Was There No Historical Jesus?
by Earl Doherty



Ian writes:

    Thanks very much for an excellent site - easily the best 
example of independent scholarship on the Web.

David writes:

    My check for one copy of The Jesus Puzzle will be in today's 
mail. People like you help me keep my sanity.

Joe writes:

    I found your work to be excellent reading, and I know that 
within my small circle where such 'heresy' is openly discussed, 
your scholarship and integrity is highly regarded. You do not play 
emotional games. The only counter that I have thus far observed to 
your weight of historical evidence is purely argumentative and 
emotional. Please continue your work. You have a lot of support 
out here and a lot of credibility.

John writes:

    I am a fan of G. A. Wells, who is routinely ignored by Westar 
[the Jesus Seminar] and other scholars. I suppose you fall into 
that category as well, although it was through the Westar site 
that I first found your work. The Westar Fellows' presupposition, 
that Jesus really was an historical figure, is an obvious act of 
self-survival. Even folks as brave as they sometimes stop short 
of following the truth, wherever it may lead. 
    Your work is very important. It's unfortunate that it's way 
ahead of its time. But I'm glad it's here while I'm alive, for 
we few, the happy few, to enjoy.

Dee writes:

    Your web site is the most wonderful thing that has happened to 
me since I started higher criticism studies ten years ago. I like 
reading your writing the best of all; you are absolutely the most 
persuasive. Your style of writing is fine, and reminds me of Will 

David writes:

    What an EXCELLENT site! I only recently gained access at home 
to the web and it is sites like yours that make it so worth while. 
I sense a growing global movement aiming to make Christians think 
about what they really have faith in. However, we must take care. 
There are some fundamentalists who will oppress what they see as 
blasphemous teaching. Let us not forget that Christianity has 
probably been responsible for more death than any other human 

William writes:

    I will be happy to see the day when you are judged. You will 
one day realize what is real and what is a myth. If you do not 
change then you WILL burn in a very real hell, for a very real 
forever. Think what you want but, you WILL, for sure, see your 
personal judgment. It might even be sooner than you think.

Sasha writes:

    I congratulate you for providing a rather thorough critique of 
the Christian faith. I thank you for challenging my faith and 
giving me the desire to study the origin of Christianity with a 
more magnified perusal. Thank you for sharing your criticism with 
such graceful articulation. Your fellow neighbor and servant of 
Jesus Christ.

Glen writes:

    I really do appreciate your point of view, and the way you put 
it forth. I do not necessarily agree with all you have to say, but 
it does have its value in thinking and study. For 47 years I was a 
Baptist Minister and must say that what you have written has caused 
me some serious thought.

MSM writes:

    Why would you even chance condemning yourself with such a book?? 
Have fun with Satan.

Terry writes:

    I will pray for your salvation.

Miso writes:

    I have found your work impressive and extremely interesting.
    After reading through your pages I cannot shake the feeling that 
one fundamental question is not asked or answered: if Christianity 
began with a completely mythical Christ, Logos projecting itself into 
the sphere of matter and demons to suffer his (its) martyrdom, why 
was the legend of a human Jesus created in app. 70 C.E. (most widely 
accepted dating of the gospel of Mark) or thereabouts?... 
[more below]
Response to Miso:

Mark's Innovation / Greek Rationalism

One branch, part of an empire-wide religious expression (the mystery cults), of what became a composite Christianity "began with a completely mythical Christ." The other branch had nothing to do with a mythical Christ, or with any saving deity except the Jewish God, and it arose locally in Galilee and Syria. Whether made up largely of Jews or of gentiles we can't be sure, but this sectarian movement, modeled in part on the Greek Cynic philosophy and lifestyle and in part on Jewish biblical apocalyptism, preached a counter-culture ethic in the context of the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God. The details of this preaching movement became the core of the "legend of a human Jesus."

That those two distinct elements came together in a "Gospel" whose central character served to symbolize both—the Galilean ministry the Kingdom preaching tradition, and the death and resurrection in Jerusalem as an allegory of the dying and rising savior god cult—was probably a fluke of history, an imaginative innovation by one writer or community that had a foot in both camps. I devote an entire chapter of my book to analyzing this classic yet unique example of religious syncretism.

Why in 70, or perhaps a decade or two later (which is my preferred dating for Mark)? Things happen when they happen, but I suspect that the effects of the Jewish War on the mind of Mark or his community played a role. If Mark was exposed to, or even involved in, both the Galilean movement and the Christ cult at the same time, the upheaval of the War and the emotional expectations it engendered may have caused him to see a significant connection between the two, leading him to allegorize them in one grand amalgamation. When he sat down at his writing table to compose, he could hardly have foreseen that he would single-handedly shape the future of western society.

...Christianity was primarily a Greek religion. Greeks were 
rationalists par excellence, and to a fault: e.g., Aristotle's 
claim that the brain is just spongy tissue that cools the blood 
was certainly contrary to common knowledge....Conclusion based 
on reason alone, even when contrary to experience, was the very 
essence of Greek intellectual thinking. I am sure you are aware 
of many other purely rationalistic conclusions that the Greek 
philosophers made, some way off the mark, and some quite close 
to our contemporary understanding (e.g., Demokritus' atoms or 
the roundness of Earth). In my view, Greeks had no need of a 
human Jesus to believe the divinity of Christ and the validity 
of the new religion. And yet, it was the Greeks that have 
created the human Jesus. Why?
First of all, Greek rationalism, as represented by Aristotle and the Stoics and Epicureans, was not universal. Aristotle criticized Plato's central philosophical theory (of Forms) on the grounds that it wasn't rational. Platonism in general, especially at the time of Christianity, was anything but founded on rational observation. Greeks, like anyone else, were capable of unscientific and even crackpot ideas. Also, the "gentiles" who were largely responsible for the shaping of Christianity, and particularly the Gospel tradition, were those who had attached themselves to Judaism, so in a sense they were departing from their Greek roots. Christianity owes most to the mystery religions and Plato, not to the likes of Aristotle and Democritus.

Con writes:

    I found your thesis on the Jesus Puzzle stimulating and most 
convincing. However I have a few questions:
1. At what point did the gospel writers (or whoever inspired them) 
turn the spiritual or proto-gnostic Jesus into a historical being?... 
[further questions below]
Response to Con:

Jesus Historicized / Under Herod and Pilate / Paul's Horror / Gnostic Lemmings

My view is that Mark did not regard his Jesus character as historical, at least in his total representation in the Gospel. He may have regarded him as based, loosely and in part, on the founder figure which the Galilean Q community before him had invented for itself, one who seems to show up for the first time in the Q3 layer of that document's evolution (under what name we can't be sure). But the spiritual Jesus, whose death and rising was allegorized in the 'Jerusalem' half of the Gospel, was hardly regarded by the writer of Mark as an actual historical figure, since almost everything to do with the passion part of his story he derived from passages in the Jewish scriptures.

Whether the later evangelists viewed Mark's creation as representing history is also dubious, if only because they felt free to change anything in it to conform to their own interests. On the other hand, it is quite possible that they too thought it was loosely based on a man who lay at the roots of the Galilean movement represented (though not solely) by Q, and they may even have believed (trusting and misinterpreting Mark) that this man had died and risen in Jerusalem. Essentially, however, the Jesus of the Gospels was only historicized after the ideas in the Gospels began to be disseminated, some time into the second century. The first sign of such an historicizing influence comes with Ignatius (around 110, if tradition and authenticity can be trusted), who declared that Jesus was born of Mary and crucified by Pilate, contrary to what some others were preaching. Ignatius does not have a written Gospel in hand, since he never points or appeals to one to back up his claims, but I suspect that by his time, ideas from Mark's Gospel were beginning to spread through some of the Christian communities in the eastern Mediterranean area, and may also have reached Rome.

2. Why were the reigns of Herod and his son, and the governorship 
of Pontius Pilate chosen as the settings of this particular Messiah?
If Mark was the equivalent of an 'historical novelist,' he would have chosen his plot settings to further the story. Pilate would have been known as a man who had persecuted the people and dispatched his share of enemies of the state by crucifixion. The period of the 20s and 30s of the first century (our reckoning, of course) were likely also known as the time when both the Kingdom of God preaching movement and the cult of the savior Christ had begun. Dim memories of legendary apostles of the latter's beginning, like Paul and the Jerusalem group around Peter that he had contact with, would have necessitated the placement of Jesus at that time, and in fact Mark makes use of some of those legendary apostles, turning them into followers of his fictional Jesus. As to the birth date of Jesus, the Q movement had linked their founder with John the Baptist, and John could probably be dated from the end of the reign of Herod the Great. Jesus' own birth date would then gravitate toward the same time, a process which came to full expression in Luke's graphic linking of the conceptions and births of the two men.
3. How responsible was Paul in encouraging the eventual belief of 
a historical Jesus? What would he have made of the fleshed out 
narratives of the Gospels?
To the extent that Paul was known throughout the multifarious Christian world in the early second century (and it was by no means a universal knowledge), the assumption would have been made that he was preaching an historical figure. If the traditions reflected in 1 Corinthians 15, that certain people in Jerusalem had "seen" the risen Christ, were familiar, they would be reinterpreted as the appearances of someone who had just died—and risen—in the flesh. But Paul also was pretty clear in defining Christ as a "mystery" long hidden and now revealed, and presenting Christ as a heavenly being with a heavenly, spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44-49). I can only think that if he had been able to look ahead and see the Gospels and what was eventually made of them, he would have been horrified.
4. Do you think that the gnostics or the proto-gnostics in their 
bid to encourage followers by inventing the so-called lesser 
mysteries sowed the seeds of their own demise at the hands of 
the literalists?
The question implies that the evangelists were (proto) gnostics, which I don't see all that much evidence of. There is far more proto-gnosticism in the epistles than in the Gospels. The "lesser mysteries" of the cults still retained a mythical flavor. The myth of Demeter is cast in terms of gods and primordial events, not placed in identifiable earthly history with known historical characters. Attis did not castrate himself at a fixed date and location in Asia Minor. Thus, I don't think that the gnostic mind would have invented the Gospels with their recent historical settings and figures. Once these (allegorical) writings were circulating and began to be regarded in a literal fashion, they could not be ignored, and the second century Gnostics tried to accommodate them by (ironically) interpreting them allegorically, though with gnostic meaning. Others were actively promoting the literalist interpretation, especially under political circumstances which made such historicizing advantageous.
...I hope that your book will soon be available in Australia.
At a retail level, that may be a while coming, but The Jesus Puzzle is, of course, available anywhere in the world through this web site. Click here for details: jpadvert.htm

Tomas writes:

    Thanks for a most informative, thorough and honest web page. 
I think that through your research many of us have a clearer 
understanding now of why (at least in Europe) we didn't study 
Jesus in history classes in elementary school but only in Religion 
    I have a question. I have read that some "scholars" relate the 
writings of the Essenes and the dead sea scrolls to the life of a 
Jesus. What is your opinion on this subject? Is there any reference 
in the writings of the Essenes that are known so far (if they where 
really the authors of the DSS) to Jesus at all? And if not, would 
this not constitute another example of silence about a pretended 
historical figure, Jesus, that if had been truly alive and kicking 
should have had to be noticed by the Essenes and perhaps referenced 
in their writings?
Response to Tomas:

Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls

Periodic attempts have been made to give a Christian reading to the prominent figures in the Dead Sea Scrolls (the Teacher of Righteousness, the Wicked Priest, etc.), but I think this is more fanciful than anything else. As to whether the Essenes (presumably of Qumran) were the source of the Scrolls, rather than more mainstream Jewish circles perhaps located in Jerusalem itself, is under debate, but certain of the scrolls, particularly those in which the above characters appear, are undeniably sectarian and apocalyptic, and would seem to be of Essene origin, wherever this may have been located. The whole issue (notwithstanding Golb's book) is still too contentious for me to try to pronounce on it. Whether the Essenes would have bothered to note an historical Jesus in their writings is perhaps dubious.

Gregg writes:

    Hi, I've enjoyed checking out your site. One of the most 
interesting things I've noted is the e-mails from Christian 
fundamentalists saying you're trying to destroy their faith in 
Jesus. Obviously they have not really read the site or given any 
thought to what they've read, but are simply expressing a knee-
jerk reaction to anything that appears to stray from "orthodoxy." 
Eliminating a historical Jesus doesn't mean you can't still have 
faith in the cosmic Christ, the crucifixion and resurrection, or 
even the idea that Jesus was "in the flesh" and able to comprehend 
our sorrows and sufferings. It obviously was no problem for Paul.  
If anything, your research causes problems for those liberal 
theologians and their New Age-therapeutic historical Jesuses.
    On to my questions:
    First, do you think all the original Gospel writers knew that 
what they were writing had absolutely no basis in history? 
Matthew 13:11 and Luke 8:10 certainly offer a hint (and probably 
an intentional one) that "Matthew" and "Luke" knew they were not 
writing actual histories but were addressing the needs of simple, 
uneducated, literal minded and superstitious Gentile converts, 
who had no concept of Jewish and Greek metaphysics.
    Second, there are rumors that the Vatican knows some things 
about Jesus that they don't want anyone to find out. The prevailing 
theory is that they have proof locked away that Jesus was just a 
human being who died on the Cross and that there was no 
resurrection (or that Jesus actually survived the crucifixion).
Some folks believe that the Knights Templar uncovered similar 
evidence while digging under the Temple in Jerusalem. Do you 
think the opposite may be true; that the Vatican has copies of 
documents that clearly demonstrate that there was no historical 
Jesus at all? I don't want to sound like a Catholic basher or a 
paranoid conspiracy theorist here, but I cannot put it past 
religious leaders to suppress explosive information like this.  
    Third, I remember reading somewhere that certain Christian 
groups claimed that it was not Jesus but a simulacrum that 
perished on the Cross. Were these groups contemporary with Paul 
and the Jerusalem group, and if so, were they too talking about 
a heavenly crucifixion rather than an earthly one? Were they 
people Paul was arguing with who claimed there was "no" 
crucifixion? Or did these groups emerge after the idea of a 
historical Jesus began to take hold?
Response to Gregg:

Matthew & Luke Fiction? / Vatican Conspiracies / Counterfeit Crucifixion

As I said in the previous response, I can allow for all the Synoptics, including Mark, to have in mind the idea of a founder figure who was supposed to lie at the beginnings of the Kingdom preaching movement (an entirely invented founder by the circles which produced the Q document, not an actual one, as G. A. Wells has now apparently accepted). However, in Mark's mind, the details of his ministry of Jesus would simply have been representative of that figure, and the passion story entirely allegorical of something quite separate, joined artificially to the ministry. As to what may have been in the later evangelists' minds, this is more difficult to determine precisely.

In regard to the passages Gregg mentions, he may be reading more subtlety into them than is necessary. Jesus tells his disciples that he speaks to the people in parables since it has not been granted to them to know the secrets they contain. Rather than this indicating that the evangelists were being metaphorical about the entire story (although they may well have been), the sort of 'reasoning' in these passages is a reflection of a defensive mechanism common to sectarian groups. When the outside world does not accept the sect's teaching, ridiculing or misunderstanding it, it's a nice fallback position to say that the deity did not intend them to understand it in the first place. From a little different perspective, it's also a not unwelcome response from that outside world, since it sets the sect apart as a privileged, wiser group. In the Gospels, the disciples represent that inner privileged circle. All of the Gospels present this characteristic sectarian picture of Jesus' activity, a ministry which aims ostensibly at 'converting' society as a whole (unsuccessfully, which is the fate of virtually all sects, at least in their initial phase), yet operates within its own fortress mentality. This atmosphere is strongest in the Gospel of John, with a 'love' ethic aimed exclusively at the sect's own members, and an attitude toward the outside world ("the Jews") which is openly hostile and clearly uninterested in total conversion of that society.

As for Vatican conspiracies, these 'rumors' regularly recur—with little basis, it seems to me. Any documents (let's say, of pagan or Jewish origin) which made a good case for the non-existence of Jesus would likely be of great antiquity, and the chances of them surviving and remaining concealed for centuries seems low. Like many such rumors, they may be based on something which is far less significant than the rumor mill makes of them.

The simulacrum idea was one of the mainstays of a certain type of gnosticism, that Jesus was only a phantom or a "seeming" human being (docetism), so that he didn't really suffer and die in a material sense. I see little evidence for regarding this idea as being current in Paul's time, but rather, as Gregg suggests, it would have arisen only after an historical Jesus took shape, among those who could not countenance the idea of a deity actually undergoing human experiences.

Even writes:

    What would you say about the following, written by Manson: 
"Also reading between the lines of the Gospels we find clues 
suggesting the historicity of Jesus. For example, it is unlikely 
that Matthew and Luke would have invented the Jewish claim that 
Jesus was a Galilean (born in Galilee). They went to great lengths 
to prove to their readers that he was from Bethlehem even though 
he lived in Galilee (in the town of Nazareth). Had they invented 
Jesus, they would not have invented stories to convince their 
readers that he was born in Bethlehem."
Response to Even:

Jesus' Birthplace

For Matthew and Luke, Jesus' birthplace had to be Bethlehem because that is where a famous prophet said the future king of Israel would be born (Micah 5:2). Mark originally placed him in Galilee because his character was representative of that area's Kingdom of God preaching movement. Neither Mark nor any of the epistle writers breathe a word about Bethlehem.

Chris writes:

    How can the apostle Peter be a fictional character if he is also 
prominently mentioned in Paul's writings? Doesn't Paul's mention of 
"Peter" which can be translated as "rock" suggest that Jesus' quote 
about Peter, "the rock" of the church," is true? [see below]
Bill writes:
    Allegedly, the Catholic Church in Rome was founded by Paul and 
Peter. Did early church founders just refer to Paul's writings (which 
mentioned Peter) and use their names to give authentication to their 
church? Or were Peter and Paul actual people who were starting a 
movement that was NOT based on a historical Jesus?
Response to Chris and Bill:

Historicity of Peter and the Petrine Tradition / 1 Clement and Peter & Paul

As suggested earlier, I am not saying that Peter was a fictional character, though I would say that the entire picture created of him by Mark was fictional. Paul witnesses (presumably) to a "Peter" who was part of a Jerusalem-based brotherhood headed by James. The extent of this man's apostolic activities is not securely known. Paul's letters provide little evidence that he was widely traveled, and certainly none that he went to Rome, although Galatians 2:8 states that Peter was "an apostle to the Jews," a role to which he was appointed by God, says Paul, not by Jesus.

The authenticity of Jesus' appointment of Peter as "the rock" on which he will build his church would be highly dubious under any circumstances. It appears only in Matthew (16:18) and is clearly intended to support an apostolic tradition supposedly going back to Peter, one adopted in the second century by the church of Rome. Did Peter in fact go to Rome, and how early was this Petrine tradition adopted by Rome? A good indicator lies in the epistle known as 1 Clement, ostensibly sent by the congregation in Rome to the one in Corinth, by tradition written in the 90s of the first century. (There is a line of radical thought which places this epistle no earlier than the mid second century, as a tendentious 'forgery.' But while the tradition about 1 Clement is by no means reliable, there are problems with such a late date, some of which I will suggest below. I would place it perhaps as early as the beginning of the second century.)

This is the key passage in 1 Clement, chapter 5:

"Through jealousy and envy the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] were persecuted and contended unto death. Let us set before our eyes the good apostles: Peter, who because of unrighteous jealousy suffered not one or two but many trials, and having thus given his testimony went to the glorious place which was his due. Through jealousy and strife Paul showed the way to the prize of endurance; seven times he was in bonds, he was exiled, he was stoned, he was a herald both in the East and in the West, he gained the noble fame of his faith, he taught righteousness to all the world, and when he had reached the limits of the West he gave his testimony before the rulers, and thus passed from the world and was taken up to the Holy Place, the greatest example of endurance." [trans. by K. Lake, The Apostolic Fathers, Loeb Classical Library. The phrase in square brackets is not in the Greek, though a certain sense of it lies in the word "pillars."]
This passage is significant for what it does not contain. If the epistle were a later creation by the church of Rome at a time after the establishment of the Petrine tradition (that Peter had gone to Rome and founded its church and line of bishops, giving Rome a special authority), we should expect that the letter would make mention of Peter's presence in Rome, as well as play up the authority such a presence would have conferred. In light of his silence on such matters, it is difficult to imagine that the writer was at all familiar with a Petrine tradition in regard to Rome. (Giving this epistle a provenance other than a Roman one has too many difficulties to accept.)

We should note that not even Paul is mentioned by the writer as having gone to Rome, or that he was martyred there. What we know of such things, of course, comes entirely from Acts and the later traditions of the Roman church. Not even the pseudo-Pauline epistles, such as Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, all dated over several decades after Paul's passing from the scene, show any knowledge or suggestion of his eventual fate. The absence of such mention in 1 Clement supports the view that Paul's martyrdom specifically in Rome was a later legend or refinement of a general tradition that he had ended his life somewhere in the west, or perhaps it was an outright invention for Roman political purposes. Certainly, the latter seems to have been the reason for the writing of Acts sometime in the mid second century. The far more 'primitive' quality of 1 Clement, together with its lack of focus on Roman authority, would be further reason for not placing it within the same venue as Acts. (1 Clement can also be shown to contain no knowledge of an historical Jesus, which would again tend to preclude a date in the mid second century, but that's a story for another time.)

When the church of Rome was seeking to 'reclaim' Paul from gnostics like Marcion (who had included most of the Pauline epistles in a canon of his own), the tendency would have been, not only to unify the activities of Paul and the Jerusalem apostles (which Acts served to portray in its subordination of Paul to Peter) but to make Paul a 'founder' figure of the Roman church. Thus it was necessary to bring Paul to Rome and have him influential in the Christian community there. It would also be necessary to have him teach 'orthodox' (that is, literalist/non-gnostic) doctrine, and thus the speeches placed in his mouth in Acts that are of the same character as those given to Peter.

Thus, Paul and Peter, apostles of the spiritual Christ cult, were co-opted as founders of the literalist movement, when it took shape around the allegorical Gospels and history was rewritten, or perhaps better put, created.

Anthony writes:

    Paul seems to prefer the name "Christ Jesus" to identify his 
new god. Wouldn't an etymology of this name mean something like 
"Anointed Savior"? Does the Pauline writing style permit the 
possibility that "Christ Jesus" is a title that does not refer to 
a person's name at all? Or have you discussed this and I just 
forgot it? Ever since I learned that "Yeshua" meant "savior" 
I have wondered about this.
Response to Anthony:

Meaning of "Christ Jesus"

Precisely. (I deal with Anthony's observations toward the end of "Part Two" of the Main Articles, and at greater length in my book.)

Hugo writes:

    To say your work is challenging brings understatement to a new 
low. The uniqueness and irreproducibility of the major parables 
suggests a unique source that by any other name could pray be 
    I see nowhere in the ancient world, or even modern, where 
similarly unique material is assembled without an author, or 
evidence for the viability of any alternative in your presentation. 
Can you explain it? 
    The thing speaks for himself.
Response to Hugo:

Teaching in Parables / Cynic Teachings

I will take Hugo's somewhat cryptic opening sentence as non-complimentary. The rest of his comment suffers from unwarranted assumptions. I trust that no one thinks that Jesus invented the parable, or even that he would have brought something totally unique to it. The brief narrative story that contains a metaphoric 'double meaning' meant to provide insight into moral and religious truths (though the term "parable" can be extended to cover all sorts of metaphorical material) can be found in both classical pagan tradition and the Old Testament.

Aristotle discusses the genre in The Art of Rhetoric. In Isaiah 5:1-7, we have the very parabolic "Song of the Vineyard" which is clearly a precursor to the style of parable placed in Jesus' mouth in the Gospels, as in Mark's Parable of the Wicked Tenants (12:1-9). Burton Mack (A Myth of Innocence, p.159) quotes a passage from Seneca: "Words should be scattered like seed; no matter how small the seed may be, if it once has found favorable ground, it unfolds its strength and from an insignificant thing spreads to its greatest growth." While not quite like the Gospel parables, in that the explanation is already contained within the metaphor itself, the commonality of expression is obvious.

Within the surviving ancient record, there is probably no question that the "art of the parable" reaches its greatest expression in the Gospel Jesus' mouth. But that is no guarantee, logical or otherwise, that this imputation to a single individual is historically accurate. If such a genre of teaching, of imparting moral and religious instruction, was a part of the ancient world manner, there is nothing to preclude us from regarding this 'high point' of parable expression as the product of one particular group at one particular time. It may well be that the so-called Kingdom of God preaching movement which arose in the early to mid first century, centered in Galilee, adopted the parable as a favorite form of expression and brought it to new heights. If there is other evidence that the Gospel figure, or even the figure which emerges late in the evolution of the Q document, cannot be securely shown to have existed, then we can fall back on one of those fundamental observations to be made about human tendencies, especially where sects are concerned: that beliefs and practices, laws and teachings, all manner of traditions, will eventually be traced back and imputed to a glorified precursor or founder figure, oftentimes one that is wholly invented. There is nothing in the Q or Gospel record to preclude this, and much to support it. Even in biblical tradition it has long been a legitimate question as to whether the vast catalogue of "Mosaic Laws" in the Pentateuch can reasonably be attributed to Moses—or indeed any of it, since his actual historical existence is easily questionable. And on the wider world scene, seminal 'teaching' figures like Lao-Tzu and Confucius are increasingly being challenged as genuine historical figures.

Hugo asks if there is any example in the ancient world of a collection of material being put together without imputation to a specific individual. Let's stay for a moment with the Old Testament. There are three collections of "wisdom teaching" in the Jewish scriptures. Proverbs is traditionally attributed to Solomon, but no scholar accepts this as accurate, and we must assume that the collection or collections which make up the finished biblical book existed and circulated for a time without such an attribution, no doubt anonymously. The book known as "Ecclesiastes" (authored by "the Preacher") offers its own 'counter-culture' philosophy of life, an often negative one in opposition to the more common "wisdom" of the time, but it is not likely to be the product of a single man's thinking. In its finished version, probably given to it some time after its writing, there is an attribution to "the son of David" (meaning Solomon), but this is half-hearted at best. In the Wisdom of Jesus ben-Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, one scribe of the early second century BCE has put together a set of instructions and proverbs for the young, but here again, he was hardly the originator of such "wisdom." It was the product of a larger segment of society, probably unattributed to any individual. And much of this tradition of Jewish wisdom teaching (which also includes the Book of Job) has been shown to be derived and adapted from wider wisdom traditions of the ancient Near East, especially Egypt and Mesopotamia.

As for the Gospel teachings, we have direct evidence that they are based wholly or in part on a pagan precursor, namely that of the Greek Cynics, an itinerant preaching movement in many respects like that of the Kingdom of God sect we see in Q and the Galilean element of the Synoptics. In my book, The Jesus Puzzle (p.159-161), I make a close comparison of the Q1 sayings with the teachings of the Cynic movement. Robert Price, in his Deconstructing Jesus (p.150-162) provides an exhaustive catalogue of the close correspondences between the sayings placed in Jesus' mouth and those of the Cynics. Since Cynicism long predated the Christian movement, or even the Kingdom preachers of Q, the direction of borrowing is evident. But to whom were those Cynic sayings attributed? I can do no better than to quote from Price's wide-ranging and fascinating book (p.150):

"First, do we receive from the Q1 sayings and anecdotes a striking and consistent picture of a historical individual? Mack thinks we do. There is a sly sense of humor coupled with common sense and prophetic anger. There is a definite outlook on life. And thus, one might think, a definite personality, a real character! But no. The problem is that once we discern the pronounced Cynic character of the sayings, we have an alternate explanation for the salty, striking, and controversial "personality" of the material. It conveys not the personality of an individual but that of a movement, the sharp and humorous Cynic outlook on life. What we detect so strongly in the texts is their Cynicism. The fact that so many Q1 sayings so strongly parallel so many Cynic maxims and anecdotes proves the point for the simple reason that the Cynic materials used for comparison stem from many different Cynic philosophers over several centuries! If they do not need to have come from a single person, neither do those now attributed to Jesus which parallel them."
(For more on Robert Price's Deconstructing Jesus, see my book review under "The Case For the Jesus Myth": BkrvPric.htm.)

Michael writes:

    It was with great joy that I read your wonderful website. I am 
curious: since the epistles predate the Gospels, and there is such 
a close relationship between the unattributed sayings in them and 
those of Jesus, why does causation not run the other way: why isn't 
it argued that Mark et al drew on the epistles when writing the 
Response to Michael:

Did Mark Read Paul?

I think it is highly unlikely that any of the evangelists were familiar with the writings of Paul. While commentators for centuries have seen the Pauline letters as containing "echoes" of Jesus' Gospel teachings, I would think it equally invalid to regard the Gospel teachings as direct "echoes" of the moral teachings in the epistles. Rather, both are derived from external sources, namely the ethical precedents of the day, both Jewish and Greek.

Few if any scholars regard the Gospels as dependent upon the epistles. Mark contains virtually nothing of Pauline theology. And while I maintain that Mark's passion element is an allegory for the dying and rising savior god cult manifestations of the time, its derivation from anything specifically Pauline is dubious. Mark's soteriology of Jesus' death (10:45) is anemic compared to Paul's highly sophisticated (if rather convoluted) analysis of the redemptive Christ Jesus. The only exception may be the ultimate derivation of the Gospel Last Supper from the Pauline myth of the Lord's Supper, though the borrowing is probably indirect.

Warwick writes:

    In some of your material you stated that Paul was not the author 
of all the epistles attributed to him. How do we know this and which 
epistles would that be? I think that I have now read everything you 
have written, and I must say I would tend to agree totally with you.
Response to Warwick:

What Did Paul Write?

That deceptively simple question would require a book to answer. Basically, an analysis of content and writing style, use of vocabulary, the degree of evolution of certain doctrines and the social picture the epistle presents, such things have determined going opinions as to authenticity. This has been supplemented in some cases by computer analysis. Traditionally (I have listed these in my "Part One" article), Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon have been regarded as authentic by such standards. Within these "genuine" letters there are unquestionably edits, insertions, reworkings, compilations from discrete originals, etc.

However, it's probably true to say that the whole question of Pauline authenticity is up for grabs. Problems within even the basic content of the epistles are considerable, and some scholars regard little if any of it truly authentic. Perhaps it is all a second century construction based on an irretrievable figure. The Jesus Seminar has embarked on a close examination of Paul, and I hope in future to address myself to this fundamental question which may turn out to be almost as radical as the denial of the existence of an historical Jesus.

Mark writes:

i am fascinated by your writings, as well as much of the scholarship 
concerning early christianity and judeo-roman history.
i have read everything on your site (it took two months). i have a 
fundamental problem with your thesis.
one, even if we remove the historical, objective, factual, actual, 
etc., isn't it blatantly obvious that the metaphoric, mythic, and 
imagined is what really matters? isn't it capable of doing more as 
myth? I mean, don't we all live by our own illusions?
and thus, the MESSAGE not the messenger matters.
two, the message of unconditional love and its pillars social 
equality, forgiveness and humility, are easily the most transforming, 
powerful and revolutionary idea/system/practice in the history of 
mankind. it is the soul's deepest voice....
i...would like to believe that the experience of love (the 
dissolution of the ego) is transcendental and impossibly put together 
by a group of 'informed' or 'great' men. it is just not human. it 
need not be a misplaced and misunderstood word like 'divine', but 
it deserves recognition as being truly above all other 'creations' 
in the recorded history of time....
Response to Mark:

Myths and Illusions of Mind and Soul

I could not disagree more.

This is one of those questions I usually pass up—lying in areas of personal disposition outside the study of Christian origins—but occasionally feel compelled to address. There are many things about the workings of the human body and mind that have traditionally lacked understanding, but more and more of them have come to be unveiled by the only dependable form of knowledge there is, that derived from science and reason. (One of the most recent and important has been the explanation of religious and mystical experiences solely within the brain's behavior.) Relegating anything to a realm—inside or outside the human body—that is unobservable and objectively unknowable, cannot be logically supported and robs us of our greatest achievements. Predicating any part of our human development on the existence of a "soul" which is "not human" falls into such a category.

If "unconditional love" is our "deepest voice," why should we wish to place such an achievement outside ourselves? Mark rejects the word "divine" but he is simply substituting a different (New Age?) equivalent. If "dissolution of the ego" is a goal to be aspired to (and I don't necessarily assume that it is), why can achieving it not be seen as an aspect of our human potential, presumably admirable? Are we not allowed to pat our own backs? Why must all "good" within ourselves be extrapolated onto some super-natural force or plane? Is there in fact any evidence for such things? Why should living by myths and metaphors be more efficient and commendable than living by reasonable judgments about ourselves and the known observable world around us? In fact, history has shown that it is not, that more misery has been caused by myth and "illusion" (Mark's word) than just about anything else. We need to be freed from those things, not embrace them.

We should arrive at "unconditional love, social equality, forgiveness and humility" simply because we recognize with our rational and compassionate natures (which are fully human things) that these can make for the best and happiest society in this world. If they have been 'created' it is not by some transcendent force lying outside ourselves, but in our own innate capacities, developed through time and evolution. What could lead to greater pride than such a concept and such a perception of our own human natures?

As for "informed or great men," few of those who have promulgated some form of love have not also accompanied it with doctrines of intolerance, superstition, this-world denial and other things destructive to human happiness and progress. The Jesus figure is only the most prominent example of these. The words imputed to him have sown as much hate as love (in this he is not unique), and those same Gospels which gave us "love one another" (again not unique and virtually self-evident) also reinforced the ancients' picture of a world dominated by devils and demons, which Christians capped with a place of eternal horrific punishment. This picture has given us centuries of misery and superstition which we are still not free of. The words of too many "great men" have led to divisiveness and ethnic hatred which still plague much of the world. The problem with such men—whether they be real or imagined—is that they become icons, whose words and example cannot be set aside when scientific and social progress overtake them. We live in an era when just about everything distinctively Christian has been rejected, discredited, or simply rendered superfluous. Just about the same can be said for all religions. I prefer a standard based on our ever-developing human wisdom, represented by the best that our evolving minds and devices can currently achieve.

In light of the above, I append one more reader message, without further comment.

Zak writes:

    My faith is in Jesus, the one who was and is and is to come again! 
He loves you just as he loves all!...Remember, knowledge without 
wisdom is very harmful! "Why do you [Jesus addressing the Jews] not 
understand my speech? Because you are not able to listen to my word. 
You are of your father the Devil, and the desires of your father you
want to do....He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you 
do not hear, because you are not of God." (John 8:43-47) It just 
amazes me how what Jesus said is so true even today!...My prayers 
are with you. Love in Christ.

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