Saturday, October 12, 2013

Was Jesus an invention of Roman writers?

Here is a provocative conspiracy theory: Jesus was an invention of Roman writers seeking to subvert Jewish resistance. He never existed. Or as Bible theorist Joseph Atwill suggests, Jesus "may be the only fictional character in literature whose entire life story can be traced to other sources. Once those sources are all laid bare, there's simply nothing left." You can read a press release explaining the theory here.

The problem with Atwill's theory (other than the fact that it ruins another provocative conspiracy theory, Holy Blood, Holy Grail) is that there are more convincing, less sensational explanations for the resemblances between the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the writings of the Roman historian Josephus. Or so argues Robert M. Price, in his review.

Price points out that many other authors have offered theories similar to Atwell's, writing that "...somewhat similar theories of a Roman origin of Christianity and of Jesus have been proposed by Abelard Reuchlin (whose notorious 1979 booklet The True Authorship of the New Testament strikingly anticipates Atwill’s at several points), Margaret Morrison (Jesus Augustus), Cliff Carrington (who also ascribes the gospels to the Flavians), and Stephan Hermann Huller (Marcus Agrippa, etc.). We might find that one of these alternative theories of Roman origins explains many of the same things Atwill’s does, and without the disadvantages."


supergee said...

I still prefer the hallucinogenic mushroom theory.

michael said...

The John Allegro mushroom idea seems underrated; I've found most xtians I've talked to have never heard of it. Not even close.

Then there's the Jesus was a Space Alien time-traveler.

My favorite is the anarchist-like Jesus as found in Jacques Ellul.

I also like the idea that Pilate was in on a conspiracy and let Jesus off (literally) before he died on the condition he go into exile and never return as a community organizer. So he traveled to India, China, and then retired at a ripe old age in the south of France, the father of children.

fyreflye said...

All hippie fantasies aside, this is the best 800 page study of Jesus Myth theories. Robert Price himself has a good book on the subject but he and everyone else borrows from Earl Doherty. The publication next year of Richard Carrier's peer reviewed study of the same material will bring Jesus Mythicism into the mainstream. Not that the minds of many believers will be changed.

Drew Zi said...

Jesus figure in gnosticism is more interesting than in either Christian study or academic study. (cf: Ialdabaoth. further reading could possibly include Job by heinlein), sorry to change the subject from literal to figurative. I think Wilson hinted at this many times, especcially with his tengential readings of israel regardie.

Drew Zi said...

Two other works are important here: Snail and Squed by Richard Miller. They cover the same material but not comprehensively. Richard Miller is one of my favorite authors. nearly unknown, and scandalously underrated.

fyreflye said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Illiaminated said...

I always find it interesting that lots of the most hardcore skeptics (and atheists) still accept Jesus' existence as historical fact. To me, this just underlines that they're not skeptics but rather dogmatic defenders of consensus knowledge. Check out wikipedia (which has become a skeptical mouthpiece) and it's weak criticisms of Jesus as myth as an example.

Drew Zi said...

Does the (possible non-)existence of Jesus ever put into question the teachings that are attributed to him?

I would be inclined to see jesus (whether he existed or not) as a good starting point for discussion of ethical viewpoints.

I am actually not a skeptic in the strict sense of the word; to me skepticism comes out of a dissatisfaction with the jutsificationist view of epistemological investigation; people are skeptics, because they believe that any grounds that make any particular explanation of something possible cannot make that same explanation certain, therefore knowledge is impossible. Which I disagree with. I think if you disagree with this line of argument, you could still claim to be a skeptic, but only in the most general sense of the word. I would be more inclined to say that if you do not agree with that line of argument, you are a "fallibilist".

Illiaminated said...

Hi Drew, i think most people in the modern age who describe themselves as skeptics are neither skeptical or even fallibilists (thanks for that word by the way!) but are omnipotent cause they seem to know what is and isn't possible and will immediately dismiss scientific research with which they have not been involved in if it contradicts what they already 'know'.

For example, in Australia we have a great show that is a self appointed monitor of mainstream media called Media Watch. Usually it spends it's time on worthwhile causes such as exposing biases and hidden sponsorships of key media commentators. A few weeks ago the host got in a twist because newspapers around the world reported on a team from the University of Sheffield claimed to have found evidence of alien life in the earth's atmosphere. For someone who advocates freedom of the press he seemed pissed off that reputable newspapers would even print this 'bad science'. He even used Randi to back up his opinion. Obviously he had not accessed or reviewed the information the university team had used, he just KNEW that it couldn't be true. This is the position of the modern skeptic. Omnipotent on the subject of the extra-normal.

Drew Zi said...

Yes, that kind of attitude is what Wilson called Pseudo-scpeticism. I agree there is a lot of that around. Scientists, to me, should be taking Popper's view, not the view he is attributed by mainstream philosophers, but a view that will emerge after careful reading of his first (published) work: falsification in contradistinction to naive falsification.

Someone who advocates freedom of press still has the right to criticise what any press or media might publish. Your point about him not reading the same information as the university is a good point, because he cannot criticise the newspaper, I think, on the basis of the study being bad science - he and the newspaper aren't to judge - but he could criticise the newspaper on the choice it made because they do not know enough themselves to judge whether it is relevant, and so they can be accused of sensationalising. and if randi wants a say so, he should write a formal criticism of it.

On a side note: I studied a foundation course at the University of Sheffield, finished last year.