Is Jesus Christ a Myth? Part One
In fact, Christian evidence for a human Jesus who was crucified is trustworthy because it runs counter to the myths of the time and suggests that he had suffered a humiliating death. If they had fabricated the mythology, and then suppressed the truth with clinical efficiency, why did they come up with a story that even the Christian apologist Tertullian admitted was absurd? It seems far more likely that they had a large number of historical facts that they had to harmonize into a religion, rather than creating all these difficulties for themselves.
Sometimes Christ Mythologists will produce long lists of writers who make no mention of Jesus—yet none of whom would have had the slightest reason to mention an obscure Jewish miracle worker—and somehow believe this strengthens their point. In fact, it has all the relevance of picking fifty books off your local library shelf and finding that none of them mention Carl Sagan. Does that mean he did not exist? Jesus was not even a failed military leader of the kind that Romans might have noticed, especially if he had been defeated by someone famous.
The only historian whom we might expect to mention Jesus is Josephus, a Jew who wrote a history of his people up to 66 A.D., which is called Jewish Antiquities. In fact, Josephus does mention Jesus twice, and so Christ Mythologists have to devote a lot of attention to attacking the relevant passages. Their job is made easier because Josephus, a Pharisee, probably felt nothing but contempt for Jesus. This meant later Christians tried to "correct" his negative phrasing.
The first mention of Jesus is in book 18 of Jewish Antiquities. Historians are largely agreed that the passage in question has been tampered with by a later Christian scribe. However, at least part of the passage is widely believed to be authentic. The words in bold below are thought to be the additions of a Christian scribe trying to make Jesus appear in a better light than Josephus would have wished.
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 18, 3, 3)
To support the idea that the passage is partly authentic and partly interpolated, we can look at the works of a 3rd-century Christian father called Origen. He lived while Christianity was still a minor cult with no power or influence. Its adherents were generally ignored by the authorities as long as they kept their heads down. Therefore, there is no way that Christians this early could have secured every copy of Josephus so that no undoctored copies remained, or could have gotten away with quoting something from Josephus that was not there. So we can be sure that the copy of Josephus that Origen read and quoted from had not been amended by earlier Christians. We can be doubly sure of this because Origen flatly contradicts the modern version of Josephus where the Jewish historian is made to say Jesus was the Messiah. Origen makes clear he said no such thing.
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.