How did Christianity really start?
Read The Christianity Myth free of charge & find out.
© 2014 K. A. G. Thackerey. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.
Please note, The Christianity Myth is not a book about Jesus, it’s a book about the origins of Christianity and the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem.
This very short book addresses two fundamental questions. First, are Christian claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem 2000 years ago well founded? Second, if not, how come 2000 years later, we have a major world religion based entirely on a false premise? Christians may well find themselves challenged by my attempts to answer these questions.
Throughout the book, I use the term historical-Jesus whenever referring specifically to a purely historical, mortal character called Jesus, and I use the term Gospel-Jesus whenever referring specifically to the Jesus found in the New Testament Gospels. Christians claim this Gospel-Jesus was resurrected on the third day after his crucifixion. I deliberately use these more specific terms to minimise confusion.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
At the start of 2012, I was a life-long indifferent agnostic, who attended a Christian church on a regular basis because my spouse was a life-long Methodist. I attended regularly for over 30 years, hoping that one day I would see the light. When I started attending church I was an ill-informed agnostic, and thirty years later I was a better informed agnostic. However, I did meet a lot of very nice people, many of whom became friends.
In January 2012, largely because my spouse was fed up with all my questions, I attended the ubiquitous Alpha Course, to find out why the people around me in church got it, and I still didn’t get it, even after 30 years of exposure. I turned up at the first session of the course, expecting to find myself surrounded by like-minded people looking for answers. I also thought that there might be a few people from other faiths, who were checking out Christianity to see if it offered something better. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I found myself surrounded by Christians seeking to learn more about Christianity, many of whom I already knew. But my surprise didn’t stop there. I soon realised that I knew more about the New Testament than they did, but I must confess that I did bone-up on the subject beforehand, because I didn’t want to appear too ignorant when I first showed up.
Most of the Christians on the course seemed to have little or no in-depth knowledge of their faith. They seemed perfectly happy with the cosy Christian dogma, that all regular church-goers eventually soak up if they attend church long enough. They also seemed to take comfort in a kind of herd-instinct mentality, thinking so many of us have believed the gospel story to be true for so long, that surely we can’t all be wrong.
This general ignorance intrigued me, because I had never considered the possibility that someone could, or would, believe in something they knew little about. But I suppose that’s really what faith is all about, a desire or even a need to just believe in something, even if you don’t fully understand the nuts and bolts of what you believe in. After several weeks of exposure to this general ignorance, I decided to look into first century Christianity, to better understand the origins of the New Testament, and to better understand why so many people, with so little knowledge of this New Testament, profess to be Christians.
I started my quest by reading most of the New Testament for the first time in my life, a task made much easier once I discovered an on-line biblical reference site called Biblos. This site makes finding your way around the New Testament relatively painless. I started at the beginning with the Gospels, and then progressed to Paul’s epistles, and it sort of made sense until I realised that Paul’s epistles were written well before said Gospels. I’d always assumed the New Testament was presented in chronological order, but I later learned that even the Gospels weren’t in chronological order. This sounded a little suspicious and I decided to read more on the subject.
I first read Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman . This very interesting book soon made me aware of all the in-consistencies and contradictions that can be found in the New Testament, especially the two conflicting stories about Jesus’ birth, and the apparent confusion about the exact time of Jesus’ death.
In Matthew, Mary & Joseph are living in Bethlehem where Jesus is born of a virgin birth. Three wise men from the east follow a “wandering star” to Bethlehem where they offer gifts and pay their respects to baby Jesus. Herod, fearful of potential opposition, orders the slaughter of all male children who are aged two and under, but Joseph is warned of this in a dream and they all safely flee to Egypt. Later, after the death of Herod, Mary, Joseph and Jesus relocate to Nazareth, and Jesus is presumably a young boy by the time they first arrive in Nazareth.
In Luke, Joseph & Mary live in Nazareth, not Bethlehem, and because of a Roman census they go to Bethlehem where we have a virgin birth. Luke continues with the usual nativity account, detailing no-room-at-the-inn, the stable, a meek and mild Jesus in the manger, the animals and the shepherds summoned by angels. After the birth, Joseph & Mary stay in Bethlehem for a few weeks, to carry out Jewish formalities like circumcision, and then they return back to their home in Nazareth with baby Jesus.
So were Mary & Joseph from Bethlehem and forced to flee to Egypt before relocating to Nazareth (as in Matthew), or were they from Nazareth but travelled to Bethlehem for the birth and then returned to Nazareth (as in Luke)? I was very surprised to learn about all these inconsistencies, and I wondered why, even after attending church regularly for 30 years, I had totally failed to pick up on any of this. However, once these issues had been pointed out, it became fairly obvious why the Gospels weren’t in chronological order. Mark. the earliest of the four Gospels, had obviously been deliberately inserted between Matthew and Luke, to minimise any potential confusion caused by having two totally conflicting stories about the virgin-birth of Jesus. This ploy was very simple and very effective, because all the Christians I knew were as unaware of the conflict as I was before reading Jesus Interrupted .
Potential confusion about the exact time of Jesus’ death was less of a problem, because it requires some effort by the reader, to even appreciate that there is an in-consistency, and you have little chance of picking up on this, unless you appreciate that the Jewish day starts at sun-set. The confusion arises, because the synoptic Gospels [Matthew, Mark & Luke] suggest that Jesus died in the early hours of Saturday morning, whereas John’s Gospel claims it was on Friday afternoon, which was still The Day of Preparation [The Day of Preparation is the Friday before the Jewish Passover celebrations start. It’s when the Jews traditionally sacrificed their lambs in readiness for the Passover Meal on Friday evening].
My becoming aware of these serious discrepancies about Jesus’ birth, and time of death, made me realise for the first time, that the cosy version of first century events, that we all soak up by going to church, was anything but cosy. It was in fact beginning to look distinctly dodgy. It was definitely time for more research, and these days, it is amazing how quickly you can find out about anything via the internet. However, you have to be constantly aware of hidden agendas, and you have to ensure you keep an open mind, and look at things from different perspectives. You also need to be constantly aware of confirmational bias, a common potential problem associated with any research,
I supplemented my internet research by consulting A Guide to the Bible  A History of Christianity  Nothing but the Truth  and Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity . These books by Christian apologists obviously presented early Christianity from the Christian perspective. I relied on the internet to get more objective opinions on the subject.
My first main task, was obviously to find out as much as I could about this Gospel-Jesus, since he was centre-stage in all this. The question “Did Jesus ever exist, and if he did, was he the divine being described in the Gospels?” has been hotly debated for over 200 years. If the Gospel-Jesus did perform any of the many miracles that are mentioned in the Gospels, miracles that were apparently witnessed by dozens, if not hundreds of people, then surely the events would have been noted by contemporary writers. Likewise, there should be some records of the large disturbance this Gospel-Jesus created on entering Jerusalem, and the large disturbance this Gospel-Jesus created when he appeared at the temple. Also, he supposedly attracted the attention of the top rabbis and the Roman governor of the area. On the face of it, there should at least be some independent historical records around, to validate the many claims made about this Gospel-Jesus in the Gospels.
Apparently we do have vast amounts of surviving Roman documentation from the period, including from authors who were known to have lived, both at that time, and in that region, but none of this surviving documentation mentions a Gospel-Jesus. It seems that the only evidence we do have for this Gospel-Jesus, is the evidence we find in the New Testament itself. Many Christians dispute this claim, because they fail to differentiate between the Gospel-Jesus of the New Testament on the one hand, and any other historical-Jesus that may, or may not, have lived about the same time. This common failure to distinguish between these two possibilities, causes most of the disagreements about Jesus.
My research so far, indicated that the Gospel-Jesus appears to exist only in the New Testament, but was there ever any other historical-Jesus, who was not the Gospel-Jesus? It was fairly obvious from the start, that evidence for a mortal historical-Jesus was going to be difficult to come by, because early Christianity would almost certainly have trampled anything not coinciding with their notion of a Gospel-Jesus. If there ever was a historical-Jesus, then I had to accept that I was not going to find much evidence for his existence. If he did ever exist, then he would have been just one of tens of thousands of ordinary Jews around at the time, and you would not expect him to leave any historical footprint.
However, looking on the bright side, if this historical-Jesus was a Galilean Jew with radical views, then you could reasonably expect that he might eventually be noticed by the Jewish establishment, especially if he proved extremely popular with his fellow Jews. If his popularity eventually became a threat to the Jewish establishment, this in turn would increase his chances of being crucified to shut him up, but even if he was crucified, I thought it very unlikely that anybody would have bothered to record the event for posterity. However, as it turned out, my natural scepticism was misplaced, because there are four separate, independent historical references to a character called Jesus, namely Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius and the Younger Pliny. These four references were cited during the Alpha Course, and I now realise that they are often cited by Christians trying to prove the existence of their Gospel-Jesus.
Josephus was a Jewish historian. He mentions the crucifixion of a charismatic Jesus in Jerusalem in his Antiquities of the Jews written c 94 AD. In Book 18, chapter 3, paragraph 3 Josephus writes:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day”.
For centuries the church establishment cited this passage for he appeared to them alive again the third day to confirm the 3rd day resurrection of their Gospel-Jesus in Jerusalem, but many secular scholars now believe that this reference to the Jerusalem resurrection is a forgery [interpolation] which was added later for obvious reasons. However, Josephus’ reference to the crucifixion of a charismatic character called Jesus [the historical-Jesus] is generally thought to be genuine.
In addition to Josephus, we have three other independent historical sources, that either mention a character called Jesus, or refer to the existence of Christians. The Roman historian Tacitus, in Book 15, Chapter 44 of his Annals, written c 116 AD, refers to a character called Christ [meaning Jewish Messiah], and mentions his execution in Jerusalem and the existence of early Christians. Suetonius mentions Christiani [followers of Christ] in his Life of Claudius, which was one of the books in The Twelve Caesars series written in 121 AD. Pliny the Younger (c 61-c 112 AD) was a lawyer and magistrate in Ancient Rome and he records that he pursued suspected Christians according to Roman law.
The four historical references cited above, appeared many decades after the crucifixion. The only contemporary of any such historical-Jesus who actually left us with written records, was the Apostle Paul, who put a lot of effort into establishing fledgling churches based on a character called Jesus, but only after he had stopped persecuting the followers of a character called Jesus. This would suggest that a Jesus character must have existed around that time. We also know that the Jews ultimately rejected a character called Jesus on the grounds he was not, as some claimed, their long-awaited saviour Messiah. And if this isn’t enough supporting evidence, even Islam recognises Jesus as a major Prophet, although I suspect, that was only because Christianity was already well established throughout the Rome Empire, when Islam first came into being early in the 7th century AD.
Coupling these known aspects about Jesus, with the scant historical records that do exist [Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius and the Younger Pliny], records that you would not normally expect to exist, and you can just about conclude that a historical-Jesus did in fact exist around the period of interest. However, except for Paul’s Epistles, none of this flimsy evidence, remotely suggests that this historical Jesus was the Gospel-Jesus cited in the New Testament. As already stated, there appears to be nothing other than the New Testament, to indicate that this Gospel Jesus ever existed.
After looking at the details of these historical records, I concluded that, on balance, there probably was a historical-Jesus who lived around the time of interest. I concluded that he was probably just as Josephus recorded in his Antiquities of the Jews viz. a charismatic mortal Jew [the historical-Jesus] with very radical views, who was eventually crucified by the Romans. The very fact that there are a few flimsy records of this “historical nobody”, testifies to the extent of his popularity.
I also began to suspect that there must be some link, connecting this historical-Jesus, to the Gospel-Jesus featured in gospel stories written several decades later. It was far too much of a coincidence, to have both these characters floating around in first-century Palestine at this time. Could we, I thought, simply be looking at a potential case of mistaken identity? If so, who was being mistaken for whom, and why?
Resurrection! What Resurrection?
If Jesus was indeed just an ordinary mortal, then it’s pretty obvious he wasn’t resurrected after his crucifixion. However, we have four independent Gospels consistently claiming that Jesus was in fact resurrected in Jerusalem on the 3rd day, and we also have Paul independently validating this Jerusalem resurrection in 1-Corinthians 15:3-9. This passage, written by Paul c 54 AD says:
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God”.
Nobody in their right minds, would ever suggest that Paul lied about this resurrection in Jerusalem, but here I was, effectively questioning the veracity of the Gospel claims. So how do we square this circle? Obviously, it was now necessary to establish whether there was any independent evidence to support the resurrection claims found in the New Testament. Surely, if a Gospel-Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passover celebrations, then the event would have gone viral in no time, and both the Jewish and the Roman authorities should have recorded something about the event. If they did, then surely the early church fathers would have preserved these records, just as they preserved the Pauline epistles.
However, I was not very hopeful about finding any independent evidence to support the resurrection claims, because I was already aware of the forgery found in Antiquities of the Jews, written by Flavius Josephus some 60 years after the alleged event. This Antiquities forgery would surely not have been necessary, if independent evidence for this Jerusalem resurrection had ever existed.
Again, we do have plenty of reliable Jewish records and Roman records for this period but, as already mentioned, only the forged reference in Antiquities of the Jews mentions anything about a Jerusalem resurrection. It appears, therefore, that the only evidence for the Jerusalem resurrection, is the evidence found in the New Testament itself. Most Christians would regard this as adequate proof of the Jerusalem resurrection, but I was not so easily satisfied, let alone convinced.
At this stage in my investigation, I was beginning to suspect that Paul may eventually turn out to be the most important character in the New Testament. Paul eventually managed to rationalise his own experience on the road to Damascus, by concluding that Jesus was God’s son, who had been sent to earth, to save all those prepared to acknowledge him as their lord and saviour. Paul also eventually concluded that he, Paul, had been specially chosen by God, to do God’s work. As far as I could see, Paul seemed obsessed with this Jesus character, and his validation of the Jerusalem resurrection in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9 was becoming increasingly difficult to understand, given there seemed to be no independent evidence to confirm this alleged Jerusalem resurrection.
Given my doubts about the veracity of the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem , I decided it was now time to look at the other resurrection, the one that apparently occurred on the road to Damascus. The Acts of the Apostles describes the orthodox version of events on the road to Damascus, but the account is neither self-consistent, nor apparently is it very reliable, written as it was some sixty years after the event. We know Paul initially viewed Jesus, as a radical Jew who was crucified because his teachings upset the establishment. We know this Pharisee, and zealous persecutor, suddenly stop persecuting Jesus’ followers, and then spent the rest of his life, trying to convert the world to a new belief system based entirely on this same Jesus. We also know (1-Corinthians 9:1, & 15:8 and Galatians 1:15-16) that Paul claims he met with Jesus on the road to Damascus, a man he never actually knew, but a man he definitely knew was dead. Paul would certainly have been present in Jerusalem for that fateful Passover, and for all we know, he may actually have witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion. He did, after all, have more than a passing interest in the man.
Already dubious about the New Testament resurrection claims, I was beginning to question Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, and question his apparent validation of a resurrection in Jerusalem, that appears never to have happened. Focused as I was, on Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, I vaguely remembered many years ago, reading about something called “the God spot”, and some suggestion that Paul may have just hallucinated on the road to Damascus. This raised intriguing possibilities. Did Paul really meet with Jesus on the road to Damascus, or did he just think he had?
Further delving, and I eventually found two reports, one by Landsborough in 1987  and one by Brorson & Brewer in 1988 , both of which, suggested that Paul may have just hallucinated on the road to Damascus as a result of temporal lobe epilepsy. Apparently, focal epileptic seizures starting in the temporal lobes are fairly common occurrences, and potentially at least, anyone could have a single epileptic seizure at some point in their life. Most of these epileptic seizures happen suddenly, without any warning, last only a relatively short period of time, and then just stop by themselves.
Further digging on the subject of temporal lobe epilepsy, revealed that in 1970, Dewhurst and Beard published a paper called “Sudden religious conversions in temporal lobe epilepsy”. This they published in the British Journal of Psychiatry . This very comprehensive review paper, demonstrated that religiosity of the epileptic was a recognised medical phenomenon, even as far back as the mid 19th century. Highlights from Dewhurst and Beard’s review paper are given below. They summarise scientific reports that mention religious experiences triggered by epilepsy. These reports were all published before the advent of sophisticated brain imaging techniques.
In 1872/73, Howden  reported a conversion experience in which the patient believed that he was in Heaven. In 1899, Mabille  discussed religious hallucinations associated with epilepsy. In 1919, Boven  stressed the intensified piety of the epileptic after a severe seizure, and mentioned a 14 year-old boy who, after a seizure, saw God and the angels, and heard a celestial fanfare of music. In 1955, Karagulla and Robertson  discussed four temporal lobe epileptics with visual hallucinations. One of them had a seizure pattern which included a vision of Christ coming down from the sky.
More recent reports listed by Dewhurst and Bear include the following. In 1963, Beard  reported the conversion experience of a man who considered that he had received a message from God to mend his ways and help others, and the fact that he had been singled out in this way meant that he was God’s chosen instrument. The man completely believed in the validity of everything he had seen and heard during the acute phase, and specifically rejected the idea that the experience could have been the product of a disordered mind. In 1963, Slater and Beard  reported that mystical delusional experiences were remarkably common, and that patients were convinced of the reality and validity of their religious experiences. In 1963, Christensen  reported on the religious conversions of 22 men, all professionally engaged in the field of religion. Christensen also defined conversion, as an acute hallucinatory experience, occurring within the framework of religious belief, and characterized by its subjective intensity, apparent suddenness of onset, brief duration and observable changes in the subsequent behaviour of the convert. Finally, in 1966, Sedman  mentioned states of ecstasy, in which the victim sees the Heaven open, hears God speaking, and feels himself transfigured, and even believes that he is God.
Such, apparently, is the power of one’s mind to deceive one’s senses. I was particularly struck by obvious similarities with Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. In particular, “the conversion experience of a man who considered that he had received a message from God to mend his ways and help others, and the fact that he had been singled out in this way meant that he was God’s chosen instrument. The man completely believed in the validity of everything he had seen and heard during the acute phase, and specifically rejected the idea that the experience could have been the product of a disordered mind” as reported by Beard .
Also, Christensen’s definition of conversion  as “an acute hallucinatory experience occurring within the framework of religious belief and characterized by its subjective intensity, apparent suddenness of onset, brief duration and observable changes in the subsequent behaviour of the convert” could have been describing Paul himself. I also thought that Slater and Beard’s report  that “mystical delusional experiences were remarkably common and that patients were convinced of the reality and validity of their religious experiences” was also highly relevant.
Since the publication of Dewhurst and Beard’s 1970 review paper , medical understanding of temporal lobe epilepsy has come on in leaps and bounds, thanks in part, to the development of more and more sophisticated brain imaging techniques. The two papers I mentioned earlier, by Landsborough in 1987 , and by Brorson & Brewer in 1988 , had obviously re-ignited a long-standing debate, about whether Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus was the result of temporal lobe epilepsy.
Since then, scientist like Dr Michael Persinger, Ph.D., professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at Laurentian University in Canada, and like Dr Vilayanur Ramachandran, Ph.D., director of the Brain and Perception Laboratory at the University of California at San Diego, have regularly reported on, and/or lectured on, new developments in this field which, collectively, now constitute a new field of brain science called neurotheology viz. the cognitive neuroscience of religious experience and spirituality.
In 2009 Dr Persinger , working at Laurentian University, reported that 80% of normal people felt a sensed presence within the room, when their temporal lobes were stimulated with magnetic fields. He also found that very religious people, with temporal lobe sensitivity, had a religious experience when their temporal lobes were stimulated with magnetic fields. Working in parallel, at the University of California, Dr Ramachandran and his team studied the brains of people with temporal lobe epilepsy, and found that the extent of a person’s religious belief, may depend on how enhanced is this part of the brain’s electrical circuitry. Perhaps the most sensational headline in this scientific field, occurred back in 1997, when Dr Ramachandran’s team of neuroscientists first announced the discovery of the god spot or “God Module” in the brain. This announcement was widely reported in the world media, including the American press e.g. by Steve Connor (LA Times)  and by Robert Lee Hotz (Seattle Times) .
It was dim memories of this announcement of the “God Module” some 15 years earlier, that first started me down this road of investigation. Little did I realise at the time, where this investigation would quickly lead me, courtesy of the internet and associated search engines. I found that a lot of relevant scientific information was posted on atheist websites, but that’s only because atheist sites have a vested interest in promoting this type of research. Christian websites rarely acknowledge any scientific developments, and when they do, it’s usually only to rubbish them, especially if they have anything to do with Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. Personally, I found atheist websites often saved me time having to re-invent the wheel. Anyone thinking that using atheist websites, automatically biases the results, can always check things out for themselves. Any internet search engine will deliver enough information about temporal lobe epilepsy and religious conversions to satisfy even the most sceptical person, provided of course they have an open mind on the subject.
Dr Ramachandran’s findings, back in 1997, pointed to a region of the brain, that when stimulated, creates hallucinations that are interpreted as mystical or spiritual experiences. It was claimed, that this “God module” may be responsible for man’s evolutionary instinct to believe in religion. This god spot is affected by epilepsy, and it is often stimulated naturally during meditation and prayer. It can also be affected by externally applied electromagnetic fields. Those who responded to this external stimulation, tended to explain their hallucination experiences in terms that were related to their own personal beliefs. Typical examples include visits from angels, visits from lost loved ones, an extraterrestrial encounter, a higher plane of consciousness and even visits from God.
It is now widely thought, that hallucinations occurring as the result of temporal lobe epilepsy, may be the real cause of mystical, spiritual and paranormal experiences, such as out-of-body experiences, and feelings of a presence in the room. It was suggested, that such experiences may explain why so many epileptics become obsessed with religion. However, most scientists today, including Ramachandran, think the idea of a single God module in the brain is far too simplistic. Nevertheless, it is now possible, to routinely induce epileptic-like religious experiences in perfectly normal people. Obviously, those with strong emotional needs to maintain the religious status quo, will have great difficulty accepting the implications of these new studies, but for the rest of us, they offer a chance to look anew at the origins of religions.
So did Paul really see Jesus on the road to Damascus, as described in Acts, or did he just think he saw Jesus? If the experience was just a hallucination, then Paul would have no idea that it was unreal. As far as Paul was concerned, it would definitely have been a real experience, and one of divine intervention. Those affected by these epileptic fits are known to have personalised experiences, so it is probably no great surprise, that the focus of Paul’s personal experience, was the man who had virtually taken over his life. Paul was obsessive about his religion [a zealous Pharisee], he was obsessive about his persecution of Jesus’ followers, and he was soon to become obsessive about his subsequent ministry to the Gentiles [non Jews].
Based on what we now know about temporal lobe epilepsy and associated hallucinations, I was inclined to think that Paul did in fact hallucinate on the road to Damascus. Sometime later, I watched Derren Brown , as he effortlessly instilled an intense religious experience into the mind of a self-professed atheist. After twice watching him do it, I still wasn’t sure exactly what he did, or how he did it, but it convinced me of the latent power of one’s mind to deceive one’s senses This graphic illustration, more or less convinced me that Paul did in fact just hallucinate on the road to Damascus.
This hallucination idea may have offered a potential explanation of Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, but it did nothing for the original resurrection in Jerusalem. This Jerusalem resurrection, was apparently witnessed by many worthy individuals, and any suggestion of mass hallucinations was, I thought, stretching things a bit too far.
So where had my investigation taken me so far? By now, I had serious reservations about the veracity of the Gospel claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem, even though there were four independent Gospels consistently making the same claim. I was also convinced that the second resurrection on the road to Damascus never happened, but I was happy to accept that Paul thought it did. However, there was still that undeniable fact that Paul validated the Jerusalem resurrection in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9.
As I’ve already said, nobody in their right mind was going to dispute the veracity of Paul’s validation of the Jerusalem resurrection in 1-Corinthians, let alone question his integrity, and I was beginning to think I would just have to accept that the Jerusalem resurrection did actually happen, as depicted in the Gospels, even though there appeared to be no independent evidence to support this resurrection. I was in fact, on the verge of becoming a Christian, and for a very short period, I did actually acknowledge, somewhat reluctantly, that I was a Christian.
Normally that should have been the end of the matter. However, for me at least, accepting that I was a Christian, meant coming to terms with the fact that an omnipotent, all-seeing being, was going to be watching me 24/7, and not only that, accepting that this being, was going to be aware of my innermost thoughts for the rest of my life. This prospect made me very uneasy. There had to be something I’d missed, something that would overcome the apparently intractable problem of explaining the Jerusalem resurrection, and Paul’s validation of it in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9.
It is generally accepted, even by Christians, that Paul had no first-hand experience of this Jerusalem resurrection that he later validated in 1-Corinthians. He didn’t even know Jesus, although he may have witnessed his crucifixion. So what made him believe this Jerusalem resurrection actually happened? The answer to this question can be found in Galatians 1: 11-24, written by Paul c 54 AD. This passage summarises Paul’s movements after his experience on the road to Damascus, and it states:
“I want you to know brothers that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth (i.e. circumcised) and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they praised God because of me”.
So, immediately after his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul went to Arabia and then back to Damascus, and he had no contact with anybody including other Apostles for about 3 years. [This claim is later disputed in Acts, but Acts was written many decades after Paul’s death, and it is thought by many to be a very unreliable source of information about Paul]. Paul then visited Jerusalem for the first time, some three years after his experience on the road to Damascus, and he stayed 15 days with Peter, and he also met Jesus’ brother James.
It is at this first meeting with Peter, that Paul first learned of the events in Jerusalem. Paul accepted without question, what Peter told him about the earlier Jerusalem resurrection, and he did so, because Peter was a highly respected patriarch of the early Jerusalem church, and because Paul already knew, that he personally, had already experienced something very similar on the road to Damascus. So Paul’s claims in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9, are not based on actual first-hand experience of the Jerusalem resurrection. They are based entirely, on what he learned from Peter when they first met in Jerusalem [Galatians 1: 11-24]. I later learned that more knowledgeable Christians readily accept this fact.
This may have sorted out my initial problem, namely understanding why, in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9, Paul appeared to be validating the Jerusalem resurrection, but in doing so, it immediately raised another problem. All my findings to-date, had more or less convinced me that this Jerusalem resurrection never actually happened, because it was the historical-Jesus who was crucified in Jerusalem. So, if the historical-Jesus was never resurrected in Jerusalem, why did Peter tell Paul that he had been resurrected? Did Peter just lie to Paul about this resurrection? If so, why did he do it? My investigation was not going any further until I could answer these questions. I needed a plausible and rational reason why Peter would deliberately choose to lie to Paul, about a Jerusalem resurrection that never happened.
It was time for yet more mulling. Eventually, I concluded that the most likely reason why Peter lied to Paul, was the usual age-old reason behind many lies, namely self-preservation and greed. Remember, we are now considering events in Jerusalem some three years after Paul’s Damascus road experience and, at this particular point in time, we are not talking about Peter the patron saint of the Roman Catholic Church—all that rigmarole was still centuries away. We are talking about a Peter living in Jerusalem just a few years after the crucifixion. We are talking about Peter the Jew, who regarded Jesus as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. We are in fact talking about an unsophisticated, illiterate, peasant fisherman [not derogatory, just fact], who was propelled by circumstances, into a position of power and authority, and who was now probably living a very comfortable life-style financed by the Jewish tithe system. In short, we are talking about a character that probably lied whenever it suited him, just as he did several years earlier when he denied knowing Jesus.
So the next question was all too obvious. What circumstances would have motivated Peter to lie to Paul? This was a difficult one to crack for some time, mainly because I was unconsciously looking at the problem from the normal, orthodox top-down perspective, the one everybody automatically defaults to without realising it. When, finally, it occurred to me to look at the problem from the bottom-up, things looked quite different. There was Peter, living in Jerusalem a few years after the crucifixion of the historical-Jesus, one of the patriarchs of the Jerusalem Church, and suddenly, up pops Paul, claiming that he had met with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus some three years earlier. Out of the blue, there was someone implying that they had been specially chosen by God, to meet a man who was long dead by crucifixion, but now resurrected. Out of the blue, there was a man potentially threatening Peter’s authority, as one of the leaders of the Jerusalem Church. Out of the blue, there was a man potentially threatening Peter’s comfortable lifestyle, that was financed by the tithes Peter received from his fellow Jews.
Would Peter just sit back and do nothing in the face of these potential threats from Paul? Personally, I don’t think so. Self preservation would kick in immediately, and Paul would try to neutralise these threats to his authority and his associated lifestyle, and he would try to do it without admitting that he knew nothing about a resurrected Jesus. As it turned out, all Peter had to do to maintain the status quo and to neutralise the threats, was tell a simple lie. He falsely claimed that he and many others, had already seen the risen Jesus well before Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. At a stroke, Peter neutralised the perceived threats from Paul, and immediately downgraded Paul’s status, from that of “specially chosen one” to that of “junior partner”. Peter’s solution to his problems, was both brilliant in its simplicity, and entirely par for the course under the circumstances.
Of course, I can’t prove any of this, but then neither can anybody disprove it. All we know for certain, is that Peter and Paul first met in Jerusalem some three years after Paul’s conversion experience, but we have no records whatsoever of what transpired at this meeting. So. like most things associated with the New Testament, we all have two choices. We can choose to believe only what can be proved, deduced or rationally inferred, or we can just choose to accept what we want to believe.
The Pre-Gospel Period
Two thousand years down the road, we can never know with any certainty, how the consequences of Peter’s lies played out in the next 30 or so years, prior to his alleged death in Rome c 65 AD. This brief period, sandwiched as it was between the crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem c 30 AD, and the appearance of the first gospels c 65 AD, can conveniently be called the pre-gospel period.
Orthodox Christianity implies that, shortly after Jesus’ miraculous resurrection in Jerusalem, his Jewish followers gathered together to form the first Christian church led by Peter and by Jesus’ brother James. In reality, the early Jerusalem Church was more Jewish than it was Christian, and it took several decades for Jewish followers of a Messianic Jesus to either die out or morph into nascent Christians. The new and revised concept of Jesus as the Son of God came much later, and when it came, it stemmed, not from Jerusalem, as orthodoxy proclaims, but from the early Christian communities that Paul established in the pagan world. Orthodox Christianity would also have us believe that this is the period when, according to tradition, the Twelve Apostles miraculously converted from Jews to Christians, and then “rode forth” from Jerusalem, to successfully launch Christianity onto the unsuspecting world – with just a little help from Paul of course.
In truth, nobody really knows anything for certain, about this short pre-gospel period sandwiched between the crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem and the appearance of the first gospels. Virtually everything known about this very short period, is speculative supposition, based entirely on stories written many years later, although many chose to assume that these stories are historically accurate. The truth is, we don’t know with any certainty, what happened to many of these Apostles. Most of them just faded into obscurity, leaving little or nothing behind other than a collection of old “according to tradition” stories, which were, in effect, the early church’s way of saying “we don’t really know what happened to them, but this is what we’d like you to believe”. We do know that these Apostles failed to sell their Messianic Jesus to their fellow Jews. We also know that Paul did succeed in selling his version of Jesus to the pagan world, thus ensuring Christianity eventually prevailed. However, the Acts of the Apostles, which was written well after the death of all concerned, would have us believe otherwise.
This short pre-gospel period has been subjected to extensive and detailed scholastic study over the last 200 years, and much of this scholastic effort has been expended trying to shoehorn ancient documentation into the orthodox model of early Christianity, without ever stopping to consider whether this pre-conceived model of Christianity is the correct one. Many scholastic interpretations have been automatically biased, by the pre-conceived desires of the interpreters to maintain the orthodox status quo. Many other interpretations have been clouded by the almost universal use of a top-down perspective, which forces those adopting this perspective, to view everything, albeit unconsciously, through the lens of Christian orthodoxy. Christian scholars in particular, have clutched at anything, and everything, that helped them preserve the status quo, and time and time again, they have allowed their rationality, and their logic, to be subjugated by their inner need for reassurance that their lives have purpose and meaning.
Winston Churchill once said “Never in the field of human conflict, was so much, owed by so many, to so few”. Today, we could realistically paraphrase this by saying “Never in the field of biblical scholarship, has so much, been written by so many, about so little, for so long”. If we look objectively at this short pre-gospel period from a bottom-up perspective, without any pre-conceptions, and without any emotional need to preserve the orthodox status quo, we can reasonably say the following:
First, we can say with some certainty, that a historical-Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem c 30 AD. Second, we can define Paul’s movements immediately after his experience on the road to Damascus. We know [Galatians 1:11-23] that Paul first went to Arabia, and then back to Damascus, and he had no contact with anybody, including other Apostles, for about 3 years. Paul then visited Jerusalem for the first time, and he claims (Galatians 1:18-19) that he stayed 15 days with Peter and he also met Jesus’ brother James. This visit has already been addressed in more detail in the preceding section.
Third, we can establish from Galatians 2:1-10, that Paul met Peter again for a second time in Jerusalem, about 14 years after their first meeting. This second meeting, known historically as the Council of Jerusalem, was convened c 50 AD to discuss the relevance of circumcision, and it’s importance in the scheme of things. Paul states in Galatians 2:1-10:
“Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance [circumcision]—those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do”
So, having failed at this second meeting to reach agreement on the relevance of circumcision, Peter and Paul agreed to go their own separate ways, Peter et al to minister unto the Jews, and Paul to minister unto the Gentiles [non-Jews]. This state of affairs lasted more or less until both Peter and Paul died in the mid 60’s AD. Their deaths marked the end of this short pre-gospel period, and by the time the first gospels appeared several years later, we can reasonably assume that all relevant individuals associated with early Christianity were dead
We know the Council of Jerusalem was convened c 50 AD. We know from Paul, that this second visit to Jerusalem occurred 14 years after his first visit to Jerusalem. Therefore it follows that Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem must have been in 36 AD. We also know that Paul’s “conversion” on the road to Damascus occurred at least three years prior to this first visit to Jerusalem. Therefore Paul’s “conversion” must have occurred in 33 AD or earlier. We also know that scholars have concluded that Jesus was most probably crucified, either at Easter in 30 AD, or at Easter in 33 AD. A 33 AD crucifixion does not give Paul time to do his “persecution” bit. Therefore, the crucifixion most probably occurred in 30 AD.
Having now assembled what little is actually known, or at least accepted, about this pre-gospel period, and having supplemented it with a few things that can reasonably be deduced about this period, what further information can we reasonably deduce about this short pre-gospel period?
Well first, we can comment on the extent of the commitment to Jesus, that Peter and the followers of Jesus would still have in 36 AD, some six years after the crucifixion. My guess is that, by now, they would probably be languishing in Jerusalem, unsure about their earlier beliefs, and wondering whether they had got it right about Jesus. By the time Paul first arrived in Jerusalem in 36 AD, they were probably beginning to question whether Jesus was, in fact, their long-awaited Messiah. So when Paul arrived with his news about Jesus being resurrected on the road to Damascus, this “good news” would almost certainly have revitalised all concerned, and galvanised them into more enthusiastic followers of a Jesus who, after Paul’s visit, was now resurrected and now definitely Christ their Messiah.
However, the most important comment we can make about this short pre-gospel period, concerns the nature of the messages being propagated by Paul on the on hand, and by the rest of the Apostles on the other. Had these messages been compatible, there would have been no need for the Council of Jerusalem c 50 AD. This meeting was necessary, because Peter and the other Apostles still considered that circumcision was essential for all followers of their Messianic Jesus, whereas Paul thought circumcision was irrelevant for the followers of his more orthodox Jesus. In other words, even at that late stage [mid first century], Peter and the other Apostles still believed that Jesus was the long awaited Jewish Messiah, sent by a Jewish God, to save the Jewish nation. It seems they believed that only Jews who adhered to Judaic Law could be saved, although it appears they were prepared to include non-Jews who agreed to become Jews via circumcision.
History tells us that the Jewish nation eventually rejected the Messianic Jesus advocated by Peter and the other Apostles. They also rejected most of these Apostles, killing some of them off in the process. Others seem to just disappear without trace, leaving behind, nothing more than traditional stories to try to explain what happened to them. All this suggests that Peter and the other Apostles died as Jews, still believing that Jesus was their Jewish Messiah.
The concepts of a Christian God, and of a Christian Jesus, probably didn’t materialise until much later, and when they did finally materialise, it was entirely due to Paul’s ministry efforts, as he travelled around the pagan world, innocently propagating Peter’s lies about a Jerusalem resurrection that never happened. Paul spent the latter half of his life, enthusiastically seeding early Christian communities, in all the political and commercial centres of the known pagan world. He did so, by enthusiastically promoting an insignificant mortal called Jesus, as the son of God. Unlike the other Apostles, however, Paul’s more inclusive, universal message, was aimed at anyone and everyone who was prepared to accept Jesus as their Lord & Saviour, and who was prepared to believe that he died for their sins, and was resurrected to break the power of death and to offer them a chance of eternal salvation. As far as Paul was concerned, circumcision and adherence to Judaic Law were both totally irrelevant.
The Gospel Period
I was, by now, firmly of the opinion that Jesus was nothing more than a very popular radical Jewish preacher, who was crucified in Jerusalem c 30 AD. Being a mere mortal, he was obviously never resurrected, not in Jerusalem, and not on the road to Damascus, but I was prepared to accept that Paul did think that Jesus had been resurrected for his personal benefit. I was also, by now, convinced that Peter must have lied to Paul about a Jerusalem resurrection that never happened, simply to preserve his newly acquired position and life-style.
All very well I thought, but it still didn’t explain why we had four Gospels, each proclaiming that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, and then resurrected on the third day. Was I on the point of suggesting that these Gospel claims were false? As far as I could see, all earlier attempts to discredit these Gospels had been analysed and then dismissed as ludicrous. However, whilst in the earlier stages of discovering the Gospels, I had often thought it strange, that these Gospels only appeared after all the main players [Peter, Paul, and James etc] were dead. Why hadn’t someone put pen to paper whilst the potential eye witnesses were still around? It wasn’t as if there was nobody around to write things down, because we have plenty of Jewish and Roman records of that period. So why wait over 30 years, until everyone concerned was dead, before writing the Gospels?
After thinking about this question for a few weeks, the penny suddenly dropped. The reason nothing was recorded earlier, was because there was nothing to record. Alright, a radical Jewish trouble-maker called Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem c 30 AD, but that was hardly newsworthy enough to record for posterity, although Josephus did make a passing reference to the crucifixion of a character called Jesus in his Antiquities of the Jews, written at the end of the first century.
Only two things of any relevance seemed to be going on, during the 30-40 years from the crucifixion in Jerusalem to the appearance of the first gospels. Firstly, the Jewish followers of Jesus [Apostles] were trying to convince their fellow Jews that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah, and secondly, Paul was off touring the pagan world trying to establish his early Christian communities.
While on his rounds, Paul consistently told members of these early Christian communities all about the death and resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, and he also elaborated on the significance of these two events. However, he told them absolutely nothing about the living Jesus, because Paul never knew the living Jesus. Eventually, however, it was inevitable that Paul’s newly converted pagans, now nascent Christians, would eventually start asking questions about this Jesus, who by now, was central to their new-found beliefs. Who was he? What did he say? Where did he go? etc. and it was the need to answer these questions, that first catalysed the appearance of various gospels. The answer to my original question, “why wait over 30 years before writing the Gospels?”, was thus a relatively simple one. The Gospels didn’t appear until they were needed.
Satisfying this inevitable growing demand for information about Jesus, was going to require the wholesale fabrication of stories about Jesus’ ministry years prior to his crucifixion. Dr Bob Potter  gives an excellent in-depth analysis of partial fabrications of the Gospels, which are known as interpolations, or forgeries added later, either to enhance consistency, or to reduce inconsistency. However, here I was, not just thinking of partial fabrication of one Gospel, but thinking of total fabrication of all the Gospels. Had I gone mad? I wasn’t the first to suggest this possibility by any means, but I was only too aware, that all previous suggestions had been dismissed as ludicrous, on the grounds that they would never have been able to get away with it.
However, if my ideas were correct, then this growing demand to know more about Jesus, would present each of Paul’s early Christian-communities with a common problem. Paul never enlightened them about the living Jesus when he established these Christian-communities, partly because he never knew this Jesus, but mainly because he wasn’t particularly interested in Jesus as a living person. Paul focused almost entirely, on the significance and meaning of Jesus’ death & resurrection. By the time the needs for biographical information about Jesus’ life started to materialise, there would have been nobody around locally, who knew anything about Jesus’ life before the crucifixion. Everyone who might have known something about Jesus’ life, was either dead by now, or living in far off Jerusalem. The early church fathers, of each of these early Christian communities, would therefore have had little choice, but to “wing-it” as best they could, using whatever inspiration they could muster.
However, it was all very well postulating that the Gospels were fabricated-to-order, to satisfy a growing demand, but what would these fabrications entail, and would they be feasible? In essence, was there enough suitable material around at that time, to make it possible for the church fathers to construct suitable stories to satisfy these demands? It was time to look more closely at the actual material contained in the Gospels, and compare it with similar material that was already around before these Gospels were written.
I eventually established that there were three main sources of inspiration, available to the people charged with the task of fabricating suitable accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. The main source of available material would have been the existing Jewish scriptures, what we now call the Old Testament. This information could have been supplemented with traditional oral stories about the historical-Jesus, notably from something we now call the Q-Gospel . There was also a distinct possibility, that some of the ideas inserted into these newly fabricated Gospels, were derived from, or at the very least influenced by, already existing pagan beliefs such as Mithraism.
So far so good I thought. I had the distinct possibility, that in the second half of that first century AD, there would have been many motivated believers, ready, willing and able, to fabricate suitable Gospel stories to order. A lot of information found in these Gospels probably did originate from the Jewish Scriptures, either directly, or via the earlier Pauline Epistles. A classic example of borrowed material, is the “love thy neighbour” theme from Leviticus 19:18, which appeared first in Galatians 5:14, and later in Matthew 7:12, 22:39. More themes taken from the Pauline Epistles include, “the apocalyptic message” found in early gospels (1-Thessalonians 4:14-17), “the Lord’s Supper” (1-Corinthians 10:16-22), “the third-day resurrection and sightings” (1-Corinthians 15: 3-9), “accepting authority” (Romans 13:1-3) “love thy neighbour again” (Romans 13:9-10) and “the essence of John’s Gospel” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Other Gospel themes that were probably developed directly from the Jewish scriptures, include the crucifixion account in Mark, which seems to be inspired by both Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, and the portrayal of Jesus as the Lamb of God that we find in John, which was also probably inspired by Isaiah 53. Other themes borrowed from Jewish scripture include “born of a virgin” (Isaiah 7:14), “was crucified” (Psalm 22:11-18), “the blood atonement” (Leviticus 17:11), “rose from the dead” (Psalm 16:10), “ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God” (Psalm 110:1), “Jesus the begotten Son” (Psalm 2:7), “God among His people” (Isaiah 9:6; & 40:3), “only begotten Son” (Genesis. 22:2), “return of Christ” (Zechariah 14:1-5 & Micah 1:3-4), “Son of God” (Psalm 2:7) and “baptism” (Exodus 40:12-15 & Leviticus 16:4).
Another rich source of inspiration, that was almost certainly used by the church fathers, was traditional oral information about the historical-Jesus, which some of today’s scholars think may have been contained in something we now call the Q-Gospel . Theoretically at least, this Q-Gospel was a very early oral gospel, and some modern scholars suggest that it may even have pre-dated Mark. This reconstructed Q-Gospel, distilled from the synoptic gospels [Matthew, Mark & Luke], does not describe any biographical events such as Jesus’ birth, his selection of the 12 disciples, his crucifixion, or the resurrection. Instead, it appears to be just a collection of Jesus’ sayings and quotations, that eventually found their way into the synoptic Gospels. Whether this theoretical Q-Gospel, that scholars distilled from the Synoptic Gospels, ever existed as a single oral text is highly debatable. Personally, I think this theoretical oral text is more likely to be just a composite text, containing details from many individual traditional oral stories about an historical-Jesus, that were combined together during the extraction process.
This charismatic historical-Jesus attracted a large Jewish following, and many oral stories about his teachings and sayings, would still have been circulating among his Jewish followers, even decades after his crucifixion. These stories would mostly be hearsay by the time the Gospel authors took any notice of them, but long-established oral traditions among Jews, would have ensured that much of the material contained in these oral stories was still factually correct. Therefore, we can be confident that at least some of the information found in the synoptic Gospels is factually correct, because it relates to the historical-Jesus. However, people being people, we also have to assume that a certain amount of random embellishment took place from time to time, at each telling of the story.
Earlier, while examining the case for Jesus’ existence, I mentioned that I thought it was too much of a coincidence to have two different types of Jesus [viz. a historical-Jesus and a Gospel Jesus] floating around at the same time. I suggested then, that somewhere along the road, there was probably ample room for a simple case of mistaken identity to creep in. This assimilation into the Gospels, of oral stories about a historical-Jesus, is obviously where this simple case of mistaken identity occurred.
The third potential source of inspiration available to the early church fathers, was rival pagan mystery religions, the best known of which, was based on Mithras, the sun-god of ancient Persia. Mithraism preceded Christianity by roughly six hundred years, and it flourished as late as the second century AD. How much influence, if any, this Mithraism had on the ensuing Gospels, is debatable. Most Christians maintain that Mithraism had zero influence on newly emerging Christianity, and some more desperate Christians, even suggest it was the other way round. However, there are many non-Christians who claim that the influence of Mithraism was significant.
Christians may insist that Mithraism played no part in Christianity’s early development, but nobody can deny, that there are many disturbing similarities between Christianity and pre-existing Mithraism. Mithras was referred to as “the good shepherd”, “the way, the truth and the light” and also “the redeemer”. He was considered to be a great travelling teacher who performed miracles, and he was identified with both the lion, and the lamb. His principal festival was held on what we now call Easter, at which time he was resurrected, and his sacred day was Sunday, “the Lord’s day”.
The International Encyclopaedia states: “Mithras seems to have owed his prominence to the belief that he was the source of life, and could also redeem the souls of the dead into the better world. The ceremonies included a sort of baptism to remove sins, anointing, and a sacred meal of bread and water, while a consecrated wine, believed to possess wonderful power, played a prominent part.”
Chambers Encyclopaedia says: “The most important of his [Mithras] many festivals was his birthday, celebrated on the 25th of December, the day subsequently fixed—against all evidence—as the birthday of Christ. The worship of Mithras early found its way into Rome, and the mysteries of Mithras, which fell in the spring equinox, were famous even among the many Roman festivals”.
Trying to assess the extent of any pagan influence, 2000 years later, is always going to be difficult, especially if you automatically default to a top-down perspective, and look at things from a 21st century viewpoint. It is somewhat less difficult, when the problem is viewed from a bottom-up perspective.
When the gospels were first written, in the second half of that first century AD, nascent Christianity was still in its infancy, and the cultural norm throughout the Roman Empire, was pantheism [tolerance of all gods]. Both the gospel authors and the new pagan converts would, therefore, have belonged to a totally different mindset, one that regarded demigods and virgin births etc as normal. Under these circumstances, it was probably inevitable, that some pagan influences spilled over into the newly evolving, monotheistic spin-off from Judaism, that we now call Christianity. Apart from anything else, the newly converted pagan audiences would probably have expected it, because it was part and parcel of their cultural heritage. However, we can never know for sure, how much of fledgling Christianity was in fact derived from pre-existing pagan rivals. Today, after centuries of cultural brainwashing by the Christian Church, we conveniently forget, that both Christianity, and what we now call paganism, did in fact share a common heritage. Therefore there will always be a question mark around this pagan issue.
This common need to fabricate Jesus’ life-story, explains why all the Gospel stories contained details of the crucifixion & resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem, details which originated from Paul [1-Corinthians 15: 3-9] and his original ministry. It also explains the diversity of other detail found in each of these fabricated Gospel stories. All Gospels appearing during the gospel-period [c 65 AD-c 100 AD] would have been honest attempts, by leaders of recently converted pagans, to fabricate stories that befitted their perceptions of a divine Jesus. At no time, was there ever any suggestion of a conspiracy to deceive anyone. All gospels, were honest and genuine attempts, by the early church fathers, to provide Jesus’ missing biographical background for the benefit of newly converted pagans.
I was, by now, entirely persuaded that sufficiently motivated, creative writers, who believed that Jesus was the son of God, would have had little difficulty fabricating suitable stories for the benefit of the newly converted and unsophisticated pagans. Each of Paul’s newly established communities, probably produced their own version of events, and those appearing later, were undoubtedly influenced by what had gone before. Four of these fabricated versions were eventually adopted as “official” Gospel versions. The rests were consigned to the dustbin of history.
One of the earliest gospels to appear, but not necessarily the first gospel, was The Gospel of Mark (c 65-70 AD). This was one of the earliest attempts, to establish what would later become orthodox Christian dogma. Mark originally stopped at the empty tomb [Mark 16: 8], but sometime later, it was extended for obvious reasons [interpolated]. This short extension [Mark 16: 9-20] includes various sightings of a resurrected Jesus, and a brief reference to Jesus’ ascension to heaven, and it is essentially, a quick paraphrasing of the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel.
I couldn’t help noticing in the earlier stages of my investigation, that the four official Gospels seemed to increase progressively, both in their degree of boldness, and in their degree of sophistication. Mark was a relatively basic attempt to explain Jesus’ ministry years, and it portrays Jesus as a simple envoy, sent by God to offer enlightenment about the impending apocalypse. The other two synoptic gospels [Matthew & Luke], appearing about ten years after Mark, presumably from different early churches, both went a stage further than Mark, and portrayed Jesus as the son of God, born of a virgin. Unfortunately, neither of these authors knew that their conflicting accounts of the virgin birth, would later appear side by side in the newly canonized New Testament. Potential embarrassment, caused by having these two conflicting accounts, was mitigated by inserting Mark between Matthew & Luke.
John, the last of the four official Gospels c 95 AD, drops the virgin-birth idea and portrays Jesus as the word made flesh [God], and as The Lamb of God, who willingly goes to his death to absolve the world of sin etc. John underlines this Lamb of God theme, by having Jesus die on Friday afternoon, The Day of Preparation, instead of in the early hours Saturday morning, as per the three earlier synoptic Gospels.
The ascension of Jesus to heaven, first found in Luke, and later reinforced in Acts, was another common feature of pagan belief systems that was incorporated into the Gospels. It was added primarily to underline the divinity of Jesus, but it also offered a very convenient way to dispose of Jesus after his miraculous resurrection. Unfortunately, Luke’s Gospel and Acts fail to agree when this ascension to heaven actually occurred. Luke’s Gospel alleges it occurred on the same day as the resurrection [Easter Sunday], whereas Acts states it occurred forty days after the resurrection. This is a remarkable discrepancy given the momentous nature of the alleged event. It is even more remarkable, given the fact that Luke and Acts were both allegedly written by the same author. I have ignored the brief reference to Jesus’ ascension that can be found at the end of Mark’s Gospel, because it was not present in the original version of Mark, but added later for obvious reasons.
It was now fairly clear to me, why there were many gospels around by the end of that first century AD, and why the Jerusalem resurrection, and the multiple post-resurrection sightings as advocated by Paul in 1-Corinthians 15:3-9, were a common feature of all such gospels. Each version, was customized by each early church, in a slightly different fashion, and four of these versions were eventually canonized and became part of the New Testament. The rest, including the gospels of Thomas and of Mary, were apparently consigned to the dustbin of history, but even now, I have no real idea why. Presumably, it was all down to politics and power struggles, with the usual winners and losers, that you always get in such circumstances.
No Going Back
I was now nearing the end of a journey that I started as an agnostic, in January 2012, when I attended a Christian sponsored Alpha Course looking for answers. Here I was, in January 2014, now a fully fledged, committed atheist, who was happy to accept that a historical character called Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. This crucifixion should have been the end of the matter, but sometime after this crucifixion, [it seems nobody knows exactly how long after] Paul hallucinated on the road to Damascus, and convinced himself that he saw this dead Jesus. Three years later, Peter, on hearing Paul’s good news, trumped Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, with a simple lie about a similar experience in Jerusalem. Believing Peter’s lies to be true, and with Jesus now elevated to divine status, Paul then spent the rest of his life, touring round the pagan world, enthusiastically promoting this insignificant, mortal character called Jesus, as the son of God.
The very short pre-gospel period [c 30 AD-c 70 AD] was a period of fluidity and rapid change, during which Jesus’ real identity was hotly disputed. We had Jewish followers of a Messianic Jesus, led by Peter and by James, and we also had Jewish and Gentile followers of a more conventional Christian Jesus, led by Paul. The followers of the Messianic Jesus eventually lost out, because most Jews refused to accept that Jesus was their long-awaited Jewish Messiah. By the end of this short pre-gospel period, Jewish followers of a Messianic Jesus, had either died out, or morphed into quasi-Christians.
In the second half of that first century AD, after the death of all concerned, and in response to ever-increasing demands to know more about a Jesus who was apparently resurrected in Jerusalem, fabricated gospel stories started to appear throughout the pagan world. Initially, the centre-piece of these gospels, was the crucifixion and apparent resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem. The story of these events was augmented with copious parables, and various miracles, both of which were common features in pagan religions. Later appearing gospels, were extended to include even more elements of paganism, elements such as virgin births and post-resurrection sightings. These post-resurrection sightings became a standard feature of all subsequent gospels. Thus, this gospel period was essentially a period of rapid change, and vigorous cross-fertilization of ideas, as leaders of Paul’s early Christian communities, each made honest attempts to fabricate stories befitting their perceptions of a divine Jesus.
By the end of that first century AD, thanks entirely to Paul’s heroic efforts, fledgling Christianity was safely established in small Christian communities dotted throughout the pagan world. Ex-pagan members of these Christian communities may initially have been quasi Christian-pagan hybrids, who eventually morphed into more conventional Christians. Alternatively, and in my opinion far more likely, this newly formed Christianity, was just another new pagan religion, albeit a more sophisticated one, that managed to outlive the others, simply because it eventually found favour in Rome. I will revisit this contentious suggestion later, and discuss it in greater detail.
The rest, as they say, is history, but it does raise an interesting side issue. New Testament scholars have always placed great store in the apparent age of the documents they study, and some of the earliest texts now available, appear to go back to the second century. These scholars claim, the fact that even these very early texts still portray Jesus as the Gospel-Jesus, adds weight to the truth of their claims about Jesus’ true nature. Taking this argument to its logical conclusion, for these scholars at least, the “Holy Grail” would be the original, first century gospel texts. However, the The Christianity Myth scenario predicates that even these original first century texts, will automatically feature the resurrection of the Gospel-Jesus, even though it was the historical-Jesus who was actually crucified. Therefore, even finding an original text, wouldn’t prove this Gospel Jesus ever existed. That’s because these Gospels are not, as orthodox Christianity maintains, historically accurate records of what did happen in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. They are just fabricated stories, recording what the authors of said Gospels, genuinely believed happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.
My more pragmatic version of first century events, explains in a rational manner, how Christianity and the New Testament originated without divine intervention. In doing so, it highlights the fallacy of the classic Christian argument that the Gospels must be true, because Paul validates them in 1-Corinthians 15:3-9. In addition, my more pragmatic version of first century events also offers plausible answers to those many awkward questions that Christians prefer to ignore, questions such as:
Why did the world barely notice the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus? God’s magnanimous gift to the world should have made local headlines at the very least. However, it is portrayed in the Gospels, as a near invisible event, noticed only by a handful of Jews. This is because Christianity had to weave its web using the material available, and the only material available, was that supplied by Paul in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9, all of which was based on Peter’s earlier lies. There is no reliable independent evidence to support Christianity’s resurrection claims, but there is just about enough independent evidence to support the crucifixion claims. Both Josephus and Tacitus make brief mention of the crucifixion, but only because Jesus [the historical-Jesus] had a large Jewish following. In reality, this event was just another crucifixion, of just another Jewish radical threatening the Jewish establishment. Had Jesus risen from the dead as claimed, he would certainly have grabbed the attention of both the Jewish authorities and the Roman authorities, and we can take it for granted, that the early church fathers would have zealously preserved any relevant independent documentation, just as they preserved the Epistles and the early gospels. However, there are no records of the resurrection of Jesus, other than the claims found in the New Testament.
Why did the Jews reject Jesus? Jesus was not the long-awaited Jewish Messiah; he was just another troublemaker from Galilee who the Jews eventually rejected.
Why did Paul succeed and the Apostles fail? Paul managed to sell Jesus to the pagan world, because they were familiar with the resurrection concept, and because nobody in this pagan world had any first-hand knowledge of events in far off Jerusalem. Peter et al had a far more difficult time selling their Messianic Jesus to their fellow Jews, because too many of these Jews believed Jesus was just another Galilean fundamentalist and refused to accept him as the long-awaited Messiah.
Why were Peter and Paul at odds with one another? Because they had totally different theological messages, aimed at totally different clients. After his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul concluded that Jesus was the son of God, who died on a cross to free people from their sins, and his resurrection broke the power of death and opened the way for everlasting life and salvation. Paul concluded, that he had been specially chosen by God, to propagate this new-found message to Jews and Gentiles alike. His universal theology, stressed that circumcision and adherence to Judaic law were both irrelevant. Paul’s message was therefore completely at odds with the message being preached by Peter and his followers. Peter’s group believed that only circumcised Jews who adhered to Jewish Law could be saved. Hence the Council of Jerusalem, convened c 50 AD, to address the issue of circumcision and its relevance to fledgling Christianity. The opposing sides failed to agree, and both went their own ways.
Why do the gospel accounts differ? The numerous gospels appearing during the gospel-period were produced by different churches, each seeking to offer a customised solution to the same problem, namely the complete lack of any biographical details about Jesus.
Why was The Acts of the Apostles written? By the time Acts was written, the Twelve Apostles were dead, the Jews had rejected Jesus and, apart from Paul, these Apostles had all turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Unfortunately, the earlier gospel stories had already tied Jesus to his chosen disciples, who were later to become Apostles, so the main purpose of Acts, was to re-brand these Apostles as the dynamic evangelical force that launched Christianity onto the unsuspecting world—with just a little help from Paul of course. At the same time, Acts takes the opportunity to paper over the obvious cracks between Peter and the more successful Paul.
Why was the Council of Nicaea necessary? Among other things, it was convened to address the diversity found in the numerous gospel stories produced by different churches. The first council, convened by Constantine-1 in 325 AD, didn’t get very far with this problem, and it took years [centuries?] of wrangling, and wheeling & dealing, before the dust finally settled on the first authorised canon.
At this, the final stage of my journey, I was now firmly of the opinion, that fledgling Christianity was just a new pagan religion, just the by-product produced, when a temporal lobe aberration on the road to Damascus was inadvertently reinforced by a little white lie told in Jerusalem. This notion, will obviously offend established Christians, but those taking offence should be prepared to defend their faith, and hopefully, defend it with something more convincing than the usual “it’s true because it says so in the bible”. Christians obviously have no problem accepting the New Testament at face value, including all the pagan super-naturalism associated with immaculate conceptions, virgin births, resurrection of the dead and ascension to heaven. Neither do Christians appear to be concerned, that Christianity is but one of many belief systems, all of which claim to be the only true faith. Obviously these competing belief systems can’t all be right, but they could all be wrong, and probably are.
As it stands now, I’m prepared to stack the simplicity of the pragmatic argument found here in The Christianity Myth, against the super-naturalism of the orthodox argument, and I will continue to do so, until somebody proves to me that the Jerusalem resurrection actually happened, and by proof, I mean something other than the stuff you find in the New Testament. As far as I’m concerned, the Gospels are little more than 2000 year old stories, that were honestly written, by true believers, for the benefit of naive and unsophisticated pagan converts. Today, these naive and unsophisticated pagan converts would be deemed little more than children.
I’ve come a very long way since starting this journey back in January 2012, when I attended that Alpha Course looking for answers. Here I was, two years later, a confirmed atheist, who was convinced that Paul just hallucinated on the road to Damascus. I can’t prove he hallucinated of course, and at present, this hallucination idea is only of interest to those academics studying temporal lobe epilepsy and it’s associated religious experiences. The main reason why this hallucination idea has never been taken seriously to-date, is because the Gospels couldn’t be adequately explained, other than by divine intervention. However, there is now a perfectly reasonable and perfectly plausible way of explaining both the Gospels and Christianity, without divine intervention. I’m therefore hoping this hallucination idea will now be taken more seriously, and it’s likelihood re-evaluated in the light of these new developments. After all, what’s more likely to have happened 2000 years ago? Divine intervention? Or a simple hallucination on the road to Damascus, reinforced with a simple lie told in Jerusalem? For me it’s now a no brainer, but then I don’t have any emotional baggage invested in the outcome. Nor do I have any over-riding personal need to preserve the status quo.
I was, by now, totally convinced that gospel fabrication would have been a relatively simple matter, for highly motivated, creative writers, who believed that Jesus was in fact the son of God. Total fabrication of the Gospels, has always been deemed impossible in the past, because it was always assumed that such fabrications needed, of necessity, to be part and parcel of some great unexplained conspiracy. I now beg to differ, and several centuries later, four of these fabricated gospels and some of Paul’s Epistles made it into the New Testament.
I now see this New Testament in a totally new way. Orthodox Christianity has always implied, that shortly after Jesus’ miraculous resurrection in Jerusalem, his Jewish followers gathered together in Jerusalem to form the first Christian church, led by Peter and by Jesus’ brother James. Orthodox Christianity, has also implied, that the twelve Jewish Apostles miraculously converted, more or less overnight, from Jews who believed that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah, to Christians who believed that Jesus was the son of God, before successfully launching Christianity onto the unsuspecting world – with just a little help from Paul of course. In reality, the early Jerusalem Church was more Jewish than it was Christian for some considerable time, and it took several decades for Jewish followers of a Messianic Jesus to either die out, or morph into Christian followers of a Gospel-Jesus who was seen as the son of God. This concept of Jesus as the son of God, probably stemmed, not from Jerusalem, as orthodox Christianity tries to suggest, but from Paul’s early Christian communities.
Contrary to what orthodoxy would have us believe, we don’t actually know, with any certainty, the eventual fate of all the Apostles. Many of them just faded into obscurity, leaving behind nothing other than a collection of “according to tradition……” stories. Loosely translated, these stories mean “we don’t really know what happened to them, but this is what we’d like you to believe”. That these Apostles died for their beliefs is undoubtedly true, but the real question is, what beliefs did they die for? Many of the “Twelve” appear to have died at the hands of their fellow Jews, who rejected their claims that Jesus was their long-awaited Jewish Messiah. This would suggest that they died, not as Christians who believed Jesus was the son of God, as implied by orthodoxy, but as Jews who believed Jesus was their long-awaited Jewish Messiah.
Paul is arguably the most important person in the New Testament, because it was Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus that eventually transformed Jesus, from a mere mortal radical Jew, into God’s only son, sent to earth to save mankind. It could be said, that without Paul, there would have been no Christianity and no New Testament. Paul not only developed orthodox theology more or less single-handed, he spent most of his adult life planting the seeds of fledgling Christianity, in all the important political and cultural centres of commerce and trade, thus ensuring the rapid dissemination of Christianity throughout the known world.
Christianity may have just started when a little pebble was dropped into a small pond, but the ripples so produced are still affecting the world some 2000 years later. Christianity’s initial success, is usually attributed to the universal nature of the Christian message, and the effectiveness of Jesus’ Apostles. However, this is only partly correct. Christianity did spread quite rapidly because of the all-embracing inclusiveness of Paul’s universal message. This universal message rapidly gained widespread acceptance among the weak and oppressed masses, who took comfort from the promises of eternal jam tomorrow, to make up for all the short-term pain of today. However, the enduring success of fledgling Christianity is really down to a much simpler, more sinister, and generally unacknowledged reason viz. political pragmatism. Politically astute rulers in Rome, soon realised that the rapid spread of early Christianity among the oppressed masses, presented them with a golden opportunity, to impose a very simple, very cost-effective method of self-regulating crowd-control. Politicians in Rome, simply controlled the religious leaders, and left it to these religious leaders to placate the masses. Initially, they placated the masses with promises of eternal salvation, but only for those who behaved themselves and accepted their lot in life. Later, these promises of eternal salvation, were supplemented with threats of eternal damnation for all those who dared to transgress.
This successful pragmatic marriage, between the emotional needs of the many and the political needs of the few, proved to be Christianity’s salvation, and throughout the 4th century AD, Christianity was gradually transformed, from an outlawed pagan-like belief, to the official religion of the Roman Empire. In 313 AD, Constantine-1 issued the Edict of Milan, which proclaimed that Christianity was to be tolerated alongside the many other pagan beliefs. In effect, this simply legalised Christianity. In 325 AD, Constantine-1 convened the First Council of Nicaea, and told Christian leaders to sort out the huge diversity associated with early Christianity. In 380 AD, Emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which established Nicene Christianity as the one and only official religion of the Roman Empire and, to round things off, in 391 AD, the worship of all other pagan gods was made illegal throughout the Roman Empire.
These rapid 4th century developments, all driven by political pragmatism, ensured Christianity’s long-term survival, and by the end of the 4th century AD, all other competing pagan beliefs had been more or less stamped out. With all competing pagan religions consigned to the dustbin of history, and with continued dominance of Christianity guaranteed, it was a simple matter for the newly formed Roman Church, to quietly turn its back on its pagan origins, and to quietly start the process of re-inventing itself as a the one true non-pagan belief. The early Roman Church did not do this with any sinister intent to deliberately deceive. They did it because they genuinely believed that Jesus was the son of God who was resurrected in Jerusalem. They were obviously wrong then, and they are still wrong now, but that’s not the scary part. The scary part, is realising they could still be propagating this myth 2000 years from now.
Thus early Christianity eventually thrived and prospered under Roman patronage, as did the Roman Church. On the surface, the early Roman Church ministered unto the needs of the ever-increasing multitude of believers, but behind the scenes, this new religious class, quietly amassed power and wealth beyond people’s wildest dreams. By the time the political classes began to suspect that the Roman Church was no longer theirs to control, it was already too late to retreat. Christianity had arrived big time, and it was there to stay. The wealth and power of the Roman Church continued to grow, and eventually, it became virtually impossible to challenge this Roman Church without putting one’s very soul in jeopardy.
Proof of these outrageous claims would entail me writing another book, but it would probably be a wasted journey on my part, because I’m sure this path has already been well trodden, by other, far more knowledgeable authors. I just touch on these claims, to explain why ripples from a tiny pebble dropped into a very small pond some 2000 years ago, are still being felt throughout the world today. Against all the odds, something that probably started out as a new, and slightly more sophisticated pagan belief system, based entirely on a simple case of mistaken identity, managed to survive, and eventually it became the world’s number one religion. Christianity now boasts more than 2 billion believers, all of whom are still willing to entertain a belief in the super-natural, even in this day and age.
Time now, to look back at this investigation, review the findings, and where appropriate, consider their implications. Broadly speaking, all religions, past and present, developed for more or less the same basic reasons, and they all served the same general purposes. They acted as a mechanism for defining what is desirable and what is undesirable, and some offered a promise of eternal jam tomorrow to all those who acquiesced. They also provided the glue necessary for social cohesion within a tribe, but only at the expense of generating derision and division, between tribes daring to be different. They also proved very useful ploys, used by leaders in times of stress, to unify, and to provide cost-effective crowd control. Today, the net gain of all of this, is well into negative territory. Most people can be good without a god breathing down their necks, and those who can’t be good, take-no-notice anyway. For most people, morality is simply a case of loving your neighbour as yourself, and doing unto others as you’d like them to do unto you.
I am neither a theologian, nor an historian, and I’m certainly not a biblical scholar, nor do I profess to be one. I’m just an ordinary individual, who took a long hard look at first century Christianity, and concluded that the orthodox version of events didn’t cut it. I didn’t set out to deliberately trash Christianity. I just put first century Christianity under the microscope, and concluded there was a much simpler way to explain things. However, my alternative explanation of first century events is a bit like good old English Marmite. Some will love my alternative explanation for its pragmatic simplicity, and others will hate it for daring to suggest they are just misguided, self-deluded pagans, seeking reassurance that their lives have purpose and meaning. All of us experience just a fleeting glimpse of reality, before descending into an eternity of oblivion. To think otherwise, is just wishful thinking by those who have difficulty accepting their own brief mortality.
More knowledgeable scholars, especially those desperate to maintain the status quo, will no doubt have a field-day nit-picking at the material found here in The Christianity Myth. However, nothing they can say or do will change the simple fact, that 2000 years ago, two otherwise mundane events probably combined together to produce Christianity and the associated New Testament without divine intervention. Granted, my controversial version of events is somewhat speculative in nature, but it’s no more speculative than the orthodox version of events. Christians will of course dispute this, but actually, we know very little about first century Christianity. I think we can be reasonably sure that a charismatic historical-Jesus did exist. We don’t know exactly when he was born, or exactly when he was crucified in Jerusalem. Nor do we know exactly when Paul was “converted” on the road to Damascus, or what exactly happened to most of Jesus’ Apostles. All anyone can do in these circumstances, is extract what little factual evidence can be extracted after 2000 years, and then use this very limited factual evidence, to form opinions about what might, or might not, have happened. Once you start introducing mythical deities and pagan super-naturalism into the equation, all rationality evaporates, and objectivity is taken hostage by personal needs to address personal agendas.
The whole essence of the argument found in The Christianity Myth hinges entirely on Paul’s experience on that road to Damascus. Did Paul really see the resurrected Jesus? Or did he just believe he saw the resurrected Jesus? If you still think he did see the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, then for you, there is no need for Peter to lie, because Jesus was in fact the son of God, and for you Christianity is unchanged. However, if you now think Paul didn’t see the resurrected Jesus. If you now think he just hallucinated on the road to Damascus and thought he saw the resurrected Jesus, then for you, Christianity is just the simple by-product that was produced when a simple hallucination on the road to Damascus was inadvertently reinforced by a simple lie told in Jerusalem. Either way we end up with orthodox Christianity and the New Testament, but my more pragmatic version of events, does so without any need for divine intervention. It even makes the need to believe in gods totally irrelevant.
The Christian church has a notorious history of entrenched opposition to changes in the status quo, and the implications of this 20th century idea that Paul just hallucinated on the road to Damascus, probably ranks alongside the 19th century suggestions about evolution, and the 16th century suggestions about a heliocentric “universe”. Initially, both these new ideas severely challenged prevailing perceived wisdom, but the church eventually adapted, and time has now largely eroded the church’s irrational resistance to these two psychological bombshells. However, the current bombshell outlined here in The Christianity Myth, threatens the very raison d’être of the Christian Church, and eventual adaptation is not an option this time round. If time does, yet again, eventually overcome irrational resistance, it can only be at the expense of Christianity’s eventual demise.
Scholars have spent the last two centuries, striving to prove the Jerusalem resurrection actually happened. They think that discovering references to the Jerusalem resurrection in earlier and earlier documents, adds more and more weight to their argument that Jesus was in fact resurrected in Jerusalem. However, as already discussed, the Gospel accounts of the Jerusalem resurrection, including those found in the original manuscripts, were based entirely on claims made by Paul, when he first established his early Christian communities. These claims, outlined by Paul in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9, were in turn, based entirely on the hearsay evidence that Paul obtained from Peter when they first met. So, even finding the original first century manuscripts, wouldn’t prove Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. They would only prove that, 2000 years ago, some of the people who grew up with super-naturalism readily believed Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. Today, many of us regard paganism, and the associated belief in the supernatural, as something long gone and forgotten. Christians, however, still seem prepared to entertain certain exceptions.
For centuries, the Christian Church justified its faith in Jesus’ resurrection, by pointing to supporting evidence found in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. Today, we now know this supporting evidence was falsified centuries ago, precisely because there was no genuine supporting evidence. So Christians now point to Paul’s apparent validation of this resurrection in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9. However, as already outlined above, this passage is just hearsay evidence, based on what Peter told Paul when they first met in Jerusalem [Galatians 1: 18]. Nevertheless, Christians place great emphasis, on the fact that Paul was actively relaying Peter’s claims to his early Christian communities, only a few decades after the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem. Christians, however, never stop to question the veracity of Peter’s claims. They simply assume that Peter told Paul the truth about this alleged resurrection, and then they point to their Gospels to justify this assumption, claiming the Gospels are historically accurate eye-witness accounts that corroborate Peter’s claims. In effect, Christians use their unfounded assumptions about the Gospels, to justify their equally unfounded assumptions about Peter’s claims. They can claim Peter told the truth, but they can’t then use the Gospels to prove it, because the Gospels don’t corroborate Peter’s claims, they just reflect them.
This tacit assumption, that Peter told Paul the truth about the Jerusalem resurrection, is Christianity’s unacknowledged Achilles heel. Once you recognise this fact, you understand why both biblical scholars and Christian apologists, strive desperately to convince us that their Gospels really are, historically accurate, eye-witness accounts that can be trusted. Without these assurances, and the last time I looked, the jury was still out on this one, Christianity remains nothing more, than a simple, ancient belief system, based entirely on one man’s unsubstantiated claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. Christianity’s integrity, is therefore entirely dependent on the veracity of Peter’s claims, but ironically, the final outcome isn’t, because we still end up with Christianity and the New Testament, even if Peter lied about the Jerusalem resurrection. Christians brave enough to read this book will obviously find this a somewhat sobering thought.
Christians also regularly cite Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius and the Younger Pliny to justify their belief that their Gospel-Jesus actually existed. As an atheist, I accept this very limited evidence points to the probable existence of a charismatic historical-Jesus, who appears to have lived and taught in and around Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. Based on Josephus’ brief reference to the crucifixion of this historical-Jesus in his Antiquities of the Jews [Book 18, 3, 3], I’m even prepared to accept that this historical-Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, more or less as depicted in these Gospels. I’m also prepared to accept that the Gospel accounts of this historical-Jesus’ life and ministry, probably have some factual basis, but only because the authors of these Gospels, mistook this historical-Jesus for their Gospel-Jesus. In short, even as an atheist, I’m perfectly happy to acknowledge that these four historical sources point to the existence of a charismatic, mortal historical-Jesus who was crucified in Jerusalem. However, as an atheist, I refute all claims that these historical sources prove anything about the resurrection of a Gospel-Jesus.
The original Gospels were probably written, by following generations of people who had no first-hand knowledge of events in Jerusalem. Most gospel authors probably weren’t even born when Jesus was crucified. These Gospels were written c 65-100 AD and they were written to rationalise what was believed to be true at the time of writing. They contained hearsay information, derived from traditional oral stories about a historical-Jesus. They also contained Paul’s resurrection claims [1-Corinthians 15: 3-8] which were based entirely on Peter’s hearsay evidence. So in effect, nothing found in the Gospels is actually based on first-hand knowledge. Therefore, these Gospels cannot be cited as proof that the resurrection actually happened. Christians, however, have no choice but to ignore this fact, and rely on their age-old circular argument that says “the resurrection happened, because it says so in the Gospels, and it says so in the Gospels, because the resurrection happened”. Flawed as it is, this circular argument has nevertheless satisfied the needs of Christians down the ages, and it still seems to satisfy over two billion Christians today. They do not seem bothered by the irrationality of their circular argument, and they take comfort in their numbers, thinking we can’t all be wrong.
Past Christians can be excused their naivety, because they didn’t know any better, but today’s Christians live in a technological age, where knowledge is there for the asking. However, there’s none so blind as those unwilling to see, and most Christians happily accept the idealised Christian dogma that is routinely promoted by Christian churches. The churches do this deliberately, to protect their flocks from the unsettling warts n’ all reality of the Gospels. Fortunately, this warts n’ all reality has now been exposed by Bart Erhman , and every thinking-Christian should read his book Jesus Interrupted at least once, as should anyone thinking of becoming a Christian.
Ordinary Christians won’t agree with any this of course, because they have all the evidence they need in the New Testament. However, in reality they are just choosing to accept this evidence as fact. Two billion Christians make this personal choice to believe that the resurrection claims found in the Gospels are true, but they never ever acknowledge that it is just a personal choice. But even 2 billion people believing something is true, does not automatically make it true. Centuries from now, two billion people might believe Alice’s Wonderland actually exists, but would they be right?
Many changes to the New Testament have occurred down the centuries, mainly because of copying errors and/or because of translating errors. Whether accidental or deliberate, most of these changes have occurred at a nit-picking level, of interest only to biblical scholars. Ordinary Christians and non-scholars are not really bothered by these nuanced changes. In broad brush-stroke terms, we mere mortals can assume the Gospels have remained virtually unchanged, since their inception some 2000 years ago. Except, that is, for the notable exception found in Mark. The original version of Mark stopped at Mark 16: 8, with frightened women fleeing from the tomb, after being told that Jesus had risen from the dead. Mark 16: 9-20 was added sometime later, for obvious reasons. However, this fact is openly acknowledged in the footnotes of many Bibles.
Christians and non-Christians alike, can agree that Peter did actually know the real truth about the Jerusalem resurrection, but did he tell Paul the real truth? We will never know, because there isn’t a shred of reliable independent evidence to prove anything one way or the other. This Peter is portrayed in the New Testament as a very important Apostle, but in actual fact, he was just an unsophisticated, uneducated, illiterate peasant fisherman, who probably lied any time it suited him. It is both fitting, and somewhat ironic, that the Roman Catholic Church eventually saw fit to canonize this Peter and appoint him as their patron saint, because it was Peter’s claims about the Jerusalem resurrection, that turbo-charged Paul’s obsessive belief that Jesus was the son of God. Without Peter’s claims, Christianity may never have happened.
I’m hoping that more secular scholars, may now be willing to revisit the first century and see it in a different light. Some, may even be tempted to put some flesh on the bones of an argument that is only sketchily outlined here in The Christianity Myth. In some ways, The Christianity Myth can be viewed as nothing more than a simple feasibility study. What’s now required, is a more in-depth evaluation of my basic argument, made by secular scholars who can demonstrate both objectivity and impartiality.
Finally, there is the small matter concerning my earlier suggestion, that Christianity is just a slightly more sophisticated pagan religion masquerading as a non-pagan religion. This is not an original idea by any means and, over the years, many people have made similar claims. They all point to elements of Christianity that demonstratively have their roots in early paganism, but all suggestions along these lines invariably fall on deaf Christian-ears. Christians will not thank me for yet again drawing attention to this fact.
Today I think of myself as a reluctant atheist—an atheist, because I now know that divine intervention and super-naturalism are not needed to explain the origins of Christianity, and reluctant, because knowing this takes away all the potential fringe benefits associated with promises of an eternal after life. It also makes it impossible, for me to ever again, wrap myself in the Christianity comfort blanket. A stricter definition of my current world view would be reluctant agnostic atheist, because although I’m convinced gods don’t exist, I accept I will never be able to prove it, anymore than theists can prove their gods do exist. Of course, Christians will continue to say I’m wrong, because they know they are right, but who cares. The promise of an eternity of sycophantic worship and praise has no appeal for me whatsoever. Hell sounds more exciting! Of course, saying that automatically guarantees I will be condemned as a heretic, but that’s a small price to pay, if it also guarantees that they abandon all hope of ever saving me.
There are now two explanations of how Christianity first started, and according to Occam’s razor, whenever there are two or more ways of explaining the same thing, the simplest explanation is usually the better explanation. I ‘ll leave readers to judge for themselves which is the simpler explanation in this case. You may find my version of events persuasive, but I have to point out that I haven’t actually proved anything. I’ve just offered a more rational explanation of first century events. If you’re not comfortable with this rational explanation, just play the trump card called faith, and continue to believe that God’s son died on a cross to forgive your sins, and continue to believe that he was then resurrected again to offer you eternal salvation.
Personally, I’ve always felt you don’t need gods to be good. I’m happy to accept the virtues of the Christian ethos, and I let my conscience take care of all the moral stuff. I feel even more justified in doing this, now that I know we no longer need to invoke super-naturalism and divine intervention to explain what we find in the New Testament. Christians of course will never admit they’ve got it all wrong, and I don’t blame them, because they have everything to lose, and nothing to gain. I’m happy to just settle for the intellectual satisfaction of knowing they’re wrong, even though it means I’ll never experience the emotional satisfaction they get from knowing they’re right.
This new version of first century events will obviously have great difficulty gaining traction against a 2000 year old Christian head wind, particularly after my earlier suggestion that Christianity is probably just a re-branded pagan belief system. Resistance to change is only to be expected, but history has demonstrated time and time again, that the perceived wisdom of the day invariably turns out to be wrong. When the New Testament first appeared, most people believed the earth was flat, and the perceived wisdom of the day believed we all lived in a geocentric “universe”. Then, during the 16th & 17th centuries, despite enormous resistance from the Roman Catholic Church, perceived wisdom was forced to change, and mankind was relegated to a more humble position within a heliocentric “universe”. We now accept, that even this more humble position, was a vast over statement of our real significance. Centuries later, and the “known universe” has expanded to mind-numbing proportions. Any potential shift in perceived wisdom triggered by The Christianity Myth, pales into insignificance by comparison.
But, even if my ideas do eventually gain a little traction, there is still the prickly question of Islam. This is the world’s second largest religion, boasting 1.7 billion believers, and Muslims regard their Qur’an [holy book] as the last of a series of divine messages, that started with messages revealed to Adam, and ended with messages revealed to Muhammad. According to Muslims, these verbal messages from God were revealed to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. These messages started to arrive in 609 AD, and they continued at random intervals, until Muhammad’s death in 632 AD. Muhammad’s experiences whilst “receiving” these messages have now been well documented, notably by Ali Sina , by M. A. Sherlock  and by F. W. Burleigh . These authors demonstrate that Muhammad’s many experiences spread over two decades, are not unlike Paul’s single experience on the road to Damascus. Similarities with the inception of Christianity are therefore all too obvious, and this fact has not gone unnoticed. So yet again, we are presented with two alternative possibilities. Either the Qur’an is the unalterable word of Allah, the one true god, as claimed by Muslims, or the Qur’an is just the demented ramblings of a deluded, chronic epileptic, suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy. Personally, I think this is yet another no-brainer choice, but then I wasn’t indoctrinated from birth, and forced to accept a belief system that advocates death for apostates.
Thus, although it now seems very likely, that the origins of Christianity and Islam can both be explained in terms of temporal lobe epilepsy, convincing those vested interests wishing to preserve the current status quo, will not prove easy. Hopefully, endless strife and conflict caused by religious sectarianism, will combine with the ever rising tide of secularism, and eventually we will be coerced into discarding all religions in favour of more user-friendly humanism. I won’t see it happen of course, nor will my grandchildren, and probably not even their grandchildren, but we can all live in hope. When that moment finally arrives, and it will arrive eventually, because it must, mankind will finally have come of age.
In the meantime, there is one tiny aspect of The Christianity Myth argument that may be of interest, even to those not yet ready to give up on the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem. Orthodox Christianity maintains that Paul’s Epistles are just reflecting a pre-existing oral gospel story, that only gets written down after his death. However, in my version of events, Paul does not reflect anything. Instead, he more or less dictated much of the theology appearing in the many written gospel stories formulated after his death. This change in perspectives could open the door to an entirely new debate about Paul’s pivotal role as the true father of Christianity.
Finally, the Duke of Wellington once said “Publish and be damned”. Well, I have published and I probably will be damned, but better the possibility of infamy, with maybe just the slightest chance of leaving a very faint scratch on the fabric of time, than simply to pass by completely unnoticed.
If you found this book interesting, please recommend it using the share buttons below. Or Tweet your thoughts to @KenThackerey,
 Jesus Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman, Published in 2010 by Harper Collins [ISBN 978-0-06-117394-3]
 A Guide to the Bible by Alice Parmelee, Published in 1951 by English Universities Press Ltd
 A History of Christianity by Paul Johnson First Published in 1976, Republished by Peregrine Books in 1978
 Nothing but the Truth by Brian H Edwards Published in 2006 by Evangelical Press [ISBN 0-85234-614-X]
 Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity by Paul Barnett Published in 1999 by Inter Varsity Press [ISBN 979-0-8308-2699-5]
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 Steve Connor, Los Angeles Times, Wednesday 29 October 1997
 Robert Lee Hotz, via Seattle Times, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1997
 Derren Brown featured in Online ITV Channel 4 program
 The Q Gospel, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_source
 Ali Sina, Muhammad and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE)
 M. A. Sherlock, Did the ‘Prophet’ Muhammad Suffer from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy?
 F. W. Burleigh, Was Muhammad an Epileptic?