Having recently read Reza Aslan’s excellent book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, I find the suggestion that Jesus was a fiction created by the Romans to keep the Jews in check to be difficult, but not impossible, to accept. Aslan, despite making a strong argument that Jesus was an unsuccessful messiah (one of many) who became the impetus for other more ambitious Romans to base a new religion on, never doubts that Jesus was a real person.
But I can see how the two narratives actually are not that far apart.
As reported by Ashley Curtin in Nation of Change:
Jesus Christ is a fictional character. At least that is what American Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill claims. Atwill’s recent controversial discovery says that the first-century Romans, who wrote the New Testament, fabricated the story of Jesus Christ. He will reveal his theory in his first public appearance at the “Covert Messiah” Conference on Oct. 19 in London.
Christianity, as Atwill described it, started as a “sophisticated government project,” not a religion. It was used as a pacifier for the subjects of the Roman Empire, according to a press release. Atwill claims that Jewish sects in Palestine were “waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah” during the rebellious first century, but when the Romans’ conventional ways of squashing violence didn’t work, they used reverse psychology. That is when the fictional character of Jesus Christ, the peaceful “messiah”, was invented. The Jews “gave into Caesar” and paid their taxes to Rome.
“I present my work with some ambivalence, as I do not want to directly cause Christianity any harm,” Atwill was quoted in a press release. “But this is important for our culture. Alert citizens need to know the truth about our past so we can understand how and why governments create false histories and false gods. They often do it to obtain a social order that is against the best interests of the common people.”
Atwill insists that Jesus Christ is a fictional character in literature and his entire life can be traced back to different sources.
“Once those sources are all laid bare, there’s simply nothing left,” he was quoted in a press release.
While his theory is said to upset Christians and contradict other scholars’ beliefs, Atwill said it is conclusive and confident. He said that there are many “parallels,” which are either conceptual or poetic, but the authors of the highly studied books put it out there for “alert readers” to figure out. Atwill said that the “Roman Caesars left us a kind of puzzle literature that was meant to be solved by future generations.”
So as many people ponder the theory that Jesus Christ might be a fictional character, the future of Christianity is at a breaking point.
Atwill will present his theory with fellow scholar Kenneth Humphreys, who is the author of the book, “Jesus Never Existed.”
Aslan makes the point that the actions of Jesus of Nazareth—the messiah who came to free the land of the Jews from the occupation of the Romans—was essentially a failure. However, it was the Romans, specifically Paul, who used the myth of Jesus to build an elaborate fiction which eventually became known as Christianity. It was men, men outside of the Holy Land, that made the decisions to shape the institutions we now associate most closely with Jesus and the Christian God. The original Jesus was not divine, was not God come down to earth as a man, did not have anything to do with writing the Bible or even with most of the things ascribed to his life in the books of the Bible dealing with his life.
Whether there was a real Jesus or not, the narrative from the New Testament is fiction. It was developed by the Romans in order to control the people of the Empire who didn’t respond to the sword but were gullible enough to fall for a made-up religion.
I look forward to reading more about Joseph Atwill’s theory and will probably look up Kenneth Humphreys too. It would be very interesting to experience a discussion between Aslan, Atwill, and Humphreys. There might be some synthesis there. Too bad Hitch died …