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Chapter Two: Problems with God

Section 2: The Jesus myth

The evidence suggests that the Biblical Jesus never lived. If true, this does not prove that God does not exist, but it destroys the heart of Christianity and weakens Islam.

6th C Jesus: St Katherine's Monastery, Sinai

The Christian religion is based on the idea that a man called Jesus living in the Roman province of Palestine 2,000 years ago was both human and God. His life and death offered salvation for all who believed in him.

The idea that our relationship with God is incomplete if we do not know Jesus raises problems for Christians - in particular, what happens to those who were born before Jesus' time or who never heard of him before they died?

It's an interesting point, but we cannot resolve it before we answer a much more important question: did Jesus really exist? The evidence is thin, but it suggests that no, there never was a Biblical Jesus. And, surprisingly, it is the Bible itself that provides the strongest argument.

2.2a No contemporary evidence

We must start our research with an open mind, asking ourselves: did the Biblical Jesus exist. What is the evidence and what are the arguments in favour and against his existence? There are three sources of information - contemporary accounts by secular writers, the Gospels and the writings of St Paul.

The first problem is there is no contemporary evidence that there was such a person as the Biblical Jesus.

The Romans were great bureaucrats, historians and diary-keepers. Although most of what they wrote has been lost, enough remains to give us a good idea of the major events that occurred throughout their empire. Yet there is no record of Jesus or events associated with him.

We would not expect contemporary records of relatively minor events witnessed by only

Problems with God

Chapter One showed us that if there is a God, we cannot be certain about his nature. So let's look at the question from another perspective: Is there a form of god that can exist?

We start by looking at the god described in the Bible and Quran; does the information there support or reject the idea of God? Then we look at general concepts of God and see if they make sense.

2.1: In the Bible
Do inconsistencies in the Bible make it irrelevant?

2.2: The Jesus myth
Biblical evidence suggests that the Son of God never lived

2.3: Other scriptures
What do other scriptures tell us about God?

2.4: Forgotten tongues
Why can God not speak modern languages?

2.5: Male order
God's fondness for men

2.6: Compassion and bloodlust
God claims to be compassionate but frequently causes pain and death

2.7: Disease and disaster
Why do they happen?

2.8: Omniscience and free will
One or the other, not both

2.09: Miracles and prayer
How does God make his presence known?

2.10: Eternal life
Do we really want to live forever?

2.11: Alien beliefs
Do they know God on Betelgeuse?

2.12: Summary

Finished this chapter? Move on to

Chapter 3
God the creator?

God does not have to be the creator of the universe; in some religions the world comes first and then the gods apprear.

In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, however, God is the creator of the universe. How does he do it?

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a few people, such as the turning of water into wine (John 2:1-9). However, the slaughter of the new-borns supposedly ordered by King Herod around CE 0 (Matthew 2:16) and the feeding of the five thousand 30 years later (Luke 9: 10-17) would have made a great impact on the entire population. It is highly unlikely that if these events occurred, that no contemporary record remains.

We can estimate the total population of Palestine at the time as about 250,000 people. (Total world population in CE 0 is estimated to have been about 170 million.) This meant that Jesus would have fed one in twenty-five of the Palestinian adult population. If most of those present were men - which is likely - he would have fed up to one in 13 adult men. The feeding of the five thousand - had it happened - would have been the talk, not just of Palestine, but the whole Roman Empire..

Other Biblical statements do not make sense. The Jewish Supreme Council that condemns Jesus would not normally meet on Passover Eve. Pontius Pilate would not have released a known killer of Romans (Barabbas) in order to execute a Jewish preacher with no blood on his hands. Any sudden eclipse of the sun on the day that Jesus died would have been recorded. And so on and so on.

In short, there is no contemporary evidence of Jesus' existence or any of the events surrounding his life as reported in the Bible.

2.2b Sixty years later

The first secular references to Jesus only appear 60 years after his supposed death in CE 33. This length of time, in a society where few people could read and rumour spread easily, means that any reports are likely to be highly unreliable and must be examined closely.

Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian born in CE 37, appears to be the first secular writer to mention the Biblical Jesus. His Antiquities of the Jews, written around CE 93, describes Jesus as a doer of wonderful deeds and "the Christ" ("the risen one").

Josephus' text only survives in eleventh century manuscripts - 1,000 years after it was written. Many doubt its authenticity and / or argue that the references to Jesus were inserted by later, Christian copyists.

For argument's sake, however, let us assume that Josephus did indeed write that Jesus performed miracles, was crucified and appeared alive on the third day. Though that statement is interesting, however, it does
pic from Wikipedia Roman bust said to be of Josephus
not help the Biblical cause. It does not prove that Jesus lived in CE 0 - 33; it only proves that sixty years later Christians believed that they had a leader who lived and died at that time. And belief of existence isn't proof of existence: it is only proof of belief.

2.2c Tacit assumption

The Roman historian Tacitus is another writer cited as evidence that Jesus existed; his Annals state that the Emperor Nero blamed Christians for the fire that destroyed Rome in AD 64. Tacitus adds that their founder, Christus, was put to death by Pontius Pilate in the reign of the Emperor Tiberius.

Tacitus' account is even less reliable than Josephus'. The Roman was writing around AD 116; no record remains of the documents or accounts that he was referring to. His statement may be accurate, but it is no more proof than Josephus'; it confirms not not that Jesus existed, only that some people believed that he did.

What is interesting is Tacitus' reference to "Christus". Like other early historians, including Gauis Suetonius Tranquillus and Pliny the Younger, Tacitus appears unaware of the word "Jesus". This is significant, as we discuss on the next page.

To summarise this page:
a. There is no contemporary evidence that the Biblical Jesus lived or died.
b. The earliest reference to the Biblical Jesus comes 60 years after his supposed
    death. It confirms that some people believed in a spiritual leader who had died
    and risen again but it sheds no light on actual events in 30 - 33 CE.

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

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