Fictional Christ--McKinsey

Home | Intro to the Jesus legend articles | In the Gospels Jesus Was a Mortal--jk | Mark Describes Jesus' Gay Affair | SOURCE FOR JESUS LEGEND | SKEPTICISM ON HISTORICAL CHRIST by Catholic theologian | Published Commentary on the Previous Article | Fictional Christ--McKinsey | New Testament Studies, Professor Wells | EARLIEST CHRISTIANITY--Prof. Wells | Who Was Jesus--Prof. G. A. Wells | NO HISTORICAL JESUS, response to critic by Prof. Wells | Old Testament Messiah Prophecies and the Gospels | Balanced New Testament Analysis | THE HISTORICAL REFERENCES TO JESUS; A Scholarly Analysis | Jesus Legend Sources--Wikipedia | TEXTUAL CRITICISM OF THE NEW TESTAMENT | TEXTUAL PROBLEMS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT | THE HISTORICAL REFERENCES TO JESUS | Did Jesus Exist?--Walker | The Jesus Puzzle--Doherty | The Jesus Puzzle--Doherty, continued | NASTY JESUS & STUPID ADVISE | New Testament, Sources, Transmission, Variations, & Modifications | CONTRADICTIONS: New & Old Testaments | BIBLE CANON: History & Analysis Thereof | End of the World is soon, Bible Tells US--quotes

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 Issue #33 Editor: Dennis McKinsey     Sept. 1985

A national periodical focusing on Biblical errors, contradictions, and fallacies, while providing a hearing for apologists



Did Jesus Exist (Part Two of a Two-Part Series)-- Except for Josephus probably no writer of antiquity has been more relied upon by apologists to prove the existence of Jesus than the Roman historian, Tacitus. In the Annals he related the measures taken by Nero to lessen the suffering brought about by the great fire in Rome in 64 A.D. as well as remove its traces and, then allegedly made the following statements: "But neither the aid of man, nor the liberality of the prince, nor the propitiations of the gods succeeded in destroying the belief that the fire had been purposely lit. In order to put an end to this rumor, therefore, Nero laid the blame on and visited with severe punishment those men, hateful for their crimes, whom the people called Christians. He from whom the name was derived, Christus, was put to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. But the pernicious superstition, checked for a moment, broke out again, not only in Judea, the native land of the monstrosity, but also in Rome, to which all conceivable horrors and abominations flow from every side, and find supporters. First, therefore, those were arrested who openly confessed; then, on their information, a great number, who were not so much convicted of the fire as of hatred of the human race. Ridicule was passed on them as they died; so that, clothed in skins of beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or committed to the flames, and when the sun had gone down they were burned to light up the night. Nero had lent his garden for this spectacle, and gave games in the Circus, mixing with the people in the dress of a charioteer or standing in the chariot. Hence there was a strong sympathy for them, though they might have been guilty enough to deserve the severest punishment, on the ground that they were sacrificed, not to the general good, but to the cruelty of one man." (Annals XV, 44). The number of problems associated with this paragraph are almost too numerous to mention: (1) It is extremely improbable that a special report found by Tacitus had been sent earlier to Rome and incorporated into the records of the Senate, in regard to the death of a Jewish provincial, Jesus. The execution of a Nazareth carpenter would have been one of the most insignificant events conceivable among the movements of Roman history in those decades; it would have completely disappeared beneath the innumerable executions inflicted by Roman provincial authorities. For it to have been kept in any report would have been a most remarkable instance of chance. That the founder of Christianity was put to death under Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate must have been discovered in the same archive which, according to Tertullian, also said the sun was darkened at midday when Jesus died. (2) The phrase "multitudo ingens" which means "a great number" is opposed to all that we know of the spread of the new faith in Rome at the time. A vast multitude in 64 A.D.? There were not more than a few thousand Christians 200 years later. (3) Death by fire was not a form of punishment inflicted at Rome in the time of Nero. It is opposed to the moderate principles on which the accused were then dealt with by the State. The use of the Christians as "living torches," as Tacitus describes, and all the other atrocities that were committed against them, have little title to credence, and suggest an imagination exalted by reading stories of the later Christian martyrs. (4) The Roman authorities can have had no reason to inflict special punishment on the new faith. How could the non-initiated Romans know what were the concerns of a comparatively small religious sect, which was connected with Judaism and must have seemed to the impartial observer wholly identical with it. (5) Suetonius himself says that Nero showed the utmost indifference, even contempt in regard to religious sects. Even afterwards the Christians were not persecuted for their faith, but for political reasons, for their contempt of the Roman state and emperor, and as disturbers of the unity and peace of the empire. What reason, then can Nero have had to proceed against the Christians, hardly distinguishable from the Jews, as a new and criminal sect. (6) It is inconceivable that the followers of Jesus formed a community in the city at that time of sufficient importance to attract public attention and the ill-feeling of the people. (7) The victims could not have been given to the flames in the gardens of Nero, as Tacitus allegedly said. According to another account by Tacitus these gardens were the refuge of those whose homes had been burned and were full of tents and wooden sheds. It is hardly probable that Nero would have incurred the risk of a second fire by his living torches. (8) According to Tacitus, Nero was in Antium, not Rome, when the fire occurred. (9) The blood-curdling story about the frightful orgies of Nero reads like some Christian romance of the Dark Ages and not like Tacitus. Suetonius, while mercilessly condemning the reign of Nero, says that in his public entertainments Nero took particular care that no lives should be sacrificed, "not even those of condemned criminals." (10) It is highly unlikely that he mingled with the crowd and feasted his eyes on the ghastly spectacle. Tacitus tells us in his life of Agricola that Nero had crimes committed, but kept his own eyes off them. (11) Some authorities allege that the passage in Tacitus could not have been interpolated because his style of writing could not have been copied. But this argument is without merit since there is no "inimitable" style for the clever forger, and the more unususal, distinctive, and peculiar a style is, like that of Tacitus, the easier it is to imitate. Moreover, as far as the historicity of Jesus is concerned we are, perhaps, interested only in one sentence of the passage and that has nothing distinctively Tacitan about it. (12) Tacitus is assumed to have written this about 117 A.D., about 80 years after the death of Jesus, when Christianity was already an organized religion with a settled tradition. The gospels, or at least 3 of them, are supposed to have been in existence. Hence Tacitus might have derived his information about Jesus, if not directly from the gospels, indirectly from them by means of oral tradition. This is the view of Dupuis, who wrote: "Tacitus says what the legend said." In 117 A.D. Tacitus could only know about Christ by what reached him from Christian or intermediate circles. He merely reproduced rumors. (13) What does it matter whether or not Tacitus wrote this passage? He could only have received the information, a hundred years after the time, from people who had told it to others. It doesn't matter, therefore, whether or not the passage is genuine. (14) In no other part of his writings did Tacitus make the least allusion to "Christ" or "Christians." (15) Tacitus is also made to say that the Christians took their denomination from Christ which could apply to any of the so-called Christs who were put to death in Judea, including Christ Jesus. (16) The worshippers of the Sun-god Serapis were also called "Christians." Serapis or Osiris had a large following at Rome especially among the common people. (17) The expression "Christians" which Tacitus applies to the followers of Jesus, was by no means common in the time of Nero. Not a single Greek or Roman writer of the first century mentions the name. The Christians who called themselves Jessaeans, Nazoraeans, the Elect, the Saints, the Faithful, etc. were universally regarded as Jews. They observed the Mosaic law and the people could not distinguish them from the other Jews. The Greek word Christus (the anointed) for Messiah, and the derivative word, Christian, first came into use under Trajan in the time of Tacitus. Even then, however, the word Christus could not mean Jesus of Nazareth. All the Jews without exception looked forward to a Christus or Messiah. It is, therefore, not clear how the fact of being a "Christian" could, in the time of Nero or of Tacitus, distinguish the followers of Jesus from other believers in a Christus or Messiah. Not one of the gospels applies the name Christians to the followers of Jesus. It is never used in the New Testament as a description of themselves by the believers in Jesus. (18) Most scholars admit that the works of Tacitus have not been preserved with any degree of fidelity. (19) This passage which could have served Christian writers better than any other writing of Tacitus, is not quoted by any of the Christian Fathers. It is not quoted by Tertullian, though he often quoted the works of Tacitus. Tertullian's arguments called for the use of this passage with so loud a voice that his omission of it, if it had really existed, amounted to a violent improbability. (20) Eusebius in the 4th century cited all the evidence of Christianity obtained from Jewish and pagan sources but makes no mention of Tacitus. (21) This passage is not quoted by Clement of Alexandria who at the beginning of the 3rd century set himself entirely to the work of adducing and bringing together all the admissions and recognitions which pagan authors had made of the existence of Christ Jesus or Christians before his time. (22) Origen in his controversy with Celsus would undoubtedly have used it had it existed. (23) There is no vestige or trace of this passage anywhere in the world before the 15th century. Its use as part of the evidences of the Christian religion is absolutely modern. Although no reference whatever is made to it by any writer or historian, monkish or otherwise, before the 15th century (1468 A.D.), after that time it is quoted or referred to in an endless list of works. (24) The fidelity of the passage rests entirely upon the fidelity of one individual (first published in a copy of the annals of Tacitus in the year 1468 by Johannes de Spire of Venice who took his imprint of it from a single manuscript) who would have every opportunity and inducement to insert such an interpolation. (25) In all the Roman records there was to be found no evidence that Christ was put to death by Pontius Pilate. If genuine, such a sentence would be the most important evidence in pagan literature. How could it have been overlooked for 1360 years? (26) And lastly, the style of the passage is not consistent with the usually mild and classic language of Tacitus.

Concluding Comments on the Existence of Jesus--What else, then, can be said about the historicity of Jesus? (1) Many writers, such as Renan, have attempted to write his biography but failed, failed because no materials for such a work exist. (2) If Jesus was an historical person, how is it that not only does the Talmud never mention him but Paul's Epistles do not tell a single special fact about the life of Jesus? Read the other Epistles of the NT. Nowhere in any of the early Christian documents do we find even the slenderest reference to the mere man Jesus, the historical personality as such, from which we might infer that the author had a close acquaintance with him. His life, as described in the gospels, seems to have been entirely unknown to the authors. His speeches and sayings are hardly ever quoted and where this is done, as in the Epistle of James or the Book of Acts, they are not quoted as sayings of Jesus. (3) What can Josephus or Tacitus prove? They could at the most merely show that at the end of the 1st century not only the Christians but their traditions and Christ-myth were known in Rome. When the latter originated, however, and how far it was based on truth, could not be discovered from Tacitus or Josephus. (4) And finally, it should be mentioned that some writers are notable for what they didn't say about Jesus: (a) Philo was born before the beginning of the Christian era and lived until long after the reputed death of Christ. He wrote an account of the Jews covering the entire time that Christ is said to have existed on earth. He was living in or near Jerusalem when Christ's miraculous birth and the Herodian massacre occurred. He was there when Christ made his triumphal entry in Jerusalem. He was there when the Crucifixion with its attendant earthquake, supernatural darkness, and resurrection of the dead took place--when Christ himself rose from the dead. Yet, these events were not mentioned by him. (b) Under the reign of Tiberius the whole earth, or at least a celebrated province of the Roman empire, was allegedly involved in a preternatural darkness of three hours. Yet, Seneca and Pliny the Elder, who recorded all the great earthquakes, meteors, comets, and elipses they could find and who lived during the period of Jesus, failed to mention the event. (c) Justus of Tiberius was a native of Christ's own country, Galilee. He wrote a history covering the time of Christ's reputed existence. This work perished, but Photius, a Christian scholar and critic of the 9th century, was acquainted with it and said, "He (Justus) makes not the least mention of the appearance of Christ, of what things happened to him, or of the wonderful works that he did" (Photius, Bibliotheca, Code 33).

Jesus and Other Gods--Christians contend all of the following pre-Christian sun-gods are mythological: Hercules, Osiris, Bacchus, Mithra, Hermes, Prometheus, Perseus, and Horus. Yet, all: (1) allegedly had gods for fathers and virgins for mothers; (2) had their births announced by stars and celestial music; (3) were born on the 25th of December (Solstice); (4) had tyrants trying to kill them when they were infants; (5) met with violent deaths; and (6) rose from the dead.

Why BE Exists--Nearly every time the editor of BE has appeared on the radio callers have asked two basic questions: Do you believe in God and why are you doing this? As these queries are undoubtedly of concern to some, they need to be addressed. With respect to the first, BE takes no position on the existence of God. It is not a topic with which we are involved. Possibly this means we are agnostics as some have alleged. If so, it's not a consciously thought out position but more one by default. Rationally analyzing a tangible writing that is clearly affecting the lives of millions is of much greater concern. The second question is generally answered in the following vein: Thousands of people throughout this Country are giving as essentially one-sided presentation of the Bible. People are hearing all the pros and none of the cons, all the positives and none of the negatives. As of now it's been a decidedly lop-sided affair. How can people rationally and objectively analyze anything when given only one side of the picture? Someone, somebody, some group needs to travel the land and give a more balanced description of the Bible. Someone needs to expose the negative aspects so a more sensible perspective is possible. BE tries to fill the void by teaching a kind of Sunday-School-in-Reverse, by telling people all the things they should have heard in Sunday School but didn't. Only via this strategy can a truly accurate assessment materialize. For millions to hear only one side of a story is dangerous, especially when religion or politics are involved. If, after hearing both points of view to an equal degree, they still wish to follow the Bible, then so be it. That's their decision to make. But attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendant should have their say before a judgment is rendered.


One of the more memorable moments in "evolutionary" history was the Oxford Debate of 1860 where Thomas Huxley provided a witty reply to a sarcastic and insulting question posed by Bishop Samuel "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce.


"Would you prefer to be descended from an ape on the side of your grandfather or your grandmother?" Wilberforce asked.

"...It would not have occurred to me to bring forward such a topic as that for discussion myself, but if the question is put to me, would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather, or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means and influence, and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion, I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape," Huxley replied.


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