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Was Jesus a Roman Fiction?

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Filed under Historicity

caesarsmessiah
Computer scientist and self-proclaimed biblical scholar Joseph Atwill is going to be giving a presentation in England that is stirring up some buzz.

Recently, Atwill sent out a press release that was picked up by outlets such as The Daily Mail.

According to the press release, Atwill is planning to explain his theory that Jesus Christ never lived.

Atwill is a mythicist—a person who claims that Jesus is a myth, not a historical figure.

According to Atwill’s version of mythicism, Jesus is a fictional character that was invented by the Roman emperor(s) and the circle around them.

How well does his claim stand up to scrutiny?

 

Setting the Context

The position of mythicism is extremely uncommon among historians and Bible scholars. Virtually all—including those who are not Christian—acknowledge that the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was a real, historical figure.

In a previous post, we’ve looked at some of that evidence.

Just looking at early non-Christian sources, we have clear evidence that the Christian movement began in the first half of the first century A.D. in the Roman province of Judaea, and, by the end of the first century, had spread widely in the Roman world.

These are facts admitted by both early Christian and non-Christian sources alike.

The movement's sudden appearance and rapid spread indicate that it was highly organized and motivated to spread its message—facts that in turn point to the existence of a founder who gave the movement its organization and mission.

The earliest sources we have that address who that founder was (that is to say, the New Testament documents), indicate that it was Jesus of Nazareth.

This was the movement’s own account of its founding, and this must be regarded as the most reasonable explanation unless there is compelling evidence otherwise.

Does Atwill have such evidence?

 

Revealing Statements

In his book Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus (Flavian Signature Edition), Atwill frames his case with some revealing remarks.

He states:
 

"This imperial family, the Flavians, created Christianity, and, even more incredibly, they incorporated a skillful satire of the Jews in the Gospels and Wars of the Jews to inform posterity of this fact.
 
The Flavian dynasty lasted from 69 to 96 C.E., the period when most scholars believe the Gospels were written. It consisted of three Caesars: Vespasian and his two sons, Titus and Domitian.
 
Flavius Josephus, the adopted member of the family who wrote Wars of the Jews, was their official historian.
 
The satire they created is difficult to see. If it were otherwise, it would not have remained unnoticed for two millennia. . . .
 
[W]hy then has the satirical relationship between Jesus and Titus not been noticed before? This question is especially apt in light of the fact that the works that reveal their satire—the New Testament and the histories of Josephus—are perhaps the most scrutinized books in literature.
 
Moreover, the satirical level of the Gospels has not been discovered because it was designed to be difficult to see.
 
The Flavian Caesars wanted more than just to transform messianic Judaism. They wanted Christianity to flourish and become widely held, even world-wide, before the Gospels’ satirical level was discovered."

 
So let’s be clear on what Atwill is claiming: The Flavian Caesars invented Christianity, but they did so in a way that incorporated a satire both in the Gospels and in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus.

They incorporated this satire to reveal the falsehood, so that future generations could admire their cleverness.

Yet this satire was “designed to be difficult to see” because “they wanted Christianity to flourish and become widely held, even world wide.”

Thus they disguised this satire so cleverly that it would not be recognized for 2,000 years, even though—as Atwill states—the New Testament and the histories of Josephus “are perhaps the most scrutinized books in literature.”

Really?

 

More than “Too Clever by Half”

This claim is more than “too clever by half.” It’s too clever by several orders of magnitude.

Nobody is going to invent a fake religion and then plant in it a satire that reveals what they are doing, trusting that they have disguised the satire sufficiently that it will let the religion become widespread, or even world-wide, and then expect it to be discovered in future generations.

Even if they tried that, the satire would never remain undiscovered for 2,000 years—in “perhaps the most scrutinized books in literature”—until an obscure computer scientist figures it all out two millennia later.

Simply looking at this set of remarks reveals that the vastly greater likelihood is that the supposed satire is in the computer scientist’s imagination—and that the scholars who scrutinized the texts for 2,000 years and didn’t see the satire were reading them right.

 

An Example

Just to give you a taste of the kind of thing that Atwill sees as evidence of satire, let’s consider one of the key “parallels” that he cites as evidence for the satire.

In a famous passage in Wars of the Jews (6:3:4), Josephus reports that at one point during the siege of Jerusalem the lack of food was so great that an upper-class woman roasted and ate half of her infant son.

The aroma attracted attention, and some of the rebels in the city came to her and demanded her food.

She then offered them what was left, and they went away, horrified, as she sarcastically berated them for causing the calamity that had come upon the city.

Oh, and this woman’s name was Mary (daughter of Eleazar of Bethezub).

And all of this is depicted as occurring more than three decades after the life of Christ.

Despite that, and despite the fact that Mary was the single most common female name in Palestinian Judaism at the time (so that there are six or seven Marys in the New Testament alone), Atwill takes this account as evidence of Roman satire:

  • For Mary of Eleazar, read the Virgin Mary
  • For the unnamed, roasted son, read Jesus
  • For the eating, read the Eucharist

The connections are exceedingly tenuous, to say the least. In his book, Atwill cites several more, equally tenuous connections, but they do not change the fact that the alternative explanation is far more likely: That Josephus is not parodying the Eucharist but reporting an incident that actually took place during the siege of Jerusalem after the rebel leader John of Gischala burned the city’s grain supply and doomed it to famine (5:1:4).

Unfortunately, this kind of parallelomania is common in Atwill’s writing. He regularly cherry-picks Josephus for wildly improbable allusions to the New Testament, at times using his own, idiosyncratic translations of terms.

Frankly put, this is not scholarship.

 

What Motive?

Taking a step back from the level of detail, let’s consider some of the larger problems with Atwill’s claim.

For a start, why would the Romans do this? What motive would they plausibly have had?

According to Atwill, the Gospels were most likely written between A.D. 71 and 79, during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian.

Vespasian and his son Titus had just fought the First Jewish War (A.D. 66-73) to put down revolutionaries in Judaea, and they wanted to forestall similar incidents in the future.

They thus wanted to create a pacifistic version of Judaism that would accept Roman rule.

There are several problems with this.

 

The Roman Way

First, creating elaborate literary hoaxes to develop pacifistic strains of foreign religions wasn’t the Roman way of doing things.

The Roman way of doing things involved armies and assassinations, not literary hoaxes. They were, after all, Romans, not Cardassians.

Then there is the factor of time: It would take decades or centuries to create a movement that could pacify Judaism, and the Roman emperors simply did not think that long-term.

They were far more focused on surviving their own reigns, and they wanted problems dealt with expeditiously.

For them, the sword was far more powerful—and quicker—than the pen.

 

Jews Willing to Accept Roman Rule

Second, creating a literary hoax so that Jews would be willing to accept Roman rule would have been completely unnecessary.

There already were Jews willing to accept Roman rule. Loads of them.

And since the revolutionaries had largely been killed off, those willing to accept the Roman rule were now clearly in the majority.

There were even movements within the Jewish community—such as the Sadducees—who were known for being Roman collaborators.

If you wanted to pacify the Jewish community, fostering such existing movements—not spawning a literary hoax to create a new one—would have been far more logical.

 

Who Has Heard Our Message?

Third, just who was going to be pacified through the new Christian movement?

The revolutionaries, such as the Zealots and the Sicarii, would be the last people interested in a pacifistic version of Judaism.

Anyone preaching cooperation with the Romans would find their message falling on deaf ears when it came to the Zealots and Sicarii.

The only people likely to respond to the message would be the very people who don’t need convincing.

 

No Position to Rebel

Fourth, Judaea was in no position to rebel after the war finished.

It had been ravaged, its economic and military power destroyed, and its population disorganized, scattered, or killed.

It would take decades of rebuilding before Judaea could think about rebelling again, and when the next rebellion came (the Kitos War of A.D. 115-117) it started outside Judaea, in lands that had not been crushed in the first war.

 

What Vespasian Actually Did

Fifth, we know what the Vespasian actually did to deal with the Jewish community.

Rather than creating a fake religion, he taxed them.

Vespasian imposed a punitive tax on the Jewish people and, just to add an additional element of humiliation now that their temple was destroyed, he had the money directed to the Temple of Jupiter Best and Greatest in Rome.

His approach was thus to humiliate the Jews through temporal means, not to convert them to a new, pacifistic religion.

 

Problems with Writing

Another set of problems with Atwill’s claim (beside the issue of motive) are of a practical nature.

For a start, how did he and the circle around him come up with the documents of the New Testament?

They weren’t Jews. They weren’t immersed in the Jewish Scriptures the way the authors of the New Testament clearly were.

It would not have been possible for pagan Romans to write the New Testament. They would have had to have Jewish help.

Indeed, the New Testament documents had to have been produced by individuals intimately familiar with Jewish thought, culture, and language.

So did they employ Jewish writers to do this for them? Why would the Jewish authors have collaborated on a project this blasphemous?

Many Jews would have been willing to die rather than do so.

 

Planting Secret Messages

Even if they found some who could be forced into doing so, these Jews would have been far more likely to slip in “This is all fake” messages into the texts rather than the elaborate satire Atwill claims is there.

And are we really to believe that the authors' Roman masters were so interested in planting the satire that they were willing to closely superintend the writing and say, “Hey, we need more satire here. Dig through your memory of Jewish lore to come up with something offensive and biting.”

 

The Role of Josephus

Further, if Josephus himself were one of the authors involved in this conspiracy, and if his writings are meant to form a companion to the New Testament, why didn’t he say more about Jesus in his writings?

He barely mentions Jesus twice.

If Josephus was seeking to plant information to foster Vespasian’s Christ conspiracy, why didn’t he do so in a clear and direct way in Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews (not to mention his Life and Against Apion).

 

How Will They Hear Without Someone Preaching?

Then there is the practical problem of how the documents of the New Testament were to be distributed.

They couldn’t just leave them in libraries, waiting for the illiterate masses to check them out and start a new religion among the lower class and the slaves.

Religions didn’t get started by literary means.

To effectively spread a faith in the first century would have involved doing exactly what the Gospels present Jesus doing: Starting an organized preaching mission, with evangelists to carry the word to others.

So where, in the A.D. 70s, did Vespasian get a team of Jewish preachers to go out, at risk of damnation, to proclaim a false Christ?

Even if they were charlatans who didn’t believe in actual damnation, why would they be willing to risk persecution and martyrdom at the hands of the local authorities?

These would have been risks for them, because the kinds of riots and divisions we see in the book of Acts would have been precisely what they would face as they preached Jesus among the Jews in different cities.

They would be lucky not to get lynched!

And, if pacifying Judaism was what this was supposed to be all about, why wouldn’t the Romans call the whole enterprise off as soon as they started seeing the kind of uprisings it was provoking in the Jewish communities?

 

Busted!

There is also the problem of getting their message accepted.

While many people in Judaea had been killed, many survived and were scattered throughout the Roman world.

Many who had lived in Judaea in the A.D. 30s were still around, and when Christian missionaries showed up with a message about Jesus of Nazareth preaching to thousands, they would have been in a position to say, “Hey! There was no such guy! I was there!”

Some might say, “I was in Jerusalem at Passover of A.D. 33, and the events you describe simply did not happen!” or “I’m from Galilee; it’s a tiny place; and there was no such Jesus going about preaching and working miracles.”

 

Who Has Believed Our Word?

Even without such a witness in a local Jewish community, consider what this enterprise would have involved: Creating—in the A.D. 70s—the illusion of a movement stretching back to the A.D. 30s.

That movement was based in local congregations known as churches, and the New Testament documents report churches being located in major metropolitan areas between A.D. 30 and A.D. 70.

These areas include Jerusalem, Syrian Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Rome, Thessalonica, Philippi, and others.

Now: If Christianity was first introduced into these cities some time after A.D. 70, why didn’t the first converts pick up on the fact that there had been no churches in these cities previously?

For example, Ephesus is a major Christian center in Acts. Why didn’t the first actual Christians in Ephesus not notice that there had been no church there previously, though Acts says that there was?

Trying to create the illusion of a previously existing movement would have been fraught with peril and far harder than simply starting one, without claiming an extensive past history for it.

A more logical way to proceed, if you wanted to claim Jesus had lived decades earlier, would be to have a single disciple who knew Jesus but was under orders not to preach him until now.

Making up an elaborate, decades-long backstory for the Church, filled with claims that could easily be falsified, would not be way to go.

 

Playing with Dynamite

All told, the scheme that Atwill attributes to Vespasian and his circle would seem to have a remarkably remarkably high chance of failure.

One of the missionaries breaking under the pressure of a lynch mob and trying to exculpate himself by pointing to the Emperor would be all it could take to give the plan away.

And if it did fail, the consequences would have been dramatic.

Trying to subvert the Jewish religion is the very kind of thing that would cause a massive Jewish uprising.

If the idea got out that the Romans were trying to get Jews to worship a false Messiah, it would have sparked an empire-wide rebellion that would have been far worse than the Jewish War of the A.D. 60s.

Trying to pull off such a hoax would be playing with dynamite, and the Roman emperors would have been crazy to attempt such a hare-brained scheme.

 

What Now?

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In the meantime, what do you think?

Jimmy Akin

Written by

Jimmy Akin is a Senior Apologist at Catholic Answers, a member on the Catholic Answers Speakers Bureau, a weekly guest on the global radio program, Catholic Answers LIVE, and a contributing editor for Catholic Answers Magazine. He's the author of numerous publications, including the books The Fathers Know Best (Catholic Answers, 2010); The Salvation Controversy (Catholic Answers, 2001); and Mass Confusion: The Do's & Don'ts of Catholic Worship (Catholic Answers, 1999). Many of Jimmy's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Follow Jimmy's writing at JimmyAkin.com.

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  • GreatSilence

    Satire. I see.

    Interesting strategy. Atwill leads with stuff like this, so that Carrier's book coming out soon can seem better by comparison.
    Got it.

    The lengths that people will go to in dismissing Jesus.

  • GreatSilence

    I must say that this site is really giving this Jesus mythicism a heck of a lot of airplay. Maybe it is this valid and interesting scholarly question, and I am in the wrong for regarding it as fringe fantasy. Why else would this feature so often recently. Maybe I'm just in a cranky Monday mood.

    • I'd wager the latter :)

      In all seriousness, we're only addressing this again because of the issues' timeliness. Atwill's claims just hit the news last week and are sure to make waves in the popular culture over the coming months. We thought they were worth examining (and debunking.)

      • Exactly. Atwill has gone mainstream. This is worth not ignoring.

      • Octavo

        I'm glad you did decide to post this, Brandon. This mythicist stuff is frustratingly persistent.

        • Doug Shaver

          This mythicist stuff is frustratingly persistent.

          So, you're beginning to get some notion of how we atheists feel about this God stuff?

          • wamalo

            But atheism is simply non-belief. Or is it more?

          • Doug Shaver

            It depends on which atheist you're talking to. And if I'm the atheist, it also depends on context.

          • wamalo

            So atheism is more then non belief. Perhaps it's own belief system with elements of its own "religiosity". Ok - thanks.

          • Doug Shaver

            You are misconstruing what I said.

          • wamalo

            Hardly. Questioning Atheists as to their motivations often reveals far more emotional investment than simple non-belief. This I find amusing given the logical conclusions of a materialistic framework. In short, based on your framework, you really need to take your irritation with God-talk up with evolution.

          • Doug Shaver

            I know what I said, and I meant what I said, no more and no less.

            My reasoning is either valid or not. If it is valid, then my motivations are irrelevant. If it is not valid, then you need to show why it isn't.

          • wamalo

            I would simply be repeating myself. What about the implications of my rejoinder do you need me to simplity?

          • Doug Shaver

            If it is not valid, then you need to show why it isn't.

            I would simply be repeating myself.

            No, you wouldn't. You have said that you disagree. You have not said why.

          • wamalo

            Where have I said I diagree with you voicing your opinion. The point I raised is way more nuanced.

          • Doug Shaver

            Where have I said I diagree with you voicing your opinion.

            I didn't say you had. I said you disagreed with my opinion, not with my expressing it.

          • wamalo

            I've already explained why? Again what do you need me to simplify?

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't think simplification will help, but you can try if you wish. I said: "You are misconstruing what I said." You replied: "Hardly. Questioning Atheists as to their motivations often reveals far more emotional investment than simple non-belief. This I find amusing given the logical conclusions of a materialistic framework. In short, based on your framework, you really need to take your irritation with God-talk up with evolution." I don't see anything in there that explains why you think you have properly construed what I said. What I see is an evasion.

          • wamalo

            1. Religious beliefs exist

            2. According to atheists, materialism is the only allowed framework and thus evolutionary processes are responsible for everything.

            Materialism must explain religious beliefs. The only option open is to explain religious beliefs is in terms of evolution, in particular evolutionary "programming" based upon natural selection, adaptation and survival.

            3. Religious beliefs are false

            Therefore evolution gave rise to and selects for false beliefs. (Which incidentally, immediately casts doubt on your own beliefs). Because of their evolutionary programming people, in this case Christians, cannot help but enevitably end up believing what they believe. (Sam Harris). Given materialism, feelings and personal beliefs are intrinsically and ultimately meaningless.

            However, atheists never acknowledge this and act accordingly, instead they whine about how they feel about others who are simply acting in accordance with their evolutionary programming. So it's not simply about non-belief but a 'religious' belief system often unwittingly implying metaphysical paradigms.

            Is that evasive?

          • Doug Shaver

            1. Religious beliefs exist

            Obviously.

            2. According to atheists, materialism is the only allowed framework

            Not according to all atheists, and probably not according to most atheists. The proposition "There is no God" does not imply the proposition "Materialism is true."

            Materialism must explain religious beliefs.

            It doesn't. By itself, materialism cannot explain religious beliefs. There may be a materialistic explanation, but that doesn't mean materialism alone either is the explanation or entails the explanation.

            3. Religious beliefs are false

            Not necessarily all of them. The virgin birth is certainly a religious belief, but atheism does not contradict it.

            Therefore evolution gave rise to and selects for false beliefs.

            Evolution does not select for any beliefs.

            However, atheists never acknowledge this

            There is no reason we should. None of it has anything to do with atheism.

            Is that evasive?

            Nope. You've answered my question, thank you very much. You gave a lousy answer, but it was an answer.

          • wamalo

            I guess you were more intent on addressing the premises I proposed, with thoroughly weak "rebuttals", than the main logical consequence (or atheism's dissonance) I put forward. Well done. Good to see the usual slippery tactics employed here. "Well that is not atheism as I wish to define it". Again my main point is what atheists claim to believe and how they actually act are usually two different things. And I agree, atheists tend to, unwittingly, imply non-naturalistic, non-materialistic paradigms while arguing for naturalism/materialism.
            .
            So please enlighten me and explain how beliefs came to exist apart from naturalistic/evolutionary processes?

          • Doug Shaver

            I guess you were more intent on addressing the premises I proposed, with thoroughly weak "rebuttals", than the main logical consequence (or atheism's dissonance) I put forward.

            I was concerned with whether you had a good argument to support what you were saying. You don't. The logical consequence of dubious premises is itself dubious. And my rebuttals are not weak just because you say they are. If you can demonstrate their weakness, go for it.

            Again my main point is what atheists claim to believe and how they actually act are usually two different things.

            We atheists don't all think alike. I am defending what I believe. Whether all other atheists or any other atheist agrees with me is beside the point.

            So please enlighten me and explain how beliefs came to exist apart from naturalistic/evolutionary processes?

            Why do I need to? I have never said that they came to exist any other way.

          • wamalo

            Hmm okay, the minute you prove, instead of assert, that my proposed premises and logical consequences are dubious. See how that works? Yes I don't know your specific subset of atheistic dogma, and this forum is not conducive to that so I'll simply state again... Ultimately, based on your premises, your issue with Christians speaking about God is ultimately with Mother Nature, Father Time and Lady Luck.

          • Doug Shaver

            See how that works?

            I know exactly how it works.

      • Barry Coleman

        He made a HUGE ruckus. A "concference" in London, where only he and another guy with similar theories appear... but by saying 'conference' they make it sounds as professional historians will be there speaking (not so...).

        Sure the average Dawking fan will idolize him (well maybe not, even Richard Carrier said Atwill was a crackpot... Dawkins did tweet about it apparently...)

    • Doug Shaver

      Maybe it is this valid and interesting scholarly question, and I am in the wrong for regarding it as fringe fantasy.

      You are not wrong to regard Atwill's work as fringe fantasy. You are wrong if you think all people who doubt Jesus' existence are fringe fantasists.

  • I agree with Great Silence. The

  • Sqrat

    In the atheist blogosphere, the general opinion is that Atwill is a complete crank and should be ignored.

    • Barry Coleman

      Haha you know one is a crackpot is his fellow (un)belivers call him a crackpot. :D

      • Doug Shaver

        Haha you know one is a crackpot is his fellow (un)belivers call him a crackpot.

        I don't know that. If I thought I knew it, I'd be committing the genetic fallacy.

        • Barry Coleman

          Yes it is a genetic fallacy... but when people that support your own conclusions think you are a looney, it is usually not a good sign.

          It does not mean he's right or wrong by itself.

          • Doug Shaver

            Atwill reaches a whole package of conclusions, and Jesus' nonexistence is actually only a small part of the package. It's the rest of the package that most mythicists have a problem with.

            It's sort of like Protestants and Catholics. Both agree that Jesus was the "only begotten son [of God], our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried . . . rose again from the dead . . . ascended into Heaven . . . [etc. etc.]." But each group thinks the other is woefully misguided about many other issues, particularly regarding the methods they use to reach their respective doctrines.

  • "Nobody is going to invent a fake religion and then plant in it a satire.." Ever heard of The SubGenius Foundation? How about Discordianism? There are countless others. I know people who make up religions as a hobby.

    First, it should be made clear this concept of satire is a relatively modern phenomenon. The word comes from the Latin, but they didn't really HAVE satire as we understand it today. They may have done satire, but Romans weren't going around afterwards elbowing each other and shoving each other into bushes giggling like schoolgirls.

    I don't think Christianity was invented out of whole cloth by the Romans, but as the Roman Empire evolved along with modern humanity, it adapted to cultural changes among its people, notably the messianic hogwash that had successfully competed with Rome's own laborious process of adding gods from multiple cultures to their own tired pantheon. By the time Constantine was "converted" to monotheism and essentially handed the Roman Empire over to The Roman Catholic Church (I know it's more complicated than that lets not split hairs), he didn't see that as a loss. He thought he was winning. In fact one can argue that the Roman Catholic Church is STILL the Roman Empire, adapted to the needs and desires of its people. If you can't conquer the world by mere land mass, conquer the hearts and minds of that land's people.

    Riddle me this: why does the book of Mark use The Sea of Galilee as an epic backdrop for many of Jesus' adventures, when its just essentially a boring lake? And why do some stories in the gospels mimic previous myths of Greek and other cultures? People like what's familiar to them. It's comforting. Two thousand years later it's still comforting to some, and reading some Joseph Campbell can help explain why. There's an over-arching tale of belonging and redemption that echoes throughout humanity's tales it tells itself. People still find comfort in those words, even today. Perhaps satirists molded and shaped some of the new testament, and simply did their jobs too well.

    Maybe some Romans simply tapped into what was already happening, and manipulated it to serve their needs for control and manipulation. Even today, politicians use what they believe their followers believe in order to control and manipulate. I don't think the Roman Empire invented Christianity, but once they realized it might become a threat to their dominion, they used it to serve their purposes. I think history already confirms that as more than merely a theory.

    What I find most amusing about this avenue of historical reasoning, looking back with what we think is 20/20 vision but also marred by our own modern presumptions, one thing is clear: religion is a cultural man-made phenomenon that has evolved over time. Religion proves evolution. It's not the other way around.

    • Jimmy Akin

      ZachsMind: Be sure to finish the sentence. It reads:

      "Nobody is going to invent a fake religion and then plant in it a satire *that reveals what they are doing, trusting that they have disguised the satire sufficiently that it will let the religion become widespread, or even world-wide, and then expect it to be discovered in future generations.*"

      The Church of the SubGenius and Discordianism were meant to be obvious parodies from the beginning. The fact that they were made up was not meant to be discovered generations later, after these "religions" had become major world faiths.

    • Barry Coleman

      "why does the book of Mark use The Sea of Galilee as an epic backdrop for many of Jesus' adventures, when its just essentially a boring lake"

      It's called like that. Even if it's called 'sea' it does not mean it's an 'epic backdrop'. It's also called Lake Tiberias in the Gospels.

      It's a big lake in Palestine (relative for that region, 21 km (13 mi) long, and 13 km (8.1 mi) wide, not huge but not a pond either).

      If Jesus had lived near the Titikaka lake, that would have been the backdrop.

      Not sure whay you mean by "epic". Many disciples of Jesus were fishermen and would have worked in the Sea of Galilea, obviously, so it's only normal Jesus went there a few times.

      Besides it might be boring NOW, but back then it was a very important location, a source for water and food.

      ----

      "And why do some stories in the gospels mimic previous myths of Greek and other cultures? "

      Mimic? There are some parallelism... but parallelism are easy to find between many historical figures (eg. how many sons of kings are there in history books? that went to epic wars, has three sons, etc.. etc..)

      Also many myths are now proven to be copied FROM Christianity since they appear in non-christian myths 2-3 centuries AFTER Christ (like the myth of Dyonisius turning water into wine, or several stories about Krisha and several texts from Mazdaism).

      So even in similarities you have to check the dates and get who copies who. Atheists assumes (wrongly) that Christianity always is the late comer copying other, but the FACT (proven by when certain stories and myths actually apear in certain pagan religions) is that many pagan religios did copy Christianity after it appeared, not viceversa.

      ---

      "Religion is a cultural man-made phenomenon that has evolved over time. Religion proves evolution. It's not the other way around."

      That it is a merely man-made phenomenon is an unproven and quite unlikely assumption.

      Moreover unsure what you mean "Religion proves evolution. It's not the other way around"

      Religion is not set on proving or disproving evolution (Ok SOME Christians are, but most are not). So no problem with evolution here.

      Also you are confused 'social evolution' is not the same as 'evolution of species'. They are two quite different phenomena, one sociological and psychological and one physical and biological (although there are links between them).

      --

  • Nick

    Great article! Very nice to see such a timely Christian perspective on a subject that blew up like that in the past week. Hopefully people will take a look at this perspective before just blindly accepting Atwill's claims.

  • Chris West

    Great Article!
    Here are just a couple of short points that I have not seen that I think debunk Atwill's claims:

    1) It is a proven fact that St. Paul wrote his letters decades before the Gospels and even before the Flavian dynasty. Was Paul a part of this Satire?...not so much

    2) The earliest writings of the New Testament that we have are in Greek. All of the Gospels and letters of St. Paul were not written in Latin (the language of these Roman emperors) but in Greek. What "great" Roman writer would have written anything in the "enemy's" native tongue?

    • mriehm

      Greek was, throughout the Roman empire, still largely the language of learning at the time.

      But, nonetheless, Jesus lived.

    • Jack Loganbill

      I have read that Pauls letters preceded the gospels, yet paul quotes verses from Luke...hmmmm

  • WhiteRock

    Satire? How does Atwill explain St. Paul's letters, which were written in Greek, not Latin? Something that simple discredits this entire theory. But of course, he would know that if he was actually a biblical scholar. Good thing he's largely ignored in the atheist sphere, though the problem is that he's going to get more attention since going mainstream.

    • Doug Shaver

      though the problem is that he's going to get more attention since going mainstream.

      That is not a problem with Atwill's theory. It is a problem with how the press does its thing. Journalists (along with most of their readers) have a really hard time distinguishing real scholarship from this sort of crackpottery.

  • [---
    The Flavian dynasty lasted from 69 to 96 C.E., the period when most scholars believe the Gospels were written. It consisted of three Caesars: Vespasian and his two sons, Titus and Domitian....
    .....
    The Flavian Caesars wanted more than just to transform messianic Judaism. They wanted Christianity to flourish and become widely held, even world-wide, before the Gospels’ satirical level was discovered.
    ---]

    I guess Domitian was not in on the family satire. Roman emperors launched a massive campaign to wipe out Christians across the empire during successive persecutions under Nero, Domitian, and Trajan. Seems like an odd thing for a Roman to do if they wanted them to flourish. The emperors before Nero were at best hostile, as can be seen from the martyrdom of our earliest popes.

  • Geena Safire

    As Sqrat noted, the atheist community in general dismisses Atwill's idea.

    Here is Richard Carrier's 20-page debunking of Atwill's claim.

    Here is Robert Price's refutation from 2005 of Atwill's hypothesis.

  • Barry Coleman

    Funny thing is that EVEN Richard Carrier (who is himself a crackpot) said Atwill was saying stupid things.

    It's like a guy criticizing evolution being bashed even by a young-earth creationist :D

    If there is a bottom of the barrel (there is: Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty & Co.) Atwill is even below that :D :D :D

    • Doug Shaver

      If you google Atwill or Atwill criticism, some of the first hits are ATHEIST criticizing him as crazy!

      Yes, isn't that amazing. Dare we imagine that some atheists are more concerned about the reasoning used to reach a conclusion than whether the conclusion is one we would like to believe?

      • Barry Coleman

        Strange reply.

        I never said all atheists are against reason or that no atheists are interested in the truth or anything like that.

        My comment was more meant as "well you might not believe people that have a different conclusion, but there are people who share the same conclusion and still think he is horribly wrong".

        In that way if there are those who think that people who disagree with Atwill's final conclusion might be "biased" against him, then look at the criticism from people who do share his own general conclusions.

        • Doug Shaver

          if there are those who think that people who disagree with Atwill's final conclusion might be "biased" against him, then look at the criticism from people who do share his own general conclusions.

          I think that is a point worth making, when it is stated in those terms.

  • Stephen Smith

    Hey Zues, a Psuedo name for the spirit of God. John the Baptist, and Mary wrote under the guise of Jesus. Dangerous times, was it not Mary that anointed the feet of The Christ, Judas carried the purse. Was it not Mary asking for forgiveness. Did not Christ get speared in the appendix, water and bile. They were to break his knees!

  • Stephen Smith

    His name was to be Emmanual!

  • Maybe the Jesus yarn is satire but it is certainly fiction. And really, Mr Akin, what possible credibility can a Vatican PR man have on the subject?

  • Keith Charles Cannon

    Not to mention that the oldest continuous Christian community is in Iraq and a good portion of the first Christian Churches were in Asia, not Europe. The Christian church is Iraq was in an area controlled by Parthia, which was at war with Rome from 66 BCE to 217 CE. Parthia was accepting of Christians because they wanted Jews to help them fight Rome and in reality, Babylon was the center of Jewish activity.... Jerusalem was where the extreme Orthodox Jews lived because of the Temple. While Parthia accepted Christians, at the same time Rome persecuted Christians. It is obvious to me that Christianity was started by Jews to infiltrate and subvert the power of Rome.... which it did, Rome eventually accepted Christianity and fell apart with Europe plunged into the Dark Ages while Jews in Babylon lived in luxury.
    The interesting part is that thr Talmud, which states that Jesus had a Roman father and was of an illegitimate birth.... a mamzer, ineligible to be a Jew, defiantly the worst choice to make for Jews to accept as a Massiah.

  • Dan

    Just because Atwill's Mythicism is not common does not make it wrong. There is much in the record to support it. It sure make's more sense given the war zone that ancient Judea was back them. Calling something a fringe theory does not make it irrelevant. Warm blooded dinosaurs were a fringe theory until professor Robert Bakker's groundbreaking work. Oops, I guess you don't believe that one either. Flintstones Forever! Yabba Dabba Doo.