6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The Christ Myth and the dark side of Christian History 101 -- A Skeptical Christopedia,
This review is from: Jesus Never Existed (Paperback)Instead of starting with an open inquiry such as "Who Was Jesus?", to conclude only down the line with the non-existence of Jesus, this book starts with a bang, a "no-buts-permitted" title brutally asserting that "Jesus Never Existed".
This title is a good eye-catcher, but it is terribly misleading.
The book in fact mixes two interlocking subjects:
1) the critique of the mythical story of Jesus Christ;
2) and the dark side of the history of Christianity.
With two overlapping ambitions:
- first, as a popularizing mini-encyclopedia -- introducing neophyte readers to the complexity of Christian history and offering a comprehensive coverage of all its tangle of arcane issues;
- and, second, as a ferocious debunking polemic against traditional interpretations and unquestioned beliefs, revealing the systematic fabrications of all the dogmas.
The author claims to have initially focused on one single objective, stemming from his original obsession to understand the causes of the medieval Dark Ages and the tragic destruction of the classical civilization of the Ancient Greco-Roman world.
Since 2000, he's been diligently compiling all the various strands of critical scholarship on the origins of Christianity. He explains that it is the gradual realization of a serious lack of historical evidence about the figure of Jesus that led him to the development of his online site, "Jesus Never Existed", a critical examination of the Jesus Christ Myth and the extraordinary history of the Christian Church.
The author presents himself as an independent researcher and in the line of previous dedicated crusaders of the Christ Myth theory. As is the case with most Christ Myth proponents, his critical research is not subjected to the theological limitations and imperatives of academic "Religious Studies".
The articles of the site, which now counts about 150, led to the book, which includes only some 50 articles, with a second volume in the works.
The book details the metamorphosis of a persecuted illegal Christian cult into a legal religion endorsed and annexed by the Roman Emperors. How turning Jesus the man into the god-like figure of Christ "the Lord" became the tool for the newly-formed militant Catholic Church to arrogate to itself absolute spiritual superiority derived from its founder, the new "god-man" Jesus Christ.
Armed with its new Nicaean creed, supported by the judicial power of the Roman Emperors, the Catholic Church became a totalitarian machine bent on eliminating all religious competition. First with the persecution of other forms of Christian worship, all demonized as "heretics," and second, the suppression of the ancestral "pagan" cults throughout the Roman Empire.
This systematic policy of destruction culminated in the annihilation of the Ancient Greco-Roman civilization and brought about the stagnation of the West in the medieval Dark Ages.
The author's site, which is the matrix of the book, is the result of ten years of diligent combing of a mountain of facts from a multitude of sources. The method is direct: the author compiles for each theme a handful of major scholarly sources, about ten to fifteen, mostly shown at the end of each article in the site, or in the bibliography in the book. The result is a combination of two key subjects -- the Christ Myth theory and the complex history of Christianity -- that is not usually available in one single volume. This is an unusual, very ambitious, and highly controversial mix, and the remarkable feature of this book.
The companion site itself has been gradually developed into a kind of mini-Encyclopedia covering the same two key subjects about Christianity. In fact, this goal has proved too vast for a single book, as the author could present only one third of his material in this book, and is already planning further books in the series.
It is not exactly correct to say that this book preaches only to the choir, that it is only for readers who already believe that Jesus never existed. In its own special way, it does tend to make a case: that the strength of the historical and literary evidence leads to the inescapable conclusion that Jesus Christ, as described by the Christian New Testament, was not a historical person, but was elaborated into a powerful mythical figure, the Christ of faith.
This figure started as a gnostic spiritual power with the enigmatic and mystical Paul, founding a new religion with his moralizing and controlling epistles, then given flesh and blood by the anonymous authors of the Gospels and the Acts, and burnished by succeeding waves of pious Christian writers. The "forgery mill" of Christianity is a favorite subject in the book, a well established theme since Joseph Wheless's famous magnum opus "Forgery in Christianity" (1930).
The critique of the Christ Myth presented in this book is a popularization that follows a long line of Biblical criticism which had its debut in the Enlightenment of the 18th century, with two courageous pioneers: Hermann Reimarus (1694-1768) and Baron d'Holbach (1723-1789). Their original scholarly intent was to determine what historical facts could be salvaged in order to reconstruct the life and sayings of a "historical", i.e. real, not mythological Jesus.
Incredibly, this book neglects to mention Baron d'Holbach in any chapter, an unfair omission of a key hero of the Enlightenment. Baron d'Holbach was the main financier of the famous French "Encyclopédie" of Diderot and d'Alembert, the monumental work in 28 huge volumes ((1751-1772), plus 7 volumes of additions and index, covering all "interrelations of human knowledge" and whose impact led to the French revolution of 1789-1794.
This omission is the more ironic as the author of "Jesus Never Existed" has an obvious encyclopedic intention as well.
The book contains a detailed list of the major writers both in Europe and the US who have developed critical arguments about the existence of Jesus or the Christ myth since the 18th century: from Reimarus (but no d'Holbach!), all the way to more recent writers such as Joseph Wheless, Herbert Cutner, John Allegro, G.A. Wells, Hermann Detering, Gerd Lüdemann, Alvar Ellegard, D.M. Murdock (a woman who goes by her Hindu acronym of Acharya S), Earl Doherty, Freke & Gandy, Harold Liedner, Robert M. Price, Michael Hoffman, Burton Mack, Luigi Cascioli, Israel Finkelstein, Frank Zindler, Tom Harpur, Michel Onfray, Thomas L. Thompson.
I found it instructive to review the history of the Christ Myth over the last 250 years in order to evaluate the merits of this book, since its format and subject are rather unusual, and the publisher is an obscure marginal outfit.
This historical background of how the Christ Myth emerged in Europe and the US and became a feature of the modern Zeitgeist is too long for this review, and I pushed it over in two posts in the comments section.
However, I discovered another "Customer Review" on the author's site, among four such reviews presented as coming from the UK Amazon site, all with a five-star rating, all dating from 2006 and 2007. This additional review is very informative on the author's deepest intentions, and it describes him as "a popular international radio personality" who "is no pussy-footer" and a courageous "debunker."
Whereas the other three reviews are still now posted on the UK Amazon site, this insightful review inexplicably does not appear today on the UK Amazon site. And I have reproduced it here below, as it does throw a sharp spotlight on the thrust of the book.
AN ADDITIONAL REVIEW, PRESENTED BY THE AUTHOR HIMSELF!
(as a 5-star Review from the Amazon UK site, by Neil Marr, entitled " Debunks and demolishes", 4 September 2007". Published by the author in his "Jesus Never Existed site", in the book review section)
Far too many authors and documentary film-makers pussy-foot around. Their titles end with a question mark: Are These King Solomon's Mines? Is There Life After Death? Who Wrote the Plays of Shakespeare? Are UFOs Real? Does the Yeti Walk the Snows of the Himalayas? Instinctively, you know these books will re-trample old ground and end as they began ... with yet another question mark.
Kenneth Humphreys is no pussy-footer. He doesn't pose questions; he strives to answer them. His title, therefore, is a bold statement: Jesus Never Existed. Not Did Jesus Exist? Jesus Never Existed!
And he leaves his readers with compelling answers to a puzzle others have been afraid to even attempt to solve.
Not content with lack of evidence being evidence of lack, Humphreys takes 533 pages to explain exactly why the story of Jesus Christ is just that ... a story; a clever myth concocted to justify a new theology and, later, formulated, embroidered, honed, twisted and exploited to lead even the greatest scholars of the 21st century to assume his existence in the face of complete absence of fact.
A thousand books try to plumb the days and the mind of Jesus, taking as holy writ that he once walked the sands of the Levant as flesh and blood. But Jesus, according to Humphreys, has all the historical substance of the Lone Ranger. You might as well psychoanalyse Robin Hood. And he courageously and effectively sets out to prove it!
With encyclopaedic attention to detail and energetic and meticulous delving into the hidden nooks and crannies of Christianity and a score of other religions, he may well have done just that after a lifetime of research.
*Jesus, he reveals is a composite of an entire pantheon of heroic gods, sharing their supernatural virgin births, their alleged miracles and their clichéd returns from the dead
*Christian theology, as a break-away Jewish sect, may well have pre-dated the alleged birth of the traditional Christian messiah by a century and a half.
*Canonical gospels and even the wealth of first century apocrypha are nothing more than fairy tales, invented and edited by anonymous scribes and tailor made to suit the often nefarious intent of their patrons and taste of a gullible target readership.
*The phenomenal rise of Christianity in the fourth century was the result of political manoeuvring rather than spiritual enlightenment.
*Christianity's little known history has been as the tool of political sharks and power hungry, blood thirsty megalomaniacs.
*Jesus Christ never existed ... and - what's more - many of those who wrote of him, his philosophies and his miraculous deeds knew that all along.
Humphreys' book effectively debunks the popular sacred myth and demolishes all Christian apologetics struggling to root the ectoplasmic Christ figure in reality. And it goes even further, also exposing the legends of the Old Testament as plagiarised fiction and detailing the horrors of the Christian establishment over two millennia.
As a popular international radio personality, Humphreys comes across as a softly spoken man, calmly reluctant to offend and even humbly respectful of those who have never questioned the historical basis of their deity. In his book, on the other hand, he doesn't pull punches. He avoids the satanic temptation of cruel sarcasm, but makes no allowances for wilful ignorance of available fact. Radio's Humphreys might speak low, speak slow - but he carries a big stick that it's impossible to dodge.
Jesus Never Existed is presented in an unusual format that reflects the layout of Humphreys' popular and information-packed website, [...]. But, although not the traditional layout for an epic paperback, its presentation allows easy reference. This is not a book you read and then stack away in your bookshelves; it's a tome to have ready at your elbow whenever a question of religion arises.
The author, I believe, overuses the device of bold type to make some points ... such points are amply emphasised in the deceptive simplicity of the writing itself. Others, though, might find the bold print helpful in drawing attention to some important lines and passages.
I also feel that illustration may have been a little overused. Again, though, I do realise that this book is meant to represent the feel of Humphreys' website and, as such, might benefit from the inclusion of margin photography and extended captioning to break up what might otherwise be a daunting body of text.
All in all, this reviewer - no stranger to controversial books on theology - feels Jesus Never Existed is a most satisfying read; one that will be referred to again and again. I highly recommend this painstakingly compiled book for its no-nonsense, no-quarter-given approach to a subject other authors prefer to address with question marks rather than exclamation points.
Jesus Never Existed is a brave, heavily researched, accurate and eminently readable book that should be prized by any reader concerned with the birth of religion, the insidious influence of neo-Christianity in the western world - or merely gathering information in a personal quest for truth. Of course there will be question marks. But they will be your own, not the author's. Kenneth Humphreys has stated his case. END OF THE OUTSIDE REVIEW.
Another outstanding feature of this book (and site) is a layout different from the dense masses of learned text usually found in academic scholarly studies, usually larded with cryptic-looking numerical references to biblical verses, and rebarbative notes, the opposite of "fun" reading!
Both the site and the book use a format inspired by tabloids, a double column with an abundance of illustrations in the left-hand column (more than 450) enhanced by pertinent quotes from great authors. Some illustrations seem to be of dubious interest, as the selection vacillates from the low-grade cartoonish lampoon to the historic document of definite value.
All this substantial information is delivered with acerbic British humor, and a whimsical relish for the story's eccentric characters. Pages are sprinkled with ironic or sarcastic comments on the ridiculous or implausible aspects of the drama. All this adds a dose of comic relief to the grim description of the dark side of Christian history. Each chapter wants to tell a story that never lets our interest down, and it succeeds every time.
The book is all infused with an undisguised hostility to Christianity, presented as a monumental fraud perpetrated on mankind. It focuses on the irrationality of beliefs, as seen from a modern perspective, all artificially fabricated through the centuries, and the dark side of the history of Christianity, described in a highly sarcastic style.
A whole litany of set words are big favorites -- "demolishing," criminal," "mythical", "fraud," "forgery," "fabrication," "invention," "fable," "fakery," "fiction," "legend," "creation," "construct," "superstition," "anachronism," "plagiarist," "palpable nonsense," "contradiction," "absurdity," "rubbish," "fictitious," "fantastic," "imaginary," "artificial," "implausible," "suspect," "doubtful," "recycled," "manufactured," "plundered," "misquoting," "mining," "re-hashed," etc...-- and come up relentlessly. The use of "pious," "dark," and " darkness" is especially overdone, and that of "yarn" so annoying that it is a good enough reason to subtract one star off the rating.
Nonetheless, the general style of writing remains lively, varied, never pedestrian or academic, and always interesting -- and this is one of the great merits of this book.
Occasionally the authoritarian tone in the debunking becomes too grating, the mockery does not seem to let up, and the sarcasm is spread a bit too thick, a tone which may deter many gentler readers who are not that attracted to the harsh polemics of debunking Christianity. The author's frontal attacking style offers some pluses, but also comes with some drawbacks. In small doses, this is digestible. But over the whole book, this one-dimensional, domineering, "truer-than-thou" pounding can also become very tiring.
Importantly, "Jesus Never Existed" is the sole product of the author working strictly on his own and covering an immense universe of data -- with no assistance from an established religion publisher, no professional editing, fact-checking, proofreading, no lay-out artist, no endorsement by any established scholar.
The author, for his defense, presents on his site four readers' reviews from Amazon.co.uk, all five-star, and very laudatory. But the good outside review quoted above does not appear on the UK site, which is a puzzlement. As was the absence of any other review on the Amazon US site before I posted this one. Such silence was numbing.
The first edition was published by a marginal firm of fringe books, which proved highly questionable. The second edition was switched to Vancouver, BC Iconoclast Press, specializing in "spiritual favorites," a wide enough net for a lot of New Age fishing.
Publishing a first book, in a field as immensely crowded as Biblical studies, already occupied by well-known scholars with excellent academic accreditations, is a tough challenge. Especially for this unusual book, considering its extreme counter-establishment subject matter, although the provocative title and richly illustrated layout could have proved a plus. So, this is not a "self-published", but a "self-produced" book, with the drawback of lacking all the fine aspects of professional polish.
The author has the frustrating habit of using puzzling titles, headings, or captions meant to sound amusing, even shocking, but providing no information on the material to the reader -- like merchandise in a package, without a label to identify its content.
For instance, "Piety and Dreams Sire a Godman": Any inkling as to what is being announced here? Same in "Growing the dream", "Composite Hero", "Silk and Spice", "The Church of the Shadows," "Waiting in the Wings", "Dwarfs on the Bones of Giants," etc...Such titles are baffling, absurd enigmas that are utterly mystifying and useless in a work with the grand ambition to debunk the gigantic edifice of Christianity. As McEnroe used to scream to the Wimbledon referee, "You cannot be serious!"
The author forgets that the average believer knows next to nothing about the immensely complex facts of Christianity, and, like any student, needs first to get the facts and understand the issue before being amused with opaque phrasing. Without an honest title or heading, the book turns into an immense labyrinth of facts where the reader has no signpost to follow the thread of the story. This habit is terribly confusing and irritating -- a turn-off. It is one of the self-defeating weaknesses of this book.
Why on earth prefer indulging one's "creativity" rather than consider the needs of a reader for solid information? This bias for entertaining and intriguing may come from the author writing primarily for a blasé British market, with its taste for the bizarre and outlandish, taking religion as an object of amusement, much more so than in the US.
This reminds me of the story about Robert Eisenman's impossibly convoluted style and a commentator explaining: "I know the man. I told him face to face his writing style was too dense and impenetrable. His comment: 'I like my style.' You will not change him. He is my father's generation". Indeed, it is not easy to teach a new trick to an aging writer who's never been subjected to the critical review of a professional editor.
The author confuses "expository" headings or captions and "comments". An obscure or silly comment offered in lieu of a clear title is the wrong method for what the outside reviewer glorifies as an "encyclopedic presentation allowing easy reference." It adds: "It's a tome to have ready at your elbow whenever a question of religion arises." Well, good luck if you can always discover the right spot where your info might be tucked away.
It is a proven psychological fact that the brain understands and remembers far better a new presentation of data when the subject is labeled or summarized at the beginning rather than at the end. The author is not aware of this essential law of communication.
Irony works only with people already in the know. All those enigmatic comments -- satirical, ironical, skeptical, or sarcastic -- sound awfully "clever" to the writer only because he already knows the material. To the reader they may be mildly intriguing for a second, but they are soon forgotten and leave no trace. They're wasting valuable prime space on the page. While expository titles, headings or captions, nourish the mind and provide an efficient framework of solid keywords for hanging new information in the brain and organizing it in memory.
However, both aspects, exposition and comment, could be retained in double-headed titles, as in: "King David, The Boy Wonder," Jesus - The Imaginary Friend," or "Nazareth - The Town that Theology Built." And British tabloids also do favor this style of double heading. It would make this book (and the site) much more valuable to a non-British market.
No fact-checking seems to have been done, a nearly impossible task, given the huge quantity of material accumulated over ten years of patient compilation. Only a top Christianity scholar could do some cursory fact-checking, and only in the context of a "peer-review" evaluation commissioned by an established publisher and duly remunerated for his work.
Instead, the author has a standing invitation to "email the author" on top of each article in his site, relying on benevolent inputs from readers to spot errors and problems with the material or the format, or suggesting improvements. This shoestring formula allows him to get feedback from readers and avoid the cost of a professional editor. Of course, this method remains very amateurish.
I found it astonishing that the four epoch-making events, in which the Roman Emperors Constantine and Theodosius endorsed then annexed Christianity, while creating the Catholic Church as an imperial institution -- first, Edict of Milan (313) and Council of Nicaea (325), and second, Edict of Thessalonika (380) and Council of Constantinople (381) -- were not granted the mentions or the prominent presentations they deserved.
However, overall, this book does manage to describe the critical role of the two Roman Emperors in the survival of Christianity and in the final establishment of the Catholic Church as a creation of the Roman Empire.
Gallingly, many quotes and illustrations are not properly referenced, making it nearly impossible to quickly verify the soundness of the text and the authenticity of quotes and illustrations. Better referencing of the material (author or artist, name of work, date, occasional chapter and page number, and location of manuscript or art piece) would have enhanced the scholarly value of this book for non-expert readers, especially the huge market of young American students, for whom the book (and the site too), if more professionally structured -- with clearly meaningful headings, a better pick of illustrations, and toning down the vitriol -- could have served as a kind of quick-access mini-encyclopedia. This is a point that the author seems not to appreciate for its intrinsic value.
Of course, there are no notes, to avoid a heavy academic look and save space (and work!). In compensation the left-hand column is used as a garage-like storage space for extra material complementing the main text, a very useful feature of this book. On the site, this permits adding copy even after the main body has been produced.
And the lack of a serviceable index is compensated for by a "site search", which strikes me as an inaccurate, ineffective cheapo Internet function.
So readers tempted to use this book as a first reading should keep their critical thinking cap firmly on and stay on their guard. Indeed, there are important scholarly disputes about many facts and issues discussed in the book, and readers with doubts in their minds should develop the habit of double-checking with outside sources any information that appears too outlandish or controversial.
One first line of such fact-checking could be the very good articles on all aspects of Christianity on Wikipedia, and Google, to verify if the book's interpretations correspond to the basic information available on the Web, or determine how and why they differ.
For passages of the Bible, they're easy to download instantly from the "Biblegateway" search site, in a multitude of versions.
Readers are constantly reminded that the author is a dedicated debunker of Christian "pious frauds", that he has a formidable axe to grind, and in consequence, that he too must be held to strict standards of accuracy and respect of the primary sources in his interpretations. "A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence." (David Hume.)
It is too easy for any non-professional historian, waging an impassioned personal crusade, to get carried away by the enthusiasm for his argument and stretch or distort the meaning of his sources, overlaying original data (facts, events) with his own interpretation. Even rigorous professional historians are not immune to this ever-present temptation.
In the outside review quoted above, it is claimed that he "makes no allowances for wilful ignorance of available fact." However, in quite a few instances, it seems to me that, in his zeal to emphasize the implausibility of some story, the author is manifestly stretching the interpretation of the data.
So, vigilance and need for verification remain paramount for the alert reader. Often it becomes necessary to review the whole discussion, pros and cons, of a controversial issue, and not be satisfied with just the one-sided presentation in this book.
Most regrettably, the cover of this book (2d edition) is awfully plain, and misses a unique chance of catching the eye with an exciting picture. Its black background with the word "Never" in red, emphasized by a red border on top, look more like the colors of hell. The promise of a life without Jesus, without sin, without guilt, without the specter of eternal hellfire, deserves a cover of happy, life-energizing colors, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, and a beautiful picture to boot to make the book attractive, especially to female readers.
Christian-inspired art is so full of magnificent pictures that it is mind-boggling that this cover is not using any. If this choice was due to economic reasons, it may have proved misguided. This book, with a sensational content, deserved at least a sensational cover. As is, its forbidding cover cannot excite much buying passion. This is another good reason that keeps this book from a five-star rating.
Most people educated and living in Europe or the US, even with only the slightest exposure to religion, do have some kind of knowledge about Jesus and Christianity. But, except for scholars and some professionally-trained clerical personnel, most believers, for whom Christianity is just a comfortable habit, don't give too much thought to questions on the foundations and history of Christianity, and even less to its effective impact on the world. Those are grand themes on which modern life does not allow us to devote much time.
Fanatical Christian apologists may use this book as a punching bag. But it could have an impact on a routine believer, a tepid Church-goer, or a fence-sitter, a hesitant doubter with uncertain faith, who has never reflected on his/her own beliefs, and has never been aware of most of the controversial issues and facts covered in this book.
It is digestible and entertaining enough to attract such readers, who might otherwise be deterred by the forbidding aspect of academic books on religion. And those who can ignore its unattractive cover, not be put off by the aggressive tone of this diatribe, and find their way over the puzzling and confusing headings, may end up being impressed and fascinated by this immense compilation of facts and issues.
Nobody will fall asleep reading this highly controversial book: it is both intriguing and vastly instructive to any reader eager to survey the complete panorama of Christian history.
Serious readers interested in going deeper in the subject of the "Origins of Christianity" could review the key historical details in four great books by historian Charles Freeman:
- The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason(Vintage, Feb. 2005)
- A.D. 381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Dawn of the Monotheistic State (Overlook TP, Jan. 2010)
- A New History of Early Christianity (Yale Un. Press, 2011)
- Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe (Yale Un. Press, 2011)
In particular, "A.D. 381" focuses on the remarkable years of the Emperor Theodosius (reigned 379-395) who created and established the Catholic Church as the only legal form of Christianity in the Roman Empire; and who initiated the persecution of all other Christians as "heretics", subject to the threat of execution.
He later embarked on the suppression and persecution of "pagans" in the Roman Empire, which turned into a raging mania of destruction over the next few centuries that culminated in the annihilation of the ancient Greco-Roman civilization, its monuments, its buildings, its libraries and books, its art, its science, philosophy, its knowledge, even its olympic sports.
This is a fundamental period when the Emperors created a military Catholic Church as an additional agent of their spiritual "control" of the Empire, alongside the imperial administration and the army.
The Catholic Church survived as an institution created by the Roman Emperors. The Church became a rich secular power as well thanks to gifts and donations, and it adopted their imperial style -- splendid palaces, rich garments, grand displays of pomp and protocol -- incredibly removed from the humble figure of Jesus Christ.
Alfred Loisy commented: "Jesus was announcing the kingdom of God, but it's the Church that came!"
A history that most Christians don't know or simply ignore.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 Oct 2011 22:58:09 BDT
R. A. Fallows says:
nearly fell asleep reading your review ~ it must be the longest on Amazon.
In reply to an earlier post on 24 Oct 2011 23:04:58 BDT
Last edited by the author on 27 Dec 2011 02:59:15 GMT
FIRST COMMENT ON THE HISTORY OF THE CHRIST MYTH AND EARLY CHRISTIANITY
As mentioned, in connection with reviewing the book "Jesus Never Existed" I found it instructive to review the history of the Christ Myth in Europe and the US, presented here as a comment for those readers interested enough. It is long, and I hope the space here will take it.
Serious Biblical criticism of the NT started in the Enlightenment of the 18th century in order to determine what historical facts could be salvaged in order to reconstruct the life and sayings of a "historical", i.e. real, not mythological Jesus.
At the time when the great French iconoclast Voltaire was waging a life-long battle against Christianity and the Church, becoming the most infamous celebrity of Europe, the French-German philosopher Baron d'Holbach (1723-1789) produced a full-blown investigation, "Ecce Homo -- A Critical Inquiry Into the History of Jesus of Nazareth, Being a Rational Analysis of the Gospels" (1769).
Blasphemy then was a major crime and heretics still risked imprisonment or the death penalty in Europe. D'Holbach had his books printed in Amsterdam, under a false French name, with no printer's name, and London shown as the place of publication. Some of his books were publicly burnt in Paris by act of the French Parliament. He was revealed as the author of his sacrilegious books only later in the 19th century.
George Houston translated "Ecce Homo", and published three editions: first, in Edinburgh in 1799; second, in London in 1813, for which he was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in Newgate prison. Once freed, he emigrated to New York, where he published his third edition in 1827.
Affecting a pious tone of respectful reverence, d'Holbach follows the narrative of the Gospels - with their cast recruited from the marginal fringes of society, rather than the established elite: credulous low-lifes, illiterates, impostors, sick and poor outcasts - underlines their inherent contradictions, incoherence and all the absurdities that make them implausible to a modern man of reason, superior education, and common sense, like d'Holbach himself (one of the richest men in Paris, with an astonishing library of 3,000 volumes).
His skepticism of miracles and the resurrection is total, concluding that the Gospels are not credible witnesses, but false accounts of zealots and their pious frauds. Jesus was a Jewish fanatic, who came to believe he was the true Messiah. It is only the supernatural aura of his prodigious works that gained Jesus his historic leverage.
Paul set up his own sect, first undermining Judaism and its Law by abandoning circumcision and diet restrictions, and then separating completely from the mother faith. Paul and the early Church made Jesus into a God, a ridiculous fable later affirmed into a dogma by the First Council of Nicaea (325), and forced on the naive faithful as an unquestionable given as a result of lifelong repetitions starting in infancy. Community of property gave the Church leaders the means to survive and prosper. Promise of equality attracted the poor, the slaves and the marginal.
Christianity is the religion of Paul, not of Jesus and his initial apostles. Plato provided a lot of mystical ideas to the early doctrine, Aristotle his logical argumentation, and Stoics aspects of their asceticism.
But it is Hermann Reimarus (1694-1768), an obscure German professor of Oriental languages in Hamburg, who was eulogized by Albert Schweitzer as being the first in the scholarly movement of about fifty writers analyzed in "The Quest for the historical Jesus - A Critical Study Of Its Progress From Reimarus To Wrede" (1906). Schweitzer used mostly German sources, and surprisingly ignored d'Holbach.
Reimarus didn't dare to publish his "Apology or Defense for the Rational Worshipper of God" while alive. The revolutionary book was published in anonymous fragments in 1774 by Gotthold E. Lessing, himself a librarian, who pretended to have found them in a library. A key fragment, "On the Aims of Jesus and his Disciples" was published in 1778.
Reimarus could not accept the terrible notion of hell and eternal punishment by a just and loving God. He denied the divine revelation of the Bible and scrutinized it as a historian, rejecting miracles and the supernatural. The Gospels were not history but their authors projecting their own preachings and constructing their theology. Only a critical effort could separate the data of the life and sayings of the real Jesus. The miracles were forgeries of the disciples. Behind them stood a historical Jesus, all too human, not a divine person.
Reimarus concluded that Jesus was a Jewish apocalyptic preacher announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God (or Heaven), which was never explicitly defined, to a specifically Jewish audience. But the new Messiah failed in his prophecies, and didn't bring about the liberation of Judea from the Roman occupation. His followers modified his teachings to explain the failure of his predictions. They stole his body, concocted the Resurrection, and, on the example of Paul, developed a different notion of redemption by predicting a second coming of their Messiah, spiritual this time, "upon the clouds".
Reimarus held that the Church's early doctrine was radicallly different from the authentic Jesus's teachings. Jesus never wanted to found a new religion replacing Judaism. It is the early Church which instituted baptism and the eucharist, not Jesus. Reimarus came to the realization that Christianity was an immense artificial construction supported by the deceptions of the Gospels and the successive forgeries and impostures of the Church.
This denial of a historical Christ by Reimarus was linked to his rationalist beliefs in the "natural religion", a view known as "deism", that people have access by personal intuition and reason to the principles of human morality, with its source in the Creator of a universe subjected to natural laws, without the intercession of a mediator, holy books, or any organized Church with its hierarchy of priests and their superstitions. The objects of ethics or "natural philosophy" were human happiness and "progress" in improvement of society. Voltaire was also such a deist.
D'Holbach went a bit farther, rejecting the abstract God of the deists, leaving room only for "natural philosophy" presented in "The System of Nature" (1770), and "Common Sense" (1772), a title reprised soon after in English by Thomas Paine (1776). "Freethinkers" were also extreme, denying all dogmas in favor of facts, evidence, and the primacy of reason and "natural" rights of men.
These non-Christian views became prevalent in the 18th and 19th centuries, and notably among some Founders of the US, such as Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, who constructed his own cut-and-paste "Jefferson Bible". All four, along with Lincoln and Grant, were described in John E. Remsberg's "Six Historic Americans", (New York, 1906), as famous Americans rejecting the dogmas of the Christian Church and the belief in a Jesus Christ Savior of mankind.
In particular, any expose of the history of the Christ Myth should include in its parade quotes and data from the iconoclastic books of past scholars, who braved their surrounding Christian society to advance the likelihood of the Christ Myth, with a profound and lasting influence on the vitality of the movement:
- David Friedrich Strauss: "The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined" (Tübingen, 1835-6) -- by a young German theology scholar only aged 27, who shocked Christian Europe by denouncing as myths all the miraculous events in the Gospels, reducing Jesus Christ to a roaming preacher; a view that found a wide audience in the 19th century, and later romanticized in Ernest Renan's own "Life of Jesus" (1863);
- Bruno Bauer: "Critique of the Evangelical History of the Synoptics" (1841), and "Christ and the Caesars" (1877) -- by an indefatigable German crusader who was the original scholar to radically deny the historical existence of Jesus Christ;
- Foote and Wheeler: "Crimes of Christianity - vol. I", from Christ to the Crusades, (London, 1887) -- by two dedicated British free thinkers, denouncing the obsession of violence in Christianity; but who didn't live long enough for vol. II; in 1883 Foote was convicted for blasphemy after publication of satirical cartoons on Jesus in the "Free Thinker" magazine, and sentenced to 12 months's imprisonment in London; (the blasphemy law was not abolished in Britain until 2008);
- Edwin Johnson: "Antiqua Mater - A study of Christian Origins", by (London 1887) -- by a historian who found no evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ or the Apostles; so controversial at the time that it was published anonymously;
- John E. Remsberg: "The Christ - A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence", (New York, 1909) -- by the original American advocate of the Christ Myth (defined in ch. 9); who, in his "Silence of Contemporary Writers" , established the famous list of 42 writers in the Roman Empire who made no mention of Christ and his "wonderful works", while discussing the famous disputed passages in the four "Roman Witnesses" (Ch. 2); and who also emphasized that the sources of the Christ Myth lay in ancient religions and pagan divinities (Ch. 10-12);
- Arthur Drews: "The Christ Myth" (Leipzig, 1910), and "Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus" (Leipzig, 1912) -- by an academic philosopher following in the tracks of Bruno Bauer; who defined the historical-critical method with German "Gründlichkeit" (thoroughness) and applied it to the variety of "Witnesses" of Christ (Gospels, Church Tradition, Roman Writers); and who gave its modern currency to the notion of the Christ Myth;
- Joseph Wheless: "Is It God's Word?" (New York, 1926)", exposing the fables and mythology of the Bible, and "Forgery in Christianity" (New York, 1930), meticulously describing the continual frauds and forgeries of Judaism and Christianity throughout history -- by an erudite lawyer and a judge, born in the Bible Belt as a Southern Methodist, who submitted to higher criticism all the historical evidence presented for his Christian faith; and who became the major American proponent of the Christ Myth in the 20th century.
Such basic issues of Christianity have been debated ever since -- for about 250 years -- by a continuous string of writers and academics specializing in "historical criticism," the investigation of the origins of texts (an approach initiated by Erasmus and Spinoza), mostly in Germany, France, Britain and the US.
Schweitzer (1875-1965) concluded in his "Quest" book that the "Jesus of Nazareth" as the Redeemer and Savior Messiah "never had any existence". But Schweitzer, like Renan, shared the 19th-century cult of "great men" struggling against society, and romanticized Jesus as the most sublime human being, infusing the world with a "mighty spiritual force"; Schweitzer became a follower of that energizing human Jesus;
Robert M. Price agreed that any historical Jesus is "forever lost behind the stained glass curtain of holy myth." ("The Quest of the Mythical Jesus"). What remains is only the Christ of faith.
However, all these subtle academic studies have usually been limited to a narrow group of scholars and never reached the wide market of the general public until very recently.
Besides the traditional Jesus of faith (Biblical literalism), nearly six major critical trends in the reconstruction of the Jesus story emerged, all based on the view that the Jesus Christ of the Bible never existed as such (discounting his healings, exorcisms and raising the dead by calling their names), all going from Christ to Jesus:
1) Jesus as a fanatic Jewish revolutionary who wanted to purify the practice of Judaism and liberate Judaea from the Roman occupation, (d'Holbach; also Samuel G. F. Brandon, and Hyam Maccoby);
2) Jesus as a Jewish apocalyptic teacher convinced of the imminent end of the world and the coming Kingdom of God (or Heaven) with a Last Judgment Day, and preaching an extreme morality of salvation and liberation to a specifically Jewish audience, with no intention to found a new religion, (Reimarus; Renan in "Life of Jesus", 1863; Schweitzer in "The Mystery of the Kingdom of God", 1914; variations recently adopted by Bart Ehrman, Geza Vermes, and Paula Fredriksen), but a victim of self-deception (Gerd Lüdemann).
3) Jesus as an itinerant teacher: either a Jewish wisdom teacher who did not preach an apocalyptic message, but one of a moral rebirth of society under his influence, perpetuated by his disciples, founding a new religion (Rudolf Bultmann, the Jesus Seminar); or a wandering cynic-like sage in the Greco-Roman style, identifiable in the "Lost Gospel" of Q (Burton L. Mack) -- a moderate figure of Jesus as a moral parable more acceptable to the "soft" Christianity of our 21st century.
4) a "historical myth", the deification of a historical but obscure Jesus (David Strauss), a vanished source behind the Gospels (John E. Remsberg, Robert Price), or nearly unknowable (G. A. Wells's Q preacher);
5) a "pure myth", a composite myth constructed of many strands; the creation of an imaginary savior turned into a god, born from OT midrash (interpretations of the law, prophecies, psalms) and expectations due to social and historical tensions in occupied Judaea; initially spread by anonymous illiterate followers of a gullible "Jesus" movement, then spiritualized and propagated by Paul, anchored in time and geography by Mark and the other Gospels, and gradually embellished by the succeeding generations of Christian scribes and theologians;
6) a product of Middle-Eastern mystiques, the theory initially proposed in the 18th century by two French Enlightenment writers, Charles F. Dupuis (Christ as a solar myth, 1795), and Count de Volney (a mix of solar myth plus historical myth, 1787); popularized by the controversial books of D. M. Murdoch, also known as "Acharya S" (a Sanskrit pseudonym, fashionable among a certain crowd of female writers on "astrotheology".
In reply to an earlier post on 25 Oct 2011 17:29:14 BDT
Last edited by the author on 27 Dec 2011 03:01:09 GMT
SECOND COMMENT ON THE HISTORY OF THE CHRIST MYTH AND EARLY CHRISTIANITY
The label "mythicist" appeared in "Jesus: Myth or History", by Archibald Robertson (1946). With this new historical-critical approach, the "Christ Myth" concept gained the support of many researchers, and became popular with well-known personalities, including scientists such as Thomas Edison, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman and Steven Weinberg. Richard Feynman explained this skeptical view of human religion in the face of an immense universe:
"It doesn't seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil - which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama" (quoted by James Gleick, in "Genius", 1993)
The debate over the historical existence of Jesus has remained extremely active, inspiring a flood of modern works on both sides of the issue, with many erudite studies coming from historians who accept the existence of a historical Jesus, and others popularizing extreme theories of non-existence, including:
- Geza Vermes, "Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels" (1973), "The Authentic Gospel of Jesus" (2004), "The Resurrection: History and Myth" (2008);
- Elaine Pagels, "The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters" (1975), "The Gnostic Gospels" (New York, 1979);
- Hyam Maccoby, "Revolution in Judaea" (1981), "The Mythmaker: Paul & the Invention of Christianity" (1986), "Jesus the Pharisee" (2000);
- Luigi Cascioli, "The Fable of Christ - Irrefutable Demonstration of the Non-Existence of Jesus" (1997);
- G. A. Wells, "The Jesus Legend," (1996), "The Jesus Myth" (1999);
- Acharya S, "The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold," (1999), "Who Was Jesus?" (2007);
- Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy, "The Jesus Mysteries: Was the Original Jesus a Pagan God?" (1999);
- Harold Liedner, "The Fabrication of the Christ Myth" (1999)
- Robert M. Price, "Deconstructing Jesus" (2000); "New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash" (2004); "The Case Against The Case For Christ" (2011)
- Bart Ehrman, "The Text of the New Testament" (2005, with Bruce Metzger), "Misquoting Jesus" (2005), "Jesus Interrupted" (2009), "Forged" (2011)
- Earl Doherty, "The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ?" (Ottawa, 2005), "Jesus: Neither God Nor Man" (2009).
- R. G. Price, "Jesus - A Very Jewish Myth" (2007)
After the historical-critical and doctrinal controversies of the 19th and 20th centuries, the issues of Jesus historicity and "Christ Myth" theory have not yet gained a place in the "Religious Studies" departments of major universities often founded on religious beliefs, dominated as they are by the consensus of Christian directors and biblical scholars, and the scrutiny and influence of major donors, by whom "Mythicism" is still considered counter-establishment. Thomas Thompson, for instance, unable to get tenure in the US, ended up teaching in Copenhagen.
But theses issues have come out in the open and are now in the process of turning into a small "nouvelle vague" popular in the literary, Internet, and television industry.
Active supporters jumping on the bandwagon include the Four Horsemen of the "New Atheism" (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett) and their brave followers (Steven Pinker, Victor Stenger, and Frank Zindler), some journalists (Robert Wright), and historians (Richard Carrier). A loss for the movement has been the untimely death of polemicist Christopher Hitchens at 62 on Dec. 15, 2011 from oesophageal cancer.
The film "The God Who Wasn't There" (2005), described the modern scope of the movement in interviews with a handful of contemporary mythicists; and the TV documentary "A Brief History of Disbelief" (produced by Jonathan Miller in 2004 for the BBC, shown by PBS in 2007) interviewed major academics about beliefs, deism, agnosticism, and atheism, including Richard Dawkins, Steve Weinberg, and Daniel Dennett.
The history of the Christ Myth easily links to various aspects of the complex history of Early Christianity, often discussed in the same context, including:
- Its roots in Judaism and the invented mythology of the Creation and the Israelites' fictitious glorious past;
- The influence of mostly Greek, Egyptian and Mid-Eastern religions of dying and rising gods absorbed in the mixing pots of Antioch and Alexandria (syncretism);
- The internal contradictions and free inventions of the various Gospels, each addressing a specific audience;
- Paul's separate standing and special contribution to Christian theology, centering on his own visions and mystical interpretations of the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension, and total neglect of the earthly Jesus of the Gospels;
- The acrimonious debate over the famous passages in the writings of the four non-Christian Roman-Empire "Witnesses" always invoked for the claimed existence of a "Chrestos/Christos" or "Christus" in the first century: the two forged passages in Josephus, and the disputed passages in Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Suetonius;
- The historical breakthrough of Catholic Christianity thanks to political infighting resulting in its legalization by the emperor Constantine (Edict of Milan, 313); later followed by the council of Nicaea (325), to establish the Church's orthodox dogma by defeating Arianism and affirming Jesus's parity with God, and adopting the basis of the Nicene creed of a Jesus Christ Redeemer and Savior;
- The extraordinary crowning of Catholic Christianity with its Nicene creed as the exclusive form of religion in the Roman Empire by emperor Theodosius "the Great" (Edict of Thessalonica, 380); quickly supported by the council of Constantinople (381) to affirm the inclusion of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity and edit the Nicene creed as a "symbol of faith"; soon followed by the suppression and persecution of all heretical Christian sects, and a long series of special decrees enacting the official proscription of pagans; thus giving the Church a free rein to ride piggyback on the immense expansion of the Roman Empire - the support and annexation of the new religion by the two Roman Emperors Constantine and Theodosius for their own political uses thus turned out to be the unexpected miracle in the history of Christianity;
- The Council of Chalcedon (451) granting Jesus two "natures" (human and divine) in one "person", thus solving the most daunting conundrum of the whole construction of the Christ persona;
- The progressive invention of an accidental construction of concepts made up of disparate and far-out beliefs forced to fit irrationally together without any initial blueprint. Generated first by the exegesis of the original texts in the Bible, and later amplified over the centuries into an extraordinarily complex mix by a huge army of writers and scholars of the Catholic Church, including:
Jealous Hebrew Yahweh; perfect Platonist God; omniscience; omnipotence; God as a father; God's commandments; God's will; God's wrath; kingdom of God; God's grace; God's glory; God's mercy; God's love; God's image; worship of God; fulfillment of Scriptures (law, prophecies, psalms); Son of God; Son of Man; composite man-God; Christ; Trinity; Holy Spirit as God's Wisdom, Logos, or Word; Holy Spirit as a dove; Holy Spirit as force of conversion; transmitting, receiving, and rejecting the Holy Spirit; charisma; laying on of hands; Holy Spirit as semen; virgin mother; immaculate conception; incarnation; signs and wonders; miracles; healing the sick; apparitions; suffering Servant; lamb of God; shepherd of men; Lord of mankind; Light of the Lord; crucifixion; resurrection of the dead; ascension to heaven; revelation; end of world; second coming; atonement; savior and redeemer; last judgment day; separation of sheep and goats; clouds of heaven; eternal bliss on the clouds; fires of hell; eternal torments in fire; damnation; apostles; prophets; communion of saints; mystical body of Christ; martyrdom; following Jesus; great commission; fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit; blessings; seven sacraments; baptism; eucharist; extreme unction; immortal souls; spiritual life; spiritual force; eternal sin; original sin; guilt; deadly sins; Satan; casting out devils; angels and demons; exorcism; supernatural forces; free will; temptations; blasphemy; repentance; penance; confession; salvation by faith; salvation by works; good and evil works; predestination; distrust of the flesh; shame of nudity; sinful sexuality; saintly celibacy; spiritual asceticism; hermits; monastic life; flagellation; submission of women; witchcraft; apostolic succession; authority of bishops; ordination; confirmation; supremacy of pope; evangelization; forgiveness of sins by the Church; purgatory; inerrancy of the Scriptures; heresy; papal infallibility; holiness; saints; beatification; canonization; veneration, invocation, and intercession of saints; icons; power of holy relics; miracles of the Church; talismans; holy water; blessed palm fronds; power of prayers; sign of the cross; Christian magic; born again; etc...
- The systematic, century-long, "fabrication factory" of forgeries, rewrites, interpolations and literary inventions made easy by the manual writing and copying of manuscripts over 1,500 years; with Christian monks using their pious pens to "copy and glorify";
- The violent obliteration of the tolerant, polytheistic, artistic and literate Ancient Roman-Greek civilization: wrecking of temples and of the great libraries of the Empire; destruction of pagan art; burning of books; closing of schools of philosophy; suppression of curiosity and inquiry; disappearance of secular, scientific, and independent thinking; resulting in the loss of most of the Ancient Greco-Roman world's knowledge, including the original manuscripts of the OT and NT;
- The inexorable spread of a medieval age of "darkness": generalized illiteracy; flourishing superstitions; fears of the supernatural; morbid and solemn liturgy; closed and dogmatic minds; fanatical intolerance; persecution of opponents; extermination of "heretics"; Church cultural control; forced conversion of "pagans"; abuse of religious criminal accusations (rejection of the Holy Spirit, devil possession, blasphemy, sacrilege, witchcraft) -- a new despotic culture celebrating the "triumph" of the Christian Church and "holding humanity captive" for more than 1,000 years;
- The most recent archeological data showing the absence of evidence for the major stories of the Bible, with no evidence for a Nazareth in the 1st century, recorded only in the 4th century.
One could make a distinction between "Christ Myth" and "Jesus Myth" theories. The encyclopedic article in Wikipedia does not make one in its well-researched exposé of the "Jesus Myth Theory", with a good review of the history, the current debate, serviceable links, a plethora of notes, a multitude of references, and a good list of further readings suggestions, enough to occupy a lifetime of study and research.
The debate on all those issues still rages on, with no end in sight, to the delight of writers and publishers alike, and of Internet bloggers as well.
In reply to an earlier post on 26 Dec 2011 02:28:51 GMT
You were correct. I nearly fell asleep myself trying to reread it.
Thanks for the useful feedback.
The reason is that I tried to include in the review the historical background of the controversy surrounding the Christ Myth theory, which was far too long, before tackling comments relevant to the book.
I lightened my review, making it more focused, and moved the background material in two COMMENTS to the review itself.
Posted on 29 Jan 2012 19:37:59 GMT
Great review there Roo bookaroo
In reply to an earlier post on 29 Jan 2012 19:51:59 GMT
Thanks for your interesting review.
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