View Full Version : Did Jesus Exist?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009, 10:50 PM
By Robert Price

The clergy pour scorn on the denial of the historicity of Jesus. Yet, “Did Jesus Ever Live?” is a serious question. From the time of Bruno Bauer to the end of the twentieth century, scholars argued that no historical evidence existed to prove that Jesus ever lived at all. Bauer thought scripture offered no sure evidence that he lived. People whose historical existence was as certain as the sun to whole ages—Hercules, King Arthur, Homer, William Tell—have proved to be legendary. Adam is a legend, Samson is a legend, Moses and Abraham are legends. If the historicity of Jesus is so certain, where are the indisputable witnesses to it?

Christianity was built on the model of the mysteries because they were fashionable and to combine them with the Jewish scriptures that were also widely admired. Jesus is, thus, a Jewish Osiris, Mithras or Adonis created for gentile use.

A long standing feature of the Semitic world was an annual sacrifice of a “Son of the Father”—Barabbas, originally called Jesus Barabbas. This may account for the myth that an historical person, Jesus, actually lived.

If he had existed, we should have a more detailed description of him. The lack of many details of him that we could reasonably expect of a historical person leaves us with two options:

•He did exist but made no significant impact.
•He did not exist but was invented like Osiris to explain Pauline religion.

The worst way is that Jesus is really the fly used by evangelists, priests and other crooks whose real interest is to catch people to control them.

Christ is shorthand for the institutions on whose behalf he is invoked. When an evangelist invites you to have faith “in Christ”, they are smuggling in other issues—Chalcedonian Christology, the doctrine of the Trinity, the Protestant idea of faith and grace, a particular theory of biblical inspiration and literalism or inerrancy, habits of church attendance, anti-Darwinism and other questions that theologians have debated for centuries and still have not agreed.

No evangelist ever invites people to accept Christ by faith and then to start examining all these other associated issues for themselves. They are non-negotiable, but yet are not taught by the godly chap the punter signed up for. To be saved they have to toe the party line. So the gullible or weak punter signs up for Christ and gets a mass of largely neo-conservative political doctrine on someone else’s say-so.

Christ is a fiction because he is not simply the god-sent saviour of souls but an umbrella for unquestioning acceptance of what some institution tells us to believe. This is what Christianity always was as Paul proves when he wants “the taking of every thought captive to Christ”, and insists on the “obedience” of faith. Christ is a euphemism for the dogmatic party line of an institution.

Jesus is a comfort blanket or Harvey the Rabbit for children and grown ups alike. If it proves a psychological help, the personal Jesus might be of value, but all the rest of the package has to be accepted too, as noted above, and that often ends up no longer purely personal.

Christianity perfectly illustrates evolution in religion. Central ideas pass from age to age, but here and there a refinement is made and occasionally a breakaway gives a novel synthesis of the central tenets. The chief teachings of Jesus, even his phrases and moral sentiments to a great extent, were paralleled in the literature of the time and common to priests of Isis, Serapis, Esmun, Apollo, Mithras, Ormuzd, and Yehouah, as well as wandering Stoic apostles. Not one point in the teaching of Christ was new to the world. The chief doctrinal features of the Christ of the gospels—the birth, death, and resurrection—were familiar myths at the time, and were taken from Paganism.

Who wrote the gospels? No one knows. They do not claim to be written by any named authors. They are entitled “According to X”, where X is Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. They do not claim to be “by Matthew”, etc. Even if they professed to be written by definite people, it would not follow that they were. And even if Luke was written by a man called Luke, he admits in Luke 1:1-3 that he is not an eyewitness but is writing, as “many” others have done before him, an account of what they have heard about Jesus.

Historians ask two questions about any reporter, “Did he know the facts?”, and, “Is he truthful?”. Did the men who wrote the gospels know the facts? Were they truthful? The vampires who foster superstition in the minds of the young and the simple are categorical that the writers were eyewitnesses and, as God’s instruments, could be nothing other than honest. Yet, the gospel writers were doing exactly what the priests and preachers have done since—lying to win over gullible minds.

It will not do, and is no defence to say, “But we know it is true.” That too is a lie. They do not know it, however convinced they think they are. Millions of people are convinced they are being abducted nightly by aliens, but no one else sees them. The proper word for such conviction is delusion. They are not remotely likely to be true.

The growth of such legends can be seen in fairly recent times. The Persian reformer, Ali Mohammed, called the “Bab” (Gate), a founder of the religion which became the Bahai faith, gained adherents in the west and biographies of him were written after his martyrdom at the hands of the Persian Shah. In 1844 AD, after a series of visions, he set out to reform the Moslem creed and to bring people back to the worship of a purely spiritual God. He and hundreds of his followers were put to death, in 1850, by the Persian government with the connivance of the ayatollahs. The first biographies written about him were simple accounts of the life of a saintly Moslem, but biographies toward the end of the nineteenth century were embellished with all sorts of miraculous and unbelievable additions.

Enthusiasm, even innocently, always glorifies its cause with miracles. This magnification of an exceptional but perfectly human person happened little more than a century ago. Why then couldn’t it happen in far more gullible and less well recorded times? The gospels were not written until some decades after Jesus’s death, and must be read with caution, for even the best people can be found to be unreliable witnesses with the passage of time.

So, if the gospels were not written until several decades after the death of Jesus, if the stories about him passed from mouth to mouth for a generation after his death, absolute faith cannot be placed in them, and those who urge it are dishonest. In those days, few ordinary people could read and write. Moreover, the Romans had scattered the Jews over the earth in the year 70 AD, and the Hebraic Jews had earlier scattered the first Hellenized Christians. The story passed from mouth to mouth in these confused circumstances for several decades.

Christian writers try to apply what they call internal tests of the consistency of the New Testament. They say the description of places, customs and daily life in Judaea is so confident and precise in the gospels that the writers were evidently familiar with the country at the time.

Consider these. Prescott, the American historian of the conquest of Mexico and Peru, who vividly portrayed these countries never saw either land—he was blind. Take the book of Daniel, as vivid and precise and circumstantial in the descriptions of its time and place in ancient Babylonia as any gospel. It is a known forgery, written centuries after the time it describes. The same is true of much of the Old Testament. H G Wells minutely and accurately described Labrador in one of his novels. Few people doubted he had been there. He had not! He read and researched the place and used his creative imagination. So internal consistency is no guarantee of authenticity. Such tests are useless. They would break down hopelessly in Homer. They would prove that Dante had really visited hell. They would make Keats a native of Corinth.

In any case, the Christian claims for these tests are false. The gospels display only a general and often inaccurate knowledge. Blatant errors in them do not support the idea that their authors lived in Palestine at the time. The Christian response is to completely change their tack and say that careless errors are human and prove that the gospel writers did live in Palestine! Mark, the oldest gospel, is inaccurate in Jewish customs and imprecise in topography.

The appearances, the principal evidence Christians offer, cannot be proved by anybody to have been in Mark originally—what we now read has been added, as not even Christian scholars attempt to dispute. A sketch of the life of Jesus, the framework of the first three gospels, is most purely seen in Mark. Matthew and, to a lesser extent Luke, used a collection of teachings to augment the sketch. If Christians dismiss this as hypothetical, let them reflect on their own position. They trust the gospels without any evidence, and without making the least inquiry into their authority. Preachers dogmatically assert the gospels were inspired, though the opening verses of Luke declare he used sources, and Christians take their word as simply as a child.

Criticism of the gospels began when Christian clergy tried to prove the historicity of Jesus. It backfired, casting doubt on the whole myth. The miraculous birth, the resurrection and ascension, the nature miracles and the healing miracles had to be abandoned by Christians who refused to abandon their reason. The response of the other set of Christians was to denigrate the investigation.

All the gospels were written long after the supposed events. There is no evidence that the gospels existed much before the end of the first century and much to suggest they did not, except perhaps Mark. Mark seems to have been written between 65 and 70 AD, Matthew and Luke in the last decade of the first century, and John in the second century, a hundred years after the hero had died! Mark knows nothing about the miraculous birth of Christ, the first account of which turns up at least ninety years after the supposed event! No Christian writer mentions or makes any clear and certain quotation from any gospel until a hundred years after the death of Jesus. That is serious, surely.

Clement of Rome wrote an important letter about 97 AD, and a second letter bearing his name, though probably a Christian forgery, was written later. About the same time was also written the so-called Epistle of Barnabas and the Teaching of the Apostles. None of them quote from, or refer to, the gospels. The Shepherd of Hermas, and letters of Bishops Ignatius and Polycarp, in the second century, do not mention the gospels or makes a clear quotation from them. They quote certain words which roughly correspond to some gospel expressions but, by the second century, sayings of Christ circulated in the Church. The Sayings of Our Lord (or Logia), a second-century fragment containing seven sayings, only two of which are from the gospels, suggesting the writer did not know the gospels.

Not until about 140 or 150 AD do Christian writers refer to and quote from the gospels. They are known to Justin, Marcion and Papias. Papias, the Bishop of Herapolis, is known to us only from quotations by the fourth century historian Eusebius, a man who freely admitted that lying was acceptable to the church, if it led to the greater glory of God! This fourth-century quotation by a lying Christian historian of a second-century obscure bishop is the only serious evidence for the gospels! Papias says that he learned from older men that Mark and Matthew really wrote gospels. It is not evidence that any historian would credit, and the clergy do not believe it.

The Christian usually knows nothing about the first century world and so cannot appreciate any of this. They imagine a loyal group of virtuous men and women meeting secretly here and there, at Corinth or Ephesus or Thessalonica, to break bread and pray to Jesus. In truth, from about 50 to 150 AD, early Christianity was an intense ferment of contradictory speculations. Greek, Persian, Jewish, Egyptian, and all kinds of religious ideas were blended to form varieties of Christianity. A score of these varieties and their intellectual leaders are known. Gradually they were thrust outside the Church and called Gnosticism but in the first century and the early part of the second Christian they were Christianity.

The gospels took shape in this world. Men like Paul went from group to group, much as cheap evangelicals do today, and preached the new gospel for money. To judge by his epistles, Paul had little to say about an earthly life of Jesus—his Jesus was Christ, a god, virtually from the beginning. That someone sat down one day and, under inspiration, wrote a gospel is a childish belief spread by dishonest manipulators, who themselves know differently. Luke’s gospel admits the truth.

For decades, stories about a man called Jesus circulated, some describing him as a Jewish bandit and others as a dying and rising god. The faithful talked about Christ’s impending return and skeptics decried it. There were too many consistent stories about the bandit for the Christian bishops to ignore. They could not simply deny them without creating the worse problem of how the god had got such a bad reputation. They had to explain the tales as misunderstood stories about the god. They therefore retold them to their flocks, keeping as much of the original as they could whilst making the tale acceptable. They found an excellent way of doing this was by converting the original story into some kind of miracle, thus killing two birds with one stone.

Here and there, some of the few who could write put upon parchment what was being said. Our four gospels are just four that were selected in the fourth century out of a large number of contradictory stories about Jesus, going about. There was no central authority to check them, so sometimes contradictory explanations were made and the New Testament now has both. There was not the slightest approach to what we call standardization.

You may think it probable that Jesus really did this or that, but you cannot call it an historical fact because it is in the gospels. For forty or more years the faithful waited for the return of their resurrected god, but it never happened. It was for this reason that the gospels were written, to aid the cognoscenti of the religion, the bishops and priests, but to judge by their absence in correspondence, they were kept as apocrypha for almost a century before the church began to refer to them openly.

In the way of non-biblical witnesses to Christ, we have only “twenty-four lines” from Jewish and Pagan writers, four of which are accepted as spurious. Of the twenty genuine lines twelve (which most people also regard as spurious) are in the Jewish historian, Josephus. The immense Latin literature of the century after the death of Jesus has only eight lines about him and each of these is disputed.

While the rebellion of Jesus might have caused a temporary stir in Rome, his crucifixion would have been heard of with relief and dismissal, and his teachings would have made no impact at all on any Roman writer. Yet it never strikes the Christian as strange or ironic that God should have lived on earth, for the salvation of everyone and died as the ultimate sacrifice, dwarfing every event in human history, without arranging for more publicity than half a dozen disputed lines.

The silence, from the Christian point of view, is blaring. Since Christians were apostates from Essenism, Jewish writers were hostile to them, both as apostates and as Essenes. Philo and Josephus spoke about the Essenes but had reason not to give any publicity to the Christian heresy that pretended to be Judaism for gentiles. Philo was born about the same time as Jesus. He was interested in the Essenes or their brothers the Therapeutae and people of a contemplative nature, as Jesus is traditionally depicted, and might be expected to mention Jesus and his followers. If he ever did, it was censored at a later date by the Christians.

The historian, Flavius Josephus, was a Palestinian Jew, born at Jerusalem in 37 AD, a man of high connexions and great culture. He was intensely interested in religious questions, and he gives a detailed an account of the Essenian monks, with whom Jesus was connected, in one of his works. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, he resided in Rome and wrote his works, the chief of which are his History of the Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities. In one or other of these lengthy and exhaustive works he would, though a Pharisee, reasonably be expected to speak of Jesus and his followers. He even includes, in Jewish Antiquities, a full and unflattering portrait of Pontius Pilate, and he tells of other zealots and reformers in the Jewish history of the time. In the Jewish Antiquities, 18:3 is the following passage:

About this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed be should be called man. He wrought miracles, and was a teacher of those who gladly accept the truth, and had a large following among the Jews and pagans. He was the Christ. Although Pilate, at the complaint of the leaders of our people, condemned him to die on the cross, his earlier followers were faithful to him. For he appeared to them alive again on the third day, as god-sent prophets had foretold this and a thousand other wonderful things of him. The tribe of the Christians, which is called after him, survives until the present day.

This passage is so obviously spurious that no competent theologian or historian accepts it. Josephus was a zealous Jew and most of this is rank blasphemy from the Jewish point of view. It hints that Jesus was divine, that he taught the truth, that he wrought miracles, that he rose from the dead, and that the messianic prophecies of the scriptures expressly refer to him. To imagine Josephus writing such things is preposterous. It is a Christian interpolation.

Was a real reference to Jesus cut out by the Christian censor and replaced by this clumsy forgery? Probably. Making a zealous Jew recognize Jesus as “the Christ” at the height of the bitter feud of Jews and Christians was clumsy enough but he would hardly pick any random page of the historian for his purpose. It is likely that he found there a reference to Jesus that he blue-penned, and substituted his own piece, but left untouched the last sentence of the passage, which would be just as odd for a Christian to write.

The next most important reference to Jesus is in the Annals of the Roman historian Tacitus (15:44). He mentions the fire which burned down the poorer quarters of Rome in the year 64 AD. Nero is thought to have ordered the fire, which caused great misery at the time, and, Tacitus says, the Emperor diverted suspicion by blaming the Christians for it and persecuting them:

To put an end to this rumour therefore, Nero laid the blame on, and visited with severe punishment, those men, hateful for their crimes, whom the people call Christians. He, from whom the name was derived, Christus, was put to death by the Procurator Pontius Pilatus in the reign of Tiberius.

Tacitus goes on to describe how “an immense multitude” of Christians were put to death with fiendish torments, and were convicted “not so much of the crime of arson as of hatred of the human race”.

This passage has many peculiar features. There cannot possibly have been “an immense multitude” of Christians at Rome in 64 AD. Only a few thousand were there a hundred years later. Though it looks like a Christian interpolation, Tacitus has one of the most distinctive and difficult styles in Latin literature, and, if this whole passage is a forgery, it is a perfect imitation. However, only the few words about the crucifixion matter, and a good Latin scholar could easily forge those. Some scholars believe it to be a forgery in its entirety, and that there was no persecution of Christians under Nero. The short sentence about Pilate may be an interpolation, but the peculiarities of the style of Tacitus count against the whole passage being forged.

Tacitus is supposed to have written this about the year 117 AD, ninety years after the death of Jesus. What does it prove? Only that after the year 100 there was a general belief in the Christian community that Jesus was crucified at the order of Pontius Pilate. That was not new at the time, the reference to Pilate in 1 Timothy, whether Pauline or not, probably being as old as that. And three of the gospels were then written, though were not apparently widely available.

Some Christian writers argue that Tacitus must have seen the official record of the crucifixion. Tacitus was not the man to look up the archives, ninety years later, for such a thing or the type to be interested in such a point. He did not do such research, being much more of a gossipy type of historian rather than a meticulously researched one. If the passage is genuine, it shows only that there were in 117 AD Christians in Rome who said these things—nobody doubts it.

Another Roman historian of about the same date, Suetonius, has an obscure passage, in his Life of Claudius (chapter 26), which seems to refer to the Christians:

Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because, at the instigation of Chrestos, they were always making trouble.

This sentence would be quite meaningless as a Christian interpolation, but Chrestos was quite a common Greek name, and it might have nothing to do with Christ. It would be too remarkable a coincidence to find the Jews rioting about someone named Chrestos just about the time that they might have been rioting about the messiah, or Christ in Greek. Suetonius, unfamiliar with the word Christos, has understood it to be Chrestos. Claudius died in the year 54 AD, and it is possible that sectarian fighting between Jews and Christians at Rome over messianism caused the rioting. Possibly the riots were between Hellenized and Hebraic factions of Christianity, like those we read of in Acts, into which other Jews were drawn. In any event they tell us no more, at best, that some Jews as early as this thought the messiah had been. And, if Suetonius did not understand the word Christos when he wrote in 120 or 130 AD, Christianity cannot have been known to him even so late.

Of the twenty lines, there remain only five in a letter of Pliny the younger to the Emperor Trajan. They say that the Christians were numerous enough in the province of Bithynia (in Asia Minor), of which Pliny was Governor, to cause him concern, but he speaks of them as respectable, law-abiding folk who meet to sing hymns at daybreak to Christ “as a God”. A number of scholars have disputed the authenticity of the passage or the whole letter, and it hardly seems plausible that a Proconsul should write to the Emperor about such a matter. If true, by 114 AD a good many Christians were in Asia Minor. Christian apologists reveal the desperate poverty of their case when all they can quote, to prove that Jesus really lived nearly a century before, are these few sentences.

So, no non-Christian writer of the first century mentions Christ—Josephus being equivocal and adulterated—and references in the second century are proof only of what Christians had come to believe a century later. The Christians remained a obscure sect in a world that was seething with sects. That is all we can infer.

The life of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels is that of the worldwide hero of mythology:

The divine hero’s birth is supernaturally predicted and conceived, the infant hero escapes attempts to kill him, demonstrates his precocious wisdom already as a child, receives a divine commission, defeats demons, wins acclaim, is hailed as king, then betrayed, losing popular favor, executed, often on a hilltop, and is vindicated and taken up to heaven.

If these features are found everywhere in heroic myths and epics, but never in real life, it is not safe to believe anyone who tells you that in one particular case it really happened. Yet that is what the born again punter does and that is what the scheming priests make children believe before thay have developed any critical faculty. Some believers glibly accept these other myths but declare them false, to which one has to accuse them of special pleading. They do not know that this one rather than any other is the “true” myth.

If we do not use the standard of current real-life experience to assess history, we would find ourselves accepting every myth and outlandish fairy tale there ever was, and would finish up drowning in a morass of make-belief. And why would God or Nature do things that do not happen now? Isn’t God supposed to be the same yesterday, today, and forever?

So this is where history and myth begin to merge. The popular hero in Palestine was caught and crucified. He was a holy man because those who fought for independence for Judaea in those days generally were holy men, the Jews considering themselves God’s Chosen People. Since they were expecting a miracle from God—though it never came—they persuaded themselves it had, and began to merge history and myth. At a time when news passed by word of mouth, the rumour machine was probably highly efficient and many of the rebel’s followers might have had the myth not long after it was invented.

The details of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection accounts are similar to the events of several surviving popular novels from that period in which two lovers are separated when one seems to have died and is unwittingly entombed alive. Grave robbers discover her reviving and kidnap her. Her lover finds the tomb empty, graveclothes still in place, and first concludes she has been raised up from death and taken to heaven. Then, realizing what must have happened, he goes in search of her. During his adventures, he is sooner or later condemned to the cross or actually crucified, but manages to escape. When at length the couple is reunited, neither, having long imagined the other dead, can quite believe the lover is alive and not a ghost come to say farewell.

Apologists contend that all these myths are plagiarized from the gospels by Pagan imitators, pointing out that some of the evidence is post-Christian. Nevertheless much is pre-Christian. The early Christian apologists prove it by arguing that these parallels to the gospels were counterfeits in advance, by Satan, who knew the real thing would be coming along later and wanted to throw people off the track! They could not have argued this way had the Pagan myths of dead and resurrected gods been more recent than the Christian.

C S Lewis suggested that in Jesus’s case “myth became fact”, an argument that Price pooh-pooh’s, Lewis being a soft-headed apologist for Christianity. The others were myths, but this one actually happened. But though Lewis meant this as an apology for his belief, it is likely to be true—not by accident but by design, so to speak. The very point the earliest gentile bishops would have been making to the Roman housewives and slaves they recruited was that this dying God had “actually happened” recently, and witnesses could confirm it.

This latter is both the reason why an absurd religion got a foothold at all, and the reason why the gospels seem unhistorical. There were witnesses and after 70 AD, there were even more, the Jews having been dispersed from their homeland. These witnesses confirmed that there had indeed been a Jesus who was crucified, but he was not a god but a rebel against the Romans. They confirmed the fundamental fact, and for the first gentile Christians as for born again converts today, it was sufficient—they wanted to believe.

What of the details though? The Jewish witnesses could quote particular cases and did. How were they to be refuted? The bishops could not say they were false, because that would undermine their case. They wanted to accept they were true, then their god was proved to have lived in detail. So, they simply told their followers pious lies, just as they have done ever since—the Jewish witnesses had got the story a bit confused. If it is for the glory of God and his son, Jesus Christ, then any lie is the truth, so they confused the truth with their distortions but still retained enough of it to keep the essence of the story of the witness.

Despite the bishops’ best efforts, besides gullible souls, there were plenty of skeptics then, just as there are gullible souls and skeptics today. Paul, the first evangelist to the gentiles, did not want to talk at all about the god except in mythical language. He never mentions Jesus performing healings because the healings were not physical healings at all but spiritual ones, persuading Jews to take courage and oppose the foreign rulers. Paul would not have wanted to mention this. Only twice does he speak of “words of the Lord”. He never speaks of Jesus as a teacher because Jesus was not particularly known as a teacher, and what he did teach was rebellion.

Paul attributes the death of Jesus not to Roman or Jewish governments, but rather to the designs of evil “archons”, angels who rule this fallen world, an obvious early attempt to put space between the historical Jesus who was murdered by the Romans he hoped to convert and the God Jesus, Paul set out to create.

Romans and 1 Peter both warn Christians to watch their step, reminding them that the Roman authorities never punish the righteous, but only the wicked. Price amazingly asks: “How could they have said this if they knew of the Pontius Pilate story?” The answer is that they were trying to deceive their flocks—who at that stage will not have known the story—as preachers have done ever since.

Two epistles, 1 Thessalonians and 2 Timothy, do blame Pilate or Jews for the death of Jesus, and can be shown on other grounds to be non-Pauline and later than the gospels. The story was by then out in the open, successfully smudged by the bishops as it has since remained, despite the attentions of hundreds of “scholars”.

The theory that Christ is mythical means there was no Jesus alive in Pontius Pilate’s time to give rise to a legend but instead, that later, Pilate’s time was selected as the time when Jesus lived. Just as somebody always knows somebody who had a miraculous experience, orally transmitted legends usually come from the generation before last.

Now, on the idea outlined in The Hidden Jesus, this is possible. The gospel clues suggest that Jesus began his campaign in 18 AD and died in 21 AD which precedes the governorship of Pilate. There is reason to believe that Christians, when they took state power in the fourth century, doctored the dates of Pilate in Josephus so that anyone who found or had kept a copy of the Roman archive pertaining to the crucifixion of Jesus could be discredited as a fraud. Only two easy alterations were needed to the letters which served as Greek numbers.

It just about remains possible that the dates of Pilate are correct and Jesus was crucified by an earlier governor. The legend that it happened in the reign of Pilate then arose because Mark and the first Christians, who had been waiting fifty years for the end of the world, decided that the bloody defeat and diaspora of the Jews and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD sufficed for it, and though they had forgotten exactly when the events had happened, simply extrapolated them back forty years—a Jewish generation, the maximum extent of the prophecy—from then into the reign of Pilate as Prefect of Judaea.

Many have questioned the historicity of the passion by asking why the earliest gospel crucifixion account in Mark spins out the terse narrative from quotes cribbed from Psalms 22? Well, the answer is plain. Whether Jesus in reality died a noble death or otherwise, the story had to be embellished. The legend of Jesus was now being made and the followers were not going to tell the truth about their god, so begin to take messianic references from the scriptures and apply them to Jesus—now Christ. He asks also why does 1 Peter have nothing more detailed than Isaiah 53 to flesh out his account of the sufferings of Jesus? The answer is the same. And the more recent gospels carry on mythologising, even finding a book of wisdom sayings and attributing them to Jesus.

Many also says the “historical Jesus” found by those bothered to look is “just” a reflexion of the individual who is looking. Price hints that Schweitzer was the “single” exception, but any exception invalidates the rule.

On the other hand, it is quite natural, and almost inescapable, that everyone is moulded by their own experiences and social situation. All investigators therefore paint themselves into their findings. The truth, inasmuch as it is possible to get it, is found by the continuation of this process until by trial and error and eliminating the excesses and the mistakes and bringing in new discoveries, eventually a reasonable approximation will be found.

Plainly once someone is dead and times have passed, the truth can never be resurrected. Even President Kennedy is now a myth, but we still have a reasonable picture of him. It is pure defeatism in history to say that the historian can never get the truth because he projects himself into his picture:

Today’s Politically Correct “historical Jesuses” are no different, being mere clones of the scholars who design them.

So there is no point in doing history at all? Nonsense!

Some find comfort from C S Lewis: “Each ‘historical Jesus’ is unhistorical. The documents say what they say and cannot be added to”. Lewis took it for granted, as all Christians do, that the gospel picture is sufficient—it is true. All the questors are doing is saying, “Not necessarily, mate! What about this? And what about this too?” By assessing the “probabilities” in all these pictures, an approximation to the truth will be found. Why does Price object to this?

He explains that:

Even if there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn’t one any more. All attempts to recover him turn out to be just modern remythologizings of Jesus. Every “historical Jesus” is a Christ of faith, of somebody’s faith. So the “historical Jesus” of modern scholarship is no less a fiction.

The correct attitude is that they are all approximations to the truth. If all the facts about someone’s life are available, it is still impossible to know the historical person. Facts have to be selected to present an accessible portrait. If many of the facts are missing or have been deliberately altered, as in the case of Jesus, then it becomes harder still because it becomes a matter, not of selection, but of interpretation and we have to look for clues in the events and circumstances. None of this makes the task not worth undertaking for otherwise history—and indeed many other fields of inquiry—is pointless.

It is a sort of extension of Christian pious lies into every field of scholarship, and unsurprisingly Christians are at the forefront of it. All you have to do is make up anything you like by association of ideas, negation, astrology and fantasy—any means as long as it does not involve reason or facts—to discredit, preferably, a conventional piece of learning generated by someone else’s sincere efforts and that is scholarship. It’s baloney, but typical of the insanity of the world.

G B Shaw, in the preface to Androcles and the Lion, says that Jesus was insane. George Moore, in his Apostle says that the figure of Christ in Luke, of which the preachers are fond, is “a lifeless, waxen figure, daintily curled, with tinted cheeks, uttering pretty commonplaces gathered from The Treasury of the Lowly, as he goes by”. Renan, while denying Jesus’s divinity, thought that there was “something divine” about him. The more the liberal Christian feels compelled to sacrifice the miracles and divinity of Jesus, the more zealous he is to magnify the grandeur of his personality. Most Christians say Jesus is “the grandest figure in all literature”, or that, if the Jesus of the gospels did not exist, the creation of his personality by some obscure writers of the first century is itself a miracle:

The thesis is within thirty years there had evolved such a coherent and consistent complex of traditions about a non-existent figure such as we have in the sources of the Gospels is just too implausible. It involves too many complex and speculative hypotheses, in contrast to the much simpler explanation that there was a Jesus who said and did more or less what the first three Gospels attribute to him. The fact of Christianity’s beginnings and the character of its earliest tradition is such that we could only deny the existence of Jesus by hypothesizing the existence of some other figure who was a sufficient cause of Chrstianity’s beginnings—another figure who on careful reflection would probably come out very like Jesus!

James Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus

Dunn thinks he is preserving the gospel Jesus with this argument, but he is not. A figure “very like Jesus” is not Jesus! While Wells is probably wrong that Jesus never existed, he also draws a parallel with Faust who did exist but as a shadowy figure not that of legend. Jesus was likely to have been the same. He did exist and was “very like” the gospel Jesus but he was an historical person, free of the supernatural, but neverthless a remarkable Jewish leader. That is the thesis of these pages.

Jesus believed in eternal torment for people of weak will. Though gentle to the adulterous woman, he bitterly and vulgarly abused the Pharisees, to which you will find no parallel in any Pagan moralist of the time.

In the gospels, Jesus recommends hardly a sentiment that he does not violate. He scorns synagogues and meeting-places, and then founds a Church. He has no word of guidance in the problems of social life because be believes that the world is about to end. He is the archetype of the Puritans, scornful of all that is enjoyable in life, bitter and unjust to those who differ from him, quite impracticable, even foolish, in many of his counsels. Not surprisingly, the modern world has no use for Christ.

One solution of all this tissue of contradictions is that a dozen different people’s excuses for Jesus have been mixed together in these composite writings, the gospels. One man did not write any gospel. One spirit did not dictate them. They embody the contradictory excuses of isolated and often hostile communities in different parts of the Greco-Roman world. It was not the same man who made up the excuse of Jesus loving children and scorning his mother. It was not the same man who made Jesus into a wine-bibber and yet tell us to live on bread and sleep on stones, who made Jesus the friend of whores and then deny human sexuality. We can assume Jesus, as an Essene prince, was consistent in his views.

Paul’s letters show how they began to change according to the audience. To one group he has to talk much about fornication and feasting, to another about correct ritual, to another about points of theology. He cites little from any knowledge of Jesus, but sets the lying agenda for Christianity by being all things to all men.

Probably Peter was never at Rome, but the other Roman bishops named, from about 70 AD onward, are not doubted. This group was a thousand miles from Judaea, and there were churches all the way between, with overseers (bishops), elders (priests), and servers (deacons). Lives of Jesus were circulating amongst them, and those lives or gospels do present Jesus as a man, living in Judaea. The Church combatted and defeated the Gnostics who held that Jesus was never contaminated by a body. Basilides, one of the ablest of the Gnostics, an Alexandrian, tried to teach in the first half of the second century that Jesus was never a man, and the whole Church promptly and emphatically repudiated him. He had to found a special half-Persian, half-Christian sect.

The epistles of Paul seem to take us back to about the middle of the first century. By 60 AD, groups of Christians existed in every large Roman city. Paul’s belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus is, he admits, not accepted by all. It was hard to accept but that Jesus was born, taught, and was executed in Judaea is at the basis of Paul’s teaching, and he never mentions any member of a church who doubts it. The Gnostics with their spiritual Jesus came later.

Paul speaks of Cephas and others who were actual companions of Jesus. The genuineness of all the epistles must be questioned to doubt this. In 2 Corinthians 4:10 Paul says that it is fourteen years since he first came to believe in Jesus, to believe that he was God, not that he was man. So he joined the Christian body, and mingled with them in Jerusalem, within less than ten years of the execution of Jesus. No Jew there seems to have told him that Jesus was a mere myth. In all the bitter strife of Jew and Christian the idea seems to have occurred to nobody.

Setting aside the gospels entirely, ignoring all that Latin writers are supposed to have said in the second century, a large and roughly organized body of Christians existed at a time when men were still alive who remembered events of the third decade of the century. Many of these people will have had quite different ideas about Jesus from the myths that the churches were building up, but none of them said that Jesus did not exist. They all knew he did, and told the truth about him as they understood it. They knew he was not a god!

The phenomena of a Christianity in the first century implies an historical person. From a general knowledge of Hindu and Chinese sacred literature, we have less evidence of the personal existence of Kong-fu-tse or Buddha than of Jesus. The documents are even further removed from the events than the epistles and gospels are. Yet no historian doubts their historicity.

To early Christians, Jesus is not primarily a teacher. A collection of wise teachings might in time get a mythical name attached to it and the myth might in further time become a real person. But from the earliest moment that we catch sight of Christians in history, the essence of their belief is that Jesus was an incarnation, in Judaea, of the great God of the universe. The supreme emphasis is on the fact that he assumed a human form and shed human blood on a cross. So it seems more reasonable, more scientific, more consonant with the facts of religious history, to conclude that Jesus existed, but for believers from the beginning he was seen as an incarnate god and given the divine attributes of “the great God of the universe”!