The Painful Truth About The Worldwide Church of God

Did a historical Jesus exist?

by Jim Walker

originated: 12 June 1997 / modified: 10 Jan. 1998

Amazingly, the question of an actual historical Jesus rarely confronts the religious believer. The power of faith has so forcefully driven the minds of believers, and even apologetic scholars, that the question of reliable evidence has been obscured and bogged down with tradition, religious subterfuge, and outrageous claims. The following gives a brief outlook about the claims of a historical Jesus and why the evidence the Christians present us cannot serve as justification for reliable evidence for a historical Jesus.

All claims of Jesus derive from hearsay accounts

No one has the slightest physical evidence from a historical Jesus; no artifacts, dwelling, works of carpentry, or self-written manuscripts. All claims about Jesus derive from writings of other people. All historical documents that mention Jesus were written after the life of the alleged Jesus from either: unknown authors, people who had never met an earthly Jesus, or from fraudulent writings. Although many of these claims can be argued as fraudulent, I will use the information and dates to show that even if these sources were not fraudulent , they could still not serve as reliable evidence for a historical Jesus.

Hearsay means information derived from another source, or evidence based on the reports of others rather than on witnesses themselves.

Courts of law do not generally allow hearsay as testimony, and nor does honest modern scholarship. Hearsay provides no proof or good evidence, and therefore, we should dismiss it.

If anyone does not understand this, imagine yourself confronted with a charge for a crime which you know that you did not commit. You feel confident that you cannot be blamed because you know that there exists no evidence whatsoever for the charge against you. Now imagine that you're presented in a court of law that allows hearsay as evidence good enough for conviction. However, when the prosecution presents its case, everyone who takes the stand against you says that you committed the crime, but not as a witness themselves, but solely because they say other people said so. None of these other people, mind you, ever show up, nor can they be found.

Hearsay does not work as evidence because we have no way of knowing whether the person is lying, or is simply basing his information on wrongful belief. We know from history about witchcraft trials and kangaroo courts that hearsay is neither reliable nor fair. We know that mythology can arise out of no good information whatsoever. We continually live in a world infested with beliefs of demons, UFOs, ghosts, Lochness monsters, and an innumerable number of fantasies believed as fact taken from nothing but belief and hearsay. It is for these reasons why hearsay cannot serves as good evidence, and the same reasoning must be applied for the claims of a historical Jesus.

The Bible Gospels

The earliest, and considered the most authoritative, accounts of a historical Jesus come from the four Gospels of the Bible. Note that these Gospels did not come into the Bible as original and authoritative from the authors themselves , but rather from the influence of a church father named Irenaeus of Lyon who lived in the middle of the second century. Many heretical gospels were around at that time, but Irenaeus considered only four for mystical reasons. He said that there were only four in number; like the four zones of the world, the four winds, the four divisions of man's estate, and the four forms of the first living creatures-- the lion of Mark, the calf of Luke, the man of Matthew, the eagle of John (see Against the Heresies). The four gospels then became Church cannon for the orthodox faith. Most of the other claimed gospel writings were burned, destroyed, or lost.

Elaine Pagels writes: "Although the gospels of the New Testament-- like those discovered at Nag Hammadi-- are attributed to Jesus' followers, no one knows who actually wrote any of them."

Not only do we not know who wrote them, consider also that none of the Gospels were written during the alleged life of Jesus, nor do the unknown authors make the claim to have met an earthly Jesus. Add to this that none of the original manuscripts exist; we only have copies of copies.

The consensus of most biblical historians put the dating of the earliest Gospel, that of Mark, at sometime after 70 C.E., and the last Gospel, John after 90 C.E. This would make it some 40 years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus that we have any Gospel writings that mention him!

The traditional Church has portrayed the authors as the apostles Mark, Luke, Matthew, & John, but we know from critical textural research that there simply exists no evidence that the authors (whoever they were) could have been the apostles described in the Gospel stories. Yet even today, we hear priests and ministers describing these authors as the actual apostles. Many Bibles still continue to label the stories as "The Gospel according to St. Matthew," "St. Mark," "St. Luke," St. John." No apostle would have announced his own sainthood before the Church's establishment of sainthood. As an experiment, imagine the Gospels without their titles. See if you can find out from the texts who wrote them, and what their names were.

Even if the texts supported the notion that it was written by apostles, consider that the average life span of humans in the first century was around 30, and very few people lived to 70. If the apostles were about the same age of Jesus, while he lived, that would put Mark at least 70 years old, and John at over 110.

The gospel of Mark describes the first written Bible gospel. And although Mark appears deceptively after the Matthew gospel, the gospel of Mark was written at least a generation before Matthew. From its own words, we can deduce that the author of Mark had neither heard Jesus nor been his personal follower. Whoever he was, he simply accepted the mythology of Jesus without question and wrote a crude and ungrammatical account of the popular story at the time. Any careful reading of the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) will reveal that Mark is the common element between Matthew and Luke and was the main source for both of them. Of Mark's 666 verses, some 600 appear in Matthew, some 300 in Luke. According to Randel Helms, the author of Mark, whoever he was, stands at least at a third remove from Jesus and more likely at the fourth remove.

The author of Matthew had obviously gotten his information from Mark's gospel and used them for his own needs. He fashioned his narrative to appeal to Jewish tradition and Scripture. He improved the grammar of Mark's Gospel, corrected what he felt was theologically important, and heightened the miracles and magic.

The author of Luke admits to being an interpreter of earlier material and not an eyewitness (Luke 1:1-4). Many scholars think the author of Luke was a gentile, or at the very least, a hellenized Jew and even possibly a woman. He (or she) wrote at a time of tension in the Roman empire and with its fever of persecution. Many modern scholars think that the Gospel of Luke was derived from the Mark gospel and a hypothetical document called "Q".

John, the last appearing Bible Gospel, presents us with long theological discourses from Jesus and could not possibly have come as literal words from a historical Jesus. The Gospel of John disagrees with events described in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Moreover the book was written in Greek near the end of the first century, and according to Bishop Shelby Spong, the book "carried within it a very obvious reference to the death of John Zebedee (John 21:23)."

Some scholars feel that the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John may have derived in part out of an earlier work designated as Q (German Quelle, which means "source"). However, since we have no manuscript from Q, no one could possibly determine who its author was or where or how he got his information or the date of its authorship. Again we're faced with unreliable methodology and obscure sources.

It's important to realize that the stories themselves cannot serve as examples of eyewitness accounts since they were products of the minds of the unknown authors, and not from the characters themselves. The Gospels describe narrative stories, written almost virtually in the third person. People who wish to portray themselves as eyewitnesses will write in the first person, not in the third person. Moreover, many of the passages attributed to Jesus could only have come from the invention of its authors. For example, many of the statements of Jesus are said to have come from him when he is allegedly alone. If so, who heard him? It becomes even more marked when the evangelists report about what Jesus thought. To whom did Jesus confide his thoughts? Clearly, the Gospels employ techniques that fictional writers use. In any case the Gospels can only serve, at best, as hearsay, and at worst, as fictional or mythological stories.

Other New Testament writings

Epistles of Paul: Paul's biblical letters (epistles) are the oldest surviving Christian texts, written probably before 60 C.E. We have little reason to doubt that Paul wrote them himself. However, there occurs not a single instance in all of Paul's writings that he ever meets or sees an earthly Jesus. Therefore, all accounts about a Jesus could only have come from other believers. Hearsay.

Epistles of John: The epistles of John and the Gospels of John, and Revelations appear so different in style and content that they could hardly have been written by the same person. Some suggest that these writings of John are the work of a group of scholars in Asia Minor who followed a "John" or they were the work of church fathers who aimed to further the interests of the Church. Or they could have simply come from people also named John (a very common name). No one knows. Also note that nowhere in the body of the three epistles of "John" does it mention a John. In any case, the epistles of John say nothing about seeing an earthly Jesus. Not only do we not know who wrote the epistles, they could only serve as hearsay accounts of Jesus.

Epistles of Peter: Many scholars question the authorship of Peter of the epistles. Even within the first epistle, it says in 5:12 that it was written by Silvanus. As for the second epistle, doubt about its authenticity occur as early as the time of Origen (217-251 C.E.). In short, we have no way of determining whether the epistles of Peter come from fraud, an unknown author also named Peter (a common name) or from someone trying to further the aims of the Church.

Lying for the Church

The editing and formation of the Bible was done by members of the orthodox Church. Since the fathers of the Church owned and determined what would appear in the Bible, there existed plenty of opportunity to change, modify, or create texts that might bolster the position of the Church or the members of the Church themselves.

Take, for example, Eusebius who was an ecclesiastical church historian and bishop. He had great influence in the early Church and he openly advocated the use of fraud and deception in furthering the interests of the Church. Many scholars think that Eusebius forged Josephus writings where he mentions Jesus.

The Church had such power over people, that to question the Church could result in death. Regardless on what the Church said, people had to take it as "truth." St. Ignatius Loyola of the 16th century even wrote: "We should always be disposed to believe that which appears to us to be white is really black, if the hierarchy of the church so decides."

The orthodox Church also fought against competing Christian cults. Irenaeus, who determined the four gospels, wrote his famous book, "Against the Heresies." This book helped fuel the fire for later inquisitions. Also, by saying what Christianity was not, he and others like him became the very definition of the orthodox faith. The early Church burned many heretics, along with their sacred texts. If a Jesus did exist, perhaps his writings or writings from an eyewitness may have been burnt with them. We will never know.

With such intransigence from the Church and the admitting to lying for its cause, and burning of heretical texts, how could any honest scholar take any book from the New Testament as absolute, much less using extraneous texts that support a Church's position, as reliable evidence?

In attempting to salvage the Bible the respected revisionist and scholar, Bruce Metzger has written extensively on the problems of the New Testament. In his book, "The Text of the New Testament-- Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, Metzger addresses: Errors arising from faulty eyesight; Errors arising from faulty hearing; Errors of the mind; Errors of judgement; Clearing up historical and geographical difficulties; and Alterations made because of doctrinal considerations.

Gnostic Gospels

In 1945, an Arab made an astonishing archeological discovery in Upper Egypt of several ancient papyrus books. They have since been referred to as The Nag Hammadi texts. They contained fifty-two heretical books written in Coptic script which include gospels of Thomas, Philip, James, John, Thomas, and many others. These books have been dated at around 350-400 C.E. They represent copies from previous copies. None of the original texts exist and scholars argue about a possible date of the originals. Some of them think that they can hardly be later than 120-150 C.E. Others have put it closer to 140 C.E.

Since these texts and their originals could only have been written well after the alleged life of Jesus, they cannot serve as historical evidence of Jesus anymore than the orthodox versions. Again, we only have "heretical" hearsay.

Non-Christian sources

Virtually all other claims of Jesus come from sources outside of Christian writings. Devastating to the claims of Christians, however, comes from the fact that all of these accounts come from authors who lived after the alleged life of Jesus. Since they did not exist at the time of the supposed Jesus, none of their accounts serve as eyewitness evidence.

Josephus Flavius, the Jewish historian, was the earliest non-Christian mention of Jesus. Although most scholars think that Josephus' short accounts of Jesus (in Antiquities) came from fraud perpetrated by a later Church father, Josephus was born in 37 C.E., after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus. Therefore, even if his accounts about Jesus came from him, his information could only come to us as hearsay.

Pliny the Younger, a Roman official, was born in 62 C.E. His letter about the Christians only shows that he got his information from Christian believers themselves. Regardless, his birthday puts him out of the range of eyewitness accounts.

Tacitus, the Roman historian was born in 64 C.E., well after the alleged life of Jesus. He gives a brief mention of a "Christus" in his Annals, Book XV, Sec. 44. However, he gives no source for his material. Although there are many disputes as to the authenticity of Tacitus' mention of Jesus, the very fact that he was born after Jesus can only provide us with hearsay accounts.

Suetonius, a Roman historian, born in 69 C.E. who mentions a "Chrestus" a common name. Apologists assume that "Chrestus" means "Christ." But even if Seutonius had used "Christ," it still says nothing about an earthly Jesus. Just like all the others, Suetonius was born after the purported Jesus. Again, only hearsay.

Talmud: Amazingly some Christians use brief portions of the Talmud, (a collection of Jewish civil a religious law, including commentaries on the Torah), as evidence for Jesus. They claim that Yeshu (a common name in Jewish literature) in the Talmud stands for Jesus. Regardless of how one interprets this, the Palestinian Talmud was written between the 3rd and 5th century C.E., and the Babylonian Talmud between the 3rd and 6th century C.E., at least two centuries after the alleged crucifixion! At best it can only serve as controversial Christian and pagan legend; it cannot possibly serve as evidence for a historical Jesus.

As you can see, apologist Christians are embarrassing themselves when they unwittingly or deceptively violate the rules of historiography by using after-the-event writings as evidence for the event itself. Not one of these writers ever gives a source or backs up his claims with evidential material about Jesus. Although we can provide numerous reasons why the non-Christian sources are spurious, and argue endlessly about them, we can cut to the chase by simply looking up their author's dates. It doesn't matter what these people wrote about Jesus, an author who writes after the alleged happening and gives no detectable sources for his material can only give example of hearsay. All of the post writings about Jesus could easily have come from the beliefs and stories from Christian believers themselves.

What about writings during the life of Jesus?

What is most revealing of all, is not what was later written about Jesus but what was not written about him. Consider that not a single historian, philosopher or any author who lived during the alleged time of Jesus ever mentions him!

Take, for example, the works of Philo Judaeus who was born 20 B.C.E. and died 50 C.E. He was a Jewish-Hellenistic philosopher and historian who lived in the area of Jerusalem during the alleged life of Jesus. He wrote detailed accounts of the events that occurred in the surrounding area. Yet not once, in all of his volumes of writings, do we read a single account of a Jesus "the Christ."

Amazingly, we have not one Jewish, Greek or Roman writer, even those who lived in the Middle East, much less anywhere else on the earth, who ever mention him during his life time. This is quite extraordinary, and you will find few Christian apologists who dare mention this embarrassing fact.

To illustrate this extraordinary absence of Jesus literature, just imagine going through nineteenth century literature looking for an Abraham Lincoln but unable to find a single mention of him in any writings on earth. Yet straight-faced Christian apologists and historians want you to buy a factual Jesus out of a dearth void of evidence, and rely on nothing but hearsay written well after his purported life. Considering that Christians believe that Jesus was a God on earth, the Almighty gives an embarrassing example for explaining his existence. You'd think a Creator might at least bark up some good solid evidence.

Historical scholars

There occurs many problems with the reliability of the accounts from ancient historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, etc. Most of them did not provide sources for their claims, as they rarely included bibliographic listings, or supporting claims. They did not have access to modern scholarly techniques, and many times would include hearsay as evidence. No modern scholar, today would be taken seriously if he used the standards of ancient historians, yet this is the very kind of information that Christian history comes from. Couple this with the fact that many historians were Christian themselves, sometimes members of the Church, and you have a built-in prejudice towards supporting a "real" Jesus.

In modern scholarship, even the best historians and Christian apologists play the historian game. They can only use what's available to them. If it's only hearsay that they have, then they are forced to play the cards they are dealt with. Many use interpolation or guesses from hearsay, and yet this very dubious information sometimes ends up in encyclopedias and history books as fact.

In other words, Biblical scholarship is forced into a lower standard by the very sources they are dealing with. This was illustrated clearly in an interview by the renowned Biblical scholar, David Noel Freeman (Freeman, the General editor of the Anchor Bible Series and many other works). He was asked about Biblical interpretation and Freeman wrote:

"We have to accept somewhat looser standards. In the legal profession, to convict the defendant of a crime, you need proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, a preponderance of the evidence is sufficient. When dealing with the Bible or any ancient source, we have to loosen up a little; otherwise, we can't really say anything."

-David Noel Freedman (in Bible Review magazine, Dec. 1993, p.34)

The implications are obvious. If one wishes to believe in a historical Jesus, he must accept it based on loose standards. Couple this with the fact that all of the claims come from hearsay, and we have a foundation made of sand, and a castle of information built out of cards.

Citing geography, and known historical figures as "evidence"

Although the New Testament mentions various cities, geological sites, kings and people that existed and lived during the alleged life of Jesus, these descriptions cannot be used as evidence for the existence of Jesus. Many works of fiction include recognizable locations, and many of them mention actual people.

Homer's Odyssey, for example, describes the travels of Odysseus throughout the Greek islands. The epic describes, in detail, many locations that existed in history. But should we take Odysseus, the Greek gods and goddesses, one-eyed giants and monsters as literal fact simply because the story depicts geographic locations accurately? Of course not. Mythical stories, fictions, and narratives almost always use familiar landmarks as placements for their stories. Even Superman and Star Trek include recognizable cities, planets, and landmarks.

And just because the Gospels mention cities and locations in Judea, and known historical people, this says nothing about the actuality of the characters portrayed in the stories. However, when a story uses impossible historical locations, or geographical errs, we may question the authority of the claims.

For example, in Matt 4:8, the author describes the devil taking Jesus into an exceedingly high mountain to show him all the kingdoms of the world. Since there exists no spot on the spheroid earth to view "all the kingdoms", we know that the Bible errs here.

John 12:21 says, "The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee. . . ." Bethsaida is in Gaulonitis, not Galilee.

John 3:23 says, "John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim. . . ." Critics agree that no such place as Aenon exists near Salim.

We have not a shred of evidence for a village named Nazareth at the time of the alleged Jesus.

Many more errors and unsupported geographical locations appear in the New Testament. And although these cannot be used as evidence against a historical Jesus, we can certainly question the reliability of the texts. If the scriptures make so many factual errors about geology, science, and contain contradictions, we can pretty much conclude that errors could crop up in any area.

If we have a coupling with historical people and locations, then we should also have some historical reference of a Jesus to these locations and people. But just the opposite proves the case. The Bible depicts Herod, the Ruler of Jewish Palestine under Rome as sending out men to search and kill the infant Jesus, yet nothing in history supports such a story. Pontius Pilate supposedly performed as judge in the trial and execution of Jesus, yet not a single Roman record mentions such a trial. The gospels portray a multitude of believers throughout the land spreading tales of a teacher, prophet, and healer, yet nobody in Jesus' life time ever records such a figure. The lack of a historical Jesus in the known historical record speaks for itself.

Comparing Jesus to other historical figures

Many Christian apologists attempt to extricate themselves from their lack of evidence, claim that if we cannot rely on the post chronicle exegesis of Jesus, then we cannot establish a historical foundation for other figures such as Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Socrates, etc. However, there is a vast difference between historical figures and Jesus. There occurs either artifacts, writings, or eyewitness for established historical people, whereas, for Jesus we have nothing.

Alexander, for example, left a wake of destroyed and created cities behind. We have buildings, libraries and cities, such as Alexandria, left in his name. We have treaties, and even a letter from Alexander to the people of Chios, engraved in stone, dated at 332 B.C.E. For Socrates, we have the eyewitness writings of Plato that depicts his philosophy and life. Napoleon left behind artifacts, eyewitness accounts and letters. We can establish some historicity to these people because we have evidence that occurred during their life times.

But for Jesus, not a shred of evidence occurs during his life time. If a fair comparison should be made to the "evidence" of Jesus, then it would better to compare him with a mythical figure such as Hercules.

If Jesus, then why not Hercules?

Note that Herculean myth resembles Jesus in many areas. Hercules was born from a God (Zeus) and a mortal chaste mother (Alcmene). Similar to Herod who wanted to kill Jesus, Hera wanted to kill Hercules. Like Jesus, Hercules traveled the earth as a mortal helping mankind and performed miraculous deeds. Like Jesus who died and rose to heaven, Hercules died, rose to Mt. Olympus and became a god. Hercules was perhaps the most popular hero in Ancient Greece and Rome. They believed that he actually lived, told stories about him, worshiped him, and dedicated temples to him.

Likewise the "evidence" of Hercules closely parallels that of Jesus. We have historical people like Hesiod and Plato who mentions Hercules. Similar to the way the gospels tell a narrative story of Jesus, so do we have the epic stories of Homer who depict the life of Hercules. Aesop tells stories and quotes the words of Hercules. Just as we have mention of Jesus in Joesphus' Antiquities, ,so also does Joesphus mention Hercules in Antiquities (see: 1.15; 8.5.3; 10.11.1). Just as Tacitus mentions a Christus, so does he also mention Hercules many times in his Annals. And most importantly, just as we have no artifacts, writings or eyewitnesses about Hercules, we also have nothing about Jesus. All information about Hercules and Jesus comes from stories, beliefs, and hearsay. Should we then believe in a historical Hercules, simply because ancient historians mention him and that we have stories and beliefs about him? Of course not, and the same applies to Jesus.

Hercules is only considered myth because people no longer believe in the Greek and Roman stories. Christianity and its churches, on the other hand, still hold a powerful influence on governments, institutions, and colleges. Anyone doing research on a historical Jesus, even skeptics, had better allude to his existence or else risk future funding and damage to their reputations. Christianity depends on establishing a historical Jesus and it will defend, at all costs, even the most unreliable sources. People want to believe in Jesus, and belief alone can create intellectual barriers that leak even into atheist and secular thought. We have so many Christian professors, theologians and historical "experts" around the world that tell us we should accept a historical Jesus that if repeated often enough, it tends to convince even the most ardent skeptic. The establishment of history should never reside with the "expert's" words alone or simply because a scholar has a reputation as a historian. If a scholar makes a historical claim, his assertion should depend primarily with the evidence itself and not just because he believes it. Facts do not require belief. Whereas beliefs can live comfortably without evidence at all, facts depend on evidence.

Then why the myth of Jesus?

Some people seem to think that just because so much has been written about a character, that means that he must have actually lived. This is not so. The number of people who believe or write about something or the number of degrees they hold say nothing at all about fact. Facts comes out of evidence, not from hearsay or from hubris scholars. Regardless of the position or admiration held by a scholar, if he cannot support his hypothesis with good evidence, then it can only remain a hypothesis.

While it is entirely possible that a historical Jesus actually lived, it is also possible that a mythology could have arrived totally out of earlier mythologies. Although we have no good evidence for a historical Jesus, we certainly have many accounts for the mythologies of the Middle East and Egypt during the first century and before that appear similar to the Christ savior story.

Remember that just before and during the first century, the Jews were prophesying about an upcoming Messiah. Their beliefs influenced many of their followers. We know that powerful beliefs attempt to create self-fulfilling prophesies, and surely this was just as true in ancient times. It was a popular dream expressed in Hebrew Scripture for the promise of an "end-time" with a savior to lead them to the promised land. Indeed, Roman records show executions of several would-be Messiahs, (but not a single record mentions a Jesus). It was widely thought that there could come a final war against the "Sons of Darkness"-- the Romans.

This then could very well have served as the ignition and flame for the future growth of Christianity. This coupled with the pagan myths of the time give sufficient information about how such a religion could have formed. Many of the Hellenistic and pagan myths parallel so closely to the alleged Jesus that to ignore its similarities is to ignore mythological history.

There have been dozens of similar savior stories that propagated the minds of humans long before the alleged life of Jesus. Virtually nothing about Jesus "the Christ" is original or new.

For example, the religion of Zoroaster was founded circa 628-551 B.C.E. in ancient Persia and roused mankind in the need for hating a devil, the belief of a paradise, last judgment and resurrection of the dead. Mithraism, an offshoot of Zoroastrianism probably influenced early Christianity with their beliefs. The Magi described in the New Testament appear to be Zoroastrian priests. Note the word "paradise" came from the Persian pairidaeza.

The Egyptian mythical Horus, god of light and goodness has many parallels to Jesus. For some examples:

Horus and the Father are one

Horus is the Father seen in the Son

Horus, light of the world, represented by the symbolical eye, the sign of salvation.

Horus was the way, the truth, the life by name and in person

Horus baptized with water by Anup (Jesus baptized with water by John)

Horus the Good Shepherd

Horus as the Lamb (Jesus as the Lamb)

Horus as the Lion (Jesus as the Lion)

Horus identified with the Tat Cross (Jesus with the cross)

The trinity of Atum the Father, Horus the Son, Ra the Holy Spirit

Horus the avenger (Jesus who brings the sword)

Horus the afflicted one

Horus as life eternal

Twelve followers of Hours as Har-Khutti (Jesus' 12 disciples)

Osiris, Hercules, Mithra, Hermes, Prometheus, Perseus and others compare to the Christian myth. According to Patrick Campbell of The Mythical Jesus, all are pre-Christian sun gods, yet all allegedly had gods for fathers, virgins for mothers; had their births announced by stars; were born on the solstice around December 25th; had tyrants who tried to kill them in their infancy; met violent deaths; rose from the dead; and nearly all were worshiped by "wise men" and were alleged to have fasted for forty days.

Even Justin Martyr recognized the analogies between Christianity and Paganism. To the Pagans, he wrote: "When we say that the Word, who is first born of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he, Jesus Christ, our teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven; we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter (Zeus)." [First Apology, ch. xxi]

Virtually all of the mythical accounts of a savior Jesus can be accounted for by these past mythologies.

A note about dating:

The A.D. (Anno Domini, or "year of our Lord") dating method was invented by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus in the sixth-century. Oddly, some people seem to think this has relevance to a historical Jesus. But of course it has nothing at all to do with it. In the time before the 6th century, people used various other dating methods. The Romans used A.U.C. (ab urbe condita, or "from the foundation of the city," that being Rome). The Jews had their own dating system. Dionysisus simply decided to reset time on January 1, 754 A.U.C. to January 1, of year one A.D., to fit his beliefs about the birth of Jesus. He conjectured his information from the Bible (which he got wrong).

Instead of B.C. and A.D., I have used the convention of B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) as often used in scholarly literature. They correspond to the same dates as B.C. & A.D., but without alluding to the birth or death of an alleged Christ.

Quotes from a few scholars:

Although apologist scholars believe in a historical Jesus, the reasons for this appear obvious considering their Christian beliefs. Although there does occur a few secular and atheists who accept a historical Jesus (minus the miracles), as time goes on, more and more scholars have begun to open the doors to a more honest look at the evidence, or should I say, the lack of evidence. So for those who wish to rely on scholarly opinion, I give a few quotes from people in the field of Biblical research:

"When the Church mythologists established their system, they collected all the writings they could find and managed them as they pleased. It is a matter altogether of uncertainty to us whether such of the writings as now appear under the name of the Old and New Testaments are in the same state in which those collectors say they found them, or whether they added, altered, abridged or dressed them up."

-Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)

"Some hoped to penetrate the various accounts and to discover the "historical Jesus". . . and that sorting out "authentic" material in the gospels was virtually impossible in the absence of independent evidence."

-Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University

"Although the gospels of the New Testament-- like those discovered at Nag Hammadi-- are attributed to Jesus' followers, no one knows who actually wrote any of them."

-Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University

"We can recreate dimensions of the world in which he lived, but outside of the Christian scriptures, we cannot locate him historically within that world."

-Gerald A. Larue

"The gospels are so anonymous that their titles, all second-century guesses, are all four wrong."

-Randel McCraw Helms

"Far from being an intimate of an intimate of Jesus, Mark wrote at the forth remove from Jesus."

-Randel McCraw Helms

"Mark himself clearly did not know any eyewitnesses of Jesus."

-Randel McCraw Helms

"The question must also be raised as to whether we have the actual words of Jesus in any Gospel."

-Bishop John Shelby Spong

"Many modern Biblical archaeologists now believe that the village of Nazareth did not exist at the time of the birth and early life of Jesus. There is simply no evidence for it."

-Alan Albert Snow

"But even if it could be proved that John's Gospel had been the first of the four to be written down, there would still be considerable confusion as to who "John" was. For the various styles of the New Testament texts ascribed to John- The Gospel, the letters, and the Book of Revelations-- are each so different in their style that it is extremely unlikely that they had been written by one person."

-John Romer, archeologist & Bible scholar (Testament)

"It was not until the third century that Jesus' cross of execution became a common symbol of the Christian faith."

-John Romer, archeologist & Bible scholar (Testament)

"Muslims believe that Jesus did not die on the cross (Koran 4:157), but this does not mean that historians (even Muslim historians) can use this belief as historical evidence that Jesus was not crucified.

What one believes and what one can demonstrate historically are usually two different things."

-Robert J. Miller, Bible scholar

"When it comes to the historical question about the Gospels, I adopt a mediating position-- that is, these are religious records, close to the sources, but they are not in accordance with modern historiographic requirements or professional standards."

-David Noel Freedman, Bible scholar and general editor of the Anchor Bible series (in Bible Review magazine, Jan. 1994, p.34)

"It is said that the last recourse of the Bible apologist is to fall back upon allegory. After all, when confronted with the many hundreds of biblical problems, allegory permits one to interpret anything however one might please."

-Gene Kasmar, Minnesota Atheists

"Paul did not write the letters to Timothy to Titus or several others published under his name; and it is unlikely that the apostles Matthew, James, Jude, Peter and John had anything to do with the canonical books ascribed to them."

-Michael D. Coogan, Professor of religious studies at Stonehill College

"A generation after Jesus' death, when the Gospels were written, the Romans had destroyed the Jerusalem Temple (in 70 C.E.); the most influential centers of Christianity were cities of the Mediterranean world such as Alexandria, Antioch, Corinth, Damascus, Ephesus and Rome. Although large number of Jews were also followers of Jesus, non-Jews came to predominate in the early Church. They controlled how the Gospels were written after 70 C.E."

-Bruce Chilton, Bell Professor of Religion at Bard College

"James Dunn says that the Sermon on the Mount, mentioned only by Matthew, "is in fact not historical."

How historical can the Gospels be? Are Murphy-O-Conner's speculations concerning Jesus' baptism by John simply wrong-headed? How can we really know if the baptism, or any other event written about in the Gospels, is historical?"

-Daniel P. Sullivan (Bible Review, July 16, 1996, p. 5)

"David Friedrich Strauss (The Life of Jesus, 1836), had argued that the Gospels could not be read as straightforward accounts of what Jesus actually did and said; rather, the evangelists and later redactors and commentators, influenced by their religious beliefs, had made use of myths and legends that rendered the gospel narratives, and traditional accounts of Jesus' life, unreliable as sources of historical information."

-Dale Allison (Bible Review, Nov. 15, 1996, p. 39)

"The Gospel authors were Jews writing within the midrashic tradition and intended their stories to be read as interpretive narratives, not historical accounts."

-Bishop Shelby Spong, Liberating the Gospels

"Other scholars have concluded that the Bible is the product of a purely human endeavor, that the identity of the authors is forever lost and that their work has been largely obliterated by centuries of translation and editing."

-Jeffery L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, "Who Wrote the Bible," Dec. 10, 1990, p. 61

"Yet today, there are few Biblical scholars-- from liberal skeptics to conservative evangelicals- who believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually wrote the Gospels. Nowhere do the writers of the texts identify themselves by name or claim unambiguously to have known or traveled with Jesus."

-Jeffery L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, "The Four Gospels," Dec. 10, 1990, p. 63

"Once written, many experts believe, the Gospels were redacted, or edited, repeatedly as they were copied and circulated among church elders during the last first and early second centuries."

-Jeffery L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, "The Four Gospels," Dec. 10, 1990, p. 63

"The tradition attributing the fourth Gospel to the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee, is first noted by Irenaeus in A.D. 180. It is a tradition based largely on what some view as the writer's reference to himself as "the beloved disciple" and "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Current objection to John's authorship are based largely on modern textural analyses that strongly suggest the fourth Gospel was the work of several hands, probably followers of an elderly teacher in Asia Minor named John who claimed as a young man to have been a disciple of Jesus."

-Jeffery L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, "The Four Gospels," Dec. 10, 1990, p. 63-64

"Some scholars say so many revisions occurred in the 100 years following Jesus' death that no one can be absolutely sure of the accuracy or authenticity of the Gospels, especially of the words the authors attributed to Jesus himself."

-Jeffery L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, "The Four Gospels," Dec. 10, 1990, p. 64

"Three letters that Paul allegedly wrote to his friends and former co-workers Timothy and Titus are now widely disputed as having come from Paul's hand."

-Jeffery L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, "The Letters of Paul," Dec. 10, 1990, p. 67

"The Epistle of James is a practical book, light on theology and full of advice on ethical behavior. Even so, its place in the Bible has been challenged repeatedly over the years. It is generally believed to have been written near the end of the first century to Jewish Christians. . . but scholars are unable conclusively to identify the writer.

Five men named James appear in the New Testament: the brother of Jesus, the son of Zebedee, the son of Alphaeus, "James the younger" and the father of the Apostle Jude.

Little is known of the last three, and since the son of Zebedee was martyred in A.D. 44, tradition has leaned toward the brother of Jesus. However, the writer never claims to be Jesus' brother. And scholars find the language too erudite for a simple Palestinian. This letter is also disputed on theological grounds. Martin Luther called it "an epistle of straw" that did not belong in the Bible because it seemed to contradict Paul's teachings that salvation comes by faith as a "gift of God"-- not by good works."

-Jeffery L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, "The catholic papers," p. 68

"The origins of the three letters of John are also far from certain."

-Jeffery L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, "The catholic papers," p. 68

"Christian tradition has held that the Apostle Peter wrote the first [letter], probably in Rome shortly before his martyrdom about A.D. 65. However, some modern scholars cite the epistle's cultivated language and its references to persecutions that did not occur until the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96) as evidence that it was actually written by Peter's disciples sometime later.

Second Peter has suffered even harsher scrutiny. Many scholars consider it the latest of all New Testament books, written around A.D. 125. The letter was never mentioned in second-century writings and was excluded from some church canons into the fifth century. "This letter cannot have been written by Peter," wrote Werner Kummel, a Heidelberg University scholar, in his highly regarded Introduction to the New Testament."

-Jeffery L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, "The catholic papers," p. 68

"The letter of Jude also is considered too late to have been written by the attested author-- "the brother of James" and, thus, of Jesus. The letter, believed written early in the second century."

-Jeffery L. Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, "The catholic papers," p. 68

"According to the declaration of the Second Vatican Council, a faithful account of the actions and words of Jesus is to be found in the Gospels; but it is impossible to reconcile this with the existence in the text of contradictions, improbabilities, things which are materially impossible or statements which run contrary to firmly established reality."

-Maurice Bucaille (The Bible, the Quran, and Science)

"The bottom line is we really don't know for sure who wrote the Gospels."

-Jerome Neyrey, of the Weston School of Theology, Cambridge, Mass.

"Most scholars have come to acknowledge, was done not by the Apostles but by their anonymous followers (or their followers' followers). Each presented a somewhat different picture of Jesus' life. The earliest appeared to have been written some 40 years after his Crucifixion."

-David Van Biema

"So unreliable were the Gospel accounts that "we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus.""

-Rudolf Bultmann, University of Marburg, the foremost Protestant scholar in the field in 1926

"The Synoptic Gospels employ techniques that we today associate with fiction."

-Paul Q. Beeching, Central Connecticut State University

"Josephus says that he himself witnessed a certain Eleazar casting out demons by a method of exorcism that had been given to Solomon by God himself-- while Vespasian watched! In the same work, Josephus tells the story of a rainmaker, Onias (14.2.1)."

-Paul Q. Beeching, Central Connecticut State University

"For Mark's gospel to work, for instance, you must believe that Isaiah 40:3 (quoted, in a slightly distorted form, in mark 1:2-3) correctly predicted that a stranger named John would come out of the desert to prepare the way for Jesus. It will then come as something of a surprise to learn in the first chapter of Luke that John is a near relative, well known to Jesus' family."

-Paul Q. Beeching, Central Connecticut State University

"The narrative conventions and world outlook of the gospel prohibit our using it as a historical record of that year."

-Paul Q. Beeching, Central Connecticut State University

"Jesus is a mythical figure in the tradition of pagan mythology and almost nothing in all of ancient literature would lead one to believe otherwise. Anyone wanting to believe Jesus lived and walked as a real live human being must do so despite the evidence, not because of it."

-C. Dennis McKinsey, Bible critic (The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy)


Belief does not equal fact, and claims that come from nothing but hearsay do not amount to an honest attempt to get at the facts. Even with eyewitness accounts we must be careful. Simply because someone makes a claim, does not mean it represents reality. For example, consider some of the bogus claims that supposedly come from many eyewitness accounts of UFOs. They not only assert eyewitnesses but present blurry photos to boot! If we can question these accounts, then why should we not question claims that come from hearsay even more? Moreover, consider that the hearsay comes from ancient and unknown people that no longer live.

Unfortunately, belief and faith substitute as knowledge in many people's minds and nothing, even if they fell in the teeth of evidence of evidence against their claims, could possibly change their minds. We have many stories, myths and beliefs of a Jesus but if we wish to establish the facts of history, we cannot even begin to put together a knowledgeable account without at least a few reliable eyewitness accounts.

Of course a historical Jesus may have existed or he may not have existed. A myth may have occurred out of faithful beliefs about a Christ. Perhaps the stories resulted from an integration of many would-be messiahs. We can concoct and invent many scenarios. But these are all speculations and guesses. We simply do not have enough evidence to determine the historicity of a Jesus "the Christ."

So if you hear anyone who claims to have evidence for a witness of a historical Jesus, simply ask for the author's birth date.


Josephus Flavius (37 or 38-circa 101 C.E.), Antiquities

Stephen Jay Gould, "Dinosaur in a Haystack," (Chapter 2), Harmony Books, New York, 1995

Kersey Graves, "The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors," 1875

Randel McCraw Helms, "Who Wrote the Gospels?", Millennium Press

Irenaeus of Lyon (140?-202? C.E.), Against the Heresies

Tim C. Leedom, "The Book Your Church Doesn't Want You To Read," Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1993

C. Dennis McKinsey, "The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy," Prometheus Books, 1995

Bruce Metzger, "The Text of the New Testament-- Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration," Oxford University Press, 1968

Elaine Pagels, "The Gnostic Gospels," Vintage Books, New York, 1979

Elaine Pagels, "The Origin of Satan," Random House, New York,1995

John E. Remsberg, "The Christ," Prometheus Books

John Romer, "Testament," Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1988

Bishop Shelby Spong, "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism," Harper SanFrancisco, 1991

Tacitus (55?-117? C.E.), Annals

The Revell Bible Dictionary," Wynwood Press, New York, 1990

King James Bible, 1611

U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990

Various issues of Bible Review magazine, published by the Biblical Archaeology Society, Washington D.C.



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