On the Origin of Jesus by
Means of Mythical Propagation
At present the consensus among historians and biblical scholars is that
the Christian religion was founded, or at least inspired, by some real
person named Jesus. And in our present cultural environment there is
strong support for academic consensus among “rational thinkers”. Thus,
many rational thinkers conclude that Jesus must have been a real person
because that is the consensus among experts in the fields of history and
We are in a time when many people, for various reasons, are doubting
and challenging the academic consensus on many important issues, such
as climate change, the safety of vaccinations, the theory of evolution,
and the list goes on. Many rational people rightly recognize that such
challenges to academic consensus are not credible and are in many cases
motived either by profit or delusion or some political agenda, etc.,
and thus condemn such challenges to academic consensus. We are told
things like, “95% of scientists agree that humans are causing climate
change,” and “97% of the scientific community accepts the
theory of evolution,” etc. Consensus is pointed to as evidence in and
of itself that something is true. This is a very difficult issue to
address because average people cannot directly observe and conduct
experiments to verify many scientific claims, so we then use consensus
as a way of judging if something is true or not. But is consensus alone enough?
In reality, consensus alone is not a very good indicator of truth. The
consensus has been wrong about almost everything at some point. This is
a very touchy subject because academic consensus is one of easiest and
most direct ways to affirm the truth of a claim, and it makes sense
that experts who study a subject will have better judgement about the
validity of a claim that non-experts or non-professionals – and in most
cases that is true.
However, there are two major fields in particular where academic
consensus is highly questionable: economics and religious studies. The
academic consensus is suspect in these fields because there are strong
incentives for biased findings and the fields do not strictly follow
scientific methods. Indeed, in both the fields of economics and
religious studies there is a superficial veneer of scientific rigor,
but on close inspection it is not difficult to see that real scientific
processes are not embraced or widely utilized in these fields. Recall
that back in 2006 the consensus among economists was that a housing
bubble in America was impossible, yet it was not actually difficult to see that
the consensus was wrong, even at that time.
But nevertheless, denying the historical existence of Jesus
is currently equated in many circles with Holocaust denial, flat-eartherism,
climate change denial, etc. The overwhelming academic consensus is that
Jesus was a real person, so anyone challenging that consensus must be a
crack-pot, right? The difference, however, is in clearly demonstrable
facts that consensus academics are loath to address. Consensus alone
cannot be used to establish truth, you have to also assess the data for
yourself and see if the consensus view adequately explains the data.
I believe that the current consensus around the historical existence of
Jesus is akin to the pre-Darwinian consensus among scientists that life
on earth was the product of divine creation. Indeed, I think that the
state of so-called “mythicism” (the proposal that Jesus was a “myth”,
not real person) today is much like the state of “evolutionism” on the
eve of the publication of On
the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin in 1859. The
concept of biological evolution had actually been around for thousands
of years, and there was growing support for the idea among fringe
philosophers and naturalists in the centuries prior to Darwin’s
Prior to Darwin, many people could see that there was something wrong
with the consensus view – they could see that it didn’t adequately
explain all of the observed facts about life on earth. However, no one
was able to really propose an alternative explanation for the existence
of life on earth that was fully supported by data. Many different
people in the 18th and 19th centuries proposed versions of evolutionary
explanations for the development of life. None of these explanations
were completely right and many had obvious flaws to them, but they were
all getting at something many people could see but not fully explain
about the development of life on earth. These various evolutionary
proposals were viciously attacked by establishment scientists and
soundly ridiculed. The fact that these various proposals
had flaws in them was loudly touted by the opponents of
evolution and used as a cudgel against any new evolutionary proposals.
As new evolutionary proposals were put forward critics would often use
flaws from prior proposals to attack the new ones, effectively lumping
new propels into the same basket as prior flawed proposals. Darwin, of
course, faced this very problem when he published his work. The
difference, however, was that Darwin had collected a massive array of
data to support his position. It was the insurmountable volume and
quality of data that Darwin had amassed in his five-year voyage around
the world that ultimately turned the tide.
I believe that “mythicism” has gone through essentially the same
process, and “mythicism” is now at its “Origin of Species
moment.” Yet there are differences between the state “mythicism” finds
itself in today and the state of evolutionary theory after the
publication of Origin
of Species. One big difference is that evolutionary theory
had practical implications and was needed to explain many relevant
things, whereas there isn’t a real “need” for “mythicism”. In order
words, the sciences had need for the theory of biological evolution to
explain evidence that was increasingly difficult to explain any other
way. Evolutionary theory was, in a sense, inevitable, because it would
have been impossible to continue to advance scientifically without it.
The same is not true for “mythicism”. There is no real need to prove
that Jesus never existed, and thus it is far easier to continue to
affirm his existence. And of course, there is huge incentive to
continue to affirm his existence, both institutionally and for
But let’s address the evidence. Let’s lay out the evidence and see
which proposal best explains the evidence. The first problem with this,
of course, is getting agreement on what the evidence is, and this is a
central point, because many “Jesus historicists” are actually unaware
of many points of evidence and some points of evidence are in
contention. Indeed, I would say that the overwhelming majority of
academic historians are actually unaware of much of the evidence
regarding the historicity of Jesus and of the current state of biblical
studies. Even most biblical scholars are actually unaware of many
points of evidence. This is because, in many cases, claims that Jesus
never existed are dismissed out of hand without the evidence even being
reviewed. So, let’s lay out the evidence and address it.
writings about Jesus describe Jesus as a divine being with godly
powers. The reasons for worshiping or believing in Jesus provided in
the earliest writings are all based on godly powers.
The earliest writings about Jesus are thought to be the letters from
Paul, the letter from James, the letter from Jude, the Apocalypse of
John, and possibly the letter to the Hebrews. In all of these writings
Jesus is described as a being with supreme powers. Jesus is variously
said to be able to absolve the world of sins, overcome death, bring
divine justice to the world, absolve individuals of sins, create a new
perfect heavenly world, and destroy the evil material world. Jesus is
also said to have existed since the beginning of time. These are the
reasons that are provided for worshiping Jesus in the earliest sources.
These are not attributes of a person.
of James only mentions “the Lord Jesus Christ” and provides no
description of Jesus as a human being. Yet the letter of James states
that Elijah was human with divine power and provides examples of people
who should be emulated from the Jewish scriptures (Isaac and Rahab).
The letter of James is an early writing that goes into extensive
theological discussions. Yet within this letter Jesus is only referred
to as a “the Lord” – a being who will bring divine justice to the
world. The letter of James explicitly states that Elijah was a human
being with the power of prayer and talks about Elijah’s deeds, yet the
letter makes no mention of Jesus being human and describes no deeds of
The letter also uses examples from the Jewish scriptures to convey the
importance of works as opposed to faith alone. Again, in these examples
the writer doesn’t use Jesus as an example of someone who performed
works that lead to salvation. The writer provides many teachings and
lessons in the letter but ascribes no teachings or actions to Jesus at
of Jude only mentions “the Lord Jesus Christ” and describes him as a
savior who will provide eternal life.
Like the letter of James, the letter of Jude also only refers to Jesus
as “the Lord”. The letter from Jude makes references to the legend of
Enoch and talks about prophecies being made about the coming of Jesus.
Jude says that apostles have interpreted scriptures to predict the
coming of the Lord Jesus, who will execute judgement on the world and
bring eternal life to the godly. Jude gives no indication that Jesus
had ever come to earth before; the letter talks about the coming of
Jesus as some future event that will happen for the first time.
of James tells readers to wait until the “coming” of the Lord, not the
“return” of the Lord.
As previously mentioned, the letter of James only describes Jesus as
“the Lord” and talks extensively about the deeds, powers, and teachings
of figures from the Jewish scriptures, but ascribes no teachings or
deeds to Jesus. The writer also, however, tells readers to, “Be
patient, therefore, brothers until the coming of the Lord [Jesus].”
(James 5:7) If Jesus were a person, then wouldn’t the writer tell
readers to wait for his “return”?
The Letter to the Hebrews states that Jesus is a heavenly High Priest.
the letter to the Hebrews appears to describe Jesus as a person in
several places, the letter itself makes it clear that the Jesus being
described is a heavenly being.
the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high
priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the
Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent
that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. For every high priest is
appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this
priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he
would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts
according to the law. They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a
sketch and shadow of the heavenly one;” (Hebrews 8:4-5)
letter to the Hebrews discusses theology in great depth and makes it
clear that Jesus’s sacrifice and actions all occurred in the
heavens. It provides the theological explanation for why Jesus must be an
immaterial being, not a being of flesh, who would be inferior. The
letter to the Hebrews also “quotes” from Jesus many times, but always
by quoting from the Jewish scriptures and saying that these passages
from the scriptures are messages from Jesus that have been revealed
through prophetic and divine interpretation.
Richard Carrier gives a full assessment of Hebrews in On the Historicity of Jesus
and explains how the theology of Hebrews is significant evidence
supporting the position that the original conception of Jesus was as a
heavenly deity, not a real person.
The traditional Christian
interpretation of Hebrews has always been, and remains, that Hebrews
describes Jesus as a heavenly being because he was believed to be in
heaven after he had died on earth, but this explanation falls flat for
many reasons that Carrier provides. The theology of Hebrews makes it
clear that Jesus’s sacrifice itself must have taken place in the
heavens. And the letter provides not one single detail of the life of
a real person and provides no quotes from a real person, only quotes
statements in the letters of Paul also tell readers to wait until Jesus
“comes” and Paul never says anything about a “return” of Jesus. Paul
always describes the coming of Jesus as though it will be the first
coming of Jesus at some time in the future.
Like the letters from James and Jude, the letters of Paul also tell
readers multiple times to wait until some future time when Jesus will
come, but never gives any indication that Jesus has ever come before.
For example, “But our commonwealth is in heaven, and it is from there
that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians
describes Jesus as a mystery being revealed through reading of the
scriptures and ecstatic experiences.
Paul says multiple times in his letters that Jesus is a mystery. The
following passage from Romans is but one example:
“Now to the
one who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the
proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the
mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and
through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles,
according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the
obedience of faith— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the
glory forever!” (Romans 16:25-27)
In statements like this from Paul, Paul essentially says that Jesus is
being revealed through the interpretation of scriptures. How could this
possibly be if Jesus were a person who had just been alive some 10-20
years prior? These types of statements are pervasive in Paul’s writings
and are foundational to the concept of Jesus that Paul presents.
Paul’s whole case about why people should listen to him, and why Paul’s
message is important and has meaning, rests on Paul’s claim that Jesus
is a mystery that cannot be known other than through divine revelation
and the interpretations of prophets like himself. The whole crux of
Paul’s message has no point if Jesus was someone who had just been on
earth and proclaimed all of these things himself and made these
teachings publicly known.
That Jesus is a mystery revealed through divine revelation is the whole
driving factor behind Paul’s ministry.
his knowledge of Jesus from “revelation” as superior to the knowledge
of others because it has not come from any human source.
In Galatians Paul touts the superiority of his teachings over the
teachings of other apostles because his teachings come from revelation.
“For I want
you to know, brothers that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not
of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was
I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ”
Paul goes on multiple times to tout the superiority of his teachings
because they come “directly” from Jesus. But if Paul knew that Jesus
was a person who had been alive some 10-20 years prior, and that
apostles such as James, John, Peter and others were direct witnesses to
Jesus and his teachings, then how could Paul possibly tout his
knowledge from “revelation” as superior? Clearly, if Jesus were a real
person and Peter and the others were actual disciples of his then their
knowledge would obviously be superior. The only reason Paul would make
this statement is if Paul viewed “revelation” as the most direct form
of knowledge that one could have of Jesus.
There are some
statements in the letters of Paul that seem to indicate Paul knew Jesus
was a real person.
There are a handful of statements in the letters of Paul that do seem
to describe Jesus as a real person. However, the issue is that all of
these passages are very isolated in context and don’t tie into broader
themes in Paul’s writings. They can all either be explained as later
additions to Paul’s letters or can be interpreted in non-literal ways.
Two of the most prominent examples of this are statements from Paul’s
letter to the Galatians – one in which James is referred to as “the
Lord’s brother” and another in which the text says that Jesus was “born
of a woman”. These passages, and others, have all been
addressed by various scholars to show that the consensus reading of
such passages is not conclusive.
Many defenders of the idea that Jesus was a real person point to a
passage in Galatians that refers to James as, “the Lord’s brother”.
Defenders of the historical Jesus point to this passage and say, “See,
this proves that Paul knew Jesus was a real person, because only a real
person would have a brother.”
three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and
stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only
James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am
writing you is no lie.” (Galatians 1:18-19)
There are many problems with such a simple assessment however. It is
possible that “only James, the Lord’s brother,” is a later addition to
the text, or that “the Lord’s brother” is a later addition to the text.
It is also possible that this is original to the text but the phrase
“the Lord’s brother” isn’t meant literally. The term “brother” was
commonly used among the early Jesus worshiping community.
In fact, such explanations for this passage are well supported by
multiple scholars, going all the way back to Origin in the 2nd century.
Not only this, but there is overwhelming evidence that none of the
early Christian writers identified the James Paul was talking about
here as a literal brother of Jesus as I explain in Chapter 9 of Deciphering
the Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed. It was not until the
late 2nd century that people started thinking that this James was a
literal brother of Jesus.
Richard Carrier gives perhaps the fullest assessment of the passage
itself in On the
Historicity of Jesus (pages 582-592).
Another passage pointed to by Jesus historicists is a line in Galatians
that says Jesus was “born of a woman”.
“But when the
fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born
under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that
we might receive adoption as children.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
Again, there are explanations for this passage that show a simple
reading is not so clear. In Chapter 9 of Deciphering the Gospels
I show that the “woman” being mentioned in verse 4 by Paul is an
allegorical woman as Paul himself states in verse 24. Richard Carrier
also reaches this conclusion with a fuller explanation in On the Historicity of Jesus
There are a few other isolated passages as well that seem to indicate
that Jesus was a person, but all of these are explained by scholars as
either later interpolations added to the text by different authors or
as misreadings like those previously described. There isn’t a single
clear definitive statement from Paul that shows Paul thought of Jesus
as a real person who had recently lived, while there are many
statements from Paul that show Paul thought of Jesus as a divine being
that no one had direct knoweldge of.
Jesus cult may have evolved out of the worship of Joshua.
Multiple scholars have made that case that the original worship of
“Jesus” evolved out of the worship of “Joshua”. Indeed, “Jesus and
“Joshua” are just two different translations of the same Hebrew name –
“Jesus” and “Joshua” are really one and the same.
In Not the Impossible
Faith (2009), Richard Carrier shows that Philo of
Alexandria, a prolific Jewish writer from the first half of the first
century, had associated Joshua, a figure from Jewish mythology, with
the Logos, a.k.a. “Word of Creation”.
The German scholar Hermann Detering has recently published a work that
goes into much deeper detail on the relationship between Joshua and the
origins of Jesus worship in his book, The Gnostic Meaning of the
Exodus and the Beginning of the Joshua/Jesus Cult.
While the evidence is not conclusive, it does provide one plausible
explanation for the origins of Jesus worship. One possibility is that,
in some fashion, some Jewish religious movement emerged rooted in
gnostic interpretations of stories about Joshua. Perhaps influenced by
Philo (or the other way around), they saw Joshua as some eternal savior
who now resided in heaven and who would come to bring justice to the
world. This would have been the “Jesus” worshiped by James, Jude, Paul
and other early “Christians”.
This was a savior figure whose true identity was “revealed” through the
study and interpretation of Jewish scriptures. The Joshua/Jesus
hypothesis may not be correct, but it is one model for explaining the
earliest emergence of the cult without a real Jesus at the core.
And regardless of whether this particular explanation is correct or
not, what we do know for sure is that the idea of other powerful
heavenly deities and saviors existed in Jewish culture at this time and
there were thousands of different gods and heavenly deities being
worshiped in the region.
strong evidence that the Gospel of Mark is a fictional story (the Jesus
character is not based on a real Jesus person and none of the scenes
are based on real events).
This is one of the most important and far-reaching findings of modern
biblical scholarship. That the Gospel of Mark is a fictional story is
actually a conclusion that has been reached by multiple scholars, often
independently. This view goes back at least to the 19th century scholar
In Deciphering the
Gospels I explain in great detail why the evidence shows
that the Gospel of Mark is a fictional story, written with no intention
that it be taken as literary true.
The following is a list of scholars and works that have
advocated the view that the Gospel of Mark as a fictional story:
traditions” hypothesis for the source of the Gospel narrative is
- Gustav Volkmer: The Religion of Jesus and Its
First Development According to the Present State of Science;
- Marc Stéphane: The Passion of Jesus: Made of
History or Object of Belief; 1959
- Michael Goulder: Various works including Luke: A New Paradigm;
- Mary Ann Tolbert: Sowing the Gospel: Mark’s World
in Literary-Historical Perspective; 1989
- Paul Nadim Tarazi: Paul and Mark; 1999
- Thomas L. Brodie: Beyond the Quest for the
Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery; 2012
- Robert M. Price: Many works, including The Incredible Shrinking Son of
- Tom Dykstra: Mark, Canonizer of Paul, A New
Look at Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel; 2012
The Gospel of Mark is based on at least three clear distinct literary
sources: the letters of Paul, the story of Elijah and Elisha from 1 and
2 Kings, and the books of the prophets and psalms from the Hebrew
scriptures. I detail Mark’s use of these three sources in Deciphering the Gospels.
The teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark are actually the teachings
of Paul, copied from Paul’s letters. The personality and relationships
of Jesus are all based on Paul. The events and flow of the storyline
are based on the story of Elijah and Elisha, and many specific scenes
are literary references to psalms and the books of the prophets.
Mark’s use of these sources has actually been documented by many
scholars. Yet, despite the fact that many scholars have concretely
established that the Gospel of Mark is heavily based on these sources,
the real implications of this have yet to be acknowledged by advocates
of the mainstream consensus.
The foundation of modern Jesus historicity is based on the hypothesis
that the core narrative of Gospel of Mark and other gospels is based on
oral traditions that developed among a community of people who
witnessed the life of the real Jesus. But this hypothesis is soundly
disproven by all of the solid evidence showing that the Gospel
narrative is based on literary references. What the mainstream
establishment has not come to grips with is the fact that the
disproving of the oral traditions hypothesis completely pulls the rug
out from under the assertion that Jesus was a real person.
Scholars and works that refute the oral traditions hypothesis are as
All of the
Gospels (other than Mark) show evidence of dependence on the Gospel of
- Marc Stéphane: The Passion of Jesus: Made of
History or Object of Belief; 1959
- Michael Goulder: Various works including Luke: A New Paradigm;
- Wolfgang Roth: Hebrew Gospel: Cracking the Code
of Mark; 1988
- Adam Winn: Mark
and the Elijah-Elisha Narrative: Considering the Practice of
Greco-Roman Imitation in the Search for Markan Source Material;
- Robert M. Price: Many works, including The Incredible Shrinking Son of
- Tom Dykstra: Mark, Canonizer of Paul, A New
Look at Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel; 2012
This is another important point that I make in Deciphering the Gospels.
In chapters 3, 6, and 7 I show that not only are the canonical gospels
of Matthew, Luke, and John dependent on the Gospel of Mark, but all of
the non-canonical gospels that provide any narrative description of
Jesus share text with the Gospel of Mark as well.
The implications of this are quite profound given that it was long
believed that each of the canonical Gospels was independently written
and given that the Gospel of Mark is a fictional story.
The majority of scholars now support the position that each of the
three other canonical Gospels is dependent on the Gospel of Mark. It is
universally accepted that the gospels of Matthew and Luke are dependent
on Mark, and most scholars now accept that the author of John had
knowledge of the Markan narrative as well.
Once we see that the Gospel of Mark is a fictional story based on
literary references, the fact that all other writings about Jesus are
based on the Gospel of Mark is a significant blow to the position that
Jesus was a real person. Clearly, the Jesus person that all Christians
worship is really just a fictional character invented by the author of
the story we call the Gospel of Mark.
about Jesus the person shows evidence of dependence on the Gospel
Writings about Jesus can essentially be categorized into two groups:
Gospel Influenced and Non-Gospel Influenced. Every single writing about
Jesus the person contains evidence of dependency on the Gospel of Mark
or on works that were derived from the Gospel of Mark. None of the
writings that are independent from the Gospels provide any description
of Jesus the person; all of those writings describe Jesus as a divine
being and ascribe no teachings or deeds to him.
Below is a classification of the major writings about Jesus regarding
their relationship to the Gospel narrative.
Letters of Paul
||Acts of the Apostles
||Gospel of Thomas
||Gospel of Peter
of John (Revelation)
There are no
established pre-Gospel writings that describe any teachings or deeds of
Jesus or that describe Jesus the person in any way.
When we look at the writings that are clearly independent of the
Gospels, none of those writings ascribe any teachings or actions to
Jesus. The letters from Paul, James, and Jude, as well as the
Apocalypse of John, are all likely the earliest writings about Jesus,
and none of these writings provide any description of Jesus, ascribe
any teachings to him, or talk about any deeds of his. Indeed, the
letters from James, Jude, and John give no indication that Jesus was a
person at all. And as already discussed, while there are a few passages
in the letters of Paul that can be construed as indicating that Jesus
was a person, even the letters of Paul give not one single detail about
a human Jesus and ascribe no teachings to him. Like James and Jude,
First Peter also refers to Jesus simply as "the Lord Jesus Christ" and
provides no description of Jesus the person. The letter to the Hebrews
explcitly says that Jesus is a heavenly being whose actions have taken
place in heaven.
If Jesus were a person, then why didn’t the first people to write about
him describe him in any way?
The Gospel of
Mark, and all other writings about Jesus the person, were
produced after the First Jewish-Roman War of 70 CE.
Although the earliest Christian scholars all believed that the four
canonical Gospels were written before the First Jewish-Roman War of 70
CE, it is now universally accepted by biblical scholars that all of the
Gospels were written after the First Jewish-Roman War. Some scholars
put the writing of the first Gospel, Mark, as late as the 90s CE. I
think that the Gospel of Mark was written shortly after the First
Jewish-Roman War, sometime in the 70s CE, as I explain Deciphering the
But regardless of when exactly the Gospel of Mark was written, it is
clear that it wasn’t written until after the First Jewish-Roman War. If
the life of a real person named Jesus were the inspiration for the
worship of Jesus, then why was nothing written about the human Jesus
until after the war?
There is no good explanation for why this would be if the Gospels were
inspired by the life of a real person named Jesus. However, that the
first story about Jesus wasn’t written until after the war does have
good explanations if a human Jesus isn’t what inspired it.
The two primary and compatible explanations for why the first Gospel
was written are that it was written in reaction to the war and to the
death of Paul. These two events are what inspired the writing of the
story, not the life of someone named Jesus.
Paul died in the late 60s CE and the First Jewish-Roman War lasted from
67 to 73 CE, with the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the
temple occurring in 70 CE.
Gustav Volkmer and Marc Stéphane both attribute the writing of the
first Gospel to the death of Paul, as does Tom Dykstra. I attribute the
writing of the first Gospel to both the death of Paul and the First
Jewish-Roman War, seeing the message of the story as being that the war
was a result of not following the teachings of Paul in regard to
harmony between Jews and Gentiles.
So there are explanations for why the first Gospel was written when it
was, but those explanations have nothing to do with the life of a real
Jesus. These explanations are supported by multiple solid lines of
evidence from within the story as I explain in Deciphering the Gospels.
Once the Gospel of Mark was written, then many other stories about
Jesus the person quickly followed. This shows that there was an
interest in the “Jesus person” described in the story called the Gospel
of Mark, so if there had been any real Jesus that bore any
resemblance to the Jesus of the Gospels then surely people
written about him much earlier.
There are no
credible accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus.
The crucifixion of Jesus during or on the eve of Passover is not
credible, yet every account of Jesus’s crucifixion states that this is
when it happened. In addition, all accounts of the crucifixion are
clearly copied from the account in the Gospel of Mark, which is based
heavily on literary allusions. The scene in the Gospel of Mark is
implausible on multiple levels, and that all other accounts copy from
it not only shows that none of the accounts of the crucifixion are
credible, it shows that the writers of the other accounts had no
concept at all of any historical reality regarding such an event.
According to Paul, all of his knowledge of Jesus came from revelation.
Paul’s mentions of the crucifixion are all metaphorical and theological
in nature and lack any kind of detail that could tie his discussions of
the crucifixion to any real event. The letters of James and Jude don’t
mention the crucifixion at all. The letter to the Hebrews describes the
crucifixion in vague ways that don’t tie to the Gospel narrative.
There is only one single seemingly historical account of the
crucifixion, and that is the account that first appears in the Gospel
of Mark and is then copied by everyone else. That account is based
entirely on literary references to the Jewish scriptures and is
But, as Robert M. Price points out in The Incredible Shrinking Son of
Man, the fact that there are no credible accounts of the
makes the claim that there was ever any real crucifixion to begin with
highly doubtful. Furthermore, the fact that all accounts of the
crucifixion rely on the narrative from Mark shows that even once there
was interest in describing the event, there was no information other
than the fictional narrative from Mark to go on.
The crucifixion is the single most important event in the “life” of
Jesus. The crucifixion is of supreme theological significance to
Christianity. How could we not actually have a single account of the
most important event of Christianity? If a real crucifixion event were
actually influential in the formation of the religion, then surely
there would have been some real account of it, yet there is not.
materials that give any indication as to why a human Jesus
would be worshiped are materials that are all shown to be dependent on
the Gospel of Mark. Without the Gospel of Mark and its derivatives
there is no explanation for why people would have been worshiping a
There is nothing in the pre-Gospel writings that explains why anyone
would have worshiped a person named Jesus. The letters of James, Jude,
and Paul provide no description of Jesus the person. They ascribe no
teachings to someone named Jesus and they describe no deeds of someone
named Jesus. All of these writings tell us why these people worshiped
Jesus the heavenly being.
The reasons for worshiping Jesus that are given by Paul and James are
variously that he had overcome death, that he would absolve the world
of sins, that he would destroy evil people, that he would bring justice
to the world and that he would create a new world in heaven for the
souls of the righteous to live in eternally.
None of those things are things that a real person could have done. So,
if those are the reasons that the earliest writers say they worshiped
Jesus, then how would a human being have inspired such worship?
Later Christians worshiped the human Jesus described in the Gospels – a
miracle working teacher who could magically heal the sick, raise the
dead, walk on water, rise from the grave, and conveyed mystical
But we now see, as described by myself in Deciphering the Gospels
and Tom Dykstra in Mark
Canonizer of Paul, that “Jesus’s teachings”
actually come from Paul. The teachings from the Gospels that people
attribute to Jesus come almost entirely from Paul. Paul tells
us that his teachings were unique to him – that they either came to him
via revelation or that he divined them from the reading of scripture.
So we have no information at all as to why anyone would worship a “real
human Jesus”. A real human Jesus wouldn’t have performed miracles,
raised the dead, or overcome death. The earliest writers about Jesus
don’t even pass on any teachings of Jesus and say nothing about
worshiping him because of his teachings or wisdom.
Once we recognize that the Gospel narratives are entirely fictional and
provide no description of a real person whatsoever, we see that there
are no materials that provide any explanation for why any of the early
Jesus worshipers would have founded their worship of Jesus on a real
person. The only being named Jesus that any of the earliest writers
describe is a heavenly deity called “the Lord Jesus Christ” whom they
worshiped because of his godly powers.
There are no
writings from Jesus.
While it has always been known that there are no writings from
Jesus himself, this has typically been dismissed as just a triviality.
However, this is actually an issue of significant relevance. This is a
very controversial issue because there is no solidly established
estimate for the literacy rate in Israel during the first century.
People like Bart Ehrman claim that the literacy rate was quite low, and
many scholars place the literary rate in the region at this time
between 1% and 3%. However, there are many good reasons to think that
the literacy rate was substantially higher than this, particularly the
literacy rate among the religious movements that gave rise to early
The following is a page dedicated to exploring
the subject of Jewish literacy “during the time of Jesus”: Jewish
Literacy Rates in Antiquity
I don’t endorse all the views
expressed on that page, but it does present a reasonable consolidation
of evidence that the literacy rate in Israel during the first century
was higher than common estimates suggest. It should be noted that the
author of that page is a believing Christian who thinks that a higher
literacy rate would lend credibility to the works of the Bible and thus
to lend credibility to the claim that Gospel narratives are
Nevertheless, much of the research and
documentation put forward on the page is reasonable. Furthermore, the
Dead Sea Scrolls suggest that literacy must have been far more
widespread at least within the religious movements that Jesus cult was a part of. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain almost a thousand
different writings produced largely between the second
century BCE and the First Jewish-Roman War of 67-73 CE. These writings
must have been produced by hundreds of different people.
from the Dead Sea scrolls, other Jewish writings from this time, and
early Christian writings, that the culture early Jesus worship was a
part of was a religious culture that was obsessed with reading and
commentary on scriptures. Indeed, that we have so many surviving
writings related to early Christianity and Judaism from this time is a
testament to how involved this culture was in the reading of
scriptures, writing of commentaries on those scripters, and the
invention of new stories based on prior scriptures. We also know that
many of the documents of early Christianity are letters, not formal
documents. That the early Jesus worshipers were writing letters
obviously implies that there was a literate audience for those letters,
and Paul wrote letters to many different people.
Much of the
case against the expectation that Jesus should be able to write has
been built on descriptions of Jesus based on the Gospels, such as the
claim that he was a carpenter from a tiny village in Galilee. But such
descriptions are themselves dubious and obviously symbolic in origin,
they are not credible. We can’t assume that some real Jesus was
actually a carpenter, this is a symbolic profession that references
Jesus’s supposed role of building a new paradise in heaven. And even
the place of Jesus’s origin provided in the Gospels is symbolic.
the Jesus character described in the Gospels was someone who clearly
would have been a literate person, because the Jesus of the Gospels was
constantly quoting from scriptures. Of course, the reality is
was the authors who used the scriptures to create Jesus’s dialog, but
if defenders of the historical Jesuss use the Gospels as their guide
then we must use the Jesus character from the Gospels as our reference
point. Nevertheless, Jesus is clearly portrayed as a literate person
in the Gospel narratives as he is constantly making direct references
to passages from the scriptures.
This again gets back to the
question of why a real human Jesus would have been worshiped? If the
“real Jesus” didn’t perform miracles and the “real Jesus” didn’t rise
from the dead, then why would people have worshiped him? How would he
have attained a following? There is really no explanation for this. The
explanation often offered is that the wisdom of his teachings are what
inspired his followers, but this doesn’t make any sense.
know about the culture that the Jesus movement developed in is that it
highly valued scriptural literacy, and indeed Jesus is portrayed in the
Gospels as being scripturally literate. If Jesus were able to
read the scriptures then he would have been capable of writing. If the
worship of Jesus was rooted in his wisdom and knowledge of scripture,
then how would he attain such wisdom and knowledge of scripture if he
couldn’t read and write? If Jesus was a real person who was capable of
writing, then why didn’t he write anything down himself?
the paradox that modern Jesus historicists have gotten themselves into.
The traditional Christian explanation is that Jesus was worshiped
because he performed miracles and rose from the dead. These were his
acts that showed people he was divine. If Jesus were real and he did
those things, that would indeed explain why people worshiped him. But
modern secular scholars claim that the “real Jesus” didn’t perform
miracles or rise from the dead, so he must have been worshiped for his
teachings. But how would a supposed backwoods carpenter have gained a
following for his teachings in a culture that valued knowledge of the
Torah and the law, which required knowing how to read? And if he knew
how to read then why didn't he write anything himself?
The fact that
no writings of Jesus survive to this day isn’t the issue either. We
know that there never were any writings of Jesus because there aren’t
any sources from early Christians that attest to any writings of Jesus.
If there had been a Jesus who produced writings, early Christians would
have known about it.
So, the fact that there are no writings
from Jesus is really a huge issue, because the only explanation for why
someone like Jesus, if he were real, wouldn’t have produced writings is
that he was illiterate and was unable to do so. But everything we know
about the religious culture that early Jesus worship emerged in is that
it was a culture that highly valued literacy and had the expectation
that religious leaders would be highly knowledgeable of the Jewish
scriptures and be able to write their own teachings, as Paul and other
early Christians clearly did. So why would an illiterate, non-miracle
working, non-rising from the dead Jesus have been worshiped exactly?
There are no
contemporary accounts of Jesus from any sources.
While it is commonly acknowledged that we don’t have any contemporary
accounts of Jesus from non-Christian sources, the reality is that there
are no contemporary accounts of Jesus from any sources, Christian or
non-Christian. And while it is often pointed out that there are
reasonable potential independent witnesses to the life of Jesus, such
as Philo of Alexandria or Justus of Tiberius, the fact is that even the
so-called disciples and relatives of Jesus gave no account of him.
According to Christian lore, the “James” who became a prominent leader
of the movement after Jesus’s death was his literal brother. If a
literal brother of Jesus became a leader of the movement and wrote
letters after his death, then this James would have been the ideal
witness to the life and deeds of this person. Yet the letter of James
tells us not one single thing about Jesus. Maybe this “James brother of
Jesus” couldn’t actually write, and thus wasn’t the real author of that
letter. Still, if Jesus were being worshiped, as Paul clearly indicates
that he was during a time when James was alive, then why wouldn’t this
James have at least dictated some account of Jesus to someone who could
write? Obviously, Paul could write. Obviously other early Christians
could write because we have their writings.
And again, if this James were a leader of the movement then surely he
actually would have been literate. As already discussed, literacy and
ability to read, interpret, and comment on scriptures was an
expectation of religious leaders in this culture. So either “Jesus’s
brother James” was also illiterate and thus didn’t write anything about
him (but then how was he a leader of a movement?), “Jesus’s brother
James” was literate but decided not to write anything about Jesus,
“Jesus’s brother James” did write something about Jesus but it was lost
and none of the early Christians were aware of this document, or James
wasn’t actually a brother of Jesus and James didn’t write anything
about the life of Jesus because the Jesus James worshiped was a
The early Christian scholars from the second century on
all thought that the Gospels were accounts written by people who
actually had firsthand knowledge of Jesus or were records of testimony
from firsthand witnesses to the life of Jesus. We now know that this is
not the case, but that again raises the question of why there wouldn’t
be any such firsthand accounts. Obviously the early Christian scholars
found it plausible that Jesus's associates would have been able to
write. There is nothing in the scholarship of early Christianity that
calls into question the ability of Jesus's followers to read and write.
The early Christian scholars thought that the Gospels and other letters
were all produced by eyewitnesses, so clearly they had the expectation
that such people would be able to read and write.
Even if James couldn’t write an account of the life of Jesus, why
wouldn’t any of the other supposed followers of Jesus have written
anything? Again, this was a religious movement within a culture that
was more literate than average for the time. Jewish religious leaders
at this time were expected to be able to read and write, so surely
someone involved in the worship of Jesus would have been able to write
and would have seen fit to record something about the teachings or
deeds of this person if such a person had existed.
Simply glossing over the fact that there are no contemporary accounts
of Jesus, either from himself or others, is gross negligence of
scholarship, especially given the fact that Christianity was founded on
the assumption that the Gospels were essentially firsthand accounts of
his life and teachings. There just isn’t any logical explanation for
how this person could have attained a following and inspired this
religion within a culture that prized literacy while no one who had
direct knowledge of him wrote anything about what he said or did;
especially given the fact that so many writings were produced by early
Christians and other apocalyptic and messianic movements of the time.
There are no
credible independent accounts of Jesus from any sources.
Not only are there no contemporary accounts of Jesus from any sources,
there are no credible accounts of Jesus from any independent sources at
all. As reviewed in Deciphering
the Gospels, there isn’t a single
account of Jesus that is credible and is not either based
on the Gospels or on stories told by Christians who believed in the
The account deemed most likely to be a legitimate independent
attestation to the existence of Jesus is a passage known at the
Flavianum from Josephus written in 94 CE. But the vast
majority of scholars accept that this passage is at least partly
inauthentic. I explain in Deciphering
the Gospels, chapter 10, why the
passage is either wholly inauthentic or entirely dependent on the
That this passage is not a credible attestation to Jesus is
acknowledged by many scholars, including many early Protestant
scholars. R. Joseph Hoffmann, Louis H. Feldman, Earl Doherty, Richard
Carrier, Ken Olsen, and many others all present strong cases against
the passage having any legitimacy at all, i.e. that it is entirely
inauthentic, not just partly inauthentic.
So, the reality is that there isn’t a single writing in existence that
provides any credible description of a human Jesus. The only writings
that describe a human Jesus are the Gospels, writings that are derived
from the Gospels, and accounts of things said by people who believed in
The Gospels are the one and only source of information about Jesus the
person, and all the Gospels derive from the Gospel of Mark, which is a
fictional story. Every single account of Jesus the person is ultimately
derived from the fictional story that is now called the Gospel of Mark.
There is no
evidence of a burial site of Jesus.
It has long been acknowledged that the supposed burial site of Jesus
has never been found. Early Christian scholars from the second through
sixth centuries searched for his burial site but were never able to
find evidence of it. The lack of evidence for Jesus’s burial site was
used to support the claim that Jesus had ascended bodily to heaven. The
argument was that no one knew where Jesus’s tomb was because he left
his original tomb and after he had come back to life he ascended bodily
to heaven, removing all traces of his existence from the face of the
earth. Thus, he was not actually buried anywhere as his body had
But if Jesus were a real person, and not divine, then of course he
would have to be buried somewhere. So, if there was a real Jesus who
had followers and inspired the religion, then wouldn’t those followers
have venerated his grave?
The argument against this has been either that he wasn’t actually
worshiped until some time after he had died, that his followers were
uninterested in his human self, that his body would have been cast into
an unmarked mass grave, that his followers didn’t know where he was
buried, or that his remains were intentionally destroyed to discourage
remembrance and veneration of him.
Some of these things are presumably plausible, but there is no evidence
for any of them. Furthermore, some of them aren’t even plausible. For
one thing, there is no record of any of this happening. All of these
scenarios assume some end to the life of Jesus that doesn’t correspond
to any account of the events of his death and burial. So, in other
words, the only way to salvage the plausibility of the existence of a
real human Jesus is to deny all accounts of how he died, because there
is no plausible explanation for why his followers wouldn’t have
venerated his grave if any of the accounts of his death bore even the
slightest resemblance to reality.
What we know about this culture is that if Jesus were a real person who
had followers during his lifetime or was worshiped shortly after his
death, as would be implied by a historical reading of Paul’s letters,
then his worshipers would have known where his burial site was and
venerated it, even if he was no longer in it. If, somehow, his
followers did believe that he rose from the dead, they would have
worshiped his tomb as the site of the miracle.
That this is the case is made obvious by the fact that so many later
people wanted to find his grave in order to do just that. And even
today people flock to places where they believe Jesus or his associates
lived or died.
The fact that early Christian scholars used the lack of
knowledge of a tomb of Jesus as evidence that he had ascended to heaven
and was no longer buried on earth shows just how obvious it is that if
Jesus had been buried somewhere his grave would have been known and
venerated. Everyone knew that if Jesus were buried somewhere that
people would have known where the grave was, which is why the only
“plausible” explanation for the fact that no one knew of such a grave
was that Jesus’s body was entirely gone and not buried anywhere. But,
course, that explanation assumes Jesus was actually divine and that his
body really did supernaturally leave the planet.
Other than supernatural explanations, there is no good explanation for
how the tomb of a real-life Jesus would have been unknown. The best
possible explanation is that the real-life Jesus was held in so little
regard that people didn’t care about his grave, but if that’s the case
then why was Jesus worshiped?
Jesus is very
similar to other mythical savior figures from Jewish lore
of the time, such as the Book of Enoch, Apocalypse of Zephaniah,
Martyrdom of Isaiah and many other stories from around the same time as
the rise of Jesus worship.
In chapter 8 of Deciphering
the Gospels I provide multiple examples of
Jewish stories written shortly prior to the rise of Jesus worship that
feature savior figures that are very similar to Jesus. These saviors
are sometimes called Son of Man, just as Jesus was, and they are
often tortured and executed by demons or various other heavenly powers.
The mission of these saviors was often to either destroy the world to
rid it of sinners, to redeem sinners, to absolve various individuals or
groups of sin, to overcome the sinful rulers of the world, etc. This is
all of course very similar to the story of Jesus.
Not only this, but it is clear that those involved in the early Jesus
cult believed heavily in these stories. Paul referrers to characters
from these stories in his letters as if they are real. In the letter of
Jude the author explicitly states that Enoch had foretold the current
state of affairs of the world. In the letter of James the author
discusses multiple mythical figures from Jewish lore as if they were
real people, such as Elijah, whom he states is an example of a real
person who could use the power of prayer to perform miracles. So
clearly these people believed heavily in the reality of these stories.
Jesus was simply a mythical figure like those of these other stories
that these people believed in. Indeed, the attributes of the heavenly
Jesus are almost identical to the Son of Man described in the Book of
Enoch, which we know for certain is a story that this group of people
was familiar with and believed to be true based on the letters of Jude
Christians worshiped an immaterial Jesus who had never been
As I show in chapter 5 of Deciphering
the Gospels, there were many
Christian sects, at least in the second through fourth centuries, that
worshiped an immaterial Jesus who had never become incarnate. We don’t
know with certainty the nature of the Jesus worshiped by the earliest
“Christians” (or this discussion would be a moot point), but we do know
that at least by the early second century there were people who
worshiped an immaterial Jesus and also people who worshiped a human
Jesus “of the flesh”.
Advocates of Jesus historicity have always argued that beliefs in an
immaterial Jesus arose long after his death among various confused
groups for theological reasons. But this doesn’t really make any sense.
We don’t have definitive evidence as to the how people like Paul,
James, John, Peter and other early Jesus worshipers viewed Jesus. There
is nothing from the earliest sources that unequivocally states either
that he was a person or that he had never been a person. But we do know
that once the Gospel stories were produced and became popular that many
people believed those stories and the view that Jesus was a real person
The issue is that the Gospels really give no reason to believe that
Jesus wasn’t a real flesh-and-blood person. Anyone whose impression of
Jesus came from a literal reading of the Gospels would believe that
Jesus was a real-live person. So, if the Gospels provide no reason to
think that Jesus was immaterial, then why would the belief that Jesus
was immaterial arise after the spread of the Gospel stories? There
really is no logical explanation for how belief in an immaterial Jesus
would arise after the dissemination of the Gospels.
This means that belief in an immaterial Jesus had to have existed
before the writing of the Gospels. And from what we know, the primary
evangelist of Jesus before the Gospels was Paul. This would indicate
that the Jesus Paul was promoting was an immaterial Jesus. This is
supported by the fact that Marcion was a Christian from the late-first
through mid-second century who was an advocate of the view that Jesus
was immaterial, and Marcion claimed that his views on the nature of
Jesus were derived from Paul. Marcion also claimed that those
advocating that Jesus was a real person had twisted Paul’s teachings
and had intentionally inserted false statements into the letters of
Paul to make Paul’s letters appear to conform to their doctrines.
So, all of this is strong supporting evidence that indeed the Jesus
preached by Paul was an immaterial being, not a real person. Now, the
views that we have on the immaterial nature of Jesus were recorded in
the second through fourth centuries by opponents of this view. So we
only have biased sources and unfortunately we don’t have any direct
sources about the views of the earliest Jesus worshipers. Most of the
views about the immaterial nature of Jesus that we do have are also
clearly influenced by the Gospels. For example, many of the views
basically accept the Gospels narratives as true, but state that Jesus
was really just a ghost or apparition. Some claim that he wasn’t born
of Mary and that he just appeared on earth as an illusion without ever
having been born, etc.
But the Gospels themselves give no reason to think this, which means
that the belief that Jesus was immaterial had to have come from
somewhere other than the Gospels. The most reasonable
explanation is that the original worshipers of Jesus were worshiping an
immaterial Jesus, but that after the Gospel stories became popularized
later generations integrated the Gospel narrative with their existing
beliefs about the immaterial Jesus. They may have even considered the
Gospels to have affirmed their belief that the heavenly Jesus would
come to earth.
In other words, it makes sense that existing beliefs in an immaterial
Jesus could be harmonized with the Gospel narrative, but it does not
make sense that belief in an immaterial Jesus would arise after the
spreading of the Gospel story. It had to be that pre-Gospel Christians
were worshiping an immaterial Jesus, and that after the Gospels were
written the existing sects harmonized their views on the immaterial
Jesus with the Gospel stories, while new sects that were introduced to
Jesus via the Gospel stories had no reason to think that Jesus was
immaterial and so all believed that he was a real human being.
Christians who believed that Jesus was human made significant
efforts to prove that Jesus was real in the 2nd-4th centuries, but the
only “evidence” they were able to produce was the Gospel stories.
What I also show in Chapter 5 of Deciphering
the Gospels is that the
conflict between those who believed that Jesus was human and those who
believed he was only spiritual resulted in a need for those who
Jesus had “become flesh” to prove their case. What we find in the
arguments made by the defenders of the “flesh of Christ” is that all of
their arguments rely entirely on the Gospels and interpretations of
Jewish scriptures. They did attempt to produce real evidence, like
artifacts or outside testimony, but no such real evidence was
forthcoming, so the Gospels served as the basis for their case.
So, with the “flesh of Jesus” in doubt and of extreme doctrinal
importance, the only evidence ever provided to “prove” that Jesus was a
real flesh-and-blood person was the Gospel stories, which we can now
see are entirely fictional.
In light of all of this evidence we can now consider two general
explanations for the rise of Jesus worship and Christianity:
it was inspired by a real person named Jesus and secondly that it was
the worship of a heavenly deity named Jesus.
The following is a scenario that explains how worship of Jesus could
have started with worship of a real person in light of the evidence
that has been presented:
There was some person named Jesus who was born in Galilee around
the beginning of the first century. This Jesus had a brother named
and some other family members. He produced no writings, but apparently
garnered a small following of worshipers based on his teachings and
lifestyle. Even though Jesus's teachings were heavily based on the
Jewish scriptures, he was apprently illiterate. For some unknown reason
was executed, either by the Jews or the Romans, sometime between 20 CE
and 40 CE. Either no one knew where Jesus was buried or they
didn’t care about where he was buried, though later Christians were
obsessed with knowing where his original tomb was.
After his death, this person’s brother, James, carried on his movement
and became the leader of a modest group of people who worshiped Jesus
in Jerusalem. Jesus’s brother, who had presumably grown up with him,
thought that Jesus was a godly being with immense powers who could
“save the world” from beyond the grave. The group led by James
evangelized about Jesus in Jerusalem and surrounding areas. Yet despite
being the leader of a modest group with outreach and organizing
functions, James was unable to write and thus recorded nothing about
the life of his brother. Nor did any of the people who knew and
followed Jesus while he was alive record anything about him.
There is one surviving letter that is purported to be written by the
James who was a leader of the movement, but it provides no description
of Jesus, so this letter must not have actually been written by the
“real James”, because if this letter were written by the “real James”
who was Jesus’s literal brother, then surely he would have either
mentioned something about the life of Jesus in the letter or would have
written something else about the life of his brother. So, this letter
must be a forgery. The same goes for the letter from Jude. It must also
be a later forgery, for why else would this person not have recorded
anything about the life of Jesus?
Someone named Paul came along who was the first person to really spread
the news about Jesus far and wide. But Paul had never met Jesus. Paul
claims that all of his knowledge of Jesus came to him in mystical
visions and that he learned nothing about Jesus from any other people.
Even though Paul tells us more about Jesus than any of the other early
writers, Paul must have been a liar. Paul must be lying when he claims
that he didn’t learn about Jesus from anyone else, because otherwise
nothing that Paul says has any relevance to the real human Jesus. Paul
must have actually learned about the real human Jesus from James and
Peter and others in Jerusalem and then he must have lied to all the
people he preached to, claiming to have unique divine knowledge, that
was actually common knowledge and known by many other people. So even
though Paul is the main early source of information about Jesus, in
order to believe that Paul tells us anything meaningful about the real
Jesus we must assume that the fundamental basis of Paul’s teachings
(his unique divine knowledge of Jesus) is a lie. When Paul talks about
things like Jesus being a mystery that was being revealed through
revelations, this is just an oddity of Paul’s writing style and can be
ignored with no further explanation.
Despite the fact that Jesus must have been worshiped because of the
wisdom of his teachings (what else could a real non-military leader do
to inspire their worship?), neither Paul nor any of the other early
writers about Jesus pass on any teachings of Jesus or tell anyone about
anything that Jesus did. The early leaders of the Jesus movement told
their followers to worship Jesus not because of what he said or did,
but because he had risen from the grave and was going to come from
heaven to punish bad people while rewarding good people with enteral
life in a new immaterial world. Why none of the early writers about
Jesus described who he was, his teachings, or things that he did is
simply an unsolvable mystery.
After the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, someone finally
decided to record the details of Jesus’s life and teachings.
Unfortunately, by this time all of the original followers of Jesus had
died, thus this writer had little to go on, so he used the story of
Elijah and Elisha as the template for his account and used the writings
of Paul to fill in the teachings of Jesus since no actual teachings of
Jesus had been recorded. But nevertheless, elements of the story were
somehow inspired by oral accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus,
despite the fact that virtually every teaching of Jesus in the story is
culled from the letters of Paul and all of the scenes are based on
After this story became known several other writers decided to finally
record their accounts of Jesus, based on additional information they
knew about Jesus the person that had been passed on to them.
Nevertheless, most of what these other writers wrote borrows from the
first story, including things that clearly never really happened; but
still their accounts somehow provide additional insight into “who Jesus
For some reason, many people began worshiping an “immaterial Jesus”,
who was not human. For some unknown reason these people thought that
Jesus had not become incarnate and was not a real person. These people
were just simply confused.
The above is basically the most coherent possible interpretation of the
facts in support of the position that the Jesus of Christianity was a
real person. Let’s now review a scenario in which the Jesus that
Christianity was originally conceived as heavenly deity, not an actual
Sometime in the mid-first century a small cult sprung up in Jerusalem
that worshiped a heavenly savior named Jesus. This savior was patterned
on other popular savior figures from Jewish lore, such as Joshua,
Isaiah, and the Son of Man mentioned in various works such as Daniel
James was likely the leader of this movement. The Jesus worshiped by
James was a spiritual messiah who would bring retribution and justice
to the Greek and Roman rulers that oppressed the Jewish people –
something quite typical of Jewish savior figures. The letters
attributed to James and Jude in the New Testament are authentic letters
from those actual early leaders of the Jesus cult. The letters mean
exactly what they say and provide a coherent explanation of the early
beliefs of the Jesus cult. These letters don’t describe anything about
a human Jesus because a human Jesus was not conceived by these people.
Paul came along and, unlike James and the other leaders of the
movement, Paul sought reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles as
opposed to retribution against them. Paul preached harmony between
Jews, Greeks and Romans in opposition to James and others who preached
that Jesus was a purely Jewish savior who would deliver the Jews from
Gentile oppression. Paul said that Jesus was a savior for all people.
Paul said that this message was unique to him, but that it was to be
believed because he had direct divine knowledge of Jesus. This of
course only makes sense if Jesus was not a real person whom James,
Peter, and others personally knew. When Paul said that his knowledge of
Jesus was unique to him he was telling the truth. Many of Paul’s
teachings were unique to him just as he claims, potentially even the
crucifixion concept, as crucifixion is not mentioned in the letters of
James or Jude. Paul died sometime around 67 CE.
Hostility between the Jews and their Gentile occupiers escalated.
Jewish protests against Roman occupation gained momentum and in 67 CE
the Romans responded by invading Galilee and waging a war of
suppression all the way through to Jerusalem, where they sacked the
city and destroyed the temple in 70 CE. Hundreds of thousands of Jews
died or were enslaved during this conflict.
Some follower of Paul saw Paul’s death and the conflict with Rome as
related. He wrote a fictional story that is now called the Gospel of
Mark, in which he cast Jesus as an allegorical figure who showed that
those Jews who did not heed Paul’s message had brought the war upon
themselves. This writer used the letters of Paul as the source for the
teachings attributed to Jesus, and he patterned the main narrative on
the popular story of Elijah and Elisha. The writer also used literary
references to passages from the prophets about how God would punish his
people and destroy them by sending foreign armies against them, to craft
an allegorical story with a strong message about how the Jews had
brought the war upon themselves.
The story was fascinating and the many hidden literary references
within it gave the story an air of prophetic mystery. Someone created a
longer version of it by adding on a birth narrative and a few
additional elements. This is what we call the Gospel of Matthew. The
Gospel of Matthew popularized the Jesus narrative and was believed by
most people to be literally true. Other versions of the story were
made, known as the Gospel of Luke and Gospel of John and many other
writings were produced that all stemmed from the core narrative
developed by the author of what we call the Gospel of Mark.
Earlier sects that had originally worshiped the immaterial heavenly
Jesus came under scrutiny by those who thought that Jesus was a real
person as a result of the Gospel stories. Some of those sects tried to
reconcile their concept of the
immaterial Jesus with the Gospel narratives, resulting in sects such as
Marcionism, which accepted basic elements of the Gospel narrative but
maintained that the Jesus of that narrative was a ghostly apparition.
The view that Jesus was immaterial was a dominant view among Jewish
Jesus worshipers, while the idea that Jesus was a real person was more
popular among Romans who were introduced to Jesus via the Gospels.
Romans Christians saw the Gospel narratives as pro-Roman evidence that
the Jews had abandoned by their own savior. The themes of the Gospels
seemed to support the idea that the Roman conquest of Judea was
divinely ordained and that the life and deeds of Jesus, as well as the
Roman subjugation of the Jewish people, fulfilled ancient Jewish
prophecies. That Jesus was a real person was central to upholding the
literal truth of this interpretation.
It was through this lens that Roman Christians interpreted the writings
of early Christianity. Some of the letters of Paul were altered to
conform to the Roman view of Jesus, both intentionally and
unintentionally. In some cases, revisions to Paul’s
writings were made out of honest mistakes or attempts to clarify what
they thought Paul was saying, and these versions became favored by
Christians. In other cases, small revisions were intentionally made to
bring Paul’s writings in line with Roman Christian doctrine. The
suppression of sects that didn’t believe Jesus was a real person was
perpetrated out of an honest belief that those views were false.
The scenarios outlined above are essentially two ways to explain the
evidence we have regarding the origins of Christianity.
The first scenario outlined above is essentially the most plausible
explanation for the evidence, assuming that Jesus was a real person who
was not divine. If Jesus were a real person, given all of the evidence
we have, it would have to be the case that Jesus couldn’t write, nor
could any of the people who had direct knowledge of him. The letters of
James and Jude in the Bible must be later forgeries, not letters
written by real leaders of the early Christian movement. Paul must have
been a massive liar who intentionally misrepresented fundamental
aspects of his life, interactions with other apostles, and knowledge of
Jesus. The account of Jesus’s death in the Gospels can’t be remotely
true because if it were the tomb of Jesus would have been a known
place, which it wasn’t, so the burial of the real Jesus must have been
radically different than any accounts of the event. Jesus must have
been someone who was barely known and had a tiny following in his
lifetime, but for some reason after he died his brother and a few other
people came to believe that he was the incarnation of a powerful
enteral being who had existed from the beginning of time. This is,
essentially, the only way to reconcile a “real Jesus” with the known
facts. For some unknown reason an illiterate wandering Jewish preacher
was executed. He was then worshiped by his brother and a few others
after his death as the supreme Lord of the universe, and tales of his
life morphed via oral accounts into the inspiration of the Gospel
stories. This view requires threading a needle whereby Jesus was
simultaneously unknown and of little significance in his own lifetime,
but immediately worshiped as an all-powerful heavenly deity upon his
The second scenario assumes that the worship of Jesus developed out of
the interpretation of stories and Jewish scriptures. In this scenario a
small group of Jews, led by James, began worshiping what they believed
was a heavenly messiah that had been revealed to them through prophetic
writings. This group developed various doctrines and teachings, and
someone named Paul started spreading these ideas among non-Jewish
communities as well. The writings from these early sources don’t
describe Jesus because Jesus wasn’t a person to be described. After the
First Jewish-Roman War someone was inspired to write an allegory about
the cause of the war, in which the main character was an
anthropomorphized version of the heavenly Jesus preached by Paul. That
story is ultimately what led to the belief that Jesus was a real
The second scenario is actually far more plausible than the first
scenario. In terms of questions, the first scenario needs to be able to
answer many paradoxical questions, including the following:
Why don’t the earliest writings about Jesus describe who he was as a
Why don’t the earliest writings about Jesus convey any of his teachings?
Why didn’t Jesus produce any writings of his own?
If Jesus couldn’t read and write, then why would people, in a culture
that highly valued the reading and writing of scripture, worship such a
person for their “teachings”?
Why would people think that a person, who presumably didn’t perform
miracles or rise from the dead, was “the Lord Jesus Christ”, an eternal
being with godly powers?
If people did think that this person was some eternal Lord, then why
didn’t they record anything about him or things that he said that
convinced them that he was this eternal all-powerful Lord?
Why would someone’s brother, who grew up with him and likely had fights
with him as a child and saw him get in trouble, get sick, etc. think
that he was a perfect all-powerful deity – the only being in existence
capable of bringing justice to the world?
Why does the letter to the Hebrews “quote” Jesus by quoting
from scriptures and give no details about this person's real life?
Why does the letter to the Hebrews say explicitly that Jesus is a heavenly High Priest?
Why does Paul talk repeatedly about Jesus being a divine mystery?
Why doesn’t Paul attribute any of his teachings to Jesus?
Why would Paul think his teachings were better than, or even on par
with, people who had personally known Jesus and learned his teachings
directly from his mouth?
Why does the Gospel of Mark use so many literary sources?
Why does the Gospel of Mark use teachings of Paul as Jesus’s teachings?
Why does the Gospel of Mark portray the disciples so poorly?
Why does every single story about Jesus share text with the Gospel of
I could go on, but really, all of these questions, and many more, need
reasonable answers in order for the idea that the Jesus of Christianity
is based on the life of a real person to have any plausibility.
On the other hand, there is really only one question that needs to be
answered for the scenario that the Jesus of Christianity isn’t based on
a real person to be plausible and that question is:
How do you explain the five or six short passages in the letters of
Paul that suggest Jesus was a real person?
That question has been answered multiple times by various scholars.
Each of the passages that are pointed to as evidence that Paul was
describing a real person named Jesus has been explained as either a
later interpolation or a misinterpretation caused by reading the
passage through the wrong lens.
When you actually look at all of the evidence you see that the proposal that
Jesus was a real person is vastly less plausible than the idea that
worship of Jesus began with a conceived heavenly deity, about whom a
story was later written that led people to believe he was a real
person. The second scenario does a vastly better job of explaining the
evidence than the first scenario does, and the second scenario is
something that we know commonly happened in ancient times. We have
multiple examples from history of the second scenario happening.
William Tell, King Arthur, Romulus and Remus, Moses, and on and
on. There is simply no plausible explanation for how a
mundane wandering preacher or rabble rouser would be worshiped by his
own brother and other associates as an all-powerful eternal Lord who
had overcome death, whose role was to bring divine justice to the world,
and create an eternal paradise for the souls of all the righteous who
had ever lived.
So this is where we are today. The consensus regarding the historical
existence of Jesus is like the consensus among scientists before the
publication of On the
Origin of Species, that the variety of life on
earth was a product of divine creation. The consensus view is
maintained almost entirely due to the weight of cultural familiarity.
It is the view that the vast majority of people assume to be true
because that’s what they have been taught since childhood, but when you
examine the details it isn’t difficult to see that this view is
woefully lacking. Yet since this view is an object of religious faith,
very few people actually examine the details.
I'm not sure what it will take to get establishment academics to
acknowledge the implausibility of the claim that Jesus was a real
person. There will likely never be a smoking gun that provides direct
irrefutable evidence either way. However, I do believe that the case that
Jesus worship began with the worship of a conceived heavenly being, not
a real person, is just as strong today as the case for biological
evolution. Just as we cannot go back in time and directly prove that
people ultimately evolved from single-cell organisms, we will never be
able to go back in time and directly prove that Jesus never existed.
But the most plausible explanation of the evidence by far, is that the
Jesus of Christianity evolved from the worship of a heavenly deity, not
a real person.