Jesus myth hypothesis

Jesus myth hypothesis

:"Jesus myth" links here. For a comparison between Jesus Christ and pagan mythology see Jesus Christ and comparative mythology." The Jesus myth hypothesis, also referred to as the "Jesus myth theory", the "Christ myth" or the "Jesus myth"is an argument against the historical authenticity of Jesus. It holds that there is a lack of historical evidence for the existence of the Jesus of the Bible, with significant mythological parallels between the narrative of Jesus in the gospels and mystery religions or myths of rebirth deities of the Roman Empire such as Mithraism, and that this suggests that the figure of Jesus is a non-historical construct of various forms of ancient mythology or a mythical composite character based on earlier historical persons. A related hypothesis is that the stories of Jesus found in the New Testament are transfers from and embellishments on the life of an earlier religious teacher who lived sometime during the 1st or 2nd century BCE.

The hypothesis was first proposed by the French Enlightenment thinkers Constantin-François Volney and Charles François Dupuis in the 1790s but was not addressed by scholars until 1840 when historian and theologian Bruno Bauer began work which would become influential in biblical studies during the early 20th century. Authors such as Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price and George Albert Wells have recently re-popularised the argument, though it carries little weight among the majority of biblical historians and scholars. ['Virtually all biblical scholars acknowledge that there is enough information from ancient non-Christian sources to give lie to the myth (still, however, widely believed in popular circles and by some scholars in other fields - see esp. G. A. Wells) which claims that Jesus never existed.', Green, Joel B, Mcknight, I, and Marshall, Howard (editors), "Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels: A Compendium Of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship", page 292 (New England:1992) ISBN 978-0851106465] ['The denial of Jesus' historicity has never convinced any large number of people, in or out of technical circles, nor did it in the first part of the century.', Weaver, Walter P, 'The historical Jesus in the twentieth century, 1900-1950', page 71 (Pennsylvania:1999) ISBN 978-1563382802] ['Among New Testament scholars and historians, the theory of Jesus' nonexistence remains effectively dead as a scholarly question.', Van Voorst, Robert E, 'NonExistence Hypothesis', in Houlden, James Leslie (editor), "Jesus in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia", page 660 (Santa Barbara: 2003) ISBN 978-1576078570]


The term "Jesus myth" covers a broad range of ideas which all support the conclusion that the figure of Jesus of Nazareth portrayed in the Gospels is not a historical person. Current theories arose from nineteenth century scholarship resulting from the quest for the historical Jesus, particularly the work of Bruno Bauer, which drew in part from the burgeoning field of mythography in the work of writers such as Max Müller. Mythography continued to influence 20th century philosophy and anthropology, for example, in Arthur Drews, and Claude Lévi-Strauss.

Müller argued that religions originated in mythic stories of the birth, death, and rebirth of the sun. [Jaan Puhvel, "Comparative Mythology", Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987, p.14] James Frazer further attempted to explain the origins of humanity's mythic beliefs in the idea of a "sacrificial king", associated with the sun as a dying and reviving god and its connection to the regeneration of the earth in springtime. Frazer stated in 1900 that his hypothesis assumed "the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth as a great religious and moral teacher" and that the doubts which have been cast upon the historical reality of Jesus are "unworthy of serious attention", arguing that the testimony of the gospels "appears amply sufficient to establish these facts to the satisfaction of all unprejudiced enquirers" and that it is "only the details of the life and death of Christ that remain, and will probably always remain, shrouded in the mists of uncertainty."cite book|last=Frazer|first=JG|title=The Golden Bough - A Study in Magic and Religion|date=2005|publisher=Cosimo|isbn=978-1596056855] The earlier works by George Albert Wells drew on the Pauline Epistles and the lack of early non-Christian documents to argue that the Jesus figure of the Gospels was symbolic, not historical. [cite book
last = Wells
first = G.A.
year = 1998
title = The Jesus Myth
publisher = Open Court
isbn = 0-8126-9392-2
] Earl Doherty proposed that Christ is a myth derived from Middle Platonism with some influence from Jewish mysticism, while John M. Allegro proposed that Christianity began as shamanic religion based on the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms. [cite book|last=Allegro|first=John M.|authorlink=John Marco Allegro|title=The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross: A Study of the Nature and Origins of Christianity Within the Fertility Cults of the Ancient Near East|year=1970|publisher=Hodder and Stoughton|location=London|id=ISBN 0-340-12875-5] Most recently Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy have popularized the Jesus-myth concept in their book "The Jesus Mysteries".cite book|last=Freke|first=T|coauthors=Gandy, P|title=The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God?|publisher=Three Rivers Press|date=2001|isbn=978-0609807989] Some, including Freke and Gandy, have suggested that the idea that Jesus's existence is legendary is itself as old as the New Testament, pointing to 2 John 1:7, though scholars of the period believe that this passage refers to docetism, the belief that Jesus lacked a genuinely physical body, and not the belief that Jesus was a completely fabricated figure. [cite book|last=Elwell|first=WA|title=Evangelical Dictionary of Theology|date=2001|publisher=Baker Academic|isbn=978-0801020759 ] [cite book|first=DC|last=Duling|coauthors=Perrin,N|title=The New Testament: Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History|date=1993|publisher=Harcourt|isbn=978-0155003781] [cite web|title=Docetism|url=|publisher=Encyclopedia Britannica Online|accessdate=2007-03-18] [cite book|first=J.N.D|last=Kelly|title=Early Christian Doctrines: Revised Edition|date=1978|publisher=HarperSanFrancisco|isbn=978-0060643348] [cite web|url=|title=Book 24 - John's Second Letter|first=JB|last=Phillips|accessdate=2007-03-18] [cite encyclopedia|last=Arendzen|first=J. P.|encyclopedia=The Catholic Encyclopedia|title=Docetae|url =|accessdate=2007-01-07|year=1909|publisher=Robert Appleton|volume=Volume V|location=New York]

Limited acceptance

Richard Burridge and Graham Gould state that the Jesus Myth hypothesis is not accepted by mainstream critical scholarship."There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more.” Burridge, R & Gould, G, "Jesus Now and Then", Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004, p.34.] Robert E. Van Voorst has stated that biblical scholars and historians regard the thesis as "effectively refuted". "The nonhistoricity thesis has always been controversial, and it has consistently failed to convince scholars of many disciplines and religious creeds... Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it as effectively refuted." - Robert E. Van Voorst, "Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence" (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), p. 16.] Graham N. Stanton writes, "Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed and that the gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which has to be weighed and assessed critically. There is general agreement that, with the possible exception of Paul, we know far more about Jesus of Nazareth than about any first- or second century Jewish or pagan religious teacher." [Graham Stanton, "The Gospels and Jesus" (Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 2002), p. 145.] Atheist New Testament scholar William Arnal writes, "No one in mainstream New Testament scholarship denies that Jesus was a Jew." [ William Arnal, "The Symbolic Jesus: Historical Scholarship, Judaism, and the Construction of Contemporary Identity" (Equinox, 2005), p. 5.]

Jesus-myth proponent Earl Doherty agrees that "Van Voorst is quite right in saying that 'mainstream scholarship today finds it unimportant.' Most of their comments (such as those quoted by Michael Grant below) are limited to expressions of contempt." But, Doherty disagrees with the mainstream scholars on the strength of the case against the hypothesis, and comments that the widespread "contempt" in which the hypothesis is held "is not to be mistaken for refutation." He states that "interests, both religious and secular, have traditionally mounted a campaign against it",cite web|title=Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case Four:Alleged Scholarly Refutations of Jesus Mythicism|url=|first=Earl|last=Doherty|accessdate=2008-04-27] and states that mainstream scholarship is guilty of a "notable lack of proper understanding of the mythicist case", Earl Doherty, "Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case: One: Bernard Muller"] leading to "the non-professional scholar" and "well-informed amateur on the internet" becoming those who he regards as "quite educated (meaning largely self-educated) in biblical research".

Early proponents

Doubt about the historical existence of Jesus became possible when critical study of the Gospels developed in the 18th century, [Goguel (1926a) 11.] and some English deists towards the end of this century are said to have believed that no historical Jesus existed. [Goguel (1926a) 14; Van Voorst (2000) 8.] However, the "great forerunners" of the nonhistorical hypothesis are usually identified as two thinkers of the French Enlightenment, Constantin-François Volney and Charles François Dupuis. [Schweitzer (2000) 355; similarly Weaver (1999) 45.] In works published in the 1790s, both argued that numerous ancient myths, including the life of Jesus, were based on the movement of the sun through the zodiac. [Wells (1969); more briefly Schweitzer (2000) 527 n. 1.] [Constantin-François Volney, "Les ruines, ou Méditations sur les révolutions des empires" (Paris: Desenne, 1791); English translation, "The Ruins, or a Survey of the Revolutions of Empires" (New York: Davis, 1796).] C. F. Dupuis, "Origine de tous les cultes" (Paris: Chasseriau, 1794); English translation, "The Origin of All Religious Worship" (New York: Garland, 1984).]

Dupuis identified pre-Christian rituals in Syria, Egypt and Persia as representing the birth of a god to a virgin at the winter solstice, and connected this to the winter rising of the constellation of Virgo. He believed that this and other annual occurrences were allegorised as the life-histories of solar deities, who passed their childhoods in obscurity (low elevation of the sun after the solstice), died (winter) and were resurrected (spring equinox). Jewish and Christian myth could also be interpreted according to the solar pattern: the Fall of Man in Genesis was an allegory of the hardship caused by winter, and the resurrection of Christ the "paschal lamb" at Easter represented the growth of the Sun's strength in the sign of Aries at the spring solstice. [Wells (1969) 153–156.] Dupuis rejected the historicity of Jesus entirely, explaining the 2nd-century Roman historian Tacitus' reference to his execution under Pontius Pilate as based only on the inaccurate Christian beliefs of Tacitus' own day. [Wells (1969) 159–160.]

Volney, who published before Dupuis but made use of a draft version of his work, [Wells (1969) 151.] followed much of his argument. He differing in thinking that solar myths, rather than being deliberate extended allegories, were compiled when simple allegorical statements like "the virgin has brought forth" were misunderstood as history. [Wells (1969) 155.] Unlike Dupuis, Volney believed that confused memories of a historical but obscure Messianic claimant could have contributed to Christianity when they become linked with solar mythology. [Wells (1969) 157.]

The works of Volney and Dupuis went rapidly through numerous editions,Goguel (1926b) 117.] and Napoleon may have been basing his opinion on Volney's work when he stated privately that the existence of Jesus was an open question. [Schweitzer (2000) 356.] However, their influence even in France did not outlast the first quarter of the nineteenth century. They had based their views on limited historical data, and later critics showed, for example, that the birth of Jesus was not placed in December until the 4th century. [Solmsen (1970) 277–279, not disputed by Wells (1973) 143: "The question of a date of birth I mention (155) in connection with the views of Dupuis, who did deny Jesus' historicity on grounds which ... I regard as inadequate."]

The first scholarly proponent was probably the nineteenth century historian, philosopher and theologian Bruno Bauer, a Hegelian thinker who concluded "that the Alexandrian Jew Philo, who was still living about A.D. 40 but was already very old, was the real father of Christianity, and that the Roman stoic Seneca was, so to speak, its uncle." [Engels, Frederick, "Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity" "Sozialdemokrat" May 4-11, 1882 republished in Marx and Engels, "On Religion", Progress Publishers, 1966] Bauer theorized that Philo had adapted the Greek concept of the "logos" to Judaic tradition, initiating the process that led to the fully developed Christian narrative. He argued that what we now know as Christianity was a form of ancient socialism, and was only clearly defined in the reign of the emperor Hadrian, when, in his view, the earliest gospel - Mark - was written. Bauer "regarded Mark not only as the first narrator, but even as the creator of the gospel history, thus making the latter a fiction and Christianity the invention of a single original evangelist".Otto Pfleiderer, "Development of Theology", p. 226 Quoted in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition.] [Douglas Moggach, "The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer", 2003, Cambridge University Press, p.184] Mark, according to Bauer, was an Italian, influenced by Seneca's Stoic philosophy.

Other authors included Edwin Johnson, who argued that Christianity emerged from a combination of liberal trends in Judaism and Gnostic mysticism. Other versions of the argument developed under Bible scholars such as A. D. Loman and G. I. P. Bolland. Loman argued that episodes in Jesus's life, such as the Sermon on the Mount, were fictions written to justify compilations of pre-existing liberal Jewish sayings. Bolland developed the hypothesis that Christianity evolved from Gnosticism and that Jesus was a symbolic figure representing Gnostic ideas about God. [ [ The Gnostic Gospels, PBS] ] [ [ G.J.P.J. Bolland: The Gospel Jesus] ]

By the early twentieth century a number of writers had published arguments in favour of the Jesus myth hypothesis, ranging from the highly speculative to the more scholarly. These treatments were sufficiently influential to merit several book-length responses by historians and New Testament scholars. The most influential of the books arguing for a mythic Jesus was Arthur Drews's "The Christ Myth" (1909) which brought together the scholarship of the day in defense of the idea that Christianity had been a Jewish Gnostic cult that spread by appropriating aspects of Greek philosophy and Frazerian death-rebirth deities. This combination of arguments became the standard form of the mythic Christ argument. In Why I Am Not a Christian (1927), Bertrand Russell stated: "Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one." Others, like Joseph Wheless in his 1930 "Forgery In Christianity", went even further and claimed there was an active effort to forge documents to make the myth seem historical beginning as early as the 2nd century. [ [ Forgery In Christianity ] ]

Recent proponents

In recent years, the Jesus myth hypothesis has also been advocated by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, who are both popular writers on mysticism, in their books " The Jesus Mysteries" and "Jesus and the Lost Goddess". Earl Doherty also promotes the idea in his book The Jesus Puzzle. GA Wells believed that the Jesus of these earliest Christians is not based on a historical character, but a pure myth, derived from the mystical speculations based on the Jewish Wisdom tradition. However Wells' latest book, 'The Jesus Myth' (1999), departs from his earlier insistence that Jesus did not exist, acknowledging the postulated Q document as early historical evidence. ['A final argument against the nonexistence hypothesis comes from Wells himself. In his most recent book, The Jesus Myth (1999), Wells has moved away from this hypothesis. He now accepts that there is some historical basis for the existence of Jesus, derived from the lost early "gospel" "Q" (the hypothetical source used by Matthew and Luke). Wells believes that it is early and reliable enough to show that Jesus probably did exist, although this Jesus was not the Christ that the later canonical Gospels portray. It remains to be seen what impact Wells's about-face will have on debate over the nonexistence hypothesis in popular circles.', Van Voorst, Robert E, 'NonExistence Hypothesis', in Houlden, James Leslie (editor), 'Jesus in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia', page 660 (Santa Barbara: 2003)]

There are many different views regarding the nature of the early texts. Doherty suggests that Jesus is a mythic figure created out of Middle Platonism with elements from the Old Testament, and whom the early Christians experienced in visions.

Advocates of the Jesus-myth hypothesis also do not agree on the dating and meaning of the early Christian texts, with advocates like Doherty holding to traditional scholarly dating that puts the gospels toward the end of the first century, and others, like Hermann Detering ("The Fabricated Paul"), arguing that the early Christian texts are largely forgeries and products of the middle to late second century.

Robert M. Price, a biblical scholar, does not style himself as a Jesus-myth proponent but tries to demonstrate that if we apply the critical methodology (which has been developed in the area) with "ruthless consistency" then we should come to complete agnosticism regarding Jesus' historicity, "... their own criteria and critical tools, which we have sought to apply here with ruthless consistency, ought to have left them with complete agnosticism ...", p. 351 in cite book|last=Price|first=Robert M.|title=The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition?|year=2003|publisher=Prometheus Books|location=Amherst, N.Y.|id=ISBN 1-59102-121-9 ] and that the burden of proof is on those holding to Jesus's historicity."The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold," (ISBN 978-0932813749), 1991; "Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled," (ISBN 978-1931882316), 2004; and "Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of The Christ" (ISBN 978-0979963100), 2007.] In her online article, "The Origins of Christianity," Murdock states:

"...the most enduring and profound controversy in this subject is whether or not a person named Jesus Christ ever really existed.... when one examines this issue closely, one will find a tremendous volume of literature that demonstrates, logically and intelligently, time and again that Jesus Christ is a mythological character along the same lines as the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Sumerian, Phoenician, Indian or other godmen, who are all presently accepted as myths rather than historical figures." ["The Origins of Christianity"cite web|title=The Origins of Christianity|url=|first=Acharya|last=S]

The hypothesis is actively discussed on the internet, both on websites and on Usenet. [Van Voorst (2000), p. 7.]


Earliest recorded references

The earliest references to Jesus are by Christian writers (in the New Testament, Apostolic Fathers and the NT Apocrypha).

New Testament epistles

The letters of Paul of Tarsus are among the earliest surviving Christian writings. The epistles do not discuss Jesus's life and ministry in level of detail used by the Gospels, though they do make several claims that he was human; for instance, "... concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh..", [Romans 1:3] "... By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh ..." [Romans 8:3] or "Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified..". [Galatians 3:1.] Barnett lists 15 details gleaned from Paul's letters including: 1) descent from Abraham, 2) direct descent from David, 3) 'born of a woman', 4) lived in poverty, 5) born and lived under the law, 6) had a brother called James, 7) led a humble life style, 8) ministered primarily to Jews, etc. [Barnett,P (1997). "Jesus and the Logic of History", Apollos, ISBN 978-0851115122, pp. 57-58.]

R.T. France disagrees with the notion that the Apostle Paul did not speak of Jesus as a physical being. He argues that arguments from silence are unreliable and that there are several references to historical facts about Jesus's life in Paul's letters, such as Romans 1:3 .Vague|date=August 2008

G. A. Wells suggests that the level of discussion of the historical Jesus in the Pauline epistles, except for the Pastorals, as well as in Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, the Johannine epistles and Revelation supports his position. In these works, Wells argues, Jesus is presented as "a basically supernatural personage only obscurely on Earth as a man at some unspecified period in the past". [cite journal|last=Wells|first=GA|year=1999|month=September|title=Earliest Christianity|journal=New Humanist|volume=114|issue=3|pages=13–18|url=|accessdate=2007-01-11] Wells considers this to be the original Christian view of Jesus, based not on the life of a historical figure but on the personified figure of Wisdom as portrayed in Jewish wisdom literature.

A more radical position is taken by Earl Doherty, who holds that these early authors did not believe that Jesus had been on Earth at all. He argues that the earliest Christians accepted a Platonic cosmology that distinguished a "higher" spiritual world from the Earthly world of matter, and that they viewed Jesus as having descended only into the "lower reaches of the spiritual world".cite journal|last=Doherty|first=E|year=1997|month=Fall|title=The Jesus Puzzle: Pieces in a Puzzle of Christian Origins|journal=Journal of Higher Criticism|volume=4|issue=2|url=|accessdate=2008-06-05] Doherty also suggests that this view was accepted by the authors of the Pastoral epistles, 2 Peter, and various second-century Christian writings outside the New Testament. Doherty contends that apparent references in these writings to events on earth, and a physical historic Jesus, should in fact be regarded as allegorical metaphors. [cite web|url=|title=Christ as "Man": Does Paul Speak of Jesus as an Historical Person?|accessdate=2007-01-11|last=Doherty|first=E|work=The Jesus Puzzle: Was There No Historical Jesus?] Opponents regard such interpretations as forced and erroneous eg in the Pastoral letter to Timothy the author speaks of Jesus as being 'revealed in the flesh'. [1 Timothy 3:16.]

Apostolic Fathers

In the letter called 1 Clement , written "sometime during the last two decades of the first century"Holmes, M, (2007), "The Apostolic Fathers", Baker Academic, p.37] the author speaks of Jesus as someone who was physically present eg 1 Clement 16 (quoting Is.53:1-12) [Holmes(2007),p.49] .

In the [ Letters of Ignatius] written around c.110, Ignatius speaks of Jesus as someone of whom we should "be fully convinced about the birth and the suffering and the resurrection that took place during the time of the governorship of Pontius Pilate" (Ignatius to the Magnesians, ch.11) [Holmes(2007),p.106] . In his Letter to the Trallians (ch.9) he writes about Jesus "who was of the family of David, who was the son of Mary; who really was born, who both ate and drank; who really was persecuted under Pontius Pilate, who really was crucified and died ... who, moreover, really was raised from the dead ..." [Holmes(2007),p.110]

Similarly Polycarp in his Letter to the Philippians (ch.7), written c.110, writes "... that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh ..." [Holmes(2007),p.138] .

Early non-Christian references to Jesus

Four early writers are typically cited in support of the actual existence of Jesus: Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger.

* The "Antiquities" of Josephus (37 CE - c. 100 CE), written in 93 CE contain two references to Jesus. The text comprising the first reference, the Testimonium Flavianum, states that Jesus was the founder of a sect, but the verse is believed to have been interpolated. Grammatical analysis indicates significant differences with the passages that come before and after it, while some phrases would be inconsistent with a non-Christian author like Josephus. This leads scholars to believe the Jesus reference was either altered or added by persons other than Josephus. The second reference states that in the year 62 CE, the newly appointed high priest "convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought them a man called James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned." [cite web|url=|title=Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus|] However, Kenneth Humphreys has argued that, based on successive lines, the Jesus talked about in this passage is not the Jesus of the Bible, but rather another man with the name of Jesus who also had a brother named James: [Kenneth Humphreys. "Jesus Never Existed". Historical Review Press (December 2005). ISBN 0906879140.] :

"Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest." [cite web|url=|title=Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus|]

* Tacitus (circa 117) in the context of the Great Fire of Rome refers to "some people, known as Christians, whose disgraceful activities were notorious". The originator of that name, Christus, had been executed when Tiberius was emperor by the order of Pontius Pilate. But this deadly cult, though checked for a time, was now breaking out again." [cite book|last=Tacitus|first=Cornelius|title=The Annals of Imperial Rome||date=2005|isbn=978-1420926682] However it has been pointed out by experts on both sides there is no way to tell where Tacitus got the information for this passage and state there are hints in the passage that suggest that the information did not come from Roman records. [For example R. T. France, writes "The brief notice in Tacitus Annals xv.44 mentions only his title, Christus, and his execution in Judea by order of Pontius Pilatus. Nor is there any reason to believe that Tacitus bases this on independent information-it is what Christians would be saying in Rome in the early second century ... No other clear pagan references to Jesus can be dated before AD 150, by which time the source of any information is more likely to be Christian propaganda than an independent record." The Gospels As Historical Sources For Jesus, The Founder Of Christianity, "Truth Journal" [] ]
* Suetonius, who wrote in the second century, made reference to unrest among the Jews of Rome under Claudius caused by "instigator Chrestus". [Suetonius, "Claudius" [*.html#25.4 25.4] .] This has sometimes been identified with Jesus Christ, though in this case it must refer to indirect posthumous effects and gives no biographical information. Critics argue that "Chrestus" was in fact very common Greek name and may have been a person of that name living under Claudius rather than a misspelling of Christ. Also it is pointed out that Suetonius refers to "Jews" not Christians in this passage even though in his "Life of Nero" he shows some knowledge of the sect's existence indicating that "Chrestus" was not "Christus". [Kenneth Humphreys. "Jesus Never Existed". Historical Review Press (December 2005). ISBN 0906879140.]
* There are references to Christians in the letters of Pliny the Younger [cite web|url=|title=Pliny, Letters 10.96-97|accessdate=2007-03-18] , but they give no specific information about the founder of this movement.

The "Babylonian Talmud" contains several references that have been traditionally identified with Jesus of Nazareth. However, these same passages have been used to show that the biblical Jesus is based upon an earlier figure who lived about 100 BCE. [Mead, G.R.S.: "Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?" 1903] [Gil Student, [ The Jesus Narrative In The Talmud] ] Furthermore, tradition has the Babylonian Talmud being compiled in the late third to early fourth century limiting its value to determining events of the 1st century CE.

Apparent omissions in early records

Many proponents of the Jesus-myth hypothesis claim that there is an unusual lack of non-Christian documents that make reference to Jesus before the end of the first century, and note the survival of writings by a number of Roman and Jewish commentators and historians who wrote in the first century but which lack mention of events described in the Gospels, taking this as evidence that Jesus was invented later. Opponents of the hypothesis argue that arguments from silence are unreliable.

Justus of Tiberias wrote at the end of the first century a history of Jewish kings, with whom the gospels state Jesus had interacted. Justus' history does not survive, but Photius, who read it in the 9th century, stated that it did not mention "the coming of Christ, the events of His life, or the miracles performed by Him." [cite book |author=Photius |authorlink=Patriarch Photios I of Constantinople |others=trans. J. H. Freese |title=The library of Photius |url= |accessdate=2007-01-03 |year=1920 |publisher=SPCK |location=London |chapter=33: Justus of Tiberias, "Chronicle of the Kings of the Jews" |chapterurl= ] The Jewish historian Philo, who lived in the first half of the 1st century also fails to mention Jesus, as do other major contemporary writers [Wells, G.A. (1971) "The Jesus of the Early Christians, A Study in Christian Origins", Pemberton Books, page 2.]

In response to Jesus myth proponents who argue the lack of early non-Christian sources, or question their authenticity, R. T. France counters that "even the great histories of Tacitus have survived in only two manuscripts, which together contain scarcely half of what he is believed to have written, the rest is lost" and that the life of Jesus, from a Roman point of view, was not a major event.cite book|authorlink=RT France|last=France|first=RT|title=Evidence for Jesus (Jesus Library)|publisher=Trafalgar Square Publishing|date=1986|isbn=0340381728|pages=19-20] Vague|date=August 2008

James Charlesworth writes "No reputable scholar today questions that a Jew named Jesus son of Joseph lived; most readily admit that we now know a considerable amount about his actions and basic teachings ..." [Charlesworth (2006), p. xxiii.]

R.T. France states that Christianity was actively opposed by both the Roman Empire and the Jewish authorities, and would have been utterly discredited if Jesus had been shown as a non-historical figure. He argues that there is evidence in Pliny, Josephus and other sources of the Roman and Jewish approaches at the time, and none of them involved this suggestion.Vague|date=August 2008

Influenced by the Old Testament

Advocates of the Jesus-myth believe that the gospels are not history but a type of midrash: creative narratives based on the stories, prophecies, and quotes in the Hebrew Bible. Doherty has argued that when the midrashic elements are removed, little to no content remains that could be used to demonstrate the existence of a historical Jesus. [cite web|url=|title=THE JESUS PUZZLE Was There No Historical Jesus?|first=E|last=Doherty|accessdate=2007-03-18] [*cite book|last=Doherty|first=Earl|authorlink=Earl Doherty|title=The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin With a Mythical Christ?|year=2000|edition=rev. ed.|publisher=Canadian Humanist Publications|location=Ottawa|id=ISBN 0-9686014-0-5]

A majority of scholarsWho|date=July 2007 explain the similarities between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke using the two-source hypothesis, according to which, Matthew and Luke derived most of their content from Mark and from a lost collection of Jesus' sayings known as the Q document. In the small amount of additional material unique to Matthew, Jesus is presented with strong parallels to Old Testament figures, most noticeably Moses.Fact|date=June 2007 SomeWho|date=July 2007 argue that there is no reason to assume that the sayings attributed to a postulated Q document originated with Jesus.

Though believing that the gospels may contain some creativity and midrash, opponents of the Jesus-myth argue that the gospels are more akin to ancient Greco-Roman biographies.Fact|date=June 2007 Such works attempted to impart historical information about historical figures but were not comprehensive and could include legendary developments.

Comparisons with Mediterranean mystery religions

Some proponents of the Jesus Myth argument have argued that many aspects of the Gospel stories of Jesus have remarkable parallels with life-death-rebirth gods in the widespread mystery religions prevalent in the Hellenistic culture in which Christianity was born. However James H. Charlesworth writes, [Charlesworth (2006), p. 694.] "It would be foolish to continue to foster the illusion that the Gospels are merely fictional stories like the legends of Hercules and Asclepius. The theologies in the New Testament are grounded on interpretations of real historical events...".

The central figure of one of the most widespread, Osiris-Dionysus, was consistently localised and deliberately merged with local deities in each area, since it was the "mysteries" which were imparted that were regarded as important, not the method by which they were taught. In the view of some advocates of the Jesus Myth, most prominently Freke and Gandy in "The Jesus Mysteries", Jewish mystics adapted their form of Osiris-Dionysus to match prior Jewish heroes like Moses and Joshua, hence creating Jesus.

Several parallels are frequently cited by these advocates, and often appear, mixed with other parallels, on internet sites. The most prominently cited parallels are with Horus and Mithras. Horus was one of the life-death-rebirth deities, and was connected and involved with those of Osiris.

Worship of Isis, Horus' mother, was a prominent cult, and there is a proposal that this is the basis of "veneration" of Mary, and more particularly Marian Iconography. Fact|date=August 2007

Mithraism was a mystery religion widespread in parts of the Roman Empire in the second and third centuries. [cite book|last=Beard|first=M|authorlink=Mary Beard (classicist)|coauthors=North, J; Price, S|date=1998|title=Religions of Rome, Volume 1: A History|publisher=Cambridge University Press|location=Cambridge|pages=279–280|isbn=0-521-31682-0] [cite book|last=Turcan|first=R|date=1996|title=The Cults of the Roman Empire|publisher=Blackwell|location=Oxford|pages=196–203|isbn=0-631-20047-9] Mithraic sanctuaries ("Mithraea") feature images of the tauroctony, the killing by Mithras of a bull. These appear to include astrological elements, possibly associating Mithras with the Sun. [Beard "et al.", vol. 1, 285–286.] Initiates progressed through seven grades associated with planets, and may have conceived their souls as ascending away from Earth and the material world. [Beard "et al.", vol. 1, 285, 290.] An inscription from the Mithraeum at Santa Prisca has an uncertain text but may refer to the shedding of the bull's blood as having "saved us". [Turcan, 226; cite book|last=Beard|first=M|authorlink=Mary Beard (classicist)|coauthors=North, J; Price, S|date=1998|title=Religions of Rome, Volume 2: A Sourcebook|publisher=Cambridge University Press|location=Cambridge|pages=no. 12.5h(xii)|isbn=0-521-45646-0]

Mithraic practices have been compared to those of Christians, including baptism, confirmation and communion. [Bromiley, Geoffrey William. "Mithras". "The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Q-Z". Pg 116. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (1995). ISBN 0802837840.] However, Mithraists may not have sanctified Sunday as the day of the Sun. [Turcan, 229 ("It is not certain if they sanctified Sunday, the day of the Sun, as Cumont supposed.")] Images in Mithraea show Mithras being born from a rock, and it has been conjectured that his worshippers celebrated his birth on December 25, since this is known to have been regarded as the "birthday" of Sol Invictus. [cite book|last=Beck|first=RB|date=2004|title=Beck on Mithraism: Collected Works with New Essays|publisher=Ashgate|location=Aldershot|pages=55|isbn=0754640817 Beck calls the conclusion "reasonable but not self-evidently correct" (p. 55 n. 2).] The Christian apologist Justin Martyr referred to the use of bread and water in Mithraic ritual, which he regarded as a demonic imitation of the Christian Eucharist. [Justin Martyr, "First Apology" [ 66] .] Grape-imagery in Mithraea has been taken to show that wine was also consumed by Mithraists. [Turcan, 234.] Mithraea included bathing pools or basins, [Turcan, 219.] and Tertullian, discussing non-Christian rituals comparable to Christian baptism, referred to Mithraic initiation "by means of a bath". [Tertullian, " [ On Baptism] " 5.] Papyrus fragments preserve what may be a kind of Mithraic "catechism", "in which an officiant questions an initiate, who must give the required answers". [Beard "et al.", vol. 1, 303.]

In 1962, scholar of Judaism Samuel Sandmel cautioned against what he described as "Parallelomania": "We might for our purposes define parallelomania as that extravagance among scholars which first overdoes the supposed similarity in passages and then proceeds to describe source and derivation as if implying a literary connection flowing in an inevitable or predetermined direction." [cite journal|first=S|last=Sandmel|title=Parallelomania|journal=Journal of Biblical Literature|volume=81|issue=1|date=1962|doi=10.2307/3264821|pages=1–13]

Opponents of the Jesus Myth theory regularly accuse those who advocate the existence of such parallels of confusing the issue of who was borrowing from whom, a charge which was also made in ancient times by prominent early Christians. More recently in the book "Reinventing Jesus", the authors put forth the position that "Only after 100 A.D. did the mysteries begin to look very much like Christianity, precisely because their existence was threatened by this new religion. They had to compete to survive." [cite book|last=Komoszewski|first=JE|coauthors=Sawyer, MJ & Wallace, DB|date=2006|title=Reinventing Jesus|publisher=Kregel Publications|pages=237|isbn=978-0825429828]

However, some prominent early Christians, e.g. Irenaeus and Justin Martyr actually argued for the existence of some of these parallels; Justin specifically used several to attempt to prove that Christianity was not a new cult, but that it was rooted in ancient prophecy which had been "diabolically imitated".Fact|date=January 2008

Michael Grant does not see the similarities between Christianity and pagan religions to be significant. Grant states that "Judaism was a milieu to which doctrines of the deaths and rebirths, of mythical gods seemed so entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit."cite book|title=Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels|first=Michael|last=Grant|date=1995|publisher=Scribner|pages=199|isbn=978-0684818672, first published 1977. Grant refers to S. Neill, "What we know about Jesus" (Eerdmans, 1972 ed), p. 45 to support this view.] . He also states the Christ Myth Hypothesis fails to satisfy modern critical methodology, and is rejected by all but a few modern scholars."Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels" (Scribner, 1977, 1995), with reference to Roderic Dunkerley, "Beyond the Gospels" (Whitefairs Press, 1957), p. 12.]

Historiography and methodology

Earl Doherty argues that the gospels are inconsistent concerning "such things as the baptism and nativity stories, the finding of the empty tomb and Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances" and contain numerous "contradictions and disagreements in the accounts of Jesus' words and deeds". He concludes that the evangelists freely altered their sources and invented material, and therefore could not have been concerned to preserve historical information.

A similar tack works from the claim that the dates in canonical and non-canonical sources do not match up. [eg The God Who Wasn't There] For example it is stated in the Talmud that Jesus was killed under Alexander Jannaeus, [Mead, G.R.S.: "Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?" 1903] and Luke and Matthew have different birth dates that are nearly a decade apart. However the value of using the Talmud, which was written between the 3rd and 6th century, as a reliable witness in this matter is both highly questionable [Dunn, JDG, (2003), p.142] and inconsistent if one questions the validity of works whose dating range put them as close as being written within 20 years of Jesus's supposed death.

This criticism has frequently been answered by the observation: "The fact of Christianity's beginnings and the character of its earliest traditions is such the we could only deny the existence of Jesus by hypothesizing the existence of some other figure who was a sufficient cause of Christianity's beginnings - another figure who on careful reflection would probably come out very like Jesus!" [ Dunn (1986), JDG, 'The Evidence for Jesus',Westminster John Knox Press, p.29 ISBN=0664246982] ]

ee also

*Historicity of Jesus
*Life-death-rebirth deity
*List of virgin births
*List of demigods
*Jesus Christ in comparative mythology
*Criticism of Jesus
*Historical Jesus
*New Chronology (Fomenko-Nosovsky)
*The God Who Wasn't There - 2005 documentary
*Zeitgeist, The Movie - 2007 documentary


Further reading

*cite book|last=Allegro|first=John M.|title=The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth|year=1992|edition=2nd rev. ed.|publisher=Prometheus Books|location=Buffalo, N.Y.|id=ISBN 0-87975-757-4
*cite book|last=Atwill|first=Joseph|title=The Roman Origins of Christianity|year=2003|publisher=J. Atwill|id=ISBN 0-9740928-0-0
*cite book|last=Atwill|first=Joseph|title=Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus|year=2005|publisher=Ulysses|location=Berkeley, Calif.|id=ISBN 1-56975-457-8
* Barnett,P (1997). "Jesus and the Logic of History", Apollos, ISBN 978-0851115122
*cite book|last=Brodie|first=Thomas L.|title=The Crucial Bridge: The Elijah-Elisha Narrative as an Interpretive Synthesis of Genesis-Kings and a Literary Model for the Gospels|year=2000|publisher=Liturgical Press|location=Collegeville, Minn.|id=ISBN 0-8146-5942-X
*cite book|last=Brunner|first=Constantin|authorlink=Constantin Brunner|title=Our Christ: The Revolt of the Mystical Genius.|year=1990|publisher=Van Gorcum|location=Assen|id=ISBN 9023224124 Originally published in German in 1919 as "Unser Christus : oder Das Wesen des Genies". Appendix is a critique of the Jesus myth hypothesis.
*cite book|last=Burridge|first=Richard A.|authorlink=Richard A. Burridge|title=Four Gospels, One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading|publisher=Grand Rapids:Eerdmans|edition=2nd edn.|year=2006|id=ISBN 0802829805
*cite book|last=Charlesworth|first=James H. (ed.)|authorlink=James H. Charlesworth|title=Jesus and Archaeology|publisher=Grand Rapids: Eerdmans|year=2006|id=ISBN 080284880X
*cite book|last=Dunn|first=James D.G.|authorlink=James D.G. Dunn|title=Christianity in the Making Vol 1: Jesus Remembered|publisher=Wm B Eerdmans Pub Co|year=2003|id=ISBN 978-0802839312
* Eddy, PR and Boyd, GA, (2007), "The Jesus

*cite book|last=Ellegård|first=Alvar|authorlink=Alvar Ellegård|title=Jesus: One Hundred Years Before Christ: A Study in Creative Mythology|year=1999|publisher=Century|location=London|id=ISBN 0-7126-7956-1
*cite book|last=Evans|first=Craig A.|authorlink=Craig A. Evans|title=Fabricating Jesus|origyear=2006|year=2006|publisher=IVP Books|location=|isbn=978-0830833184
*cite book|last=Freke|first=Timothy|authorlink=Timothy Freke|coauthors=and Peter Gandy|title=The Jesus Mysteries: Was the 'Original Jesus' a Pagan God?|year=1999|publisher=Thorsons|location=London|id=ISBN 0-7225-3676-3
*cite book|last=Grant|first=Michael|authorlink=Michael Grant (author)|title=Jesus|origyear=1977|year=1999|publisher=Phoenix|location=London|isbn=0-75380-899-4
*cite book|last=Harpur|first=Tom|authorlink=Tom Harpur|title=The Pagan Christ:Recovering the Lost Light|year=2005|publisher=Thomas Allen Publishers|location=Toronto, Canada|id=ISBN 0-88762-195-3
*cite book|last=Historicus|first=(pseudonym for Jacob Benjamin)|title=Did Jesus Ever Live --- or Is Christianity Founded Upon a Myth|year=1972|publisher=United Secularists of America|location=Los Angeles, CA|url=
*cite book|last=Komoszewski|first=J. Ed|authorlink=J. Ed Komoszewski|coauthors=et al|title=Reinventing Jesus|year=2006|publisher=Kregel Publications|location=|id=ISBN 082542982X
*cite book|last=Meier|first=John P|authorlink=John P. Meier|title=A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus|edition=3 vols.|publisher=Doubleday|location=New York
*#cite book|title=The Roots of the Problem and the Person|year=1991|id=ISBN 0-385-26425-9
*#cite book|title=Mentor, Message, and Miracles|year=1994|id=ISBN 0-385-46992-6
*#cite book|title=Companions and Competitors|year=2001|id=ISBN 0-385-46993-4
* Porter, Stanley and Bedard, Stephen(2006), "Unmasking the Pagan Christ: An Evangelical Response to the Cosmic Christ Idea", Clements
*cite book|last=Price|first=Robert M.|authorlink=Robert M. Price|title=Deconstructing Jesus|year=2000|publisher=Prometheus Books|location=Amherst, N.Y.|id=ISBN 1-57392-758-9
*cite book|last=Price|first=Robert M.|title=The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition?|year=2003|publisher=Prometheus Books|location=Amherst, N.Y.|id=ISBN 1-59102-121-9
*cite encyclopedia|last=Price|first=Robert M.|title=New Testament narrative as Old Testament midrash|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia of Midrash: Biblical Interpretation in Formative Judaism|editor=Jacob Neusner and Alan J. Avery-Peck|year=2005|publisher=Brill|location=Leiden|id=ISBN 90-04-14166-9
*cite book|last=Sanders|first=E. P.|authorlink=E. P. Sanders|title=The Historical Figure of Jesus|year=1993|publisher=Allen Lane|location=London|id=ISBN 0-7139-9059-7
* Seznec, Jean. 1972, "The Survival of the Pagan Gods", Princeton University Press, ISBN 0691017832
*cite book|last=Theissen|first=Gerd|authorlink=Gerd Theissen|coauthors=and Annette Merz|title=The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide|year=1998|others=trans. John Bowden|publisher=Fortress Press|location=Minneapolis|id=ISBN 0-8006-3123-4
*cite book|last=Thompson|first=Thomas L.|title=The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David|year=2005|publisher=Basic Books|location=New York|id=ISBN 0-465-08577-6
*cite book|last=Volney|first=Constantin-François|authorlink=Constantin-François Chassebœuf|title=The Ruins, or, Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires and the Law of Nature|year=1796|url=|publisher=Davis|location=New York, N.Y.
*cite book|last=Wells|first=G. A.|authorlink=George Albert Wells|title=The Historical Evidence for Jesus|year=1982|publisher=Prometheus Books|location=Buffalo, N.Y.|id=ISBN 0-87975-180-0
*cite book|last=Wells|first=G. A.|title=The Jesus Myth|year=1999|publisher=Open Court|location=Chicago|id=ISBN 0-8126-9392-2
*cite book|last=Wright|first=NT|authorlink=NT Wright|title=The New Testament and the People of God
year=1996|publisher=Augsburg Fortress Publishers|location=|id=ISBN 0800626818

External links

Websites arguing for the Jesus myth

* [ "The Jesus Puzzle: Was There No Historical Jesus?"] by Earl Doherty
* [ "Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity"] by Richard Carrier
* [ Debunking the Historical Jesus] by Dan Barker, Freedom from Religion Foundation
* [ "The Jesus Mysteries"] by Freke/Gandy
* [ Jesus Myth - The Case Against Historical Christ] by R. G. Price,
* [ The Fable of Christ by Luigi Cascioli] in Italian
* [ Jesus Never]

Websites arguing for a historical Jesus

* [ "A History of Scholarly Refutations of the Jesus Myth"] by Christopher Price
* [ The Historical Jesus - Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ] by Gary R. Habermas
* [ The Evidence For Jesus] by Dr. William Lane Craig

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Jesus myth theory — The Resurrection of Christ by Noel Coypel (1700). Jesus myth theorists see this as one of a number of stories about dying and rising gods. Description The …   Wikipedia

  • Jesus as myth — may refer to: *Jesus Christ in comparative mythology Various responses to similarities between the figure of Jesus and figures in various ancient mythologies *Jesus myth hypothesis The position that Jesus is a figure constructed from various… …   Wikipedia

  • Jesus Christ in comparative mythology — A series of articles on Jesus Christ and Christianity Gospel harmony  …   Wikipedia

  • Jesus and history — There are several articles that relate to Jesus and history:* Historical Jesus discusses historical perspectives on Jesus life and critical forensic reconstructions of Jesus.* Cultural and historical background of Jesus: discusses the cultural… …   Wikipedia

  • Jesus — This article is about Jesus of Nazareth. For other uses, see Jesus (disambiguation). Jesus …   Wikipedia

  • Historicity of Jesus — This article is about the basis for holding the view that Jesus existed as portrayed in the Bible. For the view that Jesus may be a fictitious figure, see Jesus myth theory. For critical reconstructions of Jesus, see Historical Jesus. For the… …   Wikipedia

  • List of books about Jesus — This is a list of written works with information or interpretations of the life and teachings of Jesus.Ancient*The New Testament of the Bible, especially the Gospels(see List of Gospels). Editions include The Greek New Testament, Aland, United… …   Wikipedia

  • Crucifixion of Jesus — The Crucifixion , by Vouet, 1622, Genoa The crucifixion of Jesus and his ensuing death is an event that occurred during the 1st century AD. Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God as well as the Messiah, was arrested, tried, and sentenced …   Wikipedia

  • Ascension of Jesus — The Ascension redirects here. For other uses, see Ascension. Ascension of Jesus Ascension of Christ by Garofalo 1520 Observed by Christians Type …   Wikipedia

  • Relics associated with Jesus — Secondo Pia s 1898 negative of the photograph of the Shroud of Turin, associated with Holy Face of Jesus devotions. A number of relics associated with Jesus have been claimed and displayed throughout the history of Christianity. Some people… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.