PART 1: THE MYTH OF THE HISTORICAL JESUS
Much concern has been expressed in the Jewish media regarding the activity of "Jews for Jesus" and other missionary organizations who go out of their way to convert Jews to Christianity. Unfortunately, many Jews are ill-equipped to deal with Christian missionaries and their arguments. Hopefully this article will contribute to remedying this situation.
When countering Christian missionaries it is important to base one's arguments on correct facts. Arguments based on incorrect facts can easily backfire and end up strengthening the arguments of the missionaries.
It is rather unfortunate that many well meaning Jewish Studies teachers have unwittingly aided missionaries by teaching Jewish pupils incorrect information about the origins of Christianity. I can recall being taught the following story about Jesus at the Jewish day school which I attended:
"Jesus was a famous first century rabbi whose Hebrew name was Rabbi Yehoshua. His father was a carpenter named Joseph and his mother's name was Mary. Mary became pregnant before she married Joseph. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem during a Roman census. Jesus grew up in Nazareth and became a learned rabbi. He travelled all over Israel preaching that people should love one another. Some people thought that he was the Messiah and he did not deny this which made the other rabbis very angry. He caused so much controversy that the Roman governor Pontius Pilate had him crucified. He was buried in a tomb and later his body was found to be missing since it had probably been stolen by his disciples."
A few years after being taught this seemingly innocent story, I became interested in the origins of Christianity and decided to do some further reading on the "famous Rabbi Yehoshua." Much to my dismay, I discovered that there was no historical evidence of this Rabbi Yehoshua. The claim that Jesus was a rabbi named Yehoshua and the claim that his body was probably stolen both turned out to be pure conjecture. The rest of the story was nothing more than a watered down version of the story which Christians believe as part of the Christian religion but which is not supported by any legitimate historical source. There was absolutely no historical evidence that Jesus, Joseph or Mary ever existed, let alone that Joseph was a carpenter or that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth.
Despite the lack of evidence for Jesus's existence many Jews have made the tragic mistake of assuming that the New Testament story is largely correct and have tried to refute Christianity by attempting to rationalize the various miracles that allegedly occured during Jesus's life and after his death. Numerous books have been written which take this approach to Christianity. This approach however is hopelessly flawed and is in fact dangerous since it encourages belief in the New Testament.
When the Israelites were confronted with the worship of Baal they did not blindly accept the ancient West Semitic myths as history. When the Maccabees were confronted with Greek religion they did not blindly accept Greek mythology as history. Why do so many modern Jews blindly accept Christian mythology? The answer to this question seems to be that many Christians do not know themselves where the distinction between established history and Christian belief lies and they have passed their confusion on to the Jewish community. Browsing through the religion section of a local bookshop, I recently came across a book which claimed to be an objective biography of Jesus. It turned out to be nothing more than a summary of the usual New Testament story. It even included claims that Jesus's miracles had been witnessed but that rational explanations for them might exist. Many history books written by Christians take a similar approach. Some Christian authors will suggest that perhaps the miracles are not completely historical but they nevertheless follow the general New Testament story. The idea that there was a real historical Jesus has thus become entrenched in Christian society and Jews living in the Christian world have come to blindly accept this belief because they have never seen it seriously challenged.
Despite the widespread belief in Jesus the fact remains that there is no historical Jesus. In order to understand what is meant by an "historical Jesus," consider King Midas in Greek mythology. The story that King Midas turned everything he touched into gold is clearly nonsense, yet despite this we know that there was a real King Midas. Archaeologists have excavated his tomb and found his skeletal remains. The Greeks who told the story of Midas and his golden touch clearly intended people to identify him with the real Midas. So although the story of the golden touch is fictional, the story is about a person whose existence is known as a fact - the "historical Midas." In the case of Jesus, their is however, no single person whose existence is known as a fact and who is also intended to be the subject of the Jesus stories, i.e. there is no historical Jesus.
When confronted by a Christian missionary, one should immediately point out that *the very existence of Jesus has not been proven*. When missionaries argue they usually appeal to emotions rather than to reason and they will attempt to make you feel embarrassed about denying the historicity of Jesus. The usual response is something like "Isn't denying the existence of Jesus just as silly as denying the existence of Julius Caesar or Queen Elizabeth?". A popular variation of this response used especially against Jews is "Isn't denying the existence of Jesus like denying the Holocaust?" One should then point out that there are ample historical sources confirming the existence of Julius Caesar, Queen Elizabeth or whoever else is named, while there is no corresponding evidence for Jesus.
To be perfectly thorough you should take time to do some research on the historical personalities mentioned by the missionaries and present hard evidence of their existence. At the same time you should challenge the missionaries to provide similar evidence of Jesus's existence. You should point out that although the existence of Julius Caesar or Queen Elizabeth etc, is accepted worldwide, the same is not true of Jesus. In the Far East where the major religions are Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism and Confucism, Jesus is considered to be just another character in Western religious mythology, on a par with Thor, Zeus and Osiris. Most Hindus do not believe in Jesus, but those who do consider him to be one of the many avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu. Muslims certainly believe in Jesus but they reject the New Testament story and consider him to be a prophet who announced the coming of Muhammed. They explicitly deny that he was ever crucified.
To sum up, there is no story of Jesus which is uniformly accepted worldwide. It is this fact which puts Jesus on a different level to established historical personalities. If the missionaries use the "Holocaust reply," you should point out that the Holocaust is well-documented and that there are numerous eyewitness reports. It should be pointed out that most of the people who deny the Holocaust have turned out to be antisemitic hate-mongers with fraudulent credentials. On the other hand, millions of honest people in Asia, who make up the majority of the world's population, have failed to be convinced by the Christian story of Jesus since there is no compelling evidence for its authenticity. The missionaries will insist that the story of Jesus is a well-established fact and will argue that there is "plenty of evidence supporting it". One should then insist on seeing this evidence and refuse to listen any further until they produce it.
If Jesus was not an historical person, where did the whole New Testament story come from in the first place? The Hebrew name for Christians has always been Notzrim. This name is derived from the Hebrew word neitzer which means a shoot or sprout - an obvious Messianic symbol. There were already people called Notzrim at the time of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah (c. 100 B.C.E.). Although modern Christians claim that Christianity only started in the first century C.E., it is clear that the first century Christians in Israel considered themselves to be a continuation of the Notzri movement which had been in existence for about 150 years. One of the the most notorious Notzrim was Yeishu ben Pandeira, also known as Yeishu ha-Notzri. Talmudic scholars have always maintained that the story of Jesus began with Yeishu. The Hebrew name for Jesus has always been Yeishu and the Hebrew for "Jesus the Nazarene" has always been "Yeishu ha-Notzri." (The name Yeishu is a shortened form of the name Yeishua, not Yehoshua.) It is important to note that Yeishu ha-Notzri is not an historical Jesus since modern Christianity denies any connection between Jesus and Yeishu and moreover, parts of the Jesus myth are based on other historical people besides Yeishu.
We know very little about Yeishu ha-Notzri. All modern works that mention him are based on information taken from the Tosefta and the Baraitas - writings made at the same time as the Mishna but not contained in it. Because the historical information concerning Yeishu is so damaging to Christianity, most Christian authors (and even some Jewish ones) have tried to discredit this information and have invented many ingenious arguments to explain it away. Many of their arguments are based on misunderstandings and misquotations of the Baraitas and in order to get an accurate picture of Yeishu one should ignore Christian authors and examine the Baraitas directly.
The skimpy information contained in the Baraitas is as follows: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah once repelled Yeishu with both hands. People believed that Yeishu was a sorcerer and they considered him to be a person who had led the Jews astray. As a result of charges brought against him (the details of which are not known, but which probably involved high treason) Yeishu was stoned and his body hung up on the eve of Passover. Before this he was paraded around for forty days with a herald going in front of him announcing that he would be stoned and calling for people to come forward to plead for him. Nothing was brought forward in his favour however. Yeishu had five disciples: Mattai, Naqai, Neitzer, Buni, and Todah.
In the Tosefta and the Baraitas, Yeishu's father is named Pandeira or Panteiri. These are Hebrew-Aramaic forms of a Greek name. In Hebrew the third consonant of the name is written either with a dalet or a tet. Comparison with other Greek words transliterated into Hebrew shows that the original Greek must have had a delta as its third consonant and so the only possibilty for the father's Greek name is Panderos. Since Greek names were common among Jews during Hashmonean times it is not necessary to assume that he was Greek, as some authors have done.
The connection between Yeishu and Jesus is corroborated by the the fact that Mattai and Todah, the names of two of Yeishu's disciples, are the original Hebrew forms of Matthew and Thaddaeus, the names of two of Jesus's disciples in Christian mythology.
The early Christians were also aware of the name "ben Pandeira" for Jesus. The pagan philosopher Celsus, who was famous for his arguments against Christianity, claimed in 178 C.E. that he had heard from a Jew that Jesus's mother, Mary, had been divorced by her husband, a carpenter, after it had been proved that she was an adultress. She wandered about in shame and bore Jesus in secret. His real father was a soldier named Pantheras. According to the Christian writer Epiphanius (c. 320 - 403 C.E.), the Christian apologist Origen (c.185 - 254 C.E.) had claimed that "Panther" was the nickname for Jacob the father of Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus. It should be noted that Origen's claim is not based on any historical information. It is purely a conjecture aimed at explaining away the Pantheras story of Celsus. That story is also not historical. The claim that the name of Jesus's mother was Mary and the claim that her husband was a carpenter is taken directly from Christian belief. The claim that Jesus's real father was named Pantheras is based on an incorrect attempt at reconstructing the original form of Pandeira. This incorrect reconstruction was probably influenced by the fact that the name Pantheras was found among Roman soldiers.
Why did people believe that Jesus's mother was named Mary and her husband named Joseph? Why did non-Christians accuse Mary of being an adultress while Christians believed she was a virgin? To answer these questions one must examine some of the legends surrounding Yeishu. We cannot hope to obtain the absolute truth concerning the origins of the Jesus myth but we can show that reasonable alternatives exist to blindly accepting the New Testament.
The name Joseph for Jesus's stepfather is easy to explain. The Notzri movement was particulary popular with the Samaritan Jews. While the Pharisees were waiting for a Messiah who would be a descendant of David, the Samaritans wanted a Messiah who would restore the northern kingdom of Israel. The Samaritans emphasized their partial descent from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who were descended from the Joseph of the Torah. The Samaritans considered themselves to be "Bnei Yoseph" i.e. "sons of Joseph," and since they believed that Jesus had been their Messiah, they would have assumed that he was a "son of Joseph." The Greek speaking population, who had little knowledge of Hebrew and true Jewish traditions could have easily misunderstood this term and assumed that Joseph was the actual name of Jesus's father. This conjecture is corroborated by the fact that according to the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph's father is named Jacob, just like the Torah Joseph. Later, other Christians, who followed the idea that the Messiah was to be descended from David, tried to trace Joseph back to David. They came up with two contradictory genealogies for him, one recorded in Matthew and the other in Luke. When the idea that Mary was a virgin developed, the mythical Joseph was relegated to the position of simply being her husband and the stepfather of Jesus.
To understand where the Mary story came from we have to turn to another historical character who contributed to the Jesus myth, namely ben Stada. All the information we have on ben Stada again comes from the Tosefta and the Baraitas. There is even less information about him than about Yeishu: Some people believed that he had brought spells out of Egypt in a cut in his flesh, others thought that he was a madman. He was a beguiler and was caught by the method of concealed witnesses. He was stoned in Lod.
In the Tosefta, ben Stada is called ben Sotera or ben Sitera. Sotera seems to be the Hebrew-Aramaic form of the Greek name Soteros. The forms "Sitera" and "Stada" seem have arisen as misreadings and spelling mistakes (yod replacing vav and dalet replacing reish).
Since there was so little information concerning ben Stada, many conjectures arose as to who he was. It is known from the Gemara that he was confused with Yeishu. This probably resulted from the fact that both were executed for treasonous teachings and were associated with sorcery. People who confused ben Stada with Yeishu had to explain why he was also called ben Pandeira. Since the name "Stada" resembles the Aramaic expression "stat da," meaning "she went astray" it was thought that "Stada" referred to the mother of Yeishu and that she was an adultress. Consequently, people began to think that Yeishu was the illegitimate son of Pandeira. These ideas are in fact mentioned in the Gemara and are probably much older. Since ben Stada lived in Roman times and the name Pandeira resembled the name Pantheras found among Roman soldiers, it was assumed that Pandeira had been a Roman soldier stationed in Israel. This certainly explains the story mentioned by Celsus.
The Tosefta mentions a famous case of a woman named Miriam bat Bilgah marrying a Roman soldier. The idea that Yeishu had been born to a Jewish woman who had had an affair with a Roman soldier probably resulted in Yeishu's mother being confused with this Miriam. The name "Miriam" is of course the original form of the name "Mary." It is in fact known from the Gemara that some of the people who confused Yeishu with ben Stada believed that Yeishu's mother was "Miriam the women's hairdresser."
The story that Mary (Miriam) the mother of Jesus was an adultress was certainly not acceptable to the early Christians. The virgin birth story was probably invented to clear Mary's name. The early Christians did not suck this story out of their thumbs. Virgin birth stories were farely common in pagan myths. The following mythological characters were all believed to be have been born to divinely impregnated virgins: Romulus and Remus, Perseus, Zoroaster, Mithras, Osiris-Aion, Agdistis, Attis, Tammuz, Adonis, Korybas, Dionysus. The pagan belief in unions between gods and women, regardless of whether they were virgins or not, is even more common. Many characters in pagan mythology were believed to be sons of divine fathers and human females. The Christian belief that Jesus was the son of G-d born to a virgin, is typical of Greco-Roman superstition. The Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria (c. 30 B.C.E - 45 C.E.), warned against the widespread superstitious belief in unions between male gods and human females which returned women to a state of virginity.
The god Tammuz, worshipped by pagans in northern Israel, was said to have been born to the virgin Myrrha. The name "Myrrha" superficially resembles "Mary/Miriam" and it is possible that this particular virgin birth story influenced the Mary story more than the others. Like Jesus, Tammuz was always called Adon, meaning "Lord." (The character Adonis in Greek mythology is based on Tammuz.) As we will see later, the connection between Jesus and Tammuz goes much further than this.
The idea that Mary had been an adultress never completely disappeared in Christian mythology. Instead, the character of Mary was split into two: Mary the mother of Jesus, believed to be a virgin, and Mary Magdalene, believed to be a woman of ill repute. The idea that the character of Mary Magdalene is also derived from Miriam the mythical mother of Yeishu, is corroborated by the fact that the strange name "Magdalene" clearly resembles the Aramaic term "mgadla nshaya" meaning "womens' hairdresser." As mentioned before, there was a belief that Yeishu's mother was "Miriam the women's hairdresser." Because the Christians did not know what the name "Magdalene" meant, they later conjectured that it meant that she had come from a place called Magdala on the west of Lake Kinneret. The idea of the two Marys fitted in well with the pagan way of thinking. The image of Jesus being followed by the two Marys is strongly reminiscent of Dionysus being followed by Demeter and Persephone.
The Gemara contains an interesting legend concerning Yeishu which attempts to elucidate the Beraita which says that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah repelled Yeishu with both hands. The legend claims that when the Hashmonean king Yannai was killing the Pharisees, Rabbi Yehoshua and Yeishu fled to Egypt. When returning they came upon an inn. The Aramaic word "aksanya" means both "inn" or "innkeeper." Rabbi Yehoshua remarked how beautiful the "aksanya" was (meaning the inn). Yeishu (meaning the innkeeper) replied that her eyes were too narrow. Rabbi Yehoshua was very angry with Yeishu and excommunicated him. Yeishu asked many times for forgiveness but Rabbi Yehoshua would not forgive him. Once when Rabbi Yehoshua was reciting the Shema, Yeishu came up to him. He made a sign to him that he should wait. Yeishu misunderstood and thought that he was being rejected again. He mocked Rabbi Yehoshua by setting up a brick and worshipping it. Rabbi Yehoshua told him to repent but he refused to, saying that he had learned from him that anyone who sins and causes many to sin, is not given the opportunity to repent.
The above story, up to the events at the inn, closely resembles another legend in which the protagonist is not Rabbi Yehoshua but his disciple Yehuda ben Tabbai. In this legend, Yeishu is not named. One may thus question whether Yeishu really went to Egypt or not. It is possible that Yeishu was confused with some other disciple of either Rabbi Yehoshua or Rabbi Yehuda. The confusion might have resulted from the fact that Yeishu was confused with ben Stada who had returned from Egypt. On the other hand, Yeishu might have really fled to Egypt and returned, and this in turn could have contributed to the confusion between Yeishu and ben Stada. Whatever the case, the belief that Yeishu fled to Egypt to escape being killed by a cruel king, appears to be the origin of the Christian belief that Jesus and his family fled to Egypt to escape King Herod.
Since the early Christians believed that Jesus had lived in Roman times it is natural that they would have confused the evil king who wanted to kill Jesus with Herod, since there were no other suitable evil kings during the Roman period. Yeishu was an adult at the time that the rabbis fled from Yannai; why did the Christians believe that Jesus and his family had fled to Egypt when Jesus was an infant? Why did the Christians believe that Herod had ordered all baby boys born in Bethlehem to be killed, when there is no historical evidence of this? To answer these questions we again have to look at pagan mythology.
The theme of a divine or semi-divine child who is feared by an evil king is very common in pagan mythology. The usual story is that the evil king receives a prophecy that a certain child will be born who will usurp the throne. In some stories the child is born to a virgin and usually he is son of a god. The mother of the child tries to hide him. The king usually orders the slaying of all babies who might be the prophecied king. Examples of myths which follow this plot are the birth stories of Romulus and Remus, Perseus, Krishna, Zeus, and Oedipus. Although Torah literalists will not like to admit it, the story of Moses's birth also resembles these myths (some of which claim that the mother put the child in a basket and placed him in a river). There were probably several such stories circulating in the Levant which have been lost. The Christian myth of the slaughter of the innocents by Herod is simply a Christain version of this theme. The plot was so well known that one Midrashic scholar could not resist using it for an apocryphal account of Abraham's birth.
The early Christians believed that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. This belief is based on a misunderstanding of Micah 5.2 which simply names Bethlehem as the town where the Davidic lineage began. Since the early Christians believed that Jesus was the Messiah, they automatically believed that he was born in Bethlehem. But why did the Christians believe that he lived in Nazareth? The answer is quite simple. The early Greek speaking Christians did not know what the word "Nazarene" meant. The earliest Greek form of this word is "Nazoraios," which is derived from "Natzoriya," the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew "Notzri." (Recall that "Yeishu ha-Notzri" is the original Hebrew for "Jesus the Nazarene.") The early Christians conjectured that "Nazarene" meant a person from Nazareth and so it was assumed that Jesus lived in Nazareth. Even today, Christians blithely confuse the Hebrew words "Notzri" (Nazarene, Christian), "Natzrati" Nazarethite) and "nazir" (nazarite), all of which have completely different meanings.
The information in the Talmud (which contains the Baraitas and the Gemara), concerning Yeishu and ben Stada, is so damaging to Christianity that Christians have always taken drastic measures against it. When the Christians first discovered the information they immediately tried to wipe it out by censoring the Talmud. The Basle edition of the Talmud (c. 1578 - 1580) had all the passages relating to Yeishu and ben Stada deleted by the Christians. Even today, editions of the Talmud used by Christian scholars lack these passages!
During the first few decades of this century, fierce academic battles raged between atheist and Christian scholars over the true origins of Christianity. The Christians were forced to face up to the Talmudic evidence. They could no longer ignore it and so they decided to attack it instead. They claimed that the Talmudic Yeishu was a distortion of the "historical Jesus." They claimed that the name "Pandeira" was simply a Hebrew attempt at pronouncing the Greek word for virgin - "parthenos." Although there is a superficial resemblence between the words, one should note that in order for "Pandeira" to be derived from "parthenos," the "n" and "r" have to be interchanged. However, the Jews did not suffer from any speech impediment which would cause this to happen! The Christian response is that possibly the Jews purposefully altered the word "parthenos" to either the name "Pantheras" (found in Celsus's story) or to "pantheros" meaning a panther, and "Pandeira" is derived from the deliberately altered word. This argument also fails since the third consonent of both the altered and unaltered "parthenos" is theta. This letter is always transliterated by the Hebrew letter tav, whose pronunciation during classical times most closely resembled that of the Greek letter. However, the name "Pandeira" is never spelled with a tav but with either a dalet or a tet which show that the original Greek form had a delta as its third consonant, not a theta. The Christian argument can also be turned on its head: maybe the Christians deliberately altered "Pantheras" to "parthenos" when they invented the virgin birth story. It should also be noted that the resemblence between "Pantheras" (or "pantheros") and "parthenos" is actually much less when written in Greek since in the original Greek spelling their second vowels are completely different.
The Christians also did not accept that Mary Magdalene was connected to Miriam the alleged mother of Yeishu in the Talmud. They argued that the name "Magdalene" does mean a person from Magdala and that the Jews evented "Miriam the womens hairdresser mgadla nshaya)" either to mock the Christians, or out of their own misunderstanding of the name "Magdalene." This argument is also false. Firstly, it ignores Greek grammar: the correct Greek for "of Magdala" is "Magdales" and the correct Greek for a person from Magdala is "Magdalaios." The original Greek root of "Magdalene" is "Magdalen-" with a conspicuous "n" showing that the word has nothing to do with Magdala. Secondly, Magdala only got its name after the Gospels were written. Before that it was called Magadan or Dalmanutha. (Although "Magadan" has an "n," it lacks an "l" and so it cannot be the derivation of "Magdalene.") In fact, the ruins of this area were renamed Magdala by the Christian community because they believed that Mary Magdalene had come from there.
The Christians also claimed that the word "Notzri" means a person from Nazareth. This is of course false since the original Hebrew for Nazareth is "Natzrat" and a person from Nazareth is a "Natzrati." The name "Notzri" lacks the letter tav from "Natzrat" as so it cannot be derived from it. The Christians argue that perhaps the Aramaic name for Nazareth was "Natzarah" or "Natzirah" (like the modern Arabic name) which explains the missing tav in "Notzri." This is also nonsense since the Aramaic word for a person from Nazareth would then be "Natzaratiya" or "Natziratiya" (with a tav since the feminine ending "-ah" would become "-at-" when the suffix "-iya" is added), and besides, the Aramaic form would not be used in Hebrew. The Christians also came up with various other arguments which can be dismissed since they confuse the Hebrew words "Notzri" and "nazir" or ignore the fact that "Notzri" is the earliest form of the word "Nazarene."
To sum up, all the Christian arguments were based on impossible phonetic changes and grammatical forms, and were consequently dismissed. Moreover, although the legends in the Gemara cannot be taken as fact, the evidence in the Baraitas and Tosefta concerning Yeishu can be traced back directly to Yehoshua ben Perachyah, Shimon ben Shetach and Yehuda ben Tabbai and their disciples who were contemporaries of Yeishu, while the evidence in the Baraitas and Tosefta concerning ben Stada can be traced to Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and his disciples who were ben Stada's contempories. Consequently the evidence can be regarded as historically accurate. Therefore modern Christians no longer attack the Talmud but instead deny any connection between Jesus and Yeishu or ben Stada. They dismiss the similarities as pure coincidence. However, one must still be aware of the false attacks on the Talmud since many Christian books still mention them and they can and do resurface from time to time.
Many parts of the Jesus story are not based on Yeishu or ben Stada. Most Christian denominations claim that Jesus was born on 25 December. Originally the eastern Christains believed that he was born on 6 January. The Armenian Christians still follow this early belief while most Christians consider it to be the date of the visit of the Magi. As pointed out already, Jesus was probably confused with Tammuz born of the virgin Myrrha. We know that in Roman times, the gods Tammuz, Aion and Osiris were identified. Osiris-Aion was said to be born of the virgin Isis on the 6 January and this explains the earlier date for Christmas. Isis was sometimes represented as a sacred cow and her temple as a stable which is probably the origin of the Christian belief that Jesus was born in a stable. Although some might find this claim to be farfetched, it is known as a fact that certain early Christian sects identified Jesus and Osiris in their writings. The date of 25 December for Christmas was originally the pagan birthday of the sun god, whose day of the week is still known as Sun-day. The halo of light which is usually shown surrounding the face of Jesus and Christian saints, is another concept taken from the sun god.
The theme of temptation by a devil-like creature was also found in pagan mythology. In particular the story of Jesus's temptation by Satan resembles the temptation of Osiris by the devil-god Set in Egyptian mythology.
We have already hinted that there was also a connection between Jesus and the pagan god Dionysus. Like Dionysus, the infant Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger; like Dionysus, Jesus could turn water into wine; like Dionysus, Jesus rode on an ass and fed a multitude in the wilderness; like Dionysus, Jesus suffered and was mocked. Some early Christians claimed that Jesus had in fact been born, not in a stable, but in a cave - just like Dionysus.
Where did the story that Jesus was crucified come from? It appears to have resulted from a number of sources. Firstly there were three historical characters during the Roman period who people thought were Messiahs and who were crucified by the Romans, namely. Yehuda of Galilee (6 C.E.), Theudas (44 C.E.) and Benjamin the Egyptian (60 C.E.). Since these three people were all thought to be the Messiah, they were naturally confused with Yeishu and ben Stada. Yehuda of Galilee had preached in Galilee and had collected many followers before being crucified by the Romans. The story of Jesus's ministry in Galilee appears to be based on the life of Yehuda of Galilee. This story and the belief that Jesus lived in Nazareth in Galilee, reinforced each other. The belief that some of Jesus's disciples were killed in c. 44 C.E. by Agrippa appears to be based the fate of Theudas's disciples. Since ben Stada had come from Egypt it is natural that he would have been confused with Benjamin the Egyptian. They were probably also contempories. Even some modern authors have suggested that they were the same person, although this is not possible since the stories of their deaths are completely different. In the New Testament book of Acts, which uses Josephus's book Jewish Antiquities (93 - 94 C.E.) as a reference, it is made clear that the author considered Jesus, Yehuda of Galilee, Theudas and Benjamin the Egyptian, to be four different people. However, by that time it was too late to undo the confusions which had already taken place before the New Testament was written, and the idea of Jesus's crucifixion had become an integral part of the myth.
Secondly, the idea arose that Jesus had been executed on the eve of Passover. This belief is apparently based on Yeishu's execution. Passover occurs at the time of the Vernal Equinox, an event considered important by astrologers during the Roman Empire. The astrologers thought of this time as the time of the crossing of two astrological celestial circles, and this event was symbolized by a cross. Thus there was a belief that Jesus had died on "the cross." The misunderstanding of this term by those who were not initiated into the astrological cults, was another factor contributing to the belief that Jesus was crucified. In one of the earliest Christian documents (the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) there is no mention of Jesus being crucified yet the sign of a cross in the sky is used to represent Jesus's coming. It should be noted that the centre of astrological superstition in the Roman Empire was the city of Tarsus in Asia Minor - the place where the legendary missionary Paul came from. The idea that a special star had heralded the birth of Jesus, and that a solar eclipse occured at his death, is typical of Tarsian astrological superstition.
The third factor contributing to the crucifixion story is again pagan mythology. The theme of a divine or semi-divine being sacrificed against a tree, pole or cross, and then being resurrected, is very common in pagan mythology. It was found in the mythologies of all western civilizations stretching from as far west as Ireland and as far east as India. In particular it is found in the mythologies of Osiris and Attis, both of whom were often identified with Tammuz. Osiris landed up with his arms stretched out on a tree like Jesus on the cross. This tree was sometimes shown as a pole with outstretched arms - the same shape as the Christian cross. In the worship of Serapis (a composite of Osiris and Apis) the cross was a religious symbol. Indeed, the Christian "Latin cross" symbol seems to be based directly on the cross symbol of Osiris and Serapis. The Romans never used this traditional Christian cross for crucifixions, they used crosses shaped either like an X or a T. The hieroglyph of a cross on a hill was associated with Osiris. This heiroglyph stood for the "Good One," in Greek "Chrestos," a name applied to Osiris and other pagan gods. The confusion of this name with "Christos (= Messiah, Christ)" strengthened the confusion between Jesus and the pagan gods.
At the Vernal Equinox, pagans in northern Israel would celebrate the death and resurrection of the virgin born Tammuz-Osiris. In Asia Minor (where the earliest Christian churches were established) a similar celebration was held for the virgin born Attis. Attis was shown as dying against a tree, being buried in a cave and then being resurrected on the third day. We thus see where the Christian story of Jesus's resurrection comes from. In the worship of Baal, it was believed that Baal cheated Mavet (the god of death) at the time of the Vernal Equinox. He pretended to be dead but later appeared alive. He accomplished this ruse by giving his only son as a sacrifice.
The occurence of Passover at the same time of year as the pagan "Easter" festivals is not coincidental. Many of the Pessach customs were designed as Jewish alternatives to pagan customs. The pagans believed that when their nature god (such as Tammuz, Osiris or Attis) died and was resurrected, his life went into the plants used by man as food. The matza made from the spring harvest was his new body and the wine from the grapes was his new blood. In Judaism, matza, was not used to represent the body of a god but the poor man's bread which the Jews ate before leaving Egypt. The pagans used the paschal sacrifice to represent the sacrifice of a god or his only son, but Judaism used it to represent the meal eaten before leaving Egypt. Instead of telling stories about Baal sacrificing his first born son to Mavet, the Jews told how mal'ach ha-mavet (the angel of death) slew the first born sons of the Egyptians. The pagans ate eggs to represent the resurrection and rebirth of their nature god, but the egg on the seder plate represents the rebirth of the Jewish people escaping captivity in Egypt. When the early Christians noticed the similarities between Pessach customs and pagan customs, they came full circle and converted the Pessach customs back to their old pagan interpretations. The seder became the last supper of Jesus, similar to the last supper of Osiris commemorated at the Vernal Equinox. The matza and wine once again became the body and blood of a false god, this time Jesus. Easter eggs are again eaten to commemorate the resurrection of a "god" and also the "rebirth" obtained by accepting his sacrifice on the cross.
The Last Supper myth is particularly interesting. As mentioned, the basic idea of last supper occuring at the Vernal Equinox comes from the story of the last supper of Osiris. In the Christian story, Jesus is present with twelve apostles. Where did the story of the twelve apostles come from? It appears that in its earliest version, the story was understood to be an allegory. The first time that twelve apostles are mentioned is in the document known as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. This document apparently originated as a sectarian Jewish document written in the first century C.E., but it was adopted by Christians who altered it substantially and added Christian ideas to it. In the earliest versions it is clear that the "twelve apostles" are the twelve sons of Jacob representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The Christians later considered the "twelve apostles" to be allegorical disciples of Jesus.
In Egyptian mythology, Osiris was betrayed at his last supper by the evil god Set, whom the Greeks identified with Typhon. This seems to be the origin of the idea that Jesus's betrayer was present at his last supper. The idea that this betrayer was named "Judas" goes back to the time when the twelve apostles were still understood to be the sons of Jacob. The idea of Judas (= Judah, Yehuda) betraying Jesus (the "son" of Joseph) is strongly reminiscent of the story of the Torah Joseph being betrayed by his brothers with Yehuda as the ringleader. This allegory would have been particulary appealing to the Samaritan Notzrim who considered themselves to be sons of Joseph betrayed by mainstream Jews (represented by Judas/Yehuda).
However, the story of the twelve apostles lost its original allegorical interpretation and the Christians began to think that the "twelve apostles" were twelve real people who followed Jesus. The Christians attempted to find names for these twelve apostles. Matthew and Thaddaeus were based on Mattai and Todah, two of Yeishu's disciples. One or both of the apostles named Jacobus (James) is possibly based on Jacob of Kfar Sekanya, an early Christian known to Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, but this is just a guess. As we have seen, the character of Judas is mostly based on the Judah of the Torah but there might also be a connection with Yeishu's contemporary, Yehuda ben Tabbai the disciple of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah. As already mentioned, the idea of the betrayer at the last supper is derived from the mythology of Osiris who was betrayed by Set-Typhon. Set-Typhon had red hair and this is probably the origin of the claim that Judas had red hair. This idea has led to the Christian stereotypical portrayel of Jews as having red hair, despite the fact that in reality, red hair is far more common among Aryans than among Jews.
Judas is often given the nickname "Iscariot." In some places where English New Testaments have "Iscariot," the Greek text actually has "apo Kariotou" which means "from Karyot." Karyot was the name of a town in Israel, probably the modern site known in Arabic as Karyatein. We thus see that the name Iscariot is derived from the Hebrew "ish Karyot" meaning "man from Karyot." This is in fact the accepted modern Christian understanding of the name. However, in the past, the Christians misunderstood this name and legends arose that Judas was from the town of Sychar, that he was a member of the extremist party known as the Sicarii and that he was from the tribe of Issacher. The most interesting misunderstanding of the name is its early confusion with the word scortea meaning a leather money bag. This led to the New Testament myth that Judas carried such a bag, which in turn led to the belief that he was the treasurer of the apostles.
The apostle Peter appears to be a largely fictitious character. According to Christian mythology, Jesus chose him to be the "keeper of the keys to the kingdom of heaven." This is clearly based on the Egyptian pagan deity, Petra, who was the door-keeper of heaven and the afterlife ruled over by Osiris. We must also doubt the story of Luke "the good healer" who was supposed to be a friend of Paul. The original Greek for "Luke" is "Lykos" which was another name for Apollo, the god of healing.
John the Baptist is largely based on an historical person who practised ritual immersion in water as a physical symbol for repentence. He did not perform Christian style sacramental baptisms to cleanse people's souls - such an idea was totally foreign to Judaism. He was put to death by Herod Antipas who feared that he was about to start a rebellion. John's name in Greek was "Ioannes" and in Latin "Johannes." Although these names were usually used for the Hebrew name Yochanan, it is unlikely that this was John's actual Hebrew name. "Ioannes" closely resembles "Oannes" the Greek name for the pagan god Ea. Oannes was the "God of the House of Water." Sacramental baptism for magically cleansing souls, was a practice which apparently originated in the worship of Oannes. The most likely explanation of John's name and its connection with Oannes is that John probably bore the nickname "Oannes" since he practised baptism which he had adapted from the worship of Oannes. The name "Oannes" was later confused with "Ioannes." (In fact, the New Testament legend concerning John provides a clue that his real name might have been Zacharia.) It is known from Josephus's writings that the historical John rejected the pagan "soul-cleansing" interpretation of baptism. The Christians, however, returned to this original pagan interpretation.
The god Oannes was associated with the constellation Capricorn. Both Oannes and the constellation Capricorn were associated with water. (The constellation is supposed to depict a mythical sea-creature with the body of a fish and the foreparts of a goat.) We have already seen that Jesus was given the same birthday as the sun god (25 December), when the sun is in the constellation of Capricorn. The pagans thought of this period as one where the sun god is immersed in the waters of Oannes and emerges reborn. (The Winter Solstice, when days start getting longer, occurs near 25 December.) This astrological myth is apparently the origin of the story that Jesus was baptised by John. It probably started as an allegorical astrological story, but it appears that the god Oannes later became confused with the historical person nicknamed Oannes (John).
The belief that Jesus had met John contributed to the belief that Jesus's ministry and crucifixion occured when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judaea. It should be noted that most dates for Jesus quoted by Christians are completely nonsense. Jesus was partly based on Yeishu and ben Stada who probably lived more than a century apart. He was also based on the three false Messiahs, Yehuda, Theudas and Benjamin, who were crucified by the Romans at various different times. Another fact that contributed to confused dating of Jesus was that Jacob of Kfar Sekanya and probably other Notzrim as well, used expressions like "thus was I taught by Yeishu ha-Notzri," even though he had not been taught by Yeishu in person. We know from the Gemara that Jacob's statement led Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus to incorrectly conclude that Jacob was a disciple of Yeishu. This suggests that there were rabbis who were unaware of the fact that Yeishu had lived in Hashmonean times. Even after Christians placed Jesus in the first century C.E., confusion continued among non-Christians. There was a contempory of Rabbi Akiva named Pappus ben Yehuda who used to lock up his unfaithful wife. We know from the Gemara that some people who confused Yeishu and ben Stada, confused the wife of Pappus with Miriam the unfaithful mother of Yeishu. This would place Yeishu more than two centuries after he actually lived!
The New Testament story confuses so many historical periods that there is no way of reconciling it with history. The traditional year of Jesus's birth is 1 C.E. Jesus was supposed to be not more than two years old when Herod ordered the slaughter of the innocents. However, Herod died before 12 April 4 B.C.E. This has led some Christians to redate the birth of Jesus in 6 - 4 B.C.E. However, Jesus was also supposed have been born during the census of Quirinius. This census took place after Archelaus was deposed in 6 C.E., ten years after Herod's death. Jesus was supposed to have been baptised by John soon after John had started baptising and preaching in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias i.e. 28 - 29 C.E., when Pontius Pilate was governer of Judaea i.e. 26 - 36 C.E. According to the New Testament, this also happened when Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene and Annas and Caiaphas were high priests. But Lysanias ruled Abilene from c. 40 B.C.E until he was executed in 36 B.C.E by Mark Antony, about 60 years before the date for Tiberias and about 30 years before the supposed birth of Jesus! Also, there were never two joint high priests, in particular, Annas was not a joint high priest with Caiaphas. Annas was removed from the office of high priest in 15 C.E after holding office for some nine years. Caiaphas only became high priest in c. 18 C.E, about three years after Annas. (He held this office for about eighteen years, so his dates are consistent with Tiberias and Pontius Pilate, but not with Annas or Lysanias.) Although the book of Acts presents Yehuda of Galilee, Theudas and Jesus as three different people, it incorrectly places Theudas (crucified 44 C.E.) before Yehuda who it correctly mentions as being crucified during the census (6 C.E.). Many of these chronological absurdities seem to be based on misreadings and misunderstandings of Josephus's book Jewish Antiquities which was used as reference by the author of Luke and Acts.
The story of Jesus's trial is also highly suspicious. It clearly tries to placate the Romans while defaming the Jews. The historical Pontius Pilate was arrogant and despotic. He hated the Jews and never delegated any authority to them. However, in Christian mythology, he is portrayed as a concerned ruler who distanced himself from the accusations against Jesus and who was coerced into obeying the demands of the Jews. According to Christian mythology, every Passover, the Jews would ask Pilate to free any one criminal they chose. This is of course a blatant lie. Jews never had a custom of freeing guilty criminals at Passover or any other time of the year. According the myth, Pilate gave the Jews the choice of freeing Jesus the Christ or a murderer named Jesus Barabbas. The Jews are alleged to have enthusiastically chosen Jesus Barabbas. This story is a vicious antisemitic lie, one of many such lies found in the New Testament (largely written by antisemites). What is particularly disgusting about this rubbish story is that it is apparently a distortion of an earlier story which claimed that the Jews demanded that Jesus Christ be set free. The name "Barabbas" is simply the Greek form of the Aramaic "bar Abba" which means "son of the Father." Thus "Jesus Barabbas" originally meant "Jesus the son of the Father," in other words, the usual Christian Jesus. When the earlier story claimed that the Jews wanted Jesus Barabbas to be set free it was referring to the usual Jesus. Somebody distorted the story by claiming that Jesus Barabbas was a different person to Jesus Christ and this fooled the Roman and Greek Christians who did not know the meaning of the name "Barabbas."
Lastly, the claim that the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples is also based on pagan superstition. In Roman mythology, the virgin born Romulus appeared to his friend on the road before he was taken up to heaven. (The theme of being taken up to heaven is found in scores of pagan myths and legends and even in Jewish stories.) It was claimed that Apollonius of Tyana had also appeared to his disciples after having been resurrected. It is interesting to note that the historical Apollonius was born more or less at the same time as the mythical Jesus was supposed to have been born. In legends people claimed that he had performed many miracles which were identical to those also ascribed to Jesus, such as exorcisms of demons and the raising to life of a dead girl.
When confronted with Christian missionaries one should point out as much information as possible about the origins of Christianity and the Jesus myth. You will almost never succeed in convincing them that Christianity is a false religion. You will not be able to prove beyond all doubt that the story of Jesus arose in the way we have claimed it has, since most of the evidence is circumstancial. Indeed we cannot be certain about the precise origin of many particular points in the story of Jesus. This does not matter. What is important is that you yourself realize that logical alternatives exist to blind belief in Christian myths and that reasonable doubt can be cast on the New Testament narrative.
PART 2: THE LACK OF HISTORICAL EVIDENCE FOR JESUS
The usual Christian response to those who question the historicity of Jesus is to palm off various documents as "historical evidence" for the existence of Jesus. They usually start with the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The usual claim is that these are " eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus made by his disciples." The reply to this argument can be summed up in one word - *pseudepigraphic*. This term refers to works of writing whose authors conceal their true identities behind the names of legendary characters from the past. Pseudepigraphic writing was particularly popular among the Jews during Hashmonean and Roman periods and this style of writing was adopted by the early Christians.
The canonical gospels are not the only gospels. For example, there are also gospels of Mary, Peter, Thomas and Philip. These four gospels are recognized as being pseudepigraphic by both Christian and non-Christian scholars. They provide no legitimate historical information since they were based on rumours and belief. The existence of these obviously pseudepigraphic gospels makes it quite reasonable to suspect that the canonical gospels might also be pseudepigraphic. The very fact that early Christians wrote pseudepigraphic gospels suggests that this was in fact the norm. It is thus the missionaries' claim that the canonical gospels are *not* pseudepigraphic which requires proof.
The Gospel of Mark is written in the name of Mark, the disciple of the mythical Peter. (Peter is largely based on the pagan god Petra, who was door-keeper of heaven and the afterlife in Egyptian religion.) Even in Christian mythology, Mark was not a disciple of Jesus, but a friend of Paul and Luke. Mark was written before Matthew and Luke (c. 100 C.E.) but after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. which it mentions. Most Christians believe it was written in c. 75 C.E. This date is not based on history but on the belief that an historical Mark wrote the gospel in his old age. This is not possible since the style of language used in Mark shows that it was written (probably in Rome) by a Roman convert to Christianity whose first language was Latin and not Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic. Indeed, since all the other gospels are written in the name of legendary characters from the past, Mark was probably written long after any historical Mark (if there was one) had died. The contents of Mark is a collection of myths and legends put together to form a continuous narrative. There is no evidence that it was based on any reliable historical sources. Mark was altered and edited many times and the modern version probably dates to about 150 C.E. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 C.E. - c. 215 C.E.) complained about the alternative versions of this gospel which were still circulating in his lifetime. (The Carpocratians, an early Christian sect, considered paederasty to be a virtue and Clement complained about their versions of Mark which told of Jesus's homosexual exploits with young boys!)
The Gospel of Matthew was certainly not written by the apostle Matthew. The character of Matthew is based on the historical person named Mattai who was a disciple of Yeishu ben Pandeira. (Yeishu, who lived in Hashmonean times, was one of several historical people upon whom the character Jesus is based.) The Gospel of Matthew was originally anonymous and was only assigned the name Matthew some time during the first half of the second century C.E. The earliest form was probably written at more or less the same time as the Gospel of Luke (c. 100 C.E.) since neither seems to know of the other. It was altered and edited until about 150 C.E. The first two chapters, dealing with the virgin birth, were not in the original version and the Christians in Israel of Jewish descent prefered this earlier version. For its sources it used Mark and a collection of teachings referred to as the Second Source (or the Q Document). The Second Source has not survived as a separate document, but its full contents are found in Matthew and Luke. All the teachings contained in it can be found in Judaism. The more reasonable teachings can be found in mainstream Judaism, while the less reasonable ones can be found in sectarian Judaism. There is nothing in it which would require us to suppose the existence of a real historical Jesus. Although Matthew and Luke attribute the teachings in it to Jesus, the Epistle of James attributes them to James. Thus Matthew provides no historical evidence for Jesus.
The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts (which were two parts of a single work) were written in the name of the Christian mythological character Luke the healer (who was probably not an historical person but a Christian adaptation of the Greek healer god Lykos). Even in Christian mythology, Luke was not a disciple of Jesus but a friend of Paul. Luke and Acts use Josephus's Jewish Antiquities as a reference, and so they could not have been written before 93 C.E. At this time, any friend of Paul would be either dead or well into senility. Indeed, both Christian and non-Christian scholars agree that the earliest versions of the two books were written by an anonymous Christian in c. 100 C.E and were altered and edited until c. 150 - 175 C.E. Besides Josephus's book, Luke and Acts also use the Gospel of Mark, and the Second Source as references. Although Josephus is considered to be more or less reliable, the anonymous author often misread and misunderstood Josephus and moreover, none of the information about Jesus in Luke and Acts comes from Josephus. Thus Luke and Acts is of no historical value.
The John was written in the name of the apostle John the brother of James, son of Zebedee. The author of Luke used as many sources as he could get hold of but hewas unaware of John. Thus John could not have been written before Luke (c. 100 C.E.) Consequently John could not have been written by the semi-mythical character John the Apostle who was supposed to have been killed by Herod Agrippa shortly before his own death in 44 C.E. (John the Apostle is apparently based on an historical disciple of the false Messiah Theudas who was crucified by the Romans in 44 C.E. and whose disciples were murdered.) The real author of the John was in fact an anonymous Christian from Ephesus in Asia Minor. The oldest surviving fragment of John dates to c. 125 C.E. and so we can date the gospel to c. 100 - 125 C.E. Based on stylistic considerations many scholars narrow down the date to c. 110 - 120 C.E. The earliest version of John did not contain the last chapter which deals with Jesus appearing to his disciples. Like the other gospels, John probably only attained its present form around 150 - 175 C.E. The author of John used Mark sparingly and so one suspects that he did not trust it. He either had not read Matthew and Luke or he did not trust them since he does not use any information from them which was not found in Mark. Most of John consists of legends with obvious underlying allegorical interpretations and one suspects that the author never intended them to be history. John does not contain any information from reliable historical sources.
Christians will claim that the Gospel of John itself states that it is an historical document written by John. This claim is based on the verses John 19.34 - 35 and John 21.20 - 24. John 19.34 - 35 does not claim that the gospel was written by John. It claims that the events described in the immediately preceding verses were accurately reported by a witness. The passage is ambiguous and it is not clear whether the witness is supposed to be the same person as the author. Many scholars are of the opinion that the ambiguity is deliberate and that the author of John is trying to tease his readers in this passage as well as in the passages which tell miraculous stories with allegorical interpretations. John 21.20 - 24 also does not claim that the author is John. It claims that the disciple mentioned in the passage is the one who witnessed the events described. It is again notably ambiguous as regards the question of whether the disciple is the same person as the author. It should be noted that this passage is in the last chapter of John which was not part of the original gospel but was added on as an epilogue by an anonymous redactor. One should beware the fact that many "easy to understand" translations of the New Testament distort the passages mentioned so as to remove the ambiguity found in the original Greek. (Ideally one needs to be familiar with the original Greek text of the New Testament in order to avoid biased and distorted translations used by fundamentalist Christians and missionaries.)
In order to back up their claims that the gospels of Mark and Matthew were written by the "real" apostles Mark and Matthew and that Jesus is an historical person, missionaries often point to the so-called "testimony of Papias." Papias was the bishop of Hierapolis(near Ephesus) during the middle of the second century C.E. None of his writings have survived but the Christian historian Eusebius (c. 260 - 339 C.E.) in his book, Ecclesiastical History (written c. 311 - 324 C.E.) paraphrased certain passages from Papias's book Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord (written c. 140 - 160 C.E.). In these passages, Papias claimed that he had known the daughters of the apostle Philip and also reported several stories which he claimed came from people named Aristion and John the Elder, who had still been alive during his own lifetime. Eusebius appears to have thought that Aristion and John the Elder were disciples of Jesus. Papias claimed that John the Elder had said that Mark had been Peter's interpreter and had written down accurately everything that Peter had to tell about Jesus. Papias also claimed that Matthew had compiled all the "oracles" in Hebrew and everyone had interpreted them as best they could. None of this, however, provides any legitimate historical evidence of Jesus nor does it back up the belief that Mark and Matthew were really written by apostles bearing those names. Papias was a name dropper and it is by no means certain that he was honest when he claimed that he had met Philip's daughters. Even if he had, this would at most prove that the apostle Philip in Christian mythology was based on an historical person. Papias never explicitly claimed that he had met Aristion and John the Elder. Moreover, just because Eusebius in the 4th century believed that they were disciples of Jesus does not mean that they were. Nothing at all is known about who on earth Aristion actually was. He is certainly not one of the disciples in the usual Christian tradition. I have seen books in which certain fundamentalist Christians claim that John the Elder was the apostle John the son of Zebedee and that he was still alive when Papias was young. They also claim that Papias lived in c. 60 - 130 C.E. and that he wrote his book in c. 120 C.E. These dates are not based on any legitimate evidence and are complete nonsense: Papias was bishop of Hierapolis in c. 150 C.E and as already mentioned his book was written sometime in the period c. 140 - 160 C.E. Pushing the date for Papias back to 60 C.E. still does not place him during the lifetime of the apostle John who according to standard Christian legends was killed in 44 C.E. Besides, it is unlikely that John the Elder had anything to do with John the Apostle. According to Epiphanius (c. 320 - 403 C.E.), an early Christian named John the Elder had died in 117 C.E. We will have more to say about him when we discuss the three epistles named after John. Whatever the case, the stories which Papias collected were being told at least a decade after the gospels and Acts had been written and reflect unfounded rumours and superstition about the origins of these books. In particular, the story about Mark obtained from John the Elder, is nothing more than a slight elaboration of the legend about Mark found in Acts and so it tells us nothing about the true origins of the Gospel of Mark. The story about Matthew writing the "oracles" is simply a rumour, and besides, it does nothave anything to do with the Gospel of Matthew. The term "oracles" can only be understood as a reference to the collection of writings known as the Oracles of the Lord which is referred to in the title of Papias's book and which in all likelyhood is the same thing as the Second Source, not the Gospel of Matthew.
Besides the the canonical gospels and Acts , missionaries also try to use the various Christian epistles as proof of the Jesus story. They claim that the epistles are letters written by Jesus's disciples and followers. However, epistles (from the Greek epistol q e, meaning message or order) are books, written in the form of letters (usually from legendary characters from the past), which expound religious doctrines and instructions. This form of religious writing was used by the Jews in Greco-Roman times. (The most famous Jewish epistle is the Epistle of Jeremiah , which is a lengthy condemnation of idolatry written during the Hellinistic period in the form of a letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Jerusalem just before they were exiled to Babylon.) As in the case of the gospels, there are Christian epistles not contained in the New Testament which both Christian and non-Christian scholars agree are pseudepigraphic and of no historical value since they expound beliefs and not history. The existence of pseudepigraphic epistles and indeed the whole concept of an epistle, suggests that epistles were normally pseudepigraphic. Thus again it is the claims by missionaries and Christian fundamentalists, that the canonical epistles are genuine letters, which requires proof.
The Epistle of Jude is written in the name of Jude (Judas) the brother of James. According to Mark and Matthew, Jesus had brothers named Judas and James. Comparison with other writings shows that the Epistle of Jude was written in c. 130 C.E. and so it is obviously pseudepigraphic. There is no evidence however that its author used any legitimate historical sources as regards Jesus.
Two of the canonical epistles are written in the name of Peter. Since Peter is a mythical Christian adaptation of the Egyptian pagan deity Petra, these epistles were certainly not written by him. The style and character of the First Epistle of Peter alone shows that it could not have been written earlier than c. 80 C.E. Even according to Christian legend, Peter was supposed to have died following the persecutions instigated by Nero in c. 64 C.E. and so he could not have written the epistle. The author of Luke and Acts used all written sources he could get hold of and tended to use them indiscriminately, however he did not mention any epistles by Peter. This shows that the First Epistle of Peter was probably written after Luke and Acts (c. 100 C.E.). No references to Jesus in the First Epistle of Peter are taken from historical sources but instead reflect beliefs and superstition. The Second Epistle of Peter speaks out against the Marcionists and so it must have been written c. 150 C.E. It is thus clearly pseudepigraphic. The Second Epistle of Peter uses as sources: the story of Jesus's transfiguration found in Mark, Matthew and Luke , the Apocalypse of Peter and the Epistle of Jude. The non-canonical Apocalypse of Peter (written some time in the first quarter of the second century C.E.) is recognized as being non-historical even by fundamentalist Christians. Thus the Second Epistle of Peter also does not use any legitimate historical sources.
We now turn to the epistles supposedly written by Paul. The First Epistle of Paul to Timothy warns against the Marcionist work known as the Antithesis. Marcion was expelled from the Church of Rome in c. 144 C.E. and the First Epistle of Paul to Timothy was written shortly afterwards. Thus we again have a clear case of pseudepigraphy. The Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy and the Epistle of Paul to Titus were written by the same author and date to about the same period. These three epistles are known as the "pastoral epistles." The ten remaining "non-pastoral" epistles written in the name of Paul, were known to Marcion by c. 140 C.E. Some of them were not written in Paul's name alone but are in the form of letters written by Paul in collaboration with various friends such as Sosthenes, Timothy, and Silas. The author of Luke and Acts, went out of his way to obtain all sources available and tended to use them indiscriminately, but he used nothing from the Pauline epistles. We can thus conclude that the non-pastoral epistles were written after Luke and Acts in the period c. 100 - 140 C.E. The non-canonical First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians (written c. 125 C.E.) uses the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians as a source and so we can narrow down the date for that epistle to c. 100 - 125 C.E. However, we are left with the conclusion that that all the Pauline epistles are pseudepigraphic. (The semi-mythical Paul was supposed to have died during the persecutions instigated by Nero in c. 64 C.E.) Some of the Pauline epistles appear to be have been altered and edited numerous times before reaching their modern forms. As sources they use each other, Acts, the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke and the First Epistle of Peter . We may thus conclude that they provide no historical evidence of Jesus.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is a particularly interesting epistle since it is not pseudepigraphic but completely anonymous. Its author neither reveals his own name nor does he write in the name of a Christian mythological character. Fundamentalist Christians claim that it is another epistle by Paul and in fact call it the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews. This idea, apparently dating to the late fourth century C.E., is not accepted by all Christians however. As a source for its information on Jesus it uses material common to Mark , Matthew and Luke , but no legitimate sources. The author of the First Epistle of Clement used it as a source and so it must have been written before that epistle (c. 125 C.E.) but after at least the Gospel of Mark (c. 75 - 100 C.E.).
The Epistle of James is written in the name of a servant of Jesus called James(or Jacobus). However, in Christian mythology there were two apostles named James and Jesus also had a brother named James. It is not clear which James is intended and there is no agreement among Christians themselves. It quotes sayings from the Second Source but unlike Matthew and Luke it does not attribute these sayings to Jesus but presents them as sayings of James. It contains an important argument against the doctrine of "salvation through faith" expounded in the Epistle of Paul to the Romans. We can thus conclude that it was written during the first half of the second century C.E., after Romans but before the time that Matthew and Luke were accepted by all Christians. Thus regardless of which James is intended, the Epistle of James is pseudepigraphic. It says almost nothing about Jesus and there is no evidence that the author had any historical sources for him.
There are three epistles named after the apostle John. None of them are in fact written in the name of John and were probably only ascribed to him some time after they had been written. The First Epistle of John, like the Epistle to the Hebrews, is completely anonymous. The idea that it was written by John arises from the fact that it used the John as a source. The other two epistles named after John are written by a single author who instead of writing in the name of an apostle, chose simply to call himself "the Elder." The idea that these two epistles were written by John arose from the beliefs that "the Elder" referred to John the Elder and that he was the same person as the apostle John. In the case of the Second Epistle of John this belief was reinforced by the fact that that epistle also uses the Gospel of John as a source. We can thus conclude that the first two epistles ascribed to John were written after the John (c. 110 - 120 C.E.). Consequently none of the three epistles could have been written by the apostle John. It should be pointed out that it is quite possible that the pseudonym "the Elder" does refer to the person named John the Elder, but if this is so, he is certainly not the apostle John. The first two John epistles use only the Gospel of John as a source for Jesus; they do not use any legitimate sources. The Third Epistle of John barely mentions "Christ" and there is no evidence that it used any historical sources for him.
Besides the epistles named after John, the New Testament also contains a book known as the Revelation to John . This book combines two forms of religious writing, that of the epistle and that of the apocalypse. (Apocalypses are religious works which are written in the form of revelations about the future made by a famous character from the past. These revelations usually describe unfortunate events occurring at the time of writing and also offer some hope to the reader that things will improve.) It is not certain how much editing the Revelation to John underwent and so it is difficult to date it precisely. Since it mentions the persecutions instigated by Nero we can say with certainty that it was not written earlier than 64 C.E. Thus it cannot have been written by the "real John." Thefirst few verses form an introduction which is clearly not intended to be by John and which provides a vague admission that the book is pseudepigraphic even though the author feels that his message is inspired by G-d. The style of writing and the references to the practice of kriobolium (baptism in sheeps blood) suggests that the author was one of those people of Jewish descent who mixed Judaism with pagan practices. There were many such "pagan Jews" during Roman times and it was these people who become the first converts to Christianity, established the first churches, and who were probably also responsible for introducing pagan myths into the story of Jesus. (They are also remembered for their rediculous belief that "Adonai Tzevaot" was the same as the pagan god "Sebazios.") The references to Jesus in the book are few and their is no evidence that they are based on anything but belief.
Besides the epistles accepted in the New Testament and besides the epistles which are unanimously recognized as being of no value (such as the Epistle of Barnabas), there are also several epistles which although not accepted in the New Testament, are considered of value by some Christians. Firstly there are the epistles named after Clement. In Christian legend, Clement was the third in succession of Peter as bishop of Rome. The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians is not in fact written in the name of Clement but in the name of the "Church of God which sojourns in Rome." It refers to a persecution which is generally thought to have occured in 95 C.E. under Domitian, and it refers to the dismissal of the elders of the Church of Corinth in c. 96 C.E. Christians believe that Clement was bishop of Rome during this time and this is apparently the reason why the epistle was later named after him. Fundamentalist Christians believe that the epistle was in fact written in c. 96 C.E. This date is not possible since the epistle refers to bishops and priests as separate groups; a division which had not taken place yet. Stylistic considerations show that it was written in c. 125 C.E. As references it used the Epistle to the Hebrews and The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians but no legitimate historical sources. The Second Epistle of Clement is by a different author to the first and was written later. We may thus conclude that it was also not written by Clement. (There is no evidence that either of these epistles were named after Clement before their incorporation into the collection of books known as the Codex Alexandrinus , in the fifth century C.E.) As sources for Jesus, the Second Epistle of Clement uses the Gospel of the Egyptians, a document which is rejected by even the most fundamentalist Christians, and also the New Testament books which we have shown to be valueless. Thus again we have no legitimate evidence of Jesus.
Next we have the epistles written in the name of Ignatius. According to legend, Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch who was killed under Trajan's rule c. 110 C.E. (Although he is probably based on a real historical person the legends about hismartyrdom are largely fictional.) There are fifteen epistles written in his name. Of these, eight are unanimously recognized as being pseudepigraphic and of no value as regards Jesus. The remaining seven each have two forms, a longer and a shorter. The longer forms are clearly altered and edited versions of the shorter forms. Fundamentalist Christians claim that the shorter forms are genuine letters written by Ignatius. The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans mentions the threefold ordering of bishops, priests and deacons which had not yet taken place by Ignatius's death which occurred no later than 117 C.E. and which probably took place c. 110 C.E. All seven shorter epistles attack various Christian beliefs, now considered heretical, which only became prevalent c. 140 - 150 C.E. The shorter Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans contains a quote from the writings of Irenaeus, written after 170 C.E. and published c. 185 C.E. We can thus conclude that the seven shorter epistles are also pseudepigraphic. The shorter Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans was certainly written after 170 C.E. (In fact, if it was not written by Irenaeus then it was probably written after c. 185 C.E.) and the other six were written no earlier than the period c. 140 - 150 C.E. if not later. There are no sources for Jesus in the Ignatian epistles other than the New Testament books and the writings of Irenaeus which only use the New Testament. Thus they contain no legitimate evidence of Jesus.
There are two more epistles which Christians claim are genuine letters, namely the Epistle of Polycarp and the Martyrdom of Polycarp. The Ignatian epistles and the epistles concerning Polycarp have always been closely associated. It is quite possible that they were all written by the Christian writer Irenaeus and his disciples. There certainly was a real historical early Christian named Polycarp. He was bishop of Smyrna and was killed by the Romans sometime in the period 155 - 165 C.E. When Irenaeus was a boy he knew Polycarp. Fundamentalist Christians claim that Polycarp was the disciple of the apostle John. However, even if we accept the legend that Polycarp lived to the age of 86, he could not have been born earlier than 67 C.E and therefore could not have been a disciple of John. (It is possible that he was a disciple of the enigmatic John the Elder.) Since Irenaeus had known Polycarp they also assume that Irenaeus was in fact his disciple, a claim for which there is no evidence. The Epistle of Polycarp uses most New Testament books and the Ignatian epistles as references but it uses no legitimate sources for Jesus. Those Christians who reject the Ignatian epistles but believe the Epistle of Polycarp is a genuine letter, claim that the references to the Ignatian epistles are a later interpolation. This idea is based on personal bias not on any genuine evidence. Based on the blind belief that this epistle is a genuine letter, some Christians date it to around the middle of the second century C.E. shortly before Polycarp's death. However, the references to the Ignatian epistles suggest that it was in fact written some time in the last few decades of the secondcentury C.E., at least about a decade after Polycarp's death if not later.
The Martyrdom of Polycarp is written in the name of "the Church of G-d that sojourns in Smyrna." It starts off in the form of a letter but its main body is written in the form of an ordinary story. It tells the tale of Polycarp's martyrdom. Like the Epistle of Polycarp, it was written some time during the last few decades of the second century C.E. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that it used any reliable sources for its story, only rumours and hearsay. The story in fact appears to be highly fictionalized. The references to Jesus are not taken from any reliable source.
We have thus seen that the epistles used by missionaries as "evidence" are just as spurious as the gospels. Again, the reader should beware "easy to understand" translations of the New Testament since they call the epistles, "letters," thereby incorrectly implying that they are really letters written by the people after whom they are named.
Now, besides the books of the New Testament, and besides the epistles relating to Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp, there is only one more Christian religious work which Christians claim as historical evidence of Jesus, namely the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles also known as the Didache. All other early Christian religious works are either wholly rejected by modern Christians or are least recognized as not being primary sources as regards Jesus. The Didache began as a sectarian Jewish document, probably written during the period of turmoil in c. 70 C.E. Its earliest form consisted of moral teachings and predictions of the destruction of the current world order. This earliest version, which obviously did not mention Jesus, was taken over by Christians who heavily edited and altered it, adding a story of Jesus and rules of worship for early Christian communities. Scholars estimate that the earliest Christian version of the Didache could not have been written much later than 95 C.E. It probably only reached its final form around c. 120 C.E. It appears to have served an isolated Christian community in Syria as a "Church Order" during the period c. 100 - 130 C.E. However, there is no evidence that its story of Jesus was based on any reliable sources, and as we have mentioned, the earliest Jewish version had nothing to do with Jesus. In fact, this document provides evidence that the myth of Jesus grew gradually. Like the Gospel of Mark and the early versions of Gospel of Matthew , the Jesus story in the Didache makes no mention of a virgin birth. It makes no mention of the fantastic miracles which were later attributed to Jesus. Although Jesus is referred to as a "son" of G-d, it appears that this term is being used figurativly. The evidence we have concerning the origin of the crucifixion myth suggests that one of the things leading to this myth was the fact that the cross was the astrological symbol of the Vernal Equinox which occurs near Passover, when Jesus was believed to have been killed. It is thus not surprising to find that the story in the Didache makes no mention of Jesus being crucified, although itmentions a cross in the sky as a sign of Jesus. The twelve apostles mentioned in the full title of the Didache do not appear as twelve real disciples of Jesus and the term clearly refers to the twelve sons of Jacob representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Thus the Didache provides vital clues concerning the growth of the Jesus myth, but it certainly does not provide any evidence of an historical Jesus.
Since none of the Christian religious texts provide any acceptable evidence of Jesus, missionaries turn next to non-Christian texts. Christians claim that several reliable historians recorded information about Jesus. Although some of these historians are more or less accepted, we shall see that they do not provide any information about Jesus.
Firstly, Christians claim that the Jewish historian Josephus recorded information about Jesus in his book Jewish Antiquities (published c. 93 - 94 C.E.) It is true that this book contains information about the three false Messiahs, Yehuda of Galilee, Theudas and Benjamin the Egyptian, and it is true that the character of Jesus appears to be based on all of them in part, but none of them can be regarded as the historical Jesus. Moreover, in the book of Acts, these people are mentioned as being different people to Jesus and so modern Christianity actually rejects any connection between them and Jesus. In the Christian edited versions of the Jewish Antiquities there are two passages dealing with Jesus as portrayed in Christian religious works. Neither of these passages are found in the original version of the Jewish Antiquities which was preserved by the Jews. The first passage (XVII,3,3) was quoted by Eusebius writing in c. 320 C.E. and so we can conclude that it was added in some time between the time Christians got hold of the Jewish Antiquities and c. 320 C.E. It is not known when the other passage (XX,9,1) was added in. Neither passage is based on any reliable sources. It is fraudulent to claim that these passages were written by Josephus and that they provide evidence for Jesus. They were written by Christian redactors and were based purely on Christian belief.
Next the Christians will point to the Annals by Tacitus. In the Annals XV,44, Tacitus describes how Nero blamed the Christians for the fire of Rome in 64 C.E. He mentions that the name "Christians" originated from a person named Christus who had been executed by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberias. It is certainly true that the name "Christians" is derived from Christ or Christus (=Messiah), but Tacitus' claim that he was executed by Pilate during the reign of Tiberias is based purely on the claims being made by the Christians themselves and appearing in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke which had already been widely circulated when the Annals were being written. (The Annals were published after 115 C.E. and were certainly not written before 110 C.E.) Thus, although the Annals contains a sentence in which "Christus" is spoken of as a real person, this sentence was based purely on Christian claims and beliefs which are of no historical value.It is quite ironic that modern Christians use Tacitus to back up their beliefs since he was the least accurate of all Roman historians. He justifies hatred of Christians by saying that they committed abominations. Besides "Christus" he also speaks of various pagan gods as if they really exist. His summary of Middle East history in his book the Histories is so distorted as to be laughable. We may conclude that his single mention of Christus cannot be taken as reliable evidence of an historical Jesus.
Once Tacitus is dismissed, the Christians will claim that one of the younger Pliny's letters to the emperor Trajan provides evidence of an historical Jesus. (Letters X,96.) This is nonsense. The letter in question simply mentions that certain Christians had cursed "Christ" to avoid being punished. It does not claim that this Christ really existed. The letter in question was written before Pliny's death in c. 114 C.E. but after he was sent to Bithynia in 111 C.E., probably in the year 112 C.E. Thus it provides nothing more than a confirmation of the trivial fact that around the beginning of the twelfth decade C.E. Christians did not normally curse something called "Christ" although some had done it to avoid punishment. It provides no evidence of an historical Jesus.
Christians will also claim that Suetonius recorded evidence of Jesus in his book Lives of the Caesars (also known as The Twelve Caesars). The passage in question is Claudius 25, where he mentions that the emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome (apparently in 49 C.E.) because they caused continual disturbances at the instigation of a certain Chrestus. If one blindly assumes that "Chrestus" refers to Jesus then, if anything, this passage contradicts the Christian story of Jesus since Jesus was supposed have been crucified when Pontius Pilate was procurator (26 - 36 C.E.) during the reign of Tiberias and moreover, he was never supposed to have been in Rome! Suetonius lived during the period (c. 75 - 150 C.E.) and his book, Lives of the Caesars, was published during the period 119 - 120 C.E. having been written some time after Domitian's death in 96 C.E. Thus the event he describes occurred at least 45 years before he was writing about it and so we cannot be certain of its accuracy. The name Chrestus is derived from the Greek Chrestos meaning "good one" and it is not the same as Christ or Christus which are derived from the Greek Christos meaning "anointed one/Messiah." If we take the passage at face value it refers to a person named Chrestus who was in Rome and who had nothing to do with Jesus or any other "Christ." The term Chrestos was often applied to pagan gods and many of the people in Rome called "Jews" were actually people who mixed Jewish beliefs with pagan beliefs and who were not necessarily of Jewish descent. Thus it is also possible that the passage refers to conflicts involving these pagan "Jews" who worshipped a pagan god (such as Sebazios) titled Chrestos. On the other hand, the words Chrestos and Chr istos were often confused and so the passage might even be referring to some conflict involving Jews who believed that some person was the Messiah, but this person may or may not have actually been in Rome and for all we know, he may not have been a real historical person. One should bear in mind that the described event took place just several years after the crucifixion of the false Messiah Theudas in 44 C.E. and the passage may be referring to his followers in Rome. Christians claim that the passage refers to Jesus and conflicts arising after Paul brought news of him to Rome and that Suetonius was only mistaken about Jesus himself being in Rome. However, this interpretation is based on blind belief in Jesus and the myths about Paul and there is nothing to suggest that it is the correct interpretation. Thus we may conclude that Suetonius also fails to provide any reliable evidence of an historical Jesus.
All other writers who mention Jesus, from Justin Martyr in the second century C.E. to the latest expounders of Christian myth in the twentieth century, have all based their references to Jesus on the sources we have discredited above. Consequently their claims are worthless as historical evidence. We are thus left with the conclusion that there is absolutely no reliable and acceptable historical evidence of Jesus. All references to Jesus are derived from the superstitious beliefs and myths of the early Christian community. The majority of these beliefs only came into existence after the persecution by Nero and the tragedy of 70 C.E. Many of these beliefs are based on the pagan legends about the gods Tammuz, Osiris, Attis, Dionysus and the sun god Mithras. Other myths about Jesus appear to be based on various different historical people such as the convicted criminals Yeishu ben Pandeira and ben Stada, and the crucified false Messiahs Yehuda, Theudas and Benjamin, but none of these people can be regarded as an historical Jesus.
1) J. Allegro, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth, Prometheus Books, reprinted 1991. (Examines how ancient myths were misused by the early church and misrepresented as history.)
2) J. Campbell, Occidental Mythology, Penguin Books, reprinted 1985. (An exposition of religious mythology in western civilization. Includes important evidence concerning the borrowing of pagan myths by Christianity.)
3) E.D. Cohen, The Mind of the Bible-Believer, Prometheus Books, reprinted 1991. (Uncovers the psychological ploys around which the New Testament is built and exposes the adverse effects of Christian fundamentalism.)
4) R. Helms, Gospel Fictions, Prometheus Books, reprinted 1991. (Exposes the gospels as being largely fictional documents composed as a culmination to an extensive mythological tradition.)
5) S. Levine, You Take Jesus and I'll Take God: How to Refute Christian Missionaries, revised edition, Hamoroh Press, Los Angeles, 1980. (Exposes the tricks used by missionaries and the misquotations of the Tanach in the New Testament.)
6) J.M. Robertson, A Short History of Christianity, 2nd Ed., Watts & Co., London 1913. (One of the first serious academic investigations into the origins of Christianity. Exposes the elements of the Jesus story borrowed from pagan myths.)
7) The Talmud, should be compulsory reading for all Jews although it is unfortunately neglected in modern times!