5 Excellent Reasons to Doubt the Existence of Jesus
Updated: Jul 14, 2019
This should be popular. As Professor Noam Chomsky aptly illustrates, much of our social dialogue is based upon assumptions. Someone with the public’s attention will postulate something, someone else will repeat it while pointing out its inherent logic and before we know it, we know it. It is part of the zeitgeist. Now we can debate its particulars.
Tradition exists to foster this, positing outdated modes of thinking as presently desirable. You know, for kids. Power structures are maintained through such intransigence, challenges to the established social order are met with understandable resistance. Thus, that which is best dispassionately viewed as legendary is still passionately promoted as sacrament.
From our earliest memories, we have socially operated under the assumption that the guy all this Christianity insanity is based upon was real. There would be no logical reason to assume an opposing position, so why risk back strain over something the jury has already ruled on? The Spiral of Silence will stifle any lingering doubts…
But, what if? What if the man known as Jesus of Nazareth (Yehoshua of Galilee) didn’t exist? What if, as with so many other fantastic and improbable characters (pretty much every one of them), he was a literary construct designed to advance a social objective?
In the broad view, nothing. He doesn’t deliver the milk or handle our lawn care; he’s not helping you balance your checking account. If he actually existed according to his contrary biographers, he stopped about 2,000 years ago. Beyond the disappointment at being duped again (we all remember the Santa Claus let-down), his existence or nonexistence is purely a matter of thought. Of course, for the institutions which profit mightily from his promotion, it is not a thought they are entertained by entertaining.
But this isn’t for them, it’s for us, so if for no other reason than it annoys them, let’s give it a think:
5. The Church admits that there are many forged documents regarding his life
“The practice of Christian forgery has a long and distinguished history…even within "orthodox" circles there was considerable debate concerning which books to include.”
Bart Ehrman – Biblical scholar
Professor Ehrman has written several books about biblical forgery, mistranslation and misinterpretation. He believes in an historical Jesus. But he acknowledges there are a few books purportedly by people who hung with him that are considered, well, dodgy.
The preferred term is Apocrypha. Literally things hidden or put away, Apocrypha are the books the Church in all its churchy wisdom have declared untrue. Because of course if the Church had viewed them as true, they’d be Canon and not Apocrypha. So, they are books by people who claimed to know Jesus, who told stories of his life which were in fact completely fictional accounts. Church-acknowledged lies.
“And then the Lord sayeth, “Thou hast pleased me well, let us away to Burger King of Kings for a fast supper…”
And it was good. But not great.
Sure, a few books show up on the heels of the true Gospels and the Church wisely rejects them, what’s the big deal? Well, there are 27 books of the New Testament, God-inspired, Church approved. There are over 100 that were rejected as false, some written before the Canonical Gospels, which were all written after the purported Christ. That means the people who rejected over 100 books while accepting 27 all made these determinations about a subject who had been dead for over two centuries and at least a century after the anonymous authors had come and gone. None of the people represented in the stories were there to support them.
So the Church guessed. But there is more than one Church. And the one place they all agree on Biblical Canon is that none of them agree on Biblical Canon. They all accept and reject different books based upon...Well, they all guess. From the very beginning, religious leaders have made individual determinations as to divinity by picking the stuff that appeals most to them.
To make it all the sweeter, within the Canonical Gospels there are several disputed books – antilegomena – including about half of the Epistles of Paul, the epistles of James, Jude, 2 Peter & 2 & 3 John. Oh, and Revelations. About 13 of the 27 books. But other than that…
4. Not one original document written about him exists
One could posit the reason the Church had so much trouble with determining actual unverifiable stories from fictional unverifiable stories was that they didn’t have any of the originals. That’s right: no one thought to keep the original authors’ writings about God incarnate. Even though we’re assured Jesus and his apostles spoke in Aramaic (and possibly Hebrew), the earliest writings about him appear in Greek. The Codex Sinaiticus exists as the oldest complete New Testament text and is dated 360 CE out of convenience because the people who date that kind of stuff are guessing. Of the 27 venerated texts, produced by those who touched the hand of God, or at least who hung around Him while He acted all miraculous, nary a single original text exists.
Is that a problem? Theologian John Mill (1645-1707) did a 30-year comparative study of extant New Testaments and the earliest Greek translations and noted some textual discrepancies. Based upon the copies of the original testaments in Greek that he had, he compared the translated copies in circulation and found 30,000 mistakes.
I don’t know about you, but that seems like a lot to me. I doubt it would rate very high in scholastic ranking, definitely C- or less, and one would hope for B+ or better for divinity. Mill was accused by contemporaries of destroying the validity of the text, though one might imagine 30,000 errors as at least a contributive factor. Probably a good thing he didn’t do a 50- year study…
3. Most scholars believed in Jesus before deciding he was real
The majority of Biblical scholars believe in the factuality of Biblical accounts, if not the specifics. In order to wade through the mind-numbingly dull text, a level of credence must be ascribed to it. Otherwise it is just awfully rendered fiction. And who would waste the time?
Most religious study is held by religious people and taught by religious people. Most Biblical scholars believe in God. Most New Testament scholars believe in Jesus. This is readily apparent to anyone who bothers to consider it and few, if any, would dispute it. Most of the people we rely on to give us the straight dope on this whole God business went in believing in it before they began their studies. They are biased.
Note the common term in all this: believe. By some definitions (mine most assuredly), belief is what people do to confirm a bias when they have no actual evidence.
Hence, our knowledge of the Bible for the most part comes from people who have an admitted bias in its regard. They in fact have invested so much of their thinking into confirming their bias that they readily make leaps of logic astounding to less prejudiced perspectives. They view a canon based upon a letter writing campaign – and subsequent contradictory narratives all written decades if not generations after the ‘fact’ – that they know is rife with Apocrypha (false writings) as an action of divinity. They believe it – it must be so.
While the majority of stories about Jesus are demonstrably false, scholars are still willing to pronounce some as certainly true. They must be – why would someone invent a god?
2. No one wrote anything about him during his ‘life’
Scholars come and scholars go and, considering the material we’re faced with, we can understand why they’d leave, but in those rare instances in which they tend to agree, some of us pay attention. And the scholarly consensus (majority, not universal) is that the first written material in regard to the fellow we know as Jesus came from Paul (formerly Saul) of Tarsus.
Paul, who was in the employ of the purveyors of Judaism persecuting the followers of Jesus, admitted that he never actually met Jesus. He claimed that he had a hallucination of Him while walking on the road to Damascus, was struck blind and when he could see again, could see that promoting Jesus was better for him than reviling His followers. All this after Jesus had shuffled off this mortal coil.
About 20 years later he began a letter writing campaign, some of which made it into the Bible (the New Testament – God got it wrong the first time, apparently) as the Epistles of Paul. Paul, having never met Mr. Christ, didn’t know much about him; hence, he didn’t write of his virgin birth or childhood, didn’t really quote him, expand on his theology, or provide any biographical data about him. Thus, the Christianity he promoted was antinomian, salvation based upon belief in this virtual phantom, not upon adherence to unwritten scripture or unknown teachings, which are admittedly difficult to adhere to.
Of course, a letter written by a strange man who hallucinated God incarnate isn’t the best lead, so the Church went with Matthew to kick of the NT, which scholars tend to date 30 to 50 years after the departure of a Messiah who was apparently more impressive in death than in life.
1. He wrote nothing
Imagine you’re the boss. The shop is a mess: everyone is following different management styles, everyone claiming to be in charge but nobody is getting it right. As a good boss, you demand a code of conduct from your employees, a work ethic. This is reasonable. So you write down a List of Rules and post it on the wall in the break room. That way, any challenges to the rules can be directly assessed. Kind of like the 10 Commandments (or all the other mitzvoth) codified in Judaism. It is written…
But not our Jesus. According to the Church, which is huge on doctrine, God incarnate returned to Earth to straighten us out (again), hung around for 30 years, began a ministry of a little over a year and then committed suicide by Roman. For our sins.
In his purported 32ish years as a mortal, Jesus wrote nothing.
God, his father, raped and impregnated a mortal woman (very Zeusian), birthed an unimpressive human who hung around Palestine for 3 decades, yet committed none of the wisdom we are supposed to be so enamored of into written form. Not a parable, a prayer, not a single rule.
We’re told it took God 40 days to write the 10 Commandments (yet only six to manifest the universe), but in 32 years, bupkis.
Must not have been that important…