This Jesus Fellow

Jesus: the man that never was

(This sketch not only compliments but also contains some bleed-over text from an earlier post, Jesus: Facts, Fiction, and Metafiction)

Christianity has a problem: it’s dying, dying rapidly by all indications, and although its retreat into obscurity will be retarded in the more deeply superstitious corners of our planet the next generation or two born into industrialised nations will see its influence fade, its landholdings contract and its more vocal apologists become the subject of parody until the religion itself is eventually filed away on the same bookshelf as Mithraism.

The unravelling of this once ‘great’ religion will continue at an ever increasing pace as assuredly as wheels roll and office towers don’t not because it’ll be superseded by some newer religion decreed by some future emperor, because the folly and contradictions of the bible can no longer be tolerated by rational, reasonable people, because absurd notions of a personal God evaporate, or because of some natural repulsion to the ignorant edicts issued from its pulpits. These will all be helpful nudges in the right direction, but ultimately Christianity will slip beneath the waters because every new generation from this point on will have greater access to a largely overlooked but increasingly unavoidable body of scholarly work that points to the rather awkward fact that the religions central character, Jesus, never existed.

To some that might sound astonishingly brazen, certainly heretical, probably even extremely offensive, and I can at the very least sympathise with those emotions. I felt genuinely defiled when someone told me Santa Claus didn’t exist and remember quite vividly marshalling a spirited, albeit ultimately futile argument in the days after for the kindly old man from the North Pole. So ingrained however is the notion that the man, Jesus, actually lived that even suggesting he is nothing but a fictional invention (a metafictional device fashioned to impart doctrinal messages, not embody an entire religion) sounds flatly absurd.

Indeed, for the last 55-odd generations his existence has been rubber stamped by Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even the vast majority of agnostics and non-believers alike. Interpretation of his life may vary greatly depending on whom you talk to – the son of a God and long awaited messiah (homo usias), a prophet (homoi usias), a hippy philosopher, or even simply a 1st Century Occupy Wall Street protestor – but actually questioning whether or not the individual walked the earth has in this time come across as being preposterous to a great number of us.

Of course he existed.

This apparent statement of fact is false, an illusion first touched on in the modern era over two centuries ago, although admittedly you’d be hard-pressed finding a handful of people in a good-sized crowd today who’d be able to confirm it.

That is the fault of popular culture, but the assertion that Jesus never existed is by no means new, or for that a particularly startling one. Questions as to the historical nature of the character date back to 2nd and 3rd Century gnostic sects including the Docetists, the Ophites, and the Naassenes who were fierce critics of the notion of the physical teacher and often belittled those outside Judea for failing to understand that “Jesus” was a concept of spirit, a philosophy, and never a real person.

The only thing that is ‘new’ in any true sense of the word is the access to superb scholarly work begun over 200 years ago when men and women charged with the confidence of the Enlightenment turned their attention backward to examine the nature of religiosity in much the same way the curious Leonardo Da Vinci before them had opened corpses to reveal the inner working of the natural organism.

Admittedly, few today know their names but two curious champions who leapt out from the emboldened 1700’s were Frenchmen, Charles François Dupuis and Constantin-François Chassebœuf, who sought to pry open the scholarly nature of Christianity and if need be redress the nature of myth and European religiosity based on a scientific understanding of the story and its constituent parts. Working independently what they found over the course of their investigations not only drew into question the accuracy of the self-described, self-anointed holy documents but more importantly challenged the very nature of the works central character: a historical Jesus.

Through his focus on astronomical mythology Dupuis, a savant, unveiled an uncanny, un-ignorable correlation between the character, Jesus, and far older myths – particularly sun god myths – which flourished across the east, including those of the pagan Dionysus, and Roman Sol Invictus. Chassebœuf – a linguist, philosopher, historian, and friend of Benjamin Franklin – travelled east through the Ottoman Empire and over a decade-long examination of religious source documents arrived at the conclusion that a historical Jesus never existed but was instead a representation of universal human hopes and desires fashioned in a time of crisis – a ‘crisis response’– which had been either deliberately or accidently misinterpreted by early church fathers far removed from the true context of the stories.

It was a thunderclap heard by very few but Dupuis and Chassebœuf’s work opened the first fissures in the once quarantined universe of religious immunity, shattering the wall that had stood between scripture and unencumbered outside investigation. Their inroads inspired a flotilla of men and women to undertake similar voyages down corridors considered off-limits since the first Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E, including the German philosopher and historian, Bruno Bauer, who was the first to trace the entire gospel tradition to a single anonymous author responsible for the Gospel of Mark. The consequences of this find led Bauer to first admit to the possibility that the New Testament was a wholesale invention and then ultimately conclude that Jesus himself was entirely fictional.

Now the subject matter I’m touching on here is far larger than any single post can possibly accommodate, but at its heart the mechanical arguments for this assertion all boil down to problems of basic verification. That is to say, there is nothing, not a single shred of evidence – hard or soft – which even remotely corroborates Jesus’ apparently remarkable life. There are no first-hand eyewitnesses, there are no external references to events or persons mentioned in the non-first-hand accounts, and perhaps most importantly historical documents have been tampered with so as to create an illusion of life where there was none.

To dive a little deeper, neither of the anonymously authored synoptic gospels (Mark, Mathew, and Luke), John, nor the 50-odd Gnostic gospels was penned by an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. At best these works are hearsay – very late hearsay it should be said – bristling with sometimes catastrophic contradictions which leave the texts inadmissible as evidence. Confusing the matter of authenticity even more, the phrase Gospel ‘according to’ Mark, for example, was a 3rd Century addition to the writings; an editing trick used to give the illusion of first-hand commentary inserted during the translation of formative Christian documents from Greek into Egyptian Coptic. Before the Coptic editions no such first-hand claim was made by the anonymous authors regarding a physical connection to the character. And perhaps more tellingly, there is no mention of Jesus in any external document from the era. No Roman, Greek or Jewish historian, no satirist, and no judicial court record keeper made a single passing note of the man or the deeds mentioned in the gospels.

That is, of course, barring a lone, strikingly bizarre entry in Flavius Josephus’s 1st Century work, The Jewish Antiquities, which has been recognised since the 1800’s to be an outlandishly careless 4th Century interpolation attributed to Eusebius of Caesarea. It reads:

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”(3rd Chapter, Book 18, The Jewish Antiquities).

In approaching the nature of a historical Jesusit is essential to zero-in on this entry, this particular piece of tampering since named the Testimonium Flavianum due to its importance at one time in verifying the life of Christendom’s central character and revered prophet in Islam. I say that for this simple reason: police detectives, to use an example, typically don’t irrigate evidence unless they fear the case they have will fall part under even mild cross-examination. In more cases than not such tampering – planting evidence in this instance – invariably takes place shortly after the crime, and in Christianity’s story this rings entirely true.

Eusebius of Caesarea was the seminal church historian, a Roman, a Bishop, translator, and fervent 4th Century apologist who just so happened to have  titled the 32nd chapter of the 12th book of his Evangelical Preparation, “How it may be lawful and fitting to use falsehood as a medicine for the benefit of those who want to be deceived.”

One person above all others in the early church fits the candidacy to be fed what Eusebius considered necessary falsehood: Roman Emperor Constantine to whom Eusebius was advisor and spiritual consul. Constantine is, of course, best known asChristendom’s first and greatest sugar daddy; the man who as General adopted a branch of Christianity promoted by a faction of Hellenised Jews living in modern day Turkey and later as Emperor green-lighted the systematic persecution of competing Christian sects including the Judean based Docetists,Ophites, and Naassenes.

Now regarding the Testimonium Flavianum, the answer as to why Eusebius choose Josephus’s work, The Antiquities, and not some other historians to doctor is two-fold. Firstly, by the 4th Century (prior to 1st Council of Nicaea convened by Constantine) Christian apologists had burnt just about all source documents, including entire libraries, which didn’t suit the story they were fashioning. And secondly, Josephus was an authority on 1stCentury Judean history who had a particular interest in Hagiography: the subject of ‘holy people,’ and was therefore both personally and professionally drawn to such characters regardless of their fame or obscurity. He wrote about the revolutionary crisis-cultist, Simon of Peraea, who was put to death in 4 B.C.E, and Menahem, the leader of the Qumran sect who lived a generation later. He penned small but detailed paragraphs on the messianic exploits of Simon Magus, Apollonius of Tyana, Athronges the Shepherd, Judas the Galilean, John the Baptist, the mysterious sounding ‘Samaritan Prophet,’ Theudas, the nameless ‘Egyptian Prophet,’ John of Gischala, Jonathan (the weaver), and even the spiritual revolutionary Simon bar Giora as late as 70 C.E

To put it another way, if there was a 1st Century authority on insurgent messianic figures, an authority whose works had survived the bonfires and scrutinisers would naturally turn to it was Josephus: a native of Judea, the one-time governor of Galilee and as such the perfect vehicle through which to try and pull a historical fast one. It was an attempt to re-write history – a 100 odd word entry that floats without any connection to adjacent paragraphs – which might have slipped in under the radar of 17th Century examination had Eusebius not carelessly used 3rd and 4th Century Christian and Greek terms and phrases entirely unknown to 1st Century Josephus. The blunder, and it was a terrible blunder, was the  equivalent of writer today mistakenly having a Victorian era nanny, Mary Poppins for example, having a Facebook account or using an iPhone.

So complete was the dissection and debunking of this wart-like entry that by the 1800’s it was more or less forgotten to all scholars, including the most enthusiastic apologists who remained desperate to find a single crumb of verification outside the bible which they could point to as evidence for the life of the man, Jesus. For 200 years the Testimonium Flavianum was ignored until it experienced a revival of sorts in the mid-20th Century after empty handed Christian polemicists returned to the entry and began pushing a notion that there had in fact been a nucleus contained in the original 1st Century text. It was their contention that although Eusebius of Caesarea might have indeed tampered with the original document there was, they promoted, an aboriginal core inside the exaggerated entry which did mention Jesus.

As far as verifiable suppositions go this notion is pure fantasy; a wish based on as much factual evidence as Jesus’ foreskin orbiting Saturn. This however has not stopped apologists from even going as far as to suggest that this ‘nucleus’ might have been a single sentence mentioning Pontius Pilate having a man named Jesus put to death. The idea of a nucleus, let alone an assumption of what might have been written, is entirely groundless. No pre-4th Century copies of Josephus’s work exist. In all reality, no pre-11th Century editions exist making any claim of a nucleus all the more implausible and the suggestion of the actual composition of the alleged sentence/sentences utterly nonsensical.

Conversely, whereas there does not exist a pre-4th Century edition of the Antiquities to prove or disprove the idea either way there does exist numerous pre-4th Century (pre- Eusebius) commentaries on Josephus’s work, including those made by Origen, Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Theophilus, Tertullian, Anatolius, Cyprian, and Arnobius who all fail to mention the suspect entry. These 3rd and 2nd Century commentaries, not least of all those made by the Christian church father, Origen (whose library and copy of Josephus was bequeathed to Eusebius), are proof in and by themselves that there never was an entry, be it one sentence or four. Suggesting Origen, one of Christianity’s first International Marketing Managers, a man hell-bent on promoting the emergent religion he oversaw simply forgot to mention the only external source-document for the religion he was in charge of promoting is as preposterous as suggesting Ramses II forgot to mention losing his army to a fleeing Jewish Union leader.

Looking at the historical nature of Jesus what is left by way of evidence of the man is no more compelling than the evidence we have for the existence of Batman. What is present is a reservoir of evidence swirling around deliberate, well-intentioned tampering and misdirection , rendering the gospels no more a factual account of 1st Century Judean events than J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is factual account of World War 1. The logical conclusion, a conclusion based on the facts, is that a historical Jesus was entirely fictitious; the amalgam of a number of revolutionary figures, notions, and philosophies promoted by Gnostic “crisis cults” which flourished at the time across Roman-occupied Judea. Those teachings and philosophies were in-turn weaved into an easily transportable story centred around a metafictional character, a teacher: Jesus. Against a backdrop of very real war and subjugation that story (that’s to say multiple versions of the story as there were at least twenty distinct Jesus’ exhibiting entirely different personality traits doing completely different things at entirely different times depending on which account you read) travelled and the further afield it did the more prone it appears it was to misinterpretation.

In the end it’s clear that the absence of any evidence pointing to a historical Jesus raised some fairly ugly problems for the early Christian marketing managers; problems that could not be ignored after the religions greatest ever benefactor, Constantine, hopped on board. The fact that the era’s leading historian on all things messianic, Josephus, would even bother to pen 600 odd words on the wildly obscure figure known as Athronges the Shepherd, or some 200 words on a nameless Samaritan prophet, but fail to dedicate a single word to Jesus who we’re told performed miracles across Galilee, preached to enormous crowds and stirred up terrible trouble in Jerusalem (which surely should have been noticed by someone) must have been terribly embarrassing. The early church fathers, none of which were actually Judeans, were sitting on a colossal fraud, a fraud of their own making, and in response apologists like Eusebius, Jerome, and Clement of Alexandria to name just three of the more notable charlatans, set about to create an illusion of life where there never was one. The demigod we know today was promoted and the historical metafictional reality of the story shown the door.

The reasons why this happened are however as common today as they were 55 generations (seventeen centuries) ago. The horse had already bolted, Rome had adopted Christianity as its state religion, and the cash registers were ringing. In his twenty year-long, $65 billion Ponzi scheme, disgraced financier, Bernie Madoff, gave almost exactly the same explanation to a prison counsellor when asked how it had all happened: “People just kept throwing money at me.”

17 thoughts on “Jesus: the man that never was

  1. Thanks for commenting on my blog and for recommending that I read your articles.

    You write very well, though a bit sardonic. However, I found this article quite misleading, unfortunately. You do not deal with some very important facts, which leads me to believe either that you do not have them, or that you have previously dismissed them for one reason or another, and chosen not to include them. However, not to include them creates a very deceptive post. One who has not looked into the matters you have discussed, if they stumbled on your blog, would perhaps be very convinced, but you have sheltered them, intentionally or otherwise, from a balanced perspective on the subject.

    For one, the Docetists, the Ophites, and the Naassenes? The Docetists didn’t believe that Jesus was a real, living person…because they believed he was a spirit being that only appeared to be a real, living person. The Ophites didn’t believe that Jesus was the incarnate of the Messiah…because they thought that the snake of Genesis was the real Messiah and that Jesus was just a wise teacher. They made their members curse the name of Jesus before they could be included in the sect. The Naasenes I don’t know as much about, but from what I understand, they thought Jesus was a real person, but not himself the Son of God, or rather that the Son of God was more of a spiritual essence that inhabited Jesus, but that could just as easily inhabit anyone else.

    And what of all this talk of not one shred of evidence? First you say there is not one tiny morsel of evidence, then you admit that Josephus’ writing about Jesus is sometimes used as evidence, but then you dismiss any of that evidence as being factual, stating that it was wholly forged, and then you marvel at why Josephus wouldn’t have written anything on Jesus. Er…a wealth of scholars (many say the majority) still take the partial forgery route. You can dismiss it with a wave of the hand if you like, but there are actually good reasons to believe it was only partial. For example, the passage is present in all Greek manuscripts, and is also present in an Arabic manuscript. In the Arabic manuscript, all of the problem areas are not present (e.g. he did not refer to Christ as being more than a man, or having raised from the dead, etc.). The Arabic would have been the least likely to have been forged, given the language it was written in, and thus seems to be more authentic. There is also a second short reference that is rarely contested, given the wording, and how it fits both the sentence structure of the surrounding text as well as his style of writing.

    But even more interesting than that is the things you didn’t mention at all:

    Roman historian Tacitus, AD 64, “Nero fastened the guilt . . . 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.”

    Roman governor Pliny the Younger, AD 112, “They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god…” Perhaps the reference isn’t crystal clear, but why the phrase “as to a god”? What else would you sing hymns to, if it were simply an ethereal being? As a polytheistic empire, Pliny would have been well familiar with such things. The “as to a god” suggests that there would be reason to think Christ was something else.

    Babylonian Talmud, somewhere between 70 AD and 200 AD, “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald . . . cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.””

    2nd Century Greek satirist Lucian, “The Christians . . . worship a man to this day–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . [It] was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”

    Perhaps you have quibbles with each one of these, and have chosen to dismiss them for various reasons. But present the evidence fairly. Your clever quips about Batman, The Lord of the Rings, and foreskins on Saturn add humor to your article, but this combined with the misrepresentation of facts makes me think you’re going for more of an emotional appeal, trying to feed the fires of the “dying” Christianity, rather than seeking to really inform your reader. Truth deserves more than that.


    • But that being said, I want to step back a minute and say that it is also quite possible that you didn’t have all the facts, and were thus writing the best you understood. I do that as well, of course. And sometimes I get something wrong. I’ve written some posts that I need to go back and revise because I realized I missed some facts or presented something that has been contested or even disproved. So many of us are simultaneously learning and writing, and none of us should be considered the end-all authority on any subject.

      And so I also want to thank you for taking the time to write about such things. Too many people don’t seem to care or think it’s important. We need more people to really take up the debate and explore the facts, because these determine the world we live in.


      • I very much like your blog, too. I spent a few hours last night reading through your posts and liked what i saw. And i agree, as long as we’re (both) thinking we’re doing OK 🙂


    • Hobbsicle, thanks for the great reply. An interesting read. I won’t, however, apologise should I have ruffled some feathers for presenting the case as I have. I’ve looked at the subject long and hard, with an honest eye, and this was a small part of my conclusions.

      Granted, I did fly over the Docetists, the Ophites, and the Naassenes quite quickly, but my point in even mentioning them was as simply examples of the long history of questions surrounding the nature of the character, Jesus. They’re important because they were actually Judeans, unlike the Christian church fathers.

      My point is simple: there is no mention of Jesus by any external source. The single source polemicists have turned to is Josephus which has been proven to be a forgery… thus, no evidence by any external writer. Nothing. Period.

      You mention the Greek and Arabic copies of Josephus… Great! Problem is, they’re all post-11th Century. No pre-4th Century copies exist, so the idea of a “nucleus” is completely nonsensical. It seems you’re ignoring that Origen, Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Theophilus, Tertullian, Anatolius, Cyprian, and Arnobius all wrote commentaries on Josephus in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries and they ALL failed to mentioned the suspect entry. Bit odd, don’t you think?

      You mention Roman historian Tacitus, AD 64, “Nero fastened the guilt . . . on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus”…. Funny, I don’t see the name “Jesus” mentioned here, do you? Christus could be, and probably was, Simon of Peraea who was considered a Christ figure, ie. a messianic leader. Simpn was real, we have three separate accounts of his life. Again, not a single account of Jesus’ life.

      Pliny the Younger, AD 112…. Bit dated, don’t you think? Still no mention of a “Jesus”. Christian cults (and there were many) had been in existence for at least 30 years by this time, an entire generation. I would expect a 2nd Century historian to mention them.

      Babylonian Talmud, somewhere between 70 AD and 200 AD, “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald . . cried” Wow, that’s a tad vague… still no mention of a “Jesus.”

      2nd Century Greek satirist Lucian… now we’re well and truly into the age of the Christians. Hey, I’m not doubting various Christian cults sprung up at the end of the 1st century. I’m merely pointing out there is not a shred of evidence for the character Jesus. These were crisis cults and my contention is the central tenant of these cults was a metafictional story fashioned in Judea which was misinterpreted by the northern diaspora.

      the absence of any proof of a historical Jesus seems to show up fairly plainly in that attempts were made to create an illusion of life where it seems there never was one.

      anyway, thanks for the detailed reply. It’s a great subject and worthy of honest debate. 🙂


      • Interesting that the Essenes, who were around before, during and after Jesus’ supposed ministry and were awaiting the coming of a Messiah, and would have been well attuned to a false prophet, made no mention of a Jesus character either.

        On Eusebius: For me, personally, the biggest anomaly is that although he mentions ‘Nazareth’ he never ever visited the area and he lived no more than fifty miles.
        The birth place of ‘god’ and one of the Christianity’s foremost proponents never considered visiting?

        Great post.

        There is a school of thought that believes Tacitus was forged, also. .


    • John has taken your claims to task well, but I’d also add a few words of my own. By your reasoning, hobbsicle, any mention of any followers of any god would mean that god exists if you are using claims of Christus and Christians as evidence for the Christian god and its divine son. So, is Isis just as real as the Judeo/Christian god? Is Coyote or Zeus or Odin? It’s also odd that you seem to think that a hanging is the same as hanged or more succinctly put, nailed to a piece of wood. It seems you are intent on ignoring the facts that these citations from the Talmud, Tacitus, etc are utterly vague mentions that Christians glom on to in order to support their vanishing faith. I wonder if you will return to admit that your “Evidence” is purely nonsense.


      • Thanks for the thoughts, Clubschadenfreude! I did not really intend to revisit this, but your last statement sort of forced the issue, I suppose.

        First, I will talk about a few overarching issues I see going on here. Before I do, I would like to mention that one of the reasons I started my particular blog “The Art of Logic” was to talk about logic in the media and culture and attempt to evaluate its use in a general sense. I actually did not intend it so much as a Christian apologetics blog, but since I happened to be reading The God Delusion, it sort of became that way for the time being. Still, Christianity/atheism debates are very culturally relevant, particularly when in reference to politics and law, so it seemed fitting enough.

        Now, in these debates between Christianity and atheism, there are a few (maybe more than a few) general misuses of logic, most definitely on BOTH SIDES of the debate, and a couple of them I see evident here. This is not to say that I never use logical fallacies myself, I’m sure that I do, but I just wanted to point some out.

        One is the problem of definition. Often, heated debates happen over misunderstandings regarding definition. In fact, the other day my wife and I were going back and forth over the idea of truth being relative, myself saying that some of it can be in certain instances, and her saying that it could not. As we argued it out, it became apparent that in fact we were both saying the same thing, but were arguing under different definitions of the word “truth”.

        In this case, the word in question seems to be “evidence”. I say there is evidence for Jesus being a real person, Zande says there is not. And I will argue once more that in fact there is. Because, you see, “evidence” can not be used interchangeably with “proof”. In particular, what we deal with most of the time when deciding ancient historical fact is circumstantial evidence, which means it is not a direct assertion of the fact in question, but one in which the conclusion can be implied. For example, in a murder case, perhaps the defendant wears a size 13 shoe, and footprints from a size 13 shoe were found at the crime. This is circumstantial evidence that the defendant committed the crime, though, obviously, the defense would come back with the fact that many people wear a size 13 shoe, so it doesn’t necessarily mean it was him. That does not mean that the footprints are no longer evidence.

        In fact, consider this statement from Wikipedia regarding evidence: “On its own, it is the nature of circumstantial evidence for more than one explanation to still be possible. Inference from one piece of circumstantial evidence may not guarantee accuracy. Circumstantial evidence usually accumulates into a collection, so that the pieces then become corroborating evidence. Together, they may more strongly support one particular inference over another. An explanation involving circumstantial evidence becomes more valid as proof of a fact when the alternative explanations have been ruled out.”

        So that is where the debate stands on either side. We all have evidence towards one assertion or another, but the manner of debate is in how reliable the evidence is, how strong the implications, etc. So yes, I will say again, we do have a “shred of evidence”, even if you see them merely as shreds.

        A second issue is changing the nature of the debate. This did not happen so much on Zande’s end, I don’t think, but took place in both my recent discussion in a post by Myatheistlife, and also in the comment here by Club. In this particular case, Zande was arguing for no historical person of Jesus, I was arguing that there was a Jesus. Club changed the debate by saying that I was arguing for the God of the Bible using these historical quotes. Actually, I was not, and so the later arguments don’t really apply. I was arguing for the existence of the person of Jesus. Actually, I believe I’m even arguing on the side of the majority of atheists, in this case. Similarly, one might argue for the existence of Mohammad or Buddha without actually saying anything regarding the particular beliefs of the religions these two spawned.

        But now let’s go back to some of the specifics.

        As for Josephus, Origen twice mentioned Josephus in connection with Jesus, one which says, “Flavius Josephus…said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ. And the wonderful thing is, that, though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things because of James.” Now, it seems to be that Origen is reading things into Josephus, but he nonetheless appears to be aware of the passage of James in connection with Jesus.

        He also says, “[A]lthough not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ…” which again suggests that he acknowledges that Josephus knew about the historical Jesus, but did not believe in him “as the Christ”, and thus attributed later events inappropriately.

        Furthermore, if you take the Arabic version, which is missing the problem parts of the Testimonium passage, it is a rather neutral and unremarkable passage, which makes you wonder if it would have been worth mentioning by other writings. What would have Origen said about it? “In this passage, Josephus said that Christ lived, gained followers, was killed, and now there are still Christians around who follow him…uh…yes! I affirm!”

        But what of the others? Well, here’s a complete list (well, what we have now, anyway) of the citations by the early church fathers (pre-Nicaea) in regards to Josephus:,%20Against%20Celsus,%20Book%20I,%20chapter%2016.

        Those are some scant references, and usually on matters where mentioning the fleeting Jesus passages would have been completely irrelevant. I mean, the Antiquities were a 20-volume writing! Would there have been nothing else to write about but the Jesus paragraph?

        As for Tacitus, I can honestly say I have never heard that particular argument before in relation to this quote. It seems to be extraordinarily weak from looking at the surrounding facts. I’m not sure how we get from “could be” to “probably was” on the idea of Simon of Peraea. The persecution of Christians by Nero, in roughly AD 64, was surely against the followers of Jesus. Furthermore, extreme penalty? It may refer just to death in general, but crucifixion was considered the extreme execution, due to the torture, long death, and public humiliation, much more so than the beheading of Simon. Also, most strongly, the Christ in question was put to death by Pontius Pilate? Under the reign of Tiberius? Pontius Pilate was in power from about AD 26 to AD 36. Tiberius reigned from 14 AD to 37 AD. Both encapsulate the purported ministry of Jesus (AD 30-33 or so), and neither span the time that Simon of Peraea was grabbing for power after the death of Herod the Great (AD 4).

        As for not seeing the name “Jesus”, this is rather reaching. You cannot place such overblown demands on history. In Paul’s letter to the Romans in the 60’s AD, he often said “Jesus Christ” but also often referred to just “Jesus” or just “Christ”. Which one wins out? He mentions “Christ” 34 times. “Jesus”, only 6. And this was in the 60’s. The later you get, the more Christ was certainly understood to refer to Jesus.

        I think you’d be better off being consistent with your theory. I mistakenly referred to Tacitus writing that in AD 64, but he wrote that in AD 112 or so ABOUT what happened in AD 64. So, he may as well just have been another victim of conspiracy, yes? Also, the earliest manuscript was in 11th century AD. Now you can feel safe knowing that Christians later slipped it in just like they did with any other reference to Jesus in all of history. So you can chalk him up there with Pliny if you like.

        The Talmud: this one is debated a bit more. Still, many scholars think Yeshu is referring to Jesus (this is not the only account of such a name in Jewish writing). And hanging probably refers to crucifixion. Even the New Testament refers to crucifixion as “hanging” a few times.

        As for Lucian, you say he was a victim of the “misinterpreting” that happened from a number of metafictional stories. This would have to be far more sinister than that. By the end of the first century (or at least beginning of the second), many versions of Christianity did exist, the vast majority of which all believed him to be historical. And you say the 2nd century is well into the age of the Christians? 90 or less years is all it took for the world to believe that Jesus was real? A massive widespread delusion that spread itself into all the Greek and Roman world? Writings that place a purely fictional character born in a real Bethlehem under a real Herod, moved to real Egypt, back to real Nazareth, moved through a number of real towns and cities, and real specific locations in that city, followed by real disciples (unless many later non-biblical accounts of those were also forged), put on trial by a real Pontius Pilate, under a real Tiberius, crucified on a real hill, whose death caused a real darkness of the sky and a real earthquake, later appeared to real people, including a real Peter, who later travelled with a real Paul, who helped spread the story throughout the real Roman world? This is more than a misunderstanding. A “whoops” of history. For Jesus to not exist in any form, that would make these accounts very carefully constructed fabrications by rather ingenious, and insidious, minds, designed just so to seem like historic events, which is interesting, seeing as most atheists lambast the Bible for all of its contradictions and inconsistencies. Did the sloppiest of tossed-together philosophies really become the greatest conspiracy in all of history?

        I will certainly need more evidence to think that. And so will most scholars, Christian or not.


      • Thank you for responding. I’m sure you didn’t expect to actually have to come back and defend your nonsense considering the quality of your response. You are arguing for a Jesus Christ, son of some god, not some itinerant rabbi. No Christian ever is. We have the church fathers using Josephus and that quote that suposedly mentions Jesus after a certain period, but funny how NONE of them mentioned this quote from Josephus when the early writers were quoting Josephus. Why, it’s just like the quote magically appeared (or was inserted by humans) since there is no reason people would have failed to mention it earlier. As for your claism of real darknesses in the sky, when was this darkness? Christians can’t agree and they do their best at trying to shoehorn in this magical event into any time that a real total solar eclipse happened. But unfortuantely for them, there are no such eclipses happening at the same time as an earthquake strong enough to tear a hanging as the bible claims nor are there walking dead in the city. You’d think the Romans would notice a “little” thing like that. Or gee, is that one part of your bible you chose not to believe as literal? Oh and dear, delusions like this spread constantly over the ancient world. We still have nonsense like this in the medieval ages where they believed that cotton came from some plant/animal mixture, that there were sea monsters, etc. Please, do read a little other than bible apologetics. And ah, the variant of the claim that “but but it has to be real if other people thought enough of it to die for it” Sorry, people do stupid things. Men cut off their penises because they thought a magical spaceship was hiding behind a comet and would take them to some special place.

        It’s alway appreciated when an apologist avoids answering one big question posed to them. Does the mention of the worshipers of other gods mean that those gods are just as real as yours since you insist that mentions of Christians simply must mean that your God and Jesus Christ existed? Hilarious.

        And dear, Christ and Christus aren’t the same word. If you think so, my you must have troubles when you think catching a bass is exactly the same as catching an ass.


  2. Hobbsicle, again, thanks for such a detailed reply. Always interesting fodder!

    Fair points made, logically argued, but I will take issue on your insistence that “evidence” (ie. The existence of cults toward the end of the 1st Century) is “proof” of a historical Jesus. Again, we return to most blaring point in hand: no one mentioned a Jesus in any historical document. Not one line, not one word. Now, the fact Christian cults sprung up when they did does not surprise me. I’m not surprised UFO cults sprung up after 1954. See where I’m going with this?

    The second reference you cite I know as “the brother of Jesus, whose name was James.” Jesus here could be anyone. I’ve never seen this entry with “who was called Christ” added. I’ve read three books on the matter, a full translation of Josephus, and of course read countless articles and this is the first time I’ve even seen that elaborated text. The actual entry/translation I have on hand is this “And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus… Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”

    Wikipedia, I see, does have it now listed as such with “called Christ” but the sources listed appear to all be Christian theologians/historians whom I’m guessing have changed that page in the last 6 months since I last looked. It makes me at least question the validity. Still, if accurate, then that would be interesting. I’ll need to do some digging, which I’m always happy to do.

    Now, in the end you just keep coming back to writings toward the end of the 1st century. I don’t doubt those. Numerous Christian cults sprung up, on that I have no qualm. The Gnostics were in and around Judea, but they weren’t the foundation slab of the Christian church. That was in the north, Antioch and modern Turkey… 1,000kms from the events.

    Anyway, we quibble over one historian. If Simon of Peraea was mentioned by three historical sources wouldn’t you at least think Jesus would be, too?

    So, we agree to disagree. I need hard evidence for the man, and there is none. You appear willing to fill in the gaping holes and believe Jesus lived. That’s fine. It’s not going to stop me walking my dogs in a few minutes or stop you from enjoying your dinner tonight. 🙂


    • That is fair. I believe that I now better understand your position, and see where you’re coming from on how you view the facts. Hopefully you see a little of where I’m coming from as well, regardless that you don’t agree.

      It was a far longer comment than I intended to make, but I don’t like it when someone (in this case Club) infers silence as a sort of cowardice or admission of defeat (if indeed that was what he was inferring, which it may well not be).

      Not sure about the “who was called Christ” phrase. I read that it was always there, but there was just yet another debate upon whether or not that particular phrase was later added by a scribe. Can’t say that I know too much about that at this point.

      But I do see that you are intelligent, and I appreciate your views. I do not think I have spent much time reading about this particular angle, and now I know more about it. I hope you do in fact enjoy your walk with your dogs, and I am certainly going to enjoy the lunch I’m about to have. Spicy Mexican, here I come.


      • Hobbsicle, always a pleasure. I’m never closed on any subject, that would be silly. For many years i thought Jesus actually lived, but was just an ordinary man. It’s only been in the last 3 years that i’ve really explored the historiography of the matter and have arrived at the conclusions i have.

        Spicy Mexican, huh? Be prepared for all eventualities! 🙂

        BTW, Club is a fine blogger. Leans more to my side of things, sure, but not someone to fear.

        Take care!


  3. Interesting debate, which I will refrain from entering. My knowledge of the subject is no match for the contestants here on either side.

    I would simply like to offer my thanks for the post since it provides many references that I can pursue and thereby furthers the endless process of my own education.

    I have personally not reached a conclusion as to whether there was an individual human called Jesus who may have stirred up some local fuss that was later blown out of all proportion for nefarious purposes.

    Frankly, I don’t really think it matters all that much. The results are the same either way.

    I do find it interesting however that science, using physical evidence, has been able to confirm with a reasonable degree of certainty the existence of specific historically significant individuals from eras predating Jesus by as much as five thousand years or more. I find it hard to imagine that similar efforts have and are not being undertaken to verify the existence of one of the most significant characters that allegedly ever existed.

    I would only add a couple of excerpts from one of my shorter posts that I think are particularly relevant to this “discussion”.

    “If you weren’t there to witness the events, you are simply taking as truth the words of the chronicler. All the events of history, if one wishes to cast aspersions upon the conclusions of another, can simply be brushed aside as opinion.”

    “Your best option is to not believe anything. Look at everything through a pragmatic lens and refine what you see with some simple common sense. Then you can form your own opinion.”

    “There is no way to Peace. Peace is the way.”
    A.J. Muste


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