I want to thank you immensely for your site. Your ideas have reinforced my repudiation of all christian and religious superstitions. Your site, and others like it, have become my oases in an intellectual desert. Sometimes I wonder how many others are in the same predicament that I am. Keep up the good work.
As I read through your work, I sense the weight of my own lifetime being lifted off of my spirit; personal freedom from generations of fear-based control and oppression. For this, I thank you. My brother recently said to me, in discussing christianity, "Belief is the suspension of logic and reason." I tend to agree. A client, whom I shared this website with, asked, "Did god create man, or did man create god?" And while I cannot explain the origins of the Big Bang, I will certainly wager on the latter.
I finished your Crossan review and found it quite compelling and ultimately successful in undermining his assumed premise. I have to admit that I did not notice the flaws in his argument. I suspect that your book will require that I entirely abandon my conception of an historical Jesus as lacking any good reason to be believed. I have to admit that I'll kind of miss him.
Nice analysis and synthesis. I've looked off and on for 20 years or so into the origins of Christianity as a "lay scholar" and have come away realizing that there really is a puzzle here. On an initial reading of your 12 Pieces, I like the way you have put the pieces of the puzzle together. I look forward to reading your book.
My interest in your site is as one who wants the truth. As empty as the thought makes me feel, if there was no historical Jesus I want to know about it. Christianity is supposed to be different than other religions of antiquity. It is supposedly based on historical facts. It is very important whether there was an "Historical" Jesus, very important. What I need is people like yourself who go after the truth. It is courageous and I'm sure filled with much rejection and ridicule. The only thing I can say is that your research speaks for itself. It is hard to find too much criticism of your findings because most ignore it. With all their academic credentials and institutional backing they still cannot answer some basic questions. Thank you for your efforts and I will digest anything you publish. I'm not sure where it will eventually lead me but I certainly find the path exciting and challenging!
There are so many things you aren't looking at in the Bible. The Bible says man is not perfect and that we will make mistakes and the few good points that you did make can easily be mistakes made by man. I think you should read some more of the Bible and try reading More Than A Carpenter by Josh McDowell and if you still feel the same way about Jesus Christ mine and your savior then may God have mercy on your soul.
I found your articles fascinating. Your arguments seem well researched and carefully considered. What an interesting and perhaps ironic twist it would be for western civilization's most prominent religion to be largely based on fabrication and reformist writings of a bygone time. Thank you for introducing this lively conversation starter to the world.
I am fairly widely read on the subject of Christian origins, although by no means a scholar. But it wasn't until I read your novel [available in its entirety on the site, and not to be confused with my new book, The Jesus Puzzle, published last year. ED] that everything clicked for me. Your thesis and the way you expound it is brilliant, revolutionary even, and I certainly hope you are creating huge ripples in the biblical scholarship camp. It's not so much that your basic thesis is new (I've read some of the late 19th century mythicists) but for the first time you have brought together the evidence in a new way and solved many puzzling things about the gospels, which I am convinced only make sense in light of your theory. Bravo! I enjoyed your novel very much. What an innovative and palatable way to put across a serious, radical theory. Your characters were real and sympathetic, and it moved along well, a nice mix of action and intrigue along with the discovery of the truth about Jesus. Thank you so much for caring about truth and delivering it to the world in such a compelling and professional manner. I hope you get all the accolades and respect you deserve. Because of your work, I also have real hope now (and I'm very cynical about this, believe me!) that your work will finally be the catalyst that forces the average Christian to face the truth, and leads to the eventual abandonment of Christianity as we know it.Response to Joyce:
Ambitions and Tenacity
An ambitious, but probably unrealistic, hope. Rarely does one writer or researcher have so profound an impact, especially where religion is concerned. Moreover, it is often the case that a revolutionary idea is the product of an outsider, someone who faces great difficulty gaining credence within the mainstream discipline, not to mention the serious attention of the media or public. However, my work and my new book are not alone. A few other books with the same bottom line have recently been published, and their combined weight may well have an impact.
On the other hand, belief systems that have a long history of filling people's needs are notoriously tenacious and adaptable. I think we will have some form of Christianity and the figure of Jesus with us for some time to come.
I wonder if there might be another explanation to the question than the 'no existence' theory. In Romans 1:1[f] Paul seems to consider the resurrection of Jesus as the moment when he became Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15 [3-4] Paul starts the gospel story with the death of Jesus. In Acts 2:36 God made Jesus Lord and Messiah when he raised him from the dead. In Acts 13:27 the gospel story starts with Jesus being put to death. If Jesus became Messiah and Son of God when he was raised from death, then the life and ministry of Jesus is not Messianic and therefore of no interest for the gospel. The resurrection is the moment of incarnation and the gospel story starts with the incarnation. Before the incarnation Jesus is a common man and his words and acts are not the words and acts of Christ. In Mark, the gospel story starts with Jesus being baptised by John. Mark puts the moment of incarnation back in time [but he] is silent about Jesus before the baptism. In the [later] gospels Christ is incarnated in Jesus [even earlier] when he is conceived. As the moment of incarnation is put backwards in time, the gospels seem to 'reconstruct' the life and ministry of Jesus, explaining it in Messianic terms. Does this make sense?Response to Arne:
Backward Progression of Christology
Arne probably realizes that this 'explanation' is a standard type of scenario in New Testament scholarship, and the answer to his question is: Yes and No. As a construction of the modern scholarly mind, it makes sense within its own rules and assumptions. As an explanation which stands up to closer scrutiny, it has serious problems.
First, let's note that for Paul in Romans 1, and the writer of the earlier christological hymn he quotes in Philippians 2:6-11, as well as for the writer of 1 Peter (3:18), Christ's "resurrection" was his ascension to God, in spirit form within the heavenly world, not a reappearance on earth in the body to his former followers. The pre-Gospel epistles, the earliest record of Christianity, place their faith in Christ's activities in the spiritual part of the universe. The epistle to the Hebrews is another good example.
This immediately raises the question, why was this the first manifestation of Christian belief? Where did all these people get such ideas? If the earliest Christians were reacting to a human man and his career on earth, not to mention a physical resurrection before his very followers, why do they speak of him entirely in terms of heavenly events and ignore that earthly incarnation? Can we think of a plausible scenario, can we postulate a mindset which would explain this rather bizarre situation? I suggest that we cannot.
A man dies on a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem. He has been a teacher, a reputed miracle-worker, one who prophesied the coming Kingdom of God and the apocalyptic arrival of the Son of Man. If he did not physically emerge from his tomb a few days later (and nothing in the epistolary record says that he did) what force, what state of mind among his followers would lead them to construct this spiritual-world scenario for him, and make him the Messiah on the basis of it? If, as Arne suggests, Jesus was a "common man" with "words and acts" which seem to have made so little impact that they are ignored by the first two generations of his believers, not to mention by all commentators of the time, what drove that elevation to heavenly and messianic status? If the common rejoinder is the claim that it was the 'experience of resurrection' in the Gospel sense, why is nothing made of such a resurrection to earth? Instead it gets transformed entirely into a spirit world context. There are impossible contradictions here.
On the other hand, if the ancients believed that divine and salvific processes took place in a higher, Platonic-type world, if the current view of Deity was that the ultimate God communicated with the material world through intermediary spiritual forces, and if Jews (or gentiles adopting Judaism) searched scripture to understand God's workings, then the initial Christian construction of a divine Son who was identified as the "Messiah"—the figure who was expected to arrive at the End time and save the nation—becomes fully comprehensible. Moreover, it fits the dearth in the earliest record of any reference to an incarnated career on earth. (I find it ironic that Arne uses the term "incarnation," which usually means taking on flesh, to refer to a spiritual ascent to the sphere of God. Though this is not intended as a personal criticism of Arne himself, it is an illustration of how modern theology and apologetics often talks itself into convoluted corners and double-speak byways in the interests of rationalizing the difficulties the record presents.)
If we were presented with a little different picture, it might make some sense. That picture would have to be the gradual elevation of thinking about the "common man" who was executed on Calvary. The earliest record would logically be about the man himself, his life and achievements, such things gradually taking on a greater significance and associations of divinity. Jesus would move from earth to heaven, not vice-versa. Yet in what is possibly the earliest surviving expression of the new movement of Christ belief, the christological hymn in Philippians, Jesus is a divine being who shares his nature with God himself, takes on the likeness of flesh and descends from heaven to undergo death (no mention of an earthly crucifixion) and exaltation back to heaven. There is nothing in that hymn which speaks of a life on earth; rather it expresses the widespread Descending-Ascending Redeemer concept of the time, a myth which operates in an entirely spiritual setting. Are the followers of Jesus going to wake up the morning after his death (or even some time later, to be less hyperbolic), cast aside all interest in the career they have just taken part in and which supposedly engendered their response to him in the first place, and set about creating this great mythological construction Arne suggests was the earliest reading of Jesus' role and identity? I hardly think so.
I've been reading your material on the Jesus Puzzle with great interest. I think that the points you raise are quite valid and should form the basis of an inquiry into the origins of Christianity. However, I'm still not convinced that references to Jesus are entirely the product of "midrashic" fabrications and synthesis. For one thing, actual historical figures are often given mythic attributes. Lenin, for example, was deified in many different ways by later generations of Communists. Also, actual historical figures are often given attributes that are contradictory or self serving, eg, Kennedy the Cold War hawk and Kennedy the social liberal, and so on. Think of all the myths generated around Elvis or Jim Morrison or John Lennon. So given the dearth of information from the time when Jesus supposedly existed and given the variety of viewpoints that are generated about historical figures I simply cannot go along with the conviction that Jesus was not an actual person. As far as Paul goes, if he was writing to communities who might already be aware of who Jesus was historically, then why would he have to include biographies in his evangelizing discourses? The Star Spangled Banner, for example, is based on an historical event, but the song itself is not literal history. It expressed Francis Scott Key's emotional response to something actual. Finally, who knows what documents were destroyed during the sack of Jerusalem and who knows how many Jewish followers of Jesus could have been killed by the Romans during that time? At any rate, I think you raise many valid points which I hope inspire more serious and open-minded research.Response to John:
Standard Objections to the Jesus Myth (Jesus and Lenin)
John raises several standard objections which I have been addressing almost since the day I first posted The Jesus Puzzle on the Net. However, some things require repeating, and indeed bear repeating in the process of establishing new paradigms and exposing the deficiencies of the old ones.
None of the examples John presents fits the Jesus situation. Neither Lenin nor Lennon, Kennedy nor Elvis, were elevated to genuine divine status and certainly not to the degree which Jesus of Nazareth supposedly was. In the "mythic attributes" that may have been attached to such figures, no sight was lost of their human, earthly character or existence. Contemporaries recognized and wrote of them as historical people. Lenin's body was preserved and entombed in a place that was accessible to the public, to which 'believers' made pilgrimages. His writings were immediately published and attributed to him. John Lennon's songs continued to be performed and identified as his. And so on.
If Trotsky or Stalin had written letters about a seeming god named Lenin, who moved about the heavenly realms and created a spiritual version of communism which earthly followers received through revelation, and only some time after Stalin's death did certain communists start to declare or write stories about this god having been on earth at the time of the Russian Revolution, originating their movement, then we might have a situation like that of Jesus. If doubters of the later 20th century investigated and could find no record in the period of such a man, if Communist manifestos of the first half century did not attribute their doctrines to him, if the later story of a human Lenin was shown to draw its features from elements of the Communist movement and motifs in Russian literature, there would no doubt have been indignant Soviets (before the fall of Communism) who would have objected strenuously to the debunking of their cherished myths, and have come up with examples like that of Kennedy and John Lennon.
John's objection about Paul is similarly off the mark. We don't necessarily expect Paul or other early epistle writers to include "biographies" about Jesus in their letters. What we do expect is that where a reference to the earthly Jesus or an event in his life would be natural, even compelling in the case of an argument being made or something being discussed which was instituted or supported by Jesus himself, such a thing would at least in some cases appear. What we do expect is that the epistle writers would not describe their faith movement and its beginnings in terms which exclude all awareness of the role of a human Jesus (e.g., Titus 1:3). If Francis Scott Key had done what Paul and others did (e.g., 1 Cor. 2:8), and place the battle enshrined in The Star Spangled Banner within some higher spiritual world, with combatants described in terms of spirit forces, we might indeed have cause to doubt that the song was about an earthly event.
Finally, it is not legitimate to appeal to the "who knows?" argument, something far more objectionable than any 'argument from silence.' The latter may have its limitations, although my remarks above and elsewhere illustrate that in certain circumstances it can have a good degree of persuasiveness. But to argue that one cannot declare "Unicorns do not exist" because "who knows" if there isn't some undiscovered island somewhere in the South Seas where there might be a colony of them living, is clearly invalid. One could let anything in the door that way. We can only judge the merits of an argument by the available evidence, or that which can reasonably be postulated. We have no way of knowing if supportive Christian documents were destroyed in the sack of Jerusalem, or whether followers of Jesus who might have borne witness to him were killed by the Romans. But if no evidence can be found to suggest either of these postulations, they cannot be brought in for consideration. How would John react if I suggested, to support my contention, that there could well have been Jews in the late first century who wrote tracts in response to the Gospels which denied any occurrence of those events, but such writings were later destroyed by the Christians? Perhaps it's true, but there is no concrete evidence or deductive argument which justifies my putting such a statement on the table.
I have enjoyed your website very much. Thank you for your hard work. I have some questions for you as to the validity of the book of Acts. I found this book by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd (a conservative scholar) called "Jesus Under Siege." He makes many claims about the accuracy of Acts. I was wondering what your knowledge of these issues are? JESUS UNDER SIEGE pages 130-131: Luke's account frequently aligns with what we learn from other ancient historians. For example, his unusual account of the sudden death of Agrippa, his record of a major famine "in the days of Claudius," his identification of Ananus as the high priest in A.D. 47, and his record of a certain Egyptian revolutionary who led thousands to their death, have all been confirmed by cross-checking them with the writings of Josephus. Perhaps the most impressive feature of Luke's narrative is the way he consistently gets the titles of certain dignitaries right. This was particularly difficult to do of officials within the ancient Roman empire because the titles of dignitaries, as well as the status of the provinces they ruled, changed frequently. Yet Luke consistently gets them right, a fact that must bolster our confidence in his ability to relate reliable history. As Stephen Neill puts it, "Experience shows that nothing is more difficult than to get titles exactly right." But what we find in Luke is that "exactly the right title is used at exactly the right time and place." Archeology has confirmed Luke's accuracy on a host of other matters as well. His detailed knowledge of the ever-changing political topography of Rome, its geography, roadways, and means of travel, have all been confirmed by archeological evidence. More particularly, Luke's remarkably detailed account of Paul's sea voyage and shipwreck in Chapter 27 has been called "one of the most instructive documents for the knowledge of ancient seamanship." His accuracy in portraying the widely divergent cultures and customs of various regions throughout the Roman world has been frequently noted as well, as has his command of the complex legal processes that were employed in diverse regions of the empire. It was evidence such as this that led Dr. Sherwin-White, arguably the ablest historian of ancient Roman law in our time, to conclude that: "The confirmation of historicity [in Acts] is overwhelming... any attempts to reject its historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd."Response to James:
Accuracy and Reliability in Acts
I have reproduced all of James' quotation from Boyd to illustrate the extent to which weak arguments will be driven in order to defend a conservative apologetic position. None of the statements put forward by Boyd has anything to do with the reliability of Act's supposed historicity. Even if we were to assume (which I would not necessarily do) that all of Boyd's statements are accurate, they prove nothing about Luke's intent to be historically faithful to his core subject. It is not Luke's "ability to relate reliable history" that is at issue here. He may have had the ability: the question is, was that his purpose and did he carry it out where early Christian history was concerned? In view of the tendentious nature of Acts, and its overt contradiction of other more reliable evidence, particularly in the Pauline epistles, this is highly doubtful. In any case, the best historical novelist will attempt to set his fictional account within a setting which is as accurate as possible, and Luke may well have been similarly scrupulous. It is significant that Boyd does not offer a single example of how a detail about a specifically Christian element in Acts has been proven accurate by some independent corroboration.
In fact, Luke's "ability" is sorely wanting in the crucial matter of the circumstances of Jesus' birth. We all know that there is no evidence of a universal census under Augustus, and if Luke is simply enlarging on the Judean census of Quirinius in 6 CE, he has failed to align this with his placement of the Nativity before the death of Herod in 4 BCE. Quite a glaring flaw. I'm also a bit skeptical of Boyd's overemphasis on the matter of titles. When one has little of importance to appeal to, one must play up the relatively insignificant. (I confess I have not encountered this claim about Acts before, so I can neither dispute nor verify it.)
It's a little ironic that Boyd points to the authentic atmosphere of the sea voyage in Acts 27. Perhaps that authenticity can be explained by the fact that Luke has simply taken and reworked a common type of Hellenistic romance, putting his own characters into it. The much-discussed "we" passage phenomenon found in the latter part of Acts, which used to be taken as evidence of a 'diary' source used by Luke, has recently been shown to be a common stylistic device of Hellenistic writers when recounting sea voyages. Since corroboration anywhere in the Christian record for this episode in Paul's career is totally lacking, we can put the whole thing down (and some have) to a fictional creation on Luke's part, heavily borrowing from the 'adventure' genre of his time.
Dr. Sherwin-White may have been an able historian of ancient Roman law, but New Testament scholarship was not his specialty, and if the quote by him is accurate, it shows that he was pontificating on a subject about which he possessed little genuine understanding (or neutrality).
As a believer in Christ, my faith is more born of the Old Testament scriptures that testify of Him. Christ made a bold statement that "all the scriptures point to me." So I tested this statement by looking harder at those texts. The parallels to Christ in the Old Testament are amazing. A good place for the beginner would be the story of Joseph starting in Genesis, chapter 37. Joseph is mocked and betrayed by his brothers and is symbolically killed. Joseph then rises as the savior and ruler of the world of that day. He is a "Christ type parallel." All the books of the Old Testament follow this theme in a much more involved way. Even Flavius Josephus documents the historicity of the Old Testament with passion and fervor (in his "Antiquities of the Jews").Response to Mike:
The Old Testament as a Pointer to Christ
First of all, Mike seems to be implying that he believes in the historical accuracy of Old Testament accounts of figures like Joseph. These days it is becoming increasingly doubtful that anything to do with the patriarchs, with Moses and the Exodus, or even with the later historical period of the monarchy, is reliable as history. However, that is not a point I will get into here, except to say that even an historian of the stature of Josephus would have had no way of verifying the authenticity of any of the Hebrew scriptures' claims about the early history of Israel. His Antiquities of the Jews is largely his own paraphrase of the Hebrew bible, supplemented for the more recent periods by other historical sources. Given his "passion and fervor" for defending the Jewish heritage to his pagan readership (even if Jews themselves generally rejected him as a turncoat), he was not likely to have had much motivation for questioning its accuracy as history.
Another modern position about the Old Testament that is increasingly being adopted by biblical scholars is that little in those scriptures was intended to be prophecy as traditionally understood, beyond the general promise of some restoration and glorious future for Israel, often under a Messiah figure. But that minute details (like the famous Isaiah 7:14, about the young woman with child, or Zechariah 12:10, 'they shall look upon him whom they have pierced') were written as anything other than comments to do with their own times and circumstances, let alone as prophecies of the distant future, is no longer held by critical scholars.
Why the close correspondences in cases like Joseph, or the many other "Christ-type parallels" Mike alludes to? The best explanation is that the Christian story of Jesus is derived from those elements of the Old Testament. Not only have details of the Passion been pieced together from passages in scripture, but the overall shape and character of the story have been modeled on a common genre found throughout centuries of Jewish writing, sacred and apocryphal, a tale known by scholars today as The Suffering and Vindication of the Innocent Righteous One. Certain motifs were so ingrained in Jewish experience and tradition that they could not fail to be expressed in the story of Jesus.
By the time of Justin (in the 150s), Christian apologists had fallen into the trap. The prophecies in scripture, they claimed, were validated by the fact that Christ had fulfilled those prophecies, which fact could be ascertained by the Gospels which recounted that fulfillment. And Christ's own validity was proven by the record that he had fulfilled the prophecies. The entire validity of the Christian faith was seen as resting on that grand circularity, something which had been produced by the now obscured construction of allegorical Gospels through the process of midrashic culling from the scriptures. (See Justin, Apology 38, for example.)
You said about Paul: "But is it conceivable that he could so blithely disparage and reject the value of anything which the apostles who had accompanied Jesus in his earthly ministry might have to offer?" Apparently you did not read any further in Galatians. For Paul stated that he went to Jerusalem to bring to the other apostles the gospel Jesus had given him. But he said, "Those men added nothing to my message." Meaning, the gospel which Jesus had given the other apostles was the same gospel Paul had received from Jesus. So how could the other apostles have added anything? Paul knew that what he received from Jesus did not need man's approval. And in going to the other apostles, it was confirmed that his gospel was indeed complete, as was the other apostles' gospel. Therefore, what you say in your web page comes to false conclusions because you do not WANT to believe it.Response to Greg:
The Gospel of Paul and the Gospel of Peter
First of all, Greg is reading a lot into a rather obscure phrase at the end of the garbled and incomplete sentence in Galatians 2:6. After Paul went to Jerusalem and laid out for the "pillars" the gospel that was revealed to him, which he was preaching to the gentiles, "those men of high repute [sarcasm] added nothing," but allowed that Paul was permitted to go to the gentiles while they went to the Jews. What it was the other apostles might have "added," or to what, is unclear. (The NEB translates it: "these men . . . did not prolong the consultation," or as an alternative: "gave me no further instructions.")
In any case, my point was that Paul is disparaging those men who are presumed to have been followers of Jesus, claiming that their self-importance was of no value. We are entitled to ask how Paul could have treated them with such disdain if they had in fact enjoyed that privilege. Also, is it realistic to assume that Paul, regardless of the quality of his gospel about the "risen Christ," could have gotten along in his missionary work with little or no information about the life or character of Jesus on earth, and thus had no need to acquire such information from the very people who could have supplied him with it?
Greg claims that Paul's and Peter's gospels were the same, complete in themselves. Yet Galatians witnesses to quite a different situation. The fledgling Christian movement was currently being torn apart by the contentious issue of the continued applicability of the Jewish Law, and whether gentile converts had to conform to it. Paul and the pillars were at each others' throats over the matter. James sends men to "spy" on Paul's people and force them into certain practices; Paul condemns Peter for not being willing to eat with gentiles. Should there not have been a discussion between them over the differences in their gospels? Most important, should there not have been a discussion about what Jesus had taught on these matters, or how his example was to be followed to resolve such issues? This is one of the most devastating silences in all the epistles, one which makes it virtually impossible to conclude that either Paul or Peter knew of any preaching Jesus in their own historical past.
What I "want" to believe is what the evidence tells us, and not what confessional interest or two millennia of unfounded Christian tradition is determined to make us believe.
As a Christian, I must say I found your work quite disturbing. Many Christians have not represented themselves well in their defense of their faith. They have resorted to name calling, promises of damnation and so forth. In doing so, many have forged the mindset that Christians are judgmental and intolerant. I will not perpetuate this mindset by acting in such a manner. As far as offering any proof or refutation to your theories, I am ill equipped to do so. I'm not a scholar or researcher. Furthermore, I do not have your knowledge base nor eloquent command of the English language. There are, however, a couple of points I'd like to make. It appears to me that you went into your research with a mindset that Jesus never existed. Every time I see an article with "BCE" instead of "BC" or "CE" instead of "AD" in the expression of dates, the author in question is usually critical of Christianity—or at least disbelieving in the divine nature of Jesus Christ. In other words, it does not seem like you delved into your studies with an open mind. Have you discovered anything during your research that did support the existence of Christ as portrayed in the Gospels? If so, I'd certainly like to hear what you found. Secondly, you strike me as a most intelligent, well read and talented man. These are very powerful gifts. With power comes responsibility. By writing what you have written, consider its impact on those whose faith is all they have. I don't know if you have experienced hopelessness or not, but for those of us who have, our faith in God is priceless. Have you been responsible? Only you can answer that in good conscience.Response to Walter:
Exercising Responsibility in the Investigation of Christian Origins
First let me point out that the subject we are addressing, and the manner in which I present it, is an historical one. We are talking about Christian origins and what the historical record has to say about them. Is the 'orthodox' Christian view of those origins, and the interpretation it places on the New Testament record, borne out by scientific investigation? In my view it is not. I am not attacking religious belief, I am investigating an historical question. Naturally, the two are inseparably linked. But just because they are, this does not make the investigation of Christian origins a forbidden topic.
Christian claims about history are not sacrosanct. The question can be investigated just as we would any other historical question. If nothing were ever questioned because it might disturb or offend some people's beliefs, we would live in a very repressed society. The Church once maintained, based on the bible, that the sun went around the earth. Should we have suspended all astronomical investigation that might prove it wrong? Should we suppress the teaching of evolution today because fundamentalist Christians regard it as contradicting Genesis?
Did I have an open mind when I embarked on my own research? (Let me reiterate that I'm hardly the first to conclude that no historical Jesus existed. This is an idea which has been around for two centuries.) I went into it to resolve the question for myself. No, I did not believe in the divine nature of Jesus Christ, though I'm not sure what Walter has in mind by the phrase "critical of Christianity." Not accepting of its claims without careful investigation? Certainly. I only wish that all religious belief would be approached in that fashion. In regard to dating, CE and BCE are increasingly used even in New Testament scholarship, since AD and BC (especially the former) are essentially religious statements and highly partisan expressions which, in a multi-cultural world, should have no place in scientific, historical investigation and the presentation of history as a secular subject.
I can sympathize with Walter's emotional reaction to my views, and have often received expressions like it. But if the last two millennia of western history have indeed been founded on a misconception as monumental as this one, neither I as an individual nor society as whole would be acting "responsibly" by suppressing such knowledge. We cannot—or at least should not—found our lives on a falsity, no matter what the perceived personal or collective benefit. In the long run, it does more harm than good, and while I can appreciate that some people may obtain certain beneficial experiences through faith, such faith has also had vast consequences on individuals and societies which are not so demonstrably favorable. Much of Christian history will bear witness to that, and even today Christian doctrine continues to produce deleterious effects not only on countless individuals (I've received many a 'testimonial' in that regard), but on a wide range of social and educational issues.
Just as we cannot adhere blindly to the past, we must always strive for greater understanding of ourselves and the universe to make our future better. All of human progress has come from scientific investigation of the world around us and a seeking of the objective truth, no matter what it is. I firmly believe in that principle, and that this is where human wisdom comes from. If I ever do uncover evidence more convincing of Jesus' existence than of his non-existence, I'll not suppress it. But virtually everything I have found points in the latter direction.
The human spirit (if I may use such a term) is tremendously resilient and creative. In the absence of an historical Jesus, even in the absence of Christianity if it comes to that, it will find a way to flourish. I happen to believe that it may be time, finally, to seek that strength in other expressions than religion or beliefs in a supernatural whose entire existence is becoming more and more dubious and lacking in evidence. If that's all we have to place our hopes in, we are in danger of deluding ourselves and being vastly disappointed. I would much rather place them in our own innate abilities and evolved capacity for wisdom, as rocky a road to achievement as that may be.
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