Did Jesus Really Exist? by Mark Thomas
Like most people (especially those raised Christian, like I was), I had always assumed that Jesus Christ had really existed, even though he may not have been divine. After examining the biblical, extra-biblical, and early Christian evidence, along with the myths of the time, I have concluded that there is no reliable evidence that Jesus actually existed — and significant evidence that he was purely mythical.
The typically accepted story of Jesus is a hodge-podge of stories primarily from the gospels, from Paul and the other epistle writers, and from the book of Revelation. The first step is to separate these sources, to see what the authors wrote about. This is made difficult by the fact that there's been significant editing, copying, and even forgery. The authors, editors and transcribers did not treat the writings as sacrosanct and unchangeable. Instead, they often treated the stories of Jesus as tales that could be modified to further their own agendas, or to make for better tales. 
The apocalyptic book of Revelation gives no support for the historicity of Jesus and can be dismissed easily as a reliable source, because of its other-worldly, hallucinogenic images.
The earliest known references to Jesus are in the writings of Paul (ne Saul of Tarsus), who had a “vision” of Jesus while he was on the road to Damascus. Paul's writings are part of the epistles, which were written after 48 CE [Common Era, equivalent to A.D.]. If there had been an actual Jesus, Paul should have written about his life and teachings. He didn't (except for a few well-known interpolations).  Paul and the other epistle writers — including Peter — don't seem to have known any biographical details of Jesus' life, or even the time of his earthly existence. They don't refer to Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, Calvary or Golgotha — or any pilgrimages to what should have been holy sites of Jesus' life. They also don't mention any miracles that Jesus was supposed to have worked, his moral teachings, his virgin birth, his trial, the empty tomb, or even his disciples. 
I find this astounding! The most basic details that we've been told about Jesus' life were unknown to the earliest Christian authors. It wasn't that they simply neglected to mention these details. There were many places that Paul and the others could have referred to the disciples or used Jesus' moral authority to emphasize their own points, but they didn't.  The simple explanation is that these details didn't exist yet, and wouldn't exist until the gospels were written about twenty or more years later.
To the epistle writers, Jesus appears to have had little or no earthly existence.  Paul is anything but a witness for the actual existence of Jesus, explicitly saying that he never met Jesus but just saw him in his “vision.” Paul and Peter refer to themselves as apostles (messengers), not disciples (followers). Paul said he was not inferior to “super-apostles” who preached of a different Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:5 and 12:11), and he explicitly opposed Peter (Galatians 2:11) — which makes no sense if Peter had physically known Jesus. Paul also describes both his own and Peter's “vision” of Jesus using the same word.  This means that Paul didn't think that Peter followed an earthly Jesus, but (like him) a spiritual sky god savior that could only be known thru revelation. This savior was a spiritual intermediary between God in Heaven and men on Earth. Paul even admitted that that all his ideas came from revelation and not from any man.  In other words, he made it up or got his inspiration from Jewish Scripture and other religions. Two prime candidates are Zoroastrianism and Mithraism, which had a center in Paul's hometown of Tarsus.
Jewish Scripture was the main source for Paul , probably using the Greek translation (called the Septuagint) . He thought that the heavenly existence of its predicted messiah was revealed to him by God (Galatians 1:16) and in Scripture, with Jesus as the spiritual intermediary between heavenly God and earthly man — not as a recent living person, but as a mystery hidden for long ages past , or to be revealed.  Paul often referred to Jesus as “The Christ” (a spiritual term). Even the name “Jesus” appears some 218 times in the Septuagint, so it was not a new name to those familiar with the translation . Paul also never even indicated when Jesus' life, sacrificial death and resurrection occurred, but implied that they had happened in the spiritual past. He also blamed Jesus' death on evil demons, not the Jews or the Romans as in the gospels. Paul's concept of an unblemished, sacrificial, humiliated savior came out of Isaiah 52-53 and Daniel 9.  This idea helped make Christianity more popular among the lower classes during the first couple of centuries. They could identify with a righteous man unjustly crucified by the despised ruling class, but who was eventually triumphant. 
Another problem with Paul is that his famous “vision” of Jesus has all the earmarks of an epileptic brain seizure. We now know that epilepsy can cause religious delusions, hyperreligiosity (excessive concern with religion), hypersexuality (excessive concern with sexual matters), and hypergraphia (an overwhelming urge to write). These are all characteristics that could be used to describe Paul, as revealed in his letters. Perhaps epilepsy is the “thorn” that tormented him, which he referred to in 2 Corinthians 12:7. We can also tell that people were accusing Paul of lying, because he attempted to defend himself in Romans 3:5-8.
The main biblical references to Jesus are in the gospels, which were written by unknown authors after 70 CE (and quite possibly decades later). In a semi-literate and superstitious society, that's a long time after Jesus' supposed life — a long time for myths to grow. Most scholars agree that the first mention of what we call the gospels was by Papias in about 140 CE , altho he only referred to Mark and Matthew. All four gospels are first mentioned by name in 180 CE, by Irenaeus of Lyons. 
Mark is the earliest gospel. It is ungrammatical  and betrays its author's lack of knowledge of the geography and social situation of Palestine — showing that the author was not a local. ,  Luke copied the error in geography (Luke 8), while Matthew changed the location and number of men (Matthew 8).  Mark's author also made the mistake of having Jesus quote from the Greek translation of Scripture (the Septuagint), instead of the original Hebrew.  Both Mark and John begin with Jesus already a grown man — with no virgin birth, magic star, or other childhood stories. A strong case can even be made that the gospel of Mark was written as a re-telling of the Homeric epics. 
The gospels of Matthew and Luke disagree on the year and other details of Jesus' birth, including his lineage. Matthew has him born in the Bethlehem home of Joseph, during the reign of Herod the Great (who died in 5 or 4 BCE [Before Common Era]). Luke thinks he was born in a stable during the census conducted by Quirinius in 6 CE — a difference of at least 9 years! Matthew didn't write about the census, and Luke didn't write about the wise men or Herod's “slaughter of the innocents.” Matthew and Luke disagree wildly on Jesus' ancestry, including even his grandfather. (Matthew 1:16, Luke 3:23). Plus, the lists in Matthew and Luke differ from 1 Chronicles 3. Note that even listing Jesus' male ancestry disagrees with the doctrine of a virgin birth (which was added later in the myth-making process). Some apologists claim that Luke lists Mary's geneology, but that's impossible because Mary isn't mentioned and because at the time women were not thought to contribute any genetics to a baby, but were thought of as a fertile field where the seed (Greek: “sperm”) was planted.
If the gospels were written by eyewitnesses, why did they wait so long and why don't they describe Jesus? Why were the gospels written mainly in third person format (like a story), instead of first person format? The gospels often quote Jesus' thoughts or words when he was alone or with other people. These are examples of fictional narratives, not history. Why do the gospels of Matthew and Luke plagiarize much of Mark (and add the childhood stories)? Of Mark's 666 original verses, some 600 appear in Matthew (with improved grammar), some 300 in Luke.  The gospel of Matthew oddly refers to Matthew in the third person. The gospel of Luke states that it was written as a retelling of previous accounts. The gospel of John also oddly refers to its supposed author in the third person, and hardly refers to Jesus as a real person with a real life. Like Paul, the author viewed Jesus as more of a sky god.
We know that the gospels have been changed over time, with editing and errors by transcribers, and even material differences between the different translations.  Biblical scholars have shown that the last twelve verses of Mark (16:9-20) were added in the second century, likely to give Jesus post-resurrection activities. The story of Jesus and the adulteress (a favorite of mine because it teaches personal responsibility) was not in the original gospel of John. Evidence shows that it was likely added in the Middle Ages. 
Why should we trust the unknown authors and editors of the gospels? How do we know that they weren't wacky or knowingly writing fiction? We can even tell that the authors attempted to fulfill scriptural prophesy, because they got it wrong in many places: 
There's even reliable evidence that Nazareth was uninhabited at the time of Jesus. , ,  In an attempt to show that Jesus fulfilled scriptural prophesy, the unknown author of Matthew apparently confused “Nazareth” and “Nazarene” (a person from Nazareth) with “Nazirite” (a man who lives apart and has made a vow of abstinence). 
These errors aren't too surprising if you realize that the authors' native tongue was probably Aramaic, the (Old Testament) Scripture was originally in Hebrew, and they were writing the gospels in Greek.
All this disqualifies the gospels as any sort of reliable eyewitness accounts. For more insights on the reliability of miracles or eyewitnesses, here are useful quotes:
Christian historicity researcher David Fitzgerald wrote, “In the earliest Christian writings, such as the seven genuine epistles of Paul, Christ is a spiritual being revealed in Jewish Scripture, rather than a recent historical figure. Decades later the anonymous author of what we call ‘The gospel according to Mark’ wrote an allegorical story of this mythological Christ set in pre-war Judea, borrowing from many ancient religious and literary motifs. The idea of a Christ come to earth was irresistible; later Christians loved the story and couldn't help but make their own corrections and additions to ‘Mark's’ text, turning a purely literary creation into the basis of their own imagined biographies. Dozens of these gospels were written, and centuries later four of them were eventually selected to form the beginning of our familiar New Testament.” 
Some early Christians even admitted the mythical origins of Christianity. Arguing with pagans around 150 CE, Justin Martyr said, “When we say that the Word, who is the first born of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he, Jesus Christ, our teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven; we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter (Zeus).” 
The Jesus story reeks of mythology, with magic being added as the story was re-told over time.  If the earliest Christians thought of Jesus as a spiritual sky god, his appearance in the later gospels as a living man must have been a fictional creation.
Some people claim that many of Jesus' disciples and apostles died for their beliefs, and this proves that Jesus must have existed and been divine. However we don't even know if the disciples existed, much less how they died. All of the information about them comes from later stories and the Bible, which we've seen is highly questionable. Even if the stories about the apostles are true, they could easily have been deluded or crazy.
Other Religions and Myths of the Time
Studying other religions and myths of the time, and the (non-orthodox) competing versions of Christianity, is complicated by the fact that many of their texts and references to them were not copied or were destroyed by faithful Christians (especially during the notorious book-burnings of the fourth and fifth centuries). Once a Christian sect gained absolute political power under Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, opponents were compelled by threat of death, prison, or dispossession to fall in line. 
Christianity has many similarities to what we know of previous religions from Greece, Persia, Egypt and still other places — and is by no means unique. There were more than a dozen other deities and saviors (Mithra, Osiris/Serapis, Inanna/Ishtar, Horus, Perseus, Bacchus, Attis, Hermes, Adonis, Hercules/Heracles, Tammuz, Asclepius, and Prometheus) who were resurrected after violent deaths. Many of these gods had their births announced by stars, had a virgin mother and divine father (or other miraculous birth), or had tyrants try to kill them as infants. The two main Christian holidays were incorporated from earlier pagan rituals and festivals. Easter (near the spring equinox, and with its fertility symbols of rabbits and eggs) was named after the pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. Christmas was formerly the Roman festival Saturnalia (for the god Saturn), and more than a dozen gods were born on December 25 (the old winter solstice, when the sun is “reborn” and starts rising in the sky) — Jesus, Mithra, Zeus/Jupiter, Horus, Attis, Dionysus, Adonis, Tammuz, Hercules/Heracles, Perseus, Bacchus, Apollo, Helios, and Sol Invictus.
Mithra had the most similarities to Jesus. Mithra was born in very humble circumstances with shepherds watching, had twelve disciples (as in twelve signs of the zodiac), raised the dead, was often depicted with a halo, and was known as “The Light of the World” and “The Good Shepherd.” After he died, he joined God to judge the souls of the dead. Thru him sinners could be reborn into eternal life. Because Mithra was a sun god, he was worshipped on Sundays. His followers had ritual meals of bread and wine, which represented his flesh and blood. It's not surprising that Mithraism died out as Christianity spread.
The Christian custom of the Eucharist (with bread and wine) was likely derived by Paul from Mithraism, because drinking blood has always been an abomination in Judaism.
Former fundamentalist Robert M Price wrote, “In broad outline and in detail, the life of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels corresponds to the worldwide Mythic Hero Archetype in which a divine hero's birth is supernaturally predicted and conceived, the infant hero escapes attempts to kill him, demonstrates his precocious wisdom already as a child, receives a divine commission, defeats demons, wins acclaim, is hailed as king, then betrayed, losing popular favor, executed, often on a hilltop, and is vindicated and taken up to heaven.” 
As for the extra-biblical historicity of Jesus, there is absolutely no reliable contemporary evidence that he ever even existed. He made no impression on any historian of the first century. If Jesus existed or if the spectacular events in the gospels really happened, they would have been noted by many writers — including Philo of Alexandria (who wrote extensively about Judea during the alleged time of Jesus), Seneca the Elder, Pliny the Elder, Justus of Tiberius, and over thirty others. ,  None of these men referred to Jesus or the fantastical biblical events. The earliest extra-biblical supposed references to Jesus or Christ are in one paragraph and one sentence in the writings (about 93 CE) attributed to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (who also wrote about Hercules). Here are the supposed references, in his Jewish Antiquities:
The sentence is far too brief to mean much. The phrase "who was called Christ" is awkward and was likely inserted by a transcriber. Plus, a few lines later Josephus refers to Jesus, the son of Damneus. This is likely the Jesus referred to in the sentence.  The paragraph looks like just about everything a Christian could hope for, to prove that Jesus actually existed. Unfortunately, it's an obvious latter insertion — almost certainly created by “church historian” Eusebius, who first referred to it shortly before Emperor Constantine's Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. We know this for several reasons:
With these two spurious references removed from Josephus' writings, he becomes strong negative evidence for Jesus. If Jesus had existed, Josephus would have written extensively about him.
There are some supposed second century references to Christians or Christ - by several men. In about 100 CE, Pliny the Younger referred to Christians in Asia Minor, but he didn't refer to Jesus. The most used Christian reference from that century is by Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 CE). He purportedly wrote around 117 CE about “Christos” being executed by Pontius Pilate. However, Tacitus would have used Jesus' name, not his religious title “Christos.” Notedly, Tacitus' reference was not mentioned by Origen, Eusebius, Tertullian (who quotes a great deal from Tacitus ) or Clement of Alexandria in the third century. It was likely added in 1468 by Johannes de Spire of Venice, because no mention is made of it in any known text prior to then, but there are many later references. ,  Another writer, Suetonius, in about 120 CE referred to a man named Chrestus and his Jewish followers. However, “Chrestus” is the correct Latin form of an actual Greek name, and is not a misspelling of “Christos.”
Even if the references by Josephus, Tacitus, and others in the second century are original, they only amount to second-hand testimony or hearsay written 60 or more years after the purported events, or simply refer to Christian beliefs of the time. The fact that modern Christians have to rely on these supposed references exemplifies the weakness of their claims for an historical Jesus Christ.
Some people think that the Shroud of Turin is physical evidence for the existence of Jesus. However, scientific analysis shows that the Shroud is a forgery. It depicts a man two inches taller in front than he is in back, its “blood” is actually the pigment red ocher (real blood would be black), and it's been carbon-dated to 1260-1390 CE (consistent with when it was first “discovered” in 1357). It's also ludicrous to think that the Shroud was kept hidden for over 1300 years until the crusaders came to the Middle East, looking for souvenirs to take home (like most tourists). Some enterprising forger likely made a bundle.
Could it be that “The Greatest Story Ever Told” is just a story? Is one of the most influential characters in history just a myth? Have billions of people believed in a fictional messiah? Did people die for their Christian faith in vain? This isn't so far-fetched; people believe lies all the time, and even kill or die for them or for their religion. Look at Jonestown, Heaven's Gate, the Solar Temple, 9/11, suicide bombers, and the almost countless wars and slaughters based completely on religion.
Because many people's minds are infected with religion, they don't like to question the existence of their savior or prophet. Religion causes people to accept irrational ideas with little or no evidence. If I were to say that banana Popsicles can make people invisible, most people would likely ask for a little proof. But, a very old book emulates other myths of the time and says that 2000 years ago some guy was born with a ghost as his father and a virgin as his mother; this guy did miracles, was killed, came back to life, and rose bodily up to heaven — and billions of people accept the story seemingly without question.
So, let's look at the evidence we have. From the earliest Christian epistle authors such as Paul, we have little to indicate that Jesus was a real person. And, we have strong evidence that to them he was just a spiritual sky god, constructed from earlier myths. From the later (and unknown) writers of the gospels, we have a story that grew over time, with more fantastical events added as the story was told and re-told — just like a myth. None of the gospel authors even claimed to have met Jesus. From the historians of the first century we have nothing. Nothing.
Copyright © 2009, 2010, 2011. Mark W. Thomas. All rights reserved.
 "Nazareth – The Town that Theology Built" by Kenneth Humphreys,
 “Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead?” by Dan Barker,
 Nailed: Ten Christian Myths that Show Jesus Never Existed At All, by David Fitzgerald,
 “Christ a Fiction” by Robert M Price,
 “Fictional Christ” by Dennis McKinsey,
Comments? Email Mark Thomas
» See also “Why Atheism?” «
» Go to Atheists of Silicon Valley home page «
» There's no god, but there is Hank «