Jesus Christ Never Existed? Atheists And Historians Dispute Michael Paulkovich’s ‘Jesus Myth’

When Michael Paulkovich recently claimed that Jesus Christ never existed, the response from Christians might have been expected, but even other atheists were upset with the claim, saying it gave atheism a bad name.

In a related report by The Inquisitr, in order to support the idea of the Jesus myth, Paulkovich claimed to have combed through 126 ancient texts written in the general time frame of Jesus Christ’s time on Earth.

“When I consider those 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not — and Paul and Marcion and Athenagoras and Matthew with a tetralogy of opposing Christs, the silence from Qumran and Nazareth and Bethlehem, conflicting Bible stories, and so many other mysteries and omissions,” Paulkovich writes, “I must conclude that Christ is a mythical character.”

While many Christians were upset, atheists like Steven Bollinger of The Wrong Monkey was upset enough to create a three part series (see part 2 and part 3) on why Paulkovich was wrong because he believes “it’s embarrassing that some people think of me in the same breath as clowns like you.”

Another atheist by the name of Tim O’Neill was even more blunt in his criticism.

“Paulkovich’s article was the worst pseudo historical nonsense I’ve read on this subject all year. Which, considering his competition on that front, is quite an achievement. I’m another atheist who long ago realized that when it comes to historiography, most atheists are stunted at about a high school level of understanding. Which is why so many of us find junk reasoning like Paulovich’s crap persuasive when anyone with an undergraduate level of understanding can see it’s garbage…. The real problem is that the Jesus Myth thesis requires a series of baseless suppositions to prop it up and gets slashed to pieces by Occam’s Razor. That’s why it only appeals to fringe contrarians and/or ideologues with an agenda.”

The reason that Paulkovich is being criticized so heavily is because the list of 126 writers includes many who would have no reason to write about Jesus Christ, or others who lived and wrote before the time of Jesus. Critics also highlight how Paulkovich took special note of the first-century history book Antiquities of the Jews by the Roman historian Josephus Flavius, which contains a section often referred to by historians as the Testimonium Flavianum.

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.”

In general, the majority of Christian scholars since the 17th century have considered the Testimonium Flavianum to be an interpolated passage, which implies that later copyists inserted their own words or edited the original text. The description of Jesus is noticeably out of character because early Christian theologian Origen Adamantius claimed that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Christ. Modern historians also note the usage of vocabulary is remarkably different from the rest of Josephus’ writing.

While some historians consider the entire section to be spurious or falsified, others note a different section where Josephus writes about Jesus’ brother James.

“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned…”

In general, Josephus’ James statement is considered to be authentic by many historians.

The controversy over Michael Paulkovich’s assertions in Free Inquiry have caused Dr. Candida Moss and Dr. Joel Baden to respond to the ideas behind the Jesus myth.

“Let’s get one thing straight: There is nigh universal consensus among biblical scholars — the authentic ones, anyway — that Jesus was, in fact, a real guy,” Moss and Baden wrote. “They argue over the details, of course, as scholars are wont to do, but they’re pretty much all on the same page that Jesus walked the earth (if not the Sea of Galilee) in the 1st century CE.”

Overall, the two historian believe that only 10 out of the 126 writers listed by Paulkovich would ever be expected to mention Jesus Christ at all. They also noted that Bible scholars believe historians of the time simply did not see Jesus as being important since the “prime candidate for ‘Son of God’ in the Roman world was the emperor himself, who had coins, statues, and temples to back those claims up. Jesus had a small band of followers and a lot of stories about sheep.”

The two professors also mocked Paulkovich’s own logic, noting that it would be difficult to prove Paulkovich ever existed based upon the writings of historians (who often reference or quote each other’s works).

“It is safe to say that there are no historians that have, to this point, included Paulkovich in their writings (and let’s be honest, the chances going forward aren’t great),” Moss and Baden wrote. “What’s more, not a single mathematician, poet, philosopher, or gynecologist … refers to him even a single time.”

What do you think about Michael Paulkovich’s “Jesus myth” idea?