The Jesus as we know him - the Jesus of Christianity - definitely did not exist. Most scholars do believe that Jesus was real1 but the lack of evidence supports the idea that he was invented2. No historians of the first century mention Jesus, despite there being authors who write (at length) about Jewish concerns. There are no Roman records that mention Jesus3. Not only all that, but, there are no Christian eye-witnesses of Jesus. All of the Gospels are anonymous and written by friends-of-friends, and none are written in the first person; also, Paul (who authored 13 of the 27 books of the NT) never met Jesus, except in a vision4. They're also written in very competent Greek (the language of later converts), rather than in Hebrew (the language of the original converts, excepting Paul). Early Christians didn't know when Jesus was born (his birthdate wasn't decided for hundreds of years, in 354CE)5 and didn't know where he was buried. People have doubted his existence since the very first century, and, despite the popularity of Christianity, there is a modern resurgence of people who disbelieve in the very existence of Jesus today. The biggest problem facing such unbelievers is accounting for early Christianity. But there are multiple theories as to how Christianity may have arisen without a historical saviour. For example, it is quite possible, given the similarities of Jesus to previous saviour religions and pagan stories about god-men, that the entire story of Jesus is a rewrite, with Jewish undertones, of Roman and pagan myths that were current at the beginning of the first century6,7,8.
No historians of the first century mention Jesus. Suetonius (65-135) does not. Pliny the Younger only mentions Christians (Paulists) with no comment of Jesus himself. There were Christians, but they themselves have only heard of Jesus (and didn't know when he was born, or where he was buried). Later on, Tacitus mentions a Jesus, but it is likely that after a century of Christian preaching Tacitus was just reacting to rumours, or probably talking about one of the many other Messiahs of the time. Josephus, a methodical, accurate and dedicated historian of the time mentions John the Baptist, Herod, Pilate and many aspects of Jewish life, in detail, but does not mention Jesus. The lack of evidence led a Christian in the third century to forge the Testimonium Flavianum, in the name of Josephus.
“... the famous Testimonium Flavianum attributed to Josephus ... certainly did not appear in the edition of Josephus read by Origen in the early third century. Eusebius 'quotes' it as from Josephus, and it appears in manuscripts of Josephus copied after that time.”
"Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?" by Robert M. Price (2003)9
Aside from that, Josephus does once mention a Jesus, but gives no information other than that he is a brother of a James. Jesus was not an unusual name, either. Justus, another Jewish historian who lived in Tiberias (near Kapernaum, a place Jesus frequented according to the NT) did not mention Jesus nor any of his miracles. It is only in the evidence of later writers, writing about earlier times, that we find a Jesus. Prof. Ehrman, an expert in the prime sources of the first century, spells this out:
“One of the striking and, to many people, surprising facts about the first century is that we don't have any Roman records, of any kind, that attest to the existence of Jesus. We have no birth certificate, no references to his works or deeds, no accounts of his trial, no description of his death - no reference to him whatsoever in any way, shape, or form. Jesus's name is not even mentioned in any Roman source of the first century.10 [...] But as with the vast majority of all persons who lived and died in the first century, he does not appear in the records of the Roman people.”
Now, it would not be fair at this point not to mention that Prof. Ehrman does believe in a historical Jesus. He says so, and infers that the increasingly common denial of Jesus's very existence is disrespectable11. He has a new book on the subject - Did Jesus Exist (2012), where he lays out his arguments (and in short, it is the Gospel of Matthew that is most trustworthy). Ehrman is a critical thinker who is not at all hesitant to dismantle illusion in the search for truth. If he thinks that Jesus exists, then, it is seriously worth considering his opinion. This page continues as an explanation of how Christianity can have arisen if there was no Jesus regardless of whether or not he existed.
What is more surprising than the lack of first-century references to Jesus is that the gospels themselves do not allude to first-hand historical sources, either13.
“The four Gospels that eventually made it into the New Testament, for example, are all anonymous, written in the third person about Jesus and his companions. None of them contains a first-person narrative ("One day, when Jesus and I went into Capernaum..."), or claims to be written by an eyewitness or companion of an eyewitness. Why then do we call them Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Because sometime in the second century, when proto-orthodox Christians recognized the need for apostolic authorities, they attributed these books to apostles (Matthew and John) and close companions of apostles (Mark, the secretary of Peter; and Luke, the travelling companion of Paul). Most scholars today have abandoned these identifications, and recognize that the books were written by otherwise unknown but relatively well-educated Greek-speaking (and writing) Christians during the second half of the first century.”
Ehrman kindly points out that the gospels were not forgeries written by unknown people - they were anonymous, and it was a case of false attribution13 by Christians later on that was the cause of the misdirection which lasted many hundreds of years.
So, none of the four gospels are written by eyewitnesses, and the writings of Paul (which make up nearly half of the total books of the New Testament, 13 of 27) are also the writings of someone who merely had a vision of Jesus but who never met him. This very strange state of affairs indicates that something is wrong with Christian history and some academics have noted that "this astonishingly complete absence of reliable gospel material" tends to support the theory that there never was a historical Jesus2.
This section is taken from "The Birth of Jesus and the Christmas Story: Pagan and Unhistorical" by Vexen Crabtree (2014).
The stories about Jesus's birth in the Bible are contained in the Books of Matthew and Luke. These two accounts contradict each other in many places. Many elements are certainly untrue. There are no Roman records attesting to the birth (or life) of Jesus3. Events such as King Herod's killing of every male child simply did not occur14,15 - none of Herod's enemies mention it, for example, despite their routine documenting of his many misdeeds of a much lesser nature. Also unhistorical is the curious Roman census that required (for what reason?) everyone to go to cities associated with their ancestors14. But similar stories are found about previous pagan god-man saviours. Likewise with the Virgin Birth, which has now been shown to simply be a mistranslation deriving from the Septuagint. And what of the 3 wise men who follow the bright star to Jesus's birthplace, bearing gifts? Other star gazers of the time, who meticulously recorded many stellar events, did not notice it14,16. It is a Zoroastrian story, even down to the details of the 3 gifts, copied by Christians and made to be about Jesus. The stories of Jesus's birth are rewrites, modernisations, of previous stories from older pagan myths. These facts have led some scholars to cast doubt on Jesus's entire existence.
This section is taken from "The Crucifixion Facade: 6. Conclusions" by Vexen Crabtree (2002).
The crucifixion story of Jesus Christ is mythical, based on pagan religions, and makes no sense:
There is a complete absence of evidence for the events described - no authors mention the phenomenal events that supposedly occurred at the time of Jesus' resurrection, and, there are no records of Jesus being crucified in the first place. This is despite there being multiple historians of the time who kept extensive records of events in that era, especially of unusual events and the misdeeds of rulers. The only records we have are those written by Christians themselves. St Paul's letters are the earliest, but he didn't even meet Jesus; and then even the earliest gospels show strong signs of being mythological. Within each of them nearly all details of the crucifixion and resurrection are different. Very important details, such as Jesus' last words, are so different that it appears they are simply being made up. The earliest Christians did not know simple details such as where Jesus was buried.
Most the details of Jesus' death and rebirth are similar to the existing myths surrounding god-men in that era. The similarities to the Christs of other pagan religions are shockingly detailed, so much so that early Church fathers had to defend themselves against pagan critics who said that the stories of Jesus were simply pagan stories with new names.
“The hundreds of documents about Jesus, all contradictory in style and content, derived from multiple physical locations. The disparate stories, all of which use pagan and roman myths interwoven with typical Greek god-man stories18, hint to us that the entire escapade is the result of historical revisionism. In other words, stories about Jesus spread as a result of a single preacher, perhaps St Paul (who never met Jesus and probably never really met the disciples), and people merely (in typical fashion for the era) rewrote older stories but now put Jesus at the core of them, just as happened with other Roman gods and heroes. Hence, a new religion sprung out of thin air, fooling many into thinking there was an actual historical figure. Once this process had started at the end of the first century, it was already impossible for anyone to go back and verify the stories.”
“'Bruno Bauer believed Mark had invented Jesus, just as Mark Twain created Huck Finn.”
"Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?" by Robert M. Price (2003)19
A very common belief, accepted (in part if not in full) by Christian liberals is that someone who claimed to be a prophet and messiah (there were many such people appearing amongst the Jews) is the historical Jesus. His life story has been intermingled with older pagan myths, and it is very hard for us to see his true life or message to the extent that we have little or no information about him, he is effectively without historical basis because the real figure is obscured by the mythical one.
God-Man myths were very popular and pre-dated the God-Man of Jesus by thousands of years. They all shared a common format which (or "vegetation myths") is that the Son of God has 12 disciples, and is betrayed and killed by a traitor. Popular myths such as the virgin birth, miracles, curing the blind and ill are also familiar and common aspects of these myths. As such, such events were assumed to be true of the historical Jesus. These myths became interwoven amongst the stories of someone who might have been real. Many Jewish sayings became attributed to this character, and sayings of John the Baptist too. Stories about the disciples were assumed to be true and not simply symbolic stories as the original gnostic Christians believed. Once people wrote pseudepigraphically under the names of the disciples people accepted them as true too. The rest is history, but initially is based on mistaken pseudo-historical accounts.
Perhaps the most historically correct of all the theories is that Christianity started out with a Gnostic character, but that it lost this from the 2nd century onwards. The stories of Jesus and the disciples match those of other Mystery religions and Pagan religions precisely because Christianity was another Mystery Religion. Literalist Christianity as we know it was the Outer Mysteries of this spiritual religion. It explains why the historical centres of Christianity were found to be all gnostic when literalist Christians went back to research the past, and why so many Pagan god-man elements are part of Christianity. It also explains why none of the scholars of the time mention Jesus or the miracles around his life, because even the Christians themselves knew that they were symbolic stories, not actual events. It's not just Jesus though - a surprisingly large number of religious figureheads, including both other Mesopotamian heroes and even the Buddha, have a tendency to conform to a certain stereotypical set of qualities20. The stories told about these heroes have similarities - such as a final battle with an arch-enemy, which resolves when the hero's cleverly chosen words destroy Māra or Satan accordingly. Karen Armstrong holds that these elements of the hero's career come to us from the Palaeolithin era. Later Christians had to defend their 'new' religion against critics who knew it was yet-another copy of the typical son-of-god saviour religions of the time:
“The hero tales of the world abound in heavenly annunciations, miraculous conceptions, portents at birth, child-prodigy stories, divine commissionings, devilish temptations to leave the ordained path, miracles, gaining and losing the approbation of the crowd, literal or figurative coronation, betrayal, execution (often on a hilltop), resurrection or disappearance or ascension into heaven, postmortem appearances, and so forth. As Martin Dibelius pointed out, such miracles always seem to punctuate the life stories of saints and heroes in order to cast a halo over their every moment. The Gospels come under serious suspicion because there is practically nothing in them that does not conform to this 'Mythic Hero Archetype,' no 'leftover' secular information such as we do find in the [cases of real historical characters of the era] which serves to tie them into the fabric of history.”
"Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?" by Robert M. Price (2003)21
Some features of the story of Jesus kind weight to the idea that his history was invented and modelled on previous heroes. Like other heroes, he had no childhood. There was a mythical birth story, and a short adult life of wonder and miracles, but there was no infant Jesus, and no child Jesus. Except one particular story of Jesus when he was 12 (Luke 2:41-49), but this particular story happens to merely be a rewriting of older stories about heroic and often divine heroes, who, at that very age, had a single story told about them too. Where were Jesus's parents? They are rarely mentioned, and are only a nuisance. Christians never found out when Jesus was born - early Christians debated for a hundred years about what date to celebrate Jesus's birthday on, and, they also didn't know where he was buried. They still don't. Did no convert to Christianity speak to Jesus's parents? Didn't they pass on any stories about young Jesus? Jesus died young, leaving many adults a long time to investigate him and write about him. So that massive gap in mundane knowledge about him is very worrying.
“The Jesus story sure looks like you would expect it to look if it were patterned after other god-men. Early Christian Church fathers such as Justin Martyr (d. 165), Tertullian (d. 225), and Irenaeus (d. 202) felt compelled to answer the pagan critics of the time who claimed the Jesus story was based on earlier traditions. The fathers claimed that the similarities were the work of the devil, who copied the Jesus story ahead of time to mislead the gullible.”
"God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist"
Prof. Victor J. Stenger (2007)22,6
The Babylonian legend of creation has come to us through history preserved in a number of tablets. The "main object" of these tablets, according to historian Wallis E. A. Budge, was the glorification of its central hero, Marduk, who conquered the dragon Tiamat. He continues to show evidence that it was common practice for local communities to tell these stories but to place their own local gods and heroes in the most heroic positions in these stories.
“It is probable that every great city in Babylonia, whilst accepting the general form of the Creation Legend, made the greatest of its local gods the hero of it. It has long been surmised that the prominence of Marduk in the Legend was due to the political importance of the city of Babylon. And we now know from the fragments of tablets which have been excavated in recent years by German Assyriologists at Kal'at Sharkât (or Shargat, or Shar'at), that in the city of Ashur, the god Ashur, the national god of Assyria, actually occupied in texts of the Legend in use there the position which Marduk held in four of the Legends current in Babylonia. There is reason for thinking that the original hero of the Legend was Enlil (Bel), the great god of Nippur (the Nafar, or Nufar of the Arab writers), and that when Babylon rose into power under the First Dynasty (about B.C. 2300), his position in the Legend was usurped at Babylon by Marduk.”
The relevance to Jesus is that it appears that exactly the same process has occurred: many existing god-man hero stories had been told for some time, and the generation of version with Jesus at the center was merely the latest popularist twist to emerge from the tradition of the dying god-man motif.
This trend of changing a story as it is told has been captured by the New Testament itself in the way that Gospels have tended to expand and edit stories, each adding its own highly characteristic twists and turns to the original stories. Robert Price identifies the trend by which, over time, stories told by believers get more complicated and more involved, with more detail appearing over time. , Here I quote just a small extract from Price's text on the topic, including one example:
“... take the important story of Peter's confession of Jesus' messianic identity at Caesarea Philippi. Our earliest version has Jesus solicit Peter's opinion, 'You are the Christ' (Mark 8:29). Luke modifies the title accorded Jesus: 'You are the Christ of God' (9:20), a simple clarification: the anointed of God. Matthew wants a beefier Christology, so his Peter says a mouthful: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God' (16:16). [...] There is clear development from a 'lower' Christology to a 'higher' one. Thus, if any version is most likely to be historical, it is surely the earliest and simplest, the least theologized.'”
"Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?" by Robert M. Price (2003)25
The theological and historical details in New Testament text prove that Bible authors were rewriting the details - making them up, and embellishing them. The "No Jesus" thesis is of course that there was no underlying story - the entirety of Jesus' life is a retelling of older myths, reworded and rewritten for new readers.
The first part of this section is taken from "Types of Christianity in History: Who Were the First Christians?: 3.2. The Progression from Paganism to Christianity" by Vexen Crabtree (2003).
Elements common to all types of the Christian religion that were common in previous Pagan mystery religions include much of the religious content of Christianity. All elements of Jesus' life such as the events around his birth, death and ministry were already parts of the myths surrounding other god-men of the time. Peripheral elements such as there being twelve disciples were similarly present in other more ancient religions and sometimes with an astonishing amount of duplication. First century critics of Christianity voiced accusations that Christianity was nothing but another copy of common religions.
All the actual sayings and teachings of Jesus were also not new, and much of the time speeches attributed to Jesus are more like collections of Jewish and Pagan sayings. Even distinctive texts like the Sermon on the Mount are not unique. If we remove all the content that Jesus could not have heard and repeated himself, there is nothing else left. If we remove the supernatural elements of Christianity that are copies of already existing thought and religion, there is nothing left which is unique! Even many of the sayings of subsequent Christians are not unique; Jesus appears to not have taught anyone anything that was not already present in the common culture of the time. This shows us that not only did Christianity follow on, as expected, from previous thought in history but that we do not even need to believe in God or supernatural events in order to account for the history of Christianity.
Stephen Hodge very usefully lists many of the similarities found in the Dead Sea Scrolls to the teachings and organisation of Jewish Christianity. He also concludes that these Jewish documents make the teachings and appearance of Jewish Christianity less revolutionary:
“The [Dead Sea Scrolls] collection is really an invaluable cross-section of religious material that reveals for the first time just how rich and varied Jewish spiritual life was at that time. The scrolls offer an intellectual and devotional landscape into which Jesus and his movement can be placed. No longer does Jewish Christianity seem an inexplicable, isolated occurrence. [...] In other words, the true value of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that they help provide a genuine context for what was to become Christianity. For example, they tell us just how widespread was the expectation and longing for a saving Messiah among Jews at that time, and that there were a number of competing theories about the expected role of this Messiah in the world of Judaism. The scrolls also reveal that the expectation found in the Gospels that the end of the world was imminent was a dominant belief in many quarters in Judaea.
All biblical scholars agree that, apart from their intrinsic value, the sectarian scrolls are of tremendous importance as background information to the social and religious conditions in Judaea that led to the rise of Christianity. [... There are] subtle implications that can be derived from the Qumran texts, for they not only provide interesting parallels to Christian concepts and practice but tend to reduce the uniqueness of the Yeshua movement.”
“The only pre-Christian man to be buried and resurrected and deified in his own lifetime, that I know of, is the Thracian god Zalmoxis (also called Salmoxis or Gebele'izis), who is described in the mid-5th-century B.C.E. by Herodotus (4.94-96), and also mentioned in Plato's Charmides (156d-158b) in the early-4th-century B.C.E. According to the hostile account of Greek informants, Zalmoxis buried himself alive, telling his followers he would be resurrected in three years, but he merely resided in a hidden dwelling all that time. His inevitable "resurrection" led to his deification, and a religion surrounding him, which preached heavenly immortality for believers, persisted for centuries.
The only case, that I know, of a pre-Christian god actually being crucified and then resurrected is Inanna (also known as Ishtar), a Sumerian goddess whose crucifixion, resurrection and escape from the underworld is told in cuneiform tablets inscribed c. 1500 B.C.E., attesting to a very old tradition.”
For more, see: "The Divine Number 12: 12 Gods, 12 Disciples, 12 Tribes and the Zodiac" by Vexen Crabtree (2007).
Starting out life as an immensely useful number for counting and dividing things, the number 12 became a number revered by mathematicians and early astronomers. So the skies were divided into 12 portions as were the months of year, reflecting the annual movement of heavenly bodies. Superstitions and religious beliefs were piled on top of respect for the number 12 and was adopted by multiple early civilisations. The sky, divided into 12, has each portion ruled by a personification, a god, a divine being, a teacher, a prophet or a son of the sun. Odin of Norse mythology sat on a chair that overlooked all of creation, and had 12 sons28. The Babylonians had the longest lasting influence upon our calendars, timekeeping, mathematics and religions; all of which emphasize the number 1229,30. The Babylonians' most ancient myths defined zodiacs where each portion was ruled by a different god (some good, some evil)31. Pseudoscientific enterprises such as astrology have the number 12 at its core. The Jains of ancient India divided time into 12 segments, each with 24 teachers, the latest of which had 12 disciples and whom attained enlightenment aged 7232,33,34. The ancient Zoroastrians had twelve commanders on the side of light (light being a symbol for the sun)35, and in Judaism and the Hebrew Scripture there are many references to the 12 tribes of Israel, and later on the Greeks imagined 12 Gods on mount Olympus. Mithraists, and then Christians believed that their saviour had 12 disciples. Shi'a Muslims list 12 ruling Imams following Muhammad. Such holy persons are depicted with a bright solar light around their heads such as occurs when any object approaches from the sun and now stands infront of it. Although many ancient religions such as the Gnostics understood things like the twelve disciples of Mithras to be symbolic of the stages of the waning and waxing sun throughout the year, later religions took it literally and believed in an actual 12 disciples - and some still do.
Now we understand what stars, planets and stellar objects are, it makes no sense to retain the mystical, nonsensical connotations of the 'holy', 'perfect', 'divine' or 'special' number 12. If the number is employed in a practical sense to divide time, measurements, or angles, then the chances are it makes awesome mathematical sense to utilize such a factorable number as the number twelve. But if you see it used in a superstitious, religious, magical, paranormal, holy or weird way, then watch out, because you have entered the world of flat-earth delusion. It is, after all, only a number, and whenever you see myths, stories and theologies divide things up into 12s, you know you've entered human-invented fiction rather than the realm of truth.
“The reason why all these narratives are so similar, with a godman who is crucified and resurrected, who does miracles and has 12 disciples, is that these stories were based on the movements of the sun through the heavens, an astrotheological development that can be found throughout the planet because the sun and the 12 zodiac signs can be observed around the globe. In other words, Jesus Christ and all the others upon whom this character is predicated are personifications of the sun, and the Gospel fable is merely a rehash of a mythological formula (the "Mythos," as mentioned above) revolving around the movements of the sun through the heavens.
For instance, many of the world's crucified godmen have their traditional birthday on December 25th. This is because the ancients recognized that (from an earthcentric perspective) the sun makes an annual descent southward until December 21st or 22nd, the winter solstice, when it stops moving southerly for three days and then starts to move northward again. During this time, the ancients declared that "God's sun" had "died" for three days and was "born again" on December 25th. The ancients realized quite abundantly that they needed the sun to return every day and that they would be in big trouble if the sun continued to move southward and did not stop and reverse its direction. Thus, these many different cultures celebrated the "sun of God's" birthday on December 25th. The following are the characteristics of the "sun of God":
- The sun "dies" for three days on December 22nd, the winter solstice, when it stops in its movement south, to be born again or resurrected on December 25th, when it resumes its movement north.
- In some areas, the calendar originally began in the constellation of Virgo, and the sun would therefore be "born of a Virgin."
- The sun is the "Light of the World."
- The sun "cometh on clouds, and every eye shall see him."
- The sun rising in the morning is the "Savior of mankind."
- The sun wears a corona, "crown of thorns" or halo.
- The sun "walks on water."
- The sun's "followers," "helpers" or "disciples" are the 12 months and the 12 signs of the zodiac or constellations, through which the sun must pass.
- The sun at 12 noon is in the house or temple of the "Most High"; thus, "he" begins "his Father's work" at "age" 12.
- The sun enters into each sign of the zodiac at 30°; hence, the "Sun of God" begins his ministry at "age" 30.
- The sun is hung on a cross or "crucified," which represents its passing through the equinoxes, the vernal equinox being Easter, at which time it is then resurrected.
"Origins of Christianity" by Acharya S
Well whether or not Jesus existed, we know for a fact that Christians exist. By finding out about the earliest forms of Christianity and looking at the earliest Christians, we can see how even if Jesus existed, Christianity as-we-know-it is certainly not how it was meant to be.
- Ebionite Christians were the true Christians: Aramaic-speakers like Jesus and his apostles, they would have been the Jewish witnesses to Jesus' ministry and preaching. From this starting point, Jesus' teachings spread. They also, however, spread from Saul of Damascus, who renamed himself Paul and who preached an anti-Ebionite version of Christianity for the gentiles, which was much easier to follow and more popular.
Gnostic Christians: With stories, myths and beliefs that are exactly the same as Christian ones in many of the little details, gnostic beliefs manage to pre-date Christians ones by over 200 years. They understood what the stories of the NT really meant. Jesus didn't really exist, but was a collection of such earlier stories, rewritten in Greek, with Greek names. This is the approach taken by historians such as Freke & Gandy.
Pauline / Roman Christians: When the Roman-backed instance of Christianity went in search of the ancient centres of Christianity, they discovered to their horror that the Ebionites and Gnostics pre-dated them. Their un-Christian answer was to edit verses, burn books, arrest and harass the other poverty-stricken Christians until no opposition was left. The form of Christianity that we have inherited from the Roman Empire is far from what Christianity originally was.