To most Christians, the idea that Jesus Christ was not an actual historical figure is unthinkable if not downright heretical. Yet despite the efforts down through the ages to find the actual man, no one has succeeded in doing so. For someone who according to traditional Christian dogma is supposed to have given humanity its greatest message and greatest hope, the historical record is completely silent as to his presence in any time period. Christianity is a religion that prides itself on its historical foundations and documentation. This article will demonstrate that there is absolutely no conclusive evidence that this person actually existed. Let us therefore attempt something that most Christians are either unable or unwilling to do: look at the evidence objectively.
It must first be noted that, even if he did actually exist, this Jesus Christ seems to have had no impact or influence on the world around him. Despite the fact that our Gregorian calendar dates from the time Pope Gregory the first calculated his birth, there is not a single surviving document from that time that refers to anyone by that name. The records of the Roman Empire are strangely silent. This is particularly odd inasmuch as the first century of the Common Era is one of the best-documented of antiquity. While three are dozens of Jesus’ contemporaries whose existence is documented and whose written works survive, no one from that time period refers to Jesus Christ.
Next, consider the New Testament, which refers to the dead coming out of their graves and other miraculous events including darkness descending over the entire land and bodies emerging from their graves and entering Jerusalem. Surely, these events, had they occurred, would have merited inclusion in some contemporary source! Yet the historical record is silent on this, as it is to all of Jesus’ purported miracles.
Even if he did exist as a historical rather than mythological person, what can truly be said about him? He founded no cities, discovered nothing, left no written records, founded no new lands, contributed nothing for the betterment of his contemporaries or anyone else. What did he really say of value? Did he encourage his followers to educate themselves? No. Did he tell them to think? No. Did he provide them with even one valuable lesson on how to better their lives? No. At best, he was a minor cult figure whose insignificance is illustrated by the fact that none of his followers bothered to write a single word about him, or to find someone who would do so for them.
So what are the “proofs” offered for Jesus’ existence?
Christian apologists have long pointed to the works of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (c.37-100 CE) as proving the historicity of Jesus. The following single paragraph from his “Antiquities of the Jews” is invariably cited. It reads:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was (the) Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had him condemned to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
It must first be pointed out that Josephus was writing some six decades after the supposed crucifixion, so he would have had no first-hand knowledge of Jesus’ existence. Josephus would have been working with second-hand sources and evidence at best.
The passage is an obvious forgery and has been recognized as such by honest historians as such for well over two centuries. Its brevity alone casts doubt on its authenticity. Josephus was a writer with a penchant for great detail on the most trivial matters. His works are tedious in their detailing the lives of minor criminals, customs officials, governmental economic figures, and the like. There are in fact six other men named Jesus in Josephus’ works; the one everybody knows today receives the shortest shrift, again illustrating just how unimportant he was considered by his contemporaries.
Yet if Josephus actually penned those words, he must have been amazed at Jesus “wonderful” doings. So why would he limit himself to a single paragraph of such an exceptional person?
Moreover, the passage does not seem to fit sequentially with either the preceding or the subsequent paragraphs. When one reads it in context, it stands out as something that occurred to the writer as an afterthought, leaving the reader with the distinct impression that it was added later, as indeed it was; most historians now attribute the passage to the fourth-century Christian writer Eusebius.
However, it is the wording of the paragraph itself that provides the most damaging testimony of the spuriousness of the passage. The writer refers to Jesus as “the Christ” and the entire paragraph has an undeniably pro-Christian flavor to it. Josephus was a devout Jew; he could not possibly have authored this passage.
Obviously recognizing the paucity of historical evidence for its central figure, the early church did all it could to “introduce” evidence supporting Jesus’ historicity. This practice took many forms, from various interpolations in historical writings such as that mentioned above, to the wanton destruction of libraries containing materials deemed heretical. It is a telling indictment of the church that the duplicitous nature of institutionalized Christianity that these irrefutable historical facts remain obscure facts to most Christians. Clearly, the dishonesty of the early church founders has been more than matched by their descendants who continue citing to this day Josephus’ spurious forgery as if it has never been refuted.
Tacitus is another historian often cited by Christians to prove their Messiah’s historicity. Unfortunately for them, the passage in Tacitus referring to Jesus is also spurious. Since it was written some eighty-five years after the purported crucifixion, we encounter the same problem we found with Josephus; even if Tacitus did write the passage in question he, like Josephus, could only have been working with second-hand sources. By his time, the Jesus myth had been building for almost a century and, like all myths, had been elaborated on and expanded upon. Tacitus’ spurious passage sheds no light on Jesus; it merely reflects what his followers believed about him in the second decade of the second century. We can dismiss the passage altogether when we realize that Tacitus is referring to Chrestus (which means good) rather than Christus (which means anointed one).
Another important source was Philo, who was born some time before Jesus was alleged to have been miraculously conceived; he lived for many years after the alleged crucifixion. Philo lived not only at the same time, but in the same area where Jesus was supposed to have performed his miracles. Many of his works have survived the centuries. If anybody were in a position to know and write of Jesus of Nazareth, it is Philo. Yet the name of Jesus doesn’t appear once in any of his voluminous surviving works.
Dozens of other writers whose works have survived (including Pliny, Seutonius, Arrian, Juvenal and many others) are likewise silent about Jesus. In fact, the first works which do refer to him as having walked the earth date from centuries later and were written by devout Christians, not objective historians. While it is certainly true that absence of evidence does not necessarily constitute evidence of absence, the silence of the entire first century after the alleged time of Christ’s existence certainly makes for a compelling portrait of an entirely mythological Jesus.
Finally, the Bible itself conclusively demonstrates this conclusion. The New Testament, written over many decades, documents the evolution of the Christ myth. All scholars recognize the books written by Paul to be the oldest in the New Testament. Yet if Jesus actually lived, no one thought to tell Paul about it; he never once mentioned Jesus ministry or anything at all about his life. His Christ is an entirely mythical one. Mark, the earliest of the gospels, is the first to give the first narration of his life. Most scholars date Mark to around 70 CE at the earliest, which according to traditional accounts would be some forty years after the alleged crucifixion. Other familiar stories about the life of Christ evolve over the next thirty years or so as the other canonical gospels were written. To cite but one example, the notion that we are to be saved only by faith in Jesus does not appear anywhere until John, the last of the synoptic gospels was written at the end of the first century. Clearly, the Christ myth evolved over time and became grander and grander as each succeeding writer sought to outdo his predecessors.
In summary, Jesus Christ seems to be just as mythological and non-historic as Zeus, Osiris, Quetzlcoatl and other religious deities. That self-serving priests wish to perpetuate their myths is hardly surprising; their livelihood is at stake! One wonders, though, if they have any doubts on this issue at all; in other words, how thorough has their brainwashing been? Christianity, which places so much emphasis on morality and personal behavior, is founded on and sustained by a lie. And if so many Christians are willing to perpetuate this lie, why should they be believed on anything else?
- Who Was Jesus? by G.A. Wells. Published by Open Court Publishing Company, 1989.
- The Jesus Idea by Arnold M. Rothstein. Published by Prometheus Books, 1993.
- Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth by John G. Jackson. Published by American Atheist Press, 1988.
- Losing Faith in Faith by Dan Barker. Published by FFRF Press, 1992.
- The Christ by John E. Remsberg. Published by Prometheus Books, 1994
- Mythology’s Last Gods by William Harwood. Published by Prometheus Press, 1992.
By: jon Nelson