Jesus: A failed rebel, a myth or a Roman invention?

AT this time of year, when our culture, dominated for nearly four centuries by the Hispanic model of late-medieval Catholicism, imposes on us several days of contemplating the Christian Messiah, I dare discuss whether Christ did exist in the first place. Indeed, a mountain of scholarly work in the past few decades has been published trying to answer this question, mostly in the negative, at least in the way Christianity claims he is.

To start getting out of one’s mindset built since childhood, you have to recognize that in this modern age science has been the singularly powerful tool for us to understand reality, to separate what’s false and mythical, and what’s true and factual (or historical). Science just in a brief span of 100 years of modern human’s 200,000 years of existence, has unlocked the mysteries of the atom and of the human genome, so we understand now that the world is not composed of “earth, air, water and fire” nor are we just a more sophisticated form of dust.

But science has been employed not only to understand matter, but also human society itself  through such disciplines as archaeology, philology, psychology, literary and textual criticism, and sociology. So, it is not surprising at all that the social sciences have been used to study that aspect of human society that is so significant to humans: religion.

The social sciences have been employed to study the central figure of Christianity, Jesus Christ, whose death we are supposed to be commemorating today. A few similar studies have also been used to study Muhammad of Islam, although mostly by anonymous scholars, obviously afraid a fatwah would be issued against them.

Three modern narratives of Jesus.

Scholars

The question whether Jesus Christ – half-god, half-human —  has been asked by scholars starting in the 18th century, as academic freedom was unshackled from clerical dictatorship. In recent years, interest in the question has intensified with probably a thousand doctoral and masteral theses, books, as well as articles, both from Christian and secular universities, being churned out on the issue.

The result of these studies will trouble the Christian faithful.

Some  40 percent, by one reckoning,  have concluded that a preacher Yeshua (a very common Jewish name) did exist, but he was just one of scores of similar Jewish apocalyptic preachers who proliferated in the Middle East after the traumatic destruction by the Romans of the Jews’ Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE (for Common Era, the non-Christian-centric equivalent of AD).

They claimed they were the Messiahs (from the Hebrew “Mashiach,” the  one anointed by oil, i.e. God-appointed)  with Divine superpowers to  defeat the most powerful military machine at that era, the Romans.

A leading authority on the bible, Bart D. Ehrman, in his book Did Jesus Exist? claimed that Jesus was one of the many “repent-the-end-is-near” millenarians in that age and society when Jews believed that since they were God’s Chosen People, God would overthrow their Roman conquerors, led by a Messiah, a Prophet-King. The best-selling book The Zealot by Reza Aslan explained that Jesus was a member of the Zealots, a political movement in Judea inciting people to overthrow the Roman yoke.

Ehrman however pointed out that when Jesus said the “Kingdom of God is near,” he was not referring to an afterlife-Heaven, where good souls supposedly go after death. Instead, he was alluding to the establishment of God’s anointed Kingdom of Israel, which would rule over all other nations.

Jesus in fact in even claimed when this cosmic cataclysm would happen: Before his disciples “taste death” (Mark 9:1) or in Mark 13:30, before “this generation” passes away.

Jesus, however, was neither the revolutionary leader rousing and organizing the masses, as idealized by Catholic liberation theology priests. Jesus believed that the Romans would be overthrown by God with His cosmic forces: “The sun will grow dark and the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling… and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:24-27)

Pontius Pilate of course saw him as another of the many troublemakers rousing the masses to overthrow the Roman yoke. The Romans ruled by fear; they even killed people they conquered when they were bored.  Ehrman says the trial of Jesus probably lasted no more than a couple of minutes and the order of death carried out immediately. “Before anyone knew it, the apocalyptic preacher was on a cross, and dead within six hours,” Ehrman wrote somewhat sarcastically. 

Another 40 percent of scholars who have studied Christianity without the blinkers of religious dogma have concluded Jesus Christ  never existed. It is merely the invention of the proselytizer Greek-Jewish Paul, in practically the same way the ancient Egyptians concocted the god-man Osiris, or the Greeks, the demi-god Hercules.

These “mythicists” claim that Jesus Christ is a legendary figure invented in the first and second centuries to become the core of a new religion, just as Greek gods,  Santa Claus, Robin Hood, King Arthur were not real historical people but amalgams of persons mythicized over the centuries.

As evidence,  mythicists claim that elements of the Jesus story were prevalent in myths during that era and in that part of the world. The theme of a dying-rising god was common in ancient religions: Osiris, Attis, Heracles, Baal. The Persian god Mithra (who was popular among Roman soldiers) was also born to a virgin.

Furthermore, the mythicists point out, there are no non-Christian accounts reporting that a Jesus existed and was crucified. The often-cited reference to Jesus by the first-century Roman-Jewish historian Josephus —”the doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth” — has been conclusively established to have been clumsily inserted into the text a century after Jesus’ supposed life, obviously by a Jesus believer.

Romans

This thesis has been developed in recent years  to what may be its most extreme version:

Jesus was invented by the Romans as a means of pacifying the Jews, who were one of the most rebellious nations it conquered. The Romans feared they could engulf Rome from its periphery, since after their Temple’s destruction, they spread out to and built communities all over the Mediterranean coasts.

This thesis has been propounded in the best-selling book Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus, by Joseph Atwill, a respected scholar on biblical studies.

For me that very well explains one episode in the New Testament that I had found puzzling since my youth. Why were the Jews depicted as a mob demanding the execution of one of their own, Jesus, while their hated rulers the Romans, i.e., Pontius Pilate, is portrayed as a righteous man pressured to give in to the mob’s demand?

This biblical episode is not trivial, as most scholars have traced the anti-Semitic ideology among many Christians, which even led to the Nazis’ Holocaust of 6 million Jews during World War 2,  to this account in the New Testament. In my youth I heard of it: “The Jews are bad; they killed Jesus.”

If the Romans indeed invented the Jesus myth, they would have certainly portrayed themselves as just, even respecting the Jews so much Pilate gave in to the Jewish priests’ and mob’s demand.

State religions

But why did the “Jesus movement” grow to become one of the world’s largest organized religions?

The quite obvious answer is that it was embraced  — even invented according to Atwill — as one of the major state religions of the Roman Empire, the most powerful empire at that time. The wily Roman Emperor Constantine the Great used it as a way of consolidating this rule over an empire of varied cultures and peoples. The rest, to use the cliché, is history, as the successors of the Roman Empire, the medieval kingdoms of Europe, and then the modern superpowers that included the United States,  made Christianity also  their state religions .  European monarchies more easily ruled by brainwashing their subjects (as well as colonized peoples like as) that they were Jesus Christ’s s representatives on earth

That is also the reason why the other world major religion, Islam, grew. Allah would just have been a war-god in the warlike desert tribes,  if hadn’t become the state religion first of the Arab Empires starting in the 7th century and then the Ottoman Empire that emerged in the 14th century and rivaled the Christian European empires.

Hinduism and Buddhism didn’t grow as huge as Islam and Christianity did, even if they were much older than these two relatively modern religions. India, whose main religion is Hinduism, and China, where Buddhism competed with Confucianism, never became world empires.

It is not coincidental that the central figure of Christianity is more often called Christ the King, or that of Islam’s as Allah the Most Powerful, attributes never used for the Buddha, Confucius, and Lord Krishna.

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Damaso Verdolagas

    https://www.quora.com/profile/Barry-Goldberg-1

    The Top Ten Reasons to Be an Atheist (in no particular order) are:

    Drum roll please…

    It’s obvious that all world religions are the product of extremely ignorant (not stupid) near barbarians who didn’t understand much about the world around them and made up stories to explain things the best they could. We no longer believe that the universe is made of four elements, that our health is governed by the balance of our four humors, that the Earth is the center of the universe with everything revolving around it, that mental illness is caused by demonic possession, etc. Why, then, should we still cling to ancient ideas about gods?
    It’s obvious that most people who say they believe in God believe in the God that is worshiped by the culture in which they grew up. And everybody is convinced that their religion is the only “right” one. They can’t all be right, but they can certainly all be wrong.
    It’s obvious that the universe is just too vast and full of stuff not in any way related to humans to seriously believe that it was all made just for us and that we are the pinnacle of all creation.
    It’s obvious that the religious beliefs of today are substantively the same as every other discarded superstitious belief of the past. If it’s silly to believe in Thor and Osiris, it’s just as silly to believe in Allah or Jehovah.
    It’s obvious that every single bit of proposed “evidence” for the existence of God has either been totally debunked or can be explained through other means. And it is obvious that any justification for believing in God is part of an ever-shrinking “god of the gaps” argument.
    It’s obvious that the various “Holy Scriptures” that supposedly provide the only source for knowledge about God are riddled with internal inconsistencies and blatantly wrong information about the world and world history.
    It’s obvious that every depiction of God that is actually worshiped by anybody is riddled with logical inconsistencies. How can God be all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving if he permits massive suffering throughout the entire universe (and not just suffering caused by man’s free will)? Why would an all-loving God set up a system whereby the vast, vast majority of his children would never get a chance to hear the “truth” and be saved, and thus be condemned to an eternity of torture? How can God simultaneously be immaterial and timeless (“pure mind”) and still interact with the material world?
    It’s obvious that things like “God moves in mysterious ways” and “God always answers prayers, but sometimes the answer is no” are just lame excuses to explain why God rarely (if ever) keeps his supposed promise to actually GIVE the faithful what they ask for in faith (not just “answer their prayers”).
    It’s obvious that “God” is just Santa Claus for adults. Believing in Him may give you comfort in times of trouble and give you something to look forward to, but that doesn’t mean He is real.
    And, to top it off, after thousands and thousands of years, no believer has ever offered a shred of compelling evidence or any sound logical argument to support a belief in such a being. Although, to be absolutely honest, the entire notion of “God” is so insanely ridiculous and childish and obviously the product of ignorant superstitions in the first place that it’s hard to even imagine what sort of “evidence” or “argument” would actually be sufficient to support a belief in such a being. And if you think that makes me sound “closed-minded,” then I’m afraid you’ll just have to blame the people who came up with such a ridiculous notion in the first place.

  2. Petri Mölsä

    Dear Sir,

    Science is the basis. No doubt. Every story has its origin. The millions of years of Creation of the vast universe is not magic.

    It is logical,

    By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations,
    by understanding he set the heavens in place;
    20 by his knowledge the watery depths were divided,
    and the clouds let drop the dew.
    Proverbs 3:19-20 NIV

    Nothing exists by accident.

    eg. You decide to plant your favorite Sampaguita from seed. Was it an accident the information in the seed? The seed carries an inherited inbuilt reproduction formula. A superb masterpiece.

    The very first Sampaguita upon the earth must have had brains to create guaranteed offsprings. Oh no, this is the traditional chicken and egg dilemma. Now, trunk or seed.

    The Creation of God is not by miracles as religions claim.
    The Creation of God is not by a chain of coincidence as Science claims.

    Wisdom and understanding is the key to end the debate over Jesus and let Sampaguita flourish.

    Your reliable source,

    http://www.thename.ph

  3. Fidèle M

    JESUS…. WAS NOT A MESSENGER OF GOD YHWH
    ➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖➖
    Israel was unfaithful and broke the covenant, God YHWH withdrew his presence from Israel and punished the Jews (No king, no temple, no priesthood, no sacrifices)
    Here is God’s decision after the end of the first covenant
    Hosea 3:4
    For the children of Israel shall sit solitary many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without pillar, and without ephod or teraphim;
    ___

    So far, Israel is under punishment because all the signs of God presence are inexistent (King, temple, Priesthood, sacrifices).
    This means that any person who claimed to be a messenger of God of Abraham after the end of the first covenant was liar, a fake messenger.

    According to the New Testament scriptures… Jesus was born when Israel was under God’s punishment. The roman’s occupation was possible because God allowed it in order to punish the Jews.

    According to Jacob (Genesisi 49:10) … The Messiah (SHILOH) promised by God YHWH will be sent NOT TO ISRAEL, but to all peoples. So, the Jewish Messiah son of David (MASCHIAH) is also a Jewish fabrication.

    The Romans relied on the false Jewish Messiah to create their CHRIST. The arabs also relied on the false Christ to fabricate their MASIH.
    Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all based on lies and idolatry.

    Please read more…
    https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008561828997
    ____

  4. JM

    Interesting, good read. We were all doped. Thanks for this piece Mr. Tiglao.

    1. Damaso Verdolagas

      Bertrand Russell wrote:[6]

      Christians hold that their faith does good, but other faiths do harm. At any rate, they hold this about the communist faith. What I wish to maintain is that all faiths do harm. We may define “faith” as a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith.” We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence. The substitution of emotion for evidence is apt to lead to strife, since different groups substitute different emotions. Christians have faith in the Resurrection; communists have faith in Marx’s Theory of Value. Neither faith can be defended rationally, and each therefore is defended by propaganda and, if necessary, by war.

      — Will Religious Faith Cure Our Troubles?

  5. Jyrmaine

    Did Jesus Really Exist?

    HE WAS neither rich nor powerful. He did not even have a home that he could call his own. Yet his teachings have influenced millions. Did Jesus Christ really exist? What do both modern and ancient authorities say?

    Michael Grant, a historian and an expert on ancient classical civilization, noted: “If we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.”

    Rudolf Bultmann, a professor of New Testament studies, stated: “The doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the oldest Palestinian community [of Christians].”

    Will Durant, a historian, writer, and philosopher, wrote: “That a few simple men [the Gospel writers] should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels.”

    Albert Einstein, a German-born Jewish physicist, asserted: “I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.” When asked if he viewed Jesus as a historical person, he responded: “Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”

    “No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus.”​—Albert Einstein

     WHAT DOES HISTORY REVEAL?

    The most detailed record of Jesus’ life and ministry is recorded in the Bible accounts known as the Gospels​—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John​—named after the men who wrote them. In addition, a number of early non-Christian sources name him.

    TACITUS

    (c. 56-120 C.E., or Common Era) Tacitus is considered to be one of the greatest of the ancient Roman historians. His Annals deal with the Roman Empire from 14 C.E. to 68 C.E. (Jesus died in 33 C.E.) Tacitus wrote that when a great fire devastated Rome in 64 C.E., Emperor Nero was considered responsible. But Tacitus wrote that Nero accused the Christians in order to “scotch the rumour.” Then Tacitus said: “Christus, the founder of the name [Christian], had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus.”​—Annals, XV, 44.

    SUETONIUS

    (c. 69–a. 122 C.E.) In his Lives of the Caesars, this Roman historian recorded events during the reigns of the first 11 Roman emperors. The section on Claudius refers to turmoil among the Jews in Rome that was likely caused by disputes over Jesus. (Acts 18:2) Suetonius wrote: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [Christus], he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome.” (The Deified Claudius, XXV, 4) Although wrongly accusing Jesus of creating disturbances, Suetonius did not doubt his existence.

    PLINY THE YOUNGER

    (c. 61-113 C.E.) This Roman author and administrator in Bithynia (modern Turkey) wrote to Roman Emperor Trajan about how to deal with the Christians in that province. Pliny said that he tried to force Christians to recant, executing any who refused to do so. He explained: “Those who . . . repeated after me an invocation to the [pagan] Gods, and offered adoration, with wine and frankincense, to your image . . . and who finally cursed Christ . . . , I thought it proper to discharge.”​—Pliny—​Letters, Book X, XCVI.

     FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS

    (c. 37-100 C.E.) This Jewish priest and historian states that Annas, a Jewish high priest who continued to wield political influence, “convened the judges of the Sanhedrin [the Jewish high court] and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ.”​—Jewish Antiquities, XX, 200.

    THE TALMUD

    This collection of Jewish rabbinic writings, dating from the third to the sixth centuries C.E., shows that even Jesus’ enemies affirmed his existence. One passage says that on “the Passover Yeshu [Jesus] the Nazarean was hanged,” which is historically correct. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, Munich Codex; see John 19:14-16.) Another states: “May we produce no son or pupil who disgraces himself in public like the Nazarene”​—a title often applied to Jesus.​—Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 17b, footnote, Munich Codex; see Luke 18:37.

    EVIDENCE FROM THE BIBLE

    The Gospels give us a comprehensive account of Jesus’ life and ministry, including specific details about people, places, and times​—the hallmarks of authentic history. An example is found at Luke 3:1, 2, which helps us to establish the exact date when a man named John the Baptist, a forerunner of Jesus, commenced his work.

    “All Scripture is inspired of God.”​—2 Timothy 3:16

    Luke wrote: “In the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was district ruler of Galilee, Philip his brother was district ruler of the country of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was district ruler of Abilene, in the days of chief priest Annas and of Caiaphas, God’s declaration came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” This detailed, precise list enables us to establish that “God’s declaration came to John” in the year 29 C.E.

     The seven public figures Luke names are well-known to historians. That said, for a time certain critics did question the existence of Pontius Pilate and Lysanias. But the critics spoke too soon. Ancient inscriptions bearing the names of those two officials have been discovered, confirming Luke’s accuracy. *

    WHY DOES IT MATTER?

    Jesus taught people about the Kingdom of God, a world government

    The question of Jesus’ existence matters because his teachings matter. For example, Jesus taught people how to live happy, fulfilling lives. * He also promised a time when mankind will live in true peace and security, united under a single world government called “the Kingdom of God.”​—Luke 4:43.

    The designation “the Kingdom of God” is appropriate because this world government will express God’s sovereignty over the earth. (Revelation 11:15) Jesus made that fact clear when he said in his model prayer: “Our Father in the heavens, . . . let your Kingdom come. Let your will take place . . . on earth.” (Matthew 6:9, 10) What will Kingdom rule mean for mankind? Consider the following:

    Warfare and civil strife will cease.​—Psalm 46:8-11.

    Wickedness, including greed and corruption, will be gone forever, along with ungodly people.​—Psalm 37:10, 11.

    The Kingdom’s subjects will enjoy meaningful, productive work.​—Isaiah 65:21, 22.

    The earth will fully recover from its present sick state and produce bountiful crops.​—Psalm 72:16; Isaiah 11:9.

    Some people may consider those promises wishful thinking. But is it not wishful thinking to trust in human efforts? Consider: Even in spite of spectacular advances in education, science, and technology, millions today feel deeply insecure and uncertain about tomorrow. And daily we see evidence of economic, political, and religious oppression, as well as greed and corruption. Yes, the reality is that human rule is a failure!​—Ecclesiastes 8:9.

    At the very least, the question of Jesus’ existence merits our consideration. * As 2 Corinthians 1:19, 20 states: “No matter how many the promises of God are, they have become ‘yes’ by means of [Christ

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