox after paradox – oxymorons, wholly repugnant to reason, but which just, however, happen to be true ; indeed have been verified far more extensively than anything has ever been investigated in classical physics, i.e. at the mechanistic (Lego-type) day-to-day human level.

      Atheist-materialist physicists would never have discovered quantum mechanics in a billion years, since they believe that ultimately everything about the physical world will be made pellucidly clear by ‘science’.

      However, to earn their living, they have to ‘knuckle under’, and do what Christian and other relgious scientists do, i.e. use such paradoxes as staging posts and spring-boards from which to return to the pursuit of their investigations and the knowledge that it reveals in the classical, ‘clockwork’, unequivocally logical fashion.

  17. (cont…)

    In Christ’s own words, as quoted in Matthew,
    ‘At that time Jesus said, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise* and learned. Yes, Father, this was how you wanted it to happen.’

    *’wise’ here evidently meaning ‘worldly-wise’.

    • Some scholars maintain that “the wise” referred to in this passage were initiates in the Eleusinian mysteries, a theological tradition of great antiquity revered throughout the Graeco-Roman world. They were of course reviled by the Jews, who passed on to Christianity the unenviable inheritance of thinking themselves the sole possessors of virtue in a world otherwise filled with evil. Three and a half centuries later, Christian fanatics would desecrate the ancient mystery sanctuaries, in the wake of the abolition of freedom of religion by the emperor Theodosius throughout what was left of the now Christianized Roman Empire.

  18. (cont…)

    We reason : Why should the ultimate truth, all truth in the final analysis, be ugly, cold, hard, impersonal, not to be wished for, not to be hoped for, undesirable ?

    So, why would God have set up things this way ? Well, because he didn’t want entrance to heaven to be a test of worldly intelligence, but of wisdom, the knowledge and understanding of the heart, often subliminal, as noted in Pascal’s words, ‘The heart has its reasons whereof reason knows nothing,’ Who would want to meet the likes of Pinochet in heaven ? Who wouldn’t want to be greeted by a character such as that marvelous Irene Handel used to play in the Ealing comedies ?

    (cont…)

    • ‘We reason : Why should the ultimate truth, all truth in the final analysis, be ugly, cold, hard, impersonal, not to be wished for, not to be hoped for undesirable ? Why, indeed, would God not have formed the world in such a manner that it coincided with the inspirations of his own Spirit in the minds and hearts of his followers who saught scientific discoveries of the natural world that He, himself, had made for them ?

      Consider the length of time it took for the Chinese to catch up with the post-Christian West, its science palpably being a product of medieval Christendom, rather than being purely spiritual. And yet, they have shown in recent decades, that, if anything, they are at least as gifted in the sphere of science as any other people ; arguably more brilliant than any – although, arguably, the Russians could claim as much, it seems.

  19. This would not be an issue of importance, if the religion in question was not constantly attempting to subvert the laws of our country and actions of our military. There is immense pressure on people to believe, and using the methods which the religion uses, one could get people to believe almost anything. There is a much bigger problem with the historicity of the christian bible that is never discussed, due to massive efforts to prevent the conversation which have involved mass murder and looting and destruction of evidence to the contrary. The efforts have not been successful, and in our lifetime, it will come out. This being the unmistakable link to the origin of the writing, the structure of the books, and the correlations with cultures around the world.

    • Before astrology, there were calendars for thousands of years. Many different kinds. The core of the accumulated data had the purpose of intense study of human natures and behaviors. astronomy and astrology came well after, and is useful as a visual correlate, but the foundation is calendrics. In calendrics, not all cycles are visibly tracked by the stars or planets, so this leaves astrology and astronomy as a pair, short of the ability of calendars. The core of theology is the study of cycles and the nuances of interaction with the invisible to determine intelligent interaction from cyclical norms. It is not something everyone is cut out to study. Regardless, it is more correct to say, the book is based on calendrics, not astrotheology per say. All cultures had the same information because it has been shared between continents for eons. Elders who know this will come forward to confirm it, in due time. Some already have. It’s a difficult process as it must balance, truth with potential harm. Capacity increases with integrity, and there is little integrity to find these days.

    • The short answer is Jesus is an archetype, and perfectly matches the specific archetype, to a degree which reveals intentional personification. John Lennon was the archetype, he traveled to a new land to bring a message of peace, and the throngs screamed for him and worshipped him. He then met an untimely demise.
      Ghandi also the archetype, he led the women on a salt march, and met his own struggles. The Egyptians and Mayans and Chinese never used human likeness in their drawings. It wasn’t because they were not capable. The stories likewise were never intended to be taken as “real” and the writers went to great lengths to ensure this, but as we see, text is easily manipulated. The bones are still there however and are easily distinguished.

  20. Ian, God/Jesus always leaves wriggle-room for those who, on the balance of their perception of the probabilities prefer to seek and find justification for their rejection of Christianity, their disbelief : a form of selective wishful-thinking. Isn’t it always selective ? Although one might equally contend that it is, rather, ‘discriminating’, in a positive sense.

    But here’s the thing, Christians too are wishful-thinkers ‘par excellence’ : ‘par excellence’, since our wishful thinking – final justice for the bad and the good, and consolation for the innumerable innocents, maimed, tortured, killed in so many hideous, different ways – is supremely positive, matching our own preference to dwell on the manifest beauty of the natural world (even Tiger, Tiger burning bright…’) and the infinite, moral beauty of the matchless, self-sacrificing love of Jesus in his life and above all, in his passion, his extreme torture, suffering and death.
    (cont…)

  21. Ian, God/Jesus always leaves wriggle-room for those who, on the balance of their perception of the probabilities prefer to seek and find justification for their rejection of Christianity, their disbelief : a form of selective wishful-thinking. Isn’t it always selective ? Although one might equally contend that it is, rather, ‘discriminating’, in a positive sense.

    But here’s the thing, Christians too are wishful-thinkers ‘par excellence’ : ‘par excellence’, since our wishful thinking – final justice for the bad and the good, and consolation for the innumerable innocents, maimed, tortured, killed in so many hideous, different ways – is supremely positive, matching our own preference to dwell on the manifest beauty of the natural world (even Tiger, Tiger burning bright…’) and the infinite, moral beauty of the matchless, self-sacrificing love of Jesus in his life and above all, in his passion, his extreme torture, suffering and death.

    • Christianity fails because it is based in the “argument from revelation” theory of theology. It maintains that a supernatural being entered into human history in the past, revealed himself to certain chosen persons, and conveyed messages to them, which have been accurately transmitted to us. This theistic argument is quasi-inductive, inferring the existence of a supernatural entity on the basis of its allegedly historical interaction with humans. Unlike other, less tangible assertions about god’s existence, this is an empirical claim, whose factual content we are able to examine to determine the strength of its evidence and the probability of its truth.

  22. Did the historical Christ live?
    As Ian presented, history does not support the given literal narrative.

    Does the Christ exist?
    Many are able to incarnate their own Christ by special effort and practices, as history records.

    That which became the Roman Catholic Church saw a franchise opportunity, and they took it for their own nefarious ends. They amended history to comply with their program.

    The true Christic experience is of an esoteric nature and is found in both the OT and the NT, and the Dead Sea Scrolls etc. It is found in the mystery schools of ancient Egypt, the Mayans and Incas, the Hindustani scriptures and Buddhist teachings, the Taoist doctrine etc.

    To treat the Bible as a historical text is invalid. It is symbolic yet relates to the true nature of man, having the inherent capacity to transcend the ordinary reality.

  23. Could debate this forever- but hey – the Jews said there was a Jesus – there was a Jesus. Just ask any German or Canadian if they wish to renounce Jesus – or even the Holocaust – Go to Jail. Well, maybe not Jesus since that haven’t found a way to make billions on Him – yet. There was a Jesus or Jesus type – and he was probably a Holy Man considering the day but in every society there is a good guy that tells the truth and calls out the Evil ones and tells us to live by the Commandments of God. There have been many Jesus types that were Honest men and women that told the truth and called out Evil, and died for it. Leave Jesus alone – he was a Good Guy and that’s all that needs to be said.

  24. “There are as many non-Christian sources who mention Jesus within 150 years of his life as there are who mention the Roman emperor contemporary with Jesus’ ministry within 150 years of his life. Those who propose that Jesus never existed must reasonably account for these sources. While those who try to believe their arguments are reasonable, they have not convinced many. In fact, I am not aware of a single widely-respected scholar in the world who holds the position that Jesus never existed” (Mike Licona MA Religious Studies Ph.D. and Historian).

    • There are no corroborations of Jesus’ existence outside Christian tradition. When (and if) they mentioned him, the Roman historians Suetonius, Tacitus, and others merely reported the beliefs about Jesus that were current in the Christian communities of their day. It remains to be demonstrated that these beliefs were based on actual events. There is also a great deal of confusion over the terms Chrestiani, the followers of Serapis, and Christiani, translated as Christians, but an ambiguous term that was used in a surviving letter by the emperor Hadrian to describe Serapis worshippers.

      Serapis was a hybrid deity created to harmonize the Greek Zeus with the Egyptian Amen. Likewise the Christ figure is a hybrid of Apollo, Mithras, and Osiris, with a dash of the Imperial cult thrown in, and all based in the misogyny, homophobia, and arrogant nationalist of second temple period Judaism

  25. To my Christian brothers and sisters from one who has Christian and Muslim family and friends: as an introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Aramaic and Arabic, the Jews, Christians and Muslims of the Middle East who speak Arabic nowadays refer to God in His proper name, Allah.

    To help some of the discussion among Christians, here is, in part, what Allah says in the Quran to Christians, (remember those are Allah’s words not mine and never claimed by Muhammad PBUH to be his). The translations are by Mohammed Marmaduke William Pickthall, an Englishman who spent over twenty years learning classical Arabic and translating the Quraan in Arabia.

    2:87
    And We did certainly give Moses the Torah and followed up after him with messengers. And We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and supported him with the Holy Spirit (Archangel Gabriel).

    57:27
    Then We caused Our messengers to follow in their footsteps (Abraham and Noah); and We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow, and gave him the Gospel, and placed compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him. But monasticism they invented – We ordained it not for them – only seeking Allah’s pleasure, and they observed it not with right observance. ..

    • 42:14
      And they were not divided until after the knowledge came unto them, through rivalry among themselves; and had it not been for a Word that had already gone forth from thy Lord for an appointed term, it surely had been judged between them. And those who were made to inherit the Scripture after them are verily in hopeless doubt concerning it.

      To someone like me who has family and friends of both faiths, I hope some of these verses bring some comfort and confirmation.
      As to my atheist friends I congratulate you on saying that there is no God and it goes to reason that also all false gods do not exist. I hope you will ask yourself the question who brought you into this life and who takes you out of it without your say so? If you can’t honestly answer that question, the the probability is 1 in 2 that it is God the One who gives you life.

    • To try to claim that the existence of life is somehow proof of the existence of a god is utterly false logic. The sooner these ancient superstitions and associated religious dogmatic claptrap dies out, the better for the whole of mankind. It’s utterly pathetic that in the modern age where we now know so much about the workings of the universe that some people are still so hopelessly brainwashed as to believe any of this bullshit. I’m far beyond the point of caring if any religious nutters take offence, on the contrary, being offended should give you a taste of how we, the non-religious feel whenever we hear the religious spouting off about their insane delusions. We’ve had to suffer this shit for 2000 years but now the worm has turned and it is time to say no more, that we utterly reject your religions and steadfastly refuse to accept any part of it as we can clearly see how religion is a scourge on mankind, a cancer that must be cut out and discarded before we can reasonably call ourselves a developing and evolving civilisation. Religion stands in the way of the progress of mankind, it is an anchor holding us back and one we can well do without.

    • How does a bunch of words written some 7 or 8 centuries after the supposed life of Christ have any relevance at all as to whether he existed? There’s one outright falsehood sticking out there, about giving Jesus the Gospel, which is nonsense. You are aware that the bible has been edited so many times that it is utterly bereft of any validity or authenticity? For instance, in the original text, it doesn’t even refer to a singular god, but rather gods in plural. You might as well admit it, these ancient books are nothing more than retellings of superstitions and fairytales and for anyone, in the modern, rational, scientific age to take them seriously is a sign of a serious delusion bordering on mental illness.

    • and they go on to destroy artifacts of other sources like they did w the great library of Alexandria and other great bibliotheka. See what happens in Yemen to sacred places. How much indicates to the old Egyptian cults and symbols ? How much to Babylonian and much older religions ? Look around in your churches espec in old Europe. Babylonian woreship at it´s best.

  26. Religion is a form of brainwashing from cradle to grave. If anyone asks rude questions like these in a
    Sunday School Class or in a sermon by a pastor of a Christian Religion they will be politely ignored or politely asked to leave. No rational answers will be provided to them. Take this article to the pastor at your local church and ask him or her to read it and discuss it next Sunday. You will be sadly disappointed by his refusal to even consider it let alone deal with the many contradictions. The Catholic Church nearly burned the world’s greatest physicist Galileo Galilei at the stake for believing that the Sun, not the Earth was the center of our Solar System. It took them nearly 4 centuries to admit they were wrong and Galileo Galilei was right after all. The only amazing thing is they admitted they were wrong. Religion is mythology differing little from astrology or any other fake dogma. Why not require our engineers to be trained in religion instead of physics and mathematics? Our cars would crash, buildings fall, bridges fail, airplanes crast, you get the picture. The human race is largely ignorant fools.

    • It destroys spirituality and kills every kind of progress because it stops every thinking outside of their box. Just look how backwards just Islam is in their 1400th thinking.
      And Jesus was just a common name in the middle east.
      Remember when in 1666 they created their fake messiah Zabatai Levi ? Messiah only means the annointed one so every king is or was a messiah.

    • Galileo, Trakkath, lived and died a passionate Christian and son of the Church. In fact, it was only his powerful father that prevented him becoming a priest in his younger days.

      What you atheists don’t seem to realise is that The Enlightenment is a massive misnomer. All the major paradigms of physics (all the other fields were described by Kelvin as ‘just stamp-collecting’), were discovered by, at the very least, deists. Einstein was a deist (closest to a panENtheist), passionately so in is younger days, and here is what he had to say about the historical Christ (the whole quote is from Wiki, but is quite well-known) :

      ‘I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”[27] Einstein was then asked if he accepted the historical existence of Jesus, to which he replied, “Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”‘

      And again from Wiki :

      “In the last year of his life he said “If I were not a Jew I would be a Quaker.”

      The great paradigm-changers of physics were, I believe : Galileo(RC), Newton(oddball Christian, who ended up despising his mathematics !), Einstein (variable, but never less than a deist) and Planck(Luth). The paradigm-changing mathematician, Kurt Godel, was also a Lutheran.

  27. Josephus. Says a lot .actually there was a few traveller types that mash up the Jesus story into one character the Bible speaks of. Each person has a part of his story. Theres even some obvious fraudy additions put into his tales. Interesting josephus gets a mention but no analysis in this article.