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The Jesus Puzzle. Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? : Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus Paperback – October 19, 1999

4.2 out of 5 stars 81 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

During three years of exposure on the World Wide Web, where he has presented convincing evidence, on a half a million word website, that no historical Jesus existed, to enthusiastic (and not so enthusiastic) reaction from around the globe, Earl Doherty's first published book has been eagerly awaited. The wait will not disappoint. In a highly attractive product (the cover itself is stunning), the author presents all the details of his argument in an immensely readable and accessible format.

From the Back Cover

Why are the events of the Gospel story, and its central character Jesus of Nazareth, not found in the New Testament epistles? Why does Paul's divine Christ seem to have no connection to the Gospel Jesus, but closely resembles the many pagan savior gods of the time who lived only in myth? Why, given the spread of Christianity across the Roman Empire in the first century, did only one Christian community compose a story of Jesus' life and death-the Gospel of Mark-while every other Gospel simply copied and reworked the first one? Why is every detail in the Gospel story of Jesus' trial and crucifixion drawn from passages in the Old Testament? The answer to these and other questions surrounding the New Testament will come as a shock to those who imagine that the origins of Christianity and the figure of Jesus are securely represented by Christian tradition and the Gospels. With the arrival of the third millennium, the time has come to face the stunning realization that for the last 1900 years, Christianity has revered a founder and icon of the faith who probably never existed.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Canadian Humanist Pubns; 1st edition (October 19, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0968601405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0968601402
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #473,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Perry Willis on March 25, 2001
Verified Purchase
I've read three shelves worth of books on Christian apologetics and the quest for the historical Jesus. I can save you a lot of time. All you really need is this one. The other books raise more questions than they answer, and go off on a lot of wild goose chases. But Doherty's book makes full use of the available evidence, and his thesis actually makes sense.
If you want to read the Christian side (and you should) I recommend "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel. Strobel is very selective in his use of evidence, but the book is a good read, and probably the best that can be done for the Christian faith. Read it first if you like, and then read Doherty. There's no comparison.
Doherty also has a web site. I recommend you first read his book and then visit the site. Spend the time to go through everything he presents there - it's well worth it. The site also contains a novel (also titled "The Jesus Puzzle") I thought it was excellent. It deserves to be published. Doherty also provides a lengthy and devastating critique of the Strobel book on his site.
As I read "The Jesus Puzzle" I was surprised at how resistant I was to the thesis that there had been no historical Jesus (I'm not a Christian), but I was impressed at how thoroughly Doherty overwhelmed my resistance. This book deserves the whole world as its audience. Buy it, read it, buy more copies and give them away, spread the word. Nineteen hundred years of misconception has finally been clarified.
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Here's your chance for glory: Produce a good, sound argument that the Jesus Christ featured in the New Testament gospels is the same individual as the Jesus Christ whom the NT epistle authors have in mind. Do this and you will be the first person in history to accomplish this task.
In his book "The Jesus Puzzle", Earl Doherty demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ is a fictional character. No such person ever existed. The notion may be shocking to the general populace, but it is not a new idea, and has been endorsed by a minority of scholars for over a century.
The best evidence comes from the Christian writers themselves. The New Testament epistles and most of the non-canonical literature until the mid-2nd century show a resounding silence on the earthly life of Jesus. No teachings or miracles. No references to Mary, Joseph, the disciples or the holy places, such as Bethlehem, Nazareth and Calvary. No trial or details of the passion story. And so on.
Scholars try their best to explain this phenomenon, but this degree of silence from so many writers over so many years has one and only one adequate explanation: the writers ignore Jesus's life on earth because they don't KNOW of a life on earth. Jesus Christ started out as an entirely divine being, just like all the other gods in all the other religions of the day. The idea that he lived a full, human life was a later development in Christian mythology which gradually caught on, proved to be popular and eventually became standard orthodox belief.
Another problem with the traditional view of Christian origins is the wide diversity of expressions shown in the early Christian record. These are unlikely to have stemmed from the life of a highly-revered human founder.
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On page 125 of his book Doherty writes: "When any set of assumptions is firmly in place, the evidence is usually interpreted in accord with those assumptions. Yet it is clear that the New Testament epistles present the Christian reader and scholar with difficulties and anomalies at every turn. These have traditionally been ignored, glossed over, or subjected to unnatural interpretations and questionable reasoning in order to force them into the mold determined by the Gospels.
"What is needed is a new paradigm, a new set of assumptions by which to judge the epistles (as well as the other non-canonical documents ...), one capable of resolving all those contradictions and uncertainties. That paradigm should be determined by what we can see in the epistles themselves and how we can relate their content to what we know of the spirit and conditions of the time."
This is how Doherty approaches not only the epistles but the gospels and noncanonical writings as well.
Why do the earliest New Testament documents (the epistles) show no knowledge of the life and teachings of the historical Jesus (apart from a few passages that are said to be revealed via scripture or vision) yet speak of this Jesus, without any justifying reference to his human life, as God and sustainer of the universe? Doherty shows that the traditional scholarly explanations for this puzzle are with less than adequate documentary and logical support. But by looking at the philosophical and theological milieu of the authors of the epistles (who wrote before the gospels were known to them) we see that their ideas of Jesus Christ are a part of the broader literature about an increasingly personified divine Messiah, Logos, Wisdom figure.
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-- I won't go into too much about what's good about this book other than to say I think it provides a lot of valid points backed up with sound historical research (at least as far as I can see, not being an expert on the subject). Anyone who has read and moderately studied the Bible and Apocrypha can clearly see how much of the incidents in Jesus's life recall events and lyrical passages from the Old Testament(some word-for-word as in Psalms) and therefore anyone not prone to a 'Magical' view of reality might clearly see Jesus as a mythical figure.

Still, I find some of Doherty's points troublesome to accept and would therefore focus criticism on certain gaps I think need to be addressed in 'The Puzzle', gaps which left me confused and not yet completely convinced. Mainly I have some issues with trying to see how two supposedly distinct traditions, one related to Paul, the other to the Gospels, come together to form a cohesive story like we see in the New Testamant without being directly related.

Briefly, Doherty believes that the historical Jesus was a myth. His theory is largely based on the premise of reversing the precedence of the New Testament texts, making Paul's Epistles come before the Gospels. Instead, the latter 'Q" inspired texts were actually later contrived documents designed to validate a movement Paul was instrumental in spreading.


1. Doherty believes that the Jesus of the Gospels was made up, a myth. If so, then what about Paul, Peter and the other disciples? Were they real or not? And if they were real -- according to Doherty at least Paul and Peter are -- than why not Jesus?
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