Kinkazzo Burning
~ reflections & disquisitions
It takes both sunshine and rain to make a rainbow...

THE GOD WHO WASN'T THERE - page 2

~ CONTENT THIS PAGE:
3. THE HISTORICAL JESUS
4. SPIRIT, SOUL, AND MIND
5. BIBLICAL FANTASIES & JEWISH ATHEISM


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DID A HISTORICAL JESUS EXIST?


by Jim Walker
(originated: 12 June 1997 / additions: 05 Dec. 2006)

Amazingly, the question of an actual historical Jesus rarely confronts the religious believer. The power of faith has so forcefully driven the minds of most believers, and even apologetic scholars, that the question of reliable evidence gets obscured by tradition, religious subterfuge, and outrageous claims. The following gives a brief outlook about the claims of a historical Jesus and why the evidence the Christians present us cannot serve as justification for reliable evidence for a historical Jesus.


ALL CLAIMS OF JESUS DERIVE FROM HEARSAY ACCOUNTS

No one has the slightest physical evidence to support a historical Jesus; no artifacts, dwelling, works of carpentry, or self-written manuscripts. All claims about Jesus derive from writings of other people. There occurs no contemporary Roman record that shows Pontius Pilate executing a man named Jesus. Devastating to historians, there occurs not a single contemporary writing that mentions Jesus. All documents about Jesus got written well after the life of the alleged Jesus from either: unknown authors, people who had never met an earthly Jesus, or from fraudulent, mythical or allegorical writings. Although one can argue that many of these writings come from fraud or interpolations, I will use the information and dates to show that even if these sources did not come from interpolations, they could still not serve as reliable evidence for a historical Jesus, simply because all sources derive from hearsay accounts.

Hearsay means information derived from other people rather than on a witness' own knowledge.

Courts of law do not generally allow hearsay as testimony, and nor does honest modern scholarship. Hearsay provides no proof or good evidence, and therefore, we should dismiss it.

If you do not understand this, imagine yourself confronted with a charge for a crime which you know you did not commit. You feel confident that no one can prove guilt because you know that there exists no evidence whatsoever for the charge against you. Now imagine that you stand present in a court of law that allows hearsay as evidence. When the prosecution presents its case, everyone who takes the stand against you claims that you committed the crime, not as a witness themselves, but solely because other people said so. None of these other people, mind you, ever show up in court, nor can anyone find them.

Hearsay does not work as evidence because we have no way of knowing whether the person lies, or simply bases his or her information on wrongful belief or bias. We know from history about witchcraft trials and kangaroo courts that hearsay provides neither reliable nor fair statements of evidence. We know that mythology can arise out of no good information whatsoever. We live in a world where many people believe in demons, UFOs, ghosts, or monsters, and an innumerable number of fantasies believed as fact taken from nothing but belief and hearsay. It derives from these reasons why hearsay cannot serves as good evidence, and the same reasoning must go against the claims of a historical Jesus or any other historical person.

Authors of ancient history today, of course, can only write from indirect observation in a time far removed from their aim. But a valid historian's own writing gets cited with sources that trace to the subject themselves, or to eyewitnesses and artifacts. For example a historian today who writes about the life of George Washington, of course, can not serve as an eyewitness, but he can provide citations to documents which give personal or eyewitness accounts. None of the historians about Jesus give reliable sources to eyewitnesses, therefore all we have remains as hearsay.


THE BIBLE GOSPELS

The most "authoritative" accounts of a historical Jesus come from the four canonical Gospels of the Bible. Note that these Gospels did not come into the Bible as original and authoritative from the authors themselves, but rather from the influence of early church fathers, especially the most influential of them all: Irenaeus of Lyon who lived in the middle of the second century. Many heretical gospels got written by that time, but Irenaeus considered only some of them for mystical reasons. He claimed only four in number; according to Romer, "like the four zones of the world, the four winds, the four divisions of man's estate, and the four forms of the first living creatures-- the lion of Mark, the calf of Luke, the man of Matthew, the eagle of John (see Against the Heresies). The four gospels then became Church cannon for the orthodox faith. Most of the other claimed gospel writings were burned, destroyed, or lost." [Romer]

Elaine Pagels writes: "Although the gospels of the New Testament-- like those discovered at Nag Hammadi-- are attributed to Jesus' followers, no one knows who actually wrote any of them." [Pagels, 1995]

Not only do we not know who wrote them, consider that none of the Gospels got written during the alleged life of Jesus, nor do the unknown authors make the claim to have met an earthly Jesus. Add to this that none of the original gospel manuscripts exist; we only have copies of copies.

The consensus of many biblical historians put the dating of the earliest Gospel, that of Mark, at sometime after 70 C.E., and the last Gospel, John after 90 C.E. [Pagels, 1995; Helms]. This would make it some 40 years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus that we have any Gospel writings that mention him! Elaine Pagels writes that "the first Christian gospel was probably written during the last year of the war, or the year it ended. Where it was written and by whom we do not know; the work is anonymous, although tradition attributes it to Mark..." [Pagels, 1995]

The traditional Church has portrayed the authors as the apostles Mark, Luke, Matthew, & John, but scholars know from critical textural research that there simply occurs no evidence that the gospel authors could have served as the apostles described in the Gospel stories. Yet even today, we hear priests and ministers describing these authors as the actual disciples of Christ. Many Bibles still continue to label the stories as "The Gospel according to St. Matthew," "St. Mark," "St. Luke," St. John." No apostle would have announced his own sainthood before the Church's establishment of sainthood. But one need not refer to scholars to determine the lack of evidence for authorship. As an experiment, imagine the Gospels without their titles. See if you can find out from the texts who wrote them; try to find their names.

Even if the texts supported the notion that the apostles wrote them, consider that the average life span of humans in the first century came to around 30, and very few people lived to 70. If the apostles births occured at about the same time as the alleged Jesus, and wrote their gospels in their old age, that would put Mark at least 70 years old, and John at over 110.

The gospel of Mark describes the first written Bible gospel. And although Mark appears deceptively after the Matthew gospel, the gospel of Mark got written at least a generation before Matthew. From its own words, we can deduce that the author of Mark had neither heard Jesus nor served as his personal follower. Whoever wrote the gospel, he simply accepted the mythology of Jesus without question and wrote a crude an ungrammatical account of the popular story at the time. Any careful reading of the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) will reveal that Mark served as the common element between Matthew and Luke and gave the main source for both of them. Of Mark's 666* verses, some 600 appear in Matthew, some 300 in Luke. According to Randel Helms, the author of Mark, stands at least at a third remove from Jesus and more likely at the fourth remove. [Helms]

* Most Bibles show 678 verses for Mark, not 666, but many Biblical scholars think the last 12 verses came later from interpolation. The earliest manuscripts and other ancient sources do not have Mark 16: 9-20. Moreover the text style does not match and the transition between verse 8 and 9 appears awkward. Even some of today's Bibles such as the NIV exclude the last 12 verses.


The author of Matthew had obviously gotten his information from Mark's gospel and used them for his own needs. He fashioned his narrative to appeal to Jewish tradition and Scripture. He improved the grammar of Mark's Gospel, corrected what he felt theologically important, and heightened the miracles and magic.

The author of Luke admits himself as an interpreter of earlier material and not an eyewitness (Luke 1:1-4). Many scholars think the author of Luke lived as a gentile, or at the very least, a hellenized Jew and even possibly a woman. He (or she) wrote at a time of tension in the Roman empire along with its fever of persecution. Many modern scholars think that the Gospel of Matthew and Luke got derived from the Mark gospel and a hypothetical document called "Q" (German Quelle, which means "source"). [Helms; Wilson] . However, since we have no manuscript from Q, no one could possibly determine its author or where or how he got his information or the date of its authorship. Again we get faced with unreliable methodology and obscure sources.

John, the last appearing Bible Gospel, presents us with long theological discourses from Jesus and could not possibly have come as literal words from a historical Jesus. The Gospel of John disagrees with events described in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Moreover the book got written in Greek near the end of the first century, and according to Bishop Shelby Spong, the book "carried within it a very obvious reference to the death of John Zebedee (John 21:23)." [Spong]

Please understand that the stories themselves cannot serve as examples of eyewitness accounts since they came as products of the minds of the unknown authors, and not from the characters themselves. The Gospels describe narrative stories, written almost virtually in the third person. People who wish to portray themselves as eyewitnesses will write in the first person, not in the third person. Moreover, many of the passages attributed to Jesus could only have come from the invention of its authors. For example, many of the statements of Jesus claim to have come from him while allegedly alone. If so, who heard him? It becomes even more marked when the evangelists report about what Jesus thought. To whom did Jesus confide his thoughts? Clearly, the Gospels employ techniques that fictional writers use. In any case the Gospels can only serve, at best, as hearsay, and at worst, as fictional, mythological, or falsified stories.


OTHER NEW TESTAMENT WRITINGS

Even in antiquity people like Origen and Eusebius raised doubts about the authenticity of other books in the New Testament such as Hebrews, James, John 2 & 3, Peter 2, Jude, and Revelation. Martin Luther rejected the Epistle of James calling it worthless and an "epistle of straw" and questioned Jude, Hebrews and the Apocalypse in Revelation. Nevertheless, all New Testament writings came well after the alleged death of Jesus from unknown authors (with the possible exception of Paul, although still after the alleged death).

Epistles of Paul: Paul's biblical letters (epistles) serve as the oldest surviving Christian texts, written probably around 60 C.E. Most scholars have little reason to doubt that Paul wrote some of them himself. However, there occurs not a single instance in all of Paul's writings that he ever meets or sees an earthly Jesus, nor does he give any reference to Jesus' life on earth. Therefore, all accounts about a Jesus could only have come from other believers or his imagination. Hearsay.

Epistle of James: Although the epistle identifies a James as the letter writer, but which James? Many claim him as the gospel disciple but the gospels mention several different James. Which one? Or maybe this James has nothing to do with any of the gospel James. Perhaps this writer comes from any one of innumerable James outside the gospels. James served as a common name in the first centuries and we simply have no way to tell who this James refers to. More to the point, the Epistle of James mentions Jesus only once as an introduction to his belief. Nowhere does the epistle reference a historical Jesus and this alone eliminates it from an historical account. [1]

Epistles of John: The epistles of John, the Gospel of John, and Revelation appear so different in style and content that they could hardly have the same author. Some suggest that these writings of John come from the work of a group of scholars in Asia Minor who followed a "John" or they came from the work of church fathers who aimed to further the interests of the Church. Or they could have simply come from people also named John (a very common name). No one knows. Also note that nowhere in the body of the three epistles of "John" does it mention a John. In any case, the epistles of John say nothing about seeing an earthly Jesus. Not only do we not know who wrote these epistles, they can only serve as hearsay accounts. [2]

Epistles of Peter: Many scholars question the authorship of Peter of the epistles. Even within the first epistle, it says in 5:12 that Silvanus wrote it. Most scholars consider the second epistle as unreliable or an outright forgery (for some examples, see the introduction to 2 Peter in the full edition of The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985, and [3]). In short, no one has any way of determining whether the epistles of Peter come from fraud, an unknown author also named Peter (a common name) or from someone trying to further the aims of the Church.

Of the remaining books and letters in the Bible, there occurs no other stretched claims or eyewitness accounts for a historical Jesus and needs no mention of them here for this deliberation.

As for the existence of original New Testament documents, none exist. No book of the New Testament survives in the original autograph copy. What we have then come from copies, and copies of copies, of questionalbe originals (if the stories came piecemeal over time, as it appears it has, then there may never have existed an original). The earliest copies we have got written more than a century later than the autographs, and these exist on fragments of papyrus. [Pritchard; Graham] According to Hugh Schonfield, "It would be impossible to find any manuscript of the New Testament older than the late third century, and we actually have copies from the fourth and fifth. [Schonfield]


LYING FOR THE CHURCH

The editing and formation of the Bible came from members of the early Christian Church. Since the fathers of the Church possessed the texts and determined what would appear in the Bible, there occurred plenty of opportunity and motive to change, modify, or create texts that might bolster the position of the Church or the members of the Church themselves.

Take, for example, Eusebius who served as an ecclesiastical church historian and bishop. He had great influence in the early Church and he openly advocated the use of fraud and deception in furthering the interests of the Church [Remsberg]. The first mention of Jesus by Josephus came from Eusebius (none of the earlier church fathers mention Josephus' Jesus). It comes to no surprise why many scholars think that Eusebius interpolated his writings. In his Ecclesiastical History, he writes, "We shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be useful first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity." (Vol. 8, chapter 2). In his Praeparatio Evangelica, he includes a chapter titled, "How it may be Lawful and Fitting to use Falsehood as a Medicine, and for the Benefit of those who Want to be Deceived" (book 12, chapter 32).

The Church had such power over people, that to question the Church could result in death. Regardless of what the Church claimed, people had to take it as "truth." St. Ignatius Loyola of the 16th century even wrote: "We should always be disposed to believe that which appears to us to be white is really black, if the hierarchy of the church so decides."

The orthodox Church also fought against competing Christian cults. Irenaeus, who determined the inclusion of the four (now canonical) gospels, wrote his infamous book, "Against the Heresies." According to Romer, "Irenaeus' great book not only became the yardstick of major heresies and their refutations, the starting-point of later inquisitions, but simply by saying what Christianity was not it also, in a curious inverted way, became a definition of the orthodox faith." [Romer] The early Church burned many heretics, along with their sacred texts. If a Jesus did exist, perhaps eyewitness writings got burnt along with them because of their heretical nature. We will never know.

In attempting to salvage the Bible the respected revisionist and scholar, Bruce Metzger has written extensively on the problems of the New Testament. In his book, The Text of the New Testament-- Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, Metzger addresses: Errors arising from faulty eyesight; Errors arising from faulty hearing; Errors of the mind; Errors of judgement; Clearing up historical and geographical difficulties; and Alterations made because of doctrinal considerations. [Metzger]

With such intransigence from the Church and the admitting to lying for its cause, the burning of heretical texts, Bible errors and alterations, how could any honest scholar take any book from the New Testament as absolute, much less using extraneous texts that support a Church's intolerant and biased position, as reliable evidence?


GNOSTIC GOSPELS

In 1945, an Arab made an archeological discovery in Upper Egypt of several ancient papyrus books. They have since referred to it as The Nag Hammadi texts. They contained fifty-two heretical books written in Coptic script which include gospels of Thomas, Philip, James, John, Thomas, and many others. Archeologists have dated them at around 350-400 C.E. They represent copies from previous copies. None of the original texts exist and scholars argue about a possible date of the originals. Some of them think that they can hardly have dates later than 120-150 C.E. Others have put it closer to 140 C.E. [Pagels, 1979]

Other Gnostic gospels such as the Gospel of Judas, found near the Egyptian site of the Nag Hammadi texts, shows a diverse pattern of story telling, always a mark of myth. The Judas gospel tells of Judas Iscariot as Jesus' most loyal disciple, just opposite that of the canonical gospel stories. Note that the text does not claim that Judas Iscariot wrote it. The Judas gospel, a copy written in Coptic, dates to around the third-to fourth-century. The original Greek version probably dates to between 130 and 170 C.E., around the same tine as the Nag Hammadi texts. Irenaeus first mentions this gospel in Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies) written around 180 C.E., so we know that this represented a heretical gospel.

Since these Gnostic texts could only have its unknown authors writing well after the alleged life of Jesus, they cannot serve as historical evidence of Jesus anymore than the canonical versions. Again, we only have "heretical" hearsay.


NON-CHRISTIAN SOURCES

Virtually all other claims of Jesus come from sources outside of Christian writings. Devastating to the claims of Christians, however, comes from the fact that all of these accounts come from authors who lived after the alleged life of Jesus. Since they did not live during the time of the hypothetical Jesus, none of their accounts serve as eyewitness evidence.

Josephus Flavius, the Jewish historian, lived as the earliest non-Christian who mentions a Jesus. Although many scholars think that Josephus' short accounts of Jesus (in Antiquities) came from interpolations perpetrated by a later Church father (most likely, Eusebius), Josephus' birth in 37 C.E., well after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, puts him out of range of an eyewitness account. Moreover, he wrote Antiquities in 93 C.E., after the first gospels got written! Therefore, even if his accounts about Jesus came from his hand, his information could only serve as hearsay.

Pliny the Younger, a Roman official, got born in 62 C.E. His letter about the Christians only shows that he got his information from Christian believers themselves. Regardless, his birth date puts him out of the range of eyewitness accounts.

Tacitus, the Roman historian's birth year at 64 C.E., puts him well after the alleged life of Jesus. He gives a brief mention of a "Christus" in his Annals (Book XV, Sec. 44), which got written around 109 C.E. He gives no source for his material. Although many have disputed the authenticity of Tacitus' mention of Jesus, the very fact that his birth happened after the alleged Jesus and wrote the Annals during the formation of Christianity, shows that his writing can only provide us with hearsay accounts.

Suetonius, a Roman historian, born in 69 C.E. mentions a "Chrestus," a common name. Apologists assume that "Chrestus" means "Christ" (a disputable claim). But even if Seutonius had meant "Christ," it still says nothing about an earthly Jesus. Just like all the others, Suetonius' birth occurred well after the purported Jesus. Again, only hearsay.

Talmud: Amazingly some Christians use brief portions of the Talmud, (a collection of Jewish civil a religious law, including commentaries on the Torah), as evidence for Jesus. They claim that Yeshu (a common name in Jewish literature) in the Talmud refers to Jesus. However, this Jesus, according to Gerald Massey actually depicts a disciple of Jehoshua Ben-Perachia at least a century before the alleged Christian Jesus. [Massey] Regardless of how one interprets this, the Palestinian Talmud got written between the 3rd and 5th century C.E., and the Babylonian Talmud between the 3rd and 6th century C.E., at least two centuries after the alleged crucifixion! At best it can only serve as a controversial Christian and pagan legend; it cannot possibly serve as evidence for a historical Jesus.

The above sources get quoted the most as "evidence" for Jesus by Christians. All other sources (Christian and non-Christian), some of which include: Mara Bar-Serapion (cira 73 C.E.), Ignatius (50 - 98? C.E.), Polycarp (69 - 155 C.E.), Clement of Rome (? - cira 160 C.E.), Justin Martyr (100 - 165 C.E.), Lucian (circa 125 - 180 C.E.), Tertullian (160 - ? C.E.), Clement of Alexandria (? - 215 C.E.), Origen (185 - 232 C.E.), Hippolytus (? - 236 C.E.), and Cyprian (? - 254 C.E.). All these people got born well after the alleged death of Jesus. Not one of them provides an eyewitness account, all of them simply spout hearsay.

As you can see, apologist Christians embarrass themselves when they unwittingly or deceptively violate the rules of historiography by using after-the-event writings as evidence for the event itself. Not one of these writers gives a source or backs up his claims with evidential material about Jesus. Although we can provide numerous reasons why the Christian and non-Christian sources prove spurious, and argue endlessly about them, we can cut to the chase by simply looking at the dates of the documents and the birth dates of the authors. It doesn't matter what these people wrote about Jesus, an author who writes after the alleged happening and gives no detectable sources for his material can only give example of hearsay. All of these anachronistic writings about Jesus could easily have come from the beliefs and stories from Christian believers themselves. And as we know from myth, superstition, and faith, beliefs do not require facts or evidence for their propagation and circulation. Thus we have only beliefs about Jesus' existence, and nothing more.


FAKES, FRAUDS, AND FICTIONS

Because the religious mind relies on belief and faith, the religious person can inherit a dependence on any information that supports a belief and that includes fraudulent stories, rumors, unreliable data, and fictions, without the need to check sources, or to investigate the reliability of the information. Although hundreds of fraudulent claims exist for the artifacts of Jesus, I will present only three examples which seem to have a life of there own and have spread through the religious community and especially on internet discussion groups.

The Shroud of Turin

Many faithful people believe the shroud represents the actual burial cloth of Jesus where they claim the image on the cloth represents an actual 'photographic' image left behind by the crucified body.

The first mention of the shroud comes from a treatise (written or dictated) by Geoffroi de Charny in 1356 and who claims to have owned the cloth (see The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi De Charny). Later, in the 16th century, it suddenly appeared in a cathedral in Turin, Italy. (Note that thousands of claimed Jesus relics appeared in cathedrals throughout Europe, including the wood from the cross, chalices, blood of Jesus, etc. These artifacts proved popular and served as a prosperous commercial device which filled the money coffers of the churches.)

Sadly, many people of faith believe that there actually exists scientific evidence to support their beliefs in the shroud's authenticity. Considering how the Shroud's apologists use the words, "science," "fact," and "authentic," without actual scientific justification, and even include pseudo-scientists (without mentioning the 'pseudo') to testify to their conclusions, it should not come to any surprise why a faithful person would not question their information or their motives. There also has appeared several television specials which purport the authenticity of the shroud. Science, however, does not operate though television specials who have a commercial interest and have no qualms about deceiving the public.

Experts around the world consider the 14-foot-long linen sheet, which has remained in a cathedral in Turin since 1578, a forgery because of carbon-dating tests performed in 1988. Three different independent radiocarbon dating laboratories in Zurich, Oxford and the University of Arizona yielded a date range of 1260-1390 C.E. (consistent with the time period of Charny's claimed ownership). Joe Zias of Hebrew University of Jerusalem calls the shroud indisputably a fake. "Not only is it a forgery, but it's a bad forgery." The shroud actually depicts a man whose front measures 2 inches taller than his back and whose elongated hands and arms would indicate that he had the affliction of gigantism if he actually lived. (Also read Joe Nickell's, Inquest On The Shroud Of Turin: Latest Scientific Findings)

Walter C. McCrone, et al, (see Judgment Day for the Shroud of Turin) discovered red ochre (a pigment found in earth and widely used in Italy during the Middle Ages) on the cloth which formed the body image and vermilion paint, made from mercuric sulphide, used to represent blood. The actual scientific findings reveal the shroud as a 14th century painting, not a two-thousand year-old cloth with Christ's image. Revealingly, no Biblical scholar or scientist (with any credibility), cites the shroud of Turin as evidence for a historical Jesus.

The Burial box of James

Even many credible theologians bought this fraud, hook-line-and-sinker. The Nov./Dec. 2002, issue of Biblical Archaeology Review magazine announced a "world exclusive!" article about evidence of Jesus written in stone, claiming that they found the actual ossuary of "James, Brother of Jesus" in Jerusalem. This story exploded on the news and appeared widely on television and newspapers around the world.

Interestingly, they announced the find as the "earliest historical reference of Jesus yet found." Since they claimed the inscription on the box got written around 70 C.E., that would agree with everything claimed by this thesis (that no contemporary evidence exists for Jesus). (Note that even if the box script proved authentic, it would not provide evidence for Jesus simply because no one knew who wrote the script or why. It would only show the first indirect mention of an alleged Jesus and it could not serve as contemporary evidence simply because it got written long after the alleged death of Jesus.)

The claim for authenticity of the burial box of James, however, proved particularly embarrassing for the Biblical Archaeology Review and for those who believed them without question. Just a few months later, archaeologists determined the inscription as a forgery (and an obvious one at that) and they found the perpetrator and had him arrested (see 'Jesus box' exposed as fake and A fake? James Ossuary dealer arrested, suspected of forgery).

Regrettably, the news about the fraud never matched the euphoria of the numerous stories of the find and many people today still believe the story as true.

Letters of Pontius Pilate

This would appear hilarious if not for the tragic results that can occur from believing in fiction: many faithful (especially on the internet) have a strong belief that Pontius Pilate actually wrote letters to Seneca in Rome where he mentions Jesus and his reported healing miracles.

Considering the lack of investigational temper of the religious mind, it might prove interesting to the critical reader that the main source for the letters of Pilate come from W. P. Crozier's 1928 book titled, "Letters of Pontius Pilate: Written During His Governorship of Judea to His Friend Seneca in Rome." The book cites Crozier as the editor as if he represented a scholar who edited Pilate's letters. Well, from the title, it certainly seems to indicate that Pilate wrote some letters doesn't it? However, unbeknownst or ignored by the uncritical faithful, this book represents Crozier's first novel, a fictionalized account of what he thought Pilate would have written.

During the first publication, no one believed this novel represented fact and reviews of the day reveal it as a work of fiction.

Crozier, a newspaper editor, went to Oxford University and retained an interest in Latin, Greek and the Bible. He wrote this novel as if it represented the actual letters of Pilate. Of course no scholar would cite this as evidence because no letters exist of Pilate to Seneca, and Seneca never mentions Jesus in any of his writings.

The belief in Pilate's letters represents one of the more amusing fad beliefs in evidential Jesus, however, it also reveals just how myths, fakes, and fictions can leak into religious thought. Hundreds of years from now, Crozier's fictionalized account may very well end up just as 'reliable' as the gospels.


WHAT ABOUT WRITINGS DURING THE LIFE OF JESUS?

What appears most revealing of all, comes not from what got later written about Jesus but what people did not write about him. Consider that not a single historian, philosopher, scribe or follower who lived before or during the alleged time of Jesus ever mentions him!

If, indeed, the Gospels portray a historical look at the life of Jesus, then the one feature that stands out prominently within the stories shows that people claimed to know Jesus far and wide, not only by a great multitude of followers but by the great priests, the Roman governor Pilate, and Herod who claims that he had heard "of the fame of Jesus" (Matt 14:1)". One need only read Matt: 4:25 where it claims that "there followed him [Jesus] great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jersulaem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordon." The gospels mention, countless times, the great multitude that followed Jesus and crowds of people who congregated to hear him. So crowded had some of these gatherings grown, that Luke 12:1 alleges that an "innumberable multitude of people... trode one upon another." Luke 5:15 says that there grew "a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear..." The persecution of Jesus in Jerusalem drew so much attention that all the chief priests and scribes, including the high priest Caiaphas, not only knew about him but helped in his alleged crucifixion. (see Matt 21:15-23, 26:3, Luke 19:47, 23:13). The multitude of people thought of Jesus, not only as a teacher and a miracle healer, but a prophet (see Matt:14:5).

So here we have the gospels portraying Jesus as famous far and wide, a prophet and healer, with great multitudes of people who knew about him, including the greatest Jewish high priests and the Roman authorities of the area, and not one person records his existence during his lifetime? If the poor, the rich, the rulers, the highest priests, and the scribes knew about Jesus, who would not have heard of him?

Then we have a particular astronomical event that would have attracted the attention of anyone interested in the "heavens." According to Luke 23:44-45, there occurred "about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour, and the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst." Yet not a single mention of such a three hour ecliptic event got recorded by anyone, including the astronomers and astrologers, anywhere in the world, including Pliny the Elder and Seneca who both recorded eclipses from other dates. Note also that, for obvious reasons, eclipses can't occur during a full moon (passovers always occur during full moons), Nor does a single contemporary person write about the earthquake described in Matthew 27:51-54 where the earth shook, rocks ripped apart (rent), and graves opened.

Matthew 2 describes Herod and all of Jerusalem as troubled by the worship of the infant Jesus. Herod then had all of the children of Bethlehem slain. If such extraordinary infanticides of this magnitude had occurred, why didn't anyone write about it?

Some apologists attempt to dig themselves out of this problem by claiming that there lived no capable historians during that period, or due to the lack of education of the people with a writing capacity, or even sillier, the scarcity of paper gave reason why no one recorded their "savior." But the area in and surrounding Jerusalem served, in fact, as the center of education and record keeping for the Jewish people. The Romans, of course, also kept many records. Moreover, the gospels mention scribes many times, not only as followers of Jesus but the scribes connected with the high priests. And as for historians, there lived plenty at the time who had the capacity and capability to record, not only insignificant gossip, but significant events, especially from a religious sect who drew so much popular attention through an allegedly famous and infamous Jesus.

Take, for example, the works of Philo Judaeus who's birth occurred in 20 B.C.E. and died 50 C.E. He lived as the greatest Jewish-Hellenistic philosopher and historian of the time and lived in the area of Jerusalem during the alleged life of Jesus. He wrote detailed accounts of the Jewish events that occurred in the surrounding area. Yet not once, in all of his volumes of writings, do we read a single account of a Jesus "the Christ." Nor do we find any mention of Jesus in Seneca's (4? B.C.E. - 65 C.E.) writings, nor from the historian Pliny the Elder (23? - 79 C.E.).

If, indeed, such a well known Jesus existed, as the gospels allege, does any reader here think it reasonable that, at the very least, the fame of Jesus would not have reached the ears of one of these men?

Amazingly, we have not one Jewish, Greek, or Roman writer, even those who lived in the Middle East, much less anywhere else on the earth, who ever mention him during his supposed life time. This appears quite extraordinary, and you will find few Christian apologists who dare mention this embarrassing fact.

To illustrate this extraordinary absence of Jesus Christ literature, just imagine going through nineteenth century literature looking for an Abraham Lincoln but unable to find a single mention of him in any writing on earth until the 20th century. Yet straight-faced Christian apologists and historians want you to buy a factual Jesus out of a dearth void of evidence, and rely on nothing but hearsay written well after his purported life. Considering that most Christians believe that Jesus lived as God on earth, the Almighty gives an embarrassing example for explaining his existence. You'd think a Creator might at least have the ability to bark up some good solid evidence.


HISTORICAL SCHOLARS

Many problems occur with the reliability of the accounts from ancient historians. Most of them did not provide sources for their claims, as they rarely included bibliographic listings, or supporting claims. They did not have access to modern scholarly techniques, and many times would include hearsay as evidence. No one today would take a modern scholar seriously who used the standards of ancient historians, yet this proves as the only kind of source that Christology comes from. Couple this with the fact that many historians believed as Christians themselves, sometimes members of the Church, and you have a built-in prejudice towards supporting a "real" Jesus.

In modern scholarship, even the best historians and Christian apologists play the historian game. They can only use what documents they have available to them. If they only have hearsay accounts then they have to play the cards that history deals them. Many historians feel compelled to use interpolation or guesses from hearsay, and yet this very dubious information sometimes ends up in encyclopedias and history books as fact.

In other words, Biblical scholarship gets forced into a lower standard by the very sources they examine. A renowned Biblical scholor illustrated this clearly in an interview when asked about Biblical interpretation. David Noel Freeman (the General editor of the Anchor Bible Series and many other works) responed with:

"We have to accept somewhat looser standards. In the legal profession, to convict the defendant of a crime, you need proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, a preponderance of the evidence is sufficient. When dealing with the Bible or any ancient source, we have to loosen up a little; otherwise, we can't really say anything."

-David Noel Freedman (in Bible Review magazine, Dec. 1993, p.34)

The implications appear obvious. If one wishes to believe in a historical Jesus, he or she must accept this based on loose standards. Couple this with the fact that all of the claims come from hearsay, and we have a foundation made of sand, and a castle of information built of cards.


CITING GEOGRAPHY, AND KNOWN HISTORICAL FIGURES AS "EVIDENCE"

Although the New Testament mentions various cities, geological sites, kings and people that existed or lived during the alleged life of Jesus, these descriptions cannot serve as evidence for the existence of Jesus anymore than works of fiction that include recognizable locations, and make mention of actual people.

Homer's Odyssey, for example, describes the travels of Odysseus throughout the Greek islands. The epic describes, in detail, many locations that existed in history. But should we take Odysseus, the Greek gods and goddesses, one-eyed giants and monsters as literal fact simply because the story depicts geographic locations accurately? Of course not. Mythical stories, fictions, and narratives almost always use familiar landmarks as placements for their stories. The authors of the Greek tragedies not only put their stories in plausible settings as happening in the real world but their supernatural characters took on the desires, flaws and failures of mortal human beings. Consider that fictions such as King Kong, Superman, and Star Trek include recognizable cities, planets, and landmarks, with their protagonists and antagonists miming human emotions.

Likewise, just because the Gospels mention cities and locations in Judea, and known historical people, with Jesus behaving like an actual human being (with the added dimension of supernatural curses, miracles, etc.) but this says nothing about the actuality of the characters portrayed in the stories. However, when a story uses impossible historical locations, or geographical errors, we may question the authority of the claims.

For example, in Matt 4:8, the author describes the devil taking Jesus into an exceedingly high mountain to show him all the kingdoms of the world. Since there exists no spot on the spheroid earth to view "all the kingdoms," we know that the Bible errs here.

John 12:21 says, "The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee. . . ." Bethsaida resided in Gaulonitis (Golan region), east of the Jordan river, not Galilee, which resided west of the river.

John 3:23 says, "John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim. . . ." Critics agree that no such place as Aenon exists near Salim.

There occurs not a shred of evidence for a city named Nazareth at the time of the alleged Jesus. [Leedom; Gauvin] Nazareth does not appear in the Old Testament, nor does it appear in the volumes of Josephus's writings (even though he provides a detailed list of the cities of Galilee). Oddly, none of the New Testament epistle writers ever mentions Nazareth or a Jesus of Nazareth even though most of the epistles got written before the gospels. In fact no one mentions Nazareth until the Gospels, where the first one got written at least 40 years after the hypothetical death of Jesus. Apologists attempt to dismiss this by claiming that Nazareth existed as an insignificant and easily missed village (how would they know?), thus no one recorded it. However, whenever the Gospels speak of Nazareth, they always refer to it as a city, never a village, and a historian of that period would surely have noticed a city. (Note the New Testament uses the terms village, town, and city.) Nor can apologists fall on archeological evidence of preexisting artifacts for the simple reason that many cities get built on ancient sites. If a city named Nazareth existed during the 1st century, then we need at least one contemporary piece of evidence for the name, otherwise we cannot refer to it as historical.

Many more errors and unsupported geographical locations appear in the New Testament. And although one cannot use these as evidence against a historical Jesus, we can certainly question the reliability of the texts. If the scriptures make so many factual errors about geology, science, and contain so many contradictions, falsehoods could occur any in area.

If we have a coupling with historical people and locations, then we should also have some historical reference of a Jesus to these locations and people. But just the opposite proves the case. The Bible depicts Herod, the Ruler of Jewish Palestine under Rome as sending out men to search and kill the infant Jesus, yet nothing in history supports such a story. Pontius Pilate supposedly performed as judge in the trial and execution of Jesus, yet no Roman record mentions such a trial. The gospels portray a multitude of believers throughout the land spreading tales of a teacher, prophet, and healer, yet nobody in Jesus' life time or several decades after, ever records such a human figure. The lack of a historical Jesus in the known historical record speaks for itself.


COMPARING JESUS TO OTHER HISTORICAL FIGURES

Many Christian apologists attempt to extricate themselves from their lack of evidence by claiming that if we cannot rely on the post chronicle exegesis of Jesus, then we cannot establish a historical foundation for other figures such as Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, Napoleon, etc. However, there sits a vast difference between historical figures and Jesus. There occurs either artifacts, writings, or eyewitness accounts for historical people, whereas, for Jesus we have nothing.

Alexander, for example, left a wake of destroyed and created cities behind. We have buildings, libraries and cities, such as Alexandria, left in his name. We have treaties, and even a letter from Alexander to the people of Chios, engraved in stone, dated at 332 B.C.E. For Agustus Caesar, we have the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, the emperor's own account of his works and deeds, a letter to his son (Epistula ad Gaium filium), Virgil's eyewitness accounts, and much more. Napoleon left behind artifacts, eyewitness accounts and letters. We can establish some historicity to these people because we have evidence that occurred during their life times. Yet even with contemporary evidence, historians have become wary of after-the-fact stories of many of these historical people. For example, some of the stories of Alexander's conquests, or Nero starting the fire in Rome always get questioned or doubted because they contain inconsistencies or come from authors who wrote years after the alleged facts. In qualifying the history of Alexander, Pierre Briant writes, "Although more than twenty of his contemporaries chronicled Alexander's life and campaigns, none of these texts survive in original form. Many letters and speeches attributed to Alexander are ancient forgeries or reconstructions inspired by imagination or political motives. The little solid documentation we possess from Alexander's own time is mainly to be found in stone inscriptions from the Greek cities of Europe and Asia." [Briant]

Inventing histories out of whole cloth or embellished from a seed of an actual historical event appears common throughout the chronicle of human thought. Robert Price observes, "Alexander the Great, Caesar Augustus, Cyrus, King Arthur, and others have nearly suffered this fate. What keeps historians from dismissing them as mere myths, like Paul Bunyan, is that there is some residue. We know at least a bit of mundane information about them, perhaps quite a bit, that does not form part of any legend cycle." [Price, p. 260-261]

Interestingly, almost all important historical people have descriptions of what they looked like. We have the image of Augustus Caesar cast on denarius coins, busts of Greek and Roman aristocrats, artwork of Napoleon, etc. We have descriptions of facial qualities, height, weight, hair length & color, age and even portraits of most important historical figures. But for Jesus, we have nothing. Nowhere in the Bible do we have a description of the human shape of Jesus. How can we rely on the Gospels as the word of Jesus when no one even describes what he looked like? How odd that none of the disciple characters record what he looked like, yet believers attribute them to know exactly what he said. Indeed, this gives us a clue that Jesus came to the gospel writers and indirect and through myth. Not until hundreds of years after the alleged Jesus did pictures emerge as to what he looked like from cult Christians, and these widely differed from a blond clean shaven, curly haired Apollonian youth (found in the Roman catacombs) to a long-bearded Italian as depicted to this day. This mimics the pattern of Greek mythological figures as their believers constructed various images of what their gods looked like according to their own cultural image.

Historial people leave us with contemporary evidence, but for Jesus we have nothing. If we wanted to present a fair comparison of the type of information about Jesus to another example of equal historical value, we could do no better than to compare Jesus with the mythical figure of Hercules.


IF JESUS, THEN WHY NOT HERCULES?

If a person accepts hearsay and accounts from believers as historical evidence for Jesus, then shouldn't they act consistently to other accounts based solely on hearsay and belief?

To take one example, examine the evidence for the Hercules of Greek mythology and you will find it parallels the "historicity" of Jesus to such an amazing degree that for Christian apologists to deny Hercules as a historical person belies and contradicts the very same methodology used for a historical Jesus.

Note that Herculean myth resembles Jesus in many areas. Hercules got born as a human from the union of God (Zeus) and the mortal and chaste Alcmene, his mother. Similar to Herod who wanted to kill Jesus, Hera wanted to kill Hercules. Like Jesus, Hercules traveled the earth as a mortal helping mankind and performed miraculous deeds. Like Jesus who died and rose to heaven, Hercules died, rose to Mt. Olympus and became a god. Hercules gives example of perhaps the most popular hero in Ancient Greece and Rome. They believed that he actually lived, told stories about him, worshiped him, and dedicated temples to him.

Likewise the "evidence" of Hercules closely parallels that of Jesus. We have historical people like Hesiod and Plato who mentions Hercules. Similar to the way the gospels tell a narrative story of Jesus, so do we have the epic stories of Homer who depict the life of Hercules. Aesop tells stories and quotes the words of Hercules. Just as we have a brief mention of Jesus by Joesphus in his Antiquities, Joesphus also mentions Hercules (more times than Jesus), in the very same work (see: 1.15; 8.5.3; 10.11.1). Just as Tacitus mentions a Christus, so does he also mention Hercules many times in his Annals. And most importantly, just as we have no artifacts, writings or eyewitnesses about Hercules, we also have nothing about Jesus. All information about Hercules and Jesus comes from stories, beliefs, and hearsay. Should we then believe in a historical Hercules, simply because ancient historians mention him and that we have stories and beliefs about him? Of course not, and the same must apply to Jesus if we wish to hold any consistency to historicity.

Some critics doubt that a historicized Jesus could develop from myth because they think there never occurred any precedence for it. We have many examples of myth from history but what about the other way around? This doubt fails in the light of the most obvious example-- the Greek mythologies where Greek and Roman writers including Diodorus, Cicero, Livy, etc., assumed that there must have existed a historical root for figures such as Hercules, Theseus, Odysseus, Minos, Dionysus, etc. These writers put their mythological heroes into an invented historical time chart. Herodotus, for example, tried to determine when Hercules lived. As Robert M. Price revealed, "The whole approach earned the name of Euhemerism, from Euhemerus who originated it." [Price, p. 250] Even today, we see many examples of seedling historicized mythologies: UFO adherents who's beliefs began as a dream of alien bodily invasion, and then expressed as actually having occurred (some of which have formed religious cults); beliefs of urban legends which started as pure fiction or hoaxes; propaganda spread by politicians which stem from fiction but believed by their constituents.

People consider Hercules and other Greek gods as myth because people no longer believe in the Greek and Roman stories. When a civilization dies, so go their gods. Christianity and its church authorities, on the other hand, still hold a powerful influence on governments, institutions, and colleges. Anyone doing research on Jesus, even skeptics, had better allude to his existence or else risk future funding and damage to their reputations or fear embarrassment against their Christian friends. Christianity depends on establishing a historical Jesus and it will defend, at all costs, even the most unreliable sources. The faithful want to believe in Jesus, and belief alone can create intellectual barriers that leak even into atheist and secular thought. We have so many Christian professors, theologians and historical "experts" around the world that tell us we should accept a historical Jesus that if repeated often enough, it tends to convince even the most ardent skeptic. The establishment of history should never reside with the "experts" words alone or simply because a scholar has a reputation as a historian. Historical review has yet to achieve the reliability of scientific investigation, (and in fact, many times ignores it). If a scholar makes a historical claim, his assertion should depend primarily with the evidence itself and not just because he or she says so. Facts do not require belief. And whereas beliefs can live comfortably without evidence at all, facts depend on evidence.


THEN WHY THE MYTH OF JESUS?

Some people actually believe that just because so much voice and ink has spread the word of a character named Jesus throughout history, that this must mean that he actually lived. This argument simply does not hold. The number of people who believe or write about something or the professional degrees they hold say nothing at all about fact. Facts derive out of evidence, not from hearsay, not from hubris scholars, and certainly not from faithful believers. Regardless of the position or admiration held by a scholar, believer, or priest, if he or she cannot support their hypothesis with good evidence, then it can only remain a hypothesis.

While the possibility exists that an actual Jesus lived, a more likely possibility reveals that a mythology could have arrived totally out of earlier mythologies. Although we have no evidence for a historical Jesus, we certainly have many accounts for the mythologies of the Middle East and Egypt during the first century and before that appear similar to the Christ saviour story.

If you know your ancient history, remember that just before and during the first century, the Jews had prophesied about an upcoming Messiah based on Jewish scripture. Their beliefs influenced many of their followers. We know that powerful beliefs can create self-fulfilling prophesies, and surely this proved just as true in ancient times. It served as a popular dream expressed in Hebrew Scripture for the promise of an "end-time" with a savior to lead them to the promised land. Indeed, Roman records show executions of several would-be Messiahs, (but not a single record mentions a Jesus). Many ancients believed that there could come a final war against the "Sons of Darkness"-- the Romans.

This then could very well have served as the ignition and flame for the future growth of Christianity. We know that the early Christians lived within pagan communities. Jewish scriptural beliefs coupled with the pagan myths of the time give sufficient information about how such a religion could have formed. Many of the Hellenistic and pagan myths parallel so closely to the alleged Jesus that to ignore its similarities means to ignore the mythological beliefs of history. Dozens of similar savior stories propagated the minds of humans long before the alleged life of Jesus. Virtually nothing about Jesus "the Christ" came to the Christians as original or new.

For example, the religion of Zoroaster, founded circa 628-551 B.C.E. in ancient Persia, roused mankind in the need for hating a devil, the belief of a paradise, last judgment and resurrection of the dead. Mithraism, an offshoot of Zoroastrianism probably influenced early Christianity. The Magi described in the New Testament appears as Zoroastrian priests. Note the word "paradise" came from the Persian pairidaeza.

The Egyptian mythical Horus, god of light and goodness has many parallels to Jesus. [Leedom, Massey] For some examples:

Horus and the Father as one

Horus, the Father seen in the Son

Horus, light of the world, represented by the symbolical eye, the sign of salvation.

Horus served the way, the truth, the life by name and in person

Horus baptized with water by Anup (Jesus baptized with water by John)

Horus the Good Shepherd

Horus as the Lamb (Jesus as the Lamb)

Horus as the Lion (Jesus as the Lion)

Horus identified with the Tat Cross (Jesus with the cross)

The trinity of Atum the Father, Horus the Son, Ra the Holy Spirit

Horus the avenger (Jesus who brings the sword)

Horus the afflicted one

Horus as life eternal

Twelve followers of Horus as Har-Khutti
(Jesus' 12 disciples)

According to Massey, "The mythical Messiah is Horus in the Osirian Mythos; Har-Khuti in the Sut-Typhonian; Khunsu in that of Amen-Ra; Iu in the cult of Atum-Ra; and the Christ of the Gospels is an amalgam of all these characters."

Osiris, Hercules, Mithra, Hermes, Prometheus, Perseus and others compare to the Christian myth. According to Patrick Campbell of The Mythical Jesus, all served as pre-Christian sun gods, yet all allegedly had gods for fathers, virgins for mothers; had their births announced by stars; got born on the solstice around December 25th; had tyrants who tried to kill them in their infancy; met violent deaths; rose from the dead; and nearly all got worshiped by "wise men" and had allegedly fasted for forty days. [McKinsey, Chapter 5]

The pre-Christian cult of Mithra had a deity of light and truth, son of the Most High, fought against evil, presented the idea of the Logos. Pagan Mithraism mysteries had the burial in a rock tomb, resurrection, sacrament of bread & water (Eucharist), the marking on the forehead with a mystic mark, the symbol of the Rock, the Seven Spirits and seven stars, all before the advent of Christianity.

Even Justin Martyr recognized the analogies between Christianity and Paganism. To the Pagans, he wrote: "When we say that the Word, who is first born of God, was produced without sexual union, and that he, Jesus Christ, our teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven; we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter (Zeus)." [First Apology, ch. xxi]

Virtually all of the mythical accounts of a savior Jesus have parallels to past pagan mythologies which existed long before Christianity and from the Jewish scriptures that we now call the Old Testament. The accounts of these myths say nothing about historical reality, but they do say a lot about believers, how they believed, and how their beliefs spread.

In the book The Jesus Puzzle, the biblical scholar, Earl Doherty, presents not only a challenge to the existence of an historical Jesus but reveals that early pre-Gospel Christian documents show that the concept of Jesus sprang from non-historical spiritual beliefs of a Christ derived from Jewish scripture and Hellenized myths of savior gods. Nowhere do any of the New Testament epistle writers describe a human Jesus, including Paul. None of the epistles mention a Jesus from Nazareth, an earthly teacher, or as a human miracle worker. Nowhere do we find these writers quoting Jesus. Nowhere do we find them describing any details of Jesus' life on earth or his followers. Nowhere do we find the epistle writers even using the word "disciple" (they of course use the term "apostle" but the word simply means messenger, as Paul saw himself). Except for two well known interpolations, Jesus always gets presented as a spiritual being that existed before all time with God, and that knowledge of Christ came directly from God or as a revelation from the word of scripture. Doherty writes, "Christian documents outside the Gospels, even at the end of the first century and beyond, show no evidence that any tradition about an earthly life and ministry of Jesus were in circulation."

These early historical documents can prove nothing about an actual Jesus but they do show an evolution of belief derived from varied and diverse concepts of Christianity, starting from a purely spiritual form of Christ to a human figure who embodied that spirit, as portrayed in the Gospels. The New Testament stories appears as an eclectic hodgepodge of Jewish, Hellenized and pagan stories compiled by pietistic believers to appeal to an audience for their particular religious times.


A NOTE ABOUT DATING:

The A.D. (Anno Domini, or "year of our Lord") dating method derived from a monk named Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Little), in the sixth-century who used it in his Easter tables. Oddly, some people seem to think this has relevance to a historical Jesus. But of course it has nothing at all to do with it. In the time before and during the 6th century, people used various other dating methods. The Romans used A.U.C. (anno urbis conditae, "year of the founded city," that being Rome). The Jews had their own dating system. Not until the tenth century did most churches accept the new dating system. The A.D. system simply reset the time of January 1, 754 A.U.C. to January 1, of year one A.D., which Dionysius obliquly derived from the belief of the date of "incarnation" of Jesus . The date, if one uses the Bible as history, can't possibly hold true. *

Instead of B.C. and A.D., I have used the convention of B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) as often used in scholarly literature. They correspond to the same dates as B.C. and A.D., but without alluding to the birth or death of an alleged Christ.

* Dionysius believed that the conception (incarnation) of Jesus occurred on March 25. This meant that the conception must have occurred nine months later on December 25, probably not coincidentally, the very same date that the Emperor Aurelian, in 274 C.E., declared December 25 a holiday in celebration of the birth of Mithras, the sun god. By 336 C.E., Christians replaced Mithras with Jesus' birth on the same date. Dionysius then declared the new year several days later on January 1, probably to coincide with the traditional Roman year starting on January 1st. Dionysius probably never read the gospel account of the birth of Jesus because the Matthew gospel says his birth occurred while Herod served as King. That meant that if he did exist, his birth would have to occur in 4 B.C.E. or earlier. He made another mistake by assigning the first year as 1 instead of 0 (everyone's birthday starts at year 0, not 1). The concept of zero (invented from Arabia and India) didn't come into Europe until about two hundred years later.


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QUOTES FROM A FEW SCHOLARS:

Although apologist scholars believe that an actual Jesus lived on earth, the reasons for this appear obvious considering their Christian beliefs. Although some secular freethinkers and atheists accept a historical Jesus (minus the miracles), they, like most Christans, simply accept the traditional view without question. As time goes on, more and more scholars have begun to open the way to a more honest look at the evidence, or should I say, the lack of evidence. So for those who wish to rely on scholarly opinion, I will give a few quotes from Biblical scholars, past and present:

When the Church mythologists established their system, they collected all the writings they could find and managed them as they pleased. It is a matter altogether of uncertainty to us whether such of the writings as now appear under the name of the Old and New Testaments are in the same state in which those collectors say they found them, or whether they added, altered, abridged or dressed them up.
-Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)

The world has been for a long time engaged in writing lives of Jesus... The library of such books has grown since then. But when we come to examine them, one startling fact confronts us: all of these books relate to a personage concerning whom there does not exist a single scrap of contemporary information -- not one! By accepted tradition he was born in the reign of Augustus, the great literary age of the nation of which he was a subject. In the Augustan age historians flourished; poets, orators, critics and travelers abounded. Yet not one mentions the name of Jesus Christ, much less any incident in his life.
-Moncure D. Conway [1832 - 1907] (Modern Thought)

It is only in comparatively modern times that the possibility was considered that Jesus does not belong to history at all.
-J.M. Robertson (Pagan Christs)

Whether considered as the God made human, or as man made divine, this character never existed as a person.
-Gerald Massey, Egyptologist and historical scholar (Gerald Massey's Lectures: Gnostic and Historic Christianity, 1900)

Many people-- then and now-- have assumed that these letters [of Paul] are genuine, and five of them were in fact incorporated into the New Testament as "letters of Paul." Even today, scholars dispute which are authentic and which are not. Most scholars, however, agree that Paul actually wrote only eight of the thirteen "Pauline" letters now included in the New Testament. collection: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Virtually all scholars agree that Paul himself did not write 1 or 2 Timothy or Titus-- letters written in a style different from Paul's and reflecting situations and viewpoints in a style different from those in Paul's own letters. About the authorship of Ephesias, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, debate continues; but the majority of scholars include these, too, among the "deutero-Pauline"-- literally, secondarily Pauline-- letters."
-Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University, (Adam, Eve, and the Serpent)

We know virtually nothing about the persons who wrote the gospels we call Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
-Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University, (The Gnostic Gospels)

Some hoped to penetrate the various accounts and to discover the "historical Jesus". . . and that sorting out "authentic" material in the gospels was virtually impossible in the absence of independent evidence."
-Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University

We can recreate dimensions of the world in which he lived, but outside of the Christian scriptures, we cannot locate him historically within that world.
-Gerald A. Larue (The Book Your Church Doesn't Want You To Read)

The gospels are so anonymous that their titles, all second-century guesses, are all four wrong.
-Randel McCraw Helms (Who Wrote the Gospels?)

Far from being an intimate of an intimate of Jesus, Mark wrote at the forth remove from Jesus.
-Randel McCraw Helms (Who Wrote the Gospels?)

Mark himself clearly did not know any eyewitnesses of Jesus.
-Randel McCraw Helms (Who Wrote the Gospels?)

All four gospels are anonymous texts. The familiar attributions of the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John come from the mid-second century and later and we have no good historical reason to accept these attributions.
-Steve Mason, professor of classics, history and religious studies at York University in Toronto (Bible Review, Feb. 2000, p. 36)

The question must also be raised as to whether we have the actual words of Jesus in any Gospel.
-Bishop John Shelby Spong

Many modern Biblical archaeologists now believe that the village of Nazareth did not exist at the time of the birth and early life of Jesus. There is simply no evidence for it.
-Alan Albert Snow (The Book Your Church Doesn't Want You To Read)

But even if it could be proved that John's Gospel had been the first of the four to be written down, there would still be considerable confusion as to who "John" was. For the various styles of the New Testament texts ascribed to John- The Gospel, the letters, and the Book of Revelations-- are each so different in their style that it is extremely unlikely that they had been written by one person.
-John Romer, archeologist & Bible scholar (Testament)

It was not until the third century that Jesus' cross of execution became a common symbol of the Christian faith.
-John Romer, archeologist & Bible scholar (Testament)

What one believes and what one can demonstrate historically are usually two different things.-Robert J. Miller, Bible scholar, (Bible Review, December 1993, Vol. IX, Number 6, p. 9)

When it comes to the historical question about the Gospels, I adopt a mediating position-- that is, these are religious records, close to the sources, but they are not in accordance with modern historiographic requirements or professional standards.
-David Noel Freedman, Bible scholar and general editor of the Anchor Bible series (Bible Review, December 1993, Vol. IX, Number 6, p.34)

It is said that the last recourse of the Bible apologist is to fall back upon allegory. After all, when confronted with the many hundreds of biblical problems, allegory permits one to interpret anything however one might please.
-Gene Kasmar, Minnesota Atheists

Paul did not write the letters to Timothy to Titus or several others published under his name; and it is unlikely that the apostles Matthew, James, Jude, Peter and John had anything to do with the canonical books ascribed to them.
-Michael D. Coogan, Professor of religious studies at Stonehill College (Bible Review, June 1994)

A generation after Jesus' death, when the Gospels were written, the Romans had destroyed the Jerusalem Temple (in 70 C.E.); the most influential centers of Christianity were cities of the Mediterranean world such as Alexandria, Antioch, Corinth, Damascus, Ephesus and Rome. Although large number of Jews were also followers of Jesus, non-Jews came to predominate in the early Church. They controlled how the Gospels were written after 70 C.E.
-Bruce Chilton, Bell Professor of Religion at Bard College (Bible Review, Dec. 1994, p. 37)

James Dunn says that the Sermon on the Mount, mentioned only by Matthew, "is in fact not historical."

How historical can the Gospels be? Are Murphy-O-Conner's speculations concerning Jesus' baptism by John simply wrong-headed? How can we really know if the baptism, or any other event written about in the Gospels, is historical?-Daniel P. Sullivan (Bible Review, June 1996, Vol. XII, Number 3, p. 5)

David Friedrich Strauss (The Life of Jesus, 1836), had argued that the Gospels could not be read as straightforward accounts of what Jesus actually did and said; rather, the evangelists and later redactors and commentators, influenced by their religious beliefs, had made use of myths and legends that rendered the gospel narratives, and traditional accounts of Jesus' life, unreliable as sources of historical information.
-Bible Review, October 1996, Vol. XII, Number 5, p. 39

The Gospel authors were Jews writing within the midrashic tradition and intended their stories to be read as interpretive narratives, not historical accounts.
-Bishop Shelby Spong, Liberating the Gospels

Other scholars have concluded that the Bible is the product of a purely human endeavor, that the identity of the authors is forever lost and that their work has been largely obliterated by centuries of translation and editing.
-Jeffery L. Sheler, "Who Wrote the Bible," (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

Yet today, there are few Biblical scholars-- from liberal skeptics to conservative evangelicals- who believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually wrote the Gospels. Nowhere do the writers of the texts identify themselves by name or claim unambiguously to have known or traveled with Jesus.
-Jeffery L. Sheler, "The Four Gospels," (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

Once written, many experts believe, the Gospels were redacted, or edited, repeatedly as they were copied and circulated among church elders during the last first and early second centuries.
-Jeffery L. Sheler, "The Four Gospels," (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

The tradition attributing the fourth Gospel to the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee, is first noted by Irenaeus in A.D. 180. It is a tradition based largely on what some view as the writer's reference to himself as "the beloved disciple" and "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Current objection to John's authorship are based largely on modern textural analyses that strongly suggest the fourth Gospel was the work of several hands, probably followers of an elderly teacher in Asia Minor named John who claimed as a young man to have been a disciple of Jesus.
-Jeffery L. Sheler, "The Four Gospels," (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

Some scholars say so many revisions occurred in the 100 years following Jesus' death that no one can be absolutely sure of the accuracy or authenticity of the Gospels, especially of the words the authors attributed to Jesus himself.
-Jeffery L. Sheler, "The catholic papers," (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

Three letters that Paul allegedly wrote to his friends and former co-workers Timothy and Titus are now widely disputed as having come from Paul's hand.
-Jeffery L. Sheler, "The catholic papers," (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

The Epistle of James is a practical book, light on theology and full of advice on ethical behavior. Even so, its place in the Bible has been challenged repeatedly over the years. It is generally believed to have been written near the end of the first century to Jewish Christians. . . but scholars are unable conclusively to identify the writer.

Five men named James appear in the New Testament: the brother of Jesus, the son of Zebedee, the son of Alphaeus, "James the younger" and the father of the Apostle Jude.

Little is known of the last three, and since the son of Zebedee was martyred in A.D. 44, tradition has leaned toward the brother of Jesus. However, the writer never claims to be Jesus' brother. And scholars find the language too erudite for a simple Palestinian. This letter is also disputed on theological grounds. Martin Luther called it "an epistle of straw" that did not belong in the Bible because it seemed to contradict Paul's teachings that salvation comes by faith as a "gift of God"-- not by good works.

-Jeffery L. Sheler, "The catholic papers," (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

The origins of the three letters of John are also far from certain.
-Jeffery L. Sheler, "The catholic papers," (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

Christian tradition has held that the Apostle Peter wrote the first [letter], probably in Rome shortly before his martyrdom about A.D. 65. However, some modern scholars cite the epistle's cultivated language and its references to persecutions that did not occur until the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96) as evidence that it was actually written by Peter's disciples sometime later.

Second Peter has suffered even harsher scrutiny. Many scholars consider it the latest of all New Testament books, written around A.D. 125. The letter was never mentioned in second-century writings and was excluded from some church canons into the fifth century. "This letter cannot have been written by Peter," wrote Werner Kummel, a Heidelberg University scholar, in his highly regarded Introduction to the New Testament.

-Jeffery L. Sheler, "The catholic papers," (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

The letter of Jude also is considered too late to have been written by the attested author-- "the brother of James" and, thus, of Jesus. The letter, believed written early in the second century.
-Jeffery L. Sheler, "The catholic papers," (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

According to the declaration of the Second Vatican Council, a faithful account of the actions and words of Jesus is to be found in the Gospels; but it is impossible to reconcile this with the existence in the text of contradictions, improbabilities, things which are materially impossible or statements which run contrary to firmly established reality.
-Maurice Bucaille (The Bible, the Quran, and Science)

The bottom line is we really don't know for sure who wrote the Gospels.
-Jerome Neyrey, of the Weston School of Theology, Cambridge, Mass. in "The Four Gospels," (U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990)

Most scholars have come to acknowledge, was done not by the Apostles but by their anonymous followers (or their followers' followers). Each presented a somewhat different picture of Jesus' life. The earliest appeared to have been written some 40 years after his Crucifixion.
-David Van Biema, "The Gospel Truth?" (Time, April 8, 1996)

So unreliable were the Gospel accounts that "we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus."
-Rudolf Bultmann, University of Marburg, the foremost Protestant scholar in the field in 1926

The Synoptic Gospels employ techniques that we today associate with fiction.
-Paul Q. Beeching, Central Connecticut State University (Bible Review, June 1997, Vol. XIII, Number 3, p. 43)

Josephus says that he himself witnessed a certain Eleazar casting out demons by a method of exorcism that had been given to Solomon by God himself-- while Vespasian watched! In the same work, Josephus tells the story of a rainmaker, Onias (14.2.1).
-Paul Q. Beeching, Central Connecticut State University (Bible Review, June 1997, Vol. XIII, Number 3, p. 43)

For Mark's gospel to work, for instance, you must believe that Isaiah 40:3 (quoted, in a slightly distorted form, in Mark 1:2-3) correctly predicted that a stranger named John would come out of the desert to prepare the way for Jesus. It will then come as something of a surprise to learn in the first chapter of Luke that John is a near relative, well known to Jesus' family.
-Paul Q. Beeching, Central Connecticut State University (Bible Review, June 1997, Vol. XIII, Number 3, p. 43)

The narrative conventions and world outlook of the gospel prohibit our using it as a historical record of that year.
-Paul Q. Beeching, Central Connecticut State University (Bible Review, June 1997, Vol. XIII, Number 3, p. 54)

Jesus is a mythical figure in the tradition of pagan mythology and almost nothing in all of ancient literature would lead one to believe otherwise. Anyone wanting to believe Jesus lived and walked as a real live human being must do so despite the evidence, not because of it.
-C. Dennis McKinsey, Bible critic (The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy)

The gospels are very peculiar types of literature. They're not biographies.
-Paula Fredriksen, Professor and historian of early Christianity, Boston University (in the PBS documentary, From Jesus to Christ, aired in 1998)

The gospels are not eyewitness accounts
-Allen D. Callahan, Associate Professor of New Testament, Harvard Divinity School

We are led to conclude that, in Paul's past, there was no historical Jesus. Rather, the activities of the Son about which God's gospel in scripture told, as interpreted by Paul, had taken place in the spiritual realm and were accessible only through revelation.
-Earl Doherty, "The Jesus Puzzle," p.83

Before the Gospels were adopted as history, no record exists that he was ever in the city of Jerusalem at all-- or anywhere else on earth.
-Earl Doherty, "The Jesus Puzzle," p.141

Even if there was a historical Jesus lying back of the gospel Christ, he can never be recovered. If there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn't one any more. All attempts to recover him turn out to be just modern remythologizings of Jesus. Every "historical Jesus" is a Christ of faith, of somebody's faith. So the "historical Jesus" of modern scholarship is no less a fiction.
-Robert M. Price, "Jesus: Fact or Fiction, A Dialogue With Dr. Robert Price and Rev. John Rankin," Opening Statement

It is important to recognize the obvious: The gospel story of Jesus is itself apparently mythic from first to last."
-Robert M. Price, professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute (Deconstructing Jesus, p. 260)


CONCLUSION

Belief cannot produce historical fact, and claims that come from nothing but hearsay do not amount to an honest attempt to get at the facts. Even with eyewitness accounts we must tread carefully. Simply because someone makes a claim, does not mean it represents reality. For example, consider some of the bogus claims that supposedly come from many eyewitness accounts of alien extraterrestrials and their space craft. They not only assert eyewitnesses but present blurry photos to boot! If we can question these accounts, then why should we not question claims that come from hearsay even more? Moreover, consider that the hearsay comes from ancient and unknown people that no longer live.

Unfortunately, belief and faith substitute as knowledge in many people's minds and nothing, even direct evidence thrust on the feet of their claims, could possibly change their minds. We have many stories, myths and beliefs of a Jesus but if we wish to establish the facts of history, we cannot even begin to put together a knowledgeable account without at least a few reliable eyewitness accounts.

Of course a historical Jesus may have existed, perhaps based loosely on a living human even though his actual history got lost, but this amounts to nothing but speculation. However we do have an abundance of evidence supporting the mythical evolution of Jesus. Virtually every detail in the gospel stories occurred in pagan and/or Hebrew stories, long before the advent of Christianity. We simply do not have a shred of evidence to determine the historicity of a Jesus "the Christ." We only have evidence for the belief of Jesus.

So if you hear anyone who claims to have evidence for a witness of a historical Jesus, simply ask for the author's birth date. Anyone who's birth occurred after an event cannot serve as an eyewitness, nor can their words alone serve as evidence for that event.

________________________________________

Sources:

    Briant, Pierre, "Alexander the Great: Man of Action Man of Spirit," Harry N. Abrams, 1996
    Doherty, Earl, "The Jesus Puzzle," Canadian Humanist Publications, 1999
    Flavius, Josephus (37 or 38-circa 101 C.E.), Antiquities
    Gauvin, Marshall J., "Did Jesus Christ Really Live?" (from: www.infidels.org)
    Gould, Stephen Jay "Dinosaur in a Haystack," (Chapter 2), Harmony Books, New York, 1995
    Graham, Henry Grey, Rev., "Where we got the Bible," B. Heder Book Company, 1960
    Graves, Kersey "The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors," 1875
    Helms, Randel McCraw , "Who Wrote the Gospels?", Millennium Press
    Irenaeus of Lyon (140?-202? C.E.), Against the Heresies
    Leedom, Tim C. "The Book Your Church Doesn't Want You To Read," Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1993
    Massey, Gerald, "Gerald Massey's Lectures: The Historical Jesus and Mythical Christ," 1900
    McKinsey, C. Dennis "The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy," Prometheus Books, 1995
    Metzger, Bruce,"The Text of the New Testament-- Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration," Oxford University Press, 1968
    Pagels, Elaine, "The Gnostic Gospels," Vintage Books, New York, 1979
    Pagels, Elaine, "Adam, Eve, and the Serpent," Vintage Books, New York, 1888
    Pagels, Elaine, "The Origin of Satan," Random House, New York, 1995
    Price, Robert M.,"Deconstructing Jesus," Prometheus Books, 2000
    Pritchard, John Paul, "A Literary Approach to the New Testament," Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1972
    Remsberg, John E., "The Christ," Prometheus Books
    Robertson, J.M. "Pagan Christs," Barnes & Noble Books, 1966
    Romer, John, "Testament: The Bible and History," Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1988
    Schonfield, Hugh Joseph, "A History of Biblical Literature," New American Library, 1962
    Spong, Bishop Shelby, "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism," HarperSanFrancisco, 1991
    Tacitus (55?-117? C.E.), Annals
    Wilson, Dorothy Frances, "The Gospel Sources, some results of modern scholarship," London, Student Christian Movement press, 1938
    The Revell Bible Dictionary," Wynwood Press, New York, 1990
    King James Bible, 1611
    U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 10, 1990
    Various issues of Bible Review magazine, published by the Biblical Archaeology Society, Washington D.C.


Stonehenge
SPIRIT, SOUL, AND MIND

by Frank R. Zindler

(The Probing Mind, February 1985)

Whenever I peruse a dictionary, I am struck by the amazing number of words which refer to nothing at all in the real world. Many of the words are obviously fabulous: leprechaun, unicorn, gremlin, Philosopher's Stone, Zeus, elf, Fountain of Youth, ghost, etc. Others, though referring equally to non-existent things, are less obviously fabulous: The Mean Sun, The Average Citizen, vital force, spirit, soul, and - in at least some of its accepted meanings - mind.


Why the human species has invented so many words which refer to nothing in reality is a most interesting question for scientific investigation, and probably would require a complete book to elucidate properly. In this article I shall only attempt to deal with a few such words, specifically, the words spirit, soul, and mind.

It is a striking fact that nearly all languages of the world, extinct as well as extant, have — or have had — words which could be rendered as 'spirit' or 'soul' in English, At first glance, it would seem that this is a good argument in favor of the real existence of souls and spirits. For, would it not be improbable that so many different peoples and languages could be mistaken? If many different unrelated languages have independently invented words for soul, is that not a good reason to believe they did so because there really is such a thing?

I think not. The first clue to the solution of this puzzle comes from etymology, the study of word origins.

While the origin of the English word soul is obscure, the word almost certainly had its origin in a word which meant 'breath' or 'wind' or 'air', or something like that. The word spirit — generally a synonym for soul — comes from the Latin spiritus, and clearly meant 'breath' originally. Spiritual and respiratory both derive from the same root!

Moreover, if we check in the Greek and Hebrew bibles to see which words are translated as 'soul', etc., in the King James Version, we will find many whose literal meaning is 'breath' or 'wind'. For example, the Hebrew word neshamah (literally meaning 'breath') is twice rendered as 'spirit', once as 'soul'. The Hebrew-Aramaic word ruach (lit., 'wind') is rendered 240 times as 'spirit', six times as 'mind.' The word nephesh (lit., 'breath') is rendered 'soul' 428 times) 'mind' 15 times, 'ghost' twice, and 'life' 119 times. Turning to the Greek Bible, we find pneuma (lit., 'breath') rendered as 'ghost' 91 times (including the rendering 'Holy Ghost'), 292 times as 'spirit'. The reader will recognize the same root in the word pneumonia, a word referring to a disease of the organs of breath. And finally, in this somewhat pedantic parade of words, we may note the important word psyche. As expected, its literal meaning is 'breath.' As we might have guessed, it is rendered as 'soul' 58 times, 'mind' three times, and life' 40 times.

The fact that nearly all words now meaning 'soul', 'spirit', 'life', etc., trace their origins to words meaning 'breath' or 'wind' leads me to conclude that the derived meanings were an outgrowth of the inability of primitive people to solve a basic biological puzzle, namely, what constitutes the difference between a live body and a dead one?

To the ancient authors of the Bible — men who still thought they were living on a flat earth beneath a solid sky (firmament) — the solution seemed deceptively simple: living things breathe, dead things do not. At first, only animals (from Latin anima, meaning 'breath' or 'breeze' originally) were considered fully alive. The case of plants was viewed with confusion for a long time. Some authorities considered them live, others did not. The ancients did not realize that 'souls' were really only a gaseous mixture of nitrogen and oxygen, contaminated with varying amounts of water vapor, carbon dioxide, noble gases, and — depending upon what one ate and whether or not one brushed after every meal — varying amounts of aromatic substances!

In the Genesis Creation Myth, the animating power of breath is clearly depicted. God, after having molded Adam from the dust, has to breathe into him the breath of life in order for him to become a living soul. Breath is life.

The manner in which breath became equated with life is not difficult to discern. A person newly dead, say, of a heart attack, anatomically is not much different from what he was like before he died. He still has five fingers per hand, a tongue in his mouth, a brain in his head, and a heart in his breast. The ancients, unconscious of the microcosmic fever of chemical marriages and divorces that we call metabolism, could see only one obvious difference: the lack of breath of the dead.

When a man expired (lit., 'breathed out'), his spirit (lit., 'breath') left his body, and he died. When a man sneezed, his spirit was forcefully ejected from his body, and one had to say "God bless you" or make a magical gesture, such as the sign of the cross, very quickly, before evil spirits could come to take over the momentarily spiritually vacant carcass. Demonic "possession" was the result, quite simply, of inhaling one or more of the evil breaths thought to hover in the air around us. For early Christians, the Devil's breath was everywhere.

Of course, not all possession was necessarily evil. People could become "inspired" - that is, the breath of a god could take over their bodies to deliver words of wisdom or apocalyptic admonitions. Indeed, the origin of the Christian church itself was thought to have originated in an act of mass possession by the Holy Ghost ("Holy Breath" in the Greek text!). In Acts 4:31 we read that when the Apostles and others "had ended their prayer, the building where they were assembled rocked, and all were filled with the Holy Spirit [breath] and spoke the word of God with boldness." (Given the close association of words with breath - thought to be life itself — is it any wonder that religions of all kinds have always focused on the magical significance of words?)

Lest anyone still think the link between breath and the foundations of Christianity be doubtful, attention is drawn to the tale running through John 20:22. Jesus has come back to visit the Disciples to tell them that he is sending them out to forgive or not forgive the sins of the world. "Then he [Jesus] breathed on them, saying, 'Receive the Holy Spirit!' " Right from the beginning, Christianity was based upon warm breath — which in time became hot air.

Modern biologists, unlike the ancient makers of myths, know that all the phenomena of living systems can be reduced to physical and chemical terms. They have no evidence of any 'vital force' or mystical spirit — and no need to seek for such. They recognize the fully alive body and the newly dead body to be but two arbitrary points along a continuum of decreasing organization.

So much for spirit, soul, and ghost. Originally denoting breath or wind, they are words which have acquired a host of mystical connotations as prescientific people attempted to account for the difference between life and death. But what of the word mind? Does it refer to anything real? Or is it, too, a fabulous entity?

Unlike the analysis of spirit and soul, the analysis of mind is not at all simple. This is so largely through the grammatical accident that in all the European languages, ancient as well as modern, the word mind is a noun.

We tend to think of nouns as substantive: table, chair, and plumb-bob are all nouns, and all are substantial. There are many words, however, which though grammatically nouns, are not at all substantial. Words like beauty, truth, and velocity would be examples. Unfortunately, our thinking tends to be hedged around by the grammar and hidden assumptions of the language with which we think. And so it happens again and again that abstract nouns come to be thought of as representing things just as substantial as those represented by common nouns. And thus we have the basic confusion necessary to found philosophical systems such as Plato's — whose perfect triangularity exists in triangle-heaven, and so on.

Because mind was a noun, it was conceived to be a thing. Because it was thought to be a thing, it was thought to have existence apart from the brain. Because it has independent existence, it was thought capable of survival after the death of the body. And millions thought that to be good reason to invest millions in that greatest of all businesses, religion

Neurobiological studies show all these ideas to be quite worthless. Mind is a process, a dynamic relation, and not a thing. If we change the processes of the brain, we change the mind. The psychedelic drugs have taught us that fact, if nothing else. The history of western philosophy and religion, as well as science, would have been quite different if the word mind had developed as a verb instead of as a noun.

To wonder where the mind goes after the brain decays is as silly as asking where the 70-miles-per-hour have gone after a speeding auto has crashed into a tree. Just as the relative motion of an auto can be altered only within certain limits and still represent the process called "speeding," so too we can alter the functioning of the brain only so much before the process called "mind" or "thinking" becomes altered out of existence.

Now that scientists recognize mind as a process rather than a thing, they are making rapid advances in understanding the specific brain dynamics that correspond to the various subjective states collectively known as mind. Certain drugs are known, for example, that affect certain neural paths and centers in the brain to produce the psychic state known as euphoria. Others affect other circuits and produce depression or sleep. We can implant electrodes in the brain and cause the subject to "hear" bells and symphonies that aren't "there" at all. We can be made to "see" figures and lights without using our eyes at all, by stimulating the visual cortex at the back of the brain. We can cause to appear the emotions of rage, sexuality, sorrow, religious awe, etc., by altering the dynamic functions of the brain in appropriate ways. We are beginning to understand how neural circuits compete with each other to give us the illusion of "free will." Indeed, we are on the verge of being able to write equations relating the physicochemical states of the nervous system with the subjective, mental states described by psychologists and other mystics. In short, we are learning to study subjective states objectively.

Whether or not we shall be any more responsible in the application of this new knowledge than we were in the application of fire, dynamite, and atomic energy remains to be seen. Even the un-average person plays ill the part of Prometheus. Unless we, collectively the new Prometheus, judge wisely what to do with our new psychobiological powers, like Prometheus we may find ourselves chained to rocks, our vitals torn by eagles. Or worse.



Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh


WHAT IS JEWISH ATHEISM?
By Robert Wolfe


Atheism is the natural, normal point of view of anyone who has not been exposed to religious conditioning. No one would believe that there is an invisible king (or queen) in the sky if this doctrine had not been imposed on a large part of the human race by the advocates of monarchy in ancient times. But because the pressure to believe in an invisible "Supreme Being" is still quite intense, atheism in practice appears as the ability to resist religious indoctrination in the name of common sense.

However, from an atheist point of view, the question of whether there is or is not a "God" is really a trivial issue hardly worth discussing. It goes without saying that the universe is just what it appears to be, infinite both in time and space. The important question is what we can learn about the world we live in if our mind is not clouded by imaginary authority figures.

No people on earth has suffered more from religious prejudice than the Jewish people, and no people on earth has made a greater contribution to the spread of rational, secular thought. But Jewish atheism is not merely a reaction to persecution; it is also an expression of attitudes and values embedded deep within Judaism itself. Most of the founders of the state of Israel did not believe in "God", but they did believe in the Jewish people and in our right to live in peace in the land where Judaism was born. Faith in the Jewish people is at the heart of Jewish atheism and Jewish religion alike.

It follows that understanding Jewish atheism requires understanding the Jewish people. We were not chosen by an invisible entity for any destiny but evolved naturally out of bands of runaway slaves and other fugitives who gained control of the greater part of Canaan in ancient times. Throughout all the subsequent ups and downs of our history, we have never lost sight of the egalitarian values incorporated into the laws and customs of the nation of Judah founded by those runaway slaves. It is precisely because of our egalitarian traditions that we have been subjected to such intense persecution by the advocates of autocratic rule throughout our history.

Today this persecution takes the form of anti-Zionism, which is the effort to demonize and destroy the nation of Israel in the service of one or another autocratic ideal, be it Muslim, Marxist or Nazi. Marx, by the way, although commonly seen as a Jewish atheist, was actually a convert to Christianity who celebrated Christmas his entire life. Jewish atheism implies defense of the state of Israel; and it also implies the elaboration of a secular, realistic understanding of Jewish history, Jewish culture and Jewish life.


SECULARIZING GOD

It is by now a commonplace to point out that the secular Jewish movements of modern times - movements such as Zionism, or Bundism, or Territorialism - drew much of their inspiration from Jewish religious tradition. Everyone now knows that it is possible to take religious beliefs - such as the faith in the coming of the Messiah, or adherence to the Ten Commandments - and recast them in a secular form. But there is one religious belief that has always stubbornly resisted secularization. That belief is belief in God.

It is not as if people have not tried to secularize God. Starting perhaps with Spinoza, there has developed a well established philosophical tradition which seeks to equate God with the concept of "natural" or "scientific" law. The outstanding representative of this school of thought in modern times was undoubtedly Albert Einstein. Einstein argued in his writings on "cosmic religion" that there was an underlying order and coherence to the universe which he chose to identify with "God". By striving to uncover this order and coherence through his scientific studies he felt that he was striving to understand "God".

Einstein is still universally respected as a scientist, but his philosophical beliefs have not had an enduring impact [see Einstein-labels in this blog]. In my view, the doctrine of God as "law" is not a truly secular doctrine. To the contrary, every "law" requires a legislator, and in this case there is no doubt as to who the legislator must be. It is the traditional God of the Jewish religion, the "Supreme Being" who created the universe and rules over it. It is possible to believe, as Einstein put it, that "God does not play dice with the universe", but there is no inherent reason why this should be so. To the contrary, the God of the Jewish Scriptures is an arbitrary, willful individual who appears perfectly capable of interfering with the natural order of the universe at any time. To imagine this God as somehow bound by scientific laws of "His" own making is neither religion nor science but a dubious compromise between the two.

God is a myth of omnipotence. The appeal of this myth is obvious. The problem with secularizing this myth is precisely that it is a myth. It is not hard to redefine God as "Law", or "Nothingness", or "Mind", but that is not what people are looking for in the concept of God. What they are looking for is omnipotence, and that is something which is very hard to find. Yet there is undoubtedly a power in the belief in omnipotence, a power which has manifested itself throughout history in the stubborn adherence of religious believers to their way of life and their traditions. The belief in the omnipotence of God has sustained the Jewish people throughout our history, despite the fact that this belief has been disproven time and time again in the most shocking and horrible way. Even the Shoah (=Holocaust / Catastrophe) has not destroyed this belief. That an omnipotent God would permit the wholesale slaughter of the Jewish people by the Nazis is entirely contrary to reason and common sense, yet a very considerable percentage of the Jewish people continues to believe in this omnipotent God all the same. Isn't there some way to secularize this belief so as to retain its power while discarding its mythical features?

Probably the most influential secular reformulation of the belief in omnipotence that has emerged in modern times is Marxism. As is well known, Marx did not believe in God, but he did succeed in concocting a doctrine that promised inevitable victory to his followers. His views were sufficiently convincing to inspire large numbers of people to fight and die on their behalf. For a time, the triumph of Communism in the Soviet Union, China and a number of other countries made it appear that Marx was right. Today, Marxism still remains a significant force in some parts of the world, but it has lost its aura of invincibility. It has become apparent that Marx merely substituted one myth for another. The collapse of Marxism as a secular religion shows that the path to the secularization of God is not to be found in the invention of new and better myths. The myth of omnipotence must be exposed as a myth, and yet its power somehow preserved in a non-mythical form.

I believe that the first step in this direction is to remember why Orthodox Jews call God "Ha Shem" or "G-d". This usage is derived from the Jewish tradition according to which the holy Name of God, which in Hebrew is represented by the letters yod, hey, vav, hey, is not to be pronounced as a word. In English these letters are commonly represented as YHVH. The true meaning of these four letters has been almost completely obscured in modern times by the popularization of the expression, "Yahweh". This expression was invented by German Protestant "Biblical scholars" as an alleged improvement over the previous Protestant practice of pronouncing the letters YHVH as "Jehovah". The term "Yahweh" is now commonly used by all "Biblical scholars", including Jewish ones, to refer to the God of the Jewish Scriptures.

Despite its wide acceptance in scholarly circles, there is little or no evidence that the letters YHVH were ever understood to mean "Yahweh" by any Jew anywhere prior to modern times. It is true that a word resembling "Yahweh" is found in two or three ancient Greek manuscripts emanating from Gnostic circles, but the Gnostics were bitterly hostile to Judaism and most likely used this term in a sarcastic way. The "Biblical scholars" imagine that the Jews were afraid to say "Yahweh" because of some superstitious taboo, but that is because they simply don't understand the true meaning of the expression YHVH. There is no reason to believe that these letters were ever supposed to be pronounced as a word. To the contrary, there exists an overwhelming body of evidence to suggest that the letters YHVH were intended to merely symbolize the actual holy Name, which consisted of the Hebrew sentence, "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh", meaning "I will be what I will be" or "I am what I am".

This sentence is the answer which God gives to Moses in the Torah when Moses asks God to tell him "His" name. YHVH is an appropriate symbol for "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" because most forms of the Hebrew verb "to be" utilize these same letters. Numerous Jewish writers over the centuries have recognized the connection between YHVH, "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" and the Hebrew verb "to be" and commented on it in one way or another. The Kabbalists in particular stressed this connection, which provides the point of departure for several lengthy passages in the Zohar. And of course, once the connection between YHVH and "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" is recognized, then the ban on pronouncing the holy Name out loud is easy to understand. For one thing it would be somewhat cumbersome to say "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" every time YHVH appears; but more significantly, it is impossible to say "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" as the name of God without thereby assuming the identity of God. There is every reason to believe that the prohibition against pronouncing the holy Name out loud was precisely a prohibition against assuming the identity of God.

This conclusion is reinforced by the various incidents in the Torah in which God becomes incensed when "He" feels that human beings are trying to usurp "His" role. Yet at the same time, the use of the term "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" as God's holy Name constitutes a standing invitation to identify with God. According to Jewish tradition, in the days when the Temple still stood, the High Priest was required to speak the holy Name out loud once a year in the inner sanctum of the Temple on Yom Kippur. If there was something wrong with his performance of this ritual, it was thought that he would drop dead on the spot. This tradition symbolizes the ambivalent attitude of the Jewish religion towards identifying with God - it is something that is simultaneously forbidden and encouraged at one and the same time. Numerous examples could be cited from Jewish mystical and Kabbalist writings of this same ambivalent attitude.

Somwhere at the heart of this entire tradition are the words, "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh". I don't know what the ancient Hebrews meant by this phrase but I know what the words mean to me. They imply that there is a power in the ability to experience reality directly without preconceptions. This power is not omnipotent but it is a power all the same. This same thought is central to a number of religious traditions, most notably Zen Buddhism and also Taoism and Sufism. This power derives, or is thought to derive, from the capacity of the silent mind to intuitively grasp reality in a way that the verbal mind cannot. Religious believers may choose to relate this intuitive grasp of reality to their notion of the "mind of God", but there is no inherent reason why God has to be brought into the picture at all. To the contrary, God is also a preconception, and therefore an obstacle to the direct, unmediated grasp of reality.

In my view, reality is another word for the entire universe, which is infinite both in time and space. Like the universe itself, reality just is: it cannot be explained or understood, because all explanations imply a frame of reference larger than that which is being explained. There is no frame of reference larger than the universe itself. But even though it cannot be explained or understood, the universe can be sensed. Through the direct, unmediated grasp of reality, it is perhaps possible to improve our capacity to deal effectively with the problems of life. I cannot prove this to be true, but I believe that it is. I also believe that a similar faith is reflected in many religious traditions, particularly those labeled "mystical" or "pantheistic". However, I am neither a mystic nor a pantheist. I do not believe in the existence of any entity larger than or different from the universe itself, nor do I believe that the universe wants or needs me to worship it. I'm not even sure that the universe cares whether or not I exist. I do care, however, and it seems to me that I will be better able to exist if I pay close attention to what the universe is doing at any given moment. This may not be the same thing as trying to understand the will of God, but it is not so different either.

Robert Wolfe





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