I’m always learning new things. Even though i’ve been an atheist for several years, i’ve always had the opinion that Jesus probably existed. I’ve heard people claim that Jesus did not exist but i never really heard any good reasons to back up their claims. I kind of thought, “Oh, that’s taking it a bit too far, isn’t it?”
I was happy to accept that sure, maybe Jesus existed. Maybe Jesus said some really inspiring things, and maybe some really horrific things. Maybe a lot of the stories were elaborated and embellished over time. But surely Jesus existed, right? I mean there’s historical evidence outside of the bible, right?
Turns out, not so much. Actually, the most celebrated reference to Jesus outside of the bible was probably fabricated, and even provides quite a strong hint that Jesus did not exist at all. It’s this passage from the Jewish historian Josephus:
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.
– Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3
Oh, i remember Nicky Gumbel in the Alpha Course placing great significance on this passage as part of the evidence that we can be sure Jesus existed. But hold on, what’s this? The passage was supposedly written 93 years after the birth of Jesus, yet it was not referenced by any Christian historian or scholar for over 200 years after that. It was first referenced by church historian Eusebius in 325 CE. Other copies of Jewish Antiquities existed that did not contain this passage. The writing style does not match the rest of Josephus’ writings. This passage comes out of context to the surrounding passages.
What are we to assume? It seems very likely that Eusebius inserted this passage. I mean, it’s perfect for any Christian who wants reassurance that Jesus is mentioned outside of the bible. It’s actually too perfect: Jesus’ works, teachings, being accepted as the Messiah, death, resurrection, fulfilment of prophecies.
And here’s the thing: that’s it! You take that passage on its own and it looks great for Jesus. But when you understand that Josephus wrote at length about many other people at the time, but said no more than this about the supposed saviour of mankind, Jesus Christ, it’s starting to look very much as if Jesus did not actually exist at all.
Then you find out that at the time of Jesus there were already many mythological stories about sun gods who were born to a virgin (often on December 25th), dying and being reborn. It was a common meme. Apparently, Christians have tried to explain that Satan went back in time to create these stories to make it look as though the story of Jesus was based upon them!
I think i can see now why some people consider it unlikely that Jesus ever existed, just like Horus never existed.
As a post-script, here is something i learned a long time ago, but i can’t vouch for whether or not it is true. Apparently, the three stars in Orion’s belt form a line that points down to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. If you extend this line down to the horizon, it points to the exact point where the sun rises, but only on one day of the year. Guess which day? December 25th. The three kings followed the star to find the son.