Jesus Christ on trial, again

thorns and gavelI wanted to make a note of a remarkably weird religion story playing out in Italy where a judge has ordered a priest to prove “that Jesus Christ existed,” reports The Times.

The evangelicals among us may react against the use of the past tense to describe Christ’s existence. Could the Catholic priest take on the challenge of proving that Christ still exists, or is that cutting to close to the realm of faith? Oh wait, the judge has already done that by letting this lawsuit go forward. Forget the separation of church and state in Italy, since they have such a great history understanding that concept.

So anyway, here are the details:

The case against Father Enrico Righi has been brought in the town of Viterbo, north of Rome, by Luigi Cascioli, a retired agronomist who once studied for the priesthood but later became a militant atheist.

Signor Cascioli, author of a book called The Fable of Christ (not available on, began legal proceedings against Father Righi three years ago after the priest denounced Signor Cascioli in the parish newsletter for questioning Christ’s historical existence.

Yesterday Gaetano Mautone, a judge in Viterbo, set a preliminary hearing for the end of this month and ordered Father Righi to appear. The judge had earlier refused to take up the case, but was overruled last month by the Court of Appeal, which agreed that Signor Cascioli had a reasonable case for his accusation that Father Righi was “abusing popular credulity”.

Signor Cascioli’s contention — echoed in numerous atheist books and internet sites — is that there was no reliable evidence that Jesus lived and died in 1st-century Palestine apart from the Gospel accounts, which Christians took on faith. There is therefore no basis for Christianity, he claims.

I also take issue with the author’s use of the word atheist to describe those who do not believe in the existence of Christ. Not believing in the existence of Christ does not make a person an atheist just as believing in the existence of Christ doesn’t make a person a Christian. Also, I’m sure there are people out there who do not believe Christ exist yet would not want to classify themselves as atheists. It’s a big world out there with many religions.

This one-man campaign is making quite a bit of news, but I had trouble finding much speculation as to what would happen if this lawsuit were successful. Amy Welborn gives us the link but appropriately did not choose to comment.

Ted Olsen over at Christianity Today‘s blog predicts that the lawsuit will be unsuccessful and gives us a link from the Guardian that has more background on the case. My take is that this is one of those “that’s weird, why are they doing that?” stories. But it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

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  • Dan Berger

    It may be true that belief in the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, itinerant Jewish preacher, does not logically imply atheism. But most non-Christian religionists are happy to claim Jesus as a prophet, Boddisatva, or some other sort of admirable dead guy.

    To the best of my knowledge, the only people one finds routinely denying that he ever existed are Western atheists, or other Westerners reacting against Christianity (I wouldn’t be surprised to find some neo-pagans in this camp).

    The equation of Jesus-denial with atheism is probably as valid as the equation of Holocaust-denial with anti-Semitism. Neither pair is logically entailed, but a lot of things we find to be linked are not logically entailed.

  • Bartholomew

    But most non-Christian religionists are happy to claim Jesus as a prophet, Boddisatva, or some other sort of admirable dead guy.

    But what’s that got to do with historical discussions about the existence of Jesus? I’m not aware of any non-Western scholars prominently involved in the historical Jesus debate, and the role of Jesus within other religious mythologies is irrelevant to serious historical discussions. Clearly anyone who thinks he didn’t exist is not going to be a Christian – but therefore what? In the case of Robert Price (who I don’t agree with), he says he became an atheist as a result of deciding there was no historical Jesus, not the other way round.

  • Mike the Geek

    According to the original articles on this, Cascioli claims that the mythical Jesus is based on the life of a certain “John of Gamala.” I have not been able to find any reference to any John of Gamala outside of a 19th century work of (intentional) historical fiction. Does anybody have any evidence that this “John of Gamala” ever actually existed? I think we have here a case of the pot calling the kettle black. (Or, more accurately, the pot calling the sterling silver black.)

  • Will

    Sounds like a mistake (probably the reporter’s, he said sourly) for John of Gishala, a leader of the Jewish Revolt.

  • Will

    But of course, the Jewish Revolt was of the generation AFTER Jesus (and it has been speculated that much of the subsequent bad feeling towards *minim* began when the Jerusalem Christians made their “secession to Pella” rather than support the rising.

  • Michel

    The website below appears to be Cascioli’s own:

    On it, he writes:

    “The Fable of Christ” is a decisive collection of proof demonstrating that the figure if Jesus is the result of manipulation and falsification of documents which in reality refer to a certain John of Gamala, son of Jude the Galilean and grandson of the rabbi Ezechia, a direct descendant of the Asmonite tribe founded by Simon, son of Mattatia the Maccabean.”

    Reading the rest of the website, it is hard not to get the feeling that Cascioli is, how to put this gently, a little “out there”.


  • Michel

    Actually, the above quote is listed as a comment and not Cascioli’s own words but it is in line with the rest.


  • Dan Berger

    Bartholomew, I was simply commenting on Dan Pulliam’s insistence on separating “atheism” from “denying the existence of Jesus”.

    Most non-Western, non-Christian scholars (with the exception of Muslims, since Jesus is in the Koran) probably couldn’t care less whether Jesus existed or not. But the ones who do care, who are not atheists, tend to acknowledge Jesus from their own religious perspective rather than say, “He never existed.”

    Or is it just that they have too much common sense to get involved in such a loser’s argument? Only the ideologically-committed (on the order of Lysenko) would try to prove such an absurd proposition as “Jesus never existed.” Apart from all the fun of proving a negative…

  • Dan

    The picture of the crown of thorns with a gavel is a great find for a picture to accompany the story. Where did you find it?

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I find it almost humorous that on the one hand a certain school of atheists and anti-Christian historians bend them selves into pretzels to “prove” the non-existence of Jesus— considering there is more evidence about the existence of Jesus (a separate issue from what or who you believe He is)than there is for what we regard as “gospel” about other great figures from early world history–like Julius Caesar.
    On the other hand we have the “DaVinci Code” people who embrace the anti-Biblical, anti-Church Tradition and Creed view of Jesus and claim that not only was he historical but that his bloodline is still alive and well in his descendants today.
    Oh, Well—Books must be sold, theaters must be filled, DVDs must be rented, lawsuits must bring 3 minutes of fame.
    And when the dust settles the Catholic Church will be celebrating its 3000th year and Christians around the world will still be reading the Bible as divers look for the new Atlantis (formerly Hollywood) that sank into the Pacific after THE BIG ONE ripped California apart.

  • Michel

    I also find it humourous and marvel at the lengths some will go to. I was reading one of these sites and came across the sneering line “the so-called Magnificat” as if there was some reason to doubt the naming convention applied to hundreds of prayers, hymns and opera arias.

    I get the feeling that many of the people driven to these extremes fit into what Richard John Neuhaus calls the near escape syndrome. It isn’t enough for them to believe that religious people might be mistaken, they have to believe we are all part of a giant conspiracy. It is amazing too, how these people adopt the language and ideals of the enlightenment to advance a project that is atplete odds with enlightenment.


  • Avram

    [...] there is more evidence about the existence of Jesus [...] than there is for what we regard as “gospel” about other great figures from early world history—like Julius Caesar.

    I’ve heard this claim before, but never with any details to back it up. How do you figure?

    In Julius Caesar’s case, we have books written by the man himself, in addition to lots of material written about him by contemporaries like Cicero. In Jesus’s case, all we’ve got is stuff written by others about him decades after his death, with the closest to a contemporary reference being Josephus’s two short references of questionable authenticity.

  • Dan Berger

    Avram, I think the citation of Julius Caesar was hyperbole. But…

    We don’t have anything written by Socrates, either. Or by King David, or by Hannibal. All we know of Socrates or Hannibal (with the exception of that obviously made-up foil in Aristophanes’ “The Clouds”) is stuff written about them by others, decades after their deaths.

    (“But those accounts were written by contemporaries!” So are many of the New Testament accounts.)

    Generally the “contemporary witness” to Jesus is held to include the fact that he was being aggressively referenced by his followers mere years after his death. You’ll notice that no ancient or medieval historian or polemicist ever called Jesus’ existence into question, including the Jews who–since Christianity was in direct competition with them–would certainly have said something to the effect of “you deluded Christians, this man never existed!” (Instead, they said, “you deluded Christians, this man was a low-life heretical criminal and a bastard to boot!”)

    I am using the b-word in the technical sense.

    I recommend to you Luke Timothy Johnson’s book “The Real Jesus”, especially the chapter “What’s historical about Jesus?”

  • dpulliam

    Here is the link to the Web site where I got the art for this piece, since Dan asked.

  • Dan Berger

    By the way, the point of my reference to Johnson’s book can be found in its subtitle: “The misguided quest for the historical Jesus.”

    Johnson doesn’t think that history has anything to say to faith beyond a few bare facts: Jesus lived and was crucified. You can’t prove the Resurrection in any historical sense, and you certainly can’t prove that he did or said any particular thing.

    The most you can do from the standpoint of history is what NT Wright, among others, has attempted: to show whether what he’s reported to have said and done is or is not consistent with a Jew living in 1st-C Palestine.

    Note that the other half of Johnson’s subtitle is “and the truth of the traditional gospels.” He’s simply saying that history alone can’t do the job.

  • Dan Berger

    that obviously made-up foil in Aristophanes’ “The Clouds”

    I hope we were all able to recognize the fact that I was being sarcastic here.

    One of these days I’ll figure out how to fit it all in one post.

  • Xavier Veille

    The modern story of Christ Jesus is available now online at

  • Avram

    Dan, I’m not arguing that Jesus didn’t exist, just questioning that Julius Caesar thing. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard it — not “figures of antiquity” in general, but Julius Caesar specifically — and I’m wondering where it came from, and why it persists since it’s pretty obviously untrue.

  • Dan

    The comparison is usually between Jesus and Alexander the Great, as for the following:

    Trusting the stories: Jesus and Alexander
    John C Halton III, a University of Texas scholar and administrator, sends this useful examination of the reliability of the evidence concerned Alexander the Great and Jesus, who was greater:

    Early in 2004, Mel Gibson brought The Passion of The Christ to theatres near you. Then, at year end, Oliver Stone’s Alexander appeared. Within one-year “Hollywood” produced movies about the two most foundational figures in western history from the “classical” period. Alexander implanted Greek language and philosophy in the “civilized” world. Jesus and his disciples turned that world upside down and brought the good news of the Kingdom of God to Alexander’s descendents.
    That we have a record of individuals and their actions from 2,000 years ago or more is remarkable. Works about famous people from antiquity were published by individuals who hand-copied those documents, laboriously, letter by letter, on parchment or papyrus. As these “first editions” wore out they were in turn copied by others over the years. This legacy of copying documents by hand preserved these accounts until the moveable type printing press was developed in the 15th century.
    The close proximity of films about these famous individuals gives us the opportunity to evaluate the trustworthiness and reliability of the handwritten documents passed on to us, which is the material from which ultimately screen plays are written and movies made. How confident are we that these documents tell the real stories about these famous people as they happened in space and time? Can we trust them to give us the “true” facts?

    Several standards have been developed for evaluating the historical reliability of ancient documents which give us confidence that the accounts happened as stated and were not mythologized or otherwise altered. The simplest standard is how close in time to the life of the famous person were the documents composed which have survived to our current era and which were used to produce the books we have today? The standard simply stated is this: the most reliable documents were produced within two generations of the events they report. Eyewitnesses are still alive and accounts cannot be fabricated because those who know the facts are still around, or their children are. Documents produced three generations or later are deemed less accurate than works produced within the two-generation window. At best few eyewitnesses are still alive. Let’s apply this standard to judge which set of documents inspires greater confidence: “religious” documents about Jesus or “secular” works about Alexander.

    If we look at the genre of “Gospel” contained in the part of the Christian Bible known as the New Testament we find four accounts, known as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Most scholars, secular or Christian, would date these writings to between 60 and around 80 in the Common Era (CE) or around 30 to 50 years after the passion and resurrection of Jesus, assuming that that occurred around 30 to 33 CE. Thus the time period for the composition of the gospels is within the two-generation window standard for highest reliability. Three of the gospels, Matthew Mark and John are considered “eyewitness” accounts and thus are “primary sources.” Luke, while not an eyewitness, still wrote within the two-generation-window and indicates that he made extensive use of eyewitnesses.

    On the other hand the only surviving accounts of the life of Alexander the Great are secondary or even tertiary (third-hand) and are well beyond the two generation window. No eyewitness accounts survive. Scholars generally cite six extant sources (in other words we actually have a manuscript copy that we can touch and feel today) for Alexander, (compared to the four gospels for Jesus). Lucius Flavius Arrian’s Anabasis Alexandri usually is considered the best source on Alexander’s campaigns. But Arrian’s work dates from approximately 130 CE, or 450 years after the death of Alexander in 323 Before the Common Era (BCE), well beyond two generations. The equivalent time gap applied to our modern era would be as if the first account of the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus (in 1492) available today was written in 1950.

    The earliest extant account is by Didorus Siculus who wrote approximately 300 years after the death of Alexander. Other well known extant sources briefly are: Plutarch, around 80 CE (a 400 year gap); Curtius, around 100 CE (a 420 year gap); Justin, around 200 CE (a 520 year gap); and the Metz Epitome which is considered a “late antiquity source” perhaps in the Middle Ages (more than a 1,000 year gap).

    Marc Steinmann writing in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review (April 2003) clearly outlines the problem in having confidence that the surviving documents about Alexander really do tell the true story. He notes there is a “dearth of contemporary sources” (essentially documents written within the two-generation-window). Steinmann points out that information we have today about Alexander comes from “derivative writings” developed centuries after his death. Steinmann notes that these documents “deliberately mixed and distorted their sources, adapted or modified them for literary purposes, misunderstood them—or a combination of these.” Steinmann also points out that surviving fragments of the primary sources for Alexander’s life actually are paraphrases of presumably “contemporary” documents (contemporary in this case being around 330 to 300 BCE, during or shortly after Alexander’s life), well beyond the two-generation standard. The sidebar presents the information in tabular form and clearly focuses the problem for scholars who seek reliable documents on which to base their discussions and analysis about the life of Alexander.

    Judged by secular standards, objective historians can have much greater confidence in the reliability of Christian Gospels than the documents on which are based books (and movies) about Alexander the Great. To put it another way, the Gospels were written roughly in the time period between the first satellite in space (Sputnik in 1957) and first landing of men on the moon (1969) and now. That’s a 35 to 45 year time-span. Many people alive today remember vividly events during those years and would know if accounts of the “history” they remember were altered. On the other hand, there is a 300 to 450 year gap between the death of Alexander the Great and the first extant manuscripts about him. When these accounts were written there were no eyewitnesses to corroborate them.

    Ironically, writings about the life and work of Jesus are often judged to be less reliable than other ancient writings. The reality is, if judged by secular standards, they are quite the opposite. In fact using the two-generation standard, the Gospels achieve a far superior confidence level than material about Alexander or any other religious or secular figure from the classical period. So, the next time people tell you the Gospels do not give a reliable account of the life of Jesus, tell them in a kind way they are wrong. If we can have confidence that any ancient documents present the truth about the life of a famous person from antiquity, we can rely on the Bible which meets the two-generation test without breaking a sweat!

  • Bartholomew

    Dan: Most non-Western, non-Christian scholars (with the exception of Muslims, since Jesus is in the Koran) probably couldn’t care less whether Jesus existed or not.

    Again, you confuse scholarship with religious commitment. I would hope that a non-Western scholar researching Western religion or the first-century world would care, since that would come under his or her professional remit, whatever their religion or lack thereof may be.

    But the ones who do care, who are not atheists, tend to acknowledge Jesus from their own religious perspective rather than say, “He never existed.”

    That has nothing to do with scholarly arguments. Scholars argue their positions based on their research and interpretation of the evidence: acknowledging Jesus “from their own religious perspective” is neither here nor there.

    Of course, scholars who are also traditional Christians are going to take a conservative view (NT Wright), while those who have another, or no, religion might be willing to entertain the view that Jesus did not exist (Robert Price, GA Wells) and both positions are going to be picked up by religious apologists, anti-religious polemicists, and sensationalists. But what does that tell us about how scholarship works? Not much.

  • Dan

    I’m not widely read in the literature that addresses whether Jesus existed but it is my understanding that nearly all serious historians concede that He existed. The favorite sport of Christianity debunkers is not to deny that Jesus existed but, rather, to insist that large parts of the Gospel are fantasy or lies.

  • Bartholomew

    The key there is the “nearly”. But I note your defence of the Gospels’ accuracy is based entirely on comparisons with another text, and on some complacent axioms about how historical memory is supposedly formed. It would be more worthwhile to actually grapple with the texts themselves in their own historical context and purpose. Why is it that Jesus in Mark cures a blind man by some magical ritual, but this story fails to appear in any of the later gospels? Why exactly is John’s Gospel so different from the Synoptics? How far does theology play a role in shaping the narrative? Matthew is divided into five parts, like the Torah, and is aimed at Jews; John appears to be influenced by Hellenistic theology (to the extent that Jesus doesn’t really appear to be Jewish). There are many, many, more issues I could raise.

    Three of the gospels, Matthew Mark and John are considered “eyewitness” accounts and thus are “primary sources.”

    Not by any serious scholar (Christian or otherwise) working the past hundred years or so. If Matthew is an “eye-witness”, why does he rely so heavily on Mark? If John is an eye-witness, why is he so at odds with the others? What we have in fact are “pericopes”, stories about Jesus that were passed down orally before being shaped into the Synoptic gospels (debate rages over how much made its way into John or the Gospel of Thomas). Some of these stories reflect the historical Jesus, some of them appear to be rather theological interpretations of the life of Jesus (the two nativity stories, for example).

    I’m not saying you have to take a sceptical position – NT Wright is both a serious scholarly player and an evangelical Anglican bishop, for instance, and the evangelical publisher Eerdmans produces some good stuff. But the New Testament has many problems for the historian, which have prompted a lot of exciting scholarly debate. It’s sad to see someone unwilling to engage with any of that, and annoying to see aspersions cast on the motives of historians with whom you disagree.

  • Tom Breen

    Boy, nothing says “definitive settlement to a thorny problem” quite like an Italian court. They might as well have a steel cage match.

    One thing I’ve always wondered about the “Jesus Never Existed” school of tinfoil hat thinking is, what was the motive of the early Christians who supposedly perpetrated the scam?

    Paul is generally the villain in these pieces, but he has the least comprehensible motive at all. He was a Roman citizen and a member of the dominant faction in Jewish politics of the day. By embracing (or, in the conspiracist view, creating) a movement that was both (a) heterodox in regards to Judaism and (b) antagonistic toward the theo-political establishment of the empire, he was abandoning every worldly advantage for – what, exactly? Anathema, persecution, and an early death.

    The view that Christianity started as a vast conspiracy is based on a completely ahistorical way of thinking; to the early Christians, choosing to follow Jesus was in many cases choosing an extremely difficult life followed by an unpleasant death.

    I realize the lack of a clear motive isn’t the same thing as courtroom-worthy proof of Jesus’ historical existence, but it’s something I’ve always wondered.

  • Herb

    Why is it that nobody applies the same skepticism to Muhammad? After all, the sources (e.g., Ibn-Ishaq) are much further from the first generation than in the case of Jesus. But anytime someone starts asking those kinds of questions, CAIR or somebody starts screaming, and someone apologizes, and everything is covered over. “Did Muhammad really exist?” is a much more valid question than asking if Jesus did.

  • Bartholomew

    Why is it that nobody applies the same skepticism to Muhammad?

    But they do: Ibn Warraq’s got a sceptical book entitled The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, although it’s written with an anti-religious polemical view in mind (not that that means it’s necessarily bad). Some scholars argue that the Koran only came together, from various sources, 200 years after the life of Muhammad – the late John Wansbrough was the best-known proponent of this view.

    There’s been a couple of recent magazine articles that survey the field, too: Martin Bright’s “The Koran Con Trick” (a flawed piece which was accused of creating a “spurious air of conspiracy and censorship” by one scholar) from the New Statesman; and Toby Lester’s “What is the Koran?”, from The Atlantic. Both are available on-line.

    Tom: One thing I’ve always wondered about the “Jesus Never Existed” school of tinfoil hat thinking is, what was the motive of the early Christians who supposedly perpetrated the scam?

    Is that critique actually based on your knowledge of sceptical arguments? Or is it just an off-hand dismissal?

  • Dan Berger

    Bartholomew, perhaps I am “confusing” religious commitment with scholarship. And perhaps not.

    My point was neither. It was simply that people who have no religious or anti-religious commitment to any aspect of the Jesus story would tend not to bother with that subfield of historical studies at all. There are probably, of course, some exceptions. But I’m not aware of any.

    The fact is that scholars from civilizations not primarily dependent on the Abrahamic faith complex have their own histories to worry about. The exceptions are likely to be those who are of Jewish/Christian/Muslim belief or background or who, like the Bahai, have some sort of hat tip toward Jesus in their religious beliefs.

  • Herb

    I am aware of Wansbrough and Crone and the rest, but my point is, this is barely taken up in the media. Another example is the book of Mormon, which could hardly have a more spurious historical basis, but nobody is pushing on it much, at least as far as I can see. When one fundamentalist like Falwell says that Muhammad was a terrorist, it creates a fervor, but very interesting: not one journalist ever asked, “why did he say that?” So everybody knows that Jesus had a kid with Mary Magdalene, but nobody is faced with the fact that Muhammad orders the throats of all the Bani Quraiza cut.

  • Avram

    Herb, there are people criticizing Mormon claims, mostly ex-Mormons. But most people in the general population aren’t sufficiently familiar with the Book of Mormon to care.

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Avram–I just picked J. Caesar as one of the ancients some historians say there is a limited record on–there are plenty of others (as some have pointed out) we accept as historically existing, but on slimmer evidence than on Jesus.
    Also, as a Catholic I have a great reverence for Tradition and do not consider ONLY certain very restrictive levels of evidence in print (or writing) as so many modern historians do. The Catholic Church has carried the word and the Word for 2000 years, but her witness is usually pooh-poohed. Two thousand years from now will people deny the existence of George Washington because we have no video of him and much of the collateral printed or painted evidence has been destroyed in floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, or war. If by some chance the United States still exists I suppose its communal memory(witness) of the Father of Our Country will be given the pooh-pooh treatment by narrow-minded scholars as has the communal memory (witness) of the Church.

  • Herb

    I am not talking about ex-Mormons. I am talking about normal, scholarly inquiry. Every other fraud gets examined in detail these days, and a religion that claims millions of followers, with hordes of young guys going around our neighborhoods and knocking on doors — needs to be looked at objectively as well. Archaeologists and historians ought to be taking Mormon claims to task. That doesn’t mean that I don’t respect and sit down and talk with these people, I do. But nobody else gets by with taking a bad novel, giving it a new title, and calling it Scripture, at least not very long.

  • Avram

    John, Herb, have either of you noticed that you’re making very vague, generalized claims about the actions of unspecified people?

    John, you say that the witness of the Catholic Church has usually been “pooh-poohed” over the past two millennia. Is this a serious claim? If I went back in time to, say, the year 1200 AD, and walked into a major center of European culture, or a university, and started talking about Jesus maybe not having been divine, would people nod their heads in agreement, or would I find myself tied to a stake and burned?

    Herb, who is examining these frauds? Who needs to be doing the objective looking? Have you checked around to see if anybody is actually doing the kind of examination you want done? Like maybe the Smithsonian Institution, or the National Geographic Society?

    And John, you may be right about people thinking George Washington fictional in 2000 years, but they may also think Luke Skywalker is fictional.

  • Herb

    Sure, Avram, I was aware of these. But my point is, this gets left alone in the general press, at least as far as I can tell. Only those looking for scholarly inquiry are going to find it. The Mormons walking through my neighborhood aren’t faced with much of a challenge, just as the Qur’an isn’t much challenged in the press, either. My neighbors don’t have a clue that either religion is highly subject to question.

  • Avram

    Herb, what sort of thing do you think should be happening? Network news broadcasts alerting viewers to the Mormon Menace?

  • Bartholomew

    Historians don’t generally deal with Mormon claims about ancient America because there’s nothing to discuss – the Book of Mormon has no historical value whatsoever and plays no part in historical study. That’s very different from the Bible or the Koran, and those books have to be considered critically by historians.

    But why doesn’t the media highlight critical studies (aside from Dan Brown dross)? Just yesterday I was reading a CSICOP report about a Discovery Channel debunking of Natasha Demkina, the Russian teenager who claims to have x-ray eyes. The report concluded that

    We’ve asked the producer/director several times when the documentary may be broadcast in the United States. We have not received an answer. I am afraid that Discovery Channel may consider the program too skeptical for the American audience.

    PS: Dan: people who have no religious or anti-religious commitment to any aspect of the Jesus story would tend not to bother with that subfield of historical studies at all.

    Why make this assumption? For instance, I know plenty of non-Hindus who study Hinduism; none of them are motivated by a desire to prove or disprove the existence of Krishna.

  • Dan Berger


    My assumption (and it was just that) is that the history of 1st-Century Palestine is not likely to attract general interest, but of course it might be interesting to a scholar interested in the history of the Mediterranean region because of the importance of the Roman Empire.

    I imagine there are aspects of SE Asian history that seem equally obscure to most Westerners but might be interesting to someone whose interest was first captured by, say, imperial China or the Hindu civilization.

    Nevertheless, in my experience (as I said in the very, very first message in this thread) those most interested in the Historical Jesus are those who are invested in that bit of history because of their religious, anti-religious or cultural background. Even Geza Vermes is a Western Jew, and the number of Jewish NT scholars is not exactly large.

    I would welcome citations that show that my experience is incomplete.

    P.S. I imagine that this (the presumed lack of interest of non-Western scholars) will change soon anyhow, since (as Philip Jenkins has pointed out) the center of gravity of Christianity is shifting to the two-thirds world.

  • Dan Berger

    P.P.S. I wasn’t talking about people interested in Christianity per se; there are likely to be lots of historians from lots of cultural backgrounds who find it interesting, because of the importance of Christendom in world history.

    I was talking about people who are interested specifically in the historical Jesus; people don’t bother trying to prove or disprove whether Krishna ever walked the earth because (so far as I know) Hinduism doesn’t center on Krishna’s appearance in a particular place and time in history.

  • Bartholomew

    those most interested in the Historical Jesus are those who are invested in that bit of history because of their religious, anti-religious or cultural background.

    OK, slip in the word “cultural” and change the whole basis of your argument.

  • Dan Berger

    Bartholomew, I think you have a lot more invested in this argument than I have.

    You win.

  • Tom Breen


    I’m thinking specifically of the theories that make Paul the central villain in creating the “Jesus myth.” I’ve never seen a motive for doing so that doesn’t strike me as extremely ahistorical.

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  • April

    If christians are right, and Jesus existed, then they shouldn’t be afraid to defend that belief in a court of law.

    It will be interesting to see if a church or religious person can produce “real” evidence that that Jesus the Son of God exists and is not another god mythology.