Is Jesus Christ a Myth? Part One
The thesis that Jesus never existed has hovered around the fringes of research into the New Testament for at least a century but it has never been accepted as a mainstream theory. This is for good reason. It is simply a bad hypothesis based on arguments from silence, special pleading, and an awful lot of wishful thinking. It is ironic that certain atheists will buy into this idea and leave all their pretensions of critical thinking behind.
A huge amount has been written on the internet and elsewhere about the "Christ Myth." The only in-depth refutation in print is Shattering the Christ Myth (2008), which goes into great detail. However, some academic historians have taken the time to rubbish the idea that Jesus never existed and a few other books on the subject have appeared over the years.
In this four-part series, it is not my intention to study the minutiae of the various arguments. Instead, I will focus on three central contentions often advanced in discussions about Jesus. These are 1) the lack of secular references, which I cover in this installment; 2) the alleged similarities to paganism, which I deal with next; and 3) the silence of St. Paul. Finally, in the fourth part, I will bring all these arguments together to show how ideas similar to those that deny Jesus' existence can be used on practically any ancient historical figure. With this in mind I set out to "prove" that Hannibal never existed.
People ask why there is no record of Jesus in Roman records. The answer is that there are no surviving Roman records. All we have are highly parochial Roman historians who had little interest in the comings and goings of minor cults and were far more concerned about emperors and kings. Jesus made a very small splash while he was alive and there was no reason for Roman historians to notice him.
Christianity is mentioned by the historian Tacitus in the early 2nd century. But he talks about the religion only because Christians were unfortunate enough to be made scapegoats by the Emperor Nero for the great fire of Rome. Tacitus is interested in the Emperor, not his victims. He only gives us very limited information about Christians and Christ. Still, he does tell us that Jesus existed and was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Christ Mythologists counter the evidence of Tacitus by claiming that he could have got his information from Christians and so is not an independent source. This puts the Christ Mythologists, who seek a non-partisan source, in a very convenient situation. Until Christianity had spread widely, no one except Christians would have taken interest in Jesus. But all later records are ruled out of court insofar as they might have been influenced by Christians. This sort of special pleading is one of the reasons that modern historians have no time for the theory that Jesus was not a real person: the Christ Myth is set up to be impossible to disprove.
James Hannam earned degrees in physics and history from Oxford and London universities, and his doctorate in the history of science from Cambridge University. He blogs at http://bedejournal.blogspot.com and recently published God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (London, 2009), the first history of medieval science written for the layperson.