mythical Jesus Christ, we know what Caesar looked like and we
have a complete history of his life. In turn, general, orator,
historian, statesman and lawgiver. We
have words written by Caesar himself and words written by both
his friends and his enemies. Artifacts confirm his life and death,
as do his successors. Caesar established a style of government – and
a calendar – which endured for centuries.
that confirms the existence of Caesar is legion – in
stark contrast to the utter dearth of evidence for Jesus!
Caeasar: Images from his own lifetime
unflattering portrait of Caesar found near Tusculum,
carved during Caesar's own lifetime.
Later portraits invariably showed Caesar wearing
a laurel crown – to hide his receding hairline.
Julius Caesar on denarius
from February/March, 44 BC.
Caesar is proclaimed 'perpetual
dictator' at the age of 55.
On the reverse of the coin
the symbols represent various aspects of Caesar's
power and political program.
Contemporary images of Jesus? Nothing!
Not only was no "from life" image ever made of Jesus, there is not even one word describing the godman in the entire New Testament.
The earliest Christian iconography was simply cribbed from traditional representations of the god Apollo. Over the centuries, the image of Jesus has been adapted and modified to reflect the tastes (and often the appearance) of earthly powers.
< Recognise this clean-shaven young man? A Coptic vision of Jesus from the 6th/7th century.
An image of Jesus from the same period from the Syrian church. >
Fantasy Meets Reality
evidence for the existence of Jesus than there is for anyone else
ourselves: Jesus Christ The Legend did some pretty remarkable
things. His 'ministry' was a pretty public
affair. Many of his tricks were of no particular value (cursing
a fig tree?); some would have had disastrous consequences
for innocent third parties (remember that herd of 2000
suicidal pigs into which he cast demons? Surely that ruined somebody
by such 'miracles' he convinced his disciples and the multitude
that he was the Messiah, right? Turning a jug of water into wine
may have been trivial but resurrecting oneself from death was
no mean trick.
But if we are
to 'believe' that these stories relate real events what
is to be our criteria for acceptance? On what basis should we
accept any of this as 'fact' rather than fancy?
A complete record of all the things Jesus never
said, all the places he never walked, and all the
miracles he never worked.
Evidence of Non-existence" – Welcome
to the Twilight Zone
an oddly distorted, negative universe Christian
apologists declare that there is "no evidence" for
their godman's non-existence, as if it
should be quite natural to believe in the most
fantastic, illogical and unsubstantiated claims unless
there was evidence to the contrary. If this
stance had any viability, why stop at Jesus? Why
not believe in Zeus, leprechauns and the tooth
favourite tack of the Saved is to affect
a yawn, mutter "that old stuff again" and
impatiently declare that Jesus's non-existence
is a 19th century rationalist's heresy long since
disposed of by "solid evidence".
ringing claim of "more evidence for the
existence of Jesus than there is for any other
person of his day" is followed by a potpourri of
ancient sources, as if a list made long enough
could disguise the fact that NOT A SINGLE SOURCE
EVER QUOTED IS FROM THE TIME OF THE GODMAN.
non-Christian writers, including the favourite
hostages – Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny and
Tacitus – are discussed here.
stepping around the smokescreen thrown up by evidence
that early Christians certainly existed (and
had a motley assortment of beliefs!), is the
evidence for many of history's greatest heroes
and villains really so tenuous?
Caesar: In His Own Words – a great deal
Caesar was an
eyewitness to many of the events he describes in his commentaries.
He wrote not for posterity but to have an immediate impact on the
power players in Rome as he schemed to advance his own career.
The elapsed time
between the wars and Caesar's own writing was a matter of months
or at most a few years.
The works of Caesar (off-site)
Jesus: In His Own Words – Nothing
the elapsed time between the gospel reports and the supposed events
that they describe is at least 40 years for 'Mark' and 60-70 years
for the other three Gospels.
And just who
was witness to that fabulous nativity, 30-odd years before the
At the most generous
understanding, 'Luke' and 'Matthew' were recording hearsay testimony a century after angels, shepherds and wise men went calling.
truth is that the gospel accounts were written by eyewitnesses
to nothing but their own skills of fabrication.
For good reason,
based on spatial and temporal proximity alone, historians give
more credence to Caesar's commentaries than to the gospels, no
matter how prolifically they were copied.
Orations and Letters provide eyewitness evidence
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) was almost
an exact contemporary of Julius Caesar.
In Caesar's struggle with Pompey, Cicero, governor
of Cilicia, sided with Pompey but was subsequently
pardoned by Caesar.
In March of 44 BC Cicero was a witness to Caesar's
murder, though he was not a part of the conspiracy.
Following the assassination, Cicero made a series
of speeches known as the "Philippics" which
called on the Senate to support Octavian against
Mark Antony. Cicero's "Second Phillipics" was
an eulogy of Caesar's conquest of Gaul.
Unfortunately for Cicero Octavian reached a temporary
rapprochement with Antony, who then ordered Cicero's
Among some 900 preserved letters to and from Cicero are correspondence both about and with Caesar.
if Caesar does lose his head all the same,
Pompey feels only
the deepest contempt for him, trusting in his
own and the state's troops ..."
– Cicero to Atticus, 7.8, 50BC.
Caius Sallust (86-34
BC) tribune, provincial governor and supporter
of Caesar. His testimony
is in a history "Bellum Catalinae".
Nepos (c100-24): "Life
Gaius Valerius Catullus (c84-54 BC): "Carmina".
Asinius Pollio (76 BC-4 AD) was an ally of Caesar
and founder of the first public library in
Rome. He was a source used by Plutarch.
Ovidius Naso (43BC-17AD): "Metamorphoses".
Near Contemporary Witnesses
Paterculus (c19 BC-32 AD): "Historiae
(Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, 39-65 AD) followed the
example of his grandfather, Seneca the Elder – a
young contemporary of Caesar – who in later
life wrote a history of Rome.
Lucan wrote his own Pharsalia approximately
a century after the civil war it chronicles, using
Seneca's work as an eye-witness source.
of Chaeronea (45-120 AD) was a Greek moralist,
historian and biographer (and priest of Delphi).
He wrote his Parallel Lives (matching Greek
with Roman lives) during the reigns of Trajan and
Hadrian. He describes in detail the life and assassination
of Julius Caesar (as well as Marcus Brutus and Mark
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-165 AD): Civil Wars.
famous biographer of Caesar, Tranquillus Suetonius,
wrote his Lives of the Twelve Caesars during
the reign of emperor Hadrian (117-138).
Suetonius was in charge of the imperial archives
and in this capacity, had access to some of the best
There is nothing
intrinsically improbable in a radical 1st century rabbi called
Jesus. And any figure who emerged as a sage or soothsayer in
ancient Palestine is unlikely to have left much evidence of his
we might entertain, perhaps, a few epithets of reported wisdom
from such a guru, it would remain extremely doubtful that any
attributed words were actually spoken by him, whatever the claims
made today for "oral transmission."
Thus, for example,
we can accept the report from Josephus (our only source) that
a Jesus ben Ananias caused disquiet in Jerusalem with
a non-stop doom-laden mantra of ‘woe to the city’ but
suspect that Josephus is using poetic licence when he reports
this particular Jesus as saying, "A voice from the east,
a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against
Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms
and the brides, and a voice against the whole people." (Josephus,
mind that ancient languages had no symbol for quotation marks
and made no distinction between a verbatim account of someone's
speech and an accurate paraphrase, Josephus
may well be providing a close paraphrase. He was present
in Jerusalem at the time (62AD) and wrote his history within
of the event.
Not only was
Josephus an eyewitness to much of the drama he described but
also had access to Roman imperial archives and military
commentaries, the hupomnemata. Josephus can
also be checked against archaeological data,
and, notwithstanding the occasional exaggeration, what he writes
is generally confirmed.
A Fake Witness
As it happens,
we have an inordinate amount of Jesus dialogue. Nothing
particularly novel or unique is put into his mouth, though much of
it is contradictory or obscure. None of it comes from a reliable
The Gospel of Thomas (found
in a Coptic translation at Nag Hammadi and in Greek
fragments at Oxyrhynchus),
for example, presents 114 "secret" sayings of Jesus, many of
which are rephrased quotations from Jewish scripture and over
dialogue which turns up in the New Testament.
Others are simply silly:
"Saying 7: Jesus says: 'Blessed is the lion which a man eats
so that the lion becomes a man. But cursed is the man whom a lion
eats so that the man becomes a lion!'"
"Saying 114: Simon
Peter said to them, "Let Mary leave
us, for women are not worthy of life." Jesus said, "I
myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too
a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will
make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."
Christians, of course, are not very happy with the "5th Gospel"
and cast doubt on its
"reliability." The sayings are not (yet?) embedded in
narrative stories to give them a semblance of historical reality
and no miracles
are mentioned. "Fake teachings, invented by the Gnostics" is the
But does wrapping
epithets of folk wisdom into a series of "incidents" and "encounters"
– even with a miracle thrown in for good measure – make
a fraud any less a fraud? Jesus supposedly spoke in Aramaic but
the gospels were written in Greek. Literal translation from one
to another inevitably breaks
down at numerous points. Not surprisingly the scholars of the Jesus
Seminar dismissed more than eighty per cent of the godman's words
would have noted anything "Jesus of Nazareth" said before he emerged
as a bona fide spiritual leader? Yet Luke (2.48,49)
quotes the godman at the age of 12 in the "temple incident".
Ok, so let's
grant that after her son made the big time Mary becomes the proud
mum, full of anecdotes about her illustrious offspring ... Maybe
she even reminisced about traipsing off to Bethlehem, even Egypt.
But Mary isn't
everywhere. Matthew 3 reports dialogue between the godman
and John the Baptist (let alone a voice from heaven!)
in the wilderness of Judaea. Only when the Baptist gets
imprisoned does JC choose his disciples so they wouldn't have
been present either. So where does this little story originate,
other than in the fertile mind of the gospel writer?
Ok, let's concede "unknown
and unstated bystanders" run off to tell the tale ...
In fact, we have to rely on such hearsay again and again: JC's
time chat with Nicodemus, his conversation with a Samaritan woman,
when his disciples are off shopping, etc., etc.
But we're still
not out of the woods. On several occasions the gospel writers
quite specifically report Jesus’ conversations when neither
they nor any other humans were present.
would have had the faintest idea of what Jesus said when he
was on his own? For example, chapter 17 of the Gospel
of John is entirely taken up with a monologue addressed
by a solitary Jesus to God himself.
tells of JC in the wilderness and having conversations
Now how would Matthew know
what was said? Are we to imagine Jesus reminisced, "Hey
guys, one time I was in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights
and guess who showed up ... ?"
If we take
this step we may as well dream up the whole nine yards ...
your own Jesus Lore!
provide detailed "Jesus action" for
the last year or so of his life but are deafeningly silent
about the other 30-odd years. 90% of the godman's biography
No problem! Taking a lead from Holy Mother Church, creative
religious fraudsters have had a grand time colouring in
the missing years.
If you like, Jesus travelled with Joseph of Arimathea
to Britain to learn druidic lore at Glastonbury. He even
built a hut with his own hands.
Or if you prefer, our hero went off to India to spend
17 years as both a student and teacher of Buddhist and
Hindu holy men. They affectionately called him Issa.
Other options involve Tibet, Japan and, if you're a Mormon,
Why not have Jesus visit your own home town?
of lore, a man who never existed can not only be
anything, he can be anywhere!
Jesus tomb – Shingo, northern Honshu, Japan.
Jesus tomb – Srinagar, western Kashmir.
Does anyone stand to gain by maintaining a myth?
of course, a vast global industry of religion.
Was this always
Why YES, unquestionably after Constantine made
Christianity the State
religion, but no less so in the preceding centuries.
Indeed, priests, shamans, witchdoctors have lived
on the backs of
others since people
started living in groups.
Given this venal motive of the "religiously inclined",
we would be wise to exercise caution before buying its product
In those 2000 years did the Church ever fabricate
legends and relics?
The vast Medieval
forgery industry is a
matter of historical
record – a
contributory cause of the Reformation. Before
the canon of holy books was finalized in
the 5th century hundreds of fanciful Jesus
Councils decided which were 'sacred' and
which were 'pious romances.'
Do the claims for Jesus include the suspension
of the laws of physics?
We are not talking
a mere carpenter
of miracles. Setting aside the miasma
of "Faith" we require
rather more evidence for a miracle than
a normal activity, not less.
every purported evidence for Jesus turns out to be dubious
This includes no contemporary
of Jesus; no evidence for
Nazareth in the 1st century; tampered
of non-Christian writers to insert
of early Christians
who didn't believe in a human Jesus
anyway; gospels which flatly contradict each other; myriad
instances of 'Jesus stories'
legends and other cultures; and
so on and so on.
We have both
a motive for Christian fabrication of a myth and the evidence
myth creation. In other words, what we find "in the beginning" is
the same venality and charlatanism that followed, century after
century, in each becoming more vicious and ruthless.
Arthur Ferrill, The Fall of the Roman Empire (Thames & Hudson, 1986)
Edward Gibbon, The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire (1799)
Michael Grant, Jesus (Orion, 1999)
Chris Scarre, Chronicle of the Roman Emperors (Thames & Hudson,
Pierre Grimal, Rome of the Caesars (Phaidon, 1956)
A. N. Wilson, Jesus (Harper Collins, 1993)
Elmar Gruber, Holger Kersten, The Original Jesus (Element, 1995)
Stewart Perowne, Death of the Roman Republic (Hodder & Stoughton,
Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars (Penguin, 1980)
Some fifty articles are now available as a book.
For your copy order:
Copyright © 2005
by Kenneth Humphreys.
Copying is freely permitted, provided credit is given to the author and no
material herein is sold for profit.