Monday, January 25, 2010

Jesus and the Mystery Cults

Those who believe that Jesus was an actual historical figure claim that the originality of his story and his teachings prove that he had to have been a real person. They fail to recognize that the teachings of Jesus are hardly original. For example, Buddha told his followers to "love your enemies" hundreds of years before Christ was born. I'll deal with the sayings of Jesus in a future post, for now, let's turn to his biography.

Aspects of Jesus' story can be found in numerous myths. Cuneiform tablets from 1500 BCE tell the story of the Sumerian goddess Inanna (also known as Ishtar) who was crucified and resurrected. In the fifth century BCE, Herodotus reports that the Thracian god Zalmoxis buried himself alive, was resurrected three years later, and founded a religion which preached immortality in the afterlife.

According to literary sources such as the Bhagavat Purana, Krishna, like Christ, was a divine incarnation, the product of immaculate conception, and was of royal descent. Devatas (similar to angels) sang songs of praise at his birth and he was visited by shepherds. The reigning monarch, fearing that the infant would overthrow him, put all infants to death, but Krishna escaped to another country. He also raised the dead, cured lepers, and washed the feet of Brahmins. While there is no literary source, there is also a tradition that Krishna was crucified based on monuments and sculptures.

Similarities between Jesus and other mythic heroes have been pointed out ever since the early days of Christianity. Celsus criticized Christianity for being too similar to the other Graeco-Roman mystery cults of the time. Scholars have found similarities between Jesus and numerous other gods including Orpheus, Kore, Mithras, Attis, Adonis, and Osiris.

We know very little about the mystery cults since they kept much of their rites secret. What little we do know is often derived from modern interpretation of reliefs, sculptures and paintings. However, early Christians such as Irenaeus and Justin Martyr found the similarities so overwhelming they accused demons of founding the mystery cults before Christ was born in order to spread doubt about Christ.

But those who hand down the myths which the poets have made, adduce no proof to the youths who learn them; and we proceed to demonstrate that they have been uttered by the influence of the wicked demons, to deceive and lead astray the human race. For having heard it proclaimed through the prophets that the Christ was to come, and that the ungodly among men were to be punished by fire, they put forward many to be called sons of Jupiter, under the impression that they would be able to produce in men the idea that the things which were said with regard to Christ were mere marvellous tales, like the things which were said by the poets. [...]

The prophet Moses, then, was, as we have already said, older than all writers; and by him, as we have also said before, it was thus predicted: "There shall not fail a prince from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until He come for whom it is reserved; and He shall be the desire of the Gentiles, binding His foal to the vine, washing His robe in the blood of the grape." Genesis 49:10 The devils, accordingly, when they heard these prophetic words, said that Bacchus was the son of Jupiter, and gave out that he was the discoverer of the vine, and they number wine among his mysteries; and they taught that, having been torn in pieces, he ascended into heaven. [...]

And when they heard it said by the other prophet Isaiah, that He should be born of a virgin, and by His own means ascend into heaven, they pretended that Perseus was spoken of. And when they knew what was said, as has been cited above, in the prophecies written aforetime, "Strong as a giant to run his course," they said that Hercules was strong, and had journeyed over the whole earth. And when, again, they learned that it had been foretold that He should heal every sickness, and raise the dead, they produced Æsculapius.
--Justin Martyr, First Apology

While much of the practices of the mystery cults remain hidden, we do have some information. The Greek god Dionysos, for example, was born of a virgin, died and came back to life, and his followers enjoyed a sacred meal of raw meat and wine symbolizing their god's flesh and blood. In the tragic play Oedipus written by Seneca, we learn that Dionysos turned water into wine for his wedding with Ariadne. He wasn't thought of as a fictional character either. According to Plutarch, the people of Delphi believed the remains of Dionysos were buried near their oracle.

This doesn't necessarily mean that Christians plagiarized from the other religions, but it certainly shows that the story of Jesus follows many universal mythical themes with very little originality to be found.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Historical References to Jesus

If Jesus Christ had actually existed as a historical person, we would expect Jewish and Pagan historians would have made some reference to him. Historicists claim there are such references, which I will detail below.

Suetonius, writing around 120 CE states:

"Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome." Life of Claudius (XXv.4)

Historicists claim that Chrestus is a misspelling for Christus, however Chrestus was actually a rather common name at the time and there's nothing to suggest it was a misspelling. After all, Suetonius correctly spelled Christians later in the book. Also, this passage implies that Chrestus was alive at the time, but it refers to the events of 49 CE, long after Christ was dead.

Tactitus wrote that:

"Consequently ... Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations. Called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberias at the hands of the Procurator Pontius Pilatus." Annals (XV.44)
Scholars believe this passage to be an interpolation because it isn't quoted before the 15th Century. If Tactitus had actually written this, certainly it would have been quoted by Christians earlier than this. Also, Pilate was a Prefect, not a Procurator, which Tactitus would have known if he was getting his information from Roman records. Even if this passage is genuine, it doesn't tell us that Jesus existed, Tactitus would just be repeating what he was told by Christians about their founder.

Pliny wrote a letter to the emperor Trajan around 100 CE saying:

"They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: that they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honour of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery ..."

This passage, as well as others quoted by historicists, only proves that Christians existed, not that Christ did.

In the third century, Julius Africanus cites a passage written by Thallus that says earthquakes and darkness followed the death of Jesus. However, the original work by Thallus is lost, so this could have been an interpolation. Also, there is no other reference to earthquakes or darkness at the time from any other historian, which is quite unusual since such geological and meteorological events were dutifully recorded by historians back then.

There are countless later references. "The letter of Pontius Pilate which he wrote to the Roman Emperor, concerning our Lord Jesus Christ" is not thought to be authentic and most historians think it was actually written in the fifth century. In the Talmud, Jesus is said to be the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier, however, as it was written hundreds of years later, it's more likely a Jewish response to what Christians said of their founder.

Mythicists contend that in the early centuries of Christianity, the religion encompassed a wide range of movements. The Jesus of the Gospels is different from the Jesus of Hebrews or the Jesus of Paul's epistles. There were even some Christians who didn't believe Christ was crucified at all. The writings of these opposing sects were destroyed in the centuries of orthodoxy that followed or altered to be brought in line with the new opinion that Jesus had in fact existed. However, there is one such text that managed to survive.

Early Christian writer Minucius Felix wrote a dialogue between Caecilius, a pagan, and Octavius, a Christian. Caecilius accuses Christians of worshipping the head of an ass, reverencing the genitals of their priests, having orgies, and killing a baby and drinking its blood.

"And some say that the objects of their worship include a man who suffered death as a criminal, as well as the wretched wood of his cross; these are fitting altars for such depraved people, and they worship what they deserve."

Octavius is horrified by such accusations and counters that Christians don't do such things.

"Moreover, when you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander far from the truth in thinking that a criminal deserved, or that a mortal man could be able, to be believed in as God. Miserable indeed is that man whose whole hope is dependent on a mortal, for such hope ceases with his death."

Minucius Felix is defending Christians from the wild accusations that they slaughter infants and drink their blood, have orgies, or worship someone who was crucified. Clearly the crucifixion story wasn't wide spread among all Christians in the early days.

We now turn from a Christian who didn't believe in the crucifixion to a Jew who supposedly did. The most famous historical references to Jesus are found in the Antiquities of the Jews written by the historian Josephus.

"So he [Ananus, son of Ananus the high priest] assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before him the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others (or some of his companions) and when he had formed an accusation against them, he delivered them to be stoned." (Antiquities 20.9.1)

"The brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James" is a rather awkward way of telling us someone's name. It is likely that the phrase "who was called Christ" was a marginal gloss which was later inserted into the text. "The brother of Jesus" doesn't necessarily refer to Jesus Christ, since Jesus was a rather common name at the time. Even if the phrase is a reference to Christ, "the brother of Jesus" could just as easily be a title as a familial identification.

Since Josephus spends much more time discussing other messiahs such as John the Baptist, it would be strange for him to make only a passing reference to Jesus without going into more detail, which brings us to the second passage. I'll include the text immediately preceding and following the reference to show it in context.

"But Pilate undertook to bring a current of water to Jerusalem, and did it with the sacred money, and derived the origin of the stream from the distance of two hundred furlongs. However, the Jews were not pleased with what had been done about this water; and many ten thousands of the people got together, and made a clamor against him, and insisted that he should leave off that design. [...] So he habited a great number of his soldiers in their habit, who carried daggers under their garments, and sent them to a place where they might surround them. So he bid the Jews himself go away; but they boldly casting reproaches upon him, he gave the soldiers that signal which had been beforehand agreed on; who laid upon them much greater blows than Pilate had commanded them, and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not; nor did they spare them in the least: and since the people were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about, there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition.

"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it 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 condemned him 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.

"About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder, and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome." (Antiquities 18)

The second paragraph above is called the Testimonium Flavianum. Even this expanded reference to Jesus is uncharacteristic of Josephus who usually goes into much more detail about even minor historical figures. Also, it doesn't make much sense for a Pharisaic Jew to declare that Jesus was the Christ.

What further makes the Testimonium suspect is the fact that it disrupts the flow of the passage. With the second paragraph removed, the narrative is much smoother. The first paragraph describes one calamity, the third paragraph refers to "another sad calamity." It seems as if the second paragraph were inserted by someone. Otherwise, we'd have to read the passage as saying that the "ten thousand other wonderful things" concerning Christ were, in fact, a calamity.

The case for interpolation is made stronger when we realize that no Christian writer refers to the Testimonium until two hundred years after it was written. Christian apologists such as Justin Martyr and Origen were undoubtedly familiar with Josephus, and would have jumped at the chance to answer their Pagan and Jewish critics with such a passage. Origen actually says that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Christ.

The first person to cite this passage was Eusebius writing about 324 CE. Indeed, the vocabulary used in the Testimonium is more similar to Eusebius than to Josephus. For example, Josephus uses the Greek word poietes only to mean "poet", yet in the Testimonium it is used to mean "doer" (as part of the phrase "doer of wonderful works") Eusebius, on the other hand, does use poietes to mean "doer". The reference to Jesus as a "wise man" whose followers did not leave him after he was crucified is similar to the argument Eusebius makes in Demonstratio. In fact, Eusebius all but admits that he committed the forgery:

"Certainly the attestations I have already produced concerning our Savior may be sufficient. However, it may not be amiss, if, over and above, we make use of Josephus the Jew for a further witness." Demonstratio Evangelica, (Book III, pg. 124)

Eusebius is also our first source for Papias and Quadratus who both claim to have eyewitness testimony to the miracles of Jesus:

"If by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders — that is, what according to the elders Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying." Now lost document by Papias (according to Eusebius)

"The words of our Savior were always present, for they were true: those who were healed, those who rose from the dead, those who were not only seen in the act of being healed or raised, but were also always present, not merely when the Savior was living on earth, but also for a considerable time after his departure, so that some of them survived even to our own times." Now lost document by Quadratus (according to Eusebius)

So the question of whether there is proof of Jesus' existence outside the Gospels or not seems to depend on how reliable you consider Eusebuis of Caesarea to be. I can think of no better way to end this post than with a quote from him:

"It shall be legitimate and appropriate to use lies as a remedy." Eusebius of Caesarea, Preparation for the Gospel, 12:31

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Crucifixion of Jesus According to the Epistles

As I discussed in my previous post, the writers of the epistles don't seem to know anything about the gospels. The Epistle Jesus didn't perform miracles, didn't preach, and didn't exist in any specific place or time. The only detail about the life of Jesus which is shared by the epistles and the gospels is the fact that Jesus was crucified. But do the epistles and gospels portray the crucifixion of Jesus in the same way?

For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men. (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15)

The above passage says the Jews killed Jesus, however most scholars dismiss this passage as a later interpolation. It was not uncommon for scribes to make insertions or deletions from scripture before the Bible obtained its final form. There are three reasons scholars believe this passage was an interpolation. First, most scholars interpret the passage in verse 16 which says "the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost" as a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem which happened after Paul's death. Second, such vehement anti-Semitism is uncharacteristic of Paul. Third, in Romans 11 Paul again speaks of Jews killing their own prophets without mentioning Jesus. Therefore, this sole reference to the Jews killing Jesus was likely inserted by someone else later on.

I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession. (1 Timothy 6:13)

Most scholars agree 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, the Pastoral Epistles, were not written by Paul since they don't match his writing style or his teachings. Apocalyptic expectation was on the wane when the Pastorals were written unlike during Paul's time. Since it was actually written in the second century, this passage doesn't contradict the mythicists' hypothesis that a historical Jesus was unknown before the gospels. However, there's good reason to believe that this too was an interpolation. (See the article titled "Who Crucified Jesus" at for more.)

We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7-8)

The phrase ton archonton tou aionos toutou which the King James Bible translates as "the princes of this world" is more correctly translated as "the rulers of this age." As Earl Doherty says on the Jesus Puzzle website (linked to above),
"In both pagan and Jewish parlance, the word archontes could be used to refer to earthly rulers and those in authority (as in Romans 13:3). But it is also, along with several others like it, a technical term for the spirit forces, the "powers and authorities" who rule the lowest level of the heavenly world and who exercise authority over the events and fate (usually cruel) of the earth, its nations and individuals. That invisible powers, mostly evil, were at work behind earthly phenomena was a widely held belief in Hellenistic times, including among Jews, and it was shared by Christianity."
While there hasn't been a scholarly consensus as to what Paul means in this passage, many scholars now believe he is actually referring to Christ's crucifixion by demons which matches the spiritual nature in which Paul talks about Jesus in the rest of the epistles much better than a gospel interpretation. While Ephesians probably wasn't written by Paul, it does contain a similar idea:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)

If I may quote from Earl Doherty again:
"Scholars who balk at this interpretation of Paul's words and declare that he simply means the earthly powers which the Gospels specify (e.g., Anchor Bible, p.164), are bucking even ancient opinion. Ignatius uses the term archon in a thoroughly angelic sense (Smyrneans 6:1). Origen regarded the archonton of 2:8 as evil spiritual beings, and so did the gnostic Marcion."
An early Christian text called the Ascension of Isaiah gives us a more clear idea of what Paul means when he speaks of the crucifixion of Jesus. In this text, Isaiah is given a vision of Christ descending down through the seven heavens to the lowest sphere of heaven ruled over by Satan.

The Lord will descend into the world in the last days, he who is to be called Christ after he has descended and become like you in form, and they will think that he is flesh and a man. And the god of that world will stretch out his hand against the Son, and they will lay their hands upon him and hang him upon a tree, not knowing who he is. And thus his descent, as you will see, will be concealed from the heavens, so that it will not be known who he is. And when he has plundered the angel of death, he will rise on the third day and will remain in the world for 545 days. And then many of the righteous will ascend with him. (Ascension of Isaiah 9:13-17)

Historicists point out that the Ascension of Isaiah contains a section (11:2-22) which describes Jesus' life on earth. However, this passage is found in only the Ethiopic text and was likely added on later.

So, was Jesus crucified by the Jews, by Pilate, or by Satan? If we don't read the gospels into the epistles and we agree with most scholars that the references to the Jews and Pilate are later interpolations, we're left with Christ being crucified by the spiritual "rulers of this age." However, The Epistle to the Hebrews presents us with a different way in which Christ's sacrifice could have been made.

Hebrews is a thoroughly Platonic document. The idea that everything on earth is a corrupt copy of the perfect heaven above infuses the document. In Hebrews, Christ doesn't make his sacrifice on earth, but rather above in the incorruptible heavenly realm. He offers himself as a sacrifice to God in the same way priests offer animal sacrifices to God in the Old Testament, by shedding blood in the outer temple and bringing it into the inner temple. However, while the priests' sacrifices are imperfect and have to be repeated, Christ's perfect sacrifice needs to be done only once.

Not only is there no reference to a historical Jesus in Hebrews, there is an explicit statement that Jesus has never been on earth:

For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law. (Hebrews 8:4)

In the original Greek, there is no question that the writer of Hebrews means Jesus was never on earth. Historicists attempt to twist the translation to mean that Jesus is not on earth now, or Jesus is not on earth still, but such translations are not indicated by the text. According to Hebrews, Jesus never existed on earth.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Paul's Silence Regarding Jesus

"Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God." (1 John 4:2-3)

The debate as to whether Jesus Christ was an actual historical person or not seems to go back all the way to the New Testament. If people who lived during Christ's lifetime weren't sure if he existed or not, how can we be sure?

When reading the New Testament, people tend to read the gospels before the epistles. After all, that’s the order in which they’ve been arranged. However, Paul’s epistles were actually written between 48-62 CE while the gospels were written sometime between 70-150 CE. To get a true look at the early stages of Christianity, one needs to read the epistles first and leave any gospel preconceptions behind.

Among epistles attributed to Paul, most scholars agree that Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and possibly Colossians were written by him. 2 Thessalonians and Ephesians probably weren't written by Paul, while 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus were written after Paul's death and were falsely attributed to him.

If Jesus did exist, and if we had only the first century epistles to go on, the only thing we would know about the historical Jesus was that he was crucified. We wouldn’t know where he was born, what era he lived in, what he preached or even if he preached. We wouldn’t know that Judas betrayed him or that John baptized him. We wouldn’t know the names of his parents. We wouldn’t know that he healed the sick or performed miracles. We wouldn’t know that he visited Jerusalem. We wouldn’t know where he was crucified or where he was buried.

Paul and the other early epistle writers speak of Jesus as a divine intermediary figure between man and God and discuss personal revelations they’ve had about him, but they’re completely silent about his life on earth. If Jesus were an actual historical person, wouldn’t Paul and the other epistle writers want to tell Christian converts about his life?

Some historicists say that Paul didn’t refer to the life of Jesus for his own idiosyncratic reasons, but if this is the case, why are all of the other epistle writers equally silent? Other historicists claim that the epistles don’t discuss the life of Jesus either because everybody already knew about it or only his crucifixion and what happened after his death were important.

Historicists contend that the Mythicists’ argument from silence is invalid. If, for example, I write a letter to my friend and don’t mention that I’m married, it doesn’t prove that I wasn’t. Scholars studying the letter could just say that my friend already knew I was married and there was no need for me to mention it.

However, in situations where Paul is trying to convince a group of Christians about the importance of a doctrine, it would be absurd for him not to mention that Jesus preached it. That would be like me writing several letters to my friend encouraging him to get married and never once making a passing reference to my own marriage. A scholar would be right to conclude that I wasn’t married based on repeated silences in situations that called for it to be mentioned.

“But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9)

Here, as well as in numerous other passages, Paul attributes the commandment to love one another to God, not Jesus. He never attributes any of Jesus’ teachings to Jesus. Historicists claim that since Jesus is speaking in God’s name, anything Jesus said should be attributed to God. Perhaps we could put it down as one of Paul’s idiosyncrasies if he was the only one who did it, but again, the other epistle writers follow suit. Why would none of them attribute the sayings of Jesus to the man himself?

"Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience." (James 5:10)

Wouldn't Jesus be a better example of one who has suffered than the prophets? There are numerous other scriptures like this one that call for a comparison to Jesus, and yet don't mention him.

"But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." (Galatians 1:11-12)

“Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27)

Paul often refers to his own ministry as a fulfillment of ancient scripture without ever mentioning the life of Jesus. Paul claims he is the one who has revealed Christ. Didn’t Christ reveal himself? Paul often speaks of the day of salvation as being near and being ushered in by his ministry. Didn’t the day of salvation already come when Christ was crucified? Paul leaps directly from ancient scripture to the present day without so much as a glance at Jesus’ own ministry.

"When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:4)

"That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords."(1 Timothy 6:14-15)

"And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels." (2 Thessalonians 1:7)

If we read passages like those above with the gospels in mind, we’d probably interpret this as a reference to the second coming of Christ, however since Paul never speaks of a first arrival, how can he be referring to a second coming? According to Paul, Christ hasn’t been revealed yet.

"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." (1 Thessalonians 4:14)

"Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" (1 Corinthians 15: 12)

"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

According to Paul, Christ’s resurrection from the dead is a matter of faith, not historical record. Why would people need faith to believe in something that happened during their lifetimes? He exhorts his followers to believe that Christ was raised from the dead because it was preached and because the scriptures say so, not because it actually happened.

The Platonic idea that there was an upper world which corresponded to our world below was very popular in Paul's time. It's difficult for a 21st century person to put themselves in a 1st century mindset, but as one reads through the epistles without the preconceptions of the gospels in mind, it becomes evident that the death and resurrection of Jesus spoken of by Paul and the other epistle writers took place in a spiritual realm, not upon the earth.

Historicists who seek to discredit the Mythicists’ argument point to scriptures that seem to imply that Jesus did walk upon the earth:

"Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh." (Romans 1:3)

"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." (Romans 8:3)

"Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever." (Romans 9:5)

By speaking of flesh, Paul may not have meant that Jesus walked upon the earth. He could be referring to Jesus coming in the flesh to an upper spiritual realm. Jesus could be "of the seed of David" in a spiritual or metaphorical sense.

"But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother." (Galatians 1:19)

Does this mean James was the brother of Jesus, or is "the Lord's brother" simply a title such as calling a priest "father" or a nun "sister"?

"But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law." (Galatians 4:4)

Does "made of a woman" mean Jesus was born on this earth or in the spiritual realm? If Paul knew that Jesus was born on earth, why does he not know the name of Jesus' mother? Even if Paul did mean that Jesus walked upon the earth, he doesn't give us any specifics as to time or place. Jesus could have lived in Rome in 100 BCE for all Paul tells us.

None of the scripture Historicists bring forward mention any specific events relating to the biography of the gospel Jesus. As strange as it may seem to those of us who’ve grown up with it, the Jesus of the epistles and the Jesus of the gospels have very little in common with each other.

Obviously, there are much more scriptures relating to this question than I have addressed here. For more a more thorough and in depth look at the silences found in the epistles, see where Earl Doherty lists the top 200.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Jesus: Man or Myth?

Was Jesus of Nazareth a historical person who later became mythologized, or a myth who later became historized? Proponents of the later bring up some interesting questions:

  1. Why do Paul and all of the other Christian writers of the first century speak of Jesus as a spiritual entity and never make a reference to his life on earth?
  2. Why do Jewish and Pagan historians not mention the life of Jesus?
  3. Why is Christianity so similar to the Greco-Roman salvation cults of the time?
  4. Why are the gospels based almost entirely on the Old Testament?
  5. Why are the sayings of Jesus so similar to Greek Cynic philosophy?

I’ll go into each of these questions in later posts. For now, let’s take a look at when Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written. We know the gospels were written after 70CE because Jesus “predicts” the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, which happened that year. We also know that the gospels couldn’t have been written after 150CE because the first reference to them is made around that time. Most scholars who believe Jesus was an actual historical person date the gospel of Mark to 70CE because that’s the earliest possible date they can use. Those who believe that Jesus was a myth who later had a biographical story attached to him however put the composition of Mark at a later date.

Archeology backs up the 70-150CE dating. In particular, artifacts found at Nazareth, the alleged hometown of Jesus, shows that the town wasn’t populated until 70CE at the earliest. (See Not only is there no archeological evidence that Nazareth existed before 70CE, there is no mention of it in the literature. Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament, the Mishnah, or by the historian Josephus.

"And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled that he would be called a Nazorean." (Matt 2:23)

Since Nazareth was just beginning to be populated at the time the gospels were written, it is likely that the writers of the gospels made it the hometown of Jesus to fulfill the prophesy that he would be called a Nazorean. However, the prophecy Matthew mentions is not found in the Old Testament.