The Controversial Theory That Suggests Jesus Didn't Even Exist

Jesus — ever heard of him? He's kind of a big deal. Did you know, though, that there's a controversial theory that suggests Jesus didn't even exist? Talk to the average biblical scholar, and they'll tell you that Jesus most certainly was real, and interestingly enough, it's also widely accepted that in the ancient world, nobody doubted that Jesus was a living, breathing person.

The fact of the matter is, though, most of what we know is through written records, including detailed biographical information from the epistles of St. Paul, among others. The first written references came from both Roman and Jewish historians, as well as a number of Christian writings. It also wasn't just Christian writers mentioning Jesus — Jewish historian Flavius Josephus brought up Jesus in his writing within a century after the crucifixion, as Dr. Simon Gathercole, a Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Cambridge University explained in The Guardian. He says that the writings from various sources are enough to create "little reasonable doubt" that Jesus did once live on earth.

The writings and the purported historical artifacts associated with Jesus' life have been enough for most to accept that he once existed. So, all this begs the question: What now, after all this time, is leading people to suggest that Jesus didn't even exist?

There's no concrete proof

Like previously mentioned, most of what we know about Jesus came from writings. None of those writings, however, came from when Jesus was alive. Most were written decades and sometimes even centuries after he supposedly died. Furthermore, few archaeological artifacts associated with Jesus can be authenticated. Still others came about much later, including the Crown of Thorns, the Holy Grail, and even crucifixion nails. For example, studies have shown the Shroud of Turin, the cloth that Jesus is said to have been wrapped in following the crucifixion, is likely a medieval forgery.

The earliest sources mentioning Jesus refer to "Christ of Faith," widely believed to be fictional. What's more, those early scribes had an ulterior motive to invent a figure like Jesus: spreading the word about this new religion they were eager to promote called Christianity. The earliest written accounts of Jesus' life collected in the Gospels also have no author by-line and never mention why they're qualified to write about the life of Jesus in the first place. On top of all that, they never cite their sources. 

Whether or not any of this is unusual for writing from the period is a matter of debate, but all this combined leads some scholars to suggest whether or not Jesus even existed is far from settled, and that it should be a matter that's open for discussion. Real or not, the teachings attributed to Jesus founded one of the world's leading religions, without a doubt influencing the course of human history for millennia. For many, that's proof enough, but for some, whether or not Jesus was real is an article of faith.

Some say Jesus was based on other historical figures

In 2013 American author and biblical scholar Joseph Atwell announced that he'd found proof in the form of "ancient confessions" that Jesus was contrived by Roman aristocrats of the time to better control societal unrest. According to a press release, Atwell said, "When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare. They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system. That's when the 'peaceful' Messiah story was invented. Instead of inspiring warfare, this Messiah urged turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and encouraged Jews to 'give onto Caesar' and pay their taxes to Rome."

Further, Atwell claimed that the stories of Jesus' ministry greatly paralleled nobles of the time, however, the parallels are abstract so only the educated class would have picked up on them. Atwell said, "The biography of Jesus is actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories," with much of it being largely based on the military campaign trail of Emperor Titus Flavius as the model for Jesus' traveling ministries route and stops along the way. 

Elaborating on the theory that Jesus Christ was concocted, it's also been posited that his character was inspired by another traveling philosopher of the time, Apollonius of Tyana. That figure attracted crowds by performing acts that were deemed divine and his death was shrouded in mystery with some saying his body simply vanished.