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Did Jesus Exist?
By T.J. White
“The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give His work its final consecration, never had any existence. He is a figure designed by rationalism, endowed with life by liberalism, and clothed by modern theology in an historical garb. This image has not been destroyed from without, it has fallen to pieces, cleft and disintegrated by the concrete historical problems which cam e to the surface one after another, and in spite of all the artifice, art, artificiality, and violence which was applied to them, refused to be planed down to fit the design on which the Jesus of the theology … had been constructed, … “ Albert Schweitzer, world-famous Christian theologian, missionary, doctor, and concert organist, in “The Quest for the Historical Jesus” (1906), concluding chapter.
Introduction “Jesus of Nazareth” is fervently believed by millions of people the world over to have once walked this earth, as the “Only-Begotten Son of God in the Flesh,” to have performed many mighty miracles, to have died a criminal‟s death by crucifixion as atonement for the collective sins of humankind, to have (directly or indirectly) founded one of the world‟s major monotheistic religions, and—finally—to have promised to return again “to judge the quick and the dead.” And yet—incredible as it may seem (especially to those who claim to „believe‟ in “Jesus” in the traditional sense), there is actually considerable and compelling evidence to cause us to question whether any such „person‟ ever actually existed at all. Such evidence includes several pertinent facts, not all of which can be properly examined in a paper of such short a scope as this one. Among the facts which we will here examine, are the following: (a) Belief in a saviour-type deity who was the “Son of God,” a „dying and resurrecting‟ godman (half human and half divine), who suffered death for the sins of mankind, had existed throughout the ancient Near East for many centuries prior to Christianity. This belief appears to have begun with the ancient Egyptians, literally thousands of years before “Jesus” is supposed to have lived (citation needed).
(b) The so-called „revolutionary‟ altruistic teachings of “Jesus” were all pre-figured either by the writings of Plato, or of the several philosophic schools of that time. (c) There is not one piece of solid, incontrovertible historical evidence that any religious teacher named “Jesus” ever lived at the time and place he is alleged to have inhabited. Sure, some slight historical evidence does exist (which we will discuss momentarily). But two initial observations need to be made about it: many scholars—both earlier and modern--have called that evidence into serious question (as probably constituting nothing more than ancient attempts at fabricated propaganda to convince the skeptics that a person named “Jesus” had actually lived), and, furthermore, there is nothing in that body of supposed „evidence‟ in any way resembling the quantity and quality of the known historical evidence for a known, proven historical person such as the great religious teachers known as Mohammed the Prophet, or Gautama Siddharta (the “Buddha,” or “Enlightened One”). Both of those religious teachers left extensive and generally unchallenged documentary evidence (and even physical descendants, in the case of Mohammed) to prove without question that they existed. No such unquestioned historical evidence exists for “Jesus”—only a very few brief mentions in ancient writers-- mentions of doubtful authenticity. In light of this evidence (or lack thereof), much of which has been readily available and known to scholars and independent thinkers for centuries, the honest pursuer of „Truth‟ cannot help but take the final „plunge‟, and ask the most daring, bold (and even heretical) of questions: whether or not the story of “Jesus,” and its sometimes brutal enforcement upon indigenous peoples the world over (and the thousands, if not millions, who have died as a result), has perhaps been the greatest hoax and tragedy ever perpetrated upon the human race. As daring and presumptuous a statement as that (even blasphemous, as many would no doubt say) surely requires only the most compelling of evidences to substantiate it. Though many people, with their own cherished beliefsystems to uphold, or personal „axes‟ to „grind,‟ will strenuously deny that it is the case, such powerful and compelling evidence does indeed exist, which fact is the only reason why this present writer would even dare to address
this controversial subject at all. This brief essay can unfortunately mention only the most important of these points. For a fuller discussion, the reader must be referred to some of the articles cited or mentioned in the bibliography.
Diving In Most modern writers who attempt to defend the historicity of the „man‟ we call „Jesus‟ or „The Christ,‟ being for the most part sadly blinded by their own deep-seated prejudices, and unfortunately (so it seems) unable to approach new truths which sharply challenge their previous beliefs or assumptions, unfortunately usually tend toward ad hominem attacks, rather than properly addressing the merits of the evidence itself. A simpler way of putting this would be to say that they try to kill the messenger because they don‟t like the message. This writer has yet to see a so-called “Christian” writer or apologist for “Jesus” who has not succumbed to this unfortunate tendency—this tendency which so greatly obscures the truth, and blinds them to the reality and true nature of the facts they are attempting (halfheartedly, it would seem) to discuss. It is as if one expects a horse wearing blinders (which focus his sight in only one direction) to see the approach of a speeding automobile from beside him. Such a thing is simply not possible. The blinders must first be removed. As a pertinent example of this unfortunate tendency, one need only read Paul L. Maier, who is (or was) the Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University. His online article “Did Jesus Really Exist?” is a textbook case of such tactics (Maier par.1+), and is, moreover, an astonishing utterance to come from the pen of an ostensibly reputable historian. His article reads almost as if it was designed to „preach to the choir,‟ and convince those whose minds are already made up, rather than fairly and impartially discuss the evidence. Moreover, he mentions only evidence he believes will bolster his case, and completely ignores any evidence he thinks will weaken or challenge it (pars/ 2+). Such misguided apologists (and Maier is only one among many), if they do not merely try to ignore the hard-to-swallow evidence (when it contradicts what they fervently want to believe), simply attack and dismiss that evidence out-of-hand--again, without even addressing its merits at all (Carrier par.2). This is regrettable, even if (perhaps) understandable.
The ancient Roman orator Cicero, in a well-known passage from his De Oratore, asserted that the rules for the recording (and teaching) of history “are obvious”: Who does not perceive that its chief law is never to dare to say anything false, and never dare withhold anything true? The slightest suspicion of hatred or favor must be avoided. That such should be the foundations is known to all; the materials with which the building will be raised consist of facts and words (qtd. in Jusserand par.13). The equally well-known advice of Nineteenth-Century British biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (grandfather of novelist Aldous and scientist Sir Julian) is appropriate to be recalled here as well: Sit down before fact like a little child, and be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing (Letter, 1860). When critics counter that “Huxley was an atheist,” or, “Huxley was a friend and champion of Charles Darwin,” they are only attacking the messenger (as mentioned above), because they dislike (or even fear) his message. It really doesn‟t matter whether such statements are true or not. That does not change the fact that Huxley‟s is some very sage advice. But now, let us move on toward a somewhat deeper discussion of the evidence we have been defending:
The dying-and-resurrecting godman, or savior-figure We earlier mentioned a commonality of belief in the ancient Mediterranean world regarding a “saviour-type” deity who was held to rule the worlds above and below. The „dying-and-resurrecting‟ godman who in ancient Egypt was called Osiris, and who, according to the great Egyptologist Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, was “henceforth the king of the underworld and judge of the dead … because he had conquered death …” (Freke and Gandy 25), was known in other nearby cultures by many different names. In Greece, he was known as Dionysus; in Asia Minor, he was called Attis; in ancient Persia, he
was known as Mithras; in ancient Syria, he was called Adonis; in Italy, Bacchus (Freke and Gandy 23, 29). The “early Christians” simply came along and took that same basic idea of deity, and gave “Him” a new name: “Jesus” “Christ,” which names are simply nothing more than Greek renderings of the Jewish name “Joshua” (actually “Yeshua” or “Yehoshevah”) and the Jewish title “Moshiach” (or Messiah), meaning “the anointed one.” As scholars will know, that name “Yeshua” or “Joshua” is nothing more than the traditional Hebrew tetragrammaton, or name of “God”—the four sacred letters Yod, He, Vau, and He (YHWH ,), with the introduction of the candelabra-like letter “Shin,” ( ) שsaid to represent the descent of the fire of the “Holy Spirit” into the “man” Jesus. As will be seen from studying the many reference works on the subject, however, this was originally intended to have been only a figurative, and not a literal, reference (citation needed). Moreover, the name “Yeshua” in and of itself, not surprisingly, is nothing more or less than the Hebrew word meaning “the one who saves,” or “Saviour”! (citation needed). If the above facts are not enough evidence to show the humanly-fabricated nature of the name “Jesus,” (as having been derived from the alreadyexisting Hebrew names for “God” and/or “Saviour”) then consider the following: The original Greek form of the name “Jesus,” which was spelled I-E-S-O-US, gives the number 888, when the numerical value of the letters (which, like the Roman alphabet, also functioned as numerals) is added up. As co-authors Freke and Gandy point out, it works like this: I (10) + E (8) + S (200) + O (70) + U (400) + S (200) = 888 (Freke and Gandy 116). The most rational explanation for this fact is not that it is an astonishing miracle of God, but that it is a simple reflection of the ingenious human crafting of the name. Yet it is astonishing how quickly otherwise rational, intelligent people will resort to the miraculous, in their attempt to defend the historicity of the so-called “man” we call “Jesus,” and thus their cherished belief-system (not to mention the „status quo‟).
(And remember that the so-called “number of the Beast”—Jesus‟ adversary, according to Revelation 13:18—was traditionally rendered as 666, though recent scholarship has cast some doubt on this traditional version‟s accuracy.) (Wikipedia, “Number of the Beast”) The practice of examining (and rendering) personal names and even ordinary words for their numerological significance was a common one in the ancient Hebrew and early Christian worlds. Though now nearly forgotten, this practice was referred to as Gematria, and whole schools of early Christian thought were devoted to its practice and exegesis, including the famous one at Alexandria, founded by Clement “of Alexandria,” whose best-known disciple (and devotee of Gematria) was the church-father Origen. Thus, it can be seen that it was surely no accident (and certainly no divine „miracle‟) that the original Greek form of the name “Jesus” just happened to add up to a number like 888. It was purposely contrived! (And by human beings. …) In antiquity, those “Christian” „heresiologists‟ who wished to try to argue against these earlier “saviours” of mankind (and their uncanny resemblance to “Jesus”) usually claimed—evidently because they could come up with no better argument—that those other „dying-and-resurrecting‟ godmen had one and all been merely “The Devil‟s” counterfeit and snare, to lead the unwary astray. “The Devil” (so they said) was thus only mimicking (and in advance!) the true saviour-God of mankind (Jesus) (Freke and Gandy 28). No satisfactory modern response to the existence of these strange “copycat” saviour-gods has yet presented itself; most modern Christian apologists appearing to be trying their best to ignore such damning evidence (Maier pars 2+). The revolutionary teachings of “Jesus” We must next ask the question of how many (if any) of Jesus‟ revolutionary doctrines can be said to have originated with him (if he actually existed); for example, the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” or the lofty injunctions to “love your neighbour as yourself,” or, “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and do good to them that hate you,” etc.
The answer (perhaps not surprisingly) is—none. Not one of those beautiful teachings was original with “Jesus.” All of them, without exception, were copied from earlier sources. As a single germaine example (out of many possible ones), we will cite the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who wrote that This is the philosopher’s way; to be flogged like an ass and to love those who beat him, to be father and brother of all humanity (qtd. in Freke and Gandy 68). And again, the response from modern critics to this massive evidence (of which we have cited only one example) seems to be mostly deafening silence—as if they think that, by ignoring the painful evidence, it will somehow simply go away. The questionable historical “evidence” Finally, we must ask what historical evidence there is which might indicate whether any great religious teacher named “Jesus” actually lived. As intimated above, no such historical evidence exists that is without serious question or controversy. Often quoted by „Christian‟ scholars and apologists to “prove” Jesus‟ existence is a now-famous passage from Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, whose voluminous writings are a valuable window into the early Christian era: At about this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one might call him a man. For he was one who accomplished surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as are eager for novelties. He won over many of the Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon an indictment brought by the principal men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him from the very first did not cease to be attached to him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the holy prophets had foretold this and myriads of other marvels concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has to this day still not disappeared (qtd. in Freke and Gandy 136).
This excerpt, aside from the fact that it sounds almost like a slightly-altered wording of the Nicene Creed (and would thus be an astonishing utterance to come from an urbane, cultured, worldly „renegade‟ Jew who was thoroughly “Hellenized” and who elsewhere made it clear that he completely despised the “Christians”—when he bothered to mention them at all), has since been called into serious question by other, more careful, scholars, as very likely constituting a later interpolation by Christian scribes (citation needed). This would have been done on their part to “prove” Jesus historicity, by an appeal to one of the best known historians of the period (and specifically Jewish one at that). As several scholars and critics have pointed out, this specific passage “appears out of context, thereby breaking the flow of the narrative” (Martin). More significantly still, many ancient manuscripts of Josephus still exist (the oldest versions, without exception), all lacking the fraudulent, forged insertion (Freke and Gandy 136). This last fact alone should completely close the argument about Josephus. Christian scholars (Maier par.13+) frequently mention other historians of the period (such as Tacitus, Pliny, or Suetonius) who also supposedly referred to someone named “Jesus” or “Christus.” Better analysis, however, has shown that without exception, these references were one and all in fact only to the Christians themselves (and nobody denies that they existed), or to other individual persons bearing similar names. One such reference (from the Roman historian Suetonius) was regarding a man named “Chrestus,” who apparently caused an uproar in Rome “about the time of Claudius” (Freke and Gandy 134). To pull another of these Roman historians down from the „dusty shelf,‟ in defense of our argument, we will next turn to Cornelius Tacitus (who used to be required reading in all our schools), who wrote that “Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus” (qtd. in Maier par.13). Yet, as Freke and Gandy point out (135), Tacitus, although perhaps a “careful historian,” as Maier insists (par.13), nonetheless got Pontius Pilate‟s title wrong: Pilate had in fact been a „prefect,‟ not a „procurator.‟ This ancient slip-up has led several modern scholars (Doherty piece 2) to seriously speculate that Tacitus was simply repeating common hearsay
gossip of the day, about that “pestilential disease” (Tacitus‟ own pejorative epithet) known as the “Christians” (Maier par.14), rather than actual facts. Certainly (by every rational indication), Tacitus—who clearly also despised the “Christians”—did not seem to care enough about them to bother to get his facts about them straight.
Christianity without Christ? As hinted at just now, another argument frequently advanced by defenders of “Jesus” is that there could never have been such a thing as “Christians,” or such a thing as the world-wide phenomenal success of the Christian Church (in all its permutations), without there having first been a Christ. In other words, they ask, “How could a major world religion such as Christianity have come into existence without there having been a charismatic founder—a real human being (named “Jesus Christ”)? Here, an analogy might be helpful. Nobody denies that for centuries the ancient Greeks worshipped a pantheon of deities such as Zeus, Apollo, Hera, and Poseidon, all of whom supposedly resided and reigned from atop Mount Olympus. Nobody denies that this state religion was thoroughly ingrained as part of the socio-cultural fabric of the Greco-Roman world. Yet we also have pretty near universal agreement as well that not one of those “Greek gods” was ever a real person. All are universally admitted to have been fictitious—true anthropomorphic deities (created by human beings, and fashioned after their own likeness and image). In the case of the ancient Greek state religion, what we had was a religion about invented, fictitious personalities (now seen to merely embody or personify concepts, or attributes of human emotion)—personalities who weren‟t any more real in the literal, physical sense than Donald Duck, or Scooby-Doo. Yet millions of people once fervently believed in those ancient Greek gods all the same—notwithstanding what we now know to be their true, fictitious nature, and believed them to be real, actual, physical beings, capable of real intervention in their everyday lives. How then (the question is begged), is Christianity any different? As any rational thinker must admit (when confronted with the evidence), it is really only our cultural prejudice which makes us view the ancient Greek
state religion one way, and modern “Christianity” another way. Cultural prejudices, like blinders on a docile, unchallenging horse, are indeed extremely difficult to throw off. Yet this is what we must do, if we are to even begin to see this issue clearly (and non-prejudicially).
Conclusion The honesty and integrity of many of the people who, in the past or present, have claimed to believe in the reality and divinity of “Jesus” is not for a moment to be doubted. Some of them, indeed, are to be counted among our own friends and relations. We cannot cast aspertions upon their honest beliefs or intentions. We can, however, find that they have been seriously— even profoundly—misled and mistaken. And this, in itself, would be as great a tragedy as the grand „hoax‟ alluded to earlier. The evidence against the existence of “Jesus,” as presented here, is admittedly incomplete. Much more could be said on this subject. Indeed, several excellent books have already been written in this regard. Moreover, it is indeed a monumentally stupendous thought to consider that two thousand years of history, culture, art, and music, could in truth have only been based on a work of fiction—upon the greatest hoax humankind has ever seen. Hopefully, this all-too-brief essay will have provided a stimulus to examine in greater detail some of that fascinating and compelling literature. T.J. White September the 3rd, 2008.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?