Did Jesus exist AT ALL?

Earl Doherty makes a strong-sounding case that Jesus as a living, breathing man did not actually exist – that the Jesus story began with Christ as an entirely divine figure akin to Mithras, and that the story of His life on Earth was made up out of whole cloth afterwards.

A rather long summary of his arguments can be found at http://www.magi.com/~oblio/jesus/jhcjp.htm, and a more in-depth treatment can be found at the links under “MAIN ARTICLES: The Jesus Puzzle” at http://www.magi.com/~oblio/jesus/home.htm. His main evidence is that the Gospel of Mark was written in about A.D. 70, and in no earlier Christian writings – including not only the pre-70-A.D. books found in the New Testament but also the pre-70-A.D. lesser writings from the early Church – is there any mention of Jesus having had an Earthly existence. (He argues in http://www.magi.com/~oblio/jesus/supp08.htm that the mention in Romans 1:3 of Jesus having come from David’s lineage in the flesh was meant only from a mythic perspective, as a way to retrofit Jesus into being the Messiah foretold in the Book of Isaiah.)

So: Is Earl Doherty full of it, or is he on to something here?

In Who Wrote The New Testament, whose author escapes me at the moment, this argument is also made. He states that there is some evidence that the whole Jesus story was taken from a Jewish morality play.

My guess? Yes, he existed. Was he divine and the Messiah and all that? Dunno. I believe he was, but I don’t know if he was.

I mean, from what I understand, some of the apostles were documented-such as the finding of Peter’s grave in Rome.

I haven’t heard of this fellow Doherty, but G.A. Wells makes the same arguments – very well and with considerable persuasiveness – in his books “The Jesus of the Early Christians”, “Did Jesus Exist?”, and “The Historical Evidence for Jesus”. He’s written other books since, but for the most part they re-hash these three.

His argument is one from silence, which is generally a weak position to defend. He makes the most of it, however, noting that our earliest documents from the NT – the gospels of Paul – never quote Jesus’ words (except for the Eucharist), but draw all their examples from the OT, even when a quote from Jesus would have beenb particularly appropriate. He also notes the sparse historical data, and claims that when something appears that seems to peg down the date of Christ to a definite historical era it is in a suspect gospel or portion of a gospel. Wells seems to be saying that Paul didn’t necessarily believe that Christ lived only a short time before his own activity – he may have thought him to have lived 100 years earlier. This, of course, doesn’t mean that Christ ever even existed. Wells thinks that the life of Christ is an expansion upon Jewish “Wisdom” literature.

Interesting stuff. I know of at least one other author who holds similar views. But read Wells for yourself.

Well, Tracer, all you have to do is wait for the Vatican to release their secret collections. I hear tell they have Christ’s laundry lists and diaries. . .

Smitty wrote:

According to amazon.com, the book you’re talking about is probably Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth by Burton L. Mack (1996).

There’s one thing that bugs me about the Jesus-created-out-of-nowhere scenario, though: Why would Paul specifically name his lord “Jesus” (Yeshua ben Yosef)? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to name him “Emmanuel” in keeping with the prophecies of Isaiah? Where did the name “Jesus” come from if he was just a made-up divine entity?

The Master has spoken.

Well, there were a bunch of people around in the First Century who had this same theory. They did get refuted. But I don’t have any church history references handy to document that. With luck, Tom~ of tomndebb or jmullaney will open this thread and break out the evidence I lack.

If I had to go unorthodox, I’d vote for him being a man, a spiritual leader a la Gandhi or King, who got apotheosized after his death.

It’s quite possible to start up a controversy on any aspect of Jesus-as-historical-figure by making any sort of claim. But the bottom line on such assertions is the same one David put to me over a year ago – where’s the evidence?

I think the best line of concurrence here would be that somebody named Yeshua taught, in much the ways the Gospels report him to have taught, in about 30 AD, and that stories grew around him. The truth value of those stories, the claims made about him, and so on, are subject to dispute. That there was a historical figure behind them is a reasonable least hypothesis – not making the traditional claims about his resurrection, miracles, divinity, etc., just his presence as a man. To assert otherwise would be what calls for proof. That Charlemagne never did some of the things the French lais say he did does not imply he did not exist; a historian suggesting he was a legendary figure only, created to bolster the French national ethos, would be the one attempting proof. It seems to me the same would hold true of Jesus, albeit there is a bit less “objective” evidence for him.

Yeah, I saw that Straight Dope article too.

My problem with it is, Cecil’s arguments for a historic Jesus were almost as weak as the argument-from-silence against an historic Jesus. (I assume that this is because the main thrust of this article dealt with the Shroud of Turin, not the historicity of ol’ Yeshua ben Yosef himself.) F’rinstance, Cecil asserts that:

But I don’t know that 40 years is too short a time. Stranger rumors and Urban Legends have gotten started in far less time than this, with no ill intent on the part of the rumor-mongers. Cecil also says:

… but the earliest example Cecil gives of such writings is from 110 A.D. – 40 years after the Gospel of Mark was penned, and 80 years after Christ’s supposed death.

Agreed. People have been, and proabably will be, stupid forever. I regret to admit that I am also human, but…what are ya gonna do.

That said, I always understood that many folks from the bible were shown to have existed. The fact that some Roman mentioned a “Jesus” seems true enough to me, but then again, there was always that Ravenhurst fellow. :smiley:

Actually, even one of the mentions of Jesus by the early imperial Romans is in dispute. Josephus’s passage in his Histories about Jesus Christ is regarded by some as having beed added by one of the lower-down editors or scribes without Josephus’s consent, because it doesn’t appear in earlier or later editions of Josephus’s Histories.

I don’t know if the appearance of Christ in Tacitus’s Annals circa 110 A.D. is disputed or not.


I do tend towards the skeptical (else why would I be here?) but I do think the Shroud of Turin is for real. There are just too many things about the Shroud that yell authenticity. One of these days, I think, that carbon-14 date is going to be proved wrong.

Get a bit deeper in the fog of Biblical writing and early Christian history, you run into the “Q” document. Many scholars of that history are persuaded that the Synoptic gospel writers were drawing from a previous document that has been lost, hence, “Q” for “source”. Thus, though the Gospel writers were themselves writing at a later date, they were drawing thier quotations and stories from the same source. If this is so, and I am moderately convinced that it makes sense, the Gospels are derived from a “witness” of a date much closer to actual ministry of Jesus.

It is particularly striking to me how much emphasis in the earlier gospels in placed on Jesus the miraculous, the supernatural worker of “white” magic, as compared to the later portrait of an ethical philosopher who had a sideline in curing lepers and casting out demons.

So: almost certainly existed. Further than this despondent sayeth not.


On the Shroud of Trin, read Joe Nickell’s book “Inquest on the Shroud of Turin”. I’v read a number of books on the Shroud, pro and con, and Nickell’s work impresses me the most. He’s most definitely con, by the way.

Did you mean “deponent”, as in a court case?
Or are you really at the end of your tether?

Well…if he was considered to be the Messiah then in Jewish tradition he would have had to be a man. It was the God part that early Christians (ie Jews) would have had a problem with. And of course the conflating of Jesus and God was only accompliced after a couple more centuries. And by Greeks (well Romans. I mean not Jews. Paul called them Greeks). Paul does not seem to think they are the same person. And if he didn’t believe Jesus had an existence as a man it would be practically saying there was a second God. Something I don’t think the early Christians (ie Jews) could have stomached.

And I don’t think
“Concerning his Son Jesus, our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” sound all that metaphoric. Seed? Flesh?

It doesn’t even seem to support the Virgin Birth. Speaking of which the earliest Gospel, Mark, omits the Virgin Birth entirerly, which implies to me that it was the mytho-poetic stuff that was added.

Pantom - personally, I don’t think the Shroud is authentic, and the book recommended by CalMeacham is very good. However, and by way of demonstrating an impartiality for which I am not exactly famous, you may like to read “The Jesus Conspiracy” by Holger Kersten & Elmar R. Gruber. This is a very thorough attempt at ‘debunking’ the whole carbon-14 testing business, and (by extension) buttressing the argument in favour of the Shroud’s authenticity. Don’t be put off by the fact that the authors’ names sound like a muppet script conference.

I didn’t find it terribly convincing myself, as if that matters, but the authors seem sincere (not fanatics) and if you do favour the ‘authentic’ view then you will probaby find many good debating points in this book.

tracer- one of the mentions of JC in Josephus seems to be somewhat in doubt. The Oxford History of the Bible World calls it 'controversial"- but does not reject it entirely. The passage goes “About this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if one should even call him a man. For he was a doer of striking deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly… When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by leading men amoung us, had condemned him, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them, living again…” (Antiquities 18.3.3). Perhaps this passage is evidence, but it is 'doubtful" evidence for several reasons.

However, in AD62, James (JCs brother) was stoned to death upon orders of AnanusII. Josephus mentions this incident, and states that it was “James, the brother of Jesus (who they call Christ)” who was so killed. (quote not exact). AFAIK, no-one questions the authenticity of this, rather offhand mention of JC. And this was some 30 years after JC death. It is a little hard for an imaginary man to have a brother. I suppose James could have been “imaginary” also- but if so- what were they throwing rocks at? Of course- this is no proof at all that JC was the Messiah, worked miracles, or returned after 3 “days”. So- if one does not beleive- there is no problem in saying some charismatic “backwoods rabbis” story was blown out of proportion, and turned into the Gospels.

The next evidence for the real existance of JC is negative- but a pretty strong negative. During the Persecution, the Romans were desperate to do anything which would invalidate this new religion. They had the records of such things as executions, even by provincial governors. Thus- if the records did not show any record of Jesus- they would have said so. Even if the records did not exist (destroyed? Shredded?)- there were lots of folks who were alive in AD70, and were also around when JC was preaching- and the Romans did not trot out some aged Samaritan who said- “I was around in those days- and i never heard of no ‘Jesus’”(and if the Romans did not want to do so, I am certain that Ananus II would have done so instead). The Romans made, AFAIK, no attempts to discredit Jesus as a real person at all, in fact, the Roman Emperors spoke of Him as if his actual existance was not a bit in doubt (somebody posted some great quotes on this, in an earlier thread, so see them).

Finally, to “argue from authority”- no reputable, unbiased scholarly source doubts JCs actual existance. I know many tire of me using Isaac Asimov- but this Secular Humanist, Atheistic, polymath of Jewish heritage- had no doubts. Kenneth C Davis, in his rather skeptical “Don’t Know Much about the Bible”- posits no doubts about THIS. The Oxford History of the Biblical World- a very skeptical but scholarly and authoritive book- not only poses no real doubts- but states with authority some small portions of His “biography” as actual history (including His execution). They do go on to say “Aside from these few conclusions, neither the chronology, nor the central message of Jesus’ teaching, nor the reason for his crucifixion can be given with certainty.” Thus, for the staff at Oxford- the historical existance of Jesus is a “certainty”. Lastly, Cecil himself agrees.


Regarding the mentions of “James the Lord’s Brother” in Josephus – the ingenuities of those supporting the no-Jesus theory are legion. I have seen it suggested:

1.) The “…brother of Jesus” part is an interpolation. Originally, it is suggested, this was a marginal gloss that was later added as if part of the original text.


2.) “Brother of Jesus” is taken as meaning a member of his congregation, much as many groups today refer to each other as “brother”, only in this case the groups founder is imaginary.


3.) “called the Christ” should really be translated as “the so-called Christ”. This one I have to disagree with outright – the translation is too modern, and the phrase appears in the NT, where there is no hint of skepticism.

I;m not saying I believe any of these, but I do want to point out that the point can be argued.