The Jesus Hoax?

"Who's your daddy?"

Did Jesus exist?

Certainly, most people in the past 2,000 years have assumed Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. Virtually all scholars in the field believe he walked the earth. But since modern textual studies emerged in the 19th century, demonstrating just how interpretive and — well — constructed the primary witnesses to Jesus’ human life were, plenty of people have wondered aloud whether the whole Jesus thing is just a pious or political fiction.

Is it possible there was no human Jesus?

A historian of any ancient figure would start by looking to the sources. There are no physical artifacts of Jesus himself, his followers, or even the Christian movement until the late 2nd century (around 120-130 years after Jesus died). The evidence is entirely literary.

Outside Christian circles, there are just a few scattered references (Pliny the Younger, Tactitus, Josephus) that do little more than show there were indeed Christians who followed a person (presumably human) called Christ. The only real biographical sources are the Christians Gospels.

Moreover, no original written documents exist. The evidence consists of copies of copies of copies made centuries later. There is a tiny fragment of the Gospel of John pulled from an Egyptian garbage dump in the last century that is dated to, say, 120 or 130 C.E. So we can safely say documents about this “Jesus” character existed 100 years after his “death.”

Historians make the convincing case that nobody from that era (other than Roman Emperors and celebrity poets) has ANY physical or literary evidence attesting to their existence. There is more reason to think Jesus existed than 99.9% of the region’s population.

But ignoring that. What do Jesus deniers claim?

There’s a long-running web hub and discussion forum inspired by the tireless efforts of British atheist Kenneth “Jesus Never Existed” Humphreys that offers the following:

  • Evidence is too scanty — as scholars have lamented for centuries, why don’t the great writers of the period, such as Philo and Seneca, say anything at all about Jesus?
  • Some evidence is contradictory — for example, the genealogies for Jesus given in Matthew and Luke don’t agree at all and seem fictional
  • Evidence is self-serving — the Gospels and other Christian scriptures contain material that legitimizes the Christian movement; i.e., the 12 disciples mirror the 12 tribes of Israel and allow the Christian cult to claim legitimacy
  • Christianity is a hodge-podge of external ideas that required no founder — messages of love and faith and God-men can be found in Stoicism, Mithraism, Judaism, Egyptian religion, and so on
  • Early Christianity was chaotic — the documented scattershot of beliefs, including all those Gnosticisms and neo-Judaisms, as well as a certain lack of interest in the human Jesus, shows there was no real focus from the beginning, aka, no Jesus

Like John William Draper in the 19th century, Humphreys is really using his thesis to bash the Church, which he calls a “tragedy” and an “active agent in destroying knowledge” and “an industry of deceit.” And so on.

Focusing on the Jesus question itself, however, is more difficult. No doubt early Christians were self-serving, imaginative, fictionalizing, chaotic, swayed by all manner of local beliefs . . . but does any of that prove Jesus himself is a fiction?


9 responses to “The Jesus Hoax?

  1. Humphrey’s argument is pretty intriguing. Imagine a scenario where he is proven completely correct. What would that mean for followers of the religion? I think many followers might continue unchanged.



    That seems to be the main reason people buy the idea Jesus didn’t exist- ‘ooh what would that mean for Christians and the Tea Part…how exiciting’, then they lap up amateur hack historians, self-published books and ridiculous conspiracy theories. They ignore peer-reviewed work and scholarship for a chance for sensationalism…

  3. It would be quite a Conspiracy — perhaps the biggest of all time! However, Humphreys and his followers tend to short-change the whole “Historical Jesus” movement (3 parts, starting in the 19th century); scholars, mostly in Germany, started to ask, “What do we really know about the human Jesus?” They developed criteria to strip away the accretions and sometimes ended up where Rudolf Bultmann did: Saying we couldn’t know anything about Jesus, really, but it didn’t matter: Christianity is about the risen Lord and he isn’t human anyway. So @Keith — I think you’re right; Christianity doesn’t really rely on a human Jesus. Until somebody shows up with a coffin, bones and birth certificate dated 4AD in Bethlehem (or Nazareth), there’s no way to PROVE this guy existed anyway. I’m sure Dan Brown is working on this idea as we speak!

  4. It’ll need to be a long form birth certificate, too!

  5. You are on the right track Kenneth and your site is full of interesting and mainly accurate information, for which I thank you.
    Others mention peer-review, which is a nonsense, for the Church controls study of divinity, theology, many schools, biblical scholarship and biblical archaeology. The professional archaeological journals of the USA and UK insist on all papers using the Christian dating system. The Archbishop of Canterbury has the legal right to issue university degrees including doctorates, outside the university system, yet he can award these degrees in the name of Oxford or Cambridge, as he wishes. UK law insists on schools teaching the historicity of the gospel accounts. It is impossible for a free-thinking scholar to work and publish outside Church control; the internet and digital history is the only route open.

  6. I! COMPLETELY AGREE WITH MR.Humprey.Religion is all about money and power.It is so powerful today as it was in the past.

  7. Jesus was actually a king of Edessa, who stated the Jewish Revolt against Rome, called King Izas-Manu(el), who wore a ceremonial Crown of Thorns. But Izas-Manu lost this war and was crucified (but may have survived). This is all taken from real history. See “Cleopatra to Christ” or “Jesus, King of Edessa” for an explanation.

  8. Pingback: Investigative Journal » Was The Jesus Story A Myth?

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