Was There No Historical Jesus?
Earl Doherty

Return to Book Page
Return to Reader Feedback Page
Return to Home Page

The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity begin with a mythical Christ?

Additions: October 15, 2005

From reader reviews posted on

Very good book

Reviewer: Bruce Warring from Virginia - September 1, 2005
    I have read many books on New Testament criticism. This is one of the best.


Reviewer: Cornelius Canton from Florida - August 3, 2005
    Perhaps the best case out there for Jesus mythicism. Doherty, no matter what mud Christians like to sling at him, is a thorough and, dare I say it, enthusiastic scholar. College Students, take note: this is how you establish a thesis in the beginning and ruthlessly drive it home like a .45 slug tearing through skull bone and gray matter. Everything he says, every sentence, every word, serves its purpose. His survey sweeps the field and leaves no opposition.

A milestone

Reviewer: Madson from Los Angeles, CA - February 5, 2005
    One can tell how effective this lucid well-argued book is by the spasms of vitriol and misrepresentation from the Christian apologists who review it. When Doherty's non-belief in the God of Abraham is used as evidence of "bias," you know the critic is desperate. Since Doherty doesn't believe in fairy tales, apparently, he must be wrong about the facts. If you are a Christian, read this book only if you are ready to be convinced that the Son of Man never walked the earth.

No closing a mind once it's opened...

Reviewer: JRW from Lincoln, Nebraska - October 12, 2005
    Earl Doherty is a genius. That might seem a mighty statement, but what is genius after all? Sometimes it's no more than the ability to clearly see what is right in front of everyone's nose, something everyone else misses, or is blind to, or refuses to see. Belief is a strong thing, perhaps stronger than all other human functions, and we are all working with belief systems we hardly know we harbor. Doherty is having a long hard long look at one of the West's most fiercely held beliefs, to wit: that of all the godmen who were ever worshipped, OUR godman is real. Not only is Jesus Christ REAL, but he is the only son of God. What incredible hubris. It does not serve us to believe this terrible idea. It never has. Aside from the destructive pride it instills in our blood, and the crack-brained sense that only we know God, it makes us miss the point of the myth entirely, something no early people ever did. The followers of Mithras and Osiris and Dionysus knew what their godmen stood for. We haven't a clue what The Christ could have actually taught us, and our culture is so much the poorer for it. Doherty could be that one voice clearing the way to a new and healthier world. I have nothing but admiration for him.

Five stars for just being out there...

Reviewer: A Constant Reader from New York City - May 1, 2005
    Doherty, being a supreme rationalist, and no fool, brings to the table an enormous reserve of intellectual vigor, and an even more enormous reserve of patience. His is the kind of mind that can really get down to work. I admire that. I admire his work. I think he's much more right than wrong. I've read a lot of the same things he's read and have come to most of the same conclusions. The world needs this kind of spiritual house cleaning. Human beings need to wake up. You'd think by now we'd have grown out of a need to have Big Daddy for a god. You'd think by now we'd begin getting that REALITY is vastly more complex than any of our childish religions deem it. But I'm afraid we're in for a long haul as primitive fear-response religions go through their death throes. Not to mention the death grip of those who make big bucks and hold vast power through organized religion: popes and ayatollahs and presidents and such. In any case, here's Doherty in the vanguard. He and his book are a breath of fresh air. Great, say I.

The New Best Fit

Reviewer: A Reader from Plant City, Florida - March 1, 2003
    For anyone who is attempting to uncover the origins of Christianity, this book is a must read. Ten years ago the well accepted phrase among liberal bible scholars was "There is no serious scholar today who doubts Jesus ever existed." With the publication of G. A. Wells' books that offered an argument of a mythological Jesus based on an absence of evidence, scholars began to turn their collective heads. In the end, however, the majority concluded an argument from the negative is not enough. The revolution of Christianity needs a viable explanation and the best explanation is a man named Jesus. Hence, Jesus as an actual man was axiomatic...but who Jesus was and what Jesus said and did were constantly debated.
    Enter Earl Doherty. Exceptionally well researched, incredibly accurate and lucid to the most intricate concepts of modern theological debate, Doherty, a layman, did what none of the pre-supposing scholars thought possible. He devised a better theory that answered all the open ended problems, without having to dispose of any 'ugly' facts. The argument presented in this book is now recognized by many—and likely soon to be most—biblical scholars as the single best argument for the origin of Christianity. And until it is replaced with a better supported and more concise historical argument (which in all honesty may never happen) an honest truth seeker has no choice but to seriously consider the possibility that Jesus never existed. Doherty's argument is not air-tight but to date it is the best we've got. As a person with a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Religion, I've heard them all—his facts are accurate, his understanding of the debated issues is very good, he has an argument to be reckoned with.

Consider me a convert!

Reviewer: Logan Daugherty from Louisville, Kentucky - January 11, 2003
    I didn't enter into the world of Earl Doherty to discover whether or not Jesus existed. I merely came across the online version of what would become his book, Challenging the Verdict. However, as I found his critique of Lee Strobel accurate and insightful, I took a chance and examined his primary thesis, that Jesus never existed. On his website, he has a short twelve part summary of his argument, listing twelve bits of a larger puzzle one has to solve with any theory of Jesus and Christian origins. As I agreed these were problematic, I committed to reading several of his online articles. Before I was finished, I'd read every scrap of material he offered on the web.
    This was no ad hoc nor amateurish theory. It had merit. Finally ordering and reading the book, I evaluated the strength of Doherty's theory for over a year. I'm now fully of the opinion Jesus likely didn't exist. And that's what individuals who are unaware of how history works dismiss Doherty out of hand. History is a weak discipline as far as surety is concerned. One can only speak of probability. Can Doherty *prove* Jesus didn't exist? No. But neither can one prove Jesus did exist 100%. An argument can be made, however, especially in examining the documentary evidence, that early Christianity could not have been based on the teachings of one itinerant Galilean preacher. Doherty lucidly lists the problems and then evaluates the evidence. Most scholars take Jesus' existence as axiomatic and then go from there, often fashioning a theory of Christian origins which suits their own biases. Doherty, however, leaves it open until he exposes what must be the obvious but difficult truth: many Christianities existed and the winners wrote the history books. Enough clues, however, were left to expose the myth of the Christ, and Doherty has thankfully presented us with a cogent and affable work with which we can join him in examining this mystery.

Intellectual Revolution

Reviewer: Maria Alexander from Los Angeles, CA United States - January 25, 2002
        For many years, I was an intelligent Christian and I rigorously studied apologetics. Yet, a number of critical questions plagued my mind about the Gospels, and church teachers and educators side-stepped them deftly, pouring vague explanations into the intellectual gaps. Mr. Doherty attacks head on all of the issues broached by these gaps, with clarity and integrity. I'm still amazed that finally someone with the education and intelligence has stepped forward and grabbed the lion by its mane.
        The interesting thing is, if you read this book and then go suggest to everyday folk that there was no Jesus, be ready for the fireworks. Even people who don't profess any faith will tremble at the thought that Jesus did not exist. Why? Because you've declared the world is round, that the earth revolves around the sun, that men can walk on the moon. You have pulled a crucial thread in the fabric of their reality, and now the way they evaluate history and what went before must shift radically. No one likes that—unless it liberates and validates your thinking, as it did for me.
        And when you change someone's reality—especially when it comes to a figure like Jesus who accounts for so many threads in the fabric of Western Culture—you've just found a boulder that can shift the river of a generation's perspective. And if you shift their perspective, you can change their votes... I think you get my meaning.
        Someone once said this book was an epiphany. I say, if enough people hear the arguments, it will trigger an intellectual revolution that will force us to re-examine all of our assumptions about the world. And there will be people who won't like the conclusions people will reach, I assure you...

The BEST on the subject

Reviewer: A reader from Claremont, CA United States - August 3, 2002
        Easily the BEST book concerning the lack of historical evidence for a real, actual Jesus. I have read a lot on this subject—Wells is too complicated/obscure. Helms offers great insights, but is limited in his discussion. Price is too, well, just not quite strong/direct enough. Others are also good—but this takes the cake. Utterly fascinating, no stone left un-turned, clear and accessible language. But above all: convincing.

A hotly debated theological and historical issue

Reviewer: Midwest Book Review, Oregon, WI USA - April 10, 2002
        The Jesus Puzzle is a forcefully argued, persuasive claim that Jesus Christ, the crucial and central figure of Christianity, never existed in any historical sense of the word. Author Earl Doherty argues that Jesus Christ was created wholly as a myth, and not even based upon a living flesh-and-blood person. Carefully researched, with a thorough perusal of scripture and history, The Jesus Puzzle makes for compelling reading on a hotly debated theological and historical issue. Whether or not one's religious faith is swayed by Doherty's sharp and compellingly thoughtful arguments, The Jesus Puzzle is highly recommended reading for anyone studying the origins of (and influences upon) Christianity, both ancient and contemporary.

It confirmed my suspicions!

Reviewer: Tim Simmons, from west memphis, USA - June 22, 2002
        I am not finished with the entire book but already, it has achieved its self-professed goal of "challenging an historical Jesus" and I must confess, I was doubtful at first that I would find anything persuasive or new. I was challenged and already know that I can no longer give any benefit of doubt to an historical man who started the Christian religion by living and dying as the Gospels depict.
        Mr. Doherty's insight into the phenomenon of being blinded by presuppositions is right on as demonstrated by several other reviewers. Unwilling to admit that the New Testament is a mix of many divergent views of God's salvation plan, the earliest of which mention no details of a Jesus of Nazareth, many people overlook the countless problems inherent in the orthodox view and simply cling to what they would prefer to believe. If you believe in an historical Jesus, you may not be ready for this book. If I had read it while still a Christian I probably wouldn't have bought it because I would have been ignorant of most of the underlying information such as the Greek myths and the concepts of savior-gods that predated the Christian movement.
        It is amazing that Paul would not mention ANY event in the life of his savior while writing so many letters about him. When Paul argues for a resurrection, he could have mentioned that Jesus raised Jairus' daughter. He could have told them about Lazarus. He did mention Jesus own resurrection but amazingly, he never once mentions ANY details that would have been known such as the location, etc. and the most crushing blow is that Paul says he got the gospel from a revelation from scripture! That is how God revealed his salvation to mankind! Through the old testament! If Jesus actually died an atoning death on a cross in recent history, why is Paul saying that salvation came through a revelation from the scriptures? Why is he saying it was a mystery till God revealed it during his day? Why do the epistles say that Jesus was "slain before the foundations of the world"? Because the Christ, the Son of God, was a purely spiritual mediator at first. Later writers (Mark) created a "life" based on the OT and current beliefs about this Son of God.
        Awesome book.

Sets the standard for all other books on Jesus

Reviewer: A Reader from Cincinnati, Ohio USA - August 3, 2001
        The scholarly and fascinating book "The Jesus Puzzle" by Earl Doherty sets the standard by which all other Jesus books must be measured (and books on Paul for that matter!). For too long biblical scholars have taken it for granted (even as they flesh out a picture of a mortal and more human Jesus) that a real Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth and it was about this historical person that the ancient scribes wrote. Now we at last have a work that clears the air and shows how the "Jesus story" was put together by the early Christians. Suddenly, all the contradictions within the Bible and the conflicting depictions of Jesus make sense when one sees them from this perspective, i.e., they came from various traditions and from authors who had different aims.
        Doherty is steeped in Greek philosophy and metaphysics and shows how Paul was not only very much a Jew, but a Jew heavily influenced by Greek mythology and metaphysics. His discussion of the Hellenistic/Jewish conception of the universe is brilliant. Without understanding this, you can never hope to understand what Paul and the Son of God movement centered in Jerusalem believed in...

Sound and thorough

Reviewer: Dave from IN, United States - April 15, 2001
        Whether or not Doherty's main premise (that there was no historical Jesus) is correct, I learned far, far more in the few weeks it took me to read his material than I did in 21 years of Christian indoctrination. The pieces fit.

Very interesting and scholarly

Reviewer: Dave Brush from Ingleside, Ontario Canada - August 15, 2001
        Earl Doherty presents the best Christ-myth case that I've read yet. He proves that Jesus' existence is not contemporaneously verified by any written documents and successfully argues that the earliest Christian writings depict Jesus as a spiritual savior, instead of an earthly one. When Paul does seem to mention an earthly figure, he is strangely ambiguous, leaving room for alternate explanations of at least equal validity. Additionally, there are countless times when it would have made sense for Paul to mention something about Jesus' life and ministry, but curiously he does not. When you factor in that other religions and cults from that time period had similar ideas about their gods, it becomes even more plausible that Paul is not speaking of a man that recently walked the earth, but a savior who operates in some mysterious spiritual realm. And when you further take into consideration the fact that Paul definitely borrowed at least some elements of his theology from pagan religions (the Lord's Supper is straight out of Mithraism), this theory is boosted considerably...


Reviewer: Jeffrey Bolden from LA, CA USA - January 28, 2001
        ...The book is terrific and makes an excellent case which makes sense of the 1st century and 2nd century Christian literature and debates. Doherty is the first author I've read who gives an origin of Christianity that does not rely on some sort of bizarre change but rather a gradual evolution. His treatment of the epistles is without peer...


Reviewer: A reader from Chicago, IL, USA - February 20, 2001
        A must-read for anyone who wants to open his mind and close his Bible. Doherty is a first-class scholar and compelling writer, who presents his arguments cleanly and clearly. The book is scholarly, yet "user-friendly" to those unused to such concerns. The Jesus Puzzle is the best book on the Q document I have read (and I have read a lot of books on the subject!). Highly recommended for anyone who wants to learn the truth about Christianity and its non-divine origins.

By far the best "historical" Jesus book

Reviewer: Perry Willis from Arlington, VA, USA - March 25, 2001
        I've read three shelves worth of books on Christian apologetics and the quest for the historical Jesus. I can save you a lot of time. All you really need is this one. The other books raise more questions than they answer, and go off on a lot of wild goose chases. But Doherty's book makes full use of the available evidence, and his thesis actually makes sense.
        If you want to read the Christian side (and you should) I recommend "The Case For Christ" by Lee Strobel. Strobel is very selective in his use of evidence, but the book is a good read, and probably the best that can be done for the Christian faith. Read it first if you like, and then read Doherty. There's no comparison.
        Doherty also has a web site. I recommend you first read his book and then visit the site. Spend the time to go through everything he presents there—it's well worth it. The site also contains a novel (also titled "The Jesus Puzzle"). I thought it was excellent. It deserves to be published. Doherty also provides a lengthy and devastating critique of the Strobel book on his site.
        As I read "The Jesus Puzzle" I was surprised at how resistant I was to the thesis that there had been no historical Jesus (I'm not a Christian), but I was impressed at how thoroughly Doherty overwhelmed my resistance. This book deserves the whole world as its audience. Buy it, read it, buy more copies and give them away, spread the word. Nineteen hundred years of misconception has finally been clarified.

An Excellent Scholarly Argument for a Literary Jesus

Reviewer: Jay Raskin from Orlando, FL, USA - December 28, 2000
       I guess the three types of readers of this book will be those who believe in a supernatural Jesus sent by a God to save the human race, those who believe in an historical Jesus made into a God by people, and those that see Jesus as a literary creation, made into an historical person and a God by people. The first group will be dismayed, frustrated and outraged by the book, except for some who will accept it and have their entire worldviews changed, the second group will find it thoughtful and challenging, the third will love it and consult it often in debates and arguments.
       I fall into the third group. I read it pretty much straight thru over a two day period, only stopping for food and sleep. I especially appreciated that Mr. Doherty is not distracted by the rather vicious and less than "Christian" acrimony that often marks this field of knowledge. He sticks to theory and facts and doesn't show any animosity towards any individual or group.
       I think anybody who has read deeply or at least casually over a number of years the latest developments in the field of Biblical Scholarship will enjoy the work as it brings together a great deal of the latest developments and points towards a brighter and deeper future understanding of Christianity and religion in general.
       My one warning is that if you haven't read a great deal of ancient literature including biblical literature, you will not be able to tell if Mr. Doherty is bluffing or has the cards to back up his claims. As someone who has read the basic literature in the field, I can tell that he does have a full house.

Previous Reviews:

Professor Darrell R. Doughty, Drew University, New Jersey, editor of "The Journal of Higher Criticism" and member of the California-based Jesus Seminar:
"A remarkable book it is. Extremely well written and very persuasive. Congratulations! It will be required reading for students in my seminar on Jesus next semester."

Judith Hayes, author of "In God We Trust . . . But Which God?"
"Your book is simply wonderful. I have never read such scholarship in so easy a style! You have a wonderful way of conveying quite complex ideas in an easy to understand manner. For over 25 years I have been in the minority camp, believing there was no historical Jesus. I've read a great many books challenging that historicity, but nothing as 'dead on' as your book."
   Judith Hayes is the creator of a well-known humanist website called "The Happy Heretic." For her lengthy, and oftentimes amusing, review of The Jesus Puzzle, visit:

Frank R. Zindler, Editor: American Atheist, A Journal of Atheist News and Thought
"This is the most compelling argument ever published in support of the theory that Jesus never existed as an historical person. Doherty's thorough command of the Pauline corpus, the pseudepigraphic and apocryphal literature, the mysteries, and turn-of-the-era philosophical and theological movements is masterful. This is a superb book - one that every Atheist should read and master."

Cliff Carrington, New Testament scholar, Bendigo, Australia:
"Your recent book, The Jesus Puzzle, has cleared the ground for a new understanding of the foundations of the Christian movement. Now we can proceed to the re-construction of a more reasonable structure. I consider your book to be so useful that I have purchased two copies for our Library - one for myself and the other for lending."

Rod Blackhirst, Professor of Religion, Latrobe University, Australia:
"Well done. This is a great personal achievement on your part, and I think your work will make a substantial impression on New Testament scholarship. Once again, as an academic I am struck by the fact that you do not hold an academic position, yet your work is of a much higher calibre than much that comes out of academic circles these days. Your work is proof that important work is being done beyond the narrow confines of official academic discourse. Thank you for your efforts. A sunburst over the lingering gloom of the quest for the historical Jesus!"

Professor A. J. van Essen, Groningen University, The Netherlands:
"Your Jesus Puzzle has just arrived. I must confess it makes riveting reading. . . ."

Richard B., Washington, D.C.:
"I have received your book, The Jesus Puzzle. It is a thorough and impressive study. The gist of what is in the book has already appeared at your website, but the book does an excellent job of expanding and detailing your material. There is no question in my mind that you are absolutely correct in your conclusion that there never was such a person as Jesus of Nazareth."

John H., Missouri:
"It is an impressively written book. You've pondered this a long time and with immense attention to detail. You've mastered the relevant literature and are in touch with the latest scholarship. And you've built a massive case for your thesis. It's quite a work. The flow of your writing style is excellent. It carries the reader along. Your book has been a stimulus to do more towards my own reflections on the story that has sustained my interest these last fifty years." [John has submitted to me a lengthy and detailed review of The Jesus Puzzle, not entirely sympathetic to its thesis. That critique and my response to it is now posted among the Special Items at the head of the Reader Feedback section: rfJHbkrv.htm]

Dan G., Wisconsin:
"I just finished your book. Congratulations!!! I think it is the best book I have ever read to present the case that Jesus was a fiction. Your analysis of the Pauline corpus—the heavenly Christ in contrast to the later earthly Jesus—really drove the point home for me."

Philip L., Texas:
"I consider the book to present a very compelling case, though I also recognize that there are a number of places where reasonable arguments could be made against you, and I'm impressed that you acknowledge this when it arises. I'm also impressed with your non-confrontational tone which I would consider essential to maintain an open mind in a Christian reader. Organisationally the book is very coherent and an easier read than the website, though that might be because it's a book and doesn't require staring at a computer screen."

Ivan T., New Zealand:
"I must say the price is remarkably cheap for 390 pages. I like the fact that it is largely your own research, and that you cover areas I don't recall seeing anywhere else. Your treatment of the second century apologists is fascinating. Thanks for a well-presented, well-researched argument."

Earl C., California:
"The new Jesus Puzzle looks good, reads well. There are many paragraphs to relish. This is a hard time of year [December] for those of us who would like to see history more accurately rendered. Someday the truth will out."

Thomas F., Arizona:
"Very impressive. Very impressive. The hard work and clear thinking (i.e., any thinking I agree with) is evident. So we can forget about discovering the Real Jesus Christ a la Time magazine and others. That person never existed. Nineteen hundred years of worship? Whew! I'm not going to shout this from the rooftops. It's a subject prudent people don't get into. Thanks again."

Darryl K., North Carolina:
"Your book moved immediately to the top of my reading list, and I wasn't disappointed. Originally, I went along with the assumption that Jesus of Nazareth led some sort of noticeable life at the start of the first century. After going through your website, I began to have serious doubts about that assumption, but I held some lingering leanings to a historical Jesus mainly because of a near consensus of scholarship. After considering the tenuous threads by which that assumption hangs, and the powerful evidence presented and argued in your book, I would throw my hat into the mythicist ring."

Owen F., British Columbia:
"Your book is so thorough that any brief review must do it a disservice. The research and scholarship that has gone into it is of the highest order and I am still rereading some of the passages. As a parallel, I have been re-reading "Letters from the Earth" by Mark Twain which is a comical and sarcastic denunciation of all the myths of the bible and feel cheated that such remarkable and insightful books are usually relegated to oblivion while arrant nonsense such as 'The Bible Code' are regarded with awe by the ignorant majority. Thank you for writing the book, it is a light in the darkness."

Walter G., Wisconsin:
"I have finished your Jesus book. I admire your thoroughness in studying this most enthralling period. In my own life which started in a most narrow religious milieu, I can only say at this point that your contentions as to how Jesus arrived on the scene are more believable to me than what I was taught in my childhood."

Greg G., Massachusetts:
[My comments are in square brackets. ED]
"I just finished what I consider a very rigorous reading of your book. I very much enjoy your writing style. It is fresh, vigorous, and carries the reader forward with some real style. You have been able to piece together a lot of elements and have offered some superb insights. I don't have the time to verify them, but many of your assertions are things I have suspected or "sensed" in the past. The letters of Paul have always seemed strangely out of touch to me.

As you know, I am not an ancient history expert and must judge your conclusions mostly based upon the data points you provide. Virtually every point about ancient mystery religions and related material that you assert or reference is consistent with my reading from other sources (e.g. Will Durant). Interestingly, your writing style has an uncanny resemblance to his—an asset by all accounts, as there are few authors I can tolerate for seven or eight hundred pages in a single work. [Greg is referring to Durant, not to my book, which is only 390 pages! ED] Needless to say, I greatly enjoyed your writing structure and style. It was a text-book model of clarity and organization, introducing a subject as a progression of understandable units that work together to make a case.

I am accustomed to critical review of material over which I am required to professionally pronounce judgement despite only a modest amount of domain expertise. Sometimes we are all called out of our element and the result is usually an uncomfortable enlightenment. Thus, while I can think critically about the arguments you present, it is largely through the tools of a critical generalist upon which I most rely. Internal validity checks represent a ready source of validation as are your biased but more than 80% fair discussions of opposing arguments.

How badly I wanted your argument to fall apart or contradict itself. How I yearned to see stretched half-truths and a reliance upon the non-sense techniques of the Jesus Seminar that pre-qualify all considered evidence. To my view, whatever scholarly work is provided by the Seminar is entirely overshadowed by two unforgivable negative things: [I do not necessarily consider the following to be a valid or accurate assessment of the Jesus Seminar and its methods. ED]

1- Patently (maybe even ridiculously) flawed methods that rely upon prima facie exclusion of data prior to analysis, thereby forcing a conclusion that can only be consistent with the thesis. This kind of data filtering is laughable in any field of scholarly inquiry, unless they are attempting to show the difference induced by including or excluding the particular data set. They do no such thing, but simply exclude first and analyze later.

2- Assertion of the nonsense notion that a meaningful Christian religion can be recast as a "spiritual phenomenon" rather than a "truth"; with a straight face they assert the viability of a Christian model based upon a legacy that is fabricated and entirely fallacious. I read the debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan (moderated by W.F. Buckley). It was pathetic. Craig routed Crossan's ultra-weak position in no time. (Of course, your argument trumps Craig, but for entirely different reasons).

While I understand you have associated with the Jesus Seminar for creating this book [Not so; I have simply been supported by two scholars who are members of the Seminar, acting outside that capacity; the rest of the Seminar pointedly ignores me. ED], the quality of your book is something quite apart from anything I've seen from the Jesus Seminar. I force fed myself Crossan's "Historical Jesus" and while some interesting themes emerged, it amounted to no more than an attempt by conspiring liberal politically correct individuals to bring Jesus into their own camp—far too political for me, particularly in spite of my personal political conservatism that has little stomach for revisionist history and insists on conclusions based upon a corresponding element in objective reality.

Perhaps orthodox scholars will forcefully argue you back into your corner in future encounters, and I hope I'm not eternally damned to hell for saying it, but I admit your argument and accept your thesis as the best presentation of "truth" in this particular issue. You have won this round fair and square. Your victory is not rhetorical either, since you directly address orthodox points of view on their own grounds! Your argument could be said to rely more on historical context and the natural progression of ideas over time than any specific sequence of Gospel events or archeological evidence. You did not even have to counter most of the traditional arguments for historicity (such as all the apostles being martyred) since the whole story was really just literature not unlike the story of Paul Bunyan or Robinson Crusoe.

Unlike the Jesus Seminar, you do not rely on prima facie exclusion of data points, but instead your argument incorporates all of them. Initially, I objected to the number of interpolations upon which your argument relied, but when I finally understood how frequent such interpolation actually occurred, that objection waned. [Actually, I appeal to only two interpolations in all the New Testament epistles, one supported by most liberal scholars; the second is not critical to the argument. ED]

Coupled with your dissection of the non-Christian sources, the progression from Paul's mystery religion to what amounts to a "folk hero" Jesus has that haunting feeling of being the real story. In a perhaps disturbing way, your thesis renders all our characterizations of Jesus as only so much literary character analysis like we might find in a high-school class on Shakespeare. Miracles? Healing? Crucifixion? Resurrections? Sure, whatever you want; anything can happen in literature. Conflicting gospel accounts? Who cares? They are all just renditions of a moral tale. There is no harm in reworking or embellishing a moral tale as long as the meaning is not lost. And the tale was embellished and the meaning was not lost. Virtually any orthodox Jesus scholar would insist that all the Gospels are embellished to some degree and that the meaning is not lost in any of them. Ironically, you don't have to debate many of the existing arguments in favor of a divine historical Jesus since your argument is largely tangential.

It is my opinion that the book makes the case as masterfully and concisely as it could. Until someone can effectively challenge your work, it stands as a milestone for me in my exploration of religion. I started the book determined to discredit it. By the time I reached the middle of the book, you had made your case. The second half of the book was even more compelling than the first. By the time I finished the book, I had an entirely new sense of what it means to "study the Bible as literature."

I'd be very interested to see what other experts say about this book, as it is so entirely "out of the box" compared to the usual Jesus debate arena. I'd really look forward to seeing you in a live debate on the issue. I would come to see it.

Thanks for a great book."

More reader reviews posted on

Fits the pieces together

Reviewer: Oscar Gonzalez from Dallas, TX USA - October 9, 2000
        The burden of proof and persuasion is on those who believe in Jesus as a historical figure. Earl Doherty as a disbeliever must merely cast sufficient doubts on the existence of Jesus to win. He more than discharges this responsibility. He is methodical as he decomposes the New Testament texts and provides simple, almost irrefutable, answers to questions that have long confounded biblical scholars. He is a clear writer, as clear as I've read.

Forcefully argued

Reviewer: Darryl Kight from North Carolina - December 31, 1999
        Earl Doherty brings together multiple lines of evidence, which do not allow for the historical existence of a rural Jewish peasant at the genesis of Christianity. His arguments are presented in an easily accessible, scholarly manner. He sticks to the documentary evidence at hand without resorting to a trace of emotionalism. This is a must-read for anyone interested in religious origins.

Scholarly and Readable

Reviewer: Barry Campbell from Denver, Colorado - January 18, 2000
        "Whether Christian or secular lay-person, or a biblical scholar, the Jesus Puzzle will present you with intelligent, straight-forward evidence of the true early Christian picture. Mr. Doherty does something that neither Crossan nor any other contemporary liberal scholars do—he faces the available evidence and addresses it directly—he does not "talk around" issues, he does not make excuses or rationalizations for what the ancient text plainly states—in other words, he tackles all the important 1st and 2nd century evidence that has anything to do with the evolution of Christianity, and explains it fully and in a way anyone can understand. There is no plainer way to say it. If you have read any contemporary liberal biblical works, you have no doubt come away with as many questions as answers—that will NOT be the case with the Jesus Puzzle—How Refreshing! One can only hope that more members of the Jesus Seminar will step up to the plate, face the evidence, and help bring this new scholarship into the bright sunlight."


Reviewer: Prof. Jan Koster from Groningen, The Netherlands - January 29, 2000
        "This is one of the most exciting and liberating books I've read in years. As soon as historical bible criticism came off the ground in the 19th century, many came to the conclusion that the evidence for an historical Christ was practically non-existent. The very plausible Jesus-as-myth theory was successfully suppressed during most of the 20th century. Ever since the spectacular Nag Hammadi findings in the Egyptian desert in 1945, there were excellent new reasons to put the thesis of a non-historical Christ on the agenda again. Independent scholar Earl Doherty took up the challenge where the much publicized Jesus Seminar failed. Doherty has written a potential modern classic, which deserves to be widely read and discussed!

For Open Minds Only

Reviewer: Bill Paulson from Minneapolis, MN - February 2, 2000
        Here's your chance for glory: Produce a good, sound argument that the Jesus Christ featured in the New Testament gospels is the same individual as the Jesus Christ whom the NT epistle authors have in mind. Do this and you will be the first person in history to accomplish this task.
        In his book "The Jesus Puzzle", Earl Doherty demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ is a fictional character. No such person ever existed. The notion may be shocking to the general populace, but it is not a new idea, and has been endorsed by a minority of scholars for over a century.
        The best evidence comes from the Christian writers themselves. The New Testament epistles and most of the non-canonical literature until the mid-2nd century show a resounding silence on the earthly life of Jesus. No teachings or miracles. No references to Mary, Joseph, the disciples or the holy places, such as Bethlehem, Nazareth and Calvary. No trial or details of the passion story. And so on.
        Scholars try their best to explain this phenomenon, but this degree of silence from so many writers over so many years has one and only one adequate explanation: the writers ignore Jesus's life on earth because they don't KNOW of a life on earth. Jesus Christ started out as an entirely divine being, just like all the other gods in all the other religions of the day. The idea that he lived a full, human life was a later development in Christian mythology which gradually caught on, proved to be popular and eventually became standard orthodox belief.
        Another problem with the traditional view of Christian origins is the wide diversity of expressions shown in the early Christian record. These are unlikely to have stemmed from the life of a highly-revered human founder. "Rather, Christianity was born in a thousand places, in a host of different forms, growing out of the broad, fertile religious soil of the time." (Page 139).
        Doherty considers (and refutes) the various attempts people make to prove a historical Jesus, including the infamous forgery in the writings of the historian Josephus and the handful of vaguely-phrased epistle passages which, on the surface, have a "human" sound to them, but in fact can apply equally to divine beings.
        The author has a website, and I have put him to the test by discussing his work on the Web with people who are far more knowledgeable on the subject than I. Most disagree with Doherty's views (sometimes throwing tantrums in the process!), but when they try to present a convincing argument to the contrary, they can't do it. They don't even come close. At best, they will nail him on an insignificant technicality. Too often people read the epistles with gospel-tinted glasses.
        The Great Silence is carefully examined, but the book offers much more. There is a lot of general education material which is great for the average reader. We get an introduction to the philosophies of the time, such as Platonism and Cynicism. Doherty closely examines the lost document of Q and considers the similarities between Jesus and the competing savior gods, such as Attis, Osiris, Dionysos and Mithras. He describes the universe as perceived in those days and the spiritual realm where Jesus and the other gods operate. And we are treated to several passages which managed to escape Christian censorship and show without question that the authors do not have in mind a human Jesus executed under Pilate.
        There's very little in the way of weak points. At times Doherty may exaggerate the significance of a particular silence. And I'm a bit uneasy with some of the assumptions and speculations in Parts 5 and 6 concerning the Q document and Christian origins. But none of this is harmful to the overall case. Doherty is a fine writer, is very well-read and does not depend on sources of dubious reliability.
        Now, there IS one significant hurdle which the author may never overcome. It's not deficient arguments, but rather human nature. For scholars to admit that Doherty is right means to admit they've been under a monumental misconception for their entire careers. Time will tell whether they have the courage and dignity to do this.
        Read, learn and spread the Good News to your friends! If justice is served, this book will change the world."

Where has this book been all my life?

Reviewer: Richard Urukalo from Toronto, Canada - March 4, 2000
        A bit of background: I was raised a devout Christian and it wasn't until my university years that I was able to pry morality from the jealous grip of religion. At that point, I was able to recognize that the only elements of Christianity that really mattered happened to also be the only elements of Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism (etc.) that really mattered, and that these elements could all be lumped together under the banner of "common moral decencies". One didn't need religion to abide by the common moral decencies—one needed only some common sense.
        But my enlightenment ended there. It began again when I picked up Earl Doherty's "The Jesus Puzzle".
        I had no reason to doubt that there was at least an historical figure called Jesus somewhere at the bottom of all the stories. How wrong I was!
        Earl Doherty succeeds where G.A. Wells, John Crossan et al fail: he thoroughly investigates every bit of evidence/thought related to early Christianity and shows beyond any reasonable doubt that the Jesus figure began its existence exactly where it is today—in myth. Doherty, with an objectivity, a concreteness and a finesse of scholarship that is all too often absent from New Testament discourse, has made it exceedingly difficult for the intelligent Christian to continue to insist upon a historical Jesus. A spiritual one, fine, but certainly not an historical one.
        Anyone who doesn't have a large investment in the belief in a historical Jesus and who is even vaguely interested in the origins of Christianity will come away from Doherty's work with nothing less than a jaw-droppingly intense feeling that what so many believe to be absolutely true is in fact absolutely false.
        Why has no one else noticed the multitude of glaring facts that Doherty has? Chalk it up to ~2000 years of NT scholarship carried out by Christians for Christians.
        Does this spell the end of Christianity? Probably not. Doherty's book is a smashing meteorite that will certainly wipe out certain species (most likely the primitive fundamentalist sects), but other species will likely evolve into a belief that does not require an historical Jesus as a centerpiece.
        Doherty's book is a must read for the believer and the interested nonbeliever alike. Welcome to the 3rd millennium!

Scholarly investigation into Biblical Origins

Reviewer: Tom Ebacher from Kensington, Minnesota, USA - March 1, 2000
        I am an atheist and have been skeptical of religious beliefs for quite a long time. I have been comfortable with my limited explanation of the origins of the Bible in my disregard for Christian myths. I was aware however of the limits that I had in countering religious arguments regarding the basis for Christian beliefs.
        "The Jesus Puzzle" is a scholarly inquiry into the origins of the New Testament and the stories of Jesus. It isn't the easiest reading and takes some time to read and consider. It is however, a detailed, thorough, systematic and credible challenge to the belief that Jesus was a real individual who inspired Christian beliefs. It has expanded my understanding of Christian origins and confirms my willingness disregard the precepts of Christian religions.
        If you want to further understand the origins of the Bible, if you are interested in understanding the intellectual challenges to Christian beliefs, if you want a fuller understanding of skeptical views of the Bible stories, then read "The Jesus Puzzle" by Earl Doherty. Earl's efforts have broadened my abilities to counter religious claims about the Bible. Well worth the effort to read.

New paradigm

Reviewer: Neil Godfrey from Toowoomba, Qld. Australia - April 12, 2000
        On page 125 of his book Doherty writes: "When any set of assumptions is firmly in place, the evidence is usually interpreted in accord with those assumptions. Yet it is clear that the New Testament epistles present the Christian reader and scholar with difficulties and anomalies at every turn. These have traditionally been ignored, glossed over, or subjected to unnatural interpretations and questionable reasoning in order to force them into the mold determined by the Gospels.
        "What is needed is a new paradigm, a new set of assumptions by which to judge the epistles (as well as the other non-canonical documents...), one capable of resolving all those contradictions and uncertainties. That paradigm should be determined by what we can see in the epistles themselves and how we can relate their content to what we know of the spirit and conditions of the time." This is how Doherty approaches not only the epistles but the gospels and noncanonical writings as well.
        Why do the earliest New Testament documents (the epistles) show no knowledge of the life and teachings of the historical Jesus (apart from a few passages that are said to be revealed via scripture or vision) yet speak of this Jesus, without any justifying reference to his human life, as God and sustainer of the universe? Doherty shows that the traditional scholarly explanations for this puzzle are with less than adequate documentary and logical support. But by looking at the philosophical and theological milieu of the authors of the epistles (who wrote before the gospels were known to them) we see that their ideas of Jesus Christ are a part of the broader literature about an increasingly personified divine Messiah, Logos, Wisdom figure. Paul also appears to demonstrate closer affinities with some aspects of the mystery cults than with any knowledge of an historical Jesus. Doherty shows that many of the ideas expressed in the theologically divergent epistles of Paul, James, John and that to the Hebrews are more satisfactorily explained as a part of broader Son of God literature emerging in some circles of Hellenistic Judaism, and to whom this figure was exclusively a spiritual revelation of scripture or personal vision—not an historical person.
        Part 2 of Doherty's book essentially explains why modern Christian scholarship finds so elusive the nature of the historical Jesus assumed to lie hidden beneath the earliest Q sayings and the gospel of Thomas. Doherty asks the questions that both conservative and liberal Christian scholars fail to address seriously: Do these earliest sayings point to a single Jewish historical figure at all? Or is the evidence more satisfactorily explained as the product of a more general counter-culture, Cynic-like movement arising from economic oppression in Galilee and to which a Jesus figure was later added and gradually fleshed out? Much of this section is a response to modern Christian scholars (especially John Dominic Crossan ("The Birth of Christianity" et al.) whose theological assumptions seem not to allow them to ask such a fundamental question. Doherty would say that such a question should be obvious when the earliest evidence shows no knowledge of any of Jesus' works or life-experiences (but only a collection of sayings that have little to commend themselves as unique) and especially when the evidence rather points to a gradual elaboration of biographical details of a Jesus character over time?
        Doherty then looks at the tendentious nature of Christian scholarship's interpretation of Jewish and pagan sources such as Josephus and Tacitus and finds it logically flawed.
        He points to the Gospel of Mark as the first attempt to unite the Galilean tradition (the evolved Q sayings) of Jesus with the completely separate Jerusalem tradition (of a dying and rising Messiah who becomes God). Historians such as Crossan see links between these two traditions in the Didache or even the Cross Gospel in the Gospel of Peter, but Doherty deconstructs such arguments with a rigorous but lay-reader-friendly analysis of the textual evidence. He takes us through a survey of Mark showing how these two traditions have been united through midrashic re-writings of many old testament passages and tales designed to meet the needs of the Markan community. The result was the first gospel of Jesus. This literary work was possibly the real beginnings of Christianity as we know it.
        Finally Doherty examines the earliest post-gospel writings of Christians beginning with Ignatius and through to Papias. The relationship between Marcion, the writings of Paul and the Book of Acts is discussed. The second century apologists' writings are shown to draw more heavily from Middle Platonism than any gospel Jesus, and at least in one case appear to deny the very idea of such a figure being associated with their Christian faith.
        The footnoting and appendices in the book are set out in such a way as to make this book one of the easiest introductions to the documents of early Christianity and also as one of the most accessible and easy return-reference tools I have read.
        The book's strength is that it accepts modern scholarship's foundational evidence for the origins of Christianity (canonical and non-canonical writings along with their generally accepted dates) and shows that traditional interpretations raise unsolvable problems of logic and consistency. It shows how these problems are largely removed if we interpret the same evidence as pointing to Jesus being a creation of the broader philosophical, theological and religious world of the time. This Jesus then only gradually evolved into an historical founder after the original midrashic nature of the gospels was later confused with biographical reality.

Full of Fascinating Insights, Hard to Put Down

Reviewer: Acharya S from Truth, USA - April 26, 2000
        On the cover of Earl Doherty's book, The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a mythical Christ? is a blurb from a reader of Doherty's earlier online version: "You present nothing new here that your master, Satan, has not previously used to deceive the simple." In reality, neither does this zealous critic present anything new, as this sinister sentiment has been slung since Day One at those who do not blindly believe every priestly huckster who comes along. Such an acrimonious response, in fact, ranks right up there with "Your [sic] gonna burn in hell," in intelligence and efficacy in refuting scholarly challenges to ludicrous biblical claims.
        It is a constant source of amazement to "freethinkers," rationalists and assorted (other) scholars and scientists that it is considered virtuous to blindly believe in the words of a man or a group of men concerning the matters of "faith" and "religion," when, if religion were to have any meaning at all, it would be about reality, honesty and integrity. There is little honest or righteous about blindly accepting and then promulgating beliefs one has not thoroughly investigated. Such behavior—and subsequent name-calling and threats when the sale of these sacrosanct shoddy goods falls through—should be considered the realm of the con artist, rather than that of a seeker of truth.
     In his endeavor at seeking truth—and risking the vituperation of those unwilling or unable to investigate for themselves—Earl Doherty smoothly solves another piece of the Jesus puzzle, which has been under deconstruction for centuries. He throws his well-considered opinions and research into the ring alongside those of thousands of dissidents over the centuries. Fortunately, Doherty's work provides unique and complementary aspects to a growing body of literature written by those derogatorily called by Christian apologists, "Christ-mythers," an assembly sneered at and vilified—but not adequately refuted by any means—by believers and vested interests alike.
        After years of painstaking research, classicist and humanist Doherty, like his Christ-myth predecessors, concluded that there was no historical Jesus. The same conclusion was reached by his colleague, the Jesus Seminar's Robert Price, an ex-evangelist who became a mythicist after close examination and the removal of mythical elements from the gospel story, after which little was left of the gospel Jesus that could be considered "historical."
        In dissecting the Christ myth, Doherty focuses on demonstrating the lack of historicity found in the earliest of canonical Christian texts, the epistles. Like so many others, he wonders why "Paul," considered by numerous Christians to be the "greatest apostle" and the truest establisher of Christian doctrine, makes nary a mention of Jesus's purported life, deeds and sayings.
        There is simply no reflection in the earliest Christian texts of any "life of Christ" as a human being, divine or otherwise. To the rational mind, this fact would serve as real proof that Jesus Christ is a fictional character imposed upon history, in reality representing the disincarnate Savior of the ancient, pre-Christian salvation cults. Indeed, the epistle writers and other early Christian authorities speak almost exclusively of a phantom or gnostic Christ of the same type of dying and rising savior gods found in the Pagan mysteries for centuries, if not millennia, prior to the Christian era. After establishing that the earliest Christian view of Jesus was of a mystical, non-historical Son of God, Doherty moves on to the purported extrabiblical and non-Christian evidence of Christ's historicity.
        Considering that, repeatedly over the centuries, the notorious passage in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, the "Testimonium Flavianum," basically has been proved to be a "rank forgery," it is a pity that Doherty needs to spend so much effort debunking it once again, but he does it well and thoroughly. Likewise he does away with the other "evidence" found in Josephus, i.e., the passage about James, the "brother of the Lord, called Christ."
        On pp. 220-221 of The Jesus Puzzle, Doherty springs a sublime trap. First he leads the reader through a discussion regarding a purported "lost reference" in Josephus, as alleged by Church fathers Origen and Eusebius, supposedly reflecting that the historian "believed that the calamity of the Jewish War (66-70) and the fall of Jerusalem was visited upon the Jews by God because of their murder of James the Just." Next, Doherty states:
        "Origen brings up the 'lost reference' to criticize Josephus for not saying that it was because of the death of Jesus, rather than of James, that God visited upon the Jews the destruction of Jerusalem. But more than half a century earlier, the Christian Hegesippus had said the same thing. As preserved in Eusebius, Hegesippus witnesses to a Christian view of his time (mid-second century) that it was indeed the death of James the Just which had prompted God's punishment of the Jews."
        "But," Doherty continues, "there is a very telling corollary to this. Why did those earlier Christians not impute the calamity to God's punishment for the death of Jesus, since to the later Origen—as well as to us—this seemed obvious?
        "The explanation is simple. The need to interpret the destruction of Jerusalem would likely have developed early, even before Hegesippus. At such a time, an historical Jesus and historical crucifixion had not yet been invented, or at least would not have been widely disseminated beyond a few early Gospel communities."
        For those who wish to delve deeply into the Jesus puzzle and Christ conspiracy, Doherty's book is satisfying and compelling. It is also refreshing to consider that the debate is increasingly in the open, the hysteria and violent knee-jerk reactions lessened. Works such as The Jesus Puzzle hopefully will encourage other daring souls to exclaim that the Emperor is not only naked but also rather unpleasant to behold. In this safer atmosphere, the human species can continue to evolve, progress and mature, moving beyond a significantly damaging bump in the road on a long, strange trip through the cosmos.
Acharya S, Author, "The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold"

And . . .

Did not read based on faith!

Reviewer: Kevin Evans from Crisfield, MD - May 11, 2000
        This concept is almost not worth commenting on. I'll just give one arguement, the life of the Apostles. They all died martyrs, horrible deaths for somone that didn't even exist. This shows give a talented writer time and money and he can right a book about anything, no matter how ridiculous it is.
[Typos as is. From his opening sentence, it is evident that this 'reader' did not actually read the book, but is commenting on the idea contained in the book, as described on the Amazon site. What his heading implies is not certain. If he is saying that I did not read the Bible based on faith, he is correct. If he is claiming he did not evaluate my book based on his own faith, that is probably incorrect. (And the claim that all the apostles were martyred is a myth in itself.) ED]

Note: While several more New Testament scholars, including several within the Jesus Seminar, received copies of The Jesus Puzzle than those whose remarks appear at the beginning of this file, they have so far declined to offer any comment to me. This is perhaps understandable, and is borne out by a letter I received from a correspondent of mine, an Associate-Fellow of the Seminar who gave this opinion on that silence:

Of course, the practice of ignoring or suppressing the "no-Jesus" position, which more than a few others before me have argued, is nothing new on the part of New Testament scholars. But today, critical scholarship itself has entered a bold and unprecedented phase, in its dismantling of so much of the Gospel myth and its reduction of Jesus of Nazareth to human dimensions. One might think that this new vision and courage on the part of so many who work in liberal circles (and none more so than in the Jesus Seminar) would extend to facing and dealing openly with all serious viewpoints, no matter how radical—especially one which has had as persistent a track record as the no-Jesus theory. If the latter is threatening, let alone without foundation, the best way to neutralize it would be to address and discredit its arguments, not ignore it and hope it will go away.

Last year about this time, the Jesus Seminar page on the religion.rutgers site made a link to my Jesus Puzzle website (a move which eventually led to making it possible for me to publish my book), where it referred to my site, along with writings by others than myself, as "critiques . . . that raise substantive issues that merit an intelligent response." To my knowledge, where my own writings are concerned, no one in the professional field has seriously taken up that challenge.

In some respects, there are those who are more radical than I. It may well be that I am too conservative on the question of Pauline authenticity. At the upcoming Spring meeting of the Jesus Seminar (March, 2000) a paper will be delivered on Paul, summarized thus: "The Apostle Paul is largely a Christian fiction. The historical Paul was not a Pharisee and not a Jew. He wrote very little and probably made only one journey. . . .[etc.]" This view may be a minority one even within the ranks of the Jesus Seminar, but it shows that critical scholarship is open to considering radical positions. Why not, at long last, a serious consideration of the no-Jesus theory?

If there are those who would otherwise like to make any comments to me, favorable or critical, but would prefer to remain fully or partially anonymous—or unquoted—on my website, a request to that effect would be honored. The question of Jesus' existence is so fundamental, so crucial to the future course of western intellectual thought and social progress, especially now when so many of the walls surrounding the Christian myth have been knocked down or seriously undermined, that no opportunity should be ignored to bring light onto the question.

* * * *

For information on the book (including a full-color picture of the cover) and how to purchase, please see jpadvert.htm. The book is also available through

Return to Book Page
Return to Reader Feedback Page
Return to Home Page