Jesus Never Existed

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Jesus Never Existed

Inventing a Sacred Geography

– Jerusalem’s ‘Stations of the Cross’

The streets of the Via Dolorosa were never traversed by Jesus, with or without his cross. The roads of the Old City of Jerusalem follow the line (but at a level some ten to fifteen feet higher) of the town built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian after 135 AD – a century too late for any Christian messiah.

The “stations of the cross” along the pilgrim route – originally seven but now fourteen – are entirely bogus and have always served a liturgical and commercial purpose. Even the route itself, from west to east, is at odds with current New Testament scholarship which favours a short south-north route from the area of Herod’s palace.

Five of the current “stations” are actually within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which offers the curious tourist and the wide-eyed believer a rich assortment of religious memorabilia, little of which is ancient. In the marble floor of the Catholic chapel a star marks the very spot where Mary Magdalen received the news of the resurrection from an angel, a medieval innovation. A “stone of unction” near the main door, where Joseph of Arimathea anointed the Lord’s body, was introduced by Crusaders in the 12th century. The latest chunk of red granite arrived in 1810 but it still gets kisses from the faithful. Even more startling, “Holy fire” descends each Easter into the sacred tomb, a “miracle” invented in the 9th century and yet the trick still delights the crowds.

Protestants may blanch at the chicanery and sacrilege of it all but for the Catholic and Orthodox creeds the circus is living proof of their faith and unwavering testimony of the “historical Jesus”.

Following the yellow brick road

The grid layout of the roads of Roman Aelia determines the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem even today. The 16th century Ottoman wall runs obliquely top left, Temple Mount intrudes lower right.

The Crusader-built Church of the Holy Sepulchre overlays part of the much larger 4th century Constantinian church; both are contained within the precinct of Hadrian's 2nd century temple of Venus/Aphrodite.

Opposite the Russian Hospice, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer sits above a corner of the ancient forum.

Aelia, city of the Pagans, lies under the city of the Christians and the Jews

Aelia was probably not a walled city while the 10th legion remained in residence and its full extent is uncertain. It is often described as a smaller city than its predecessor but in fact it may have extended north as far as Agrippa's third wall (Jodi Magness, Tufts University).

Stations 1 and 2, which feature the drama of JC’s trial, condemnation and flogging at the praetorium, are entirely at odds with the historical evidence. Such delights as the “Ecce Homo” arch (where Pilate allegedly said of Jesus “behold the man”, John 19.5) and the “pavement” where Pilate’s judgement seat was said to have been (the “lithostrotos” of John 19.13), have come back to haunt the glib assertions of Christian apologetics. These structures, long used to buttress claims of gospel veracity, are Hadrianic constructions.
The Praetorium was never located in the Antonia fortress (so-named by Herod in honour of Mark Antony) which stood by the northwest corner of Temple Mount. The Antonia was far smaller than is often supposed. Josephus repeatedly refers to it as “the tower Antonia” and relates that it was originally built by the first of the high priests called Hyrcanus for safekeeping the holy vestments (Ant. 18.4.3). A modern archaeologist concurs:
“The four ‘towers’ so impressively reconstructed in the models are also entirely without foundation. The south-eastern ‘tower’ alone was actually the entire Antonia fortress.”
– P. Benoit in Jerusalem Revealed, p89.
Nonetheless, it is close to the site of the Antonia that Christian mythology honours a pavement – the lithostrotos – where Pilate supposedly “sat in Judgement”.
“When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!
– John 19.13,14.
The truth supports no such fantasy. Beyond the Antonia tower was an open reservoir across which Titus had to build a ramp to mount his battering rams:
” After seventeen days of continuous toil the embankments were of vast size. Of the first two, that facing the Antonia was thrown up by the fifth legion across the pool called Struthius; the other by the twelfth legion about twenty cubits away.”.
– War 5.11.4.
In 135 AD, the Struthius pool was vaulted over and turned into a cistern by Hadrian. It is still to be seen today in the basement of the convent Notre Dame de Sion, which today proudly displays its Hadrianic collection. Above the cistern, Hadrian had large flagstones laid as paving for a market. The flagstones are visible in the convent and also in the adjacent monastery. This east forum of Aelia was entered through a triple arched gateway, the central arch of which is celebrated as the arch of Christian myth. It spans the Via Dolorosa and continues into the church/convent where the smaller northern portal can still be seen.
The pagan emperor would have laughed his socks off!

All fall down

The gospels make NO mention of Jesus falling three times (Stations 3, 7 and 9), no meeting with his mother Mary (Station 4), and no encounter with a woman named Veronica (Station 6). They are, in the parlance of religious chicanery, “devotional” embellishments. Even more farcical is the “prison of Christ”, close by the Convent of the Sisters of Zion, where the Lord was held for questioning. Not only is the “cell” medieval (the claim dates from 1911!) but it competes with another (equally bogus) “prison of Christ” within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and a third in the so-called “house of Caiaphas” on Mount Sion!
Jesus – a repeat offender?

JC's prison in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Not to be taken seriously!

JC's other prison on the Via Dolorosa, an authentic Jesus venue since 1911.

Perhaps Barabbas was in one cell and the Son of God in the other!

JC's other prison at the house of Caiaphas.

Station 5. The spot where Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry JC’s cross and now a Franciscan Chapel is as fabricated as the gospel verses which tell the silly story (Matthew and Luke reproduce a truncated version of Mark 15.21). Mark’s explicit identification of Simon should set alarm bells ringing. It is the most precise in the entire passion narrative and yet Simon is an incidental character who figures nowhere else in the gospel story.
A father would not usually be identified by his children yet here we have a Jew (Shimeon) linked with one son with a very Greek name (Alexander) and another son with a very Roman name (Rufus). Simon apparently hails from Cyrene in far off Tunisia. Could all this “detail” have more to do with popularising the yarn in the 2nd century pagan world than with a genuine report from the 1st century Jewish world?
As it happens, Josephus mentions the names Simon, Alexander and Rufus repeatedly and in the closing chapter of the last book of the War he reports a sedition among the Jews of Cyrene. It is also curious how John’s gospel actually emphasises that Jesus carried his own cross and fails to mention Simon at all. Could the whole “Simon of Cyrene” tale be orthodoxy’s early response to a story popularised by certain gnostics that it was not Jesus but Simon who had been nailed to the cross?
The station that marks this dubious event was chosen in the 13th century – no doubt with guidance from the Holy Ghost.
Station 6. Can it get any more authentic than this? There never was any “Saint Veronica”. The name is a popular corruption of a hybrid Latin-Greek word “vera-icon”, that is, the “true image” (of Jesus).
As early as the 2nd century religious enthusiasm and an earnest desire to fill in the blanks in the gospel story had already identified the woman who had the “12-year flow of blood” in Matthew (9.20,22) with the sister of Lazarus, or alternatively, as the daughter of the woman of Canaan (Matthew 15.22), or as a Syrian princess, or even as a Roman matron! The 4th century Acts of Pilate (aka Gospel of Nicodemus) has the character (called Bernice in this version) pleading for Jesus’ innocence before Pilate.
Naive faith in an illiterate age almost begged for an authentic image of the saviour and artists were more than willing to knock up a genuine likeness, attributing the work either to an apostle or to Jesus himself. The Church, anxious to control the racket, introduced a badge of authenticity, complete with a story of miraculous materialisation. In this version, the woman, waiting on the Via Dolorosa, wiped Jesus’s face with a cloth. The act of kindness leaves an image of JC’s face on the cloth, which is transformed into a healing relic. In the west it came to be known as “Veronica’s Veil” and took an honorary place in St. Peter’s Church in Rome. It’s not unique – so perhaps Jesus had his face wiped several times?
The proliferation of “devotional images” (Veronicas and Mandylions) has always been attributed by the religious to “demand” from pilgrims – not to “supply” by fraudsters such as themselves!
Station 7 – a second “falling point” for Jesus, where the Via Dolorosa intersects Khan es-Zeit. Actually, the spot marks a major crossroad of Aelia Capitolina, where the Cardo Maximus crossed the Decumanus Maximus. With no intended irony, the Franciscan chapel here preserves a chunk of the tetrapylon that marked the crossroad.
Tetrapylon from Palmyra – a road crossing, Roman-style.
Station 8 – marked by a stone in the wall of the Greek monastery of St. Haralambos. Our hero, flogged to within an inch of his life, who has fallen twice even after Simon is apparently carrying his cross, at this point has the remarkable presence of mind and ready articulation to forecast darkly the future.
“Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” – Luke 23.28,31.
These are almost the last words spoken by JC as a mortal. But in reality, it’s the sort of speech that might be delivered at a processional halt, rather than a genuine monologue that might have given rise to one. Did the procession stop, one wonders, while Jesus declaimed his prophesy? Did someone else hold his cross for a moment? And just who was taking notes?
Station 9 – Jesus falls again. Actually, a convenient gathering point for pilgrims just before entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Station 10 – Jesus loses his shorts. Nothing to see here, just a commemorative spot to fit in with the story.
Station 11 – The nailing station. Pause before the altar and think about pain. Gosh, aren’t you pleased someone else took the rap for your sins?
Station 11 – The Greek Orthodox have possession of Calvary itself. The rock of Golgotha can even be touched, through a hole in bullet-proof glass. A touchy-feely experience not to be missed.
Station 13 – The small altar next to Calvary marks the “taking down from the cross”. Complete with a life-sized model of Joseph of Arimathea and a large bag of herbs. No, only kidding about that bit.
Station 14 – We are now on the threshold of the tomb itself. It’s claimed that the small altar in the “Chapel of the Angel” contains a piece of the stone that was miraculously rolled away by angels. Even more miraculous was that the stone only appeared in the 16th century. And it gets better –

Oh my God – Holy Fire

Update, Christmas 2007 – Armenian Christians battle it out with Greek Orthodox. (Church of the Nativity, Nazareth).
As regular as clockwork, the Descent of the Holy Fire. Divine powers clearly favour the Greek Orthodox over all others.
Each Easter Saturday, in a darkened church, lighted tapers are set aflame by the Holy Spirit and are passed out by the Patriarch of Jerusalem from the Chapel of the Angel. Like the Olympic torch – which doubtless inspired the original idea – the fire is taken in relays to churches across the Greek world. The miracle has absolutely nothing to do with hidden lamps, cigarette lighters, or candles coated in white phosphorus (self-igniting in air), dipped in a urine-based solution (which delays the ignition), and priestly fraudsters. Certainly not. Honest.
Even the Muslim Abbasids welcomed the revenue stream that flowed from the gullible infidel. When the Latin Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099 the Holy Fire stopped. Two years later, Baldwin I, desperate for the income from pilgrims, invited the Greeks back – and the Holy Fire started again. Rather proves just how genuine is the miracle!
In a remarkable demonstration of Heaven’s awesome indifference to human suffering, at the ceremony of Easter 1834, fainting witnesses fell to their deaths from the gallery, prompting a panic in which hundreds of the faithful were trampled to death. They must have been sinners, right?
Bloodshed in the most holy shrine in Christendom is not a rarity. In 1901 a dispute over sweeping the front steps of the church led to a battle between Catholics and Orthodox that left at least eight dead (Clark, p84).

The Via Dolorosa – A Sacred Topography

“The Via Dolorosa is defined by faith, not by history”
– Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, p25.
The Way of Sorrow has nothing to do with “Jesus of Nazareth” but everything to do with organised religion. Its historical value is illustrative of the complex story of a belligerent Christianity, not the pathetic torment and death of a godman.
The commemorative pageant began no earlier than the 4th century, after the faith became the official and obligatory religion of the Roman Empire. The original holy walk had no “devotional halts” and went from the Mount of Olives southwest via Mount Sion before entering the city. But by the Middle Ages Christendom was divided by schism, triggered less by theological and doctrinal subtleties than by crass power struggles and rivalry for converts in central Europe and the Balkans. The rancour and hostility between the Roman and Greek churches led each to scramble for the more impressive array of icons, relics and sanctuaries. In the less-than-Holy Land, opposing Christian groups established rival routes to Calvary, each route acquiring sacred stops along the way to add to their appeal and holiness. The Latins were even divided among themselves:
“The basis of the conflict was simple: one group possessed churches on the western hill, the other on the eastern.”
– Murphy-O’Connor, p26.
The savagery of the sack of Jerusalem in 1099, followed a century later by the treacherous plunder of Orthodox Constantinople by Catholic Crusaders in 1204, left an indelible bitterness. The present route, fixed only in the 19th century, is a compromise between historic foes and rival marketeers of hocus-pocus, united only by a common desire to keep the show on the road and the customers coming back for more.
The Holy Sepulchre – Catholic candles on the left, Armenian candles on the right, Greek Orthodox candles in the centre, holy baloney everywhere.

Laugh or Cry

An informed Christian would doubtless argue that the Via Dolorosa and its way stations are no longer understood as historically accurate, that they are symbolic and representational of an unrecoverable but undeniable truth. To those of faith, it scarcely matters how many times, or precisely where, Jesus fell, or exactly at what point on the road to Calvary Mary witnessed her son’s torment.
It’s obvious, isn’t it, he would have fallen, and she could not have stayed away?
The savagery of the sack of Jerusalem in 1099, followed a century later by the treacherous plunder of Orthodox Constantinople by Catholic Crusaders in 1204, left an indelible bitterness. The present route, fixed only in the 19th century, is a compromise between historic foes and rival marketeers of hocus-pocus, united only by a common desire to keep the show on the road and the customers coming back for more.
Unfortunately, the certitude of their “core” faith is an exercise in myopia and self-deception, an unwillingness to recognize that the pious frauds, piled one upon another, go all the way down to the bottom. Their entire belief system is “symbolic and representational”, of a phantom god born of a virgin, of a resurrection that never was, of a man who never lived.


  • Robert Gordon, Holy Land, Holy City (Paternoster, 2004)
  • H. J. Richards, Pilgrim to the Holy Land (McCrimmons,1985)
  • Shimon Gibson, Joan Taylor, Beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Palestine Exploration Fund, 1994)
  • Joan Taylor, Christians and Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins (Clarendon, 1993)
  • Martin Biddle, The Tomb of Christ (Sutton, 1999)
  • Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land (Oxford, 1986)
  • Victoria Clark, Holy Fire (Macmillan, 2005)
  • Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem (HarperCollins, 1997)

Related Articles:

1st Station

A madrasa! The al-Omariyyeh Islamic school occupies a former Ottoman army barracks built on the site of the Antonia Fortress.
For centuries, belief but not facts maintained that Pontius Pilate had his “praetorium” here. It was actually on the west side of the Old City.

2st Station

A Franciscan monastery offers the Chapels of the Condemnation and the Flagellation to get pilgrims off to a good start.
From here Jesus was made to carry his cross. Well, that’s the yarn.

3st Station

The “falls of Jesus” are a good example how successive generations of Christians added to their favourite story.
It seems reasonable that a man weakened by a severe whipping should fall, therefore it becomes a “tradition” and, with time, the “tradition” becomes accepted as “truth”.

4th Station

Here we go again. Where was Mother Mary? Surely watching somewhere. Let’s make it a tradition (and sell a few more trinkets).
Did he or didn’t he?

5th Station

“A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” – Mark 15.21.
“And He bearing His cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull.” – John 19.17.

6th Station

Greek Orthodox shrine.

Buy your holy hanky here!

7th Station

All fall down. The Franciscans took possession of this chapel in 1875. Within are the remains of a large column of red stone coming from the tetrapylon of Aelia Capitolina.

8th Station

Jesus takes a break from agonizing torment to address the weeping women of Jerusalem.

9th Station

A crude cross on a Roman column marks the third “falling down” point.
A crude cross on a Roman column marks the third “falling down” point.

10th and 11th Stations

The Catholic Chapel commemorates both the stripping station and the nailing station. Who can argue with that?

12th Stations

The Greek Orthodox have managed to hang on to the big potato – the Crucifixion station.

13th Stations

Between the 11th and 12th stations, the purported site of “taking down from the cross”. Otherwise known as the altar of Our Lady of Sorrows (Stabat Mater), it is a novelty from the 16th century.

14th Stations

Within the Edicule, an ante-chamber (“Chapel of the Angel”) featuring the “Altar of the Rolling Stone.” Heap big magic.

14th Stations

Within the Edicule, an ante-chamber (“Chapel of the Angel”) featuring the “Altar of the Rolling Stone.” Heap big magic.

Why waste a good yarn?

“The cult of Cybele was well-known for its flagellant, mendicant priests and for the public ceremonies of 15-27 March when, after fasting and the Day of Blood (22 March) on which Attis was mourned, sorrow was turned into joy with the Hilaria celebrating his resurrection on 25 March (a striking parallel to the Christian Holy week and Easter).”
– Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, p24,25.
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