Defenders of the faith say little about a human Jesus

Christian Apologists of the 2nd century

 

Jesus Never Existed – What DID the Early Christians Believe?


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Kenneth Humphreys

 


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A Pagan observes:

Mutual Abuse

"Christians, needless to say, utterly detest one another; they slander each other constantly with the vilest forms of abuse, and cannot come to any sort of agreement in their teaching.

Each sect brands its own, fills the head of its own with deceitful nonsense."

Celsus, On the True Doctrine, 91.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Jew observes:

Jesus is unknown

"But Christ ... If he was born and lived somewhere he is entirely unknown.You follow an empty rumour and make a Christ for yourselves "

Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 8 (The Apostolic Fathers, Philip Schaff)


The 2nd century Christian Apologist Justin put this telling statement into the mouth of his Jewish adversary.

Would he have done so if it were not a typical Jewish objection to the new faith?

Justin's reply was to justify the existence of Jesus from scripture – not evidence!

The rabbi Trypho also accused the Christians of tampering with Jewish scripture – and we know that's true!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anonymous

The earliest gospels were anonymous writings, each known in its own community, simply as "The Gospel", or "Scripture."

Any given community would have had one special gospel, its own, so there would have been no real need to distinguish it by name from other gospels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Origen: Fanatic Gives his Balls to Jesus

Origen, a noted advocate of the allegorical interpretation of scripture, ironically, took certain words of his Lord a tad literally. He castrated himself!

"There be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."

– Matthew 19:12

Perhaps this hero of self-mutilation felt that by his sacrifice he could be one of the 144,000 male virgins, who alone will make it to heaven! (Revelation 14.3,4).

 

 

 

 

 

Story Time –
A whole genre of pious fiction:

1. Gospel According to the Hebrews
2. Gospel of Judas Iscariot.
3. Gospel of Truth.
4. Gospel of Peter.
5. Gospel According to the Egyptians.
6. Gospel of Valentinus.
7. Gospel of Marcion.
8. Gospel According to the Twelve Apostles.
9. Gospel of Basilides.
10. Gospel of Thomas (extant).
11. Gospel of Matthias.
12. Gospel of Tatian.
13. Gospel of Scythianus.
14. Gospel of Bartholomew.
15. Gospel of Apelles.
16. Gospels published by Lucianus and Hesychius
17. Gospel of Perfection.
18. Gospel of Eve.
19. Gospel of Philip.
20. Gospel of the Nazarenes.
21. Gospel of the Ebionites.
22. Gospel of Jude.
23. Gospel of Encratites.
24. Gospel of Cerinthus.
25. Gospel of Merinthus.
26. Gospel of Thaddaeus.
27. Gospel of Barnabas.
28. Gospel of Andrew.
29. Gospel of the Infancy (extant).
30. Gospel of Nicodemus, or Acts of Pilate and Descent of Christ to the Under World (extant).
31. Gospel of James, or Protevangelium (extant).
32. Gospel of the Nativity of Mary (extant).
33. Arabic Gospel of the Infancy (extant).
34. Syriac Gospel of the Boyhood of our Lord Jesus (extant).

35. Letter to Agbarus by Christ (extant).
36. Letter to Leopas by Christ (extant).
37. Epistle to Peter and Paul by Christ.
38. Epistle by Christ produced by Manichees.
39. Hymn by Christ (extant).
40. Magical Book by Christ.
41. Prayer by Christ (extant).
42. Preaching of Peter.
43. Revelation of Peter.
44. Doctrine of Peter.
45. Acts of Peter.
46. Book of Judgment by Peter.
47. Book, under the name of Peter, forged by Lentius.
48. Preaching of Peter and Paul at Rome.
49. The Vision, or Acts of Paul and Thecla.
50. Acts of Paul.
51. Preaching of Paul.
52. Piece under name of Paul, forged by an "anonymous writer in Cyprian's time."
53. Epistle to the Laodiceans under name of Paul (extant).
54. Six letters to Seneca under name of Paul (extant).
55. Anabaticon or Revelation of Paul.
56. The traditions of Matthias.
57. Book of James.
58. Book, under name of James, forged by Ebionites.
59. Acts of Andrew, John, and Thomas.
60. Acts of John.
61. Book, under name of John, forged by Ebionites.
62. Book under name of John.
63. Book, under name of John, forged by Lentius.
64. Acts of Andrew.
65. Book under name of Andrew.
66. Book, under name of Andrew, by Naxochristes and Leonides.
67. Book under name of Thomas.
68. Acts of Thomas.
69. Revelation of Thomas.
70. Writings of Bartholomew.
71. Book, under name of Matthew, forged by Ebionites.
72. Acts of the Apostles by Leuthon, or Seleucus.
73. Acts of the Apostles used by Ebionites.
74. Acts of the Apostles by Lenticius.
75. Acts of the Apostles used by Manichees.
76. History of the Twelve Apostles by Abdias (extant).
77. Creed of the Apostles (extant).
78. Constitutions of the Apostles (extant).
79. Acts, under Apostles' names, by Leontius.
80. Acts, under Apostles' names, by Lenticius.
81. Catholic Epistle, in imitation of the Apostles of Themis, on the Montanists.
82. Revelation of Cerinthus.
83. Book of the Helkesaites which fell from Heaven.
84. Books of Lentitius.
85. Revelation of Stephen.
86. Works of Dionysius the Areopagite (extant).
87. History of Joseph the carpenter (extant).
88. Letter of Agbarus to Jesus (extant).
89. Letter of Lentulus (extant).
90. Story of Veronica (extant).
91. Letter of Pilate to Tiberius (extant).
92. Letters of Pilate to Herod (extant).
93. Epistle of Pilate to Caesar (extant).
94. Report of Pilate the Governor (extant).
95. Trial and condemnation of Pilate (extant).
96. Death of Pilate (extant).
97. Story of Joseph of Arimathraea (extant).
98. Revenging of the Saviour (extant).
99. Epistle of Barnabas.
100. Epistle of Polycarp.
101-15. Fifteen epistles of Ignatius
116. Shepherd of Hermas.
117. First Epistle to the Corinthians of Clement.
118. Second Epistle to the Corinthians of Clement.
119. Apostolic Canons of Clement.
120. Recognitions of Clement and Clementina.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"And Jesus parted the waters, turned it into wine and walked upon it saying this is my blood ..."

Only kidding!

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Trained in the schools of paganism and tutored by Greek philosophers, the 2nd century Christian "Apologists" produced texts superior to those which had gone before. To retain their credence in the enlightened, prosperous age of the Antonine emperors, these Christian theorists remained "philosophers" and used Greek logic and the style of the sophists to defend Christianity.

Significantly, their attempts to underpin Christian theology with "science" had little to say about a human Jesus, for whom they produced no fresh evidence. Rather, their appeal was that their hero was "just like" the ethereal superstars of the pagan pantheon and was therefore "respectable".

Their apologies were nominally addressed to the emperors. The earliest we know of were written during Hadrian's reign (Aristides and Quadratus, around 125-130). But in reality their tracts were directed at the brethren, stiffening Christian belief in the face of rational criticism – just like modern Apologetics!

 

Justin? (100-165?)

Justin (100-167?) was the first to turn Mary into a virgin. He also speaks of a nativity star and the 'Magi from Arabia.'

Justin regarded Plato as a "teacher of the Christians."

In his Apology Justin does not cite any New Testament writings, though he appears to quote from the evangelical gospels. So we might reasonably conclude unnamed versions were circulating by the mid-2nd century.

He is also notable for his Dialogue with Trypho, a debate with a rabbi.

According to fable, Justin Priscos won his "martyr's crown" in Rome in 165 during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the most enlightened of emperors.

Tatian? (?110-172)

A student of Justin, Tatian the Assyrian famously made an attempt to iron out the contradictions and discrepancies of the "famous four" memoirs by producing a single gospel, the Diatessaron ("From Four").

Tatian wrote an apologetic "Address to the Greeks" arguing for the superiority of Christian philosophy.

But then Tatian went bad and became a heretic.

He led an ascetic Gnostic sect known as the Encratites (the “self-controlled”) which came into existence around 166, a time of plague in Italy. 

Tatian moved to Antioch where he died in 172.

Theophilus? (115-185).

An early Christian apologist, in his work Theophilus to Autolycus – Theo' wrote 29,000 words about Christianity without once mentioning Jesus Christ!

In Book III, chapters 24-29, Thephilus presents a "Chronology of the World" from Adam to Emperor Marcus Aurelius and does not mention the birth, death or resurrection of Jesus Christ at all!

Clement? (c150-215)

This Alexandrian presbyter, who also taught in Jerusalem and Antioch, at one point identified himself as a Gnostic.

But in his longest work, "Stromata" ("Miscellanies"), he attacked Gnosticism. He does not identify any gospels, but only "The Gospel."

His other notable work, a poem from the late 2nd century, "Who Is The Rich Man That Shall Be Saved" both cites and quotes Mark.

Ignorance, said Clement, was worse than sin.

He was condemned as a Gnostic in the more degenerate 9th century by eastern soldier/patriarch Photius and lost his sainthood in the 17th century.

 

Theophilus"Christians because we're anointed with oil."

Bizarre! 2nd century Christian bishop did not know of Jesus!


This is how the bishop of Antioch not exactly a Christian backwater! explains the origin of the word "Christian":

"Theophilus to Autolycus – Book 1, Chapter 12 - Meaning of the Name Christian.

First, because that which is anointed is sweet and serviceable, and far from contemptible ... And what man, when he enters into this life or into the gymnasium, is not anointed with oil? ... Wherefore we are called Christians on this account, because we are anointed with the oil of God."


Theophilus refers extensively to Jewish scripture and even to the prophecies of the Greek Sibyl but makes only passing reference to recent and unnamed gospels. For Theophilus the 'holy word' is nothing other than Jewish scripture.

 

Clement of Alexandria

Late 2nd-early 3rd century Greek Titus Flavius Clemens (he died about 215) was an educated and widely travelled pagan who converted to Christianity. Born in Athens, he studied and taught at the catechetical school in Alexandria, where Origen was his pupil. He probably died in Cappadocia.

Clement struggled to synthesise his new found faith with the platonic rationalism he had grown up with. All rational creatures, he reasoned, possessed 'the seeds of Truth' from God and this certainly included the philosophers of Greece. None the less, in his 'Protrepticus' ('Address to the Greeks') Clement sought to prove Greek thought inferior to Christianity.

Although Clement flirted with Gnosticism he was unwilling to accept that 'a secret knowledge' had been passed down from initiate to initiate It didn't save him from being condemned as a Gnostic and losing his sainthood in the 17th century. Perhaps one original idea that counted against him was the notion that "Jesus had reigned as King of Jerusalem"!

This bit of the Jesus story got edited out early on in the creative process. It is from Clement's Stromata 1.21:


"That the temple accordingly was built in seven weeks, is evident; for it is written in Esdras.

And thus Christ became King of the Jews, reigning in Jerusalem in the fulfilment of the seven weeks.

And in the sixty and two weeks the whole of Judaea was quiet, and without wars. And Christ our Lord, "the Holy of Holies," having come and fulfilled the vision and the prophecy, was anointed in His flesh by the Holy Spirit of His Father."

 

Tertullian? (160-220)

This notorious bishop of Carthage, contributed much to the western church – and the New Testament!

He was the first, about 210, to detail the supposed executions of Peter and Paul and place them in the reign of Nero, He also Christianized Pontius Pilate and turned Tiberius into a closet Christian!

Unwilling to make compromises himself to achieve political power, Tertullian defected from the Catholics to the Montanist heretics.

Origen? (?182-251)

Origen wrote hundreds of books in an attempt to harmonize Christian thought with Greek philosophy.

Allegorical interpretation of scripture and parallels drawn from Greek mythology was his method.

Proof of the resurrection came from pagan antecedents, other heroes "risen from their graves." He said Jesus had been invisible, except to the few with "powers."

For his troubles he was excommunicated and condemned as a heretic.

 

Tertullian

Tertullian of Carthage, the first Christian scholar to write in Latin, was an aggressive, sarcastic writer who actually opposed the use of philosophy in defending Christianity. He gave the Church in the west much of its language, including the word Trinity, and began its disposition towards blind faith and intolerance ("Prescription Against the Heretics"). He was also an active forger, writing many of the epistles so useful to Roman Catholicism.

After the chaos which followed the murder of Commodus, a fellow north African, the career soldier Septimius Severus (193-211), came to the throne. During his 18 year reign the African provinces became the recipients of considerable imperial patronage.

Opportunities for Tertullian's own advancement were mixed with fear. In 195 Severus had become embroiled in an expensive eastern campaign. After annexations in Parthia, Severus's son Bassianus (aka Caracalla) was accorded a triumph "over the Jews" (Historia Augusta: Life of Septimius Severus).

"Jewish manners" were not popular in official circles and when the emperor visited Alexandria in 202 he issued an edict forbidding Jewish proselytising and conversions to Judaism. Tertullian, anxious to demonstrate that his Christian religion was not a Jewish sect nor tainted by Judaism, edited the sacred texts and forged others (Clementines, Ignatians) to make the distinction clearer. For all his hysterics about "persecution" Tertullian continued in the sanctity business.

In his later years he became increasingly critical of Catholic compromisers and defected to the Montanists (a chiliastic cult which anticipated an imminent End Time) and thus ranks as a heretic himself.

Around the year 157, Montanus himself had run off with two other men's wives – Prisca and Maximilla – and taken up residence in Phrygia, in Asia Minor. There, he had groomed his priestesses as mouthpieces of the Holy Spirit. Induced into a trance-like states, the women shook violently and rambled incoherently. Disagreement with their ecstatic utterances was, it seems, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

And what the Christian witches prophesied was an imminent new Jerusalem, descending from the clouds with Christ at the helm, landing in Phrygia.

The extremist cult spread to north Africa where Tertullian was drawn to its strict asceticism and intolerance of those who had 'fallen into sin.' Oddly enough for an End Time movement, Montanism lasted several centuries. Then again, apocalyptic movements are like that.

 

Origen

Origen was a prolific writer who sought a synthesis of Christianity and Platonism. He was one of the very few early Christian scholars capable of working with the Hebrew script. When Origen examined the Jewish scriptures he recognized that there were significant differences between the Septuagint Greek translation, familiar to Christians, and the original Hebrew texts used by Jews. In consequence he created the Hexapla. This massive "parallel columns" document, comparing the Septuagint to other Greek translations and to the original Hebrew version, proved useful in arguments with the rabbis.

Better informed on scripture than most of the brethren, Origen was compelled to adopt an allegorical interpretation of the blood-soaked Jewish fables. In fact, he argued all scripture had both physical and allegorical meaning.

Origen was something of a loose cannon. Sin, he said, was ultimately only a lack of pure knowledge. Christ was a teacher rather than a redeemer and was certainly not equal to the Father. Satan himself might eventually be redeemed.

In both De principiis and in his famous Contra Celsus Origen insisted that the philosophic mind had a right to speculate within the Christian framework – a freedom of expression that would lead to his condemnation as a heretic.

 

Dealing with the Philosophers & the Soothsayers

Where would it all end if every philosopher was at liberty to tease out fine nuances of scripture or find his own compromise with paganism?

Where would it all end if every self-styled prophet received his own message and set of imperatives? The threat of "fresh truth" – implicitly of higher authority than that of dead Apostles – was all too apparent.


Catholic Orthodoxy developed in response to its rivals. The challenge, on the one hand, of independent-minded thinkers and on the other hand, of an apocalyptic movement, led by wild men of faith and fire, compelled the placemen of the Church to respond. They federated themselves into a common organisation, established an obligatory "apostolic" Catholic faith, and enforced that faith with an insistence upon episcopal supremacy, based on the fiction of "apostolic succession."

 

How many Christians WERE there?

‘Popular’ Christian histories propagate that, surely and steadily, Christianity won the hearts and minds of the Greco-Roman world. Many feature a map showing churches dotted across the Middle East and Europe, as if the most important feature of a city like Alexandria or Ephesus in late antiquity was its Christian meeting place!

It all helps to conjure up an image of a substantially Christianized population, one poised to topple the nasty pagan rulers and inaugurate a Christian Europe. But there is no truth in this fanciful idea.

One scholar’s estimate for the number of Christians at the beginning of the 2nd century – and this number is spread across numerous conflicting factions – is rather modest:

‘The total number of Christians within the empire was probably less than fifty thousand, an infinitesimal number in a society comprising sixty million.’

– Wilken (The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, p31)


This 50,000 compares to, say, four to five million Jews.
Gibbon, using the church luminary Chrysostom as his source, observed the following for the situation two centuries later:

"Under the reign of Theodosius, after Christianity had enjoyed, during more than sixty years, the sunshine of Imperial favour, the ancient and illustrious church of Antioch consisted of one hundred thousand persons ... The whole number of its inhabitants was not less than half a million, and that the Christians, however multiplied by zeal and power, did not exceed a fifth part of that great city."

–  Gibbon, Decline and Fall, 16.


Before the assumption of power and the imposition of "orthodoxy", the Christians were loosely organised in groups ranging from perhaps a few dozen to a several hundred, in perhaps forty to fifty cities, mainly in the eastern empire.

Another writer’s estimate for the city of Rome is quite illuminating:

‘There are about 25,000 known burial places in the Catacombs of Rome. As these sites were used for nearly 300 years, that would mean on average about eighty burials a year.

If one assumes a lifespan of forty years, the average Christian population in Rome over this period would not have been more than four thousand people at any one time.

This was out of a total Roman population of well over a million.’

– Roberts (In Search of Early Christian Unity, p19)


One estimate for Jews in 1st century Rome (Lambert, Beloved and God) is 60-90,000. Thus, less than a tenth of Rome’s population were Jews, and less than a tenth of Jews were Christians!

In so far as officialdom noticed the Christians at all, it was as unlicensed hetaeria (associations), which might be harmless burial societies but might also be ‘political clubs’ agitating social discord.

Quite simply, at the onset of the second century, most citizens of the empire had never even heard of Christianity!

 

 

 

Sources:
Maxwell Staniforth, Early Christian Writings (Penguin, 1978)
L. Boyle, St. Clements, Rome (Collegio San Clemente, 1989)
Jean Ritchie, The Secret World of Cults (Harper Collins, 1991)
A. M. Renwick, The Story of the Chuch (Inter-varsity Press, 1958)
John Riches, The World of Jesus (Cambridge University Press, 1990)
Nicholas Carter, The Christ Myth (HRP, 199
3)

 

 

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Copyright © 2005 by Kenneth Humphreys.
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