Part I The Jesus Myth
I have previously pointed out – here – that one of the major inaccuracies in the entire Bible is the suggestion that the Ten Commandments – the very foundation of Christianity – are unique to Christianity, or originated with Christianity. They didn’t. They originated with a pre-Pharoah tribe of Egypt called the Kemet, whose concept of truth, law and justice was consolidated into a theory called ‘Ma’at’. The ten commandments of the Bible are derived from the 42 principles of Ma’at.
But what if the glaring lie that the ten commandments were uniquely handed to Moses at the top of Mount Sinai, was not the biggest inaccuracy in the Bible? What if the biggest lie in the Bible was that Jesus existed at all?
Biblical historians generally agree that a man named Jesus probably did exist. Though, they never tend to give any strong evidence for his existence. Nothing written from the time he was alive. Nothing for decades after his death. It is all hear-say. If we are to give such power over people’s lives to the Church, we should at least provide evidence that the entire base of the Church itself is credible. At the moment, it really isn’t. Why must we resign ourselves to believe he existed, when we have pretty much no evidence? It seems far more likely that Jesus didn’t exist, and i’ll explain why.
I have been convinced for a number of years that there was never a man called Jesus as described by the Gospels or by Paul. He just didn’t exist. I will try and give as good an explanation as possible for coming to this conclusion, starting with Raglan’s Scale, moving onto Biblical inaccuracies, addressing an argument made famous by C.S Lewis, a quick glimpse at Paul, and ending with the Crucifixion, and quite possibly the most important element of my claim that Jesus never existed; Philo of Alexandria.
In 1936 Lord Raglan wrote a book that attempted to rationalise ancient religious hero worshipping by their shared characteristics, and rank them. The more characteristics that fit the so-called hero, the less likely they were to be real, and simply following a tried and tested method of hero creation. If they had less than five of the characteristics that Raglan sets out in his book, then they are more likely to be historical figures. The characteristics were as follows:
1. The hero’s mother is a royal virgin
2. His father is a king and
3. often a near relative of the mother, but
4. the circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
5. he is also reputed to be the son of a god
6. at birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or maternal grandfather, to kill him, but
7. He is spirited away, and
8. Reared by foster-parents in a far country
9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom.
11. After a victory over the king and or giant, dragon, or wild beast
12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
13. becomes king
14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
15. Prescribes laws but
16. later loses favor with the gods and or his people and
17. Is driven from from the throne and the city after which
18. He meets with a mysterious death
19. often at the top of a hill.
20. his children, if any, do not succeed him.
21. his body is not buried, but nevertheless
22. he has one or more holy sepulchres.
- Each mythical hero is given a score out of 22 depending on how closely their lives follow these characteristics. For Raglan, Oedipus scores the highest with 21 out of 22. Here is a ranked list of ancient heroes:
How Some Heros Scored
Oedipus scores 21
Theseus scores 20
Moses scores 20
Dionysus scores 19
Jesus scores 19
Romulus scores 18
Perseus scores 18
Hercules scores 17
Llew Llaw Gyffes scores 17
Bellerophon scores 16
Jason scores 15
Mwindo scores 14
Robin Hood scores 13
Pelops scores 13
Apollo scores 11
Sigurd scores 11.
- Jesus makes the top 5. By Raglan’s scale, it is more likely that Apollo existed, than Jesus. The Jesus myth seems to follow almost perfectly – the mould for religious hero creation. This of course doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus never existed, it would however be quite the coincidence if he just so happened to follow the exact pattern of hero creation. But if we are to still believe Jesus was an actual historical figure, we must ask…. why not Apollo too? Why not Mwindo? Mwindo is more likely to exist than Jesus, and Mwindo is a figure who is said to have travelled to “the underworld”.
The Bible is excellent at rewritting history. It is wonderful at contradicting the life’s work of so many great history scholars. We know for example, that there is no historical mention of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents as mentioned in Matthew 2:16-18. This is quite plainly invented history, much like the Exodus in the OT. There are other important aspects of the Jesus story, that are also clearly invented:
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
- It is in Luke that we get the story of Jesus’ birth. Luke suggests that the reason the family of Jesus travelled to Bethlehem was because Augustus issued a census of ‘the entire Roman world’ so that Joseph, being a descendent of David, had to go back to the town of his forefather.
This short description, given by Luke, is entirely nonsense. Put aside the fact that a Roman census absolutely never forced people to go back to the town of a certain generation of ancestor, and put aside the fact that we now can only really trace our lineage back a few generations whilst Joseph seems to have been able to trace his back thousands of years (unlikely), there is no evidence whatsoever that Augustus ordered an Empire wide census to take place throughout his entire 40 year reign. It isn’t like we don’t know much about Augustus; he is one of the few Emperors that historians have a wide knowledge about, and not once, in all the literature written about Augustus, or at the time of Augustus, alludes in any way to a census. The only time it’s mentioned, is in the gospel of Luke.
Perhaps then, Luke was just a little bit incompetent his historical accuracy (which in itself, means the entire Bible should be called into question) and was in fact referring to the Census of Quirinius in 7ad. Quirinius was governor of Syria and proposed a census for tax purposes. Again, this didn’t mean everyone had to travel back to the land of a certain generation. The problem with this is that if Luke was referring to this, he then places Jesus birth around 7ad. It gets problematic, because the Gospel of Matthew states:
1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
- Herod died in 4bc. 11 years before the Census of Quirinius.
Either Luke is wrong, Matthew is wrong, or as I suspect…. given that they were both written decades after the death of Jesus, by people who had never met Jesus, nor lived close to Jesus…. both are wrong. There have been attempts to correct this mistake, all have been disastrous attempts to hold onto something that is just massively inaccurate. In the 1550s, the cardinal and “historian” Baronius tried to argue that Quirinius must have been governor more than once. In the same era, John Calvin tried to suggest that the census was ordered by Augustus before Herod’s death, but not implemented until after his death (an entire decade? really?). None of which has any historical evidence to back it up. It is unsurprising that Luke got it all wrong, given that he was writing after 70ad (he mentions the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70ad. Jesus supposedly died in 34ad. Quite the gap).
The one thing that is obvious from the gospels, is that Jesus had ‘divine’ parentage. This isn’t new. Julius Caesar claimed to be descended from the Goddess Venus. This again, follows the myth creation mould perfectly.
So, we know that the gospels really do not have any idea what they’re trying to represent. There are glaring contradictions between the accounts. And they were written by people who were writing second, third, maybe fourth hand information, three generations away from the actual events they describe.
Linking somewhat to historical inaccuracies, the author C.S Lewis attempts to draw us into a ‘proof’ for the divinity of Jesus by offering a false ‘trilemma’ argument:
” am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell.”
“We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said, or else a lunatic, or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form.”
- There is a falsity here. Lewis is claiming that there are only two possible alternatives to the divine Jesus. Either he’s divine, or he’s a lunatic, or he’s ‘the Devil of hell’. Which suggests ‘the Devil of hell’ actually exists, which automatically presumes God exists. This is an argument, already presuming a God. He doesn’t question the existence of God, the Devil, nor Jesus in the first place, nor does he consider the possibility that a man named Jesus perhaps existed, and a legend of hear say grew up after the death of the human Jesus. It goes something like this:
1. Jesus was either a mad man, a liar, or divine.
2. Jesus was neither a mad man, nor a liar.
3. Therefore, Jesus was divine.
- On the surface, perfectly logical. But dig deeper, and it becomes very problematic on several levels. Firstly, “…or divine” is a bit of a leap, given that Jesus makes no such claim as we understand it today, to be the son of God. We know that the only real claims on divinity – and often cited – come from the Gospel of John. We cannot take this seriously, as it’s the last gospel to be written, and so almost certainly inspired firstly by the other gospels (Mark in particular), and by the consensus and traditions of the early Christian church. So, “..or divine” is not an acceptable addition to the premise. Secondly, why are those the only three choices? Why not “Jesus was either a mad man, a liar, divine, didn’t actually exist, or a later legend?” In fact, i’m sure we could all think of many more choices to add. And so, by not including “or didn’t exist” as an option in point 1, it already presupposes that he did. And so we should add point “0.5. Jesus Existed” before Point 1. Point 2. is irrelevant as point 1 is incomplete. Though on point 2, how can we be certain Jesus was neither a mad man nor a liar? C.S Lewis fails on this one, and yet it is often used by Christian apologists as a proof of Jesus’ divinity. They use the Bible to ‘prove’ Jesus was neither mad nor a liar. Fallacy after fallacy.
Paul, the man that Christian scholars point to as evidence for the existence of Jesus does not mention his divinity, his virgin birth, or his miracles. Paul didn’t know Jesus; never met him. Simply had a “vision”. I’m afraid I can’t base historical or divine accuracy of Christ, on a supernatural “vision”. Nor is there any evidence, actually, to suggest Paul was real. Paul was supposedly hunted down by 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spears men according to Acts. There is absolutely no evidence for any of that actually happening. Not one reference other than the Bible. For a man who supposedly caused quite a lot of ripples in the ancient World, in a well documented and understood region, to not be mentioned once is ludicrous.
Paul is the link between the death of Jesus, the thirty years in between, and the writing of the gospels. So, how did the gospel writers come across all this information about the divine birth, the years in the wilderness, the miracles, the Jewish council (who supposedly met up on Passover eve to condemn Jesus…… that just wouldn’t have happened), the wise men, the disciples, and every other aspect of the life of Jesus that Paul had no knowledge of and never spoke about?
Philo of Alexandria.
Perhaps the biggest thorn in the side of Christianity in their quest to prove the existence of Jesus, is Philo of Alexandria. Philo lived a long life throughout the entire supposed life of Christ, lived in and around the areas affected by Christ, and wrote about the Jews of the time extensively. He was in or around Jerusalem when Herod supposedly sent out the order to massacre the children, he was in Jerusalem for Christ’s supposed entry into the city with a plethora of adoring fans. He was there when Christ would have been crucified, when the darkness came over the city, when the earth shook with the wrath of God. Philo lived through it all. And yet, in all his writings, he mentions none of it. He doesn’t acknowledge any earth shaking, he doesn’t mention a man who apparently had the ear of thousands, he doesn’t mention the trial on the eve of passover, he mentions nothing of the sort. The name Jesus, is not even suggested by Philo.
It is not like he would not have known, that it might all have been kept from him. Philo’s nephew was married to the daughter of Herod Agrippa – the ruler of ‘the Jews’ in the region after the exile of the evil Herod of Bible fame. Philo’s brother was one of the richest men in the area. It is impossible that Philo would have not known of such an important and beloved-by-the-masses son of God. The reason that Philo does not mention Jesus in over 850,000 words that he wrote of the time period, is because Jesus didn’t exist.
Philo isn’t the only person at the time who didn’t mention Jesus. No one else did either. Not even Jesus himself. There is nothing written by Jesus in the history books (for such an important man, you’d have thought something might have survived), there is nothing written by any contemporary’s of Jesus, written about Jesus. The first mentions come decades later.
Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Ressurrection may seem miraculous to we with 21st century rationale. But in 1st Century Judea, it was nothing special. Everyone was doing it. It was the cool thing to do. Jesus did it within the Christian tradition. Izanagi did it in Japanese mythology. Dionysus in Greek mythology, along with many other parallels between this god and Jesus, did it. The Phoenix in Arabian tradition rises from the ashes. Ba’al of the Caananites around the Levant did it. Inanna, who, quite scarily was the Sumerian goddess of sex… and war, did it. So you see, Jesus rising from the dead was pretty common, and had been done before. He was nothing special.
In fact, even regular dead people were rising back to life:
….the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
Matt 27: 52-53 (NKJV)
- We picture Jesus rising from the dead. Nowhere in any lesson, do Christian teachers tell us that dead people started breaking out of their graves and walking the Earth, like a mad zombie attack. What this shows is, raising from the dead isn’t exactly an attribute that only Jesus possessed. Everyone was doing it.
The death of Jesus is the central point of the Christian religion. The cross is the most revered symbol on the planet. Churches are built in its design. So, you would think, given its importance, the Gospels would be consistent on this central event. But no, they contradict each other…. again.
Firstly, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all agree that Simon carried the cross to the place of execution. John however – along with Mel Gibson – have decided that Jesus carried the cross. This is the story as we picture it. As suggested by one gospel. The gospel of Thomas, which was excluded by early Church leaders for being too heretical (not conforming) does not mention the crucifixion or resurrection at all. The gospel of Peter, says that Herod, not Pilate ordered the death of Jesus. Peter also says that Jesus was resurrected, and ascended on the same day, not days later.
According to John, Jesus last words were “It is finished“. According to Luke, they were “Father, into your hands I commit your spirit“. In Matthew and Mark they were “My god, why have you forsaken me?” … he also said “Woman, behold your son” to his mother, he also said “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do“…… Jesus said way too much for his final words. In a Court of Law, the gospel writers, as witnesses, would be deemed unreliable.
Who did Jesus first magically reappear to? Well, if you believe Mark, to all the disciples. If you believe Matthew, to Mary Magdalene. If you believe Luke, to Cleopas. Truth is, the gospel writers are clearly guessing. They have no idea. Because, as shown previously, the one link – tenuous as it is – that they have, is Paul, and Paul didn’t witness any of it. There is no reason to accept such weak hearsay as fact, or even historically probable, in any way.
The theory of where the myth of Jesus actually came from varies to large degrees. It has been hypothesised for over a century that Jesus may not have existed. In the early 20th Century a Mathematics professor from New Orleans named William Benjamin Smith put forth the idea that a small Jewish cult existed centuries before the supposed birth of Jesus that believed in a God named Jesus. A sect that essentially grew into what it is today by incorporating myths from other sects and evolving over time, becoming more inclusive. Smith points to a couple of suggestions by the third Century Theologian Hippolytus, that there existed a pre-Jesus sect of Nazaraean’s.
Ellegard argues that Paul was simply a mad man convinced that the World was set to end, and when it didn’t, the gospels arose to give credit to his claims amongst his followers and believers who now had very little to believe in. Ellegard’s articles are well worth a read, and can be found here.
This has been a pretty short introduction into why I’m almost certain that the historical, and divine Jesus as depicted in the Bible never existed. Nonetheless, it can all be summerised quite simply by stating that there is nowhere, other than the Bible (and the gospels that were not accepted into the final edition of the Bible) that mention Jesus, or any part of his life from any contemporary source. Nothing written by Jesus. Nothing written by any of his followers. Nothing written by any historian of the time. Just, nothing. This suggests to me, that there was not a divine, nor historical figure of Jesus present at the times suggested. The implications for Christianity are obvious; if Christ was either not divine, or didn’t exist, the power of the Church is illegitimate.
Christianity began with the gospel writers. Not with Jesus. Not with Paul. It began with gospel writers, and history was then rewritten to fit their story, for reasons of power. Nothing more.
Even if we were to suppose by some huge leap that Jesus did exist as depicted by the Bible; there is no reason to believe what he says was true. Being born of a virgin does not automatically make you dependable or trustworthy. Power should be able to legitimate itself. The power of the Christian religion over the poorest and vulnerable throughout history, the bloodshed, the forced conversions, the excesses of faith by revered figures such as Mother Theresa. The treatment of homosexuality, the subjugation of women, the regressive attitudes toward social progression and scientific advancement. All of it is illegitimate, borne out of the premise of either a very ambiguous historical narrative, or a completely invented narrative. Further, if Jesus was a completely invented figure; it would seem to suggest that Islam plagarised much of its religious claims, from Christian traditions. The implications for the non-existence of Jesus, are huge, and should be the topic of intense historical research and critical analysis.
For Part II of this, I have written here, and deals entirely with Christian claims that the writings of Josephus ‘prove’ the existence of Jesus.
Last year, I wrote an article explaining my reasons for why I am certain Jesus never existed. Since that post, I have received several emails and tweets pointing to the works of Titus Josephus as evidence for an early non-Biblical mention of Jesus. Furthermore, most Christian apologetic websites point to Josephus as evidence.
Having asked anyone to produce any evidence outside of the Bible, and not using the Gospels as sources, to provide evidence for the existence of Jesus, I thought this was worth looking into. And so I thought i’d address it here, in three parts. Josephus’ Book 18 of his work ‘The Antiquities of the Jews‘, followed by the early Christian writer ‘Eusebius‘, onto Antiquities ‘Book 20‘, ending on my own thoughts. Each ‘chapter’ is highlighted relevantly, for convenience.
The passage from Book 18 of ‘Antiquities‘, often cited as evidence, is referred to as “Testimonium Flavianum“, or simply “the Testimonium“, and it is this:
“At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.”
- Pretty conclusive. But if we read it carefully, there are problems immediately.
Firstly, Josephus was not a Christian. He was a devout Jew. His writings are important in the history of Judaism, they show Josephus to be fully committed to his faith. His Grandfather lived around the same time as Herod, in Judea. His father lived during the time of Jesus, in Jerusalem. Josephus writings about his father, make no mention of the apparent shockwaves Jesus was sending through Jerusalem when he first arrived, according to Matthew:
“The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.”
- Apparently Josephus’ father, who lived through this ‘uproar‘ didn’t mention it to his son. All the miracles, the huge following, the darkness that covered the land for hours following Jesus’ crucifixion…. not one mention from Josephus in his history of the Jewish people, despite writing much less impressive, and far more mundane accounts of life for Jews in Jerusalem. So, already alarm bells are ringing that he would suddenly, 60 years later, write an extremely brief, yet extraordinary claim on the divinity of someone that as a Jew, he doesn’t believe to be divine in the first place. In fact, make any claim on the existence of Jesus at all, given his silence on the subject for over half a century.
Josephus wrote many works on Judaism. A faith that denies the divinity of Jesus. By all accounts, the divinity of Jesus – central to Christianity – is not central, nor has any more relevance to the life of Josephus, nor his writings, than the one passing, paragraph above. And yet within that paragraph, Josephus writes like he’s a devout Christian apologist. He accepts that Jesus died, and rose from the dead. He calls him “the Messiah“, he refers to his teachings as ‘the truth‘, he accepts that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies. This is not a story a Jewish writer would be perpetuating.
Every other ‘Prophet‘ of Judaism, are presented in ‘Antiquities‘ as great Philosophical leaders (to help appeal to Pagan Rome at the time). Josephus though, places Jesus above all of them, as not only a great Philosophical teacher, but also divine, the Messiah, the fulfilment of all earlier Prophecies. It would seem from that passage, that Josephus is very, very Christian.
It is the early Christian writers who linked Jesus to the prophecies of the Old Testament, in order to ‘prove‘ his divinity. The story of Herod and the murder of the innocents mentioned in nowhere but the Gospel Matthew, which concludes the story with:
“Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah.”
- This Gospel quite obviously attempts to link Jesus with the apparent Prophecies of the past. Josephus then, appears to agree with the Gospels. Josephus, a Jewish man who mentions Jesus divinity nowhere else, nor does it affect the way he lives his life, nor is he a Christian; apparently believes Jesus is the divine Son of God, fulfilling the Prophecies of the Jewish Prophets. He concurs entirely with Christian writers at the time.
Secondly, ‘Antiquities‘ was written during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian. Jesus supposedly died during the reign of Tiberius. Between Tiberius and Domitian, we see the three year reign of my favourite Emperor, Caligula. We see the thirteen year reign of Claudius, the thirteen year reign of Nero, the year that saw Emperor’s Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, the ten year reign of Vespasian, the two year reign of Titus, and finally the fifteen year reign of Domitian; under whom the ‘Antiquities‘ was completed, in the last year or two of his reign. So, that’s a full nine Emperors, and around 60+ years after Jesus death. This does not count as evidence. Especially given how wide spread Christianity had become, and how much of a threat it was perceived, even as far before Domitian as the reign of Nero. Josephus himself, was born after Jesus supposedly died. The best you could say is, if it is his work, Josephus was apparently told the story, and convinced it must be true. Hearsay. Nothing more.
This is not a valid source of evidence for proof of the life of Jesus.
And thirdly, and most importantly…. it would appear that most historians agree that either the entire above paragraph is a forgery, or it is a genuine verse of Josephus, with the more ‘Christian‘ parts added later. I place myself in the “the entire passage is a forgery” camp.
For example, the passage uses the phrase “a wise man” to refer to Jewish figures throughout history, like Solomon. Never, does he use the term to refer to anyone outside of the scope of Judaism. Most other leaders around that time, are referred to negatively. The philosophical figures, for Josephus, are all those of Judaism.
The beginning of the next sentence, that directly follows the above passage is:
“About the same time, another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder.”
- What an odd line to follow such a positive passage about a wonderful, wise, Messiah, and a band of loving followers. Yet, if we take the passage out entirely, the line of the new paragraph flows perfectly from the passage preceding it, which discusses slayings, and Jewish misery. Go look for yourself…here.. Chapter 3, verses 2,3 and 4. It becomes obvious that verse 3 (the Jesus passage) is completely out of place.
Not only that, but it isn’t until the 4th Century that any Christian mentions the Jesus passage by Josephus. Three hundred years pass by, and not one notable Christian scholar, including Minucius Felix, Irenaeus, Origen, Justin Martyr, Clement, Tertullian and Methodius – all commentators on Josephus, mention this passage at all.
Origen actually mentions Book 18, but doesn’t refer to the passage at all. Did he genuinely not consider it important? Well, there is actually something more telling than that in Origen’s words from Book 1 of Contra Celsus:
“For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although 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, who was a prophet, says nevertheless–being, although against his will, not far from the truth–that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ)–the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice”
- Here Origen quite openly states that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ. So, we can confidently suggest that the passage in question was not there, when Origen was reading it. So where did it come from?
The first mention of the Jesus passage, comes from a man the Church refer to as the Father of Ecclesiastical History; Eusebius. He was a member of the First Council of Nicea, and a friend and biographer of the Emperor Constantine. He also happens to have been one of the most distrusted, and fraudulent Christian historians in history. The great Cultural Historian Jacob Burckhardt says of Eusebius:
“the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity”
It isn’t as if Eusebius would disagree with that analysis of himself, given that in Chapter 13 of Eusebius’s own book ‘Praeparatio evangelica‘, he states:
“That it will be necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a remedy for the benefit of those who require such a mode of treatment.”
- Eusebius, in his role as courtier and biographer to Constantine, along with his work with the Council of Nicea, was a political propagandist of the Constantinian era. He writes during Constantine’s lifetime, that the Emperor had grown up around Christians. After the Emperor dies, suddenly Eusebius tells us that Constantine had a divine vision of the Cross, which led to his instant conversion. Propagandist, and nothing more. He helped to shape Christianity within that framework. And it would seem, he is responsible for the Josephus passage above, given that no other Christian scholar appears to have noted it before him. It all begins with Eusebius.
Eusebius is also the first person to record the legend of the King of Edessa writing letters to, and getting replies from, Jesus himself. Eusebius also claimed to have not only found the letters, but translated the letters into Greek. They can be seen here. The letters themselves use language from Jesus, that he absolutely doesn’t use when we look at the Gospel. In the letters, Jesus, for some odd reason, wishes to emphasise that he is separate from God the Father:
“I went out of My Father, who is in Me like I am in Him! However, the Father is the Highest, because He is My Love, My Will.”
- Coincidentally, this letter appears at a time when the Trinity was a hotly debated topic among the early Church, and Eusebius happened to believe that Jesus was separate from God, but also ‘from’ God. They were different, but attached. The Son was subordinate to the Father, according to Eusebius. Much like Jesus seems to be emphasising in the letter above – “The Father is the Highest” – conveniently found, and translated, by Eusebius. Similarly, in his work “Church History”, Eusebius is very anti-Jew. He dedicates a lot of time to writing about how awful the Jews are. For example:
“that from that time seditions and wars and mischievous plots followed each other in quick succession, and never ceased in the city and in all Judea until finally the siege of Vespasian overwhelmed them. Thus the divine vengeance overtook the Jews for the crimes which they dared to commit against Christ.”
- And so, can this hatred for Jews be linked in any way to the words of Jesus? Well, not if you look at the Gospels. But, if you look at the letters conveniently found and translated by Eusebius, we get:
“However, be steadfast in all, what you will gradually hear of Me from the wicked Jews, who soon will deliver Me into the hands of the hangman.”
- Jesus seems to confirm most of Eusebius’s views. How convenient.
If we are to say that these letters are forgeries (which pretty much every historian accepts, and it is quite obvious, they are forgeries, most probably by Eusebius for purposes of propaganda) then we cannot trust anything Eusebius says. Especially his reference to a Josephus passage that no other preceding Christian scholar seems to have noticed. Therefore, it is not a mention of Jesus.
The other apparent mention of Jesus by Josephus, is Book 20 of Antiquities:
“But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus, the Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as lawbreakers, he delivered them over to be stoned. But as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. (24) Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”
- There are marks that certain changes have been made to this passage, though the passage itself is not completely invented, like the passage in Book 18. The change here, is the use of the term ‘Brother of Jesus, the Christ‘. If we take “Brother of Jesus, the Christ” out of this passage, it suddenly makes sense to the proceeding lines, which end:
…… and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.
- If we take this story at face value, it seems to not make much sense. After James is killed, the Jewish elders are very angry, and demand Ananus, his condemner, have the High Priesthood taken away from him, and given to Jesus….. the son of Damneus.
Why would Jewish elders care so much about the Christian Lord’s brother condemned to death? It makes no sense, and this is especially true, given that the death of James does not correlate with early Christian writings on how he supposedly died. It’s a completely different story. It’s a different James, and a different Jesus. The phrase “brother of Jesus, the Christ” was added later.
The problem for Christianity is, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was incredibly famous during his own lifetime:
“News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”
- And so you would expect that someone might have made some sort of reference to Jesus at the time. There might be some contemporary source, given how famous he apparently was. And yet, we have nothing. Nothing by Jesus, nothing written of Jesus during his lifetime, by any one. It isn’t as if we’re short of historical sources from that time period and that area, either. It’s just, none of them mention Jesus. As noted in my previous article, Philo of Alexandria – an impressive contemporary historian and cultural commentator in Jesus’ time – wrote nothing about Jesus, despite living in and writing about the exact area Jesus was in, throughout the life of Jesus. No mention of miracles, no mention of ‘uproar’ caused as Jesus entered Jerusalem, no mention of the many ‘Saints’ who rose from the dead and appeared to many people in Jerusalem, according to the Gospel of Matthew:
“The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.”
- No mention of anything mentioned in the Gospels. Similarly, nothing mentioned by Josephus can reasonably back up anything suggested in the Gospels pertaining to the life of Jesus. And even if it could, it would be hearsay, based on the fact that Josephus was not a contemporary of Jesus.
I am therefore led to believe, given the veritable lack of evidence, that Josephus doesn’t mention Jesus at all, and I am further reaffirmed in my belief, that Jesus did not exist.
For Part III of this, I have written here, to focus exclusively on the Annals of Tacitus; another often referred to source.
Following on from my two previous entries exploring the myth of Jesus (The Jesus Myth and The Myth of Jesus: Antiquities of Josephus), I thought I would continue the series with another historical figure often cited as providing evidence for the existence of Jesus, through his writings; The great Roman Senator and Historian, Tacitus.
Contemporary Biblical scholars (who some seem oddly convinced, are excellent sources on the subject of history) who use Tacitus as evidence, cannot be considered neutral in the search for the ‘real Jesus‘. The Biblical Scholar, and often cited, Craig Evans uses Tacitus as evidence for Christ. The same Craig Evans once wrote
“The archaeological evidence shows that Jesus grew up in a small village, Nazareth, about four miles from Sepphoris, a prominent city in the early first century C.E.
His body was placed in a tomb, with the expectation that his bones later would be gathered and placed in his family’s tomb. The Easter discovery dramatically altered this expectation.”
- There is of course, no archaeological evidence that Jesus grew up anywhere. It is quite clear that any historical analysis into the existence of Jesus, from Evans and other Biblical scholars, starts from the premise that Jesus existed. The ‘evidence’ is then framed around that premise. It is made to fit the dogma. They manipulate history, to fill in gaps. Scholars of the Qur’an will have a vastly different interpretation of “history” when it comes to Jesus, than a Biblical scholar trying to pass his work off as genuine history. Evans misleads on several occasions, in order to provide tenuous links to Jesus. He ends his piece with:
Just last week, a court in Israel concluded that there is no convincing evidence of fraud in the case of the ossuary bearing the inscription, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
- Misleading, because the court actually said:
“We can expect this matter to continue to be researched in the archaeological and scientific worlds and only the future will tell. Moreover, it has not been proved in any way that the words ‘brother of Jesus’ refer to the Jesus who appears in Christian writings.”
- I would strongly advise mistrusting any ‘scholar‘ who continuously feels the need to say “historians in my field all agree“…. Perhaps point out that Biblical historians tended to agree that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, at one point too, despite all evidence to the contrary. Alfred Loisy, the Catholic Priest was demonised by Catholics at the time, for suggesting that the first five books, were not the work of Moses. Loisy’s work was widely rejected by “Biblical Scholars” keen to hold onto to their myth. This is because most of the ‘scholars‘ are Theologians, they have not trained as historians, and they amplify any piece of data they can use as evidence, regardless of its validity or importance. Why would we give them credit, beyond, say, that of the wonderful J. M. Robertson, who writes a great, eloquent and well reasoned account for his belief that Jesus is a myth, and the art of religious myth making (which can all be read here). The ‘history‘ presented by Theologians, is manipulative, and a conclusion reached before evidence is even begun to be collected and interpreted. Most cite Josephus, despite that source being a quite obvious later Christian addition, as well as most citing Tacitus at least once.
Tacitus, undoubtedly, was a great historian and his Annals are a wonderful commentary on the state of Rome during the first century of the Empire.
The particular passage we are focusing on, is Book 15, Chapter 44, of The Annals. In it, Tacitus states:
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures 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, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind”.
- This is the passage used by Christians as a non-Biblical, early reference to Jesus. In that sense, they’re right. It is a non-Biblical, early reference to Jesus. And that, is all it is. Nothing more. It simply isn’t credible evidence for the existence of Jesus and to suggest it is, is so horrifically devoid of a sense of an ability to be critical, it pains me. Let’s also note that Tacitus claims that they weren’t arrested for the fire, they were arrested for “hatred against mankind“. Not only are they an “immense multitude” (Which we know there weren’t), that the entire City has named “Christians” (suggesting their faith and creeds are well known throughout the city), Rome, and indeed, the Emperor himself convicts them for hatred of mankind.
Polydor Hochart tells us:
“It is inconceivable that the followers of Jesus formed a community in the city at that time of sufficient importance
to attract public attention and the ill-feeling of the people. It is more probable that the Christians were extremely discreet in their behaviour, as the circumstances, especially of early propaganda, required. Clearly we have here a state of things that belongs to a later date than that of Tacitus, when the increase and propagandist zeal of the Christians irritated the other religions against them, and their resistance to the laws of the State caused the
authorities to proceed against them.”
Arthur Drews, drawing on Hochart, says:
The interpolator, Hochart thinks, transferred to the days of Nero that general hatred of the Christians of which Tertullian speaks. Indeed, the French scholar thinks it not impossible that the phrase ” odium humani generis ” was simply taken from Tertullian and put in the mouth of Tacitus. Tertullian tells us that in his time the Christians were accused of being “enemies of the human race”.
It’s also important to note that the original Tacitus Annals Books 11 – 16 are lost. We only have copies, written centuries later. To suggest they are the exact word for word copies of the original, cannot be even close to confirmed. Especially given that those centuries, were Christian centuries, and involved a lot of other Christian forgeries.
There is however, certainly a more credible argument for it being that of Tacitus than the passage by Josephus. But it still isn’t definite. There are some tricky elements not quite reconciled, as Hochart and Drews point out. We must however note that the passage is most certainly written in Tacitus’s style, and it mentions Christians in such a harsh manner, it is unlikely to have been inserted by Christians at a later date. Whereas Josephus, inexplicably lavishes praise on the Christians, and insists Jesus is divine whilst he himself is a devout Jew. Which suggests, among other reasons, that he didn’t write it. Tacitus doesn’t. He is far more damning of the Christians. They were “hated for their abominations“, “a most mischievous superstition“, “hatred against mankind“. These are pretty vicious claims about the Christians. It’s doubtful that a Christian would have inserted this passage later. Though, not impossible. And closer examination seems to suggest the vicious language, is well masked. You will note that Tacitus exonerates the Christians from starting the fire. They are innocent according to Tacitus, and it is Nero who frames them. Suddenly, we have innocent Christian martyrs, persecuted by a crazed and immoral Pagan sect. And that’s exactly as history has perceived them. This may seem like an anti-Christian passage, but it has had the opposite effect entirely.
Forgery in the early Church was rampant. It was especially used to glorify early Christians. The German Theologian David Strauss wrote that the earliest Christian communities reworded the Gospels to suit certain local prejudices. Hegel noted that Christian doctrine continuously changed over the years to suit certain power structures. There is also, of course, debate over whether even Peter managed to reach Rome at all, let alone authored the First and Second Epistles of Peter (which, it is almost certain, he didn’t). There is also a lot of controversy over what St Paul actually said, what he wrote, what was forged under his name, where he preached, and how he died. Rewriting Christian history to suit a narrative is not new. Forgery is certainly not new in Christian history. Eusebius appears to have been a master at this.
There are some issues with the plausibility of the Tacitus reference, as being genuine. Like with the passage from Josephus, no early Christian writer, even those well versed in Tacitus, mention this passage at all. Eusebius, putting together all early sources on the life of Jesus, searching Pagan documents including Tacitus, (and my chief suspect in forging the Josephus passages, and suspiciously, the first to mention that Paul was killed in the persecution under Nero) did not mention Tacitus. Neither does Tertullian, a student of Tacitean works. Drews noted:
“none of the works of Tacitus have come down to us without interpolations”.
Secondly, the word “Christians” was not used in Rome, at that point in their history. They were often referred to as “the way“, but most popularly as “Saints” and “Disciples“. Acts 1:15 is testament to that:
“And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples.”
Others (including Eusebius) note that early Christians were known as Nazerenes. If we discount Josephus’s passages as inserted later by Christians, the first mention of the term “Christians” outside of the Bible, is Tacitus. At a time when it is unlikely they would be known by the name “Christians“. Christianity and Judaism did not have a relevant and noticeable split until the 2nd Century. It is also not true that “an immense multitude” of Christians existed in Rome at the time of the burning. There was barely a Christian multitude at all in Judea, let alone Rome. Given how widespread and dangerous the Christians apparently were, Nero’s Minister, Seneca, doesn’t mention them at all. In fact, for such a widespread movement apparently operating in Rome, that the city had already named ‘Christians‘, and openly hated, Tacitus doesn’t mention them anywhere else, at all, only briefly in the passage above. And no other early historian links the Christians to the burning of Rome.
So, whilst the text itself is a little stronger than Josephus, it isn’t set in stone as genuine. But even if it were, that is completely irrelevant.
The main problem with Tacitus used as evidence for the existence of Jesus begin prior to this passage and prior to the writing of the Annals.
It starts with Tacitus’s birth.
Tacitus was born 56ad. Probably in Southern France, known then as Gallia Narbonensis. So, in looking for contemporary sources for the existence of Jesus; anything written by Jesus, anything written from the time by people who supposedly flocked to see Jesus, anything written by social commentators at the time, and place in which Jesus was performing amazing, reality altering miracles, anything from contemporary Romans about this World changing preacher….. Tacitus was not. He was in fact born 20 years after Jesus supposedly died, 2000 miles away. So, another non-contemporary “source” working on hearsay.
Johannes Weiss, the German Theologian, once stated:
“Assuredly there were the general lines of even a purely fictitious Christian tradition already laid down about the year 100; Tacitus may therefore draw upon this tradition”
- There is no reason to believe Tacitus was doing anything but drawing upon an established tradition. Three of the four Gospels were quite possibly already written at that time. That Christianity existed, is not in question. Tacitus seems only to be reaffirming that Christianity existed.
Hearsay; because being non-contemporary, means he could only know about Jesus, second hand, at best. And it is at best, because the Annals was Tacitus’ final work before he died in 117ad. Which means, over a century after Jesus was supposedly born. It is unlikely at that time, that Tacitus would have spoken to disciples of Jesus, or any contemporary source that knew Jesus, being over 70 years later. If he did speak to disciples, we have no evidence for it. It is more likely that he knew the Christian story, from the Christian sects that were in Rome at that time. His statements are quite clearly statements of what the Christians believe, not a statement of fact.
Consider the following. Tacitus writes:
“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, Pontius Pilatus.”
- How is this any different, and any more credible a source for the existence of Jesus, than me, sitting in front of my laptop in 2013, commenting on the early days of Mormonism:
“Mormoni, from whom the Mormons derive their origin and name, visited Joseph Smith during the Presidency of John Quincy Adams.”
- I have never even visited Palmyra in New York, I was born about 3000 miles away, I wasn’t born at the time it happened, I have never spoken to those who knew Joseph Smith. I am simply writing a narrative that I’ve heard from others. As long as it is clear that Tacitus was not a contemporary of Jesus, nor spoke to or knew any of his disciples, nor, crucially, does he mention the crucifixion of St Peter, it is quite obvious that Tacitus can only base his passage referring to Jesus, on hearsay, from people who themselves, heard it from others.
This is more evident, given that the Romans didn’t keep crucifixion records, and so Tacitus’ mention of Jesus crucifiction, came from hearsay also. He was not working from an original source. It is all story and no fact.
Tacitus, writing ‘Histories’ Book 5, and specifically Chapters 8 – 10 describe Judea at the supposed time of Jesus. They make no mention of the crucifixion of Jesus as mentioned in Annals. They make no mention of Christians at all. They make no mention of miracles, or the dead rising from the ground, or Jerusalem in uproar at the arrival of Jesus.
Absolutely no mention of Christians, Christianity, or Jesus at all. What was happening in Judea according to ‘Histories’?
“Antony gave the throne to Herod, and Augustus, after his victory, increased his power. After Herod’s death, a certain Simon assumed the name of king without waiting for Caesar’s decision. He, however, was put to death by Quintilius Varus, governor of Syria; the Jews were repressed; and the kingdom was divided into three parts and given to Herod’s sons. Under Tiberius all was quiet.”
- Nothing. Turns out it was pretty quiet.
One writer attempting to refute the myth idea, says this:
No one is suggesting that a reference in Tacitus written at the end of 116 CE about events of 64 CE can be considered a clincher for the historical Jesus. However neither Tacitus nor Suetonius later, nor Celsus, nor Josephus if he mentions Jesus at all, raise the slightest doubt that Jesus was a flesh and blood character from their recent past.
- This is a complete straw man. (Though, Josephus doesn’t actually mention Jesus, so throwing that name into the bag is irrelevant, and Suetonius is even more dubious than Josephus) No one is suggesting Tacitus knew Jesus was not a real person. That is neither my argument, nor is it the intention of Tacitus’ writings. If it were, we may look into his other works for similar patterns and come to similar conclusions. For example, along with also suggesting that the mythical Romulus actually really did rule Rome, Tacitus tells us:
“Mankind in the earliest age lived for a time without a single vicious impulse, without shame or guilt, and, consequently, without punishment and restraints. Rewards were not needed when everything right was pursued on its own merits; and as men desired nothing against morality, they were debarred from nothing by fear. When however they began to throw off equality, and ambition and violence usurped the place of self-control and modesty, despotisms grew up and became perpetual among many nations. Some from the beginning, or when tired of kings, preferred codes of laws. These were at first simple, while men’s minds were unsophisticated. The most famous of them were those of the Cretans, framed by Minos; those of the Spartans, by Lycurgus, and, subsequently, those which Solan drew up for the Athenians on a more elaborate and extensive scale. ”
- Here, it seems pretty convincing for anyone, using “Tacitus is sure Jesus is a real, living human being” logic, that Tacitus also didn’t question the reality of Minos, the son of Zeus and Europa. He also doesn’t question the reality of Lycurgus, whom plenty of ancient historians doubt existed historically. He believes those two to be great law givers. He presents them, like he present Jesus, as actual historical figures. The question of whether the figure is real or not, is unimportant to Tacitus. That isn’t what he’s trying to prove.
The important aspect to apply to the Annals of Tacitus, with regard the mention of the Christians, is that it is hearsay. It is something Tacitus does throughout his work. Tacitus draws and myth, and presents them simply as stories – neither fact nor fiction – in a lot of his writings, not least in his apparent (and dubious) reference to Christians.
The fact remains; None of the historians and cultural writers living at the same time as Jesus, ever wrote about Jesus. I will again point to Philo as being the most damning source for Christians, in my view. Writing at the exact time Jesus apparently existed, writing about the exact places Jesus apparently performed all sorts of wondrous miracles; and does not mention him once, yet mentions plenty of other less impressive, and far more mundane anecdotes. It is clear that Josephus, also, does not mention Jesus once, despite his beloved father living in and around the area Jesus was supposedly causing shock waves.
Whether the Tacitus reference is genuine or not, is irrelevant. And that is because it is written too late to be considered contemporary evidence for the existence of Jesus. If, whether a source is genuine or not is irrelevant, then there really is no reason to consider it at all. It cannot reasonably be considered evidence for the existence of Jesus.
Tacitus, born two decades later, writing five decades after that, relying on second (at best) hand information, and even then the passage is suspicious, is evidence for nothing except that Christians may have existed in Rome at the time of the Great Fire.
If you are reduced to looking for even the briefest of mentions, by a man who wasn’t there, or in fact, alive at the time, writing 100 years after the birth of the figure you’re trying to prove, in which he simply references a group of people in Rome at the time through rumours and hearsay; i’m afraid your search for the historical figure you’re arguing for, is baseless.
I want evidence. Show me distinct, obvious, uncompromised evidence. Evidence that is not based on hearsay accounts or ambiguous and slightly dubious sources. Evidence that is not just being moulded to fit a narrative that is devoid of any contemporary evidence. Then I will change my opinion. Until then, I remain firm in my belief that Jesus Christ never existed.
By Jamie Smith (http://futiledemocracy.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/the-jesus-myth/)