NEW! EXPANDED 2nd EDITION (Nov. 2023)
Jesus of Nazareth is one of the most famous men in history. There are good reasons to believe that he walked the earth some two thousand years ago, and was eventually crucified.
But what about Jesus Christ, son of God? What if he never existed? What if the divine, virgin-born, resurrected Jesus Christ was a myth, a lie—even a hoax? That would have huge implications for modern-day Christianity; it would mean that there is a gigantic falsehood at the core of the religion of some two billion people.
In this book, Dr. David Skrbina presents a profound and stunning theory: that St. Paul and a band of friends constructed a ‘Jesus hoax.’ They took a kernel of truth based on Jesus, the man, and turned him into the divine savior of humanity. They did so as a way to strike back at the hated Roman Empire, and to undermine its strength among the common people. The absolute lack of corroborating evidence for the so-called biblical Jesus, and the fact that key documents such as the four Gospels were written decades after his time, all support this theory.
Everyone, regardless of religious belief, needs to be aware of this astonishing story. This is not just ancient history; it has vast implications for many areas of modern life.
Creative Fire Press (2023),
Chapter 1: Setting the Stage……………………………………….……. 1
Chapter 2: Just the Facts…………………………………………........ 19
Chapter 3: Why the Jesus Story is False……………………….…. 43
Chapter 4: One Against All………………………………………..…… 63
Chapter 5: Reconstructing the Truth……………………………….. 91
Chapter 6: Paul as Destroyer of Gentile Families....................... 113
Chapter 7: Taking Stock.......................................................... 121
Chapter 8: Challenges and Critiques...................................... 137
Chapter 9: Is the New Testament Pro-Roman?...................... 161
Chapter 10: What Next?........................................................... 169
Appendix A: 36 Jesus miracles
Appendix B: A Critique of Aslan's "Zealot"
Appendix C: Pliny's Letter
Jesus of Nazareth, known as Jesus Christ, known as the Son of God, known as God himself, is widely acknowledged to be one of the most famous individuals in history. We know his story: Born of a virgin, he performed numerous miracles and made many divine pronouncements during his short, 33-year life. He spoke of a dedication to God, of a spiritual inwardness, of love and forgiveness. He suffered greatly for his beliefs, and asked his followers to likewise suffer for theirs. He promised redemption from sin, and eternal life in heaven. Ultimately he gave his life for the salvation of mankind. His bodily ascension into heaven was proof of his promise. In the end, his teachings led to the foundation of one of the great religions of the world.
That Jesus should be counted among the most famous people in history is hardly surprising. Time Magazine ranked him #1 in all of history, and a slightly more technical study done by MIT University ranked him #3 (behind Aristotle and Plato). His followers literally number in the billions. There are about 2.1 billion Christians on Earth today, roughly 1/3 of the planet, making Christianity the #1 religion globally. The United States is strongly Christian; about 77% of Americans call themselves Christians, which encompasses some 250 million people. It’s clear that Jesus, as the nominal founder of the Christian church, is among the most important and influential persons who ever lived.
But some historians and researchers have made a startling claim: that Jesus, the Son of God, never existed. They say that Jesus Christ was a pure myth. Is that even possible? Surely not, we reply. This most-influential founder of the most-influential religion of Christianity surely had to exist. And he surely had to be the miracle-working Son of God that is proclaimed in the Bible. How could it be otherwise? we ask. How could a venerable, two-thousand-year-old religion, with billions of followers throughout history, be based on someone who never existed? Impossible! Or so we say.
If that were the case, if Jesus never existed, imagine the consequences: an entire religion, and the active beliefs of billions of people, all in vain. All of Christianity based on a myth, a fable, even—as I will argue—a lie. Why, that would be catastrophic. The Crusades, the religious wars, the burning of heretics, the Inquisition, the countless lives led in hope of heaven and fear of hell—all in vain.
Or consider a slightly less radical but still earth-shaking possibility: That Jesus existed, but he was just a man: an entirely ordinary—and entirely mortal—teacher of morality. What if Jesus was just a simple preacher, a Jewish rabbi, who spoke in defense of the poor and the underprivileged, and through his various social agitations, managed to get himself executed by the Roman authorities? And what if his body was unceremoniously buried in some non-descript grave somewhere in Palestine, never to be seen again? What if there were no virgin birth, no Sermon on the Mount, no miracles, no raising of the dead, no walking on water, no bodily ascension into heaven on the third day? Well, that would be nearly as bad as if Jesus never existed at all. All of Christian history would still be founded on a myth or on a lie. It would still be a sham. And all the efforts of Christians worldwide, throughout all of history, would still be in vain. This is the view that I will defend in this book.
Note that it is very important to distinguish between the two conceptions of ‘Jesus.’ If someone asks, “Did Jesus exist?” we need to know if they mean (a) the divine, miracle-working, resurrected Son of God (sometimes called the biblical Jesus), or (b) the ordinary man and Jewish preacher who died a mortal death (sometimes called the historical Jesus). Christianity requires a biblical Jesus, but the skeptics argue either for simply a historical Jesus—which would mean the end of Christianity—or worse, no Jesus at all.
It’s my purpose in this book to argue that the miracle-working, ascended-to-heaven, Son-of-God Jesus never existed. I will, however, accept the historical Jesus: the Jewish preacher who lived and taught at that time, who was a social agitator that incited his fellow Jews against the Romans, and who therefore got himself crucified. (Crucifixion was generally reserved for crimes against the State.) Unlike the other skeptics, I have good reasons for believing that a mortal, historical Jesus did exist. But I agree with them that the miracles, the resurrection story, and most of his alleged sayings were pure myth.
It’s my further purpose to explain how and why the biblical Jesus myth—the Jesus lie—came to be constructed, and how it came to influence world history. It is a shocking story, frankly, and one that has only been hinted at before. Bits and pieces of this counter-narrative have been discovered and examined throughout history, but the whole picture has never been clearly pieced together, until now. Political correctness and contemporary liberal dogma both conspire to suppress any such discussion. The media have no interest in examining this alternate story, for reasons that I will explain. Western governments have little incentive, and much disincentive, for promoting open talk of this issue. Christians obviously do not want to hear any talk of a Jesus myth, nor—as I will explain—do Jews or Muslims. In short, hardly anyone in power, and many ordinary people, have no desire to consider the radical thesis that Jesus, Son of God, never existed. And yet it is of untold importance.
Now of course, I cannot prove my thesis. I cannot give an ironclad, bullet-proof argument that the Jesus story was a hoax. Part of the problem is the notorious difficulty of “proving a negative”—that is, it can be difficult or sometimes impossible to prove that some alleged event did not happen. The other issue is that the circumstances of that place and time are so obscure, and our hard knowledge so limited, that little of anything can be stated with certainty. Nor, of course, can the Christians prove the biblical account of events. Their entire case rests on the Bible, and this document is riddled with difficulties, as I will show. In this sense, we are on equal footing; neither of us can definitively prove our case. But the weight of evidence, and archeological history, and common sense, all point to the very strong likelihood that a divine Jesus never existed, and that his story was constructed for very specific reasons and purposes.
But there is an additional problem for Christian defenders. It is a common rule of argumentation that whoever makes the more extraordinary claims holds the primary burden of proof. To makes claims about a virgin birth, or a miracle-working Son of God, or being risen from the dead, are, to say the least, extraordinary claims. Therefore, in the debate about Jesus’ existence, it is the Christian, and not the skeptic, who holds the burden of proof. If I claim that Jesus did not exist, and a Catholic theologian claims he did, then I merely need to show the implausible and unlikely nature of such an event, along with a lack of any corroborating evidence. The theologian, by contrast, must give definitive, positive evidence that such a miracle man actually existed, and did and said what is claimed in the Bible. My standard of proof is much lower, his is much higher. In other words, it is much, much easier for me to ‘win’ such a debate. I think this will become clear as my argument proceeds.
Two Defenses, Refuted
When confronted with the case against Jesus, and the strong likelihood of his mythological stature, Christians typically find themselves unable to defend their version of events. Sensing defeat, they frequently retreat to one of two commonly-held views that they see as their ultimate safe havens. It’s worth mentioning these briefly now, at the outset, in order to get them out of the way.
First: “Christianity relies on faith, not reason. Therefore, rational arguments against it, or against Jesus, have no effect. We simply believe the Christian story, and that’s good enough.”
This is a very convenient ‘get out of jail free’ card that religious people like to play. But it doesn’t work. It’s worth noting that all of Western civilization is based on the idea of rationality and reason, from its very inception in ancient Greece around 600 BC. Reason is older than Judeo-Christianity, and is the foundation of everything that we have achieved. It’s not that faith has no place, but if we allow faith to override reason in our ideological thinking, we surrender the very basis of our own culture. It’s self-defeating and it’s self-destructive.
Furthermore, many of the most famous Christian theologians in history were eminently rational; Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, to name a few, were all justly famous for their reason-based arguments. A true Christian should never have to surrender reason, even in the name of faith.
Additionally, even if we want to place an emphasis on belief, we still need to have a reason to believe. If our beliefs aren’t rational, we are liable to believe absolutely anything: pixies, magic dragons, unicorns, you name it. We might start burning people as witches, or try casting out demons, or rely strictly on prayer to heal serious diseases. A society ruled by non-rational beliefs is a very dangerous one, and not something that anyone would truly want to live in.
Second: “It doesn’t matter if the Jesus story is true. It still helps people to live better lives and become better people.”
This is tantamount to surrender. The entirety of the Christian faith is based on the idea that Jesus was the Son of God, that he actually came to Earth to save us, and that he actually died and was bodily risen. The whole religion collapses into absurdity if the Jesus story is false. If Jesus promises us eternal life, and threatens non-believers with eternal damnation, this only matters if he actually existed, and if he was right. If we are willing to accept that the Jesus story may be a myth, then we must also be willing to accept that his more esoteric ideas, like heaven and hell, might also be myths.
Further, can it really be beneficial to accept a myth as truth? Can one really live a happy, successful, and meaningful life dedicated to a false story, or to a lie? Take the case of Santa Claus. This story may be useful to keep naughty little children in line, but it ‘works’ only because of their ignorance and naiveté. Even if we could keep up the charade for years, would it be ethical to do so? Surely not; ultimately it would lead to terrible outcomes. And if there were a whole society of Santa-believers, can we envision them leading a truly good life? Of course not. It should be self-evident that a life based on self-deception or falsehood can never turn out well.
Granted, certain ideas attributed to Jesus could be considered beneficial: the Golden Rule, love thy neighbor, aid the poor, human equality, the virtue of hope. (Recall, however, that the 10 Commandments are from the Old Testament; they are, strictly speaking, Judaic rather than Christian.) But one doesn’t need to be a Christian to love thy neighbor, or to aid the poor, or to treat others kindly. There are independent and thoroughly rational reasons to do these things, as many other philosophers and religious figures have noted, both before and after Jesus. The fact that some people find these things helpful in no way justifies a general belief in the Christian story.
I therefore have to conclude that it does matter, profoundly, if the Jesus story is true or false. Anyone, any alleged Christian, who tries to claim that it doesn’t matter can hardly be taken seriously.
A Few Questions about God
Jesus, we are told, was God. Skepticism about Jesus therefore naturally leads to skepticism about God—that is, the Judeo-Christian God who created the world in six days, who created Adam and Eve, who caused the Great Flood, who sent his only son to save mankind, and who loves each and every one of us. Generally speaking, in this book I will be ignoring the question about God’s nature and existence, in order to focus on the Jesus story and its origins. Technically, God’s existence is independent of Jesus’ existence. Even if Jesus were a total myth, there could still be, in theory, a God. Orthodox Jews believe in God but not Jesus. Muslims believe in God (Allah) but not a divine, son-of-God Jesus who died and was risen. The two issues are distinct.
That being the case, I will say just a few words here about God, and specifically, about what is rational and what is irrational about him.
It’s common knowledge that there have been many religions in world history—more than 4,000, by some estimates. Each of these has a different conception of God or the gods. Clearly, the vast majority of them must be in error. More likely, all of them are in error. As the saying goes, “They can’t all be right, but they can all be wrong.” Odds are that every religion has seriously defective beliefs about God or the gods, to the point where we can say almost nothing conclusive about the divine. We cannot even be sure that gods exist.
If we set aside atheism for a moment, it seems that all the world religions could agree on just two propositions about God:
God is the Supreme Being or ultimate reality.
God is that which is most revered.
Despite the vast and irreconcilable difference amongst religions, virtually everyone could accept these two claims. If we stuck to just these two views, there would be no religious disagreements, no religious wars, no religious strife at all.
But of course, with just these two claims, one cannot construct a functioning religion—one that builds temples, grows in numbers and wealth, and projects power around the world. You can’t have “the Church” without a lot more to God than that. That’s why the various religions have been compelled to add additional qualities to God, to create additional stories about him, to bring him to Earth, and so on.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are a number of qualities that we can attribute to God without being irrational, provided that we are careful how we define them. For example, God can logically, rationally, and consistently be said to have the following properties:
God is uncreated.
God is perfect.
God is eternal.
God is omnipresent.
God is one.
God is a mind or spirit.
Rational thinkers throughout history have attributed some or all of these to a divine Being. They are not contradictory, they are not illogical, and they do not lead to irreconcilable paradoxes.
But even these are not enough for most religions. These still don’t allow anyone to build up a church, a complex doctrine, or to exert power over people. Therefore theologians have introduced yet additional qualities, ones that do allow for conventional religion:
God is a ‘person’ (someone who loves, forgives, punishes, etc).
God ‘speaks’ to humans.
God is omniscient.
God is omnipotent.
God is supernatural.
God does good acts.
God saves some and condemns others.
These qualities cause major problems. While I can’t detail it here, they lead to all sorts of problems: contradictions, paradoxes, absurdities, and sheer mysteries.
The biggest problem of all comes when we believe that God is a moral being: someone who is good, kind, benevolent, just, etc. This notion is central to Christianity but it leads directly to what we call the Problem of Evil. In short, the problem is this: The world is plagued by all varieties of evils, including murder, rape, war, violence, illness, disease, accidents, famine, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes. All of these cause massive human suffering and death, every day. But the world is allegedly overseen by a benevolent and loving God who wishes well for us humans, who are, after all, created in his image. This moral God, furthermore, is all-powerful; he can instantly do whatever he wishes. How is it, then, that humans suffering such vast and unending evils? God has the power to halt or prevent every conceivable evil. And yet he does not. Why?
Suffice it to say that there is no rational answer to this question. It seems that God either does not really care about our suffering—in which case he’s not all good—or he is not really able to do anything about it—in which case he is not all powerful. In other words, God is either not a moral being, or he’s not all-powerful. He clearly can’t be both at the same time. And yet that’s exactly what Christianity, and many other religions, want us to believe. It’s an unsolvable dilemma. The Problem of Evil has no answer.
Apart from the Problem of Evil and other paradoxes, we have the simple observation that there is no evidence of God. He doesn’t come and speak to us anymore. He doesn’t appear in burning bushes or clouds of smoke and fire. He doesn’t send down his sons (or daughters) to enlighten us. Science has no need to postulate God, since everything that happens is covered by the laws of physics. Miracles no longer happen—meaning, events that don’t have straightforward scientific explanations. Why is God hiding?
Because he remains hidden, people cannot agree on God, and hence they fight and die in his name. Why would he allow this to happen? Of the more than 4,000 religions, at least 3,999 of them are wrong about God; how can we tell which is right? Or what if they are all wrong? What if we think we are doing the right thing, but God is secretly angry with us? What if all those who rigorously attend church every Sunday are, in God’s eyes, unthinking sheep who will ultimately be punished? How can we ever really know what God likes, or doesn’t like? We have no answers to these questions, and we never will. It does no good to say, “Well, God is mysterious.” This is another religious cop-out. It’s a meaningless statement that can be used to cover over any inconvenient problem. It’s another sign of surrender.
The only reasonable conclusion is that God—if he exists at all—is limited in many ways. He can be a kind of ultimate reality, and we can indeed revere him. He can have any of the first set of properties shown above, but none of the second group. But even these “acceptable” qualities are arbitrary human constructions. We choose them because we like them, but that’s it. We have no real reasons, no evidence, to make any such claims at all. Based on the actual evidence, it seems that there is no God at all. But if it makes us feel better to invent him, and give him a few, limited qualities, there is little harm in doing so.
Enough about God. My focus here is Jesus, and we have many more interesting things to learn about him.
The Problem of the Experts
When we try to make a rational and critical inquiry into Jesus, we are immediately confronted with a serious issue, namely, “the problem of the experts.” This problem has several different aspects, all of which make it very hard for the average reader to ascertain the truth.
Writers on Christianity tend to fall into three groups: academics, journalists, and independent researchers. In all three cases, we are confronted with the fact that we typically never know the religious beliefs of the writer. And for good reason. All three groups of individuals want to portray themselves as unbiased and neutral investigators, and so they have a strong incentive to hide their true beliefs from the reader. But those beliefs are there nonetheless, and they strongly influence which questions are asked, which ideas are examined, and what conclusions are drawn.
Consider the academics. The vast majority are either (a) faculty of a religious-based institution, or (b) members of a religious studies department in an ordinary, secular university. In either case, if they are experts in Christianity, nearly all are Christians. This obviously colors their outlook, and imposes severe constraints on the kinds of ideas that they will consider. Of the few non-Christian academic writers on Christianity, many are Jews (e.g. Martin Buber, Paul Goodman, Alan Dershowitz), and a few (e.g. Reza Aslan) are Muslims—and these carry their own baggage. For obvious reasons, open-minded, critically-thinking, non-religious faculty members rarely become experts in Christianity.
Journalists have their own issues. They typically have no advanced degrees, and thus do not really understand how to do serious academic research. They furthermore are in the business of selling books—lots of books. This means that they don’t really care about serious academic research. Their chief motive is income, not truth. Additionally, their employers would certainly take a dim view of their careers if they decided to publish something outside the conventional bounds.
Independent researchers typically suffer from all the above problems: no advanced education, no understanding of detailed and careful research, religious bias, and the need to sell books.
Of course, everyone has a kind of bias about religion. Even the atheists and professional skeptics have hidden or unexamined assumptions. So be it. The best we can hope for is that our experts are open and honest about their biases, which will allow us, the readers, to better judge their writings.
I too have my biases, I’m sure. But let me be as transparent as I can. I was “raised” Presbyterian but rarely attended and never committed to the church, ever. I have been a religious skeptic since my early teens, and I recall debating my religious classmates even in middle school. I hold advanced degrees in mathematics and philosophy, and I’ve been teaching philosophy at a campus of the University of Michigan since 2003. I’m not an atheist, but my religious stance changes depending on the circumstances; sometimes I’m an agnostic, sometimes a pantheist, sometimes a polytheist. In no sense am I a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew. Nor is anyone in my immediate family. I like to think that I am as unbiased as possible, perhaps more so than nearly any present-day writer on Christianity. I am a paid professor, so I do not need to sell books to make a living. I write what I think is true and important. Whether these facts result in a useful and honest book on Jesus, I leave it to the reader to decide.
Another Jesus Skeptic?
As the reader can obviously see by now, I am a ‘Jesus skeptic.’ But I’m far from the first. There have been many such skeptics in the past, and their numbers appear to be growing. In recent times this group has been referred to as “Christ Mythicists,” meaning those who deny the existence of the biblical, divine Jesus (though not necessarily the historical human Jesus). Christ Myth Theory, or CMT, is also popular with atheists in general, since it feeds into their view that God too does not exist.
So, why this book? Why do we need yet another Jesus skeptic?
To answer this question, let me give a brief overview of some of the prominent skeptics and their views. I will argue that their ideas, though on the right track, are woefully short of the truth. They lack the courage or the will to look hard at the evidence, and to envision a more likely conclusion: that Jesus was a deliberately constructed myth, by a specific group of people, with a specific end in mind. None of the Christ mythicists or atheist writers have, to my knowledge, articulated the view that I defend here.
But first a quick recap of the background and context for the idea of a mythological Jesus. The earliest modern critic was German scholar Hermann Reimarus, who published a multi-part work, Fragments, in the late 1770s. Strikingly, his view is one of the closest to my own thesis of any skeptic. For Reimarus, Jesus was the militant leader of a group of Jewish rebels who were fighting against oppressive Roman rule. Eventually he got himself crucified. His followers then constructed a miraculous religion-story around Jesus, in order to carry on his cause. They lied about his miracles, and they stole his body from the grave so that they could claim a bodily resurrection. This is quite close to what I will call the ‘antagonism thesis’—that a group of Jews constructed a false Jesus story, based on a real man, in order to undermine Roman rule. But there is much more to the story, far beyond that which Reimarus himself was able to articulate.
In the 1820s and 30s, Ferdinand Baur published a number of works that emphasized the conflict between the early Jewish-Christians—significantly, all the early Christians were Jews—and the somewhat later Gentile-Christians. This again is a key part of the story, but we need to know the details; we need to know why the conflict arose, and what were its ends.
In 1835, David Strauss published the two-volume work Das Leben Jesu—“The Life of Jesus.” He was the first to argue, correctly, that none of the gospel writers knew Jesus personally. He disavowed all claims of miracles, and argued that the Gospel of John was, in essence, an outright lie with no basis in reality.
German philosopher Bruno Bauer wrote a number of important books, including Criticism of the Gospel History (1841), The Jewish Question (1843), Criticism of the Gospels (1851), Criticism of the Pauline Epistles (1852), and Christ and the Caesars (1877). Bauer held that there was no historical Jesus and that the entire New Testament was a literary construction, utterly devoid of historical content. Shortly thereafter, James Frazer published The Golden Bough (1890), arguing for a connection between all religion—Christianity included—and ancient mythological concepts.
It was about at this time that another famous Christian skeptic emerged: Friedrich Nietzsche. In his books Daybreak (1881), On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), and Antichrist (1888) he provides a potent critique of Christianity and Christian morality. Nietzsche always accepted the historical Jesus, and even had good things to say about him. But he was devastating in his attack on Paul and the later writers of the New Testament. He viewed Christian morality as a lowly, life-denying form of slave morality, attributed not to Jesus but to the actions of Paul and the other Jewish followers. Along with Reimarus, Nietzsche provides the most inspiration for my own analysis.
Into the 20th century, we find such books as The Christ Myth (1909) and The Denial of the Historicity of Jesus (1926), both by Arthur Drews, and The Enigma of Jesus (1923) by Paul-Louis Chouchoud. All these continued to attack the literal truth claimed of the Bible.
More recently, we have critics such as the historian George Wells and his book Did Jesus Exist? (1975). Here he assembles an impressive amount of evidence against a historical Jesus. Bart Ehrman has called Wells “the best-known mythicists of modern times,” though in later years Wells softened his stance somewhat; he accepted that there may have been an historical Jesus, although we know almost nothing about him. Wells died in 2017 at the age of 90.
Similar arguments were offered by philosopher Michael Martin in his 1991 book, The Case against Christianity. Though a wide-ranging critique, he dedicated one chapter to the idea that Jesus never existed. Martin died in 2015.
Among living critics, we have such men as Thomas Thompson, who wrote The Messiah Myth (2007); he is agnostic about an historical Jesus, but argues against historical truth in the Bible. By contrast, Earl Doherty (The Jesus Puzzle, 1999), Tom Harpur (The Pagan Christ, 2004), and Thomas Brodie (Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus, 2012) all deny that any such Jesus of Nazareth ever existed. Richard Carrier, in his book On the Historicity of Jesus (2014), finds it highly unlikely that any historical Jesus lived.
Perhaps the most vociferous and prolific Jesus skeptic today is Robert Price, a man with two doctorates in theology and a deep knowledge of the Bible. Though agnostic on the historical Jesus, Price argues that much of Christian theology is a synthesis of pre-Christian mythology, and hence devoid of truth content. He thus qualifies as a proponent of the “Christ Myth” thesis. His extensive writings include Deconstructing Jesus (2000), The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man (2003), Jesus Is Dead (2007), The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems (2012), and Killing History (2014). Price’s central points can be summarized as follows:
The miracle stories have no independent verification from unbiased contemporaries.
The characteristics of Jesus are all drawn from much older mythologies and other pagan sources.
The earliest documents, the letters of Paul, point to an esoteric, abstract, ethereal Jesus—a “mythic hero archetype”—not an actual man who died on a cross.
The later documents, the Gospels, turned the Jesus-concept into an actual man, a literal Son of God, who died and was risen.
I find some truth in all these claims, as I will show. But there is much more to the story than Price is willing to entertain. Perhaps this relates to his personal situation. Price seems to rely heavily on book sales and speaking fees for income; he is very much in “the Jesus business.” I can’t help but think that this affects what he says and writes.
These men, then, are perhaps the most authoritative critics of the traditional account of Jesus. They know their stuff, and they know how to do research. But of course, this does not make them right, or even guarantee an open and honest assessment. It does guarantee a clever and learned critique, though.
There are many other books attacking the Jesus story, but the vast majority are written by marginally qualified individuals. Some are atheists, some are members of competing religions, some are just out to sell books. Most have no advanced degrees at all. I leave it to the reader to investigate these as desired. One suggestion: examine the qualifications of the writer before buying the book!
With the exception of Nietzsche, all of the above individuals exhibit a glaring weakness: they are loathe to criticize anyone. No one comes in for condemnation, no one is guilty, no one is to blame for anything. For the earliest writers, I think this is due primarily to an insecurity about their ideas and a general lack of clarity about what likely occurred. For the more recent individuals, it’s probably attributable to an in-bred political correctness, to a weakness of moral backbone, or to sheer self-interest. In recent years, academics in particular are highly reticent to affix blame on individuals, even those long-dead. This is somehow seen as a violation of academic neutrality or professional integrity. But when the facts line up against someone or some group, then we must be honest with ourselves. There are truly guilty parties all throughout history, and when we come upon them, we must call them out.
Consider this: There are very good reasons (as I will show) for believing that none of the Jesus miracle stories are true. And yet someone, at some point in time, wrote them down as if they were true. The conclusion is clear: someone lied. When you write obvious falsehoods and portray them as literal truth, that’s a lie. The questions then are, Who lied?, When?, and Why? I will address these matters in due time. For now I simply note that none of our brave critics, our Jesus mythicists, seem willing to pinpoint anyone: not Paul, not his Jewish colleagues, not the early Christian fathers—no one. A colossal story has been laid out about the Son of God come to Earth, performing miracles, and being risen from the dead, and yet—no one lied? Really? Can we believe that? Was it all just a big misunderstanding? Honest errors? No thinking person could accept this. Someone, somewhere in the past, constructed a gigantic lie and then passed it around the ancient world as a cosmic truth. The guilty parties need to be exposed. Only then can we truly understand this ancient religion, and begin to move forward.
Let me now lay out the basic facts of Christian history, as we understand them today. I use the word “fact” advisedly, because it is very hard to determine such things with certainty, and there are skeptical voices on nearly every issue. Still, in the next chapter I will present the most widely-accepted information that we have that relates to the origins of Christianity and to the tales of Jesus. Today we know much more about those ancient times than in decades past, and we can have much more confidence regarding what did, or did not, happen.