Deciphering The Gospels
Proves Jesus Never Existed

Beyond the Book
Who was Jesus? According to popular concepts Jesus was, at the very least, a wandering prophet, a mystic teacher, a political rebel. Faithful Christians, of course, also believe that Jesus was the Son of God, who fulfilled prophecies, performed miracles and literally rose from the dead. These images of Jesus come to us from the Gospels, but the Gospels are not the earliest writings about Jesus. Traditional and mainstream biblical scholars take the approach of viewing the Gospels as a record of the earliest accounts of Jesus, while largely disregarding the Christian writings that were actually written before the Gospels. This much is acknowledged even by biblical scholars themselves.

“Accordingly, the gospels may be understood as corrections of this creedal imbalance, which was undoubtedly derived from the view espoused by the apostle Paul, who did not know the historical Jesus. For Paul, the Christ was to be understood as a dying/rising lord, symbolized in baptism (buried with him, raised with him), of the type he knew from the hellenistic mystery religions. In Paul’s theological scheme, Jesus the man played no essential role."
- The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus really Say; Funk, Hoover, The Jesus Seminar (pp 7)

When traditional and mainstream biblical scholars do address the earlier writings about Jesus, they tend to interpret those writings through the lens of the Gospels. This perspective is reinforced by the arrangement of the books in the Bible itself, as the books in the New Testament were arranged by early Christians in what they believed was roughly the chronological order of the subject-matter of the material. We now know, however, that the order of the books in the New Testament is nothing like the order that the books were actually written. In fact, the order of the books in the New Testament is almost the opposite of the order they were written in.

When we look at the earliest writings about Jesus, the image of Jesus that emerges is quite different from what we find in the Gospels. In pre-Gospel Christian writings we find only the Lord Jesus Christ, a powerful eternal heavenly being who is worshiped because he will bring judgment upon the world in its final days - a being who has overcome death, who will bring eternal life to the righteous and destroy the ungodly. This is how Paul describes Jesus:

Colossians 1:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for by him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and by him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

There are no teachings ascribed to Jesus in the pre-Gospel writings, there are no deeds or actions. There is no account of a person’s life. There are, to be sure, a handful of passages that give the impression that Jesus was a person, but even these are extremely narrow in their focus, saying things like he was “of the seed of David”, or that he was “born of a woman”. All of the information about Jesus presented in the pre-Gospel writings is relayed on the basis of revelation or scriptural interpretation.

Traditional and mainstream biblical scholars explain this by saying that after Jesus died his followers believed that he was in heaven, so they were worshiping his heavenly form. The problem, however, is that there is no explanation in the pre-Gospel writings about why these people would believe that some person had taken on this powerful heavenly form. Indeed, when we look at the pre-Gospel writings in their own context, without superimposing later Gospel ideas on them, we are left with the impression that the Jesus those people were worshiping was an eternal heavenly deity, that they believed had been revealed to them through mystic interpretations of the Jewish scriptures.

This interpretation of the pre-Gospel writings has been put forward by biblical scholars since at least the 19th century, but it has always been denounced by traditional and mainstream biblical scholars. The first major publication to present this view was The Christ Myth by Arthur Drews in 1909, though Drews was not the first to propose it. Then, as now, the primary counter-argument to the idea that Jesus was not a real person was the claim that the Gospels provide credible evidence that Jesus was a real person. The argument goes that, even if the Gospels are exaggerations of the life of Jesus, they are at least loosely based on the life of a real person.

Deciphering the Gospels Proves Jesus Never Existed focuses on the Gospels to prove that the Gospels are not based on the life of a real person. This is achieved through the emerging field of intertextual analysis, which applies text mining and other analytic approaches to identify the literary sources used by the Gospel writers. The traditional Christian view is that the Gospels are direct accounts of the life of Jesus, written by eyewitnesses to his life or secondhand accounts from eyewitnesses. The modern mainstream view of biblical scholarship, recognizing that the Gospels are not eyewitness accounts, is that the Gospels are records of an oral tradition that goes back to the original followers of Jesus the man. They aren’t eyewitness accounts or secondhand accounts, but they are records of the legends that developed among a community of people who knew the man. They are perhaps sixth or seventh-hand accounts, etc.

According to the mainstream hypothesis that the Gospels are records of an oral tradition that goes back to witnesses of Jesus’ life, the similarities between the Gospels are explained as a product of multiple writers independently recording these oral accounts. According to the oral tradition hypothesis, the writers of the Gospels weren’t inventive, and they didn’t build complex narratives, they were merely like field-reporters who wrote down what other people told them. According to this hypothesis the scenes of the Gospels are based on untraceable oral stories, not literary references. But the oral traditions hypothesis is falsifiable, and it has actually been falsified for decades. Yet the falsification of the oral traditions hypothesis has gone largely unnoticed outside of a small circle of “bible geeks”, and the implications of this falsification have gone unappreciated by mainstream biblical scholars.

Deciphering the Gospels presents the intertextual evidence that falsifies the oral traditions hypothesis and explores the implications of these findings. As the name implies, Deciphering the Gospels focuses on analysis of the Gospels. But what about the pre-Gospel writings? Some pre-Gospel writings about Jesus, primarily from Paul, are addressed in the book, though less extensively. So, let’s go beyond the book here, to more fully explore what the pre-Gospel writings of the New Testament have to say about Jesus.

Every pre-Gospel writing about Jesus refers to Jesus as “the Lord”, as the following examples show:

1 Corinthians 1:7 as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ
2 Corinthians 4:5 we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake
2 Thessalonians 2:8 the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth
Colossians 1:3 we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
Ephesians 3:11 in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord
Galatians 6:14 the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me
Hebrews 13:20 Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant
James 2:1 do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?
Jude 1:4 our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ
Philemon 1:25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
Philippians 2:11 every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
Romans 5:21 the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord

As we shall explore, the reasons for worshiping Jesus provided in these early writings have nothing to do with any teachings from Jesus. Jesus is worshiped because of his godly powers and because he is believed to have died and risen from the dead. The problem with the view that Jesus was some wandering preacher or rabble-rouser is that none of the pre-Gospel writings give any indication that this is who Jesus was. That concept of Jesus is only introduced in the Gospels. The problem for “Jesus historicists” is explaining how it is that a homeless preacher who was executed by the Romans would come to be worshiped as “the Lord and Savior” of the world immediately following his death. There isn’t one single detail provided in any pre-Gospel writing that explains why an actual person would be worshiped in this way.

The explanation provided in the pre-Gospel writings for why the Lord Jesus is worshiped is that he acted as a final sacrifice and overcame death through resurrection (though this explanation is not given by James, who provides no clear explanation). Every pre-Gospel writing that explains why Jesus should be worshiped gives his resurrection from the dead as the reason. Yet secular, and even some Christian, Jesus historicists do not believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. So, the one reason that pre-Gospel Christians say they worshiped Jesus, modern scholars don’t believe actually happened. So how do modern biblical scholars explain the worship of Jesus? They explain it by looking to the Gospels and pointing to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels - it was Jesus’ teachings that they claim inspired worship of him.

But if the worship of Jesus was inspired by his teachings, then why don’t any of the pre-Gospel writings pass on any teachings of Jesus or say that they were inspired to worship him because of his teachings? Mainstream scholars point to teachings present in pre-Gospel writings that match things Jesus is quoted as saying in the Gospels and claim that these are examples of the pre-Gospel writers passing on Jesus’ teachings. The problem, however, is that there is not one single case in the pre-Gospel writings where anyone says that those teachings came from Jesus. It is obvious that the later Gospel writers used the pre-Gospel writings as source material, putting teachings from early Jesus worshiping leaders into the mouth of the Jesus character in their stories. But these teachings did not actually originate from Jesus, they are just presented as Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels, though they are actually teachings of Paul, James, and other early epistle writers.

This is the paradox that mainstream scholars have gotten themselves into. They claim that a community of Jesus followers maintained an oral history of the life and teachings of the real Jesus without writing that information down (or that what was written down was lost after the Gospel writers used it), while that same community simultaneously produced a bunch of preserved writings about the heavenly Lord Jesus. The issue is not simply that some time passed between the supposed death of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels, it is that prior to the writing of the Gospels around a dozen preserved writings about Jesus were produced, but none of them record anything about Jesus the person.

That 30 or 40 years would pass between the death of Jesus and recording his life would not be unusual and does not raise any suspicions. The issue is that many writings about Jesus were produced in the 20 to 40 years prior to the writing of the first Gospel, by at least five or more different people, and none of those people talked about Jesus the person or passed on teachings attributed to him.

Listed below are examples of teachings found in the pre-Gospel epistles that are not attributed to Jesus:

Authorship Reference Summary
James James 1:27 Care for orphans and widows
James James 1:9-11 The rich are to be despised and will wither away
James James 2:5 The poor will inherit the kingdom
James James 3:1-12 Control your tongue (don't speak ill of others)
James James 3:18 Righteousness for the peacemakers
James James 4:12 It is only for God to judge, do not judge your neighbor
James James 4:4 Worldliness is the enemy of God
James James 5:12 Do not swear by God, answer only Yes or No
James James 5:19-20 Whoever stops another from sinning will save their soul
Paul 1 Corinthians 1:22 The Jews demand signs
Paul 1 Corinthians 13:13 Love is the greatest gift
Paul 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 How are the dead raised? Spiritually
Paul 1 Corinthians 9:19 Paul says he has made himself slave to all
Paul 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 No one knows when the final days will come
Paul Galatians 5:14 Love your neighbor as yourself is the greatest commandment
Paul Galatians 5:16-20 Live by the Spirit, not the desires of the flesh
Paul Romans 13:7 Pay taxes to whom they are due, etc.
Paul Romans 13:9 Love your neighbor as yourself is the greatest commandment

Anyone can read the pre-Gospel epistles and see that nothing in them describes Jesus as a prophet, teacher, or political figure. So, if the pre-Gospel writings don’t describe Jesus as a prophet, then how do they describe him? Aren’t there statements in the early epistles that indicate Jesus was a real person?

Dating the works of the New Testament is controversial in and of itself, however there is one relatively simple way to roughly determine when various works were written, and that is their relationship to the First Jewish-Roman War of 67-73 CE. It is relatively easy to determine if a work was written before or after the war, because the war was such a huge event that we can expect any writings produced after the war to reference the war or features of the post-war community in some way. Below is a catalog of the works of the New Testament categorized by their relationships to the First Jewish-Roman War.

Pre-War Comment
Letter of James Provides no description of Jesus, referring to him only as the Lord. Lays out extensive teachings, but none are attributed to Jesus. Describes the coming of Jesus as some future event as if it has not yet occurred. Does not say that Jesus died or suffered.
Letter of Jude Provides no description of Jesus, referring to him only as the Lord. Attributes no teachings to Jesus. Talks about prophecies and mythic works such as the Book of Enoch. Does not say that Jesus died or suffered.
Letters of Paul These 7 to 8 letters provide no concrete description of Jesus. They contain a mix of statements that have been interpreted by some as indicating that Jesus was a real person and other statements that contradict such a notion. It is well established that some of the content of the letters was altered by later scribes and does not reflect what Paul originally wrote. The letters of Paul contain many teachings, though Paul dos not attribute any of them to Jesus. The letters of Paul are the first to directly mention crucifixion of Jesus.
Pseudo-Pauline letters Letters originally thought to have been written by Paul, but are now thought to have been written by different authors. Some may have been written after the war. They provide no concrete description of Jesus and ascribe no teachings to Jesus. They describe the coming of Jesus as a future event.
Letter to the Hebrews Has been dated to both before and after the war, but was likely written before the war as it makes no recognition of the destruction of the temple. The earliest letter to explicitly lay out a theological case for Jesus taking on the form of flesh. Describes Jesus as a heavenly High Priest who descended from the upper heavens to become a final sacrifice. "Quotes" from Jesus by referring to ancient Jewish scriptures and describes Jesus as a being revealed from ancient writings.
Post-War Comment
Gospel of Mark First writing to describe Jesus as a literal human being, put him in a historical setting, and ascribe teachings to him. The story of Mark is heavily based on literary references to other texts. The character and teachings of Jesus in the story are based on the letters of Paul. The overall narrative is based on the story of Elijah and Elisha from 1 and 2 Kings. Many scenes are based on literary references to passages about how God will destroy and abandon the Jews because they have displeased him. Multiple points of evidence indicate that the story was written after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE.
Gospel of Matthew The Gospel of Matthew is largely copied from the Gospel of Mark, with the addition of a birth narrative to the front of the story and a post-resurrection narrative to the end of the story. Additional dialog is also added throughout the story.
Gospel of Luke The Gospel of Luke shares many of the same features as the Gospel of Matthew, but with some alterations and additions.
Gospel of John The Gospel of John shares elements of each of the three prior Gospels. It does not contain a birth narrative. The Gospel of John has additional theological elements not found in the other Gospels and also its own unique "signs" narrative that describes Jesus performing various miracles unique to this story.
Acts of the Apostles Written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke, this is a pseudo-historical account of what supposedly happened shortly after Jesus died. The material is based on several sources and appears to have two distinct parts.
Letters of Peter First Peter still presents Jesus as a being revealed by prophets and scriptures and does not attribute teachings to him but reflects some ideas found in the Gospels. Second Peter however, now thought to have been written in the late first or early second century, clearly references passages and ideas from the Gospels.
Letters of John The letters of John are now thought to have been written in the late first or early second century. They use language and references from the Gospels and reflect a conflict between Christians who believed that Jesus had come to earth in the flesh and those who did not.
Timothy & Titus (late pseudo-Paul) The letters addressed to Timothy & Titus appear to be late first or early second century writings that show knowledge of the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles.
Revelation of John The Book of Revelation may be a composite work, complied in the late first century from a mix of different writings, some of which had been produced prior to the First Jewish-Roman War. The letter contains a mix of passages indicating both that the temple had not yet been destroyed, along with other passages indicating it was written after the destruction of the temple. In this letter, Jesus is generally a heavenly figure revealed through visions. Jesus is not presented as a teacher and no teachings are attributed to him.

So if we take “pre-Gospel” to essentially mean “pre-war”, we can see that prior to the First Jewish-Roman War there is no discussion at all of Jesus being a prophet or teacher of any kind. The only references to Jesus being “real” in the pre-war writings are vague statements, typically made on the basis of scripture. It is only after the war, and the writing of the Gospels, that we see other writings describe Jesus as a person in a historical setting and attribute teachings to him. Those descriptions of Jesus and his teachings all show dependency on the Gospels stories.

There are, of course, other non-canonical writings about Jesus that aren’t found in the Bible. Such works are addressed directly in Deciphering the Gospels so I will not go into detail about them here. In Deciphering the Gospels evidence is presented to show that non-canonical works, such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Egerton Gospel, the Gospel of Peter, etc., show dependency on the Gospel of Mark or other canonical works.

Let’s focus here on the pre-war works of the New Testament to show that those works not only fail to establish that Jesus was a real person, but they actually give strong reasons to doubt that he was. First let’s start with the Epistle of James.

Epistle of James

The Epistle of James is, in my opinion, one of the strongest pieces of evidence showing not only that Jesus wasn’t a real person, but also that the Jesus of the Gospels is really a figure based on the writings of Paul. The Epistle of James has traditionally been attributed to “James the brother of Jesus,” though the letter itself makes no claim that the author is a brother of Jesus. Not only does the letter of James give no indication that it was written by a literal brother of Jesus, the letter gives no indication that the author even viewed Jesus as a real person. Beyond that, it is difficult to imagine how the person who wrote this letter could have conceived of Jesus as figure that resembled the Jesus of the Gospels in any way, for the letter makes many statements that are extremely difficult to reconcile with having come from someone who knew of Jesus as a person who had a following and had recently been crucified.

The letter only uses the name Jesus twice, once in the greeting of the letter and once more when the author asks his readers if they truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. (James 2:1) The letter provides no description of Jesus at all. But furthermore, the author espouses many teachings, though he attributes none of them to Jesus. The author says that salvation does not come from faith alone, it requires works. The author then uses figures from the Jewish scriptures, not Jesus, as examples of people who achieved salvation through works. (James 2:21-26) The author talks about suffering, but instead of describing the suffering of Jesus the author points to the suffering of the prophets of old! (James 5:10) The author even uses Elijah as an example of “a human being like us,” who was able to affect the world through the power of prayer. (James 5:17-18) With all this the author tells his audience that, “the coming of the Lord is near.” (James 5:8)

How this letter can be reconciled with a human Jesus is beyond me. For all the world this is clearly a letter written by someone who had no conception of the Lord Jesus as a real person who had recently been crucified to death in Jerusalem. It requires special contortion to interpret the letter of James as anything other than a letter from someone whose concept of Jesus was an all-powerful eternal heavenly being who had never come to earth and indeed may never even have undergone any form of mythic suffering or sacrifice, much less crucifixion.

Don’t just take my word for it, read the Epistle of James yourself. Then ask yourself, how could someone who had personally known of Jesus, who had either heard his teachings directly or heard of them from others, who knew that he had been torturously crucified in Jerusalem, and who had at least heard legends of his resurrection, write this letter?

Epistle of Jude

The Epistle of Jude opens by stating that the author is, “a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” The letters is thus traditionally viewed as having been written by a literal brother of Jesus, because it is traditionally believed that James was a literal brother of Jesus. In fact, however, the letters of James and Jude are just more evidence that James was not actually a literal brother of Jesus.

The fact that the author of James didn’t specify that he was a brother of Jesus can perhaps be explained away, but for the author of Jude to explicitly identify himself as the brother of a more prominent person and use James as the reference instead of Jesus really makes no sense at all if Jude were a brother of Jesus.

If the letter is an authentic writing from the real Jude it clearly indicates that Jude and James weren’t brothers of Jesus. But even if it is a later pseudonymous letter it indicates that the idea that James was a brother of Jesus wasn’t yet established by the time the letter was written and attributed to Jude. Clearly if someone were falsely writing a letter in someone else’s name to inflate the importance of the letter they would have labeled the author as a brother of Jesus, not James, as that would have given the letter much greater significance. So obviously at the time the letter was written, either by the real Jude or an imitator, the idea that Jesus had a literal brother named James was not yet established.

Beyond that, the letter of Jude is similar in many ways to the letter of James.  It provides no description of Jesus, referring to him only as “Master and Lord”. The letter is filled with mythic references to angels, demons, and other legendary figures, whom the author clearly believes are real and takes quite literally.

The letter talks about a prophecy from Enoch, a pre-Christian writing that foretold of the coming of a Jesus-like heavenly figure who would bring divine judgment on the world to punish the ungodly and bring salvation to the righteous. This is yet more evidence that the Jesus worshiped at this stage was a figure culled from legendary tales and the interpretation of what was believed to be prophetic scriptures.

The author also tells his readers to “remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.’” (Jude 1:17-18) The author then says to, “look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 1:21) So the message is presented as something told by prophets, not by Jesus himself. Again we see that Jesus himself plays no prior role and has provided no teachings. The teachings come from prophets, and Jesus’ role is purely supernatural. Jesus is clearly not a homeless rabble-rouser or teacher, he’s a powerful deity, whose existence is revealed by prophets.

Epistles of Paul and pseudo-Pauline letters

We now come to the letters of Paul. I won’t go into too much detail here on the letters of Paul because the letters of Paul are addressed extensively in Deciphering the Gospels. A few things must be repeated here, however. First, we must note that Paul himself explicitly states that his teachings about Jesus aren’t teachings that he is passing on from others, they are his own personal teachings that he has received from divine revelation.

Galatians 1:
11 For I want you to know, brothers that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

This is a very significant statement, but one that is often disregarded by Christians and mainstream scholars. Most biblical scholars simply assume that this statement from Paul is a lie or exaggeration. Why? Because so many of Paul’s teachings match the things Jesus is quoted as saying in the Gospels, so the assumption is that whoever wrote the Gospels recorded things Jesus was reported to have said by members of the Christian community and Paul was independently passing on these same teachings that he had learned from the Christian community as well. What I show in Deciphering the Gospels, however, is that this assumption is incorrect. What actually happened is that the person who wrote the Gospel of Mark was a follower of Paul and had read Paul’s letters. He used Paul’s teachings for the words of Jesus. The similarity between the teachings of Paul and Jesus aren’t because Paul and the Gospels are independent witnesses to the same traditions passed down from Jesus, it is because Paul’s letters serve as the source material for the dialog of Jesus. And because Paul tells us that all of his teachings come from revelation, “not of human origin”, it means that all the dialog in the Gospels that matches teachings of Paul are actually things that we know for sure didn’t come from any real Jesus person.

This is not just my conclusion, there is growing scholarly support for this position, and it completely overturns centuries of biblical scholarship. The following works all explore the relationship between the letters of Paul and the Gospel of Mark: Paul and Mark , Paul Nadim Tarazi, 1999; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul: The Influence of the Epistles on the Synoptic Gospels, David Oliver Smith, 2011; Mark, Canonizer of Paul: A New Look At Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel, Tom Dykstra, 2012.

Paul’s writings contain a mix of statements that seem to affirm the existence of a real Jesus and statements that cast doubt on his existence. Below is a listing of major statements that relate to the existence of Jesus (many of these are addressed in Deciphering the Gospels). I have classified these statements into the following categories:

•    M – Implies Jesus is mythic
•    SM – Strongly indicates that Jesus is mythic
•    RxM – Commonly interpreted as indicating Jesus was a real person, but can be explained in a way that indicates Jesus was mythic
•    RxN – Commonly interpreted as indicating Jesus was a real person, but can be explained in a way that is neutral to the nature of Jesus

Reference Summary Comment Class
1 Corinthians 10:1-5 Christ was with Moses in ancient times Clearly a mythic conception of Jesus. M
1 Corinthians 11:23-16 Paul's teaching of the Lord's Supper Paul states that he is the first person to pass on this meal ritual and that he received it from divine revelation. The author of Mark copied the passage from Paul when writing his Gospel. Other writers then copied it from Mark with minor modifications. RxM
1 Corinthians 15:21 Resurrection of the dead has come through a man The passage goes on to state in 1 Cor 15:46 that Jesus was a spiritual man from heaven, not a man from earth like Adam RxM
1 Corinthians 15:3-11 Statement that Jesus died, was buried, and rose on the 3rd day, witnessed by many people This is a mix of later interpolation and misreading. The resurrection is being relayed on a scriptural basis "according to the scriptures". Verses 5-9 contain interpolations. RxN
1 Corinthians 15:45-49 Adam was a man from earth, Jesus is a man from heaven Implies that Jesus is a spiritual being, not a real person. M
1 Corinthians 15:50-56 Paul says his teachings about the kingdom of God are a mystery that had not yet been known Why would such a mystery not have been made known by Jesus himself instead of being first made known by Paul? SM
1 Corinthians 2:8 Says that Jesus was crucified by the "rulers of this age" This is actually describing a heavenly crucifixion. The "rulers of this age" are heavenly beings. RxM
1 Corinthians 4:5 Things now hidden in darkness will come to light when the Lord comes (not returns) This statement gives no indication that Jesus had ever come before to reveal anything. SM
1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 Jesus will come from heaven in the future (not return) While it is possible to reconcile this statement with a prior human Jesus (that goes unmentioned in this letter), it is not the most direct reading M
2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 Jesus will be revealed from heaven in the future (not return) While it is possible to reconcile this statement with a prior human Jesus (that goes unmentioned in this letter), it is not the most direct reading M
Colossians 1:24-27 The body of Christ is the church. The secret mystery of Christ is revealed by the saints The statement that the mystery of Christ is being revealed by the saints strongly contradicts the idea that Jesus was a real person. SM
Ephesians 3:3-5 The mystery of Christ was unknown until it was revealed through the prophets by the Spirit Ephesians describes Jesus as an eternal heavenly being. Verses 3:3-5 say that he was unknown until he was revealed by the Spirit through revelation. This is a very difficult passage to reconcile with a human Jesus. SM
Ephesians 4:8-13 Mythic telling of Christ's descent into the underworld Quotes from the Jewish scriptures to describe Christ's ascent into the heavens. Says that he had to ascend from somewhere below and that that it was the underworld (not the earth) that Jesus ascended from. M
Galatians 1:11-17 Paul's gospel does not come from any man, it comes purely from revelation Why would Paul stress that his knowledge of Jesus came purely from revelation unless he believed that revelation was the most direct form of knowledge one could have of Jesus? SM
Galatians 1:19 Paul says he met James, "the Lord's brother" The term "brother" is figurative, not literal. There is extensive evidence that the James Paul met was not thought to be a literal brother of Jesus until the late 2nd century. See Deciphering the Gospels pp 213-229 and A Note on James RxN
Galatians 3:1-2 Discussion of mystic rituals where images of crucifixion are used Describes some kind of portrayal of a crucified Jesus that was apparently supposed to convince people of the truth of the mystery of Jesus according to the Spirit. M
Galatians 3:22-25 The law has been overturned by the coming of faith, not Jesus Says that the revelation of Christ and the overturning of the law is a matter of faith. Doesn't say that Jesus declared or made any of this known. M
Galatians 4:4-5 God's Son was born of a woman, under the law The woman described is an allegorical woman, as Paul himself states in Gal 4:24. This actually describes an allegorical heavenly birth. RxM
Philippians 3:20 Expectation of a Savior from heaven, who will come in the future Another example of Paul saying he expects Jesus to come to earth from heaven, while never saying that Jesus had already been to earth. M
Romans 1:1-4 States that Jesus was an earthly descendant of David An obvious later addition to the letter. The original letter likely starts on verse 7 or verse 8. RxN
Romans 10:14-17 How can Jews be blamed for not believing in someone they have never heard of? Jesus is made known by the prophets. States very plainly that the Jews had no direct knowledge of Jesus. Says that knowledge of Jesus comes from the prophets. SM
Romans 16:25-26 Jesus Christ is a secret mystery, now revealed through prophetic writings The closing of Romans states directly that Jesus' existence has been a hidden mystery that is only now being made known by the interpretation of prophetic writings. This is Paul clearly stating that Jesus wasn't a person who recently lived on earth. SM

As we can see, there are a number of statements in the letters of Paul that are very difficult to reconcile with the existence of a real human Jesus. Many of these statements are addressed in greater detail in Deciphering the Gospels. In addition, the statements that appear to indicate Jesus was a real person can all be explained in ways that don’t support such a conclusion. Many Jesus historicist seem to think that a few sentences from Paul's letters, taken in isolation, are enough to affirm that Jesus was a real person, but this is not the case. It isn't merely the task of "mythicists" to explain the Pauline passages that seem to support the idea that Jesus was real, Jesus historicists also need to explain the passages that clearly indicate that Jesus was not real.

It is a well-established fact that modifications were made to Paul’s letters by later editors to bring them in line with later the Gospel narratives. There is overwhelming evidence that this happened. And when we look at many of the statements that seem to indicate that Jesus was a person, such as those from Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 15, they are isolated passages that contain obvious markers of Gospel influence. But when we look at the broad themes of Paul’s letters, they clearly paint a picture of Jesus as a hidden mystery only now being made known by Paul and other prophets like him, through divine revelation and scriptural interpretation. These ideas don’t come from isolated sentences, these ideas are the driving force behind Paul’s ministry. The whole point of Paul’s ministry according to Paul is to make the hidden mystery of Christ known, because without him and others like him, Jesus will remain unknown.

It must also be noted that Paul is the first known person to talk about a crucifixion of Jesus, though every statement about the crucifixion by Paul is vague or mythic in nature. While I don’t say this directly in the book, it is possible that the whole idea of Jesus being crucified comes from Paul, and that the reason the Jesus story in the Gospels features a crucifixion of Jesus is because the writer of Mark was a follower of Paul who used Paul’s concept of Jesus as the basis for his story. There is growing evidence that Jesus worship was diverse prior to the writing of the Gospels and included many different concepts of who or what Jesus was and what role he played. Paul’s version was just one among many, but it was Paul’s version that became enshrined in history because it was Paul’s version that was used as the basis for the story of Mark, which went on to inspire all other narratives about Jesus. Clearly, we can see that there is no indication that Jesus had even suffered or undergone any form of sacrifice in the letters from James and Jude.

Letter to the Hebrews

The letter to the Hebrews is perhaps one of the most challenging works of the New Testament to assess and understand. This work has challenged biblical scholars for centuries. This is also one of the most complex writings to address from a mythicist perspective because on the surface it appears to support the idea that Jesus was a real person, yet upon closer inspection it actually provides some of the strongest support for the idea that prior to the Gospels Jesus was seen as a heavenly figure whose sacrifice was relayed on a mythic, scriptural basis, not as a historical event. Earl Doherty argues that the letter to the Hebrews is the “smoking gun” which proves that prior to the Gospels Jesus’ crucifixion was described as a heavenly event.

I should first note that the letter to the Hebrews was originally believed to have been written by Paul, though it was recognized early on that Paul was not the author. Nevertheless, the letter does reflect Pauline ideas and may have been written by someone who was influenced by Paul’s teachings. The letter also associates Jesus with Melchizedek, who we now know was being worshiped as a mythic heavenly priest by some Jews in the centuries leading up to the emergence of the Jesus cult.

Let’s start with the opening of Hebrews:

Hebrews 1:
1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by the Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.

This is clearly a mythic conception of Jesus and reflects ideas from Philo of Alexandrea about the Logos, i.e. Word of Creation. The opening goes on to state that the Son is superior to the angels and then provides many citations from the Jewish scriptures to support this claim. Note that the author of Hebrews describes Jesus as a literal and direct Son of God, a being who has existed with God in heaven from the beginning of time.

In Hebrews 2 the authors lays out how God gave the angels dominion over the earth, but he did not give the angels rule over a coming heavenly world. We then see passages that seem to indicate that Jesus was a real person.

Hebrews 2:
8 As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9 but we do see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Note that verse 9 is sometimes translated, “who for a little while was made lower than the angels”.

This is where understanding the worldview among Jews at this time is critical, because it is a worldview that is not commonly understood today. At this time a common worldview among Hellenistic Jews was that the Creation consisted of multiple levels. The highest level was a pure spiritual realm inhabited by God. The levels of the Creation got progressively less pure and increasingly material in nature the lower you went, with the earth and underworld being the lowest levels of the Creation. Heaven was thought to consist typically of between seven and three levels. God resided in the highest level and various angels and demons resided in lower levels. It was thought that the highest level was purely immaterial but that lower levels of heaven contained material beings. Pre-Christian Jewish stories, like the Book of Enoch, talk about beings of flesh that existed in the lower heavens. It was thought by some that angels and demons in the lower heavens controlled the events of the material world and that earthly rulers were, in some sense, puppets of angels or demons of the lower heavens.

Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier both argue that it is within these lower heavens that the drama of Jesus’ sacrifice was thought to have taken place by Paul and the writer of Hebrews. I tend to agree with this assessment, though I’m not sure it’s entirely clear if the crucifixion was thought to have taken place in the lower heavens or on earth. In either case, the sacrificial event was conceived and relayed by both writers on a scriptural basis, as an event that was known to them through revelation. It is important to note that Paul specifically describes Jesus’ method of sacrifice as crucifixion, while the author of Hebrews does not directly say that Jesus was sacrificed by crucifixion.

Hebrews 2:11-15 goes on to discuss why Jesus took the form of flesh and blood, but does so by quoting from the Jewish scriptures, not by describing Jesus the person. In other words, Hebrews states that it is ancient Jewish writings that tell us that Jesus took the form of flesh.

Jesus is described in Hebrews as a heavenly high priest.

Hebrews 4:
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

This passage is often misinterpreted by Christians as talking about an ascension of Jesus from earth up through the heavens, but clearly this is not the case. This is talking about the descent of Jesus from the upper heavens down to the lower heavens, or possibly earth. It is the idea that he descended through the heavens that made him “like us”.

Hebrews 5 quotes from the Jewish scriptures to relay Christ’s designation as a high priest. It then goes on to discuss Jesus’ suffering in the flesh.

Hebrews 5:
7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

While this certainly talks about Jesus in ways that seem human, the description is still purely mythical in nature. It is unclear whether Jesus is being depicted here as suffering in the lower heavens or on earth, but even if it is describing an earthly period of suffering, the entire session is mythical in nature. Furthermore, we are introduced to the claim that Jesus is a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. This issue by itself warrants an entire book, but I’ll address it as briefly as I can here.

According to the book of Genesis Melchizedek was the first priest, a person who lived during the time of Abraham. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain writings about Melchizedek, which indicate that in the time leading up to the emergence of the Jesus cult, Melchizedek was being worshiped as an eternal heavily figure much like Jesus Christ would later be. Writings both from Qurman and the later Nag Hammadi library in Egypt describe Melchizedek as an arch-angel savior who would bring judgement upon the world at the end of days.

Unlike Jesus, however, Melchizedek was viewed as a leader of the armies of heaven. The letter to the Hebrews provides evidence to suggest that the Jesus cult emerged as a rival off-shoot to the worship of this celestial Melchizedek. Indeed, in the later Nag Hammadi writings Jesus and Melchizedek are essentially represented as one and the same being. The author of Hebrews, however, presents Jesus as the superior successor of Melchizedek.

Based on the writings from Qumran, Nag Hammadi, Hebrews and similarities between descriptions of Jesus and Melchizedek in the Gospels writings, it appears that the worship of Jesus may have evolved from the worship of Melchizedek in the following way: Melchizedek was being worshiped as a powerful celestial war messiah from around 200 BCE. Various Jewish groups had developed stories about Melchizedek from mystic interpretations of various ancient Jewish scriptures, in much the same way that later stories about Jesus were developed. These groups saw Melchizedek as a future deliverer at the end of days and predicted a time when Melchizedek would triumph over the demonic armies of heaven to bring an end to their reign and pass judgement on the living and the dead when the world came to an end.

For the author, Melchizedek is an enormously exalted divine being to whom are applied names generally reserved for God alone: the Hebrew names El and Elohim. In the author’s citation of Isaiah 61:2, which speaks of “the year of the Lord’s favor,” Melchizedek is substituted even for this most holy name of Israel’s God. Yet more remarkably, Melchizedek is said to atone for the sins of the righteous and to execute judgement upon the wicked-actions usually associated with God himself. By the power of Melchizedek, dominion of the earth shall pass from Satan (here called Belial) to the righteous Sons of Light.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls a New Translation; Wise, Abegg Jr, Cook, 2005 (pp 591)

Perhaps when this failed to happen a rival narrative emerged to account for the failings of Melchizedek, evidenced by the fact that the end of days had not come.

In this scenario, the narrative that developed was that due to the failings of Melchizedek, the Son of God himself was forced to descend from high heaven into the lower heavens to take on the task that Melchizedek was unable to complete. Whereas Melchizedek was a powerful war leader, the Son of God was a suffering servant. He succeeded where Melchizedek did not precisely because he suffered “like us”. Whereas Melchizedek was to defeat the armies of Belial/Satan by force, Jesus triumphed by becoming a sacrifice. According to Paul, Jesus was crucified by the demons of heaven (the rulers of this age), after which he overcame death and rose more powerful than ever. Whereas Melchizedek remained immaterial, Jesus took on the form of flesh to undergo suffering. The letter to the Hebrews presents Jesus as the final high priest of heaven juxtaposed against Melchizedek, the first high priest of heaven.

This may have just been one narrative among many, but indeed it does seem that there is an inherent connection between the cult of Melchizedek and the emergence of the cult of Jesus. The purpose of the letter to the Hebrews is to explicitly position Jesus as the successor to Melchizedek, to make the point that Jesus was superior to him. Based on the writings from Nag Hammadi it seems that other cults were worshiping both Melchizedek and Jesus together and indeed some later Christians taught that the Gospel Jesus was the incarnation of Melchizedek.

For more information on Melchizedek see:
Melchizedek: Angel, Man or Messiah?
Melchizedek, Michael, and War in Heaven

In Hebrews 7 we see the type of mythical recasting that is used in the writings of Qumran.

Hebrews 7:
1 This “King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him”; 2 and to him Abraham apportioned “one-tenth of everything.” His name, in the first place, means “king of righteousness”; next he is also king of Salem, that is, “king of peace.” 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

Here the author uses quotes about Melchizedek from Genesis, but reinterprets them to apply them to an eternal heavenly Melchizedek as opposed to a Melchizedek person. The writer interprets “king of Salem” to mean “king of peace” as opposed to king of an actual city. He then clarifies that Melchizedek is an eternal being, without father or mother, like the Son of God - Jesus.

This also clarifies the author’s concept of Jesus. It is clear that Jesus is understood as the literal Son of God who came into existence in the heavens at the beginning of time directly from God himself, without ever having been born.

The writer of Hebrews then goes on to explain the role of Jesus and why he is the successor of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 7:
23 Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; 24 but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Hebrews 8:
1 Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one;

These passages from Hebrews 7 and 8 explain the mythic role of Jesus the heavenly high priest. Most important, Hebrews 8:4-5 clarify that Jesus is a heavenly priest and verse 5 in particular provides important insight into the worldview of the writer. You see, this talks about a worldview that imagined the earth as a sort of corrupted copy of the pure realm of the heavens. In this view, like the view of Paul the apostle as well, there is a Jerusalem in heaven that is a perfect model for the imperfect Jerusalem on earth. The temple on earth is an imperfect copy of the perfect temple in heaven. That’s what the author is talking about when he says that the sanctuary on earth is a “sketch and shadow” of the heavenly one.

Hebrews 9 goes on to clarify that Jesus’ sacrifice itself took place in the heavens.

Hebrews 9:
11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things to come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), 12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

15 For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.

This clarifies that Jesus’ sacrifice was made in the heavenly tent, not on earth. It states that Jesus came as a high priest and we were just told that if Jesus were on earth he would not be a priest at all. Furthermore, the statements about Jesus being pure and unblemished, here and throughout Hebrews, indicate that Jesus is unborn and thus uncorrupted. There is no talk here of immaculate conception, a later rationalization for how an earthly Jesus could have remained uncorrupted. The fact that the immaculate conception of Mary had to be developed clarifies that prior to such a rationalization there was no explanation for an uncorrupted Jesus, which would only have made sense if Jesus were purely heavenly, never having been corrupted by having been born to an earth mother in the line of the supposedly corrupted Eve.

This also tells us why it is that Jews wouldn’t have worshiped a real human Jesus to begin with, as a real person would obviously have been seen as inherently corrupted.

Hebrews 9:
23 Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Here again we see that Jesus’ sacrifice took place in heaven. The sanctuary is where the sacrifice is performed, and it is plainly stated that this was a heavenly sanctuary, not an earthly one. We then see talk of an “appearance”. What is this appearance? This is a mystic vision, the sort of which was described in many Jewish stories of this time. This “appearance” isn’t talking about the life of some real person, this is a vision of the descended heavenly Christ. We know that there were Christians who clearly held this view of Jesus, as such views are described as heresies by later Christians.

Close on their heels follows Apelles, a disciple of Marcion, … The Law and the prophets he repudiates. Christ he neither, like Marcion, affirms to have been in a phantasmal shape, nor yet in substance of a true body, as the Gospel teaches; but says, because He descended from the upper regions, that in the course of His descent He wove together for Himself a starry and airy flesh; and, in His resurrection, restored, in the course of His ascent, to the several individual elements whatever had been borrowed in His descent: and thus-the several parts of His body dispersed-He reinstated in heaven His spirit only. This man denies the resurrection of the flesh.
Against All Heresies; Tertullian, 3rd century

We know that second century Christians like Apelles and Marcion viewed the teachings of Paul and writings like Hebrews as compatible with their view of Jesus. Marcion taught that Jesus was an immaterial being who only “made appearances” on earth. Apelles taught that Jesus was truly of flesh, but that he “appeared” on earth directly from heaven, unborn. This view of Apelles’ is certainly reflected in the letter to the Hebrews.

What second century Christians like Apelles and Marcion were doing was attempting to reconcile the Gospel narratives with pre-Gospel views of Jesus. The group that became the Catholics essentially re-interpreted, misinterpreted, overlooked, or dismissed pre-Gospel views of Jesus as a heavenly being, whereas other second and third century sects were trying to reconcile the Gospel Jesus with the pre-Gospel heavenly Jesus of Paul and others.

Back to Hebrews, in Hebrews 10 it says that Christ “came into the world,” (Hebrews 10:5) which is typically taken as “evidence” that Jesus was a real person on earth, but the passage goes on to “quote” Jesus by quoting from scripture. This could be talking about an earthly appearance of Jesus or “the world” could mean the entire Creation including the heavens. But assuming that “the world” does mean earth, this is still a mythic telling. This is an event relayed on the basis of scriptural interpretation not observed history.

In Hebrews 12 the cross of Jesus is mentioned.

Hebrews 12:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that easily distracts, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who instead of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

This passage and those that follow basically tell the reader to ignore the distractions of pleasures to focus on the goal of attaining a holy life. In the reference to the cross it is implied that “enduring the cross” was a choice made by Jesus, not something forced upon him. This was a task that he chose to undertake when he descended from high heaven. Christ’s “enduring of the cross” was of course a teaching from Paul, who acknowledged it as a source of shame and  mockery by some. The idea that the messiah would endure shame and mockery was actually well established among messianic Jews at this time, often based on interpretations of passages from Isaiah in the Jewish scriptures as well as various psalms.

We are then told not to become like Esau, who was distracted by temporary desires.

Hebrews 12:
16 See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears.

Clearly the author of Hebrews had no knowledge of the Gospel story of Judas selling-out Jesus for silver, for that would have been a much more fitting and powerful example to use here than the example of Esau.

In Hebrews 13 we find a refence to Jesus suffering “outside the city gate” that is often cited as evidence that the writer of Hebrews was talking about Jesus in a historical context, but this is clearly not the case.

Hebrews 13:
10 We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13 Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

This is allegorical language, not a historical account. Going to him “outside the camp” is a call to proselytize to those who do not worship or know of Jesus and to endure the types of abuses that Paul talked about in his letters, that he endured by those who mocked his teachings. That Jesus suffered “outside the gate” “in order to” sanctify the people, is talking about how the heavenly Jesus left the security of the upper heavens to endure suffering in the flesh. “The city gate” is not a literal city gate, it is the sanctuary of high heaven.

Finally, the author tells his readers to “obey your leaders.”

Hebrews 13:
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.

This again betrays the character of the Gospel Jesus, who is a rebel against the leaders. How possibly could someone who knew of Jesus as someone who was executed by the Jewish leadership for having cursed and prophecied against them, tell his readers to “obey your leaders and submit to them”? The call of the Gospel Jesus was certainly not submit to the Pharisees. Why would the Jews be told to submit to the very people responsible for killing Jesus? Clearly, there was no concept of such a Jesus for the writer of Hebrews.

And so with this we see not only that all of the pre-Gospel writings about Jesus fail to provide evidence that he was a real person, they actually provide powerful evidence to the contrary. How then is it that Christians and so many biblical scholars have failed to recognize this? It has actually been an issue of contention since the dawn of Christianity. And in fact, many biblical scholars do hold very similar interpretations of these writings to those that have been outlined here, it’s just that they also believe that the Gospels provide credible evidence for Jesus the person. As the introductory excerpt from the Jesus Seminar notes, many biblical scholars acknowledge that the earliest writings about Jesus are mythic in nature, they just rationalize this by claiming that these mythic writings reflect the fact that Jesus had “died and gone to heaven.” But this is a post-hoc rationalization that comes from the assumption that the Gospels are an account of a narrative about the life of Jesus that pre-dates the pre-Gospel writings.

The model of mainstream biblical scholarship essentially states that the Gospel narrative about Jesus formed before the writing of the pre-Gospel epistles, but, for some unexplained reason, was not actually preserved in the Gospel format until much later. However, a growing body of scholarship shows that this is not the case. The evidence presented in Deciphering the Gospels shows that the Gospel narrative is an entirely post-war narrative that was developed in total after the First Jewish-Roman War and is dependent upon the pre-Gospel writings. This finding is supported by multiple scholars, some of whom have previously been listed. So while many biblical scholars acknowledge the mythic nature of the pre-Gospel writings, few entertain the larger implications because they still hold to the idea of the Gospels as historical accounts of a narrative that pre-dates the earliest writings. Those who do acknowledge the implications, like Richard Carrier, Thomas Brodie, and Robert M. Price (all of whom have academic backgrounds in biblical studies), conclude that Jesus wasn’t a historical person and are then ostracized from the field on the basis of their conclusion.

Ironically, it is devout Christians, not modern secular scholars, that have put forward the most rational argument for the worship of Jesus. Devout Christians have always maintained that the idea of Jesus as a mere wandering prophet was untenable, because it provides no explanation for why anyone would have worshiped Jesus as the Son of God. Devout Christians have always rightly claimed that no one would have worshiped a mere mortal who was executed as a blasphemous criminal. This argument has been used against the claim that Jesus was a mere mortal who never rose from the dead for centuries and the argument is completely correct. What devout Christians have failed to understand, however, is that the Jesus who rose from the dead was a heavenly myth envisioned by prophets, not a real person.

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