Top 10 Reasons Jesus Christ Never Existed
Religion is one of the most enduringly powerful forces on earth. Two of the most influential, both today and in the past, Christianity and Islam, believe that Jesus Christ played a pivotal role in both faiths.
Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God, born of a virgin birth, was crucified and resurrected for the remission of sins. Muslims believe that Jesus was the product of a virgin birth brought forth by the command of Allah and became one of his most important (and subsequently revered) prophets. Muslims do not believe that Jesus was crucified but that another man died in his place.
Whether or not we believe in the existence and life of Christ as a matter of faith most people are prepared to accept that Jesus was a real and verifiable historical figure; that he was born, lived and died in Judea between around 4BC and 33AD. This has been repeated so many times that most people do not ever think to challenge it but should they? Did a man called Jesus, son of Mary (and adoptive son of Joseph) walk the paths of Judea or was he merely a figment of imagination? A group of stories and myths pulled together by a range of cynical individuals for a particular purpose?
If you are a Christian, of course, the existence of Christ is a matter of faith but should non-Christians believe in Jesus so readily? Here are our top 10 reasons to claim that Jesus never existed.
10There is no contemporaneous account of the life of Jesus
Not only is nothing in the bible capable of being directly linked to the time in which Jesus was reputed to be alive (see below) but there are absolutely no contemporaneous accounts that speak of Jesus. As far as the historical record is concerned he just did not exist. The Gospels claim that Jesus’ ministry was famous across the region and well known to people such as Herod and Pontius Pilate. In the later part of his ministry it is claimed that he was followed by great multitudes of people and, of course, in one instance that he fed 5,000.
There is not a single mention in him in military records or dispatches back to Rome (surely anyone who could command huge gatherings of people in a potentially disruptive province should be of interest). He is not mentioned in the records of Herod’s court nor is he mentioned in the records of the Temple or by any Priests. Surely if he was believed by some to be a prophet and others to be a false prophet some mention of the ructions he was causing in Judean civic and religious society should have been recorded. Some people like to point to the supposed letters of Pontius Pilate as evidence of Jesus’ life but these were a work of fiction.
Of course it is possible (although unlikely, the Roman Empire was very efficient) that contemporaneous accounts existed but disappeared.
9All Later Accounts Of The Life Of Jesus Are Pure Hearsay
Even though there are no contemporaneous lifetime reports of the existence of Jesus there are references to him in Christian writing (see below) and non-Christian texts in the decades after his alleged death.
Not a single one of these accounts is a credible account of his life. None of them reference any earlier texts and are therefore nothing more than hearsay and, as such unreliable. If we condemn hearsay evidence as unreliable in our court systems why should it be sufficient to establish the existence of an important historical figure?
The evidence that is usually cited in support for the existence of Jesus comes from the writings of Josephus Flavius who was born in 37AD (some years after the crucifixion) and wrote about the life of Jesus in 93AD, after the Gospels were written. He cited no sources for his materials. Similarly Pliny the Younger (born around 62BC, Tacitus (64AD) and Suetonius (69AD) all wrote about Jesus but without any reference to contemporaneous sources. It is likely they got their information from believers but without sources the passages do nothing more than document a social phenomenon.
In the previous point we mentioned that it is possible that contemporaneous sources existed but have since been destroyed or disappeared. If they did exist it is likely that these three respected historians (Tacitus in particular was known for the high quality of his research and referencing) would have referred to it directly rather than have relied on hearsay.
8The Gospels Were Written As Christian Propaganda
To Christians everywhere the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the authoritative sources of the happenings of the life of Christ as written by his disciples, those who knew him best and observed his ministry.
Originally there were many more Gospels. When the final four were settled on as the orthodox account in the second century the other gospels were denounced as heretical. Copies of these ‘spare’ gospels were found in the Dead Sea, and at Nag Hammadi during the previous century but there is no evidence of who wrote them and none appear to be copies of a contemporaneous source. One of these documents, however, the Gospel of Thomas, does appear to predate the Gospel of Mark. It does not contain any reference to Jesus as a historical figure, as the messiah or any reference to the resurrection. It is, instead, a collection of ‘sayings’. It was denounced as heresy.
The fact that the leaders of the early church denounced this original Gospel in favor of four mostly narrative pieces of writing, shows that they were selecting works for the purpose of creating an evidentiary trail for the existence of Jesus.
7The Gospels Are Unlikely To Have Been Written By Disciples Who Knew Jesus.
The Gospel of Mark, although the second in the New Testament, was the first to be written, probably around 70AD while the gospel of John was written in around 90AD.
Nowhere in any of the gospels do the authors identify themselves as the disciples and their companions of the same name. The average life expectancy in Judea at the time of Christ and shortly thereafter was around 29-30 years. Although that number is an average and people did live to an old age very few of them made it to 50 (around 4%) and even fewer to 70 (2%). Shortly after the Crucifixion was meant to have taken place the Jewish wars decimated the population of Judea. Many of those who would have known Jesus personally (in the event he had existed) would most likely have been caught up in the war. The disciples were probably about the same age as Jesus or perhaps just a few years younger. This would have made the disciples around 70 years old at the time the Gospel of Mark was written and over 90 at the time John was authored. It is, therefore almost impossible for the disciples to have authored the Gospels. It is far more likely that they were penned by much younger men.
Mark, as the original Gospel appears to have served as the source material for the gospels of Matthew and Luke and there are significant overlaps between those three. Each author changes the narrative slightly to suit the time in which they are writing and the target audience their news is aimed at. John is the most troubling of all the gospels and appears to have been written by a number of different authors.
6The Earliest Books Of The New Testament, The Epistles Of Paul, Do Not Ever Refer To Jesus As A Living Being.
The Epistles of St Paul are the earliest books of the New Testament but St Paul did not know Jesus during his supposed lifetime.
St Paul was born in around 10 AD to an Israelite family. He served as a tax collector and was well known for his anti-Christian views and is said to have participated in the stoning of St Stephen. He became one of the most high profile converts to the new religion when he was said to have had a divine vision of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He was subsequently baptized and went to Arabia before returning to work on behalf of the early church. He made long journeys around the Mediterranean during which he spread the word and wrote his now famous epistles.
13 of the Epistles, which predate both Acts and the Gospels were included in the New Testament but only 7 of them (Philemon, Romans, Corinthians I, II, Philippians, Thessalonians I and Galatians) are considered to have been written by him directly.
Paul would not, of course, have known Jesus personally but he makes no claim of such knowledge in his epistles. Indeed he makes practically no references to an earthly life for Jesus instead advising fellow Christians on how to live their lives. In this way Paul sets out what it means to be a Christian, creating a framework which has survived to this day.
5The New Testament Was Designed To Promote Christianity Not Document Historical Fact.
In the early years of Christianity there were a number of different and competing interpretations. We have already mentioned the wealth of different books and gospels that were discovered at the Dead Sea and Nag Hammadi. Many of these writings followed a gnostic tradition that was at odds with what became the orthodox interpretation of Christianity.
In the second century Irenaeus of Lyon started to codify the New Testament and identified the four Gospels which we use today as part of the Canon, rejecting all other interpretations. He wrote eloquently and vehemently in his book Against Heresies to establish exactly what should be included and excluded in the definition of Christianity. Our modern day New Testament is, therefore, very much one man’s vision and interpretation of what Christianity should be. Irenaeus was not interested in documenting the facts, he was interested in setting out his beliefs and ensuring that others followed him.
This tradition has been well entrenched in the Church over the succeeding centuries with any sects deemed as heretical being put down violently or even eliminated altogether (eg the Cathars). Writing towards the end of the 4th Century St Jerome said ‘assurance often explains that of which it knows nothing; and when it has convinced others imposes on itself.’. The thoroughly unpleasant Ignatius Loyola famously said that he was willing to believe that white is black if required to by the church.
Why should the early Christian zealots have been any different? They were not, their behavior set the tone for the rest of the church through history and for that reason we should be extremely skeptical of the New Testament and any claims it makes about the life of Jesus. It is nothing more than a propaganda treatise.
4There Is No Historical Evidence Of An Eclipse, Earthquake Or Rending Of The Veil In The Temple Supposed To Have Happened At The Moment Of Jesus’ Death.
The Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 27) and the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 23) give an in-depth account of the events of the crucifixion. Both agree that there was a sudden darkness (possibly an eclipse or a dust cloud from a volcano) that fell on the land between the 6th and 9th hours of the day. They also explain that at the moment of Jesus’ death ‘the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent’. The earthquake is said to have been so severe that the graves of the dead burst open which must have been an extremely traumatic event, particularly when combined with an eclipse.
Except it did not happen! Key events such as earthquakes and eclipses would have been recorded in detail by contemporary historians and an earthquake severe enough to burst graves would have been recorded both by the Jewish court and by the Roman administrators. There are no secular records at all of any relief efforts being sent to Jerusalem or of any rebuilding works. Finally the veil in the temple was extremely precious and any damage to it would have been recorded.
The only explanation for this lack of reporting is that the earthquake and eclipse simply did not occur, at least not in that time and place. There were contemporary earthquakes elsewhere in the Empire (to which aid was sent) and we know that earthquakes happened in Jerusalem over that period but nothing in the geologic record can pin one exactly to the alleged date and time of the crucifixion. Indeed the only sources to link an eclipse (or volcanic debris) are Christian, clearly trying to establish a link between the supposed death of Jesus and the divine.
3There Are No Tangible Historical Artifacts Linked To Jesus.
Anyone who has lived, even a simple carpenter, will leave possessions after their death. The Gospels claim that the soldiers on duty at the crucifixion cast lots to share out Jesus’ clothing amongst them. Had he really had many devoted disciples (who would have been disgusted at their failure to protect him in the Garden) they or his grieving family would surely have tried to purchase or barter back the clothing. Such items would have been invaluable in the formation of the new church.
Nevertheless, nothing, absolutely nothing from Jesus’ life remained, even shortly after his demise. In the 12th Century people started to mention that they owned the shroud in which Jesus had been wrapped and, years later it surfaced in Turin. It was accepted as a genuine artifact for many years but carbon dating in the 20th Century showed it to be a 12th Century forgery. An ossuary claiming to hold the bones of James, brother of Jesus was also found to be a forgery. There is not one single, verifiable, tangible object in existence today or known to have existed at any time in the past 2,000 years that belonged to Jesus.
2The City Of Nazareth Did Not Exist During The Time Jesus Is Reputed To Have Been Alive.
Jesus was known as the Nazarene, possibly because he is reputed to have been from Nazareth. For many people there is no reason to doubt this claim. Nazareth exists today, an old town with a long history (and one very famous son) but while Nazareth is old, it is not as old as Jesus or even Christianity.
The historian Josephus lists all the cities in Galilee from around that time and Nazareth is not on the list. Nazareth is not mentioned in the Epistles, the first books of the New Testament to be written (see above), indeed there is no reference to the name until the Gospels. Excavations of the current day Nazareth and the surrounding area have led to mixed results. Evidence of human activity has been found from around the time when Jesus was alleged to have lived there but this activity was in the form of a necropolis for the dead and not a village in its own right.
An alternative translation of the word Nazarene is ‘truth’ and was a name given to a gnostic sect of Christians. It is possible that when the traditions split and the gnostic heritage was excised from Christianity the phrase was reimagined to state that Jesus was from Nazareth which, of course, was by then in existence.
1The Life History Of Jesus Parallels That Of Other Mythical Beings Too Closely To Be Real.
Children who grow up in Western societies, even if not formally educated in the Christian tradition, are aware of the amazing life story of Jesus. He was conceived and born in a stable to a virgin (Mary), escaped death at the hands of a tyrant (Herod) in his infancy, grew to be a precociously knowledgeable child, started his ministry of preaching before giving himself to be sacrificed, resurrecting after death and giving rise to a new covenant for the remission of sins. It is a story full of wonder and hope and, for many people it would appear unique and it is an article of deep faith and belief for billions of Christians around the world.
Sadly it is not unique. The story of Jesus is no more original than any modern day knock off of Romeo and Juliet. Many mythologies have a Christ like character whose story is set around the same pattern. Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld had a very similar life story and the ancient Egyptians celebrated his ‘passion’ with gusto. Osiris’ son, Horus was born to a virgin in a cave with a star overhead. He was visited by shepherds and gods. Horus was said to be the ‘light of the world’. He started to become active aged about 30 and many miracles were attributed to him that also appear in the gospels including walking on water and letting the blind see again.
But the similarities do not stop there. Dionysus was the son of Zeus and a virgin woman; he was able to turn water into wine and was killed and resurrected. Attis, another Greek god was honored every spring in a ritual in which his effigy was buried and believed to rise again after three days. Hercules was reputed to be another god/virgin offspring who was killed and rose again.
Perhaps the now defunct Christ figure with the most surprisingly similar story was Mithras whose life was an almost exact parallel, his worshipers even celebrated his birthday on 25 December.
So there you have it – 10 reasons why Jesus Christ never existed. Christianity is just one big myth! The church really only started to become successful and gain a foot hold after the conversion of Paul. St Paul used his power and influence to tell people how to live their lives and, once his new religion started to meet with success the writers of the Gospels decided that they needed something more to give the new religion traction.
They had seen what worked and what did not and borrowed the best bits of the most successful god origin stories for their new religion. They created a savior figure and then skillfully wove it together with hearsay until they had a narrative that they could sell to the masses. Once that met with success the early founders of the Church ruthlessly eliminated all opposition, particularly from the gnostic traditions.
It is certainly a cracking story, it has proved more successful and enduring than the myths of other ‘sun gods’, you don’t get many people worshiping Mithras or Osiris these days but we hope that this top 10 has convinced you that there is no rational reason to believe in the historical existence of Jesus.