by Earl Doherty
Having browsed your Jesus Puzzle site for a week or so now, I feel compelled to send a mail congratulating you on your excellent work. I especially enjoyed the novel which I have just finished reading, finding it a pleasing mixture of scholarship and action, with a little love interest thrown in for good measure. . . . I think that the methods used in fundamentalist organizations to convert people at such a young age are a terrible form of abuse. While I feel that people have the right to follow the religion of their choice, it is clearly wrong to indoctrinate children at an age when they cannot make an informed choice for themselves. The prospect of these extremists gaining political power in the USA fills me with foreboding. However, the efforts of people such as yourself to stimulate a logical and rational debate on the subject of Christianity give me great hope.
Bravo! I’ve been looking for the type of historical information that you so well present most of my adult life. Although I was brought up Christian, my experience is that most people of any religion are not even willing to read historical fact for fear that it might prove them wrong. Therefore, it’s essential that everything be accepted on blind faith. And I’ve always been amused when told that I would go to hell if I were not born again and accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior. Your research, no doubt, has taken many, many years. I thank you for your work and I know that there must be many, many others like me who feel the same. Unfortunately, as I’m sure you well know, blind faith will likely prevail in our lifetimes.
When Jesus comes to get his church you’ll find that it is no myth!!!! but so very true.
I have been reading the information on your site for a few days now and must compliment you on the way you present your arguments and the way you respond to readers’ objections and questions. With such a highly controversial subject, it would be easy to insult those who don’t agree with you. Your polite and informative responses only strengthen your case. One thing puzzles me, though. All these writings (which you, I think rightly, interpret as showing no mention of Jesus of Nazareth) have come to us through centuries of Christian censorship. Obviously the Church doesn’t agree with your interpretation, or such writings would not exist. Can you imagine the writings and arguments that must have been destroyed by the Church in this time! Do you have any evidence of such writings from sources that the Church was not able to censor? Surely there must be some war of words between the believers of Jesus of Nazareth and the believers of the writings of Paul and the first century epistles. Are there no such documents available? I would imagine the Jewish scribes would have made a few barbed comments about these “new” religions fighting over the existence / non-existence of their (false) prophet.
Response to Steve:
Ancient Disputes over Jesus’ Existence
The earliest record of a formal disputation over the factual nature of the Gospels (though not of Jesus’ existence itself) is Origen’s Contra Celsum, written in the early third century in answer to a lengthy work penned half a century earlier by the pagan writer Celsus, who was very antagonistic toward Christianity. About the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with the Jew Trypho, deals with the antagonism and disputes current in his own day, as placed in the mouth of his (probably fictional) character, Trypho. A remark or two by Trypho might suggest that some views were being expressed in Justin’s time that the Christ of the Christians was an invention. A Christian apology written around the same time, Minucius Felix, rejects in no uncertain terms—when one is willing to accept the words for what they say—any belief that a crucified man was the origin of the faith (see “The Second Century Apologists” in my Main Articles).
Even earlier, probably in the last decade of the first century, the epistle 1 John (4:1f) gives evidence of a schism which seems to have arisen in this epistle’s community over whether “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” These, too, are words which are regularly made to say other than what they seem to be saying, namely that the dispute involved the question of whether or not the heavenly Christ had come to earth as a human man. And the letters of Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, early in the second century contain this writer’s condemnation of those who preach a Jesus who does not possess the ‘biography’ Ignatius himself puts forward: that Jesus was a man born of Mary, baptized by John the Baptist and executed by Pilate. However, we have no surviving record from those who might have made such challenges to the historicity of a human Jesus, whether Christian or non-Christian, pagan or Jewish.
Should this be surprising? As Steve suggests, there would have been little incentive to preserve such a writing. Almost everything which has come down to us from the ancient world passed through centuries of Christian scribal hands. (Celsus did not survive except as imbedded in Origen’s rebuttal.) Besides, by the time the idea of an historical Jesus was coming into vogue, perhaps a couple of decades or so into the second century (and that only in some circles), who would have been in a position to offer evidence or argument to the contrary? If some spoke up simply on the basis that this belief was not widespread at the time, or that they themselves had grown up in a faith which lacked traditions about such a founder, what would have been the response to them? We see it in that epistle 1 John and those letters of Ignatius: condemnation and ostracism. The bishop called them “beasts in the form of men.”
Once the Gospel picture was widely established, few if any pagans or Jews would have been in a position to discredit it, and any such lone voices would have gone unheeded. Not even Celsus possessed the tools or capacity to question the Gospel figure’s existence. As for Jewish writers, one has to remember that for the most part, they still lived within a Christian milieu, and not only were they subject like everyone else as time went on to the force of Christian beliefs about Christian origins, amendments are known to have been made during the Middle Ages by the Jews themselves to their own Talmuds, to ‘censor’ and adapt them under the threat of Christian persecution. It would have been unwise to preserve any “barbed comments” which early rabbis might have made over disputes concerning Jesus’ existence.
While it is clear to me that the “Jesus never lived” thesis is a hopeless cause from a modern secular historian’s perspective, I do think you raise some very interesting point regarding the pagan and “savior cult” influences into Christianity. . . .
Response to Greg:
Christianity: Jewish or Pagan? / Thallus & Phlegon / The Christian Record
Greg writes a long and somewhat complex letter, supplemented by further remarks in answer to a query I put to him, and I will have to select and paraphrase from its content as I make my own rather lengthy reply. He represents a type of respondent and interested Christian who is not particularly knowledgeable (I say this without implied disparagement) in the field of New Testament scholarship, especially its ‘liberal’ branch, and not a little reliant for his defense of Christian orthodoxy on dubious arguments and claims emanating from what can most courteously be described as the “conservative” side of things.
He raises the question of the fundamental nature of Christian concepts, alluding in the opening quote above to pagan and savior god influences. He goes on to allow that “the incorporation of pagan and mystical concepts into Christianity was pivotal in getting the gospel to peoples that espoused those beliefs,” as though this was a conscious ‘strategy’ on the part of early Christianity to spread the message. He goes on to say: “Do any fundamental doctrines of Christianity come from the pagan tradition? . . . Taken as a whole, Christianity is fundamentally a branch of Judaism . . . Is Christ a pagan ‘deification’ of a Jewish prophet? That is a troubling consideration and you address the issue in an interesting set of passages.”
Is this really a genuine assessment? There are two ways (or perhaps, degrees) of disputing this: one moderate, one more radical. The fully orthodox picture has always been to regard Christian beginnings in terms of a variety of Jews in Palestine responding to “a Jewish prophet,” casting him in patterns of traditional Jewish thinking (eg, Messiah expectation), with some innovative reworking, including rendering him divine. They then carried the message about him to both Jews and gentiles, meeting greater success with the latter. The assumption is that all the earliest apostles, including Paul, were Jews, that the Gospels grew out of their reminiscences, and that very little pagan/hellenistic influences were initially involved.
A few considerations disturb the serenity of this traditional picture. It is hard to support the idea that Greek influences were a later—perhaps deliberate—overlay on an essentially Jewish phenomenon, because the earliest record in the epistles presents a faith which is characterized by two things. First, a set of attitudes and beliefs toward the Jesus figure they preach which severely clashes with anything one could reasonably expect to find in a Jewish milieu of the time—certainly in any milieu resembling what could remotely be called “mainstream.” Elevating a rabbi and crucified criminal to the status of full Godhead, bestowing on him all the divine titles, making him the creative and sustaining force of the universe, etc., could hardly be further from the Jewish mentality and would hardly take root at the very center of Judaism, let alone rapidly convert Jews in places all over the empire as far as Rome within a handful of years.
Second, the nature of the faith in Jesus as Savior, as a mystical force with which the believer can be united, as an object of sacramental rituals, including the ceremonial eating of his flesh and drinking his blood, is in all its detail not only blatantly and blasphemously non-Jewish, it is cut from exactly the same cloth as the Greco-Roman mystery cults with their savior gods who also had death myths and sacred meals, who offered salvation, and to whom the initiates could be united in mystical ways. This is not an overlay; this is the very essence of the faith being preached in Paul’s letters and other parts of the early record. If Greg finds the idea of a “pagan deification of a Jewish prophet” troubling, what of the impossibility of such a religion arising within a Jewish milieu at all, forcing us to completely reevaluate the assumptions lying at the basis of that orthodox picture?
Which leads me to the “moderate/radical” distinction I made earlier. Since the elevation of a Jewish rabbi to the status of divine Son of the God of Abraham would have been so unprecedented and outlandish that the new faith (whoever might have first put it forward) would never have gotten off the ground, let alone spread so rapidly, and since the earliest record of the faith makes no mention of a genesis in a recent historical man, we can reinterpret Christian beginnings as the formation of a faith in yet another savior god who offered much the same basic features as its competitors—with one distinction. There were undeniably Jewish elements present in the mix. How to explain this situation?
One explanation is to regard Christianity’s originators as ‘non-mainstream’ Jews who were more open than most to pagan concepts, who could envision a “Son” of God whose nature conformed to the dominant philosophical expression of the era about intermediate heavenly forces between God and humanity, and whose saving role conformed to the dominant religious expression of the period, namely the mystery cults with their savior gods. In other words, to put it a bit colloquially, these were Jews who wanted in on the wider, hellenistic action. Paul, a Diaspora Jew presumably, would have been one such, along with members of the sect which formed in Jerusalem under Peter and James. A certain proportion of such people may have been gentiles who attached themselves to Jewish groups (a rather common occurrence at that time), but it was essentially a Jewish movement which had syncretized with pagan concepts. Some of its members may have held on to Jewish practices in varying degrees, especially in advocating the continued applicability of the Mosaic Law, but it expressed antagonism toward the Jewish establishment which rejected its faith and persecuted its members.
Such an explanation is essentially the one I myself have put forward, within a context of regarding the “genuine” letters of Paul as fairly reliable in presenting a picture of the earliest Christian movement in the middle decades of the first century. But it is possible to move in a more radical direction, to reject or at least seriously compromise the authenticity of Paul and to question Christianity as having been even a fringe movement within Judaism.
Given the highly hellenistic character of the earliest faith, was Christianity essentially a gentile phenomenon, but among gentiles who had absorbed and attached themselves to Jewish traditions and especially its scriptures? The appeal to gentiles of things Jewish seems to have been a widespread phenomenon in the early part of the CE period. At the same time, such groups had also incorporated other, more cosmopolitan concepts: Persian apocalyptic ideas, for example, such as we find in the Essene writings of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Whether this happened in the first century, or not until early in the second century, becomes a matter of debate, but the fundamentally anti-Jewish nature of the Gospels may be a pointer to this essentially gentile origin, while the apparently Jewish character of the movement is explainable as the increasing adoption (some would say theft) of Jewish elements and pseudo-Jewish heritage by those gentiles, injecting them into their self-constructed picture. Through this they sought to cast themselves as the new inheritors of the Jewish God’s promises and divine plans for the world’s salvation.
This ‘evolution’ comes to a climax in Justin Martyr and the mid-second century Roman Church, which seeks to oust the Jews from their own house (fortuitously at a time when the Jews had been expelled from their homeland and apparently out of God’s favor) and install gentile Christians as residents in a rebuilt ‘Judaism’ founded on their pirated version of the Hebrew scriptures. In this scenario, Paul as we have him now is a second century product (with any original Paul, person and writings, being an almost irrecoverable entity), as are the Gospels themselves. Both sets of writings have been formulated partly in response to a different Christian development, represented by Marcionite gnostics (who may have drafted, or at least substantially modified, the earliest versions of the Pauline letters), which sought to divorce itself entirely from things Jewish.
To what extent this more radical view of Christian origins and nature of the movement can be supported remains to be seen, but I intend to make it one of the focuses of my own future research.
But back to my response to Greg. He goes on to make this overly-enthusiastic statement: “The extreme historical accuracy of the Gospels is affirmed and supplemented each day by archeology and scholarship. Many unsympathetic sources have labeled the Gospels the most substantiated and accurate historical accounts in ancient history, according to various metrics.”
When I queried him on specific backing for this fundamentally nonsensical claim, Greg tentatively offered Will Durant and Lee Stobel in support, two scholars on whom I won’t trouble to make much comment. Durant, of course, was a ‘popularizing’ general historian who hardly made such extreme claims for the Christian record; as for Stobel’s ‘evidence,’ the quality of “documented historical and scientific fact” which those like Greg regularly draw from apologists like him is epitomized by the ‘scientific fact’ that was presented to me, namely the “multiple non-Christian attestations to darkness on the supposed day of Christ’s execution from places as far away as Athens.”
No matter how often these flimsy pieces of ‘evidence’ for the historical Jesus are toppled, they are consistently hauled to their tottering feet again and pushed back into the front lines for more punishment. Poor Thallus and Phlegon! Two minor pagan historians who would otherwise have slept peacefully in oblivion, have over the centuries been sent like the glassy-eyed undead back onto the battlefields of the living, carrying the tired weapons of Christian misrepresentation of some reference they made to what was obviously a solar eclipse during the reign of Tiberius (Nov. 24, 29 CE). Both of their observations, which are hardly likely to have been linked to any Jesus, come to us solely through later Christian commentators like Origen and Julius Africanus (the latter only second-hand). Such writers would have had every reason—and little critical impediment—to cast both historians’ references in terms which would support the Gospels. Indeed, we still see modern apologists doing the same thing, eg, Mr. J. P. Holding on his own very combative website: “(Thallus) is powerful evidence not only for the existence of Jesus, but for the reliability of those portions of the Gospel accounts that describe that phenomenon” (referring to the darkness covering the earth in the tale of the crucifixion).
In the interests of giving both Phlegon and Thallus a more permanent interment, let me quote at length from an article on Phlegon published in a 19th century encyclopedia. (I apologize for not having, at the moment, a record of this encyclopedia’s title.)
“. . . There is also in Phlegon’s writings a passage which is supposed to relate to the miraculous darkness which prevailed at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. In St. Jerome’s Latin version of the Chronicle of Eusebius, the passage occurs as follows: “And so writes Phlegon, an excellent compiler of the Olympiads, in his thirteenth book, saying, ‘In the fourth year of the two hundred and second Olympiad there was a great and extraordinary eclipse of the sun, distinguished among all that had happened before. At the sixth hour the day was turned into dark night, so that the stars in the heavens were seen, and there was an earthquake in Bithynia which overthrew many houses in the city of Nice.’ ” . . . This passage was the origin of a controversy in England in the early part of the last century [the 18th] between Mr. Whiston, Dr. Sykes, Mr. Chapman, and others. . . . Upon this Sykes published A Dissertation on the Eclipse mentioned by Phlegon, or an Inquiry whether that Eclipse had any Relation to the Darkness which happened at our Saviour’s Passion (1732). Sykes concludes it to be most probable that Phlegon had in view a natural eclipse, which happened Nov. 24, in the first year of the two hundred and second Olympiad, and not in the fourth year of the Olympiad in which Christ was crucified. . . . The principal objections against the authority of the passage in question are thus briefly summed up by Dr. Adam Clarke: 1. All the authors who quote Phlegon differ, and often very materially, in what they say was found in him. 2. He says nothing of “Judaea.” What he says is that in such an Olympiad (some say the one hundred and second, others the two hundred and second) there was “an eclipse in Bithynia,” and “an earthquake at Nice.” 3. He does not say that the earthquake happened at the time of the eclipse. 4. He does not intimate that this “darkness” was “extraordinary,” or that the eclipse happened at the “full of the moon,” or that it lasted “three hours,” all of which circumstances could not have been omitted by him if he had known them. 5. He speaks merely of an ordinary though perhaps total eclipse of the sun, and cannot mean the darkness mentioned by the evangelists. And, 6, he speaks of an eclipse that happened in some year of the one hundred and second or two hundred and second Olympiad, and therefore, upon the whole, little stress can be laid on what he says as applying to this event.”
When we consider that early Christian apologists like Tertullian could appeal for ‘proof’ of various aspects of the Gospel account to utterly spurious inventions like the letter of Pilate to Tiberius (see my Response to Jeff), nothing which any Christian commentator appeals to in the second century or later can in any way be relied upon as providing evidence for the existence of Jesus or the veracity of any other element of Christian tradition. Greg laments that I depend to a great degree on the imputation of “ancient conspiracies that corrupt public and private record,” but the quantity and quality of Christian interpolation, misrepresentation, and outright forgery and fabrication in all manner of documents, both Christian and pagan, covering the entire first few centuries of the Christian period, is by now a recognized fact on the part of many more than just myself.
Well-meaning respondents like Greg have a habit of appealing to “data” which has come to them from vague sources or from apologists who rely on those spurious inventions of ancient, and not so ancient, Christianity. For example, he offers this statement: “I believe it is Durant (who) attests to the clamor of contemporary (to Jesus) miracle workers trying to pay him to teach them how he did it and take them on as apprentices of a sort. They were trying to make a living at magic and Jesus seemed to have some trade secrets.” While it has been many years since I read Durant, I would confidently say that he said no such thing (nor would I apologize to him if he actually did). It is rarely possible to reply to unsubstantiated and often fanciful claims and reports of this nature which are frequently put forward by the unsympathetic visitor to my site (but see the response below to Brian), often because the claimant is unsure just where he got them himself.
Greg falls back on the argument that, regardless of how shaky the individual elements may be, the larger whole still possesses an integrity and a functionality which is not invalidated by the weakness of those components. The “gears mesh to create a ‘machine’ larger than any single part.” This strikes me as a little like saying that if the tires are flat, the carburetor clogged, the head gasket leaking, and the exhaust system full of holes, the automobile will still run and give its occupants a satisfying, dependable ride. Only in a fantasy universe powered by wishful thinking, where the laws of science and logic have been suspended.
Nor is the day saved by perhaps the commonest ‘argument’ directed my way, by Greg and many others. Regardless of all these flaws in the record, Christianity—proceeding, it is claimed, from Jesus himself—possesses a set of moral precepts which are not only commendable (Greg calls them “perfect morality and principles”), but have produced a ‘success record’ over the centuries which has kept civilization going, and enriched the life of societies and individuals—always with the implication, of course, that without them, such societies and individuals would have perished in some hellish descent into barbarity. I normally do not address myself to this sort of argument, but it contains logical fallacies which should occasionally be pointed out.
I need say very little about the great range of ‘teaching’ imputed to Jesus in the Gospels which includes everything from sentiments that could be labeled “enlightened” (love your enemies, etc.) to despicable (the need to hate one’s father and mother in order to follow him, the apocalyptic overthrow of the world and the curses upon Jews and others, the saying “Compel them to come in,” which fueled centuries of Inquisition, forced conversion and religious wars, and so on). When one considers that the lofty sentiments can usually be found attached to other settings and sources than Christianity and the figure of Jesus, any appeal to the exclusive validity and commendability of the Christian phenomenon must be set aside. Many non-Christian cultures throughout history have survived and created prosperous, working societies. While it is part of the human condition to possess the capacity to be moral, all societies have imperfections which belie any claim to sainthood, and Christian history is blatantly no exception. If the “success” of a belief system is a measure of its truth, Greg must also subscribe to the 3000-year career of ancient Egypt’s Amon-Re, to the 2000-year run of the Olympian gods, to the more recent vitality of Islam, to the long course of Hinduism—and countless other examples in history, and no doubt in prehistory. These are factors which cannot be taken into account in examining the scientific, historical validity of the Christian or any other religious traditions. (I will not in future address similar appeals to such arguments made in other comments to me.)
I am pleased that Greg has the integrity and courage to inform me that he will purchase my book and “read it cover to cover, (as) it would not be fair to provide a full critique without a full read.” I look forward to receiving his order and that fuller critique. But he also extends a challenge to me in asking, “Would you be willing to be proven wrong and embrace Jesus Christ, because if you are not, it makes an honest discussion of the topic pointless due to the fact that you are not seeking truth.”
But this is a misplaced requirement. My purpose on this website and in my book is not to decide whether I or anyone else should “embrace Jesus Christ.” Rather, I make a scientific examination of the question of whether a human Jesus existed or not, and arrive at the latter judgment. That is the “truth” I seek to put forward. This is an academic/historical position, not a religious one. Jesus might well be shown to have existed, without this implying that one ought to make a religious commitment to him. That would be for the individual to decide. But that individual cannot make a sensible decision of this nature if he or she refuses to take into account that the scientific, historical evidence may point to the non-existence of such a figure. Or at least, the decision would have to be cast in different terms. If the Gospel Jesus was only a symbolic construction, and if Paul was devoted to and preached a mythical and mystical Christ who was spirit only, there is nothing to prevent modern Christians from altering their thinking and embracing such a Jesus. (If it was good enough for Paul, why not for Greg?) Whether they would do so is another matter, but even religious faith should be based upon some degree of reality uncoverable in the universe we live in.
No historical Jesus? Of course not, when you place him on the reconstructed canvas of Wrede, Bultmann, and the Jesus Seminar (that of the world of hellenism). However, put Jesus on the canvas of first century Judaism, as Schweitzer, Sanders, Wright, Meier, and the great majority of New Testament scholars today do, then there is a real person to look at. Your website seems to imply that Crossan, Funk, Mack, and the like are representative of most modern New Testament scholars. Your familiarity with the debates would lead me to believe that you know this is not true. A more fair and respectable website might offer a diversity of views that corresponds to the present state of Jesus scholarship. Perhaps you are more interested in subversion than public dialogue. A website on Christian origins is to be admired. However, you seem to be playing the fundamentalists’ game by the lack of diversity it contains. Perhaps you might post a broader range of views so that real dialogue and real thinking can take place.
Response to Alan:
Lack of Diversity in The Jesus Puzzle
To enlarge on the remarks made at the end of the previous response, my purpose is not to provide a neutral forum for a discussion of Christian origins. It is to demonstrate a thesis, namely that no historical Jesus existed. As for the scholars I appeal to, I would style many of those preferred by Alan to be “apologists” and not historians. A scientific examination of this question requires investigators who do not possess confessional interests which pull them in one direction, whereas the latter characterizes Christian scholars like Wright and Meier. Of Alan’s “nay” list, I would style only Burton Mack as truly ‘secular,’ but even Crossan and many other members of the Jesus Seminar are no longer encumbered by traditional faith commitments, making the chance that they can arrive at something resembling scientific conclusions in some of their scholarship more likely. They are, of course, not “representative” of modern New Testament study in the sense of constituting a majority opinion, but only when the ranks of Jesus scholarship are filled by dispassionate historians rather than by committed believers who have a faith to defend, can strength in numbers be an acceptable factor in deciding who to appeal to in this question.
As for the nature of Christianity, it is not Wrede et al. who have placed it on a hellenistic canvas, but Christianity itself, as revealed by those who can bring an unprejudiced eye to its features.
Upon reading your novel I can come to only one conclusion. You have great knowledge, but you don’t have a clue. Let me demonstrate. You say that the earliest historical recording of Jesus is from the martyring of Ignatius. Then why have archeologists discovered a Roman birth announcement of Jesus in the correct time period of his alleged birth? Besides, anyone would agree that all of the great thinkers and philosophers in history have been ridiculed and scorned for their beliefs; plus the authorities of their time tried to keep them silent, which could also include erasing proof of their existence. Please don’t overlook all the changed hearts (miracles) that are still occurring because of one real man, Jesus.
Response to Brian:
Roman Announcement of Jesus’ Birth
Like Greg before him, Brian seems also dependent on ill-defined “evidence” of Jesus’ existence. One might wonder what reason any Roman authority would have had to make an announcement of Jesus’ birth, how they might have learned of it and what significance they could have placed upon it at the time. In this case, Brian may be making a distorted reference to a Christian appropriation of a passage in Virgil’s 4th Eclogue. I’ll quote from The Jesus Mysteries, by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy (p.30):
“In 40 BCE, drawing on Mystery myths, the Roman poet and initiate Virgil wrote a mystical ‘prophesy’ that a virgin would give birth to a divine child. In the fourth century CE Literalist Christians would claim that it foretold the coming of Jesus, but at the time this myth was interpreted as referring to Augustus, said to be the ‘Son of Apollo’, preordained to rule the Earth and bring peace and prosperity.”
As one can see, Christian motifs had their parallels, often many and strong, with mythical motifs (occasionally pressed into political service) present in the wider Greco-Roman world. Freke and Gandy’s book, published this year, is a thorough presentation of such parallels and complements my own presentation of Christianity as essentially a mystery cult like all the others, heavily dependent on hellenistic precedents. They, too, discount the existence of an historical Jesus.
I appreciate the great amount of research you have put into your Jesus Puzzle project. I have learned much from it. On the PBS website about Jesus there is one article that mentions the plaque that was supposedly nailed to Jesus’ cross and seems to claim that this has been found. There were no references given, so I am at a loss as to where to look. As I have never seen this mentioned in any apologetics for the existence of Jesus, I have serious doubts about it. Do you know anything about said artifact? I am also curious about what role, if any, Apollonius of Tyana plays in the development of Christianity, or if we can even know.
Response to Darryl:
Plaque from Jesus’ Cross / Apollonius of Tyana
I am afraid that the plaque from Jesus’ cross has escaped my notice as well. No doubt it is part of that long line of fanciful ‘evidence’ marshaled for the veracity of the Gospel story which has been touched on in previous responses. Only in the face of a general body of evidence for Jesus’ existence which is so poor would any appeal be made to obviously sham elements like this. Indeed, that paucity of surviving material was what led in the first place to such wide-ranging spurious invention (literature and artifact) on the part of Christians of the second and later centuries. It seems to have continued into modern times.
As for Apollonius of Tyana, he was a neo-Pythagorean of the first century (died c.98) who was said to have preached the worship of one God, performed miracles, healed the sick, raised the dead, and ascended into heaven. After a brief and disparaging reference to him by the Roman satirist Lucian (latter 2nd century), we first learn of him through a ‘biography’ by Philostratus, a Sophist writer of the early 3rd century. In it, one can hardly distinguish fact from legend. Although later pagans, in their conflict with Christians, held up Apollonius as evidence that Jesus was not unique, we don’t know to what extent Apollonius was known and admired in earlier times, and so it is impossible to say whether traditions about him had any influence on the development of ideas about an historical Jesus.
I just wanted to thank you for your feedback on my question about Julian the Apostate, and to say that I downloaded and read your novel, “The Jesus Puzzle.” I found it very informative and enjoyable. I wish you success with your new book.
[That new book, The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity begin with a mythical Christ? is on sale through this website (see the How to Order page), and through Amazon.com. It will be in some bookstores in the year 2000. The book, 390 pages, with Notes, Appendices and Index, is a non-fiction examination of the question, scholarly but with an non-academic style which makes it accessible to the general reader. It has been receiving enthusiastic reviews from many readers, including several New Testament scholars.]
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