This Jesus Fellow

The embarrassingly not-so-remarkable tale of how Jesus became real

mythLet’s be honest, I don’t believe a man named Jesus ever walked the earth. It’s not that I’m anti-Jesus in any sense, I’m not. Like most atheists I’d say I in fact live a life far closer to the ideals touted by the character than most loud-mouthed, gay hating, science denying, apocalypse yearning evangelical fundamentalist “Christians.” Now granted, the character is a little wishy-washy, frustratingly wimpy, a melancholic defeatist who quite frankly is not very convincing but he’s a fine enough invention for late 1st Century Judea. I don’t believe the man ever drew an earthly breath for the simple reason that I’ve looked at the evidence with an honest eye and haven’t found a single waypoint that indicates a historical person. What can be found are lies and subterfuges enacted by the early church fathers to create an illusion of life where there was, quite evidently, none to speak of. That effort, to me, solidifies the notion that the character was instead a metafictional devise invented by Judean crisis cultists to impart doctrinal messages. That makes perfect sense. Spiderman, Winnie the Pooh and Dora the Explora were invented for the same reasons. Coronel Kurtz and Marlow were also conjured to service the same purpose, and I must say their father, Joseph Conrad, delved far deeper into the nature of man than these Judean crisis cultists could ever have dreamed of achieving with their character.

Now to be fair, it wasn’t the Judeans actually pushing the notion of a historical Jesus. That trick was performed by people far removed from the origins of the tales; namely those in the northern Jewish diaspora who were at the time holed up in modern day Syria and Turkey. The question is, how did they get it so wrong? How did this fictional character come to be misinterpreted so grossly? How did these people come to believe Dora the Explora was actually real?

Fortunately, there’s a contemporary working example for precisely how this all happened, and it all took place in 1997 in Massachusetts when a not-so minor sensation blew up around the wonderful MIT commencement speech delivered by the American writer, Kurt Vonnegut. It was a 668 word speech that began with these few simple, eloquent, and entirely useful cautionary words of advice: Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now…”

Within a day the speech – a free roaming smorgasbord of useful tips, sound prescriptions, honest cautions, and unfaultable guidance – had been transcribed and was sitting in a million email inboxes. The transcript was opened, read, marvelled at then forwarded from friends to friends, sons to mothers, and grandparents to grandchildren. At light speed Vonnegut’s remarkable words went around the world and the monologue was even quickly turned into a Number 1 music hit, “Everyone’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen),” produced by Baz Luhrmann and narrated by Lee Perry.

It was a brilliant piece that touched on such intimate human fears and longings and offered such sound advice that it cut across all cultural divides and moved people from around the planet. It made people smile, feel good, and be motivated enough by the heartfelt lessons contained within to pass it on. And pass it on they most definitely did. Without question, “Sunscreen” was the most popular string of words Kurt Vonnegut ever penned, a global spectacular, except Kurt Vonnegut never had a hand in a single word of it. It was a hoax, a prank pulled off by who no one really knows. What is known is the words originally appeared as a whimsical article written by the little known Chicago Tribune columnist, Mary Schmich, a month earlier; a sort of, “If I were to ever give a commencement speech it would go something like this…” story.

Sunscreen was a hoax, certainly, but borne of a real article that in all honesty wouldn’t have travelled outside Chicago had the prankster not repackaged the product and got it out to people who could not possibly know the true origin of the prose. Like Schmich’s original text the Jesus story was also not a hoax, not in the beginning. It was instead a serious effort to impart a metaphysical/philosophical message through a series of easily transportable stories centered on a metafictional teacher. What Sunscreen demonstrates is just how fast and how far something wonderful, albeit erroneous, can travel… And 55 generations ago it seems the very same mistake was made by some highly susceptible refugees wanting to believe something astonishing had happened back in their homeland.

29 thoughts on “The embarrassingly not-so-remarkable tale of how Jesus became real

  1. I think that is the most cogent explanation of how a mythic figure becomes ‘real’ that I’ve ever examined. I’ve been using ‘the Tank Man’ in China as an example of how society can create it’s own reality but that does not go deep enough, as this piece does. I will reblog this. This is useful.


  2. This is always an enjoyable discussion to have. As you know, I am a proud atheist, so obviously I don’t believe in the fictional character Jesus and certainly do not accept that he was a deity.

    I personally feel that there is enough evidence to think that these stories were based on a real human, however. The two books that really show this are written by Bart Ehrman, an agnostic biblical scholar, titled: “Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet” and “Did Jesus Exist?” Its fascinating to have a historian and textual critic walk you through the rationale.

    If you haven’t read his stuff you should.

    Anyway, its more of trivial (but still fun and interesting) issue whether or not the fictional character Jesus was based on a human. Once you deny the divinity of Christ all of Christian theology basically dissolves away.


    • Precisely. I’ve read many of Ehrman’s essays but never his books. Amazon isn’t in Brazil yet, and my Portuguese just isn’t up to reading a translation. As far as i know he does lean toward a historical character, but its still all conjecture. Either way, the reality doesn’t change. Nothing supernatural to see here, move along… move along 🙂


  3. First I ever heard about the sunscreen hoax. Thanks.

    It certainly goes a long way toward proving your point. But, of course, no true believer will be swayed by any factual data. A little nuisance like reality will do nothing to dull their devotion.


  4. Arging against Jesus is becoming passe, until some proper evidence turns up, like an addendum at the end of Tacitus saying, “Fooled you!” or something.
    Not that isn;t merit in ripping t shreds the story, but Chrispyuns have gt all bases covered.
    More fun doing the Moses number, who we know and nearly every proper scholar knows is a fictional character. And yet, JC mentions him. Not so smart.


  5. I tend to think that most mythological characters have a historical origin in some events or even persons who were real. This of course does not really apply to Spiderman, but in realizing this, we must also accept that the Spiderman is intentionally recognized as a fictional character. Now it might be that he will later on become a character much revered and even worshipped by loonies, who think he was real at some point of history.

    I have thought that the story of Jesus might very well be based on an actual historical character and that some of the accounts of him might be real recollections of a person acting, or rather, being vocal about stuff a lot of people related to.

    However, even if we assumed Jesus was a historical character, I do not see how that would in any way reconcile any of the miracles he alledgedly performed. Most of them seem just attempts to bolster his legend and even many Christian theologians have said that there propably is very little truth to the virgin birth stories. Those were common material of the folklore in them days and we should not give any heed to them. The resurrection story seems like a miraculous one, but if you look at it, it bears all the propability of an actual event misinterpreted by the superstitious contemporaries of the time.

    Josephus mentions people who survived the crucifixion alive, because it was a method of killing people slow and painfully over a very long period of time. Several days in some cases. According to the Gospels Jesus was not very long on the cross alledgedly because of a storm and he was even mentioned bleeding just prior being taken down. Dead people do not bleed. The Romans, from Pilatus to the officer in charge at Golgata, seem very disinterrested in getting Jesus killed, and show even a bit of fear for the chance, that Jesus might acutally be a son of some local god. They were polytheists themselves of course and saw the situation in a very different light from the Jews.

    Joseph of Arimathea – a rich merchant – had negotiated special terms for Jesus, that his legs were not crushed, and that he could take Jesus to his own tomb, so the body would not be thrown to the mass grave pit. None of the Gospel writers were even present at the execution. Only witnesses to Jesus being taken even as far as the grave are the same women who seem not to be able to agree upon how many angels/young men they did find at the tomb few days later.

    The idea that the Tomb was closed, sealed and guarded by the Romans only appears in one of the Gospels, and does not make any sense, exept as a list of excuses why this event had to be extraordinary resurrection and not just coincidence, because why were the women going to the tomb at all if it was closed. According to the other Gospels they were there to embalm Jesus, wich would have been impossible, if the Romans had sealed it.

    Few days later Jesus appears to some of his former buddies who recognize that he is wounded, but very much alive. They of course jump to the conclusion, that he resurrected. Not, that he survived the execution, because then he would be just a nother guy who survived it, but that a god must have resurrected him. Why? Perhaps because they are superstitious people who had expected him to drive the Romans out, and that they were devastated, that the Romans not only easily beat him up and executed him, but that the Roman comissioner went to show mercy and compassion towards Jesus… Now that he is “resurrected” he has, kinda, won even a greater enemy than the Roman empire, he has won death! It is easy why they wanted very much to believe in this nonsense. Soon after he disappears again. Most propably dying as a result of infection from the wounds, or from the finger of Thomas who had to test his wounds. Or perhaps fed up by the diciples who want to proclaim him not as the Jews would call a son of god in being a righteous man, but as a son of god in flesh and blood like the gentiles would see it. Perhaps it was because this cult did not take much Jewish followers on, the Apostoles decided to turn into ideas more easily concievable by the Greek population of Palestine, Asia Minor, and Egypt.

    Now, I am not claiming Jesus is a historical character. Technically that is debatable, alltough unlikely. However, even if we considered the Gospels as historical sources, we should put them under the same scrutany any other such historical sources should be put. If we do not think that the miracles mentioned by Polybius (a sound historian who subscribed to the historical integrity and a contemporary of the events described in his history of the Punic wars) were actual messages from the Roman gods to the Roman people to warn them of the coming attack by Hannibal, then we have no actual reason to think any of the alledged miracles by Jesus were anything more. That would be the logical fallacy of special pleading.

    Sorry about the long comment.


    • Raut, no need to apologise, i enjoyed reading it. I agree that its a moot point whether or not Jesus was real or a metafictional character. If a 1st century philosopher he was just that, a 1st century philosopher. If, as i lean, a metafictional character then its a testament to how gullible people can be. Either way, no illiterate godman ever visited some shitty little back-lot in the Roman Empire.


      • Yes, indeed. It is funny how often the apologists try to put on, that it had to be true because the Bible is full of eyewitness accounts and because the apostoles and other early Christians were ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their cause. As if these apologists had never read the damn book. It does not even claim to give an eyewitness account of the death of Jesus. It is all basicly just hearsay. The earliest point the book claims that one of the writers present after the trial is when they find the tomb empty. As if an empty tomb would prove a supernatural claim about a resurrection. Ridiculous. And as if they had not ever heard about people dying for this or that good or bad cause. If the apostoles died because they were some sort of witnesses to the events, then why did all the other early Christians die for? I mean the people who had never even been to Palestine, or Judea, but were fed to the lions in Roman circuses. It is kind of sad, how they are grasping at straws.

        Even, if we had a historical account by a contemporary historian (such as Josephus) who was actually present at the resurrection event of a dead body, we should be very skeptical about the entire account. If a god and creator of galaxies wanted people to believe this one unemployed carpenter was his flesh and blood son, it would have been so much more convincing, if he had raised from the dead in the actual precence of some witnesses, possibly a physician who had him declared dead first. But conviniently enough, he raises from the dead when no one is even looking. Strolls around the countryside (as he left his shrouds to the tomb) and then later on appears to his followers at the nearby road, while these guys fail to even reconginze him. It begs the question, who in their right mind is so gullible that finds this stuff convincing?

        We do not think there were dogheaded people beyond Sarmatia like Tacitus describes. The thing is that Tacitus had exellent information about the Roman empire and beyond. He knew exactly how the Saami people in Norther Scandinavia lived and this we know because cultural anthropology and archaeology have verified his claims, alltough he had no knowledge that the Scandinavia is not an island. Well, you know that historical scrutany needs more confirmation than a hearsay story about a man being executed, and then appearing alive after the alledged event, to be plausible as evidence of a resurrection from the dead.

        If Jesus died for our sins, what did Lazarus die for?


    • Hey Holly

      Interesting stuff! Will have to see what other scholars say in return. I tend to think Jesus was an amalgam character, but nothing really changes if he actually lived or not.

      Hadn’t even heard of this group before, but a little searching and I see the Biblical Archaeology Society is not a professional organisation, and not associated with any university. Hershel Shanks, the founder of the group, was described by the NYT’s as “probably the world’s most influential amateur Biblical archaeologist.”

      That’s cool, nothing wrong with that. Lawrence Mykytiuk (the author of the article) is not an archaeologist, rather a member of Purdue University Libraries Faculty (he’s a librarian teacher). Again, that’s cool, he has an interest in archaeology and scholarly work, and no one should fault him for that. His article, “50 People in the Bible,” is a little misleading, though. No one has ever claimed the Torah is entirely myth, rather that the origin narrative (mostly contained in the Pentateuch: the Patriarchs, Egypt, Moses, Exodus, Conquest) is historical fiction, which is precisely how professionals know when it was actually written, as opposed to the ages in which it claims to have been penned and set. It’s common knowledge that about half-way through Kings (just before Babylonian captivity) it becomes quite a good and reliable historical source. So, to say 50 people were real is nothing new, or shocking. In fact, it’s known to be true, from a certain period on… Not before.

      Interestingly, in 1998 the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), the primary American professional body for archaeologists working in the Middle East, changed the name of its magazine from Biblical Archaeologist to Near Eastern Archaeology simply because the bible had been determined to be (beyond all doubt) an entirely unreliable historical source to direct research into the early Jews, pre-Babylonian captivity.

      Liked by 1 person

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