The Man Who Wasn't There 

The Thesis Tacitus
Celsus Suetonius
Mara Bar-Serapion Euhemerus
Talmud Atoms and the Void
Gospel of Thomas Osiris et al
Mutual Annihilation Embarrassment
Jesus Denial Today Little Gods
Adequate Explanation Zeitgeist, the Movie

The Thesis

The internet has seen the popular revival of the old Enlightenment idea that Jesus never existed:

  • “I defined it.
  • “Yeah, but you defined it with other nonsense terms. When you say that God took away, or Christ through his dying on the cross took away your sins, this is ridiculous.
  • “Why?
  • “You weren't even in existence then.
  •  “Because you don't believe it?
  • “No. You weren't in existence then and Christ isn't a historic person. And the whole thing is just. . .
  • “Mrs. Murray, Mrs. Murray. The statement you just made, Christ is not an historic person, is a very interesting one. Would you care to document for us the proof of the non-existence of Jesus Christ?
  • “I don't have to document it. Oh, come on. Nobody ever proves a negative, and you know this, so I don't have to. . .”
  • “Wait a moment, wait a moment, wait a moment. . .
  • “You dreamed him up. You prove that he existed.
  • “Wait a moment, wait a moment, wait a moment, wait a moment. If you're going to say that Jesus Christ never existed, if you're going to say this, then you're going to have to answer to people who agree with your position who affirm vigorously the historical evidence that he did exist.
  • “There is no historical evidence of Christ and you know it. Now don't be asinine and use terms. . .
  • “There isn't any historical evidence.
  • “There is no historical evidence. The only evidence that there is is in the mythology of the Old Testament, which nobody can understand. And in which a person is described in one manner in one chapter and another manner in another chapter. Christ is probably the most mixed-up person in the world if you take a New Testament definition.
  • “Do you believe in the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth?
  • “No. It isn't a matter of believing or disbelieving.
  • “Can I ask you a question?
  • “It is a matter of fact that there is no historical, archaeological, cultural or sociological evidence, and no proof whatever that he ever existed.
  • “Please, please, can I ask you a question. What would you consider evidence of his existence? As a lawyer, what would you consider evidence?
  • “It doesn't matter what I would consider as evidence.
  • “I'm trying to communicate with you.
  • “No, no. No, no, the thing is, what is there. And then you take an analysis of what is there. Now the Romans were very fine historians. They really were. They kept a beautiful set of records in their Senate. If there ever had been a trial of Jesus Christ under Pontius Pilate it would most probably be in their records. There is nothing. There is absolutely no historic proof. There's an interpolation in Josephus.”
  • (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, 1968 radio debate with Walter Martin, 45:49-47:46).

Optimism End Game
School Prayer Problem of Evil
Atoms and the Void Thomas Jefferson
Workers' Paradise Colonel Robert Ingersoll
A Loving God Deity of the Sick
Hobgoblin of Little Minds Old Testament
Adolf Hitler Science and Religion


This is par for the course. The reader is encouraged to imagine that we possess a complete copy of the Roman governing archive. We don't, of course. The imagined conspicuous absence of any mention of Jesus of Nazareth from that governing archive is offered as proof that Jesus did not exist. The only thing imaginary here is the evidence offered to disprove Jesus' existence.

This spritely atheist logic calls to mind that old poem,

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today;
I wish, I wish, he'd go away!

There is more evidence for the historic existence of Jesus than of anyone else who lived in antiquity: four gospels, the book of Acts, Paul's letters, the remainder of the New Testament, an entire volume, all testify to His existence, His travels about Palestine, and His death upon a Roman cross. Yet somehow this very plethora of evidence is transmuted into evidence of non-existence: because it is 'mythology,' if you please, inasmuch as these records describe Him as healing the sick and raising the dead. But the pagan emperor Vespasian is also mentioned as having worked wonders, and when has his existence been questioned? :

"Vespasian, the new emperor, having been raised unexpectedly from a low estate, wanted something which might clothe him with divine majesty and authority. This, likewise, was now added. A poor man who was blind, and another who was lame, came both together before him, when he was seated on the tribunal, imploring him to heal them, and saying that they were admonished in a dream by the god Serapis to seek his aid, who assured them that he would restore sight to the one by anointing his eyes with his spittle, and give strength to the leg of the other, if he vouchsafed but to touch it with his heel. At first he could scarcely believe that the thing would any how succeed, and therefore hesitated to venture on making the experiment. At length, however, by the advice of his friends, he made the attempt publicly, in the presence of the assembled multitudes, and it was crowned with success in both cases." (Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Vespasian).

Certainly those who rule out the possibility of such events may well deny the historicity of these stories. But then this first denial, against the facticity of certain stories told about an undoubtedly historic personage, begins to rotate upon itself, develops an eye and swells up to the point of denying this individual ever even lived. If Vespasian never even lived, would this not make the several accounts of his life a great mystery? Who wrote these accounts and why? Why were so many people eager to invent stories about a man named 'Vespasian,' who wasn't there? The Vespasian-deniers aren't solving any difficulties by denying the man's historicity, only spawning new ones.

Nevertheless it is a very common theme with these believers that the gospels must be discarded because they contain miracle stories. The atheists drawn to the 'Jesus-didn't-exist' paradigm respond to the presence of supernatural elements and incidents within a story, not by disputing those points, but rather by denying the whole thing:

There is no special reason to hold the New Testament under a cloud of suspicion, as if it were presumed guilty until proven innocent. But even if this blind hostility to the New Testament drives us to seek out witnesses outside the fold, then neutral and hostile witnesses also make mention of the Lord's career.



The Romans were indeed fine historians, and several of their historians, of whose work we possess scattered remains, do make mention of Jesus of Nazareth. There is Tactitus, who mentions Jesus in Book 15, Chapter 44 of his Annals:

"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular." (Tacitus, Annals, Book XV, Chapter 44).

Notice that Tacitus nowhere mentions, though it would be apt piece of information had he known it, that Jesus never existed.



One very early witness from whom we possess copious remains is the pagan rhetorician Celsus (this is not the famous first century physician Celsus, but a rhetorician who lived in the time of Hadrian). He wrote a diatribe against Christianity, which was answered, quite a long time later, by the Christian theologian Origen. Because Origen quotes Celsus' diatribe in its entirety, I've extracted Celsus' treatise from Origen's 'Against Celsus' for the reader's convenience of study:


On True Doctrine

LogoCelsus lived in a day and age when the Roman governing archive still was extant, as we do not. Yet Celsus, an alert observer who inquired diligently into this new religion, never makes mention of his discovery that Jesus never existed. In fact this whole theme of the non-existence of Jesus was not discovered until the 'Enlightenment,' so-called, many centuries later, when all of these documents were destroyed by the ravages of time and unavailable for study. Celsus freely concedes that Jesus of Nazareth was a historic person:

  • "Why instead do you, the son of God, wander about in so mean a condition, hiding yourself through fear, and leading a miserable life up and down? Jesus having gathered around him ten or eleven persons of notorious character, the very wickedest of tax-gatherers and sailors, fled in company with them from place to place, and obtained his living in a shameful and importunate manner. In company with your disciples you go and hide yourself in different places!"
  • ('On True Doctrine,' by Celsus).


This lunatic fringe idea, that Jesus never existed, has been endorsed by no less esteemed a figure than Richard Dawkins:


Vladimir Borovikovsky, Christ with a Globe

Logo Suetonius

The Roman historian Suetonius is sometimes thought to have mentioned Jesus, though without knowing it:

"He banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus. He allowed the ambassadors of the Germans to sit at the public spectacles in the seats assigned to the senators, being induced to grant them favors by their frank and honorable conduct." (Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Claudius).

'Chrestus' is a common slave name, meaning 'useful.' The Christian apologists mention in passing that 'Christus' was sometimes misheard by pagan ears as 'Chrestus,' and this may be the first instance of that tendency. This evidence establishes that Jews and Christians were arguing about 'Chrestus' before Paul's letters were in circulation among the churches.

 Lives of the Twelve Caeasars

Other pagan authors mention Jesus of Nazareth, including Pliny the Younger:


 Pliny the Younger 

Logo Mara Bar-Serapion

This early philosopher confirms Jesus' existence:

"What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews again from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which He had given.'" (British Museum Syriac MS. Addition 14,658, first century, quoted pp. 210-211, Killing Jesus, Stephen Mansfield).

It is a striking consequence of Jesus denial that certainly one of the most influential human beings who ever existed. . .never existed. To quote Bono, evaluating the rival theory that He existed but was a nut-case, “I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me that's far-fetched.'" (quoted p. 128, Dave Sterrett, Why Trust Jesus?). That the gospel upended the way of the world was noticed right from the start: "But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, 'These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.'” (Acts 17:6-7). It is somewhat surprising that a fictional character could do that, although one might suggest 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' as an exemplar of a influential work of fiction. If Jesus never existed, then around what pivot does human history turn? Who changed all the rules, and why did he not sign his own name?


Logo Euhemerus

The pagan theologian Euhemerus propounded the theory that all the gods had originally been men. He was not an atheist, as might be supposed, but rather someone committed to the Macedonian world hegemony. His reduction of the space between heaven and earth made it easier for the generals to whom he was attached to claim divinity, as they wished to do. The Greeks had at one time put to death men who acclaimed kings as gods, but then they themselves began to do the same:

"'But you are present, Not made of wood or stone, a genuine god. We pray to thee. First of all give us peace, O dearest god. . .'
"This is what was sung by the nation which fought at Marathon, and they sang it not only in public, but in their private houses — men who had once put a man to death for offering adoration to the king of Persia, and who had slain countless myriads of barbarians." (Athenaeus, Deipnosophists or the Banquet of the Learned, Book VI, Chapter 64. Location 8108).

"But I wonder at the Athenians, how they allowed him to make such a speech without bringing him to trial, and yet fined Demades ten talents, because he thought Alexander a god; and they put Evagoras to death, because when he went as ambassador to the king he adored him." (Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, or the Banquet of the Learned, Book VI, Chapter 58, Location 8053).

However politically repellent Euhemerus' theory, there does seem to be something to it. However when offered as the comprehensive pagan Theory of Everything, it is reductive to the point of doing damage, as it accounts for some things and fails to account for others. Poseidon, for example, is the sea, and the sea is not a man. There are forces of nature, personified and equipped with intentionality, which find their place in the pagan pantheon, and these meteorological phenomena or celestial orbs are not, at bottom, men. The connection between Athena and the owl is more than a totem or insignia, and one waits for 'ox-eyed' Hera to say, 'mooo.' Bacchus is, in some sense, the vine and the grape harvest, just as Demeter is the wheat crop. But then, it gets complicated, because Bacchus went on an expedition to India, and the grape-vine never went on an expedition to India. Somehow this agricultural product has got itself mixed up with a man who travelled about the world, which is a thing men do, but agricultural products do not so much do. And this happens often in pagan mythology; even celestial orbs end up enjoying lengthy careers upon the earth, complete with romance and adventure. This Timothy Leary-type encouraged people to 'tune in, turn on, and drop out,' impairing civic order, though his drug of choice was not LSD but wine, 'soma' it may be. He may have imported viticulture to areas where it had not previously been practiced, and he attracted a large and enthusiastic following, just as 'hippies' flocked to Leary's drug nirvana pitch. And there was a certain amount of 'buyer's remorse' here too, just ask Agave, whose life story gives a good summing up of the risks and benefits:

"Pentheus, the son of Echion and Agave, said that Liber was not a god, and he was unwilling to accept his mysteries. Because of this his mother, Agave, and her sisters, Ino and Autonoe, tore him apart in a fit of madness brought on by Liber. When Agave regained her senses and saw that she had been driven by Liber to commit such a gruesome crime, she fled from Thebes." (Hyginus, Fabulae, 184).

Like the hippies, Bacchus' followers found more degradation and disgrace than they found the heaven on earth they sought. Since there is a man mixed up in here somehow, Euhemerus' approach bears fruit, but it's only one strain to be traced throughout a complex whole.

Amongst the various theories about religion Madalyn Murray O'Hair endorses at various times is Euhemerism:

  • "She [Madalyn] cited Herbert Spencer as contending that every god was once a living being, enlarged in the memory of succeeding generations. That being's deeds were reported from one generation to the next by word of mouth, 'and inevitably elaborated and embellished by the narrators of wondrous tales,' seeking to impress their audiences. Deeds were invested with magic and made to be 'marvelous and supernatural' until they became 'distorted. . .out of resemblance' to actuality."
  • ('The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair,' by Brian F. LeBeau, p. 235).


Okay, so now that we're on a Euhemerist kick, let's apply this way of thinking to Jesus, acclaimed as a god. We understand that "every god was once a living being, enlarged in the memory of succeeding generations." So this means that Jesus Christ, the Christian's God, was "once a living being, enlarged in the memory of succeeding generations," right? Oh no, not Him! HE never existed! This is a recurrent problem with Madalyn Murray O'Hair, consistency is not her strong suit. The theory that 'all the gods were originally men, except for Jesus' is not defensible. Why this one exception?


Logo The Talmud

The Talmud is a very late compilation, however some of the materials which were stitched together to form the whole are of earlier date. The Talmud does not deny Jesus' existence, rather:

"On the eve of Passover, Jesus (of Nazareth) was hanged. For forty days, a herald went out before him, crying aloud: Jesus is going to be stoned for having practiced sorcery and for having enticed Israel and led them astray; let anybody who has something to say in his defense, come forward and defend him. Nobody came to defend him, so they hanged him on the eve of Passover. Ulla asked: Do you think that he was one in whose favor defenders should have been called? Was he not an enticer, to whom the Divine command applied, thy eye shall not pity him, neither shalt thou spare him (Deuteronomy 13, 8-9)?" (B Sanhedrin 43a., quoted p. 298, The Trial and Death of Jesus, Haim Cohn).

Again, if there were anything to be gained by denying the man's existence, you would think these controversialists would have gone there. But just like the pagan apologist Celsus, they did not. In addition to this reference are several Talmudic passages purporting to establish Jesus' illegitimate birth. Whoever is born, exists.

Likewise, the mythicists protest that Philo Judaeus never mentions Jesus of Nazareth. Philo never mentions the Pharisees either, yet that is no good grounds for denying they exist. He has his own agenda and mentions what interests him. The case non-Messianic Jews made against Jesus of Nazareth never revolved around His purported non-existence, but rather the alleged falsity of His claims. This could be taken as an admission that He did exist:


Jacques Joseph Tissot, Christ Reading the Scroll

Logo Atoms and the Void

Mrs. O'Hair was a materialist, as is Richard Dawkins:

  • "Everything traced has been found to be materialist (i.e., comprised of matter). The physical laws of nature are always in operation. They do not step aside even for a moment to permit anything else, such as spirit, to rule. The materialist holds that there is no spiritual existence apart from the material body."
  • (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, 'Why I am an Atheist', quoted p. 182, 'The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau).


Though their views are distinctly uncompelling, it would be a mistake to accuse these people of abandoning altogether all thought of reason or causal continuity. Indeed they claim to be rational:

The Whale's Pelvis Useless Excrescences
Periodic Table Rewind Button
The Author of Life


Within a fairly short time or the death (or non-existence) of Jesus of Nazareth, we see thousands of persons as far away as Rome following Him and identifying themselves by His name. The observer who concedes the existence of Jesus of Nazareth finds a ready explanation for this observed phenomenon: These people heard the words of the Lord and said, "Never man spake like this man." (John 7:46), they believed the apostles' report that He had risen from the dead, and they joined in the throng of His worshippers, as do many of us today. This explanation is as simple as can be, and altogether satisfactory in accounting for the observed phenomenon. It is not unreasonable to ask the Jesus-deniers, if Jesus did not exist, then who invented Him, and why? Where did the Jesus Movement come from? The classic Enlightenment answer is 'Paul.' However, we discover from reading Paul's letters and the book of Acts that there was from early on an anti-Pauline strain of Christianity:

"For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision." (Galatians 2:12).

If Paul invented Jesus, then who on earth could these anti-Pauline Christians, whom some consider to this day as the more authentic branch, have been? Surely as inventor, Paul can claim the right to define his creation as he pleases; and if no one knew anything about Jesus beyond what they had heard from Paul, from whence could come the criticism that Paul had got Him wrong? So 'Paul' will not do. As substitute, we hear 'unknown persons of a later date.' Somehow this fails to satisfy. As will be seen, this latest non-explanation is not even consistent with the corrosive secular 'scholarship' these people like to cite.


 On the Nature of Things

Logo The Gospel of Thomas

People who follow the 'Jesus' publishing industry are aware than many of the wanna-be gurus who populate that ill-ventilated corner of academia believe the Gospel of Thomas was written in the 40's of the first century. This is really quite an extraordinary concession, because it means that there was extant, before Paul wrote his letters, an entire corpus of 'Jesus' material, incorporating the inflammatory claims that Jesus was God and the Son of God.

What today's atheists are required to believe goes far beyond what any thinking person could ever be expected to swallow. They are obliged to believe that there was available an entire corpus of 'Jesus' material within a decade of His death/non-existence, and yet He never existed. And not only that, they must find a way to believe simultaneously that Constantine invented Jesus' deity in the fourth century A.D., and also that 'Thomas' proclaimed it in the 40's of the first century. Even Alice in Wonderland was never tasked with cognitive challenges of this magnitude! But they are up to it:


Logo Osiris et al

The atheists explain that Jesus is all in all so very similar to Osiris, Dionysus and similar characters that He must have been modelled upon them, and therefore cannot be a real person. However this very close resemblance is more apparent to observers whose familiarity with paganism comes at second or third hand. And one could wish to see some effort at critical thought from the atheists; were Osiris and Dionysus' birthdays really December 25th, as they tell us? Usually dying-and-rising vegetation gods have the significant dates of their lives pegged to the events of the agricultural calendar; they are born when they are sown, they die when they are reaped.

Is December 25th really such an active date on the farmer's calendar? Isn't mid-winter the slow season down on the farm? Only after the solar monotheists sought to identify everybody else's deities with the the object of their adoration, the sun. But these agricultural gods went late into captivity; can atheists really think it plausible to claim all the pagan gods were just the sun all along? In order to establish the claim that Jesus was actually patterned after Dionysus, one would expect to see evidence of a very high degree of commonality. Is that actually what the evidence shows? Dionysus brutalizes his followers in a way that shocks the conscience. Agave is made to murder her own son, to avenge a slight against the god. Does that sound like Jesus? If Jesus is actually patterned after Dionysus, why is there any dissimilarity at all, much less such a wide chasm between the two in terms of moral character? It is like saying that heaven is patterned after hell:

Logo Likewise, to establish the claim that Jesus is actually patterned after Osiris, one would expect to see a very high degree of similarity, as there usually is between the template and the copy struck from it. Where is it? Did Jesus' consort travel up and down creation locating body parts? If Osiris' story is the pattern for the Jesus story, why not? If there is, as in actuality, little or no resemblance between these accounts, then there is no reason to believe the claim that Jesus is patterned after Osiris in the first place, rather, it just goes to show that atheists will believe anything:


The radical skepticism of these authors builds upon the purported 'contradictions' and difficulties in the Bible, such as unbelievers like Colonel Robert Ingersoll reported:

"Perhaps influenced by the well-known story of Krishna's nativity, in which Krishna was born while his earthly father was away registering for taxation, Luke has a Roman census require Joseph's (and Mary's?) presence elsewhere, in Bethlehem, where King David once lived, Joseph being a remote descendent of David. The absurdity of this is manifest. No taxation census ever required individuals to register, not where they themselves live but rather where their remote ancestors once lived!" (Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 60).
"Likewise, in the Synoptics, the Last Supper takes place on Thursday, the crucifixion on Friday, but not in John, where Jesus must die on Thursday, like the Passover lamb he typologically embodies." (Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 36).

Really? In some cases these conundrums were explained more than amply a long time ago, and yet for some reason, the resolution never quite seems to catch up with the 'contradiction.' Are these 'Bible Contradictions' for real?:


Bible Contradictions
Bible Difficulties
Flat Earth
Slavery and the Bible
Wealth and Poverty
Build Upon the Sand
Three Gods
Famine and Flood
Just a Man

Logo Mutual Annihilation

It is an article of faith with the atheists that the gospel record is filled with contradiction. Matthew, for instance, for whatever editorial reason, is interested in a post-resurrection appearance of the risen Lord in Galilee,— was this the occasion when over five hundred of the brethren saw the Lord? If so, he might have selected this incident as the most impressive on the list. Luke however is more interested in post-resurrection appearances in and around Judaea; was this because sources from which he was able to obtain personal testimony were more familiar with these, or for some reason of editorial emphasis:

  • "Now, it is not possible,  unless we admit these supposed disciples the right of willfull lying, that the writers of these books could be any of the eleven persons called disciples; for if, according to Matthew, the eleven went into Galilee to meet Jesus in a mountain by his own appointment, on the same day that he is said to have risen, Luke and John must have been two of that eleven; yet the writer of Luke says expressly, and John implies as much, that the meeting was that same day, in a house in Jerusalem; and, on the other hand, if, according to Luke and John, the eleven were assembled in a house in Jerusalem, Matthew must have been one of that eleven; yet Matthew says the meeting was in a mountain in Galilee, and consequently the evidence given in those books destroy each other."
  • (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Chapter II - the New Testament).

Logo As an aside, no one has ever suggested that Luke was one "of that eleven"; tradition describes him as the beloved physician, an associate of Paul, a man who moved in apostolic circles but not one of the twelve apostles. One of the frustrations of 'arguing' with Tom Paine is that he wishes to argue against the traditional understandings of Christendom, without having any idea in the world what those might be, nor any way, evidently of finding out. Perhaps a light bulb has by now gone off in the reader's mind, who realizes that Jesus might well have appeared to His disciples in both places, thus nullifying any supposed contradiction!

No New Testament author states that, after His resurrection, Jesus appeared once and only once to His followers; to the contrary, He is said to have spoken with them at various times during the course of forty days:

"The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:1-3).

So let us surmise He instructed His disciples in both places, Galilee and Judaea. This is 'to harmonize,' which is everyone's natural inclination when confronted, for example, by two newspaper accounts of the same event which contain different anecdotes. If one account says A, B, C and E happened, and the other account says B, C, and D happened, how difficult is it to hazard the guess that what really happened was A, B, C, D, and E? Only if harmonization fails is there heard any talk of a 'contradiction.' And even in that case, is the response ever to throw both sources out altogether, as is here suggested? If Suetonius and Josephus, both diligent and careful historians, give conflicting accounts of the doings of Emperor Claudius, who concludes, 'Therefore, Claudius never existed'? Neither would any rational student of history discard either of these valuable authors, much less both. Suetonius is gossipy, and gossip is only as good as its source; Josephus has an animus against the Zealots, but both are dedicated researchers who are basically trying to get at the facts. Both would be missed if lost. To suggest that two disparate historical accounts are like a particle of matter and anti-matter, annihilating each other on contact, is really absurd. And in fact no one ever suggests doing business this way, except for atheists who wish to deny Jesus' existence.

The denial of Jesus' historicity requires an unreasonably tendentious discrediting of the gospel record. The four gospels are not, in point of fact, a tangle of irreconcilable contradictions. Contrary to what is sometimes stated, there is no reason to date these documents very late or situate their authors far from the scene of action:



The gospel author Luke gives a very full and open airing of a conflict within the early church, over the status of Gentile converts to the faith among other things. It would appear that one side of this debate looked more to James, another son of Mary, than to Peter for leadership, and in the church council of Acts 15, it is James who delivers the verdict, subject to approval by the whole congregation, that the Gentiles are OK. However the residual conflict over whether those born Jews should, or even could, continue to keep kosher was never actually resolved, with tragic consequences later on after Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain, and the remaining Christian 'converts' tangled with the Inquisition over their dietary preferences. The Lord's brothers did not actually believe in Him at first: "For even His brothers did not believe in Him." (John 7:5). However, not only did they later come to believe in Him, they actually shouldered their way into leadership positions ahead of some of those disciples who had believed in Him from the start.

It is not very likely the early Christians would have invented a rivalry between the Lord's physical relatives and His disciples, as this benefits the church not at all and thus qualifies as historical under the Criterion of Embarrassment, one of the acid baths of modern Bible 'scholarship' by which they hope to dissolve as much as they may. So then it must be historical that Jesus had relatives, and relatives who liked to occupy leadership positions. What kind of people have relatives,— mythological people like Dionysus, or actual people?

And it's a two-way street. If Jesus did not exist, this puts James the Just in an ontologically embarrassing position, because, while there is historical attestation to James' existence outside the New Testament, he is mostly known because of his relationship to his more famous brother. So is he a real person with a fictitious brother, or a fictitious person who somehow attracts the notice of serious historians?


LogoJesus Denial Today

Mrs. O'Hair has gone on to her reward, at the hand of a man she hired, but Jesus Denial remains alive today. The latest internet sensation to deny the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is Joseph Atwill, whose book 'Caesar's Messiah' explains that the Roman emperors invented Jesus Christ. This is because the Emperor Vespasian, who is not the emperor who invented Jesus Christ according to Mr. Atwill, himself claimed to be the Messiah (this is historical), so naturally he would have had an incentive to invent a fictional rival, and moreover members of the Flavian clan died as Christian martyrs, which naturally they would have felt impelled to do if they thought Christianity were a self-referential joke:

The Flavians Black Humor
Prophetic Perspective Quality Control
Tie a Red String Highly Prefigured
Son of Man The Supreme Pontiff
To the Lions U.S.S. Missouri
Cannibal Feast Replicants
How Many Gods? Malachi


Robert M. Price, of 'Jesus Seminar' fame, is a radical skeptic who thinks we can know little or nothing about the historic Jesus, if indeed there were any such. The 'Criterion of Dissimilarity' is the means by which he eliminates almost every saying of Jesus, because, as he propounds this rule, it means that Jesus cannot have said anything like what Christians say, nor like what Jews say, nor even like what people at large in the Hellenistic world might have said or wished to hear: "But their own criteria and critical tools, which we have sought to apply here with ruthless consistency, ought to have left them with complete agnosticism, which is where we have ended up." (Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 351). This is certainly true, and may serve as the reductio ad absurdum of the 'tools' in question:

  • “. . .According to this critical canon, the historian has no right to accept a saying as authentically dominical (i.e., coming from the Lord, Dominus, Jesus) if it has any parallel in either contemporary Judaism and Hellenism or in the early church. Why not? Simply because of the tendency to ascribe one's favorite saying to one's favorite sage. . .We would then be well within our rights to wonder if any Jewish-sounding saying reflects Jewish or Judaizing Christianity rather than the historical Jesus. . .If sayings of Jesus strongly echo Christian belief, practice, or wisdom, we have to wonder if someone is, again, attributing to him what they had come to believe on other grounds, providing a dominical pedigree once debate arose.”
  • (Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition?, pp. 16-17).

They all use this shrinking tool, though he is more consistent in its application than others. However, he is not altogether consistent. The inverse of the 'Criterion of Dissimilarity,' which mandates that Jesus can never say anything that would please the Christians, nor the Jews, nor even the pagans, is what I'll call the 'Mandate for Similarity.' As employed especially by those commentators who want to rope Jesus in and haul him back onto the reservation, like Reza Aslan, Hyam Maccoby and Geza Vermes, this principle may be stated as, 'Jesus cannot be allowed to say 'xyz' if not all first century Jews would have agreed that 'xyz' is true;' i.e., Jesus cannot have been atypical. One might think authors would segregate themselves into two camps according to their use of these two principles, but no, why not use both?: "It is just impossible that a Jewish Jesus would omit what he elsewhere makes the first and greatest commandment. . ." (Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 226). It is evident that, if we combine the two,

  1. Jesus cannot have said anything typical (Criterion of Dissimilarity), and
  2. Jesus cannot have said anything atypical (Mandate for Similarity);

then we arrive at our conclusion,

3. Jesus cannot have said anything.

Some people might see this combined methodology as a draw-back. The twin pincers of these two mirror inverse principles become a vise in which to squeeze Jesus down to non-existence. What other historical figure could survive having his sayings drawn through two sequential filters, a.) they cannot be typical, and b.) they cannot be atypical? What would be left, if all typical sayings are subtracted, and then once they are gone, so are all atypical ones? But that, after all, is the idea:


Criterion of Dissimilarity 153 Fishes
Dionysus, Mithras et al The Supernatural
Gospel of Mark Authorship
Nothing Human Here Magic Mushrooms
Second Chance Unimaginable
No Evidence Osiris

Little Gods

The mythicist paradigm involves denying the existence of anyone who claimed to be God. Do they have any idea how many people, otherwise richly attested, they will have to deny ever existed? We can start with Alexander the Great, depicted on coins with two ram horns, a token of deity. He is even mentioned in the Koran, under the name the 'Two-Horned'! Out he goes, because he claimed to be the son of Zeus Ammon. Out goes Ramesses, who claimed he was the son of the Sun. Ammianus Marcellinus gives the following as a translation of language inscribed on an Egyptian obelisk:

“The first line, beginning on the south side, bears this interpretation— 'The Sun to Ramestes the king — I have given to thee to reign with joy over the whole earth; to thee whom the Sun and Apollo love — to thee, the mighty truth-loving son of Heron — the god-born ruler of the habitable earth; whom the Sun has chosen above all men, the valiant warlike King Ramestes. Under whose power, by his valour and might, the whole world is placed. The King Ramestes, the immortal son of the Sun.'”

(Marcellinus, Ammianus. Delphi Complete Works of Ammianus Marcellinus (Illustrated) (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 60) (Kindle Locations 2525-2529).)

Which Ramesses this is I don't know; admittedly, the one who reigned over "the whole earth" doesn't actually exist. The one who is close relation to the sun, familiarized under the Greek name 'Apollo,' never was. But did no such person, claiming improbably enough to be close kin to the astronomical actors, ever exist? How did a non-existent person finance such a large project, of digging out of the solid rock this weighty obelisk? You can't pay for such a thing out of pocket change! Is money no object for the non-existent? Do they pay their army of workers with monopoly money? This Ramesses was an existent person who paid certain parties to incribe this information, or at any rate secured their provisions if they were slaves, false as it undoubtedly is, on the obelisk. One of Constantius's correspondents was the ruler of Persia, who very modestly mentions his relatives, the sun and the moon:

“'I, Sapor, king of kings, partner of the stars, brother of the sun and moon, to Constantius Csar my brother send much greeting. I am glad and am well pleased that at last thou hast returned to the right way, and hast acknowledged the incorruptible decree of equity, having gained experience by facts, and having learnt what disasters an obstinate covetousness of the property of others has often caused.'”

(Marcellinus, Ammianus. Delphi Complete Works of Ammianus Marcellinus (Delphi Ancient Classics Book 60) (Kindle Locations 2556-2559).)

One might ask this man, why aren't you globular like your siblings? Where is the family resemblance? Or maybe he was tending that way, I don't know. Father Divine was a man who undoubtedly existed. He claimed to be God. Is it really necessary to cut out and burn all of the old newspaper photographs which depict Father Divine? Admitting that Father Divine existed in no way requires the observer to acknowledge the supernatural; what is supernatural about a man saying, 'I am God'? Not only will they not allow a really existent person to claim to be God, such cannot make faith healing his line of work, even though many do engage in this business, with success, even in the present lean era. They'll have to deny that Benny Hinn exists, because at his crusades, people claim to be healed.

The Jewish Pharisees made it their object to set up a hedge around the law. The atheists want to embark upon a similar project with their mythicist myth. Is atheism really such a fragile flower that it needs to be protected by a ring of scorched earth?:

In no way would I wish to submerge Jesus' valid claim to deity amongst all these also-rans. The fact that the vast majority of lottery tickets are losers does not prove each and every one is. My only point is, that you can't blunder through history denying that everybody who claimed to be God ever existed. Some of these people probably thought they were fixing the stability of the state on a solid basis by claiming deity; some were frauds and con artists, some were crazy people, and some held to a low thresh-hold of deity, crediting some notion of theology according to which they really did believe they were siblings to the heavenly luminaries, the sun and the moon. There is no good reason to deny they all existed, although some few are perhaps a bit questionable.

Nor can you deny that anyone who claimed to heal the sick ever existed. Benny Hinn exists. And is it really impossible for atheists to acknowledge even this much? It's a trade secret of the medical profession that most medical problems resolve on their own within a fairly brief period of time. There are even cases on record of spontaneous remission of cancer. If no sick person attending a Benny Hinn crusade was even at the time tending to get better, this would be an inexplicable state of affairs. And what about the well-documented placebo effect? Does no one suffering from a psychosomatic complaint ever attend his revivals? Instead of denying that people who claim to heal the sick can possibly exist, the atheists, and for that matter the cessationists, ought to relax and point out that it would defy all probability if no sick person ever went to a Benny Hinn meeting and came away feeling better. Sick people get better all the time. While no believer would agree that this is all that's going on, certainly the atheist must admit at least this much must be going on.


LogoAdequate Explanation

Ricky Ricardo used to tell Lucy, 'You got some 'splaining to do!' What would an adequate explanation look like? When we offer an historical hypothesis, what desiderata must we meet? To shout triumphantly that we've reduced events to making even less sense than they did before we began to 'explain' them, is retrograde motion. 'Explaining' events should make them seem more natural, inevitable, less forced, not more so, than they were before. To go in the opposite direction is not to 'explain,' but to do something else.

A 'founder' is an almost irresistible explanatory hypothesis for a historical movement. What 'Mary Baker Eddy' does for Christian Science, what 'Joseph Smith' does for Mormonism, what 'Karl Marx' does for Marxism, is what 'Jesus of Nazareth' does for Christianity. Where did it come from? Why did it happen? A charismatic figure who draws followers around him and leads them onwards is, one must admit, a very attractive theory to explain these types of things. Which is not to say, of course, that there always is such a figure; but if Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy had not existed, we might almost wish to invent them. A 'founder' is a wonderfully economic and parsimonious explanation for a movement, and it has the added benefit that the real existence of a human being is always possible, there's six billion of 'em. Sometimes ancient historians name an eponymous founder who is probably not real; but they are tempted to do so precisely because movements usually do have founders. Mary Baker Eddy and Joseph Smith are so recent in time that an abundance of circumstantial corroboration of their real existence survives; thus flinging a challenge to prove their existence, independently of sources connected with their respective movements, to forensic standards, can still be met, as it cannot for more ancient figures. Which theory is better: one which successfully explains its subject matter, or one which does not? Though atheists are innocent of such considerations, in fact, other things being equal, the theory with more explanatory power is to be preferred, and we should not join them in discarding the historical Mary Baker Eddy until we have another more powerful theory waiting in the wings, able to leave the rise of Christian Science as something other than an insoluble conundrum. When you leave the matter to be explained as jumbled hash, you have not actually explained it. You are doing something else, not 'explaining.' Just ask Aristotle.

Christianity rose from a small band in first century Palestine to the dominant religion in the empire several centuries later. Deleting the historical Jesus of Nazareth leaves its origin and growth inexplicable. At any rate these people offer no explanation that makes a lick of sense; they airily announce they do not have to, it is up to others to prove that Jesus existed. It is not sound procedure to reject the historical Jesus, until we have a better explanation in hand. B. B. Warfield noted that the liberal 'higher critics' of his day had already made the rise of Christianity problematical, because few would have followed the call of Ernest Renan's treacly moralist 'Jesus' to 'follow me.' Replacing this unimpressive figure with. . .no one, was not really resolving the historical dilemma so much as making it insoluble:

". . .the real Jesus is hopelessly hidden under the incrustations with which faith has enveloped it. Nor does there seem to be lacking a certain logical force in the reasoning of bolder souls who drive the inference one step further and ask what need there is of assuming a real Jesus at all. The 'real Jesus' whom the critics invent certainly was not the author of the Christianity that exists. If the Christianity that actually exists in the world can get along without the Jesus which alone would account for it, why, they argue, must there be assumed behind it a Jesus which will not account for it; of whom this only may be said,— that He is a useless figure, the assumption of whom is so far from accounting for that great religious movement which we call Christianity, that it is certain that the movement did not arise in Him and did not derive its fundamental convictions from Him?. . .It is just as impossible that Christianity can have sprung from the Jesus which these critics give us, as that it should have sprung up without any Jesus behind it at all, as the radicals assert." (B. B. Warfield, The Lord of Glory, Kindle location 1471).

But this is to slide backwards. Reducing the historical Jesus all the way down to nothing leaves no proportion between cause and effect. Christianity certainly does exist. Why did the early believers march to meet the lions in the colosseum? Did they know they were following a phantom? These people are thrashing about making sounds, but they are not doing history. They are not actually trying to explain anything; they do not advance a better explanation, but no explanation at all. Expanding the atheist approach will leave us with no science, no history. Let's not go there.


Zeitgeist, the Movie

The latest entry in the 'Jesus-Never-Existed' field is the movie 'Zeitgeist,' filled with imaginative 'facts:'

Another modern web entry is Richard Carrier's 'So...If Jesus Didn't Exist, Where Did He Come From Then?' which is mostly noteworthy for its total inversion of the findings of the pagan theologian Euhemerus. Euhemerus noticed that many of the incidents in divine biographies pertain to all-too-human events here upon this earth: if Zeus is a storm god, then why does he have a tomb in Crete? Why is a cave shown to pilgrims as his birth-place? Plainly, there is a 'Zeus' who was a Cretan king. His theory was that the gods were originally men, to whom stories of heavenly journeys later became attached. And it does undeniably have some merit. There must have been, for instance, an Italian king called Saturn; though what this earthly figure had to do with the planet of the same name is up for debate. Euhemerus' theory no doubt appealed to his Macedonian employers, god-claimants themselves. This author seems to imagine there is a process called 'Euhemerization' which works in reverse: "Then he was 'Euhemerized' (stories were created that placed him on earth interacting with historical figures)." In other words, we start with a divine figure, for whom an earthly biography is invented. Euhemerus thought just the opposite: these were men living on earth, interacting with historical figures, who then became divinized. Euhemerus' theory is rational, realistic, and reductive. Pagan true believers must have been left dissatisfied with 'gods' who were dramatically less than advertised (for some pagan gods, like Hercules, this was no great revelation because they had always been thought men, unlike the leading luminaries of the pantheon), but Euhemerus was not actually saying the gods were 'just men.' The merit in his procedure is that making 'Zeus' altogether mythical multiplies unanswered questions, it does not reduce them: if there is no Cretan king Zeus, then who's the guy in the tomb? Getting Euhemerus backwards is just a start, our author is only getting warmed up. But if we allow Euhemerus to serve as our guide, then Jesus was certainly a real man, because, to Euhemerus, all gods were originally men.

This author goes on to make patently false claims about scripture, for instance that for Paul, "The Jesus he knows. . . is always in outer space. Paul never clearly places Jesus on earth or connects him to human history." (Richard Carrier's 'So...If Jesus Didn't Exist, Where Did He Come From Then?'). Back in the real world, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:2). Did the crucifixion happen in "outer space"? "Note that Jesus is not said to have appeared before his death. People only see him after his death." (Richard Carrier's 'So...If Jesus Didn't Exist, Where Did He Come From Then?'). No one saw Him on the cross? He instituted communion in outer space?:

"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come." (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

It's a shame to think that some young people are so naive they will believe this material without comparing it with Paul's actual writings, against which it is very readily refuted. In some cases there is some resemblance between the pagan gods with whom they want to assimilate Jesus, such as Melqart, in other cases there is very little. The atheists promise a 'resurrection,' then deliver 'a god who has something vaguely to do with the after-life, as conceived by pagan peoples.' This brings up the problem of false religion; are there annals and records of pagan gods who promise, among other things, endless life? Yes! Must these promises be valid, if Christianity is true? Of course not, that is like saying counterfeit currency must be held legitimate where the genuine coin is accepted. If two projects are similar as to scope, as for instance the cancer treatment 'Laetrile,' or the once-popular medical treatment of bleeding, and a therapy found effective through random trials, must we accept the one if we accept the other? If Penicillin is a safe and effective treatment, so must Laetrile be, so must the pre-frontal lobotomy be? No one so reasons in any other field, and yet for some reason, people demand that this must be true in the field of religion, that either all promises are equally true, or all must be discarded as false, i.e., if the dying-and-rising gods of the pagans cannot deliver what they promised, and no one thinks they can, then Jesus, who is not very much like them, must likewise be promising a future life that is vain, illusory and nugatory: