VII. Mythical and Historical Problems of Christianity
There is an aversion in our society to the word “myth” because we believe this means a story is untrue. That is not necessarily the case. Myths, from Ancient Greece such as the “Iliad” and “Odyssey” of Homer, to the modern “Star Wars” of George Lucas, are very much true in that they are reflective of truth, even though not factually correct. The confusion between fact and truth is one of the biggest misunderstandings in our modern fact-obsessed society. Unlike our ancestors before us, we have lost touch with the value of myth, and believe for a story to be “true” it must be factually correct. Throughout this book I have sometimes used the words “fact” and “truth” synonymously, but here I am making a distinction between truth being that which is a universal quality of the human experience, and fact being that which can be established upon the presentation of demonstrable, reasonable, good evidence and sound reasoning. Throughout this book, I have looked into the nature of existence, and whether or not God exists. Now, I am looking at the question of whether or not Jesus, known as the Christ, actually existed as an historical, living person.
I must confess I have always taken for granted the notion of an historical Jesus. I even once went so far as to purchase the book, “The Complete Gospels,” endorsed by New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, because I wanted to know the “true” words of Jesus before they somehow became “corrupted” or left out altogether by those backed by ideological self-interests. I believed at bottom, there must have been an historical Jesus behind the mythical Jesus, and my aim was to understand exactly who this person was. The more I researched this question however, apart from only the Christian sources who had a special interest to defend, I discovered there is in fact, no evidence whatsoever contemporary to Jesus’ purported lifetime which speak of the person known as Jesus Christ as found in the Gospels. There are all kinds of theories, and in the end, it really doesn’t matter whether Jesus was a living person or a mythological character, like other mythological characters such as Dionysus, Hercules, or Horus, since once again, fact is not necessarily truth. That which is truth within the Gospels is not lessened whether Jesus, known as the Christ was an actual living person or not, since it is the truth which matters, not the “cup” in which the life-giving waters of truth are carried. It matters not who speaks the truth, but that it is spoken. The concern over who speaks the truth is a concern of ego, not love.
The reason “proving” Jesus Christ was a real, living person is so important to most if not all fundamentalists is because they depend on supposed “facts” instead of truth. Their faith depends on certain facts being correct to “prove” the correctness of their false theology, and so they are slaves to “proving fact,” scrambling to justify their beliefs no matter how thin the actual historical evidence may be. I once heard a pastor on a radio show describe how “the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most historically accurate recorded events in history,” then go on to say, “God did not intend for us to see him through myth, but through facts.” I nearly veered off the road as I shouted obscenities at the radio. It is amazing this guy gets paid to talk such lies about God – utter and complete blasphemy. Then again, every minister who preaches on the so-called “god” of the Christian tradition is getting paid to blaspheme every time they preach their version of the “good news,” which is really just “mixed news” since from their viewpoint only those who believe Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior will enter “Heaven,” while everyone else will be condemned to “Hell.”
At some point, everyone realizes Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are fairy tales – fictions created for the amusement and joy of children. The problem is, most adults never grow up, continuing to take mythology at face value instead of seeing it for what it is – metaphoric representations, stories reflecting truth without being factually correct, like the creation story in the Biblical book of Genesis. Jesus told many parables about the Kingdom of God, which were symbolic, metaphoric stories told for the purpose of illustrating and reflecting truth. Why is it so far-fetched to say the Christ story is itself a parable? It is amazing how Christians will easily dismiss the notion that Hercules and Dionysus were men who actually existed “in the flesh,” but will believe Jesus Christ did, even though there is no more evidence of his factual human existence than that of Hercules and Dionysus.
Hercules was believed in ancient Greece to at one time have been an actual living person, just as Jesus is believed to have been an actual living person in today’s culture. Hercules, like Jesus, was said to have been conceived by God, performed miraculous deeds for the benefit of humankind, died, and was saved from death. In Hercules’ case, he was saved from death by Zeus, and ascended to Olympus as a God. The Greek God of wine, Dionysus, is said to have been born of a virgin on December 25th, as the son of the god Zeus, and the mortal woman Semele. He performed miracles such as changing water into wine, and was said to be the “only begotten son,” who died and was resurrected after three days before ascending into heaven. Buddha is also said to have been born of a virgin. Contrary to Christian belief, the notion of “immaculate conception” is nothing new since these “immaculate conceptions” happened time and again within ancient mythology. The parallels between Hercules, Dionysus, and Jesus are beyond striking, and are too numerous to be purely coincidental. Christianity is a blend of many different influences, from Jewish tradition, some of Buddhism, as well as Paganism, with the “savior” legends of other cultures incorporated into the Christ myth.
While many Christians today will argue Christianity must be the “true faith” based on the “true God” because it has endured for over two-thousand years, it is important to remember the fact almost nobody believes in Zeus, Horus, Dionysus, nor any other ancient god anymore – gods who, like the god of the Judeo-Christian tradition and Jesus Christ, were also worshiped for thousands of years. Their gods died when their cultures died, as Christianity will also die when this culture has run its course. And while a different “Christ myth” will almost certainly arise from the ashes within the birth of a new culture, it will be the same essential story, with different names and faces, as the truthful story of life, death, and resurrection or “rebirth” – the awareness of the timeless within the illusory world of time is a universal story which shall endure. Truth never dies, but the vessels for that truth, whether it is our egos, our cultures, our versions of god and our myths about truth will always perish, as they are temporary and illusory. Fighting over the particular rendition of this myth is like fighting over the “right” cup which carries the water of truth. The water is everything. The cup is merely a vessel. No one rendition of the Christ myth, whether it is Dionysus, Horus, Buddha, Hercules, or Jesus Christ, is the sole beholder of truth, as all reflect the same essential truth to their respective cultures.
Even if Jesus of Nazareth (a town which did not even exist at the time of Jesus’ said existence), was an actual living person once upon a time, he was certainly mythologized by the Gospel writers, since the legends and stories about him so closely parallel those of other myths, like that of Hercules and Dionysus. The Christ story is the same tale, with different names and faces, just as we today retell the story of “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet.” The “faces,” the archetypes do not “belong” to any given person, culture, or identity, as they are universal and a reflection for all, whose stories are retold throughout the ages. We accept these fictional characters of Shakespeare never actually existed, but their humanity and reality is undeniable in how their stories speak to the truth of our human nature. Does anybody really care that Romeo and Juliet never existed? Does the fact they did not exist take away from the power and truth of their tragic story? Of course not. It would be far better for our global civilization’s welfare if we read the Bible and other religious texts as we do Shakespeare and poetry instead of reading them as if they are literal accounts as described in a history book.
While I have always taken for granted the historical reality of Jesus, the fact not a single word about this extraordinary preacher, teacher, and healer exists from during the time he was supposed to have lived on Earth is mind boggling and most telling. It is the single biggest reason I think, to seriously question the notion of an historical Jesus. The non-existence of any words about Jesus during his supposed lifetime is a fact I was startled and amazed to learn. The non-Biblical “secular” sources we do have, such as Josephus Flavius, Pliny the Younger, and Tacitus, are all people who were born after the alleged life of Jesus, which makes none of them eye-witnesses, and therefore makes all of their accounts nothing more than hearsay. How is it significant historians and writers who did live during Jesus’ day miss this amazing, miracle-working son of God? Why no records of momentous events contemporary historians would have never missed, such as the great darkness covering the Earth for hours during Jesus’ crucifixion, the earthquake, or the supposed “numerous” others who were “raised from the dead” after Jesus’ death, and made appearances in Jerusalem? Surely at least one of these momentous events would have been recorded by a contemporary historian, yet none exists. Why no Roman records of his crucifixion? Why are all accounts of his existence – secular or “religious” (of his followers), post mortem? Not a word from Justus of Tiberius, or Philo of Alexandria, who were both Jewish writers during the time of Jesus. Philo lived as the greatest Jewish-Hellenistic philosopher and historian of the time, who during the time of the alleged life of Jesus, lived in the area of Jerusalem. He left volumes of writings of detailed accounts of events that occurred in the surrounding area. Not a word of Jesus is mentioned in his writings, or in that of Justus, to name two of the most likely reporters of an historic Jesus, had he lived. If Jesus was as miraculous and famous as he is said to have been in the Gospels, with throngs and crowds of people following him, surely at least one word from a secular source would exist, and yet while preserved writings exist from the time of Jesus from these above-mentioned historians, there is not a single word in them recorded about Jesus.
It is also striking to me that even of the Biblical sources, the earliest known Gospels are said to have originated no earlier than about 50 C.E., as a most generous estimate, and most likely originated after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Even Biblical scholars agree on this timeframe, which is at best, almost twenty years removed from the resurrection, and at worst nearly forty years removed from the resurrection. This would be like having absolutely no documentation whatsoever for the existence of Abraham Lincoln in the 19th century, during his lifetime, then suddenly seeing all kinds of writings of his existence appear in the early 20th century. Does this make sense? If I was an eyewitness to a man as extraordinary as Jesus, and the resurrection of a man I knew, loved, and followed for three years, I would have written all about him during his ministry, and most certainly right after I saw him rise from the dead. If I knew I was in the presence of a most miraculous man of God, I would be sure to document as much as I possibly could immediately to preserve the precious legacy and truth of this man. Virtually anyone would have done the same thing, but none of the Gospel writers did this. To say they were illiterate and could not record these events does not work because supposedly two of the supposed gospel writers, Matthew and John, were Jesus’ disciples, and would have been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ teachings and ministry. And even after witnessing the miraculous resurrection and amazing life of Christ, neither one bothered to write their accounts of these miraculous events until decades later. This makes no sense in light of any genuine intellectual honesty.
Given these hard facts, it is highly improbable any of the Gospels were actually written by any eyewitnesses to the events and sayings of Jesus, regardless of the names to whom they are ascribed. To this day, credible Bible scholars admit the authors of all the Gospels are anonymous. Even if we posit the Gospels could have been written by some of the disciples, the life expectancy for most adults at that time was not more than 35 years or so. These men would have been well beyond that age, and the accuracy of their memories would have been challenged, to say the least. The lack of any written or physical evidence for Jesus’ existence during his supposed lifetime is perhaps the most damning case against the notion of a factual, historical, living Jesus. It simply makes little sense that not a single word about him or momentous events surrounding him would be written by others contemporary to Jesus’ lifetime – not only those who were his close disciples and friends, but also significant historians and writers who lived and worked in the area in and around Jerusalem during the years he supposedly lived. Nevertheless, the historical record for Jesus during his supposed lifetime is silent.
Some people claim Jesus Christ’s existence is better documented than any other figure of antiquity. This is simply not true. Julius Caesar, who lived from 100-44 B.C.E. was an actual, historical figure. We have much information about Julius Caesar, including what he looked like, and we have a complete history of his life. We have written words by Caesar and words written by both his friends and enemies. There are artifacts which confirm his life and death, and he established a style of government and a calendar which has endured for centuries. This is the kind of hard evidence you would expect to be left behind from an actual, historical person of special historical significance. Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Gospels, was far greater than Julius Caesar, yet not a shred of evidence exists from his supposed lifetime. This is a most curious an inconvenient fact for Christian apologists, who have never sufficiently dealt with this fact without manufacturing fraudulent “evidence” such as the Shroud of Turin and pieces of the “true cross” to support their faith claims.
What I personally find even more baffling than the lack of contemporary writings by others and physical evidence, is why Jesus himself did not leave a single written word of his teachings. If Jesus truly was the Son of God, then surely he would have been brilliant, literate, and articulate, recording these precious teachings with meticulous accuracy so as not to be misunderstood, so humanity could benefit from his first-hand account instead of leaving posterity the unenviable task of relying on hearsay, second, third, and fourth-hand accounts of his words, deeds, and sayings. This is all we have today – second-hand accounts and hearsay from copies of copies of copies – not a single original manuscript of these scriptures and not a shred of evidence for the accuracy of his words, nor the existence of the supposed “author” of these sayings. There is no evidence for Jesus’ alleged existence that would ever hold up in a court of law since we truly have no evidence for Jesus – no first-hand accounts contemporary to the dates of his alleged existence – only hearsay. Hearsay is not an acceptable substitute for evidence in a court of law. The modern-day Jiddu Krishnamurti, recognizing the urgency and utter necessity of carefully and accurately articulating his message, left volumes of very detailed essays, books, and interviews in which he speaks of his vision of truth. I find his work very refreshing, as it is nice to hear the first-hand account from an almost universally considered true mystic. If Christ was a true mystic, with unconditional love for humanity, he too would have had the same desire and passion for an accurate representation of his teachings as did Krishnamurti, and would have left us his own words to go on, instead of making us rely on the words of others, with their increased likelihood of misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and exaggerations.
Regardless of the numerous historical accuracy problems with the Christ story, I find it striking the amazing truth which has still been preserved within so much of the Gospels. They often present fresh ideas that had not been heard in Judaism before then such as to “turn the other cheek,” overturning the “eye for an eye” mentality, and the concept of the subtleties of sin, from intentions and thoughts of sin being as potentially impactful as actions themselves. Jesus, as reported in the Gospels, regularly questioned and went against rote religious practices and observations of the Jewish faith, and showed himself to clearly be unorthodox and not at all a “typical rabbi.” Jesus’ frustration with his disciples and with the poor faith of would-be followers presents a very human side to Jesus. His forgiveness of sinners, the concept to love one’s enemies, and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, was again in the spirit of mercy and forgiveness which was not a popular way of thinking in his day, and is still not a popular way of thinking. His reference to God as “Abba,” or “daddy” was unheard of at the time. There is much which is fresh and unique about Jesus amidst the recycled myths of old inside the Christ story, and whoever was responsible for the most truthful sayings such as, “the end will be were the beginning is,” and particularly much of the Gnostic Gospels such as Mary and Thomas, was a truly enlightened mind. If it was not a specific man, then there was at least a core group of people whose thoughts and insights were quite different than the concepts attributed to the god of the Old Testament. Regardless of the facts of who authored these sayings and concepts as expressed in the scriptures, the truth, as always, remains.
Many of the words ascribed to the person known as Jesus Christ are filled with amazing power and timeless truth. Given the historical accuracy problems and several generations removed written accounts, it is amazing we have as many words of truth preserved as we do. Whether or not the person known as Jesus Christ was the source of these sayings and teachings does not matter. Buddha is also likely a mythical figure who never actually lived, but that is not the point. The truth of Jesus Christ, and Gautama Buddha, representing the human and divine natures within one flesh, is a truth which transcends the names and cultures from which these stories were born, as truth belongs to nobody and to everybody. For Truth, God, Love is One… All…the Oneness of All.