Christ myth theory
||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (November 2013)|
- For discussion of Jesus in a comparative mythological context, see Jesus Christ in comparative mythology. For the analysis of the historical evidence of Jesus, see Historical Jesus. For the body of myths associated with Christianity, see Christian mythology.
- Note: This article uses the word "myth" to denote a fictional narrative considered sacred, not in the academic sense of comparative mythology.
|Christ Myth Theory|
|Description||Jesus of Nazareth never existed as a flesh and blood historical figure, but is a mythical or fictional character created by the early Christian community.|
|Early proponents||Charles François Dupuis (1742–1809)
Constantin-François Volney (1757–1820)
David Strauss (1808–1874)
Bruno Bauer (1809–1882)
Edwin Johnson (1842-1901)
Dutch Radical School (1880-1950)
Albert Kalthoff (1850–1906)
W. B. Smith (1850–1934)
J. M. Robertson (1856–1933)
Thomas Whittaker (1856-1935)
Arthur Drews (1865–1935)
Paul-Louis Couchoud (1879-1959)
|Modern proponents||G. A. Wells, Michael Martin, Alvar Ellegård, Thomas L. Thompson, Thomas L. Brodie, Robert M. Price, Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, D.M. Murdock,|
|Subjects||Historical Jesus, Early Christianity, Ancient history|
The Christ myth theory (also known as the Jesus myth theory or Jesus mythicism) is the proposition that Jesus of Nazareth never existed but was invented by the Christian community. The idea was first put forward in the late 18th century and developed and popularised in the 19th by Bruno Bauer. Bauer's three-fold argument, which set the basis for most subsequent adherents to the theory, was as follows:
- The New Testament, especially the gospels and the Pauline epistles, are of no historical value;
- The failure of ancient non-Christian writers of the 1st century to mention Jesus shows that he did not exist;
- Christianity was syncretistic and mythical in its beginnings.
According to Bart Ehrman, "virtually every competent scholar of antiquity" now agrees that Jesus existed. Other scholars who have reviewed the literature confirm this evaluation. According to Robert E. Van Voorst "biblical scholars and classical historians" consider the idea that Jesus never existed as "effectively refuted." James D. G. Dunn agrees, describing the idea as "a thoroughly dead thesis."
The idea was revived in the early 20th century by the British rationalist John M. Robertson, in America by William Benjamin Smith, and in Germany by Arthur Drews; contemporary exponents include G. A. Wells, Alvar Ellegård, Thomas L. Brodie, Robert M. Price, Richard Carrier and others with the writings of Wells emerging as the most thorough and sophisticated overview.
- 1 18–19th centuries
- 2 20th century
- 3 21st Century
- 4 Criticism
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Volney and Dupuis
The beginnings of the formal denial of the existence of Jesus can be traced to late 18th century France, and the works of Constantin François de Volney (1757–1820) and Charles Dupuis (1742–1809). Volney and Dupuis argued that Christianity was an amalgamation of various ancient mythologies and that Jesus was a totally mythical character.
Dupuis argued that ancient rituals in Syria, Egypt and Persia had influenced the Christian story which was allegorized as the histories of solar deities, such as Sol Invictus. He argued also that Jewish and Christian scriptures could be interpreted according to the solar pattern, e.g. the Fall of Man in Genesis being an allegory of the hardship caused by winter, and the resurrection of Jesus an allegory for the growth of the sun's strength in the sign of Aries at the spring equinox.
Volney argued that Abraham and Sarah were derived from Brahma and his wife Saraswati, and that Christ was related to Krishna. Volney published before Dupuis but made use of a draft version of Dupuis' work, and followed much of his argument, but at times differed from him, e.g. in arguing that the gospel stories were not intentionally created as an extended allegory grounded in solar myths, but were compiled organically when simple allegorical statements were misunderstood as history.
Volney's perspective was not purely religious, but had a sociopolitical component, which in the short term acted against it, in that the association with the ideas of the French Revolution and Volney's influence on Napoleon hindered the acceptance of these views in England. Despite its short term setbacks, the work of Volney gathered significant following among British and American radical thinkers during the 19th century.
David Strauss and Bruno Bauer
In 1835 David Strauss published his extremely influential The Life of Christ, arguing that the New Testament miracles were retellings of normal events as supernatural happenings. Bruno Bauer (1809–1882), who taught at the University of Bonn, took Strauss' arguments further and became the first author to systematically argue that Jesus did not exist. Bauer's writings presented the first use of the threefold argument used in much of myth theory in later years (but often rediscovered independently), namely the denial of the historical value of the New Testament accounts, pointing to the scarcity of references to Jesus in first century non-Christian sources and accusing Christianity of relying on syncretism from its earliest days.
Bauer initially left open the question of whether an historical Jesus existed at all. Later, in A Critique of the Gospels and a History of their Origin, (1850–1851) Bauer argued that Jesus had not existed, and in 1877 in Christ and the Caesars he suggested that Christianity was a synthesis of the Stoicism of Seneca the Younger and of the Jewish theology of Philo as developed by pro-Roman Jews such as Josephus. Bauer's work was heavily criticized at the time; in 1839 he was removed from his position at the University of Bonn, and his work did not have much impact on future myth theorists.
Radical Dutch school
In the 1870s and 1880s, a group of scholars associated with the University of Amsterdam, known in German scholarship as the Radical Dutch school, rejected the authenticity of the Pauline epistles, and took a generally negative view of the Bible's historical value. Within this group, the existence of Jesus was rejected by Allard Pierson, the leader of the movement, S. Hoekstra, and Samuel Adrian Naber. A. D. Loman argued in 1881 that all New Testament writings belonged to the 2nd century, and doubted that Jesus was an historical figure, but later said the core of the gospels was genuine. The group wrote in Dutch and focused mostly on the Old Testament. They had some notable followers, but by the early part of the 20th century they had faded out.
During the early 20th century, several writers published arguments against Jesus' historicity, often drawing on the work of liberal theologians, who tended to deny any value to sources for Jesus outside the New Testament, and limited their attention to Mark and the hypothetical Q source. They also made use of the growing field of religious history which found sources for Christian ideas in Greek and Oriental mystery cults, rather than Palestinian Judaism. Joseph Klausner wrote that biblical scholars "tried their hardest to find in the historic Jesus something which is not Judaism; but in his actual history they have found nothing of this whatever, since this history is reduced almost to zero. It is therefore no wonder that at the beginning of this century there has been a revival of the eighteenth and nineteenth century view that Jesus never existed."
The work of social anthropologist Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941) has had an influence on various myth theorists, although Frazer himself believed that Jesus existed. In 1890 he published the first edition of The Golden Bough which attempted to define the shared elements of religious belief. This work became the basis of many later authors who argued that the story of Jesus was a fiction created by Christians, although Frazer himself did not share that view. After a number of people claimed that he was a myth theorist, in the 1913 expanded edition of The Golden Bough Frazer expressly stated that his theory assumed a historical Jesus.
J. M. Robertson
J. M. Robertson (1856–1933), a Scottish journalist who became a Liberal MP, argued in 1900 that Jesus never existed but was an invention by a first-century messianic cult. In Robertson's view religious groups invent new gods to fit the needs of the society of the time. Robertson argued that a solar deity symbolized by the lamb and the ram had been worshiped by an Israelite cult of Joshua for long and that this cult had then invented a new messianic figure, Jesus of Nazareth. Roberson argued that a possible source for the Christian myth may have been the Talmudic story of the executed Jesus Pandera which dates to 100 BCE. Robertson considered the letters of Paul the earliest surviving Christian writings, but viewed them as primarily concerned with theology and morality, rather than historical details. He viewed references to the twelve apostles and the institution of the Eucharist as stories that must have developed later among gentile believers who were converted by Jewish evangelists like Paul.
John Remsburg (1848–1919) was a school teacher, author, and an ardent religious skeptic who in 1909 put out a book called The Christ (Retitled The Christ Myth in a 2007 NuVision Publications reprint) which explored the range and possible origins of the "Christ Myth". While The Christ along with The Bible and Six Historic Americans is regarded as an important freethought book, Remsburg made the distinction between a possible Jesus of history ("Jesus of Nazareth") and the Jesus of the Gospels ("Jesus of Bethlehem"). Remsburg's position was that while there was good reason to believe the "Jesus of Nazareth" existed, the "Christ of Christianity" was a mythological creation. In his book The Christ Myth Remsburg stated that although Jesus may have existed, we know nothing about him, and provided a list of 42 names of "writers who lived and wrote during the time, or within a century after the time" who Remsburg felt should have written about Jesus if the Gospels account was reasonably accurate but who did not. This Remsberg list has appeared in a handful of books regarding the nonhistoricity hypothesis by authors such as James Patrick Holding, Hilton Hotema, Jawara D. King, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Asher Norman, D. M. Murdock and Robert M. Price, Frank Zindler, and Tim C. Leedom et al..
William Benjamin Smith
William Benjamin Smith (1850–1934) was a mathematics professor at Tulane University who around the turn of the 20th century argued that it was implausible that there had been a human Jesus and that the story of Jesus was composed by merging elements from a pre-Christian cult, a solar deity cult and the Hindu god Agni transformed to the Latin used Agnus (the lamb). Smith argued for a symbolic interpretation of the stories about Jesus. He argued that Christianity was a monotheistic Israelite cult that opposed polytheism and as a result had to mask itself and could only speak in symbols. Thus the message of Christianity needs to be decoded, and references to Jesus can only be seen in abstract terms, e.g. in the parable of the Jesus and the rich young man there never was a young man, and the young man symbolizes the nation of Israel. The ideas of Smith found sympathetic ears in Germany, with Arthur Drews and Albert Kalthoff soon following along the same path early in the 20th century.
Arthur Drews (1865–1935) was a professor of philosophy at the Technische Hochschule in Karlsruhe, Germany. In his 1909 book The Christ Myth he argued that Christianity had been a Jewish Gnostic cult that spread by appropriating aspects of Greek philosophy and life-death-rebirth deities. 
In The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus (1912) and later in The Denial of the Historicity of Jesus in Past and Present (1926) Drews reviewed biblical scholarship as well as the work of other myth theorists of his time, and wrote that his purpose was to show that everything about the historical Jesus had a mythical character. Nikolai Berdyaev stated that Drews as an anti-Semite argued against the historical existence of Jesus for the sake of Aryanism. Drews took part in a series of public debates with theologians and historians who opposed his arguments.
Drew's work—which had popularized the ideas of Bruno Bauer, the tutor and Ph.D. advisor of Karl Marx—found fertile soil in the Soviet Union, where Marxist–Leninist atheism was the official doctrine of the state. Lenin (1870–1924), the Soviet leader from 1917 until his death, argued that it was imperative in the struggle against religious obscurantists to form a union with people like Drews. Several editions of Drews's The Christ Myth were published in the Soviet Union from the early 1920s onwards, and his arguments were included in school and university textbooks. Public meetings asking "Did Christ live?" were organized, during which party operatives debated with clergymen.
Physician and philosopher Paul-Louis Couchoud (1879–1959) was influenced by the work of Arthur Drews and argued that Jesus never existed but was invented by the Apostle Paul and that Christianity was a schismatic branch of the followers of John the Baptist. Couchoud rejected non-Christian sources such as Josephus, the Talmud, Tacitus, and Suetonius and argued that the name Jesus was invented through the transformation of Old Testament references such as Exodus 23:20. Couchoud argued that Paul's affirmation of the divinity of Jesus alongside Yahweh (God) suggested that Jesus was not a historical man, as no Jew could have accepted that relationship.
Couchoud developed his ideas gradually through a series of essays and books, including The Enigma of Jesus (1923, transl. 1924) for which anthropologist James Frazer wrote an introduction, followed by The Mystery of Jesus (1924, no translation), The First Edition of the Paulina [i.e. Paul's epistles] (1928), Jewish Wisdom (1930), Apocalypse (1930, transl. The Book of Revelation, 1932) and Jesus: Le Dieu Fait Homme (1937, transl. The Creation of Christ 1939). This embroiled him in public controversies with historian Charles Guignebert and his Jesus (1933) and theologians such as Maurice Goguel, with Jesus the Nazarene: myth or history? (1925/6), and Alfred Loisy, with History and Myth of Jesus-Christ (1938), who all wrote their books to argue against Couchoud.
Other 20th-century writers
G. J. P. J. Bolland (1854–1922) argued in 1907 that Christianity evolved from Gnosticism, and that Jesus was simply a symbolic figure representing Gnostic ideas about God. Bolland was an autodidact whose philosophical stance resembled that of Bruno Bauer and he supported a number of the ideas of the Dutch Radical School.
G. R. S. Mead (1863–1933) was a school master who advanced the position that Jesus existed but that he had lived in 100 B.C.E. In his book Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.? (1903) Mead argued that the Talmud points to Jesus being crucified c. 100 BCE, and hence the Christian gospels are mythical. Tom Harpur has compared Mead's impact on myth theory to that of Bruno Bauer and Arthur Drews. Robert M. Price cites Mead as one of several examples of alternative traditions that place Jesus in a different time period than the Gospel accounts.
Philologist John M. Allegro (1923–1988) argued in The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (1970) and The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth (1979) that Christianity began as a shamanic cult centering around the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms, and that the New Testament was a coded record of a clandestine cult. Allegro argued that the authors of the Christian gospels did not understand Essene thought, and had confused the meaning of the scrolls and built the Christian tradition based on the misunderstanding of the scrolls. He also argued that the story of Jesus was based on the crucifixion of the Teacher of Righteousness in the scrolls.
Mark Hall writes that Allegro suggested the Dead Sea Scrolls all but proved that an historical Jesus never existed. Philip Jenkins writes that Allegro was an eccentric scholar who relied on texts that did not exist in quite the form he was citing them, and calls the Sacred Mushroom and the Cross "possibly the single most ludicrous book on Jesus scholarship by a qualified academic". Based on the reaction to the book, Allegro's publisher apologized for issuing the book and Allegro was forced to resign his academic post. A recent article discussing Allegro's work called for his theories to be re-evaluated by the mainstream. In November 2009 The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross was reprinted in a 40th anniversary edition with a 30-page addendum by Carl Ruck of Boston University.
Alvar Ellegård (1919–2008) was a professor of English at the University of Gothenburg who in his book Jesus: One Hundred Years Before Christ argued that Apostle Paul and other early Christians viewed Jesus as a great prophet who had lived in the distant past, not a contemporary figure who was crucified during their own era. Ellegard argued that neither Paul nor any of his contemporaries had seen Jesus, but only imagined him as a heavenly figure who had lived long ago. Ellegard believed that Paul had a vision and that Paul's experience during the vision suggested to him that Jesus had been resurrected and that the vision signaled the day of judgement. Ellegård's argument pivots on the gospels having been written in the second century, and he argued that in the second century the authors of the gospels confused Paul's visions for real events, and dated them to the time of Pontius Pilate. However, Ellegård states that the theory he presents is not the only possible scenario and agrees that other scholars date the events differently.
Ellegård agrees with other scholars that some of the letters of Paul are genuine and that they present the earliest Christian writings. Ellegård states that Paul may have met Apostle Peter in Jerusalem, but that Peter did not tell Paul about Jesus, and it was Paul who constructed the story of the crucifixion based on supernatural knowledge Paul believed he had received in his own visions. Ellegård writes that his position differs from that of Drews and Couchoud, and he develops arguments similar to those of Dupont-Sommer and John Allegro, and suggests that Paul's Jesus may have been based on the Teacher of Righteousness in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but he states that this was not the Jesus of the gospels.
G. A. Wells
Graham Stanton wrote in 2002 that the most thoroughgoing and sophisticated of the proponents' arguments were set out by G. A. Wells, emeritus professor of German at Birkbeck College, London, and author of The Jesus of the Early Christians (1971), Did Jesus Exist? (1975), The Historical Evidence for Jesus (1982), The Jesus Legend (1996), The Jesus Myth (1999), Can We Trust the New Testament? (2004), and Cutting Jesus Down to Size (2009). British theologian Kenneth Grayston advised Christians to acknowledge the difficulties raised by Wells, but Alvar Ellegård writes that his views remain largely undiscussed by theologians.
Wells presented his key arguments in his initial trilogy (1971, 1975, 1982), based on the views of New Testament scholars who acknowledge that the gospels are sources written decades after Jesus's death by people who had no personal knowledge of him. In addition, Wells writes, the texts are exclusively Christian and theologically motivated, and therefore a rational person should believe the gospels only if they are independently confirmed. Wells also argues that Paul and the other epistle writers—the earliest Christian writers—do not provide any support for the idea that Jesus lived early in the 1st century. There is no information in them about Jesus's parents, place of birth, teachings, trial, or crucifixion. For Wells, the Jesus of the early Christians was a pure myth, derived from mystical speculations stemming from the Jewish Wisdom tradition, while the Gospels were subsequent works of historical fiction. According to this view, the earliest strata of the New Testament literature presented Jesus as "a basically supernatural personage only obscurely on Earth as a man at some unspecified period in the past".
In The Jesus Myth, Wells argues that two Jesus narratives fused into one: Paul's mythical Jesus and a minimally historical Jesus whose teachings were preserved in the Q document, a hypothetical common source for the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Biblical scholar Robert Van Voorst said that with this argument Wells had performed an about-face while Doherty presented it as another example of the view that the Gospel Jesus did not exist; Carrier classified it (along with Wells' later Can We Trust the New Testament?) as a book defending ahistoricity in his May 30, 2006 Stanford University presentation, and Eddy-Boyd presented it as an example of a Christ myth theory book.
Wells writes that he belongs in the category of those who argue that Jesus did exist, but that reports about him are so unreliable that we can know little or nothing about him. He argues, for example, that the story of the execution of Jesus under Pilate is not an historical account. He wrote in 2000: "[J. D. G. Dunn] objected [in 1985] that, in my work as then published, I had, implausibly, to assume that, within 30 years from Paul, there had evolved 'such a ... complex of traditions about a non-existent figure as we have in the sources of the gospels' (The Evidence for Jesus, p. 29). My present standpoint is: this complex is not all post-Pauline (Q in its earliest form may well be as early as ca. AD. 40), and it is not all mythical. The essential point, as I see it, is that what is authentic in this material refers to a personage who is not to be identified with the dying and rising Christ of the early epistles."
Robert M. Price
American New Testament scholar Robert M. Price questions the historicity of Jesus in a series of books, including Deconstructing Jesus (2000), The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man (2003), Jesus Is Dead (2007), and The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems (2012), as well as in contributions to The Historical Jesus: Five Views (2009). Price is a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, a group of writers and scholars who study the historicity of Jesus, arguing that the Christian image of Christ is a theological construct into which traces of Jesus of Nazareth have been woven. A former Baptist pastor, Price writes that he was originally an apologist on the historical-Jesus question but became disillusioned with the arguments. As the years went on, he found it increasingly difficult to poke holes in the position that questioned Jesus's existence entirely. Despite this, he still took part in the Eucharist every week for several years, seeing the Christ of faith as all the more important because, he argued, there was probably never any other.
Price believes that Christianity is a historicized synthesis of mainly Egyptian, Jewish, and Greek mythologies. He writes that everyone who espouses the Christ myth theory bases their arguments on three key points:
- There is no mention of a miracle-working Jesus in secular sources.
- The epistles, written earlier than the gospels, provide no evidence of a recent historical Jesus; all that can be taken from the epistles, he argues, is that a Jesus Christ, son of God, lived in a heavenly realm (much as other ancient gods, e.g. Horus), there died as a sacrifice for human sin, was raised by God and enthroned in heaven.
- The Jesus narrative is paralleled in Middle Eastern myths about dying and rising gods; Price names Baal, Osiris, Attis, Adonis, and Dumuzi/Tammuz as examples, all of which, he writes, survived into the Hellenistic and Roman periods and thereby influenced early Christianity. Price alleges that Christian apologists have tried to minimize these parallels. He argues that if critical methodology is applied with ruthless consistency, one is left in complete agnosticism regarding Jesus's historicity: "There might have been a historical Jesus, but unless someone discovers his diary or his skeleton, we'll never know."
Price argues that "the varying dates are the residue of various attempts to anchor an originally mythic or legendary Jesus in more or less recent history" citing accounts that have Jesus being crucified under Alexander Jannaeus (83 BCE) or in his 50s by Herod Agrippa I under the rule of Claudius Caesar (41–54 CE).
Price points out "(w)hat one Jesus reconstruction leaves aside, the next one takes up and makes its cornerstone. Jesus simply wears too many hats in the Gospels—exorcist, healer, king, prophet, sage, rabbi, demigod, and so on. The Jesus Christ of the New Testament is a composite figure (...) The historical Jesus (if there was one) might well have been a messianic king, or a progressive Pharisee, or a Galilean shaman, or a magus, or a Hellenistic sage. But he cannot very well have been all of them at the same time."
Later on Price states "I am not trying to say that there was a single origin of the Christian savior Jesus Christ, and that origin is pure myth; rather, I am saying that there may indeed have been such a myth, and that if so, it eventually flowed together with other Jesus images, some one of which may have been based on a historical Jesus the Nazorean."
Price acknowledges that he stands against the majority view of scholars, but cautions against attempting to settle the issue by appeal to the majority.
In 2012 biblical scholar Thomas L. Brodie, former director of the Dominican Biblical Institute, published a book in which he argued Jesus is mythical, and the gospels are essentially a rewriting of the stories of Elijah and Elisha when viewed as a unified account in the Books of Kings. Brodie's argument builds on his previous work in which he stated that rather than being separate and fragmented, the stories of Elijah and Elisha are united and that 1 Kings 16:29–2 Kings 13:25 is a natural extension of 1 Kings 17–2 Kings 8 which have a coherence not generally observed by other biblical scholars. Brodie then views the Elijah–Elisha story as the underlying model for the gospel narratives.
Other contemporary writers
Canadian writer Earl Doherty (B.A. in Ancient History and Classical Languages) argues in The Jesus Puzzle (2005) and Jesus: Neither God nor Man—The Case for a Mythical Jesus (2009) that Jesus originated as a myth derived from Middle Platonism with some influence from Jewish mysticism, and that belief in a historical Jesus emerged only among Christian communities in the 2nd century. He writes that none of the major apologists before the year 180, except for Justin and Aristides of Athens, included an account of a historical Jesus in their defenses of Christianity. Instead the early Christian writers describe a Christian movement grounded in Platonic philosophy and Hellenistic Judaism, preaching the worship of a monotheistic Jewish god and what he calls a "logos-type Son". Doherty argues that Theophilus of Antioch (c. 163–182), Athenagoras of Athens (c. 133–190), Tatian the Assyrian (c. 120–180), and Marcus Minucius Felix (writing around 150–270) offer no indication that they believed in a historical figure crucified and resurrected, and that the name Jesus does not appear in any of them.
Rene Salm wrote a controversial book The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus which attempts to show that archaeologically the town of Nazareth came into existence after the time that Jesus should have been living there. In his book, he makes 3 key assertions in his case against the existence of Nazareth during Jesus' time: A. The material finds reveal the following: (1) the lack of demonstrable material evidence from ca. 700 BCE to ca. 100 CE; (2) the 25 CE + dating of the earliest oil lamps at Nazareth; (3) the 50 CE + dating of all the post-Iron Age tombs at Nazareth, which are of the kokh type;
D. M. Murdock (also a B.A. in Classics), under the pen name "Acharya S", revives the early 19th century theories of Godfrey Higgins and Robert Taylor, and maintains that the canonical gospels represent a middle to late 2nd century creation utilizing Old Testament "prophetic" scriptures as a blueprint, in combination with a collage of other, older Pagan and Jewish concepts, and that Christianity was thereby fabricated in order to compete with the other popular religions of the time. Her views have been challenged by other mythicists such as Richard Carrier.
In the 2000s, a number of books and films associated with the New Atheism movement questioned whether Jesus existed. The films included the American documentaries Religulous and The God Who Wasn't There, and the books included The God Delusion (2006) by Dawkins; God:The Failed Hypothesis (2007) by the American physicist Victor Stenger; and God Is Not Great (2007) by British writer Christopher Hitchens. Dawkins, citing G. A. Wells, sees the gospels as rehashed versions of the Hebrew Bible, and writes that it is probable Jesus existed, but that a serious argument can be mounted against it, though not a widely supported one. Victor Stenger's position is that the gospel writers borrowed from several Middle Eastern cults. Hitchens argues that there is little or no evidence for the life of Jesus, unlike for the prophet Muhammad. Using the modern John Frum cargo cult as an example Dawkins states:-
Unlike the cult of Jesus, the origins of which are not reliably attested, we can see the whole course of events laid out before our eyes (and even here, as we shall see, some details are now lost). It is fascinating to guess that the cult of Christianity almost certainly began in very much the same way, and spread initially at the same high speed. (...) John Frum, if he existed at all, did so within living memory. Yet, even for so recent a possibility, it is not certain whether he lived at all.
In 2012, Bart D. Ehrman published Did Jesus Exist? defending the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth existed in contrast to the mythicist theory that Jesus is an entirely mythical or fictitious being woven whole-cloth out of legendary material. He also writes that "most common epithet" of Jesus, "Christ", sounds similar to the name of Indian God, "Krishna". He further suggested that Christians did not create Jesus, but invented the idea that the messiah had to be crucified.
Christ Myth Theory authors Richard Carrier, Rene Salm, D. M. Murdock, Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price, Frank Zindler and David Fitzgerald, wrote a response to Bart Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? in the 2013 book Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth: An Evaluation of Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? 
Historicity refers to the study of alleged past persons and events to determine if they are historical or mythical. The study of whether the Jesus mentioned in the Christian New Testament was a real person is covered in the article Historicity of Jesus.
In antiquity, the existence of Jesus was never denied by those who opposed Christianity. There is, however, widespread disagreement among scholars on the details of the life of Jesus mentioned in the gospel narratives, and on the meaning of his teachings. Scholars differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the Biblical accounts of Jesus, and the only two events subject to "almost universal assent" are that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate.
In 1977, classical historian Michael Grant, in his book Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, stated that the idea that Jesus never lived is an "extreme view" and wrote ""if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned." Grant said ""modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory", adding that the idea has been "annihilated" by the best scholars because the mythicists "have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary".
Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan, highly skeptical with regard to the Gospel accounts of miracles, wrote in 1995 "That (Jesus) was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus... agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact."
Most people who study the historical period of Jesus believe that he did exist, and among professors of early Christian history and religious studies that opinion is unanimous according to agnostic professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author Bart Ehrman. Ehrman says that no "scholars trained in New Testament or early Christian studies teaching at the major, or even the minor, accredited theological seminaries, divinity schools, universities, or colleges of North America or Europe (or anywhere else in the world)" write in support of the Christ myth theory. Ehrman further says, "Of the thousands of scholars of early Christianity who do teach at such schools, none of them, to my knowledge, has any doubts that Jesus existed." Ehrman says that these views would prevent you from getting employment in a religious studies department: "These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology". And the belief among professors that Jesus existed is generally completely certain, as noted by Maurice Casey, a professor at the University of Nottingham. Casey says that the view that Jesus did not exist is "the view of extremists" and "demonstrably false", and that "professional scholars generally regard it as having been settled in serious scholarship long ago".
Biblical scholar Robert Van Voorst wrote in 2003 that the Christ myth theory (or theories, allowing for the variations in the arguments) has failed to convince the vast majority of scholars, who "regard it as effectively refuted"
- Voorst 2003, p. 658.
- Voorst 2000, p. 8.
- Voorst 2000, p. 9.
- In a 2011 review of the state of modern scholarship, Bart Ehrman (a secular agnostic) wrote: "He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees" B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of God ISBN 978-0-06-207863-6. page 285
- Michael Grant (a classicist) states that "In recent years, 'no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus' or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary." in Jesus by Michael Grant 2004 ISBN 1898799881 page 200
- Richard A. Burridge states: "There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more." in Jesus Now and Then by Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould (Apr 1, 2004) ISBN 0802809774 page 34
- The Gospels and Jesus by Graham Stanton, 1989 ISBN 0192132415 Oxford University Press, page 145 states : "Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed".
- Robert E. Van Voorst Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 page 16 states: "biblical scholars and classical historians regard theories of non-existence of Jesus as effectively refuted"
- James D. G. Dunn "Paul's understanding of the death of Jesus" in Sacrifice and Redemption edited by S. W. Sykes (Dec 3, 2007) Cambridge University Press ISBN 052104460X pages 35-36 states that the theories of non-existence of Jesus are "a thoroughly dead thesis"
- Voorst 2000, p. 11-12.
- Stanton 2002, p. iii.
- Weaver 1999, p. 45-50.
- Schweitzer 2001, p. 355ff.
- Wells 1969.
- British Romantic Writers and the East by Nigel Leask (Jun 24, 2004) ISBN 0521604443 Cambridge Univ Press pages 104 -105
- By Tristram Stuart, "The Bloodless Revolution", p. 591.
- Stephen Prickett in the Companion Encyclopedia of Theology edited by Peter Byrne, Leslie Houlden (Dec 4, 1995) ISBN 0415064473 page 154-155
- Familiar Stranger: An Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth by Michael J. McClymond (Mar 22, 2004) ISBN 0802826806 page 82
- Robert E. Van Voorst Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 pages 7-11
- Beilby, James K. and Eddy, Paul Rhodes. "The Quest for the Historical Jesus", in James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy (eds.). The Historical Jesus: Five Views. Intervarsity, 2009, p. 16.
- See Strauss, David. "The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, Calvin Blanchard, 1860.
- Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Fortress, 2001; first published 1913, pp. 124–128, 139–141.
- Moggach, Douglas. The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer. Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 184. *Also see Engels, Frederick. "Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity", Der Sozialdemokrat, May 1882.
- In Search of Jesus: Insider and Outsider Images by Clinton Bennett (Dec 1, 2001) ISBN 0826449166 Continuum page 204
- Robert E. Van Voorst Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 page 10
- Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Fortress, 2001; first published 1913, pp. 356–361, 527 n. 4.
- Arvidsson, Stefan. Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science. University of Chicago Press, 2006, pp. 116–117.
- Klausner, Joseph. Jesus of Nazareth. Bloch, 1989; first published 1925, pp. 105–106.
- In Search of Jesus: Insider and Outsider Images by Clinton Bennett (Dec 1, 2001) ISBN 0826449166 Continuum page 205
- Deconstructing Jesus by Robert M. Price (2000) ISBN 1573927589 page 207
- Van Voorst, Robert E (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 pages 11-12
- J.M. Robertson, 1856-1933 by G.A. Wells (1 Jan 1987) ISBN 0301870020 pages 162-163
- Christianity And Mythology by John M. Robertson London: Watts 1900 ISBN 0766187683 (reprinted by Kessinger 2004) page 34
- A Short History of Christianity by John M. Robertson 1902 London: Watts ISBN 0766189090 (reprinted by Kessinger 2004) page 72
- Robertson, J. M. A Short History of Christianity. Watts, 1902, pp. 6–12, 14–15.
- A Short History of Christianity by John M. Robertson 1902 London: Watts ISBN 0766189090 (reprinted by Kessinger 2004) page 18
- J.M. Robertson, 1856-1933 by G.A. Wells (1 Jan 1987) ISBN 0301870020 page 149
- Brown, Marshall G.; Gordon Stein (1978). Freethought in the United States: A Descriptive Bibliography. Published by Greenwood Press, University of California. p. 52. ISBN 0-313-20036-X.
- The Christ by John Remsburg 1909, Chapter 1: "Christ's Real Existence Impossible"
- The Christ Myth by John Remsburg 1909, Chapter 2: "Silence of Contemporary Writers"
- Holding, James Patrick (2008). Shattering the Christ Myth. Xulon Press. p. 52. ISBN 1-60647-271-2.
- Hotema, Hilton (1956). Cosmic Creation. Health Research. p. 178. ISBN 0-7873-0999-0.
- King, Jawara D. (2007). World Transformation: A Guide to Personal Growth and Consciousness. AuthorHouse. p. 35. ISBN 1-4343-2115-0.
- O'Hair, Madalyn Murray (1969). What on earth is an atheist!. Austin, Texas: American Atheist Press. p. 246. ISBN 1-57884-918-7.
- Norman, Asher; Tellis, Ashley (2007). Twenty-six reasons why Jews don't believe in Jesus. Black White and Read Publishing. p. 182. ISBN 0-9771937-0-5.
- Murdock, D. M. and Price, Robert M. (2011). Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of The Christ. Seattle: Stellar House. p. 296. ISBN 978-0979963100.
- Zindler, Frank (2003). The Jesus the Jews Never Knew. Cranford: American Atheist Press. p. 524. ISBN 1-57884-916-0.
- Leedom, Tim (2007). The Book Your Church Doesn't Want You to Read. New York: Cambridge House Press. p. 446. ISBN 0939040158.
- Voorst 2000, p. 11.
- The historical Jesus in the twentieth century, 1900–1950 by Walter P. Weaver, 1999 ISBN Continuum Publishing Group, 1999, pages 54-56
- Smith, William Benjamin. Der vorchristliche Jesu. Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2010; first published 1906.
- Also see Smith, William Benjamin. Ecce Deus: Die urchristliche Lehre des reingöttlichen Jesu. Diederichs, 1911; first published 1894.
- Smith, William Benjamin. The Birth of the Gospel, 1911.
- Case, Shirley Jackson. "The Historicity of Jesus: An Estimate of the Negative Argument", The American Journal of Theology, volume 15, issue 1, 1911.
- Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Fortress, 2001; first published 1913, p. 375ff.
- The historical Jesus in the twentieth century, 1900–1950 by Walter P. Weaver 1999 ISBN 1-56338-280-6 page 49–51
- Drews' book was reviewed by A. Kampmeier in The Monist, volume 21, Number 3 (July 1911), pages 412–432. 
- Weaver, Walter P. The historical Jesus in the twentieth century, 1900–1950. Continuum International Publishing Group, 1999, pp. 50 and 300.
- Also see Wood, Herbert George. Christianity and the Nature of History. Cambridge University Press, 1934, p. xxxii.
- Drews, Arthur. Die Christusmythe. Eugen Diederichs, 1910, published in English as The Christ Myth, Prometheus, 1910, p. 410.
- Berdyaev, Nikolai, "The Scientific Discipline of Religion and Christian Apologetics", Put' / Путь vol. 6, 1927
- Gerrish, Brian A. Jesus, Myth, and History: Troeltsch's Stand in the 'Christ-Myth' Debate", The Journal of Religion, volume 55, issue 1, 1975, pp 3–4.
- "Jesus never lived, asserts Prof. Drews", The New York Times, February 6, 1910.
- Thrower, James. Marxist-Leninist "Scientific Atheism" and the Study of Religion and Atheism. Walter de Gruyter, 1983, p. 426.
- Also see Haber, Edyth C. "The Mythic Bulgakov: 'The Master and Margarita' and Arthur Drews's 'The Christ Myth'", Slavic & East European Journal, volume 43, issue 2, 1999, p. 347.
- Nikiforov, Vladimir. "Russian Christianity" in Leslie Houlden (ed.) Jesus in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2003, p. 749.
- Peris, Daniel. Storming the Heavens. Cornell University Press, 1998, p. 178.
- However Drews was a believer, and a religious activist who wanted to replace obsolete Christianity with a truer, modern form of religion based on his monistic Idealism. The acceptance of his ideas in Moscow and the Soviet Union did not save Drews, a believer, from Lenin's attacks, for being a "reactionary, openly helping the exploiters to replace old and rotten prejudices with new, still more disgusting and base prejudices". In Edyth C. Haber, "The Mythic Bulgakov: 'The Master and Margarita' and Arthur Drews's 'The Christ Myth'", Slavic & East European Journal, volume 43, issue 2, 1999, p. 347.
- The historical Jesus in the twentieth century, 1900–1950 by Walter P. Weaver, 1999 ISBN Continuum Publishing Group, 1999, pages 300-303
- See, for example, Couchoud, Paul Louis. Enigma of Jesus, translated by Winifred Stephens Whale, Watts & co., 1924.
- The Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus by Craig A. Evans (Apr 3, 2008) ISBN 0415975697 page 231
- Bolland, G. J. P. J. De Evangelische Jozua, 1907.
- Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers by Stuart Brown, Diane Collinson and Robert Wilkinson (Oct 13, 2002) entry for "Gerardus Bolland" ISBN 0415286050 Routledge
- G. R. S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest by Clare Goodrick-Clarke (Aug 10, 2005) ISBN 155643572X pages 1-3
- Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.? by G. R. S. Mead (1903) ISBN 1596053763 (Cosimo Classics 2005) pages 10-12
- Pagan Christ: Is Blind Faith Killing Christianity? by Tom Harpur (2006) ISBN 0802777414 p 163
- Price, Robert. "Jesus as the Vanishing Point" in James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy (eds.) The Historical Jesus: Five Views. InterVarsity, 2009, pp. 80–81.
- John Allegro, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross 1970 ISBN 978-0-9825562-7-6
- John Allegro The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth 1979 ISBN 978-0-879-75757-1
- The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Peter Flint and James VanderKam (Jul 10, 2005) ISBN 056708468X T&T Clark pages 323-325
- The Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea by Joan E. Taylor (Dec 14, 2012) ISBN 019955448X Oxford Univ Press page 305
- Robert E. Van Voorst Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 page 77
- Hall, Mark. "Foreword," in Allegro, John M. The Dead Sea Scrolls & the Christian Myth. Prometheus 1992, first published 1979, p. ix.
- Jenkins, Philip. Hidden Gospels. Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 180.
- A History of the Middle East by Saul S. Friedman (Mar 15, 2006) ISBN 0786423560 page 82
- Hoffman, Michael., ed. by Dr. Robert Price., "Wasson and Allegro on the Tree of Knowledge as Amanita" in Journal of Higher Criticism, 2006.
- The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, 40th anniversary edition by John M. Allegro, Gnostic Media, 2009. ISBN 978-0-9825562-7-6
- Jesus: One Hundred Years Before Christ by Alvar Ellegård 1999 ISBN 0879517204 pages 1-4
- Jesus: One Hundred Years Before Christ by Alvar Ellegård 1999 ISBN 0879517204 pages 13-15
- Ellegård, Alvar. "Theologians as historians", Scandia, 2008, p. 171–172, 175ff.
- Jesus: One Hundred Years Before Christ by Alvar Ellegård 1999 ISBN 0879517204 pages 108-111
- Stanton, Graham. The Gospels and Jesus. Oxford University Press, 2002; first published 1989, p. 143.
- Martin, Michael. The Case Against Christianity. Temple University Press, 1993, p. 38.
- Wells, GA (September 1999). "Earliest Christianity". New Humanist 114 (3): 13–18. Retrieved 2007-01-11.
- Wells, G. A. The Jesus Myth. Open Court, 1999.
- Van Voorst, Robert E. "Nonexistence Hypothesis", in James Leslie Holden (ed.) Jesus in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2003, p. 660.
- Doherty, Earl (1999). "Book and Article Reviews, The Case of the Jesus Myth: Jesus — One Hundred Years Before Christ by Alvar Ellegard". Retrieved 2011-10-07.
- Carrier, Richard (2006). Did Jesus Even Exist? Stanford University presentation. May 30, 2006.
- Eddy and Boyd (2007), The Jesus Legend, p. 24.
- For a statement of his position, Wells refers readers to his article, "Jesus, Historicity of" in Tom Flynn's The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007). See Wells, G. A. Cutting Jesus Down to Size. Open Court, 2009, pp. 327–328.
- Wells, G.A. in Tom Flynn. The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief. Prometheus Books, 2007, p. 446ff.
- Wells, G. A. "A Reply to J. P. Holding's 'Shattering' of My Views on Jesus and an Examination of the Early Pagan and Jewish References to Jesus". The Secular Web. 2000. Retrieved 2010-08-03.
- Price, Robert M. The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. Prometheus, 2003, p. 351.
- Also see Jacoby, Douglas A. Compelling Evidence For God and the Bible: Finding Truth in an Age of Doubt. Harvest House Publishers, 2010, p. 97.
- Price writes: "Is it ... possible that beneath and behind the stained-glass curtain of Christian legend stands the dim figure of a historical founder of Christianity? Yes, it is possible, perhaps just a tad more likely than that there was a historical Moses, about as likely as there having been a historical Apollonius of Tyana. But it becomes almost arbitrary to think so."
- Van Biema, David; Ostling, Richard N.; and Towle, Lisa H. "The Gospel Truth?". Time magazine. April 8, 1996.
- Price, Robert M. "Jesus at the Vanishing Point" in James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy (eds.) The Historical Jesus: Five Views. InterVarsity, 2009, pp. 55–56.
- Price, Robert M. "Jesus at the Vanishing Point" in James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy (eds.) The Historical Jesus: Five Views. InterVarsity, 2009, p. 55ff.
- Also see Price, Robert M. Book review of "Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection". 2009. Retrieved 2010-08-04.
- Price, Robert M. "Jesus at the Vanishing Point" in James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy (eds.) The Historical Jesus: Five Views. InterVarsity, 2009. See p. 55 for his argument that it is quite likely Jesus did not exist. See pp. 62–64, 75 for the three pillars.
- Irenaeus (c. 180 CE). Demonstration (74).
- See Robert M. Price. "Jesus at the Vanishing Point", in James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy (eds.) The Historical Jesus: Five Views. InterVarsity, 2009, pp. 80–81.
- Price, Robert M. (2000). Deconstructing Jesus, pp. 15–16.
- Price, Robert M. (2000). Deconstructing Jesus, p. 86.
- Price, Robert M. "Jesus at the Vanishing Point" in James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy (eds.) The Historical Jesus: Five Views. InterVarsity, 2009, p. 61ff.
- Thomas L. Brodie "Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery" Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd (September 6, 2012) ISBN 978-1907534584
- The Crucial Bridge: The Elijah–Elisha Narrative As an Interpretive Synthesis of Genesis-Kings by Thomas L. Brodie (Jan 1, 2000) ISBN 081465942X pages 1-3
- Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Houghton Mifflin, 2006, pp. 96–97.
- Doherty, Earl. "The Jesus Puzzle", Journal of Higher Criticism, volume 4, issue 2, 1997.
- Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth American Atheist Press (April 7, 2013)
- Carrier Ph.D., Richard; D.M. Murdock; René Salm; Earl Doherty; David Fitzgerald (2013-04-07). Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Locations 8218-8227). American Atheist Press.
- See Stenger, Victor J. God: The Failed Hypothesis. Prometheus, 2007, p. 190.
- Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great. Twelve Books, 2007, p. 127.
- Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Houghton Mifflin, 2006, pp. 202–203.
- By Bart D. Ehrman, "Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth", Chapter 1
- "Did Jesus Exist?". Huffington Post.
- "Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth". amazon.com. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
- Encyclopedia of theology: a concise Sacramentum mundi by Karl Rahner 2004 ISBN 0-86012-006-6 pages 730-731
- Van Voorst, Robert E (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9-page 15
- Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell 1998 ISBN 0-664-25703-8 page 181
- Jesus Remembered by James D. G. Dunn 2003 ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 page 339 states of baptism and crucifixion that these "two facts in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent".
- Prophet and Teacher: An Introduction to the Historical Jesus by William R. Herzog (4 Jul 2005) ISBN 0664225284 pages 1-6
- Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145. ISBN 0-06-061662-8. "That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus...agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact."
- Grant, Michael (1977). Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels. Scribner's. p. 200. ISBN 978-0-684-14889-2.
- Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. ISBN 0-06-061662-8 page 145
- Ehrman 2012, p. 2.
- "Did Jesus Exist?". Huffington Post.
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- Voorst 2000, p. 16.
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|Quotations from Wikiquote|
- Religious Tolerance General outline of range of views on Jesus from classical Christian to Jesus a mere man and Jesus entirely mythical
- Washington Post article Ex-Christian Bart Ehrman's defense of Jesus' existence in Washington Post