Nicholas Notovitch and the Jesus-in-India tale – D.M. Murdock

Issa and the Giant's Skull (1932) Nicholas Roerich

D. M. Murdock“Despite the popularity of the Jesus-in-India tale, the claim is not accepted by mainstream authorities, either Christian or secular. The tale’s proponents assert that scholars reject Jesus in India because of Western imperialism and the inability to accept that Christ could have been influenced by Buddhism. In the case of mythicists, however, the reason Jesus is denied as having gone to India is because he is a pagan sun god remade into a Jewish “human” messiah.” – D. M. Murdock

Jesus with wife Mary Magdalene and KidsThe Myth of the Lost Years

Over the centuries, the claim has repeatedly been made that Jesus Christ not only walked the earth but also spent his early and post-crucifixion years in a variety of places, including Egypt, India, Great Britain, Japan and America. Indeed, traditions maintain that Jesus, the great godman of the West, lived, learned, loved and died in such places. Popular modern literature also purports that Jesus sired children, who then became the ancestors of various royal families of Europe, including France and/or elsewhere, depending on the author.

The allegation of Christ being a kingly progenitor is extremely convenient and useful for European royal families, obviously. Unfortunately for the European claimants, however, India also has a tradition that Jesus went there and likewise fathered children. So too does Shingo, Japan, allege that Jesus ended up there after the crucifixion, having children with a Japanese wife. Other tales depict Jesus “walking the Americas” or bopping about Glastonbury, England, with his “uncle,” Joseph of Arimathea. Not all of these tales can be true, obviously, unless Jesus is polymorphous and phantasmagoric, a perspective that in reality represents that of the mythologist or mythicist. To wit, regardless of these fables, or, rather, because of them, the most reasonable conclusion regarding Jesus and where he may or may not have been is that he is a mythical character, not a historical personage who trotted the globe.

Jesus the YogiThe Groovy Guru

According to legend, Jesus, the great Jewish sage, spent his “lost years,” from between the ages of around 12 to 28 or 30, in India, where, per another tradition, he also escaped after surviving the crucifixion. The Jesus-was-a-guru tale was popularized over a century ago by the Russian traveler Nicolas Notovitch. Notovitch asserted that in 1887, while at the secluded Hemis or Himis monastery in Ladakh/Tibet, he was shown a manuscript which discussed the “unknown life” of Jesus, or “Issa,” as he was supposedly called in the East. This “Issa” text, translated for Notovitch from Tibetan by a monk/lama, alleged that during his “lost years” Jesus was educated by yogis in India, Nepal and “the Himalaya Mountains.”

Stating that he felt the manuscript to be “true and genuine,” Notovich maintained its contents were written “immediately after the Resurrection,” while the manuscript itself purportedly dated from the third century of the Common Era. Notovitch related that the “two manuscripts” he was shown at Himis were “compiled from diverse copies written in the Thibetan tongue, translated from rolls belonging to the Lassa library and brought from India, Nepal, and Maghada 200 years after Christ.” (Notovitch, 44)

Notovitch’s story was challenged by a number of people, which served to popularize it further. Noted Sanskrit scholar Max Müller came down hard on Notovitch, concluding that either the Russian had never gone to Tibet in the first place, and had concocted the Jesus story, or that waggish Buddhist monks had played a trick on Notovitch, as Indian priests had done in a notorious instance concerning the Asiatic Research Society’s Colonel Wilford. Others subsequently journeyed to Himis/Hemis and witnessed repeated denial by the lamas that Notovitch had ever been there or that any such manuscript existed. In 1922, Indian scholar and swami Abhedananda eventually determined for himself by visiting Himis, gaining the confidence of the lamas and having the manuscript revealed to him. Other visitors to Himis, such as mystic Nicholas Roerich, verified the same story. Aspects of Notovitch’s story checked out, and he apparently did indeed stay at Himis and was shown a manuscript relating to “Issa.”

Notovitch claimed that Indian merchants brought the account of “Jesus” to Himis, and that they had actually witnessed the crucifixion. Indeed, the text begins with “This is what is related on this subject by the merchants who come from Israel,” reflecting not that “Jesus” lived in India but that the Jesus tradition was brought to India and Tibet. (Notovitch, 32) Notovitch’s text also did not state that Jesus was specifically at Himis: In fact, the lama stated that the Issa scrolls “were brought from India to Nepal, and from Nepal to Thibet.” Yet, upon returning to Himis through later visitors, the story eventually became morphed into “Your Jesus was here,” meaning at Himis itself. The “one book” or “two manuscripts” became “three books,” which were displayed for the later visitors, with the implication that there was more to the tale.

Nicolas NotovichAlthough subsequent visitors were presented such texts, none but Nicholas Roerich’s son, George, could read them. By his translation, Roerich was evidently shown the same text as Notovitch. Thus, it appears that there was only one text at Himis, and that it did not state that Issa himself was ever at the monastery. Furthermore, that one text is based on hearsay provided by passing merchants and does not at all represent an “eyewitness” account of “Jesus” in India and Tibet, although the impression is given that this and other texts do constitute such records.

Also, Notovitch asked if “Issa” was reputed to be a saint, and was informed that “the people ignore his very existence” and that the lamas who have studied the scrolls “alone know of him.” These remarks are a far cry from Roerich’s claim that the tale of “Christ” in India and other parts of Asia was to be found widespread. They also contradict the Tibetan text’s own assertion that Issa’s “fame spread everywhere” and that Persia and surrounding countries “resounded with prophecies” of Issa, thus causing the Persian priesthood to be terrified of him. This latter element sounds like typical myth-making, especially since there were similar prophecies of godmen for centuries, if not millennia, prior to Christ’s purported advent, particularly in India.

Moreover, the “originals” of the scrolls housed at the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, were composed in Pali, while the Himis library contained one copy in Tibetan. Yet, the Tibetan alphabet was developed by the king who “reigned in the days of Mohammed”; hence, nothing could have been written in Tibetan prior to the 7th century. Although older texts were composed in Sanskrit or Pali, it is clear that the actual physical manuscript revealed to Notovitch could not have existed before the 7th century. In fact, it would appear that very few Tibetan texts date to before the 9th century. In any event, the manuscript itself certainly did not date from the third century, although it could represent tradition transmitted over the centuries.

While Notovitch claimed the Issa story dated to shortly after “the Resurrection,” in it there is no mention of the resurrection, and the tale ends with Issa’s death. In this regard, the text depicts the “Jews,” whom it calls “Israelites,” in a favorable light, and is “the only [manuscript] ever to charge the Romans [“pagans”] solely for Jesus’ execution.” Unlike others, this account does not have Jesus being resuscitated and then returning to India, to father children and live a long life.

Notovitch’s modern editor, Frank Muccie, relates that the manuscript states, “Pilate is responsible for removing Jesus’ body from the tomb,” noting that this development somehow does not “mean the resurrection hope is invalid.” He then says:

“By the third century A.D., there were no fewer than 25 different versions of Jesus’ death and resurrection! Some have him not being put to death at all, some have him revived back to life, and some have Jesus living on to old age and dying in Egypt!” (Notovitch, 6)

Obviously, not all of these 25 or more accounts can be “true and genuine,” and such a development casts doubt on the historicity of one and all.

Rozabal TombThe Rozabal Tomb

Moreover, it is interesting that Notovitch spent six days in the “Vale of Kashmir,” in its capital, Srinagar, “city of the sun,” where the purported tomb of “Jesus,” the wandering prophet Yuz Asaf, is shown to tourists. Yet, the Russian traveler apparently never heard of the tomb, known as the “Roza Bal” or “Rauzabal” shrine, as he does not mention it in his writings concerning the Tibetan text, where its inclusion certainly would have been judicious in demonstrating that Jesus lived in India! Perhaps, however, as a believing Christian Notovitch ignored this tale, much as the devout do today and much as skeptics may do with other fables concerning Christ.

Possessing the priestly touch of sculpted footprints “with nail marks” over the grave, the Roza Bal shrine may seem convincing to the uninitiated, who are unaware of the world’s well-developed priest-craft. This “artifact” is another in a long line of so-called relics, like the 20+ shrouds or the multiple foreskins of Christ. In reality, there were many “footprints of the gods” in ancient times—and a number of Indian gods are depicted with nail holes in their feet.

Also, “Yuz Asaf” is not equivalent to “Jesus” but to “Joseph,” which was often a title of a priest and not a name. In fact, Eastern scholars such as Dr. S. Radhakrishnan state that the name “Joseph” or “Joasaph” is “derived from Bodhisattva, the technical name for one destined to obtain the dignity of a Buddha.” (Prajnanananda, 107) Thus, this tomb of a Bodhisattva could belong to any of thousands of such holy men. In like regard, the purported graves of “Jesus” and “his brother” in Japan are in reality those of a 16th-century Christian missionary and his brother.

The legends regarding Jesus’s tomb in Srinagar, and that of the Virgin Mary in Kashgar, are apparently of Islamic origin, emanating largely from the “heretical” Ahmadiyya sect. Such a creation would serve a couple of purposes: 1. That, as asserted in the Koran, Jesus was not the “son of God” but a mortal prophet, whose body was buried in Kashmir; and 2. that some presumably Moslem people are his descendants.

Proponents of the Jesus-in-India theory hold up a number of other texts and artifacts they maintain “prove” not only Jesus’s existence on Earth but also his presence in India. When such texts and artifacts are closely examined, they serve as no evidence at all, except of priest-craft. With one or two possible exceptions originating to a few centuries earlier, the Eastern texts regarding “Issa” seem to be late writings, some dating to the 15th and 18th centuries, based on traditions, not eyewitness accounts. Some of the “documents” are obviously fictitious, and others are downright ridiculous, such as the Bhavishya Mahapurana. A number of these texts merely relate the basic gospel story with embellishments depending on what the storyteller is attempting to accomplish.

Tibetan monk holding scrollsBuddhist Propaganda or Christian Proselytizing?

Although some of the writings appear to be of Hindu origin, the attack by “Issa” on the Vedas and Brahmans, as in the Notovitch text, represents Buddhist propaganda. It appears that Buddhists were trying to demonstrate that Jesus, the great wise man of the West, was influenced by Buddhism, even having been taught by “Buddha,” an eternal disincarnate entity. In this regard, the Notovitch text states, “Six years later, Issa, whom the Buddha had chosen to spread his holy word, could perfectly explain the sacred rolls.” (Notovitch, 35) In this way, Buddha usurps Jesus, becoming the Jewish teacher’s guru.

That the text has been used as propaganda to raise Buddha and Buddhism over Christ and Christianity is further validated by Notovitch’s foreword, in which he related that the lama told him, “The only error of the Christians is that after adopting the great doctrine of Buddha, they, at the very outset, completed separated themselves from him and created another Dalai-Lama….” This “Dalai-Lama,” the monk subsequently informed the Russian, is the Pope. Concerning Christ, the lama continued, “Buddha did, indeed, incarnate himself with his intelligence in the sacred person of Issa, who, without the aid of fire and sword, went forth to propagate our great and true religion through the entire world.” (Notovitch, 20) Hence, Eastern traditions regarding Jesus are designed to show that Jesus is Buddha and that Christianity is an offshoot of ancient Eastern wisdom.

Nevertheless, the Notovitch text itself may have been composed originally by proselytizing Christians who attempted to use the natives’ belief in Buddha in order to increase Christ’s stature. These missionaries may have been appealing to women to follow “Issa,” as the text puts great emphasis on women, whose status in India and elsewhere has been abysmally low. The text would also appeal to the Sudras or Pariahs, since it has Issa preaching on their behalf. These groups are targeted to this day by Christian missionaries in India.

Considering that many missionaries, travelers and scholars have been keenly aware of the numerous and profound similarities between the Tibetan and Catholic religions, it would not be surprising if this Issa fable were created in order to show that the Tibetan religion is merely a foreign derivative of the “true universal religion,” i.e., Catholicism. The resemblances between various Indian sects and Christianity likewise led to tales about the Christian missionaries Thomas, Bartholomew and Pantaenus also proselytizing in India. Like the Jesus-in-India myth, there are other explanations for the resemblances, which are addressed in detail in my book Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled. In short, the major explanation is that the “Christian” religion and savior were already in India long before the alleged advent of Jesus.

Lord ShivaIs “Issa” Jesus—or Shiva?

By calling Issa “Jesus” or “Christ,” modern writers have cemented in the readers’ minds that the correlation is absolute, an erroneous conclusion. In reality, the name “Issa,” “Isa” or “Isha” is a title and simply means “lord,” “god” or “master,” often referring to the Indian god Lord Shiva: “‘Isha’ or ‘the Lord’ is another name of Siva…” (Prajnanananda, 19) Furthermore, Prof. Nunos de Santos says, “… a god variously named Issa, Isha, Ichtos, Iesus, Ieshuah, Joshuah, Jesus, etc., is indisputably originally from India.” He also states, “Ishvara (Ishwar) is widely worshipped in the Far East, being also called Isha (or Ishana) in India, Issara in Pali, Isuan in Thai, Jizu (or Jizai) in Japanese, and so on.”

“Isa” is likewise another name for Chandra, the Indian moon god, as well as for Shiva’s Egyptian counterpart, the soli-lunar god Osiris, also called Iswara in India:

“Iswara, or Isa, and Isani, or Isisi, are … unquestionably the Osiris and Isis of Egypt. Iswara, Siva, or Hara (for these are his names among nearly a thousand more) united with Isi, represent the secondary causes, whatever they may be, of natural phenomena; and principally those of temporary destruction and regeneration.” (Moor, 151)

Numerous ancient legends, recorded for example in the writings of Diodorus Siculus during the first century BCE, depict Osiris as traveling all over the East, as well as the rest of the world, during the millennia when he reigned as Egypt’s favorite deity. Osiris, or Isa, it should be noted, was put to death and resurrected, among many other correspondences to the Christ myth. Osiris/Isa too had a number of tombs in various places, especially in Egypt but likely also in India. However, Osiris was not a “real person” but a fertility and sun god. What mythologists recognize is that it was not a “historical Osiris” but his myth that made it to India and diverse places. As in the case of Osiris, the same phenomenon occurred regarding “Jesus,” who is, in the end, a remake of Osiris, among others.

The title “Isa” or “Issa” could apply to others, and is a common name even today. Indeed, some part of these Jesus-in-India tales may revolve around the famed Greek sage Apollonius of Tyana. Not a few persons over the centuries have noted the similarities between the lives of Apollonius and Christ, and even in ancient times Christians were accused of plagiarizing the Apollonius legend.

Nicholas RoerichThe Nestorians

The Issa myth apparently represents a Christianization of legends regarding Osiris, Shiva, Apollonius and other gods and “Bodhisattvas,” by the Nestorians, an early Christian sect who lived in India and elsewhere, and may well have spread the syncretistic fable to other Asian ports of call. Indeed, Nicholas Roerich himself surmised that the ancient Nestorian sect spread the tales in the East:

“We heard several versions of this legend which has spread widely through Ladak, Sinkiang and Mongolia, but all versions agree on one point, that during His absence, Christ was in India and Asia…. Perhaps [this legend] is of Nestorian origin.” (Prophet, 261)

Roerich also stated, “Whoever doubts too completely that such legends about the Christ life exist in Asia, probably does not realize what an immense influence the Nestorians have had in all parts of Asia and how many so-called Apocryphal legends they spread in the most ancient times.” (Roerich, 89) In addition, George Roerich even proposed that there was a “floating colony” of Nestorians in Ladakh itself “during the eighth to tenth centuries,” which could well be when the Notovitch text was composed. Roerich, one of the main writers whose works have led to the Jesus-in-India theory, almost invariably and misleadingly substitutes “Jesus” or “Christ” for “Issa,” when Issa could be a number of individuals, mythical and historical.

In his account of Jesus in India, Roerich declared, “The teachings of India were famed far and wide; let us even recall the description of the life of Appolonius [sic] of Tyana and his visits to Hindu sages.” (Roerich, 119) Again, one likely scenario regarding “Issa” (“Lord” or “Master”) is that, whatever part of his tale is “historical,” it possibly refers to Apollonius.

Muziris on the Roman Tabula PeutingerianaPre-Christian Indo-European Interaction

As is well-known, Apollonius was not alone in his journeys to the East. Decades and centuries prior to the Christian era, there was much intercourse between India and the West, including the famous journey by Pythagoras and the Alexandrian incursion. As another pertinent example, one of the seats of Mandeanism, a Christian baptist sect, was Maisan, a Mesopotamian city colonized by Indians. As Dr. Rudolph Otto relates:

“… Indian caravans passed through Maisan and likewise Nabatea. Indian merchants, wherever they went, were importers and missionaries of Indian ideas. There need be no surprise therefore if direct Indian imports are found in the syncretistic medley of Mandean Gnosis”. (Prajnanananda, 41)

Space does not permit us to recount the numerous authorities who are in agreement as to the westward spread of Indian and Buddhist concepts centuries before and into the Christian era. A number of them may be found in Prajnanananda’s book, including a “Mr. Cust,” who evinced that trade between India and Yemen “was established not later than 1000 B.C.” Yemen is very close to Israel, and by the first century CE there were plenty of Indians in the Roman Empire.

Despite the popularity of the Jesus-in-India tale, the claim is not accepted by mainstream authorities, either Christian or secular. The tale’s proponents assert that scholars reject Jesus in India because of Western imperialism and the inability to accept that Christ could have been influenced by Buddhism. In the case of mythicists, however, the reason Jesus is denied as having gone to India is because he is a pagan sun god remade into a Jewish “human” messiah. Thus, it is not a question of a “historical Jesus” being in India and the East but of a variety of solar cults that worshipped a similar deity with similar rituals, doctrines and myths.

Mithras / Sol InvictusThe “Lost Years” Are Astrotheological

Over the centuries Jesus’s so-called “lost years” and post-crucifixion life have provided much fodder for the fertile human imagination, leading to speculation, legends, traditions and myths that the great godman and sage lived and studied in a variety of places. Once the fable of Christ became popular, numerous towns, villages, cities and nations wished to establish some sort of connection. Instead of recognizing that such a significant omission as Jesus’s “lost years” is an indication of the mythical nature of the tale, individuals using typical priest-craft have come up with countless extraordinary adventures of the “historical Jesus.” Unfortunately for the believers, however, not only is the gospel story itself but so too are these Jesus-the-Globetrotter tales mere deluding smoke and mirrors, and the reason for the gap in Jesus’s biography is because he was not a “real person” but a pagan sun god turned into a Jewish messiah. In the mythos revolving around the sun god, there need be no accounting for “lost years,” as the “age” of 12 represents the sun at high noon, while the 28 or 30 represents the days of the lunar or solar months, respectively.

When religions are investigated with a profound knowledge of mythology, the correspondences are clearly revealed, and it becomes evident that it is not the case that this miracle-worker or that godman traveled to this place or that, as has been rumored to have occurred with just about every god or goddess. In actuality, it is the legends, traditions and myths concerning these gods, godmen or gurus that have been spread far and wide by their proponents, priests and propagandists. As was the case with the missionary and his brother in Japan, who were taken for the object of worship they were proselytizing, so has it developed in other parts of the world over the millennia concerning not only Jesus but also many other deities, such as the virgin-born, crucified Mexican god Quetzalcoatl, whose similar “life” and religion led to claims that “Jesus” was in America. The reason for the similarities, however, is because both Jesus and Quetzalcoatl are sun gods with the same attendant holidays and practices.

Jesus in the Zodiac (11th century)In the final analysis, it is not possible that Jesus could have lived years after the crucifixion, fathered children and died in several different places, as legends represent. The past explanation for such discrepancies has been metaphysical, deeming Jesus to be multidimensional and capable of simultaneous incarnations in various locations. Such an explanation, of course, will not satisfy the skeptic and scientist. Or the mythologist, who simply knows better, because she or he has studied in depth the products of the human mind. Because the basic story of Christ revolves around the sun, which was highly esteemed the world over beginning many millennia ago, the myth is likewise found around the globe. To the basic mythos and ritual were added various embellishments according to the place and era, and for a variety of reasons. In the end, Jesus the Globetrotter is a not a historical personage who magically appeared all over the world, bi-locating and flying on the backs of birds. “Jesus Christ” is mythical creature, to be found globally only between the pages of a book. – Truth Be Known, 1995

Sources

  1. Capt, E. Raymond, The Traditions of Glastonbury, Artisan, 1983
  2. Ellis, Peter B., “Our Druid Cousins,” http://www.hinduism-today.com/2000/2/2000-2-16.html
  3. Huc, M. L’Abbé, Christianity in China, Tartary, and Thibet, I, London, Longman & Co., 1857
  4. Moor, Edward, Simpson, ed., The Hindu Pantheon, Indological Book House, India, 1968
  5. Notovitch, Nicholas, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, Tree of Life Publications, CA, 1980
  6. Nunos de Santos, Arysio, “The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ–Comments,” www.rickrichards.com/jc/JesusComment2.html
  7. Prajnanananda, Swami, Christ the Saviour and the Christ Myth, Calcutta, 1984
  8. Prophet, Elizabeth Clare, The Lost Years of Jesus, Summit University Press, 1984
  9. Roerich, Nicholas, Altai-Himalaya, Adventures Unlimited, 2001
» D. M. Murdock, also known as Acharya S., is an American author and classical scholar of religion. She is a proponent of the Christ myth theory and administers a website called Truth be Known. She argues that Christianity is founded on earlier myths and the characters depicted in Christianity are based upon Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Iranian and Indian mythology.

Persian Sun God Mithra

Mithras the Pagan Christ

Nine reasons why everything you know about Jesus is a myth – Valerie Tarico

Dr Valerie Tarico“The person of Jesus, if indeed there was such a person, is shrouded in the fog of history leaving us only with a set of hunches and traditions that far too often are treated as knowledge. The “facts” I have listed here are largely trivial; it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was tall or short, or how he cut his hair. But it does matter, tremendously, that “facts” people claim to know about how Jesus saw himself, and God and humanity are equally tenuous.” – Dr Valerie Tarico

Jesus with wife Mary Magdalene and KidsJesus has been described as the best known figure in history, and also the least known. If you mentioned the name “Jesus” and someone asked Jesus who, you might blink. Or laugh. Even people who don’t think Jesus was God mostly believe they know a fair bit about him. You might be surprised that some of your most basic assumptions about Jesus are probably wrong. 

We have no record of anything that was written about Jesus by eyewitnesses or other contemporaries during the time he would have lived, or for decades thereafter. Nonetheless, based on archeological digs and artifacts, ancient texts and art, and even forensic science, we know a good deal about the time and culture in which the New Testament is set. This evidence points to some startling conclusions about who Jesus likely was—and wasn’t.

1. Married, not single. When an ancient papyrus scrap was found in 2014 referring to the wife of Jesus, some Catholics and Evangelicals were scandalized. But unlike the Catholic Church, Jews have no tradition of celibacy among religious leaders. Jesus and his disciples would have been practising Jews, and all great rabbis we know of were married. A rabbi being celibate would have been so unusual that some modern writers have argued Jesus must have been gay. But a number of ancient texts, including the canonical New Testament, point to a special relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. The Gospel of Phillip says, “[Jesus] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth.”

2. Cropped hair, not long. Jewish men at the time of Christ did not wear their hair long. A Roman triumphal arch of the time period depicts Jewish slaves with short hair. In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addresses male hair length. “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14 NRSV). During the 1960s, conservative Christians quoted this verse to express their disgust against the hippy movement and to label it anti-Christian.

3. Hung on a pole, not necessarily a cross. For centuries scholars have known that the Greek New Testament word “stauros,” which is translated into English as cross, can refer to a device of several shapes, commonly a single upright pole, “torture stake” or even tree. The Romans did not have a standard way of crucifying prisoners, and Josephus tells us that during the siege of Jerusalem, soldiers nailed or tied their victims in a variety of positions. Early Christians may have centered on the vertical pole with a crossbeam because it echoed the Egyptian ankh, a symbol of life, or the Sumerian symbol for Tammuz, or because it simply was more artistically and symbolically distinctive than the alternatives. Imagine millions of people wearing a golden pole on a chain around their necks.

4. Short, not tall. The typical Jewish man at the time of the Roman Empire would have been just over five feet tall, which makes this a best guess for the height of Jesus. That he is typically depicted taller derives from the mental challenge people have distinguishing physical stature from other kinds of stature. Great men are called “big men” and “larger than life.” In ancient times they often were assigned divine parentage and miraculous births, and the idea that Jesus was uniquely divine has created a strong pull over time to depict him as taller than is likely. A good illustration of this is the Shroud of Turin, which is just one of many such Jesus-shrouds that circulated during medieval times and which bears the image of a man closer to six feet in height.

5. Born in a house, not a stable. The miraculous birth story of Jesus is a late, maybe second-century addition to the Bible, and it contains many fascinating mythic elements and peculiarities. But the idea that Jesus was born in a stable was added to the Christmas story even later. In the original narrative, Joseph and Mary probably would have stayed with relatives, and the phrase “no room for them in the inn (gr: kataluma)” is better translated “no room for them in the upper room.” Later storytellers did not understand that people of the time might bring animals into their ground floor, as in Swiss housebarns, and they assumed that the presence of a manger implied a stable.

6. Named Joshua, not Jesus. The name Joshua (in Hebrew Y’hoshuʿa meaning “deliverance” or “salvation”), was common among Jews in the Ancient Near East as it is today. Joshua and Jesus are the same name, and are translated differently in our modern Bible to distinguish Jesus from the Joshua of the Old Testament, who leads the Hebrew people to the Promised Land. In actuality, the relationship between the two figures is fascinating and important. Some scholars believe that the New Testament gospels are mostly historicised and updated retellings of the more ancient Joshua story, with episodes interwoven from stories of Elisha and Elijah and Moses. A modern parallel can be found in the way Hollywood writers have reworked Shakespearean tropes and plot elements into dozens of modern movies (though for a very different purpose).

7. Number of apostles (12) from astrology, not history. Whether Jesus had 12 disciples who ranked above his other devotees is an open question, as their names vary from list to list. Since the Gospels echo the story of Joshua, the “12” apostles most immediately mirror the 12 tribes of Israel. But the number 12 was considered auspicious by many ancient people, including the Israelites, and the 189 repetitions of the number 12 in the Bible ultimately may derive from the same pre-historical roots as the 12 signs of the zodiac and 12 months of the year. Astrotheology or star worship preceded the Hebrew religion, and shaped both the Bible and world religions more broadly. One might point to the 12 Olympian gods or 12 sons of Odin, or 12 days of Christmas or 12 “legitimate” successors to the prophet Mohammed.

8. Prophecies recalled, not foretold. Even people who aren’t too sure about the divinity of Jesus sometimes think that the way he fulfilled prophecies was a bit spooky, like the writings of Nostradamus. In reality, Scooby Doo could solve this one in a single episode with three pieces of information: First, Old Testament prophecies were well-known to first-century Jews, and a messianic figure who wanted to fulfill some of these prophecies could simply do so. For example, in the book of Matthew, Jesus seeks a donkey to ride into Jerusalem “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 21:4). Second, “gospels” are a genre of devotional literature rather than objective histories, which means that the authors had every reason to shape their stories around earlier predictions. Third, scholars now believe that some Bible texts once thought to be prophecies (for example in the Book of Revelation) actually relate to events that were current or past at the time of writing.

9. Some Jesus quotes not from Jesus; others uncertain. Lists of favorite Jesus sayings abound online. Some of the most popular are the Beatitudes (blessed are the meek, etc.) or the story of the woman caught in adultery (let he who is without sin cast the first stone) or the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you, which, we are told, sums up the Law and the Prophets).

Thomas JeffersonWhich words are actually from Jesus? This question has been debated fiercely by everyone from third-century Catholic Councils to the 20th-century Jesus Seminar. Even Thomas Jefferson weighed in, but much remains unclear. The New Testament Gospels were written long after Jesus would have died, and no technology existed with which to record his teachings in real-time, unless he wrote them down himself, which he didn’t.

We can be confident that at least some of the wise and timeless words and catchy proverbs attributed to Jesus are actually from earlier or later thinkers. For example, the Golden Rule was articulated before the time of Christ by the Rabbi Hillel the Elder, who similarly said it was the “whole Torah.” By contrast, the much-loved story of the woman caught in adultery doesn’t appear in manuscripts until the fourth century. Attributing words (or whole texts) to a famous person was common in the Ancient Near East, because it gave those words extra weight. Small wonder then that so many genuinely valuable insights ended up, in one way or another, paired with the name of Jesus.

JesusThe person of Jesus, if indeed there was such a person, is shrouded in the fog of history leaving us only with a set of hunches and traditions that far too often are treated as knowledge. The “facts” I have listed here are largely trivial; it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was tall or short, or how he cut his hair. But it does matter, tremendously, that “facts” people claim to know about how Jesus saw himself, and God and humanity are equally tenuous.

The teachings attributed to Jesus mix enduring spiritual and moral insights with irrelevancies and Judaica and bits of Iron Age culture, some of which are truly awful. That leaves each of us, from the privileged vantage of the 21st century, with both a right and a responsibility to consider the evidence and make our own best guesses about what is real and how we should then live. A good starting place might be a little more recognition that we don’t know nearly as much as we’d like to think, and a lot of what we know for sure is probably wrong. – Salon, 14 May 2015

» Dr Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. As a writer she tackles the intersection between religious belief, psychology and politics, with a growing focus on women’s issues, and is actively engaged in dialogue that aims to find common ground between theists and freethinkers, in particular by focusing on humanity’s shared moral core. She is a founder of WisdomCommons.org, an interactive site that allows users to find and discuss information about virtues that emerge repeatedly across secular and religious wisdom traditions.

Workers lift the head of a giant idol of Jesus the King onto its body in Swiebodzin, Poland

See also

Testimonium Flavianum: The Jesus passage in Josephus is a forgery, says expert – D.M. Murdock

D.M. Murdock / Acharya Sanning“In the end, it can be argued convincingly that the Testimonium Flavianum as a whole is a forgery and therefore does not provide evidence for a historical Jesus of Nazareth crucified during the reign of Pontius Pilate.” – D.M. Murdock

Titus Flavius JosephusThe passage about Jesus Christ in Jewish historian Josephus’s writings (Antiquities 18.3.3/63) has been debated for centuries, as concerns its authenticity totally, partially or not at all. This brief Testimonium Flavianum (TF) is put forth by Christian apologists as the “best evidence” for the historicity of Jesus, but it has been declared many times to be a forgery in toto. A recent study by a renowned linguist confirms this analysis of the entire passage as an interpolation by a Christian scribe, likely during the fourth century.

The most popular view of the Testimonium these days among critical scholars is the “partial interpolation theory,” which posits that a number of Christian-sounding phrases were inserted into the passage, which is nonetheless original to Josephus. Nevertheless, many scholars, historians, researchers and writers over the past centuries have held to the analysis that the Testimonium in toto is an interpolation into the text by a later Christian hand.

Most of the reasons for questioning the TF’s authenticity can be found in my book Who Was Jesus? and articles “The Jesus Forgery: Josephus Untangled” and “Does Josephus prove a historical Jesus?” Suffice it to say that there are a dozen or so scientific and convincing arguments against authenticity, including its abrupt introduction into the text and its omission in early Christian writings, as well as its pious language.

However, this pious language is not simply part of the supposed Christian insertions postulated by the partial interpolation theory but is present in the entire passage. The recent linguistic examination of the Testimonium’s original Greek shows the assessment Prof Paul J. Hopperof the entire passage as an interpolation to be correct, as it gives other scientific reasons to view the whole TF as a Christian profession of faith, rather than a report by a sober historian.

The author of this study published in 2014 is a professor of Humanities at Carnegie Mellon University, Dr. Paul J. Hopper, a longtime scholar who has been publishing peer-reviewed articles in journals for over 40 years. Hopper’s linguistic analysis of the TF in his article “A Narrative Anomaly in Josephus” is definitive and adds significantly to the numerous other arguments against the passage’s authenticity evinced over the centuries.

In this regard, Hopper comments:

It is suggested that the Jesus passage is close in style and content to the creeds that were composed two to three centuries after Josephus.

He further explains:

The Testimonium itself is, when compared to the surrounding episodes, unusually short. Its very brevity is a suspicious feature, one that has led some defenders of its authenticity to suggest that while parts of the text are genuinely Josephan, the text has been tampered with by later Christians wanting to erase scandalous content.… In fact, however, the syntax of the Testimonium does not display the kinds of discontinuities we might expect to find if substantial changes such as major deletions or insertions had been made.

Here the linguist states that the syntax or arrangement of words and phrases of the TF shows no sign of either removals or insertions, the former put forth to explain the TF’s brevity and the latter as in the partial interpolation theory.

After discussing the history of TF criticism, Hopper concludes:

There is, then, reason to suspect that the Jesus episode is a later insertion, dating from more than two hundred years after Josephus’s death, and probably absent from most manuscripts of the Jewish Antiquities until even later.

Jesus the New ApolloThe Testimonium’s syntax and morphology indicate it was written as an apology or profession of faith, rather than a historical report. The passage seems to be addressing criticisms, as if written for those who had challenged Christian doctrine at some point after the religion had been established. Its structure reflects protest, and “Methinks it doth protest too much.”

The problems with the TF, therefore, go beyond a few Christian-sounding interpolations and extend to the syntax of the sentences themselves. To wit, they are composed not in typical narrative styles, but resemble more closely the writings of early Church fathers and apologists of succeeding centuries.

As concerns plot, the TF as a whole represents a summary of the gospel story, as recounted in the New Testament, not drawn from separate historical reports or oral history. As Hopper remarks:

… It is from the Gospels, and the Gospels alone, that the Jesus Christ narrative in the Testimonium draws its coherence and its legitimacy as a plot, and perhaps even some of its language. It is not just that the Christian origin of the Testimonium is betrayed by its allegiance to the Gospels, as that without the Gospels the passage is incomprehensible. … The Testimonium does not so much narrate to first century Romans new events, but rather reminds third century Christians of events already familiar to them.

The evident Christian context of the TF speaks also to genre or category of subject matter, likewise examined by Hopper, who states:

The Testimonium is anchored in a radically different discourse community from that of the rest of the Jewish Antiquities. The Testimonium reads more like a position paper, a party manifesto, than a narrative….

Nicaean CreedAgain, the Testimonium Flavianum as a whole sounds like a Christian “political statement,” creed or profession of faith, precisely as so many have averred in the past.

Hopper next says that the “closest generic match for the Testimonium is perhaps the various creeds that began to be formulated in the early fourth century, such as the Nicene Creed (325 CE).”

Hopper’s linguistic analysis is yet another nail in the Testimonium coffin and should convince fence-sitters, although Christian apologists likely will never relinquish this “best evidence” because without it their claims to historicity are threadbare indeed.

In conclusion, Hopper states:

The narrative grammar of the Testimonium Flavianum sets it sharply apart from Josephus’s other stories of the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate. The most likely explanation is that the entire passage is interpolated, presumably by Christians…

In the end, it can be argued convincingly that the Testimonium Flavianum as a whole is a forgery and therefore does not provide evidence for a historical Jesus of Nazareth crucified during the reign of Pontius Pilate. – Examiner, 9 February 2015

See also

» A longer and more in-depth analysis of Paul J. Hopper’s work on the Testimonium Flavianum can be found at Josephus’s Testimonium Flavianum Examined Linguistically: Greek Analysis Demonstrates the Passage a Forgery In Toto. See also Jesus passage in Josephus a forgery.

» Dorothy M. Murdock, also known by her pen name Acharya S, is an American author and proponent of the Christ myth theory. She writes books, and operates a website named Truth be Known. She argues that Christianity is founded on earlier myths and the characters depicted in Christianity are based upon Roman, Greek, Egyptian, and other myths.

Jesus of the Gospels: A mythological figure – Chris Sosa

Chris Sosa“The arguments Christian scholars offer in favour of Jesus’ existence, from Flavius Josephus to later figures like Tacitus, and Justin Martyr, all disintegrate upon close examination. Dan Barker gives a strong argument against their proposed ‘evidences’ of Jesus’ existence in his excellent book Godless.” – Chris Sosa

Jesus the Imaginary Friend America has a curious fixation on the perspectives of Jesus Christ in the formation of public opinion, especially on prominent issues of social values. In recent days, protesters have taken to defending opposing moral positions by claiming Jesus held their viewpoint. Aside from the obvious problem of using a single historical figure as a moral barometer, there’s another troubling issue at hand: Folks are arguing about the opinions of an ancient person without stopping to verify his existence.

Allow me to explain. I’m not explicitly arguing there couldn’t have existed a man named Jesus who had a handful of followers, although that isn’t outside the realm of possibility. But the Jesus of Christianity presents some challenges in being understood as a literal figure within history.

Let’s begin with the largest problem: There does not exist a singular Jesus of the Bible. Each of the Gospels (and for that matter the writings of Paul) present a portrait of Jesus that disagrees with the others on basic facts, starting with the circumstances of his own birth.

When was he born? That’s a trickier question than it should be. Grab a bible and read along. According to Luke, that would be during the first census of Israel by Quirinius, governor of Syria (Luke 2:2). According to Matthew, that would be during the reign of Herod the GreatHerod the Great (Matthew 2:1). The problem? Quirinius’ census got underway in 6 CE. Herod had been dead for a good decade. Apologists occasionally try to wiggle their way out of this one by manipulating the text. But serious scholars, including believers, acknowledge the discrepancy.

Let’s check out the resurrection of Jesus. The oldest Gospel, Mark, does not say that Jesus resurrected at all in its original form. The resurrection was added at a later date. Most bibles even footnote within the text that the resurrection portion does not appear in the “earliest manuscripts.” My childhood bible, an Evangelical-approved NIV translation, actually drew a line dividing the portion from the rest of the text.

All four Gospels do reference an empty tomb. But not a single one agrees with the others on who actually saw it (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 23-4, John 20). Mary is either alone, with another Mary, also with Salome or maybe with Joanna too? It seems we’re dealing with an unreliable narrator.

We’ve established that no one really has a clue what year Jesus was born or who exactly discovered his supposedly empty tomb after he died, assuming anyone did at all. But surely everyone can agree on his ascent to Heaven, right? It was a rather fantastical public display.

Bible & CrossUnfortunately, the Gospels can’t even agree on this. In Luke, his ascension occurs in Bethany the day he resurrected (Luke 24). In Acts, a canonical book of the New Testament, he ascends from Mount Olives forty days after resurrecting (Acts 1). Oh, well.

While all of these discrepancies are highly problematic, at least Jesus remains a figure of consistent character throughout the Gospels. Or not. The character has an ethical sensibility that could be described as “confused” at best.

None of the contradictions by anonymous Gospel writers negate the existence of Jesus. However, since no coherent vision of his life exists, it doesn’t seem all that important whether he lived or not. But let’s press on for curiosity’s sake.

What about the historical evidence for Jesus? We’ll check in with New Testament scholar and James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Bart Ehrman. I bet he can clear this up.

There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp 56-57 of Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium) 

Attis of PhrygiaMany Christian scholars will scoff at the preceding paragraph. But the outside arguments they offer in favor of Jesus’ existence, from Flavius Josephus to later figures like Tacitus, and Justin Martyr, all disintegrate upon close examination. Dan Barker gives a strong argument against their proposed “evidences” of Jesus’ existence in his excellent book Godless.

I could go on for hundreds of pages about the contradictions and historical problems of the Jesus narrative. But it’s quite unnecessary. The Jesus of Christianity is clearly a mythological figure. He’s not even an original. – HuffPost

» Chris Sosa is a managing journalist for Inside.com. He previously served as a national editor for EDGE Publications.

» See New Research: Josephus’s Testimony Examined Linguistically Demonstrates the Passage a Forgery in Toto

The evidence for a historical Jesus just doesn’t add up – Raphael Lataster

Raphael  Lataster“The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith. These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them.” – Dr Raphael Lataster

Jesus by El GrecoDid a man called Jesus of Nazareth walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the “Historical Jesus” actually existed primarily reflect disagreements among atheists. Believers, who uphold the implausible and more easily-dismissed “Christ of Faith” (the divine Jesus who walked on water), ought not to get involved.

Numerous secular scholars have presented their own versions of the so-called “Historical Jesus” – and most of them are, as biblical scholar J. D. Crossan puts it, “an academic embarrassment”.

From Crossan’s view of Jesus as the wise sage, to Robert Eisenman’s Jesus the revolutionary, and Bart Ehrman’s apocalyptic prophet, about the only thing New Testament scholars seem to agree on is Jesus’ historical existence. But can even that be questioned?

The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith.

These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify.

Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.

Paul burning books at EphesusThe methods traditionally used to tease out rare nuggets of truth from the Gospels are dubious.

The criterion of embarrassment says that if a section would be embarrassing for the author, it is more likely authentic. Unfortunately, given the diverse nature of Christianity and Judaism back then (things have not changed all that much), and the anonymity of the authors, it is impossible to determine what truly would be embarrassing or counter-intuitive, let alone if that might not serve some evangelistic purpose.

The criterion of Aramaic context is similarly unhelpful. Jesus and his closest followers were surely not the only Aramaic-speakers in first-century Judea.

The criterion of multiple independent attestation can also hardly be used properly here, given that the sources clearly are not independent.

Paul’s Epistles, written earlier than the Gospels, give us no reason to dogmatically declare Jesus must have existed. Avoiding Jesus’ earthly events and teachings, even when the latter could have bolstered his own claims, Paul only describes his “Heavenly Jesus”.

Even when discussing what appear to be the resurrection and the last supper, his only stated sources are his direct revelations from the Lord, and his indirect revelations from the Old Testament. In fact, Paul actually rules out human sources (see Galatians 1:11-12).

Also important are the sources we don’t have. There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses, most of whom are obviously biased.

TacitusLittle can be gleaned from the few non-Biblical and non-Christian sources, with only Roman scholar Josephus and historian Tacitus having any reasonable claim to be writing about Jesus within 100 years of his life.

And even those sparse accounts are shrouded in controversy, with disagreements over what parts have obviously been changed by Christian scribes (the manuscripts were preserved by Christians), the fact that both these authors were born after Jesus died (they would thus have probably received this information from Christians), and the oddity that centuries go by before Christian apologists start referencing them.

Agnosticism over the matter is already seemingly appropriate, and support for this position comes from independent historian Richard Carrier’s recent defence of another theory. Namely, that the belief in Jesus started as the belief in a purely celestial being (who was killed by demons in an upper realm), who became historicised over time.

To summarise Carrier’s 800-page tome, this theory and the traditional theory – that Jesus was a historical figure who became mythicised over time – both align well with the Gospels, which are later mixtures of obvious myth and what at least “sounds” historical.

The Pauline Epistles, however, overwhelmingly support the “celestial Jesus” theory, particularly with the passage indicating that demons killed Jesus, and would not have done so if they knew who he was (see: 1 Corinthians 2:6-10).

Humans – the murderers according to the Gospels – of course would still have killed Jesus, knowing full well that his death results in their salvation, and the defeat of the evil spirits.

JesusSo what do the mainstream (and non-Christian) scholars say about all this? Surprisingly very little; of substance anyway. Only Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey have thoroughly attempted to prove Jesus’ historical existence in recent times.

Their most decisive point? The Gospels can generally be trusted – after we ignore the many, many bits that are untrustworthy – because of the hypothetical (i.e. non-existent) sources behind them.

Who produced these hypothetical sources? When? What did they say? Were they reliable? Were they intended to be accurate historical portrayals, enlightening allegories, or entertaining fictions?

Ehrman and Casey can’t tell you – and neither can any New Testament scholar.

Given the poor state of the existing sources, and the atrocious methods used by mainstream Biblical historians, the matter will likely never be resolved. In sum, there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence – if not to think it outright improbable. – The Conversation, 15 December 2014

» Dr Raphael Lataster is Tutor in Religious Studies at University of Sydney and the author of There Was No Jesus, There Is No God.

Julian the Apostate presiding at a conference of Christians.

It is, I think, expedient to set forth to all mankind
the reasons by which I was convinced that
the fabrication of the [Christians] 
is a fiction of men composed by wickedness.
Though it has in it nothing divine,
by making full use of that part of the soul
which loves fable and is childish and foolish,
it has induced men to believe
that the monstrous tale is truth.
— Emperor Julian (331–363 CE)

Five reasons to suspect that Jesus never existed – Valerie Tarico

Nativity Display Vatican 2014

Dr Valerie Tarico“The arguments on both sides of this question—mythologized history or historicized mythology—fill volumes, and if anything the debate seems to be heating up rather than resolving. A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity. Since many people, both Christian and not, find it surprising that this debate even exists—that credible scholars might think Jesus never existed—here are some of the key points that keep the doubts alive.” – Dr Valerie Tarico

Joseph with the Infant Jesus by Guido ReniMost antiquities scholars think that the New Testament gospels are “mythologized history.” In other words, they think that around the start of the first century a controversial Jewish rabbi named Yeshua ben Yosef gathered a following and his life and teachings provided the seed that grew into Christianity.

At the same time, these scholars acknowledge that many Bible stories like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and women at the tomb borrow and rework mythic themes that were common in the Ancient Near East, much the way that screenwriters base new movies on old familiar tropes or plot elements. In this view, a “historical Jesus” became mythologized.

For over 200 years, a wide-ranging array of theologians and historians—most of them Christian—analyzed ancient texts, both those that made it into the Bible and those that didn’t, in attempts to excavate the man behind the myth. Several current or recent bestsellers take this approach, distilling the scholarship for a popular audience. Familiar titles include Zealot by Reza Aslan and How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman.

But other scholars believe that the gospel stories are actually “historicized mythology.” In this view, those ancient mythic templates are themselves the kernel. They got filled in with names, places and other real world details as early sects of Jesus worship attempted to understand and defend the devotional traditions they had received.

David FitzgeraldThe notion that Jesus never existed is a minority position. Of course it is! says David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All. For centuries all serious scholars of Christianity were Christians themselves, and modern secular scholars lean heavily on the groundwork that they laid in collecting, preserving, and analyzing ancient texts. Even today most secular scholars come out of a religious background, and many operate by default under historical presumptions of their former faith.

Fitzgerald is an atheist speaker and writer, popular with secular students and community groups. The internet phenomenon, Zeitgeist the Movie introduced millions to some of the mythic roots of Christianity. But Zeitgeist and similar works contain known errors and oversimplifications that undermine their credibility. Fitzgerald seeks to correct that by giving young people interesting, accessible information that is grounded in accountable scholarship.

More academic arguments in support of the Jesus myth theory can be found in the writings of Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Carrier, who has a Ph.D. in ancient history uses the tools of his trade to show, among other things, how Christianity might have gotten off the ground without a miracle. Price, by contrast, writes from the perspective of a theologian whose biblical scholarship ultimately formed the basis for his skepticism. It is interesting to note that some of the harshest debunkers of fringe Jesus myth theories like those from Zeitgeist or Joseph Atwill (who tries to argue that the Romans invented Jesus) are from serious mythicists like Fitzgerald, Carrier and Price.

Isis & Horus / Mary & JesusThe arguments on both sides of this question—mythologized history or historicized mythology—fill volumes, and if anything the debate seems to be heating up rather than resolving. A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity. Since many people, both Christian and not, find it surprising that this debate even exists—that credible scholars might think Jesus never existed—here are some of the key points that keep the doubts alive:

1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef. In the words of Bart Ehrman: “What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp. 56-57)

2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts. Paul seems unaware of any virgin birth, for example. No wise men, no star in the east, no miracles. Historians have long puzzled over the “Silence of Paul” on the most basic biographical facts and teachings of Jesus. Paul fails to cite Jesus’ authority precisely when it would make his case. What’s more, he never calls the twelve apostles Jesus’ disciples; in fact, he never says Jesus HAD disciples –or a ministry, or did miracles, or gave teachings. He virtually refuses to disclose any other biographical detail, and the few cryptic hints he offers aren’t just vague, but contradict the gospels. The leaders of the early Christian movement in Jerusalem like Peter and James are supposedly Jesus’ own followers and family; but Paul dismisses them as nobodies and repeatedly opposes them for not being true Christians!

Liberal theologian Marcus Borg suggests that people read the books of the New Testament in chronological order to see how early Christianity unfolded. “Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel — the good news — of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.”

3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts. We now know that the four gospels were assigned the names of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not written by them. To make matter sketchier, the name designations happened sometime in second century, around 100 years or more after Christianity supposedly began. For a variety of reasons, the practice of pseudonymous writing was common at the time and many contemporary documents are “signed” by famous figures. The same is true of the New Testament epistles except for a handful of letters from Paul (6 out of 13) which are broadly thought to be genuine. But even the gospel stories don’t actually say, “I was there.” Rather, they claim the existence of other witnesses, a phenomenon familiar to anyone who has heard the phrase, my aunt knew someone who . . . .

4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other. If you think you know the Jesus story pretty well, I suggest that you pause at this point to test yourself with the 20 question quiz at ExChristian.net.

The gospel of Mark is thought to be the earliest existing “life of Jesus,” and linguistic analysis suggests that Luke and Matthew both simply reworked Mark and added their own corrections and new material. But they contradict each other and, to an even greater degree contradict the much later gospel of John, because they were written with different objectives for different audiences. The incompatible Easter stories offer one example of how much the stories disagree.

5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons. They include a cynic philosopher, charismatic Hasid, liberal Pharisee, conservative rabbi, Zealot revolutionary, non-violent pacifist to borrow from a much longer list assembled by Price. In his words (pp. 15-16), “The historical Jesus (if there was one) might well have been a messianic king, or a progressive Pharisee, or a Galilean shaman, or a magus, or a Hellenistic sage. But he cannot very well have been all of them at the same time.” John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar grumbles that “the stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment.”

Thomas JeffersonFor David Fitzgerald, these issues and more lead to a conclusion that he finds inescapable:

Jesus appears to be an effect, not a cause, of Christianity. Paul and the rest of the first generation of Christians searched the Septuagint translation of Hebrew scriptures to create a mystery faith for the Jews, complete with pagan rituals like a Lord’s Supper, Gnostic terms in his letters, and a personal savior god to rival those in their neighbors’ longstanding Egyptian, Persian, Hellenistic and Roman traditions.

In a soon-to-be-released follow-up to Nailed, entitled Jesus: Mything in Action, Fitzgerald argues that the many competing versions proposed by secular scholars are just as problematic as any “Jesus of Faith:” Even if one accepts that there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, the question has little practical meaning: Regardless of whether or not a first century rabbi called Yeshua ben Yosef lived, the “historical Jesus” figures so patiently excavated and re-assembled by secular scholars are themselves fictions.

We may never know for certain what put Christian history in motion. Only time (or perhaps time travel) will tell. – Salon, 1 September 2014

Joseph & Mary

Researchers claim Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered children – Harry Mount

Jesus with wife Mary Magdalene and Kids

Harry Mount“The Jacobovici-Wilson theory is based on the claims that this ‘lost’ gospel and the ‘encrypted’ story of Jesus’s marriage was the work of a group of persecuted Christians. It apparently disappeared from public view around 325 AD. It was at the time that the then Roman emperor Constantine — the first Christian emperor — was said to have ordered all other gospels to be destroyed, leaving only Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to tell Jesus’s story because their version fitted with Constantine’s view of Christianity.” – Harry Mount

Simcha JacoboviciDid Jesus Christ marry Mary Magdalene and have children with her? Surely, you’re thinking, that’s the kind of sensationalist mumbo-jumbo you find only in the pages of fiction.

In fact, The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s 2003 best-selling thriller, was hinged on that very premise: a secret bloodline had sprung from the union between Jesus and Mary.

But now the authors of a new book, The Lost Gospel, claim to have unearthed evidence of a manuscript which tells the story of Jesus’s two sons and his marriage to Mary, one of his closest followers, who was at his crucifixion, burial and the discovery of his empty tomb.  

Prof Barrie WilsonOf course, there have been various discoveries of “new” gospels over the years and allegations about a romantic relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene have persisted for centuries.

Indeed, they have frequently been explored in popular culture. For example, in the Fifties, the book The Last Temptation Of Christ suggested that the pair married after Jesus was taken down from the cross. Martin Scorsese turned the idea into a film of the same name in 1988.

However, this new book focuses on a story to be found in a manuscript dating back to 570 AD and written in Syriac — a Middle Eastern literary language used between the 4th and 8th centuries and related to Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. 

Written on vellum — treated animal skin — it had been in the archives of the British Library for about 20 years, where it was put after the British Museum had originally bought it in 1847 from a dealer who said he had obtained it from the ancient St Macarius Monastery in Egypt.

For the past 160 years, the document has been studied by a few scholars but has been considered pretty unremarkable.

But then Simcha Jacobovici, an Israeli-Canadian film-maker, and Barrie Wilson, a professor of religious studies in Toronto, took a look. After six years of study, they are convinced they’ve uncovered a missing fifth gospel — to add to the four gospels, which tell the story of the life of Christ and are said to have been written by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in the 1st century AD.

If true, this would make it the greatest revelation into the life of Jesus in nearly 2,000 years. Jacobovici claims the manuscript, which is 29 chapters long, is a 6th century copy of another 1st-century gospel and casts parts of the Bible in a very different light.

Later this week, he will present his findings at a conference hosted by the British Library.

Joseph & AsenathLike the fictional The Da Vinci Code, which had its hero scouring works of art for secret, religious messages, the document is in code. According to Jacobovici and Wilson, it tells of Jesus’s marriage through the story of the Old Testament character Joseph and his wife Asenath.

Jacobovici decided to look more deeply into Joseph and Asenath, when he compared their story with other Old Testament tales.

In order to test the British Library documents, the researchers used hi-tech digital imaging to photograph them 13 times. They then got the manuscript translated for the first time from Syriac into English.

There have been other, later, versions of the Joseph and Asenath story, written in Latin and Greek, which have been preserved in monasteries. But by returning to the ancient Syriac, Wilson and Jacobovici say it was possible to read the text as it was intended and to decode the hidden story.

Central to their claim is that Joseph was actually Jesus — and that Asenath was actually Mary Magdalene.

The new translation, according to Jacobovici and Wilson, records that the Pharaoh of Egypt officiated at the wedding between the couple, saying to Asenath: “Blessed are you by the Lord God of Joseph, because he is the first-born of God, and you will be called the Daughter of God Most High and the bride of Joseph now and for ever.” 

After a seven-day wedding feast, the text is said to read: “Joseph had intercourse with Asenath…. And Asenath conceived from Joseph and gave birth to Manasseh and his brother Ephraim in Joseph’s house.”

And so, could centuries of Christian teaching be wrong and that Jesus was a husband and father?

There are many, many more pieces of the jigsaw to be put together before this can be proved conclusively.

The theory is based on the claims that this “lost” gospel and the “encrypted” story of Jesus’s marriage was the work of a group of persecuted Christians. It apparently disappeared from public view around 325 AD.

Constantine IIt was at the time that the then Roman emperor Constantine — the first Christian emperor — was said to have ordered all other gospels to be destroyed, leaving only Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to tell Jesus’s story because their version fitted with Constantine’s view of Christianity.

“Since then, people have found bits and pieces of those other [destroyed] gospels,” says Jacobovici. “They usually come up through the antiquities market and they’re attacked as forgeries. Or they’re just a few lines.”

But the British Library manuscript, he says, “is a full-blown gospel.”

He and his colleague Wilson point to several clues that they say give away its true meaning. Principally, the story about Joseph has little connection with other Old Testament stories about a man who is best-known for the tale of his murderous brothers, which inspired the popular musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

What’s more, Joseph is often seen in early Syriac Christianity as a symbol of Jesus. The manuscript calls Joseph — like Jesus — the son of God.

At one point in the British Library manuscript, an angel-like figure marks a piece of honeycomb in blood with the sign of the cross. When Asenath — purportedly the Mary Magdalene figure — eats a piece of honeycomb, the angel tells her: ‘So now you have eaten the bread of life and drunk the cup of life.’

The parallels with Christian Holy Communion, according to Jacobovici, means that this is a ‘Christian text’.

The document is also preceded by a covering letter, written in the 6th century by the man who translated the document from its original Greek into Syriac.

It says the document has an “inner meaning” about “our Lord, our God, the Word.”

But just at the point when it seems as if the text’s hidden inner meaning is about to be disclosed, there is a big tear in the manuscript — suggesting someone deliberately censored the revelation that was to follow.

“There is a cut across the page, right through a line of Syriac writing,” Jacobovici and Wilson say. “This indicates that the section is missing, not because of deterioration but because of censorship.”

While some academics agree that it is possible that others gospels — recounting Jesus’s marriage — may have existed but since been lost, others are adamant that the idea is a complete nonsense.

History is littered with such debates.

In 1213, for example, a chronicle recorded that the inhabitants of Béziers, in southern France, had been burned alive four years earlier for “their scandalous assertion that Mary Magdalene and Christ were lovers.” A different story — that Mary was a prostitute — was proposed by scholars who merged her identity with the unnamed sinner who anoints Jesus’s feet in Luke’s gospel. However, this interpretation has almost universally been discounted.

Karen King with 4th century Coptic papyrusJust two years ago, Harvard professor Karen L. King declared that she’d found a papyrus fragment — thought to be from Egypt — called The Gospel Of Jesus’s Wife. In it, there were four words, written in Coptic (an Egyptian language), saying: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife ….'”

Jacobovici believes that his ‘lost gospel’ supports Professor King’s studies.

He is also convinced the story of Jesus’s marriage is already incorporated into Dr. Barbara Thieringfour gospels in the New Testament.

He says: “Jesus is called a ‘rabbi’ in the gospels. And a rabbi, to this day, in order to have a congregation and a ministry, has to be married. If he’s going to lead a congregation, he’s got to be a model for that congregation. In the first century, you reach manhood — you get married.”

And therefore, he insists, there can be “no question” that, even in the established gospels, Jesus must have a wife.

To emphasise his belief that Mary of Magdalene was Jesus’s wife, he describes her decision to visit his body on the Sunday after the Crucifixion. “The gospels told us why she went there — to wash and anoint his body. She’s just a follower and yet she’s going to unwrap his naked body? Women do not wash rabbis or male bodies. Only males do it — unless you are the man’s wife.”

Equally intriguingly, Jacobovici and Wilson claim there was a plot to kill Jesus by a love rival 13 years before the Crucifixion.

They say that the manuscript says the Pharaoh’s son wanted to marry Asenath and planned to kill Joseph and their children, but was foiled by Joseph’s brothers. Jacobovici identifies the man as Roman emperor Tiberius’s adopted son Germanicus, who was in Galilee when Jesus was there.

This rewriting of the greatest story ever told has, understandably, led the publisher to compare the book by Jacobovici and Wilson to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the ancient Biblical papyri found in caves in the West Bank which contain passages from the Old Testament.

“If you look at the cumulative evidence for Jesus’s marriage, it’s getting overwhelming,” says Jacobovici. “This new discovery is probably the most important piece.

Prof Diarmaid MacCulloch“Its provenance is known, sitting in the British Library all these years. It’s not crazy to say it’s a copy of a work from the first century — many scholars say it is. And it’s not nuts to say it’s Christian — as many scholars have said.”

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of Christian historians are not convinced.

Typical is Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of the history of the church at Oxford University. He says the “lost gospel” claims sound “like the deepest bilge,” adding: “I’m very surprised that the British Library gives these authors houseroom.”

As for the British Library itself, staff have refused to endorse the new book.

Undaunted, Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson insist: ‘The only way there is no evidence is if you keep ignoring the evidence.”

But they still have a huge amount of convincing to do — particularly to the Church of England which naturally scoffs at the claims, dismissing them as closer to popular fiction and sharing more with The Da Vinci Code than the historical records of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. – The Mail, 9 November 2014

The Lost Gospel by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson is published by Pegasus Books.  

British Museum manuscript dating back to 570 AD and written in Syriac was originally obtained from St Macarius Monastery in Egypt in 1847

IS-SDS AvatarEnd Note: Of course, we do not know if such a man as Jesus ever lived. The best Christian scholars have not been able to give us any proofs. And the history of the compilation of the Bible is now so well known that its contents cannot be taken as factual. So whether Jesus had a wife—or two according to Biblical exegete and theologist Barbara Thiering—is really neither here nor there. He is described in pious tales as a rabbi and in Jewish society from ancient times till today, there is no such thing as an unmarried rabbi. But the evidence produced for Jesus’s wife—first or second we do not know—is not yet proved, and the scholars involved are a curious couple who may have a bone to pick with a misogynistic Church. Their perhaps unreal theory is timely evidence that there is a push to put ladies in the Roman pulpit. And there is the other angle: if Jesus had a  real wife, then he must have been a real husband too. So a failing Christian Church in a  Europe that has gone beyond belief gets a historical boon: a real historical Jesus and—never mind true believers!—a real historical wife too. As least she is historical and not hysterical. Socrates, the greater man altogether and the one we should follow, had to suffer a hysterical wife (who was also historical without need of a vellum certificate). – Editor

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