Jesus from Outer Space?

Whether there was a historical Jesus or not, the earliest Christians believed he was an extraterrestrial who descended from outer space and then reascended into the stars to communicate with them from beyond the grave. Once we accept this, the proposal that Jesus never even existed becomes more intelligible and more coherent with the surviving evidence.

See Also: Jesus from Outer Space: What the Earliest Christians Really Believed about Christ (Pitchstone Publishing, 2020).

By Richard Carrier, Ph.D.
Independent Scholar
December 2020

Recently, even Bart Ehrman has come around to the view of a growing number of scholars that the earliest Christians believed Jesus was a preexistent divine being. [1] And with good reason: the evidence is overwhelming. We see this in the earliest Christian creeds and doctrines that we have any evidence of (e.g., Philippians 2:5-11; Romans 8:3; Galatians 4:14; 1 Corinthians 8:6, 10:1-5). Not one of these did Paul have to defend or argue for because they had already been firmly accepted. They, therefore, predated even Paul and must have been advocated even by Peter and the first Apostles since there is no recorded quarrel over those doctrines, despite other quarrels being noted (e.g., Galatians 1-2; 1 Corinthians 1, 3, 9). Still, all these imagined that Jesus was an archangel from the heavens, who (in the currently popular view) descended to Earth, became incarnate, lived as the historical “Jesus” various theorists now attempt to reconstruct, and then was executed by the powers-that-be according to a hidden divine plan (1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Romans 16:25-26), only to be resurrected and ascend back into the heavens to communicate with his faithful through revelations from above (1 Corinthians 15:1-8; cf. Galatians 1; 1 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 12; 1 Thessalonians 4).

            However, many remain uncomfortable with restating this fact in terms less anachronistic and more accurate to ancient understanding. In that context, these Christians literally said that Jesus was an extraterrestrial who descended from the stars and there returned; that while on Earth, he merely wore a mortal human body, like an environment suit he eventually discarded (1 Corinthians 15; 2 Corinthians 5; Romans 8; Philippians 2; Galatians 4); and that he now lives in—and communicates telepathically from—what we call outer space, the very place he came from in the first place.

            This is the realization I build on in Jesus from Outer Space: What the Earliest Christians Really Believed about Christ (Pitchstone 2020). Though that is a shorter, colloquial summary of my formal peer-reviewed case in On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (Sheffield-Phoenix 2014), it adds to the latter in two respects. First, it details in the simplest possible terms why its theory makes sense without allowing distracting ancillary details to steal the attention of critics uncomfortable with its thesis, instead presenting the bare minimum needed to see how the conclusion follows. Secondly, it reframes those fundamental arguments in terms designed to dispatch the criticisms they originally evoked. Accordingly, anyone who wishes to challenge the theory—that Jesus began as a mere revelatory being (and, as such, was wholly imaginary) and was inserted into Earth’s history a lifetime later in biographical fiction—will have to begin with dispatching the arguments in Jesus from Outer Space (hereafter JFOS). One can then follow the rabbit hole deeper in the original treatise, On the Historicity of Jesus (hereafter OHJ), for which purpose JFOS includes a concordance to OHJ for requisite details and references.

            The title “Jesus from Outer Space” is not intended to mock or be frivolous. It is intended, rather, to pull away the veil of euphemisms and explain ancient history correctly. We cannot claim to understand the origins of Christianity if we do not admit what it was actually claiming to the people of the time. And that means admitting the earliest Christians taught that Jesus came from and continued to speak to them from outer space. Not in a fully modern sense, of course, but in every relevant sense. By the time Christianity arose, it was common to believe “the heavens” were visible realms above the Earth, held up by gaseous or ether-filled spaces, and extended all the way to the moon, the planets, and ultimately the stars—all of which encompass what we mean today by outer space. Therefore, that remains the most accurate English translation of the words that meant the heavens” in antiquity.

            That doesn’t mean they believed in an extraterrestrial vacuum (although some then did, just not Jewish theologians). But thats not what we even mean by outer space.” We mean everything above Earth’s atmosphere—all the space out there.” And thats what they believed, too. Many imagined a thinner kind of material occupied the remainder of the universe, whether some kind of invisible fire or ether, notions we didn’t even abandon until the end of the nineteenth century. In addition, they imagined creatures of various kinds inhabited every level thereof—which we would call extraterrestrials today. This only means they had different beliefs than we do about what exactly was in outer space, but they certainly had the same concept as we do of what was outer space. We ought to refer to their ideas just as they would have understood them and not obscure their beliefs behind inaccuracies. The modern idea of heaven” is of an other-dimensional space that has no physical location inside our universe—an idea that bears no resemblance at all to what they believed in antiquity. Hence, “heaven” has become an inaccurate and misleading translation. Outer space” is much closer in meaning to what their real beliefs were. And this is exactly the point of the title: when we translate the words of the earliest Christians to reflect better what they actually said, things look very different than one might assume. Much of modern biblical scholarship stumbles on anachronistic translations or understandings of ancient words, concepts, and phrases.

            The subtitle of JFOS, then, captures a dual fact: this might have been all that the first Christians really believed (with no conception of this extraterrestrial [italics]]having visited Earth[/italics]); but even if Jesus was a historical man who somehow inspired these bizarre beliefs about him, it remains the case that the first Christians genuinely believed (or at least claimed) that this extraterrestrial—now having shed his earthly, mortal body and resumed his status as an exalted stellar being—continued speaking to them from the stars beyond. This is what Paul meant when he said all the Apostles, himself included, “saw” Jesus after his death (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:3-8) and “did not receive” the gospel teachings “from any man” but “by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12; Romans 16:25-26)—because Jesus would not descend from outer space again until the very end and even then he would not return to Earth but descend only so far as the aer, the entire expanse below the moon (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

            In ancient parlance, a “revelation” or “vision” or “appearance” of a celestial deity (whether it be a god, demigod, angel, or demon) could refer to a dream, as well to waking hallucinations, ecstasies, and reveries. [2] Such distinctions were rarely made, leaving us uncertain about which one(s) Paul exactly meant. When he (or whomever he is talking about) says they visited “the third heaven” (indicating a visit either to Venus or the Sun, depending on which geocentric scheme he had in mind) and later had a whole ongoing conversation with Jesus, did Paul mean in a dream—or a waking vision? Was he dreaming and regarding his dreams as real communications from beyond as many ancients then did? Or was he outright seeing things and hearing voices? We don’t know; the vocabulary he employs is not specific enough to inform us. [3]

            It doesn’t matter, though, because either way, Paul means Jesus was communicating from outer space. Indeed, Paul believed that it was only by that mechanism Jesus ever preached the gospel (per any attentive reading of Romans 16:25-26 and Galatians 1, particularly given its near-exact wording to his opening of 1 Corinthians 15:1-8) or gave any commands or instructions. Paul, after all, had never met a real Jesus, so all the information he says he received directly from Jesus, per 2 Corinthians 12 and Galatians 1, had to be by revelation. Therefore, we should understand that 1 Corinthians 7:10-25, 9:14, 14:37, and even 11:23-26 were disclosed in this same manner. Indeed, even Romans 10:14-15 implies the gospel had only ever been preached to the Apostles—no other Jews ever heard Jesus, which sounds a great deal more like a revelatory channel than a public ministry. Herein lies only one among many reasons to suspect that that is, in fact, how Jesus began—not as an actual historical preacher.

            The case for that conclusion I have already summarized for Bible & Interpretation in a previous article, and you can head there if you want to begin examining the case for such a controversial conclusion (rather than dogmatically rejecting it outright without considering any evidence presented, as critics have done so far). [4] But it’s important to connect the commonalities here: even if Jesus did exist as a historical person, it is still the case that no real man “appeared” to anyone from beyond the grave. However, it is only that non-existent version of Jesus that actually launched the religion (1 Corinthians 15; Galatians 1; Romans 16:25-26). Had there been no imaginary Jesus, there would have been no Christianity. Thus, the historicity hypothesis doesn’t really do all that much work to explain the origins of Christianity: we all agree it originated from the teachings of a non-existent Jesus, so why do we need to cling so desperately to a real Jesus, who didn’t even invent the religion? Only his imaginary counterpart did, and it’s folly to continue pretending that’s not the case. Once we get over that stumbling block and admit that Christianity was originated by a non-existent Jesus (just as Mormonism was by a non-existent Moroni and Islam by a non-existent Gabriel), then we can more capably see how it could be that there wasn’t ever any Jesus at all. If all they needed was a revelatory Jesus to launch their faith, and that is historically the case, the possibility that that’s all they had returns to the table as a viable hypothesis. It simply remains to ask whether the evidence supports that theory or any other.

            And that question must be asked without misrepresentation, or dogmatic or institutional presuppositions or anachronistic readings of ancient texts. [5] Yet it appears to date that that’s all the critics of this theory are hung up on, typically ignoring the actual arguments and evidence I present that renders historicity unlikely and attacking instead mere incidental details or points I never even argued. Such behavior calls into question the reliability of the consensus on this point: if one cannot examine the actual case but instead must ignore or misrepresent it, historicity is more in crisis than assured. [6] It’s also telling that many well-qualified scholars now admit that the historicity of Jesus is not so certain. [7] I am not the only one to have recently published a peer-reviewed academic case for doubting it. [8] Nor am I the only one to have publicly admitted that such doubts deserve serious consideration; indeed, granting them a place would nudge Jesus scholarship toward academic respectability.” [9]

            In Jesus from Outer Space, I outline the essential reasons for that doubt, including how it aligns with the timeline of evidence and better explains various oddities and deficiencies in that evidence while requiring fewer ad hoc assumptions than any theory of historicity actually does. I then compare the revelatory-Jesus theory with the “zealot” hypothesis that Jesus not only existed but was also a violent revolutionary, later whitewashed as a pacifist in gospel fiction. [10] If that strange theory earns respectability and consideration as a plausible, academically-reasoned-even-if-false position—and indeed it has—then the revelatory-Jesus theory should even more so since it outperforms the zealot hypothesis on every relevant measure. That the Gospels are simply historical-seeming mythologies of Jesus is already widely agreed upon. [11] Attempts to “extract” historical truths hidden within those myths suffer from catastrophic flaws admitted by every dedicated peer-reviewed study of the methodology employed. [12] I also survey how the extra-biblical evidence for Jesus simply goes back to the Gospels and thus cannot corroborate them, while nothing peculiarly historicizing in the Gospels is corroborated in the Epistles.

            I also devote an entire chapter in JFOS to what I call the “Argument from Spartacus,” which manifests as an insistence that “we have as much or more evidence for Jesus as we have for [ … ],” where at [ … ] we find somewhere inserted not only Spartacus, but Tiberius, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Pontius Pilate, Herod Agrippa, Hannibal, Caligula, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and even Julius Caesar. I show none of these claims are true. It is perplexing that scholars making such claims don’t know this—and evidently didn’t even think to check. To remedy that, I show why we are so certain of the existence of such historical persons as these and why we have nowhere near the same kind, quantity, or quality of evidence for Jesus. I also explain why we shouldn’t be treating Jesus—a worshiped, preexistent savior deity who launched his religion through mystic revelations and whose earliest historical accounts are elaborately mythical—as if he were like any mundane political or military leader about whom none of those things are the case.

            Yet those things happen to be the very ones that warrant doubting the historicity of personages more similar to Jesus, so I devote another chapter to illustrating that in JFOS as well: Osiris, Aesop, Romulus, Hercules, Dionysus, Adonis, Baal, Inanna, Zalmoxis, even Moses and the Patriarchs. I show how the Gospels established Jesus with more tropes (pagan and Jewish) peculiar to mythical people than any other attested person from antiquity. We cannot dismiss that observation as irrelevant. We need some exceptional evidence to conclude Jesus is the exception to all these other equally mythologized figures—just as we would need to be assured of the historicity of any of them. And yet for Jesus, we just don’t have any evidence near that secure—whereas for all the figures inserted into any Argument from Spartacus, we do. And yet, they don’t share markers of being mythical comparable in scale or scope to what we have for Jesus. This would warrant suspicion for any other person—and would for Jesus, too, if he weren’t the object of a major, powerful, socially influential religion today. Doubting his existence comes at a social and professional cost that cannot be claimed for Homer or even Confucius. Admitting this is the first step to overcoming it.

            I also devote a chapter in JFOS to outlining how Christianity could have evolved from a revelatory religion to a historicizing one and how the timeline of evidence supports that very transition. In the process, I demonstrate that there is no pertinent difference between accepting this happened for Jesus altogether and accepting it happened for his post-mortem imaginary counterpart, “the risen Jesus,” who began solely in isolated, private dreams or visions (1 Corinthians 15; Galatians 1). However, by the end of the first century, the only version of the risen Jesus promoted or even mentioned is a physically reanimated corpse who hung out with the Apostles for weeks at dinner parties (John 20-21; Acts 1). If a historical, post-mortem Jesus could be invented and eclipse the original in so short a time so could a historical pre-mortem Jesus. The process would be the same.

            I then close with entire chapters on why Paul’s references to “Brothers of the Lord” are too vague to establish the historicity of Jesus and why Paul’s references to Jesus’ incarnation are even more so. The only Brothers of the Lord Paul clearly describes in his letters are baptized Christians—cultic, not biological brothers. I show in JFOS how every typical pushback against this realization fails on facts or logic—mere rationalizations for denying the obvious, not sound reasons to maintain Paul “must” have meant Jesus’ actual kin (a concept found nowhere in the letters of Paul). Likewise, in his actual Greek, Paul does not clearly say Jesus was descended from David in any terrestrial sense or that he had a biological mother. Again, to aver these things requires ignoring the actual language and context of the pertinent verses and replacing straightforward evidence with a whole slate of ad hoc presumptions entirely recruited from the very Christian faith tradition that tried to erase these facts to begin with. And if you don’t believe me, you really need to read these chapters before you can claim to be so sure. I suspect you won’t have heard many of the facts in them. They change everything.

            I propose that any Jesus scholar pose a serious question to himself: are you going to maintain your assumptions without ever examining the facts that challenge them, or are you going to actually confront and consider those facts before deciding what to conclude? You should not allow institutional inertia, academic pride, social pressure, or Christian faith to motivate your avoiding the actual evidence and arguments presented for this theory. Instead of reacting as other critics have done and producing rebuttals that don’t even represent the actual evidence and arguments made and thus never respond to them, it is high time scholars did their jobs—take the evidence and arguments seriously and actually respond to them, rather than avoid or misrepresent them. I hope that Jesus from Outer Space will help motivate more scholars to do that.


[1] Bart Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (HarperOne 2014); a conclusion multiply-corroborated: Andrew Chester, “High Christology—Whence, When and Why?” in Early Christianity 2 (2011), pp. 22-50; Susan Garrett, No Ordinary Angel: Celestial Spirits and Christian Claims about Jesus (Yale 2008); Adela Yarbro Collins, “Psalms, Philippians 2:6-11, and the Origins of Christology” in Biblical Interpretation 11 (2002), pp. 361-72; James Dunn, “Christ, Adam, and Preexistence,” in Martin & Dodd, Where Christology Began (W.J. Knox 1998), pp. 74-83; Charles Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence (Brill 1998); Ralph Martin, A Hymn of Christ: Philippians 2:5-11 in Recent Interpretation and in the Setting of Early Christian Worship (Intervarsity 1997); and Jonathan Knight, Disciples of the Beloved One: The Christology, Social Setting and Theological Context of the Ascension of Isaiah (Sheffield Academic Press 1996), pp. 135-39 and 296-303.

[2] William V. Harris, Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity (Harvard 2009).

[3] I survey the science and biblical evidence regarding all these possibilities in On the Historicity of Jesus (Sheffield-Phoenix 2014), pp. 124-37.

[4] Richard Carrier, “Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt: Should We Still Be Looking for a Historical Jesus?” at Bible & Interpretation (August 2014) []

[5] And serious, peer-reviewed arguments against the historicity of Jesus should not be conflated or equated with amateur crank proposals of any similar kind (such as those of Joseph Atwill, James Valliant, Dorothy Murdock, or Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy).

[6] To date, there have been only two substantive academic critical reviews of OHJ—Daniel Gullotta in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 15.2-3 (2017), pp. 310-46; Simon Gathercole, The Historical and Human Existence of Jesus in Pauls Letters,” Ibid. 16.2-3 (2018), pp. 183-212—and neither ever correctly describes the case made in OHJ. Instead, they respond to arguments not made or not even presented as relevant to reducing the probability of historicity, but mostly they ignore every substantive argument in OHJ: see Richard Carrier, “On the Historicity of Jesus: The Daniel Gullotta Review” (16 December 2017) [] and “The New Gathercole Article on Jesus Certainly Existing” (27 February 2019) [], both at Richard Carrier Blogs. The purely polemical review of Christina Petterson in Relegere 5.2 (2015) doesn’t even describe any of the arguments in OHJ, much less critique them (with one odd exception which she doesn’t critique).

            OHJ has also been criticized at least twice so far in academic monographs—in M. David Litwa, How the Gospels Became History: Jesus and Mediterranean Myths (Yale 2019), pp. 22-45 and Antonio Piñero, Aproximación al Jesús Histórico (3rd ed., Trotta 2019), pp. 19-23, 43-44—but again in neither case is anything I argue in OHJ correctly or even informedly described, much less addressed: see Richard Carrier, “Litwas Confused Critique of Mythicism” (29 April 2020) [] and “Antonio Piñero: Raving Historicist” (31 July 2020) []. They again chose not to read, much less respond to the actual content of OHJ.

            See my complete and frequently updated “List of Responses to Defenders of the Historicity of Jesus” at Richard Carrier Blogs (18 June 2014), which includes non-academic and amateur critiques [].

[7] Other fully qualified experts (including sitting and emeritus professors) who openly doubt the historicity of Jesus today include Arthur Droge, Thomas Brodie, Robert Price, Thomas Thompson, and Hector Avalos: see §22 in Richard Carrier, Ehrman on Historicity Recap” at Richard Carrier Blogs (24 July 2012) [].

[8] Raphael Lataster, Questioning the Historicity of Jesus (Brill 2019), inspired by his positive reception of OHJ as detailed in his critical review thereof in the Journal of Religious History 38.4 (December 2014), pp. 614-16. See Lataster’s summaries at Bible & Interpretation: “Questioning Jesus’ Historicity” (August 2019) [] and “When Critics Miss the Point About Questioning Jesus’ Historicity” (August 2019) […].

[9] Quoting the late Philip Davies (then Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield), Did Jesus Exist?” at Bible & Interpretation (August 2012) []. There, Davies calls out his own field for its behavior, lamenting the fact that:

“[T]he whole idea of raising this question needs to be attacked, ad hominem, as something outrageous. This is precisely the tactic [that the Old Testament] anti-minimalists tried twenty years ago: their targets were amateurs’, incompetent, and could be ignored. The amateurs’ are now all retired professors, while virtually everyone else in the field has become minimalist (if in most cases grudgingly and tacitly). So, as the saying goes, déjà vu all over again. [I] dont think, however, that in another 20 years there will be a consensus that Jesus did not exist, or even possibly didn’t exist, but a recognition that his existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship toward academic respectability.”

[10] The most recent and prominent defender of the zealot hypothesis is Fernando Bermejo-Rubio; see his article at Bible & Interpretation, “Why is the Hypothesis that Jesus Was an Anti-Roman Rebel Alive and Well?” (April 2013) [] and his case in “Jesus and the Anti-Roman Resistance: A Reassessment of the Arguments,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 12 (2014), pp. 1-105.

[11] See Litwa, op. cit., and Ehrman, op. cit.

[12] See Richard Carrier, Bayes’s Theorem and the Modern Historian: Proving History Requires Improving Methods,” at Bible & Interpretation (April 2012) […], summarizing the pertinent points from my own peer-reviewed study in Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (Prometheus 2012).




Article Comments

Submitted by Kenneth Greifer on Sat, 12/19/2020 - 22:08


I don't think it is possible to disprove a religion from it's Bible based on the stories. I was wondering how you would disprove an imaginary future religion based on the Harry Potter books or how would you convince people in a few hundred years that the novel "Forrest Gump" was not about a real person based on the stories. If a novel is well-written, then I don't think you can disprove it from the stories in it. I am not Christian, and I have never even read the New Testament, so I don't actually care if JC actually ever existed. I just don't think you can show that he never existed based on the New Testament. My understanding of your article is that you are saying that it is possible that the writers of the NT made up JC and somehow how you can show that to be true. I am sure that the stories of the NT could have been made up, but I don't see how that proves they were.

"I am sure that the stories of the NT could have been made up, but I don't see how that proves they were."

That isn't my argument. I nowhere argue "the Gospels are made up, therefore Jesus didn't exist." I don't argue that here, or in either book (Jesus from Outer Space or On the Historicity of Jesus). In fact, in OHJ I score that fact ("the Gospel stories are made up") as having zero weight in determining the probability Jesus really existed (see Chapter 8).

If you will read the article you are commenting on (or better yet, either book it is merely a précis of) you will see the argument I am summarizing here is twofold:

(1) The Gospels are the only definite source for a historical Jesus we have (everything else either derives from them or is too ambiguous to determine the question), yet they portray Jesus more similarly to other mythical persons than any historical person (even historical persons we know were also mythologized), therefore we need good evidence to prove Jesus is the exception among those similar characters; otherwise, we should conclude he is just like all the others, i.e. just as mythical as they are.

(2) The Epistles that predate the Gospels should provide such evidence, but instead exhibit no clear evidence that Jesus was ever known to have visited Earth; they appear only to know of a revelatory Jesus who was only ever met or spoken to in visions.

(1) + (2) = Jesus was more likely mythical than historical.

Note this is not "Jesus was mythical." Rather, "more likely" to be. In OHJ I still conclude with a 1 in 3 chance there was a historical Jesus.

Also note that (1) is crucially distinct and different from "the Gospel stories were made up." A biography merely being made up is not the same thing as fashioning a character entirely according to pagan and Jewish tropes for mythical persons.

For example, the ancient biography of Euripides is believed to be possibly entirely fiction, but the overall evidence is sufficient to establish he nevertheless existed (evidence we don't have for Jesus); moreover, the fiction written of him is more typical of fiction written about historical persons than of mythical ones (measuring by the various characteristics distinguishing each kind of fiction in antiquity).

See my references on the Argument from Spartacus.

If you are interested in how actual historical methods are routinely used to prove the nonhistoricity of persons and events, a perfectly common result in the field, see my book Proving History on the underlying methodology, and my discussion of examples in On the Historicity of Jesus (e.g. index, "Ned Ludd," "John Frum," "Betty Crocker," "Moses") and how reference classes already establish who is likely to be real or fake (such as based on mythotypes and naming conventions) see Chapters 5 and 6 therein. This is not difficult. The only time it becomes uncertain is when we lack all pertinent data (hence we cannot conclude on the historicity of Lao Tzu, Confucius, Buddha, or even Muhammed).

See also my discussions of the methodological issues in my articles on Hannibal and Muhammed:

Note the issue is never what we can "always" or "never" do. History, like all empirical facts, can only ever be known to one probability or another. So this question is always: "How probable does the evidence make [x]" where [x] can be any fact of history, including the existence of a person. Even if you want to insist the probability of [x] is 50% you still need to present an evidence-based reason for why you think that. You can't just arbitrarily declare probabilities. What I show in JFOS and OHJ is only that Jesus is less likely to have existed than to have been mythically constructed; indeed my formal conclusion is that on the evidence available, the probability of his existence cannot be higher than 1 in 3. But 1 in 3 is actually still a respectable probability of existing.

So don't confuse this as about proving someone did or didn't exist. All that is being proved is the probability that they did.

Submitted by Martin Hughes on Sun, 12/20/2020 - 08:18


The categories of ‘being much more than human, sent by God into the world’ and ‘human being making many controversial statements’ are not mutually exclusive. We may well think that the first category is empty but if people do consider it to be populated and describe an individual they think belongs to both categories they do not necessarily contradict themselves. If we encounter their literature it is not out of the question for us to think that their descriptions were in fact influenced, even determined, by elements of the real history of a controversial person.
On the other hand I don’t see a way of making it probable, simply from the content of these descriptions, that this sort of ‘determination by reality’ is taking place. There is debate about whether the message attributed to Jesus is political - but if it is that does not show that the writers of the story had a real historical record before them. Angels can give political advice. I’d probably ask for some if an angel walked into the room.
I don’t see why an angel should not be, if he chooses, to all appearances the brother of a real person, full of family resemblance and speaking freely of family history. (My projected best-seller ‘An Angel Stole my DNA’ will cover this possibility in more modern terms. Like my other project, ‘Jesus: Caesar’s Double Agent’, it will make me very rich.). The statement ‘your bro was really an angel’ is very hard to subject to Popperian falsification, at least if you are in a culture where angels are believed in.
So I don’t think that there’s any use in trying to prove that Jesus really existed by considering just what was said about him and I don’t think that the fact that the status attributed to ‘Jesus’ from an early date was a supernatural one shows strongly that those referring to ‘Jesus’ had no remembered or recorded real individual in mind. Existence is not a predicate, as Kant insists so boringly. What predicates need to be true of a person for that person to be/have been Jesus? I don’t think we have got as far as an answer to that question - and that is partly because of the heterogeneous mixture of human and supernatural predicates that have become associated with that name?
The related question of how those who spoke of Jesus knew whereof the spoke has troubled thoughtful Christians from a very early stage, I think.

Just to forestall any misunderstanding:

(1) I nowhere argue that "Jesus was assigned superhuman traits, therefore he didn't exist." Indeed in my peer reviewed work I score that fact as having zero weight in determining such a conclusion (see my reply to the preceding comment).

(2) That it is "possible" stories or sayings attributed to Jesus derive from an actual controversial person does not logically produce a "probability" that they do. For that we need evidence, not just a possibility (like the evidence we have for other, definitely historical persons).

Hence my point is that we don't have any evidence capable of making that explanation any more likely than the other (the other being that those sayings and stories derive from edifying fiction or revelation, not a real man). Which it is is at best 50/50 on present evidence. Then when we add the evidence against historicity, its probability drops below 50/50. For the details, and how these probabilities get measured, see the books referenced.

(3) The Gospels lather Jesus with tropes more typical of mythical persons than mythologized historical persons; and that makes Jesus just as likely to be mythical as all those other mythical persons. For the details, see the books referenced.

(4) There is actual evidence Paul and the Apostles only ever met Jesus in dreams or visions; so the argument is not "maybe they met a real person and mistook him for an angel." The evidence is, in other words, that they well understood they did not meet a person on Earth, but were having visions of a celestial person, someone speaking to them from heaven. The idea that he was ever a person walking around on Earth would seem to have been invented a lifetime later (it first appears in the Gospels). For the details, again, see the books referenced.

(5) All of the above is falsifiable and thus does not run afoul of Popperian epistemology.

(6) Likewise the contrary argument, e.g. the evidence establishing the historicity of Spartacus et al renders their historicity falsifiable (as we have in the case of more-likely-mythical persons, and especially definitely nonhistorical persons: I give many examples of both in the books referenced); hence it is precisely our not having any such evidence for Jesus, and having actual evidence to the contrary for Jesus, that falsifies claims of his historicity.

Although remember, "falsification" is relative. I conclude in On the Historicity of Jesus that there could still be a 1 in 3 chance there was a historical Jesus. Mine is thus not a claim to have "refuted" historicity; rather, to only have reduced its probability--and by exactly as much as better evidence would have increased it.

Submitted by Gregory Doudna on Tue, 12/22/2020 - 00:42


Richard Carrier, thanks for your analysis. When you write (in comment above), "The Gospels are the only definite source for a historical Jesus we have (everything else either derives from them or is too ambiguous to determine the question)", have you considered and excluded the possibility that Jesus ben Sapphat active in the 60s ce of Josephus became understood to be Jesus Christ? If that were so, then there would be contemporary source material on the historical Jesus not derivative from the Gospels.

Obviously if the chronological framing of the Gospels/Acts for Jesus is unquestioned, then the Gospels/Acts' Jesus could not have derived from Jesus ben Sapphat. But if the chronological framing of the Gospels/Acts is not assumed as a prior starting-point or premise for the question of the earthly existence of the Jesus believed to be Christ; and if per argument the letters of Paul are dated ca. 70-100 ce (with the exception of reading Aretas of 2 Cor 11 as Aretas IV, does anything internal to those letters indicate pre-70 composition or pre-70 activity of Paul believed to have written some of them, at the time of those letters? [and as for Aretas, why not an Aretas V 69-70?]); Revelation is 90s reflecting source visions from ca. 70; and gospels/Acts 2nd ce ... could it be source material for the historical Jesus unaffected by Christian portrayal has been in open view all this time, but unrecognized based upon uncritical assumption of late and actually questionable chronological-structuring portrayals of Gospels/Acts?

I suppose a first question would be: is there evidence that meets historians' criteria that Christian belief in Jesus existed predating 70? Can that be established as a fact by historians' standards?

Then a second question might be: is it plausible, or can it be excluded, that under the right circumstances a figure could immediately, following a death or disappearance of that figure, come to be regarded as divine in heaven and a source of channeled visions of seers (as opposed to assumptions that that process takes some time to develop)?

Suggested answers to these two questions, respectively: no, and plausible. But what would you assess, if you care to say or comment?

That’s all just speculation. And speculation is idle.

But if we operate at several steps removed from factual reality, after stacking up a dozen of these unevidenced assumptions, then I would say the scenario proposed is still much less likely than that Paul and Christianity date to the 50s B.C. for which, unlike this stack of conjectures, actually has some evidence in its support—just nowhere near enough to believe. Therefore, a fortiori, this imagined scenario is even less likely.

We must then add to this that the pre-Gospel sources (esp. the authentic Paulines, 1 Clement, and Hebrews) explicitly have no knowledge of the Jewish War ending in 70 (ending the Jewish temple cult, even leaving Jerusalem an uninhabited ruin, and radically changing the entirety of Judaism and its status with Rome), so they cannot date later (see my demonstrations of this in On the Historicity of Jesus), which conclusively rules out any theory that Christianity arose after 70.

For some reference points see my article on the historicity of Paul and my comments on dating relative to Aretas in comments elsewhere, and my article on Lena Einhorn on the Claudian Christ Theory. Links to which:

Submitted by Martin Hughes on Sat, 12/26/2020 - 10:04


I hope everyone here has had a good, even slightly merry, Christmas. Just to say that to my mind the question ‘Did X exist?’ is, since existence is not a predicate, to be regarded as ‘what predicates - or about how many of what reasonable list of predicates - need to be true of some subject for that subject to have, in normal understanding, been X?’. Not all of us might draw up the same list and the normal understanding of what X refers to may be changeable - so there needs to be some discussion at that point. In respect of our list we then need evidence for each predicate which we assign and evidence is harder to evaluate, though not impossible to use, if it comes with a strong and visible ideological purpose. We should note the possibility that many of the predicates are true of more than one subject, that is that ‘X’ may be a composite character.

"Jesus existed" is a hypothesis to explain evidence. As such it is testable, especially as against alternative hypotheses explaining that evidence. To see how, I cover the methodology in Proving History, and I show the application to this case in On the Historicity of Jesus.

Submitted by David Madison on Wed, 12/30/2020 - 08:35


A thought experiment may shed some light on this issue. Suppose that Christianity had died out at an early stage, all trace of it had been lost and no one had ever heard of Jesus. Now suppose that Mark's Gospel was discovered. What would we make of it? Clearly, it would be possible to regard it as a work of complete fiction. On the other hand it might have at least some basis in fact. So let's test these interpretations. According to Mark, Jesus attracted followers. So if Jesus was a real person, then there must have been some kind of Jesus movement in the first century. But what if Mark is complete fiction? In that case we have no reason whatsoever to think there was ever a Jesus movement. This is a crucial point. If we assume that Mark is fiction, we must have zero expectation of any Jesus movement.

In reality, we have always known that there was a Jesus movement, therefore we rarely stop to consider whether or not this is something that should or should not be expected. If we adopt a mythicist approach to Mark, it is very unexpected indeed. In spite of this it might still be possible to argue that Jesus is a mythical character, but on what basis? If the Jesus movement began in the way that Richard Carrier suggests then the "true" origins of the movement must have been forgotten at an early stage. But why should we believe that? According to Carrier, the Jesus "myth" is similar to other myths - so we have an argument from analogy. But how good are the analogies.

Let's consider what features an analogous case would need to have. The Gospels place Jesus in a clearly recognisable historical setting. Is that the case with the other "similar" myths? According to the Gospels, Jesus attracted followers and we have good evidence of a Jesus movement at exactly the time we would expect. Can we say the same about Hercules and other mythical figures? Only if these conditions can be met would there be a genuine analogy with Jesus. And I don't believe that they can be.

But perhaps it is the case that Paul's letters show us the "truth" about Jesus. Unfortunately, I can't see it. Nor can any expert in New Testament studies. So I for one remain unpersuaded by Richard Carrier's theory.

Yes. Numerous mythical people were placed in recognizable historical contexts. Even the Trojan War actually happened. Abraham and Moses and Daniel interact with real kings and kingdoms and real cities of an intended-to-be-dated historical time. And we also don't have the original accounts of how these myths arose.

For an even better studied analogy, see my discussion of John Frum and Ned Ludd in On the Historicity of Jesus, as we have much better documentation regarding their origins and development. The only difference with Christianity is we don't have the kinds of documents there that we have for Frum and Ludd, so we can't show the same thing happened directly. We have to reconstruct what happened indirectly from what scant evidence did survive. For how that works, you really need to read the actual book; either the summary Jesus from Outer Space or the peer reviewed academic monograph On the Historicity of Jesus.

Submitted by David Madison on Mon, 03/15/2021 - 10:18


If you want to propose an analogy to the Gospels, you need to show that the analogy matches the level of verifiable detail that we find in the Gospels. It isn't enough just to show that a mythical account mentions a few real cities or kings. The Gospels contain numerous authentic details. Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, Herod the Tetrarch and John the Baptist were real but relatively obscure people. They were quite important locally but not internationally. The Pharisees and Sadducees were real groups who held the views that the Gospels attribute to them. Capernaum was a real but insignificant town. People from Galilee really did travel to Jerusalem for Passover. The Romans did indeed occupy Judaea and people were likely to question whether it was right to pay taxes to them. There really were debates about observing the Law and, for example, whether or not you could rescue an animal from a ditch on the Sabbath was a real issue. Simon and Mary really were common names at the time, hence the need for various ways of distinguishing between two or more Simons or two or more Marys. The teaching of Jesus was both a recognizable product of that time and also very distinctive, as Geza Vermes and others have argued.

So it's all about the level of detail. Do we see the same level of verifiable detail in any ancient myth? I don't think so. Of course, it isn't surprising that we find so much detail in the Gospels. They were written quite soon after the period they depict. That doesn't necessarily prove that they are historical accounts but it does reframe the debate. You now have to argue that the Gospels are a form of elaborate historical fiction with no real parallel in the ancient world. You can try to do that but the onus is on you to show that they were only ever seen as fiction - and that is impossible. The existence of an organized Jesus movement, which appears to have started at the time when the Gospel story is set, is now fatal to the mythicist case. That is about as surprising as finding that there was an organized Harry Potter movement before the novels were written.

Are the cases of Ned Ludd and John Frum helpful to the mythicist case? Hardly. Do we have an account which shows Ned Ludd recruiting followers? Is it packed with authentic detail? Do we have accounts of the teaching of Ned Ludd or John Frum? Are their teachings revered and likely to be remembered and discussed for centuries? No on all counts. So I remain sceptical of the myth theory.

This is a reference class fallacy. The set, the reference class, you are hyper-narrowly describing now has only one member: Jesus. Therefore no statistical assumptions can be drawn from it. Thus those "hyper" details are not relevant; they can be as invented as any other details, and we know for a fact often they were (e.g. look at all the fake apocryphal Acts and Gospels that replicate it, as well as all the fake biographies of Medieval Saints, half the Historia Augusta, the entirety of the Biblical Antiquities, the Pentateuch, the book of Daniel, the Eastern Gospel of Jesus the Nazarene in the Talmud that hyper-details his ministry in the age of Jannaeus with his execution in Joppa, and so on). So we can draw no conclusions from this. Hence I've already addressed this problem in Chapter 6 of On the Historicity of Jesus (see there "The Alternative Class Objection" and "Rapid Legendary Development," as well as the full catalogue of fabricated histories and biographies, many indeed containing this kind of detail, in Element 44 in Chapter 5).

Submitted by Gregory Doudna on Sun, 03/21/2021 - 02:20


Richard Carrier 3/14/21 11:54 -- thank you for your reply. I read your references. I don't know whether the following might or might not modify your perspective that Jesus b. Saphat as a figure of interest is "just speculation".

(1) George Solomon, The Jesus of History and the Jesus of History Identified (1880). It is available online at To save time the extensive table of contents pp. IX-XV outlines the argument. Solomon argued there was no evidence in Josephus or otherwise for a Jesus at the time of Pilate, nor for the existence of a Christian sect prior to 70 in addition to the sect of interest to Josephus described as the Fourth Philosophy of Judah of Galilee; that the Gospels' Jesus reflects a combination of two historical Jesus figures from the 60s CE in Josephus, Jesus b. Ananias, and Jesus b. Sapphat, which Solomon argues were literarily combined into the one Jesus of the Gospels. Solomon argued that Christian texts including the letters of Paul were 2nd CE and that Jesus was mistakenly identified as the unnamed Samaritan false prophet executed by Pilate of Josephus, getting the chronology wrong by mistake or ignorance. In more recent times, Theodore Wedeen, "Two Jesuses, Jesus of Jerusalem and Jesus of Nazareth: Provocative Parallels and Imaginative Imitation", Forum N.S. 6.2 (Fall 2003), pp. 137-341, and Frans Vermeiren, A Chronological Revision of the Origins of Christianity (2017, available on amazon). I differ from Solomon in interpretation of Josephus's Jesus b. Ananias, which I think was already a legendized early form of Jesus of the Gospels also arguably derivative from Jesus b. Sapphat, to be developed in a forthcoming publication. I also differ in dating Paul's authentic letters 70-100 CE, not Solomon's 2nd ce. (I thank Giuseppe Ferri for calling the Solomon 1880 reference to attention.)

(2) On your certainty that the authentic Paulines, I Clement and Hebrews must be pre-70 because they do not refer to the Jewish War, that is debatable. The counterexample is Josephus's Contra Apion of 90s CE. Apart from a single passing, accidental, mention of the destruction of the temple by Titus at Bk 2.7--if that were not there, as it could easily not have been, it is an accident that it is there--then by your logic Contra Apion must be pre-70, even though it is not. Contra Apion refers in the present tense to the temple and its worship and the offering of sacrifices as ongoing at Bk. 2.1, 8-9, 24. This counterexample seems to remove your basis for certainty for pre-70 datings of the writings you name. On the other hand, arguing in favor of post-70 are I Thes 2:14-16; Heb 12:24-28; 13:12-14, and the supercessionism of Romans and Galatians in which Jewish law is declared obsolete and the temple cult over and not to be restored.

(3) Based on Papias of early 2nd ce being only 2-3 generations removed from the apostles' generation, the apostles were 1st CE not 1st BCE. Since Paul was contemporary to the generation of the apostles, therefore Paul also was 1st CE and not 1st BCE. Since Papias was collecting oral history or hearsay of what the apostles said and sayings and deeds of Jesus as told by the apostles ("disciples"), and shows no knowledge of apostles having said there was no Jesus, and since the ancient opponents to Christianity leveled many criticisms but never claimed Jesus's non-existence as one of them, that seems prima facie to argue there was a Jesus known to the apostles 2-3 generations before Papias, at the time Josephus has a Jesus active in Galilee with parallels to the stories of Jesus of the Gospels.

(4) The case for a short-lived, otherwise uncorroborated Aretas V of 69-70 CE--this is original from me--is not yet published. I start from the well-known problems with making sense of Aretas IV controlling Damascus in the 30s CE in light of 2 Cor 11:32. Then I argue to establish plausibility for an Aretas V at 69-70 following a death of Malichus II in the last year attested for him, sometime in his Year 31 argued to be the year 69-70 (Nisan to Nisan). It happens that 69-70 was a time when Nabatean forces were actively allied with and provided military units under the command of Vespasian and Titus. In that context Roman control of Damascus could well have been implemented by Nabatean auxiliaries under Roman command such that Paul's claim to have escaped a commander under king Aretas controlling the walls of Damascus could be other language for Roman control of Damascus in 69-70, in a way that was not the case with Aretas IV. This in turn opens up a new reading of Galatians' chronology which will await forthcoming publication for the full argument. Briefly, the conversion of Paul of Gal 1:15-17 becomes dated ca. 67-68, the meeting with the pillars of Gal 2:1-9 becomes a pre-siege diplomatic meeting of Paul meeting with the government of Jerusalem under Simon bar Giora and Simon's assistant commanders, two Idumean brothers named James and John (War 4.235; 5.249; 5.290; 6.380). The writing of 2 Corinthians 11 becomes dated early 80s. I will argue that the visits to Jerusalem of Gal 1 and Gal 2 may be two versions of the same visit even though presented by Paul as two, and that Gal 2:1 should be read with the visit at the beginning ("during") rather than at the conclusion of the fourteen year time-span of that verse.

(5) Lactantius, early 4th ce, quoted Sossonius Hierocles as saying Jesus commanded nine hundred robbers (Divine Institutes 5.3). That is transparently an ancient historian claiming that Jesus of the Christians was “Jesus, the brigand chief on the borderland of Ptolemais … with his force, which numbered eight hundred … band of brigands” (Vita 104-111). That Jesus fairly clearly is Jesus b. Saphat. Of course Sossonius could have been mistaken. But was he?

Gregory, nothing you present is "evidence" by any logically relevant definition. This is starting to sound like tinfoil hat at this point. To be evidence for your theory, an item must be significantly more probable on your theory than any plausible competing explanation of it. Nothing you present qualifies as such.

(1) 19th century scholarship is simply not at all reliable and must never be cited as evidence (indeed, even early 20th century scholarship is largely rejected by experts today: Nothing you list here even is evidence at all; it's just a collection of speculations, from a period in which historical knowledge and methods were catastrophically terrible.

(2) Um, "a single passing, accidental, mention of the destruction of the temple" counts as a reference to it. Your conclusion is thus immediately refuted by your own evidence. This is not how to do history. But you are also doing what conspiracy theorists do, and ignoring evidence that refutes you even more soundly (Josephus extensively discusses that very war and references his own extensive writings on it in Contra Apion §1.8-10; and he explicitly mentions, not in passing, Titus's sack and destruction of the temple in §2.7-8) and ignoring the fact that a conclusion is reached by multiple converging lines of evidence not a single one: Josephus extensively discusses the destruction of the temple in his writings, and Contra Apion can be proved his by modern stylometric analysis (which uses statistical methods no ancient forger was aware of and thus could successfully imitate), just as with the letters of Paul. So there is no way to argue for forgery, here or in Paul's case (the sole exception among the "seven authentics" may be Philemon, owing to it being so short and off-topic as to limit stylometrics, but Philemon says nothing pertinent to anything we are discussing here).

(3) Papias is a circular argument. I agree (which is my very point) that evidence like this accumulates for a 50s AD date for Paul; but on the theory that Paul wrote in the 50s BC, the Gospels and Acts have all faked a different date, inspiring a new resurgence of the cult with different ideas about its origin, which would be the faked date Papias et al. are assuming correct (and buying oral urban legends regarding, as Papias says he never actually met any of the "apostles" and none could biologically have been alive at the time anyway: Hence, as per my point, this remains more plausible than the wild pile of speculations you are pushing. That I am not persuaded by that argument is precisely why, a fortiori, I could never be persuaded by yours.

(4) Unpublished, un-peer-reviewed assertions contrary to currently established findings, do not count as evidence here. This is why I originally published my work under peer review (including several journal articles and two books, Proving History and On the Historicity of Jesus): the only reason to take my thesis seriously. You evidently have a very long way to go to catch your thesis up to any comparable status.

(5) Sossianus Hierocles was an anti-Christian polemicist writing hundreds of tears after the fact, citing no sources, for a claim attested by no one prior, not even previous anti-Christian polemicists. This is not what any real historians treat as evidence. You should know better than this. And that's before we even get to the point that Lactantius in fact never identifies this polemicist, other than being of the Diocletianic era, and we only now conjecture it was Hierocles; and that this polemical argument does not say the "Christ," i.e. messianic claimant, meant was even named Jesus, but to the contrary the polemicist was more likely than your thesis falsely equating the Christian "Christ" with a different "Christ," there being quite a few in the relevant era (see On the Historicity of Jesus, Element 4, Chapter 4). Evidence that is just as likely or more likely on an alternative thesis cannot be evidence for your thesis. This is evidence 101.

Submitted by David Madison on Tue, 03/23/2021 - 01:07


I do not accept for a moment that the "hyper" details are not relevant. For one thing, the reason why we have such details is that the Gospels were written quite soon after the time when the story is set by people who had information about that period. Were ancient myths written quite soon after the time when the story was set by people who remembered the period? There is no reason to think so. Therefore we are comparing two very different kinds of literature. To declare that those differences don't matter is, frankly, absurd.

It should also be pointed out that the canonical Gospels are radically different from the apocryphal gospels. For example, the Sophia of Jesus Christ gives only the vaguest sense of its setting. The only place that it mentions is the Mount of Olives, which the author thinks was in Galilee.

But I am not saying that the existence of detailed accounts proves that Jesus existed. The crucial point is that the accounts were produced by an organised movement which apparently began at the time when the story was set. That is another feature that must be replicated by any proposed analogy. So pointing out that works of fiction may have verisimilitude is not relevant unless there was also an accompanying movement.

The fact remains that your case is based on an obviously flawed analogy.

David Madison, I fail to see the flawed analogy. Many apocryphal Gospels, (e.g. Peter, Nicodemus) as also fictional biographies in antiquity, and Talmudic legends about Rabbis, and Medieval myths about Saints, contain comparable elements. It is you who are ignoring this fact and trying to pretend the Gospels are unique in these kinds of features among fictional literature. They simply are not. This is acknowledged by numerous experts, many of whom I cite in On the Historicity of Jesus (see in particular Element 44 of Chapter 5). I can't help you if you are just dead set on ignoring all this.

Submitted by Gregory Doudna on Wed, 03/24/2021 - 08:50


Richard, at first I was taken aback by the combination of (a) total rejection of and disinterest in even looking at a book directly and integrally material to your "On the Historicity of Jesus" work and niche in scholarship, sight unseen--on the stated grounds that it was written in the 19th century, combined with (b) the over-the-top bludgeoning, name-calling, and lecturing posture as if to a student when I am a colleague and a peer in a closely-related field to yours.

To get one thing out of the way quickly, scholars in collegial settings discuss unpublished work all the time. Scholars informally and formally routinely consider, respond to, and discuss ideas and proposals on the basis of experience with primary sources with no conscious restriction in conversation to "only what has been peer-reviewed published". Most papers presented at scholarly conferences, and much of the informal conversations at such and otherwise, concern work that has not yet been published. Comments to articles on this site at their best are something like those informal conversations and feedback at conference presentations.

The fact is your lack of knowledge of the argument of the George Solomon 1880 book, let alone addressing it, is a material omission in "On the Historicity of Jesus". It was a good-faith material omission since I have no doubt you, like I until recently, had never heard of it at the time you produced "On the Historicity". That however is not the case now, you have heard of it, and have given every indication that it is beneath you to look at it, or to understand its argument.

Whether after looking at it--if you do five years or ten years from now if ever--you do not find it convincing or that you disagree with it is beside the point here. The point is Solomon 1880 is not crank. It is as materially relevant to your niche of work as a published piece of work can be, but it was missed by you because not in the world of discourse with which you were familiar when you did that work.

The over-the-top bludgeoning response combined with "I will not even look at it" (paraphrase) comes across as a reaction of perceived vulnerability. It is especially odd given what you wrote in "On the Historicity of Jesus", pp. 428-429, in which you yourself say that the Gospel of Mark's Passion Story of Jesus is drawn directly from Josephus's figure Jesus b. Ananias of the 60s:

"So the entire narrative of Mark is a fictional, symbolic construct, from beginning to end (. . .) Indeed, even how Mark decides to construct the sequence of the Passover narrative appears to be based on the tale of another Jesus: Jesus ben Ananias, the 'Jesus of Jerusalem', an insane prophet active in the 60s CE who is then killed in the siege of Jerusalem (roughly in the year 70). His story is told by Josephus in the Jewish War, and unless Josephus invented him, his narrative must have been famous, famous enough for Josephus to know of it, and thus famous enough for Mark to know of it, too, and make use of it to model the tale of his own Jesus. Or if Josephus invented the tale, then Mark evidently used Josephus as a source. Because the parallels are too numerous to be at all probable as a coincidence. Some Mark does derive from elsewhere (or matches from elsewhere to a double purpose), but the overall scheme of the story in Josephus matches Mark too closely to believe that Mark just came up with the exact same scheme independently. And since it's not believed that Josephus invented a new story using Mark, we must conclude Mark invented his story using Josephus--or the same tale known to Josephus."

That is reasonable and accurate analysis. But what you have not realized and evidently have not the least interest in learning, is that the stories of Jesus of the Gospel of Mark also draw no less substantially from Jesus b. Sapphat of the 60s, and are no less compelling as direct derivation, as you acknowledge in the case of Jesus b. Ananias of the 60s.

Again, the Jesus b. Sapphat source of Jesus stories of the Gospels is absolutely not crank. I know crank and this isn't. It is no more crank than Jesus b. Ananias as source of Jesus's trial and apocalyptic. Yet Jesus b. Saphat does not even appear in the index to your 696 pp "On the Historicity" addressing the question of whether the Christian Jesus was or was not a figure in history--not even mentioned in that entire study. With respect, failure to even mention, let alone address, Jesus b. Saphat in 696 pages addressing every other conceivable aspect to the question in "On the Historicity" is sort of like missing the barn door, or not seeing an elephant in the room. This is why I say your lack of discussion of the content of Solomon 1880--I do not mean agreement, but understanding and addressing the Jesus b. Saphat connections at all--is a material omission in your otherwise highly worthy discussion.

Both my m.a. advisor at Cornell, Martin Bernal, author of Black Athena, and then Thomas Thompson at Copenhagen with my dr. degree, talked a lot about the sociology of scholarship, not simply the content of scholarship. My first publication foray crossing over from Qumran to Christian origins is, "Was Josephus's John the Baptist Passage a Chronologically Dislocated Story of the Death of Hyrcanus II?", published in the 2020 Thomas Thompson festschrift and accessible on my page on

Back to tone, I will leave this discussion since the bludgeoning and threat-attack mode is so offputting. You can have any last word if you like. You will get no war from me.

Doudna: You did not respond to any point I made. Ignoring content and obsessing over tone instead is precisely the behavior of a crank. As also of anyone who does not have a legitimate case to make.

Submitted by David Madison on Sun, 04/11/2021 - 00:26


Sorry, Richard, but my point still stands. Firstly, scholars make a definite distinction between the canonical and the apocryphal gospels. Secondly, I remain to be convinced that any work of fiction before the last few centuries genuinely resembles the Gospels in terms of setting the scene. But let's say that some works of fiction do. That would just be the first step in an argument from analogy (as I have explained) and it is one at which ancient mythology falls.

Submitted by moussa Tamer on Thu, 07/15/2021 - 15:49


Why are some people so stubborn and try to prove capriciously that Jesus existed
For all practical purposes, Jesus does not answer prayers or appear to anyone unless you are on drugs. All double blind major studies showed that prayers never get answered.
Why not discuss that Jesus was born from a Virgin and prove the science of Genetics is wrong. Oh by the way he had exactly 12 Apostles like Mithra. All historians forget to mention him before the Gospels were written, even though he destroyed the temple, his death caused the sun to eclipse and caused earthquakes. His miracles are so many according to John that all the books of the world can not contain it. Yet, Christians were numbered at the end of the first Century. Wow, the Writer of the Gospels easdroped on Jesus praying by himself and knew what he told God

Submitted by Gregory Doudna on Fri, 07/30/2021 - 11:13


Richard Carrier, responding to your 5 points at 3/22 12:24. On 1 and 4 I agree with your statements strictly construed however they somewhat miss the point that I was in mode of informal discussion not formal proof. It would be as if you were to raise a topic with some interesting points still under consideration and someone blasts you because it is not formally proven, therefore should not be voiced. The same applies in part to your point 5, in which your entire point is an eloquent argument in agreement with me that Sossianus or whoever was Lactantius's source cannot be considered hard evidence ("could be mistaken" as I put it), given the uncertainties you rightly name (and expressed better), though I do not agree that it therefore logically follows that it is not of interest or improper to mention. As for 2 and 3:

2 -- You missed my point, which is the main reason I did not respond to this one earlier. You argue eloquently that Josephus wrote post-70 which is what I know and said and never said otherwise, therefore your argument establishing that point is both correct and immaterial to the actual point. The actual point is the dating not of Josephus but of Paul's letters. You agree with 100% of mainstream scholarship that those letters (referring, with you, to the genuine letters) were written 50s CE, not one decade earlier or one decade later. The problem is, nothing in Paul's letters with the exception of the claim of an Aretas IV allusion at 2 Cor 11 establishes a pre-70 date directly at any point in those letters, nor have you cited any. You cite an indirect argument from silence, a lack of unambiguous backward allusion to events of 70 in Paul's letters. On Aretas IV, I have submitted an article to a peer-reviewed journal removing the Aretas IV argument for date of Paul's letters by establishing (per argument of my journal submission) from Nabataean evidence that there was another Nabataean king between Malichus II and Rabbel II, ca. 69-70 CE, who may have been named Aretas, the leading candidate for the name, thereby raising another first-century CE possibility for the Aretas referent at 2 Cor 11. All of the argument for the existence of the additional Nabataean king at ca. 69-70 CE whose most plausible name candidate was Aretas, is established independently of 2 Cor 11. There is no reason anyone, whether yourself or any other, should accept that until and if it is vetted through peer review and published (and even then only if the argument holds up to further critical reading and review), but for purposes of this discussion I ask you to assess (if responding to me) how secure you believe the argument for the 50s dating of Paul's letters stands minus the 2 Cor 11 Aretas argument. Does your 50s dating of Paul's letters stand without need of 2 Cor 11, in other words--given that that is the only hard-date argument internal to the letters for a pre-70 date of letter-writing activity of Paul. (Thomas Thompson at Copenhagen has stated for the record that he finds my submitted article proposing a 69-70 CE Aretas V "an entirely convincing hypothesis that should be published".) Again, no reason for you to accept that at this point, not asking you to, but am asking, as a thought experiment, for you to segregate out 2 Cor 11 from your argument-structure for the 50s CE date and assess whether your conclusion on that stands unaffected if 2 Cor 11 were to be removed.

Concerning the argument from silence, that argument may not be as secure as you assume. Who can forget John A.T. Robinson's argument that ALL New Testament writings including the Gospels and Acts are pre-70 because there is no unambiguous backward allusion to 70 in ANY New Testament writing. The same fallacy which applied in the case of John A.T. Robinson's argument with respect to his argument for pre-70 Luke-Acts is paralleled with respect to pre-70 dating of Paul's letter-writing. (Admittedly, the 2nd CE legendary book of Acts retrospectively implies that Paul's letter-writing activity was pre-70, as do the legends of Paul executed by Nero, but those are impeachable on grounds I do not think need to be argued here with you [and there is no space to do so anyway].)

As brought out by Paul George in "Jesus of the Books" (2018): "The humiliation and defeat of the Jews [of 70] is a past event in Paul's writings. Four years after the end of the Great War in 1918, Pope Pius XI issued his first encyclical Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio. In this work of about 11,500 words the Great War is mentioned 14 times. Nine years later the same term gets only one mention in his much longer Quadragesimo Anno. Both encyclicals deal with similar themes. Using the writings of the Pope as a guide and noting the indirect references to the War in Paul, we can reasonably speculate that he was writing about 10 years after the event.”

Very relevant here is Etienne Nodet, "On the Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple", in A. Giambrone, ed., Rethinking the Jewish War. Archaeology, Society, Traditions, Leuven, Peeters, 2020, 236-248; and Anthony Giambrone, "Temple Arsons and Murder of the Prophets: Early Christian Responses to Jews an the Jewish Revolt(s)", in Giambrone, Rethinking the Jewish War, 249-275. The key point of the articles of Nodet and Giambrone is that the notion of a final and permanent destruction of the temple cult came about, not as usually supposed, by and following the destruction of 70, but rather by the actions of Hadrian of ca. 130. Before that time, between 70 and 130, there are hints that there was operation of the temple cult at Jerusalem with expectation that a building would be rebuilt. In this context the lack of mention in Paul's letters of a permanent destruction of the temple cult is an argument in favor of Paul's letters being pre-Hadrian but not pre-70. Both Nodet and Giambrone criticize modern scholarly and ancient post-Hadrian conflation of the effects of 70 (Titus) and 130 (Hadrian) in the worlds of texts and memory from the second century CE forward.

3 -- on the dating of the era of the apostles in Papias 1-2 generations before Papias as circular argument, while I follow your point partway, there is this: Papias claimed he knew the daughter of one of them, a daughter of Philip, one of Papias's claimed sources. That seems to be a non-circular claim of a date for the apostles one or two generations prior to Papias, depending on the age of that daughter. Nothing in Papias distinguishes the father of Philip's daughter from the apostle by that name in Papias's list of seven names. That there was an originally single figure artificially become and presented as a doublet of two Philips in Acts is argued convincingly by Christopher Matthews, Philip Apostle and Evangelist: Configurations of a Tradition, 2002, Brill.

Belatedly thank you for your time in commenting, referring to content not tone :-)

Submitted by David Madison on Sat, 08/14/2021 - 00:39


According to Greg Doudna, the real inspiration for the Jesus movement was Jesus ben Sapphat, who was active in the 60s. I would be interested to know the reasoning behind Greg's proposal. Firstly, why was he looking for the "real" Jesus and where did he expect to find him? The search for the "real" Jesus is usually based on the assumption that the Gospels have at least some historical basis - that a man called Jesus actually lived at the time when the Gospels say he did. If that assumption is abandoned, it is difficult to see what could guide the search for the real Jesus. How would you know when the real Jesus lived? Potentially, there could be an answer to that question if we knew for certain that Paul was active after AD 70. But we don't know that, and Greg's attempts to demonstrate this must be regarded as speculative at best. We might still have something to go on if we could find a Jesus who corresponds closely to what Paul says about Jesus. Does that apply to Jesus ben Sapphat? Let's start by asking whether this Jesus died by crucifixion (and not just whether this *might* have happened). As far as I can tell, there is no clear indication that he did.

It appears that there is nothing to guide Greg's search for the "real" Jesus. So here is the problem. It is easy to claim that you have found the "answer" to a problem when your search for the answer was completely unconstrained. In those circumstances you can seize on pretty much anything and then engage in speculation to "demonstrate" that your answer is correct.

Submitted by Gregory Doudna on Mon, 08/16/2021 - 09:52


Well David M., you are probably familiar with the story of Josephus in Vita (420-421) in which Josephus sees three acquaintances crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. According to his story, he went to Titus in tears and got the three taken down from the crosses and given medical attention by the Romans. It was too late for two who died from their ordeal, but one, Josephus says, lived.

Not everyone will interpret that story in Vita the same way but here is how I read it. I think Josephus's story appears in legendized form in the later Gospel story of the three crucified one of whom lives. I think Josephus bar Matthias appears as the character Joseph of Arimethea, the leading figure among the Jews said to be secretly a supporter of Jesus who carries out the identical function of having one of the three taken down from the cross to live again. I think the Josephus Vita story and the later Gospel crucifixion story are versions of the same--one developed from the other--and that the origin of the Passion story of Jesus, so central to Christianity, is no earlier than the time of the siege of Jerusalem, 70 CE.

What Josephus does not tell in Vita is the identity of the one Josephus saved from death on the cross other than Josephus’s claim that he knew him. Here is the speculative leap, that the name given to the figure in the Gospel version, Jesus, may reflect the name of the one Josephus saved in Vita, based on a backward reasoning that if the three-and-one crucifieds of Vita and in the Gospel version correspond, and if Josephus appears as a character under his own name, by analogy the name of the central figure in the legend, Jesus, could similarly reflect the proper name of the one saved from the cross in Vita. The major Jesus figure at the time of the Revolt, terror to the Romans and Roman-sympathizers, active in Galilee at the same time as Josephus who worked with him and covered up personal dealings with him,* was Jesus ben Sapphat, whose fate after the Roman conquest of Galilee is untold by Josephus. q.e.d. a person of interest.

(*According to Josephus, governing in Galilee, he had secret dealings with Jesus ben Sapphat active in Galilee in the runup to the Roman arrival. But when Josephus later responded in Vita to accusations that he had destroyed the palace of Herod in Tiberias, Josephus gave an “I was only giving orders” defense, blaming Jesus ben Sapphat for doing that.)

Then a lot else converges on the First Revolt as the context underlying the founder-figure claimed by Christians. The era of the apostles seems to be about this era, on the basis of Papias and Philip's daughters, as well as stories in Papias of persons healed by Jesus living into the time of Hadrian. I suspect the "pillars" of Jerusalem at Gal. 2:1-9 may be the government of Jerusalem during the later stages of the Revolt, Simon bar Gioras, James b. Sosa, and John of Gischala, and that Paul appears in Josephus as Saul the Herodian kinsman of Agrippa II of the 60s--that Eisenman got that one right. That is, ancient diplomacy and realpolitik underlying the legends and rhetoric of the visit to the pillars.

It is already uncontroversial that much of the Gospels' Jesus material reflects First Revolt-era contexts--the rending of the temple veil; the signs in the heavens; the Olivet prophecy; the denarius tribute story, and on and on, to which for reasons just given the crucifixion and bodily resurrection of Jesus may be added. It is not such a great leap therefore to consider that the whole of Jesus-story origins, not just some of it, may be from that date era and that the earlier Pilate time-setting is mistaken and anachronistic as told in Christian origin traditions set in texts in the second century CE. Unless there is a sound basis to know that Christian belief in a crucifixion and bodily resurrection of a Jesus was held by persons pre-70, why not consider?

Whereas there is no significant Jesus known in the 30s external to Christian legend, there is this Jesus active at the time of the First Revolt who has some similarities to Jesus of the Gospels and whose name would be in agreement with the backward argument for the name “Jesus” as the name of the one who survived the cross of 70. This is largely uncharted territory--so uncharted that it never occurred to Mr. Carrier to consider or refute in his voluminous Bayesian analysis work dealing with the Jesus question, and apparently incapable of reasoned or at least civil response, he responds now with invective (on his blog). (Spock arched-eyebrow here.) Lena Einhorn, A Shift in Time, argues for artificiality of the 30s date setting of the Jesus stories in the Gospels and that those stories reflect contexts of the later procurators closer to the time of the First Revolt.

Submitted by David Madison on Tue, 08/17/2021 - 11:48


Thanks for the reply, Greg. In my opinion, the argument you have presented is a poor substitute for an actual reference to a crucified Jesus. I don't see much of a parallel between the story recounted by Josephus and the Gospel account of the crucifixion. In one case someone is trying to save people from crucifixion and in the other someone is trying to ensure that a victim of crucifixion gets a proper burial. I certainly wouldn't be inclined to use the Gospel story to tell us something about Josephus' experience that he doesn't tell us himself. Furthermore, you infer that the person saved from crucifixion would have been Jesus ben Sapphat. So here is the question. Why would someone who has been saved from crucifixion be the inspiration to Paul and others? Why would people regard what happened to him as a "resurrection"? This seems like the swoon theory. But the bottom line is this. We have no statement to the effect that Jesus ben Sapphat was crucified, much less that he was subsequently resurrected.

You say that the Gospels reflect a later time - i.e., AD 70 and later. However, that is no mystery. This is the time to which the writing of the Gospels is usually dated. Regarding Papias, it is plausible that one or two of Jesus' disciples were still alive in the late first century. At the time when Papias is writing this period has passed and he writes about it in the past tense.

Submitted by Gregory Doudna on Sun, 08/22/2021 - 09:42


Good comments David Madison. Some final ones from me.

-- Game-changer: Kenneth W. Clark, "Worship in the Jerusalem Temple after A.D. 70", NTS 6 (1960); 269-80. The temple cult continued operable in Jerusalem in the 70-135 period and ended with Hadrian, not earlier in 70. A misbegotten scholarly construction that the temple cult and sacrifices in Jerusalem ceased in 70. Very convincing, after reading this one wonders how could scholars have thought otherwise all this time? Gone are all the arguments for pre-70 dating of Hebrews, many other texts, on the basis of speaking of the temple cult as still operable.

-- The differences you cite between the two versions of the three-and-one crucifieds (Vita, and the Christian Gospels' Passion story), accurate observations, ironically give weight in favor of argument that the Passion legend version reflects two hearsay versions of an event rather than a mimesis phenomenon in which the Gospel version was inspired literarily by the story in Vita. This is if the premise is accepted that Joseph of Arimethea is Joseph b. Matthias based on roles and description, proper name and garbled pronunciation of patronymic. In this light the Jesus crucifixion/resurrection Gospel story derives from a point of view of observers who saw bodies taken down from crosses looking all to be dead and then one seen alive again, interpreted as miracle and evidence of divine favor and significance, many ancient parallels in which unusual events are interpreted as omens or signs of cosmic significance.

-- Jesus b. Sapphat is on the short list of major figures or leaders of the Revolt. Josephus gives the fates of most of them, but Jesus b. Sapphat is among the smaller number of major figures of whom Josephus does not tell their fate. This heightens the focus on the reasonable question whether the Vita version of the underlying story whose version in the Christian Passion features a "Jesus", reflects Jesus b. Sapphat.

-- that Jesus b. Sapphat independently has other similarities to the Gospels' Jesus is illustrated by the George Solomon 19th century book named earlier, in which Solomon was able to make that argument entirely apart from identification of the Vita crucified as Jesus b. Sapphat. The only published argument in print to my knowledge which proposes the Vita crucified survivor story was Jesus b. Sapphat is the earlier-cited Vermeiren, Chronological Revision of the Origins of Christianity (2015). That is, Jesus b. Sapphat as the origin of the crucified/risen Jesus of Christian origin-tradition claim was not even voiced, let alone considered or discussed or refuted, prior to 2015 (to my knowledge).

-- The Gospel episode of the Gesarene demoniac and the 2000 pigs (Mk 5) already has a literature in existing NT scholarship identifying key essentials of that story as a story reflective of the time of Vespasian and Placidus's Fifth Legion in Transjordan in 68 CE--a story of a massacre of a Roman military unit by one reading of the swine into the sea--at the same time Jesus b. Sapphat is active and engaged in combat with Roman legions in the region. Josephus does not specifically situate Jesus b. Sapphat in transjordan, and the victories the Jewish rebels did inflict on Romans told by Josephus are situated by Josephus in Galilee not in transjordan, but those may be quibbles in light of the similarities in context and name of the warrior figure Jesus on the Jewish side opposing the Romans compared to Jesus of the Gospel story of the same 68 CE context.

-- The outer space preexistence and post-existence of Jesus Christ in Christian texts neither argues positively or negatively with respect to the Jesus b. Sapphat hypothesis, since on the one hand, the cosmic Christ can be argued to account for creation of all of the stories of the human figure Jesus, but on the other hand, is also not inconsistent with an actual human figure being reified in status and memory by supporters into such cosmic categories. There is a potential falsification of the Jesus b. Sapphat hypothesis however, not if a cosmic Christ idea can be shown to exist pre-70 but if a pre-70 cosmic Christ can be shown who was named "Jesus".

-- The Christian Passion story appears to have combined or melded into one fictitious combined story the trial of Jesus b. Ananias of ca. 62 CE per Josephus--who was released by Roman procurator Albinus [presumably with the help of a bribe] against the wishes of fellow Jewish accusers calling for his death--and Jesus b. Sapphias crucified per the Vita-story/reconstruction argument. That is, the Barabbas version in which Jesus is freed after a trial, and the crucified Jesus, combined into a single Passion story. That Josephus's 60s Jesus b. Ananias is the story of Jesus's trial in the Gospels is now mainstream NT scholarship at this point in the wake of the good work of Weeden.

-- Imagine the coincidence, so far: the most critical elements of the single Christian Passion story--the trial with a merciful procurator seeking to release against Jewish accusers, and the resurrection after being crucified with two others-reflect a Jesus and a Jesus both of 60s told in Josephus. Both of these origins to the Passion Story Jesus are named "Jesus" in history of the 60s (versus no known historical Jesus of the 30s independent of 2nd CE Christian origin claims). How is it that two Jesuses of history (Weeden suggests Jesus b. Ananias could be non-historical though he assumes the 30 CE Jesus still is, but never mind that), both of the 60s, when combined produce the Christian Passion Story of Jesus? What is going on there?

-- Here is where I will go a step further, not as claim of certainty but as suggestion or a probing: a suggestion that Jesus b. Ananias is indeed highly fictionalized as Weeden says, but--(drawing on that very argument) is a version of Jesus b. Sapphat. The existence of multiple and divergent tellings of figures in Josephus is well-established as a phenomenon from many comparative examples of doublets in Josephus, likely originating from Roman collection of multiple stories of the war and siege from Roman prisoner interrogations (which Josephus likely played a key role), lots of hearsay and garbling of facts and names. So here is my hypothesis going into the prosopography: "Sapphat" or something close to that is the true proper name of this Jesus's patronym, which may or may not be related to "Sepphoraeus" the patronym of Judah of 4 bce (War 1.648-655), if one wants to see a link of this Jesus to the zealot hypothesis. "Sapphat", a Greek name, also could fit into a known pattern in which Jewish (hebrew) names sounding alike phonetically were often attached to the same person, e.g. "Joseph" the patronym of Jesus of the Gospel story. Then concerning Jesus b. Ananias, and the reason underlying why he was accused and tried, argued for linking him (maybe) to the "Egyptian" of the 50s who Lena Einhorn, as well as rabbinic legends, also suggest was Jesus of the Gospels. I think the "Egyptian" could be Josephus's wilderness "Bannus" as well, and I have a speculative possibility for the meaning of "Bannus" to add to the other creative suggestions which have been proposed by others: it was a Jesus but not just any Jesus, a Jesus who was considered like the mighty conquering Joshua bar Nun of old, therefore given a nickname/pun "bar Nun" or "Bannus". Then at the later time of the siege of Jerusalem, this figure Jesus's nickname, "bar Nun" or "Bannus", was misheard or misunderstood as "bar Ananias". (Lots of examples in Josephus of garbled spellings of proper names.) As for the objection that Jesus b. Ananias died from being hit by a stone from a Roman catapault, that account of his death need merit no more confidence of having actual truth to it than the very parallel and similar report of Josephus's own death from being hit by a stone in the head. The report inside besieged Jerusalem concerning Josephus's demise, witnessed by many inside the walls of Jerusalem, was simply mistaken in Josephus's case, and there is no obvious reason to know whether such a similar report was true or mistaken in the case of Jesus b. Ananias either (though it makes a good story as Josephus tells it). Jesus b. Sapphat was a real figure; Josephus knew him and tells of him. Jesus b. Ananias in Josephus on the other hand is total hearsay, reified hearsay, said by Josephus to have been legendized into an omen of the outcome of the Revolt itself. The Christians who wrote these two Jesuses into the Passion Story thought they were the same Jesus. Whether these were two variant versions of one Jesus of the 60s, or two actual Jesuses of the same proper name of the 60s literarily combined into one in the Passion Story--either way--this is a possible origin of the Christian Jesus which has not been properly considered.

-- To bring this home to the mythicist issue under present discussion, the issue in the end would be: does the historical Jesus(es) of the 60s precede the attachment of cosmic Christ attributes to such a figure, or does a cosmic Christ, already named Jesus and already crucified and resurrected in heaven and of no historical existence, take on features of Jesus(es) of the 60s secondarily. But either way, in this reconstruction the 30s Jesus disappears from history, is gone. May productive discussion flourish.

Submitted by David Madison on Sun, 08/22/2021 - 12:31


Thanks again for the engagement, Greg. Just a few observations. One is about methodology. In your scenario, the true origins of the Jesus movement can be discovered by, as it were, decoding the Gospels, which are really telling us something about events that happened several decades later. Is this a reliable method? People will have to make up their own minds about that.

You say that the differences between the Gospel crucifixion account and the story in Vita are due to the fact that the Gospel account combines two versions of Josephus' story, which arose through hearsay. This obviously makes things much more complicated. It also makes it much harder to be sure that the story in Vita had any influence on the Gospel story.

And things become more complicated still. You are struck by the fact that the Passion account is based on the experiences of two people called Jesus - Jesus ben Sapphat and Jesus ben Ananias. But then it turns out that Jesus ben Ananias may actually be another version of Jesus ben Sapphat. It may be worthwhile to remind ourselves at this point that your claim about Jesus ben Sapphat has not been established.

My concern is about the speculative nature of this endeavour. There doesn't seem to be any way of anchoring this in reality.

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