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The Jesus Puzzle:
Did Christianity Begin with a mythical Christ?

Reviewed by Acharya S/D.M. Murdock

On the cover of Earl Doherty's book, The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a mythical Christ? is a blurb from a reader of Doherty's earlier online version: "You present nothing new here that your master, Satan, has not previously used to deceive the simple." In reality, neither does this zealous critic present anything new, as this sinister sentiment has been slung since Day One at those who do not blindly believe every priestly huckster who comes along. Such an acrimonious response, in fact, ranks right up there with "Your [sic] gonna burn in hell," in intelligence and efficacy in refuting scholarly challenges to ludicrous biblical claims.

It is a constant source of amazement to "freethinkers," rationalists and assorted (other) scholars and scientists that it is considered virtuous to blindly believe in the words of a man or a group of men concerning the matters of "faith" and "religion," when, if religion were to have any meaning at all, it would be about reality, honesty and integrity. There is little honest or righteous about blindly accepting and then promulgating beliefs one has not thoroughly investigated. Such behavior—and subsequent name-calling and threats when the sale of these sacrosanct shoddy goods falls through—should be considered the realm of the con artist, rather than that of a seeker of truth.

There is nothing reasonable about accepting a story on its face value - particularly if it defies logic and the laws of nature. And from beginning to end the gospel tale does just that. It is a cruel tale that reveals a deranged god. And a tale not even original to Christianity but falsely presented as such. In actuality, the gospel story has been demonstrated repeatedly to be a mishmash of mythical and ritualistic motifs found in older, "Pagan" and "Jewish" (Hebrew/Israelite) cultures. Knowing this fact, many erudite and enlightened individuals have attempted to explain how Christ and Christianity really came about. For their courageous and insightful efforts, they have reaped the consequences of immense vitriol and, all too frequently over the millennia, death.

It is with great relief to the dissenters, then, when another intrepid voice is heard and an inspiring book makes it to print, as it indicates that on the horizon still glows some glimmer of hope that humanity can be freed from erroneous beliefs which have caused endless suffering, atrocity and terror. As someone making the world safer, the dissident should be lauded and defended in his or her endeavors.

In his endeavor at seeking truth - and risking the vituperation of those unwilling or unable to investigate for themselves—Earl Doherty smoothly solves another piece of the Jesus puzzle, which has been under deconstruction for centuries. He throws his well-considered opinions and research into the ring alongside those of thousands of dissidents over the centuries. Fortunately, Doherty's work provides unique and complementary aspects to a growing body of literature written by those derogatorily called by Christian apologists, "Christ-mythers," an assembly sneered at and vilified - but not adequately refuted by any means - by believers and vested interests alike.

Dr. Robert M. Price imageAfter years of painstaking research, classicist and humanist Doherty, like his Christ-myth predecessors, concluded that there was no historical Jesus. The same conclusion was reached by his colleague, the Jesus Seminar's Robert Price, an ex-evangelist who became a mythicist after close examination and the removal of mythical elements from the gospel story, after which little was left of the gospel Jesus that could be considered "historical."

In dissecting the Christ myth, Doherty focuses on demonstrating the lack of historicity found in the earliest of canonical Christian texts, the epistles. Like so many others, he wonders why "Paul," considered by numerous Christians to be the "greatest apostle" and the truest establisher of Christian doctrine, makes nary a mention of Jesus's purported life, deeds and sayings.

In fact, Doherty does an excellent job outlining that the Christ of the epistles is non-historical and transcendental, and that Paul and the other epistle writers had no awareness of the gospel tale and its "historical Jesus." Says he:

"If we had to rely on the letters of the earliest Christians, such as Paul and those who wrote most of the other New Testament epistles, we would be hard pressed to find anything resembling the details of the Gospel story. If we did not read Gospel associations into what Paul and the others say about their Christ Jesus, we could not even tell that this figure, the object of their worship, was a man who had recently lived in Palestine and had been executed by the Roman authorities with the help of a hostile Jewish establishment." (2)

Saint Paul Apostle imageAfter 50 pages of relentless demonstration of this fact, one must throw up one's hands in surrender: Paul, the "truest apostle" of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ whose teachings are often placed above those of Christ himself, had never heard of the "historical" Jesus of Nazareth portrayed in the gospels. In establishing this fact, Doherty includes a witty (fictional) "conversation between Paul and some new converts" that shows how absurd is the apologist claim that Paul's silence regarding the sayings, deeds and life of Jesus is because the apostle had "no interest in them."

But Paul and the other canonical epistle writers are not alone in their ignorance of the "historical Jesus." As Doherty further remarks:

"In all the Christian writers of the first century, in all the devotion they display about Christ and the new faith, not one of them expresses a desire to see the birthplace of Jesus, to visit Nazareth his home town. No one talks about having been to the sites of his preaching, the upper room where he held his Last Supper, the hill on which he was crucified, or the tomb where he was buried and rose from the dead. Not only is there no evidence that anyone showed an interest in visiting such places, they go completely unmentioned. The words Bethlehem, Nazareth and Galilee never appear in the epistles, and the word Jerusalem is never used in connection with Jesus." (73)

There is simply no reflection in the earliest Christian texts of any "life of Christ" as a human being, divine or otherwise. To the rational mind, this fact would serve as real proof that Jesus Christ is a fictional character imposed upon history, in reality representing the disincarnate Savior of the ancient, pre-Christian salvation cults. Indeed, the epistle writers and other early Christian authorities speak almost exclusively of a phantom or gnostic Christ of the same type of dying and rising savior gods found in the Pagan mysteries for centuries, if not millennia, prior to the Christian era.

Doherty recognizes that, prior to the advent of Christianity, many of the same religious concepts were found within these salvation cults located ubiquitously around the "known world." The salvation cults were indeed the wellspring of Christianity, which represents the conglomeration of most of the cults, religions, sects, mystery schools and secret societies within the Roman Empire and beyond. In fact, Christianity turned Samothrace Samothracian mysteries imageinside out the salvation cult mysteries, which constituted a "mythos and ritual" passed down orally for centuries, as well as added to, changed, and "improved upon" as new "doctors of the faith" rose up through the ranks of the mystery schools and secret societies. In reality, Christianity represents a divulgence of these secrets, explaining the persecution of early Christians as initiates who broke their blood oath not to reveal them. Indeed, these schools and societies were infiltrated by those who felt no duty to such an oath, and who then pretended that these ages-old mysteries were a "divine revelation" to them.

Concerning the religious environment of the world at the time, Doherty says:

"Christianity and other Jewish apocalyptic sects, more mainstream Jewish proselytizing activities, various pagan salvation cults, all had their apostles trampling the byways of the empire, offering brands of redemption and future exaltation for the individual believer. By the middle decades of the first century, the world ...was a 'seething mass of sects and salvation cults,' operating amid a broader milieu of ethical and philosophical schools only a little less emotionally conducted." (34)

In addition, Doherty states:

"A rich panoply of Son/Christ/Savior expression was rampant across the eastern half of the Roman empire by the late first century. Considering that Christian writers even in the early second century show no familiarity with the Gospel story, it seems ill-advised to trace all these ideas to an historical Jesus of Nazareth who died obscurely in Jerusalem and whose career on earth is not even preserved by those who allegedly turned him into the Son of God." (138)

Doherty also shows the precedents for the "Son" and "Logos" ("Word") within Jewish tradition and literature, exposing a seamless transition between those concepts and the Christ of the epistles. Building on centuries of bible scholarship, Doherty outlines numerous gospel elements and passages that have their origins in Old Testament scripture:

" ...virtually every detail of the Gospel passion story can be shown to have a parallel in scriptures, and ...even the intermediate and large-scale structures of the account are scripturally determined." (244)

After establishing that the earliest Christian view of Jesus was of a mystical, non-historical Son of God, Doherty moves on to the purported extrabiblical and non-Christian evidence of Christ's historicity. Regarding the works of various historians of the era, he says:

Seneca image"If among these we begin our quest for non-Christian witness to Jesus, the pickings are extremely slim. The first century philosopher Seneca (died 65 CE), the greatest Roman writer on ethics in his day, has nothing to say about Jesus or Christianity—even though Christians after Constantine made Seneca a secret convert to the faith and invented correspondence between him and Paul. A little later, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus (c55-c135) espoused a 'brotherhood of man' doctrine, aiming his message at the poor and humble masses (he was a former slave himself). But he had apparently not heard of his Jewish precursor. The historian Arrian preserved some of Epictetus' lectures but records no mention of Jesus." (200)

And on goes the list of first and second century historians who are silent on the subject of Jesus and Christianity.

Chief among the slim pickings are the pitifully few "references" held up by apologists, such as the widely trumpeted passages from Pliny, Suetonius and Tacitus, all of which have been demonstrated by many scholars, including Doherty, to have basically no value in establishing a historical Jesus.

Considering that, repeatedly over the centuries, the notorious passage in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, the "Testimonium Flavianum," basically has been proved to be a "rank forgery," it is a pity that Doherty needs to spend so much effort debunking it once again, but he does it well and thoroughly. Likewise he does away with the other "evidence" found in Josephus, i.e., the passage about James, the "brother of the Lord, called Christ."

Josephus imageRegarding the Testimonium Flavianum, or "TF," the constant regurgitation by Christian apologists of this spurious passage, as essentially the only non-biblical "evidence" of the existence of the great wonderworker Jesus Christ, shows how desperate is their plight. In actuality, it takes little time for the trained and critical eye to know that the Testimonium Flavianum is a Christian interpolation, i.e., a forgery.

In dissecting the Josephus passage, Doherty writes:

" ...the startling fact is that during the first two centuries when such a passage is claimed to have existed in all manuscripts of the Antiquities of the Jews, not a single Christian commentator refers to it in any surviving work." (208)

The logical conclusion for this absence of reference to the TF in the abundant writings of the Christian fathers of the second and third centuries is that the TF was not originally in Josephus but was likely forged in the fourth century by Church historian Eusebius, who is the first to mention it. The apologist claim that the TF must be authentic because there are no extant copies of Josephus without it, is simplistic and specious. In the first place, up to the 16th century there evidently was at least one copy of the Antiquities that did not contain the TF, in the possession of one Vossius. Secondly, the lack of extant copies without the TF can be explained easily by the endless destruction of texts by Church authorities over hundreds of years.

On pp. 220-221 of The Jesus Puzzle, Doherty springs a sublime trap. First he leads the reader through a discussion regarding a purported "lost reference" in Josephus, as alleged by Church fathers Origen and Eusebius, supposedly reflecting that the historian "believed that the calamity of the Jewish War (66-70) and the fall of Jerusalem was visited upon the Jews by God because of their murder of James the Just." Next, Doherty states:

"Origen brings up the 'lost reference' to criticize Josephus for not saying that it was because of the death of Jesus, rather than of James, that God visited upon the Jews the destruction of Jerusalem. But more than half a century earlier, the Christian Hegesippus had said the same thing. As preserved in Eusebius, Hegesippus witnesses to a Christian view of his time (mid-second century) that it was indeed the death of James the Just which had prompted God's punishment of the Jews."

"But," Doherty continues, "there is a very telling corollary to this. Why did those earlier Christians not impute the calamity to God's punishment for the death of Jesus, since to the later Origen - as well as to us - this seemed obvious?

"The explanation is simple. The need to interpret the destruction of Jerusalem would likely have developed early, even before Hegesippus. At such a time, an historical Jesus and historical crucifixion had not yet been invented, or at least would not have been widely disseminated beyond a few early Gospel communities."

Tatian Syrian church father imageProceeding to the second century Christian apologists, Doherty also reveals that the majority of them writing before the year 180, such as Theophilus, Athenagoras and Tatian, do not speak of a historical Jesus. These three writers, for example, refer to a disincarnate, non-historical "Son of God" or "Logos." Says Doherty:

"...Theophilus never mentions Christ, or Jesus, at all. He makes no reference to a founder-teacher; instead, Christians have their doctrines and knowledge of God through the Holy Spirit....

"...the names Jesus and Christ never appear in Athenagoras....

"In [Apology to the Greeks], Tatian uses neither 'Jesus' nor 'Christ,' nor even the name 'Christian.' ...

"In fact, the apologists as a group profess a faith which is nothing so much as a Logos religion. It is in essence Platonism carried to its fullest religious implications and wedded with Jewish theology and ethics." (278-81)

Although Doherty is hesitant to date the gospels to this late a period, Charles Waite in History of the Christian Religion to the Year Two Thousand makes an essentially incontestable case that the four canonical gospels were composed between 170 and 180, which would explain why none of these writers refers to them prior to 180.

Doherty also unearths a "smoking gun" in the Christian apologist Minucius Felix's Octavius, likely written in the middle of the second century. In addressing the untoward charges against Christians, such as the killing of babies and worship of the priest's genitals, Minucius fervently denies that the Christians worship "a criminal and his cross." Felix also ridicules the Pagan ideas of a god becoming incarnate and of a god begetting a son. Says he:

"Men who have died cannot become gods, because a god cannot die; nor can men who are born (become gods)...h. Why, I pray, are gods not born today, if such have ever been born?" (289)

Regarding Minucius's reaction to the charge of worshipping a "crucified criminal," Doherty remarks:

Minucius Felix Octavius"Those who will allow historical documents to say what they seem to be saying will recognize that Minucius Felix is a true 'smoking gun' pointing to a Christian denial of the historical Jesus.

"To the dispassionate eye, Minucius Felix is one Christian who will have nothing to do with those, in other circles of his religion, who profess worship of a Jesus who was crucified in Judea under the governorship of Pontius Pilate, rumors of which have reached pagan ears and elicited much scorn and condemnation." (290)

In establishing his thesis, Doherty also explains the need for making Jesus a historical character: In the early Christian communities, in which there was a "riotous diversity" of doctrine, there were too many pipelines to the spiritual Jesus. Thus, it became necessary to create one divine person to say all the things that the "prophets" and brotherhood members were espousing, the same role played by Yahweh in the Old Testament.

An excellent effort that will certainly have an impact on mainstream scholarship, The Jesus Puzzle provides a scientific and convincing analysis of Christianity's formative centuries, essentially proving that Jesus Christ started out as an allegorical and mythical entity, carnalized and historicized during the second century. Doherty's unique approach to the subject is also highly accessible, such that it, along with the efforts of others, will likewise affect the populace at large. As he says:

"But there is no going back. Fundamentalism, still thriving in North America and parts of the third world, will no doubt keep the Gospel Son of God alive for a time, but once the dissolution of the Christian record as a reliable and historical set of documents makes its way fully into public consciousness, it is hard to see how Christianity as a vital force in society will be able to continue." (295)

For those who wish to delve deeply into the Jesus puzzle and Christ conspiracy, Doherty's book is satisfying and compelling. It is also refreshing to consider that the debate is increasingly in the open, the hysteria and violent knee-jerk reactions lessened. Works such as The Jesus Puzzle hopefully will encourage other daring souls to exclaim that the Emperor is not only naked but also rather unpleasant to behold. In this safer atmosphere, the human species can continue to evolve, progress and mature, moving beyond a significantly damaging bump in the road on a long, strange trip through the cosmos.



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"Murdock's scholarship is relentless! ...the research conducted by D.M. Murdock concerning the myth of Jesus Christ is certainly both valuable and worthy of consideration." —Dr. Kenneth L. Feder, Professor of Archaeology, Central Connecticut State University, Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience In Archaeology

"I find myself in full agreement with Acharya S/D.M. Murdock... I find it undeniable that...many, many of the epic heroes and ancient patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament were personified stars, planets and constellations..." —Dr. Robert M. Price, The Pre-Nicene New Testament

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"Ms. Murdock is one of only a tiny number of scholars with the richly diverse academic background (and the necessary courage) to adequately address the question of whether Jesus Christ truly existed as a walking-talking figure in first-century Palestine." —David Mills, Atheist Universe

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