Monday, August 13, 2007

The Historicity of Jesus: the Making of a Myth

So often I see it written on blogs or internet communities where the historicity of Jesus is being discussed where the Christian apologist will respond to those skeptical of a historical Jesus by reminding them that very little evidence exists to support the historicity of figures like Socrates, Alexander the Great, etc. While this may be true for the former, it is a bit less realistic a statement for the former. Nonetheless, the difference lies in the fact that neither of these figures has supernatural claims surrounding him to which millions of people are expected to behave in a certain manner in support of. Nor does my belief about life or the universe depend on either of these two actually existing in history. So the argument amounts to nothing more than a straw man, but it is a straw man that I see many atheists and non-believers get stuck on when they debate the historicity of Jesus with this would-be messiah’s apologists.

Historians don’t use the “empirical evidences” of chemists and physicists, but they do make predictions based upon the evidence they actually obtain. Evidence for historical figures and events comes in the forms of primary and secondary evidence. The written artifacts of the subject constitute primary evidence: bills of laden, manifests, deeds to property, signed orders, correspondence, etc. Secondary evidence comes in the form of documents written in an era after the subject’s period, usually written about the subject, describing his deeds, actions, or ideas about the world.

With regard to historical figures like George Washington, there exist many primary documents that conform to the period contemporary to the man. Occasionally, a forged document emerges (documents related to George Washington are valuable, after all) and is detected by some inconsistence when compared with other documents. Or, in the case of a document I recall being discussed once, the forger used the wrong ink, which when empirically analyzed, showed to be of a 20th century variety.

What exists with the Jesus account amounts to only secondary evidence. The only sources we have to say that Jesus existed in history are the Synaptic Gospels and a few apocrypha. Each of which offer conflicting accounts in some cases or appear to be derived from a single source in others. None of Jesus’ personal correspondences exist; not a single account of his life exists that was written while he was alleged to exist; not a single artifact is produced that can be empirically linked to Jesus; etc.

Apologists for the Jesus myth will often respond with, “what artifact would be good enough?” A blood-soaked piece of wood that tests to only have 23 chromosomes comes to mind, but, realistically, I’m reminded that many historical figures contemporary to Jesus or before are accompanied by artifacts that are in their name: effigies, murals, tapestries, sculptures, trinkets, jewelry, songs, poems, stories, cities and streets named after them, and so on. Jesus Christ has none of these things that were created during his life or even just after. It isn’t until about 50 – 70 years after he was alleged to have been executed that the newly emergent Christian cult created documents detailing the life of this person.

If Jesus Christ did not exist, we would expect to see only post-mortem accounts of his life. We would expect to see the creators of this mythical character use existing mythology to flesh out the character they’re creating. We would expect to see a borrowing of text, as was common for the day, from existing religious texts to create the new myth. We would expect to see mistakes in things like geography and contradictions between authors of the new mythical character if they weren’t collaborating close enough –or if they were competing with one another! We would also expect the Jesus myth to conform to the hero archetype as well.
And you know what, we see all these things.

Existing Mythology and Borrowing of Text

In Daniel 7:13, we find, “[a]s I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven.” In Mark 13:26, we see, “[t]hen they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.”

This direct word-for-word borrowing of Old Testament text by gospel author is something that was done throughout Near Eastern cultures. Anyone who’s read in Near Eastern texts ranging from Gilgamesh to the Egyptian stories from the earliest writings to well after the alleged time of Jesus will see examples of this literary “borrowing.” One of the only time this literary practice of ancient texts is ignored is with Judeo-Christian and Islamic myths.

As another example of so many, the crucifixion scene in Mark is clearly based on Psalm 22. The first lines of Psalm 22 read “my god, my god, why have you forsaken me?,” which is a lamentation song supposedly written by David. In Mark, Jesus quotes this as he “dies” on the cross. Those deluded by the spell of Christianity will cite this as “prophecy fulfillment,” even though this isn’t a “prophecy” at all. It’s a song. A song of lament and there is no indication in Psalms that this is any sort of prophecy. We are left to accept that either the alleged “son of God” lacked imagination or originality in this and dozens of other sayings and speeches.

Indeed, the obvious explanation of so-called “prophecy-fulfillments” is that they are all* written by authors who were writing with these prophecies and sayings in mind.

Geographical Problems

In this section, I’m directly quoting the work of a skeptic in an internet community, and I’ve linked the passage at the end of this post. I won’t say that he’s 100% accurate in the information, but I did a quick look at the biblical passages in question as well as a map of the region and it looks like this gentleman is spot on.

1. The author of Mark states that Jesus cast out demons from a man and into a couple thousand pigs while in Gerasa. The pigs then ran down a steep place and into the Sea of Galilee. Galilee is about 30 miles from Gerasa.

2. Matthew's author changed the earlier Mark to Gadara, which is still 5 miles from the shore of Galilee. The earliest manuscripts are Mark, which state Gerasa. But even if it were Gadara and Mark's author was wrong (leaving one to wonder why we should trust "as gospel" the word of either since they cannot agree -one is obviously deluded), did Mark's author run to keep up with the pigs for 5 miles just to watch their fate?

3. The author of Mark also wrote that Jesus traveled from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee, about 30-50 miles (depending on the route) in order to reach Sidon, which was back on the Mediterranean coast, yet another 40-50 miles! The wisest of wise men took a 70 mile journey, on foot, to reach his destination. Talk about taking the scenic route. A more likely explanation is that the gospel was invented by an author that was simply ignorant of Palestinian geography (in other words, had never been there; in other words, wasn't an 'apostle') and thought Sidon was on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. [1]

Inter-Gospel Contradictions

The contradictory genealogies of Matthew and Luke are probably the first that come to mind for most. Even the most deeply deluded of Christian apologists seem to have difficulty reconciling this difference. Though I have seen one or two lame attempts, the worst of these being the excuse that one of the genealogies is actually that of Mary. There shouldn’t even be a genealogy of Joseph going back to David since he isn’t Jesus’ father… yet Paul writes in Romans 1:3 that Jesus was born of the seed of David. This is evidence of a bit of editing and footwork done by the early Christians who were reconciling OT prophecy to create their “messiah.” This bit gets written in to the Jesus mythology to help create the character and flesh out his part.

But, speaking of Jesus’ birth, only Luke and Matthew seem aware of the fact that it is supposed to be a “virgin” birth (complete and utter nonsense to begin with). Luke and Matthew also disagree on the date that he was born. Luke has him born during the first census of Israel during the period in which Quirinius was governor of Syria. Matthew says he was born during the reign of Herod. Herod died in 4 BCE and the census took place between 6 and 7 CE. The authors of Matthew and Luke both agree on the *place* of Jesus’ birth, however, putting it at Bethlehem. Incidently, the author of Matthew seems to be quoting Micah (5:2) when he writes of it, more “borrowing” from the OT. Luke, on the other hand, has Joseph and Mary leave their home in Nazareth to go to Bethlehem for the birth for census purposes (which doesn’t make any logical sense, since Romans were interested in taxing people where they actually lived). The contradiction between Matthew and Luke is regarding their home, apparently Luke’s author thinks they lived in Nazareth before Jesus’ birth, whereas Matthew’s author says it was only after JC’s birth that they moved there because they were afraid to return to Judea.

There are many, many other contradictions between these alleged “synoptic” gospels (such as who bought the field of blood, how the field got its name, how Judas died, trials of Jesus, his death, the alleged “resurrection,” etc.), enough that it is apparent that “synoptic” is the last adjective that should be applied to these fables.

The Hero archetype.

The modern mythical archetype is as follows:

  1. The hero usually suffers a great loss, which makes him set off on a quest.
  2. The hero generally has a mentor or helper who helps him on his quest.
  3. The hero must face a set of trials, which allow him to overcome "evil".
  4. The hero narrowly escapes death, usually more than once.
  5. The hero escapes the "evil villain's" stronghold or destroys him.
  6. The hero is then reintegrated into society with a new status, wealth, or marriage to the princess.
  7. There has to be a happy ending.


Such modern heroes include Luke Skywalker, Superman, Batman, etc. But the hero archetype is nothing new to storytellers. Joseph Campbell outlined the “hero’s journey” in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces [2] and noted that this journey is shared by mythical heroes throughout history:

  1. A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline
  2. A road of trials, regarding which the hero succeeds or fails
    Achieving the goal or "boon," which often results in important self-knowledge
  3. A return to the ordinary world, again as to which the hero can succeed or fail
  4. Application of the boon, in which what the hero has gained, can be used to improve the world


To quote Campbell, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

So why “Jesus Christ?”

The theology the group of believers that became Catholics held that a new covenant could only be made with a blood sacrifice. Therefore, Jesus had to exist and real, actual blood had to be spilled in order to form a new covenant. Catholics, the folks that voted on what texts were going to be “biblical” and which were not, voted in a new covenant along with the New Testament texts added to the earlier Judaic texts like the Torah. A new covenant exists. Therefore, Jesus existed. All very circular.

But why the name “Jesus” and not “Yeshua: as it is written in Hebrew. And why “Christ?” Yeshua, meaning “god saves” already existed and was very prominent in the newly voted on Bible. He’s better known as Joshua, the mass-murderer who is alleged to have committed genocide on Canaanites and other innocent people of the land he and his band of terrorists wanted to take. Of course, biblical mythology paints his deeds as acts of heroism (one man’s hero is another man’s terrorist), but rest assured, this hero is quoted directly in biblical mythology as having “devoted the city [Jericho] to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys (Joshua 6:21).” That is, every living thing *except* his favorite prostitute.

So the Catholic editors of their newly voted on biblical texts saw fit to change the name ever so slightly. Jesus, was also among the most common names of the time. And, since “christ” is from the Greek khrist├│s, meaning “anointed one,” the functional equivalent of “messiah,” we are left with an “everyman name.” He might well have been named *Joe Messiah* if the story were to have unfolded in 20th century Ohio instead of the Iron Age.


References and Related Posts

  • [1]
  • SkinWalker. Bible Contradictions. Post #2 [http://www.sciforums.com/showpost.php?p=1328853&postcount=2], 2007

  • [2]
  • Campbell, Joseph. The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949.

  • Related Post:
  • Scientific Study of Religion


    1 comment:

    Timmy said...

    I must admit, this article is dusgustingly full of its own logical fallacies lol. We sek to fully understand what has happend so long ago on what MINISCULE facts we have about culture and happenstance? There are MYRIAD explanations for just abut anything that we do not understand in history, let us not insult ourselves n everybody else in dwindling down these sitations to fale dilemma after false dilemma. This is quite sad, indeed.