Was There No Historical Jesus?
Earl Doherty
Reader Feedback and Author’s Response
Set 25: September 2005

Anthony writes:

Just a note to thank you for The Jesus Puzzle. I've found your book profoundly illuminating and it helps to make sense of many things I'd previously been puzzled by. I follow the discussions on the JesusMysteries mailing list but have to admit that much of it goes over my head. But your book is the most comprehensible I've come across.

Daniel writes:

   I was raised in a Christian family, sent to churches, some Christian pre-school and to a Christian school for Grades 2 to 11. Recently, I have come to the conclusion to reject Christianity as truth, due to the absurdities in the Old and New Testament.
   Christianity is truly a monster of this age. Thanks for knocking it a big blow.

A.F. writes:

   I First of all, thank you for your site! Secondly, who are you, and where have you been all my life? I am literally blown away by your writings and all the things on your site. It is now at the top of "my favorites". There is hope for mankind, after all.

Steven writes:

   I thought I'd drop you a quick kudos for your work, which I consider to be the most thorough and scholarly deconstruction and explanation of the Jesus of History. Combined with Jung's work on archetypes and when coupled with an understanding of Egyptian myth, Neoplatonism, and Judaism, a clear picture of the origins of the Christ of faith begins to emerge.
   I consider the deconstruction of fundamentalism to be of critical importance in our troubled world. Thanks again for the great clarity that you contribute to our understanding.

Jeremy writes:

   I just have to say that I deeply respect you and your insights into the true Christian faith. I can and do spend much time reading your research into the origins of Christianity, and I believe that one day you may be known as a great credit to humanity's enlightenment to the truth. Keep up the spectacular work -- enlightenment is coming!

Larry writes:

   Your scholarly approach to "The Jesus Puzzle" is extraordinarily helpful to folks like myself who are skeptical of the foundations of the world's major religions while holding hope that the universe has a Designer with a special interest in us. Having been an Engineer all my life, I developed a strong 'technical ethic' for seeking truth in the presence of more tempting alternatives. In this case the Christian belief is a very tempting story that doesn't seem to be well supported. Kudos for tackling this subject in this way and giving us real data to work with.

John writes:

   I am grateful to you for your courage in publishing these conclusions, conclusions that many people of my acquaintance share. In Britain, almost all the christian sects are in retreat, and most of my acquaintances do not believe in a divine Jesus; some still believe in Jesus the revolutionary, but the rest believe that Jesus is a fictional figure. From our side of the Atlantic the decline of America into ignorant fundamentalism is terrifying. Your blazing light of reason is a beacon of hope, not just for America, but for the rest of the world.

Rob writes:

   A really great web site, Mr. Doherty. I salute you. I recently ordered both The Jesus Puzzle and Challenging The Verdict. Sorry that I didn't do it sooner. Please keep on with your great work, people like you are very valuable and desperately needed.

Richard writes:

   I've been reading your website for a couple of nights. It is amazing. I read Theology at Oxford thirty years ago and reading critical scholarship stopped dead my youthful Christian enthusiasm. But I could never make sense of the very issues you address. The absence of the historical Jesus in Paul, the absence of the historical Jesus in the early patristic fathers. I dropped theology, but I kept up reading in it to see if someone could begin to address my concerns.
   Well, you have.

Gerard writes:

       I want to thank you for your website, it is fascinating reading. I find your Jesus Puzzle reasoning quite convincing. Of course, not being any sort of Believer myself, I wasn't in any need of any auto-deprogramming. Your novel is a great read as well, thanks for making that available.

Vic writes:

       I am in the process of carefully reading your website material, articles, and literary works. What has made me send you this message is because I am a recent media graduate who sees a problem in the stark contrast between your work and Mel Gibson's pseudo-historical shockumentary that is actually considered infallible by our gullible minds who are exposed to such media today. What bothers me is the other more balanced perspective (yours, along with other credible historical research) in this Gospel and New Testament issue does not receive anything close to the media exposure of the deceiving history of Gibson.

Michael writes:

   About two and a half years ago I found the Jesus Puzzle web site. I found it fascinating. Shortly thereafter I purchased The Case for Christ. I could NOT even finish the first chapter. It sounded so wrong. Two weeks ago I ordered Challenging the Verdict. When it arrived, I immediately sat down and read it. It took me less than a day to devour it. Your book is engrossing. I found myself telling the 'witnesses' to shut up with their misinformation and erroneous logic, while at the same time telling you to "go get 'em, Earl!" I also found that I had purchased a Bible, so as to be able to follow theirs and your cases. Couldn't read that either. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for your marvellous work. Keep it up, we will win in the end!
   P.S. Am almost finished with the Testament of Man series. Fisher is an excellent author and his descriptions are very well crafted.

Brad writes:

   The information on your website makes for compelling and thought-provoking reading. I wonder if you have expressed an opinion about or explored the idea that many of the personal figures found in the synoptic gospels simply disappear from history with no conclusions to their stories or lives. Among the many characters in the gospels, what ultimately happened to them and so forth, seems absent as if the various stories lack historical conclusions. I guess not knowing or possessing viable histories, say, for a figure like Mary Magdalene or the Virgin Mary, allows plenty of latitude to speculate on what became of them. So, in addition to Paul's apparent ignorance of Jesus, does he display the same deficiency for the many other characters too? Is it possible that in such a great story with great characters that we'd have almost no information as to what happened to the balance of their lives, what they did, where they were buried, and so forth?

Response to Brad:

Whatever happened to...?

An intriguing observation. It's really an extension of the silence in Paul and other early writers on the characters we meet in the Gospels. Why indeed is there no mention in the first century documents (and some beyond) of Pontius Pilate, Mary and Joseph, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, Judas, Joseph of Arimathea, Simon of Cyrene, and the many other characters who take part in the story of Jesus' life? It is not simply a question of a writer having occasion to mention themand in any case there were plenty of occasions in the epistles for such mentionbut why did these figures not assume a symbolic significance in the thought and preaching of early apostles like Paul? If we can encounter references throughout the epistles to the demon spirits in relation to the death and redeeming work of Jesus, why not to Pilate or Herod? Why not to Judas? Why not to the places and details of the death and resurrection of the Son of God himself on earth?

But as Brad points out, why did not some of the Gospel characters continue to play a role in the ongoing movement after Jesus' departure? Can we conceive of not having the slightest record of what happened to his mother Mary, when and where and under what circumstances she died? As she was barely more than a girl when she gave divine birth, one would think that she might have had a long life following the crucifixion, yet we have not the barest historical detail about such a life. Was the entire Christian world uninterested in what happened to Mary Magdalene, to the many people such as Lazarus who were reputed to have been healed by Jesus or raised from the dead? Would not some of these people have become involved in the spread of the faith? Why didn't one of them accompany an apostle like Paul on his journeys, to give a first-hand account of the wonders Jesus had worked? Would not their presence on the missionary scene have led to some mention of them by Christian writers of the time?

It is only in the second century that we see mention of some of these characters start to appear, no doubt based on the Gospels, and by the latter part of the century legendary embellishment and sheer invention were bursting the bounds of the believable. There is nothing in those later accounts which suggests a basis in actual historical tradition.
Every sign in the documentary record points to the whole lot of them being nothing more than literary fabrication.

Bruce writes:

I have been struck by a profound lack of comment on something Paul says which, when taken to its logical conclusions, is stunning. You will recall how Paul's church members were growing increasingly concerned that a number of them were dying and Jesus still had not returned. While we don't hear what they asked, Paul clearly answers them that those who had died already would be resurrected into their new lives first, then those living would be next. [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]
   The profound implication of this for all Christians is this:
1) You are not resurrected until Jesus returns.
2) It is the year 2005 and Jesus has not yet returned.
3) Therefore no Christians have been resurrected since Jesus died and are presumably still in the ground, not in heaven.
4) Therefore no Christians have gone to heaven since Jesus died.
   I daresay that no Christian I know would accept the notion that no Christian since the time of Jesus has gone to heaven.

Response to Bruce:

Are there no Christians in Heaven yet?

I daresay Bruce is right. And yet that is what the text of 1 Thessalonians clearly says (despite occasional apologetic attempts to see it otherwise, though most simply ignore it). Let's follow Paul's line of thought:

4:15 - For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. [Clearly, Paul expects the Lord's coming
not return, a concept he shows no sign ofbefore some of those he is speaking to will die.]
4:16 - For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; [Those believers in Christ who have died will be resurrected. There is no question of any dead believers having already been resurrected to heaven.]
4:17 - then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. [Everything happens at Christ's coming; those already dead rise first, then those still alive do not die but ascend to meet the resurrected dead in the sky and Christ himself.]

Since Christ has not come for the last two thousand years, it is clear that if we are to believe Paul, no Christians who have died during that time have gone to heaven. Nor is there a feasible "out" for the soul. Paul says nothing about the soul having gone to heaven after death, with only the body in the earth awaiting resurrection. If that were the case, the readers of his letter would not have had reason to "grieve" over their deceased brethren. 14:13 says: "But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope." His readers are not grieving for themselves, but for the deceased. Paul is allaying their fears that those who have died before Christ's coming are lost. He assures them that the dead will in fact have pride of place in rising to meet the Lord, followed by those who are still alive.
In verse 16 he declares "the dead in Christ will rise first"; it follows that they have not been brought to life, physically or spiritually, prior to this. They will be "dead" until the time of Christ's coming.

Of course, Paul fully expected the coming of the Lord Jesus within his own lifetime, very soon in fact. It did not trouble him if the Christian dead lay in the ground for a short time, awaiting Christ's coming to rise from "sleep." If he had foreseen that two millennia would pass with still no sign of that coming, he might have felt constrained to rethink the fate of the dead believer. It is this kind of passage that causes such problems for those who believe that every word in the New Testament is the word of God. They usually end up ignoring it, or monkeying with the translation, such as the NIV does, attempting to break the link between the two thoughts within verse 13. The New American Bible, in commenting on this passage in a footnote, contradicts not only the text itself, and its own translation, but other comments within the same footnote.

It is this passage which is the principal basis for modern Christian belief in the Rapture, a crackpot idea based on a crackpot idea by Paul, who was no doubt improvising as he went along, convinced that the Son he believed had been revealed to him was about to appear on earth. (The prophet who imagines great things for the future will invariably see them as due to occur in his own future, simply because he cannot accept that he won't be around to get in on the action; the same kind of thinking is rampant among evangelicals today.) When Paul was faced with these doubts among his congregation, he drew on Daniel 7:13 and its vision of the "one like a son of man"
—which originally symbolized the Jewish saints at the time of the Maccabean uprising—for the image of Christ arriving on the clouds. But there is nothing in scripture that I am aware of which could have served as the basis for the remainder of Paul's fanciful scene, and we can assume this is the product of his own imagination and of the needs he faced at the moment.

And what consequence from that imagination! Paul writes a letter to a tiny community in a small town in ancient Greece to allay a few people's fears, conjuring up an image that ought to have landed him in a home for the deranged (and probably would today if it was being proposed for the first time). Two thousand years later, half the population on this part of the planet firmly believes in the imminent Rapture of believers, carried up to heaven on salvation's clouds, leaving behind an apocalyptic fate for planet and unbeliever alike. This is what can happen when the human mind slavishly and uncritically surrenders itself to antiquated writings of a primitive past, in a perpetuation of ignorance and superstition that should long ago have been laid to rest. We now belong to a society where such craziness has seized a good portion of the citizenry; where a series of novels embodying this mad scenario tops the bestseller lists; where children are taught to keep one eye on the heavens for the arrival of a supernatural being and their personal levitation in defiance of gravity. Such a mindset pervading so much of what passes for human intelligence cannot possibly fail to undermine the social, educational and scientific fabric of our culture. We are facing a profound intellectual decay, from ordinary neighborhoods to the halls of power. Empires have fallen on far less.

Dmitry writes:    

      I really enjoyed reading your articles and they changed the way I see Christianity. I also read articles of Dr. Hermann Detering about the apostle Paul and he very convincingly shows that letters ascribed to Paul could not be written in 50-70 A.D. by the same guy, especially a Jewish guy. (So whoever Paul was if he lived before the end of the 1st century and was a Jew he could not write his letters.) Dr. Detering also shows that although having some historic prototype Paul--the hero of Acts Paul--the author of the letters did not exist.
   In your articles, it seems to me you treat letters of Paul as authentic and consider him more or less historical, having at least something in common with the main character of Acts. Do you believe that there was some guy named Paul who acted way before the end of the 1st century and wrote letters, because if he did not exist it somehow affects some of your arguments.

Response to Dmitry:

Was there a first-century Paul?

The existence and nature of a first-century, letter-writing Paul is probably the thorniest question in critical/radical New Testament scholarship. Early in my own research, I came to the conclusion that a Paul without an historical Jesus in his background went a long way toward answering many of the perplexities that exist in his letters, as well as the epistles in general. I decided to adopt some degree of authenticity, and some measure of dependability in the existence of such an apostle and letter writer in the first century. Very little I have encountered since then has led me to compromise that basic position, though I have come to see the likelihood of a much greater degree of editing and splicing in the letters than mainstream scholarship has envisioned. Despite this, I have tried to avoid falling back on an appeal to wholesale interpolation to get around some of the difficulties that confront us.

I have the greatest respect for Dr. Detering, and consider him one of the most proficient researchers in radical scholarship today. But his case has not really convinced me. Not that I have a counter-answer to every argument he puts forward; some of them are quite cogent. But some lend themselves to alternate explanation, and there are other elements to the letters, and to the wider documentary picture, for which he, on the other side, has no satisfactory answer. One simple example is the issue discussed in the previous feedback. Does that passage in 1 Thessalonians about the coming of the Lord fit the second century, either as a product of Marcion or the growing ecclesiastical orthodoxy? I cannot see how. The expectation here of the imminent coming of Christ is too strong, too raw, which was not the case in the early to mid-second century when everyone was coping with and making excuses for the long delay in the Parousia. The setting (the Sitz im Leben, if you will) is too primitive, too ingenuous, to reflect something like the sophisticated Roman scene of the 140s to 160s. Nor do I accept that forgers from a later period would have been capable of casting their creations according to the ideas and atmosphere of an earlier time. Not only would this have been a difficult exercise from a research point of view, it would have been overridden by the necessity to reflect current conditions in order to serve the purpose of the forgery, to convey the partisan viewpoint that was being championed. If your forgery is so subtle and so efficient that its meaning for the present situation eludes the reader, much of its effect is going to be lost. It is, for example, because the second-century issues and conditions are so in evidence in the Pastoral epistles that critical scholarship has little or no doubt that they are not the product of a first-century Paul.

Much the same point can be made in regard to the utter lack of any historical Jesus in evidence in the Pauline corpus. If these epistles are the product (even as redactions) of a growing ecclesiastical orthodoxy dependent on the Gospels, where is that Gospel atmosphere, where are the Gospel details? If the great issue between Marcion and the Roman Church was the identification of the ultimate God (as opposed to the demiurge and creator Yahweh) and the role of Jesus in preaching him, why is that issue completely undetectable in the Pauline corpus? The elements in the epistles which I have seen pointed to as alleged indicators of such second-century issues are so subtle and so obscure as to be virtually unrecognizable, and to be little differentiated from simply having read them into the text.

An entirely second century Paul also has its effects on much of the rest of the early Christian record. To accommodate the radical scenario, documents such as 1 Clement and the letters of Ignatius (Shorter Rescension) must be shunted past the middle of the century. In my website articles (particularly No. 12 on the Apostolic Fathers) and on internet discussion boards, I have been outspoken on the lack of a good, convincing case for dating the above-mentioned epistles to as late as the 150s or 160s. The same problems I voiced above in regard to the Pauline corpus are equally in evidence when dating these documents so late. It seems to me that the ripple effect of a second century Pauline fabrication, not to mention a post-150 dating for all the Gospels, just gets wider and wider. I have heard it claimed that perhaps even Justin Martyr is a later forgery, that Christianity didn't really get off the ground until the reign of Commodus. It all becomes too extravagant, with too many unresolvable difficulties, an alleged conspiracy to create an entirely fictional past which would surely have been beyond the capacity and gullibility even of early Christians. As I say, there are arguments on both sides and not all of them can be dismissed, and it may be that the real answer lies in a combination of factors, something even more complicated than we can discern at this time, if we are ever able to. We certainly need the more radical voices of scholars like Dr. Detering, but the verdict on the question of Paul is far from in, and in the end we may be stuck with a hung jury.

For some previous thoughts on this question, see my Response to Raymond in Reader Feedback 24.

Kevin writes:

   I enjoyed your commentary in Mr. Flemming's movie! ["The God Who Wasn't There," a film and documentary produced by Brian Flemming which irreverently pricks the bubble of religion and questions the existence of an historical Jesus; in addition to the film itself, it contains on-camera interviews with Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Sam Harris and others, and audio interviews (by telephone) with myself and Richard Dawkins.]
   Something struck me while I was listening to your conversation regarding Paul. Did he offer the savior god mediator, or did he offer the savior god mediation? My understanding of Paul was (that he was speaking of) the coming of the Christ not as a mediator, but of the mediation of the Jewish God.

Response to Kevin:

Does Paul see the Mediator as Jesus, or God?

This is an excellent way of putting things. If Jesus had recently been on earth, living the life which the Gospels portray, there can be no question that he would be the prominent figure in the minds and expressions of the early Christians. He would be regarded as the source of the apostles' gospel and their own call, of the sect's teachings, as the originator of its practices; his acts would cast him as the primary savior and agent of salvation. As Kevin puts it, he would be God's mediator on earth, standing front-row-center.

As we all know, the picture presented in the Pauline and other epistles is quite different. At first glance, it may seem a subtle difference, but once spotlighted it emerges more clearly in all its perplexity. Without exception, the epistle writers of the New Testament present God as the primary savior, the primary revealer, the sole source of the movement's doctrines, prophecies and ethics. Signs and wonders (as in Hebrews 2:4) are performed by God, not by Jesus. God, through scripture and the Holy Spirit, is the source of grace and inspiration, and knowledge of Himself. Most importantly, Jesus is an entity who has been "revealed" in the present time, and while his spirit and his occasional "word" (again through sacred writings and revelation) is alive within the community, his physical presence in the recent past is nowhere to be found.

Paul regards the apostolic movement—with himself at the center—as in partnership with God, bringing knowledge of salvation and a new covenant to the world. What has "come" in the present time is "faith" (as in Galatians 3:23-25). If anyone on earth is or was a "mediator," it is Paul himself, with Jesus virtually imperceptible in the background. Rather, Jesus is spoken of as a channel, a facilitator within the mind of the Christian, an aspect of God through which humanity interacts with Deity. This is the significance of that common expression Paul uses throughout: "in Christ" or "through Christ." To the extent that we can get a handle on Paul's concept of Jesus, stripping away our Gospel associations within the epistles, the early Christian concept was indeed a "mediation of the Jewish God," using his own emanation—Son, word, Messiah—as conduit and instrument. For Paul, Jesus has a personality only as an offshoot or appendage to God himself; the devotion he feels for Christ is an extension of what he feels for God.

While I have styled the Christ of the early Christians as an "intermediary" entity, the sense of distinction between the Son and the Father is a pale ghost of an affair, and it pervades the entire first century record outside the Gospels. It could not possibly have resulted from the reaction to a flesh and blood human man who, within living memory, had taught and worked miracles on the sands of Galilee and bled on the hill of Calvary.

Gordon writes:

     Have you read Bishop Spong? Does he think Jesus was a myth? He clearly rules out the gospels as historical records. I think it would be profitable to see a review by you of his book.

Response to Gordon:

Bishop Spong on the Mythicist Case

I'm not sure which of Bishop Spong's books Gordon is referring to, but I do have a review of his book Liberating the Gospels on the site. Recently on the JesusMysteries list someone posted a query sent to Spong along with his reply. Once again, it shows the deficient nature of mainstream scholarship's understanding of the Jesus myth question, and in fact, Spong's reply is a rather surprising case of begging the question—surprising, in view of his obvious intellectual powers and openness to new ideas in the several books he has written.

In response to the question: "Mr. [Tom] Harpur...even says there is no historical evidence for the existence of Jesus....Your thoughts?" Spong had this to say:

     "When you read the Epistle to the Galations, you will discover that Paul gives a rather graphic account of his activities since his conversion. The noted Church historian Adolf Harnack has dated that conversion not less than one year or more than six after the crucifixion. This would mean that if we date the crucifixion about 30 C.E., which is the best estimate of scholars today, that Paul came into the Christian Church somewhere between 31 and 36 C.E. Paul writes (Gal. 1:17,18) that following his conversion he went to Arabia for three years. This would bring us to 34 to 39 C.E. After those three years he says he went to Jerusalem to consult with Cephas i.e. Peter. He describes that conversation which also included James, who Paul calls 'the brother of the Lord'. Next Paul says 'after 14 years I went up again to Jerusalem'.
     "That would bring us to somewhere between 48 and 53 C.E. Most scholars date Galations in the early 50's. I go over these first hand Pauline references to demonstrate that Paul knew the people who knew Jesus, which makes the idea that Jesus was a mythological character created by inventors of a religion a rather preposterous claim. Myths take far more time than that to develop. Paul certainly did not think that he was being told about a mythological figure. He was talking to people who knew the Jesus of history.
     "Of course an interpretive framework was placed on Jesus by the time the gospels were written (70 to 100 C.E.). This framework was drawn from many sources. In the book I am working on at the moment (scheduled for publication in 2007) I will try to cast light on those interpretive sources."

Clearly, Bishop Spong has no conception of the problems inherent in Paul's letters which indicate that he knew nothing of an historical Jesus, or the presentation in those letters of a coherent picture of a mythical savior-god faith. He relies on Paul having had contact at an early period with apostles who knew Jesus, supposedly precluding the possibility that he was taught about someone around whom so much legend had been attached that Paul believed he was hearing about a mythological figure. (This, of course, does not address the nature of the faith Paul had been converted to a few years earlier.) Spong does not seem to grasp that those early apostles could themselves have believed in a mythical savior, as Paul did, and that no evidence exists in the early record, including the Pauline letters, that they were "people who knew the Jesus of history." That is simply assuming what is in question. As for the time of their meeting being too early for excessive legend to have attached to Jesus, Spong, like so many scholars, ignores the elevated picture of Christ found throughout the New Testament epistles which indicates that Jesus had reached the highest level of Godhead and mythological portrayal from the very earliest point we can detect the movement: enjoying pre-existence with the Father, all the titles of God, all the spiritual roles of a logos-type Son, and so on (as in 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:15-20, Philippians 2:6-11, Hebrews 1:1-4). All with no identification with an historical man.

Dr. Spong, like so many of his colleagues, would benefit from a course in Mythicism 101. (He did receive a copy of The Jesus Puzzle from Robert Price at a Jesus Seminar meeting in 1999, right after the first printing of the book, but one has to assume it still languishes in a drawer somewhere.) From his comment about an upcoming book, it seems he will be drawing on that old saw about all this mythical language about Jesus in the early record being an "interpretation" of the man. It's too bad that the record itself gives us no indication that this is what those writers were doing.

Connor writes:
   Perhaps you can help me with something. I have some Christian friends with whom I have discussed the issue of Jesus' historicity (or lack thereof). I have pointed out that there is no mention of Jesus by anybody who actually knew him or by any source contemporaneous with his supposed existence. The response I usually get is that "you can say the same thing about Julius Caesar." In fact, my one friend contends that "there is less evidence of Julius Caesar than of Jesus, but nobody questions his (Caesar's) existence." Is this true? I realize that even if it is true, it serves more to cast doubt on Caesar's historicity than to support Jesus' (such is the sloppy logic often employed by Christian apologists), but I would very much appreciate your reply. 

Response to Connor:

The Existence of Julius Caesar vs. Jesus

The claim that there is no more evidence for Julius Caesar's existence than for that of Jesus is nonsense. We have coins issued by Caesar, some with his head on them, we have a bust of him created the year of his assassination (44 BCE). We have writings by the man himself (for example, Gallic Wars), we have many mentions of him by contemporary historians and those immediately following, and the history of Rome in the following century, as recorded by multiple historians, can make no sense without him. Such histories are secular works by writers who have no religious axe to grind, unlike the Gospelsthe sole evidence for Jesus' earthly existence in almost the first hundred years of Christian record, uncorroborated by outside historianswhich are products of faith intended to promote faith in a polemical atmosphere. They contain all sorts of supernatural and miraculous elements, and almost all of their details can be shown to be midrash based on the Old Testament. Like many apologetic claims by Christians, this one is simply erroneous and the product of wishful thinking.

    I have just been having a look at your website. There is a lot of material here and what I have read so far makes compelling reading.
I would like to ask if you have looked at a site by  a Dr. Mike Magee, who argues, as an atheist, for a historical Jesus, but one who would not fit the mythological version of the gospels? He claims that Jesus was historical, but far from gentle and loving and spreading a message of peace and God's word, he was a criminally minded rebel, and the Church latched onto him as the person who they might wrap a mythology around.
    Of course there is also the argument that there was one (or possibly more) prophet- teachers of that time period, who were perhaps preaching liberal spiritual truths and got into trouble for it with the established order, the mythology then being placed around this. Slavonic texts which might have been the work of Josephus (but might not also) suggest an unedited version of the standard 'War of the Jews' text which appears as a complete insertion by later church writers. The Slavonic texts make reference to a much more ordinary male (no virgin birth, no son of God claims, no resurrection as such).

Response to Nigel:

 Jesus as a Criminal Rebel / Slavonic Josephus

There are several websites devoted to interpretations of an historical Jesus not in conformity with the Gospel story or orthodox preferences, Dr. Magee's being one of them. My measure of all of them is the same: do these scenarios find support in the early documentary evidence? The answer is always the same: a resounding No. Nothing in the New Testament documents outside the Gospels and Acts, nothing in other early non-canonical documents such as 1 Clement, Hermas, Odes of Solomon, etc., gives us any reason to believe that a mythology was built around a politically active human teacher, prophet or miracle worker. No record, no implication of such a man can be extracted from their texts.

At the same time, such documents provide no insight into why or how the elevated mythological characterization such as we find in them would have been attached to a political activist and rebel, a crucified criminal. Why would Paul or his predecessors have turned an ignoble figure such as some of these scenarios present into the Son of God and Savior of the World? If he was essentially a nonentity (whom no contemporary historian mentions), not unlike several others during the same period, how could he have given rise to a dynamic cult which eventually swept the empire? Josephus mentions would-be messiah figures such as Judas the Galilean, Theudas and an unnamed Egyptian, all of whom led revolts and gathered followers and met untimely ends. None of them were elevated to Godhead.

All such scenarios are basically extrapolated from the Gospels, an attempt to read behind them into a what-might-have-been situation. When one considers that the Gospels as we have them are basically a literary construction out of midrash on the Hebrew bible, so that not even the most fundamental data in them can be relied on as historical, any foundation for these scenarios completely evaporates. As for a "church" wrapping a mythology around a human figure, criminal or otherwise, this puts the cart before the horse, since the earliest church gives evidence only of the mythology itself and, to judge by the epistles, did not exist in any state prior to it.

I am occasionally asked about the Slavonic Josephus, a topic I have never addressed. Briefly, there is an extended passage in the Old Russian translation of Josephus' Jewish War which seems to take as its starting point the famous Testimonium Flavianum of the extant Greek Antiquities of the Jews (Book 18), but with significant divergences and expansions. It is occasionally suggested that this 'Slavonic' version, translated from some Greek predecessor now lost, may have been originally dependent on an authentic mention of Jesus by Josephus, one which was altered to produce the Antiquities Testimonium. Before commenting on this, let's reproduce the Slavonic passage in full. (I have taken the text from Frank Zindler's The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, p.67-8, which in turn is taken from According to the Hebrews, by Hugh J. Schonfield.)

    At that time there appeared a certain man, if it is meet to call him a man. His nature and form was human, but the appearance of him more than (that) of a human (being): yet his works (were) divine. He wrought miracles wonderful and strong. Wherefore it is impossible for me to call him a human (being, simply). But on the other hand, if I look at (his) characteristic (human) nature, I will not call him an angel.
    And all, whatsoever he wrought through an invisible power, he wrought by a word and command. Some said of him, "our first lawgiver is risen from the dead, and hath evidenced this by many cures and prodigies." But the others thought he was (a man) sent from God. Now in many things he opposed the Law and kept not the Sabbath according to the custom of (our) forefathers. Yet again, he did nothing shameful nor underhand.
    And many of the multitude followed after him and hearkened to his teaching. And many souls were roused, thinking that thereby the Jewish tribes could free themselves from Roman hands. But it was his custom rather to abide without the city on the Mount of Olives. There also he granted cures to the people. And there gathered to him of helpers 150, but of the crowd a multitude.
    But when they saw his power, that he accomplished by a word whatsoever he would, and when they had made known to him their will, that he should enter the city and cut down the Roman troops and Pilate, and rule over them, he heeded it not. And when thereafter news of it was brought to the Jewish leaders, they assembled together with the high priest and said, "We are powerless and (too) weak to resist the Romans. Since however the bow is bent, we will go and communicate to Pilate what we have heard, and we shall be free from trouble, in order that he may not hear (it) from others and we be robbed of (our) goods and ourselves slaughtered and (our) children dispersed."
    And they went and reported (it) to Pilate. And he sent and had many of the multitude slain. And he had that wonder-worker brought up, and after he had held an inquiry concerning him, he pronounced (this) judgment: "He is (a benefactor, but not) a malefactor (nor) a rebel (nor) covetous of king(ship)." And he let him go, for he had healed his dying wife. And after he had gone to his wonted place, he did his wonted works. And when more people again gathered around him, he glorified himself by his action(s) more than all.
    The scribes (therefore) being stung with envy gave Pilate thirty talents to kill him. And he took (it) and gave them liberty to carry out their will (themselves). And they took him and crucified him contrary to the law of (their) fathers.

A further passage relating to the resurrection of Jesus has been inserted at a different location in the Slavonic Jewish War of Josephus:

And since in the time of him (i.e., Claudius) many helpers of the wonder-worker aforementioned [actually the above passage comes subsequent to this one in the text] had appeared and spoken to the people of their Master, (saying) that he was alive, although he had been dead, and "he will free you from bondage," many of the multitude hearkened to the(ir) preaching and took heed of their directions, not on account of their reputation, for they were of the humble(r) sort, some mere tailors, other sandal-makers, (or) other artisans. But wonderful were the signs which they worked, in truth what(ever) they wanted.

Like the Testimonium Flavianum as we have it, there is no way that Josephus could have authored this entire passage, and few are claiming that he did. But here we face the same problem. If this is a Christian insertion, how do we identify from it any authentic original by Josephus on which it might be based? The language and style is reminiscent of some of the most naive Christian expression. Most of the sentiments and reported events can hardly be attributed to Josephus. If anything resembling such a collection of ideas, even a portion of them, were to be found in some original manuscript of Josephus, there is no way any Christian copyist would have removed it, or reduced it to the bare bones of the known Testimonium. There is no way that Christian writers such as Origen or Eusebius would have failed to mention such a passage and such reporting. Much is made of the fact that in the Slavonic version there is no inclusion of the idea that Jesus was the Messiah, an element that stands out like a sore thumb in the Antiquities 18 passage, and which all are agreed cannot be the voice of Josephus. It is claimed that its absence could indicate that the Christian copyist responsible for these passages in the Slavonic was working from an original reference to Jesus by Josephus which did not contain it, rather than from the patently Christian insertion we are familiar with; the point being that such a basis would be more likely to be authentic than the known Testimonium. But this is all speculation, and a grasping at straws.

Since this particular interpolation seems to come from the hand of someone or some group which was not anxious to regard Jesus as much more than human, there may have been good reason to eliminate the Testimonium's "he was the Messiah" if that passage
—as seems likelywas the basis for the one which ended up in the Slavonic. Certainly many of the opening phrases have the same ring to them, and they include a couple which are part of the acknowledged Christian interpolation which now stands in the Antiquities of the Jews 18. Thus, we can be quite sure that the interpolator of the Slavonic passage is working from a post-Christian stage of the Antiquities insertion, which virtually eliminates the possibility that he had knowledge of an original passage by Josephus. He is enthusiastic about Jesus' miracles, but he seems to avoid playing up the divinity of Jesus, and his references to the resurrection are guarded. Thus, his elimination of the phrase "He was the Messiah" could be in keeping with such an outlook. We might locate this interpolation among one of the so-called Jewish-Christian circles which rejected divinity for Jesus and had reservations about traditions of bodily resurrection. (Such groups can only be identified from the latter second century on, and could thus be simply the product of an imagined historical figure based on the Gospels.)

We cannot identify this Slavonic version at any earlier point than the thirteenth century, but it was probably based on a Greek version which was done considerably earlier. The divergences from the canonical Gospel accounts
—the curious detail about Pilate initially letting Jesus go, or the Jews carrying out the crucifixion themselves—would indicate that it comes from a time when the Gospels were not yet carved in stone across the Christian world. That divergence might lead some to think that we have in view here (if somewhat obscurely) a Josephan account of a Jesus rather different from what was made of him in the Gospels, a window onto actual history, if you will. But the sentiments of the first paragraph can hardly be assigned to Josephus any more than any portion of the extant Testimonium, as I have demonstrated in both The Jesus Puzzle and on this website. And to assign any of the other elements of this passage to Josephus becomes an entirely speculative affair, no better an alternative than seeing the whole thing as a Christian product, in an era when even someone like Justin could get important details of the Jesus story 'wrong.' Again, any residue of these passages in the Slavonic text that were authentic to Josephus would not likely have gone unnoticed by Christian commentators and remarked on. Someone like Origen was not averse to pointing out statements he disagreed with in non-Christian writers and do his best to correct them.

New Testament scholars in the first part of the 20th century tended to dismiss outright both references to Jesus in Josephus as inauthentic in their entirety. It has since become fashionable, with understandable bandwagon effect, to regard portions of the Testimonium in Antiquities 18 as being probably genuine, on the basis of no secure evidence whatsoever. Representative of the former group was Charles Guignebert, and on the Slavonic Josephus he had this to say [Jesus, ET 1956, p.149]:

"But on the other hand, there is no reliance to be placed in the corrections and additions which the fragments of the Slavonic version of the Jewish War are supposed to furnish. The gross historical errors of which they are full, together with their inconsistency, deprive them of any claim to serious consideration, and the various emendations to which their most recent, and staunchest, champion, Robert Eisler [who wrote in the 1930s], has arbitrarily subjected them for the purpose of making them acceptable, have, in the opinion of th[is] writer, rendered them worthless."

Robert writes:

When I was a child, I had faith because my Aunt told me I should. I remained a christian until I was twenty one years old. When I went to college and learned a few things about science I realized that the creation story was a myth. With an epiphany, I abandonded Christianity on the speculation that if some parts of the Bible were false, then most of it must also be false as it is so fantastic a fable. Reading your web site helps make me glad I stopped wasting my time on Christianity when I was a young man and has helped me fight the old faith and its associated feelings of guilt, fear, and worthlessness. It seems the religious teachings from my youth have been trying to surface into my mind from somewhere deep in my subconscious. Your site and that of other proponents of a non-historical Jesus are helping me overcome the brain washing indoctrination from the thousand or more fundementalist church services I attended while a christian. As almost all the worship services were very emotional, the teachings went deep into the mind.
    I do have a question for you. It is my impression that you have stated or implied that there are very few references to details of the Passion in the writings of the ante-Nicean church fathers. I read the following on the site of Ken Humphrey.

"Judas walked about in this world a sad example of impiety; for his body
having swollen to such an extent that he could not pass where a chariot
could pass easily, he was crushed by the chariot, so that his bowels gushed
--Papias, "Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord" Book II.

So Humphrey quotes Papias expounding on Judas. Since Judas is one of the characters of the Passion play (and if this is a real quote), would this partially invalidate the christ as myth case? If there is a likely and reasonable probablity this is a forgery, then Papias can retain his place of honor in the peanut gallery.

Response to Robert:

Childhood Brainwashing / Papias and the Death of Judas

One of the survival mechanisms which evolution has developed is a facility in our formative childhood years to absorb training and experience, to make the things we learn almost an instinctive part of one's behavior and reflexes. That facility enables us to learn language, to perfect physical abilities, to develop bonds, to recognize danger, and so on. Unfortunately, we have not been given, in those early years, the same degree of facility to make judgments about the validity and rationality of what we 'learn'
—that, hopefully, comes later. Children are basically trusting about what they receive from adults, and indeed that trust is part of the survival mechanism. This is why indoctrinating children is so easy. Most of the religious indoctrination many of us receive has been harmful, a form of child abuse, as those who have managed to free themselves from it can attest. Robert has summed up its essence quite succinctly: "guilt, fear and worthlessness." To which we may add, the suppression or removal of one's ability to think rationally and critically where religious beliefs are concerned. For some, it may take little more than to be exposed to rational ideas and criticism of religion, though the subconscious effects may never be totally eradicated. For others, the indoctrination has been so thorough, neither the mind nor the human spirit ever gains its well-being and freedom.

Not only do we place our trust in our parents and elders, where religion is concerned we place it in the figures and traditions that established our religious faith at its beginnings. This is one reason why it is so difficult to expose those beginnings and people for what they were, as they have been so overlaid with reverent and idealized legend and character in order to elevate them in the eyes of later generations and help justify continuing faith. The bible is full of often primitive, ridiculous and reprehensible accounts, unflattering to both God and men, yet indoctrination keeps the brain's eyes glazed over so as not to recognize what they see. The figures we know from earliest Christianity, from Paul to the later Fathers, held beliefs and attitudes which are deplorable, shot through with ignorance and superstition. Paul could endorse the crassest form of predestination on God's part, as in Romans 9. Ignatius could label those who disagreed with his doctrines "beasts in the form of men" and "mad dogs" (Sm. 4, Eph. 7). The developing Church fell increasingly into misogyny, anti-Semitism, and pathological denigration of the body. Justin Martyr could explain similarities between earlier mystery cults and Christianity as the work of demons; and Christ himself, as created out of the minds of his contemporaries, believed illness was also the work of demons. Christian soteriology itself, the salvation of the world, was built upon the primitive concept of blood sacrifice. All such things are shielded from the critical mind, from questioning and reactions of abhorrence, through indoctrination
—with the help of professional rationalization by minds that ought to know better.

Robert brings up the question of Papias' report of Judas' death, wondering if this compromises the mythicist case. No more so than any other second century report about some Gospel character or other (of which there are few, in any case, coming from the first half of the century). By the time of Papias' lost work
, about 120-140, traditions attached to a perceived historical Jesus and the tale of his life told in the Gospels were starting to appear. We can allot no reliability to such reports. (The apologist Quadratus, around Papias' time, declared that some of the dead resurrected by Jesus were still alive in his own day!) As for the death of Judas, the penchant for garnishing legends is clear from both Papias and Apollinarius. The Gospel of Matthew has Judas dying by hanging himself. Later tradition as reflected in those writers felt it had to embellish on this and declared that Judas had been cut down before he was suffocated, so that he could go on to experience an even more gruesome death, no doubt because simple hanging wasn't considered enough.

Ken Humphrey (if Robert is quoting him accurately) does not have the Papias fragment quite right. The part about Judas' bowels gushing out comes from Acts 1:18, which Apollinarius quotes before recounting Papias' own comments on the matter. The latter relate not to Judas' death, but to his bloated condition, in which the mass of his head was wider than a wagon, and his eyelids so swollen that he could see no light. It is on writers who could subscribe to and report traditions like these that we are dependent for much of our information on early Christianity and its origins.

Doug writes:

     I think that even if the canonical gospels and Acts were written from 70 CE to 100 CE as mainstream scholarship says, the reason gospel details are not referred to in Christian writings until 180 CE (except for Justin Martyr) may be because they were viewed as myths meant to convey the spiritual truths taught by those in the Christian movement which was really a Greek mystical/philosophical movement. But by 180 CE Christians who took the gospels literally (a minority in the decades preceding) won out and virtually all Christians believed in the historical Jesus of the gospels. From 100 CE to 180 CE the gospels and Acts were circulating and served as the Christian equivalent of the Greek myths. Justin and a handful of less educated Christians took them literally but the educated apologists didn't and therefore had no reason to quote from them in their writings. What do you think?

Response to Doug:

Did the Second Century Apologists know of the Gospels? / Occam's Razor

Doug's proposal is one way of viewing the broader picture. It can be especially useful in regard to the second century apologists. It would allow us to accept the Gospels as products of the late first century and early part of the second, known perhaps in many circles but not accepted as historical documents for several decades, in some places for longer than others. This would also allow us to grant most of the apologists a knowledge of those Gospels, yet because they regarded them as a form of allegorical mythology, they could ignore or dismiss them in their presentations of the faith. This, in fact, is a much more acceptable proposal for explaining the silence on the figure of an historical Jesus in those apologists than that proposed by mainstream scholarship, which has it that the apologists suppressed the figure of Jesus because they were embarrassed by him or felt it was politically advisable to do so. The latter explanation has too many problems if one assumes that Jesus and the Gospel events were historical and that most everyone, pagan and Christian, knew of them; but the idea of deliberate silence works much better if it is assumed that the apologists left Jesus out because they did not subscribe to the historicity of the Gospels or their central character.

Do we have a specific indicator of this in any of the apologists' writing? We certainly do. Tatian refers to "stories" that Christians tell, styling them the same as the "stories" of the pagans. As I have pointed out in my book and website article on the Second Century Apologists, and in my response to GakuseiDon's critique of that material, Tatian makes no effort to stipulate a basic difference between the stories of the Christians and those of the pagans, namely that the former were allegedly historical while the latter were not. All the major apologists I discuss save Justin are silent on things such as an incarnation for their Son and Logos, an atonement doctrine, a resurrection of a divine being from the dead, and so on. If they did not regard the Gospels as history, but as a set of 'in-house' allegories to embody spiritual truths, then leaving them out of their pictures of the faith was perfectly reasonable and not motived by the necessity for concealment. Such myths would simply have complicated their apologies and led to confusion and misunderstanding.

Within this picture we are still faced with a non-unified Christian movement of several strands. The Logos-religion of the apologists cannot be a direct descendant of the Pauline type of mystery cult, since they do not include sacrificial or atonement elements; salvation comes through knowledge of the Christ and his relationship to God. The apologists have evolved from some other first century strand, and we may be able to identify it. It may lie among those rivals of Paul on the Corinthian scene and elsewhere, those who rejected the idea of a crucified Messiah, such as the Alexandrian Apollos (see my Article No. 1: Apollos and the Early Christian Apostolate). Those circles preaching "another Jesus," whom Paul is vying with, seem to have had a Revealer Christ, their devotees being saved through the "wisdom" this spiritual Son imparts. Alexandria was a hotbed source of Logos philosophy; perhaps it gave birth to a strain of Christ-belief that evolved into the philosophical logos-mysticism of Athenagoras, Theophilus, Tatian and their like a century and more later.
(For some insight into this, see Article No. 5: Tracing the Christian Lineage in Alexandria.)

Yet another strand was the underlying source of the Gospel Jesus as a teacher, prophet and miracle worker. This came to Christianity from a separate direction, namely a Kingdom preaching movement centered in Galilee in the mid-first century. It was essentially apocalyptic, focused on the expected Son of Man, and it advocated a new social ethic partly derived from a Greek source, the Cynics. When the Gospels were first written to reflect this movement, which by that time included the idea of an historical founder, how much of their story was regarded as history? Did Mark and the later evangelists regard Q's Jesus as an actual recent man? It may be difficult to say, although we can assume that none of them regarded the story they created as historical in itself, since virtually all of it was constructed from midrash on the Hebrew Bible. Matthew, Luke and John could not have regarded their Markan source as history because they felt free to alter it wholesale.

In the second century, these and other strands were gravitating toward each other. Ignatius and Barnabas reflect cultic Christ circles who were absorbing Gospel influences and ever more Gospel details. Meanwhile, the gnostics were emerging with a spiritual Christ that was evolving to a docetic Christ on earth and also absorbing Gospel influences along with the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. The Logos-religion of the apologists seems to have gone the longest in resisting the absorption of the Gospel Jesus and his story as historical; some of their circles may have brought it on board, but only as allegorical mythology. The first to break ranks and join the literalists were Justin, and a little later Tatian. The process seems to have been complete only some time after the year 180.

Those enamored of Occam's Razor (and there are many) may feel that such a broad scenario is too detailed, too complex. And yet it hangs together, it takes into account all the evidence, especially the 'riotous diversity' of the early Christian movement which even mainstream scholarship has to admit. And it conforms to experience, in that most philosophical and religious movements in history operate that way; they coalesce out of multiple strands and broad predecessors. (Think of the evolution of the Hebrew 'nation' and its eventual monotheism: despite the artificial myth-making of the Bible, when we look backward through the history and archeology of the ancient Near East we see the Jewish entity dissolving outward into many diverse strands of development and ideas from Egypt to Phoenicia to Mesopotamia, trajectories coming together throughout the late second and early first millennia to produce Israel and its concept of itself.) Now, there are those philosophical and religious movements which arise out of specific figures, such as Buddhism and Platonism, though even these are dependent on precursor influences. And yet, an increasing number of such movements are starting to be questioned. Did their traditional founders actually exist, or were they later developments symbolizing imperfectly perceived origins? Did Lao-tze live? Did Confucius? Zoroaster? Such questions, such doubts, have been seriously raised. In the ancient world, Orphism was regarded as having begun with Orpheus; the Jewish race and nation with Abraham, its Yahwehan Covenent with Moses. The great panoply of Mycenean kings and heroes immortalized in myth and poeticized in Homer were regarded for centuries as historical. Few dispassionate historians today accept any of them. And when we get to Christianity, with its topsy-turvy documentary record clearly lacking the presentation of an historical founder in its early phase, one who only gradually emerges into the light in second century documents, we are entitled to place Christianity in that majority category: movements which coalesce out of broad and diverse backgrounds, eventually recasting their history in terms of specific founders, specific events and points of origin, losing sight and understanding of their true beginnings.

The principle of Occam's Razor states that assumptions introduced to explain something must not be multiplied beyond necessity. But when the evidence itself embodies and necessitates complexity, the razor is blunted. Complexity, in fact, becomes simplicity
—as long as it is understandable and fits the evidence best. Even 5000-piece jigsaw puzzles can be put together to form a coherent picture. William of Occam needed to work a bit more in the field of history and come up with a more multi-faceted cutting implement.

Jason writes:

   I have read quite a bit of your website and wanted to ask you about your agenda. Don't think I'm a Fundamentalist Christian who is trying to state that your agenda is to lead people to hell or anything crazy like that. But when reading your site I get an overall view that you are trying to discredit Christianity to convert people to a new religion. Much of the positive feedback listed has a religious feel. People are liberated and given hope by your writing. I don't see the difference between the belief of a better future through the works of some god or God and the belief that our salvation lies with us. If you accept a non-spiritual world then there is no need for salvation. What happens to mankind matters little. There is no salvation, just existence. I can accept this and don't see a need to add some mythic future.

Response to Jason:

Is the Jesus Puzzle salvation in a new religion?

Despite a certain amount of perceptiveness, Jason's remarks are quite misguided. I am reminded of the common accusation of religionists against science, that it is a "new religion." Or that atheism is a religion. Or one I get frequently, that rejection of an historical Jesus is "a reverse fundamentalism." Not only are all these accusations absurd, they are an adulteration of language.

How are we to define a "religion"?  The standard definition states (according to the Webster's College Dictionary): "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code for the conduct of human affairs." Most religions contain more than that, of course, usually a host of superstitions, harmful dogmas and out-of-date morality. But the essence of a religion involves belief in the supernatural and an expectation of a life after death as the personal identity one possessed on earth, a fate supposedly determined by one's behavior in life.

Science, on the other hand, contains none of these things, nor does it in principle advocate any of them. Science is not "a set of beliefs." It is a body of conclusions based on evidence and the application of deductive reasoning. Some of those conclusions may be incomplete, or even wrong, but they are not dogmas; they are open to revision at any time and indeed invite revision, since knowledge can only advance through gaining new evidence and revising our conclusions accordingly. (Individual scientists may not always be faithful to such principles, and have been known to resist change and new ideas, but human beings in any field can be guilty of certain failings.)

It certainly can be said that science and scientists in general hold strongly to these principles, but this does not make the discipline a religion. Otherwise, anything that we put a committed investment in could be labeled a religion. A sport, our jobs, altruistic philanthropy, collecting stamps. We are devoted to our children, but this is hardly the same as being "devoted" to God. We may ritualistically apply ourselves to performing our work, but this is not the same as taking part in rituals like baptism and church worship. We trust that the sun will rise tomorrow
—indeed, it is virtually a dogma—but it is founded on empirical evidence and long experience, and we understand it on the basis of our observation of the solar system's mechanics; if reliance is placed on methods that produce the same results everywhere, results that are verifiable and amendable, it is not the same as trusting that a God exists or relying on going to heaven after death. Atheists do not construct their lives and expectations around a belief in the supernatural, something for which science has never produced an iota of evidence. To label any of these characteristics religious may be metaphorical (and dictionaries reflect that), but it's wholly misleading to apply the term "religion" to such philosophies or pursuits. Of course, doing so is a defensive measure, seeking to tar one's critics with the same brush they are using on you.

Jason suggests that reactions to my writings are religious because they liberate and give hope. Are medical researchers being religious when they cure a disease or learn how to prolong life? Is the United Nations a religious organization when it helps engineer environmental improvements to areas of the world? Was the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe a "religious" undertaking? (Ironically, the "liberation" of Iraq could well have been impelled in the minds of those directing it by certain religious considerations.) To liberate and give hope should be one of the highest goals of human society, and hardly needs
—or oughtto be tied to belief in a God or the supernatural. Science has liberated us from many fears and superstitions: from belief in demons as the cause of sickness and accidents, from terror at natural events due to our ignorance of nature's workings, from erroneous ideas of how we came into being and what it constitutes to be human. It would liberate us from a lot of other things if we were willing or able to remove the prejudices and misinformation that religion has long subjected us to.

But Jason is surely at his most misguided when he says, "I don't see the difference between the belief of a better future through the works of some god or God and the belief that our salvation lies with us." The former is passive, the latter is active. The former renders us powerless, the latter gives us power. One requires belief in the unprovable and often nonsensical, the other seeks and builds on what can be known and predicted; a reliance on fantasy vs. a focusing on reality.
One is laden with fear, guilt, and obsessive self-recrimination, the other is positive, pride-inducing, self-enhancing. One extrapolates all that is good and positive in us onto an external entity, the other finds and develops such things within ourselves. One sits on the quicksand of perceived revelation, the other rests on the more solid ground of objective and verifiable investigation. A better future is surely to be achieved when we embrace this life and world as all we have, rather than invest our beliefs and energies in an unknowable dimension and a pie-in-the-sky afterlife.

Jason says, "If you accept a non-spiritual world then there is no need for salvation." But this has always been humanity's problem, from the time when our intelligence was forced to come to grips with the perils and uncertainties of the world and bodies we inhabit. And it has been our biggest mistake. We need to abandon the idea of "salvation" from our natural habitat. Rather, we need to better understand and improve it. Religion has never given us anything which would help in that accomplishment; in fact, it has been one great impediment, one giant cop-out. It misinterprets and denigrates the world and bodies we live in, turning to a fantasy of another world and another existence beyond this one, achievable through the whim or grace of a Deity. The baggage it has heaped on us as the means of accomplishing that imagined end has hampered our progress and stunted our wisdom and burdened our spirits. We need a new concept of salvation, one we can achieve on our own within the universe we are a part of. Neither science nor atheism advocates "just existence." What happens to mankind is of the utmost importance, because it matters to us. And we have yet to plumb the depths and reach the limits of what it is to be us. Whatever we become, whatever we achieve, it is our own responsibility.

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