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An essay donated by George Mercurio

On the Existence of Jesus Christ

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Much has been written on the pagan roots of Christianity, and more specifically, of the pagan roots of Jesus Christ himself. Recent authors on this subject include Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, Robert M. Price, and Acharya S. In fact, this idea dates back long before these authors; in 1875 Kersey Graves wrote a book titled The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors. These writers produced alluring material in order to support their claim that the central narrative of the life of Jesus Christ was taken from earlier pagan mystery religions such as those of Osiris, Dionysus, Attis, and Mithras.

Despite the differences relating to the culprits behind the spiritual thievery and their motives, these authors' claims hold in common one main conclusion: that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. He was, instead, a myth, a gargantuan lie perpetrated by those who wished to advance their own causes.

First, a giant assumption must be made in order for their theory to work: If Jesus Christ never existed, then we must assume all his disciples and all who personally knew him never existed as well. These were the men and women who the Bible tells us walked and ate with Jesus, as well as some, such as Peter, who even contributed to the New Testament. The alternative is that if these early followers did indeed live, then they had been among the first to create Jesus out of thin air. We must believe that these men and women who devoted their lives entirely to glorifying his name, who knowingly risked their lives daily under persecution, and, in many cases, even lost their lives (see Acts: 7:58-60 and Acts 12:2), did so in order to preach the word of a man whom they had totally fabricated. It is one thing to risk your neck for a belief, quite another thing to do it for a self-propelled lie. There can be exceptions, of course, but not when one considers the number of people who knew him personally and simultaneously believed he was the Son of God. So could they have created this Jesus and believe their own lies so fully as to go to their deaths for it? No. Human psychology does not allow for such a thing. Self-preservation kicks in quickly when one is presented with the death penalty for an idea known to be founded in fallacy. Instead they risked their lives for a man they had known well, a man known to have performed miraculous feats, who spoke incredible words. It was only by witnessing these miracles and hearing these words that they could have believed in Jesus Christ so fully as to risk their lives for his teachings. This is not a matter of faith, dogma or doctrine. It is a matter of reason and common sense.

Another inconvenient fact that works against their theory is that the Bible is not the only source to confirm Jesus' existence. The well known Jewish historian Josephus referred to Jesus in his book, Antiquities of the Jews, written in the late 1st century. There has been much controversy over the authenticity of the main passage concerning Jesus, called the Testimonium Flavianum, but the arguments are mostly over certain segments of the text that appear to be additions by Christian scribes which reinforce Jesus as the Christ. It stands to reason that Josephus, as a Jew, would not have referred to Jesus as the Christ, nor would he have recounted his resurrection from the dead. However, the greater majority of scholars have concluded that most of the Testimonium Flavianum is authentic to Josephus. Take the later Christian additions away, and you have a dispassionate, unbiased authentication of a wise man named Jesus who "drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles," and "Pilate had condemned him to the cross." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.63-64, in the translation of William Whiston). Josephus was not a Christian; he had no motive to report the works and death of a man who did not exist. If anything, as a Jew, he would have done well not to mention Jesus at all.

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There is also another passage in Antiquities that mentions Jesus as the brother of James, also known as James the Just. James would have to have been one of the many who originally invented Jesus. People tend to notice when a person suddenly claims to have a brother who no one has ever seen or met. Recall that the apostles, in the early days of their ministry, were still preaching in Jerusalem (see Acts 1:4), where many potential converts would have met and known Jesus from his own ministry.

The 1st century Roman historian Tacitus also mentions Christ in his final book, the Annals, in which Tacitus illustrates Nero's persecution of the Christians. Tacitus writes that "Christus, from whom the name [Christianity] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus" (Tacitus, Annals 15:44, translated by Church and Brodribb). As was the case with Josephus, Tacitus has no reason to authenticate the existence of Jesus if he did not live. Unlike Josephus, his writing on Christianity is anything but dispassionate and unbiased, as his writing makes it painfully clear that he considers Christianity "a class hated for their abominations." Tacitus' abhorrence of the early Christians makes him even more unlikely to have falsely corroborated the leader of these Christians. In fact, it seems very likely he would have sought to disprove Jesus' existence if he thought he could.

So why then, some might ask, is there no archeological evidence of this man named Jesus? The answer is simple: the Christians were not in charge; the Romans were. There could be no statues built of Christ, no plaques carved in his name to decorate Jerusalem or Nazareth or Bethlehem. In fact, the Christians of the 1st century were hiding underground from the authorities, believing, with good reason, that if the Romans could put to death their leader, the same could easily happen to them (see Acts 22:4 and Acts: 26:9-10).

And why were there no churches found from the 1st century? The earliest Christians celebrated their masses in members' homes (see 1 Corinthians 16:19, Philemon 1:1-2, and Acts: 2:46), away from prying eyes. There were no altars, stained glass, or icons to be left behind. As Professor L. Michael White of the University of Texas said, "We can't differentiate [between] a house in which a group of Christians might have met from any other house down the street" (Science of the Bible: The First Christians, History Channel).

In their eagerness to classify Jesus with earlier Pagan myths about resurrecting god-men, these authors neglected to see the major differences in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For one, Christ was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, a known historical figure,* and died by crucifixion, the well-verified method of Roman capital punishment of that time. He was not killed by a jealous goddess, as was the case with Dionysus when (in the Cretan version) Hera, angered by her husband Zeus's affair with Dionysus' mother, ordered the giant-like Titans to rip Dionysus apart. He was no green-skinned deity locked in a box and later cut into multiple pieces by his evil brother, as in the story of Osiris. Nor was he raised by a he-goat, only to later lose his mind at a wedding and cut off his genitals, being reborn as an evergreen pine, as was the myth of Attis. (The Lydian version of the myth tells that Attis was killed by a boar sent by Zeus.) The Gospels tell us Jesus was a real man with real fears and anxieties regarding the monumental task assigned to him by the Father (see Mathew 26:38-44, Mark 14:34-39, and Luke 22:41-44). As Greg S. Deuble writes in They Never Told Me This in Church.

How is Jesus unique from these god-men of pagan lore? This man by his righteousness has been raised to immortality and exalted to God's right hand as the first glorified man. This is something totally unique and different from all other beliefs about God-men. Here is the wonder of our faith: At God's right hand is a true man, a real man, just like you and me! He is the perfect demonstration of all that God the Father can do through a man totally yielded to His will and filled with His Holy Spirit (p 246).

Another major difference is that all these "resurrecting" gods have predecessors that have been traced by scholars. We can note the development of their individual mythologies. Attis was originally a local semi-deity of Phrygia, associated with the great Phrygian trading city of Pessinos, which lay under the lee of Mount Agdistis (Wikipedia). When the Ennead and Ogdoad cosmogenies became merged, with the identification of Ra as Atum (Atum-Ra), gradually Anubis (Ogdoad system) was replaced by Osiris, whose cult had become more significant (Wikipedia). Mithra is descended, together with the Vedic deity Mitra, from a common proto-Indo-Iranian entity mitra, "treaty, bond" (Wikipedia). There is no predecessor to Christ. The first stories of Jesus Christ date from the 1st century because that was when he lived and died.

It is clear that not only did a man named Jesus walk the earth some two thousand years ago, but that he did some extraordinary things that set him apart from all the other would-be messiahs. Cults headed by powerful, charismatic leaders have sprung up all throughout history, and they continue to do so today. Almost all fall apart within a few years. Christianity has lasted two thousand years and has become the world's largest religion, in part, because the man whose example inspired the faith was a living example, a real live man, and not a myth.

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* Archeological evidence relating to Pilate was discovered in 1961, when a block of limestone was found in the Roman theatre at Caesarea Maritima, the capital of the province of Iudaea, bearing a damaged dedication by Pilate. The translation from Latin to English for the inscription, as conjecturally reconstructed, reads: "The prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, erected the Tiberium (temple in honor of Tiberius Caesar) to the August Gods" (Wikipedia).

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