There are two popular conspiracy theories regarding Jesus. The first was popularized by Dan Brown’s foul work The Da Vinci Code. Although he doesn’t realize it, Brown is an evemerist, named after Evemeras, a Greek philosopher four centuries before Christ. The word gets a mere 137 hits on Google.
Evemeras said gods were originally real people whose actions were exaggerated until they were thought of as gods. Brown says Jesus was a regular guy who married Mary Magdalene. Only later, at the Council of Nicea in the year 325, was Jesus declared a god. Rather than being the glass used by Jesus at the Last Supper, the Holy Grail is his family line – “san graal” is “Holy Grail”, a pun on “san greal” or “blood royal” .
The other popular Jesus conspiracy theory is perhaps more outrageous: that Jesus was the son of God who came to Earth to perform miracles and teach people how to live, before dying and rising again three days after. This stretches belief even more than the first one, requiring as it does a belief in the supernatural. Adherents of this belief are collectively known as “the Church”.
Jesus is a lie
Jesus’ story isn’t original. Osiris, Mithra. Hermes, Perseus and Prometheus were all worshiped as gods, and were all born around December 25th to a godly father and a virginal mother. Such unions were so commonplace that the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE – 50 CE) cautioned against this superstition.
Tyrants attempted to kill these god-men in their infancy, believing these children would otherwise eventually overthrow them. These characters rose again after dying violently. Justin Martyr, the first century Christian, conceded Jesus’ similarity to Perseus and Hercules, counterfeits Satan planted in advance. Dionysus also transformed water into wine, rode an ass, fed crowds, suffered and was mocked.
Jesus also closely resembles Krishna, a thousand years before: his adoptive human father was a carpenter; he was of royal blood; wise men following a star visited him at birth, angels warned that the local dictator was going to kill him as a baby; in adulthood, he went to the wilderness and fasted; he said, “I am the resurrection”; he said he existed before being born; he was sinless; he was a god-man; he cast out demons and raised the dead; he was criticized for mixing with sinners; he had a last supper and was resurrected. In some traditions, Krishna’s ma is a virgin
Jesus is regarded as a great teacher, but taught nothing original. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) is reminiscent of the Taoist adage “Love the world as your own self” (Tao Te Ching 13). Jesus made more than ten borrowings from Taoism, which came several hundred years before Him.
The most famous Christian relic is the Turin shroud, purportedly bearing Jesus’ image. Nobody mentioned it before 1356 and carbon dating puts it at 1260-1390 CE. The front of the man depicted is two inches taller than the back, and his hands and arms are suggestive of gigantism – a deformity. The Shroud’s image was drawn with paint made from mercuric sulphide and red ochre, used throughout Italy in the Middle Ages.
The Gospels aren’t independent accounts. 89% of Mark is found in Matthew and 72% in Luke. They have the same language, grammar and expression, even the same order.
While the earliest confirmed reference to the Gospels was in 130 CE, Christian conservatives say they were written around 70 CE. Luke, however, borrowed heavily from works of the first century historian, Josephus, published in 95 CE, particularly Life and Against Apion. Luke talked more about the non-Christian world than any other Gospel writer, and almost every such incident also appears in Josephus. Among the nine examples are the census of Quirinius, Agrippa’s death and Felix sending priests to Rome for trial.
Luke calls the Pharisees the “most precise school”, like Josephus. No other authors used these words in this way, and there are other examples of identical wording.
In Matthew, King Herod feared the birth of a child who would replace him, so he ordered the execution of every child under two years old in the vicinity of Bethlehem. The other Gospels don’t mention this “Slaughter of the Innocents”, nor does any other historian. Christians might say it was a small-scale event. With the Glencoe Massacre, a central part of Scottish history, 38 people died immediately and another 40 from exposure after their homes were burned. You wouldn’t have to massacre many babies to get noticed.
Jesus said he was the Messiah – the anointed one, a mortal with a divine helping hand. He was a descendant of David. He was going to save the Jews. He said he was the Son of God, the resurrection and the life, the Lord and Teacher, and the way, the truth and the life. Isn’t that pretty anointed?
Roman records would have mentioned the execution of a man who claimed to be the Messiah, as with Yehuda of Galilee in 6 CE, Theudas in 44 CE and Benjamin the Egyptian in 60 CE.
At for the shape of Jesus’ cross, a paper on the subject was recently published by Britain’s prestigious Royal Society of Medicine. It said that sometimes people were nailed to the cross by their genitals, and had Jesus been real, he could have suffered thusly. Victims weren’t necessarily positioned upright, the popular Christian image. The authors believe the image of Christ upon the cross is unsubstantiated: “Based on the evidence, we simply do not know how people died during crucifixion”.
Archaeological evidence for crucifixion is rare, because most victims went unburied. Only one such exists from Jesus’ time, with nails through the victim’s heels, but not his arms.
The Gospels say Jesus was obliged to bear a “stauros”, traditionally translated as “cross”. Gunnar Samuelsson, a theological specialist at Gothenburg University and a pastor, authored a 400-page thesis on ancient crucifixion. After taking three years to examine documents from 800 BCE to 100 CE, Samuelsson realised “stauros” could refer to a selection of poles or execution contraptions: a tree trunk, a spiked pole or something else entirely. “Stauron” came to mean “crucifixion” only after Jesus’ supposed death and, in fact, because of it.
Samuelsson noted that Josephus remarked that Roman troops were at liberty to employ their “wicked minds in various ways to execute” captives. The manner of Jesus demise, had it happened, might have been chosen by the legionnaires on duty at Calvary at the time.
John Denham Parsons said there was no cross in his 1896 book, The Non-Christian Cross: An Enquiry into the Origin and History of the Symbol Eventually Adopted as that of our Religion: “There is not even in the Greek text of the Gospels, a single intimation in the Bible to the effect that the instrument actually used in the case of Jesus was cross-shaped.”
Conservative Christians admit that no contemporaneous record of Jesus exists. They give Greek and Roman history as examples, as with the earliest biographies of Alexander the Great, written over four centuries later, but still trusted. But Alexander left evidence behind. He destroyed cities or even founded them, as with Alexandria. Alexander left evidence literally written in stone – a letter to the people of Chios carved in 322 BCE. But there’s no evidence for Jesus and, like Socrates, he left nothing written.
Jesus’ Palestine was documented by more than sixty historians from 10 – 100 CE. Very few spoke of Jesus, and none believably, like Josephus’ famous Testimonium Flavium in 95 CE, a section of his Antiquities.
This said Jesus was superhuman: “He was [the] Christ“, “…if it be lawful to call him a man” and mentioning the resurrection. The view that Josephus became an Ebionite Christian is adhered to by very few. Josephus was a life-long Pharisaic Jew, OK? Jews don’t think Jesus was the Christ.
A table of contents is included in the earliest copies of Antiquities. Thackaray, described as the “former ‘prince’ of Josephan scholars”, said it was probably written by one of Josephus’ assistants. This table excludes the Testimonium.
You’d think this passage would be the first thing a Christian would mention, but a large number of early Christian writers didn’t – Theophilus in the second century; Irenaeus, Minucius Felix, Julius Africanus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Origen in the third century, and Methodius and Pseudo-Eustathius in the early fourth century. Origen quoted Antiquities, but not this section. The Arabic version of a tenth century work, Book of the Title, includes the Testimonium. It doesn’t include the three lines mentioning Jesus, but adds a couple of its own.
The first person to quote this passage was Eusebius (c 324 CE), and it isn’t until Jerome in the fifth century that anybody else did. It is thought Eusebius forged it.
Chapter 9 of book 20 also mentions Jesus: “He convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin, and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned..”
Schürer (hey, he turns up a lot) and other scholars don’t believe this chapter is genuine because it contradicts The Jewish Wars in its characterization of Ananas and the chronology of his tenure. Ananas was high priest – the books couldn’t have been discussing different Ananases. While Antiquities supposedly mentioned Jesus, the Jewish War didn’t.
It has been suggested that “who was called Christ” originated as a marginal note by a Christian copyist, which was mis-transcribed. If this were the case, we could say the Jesus in question was the one mentioned at the chapter’s end: “…king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”
We should also consider that Josephus’ account of the stoning of James contradicts the church historian Hegesippus, who said James was thrown from the temple’s roof.
Tacitus spoke of Christus in 107 CE. He wouldn’t have heard “Christus” from Roman records because it was a religious title. He must have heard it conversationally. There are other reasons to think Tacitus didn’t work from official Roman records: he got Pilate’s title wrong and said there was “a vast multitude of Christians” in Rome in 64 CE, when there wasn’t.
It has been suggested this section was interpolated because it isn’t quoted by any Christian fathers including Tertulian, who quoted Tacitus extensively. Clement of Alexandria never noticed it either, despite it being his job to scour the works of non-Christian writers to validate Christianity. Eusebius never mentions this passage in his abundant writings.
Johannes de Spire discovered Tacitus’ annals in Venice in 1468. There was a single copy, making interpolation easy at a time when manuscripts were hunted, and vast amounts of money were paid for texts bolstering the claims of Christianity.
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was a respected historian. His 120 CE work, Life of Claudius, spoke of Jews making mischief “at the instigation of Chrestus”. This wasn’t necessarily “Christus”. The name was often attached to slaves, being Latin for a Greek name meaning “useful” or “good”. And why was he speaking of Jews, not Christians, as he did in Lives of the Caesars? (“Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a body of people addicted to a novel and mischievous superstition“) Why did he mis-spell “Christ-” in one document but not the other? “Chrestus” could have been a well-known agitator or, like Josephus, it could be interpolation.
Thallus, a mysterious second century historian, may have written of Jesus’ death and the accompanying earthquake and darkness, but nobody beyond Thallus and some of the Gospels noticed these striking meteorological occurrences at a time when they governed people’s lives. We’d have expected something from Seneca, Pliny, Josephus or other historians. Thallus could have been repeating things he’d heard from Christians. While he might have agreed with the Gospels, he disagreed with reality: an eclipse can’t occur at Passover, when the moon is full and diametrically opposite the sun.
The Talmud was a second-century source that said “Yeshu was hanged”, he was a bastard (“mamzer”), he had five disciples and was boiled in “hot excrement”. It also says Gentiles have sex with cows (Abodah Zarah 22a-22b). Yeshu was a common name. The Talmud says Yeshu was guilty of sorcery, while in the Gospels his crime is claiming to be the Messiah. Historical context suggests this Yeshu lived around a century before Jesus.
In 170 CE, Lucian spoke of the man who inspired Christianity and was crucified, without naming him. He could have been relying on Christian sources, common knowledge or even a source such as Tacitus. His tone was extremely mocking, so maybe he was being sarcastic.
Mara Bar-Serapion said, “What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king?”. We don’t know the writer’s qualifications or time (but at least post-73CE and probably post-135 CE). There were many messianic pretenders at the time. Might the author have been speaking of the Essene “Teacher of Righteousness” so often featured in the Dead Sea Scrolls? This letter also mentioned Socrates (5th century BCE) and Pythagoras (6th century BCE). Did the “wise king” live then? Bar-Serapion then said, “It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished”. Might this have been the abolition of the Jewish kingdom under Nebuchadnezzar? Or the one after the Assyrian conquest of 722-721 BCE?
Between 98 and 117 CE, Ignatius spoke of Jesus, Mary (but not Joseph), Pilate and the resurrection. He never mentioned the Gospels or Paul. He wrote fifteen letters, of which eight are almost universally held to be forgeries, because neither Eusebius (300 CE) nor Jerome (495 CE) mentions them. Eight letters remain. The English Puritans believed these were also forged. You may not agree with the Puritans about sex, Christmas, music, dancing and swearing, but you might agree with them here, as do many Biblical scholars and Protestants.
If genuine, Ignatius’ letters would contain the first ever reference to the Catholic Church by a margin of 200 years, after which it was mentioned regularly. The letters are also remarkable for supposedly being the first to propound the un-Biblical view that rather than a plurality of elders, there should be one bishop – this point is repeatedly made. At this time, congregations were autonomous. Now, perhaps Ignatius was the first to say this ground-breaking stuff, way before anybody else. Or perhaps the author wrote later. In 1666, Bible commentator Jean Daillé made 66 objections to the authenticity of Ignatian literature.
Philo is very relevant when discussing evidence for Jesus outside the Bible. He wrote of offbeat religious sects such as the Therapeutae and Essenes. Philo visited Jerusalem around the time of Jesus so his references to Jesus would be the most informed of all… had he made any. Even when writing of the difference between the Jewish names Hosea and Jesus, Philo failed to mention that there had recently been a man called Jesus who saw himself as the Messiah.
Did Jesus assume significance only after the Church highlighted him? Well, what about the Slaughter of the Innocents? Crowds followed Jesus: “And there followed Him great multitudes of people” (Matthew 4:25). The Romans would have been very interested in a man who could summon crowds.
Every Gospel mentions that Jesus drove moneylenders, salesmen and their cattle from the heavily-guarded temple, for which he’d have required assistance and an ax. It takes very little extrapolation to say that Jesus started a riot. In the century prior to Jesus’ death, at least four major riots started during a festival. This would have been just one more, in the week before Passover, which the Romans considered a tinder-dry period: religious and nationalistic fervor peaked.
Jesus claimed to be the Son of God as presaged by the Old Testament and awaited eagerly by the Jews of the world. This had just a tinge of political significance and the Roman authorities took him seriously enough to kill him for it – as they did a number of other men who made it into the records.
Whoever wrote the Gospels was unfamiliar with local history, geography and culture. A few examples:
For history, there’s Luke 3:1-2. It describes Pilate as governor, when he was prefect. It says Lysanias was the tetrarch of Abilene, despite his dying in 36 BCE. It says Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests, when Annas had left the scene long before and there were never two high priests at the same time – a cultural error.
For geography, there’s Nazareth, mentioned 29 times in the Gospels. Problem is, nobody lived there. Josephus had much to say about the region, Galilee, an area of not much more than 900 square miles. In the first Jewish War in the 60s, he led a military campaign back and forth across the province. He mentions 45 cities and villages of Galilee – but not Nazareth. He did, however, speak of Japha/Yafa/Japia, a village a mere mile southwest of Nazareth’s location, where he lived for a time. If he lived near the site of Nazareth and didn’t notice any habitation, it is likely none existed. This isn’t an argument from ignorance: Nazareth was positively not there.
Apologists claim Nazareth was too small to deserve attention, but Matthew and Luke described Nazareth as a city (Matthew 2:23, Luke 1:26, 2:3-5, 2:39). The New Testament distinguishes between villages, towns and cities.
Or there’s the demons driven into a herd of swine that then proceeds to jump off a cliff next to a lake – where there is no lake. In Mark 11, Jesus and co go from A to B to C, except C is closer to A than is B.
The Gospels are ignorant of Jewish customs, as in Mark 10:11-12, where Jesus said that a woman who divorces and remarries is committing adultery. Women could initiate divorce under Roman, but not Jewish law.
As the second century pagan, Celsus, put it: “It is clear to me that the writings of the christians are a lie, and that your fables are not well-enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction: I have even heard that some of your interpreters, as if they had just come out of a tavern, are onto the inconsistencies and, pen in hand, alter the originals writings, three, four and several more times over in order to be able to deny the contradictions in the face of criticism.”
The earliest copy of a Gospel ever found is possibly a few words from the Gospel of John from 125 CE. Outside of the Gospels, there’s no convincing mention of Jesus until well into the second century. The people of Palestine in Jesus’ time only lived for 45 years. If there were as little evidence for the existence of George Washington, you’d say he never lived.
Written by TIMOTHY CHILMAN, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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