The real origins of Christianity?

 

Like it or not, and Christians definitely don’t like it, there are now two ways to explain the origins of Christianity. There’s the 2000 year old conventional way, with two divine interventions by god, and there’s Thackerey’s new, twenty first century way with no divine interventions of any sort. Both ways utilize the same known facts and the same chronology of events. Thackerey’s way simply exploits our much better understanding of temporal lobe epilepsy and offers us a much simpler, more pragmatic interpretation of the Apostle Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus. In doing so, Thackerey eliminates all need to believe in gods and all need for divine intervention from said gods. Thackerey also suggests the origins of Islam can be explained in a similar manner.

Anyone interested in finding out more can now read Thackerey’s book free of charge at https://keebostick.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/godless-christianity/

 

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A Critique of Gary Habermas’ Fatally Flawed Argument

Gary Habermas is a Christian scholar, leading Christian apologist and he also stars in several U-Tube videos, including one called the resurrection evidence that changed current scholarship.

Habermas takes it for granted that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem and he spends an hour trying to convince us he’s right. His argument is based on the following events.

Event 1:     Jesus is resurrected in Jerusalem c 30 AD

Event 2:     Paul meets the resurrected Jesus c 32-33 AD

Event 3:     Paul visits Peter & James c 35-36 AD

Event 4:     Paul visits Peter, James & John c 49-50 AD

Event 5:     Paul writes Galatians c 54 AD

Event 6:     Paul writes 1-Corinthians c 55 AD

Event 7:     Mark’s gospel appears c 70 AD

Event 8:     Matthew’s gospel appears c 80 AD

Event 9:     Luke’s gospel appears c 85 AD

Event 10:    Acts of the Apostles appears c 90 AD

Event 11:    John’s gospel appears c 95 AD

All the above consensus dates are well established and well documented, based in part on evidence provided by Paul in Galatians and 1-Corinthians. In Galatians 1: 11-24 Paul tells us about his first meeting with other apostles c 35-36 AD, and in Galatians 2: 1-10 Paul tells us about his second meeting with other apostles fourteen years later. In 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9 Paul tells us what he learned from other apostles during his first visit to Jerusalem. Habermas claims that Galatians 2: 6 proves all the apostles, including Paul, were preaching the same gospel. Habermas also tells us that expert scholars now believe the basic gospel elements [simple creedal statements characterizes as deity, death & resurrection] could have been in circulation only six months after the alleged resurrection of Jesus c 30 AD.

Having now summarised Habermas’ argument [see video for details], let’s have a closer look at what he claims.

First he claims Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem c 30 AD. There is some scant independent evidence which suggests a historical Jesus was probably crucified in Jerusalem c 30 AD, but the only evidence for the alleged Jerusalem resurrection is that found in the New Testament itself. This NT evidence consists of three gospel accounts, all proclaiming the resurrected Jesus was  seen by numerous alleged eye witnesses [Mark doesn’t qualify because it was amended later for consistency]. Also, we have Paul’s testimony to this resurrection in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9 which states:

“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 Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters 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”.

Now it’s a forgone conclusion that the late dating of the gospels [c 70-95 AD], more or less proves that the resurrection accounts found in these gospels must be second-hand hearsay accounts, based entirely on Paul’s above claims which he obviously made many times whilst establishing his many early “christian communities”[see also section below dealing with gospel dates].

The total lack of credible independent evidence does not bothered Christians. They claim the very existence of the gospels proves Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem, because their existence cannot be explained any other way. This claim has held true for centuries, despite numerous efforts to discredit it, but it is no longer a valid claim, because  the existence of these gospels no longer proves conclusively that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. For more details on this topic see earlier blogs called Why you cannot prove Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem and Was Jesus Resurrected in Jerusalem?.

Second he claims Paul met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus c 32-33 AD. There’s no doubting Paul genuinely believed he met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. However, unlike Paul 2000 years ago, we now fully understand the true nature of Paul’s conversion experience and today we can explain it in a simple & rational manner. Today’s medical literature is full of similar conversion experiences, all of which, we now know are caused by psychotic hallucinations triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy. I’ve already dealt with this issue in greater detail in an earlier blog called Religiosity-Biology or Brain washing? Given today’s medical & scientific evidence, I think we can now safely assume that Paul did not meet the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, not that Christians will ever agree of course.

Third he claims Paul visits Peter & James c 35-36 AD. Our knowledge of this first meeting comes from Galatians 1: 11-24, and in Galatians 1:18-19 Paul specifically says:

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 [This wording is taken from the N.I.V Bible].

So, having told us when & where this meeting happened, Paul tells us he stayed with Peter for 15 days & he also tells us that, at some point during this stay, he also met James. Paul doesn’t indicate when & how long James was present, and he says absolutely nothing about what actually transpired at this meeting. We have to infer what transpired at this first meeting, and today we now accept the obvious conclusion, namely that, at this meeting, Paul told Peter & James about his meeting with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus c 35-36 AD, and Peter & James, in turn, told Paul about how they had witnessed the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem c 30 AD.

So Paul entered Jerusalem c 35-36 AD believing Jesus had been resurrected on the road to Damascus for his own personal benefit, and 15 days later, he left Jerusalem believing Jesus had also been resurrected in Jerusalem for the benefit of the apostles. Habermas works hard to suggest Paul deliberately visited Peter & James, to check out this Jerusalem resurrection. However, it’s doubtful Paul knew anything about this Jerusalem resurrection before he arrived in Jerusalem, and it’s thus reasonable to assume that Paul just accepted  Peter & James’ hearsay claims at face value. This would be a perfectly reasonable thing for Paul to do, given his own personal experience on the road to Damascus, and given the status of both Peter & James.

However, if we assume that Paul just accepted these hearsay claims at face value, we must address another significant problem, one that Habermas again fails to address. Paul specifically states in Galatians 1: 19 that he saw nobody else during his 15 day stay with Peter, so how do we now verify Peter & James’ 2000 year old hearsay claims? The answer is simple – we don’t, because we can’t.

Therefore, we are forced to accept that Peter & James’ claims about an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem are, at best, unverified & unverifiable claims, and at worst, they may be just downright lies. Why, you might ask, would Peter & possibly James [see next paragraph] deliberately choose to lie to Paul about an alleged Jerusalem resurrection that never happened? Well, if you read The Christianity Myth you’ll find out.

Galatians 1: 19 also raises another issue not addressed by Habermas. In this verse, Paul specifically says he saw none of the other apostles, only James, the Lord’s brother. Now given the alleged circumstances surrounding this 15 day stay with Peter, Paul’s claims seem very unusual. we know the alleged resurrection occurred only 5-6 years earlier, and we know it was allegedly witnessed by over 600 people, most of whom were presumably still living in Jerusalem, and many of whom were now probably members of the alleged early Jerusalem church allegedly led by Peter & by James. Under these circumstances, it seems incredible that Paul saw none of the other apostles & none of the many alleged witnesses. However, if the alleged resurrection never actually happened, then this state of affairs would be perfectly acceptable. One is then left wondering whether Paul really did meet James at this meeting. The belated reference to James could so easily be just a simple interpolation, added later to obviate any suggestion that Paul met only Peter at this first meeting. A simple 1:1 meeting without any witnesses would weaken the orthodox model of Christianity significantly.

Now according to  Wikipedia, the earliest reasonably complete version of Galatians dates to approximately 200 AD, approximately 150 years after the original was presumably drafted. This papyrus is fragmented in a few areas, causing some of the original text to be missing but according to the Wikipedia entry, scholars can be rather certain about what the original text probably said. This state of affairs leaves plenty of scope for somebody to add this potential interpolation sometime during that first 150 years. The motive is obvious. Without this belated reference to James, this meeting becomes a simple 1:1 meeting with no other witnesses. In which case, it’s not unreasonable to consider a scenario in which there was no resurrection, no eye witnesses and no James to worry about. In this alternative scenario, Paul would still meet with Peter, but there would be no other witnesses, and verse 19 would simply say “I saw none of the other apostles“. Purely speculative of course but it would make more sense. However, I’m not expecting the Christian mindset to pursue this possibility any time soon.

Fourth he claims Paul visits Peter, James & John c 49-50 AD. Galatians 2: 1-10 deals with Paul’s second encounter with other apostles, and it confirms that this time Paul met with Peter, James & John. Habermas claims Galatians 2: 6 also proves all four apostles were preaching exactly the same gospel. The N.I.V version of Galatians 2: 6 states:

As for those who seemed to be important —whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message“.

In this short verse, Paul is effectively saying “As for those who seemed to be important – all probably Jews but I don’t care – those men added nothing to my message”. Habermas maintains the phrase “those men added nothing to my message” [he actually uses the phrase “they added nothing to me”] means that Peter, James & John had nothing new to add to Paul’s message. However, Habermas’ interpretation totally ignores the tensions existing between Paul and the other apostles. These tensions, all centred round the relevance of circumcision and the Jewish law, are a common theme found in Paul’s epistles.

For example, in Galatians 2:14-16 Paul says

“When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas [Peter] in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

And later, in Galatians 5:2-6, Paul also says

 “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”.

 [Being justified refers to the state of being alright in God’s eyes]

And in Philippians 3: 1-3 Paul warns:

“Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh”.

Other instances confirming these tensions between Paul & the other apostles, include Galatians 2: 1-5, Galatians 3: 1-5, Galatians 3: 11-13, Galatians 3: 23-25, Galatians 5: 11, Galatians 6: 11-15, 1-Corinthians 7: 17-20, Romans 2: 25-27, Titus 1: 10-11 and Titus 3: 8-11. [Titus was one of Paul’s cohorts & Titus is not one of the seven genuine Pauline epistles].

These tensions all point to the existence of essential differences between Paul’s message & the message being preached by the other apostles. Paul had a universal message, which he aimed at Jews & Gentiles alike, and Paul believed Jesus was the son of God, sent to save mankind. The other apostles believed Jesus was the long awaited Jewish Messiah, sent by a Jewish God to save the Jewish people. According to these other Apostles, only circumcised Jews, and those prepared to be circumcised and become Jews, could be saved, and then only if they obeyed the Jewish law.

Again Habermas totally ignores these obvious tensions, and he does so because he wants to interpret the phrase “they added nothing to me” as meaning Peter, James & John had nothing new to add to Paul’s message. However, in the light of these tensions between Paul & the other apostles, a more logical interpretation of “they added nothing to me” would be Peter, James & John had nothing relevant to add to Paul’s message. Habermas is thus cherry picking his data to prove what he wants to prove, & he seems blind to this more rational interpretation of Galatians 2:6. This is not really surprising, because apologists are renowned for their habit of letting their own emotional needs cloud their intellectual objectivity.

Claims 5-11 – Dating of Canonical Gospels & Relevant Epistles. The dating of the Gospels indicates that all resurrection accounts found in these Gospel must be second hand hearsay accounts based on Paul’s earlier claims in 1-Corithians 15: 3-9. This assertion explains why all Gospels portray the resurrection as a near invisible event noticed only by a handful of Jews, despite the fact it allegedly happened in a city teeming with Jews. Most Christians seem totally oblivious of this point, but then most Christians know little or nothing about the origins of their faith.

If we accept the gospel resurrection claims are based on Paul’s claims in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-9, then we must also accept that these same gospels claims are based entirely on Peter’s [& possibly James’] unverified hearsay claims, made in Jerusalem some 5-6 years after the alleged resurrection. As indicated earlier [see section dealing with Habermas’ third point], at best, this means the resurrection claims found in the gospels are based on unverifiable claims, and at worst, it means these resurrection claims could be based on downright lies.

Christianity also fails to explain the existence of the gospel gap, a problem that has plagued Christianity for centuries. The gospel gap is the 40-65 year gap between the alleged resurrection c 30 AD and the appearance of the four canonical gospels c 70-95 AD. Scholars & apologists readily acknowledge the existence of this gospel gap, but so far none have successfully explained its existence.

Given the above weaknesses of the orthodox model of Christianity, and its abject failure to answer many other obvious questions, perhaps the time has now come to discard the old orthodox model and embrace a new revised model that rectifies most, if not all, of these problems. Christians will never do this of course, because it means accepting a very unwelcome truth about the alleged resurrection, and for Christians at least, this is definitely a bridge too far . However, for those able to bring a little more objectivity to the table, my revised model of first century Christianity may prove more satisfying intellectually.

Details of this revised model can be found in an earlier blog called The Christianity Myth. I would also recommend reading Professor Taboo’s excellent in depth examination of Paul’s pivotal role in the development of early Christianity, especially his section called “The Gospel Jesus v The Jewish Jesus” which can be found in Saul the Apostate Intro to Part 2.

And finally, a few comments triggered by Habermas’ closing comments about a very early “deity, death, resurrection” gospel message, and his claim that this gospel message was being preached by all apostles more or less immediately after the alleged resurrection. My understanding is that the alleged “true nature of Jesus”, the one now portrayed in Nicene Christianity, took some considerable time to evolve. The fluidity of early ideas about Jesus’ true nature manifests itself in the four canonical gospels which were only adopted sometime after the first Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Mark’s gospel c 70 AD portrays Jesus as a simple envoy sent to warn of the impending apocalypse. Matthew’s gospel c 80 AD & Luke’s gospel c 85 AD both upgrade Jesus to the son of God, born of a virgin, and John’s gospel c 95 AD elevates Jesus to God, the word made flesh. How all this ties in with Habermas’ claims eludes me.

Religiosity-Biology or Brain-Washing?

In this blog I’m going to suggest that the extent of our eventual adult religiosity is more or less predetermined by the way our temporal lobes are “wired”.  Most people accept that their own religious beliefs, if any, are influenced by the religious beliefs of their parents. They also accept these beliefs are also influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by the prevailing cultural values of those around them.

Many people simply adsorb the religious culture of their parents. These people are just the product of effective brain washing by their parents, whilst they were still young & vulnerable, as this short video illustrates so succinctly.

Cultural propagation of beliefs from one generation to the next is particularly effective where Islam is concerned. Every Muslim is brain washed from birth to believe Allah is the one true god, & to believe Muhammad is both his prophet and the ideal Muslim. All critical thought, and all opposition to Islam, is crushed at a very early age, and all Muslim apostates are threatened with punishment & often killed. If you think my assessment of Islam is an outrageous over simplification, then I suggest you’re either a Muslim yourself, or a non-Muslim who knows nothing whatsoever about real Islam.

However, early parental brain washing is only one factor influencing our eventual religiosity. Many do just stick with the faith imposed on them as children, and then repeat the process with the next generation. Most people in this category are, I would suggest, just nominal, unquestioning believers, who simply accept what they are told. A few people discard their early belief system & adopt a new one when they get older. Yet others simply grow up & eventually grow out of it. And yet others grow up without any religious influences whatsoever.

So what really decides what we chose to believe as we get older? Why do some of us appear to have an intrinsic need to believe, whilst others are left wondering why anyone would believe what they seem to believe? What other factors are at play that can either reinforce early-established beliefs or lead us to completely reject such beliefs? Obviously we are all defined by our own unique blend of nature & nurture, but in this blog I’m going raise a very contentious issue, and suggest that ardent religiosity, & the complete lack of it, are both more a question of nature and less a question of nurture.

I now believe that our potential religiosity is just another facet of our humanity, and like all such facets, both physical & non physical, there exists a spectrum of potential responses, ranging from total vulnerability to religion at one end to absolute indifference to it at the other end. We all fit somewhere on this religiosity spectrum, & where we fit more or less determines how we respond to religion & religious influences. The controlling factor determining where we actually fit on this religiosity spectrum seems to be the “wiring” in the temporal lobe region of our brains. It is becoming increasingly clear that both ardent religiosity at one end of this spectrum, and the complete lack of it at the other end, seem to be far more dependent on nature , and far less dependent on nurture.

Now I fully appreciate that this idea/suggestion is not going to be well received by ardent theists, but I do think the facts now speak for themselves. I openly admit I neither understand nor fully appreciate the finer points of the intricate physiology involved, but this lack of understanding of the details does not stop me appreciating the implications of a new branch of neurology called neurotheology. This new discipline specifically studies how our brains, most notably our temporal lobes, influence our religiosity. These studies are helping us to understand why some people are more religious than others, and helping us to explain why those with temporal lobe sensitivity can often have hallucinatory spiritual experiences, which leave them totally convinced they are real experiences. Trying to convince these people that their experiences are just hallucinatory experiences triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy [TLE] is extremely difficult, such is their conviction that their experiences are real. To those who remain unconvinced & sceptical about TLE induced religiosity and TLE induced religious conversions I simply say this; those with open minds who are prepared to look will find more than enough information/evidence to satisfy even the most sceptical person.

Perhaps the most iconic example of hallucinatory experiences triggered by TLE is the conversion of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul claims he met Jesus who he knew was dead, but  his various “conversion symptoms” are all classic  symptoms of TLE. Landsborough in 1987 [1] and Brorson & Brewer in 1988 [2], both suggested that Paul may have just hallucinated on the road to Damascus as a result of temporal lobe epilepsy, and both papers state that 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 follow a pattern very similar to that experienced by Paul. That is, they happen suddenly, without any warning, last only a relatively short period of time, and then just stop by themselves.

The other iconic example of hallucinatory experiences triggered by TLE is the prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam. Muhammad claims he received many verbal messages from God, revealed to him through the angel Gabriel, and again the various symptoms exhibited by Muhammad whilst “receiving” these messages are all classic symptoms of TLE. These symptoms have now been well documented, notably by Ali Sina [3], by M. A. Sherlock [4] and by F. W. Burleigh [5]. Looking back at history, it is now possible to see many other such instances that probably resulted from similar experiences, notably Joan of Arc’ visions in 1429 and possibly John Wesley’s Aldergate experience in 1738.

Many other lesser examples of TLE induced religiosity can now be found in the scientific/medical literature. In 1970, Dewhurst and Beard published a paper in the British Journal of Psychiatry [6] called “Sudden religious conversions in temporal lobe epilepsy”. 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. Dewhurst and Beard’s review paper summarises many scientific reports mentioning religious experiences triggered by epilepsy, many of which were published well before the advent of sophisticated brain imaging techniques. In 1872/73, Howden [7] reported a conversion experience in which the patient believed that he was in Heaven. In 1899, Mabille [8] discussed religious hallucinations associated with epilepsy. In 1919, Boven [9] 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 [10] 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 [11] 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 [12] 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 [13] 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 [14] 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 [11].

Also, Christensen’s definition of conversion [13] 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 [12] 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 [6], 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. More recently, 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 new field of brain science called neurotheology viz. the cognitive neuroscience of religious experience and spirituality.

In 2009 Dr Persinger [15], 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 e.g. by Steve Connor (LA Times) [16] and by Robert Lee Hotz (Seattle Times) [17].

Dr Ramachandran’s findings, back in 1997, pointed to a region of the brain [temporal lobes], 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.

Having now offered some food for thought, I’m hoping those with anything resembling an open mind will now accept that both ardent religiosity & complete indifference to religion may indeed be just biological responses to biological needs triggered by biological stimuli. I’ll thus finish this blog by asking a very simple personal question. Where do you fit on this religiosity spectrum? Are you simply someone in the middle who follows blithely in your parents footsteps? Or does your temporal lobe “wiring” make you a needy religious person who has great difficulty understanding why some of us have no need for religion. Or perhaps like me, your temporal lobe “wiring” makes you impervious to all religious influences and leaves you wondering what all the fuss is about.

References

[1] Landsborough D, St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1987 Jun; 50(6):659-64.

[2] Brorson J R & Brewer K, St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1988 Jun; 51(6):886-7.

[3] Ali Sina, Muhammad and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE)

[4] M. A. Sherlock, Did the ‘Prophet’ Muhammad Suffer from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy?

[5] F. W. Burleigh, Was Muhammad an Epileptic?

[6] Dewhurst K & Beard A W, Sudden religious conversions in temporal lobe epilepsy, British Journal of Psychiatry 1970: 117: 497–507.

[7] Howden J C, The religious sentiments in epileptic, J Ment Sci 1872; 18: 491–7.

[8] Mabille H, Hallucinations religieuses et d_elire religieux transitore dan l’epilepsie. Ann M_edicopsychol 1899: 9–10: 76–81.

[9] Boven W, Religiosite et _epilepsie. Schweiz Arch f Neurol u Psychiat 1919: 4: 153–69.

[10] Karagulla S & Robertson E E, Physical phenomena in temporal lobe epilepsy and the psychoses. Brit Med J 1955: 748–52.

[11] Beard A W, The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy. Brit J Psychiat 1963: 109: 113–29.

[12] Slater E & Beard A W, The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy. Brit J Psychiat 1963:109: 5–112 & 143–50.

[13] Christensen C, Religious conversion. Arch Gen Psychiat 1963: 9: 207–16.

[14] Sedman G, Being an epileptic: a phenomenological study of epileptic experiences. Psychiat Neurol 1966: 152:1–16.

[15] Persinger M, 2009, Are our brains structured to avoid refutations of belief in God? An experimental study. Religion, 39(1): 34-42].

[16] Steve Connor, Los Angeles Times, Wednesday 29 October 1997

[17] Robert Lee Hotz, via Seattle Times, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1997

Six Reasons Why I’m Not a Christian

I did think my blogging days were well & truly over. I’d said all I wanted to say about Christianity and its dubious origins, and I’d relegated myself to a casual blog reader who left occasional comments. However, recent unprovoked abusive comments from a certain blogger [see here and here] have caused me to saddle up and respond to this unwarranted & totally unprovoked abuse [see below for a flavour of these comments]

if you and s****** want my vote for most profoundly ignorant bloggers on WordPress”

“don’t have time to endlessly entertain your silliness”

reduces your credibility to less than worthless”

you seem more like an angry lunatic

“Sorry, Ken but you are a dime a dozen internet atheist and not worth the time”

I’ll start this blog by clarifying the central issue causing all this animosity. Christians claim Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem 2000 years ago & then resurrected from the dead. I’m happy to accept Jesus was crucified as claimed, but I do not accept he was then resurrected. I reject the Christian resurrection claims for the following six reasons.

  1. The resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Anyone who actually looks closely at Christianity soon realises that the only evidence for the resurrection claims is the evidence found in the New Testament Gospels. There is no other credible evidence available. This does not bothered Christians. They claim the very existence of these Gospels proves Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem, because their existence cannot be explained any other way. This simple argument has held true for centuries, despite numerous efforts to discredit it. However, as I’ve already demonstrated in an earlier blog, the existence of these Gospels does not prove conclusively that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem.

  1. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.

The New Testament portrays this conversion as a divine encounter with “a resurrected Jesus” and Christians reject totally all suggestions that this was just a sensory hallucinatory experience triggered by TLE. We can’t blame Paul for thinking it was a divine encounter, because back then they knew nothing about TLE, but today there is a growing mountain of medical evidence that enables us to explain Paul’s so called divine experience in a simple & rational manner. Christians, however, still prefer to stick to their 2000 year old supernatural interpretation, of what we now know is a fairly common occurrence. See “Resurrection! What Resurrection?” in The Christianity Myth for more details on this topic.

  1. Claims made by Peter & by Paul.

Christians accept that Paul never met Jesus whilst he was alive. They also accept Paul’s knowledge of events in Jerusalem came directly from Peter when they first met, some three years after Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Paul summarised what he learned from Peter in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9. He later relays this second-hand hearsay information to his early Christian communities. Established Christian apologists like Habermas do not dispute this chain of events. On the contrary, many of today’s Christian scholars believe it strengthens their resurrection argument, because it links the resurrection claims found in the Gospels directly to a reliable & reputable eye witness, namely Peter. I address the veracity of Peter’s claims in section 5.

  1. New Testament Chronology.

Professor Taboo’s excellent table in the section called “The Gospel Jesus v The Jewish Jesus” provides us with an excellent up to date summary of the relevant chronology. The dating of the Gospels indicates that all resurrection accounts found in these Gospel must be second hand hearsay accounts based on Paul’s earlier claims in 1-Corithians 15: 3-9. This assertion explains why all four Gospels portray the resurrection as a near invisible event noticed only by a handful of Jews, despite the fact it allegedly happened in a city teeming with Jews. Most Christians seem oblivious of this point.

  1. Veracity of Gospel resurrection claims.

Given the chronology involved [see point 4], I think we can safely assume that all four resurrection accounts found in the New Testament Gospels are based entirely on Peter’s original claims, which Paul later passed on to his early Christian communities. This simple chain of events highlights Christianity’s Achilles heel [see my earlier blog for more details]. Because Christians automatically assume the alleged resurrection actually happened, they never stop to question the veracity of Peter’s original claims. They just tacitly assume he told the truth, & then hope nobody notices. Who knows, maybe they just do it unconsciously. However, Peter’s claims are in fact, just uncorroborated & unsubstantiated claims. Therefore, I think we can say with some certainty, that all four Gospel resurrection claims are based entirely on unsubstantiated & uncorroborated claims made 2000 years ago by a peasant fisherman from Galilee. Christians have no choice but to just ignore this awkward fact and again hope no one notices [again I’ve dealt with this issue in more detail in an earlier blog ].

  1. The Gospel gap.

There is a 40-60 year gap between the alleged resurrection of Jesus c 30 AD and the appearance of the four canonical gospels c 70-90 AD. Explaining this gap has always been a thorny issue for Christians, because their starting point must be “the resurrection actually happened”. Therefore, logic dictates that someone somewhere should have recorded the alleged event whilst eye witnesses were still around. But they didn’t, and Christian scholars still struggle to explain why several adult generations passed by before the Gospels finally appeared.

But if you change the starting-point to “the resurrection never happened” and then divide this awkward gap into two separate periods, a pre gospel period [c 30-70 AD] and a gospel period [c 70-90 AD], there is no problem explaining the dating of the gospels. No gospels were written in the Pre-Gospel Period [c 30-70 AD] because there was no resurrection to write about. There was just Paul going round the pagan world establishing his early Christian communities. He established these nascent Christian communities because he genuinely believed Peter’s claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. Paul tells these communities about the death & resurrection of Jesus, but he tells them absolutely nothing about Jesus’ life prior to his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Later, after the death of all concerned, it was inevitable that Paul’s newly converted pagans would eventually want to know more about Jesus’ life prior to his death. Cue the Gospel Period [c 70-90 AD] and the appearance of the gospels, all of which appeared when they did in response to growing demands to know more about Jesus. This simple rational explanation yet again challenges Christian assertions that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem [see Pre-Gospel Period & Gospel-Period in The Christianity Myth for more details].

All six points listed above are totally compatible with the evidence as I understand it. The various weaknesses I’ve identified in the orthodox version of events are only weaknesses for those insisting that Jesus was resurrected. If you assume Jesus wasn’t resurrected, as I do, then all these weaknesses just disappear, and you end up with a simpler and more pragmatic explanation of all the know facts and, as a bonus, no divine interventions are needed to make this simpler explanation work.

Thus there are now two alternatives to chose from.

The orthodox Christian version requires acceptance of two divine interventions, one in Jerusalem and one on the road to Damascus. It also requires acceptance of the fact that all resurrection claims found in the Gospels are based entirely on Peter’s original uncorroborated and unsubstantiated claims.

My simpler alternative version requires acceptance that Paul’s conversion experience was a simple hallucinatory experience triggered by a common medical condition call temporal lobe epilepsy, and acceptance that Peter just lied to Paul about this Jerusalem resurrection. [I’ve already dealt with all this stuff in much greater detail in my book The Christianity Myth which can be read here free of charge]

So in effect I’m challenging the credibility of the orthodox version of events & offering instead an alternative explanation which I personally think better explains the known facts. Christians of course can choose to reject any or all of the above six points and continue to stick to their current position. That’s not a problem. What is a problem is the unwarranted abuse from certain Christian bloggers. If you insist on claiming I’m just some idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, then I’m going to insist you put your money where your mouth is. I’ve now made it as easy as I can for you to respond. I’ve set out my store, and I’ve lined up all my ducks in a row. Feel free to drop by anytime and point out where you think I’m going wrong. My comment section is there, ready, willing & waiting. Feel free to refute any or all of the weaknesses I’ve highlighted. Prove me wrong & you’ll have my eternal gratitude. Those who feel their necessary response is too substantial for my comment section, can leave a heads up in the comments section, together with a relevant link.

Ignoring this challenge will be taken both as an apology, and as an admission that there are no absolutes where religion is concerned. All world views are just personal choices. We all chose to believe what we want/need to believe, based on the evidence we chose to accept/reject. These personal choices are invariably conditioned/influenced by prevailing cultural values, as this video on Professor Taboo ‘s blog demonstrates so succinctly. Some of us may not like to admit this awkward truth, but both the questions posed in this video and the claims made in this video are abundantly self evident. The time has come to stop hurling childish abuse, to stop making facetious claims & spouting empty rhetoric and to start behaving like adults. If the relevant Christians want to draw a line under their unwarranted animosity, then fine, all you have to do is admit none of us possess knowledge of the absolute truth & accept that some of us prefer to let the evidence dictate our world view, whilst others prefer to let their world view dictate the evidence.

Post Scripts

Hope Professor Taboo doesn’t mind my plagiarizing some of his material. I discovered his blog a few days ago, after he dropped by and left some favourable comments. Having read his material I think we complement each other quite well. He seems to relish details. I on the other hand prefer to stand back and look at the bigger picture.

The Isaiah 53:5 Project recently posted a very good blog pointing out the dangers of confirmational bias. I even commented positively, saying I wished I’d written it. In this blog, he rightly says

// Despite our best intentions, it’s easy to unconsciously buy into beliefs that feel right in our hearts, even though they are objectively false. But it’s precisely when we’re sure that we’ve cornered the truth that we should take a step back, breathe deeply, and open our minds as far as we can//

Given these words of wisdom, I find it difficult to understand his abject hostility, both to me personally & to my blog. He seems to simply characterise evidence in one of two ways. If it affirms his world view he calls it evidence. If it conflicts with his world view he calls it rubbish. It’s ironic but he appears to be doing the very thing he so rightly warns us about.

 

Was Jesus Resurrected in Jerusalem?

Mythicists like Richard Carrier argue that Jesus probably never even existed. I don’t subscribe to this minority view for two reasons. One, there are now much easier ways to explain what did or didn’t happen in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, and two, Occam’s razor suggests the best explanation is invariably the simplest explanation.

Most biblical scholars, including many who are not Christian apologists, now accept that the following facts are almost certainly true:

C 30 AD                  Jesus crucified in Jerusalem

C 33 AD                  Paul converted on the road to Damascus

C 36 AD                  Paul learns of the resurrection in Jerusalem

C 50 AD                  Paul meets Peter in Jerusalem for the second time

C 54 AD                  Paul writes 1-Corinthians

C 70-90 AD            Gospel authors write gospels

The current Christian argument supporting Christian claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem is presented very succinctly by Gary Habermas in a U-Tube video called The Resurrection Evidence that Changed Current Scholarship. In this fairly long video, which is just one of many similar videos, Gary Habermas argues that the resurrection accounts found in the gospels, all of which appeared within 40-60 years of the actual resurrection, can truly be trusted, because they are all based on very reliable eye witness evidence that was relayed to the gospel authors by a very reliable intermediary.

It is claimed that the resurrection accounts in the gospels are reliable because they are all based on information provided by Paul in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9. It is further claimed that this information in 1-Corinthians is itself reliable, because it is based on what Paul was told c 36 AD, when he first met Peter in Jerusalem. In other words, the resurrection accounts in the gospels are all based on eye witness accounts provided by Peter at that first meeting. You could even say the gospel authors just immortalised Peter’s claims in their gospels.

On the surface, this Christian argument appears very powerful, but it does have a very small, but very significant flaw. This flaw is the subject of this short blog.

We know this first meeting in Jerusalem took place c 36 AD, because in Galatians 1: 18, Paul tells us that this meeting occurred about three years after his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. We can also infer with some confidence, that this meeting was when Paul first learned of the resurrection in Jerusalem. However, because there’s no independent evidence to verify the veracity of what Paul was told, we cannot know for certain, that Paul was told the truth about the Jerusalem resurrection. In the above Christian argument, it is just tacitly assumed that Paul was told the truth about the Jerusalem resurrection. Now although this seems to be a perfectly rational thing to do, albeit unconsciously, I can think of at least one very plausible scenario that could have resulted in Paul being told a cock & bull story about a resurrection that never happened, but you’ll have see The Christianity Myth for more details.

This ignored uncertainty about the veracity of what Paul was told at that first meeting c 36 AD raises an interesting dilemma for Christians. If Paul was lied to about the resurrection in Jerusalem, Paul would not know he had been lied to. He would simply propagate the lies unknowingly, and the gospel authors would then immortalise these lies unknowingly. The final outcome would still be exactly the same, but there would now be two possibilities to consider. If Paul was told the truth at this first meeting, the gospels would portray a resurrection that did actually happen, but if Paul was not told the truth, then the gospels would actually portray a resurrection that never happened. How do we differentiate between these two possibilities? Quite simply, we don’t, because we can’t. Those who actually knew the truth about this Jerusalem resurrection are long dead, and there is now no way we can verify the veracity of the resurrection claims made at that first meeting in Jerusalem. You either make a tacit assumption to believe Paul was told the truth, or you simply accept there’s no absolute proof this resurrection ever happened.

So was Jesus resurrected in Jerusalem as Christians claim? Paul obviously thought so, and so did the gospel authors, but was their belief based on fact, or was it based on bogus allegations? We’ll never know because even today, the resurrection allegations made at that first meeting in Jerusalem remain both unverified and unverifiable. Therefore, we can never say with any certainty that Jesus was in fact resurrected in Jerusalem. However, looking on the bright side, we can now use this uncertainty to topple the last remaining bastion of Christian support for this Jerusalem resurrection. We can now deny this resurrection ever happened and still explain the existence of the gospels, a feat thought impossible until now.

So, the Christian belief that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem is indeed a simple matter of faith. A faith based entirely on a simple tacit assumption that Paul was told the truth at that first meeting in Jerusalem. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now. This simple tacit assumption is Christianity’s unspoken and unacknowledged Achilles heel and all fellow atheists should strive to point this out to Christians whenever the opportunity arises.

Personally, I’d like my world view to be based on something a little more substantial than unverified allegations made 2000 years ago in Jerusalem.

 

Featured

The Christianity Myth

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This blog ends with a simple argument that cannot be refuted, even by renown apologist Gary Habermas  

This updated version of The Christianity Myth book explains how Christianity really started, explains why divine interventions are totally unnecessary and explains why we now have four Gospels proclaiming a Jerusalem resurrection that never happened.

© 2014 K. A. G. Thackerey. All rights reserved]

 Introduction

This very short book is not a book about the life of Jesus. It’s a book about his death and his alleged resurrection in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Although it addresses the very roots of early Christianity, it’s a very cogent quick & easy read, offering a decent overview of first century Christianity. It gathers together all factual information relevant to the alleged Jerusalem resurrection and it establishes a relevant timeline. Other far more knowledgeable authors have already done this, and done it in far greater detail, but this unique book does what most of these other authors fail to do. It examines the authenticity and the veracity of the assembled data to see if it will withstand close scrutiny, and then it uses the results of this close scrutiny to ascertain what really happened 2000 years ago. The primary goal of this book is not to reinforce existing orthodox dogma, nor to maintain the existing status quo. The primary goal of the unique book is to ascertain the real reason why, 2000 years ago, many people came to believe Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem.

The 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? After detailed scrutiny of all the relevant data, I conclude we can explain the origins of Christianity without resorting to divine intervention. This radical and more pragmatic explanation of what really happened 2000 years ago, challenges the very veracity of Christian claims that Jesus is the son of god, and it does so, because it explains the origins of Christianity without any need to believe in gods and without any need for divine intervention from said gods. The outdated super naturalism of the 2000 year old orthodox version of events, is simply replaced with a refreshing dose of simple pragmatism. The end result is a simpler, no nonsense explanation of how Christianity really started. The book also explain what many others have so far failed to explain, namely why we now have four New Testament Gospels proclaiming a Jerusalem resurrection that never happened.

I confess I’m neither a trained theologian nor a classical biblical scholar, but thirty years working in research & development equipped me with  all the research skills needed to put first century Christianity under the microscope. I was probably better qualified to do this than all theologians and most biblical scholars, because, unlike them, I had no personal emotional need to preserve the status quo. My complete emotional detachment, and my professional awareness of the dangers posed by confirmational bias, ensured I remained totally objective throughout my investigation. I began my examination of the evidence offered by Christian’s in support of their doctrinal dogma shortly after I retired. I did so because, even after thirty years of regular church going, I  still wasn’t convinced that Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

Amazon reviews of this book [Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk] are currently polarised. Half the reviewers liked the book and found it interesting, but the response from Christians and mythicists is less positive. This is both understandable and to be expected. It is, after all, a very contentious book dealing with a very emotive subject. Nevertheless, most open-minded individuals should find the book both interesting & informative.

A few housekeeping notes before I continue. Please note this is not a typical blog. It’s the revised & updated transcript of The Christianity Myth, a short book I published in 2014. It will therefore take the average reader several hours to read. If now is not a convenient time, just bookmark it for latter. I’m “republishing” this updated transcript as a blog so it can be read free of charge. Throughout the revised transcript, I deliberately use the terms historical-Jesus and Gospel-Jesus to minimise confusion.

All bible passages cited are taken from the N.I.V Bible.

Coloured text in the text body are hyperlinks linking to information sources I used.

Bracketed numbers [x] in the text body refer to references in the reference section.

The Journey Begins

Many people claim Christianity is based on incontrovertible evidence that has survived the test of time. Others claim Christianity is just a myth-based fantasy aimed at the gullible. At the start of 2012, I was a life-long indifferent agnostic who saw Christianity as something intriguing and potentially satisfying, yet not totally convincing. Most of my early life was spent ignoring Christianity, and most of my later life was spent paying lip service to its existence. I attended a Christian church on a regular basis, simply 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.

Then, in January 2012, largely because my spouse was fed up with all my questions, I attended the ubiquitous Alpha Course, to  try and 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, mainly to better understand the origins of the New Testament, but also to better understand why so many people, with so little knowledge of this New Testament, profess to be Christians. I also hoped my new found knowledge would finally persuade me to become a Christian. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Instead, a slightly informed church-going agnostic ended up as a much better informed church-going atheist.

I started my quest by reading most of the New Testament for the first time in my life. 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 actually written well before said Gospels. I’d always assumed the New Testament was presented in chronological order, but I soon learned that even the Gospels are not presented in chronological order, and Paul’s epistles are presented in length order rather than chronological order. This sounded a little strange, so I decided to read more on the subject.

I first read Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman [1]. 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’s Gospel, 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’s Gospel, Joseph & Mary live in Nazareth, not Bethlehem, and because of a Roman census they go to Bethlehem where we have a virgin birth. Luke outlines 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. No mention of any wise men and no wandering stars. After the virgin 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 separate the two totally conflicting stories about the virgin-birth of Jesus, and hence minimise any potential confusion. This ploy was very simple and very effective, because all the Christians I knew were just as unaware of the conflict as I was before reading Jesus Interrupted [1].

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 [The Jewish Sabbath], 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 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 the exact time of his 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 now 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. In short, you need to be constantly aware of confirmational bias. This is a tendency, often an unconscious tendency, to favour anything that strengthens your existing view, and to reject/ignore anything that opposes your existing view. Confirmational bias is a potential problem in any research, and an endemic problem in research associated with emotive subjects like religion. A typical example of conformational bias can be found on page 165 of Jim Wallace’s book Cold Case Christianity. In a section headed “Paul Quoted Luke’s Gospel In His Letter To The Corinthians” Wallace compares two almost identical accounts of the Eucharist [Lord’s Supper], one found in 1-Corithians written by Paul, the other found in Luke’s Gospel. Without any justification, Wallace claims Paul must have copied an earlier Luke, and he ignores the possibility that Luke copied an earlier Paul. He does so to “prove” what he wants to prove, knowing the vast majority of his uninformed Christian readers will swallow it.

I supplemented my internet research by consulting A Guide to the Bible [2] A History of Christianity  [3] Nothing but the Truth  [4] and Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity  [5]. These books, all by Christian apologists, obviously presented early Christianity from the Christian perspective. I relied on the internet to get alternative opinions on the subject. Obviously,  my first main task, was to find out as much as I could about this Gospel-Jesus, since he was center-stage in all this.

Searching for Jesus

Over two billion Christians believe Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, but the question “Did Jesus ever exist, and if he did, was he the divine being described in the Gospels?” is still being hotly debated 2000 years later. 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 in question, 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 mortal Jews around at the time, and you would not expect him to leave any discernible 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 in fact, 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, and in his Antiquities of the Jews written c 94 CE, he mentions the crucifixion of a charismatic Jesus in Jerusalem. 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 CE, 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 CE. Pliny the Younger (c 61-c 112 CE) 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, all appeared many decades after the crucifixion of Jesus c 30 CE. The only contemporary of any such historical-Jesus who actually left us with any written records, was the Apostle Paul, who put a lot of effort into establishing fledgling Christian communities 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 Roman Empire, when Islam first came into being early in the 7th century CE.

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 itself, 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 there are a few flimsy records of someone who, at the time, was effectively a historical nobody, testifies to the extent of this Jesus’ popularity.

I also began to suspect that there must be some link, connecting this historical-Jesus, to the Gospel-Jesus featured in the 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?

The Jerusalem Resurrection

If Jesus was indeed just an ordinary mortal, just a Jewish preacher from Galilee, 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 CE 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.

Paul’s Conversion

By now, 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 alleged 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 Jewish 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 and Galatians 1:15-16) that Paul claims he met with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul admits he never knew the living Jesus, but he definitely knew Jesus was dead. He may even have witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion. He did, after all, have more than a passing interest in the man, and Paul would certainly have been present in Jerusalem for that fateful Passover.

Already dubious about the New Testament claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem, I was beginning to question both Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, and his apparent validation of a Jerusalem resurrection 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 as he claimed, or did he just hallucinate and think he met Jesus?

Further delving, and I eventually found two reports, one by Landsborough in 1987 [6] and one by Brorson & Brewer in 1988 [7], 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 follow a pattern very similar to that experienced by Paul. That is, they 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 [8]. 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 early reports were all published well before the advent of sophisticated brain imaging techniques.

In 1872/73, Howden [9] reported a conversion experience in which the patient believed that he was in Heaven. In 1899, Mabille [10] discussed religious hallucinations associated with epilepsy. In 1919, Boven [11] 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 [12] 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 [13] 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 [14] 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 [15] 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 [16] 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 Gods 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 [13].

Also, Christensen’s definition of conversion [15] 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 [14] 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 [8], 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 [6], and by Brorson & Brewer in 1988 [7], 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.

The God Module…….

In 2009 Dr Persinger [17], 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) [18] and by Robert Lee Hotz (Seattle Times) [19].

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 quickly discovered that a lot of relevant scientific information was posted on atheist websites, but that’s only because these atheist websites 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 a lot of time having to re-invent the wheel. Anyone thinking that using information posted on atheist websites, automatically biases the results, can always check things out for themselves. Any internet search engine will deliver more than 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 the associated hallucinations, I was inclined to think that Paul did in fact just hallucinate on the road to Damascus. Sometime later, I watched Derren Brown [20], 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 did convince 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 alleged 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.

Christianity Beckons

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 now 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 one apparently intractable problem, namely Paul’s apparent validation of the Jerusalem resurrection in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9. As I’ve already said, nobody in their right mind would accuse Paul of lying, let alone question his integrity, and I was beginning to think I would just have to accept the Gospel claims, even though there appeared to be no independent evidence to support these claims. 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 apparent validation of it in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9.

The Crucial Encounter…

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 claims he didn’t even know Jesus, and he claims he never met Jesus, although he may well 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 CE. 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 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 some three years after his experience on the road to Damascus, and he says he stayed 15 days with Peter and during this stay he claims he met Jesus’ brother James.

However, Paul doesn’t indicate when exactly James was present, or how long he stayed, and he says absolutely nothing about what actually transpired at this meeting. We are just left to infer what happened at this first meeting, and today we now accept the obvious conclusion, namely, that at this meeting, Paul told Peter & James about his meeting with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus three years earlier, and Peter & James, in turn, told Paul about how they had witnessed the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem c 30 CE. We assume Paul knew nothing about this Jerusalem resurrection before he arrived in Jerusalem, and we also assume Paul just accepted Peter & James’ hearsay claims at face value. This would be a perfectly reasonable thing for Paul to do, given his own personal experience on the road to Damascus, and given the status of both Peter & James.

 So, contrary to what I originally thought, Paul’s claims in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9, are not based on actual first-hand knowledge of the Jerusalem resurrection. They are based entirely, on what he learned from Peter & James when they first met in Jerusalem. I later learned that more knowledgeable Christians readily accept this fact. My eventual recognition of the true significance of 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9 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 & James tell Paul that he had been resurrected? Did they just lie to Paul about this resurrection? If so, why did they do it? My investigation was obviously not going any further until I could answer these questions. I needed to explain why Peter & James would deliberately conspire to deceive Paul by lying to him about a Jerusalem resurrection that never happened.

Complex Conspiracy or Simple Interpolation?

Explaining this possible conspiracy proved to be a very intractable problem with no obvious solution, and I was on the point of giving up & accepting I must be wrong, when I suddenly realised that only one thing was dictating my need to consider potential conspiracy theories. This one thing was Paul’s simple claim that he met James whilst staying with Peter.

In Galatians 1: 18-19 Paul specifically states:

“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”.

Casual readers probably wouldn’t attach much significance to that last simple phrase “only James, the Lord’s brother“.  Initially, I thought it was just a simple after thought. However, on further reflection, I realised it was probably one of the most significant phrases in the New Testament, because without it, Paul’s first meeting with Peter reverts to a simple 1:1 meeting without witnesses. This would mean Paul’s entire knowledge of the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem was based on one man’s uncorroborated and unsubstantiated hearsay claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. This uncomfortable fact, if true, would be extremely embarrassing for Christians, and very awkward for Christianity, because it would seriously undermine Christianity’s credentials, and further weaken an already weak orthodox model of Christianity.

This simple phrase “only James, the Lord’s brother” is not only highly significant, it’s also extremely convenient both for Christians and Christianity, so convenient  in fact, that I began to suspect it’s authenticity. On further refection, I eventually concluded that Paul’s claim in Galatians 1: 19 is actually very a surprising claim, given this meeting actually occurred in Jerusalem only 5-6 years after the alleged resurrection of Jesus. According to Christians, this supernatural event was allegedly witnessed by over 500 people, including by Peter, James and the other apostles, and presumably most of these alleged witnesses were still living in Jerusalem at the time of Paul’s visit. Many of these alleged witnesses were also presumably now members of the early Jerusalem church led by Peter & by James. Under these circumstances, it seems incredible that Paul saw no one other than Peter & James during his 15 day stay in Jerusalem. In fact, it seems so incredible, that I began to wonder whether Paul really did see James during his stay with Peter.

If you combine the enormous significance and enormous convenience of that simple phrase “only James, the Lord’s brother” with the ease with which it could have been inserted sometime later, and then add in this surprising lack of visitors throughout Paul’s 15 day stay with Peter, then in my opinion, you have more than enough reason to start questioning the authenticity of this simple phrase, and thus, to start querying James’ presence at this meeting. As it turned out, this speculative interpolation idea is well within the bounds of possibility, because our earliest reasonably complete version of Galatians dates to approximately 200 CE. This leaves 150 years for someone to add a simple interpolation designed to obviate any suggestion that Peter & Paul’s first meeting was a simple 1:1 meeting with no witnesses. There’s already been considerable debate concerning possible interpolations in Galatians 1:19, but so far, this debate has focused entirely on querying the identity of James, rather than questioning his presence at this first meeting. As indicated earlier, it’s obviously not in Christianity’s interest to query James’ presence at this first meeting. Christianity, therefore, has no incentive to recognize this interpolation, and certainly no wish to acknowledge it.

However, the surprising lack of visitors, the transforming nature of that second statement, its extreme convenience and the ease with which it could have been inserted into the text anytime during that 150 year time gap, all suggest this simple phrase “only James, the Lord’s brother” is indeed just a simple interpolation designed to rectify what, for early theologians/scholars, was a very awkward situation. Once this problem was recognised, it was probably only a matter of time before someone was tempted to add this simple interpolation. Having James as a single solitary witness to this first critical meeting in Jerusalem, was obviously not ideal, but it had to do, because restrictions imposed by Paul left them with no choice. Paul had already dictated who witnessed this alleged resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-9.

“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”.

Paul had also specifically stated in Galatians 1: 19 that he met none of these other apostles.

“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“.

Those wishing to engineer this critical interpolation were thus faced with Hobson’s choice. A simple process of elimination left James as the only other potential candidate to “act as a witness” at this crucial meeting. It’s worth noting at this point, that the total absence of visitors, including James, during Paul’s 15 day stay with Peter, is exactly what one would expect following the crucifixion of the historical-Jesus, because in this alternative scenario, there would be no resurrection to witness, and hence no witnesses and no visitors to worry about.

So, to the already existing good reasons for believing it was the historical-Jesus who was crucified in Jerusalem, and to the already existing good reasons for believing Paul just hallucinated on the road to Damascus, we can now add the newly developed equally good reasons for believing Peter and Paul’s first meeting in Jerusalem c 36 CE was a just simple 1:1 meeting without witnesses. Combining all three of these very rational beliefs, with the universal acceptance, that Paul’s entire knowledge of the alleged Jerusalem resurrection was derived directly from Peter at this meeting, leads to a fairly obvious conclusion,namely that Peter must have lied to Paul about this alleged Jerusalem resurrection. Christians howling in protest at this outrageous suggestion should note that we end up with Christianity and the associated New Testament, regardless of the veracity of Peter’s claims. I will revisit and further develop this very contentious statement later.

A Simple Lie that Changed the World

Claiming Peter lied to Paul simply because it was the logical thing to do, was never going to convince Christians. It may be a logical conclusion, given the assembled evidence, but what I needed was evidence to prove Peter lied to Paul. The problem was, there was no evidence he lied. Before sighing with relief, Christians should also note the complete lack of reliable independent evidence to prove Peter didn’t lie to Paul. [I’m ignoring the so called “evidence found in the gospels” for reasons that become apparent later]. For now, I’ll just point out that Christianity takes the alleged Jerusalem resurrection as a given, and then tacitly assumes Peter told the truth. There’s no reliable independent evidence to support this unacknowledged tacit assumption, and most Christians don’t even realise their world view is based entirely on it. This is yet another outrageous claim that I revisit later.

So, let’s return to the current problem, and look at why I think Peter lied to Paul about a Jerusalem resurrection that never happened. Explaining this in a rational manner proved to be yet another tough nut to crack. I obviously needed a simple solid explanation that was both plausible and rational. Eventually I concluded that most lies are triggered by simple self preservation and/or simple personal gain. However, in this particular case, here I was, actually questioning the integrity of one of Jesus’ main apostles, a man regarded by Christians as a paragon of virtue. Obviously my accusing Peter of lying to Paul was never going to end well, but then the penny suddenly dropped yet again. I realised I was making the same mistake everyone makes. I was looking at the situation from the top down instead of from the bottom up. Was Peter really the paragon of virtue portrayed by orthodox Christianity when viewed from the bottom up? Remember, we are now considering events in Jerusalem just three years after Paul’s Damascus road experience, and only 5-6 years after the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem. At this particular point in time, we are not talking about Peter the patron saint of the Roman Catholic Church. We are talking about Peter the Jew, a man living in Jerusalem just a few years after the crucifixion of the historical-Jesus, and a man who believed this Jesus was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. We are in fact talking about an unsophisticated, illiterate, peasant fisherman from Galilee [not derogatory, just fact], someone who had recently been propelled by circumstances, into a position of unexpected power and authority, and who was now probably enjoying 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 thrice 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 yet again unconsciously looking at the problem from the usual top-down perspective, the one everybody automatically defaults to without realising it. This top-down perspective invariably clouds the issue, because it forces one to view things, albeit unconsciously, through the lens of orthodox Christianity. When it finally occurred to me to look at the problem from the bottom-up, things looked quite different. There was Peter, living in Jerusalem only a few years after the crucifixion of the historical-Jesus, one of the patriarchs of the early 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, a lifestyle 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. As in all such circumstances, self preservation would have kicked in immediately, and Peter would have striven to neutralise these threats to his authority and associated lifestyle, and he would have tried to do so without admitting that he knew nothing about a resurrected Jesus. As it turned out, all Peter had to do to neutralise these threats and maintain the status quo, 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 also downgraded Paul’s status, from that of specially chosen one to that of junior partner. Peter’s solution to the potential challenges to his authority and associated life style, was both brilliant in its simplicity, and, under the circumstances, entirely par for the course given his earlier background as a peasant fisherman.

My claim that Peter lied to Paul about the Jerusalem resurrection may be pure speculation on my part, but this speculative claim is completely compatible with all the known facts. We know Paul entered Jerusalem c 35-36 CE believing Jesus had been resurrected on the road to Damascus for his own personal benefit, and we know that 15 days later, he left Jerusalem believing Jesus had also been resurrected in Jerusalem c 30 CE for the benefit of the other apostles and many others. As I implied earlier, it doesn’t matter whether Peter lied about the resurrection in Jerusalem or told the truth. As long as Paul left Jerusalem actually believing Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem then the final outcome is the same either way. Orthodox Christianity never questions the veracity of Peter’s resurrection claims. It just takes the Jerusalem resurrection as a given, and simply takes it for granted that Peter didn’t lie about this alleged resurrection. However, we have nothing that corroborates Peter’s hearsay claims, and there’s no records of what actually transpired at Peter & Paul’s first meeting. Everything pertaining to this critical first meeting in Jerusalem is based entirely on speculative suppositions, be it the orthodox speculative supposition that Peter told the truth about the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem, or be it my alternative unorthodox speculative supposition that he lied about this alleged resurrection.

So was Jesus resurrected in Jerusalem as Peter claimed, or did Peter just lie to Paul? Obviously, I can’t prove my speculative supposition that Peter lied, anymore than Christians can prove their speculative supposition that he didn’t. Nor can I prove my speculative supposition that it was the historical-Jesus who was crucified in Jerusalem, nor my speculative supposition about the lack of witnesses to this critical first meeting in Jerusalem. However, I can point out that all my speculative suppositions are totally compatible with the facts, including the complete lack of any reliable independent evidence supporting Christian claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. Peter’s extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence to back them up, but all Christians offer is the evidence found in the New Testament itself, which I discount as irrelevant for reasons that become apparent later [see the Gospel Period section]. So we are left with a simple choice. We can chose to believe only what can be proved or rationally deduced, or we can chose to believe only what we want to believe.

Those who need to believe Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem [Heart-Christians] will no doubt reject all three of my alternative speculative suppositions out of hand, but those who just think/assume Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem [Head-Christians] may now want to reconsider whether they wish to continue subscribing to a world view that is effectively based on uncorroborated & unverified hearsay claims, made 2000 years ago by a peasant fisherman from Galilee, claims, which Paul simply accepted at face value, because they resonated with his own personal psychotic experience on the road to Damascus. Simply put, Peter convinced Paul that Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem and Paul then convinced the world……….this “Christianity Myth” subsequently proved to be the most successful myth ever created.

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 CE. This brief period, sandwiched as it was between the crucifixion of the historical-Jesus in Jerusalem c 30 CE, and the appearance of the first gospels c 70 CE, can conveniently be called the pre-gospel period.

Orthodox Christianity implies 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. 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 more radical 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 just speculative supposition, based mainly on stories written many years later, although many now chose to assume that these stories are historically accurate. The truth is, we don’t know with any certainty, what actually 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. These stories 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.

Over the last 200 years, this short pre-gospel period has been subjected to extensive and detailed scholastic study,  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 preconceived model of Christianity is the correct one. Many scholastic interpretations have been automatically biased, by the interpreter’s preconceived desires 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 both their rationality and their logic, to be subjugated by their inner need for reassurance that their lives have purpose and meaning.

Conflicting Agendas

Orthodox Christian dogma would have us believe Paul preached the same gospel message as the other twelve Apostles, and also have us believe they were all equally responsible for spreading early Christianity. However, in Galatians 2:1-10 Paul describes his second meeting with other apostles as follows:

“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—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”

In this passage, Paul confirms he met with Peter, James & John and he also implies there were issues concerning circumcision. In Galatians 2: 6 Paul specifically states

As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message”.

In this short verse, Paul is effectively saying “As for those who seemed to be important – all probably circumcised Jews but I don’t care – those men added nothing to my message”.

Christian apologists like Gary Habermas claim that Galatians 2: 6 actually proves Paul and the other Apostles were preaching exactly the same gospel message. According to these apologists, the phrase “those men added nothing to my message” [Habermas actually uses the phrase “they added nothing to me”] means Peter, James & John had nothing new to add to Paul’s message, thus proving Paul was preaching the same gospel as Peter, James & John. However, this interpretation totally ignores the tensions existing between Paul and the other apostles. These tensions relate to differences of opinion concerning the relevance of circumcision and the Jewish law, and they are a common theme running throughout Paul’s epistles.

For example, in Galatians 2:14-16 Paul says

 “When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas [Peter] in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

And later, in Galatians 5:2-6, Paul says

 “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”.

[The term justified, found in both the above passages, refers to a state of being alright in God’s eyes]

And in Philippians 3: 1-3 Paul warns:

 “Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh”.

Other instances confirming these tensions between Paul & the other apostles, include Galatians 2: 1-5, Galatians 3: 1-5, Galatians 3: 11-13, Galatians 3: 23-25, Galatians 5: 11, Galatians 6: 11-15, 1-Corinthians 7: 17-20, Romans 2: 25-27, Titus 1: 10-11 and Titus 3: 8-11. [Titus was one of Paul’s cohorts & Titus is not one of the seven genuine Pauline epistles].

These tensions all point to the existence of essential differences between Paul’s message & the message being preached by the other apostles. Paul had a universal message, which he aimed at Jews & Gentiles alike, and Paul believed Jesus was the son of God, sent to save mankind. The other apostles believed Jesus was the long awaited Jewish Messiah, sent by a Jewish God to save the Jewish people. According to these other Apostles, only circumcised Jews, and those prepared to be circumcised and become Jews, could be saved, and then only if they obeyed the Jewish law.

However, Christian apologists totally ignore these obvious tensions, and they do so because they wants to interpret the phrase “they added nothing to me” as meaning Peter, James & John had nothing new to add to Paul’s message. However, in the light of these tensions between Paul & the other apostles, a more logical interpretation of “they added nothing to me” would be Peter, James & John had nothing relevant to add to Paul’s message. This alternative & more appropriate interpretation of Galatians 2:6 is obviously completely unseen by those blinded by emotional needs to believe the alleged Jerusalem resurrection actually happened. This is not really surprising, because Christian apologists often let their own emotional needs cloud their intellectual objectivity.

Just Simple Arithmetic

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 CE.

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 claims he met Jesus’ brother James. This first visit has already been addressed in more detail in preceding sections.

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 CE, so that Paul could compare notes with Peter, James & John, and discuss  the relevance of both circumcision and the Jewish law. Again this second visit has already been addressed in more detail in  preceding sections.

We know the Council of Jerusalem was convened c 50 CE. 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 CE. We also know that Paul’s conversion experience 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 CE or earlier. We also know that scholars have concluded that Jesus was most probably crucified, either at Easter in 30 CE, or at Easter in 33 CE. A 33 CE crucifixion gives Paul little or no time to persecute followers of Jesus. Therefore, the crucifixion most probably occurred in 30 CE.

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, 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 CE, 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 CE, 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 one 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 CE. 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 Jesus was their 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 people eventually rejected the Messianic Jesus advocated by Peter and the other Apostles. Certainly, all ideas of a Messianic Jesus died out completely shortly after the sacking of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Jews also rejected most of these Apostles, killing some of them off in the process. Others seem to just disappear without trace, leaving behind, nothing, other than a few traditional stories concocted by the early church fathers, to try and explain what happened to them. All this suggests that Peter and the other Apostles died, not as Christians, as orthodox Christianity would have us believe, but as Jews who still believed that Jesus was their Jewish Messiah.

Paul’s radical views about Jesus, and his ideas about the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem, were not well received by his fellow Jews in the Levant. Eventually, therefore, Paul abandoned all hope of converting his fellow Jews, and he took his radical new ideas to the Gentiles in the pagan world. Many in the pagan world were happy to accept Paul’s new message, and Paul eventually managed to seed several early “Christian” communities, all of which were based on Paul’s Christian God concept, and the concept of Jesus as the son of this Christian God. The eventual spread of these new concepts 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 promoting an insignificant mortal Jew called Jesus as the son of God. Unlike the other Apostles, however, Paul’s message was a universal inclusive message, aimed at anyone prepared to accept Jesus as their Lord & Saviour, and anyone prepared to believe that Jesus died for their sins, and was then resurrected to break the power of death, and to offer them a chance of eternal salvation. As far as Paul was concerned, both circumcision and adherence to Judaic Law were totally irrelevant.

After failing  to agree at the Council of Jerusalem c 50 CE, Paul and the other apostles agreed to go their own separate ways, with Peter, James & John continuing to minister unto the Jews, and Paul continuing to minister unto the Gentiles [non-Jews]. This state of affairs continued until Peter and Paul died in the mid 60’s CE. Their deaths marked the end of this short pre-gospel period, and by the time the first gospels started to appear several years later, we can reasonably assume that all relevant individuals associated with early Christianity, including John & Jesus’ brother James,  were dead.

The Gospel Period

I was, by now, firmly of the opinion that Jesus was nothing more than a very popular and very radical Jewish preacher [the historical-Jesus], who was crucified in Jerusalem c 30 CE. Being a mere mortal, he was obviously never resurrected, neither in Jerusalem, nor on the road to Damascus, but I was prepared to accept that Paul really did believe that Jesus had been resurrected, both in Jerusalem as Peter claimed, and on the road to Damascus for his personal benefit. I was also, by now, more or less convinced that Peter lied to Paul about this Jerusalem resurrection, and that he did so simply to preserve his newly acquired position of authority and the associated comfortable life-style.

All very well I thought, but it still didn’t explain why we had four Gospels, each proclaiming that Jesus was in fact resurrected on the third day after his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Was I on the point of suggesting these Gospel claims were false? As far as I could see, there had been many earlier attempts to discredit these New Testament Gospels, but all such attempts had failed close scrutiny, and all such attempts had eventually been dismissed as ludicrous. However, it seemed very strange to me, that these Gospels didn’t appear until after all the main players [Peter, Paul, and James etc] were dead. Why didn’t someone put pen to paper whilst 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 did they wait more than 40 years after the crucifixion, and wait 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 simple –  there was nothing to record. Alright, a radical Jewish trouble-maker called Jesus [the historical-Jesus] was crucified in Jerusalem c 30 CE, 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 40 year gap, from the crucifixion in Jerusalem c 30 CE, to the appearance of the Mark’s Gospel, c 70 CE. 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, nor was he particularly interested in 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? What did he do? etc. etc. and it was the growing need to answer these questions, that first catalysed the appearance of various gospels. The answer to my original question, “why wait 40 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 biographical information about Jesus, was going to require the wholesale fabrication of stories about Jesus’ life and his ministry years prior to his crucifixion. Dr Bob Potter [21] 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 as I was all too aware, all previous suggestions along these lines had been shot down in flames and dismissed as ludicrous, on the grounds 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.

Where There’s a Will…

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 feasible 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. One of these main source 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 [22]. 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 CE, 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 indirectly 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 have been 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. Yet 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). However, at this point, it’s important  to note that the Jewish scriptures make no direct reference to Jesus. Early Christians appear to have simply mangled and twisted passages like Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 53, and Psalm 22 to fit their emerging theology.

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 [22]. 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 distilled by scholars 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 simply combined together during the extraction process.

Because this charismatic historical-Jesus attracted a large Jewish following, 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 both 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.

Why Re-invent the Wheel?

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 CE.  Christians 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 fixedagainst all evidenceas 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”.

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 Paul’s new pagan converts would, therefore, have belonged to a totally different mindset, one that embraced super naturalism on a daily basis, and one that regarded mythical deities, demigods and virgin births etc as normal. Under these circumstances, it was probably inevitable, that some pagan influences spilled over into the still evolving, monotheistic spin-off from Judaism, that we now call Christianity. Apart from anything else, Paul’s newly converted pagans would probably have expected it. They would certainly have been very relaxed about Paul’s claims that a man called Jesus had been resurrected from the dead in far off Jerusalem. There is also a possibility that some of these early pagan converts failed to fully appreciate that Paul’s newly introduced Jesus was suppose to be the son of the one true god, Paul’s god, the Jewish god, soon to be the Christian god. Some new converts may have failed to pick up on this radical new concept, and initially at least, thought he was the son of one of the many deities already inhabiting their pantheistic world. It’s a mute point, and any potential early misunderstandings would soon have been rectified. Paul’s radical new concept of Jesus, as the one and only son of the one and only true god, was certainly well & truly established throughout the Roman empire by 400 CE.

So, to my already existing suppositions, I now felt able to add a another supposition, namely an assertion that all four New Testament gospels were, of necessity, deliberately fabricated by members of Paul’s early Christian communities. How much influence, if any, Mithraism actually did have on the ensuing fabricated Gospels, is debatable, and trying to assess the extent of any pagan influence, 2000 years later, is always going to be difficult. We will never know for sure, how much of fledgling Christianity was actually derived from the already existing pagan rivals, so there will always be a question mark around this issue of pagan influence. Christians maintain Mithraism had zero influence on newly emerging Christianity, and some more desperate Christians, even suggest it was the other way round, but in so doing, they just demonstrate their abject ignorance. However, in my opinion, a certain amount of cross fertilisation of ideas was inevitable. Proving it, however, is another matter entirely. Today, after centuries of cultural brainwashing by the Christian Church, we conveniently forget that, 2000 years ago, Christianity, and what we now call paganism, did actually share a common heritage.

The Canonized Gospel

I was, by now, entirely persuaded that sufficiently motivated, creative writers, who actually believed Jesus was the son of God, would have had little difficulty fabricating suitable stories for the benefit of these newly converted, 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 many fabricated versions were eventually adopted as “official” Gospels, and these eventually ended up in the New Testament. The rest were consigned to the dustbin of history.

This common need to fabricate Jesus’ life-story, explains why the post-resurrection sighting details found in the canonized Gospels are all extremely similar in nature. Of necessity, these alleged post-resurrection sightings were all based on the limited details provided by Paul in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9. This sparse information, all of which originated from Peter, explains why all Gospels portray the resurrection as a near invisible event noticed only by a handful of Jews. The common need to fabricate Jesus’ life-story also explains the diversity of various other details found in each of these fabricated Gospel stories. All Gospels appearing during the gospel-period [c 65 CE-c 100 CE] would have been honest attempts, by leaders of recently converted pagans, to provide 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 their newly converted pagans.

One of the earliest gospels to appear, but not necessarily the first gospel, was The Gospel of Mark (c 65-70 CE). This was an early attempt to establish what would later become orthodox Christian dogma. Mark originally stopped at the empty tomb [Mark 16: 8], but sometime later, for obvious reasons, it was extended  [Mark 16: 9-20] to include various sightings of a resurrected Jesus, and a brief reference to Jesus’ ascension to heaven. This 12-verse add-on [interpolation] 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 two authors knew that their conflicting accounts of the virgin birth, would later appear side by side in the newly canonized New Testament. The potential embarrassment caused by having these two conflicting accounts of Jesus’ birth, was mitigated to some extent, by inserting Mark between Matthew & Luke.

John, the last of the four official Gospels c 95 CE, 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, to break the power of death and to offer mankind a chance of everlasting salvation. John underlines this Lamb of God theme, by having Jesus die on Friday afternoon, the Jewish Day of Preparation, instead of in the early hours of 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. [Please note I have ignored the brief reference to Jesus’ ascension 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 CE, 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 eventually, four of these versions were 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 political wrangling 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 which started in January 2012, when, as an curious agnostic, I attended a Christian sponsored Alpha Course looking for answers. Here I was, two years later, a committed atheist  who was happy to accept that a historical 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 about a resurrected Jesus, 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 CE-c 70 CE] was a period of fluidity and rapid change, during which Jesus’ real identity was hotly disputed. Initially, throughout the pagan world we had Paul’s newly established “early Christian communities” consisting of both Jewish and Gentile followers of a more conventional “Christian Jesus”, and in Jerusalem we had a community of Jewish followers of a “Messianic Jesus”, led by Peter and by James. Over the next few decades, these Jewish followers in Jerusalem gradually realised that Jesus was not their prophesied Jewish Messiah, sent by a Jewish god to save the Jewish people. He fulfilled none of the prophesied criteria, and the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 CE eventually made that abundantly clear. Jesus had already been rejected as a common criminal by most Jews, and eventually he was rejected even by these Jewish Jesus followers.  As these Jewish followers of a Messianic Jesus in Jerusalem gradually died out, and as Paul’s new and more radical notion of Jesus as the son of god, sent to earth to save mankind, gradually filtered back to Jerusalem from Paul’s newly established communities in the pagan world, the early Jewish Jerusalem Church gradually morphed into a more conventional “Christian Church”. This Jewish to Christian transition was probably complete by the end of that first century.  

In the second half of that first century CE, 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. 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 eventually 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 CE, 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 for biblical scholars. New Testament scholars have always placed great store in the apparent age of the documents they study, and some of the earliest extant texts now available, appear to go back to the second century CE. These scholars claim, the fact that even these second century 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 gospel texts written in the second half of the first century.  According to these scholars, if these original texts still portrayed Jesus as the Gospel-Jesus, then in their eyes at least, these original texts would be undeniable proof of Jesus’ true nature.

However, The Christianity Myth scenariopredicates that even these original first century texts, will automatically feature accounts of the alleged resurrection of the Gospel-Jesus, even though it was the historical-Jesus who was actually crucified. Therefore, in my opinion, even finding original first century texts would not 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 stories, fabricated in good faith for very good reasons, that simply record what the authors of these Gospels, genuinely believed happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

Time to Choose – Old or New? 

Before comparing the two alternative models describing how Christianity started, I’d like to point out that these two models of Christianity are not the only models. A small but significant group of intellectuals deny Jesus ever existed. These Jesus deniers [mythicists] have suggested numerous other alternative models, all fairly complex in nature, and all designed to explain the paucity of early contemporaneous data, and to explain the real purpose of the gospels. One of the best Jesus-denier alternatives can be found in a book called Deciphering the Gospels by R.G.Price. These Jesus-denier alternatives are invariably complex in nature, and require a lot of effort to fully understand. My response to them all is simple. Why buy a new wheel, when you can fix the old one?

Now lets look at the “old wheel” before & after fixing. In essence, we just re-interpret the seven basic elements of the 2000 year old orthodox model. This orthodox model of Christianity developed in a pagan world that willingly embraced the supernatural to explain what they couldn’t otherwise explain. Thus it should come as no great surprise that the orthodox model interprets these seven basic elements as follows:

  • 1.The Gospel-Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem.
  • 2. Paul interpreted his conversion experience correctly.
  • 3. Galatians 1:18-19 is totally authentic.
  • 4. Peter did not lie to Paul about the resurrection in Jerusalem.
  • 5. Paul & the other Apostles were all on the same page.
  • 6. The gospel resurrection accounts are all based on Peter’s evidence.
  • 7. The Gospel evidence can be trusted.

Christians should note the following reservations about each of these seven interpretations .

  • 1. There’s no independent evidence to corroborate the resurrection claim.
  • 2. Paul’s self diagnosis is now better explained using our much better understanding of temporal lobe epilepsy [TLE]. Paul’s conversion symptoms are classic symptoms of psychotic episodes triggered by TLE. Paul knew nothing of TLE, but he probably knew about the sacred disease, an unexplained, temporary, physical affliction that triggered religious revelations. Paul thus rationalised his experience as a simple divine intervention.
  • 3. It was definitely not in the church’s interest to question the authenticity of Galatians 1:19.
  • 4. There’s absolutely nothing to corroborate the veracity of Peter’s claims. Paul just accepted Peter’s claims at face value and then relayed these unverified claims to his early Christian communities.
  • 5. The New Testament evidence actually confirms that Paul and the other Apostles were definitely not on the same page. [any apologist claiming they were on the same page is being very economical with the truth]
  • 6. These resurrection accounts are actually based on Peter’s unverified hearsay claims, which Paul then propagated in 1-Corinthians 15:3-9.
  • 7. See comment 6. Linking the  gospel claims to Peter’s claims is necessary to authenticate these gospel claims, but it still doesn’t explain the awkward gospel-gap.

The updated Christianity Myth model re-interprets the seven basic elements of the “old wheel” as follows:

  1. A historical-Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem.
  2. Paul just hallucinated on the road to Damascus.
  3. Galatians 1:18-19 is only partially authentic.
  4. Peter lied to Paul about the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem.
  5. Paul & the other Apostles were not on the same page.
  6. The gospel resurrection accounts are all based on Peter’s lies
  7. The Gospel evidence cannot be trusted.

Christians will obviously reject all seven re-interpretations, but before doing so, they should note that the seven orthodox interpretations they so willingly embrace are also just suppositions that are never acknowledged. All seven re-interpretations defining the Christianity Myth model are acknowledged as logical suppositions. Of necessity, they have to be speculative suppositions, because we are considering events that allegedly happened 2000 years ago, and the available evidence leaves much to be desired. Orthodox Christianity has spent 2000 years trying to convince us otherwise, but we actually know very little about first century Christianity, and much of what we do claim to know, is actually based on a mixture of speculative supposition and wishful thinking.

All seven re-interpretations are fully compatible with the accepted facts, and they eliminate all need for the 2000 year old super natural interpretations. Christians should also note the following:

  1. The first claim is consistent with the very limited available evidence.
  2. The second claim is totally consistent with our current medical knowledge [see above].
  3. The third claim is totally logical and fully compatible with the very unusual circumstances surrounding Peter & Paul’s first meeting in Jerusalem.
  4. The fourth claim is a logical conclusion dictated by the proceeding interpretations.
  5.  The fifth claim is totally consistent with the evidence found in Paul’s Epistles.
  6.  The sixth claim is the logical consequence of proceeding claims.
  7. The seventh claim is logical given the earlier claims. The gospels are fabrications  providing the missing biographical details about Jesus’ life. This simple logical supposition solves the notorious gospel-gap problem.

Hopefully, by now, I’ve demonstrated that the orthodox model and the revised Christianity Myth model are essentially just different versions of the same model, based on different interpretations of the same seven elements. By simply challenging the veracity of the seven original interpretations in the orthodox model, it’s possible to better explain the existence of both  Christianity and the New Testament and do so without recourse to divine interventions. This new re-interpretation of 2000 year old events challenges the very veracity of Christian claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. The Christianity Myth model also highlight the fallacy of a classic argument often used by Christian, namely claiming the resurrection claims in the gospels are true, because Paul validates them in 1-Corinthians 15:3-9.

Orthodoxy’s Shortcomings……

The orthodox model of Christianity may have been a perfectly good model 2000 years ago, in a pagan world defined by it’s acceptance of the supernatural, and in a pagan world lacking our modern understanding of temporal lobe epilepsy, but it’s relevance today is debatable. Close objective scrutiny of this orthodox model of Christianity soon reveals that it has many weaknesses, weaknesses that  demonstrates the 2000 year old orthodox model is not as solid as Christians believe, and certainly not as solid as the orthodox church tries to maintain. This orthodox model still struggles to explain many relevant issues, most of which simply  disappear using the Christianity Myth model. Typical examples of thorny issues for the orthodox model can be found in the following questions:

Why did the world barely notice the alleged resurrection of JesusThis momentous event should have made local headlines at the very least. However, in all four Gospels, the resurrection is portrayed as a near invisible event, noticed only by a handful of Jews, even though it allegedly occurred in a city teeming with 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.

Why is there no reliable independent evidence to support Christianity’s resurrection claims? The short answer is there was no resurrection. Absence of independent evidence is exactly what one would expect if the resurrection never happened. This absence is only a problem for those claiming the resurrection did happen. There is just about enough reliable independent evidence to support the crucifixion claims, but there’s no reliable independent evidence whatsoever to support the resurrection 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, as I’ve said several times before, the only records of the resurrection of Jesus are those found in the New Testament itself.

Why does the Gospel Gap exist? There is a 40-60 year gap between the alleged resurrection c 30 CE and the appearance of the four canonical gospels c 70-90 CE. Explaining this gap has always been a thorny issue for Christians, because their starting point must be the resurrection actually happened. Therefore, logic dictates that someone somewhere should have recorded the alleged event whilst eye witnesses were still around. But they didn’t, and Christian scholars still struggle to explain why several adult generations passed by before the Gospels finally appeared. However, this gospel gap problem is readily explained when your starting-point is the resurrection never happened. No gospels were written c 30-70 CE because there was no resurrection to write about. During this period Paul told his early Christian communities all about the death & resurrection of Jesus, but he told them nothing about Jesus’ life prior to his crucifixion. The gospels simply appeared later c 70-90 CE in response to growing demands to know more about Jesus. This simple & rational explanation of the gospel gap yet again challenges Christian assertions that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem.

Why do the gospel accounts differ? Numerous gospels appeared during the gospel-period. They were produced by various early Christian communities, each seeking to offer a customised solution to the same problem, namely the complete lack of any biographical details about Jesus’ life. The two conflicting accounts of Jesus’ birth, which we find in Matthew and in Luke, were both early attempts to establish Jesus’ true credentials. To do this it was  necessary to satisfy three basic criteria. Jesus had to be born of a virgin to establish his divinity, he had to be born in Bethlehem to fulfil Jewish scripture, and he had to grow up in Nazareth because people knew that was where Jesus originally came from. Both accounts of Jesus’ birth satisfy these three criteria, but unfortunately, at the time of writing, neither author knew their conflicting accounts would eventually form part of what we now call the New Testament. The early Christian church reduced the potential embarrassment of having two conflicting versions of Jesus’ birth by inserting Mark between Matthew and Luke. These days, the two conflicting accounts are homogenized by the church into a single nativity story, a sort of evangelical smoothie, and every Christmas without fail, children of Christian parents are conditioned to accept this composite nativity story without question.

Why were Peter and Paul at odds with one another? They were at odds because they had totally different theological messages, which were 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 CE, 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 did the Jews reject Jesus? Following the crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem c 30 CE, Jews who believed Jesus was their long awaited Messiah gathered together in Jerusalem to form the early “Jerusalem Church”. Over the next few decades, it became increasingly obvious to these Jerusalem Jews that Jesus was not their long awaited Jewish Messiah. He fulfilled none of the scriptural prophecies, and by the time the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple in 70 CE, Jews everywhere had more or less abandoned all belief that Jesus was their Messiah. Jews eventually came to regard Jesus as just another Jewish troublemaker from Galilee who the Roman authorities eventually crucified as a common criminal.

Why did Paul succeed and the other Apostles fail? Paul managed to sell his version of Jesus to the pagan world, because the pagan world was familiar with the resurrection concept, and because nobody in this pagan world had any first-hand knowledge of events in far off Jerusalem. Peter and the other apostles had a far more difficult time selling their Messianic version of Jesus to their fellow Jews, because too many of these Jews believed Jesus was just another Galilean fundamentalist, and they refused to accept him as their long-awaited Messiah.

Why was The Acts of the Apostles written? It was written mainly to record Paul’s journeys and missionary efforts, but it also served another purpose. 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 these failed Apostles. So, another 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. Acts also 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. Not everybody was on the same page in the early stages of Christianity’s development, and views about Jesus differed. The first council, convened by Constantine-1 in 325 CE, was told to rationalise these differences and agree a standard version of Christianity. This first council didn’t get very far with the problem, and it took years of wrangling, and wheeling & dealing, before the dust finally settled on the first authorised canon, depicting what we now call Nicene Christianity.

Given the above reservations and limitations, why don’t we just replace the outmoded orthodox model with the more pragmatic revised model? This is definitely a non runner as far as Christians are concerned, because to do so would automatically mean the terminal demise of Christianity. Two billion Christians would stand to lose everything, and gain nothing in return. However, given the many weaknesses of the orthodox model of Christianity, and its abject failure to answer even basic relevant questions, perhaps the time has now come to discard the old orthodox model and embrace the new revised model. It does after all rectify most, if not all, of the problems associated with the outdated orthodox model. Christians will never do this of course, because it means accepting they are wrong about Jesus. For most Christians, this would definitely be a bridge too far. However, for those able to bring more objectivity and less emotion to the table,  the revised Christianity Myth model  should prove to be intellectually more satisfying .

Journey’s End

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 a few academics studying temporal lobe epilepsy and it’s associated religious experiences. This hallucination idea is not a new idea. It  has been around for many years, but to date it has never been taken seriously. This is partly because academics do not wish to upset the Christian establishment, and partly because the existence of the Gospels couldn’t be explained, other than by assuming divine intervention. Now, however, the situation has changed. There is now a perfectly reasonable and perfectly plausible way of explaining the existence of these Gospels without assuming divine intervention. I’m therefore hoping this hallucination idea will now be 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 question, 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.

At this, the final stage of my journey, I was now firmly of the opinion that fledgling Christianity was just another new pagan religion, just the resulting 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 a little more convincing than the usual claim that 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, resurrections of the dead and ascensions 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 one and only true faith. Obviously these competing belief systems can’t all be right, but they could all be wrong, and probably are.

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 these 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. The existence of said Gospels can now readily be explained, not by divine intervention, and not by conspiracy theories, but by simple deceit and Paul’s understandable failure to recognise said deceit. Several centuries later, four of these fabricated gospels and some of Paul’s Epistles made it into the New Testament.

Consequently, 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 also implies 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.

Centuries of church dogma have elevated the status of Jesus’ Apostles to something verging on sainthood, and according to this dogma, many of these Apostles allegedly died as martyrs. But, contrary to what orthodoxy would have us believe, we actually know very little about these Apostles, and much of what the church claims to know is thought to be dubious. Even Peter’s alleged death in Rome is not backed by reliable evidence. So in actual fact, we don’t actually know, with any certainty, the eventual fate of any of these 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 Apostles 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.

The Spread of Christianity

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 the historical-Jesus 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. According to orthodox Christian dogma, Christianity’s initial success can be attributed to the universal, inclusive nature of the Christian message, and to the effectiveness of Jesus’ Apostles. However, this is only partly correct. Christianity did spread quite rapidly, but only because of Paul’s heroic efforts and 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, namely simple 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 CE, 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 CE, Constantine-1 convened the First Council of Nicaea, and told Christian leaders to sort out the huge diversity associated with early Christianity. In 380 CE, Emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which established Nicene Christianity as the one and only official religion of the Roman Empire and, just to round things off, in 391 CE, 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 CE, 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 start the process of re-inventing itself as 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, during the first half of the first millennium, early Christianity eventually thrived and prospered under Roman patronage, as did the newly formed 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. As the Roman Empire slowly crumbled, Rome’s control of developing Christianity slowly weakened, and by the time the political classes in Rome 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 soon 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 pretty sure that his path has already been well trodden, by other, far more knowledgeable authors. I just touch on these claims, to explain why the ripples from a tiny pebble dropped into a very small pond some 2000 years ago, are still being felt throughout the world today.

This newly formed Roman Church survived the eventual demise of the Roman Empire, and it continued to prosper, remaining paramount until the end of the first millennium. Then, in 1054 CE, increasing theological differences led to an East-West split, and Christianity polarised into the Western Church centered on Rome, and the Eastern Orthodox Church, centred on Constantinople [now Istanbul]. There then followed a long period of expansion and consolidation, which today we can characterise as the Crusade era.  The Crusades were a series of religiously inspired military campaigns, which were carried out against both pagans in Europe, and Muslims in The Holy Land. During this Crusade era, which lasted for several centuries, the Roman [Catholic] Church continued to amass further power and wealth, and alongside this growth in power and wealth came a growth in greed, avarice and corruption. Eventually, in the early sixteenth century, the widespread corruption, now running rampant throughout the Roman Church, precipitated a second major schism. This time it was a North-South divide, and it resulted in the formation of the Protestant Church.

After the Protestant Reformation, Christianity continued to grow, and from time to time it sub-divided and further diversified, as various minority factions split off from larger factions and chose to go their own way. Today there are over 43,000 different denominations of Christianity, ranging from the traditional bells & smells  Christianity found in Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and High Anglican Churches, to the more informal clap-happy Christianity found in the newer Evangelical Churches. The vast majority of these different denominations are small & insignificant branches of Christianity, but, paraphrasing an old cliche, their very existence ensures that there are now plenty of courses for different horses.

And so, against all the odds, something that probably started out as nothing more than a new, and slightly more sophisticated pagan belief system, based entirely on a simple case of mistaken identity, managed to survive and become a major world religion. Today, Christianity has more than 2 billion believers, all of whom still entertain a belief in the super-natural, even in this day and age. However, in the more prosperous and more sophisticated nations, Christianity’s growth has now peaked, and the number of believers in these more developed countries is now in decline. However, Christianity is still thriving and expanding in those parts of the world where poverty and ignorance still prevail. Hopefully, as world living standards and world education standards improve, religions will eventually run out of places to hide.

Post Mortem

It’s now time 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 was socially desirable and what was socially undesirable, and  many offered promises 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 do not claim to be a theologian, nor do I claim to be an historian, and I’m certainly not a biblical scholar. And I never set out to deliberately trash Christianity. I just put first century Christianity under the microscope, and then concluded there was a much simpler way to explain things, one that joined all the dots, dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s, and did so without any need for divine interventions. However, my alternative explanation of first century events is a bit like good old fashioned English Marmite. Some will love it 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 unable to accept 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, the combination of two otherwise mundane events probably produced Christianity and the associated New Testament, without any need for 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, when it comes to first century Christianity, we know very little for certain. 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 for you 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 and thought he saw the resurrected Jesus, then for you, Christianity is just a simple by-product that was produced when this 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”. Both of these new ideas severely challenged prevailing perceived wisdom, but over time, 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. Eventual adaptation is not, therefore, 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 discussed earlier, all 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 unsubstantiated 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 people who grew up with super-naturalism, readily believed that 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 so called 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 unsubstantiated hearsay evidence, based on what Peter told Paul when they first met in Jerusalem c 35-36 CE.

Christians disagree of course. They argue that Paul actually got his knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection from two sources, namely Peter & James, and for proof they cite Paul’s claims in Galatians 1: 18-19 which says:

“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”.

This belated reference to James is very convenient for Christians. Without it Christians would be forced to accept that Paul got his information about the Jerusalem resurrection from a single source. But, as I’ve already pointed out earlier, this stark belated reference to James could simply be an interpolation designed to obviate any suggestion that Paul & Peter’s first meeting was just a simple one to one meeting without witnesses. Obviously I can’t prove this stark reference to James is just a simple interpolation, but the known facts about  Galatians [see Wikipedia citation] are fully compatible with this suggestion, and the idea is well within the bounds of possibility. However, biblical scholars have no incentive to investigate this possibility, because acknowledging this belated reference to James as an interpolation, weakens the orthodox model of Christianity  even further.

Galatians is, in my opinion, the most important Pauline epistle in the New Testament, because Galatians deals with Paul’s movements and his encounters with other apostles. Galatians 2 confirms that Paul met Peter, James & John c 50 CE, and Christian apologists like Gary Habermas claim Galatians 2: 6 proves Paul was preaching exactly the same gospel message as the other apostles. In Galatians 2: 6 Paul specifically states:

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”.

However, as discussed earlier, the critical phrase “those men added nothing to my message” can be interpreted in one of two ways, depending on whether or not you take into account the obvious tensions that existed between Paul and the other apostles. These tensions all point to the existence of essential differences between Paul’s message & the message being preached by the other apostles. Christian apologists choose to totally ignore these tensions, and interpret this critical phrase as meaning Peter, James & John had nothing new to add to Paul’s message, but given the existence of these tensions, a more logical interpretation of this critical phrase would be Peter, James & John had nothing relevant to add to Paul’s message. This more appropriate alternative interpretation is completely unseen [ignored?] by those with emotional needs to believe the alleged Jerusalem resurrection actually happened.

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. Because Christians believe this resurrection actually happened, they never stop to question the veracity of Peter’s original unsubstantiated claims. They simply assume that Peter told the truth about this alleged resurrection, and then they justify their assumption by pointing to their Gospels, claiming they 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 the veracity of Peter’s claims. Christians may claim Peter told the truth, but they can’t prove he told the truth. Nor can they use the Gospels to prove Peter told the truth, because the Gospels don’t corroborate Peter’s unsubstantiated 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 so many biblical scholars, and all Christian apologists, strive desperately to convince us that the 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 unsubstantiated claims. Ironically, however, 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.

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 other 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 at the end of Mark’s Gospel. 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. The last twelve verses [Mark 16: 9-20] were added sometime later, for obvious reasons. However, this fact is now openly acknowledged in the footnotes of many Bibles.

The four Gospels found in the New Testament were written c 65-100 CE, and the dating of these Gospels suggests they were almost certainly written by people who had no first-hand knowledge of events in Jerusalem. Most gospel authors probably weren’t even born when Jesus was crucified c 30 CE. These Gospels contain a lot of hearsay information derived from traditional oral stories about a historical-Jesus. They also contain Paul’s resurrection claims [1-Corinthians 15: 3-8], which were based entirely on Peter’s unsubstantiated 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, and 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 [1], 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 the New Testament claims as fact. Two billion Christians currently make this personal choice to believe the resurrection claims found in the Gospels, but they rarely accept, let alone acknowledge, that it is just a personal choice. But Christians and non-Christians can agree one thing, namely 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. All we know for certain, courtesy of Paul’s Epistles, is that Peter and Paul met in Jerusalem some three years after Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. It is now generally accepted, that this first meeting is where Paul told Peter all about his experience on the road to Damascus, and where Peter in turn, told Paul all about the Jerusalem resurrection. This Peter character is portrayed in the New Testament as a very important Apostle, but in actual fact, he was just an unsophisticated, uneducated peasant fisherman from Galilee, someone 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 would never have happened.

I’m now hoping that some of the more secular biblical scholars will now be tempted to revisit the first century CE, and 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 is nothing more than a simple feasibility study, one designed to demonstrate the fallacy of Christian claims that Jesus was the son of God, who was resurrected from the dead after his crucifixion in Jerusalem. What’s now required, is a more in-depth evaluation of my basic argument, but this re-evaluation can only be done by scholars who can demonstrate both their objectivity and their 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.

Epilogue

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. A reluctant atheist, because knowing this now makes it impossible for me to ever again wrap myself in the Christianity comfort blanket. A more strict definition of my current world view would be reluctant agnostic atheist, because although I’m personally convinced gods don’t exist, I accept that 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. Those who choose emotional satisfaction over intellectual enlightenment are welcome to their self delusional world view. 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.

We now have two different models of how Christianity first started. The orthodox model involves two divine interventions. My slightly different Christianity Myth model involves no divine interventions. Of necessity, both models rely on speculative suppositions, which I openly acknowledge, but Christianity doesn’t. You may find my version of events persuasive, and you may even find it intellectually more satisfying, 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 more 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. However, according to Occam’s razor, whenever there are two or more ways of explaining the same thing, the simplest explanation is usually thought to be the better explanation. Occam’s razor, however, does come with an unspoken caveat. It assumes the relative merits of the competing explanations will be assessed in a purely objective manner. This will prove to be a bridge too far for most Christians, so I’ll leave individual readers to judge which is the simpler, more rational explanation in this particular case. For me personally, it’s a very simple choice because I have no personal inner religious needs to satisfy, and definitely no interest in preserving the religious status quo.

The Christianity Myth model may be built on a more solid foundation, and thus be intellectually more satisfying for some, but it doesn’t cater for the emotional inner needs of those needing to believe in mythical deities. Personally, I’ve always felt you don’t need gods to be good, and I’ve never really understood why some people are attracted to organised religions. However, we are slowly beginning to realise that these needy people are actually biologically hard wired for religion. I have addressed this issue in greater depth in another blog called Religiosity – Biology or Brain washing? I personally seem to have no innate inner need to believe in mythical gods, and thus, like many these days, I seem immune to all religious influences. I just accept the virtues of the Christian ethos, and 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. Given that some people actually feel the need for a friendly deity they can turn to in their hours of need, I now accept that these needy people will never sacrifice their inner needs on the altar of reason.

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”. Today, we now accept that even this more humble position was a vast over statement of our real significance and today’s “known universe” has expanded to mind-numbing proportions. Against this background, 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, the world’s second largest religion, currently boasting 1.7 billion believers. 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 CE, and they continued at random intervals, until Muhammad’s death in 632 CE. Muhammad’s experiences whilst receiving these messages have now been well documented, notably by Ali Sina [23], by M. A. Sherlock [24] and by F. W. Burleigh [25]. These authors demonstrate that Muhammad’s many experiences, spread out over two decades, are not unlike Paul’s single recorded experience on the road to Damascus, and these all too obvious similarities have not gone unnoticed. It cannot be just simple coincidence that both Christianity & Islam now appear to have stemmed from psychotic delusions experienced by specific individuals suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy.

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 Muslims claim, 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. Looking back at history, it’s now possible to see many other such instances that probably resulted from similar experiences, notably Joan of Arc’ visions in 1429 and possibly John Wesley’s Aldergate experience in 1738. Thus, although it now seems very likely, that the origins of both Christianity and Islam can now readily be explained in terms of temporal lobe epilepsy, it will prove very difficult to convince those vested interests wishing to preserve the current status quo. I fully understand the current reticence of relevant members of the medical profession, and their obvious reluctance to stick their heads above the parapet. The Vatican & Islam are both potent forces, & you upset them at your peril, career-wise in the case of the Vatican, life-wise in the case of Islam.

In the meantime, there’s 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  just reflect a pre-existing oral gospel story that only gets written down after Paul’s death. However, in my version of events, Paul does not reflect anything. Instead, he more or less dictated much of the theology that appeared in the many gospel stories formulated after his death. This change in perspective could open the door to an entirely new debate about Paul’s pivotal role as the true father of Christianity.

A Simple Choice…….

The Christianity Myth model may be based entirely on my speculative suppositions, none of which can be proved, but Christians should note the following:

  • all seven of my suppositions are openly acknowledged.
  • all seven of my suppositions are logical suppositions derived from the available evidence.
  • all seven of my suppositions are totally compatible with the know “facts” as we currently understand them.

The orthodox model is based on the following equally speculative suppositions, all of which remain unacknowledged:

  • an unfounded supposition that the Gospel-Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem.
  • an essential automatic supposition that Paul interpreted his conversion experience correctly.
  • a essential automatic supposition that Galatians 1:19 is totally authentic.
  • a essential automatic supposition that Peter did not lie to Paul at that crucial first meeting.
  • a totally unreasonable supposition that Paul & the other Apostles were all on the same page.
  • a wishful thinking supposition that the gospels evidence can be trusted simply because it’s based on Peter’s evidence.

The Christian church never acknowledges the fact that all seven of their basic interpretations are really just necessary suppositions masquerading as fact, and they get away with it, simply because most Christians know absolutely nothing about the actual origins of their faith. This simple fact amply exemplifies why religion and ignorance have always been excellent bed fellows. Those who need religion in their lives will obviously find these revelations shocking. Others will just wonder what all the fuss is about.

Much of what I’ve said about Christians and Christianity can also be said about Muslims and Islam. All religions thrive on poverty and ignorance, and they will continue to do so for some time yet, but hopefully, we are now in the process of turning the corner. Recent medical advances leading to a much better understanding of temporal lobe epilepsy [TLE], and the “religious side effects” associated with TLE, cannot be ignored forever. Hopefully, the ever rising tide of secularism, reinforced by endless sectarian conflict and improved standards of education, will eventually coerce us into discarding all existing 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. Until then, the dual delusions of people-friendly gods and comforting eternal after lives will continue to be passed on from one generation to the next.

As it stands now, I’m prepared to stack the simplicity and pragmatism of the Christianity Myth model against the super-naturalism of the orthodox model offered by the Christian church, and I will continue to do so, until somebody proves to me that the alleged 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, these Gospels are just 2000 year old stories, honestly written, by true believers, for the benefit of Paul’s unsophisticated pagan converts. Today, we would regard these naive ex-pagan converts, as little more than children. Just simple people living in a pagan world riddled with supernatural deities, many of which came and went like whimsical fashions. Christianity has obviously proved itself to be the exception. Nevertheless, the roots of Christianity are still steeped in the rampant supernatural beliefs of a pagan world long forgotten .

Christianity’s Achilles Heel……

The far more rational Christianity Myth model exposes a fundamental flaw in the orthodox model, one that could eventually prove fatal, if knowledge of its existence becomes widespread. Given the vast amount of intellectual energy already spent examining this orthodox model, I’m somewhat surprise that this potentially fatal flaw has remained undetected and unacknowledged for so long. This fundamental flaw is Christianity’s Achilles heel, and it provides non-theists/atheists with a rational new argument that destroys claims made by Christian apologists like the renown Gary Habermas. I personally think apologists will find it impossible to refute this simple argument It requires no real knowledge of the origins of Christianity. All it requires is a basic appreciation of Habermas’ argument, and an awareness that the resurrection claims made by Peter at that first crucial meeting with Paul c 36 CE are still uncorroborated claims that have never been verified.

Habermas has already done all the necessary preliminary heavy lifting. He’s gone to great lengths to establish that all resurrection accounts found in the gospels can be trusted, because they’re all based on what Peter told Paul at their crucial first meeting c 36 CE. For obvious reasons, Habermas doesn’t bother to mention that Peter’s resurrection claims have never been independently corroborated and they are still just Peter’s unverified claims. This opens the door to the Achilles heel counter claim, because it’s now possible to suggest that these resurrection accounts could just as easily be based on Peter’s lies. This simple counter assertion is totally compatible with the available evidence, and it should stop Christian proselytisers in their tracks. It can be used every time Christian apologists claim the resurrection evidence in the gospel can be trusted.

Habermas and other apologists seem totally unaware of this potentially fatal, fundamental flaw in their orthodox model. This Achilles heel argument has the potential  to be a game changing argument, but it will remain a totally ineffective argument if it fails to gain traction in the real world. Unfortunately, we live in a world where banal drivel and various other forms of click bait go viral in no time, but anything requiring a little effort never gets off the ground. If you think this simple Achilles heel argument deserves wider dissemination to fellow atheist/non-theist, then please feel free to re-blog this highly contentious blog and/or to advertise it on your social media platforms. Simply post the following URL link on the appropriate social media platform, preferably with a positive recommendation.

https://keebostick.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/godless-christianity/

Finally, the Duke of Wellington once said “Publish and be damned”. Well, I have published, and I probably will be damned, but in my case, only by a few upset theists. Nevertheless, 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 through life completely unnoticed.

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References

[1] Jesus Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman, Published in 2010 by Harper Collins     [ISBN 978-0-06-117394-3]

[2] A Guide to the Bible by Alice Parmelee, Published in 1951 by English Universities Press Ltd

[3] A History of Christianity by Paul Johnson First Published in 1976, Republished by Peregrine Books in 1978

[4] Nothing but the Truth by Brian H Edwards Published in 2006 by Evangelical Press [ISBN 0-85234-614-X]

[5] Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity by Paul Barnett Published in 1999 by Inter Varsity Press [ISBN 979-0-8308-2699-5]

[6] Landsborough D, St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1987 Jun; 50(6):659-64.

[7] Brorson J R & Brewer K, St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1988 Jun; 51(6):886-7.

[8] Dewhurst K & Beard A W, Sudden religious conversions in temporal lobe epilepsy, British Journal of Psychiatry 1970: 117: 497–507.

[9] Howden J C, The religious sentiments in epileptic, J Ment Sci 1872; 18: 491–7.

[10] Mabille H, Hallucinations religieuses et d_elire religieux transitore dan l’epilepsie. Ann M_edicopsychol 1899: 9–10: 76–81.

[11] Boven W, Religiosite et _epilepsie. Schweiz Arch f Neurol u Psychiat 1919: 4: 153–69.

[12] Karagulla S & Robertson E E, Physical phenomena in temporal lobe epilepsy and the psychoses. Brit Med J 1955: 748–52.

[13]  Beard A W, The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy. Brit J Psychiat 1963: 109: 113–29.

[14]  Slater E & Beard A W, The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy. Brit J Psychiat 1963:109: 5–112 & 143–50.

[15]  Christensen C, Religious conversion. Arch Gen Psychiat 1963: 9: 207–16.

[16]  Sedman G, Being an epileptic: a phenomenological study of epileptic experiences. Psychiat Neurol 1966: 152:1–16.

[17]  Persinger M, 2009, Are our brains structured to avoid refutations of belief in God? An experimental study. Religion, 39(1): 34-42].

[18]  Steve Connor, Los Angeles Times, Wednesday 29 October 1997

[19]  Robert Lee Hotz, via Seattle Times, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1997

[20]  Derren Brown featured in Online ITV Channel 4 program

[21]  Dr Bob Potter, http://ed5015.tripod.com/BJesusHistoryAndTruth147.html

[22]  The Q Gospel, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_source

[23]  Ali Sina, Muhammad and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE)

[24]  M. A. Sherlock, Did the ‘Prophet’ Muhammad Suffer from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy?

[25]  F. W. Burleigh, Was Muhammad an Epileptic?

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Part 3: Christianity’s Achilles Heel

The Christian claim that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem is one of the central tenets of Christianity. If you ask a Christian why they believe Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem they will usually tell you because it says so in the Bible. Ask them why it says so in the Bible, and they will usually tell you because he was resurrected in Jerusalem. Most Christians fail to see the fallacy of this simple circular argument. They also fail to appreciate that the only evidence supporting this Christian claim is that found in the New Testament itself. This New Testament evidence consists of four independent Gospels, all of which claim Jesus was resurrected after his crucifixion in Jerusalem.

But who wrote these Gospels, and when, and why is this momentous event portrayed in these Gospels as a near invisible event noticed only by a handful of Jews? In short, was Jesus really resurrected in Jerusalem? Can these Gospel accounts be believed? Christian scholars claim these Gospels can be believed, because they are historically accurate eye witness accounts. But are they really eye witness accounts that can be trusted? There is still great uncertainty around this issue, because scholars still contest both the authorship of the Gospels and the actual dating of these Gospels. Mark, the earliest of the four Gospels is generally thought to be dated c 65-75 AD, Matthew & Luke c 75-85 AD and John is thought to be dated c 90-95 AD. Many scholars therefore suggest the Gospels are second-hand hearsay accounts written by unknown authors well after the death of all concerned.

Obviously, nobody can be absolutely certain about any of this, including the dating of these Gospels, and Christian apologists often exploit this uncertainty. A classic example can be found on page 165 of Jim Wallace’s book Cold Case Christianity. Here, Wallace tries to prove that Luke’s Gospel is a very early eye witness account. He does so by first comparing two almost identical accounts of the Eucharist [Lord’s Supper], one in Luke’s Gospel, the other in 1-Corinthians, and then he claims that Paul must have copied an earlier Luke, thus implying that Luke was written quite soon after the crucifixion. Wallace totally ignores mainstream opinion that Paul had died well before Luke was written, and thus Luke must have copied Paul. Apologists get away with this sort of thing all the time because their readers don’t recognize when they are being duped.

The consensus view of the Gospel’s dates suggests the Gospel accounts of the resurrection in Jerusalem are second-hand hearsay accounts rather than first-hand eye witness accounts. We thus need to ascertain the origin of these resurrection accounts. This is not as difficult as it may seem. The Gospel authors obviously learned about the Jerusalem resurrection from Paul [1-Corinthians 15: 3-9] and Paul in turn obviously learned about the Jerusalem resurrection from Peter, when they first met in Jerusalem some three years after Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Thus Peter simply told Paul all about the resurrection when they first met in Jerusalem. Paul then simply passed on this good news to his early Christian communities, and hence to the Gospel authors. The Gospel authors then immortalized in their Gospels what Peter had told Paul about the resurrection .

This chain of events implies the resurrection accounts found in the Gospel are second-hand hearsay accounts, rather than first-hand eye witness accounts. “So what?” I hear Christians say. “Peter actually witnessed the resurrection, and both his and Paul’s credentials are impeccable. So effectively, the Gospel accounts of the Jerusalem resurrection are as close to being eye witness accounts as makes no difference”.

This is essentially the argument used by Habermas, a noted Christian scholar & apologist. In the video below, Habermas claims that we can believe the resurrection claims in the gospels because they are based on claims made by a very reliable eye witness [Peter] that are then relayed to the gospel authors via a very reliable intermediary [Paul].

Given the actual dating of the gospels, the chain of events suggested by Habermas is probably true, but what Habermas never addresses is the veracity of Peter’s original claims.  Because he believes the resurrection happened, Habermas tacitly assumes Peter told the truth. He has no choice because there is no other independent evidence available to verify the veracity of Peter’s claims. Peter’s claims are in fact both unsubstantiated claims & unverifiable claims.

So what if the resurrection  never happened? What if Peter simply lied to Paul about this Jerusalem resurrection? All Christian claims that the Gospels really are eye witness accounts, are thus based entirely on two tacit assumptions, the tacit assumption that the resurrection actually happened, and the tacit assumption that Peter told Paul the truth.  These tacit assumptions are Christianity’s unacknowledged Achilles heel. If there was no Jerusalem resurrection, and Peter simply lied to Paul when they first met, then Paul would never know Peter lied. Paul would, unknowingly, simply propagate Peter’s lies, and the Gospel authors would then,unknowingly, simply immortalize Peter’s lies in the ensuing Gospels.

So, simply by making two reasonable assumptions, one that the Gospels were written after the death of all concerned , and the other that Peter lied to Paul about the Jerusalem resurrection, it is possible to deny the resurrection and still explain the Gospel claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. All the other basic facts remain unchanged. Paul is still converted on the road to Damascus. Paul still visits Peter three years after this experience. Paul still leaves Jerusalem believing that Jesus is the son of God, and with his belief now turbo-charged by Peter’s news that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. Paul still passes on the good news to his early Christian communities. The unknown Gospel authors still propagate the good news in the ensuing Gospels and we still end up with Christianity and a New Testament. However,in this scenario, there is no need for any resurrection in Jerusalem.

Of course this is all pure speculation on my part, because we can never know for certain if Peter lied to Paul about the Jerusalem resurrection. However, this scenario  does better explain the known facts, and it does so without affecting the final outcome. My scenario not only explains the total lack of independent corroboration of this resurrection. It also explains the need to forge an entry in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. It also explains what Christians always fail to explain, namely why the alleged resurrection is portrayed in the Gospels as a near invisible event noticed only by a handful of Jews, despite the fact the resurrection allegedly occurred in a Jerusalem teeming with Jews. This is because the Gospel authors could only propagate in the Gospels what Paul told them when he established his early Christian communities. Paul summarizes this in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9.

517IsBb0cZL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Thus, the proper answer to the second question posed at the beginning of this post is

“Because Peter said Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem”

Christians tacitly assume Peter told the truth about the Jerusalem resurrection, but in The Christianity Myth, I assume Peter lied . If you want to know why Peter lied, you’ll have to read the book.

 

Click here to read it free of charge

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Part 2: Is Christianity Just a Simple Misunderstanding?

A central tenet of Christianity is the Christian claim that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. The only evidence supporting this claim is the evidence found in the New Testament itself. Many people have questioned the veracity of this evidence, and from time to time, various theories have been forwarded by disbelievers attempting to offer more rational explanations. At the very least, any credible alternative explanation had to account for the existence of four independent Gospels, each of which proclaimed Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. It also had to account for the Gospel claims that various people then saw this resurrected Jesus.

In 1950, Professor Sir Norman Andersen published “The Evidence for the Resurrection”. Even today this book is still one of the most definitive books ever published in defense of the Jerusalem resurrection. Andersen systematically examines each of the alternative theories offer by disbelievers and, after pointing out their various weaknesses, he systematically rejects them, leaving the orthodox Christian version of events as the one and only legitimate explanation. Andersen also states in this book that “Easter is not primarily a comfort, but a challenge. Its message is either the supreme fact in history or else a gigantic hoax”. But Anderson’s book fails to consider a third far more plausible alternative, namely that everything stems from an honest to goodness mistake, made 2000 years ago by a man on the road to Damascus.

Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus is portrayed in the New Testament as a divine revelation which leaves Paul believing he had met with the resurrected Jesus. Paul’s interpretation of his experience is not surprising, because 2000 years ago, Paul lived in a pantheistic pagan world, and miracles and super-naturalism were part and parcel of his everyday life. It was therefore perfectly natural for Paul to rationalize his experience on the road to Damascus as best he could, in terms that were then culturally acceptable.

But Paul’s world was oblivious of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy or TLE for short. In more recent years, many have pointed out that Paul’s symptoms, as described in the New Testament, are very similar to the symptoms of TLE, and some have even suggested that Paul may have just hallucinated on the road to Damascus following an attack of TLE. This fairly common form of epilepsy is caused by localised seizures in the temporal lobe region of the brain, and today’s scientific literature contains many reports of experiences similar to Paul experience on the road to Damascus. Even today, those experiencing these temporal lobe aberrations are always totally convinced that their hallucinations are real.

This hallucination idea therefore offers us a very plausible, alternative explanation of what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus, but expecting Christians to educate themselves about TLE is a bit like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas. The scientific evidence, however, is pretty conclusive, and in my opinion, it suggests that Christianity is just a simple by-product that was produced because Paul misinterpreted a simple hallucination as a divine revelation. If a simple TLE induced hallucination hadn’t converted Paul on the road to Damascus, then he would never have visited Peter in Jerusalem and Christianity would never have seen the light of day.

After dismissing all existing alternative theories as non-viable, Andersen outlined the requirements needed for any alternative theory to be both plausible and viable. He conceded that “when trying to refute this resurrection, the only rationalistic interpretations of any weight, are those that admit the sincerity of the records, but try to explain them without recourse to the miraculous”. This is precisely what The Christianity Myth now does. It refutes the resurrection and it offers a more rational interpretation of events that admits the sincerity of the records and explains the records in a very sympathetic manner without recourse to the miraculous. And, for the first time ever, The Christianity Myth explains why we have four Gospels proclaiming a Jerusalem resurrection that never actually happened.

517IsBb0cZL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_If you want to know more you’ll have to read my book.

Click here to read book free of charge

click here to return to main blog.