the historical Jesus exist? A growing number of scholars don’t think so
By V a l e r i e T a r i c o, Saturday, August 30, 2014
10:01 EDT This story first appeared at
antiquities scholars think that the New Testament gospels are
“mythologized history.” In other words, they think that around the start
of the first century a controversial Jewish rabbi named Yeshua ben Yosef
gathered a following and his life and teachings provided the seed that
grew into Christianity.
At the same time, these scholars acknowledge that many Bible stories
like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and women at the tomb
borrow and rework mythic themes that were common in the Ancient Near
East, much the way that screenwriters base new movies on old familiar
tropes or plot elements. In this view, a “historical Jesus” became
For over 200 years, a wide ranging array of theologians and
historians—most of them Christian—analyzed ancient texts, both those
that made it into the Bible and those that didn’t, in attempts to
excavate the man behind the myth. Several current or recent bestsellers
take this approach, distilling the scholarship for a popular audience.
Familiar titles include Zealot by Reza Aslan and How Jesus Became God by
But other scholars believe that the gospel stories are actually
“historicized mythology.” In this view, those ancient mythic templates
are themselves the kernel. They got filled in with names, places and
other real world details as early sects of Jesus worship attempted to
understand and defend the devotional traditions they had received.
notion that Jesus never existed is a minority position. Of course it is!
says David Fitzgerald, author of
Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All .
For centuries all serious scholars of Christianity were Christians
themselves, and modern secular scholars lean heavily on the groundwork
that they laid in collecting, preserving, and analyzing ancient texts.
Even today most secular scholars come out of a religious background, and
many operate by default under historical presumptions of their former
Fitzgerald is an atheist speaker and writer, popular with secular
students and community groups. The internet phenom, Zeitgeist the Movie
introduced millions to some of the mythic roots of Christianity. But
Zeitgeist and similar works contain known errors and oversimplifications
that undermine their credibility. Fitzgerald seeks to correct that by
giving young people interesting, accessible information that is grounded
in accountable scholarship.
More academic arguments in support of the Jesus Myth theory can be found
in the writings of Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Carrier, who has a
Ph.D. in ancient history uses the tools of his trade to show, among
other things, how Christianity might have gotten off the ground without
a miracle. Price, by contrast, writes from the perspective of a
theologian whose biblical scholarship ultimately formed the basis for
his skepticism. It is interesting to note that some of the harshest
debunkers of fringe Jesus myth theories like those from Zeitgeist or
Joseph Atwill (who tries to argue that the Romans invented Jesus) are
from serious Mythicists like Fitzgerald, Carrier and Price.
The arguments on both sides of this question—mythologized history or
historicized mythology—fill volumes, and if anything the debate seems to
be heating up rather than resolving. A growing number of scholars are
openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity. Since
many people, both Christian and not, find it surprising that this debate
even exists—that credible scholars might think Jesus never existed—here
are some of the key points that keep the doubts alive:
No first century secular evidence
whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.
In the words of Bart Ehrman: “What sorts of things do pagan authors from
the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem,
there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries.
There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates;
there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing
references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the
years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of
the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus
in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress
that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings
of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government
officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving
inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on
papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name
ever so much as mentioned.” (pp. 56-57)
The earliest New Testament
writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more
crystallized in later texts.
Paul seems unaware of any virgin birth, for example. No wise men, no
star in the east, no miracles. Historians have long puzzled over the
“Silence of Paul” on the most basic biographical facts and teachings of
Jesus. Paul fails to cite Jesus’ authority precisely when it would make
his case. What’s more, he never calls the twelve apostles Jesus’
disciples; in fact, he never says Jesus HAD disciples –or a ministry, or
did miracles, or gave teachings. He virtually refuses to disclose any
other biographical detail, and the few cryptic hints he offers aren’t
just vague, but contradict the gospels. The leaders of the early
Christian movement in Jerusalem like Peter and James are supposedly
Jesus’ own followers and family; but Paul dismisses them as nobodies and
repeatedly opposes them for not being true Christians!
Liberal theologian Marcus Borg suggests that people read the books of
the New Testament in chronological order to see how early Christianity
unfolded. “Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written
documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product.
The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the
Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several
decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities
saw his significance in their historical context.”
Even the New Testament stories don’t
claim to be first-hand accounts.
We now know that the four gospels were assigned the names of the
apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not written by them. To make
matter sketchier, the name designations happened sometime in second
century, around 100 years or more after Christianity supposedly began.
For a variety of reasons, the practice of pseudonymous writing was
common at the time and many contemporary documents are “signed” by
famous figures. The same is true of the New Testament epistles except
for a handful of letters from Paul (6 out of 13) which are broadly
thought to be genuine. But even the gospel stories don’t actually say,
“I was there.” Rather, they claim the existence of other witnesses, a
phenomenon familiar to anyone who has heard the phrase, my aunt knew
someone who . . . .
The gospels, our only accounts of a
historical Jesus, contradict each other.
If you think you know the Jesus story pretty well, I suggest that you
pause at this point to test yourself with the 20 question quiz at
The gospel of Mark is thought to be the earliest existing “life of
Jesus,” and linguistic analysis suggests that Luke and Matthew both
simply reworked Mark and added their own corrections and new material.
But they contradict each other and, to an even greater degree contradict
the much later gospel of John, because they were written with different
objectives for different audiences. The incompatible Easter stories
offer one example of how much the stories disagree.
Modern scholars who claim to have
uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.
Ten Christian Myths
That Show Jesus
Never Existed at all,
They include a cynic philosopher, charismatic Hasid, liberal Pharisee,
conservative rabbi, Zealot revolutionary, nonviolent pacifist to borrow
from a much longer list assembled by Price. In his words (pp. 15-16),
“The historical Jesus (if there was one) might well have been a
messianic king, or a progressive Pharisee, or a Galilean shaman, or a
magus, or a Hellenistic sage. But he cannot very well have been all of
them at the same time.” John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar
grumbles that “the stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment.”
For David Fitzgerald, these issues and more lead to a conclusion that he
Jesus appears to be an effect, not a cause, of Christianity. Paul and
the rest of the first generation of Christians searched the Septuagint
translation of Hebrew scriptures to create a Mystery Faith for the Jews,
complete with pagan rituals like a Lord’s Supper, Gnostic terms in his
letters, and a personal savior god to rival those in their neighbors’
longstanding Egyptian, Persian, Hellenistic and Roman traditions.
In a soon-to-be-released follow up to Nailed, entitled Jesus: Mything in
Action, Fitzgerald argues that the many competing versions proposed by
secular scholars are just as problematic as any “Jesus of Faith:” Even
if one accepts that there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, the question has
little practical meaning: Regardless of whether or not a first century
rabbi called Yeshua ben Yosef lived, the “historical Jesus” figures so
patiently excavated and re-assembled by secular scholars are themselves
We may never know for certain what put Christian history in motion. Only
time (or perhaps time travel) will tell.
ONE FOR A FRIEND!
is to Mormonism
is to Christianity.
An absolute Must Read
Treasure! ... and it's
Scholars doubt truth of Exodus
Some say story of Moses is more legend than truth
L o s A n g e l e s T i m e s
April 21, 2001
It's one of the greatest stories ever told: A baby is found in a basket
adrift in the Egyptian Nile and is adopted into the Pharaoh's household. He
grows up as Moses, rediscovers his roots, and leads his enslaved Israelite
brethren to freedom after God sends down 10 plagues against Egypt and parts
the Red Sea to allow them to escape. They wander for 40 years in the
wilderness and, under the leadership of Joshua, conquer the land of Canaan to
enter their promised land.
For centuries, the biblical account of the Exodus has been revered as the
founding story of the Jewish people, sacred scripture for three world
religions and a universal symbol of freedom that has inspired liberation
movements around the globe.
But did the Exodus actually occur?
On Passover Sunday, Rabbi David Wolpe raised that provocative question
2,200 faithful at Sinai Temple on the west side of Los Angeles. He
"The truth is that virtually every modern archeologist who has investigated
the story of the Exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the
Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at
all," Wolpe told his congregants.
Wolpe's startling sermon may have seemed blasphemy to some. In fact, however,
the rabbi was merely telling his flock what scholars have known for more than
a decade. Slowly and often outside wide public purview, archeologists are
radically reshaping modern understandings of the Bible. It was time for his
people to know about it, Wolpe decided.
After a century of excavations trying to prove the ancient accounts true,
archeologists say there is no conclusive evidence that the Israelites were
ever in Egypt, were ever enslaved, ever wandered in the Sinai wilderness for
40 years or ever conquered the land of Canaan under Joshua's leadership. To
the contrary, the prevailing view is that most of Joshua's fabled military
campaigns never occurred -- archeologists have uncovered ash layers and
signs of destruction at the relevant time at only one of the many
battlegrounds mentioned in the Bible.
Today, the prevailing theory is that Israel probably emerged peacefully out
of Canaan -- modern-day Lebanon, southern Syria, Jordan and the West
Israel -- whose people are portrayed in the Bible as wicked
this theory, the Canaanites who took on a new identity
as Israelites were
perhaps joined or led by a small group of Semites from
Egypt -- explaining a
possible source of the Exodus story, scholars say.
As they expanded their
settlement, they may have begun to clash with
neighbors over water rights and
the like, perhaps providing the historical
nuggets for the conflicts recorded
in Joshua and Judges.
"Scholars have known these things for a long time, but we've broken the news
very gently," said William Dever, a professor of Near Eastern archeology and
anthropology at the University of Arizona and one of America's pre-eminent
The modern archeological consensus over the Exodus is just beginning to reach
the general public. In 1999, an Israeli archeologist, Ze'ev Herzog of Tel
University, set off a furor in Israel by writing in a popular magazine
of the patriarchs were myths and that neither the Exodus nor
ever occurred. In the hottest controversy today, Herzog
also argued that the
united monarchy of David and Solomon, described as grand
and glorious in the
Bible, was at best a small tribal kingdom.
In a new book this year, "The Bible Unearthed," Israeli archeologist Israel
Finklestein of Tel Aviv University and archeological journalist Neil Asher
Silberman raised similar doubts and offered a new theory about the roots of
the Exodus story. The authors argue that the story was written during the
time of King Josia of Judah in the seventh century B.C. -- 600 years after
the Exodus supposedly occurred in 1250 B.C. -- as a political manifesto to
unite Israelites against the rival Egyptian empire as both states sought to
expand their territory. The young Israeli king's growing conflict with the
newly crowned Pharaoh Necho, the book argues, was metaphorically portrayed
through the momentous and probably mythical struggle between Moses and the
Dever argued that the Exodus story was produced for theological reasons: to
give an origin and history to a people and distinguish them from others by
claiming a divine destiny.
Some scholars, of course, still maintain that the Exodus story is basically
factual. Bryant Wood, director of The Associates for Biblical Research in
Maryland, argued that the evidence falls into place if the story is dated
back to 1450 B.C. He said that indications of destruction around that time at
Hazor, Jericho and a site he is excavating that he believes is the biblical
city of Ai support accounts of Joshua's conquests. He also cited the
documented presence of "Asiatic" slaves in Egypt who could have been
Israelites and said they wouldn't have left evidence of their wanderings
since they were nomads with no material culture. But Wood said he can't get
his research published in serious archeological journals.
"There's a definite anti-Bible bias," Wood said.
The revisionist view, however, is not necessarily publicly popular. Herzog,
Finklestein and others have been attacked for everything from faulty logic to
pro- Palestinian political agendas that undermine Israel's land claims. Dever
a former Protestant minister who converted to Judaism 12 years ago -- says
he gets "hissed and booed" when he speaks about the lack of evidence for
Exodus, and regularly receives letters and calls offering prayers or
him he's headed for hell.
Many of Wolpe's congregants said the story of the Exodus has been
true for them even if the details are not factual: when they
fled the Nazis
during World War II, for instance, or, more recently, the
in Iran. Daniel Navid Rastein, a Los Angeles medical
professional, said he
has always regarded the story as a metaphor for a
greater truth: "We all have
our own Egypts -- we are prisoners of something,
either alcohol, drugs,
cigarettes, overeating. We have to use (the story) as a
way to free ourselves
from difficulty and make ourselves a better person."
Judaism has also been more open to non-literal interpretations of the text
than some Christian traditions.
"Among Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews, there is a much
greater willingness to see the Torah as an extended metaphor in which truth
comes through story and law," said Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism in Los
Penn & Teller; The Bible is Bullshit
Stupid: Reverend Dr. VanBuskirk
The Amaz!ng Meetings
Did Jesus exist? Italian court to decide
By P h i l S t e w a r t
ROME (Reuters) - Forget the U.S. debate over intelligent design versus
An Italian court is tackling Jesus -- and whether the Roman Catholic
Church may be breaking the law by teaching that he existed 2,000 years
The case pits against each other two men in their 70s, who are from the
same central Italian town and even went to the same seminary school in
their teenage years.
The defendant, Enrico Righi, went on to become a priest writing for the
parish newspaper. The plaintiff, Luigi Cascioli, became a vocal atheist
who, after years of legal wrangling, is set to get his day in court
later this month.
"I started this lawsuit because I wanted to deal the final blow against
the Church, the bearer of obscurantism and regression," Cascioli told
Cascioli says Righi, and by extension the whole Church, broke two
Italian laws. The first is "Abuso di Credulita Popolare" (Abuse of
Popular Belief) meant to protect people against being swindled or
conned. The second crime, he says, is "Sostituzione di Persona," or
"The Church constructed Christ upon the personality of John of Gamala,"
Cascioli claimed, referring to the 1st century Jew who fought against
the Roman army.
A court in Viterbo will hear from Righi, who has yet to be indicted, at
a January 27 preliminary hearing meant to determine whether the case has
enough merit to go forward.
"In my book, The Fable of Christ, I present proof Jesus did not exist as
a historic figure. He must now refute this by showing proof of Christ's
existence," Cascioli said.
Speaking to Reuters, Righi, 76, sounded frustrated by the case and
baffled as to why Cascioli -- who, like him, came from the town of
Bagnoregio -- singled him out in his crusade against the Church.
"We're both from Bagnoregio, both of us. We were in seminary together.
Then he took a different path and we didn't see each other anymore,"
"Since I'm a priest, and I write in the parish newspaper, he is now
suing me because I 'trick' the people."
Righi claims there is plenty of evidence to support the existence of
Jesus, including historical texts.
He also claims that justice is on his side. The judge presiding over the
hearing has tried, repeatedly, to dismiss the case -- prompting appeals
"Cascioli says he didn't exist. And I said that he did," he said. "The
judge will to decide if Christ exists or not."
Even Cascioli admits that the odds are against him, especially in Roman
"It would take a miracle to win," he joked.
Historicity of Mohammed --
Mohammed myth sparks outcry
Muslim academic says Mohammed didn't exist
December 23, 2008 T o m H a r p u r
T o r s t a r N e w s S e r v i ce
A noted Muslim scholar has provoked a huge controversy in Europe
by openly questioning the existence of the Prophet Mohammed.
The Islamist at the centre of the storm in Germany over whether Mohammed
ever existed as an historical figure says he is simply following the
conclusions of many years of rigorous research.
Mohammed Sven Kalisch, 42, the chair of Islamic Studies at the
University of Muenster and whose duties include training teachers for
the rising number of Muslim students in German high schools, has created
a furor by stating that in all probability Mohammed was a mythical
He told the Star in a recent phone interview that his research leads him
to believe that the three great monotheistic religions, Judaism,
Christianity and Islam have mythical origins.
German police worried about a possible violent backlash have told the
professor to move his offices to more secure premises. But Kalisch says
there have been no specific threats and he is far from being "in hiding"
as some bloggers and other rumour-mongers have claimed.
However, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany to which the four
largest organizations of the country's 3 million-strong Muslim community
belong, has stopped its co-operation with the university's Centre for
Religious Studies over the professor's stand.
A spokesperson for the council, Ali Kizilkaya, has said if the Prophet
Mohammed didn't exist then the Qur'an doesn't exist.
"This would mean that we would have to abolish the religion altogether,"
Kizilkaya said. "We are convinced the Prophet did indeed exist and that
the Qur'an is the word of God."
Michael Marx, a Qur'an specialist at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of
Sciences, has warned his colleagues that Kalisch's views will "make it
difficult" for German scholars to work in Muslim lands.
The traditional view of Mohammed is that he was born in Mecca in Arabia,
about AD 570 and died in Medina around AD 632. The Qur'an, Islam's holy
book, is composed of revelations believed to have been given to him by
God through the archangel Gabriel. There are about one billion Muslims
in the world today.
"My position with regard to the historical existence of Mohammed is that
I believe neither his existence nor his non-existence can be proven,"
Kalisch said in a statement. "I, however, lean toward the
He told the Star he holds the same position regarding Abraham, Moses and
the other Jewish patriarchs, as well as Jesus Christ.
There have been threats, campaigns for his dismissal from his post, and
dozens of media interviews, commentaries and editorials. According to
Der Spiegel magazine, a group of more than 30 German academics have
signed a petition supporting Kalisch's right to scholarly freedom of
Kalisch studied and practised law before returning to college to take a
Ph.D. in religious studies. He speaks fluent English, Turkish and Arabic
as well as German.
He was born in Hamburg of a German father and a mother of Mongolian
descent. They were nominal Protestants and when he began early in his
teens to follow up on the Asian line of his heritage he decided to learn
That led directly to an exposure to Islamic teaching and at 15 he
decided to convert. "I was attracted by the emphasis on one God instead
of a trinity," he says. "It seemed in many ways a very rational
But, he differed from typical religious converts to a new faith in that
he never stopped questioning. "Religion should never contradict reason,"
he says. "I could never accept any doctrine or belief that goes against
my rational mind."
Kalisch said he realized early in 2001 that when the same scientific
methods are applied to investigate Muslim claims of historicity as are
used on Jewish and Christian origins, similar problems arise at once. He
found that traditional theological positions soon collapse once hard
evidence is sought. He discovered there is as much "myth-making" in
Islam as in Judaism and Christianity. And so his current process of
"rethinking Islam" was begun.
Asked whether he thought his public airings of his findings will destroy
peoples' faith, he said: "It will destroy a literalist faith, a faith no
longer reliable because of reason. But, the God I believe in is not a
god of literalists. He is the Ultimate One. God doesn't write books. All
the various sacred books are the product of human minds and experiences.
They can be helpful but they must be interpreted for today."
Kalisch maintains non-Muslim scholars who agree with his hypothesis but
keep silent out of "respect" for Muslims are in fact treating them as
though they can't handle the truth.
"That's not respect, it's putting Muslims on the same level as small
children who can't think and decide for themselves and whose illusions
of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny one doesn't want to destroy."