By Michael J. Talmo December 25, 2023
The Christmas season is here, and once again, most of the professing Christian world is celebrating the birth of its founder, Yeshua Bar Yehosef. The name Yeshua means “Yahweh (the Lord) is salvation.” In English, Yahweh is spelled Joshua. When translated from Hebrew into Greek, the language the New Testament was written in, Yeshua becomes Iesous. In the English language, Iesous is spelled Jesus. But was there really such a person? Did Jesus really begin the Christian religion, or did the Christian religion invent him? More likely than not, Jesus was probably a myth.
In modern times, as explained here, the view that Jesus was a mythical person goes back to the 18th century, beginning with Charles Francois Dupuis (1742-1809) and Count Volney (1757-1820). But unlike Volney, who felt that there might have been an obscure person behind the messiah myth, Dupuis argued that Jesus was a totally made-up fictional character who never existed. Since then, many books on the topic have been written, some by amateurs and some by highly qualified experts. But anyone can write a book and make all sorts of outlandish claims.
The first peer-reviewed book on whether or not Jesus was a real historical person, meaning it was checked by scholars for accuracy and proper methodology, was written in 1912 by Shirley Jackson Case, PhD (1872-1947). A second edition of his book was published in 1928. Case’s book argues that Jesus was a real historical person. But it’s an old book, and the scholarship is long out of date. It wasn’t until 2014 that Richard Carrier, PhD, wrote the first peer-reviewed book, citing the latest scholarship, to demonstrate that Jesus was probably a myth, entitled On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. In 2019, Raphael Lataster, PhD, wrote a second peer-reviewed book arguing against the existence of Jesus, entitled Questioning the Historicity of Jesus.
Originally, Dr. Carrier trusted the consensus of secular historians who believed that Jesus was a real person and considered the Jesus myth hypothesis a crank idea. But secular historians consider the gospel stories myths and view Jesus as an ordinary man.
In this interview, Dr. Carrier explained that after earning his PhD in ancient history from Columbia University in 2008, he was unable to get an academic position due to a hiring freeze as a result of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. This resulted in him being stuck with a $20,000. student loan debit. But since he was a lecturer and author before getting his PhD, he offered to research any topic his fans wanted in exchange for paying off his debt. Unanimously, they asked him to research if Jesus was or wasn’t a myth. Dr. Carrier agreed, and his student loan debt was paid off. But after six years of research, Dr. Carrier was shocked to discover that all of the arguments for Jesus being a real person were illogical and had no strong evidence to support them.
Dr. Carrier also discovered that books written for and against Jesus’ existence, with a few notable exceptions, were fallacious and poorly researched. For example, Joseph Atwill’s 2005 book Caesar’s Messiah. It makes the ridiculous claim that Jesus and the New Testament were created by the Roman aristocracy in the first century as a social control mechanism. It’s an old idea that was originally invented by Bruno Bauer (1809-1882), a theologian who wrote a book in 1877 entitled Christ and the Caesars. Space doesn’t permit me to go into why this is so utterly dumb, but Richard Carrier’s thorough smackdown can be read here. He has also engaged in numerous debates on the historicity of Jesus with fellow historians and Christian apologists, such as here, here, and here.
I first became interested in whether or not Jesus existed back in 1985 when I came across a small book called Chridtianity Before Christ by John G. Jackson (1907-1993), who proposed that Jesus was copied from earlier pagan myths. There was no internet back then, so I went to the Johnson Public Library in Hackensack, N.J., and ordered ten or twelve books on the subject. The two that impressed me the most were Bible Myths and Their Paralells in Other Religions by Thomas W. Doane (1852-1885) and The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors by Kersey Graves (1813-1883). But I didn’t realize how inaccurate a lot of the scholarship was.
Wading through the ecclesiastical swamp
There is significant, though scant, evidence that the existence of Jesus was also questioned in the ancient Roman Empire shortly after Christianity began. The problem is that we can only view that evidence, and lack of it, through an ecclesiastical filter known as the Roman Catholic Church. And therein lies the problem.
In the second and third centuries, and even into the fourth century, there were many different Christian sects who disagreed with and competed with each other, as is also the case today. But starting in the early third century, due to pandemic disease and the collapse of its economy, which made it more vulnerable to barbarian invasions, combined with the long-standing problem of civil wars, the Roman Empire was falling apart.
In the early fourth century, the Emperor Constantine (272-337) decided to use Christianity to unify the dying Empire. Other emperors before him, like Decius (201-251), the first Roman Emperor to be killed in battle, and Aurelian (214-275) who, via military might, reunified the Empire after it had broken up into three parts, also tried to use various religions to create unity. But Decius reigned only two years, and Aurelian five years before he was assassinated. But Constantine got to stick around and reigned for 31 years. He gave special privileges to Christianity, the Catholic Church in particular, demanded unity from the major sects, and began persecuting the older pagan religions. In 380, the Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the “state religion” of the Empire.
The Roman Catholic Church dominated medieval Europe for centuries. It is the only surviving institution of the Western Roman Empire, which finally collapsed in 476 AD. The Catholic Church violently suppressed competing Christian sects, so, as explained here, all other modern Christian sects sprang from it. As a result, Christianity still dominates Western society. Our culture and secular laws are saturated with it. Christianity is also the world’s largest religion, with some 2.4 billion followers.
Almost all academic institutions like Harvard and Yale were founded by Christian denominations, as explained here and here. In spite of this, during the Renaissance (14th-17th century), followed by the Enlighenment (1685-1815), science, philosophy, and critical thinking made a comeback and challenged religious dogma. Nevertheless, when it comes to Jesus and Christianity, there is still a lot of bias among secular historians who are either Christians themselves, were taught by Christians, or depend on Christian donors to fund and support their work. Many of the over 900 Christian universities require that their professors adhere to a statement of faith, which prohibits them from questioning the Bible, as a condition for employment, as explained here. In other words, professors who sign faith statements are no longer legitimate historians—they are Christian apologists.
Apologetics is derived from the Greek word apologia. The English word apology, which means an expression of regret, is also derived from this Greek word. But in the Greek language, apologia is a legal defense of one’s beliefs or actions. In religion, it means defending one’s faith against attacks and criticism, orally and in writing. It also means to argue why one’s faith is true and superior to all others.
Christian apolgetics goes back to the second century. Church Father Justin Martyr (100-165) is considered the first Christian apologist. There are also Muslim apologists as well as apologists in Judaism. But none are more sophisticated and elaborate than Christian apologetics. This is because the greater religious freedom we have enjoyed in the Western world allows for more criticism of religious dogma. Unlike Christianity, Judaism has little interest in winning converts, and in many Muslim countries, criticizing Islam can get you killed. So, Christian apologists had to adapt by becoming a whole lot better at it. This has led to a huge phony academic system complete with pseudo institutions and journals like Creation Wiki and Creation Research Society, along with counterfeit scholars who look and sound like the real thing, can even have PhDs, but are really religious fanatics in disguise.
There are different kinds of Christian apologists: evidential, classical, presuppositional, narrative, archaeological, etc. But they all serve the same purpose: to defend the faith at all costs. They have no interest in what is true, only in reinforcing what believers want to believe. Zealotry replaces truth. Basically, they are religious con artists who will omit facts, make up evidence, deny real evidence, cherry-pick data, quote mine, cite outdated scholarship, and speak with confidence and authority, which non-critical thinkers mistake for truth.
For example, Matt Slick is a presuppositional apologist who uses TAG (the transcendental argument for the existence of God). He claims that the three laws of logic laid down by Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) prove God exists. The three laws of logic are: the law of identity, something is what it is and cannot be anything other than what it is, the law of non-contradiction, something can’t be true and false at the same time; and the law of the excluded middle, something is either true or false, real or unreal; there is no middle ground. Mr. Slick overlooks the fact that you can construct a logical argument for things that aren’t real and that can’t be proved, such as the existence of God, which can’t be proved. In other words, using logic to prove something that you can’t prove is illogical.
Three versions of Jesus
The Catholic Church did preserve a lot of the works of Greek and Roman philosophers, historians, poets, and playwrights after the Roman Empire fell. For centuries, monks in monasteries hand-copied and recopied this priceless literature. But there was also a lot they didn’t preserve, including the works of rival sects who, apparently, disagreed with their version of Jesus.
There are three competing views about Jesus. The Christian view we’re all familiar with, that Jesus was the Messiah, who performed miracles, like healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, walking on water, and rising from the dead himself after being crucified; the view of most secular scholars that Jesus was just an obscure preacher who maybe pretended to be the prophesied Messiah (there were a lot of them in the first and second century complete with claims they could perform miracles) and who only became significant historically after Christianity started to become popular; the mythicist view held by a minority, but growing number, of scholars that Jesus was originally a celestial being who his followers communicated with via visions, dreams, and hidden messages in scripture.
According to the mythicist hypothesis, Christianity began when this celestial being revealed to his followers that he tricked the Devil and his minions into crucifying him in the lower heavens after acquiring a body of flesh and blood via divine manufacture so his shed blood could redeem the human race. This would allow him to later replace Satan as ruler of this world. He was then buried in lower heaven for three days, rose from the dead, shed his mortal body, and ascended back into the upper heavens. It was only years later that stories were made up placing him on Earth, interacting with historical people, and that followers eventually believed those stories were true.
Think about it, Christians. When all is said and done, it really doesn’t matter if there was or wasn’t a guy named Jesus walking around Galilee. It doesn’t matter where Jesus died, how he died, or who killed him. As long as he died for your sins, rose from the dead, and now sits at the right hand of God in heaven, your salvation is assured. Thus, it doesn’t matter if the gospel stories aren’t true. The mythicist hypothesis is nothing to be afraid of because it doesn’t disprove the existence of God or Jesus on the supernatural level. It only disproves Jesus’ earthly existence, which would amount to an insignificant spec on the space-time continuum compared to the eternity of His heavenly existence.
In this lecture, Richard Carrier explained that prior probability and lines of evidence are the criteria historians use to determine what happened in the past. Prior probability looks at what historical reference groups whatever is being looked at falls into and what normally happens in those groups. This is based on what happened in similar events that we know occurred and on the scientific knowledge we have acquired about our world and the universe. Lines of evidence examine what proof exists to support or not support the prior probability.
Sometimes there is a lot of evidence to support a historical claim or event, such as the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 or the destruction of the City of Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. We have tons of evidence for those two events. But in other cases, there is very little evidence, and in some cases, no evidence at all, and prior probability is all we have. When this occurs, how likely is a claim to be true or false? It all depends on the claim being made.
Example: Let’s say, hypothetically, that some guy who lived in Africa 3000 years ago recorded that his small village was destroyed by a rampaging wild bull elephant. Also, let’s say he wrote it on a stone tablet, so it’s the original account. Unless a religious or political agenda is involved, the probability is very high–over 90%–that it’s true. Why? Because Africa is a real place; villages existed there; elephants exist and are the largest land animals on the planet; a male can weigh up to seven tons, is extremely powerful, and can easily destroy a small village–especially when in musth; in recent times, elephants have been filmed doing such destructive things.
However, what if this African guy claimed that his village was destroyed by a giraffe instead of an elephant? Giraffes are the tallest land animals on the planet. A male giraffe can be up to 18 feet tall and weigh as much as three thousand pounds (a ton and a half). But they’re neither as powerful nor as aggressive as elephants, so the probability of one destroying a small village is maybe 30% or 40%.
Now let’s get really nuts and say that our African historian claimed that his village was destroyed by a sixty-foot-tall humanoid giant. The probability would be over 90% high that the story isn’t true because giant humanoids don’t exist except in fake photos that can usually be found on the internet. But if they found the bones of such a giant, even if they were millions of years old, it would then greatly increase the probability that the story is true.
As for lines of evidence, Dr. Carrier divides them into five groups: “physical evidence,” as in archaeological artifacts; “unbiased or counterbiased sources;” and “eyewitness accounts,” as in people who lived in the time of a person or event, who saw them, knew them, or saw or experienced the event and wrote about it, favorably or unfavorably. This also includes the writings, if any, of the historical person being investigated; “credible critical accounts,” as in scholars who write about a person or event with critical analysis and cite original, reliable sources for what they are reporting on.
The fifth line of evidence is “Physical-Historical Necessity,” meaning a person had to exist or an event had to occur for history to proceed as it did. For example, if Julius Caesar (100 BC-44 BC) had not crossed the Rubicon River in 49 BC and began the civil war with General Pompey (106 BC-48 BC), Roman history could not have proceeded as it did. Caesar would not have been appointed dictator for life, which led to the dynasties of emperors that followed him, beginning with his great nephew and adopted son Augustus (63 BC- 14), real name Octavian. In contrast, the resurrection of Jesus didn’t have to occur in order to launch Christianity; only the belief that it happened.
Jesus falls into four historical reference groups: religion, heavily mythologized person, savior god, and Rank-Raglan hero. As for lines of evidence, we have none at all for Jesus. So, what normally happens in Jesus’ reference groups? What is the prior probability?
Religion: All religions lie and make shit up. In the case of the pagan religions, like Christianity, they also had weeping, bleeding, and moving statues, as explained here, here, and in this video.The Greek historian Herodotus (484 BC-425 BC) wrote that when the Persians attacked the city of Delphi, one of the holiest places in the ancient world, weapons dedicated to the Temple of Apollo miraculously went out and fought them off. Lightning bolts and falling cliffs also helped route the Persian army. Lots of miraculous healing also took place. For example, the Asclepieion at Epidaurus in Greece was a hospital/healing temple. People who went there would commission inscriptions on the walls honoring the god and their miraculous healing. We have hundreds of years of these inscriptions from eyewitnesses.
As for Christianity, here are some of the whoppers defenders of the faith tried to pass off:
the Donation of Constantine. This was a forged document created in the eighth century that claimed Emperor Constantine in the fourth century donated the Roman Empire to the pope. It was an outlandish claim, but was passed off as true until historian and scholar Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457), via his expertise in textual analysis, declared it a fraud. The Church ignored Valla and continued to pass off the fake document as genuine until Cardinal Caesar Baronius (1538-1607) admitted it was fake in his Ecclesiastical Annals, written over a century later.
the letters of Paul and Seneca. Apparently, Christians were disappointed that a lot of the great pagan philosophers, historians, and statesmen never mentioned Jesus or Christianity, so they made up a correspondence between the Apostle Paul and Seneca the Younger (4 BC-65). He was a philosopher, statesman, and tutor of the Emperor Nero (37-68). As explained here, modern scholars recognize the letters as forgeries. No Christian scholar mentions them until the mid-fourth century, and they don’t match the writing style of Paul or Seneca; errors of fact and chronology were detected that the real Seneca never would have made.
the Abgar Legend. This involves correspondence with a Mesopotamian king named Abgar and Jesus. Abgar writes to Jesus, asking him to come to his kingdom and cure him of an illness. Abgar tells Jesus that he will give him sanctuary and share his kingdom with him in exchange for healing him. Jesus replies that he can’t go because he has to fulfill his earthly mission, but that after he ascends into heaven, he will send one of his disciples to heal him. This tale, which originated in the fourth century, was considered spurious as early as the fifth century. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia says that the letters are fake and explains why they are fake.
the Nag Hammadi Library. In 1945, a sealed jar that contained a bunch of leather-bound codices was discovered by a farmer near the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi. A fourth-century Christian sect was in the process of creating a fake story about the resurrected Jesus interacting with his disciples. As explained here, they were putting the words from an epistle written by a person named Eugnostos into Jesus’ mouth. It was called the Sophia of Jesus Christ, which means the Wisdom of Jesus Christ. But rival Christian sects were being suppressed, so before they could finish, the authorities arrived. But they had just enough time to throw everything into the jar and bury it.
phony relics. As previously stated, there is no physical evidence for the existence of Jesus, so over the centuries, Christians fabricated evidence not only for Jesus but for the apostles, saints, and miracles. Some are listed in this article. Nails and wood from the true cross, and even the foreskin of Jesus, were displayed in numerous churches over the centuries. Then you have the bodies of saints that supposedly don’t decay but actually do, like the body of Bernadette of Lourdes (1844-1879). Two relics that many Christians still stubbornly cling to are the Shroud of Turin and the James Ossuary, which are frauds, as explained here.
Simply stated, religions are not credible sources for what happened in the past or even in the present. To quote Dr. Carrier: “Christians were big ass liars.”
Heavily mythologized person: When it comes to heavily mythologized people, there are two kinds of individuals in this group: real people who actually existed and mythical people who never existed. The real people are usually kings, especially world leaders like Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, the Roman Emperors, etc., military leaders, heroes, and religious leaders. The mythical people who never existed include people like Hercules, Perseus, Theseus, and Ned Ludd.
So, was Jesus a real person who got heavily mythologized, like Sabbatai Zevi (1626-1676), who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah; the Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of Hasidic Judaism; or Sathya Sai Baba (1926-2011) who claimed to be the reincarnation of a Hindu/Muslim saint? The ability to perform miracles was attributed to all of these people. Or was he a mythical person?
In this video, Richard Carrier explained that if you take all heavily mythologized persons and put them into a hat, only one in three turns out to be historical, as in, really existed. So, falling into this category counts against existence. You need strong evidence to counteract this category. In the case of Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, two titans of the ancient world, we have vast amounts of evidence; we have a book that Caesar wrote; for Alexander, who died in Babylon, we have the original clay tablets, written during his lifetime, that record his military victories there; we have artifacts from their battles, along with statues, coins, monuments, and contemporaries who knew and wrote about them.
For lesser historical figures like Socrates (470 BC- 399 BC) and Spartacus (103 BC-71 BC), we still have some lines of evidence. But we have none for Jesus that would enable us to offset this category. Also, Socrates and Spartacus don’t fall into any supernatural reference groups, which also increases the probability of their existence. They were just ordinary guys.
Savior god: One of the biggest religious trends in the Roman Empire was savior gods. Pretty much every nation and culture had one. This was due to the influence of Hellenism (Greek culture), which was due to Alexander the Great’s conquests of nations and territories later conquered by the Roman Republic. Originally, these cults were agricultural community religions that revolved around the death and rebirth of crops. But by the time of the Roman Republic’s transition over to the Roman Empire in the late last century BC, these agricultural deities had morphed into personal savior deities concerned with the salvation of individuals. They merged with the local religions, creating a different hybrid religion. This is known as syncretism.
Many savior gods supposedly died and rose from the dead, but not all of them. They all looked and acted different, had different biographies, and suffered and/or died in different ways. But generically, they were all the same. As Richard Carrier explains (I’m paraphrasing), they were all savior gods; they were all sons of god; occasionally a daughter of god; they all undergo some sort of a passion, or in Greek, patheon, which is a struggle or ordeal; through this passion they all obtain victory over death, which they share with their followers in the form of baptism, communion, and fictive kinship (they consider each other brothers and sisters or brethren); stories are written about them placing them in human history on Earth; yet none of them actually existed.
Nevertheless, we are asked to believe that Jesus, whose name conveniently means savior, is the one lone exception and that he actually existed. That’s an extraordinary claim. But as astronomer Carl Sagan (1934-1996) said back in 1979, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
But is there a remote possibility that Jesus could be an exception? Sure! For example, take advertising mascots used to sell products via TV ads and other media like Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker, Juan Valdez, Uncle Ben, Ronald McDonald, and The Most Interesting Man in the World. All of these people are fictional characters sometimes played by actors, with one exception: Colonal Sanders.
Harland Sanders (1890-1980) was real, complete with a white goatee, white hair, a white suit, and a string tie. He really founded and created the secret recipe for Kentucky fried chicken. We know Colonal Sanders existed because he lived in our time and appeared on TV numerous times, as shown here.
But let’s say our civilization is destroyed in a war or some other cataclysm, and 2000 years later another modern civilization arises. If scholars in that future civilization had advertising mascots as one of their historical reference groups (cartoon mascots like Tony the Tiger and Cap’n Crunch would be excluded for obvious reasons), they would conclude that everyone in it is fictitious. In the case of Colonal Sanders, they would be wrong, but they would have no way of knowing that if records and facts about his life were destroyed. We’re in the same boat with Jesus and any other savior god; we don’t have any evidence to counteract the prior probability that they didn’t exist.
However, we do have firsthand evidence of how easily these kinds of savior gods can be invented in our own time. Prior to, but especially during, World War II, when allied forces occupied the islands of Melanesia, primitive islanders were exposed to modern technology. They merged their religions with Christianity and came to believe that at a future time, ships and planes would appear bearing all kinds of miraculous cargo, along with their resurrected dead ancestors. These hybrid religions are known as cargo cults.
Within thirty years after WWII, the islanders invented stories of a savior god who brought them their religion. On many of the islands, he was called John Frum, as in John from America. Other islands called him Tom Navy, as in Tom in the Navy. Fortunately, anthropologists were living there to study these primitive societies. They witnessed how these mythical saviors were invented via shamans having visions and spirit communications.
Rank-Raglan hero: As explained here and here, the Rank-Raglan mythotype was developed by Otto Rank (1884-1939), a psychoanalyst under Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), and by Lord Ragaln (1885-1964), a British soldier and anthropologist, independently of each other. It identifies the common characteristics of mythical heroes. Rank came up with twelve characteristics of mythical heroes. Raglan came up with twenty-two characteristics in 1936, which are considered more definitive.
Raglan’s twenty-two traits are: 1) Mother is a royal virgin; 2) Father is a king; 3) Father is often a near relative of mother; 4) Unusual conception; 5) Hero reputed to be son of god; 6) Attempts to kill hero as an infant; 7) Hero spirited away as a child; 8) Reared by foster parents in a far country; 9) No details of childhood; 10) Returns or goes to a future kingdom; 11) Is victor over king, giant, dragon, or wild beast; 12) Marries a princess; 13) Becomes king; 14) For a time he reigns uneventfully; 15) He prescribes laws; 16) Later loses favor with gods or his subjects; 17) Driven from throne and city; 18) Meets with mysterious death; 19) Often at the top of a hill; 20) His children, if any, do not succeed him; 21) His body is not buried; 22) Has one or more holy sepulchers or tombs.
The idea is that the higher a notable person scores, the more likely they are to be mythical. Opinions vary, but Raglan felt that anyone who scored well above seven was likely mythical. Others say a score above ten qualifies as mythical. Raglan himself scored Oedipus the highest at 21, Theseus and Moses scored 20, Zeus 15, and King Arthur 19. Alexander the Great came in at 7 points. Raglan didn’t score Jesus, but others have scored him between 18 and 20. Richard Carrier also scored Jesus at 20, but pointed out that just using the Gospel of Mark alone, he would still score around 14, which still puts him in the category of myth.
Bottom line: The prior probability is high that Jesus was a myth because he doesn’t fall into any non-mythical reference groups.
The gospels are myths, not history
A myth is a fictitious story that uses symbol and allegory to communicate principles of cosmic and moral order as well as virtues and ideals. Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) does a great job of explaining the purpose and power of myth in his books and in this interview. I also recommend a book entitled Hamlets Mill by Giorgio de Santillana (1902-1974) if you want to learn more about this subject.
Myths can appear in any genre. In the ancient world, they could be written as histories or biographies. For example, Plutarch (46-119) wrote a biography of Alexander the Great, a real person, and another on Romulus, the fictitious founder of Rome and a dying and rising savior god who predates Jesus. In our time, myths can also be found in movies and television shows. For example, in 2012, two movies about President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) were playing in theaters: Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The former was a sober biography about the real Lincoln. The latter was a mythical tale about Lincoln running around with an axe, killing ferocious vampires. I opted for the vampire hunter one because it was more fun.
In these two lectures, here and here, Dr. Carrier explains how to tell if a story is a myth. He talks about the markers of myth and explains in detail that while a story doesn’t have to have all of the markers of myth in order to be a myth, if it has all the markers of myth, it very likely is a myth. The four gospels in the New Testament have all of the markers of myth.
Emulation of prior myths: as stated earlier, savior gods existed throughout the Roman Empire. The dying and rising god Romulus was celebrated in processions and festivals all over the Empire. Worshipers of the Egyptian dying and rising god Osiris were evangelizing all over the Empire. Jesus was a Jewish version of the dying and rising god motif, just as Osiris was an Egyptian version and Romulus was a Roman version. But that’s only broadly speaking. His story is really an updated version of the stories of Moses and Elijah. For example, the first-born male children of the Israeli slaves in Egypt were slaughtered to kill Moses, just as the first-born male children were slain in Judea to kill Jesus. In the same way, the Roman poet Virgil (71 BC-21 BC) retooled the mythical tale of the Illiad and Odyssey by Homer (850 BC-800 BC) with a poem entitled “The Aeneid.”
Vivid narration: have you ever read a novel or even a shorter book and felt like you were there? That’s the purpose of works of fiction. To suspend reality. Real histories and other non-fiction works just report what happened. Historians in the ancient world did throw some myth and vivid narration into their accounts, but they didn’t permeate the whole book, as is the case with myths.
Historical improbabilities are frequent and central to the story; the gospels go on and on about all of the miraculous things that Jesus did. But a myth doesn’t have to contain supernatural occurrences in order to be a myth. Amazing coincidences, strange things constantly happening, and people not acting like people also qualify. For example, Jesus encounters his first four disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, while they are fishing and tells them to follow him. They immediately drop what they are doing and follow a guy they never saw before. Jesus also fed the 5000 people he was preaching to by conjuring up fish and loaves of bread, which amazed his disciples. When another multitude of followers need to be fed later in the story, the disciples are once again clueless about how Jesus is going to feed them.
No corroboration of central characters and events; we don’t know who wrote the gospels, when they were written, or where they were written. The gospels are anonymous. The names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were attached to them in the late second century, probably by church father Irenaeus (130-202), who is the first to mention them by name in his 180 AD book On Heresies. Of the four, Mark was written first. The other three gospels are redactions of Mark, and with the exception of John, they often copy Mark verbatim. There is also no evidence that the gospels were based on oral tradition.
The oldest gospel fragment we have is papyrus P52, a fragment of John’s gospel the size of a credit card that dates between 125 and 175 AD. We have no Christian writings that date back to the first century. We have no evidence outside of Christianity that Jesus, his apostles, or even the Christian religion existed in the first century, despite the gospel claims of how famous Jesus and the early church were. The anonymous gospels don’t claim to be written by eyewitnesses, don’t name their sources, and provide no critique of the stories they are telling, which have all the trappings of myth.
But hold on. How can the gospels be myths when Augustus, Tiberius, King Herod, his sons, Pontius Pilate, and other real historical people are mentioned in them, along with many real places? Simple! The presence of real people, places, and events is common in myths and in all works of fiction. For example, the 1939 movie Gone With the Wind is set in Georgia, a real place, during the Civil War, a real historical event. But Scarlet O’Hara, Rhett Butler, and Ashley Wilkes are fictional characters. The 1967 TV series The Time Tunnel had fictional time travelers Tony Newman and Doug Phillips meet and interact with real historical people like George Armstrong Custer, Jim Bowie, and Billy the Kid.
Chiasmus and Inclusio: An inclusio is a literary device that starts with one story, goes to another story, and then goes back to the original story. It’s designed to show that there is some interconnection or some other meaning attached to them. For example, in Mark chapter 11, Jesus is hungry and sees a fig tree. But it wasn’t the season for figs, so Jesus cursed the tree to never bear fruit again because he didn’t get to eat any figs. He does this in the presence of his puzzled disciples. Then the story switches to Jesus throwing merchants and money changers out of the temple square. The next day, Jesus and his disciples return to the fig tree, which has dried up and died.
Obviously, killing a fig tree for not having figs when it wasn’t supposed to have figs makes no sense. And contrary to how it’s depicted in the movies, the temple square was not a small area. The entire temple complex covered 450 acres, which included ten acres of public space occupied by hundreds of merchants and money changers, along with thousands of sacrificial animals. There was also a garrison of armed guards who would have killed Jesus for trying to disrupt temple business. The Jews were allowed to have their own army under Roman law. Their purpose was to guard the temple complex and punish Jewish citizens for violating religious laws. So, the story in Mark is really a mythical allegory.
The ancient Jewish religion was based on temple atonement rituals, which were also a boon to ancient Jerusalem’s economy, as explained here. The Jewish people would sacrifice animals to cleanse them of their sins. But animal blood is weak magic, which is why it had to be repeated multiple times each year. But the blood sacrifice of Jesus, the son of God, did away with animal sacrifice and only needed to be done once. The dead fig tree and Jesus’ clearing of the temple in Mark represent God’s abandonment of the temple cult. But it’s not a prophecy; Mark was written after, probably long after, the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD when the Jews rebelled against Roman rule.
Matthew’s gospel is a chiasmus, which means repeating words or concepts in reverse order in the same or modified form. In Matthew, all ideas related to each other are nested, as in A B C, C B A. Richard Carrier compares it to the layers of an onion. In other words, Matthew is not an oral tradition that was handed down, but a brilliantly constructed work of literature.
The gospels also radically contradict each other, which is another dead giveaway that they aren’t historical accounts. To give a couple of examples, Matthew’s gospel says that after Jesus died on the cross, many dead saints came out of their graves and appeared to many. Yet none of the other three gospels mention this momentous event. And only John’s gospel tells the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, which is why the Jews decided to have him killed because it would make believers out of everyone. But if this was the pivotal event that led to Jesus being killed, why didn’t the other three gospels mention it? However, Luke’s gospel does mention a beggar named Lazarus in a parable. Jesus said that people wouldn’t believe even if a resurrected dead person like Lazarus appeared to them.
Another really huge contradiction is that the gospels don’t agree on when Jesus was born. Mark and John begin their stories when Jesus is an adult. Only Matthew and Luke begin with the birth of Jesus. Matthew’s gospel says that Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod the Great. It tells the story we are all familiar with: the star guiding the wise men (Matthew doesn’t say how many) who bring gifts to the infant Jesus, and how Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to save Jesus from Herod and didn’t return until after he died. Luke, on the other hand, mentions none of this. Instead, his gospel reports that Jesus was born when Quirinius/Cyrenius (51BC-21) was governor of Syria and Augustus Caesar ordered a census to tax the entire Empire.
Our Gregorian calendar, created under Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585), originally placed the birth of Jesus in the year 1 AD (there is no year 0, only 1 BC- 1 AD). But due to a miscalculation, Herod, on the Gregorian calendar, died in 4 BC, so, to validate Matthew’s gospel, the year of Jesus’ birth had to be moved back. Most scholars think Jesus was born between 6 and 4 BC and died between 30 and 36 AD. But the census mentioned in Luke took place in 6 AD, the year Quirinius became governor, because this was also the year that Judea became part of the province of Syria. So, Emperor Augustus ordered a local census for that area, not for the entire Empire.
Luke further mentions that Jesus was baptized when he was thirty years old, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius (42 BC-37), who became Emperor in 14 AD after his stepfather Augustus died. This would make the 15th year of his reign 29 AD. If Jesus was thirty years old in 29 AD, then he would have been born in the year 1 BC. But if he had been born in 6 AD, he would only have been twenty- four in the 29th year of Tiberius’ reign. Thus, Luke not only contradicts Matthew, he totally contradicts himself.
The gospels are literary masterpieces, but they aren’t histories. They were carefully composed by highly accomplished scholars who were educated in Greek schools, where they were trained in rhetoric and in how to create new stories from older myths. They read the works of Homer, Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, and other great minds. As Richard Carrier pointed out in his book on Jesus’ historicity, the gospels were created for Christian communities to sell their religion, not to preserve any kind of historical truth.
Attestation, Josephus, Tacitus and those other non-Christian guys
The biggest con apologists and even some biased scholars perpetuate is claiming that there’s tons of historical evidence for Jesus. The more dishonest ones even shamelessly claim that there is more evidence for Jesus than for Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, the Roman Emperors, and just about any other historical person you can name when the opposite is true. Richard Carrier calls these claims “The Argument from Spartacus.”
New Testament scholar and best-selling author Bart Ehrman, PhD, is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He passionately believes that Jesus was a real person, as in, an ordinary guy. Dr. Ehrman is a non-believer who describes himself as an agnostic atheist. In this mock debate with Richard Carrier, he declared that if you only consider external attestation, Jesus was the most well-attested Palestinian Jew of the entire first century. Dr. Carrier countered by pointing out that just because someone is well-attested to doesn’t mean they existed. For example, Superman is the most well-attested superhero of all time, but he isn’t real.
Jesus is famous and well-attested because a powerful world religion has been built up around him. But as explained in this article, just about all of the mountains of textual attestation for Jesus are after the ninth century. This is centuries after the time Jesus supposedly lived, so it means nothing. How well Jesus was attested to in or near the time he lived is what counts, and for that we have nothing. Only a few Christian gospels and other writings date to the second century. And in their case, we only have fragments. In the third century, we had bigger fragments. But we didn’t have complete manuscripts and Bibles until the fourth century. And we can see how they have been altered for political purposes and due to sloppy scholarship.
Then there are the pagans and other non-Christians who mentioned Jesus and Christianity. Some of the names bandied about are Thallus, Phlegon, Mara Bar Serapion, Lucian of Samosata (125-180), Celsus, and Suetonius (69-122). But the main ones that apologists love to cite, including some historians who should know better, are Josephus (37-100) and Tacitus (56-120). None of these guys count as evidence for Jesus because Lucian and Celsus wrote in the mid-to-late second century, so there is no way they could know whether or not Jesus existed. We don’t know who Serapion is talking about in his prison letter or even what time period he and Thallus lived in. And Phlegon, like Thallus, only mentions a major eclipse and an earthquake, which no early first-century astronomers in the Middle East nor anywhere else in the world seemed to notice.
As for Josephus and Tacitus, mainstream scholarship shows that their references to Jesus and Christianity are very likely interpolations, which is a polite way of saying forgeries, as explained here, here, here, and here. The source of a lot of the fake references to Jesus was the fourth-century Church historian Eusebius (260 or 265-339). He was writing when Christianity aligned with the Roman Empire under Constantine and was considered dishonest. It was Eusebius who first referenced Josephus mentioning Jesus. Prior to that, no Christian scholar ever did, including Origen (185-253), who was a Josephan scholar and one of the early church’s most influential theologians. Eusebius was also the source of the forged letters between Paul and Seneca and Jesus’ correspondence with King Agbar that I mentioned previously.
But even if the references to Jesus and Christianity are genuine, they still wouldn’t count as evidence because they don’t name their source. Jesus died before Josephus and Tacitus were born, so they’re not eyewitnesses. Someone or some document had to tell them about Jesus and Christianity. But they don’t tell us, which is why these references are worthless. In other words, just because a non-Christian writes about Jesus or Christianity doesn’t make it independent. You have to prove its independence by citing or finding the source it came from.
For example, Josephus wrote two major works: The Jewish War (75 AD) and Antiquities of the Jews (93 AD). Jesus is only briefly mentioned in his 93 AD book. Josephus is the closest in time to Jesus. If Josephus would have said that his father, who would have been an adult in the early 30s, told him that he met Jesus or saw him preach in Jerusalem, then he would be an independent source. But if Josephus said that he learned about Jesus from a Christian, then he would not be an independent source, and the references would be worthless. But not naming any source is the same as saying he got it from Christians—both are equally worthless. The same applies to Tacitus or any other non-Christian.
An apologist will just cite Josephus and Tacitus as evidence without explaining why they aren’t evidence. That’s how they con people. Even if the so-called expert is a real historian, if they claim Josephus and Tacitus are evidence for Jesus’ existence, they aren’t doing history; they are doing apologetics. If genuine, the only thing the passages in Josephus would prove is that Christianity existed in the first century, because outside of those bogus references, there is no proof.
The first century was a well-documented time period. Numerous scholars, historians, poets, and playwrights were recording events like Seneca the Younger and his father Seneca the Elder (54 BC-39), Philo (20 BC-45), Valerius Maximus (wrote in the 20s and 30s AD, birth and death unknown), and Justus of Tiberius (35-100). Yet no mention of Jesus, his apostles, or Christianity, which is why the gospel tales of how famous Jesus was, along with the miracles and fame of his apostles depicted in the book of Acts, can’t possibly be true.
Bart Ehrman himself admitted what I just said in this lecture: (4-minute mark)
“Most people don’t realize this. But Jesus is never mentioned in any Greek or Roman non-Christian source until eighty years after his death. There is no record of Jesus having lived in these sources. In the entire first Christian century, Jesus is not mentioned by a single Greek or Roman historian, religion scholar, politician, philosopher, or poet. His name never occurs in a single inscription, and it is never found in a single piece of private correspondence, zero, zip references.”
Eighty years after Jesus’ death is probably referring to the correspondence between Pliny the Younger 61-113) and the Emperor Trajan (53-117). Pliny was governor of the province of Bithynia. In 110 AD, he wrote a letter to Trajan asking what to do about something he never encountered: Christians. Strange since Pliny held just about every important job in the empire except for Emperor. He was a prosecutor and defense attorney in the Roman court system. He even served on the staff of Emperor Domitian (51-96), who in later centuries was also falsely accused of persecuting Christians. He was also a very close friend of Tacitus. They served in the Roman Senate together and regularly corresponded with each other. It’s highly improbable that Tacitus would know about Christians and not Pliny and Trajan, who told Pliny not to bother seeking Christians out.
My conclusion is that even if Jesus was an ordinary nobody and the Christian churches were obscure and small, someone like Pliny living in the first century should have noticed and recorded something. This is why I think, based on Pliny’s letter and other factors, that Christianity began either very late in the first century or very early in the second century. The Gospels were probably composed in the mid-to-late second century because that’s when they first appeared in the historical record.
A dead giveaway is the anonymous person who wrote Luke and Acts. At the beginning of both, he mentions someone named Theophilius. The name means “loved by God” or “friend of God.” Some believers think it’s a generic name that applies to all Christians. Most scholars don’t, because in Luke 1:1-4, the author calls him “most excellent Theophilius,” which applies to a person of high honor and rank. It sounds like the gospel is being dedicated to this person and that the author is looking back on events that happened long ago (not that any such events did, but it’s what Christians were told to believe). It is possible and probable that the person to whom the gospel is being dedicated could be Theophilius, Bishop of Antoch from 169-182. Keep in mind that Acts 11:26 states that Antioch is the city where followers of Jesus were first called Christians.
The case for a celestial Jesus
As I mentioned earlier, prior to the modern era, the existence of Jesus as a man living on Earth was also questioned shortly after Christianity began. What I meant was by other Christian sects. The Catholic Church and other Christian cults that viewed Jesus as a historical person won out and destroyed rival Christian sects that didn’t go along with their dogma. We don’t get to hear the arguments of those other sects because the historicist Christians destroyed their works. But we know they were there. The angry tirades against them can be found in early Christian literature.
To cite some examples, Justin Martyr’s “Dalogue With Trypho,” Chapters 8-9, where he argues with a fictional Jewish protagonist who accuses Christians of inventing Jesus, and Justin passionately insists “we have not believed empty fables;” the utterly dumb Epistles of Ignatius, which, as Richard Carrier explains here, make “zero historical sense.” In his Epistle to the Trallians (chapters 9-10), Ignatius implores his fellow Christians to “stop your ears” if anyone denies Jesus’ earthly life; among the many forged epistles in the Bible is II Peter. In chapter 1: 16-18, the fake Peter insists “we have not followed cunningly devised fables” and then claims he was there and saw Jesus. But the ultimate clue to Jesus’ earthly life being a myth is the epistles of Paul.
The letters of the Apostle Paul are the oldest part of the New Testament, along with the Book of Hebrews. They were written before the gospels, even though they are placed after them. The New Testament consists of 27 different books or writings. Thirteen of those writings are the letters or epistles of Paul, which are half of the New Testament. The Book of Hebrews also used to be attributed to Paul, but no longer. Unlike the letters of Paul, the Epistle to the Hebrews is anonymous. Mainstream secular scholarship considers only seven of Paul’s thirteen epistles to be authentic: Romans, I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians, and Philemon. The other six, I and II Timothy, Titus, Ephesians, Colossians, and II Thessalonians, are considered forgeries.
However, even the seven epistles that are considered genuine, as in written by the same person, like the rest of the Bible, have been changed over time and are filled with interpolations, things that Paul didn’t really say. They also consist of different letters that have been stitched together. We don’t know what the originals looked like. But what we have paints a very different picture of Jesus than the gospels.
As Dr. Carrier explained here and here, Jesus was originally an archangel who communicated with his followers through visions and hidden messages in scripture. This is the way the epistles of Paul describe him (Galatians 4:14). This is also the way the great Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who was “regarded by Christians as the forerunner of Christian theology,” described him: God’s “firstborn born word” (Romans 8:29); “God’s image” (II Corinthians 4:4); in 9a, the “instrument and a pattern for all creation” (I Corinthians 8:6). Philo also called him “the eldest” of God’s angels, “the great archangel of many names,” which includes “the name of God and the Word” (John 1:1). And to anyone who would argue that Jesus can’t be an archangel because he is the son of God, in Job 1:6 and 38: 4-7, the angels are called “sons of God.”
We have other historical examples of celestial beings founding a religion. In the seventh century, Mohammed (570-632) hallucinates conversations with the angel Gabriel. The Koran is the revealed word of Gabriel. From 1823-1829, Joseph Smith (1805-1844), claims he was visited by the angel Moroni, who showed him the Book of Mormon on magical gold plates. So, Moroni, a non-person, is the founder of the Mormon religion. Mohammed and Joseph Smith were just their apostles.
In Jesus’ case, much of what he said was taken from the Old Testament. When asked what the great commandment in the law is, in Matthew 22:36-39, he says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” which is Deuteronomy 6:5. He then says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” which is Leviticus 19:18. When on the cross (Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46), he cries out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Whoever wrote those gospels is quoting Psalm 22:1.You don’t need a guy walking around Galilee to explain Christianity. The entire gospel was lifted out of the Old Testament.
But unlike Gabriel and Moroni, something happened to Jesus that didn’t happen to them: he was euhemerized. Meaning he was transformed into a historical person living on Earth. Euhemerism is named after the Greek author Euhemerus (fourth century BC–third century BC). He took the mythical gods Zeus and Uranus, claimed that they were once human kings who were later deified, and wrote fake biographies about them, which he called “the scared scripture.” This started a popular trend in the Mediterranean region, and many other mythical beings acquired fake biographies that inserted them into human history. Dr. Carrier explained that the evidence we have makes the euhemerization of Jesus more probable than deification, taking a real historical person and mythologizing them into a god.
Christians not only euhemerized Jesus because it was a popular trend at the time, but probably because it was also an easier way to control doctrine. Trying to establish a church hierarchy with a celestial founder means that any schmuck can walk in and claim, “Jesus told me this, and you’re not worshiping him properly.” Next week, next month, or even the next day, someone else can come in and do the same thing. But if said church hierarchy claims to have a flesh and blood historical founder, they can more easily shut this kind of stuff down by saying, “Sorry toga boy, but the bishop of our church was taught by so and so who was taught by so and so who was taught by the Apostle John who sat at Jesus’ feet and was one of his disciples. So, what you say doesn’t matter because we have a pedigree.”
In the letters of Paul, at no time do the original apostles mention that they knew and interacted with Jesus on Earth or that they had been his disciples. The epistles never mention Jesus being born of a virgin, having a ministry, preaching to crowds, or performing any miracles. Paul never mentions learning anything about Jesus from any of the original apostles. Meaning Jesus appeared to them first, starting with Peter (I Corinthians 15:5-9), and that he appeared to Paul last. It has nothing to do with who did or didn’t meet Jesus. An apostle is someone whom Jesus appeared to in a vision after he died. Paul then declares that he is the “least of the apostles” not because he never met Jesus but because he “persecuted the church of God.”
Throughout his epistles, Paul insists that revelation and scripture are the sources for what he knows about Jesus. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul adamantly declares, “the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ,” which is how the original apostles received it.
The epistles of Paul do mention Jesus being crucified, buried, and rising from the dead. But in I Corinthians 15: 3-4, Paul says these things happened “according to the scriptures,” not according to what any eyewitnesses told him. In fact, Paul never says anyone actually saw the crucifixion, where it took place, or when, all of which shows that it was a cosmic event and didn’t happen on Earth. This is also indicated in a rival gospel that has survived, called the Ascension of Isaiah. It was written between the late first and early second centuries. Dr. Carrier explained that by eliminating all of the changes and interpolations, the earliest redaction we can construct shows that Jesus didn’t descend to Earth but was crucified by Satan and his demons (rebel angels) in outer space just below the Moon.
We have precedent for this with other savior gods. For example, Plutarch wrote a book On Isis and Osiris, where he explained that stories the Egyptian priests were telling their coverts about Osiris being a human king that had lived on Earth were myths to hide the real truth, that Osiris was really killed in the heavens and never had an earthly existence.
It’s also important to understand Biblical cosmology. As explained here, what exists on Earth exists in the seven heavens. The Life of Adam and Eve, also known as the Apocalypse of Moses, says that Adam, Eve, and their family are buried in the third heaven, where the Garden of Eden is. In II Corinthians 12: 2-4, Paul talks about being taken to the third heaven. Satan lives in the lowest of the heavenly realms, not in a place called Hell. So, it is possible for Jesus to have been crucified and buried by Satan, rise three days later, and ascend back to the upper heavenly realms.
It’s highly probable that the original letters of Paul did say that Jesus was crucified in the heavens. But the Holy See couldn’t allow that, or it would destroy their narrative that Jesus was a man who lived on Earth, so it chopped up Paul’s letters, patched different pieces together, and added some interpolations. They couldn’t get rid of Paul because he was too popular, so they did with his letters what they did with popular pagan Roman holidays like Christmas, originally called Saturnalia and Brumalia, and altered them to serve their ecclesiastical agenda.
Arguments against the mythicist hypothesis are that in I Thessalonians 2:14-16, Paul declares that the Jews killed Jesus. It’s a forgery; Paul never said it, as explained here and here. Another argument is that Jesus had a brother named James (Galatians 1:18-19). All Christians were called brothers of the Lord (Romans 10:1, I Corinthians 15:1 ). All Paul is saying is that when he first went to Jerusalem to get acquainted with the apostles, he only met Peter and “saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.” Peter was the only apostle he saw, along with some other Christian with a common name who wasn’t an apostle. Since all Christians are brothers, why should this guy be any different? Paul never specifies that he was. Of course, the passage could be interpreted either way, which renders it useless.
In I Corinthians 11:23, most people think Paul is talking about Jesus being betrayed following the last supper. The word “betrayed” that appears in most translations is taken from the Greek word paradidomi, which means to hand over or deliver up, as explained here. But it has a broad meaning as opposed to prodidomi, the more literal word for betrayed. Paul mentions no one being present at Jesus’ last meal and calls it “the Lord’s supper,” not the last supper. No one told Paul about Jesus’ last meal. He saw it in a vision. And in Romans 8:32, Paul states that it was God who delivered up Jesus to be killed. There was no betrayal.
Another common argument is that Paul’s letters say that Jesus was a descendant of King David and that he was born of a woman. Paul never says that. As explained here, Paul uses two different Greek words for birth: gennao, meaning a literal birth, and ginomai, which refers to divine manufacture. When Paul talks about the creation of Adam, Christians’ future resurrection bodies, and Jesus being “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3) and being “made of a woman” (Galatians 4:4), he uses ginomai. God changed Jesus’ spirit body into a Jewish body so he could be killed.
In Galatians 4: 22-31, Paul explains that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who bore his son Isaac, and his concubine, Hagar, who bore his son Ishmael, are allegories. Hagar represents the children of the Old Testament who are under sin, and Sarah represents the children of the New Testament who are free of sin. In other words, Hagar and Sarah aren’t real people.
When were the letters of Paul written? Was there even such a person as Paul? There is no record of him or of his amazing adventures outside of Christianity, as explained here. Maybe Paul was a pen name for Marcion of Sinope (85-160). He was the first to introduce the letters of Paul around the mid-second century and wrote the first New Testament canon, which included ten of the Pauline epistles. Prior to that, there is no historical record of them. And since the Catholic Church chose not to preserve it, we have no idea what Paul’s epistles looked like in that original New Testament.
Dr. Carrier strongly believes that the letters of Paul were written in the 50s AD because the preponderance of the evidence indicates that, but he admits that we really don’t know when they were written and that a case could be made that they were written in the 50s BC. Scholars like Dr. Robert Price, PhD, and Dr. Hermann Detering, PhD, (1953-2018) argue that Paul’s epistles were forged in the second century, which I tend to agree with because there is no mention of them prior to that time. But as Richard Carrier has said, if they designed a rocket based on Paul’s epistles being written in the 50s AD, he wouldn’t get on that rocket. Likewise, if they designed a rocket based on Paul’s epistles being written in the second century, I wouldn’t get on that rocket, so it looks like we’re both grounded.
But it really doesn’t matter when Paul’s letters or the gospels were written. It has no bearing on the existence of Jesus. And arguing whether or not Nazareth existed in the early first century is a total waste of debate time. What does matter is that regardless of when they were written, Paul’s epistles depict a celestial Jesus who never walked this planet. What especially matters is that his Epistle to the Galatians makes it very clear that if Hagar and Sarah weren’t real people, then neither were Isaac, Ishmael, Abraham, Moses, or any of the other patriarchs. All of them were created to provide authority for the teachings of the Old Testament, just as Jesus was created to provide authority for the teachings of Christianity.
Where we go from here
To sum up, religions are stories that people make up to explain what they don’t understand and to rationalize why things are the way they are. When you study the Bible, you aren’t studying God, but an idea of God. And since languages die and change, a lot gets lost in translation and with the passing of time. This is why Thomas Paine (1737-1809), one of America’s most famous Founding Fathers, said in his book The Age of Reason that “the word of God is the creation we behold.”
Paine believed that the more science teaches us about creation, the more we come to know the will of God. Or maybe we should drop the word creation and just call all that is existence. But understand that if you are fanatical about every word of the Bible being true, you aren’t worshiping God; you are worshiping a book. And you are missing the point.
Jesus, like Buddha and Krishna, along with evil spirits like the devil and other demons, represent the hopes, fears, ideals, brutal impulses, and goodness that exist in all of us. Ultimately, Christianity, like so many other religions before it, will probably pass away. Will even more irrational beliefs replace it, or will the human race evolve to the point where religion is no longer needed? This I do not know. But there is indeed something out there that is greater than ourselves and that all of us are a part of: the universe. We are made of the same substances, energies, and forces that make up the vastness and majesty of all that is. Thus, the need to belong, to feel that we are part of something greater than ourselves, will always remain.