The Curious Case of Celebrity Jesus

just say no jesus

(Ed. Note: This is the 14th post in Frank Zindler’s Speaking Frankly About Jesus blog which is dedicated to the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. This is part F of a mini series debunking “The Myth of the Mythical Jesus“.) 

Lies: So short in stating, so long in negating!

 Under the heading “Contemporary writers do not refer to Jesus,” Philip Jenkins comments in his blog “The Myth of the Mythical Jesus”:

“That depends [on] what we mean by ‘contemporary.’ In his lifetime and very brief period of celebrity, there are no such references. Very shortly afterwards, there are lots.”

I agree that we need to think about how the word “contemporary” is being used. If we Mythicists are correct that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, the term is completely meaningless. Nothing can be contemporaneous with the nonexistent! Clearly, we need to understand the word in terms of the time frame of the New Testament narratives, especially those of the gospels and Acts of the Apostles. We know dates for the Herods, Augustus, Tiberius, Quirinius, and Pilate, and we must keep in mind that even if we should establish reasonably good contemporaneity with them, it is not ipso facto proof of contemporaneity with Jesus of Nazareth. If, say, a Greek historical novelist could be shown to have been contemporaneous with most of the characters in his novel, it doesn’t prove the existence of all his characters, or that those who did exist in fact did things the way described. We cannot rule out a priori the possibility that the gospels are fiction or religious allegory, not biographical histories. The burden of proof falls upon those who assert historicity.

Okay, let’s return to our quotation. “In his lifetime and very brief period of celebrity…” This begins by begging the question of historicity and continues in unbelievable irony. If Jesus in fact had had a “very brief period of celebrity,” why wouldn’t that have been noticed and recorded by someone? Can one be a celebrity in any meaningful sense of the term without media attention of some sort? If a tree falls in the woods…

Certainly, even the most obscure record of quondam celebrity—graffiti scrawled on tomb walls or even more ephemeral substrates would have been carefully preserved by the early churches as relics most precious. Genuine records, had they ever existed, would have obviated the later need to forge documents like the Acts of Pilate or interpolate Jesus into works like Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (and even into The Jewish War), as well as into the writings of other ancient authors.

It must be reiterated: by admitting that there are no records contemporary with Jesus’s “very brief period of celebrity,” Jenkins is essentially admitting that the miraculous (in other words—magical) things Jesus allegedly did never actually occurred. There could have been no worldwide darkness at noon a the time of Passover, not even one let alone “many” dead men rising from their opened graves and marching into Jerusalem and appearing “unto many” [Matt 27:52–53]. Don’t take my word for it. Let me appeal to Jenkins’ highest authority:

“Matt 27:51 And behold, the vail of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection [corpses lying exposed to scavengers and gawkers for at least a full day!] and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.”

These things could not possibly have occurred without being seen by great numbers of people who could write and record the prodigies. Certainly, Philo of Alexandria [c25 BCE–c50 CE] who followed the doings at the Temple of Yahweh closely would have been aware of the veil-splitting event had it ever occurred. Moreover, one suspects that the natural philosopher Pliny the Elder [23–79 CE] would have remembered the darkness at noon, having been ten years old at the time and, by nature, curious about nature!

“Very shortly afterwards,” we are told, “there are lots [of references to Jesus]. Let’s rewrite that sentence: “Very shortly after Jesus’s unnoticed period of celebrity, there are lots of references to the things that had not been noticed previously.” Curiouser and curiouser, if I may quote Alice.

All right! Let us continue in our pursuit of folly.

“The writings of Paul can reliably be dated to the year [sic] between, say, 48 and 64 A.D.” Let’s get this straight. The Pauline corpus makes no mention of Paul having known Jesus in the flesh, and never once mentions any “Jesus of Nazareth.” (Please recall from my earliest blog postings that Nazareth itself is unknown outside the gospels and Acts.) Only in the Acts of the Apostles does Saul/Paul (no trace of Saul in the actual Pauline epistles!) encounter Jesus—and then as a resurrected being or apparition. Paul never had first-hand knowledge of Jesus “in the flesh.” At best, anything he might have written about an earthly Jesus was hearsay.

To proceed to the dating of “the writings of Paul.” Both computer stylometric analysis, careful stylistic analysis by linguistically sophisticated scholars, as well as content-critical analyses have shown that not all the letters ascribed to Paul by tradition could have been written by the same hand. (It’s a pity we have no autographs with which to analyze the handwriting!) Many could not have been written by the same author who wrote Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians. Why, then, were they ascribed to Paul? Very suspicious.

It is true that even most secular scholars date the so-called “authentic Pauline epistles” to the period of 48-64 CE (not “A.D.”), but at a minimum the tendentious nature of the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) date to a period after the Roman Catholic Church had attained some considerable degree of power. Even so, the dating of all the epistles came under “radical revision” by the Dutch Radical Critics (van Manen, van Eysinga, and others) in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century. Their work is being revived and advanced today by some of my personal friends and colleagues such as Hermann Detering, Robert Price, and René Salm.

But, we may ask, so what? The “authentic Paulines” tell us nothing of where Jesus was from or that he had lived shortly before Paul’s missionary work began. They know nothing of Mother Mary, St. Joseph, or that Pilate had had any connection with his crucifixion in Jerusalem. The only mention of Pilate in any of the epistles is in the uninformative and obviously textually corrupt Pastoral epistle verse I Tim 6:13:

1 Tim 6:13 I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;

That’s it! (It is interesting to see what secular scholars make of this verse and how it contrasts with the dizzying tap-dancing rhetoric of apologists, but that’s for another blog and another time.) The “authentic Paulines” mention “The Twelve,” but mention no disciples as such (as opposed to apostles) and certainly don’t tell us all their names. The “authentic Paul” knows nothing about Jesus’s supposed ethical teachings or healings—in short, he knows nothing at all about any man named Jesus of Nazareth. So, while the Pauline letters may or may not date to 48–64 CE, they cannot be said to date very shortly after Jesus’ “very brief period of [unnoticed] celebrity.” Still less can they be evidence of an historical Jesus of Nazareth.

Later in the paragraph being analyzed, Jenkins makes a confused and confusing argument about the relation of “Christ” to “Jesus.” Since that is an area of research in which I presently am engaged, I shall delay criticism of this part of the paragraph to my next installment.

Frank Zindler is the past interim President of American Atheists, a member of the American Atheists board of directors, the chief editor of American Atheists Press, and an esteemed academic and activist. 

(Photo credit: Eric Lin via Flikr; https://www.flickr.com/photos/phonescoop/214501602/)

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