Five Reasons to Suspect Jesus Never Existed

Mythical JesusMost antiquities scholars think that the New Testament gospels are “mythologized history.”  In other words, based on the evidence available they think that around the start of the first century a controversial Jewish rabbi named Yeshua ben Yosef gathered a following and his life and teachings provided the seed that grew into Christianity. At the same time, these scholars acknowledge that many Bible stories like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and women at the tomb borrow and rework mythic themes that were common in the Ancient Near East, much the way that screenwriters base new movies on old familiar tropes or plot elements. In this view, a “historical Jesus” became mythologized.

For over 200 years, a wide ranging array of theologians and historians grounded in this perspective have analyzed ancient texts, both those that made it into the Bible and those that didn’t, in attempts to excavate the man behind the myth.  Several current or recent bestsellers take this approach, distilling the scholarship for a popular audience. Familiar titles include Zealot by Reza Aslan and  How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman

By contrast, other scholars believe that the gospel stories are actually “historicized mythology.”  In this view, those ancient mythic templates are themselves the kernel. They got filled in with names, places and other real world details as early sects of Jesus worship attempted to understand and defend the devotional traditions they had received.

The notion that Jesus never existed is a minority position.  Of course it is! says David Fitzgerald, the author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All.  Fitzgerald points out that for centuries all serious scholars of Christianity were Christians themselves, and modern secular scholars lean heavily on the groundwork that they laid in collecting, preserving, and analyzing ancient texts.  Even today most secular scholars come out of a religious background, and many operate by default under historical presumptions of their former faith.

Fitzgerald–who, as his book title indicates, takes the “mythical Jesus” position–is an atheist speaker and writer, popular with secular students and community groups. The internet phenom, Zeitgeist the Movie introduced millions to some of the mythic roots of Christianity. But Zeitgeist and similar works contain known errors and oversimplifications that undermine their credibility. Fitzgerald seeks to correct that by giving young people accessible information that is grounded in accountable scholarship.

More academic arguments in support of the Jesus Myth theory can be found in the writings of Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Carrier, who has a Ph.D. in ancient history uses the tools of his trade to show, among other things, how Christianity might have gotten off the ground without a miracle. Price, by contrast, writes from the perspective of a theologian whose biblical scholarship ultimately formed the basis for his skepticism. It is interesting to note that some of the harshest critics of popular Jesus myth theories like those from Zeitgeist or Joseph Atwill (who argued that the Romans invented Jesus) are academic Mythicists like these.

The arguments on both sides of this question—mythologized history or historicized mythology—fill volumes, and if anything the debate seems to be heating up rather than resolving. Since many people, both Christian and not, find it surprising that this debate even exists—that serious scholars might think Jesus never existed—here are some of the key points that keep the doubts alive:

1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.

In the words of Bart Ehrman (who himself believes the stories were built on a historical kernel):

“What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp. 56-57)

2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.

Paul seems unaware of any virgin birth, for example. No wise men, no star in the east, no miracles. Historians have long puzzled over the “Silence of Paul” on the most basic biographical facts and teachings of Jesus. Paul fails to cite Jesus’ authority precisely when it would make his case. What’s more, he never calls the twelve apostles Jesus’ disciples; in fact, he never says Jesus HAD disciples –or a ministry, or did miracles, or gave teachings. He virtually refuses to disclose any other biographical detail, and the few cryptic hints he offers aren’t just vague, but contradict the gospels. The leaders of the early Christian movement in Jerusalem like Peter and James are supposedly Jesus’ own followers and family; but Paul dismisses them as nobodies and repeatedly opposes them for not being true Christians!

Liberal theologian Marcus Borg suggests that people read the books of the New Testament in chronological order to see how early Christianity unfolded.

Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.

3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.

We now know that the four gospels were assigned the names of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not written by them. To make matter sketchier, the name designations happened sometime in second century, around 100 years or more after Christianity supposedly began.

For a variety of reasons, the practice of pseudonymous writing was common at the time and many contemporary documents are “signed” by famous figures.  The same is true of the New Testament epistles except for a handful of letters from Paul (6 out of 13) which are broadly thought to be genuine.  But even the gospel stories don’t actually say, “I was there.” Rather, they claim the existence of other witnesses, a phenomenon familiar to anyone who has heard the phrase, my aunt knew someone who . . . .

4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.

If you think you know the Jesus story pretty well, I suggest that you pause at this point to test yourself with the 20 question quiz at

The gospel of Mark is thought to be the earliest existing “life of Jesus,” and linguistic analysis suggests that Luke and Matthew both simply reworked Mark and added their own corrections and new material. But they contradict each other and, to an even greater degree contradict the much later gospel of John, because they were written with different objectives for different audiences. The incompatible Easter stories offer one example of how much the stories disagree.

5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.

They include a cynic philosopher, charismatic Hasid, liberal Pharisee, conservative rabbi, Zealot revolutionary, and nonviolent pacifist to borrow from a much longer list assembled by Price. In his words (pp. 15-16), “The historical Jesus (if there was one) might well have been a messianic king, or a progressive Pharisee, or a Galilean shaman, or a magus, or a Hellenistic sage.  But he cannot very well have been all of them at the same time.”  John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar grumbles that “the stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment.”

For David Fitzgerald, these issues and more lead to a conclusion that he finds inescapable:

Jesus appears to be an effect, not a cause, of Christianity. Paul and the rest of the first generation of Christians searched the Septuagint translation of Hebrew scriptures to create a Mystery Faith for the Jews, complete with pagan rituals like a Lord’s Supper, Gnostic terms in his letters, and a personal savior god to rival those in their neighbors’ longstanding Egyptian, Persian, Hellenistic and Roman traditions.

In a soon-to-be-released follow up to Nailed, entitled Jesus: Mything in Action, Fitzgerald argues that the many competing versions proposed by secular scholars are just as problematic as any “Jesus of Faith:”

Even if one accepts that there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, the question has little practical meaning: Regardless of whether or not a first century rabbi called Yeshua ben Yosef lived, the “historical Jesus” figures so patiently excavated and re-assembled by secular scholars are themselves fictions.

We may never know for certain what put Christian history in motion. Only time (or perhaps time travel) will tell.


Author’s note:  Not being an insider to this debate, my own inclination is to defer to the preponderance of relevant experts while keeping in mind that paradigm shifts do occur.  This means that until either the paradigm shift happens or I become a relevant expert myself, I shall assume that the Jesus stories probably had some historical kernel. That said, I find the debate fascinating for several reasons: For one, it offers a glimpse of the methods scholars use to analyze ancient texts.  Also, despite the heated back and forth between mythicists and historicists, their points of agreement may be more significant than the difference between historicized mythology and mythologized history. The presence of mythic tropes or legendary elements in the gospel stories has been broadly accepted and documented, while the imprint of any actual man who may have provided a historical kernel–how he may have lived, what he may have said, and how he died–is more hazy than most people dream.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of Subscribe to her articles at


Easter: Was the Risen Jesus Originally Female?

Ancient Mythic Origins of the Christmas Story 

Was Jesus Married?  A Religion Scholar Decodes the Clues

The Same God? Twelve Beliefs the Mormon Church Might Not Want You to Know About

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder -
Gallery | This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

67 Responses to Five Reasons to Suspect Jesus Never Existed

  1. bbnewsab says:

    Reblogged this on bbnewsblog and commented:
    The notion that Jesus never existed is still a minority position.nevertheless many Bible stories like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, remind us of mythic themes known from tales of other deities. As a matter of fact such borrowing and rework of mythic themes were not at all uncommon in the Ancient Near East region.

    So calling the gospel stories historicized mythology is actually a hypothesis that can’t be excluded or repudiated.

    In this intriguing article five arguments are listed and discussed by the author Valerie Tarico.
    The five arguments cam be summarized like this:

    1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef a.k.a.Jesus (Christ).

    2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.

    3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.

    4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.

    5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.


  2. Rick Drake says:

    Hi Valerie You may get some interesting (heated) comments on this article. Rick


  3. shatara46 says:

    Well-written synopsis. Opens up many avenues of thought – and the best question in the above is, “What put Christianity into motion?” which is simply answered, in hindsight: the “System” or “Matrix” realizing that the Roman Empire was in serious decline and a “new” power was needed to maintain, and spread, that particular Power. Another point which adds force to the fact that Jesus never existed and was invented for a definite political purpose – if not by the Romans, then by something even more all-encompassing – is the dogged Church persecution of any other “Christian” group that sought to explain Jesus, and his divinity, in ways that didn’t agree with those of the Established Roman Church. What were the “Church Fathers” afraid of? And why did Christianity, in blatant and completely violation of the “Jesus” teachings; the “divinely inspired” gospels, become a violent imperialistic secular power? Another source for those interested in questioning the historicity of Jesus is M. M. Mangasarian who wrote “The Truth about Jesus: is he a Myth?” in 1909.


  4. shatara46 says:

    Sorry, typo: should read “in blatant and complete violation…” (not “completely”)


  5. Writing from the perspective of a retired literature teacher (and former Christian), I respectfully disagree. Mythicists have overplayed their hand.

    It is true that there is little textural evidence outside of the New Testament for the historicity of Jesus. And there are numerous contradictions in the New Testament, etc. And it’s true that the texts show the influence of Hellenism.

    But mythicists’ central claim that Jesus never existed is more like a few scholars who claim that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays. Yes, it’s a possibility, and there are intriguing facts that might support this hypothesis, but most scholars disagree.

    Jesus probably did exist. There are various references to Jesus in the letters of Paul (written only 20-30 years after Jesus’s death), contrary to what mythicists say. But one mythicist gets around the strongest example in the text of Paul by claiming that the text is an interpolation by a later writer. Possibly.

    And the mythicists often argue from silence. Paul doesn’t mention such and such about Jesus like we think he would have if Jesus had been a historical figure. Possibly. But when the central hypothesis resides on such thin evidence, it would seem better to go with the consensus of scholars such as Bart Ehrman that Jesus did exist as a historical figure.

    This case is similar to the question of whether the Buddha existed or was created. Probably the former. But if a person rejects the religious texts and the transformation of society and culture (for good and ill) that followers of such alleged individuals brought about, then a person is left with agnosticism.

    As for many scholars interpreting the alleged figure of Jesus in their own image, there is a good book which shows this, The Human Christ by Charlotte Allen.


    • Ben Hanscomb says:

      I must say that your whole point was pretty much undermined by yourself when you brought up Buddha. Now, I’m no scholar, just a comic book writer with an interest in history and the true origins of various religions, but can’t your exact argument for Jesus’ historical existence be applied in the same way for Buddha? Yet you say “probably the former” about Buddha when there is just as little evidence for Jesus.
      I found it amusing.


      • ?
        That was my point; the question of whether or not Jesus and Buddha, or Socrates and many other leaders figures of the ancient past existed is a complex historical judgment made by scholars who speak the ancient languages, have spent years studying the primary texts, and who practice carefully making as objective evaluations of the meager information there is.

        My experience with many Christian apologists and with mythicists is that they primarily have an ax to grind. They try and stuff the limited information there is into their Procrustean coffin.

        My own limited educated guess (as a retired literature teacher) is that Jesus, Buddha, and Socrates all existed in some form. They weren’t created or concocted out of thin air by fiction writers of the ancient world.


    • Mythicists do not argue that Jesus didn’t exist. We argue that Jesus probably didn’t exist. This is virtually the same claim you are making: none of us knows the answer. What makes us different from historicists is that we want the discussion to focus on what we all can know and agree we know about Jesus. We cannot know anything about his allegedly “historic” life. That route is loaded with “probablies”: Jesus was probably illiterate, probably not related to David, probably a this or a that. It’s an empty landscape for real knowledge. Studying his myth is, always has been and always will be a far more productive road to knowledge and wisdom about him.

      One of the most interesting and puzzling pieces of his myth is the very early importance of having faith in his realness. It’s in the creeds. “I believe Jesus was a man.” What other “historic” figure has that imperative tied so tightly around him? What do we make of that?


      • Well, you may have a different perspective from the mythicists I’ve read or read about. They strongly emphasized that Jesus didn’t exist, that there wasn’t such a Jewish person executed by the Romans.


      • @Daniel Wilcox:
        I doubt there are many mythicists who would state with any confidence that they *know* Jesus didn’t exist. What most mythicists point out is that the historical evidence for Jesus’s existence is weak–much weaker than historicists claim–and the evidence for the Jesus we “know” and talk about being based in myth is very much stronger.

        I imagine what frustrates historicists is that we, for our part, don’t put much stock in your best arguments. What frustrates us about you guys is that you ignore our main point, which is that the Jesus we *know*–the son of God and virgin, the miracle worker, the man who rose from the dead, the one who is promised to return–is virtually entirely mythical. And those have always been the salient points about Jesus–until recently, when the probablies took over.


      • You say, “What frustrates us about you guys is that you ignore our main point, which is that the Jesus we *know*–the son of God and virgin, the miracle worker, the man who rose from the dead, the one who is promised to return–is virtually entirely mythical.”

        ? Professional historians don’t think there was a Jesus who was “the son of God and virgin…” They are limited by their historical method to what are the facts or what they can with scholarly judgment theorize from the limited facts of the past.

        Secondly, my main problem with mythicists (from the perspective of a retired literature teacher) is that the few mythicists I’ve read aren’t even good at basic textural criticism and literary interpretation! They even get some of textural facts wrong. We all make mistakes, but they make some glaring ones no scholar should make.

        And I know enough about ancient history, just from teaching world literature, to realize why historians don’t think most mythicists are correct in their interpretations.


      • My point is that the Jesus we all talk about with any confidence is mythical. When we switch to speaking about a Jesus who allegedly really existed, we are all on much shakier ground. All of us. But it seems that the historicists want us to believe the conversation is on their turf. It is not. It is entirely on the mythicist’s turf. It all involves interpreting text, which entails trying to understand why the text was written.

        Were the texts we have about Jesus intended to talk about a historical figure or a mythical one? That’s the key question here.


      • jcmmanuel says:

        “One of the most interesting and puzzling pieces of his myth is the very early importance of having faith in his realness” — No it isn’t. I mean, it certainly is for certain people but I suspect for most believers and most non-believers what hits us in the myth is exactly those elements that we recognize so easily as real (real like in “real human”, or like in “real wisdom”). Where does that come from? Most likely “some” human being. We don’t know whether that person was the supposed Jesus figure, but that’s the personality which functions as the channel to pass the message (and it is reasonable to believe that most of this channel personality was a person named Jesus etc. etc. – but this is not the most relevant part). The importance for most of us is not “his realness” but the realness AS-IS in the story – no matter whether there is this one specific “his” behind it or some other source – but the source seems so human we recognize it intuitively.

        And the reason for this recognition is of course assumedly quite simple: such figures existed, and the people who met them were usually impressed, and would write down the core principles of the teachings, or something about the qualities of this person. Because that’s what humans do when they are capable of observing wisdom.

        Just my opinion.


      • “…I suspect for most believers and most non-believers what hits us in the myth is exactly those elements that we recognize so easily as real (real like in “real human”, or like in “real wisdom”).”

        Are you saying there’s something in the stories that seems really human about Jesus and that’s what’s compelling about him? I think that is a matter of opinion. The story is pretty basic. It’s missing the majority of his life, so we really don’t get much of a sense of who he was or where he came from. Jesus collects disciples, wanders around Judaea, performs miracles, tells parables, instructs his disciples and one one occasion a giant crowd. In those parts, he doesn’t seem real human to me, but maybe that really is just me. (I mean, there’s something “real human” about a lot of fictional characters, isn’t there? What’s so amazingly real about Jesus’s adventures?)

        Parts where Jesus’s poignant humanity comes out, such as the prayer in Gethsemane or the last moments on the cross, are striking (to me) for being ones where he is supposedly alone–so how could they have been witnessed or recorded? They had to have been made up, no?

        As to the idea that extraordinary people existed and others remembered them and wrote about them… Why didn’t any eye witnesses do that? Why only people who had mystic visions of him (like Paul) or “amanuenses?” Why are all the earliest texts about him in Greek and not Aramaic?

        Lots of puzzles about that Jesus character and the authors of the first writings about him.


      • jcmmanuel says:

        “Are you saying there’s something in the stories that seems really human about Jesus and that’s what’s compelling about him? I think that is a matter of opinion.” — Yes of course it is a matter of opinion. What else would it be? If I think the Dalai Lama said something wise, it is very likely a matter of opinion, because ‘wisdom’ is something that certain people tend to discuss more than others – and some would even ridicule the whole idea of ‘wisdom’ – wanting to replace it with “scientific evidence” or some other big word. This is the thing that leads to all sorts of fierce debates – so let me just suffice to say yes, it is opinion. Or intuition. And there are no guarantees when it comes to opinion, intuition, wisdom, “daring visions” and all those things. Yet, we know that they do often work well. Because, apparently, our brain’s opinion / wisdom / intuition (etc etc) seems to outsmart our theories-about-everything. And this may be just how life works. I am, in other words, hard to push into the habit of underestimating the human mind – and this is of course regardless any such questions like “is that person a theist or not?” because in many cases what happens goes far beyond those binary divisions.


      • <>

        How can you be sure you’re not overestimating the human mind? Is it important to you to find the balance between those binaries, if you will?

        One way to interpret your response is “I trust my intuition” or “I don’t need to second guess my instincts.” Is that a fair appraisal of what you’re saying? To bring it back to the subject at hand, if intuition is enough for you on the question of Jesus’s historicity, then do you believe it should be good enough for any person asking the question, “was Jesus real?” I don’t. I think if you’re interested in an answer to the question, critical thinking should be involved. It may be that there is no truth but one’s own truth, or 7 billion truths. But I think science makes an effort to crowdsource, if you will, a truth beyond our individual kens.


    • Lithp says:

      The problem I have with the consensus of scholars is that I can’t seem to figure out why it is what it is. It’s not based on an official document, like an execution order. It’s not based on unbiased, contemporary evidence. It’s not based on the discovery of his tomb. I cannot figure out from whence this certainty is coming.

      The complaint that “mythicists,” which I never knew is what I was called until today, “have so little evidence” doesn’t make any sense to me. How do I give you evidence for the nonexistence of something? And for that matter, what makes the evidence against me so strong? I’m not seeing it.

      It is especially strange because, when you look at another story, such as Exodus, the lack of physical evidence & the problems with the chronology of the story are considered very good reason to dismiss it as a fabrication.


      • Professional historians don’t base most of their scholarly views on official documents, executive orders, or “unbiased, contemporary evidence.

        I’m not a professional historian, but I learned from some outstanding scholars at university and since who are.

        Please read extensively (from all points of view including the mythicist) on various histories. The study of ancient civilizations and its alleged leaders is difficult and takes a life time. Though I don’t agree with everything Bart Ehrman writes, he is a fine scholar. I just finished his lucid book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. Ehrman is an agnostic, while I am a theistic seeker. But Ehrman has a fine grasp of the historical method and is meticulous.


      • @Daniel Wilcox:

        While we’re recommending scholars, read Richard Carrier’s devastating critique of Ehrman’s scholarship.


      • Lithp, as to your “I cannot figure out from whence this certainty is coming”, a couple points. First, a good number of scholars who are neither Christian nor mythicists, probably don’t have “certainty”. At least Ehrman, who I agree with another commeter as being a careful, accurate scholar, I doubt uses that term, tho he does defend the historicity of a “Jesus of Nazareth” (not as Messiah, son of God, etc., though).

        I have studied the “historical Jesus” scholarship a lot, and a bit of the mythicist work. As a very progressive Christian, I can tell you that certainty is not pertinent or important for me. It doesn’t matter much to me whether Jesus is entirely a literary construction or really existed but has been distorted and embellished… “Certainly(!)” the latter is the case and possibly the former. The reason it doesn’t matter much is that it is clear we cannot know what Jesus actually said and did in any kind of detail. But that does not negate or diminish the value of many of his supposed teachings. If not his, they were those of his generation or at least the one or two following.

        And even if mythicists are correct, the core things Jesus said and did, some of which are phenomenal but not truly “miraculous”, such as healings and exorcisms, were said and done by others of his time period and location. In that sense, he would be a literary “composite character” bringing together elements of known figures. One of them with a very similar message, and who is attested outside of the New Testament, is John the Baptist. And it happens that characters like him and Peter, James (the reputed blood brother of Jesus and eventual leader of the Jerusalem Jesus followers) and others seem to be key (at least to me) in anchoring Jesus in history as an actual prophet and healer, if not a messianic claimant during his own lifetime.


  6. Christ mythicists are blinkered by confirmation bias as they promote their agenda, and some of that is seen in this post, e.g., quoting snippets from scholars out of context in order to give an erroneous impression of their viewpoints. The brief quotes in this post from scholars John Dominic Crossan and Bart Ehrman are specific illustrations of this.

    Another mistake is to give credence to the views of people like blogger David Fitzgerald, a sort of professional skeptic who has no academic credentials in the field. Richard Carrier’s education is in ancient history. His efforts at Christ mythicism have been invalidated by scholars trained in more relevant fields. Here’s one example.

    Ehrman, who is an agnostic himself, addresses the motives of Christ mythicists in the concluding chapter of his book, “Did Jesus Exist?”:

    “But neither issue–the good done in the name of Christ or the evil–is of any relevance to me as a historian when I try to reconstruct what actually happened in the past. I refuse to sacrifice the past in order to promote the worthy cause of my own social and political agenda. No one else should either. Jesus did exist, whether we like it or not.” pp. 338-9.


    • The mysthicist agenda is to get closer to the truth. What’s the historicist agenda, besides defending the status quo in theology and ancient history departments?


      • Tim O'Neill says:

        “The mysthicist agenda is to get closer to the truth.”

        Gosh. The “truth”. How remarkable. And you know this how, exactly?

        “What’s the historicist agenda, besides defending the status quo in theology and ancient history departments?”

        “Agenda” Pardon? I have no idea. What are you trying to say here?


      • I honestly don’t understand your reply. My reply was in response to your Ehrman quote. Is it really that difficult for you to understand what I’m saying? Ehrman implies that anyone who questions the historical basis of Jesus has a political agenda. That might be true for some, but it’s not true for the mythicists who are interested in probing the mysteries of early Christianity–ie, getting closer to the truth. Ehrman pretends he knows the truth, that Jesus lived whether we like it or not. He does a very poor job of showing why anyone seriously interested in the question should take his word for it. Tne best he can offer is an argument from authority: it’s true because all these scholars say it’s true. But noehter he nor any of their crowd can show why we should believe them.


      • If some mythicists have a political agenda (ans let’s not pretend no historicists do), does that justify ignoring mysthicism altogether? I’d like a serious answer to that. Ehrman implies, and you seem to agree, that it does, but that seems like sheer laziness and cowardice to me, There are different grades of mythicist arguments. RIchard Carrier is one of the harshest critics of “bad mythicism,” and he is one of the best-educated, most qualified mythicists around, His arguments deserve a careful reading and response, but the best Ehrman seems to be able to manage is to try to dismiss all mythicism because of its least adept proponents.

        Mythicism is not a faith, but historicism surely is,. Carrier is trying to apply the tools of scientific and philosophical historical analysis to get at the mysteries–by which I mean the unresolved, unknown details–of the early church. This is what historicists should also be doing, but they don’t seem any better able to get closer to the truth behind those mysteries than they have since the enlightenment made Christianity as apt a subject for unbiased study as any other, It’ s the same minuscule number of shaky extra-Biblical references, the same contradictory gospels and apocrypha. Once in a while, some Israeli archaeologist claims to have found Jesus’s or his brother’s tomb and riles up Huffington Post Religion commenters for a while before having to concede that a great deal of faith is required to think it’s *that* Yeshua or his brother, given the great number of Yeshua’s there were in 1st century Palestine.

        As you’re defending Ehrman’s scholarship, why don’t you share with me his best argument for the historicity of Jesus. I’d appreciate your help there.


    • Tim O'Neill says:

      “My reply was in response to your Ehrman quote.”

      Someone else’s Ehrman quote, actually.

      “Ehrman implies that anyone who questions the historical basis of Jesus has a political agenda. ”

      Ehrman notes, correctly. that many Mythicists have an ideological agenda. This is one of the reasons objective analysts have good reason to suspect their arguments are skewed. And that’s even before we analyse them and find they are tendentious crap.

      “it’s not true for the mythicists who are interested in probing the mysteries of early Christianity–ie, getting closer to the truth.”

      Try this on for size: “It’s not true for those believers in Jesus Christ our blessed Lord who are interested in probing the mysteries of early Christianity–ie, getting closer to the truth”. Does that work for you?

      “He does a very poor job of showing why anyone seriously interested in the question should take his word for it.”

      Explain in detail why this leading scholar in the field “does a very poor job” of making his case, according to you.

      ” The best he can offer is an argument from authority”

      That’s complete garbage.


    • Tim O'Neill says:

      “If some mythicists have a political agenda (ans let’s not pretend no historicists do), does that justify ignoring mysthicism altogether? ”

      It justifies being highly sceptical of their objectivity.

      “the best Ehrman seems to be able to manage is to try to dismiss all mythicism because of its least adept proponents. ”

      Garbage. He actually makes a point of differentiating between the New Age crackpot mythicists and ones like Carrier and Doherty.

      “Mythicism is not a faith, but historicism surely is”

      How the hell is historicism “a faith”?

      “Carrier is trying to apply the tools of scientific and philosophical historical analysis to get at the mysteries”

      Carrier is trying to justify his a priori conclusion. An ideologically driven one. He is the very worst kind of historian – one with an agenda.

      “As you’re defending Ehrman’s scholarship, why don’t you share with me his best argument for the historicity of Jesus. I’d appreciate your help there.”

      There’s a confluence of evidence around James, who is referred to as Jesus’ brother. We have a reference to him in Galatians 1:19 where Paul mentions meeting him. And we have a reference to him by his younger contemporary Josephus. It’s difficult for people to meet the brother of a man who didn’t exist. The Mythicist attempts at trying to make this evidence go away are pathetic.


      • Neil Godfrey says:

        Ah, good ol’ Timmie O’Neill again.

        “It justifies being highly sceptical of their objectivity.”

        Scepticism is very good, Tim. Pity you don’t seem to exercise it in relation to the views of an academy acknowledged by many of its members to be so predominantly grounded in theological bias. Also a pity you don’t exercise true scepticism in relation to mythicism: scoffing and dismissal is just silliness, not genuine scepticism.

        “Garbage. He actually makes a point of differentiating between the New Age crackpot mythicists and ones like Carrier and Doherty.”

        Nice sleight of hand again — twisting the meaning of the original claim. Of course Ehrman differentiates between Murdock and Carrier. But that was not the point being made now, was it. And we’ve seen how even his treatment of Carrier and Doherty in som many places indicated he had never even read more than a few snippets of their works.

        “How the hell is historicism “a faith”?”

        Again a nice twisting of the original statement’s meaning. Of course there is the philosophical “historicism” but we all know that in this context we are talking about the assumption of Jesus being historical. And of course it’s a faith. It’s the very foundation of the Christian religion. Even Dennis Nineham acknowledged this way back. Much else is ad hoc striving to justify this faith in terms of “historical inquiry”.

        “Carrier is trying to justify his a priori conclusion. An ideologically driven one. He is the very worst kind of historian – one with an agenda.”

        You clearly haven’t read OHJ. But what, pray tell, does any historian without any agenda at all look like?

        “There’s a confluence of evidence around James, who is referred to as Jesus’ brother. We have a reference to him in Galatians 1:19 where Paul mentions meeting him. And we have a reference to him by his younger contemporary Josephus. It’s difficult for people to meet the brother of a man who didn’t exist. The Mythicist attempts at trying to make this evidence go away are pathetic.”

        Hoo boy, you parrot the same old mantras without any attempt to apply sceptical analysis to any alternative arguments yet again, and again…. Historians, Tim, are meant to first apply critical analysis to their source documents. I invite you to critically engage with the points set out in this respect at Putting James the Brother of the Lord to a Bayesian Test” — but only one rule, the one you have always found too hard to comply with till now- – you cannot resort to foul language or insult in your reply.


      • Tim O'Neill says:

        “Pity you don’t seem to exercise it in relation to the views of an academy acknowledged by many of its members to be so predominantly grounded in theological bias.”

        Total nonsense. The scholars I tend to find most useful are the ones who are non-believers. This is precisely because I *am* just as sceptical of those who have religious agendas as I am of your Myther mates.

        “Also a pity you don’t exercise true scepticism in relation to mythicism: scoffing and dismissal is just silliness, not genuine scepticism.”

        Huffing and puffing as usual Neil.

        “But that was not the point being made now, was it. ”

        Yes, actually, it was.

        “Of course there is the philosophical “historicism” but we all know that in this context we are talking about the assumption of Jesus being historical. ”

        And that was exactly what I was referring to by the word “historicism”. Try to keep up Neil.

        “It’s the very foundation of the Christian religion.”

        So how the hell is my completely non-religious acceptance that a historical Jesus “faith”?

        “You clearly haven’t read OHJ.”

        I have. Unfortunately.

        “But what, pray tell, does any historian without any agenda at all look like? ”

        Not like Tricky Dicky Carrier.

        ” I invite you to critically engage with the points set out in this respect at Putting James the Brother of the Lord to a Bayesian Test””

        I invite you to grasp the fact that Bayes’ Theorem can’t be used in that, other than to wrap some prior assumptions in numbers for the bamboozlement of the historically illiterate. Which is why Carrier’s clunky book on the subject sank without trace. This why Tricky Dicky remains an unemployed nobody out there on the whacky fringe. Though he may have to get a job now that his long-suffering wife has found out about his extramarital shenanigans and divorced him. Given that his academic career has crashed and burned, he may end up flipping burgers, poor man.


  7. Newly discovered ancient historical documents, recently unearthed in a cave in the Sinai desert, reveal the origin of Christianity. I’ve excerpted a translation of the relevant part:

    “Oh, come on! No sober sane adult will buy this preposterous story, Yeshua. It’s riddled with contradiction and defies common sense.”

    “You underestimate people’s gullibility, Isaac. They so desperately want to believe that they’ll swallow any absurdity.”

    “Okay, smart guy. How about a bet? Afraid to put your money where your mouth is?”

    “You’re on, Isaac.”

    The speculation is the loser had to shave off his eyebrows, but there’s no historical confirmation.


  8. shatara46 says:

    What an amazing coincidence, Mark. A copy of the identical manuscript was found by hikers in a cave here, under Mount Cheam, near Chilliwack, B.C., Canada some five months ago. Of course, this being severe bible belt country, the find was quickly censored and the evidence disappeared. The two hikers who found the manuscript have also disappeared. Despite the constant fear of discovery, those who heard first hand about this have continued to meet secretly to discuss the matter. Some have come to a final conclusion: Jesus was a native shaman who walked north through what is now Alaska, crossed the ice bridge into Siberia and finally ended up in Palestine where he did some magical healings with eagle feather, spoke in alien tongues and had a strange liking for salmon – which was hard to get from the Mediterranean sea. But this matters little. What’s important is that we now know for a fact that Jesus was neither blond nor blue-eyed.


  9. mriana says:

    Great article, Valerie. As Robert Price once said on one of the podcasts he was on once, “if Jesus ever existed, he’s too buried in myth to find.”


    • That, I think, is the real bottom line.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Does this mean you think no Jewish figure told the story of the “good Samaritan” or the “lost coin,” etc.? Someone must have written that humans should forgive their enemies, even if his name wasn’t Jesus (“loving your national enemies isn’t a not a popular idea even now, and wasn’t the perspective of most Jewish leaders in the Roman period).

        Just asking for clarification, as I don’t understand your view of history.
        Another example:
        There may have been no historic Buddha named Siddhartha–interesting historical question also–but someone, whatever his name did start the idea of the 4 Noble Truths.


  10. Allan Avery says:

    Wow. Defenders of the “Reality of Jesus” found this one fast. Here’s my opinion of the reality here, (my “tentative” opinion, as always, while the Physical and Cosmology Scientists continue their pursuit of reality): The words of Professor Bart Ehrman in original A.P. Post, and other “Pro-Mythologists” (sp?) carry more weight. The mythical origin, extension and elaboration of ALL Religions, from their most primative pre-beginnings, is a much more plausible account of the Homo species experience. From the earliest, “dawn of self-aware,” pre- Homo species. Attempting to understand their surroundings, and the natural world of which they knew next to nothing of “how-it-works.” In order to attempt to gain some psychic sense of control over their existance. Their safety, and survival. And then steadily morphing over a hundred thousand years, before the advent of the earliest “scientific” inquiry. I believe that Homo Sapien history must be viewed in it’s dependence, over all that time, upon all of the now-emerged and rapidly advancing, and all interdependent, sciences. Ancient written accounts of “historical events” which lack any means of current analysis and confirmation within known the parameters of the natural world, might well be discounted. Should there prove to be any “God-like Higher Power,” or any other as yet undiscovered additional particles, waves, forces, fields, energies, etc., we wait untill if/when found. Go Science! Strictly neutral, honest and unbaised, pure and applied Science. (Meanwhile let’s act like we’re on our own to figure out how to survive, and live together peacefully.)


    • jcmmanuel says:

      Science is not neutral at all – for one thing because a number of atheists attempt to make it look like science works best when you’re atheist. And with this I don’t agree (as an atheist).

      I don’t know what you mean with “defenders of the reality of Jesus” but it is not unreasonable to assume that the Jews were writing about something real. There may have been a Jesus, which has then become mythologized (and exaggerated). Even if the real events were much smaller than what most events become once they are being embedded in a grand story of mythic proportions – it would still have a “reality of Jesus” to a good historian who distinguishes reality from myth according to the rules of historical research. But I guess we agree on that one.


      • Lithp says:

        I don’t know anyone who says that science works best when you’re an atheist. Or, at least, nobody with more than a basic high school level of scientific literacy. I would claim that:

        1. If one informs their beliefs from science, not speculation, then believing in a god–an inherently unproven & perhaps even unfalsifiable entity–makes no sense.

        2. Science works best when religion is not involved. You can BE a Christian & still do science, but the moment you start trying to base your theories on the existence of a soul, for instance, you’re practicing pseudoscience. Unless you can show that souls actually EXIST, of course.

        But my question is why? Given Claim 1, & the fact that inserting your theology into research generally doesn’t work out, why continue believing in it?

        Also, you say it’s not unreasonable to assume that the Jews were writing about something real. Why not? A number of Biblical stories are considered to be complete myth by scholars, including Genesis & Exodus. What makes Jesus so special?


  11. shatara46 says:

    Probably due to the vast number of people who believe in Jesus, this topic is… always topical! For believers, there is, and never will be, any possibility but that Jesus exists; that he is the Son of God and that God sent him to earth as Saviour of man, that is, of all who believe in him (whatever that translates as, past the first emotional outburst of “belief” that comes by whatever means.) So, to move away from theologians, scientists, researchers, writers of history, pseudo-history and fiction, why not look inside the individual, since ultimately all this is about an individual, not group, or groups. Salvation (real or imagined) is an individual choice simply because each one of us dies alone and faces the whatever completely alone.
    So, I choose me to speak for the individual. When very young – pre-puberty – I made a personal decision to dedicate my life to God and in my religious upbringing that was only through Jesus Christ. That was my stated purpose, if to no one but myself. I was quite well versed in the New Testament, particularly in the gospels, and I understood that such a purpose could not come about without help. And that was no problem: all the help I would need was clearly stated by Jesus: I would receive the in-filling of the Holy Spirit and I would possess the same powers Jesus did, and indeed more so. Divine promises cannot be broken after all. So I proceeded with my faith that I too would be granted to power to do miracles, just as Jesus did. My child-like confidence was unshakeable. I could not be wrong… and I could not have been more wrong.
    Predictably, nothing happened. No meditation, prayer, pleading, bouts of asceticism or dedication to this or that church enterprise either bent God’s ear, or brought him to action on my behalf. I experienced the Great Silence of the Almighty.
    Well, so God does lie, I determined for myself. Did that mean I should also lie to myself and become religious instead of spiritual? For to “do” church after being spurned by God seemed contradictory. As soon as I was old enough, I left the church. But I did not leave what I had learned about acceptance, compassion, sharing, caring. These thoughts were part of my original purpose. I changed from serving God to serving mankind – and nature (as an environmentalist). In other words, over the years I discovered personal choice and self-empowerment. I don’t need any god in my life, though I know full well “gods” exist, always will and continue to re-surface in many guises. For example, the new god of this age is science. Despite all the horrors done to this world by science through sold-out scientists, people are pushing this as the new way to believe, as does Mr. Avery. Yes, man must have his gods, his “Powers” over him. He can’t visualize going it strictly alone, believing all things, believing IN nothing. Yet such must be man’s future, so he may navigate the endless shoals put up to encompass him by ever-rising gods, transformed on the surface but always the same Powers.
    Quote from Mr. Avery: “Meanwhile let’s act like we’re on our own to figure out how to survive, and live together peacefully.” Indeed, but let’s do this as self-empowered beings, in control of their own volition, not as slaves of, or believers in, this or that “new” Power.


  12. Interesting issues are raised whenever this topic is treated. I spent many years as an Evangelical Christian, and theologically trained. After a period of being a “spiritual but not religious” believer in a pan-en-theist kind of God (not typical theism but not pantheism… sort of between), I have aligned back with very progressive Christianity. So I don’t have emotion around Jesus’ actual existence.

    But I don’t believe the small group still (it was formerly more common) holding to Jesus being entirely mythological have nearly as strong a case as that for the existence of Jesus. However, it’s valid that we can’t know very much about the historical person.

    I have to also concur with “thebirdsofappetite” above that it isn’t quite fair to quote Ehrman in an indirect way of supporting the mythicist case. He goes out of his way to disagree with it and effectively counter it (in my view). So do various other historians who are NOT Christians or even former Christians (which Ehrman repeatedly admits he was, and discusses it). What the lack of secular and/or historical references to Jesus shows is mainly that his movement was NOT of major notice or social significance until after the 1st century. HOWEVER, Josephus, around 90 C.E., does make at least one ref. to Jesus and possibly two. The one less disputable (as to manuscript corruption) merely identifies “James” as bro. of Jesus, and does not seem to mean only that he was said to be a brother though was not… taken together with New Testament evidence, it appears he was a blood brother, and that Josephus probably rightly knew or discovered this. (He was Jewish himself, and a Jewish defender though turned, after capture as a rebel leader, into a Roman employee but still Jewish “apologist”.)

    Another less-obvious and indirect evidence for Jesus’ existence is John the Baptist…. Josephus gives more on him than on the disputed Jesus passage (not the James one). John seems clearly historical and partly contemporaneous with Jesus, although he also has little note aside from Josephus and the New Testament. So while the NT obviously muddles and probably misguides us re. the relationship of John and Jesus, their juxtaposition does lend historical credence to Jesus’ existence (among many lines of evidence I don’t find the mythicists to explain away adequately).


  13. Perry says:

    When I was a fundamentalist believer without any critical thinking skills, I heard the claim that the Bible contradicted itself and I just did not believe it. I was completely blinded by faith. The only contradiction I could ever recognize was a blatant one, in Proverbs 26: 4 & 5. Although I read the whole bible several times, parts of it many times, and memorized large sections of it, I really had no real understanding of what I was reading. That’s one reason why I was able to be manipulated with it.

    I am convinced today that if I had encountered Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” when I was sixteen in the 60s, or someone brave enough to give me a similar message, before manipulative missionaries got hold of my mind, his insights would have saved me from a 20-year Christian nightmare.


  14. Here are some of the arguments/evidences in favor of a historical kernel, provided by commenter Vasu Murti at

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

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

    Sound familiar?

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

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

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

    Dr. Larson writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    • shatara46 says:

      A noble effort but it fails to re-ignite my fire. I find the article contradictory and misleading. Personally I no longer care whether there was a historical Jesus or not. If there was, what possible difference does that make to history and the impossible impasse the followers of his myth have come to? Modern Christianity bears not the least resemblance to what the rag-tag group of pre-Pauline brainwashing was, as per the book of the Acts of the Apostles. The same argument can be used with landing on the moon. Did the Americans land people on the moon who then came back to tell about it? Was the “evidence” created in a studio, Hollywood style, or did it in fact happen? Most people will immediately scream their outrage that anyone should dare question this historical event, despite the fact that no technology existed in 1969 to make this “historical event” possible. I’ve heard people say their very lives would be destroyed if they had to admit the moon landings were faked by NASA. That’s faith; that’s religion, pure and simple. But that’s not the closing of the argument. It simply does not matter unless, in some very real way, the moon landings made this world a better place for all to live in. Unless that particular bit of science proved itself to have been beneficial to not only mankind as a whole, but to all life on earth. Now backtrack that to Jesus: did his passage really make this world into a better place for all, or was it all for naught? What has Christianity accomplished historically that anyone can point to it and say, certainly such a movement had to originate with a truly divine, compassionate leader. Billions of believers, most of which fear and hate their “competitors” and are involved in every sort of corruption they decry from their pulpits and books. That’s what “believers” should be looking at, but cannot because they are brainwashed and blinded by their unquestioning faith into their comfortable pews, blinders and lies. Whatever the historical truth regarding Jesus, it remains that Christianity, the only real evidence of his doings, is a blatant lie, completely false and contrary to all the gospel teachings of its pretend leader. That’s the problem.


      • Shantara, I agree with you in part… that Jesus’ historicity may well be of little actual significance (though clearly established historically…. with the major problem that the history is impossibly mixed with the mythology). Your issue seems to lie mainly with any/all organized religion (with possible exception of Buddhism, among the top several world religions?).

        Now, one area (of a few) I can’t go as far as you do: “Christianity” can’t be treated as a unified whole, which it clearly is far from. Your comment re. Christians being “… brainwashed… by their unquestioning faith…”, etc. fits some Xns but definitely NOT all….In fact, the main forces fighting against the very things you rightly object to come from within Xnty… “higher critical” scholars, church leaders, etc., with often very progressive orientation and HIGH critical thinking skills… even relative to “secular” historians and other disciplines.

        Then one must combine that discerning kind of approach with the not-so-obvious positives of participation in a faith community. They are significant! Besides the personal benefits often gained (longevity, better mental and emotional health… overall, with some MAJOR exceptions, such as Valerie, myself, and many others point out, etc.), there ARE social plusses… again, often not so obvious. But Xn faith often IS part of the motivating force that pushes people and helps them organize for social justice and progress.


    • Thanks for adding this, Valerie. The parts about the historical linkages and what has to be denied or unreasonably contorted to deny any historical Jesus are well summarized. Also, the elaboration on Josephus and his mentions of John the Baptist, James the Just and Jesus… important points. It’s important to pay attention to careful scholars as Larson appears to be, and others such as Ehrman, who don’t have a “dog in the fight”.

      It may be hard for some hurt by Xnty or generally skeptical in all regards about Christian faith to grasp this, but there are at least a fair percentage of us progressive Christians who really DO follow the truth wherever it leads…. And can even imagine accepting the non-existence of an historical Jesus, without having to abandon all aspects of Christian faith. (But then some of this group, like me, are not traditional theists or “supernaturalists”.) We just believe there are more viable options than two: theism or atheism, supernaturalism or pure (“scientific, materialistic”) naturalism. For anyone willing to engage with some careful, detailed scientific/philosophical/theological thought, Process theology is probably the leading additional option. Not to say it is highly technical or difficult to grasp, basically. But the approach of the vast majority today works against the kind of sustained careful building of definitions, categories and tentative models that it takes to make some consistent patterns for one’s world-and-life-view. But I can say that the results are very satisfying and stimulating!


  15. Sorry, I just noticed I misspelled the name you post under, Shatara.


  16. Tim O'Neill says:

    “He points out that for centuries all serious scholars of Christianity were Christians themselves, and modern secular scholars lean heavily on the groundwork that they laid in collecting, preserving, and analyzing ancient texts. ”

    The idea that this has somehow paralyzed all but a tiny number of fringe scholars, who could be counted on the fingers of one hand, is absolutely absurd. Virtually no scholars of any kind accept the Jesus Myth thesis because of its many flaws, not because of some monolithic hold that Christianity has over the field.

    “Even today most secular scholars come out of a religious background, and many operate by default under historical presumptions of their former faith.”

    Yet this is the same Fitzgerald who tries to make an argument based on the great variety of interpretations about Jesus, most of which are completely at odds with any form of Christianity. So why are these scholars so ready to posit a Jesus who is a magician, a Stoic sage, a hasid or an apocalyptic preacher but not one who didn’t exist at all? This “default” excuse doesn’t make sense. Modern scholars are regularly taken to task by evangelical apologists for precisely the opposite idea: readily accepting versions of Jesus which are decidedly not orthodox Christian in any way. The idea that they would be open to so many other ideas about Jesus but closed to this one out of rigid orthodoxy is silly. It’s just Fitzgerald’s way of waving aside the awkward fact that, apart from his “mentor and hero” (his words) Richard Carrier, Rob Price and about two or three others, the Jesus Myth idea has zero credibiity in scholarly circles.

    “A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity.’

    Several other commenters have already pointed out that this claim is not supported by anything in the article. The number of scholars who accept this fringe idea has stayed about the same for many years, and consists of the usual suspects, including several who just happen to be anti-Christian activists. That last detail is another reason why the objectivity of this small group is not highly regarded.

    Then to take the “Five Reasons” in order:

    1. We also have no first century evidence for almost all analogous figures – first century Jewish preachers, prophets and Messianic claimants. Given that this is the case, then we have about as much evidence for someone like Jesus as we would expect. So why is this a reason to think he *didn’t* exist? This makes no sense.

    2. This one has very little force, given that we have much later epistles like those of Paul by Christians who clearly *did* believe in all the things we find in the gospels yet they make even less reference to the earthly Jesus’ life. Read 1Clement or 2Clement and you’ll find none of the things this argument seems to somehow expect or require in a pastoral epistle, yet the writers of those documents definitely believed in a historical Jesus and knew the gospels. So this is a matter of genre and context. The fact remains that Paul does refer to an earthly, historical Jesus, refers to teachings by him which are reflected in the gospels, says he was a Jew and a human being as well as having a heavenly pre-existence and says he met his friend and his brother. All that makes it clear that he was not talking about some purely celestial being or mythic figure. This one fails as well.

    3. This is pretty weak. Very few of our ancient sources are first hand accounts” – virtually none in fact. If we decided that anyone who isn’t attested in first hand accounts didn’t exist then we’d end up with an ancient Mediterranean that was virtually uninhabited. Which is patently absurd. This is a typical Mythicist tactic – raise the bar of evidence absurdly high given the nature of ancient source material, ignoring the implications for any other ancient figure. Fail.

    4. Also weak. To expect any group of ancient sources on a single subject to be totally consistent is ridiculous. I’ve examined multiple sources on the Battle of the Teutoburgerwald and on the destruction of the Serapeum, just to name two examples. They contradict each other on many key issues. Does this mean these things never happened? Of course not. On the contrary, in the case of the gospels, some of the contradictions indicate that the gospel writers were having trouble shoehorning the historical Jesus into expectations about the Messiah. The birth narratives contradict each other because they take two different tacks to “explain” how someone from Nazareth came to be born in Bethlehem. The four accounts of the Baptism of Jesus contradict each other by dealing with the awkward fact of Jesus being baptised by someone who was supposed to be inferior to him in different ways. These and other contradictions indicate a historical figure being (awkwardly) retrofitted into expectations, not expectations giving rise to a mythic figure.

    5. And this one is just ridiculous. Scholars disagreeing with each other? Gosh. Go to any humanities department, raise any topic with more than three scholars present and watch the wildly differing interpretations fly. Welcome to academia. But it’s also a bit rich for the Mythicist fringe to make this argument given the rich variety of “mythic Jesus” theories on their side of the fence. Which non-existent Jesus do you want? Doherty and Carrier’s sub-lunar celestial Jesus? How about “Acharya S” and her “astrotheological” pagan hybrid Jesus? Or R.G. Price’s Jewish Messianic archetype Jesus? Then there’s Atwill’s “the Romans made him up” Jesus, Carotta’s “he was a Jewish form of the Julius Caesar cult” Jesus and even a “Constantine and Eusebius invented the whole first four centuries of Christianity wholesale” Jesus. Given the fact that there is almost as many different mythic Jesus theories as there are Jesus Mythicists, this “argument” is pretty ironic.

    And that’s it? They are the “five reasons to suspect Jesus never existed”? I think we can see why this idea is off on the fringe and has zero traction with any leading scholars.


    • One thing we can take from a thorough analysis of a given case (like the mythicist one of the article), such as you nicely provide here is this: When one wants to show the problems in a commonly assumed picture, such as the Gospels being basically historical, one should be careful NOT to overstate or “throw out the baby with the bathwater”. Such an approach may please or convince a few but in the long run, it is likely to defeat its own purpose.


    • Your arguments would have been more credible to me had you not assumed the veracity of the gospel stories. To assume the existence of a historical Jesus is one thing; to assume the existence of a historical gospel is another matter.


      • Tim O'Neill says:

        Your arguments would have been more credible to me had you not assumed the veracity of the gospel stories.

        I don’t assume any such thing, so I have absolutely no idea what on earth you’re talking about.

        to assume the existence of a historical gospel is another matter.

        What the hell is a “historical gospel”?


      • My bad, I misunderstood your argument #4. By historical gospel I meant a gospel based on history.


      • Tim O'Neill says:

        My argument #4 could be misconstrued I suppose. I believe very little in the gospels is reliably historical, though some elements give an indication that they are and many others at least could be. But no-one with any understanding of historiography takes any ancient source at face value anyway, particularly not obviously polemical ones that are clearly at least partially symbolic like the gospels.

        But to conclude, as Fitzgerald does, that unless they are consistent the whole thing has zero historical basis is absurd. And evidence of his incompetence as an analyst, even as a amateur one. As I said, look at multiple ancient accounts about anything or anyone and you find serious discrepancies, and often elements which are mutually exclusive. Did the Battle of the Teutoburgerwald last one day or four? Was Varus a noble hero or a bumbling incompetent? Did the Romans counter-attack or didn’t they? I depends on which account you read. This is the case for many or even most ancient sources, but to reject any event or person who we find attested this way as somehow “mythical” is absurd.


  17. The link from “rework mythic themes” goes to an earlier post with a question as a title: “Easter: Was the Risen Jesus Originally Female?”

    The answer to that question is emphatically “no.”

    There is no historical link between the goddesses “Easter” and “Ishtar”.
    There is no evidence that a goddess named “Easter” existed *at all*. The Venerable Bede is the first source to mention such a goddess in a short paragraph on the fact that the Anglo Saxon calendar had a month called Eosturmonath in it.
    Bede was very likely *guessing* this was the case. He admits as much in his discussion of another month “Modranecht” – he had no first-hand knowledge of pagan England.
    There is no evidence for a cognate goddess in other Germanic countries. Jacob Grimm made a bunch of things up in the 19th century in the service of Nationalism, but it was all slightly desperate nonsense.
    There is no etymological link between the month “Eostur” and the goddess “Ishtar”.
    Eostur either means “East” – as in: the dawn month – or “opening” – as in: budding flowers.


    • Greetings–The article is not about the Anglo Saxon goddess “Easter” but about the Sumerian/Akkadian goddess Ishtar, and not about the name of our holiday but about the fundamental mythic structure of the dying and rising god. It is an entirely different question.


  18. Pingback: The Genre of the Gospels | Stepping Toes

  19. Just to clarify: I have no expertise in evaluating the arguments of antiquities scholars, and I’m no insider to their methods. The article came out of a conversation with Dave Fitzgerald in which I was simply fascinated with the fact that this debate exists, and why.

    My tendency generally is to defer to the preponderance of the relevant experts–knowing full well that sometimes paradigm shifts do happen. I also winced, btw, when the one phrase AlterNet and Salon chose to emphasize was “growing number.” I think that it may be factually true but it implies a shift in consensus that simply doesn’t exist at this point.


    • Andrew Henry says:

      But this is the point David Fitzgerald is not an “expert”. He is a self-trained, self-published amateur. I tutor a class in early Christian history (although my real training is in Classical Roman history). I use two books to highlight pseudo-scholarship. One is McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” and the other is Fitzgerald’s “Nailed”. A basic check on his credentials and who published his book should raise alarms over whether he should be given space in a conventional media outlet, let alone be given the epithet (as you have just done again) “expert”. Words mean things, and apparently your article has made his book jump to #1 in the atheist category on Amazon. This is not helpful for a well-informed atheist movement. I am sure that on your own areas of expertise you are competent. We can all be taken in by people who spin fine-sounding arguments and have a pleasant and congenial manner,.but this is why free thought and logical thinking exist to help people mediate such dangers :)


    • Valerie, I think you are too self-deprecating here. You may not have technical in-house knowledge of the methods (and lang. tools, etc.) of antiquities scholars. But your psychology PhD and considerable knowledge of Christian history and theology, the Bible, etc., definitely gives you insights and some basis for discernment.

      But I do appreciate knowing the stimulus for the post…. didn’t see AlterNet or Salon’s comments, but sounds like they fell to “journalism speak”. Without being a full insider with true expertise, I keep up a bit on such issues and the “growing number” I doubt is much of a trend. The mythicist view was pretty well tried out and found wanting roughly a century ago… a few decades on either side. Yes, there have been advances since, esp. around discovery of the Nag Hammadi docs (1945/6) and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947-53 or so). But nothing there or in other discoveries or advances of analysis adds anything supportive of the mythicist case, that I’m aware.

      Rather, the consensus for the existence of Jesus historically has grown much stronger. The real rub is in separating myth from history and in understanding what the earliest disciples and the “Twelve Apostles” really believed about Jesus. Among the few things that seem clear is that both they and Paul (who often disagreed and contested things with them) expected the “appearance/presence” (what moderns think of as “return” or “second coming” or “rapture”) of Messiah, Jesus, within the very near future. Even the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 C.E. didn’t fully change this for the succeeding generation of believers, but it certainly began to. And all the NT aside from probably 7 (possibly 9) “genuine” letters of Paul was written right about 70 (Mark, possibly) or a number of years after. So the historical Jesus, already mythologized before the war, quickly got disguised in substantial myth-development and theological invention.


  20. Andrew Henry says:

    Apologies for issuing another comment (!), but you quote Ehrman as if he believes that the argument that no pagan contemporary source mentions Jesus is a useful one over whether he existed or not. Here is what he says on it:

    “The absence of eyewitness accounts would be relevant if, and only if, we had reason to suspect that we should have eyewitness reports if Jesus really lived. That, however, is far from the case. Think again of our earlier point of comparison, Pontius Pilate. Here is a figure who was immensely significant in every way to the life and history of Palestine during the adult life of Jesus (assuming Jesus lived), politically, economically, culturally, socially. As I have indicated, there was arguably no one more important. And how many eyewitnesses reports of Pilate do we have from his day? None. Not a single one. The same is true of Josephus. And these are figures who were of the highest prominence in their own day..[in fact[ from Roman Palestine of the entire first century we have precisely one, only one, author of literary texts whose works have survived [Josephus…] We have no others” p.49 and later “So would we expect eyewitness accounts about Jesus if he had lived? How could we possibly expect them? The one and only Palestinian author of books of any kind that we have was an author (Josephus) who was born several years after Jesus died”. p.50 Ehrman “Did Jesus Exist” HarperOne (2012).


  21. These three interesting pieces discuss how mainstream scholars view the authorship and nature of the canonical gospels, how they differ from histories written during the same period, and why the number of copies doesn’t increase their credibility: “The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure – Jesus Christ – to confirm the faith of their communities.” and this: ;

    This site provides numerous scholarly references for the mythicist position:
    And this one offers a fascinating window into the history of the debate:


    • Thanks for providing these links. Matthew Ferguson is a fine scholar, his prose is clear, and his analysis was a very good review for me of what I learned years ago but am a bit rusty on now (Besides Ferguson went to UCI where my wife also went–great university:-)

      My question is why you think the mythicists might be correct, when most fine scholars such as Ferguson do state they aren’t mythicists.

      Ferguson and other textural critics are very careful with the ancient texts. In contrast, when faced with a NT text which doesn’t agree with their mythicism, mythicists resort to what seems to me very poor reasoning. (I wouldn’t have let my students get by with such twisting of texts!) Or they argue from silence.


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

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

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

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tim O'Neill says:

        ” … they are serious and rigorous in their approach”

        Serious, they certainly are. Polemicists with an ideological agenda usually are. “Rigorous”? Few scholars who have looked at their arguments would agree with that one. They certainly work hard to create an illusion of rigor, but Fitzgerald, in particular, is demonstrably sloppy.

        “To my mind, in other words, psychological and social mechanism exist that would make the mythicist position feasible.”

        No arguments there. But merely “feasible” doesn’t get you very far in the study of actual history. Lots of things are merely “feasible” – a historian works to analyse what is the most likely explanation of the evidence they have, working toward what is called “the argument to the best explanation”. The problem with the Mythicist position is not that it is infeasible, it’s that it requires too many ad hoc work arounds and suppostions to keep it propped up. First it has to work hard to make some pretty clear references to a historical Jesus in Josephus Ant. XVIII.3.4 and XX.9.1 and in Tacitus Annals XV.44 go away, usually by some highly contrived arguments about interpolations. Then they have to radically reinterpret a range of references in the Pauline material that seem to be pretty clearly about a recent historical Jesus known to people Paul knew, to make them say things other than they seem to say. So a clear reference to Jesus being “born of a woman” (Galatians4:4) has to be made to mean something else, even though this is a common Jewish circulocutory phrase meaning “a man, a human being”. And a clear reference to Jesus being a descendant of King David (Romans 1:3) also has to be reworked. As does a reference to Paul meeting James “the brother of the Lord” (Galatians 1:19).

        On top of all this, the Mythicists must not only make these references to a historical Jesus disappear, they also have to come up with an alternative way that the idea of a historical Jesus arose in the first place if there was no historical Jesus. This usually involves a series of suppositions about some form of proto-Christianity that believed in a purely mythic/celestial/allegorical/fictional Jesus, hung around long enough to give rise to an offshoot that came to believe this figure actually existed and then vanished. Without trace. Since there is zero record of any such form of early Christianity, despite a wealth of information about other rivial forms of Christianity in early Patristic literature and in surviving texts from these rival faiths, Mythicist then has to descend into conpiracy theory to explain the total absence of its supposed mythic proto-Christianity from the historical record.

        It’s usually at this point that even the most open-minded but objective analyst tends to realise that Mythicism just doesn’t stand up to Occam’s Razor. That there was a historical Jewish preacher who was elevated to the status of Messiah and then, post mortem, to divine status simply fits the evidence better, doesn’t require any ad hoc excision of evidence and doesn’t need to be propped up with evidence-free suppositions and conspiracy theories. It is the most parsimonious read on the evidence.

        I detail the flaws in the Mythicist case and the reasons a historical Jesus makes more sense in my article Did Jesus Exist? – The Jesus Myth Theory, Again. The question of how much of the traditions and stories about Jesus are later accretions, symbolic, allegorical and theological is another question entirely. But a historical Jewish apocalyptic preacher fits the evidence best. A mythic/celestial/fictional one does not fit it well at all.


  22. Pingback: Do You Believe? | Static

  23. Tom Mullen says:

    Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy wrote the best books I’ve read on this subject: The Jesus Mysteries: Was the Original Jesus a Pagan God and The Lost Goddess. I highly recommend reading them both, in that order, to anyone interested.


    • Tim O'Neill says:

      “Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy wrote the best books I’ve read on this subject”

      Seriously? Then you really need to read more books. Freke and Gandy are a joke.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s