Jesus: the man that never was

By John Zande | 13 November 2012
The Superstitious Naked Ape

“Jesus Goes Up Alone Onto a Mountain to Pray” (1886-1894, detail) by French artist James Tissot. (Image: Brooklyn Museum / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Christianity has a problem: it’s dying, dying rapidly by all indications, and although its retreat into obscurity will be retarded in the more deeply superstitious corners of our planet the next generation or two born into industrialised nations will see its influence fade, its landholdings contract and its more vocal apologists become the subject of parody until the religion itself is eventually filed away on the same bookshelf as Mithraism.

The unravelling of this once ‘great’ religion will continue at an ever increasing pace as assuredly as wheels roll and office towers don’t not because it’ll be superseded by some newer religion decreed by some future emperor, because the folly and contradictions of the bible can no longer be tolerated by rational, reasonable people, because absurd notions of a personal God evaporate, or because of some natural repulsion to the ignorant edicts issued from its pulpits. These will all be helpful nudges in the right direction, but ultimately Christianity will slip beneath the waters because every new generation from this point on will have greater access to a largely overlooked but increasingly unavoidable body of scholarly work that points to the rather awkward fact that the religions central character, Jesus, never existed.

To some that might sound astonishingly brazen, certainly heretical, probably even extremely offensive, and I can at the very least sympathise with those emotions. I felt genuinely defiled when someone told me Santa Claus didn’t exist and remember quite vividly marshalling a spirited, albeit ultimately futile argument in the days after for the kindly old man from the North Pole. So ingrained however is the notion that the man, Jesus, actually lived that even suggesting he is nothing but a fictional invention (a metafictional device fashioned to impart doctrinal messages, not embody an entire religion) sounds flatly absurd.

Indeed, for the last 55-odd generations his existence has been rubber stamped by Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even the vast majority of agnostics and non-believers alike. Interpretation of his life may vary greatly depending on whom you talk to – the son of a God and long awaited messiah (homo usias), a prophet (homoi usias), a hippy philosopher, or even simply a 1st Century Occupy Wall Street protestor – but actually questioning whether or not the individual walked the earth has in this time come across as being preposterous to a great number of us.

Of course he existed.

This apparent statement of fact is false, an illusion first touched on in the modern era over two centuries ago, although admittedly you’d be hard-pressed finding a handful of people in a good-sized crowd today who’d be able to confirm it.

That is the fault of popular culture, but the assertion that Jesus never existed is by no means new, or for that a particularly startling one. Questions as to the historical nature of the character date back to 2nd and 3rd Century gnostic sects including the Docetists, the Ophites, and the Naassenes who were fierce critics of the notion of the physical teacher and often belittled those outside Judea for failing to understand that “Jesus” was a concept of spirit, a philosophy, and never a real person.

The only thing that is ‘new’ in any true sense of the word is the access to superb scholarly work begun over 200 years ago when men and women charged with the confidence of the Enlightenment turned their attention backward to examine the nature of religiosity in much the same way the curious Leonardo Da Vinci before them had opened corpses to reveal the inner working of the natural organism.

Admittedly, few today know their names but two curious champions who leapt out from the emboldened 1700s were Frenchmen, Charles François Dupuis and Constantin-François Chassebœuf, who sought to pry open the scholarly nature of Christianity and if need be redress the nature of myth and European religiosity based on a scientific understanding of the story and its constituent parts. Working independently what they found over the course of their investigations not only drew into question the accuracy of the self-described, self-anointed holy documents but more importantly challenged the very nature of the works central character: a historical Jesus.

Through his focus on astronomical mythology Dupuis, a savant, unveiled an uncanny, un-ignorable correlation between the character, Jesus, and far older myths – particularly sun god myths – which flourished across the east, including those of the pagan Dionysus, and Roman Sol Invictus. Chassebœuf – a linguist, philosopher, historian, and friend of Benjamin Franklin – travelled east through the Ottoman Empire and over a decade-long examination of religious source documents arrived at the conclusion that a historical Jesus never existed but was instead a representation of universal human hopes and desires fashioned in a time of crisis – a ‘crisis response’ – which had been either deliberately or accidently misinterpreted by early church fathers far removed from the true context of the stories.

It was a thunderclap heard by very few but Dupuis and Chassebœuf’s work opened the first fissures in the once quarantined universe of religious immunity, shattering the wall that had stood between scripture and unencumbered outside investigation. Their inroads inspired a flotilla of men and women to undertake similar voyages down corridors considered off-limits since the first Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E, including the German philosopher and historian, Bruno Bauer, who was the first to trace the entire gospel tradition to a single anonymous author responsible for the Gospel of Mark. The consequences of this find led Bauer to first admit to the possibility that the New Testament was a wholesale invention and then ultimately conclude that Jesus himself was entirely fictional.

Now the subject matter I’m touching on here is far larger than any single post can possibly accommodate, but at its heart the mechanical arguments for this assertion all boil down to problems of basic verification. That is to say, there is nothing, not a single shred of evidence – hard or soft – which even remotely corroborates Jesus’ apparently remarkable life. There are no first-hand eyewitnesses, there are no external references to events or persons mentioned in the non-first-hand accounts, and perhaps most importantly historical documents have been tampered with so as to create an illusion of life where there was none.

To dive a little deeper, neither of the anonymously authored synoptic gospels (Mark, Mathew, and Luke), John, nor the 50-odd Gnostic gospels was penned by an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. At best these works are hearsay – very late hearsay it should be said – bristling with sometimes catastrophic contradictions which leave the texts inadmissible as evidence. Confusing the matter of authenticity even more, the phrase Gospel ‘according to’ Mark, for example, was a 3rd Century addition to the writings; an editing trick used to give the illusion of first-hand commentary inserted during the translation of formative Christian documents from Greek into Egyptian Coptic. Before the Coptic editions no such first-hand claim was made by the anonymous authors regarding a physical connection to the character. And perhaps more tellingly, there is no mention of Jesus in any external document from the era. No Roman, Greek or Jewish historian, no satirist, and no judicial court record keeper made a single passing note of the man or the deeds mentioned in the gospels.

That is, of course, barring a lone, strikingly bizarre entry in Flavius Josephus’s 1st Century work, The Jewish Antiquities, which has been recognised since the 1800’s to be an outlandishly careless 4th Century interpolation attributed to Eusebius of Caesarea. It reads:

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
(3rd Chapter, Book 18, The Jewish Antiquities).

In approaching the nature of a historical Jesusit is essential to zero-in on this entry, this particular piece of tampering since named the Testimonium Flavianum due to its importance at one time in verifying the life of Christendom’s central character and revered prophet in Islam. I say that for this simple reason: police detectives, to use an example, typically don’t irrigate evidence unless they fear the case they have will fall part under even mild cross-examination. In more cases than not such tampering – planting evidence in this instance – invariably takes place shortly after the crime, and in Christianity’s story this rings entirely true.

Eusebius of Caesarea was the seminal church historian, a Roman, a Bishop, translator, and fervent 4th Century apologist who just so happened to have titled the 32nd chapter of the 12th book of his Evangelical Preparation, “How it may be lawful and fitting to use falsehood as a medicine for the benefit of those who want to be deceived.”

One person above all others in the early church fits the candidacy to be fed what Eusebius considered necessary falsehood: Roman Emperor Constantine to whom Eusebius was advisor and spiritual consul. Constantine is, of course, best known as Christendom’s first and greatest sugar daddy; the man who as General adopted a branch of Christianity promoted by a faction of Hellenised Jews living in modern day Turkey and later as Emperor green-lighted the systematic persecution of competing Christian sects including the Judean based Docetists, Ophites, and Naassenes.

Constantine I was the first emperor to accept Christianity. Before his seminal Battle of the Milvian Bridge, legend tells us that Constantine saw the image of the cross. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Now regarding the Testimonium Flavianum, the answer as to why Eusebius choose Josephus’s work, The Antiquities, and not some other historians to doctor is two-fold. Firstly, by the 4th Century (prior to 1st Council of Nicaea convened by Constantine) Christian apologists had burnt just about all source documents, including entire libraries, which didn’t suit the story they were fashioning. And secondly, Josephus was an authority on 1st Century Judean history who had a particular interest in Hagiography: the subject of ‘holy people,’ and was therefore both personally and professionally drawn to such characters regardless of their fame or obscurity. He wrote about the revolutionary crisis-cultist, Simon of Peraea, who was put to death in 4 B.C.E, and Menahem, the leader of the Qumran sect who lived a generation later. He penned small but detailed paragraphs on the messianic exploits of Simon Magus, Apollonius of Tyana, Athronges the Shepherd, Judas the Galilean, John the Baptist, the mysterious sounding ‘Samaritan Prophet,’ Theudas, the nameless ‘Egyptian Prophet,’ John of Gischala, Jonathan (the weaver), and even the spiritual revolutionary Simon bar Giora as late as 70 C.E

To put it another way, if there was a 1st Century authority on insurgent messianic figures, an authority whose works had survived the bonfires and scrutinisers would naturally turn to it was Josephus: a native of Judea, the one-time governor of Galilee and as such the perfect vehicle through which to try and pull a historical fast one. It was an attempt to re-write history – a 100 odd word entry that floats without any connection to adjacent paragraphs – which might have slipped in under the radar of 17th Century examination had Eusebius not carelessly used 3rd and 4th Century Christian and Greek terms and phrases entirely unknown to 1st Century Josephus. The blunder, and it was a terrible blunder, was the equivalent of writer today mistakenly having a Victorian era nanny, Mary Poppins for example, having a Facebook account or using an iPhone.

So complete was the dissection and debunking of this wart-like entry that by the 1800’s it was more or less forgotten to all scholars, including the most enthusiastic apologists who remained desperate to find a single crumb of verification outside the bible which they could point to as evidence for the life of the man, Jesus. For 200 years the Testimonium Flavianum was ignored until it experienced a revival of sorts in the mid-20th Century after empty handed Christian polemicists returned to the entry and began pushing a notion that there had in fact been a nucleus contained in the original 1st Century text. It was their contention that although Eusebius of Caesarea might have indeed tampered with the original document there was, they promoted, an aboriginal core inside the exaggerated entry which did mention Jesus.

As far as verifiable suppositions go this notion is pure fantasy; a wish based on as much factual evidence as Jesus’ foreskin orbiting Saturn. This however has not stopped apologists from even going as far as to suggest that this ‘nucleus’ might have been a single sentence mentioning Pontius Pilate having a man named Jesus put to death. The idea of a nucleus, let alone an assumption of what might have been written, is entirely groundless. No pre-4th Century copies of Josephus’s work exist. In all reality, no pre-11th Century editions exist making any claim of a nucleus all the more implausible and the suggestion of the actual composition of the alleged sentence/sentences utterly nonsensical.

Conversely, whereas there does not exist a pre-4th Century edition of the Antiquities to prove or disprove the idea either way there does exist numerous pre-4th Century (pre- Eusebius) commentaries on Josephus’s work, including those made by Origen, Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Theophilus, Tertullian, Anatolius, Cyprian, and Arnobius who all fail to mention the suspect entry. These 3rd and 2nd Century commentaries, not least of all those made by the Christian church father, Origen (whose library and copy of Josephus was bequeathed to Eusebius), are proof in and by themselves that there never was an entry, be it one sentence or four. Suggesting Origen, one of Christianity’s first International Marketing Managers, a man hell-bent on promoting the emergent religion he oversaw simply forgot to mention the only external source-document for the religion he was in charge of promoting is as preposterous as suggesting Ramses II forgot to mention losing his army to a fleeing Jewish Union leader.

Looking at the historical nature of Jesus what is left by way of evidence of the man is no more compelling than the evidence we have for the existence of Batman. What is present is a reservoir of evidence swirling around deliberate, well-intentioned tampering and misdirection, rendering the gospels no more a factual account of 1st Century Judean events than J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is factual account of World War 1. The logical conclusion, a conclusion based on the facts, is that a historical Jesus was entirely fictitious; the amalgam of a number of revolutionary figures, notions, and philosophies promoted by Gnostic “crisis cults” which flourished at the time across Roman-occupied Judea. Those teachings and philosophies were in-turn weaved into an easily transportable story centred around a metafictional character, a teacher: Jesus. Against a backdrop of very real war and subjugation that story (that’s to say multiple versions of the story as there were at least twenty distinct Jesus’ exhibiting entirely different personality traits doing completely different things at entirely different times depending on which account you read) travelled and the further afield it did the more prone it appears it was to misinterpretation.

In the end it’s clear that the absence of any evidence pointing to a historical Jesus raised some fairly ugly problems for the early Christian marketing managers; problems that could not be ignored after the religions greatest ever benefactor, Constantine, hopped on board. The fact that the era’s leading historian on all things messianic, Josephus, would even bother to pen 600 odd words on the wildly obscure figure known as Athronges the Shepherd, or some 200 words on a nameless Samaritan prophet, but fail to dedicate a single word to Jesus who we’re told performed miracles across Galilee, preached to enormous crowds and stirred up terrible trouble in Jerusalem (which surely should have been noticed by someone) must have been terribly embarrassing. The early church fathers, none of which were actually Judeans, were sitting on a colossal fraud, a fraud of their own making, and in response apologists like Eusebius, Jerome, and Clement of Alexandria to name just three of the more notable charlatans, set about to create an illusion of life where there never was one. The demigod we know today was promoted and the historical metafictional reality of the story shown the door.

The reasons why this happened are however as common today as they were 55 generations (seventeen centuries) ago. The horse had already bolted, Rome had adopted Christianity as its state religion, and the cash registers were ringing. In his twenty year-long, $65 billion Ponzi scheme, disgraced financier, Bernie Madoff, gave almost exactly the same explanation to a prison counsellor when asked how it had all happened: “People just kept throwing money at me.”

Reprinted with permission from the author.

John Zande lives in Brazil.

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  1. Interesting! You’re hung on the same gallows you’ve erected to hang others. You make wild assertions without clear proof or solid evidence to qualify them. A few documents that may simply feed your preconceived point of view don’t constitute reliable or factual evidence. You refer to several hundred year old documents yourself as solid ground from which to cast your stones, but Christians are forbidden to refer to the 27 historically accurate books bound into the new testament apparently because they are just that: 27 books bound in the new testament. As such, according to you, they must be suspect, prone to error, or mere inventions or contrivances of men, and should therefore be disqualified – as if your references are all infallible. Given the article’s tone that, “my opinion is right and any who oppose it are certainly wrong,” this article amounts to little more than a frothing-at-the-mouth rant.

    You might do well to shorten the length of the article a bit and replace some of the froth with some actual scholarly peer reviewed evidence to support your claims rather than dredging up a few documents that happen to agree with you and simply ignoring or disqualifying out of hand any that disagree. True the saying: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim 4:3) Regarding your death of Christianity froth, the Jesus whom you deny said, “I will build my congregation and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

    • But how do you know that "the 27 historically accurate books bound into the new testament" are indeed historically accurate? Luke's statement about the census mentioned at the start of Luke 2 has already been proven to be incorrect. Plus there are no LEGITIMATE references to "Jesus" in the historical writings of the period. What IS your evidence that "Jesus" actually existed and that the gospels are accurate historical records?

    • Amen; indeed, older people in the congregations at Christian churches continue to support Christianity while the younger people are falling away. This trend continues unfortunately. However, The true Jesus movement is not a religion, it is a relationship. A true believer loves Jesus and believes in the Christian bible by faith. Many of us have witnessed miracles that are indisputable including me. Current day atheists attempt to debunk miracles such as parting of the Red Sea, Jesus walking on water; the main thing atheists are attempting to do (and the devil as well) is to discredit Jesus using accusations such as “he was married, His body was stolen from the crypt to make it look like Jesus resurrected thus defeating death.” If the atheists get people to believe that Jesus was just a normal man and not the Son of God without sin then there is no life after death and no eternal salvation. These doubters will face the great white throne judgement and have no chance to be with Jesus for all of eternity. That is the greatest tragedy of all time. When Jesus returns it will be too late to board the train. The time to join the “Jesus movement” is now. Don’t miss this opportunity. The time draws near.

    • It is the overwhelming scholarly consensus that certain of Paul's epistles are the earliest Christian writings. Why does he not even mention any of the gospels? He mentions nothing about the so-called Jesus's life or personal sayings. Wouldn't you think that, if those things were true and had actually occurred, the preeminent promoter (and creator, I may add) of the Christian religion would have mentioned at least some of these things?

    • Although you personally will never grow up and accept historical facts in contradiction to your Christian indoctrination, there are absolutely no credible contemporary documents in support of the biblical Jesus. The historical evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable. The biblical Jesus began as an amalgamated myth and only became an object of worship centuries later as Christianity became a widepsread infestation. A person lacking the capacity to differentiate fantasy from reality is insane. You're certifiably insane and should be confined to a mental institution to your mindless frothing.

    • I am sorry to break the news to you but,

      Nothing of any historical significance in the new testament is factual, most assuredly, nothing about the j-man.

      Also, you suggest the author add some peer reviewed facts to the assertions he makes, and then provide none of your own to your empty assertions.


    • "You make wild assertions without clear proof or solid evidence to qualify them. A few documents that may simply feed your preconceived point of view don't constitute reliable or factual evidence." Now, apply that to Christianity and you nailed it

    • The 'proof' of a jesus is spurious and hearsay;
      But that is all irrelevant
      Because no gods have been proven
      thus, a jesus is relevant…!

  2. Besides the possibility that the author missed some extra-Biblical references to Jesus of Nazareth, on what grounds do you dismiss the 27 NT books plus even other spurious books such as the Gnostic gospels to the point that they do not comprise a “shred” of evidence. This is the language of the foregone conclusion. There is no value in arguing with somebody whose mind is already set in concrete.

    • “To dive a little deeper, neither of the anonymously authored synoptic gospels (Mark, Mathew, and Luke), John, nor the 50-odd Gnostic gospels was penned by an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. At best these works are hearsay – very late hearsay it should be said – bristling with sometimes catastrophic contradictions which leave the texts inadmissible as evidence. “

    • By the way, Jesus was not from Nazareth as the town didn't exist until circa 100 CE.

      What a great world it would be when Christians realise that the Bible consist mostly of myths and fables (as the early Jews were aware of).

      I have not found one shred of evidence that this Jeshua (Jesus) who's followers is causing such chaos in the world, ever existed. Most Biblical scholars (and I'm not talking about people who can quote verses – I am talking about people who have studied the Bible in context of its time and place) agree that the only "evidence" of Jesus' existence is the 'fact' that he was mentioned in many various sources that did not use the same base story as reference; and the 'fact' that the was given so many mythological attributes that previously belonged to other 'gods' like Horus, Mithras, Krishna, Apollo etc. (like the virgin birth, born on 25 December, did miracles, had 12 disciples etc).

      This does not convince me, however. But it would be a sad day if there is ever 100% proof that Jesus was fabricated by the Jewish turncoat Josephus and written back into history just so that the jews could follow a more peaceful 'saviour' instead of the battle-hungry messiah they were expecting.

      It would be sad that so many people have been murdered and tortured and given electric shock therapy for a made-up character that had less tricks up his sleeve than Dynamo or Derren Brown… that had a schizophrenic, apocalyptic view of the world… that was – to be honest – less of a role model than Gandhi.

  3. Most religious people would defend the fictional man, Jesus. So many books, videos, historians out there now that prove the zero evidence of the man or that they have not found proof. Just because a kangaroo named Tommy is in a book doesn’t mean Tommy existed. Same goes with Jesus. You can now find him mentioned in Mythology books and history books now have it listed, “…and Christians believe Jesus…did this…did that….” in one tiny paragraph while people like Julius Cesar has pages to describe him. It’s too funny.

  4. Christians walk by faith. It is not about religion but a relationship. I could tell you of many miracles I have witnessed and been a part of but most would not believe me. I feel so sorry for those who blaspheme The Lord. They sell their souls for a bowl of porridge. I guess their ego’s are so great as to even overpower the Creator if the universe and all persons in it. “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.” God has gardened the hearts of all atheists. I pray that you will ask Him for forgiveness before this age comes to a close after which it will be too late.

    • Your “faith” is what they count on since there are no facts, yet you question those that require them to believe in something. Face it, you were sold a bill of goods. You bought into it and now you’re brainwashed. It’s sad. Your ignorance will prevent you from ever using your brain to question all you’ve been told.

    • Witnessing a “miracle” is not a proof of God. First it could be simply something you don’t know how to explain and second even if it were a miracle how do you God had anything to do with it. Faith of course is just a way to avoid asking or answering any meaningful questions like all the contradictions and errors in the Bible. For example it says in at least five places the earth does not move. Remember Galileo? This is why it was heresy to say the watch wasn’t the center of the universe and everything revolves around it. The bible suggests this is the case. Not trying to undermine you faith but you really need to read the text more carefully.

    • Yes, and your innocent sounding little "Walk" has really been a murderous death march for centuries. Have your silly fairy tales to believe in, doesn't bother me, just keep it to yourself and stop hurting others.

    • Eclipses used to be thought to be miracles. We know better now. Just because something cannot be readily explained does not make it a "miracle." I always laugh when something like this happens: there is an earthquake and a building crumbles. 999 of 1,000 people are killed and one is found to have survived. It is called a "miracle." Well, what do you call the deaths of the other 999? An "anti-miracle?" If god saved the 1 person, who killed the other 999?


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