One of the fundamental spokes in the argument that Jesus Christ did not exist, is the total lack of evidence from his documented lifetime, and perhaps even more importantly, the period immediately after it.
The earliest surviving references to Jesus are approximately dated a good couple of decades after his supposed death. And one has to admit, the notion of a twenty year delay between an event, and the start of the viral buzz pertaining to it, is extremely difficult to assimilate in our modern world of instant worldwide communication.
Of course, two thousand years ago everything was much more localised, news travelled more steadily, and the fact that no commentary survives from the alleged lifetime of Jesus, doesn’t mean none was ever made. But there’s neither a birth nor a death record for one Yeshua ben Yosef, AKA Jesus Christ. So that means he didn’t exist, right?
Well, it could mean he was never born, never lived, and never died. That he was a fictional character, pitched as a historical being in order to illuminate the agenda of Christianity – as the mythicists claim. But it could just mean that Yeshua ben Yosef was not, actually, who this man really was. Could Jesus Christ have been born with a completely separate identity? If so, it would explain the glaring absense of any contemporary historical reference to Jesus, for the bulk of his life.
JOHN THE BAPTIST
Perhaps the most widely accepted event in the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus, is his baptism by John the Baptist. This happens late on in the life of Jesus, and it’s widely considered totally genuine, due to the so-called ‘criterion of embarrassment’. The embarrassment theory says the notion of a lesser mortal baptising (and thus subordinating) the actual Son of God, was uncomfortable for Christians and a very poor fit with the story.
Therefore, if Jesus had not genuinely been baptised by John, the Christian writers would never have made it up. And it’s not a one-off claim. All four canonical Gospel writers were aligned in citing this hard-to-sell event. It not only makes the event difficult to doubt – it makes the existence of Jesus difficult to doubt too. If Jesus wasn’t a real person, why not write a better story? One that… well, that doesn’t make the writer squirm, basically.
IN THE GOSPELS
But more importantly in the context of this post, before John’s baptism of Jesus, the Gospels are all but bare. In the canonical volumes, there’s a cat’s whisker above zilch written about Jesus’s achievements until he visits John the Baptist at a cited age of around 30. Perhaps the greatest miracle of Jesus was that he managed to hit the big three-oh without a single soul taking note of his phenomenal power and charisma.
According to acknowledged Gospel pioneer ‘Mark’, before John’s baptism of Jesus, Jesus didn’t do one thing worthy of report. ‘Mark’ opens his Gospel not with a resume of Jesus’s birth or early life, but with an introduction of John the Baptist, and almost immediately, John’s baptism of the adult Jesus.
Meanwhile, ‘John’ – the most poetic of the Gospel writers – presents an account that begins with John the Baptist heralding the arrival of the adult Jesus.
‘Matthew’ does cover the birth of Jesus and events surrounding it. But much of this appears driven by the familiar Gospel goal of rendering the text compatible with the existing beliefs of the audience. ‘Matthew’ also notably jumps straight from Jesus the baby, to Jesus at 30-ish, visiting John the Baptist to be baptised.
‘Luke’ covers the births of both John the Baptist and Jesus, and is the only canonical Gospel writer to mention Jesus between his infancy and the baptism event. However, there’s just one short and comparatively unremarkable anecdote involving Jesus as a 12-year-old boy, and after that, the thread once again skips straight to the meeting of Jesus and John the Baptist.
If you discount the unsynchronised pre-teen stories as ‘continuity-padding’, Jesus appears out of nowhere, well into adulthood, and perhaps as little as a year later, he meets his execution. Certainly in modern times, we’d almost invariably attribute the spectacle of a highly engaging and charismatic game-changer, turning up out of the blue with no ‘CV’, to an identity change.
Whilst there is talk in the Gospels of apparent relatives of Jesus, who would be awkward associates for someone who’d shed a former ID, Jesus appears to see no distinction between, say, ‘brothers’ as in ideological kin, and actual blood brothers. In ‘Luke’, for example, Jesus says…
“My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and obey it”.
In other words, I consider everyone my mother or brother provided they’re dedicated to my message.
WHY WOULD JESUS HAVE CHANGED HIS IDENTITY?
That’s anyone’s guess. And it doesn’t necessarily suggest he’d led an unsavoury life prior to his baptism. Just that he wasn’t who he really wanted to be, and he felt the need to shed his old persona and adopt a new one. Make a clean break. Maybe he’d experienced an epiphany or a vision. Maybe Jesus was the original born again Christian. We don’t know. All we have is a cut-off point, before which there’s virtually nothing, and after which there’s an absolute tidal wave of activity and buzz. You have to insert some kind of information blockade in order for that to make sense. A shift in location and a change in identity is the classic method of erecting that blockade.
Another issue to ponder with the Gospels is way John the Baptist is placed at the centre of the Gospel openings, but then only really plays a small cameo role as Jesus becomes the overwhelming focus. This has an artificial feel. Almost like they were going to make John the Baptist the central character, but then for some reason used Jesus instead.
Perhaps John the Baptist was the real inspiration for the writings, but was just too well known to turn into a miracle worker? Hence the invention of a parallel character – Jesus – who would take over the lead role and push the message harder with a catalogue of supernatural accomplishments. Or simply, the writers needed a real historical figure (JTB) to introduce and add credibility to a pre-conceived fictional thread? And if Jesus was fictional, did at least some of his razor sharp lines in reality trip off the tongue of John the Baptist?
This distant from the time, establishing the facts is pretty hopeless. But if Jesus was real, it’s hard to rationalise a void that lasted almost his whole life, without an identity change.
WAS JESUS REAL?
So, was he real? Well, whilst I’m not in any way religious, I would say that the presentation of the New Testament is just not the way fairytales work. I wouldn’t for a moment suggest everything written in the Gospels is true. Some of it, indeed, can’t be true. But you can feel the spin as the writers, sometimes tenuously, try to ‘sell’ their various installments. Wrestling with justifications as they go. This awkward subtext would surely not be needed had someone simply sat down to produce a fairytale from scratch. On balance, I find it hard to accept that Jesus was a fairytale.
But what do you think? Was the most famous person in history, really someone else?