THE JESUS PUZZLE
Was There No Historical Jesus?
by Earl Doherty

             READER FEEDBACK AND AUTHOR'S RESPONSE


RFSet19

Cindy writes:

    It is good to hear the quiet voice of reason amid the clamor
 of faith. Your site is an excellent source of scholarly debate
 and open-minded discussion. I am enjoying it immensely.

Vadil writes:

    I have read almost everything on your Jesus Puzzle web site. 
I join with others in recognizing the merit of the work you have 
presented and the scholarly acclaim that it deserves. It has 
been a great eye opener for me.

Robert writes:

    I just wanted to say thank you for your hard work. I have 
been studying history informally for about twenty years and it 
never ceases to amaze me what some people believe and why they 
believe it. I am glad to see that information that has been around 
for centuries is finally getting to the public. I recommend your 
site to as many people as I can. Historical honesty is refreshing 
and a continuous challenge.

David writes:

    I can't help but agree with your assessment. We as humans 
could proceed onward to our real problems of social behavior and 
environment, to better us all and to provide a better life for our 
offspring, if only we could see beyond our baggage. It is my humble 
opinion that individuals such as yourself embark on such journeys 
to give us a guide, to help us shed the baggage. Keep up the good 
work.

Adam writes:

    After reading everything on your web site, I decided to buy 
your book. I was not disappointed. The research is impeccable and 
the conclusions you make are amazing. After spending most of my 
life drowning in fundamentalist Christianity, I now feel that a 
great burden has been lifted from my shoulders.
    I wish that research like yours could free the world from the 
superstition of Christianity. However, old habits and beliefs die 
hard. This is why your beacon in the darkness is so important. 
Hopefully, common sense will prevail someday.

Mark writes:

    I've been a devoted Christian for 20 odd years and only 
recently have realized that I've been deluded. I've read the 
first part of your book "Challenging the Verdict." I'm not a 
scholar and don't fully appreciate all of the points you make, 
but it did strike me as a well researched and nicely written 
book. Rarely if ever, does one get such a balanced and well 
argued refutation of such a work [Lee Strobel's The Case for 
Christ]—leastwise none that I've happened across—as yours. 
Perhaps if I'd have come across it earlier I might have saved 
some time "seeing the light" but as it is, your book serves to 
boost my confidence that deconverting and becoming a freethinker 
was probably my wisest decision in years.

Dean writes:

    I finally ordered The Jesus Puzzle book. I wish this book 
was available sooner in life, it's just what every person of 
faith needs to read, explore and search through before entering 
any religious order. I knew the secrets to the truth were in the 
history, what happened back there some 1900 years ago, but to 
access this history I did not know how to start a search. But 
now I don't have to, it's all in The Jesus Puzzle, and that 
makes it a fun book to seriously read, and study all at once.

Jay writes:

    I have mailed an order for one copy of The Jesus Puzzle. 
I've been visiting your web site and am eagerly awaiting the 
opportunity to read your book. It was an article by Robert 
Price in "Free Inquiry" that led me to it. Mr. Price referred 
to it as "masterful." A convincing endorsement, to say the 
least. [Dr. Robert Price is a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar.]

Mark writes:

    I have just read some of your site, mostly the counter 
argument to The Case for Christ. Well done. Whereas other 
sites that deal with this topic quickly become difficult to 
follow through the complicated logic, yours is straightforward 
and easy to follow. Thanks for putting to words with research 
many things which I had already begun wondering about.

George writes:

    Santa Claus didn't really exist? Well then Mr. Smart guy, 
who put all the presents under the tree? Hmmm? Oh, and don't 
even try to say that it was my parents. They always went to 
bed early and said they never had any money!

Barry writes:

    I think you make a good observation [in Challenging the 
Verdict: A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ] 
concerning Luke's description of Jesus' sweat becoming "as drops 
of blood." Not only is this a possible metaphor, you point out the 
obvious in many places in the Gospels where the writers seem to 
know things that happened to Jesus when he was alone. I love to 
read fiction, and one of the most wonderful liberties a fiction 
writer has, when writing in the third person, is he/she can portray 
a character, his thoughts, his deeds, when no one else is around. 
I don't find the Gospels any different. They sound and read exactly 
like a writer, writing in the third person, showing the "whole" 
character.

Keith writes:

    I just finished reading your novel [The Jesus Puzzle: A Novel 
About the Greatest Question of Our Time, reproduced on this web 
site, not to be confused with my published book The Jesus Puzzle: 
Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ?]. It was amazing. 
I had gathered your basic message from the web site, but your 
presentation within the novel was riveting. The plot was woven 
smoothly, threads connecting throughout. I also loved your plot 
twists. You really seemed very experienced with the novel form.
    I cannot find copies of the Testament of Man anywhere. And, 
thanks to your wonderful book, I very much want to read them. 
Do you know of any place that I might buy the whole set? I cannot 
find The Muratorian Project anywhere, I assumed you made that up, 
but is there something similar? Is there something similar to the 
Age of Reason Foundation?
Response to Keith:

Vardis Fisher's The Testament of Man / Novel Inventions

For the benefit of those who have not read my novel, "The Testament of Man" is a series of eleven historical novels by the American author Vardis Fisher (1895-1969), tracing the development of humanity's religious ideas from the dawn of intelligence two million years ago to the Christian Middle Ages. I refer to Fisher and his Testament as a recurring motif through the course of my novel, finding his naturalistic and rational portrayal of history and evolution, as well as the scope of his vision, an inspiration. And he is a great storyteller. His moving novel on Jesus (eighth in the series, Jesus Came Again: A Parable) does not attempt to portray the presumed historical figure of the Gospels, but simply one who symbolized for Fisher what the Jesus idea was, and how it might have given rise to Christianity. Fisher drew on the best biblical scholarship of his day (1940s and 50s), and he allowed for the possibility that Jesus never existed, although he made no personal commitment one way or the other.

The books in The Testament of Man are extremely difficult to find these days. The best source is through Internet booksellers who specialize in acquiring rare and hard-to-find books. Because they are rare, sets of the Testament tend to be expensive. Other sources are larger public libraries and library archives, from which copies may be available through local inter-library loan programs. The titles of the novels are: Darkness and the Deep, The Golden Rooms, Intimations of Eve, Adam and the Serpent, The Divine Passion, The Valley of Vision, The Island of the Innocent, Jesus Came Again: A Parable, A Goat for Azazel, Peace Like a River, My Holy Satan.

The magazine "American Atheist" is currently publishing a series of six articles on Vardis Fisher written by myself, reviewing in detail all eleven novels of the Testament of Man.

Keith asks about The Muratorian Project, which in my novel is a very elaborate online resource for biblical texts and scholarship. It does not exist in reality, unfortunately, though material of this nature, detailing the Christian and other ancient-world literature, can be found in many places on the Internet, perhaps with not quite the dramatic or colorful trappings I have created for it in the novel. (For one of these, an ever-growing resource on all the Christian documents of the first two centuries, see the link to Peter Kirby's Early Christian Writings site, at the end of my Home Page.)

As for The Age of Reason Foundation in my novel, I suppose one might compare it to an organization like the Council for Secular Humanism in Buffalo, although the latter's emphases are somewhat different, and its organizational features entirely different. Out of that idea in the novel came the name for my own publishing venture for Challenging the Verdict. Perhaps one day Age of Reason Publications will expand to the status of an activist organization promoting science and rationality. I have launched a humble web site on that theme which may over time take on a life of its own: <www.AgeOfReason.org>


William writes:

    Your web site is a great find. With the number of new churches 
being built in this state, I can only hope that we are not returning 
to the mentality of the Middle Ages. Please, for the sake of humanity, 
continue to write and publish your thoughts. For a long time I thought 
I was quite alone in my thoughts. I am very happy to discover that I 
am not.
    While perusing your web site, I could not pass the J. P. Holding 
discussion without being compulsively driven to inject my assessment. 
I think the most obvious point of this whole discussion has yet to be 
touched.
    There is today not one Christian minister, pastor, evangelist or 
whatever claimant, that is not pumping out monstrously elaborated 
passion narratives to whet the appetite of followers and entice new 
converts. There is a passion narrative war going on out there. My 
church has more passion than yours. Follow me, good soldiers. 
    Sermons on the birth, apocalypse, crucifixion, resurrection, 
parables, beatitudes, life after death, etc., etc., are raining down 
on the Christians of today. These passions are the glue of Christianity. 
It is what holds Christians to their faith! It is the most powerful 
weapon in their arsenal. It is preached relentlessly and repetitively 
in their mantra of prayer. One cannot walk into a modern day church 
without being visually bombarded by passion images. In most cases, 
you don't have to go inside. The Easter story is repeated and acted 
out year after year. The same story is told over and over even though 
(according to J. P.) "there is no need for these details to be 
revisited. They are already known. There is absolutely no need for 
repetition."   
    How absurd to think and imply that Paul and other epistle writers 
in their efforts of conversion would not use these weapons if they 
were available in THEIR arsenal. You cannot drive a car or fly an 
airplane until they are invented, which by the way would be quite 
minuscule inventions compared to the Jesus invention. But, once they 
are invented, you will drive and fly forever.         
    Unfortunately, reason once again must ride the back seat in the 
bus of faith as witnessed by J. P.'s enlightening response, "they 
already knew."
    By the way, you seem to be carrying the flag of reason quite 
well.

Response to William:

J. P. Holding's "No Need" Explanation for the Silence in the Epistles

My thanks to William for a powerful refutation of the "no need to mention" argument put forward by J. P. Holding. I could hardly have put it better. One point Holding and others completely ignore is the factor of human nature. Whether there exists a need or not, the compulsion to speak of Jesus' words and deeds, especially in a context where there would have been an obvious advantage to offering them, such as providing divine support for the writer's argument and point of view, would have made a mention of such things natural and indeed inevitable—at least some of the time.

I have also made the point that it is quite unfounded to assume that in fact all these details were so thoroughly known that Paul and others did not need to mention them. There were no written Gospels at this time. What kind of aural exposure can we assume the Galatians, the Corinthians, the Thessalonians, had had to all the features of the story of Jesus, that Paul and others could say to themselves, Oh, no need to tell them that Jesus said this, or did that—they've heard it a hundred times before, I'm just wasting my breath (or ink). What traveling missionaries prior to Paul had taken the time or had the opportunity to expound on all the details of Jesus' teachings and miracles, all the events of his ministry and passion? Was there such universal agreement on all these things within the sphere of oral tradition, that each apostle in the field could feel confident that others had given the correct picture of the teachings, the prophecies, the passion and resurrection (such as the agreement we can see in every detail of the post-resurrection appearances in the Gospels, along with Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 15), that there would be no need for individual preachers to repeat any of this thoroughly-known information?

Was there no need for the inspiration that comes from repetition of the familiar? No need for the preacher to demonstrate his own knowledge, his own authority? No need or desire on the part of the reader or audience to be bathed in the images and warmth of contact arising from hearing about Jesus' words and deeds—the "glue of faith" even today, as William points out?

The whole idea is beyond ludicrous.


Mike writes:

    I do remain curious about what precisely Paul's vision of 
Jesus was. I guess I'm just still not sold on the idea that 
Paul's vision must necessarily have taken place entirely in some 
part of the heavens. I agree that figures such as Dionysos were 
taken to be heavenly, but I'm not sure I agree that Dionysos' 
Greek believers assumed that his "human" birth was nevertheless 
completely "unearthly," if you see what I mean. It's always been 
my understanding that Dionysos (and other semi-human children of 
the gods) was assumed to be, in fact, somehow actually of human 
parentage, e.g., born in an actual earthly cave. I'm likewise 
unsure that other deities such as Attis, Adonis, Osiris, et al, 
can all be compared directly with one another. Perhaps no one 
would go about Asia Minor looking for Attis' genitals, but I'm 
not sure most Hellenistic Greeks assumed that Attis was at all 
human—or if he was, that he lived during any time near the 
present (the real past often being a convenient and faraway 
place to locate myths).
    Your writings are indubitably fascinating, and at the very 
least make a valuable contribution to New Testament studies.
Response to Mike:

Placing Paul's Christ "in the Heavens"

I have no doubt that, within the mythical Jesus theory and mine in particular, this is the single most difficult concept for the modern mind to grasp. In our literal, scientific universe it is almost impossible for us to "think mythically." We also suffer under a number of disadvantages in interpreting the ancient mind, particularly in this area. I cannot get inside Paul's head. I can only read his words, try to apply them within the philosophy of the time, hopefully compare them with other writers who deal with or touch on this subject, and try to come to a feasible conclusion that makes sense of the evidence as a whole.

One of those disadvantages is that we have almost no writings on the mystery myths and their meanings. The few that we do have are by philosophers, such as Plutarch in the first century, and Sallustius and Julian in the fourth. Those philosophers tended to regard the myths as allegorical or symbolic, not literal. Sallustius calls the story of Attis "an eternal cosmic process, not an isolated event of the past" (On Gods and the World, 9). Julian places Attis, who symbolizes certain spiritual processes which have an effect on the physical world, within the heavenly layers of the universe, but he does not present this as the 'acting out' of the Attis myth in those spheres in any literal fashion. For Julian, Attis did not literally castrate himself in the sphere above the moon.

We don't know what the average devotee of the cults believed, how he or she viewed the myths of the savior gods. The problem here is that, as Michael expresses it, the myths of the savior gods do sound earthly, because for the most part they were formed at a time when those activities were envisioned as having taken place on earth, in a "faraway" primordial past—a "sacred time" as the anthropologists call it. I'm pretty sure the original Mithra was regarded as born in a literal cave, that the original Dionysos was declared to be born of an actual, human woman. As the Hellenistic age advanced, however, and Platonic views of the universe took hold, such myths and primordial processes tended to be transplanted to other dimensions of reality. The gods no longer dwelt on Mount Olympus. They moved to loftier planes of existence. The ultimate God dwelled in a realm of pure spirit, the highest level of the heavens. Lesser gods or forces, especially as these were required to serve as the ultimate God's intermediaries with the lower material realm, operated in intermediate spheres. Even in Jewish thought, toward the period of Christianity's inception, the heavens were seen as graded in this way. The higher realms constituted the more "primary" and "genuine" parts of reality; the material realm was inferior and secondary.

To what extent the mystery cult initiates made such a transfer is difficult to say. I suspect most of them went along, more or less, for the ride. Which is not to say that they had fully worked out in their own minds (if anyone did) exactly how the myths functioned in the new universe. In early Christianity's case, scripture was regarded as a window onto those higher spiritual dimensions. The New Testament epistle to the Hebrews is fascinating evidence of this kind of thinking. From scripture, the writer has drawn all sorts of features given to his savior Christ, whose salvation activities are placed in the spiritual realm (chapters 8 and 9). Christ's sacrifice is performed in a "heavenly sanctuary." The opening part of the epistle gives us a glimpse onto some great heavenly scene, the Son compared to the angels on the basis of scriptural passages which have nothing to do with any setting or activities on earth. The author's presentation throughout the epistle has Alexandrian Platonism written all over it. And he is writing to an audience that is expected to understand these things, without him having to provide any painstaking explanations.

Did the cultic devotee regard Attis as literally bleeding to death in some heavenly realm? Was Mithras seen as using an actual heavenly knife to stab an actual heavenly bull? Quite frankly, I don't know. Not only am I separated from that kind of thinking by two thousand years, my mind is too conditioned by modern knowledge and attitudes toward the realities of the universe I live in. When Paul created his myth of the Lord's Supper (deriving his picture "from the Lord" as he says in 1 Corinthians 11:23), did he envision a table laid out above the clouds, with Jesus breaking heavenly bread? A mind like Plutarch's would say, No, Clea, it is all allegory. Unfortunately, Paul doesn't give us an insight into his thinking in this regard.

Paradoxically, while the myths of the cults continued to present earthly sounding features even though they were scarcely regarded any longer as 'historical,' the earliest Christian record, supposedly based on a recent man and recent events that should have been vividly alive in people's memories, makes no mention of such things. Since Christianity was of recent vintage, it did not have a heritage going back to a time when its savior god might have been given an earthly pedigree in some primordial time. Christ is an entirely spiritual, Platonic-style entity. He has a mystical body, joined to the devotee in mystical ways. He is God's agent of creation, unifying and sustaining the universe. His relationship to the Father is in Platonic terms, and no explicit reference to incarnation, let alone a life of teaching and miracle working, is made.

The bottom line is that, however they may have understood it, millions of devotees of the mysteries were quite capable of belief in savior gods whose myths spoke of human and earthly features that were no longer regarded in literal fashion. This ability to "think mythically" is something we have every reason to impute to earliest Christianity, which in so many ways indicates its derivation from the thought-world of the mysteries, and in so many ways indicates its lack of knowledge about any historical Gospel Jesus.


Brent writes:

    Several times in your review of 'The Case for Christ' you say 
that the Synoptics disagree with John on the actual day of the 
crucifixion. I've been looking in the NIV, and the Synoptics as 
well as John say that Jesus was crucified on the Day of Preparation:

    In Matthew: 27:62: "...The next day, the one after Preparation 
Day..."
    In Mark: 15:42: "...It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before 
the Sabbath)..."
    In Luke: 23:54: "...Now it was the day of Preparation..."
    In John: 19:31: "...Now it was the day of Preparation..."

    Where is the discrepancy? Could you please explain your reasoning?
Response to Brent:

Jesus' Crucifixion on "Preparation Day" in the Synoptics and John

Brent's confusion proceeds from the fact that the term "Preparation Day" was applied to both the day before the Sabbath and the day before the first day of Passover, or Passover Eve. (In fact, it was used of the eve of any festival day.) The synoptics are referring to the Sabbath, whereas in John it could be to either, although earlier in 19:14, John clearly refers to the Preparation Day of Passover, not of the Sabbath. Since this means that the Passover meal would not be celebrated until that evening, after Jesus' death, John is definitely out of sync with the synoptic evangelists, who have Jesus celebrating that meal with his disciples the evening before his trial and crucifixion.

To clarify this question, let me quote a few paragraphs from Challenging the Verdict. This is from my cross-examination of Dr. Alexander Metherell and the medical evidence of Jesus' death on the cross.

    Dr. Metherell, you said earlier that the Jewish leaders wanted to get this over before sundown, because the Passover and Sabbath were coming. Which was it? Passover or Sabbath? Or was it both? In the Gospel of John, this is the case. You see, John has the crucifixion take place on Passover Eve.76 While Jesus is being led out to be crucified, the paschal lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple in preparation for Passover which begins that evening. John, at the start of his Gospel, has the Baptist declare Jesus the "Lamb of God," a term never used of Jesus in the synoptics. That symbolic equation of Jesus with the lamb comes from the mind of John.77 Sundown, after Jesus' death, will therefore see the start of both the first day of Passover and the Sabbath.
    But that is not the case with the synoptic Gospels. While their crucifixion, as in John, takes place on the eve of the Sabbath, it is already the first day of Passover. For them, Passover Eve has fallen the day before, prior to sundown and the Last Supper. That Supper shared between Jesus and his disciples was the Passover meal, celebrated on the festival's first night. John's supper, on the other hand, is not labeled the Passover meal. Such a meal, as John schedules the crucifixion, could only have taken place after Jesus was dead.
    Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, these are blatant and significant contradictions, which Dr. Metherell has quietly tiptoed around. They provide strong evidence that the Gospel stories are controlled not by tradition but by their authors. John's arrangement of events cannot be reconciled with that of the synoptics. Not only is there a contradiction in the Gospels themselves, which would preclude inerrancy, we have to ask how Christian traditions about such key events of the faith could have become so confused. Since John's placement of the crucifixion conforms to the paschal theology evident in his Gospel, our conclusion must be that his chronology is determined by his own design, and not by some conflicting tradition to that of the others. We are finding this sort of conclusion at every turn. The tale of Jesus is the product of its authors, not of history.

Bill writes:

    As I sit here at the hour of 3 PM on Good Friday, I chose to 
look on the Internet for the historical Jesus Christ and came 
across your work.
    By the end of Part One [of the Main Articles], you seem 
perplexed that Paul has not referenced from the man Jesus, but 
speaks from the spirit or from revelation or directly from the 
Old Testament. Could it be that he may not have read any of the 
Gospels? And that his conversion seeds from his witness of 
Stephen's martyrdom who spoke simply of Christ, in contrast with 
Paul's own extensive learnings of the Old Testament?
Response to Bill:

Paul's Silence and Stephen's Existence

There is scarcely any question that Paul did not read the Gospels, since none of them would have been written at the time he was proselytizing and writing letters. Dates before the 60s of the first century for any of the Gospels cannot be reasonably supported, and most critical scholars place them all after 70. But on what were the Gospels based if not on oral traditions about the events they describe, traditions which surely would have reached Paul, at least in part? Could Paul have been so fixated on personal revelation that even amid a presumably vibrant environment of oral tradition he could simply ignore all of this circulating information about the Jesus he preached?

And if he had such a fixation, why did he not turn to revelation as his personal source of information about Jesus' words and deeds on earth? Such information would certainly have been eagerly sought by his listeners and converts, who would scarcely have shared Paul's alleged disinterest in the earthly career of the man who was claimed to be God. In fact, one might even suggest that Paul shows one example of such a direct personal source, when he declares that his information about Jesus' words at the Lord's Supper came to him "from the Lord himself" (1 Corinthians 11:23). One wonders how the Corinthians would have reacted to such a claim of personal revelation on the matter, considering that traditions about the Last Supper should have been circulating across the Christian world through oral channels.

Enjoying such a pipeline, Paul could have elaborated on the oral traditions circulated by Jesus' disciples who had merely known him in the flesh. Not only could Paul have helped solve some of the problems and disagreements which beset the early Christian movement, he could have enriched the stories of Jesus' words and deeds. But then, perhaps it was Paul's personal revelation that was the source of Jesus' words in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when all the disciples were sleeping.

In any case, and to return to seriousness, the argument is moot. It is not only Paul that speaks of Jesus in terms of revelation and scripture, but the entire record of early writings in Christianity outside the Gospels. Nearly a dozen writers, from Paul to Revelation to several non-canonical documents extending through almost the first hundred years of the movement and across a wide geography, make no mention of Gospel events and speak of their faith movement as proceeding from revelation and scripture. The 'perplexity' extends far beyond Paul, and well past the time when some of the Gospels are presumed to have been written.

On the matter of Stephen, Paul makes no mention of such a figure, nor does anyone else in the documentary record of the first hundred years outside Acts, and Acts is probably the product of the mid second century, as I have argued elsewhere. Regardless of Acts' date, the stoning of Stephen is the most dramatic death of a Christian attributed to the early period, yet no one else mentions it, not even Paul at whose feet Acts says this stoning took place. When Paul speaks of the fate suffered by apostles of the Christ, could he possibly leave out this vivid and personally experienced example? In fact, Paul never speaks of the death of any apostle preaching the Christ. He mentions rough treatment, scourging, persecution, "many a time face to face with death" (2 Corinthians 11:23), but never does he detail an actual death, including that of James, son of Zebedee, as outlined in Acts 12, something that would have been of recent memory at the time Paul was writing.

As I say in Challenging the Verdict, the author of Acts, in creating a likely fictional Stephen, and an equally fictional "Hellenist" community in Jerusalem, is representing the largely gentile nature of the faith in his own time (early second century) as having had an archetypal existence within the group in Jerusalem in the earliest days of the movement. As for the traditions about the deaths of apostles ranging from James to Paul himself, Burton Mack points out (Who Wrote the New Testament?, p.227) that as Christian legend developed the apostles took on features of Jesus, performing miracles, teaching and dying as he did. The lore about the martyrdom of Peter, Paul, James, Andrew, Thomas, Philip, Matthew, Bartholomew, and so on are all later developments, a "model of following or imitating an example."


Scott writes:

    I have enjoyed your little courtroom drama regarding Lee 
Strobel's "The Case for Christ." I do have one question that 
you might be able to answer for me. One of the "prophecies" 
contained in the Isaiah "virgin" section [7:14] is that the 
child's name "will be called Immanuel." Is there any reason 
not to point this out as an obvious failure, as Mary named 
her child "Yeshua." Or is this a fair approximation, kind of 
like naming him "Gorgeous" instead of "Beautiful"?
Response to Scott:

Isaiah 7:14 - Immanuel or Jesus?

I see no reason not to point it out. If this was a prophecy of Jesus, it was cryptic in the extreme. Immanuel means "God with us." Yeshua means "Yahweh saves." Not only do the two names involve different divine appellations (El and Yah, probably originally two different gods in the Hebrew/Canaanite pantheon, brought later into association when the Pentateuch was set down), the meanings could only be said to be in the same ballpark. There is no question they are two different names, and no commentary I've come across, even conservative ones, tries to reconcile the contradiction. Not even Matthew (1:21-25).

Even moderately liberal commentaries no longer regard this passage as a prophecy of Jesus. Typical is the Harper's Bible Dictionary (p.419): "It is clear, however, that in its own eighth-century B.C. context, Isaiah 7:14 did not speak of the miraculous birth of Jesus centuries later. Neither the virginity of the woman, nor the miraculous birth of the child received any special emphasis. The sign of Immanuel offered by the prophet to Ahaz had to do with the imminent birth of a child, of a mother known to Ahaz and Isaiah, and signified God's presence with his people and the royal Davidic line during the turbulent years of the Assyrian invasions that were soon to engulf the kingdom of Judah."

Isaiah's name was chosen because it symbolized the message, in that perilous time, that "God is with us." For the earliest Christians developing the idea of their spiritual Son, the name Jesus, "Yahweh Saves," was equally suitable for its context, a name for God's agent of salvation, a part of himself.


Martin writes:

    Very interesting page. But why do you think there was this 
need to imbed non-Jewish savior gods with the Jewish nation-god 
Jehova? Why are the Pauline epistles the first documents in their 
kind who talk suddenly with no reason about this Jewish savior god? 
There is no actual pinpointing in Tanakh [the Hebrew bible] about 
a savior god. It is only by chance that a thread can be found to 
create some "prophecies" about a future Messiah.
    How did the Q movement start to form, and how did Paul come in 
contact with them? Was a Christ a ready package for Paul to develop 
or did he just have this kind of teacher of righteousness revelation 
that this Christ exists? This must be the first man who tried to 
create a Jewish Hellenistic deity and for what good?
    Why did Mark and the others continue to create a human basis for 
this story and where did they get the details, like the baptism 
(which would be stupid to mention at all, having John baptize a 
sin-free man).
Response to Martin:

Jewish and Greek Syncretism in the Ancient World

Somewhat like our own time (and perhaps most times), the ancient world around the turn of the era was a melting pot of ideas and cultures. Personal salvation was the buzzword, and philosophers (pagan and Jewish) were busy analyzing God and breaking him up into his component parts. They were doing the same to the universe, creating layers of otherworldly dimensions, fitting deities and salvation systems into the whole chaotic mess. Apocalyptic expectation was in the air, humanity wasn't long for this world, and the earth's population was divided into true believers, those with pipelines to heaven and an eternal afterlife, and those who were doomed to a terrible judgment. (Sound familiar?)

In a cauldron like this, syncretism is a common chemical reaction. A crossover of ideas occurs among people exposed to different beliefs and viewpoints, especially in areas not located at specific mainstream cores. In the cosmopolitan cities of the eastern empire, in areas of the Jewish Diaspora, Greeks and Jews rubbed shoulders. Thinkers and mystics like Philo of Alexandria absorbed Middle Platonism and created Hellenistic Judaism. Eastern deities were imported into the Roman empire and became Hellenistic mystery cults, absorbed into the milieu of older Greek mystery traditions like that of Eleusis and of Dionysos. Jews, as resistant to assimilation as they might have been collectively, found themselves, especially in the Diaspora, absorbing by osmosis religious and cosmological ideas of the Persians and Greeks.

Nobody, much less Paul, sat down one day and decided to invent a Jewish savior god. In any case, much of Christianity's "Jewishness" is the product of later mythology about the beginnings of the movement. Paul speaks more to a widespread faith movement stretching from Judea to Damascus to Antioch to Rome, and a lot of points in between, with probably all of these congregations existing before he got there. Greek, the lingua franca of the day, seems to have been the sole language of the movement, and certainly of its surviving writings. Paul's talk of rival apostles and the preaching of different Jesuses, shows that not only was it a widespread phenomenon, with no obvious single point of origin or central organization, its doctrines were another chaotic mess. Some Jews were no doubt involved, but if many of the people mentioned by Paul from outside Palestine were actually Jews (and that includes himself), they had Greek names and were highly hellenized. The movement probably had as high a complement of gentiles as Jews, and the Gospels, while witnessing to close contact with Jewish ideas and environments, seem to be gentile oriented and 'set against' Jewish society. Christianity emerges in the second century as a gentile movement that has hijacked much of the Jewish theological heritage and its sacred scripture.

What that movement did, arising from a syncretistic environment on the disparate and fluid border between Jew and Greek, was to create yet another savior god in the mystery cult line, this one imbedded within, or wedded to, specifically Jewish contexts: the Jewish God, the expectation of a Messiah/Savior figure, the Jewish scriptures as a window onto the secrets of the universe and salvation. The appeal to some gentiles of things Jewish is known to have been a phenomenon of the time. How long before Paul hit the missionary road did that syncretistic expression of Greek and Jew take identifiable shape? It's impossible to tell, but I suspect it was not all that long. Perhaps a few decades at most. Although if Philippians 2:6-11 is a pre-Pauline hymn, as most scholars judge, this new savior "Jesus" (who received his name only on being exalted after death, the hymn says) had already undergone some sophisticated development. Paul is simply the earliest surviving record of a new salvation religion that emerged out of a longstanding environment, and was 'new' only by virtue of its Jewish oriented component.

Martin asks how Paul came in contact with the Q-movement. The simple answer is that he did not. There were common elements between those two distinct religious expressions. Both expected an imminent establishment of God's Kingdom, both expected the arrival of a heavenly judge, Paul the heavenly Christ, the Q community the Son of Man. But there is no evidence that Paul knew anything of the teachings and miracle working embodied in the Q traditions, whether the product of a Galilean sage or simply of the sect itself. And there is nothing in the Q record about a kerygma of death and resurrection, about cultic meals and ritual sacramentalism, or salvation through a Jesus figure. The contact between those two worlds came only later, emerging into the light in the Gospel of Mark.

The source of that inspired composition was the Jewish scriptures, and especially their recurring story of the suffering righteous individual who entered the lion's den and who would eventually triumph through death and resurrection. "Mark" may have written his composite story, using the process of midrash, as a symbolic rendition of his own community and the significance of its faith. That is why he had his Jesus baptized, not because this 'sin-free' man required it, but because in many respects Jesus represented the 'everyman' believer who also became God's son and took on the Holy Spirit through baptism.

The evangelists, set in motion by Mark, continued to develop their new creation of a "human basis" for the cultic Jesus, probably because of its inherent appeal and usefulness. Allegory thrives on being able to bring diffuse and esoteric concepts to a more accessible understanding and a broader public audience, focusing on settings and characters which fire the imagination and illuminate the faith and practices of the movement. Allegory conveys lessons, inspires commitment, through an identification by the audience with the actions and figures of the story. A prime example is Mark's Gethsemane scene: the agony of every persecuted believer, the need—and the glory—of loyalty, obedience to God, of willingness to suffer for the faith. The Gospels show the power and necessity of myth in the context of religious belief and devotion.

However, Christians like Ignatius were soon to discover that one thing greater than allegory brought that devotion to an even higher pitch: historical reality. So the myths became history, and amid the diversity of the early Christian movement, Jesus of Nazareth became a unifying force and a political advantage. It became an idea no one could resist. Western society has been riding that bandwagon for 1900 years.


David writes:

    In one of your appendices [in The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity 
Begin with a Mythical Christ?], you claim that the "words of the Lord" 
in 1 Thessalonians 4 have no equivalent in the Gospels. Actually, Paul 
is clearly quoting from Jesus' "apocalypse speech," variants of which 
occur in all three synoptic Gospels. 4:16 in particular, seems to be 
a paraphrase of Matthew 24:31. The "trumpet call" of the angels is 
missing from Mark and Luke. The fact that you didn't even recognize 
this obvious connection between Paul and the Gospels suggests that 
you are quite ignorant of the contents of the latter.
    Also, your attempt to dispute the passage about the Jews killing 
Jesus fails miserably. I can't remember the exact verses at the moment, 
but there are passages in Romans which speak of the Jews with 
comparable harshness.
    Frankly, the only puzzle your book raises is whether you reached 
your conclusions because of extreme ignorance or a highly specialized 
form of insanity.
Response to David:

Apocalyptic Parlance / 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 / Committing the Author to an Asylum

David is confused between expressing common elements in the thought and parlance of the time, and paraphrasing or quoting a specific source. A comparison with Paul's scene (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18) of Christ arriving from heaven at the imminent End shows only the most general elements in common with the apocalyptic prophecies of Jesus in the synoptics, based on Mark 13. Consider what is missing in Paul. There is no mention of Jesus as the Son of Man, which is a fixation of the Gospels and of their precursor in this matter, Q; no epistle writer ever refers to the Son of Man. Jesus is not spoken of as coming on the clouds; rather, Paul's clouds are associated with the movement of the believers. (The cloud motif itself was born in Daniel 7, the source of the Son of Man concept.)

The gathering of the faithful at the coming of the Lord is a motif that goes back into the prophets, as is the trumpet motif: from Isaiah 27:13, to Joel 2:1, to Zechariah 9:14. The trumpet and the rising of the dead is found in Jewish and Jewish-Christian apocalypses with no association to Jesus, let alone a derivation from his words, such as the Apocalypse of Ezra (4:36), and the Apocalypse of Abraham (31:1), where it will signal the sending of a "chosen one." There is no indication that Paul has borrowed or paraphrased these elements from Jesus traditions. If we can judge by other "words of the Lord" offered by Paul, they seem to be declarations he believes he has received directly from Christ in heaven, no doubt under the influence of scripture and perceived revelation, employing motifs that were in wide circulation.

When Paul goes on in the immediately following verses (5:1-2) to say: "Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night," he makes no attribution of such a sentiment to Jesus, as Matthew and Luke do (from Q), indicating that he is not working in a milieu of knowledge about what a Jesus on earth had said and done.

David, I hope, realizes that there are many critical scholars, not just myself, who regard those other verses in 1 Thessalonians (2:15-16) as an interpolation. One of the arguments they use, though secondary to the rather obvious reference in verse 16 to the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened after Paul's death, is the contrast these verses convey when measured against Paul's usual sentiments toward his fellow Jews. I, too, don't know the exact verses in Romans that David has in mind in which Paul supposedly speaks of the Jews "with comparable harshness," but they can't include 11:1, "Again I ask: Did they [the Jews] stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!" Or 11:25, "This partial blindness has come upon Israel only until the Gentiles have been admitted in full strength; when that has happened, the whole of Israel will be saved." Quite a contrast from 1 Thessalonians 2:16, wherein the Jews have now suffered the full measure of God's wrath, with no thought of salvation, to the apparent glee of the interpolator. One might also point out Paul's silence on any killing of the Lord by Jews in Romans 11, where he raises the specter of the Jews killing the prophets without mentioning their vastly greater crime of deicide.

David went on to declare that "professional theologians overwhelmingly rejected a strong connection between Paul and Plato decades ago." Not only are professional theologians to be distinguished from critical scholars, other studies, including my own, have demonstrated sufficiently evident Platonism (and Jewish equivalents) in the thought of Paul and other epistle writers to make that blanket "rejection" unjustified. This doesn't mean that those writers had necessarily studied Plato and Greek philosophy and consciously modeled their theology on such antecedents. What it does mean is that they lived and moved in a cultural atmosphere which was permeated with those philosophical concepts, absorbed through the air they breathed, and that their own convictions and innovations were filtered through such thinking.

As for sanity, it is measurable by a lot of things. Rational outlooks on the world, logical considerations of evidence in a field of scientific or historical research, might be said to be marks of a sane mind, while proving difficult propositions for the mentally disordered. The mark of insanity, on the other hand, is often a fixation on some conviction or outlook on the world that runs counter to the observable evidence, at odds with considerations of reasoned enlightenment, whether such things relate to the existence and behavior of an omnipotent God, the dependence of universal salvation on a single man, or the reliability and value of an ancient set of primitive writings shot through with contradictions and outdated ideas. In such cases, of course, insanity may be distinguished from wishful thinking or indoctrination. The bottom line for the well-ordered mind is surely an openness to evidence, a willingness to consider new ideas, and the ability to accept the possibility that what people have thought and believed in the past, no matter how many or for how long, is not necessarily true.

I won't be committing myself to an asylum anytime soon.


Jose writes:

    I am convinced that there is a God and it matters if we get 
His favor or not. And believe me, the only way you'll have God 
smiling down on you is through this man Jesus. God has handed 
down all the power of judgment to his Son. Christ was and is the 
Messiah, and He's coming back pretty soon. All the great men of 
all the world's religions have their graves someplace. Jesus 
Christ alone rose up from the dead. So if science or history 
can't prove the truth, that's their downfall.

Melissa writes:

    I came across your site from some blabbering idiot on a 
message board. I'm sad that I added to your counter, and I am 
sad for your soul. There is a Jesus my friend, and someday 
probably too late you will realize that. All of you scientist 
types have been trying for years to rationalize why there is no 
Jesus. Are you scared? Do you just have to believe in nothing 
because it's easier? It's not easy to have faith. That's not 
the point. If it were easy to believe there's a Jesus, everyone 
would believe. And there would be no need for faith. God wants 
us to have faith, that's the point. You cannot see the air, but 
it is there. That is all I wanted to say. I am not perfect but 
I am forgiven.

John writes:

    I appreciate an informed view. I have been struggling with 
my belief. Let's be honest, it is getting harder and harder to 
believe. But, one question that perturbs me is, If God wanted 
us to believe, why would he make it so hard to believe???

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