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Tuesday, July 01, 2003

An Inquiry into the Mental Health of Jesus: Was He Crazy?

By Don Havis

The very first thing that should be said about the title and content of this article is that I completely understand that any attempt to make any sort of even reasonably accurate statements about the mental health of a person who may or may not have lived some two thousand years ago is completely absurd! In fact, it is this writer’s opinion that the whole Christian mythology is just that—mythology. Certainly, the divine three-in-one Jesus, born of a virgin, etc. never existed. However, the question of whether or not there ever was a real human being around whom the various Christian legends grew, is still open to some debate. So whose mental health does this paper address, the non-existent mythical Jesus, or the possibly formerly existent human Jesus? The answer is the former, mythical Jesus, not the latter. “But how could this be possible?” you may ask. The answer is that this could be at least a hypothetically possible inquiry if I can persuade the reader to accept one huge and admittedly irrational assumption. What is that assumption? Are you ready? Here it is:

The Christian Holy Bible is the inspired word of God.

Obviously, as the “inspired word of God” it must be entirely true. Would God lie to us in his own book? Hardly! Therefore, we will for the moment, do exactly as the Christians would like us to do. We will accept their word that everything in the Bible is accurate as reported; that all the words that Jesus supposedly said were in fact spoken by Jesus and were accurately recorded and passed down to us without the slightest change.

Additionally, all of the reports of other supposed witnesses to Jesus and his behavior were also accurately recorded in the holy book. We might grant some small “leeway” to this strict provision by allowing that everything that is written down—even something written by a great authority just this morning—may be subject to some “interpretation” by the reader. For example, if it is reported that an angel spoke to or appeared to Jesus, we are at liberty to grant that Jesus thought or imagined that an angel spoke or appeared to him. He reported accurately (or others reported accurately) what he thought to be true. With this one great caveat accepted by the reader, we may now proceed with our inquiry.

. . . .

Fortunately, there is no need for this writer to do “original research” in this area. Several previous writers have examined the question of Jesus’ mental health—including serious questions as to his sanity—in depth. In fact, there seems to have been a veritable outbreak of such research and writing in the latter half of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century. Of course, this was the time of the birth and early intense interest in the new field of psychiatry. Since that time, however, there has been a strange silence on this question. There have been many contemporary psychologists and psychiatrists who have written on the general subject of religion and its effect on mental health; perhaps most prominent among these has been Dr. Albert Ellis. However, I have been unable to find any modern mental health professional who has written specifically about Jesus’ mental health. In fact the most recent article this writer was able to find dealing specifically with the question of the sanity, or mental health, of the biblical Jesus was an article by E. Haldeman-Julius entitled “Crazy Jesus” published in 1925. (1) Indeed, this writer would greatly appreciate “feedback” from any reader who may have discovered more recent writings, particularly by modern psychiatrists, on this subject. My many hours at a local library and doing several “web-searches” have failed to produce any result. There was, however, a fairly recent mention of Jesus’ mental ill health by a modern psychiatrist named Dr. Clifford Allen (Probably Clifford Edward Allen, a British psychiatrist born in 1902) in a pamphlet published by the American Atheist Press. Dr. Allen was quoted as saying that he would “classify Jesus as a paranoid schizophrenic.”(2) Unfortunately, this quote was not footnoted and I was unable to verify it.

. . . .

A thorough review of all the well-known writings on this question is beyond the scope of this paper. However, I will mention a number of the most well know authors who have tackled the question of Jesus’ mental health, and will present, very briefly, a summary of their opinion on this subject.

Probably the most famous critic of Jesus of the past two hundred years was David Friedrich Strauss. In his first book on the life of Jesus, published in 1835, he opined that Jesus was simply a religious “fanatic.” However, in his second Life of Jesus, 1864, he considered Jesus’ fanaticism, “close to madness.” (3.) (Schweitzer. P. 35.)

Another early work on Jesus’ mentality was Oskar Holtzmann, War Jesu Ekstatiker? , 1903. (Was Jesus Ecstatic?) Yes, he felt he was. “Ecstatic” was kind of a nice way of saying that he felt Jesus was not in really strong contact with reality.

Emil Rasmussen wrote in 1904 a book in Danish, which was promptly translated into German in 1905. The book’s title was Jesus—A Comparative Study in Psychopathology.

Rasmussen concluded that Jesus was an epileptic. He points to evidence of both types of epileptic attack, a petit mal in Gethsemane, and a grand mal at the cleansing of the temple. He offers little other evidence, however, and his book is pretty much roundly condemned by most of the other writers on the subject.

Another early writer on the subject was Dr. George de Loosten who published, Jesus Christ from the Standpoint of a Psychiatrist in 1905. De Loosten explains Jesus’ apparent bizarre behavior on a number of occasions as being tainted by a bad heredity which made him a “degenerate” with a “fixed delusional system.” Naturally, Dr. de Loosten was not wildly popular among the Christians of his time, nor of the present time. His ideas were not widely accepted.

Another writer who took up the question of Jesus’ mental heath around the turn of the century was Charles Binet-Sangle. His book, La Folie de Jesus (The Dementia of Jesus) was published in Paris in 1910. The title says it all. Dr. Binet-Sangle diagnoses Jesus as “Demented.” Specifically, he calls Jesus’ illness “religious paranoia.” Dr. Binet-Sangle’s psychiatric study of Jesus placed particular emphasis on the various reported events which the doctor concluded were hallucinations. He specifically identified seven hallucinations. Of these seven, two were, “purely visual and five which are described as both visual and auditory-verbal.” (4)

Two more books on this subject would complete what I earlier referred to as an “outbreak” of sudden interest in Jesus’ mental health in the early part of the 20th century.

The books referred to above were originally published in a language other than English, so they were not at first given much notice in this country.

In 1912, a prominent New York psychiatrist, Dr. William Hirsh published a book entitled, Religion and Civilization—Conclusions of a Psychiatrist. Dr. Hirsh enumerates various incidents of aberrant behavior on Jesus’ part, agrees with Binet-Sangle’s opinions regarding Jesus’ hallucinations, and points to his “megalomania, which mounted ceaselessly and immeasurably.” Dr. Hirsh’s conclusion was quite strong. He said that Jesus was “paranoid”, pure and simple. He added that, “Everything that we know about him (Jesus) conforms so perfectly to the clinical picture of paranoia that it is hardly conceivable that people can even question the accuracy of the diagnosis.” (5) I must add here that I found this statement to be a bit “dogmatic”, especially coming from a psychiatrist. Dr. Hirsh felt very sure of his “conclusion,” and didn’t mince his words.

Just after Dr. Hirsh published his book, the famous Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote, in German, his book, The Psychiatric Study of Jesus. The book was written primarily to counter what Dr. Schweitzer—ever the apologist for Jesus—felt were, in his opinion, the then several unwarranted and vicious attacks on Jesus’ sanity. He makes some good points, such as it is unfair to take events out of the context of the culture and superstitious times during which these events supposedly took place. However, overall, I found his defense of Jesus’ sanity “strained” to say the least. One valuable part of his book, however, is that he vary fairly summarizes the arguments of all of Jesus’ previous critics mentioned above.

The most recent book that I was able to find on this subject, and one of the most helpful books published after the initial rush of books in the early 20th century, is The Psychic Health of Jesus by Dr. Walter Bundy, 1922. Dr. Bundy, like Albert Schweitzer, turns out to be a very strong apologist for Jesus. However, also like Dr. Schweitzer’s 1913 book, Dr. Bundy’s book is an even better and slightly more recent summary of all of what Dr. Bundy calls the “psychopathology books” written earlier about Jesus. In the end, Dr. Bundy concludes that, “A pathography of Jesus is possible only upon the basis of a lack of acquaintance with the course and conclusions of New Testament criticism and an amateur application of the principles of the science of psychiatry.” (6) (p. 268.) It is interesting that Dr. Bundy accuses several eminent psychiatrists in both Germany and the United States of “amateur” conclusions. Throughout Dr. Bundy’s book one gets the impression that these many other researchers, except Dr. Schweitzer of course, simply were not as smart or aware of the true facts as was Dr. Bundy.

. . . . .

Now it is time to turn to the evidence that is most usually cited by the above authors and others which either supports—or fails to support according to some such as Schweitzer and Bundy—a “diagnosis” of some form of mental pathology in the biblical Jesus. After examining the “evidence” as quoted directly from the inspired word of God, I will leave it to the reader to draw his own conclusions as to Jesus’ mental health.

First of all, it must be said that many of the writers mentioned above have pointed to scores of different quotations from the New Testament to substantiate a great variety of observations concerning Jesus’ state of mind at various times during his brief—perhaps three years—ministry. In order to present at least some of this material in an organized manner, it will be necessary to select only a few categories of possible pathological symptoms, and then to list quotations within these categories which may support substantiation or non-substantiation of a diagnosis of mental illness. All biblical quotations are from the KJV translation, and are taken exclusively from the four Gospels, the presumed authoritative accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry.

In a personal communication (1996), Dr. A. J Mattill, Jr. listed 14 categories within which most of the “points” of writers on Jesus’ mental health could be categorized. Dr. Mattill’s categories included Jesus’ “chronic vagabondage” and his “habitual retreat to solitude.” I have omitted these and others of Dr. Mattill’s categories both to save space and because it may be argued that some of these behaviors, although perhaps a bit odd, cannot in and of themselves be considered supportive of mental illness. Therefore, I shall consider only eight categories that seem to be those most frequently mentioned and those that are most closely associated with possible mental health problems. They are, in no particular order, as follows:

1. Jesus’ hallucinations/visions/voices

2. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple

3. Jesus’ cursing of a fig tree

4. Jesus’ vituperative verbal explosions and calls for violence

5. Jesus’ relationship with his own family

6. The belief of Jesus’ family and contemporaries that he was insane/possessed/beside himself.

7. Jesus’ exalted messianic self-consciousness/megalomania

8. Jesus’ call for self-mutilation.

Category 1: Jesus’ hallucinations/visions/voices. The perhaps “grandest” and most frequently sited hallucination (or if not a hallucination, we must believe a true event) is the reference to what is reported when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. Matt. 3:16-17 tells us, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighted upon him: And, lo, a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

In Luke 22:43-44 Jesus thought he saw an angel which “strengthened him.” However he was still in agony so he prayed so hard that “sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” In Matthew 4-11 we are told that the devil appeared to Jesus and teleported him into “the holy city and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple.” It occurs to me that this experience might have been a bit painful for Jesus, though from the biblical report Jesus seems to have suffered no ill effects from this experience. Later he was transported to “an exceedingly high mountain,” but Jesus was not tempted to worship the devil, we are told.

In John 12:27-33, when Jesus foretold his own death in Jerusalem, he reportedly hear a “voice from heaven” which promised him that his name would be glorified. Apparently others shared in this hallucination because John 12:29 tells us, “The people therefore that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered. Others said an angel spake to him.”

In Mark 9:2-8 we are told that Peter and James witnessed Jesus being “transfigured before them. And his raiment became shining, exceedingly white as snow. And there appeared unto them Elias, with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus.” Incidentally, Schweitzer argues that this incident reported by some of Jesus’ “pathographers” was a hallucination of Peter’s and James’, so it is “unfair” to lay this hallucination on Jesus. Numerous other events and voices speaking to Jesus have been pointed out as being able to be explained only as hallucinations.

It is interesting to note in passing that most fundamentalist Christians accept the situations above as “true”, but refer to them as “visions.” Note that it sounds far “less crazy” to speak of someone—perhaps in a state of great religious fervor—as having a vision rather than speaking of that same person as hallucinating.

Category 2: The cleansing of the temple. This incident refers to Jesus’ emotional outburst when he comes into Jerusalem and enters the main Jewish temple and “overthrew the tables” of the money-changers and the “seats of them that sold doves,” and tossed them all out of the temple. (Matt. 21:12-13.) The story is repeated in John 2: 14-16. In John’s version Jesus carried and apparently used a whip as mentioned in “Category 4” below. This certainly does not seem like the behavior of an entirely rational person.

Category 3: Jesus’ cursing of a fig tree. Even though this category includes only one incident, it has figured so prominently in all the prior inquiries into Jesus’ mental health that it is deserving of this special mention. Interestingly this event is reported only a few verses after the report of Jesus “flip out” at the temple. Apparently, still angry, Jesus got hungry the next morning, and on his walk into the city with some buddies he spotted a fig tree. Matthew 21:19 tells it this way: “And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came upon it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.” Apologists have always said that this is just a “parable” to illustrate the power of faith because in the next two verses he explains to his companions that, “Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done.” (Matt. 21:21.) However, it should be pointed out that this “explanation” of the power of faith has to be considered a bit “crazy” too, if it is meant literally. To this date we still have no reports of any Christian whose faith is “deep” or “pure” enough to have performed this bit of telekinesis.

Category 4: Jesus’ vituperative verbal explosions and calls for violence. The most frequently quoted biblical passage in the vituperative words category is Matthew, chapter 23. Nearly all 39 verses of Matthew 23 are devoted to an “upbraiding,” before a general “multitude,” all the “scribes and Pharisees.” He calls them “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “fools,” “whited sepulchres,” “serpents,” and a “generation of vipers.” One gets the idea pretty clearly that he doesn’t like them.

In the area of calls for violence is the oft-quoted Matt. 10:34-35. “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth. I am come not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” Pretty much this same advocacy of family strife is repeated in Luke 12:49-53 where he says, in part, “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.” (vs. 51) Seems clear enough to me! At Luke 22: 36, Jesus, knowing that trouble is brewing, tells his disciples, “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.”

In John’s version of the cleansing of the temple Jesus was reported to have made a “scourge (whip) of small cords” which he used to drive the merchants and money-changers out of the temple (John 2:15)

In addition to frequent calls for his followers to smite this or that other group of non-believers, Jesus apparently desires especially malevolent death for his enemies when he says, “But mine enemies, which should not that I should reign over them, bring them hither, and slay them before me.” (Luke 19:27)

Lastly, Jesus seems never to tire of speaking about the horrific and unending torments that non-believers and other “wicked” people will suffer in the Hell. Some of the gospel references are as follows: Matt. 3:12; 5:22,29-30; 8:12; 13:40-42, 49-50; 22:13, 25:41,46; Mark 9:43-44; Luke 3:17; 12:5; 13:27-28; 16:23-26. At Luke 16:19-25 Jesus tells us the parable of the rich man who died unrepentant and a true believer beggar named Lazarus. Seems they both died but the rich guy was sent to Hell. He pleads for just a tiny bit of mercy to ease his unending torment. He asks the Lord to, “send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” “No way,” as Jesus tells the parable, for there is a “great gulf” which prevents such passage. Then the rich man asks again if Lazarus could at least be sent to his five brothers to warn them “least they also come into this place of torment.” The rich man seems convinced that “if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.” The parable continues saying that even this small act of kindness could not be allowed because his brothers had probably had plenty of opportunities in the past to listen to “Moses and the prophets” but no doubt didn’t. Therefore, he says, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)

Jesus’ persistent habit of speaking approvingly of the unrelenting tortures of Hell may not in itself indicate mental illness; however, it is an attitude that can certainly be pointed to as not particularly supportive of mental health.

Category 5: Jesus’ relationship with his own family. Matthew 10, quoted above shows pretty clearly what he thinks of family life. Verse 36 adds, “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” When one of Jesus’ disciples requested time off for his father’s funeral, Jesus told him no and rebuked him saying, “Let the dead bury their dead.” (Matt. 8:22) To his own mother, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” (John 2: 4) At Luke 14:26 Jesus is perfectly clear that we should hate our family members. He says, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” At Luke 12:52-53 we read, “For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Additionally, there are a number of passages in the Gospels which testify to the idea that Jesus' own family simply did not “believe him”, or “believe in him.” For example, Matt. 13:57-58 states that Jesus’ brothers and sisters were “offended in him.” Therefore, Jesus decided not to do “many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” The same story of his family’s disbelief in his “own country” is retold in Mark 6:3-6. His brother’s disbelief is restated at John 12:37, and again at John 7:5, just in case you did not “get it” the first couple of times around.

Finally, when Jesus is asked directly, “Who is my mother? And who are my brethren?” he indicates, as all good cult leaders do, that his disciples were now his family. (Matt. 12:48-50.) Well, so much for “family values.”

Category 6: The belief of Jesus’ family and contemporaries that he was insane or possessed. When Jesus asked a group of followers why some of them didn’t trust him and went about seeking to “kill me”? they answered, “Thou hast a devil.” (John 7:20) Later they asked him again if he were, “a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” “Jesus answered, I have not a devil.” (John 8:48-49) Then again at John 10:20, “And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?”

His own family even brought his sanity into question. Writer Gene Kashmar details this incident well with references to original Greek word meanings. Mr. Kashmar’s words in this regard are worth the following lengthy quote:

“He was thought to be insane by his own family and neighbors in ‘when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself…And the scribes said, He hath Beelzebub…’ (Mark 3:21-22 –The Greek existemi translated beside himself, actually means insane and witless), The Greek word ho para, translated friends, also means family. On another occasion, the crowd claims “…He hath a devil, and is mad…” (John 10:20). The Greek word mainomai translated mad, also means manic, raving, and insensate” (7)

Category 7: Jesus’ exalted messianic self-consciousness. It is clear in many places in the Bible that Jesus considered himself to be the foretold Messiah and that he fully expected his majestic return on the clouds of heaven. Ironically, in the earlier Gospels Jesus seems to want to keep this a secret as in Mark 3: 12. “And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.” And, again, in Mark 9:9, he tells his followers to “Tell no man what they had seen, till the Son of man (referring to himself) were risen from the dead.” And at Matt 12: 15-16 it is said, “…a great multitude followed him, and he healed them all; and charged them that they should not make him known.” We don’t know how big this “multitude” was, nor how many of them were in need of being “healed”, but how likely do you think it would be that every one of them would keep quiet about this event?

By contrast in the book of John Jesus constantly proclaims his messianic dignity (John 6:29, 35, 38, 40, 47-47; 7:38; 8: 12; 11:25-26; 14:6, and 13-14). Jesus’s megalomania and delusion that he is the “chosen one” who was sent by his father (God) to save his “chosen people” seems to grow and grow. As A.J. Mittill Jr. comments in an article in the book, The Book Your Church Doesn’t Want You To Read, “The more trust one puts in the Fourth Gospel’s portrait of Jesus the more difficult it is to defend the sanity of Jesus.” (8) p. 122). Even Albert Schweitzer states that, “Even the most casual reader of the Fourth Gospel must have the impression that here Jesus’ words are exclusively egocentric. The word ‘I’ occurs six times as often in the Gospel as in the Gospel of Matthew. The seven ‘I ams’ of Jesus are found only in the Fourth Gospel.” And later, “In the Synoptics we see Jesus absorbed in the great cause of the kingdom of God, but in the Fourth Gospel he is engrossed in his own ego.” (The Psychic Health of Jesus, (9)

The reader might wonder at this point how Jesus apologist Dr. Schweitzer “gets around” this self-admitted stumbling block to declare Jesus sane. The answer is simple. Dr. Schweitzer simply proclaims the Fourth Gospel “unhistoric.” He states flatly that “…the egocentric words placed in the mouth of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel are not words of Jesus at all, but really the christocentric confessions of the fourth evangelist. And as such they cannot be used as pathographic matter for the diagnosis of paranoia.” (10) sanity, one simply dismisses as “unhistoric." Dr. Schweitzer does the same for much of the other Gospels as well. He states, “The Gospel of Luke agrees in the main with the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Wherever it goes beyond them it makes a doubtful contribution, which moreover is without any great significance for the criticism of Jesus and so can be left out of consideration.” (10) p. 46) (Emphasis added.) Say, what? Am I reading this correctly? The parts of the holy word of God we don’t agree with we can simply ignore? Incidentally, Mr. Bundy in his book, The Pathology of Jesus makes much the same arguments as does Dr. Schweitzer.

Category 8: Jesus’ call for self-mutilation. Matt. 19: 12 is the usual quotation for this bizarre approval supposedly given by Jesus for men to castrate themselves “for heaven’s sake”, if they’ve got the guts. The quote is, “ …and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." Church father Origen, as well as some of the more recent believers involved in the Heaven’s Gate cult apparently took this verse literally.

The other call for self-mutilation is given in Matt. 5: 29-30. Jesus’s followers are encouraged to simply get rid of any body part that offends them. “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee.” And, “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast if from thee.” Apparently offending left eyes and hands might be saved from this fate.

Again, at Matt. 18:8 Jesus is quoted as saying, “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than, having two hands or two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire.” Does this sound like a rational proposition to you?

In case there is any doubt about Jesus’ call for self-mutilation, these instructions for cutting off appendages and plucking out eyes are repeated again at Mark 9:43-47.


As mentioned earlier, I will leave it to the reader to draw his/her own conclusions regarding the mental health of the Biblical Jesus. However, in this writer’s opinion, as to the Jesus Christ as reported to us in the “Holy word of God” one can only conjecture—even given the general lack of education and the superstitious nature of the times—that he was at the very least a mentally disturbed religious fanatic. And, if various biblical reports of “visions” can be interpreted as “hallucinations,” and if the egomaniacal claims of missiaship reported to us in the Gospel of John are taken literally, then no less a judgement than a serious psychosis (madness) seems appropriate.

On the other hand, if we allow, as Drs. Schweitzer and Bundy do, that great sections of the Gospels are untrustworthy—“unhistoric” to use Dr. Schweitzer’s word—then, of course, no conclusions at all can be drawn. Clearly, nothing can be vouchsafe if the entire matter of what parts of the bible are authoritative and what parts are not is simply thrown up into the air.

Certainly, a brief query of most any modern mental health professional will suffice to assure one that it would be wise to be extremely suspicious of the “soundness of mind” of anyone who appears to be short-tempered, has auditory and visual hallucinations, and claims a “special connection” to the supernatural. This eminently sensible piece of advice is as sound today as it was some two thousand years ago.

(NOTE: This article was published in the April-June, 2001 issue of The International Atheist Alliance Magazine, Secular Nation.)


1. Haldeman-Julius, E., The Haldeman-Julius Monthly, “Crazy Jesus,” June, 1925. p. 11-18.

2. Maine, Colin, “The Unpleasant Personality of Jesus Christ” (a pamphlet), American

Atheist Press, (No publication date given), p. 12.

3. Schweitzer, Dr. Albert, The Psychiatric Study of Jesus, Boston, Beacon Press, 1913, p. 35.

4. Binet-Sangle, C., La Folie de Jesus, (The Dementia of Jesus) Paris, 1910. p. 392.

5. Hirsh, Dr. William, Religion and Civilization—Conclusions of a Psychiatrist, Truth

Seeker, New York, 1912, p. 99.

6. Bundy, Dr. Walter, The Psychic Health of Jesus, New York, The Macmillan Co.,

1922, p. 268.

7. Kashmar, Gene, All the Obscenities in the Bible, Brooklin Center, MN, Kas-Mark

Publishing Co., 1995, p. 157.

8. Mittill, A. J. Jr., The Book Your Church Doesn’t Want You to Read, Dubuque, IO.

Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1993, p. 122.

9. Schweitzer, op. cit., p. 129.

10. Schweitzer, op. cit., p. 132.

The author can be emailed at

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Jesus Never Was

By Don Havis

The purpose of this article is to outline what I consider to be the major arguments in support of a “pure-myth” viewpoint or position concerning the question of the historicity of the biblical figure we know as Jesus, a.k.a. Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ, or Jesus of Nazareth. A second purpose is to provide the reader with a selected bibliography of books, generally written by highly qualified biblical scholars, which the author has either used as sources of information, and/or has directly quoted from in the preparation of this paper. The author, himself, makes no pretense of being a “biblical scholar,” only an avid reader of their works.

Before I attempt to present at least “summaries” of arguments in support of the pure-myth point of view, (hereafter referred to as a “position”) I think it would be helpful to make clear the various positions which have traditionally been listed as possible. Some scholars have listed three positions. I prefer John Remsberg’s four different options. The positions listed below are from Remsberg’s 1909 book, The Christ, page 327, with slight additions of mine for clarification.

“Orthodox Christians believe that Christ was a historical character. [However, he was] both supernatural and divine; and that the New Testament narratives, which purport to give a record of his life and teachings, contain nothing but infallible truth.” (This is generally know as the “literalist position.”)

Conservative Rationalists, like Renan and the Unitarians, believe that Jesus of Nazareth is a historical character and that these narratives, eliminating the super-natural elements, which they regard as myths, give a fairly authentic account of his life.” (This is usually referred to as the “historical myth” position.)

Many radical Freethinkers believe that Christ is a myth, of which Jesus of Nazareth is the basis, but that these narratives are so legendary and contradictory as to be almost if not wholly, unworthy of credit.” In other words, there was most likely a historical Jesus, but virtually all of the stories about him are mythical. (This is known as the “philosophical myth” position.) My added comment would be that in the intervening years between 1909 and now, this position would no longer be considered at all “radical,” and the Unitarians referred to in position 2, above, have shifted almost entirely to this third perspective.

“Other [‘more radical’ is implied here] Freethinkers believe that Jesus Christ is a pure myth—that he never had an [historic] existence, except as a Messianic idea, or an imaginary solar deity.” I would add here that a natural concomitant of this position is that the four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are entirely fictional—made up stories, no parts of which have any basis in reality whatsoever. (This is the “pure-myth” position.)

The Seven Major Arguments
I admit that there may very well be more than “seven major arguments” for the pure-myth position, and that in some instances the arguments presented here partially overlap. Also, many of the same arguments can be used to support position three. However, I have, perhaps arbitrarily, outlined the following seven arguments for the reader’s consideration: (1) No one seemed to have noticed Jesus in his time. (2) The Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. (3) The gospels are entirely fictional, pure myths. (4) What we now call “Christianity” existed long before Jesus’ time. It was derived from earlier “scripture” and more ancient myths. (5) Paul, writing earlier than the gospels, clearly spoke of a “spiritual” Christ. He knew nothing of a real, live human Jesus. (6) There is no agreement at all concerning this putative historical Jesus’ looks, lineage, biography, character, moral worthiness, or even his central message. (7) The “you-can’t-have-it-both-ways” argument.

Again, the combination of all the arguments and opinions outlined in support of the above points will not absolutely “prove” that there was no historical Jesus. Logicians tell us it is impossible to absolutely prove a negative. It might be possible that there was a “real” William Tell who served as the inspiration for, and may have even engaged in some of the activities ascribed to the legendary Swiss folk hero. However, the great preponderance of the evidence we have at this time argues very strongly against this possibility. I believe that position four, described above, is an exact parallel to the pure myth claim for William Tell. The same claim might also be made about any of the long list of crucified saviors that have “visited” earth long before the beginning of the first century of this era. My claim is, in other words, that applying “Ockham’s razor,” (e.g. the simplest, most logical explanation that comports with all the known facts), and considering the tremendous dearth of evidence to the contrary, the most rational conclusion is that there never was an historical Jesus. Further, I contend that he, and consequently all that is said about him, are entirely fictional.

Now that I’ve made that exceedingly clear, let’s get on with the arguments, one by one.

No one noticed Jesus in “his day.”
As most of the readers of this article know, Christian apologists, world-wide, have “pointed with pride” to a handful of early extra-biblical writings which directly mention Jesus, John the Baptist, and/or James the Just, a.k.a. James the Brother of the Lord as a real first-century historical persons. “Ah ha,” they say. “Since you skeptics erroneously believe that the four Gospels are works of fiction, how can you account for these writings of reliable, unbiased historians who wrote about or referred to Jesus at or very near the time when he was alive?”

Just to mention the one “main gun” that Christian apologist have been firing at us skeptics for the past 1,800 years, (The difficulty of defending the Gospels has been a well-recognized problem for the church since they first where apparently “noticed’ by anyone around the middle of the second century.), I will briefly discuss the famous “Testimonium Flavium.” This Latin phrase refers to a single paragraph of about twelve sentences which appears to most critics to have been inserted awkwardly between two paragraphs which make perfectly good sense without the insertion. The reference is in a book by the well-known first century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus [37 – c95 CE]. The reference is contained in his book, The Antiquities of the Jews. This book is—appropriately enough for the reference to be contained in—a book about the early history of the Jews in the area where Jesus is supposed to have preached, and in the time when he was supposedly alive.

As Frank R. Zindler says, “Although Flavius Josephus was born too late to be an eyewitness of the lives of Jesus or John the Baptist nevertheless he was a contemporary of the evangelists [assuming they existed] who wrote of these characters. He should have heard of Paul [if he existed, whom he never mentions]. Furthermore, from his priest-craft father, Matthias [b 6 CE] he should have known about the religious ferment supposedly stirred up by the doings of Jesus.” (Zindler, Frank R., The Jesus The Jews Never Knew, p. 35). Yet this well-respected historian mentions none of this with the single exception of the paragraph referred to above. In that paragraph only, he names a man called Jesus. “He was the Christ,” Josephus is made to say. He was a “doer of wonderful works” and that “Pilate condemned him to the cross.” The paragraph concludes that, “The tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” “This day” would be about the year 90 CE, approximately when Josephus wrote his history book. This phrase, at the very least, is an obvious later interpolation as there was no “tribe of Christians” during Josephus’s time. Christianity did not get off the ground until the second century.

It is also interesting that the mention of this particular Jesus, “Jesus the Christ,” is divulged by Josephus with no more emphasis than he gives to the other 20 Jesuses he speaks of in his writings. (See Leidner, Harold, The Fabrication of the Christ Myth, p. 19 – 20).

In summary, let me just say that the single paragraph referred to above has been one of the most thoroughly researched and debated topics in all of biblical criticism. Those that want a more detailed analysis can refer to Zindler’s entire chapter on it in the above cited book, (“Faking Flavius”, p. 31 to 73.) Additionally, Earl Doherty’s book supporting the mythical Christ theory, The Jesus Puzzle discusses this and other early likely Christian interpolations in chapter 21, “Flavius Josephus” p. 205 to 222. Referring to another oft-quoted reference to Jesus in the writings of the Roman historian Tacitas [c55CE-c120 CE], Doherty says, “If the silence on Jesus in the earlier works of both Tacitus and Josephus casts doubt on the authenticity of their later references, then we truly have lost every clear non-Christian reference to Jesus as a human being [emphasis added] before the latter half of the second century.” (p. 222)

Think about that sentence for a minute. Dozens of books of Christian apologists will offer long lists of citations about Jesus from early writings. However, most of these citations refer to either clearly awkwardly done interpolations, whereas others were written by authors who lived anywhere from a century and a half up to several centuries past the time when Jesus was supposed to have lived. These quotations referring to Jesus and other Gospel characters simply repeat stories that the writer has heard from other Jesus cult enthusiasts. As such, they are of no value whatsoever.

In addition to the above noted refutation of the most important references to a supposed historical Jesus written near Jesus’ time, I should also mention at least two “deafening silences” by highly regarded writers of the same time period. I am referring to the writings of Philo, an eminent Jewish philosopher and historian who lived during the early first century, and Justus of Tiberias, a native of Galilee who wrote a history covering the period in which Jesus is said to have lived. Neither one of them ever mentioned a “Jesus.” The works of Justus have all perished now. However, we have the writings of a ninth century Christian Bishop and scholar of Constantinople, Photius, who says that he had read Justus’ works. He reports, in utter amazement one might imagine, that, “He (Justus) makes not the least mention of the appearance of Christ, of what things happened to him, or of the wonderful works he did.” (Jackson, J. G., Pagan Origins of the Jesus Myth, p. 8.) Personally, I find that quote absolutely jaw-dropping.

The Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses
Whether one believes that the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) are partly fictional elaborations of some core of truth, or whether you believe they are entirely fictional is not the issue at this point. (What I see as a separate issue of their fictional or non-fictional status will be taken up in the next point.) The question here is simply, were the gospels written by human witnesses to the “life and times” of the putative Jesus? This point can be handled quite briefly. The answer is a resounding “No!” There is virtual unanimity of opinion by all un-brainwashed, rational biblical scholars—even so-called Christian scholars (perhaps an oxymoron)—that the gospels were written by now unknown writers anytime between 40 years after Jesus’ time up to about 185 years after his supposed death, depending on what scholar one consults. Most scholars place Mark, the generally recognized first written gospel, at about the year 70 CE, just after the destruction of the Jewish temple of Yahweh. However, Earl Doherty has advanced some closely reasoned arguments that support a time “around the years 85 to 90 CE.” (The Jesus Puzzle, p. 3).

Famed Jesus scholar, Dr. G. A Wells summarizes in his 1988 book, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, “The gospels are usually put between 70 and 110, with Mark at about 70, Matthew and Luke a little later, and John, the latest, at about 100. Acts (written as we shall see, by the author of Luke) and some of the pseudo-Pauline epistles are assigned to the turn of the century. I find all this convincing enough, except in the case of Mark, which I date at about 90 rather than 70. If this is correct, then all four gospels were written soon after 90 and drew some of their material from earlier documents which have not survived and from oral tradition, much of which must have been available from about 80, although it would have taken time for them to have become generally disseminated.” (Wells, op. cit. p. 10 & 11).

There is near unanimous agreement that the very first mention of the existence of what we now call the gospels was by Justin Martyr, in the 150s. Doherty says, however, that he may only have known of Matthew and Luke. “Even at that, he does not refer to them by name, calling the documents he is quoting from ‘memoirs of the Apostles.’ Moreover, his quotations for the most part do not agree with our present texts.” (The Jesus Puzzle, p. 259) So, it seems that the “eyewitness testimony” of the so-called “apostles” was still being sort of “worked out” a century and a half after J.C.’s supposed birth.

The gospels are entirely fictional, pure myths
Many large tomes have been entirely devoted to supporting the point that great sections, if not all, of the New Testament, as well as the Old Testament, are simply a retelling of fabulous tales based on older Jewish, Roman, Greek, Persian, and even more ancient Egyptian stories. Substantiating this point does not advance this paper’s major thesis, except as it applies to the only supposed biblical “evidence” in support of a historic Jesus—that is, that testimony provided by the four gospels. For those readers who might be interested in the spurious origins of not only the gospels, but also the entire bible, the names several entire books devoted to this subject can be found in the bibliography of this paper.

It is interesting to me that a great many freethinkers and rationalists—people who might be reading this article—are very quick to agree that pretty much the entire bible is chock full of misinformation, forgeries, bad history and just plain lies. Not only that, but most rationalists are quite willing to accept the proposition that this mish-mash of prevarication was not simply a naive passing along of old legends, but were written for the express purpose of convincing (i.e. “converting”) the gullible reader into subscribing to the particular fanciful dogma the ancient writers were trying to peddle. However, for some reason or another that entirely escapes me—perhaps just early brainwashing imbedded as deeply as potty training—these same rationalists are reluctant to imagine that the four gospels are completely fictional. Surely, they say, there must have been some sort of demythologized, even perhaps anonymous nobody who was arrested, tried by Roman authorities, then crucified. We can’t be sure of any more details than that, they say. I simply ask, why must this be so? What more tangible evidence can anyone present that the whole story is not simply what it appears to be—a retelling of one or more of the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of ancient sun-god or sky-god’s traditional, descending then ascending god myths, generally consisting of elements such as of first some tribulations (a trial), conviction, crucifixion, and finally resurrection? One could go on for several paragraphs pointing out the many details of the “passion story” that have parallels not only in more ancient myths, but also in earlier Jewish writings including the Old Testament. See, for example, Zechariah 9: 9, which foreshadows Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on an ass; actually “on an ass and the foal of an ass”—a neat trick, eh?), and the foreshadowing of the whole “passion story” in Psalms 22, the virgin birth in Isaiah 7: 14, his birth in Bethlehem in Micah 5: 2. All of this has been well noted for centuries. Why in the world would any rational person imagine that any of these fables were in any sense true?

It is interesting to speculate on the source material for the first written gospel, the Gospel according to Mark. Perhaps Mark—probably a well educated Greek-speaking member of the Jewish Diaspora—had read the works of “Philo Judaeus, the Jewish philosopher-theologian of Alexandria in Egypt.” (A speculation of Alvar Ellegard, Jesus One Hundred Years Before Christ, p. 5) Or, perhaps he had heard the stories of the so-called “Teacher of Righteousness” of the Essenes who may have lived (mythological or real—who knows?) sometime in the first century BCE. (Ellegard, op. cit., p. 258). Maybe Mark wrote in the second century as scholar Ellegard holds, and had read Flavius Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius, whose life almost exactly paralleled the life of the mythical Jesus and who reportedly died in 98 CE. (See Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions, p. 9) Surely, he had read of the so-called “Suffering Servant of the Lord” described in Isaiah 52: 13 – 53: 12. (See Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle, p. 80). Certainly Mark, and later the other gospel writers, had no shortage of inspiration. What they didn’t have is anyone who was in any sense “real.”

It is important to remain focused on the primary reason why these gospels were written, or perhaps “compiled” would be a better word. They were written for the express purpose of convincing the uneducated and gullible masses that they no longer needed to believe in a sort of mystical, unseen, spiritual Christ—a somewhat difficult concept for the unsophisticated to grasp even though it was familiar to them as I will discuss later. Here, in the gospels, the new Jesus cult offers a “real”, flesh and blood incarnation of god to believe in. (In truth, there was a terrific argument early on between the Gnostic Christians and the main line, later to become the Catholic Christians as to this “flesh and blood” issue.) This savior figure spoke real words (i.e. the Sermon on the Mount, etc.), ate food, performed miracles, visited real places, and spoke to “multitudes.” He was truly crucified, not allegorically crucified in a heavenly realm. Remember “doubting Thomas”? He wanted to stick his fingers into Jesus’ wounds, just to be sure. (John 20: 26-27) I thought that was a "nice touch” for the last gospel fiction writer to add; don’t you? For those of you that might still be unconvinced of the absolute untrustworthiness of the gospels in particular, I offer just one more powerful quotation for your consideration:

“Nearly every thing written concerning the gospels to the year 325, and all the copies of the gospels themselves to the same period, are lost or destroyed. The truth is that very few early Christian texts exist because the autographs, or originals, were destroyed after the Council of Nicea and the “retouching” of 506 CE under Emperor Anastasius, which included “revision” of the Church fathers’ works—catastrophic acts that would be inconceivable if these ‘documents’ were truly the precious testaments of the very Apostles themselves regarding the ‘Lord and Savior,’ whose alleged advent was so significant that it sparked profound fanaticism and endless wars. Repeating what would seem to be utter blasphemy, in the 11th and 12th centuries the ‘infallible Word of God’ was ‘corrected’ again by a variety of church officials. In addition to these major ‘revisions’ have been many others, including copying and translation mistakes and deliberate mutilation and obfuscation of meaning.” (Acharya S, The Christ Conspiracy, p. 26). Still think the gospels are about real events? If so, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to talk to you about.

What we now call “Christianity” existed long before Jesus’ time
As with point two above, there is little or no debate among serious scholars that what we now call “Christianity” has so heavily plagiarized from prior existing Christ and risen sun-god myths as to be virtually indistinguishable from many of them. Of course, first of all there is simply Judaism, which had long talked about and predicted a soon-to-arrive “Christ.” Ironically, according to them, he still hasn’t come. The documentation of this claim is the subject of literally hundreds of books. A small number of these books are quoted in this paper. Just to present a quick summation, I would like to quote a well-recognized scholar of the early 20th century. “The Pagans had their holy days (from which the Christians plagiarized their Christmas, Easter, Rogation Days, etc.); their monks, nuns, religious processions carrying images of idols, incense, holy water, holy oil, chants, hymns, liturgies, confessions of sins to priests, revelations by gods to priests, prophecies, sacred writings of ‘holy bibles,’ Pontiffs, Holy Fathers, holy crafty priesthoods. All these sacrosanct things of Christian ‘Revealed Religion,’ were age-old pre-Christian Pagan myths and superstitions.” (Forgery in Christianity, by Joseph Wheless, p. 17 and 18) All of this is not even “controversial” among knowledgeable secular biblical scholars.

I will quote one more source, a small pamphlet published by The Freedom From Religion Foundation which “zeroes in” on the mythical antecedents of the Jesus Christ figure. The pamphlet—really, a tract—is entitled, “Cookie Cutter Christs.” The sun-god Mithra, who was very popular in the Roman Empire around 2000 years ago was “born of a virgin about 600 BC, was celebrated on December 25. Magi brought gifts to his birth. His first worshipers were shepherds and he was followed in his travels by twelve companions. Mithra was slain upon a cross in Persia to make atonement for humankind and take away the sins of the world. His ascension to heaven was celebrated at the spring equinox (Easter).” Additionally, the pamphlet continues, “Mithra celebrated a ‘Last Supper’ with his 12 disciples. The Mythraists observed weekly sabbath days and celebrated the Eucharist by eating wafers marked with a cross.” Does any of this sound familiar?

The same pamphlet notes that, “Attis was born of a virgin mother named Nana, in Phrygia sometime before 200 BC. He was hanged on a tree, died, rose again, and was called ‘Father God’.” “Horus was born of the virgin Isis in Egypt around 1550 BC. Horus as an infant received gifts from three kings, and was crucified on a cross. There are about 200 close parallels of the careers of Horus and Jesus Christ.” “Adonis (Tammuz) was born of a virgin mother called Ishtar (Easter), depicted like the Virgin Mary with her divine child in her arms. Adonis was regarded as both the son and husband of his mother Ishtar, as God the Father and God the Son.” We could go on and on. Any of the above named books will give the interested reader much more information about ancient gods along this same line. The mythology doesn’t change much, just the name of the current sun-god de jure.

Indeed, the parallels in the cult of Mithraism—perhaps Christianity’s major contemporary and most competitive religion of the first century CE—most especially, are so striking that I have often reflected that had Emperor Constantine not mandated that Christianity be the Empire’s only religion in 325 CE, and had that decree not been brutally enforced by the “firebrand and the sword” for the next 1,700 years by the Catholic Church, then we might see steepled little Mithric Churches dotting the landscape throughout Europe and the United States especially. As part of this same fantasy, I have often wondered if there would now be heated debates as to whether or not the now recognized as mythic Mithra was somehow based on a historic, real flesh-and-blood, human being named Mithra. If the Catholic Mithraist myth enforcers had been equally as successful as have been the Catholic Jesus myth enforcers, I suppose the answer of the masses—and even of some atheists—throughout most of the world would clearly be, “Yes, most likely there was a historic Mithra.” Incredible! What a brainwashing we have all been subjected to!

Most well informed Christian apologists—even back to the early “Church Fathers”—admit that the above parallels are true. Their standard response is that just because there are all of these parallels doesn’t necessarily prove that Jesus wasn’t a real human figure who may have been just doing his best to “fulfill” all the ancient prophesies, and to “fit in” to the familiar legends about him. This counter-point can’t be denied. I only ask the reader which of the two possible explanations seems the most likely?

Paul clearly spoke only of a “spiritual Christ,” not a human one.
It is well recognized by all but the most fanatical fundamentalist bible scholars that Paul, writing between approximately 54 C. E. an 65 C.E., was not a “witness to Jesus.” By his own admission, he saw Jesus “in a vision” while on the road to Damascus. This Jesus was a purely mythical, “spiritual Christ,” not in any sense a human being Christ. Paul “received” this Jesus through a kind of divine revelation. I believe that Doherty explains this sort of “Jesus” best when he says that the message Paul received, “…was about a heavenly Son of God who was both an intermediary between God and the world, and a Savior figure. He was variously called Jesus, or Yeshua (meaning ‘Yahweh Saves’ in Hebrew), the Christ (Greek for the Hebrew “Mashiach,” or Messiah, meaning ‘Anointed One’), and the Son. Some looked upon this new Son of God as a Reveler who bestowed saving knowledge of God, others as one who had undergone a sacrificial death and a resurrection. [In another heavenly realm] All manner of apostles like Paul were going about preaching this divine being and often not agreeing among themselves about him; indeed, they could be at each others’ throats, as certain passages in Paul’s letters revealed. This Son and Savior was not identified with a recent human man or placed in an earthly setting, much less given a ministry of teaching and miracle-working in Galilee.

[Paul knew no details of the yet to be written, gospel ‘historical’ Jesus.] Instead, he was a heavenly deity who had done his redeeming work in the supernatural dimension.” (The Jesus Puzzle p. 5.)

This kind of thinking is very difficult for the modern mind. Remember that since every reader of this paper was born he or she has been constantly bombarded—well, except when you were in your church, synagogue, or mosque—with cause and effect, logical, scientific thinking. For the residents of Galilee two thousand years ago, however, nothing could have been more natural. The whole culture and the entire “civilized world” was saturated with this way of thinking. It was, as Doherty explains, “The view shared by a whole range of pagan salvation cults, each of which had its own savior god who had performed deeds in the mythical world. Like Paul’s Christ, savior gods such as Attis and Osiris had been killed; like Paul’s Christ, Osiris had been buried (after being dismembered); like Christ on the third day, Adonis and Dionysos had been resurrected from death. All these things were not regarded as historical; they had taken place in the world of myth and higher reality.” (Doherty, op cit. p. 16.)

In summary, all of the parts of the New Testament attributed to a probably historical Paul are of no help at all in establishing a “historical” Jesus, since they never speak of such a person.

There is no agreement on any information about this supposedly historical Jesus

By way of amplifying the above point, what I mean is that, normally, a very well-known historical person—even one existing as long as two thousand years ago—would certainly be much better known to historians than is Jesus. For example, we know much more about Alexander the Great, who lived 200 years before the Jesus character is said to have lived.

Let’s examine just a few points of reference that one might reasonably be expected to know about a person whose influence was so great that it literally change the course of history over the next two millenium. (1) Looks? No one in the entire bible gives any definitive description of Jesus whatsoever. He is depicted in artistic works, ranging from the ninth century up to modern times, as everything from being rather short with a “male pattern baldness problem” to the tall, handsome Nordic Jesus with the neatly trimmed beard we all met in Sunday School. Secular scholar, Dr. William Harwood, an advocate of a “historical nobody” who served as a basis of the mythical Jesus, believes that Jesus was, “an odd looking man, balding, stooped, with joined eyebrows, and approximately 4 ft 6 in tall” (Mythology’s Last Gods, p. 63). Enough said. (2) Birth date? Biblical scholars of all stripes disagree as to the date of the mythical Jesus’ birth. Dates range from about 4 BCE (the one most often quoted) to about 7 CA. (3) Birthplace? The bible says Bethlehem. However, Jesus is constantly referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth.” Scholars now understand that this was probably a linguistic confusion and perhaps an early mistranslation. Jesus was a “Nazarene,” the title of a sect, not a name having geographical associations. Thus, as G. A. Wells explains, “‘Jesus the Nazarene’ is equivalent to, say, ‘Henry the Quaker’ or ‘George the Methodist.’” (Wells, Did Jesus Exist, p. 147.) Furthermore, modern archeology has established that there was no such city as Nazareth in the first century. Dr. Harwood, mentioned above, argue strongly for the city of Capurnaum as a probable birth city. (4) Personal character and/or moral worthiness? Although we heard all about the loving, compassionate Jesus in church, and how we ought to “turn the other cheek,” we were not given the quotations that urged his followers to bring those that would not have me for their leader and “slay them before me.” (Luke 19: 27.) We were told not to lie. However, we read about how Jesus lied when it suited him. (See Mattill, A. J. Sweet Jesus, p. 103) We remember the part about not stealing, but we heard nothing about Jesus’ habit of stealing pigs, wheat, donkeys, cash, cows, olive oil, and figs. (op. cit. p. 31-33.)

Perhaps more critical than all of the above inconsistencies and silences is the confusion about what, exactly, was J.C.’s central message? The problem of discerning a “central message” is confounded not because there isn’t one, but because there are too many. If one asks the average Christian what was Jesus’ essential message to us, they look at you as if you must be the stupidest person they have ever met. Then, they explain patiently that, “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son to die for us so as to atone for our sins, and that if you would simply believe in him, you could have a sort of second life, ever-lasting, in a place called heaven.” Now, at first you must try to ignore the sheer imbecility of what you just heard, and ask a few follow-up questions. You may ask something like, “Well, how can I ‘believe on him’ as the bible phrases it, when I am not clear about his full message and his teachings?” The Christian has a ready answer. “You can read the bible and there you will learn all about his wonderful message to us.”

“I already did that,” you might say, “ but then I became even more confused.” As mentioned above, there seems to be hundreds of messages, often with conflicting ideas and pronouncements. You might also add that you were a bit confused as to whether you should pay more attention to Peter’s Jewish ‘works-based’ Christianity, or to Paul’s Gentile ‘faith-based’ Christianity. You confess further confusion when you read about the early Gnostic Christian’s ‘knowledge’ (Gnosis) based Christianity. Despite all your reading, you say, you are still “unclear on the concept.” At this point the Christian will generally say something like, “Jesus loves you anyway” and walk away.

The summary point here is that because of the great amount of hopelessly conflicting information and the lack of any definitive information on everything about Jesus—his looks, lineage, biography, nature (three in one; one in three?), character, moral worthiness, message, etc.—it is clear, at least to this writer, that there is simply no one underneath this great pile of b.s. to see.

You can’t have it both ways

This last point can be briefly explained. Despite its simplicity, I think it is a very powerful argument for a completely fictional Jesus. It has been said “many times in many ways,” as the song lyric goes, but Frank Zindler recently stated it quite succinctly.

Zindler notes that many liberal Christian apologists will readily agree that, “While the gospels cannot be taken literally, they are at least evidence of somebody [emphasis in original] extraordinary. But these same apologists miss the irony of Jesus being so obscure that no secular record of him survives. (It is ironic also that despite being a well-known public figure and rabble-rouser, Jesus nevertheless is so colorless and forgettable that the authorities have to bribe Judas to point him out!)” (The Jesus The Jews Never Knew, p. 5) This last point Zindler puts in parenthesis because it assumes that the reader might think that at least some part of the gospel fables might be true. I believe, as does Zindler, that this is extraordinarily unlikely, to the point of a vanishing possibility.

In conclusion, I believe that in this article I have at least “hit the highlights” of the arguments for a purely fictional Jesus with his purely fictional “gospel.”

Clarence Darrow may have summarized the pure-myth position most succinctly when he said, “I don’t believe in Jesus because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.” No, Virginia, I’m afraid that it is time now to grow up. There really isn’t any Santa Claus. And even though there may have been a Christian bishop, born in 270 CE, who was rumored to have secretly shared his inherited wealth with the poor, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the myth of the fat guy in a red suit who, on December 25th, drops down the chimney’s of every world-wide Christian family who has one or more children to deliver presents, with the aide of a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Additionally, there is also no Tooth Fairy, no Mother Goose, and Jesus never was!


Note: Some of the books listed here support a historical myth, or a philosophical myth position (positions 2 or 3, described earlier). Some, like Burton Mack, Robert Price and others seem to adopt an agnostic stance on the historicity matter, although they have often done some of the best research which has lead to a nearly complete destruction of any chance for such a historical Jesus. All the books in this bibliography are highly recommended. I have undoubtedly left out others that by chance I have not read or just didn’t consider for inclusion. For those readers who wish to “zero in” on the pure myth (position 4) supporters, I have indicated these books with an asterisk.

*Acharya S, The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Conspiracy Ever Sold, Klempton, IL, Adventures Unlimited, 1999.

Anonymous, “Cookie Cutter Christs, nontract # 8”, Madison, WI, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. No date.

*Barker, Dan, Losing Faith in Faith, (See Chapter 51, “Jesus: History or Myth”), Madison, WI, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., 1992.

*Doherty, Earl, Challenging the Verdict, Ottawa Canada, Age of Reason Publications, 2001.

*_______ , The Jesus Puzzle, Ottawa Canada, Canadian Humanist Publications, 1999.

Ellegard, Alvar, Jesus One Hundred Years Before Christ, Woodstock, NY, The Overlook Press, 1999.

*Freke, Timothy & Gandy, Peter, The Jesus Mysteries, NY, Harmony Books, 2000.

Harwood, William, Mythology’s Last Gods, Amherst, NY, Prometheus Books, 1992.

Helms, Randel, Gospel Fictions, Amherst, NY, Prometheus Books, 1988.

Jackson, John G., Christianity Before Christ, Austin, TX, American Atheist Press, 1985.

_______ , “Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth,” (a pamphlet), Austin, TX, American Atheist Press, no date given.

Leidner, Harold, The Fabrication of the Christ Myth, Tampa, FL, Survey Books, 1999.

Mack, Burton L., Who Wrote The New Testament? San Francisco, CA, HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.

Mattill Jr., A. J., Sweet Jesus, Gordo, AL, The Flatwoods Free Press, 2002.

McCabe, Joseph, The Forgery of the Old Testament and other essays, Buffalo, NY, Prometheus Books, 1993.

Price, Robert M., Deconstructing Jesus, Amherst, NY, Prometheus Books, 2000.

Smith, Homer W., Man And His Gods, Boston, Little Brown & Co., 1956.

*Wells, G. A., Did Jesus Exist? London, Elek Books, Ltd., 1975.

*_______ , The Historical Evidence for Jesus, Amherst, NY, Prometheus Books, 1988.

Wheless, Joseph, Forgery in Christianity: A Documented Record of the Foundations of The Christian Religion, New York, Knopf, 1930.

*Zindler, Frank R., The Jesus The Jews Never Knew, Cranford, NJ, American Atheist Press, 2003.

The author can be emailed at

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

An Atheist's Reaction to War with Iraq

March 19, 2003
by David Fitzgerald

David FitzgeraldHow does the reaction of Atheists to the prospect of war in Iraq differ from that of the Religious? No matter what Pat Robertson tells you, there is no unified world agenda among the godless, for the simple reason that Atheists, Humanists, Agnostics -call them what you will- are free thinkers. We run the gamut from sweet little feisty grandmas to surprisingly thoughtful punk rockers and everything in between. Sometimes we share nothing more than the lack of belief in gods and other imaginary beings. In fact it might be argued that the majority of Atheists don't even realize that they are Atheists - they simply live religion-free lives. Perhaps they say they consider themselves "spiritual" but they neither worry about gods nor could be bothered to worship any of them.

But I'll risk saying all would agree that Patriotic Atheist Americans cherish life and freedom, and fight fiercely to preserve these values. Yes, there are Atheists in foxholes. There are Atheist Americans in Iraqi foxholes right now. Like most Americans I support our troops, but like many Atheists, I seriously question whether this war is justified, especially in the name of religion.

In our secular democracy it is not appropriate for the President of the United States to call the nation to prayer like a star-spangled muezzin. I am wary of President Bush and our tax-supported chaplains assuring our armed forces that God is with them and that He will grant victory against the fanatics of the Middle East, just as their leaders assure terrorists that God is on their side and will ensure victory against the great Satan of America.

We are bombarded with "God Bless America" bumper stickers. We watch this administration and military officials hard-sell fear & test-market war; create, spin-doctor or bury evidence as it suits them; change their rationales repeatedly; duck questions and bully the press; ignore overwhelming protest; push to curtail the most basic civil rights; alienate our allies; and continue to line up the post-war contracts, all while piously invoking the name of God.

Yet in spite of all this, the question for Atheists remains the same as everyone: Is Bush telling the truth? All the evidence says no. There is neither a connection between Iraq & Al-Qaeda nor are there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And all signs make it clear that Iraq was targeted as future scapegoat long before now, even long before 9-11 if we can believe Jay Bookman's report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It seems abundantly clear that Bush and his cronies are intent on using the pretext of a war on terrorism to create an Imperial America, sacrificing economic health, international goodwill, peace and security for military hegemony. Bush brings all the Orwellian doublethink to life, American-style: War will be Peace. Ignorance will be Strength. Freedom isn't Free? It isn't even Freedom.

As human beings we need to take responsibility for our own lives, and follow our consciences rather than wait for divine aid or protection. I hope that those who cherish their faith also cherish their reason, such as Missouri GOP Chairman Jack Walters, who recently resigned in protest and gave eloquent & compelling reasons for opposing the Bush administration's hypocritical conniving. Because despite the fundamental disagreements Atheists have with religion, opposition to this unjust war could prove to be what unites believers and nonbelievers alike.

-David Fitzgerald (03/19/2003)
(with tremendous gratitude to Jim Heldberg & Katie Harrar for their editorial expertise)

The author can be emailed at

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Faith-Based Initiative Conference Protest

by Dave Kong

The city of San Diego is known as a bastion of conservative politics. Nevertheless, five bold American Atheists members joined state director Dave Kong outside the San Diego Concourse to demonstrate against the Faith-Based Initiative Conference on February 18.

The conference was the fourth in a series of events set up by the Bush Administration to encourage faith-based and community organizations to apply for federal money to run their social service programs, and to outline the procedures to obtain these funds. Opening with a videotaped message from President Bush, participants were assured that they can apply for federal funds "without losing their religious identity."

"This is a blatant attempt to bring religion into government-funded programs" Mr. Kong told reporters. "It's unconstitutional, and it's outrageous."

Mr. Kong continued. "The phrase 'faith-based' means that religion is at the core of these programs. With the grant rules before Bush began implementing this initiative, religious groups could already apply for funds. They just had to set up a separate nonprofit organization that was completely separate from their religious mission, and could not discriminate in their hiring practices. But these groups are unable or unwilling to separate their religion from the social work - and that's the problem.

"For example, if a drug rehab program says that the only way to live a drug-free, healthy, viable life is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it's essentially teaching participants that my lifestyle is invalid and unhealthy because, as an Atheist, I can't possibly have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Such groups are certainly entitled to their opinion, but to have my tax dollars support a program that denigrates me is unconscionable."

Mr. Kong and the other protesters handed out flyers at the Concourse entrance to participants and passers-by, and displayed signs and a blue banner that read "Their Religion - Our Money - No Way!" which caught the attention of oncoming B Street traffic.

Reaction to the demonstration was mixed. Some refused to accept the flyer. Some said they supporters the initiative. One woman called the protesters "weirdos." At one point, football legend and minister Rosie Grier stopped and chatted amicably with the protesters. One man, a city worker, blamed "the atheists" for causing the 9/11 tragedy.

However, a surprising number of people fully supported the protest. Those that stopped to learn more about the issue usually concluded that they were against the initiative once they understood its implications. One woman even stopped by on three different occasions to say that she supported the group, would have joined the protest if she had known about it, and plans on becoming a member of American Atheists.

The demonstration was covered by the San Diego Tribune, the local NPR station, Fox News, and ABC affiliate Channel 10. In addition, Channel 10 conducted a follow-up online poll, in which 66 percent were against the initiative because of First Amendment concerns. Perhaps San Diego isn't that conservative after all.

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