THE JESUS PUZZLE
Was There No Historical Jesus?
by Earl Doherty
READER FEEDBACK AND AUTHOR'S RESPONSE
I can only say that I think you have done a brilliant job. Your explanations are always crystal clear. You have an excellent style for the intelligent layman to read.
I am truly grateful for your work, what you have accomplished and for what you must endure to get this information out. Please keep it up.
What else can I say? Thanks. I have been trying to tell my family and friends for years that Jesus is astrology, not historical fact. They all act like I am nuts. I am printing your works for them, and will try to distribute this to as many people as I can.
Thanks for your web site. I'm in the process of asking a lot of questions at the moment, and I find your material revolutionary.
I was referred to your web site and have been enjoying it immensely. What a treasure trove! Our view of the past is so fragmentary—a few paltry fossils. I feel like you have just dumped a wheelbarrow load of new fossils on my doorstep. Thank you!
I am nearly finished THE JESUS PUZZLE. As a former Christian, who accepted the silly rationalities to explain contextual contra- dictions (God allowed Cain to mate with his sister) and scientific inaccuracies (Satan planted dinosaur bones to test our faith), I am amazed at your ability to actually think about "sacred" scripture to point out the problems. Scripture that I once read with a mind of stone, merely to memorize and spout without understanding to impress others, now as you have pointed out seems loaded with superstition gleaned from the mix of Greek philosophy, myth and various ancient religions. Your tests of silence collectively are a dramatic strike against the Jesus presented in the later midrashic creations. What reasonable, mentally-well person cannot imagine that if Paul had knowledge about a suffering savior who rose from the dead in Jerusalem, every letter would contain heaping amounts of details to strengthen his position and teach the masses? It makes me very upset to realize that for so many years I was told that the four gospels proved the existence of Jesus because they were written by eyewitnesses. No one said when they were written. Can you imagine my amazement to realize than Mark may have been written from 65 to 100 and that the others were written much later? When does propa- ganda become a downright lie? Did my college-educated minister know this to deceive me, or did they want to protect my fragile mind from the truth—or did they know? I realize scholarship continues and we may discover much more to change our present ideas, but at least you are being instrumental in helping to cure the mental infections that have kept some of us sick for so long.
I am much impressed by your workmanship job in deconstructing the origins of Christian theology. And I laud you in that it is done in a gentlemanly fashion without cheap rancor. The scriptures now appear quite alien to me. All cathedral-like structures of theology are null and void no matter how brilliantly architectured. Built on quicksand, both outhouse and Eiffel tower meet the same eventual fate: a resounding plop in the muck!
I have just finished your book and I intend to read it again soon. For over 20 years I have been unable to swallow the gospel stories but was at a loss as to how the legends began. Your explanations seem to be the most plausible I have had the opportunity to read. It makes infinitely more sense than the version I learned in Sunday School in the United Methodist Church in southeastern Alabama. Thank you very much for your hard work.
I hope that your work brings some light and sanity to a world polluted by inhumane systems, and that a new more pro-life system of ethics can rise from the ashes.
You are a fool! This is not said out of only anger. You are really what the Bible classifies as a fool. Forever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth. All of your wisdom is only foolishness to God. When you bow before Jesus and confess that He is Lord, as every being must do, then you will know that there really was a man called Jesus Christ. Only then, it will be too late for you to change from the work of Satan you are engaged in. Therefore, the true God and historical Jesus Christ will say, "Depart from me you worker of evil to a place prepared for Satan and his angels." You've heard of that place and you may not find it in your historical research, but you will find yourself there if you don't change and come to know Jesus Christ, the only one who can save you.
I have no idea how you can write an entire web site of such utter nonsense! How can anyone read so deeply into scripture and yet not even have their eyes open? Just make it up as you go along! How can you read so much of a man and a God who has done so much and then just dismiss him? Please I beg of you, tell me what your true stance is on the matter. I cannot believe anyone could conclude something so far from the truth.
God knew what he was doing. If he would have made it that easy for you and me to figger [sic] out, there would be no need for faith. Do you really think GOD would let us figger him out? Now we have to have faith. Trust in him. Ask him to 'prove' to you. Know what? He will.
May God forgive u.
I enjoy your web site and have a question. In the course of discussion of the Jesus myth with a Unitarian Minister (who referred to Crossan's book, "The Birth of Christianity") mention was made in favor of the existence of a historical Jesus by way of Roman records of this crucifixion. I've never heard of it.Response to Doug:
Roman Record of the Crucifixion
As far as a Roman record of the crucifixion, there is no evidence that there was any such thing. Some would like to claim that Tacitus' reference to Jesus as a man crucified by Pilate indicates such a record, but Tacitus' information could as easily have come from Christian hearsay of the time (around 115 CE). A scholar such as Norman Perrin (The New Testament, An Introduction, p.405) admits that his information probably came from police interrogation of Christians.
Later in the 2nd century, there appeared several gross forgeries on the subject, including letters or reports from Pilate to the emperor Tiberius, in which Pilate describes Jesus' career and crucifixion and acknowledges the validity of Christian faith, including the resurrection. (See Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol.VIII, p. 459f.) No one today, and certainly not a scholar of Crossan's caliber, takes these naïve inventions as authentic.
For more on this, see my response to Jeff in Reader Feedback No. 2
I am an ex-Christian atheist, who retains an interest in the bible. There is one issue which leads me to continue to give credence to the notion of an historical Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul lists himself as "abnormally born." I have generally taken this to suggest that Paul was a late arrival on the scene, and that he was defending his apostolic status despite his not having the direct association with the historical Jesus that was claimed by others. Hence I have generally understood Paul to de-emphasize the historical Jesus so as to validate his own preaching, but with indications that he was in competition with an earlier group which did claim a historical connection. How do you understand this phrase "abnormally born"?Response to Chris:
"He appeared to me, as one abnormally born"
What are these "indications" that Paul was in competition with those who claimed an historical connection to Jesus? 1 Corinthians 15:8, the statement that Christ appeared lastly to Paul, follows on the "seeings" of the rest with no discernible distinction, either in the quality of the vision or the nature of the respective apostolic qualifications of the men who had received those visions. Reading such distinctions into "abnormally born" would be a stretch. Paul may well be describing himself as a latecomer to the original Jerusalem church, though Bauer's Lexicon suggests that "Paul may here have been taking up an insult that had been hurled at him by his opponents." Such an insult ("you abortion!") might have been prompted by the reason why Paul was a 'johnny-come-lately': he had been spending his time persecuting the church, only to undergo conversion and seek belatedly to join its ranks.
On the matter of apostolic qualification, I point again to 1 Corinthians 9:5, in which Paul asks plaintively, "Have I not seen Jesus Our Lord?" as a way of proving his own legitimacy. This is a clear reference to a vision, probably the one referred to in 15:8. But if Paul is claiming a vision of Christ as the standard by which his apostleship can be legitimized, the implication is that all the other apostles, whose ranks he is seeking to join, have similarly been legitimized by visions. Thus, this would be a counter-indication of the idea that he was in competition with a group which claimed an historical connection to an earthly Jesus. There are many of these in the epistles (e.g., 1 Corinthians 12:28, 2 Corinthians 11:4, Galatians 2:8), with no statement anywhere that Jesus had appointed apostles himself while on earth.
I have noticed that you consider ACTS was written in the 2nd century CE. Can you clarify two points: Firstly, why is there no mention of the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE? Secondly, why does ACTS not relate what happened to Paul following his trial in Rome?Response to Tony:
The Ending and Dating of the Acts of the Apostles
I cannot recall any scholarly comment on the silence in Acts on the destruction of the Temple. Perhaps because Acts purports to be a history of the early apostolic movement up to about the year 62, it wouldn't be surprising to find no mention of an event of the year 70. On the other hand, if the author is writing in the post-70 period, and he mentions the apostles' activities in the Temple several times, one might think there would have been no special reason for him to avoid referring in passing to its later destruction. Perhaps he just didn't happen to do so.
However, it is always possible that the author was deliberately avoiding it in order to convey the idea that he was writing pre-70. I and certain other scholars (Knox, Townsend, Mack, O'Neil, etc.) judge that Acts is a second century composition to create an artificial picture of the early faith movement, and that the so-called "preface" to the Gospel of Luke, whose theme is continued at the beginning of Acts, was added at the final stage—after a revision of Luke as well—to link the two works as the product of one author.
Note, incidentally, that in this preface, the writer intrudes in a way that offered an ideal opportunity to state who the presumed author of the Gospel and Acts was. If at whatever time Luke-Acts was written or finalized, the tradition existed that this Gospel had been authored by Luke, the physician-companion of Paul, there seems little reason why such a tradition would not have been incorporated into the Gospel preface. This consideration would indicate that the attribution of this Gospel to Luke was a later development, and if Luke-Acts was indeed written/finalized in the middle of the 2nd century, such an attribution must be pushed back into the latter 2nd century. This, of course, is in keeping with the fact that Justin refers to his sources only as "memoirs of the apostles" and that Irenaeus, around 180, is the first to offer the four Gospels by name, as well as the first to mention "Luke".
Might it indeed be the case that the final redactor wanted to convey that both Gospel and Acts were written pre-70? Modern critical scholarship on the four Gospels has pushed them all past the 70 date, and demonstrated that Luke drew only on Mark and the Q document, almost certainly knowing neither Matthew nor John. But the redactor of Luke-Acts would likely not have realized this, and thus his statement in the preface is really quite erroneous. He says that "many writers have undertaken to draw up an account of the events that have happened among us, following the traditions handed down to us by the original eyewitnesses and servants of the Gospel." But the Gospel itself does not draw on "many" writers who had contributed accounts about Jesus and his deeds, as it demonstrably uses only Mark and Q (with a smattering of extra elements such as a couple of parables unique to itself and Jesus' hearing before Herod, probably the product of the author). Yet the redactor seems to be aware of a mass of material (even if he doesn't use it), and this, together with his comment about "traditions handed down" which implies the passage of a fair amount of time involving a long process of oral and written tradition, fits better the second century period when many Gospels, more than the canonical four, were in circulation.
On the question of the ending of Acts, there have been many explanations offered for the fact that Paul arrives in Rome, but there the work stops, and no information is given about his fate, his trial and execution by beheading—or so the later tradition goes. Some of these explanations are based on Luke's apparent purpose, on the structural and symbolic pattern of his plot. The story of Acts is, on the overall scale, the story of the breaking out of the Christian movement from its initial Jewish setting into a gentile one ("the disengagement of Christianity from Judaism" as Norman R. Peterson puts it, in Literary Criticism for New Testament Critics, p.87). The climax of that story is the movement of Paul to Rome, after having left Judea and abandoned his preaching to the Jews. The execution of Paul in Rome was not only unnecessary to that pattern, it might have been seen as casting a pall over it, as ending on a negative note.
J. C. O'Neill devotes several pages (in his The Theology of Acts in its Historical Setting, p. 60-63) to a discussion of Luke's intention, both in the Gospel and Acts, which I will briefly paraphrase. He argues against Harnack's famous contention (still repeated today by conservative scholars) that Luke ended—and thus wrote—his story before the martyrdom of Paul because he didn't know about it; it hadn't happened yet. O'Neill suggests that in fact Luke puts a prophecy of Paul's death into Paul's mouth at Acts 20:25 and 38. What is significant for Luke in his plotting of Acts' ending is the fact "that he [Paul] has arrived and preached in Rome." Luke takes special pains to end his Gospel in Jerusalem, with Jesus appearing to his disciples there, a deliberate change to the angel's direction in Mark 16:7 that the disciples should await him in Galilee, and in contradiction to Matthew who follows Mark's lead and places his resurrection appearance to the disciples back in Galilee. O'Neill suggests that, in parallel to the Gospel's Jerusalem ending, where Jesus triumphs, Acts ends in gentile Rome, where Paul—and with him the Christian apostolic movement—triumphs. Thus Acts must end on that positive note.
This "endowing of geographical data with theological meaning" (as O'Neill puts it) is clear indication that the evangelists are not writing history. They are constructing careful and elaborate pieces of symbolism, and story lines will be crafted, details invented, sources altered, to create that theological or educational statement. It is important to make ourselves aware of this, and to counter the naivete that is regularly brought to these documents which appeals to an analysis of their content as though they represent a log of actual happenings, down to the smallest detail. Justification for a belief in the resurrection, for example, is often dependent on minute examination of the movements of a rolling tomb stone.
It is also difficult to believe that Acts was written at a time when Paul was still alive and could be consulted on the accuracy of its details. Indeed, we would have to assume that the author would have had to rely on Paul for much of its content, for a date as early as 62 would hardly allow time enough for all the traditions about Paul's movements, his words and deeds, to have circulated throughout the Christian world, or for such information to be written down in any way, and thus the author could not simply know all this material from other sources. Nor is he likely to have traveled the length and breadth of the eastern empire to gather his information from a host of witnesses if the subject of his book were alive and accessible. The details of the sea voyage alone would have had to come straight from Paul's mouth. That is, of course, unless the author were simply playing fast and loose with history.
The problem is, if he were indeed the companion of Paul and were concerned with providing an accurate picture of Paul's career, he would hardly have falsified so much or gotten so much wrong (presuming we should choose the information in the epistles over that of Acts). It is a well known fact that Acts' picture of Paul and his activities is regularly contradicted by Paul's own letters. All things considered, dating Acts around the year 62 faces immense problems which those who blithely do so seem never to have taken into account. Finally, there is the startling situation that Acts has no attestation before the 170s (apart from a possible general allusion in Justin, writing in the 150s), which raises the stunning question of how such a work could have been written so early and yet surface nowhere in Christian records for almost a century. Other arguments (which I won't go into here) relating to Marcion's use of an early form of Luke in the 140s add more weight to the 2nd century dating position for Acts.
I would like to add once again some observations (I made them in the previous Reader Feedback file) about the whole question of Paul's martyrdom in Rome. It is curious that in chapter 5 the author of 1 Clement refers to Paul and Peter encountering persecution and finally ending their lives in the service of the gospel, but neither one of them is specifically stated as going to Rome, or of being martyred there. Now this letter, even if inauthentic and written at a later date sometime in the 2nd century, is almost certainly of Roman provenance. (I would regard it as likely a turn of the century writing in Rome, though not by 'Clement'.) And yet a writer in Rome fails to mention that Paul and Peter ended their days there, let alone that they had been executed for the faith?! He doesn't even say that Paul (or Peter, for that matter, which belies the entire 'papal' Petrine tradition) actually went to Rome. The best way to explain this is that he knew of no such traditions.
Also, none of the pseudo-Pauline epistles make any suggestion or show any knowledge of Paul going to Rome and being martyred there. Justin, who worked in Rome in the middle of the 2nd century, does not so much as mention Paul's name. This would all be wondrously strange if the Pauline (and Petrine) Roman traditions (all, if memory serves me correctly, being witnessed to not earlier than the latter 2nd century) were true. It would make the entire ending of Acts, the dramatic sea voyage (which no early epistle writer gives even a hint of either), sheer fabrication, and in fact there are indications that it is simply a literary device copied from hellenistic romances. So one explanation for why the writer of Acts (120 to 150, though I would date it in the latter part of that period) failed to provide information about Paul's fate in Rome, is that such legendary features were as yet poorly developed, or not at all.
If there is archaeological evidence that Caiaphas (high priest of Jerusalem) and Pontius Pilate (Prefect of Judea) were real people of history, why are some atheists so dogmatic in their belief that Jesus of Nazareth never existed?Response to David:
Bringing Jesus in on Caiaphas' Coattails / No Archaeological Christian Record
David quotes from a web site on an archaeological find in Jerusalem. "Workers building a water park two miles south of the Temple Mount in 1990 inadvertently broke through the ceiling of a hidden burial chamber dating to the first century AD. Inside, archaeologists found 12 limestone ossuaries. One contained the bones of a 60-year-old man and bore the inscription _Yehosef bar Qayafa_ 'Joseph, son of Caiaphas.' Experts believe these remains are probably those of Caiaphas the high priest of Jerusalem, who according to the Gospels ordered the arrest of Jesus, interrogated him, and handed him over to Pontius Pilate for execution."
Whether these are the bones of the High Priest Caiaphas, testifying to his existence, has nothing to do with the question of Jesus of Nazareth's existence. What we rather need are archaeological remains attesting to the existence of the Gospel figure, which is something that we don't have. In fact, it is startling to realize that there are no archaeological Christian remains of any kind to be found, either in Palestine or anywhere else in the Roman empire, for the entire first century and well into the second. No art, no artifacts, no inscriptions.
Symbols found on Roman sites, such as the Chi-Rho crosses, are likely to be Mithraic, an abbreviation for Chronos, the god of time, which was a popular embodiment of Mithras. This symbol was later appropriated by Christians and claimed to stand for Christ. The idea that the catacombs were early hiding places from persecution is probably pure fiction, much of it the result of 18th century romantic literature. Murals and frescoes depicting biblical scenes and figures are no earlier than the 3rd century. Funerary art is equally late. A common 'apologetic' on this situation has it that there are no early recognizably Christian symbols because Christians for a long time used pagan symbols before developing ones of their own, an explanation which hardly commends itself. If Christian tradition reflecting the Gospel story was circulating early, there is no reason why art and artifact would not have followed in its wake almost immediately, even if some of it had to be surreptitious. Pagan art found in crypts and other sites were in later centuries appropriated by Christians, who claimed that such things were Christian motifs. Funerary banquets became the celebration of the Eucharist, the "Good Shepherd" image of the god Hermes was taken to be Christ, and so on.
As for the demonstrated existence of historical characters within the setting of a story, I shouldn't need to reiterate the obvious fallacy of declaring that because the background is true or accurate, the central story elements must be so as well. Pointing to evidence for Pilate and the fact that he crucified rebels does not guarantee the Gospel depiction of his execution of Jesus, especially when there is no corroborating evidence for that depiction. Accuracy and realism of setting prove nothing other than the fiction writer's competence. And four accounts boil down to one, if they are all copying the one who first devised the plot line.
So what are we going to do now?Response to Dan:
In a Post-Christian World
I can't tell from Dan's brief query whether there is a touch of sadness or apprehension in it. There need be neither. I think only good can come from establishing the strong likelihood that the last 1900 years of western history have been based on a myth, on things which never happened. When Christianity became literalist sometime in the 2nd century, that is, treating the figure of the divine Christ and his symbolic placement in the Gospel story as historical reality, the faith now stood or fell on the basis of the accuracy of that reality.
Pagan salvation religion in the ancient world, and certainly in the minds of its extant 'philosophers' (including Cicero, Plutarch, Sallustius, Julian), never locked itself into a literal understanding of its mythology. Tales of the savior gods were largely a matter of symbolism, of allegorical embodiment of deeper truths. Understanding of the "mysteries" and the accompanying hope of salvation lay in poetic, symbolic expression. For the most part, myth and its meaning were malleable, accommodating, universalist.
Christian literalism was the opposite. When 'biographies' of Jesus became literal, requiring a belief in the man himself, in the historical performance of each miracle, the utterance of each saying, this degraded people's critical and poetic faculties into uncritical credulity, it reduced mythic universal truths to mere superstition. It turned the Christian believer—unlike his pagan predecessor—into a parochial, intolerant fanatic, often capable of atrocity and murder in the name of correct faith. It perpetuated belief in devils which could possess people, since Jesus himself was portrayed as having expelled and conversed with them. It ensured the continuing expectation of an apocalyptic end to the world, even to our own time when it has affected how millions conduct their lives, including in the political arena. It condemned the race of the Jews to prejudice and slaughter because the passion tale with its Jewish involvement was taken literally. And it ensured the descent of a curtain of darkness over the mind and social progress, which has not yet been entirely lifted.
When the heavenly Christ became human, that humanity clashed with the divinity he had previously dwelt in. Those conflicting natures had to be accommodated in one historical entity. Religious minds throughout Christian history found themselves exercised over the nature of Jesus, leading frequently to strife, division, war. When Jesus became an actual teacher, the Son on earth speaking words and admonitions which had originally proceeded from far less hallowed mouths, those words were cast in stone and became inviolable; they were used as weapons against those who did not follow them. "Compel them to come in" justified intolerance, forced conversion, religious wars and slaughter. Whole societies were forced to live under fossilized directives. Scientific and social progress were hamstrung by the sacred record of Jesus' words and deeds, and what was interpreted from them.
The very idea of a god coming to earth, taking human form and flesh, undergoing murder and sacrifice at the hands of the very beings who were granted salvation by that act, has served to lay a guilt trip on western humanity of staggering weight. The idea that this god had been on earth to begin a process, to establish an institution, meant that many would claim exclusive authority through alleged channels proceeding from that founder, leading to the condemnation of all those who claimed a different channel, a different heritage of tradition. When 'truth' came to lie in the story itself, in the literal interpretation of the 'record' rather than a flexible understanding of its underlying meaning, people abdicated the option of applying their own wisdom to a set of words, and adopted blind adherence to the fixed words themselves. That enslavement to 'sacred writings' is still with us today.
From reason to revelation. This is the essence of the ancient world's passage from the pagan to the Christian era, and I know of no writer who has better captured the spirit of that retrogressive metamorphosis than the novelist George Faludy in his 1966 historical novel City of Splintered Gods. Set just before the so-called conversion of Constantine, at a time when Christianity was not only divided in its own views of Jesus but was making influential inroads into pagan society (else Constantine, consummate politician that he was, would never have 'converted' to the faith), Faludy's story focuses on that fateful transition. I will quote here from a review I wrote of this novel a number of years ago:
. . . Karoton, son of a pagan rhetorician and recent convert to Christianity, moves within the uneasy mix of Egyptian Alexandria's pagan and Christian elements. In the spirit of the time, he vacillates between Arius and Athanasius, with their conflicting views on the nature of the divine Trinity and Jesus, serving first one, then the other. He is torn as well between sexual freedom and denial, for this too is a mark of the great shift between ancient and medieval outlook. Christianity brought what can only be described as a neurosis to the ancient world's attitude toward sex. Fornication became the great sin, and in order to suppress sex, much in society's way of life had to be suppressed as well. Karoton tells himself that "the body is the devil's snare" to lure him to damnation. Between his compulsive sexual flings he agonizes over whether he should follow the example of some of his fellow believers and have himself castrated—although a fresh temptation always manages to foil his resolve in time. Yet the words of Origen, a Christian apologist who had inflicted this ultimate sacrifice upon himself, continue to haunt him: that God's purpose is "the liberation of the spirit from the unnatural union with the flesh." In the psychological history of the western world, this alienation from the body was a profound development, whose neurotic effects have continued to this day.And so it turned out. Many centuries later, we have only begun to emerge from that self-imposed, claustrophobic regression. Conservative elements in western society, especially in North America, are still caught in it, and doing their best to reverse the process. If the fundamental falsity of the Christian myth of the Gospels has finally been exposed (it started almost two centuries ago, and is furthered as well by modern critical scholarship on the New Testament even if it has not entirely rejected an historical figure), there may be enough light cast upon the scene to ensure that this will not happen.
The pagan perspective lies in the sad musings of the poet Alexias, who watches the inexorable advance of the new times. He sees his world passing from a diversity of ideas to an imposed oneness. He and his kind are doomed to defeat because, unlike their new enemies, "we do not believe in the exclusive rightness of our opinions." At a dinner party, witnessing a theological debate between Catholics and Arians, he laments that "at Plato's banquets, proof was based on intellectual arguments, not quotations from the Scriptures." The derivation of knowledge has passed from reason to revelation. Where has the perfume of life gone? he asks himself: its twin pillars of Eros and Socrates, the flesh and the intellect, are crumbling beneath him. These two aspects of a human, world-based view are giving way to a God- and heaven-based one, and he fears that his own poems, along with the bulk of the intellectual and artistic output of Greece and Rome, will pass into oblivion, destroyed or allowed to die by the Christians. . . .
The immediate answer to Dan's question is to do what one always does when emerging from a long ordeal: to rejoice, to celebrate the new freedom. Without the Christian myth, the mind is freed from the necessity of surrendering to a 'personal savior' and can begin to look for 'salvation' in its own individual and collective efforts and wisdom. That mind is freed from having to condemn the majority of its fellow human beings for not embracing the same savior deity. It is freed from enslavement to a set of ancient writings which embody all the primitive and prejudicial trappings of its time, many of which in the real world of scientific and social progress have been left far behind. It is freed from the superstition and cosmology of the biblical world view. It can abandon belief in crucified and resurrected gods, angels and demons, places of eternal horrific punishment or pie-in-the-sky bliss, and focus instead on the present world, undoubtedly the only one we have. It is free to reverse the denial of human rights based on biblical prejudice and divine fiat, to heal the fracture of the human being into spirit and flesh. It is free to apply the principles of critical thinking, to achieve scientific literacy and a proper understanding of the nature and evolution of the universe we live in and our own place within it. And it is free to design an ethical system based on our best judgments and current needs. The possibilities under this new freedom are limitless.
I'll close this homily by quoting the final words of the Postscript to my book, The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ?
But there is no going back. Fundamentalism, still thriving in North America and parts of the third world, will no doubt keep the Gospel Son of God alive for a time, but once the dissolution of the Christian record as a reliable and historical set of documents makes its way fully into public consciousness, it is hard to see how Christianity as a vital force in society will be able to continue.
What will replace it is difficult to say. Many people who have abandoned traditional religion style themselves "spiritual." If by "spiritualism" we speak not of some supernatural dimension and inscrutable link to divine or philosophical entities whose existence cannot be shown, but rather of the deep and fascinating potential which lies within the human organism itself and its links with the living, knowable world, if we speak of it as the product of natural evolution in an observable and understandable universe, the outlook for the future may be bright. Whether this is to be defined by the term "spiritualism" or by a word such as "humanism" should not matter, so long as we cease to search for meaning in the sphere of fantasy, or extrapolate the best in ourselves onto an idealized, larger-than-life individual or heavenly force (which the Jesus Seminar is still trying to do). Instead, we need only find it in the earth-based capacity of every human individual.
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