By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 8/13/2020
Posted: 2/9/2007
Topics/Keywords: #HistoricalJesus #ReligiousPolitics #TheBible Page Views: 4134
Let's examine the myth of the historical Jesus.
A more likely face of an historical Yeshua Ben Yosef.

As an evolving language, new words get added to English all the time. One of the more recent is glurge, defined by Wikipedia as "describing a certain kind of melodramatic, saccharine story. The defining characteristic of glurge is that, while its purpose is to make the reader happy, the feel-good aspect is so overdone that some readers are likely to be nauseated rather than inspired."

The reason the word had be coined was that, while glurge isn't new, it has become far more prevalent with the advent of the Internet and the ability people now have of forwarding a received bit of glurge to all their friends with no more effort than a mouse-click or two.

But glurge has a more sinister side. As Wikipedia puts it:

Glurge sometimes contains a menacing subtext of fatalism or xenophobia. In such examples, happiness and success are linked to following the message's religious or social beliefs; education, hard work, and achievement are irrelevant or subversive. People not members of the favored group may be portrayed as sinister and untrustworthy, and the deaths or misery of such people ignored or even celebrated if it brings one of them to accept the beliefs of the missive.

And there's another, even more insidious aspect to glurge: The stories are presented as true, even though research almost never validates them. And people who forward them, apparently believe they are true.

This annoyed Barbara and David Mikkelson enough that, years ago, they founded a web site,, that reproduces popular glurge emails and does the research for you—but includes links and references so you can duplicate the research for yourself. Snopes has become one of the most popular sites on the Web, presumably because a reference to it is a common response by those recipients of glurge who see it for what it is. It's easy, for example, to learn that Jane Fonda didn't really betray POWs in Vietnam by turning in messages they gave her to their captors (the man named in the glurge has denied the story), or that Oliver North didn't really warn Congress of Osama bin Laden during the 1987 Iran-Contra hearings (his complete testimony is on the Web for anyone to read), or that the Clinton administration didn't really fail to track down the perpetrators of several terrorist attacks against Americans (a lie so pervasive it's been repeated ad nauseum on Fox "news" and by certain conservative radio news celebrities).

The Mikkelsons keep track of the queries people make to their site, and therefore have a feeling for how ineffective the critical faculties are in a terrifyingly large number of people. It's one thing to suspect that Jane Fonda—who did go to Vietnam to propagandize against the war—might have gone a step further and betrayed POWs. But there's a tale that was written as a parody of glurge regarding which the Mikkelsons receive frequent "Is it really true?" queries. It begins,

I am a very sick little boy. My mother is typing this for me, because I can't. She is crying…The reason she is so sad is that I'm so sick. I was born without a body…

The doctors gave me an artificial body. My body is a burlap bag filled with leaves. The doctors said that was the best they could do on account of us havin' no money or insurance…Mommy always gives me hugs, even though she's allergic to burlap, and it chafes her real bad.

Can you imagine the kind of person who would own and operate a computer, receive this email, believe it and send it on to his or her friends so that it will "travel around the world" thus fulfilling Billy's fondest wish? (Undoubtedly, some forwarders were simply passing on humor—but they aren't the ones asking the Mikkelsons if it is true.)

Remember, Snopes only receives queries—hundreds of them—from people who aren't sure whether Billy's story is true. How many forward it, certain that Billy is out there, somewhere, watching his mother typing emails for him after neatly folding his burlap body? And these are, I repeat, folks who are sophisticated enough to operate a computer, work an email program, and (presumably) function well enough to hold jobs, pay rent, and dress themselves in the morning.

Understanding this is essential to understanding how it's possible for people—probably the same people—to believe in Creationism, or be part of that 28% who still trust Bush with the welfare of our country.

Is it fair to say that people 2,000 years ago were less sophisticated? On the one hand, they did not have computers, cable, or commercial interruptions. On the other, they did have crafty salesmen, obstinate camels, and vagaries of weather to deal with.

But one big difference between the ancients and ourselves is, by and large, the ancients didn't get out like we do. Even an American who chooses not to travel, can sit on his sofa and look at sports on five continents; mourn Steve Irwin in Australia or journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Russia or hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians; a few quick clicks can show him sunrise in the ancient, lost city of Angkor Wat; Mary Poppins flying over 1910 London, or the members of SG-1 traveling by Stargate to our neighboring Pegasus galaxy.

Most ancients didn't read, and relied on tales told by travelers, or more frequently, tales told by people who heard them from someone else who heard them from a traveler. That's how the myth of the unicorn came to be. Early Roman travelers, exploring Africa, saw rhinoceroses and tried to explain them to the folks back home. "They're big, like a horse," they said, "but with a huge horn growing out of their heads." The Romans knew lots of animals with pairs of horns growing from their heads; the distinguishing feature in this case was the single horn. So the folks at home came to call them "one-horn"—or, in Latin, unicorn.

The lack of photos didn't stop illustrators, who'd never been to Africa (or met the original travelers) from drawing exactly from the description—a horse with a single horn. Had to put it somewhere; and the other horned animals had horns growing from their foreheads. Thus the unicorn was born.

Later, when more travelers made their way south, and again saw rhinos, they had to describe and name them. But the name unicorn was already taken. And besides, Greek names were now all the rage. So they named the creature rhinoceros, which means "nose horn". And the folks back home now believed there were two single-horned creatures: unicorns and rhinoceroses.

Look how tricky this is: Of the two creatures none of your neighbors had ever seen in person, one truly existed and the other did not. Neither is inherently more or less likely than the other, and you couldn't accurately say that "Nothing you hear from the storyteller is ever true." But in a world without easy access to reference works or Wikipedia, it was just about impossible to know for sure about anything you didn't personally experience.

To be sure, a few select persons, with money and education and the time to ponder and write, were able to know things—through research—that most people could not. Around 500 BCE we have Pythagoras proposing that the Earth is a sphere, rather than a flat surface; Plato taught this to his students and one of them, Aristotle, who did travel widely, reported

"There are stars seen in Egypt and … Cyprus which are not seen in the northerly regions."

He intuited that this could only happen on a curved surface; he declared that Earth was a sphere

"of no great size, for otherwise the effect of so slight a change of place would not be quickly apparent."

Yet 1700 years later, the erroneous opinion that the Earth was flat was still so widespread that Christopher Columbus had to convince the rulers of Spain that it was not. And that's because there is nothing so entrenched in the human psyche as a false belief that most everyone shares.

Now most people reading this will assume that all this is true…but that they aren't guilty of it! Yet the dichotomy is easy to trigger in this quip:

If there really are flying saucers, why aren't there any clear photos?

If there really is a God, why aren't there any clear photos?

If a reader does not believe in flying saucers, he or she chuckles over the first sentence, empowered because it seems to prove their belief right (in spite of the fact that there are many clear photos, and videos as well, that aren't shown on the corporate-owned media). But then he or she comes to the second sentence. It's disconcerting, assuming the reader does believe in God, because it forces him or her to mentally run through the reasons why photos can't exist of God, while they should if there were really UFOs.

Now, I personally believe in God even though I have no photos. But that didn't stop me from examining the evidence as to whether or not Jesus ever existed. And what I found was stunning; for there is no evidence for an historical Jesus.

First of all, I should point out that this is not a new argument. (If it were, that would almost convince me I was wrong. Surely, in 2,000 years, I couldn't be the first to question!) But the Church has a set of stock answers for most of these points; and one of them—burning people who questioned dogma at the stake—was remarkably effective.

Still, since today that isn't a consideration, I can feel free to bring up the major points here. I urge the interested reader to follow through and research this on his or her own. As the X-Files used to remind us, "The truth is out there." But it rarely comes running after you.

1. No Primary Source

What we know of Jesus' life comes from the Bible, specifically from the four Gospels known as "Matthew", "Mark", "Luke" and "John". Most Christians believe that Matthew, Mark and John were written by the Apostles of those names, while "Luke" is attributed to the companion of Paul of Tarsus. However, not even Christian religious scholars believe this is so. The Apostles Matthew, Mark and John would have been contemporaries of Jesus, roughly 30 years old when he was crucified, if the story is true. However, the evidence is that the Gospel According to Mark, the first to be written, was penned (or quilled?) in the late 60s or early 70s CE. While a few people lived to their 60s and 70s in those days, most did not. Besides, tradition has it that Mark died just a few years after the Crucifixion. And the other three Gospels were written much later.

Supposedly, there was once a text—quoted by Eusebius—that credited Mark with being written by one of Peter's disciples. The problem is, Eusebius is the very person who has been accused of being instrumental in the Jesus hoax conspiracy; so his statements (made around 300 CE) are suspect. In any case, the original document no longer exists—if it ever did.

Catholic tradition says that the written Gospels of today were based on word-of-mouth stories told by the Apostles. However, a primary source—which today is required by archaeologists before they will seriously examine any tale—must be written. Word-of-mouth doesn't make the cut.

A "primary source" is a document created at or near the time being studied, generally by an eyewitness. The Gospels simply do not qualify. That alone does not disprove the existence of an historical Jesus, of course. But it means we have to mine the Gospels for clues, rather than simply accept them at face value.

2. One Of Our Cities Is Missing

According to the Gospels, Jesus was born in Bethlehem but raised in his parents' home in Nazareth. Eusebius wrote about Nazareth, but the fact is the place didn't exist before the third century CE. At least, no Jewish sources—neither the Old Testament nor the Talmud—mention it before then. Christian apologists "explain" this by saying that Nazareth just wasn't that important to non-Christians to mention. But this doesn't explain why there are no archaeological remains beneath Nazareth older than the third century.

3. Slaughter of the Innocents

In the Gospel According to Luke, the Roman governor Herod, fearing that a newborn boy might challenge his power, as the three Wise Men foretold, had all the baby boys newly born to Jews slaughtered. Suppose G. W. Bush had all the baby boys in Washington, DC, killed. Is there any way that wouldn't make the news, and, eventually, the history books? EvenFox News would be forced to report it! Yet there isn't one word in any primary source mentioning this atrocity. Not even the Jews themselves, who never forget a slight, mention it in any of their histories.

4. Earthquake? What earthquake?

All four Gospels report that, at the moment of Jesus' death on the cross, there was a total solar eclipse, a massive earthquake, and the rising of a lot of animated dead people who returned to life.

According to the story, Jesus was executed in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and by far the largest city in the middle east at the time. Home of the Great Temple, Jews from the whole known world made pilgrimages there, so that its permanent and transient population combined must have been at least a million. These people also included Roman soldiers who were garrisoned there—and who could read and write. As a hotbed of political intrigue, there were also journalists such as Pliny the Elder who traveled widely and came and went through the area.

And yet, no one—not one single reporter, not a single document outside the Gospels—reports an eclipse or earthquake taking place in Jerusalem in the approximate time period ascribed to Jesus' crucifixion. And there has never been a report of "dead people rising" in Jerusalem (or anywhere else, for that matter). Lazarus, as a single person, might have escaped the notice of Roman reporters. But masses of graves "emptied"? That would have been perpetuated in myth, the tale spread 'round the world, unrelated to the Jesus story. But, other than in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, this never happened.

And attempts to date Good Friday by tying it to an historical solar eclipse haven't worked, either—because no eclipse visible from Jerusalem in that century, occurred on a Friday. (Solar and lunar eclipses are calculated mathematically and can be predicted thousands of years before and after the present day, down to the second.)

4. Isn't there at least a good crucifixion?

The Gospels say that Jesus was crucified between two thieves. However, Roman law did not consider theft to be a capital crime. Also, the Romans kept detailed records of who was crucified (just as we do the people who are executed) and there's no record that matches Jesus from Jerusalem or anywhere else. The Jewish historian Josephus mentions Jesus, but the entries (there are two) are clearly "pious forgeries" inserted by Christian copyists centuries later. That's determined by the fact that the Josephus forgeries refer to Jesus as the "Son of God" and "Messiah", but Josephus is known to have died a devout Jew, with no indication of conversion.

I could go on.

These facts alone, easily verifiable, disprove the story as told. There may have been a Jesus (or Yeshua ben Yosef, which would have been his Jewish name; "Jesus" is Greek) whose teachings made their way into the Bible. But the rest of the story—the Virgin birth, the angels, the manger, and the rest—is clearly glurge, no more or less believable than a little boy with a burlap bag for a body.