Did the historical Jesus exist?

If Jesus existed as a human being and did so many amazing things, surely somebody at the time would have written about him? Well, actually, no. The first time Jesus is mentioned outside the Bible is sixty years after he supposedly died.

By then, Paul had already spread the myth of a Jesus that he himself had never met, and the first gospels may have already been written. After these sixty years of silence, there are five ‘early’ independent reports that Christians most often quote:

  • A discredited fourth-century attempt to insert Christian propaganda into a first-century history book.
  • A passing second-century reference to the death of Christ, which gets Pontius Pilate’s job title wrong.
  • Two uncontroversial second-century records of the existence of Christians in Rome and Asia Minor.
  • A claim, made in the ninth century, that somebody else wrote, in the third century, about somebody else writing about a solar eclipse in a lost first-century document.

There is no independent record, in all of recorded history, of any of the following: his alleged bloodline from Abraham and David, his alleged virgin birth, his parent’s alleged flight from Herod, his alleged baptism by John the Dipper, his alleged preaching to large multitudes, his alleged miracles (walking on water, reviving corpses etc), the nature of his alleged trial or death, or his alleged return from being dead to being alive again.

Chronologically, these claims are:

  • Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, in his Jewish Antiquities of 93 ad.
  • Gaius Tacitus, a Roman historian, in his Annals of about 110 ad.
  • Pliny the Younger, a Roman Governor, in his Letters of about 110 ad.
  • Suetonius, a Roman historian, in his Lives of the Caesars of about 120 ad.
  • Thallus, a first century historian, in an allegedly lost undated document.

1. Flavius Josephus

Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, in his Jewish Antiquities of 93 ad, was the first independent historian to refer to the existence of Jesus. Josephus was a thirty-year-old Jewish rebel during the revolt of 66 ad who miraculously survived a suicide pact among his troops, then switched sides and became a Roman citizen. In 93 ad he published the Jewish Antiquities, a twenty-book history of the Jews. This allegedly contained this reference to Jesus:

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.

Aside from not being contemporaneous, Jesus-mythologists have noted that this reference is weighted down with alarm bells.

  • Josephus was a Jew, writing a Jewish history. He would never have called Jesus ‘the Christ’.
  • This remarkable claim, which would have been great propaganda for early church leaders, seems to have gone unnoticed for nearly a quarter of a millennium.
  • As late as 230 ad, Origen, one of the fathers of the church, was unaware of the claim; indeed he denied that Josephus believed Jesus was the Christ.
  • It was 324 ad before Bishop Eusebius became the first person to quote this passage. Incidentally, this is the same Bishop who took another passage from Josephus, in which an owl appeared over King Herod’s head, and rewrote the owl as an angel.
  • Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that ‘the passage seems to suffer from repeated interpolations.’ Top marks to whoever decided to use the word ‘interpolation’ as a euphemism for forgery.

Some Jesus mythologists believe that Christians ‘interpolated’ (great word!) all of this passage, as it seems to interrupt the flow of the narrative before and after it.

Another theory is that Josephus may have mentioned Jesus by quoting, more rationally, some extracts from an earlier document, and Christians later ‘interpolated’ (swoon!) all of the propaganda about Jesus being divine. On balance, I believe that something like this probably happened. This would be consistent with a later, shorter reference in the same book to James as being ‘the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ’, although even here it is unusual to see a person named by reference to his brother rather than his father.

The Catholic Encyclopedia concludes simply of the controversies that

The difficulty has not been definitively settled.

That is hardly a ringing endorsement of what is supposed to be the first independent historical record of Jesus.

2. Gaius Tacitus

A second independent record of Jesus was written about 110 AD. Gaius Tacitus was a Roman Consul who turned his attention to writing in his forties. His first major work, the Histories, was written around 105 ad. It chronicled the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Roman Empire during the final third of the first century.

His second major work, the Annals, was published about five years later. It covered the quarter century leading up to the Flavian dynasty, from the death of Augustus Caesar to the suicide of Nero. Here’s what Tacitus had to say about Jesus in the context of the spread of Christianity, and the burning of Rome, in 64 AD:

Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.

Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.

Jesus-mythologists have noted these points about this record:

  • Though somewhat overshadowed by the unpleasant nature of Nero, this does suggest that a person known as Christus once existed. Tacitus was a disciplined historian, and is likely to have satisfied himself that what he wrote was accurate. Despite this, the claim has been challenged on various grounds.
  • It is far from contemporaneous, being written almost eighty years after the supposed event.
  • It is merely a passing reference while discussing something else, to explain how the Christians got their name.
  • Tacitus did not base the reference on official records as, if they had existed, they would have called the victim Jesus and given Pilate his proper title of prelate.

3. Pliny the Younger

A third independent record of Jesus was written in about 110 AD. Pliny the Younger was a Roman politician who published ten books of his Letters. One was written around 110 ad, when Pliny, in his late forties, was Governor of a Roman Province in what today is Turkey. Pliny was seeking the advice of the Roman Emperor Trajan on how to deal with people brought before him accused of the ‘contagious superstition’ of Christianity. He wrote that:

They affirmed the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they met on a stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal.

From this custom, however, they desisted after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your commands, I forbade the meeting of any assemblies. After receiving this account, I judged it so much the more necessary to endeavour to extort the real truth, by putting two female slaves to the torture, who were said to officiate in their religious rites: but all I could discover was evidence of an absurd and extravagant superstition. I deemed it expedient, therefore, to adjourn all further proceedings, in order to consult you.

Jesus-mythologists have noted two points about this record:

  • The letter refers to the spread of Christianity eighty years after the supposed death of Jesus, not to the historical accuracy of Jesus as a person. As an aside, it is interesting that women officiated at the Christian rites.
  • Also, this is not a major issue for Pliny: it is among a series of letters to the Emperor raising minor administrative queries, like prize moneys for athletes and freedoms of the city.

Trajan’s reply certainly showed no major concern about the spread of Christianity:

You have adopted the right course in investigating the charges against the Christians who were brought before you. It is not possible to lay down any general rule for all such cases. Do not go out of your way to look for them. If indeed they should be brought before you, and the crime is proved, they must be punished; with the restriction, however, that where the party denies he is a Christian, and shall make it evident that he is not, by invoking our gods, let him (notwithstanding any former suspicion) be pardoned upon his repentance. Anonymous informations ought not to he received in any sort of prosecution. It is introducing a very dangerous precedent, and is quite foreign to the spirit of our age.

4. Gaius Suetonius

A fourth independent record of the possible existence of Jesus was written in about 120 AD by Gaius Suetonius, who was a Roman historian who worked for Pliny and various Emperors. His many works ranged from the academic Grammatical Problems and Lives of the Grammarians to the more populist Greek Terms of Abuse and Lives of Famous Whores.

In about 120 ad, in his major work, Lives of the Caesars, he says of the Emperor Claudius that:

As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.

Now, Chrestus may be a misspelling of Christus, but it is also the correct Latin version of a different Greek name. So this passage means one of two things: either

  • There were Christians in Rome at the time of Claudius, causing trouble in the name of their Christ, whose name was misspelled by an expert in linguistics; or
  • There was a Jew in Rome called Chrestus, directly causing trouble.

Either way, the passage proves nothing about the historical accuracy of Jesus as a person.

5. Thallus

This is the weakest claim by far. George Syncellus, a ninth-century Christian, was writing about the gospel story that the earth went dark when Jesus died. He quoted Julian Africanus, a third-century Christian, as having written:

Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the Sun in the third book of his Histories.

Thallus was a pagan historian who lived in either the first or second century ad. But there are three problems with this claim:

  • The alleged original document does not exist.
  • Nobody else who quoted Thallus before the ninth century had ever mentioned this.
  • Even if Thallus had said this, his alleged quote does not even mention Jesus.

Surely an all-powerful God could have inspired his defenders to come up with a better argument than this?

Conclusions
Taking all of the five references together, the most that can be said about the life of Jesus is this.

  • During the reign of Tiberius, Pontius Pilate may have executed a criminal called Jesus. I believe that this probably happened; Jesus was a common name and the Romans executed many criminals.
  • If he existed, this Jesus was not a major figure, as nobody other than his followers wrote about him for over half a century.
  • Whether or not he existed, his name became the symbol of a religious movement that spread to at least Rome and Asia Minor.
  • There is no independent record, in all of recorded history, of any of the following: his alleged bloodline from Abraham and David, his alleged virgin birth, his parent’s alleged flight from Herod, his alleged baptism by John the Dipper, his alleged preaching to large multitudes, his alleged miracles (walking on water, reviving corpses etc), the nature of his trial or his death, or his alleged return from being dead to being alive again.
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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Declan Chellar July 1, 2008 at 10:29 am

Interesting article, Michael.

I eventually opted for a classical education at university and I learned there that the best evidence you can get is a combination of non-partisan contemporary literary sources and archaeological artefacts. In the case of Jesus, a Roman coin depicting his execution alongside Pontius Pilate’s personal journal would be ideal.

However, no such evidence exists.

I also learned that in the case of major figures and major events, one can infer from the absence of evidence that the figure never existed or the event never took place.

Of course, Christians have no need of evidence because they have faith. Until of course, they think they have found a piece of evidence, then faith takes a back seat for a while.

I don’t think I have ever given much thought to whether Jesus actually existed, because even if he did he was just another person, in my opinion.

One thing that has intrigued me for quite a while, though, is the notion that he was crucified by the Romans. The Romans reserved crucifixion for certain crimes; treason, piracy, slave revolt and the like. In other words, for people they really, really did not like.

According to Luke 23:13-16, however: 13 Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, 14 said to them, “You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; 15 no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him. 16 I will therefore chastise Him and release Him”

Those words are inconsistent with the fact that Pilate then chose to have Jesus crucified.

This leaves four options, as I see it:
1. That was indeed Pilate’s view and Jesus was not crucified but executed in some less dramatic manner.
2. That was indeed Pilate’s view and Jesus was not executed at all (Oops! I’ll be accused of being a Merovingian heretic next).
3. Jesus was indeed crucified for heinous crimes against the Roman state (such as rebellion) and Luke got it wrong.
4. Jesus never existed and the whole thing was made up.

Certainly, if Jesus did exist and he was famous locally for his miracles and he was (in Roman eyes) deserving of crucifixion, you would have expected Pilate to greet him along the lines of “So you are the famous miracle worker who has been fomenting rebellion against Rome!” But, according to the bible, his reaction was more like: “So who are you and why are you here?”

I don’t have any problem with people having religious beliefs, but those beliefs are supposed to be about Truth. Yet, believers trot out inconsistency after inconsistency and call it Truth. That’s what irritates me.

2 Michael Nugent July 3, 2008 at 12:26 am

Yes, Declan, the crucifixion scenes have quite a few holes in the plot. As well as internal inconsistencies, some of the gospels have Jesus crucified beside two thieves – as you have mentioned, the Romans did not crucify thieves. The gospels are littered with similar internal and historical mistakes.

What seems most likely to me is that Paul and other early Christian writers invented the Jesus legend based on a combination of

(a) exaggerated stories about various different preachers and social activists who did exist (one of whom may well have been called Jesus), plus

(b) archetypal storylines and scenes from the legends of other gods that people believed in at the time, such as the Persian sun-god Mithra.

Then, as time went on, the early Christian religion borrowed more stories and rituals from pagan and other beliefs to make it easier for people to convert.

In fairness to them, they have done a pretty good job of spreading these beliefs, in the face of competing beliefs from other religions, over the centuries.

3 Declan Chellar July 3, 2008 at 9:03 am

When I was at university, I had a Chinese friend who taught Kung Fu. In his club back home, he was considered a junior instructor, but in Ireland he was considered something amazing.

Anyway, within months of his starting classes at UCD, stories were going round that he could throw chopsticks and coins that would penetrate concrete walls. There was no basis for these rumours. I knew him well and he didn’t practice or teach the use of chopsticks or coins as weapons.

So if such rumours could arise out of nothing and be taken as truth among supposedly rational thinkers in the 20th Century, how much easier must it have been to spread stories about miracles 2,000 years ago?

There is never a shortage of people who are desperate to believe in the extraordinary.

4 Peter Mooney July 4, 2008 at 1:41 pm

Guys you miss the point and are giving ammo to those who believe in fairies. The gospels are historical documents though not necessarily giving an accurate historical account.

It is hard to accept that Christianity could have flourished in the early years without some basis in reality (whatever that was). Josephus does make a reference (disputed) to Jesus.

The important point is not whether the historical Jesus existed but did the Jesus of the Gospels exist. The answer is undoubtably NO.

The problem is not Jesus’ existence but the faith that is put in books that are mostly works of fiction. The Council of Nicea 325AD decided that the current editions were the only true ones by putting all the books giving an account of the life of Jesus into a room overnight and allowing god to put his favourite four (why four?) on top.

There are loads of accounts of the life of Jesus and what matters is not whether we can establish whether or not he existed, but that all the accounts of his life are as factual as the DaVinci Code.

5 Declan Chellar July 4, 2008 at 4:42 pm

Peter, I don’t think I was saying that the Jesus of the gospels is a complete fiction, nor that the gospels are not historical documents.

In my comment above, I didn’t say “one must infer from the absence of evidence that the figure never existed or the event never took place”, I said “one can infer..”.

Some theists compare the historical evidence for the existence of Alexander the Great with that of Jesus. The earliest known history of Alexander the Great was written by Plutarch around four hundreds years after Alexander’s death, yet people don’t doubt he existed. Therefore, some Christians say, Jesus existed.

However, when reading about Alexander the Great, a trained historian doesn’t take what was written as, well, gospel. What’s more, there is some archaeological evidence for the existence of Alexander the Great.

I don’t doubt that the gospels are based on a real person, but the stories are wildly inconsistent. That’s all I was really saying.

6 Peter Mooney July 7, 2008 at 10:34 am

Declan, I take your point about the inconsistencies of the Gospels but that has never been a problem for believers. They have ‘faith’ in the books of the old and new testament.

In the case of the new testament there are many more books giving accounts of the life and times of Jesus. A real question for believers is why don’t you ‘believe’ in these other books. However, most believers haven’t even heard of the apocryphal gospels.

Religious authorities are quite happy to infantilise their followers and don’t want any historical enquiry (outside academic circles) into the origins of Christianity as it would throw up so many unanswerable questions, but really if anyone wants to wean people off such beliefs then raise questions about the validity and exclusivity of the Four Gospels.

7 Chris September 24, 2008 at 5:23 pm

Hello Michael

I wrote a less-well-researched piece on the same subject here:

http://whateveryourethinkingyourewrong.blogspot.com/2008/08/wrong-jesus-definitely-existed.html

Yours is the better piece, but mine features Jesus’ grave in Japan, which you may find interesting.

8 John McDermott October 12, 2008 at 9:15 am

Hi Michael,
it is a shame you are winding down your Fianna Fail corruption exposure site.Such sites are needed now more than ever as the nation is awakening to the huge confidence trick that was the “national suicidal” act of re-electing them, in recent decades.
Unhappy their principal opponents are little more than the other side of a bad penny-tought shit-tough times coming for good people in Ireland.
however I will say that I believe your level of happiness will only increase in this world if you follow the words of eternal life which Jesus preached in his lifetime.
If he has the key to what passes for happiness here on Earth-surely he has the answer to all our prayers when we pass from this dark cave,in which each soul is strangely imprisoned, for a brief moment in time; into real Life in Heaven.
“Who will deliver us from the body of this death”
“Death is not the end of the life, rather it is extinguishing the candle-because morning has come”

9 Mr Ian Maclean October 31, 2008 at 9:59 pm

Nice theory but one major mistake. The Romans were meticulous record keepers and since Palestine was under Roman occupation there are numerous accounts of him especially when in contact with the authorities during his crucifixion. Jesus was a living breathing man, no doubt. What I as an atheist dispute is that he was not Divine, not the son of ‘god’, but the leader of a cult/sect of Judaism. Christianity’s rise to such prominence in world history is quite astonishing considering its obscure genesis.

10 abucs November 11, 2008 at 5:41 am

The claims of Christianity are some of the most well attested claims as far as ancient historical claims go.

Of course if you take out all of the ones considered ‘friendly’, and believe that all the unfriendly sources have been created by fraud – it is not surprising you are going to end up with nothing.

Then it’s quite simple to convince yourself on how rational you are being.

11 Michael Nugent November 11, 2008 at 12:18 pm

Ian, thanks for that.

Can you please let me know where I can find any of these contemporaneous Roman records of Jesus?

I have not seen any reference to them, including in articles defending the historical existence of Jesus.

12 Michael Nugent November 11, 2008 at 5:44 pm

abucs, I have not concluded that Jesus did not exist.

I am just examining the independent evidence that is cited most often by Christians. I have concluded that most of one claim was created by fraud, one claim suggests that someone known as Christus did exist, and three claims are not even claims about the existence of Jesus.

What seems most likely to me is that Paul and other early Christian writers invented the Jesus legend based on a combination of:

(a) exaggerated stories about various different preachers and social activists who did exist (one of whom may well have been called Jesus), plus

(b) archetypal storylines and scenes from the legends of other gods that people believed in at the time, such as the Persian sun-god Mithra.

Then, as time went on, the early Christian religion borrowed more stories and rituals from pagan and other beliefs to make it easier for people to convert.

13 amin mohamed November 24, 2008 at 5:30 pm

The funny thing is that the great scholars, critics and theologists have not understood how Jesus was “created from the Old testament>!
It is always “then this happened to fulfill the prophecy****”,
and the unknown author/s goes on to fabricate and “create” the story!

For example, ref the story where Jesus goes to mount Olives and the disciples fetch the two Donkeys, one big and one small. The story goes on and Jesus went riding on THEM!

Now ref to old testament and note that it was prophesised that the King will come riding on a small male donkey, to liberate jerusalem.

Also ref to the ancestor list and compare of Luke to Mathews.

Ref also to virgin girl, which meant at that time a girl of marriageable age and not a girl whose virginity had been broken as we understand now, becoming pregnant and the story of Jesus living in Africa for 30 years, without any trail of evidence.

It is about mastery of sentence changing to suit the story character
and fabrication upon fabrication. Thus Mark,the unknown,the copy cat, saw the obvious mistakes and corrected by virtually copying sentence by sentence, and making a few additional tales himself.

Luke with a different ancestor list saw “good” to tell the story as he saw best, in his opinion.

John, the writer is more funny than the rest in that the word becomes light and flesh and spirit!!!

paul, the self proclaimed torturer and a fugitive, a man who carried double edged bible! “circumcise but don’t circumcise”. He went to the lands of the gentiles boldly where Jesus, if true to be, had “refused”.

I suggest we all follow only one saying, and that is “Be Good, Do Good”, for the cause of humanity and stop lying that we see god and talk to God!!! It is all for Money, right?!/!?

Please reply to this comment after thoroughly comparing the Old and the New Testaments.

14 Donald Shankoff April 12, 2010 at 2:15 pm

The most convincing argument for the existence of a real fleah and blood Jesus is the 6 hour crucifixion. Crucifixions were known to go on for as much as several days with the victim struggling to stay alive. If at least part of the story was not true then why go there. This is not to say that the gospel accounts are true and accurate factual documents. As author Joseph Atwill has shown there exist numerous parallels between the gospel stories and those of the Emperor Titus' military campaign as outlined iby Josephus. This indicates a commonality of authorship or at least use of 'War of the Jews' as reference. Further there is no reference to Jesus Christ prior to the very end of the first century, by individuals who seem to have no idea who he was or what he did. To learn more on haw the Romans usurped the scriptures of Yeshu and the ancient Nazorean religion visit: nazoreans.com

15 someone sensible September 1, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Please refer to documents found in India that were written by contemporary historians there that describe Alexander and his adventures. I find that sadly, Indian accounts, which are mostly in-depth, are not even considered, and some forgotten language (Aramaic, e.g.) takes the foreground. Why? Because languages like Sanskrit, in which most Indian accounts are written, are hard to understand and prove that the eastern civilization is much older than the western ones and taught the west many fundamental concepts.

16 lawrie searle September 22, 2012 at 2:52 am

On religion …
Mary queen of Scots to Knox…”awa wi yor nursery bogle!”
Visitor to Freud … “but surely you believe in God Mr. Freud?”
Freud’s reply … “no, but I find your need to believe fascinating”.
There is no evidence for Jesus Christ’s existence before the 4th century CE. Chrestus, yes. And anyway, why couldn’t he have a proper name like the rest of us instead of two “job titles”, one Greek, one Latin.

17 John Treacy November 14, 2012 at 2:23 pm

After reading these comments, how come Christianity has lasted so long. In the Acts of the Apostles, when the Christian movement was gaining traction, he hostile rulers of the day declared, if this movement is from man it will quench. There is a current of anger coming through these comments, which I think need reflecting on

18 Tony December 17, 2012 at 10:35 am

John, I’m not sure what your point is. Are you saying that the fact that the Christian faith has lasted as long as it has then that is proof that’s the character Jesus is a god? Egyptian religions predated Christianity by up to 3000 years does that mean that all the deities worshipped by those ancient Egyptians were real too?

19 ralf ellis August 6, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Jesus discovered in the historical record.
(But Christians will not like this identification.)
Coins and statue of Jesus discovered in Syria.

This is the book that the Catholic Church has been dreading for the last 1700 years. This is the book that will end Christianity as we know it; and this is not advertising hyperbole, this really is the end of the Christian fairytale.

So why is Jesus apparently missing from the historical record? Is it because the Jesus story was a myth? No, the true answer is that Jesus’ life was so removed from the well-worn Catholic fairy-tale that the Church could not admit who he really was.

Following 25 years of research Ralph Ellis has finally discovered that Jesus was actually a prince of Edessa in northern Syria. The Edessan monarchs were Nazarene Jews from Parthia who helped build the Temple of Jerusalem and saved Judaea from starvation during a great famine. But, just like Jesus, they were also religious and political revolutionaries who tried to take control of Judaea, but were thwarted by the Roman Army. Thus there are many links and similarities between the biblical accounts and the lives of the princes and kings of Edessa.

In addition, one of the princes of Edessa had the same names as Jesus. Jesus was called (King) Jesus Emmanuel, while one of the Edessan monarchs was called King Izas Manu(el). Equally interesting, is the fact that all of the Edessan monarchs wore a plaited Crown of Thorns. The biblical Jesus was crucified wearing this same plaited Crown of Thorns because he was this very same prince and king of Edessa.

And there is a great deal more evidence to support this new, radical identification of the historical biblical Jesus. In fact, there are 620 pages-worth of evidence.

Thus we now know who Jesus was, where he lived, and who his family were. Visit his city, see the ruins of his citadel, gaze upon his statue, handle his coins. In reality, Jesus was a son of King Abgarus au Kama V of Edessa, a minor princeling with a small realm, a large treasury, and even bigger ambitions. But the so-called Wise Prince of northern Syria came up against an intractable Rome, and his many plans crumbled to dust. The historical records then indicate that this revolutionary prince of Edessa was crucified outside Jerusalem, along with two other leaders of the revolt, but he was reprieved and taken down from the cross by a man called Joseph(us). And yes, this familiar-sounding event is from the historical record.

While readers may initially suppose that finding Jesus in the historical record would be a crowning glory for the Catholic Church – think again. This identification demonstrates that Jesus was not only a wise king, but a ruthless warrior-monarch who fought a major war against Judaea and Rome, in order to take control of Judaea, with the aim of eventually sitting on the Throne of Rome. This was a secular battle by a secular king, and so this history does nothing to support the spiritual claims of the gospels – quite the reverse. (Although separating the secular from the religious in 1st century Judaea is next to impossible.) Nevertheless, the Catholic Church will loathe and reject this identification of the historical Jesus, with every argument they can muster, for it undermines and demolishes the very foundations of the Church (that Jesus was merely a pacific, pauper-carpenter who preached a gospel of peace). The gospel of peace was actually a Roman inspiration – propaganda to calm the troublesome east of the Empire.

This is a scholarly study of all the available historical evidence, including the Tanakh, Talmud, Josephus Flavius, the Roman historians, and venerable Syriac historians like Moses of Chorene and Yohannes Drasxanakertci.

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