Earl Doherty

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Earl Doherty
Born 1941
Education B.A. in Ancient History and Classical Languages (institution and date not identified)
Occupation Writer
Known for Research into the Christ myth theory
Website jesuspuzzle.org

Earl J. Doherty (born 1941)[1] is a Canadian author of The Jesus Puzzle (1999), Challenging the Verdict (2001), and Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (2009). Doherty argues for a version of the Christ myth theory, the thesis that Jesus did not exist as a historical figure. Doherty says that Paul thought of Jesus as a spiritual being executed in a spiritual realm.[2]


Doherty has stated he has a bachelor's degree in Ancient History and Classical Languages,[3] but no completed advanced degrees.[4][5][6] His undergraduate studies gave him knowledge of Greek and Latin, to which he has added a basic knowledge of Hebrew and Syriac.[6]


Doherty was introduced to the idea of a mythical origin of Jesus by, among other things, the work of G. A. Wells, who has authored a number of books arguing a moderate form of the "Christ myth" theory.[6] In 1999, Doherty's book The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? was published by Canadian Humanist Publications.[7] He self-published a 2005 re-release of The Jesus Puzzle under his own imprint, Age of Reason Publications,[8] along with two other books. Challenging the Verdict (2001) is a critique of The Case for Christ, a book of Christian apologetics by author Lee Strobel. Jesus: Neither God Nor Man - The Case for a Mythical Jesus (2009) is a revised and expanded version of The Jesus Puzzle. In 2012, Doherty published The End of an Illusion: How Bart Ehrman's "Did Jesus Exist?" Has Laid the Case for an Historical Jesus to Rest.

Doherty asserts that Christianity began with a belief in a spiritual, mythical figure, that the Gospels are essentially allegory and fiction, and that no single identifiable person named Jesus lay at the root of the Galilean preaching tradition." Doherty 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.

According to Doherty, none of the major Christian apologists before 180 AD, except for Justin and Aristides of Athens, included an account of a historical Jesus in their defenses of Christianity. Instead Doherty suggests that the early Christian writers describe a Christian movement grounded in Platonic philosophy and Hellenistic Judaism, reaching the worship of a monotheistic Jewish god and what he calls a "logos-type Son". Doherty further 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.[9]

The Jesus Puzzle[edit]

Doherty has used the title "The Jesus Puzzle" for four different works. In Fall 1997, the Journal of Higher Criticism published his article, "The Jesus Puzzle: Pieces in a Puzzle of Christian Origins."[10] His non-fiction book The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? was published two years later. He uses the title for a website where he publishes additional commentary and responses to reviews and criticisms of his work.[11] He also used the title for a novel which he provides for download on his website.[12]

In all four of these works, Doherty presents views on the origins of Christianity, specifically promoting the view that Jesus is a mythical figure rather than a historical person. Doherty argues that Paul and other writers of the earliest existing proto-Christian Gnostic documents did not believe in Jesus as a person who incarnated on Earth in a historical setting. Rather, they believed in Jesus as a heavenly being who suffered his sacrificial death in the lower spheres of heaven in the hands of the demon spirits, and was subsequently resurrected by God. This Christ myth was not based on a tradition reaching back to a historical Jesus, but on the Old Testament exegesis in the context of Jewish-Hellenistic religious syncretism heavily influenced by Middle Platonism, and what the authors believed to be mystical visions of a risen Jesus.

Doherty says that the Jesus myth was given a historical setting only by the second generation of Christians, somewhere between the 1st and 2nd century. He further says that even the author of the Gospel of Mark probably did not consider his gospel to be a literal work of history, but an allegorical midrashic composition based on the Old Testament prophecies. In the widely supported two-source hypothesis, the story of Mark was later fused with a separate tradition of anonymous sayings embodied in the Q document into the other gospels. According to Doherty, the Q-authors may have regarded themselves as "spokespersons for the Wisdom of God," with Jesus being the embodiment of this Wisdom.[10] In time, the gospel-narrative of this embodiment of Wisdom became interpreted as the literal history of the life of Jesus. Doherty denies any historical value of the Acts of the Apostles, and refers to works by John Knox, Joseph B. Tyson, J.C. O'Neill, Burton L. Mack and Richard Pervo in dating Acts into the 2nd century and regarding it as largely based on legend.[13]

In 2009 Doherty self-published a revised edition of his book, with a new title of Jesus: Neither God nor Man, expanded by incorporating the rebuttals to criticisms received since 1999 and accumulated on his website.[14]


Among authors sympathetic to the view that Jesus never existed, Doherty's work has received mixed reactions. The Jesus Puzzle has received favorable reviews from fellow mythicists Robert M. Price and Richard Carrier.[15] Frank Zindler, former editor of American Atheist, in a review of The Jesus Puzzle described it as "the most compelling argument against the historical Jesus published in my life-time".[16]

George Albert Wells, who now argues a more moderate form of the Christ myth and who rejects Doherty's view that the mythical Jesus of Paul did not also descend to Earth,[17] has nonetheless described The Jesus Puzzle as an "important book".[18] R. Joseph Hoffmann considers that there are "reasons for scholars to hold" the view that Jesus never existed, but considers Doherty "A 'disciple' of Wells" who "has rehashed many of the former’s views in The Jesus Puzzle (Age of Reason Publications, 2005) which is qualitatively and academically far inferior to anything so far written on the subject".[19] Doherty has responded that his work owes very little to Wells.[20]

Writers who do not necessarily support the hypothesis that Jesus did not exist have found merit in some of Doherty's arguments. Hector Avalos has written that "The Jesus Puzzle outlines a plausible theory for a completely mythical Jesus."[21]

Bart Ehrman, an expert on textual criticism of the NT and Early Christianity, has dismissed Jesus, Neither God nor Man as "filled with so many unguarded and undocumented statements and claims, and so many misstatements of fact, that it would take a 2,400-page book to deal with all the problems... Not a single early Christian source supports Doherty's claim that Paul and those before him thought of Jesus as a spiritual, not a human being, who was executed in the spiritual, not the earthly realm."[22]

In a book criticizing the Christ myth theory, New Testament scholar Maurice Casey describes Doherty as "perhaps the most influential of all the mythicists",[23] but one who is unable to understand the ancient texts he uses in his arguments.[24]



  1. ^ Library of Congress authority file, accessed April 18, 2010.
  2. ^ Ehrman, Bart (2012). Did Jesus Exist?. pp. 252–258. 
  3. ^ Jesus, Neither God nor Man, 2009, Preface p. ix: "I will end here on a personal note that was lacking in the original book [1999, reprint 2005]. My formal education consisted of a B.A. with Distinction in Ancient History and Classical Languages, (Greek and Latin, the former being essential in any research into the New Testament). Unfortunately, I was forced to suspend my M.A. program due to health reasons and did not return."
  4. ^ Jesus, Neither God nor Man, 2009, Preface p. ix: "Unfortunately, I was forced to suspend my M.A. program due to health reasons and did not return."
  5. ^ Ehrman, Bart D (2012). Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. New York: HarperCollins. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-06-220460-8. 
  6. ^ a b c Doherty, Earl. "The Jesus Puzzle: Main Articles - Preamble". Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  7. ^ Doherty, Earl (2005) [1999]. The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ?. Ottawa: Age of Reason Publications. ISBN 0-9689259-1-X. 
  8. ^ Age of Reason Publications website
  9. ^ Doherty, Earl. "The Jesus Puzzle", Journal of Higher Criticism, volume 4, issue 2, 1997.
  10. ^ a b Doherty, Earl (Fall 1997). "The Jesus Puzzle: Pieces in a Puzzle of Christian Origins". Journal of Higher Criticism. 4 (2). 
  11. ^ Doherty, Earl. "The Jesus Puzzle: Was There No Historical Jesus?". Retrieved 2 July 2009. 
  12. ^ Doherty, Earl (1999). The Jesus Puzzle: A Novel About the Greatest Question of Our Time. 
  13. ^ Doherty, Earl. "Jesus: Neither God nor Man". p. 470. 
  14. ^ Doherty, Earl. "Jesus: Neither God nor Man". .
  15. ^ Carrier, Richard (2002). "Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity". The Secular Web. Archived from the original on 5 July 2009. Retrieved 23 June 2009. 
  16. ^ Zindler, Frank R. (2000–2001). "The Christ Myth Revisited". American Atheist. 39 (1). Archived from the original on 8 January 2008. Retrieved 23 June 2009. 
  17. ^ Wells, G. A. (September 1999). "Earliest Christianity". New Humanist. 114 (3): 13–18. Retrieved 23 June 2009. 
  18. ^ Wells, G. A. (2004). Can We Trust the New Testament?. Peru, Illinois: Open Court. p. 202. ISBN 0-8126-9567-4. 
  19. ^ Hoffmann, R. Joseph (2006). "Maurice Goguel and the 'Myth Theory' of Christian Origins". In Goguel, Maurice. Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History?. Translated by Frederick Stephens. New introduction by R. Joseph Hoffmann. Amherst, NY: Prometheus. pp. 15, 39 n. 31. ISBN 1-59102-370-X. 
  20. ^ http://jesuspuzzle.org/JesusProject.htm
  21. ^ Avalos, Hector (2007). The End of Biblical Studies. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books. p. 197. ISBN 978-1-59102-536-8. 
  22. ^ Ehrman, Bart (2012). Did Jesus Exist?. pp. 252–258. 
  23. ^ Casey, Maurice (2014). Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?. London: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-56759-224-8. 
  24. ^ Casey, Maurice (2014). Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?. London: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-56759-224-8. 

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