Jesus Myth Part II - Follow-up, Commentary, and Expansion

 By - February 5, 2007

I have received a considerable amount of feedback and questions in relation to my Jesus myth article, Jesus Myth - The Case Against Historical Christ. In this article I will address those questions and expand on some of the information put forward in the original article.

I would first like to provide some background on this subject and address some broader concerns.

I am certainly not the first person to propose that the Jesus of the Gospels never existed but that instead he originated from "myth". The idea in modern scholarship that Jesus Christ is entirely fictitious seems to have begun its development in earnest in the 18th century and became quite prominent in the 19th century, only to later recede in the 20th century.

Many of the early proponents of the idea that Jesus never existed were students and professors of comparative religion, who saw in the Jesus story  reflections of sun worship and "pagan" mythology. Some of these observations had some merit, but much of the early criticism of the story dwelled heavily on non-Jewish parallels, some of which were poorly established or based on poor understandings of the so-called pagan beliefs. In 1875 Kersey Graves published The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors, which has been heavily criticized and has many factual errors. In this work Graves compared the story of Jesus to the supposed stories of sixteen other saviors. The problem here is that Graves got many of his facts wrong.

In 1909 the German philosopher Arthur Drews published The Christ Myth, which was a much more scholarly work that became quite popular and well known, even in America. That same year John E. Remsberg published a review of the scholarship on the issue of the nature of Christ among skeptical scholars of the time, from which the follow text is taken:

The conceptions regarding the nature and character of Christ, and the value of the Christian Scriptures as historical evidence, are many, chief of which are the following:

1. Orthodox Christians believe that Christ is a historical character, supernatural and divine; and that the New Testament narratives, which purport to give a record of his life and teachings, contain nothing but infallible truth.

2. Conservative Rationalists, like Renan, and the Unitarians, believe that Jesus of Nazareth is a historical character and that these narratives, eliminating the supernatural elements, which they regard as myths, give a fairly authentic account of his life.

3. Many radical Freethinkers believe that Christ is a myth, of which Jesus of Nazareth is the basis, but that these narratives are so legendary and contradictory as to be almost if not wholly, unworthy of credit.

4. Other Freethinkers believe that Jesus Christ is a pure myth -- that he never had an existence, except as a Messianic idea, or an imaginary solar deity.

The first of these conceptions must be rejected because the existence of such a being is impossible, and because the Bible narratives which support it are incredible. The second cannot be accepted because, outside of these incredible narratives, there is no evidence to confirm it. One of the two last is the only true and rational conception of the Christ.

Jesus Christ is a myth. But what do we understand by the term myth? Falsehood, fable, and myth, are usually considered synonymous terms. But a falsehood, a fable, and a myth, while they may all be fictions and equally untrue, are not the same. A falsehood is the expression of an untruth intended to deceive. A fable is an avowed or implied fiction usually intended to instruct or entertain. A myth is a falsehood, a fable, or an erroneous opinion, which eventually becomes an established belief. While a falsehood and a fable are intentional and immediate expressions of fiction, a myth is, in most cases, an unconscious and gradual development of one.


It is often difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish a historical from a philosophical myth. Hence the non-agreement of Freethinkers in regard to the nature of the Christ myth. Is Christ a historical or a philosophical myth? Does an analysis of his alleged history disclose the deification of a man, or merely the personification of an idea?


The hypothesis that Christ is a philosophical myth, based, like the preceding one, upon the Messianic idea, is thus presented by T. B. Wakeman:

"Never was there an example of a word becoming a believed person, under this law of materialization, more plainly and evolutionally than the 'Messiah' and 'Son of Man' of the Hebrew prophecies.... The Christ, 'Jesus,' was no man, for the reason that he was prophesied and visionated into this world and life to do a work that it would be utterly absurd to suppose a man could ever do. The Romans had killed, and could easily kill, every man who had tried to resist their oppression. Now the God Yahweh by his 'eternally begotten son,' spiritized as the 'Son of Man,' that is the 'Soul of the State,' as Shakespeare makes Ulysses say it, must, in order to be of any avail appear with supernatural powers. He was the personified people, Israel; he had been crucified alive, in their subjection and massacre even to the death and Hades. But by supernatural power he, the Israel, would rise again and bring the final judgment backed by the infinite power of the nation's Father, Yahweh. It was only a Spirit-God who could do this -- nothing less could be originated, or thought of, or provided, for such a superhuman purpose. A person, a man, a reformer, a weak edition of Socrates, or Savonarola or Bruno! How absurd! The human heart in its despair by its imagination, brought a God into the world to do a God's work. 'No man,' said Napoleon; 'nor a God,' says Science, except the idea. Such it was that finally united the millions of Asia, Africa, Europe, and America, in a dream so intoxicating that it dares not to be awakened though the dawn of Science is here."

Mr. Wakeman argues that the silence of history for one hundred years after the alleged appearance of Christ can be explained only upon this hypothesis of an ideal Christ. To this the advocate of the historical myth may, I think, very properly reply: History, for the most part, takes cognizance only of noted men and important events; and while this silence precludes the existence of the supernatural Christ of Christians, and even that of the human Jesus of Renan, it does not necessarily preclude the existence of an obscure religious teacher and an insignificant sect which subsequently, by a chain of fortuitous circumstances, became the mightiest among the religions of the world.


While all Freethinkers are agreed that the Christ of the New Testament is a myth they are not, as we have seen, and perhaps never will be, fully agreed as to the nature of this myth. Some believe that he is a historical myth; others that he is a pure myth. Some believe that Jesus, a real person, was the germ of this Christ whom subsequent generations gradually evolved; others contend that the man Jesus, as well as the Christ, is wholly a creation of the human imagination.
- The Christ; A Critical Review and Analysis of His Existence; John E. Remsberg, 1909

For a variety of reasons, investigation into the subject of Jesus as myth faded into obscurity in the West during much of the 20th century, probably having a lot to do with the World Wars, the Great Depression and the Cold War, but in recent years the subject has risen in popularity again.

With the rise of the Internet there has been a further growth of "Jesus Myth" proposals by various people, sometimes based on poor research, resulting in a vast array of claims about the non-existence of Jesus and claims about various other "pagan" figures that the story of Jesus is supposedly copied from. Unfortunately there is a lot of poor "scholarship" on this subject, both on the Internet and in print. That does not, however, mean that there is not also good scholarship on this subject, but one does have to be very careful and check sources when claims are made, which is why I have used as many direct quotes as possible and relied largely on my own arguments to lay out the information as plainly, directly, and clearly as possible. No one has all of the answers on this subject and I do not think that there is any single authoritative or complete work on this subject at the moment; it is still a subject very much in its infancy.

What is evident, however, is that there is something very wrong with the traditional explanation for the rise of the Christian religion, the origin of the Gospels, and the so-called "evidence" for a "flesh and blood" Jesus.

At this moment there seems to be a lot of emphasis on supposed "pagan" origins of the Jesus story, with books such as The Jesus Mysteries: Was the "Original Jesus" a Pagan God? by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy and websites such as POCM (The Pagan Origins of the Jesus Myth), as well as many others.

The problem with these resources, however, is that they are often poorly researched and/or stretch the facts, especially when making claims about so-called "pagan" gods and heroes, often going to pains to make their stories appear more similar to the Jesus story than they really are. The Jesus Mysteries, for example, has been heavily criticized along these lines.

This does not to say that some of these resources don't make some valid points or that everything they say is wrong or that there are no "pagan" influences on the Jesus story, but many of these resources are very problematic in the quality of their work.

In contrast to this we also have work by those such as Early Doherty, G.A. Wells, and Robert M. Price which tend to be less bombastic and of higher quality.

My personal view is that the Jesus story is highly "Jewish" in nature and that the best place to look for understanding the origins of the Jesus story is Jewish literature and Jewish belief. This issue is complicated however, because the reality is that there was no clear distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish culture in the Mediterranean at the time, this view is largely a later idea. The Jewish worldview and Jewish literature absorbed influences from surrounding cultures throughout history, especially during the few hundreds years prior to the advent of Christianity, so drawing clear distinctions between "Jewish" and "non-Jewish" ideas really breaks down at a certain level. There is a difference, however, between the influence of ideas that diffused into Jewish culture from the Greeks over time and claiming that the story of Jesus is simply a copy of the story of Mithras or Dionysus.

My analysis and my understanding of the Jesus story tends to look more towards Jewish sources and Jewish relevancy, whereas the analysis of some others tends to look more towards so-called "pagan" sources and relevancy for interpreting the Jesus story, which I feel is a wrong approach. This is not to say that Hellenistic influences were not significant, they defiantly were, nor do I exclude analysis of other parallels, but this has to do with where the emphasis is put and how elements are interpreted. As a result, my interpretation of the Jesus story tends to be more in line with the traditional Christian interpretation of the story than some of the people who also propose that Jesus never existed.

Having said all that, we can now move on to further analysis and some of the questions that were raised by the first article.

Most of the questions raised had to do with Paul's view of Jesus. My claim, and the claim of those like Earl Doherty and Arthur Drews, is that Paul (and others) not only had no knowledge of a historical Jesus, but indeed had views of Jesus that are incompatible with there ever having been a historical Jesus. Other questions were related to the claim that the Gospel of Mark was intended to be allegorical, and there was a concern that my argument was an argument from absence.

My original article did not formulate an argument as much as it laid out various pieces of information. My argument is this:

  • There is no evidence that confirms that Jesus Christ did exist. (The intention of this argument is not to argue from absence, but rather to simply show that the possibilities are open to further explanation. In addition, yes, this absence of information is also relevant and does produce an argument from absence, but this absence cannot by itself be evidence that some "Jesus" did not exist.)
  • Both the pre-Gospel view of Jesus Christ and the Gospel story of Jesus Christ have precedents in earlier Jewish literature and beliefs. (This is a point that is itself a part of Christian belief.)
  • The details of the life of Jesus as relayed in the Gospels can be accounted for via existing literature and beliefs, i.e. sources other than someone's real life. (This again is largely in line with Christian beliefs and can be shown to be true beyond question.)
  • The earliest writings about Jesus that we have are incompatible with the existence of a historical figure. (This is a contentious claim, and one that draws the most scrutiny)
  • There are theological reasons that explain how a non-historical Jesus Christ would have been historicized, these being developments around the eucharist ritual and a belief that real suffering and a real blood sacrifice were needed create a "new covenant" or to take away sins. (This again makes use of the Christian understanding of the Jesus story)
  • There was widespread disagreement as to the nature and existence of Jesus from the time of the writing of the Gospels. (I contend that we have no evidence of disagreement about the nature of Jesus before the Gospels because A. the movement was so small and B. there was no view of Jesus as a historical figure in the first place)
  • The earliest defenders of an earthly flesh and blood historical Jesus came along in the 2nd century, and even at that time none of them were able to provide proof for the existence of Jesus, instead they relied on theological reasoning and scriptures to support their claims, eventually winning out through political force not the validity of their claims.
  • That Jesus did not exist, but rather developed from stories and beliefs, is the best explanation for these points and many other details of the Jesus story and early Christian history.

Support for these points was made in the prior article and will not necessarily be addressed again here. As you can see, however, this is not an argument from absence, but an argument that makes positive claims.

One difficulty in making this case is that there is no defined historical view of Jesus Christ in the first place. Many people, it seems, both Christians and non-Christians, are content to hold on to a greatly diminished historical Jesus who becomes undetectable to history, while others continue to argue for Jesus Christ as the Son of God as described in the Gospels. Very different arguments are needed to address these differing views. A good example of this is the case of the "empty tomb". Believers in the traditional Christian story put forward the fact that there is no evidence of veneration of a tomb of Jesus as evidence that Jesus really was the Son of God and really was resurrected, thus there was no body in the tomb to venerate, thus explaining why we have no evidence for early veneration of the location of Jesus' burial. This is difficult for people who believe in a real historical Jesus who was just a man to explain, because they then have to explain why a real person who inspired the Gospels wouldn't have had the location of his burial venerated. The explanation that there was no Jesus in the first place, however, solves all these problems, but has to be presented differently to address the two different sets of claims.

The range of views about Jesus can perhaps be presented on a spectrum as follows:

This spectrum can be defined in more detail along the following lines, knowing that every particular view of Jesus is not represented in this outline:

  1. The Gospels are inerrant and absolutely historically true. Jesus is the Son of God who was predicted by the Hebrew scriptures, who came to earth in human form, was born of a virgin, preached, and was crucified by Pilate, then rose from the dead and now sits on the right hand of God. The Gospels are historical eyewitness accounts or based on solid eyewitness accounts.
  2. The Gospels are generally true but somewhat exaggerated accounts of a real Jesus who had a following of people who thought he was the Son of God. He wasn't born of a virgin and didn't walk on water or perform miracles or rise from the dead, but the Gospels reflect his true teachings and the basic events of his life, and he was crucified by Pilate. The Gospels come from eye witness accounts mixed with a little legend.
  3. The Gospels are generally true but somewhat exaggerated accounts of a real Jesus who was influential in the region. He may or may not have really been crucified by Pilate. He was later mythologized and elevated in status. The Gospels come from eye witness accounts mixed with legend.
  4. The Gospels are mostly fabricated stories inspired by a real Jesus. The Gospels come almost entirely from legends and scriptures, but are still loosely based on the actions of a real Jesus whom we don't know very much about.
  5. The Gospels are mostly fabricated stories inspired by a real a person or persons from a spectrum of time, perhaps from events as far back as 200 years before the supposed life of Jesus. Over time stories were put together that cobbled various political events and persons into a single "Jesus Christ" figure. The events and teachings in the Gospels are mythologized, but based on real-life events that took place over time and were done by a person or various people. The Gospels come almost entirely from legends and scriptures, but are still based on the actions of some real people, without which the story of Jesus would never have come into existence.
  6. The Gospels are completely fabricated stories based on scripture, legends, and the mystical beliefs of existing Jewish cults. There is no human figure at the center of the Gospel stories at all. The Gospels were generally written in the same manner that most scholars claim, during the late 1st century to early 2nd century, but there is no person at the core of them, whether all of the writers themselves knew it or not.
  7. The Gospels are completely fabricated stories based on pagan myths about figures such as Dionysus and Mithras. The Gospels were written by directly mixing Jewish and non-Jewish religions and beliefs into stories that borrow from both traditions. The meaning of the Gospels has been largely lost and generally has little to do with Judaism.
  8. The Gospels are completely fabricated stories that were intentionally crafted to deceive people, and there is no historical person at their core. The Gospels were really written anywhere from the 2nd century to the 4th century and much of early Christian history has been fabricated. The writers of the Gospels knew that there was no Jesus and the whole crafting of the religion was part of a political tool by Roman Emperors or others of a similar kind.

What I argue for is position 6, with perhaps minor influences from positions 5 and 7, though I would say that any anecdotes that may have been applied to Jesus are completely secondary to the mythical character and that they had no influence on the existence of the story itself, perhaps only adding to an already existing character that originated in the mythical realm. In other words, perhaps some anecdotes were attached to the myth, but not the other way around. An example of this might be the possible use of anecdotes about Jesus son of Ananus by the Gospel writers, though this would have had no bearing on the Jesus Christ of Paul.

A significant part of the positive evidence against the existence of Jesus is actually the early Christian writings themselves, especially the writings of Paul. Because of that I would like to address the writings and beliefs of Paul again and in further detail, addressing questions that have been raised about the first article in the process.

Of Angels, Heaven, Visions, Sacrifices, Passion, and Ecstasy

It is critically important to understand the worldviews that existed at the time and place that Paul began his preaching. I think that not understanding how people thought at that time, and how Paul likely thought, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks that people have to understanding how a "mythical" Jesus would have been conceived.

Today most people have a very "supernatural" concept of heaven, as perhaps some place that exists outside of space and time which you can not physically find in our universe. Most people today have this view of heaven because of the fact that we have been into outer space, we have powerful telescopes that look out into the stars, we have photographs of Earth taken from the moon, etc. We know that "heaven" doesn't exist up in the clouds, but that wasn't the case during Paul's time among people like Paul and his followers. To these people heaven was a real physical place that existed just beyond the clouds and, in theory, if you could climb a high enough mountain you could probably throw rocks into heaven whence you might risk hitting an angel and getting him mad at you. If you were either really lucky or really unfortunate an angel might fly down to earth on his wings and pick you up and literally take you up past the clouds into heaven where you could walk around and spy on various beings.

Heaven, Hades, and Tartarus were just as real to these people as the sea floor and the moon are to us today. People, from Greek materialists to Platonic philosophers to religious fanatics, believed that images from the heavens and of gods, angels, and demons could literally be, and were, projected to people on earth. The idea of "supernatural" really did not exist at this time as we know it today. To these people everything was natural. Even Greek materialists who rejected religion believed that the visions that people saw in dreams, ideas crafted in people's imaginations, and the unexplained phenomenon that people experienced such as hallucinations, all stemmed from real beings and that if you had a dream about a demon with horns or someone claimed to have seen an angel with wings, then these things had to have really existed and their images were bring projected to that person.

Spirits, or souls, to these people was very real. Some viewed the soul as material and others viewed it as immaterial, but though there were distinctions between "material" and "immaterial" worlds, neither the material nor the immaterial worlds were viewed as "supernatural" or "unnatural", this was simply how the world operated and worked and existed. The modern concept of "supernatural" didn't really develop until after Newton and others had defined "natural laws" that governed how the world works. Then the idea of "supernatural" became anything that was conceived to violate these laws, but prior to the definition of these laws there was no significant distinction between "natural' and "supernatural".

The image below is a diagram showing early Jewish cosmology. This is the cosmology of Genesis, where the earth was flat and covered by a dome which protected the earth and the sky from the waters outside the earth, which was where rain came from. The heaven of God and the angels physically existed just outside the ocean of heaven.

By the 1st century CE, however, cosmology in the region had changed. There were in fact many different views of cosmology, from a spherical earth floating in a purely material infinite universe, to a flat earth still held up by pillars and covered by a dome, but we know that a popular view among Hellenistic Jews at that time was a view similar to the one pictured below:

In some Jewish stories of the era we are presented with a seven layer heaven, in others a five layer heaven, and by Paul and other Christians we hear of a three layer heaven. This diagram, from a Christian fundamentalist, probably closely represents the view of heaven that Paul literally believed in. As far as Paul was concerned the clouds were the midway point between the heavens and earth. As far as Paul was concerned these heavens were populated by many different beings, including angels and demons, and people could literally travel to these heavens and people on earth could literally have visions of events taking place in these heavens.

Plato tells us something of this in the 4th century BCE. Plato's cosmology would later go on to influence many people and cultures throughout the region and his views (or views similar to his) on afterlife, in various altered forms, were prevalent throughout the Mediterranean among both Jews and non-Jews by the 1st century.

These things being thus constituted, when the dead arrive at the place to which their demon leads them severally, first of all they are judged, as well those who have lived well and piously, as those who have not. And those who appear to have passed a middle kind of life, proceeding to Acheron, and embarking in the vessels they have, on these arrive at the lake, and there dwell; and when they are purified, and have suffered punishment for the iniquities they may have committed, they are set free, and each receives the reward of his good deeds, according to his deserts. But those who appear to be incurable, through the magnitude of their offenses, either from having committed many and great sacrileges, or many unjust and lawless murders, or other similar crimes, these a suitable destiny hurls into Tartarus, whence they never come forth. But those who appear to have been guilty of curable yet great offenses--such as those who, through anger, have committed any violence against father or mother, and have lived the remainder of their life in a state of penitence, or they who have become homicides in a similar manner--these must, of necessity, fall into Tartarus. But after they have fallen, and have been there for a year, the wave casts them forth, the homicides into Cocytus, but the parricides and matricides into Pyriphlegethon. But when, being borne along, they arrive at the Acherusian lake, there they cry out to and invoke, some those whom they slew, others those whom they injured, and, invoking them, they entreat and implore them to suffer them to go out into the lake, and to receive them, and if they persuade them, they go out, and are freed from their sufferings, but if not, they are borne back to Tartarus, and thence again to the rivers. And they do not cease from suffering this until they have persuaded those whom they have injured, for this sentence was imposed on them by the judges. But those who are found to have lived an eminently holy life, these are they who, being freed and set at large from these regions in the earth as from a prison, arrive at the pure abode above, and dwell on the upper parts of the earth. And among these, they who have sufficiently purified themselves by philosophy shall live without bodies, throughout all future time, and shall arrive at habitations yet more beautiful than these which it is neither easy to describe, nor at present is there sufficient time for the purpose.
- PHÆDO; Plato, 4th century BCE

From the 2nd century BCE through the 2nd century CE we find Jewish apocalyptic and messianic writings that discuss visions of heaven, prophecies of the future, coming saviors, atonement sacrifices, wars in the heavens, retributions of God, and many of other things. It is important to note here that the term apocalypse is popularly misunderstood today to mean "end of the world", but the term apocalypse really means "lifting of the veil", or revelation, typically applied to claimed literal visions, which in Jewish literature during this time were often visions of the end of the world. The New Testament book called Revelation, or Apocalypse of John, is one such writing and is specifically about Jesus Christ, but there were many similar writings about other figures as well, and these writings provide us with the worldview of the time and place of Paul's preaching.

Important writings from this period, both Jewish and Christian, include The Book of Daniel, Martyrdom of Isaiah, The Book of Enoch, Apocalypse of Zephaniah, Apocalypse of Elijah, Assumption of Moses, Testament of Isaac, Apocalypse of Adam, Apocalypse of John (The Book of Revelation), Apocalypse of Sedrach, Word and Revelation of Esdras, and others.

Here are some critical sections from a few of these works. First we will look at The Book of Daniel, which is the only apocalyptic writing that is a part of the "Old Testament". It was also included in the Septuagint.

Daniel 7:
1 In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: 2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 4 The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it. 5 Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, ‘Arise, devour many bodies!’ 6 After this, as I watched, another appeared, like a leopard. The beast had four wings of a bird on its back and four heads; and dominion was given to it. 7 After this I saw in the visions by night a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth and was devouring, breaking in pieces, and stamping what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns. 8 I was considering the horns, when another horn appeared, a little one coming up among them; to make room for it, three of the earlier horns were plucked up by the roots. There were eyes like human eyes in this horn, and a mouth speaking arrogantly.

9 As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousand served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.

11 I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. 13 As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a son of man
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.


Daniel 8:
15 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I tried to understand it. Then someone appeared standing before me, having the appearance of a man, 16 and I heard a human voice by the Ulai, calling, ‘Gabriel, help this man understand the vision.’ 17 So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I became frightened and fell prostrate. But he said to me, ‘Understand, O mortal, that the vision is for the time of the end.’


Daniel 9:
20 While I was speaking, and was praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God on behalf of the holy mountain of my God— 21 while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He came and said to me, ‘Daniel, I have now come out to give you wisdom and understanding. 23 At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved. So consider the word and understand the vision:

24 ‘Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy one. 25 Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.’


Daniel 10:
2 At that time I, Daniel, had been mourning for three weeks. 3 I had eaten no rich food, no meat or wine had entered my mouth, and I had not anointed myself at all, for the full three weeks. 4On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river (that is, the Tigris), 5 I looked up and saw a man clothed in linen, with a belt of gold from Uphaz around his waist. 6 His body was like beryl, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the roar of a multitude. 7 I, Daniel, alone saw the vision; the people who were with me did not see the vision, though a great trembling fell upon them, and they fled and hid themselves. 8 So I was left alone to see this great vision.


15 While he was speaking these words to me, I turned my face towards the ground and was speechless. 16 Then one in human form touched my lips, and I opened my mouth to speak, and said to the one who stood before me, ‘My lord, because of the vision such pains have come upon me that I retain no strength.


Daniel 12:
1 ‘At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. 2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the dome, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4But you, Daniel, keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be running back and forth, and evil shall increase.’

5 Then I, Daniel, looked, and two others appeared, one standing on this bank of the stream and one on the other. 6 One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was upstream, ‘How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?’ 7 The man clothed in linen, who was upstream, raised his right hand and his left hand towards heaven. And I heard him swear by the one who lives for ever that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things would be accomplished. 8 I heard but could not understand; so I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?’ 9 He said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end. 10 Many shall be purified, cleansed, and refined, but the wicked shall continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand. 11 From the time that the regular burnt-offering is taken away and the abomination that desolates is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days. 12 Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three hundred and thirty-five days. 13 But you, go your way, and rest; you shall rise for your reward at the end of the days.’

In the quotation above I have mostly included the story elements that relate most to the writings of Paul and the Jesus story, though there are also many story elements which I did not include that have no relevance to the Jesus story. The revelations of Daniel related to a military conflict and military leader of the Jews. The Book of Daniel is set in the 6th century BCE, but it was actually composed in the 2nd century BCE and it was not actually written by someone named Daniel, just as The Book of Enoch was not written by Enoch. Unlike the later ideas of Paul, The Book of Daniel is a highly nationalistic work, intended purely for a Jewish audience.

The Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible has this to say about The Book of Daniel:

The book as a whole is usually described as an apocalypse, a genre in which revelation is mediated in a narrative framework to a human recipient through otherworldly beings and that discloses a heavenly world and a coming judgment. Apocalypses often use conventions such as pseudonymity and employ a variety of literary forms.

We can now look at The Book of Enoch, written shortly after The Book of Daniel, and not included in the Septuagint or the Old Testament.

1 The word of the blessing of Enoch, how he blessed the elect and the righteous, who were to exist in the time of trouble; rejecting all the wicked and ungodly. Enoch, a righteous man, who was with God, answered and spoke, while his eyes were open, and while he saw a holy vision in the heavens. This the angels showed me.
2 From them I heard all things, and understood what I saw; that which will not take place in this generation, but in a generation which is to succeed at a distant period, on account of the elect.
3 Upon their account I spoke and conversed with him, who will go forth from his habitation, the Holy and Mighty One, the God of the world:
4 Who will hereafter tread upon Mount Sinai; appear with his hosts; and be manifested in the strength of his power from heaven.
5 All shall be afraid, and the Watchers be terrified.
6 Great fear and trembling shall seize them, even to the ends of the earth. The lofty mountains shall be troubled, and the exalted hills depressed, melting like a honeycomb in the flame. The earth shall be immerged, and all things which are in it perish; while judgment shall come upon all, even upon all the righteous:
7 But to them shall he give peace: he shall preserve the elect, and towards them exercise clemency.
8 Then shall all belong to God; be happy and blessed; and the splendor of the Godhead shall illuminate them.


1 It happened after the sons of men had multiplied in those days, that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful.
2 And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them, they became enamored of them, saying to each other, Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children.
3 Then their leader Samyaza said to them; I fear that you may perhaps be indisposed to the performance of this enterprise;
4 And that I alone shall suffer for so grievous a crime.
5 But they answered him and said; We all swear;
6 And bind ourselves by mutual execrations, that we will not change our intention, but execute our projected undertaking.
7 Then they swore all together, and all bound themselves by mutual execrations. Their whole number was two hundred, who descended upon Ardis, which is the top of mount Armon.
8 That mountain therefore was called Armon, because they had sworn upon it, and bound themselves by mutual execrations.
9 These are the names of their chiefs: Samyaza, who was their leader, Urakabarameel, Akibeel, Tamiel, Ramuel, Danel, Azkeel, Saraknyal, Asael, Armers, Batraal, Anane, Zavebe, Samsaveel, Ertael, Turel, Yomyael, Arazyal. These were the prefects of the two hundred angels, and the remainder were all with them.
10 Then they took wives, each choosing for himself; whom they began to approach, and with whom they cohabited; teaching them sorcery, incantations, and the dividing of roots and trees.
11 And the women conceiving brought forth giants,
12 Whose stature was each three hundred cubits. These devoured all which the labor of men produced; until it became impossible to feed them;
13 When they turned themselves against men, in order to devour them;
14 And began to injure birds, beasts, reptiles, and fishes, to eat their flesh one after another, and to drink their blood.
15 Then the earth reproved the unrighteous.


1 Then Michael and Gabriel, Raphael, Suryal, and Uriel, looked down from heaven, and saw the quantity of blood which was shed on earth, and all the iniquity which was done upon it, and said one to another, It is the voice of their cries;
2 The earth deprived of her children has cried even to the gate of heaven.
3 And now to you, O you holy one of heaven, the souls of men complain, saying, Obtain Justice for us with the Most High. Then they said to their Lord, the King, You are Lord of lords, God of gods, King of kings. The throne of your glory is for ever and ever, and for ever and ever is your name sanctified and glorified. You are blessed and glorified.


6 Again the Lord said to Raphael, Bind Azazyel hand and foot; cast him into darkness; and opening the desert which is in Dudael, cast him in there.
7 Throw upon him hurled and pointed stones, covering him with darkness;
8 There shall he remain for ever; cover his face, that he may not see the light.
9 And in the great day of judgment let him be cast into the fire.
10 Restore the earth, which the angels have corrupted; and announce life to it, that I may revive it.
11 All the sons of men shall not perish in consequence of every secret, by which the Watchers have destroyed, and which they have taught, their offspring.
12 All the earth has been corrupted by the effects of the teaching of Azazyel. To him therefore ascribe the whole crime.
13 To Gabriel also the Lord said, Go to the biters, to the reprobates, to the children of fornication; and destroy the children of fornication, the offspring of the Watchers, from among men; bring them forth, and excite them one against another. Let them perish by mutual slaughter; for length of days shall not be theirs.
14 They shall all entreat you, but their fathers shall not obtain their wishes respecting them; for they shall hope for eternal life, and that they may live, each of them, five hundred years.
15 To Michael likewise the Lord said, Go and announce his crime to Samyaza, and to the others who are with him, who have been associated with women, that they might be polluted with all their impurity. And when all their sons shall be slain, when they shall see the perdition of their beloved, bind them for seventy generations underneath the earth, even to the day of judgment, and of consummation, until the judgment, the effect of which will last for ever, be completed.
16 Then shall they be taken away into the lowest depths of the fire in torments; and in confinement shall they be shut up for ever.
17 Immediately after this shall he, together with them, burn and perish; they shall be bound until the consummation of many generations.
18 Destroy all the souls addicted to dalliance, and the offspring of the Watchers, for they have tyrannized over mankind.
19 Let every oppressor perish from the face of the earth;
20 Let every evil work be destroyed;
21 The plant of righteousness and of rectitude appear, and its produce become a blessing.
22 Righteousness and rectitude shall be forever planted with delight.
23 And then shall all the saints give thanks, and live until they have begotten a thousand children, while the whole period of their youth, and their sabbaths shall be completed in peace. In those days all the earth shall be cultivated in righteousness; it shall be wholly planted with trees, and filled with benediction; every tree of delight shall be planted in it.
24 In it shall vines be planted; and the vine which shall be planted in it shall yield fruit to satiety; every seed, which shall be sown in it, shall produce for one measure a thousand; and one measure of olives shall produce ten presses of oil.
25 Purify the earth from all oppression, from all injustice, from all crime, from all impiety, and from all the pollution which is committed upon it. Exterminate them from the earth.
26 Then shall all the children of men be righteous, and all nations shall pay me divine honors, and bless me; and all shall adore me.
27 The earth shall be cleansed from all corruption, from every crime, from all punishment, and from all suffering; neither will I again send a deluge upon it from generation to generation for ever.
28 In those days I will open the treasures of blessing which are in heaven, that I may cause them to descend upon earth, and upon all the works and labor of man.
29 Peace and equity shall associate with the sons of men all the days of the world, in every generation of it.


1 Thus the Lord commanded the kings, the princes, the exalted, and those who dwell on earth, saying, Open your eyes, and lift up your horns, if you are capable of comprehending the Elect One.
2 The Lord of spirits sat upon the throne of his glory.
3 And the spirit of righteousness was poured out over him.
4 The word of his mouth shall destroy all the sinners and all the ungodly, who shall perish at his presence.
5 In that day shall all the kings, the princes, the exalted, and those who possess the earth, stand up, behold, and perceive, that he is sitting on the throne of his glory; that before him the saints shall be judged in righteousness;
6 And that nothing, which shall be spoken before him, shall be spoken in vain.
7 Trouble shall come upon them, as upon a woman in travail, whose labor is severe, when her child comes to the mouth of the womb, and she finds it difficult to bring forth.
8 One portion of them shall look upon another. They shall be astonished, and shall humble their countenance;
9 And trouble shall seize them, when they shall behold this Son of woman sitting upon the throne of his glory.
10 Then shall the kings, the princes, and all who possess the earth, glorify him who has dominion over all things, him who was concealed; for from the beginning the Son of man existed in secret, whom the Most High preserved in the presence of his power, and revealed to the elect.
11 He shall sow the congregation of the saints, and of the elect; and all the elect shall stand before him in that day.
12 All the kings, the princes, the exalted, and those who rule over all the earth, shall fall down on their faces before him, and shall worship him.
13 They shall fix their hopes on this Son of man, shall pray to him, and petition him for mercy.
14 Then shall the Lord of spirits hasten to expel them from his presence. Their faces shall be full of confusion, and their faces shall darkness cover. The angels shall take them to punishment, that vengeance may be inflicted on those who have oppressed his children and his elect. And they shall become an example to the saints and to his elect. Through them shall these be made joyful; for the anger of the Lord of spirits shall rest upon them.
15 Then the sword of the Lord of spirits shall be drunk with their blood; but the saints and elect shall be safe in that day; nor the face of the sinners and the ungodly shall they thenceforwards behold.
16 The Lord of spirits shall remain over them:
17 And with this Son of man shall they dwell, eat, lie down, and rise up, for ever and ever.


1 Afterwards my spirit was concealed, ascending into the heavens. I beheld the sons of the holy angels treading on flaming fire, whose garments and robes were white, and whose countenances were transparent as crystal.
2 I saw two rivers of fire glittering like the hyacinth.
3 Then I fell on my face before the Lord of spirits.
4 And Michael, one of the archangels, took me by my right hand, raised me up, and brought me out to where was every secret of mercy and secret of righteousness.
5 He showed me all the hidden things of the extremities of heaven, all the receptacles of the stars, and the splendours of all, from whence they went forth before the face of the holy.
6 And he concealed the spirit of Enoch in the heaven of heavens.

7 There I beheld, in the midst of that light, a building raised with stones of ice;
8 And in the midst of these stone vibrations of living fire. My spirit saw around the circle of this flaming habitation, on one of its extremities, that there were rivers full of living fire, which encompassed it.
9 Then the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and Ophanin surrounded it: these are those who never sleep, but watch the throne of his glory.
10 And I beheld angels innumerable, thousands of thousands, and myriads and myriads, who surrounded that habitation.
11 Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Phanuel and the holy angels who were in the heavens above, went in and out of it. Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel went out of that habitation, and holy angels innumerable.
12 With them was the Ancient of days, whose head was white as wool, and pure, and his robe was indescribable.
13 Then I fell upon my face, while all my flesh was dissolved, and my spirit became changed.
14 I cried out with a loud voice, with a powerful spirit, blessing, glorifying, and exalting.
15 And those blessings, which proceeded from my mouth, became acceptable in the presence of the Ancient of days.
16 The Ancient of days came with Michael and Gabriel, Raphael and Phanuel, with thousands of thousands, and myriads and myriads, which would not be numbered.
17 Then that angel came to me, and with his voice saluted me, saying, You are the Son of man, who art born for righteousness, and righteousness has rested upon you.
18 The righteousness of the Ancient of days shall not forsake you.
19 He said, On you shall he confer peace in the name of the existing world; for from thence has peace gone forth since the world was created.
20 And thus shall it happen to you for ever and ever.
21 All who shall exist, and who shall walk in your path of righteousness, shall not forsake you for ever.
22 With you shall be their habitations, with you their lot; nor from you shall they be separated for ever and ever.
23 And thus shall length of days be with the Son of man.

24 Peace shall be to the righteous; and the path of integrity shall the righteous pursue, in the name of the Lord of spirits, for ever and ever.
- The Book of Enoch, 2nd - 1st century BCE

There are several important sections here that we will come back to as we discuss the writings of Paul.

We can now look at Apocalypse of Zephaniah, written some time in either the 1st century BCE or the 1st century CE:

And a spirit took me and brought me up into the fifth heaven. And I saw angels who are called "lords." And the diadem was set upon them in the Holy Spirit, and the throne of each of them was sevenfold more [brilliant] than the light of the rising sun. [And they were dwelling in the temples of salvation and singing hymns to the ineffable God.]


I saw a soul which five thousand angels punished and guarded. They took it to the East and they brought it to the West. They beat its … they gave it a hundred … lashes for each one daily. I was afraid and I cast myself upon my face so that my joints dissolved. The angel helped me. He said unto me, "Be strong, O one who will triumph, and prevail so that thou wilt triumph over the accuser and thou wilt come up from Hades." And after I arose I said, "Who is this whom they are punishing?" He said unto me, "This is a soul which was found in its lawlessness." And before it attained to repenting it was visited, and taken out of its body. Truly, I, Zephaniah, saw these things in my vision.


But I went with the angel of the Lord, and I looked in front of me and I saw gates. Then when I approached them I discovered that they were bronze gates. The angel touched them and they opened before him. I entered with him and found its whole square like a beautiful city, and I walked in its midst. Then the angel of the Lord transformed himself beside me in that place.

Now I looked at them, and I discovered that they were bronze gates and bronze bolts and iron bars. Now my mouth was shut therein. I beheld the bronze gates in front of me as fire was being cast forth for about fifty stadia.


Then I arose and stood, and I saw a great angel standing before me with his face shining like the rays of the sun in its glory since his face is like that which is perfected in its glory. And he was girded as if a golden girdle were upon his breast. His feet were like bronze which is melted in a fire. And when I saw him, I rejoiced, for I thought that the Lord Almighty had come to visit me. I fell upon my face, and I worshiped him. He said to me, "Take heed. Worship me not. I am not the Lord Almighty, but am the great angel, Eremiel, who is over the abyss and Hades, the one in which all of the souls are imprisoned from the end of the Flood, which came upon the earth, until this day."


Then the great angel came to me with the golden trumpet in his hand, and he blew it up unto heaven. Heaven opened from the place where the sun rises to where it sets, from the north to the south. I saw the sea which I had seen at the bottom of Hades. Its waves came up to the clouds. I saw all the souls sinking in it. I saw some whose hands were bound to their neck, with their hands and feet being fettered. I said, "Who are these?" He said unto me, "These are the ones who were bribed and they were given gold and silver until the souls of men were led astray." And I saw others covered with mats of fire. I said, "Who are these?" He said unto me, "These are the ones who give money at interest, and they receive interest for interest." And I also saw some blind ones crying out. And I was amazed when I saw all these works of God. I said, "Who are these?" He said unto me, These are catechumens who heard the word of God, but they were not perfected in the work which they heard." And I said unto him, "Then have they not repentance here?" He said, "Yes," I said, "How long?" He said unto me, "Until the day when the Lord will judge." And I saw others with their hair on them. I said, "Then there is hair and body in this place?" He said, "Yes, the Lord gives body and hair to them as he desires.


And again the great angel cometh forth with the golden trumpet in his hand blowing over the earth. They hear [it] from the place of the sunrise to the place of the sunset and from the southern regions to the northern regions. And again he blows [it] up unto heaven and its sound is heard. I said, "O Lord, why left thou me not until I saw them all?" He said unto me, "I have not authority to show them unto thee until the Lord Almighty riseth up in his wrath to destroy the earth and the heavens. They will see and be disturbed, and they will all cry out, saying, ‘All flesh which is ascribed to Thee we will give unto Thee on the day of the Lord.’ Who will stand in His presence when He riseth in His wrath [to destroy] the earth [and the heavens] Every tree which groweth upon the earth will be plucked up with its roots and fall down. And every high tower and the birds which fly will fall...
- Apocalypse of Zephaniah, ~1st century BCE

As you can see, here we have a story about Zephaniah being taken up to the fifth heaven, which probably was seen as the upper most heaven by the writer, where the writer talks of seeing angels who are called "lords", basically rulers. The writer also swears that what he is saying is true and that he really saw all these things. In the end we are told of the coming destruction of the world by the Lord.

We can now move on to The Martyrdom of Isaiah, which not only features various heavenly powers directing events on earth, but also the prophet Isaiah who predicts his own death and is then killed according to his own prediction in a scene in which he is mocked and tormented.

Chapter 1:
1. AND it came to pass in the twenty-sixth year of the reign of Hezekiah king of Judah that he called Manasseh his son. Now he was his only one.
2. And he called him into the presence of Isaiah the son of Amoz the prophet, and into the presence of Josab the son of Isaiah, in order to deliver unto him the words of righteousness which the king himself had seen:
3. And of the eternal judgments and torments of Gehenna, and of the prince of this world, and of his angels, and his authorities and his powers.
4. And the words of the faith of the Beloved which he himself had seen in the fifteenth year of his reign during his illness.
5. And he delivered unto him the written words which Samnas the scribe had written, and also those which Isaiah, the son of Amoz, had given to him, and also to the prophets, that they might write and store up with him what he himself had seen in the king's house regarding the judgment of the angels, and the destruction of this world, and regarding the garments of the saints and their going forth, and regarding their transformation and the persecution and ascension of the Beloved.
6. In the twentieth year of the reign of Hezekiah, Isaiah had seen the words of this prophecy and had delivered them to Josab his son. And whilst he (Hezekiah) gave commands, Josab the son of Isaiah standing by.
7. Isaiah said to Hezekiah the king, but not in the presence of Manasseh only did he say unto him: `As the Lord liveth, and the Spirit which speaketh in me liveth, all these commands and these words will be made of none effect by Manasseh thy son, and through the agency of his hands I shall depart mid the torture of my body.
8. And Sammael Malchira will serve Manasseh, and execute all his desire, and he will become a follower of Beliar rather than of me:
9. And many in Jerusalem and in Judea he will cause to abandon the true faith, and Beliar will dwell in Manasseh, and by his hands I shall be sawn asunder.'
10. And when Hezekiah heard these words he wept very bitterly, and rent his garments, and placed earth upon his head, and fell on his face.
11. And Isaiah said unto him: "The counsel of Sammael against Manasseh is consummated: nought will avail thee."
12. And on that day Hezekiah resolved in his heart to slay Manasseh his son.
13. And Isaiah said to Hezekiah: "The Beloved hath made of none effect thy design, and the purpose of thy heart will not be accomplished, for with this calling have I been called and I shall inherit the heritage of the Beloved."


Chapter 2:
7. And, when Isaiah, the son of Amoz, saw the lawlessness which was being perpetrated in Jerusalem and the worship of Satan and his wantonness, he withdrew from Jerusalem and settled in Bethlehem of Judah.


Chapter 3:
6. And Belchira accused Isaiah and the prophets who were with him, saying: 'Isaiah and those who are with him prophesy against Jerusalem and against the cities of Judah that they shall be laid waste and [against the children of Judah and] Benjamin also that they shall go into captivity, and also against thee, O lord the king, that thou shalt go [bound] with hooks and iron chains':
7. But they prophesy falsely against Israel and Judah.
8. And Isaiah himself hath said: 'I see more than Moses the prophet.'
9. But Moses said: 'No man can see God and live'; and Isaiah hath said: 'I have seen God and behold I live.'
10. Know, therefore, O king, that he is lying. And Jerusalem also he hath called Sodom, and the princes of Judah and Jerusalem he hath declared to be the people of Gomorrah. And he brought many accusations against Isaiah and the prophets before Manasseh.
11. But Beliar dwelt in the heart of Manasseh and in the heart of the princes of Judah and Benjamin and of the eunuchs and of the councilors of the king.


Chapter 5:
2. And when Isaiah was being sawn in sunder, Belchira stood up, accusing him, and all the false prophets stood up, laughing and rejoicing because of Isaiah.
3. And Belchira, with the aid of Mechembechus, stood up before Isaiah, [laughing] deriding;
4. And Belchira said to Isaiah: 'Say, "I have lied in all that I have spoken, and likewise the ways of Manasseh are good and right.
5. And the ways also of Belchira and of his associates are good."
6. And this he said to him when he began to be sawn in sunder.
7. But Isaiah was [absorbed] in a vision of the Lord, and though his eyes were open, he saw them (not).
8. And Belchira spoke thus to Isaiah: "Say what I say unto thee and I will turn their hearts, and I will compel Manasseh and the princes of Judah and the people and all Jerusalem to reverence thee.
9. And Isaiah answered and said: "So far as I have utterance [I say]: Damned and accused be thou and all they powers and all thy house.
10. For thou canst not take [from me] aught save the skin of my body."
11. And they seized and sawed in sunder Isaiah, the son of Amoz, with a wooden saw.
12. And Manasseh and Belchira and the false prophets and the princes and the people [and] all stood looking on.
13. And to the prophets who were with him he said before he had been sawn in sunder: "Go ye to the region of Tyre and Sidon; for for me only hath God mingled the cup."
14. And when Isaiah was being sawn in sunder, he neither cried aloud nor wept, but his lips spoke with the Holy Spirit until he was sawn in twain.
- The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, ~2nd century BCE

Of special note here is "the prince of this world, his angels, and authorities and his powers," which refers to "Satan" and the heavenly and earthly powers that he follow him. Scholars universally recognize The Martyrdom of Isaiah as a fiction, but the characters in the Martyrdom of Isaiah, king Hezekiah and his son, etc., are historical or pseudo-historical, i.e. the author of The Martyrdom of Isaiah would have believed that they were historical even if they are not. In The Martyrdom of Isaiah we see a pseudo-historical story that involves all of the same elements that the later Jesus story includes.

With all of this we have some idea of the cosmology and beliefs that existed among Hellenistic Jews during the 1st century. The writings above are very representative of the beliefs of the time and place in which Paul preached and wrote, and what we find in the letters of Paul is the same language and the same beliefs and the same types of claims that we find in these prior writings.

The only thing new and different in the writings of Paul is the name Jesus and claim of crucifixion, as opposed to being sawn in half or hung or tortured by various other means, as took place in the many other stories that preceded the story of Jesus.

Shortly prior to the story of "Jesus Christ" we already have Jewish stories outside of the "Old Testament" that include the following:

  • The titles or designations Son of God, Son of Man, Prince of Peace, Anointed One, King of Kings, etc.
  •  The Elect (many people and/or angels who will be justified)
  • Heavenly powers who fight among themselves in heaven and through the manipulation of events on earth
  • Heroes who predict their own death
  • Passion narratives
  • Promises of immortality
  • Descriptions of resurrections
  • The coming end of the world
  • The coming creation of a new righteous world
  • Angels interacting with people on earth
  • People having visions (or claiming to have had them) and testifying to their truth
  • People claiming to have witnessed amazing events on earth and testifying to their truth
Of Paul and his Jesus

All that I and others such as Earl Doherty propose, indeed demand, is that the writings of Paul and other early Christians be interpreted according to their own culture, which is exactly how all works by any author should be interpreted for historical understanding. In the middle of an era of apocalyptic literature and beliefs, Paul was an apocalyptic preacher. Paul's "Jesus" is his "Enoch" or his "Isaiah".

Earl Doherty argues strongly that Paul did not believe in an earthly Jesus at all, and that the crucifixion described by Paul took place in the heavens. I don't think that the case needs to be made that strongly, nor does it matter if Paul thought of the crucifixion as having taken place on earth or not. The events in The Martyrdom of Isaiah are described as having taken place on earth, yet they are no more historical than the heavenly events in the The Book of Enoch. Paul defiantly thought of Jesus as real, the question is what did "real" mean to Paul?

The bigger point is that what Paul describes and believed-in is no different from the other apocalyptic stories of his time, whether they are set on earth or in heaven, as Paul's claims themselves seem to be set in both realms or are made in such vague ways that the distinction becomes almost meaningless or was left up to the believer. Even if aspects of Paul's story are earthy, they are not historical, i.e. they are not set in real history, they are just set in an abstract earthly realm.

2 Corinthians 12:
1 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.

"A man" in this case is Paul. Paul is making a claim about his own ascension to heaven some 14 years prior, which, if this letter was written around 52 CE as it is traditionally dated, means that he would be claiming that this happened around 38 CE. But did Paul really have these visions, or is he just making these claims up as part of an apocalyptic tradition to claim apostolistic authority? Either Paul really had visions and out of body experiences or he exaggerated or he presented these claims as theological devices. Regardless, this story, whether based on real visions or fabricated ones, is set in the realm multi-leveled heavens.

The issue of how Paul uses "visions" is important however. We absolutely know that during this time and place people used claims of visions as a means to tell stories, as a means to lend weight to what they were saying, as a means to claim authority, etc., but do we believe that when Zephaniah and others tell us of their visions that they really had literal visions, or do we understand this as a theological and literary device?

The Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible has the following note about 2 Corinthians 12.2:

12.2 Person, Paul himself, who in vv. 2-4 is describing one ecstatic experience. Third heaven, i.e., where Paradise is located. Heavenly journeys were a popular means of claiming divine authentication and were apparently used by Paul's opponents for this purpose.

So what exactly is Paul doing when he talks about "visions"? Is Paul talking about real hallucinations, is he talking about real dreams, is he talking about real things that he and others imagined, or are all of the visions that Paul talks about, applied to himself and others, just theological and literary devices used to establish authority? The same question can of course be asked of The Apocalypse of John, a.k.a. Revelation.

Revelation 1:
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

4 John,
To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7 Look, he is coming with the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.

8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."

9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

The Apocalypse of John of course builds on themes in The Book of Daniel and The Book of Enoch, as well as others. Are we to believe that the visions of John were literal visions? He really hallucinated all of these things, saw them before his very eyes? Very few scholars will support this position. Almost all scholars, aside from fundamentalists basically, agree that this John didn't literally "see" an angel or literally "see" any of the things that he talks about here, but rather he used the claim of visions in the same tradition of other similar works, as a theological and literary device.

Medieval image depicting the revelations of John and Paul

Why then, if it is easy for scholars to agree that the "visions" described in The Book of Daniel, The Book of Enoch, Revelation, and dozens of other apocalyptic writings of the time were nothing more than theological devices, do people insist on viewing Paul's "visions" as anything other than these exact same types of devices? The Apocalypse of John, like the letters of Paul, is also a letter of correspondence.

Galatians 1:
14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

Paul is again talking about visions and divine revelations here, presumably being called to Jesus when he was young, as this passage would indicate. I must note here that the story about Paul being converted by a vision on the road to Damascus comes from Acts of the Apostles, written by the author of Luke, probably in the early 2nd century, and there is nothing in any of Paul's letter to support this story. It is also notable that Paul says God's Son was revealed "in" him, though many translations change the "in" to "to", the Greek says "in".

Below we see Paul's account of the coming of Jesus at the end of the world.

1 Thessalonians 4:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever.

Not only is it more than apparent through all of Paul's writings that Jesus and God are two totally separate entities as we see here, i.e. that Jesus is not God, but here we see Paul describing a literal descent from a literal heaven above the clouds. All of this relates directly to the concepts in the other apocalyptic literature. In The Book of Enoch, for example, "the Son of man" is not God, God is separate from the savior, and that is also how Paul described Jesus. Paul, like the others of his time and place, described heaven as a real literal place above the clouds, with the coming of the savior described in the same way as it is described in earlier apocalyptic literature.

Galatians 3:
18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

19 What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.

21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

We note here that Paul is again talking about real angels as having played a real role in human history, and also that Paul says "faith" has come, not Jesus, and that "you", the people who have faith in Christ, then became the promised seed.

1 Corinthians 4:
9For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 10We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!

1 Corinthians 6:
1 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers!

1 Corinthians 12:
6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.

The importance of these passages is in establishing Paul's worldview. Here he says that women aught to cover their heads, "because of the angels." This refers to the types of ideas about angels that we find in The Book of Enoch, where angels are described as coming down and consorting with women. Paul imagines that after the coming of Christ people will sit in judgment of angels, presumably of the lower heavens. Paul certainly was immersed in the types of beliefs that we find in the apocalyptic stories of his time.

In Romans 8 we are told again of rulers and powers, similar to those in 1 Corinthians 2, as well as other apocalyptic writings:

Romans 8:
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
    ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here Paul lists out the potential things which might try to separate followers from Christ, and he lists out angels, rulers, and powers. This passage comes from the NRSV, but the NIV lists "neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers", with a footnote on the word demons reading "Or heavenly rulers". The "powers" here are agreed by everyone to be "heavenly" beings.

In 2 Corinthians 6 Paul refers to Beliar, the evil heavenly power also referred to in The Martyrdom of Isaiah and other Jewish mythology.

2 Corinthians 6:
14 Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? 15 What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God;

2 Thessalonians, which may not have been an authentic letter of Paul, gives us another look at Jesus and his angels:

2 Thessalonians 1:
5 All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

Once again we are immersed in the world of apocalyptic stories, with claims similar to those found in Apocalypse Of Zephaniah.

Pauline passages that establish the historical existence of Jesus?

Having seen that Paul wrote very much in the spirit of the other apocalyptic writers of his time and before, let us now tackle some of the passages which people have raised questions about, and which some people believe support Paul's view of Jesus as a historical person.

The first comes from 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul states that he and others have "seen" the resurrected Jesus:

1 Corinthians 15:
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

This is a highly cherished passage in the writings of Paul, precisely because of its rarity. This is one of the very few passages that seems to tie Jesus into history and solidly into the Gospel tradition, leading Christians to view it as evidence of a continuous line of knowledge of the resurrection, but there are several  problems with this view.

Firstly I will say that the authenticity of this passage is debated, though I will not state that it is inauthentic and move on. Nevertheless, Robert M. Price has put forward a case for interpolation in Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation. A major clue that at least parts of this passage are not original to Paul is that this is the only instance in all of the Pauline letters where the term "the Twelve" is used.

Having said that, however, assuming that the passage is authentic it still does not establish a historical view of Jesus, and I would argue that the passage actually undermines a "secular historical" view of Jesus, i.e. a view of Jesus as a mortal person.

Firstly, the passage says that Jesus died, was buried, and raised, "in accordance with the scriptures." The scriptures that are talked about here of course have nothing to do with the New Testament, those scriptures had not yet been written (unless this is a poor post-Gospel interpolation). What is being talked about here is old scriptures, and thus these events are being relayed on a scriptural basis: "These things happened because the scriptures say so."

The claimed appearances here are, once again, devices used to establish authority and authenticity. We know that Paul never saw a physical Jesus, yet here within this account of appearances we have Paul, whom Jesus appeared to just as he appeared to all the others. There is some confusion around the phrase "as to someone untimely born", but this is a means of Paul calling himself the least of the apostles, and it was a term used to describe a hideous person, relating more to birth defects, etc. It could perhaps also be read as "Last of all, as to a poor wretch, he appeared also to me." Paul often referred to himself in a self-demeaning manner.

We know that "Jesus' appearance" to Paul can't be describing a materially real event, yet Paul's vision, while last, is still of the same nature as all the others.

This is where we get into differences between arguments that are addressed to different notions of Jesus. If one takes the position that Jesus is the "Son of God", then the visions can be explained as literal events that these people really witnessed. All of these people, and somehow even Paul, "saw" the resurrected Jesus. To this we have to ask why the emphasis was put on the scriptures, why the "500 brothers" are not a part of later traditions, and how it is that Paul was a witness to this when as a literal event it contradicts his other statements about the nature of his knowledge of Jesus?

If one takes the position that Jesus was not really the Son of God, but was just a mortal person around whom legends developed, then this passage is even more problematic. If Jesus existed but didn't really rise from the dead, then how is this passage explained? If Paul and these others are talking about a real person, then why do we have stories about Jesus appearing to so many people so early in the tradition? What are these claims of Paul's if Jesus didn't really rise from the dead, just lies or misconceptions?

Again the "Jesus as myth" position gives a cleaner explanation of the passage, in which the nature of Jesus and the character of all of Jesus' "appearances" are consistent, both among each each other and among different events, such as Paul's trip "up to the third heaven". Paul's trip to heaven, the revelations of Jesus to Paul, the visions of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection (both to Paul and others), and the visions of others such as John, are all cut from the same cloth - they are all the exact same type of apocalyptic devices that are employed in stories such as The Book of Enoch and Apocalypse of Zephaniah, etc.

The thing about the apocalyptic writings is that they represented a type of truth as far as the writers were concerned. They weren't "lies" per se, it was just a means of a telling a "spiritually true" story, and that's all that Paul was doing in his letters as well. One of the problems with the idea that the story of Jesus Christ started with a man is explaining how you get from a mortal man who didn't really perform any miracles or rise from the dead to the writings of Paul a short time later in which there is little trace of a mortal Jesus, instead only a transcendent being whose attributes are divine and the firm conviction with which Paul and others held to those divine attributes.

I would argue that the writers of the pre-Christian apocalypses believed in the truth and reality of their stories just as much as Paul and other early Christians believed in theirs. There is no doubt that Paul believed very strongly in "Jesus Christ" and viewed Jesus as very real, but Paul also believed very strongly in the existence of angels, whom he also considered real, and a three level heaven above the clouds, and he spoke about these things with just as much fervor and conviction and "knowledge" as he did about Jesus. Why would we make a distinction between the angels that Paul talked about and Jesus? This would be like making a distinction between the angels in The Book of Enoch and Enoch himself, claiming that Enoch was literally real, but the angels were just symbolic or figurative.

We also do see in The Book of Enoch an example of a heavenly "death" and transformation, leading up to the revelation of the Son of man.

13 Then I fell upon my face, while all my flesh was dissolved, and my spirit became changed.
14 I cried out with a loud voice, with a powerful spirit, blessing, glorifying, and exalting.
15 And those blessings, which proceeded from my mouth, became acceptable in the presence of the Ancient of days.
16 The Ancient of days came with Michael and Gabriel, Raphael and Phanuel, with thousands of thousands, and myriads and myriads, which would not be numbered.
17 Then that angel came to me, and with his voice saluted me, saying, You are the Son of man, who art born for righteousness, and righteousness has rested upon you.
- The Book of Enoch, Chapter 70

The Jesus of Paul and pre-Gospel Christians is part of a cast of characters, and that cast of characters only includes God and the angels and other heavenly beings. Nothing from Paul or other early epistle writers sets Jesus among a cast of people, that only happens in the Gospels and later writings, where the apostles mentioned by Paul are turned into disciples of Jesus himself. The Jesus of Paul is an eternal heavenly being, who has always existed, and if he ever did come down to earth in Paul's mind he never put him in any earthly setting or related him to any other people or places.

1 Corinthians 10:
1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.


1 Corinthians 15:
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Here Paul says that Christ was with the Israelites as they fled from Egypt, and he states that the first Adam was from the earth and the last Adam, Christ, is from heaven. He is a man, but a man from heaven.

But there are still objections to all of this, still passages that are presumed to present trouble for this reading.

Chief among the passages of Paul that are believed to establish Paul's view of Jesus as a historical person is the passage that refers to James as "the Lord's brother" or "brother of the Lord".

Galatians 1:
11 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

This seems pretty cut a dry, Paul says that he met James, who was "the Lord's brother", and we know that Paul called Jesus "the Lord", so this must mean that Paul met the literal brother of Jesus, right? Not so fast.

Many people, including Earl Doherty and Arthur Drews, have pointed out that the term brother or brothers was regularly applied to apostles and members of the church in general and conclude that this is how it was being used here as well.

The 500 brothers mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15, as well as "brothers" mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9, are examples that are often cited to show Paul's use of brothers of the Lord in ways that clearly don't mean literal relatives.

1 Corinthians 9:
5 Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Peter?

Some people even try to argue that this mention of brothers in 1 Corinthians 9 means relatives, but this really wouldn't make sense, for why would literal brothers of Jesus even be a part of this issue, especially since in later accounts where literal brothers of Jesus are discussed they have nothing to do with him or his movement. Indeed Jesus' family is portrayed as being rejected by him in the Gospels.

There is also a similar usage of brothers in Philippians.

Philippians 1:
12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

The issues go well beyond this, however. Who is James and what role does James play? Paul goes on to tell us in Galatians that James is considered one of the pillars of the Christian community.

Galatians 2:
9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.

So, here we have James, Peter, and John, who are reputed in Paul's time to be the most important members of the movement. What other sources tell us about these key figures? What other sources would lead us to think that Jesus had a brother named James and that his brother is an important figure in the Christian community? Actually, none of the other early Christian sources would lead us to this conclusion, and indeed they all lead to a different conclusion.

There are only two Gospels that name the supposed brothers of Jesus, the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew, which simply copies from Mark. The Gospel of Mark only mentions literal brothers of Jesus one time, and then they disappear from the narrative.

Mark 6:
1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.

This is where the author of Mark introduces Jesus' family, and they are never mentioned again in the Gospel after that, not even his mother Mary. Indeed Jesus totally rejects his family in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark does make many mentions of an important James though, and that is James son of Zebedee, who is counted among the disciples of Jesus. In fact, James son of Zebedee is among the very first disciples that are introduced in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 1:
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.

19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

First we are introduced to Simon, who is renamed Peter, and then we have James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Throughout the Gospel of Mark and the other synoptic Gospels, Peter, James, and John are the most important disciples, who go everywhere with Jesus.

Mark 5:
36 Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe."

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." 40 But they laughed at him.

These are the three disciples that are with Jesus at the Transfiguration.

Mark 9:
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark also tells of discontent among the apostles towards James and his brother John.

Mark 10:
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask."

36 "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.

37 They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory."

38 "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?"

39 "We can," they answered. Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared."

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.

If we take the Gospel of Mark as an allegorical fiction, then of course none of these things really happened. Instead, this is most likely a setup by the author for the later event of the crucifixion, where the author places criminals at the left and right hand of Jesus. This is similar to the setup where Simon Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus proclaims that his followers should "take up their cross and follow me," while later in the story a stranger named Simon from Cyrene is the one who carries his cross.

Nevertheless, Peter, John, and James are presumably real people that were mentioned by Paul several times. The Gospel of Mark is built on some tradition, and may indeed be built on Pauline tradition, which would explain why the other apostles are poorly portrayed in the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Mark is a story with meaning that does reflect traditions and does talk about the real Christian community. Peter, James, and John probably were real people, who really went by those names, and who really were Christian apostles and community leaders. Much of what we are told about them in Christian sources, however, is probably just legend, but they probably were real people and this Gospel probably does reflect real relationships among the apostles.

It would not make sense for the writer of Mark to spend so much effort building up the character of James son of Zebedee if this person were not a pillar of the Christian community. In all of the synoptic Gospels, James, John, and Peter are the three main disciples, and Paul tells us that the three main people considered to be pillars of the Christian community during his time were James, John, and Peter as well, but Christian tradition holds that the James that Paul was talking about was the literal brother of Jesus. Given that the Gospels were all written after the works of Paul, and that the Gospels serve as a backdrop for the Christian movement, and that the Gospels establish the positions of the major Christian leaders, it would not make any sense for the Gospels to totally ignore James the literal brother of Jesus while playing up this other James son of Zebedee who is an apostle, if James the brother of Jesus is who became a leader of the Christian community.

There is much more to this case however. The Gospels make it clear that James son of Zebedee is the partner of Peter.

Luke 5:
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.

It is important to note that the author of the Gospel of Luke never names any siblings of Jesus. He mentions brothers of Jesus one time but the names of the brothers are omitted.

Luke 8:
19 Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you."

21 He replied, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."

In the Gospel of Luke the rejection of Jesus' family is absolute, the author doesn't even bother to name his siblings. The point is made clear that his mother and brothers do not hear or practice God's word.

The author of the Gospel of Luke is also the author of Acts of the Apostles, which supposedly describes what happened after Jesus died. In Acts of the Apostles it is absolutely clear that the James who is a prominent leader is not a literal brother of Jesus.

Parts of Acts are written in a first person style, but it is doubtful that the author of Acts was actually present for any of this. Acts was probably written some time between 90 and 130 CE, using a combination of the letters of Paul and other sources. The Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible has this to say about the authorship of Acts:

... The author remains anonymous, although he will be referred to as "Luke" in deference to tradition. From indications within the two volumes [Luke and Acts], it appears that Luke may be a gentile Christian who has received a good education and has made careful study of Jewish scriptures.

...The sections of Acts written in the first-person plural ("we") often prompt the suggestion that Luke had a journal (his own or that of one of Paul's companions), but the use of first-personal plural may simply be a stylistic device.

The parts of Acts that are written in the first-person plural may or may not actually be real first hand accounts, but what is certain is that the introduction of Acts is definitely not a first hand account, and the introduction of Acts is the only place that mentions literal "brothers" of Jesus. This is in a scene closely following the ascension of Jesus into heaven.

Let's look at this introduction and the mention of Jesus' brothers more closely:

Acts 1:
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 he was one of our number and shared in this ministry."

This part of Acts is either completely made up by the author or is the author's retelling of tradition, but this is not even a potential eyewitness account as it is not one of the sections that includes the "we" passages, which begin after the 12th chapter of Acts. The author lists the names of the apostles starting with those who are considered "pillars" of the Christian movement. The first three apostles he lists are Peter, John, and James. The James that he lists among the first three is the James who is considered a pillar. We see these same names listed by Paul in Galatians.

Galatians 2:
9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.

After the author of Acts lists the apostles, he then says that they joined Mary and the brothers of Jesus. Mary and the brothers are clearly a different group of people, whom the apostles are said to have joined with. This is the one and only mention of literal brothers of Jesus in Acts, and between both the Gospel of Luke and Acts the author never provides any names for any of the supposed brothers of Jesus. A "James brother of Jesus" is never introduced. However, things do get tricky in Acts of the Apostles. It is also important to note that there was a second James listed among the apostles as well, James son of Alphaeus.

In Acts of the Apostles the travels of Paul are discussed as well as the actions of Peter, James, and the other supposed apostles. The term "the brothers" is used several times to talk about some group of people, which seems to include James. However, in Acts 12 the text says that James son of Zebedee was killed, and this is where much confusion starts.

Acts 1:
In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 he was one of our number and shared in this ministry."

Acts 10:
23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself."

Acts 12:
1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

Acts 12:
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. "Tell James and the brothers about this," he said, and then he left for another place.

Acts 15:
12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

Acts 21:
15 After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.

17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.

20When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.

We can see here several instances of the use of "the brothers," as well as the references to James and a discussion of Paul meeting James in Jerusalem in Acts 21. Nowhere in Acts does the author state that any James is a brother of Jesus, and in the passage that describes Paul's meeting with James, the author says that Paul met with the brothers, though clearly not literal brothers of Jesus.

We have two problems here though. First of all, James son of Zebedee was supposedly killed in Acts 12, and second of all, this isn't the first mention of Paul meeting the apostles in Jerusalem in the book of Acts. The first mention in Acts of Paul (also called Saul) meeting the apostles occurs in Acts 9.

Acts 9:
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.

Though there are elements of the story in Acts that don't correspond to the writings of Paul, the basic timing works out. The first meeting between Paul and the apostles occurs in Acts before the supposed death of James son of Zebedee, and this presumably corresponds to Paul's first meeting with Peter and James in Galatians 1. The details of these accounts are different, but the basic timing can be viewed as compatible.

Galatians 1:
15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother. 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, 'The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.' 24 And they glorified God because of me.

Galatians 2:
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.
9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.

From Paul's letters it shows that he met with Peter and James at some early point, and then he went back to Jerusalem 14 years later and met with the apostles again. Nowhere in Paul's letters does Paul indicate that the James he met the first time is different from the James that he met the second time, and at any rate, he mentions that the apostle James was "the Lord's brother" when discussing the first meeting. Paul also never says anything about James dying. Acts says that Paul first met the disciples in Damascus, which contradicts what the letters of Paul say. It's certain that Acts is not totally accurate, and that the author of Acts made a few things up or based some story elements on traditions that were made up. The book of Acts is where the Gospel story was merged with the apostolistic reality, and as can be expected when blending fact with fiction, inconsistencies arose. This is all the more interesting in Acts because there is a clear differentiation between Acts 1-12 and the later chapters, which contain a more historical story line.

We know one thing for sure though, which is that as far as the author of Acts was concerned, "James" was not a literal brother of Jesus, because a brother of Jesus named James is never mentioned by the author of Acts in either of his works. He wouldn't just introduce an unknown character out of the blue that is supposed to be the real life brother of Jesus without even stating that the person was the brother of Jesus. In Christian tradition, and in most Bibles that have footnotes, the mentions of James after the supposed killing of James son of Zebedee are referenced as the brother of Jesus via footnotes that tie this James to the passage from Paul in Galatians that says "the Lord's brother". Clearly, though, this is not legitimate as nothing within Acts itself makes this association. So, what are the possible answers to who this James is?

There are several possibilities. The first possibility is that the James mentioned after the supposed death of James son of Zebedee is James son of Alphaeus who was also listed as an apostle who was among them during this incident. This would mean that Paul possibly met with James son of Zebedee in Galatians 1 and James son of Alphaeus in Galatians 2.

The second possibility is that the author of Acts somehow got his sources confused and he accidentally recorded the killing of the wrong James, or he put this incident at the wrong place in the time line and in fact Peter and James were not put in prison until later. This could be the case, in which case the killing of "James" in other accounts, such as the accounts of Hegesippus and Josephus, which we looked at in Part I, could be describing the same incident that is described in Acts 12, though Acts 12 is out of order.

This is not unlikely actually, because Acts is considered to exist in two distinct parts, chapters 1 through 12 and chapters 13-28, which are thought to be derived from two different sources that were combined together. In fact there could be overlap with these sections, and thus what is described in Acts 21 could actually have occurred at the same time as what is in Acts 9. These could well be two different descriptions, from two different sources, of the same events, in which case both of the meetings of Paul with James as described in Acts would be talking about James son of Zebedee, and the killing of James son of Zebedee in Acts 12 would likely have occurred in the 60s CE.

If that is the case then the other mentions of the the killing of James, possibly by Josephus and Hegesippus, are really talking about the killing of James son of Zebedee, who was called "James the Just" and "the brother of the Lord". James son of Zebedee would perhaps have had those titles because he was some outstanding community leader.

A third option is that Acts 12:2 is a later interpolation, inserted into the text in order to blot James son of Zebedee out of the history.

In both the writings of Paul and in the Gospels conflict between James son of Zebedee and the others is shown. There was some kind of tension between the brothers of Zebedee and the rest of the apostles. It appears, according to the writings of Paul, that James and John Zebedee held to a more Jewish version of the faith and did not embrace the Gentile apostleship.

In the 1st century, however, James son of Zebedee was considered a pillar of the Christian community, but perhaps later Christians sought to exclude him from the tradition and sever ties to his sect.

There is support for Acts 12:2 being an interpolation within the text itself, because there is no discussion of the death of James, and the narrative goes on as if nothing happened. Indeed if you take that one sentence out no one would ever suspect that the James being talked about in later chapters was no longer James son of Zebedee.

If this James really were killed at this point in the Acts narrative, and this narrative were true, then there would have been no reason for the Gospels to have played up the role of James son of Zebedee in the first place. The playing up of his role in the Gospels was presumably done because of this person's later leadership. This was a means of establishing who the leaders were, by tying them into important roles in the narrative. So much effort was put into establishing the trio of Peter, James, and John in the Gospels, while the brothers of Jesus had one line written about them in each Gospel, which only stated that Jesus rejected them, yet we are to then believe that the James mentioned among the Peter, James, and John of later importance refers to a different James than the one referred to in the Gospels and Acts? This clearly makes no sense.

There is even further support for the idea that James the pillar whom Paul met was not a literal brother of Jesus and was perhaps James son of Zebedee.

One of the few other early mentions of James comes from the Gospel of Thomas, which does not mention any literal brothers of Jesus, nor does it ascribe a brotherly status to James.

12 The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?"

Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."
- Gospel of Thomas

This seems like an odd thing to have Jesus say if "James the Just" is the brother of Jesus, as this would have been the perfect place to have Jesus say "Turn to my brother James the Just," etc. Not only would it be odd not to call James his brother here, but it's also odd to give the reason, "for whose sake heaven and earth came into being." This is quite a strange thing to say in any account, ascribing the entire creation of the universe to the grandeur of this one man.

This leads to other questions. In the synoptic Gospels we have James son of Zebedee, along with his brother John, portrayed as one the the three most important disciples and the one perhaps closest to Jesus. In the Gospel of Thomas we have Jesus saying that "James the Just" is the one "for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."

What, then, do we have in the Gospel of John? In the Gospel of John, James and John son of Zebedee are never named, but we do have an unnamed "beloved disciple". Who is the beloved disciple, and why does he remain unnamed? This question has puzzled scholars for centuries, but the answer may well be that James son of Zebedee is the "beloved disciple" in the Gospel of John precisely because by the time that the Gospel of John was written James son of Zebedee had become a pariah, thus he was not mentioned by name. His sect, by that time, may have been rejected by those who viewed the Jesus Christ movement as a Gentile movement, while James' sect had been a more Jewish oriented group.

Traditionally John son of Zebedee has been considered the "beloved disciple" and author of the Gospel of John, but scholars today recognize that this is not not likely to be the case. But why would this Gospel have been ascribed to John in the first place? One of the main reasons is that neither John nor James, two people considered to be the most important apostles, are mentioned in the Gospel of John. How could one explain the fact that two of the most important apostles aren't in the last Gospel? The explanation that gained favor was that this Gospel was written by John son of Zebedee himself, which is why he never mentioned himself, supposedly out of humility.

This is all highly unlikely however. The more reasonable explanation is that James and John Zebedee were not mentioned because they were out of favor at that time in the community in which this Gospel was written.

However, with the beloved disciple the author of John may have been stating that there was someone who played an important role in the early church, who was viewed by the early community as one of the greatest apostles, but this person was now anathema, the one "whose name we dare not speak", James son of Zebedee.

Let's look at the Gospel of John to get a better understanding of the "beloved disciple".

John 13:
22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, "Ask him which one he means."

25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?"

John 19:
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," 27 and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

These are the only clear references to the beloved disciple in what is believed to be the original text. There is another reference to "the disciple whom Jesus loved" in John 21, but John 21 was probably added to the text later by a different author, and thus may not clearly play into the same theme.

John 21:
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"

"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"

He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

17 The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

18 Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"

22 Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?"

The addition of John 21 was probably done in order to establish Peter as the rightful leader of the Christian community and to tie the Church to the traditions in his name. It's not clear that the later author had the same intentions as the earlier author with the usage of the the beloved disciple. Since John son of Zebedee has traditionally been identified as the beloved disciple, hence the reason that this is called the Gospel of John, it is likely that the author who added John 21 believed that the beloved disciple was John himself.

However, the unnamed disciple in the Gospel of John would seem to be James son of Zebedee, as James was the one given prominence in the synoptics and the one who is named as the most important in the Gospel of Thomas. All of this comes together not only to make perfect sense, but to explain many things that are unexplainable via the traditional Christian interpretation.

Peter, James and John sons of Zebedee were clearly the central apostles in the early Christian movement. Later on, as the Peterine and Pauline sects broke away and became dominant, James and his Jewish sect became anathema, and this would be why, by the time the Gospel of John was being written, the names of James and John were not mentioned, instead James was called "the disciple whom Jesus loved" to indicate that this was talking about an important person who nevertheless was to remain unnamed.

Additional support for this comes from the so-called Gospel of the Hebrews, which is no longer extant, but which we know of from several early Christian writers that commented on it. This so-called Gospel was written in Hebrew. We do not know everything that this writing said or when it was written, but we know it was probably written in the late 1st century or early 2nd century. The first people who comment on it are 2nd century writers. In this Gospel the disciple James is featured as the most important disciple of Jesus, and this James is called by the title "James the Just".

The Gospel called according to the Hebrews which was recently translated by me into Greek and Latin, which Origen frequently uses, records after the resurrection of the Savior:

And when the Lord had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, he went to James and appeared to him. For James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he had drunk the cup of the Lord until he should see him risen from among them that sleep. And shortly thereafter the Lord said: Bring a table and bread! And immediately it added: he took the bread, blessed it and brake it and gave it to James the Just and said to him: My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of man is risen from among them that sleep.
- Jerome; On Illustrious Men, 4th century

This quotation comes from the 4th century Catholic theologian Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate. Jerome believed that "James the Just" was a cousin of Jesus, not his brother, presumably because later Catholic doctrine denied that Jesus had brothers.

All of the Gospels say that the only people at the Last Supper were the disciples, there was no one else there. In addition, other quotes from the Gospel of the Hebrews show that the term brother was employed in the mouth of Jesus to mean companions, not real brothers.

As we have read in the Hebrew Gospel, the Lord says to his disciples:

And never be ye joyful, save when ye behold your brother with love.
- Jerome, Commentary on Ephesians, 4th century

This is obviously an instance from the same text where brother is used to refer to a companion, not a relative. The usage of brother in passage about James the Just can be read in this manner as well, and indeed this makes more sense.

None of the Gospels or early traditions say that any brothers of Jesus were at the Last Supper, they all say that only the disciples were there. That this James was said to have been at the Last Supper indicates that this James was being called a disciple, and thus the James mentioned in the Hebrew Gospel must be one of the two James' who were said to be disciples, almost certainly James son of Zebedee, as he was portrayed as by far the more important of the two James'.

This is one more indication that James son of Zebedee was a real person who was a leader of a Jewish oriented sect of Christ worshipers, who in later Jewish-Christian tradition was being portrayed in important roles in relation to Jesus. This also tells us of a tradition where Jesus appeared to James the Just after his supposed resurrection, similar to the potentially interpolated passage in 1 Corinthians 15.

This is another example of the politics that were taking place among early Gospel writers. In this presumably Jewish oriented Gospel, James is the star of the story. In the Gospel of John, a late Gentile oriented Gospel, Peter is the star of the Gospel. The author of Mark appears to have been opposed to all the apostles, and was perhaps of a Pauline sect. The writers of these Gospels use placement of key figures in their narratives as a way to portray them as more or less favored than others, in attempts to portray them as the rightful heirs of the movement.

What is most important about this Hebrew Gospel, however, is that it is one of the most clear identifications of "James the Just". All of the early comments that we have about "James", "James the Just", "James, the Lord's Brother", etc., are vague and don't specify exactly who is being talked about, and this indeed is a large part of the problem. In this one case, however, the James being called "James the Just" is also said, indirectly, to have been present at "the Last Supper". This clearly indicates that whoever wrote this Gospel is associating "James the Just" with one of the core "disciples", and among these so-called disciples "James son of Zebedee" is the one that makes the most sense for this to be talking about.

This Hebrew Gospel is believed to have also been written after the destruction of Judea, and may in some way be associated with the Gospel of Matthew, though what is known of it is largely different from Matthew. Whoever wrote this Gospel was, like everyone else, writing a story, probably based, either directly or indirectly, on the Gospel of Mark, and was weaving a narrative that put the figures they favored in positive positions within the story. It is not that any of these Gospels are true, it is that certain traditions became established, and certain narrative elements. One of those narrative elements was that only the so-called disciples were with Jesus during the Last Supper. Obviously, if Jesus never existed then no one was there and there was no Last Supper, but this deals with who was said to be there, and no one aside from the disciples was put in this setting in any of the narratives, therefore this makes it clear that the person this author was calling "James the Just" was not a literal brother of Jesus, he was almost certainly "James son of Zebedee".

This not only supports the view that "James the Just" was probably "James son of Zebedee", but also demonstrates that some factions of Christians were trying to elevate the status of James by associating him with impotent roles in Gospel narratives. It is apparent that political maneuvering was taking place.

Later, in the second century, the rewriting of history took place and James son of Zebedee was replaced in the Christian tradition with a fictitious "James brother of Jesus", not necessarily intentionally by all those involved, but perhaps unintentionally out of real ignorance and confusion over the term "the Lord's brother" by later Christians.

If this is the case, then the reason that Paul called James "the Lord's brother" in Galatians is because James was seen as such a major pillar of the community, whom people called a "brother of the Lord", which was a title similar to "the Just". Paul's "the Lord's brother" was just a version of "James the Just", as mentioned in the Gospel of Thomas, both of which were talking about James son of Zebedee. This would also why the author of the Gospel of John put Mary at the crucifixion scene and had Jesus say to Mary in John 19:26-27 that this disciple was now "her son".

This would be the author of John's way of saying that this is the apostle who was called "the Lord's brother", a.k.a. "James the Just", a.k.a. James son of Zebedee, a real person and the real leader of the early Judean church. Indeed the 2nd century Christian scholar Origen alluded to as much himself.

Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine
- Against Celsus; Origen

So, the answer to the issue of whether or not Paul met a literal brother of Jesus, which would tie Jesus into history, is no, Paul did not meet a literal brother of Jesus, he most likely met James son of Zebedee, who was a pillar of the Jewish sect of Christ worshipers. This James was only later considered to be a literal brother of Jesus. It was probably the early Christian chronicler Hegesippus, in the late 2nd century, who recorded the first concrete association of James the Just as the literal brother of Jesus, helping to cement this view into Church tradition.

James, the Lord's brother, succeeds to the government of the Church, in conjunction with the apostles. He has been universally called the Just, from the days of the Lord down to the present time. For many bore the name of James; but this one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank no wine or other intoxicating liquor, nor did he eat flesh; no razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, nor make use of the bath. He alone was permitted to enter the holy place: for he did not wear any woolen garment, but fine linen only. ... Therefore, in consequence of his pre-eminent justice, he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies in Greek Defense of the People, and Justice, in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.
- Commentaries on the Acts of the Church; Hegesippus, 165-175

When Hegesippus says "the Lord's brother" here he is taking this from tradition, but here it is clearly meant as the "literal brother of Jesus", and by this time he himself probably really believed that was who this James was. From the 3rd century on it was assumed that the James who was an early church leader was a literal "brother of the Lord".

In further support of this there is also the Epistle of James, which is traditionally associated with "James the Just", supposedly the literal brother of Jesus, but the letter itself does not say that the author is a brother of Jesus.

James 1:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

Why would this greeting not say "James, a brother of the Lord Jesus Christ," if this person was indeed his brother? Nothing in the letter indicates that this James is a brother of Jesus. It's hardly believable that a literal brother of Jesus would not indicate such in a letter authored by him, or that if this letter is pseudonomous the person writing in the name of James, presumably to lend authority to the writing, would not have indicated that James was the brother of Jesus if James being the brother of Jesus was indeed a part of the tradition at that time.

So, against the claim that the James Paul described meeting in Galatians 1 was a literal brother of Jesus, we have the fact that none of the other early Christian writings indicate that the important figure who was called James was a brother of Jesus, nor do any brothers of Jesus play important roles in any of the Gospels. Even if the "beloved disciple" is not James son of Zebedee, it is clear that the author of Acts did not consider any James that he talked about to be a family member of Jesus. While Acts is a flawed and legendary writing, it is inconceivable that something so substantial would be overlooked by the author. The whole point of Acts was to clarify the authority of the major apostles and community leaders. That the author of Acts would have left out the fact that one of the community leaders was a literal brother of Jesus simply makes no sense. If the author of Acts believed that any of the "Jameses" that he mentioned were literal brothers of Jesus, then he would have stated so in his writing, so it is clear that even by the time Acts was written the belief that James was a family member of Jesus was not yet established. Regardless of who the second James in Acts was, it clearly wasn't "the brother of Jesus".

Unless all of the writers between Paul and the late 2nd century, those being the the writers of the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles, didn't realize or simply forgot that James was a literal brother of Jesus, then it's clear that the James who was an important apostle and played an important role in the community was not a literal brother of Jesus, and thus Paul did not describe meeting a literal brother of Jesus in Galatians 1:19.

Another statement that is cited by those seeking to refute Doherty's claim that Paul viewed Jesus as a purely heavenly being is a passage from Galatians 4 which states that,  "God sent his Son, born of a woman". First of all I don't think it's particularly important whether or not Paul viewed Jesus as purely heavenly or not, but secondly this is by no means a literal statement by Paul, as he is in the middle of allegorical statements which he himself says are allegorical, and thirdly this is part of a special pleading to a group of people who clearly have had problems with Paul's teachings and he is trying to appeal to them on a new and different level that he feels is more acceptable to them.

First let's look at the passage in question.

Galatians 3:
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 4:
1 My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; 2 but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. 3 So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir of God through Christ.

8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. 9 Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? 10 You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. 11 I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.

12 Brothers, I beg you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong. 13 You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; 14 though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What has become of the goodwill you felt? For I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them. 18 It is good to be made much of for a good purpose at all times, and not only when I am present with you. 19 My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

21 Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. 23 One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. 24 Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

"Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children,
burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs;
for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous
than the children of the one who is married."
28 Now you, my brothers, are children of the promise, like Isaac. 29 But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. 30 But what does the scripture say? "Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman." 31 So then, brothers, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman.

Here Paul is writing to a group of Greeks whom he had previously visited and preached to. This group of people was apparently continuing to celebrate old rites and were falling away from Paul's teachings and were no longer believing in Jesus Christ, as Paul discussed in an earlier section in Galatians 3. Paul then stated that there are no longer distinctions between Jews and Greeks, and that thus the Jewish god's promise to Abraham now applied to everyone.

Then Paul goes on to tell an allegorical story about two women who give birth to children, and Paul says that these women represent covenants, and the woman of the promise, "corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother." The woman that Paul is talking about is an allegorical woman, not a real woman, and in fact this passage provides further evidence that Paul's Jesus was not a historical person. Paul says that the Son of God was born under the law, but the law is in heaven, he is talking about the heavenly covenant.

If Paul were talking about a real woman here, and Jesus' earthly birth, then why does he give no details about the matter? Why not say that he was born to Mary or that he was born in Bethlehem, or anything else? He clearly isn't giving a historical account of anything, but his lack of detail, here and throughout his writings, works against the claim that Paul had knowledge of a historical Jesus. Furthermore, if Paul is describing Jesus' birth in an allegorical way, corresponding to "the Jerusalem above", this only further undermines the notion that Paul could have viewed Jesus as having been born on earth.

In addition to all this, with all of Paul's discussion of the law in Galatians 3 he never once says "Jesus said..." or "Jesus made it known that..." or "Jesus abolished the law....", etc., Paul goes into theological discussions based on the scriptures about law and faith and covenants, developing his own explanation for why the law had been abolished. This is one of many examples where we would expect Paul to have used the teachings of Jesus to make his point if there had been a Jesus who had teachings to cite. Paul doesn't do this however; in all of Paul's discussion about the law and faith and salvation and covenants, etc., he never presents words of Jesus or presents Jesus as the person who made these things known, instead Christ plays a cosmological role in a heavenly drama that brings about salvation through faith, as relayed through scriptural allegories and revelations.

As discussed in the original article, both the authentic letters of Paul and the pseudo-Pauline letters contain many statements, dozens of them, that run counter to the notion of a historical Jesus, statements which make no sense at all if Jesus had just been on earth. In addition to this the letters of Paul are silent on any details that could tie Jesus into history. The one and only statement that could debatably tie Jesus to a person is the passage from Galatians 1:19 about "the Lord's brother", and this passage has been thoroughly address here. Against this one statement we have dozens of contradictory statements and a strikingly large silence on other historical facts, such as who Jesus' parents were, where he was born, when he was born, who killed him, where he was killed, when he was killed, or even teachings and deeds of his. Paul says nothing about any miracles of Jesus, no healing stories, no turning of water into wine, no walking on water, no empty tomb, etc., etc.

What we have from Paul and the other early epistle writers is a heavenly Jesus, whose attributes are no different from the Son of man mentioned in The Book of Enoch or other such apocalyptic Jewish stories.

The Gospel of Mark as Allegory

In addition to the questions about Paul's view of Jesus, I also received question's about the Gospel of Mark being written as an allegory. The question, basically, is that if Mark is an allegory, then what is it an allegory about and what do the various characters and story elements represent. I will admit that I can't explain the allegorical meaning of every detail of the story, but I think that enough can be explained to show that the story makes more sense as an intended allegory than an intended history.

First it has to be recognized that the Jewish scriptures are filled with stories of rebirth, starting over, entering into new periods, etc. This is seen with the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the Flood of Noah, The Exodus story, and, of course, with the story of Jesus.

Jesus is the new Moses, the twelve apostles are the twelve tries of Israel, whom Jesus tries to prove himself to but they never get it, Pontius Pilate represents "the Nations", i.e. all of the non-Jews, and the women who flee Jesus' empty tomb at the original ending of Mark represent the Jews who have lost faith.

I was asked to interpret various scenes from Mark as non-historical, and out of those I chose to interpret the exorcism of Legion, from Mark 5, which I will present here:

Mark 5:
1 They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ 8 For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ 9 Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ 10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12 and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us enter them.’ 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.

14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

The allegorical reading of this is pretty straight forward. "Legion", as the character himself says, represents the many "unclean" Jews who have become corrupted by the culture and are unhappy because of it. They are trapped in their rage. Basically you can see this as similar to representations of modern urban youth or drugged up hippies in the 60s, etc. "We are many", who are lost and unhappy with our condition.

The demons begged "send us among the pigs," i.e. the pigs are filthy animals and the demons are after all unclean spirits. That the demons wanted to go into unclean animals shows how unclean Legion (the lost people of Israel) was, he was "less clean" than the pigs.

The people, of course, reject Jesus, and I pointed out in the original article, this is a point in the case building against them.

Jesus does not let the man go with him, instead telling the man to tell others about his experience. This is a call to evangelism by the author.

This is one of many examples of how the Gospel of Mark makes much more sense as allegory than it does as history, and in ways that make it apparent that the author himself intended the story as allegory. How anyone could honestly say that this passage should be treated as history rather than allegory I am not sure, but the whole of the Gospel of Mark is like this. The author of Luke attempted to transform the allegorical Mark into history, for the author of Luke was, in his mind, writing history and probably interpreted Mark itself as history.

See also the more recent article on this subject:

The Gospel of Mark as Reaction and Allegory

It's a fact that the story of Jesus is based on myth

Whether one wants to believe in the existence of some real person within the story of Jesus or not, it really cannot be said that the story of Jesus is not based on mythology, i.e. that mythology is at the core of the story. That mythology is Jewish mythology, but mythology nonetheless. During the last few hundred years liberal Christians and secular historians have increasingly dismissed the obviously mythical elements of the Jesus story, viewing them as secondary to some real historical figure. These Christians and historians have often dismissed things such as the claims of the coming end of the world, the many miracles of Jesus, and the resurrection. The problem, however, is that these are the real story elements around which the rest of the story is built. These are the central elements. This is the core of the story.

Modern Christians have also adopted the view that people will "go to heaven" now after they die, but nowhere in the New Testament is this supported at all, in fact the opposite is the case. In all of the New Testament writings the people who are saved by Jesus will go to heaven after the coming (or second coming) of Jesus, i.e. the end of the world. In all of the New Testament, aside basically from 2 Peter, the latest book of the Bible, claims of the imminent end of the world are central to the whole story. No one goes to heaven in the New Testament except Jesus, the angels, and the souls of the people from before the flood, everyone else in trapped in the earth or Hades and waiting for the end of the world, upon which time those who believed in Jesus will be resurrected and taken into the New Jerusalem. So, modern Christianity has really completely warped the entire religion and doesn't even pay attention to the scriptures. A part of this warping is the historization of Jesus and the dismissal of the obviously mythical origins of the whole story.

Even if there were some human Jesus within the Jesus story, that human Jesus is not the core, nor do we have any evidence of his existence, nor is there any need for his existence to explain the development of the religion, and indeed the early stages of the story defy his existence.

The core of the Jesus story is the Son of man, who has been hidden from the beginning of time, who will be revealed when the end of the ages is near, and who will serve as the judge of men and angels when the earth is destroyed and the New Jerusalem of heaven comes as the place of inhabitance for the righteous men of all nations where death will be abolished and the righteous live with the Son of man for ever and ever. That is who Christ is and that is who Jesus is, and that figure is a purely mythical character that existed long before the emergence of the specific story of Jesus, whose story is not fundamentally different from a dozen or so other stories from the same time and place, other than the specific name of the savior and the method of his death.

Why was the mode of death crucifixion in the early Jesus story? Because this was the mode of death suffered by the people under the occupation of Rome from which they sought deliverance (He is suffering what we are suffering in order to take our suffering away).

Why was the name Jesus used? Possibly because Yeshua son of Nun was the name of the supposed successor of Moses, about whom popular stories were still being written. Possibly this was related to the widely circulating publication of Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, though we know about the the life of this Jesus and it has nothing in common with the Jesus story other than him being considered a wise person. Possibly because of the meaning of the name, which means "Yahweh saves". Or, possibly because the name Jesus was one of the most common names and thus "Jesus Christ" was seen as an "Everyman" name, like G.I. Joe or John Doe, i.e. "Joe Messiah". Jesus was, after all, supposed to be taking on the sins of "every man".

Every act and saying of the Jesus character has precedents in the Hebrew scriptures and non-scriptural writings, either directly or indirectly. This fact is indeed at the core of traditional and conservative Christian belief, yet this very obvious fact is somehow ignored by liberal Christians and secular historians.

Daniel 7:
13 As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven.

Mark 13:
26 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

To shy away from the obvious roots of the Jesus myth within Jewish mythology is to deny that the ancient Jews had mythology. To deny that mythology is at the core of the Jesus story is to deny the obvious fact that most of the Jesus story existed long before the supposed time of Jesus. To claim that in spite of the preceding mythology the Jesus story may still "be true" or be "based on reality" is to claim that the preceding mythology is not mythology, but in fact literally true and real prophesy.

What we have here is a case where the two best explanations for the Jesus story are the traditional Christian explanation, (that Jesus was the Son of God, did all of the things the scriptures claim him to have done, and that his entire existence was prophesied and his life was an on-going fulfillment of prophecies) and the explanation that the story of Jesus is mythology based on prior scriptures and apocalyptic stories that were popular in the region at the time and certainly believed by people as true.

The explanation that actually makes the least sense is the idea that the story of Jesus is based on some mortal person, for which there is no evidence, and the details of whose life we cannot discern for the fact that every detail of the life of Jesus comes from prior scriptures and stories.

The story fits perfectly into the Jewish mythology of the time and place and the only real defense of this story as being based on reality is the claim that, in this case, the pages of the story books really did come to life.

I think that much of the discussion about "pagan" parallels to the Jesus story has mostly served to distract from the real mythological roots of the story and to discredit a field that contains many legitimate observations and explanations.

The core problem for the Jesus story is this:

  1. If Jesus was the Son of God and the Biblical accounts are accurate, then why is Jesus so glaringly absent from the other historical accounts of the time?
  2. If Jesus wasn't the Son of God but rather just a person, then how did nothing more than a "marginal Jew" become elevated to the status of God so shortly after his death and earthly burial?

That Jesus began as the mythical Son of God in the first place solves both of these problems and is more in line with both the facts and the traditional Christian story.

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