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on April 28, 2017
Brilliantly written and conceived. Attempts to explain the lack of any serious mention of the historical/Gospel Jesus in the earliest Pauline (and other) Epistles by the simple assertion that the historical Jesus did not exist. Rather, the author maintains that many people of the time were having real but visionary experiences of a divine emanation and "Son"-"Assisting Angel" to whom was given the titles of Son of Man, the Logos, the Son, the Lord, the Christ, Yahoel, and several others. The Epistles, along with other ancient literature, were peons to this mystical figure who was loved, worshiped, and experienced subjectively within the believer. This figure was considered to be real, but was not conceived to have been a human being recently crucified and raised up again in Judea. Rather, the historical/Gospel Jesus was a much later allegorization of "the Son" as "He" may have been like had he actually lived a human life as a Galilean carpenter-prophet. The heavenly Christ was thus gradually clothed and embodied by "Mark", the author of the earliest Gospel, as a sort of encouragement to believers in the nonmaterial, unworldly "Son" as to how to ideally live a good spiritual life. The author insists that Mark never meant his story to be taken literally, and that Mark certainly never had this expectation of his readers: they all knew that "the Son" was a living spirit entity, who had no, and did not require, earthly existence.

I find the author's argument from "silence" - or better yet, his argument from absence of any physical Christ in the earliest "Son" narratives, to be very impressive on its own. However, I am not fully convinced that he has completely eliminated a historical Jesus from Christian origins. I don't think that he completely addresses certain Pauline statements, such as when the apostle says that the Lord "was crucified in Sion", "by the Jews" - which means that Jewish contemporaries had crucified a real Jesus in a real city, "Sion" (Jerusalem). Paul also blames "the Jews" for murdering their own Messiah, and says that God is currently punishing them for that crime. These two charges do not seem to be describing a mythical crucifixion in heaven carried out by heavenly or at least nonmaterial "Jewish Gnostic Archons".

So I can only say that the argument from absence is impressive and needs to be seriously addressed, still there are some weak links in Doherty's overall argumentation. But the book is well worth the price.
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Earl J. Doherty (born 1941) is a Canadian author who has also written books such as Jesus: Neither God Nor Man - The Case for a Mythical Jesus,Challenging the Verdict: A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ", etc.

He wrote in the Introduction to this 1999 book, "the basic pieces of the Jesus Puzzle can be laid out. The Gospel story is an amalgamation of two principal and separate elements... of two different parents. This was a couple... who may not even have known of each other's existence until those unique circumstances arose which led 'Mark' to bring them together in his Gospel. The first parent was a Jewish preaching movement centered in Galilee... The second parent... came to life in numerous places across the eastern half of the Roman empire... It too was a preaching movement, built on a Jewish base but combining Jewish and pagan traditions..." (Pg. 4)

He asserts, "As astonishing as such a silence may seem, an equation such as 'Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and Messiah' is missing from all the early Christian correspondence. The Jesus of the epistles is not spoken of as a man who had recently lived... Thus, we are left with an entire corpus of early Christian correspondence which gives no indication that the divine Christ these writers look to for salvation is to be identified with the man Jesus of Nazareth whom the Gospels place in the early first century---or, indeed, with any man in their recent past." (Pg. 14-15)

He observes about 1 Cor 15:5-8, "Paul nowhere shows any knowledge of the story of the empty tomb. He makes no mention of the women who first discover it, nor of details matching any of the appearance stories of the Gospels. On the other hand, the appearance to James and to 'over 500 of the brothers at once' seem to be unknown to the evangelists... There is no evidence that he means anything more than a simple vision, and this is borne out when Paul lists his own 'seeing' with the rest. He makes no distinction between them." (Pg. 71)

About the famous passage about Jesus in Vol. 4 of the The Works of Flavius Josephus, he comments, "Most commentators who argue for an authentic original reconstruct it... This is invariably described as a 'neutral' account. But such an evaluation is not realistic. A passage which describes Jesus as 'a wise man' who 'performed many wonderful works,' who 'won over many Jews and gentiles,' who was perhaps a 'teacher of the truth,' cannot be described as neutral, and would hardly be viewed as such by Christians... the startling fact is that during the first two centuries ... not a single Christian commentator refers to it in any surviving work." (Pg. 208)

This book will be of great interest to skeptics, freethinkers, and rationalists, as well as anyone studying the historical evidence for Jesus.
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on July 27, 2017
great book!!
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on August 19, 2015
The author provided a plausible explanation for why the epistles of the bible are so different from the gospels.
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on July 7, 2013
I've grown tired of the basic arguments for atheism, and wanted to look at the issue of Christianity, in particular, in more detail. The Empty Tomb argument always seemed like the fly in the ointment to me, and the arguments for why the argument is too weak to support belief in supernatural events were always too general for me. Doherty makes a strong argument for the thesis that Jesus never existed. Even if that argument doesn't go through completely, he makes a totally convincing argument that Paul and the other writers of the epistles were totally unaware of the existence of a man named Jesus who was crucified, let alone resurrected. The "Christianity" that Paul preached was clearly one of the "mystery religions" that were so common in the first century CE.

Despite the thoroughness of his presentation, some of the points he makes rely on information he does not include in the book, so I have to take them with a grain of salt. Those points have to do with the Q traditions, and are the reason that I am not completely convinced that there was no historical Jesus. As I said, though, his argument about the epistles is totally convincing to me, and that in itself is enough to completely undermine the historicity of the empty tomb.

Overall, this is a very well researched and presented argument. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who wants to look into the historicity question in detail.
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on March 19, 2002
Here is the "Puzzle" about Jesus Christ as Doherty explains it: Did you know that in all the Pauline corpus, Paul never once quotes Jesus Christ? Did you know that none of the parables or teachings of the Gospels are ever referenced even once by Paul? Or that he never once mentions Joseph or Mary? Nor ever once mentions any miracles or healings?
So this rather strange lack of reference to anything Jesus Christ ever said or did in the Pauline corpus is a "puzzle", The Jesus Puzzle. By the way, I can certainly see how a Christian would easily consider Doherty's theories in TJP to be "outlandish" or "far-fetched". If you have a similar reaction, that's okay. Just hear me out.
Basically, Doherty argues the explanation to the "puzzle" is:
1. Paul believed in a Jesus Christ as a spiritual being and had no knowledge of any human Jesus Christ or any knowledge of the Gospels.
2. There were a number of conflicting traditions in the area at the time. There was the Jewish traditions. Some pagan traditions. The "Q" community that had a list of morals they believed in. And there was the Pauline "Jesus Christ as a newly revealed spiritual Being" tradition. Somebody decided that these traditions would make a good backdrop for a fictional allegory casting Jesus as a human on Earth. Doherty thinks the author probably never intended anyone to think of it as history any more that C.S. Lewis expected his allegory to be thought of as history.
3. Sometime after that, the fictional allegory became regarded as factual history.
You may be saying that's just plain crazy. Maybe. But let me continue. There are a number of times in the Pauline corpus that Paul seems to be talking about a living man, as modern Christians understand Him to be. Paul says such things as, "born of woman", "died and resurrected". Doherty explains these apparent references to a living man in basically these ways:
1. At the time, the spiritual realm was considered to operate more like our physical realm. People at the time believed that people walked around, ate, drank, had sex, etc., in the spiritual world. So some things that sound like Paul is talking about happening in the physical realm, Paul was trying to say that they happened in the spiritual realm.
2. Translations of Paul's words are generally done by people that believe that Paul was talking about the Gospel's Jesus Christ and therefore the translations are flavored that way.
3. Paul thought of the Jesus Christ in the spiritual realm as having an analogous purpose in heaven as man does on Earth - Paul believed Christ is the "man" of heaven as humans are the "man" of Earth. So Paul's references to Jesus Christ sounding like he is talking about a man is allegorical.
Now I can quite easily see a Christian saying, "look, Paul says a man, born of woman, buried, resurrected, etc. It's clear he's talking about the same Jesus Christ as the Gospels. Doherty's just going through contortions to force his conclusions." Yeah I can see that a Christian would say that. And I'd probably even agree if Doherty's other arguments weren't so strong.
By the way, I've read some critiques of Doherty - who basically try to say that everybody knew all that stuff and so Paul had no need to mention it. I'm sure that could explain part of it. But really, did everybody really know all that? Paul was writing letters to teach people about Jesus Christ. How could it be possible that he could write letters about Jesus Christ without ever mentioning anything Jesus said or did?
After all, if Paul is in fact speaking of the Jesus Christ of the Gospels, the man who is supposedly also God, I think Paul would have to explain how a man could be God. This was a foreign concept to his audience. If I ask a Christian today why believe Jesus was God, they'd say he raised Lazarus from the dead, was crucified under Pontias Pilate, etc. Any Christian would, but Paul didn't bother to do this? This seems hard to believe.
Particularly when there are times when Paul is talking about things that Jesus supposedly taught, such as marriage and the like. Is it not very curious that Paul never, ever, not even once (at least in the Pauline corpus that we have in the Bible) said, "well, this is what Jesus had to say on the subject..." ?
You might say that Paul probably did in some documents that didn't survive. Of course that is possible. But still, isn't it strange that this never happened even once in the documents that we do have in the Bible? I've been to church many times. Maybe not every sermon happens to include quotes of Jesus, but certainly a high percentage of them do. So, why not ever once in the Pauline corpus?
So it seems that if Doherty is wrong and Paul is in fact talking about a human, then at the very least, Paul seems to know very little of the events and teachings as depicted in the Gospels. It is just inconceivable that he would have known about them and yet never drawn upon them for material in his writings. So even if Paul is talking about a human man, the human man he must be talking about has little to do with the Jesus Christ of the Gospels. Once you realize that, then Doherty's theory that Paul didn't think of Jesus as a physical human man at all makes more sense.
By the way, on the back of the book, Doherty includes a somewhat unusal quote for someone trying to sell his book. "You present nothing new here that your master, Satan, has not previously used to deceive the simple." Enjoy!
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on January 28, 2001
First off you want to get a taste of the book the author has a website [...]
I have very little to add to what you read above. The book is terrific and makes an excellent case which makes sense of the 1st century and 2nd century Christian literature and debates. Doherty is the first author I've read who gives an origin of Christianity that does not relly on some sort of bizarre change but rather a gradual evolution. His treatment of the epistles is without peer. His treatment of the gospels is a bit weak, and this is clearly an area where this theory needs further development.
If you are someone who finds the Crossen idea of a religiously Jewish Jesus with religiously Jewish disciples turning out Pauline type literature within 20 years of Jesus "death" implausible and would like a reasonable origin for Christianity; this is an excellent book. By the end of it you'll see how the same movement could contain the epistle of James, Paul's works, Hebrews and proto-gnostic works like Thomas, etc...
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VINE VOICEon July 8, 2003
The title tells you that this will be an inflammatory work in the eyes of many. However, anyone who has tried to make sense of the New Testament--without the structured guidance of one of the hundred Christian sects that have come up with a hundred different explanations--will find this work valuable. I also recommend Doherty's website (just Google his name), which includes among other things a short novel about modern investigators researching this topic. With such a controversial topic, you can't get a good overview from just one author. Doherty is easily the most skeptical author; while Thomas Cahill is essentially a literalist. Writers like Mack, Wells, Wilson and Spong all provide a different slant on how The New Testament came into being. If you read enough on this topic, I believe that there is one inescapable conclusion: Paul's Christ of Faith is not the Synoptic Gospel's historical Jesus.
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on March 25, 2002
To characterize Doherty's book in relation to others, here is a high-level comparative guide to books about Jesus. Doherty's "radical humanist debunking" book is essential, though limited.
Orthodox mystics
(Supernaturalist esoteric Historical Jesus researchers.) These investigators research Jesus' life as part of seeking direct mystical experiences of the supernatural Christ, which manifested as the actual Historical Jesus. They think Jesus was supernatural and also can be experienced mystically.
Orthodox literalists
(Supernaturalist non-esoteric Historical Jesus researchers.) These do Historical Jesus research as part of worshipping the Christ of Faith. The assume there was a real, single, towering supernatural Historical Jesus who performed miracles, was resurrected from death, and is God. Even if they let go of some or all miracles, they maintain that Jesus is holy, is uniquely God, and is the Savior. The very existence of Christianity depends on an actual, single, uniquely holy Jesus.
Modernist mystics
(Non-supernaturalist, esoteric Historical Jesus researchers.) These assume Jesus was a mystery-religion initiator and spirituality expert who was unfortunately crucified. This approach so well explains mythic allegorical Christianity, an actual Jesus tends to become an unnecessary hypothesis, though by habit of tradition, such theorists try to find something for the supposed Historical Jesus to do as part of the mystery religion: he spent time with the Essenes as the Teacher of Righteousness, or was an even more towering and ethically influential man. Example: Andrew Welburn's book, The Beginnings of Christianity: Essene Mystery, Gnostic Revelation and the Christian Vision.
Moderate demythologizers
(Non-supernaturalist, non-esoteric Historical Jesus researchers.) These are today's mainstream Jesus scholars and liberal Christians, who focus on Historical Jesus studies to uncover a supposed liberal ethical teacher. They assume there was a real, single, towering Jesus, upon whom many myths were piled. They treat Jesus as a largely unique figure, though not a unique holy savior. Examples: The Jesus Seminar.
Skeptical hyperpluralists
(Non-supernaturalist, non-esoteric, skeptical Historical Jesus researchers.) These are interested in exploring our inability to choose among the plethora of Jesuses and Christs rather than promoting a particular Jesus. They acknowledge the mythic-only Christ hypothesis, but don't treat that any more seriously than any particular proposed Historical Jesus. Examples: Richard Grigg, Imaginary Christs: The Challenge of Christological Pluralism; Robert Price: Deconstructing Jesus.
Radical humanist debunkers
(Non-supernaturalist, non-esoteric mythic-only Christ researchers.) These classic scientific humanists neglect or belittle esoteric religious experiencing. Religion is bad; it's all superstition and deceptive myth to manipulate weak and irrational minds. This approach equates all religion with exoteric religion, and dismisses religion, without giving special coverage of esoteric religion and its claims to provide transcendent knowledge, insight, or wisdom beyond what scientific humanism provides. When Jesus is proven to be mythical, Christianity automatically vanishes altogether ("good riddance") for such scorched-earth debunkers. Example: Earl Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ?
Fully allegorical mystics
(Non-supernaturalist, esoteric/allegorical mythic-only Christ researchers.)
These researchers propose an esoteric, allegorical, usually mystic-experiencing theory of the origin of Christianity. Scientific history refutes the Historical Jesus hypothesis, which should be replaced by a positive alternative hypothesis of the Jesus figure as an allegorical mythic personification of esoteric initiation experience that, with the Holy Spirit, conveys transcendent knowledge, enlightenment, an experiential core of religious insight, spiritual, mental, and ethical transformation, and the revealing of hidden wisdom. Mystery-religions are entheogenic (see James Arthur's Mushrooms & Mankind, and Clark Heinrich), experiential (Andrew Welburn), and determinism-transcending (see Luther Martin's Hellenistic Religions). Examples: Freke and Gandy's The Jesus Mysteries, and Jesus & The Lost Goddess, propose a Gnostic drama of Jesus rescuing Sophia, the lost and deluded soul; Acharya S, author of The Christ Conspiracy, proposes an astrotheology explanation for the origin of Christianity. The Jesus that became canonical was a mythical, allegorical figure loosely based on a variety of political, ethical, and religious figures of the era. The canonical Jesus is a socio-political rebel, liberator of those oppressed by the power establishment, whose storyline also allegorizes the mystic experiences of Hellenistic mystery-religion initiation. Jesus is an allegorical mythic dying/rising savior figure as in Hellenistic mystery-religions. His dramatic mystery-ritual storyline is set in the historical rather than mythic realm; it is about political rebellion against the power establishment that tried to use religion to justify the oppressive status quo. The power establishment took over this politically and mystically popular religion of Jesus to defuse it by making it a supernaturalist exoteric-only religion.
Doherty's radical humanist debunking approach may have an immediate impact because its methodology and style is so similar to the moderate demythologizers. This approach uses the methodology and style of the moderate demythologizers to refute the unexamined foundation of their entire system. The approach of fully allegorical mysticism is too great a jump for the mainstream of Jesus researchers at this point; they may need to transition through the radical humanist debunking approach before proceeding forward to the fully allegorical esoteric approach. However, they might change more readily if a positive alternative explanation of the origin of Christianity -- fully allegorical mysticism -- is provided, instead of a purely negative explanation (deceit and superstition) or a purely exoteric, socio-political explanation (Rodney Stark) without any mystic-experiencing aspect.
The radical humanist debunkers most immediately contradict the moderate-demythologizer mainstream, which simply takes it for granted that some single Jesus or another existed -- the question of *whether* such a single man existed is out of bounds as an investigation for them; for them, the only question is about the details.
The fully allegorical, mythic-only Christ books may be more relevant in the long run, into the era that will be familiar with the no-Historical-Jesus alternative. But at the moment, the radical humanist debunker approach seems to be the most likely to be influential. The skeptical hyperpluralists are also likely to be influential, because they highlight the overabundance of plausible scenarios about Jesus.
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on June 22, 2002
Just a quick review. I recently read Bernie Mack's book, "Who Wrote The New Testament", and was beginning to lean toward a historical Jesus (being a non-Christian since I deconverted about 7 years ago) until I read about 80 pages of this one. So many more pieces fell into place. I am not finished with the entire book but already, it has achieved it's self-professed goal of "challenging an historical Jesus" and I must confess, I was doubtful at first that I would find anything persuasive or new. I was challenged and already know that I can no longer give any benefit of doubt to an historical man who started the Christian religion by living and dying as the Gospels depict.
Mr. Doherty's insight into the phenomenon of being blinded by presuppositions is right on as demonstrated by several other reviewers. Unwilling to admit that the New Testament is a mix of many divergent views of God's salvation plan, the earliest of which mention no details of a Jesus of Nazareth, many people overlook the countless problems inherent in the orthodox view and simply cling to what they would prefer to believe. If you believe in an historical Jesus, you may not be ready for this book. If I had read it while still a Christian I probably wouldn't have bought it because I would have been ignorant of most of the underlying information such as the Greek myths and the concepts of savior-gods that predated the Christian movement.
It is amazing that Paul would not mention ANY event in the life of his savior while writing so many letters about him. When Paul argues for a resurrection, he could have mentioned that Jesus raised Jairus' daughter. He could have told them about Lazarus. He did mention Jesus own resurrection but amazingly, he never once mentions ANY details that would have been known such as the location, etc. and the most crushing blow is that Paul says he got the gospel from a revelation from scripture! That is how God revealed his salvation to mankind! Through the old testament! If Jesus actually died an atoning death on a cross in recent history, why is Paul saying that salvation came through a revelation from the scriptures? Why is he saying it was a mystery till God revealed it during his day? Why do the epistles say that Jesus was "slain before the foundations of the world"? Because the Christ, the Son of God, was a purely spiritual mediator at first. Later writers (Mark) created a "life" based on the OT and current beliefs about this Son of God.
Awesome book.
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