Was There No Historical Jesus?
by Earl Doherty



Javier writes:

    Congratulations on your excellent website. As soon as I can I'm 
ordering your book. I'm 23 years old and I'm a last year medical 
student here in Venezuela, but I have a deep interest in history, 
religion and philosophy. It is very difficult in my country to cast 
doubt on traditional fairy tales and superstitions due to the lack 
of an education in critical thinking. I'm sure you experience 
similar problems in your country. 
    Best wishes to you!

Warwick writes:

    I find your work to be absolutely brilliant. I am not a biblical 
scholar but have all my adult life struggled with the thought that 
Jesus did not exist and was a myth and quite by accident I discovered 
your site. Now I know I am not insane, out of step or doomed to hell 
and any other number of things that the "religious" would condemn 
me to. I thank you most sincerely.

Lisa writes:

    You talk about having an open mind, but your entire stance seems 
biased from the beginning. I am much more convinced by Josh McDowell's 
Evidence That Demands a Verdict, and C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. 
I have seen people raised from the dead, healed of blindness. I have 
seen legs grow before my eyes, and I have seen people changed. All of 
these things were done by the power of Jesus. I don't care if you have 
all the evidence in the world, my life has hope, I have seen the 
miracles of God, and I live in his presence. I am a missionary and 
have seen the angels. I have had the Lord provide for my every need. 
You did not convince me.

Rich and Amanda write:

    What a bunch of hypothetical garbage. I apologize for sounding 
harsh but, really. I am a Christian, absolutely. I think that you may 
have done a good job of trying to convince others that Jesus never 
existed, but yet your reasons are all theories, and you have no 
substantial evidence to back up your claims.
    All of you scientists, researchers, and so called intellectuals, 
using the very gifts that God bestowed upon you to blaspheme his son. 
The day is coming soon where all will be known, and people like you 
will run to the mountains to hide when you see the Son of God appear. 
May God have mercy on your soul.

Pete writes:

    I have to admit, as a Christian, I hadn't really noticed the lack 
of specific references to the "Gospel Jesus" in Paul's epistles. I 
have two questions: first, though I'll not argue with the fact that 
Paul doesn't refer explicitly to gospel events, do you really think 
that Paul, as a man, didn't think there was a real, flesh-and-blood 
Jesus? I realize this is a question that can only elicit a subjective 
answer, but you seem to be saying that Paul's lack of reference to 
"historical" events in Jesus' life means that there was no "historical" 
Jesus. Maybe all it means is, Paul just didn't refer to Jesus' specific 
words or acts. I admit it's strange, but I don't know that it is 
"evidence" of anything. 
    Paul was writing specific letters to individual churches and 
people, addressing certain problems; Paul's main concern seems to 
be outlining Jesus' divinity. The claim that Jesus was more than 
just a troublesome rabbi would have been what others would have 
found hard to swallow, not the fact that Jesus was a "real person." 
I imagine that first-century Romans and Jews would not be wondering 
(or caring) whether Jesus was really a carpenter from Judea; they 
would have cared a great deal about whether he was something more. 
I would guess that Paul's readers would tend to think that maybe 
Jesus was only a flesh-and-blood man, which is why Paul talks about 
who Jesus really was: the image of the invisible God, the firstborn 
of all creation, the one in whom all things hold together. Is it 
any wonder that Paul spends his time fleshing (no pun intended) 
out theology that the gospels only hint at?
    Also, what about all of Paul's references in Colossians to Jesus 
as a real person (not events or words, but as a real person with a 
body, i.e., "he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death," 
"the blood of his cross", etc). I realize this says nothing to what 
you say about the gospels, and is in what you call "mythological" 
terms (which does show your naturalistic assumptions), but it does 
show that Paul believed in a flesh-and-blood Jesus. But why he 
doesn't refer to the gospels, I cannot say, nor do I think it is 
particularly useful to speculate on it, since one cannot possibly 
    Anyway, as a devout Christian I wasn't offended or terribly 
bothered (intellectually or spiritually) by your article, but it 
was a fascinating read. As I read the letters and your responses, 
I was impressed with your honesty and grace to those who didn't 
agree. I wish I could say the same for some who wrote in to you, 
both for and against: those against said you were going to hell 
(like they know!) and those who agreed with you took obscene relish 
in seeing the faith of others being dissected (being a free-thinker 
is one thing; being arrogant and sadistic about it is quite another).
Response to Pete:

In Paul's Room: A 'Positive' Argument from Silence

If you were to walk into a room and find that all the furniture was painted bright red, or that it was sitting on the ceiling, would you simply go about your business with the thought that, yes, it's strange perhaps, but why bother speculating about what it means or why it got that way? Would you say that it is not particularly useful to try to discover the reason for the garish color, or the gravity-defying arrangement of the furniture? And would it be true that "one cannot possibly know" why the room possessed these features?

If before one entered the room, one was subjected to extensive mental conditioning that bright red was an undistinguished color, or should really be seen as brown, or that furniture on the ceiling was simply someone's idea of imaginative decor, one might perhaps be able to enter such a room and not be surprised or disturbed by it. For most people, that's the way the Christian epistolary record has been presented, and scholars have traditionally done their best to make us see red as brown, and ceiling furniture as unremarkable, or perhaps simply as an expression of Paul's offbeat taste in interior decorating.

But when we enter Paul's room from the rest of the Gospel-decorated house—and the same goes for the rooms of all the other epistle writers of the first century, not just Paul's—the features of that room, to the open and unconditioned eye, are undeniably bizarre.

In the rest of the house we see Jesus choosing men to be his disciples and appointing them as apostles to the world, and they in turn organize and direct an apostolic movement which reaches out over half an empire. But when we enter Paul's room, we find him moving in a competitive world of independent apostles, many of them apparently to be identified with the earthly followers of Jesus in the Gospels, yet no one ever mentions or appeals to a link—or anyone's lack of it—to the historical man. The word "disciple" never appears, and Peter and the pillars have received their mandate to preach from God (Gal.2:8), as has Paul. The mark of the legitimate apostle is a visionary "seeing" of the Lord.

The walls of the rest of the house are hung with Gospel pictures of a preaching, miracle-working, prophesying Jesus, who walks the land, impresses large crowds, attracts the attention of all and sundry. On the walls of Paul's room there are no pictures, for his Christ is a mystery, a "secret" hidden for long generations and only now "revealed" through scripture and the Holy Spirit to inspired apostles like himself (eg, Romans 16:25-6).

Outside Paul's room, the Gospel decor reveals a teaching Jesus who told of God's love, offered enlightened, revolutionary ethics, painted vivid pictures of the imminent end of the world. Inside Paul's room, similar great ethical maxims about love and life are urged upon the listener, but the only figure to whom these lofty sentiments are ever attributed is God (as in 1 Thess. 4:9). Paul, too, offers a picture of the coming End, but not from Jesus' preaching on earth.

The decor of Paul's room is certainly a garish color, screaming its clash with the rest of the house. But Paul's inverted furniture is even more incongruous. Pete shows himself to be well aware of the range of contrasts in attitude toward Jesus that we find in the record. To the average Roman and Jew, as the Gospels would indicate, Jesus should indeed have been a carpenter from Nazareth, a flesh and blood man. Yet Paul and other Christians speak of their Jesus in the lofty and mythological language of 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:15-20, and Hebrews 1:1-3: the Son as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, the one in whom all things hold together, as Pete indicates. Can one imagine any Roman or Jewish audience listening to such declarations and not reacting with astonishment, anger, sheer ridicule? Would not much of Paul's efforts need to be devoted to justifying such an outlandish elevation of a human man, a crucified criminal? Can the divine Son be talked about without mentioning his human antecedent, can Paul demonstrate that Jesus was "more than a man" without referring to the man himself? Or does Paul's ceiling furniture simply defy gravity?

Many take refuge in the argument that, well, the epistles don't need to voice the equation everyone already knows, they don't need to make attributions all Christians are familiar with. One might legitimately wonder how this lack of need could be so pervasive, where not one document by one writer in a corpus of so many breaks the silence, deliberately or accidentally, about the human founder of their faith. A companion argument is that these are "occasional" writings, and don't have occasion to speak of Jesus of Nazareth or the events of the Gospel story. Yet time and again, occasions do arise in the epistles where a reference to the Gospel figure or events would be natural, expected, compelling; at times they cry out for such a mention. My feature "The Sound of Silence: 200 Missing References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles" more than amply demonstrates this.

Above all, it is the manner of expression which Paul and every other epistle writer uses that is the crux of the matter. The question of the void on the Gospel Jesus goes beyond the use of a simple argument from silence. It is far from being based on mere negativity. Paul and the epistle writers speak positively about the object of their worship, about the nature of their faith movement and how it began, and their manner of expression presents a picture which pointedly leaves out any reference to a recent human man; indeed it often leaves no room for him (for example, Titus 1:2-3).

I have referred to the Pauline view of Jesus as a secret long hidden with God, of the universal way of speaking of his 'revelation' in the present time, of the focus on scripture as the source of information about him and about God's promises, of the medium of the Holy Spirit in inaugurating the faith movement and revealing the gospel. Everything proceeds from God, God the agent, God the caller, God the source of moral precepts, God the object of thanks and devotion. No set of writers could consistently speak this way if they had the image of Jesus of Nazareth, his recent words and deeds on earth, before their eyes. If oral tradition had passed on memories and legends of the great events of his death and rising, of Calvary and the empty tomb (and how could it not?), could Christian writers place the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus in a heavenly sanctuary or in the sphere of celestial demons? If they followed a man who had taught, performed miracles, lived and died and rose on the ground they themselves walked on, could they have totally ignored all those holy and momentous places?

There is one telling manner of expression that is always overlooked. I call it Paul's "starting point" in speaking of his Christ Jesus. Pete alludes to this without realizing it, but he also consciously points to the "real person" references he and others find in the epistles, those involving terms like "flesh" and "blood" and even a 'descent' from David. The two are closely linked, and I think that this may be a good time and place to briefly draw those observations together and look again at how they can be explained in terms of a spiritual Christ who operates entirely in the supernatural, mythical world.

To illustrate the idea of the 'starting point' note how Pete speaks of Paul's "claim that Jesus was more than just a troublesome rabbi," that Paul was concerned with "outlining Jesus' divinity." As a grammatical exercise, isolate the word "Jesus." In the context of how Pete uses it and how he imputes it to Paul, what does it refer to? It refers to the man Jesus. Paul, according to Pete, is concerned with showing that the man Jesus was in reality divine. The man Jesus was much more than a "troublesome rabbi." Pete demonstrates the natural and inevitable way we would expect the early Christians to speak of Jesus: by adopting a starting point in the historical man himself.

No such manner of expression appears in the epistles. Paul and the other writers speak directly of a divine Son and make faith declarations about him and his activities. "And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came to be, and we through him" (1 Cor. 8:6). "In this final age he has spoken to us through the Son . . . who is the effulgence of God's splendor and the stamp of God's very being" (Heb.1:2-3). "For the divine nature was his (Christ Jesus') from the first; yet he did not prize his equality with God, but emptied himself . . ." (Phil. 2:6f, a pre-Pauline christological hymn). Not only is the starting point the divine Son in heaven, no equation is made with a recent, identifiable earthly man. I will repeat my oft-used phrase: Paul believes in a Son of God, not that anyone was the Son of God.

There is nothing to tell us that the Pauline Son had ever set foot on earth. Together with all that "mystery/secret" and "revelation/disclosure" language as applied to Christ, with God himself as the originator of the movement through scripture and the Holy Spirit, these are pretty strong indications that the early Christian movement knew of no historical Jesus. What, then, do we do with that small group of passages which speak of "flesh" and "blood," (an example would be Ephesians 1:7, "we have redemption through his blood"), and that other small number which seem to give him a human lineage: Romans 1:3's "of David's seed" and parallel ideas in Romans 9:5 and Hebrews 7:14, Galatians 4:4's "born of woman", and one or two others? Does the case for Jesus' historicity depend on those two handfuls (let's call them) of references? Should they tip the scales against all the other, non-human language, the exclusion of any Jesus from the picture of the movement, the overall vast silence on the Gospel figure? Or do they instead have another explanation?

The first thing to note about this double handful of passages, is that not one of them supplies us with a Gospel event or a clear statement of a life on earth. (Elsewhere, as anyone who has read even the basics of this website knows, 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16, with its "Jews who killed the Lord Jesus" is judged by most liberal scholars today to be an interpolation; the "Lord's Supper" passage of 1 Corinthians 11:23f can easily refer—particularly since Paul describes it as a revelation directly from the Lord—to a mythical scene, very similar to mystery-cult sacred meal myths like that of Mithras; and 1 Timothy 6:13, with its passing reference to Pilate, is part of a second century piece of writing, though it too gives evidence of being an interpolation.) Nowhere does a writer use a phrase like, "when he was on earth" or "lived a life." In fact, Hebrews 8:4 virtually spells it out that he had never been on earth.

Let's look at that first handful. It is curious how most of these passages use a stereotyped phrase involving the word "flesh," as in "kata sarka." According to the flesh, in relation to the flesh, in the sphere of the flesh, are only some of the attempts made by translators to pinpoint the meaning of this cryptic phrase. Its use in 2 Corinthians 5:16 (where it is not applied to Christ, but to those who know Christ) shows that it is not simply a reference to being 'in human flesh.' It can relate to worldly standards, mystical relationships. Considering that salvation in this period was looked upon as coming out of parallel actions between a god and the devotee (including in Pauline Christianity), and considering that deity in its purest spiritual form and habitat could have no contact with the world of humans, we can postulate the concept of some intermediate sphere of contact, wherein the god moved closer to the world of matter and could share in some of its human characteristics. Otherwise, salvation by a god wouldn't have been possible.

Everywhere that an epistle writer uses a phrase about Jesus' nature or redeeming acts involving the word "sarx" we can suggest that he is speaking of that point or state of contact or similarity between the spiritual and the material. In other words, the god has moved into the sphere or state of being which can react on the flesh, on humans and their salvation. Since philosophers like Julian speak very vividly of the graded higher world, whose spheres ever degrade as they descend toward, and start to affect, matter, and of gods moving down those spheres (compare the Ascension of Isaiah 9 and 10), we have a reasonable—if alien to our way of thinking—explanation for this pervasive manner of speaking among early Christian writers who never manage to place Jesus firmly on earth.

Even without such an insight, however, we need merely look at the concept of "blood" as used in the epistle to the Hebrews in speaking of Christ's sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary, and we immediately realize that such terms may be used by the epistle writers to refer to spiritual things. We need merely look at the myths of the mystery cults, which have their own savior gods spoken of in human-sounding terms, to understand the thought world which the epistle writers moved in. The blood and other bodily fluids of the bull slain by Mithras which spill out to vitalize the earth are not regarded as historical, earthly products. The flesh of Attis' severed genitals (with the result that he bled to death) are not regarded as made of matter. These are not "real person/animal" references. Besides, all sacrificial concepts had to involve the shedding of blood—Hebrews (9:22) declares that there is no forgiveness of sin without it—and so the concept of Christ's "blood" was conceptually necessary, even if it was located in the mythical, spiritual world.

Taking into account the fundamental Platonic principle that all things in the world of matter have more perfect counterparts in the higher spiritual world from which they are derived, and that the upper realm was the "genuine" reality and the lower one the copy, no human-sounding term can be declared out of place when applied to the heavenly Christ, and that includes being "of David's seed" (Rom.1:3).

Which brings us to a consideration of that second handful of references. What almost all of them have in common is their dependence on scripture. In other words, a passage in the sacred writings which is regarded as having 'messianic' meaning has been applied to the spiritual Christ, as illustrating some aspect of his nature or activities. Thus Romans 1:3, which verse 2 says is part of the gospel about the Son found in scripture, referring to the many biblical passages foretelling a future king to be descended from David. Hebrews' similar 7:14 ("our Lord is sprung from Judah") is also seen by the context to be founded on scripture and motivated by theological necessity. It is applied to Christ the High Priest whose sacrifice is placed entirely in the heavenly sphere. Even Hebrews 5:7, "in the days (time/state?) of his flesh . . ." is governed by the need to apply scriptural passages to Christ's lower realm activities: "he offered up prayers and petitions, with loud cries and tears" is dependent on Psalm 116:1 and 22:24 LXX.

The most significant passage governed by scripture is "born of woman" in Galatians 4:4. Paul's remark was almost certainly governed by the famous Isaiah 7:14, "a young woman shall conceive and bear a son"—though not enough for him to give us the name of that woman. Paul has also added "born under the Law," probably in order to supply the necessary paradigmatic parallel with those to whom he is comparing Christ. But if Christ Jesus was a Jewish savior god, it would come as no surprise to give him a lineage which involved Jewish characteristics, and almost all of these passages involve that feature. In any case, there are enough anomalies in the Galatians passage as a whole (verse 6's sending of only the "spirit" of the Son, for example) to undermine its effect, and a Greek mythical god like Dionysos could also be said to be 'born of woman.' This verse is the one most often appealed to in the epistles to counter the mythicist position, but while it may be problematic, when taken with all the contrary evidence and its own internal inconsistencies it hardly tips the scale, and I can easily resist the temptation indulged in by others to take refuge in regarding 'born of woman, born under the Law' as an interpolation.

Finally, to deal with an odd-man-out passage, 1 Timothy 2:5's bare use of the word "anthropos" in reference to Christ carries no weight, if only because God himself could be described in gnostic mystical literature as the First Man, and the Son/Logos first emanation of God as the Son of Man. Besides, the term can be seen in parallel with the use of the word "flesh."

Most of the above passages have been addressed at greater length in various places on the site, especially Supplementary Article No. 8: Christ As "Man".

One point to be made is that all these new readings in this double handful of passages are consistent. They are not piecemeal, an ad hoc exercise in reinterpretation (something I have occasionally been accused of). They do, of course, go against traditional exegesis, but they all fit into a unified and intelligible picture of earliest Christianity as a Platonically based, mystery cult expression in keeping with the dominant ideas of the time, and they fit into the new paradigm created by all the other observations about the early Christian record I have presented.

It is also the case that all these double handful of passages fall into the same general area, the area which is most difficult for the modern mind, with its literal, scientific and historical orientation, to comprehend. We have to recognize our 20th and 21st century resistance, and be willing to put ourselves back into the first century's way of thinking, into its habitat of a multi-layered universe, into a mindset where an understanding of the mysterious workings of a god and spirit infested world is universally conveyed by myths and mystical allegories rather than scientific or historical analyses.

The historicizing of the Gospels was the first step on the path to the modern world. Now we have to turn off the Gospel radio when reading the epistles.

[Note: Another new item just posted, a review of the recent book by Alvar Allegard, Jesus One Hundred Years Before Christ (part of my feature "The Case for the Jesus Myth"), contains an extended discussion and comparison of the two ‘camps’ within the mythicist position, (1) the one represented by G. A. Wells—followed by Ellegard in a more specific way—that Paul placed his Christ on earth in a time earlier than the first century, and (2) the one represented by myself, that Paul did not place his Christ on earth at all, but in the spiritual world of myth, similar to the way the savior gods of the mystery cults were viewed. As part of a close examination of Ellegard’s thesis, that the early Christian Christ was identified with the Essene Teacher of Righteousness, I also address Wells’ more general position. I argue for the greater likelihood of my own view. See BkrvEll.htm.]

Stoil writes:

    I am much impressed by your website, both by the quality of your 
scholarship and the elegance of your style. 
    I largely agree with your position on the historicity of Jesus, 
but I do have some reservations on a few of the details of the 
picture you paint. I'll just mention one. It is whether the Q 
material can be traced back to an actual person. You claim that 
these are sayings of a community, not a single man. Burton Mack 
on the other hand believes that they (Q1) are indeed sayings of a 
founder of a movement. The way I see things, neither position is 
justified as a firm stance because they are both plausible, and we 
have no way of knowing which one of them is true. Considering 
that Jesus was a popular name at the time, there well may have 
been such an itinerant cynic-style sage in Galilee, who inherited 
some of the Q1 sayings and recast or invented the rest. And 
gained some local notoriety and admirers while tramping around. 
Therefore, behind the Q gospel there may lurk a real founder of 
a movement. We don't know for sure, but by the same token we 
can't rule it out either.
Response to Stoil:

Was There a Q Founder 'Jesus'?

I don't dispute Stoil's statement. It is difficult to "rule out" any reasonable interpretation of evidence where historical research is concerned. (Although, I do try to "rule out" many unreasonable interpretations, such as that an itinerant sage who may have "gained some local notoriety and admirers while tramping around" the Galilean countryside could have been elevated by such as Paul within a handful of years of his death to the status of cosmic pre-existent Son who had helped create the world and was now its redeemer. However, I realize that Stoil is not claiming this.)

On my site, and especially in my new book, I examine the evidence within Q itself and come to the conclusion that there are very significant indications in the document that the "Cynic-style sage" of Burton Mack and others cannot be supported. There are good clues pointing to early stages of Q which contained no human founder or source figure at all.

I'll quote a few paragraphs from a passage in my book which summarizes arguments that have been made in much greater detail earlier:

. . . However, in reviewing the evidence, we find that the early layers of Q contain strong indications that no Jesus figure was known at that time: passages which pointedly make no mention of him [where such a mention would be expected], the lack of hero-fixation that such a founder should have generated, the void even on his name in the early strata. The extended anecdotes concerning him are demonstrably later constructions. Indeed, if the later stage of Q was amenable to recording such anecdotes embodying Jesus' name and a touch of biography, why was early Q not so inclined, especially at a time when the memory of the preaching founder would have been closer and stronger? It is in the early stages that we would expect to find such things. . . .
     Considering the movement as a whole, if a prominent teacher stood at its genesis, as speaker of a seminal body of sayings, that teacher should be a given in all the expressions of the movement found in the documentary record. We have seen that the Didache stands in some line with the Q community, yet the figure of a teaching, miracle-working Jesus is not to be found there. Revealingly, the Didache includes a body of ethical maxims which are often very similar to the Q1 sayings, and yet there is no attribution to a Jesus figure. This in itself indicates that their association with a Jesus in the Q document is a separate or local development, one the Didache did not share in, and that the introduction of a founder figure in Q came later than the Didache community's own tangential [in a different geographical area] development. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus' hold on the sayings is tenuous, being limited to little prefaces which could well be secondary [later] additions. In fact, Jesus made so little impact on the Thomas community that not even a primitive integration of him with the material itself, such as we find in Q3, was effected. Nor is there any trend toward biography in Thomas.
     This review of the evidence provides strong indication that there was no Q founder in the initial stages of the movement, but that he was later added by some of the communities involved on the larger Kingdom [of God preaching] scene.
I also put forward arguments in my discussion on Josephus that the famous Testimonium, which many scholars try to claim has an 'authentic' core, is entirely a Christian construction since Josephus makes no mention of Jesus as the founder and inspiration of the widespread Kingdom of God preaching movement evidenced by Q and the Didache. Such a role, if Mack's position rather than mine is true, is one that should have been known to Josephus.

While it may not be possible to take a "firm stance (on) knowing which one of them is true" when contradictory alternatives are presented in historical research, it is by a process of argumentation based on the evidence, as I have done above, that one arrives at a position which can be regarded as persuasive, or as possessing a degree of 'probability.' That is all we can expect from most historical research, and it is all I have claimed for any facet of my position on the non-existence of an historical Jesus.

Guy writes:

    Peter Kirby, in his web site essay on Josephus, points out that 
children were being named Christ (Christou). If this is the case 
does this automatically mean that it is equal in term to The Christ? 
Like our own culture where we call a child Kristine or Christopher 
which does not necessarily mean THE Christ. Wouldn't it have been 
blasphemy, if not literally, then culturally?
    Again, good work.
Response to Guy:

The Christ vs. Mr. Christ

First of all, I think Guy is misreading Kirby's statement. He seems to have understood him as saying that "Christ" (Christus in Latin or Christos in Greek) was being used as a proper name for ordinary people, as though parents were naming their sons "Christ." Rather, Kirby is simply pointing out that gentiles (once an historical Jesus was getting established, as I would style it, or maybe even before) tended to regard the term "Christ" as one of Jesus' names, whereas Jews would see the word as an office or title applied to a prefigured and prophesied deliverer in the scriptures.

But let me address the argument which Kirby makes in regard to this point. Since a Jew would have realized that "Christ" was not a proper name, but the title of the expected Messiah, he would not employ it as a name, whereas a Christian scribe, being a gentile and following the lead of the Gospels, might tend to do so. Kirby points to the fact that the phrase in Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews 20, "tou legomenou Christou" (the one called [the] Christ), does not use the term as a name but as the title of the Messiah. From this, Kirby makes the natural suggestion that the writer must be a Jew rather than a Christian. In other words, the greater likelihood is that Josephus wrote this phrase, rather than a later Christian scribe (the latter being my suggestion, in my book and in my Supplementary Article No. 10: Josephus Unbound.)

However, there are two problems with this argument. One is that, while many later non-Jewish Christians might well have mistaken "Christ" for a proper name, and used it as such, this does not mean that every Christian was this ignorant, and especially not Christian scribes who were literate and worked with many manuscripts in the course of their work. I rather think that such a scribe would be aware both of its traditional Jewish meaning as a title, and of its more colloquial usage in Christian circles as a proper name. He could then have used it either way.

The second point is that the phrase "tou legomenou Christou" is used in both Matthew and John, and so could be said to be a common and comfortable phrase, at least among more literate Christian circles. The scribe who inserted the phrase into Antiquities 20 (or initially in the 'lost reference,' probably in Jewish War) could well have been influenced by a familiarity with the Gospel usage of such a phrase.

Peter writes:

    In regard to your response to Darryl's question on the plaque from 
Jesus' cross: [referring to Reader Feedback 11, in which "Darryl" 
asked me if I had heard of "the plaque that was supposedly nailed to 
Jesus' cross" as mentioned on a PBS website. Darryl had "serious 
doubts" about it, while I replied that I had not heard of it.]
    I believe I have seen the plaque Darryl means. It's in Rome, more 
precisely in the church of St. Helena (actually I'm not totally sure 
that that's the official name of the church, but the church was built 
out of parts of Helena's - Constantine's mother - palace). It's still 
in central Rome - just inside Aurelian's Wall - but somewhat off the 
beaten track.
    The plaque is still fixed on what's supposed to be the top of the 
cross, and it contains the phrase "Iesus Nazareum Rex Judaeorum" 
(forgive any misspellings) in Latin, Greek and what I take to be 
Aramaic. To a layman's eye it looks rather authentic; it certainly 
looks very old. Interestingly, in the same exhibit they have a thorn 
of Jesus' crown and Thomas' finger that touched Jesus (I'm not 
    In the church they didn't seem to have any information material 
on the plaque. If it is part of the same cross that Helena is supposed 
to have found in Jerusalem and was regarded for centuries as the 
True Cross - the one Heraclius brought back - then it does have 
genuine historical value, of course, but I'm afraid it may be even 
the forgery of a forgery.
    If you'll forgive me, Rome has many such relics. Along the Appian 
Way there is the Quo Vadis Domine Church, very small. Inside you can 
see Jesus's footprints, where he is supposed to have stood while 
talking to Peter. But if the prints are life-size, Jesus' shoe size 
was around 12.
Response to Peter:

More on the Plaque from Jesus' Cross, and Jesus' Footprints

You don't need to ask my forgiveness. I wonder if the recent 'apology' by the Pontiff in Rome extended to the foisting of travesties such as this on the naive mind of western society for so many hundreds of years. To these, we now have to add the Gospel story itself.

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