Not Even a Carpenter: Why a Historical Jesus Is Doubtful

Posted: September 16, 2017 in Uncategorized

jesus collage
For the longest time, I’ve held to what is known as the Minimal Jesus Hypothesis (TM)–the notion that there was indeed a historical Jesus, but he was deified and mythologized along the lines of contemporary myths and legends. One need look no further than here and here and here to see how well Jesus fits the bill. Like Perseus, Jesus was born to a High God and a mortal woman. Like Asclepius, he healed the sick and raised the dead. Like Osiris, he conquered death and extended immortality to his devotees.

Despite the similarities with mythical, pagan figures, I wasn’t ready to jump on board with mythicism (the theory that Jesus was purely mythical) just yet. Because it could be that Jesus was in the same category as Caesar Augustus and Alexander the Great, both of whom were undoubtedly historical, but nonetheless garnered mythic archetypes. So, the question becomes one of probability. Is it more probable that Jesus was pure myth (like Perseus, Asclepius, and Osiris), or that he was a deified man (like Augustus and Alexander)? Or, OR, could it be that Jesus was simply the Real McCoy? That he really did work miracles and rise from the dead?
fuck-no
First, we must consider what the earliest Christian writings have to say about Jesus. The Gospels and Acts are all dated to a period around 70-110 CE (and could be even later). The earliest written documents in the New Testament are actually Paul’s Epistles (c. 50-60 CE), among various other pseudo-Pauline letters (only seven of them are considered authentic). These documents present a very different picture of nascent Christianity than that which is found in the later works. In them, Jesus is basically a Gnostic Revealer and Dying & Rising Godman (like Osiris and so many others). With the exception of a few verses, all of which are easily explainable, Jesus appears to be a celestial rather than historical figure.

You jelly, bro?

No offense, Lord, but your ass is out of this WORLD.

Paul never mentions “Mary, Joseph, a birth in Bethlehem, King Herod, the miracles, ministry, [a] trial by Jews, or trial by Pontius Pilate.” The apostle, of course, never met the “historical Jesus,” and mostly speaks in terms of what a celestial Jesus has revealed to him, e.g., “The gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). To Paul, Jesus is essentially a Gnostic Aeon, an ethereal revealer of hidden and divine truths, as well as a dying and rising mystery-cult deity, a figure through whom one can be baptized into death and raised anew in the spirit (Rom. 6:3-5, Col. 2:12), just like Osiris, Dionysus, and so many others. Osiris, too, could be consumed in the form of bread.

Damn right. Fucking eat me.

Damn right. Fucking eat me.

Now, as Paul’s letters were primarily theological treatises, it maybe sorta kinda could be that he had little use for invoking biographical details about the life and times of Jesus. In the same way that it maybe sorta kinda could be that Jodi Arias remembers squat about carving up her ex-boyfriend.

It wasn't me! It was the one-armed man!

It wasn’t me! It was the one-armed man!

But this is doubtful, given that Paul’s letters report next to nothing of mundane, biographical detail, and he never even invokes the supposed words of Jesus in order to settle controversial matters in the early church. What little we do hear from Paul, such as Jesus being descended from David (Rom. 1:3), or born of a woman (Gal. 4:4), is demonstrably cribbed from Old Testament texts, not derived from historical data. Kinda like the genetic engineers of Jurassic Park who plugged the missing gaps with frog DNA to make dinosaurs.

Shit or get off the pot, dude.

The later Gospels aren’t historically reliable, as they are fictitious through and through. For instance, how do we know what Jesus prayed while away from his disciples on the Mount of Olives, with no one nearby to hear him (Luke 22:39-46)? Because Luke fucking made it up.

Then Jesus demanded, "Say what again, motherfucker?"

Then Jesus demanded, “Say what again, motherfucker.”

Reading the New Testament chronologically, going from the Epistles to the Gospels, Jesus looks less like a historical figure who was mythologized, and more like a mythical figure who was historicized. Such was the ancient practice of Euhemerization–placing a mythical figure in a historical setting. As a result, even the ancient historian Josephus considered Hercules historical!

Raise the roof! I'm a real boy!

Raise the roof! I’m a real boy!

Next, we must briefly examine the historical evidence for Jesus. Seeing as we just shit all over Josephus’ credibility, we can pretty much count him out. Not to mention, the Testimonium Flavianum, where Josephus supposedly mentions Jesus, is at least heavily tampered with, if not an outright forgery. Even if Josephus did mention Jesus, it wouldn’t prove anything beyond the fact that there were, at the time, Christians, who preached of their godman Jesus. Same goes for Tacitus. They may only be relaying historical hearsay from around the late 1st and early 2nd century. So, we’re balls deep in underwhelming evidence.

xxx

Yep. Right in the trunk.

Moreover, there is no contemporaneous mention of Jesus, i.e., nothing written about him during the time he is said to have lived. Now this, alone, does not suggest that there was no historical Jesus. “God knows” there were plenty of folks strewn throughout history that were never contemporaneously attested, but nonetheless existed. However, what it does tell us is that Jesus must not have been terribly significant, if indeed he ever lived. Various peoples and events in the 1st century Greco-Roman world were widely recorded, and there were plenty of contemporary historians who could have mentioned him, most notably Philo of Alexandria. But nary a word.

I wanted to, I just plumb ran the fuck outta ink!

I wanted to, I just plumb ran the fuck outta ink!

All of this begs the question: How does a virtual nobody become elevated to the status of a god? To the point that the earliest discussion of him in the New Testament is practically devoid of anything but lofty divinity? Caesar Augustus and Alexander the Great were significant historical figures, so it makes sense that they’d be so deified. But, a relative nobody? A person about whom contemporary and 1st century historians gave zero total fucks?

xxx

I am NOT fine with this.

We come at last to the question of probability: Does all of this make more sense in terms of a historical person mythologized, or a mythical figure historicized? Especially since the initial, Pauline Jesus smacks of the latter? It would seem Jesus is better explained as a god become man, rather than a man become god. Zero to hero seems far less likely than Jesus having simply begun as a mythical hero. How’s that for executing ye olde Law of Parsimony?

Mind = Blown

Mind = Blown

It’s not that any of this proves there was no historical Jesus. It’s a question of verisimilitude (probability to you laymen). Based on all of the available information, one has damn good reason to suspect that this magical space-cadet motherfucker never even walked the earth. Perhaps that’s why Glenn Beck’s man-crush, Thomas Paine, had exactly this to say:

These repeated forgeries and falsifications create a well-founded suspicion, that all the cases spoken of concerning the person called Jesus Christ are made cases, on purpose to lug in, and that very clumsily, some broken sentences from the Old Testament, and apply them as prophecies of those cases; and that so far from his being the Son of God, he did not exist even as a man — that he is merely an imaginary or allegorical character, as Apollo, Hercules, Jupiter, and all the deities of antiquity were. There is no history written at the time Jesus Christ is said to have lived that speaks of the existence of such a person, even as a man. -Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

Tommy, how could you? After all that...

Damn you, Tommy! Was anything real?

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