Hayyim ben Yehoshua
PART 2: THE LACK OF HISTORICAL EVIDENCE FOR JESUS
The usual Christian response to those who question the historicity of Jesus is to palm off various documents as "historical evidence" for the existence of Jesus. They usually start with the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The usual claim is that these are "eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus made by his disciples." The reply to this argument can be summed up in one word--pseudepigraphic. This term refers to works of writing whose authors conceal their true identities behind the names of legendary characters from the past. Pseudepigraphic writing was particularly popular among the Jews during Hashmonean and Roman periods and this style of writing was adopted by the early Christians.
The canonical gospels are not the only gospels. For example, there are also gospels of Mary, Peter, Thomas and Philip. These four gospels are recognized as being pseudepigraphic by both Christian and non-Christian scholars. They provide no legitimate historical information since they were based on rumors and belief. The existence of these obviously pseudepigraphic gospels makes it quite reasonable to suspect that the canonical gospels might also be pseudepigraphic. The very fact that early Christians wrote pseudepigraphic gospels suggests that this was in fact the norm. It is thus the missionaries' claim that the canonical gospels are not pseudepigraphic which requires proof.
The Gospel of Mark is written in the name of Mark, the disciple of the mythical Peter. (Peter is largely based on the pagan god Petra, who was door-keeper of heaven and the afterlife in Egyptian religion.) Even in Christian mythology, Mark was not a disciple of Jesus, but a friend of Paul and Luke. Mark was written before Matthew and Luke (c. 100 C.E.) but after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., which it mentions. Most Christians believe it was written in c. 75 C.E. This date is not based on history but on the belief that an historical Mark wrote the gospel in his old age. This is not possible since the style of language used in Mark shows that it was written (probably in Rome) by a Roman convert to Christianity whose first language was Latin and not Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic. Indeed, since all the other gospels are written in the name of legendary characters from the past, Mark was probably written long after any historical Mark (if there was one) had died. The content of Mark is a collection of myths and legends put together to form a continuous narrative. There is no evidence that it was based on any reliable historical sources. Mark was altered and edited many times and the modern version probably dates to about 150 C.E. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 C.E. - c. 215 C.E.) complained about the alternative versions of this gospel which were still circulating in his lifetime. (The Carpocratians, an early Christian sect, considered pederasty to be a virtue and Clement complained about their versions of Mark which told of Jesus's homosexual exploits with young boys!)
The Gospel of Matthew was certainly not written by the apostle Matthew. The character of Matthew is based on the historical person named Mattai who was a disciple of Yeishu ben Pandeira. (Yeishu, who lived in Hashmonean times, was one of several historical people upon whom the character Jesus is based.) The Gospel of Matthew was originally anonymous and was only assigned the name Matthew some time during the first half of the second century C.E. The earliest form was probably written at more or less the same time as the Gospel of Luke (c. 100 C.E.), since neither seems to know of the other. It was altered and edited until about 150 C.E. The first two chapters, dealing with the virgin birth, were not in the original version and the Christians in Israel of Jewish descent preferred this earlier version. For its sources it used Mark and a collection of teachings referred to as the Second Source (or the Q Document). The Second Source has not survived as a separate document, but its full contents are found in Matthew and Luke. All the teachings contained in it can be found in Judaism. The more reasonable teachings can be found in mainstream Judaism, while the less reasonable ones can be found in sectarian Judaism. There is nothing in it which would require us to suppose the existence of a real historical Jesus. Although Matthew and Luke attribute the teachings in it to Jesus, the Epistle of James attributes them to James. Thus Matthew provides no historical evidence for Jesus.
The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (which were two parts of a single work) were written in the name of the Christian mythological character Luke the healer (who was probably not an historical person but a Christian adaptation of the Greek healer god Lykos). Even in Christian mythology, Luke was not a disciple of Jesus but a friend of Paul. Luke and Acts use Josephus's Jewish Antiquities as a reference, and so they could not have been written before 93 C.E. At this time, any friend of Paul would be either dead or well into senility. Indeed, both Christian and non-Christian scholars agree that the earliest versions of the two books were written by an anonymous Christian in c. 100 C.E and were altered and edited until c. 150 - 175 C.E. Besides Josephus's book, Luke and Acts also use the Gospel of Mark and the Second Source as references. Although Josephus is considered to be more or less reliable, the anonymous author often misread and misunderstood Josephus and moreover, none of the information about Jesus in Luke and Acts comes from Josephus. Thus Luke and Acts are of no historical value.
The Gospel of John was written in the name of the apostle John the brother of James, son of Zebedee. The author of Luke used as many sources as he could get hold of but he was unaware of John. Thus John more than likely could not have been written before Luke (c. 100 C.E.) Consequently John could not have been written by the semi-mythical character John the Apostle who was supposed to have been killed by Herod Agrippa shortly before his own death in 44 C.E. (John the Apostle is apparently based on an historical disciple of the false Messiah Theudas who was crucified by the Romans in 44 C.E. and whose disciples were murdered.) The real author of the Gospel of John was in fact an anonymous Christian from Ephesus in Asia Minor. The oldest surviving fragment of John dates to c. 125 C.E. and so we can date the gospel to c. 100 - 125 C.E. Based on stylistic considerations many scholars narrow down the date to c. 110 - 120 C.E. The earliest version of John did not contain the last chapter which deals with Jesus appearing to his disciples. Like the other gospels, John probably only attained its present form around 150 - 175 C.E. The author of John used Mark sparingly and so one suspects that he did not trust it. He either had not read Matthew and Luke or he did not trust them since he does not use any information from them which was not found in Mark. Most of John consists of legends with obvious underlying allegorical interpretations and one suspects that the author never intended them to be history. John does not contain any information from reliable historical sources.
Christians will claim that the Gospel of John itself states that it is an historical document written by John. This claim is based on the verses John 19.34-35 and John 21.20 - 24. John 19.34-35 does not claim that the gospel was written by John. It claims that the events described in the immediately preceding verses were accurately reported by a witness. The passage is ambiguous and it is not clear whether the witness is supposed to be the same person as the author. Many scholars are of the opinion that the ambiguity is deliberate and that the author of John is trying to tease his readers in this passage as well as in the passages which tell miraculous stories with allegorical interpretations. John 21.20-24 also does not claim that the author is John. It claims that the disciple mentioned in the passage is the one who witnessed the events described. It is again notably ambiguous as regards the question of whether the disciple is the same person as the author. It should be noted that this passage is in the last chapter of John which was not part of the original gospel but was added on as an epilogue by an anonymous redactor. One should beware the fact that many "easy to understand" translations of the New Testament distort the passages mentioned so as to remove the ambiguity found in the original Greek. (Ideally one needs to be familiar with the original Greek text of the New Testament in order to avoid biased and distorted translations used by fundamentalist Christians and missionaries.)
In order to back up their claims that the gospels of Mark and Matthew were written by the "real" apostles Mark and Matthew and that Jesus is an historical person, missionaries often point to the so-called "testimony of Papias." Papias was the bishop of Hierapolis (near Ephesus) during the middle of the second century C.E. None of his writings have survived but the Christian historian Eusebius (c. 260 - 339 C.E.) in his book, Ecclesiastical History (written c. 311 - 324 C.E.) paraphrased certain passages from Papias's book Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord (written c. 140 - 160 C.E.). In these passages, Papias claimed that he had known the daughters of the apostle Philip and also reported several stories which he claimed came from people named Aristion and John the Elder, who had still been alive during his own lifetime. Eusebius appears to have thought that Aristion and John the Elder were disciples of Jesus. Papias claimed that John the Elder had said that Mark had been Peter's interpreter and had written down accurately everything that Peter had to tell about Jesus. Papias also claimed that Matthew had compiled all the "oracles" in Hebrew and everyone had interpreted them as best they could. None of this, however, provides any legitimate historical evidence of Jesus nor does it back up the belief that Mark and Matthew were really written by apostles bearing those names. Papias was a name-dropper and it is by no means certain that he was honest when he claimed that he had met Philip's daughters. Even if he had, this would at most prove that the apostle Philip in Christian mythology was based on an historical person. Papias never explicitly claimed that he had met Aristion and John the Elder. Moreover, just because Eusebius in the 4th century believed that they were disciples of Jesus does not mean that they were. Nothing at all is known about who on earth Aristion actually was. He is certainly not one of the disciples in the usual Christian tradition. I have seen books in which certain fundamentalist Christians claim that John the Elder was the apostle John the son of Zebedee and that he was still alive when Papias was young. They also claim that Papias lived in c. 60 - 130 C.E. and that he wrote his book in c. 120 C.E. These dates are not based on any legitimate evidence and are complete nonsense: Papias was bishop of Hierapolis in c. 150 C.E and as already mentioned his book was written sometime in the period c. 140 - 160 C.E. Pushing the date for Papias back to 60 C.E. still does not place him during the lifetime of the apostle John who according to standard Christian legends was killed in 44 C.E. Besides, it is unlikely that John the Elder had anything to do with John the Apostle. According to Epiphanius (c. 320 - 403 C.E.), an early Christian named John the Elder had died in 117 C.E. We will have more to say about him when we discuss the three epistles named after John. Whatever the case, the stories which Papias collected were being told at least a decade after the gospels and Acts had been written and reflect unfounded rumors and superstition about the origins of these books. In particular, the story about Mark obtained from John the Elder is nothing more than a slight elaboration of the legend about Mark found in Acts and so it tells us nothing about the true origins of the Gospel of Mark. The story about Matthew writing the "oracles" is simply a rumor, and besides, it does not have anything to do with the Gospel of Matthew. The term "oracles" can only be understood as a reference to the collection of writings known as the Oracles of the Lord which is referred to in the title of Papias's book and which in all likelyhood is the same thing as the Second Source, not the Gospel of Matthew.
Besides the canonical gospels and Acts, missionaries also try to use the various Christian epistles as proof of the Jesus story. They claim that the epistles are letters written by Jesus's disciples and followers. However, epistles (from the Greek epistol q e, meaning message or order) are books, written in the form of letters (usually from legendary characters from the past), which expound religious doctrines and instructions. This form of religious writing was used by the Jews in Greco-Roman times. (The most famous Jewish epistle is the Epistle of Jeremiah, which is a lengthy condemnation of idolatry written during the Hellenistic period in the form of a letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Jerusalem just before they were exiled to Babylon.) As in the case of the gospels, there are Christian epistles not contained in the New Testament which both Christian and non-Christian scholars agree are pseudepigraphic and of no historical value since they expound beliefs and not history. The existence of pseudepigraphic epistles and indeed the whole concept of an epistle, suggests that epistles were normally pseudepigraphic. Thus again it is the claims by missionaries and Christian fundamentalists, that the canonical epistles are genuine letters, which requires proof.
The Epistle of Jude is written in the name of Jude (Judas) the brother of James. According to Mark and Matthew, Jesus had brothers named Judas and James. Comparison with other writings shows that the Epistle of Jude was written in c. 130 C.E. and so it is obviously pseudepigraphic. There is no evidence however that its author used any legitimate historical sources as regards Jesus.
Two of the canonical epistles are written in the name of Peter. Since Peter is a mythical Christian adaptation of the Egyptian pagan deity Petra, these epistles were certainly not written by him. The style and character of the First Epistle of Peter alone shows that it could not have been written earlier than c. 80 C.E. Even according to Christian legend, Peter was supposed to have died following the persecutions instigated by Nero in c. 64 C.E. and so he could not have written the epistle. The author of Luke and Acts used all written sources he could get hold of and tended to use them indiscriminately, however he did not mention any epistles by Peter. This shows that the First Epistle of Peter was probably written after Luke and Acts (c. 100 C.E.). No references to Jesus in the First Epistle of Peter are taken from historical sources but instead reflect beliefs and superstition. The Second Epistle of Peter speaks out against the Marcionists and so it must have been written c. 150 C.E. It is thus clearly pseudepigraphic. The Second Epistle of Peter uses as sources: the story of Jesus's transfiguration found in Mark, Matthew and Luke, the Apocalypse of Peter and the Epistle of Jude. The non-canonical Apocalypse of Peter (written some time in the first quarter of the second century C.E.) is recognized as being non-historical even by fundamentalist Christians. Thus the Second Epistle of Peter also does not use any legitimate historical sources.
We now turn to the epistles supposedly written by Paul. The First Epistle of Paul to Timothy warns against the Marcionist work known as the Antithesis. Marcion was expelled from the Church of Rome in c. 144 C.E. and the First Epistle of Paul to Timothy was written shortly afterwards. Thus we again have a clear case of pseudepigraphy. The Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy and the Epistle of Paul to Titus were written by the same author and date to about the same period. These three epistles are known as the "pastoral epistles." The ten remaining "non-pastoral" epistles written in the name of Paul were known to Marcion by c. 140 C.E. Some of them were not written in Paul's name alone but are in the form of letters written by Paul in collaboration with various friends such as Sosthenes, Timothy, and Silas. The author of Luke and Acts, went out of his way to obtain all sources available and tended to use them indiscriminately, but he used nothing from the Pauline epistles. We can thus conclude that the non-pastoral epistles were written after Luke and Acts in the period c. 100 - 140 C.E. The non-canonical First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians (written c. 125 C.E.) uses the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians as a source and so we can narrow down the date for that epistle to c. 100 - 125 C.E. However, we are left with the conclusion that that all the Pauline epistles are pseudepigraphic. (The semi-mythical Paul was supposed to have died during the persecutions instigated by Nero in c. 64 C.E.) Some of the Pauline epistles appear to be have been altered and edited numerous times before reaching their modern forms. As sources they use each other, Acts, the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke and the First Epistle of Peter. We may thus conclude that they provide no historical evidence of Jesus.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is a particularly interesting epistle since it is not pseudepigraphic but completely anonymous. Its author neither reveals his own name nor does he write in the name of a Christian mythological character. Fundamentalist Christians claim that it is another epistle by Paul and in fact call it the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews. This idea, apparently dating to the late fourth century C.E., is not accepted by all Christians however. As a source for its information on Jesus it uses material common to Mark, Matthew and Luke, but no legitimate sources. The author of the First Epistle of Clement used it as a source and so it must have been written before that epistle (c. 125 C.E.) but after at least the Gospel of Mark (c. 75 - 100 C.E.).
The Epistle of James is written in the name of a servant of Jesus called James (or Jacobus). However, in Christian mythology there were two apostles named James and Jesus also had a brother named James. It is not clear which James is intended and there is no agreement among Christians themselves. It quotes sayings from the Second Source but unlike Matthew and Luke it does not attribute these sayings to Jesus but presents them as sayings of James. It contains an important argument against the doctrine of "salvation through faith" expounded in the Epistle of Paul to the Romans. We can thus conclude that it was written during the first half of the second century C.E., after Romans but before the time that Matthew and Luke were accepted by all Christians. Thus regardless of which James is intended, the Epistle of James is pseudepigraphic. It says almost nothing about Jesus and there is no evidence that the author had any historical sources for him.
There are three epistles named after the apostle John. None of them are in fact written in the name of John and were probably only ascribed to him some time after they had been written. The First Epistle of John, like the Epistle to the Hebrews, is completely anonymous. The idea that it was written by John arises from the fact that it used the Gospel of John as a source. The other two epistles named after John are written by a single author who, instead of writing in the name of an apostle, chose simply to call himself "the Elder." The idea that these two epistles were written by John arose from the beliefs that "the Elder" referred to John the Elder and that he was the same person as the apostle John. In the case of the Second Epistle of John this belief was reinforced by the fact that that epistle also uses the Gospel of John as a source. We can thus conclude that the first two epistles ascribed to John were written after the Gospel of John (c. 110 - 120 C.E.). Consequently none of the three epistles could have been written by the apostle John. It should be pointed out that it is quite possible that the pseudonym "the Elder" does refer to the person named John the Elder, but if this is so, he is certainly not the apostle John. The first two John epistles use only the Gospel of John as a source for Jesus; they do not use any legitimate sources. The Third Epistle of John barely mentions "Christ" and there is no evidence that it used any historical sources for him.
Besides the epistles named after John, the New Testament also contains a book known as the Revelation to John. This book combines two forms of religious writing, that of the epistle and that of the apocalypse. (Apocalypses are religious works which are written in the form of revelations about the future made by a famous character from the past. These revelations usually describe unfortunate events occurring at the time of writing and also offer some hope to the reader that things will improve.) It is not certain how much editing the Revelation to John underwent and so it is difficult to date it precisely. Since it mentions the persecutions instigated by Nero we can say with certainty that it was not written earlier than 64 C.E, thus it cannot have been written by the "real" John. The first few verses form an introduction which is clearly not intended to be by John and which provides a vague admission that the book is pseudepigraphic even though the author feels that his message is inspired by God. The style of writing and the references to the practice of kriobolium (baptism in sheep's blood) suggests that the author was one of those people of Jewish descent who mixed Judaism with pagan practices. There were many such "pagan Jews" during Roman times and it was these people who become the first converts to Christianity, established the first churches, and who were probably also responsible for introducing pagan myths into the story of Jesus. (They are also remembered for their ridiculous belief that "Adonai Tzevaot" was the same as the pagan god "Sebazios.") The references to Jesus in the book are few and there is no evidence that they are based on anything but belief.
Besides the epistles accepted in the New Testament and the epistles which are unanimously recognized as being of no value (such as the Epistle of Barnabas), there are also several epistles which although not accepted in the New Testament, are considered of value by some Christians. Firstly there are the epistles named after Clement. In Christian legend, Clement was the third in succession of Peter as bishop of Rome. The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians is not in fact written in the name of Clement but in the name of the "Church of God which sojourns in Rome." It refers to a persecution which is generally thought to have occurred in 95 C.E. under Domitian, and it refers to the dismissal of the elders of the Church of Corinth in c. 96 C.E. Christians believe that Clement was bishop of Rome during this time and this is apparently the reason why the epistle was later named after him. Fundamentalist Christians believe that the epistle was in fact written in c. 96 C.E. This date is not possible since the epistle refers to bishops and priests as separate groups; a division which had not taken place yet. Stylistic considerations show that it was written in c. 125 C.E. As references it used the Epistle to the Hebrews and The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians but no legitimate historical sources. The Second Epistle of Clement is by a different author to the first and was written later. We may thus conclude that it was also not written by Clement. (There is no evidence that either of these epistles were named after Clement before their incorporation into the collection of books known as the Codex Alexandrinus in the fifth century C.E.) As sources for Jesus, the Second Epistle of Clement uses the Gospel of the Egyptians, a document which is rejected by even the most fundamentalist Christians, and also the New Testament books which we have shown to be valueless. Thus again we have no legitimate evidence of Jesus.
Next we have the epistles written in the name of Ignatius. According to legend, Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch who was killed under Trajan's rule c. 110 C.E. (Although he is probably based on a real historical person, the legends about his martyrdom are largely fictional.) There are fifteen epistles written in his name. Of these, eight are unanimously recognized as being pseudepigraphic and of no value as regards Jesus. The remaining seven each have two forms, a longer and a shorter. The longer forms are clearly altered and edited versions of the shorter forms. Fundamentalist Christians claim that the shorter forms are genuine letters written by Ignatius. The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans mentions the threefold ordering of bishops, priests and deacons which had not yet taken place by Ignatius's death which occurred no later than 117 C.E. and which probably took place c. 110 C.E. All seven shorter epistles attack various Christian beliefs, now considered heretical, which only became prevalent c. 140 - 150 C.E. The shorter Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans contains a quote from the writings of Irenaeus, written after 170 C.E. and published c. 185 C.E. We can thus conclude that the seven shorter epistles are also pseudepigraphic. The shorter Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans was certainly written after 170 C.E. (In fact, if it was not written by Irenaeus then it was probably written after c. 185 C.E.) The other six were written no earlier than the period c. 140 - 150 C.E., if not later. There are no sources for Jesus in the Ignatian epistles other than the New Testament books and the writings of Irenaeus which only use the New Testament. Thus they contain no legitimate evidence of Jesus.
There are two more epistles which Christians claim are genuine letters, namely the Epistle of Polycarp and the Martyrdom of Polycarp. The Ignatian epistles and the epistles concerning Polycarp have always been closely associated. It is quite possible that they were all written by the Christian writer Irenaeus and his disciples. There certainly was a real historical early Christian named Polycarp. He was bishop of Smyrna and was killed by the Romans sometime in the period 155 - 165 C.E. When Irenaeus was a boy he knew Polycarp. Fundamentalist Christians claim that Polycarp was the disciple of the apostle John. However, even if we accept the legend that Polycarp lived to the age of 86, he could not have been born earlier than 67 C.E and therefore could not have been a disciple of John. (It is possible that he was a disciple of the enigmatic John the Elder.) Since Irenaeus had known Polycarp they also assume that Irenaeus was in fact his disciple, a claim for which there is no evidence. The Epistle of Polycarp uses most New Testament books and the Ignatian epistles as references but it uses no legitimate sources for Jesus. Those Christians who reject the Ignatian epistles but believe the Epistle of Polycarp is a genuine letter, claim that the references to the Ignatian epistles are a later interpolation. This idea is based on personal bias, not on any genuine evidence. Based on the blind belief that this epistle is a genuine letter, some Christians date it to around the middle of the second century C.E., shortly before Polycarp's death. However, the references to the Ignatian epistles suggest that it was in fact written some time in the last few decades of the second century C.E., at least about a decade after Polycarp's death if not later.
The Martyrdom of Polycarp is written in the name of "the Church of God that sojourns in Smyrna." It starts off in the form of a letter but its main body is written in the form of an ordinary story. It tells the tale of Polycarp's martyrdom. Like the Epistle of Polycarp, it was written some time during the last few decades of the second century C.E. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that it used any reliable sources for its story, only rumors and hearsay. The story in fact appears to be highly fictionalized. The references to Jesus are not taken from any reliable source.
We have thus seen that the epistles used by missionaries as "evidence" are just as spurious as the gospels. Again, the reader should beware "easy to understand" translations of the New Testament since they call the epistles "letters," thereby incorrectly implying that they are really letters written by the people after whom they are named.
Now, besides the books of the New Testament, and besides the epistles relating to Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp, there is only one more Christian religious work which Christians claim as historical evidence of Jesus, namely the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles also known as the Didache. All other early Christian religious works are either wholly rejected by modern Christians or are at least recognized as not being primary sources as regards Jesus. The Didache began as a sectarian Jewish document, probably written during the period of turmoil in c. 70 C.E. Its earliest form consisted of moral teachings and predictions of the destruction of the current world order. This earliest version, which obviously did not mention Jesus, was taken over by Christians who heavily edited and altered it, adding a story of Jesus and rules of worship for early Christian communities. Scholars estimate that the earliest Christian version of the _Didache_ could not have been written much later than 95 C.E. It probably only reached its final form around c. 120 C.E. It appears to have served an isolated Christian community in Syria as a "Church Order" during the period c. 100 - 130 C.E. However, there is no evidence that its story of Jesus was based on any reliable sources, and as we have mentioned, the earliest Jewish version had nothing to do with Jesus. In fact, this document provides evidence that the myth of Jesus grew gradually. Like the Gospel of Mark and the early versions of Gospel of Matthew, the Jesus story in the Didache makes no mention of a virgin birth. It makes no mention of the fantastic miracles which were later attributed to Jesus. Although Jesus is referred to as a "son" of God, it appears that this term is being used figuratively. The evidence we have concerning the origin of the crucifixion myth suggests that one of the things leading to this myth was the fact that the cross was the astrological symbol of the Vernal Equinox which occurs near Passover, when Jesus was believed to have been killed. It is thus not surprising to find that the story in the Didache makes no mention of Jesus being crucified, although it mentions a cross in the sky as a sign of Jesus. The twelve apostles mentioned in the full title of the Didache do not appear as twelve real disciples of Jesus and the term clearly refers to the twelve sons of Jacob representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Thus the Didache provides vital clues concerning the growth of the Jesus myth, but it certainly does not provide any evidence of an historical Jesus.
Since none of the Christian religious texts provide any acceptable evidence of Jesus, missionaries turn next to non-Christian texts. Christians claim that several reliable historians recorded information about Jesus. Although some of these historians are more or less accepted, we shall see that they do not provide any information about Jesus.
Firstly, Christians claim that the Jewish historian Josephus recorded information about Jesus in his book Jewish Antiquities (published c. 93 - 94 C.E.) It is true that this book contains information about the three false Messiahs, Yehuda of Galilee, Theudas and Benjamin the Egyptian, and it is true that the character of Jesus appears to be based on all of them in part, but none of them can be regarded as the historical Jesus. Moreover, in the book of Acts, these people are mentioned as being different people to Jesus and so modern Christianity actually rejects any connection between them and Jesus. In the Christian edited versions of the Jewish Antiquities there are two passages dealing with Jesus as portrayed in Christian religious works. Neither of these passages are found in the original version of the Jewish Antiquities which was preserved by the Jews. The first passage (XVII, 3, 3) was quoted by Eusebius writing in c. 320 C.E. and so we can conclude that it was added in some time between the time Christians got hold of the Jewish Antiquities and c. 320 C.E. It is not known when the other passage (XX, 9, 1) was added in. Neither passage is based on any reliable sources. It is fraudulent to claim that these passages were written by Josephus and that they provide evidence for Jesus. They were written by Christian redactors and were based purely on Christian belief.
Next the Christians will point to the Annals by Tacitus. In the Annals XV,44, Tacitus describes how Nero blamed the Christians for the fire of Rome in 64 C.E. He mentions that the name "Christians" originated from a person named Christus who had been executed by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberias. It is certainly true that the name "Christians" is derived from Christ or Christus (Messiah), but Tacitus' claim that he was executed by Pilate during the reign of Tiberias is based purely on the claims being made by the Christians themselves. They appeared in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, which had already been widely circulated when the Annals were being written. (The Annals were published after 115 C.E. and were certainly not written before 110 C.E.) Thus, although the Annals contains a sentence in which "Christus" is spoken of as a real person, this sentence was based purely on Christian claims and beliefs which are of no historical value. It is quite ironic that modern Christians use Tacitus to back up their beliefs since he was the least accurate of all Roman historians. He justifies hatred of Christians by saying that they committed abominations. Besides "Christus" he also speaks of various pagan gods as if they really exist. His summary of Middle East history in his book the Histories is so distorted as to be laughable. We may conclude that his single mention of Christus cannot be taken as reliable evidence of an historical Jesus.
Once Tacitus is dismissed, the Christians will claim that one of the younger Pliny's letters to the emperor Trajan provides evidence of an historical Jesus. (Letters X, 96.) This is nonsense. The letter in question simply mentions that certain Christians had cursed "Christ" to avoid being punished. It does not claim that this Christ really existed. The letter in question was written before Pliny's death in c. 114 C.E. but after he was sent to Bithynia in 111 C.E., probably in the year 112 C.E. Thus it provides nothing more than a confirmation of the trivial fact that around the beginning of the twelfth decade C.E. Christians did not normally curse something called "Christ" although some had done it to avoid punishment. It provides no evidence of an historical Jesus.
Christians will also claim that Suetonius recorded evidence of Jesus in his book Lives of the Caesars (also known as The Twelve Caesars). The passage in question is Claudius 25, where he mentions that the emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome (apparently in 49 C.E.) because they caused continual disturbances at the instigation of a certain Chrestus. If one blindly assumes that "Chrestus" refers to Jesus then, if anything, this passage contradicts the Christian story of Jesus. Jesus was supposed to have been crucified when Pontius Pilate was procurator (26 - 36 C.E.) during the reign of Tiberias and, moreover, he was never supposed to have been in Rome! Suetonius lived during the period c. 75 - 150 C.E. and his book, Lives of the Caesars, was published during the period 119 - 120 C.E., having been written some time after Domitian's death in 96 C.E. Thus the event he describes occurred at least 45 years before he was writing about it and so we cannot be certain of its accuracy. The name Chrestus is derived from the Greek Chrestos meaning "good one" and it is not the same as Christ or Christus which are derived from the Greek Christos meaning "anointed one/Messiah." If we take the passage at face value it refers to a person named Chrestus who was in Rome and who had nothing to do with Jesus or any other "Christ." The term Chrestos was often applied to pagan gods and many of the people in Rome called "Jews" were actually people who mixed Jewish beliefs with pagan beliefs and who were not necessarily of Jewish descent. Thus it is also possible that the passage refers to conflicts involving these pagan "Jews" who worshipped a pagan god (such as Sebazios) titled Chrestos. On the other hand, the words Chrestos and Christos were often confused and so the passage might even be referring to some conflict involving Jews who believed that some person was the Messiah. This person may or may not have actually been in Rome and for all we know, he may not even have been a real historical person. One should bear in mind that the described event took place just several years after the crucifixion of the false Messiah Theudas in 44 C.E., and the passage may be referring to his followers in Rome. Christians claim that the passage refers to Jesus and conflicts arising after Paul brought news of him to Rome and that Suetonius was only mistaken about Jesus himself being in Rome. However, this interpretation is based on blind belief in Jesus and the myths about Paul and there is nothing to suggest that it is the correct interpretation. Thus we may conclude that Suetonius also fails to provide any reliable evidence of an historical Jesus.
All other writers who mention Jesus, from Justin Martyr in the second century C.E. to the latest expounders of Christian myth in the twentieth century, have all based their references to Jesus on the sources we have discredited above. Consequently their claims are worthless as historical evidence. We are thus left with the conclusion that there is absolutely no reliable and acceptable historical evidence of Jesus. All references to Jesus are derived from the superstitious beliefs and myths of the early Christian community. The majority of these beliefs only came into existence after the persecution by Nero and the tragedy of 70 C.E. Many of these beliefs are based on the pagan legends about the gods Tammuz, Osiris, Attis, Dionysus and the sun god Mithras. Other myths about Jesus appear to be based on various different historical people such as the convicted criminals Yeishu ben Pandeira and ben Stada, and the crucified false Messiahs Yehuda, Theudas and Benjamin, but none of these people can be regarded as an historical Jesus.
1) J. Allegro, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth, Prometheus Books, reprinted 1991. (Examines how ancient myths were misused by the early church and misrepresented as history.)
2) J. Campbell, Occidental Mythology, Penguin Books, reprinted 1985. (An exposition of religious mythology in western civilization. Includes important evidence concerning the borrowing of pagan myths by Christianity.)
3) E.D. Cohen, The Mind of the Bible-Believer, Prometheus Books, reprinted 1991. (Uncovers the psychological ploys around which the New Testament is built and exposes the adverse effects of Christian fundamentalism.)
4) R. Helms, Gospel Fictions, Prometheus Books, reprinted 1991. (Exposes the gospels as being largely fictional documents composed as a culmination to an extensive mythological tradition.)
5) S. Levine, You Take Jesus and I'll Take God: How to Refute Christian Missionaries, revised edition, Hamoroh Press, Los Angeles, 1980. (Exposes the tricks used by missionaries and the misquotations of the Tanach in the New Testament.)
6) J.M. Robertson, A Short History of Christianity, 2nd Ed., Watts & Co., London 1913. (One of the first serious academic investigations into the origins of Christianity. Exposes the elements of the Jesus story borrowed from pagan myths.)
Citation of Hebrew scripture and sources in articles or analyses is not in any way an acceptance, approval or validation of the Jewish religion, its works or scriptures. The Hebrew bible, like the Christian New Testament, is fictitious; From a 6-day creation of the universe; a cunning, walking, talking snake; big fish tales; world flood and an "Invisible Man in the Sky" ― it is all fiction, a bold sham perpetrated on mankind.