The myth of the historical Jesus

Something has been on my brain, kind of randomly: Jesus. Not the religion that worships him and eats him, but the idea of Jesus as a historical figure. Some non-Christians figure Jesus was probably just a nice, charismatic dude who shopped at Journeys and played guitar in Fleet Floxes, and that all the divine parlor tricks are just myths. But I take the more confrontational and factual position that Jesus, at least in the way he's described in the Bible, did not exist at all. He is a complete work of fiction.

The only records of Jesus' existence are the books we see in the Bible. A lot of people, like Francis Collins (the human genome guy), think that the four gospels are eyewitness accounts of Jesus' life. But there are two really, really big problems with that. The first is that even by the questionable standards of early-church scholarship, the gospels were all written decades after Jesus purportedly lived. The second is that they are simply not written like eyewitness accounts; there are countless times when Jesus wanders off alone, and then we're told exactly what he and God (or Satan) said to each other.

There's a stunning lack of contemporaneous evidence that Jesus ever existed — in fact there is exactly zero. There are no collaborating documents of Jesus's life anywhere. And here was a guy who, by any standard, was pretty amazing. He performed amazing miracles before thousands of people and was persecuted by the Roman Empire, but there are no contemporaneous records of his existence at all?

But there's another simple, and very obvious problem with the accounts of Jesus, which is the fact that virtually his entire life is absent from any kind of recorded history at all, much less contemporaneous records. Does it not ever bother Christians that people were supposedly there for his birth (which was suspiciously similar to the Egyptian god Horus), and then nobody seems to know what he did for the next 30 years? Does it not bother them that the New Testament is loaded with internal condradictions? That claims the gospels make, such as Herod ordering all firstborn killed or that he performed a census, lack any corroborating contemporaneous evidence?

Of course, I can't prove that Jesus didn't exist. One website attempting to address the historicity of the census said that just because there isn't any extra-Biblical evidence doesn't mean it isn't true. Well duh. But it means that the case for it being true is very, very weak, because you're just believing it because it's in the Bible. Using the Bible to verify that Jesus existed is sort of like using Gone With The Wind to verify that Scarlett O'Hara existed. I mean, the Civil War really did happen, right? Many of the places and events described were described accurately. Not only that, but there are multiple accounts of the events — a book and a movie!

Consider one last thing, an argument I have to credit to Sam Harris. Consider that right now, the mystic Sathya Sai Baba has thousands upon thousands of followers. People believe he performs Jesus-caliber miracles, some of which are unimpressively documented on YouTube. People believe that Benny Hinn can channel the power of Jesus to cure the blind and the crippled. People believe that John Edward can talk to their deceased loved ones. And people believe this stuff today, in our scientific and technologically advanced age, where we can pretty much prove that those guys are full of shit. And yet we're supposed to believe that people 2,000 years ago, retelling fantastic events decades after they happened, are reliably accurate?

Christians use a kind of special pleading, where they disregard all the countless other stories of gods and miracles as myth, but embrace Christianity's as infallible truth. At least as an atheist, I'm an equal-opportunity blasphemer. I think all religions are stupid and false. It's just a damn shame that in our modern world, it's accepted and even respected to believe first and ask questions later. Being skeptical is good. Demanding plausible evidence for extraordinary claims is good. Disregarding those things for your own comfort... not so good.


  1. I love that argument that you and Sam Harris use. We've got numb-nuts that believe in all these quacks in a scientifically and technologically advanced age. Therefore, how much more gullible were the people of a thoroughly pre-scientific era. Infinitally more so.

  2. If you want to see on of the number of ideas on how Jesus could have been a created character, check out Early Doherty's _the jesus puzzle_.

    Bruno Bauer is also a famous scholar back in the 1800's that was one of the first to put forth the idea.


  3. Excellent post Mike. Thank you for taking the time to express your views. I find it so baffling how the parts of the gospels(and the bible) that make me think "hey... wait a second, something is not right here!" are so easily dismissed by those that tell me they have found truth in Jesus and in the same breath say that the Bible is God's word.



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