My Talk at the GCRR e-Conference on the Historical Jesus

The conference was fantastic! You should attend other virtual eConferences put on by the GCRR! You should also help support what it does by becoming a member.
Below is the first part of my talk, in note form. The rest of my talk was a summation of why reasonable people shouldn't believe any of the miracles in the Bible. Hint: There's no objective evidence for any of them.

The Jesus We Find in the Gospels Never Existed!

by John W. Loftus

 Dr. Slade and GCRR.  Main values: GLOBAL research made ACCESSIBLE/ AFFORDABLE in published books, articles, and in conferences like this one.

Congrats! You’re making a difference! I’m Thankful!

 GCRR will publish my Horrendous Suffering book in the Fall! It’s an excellent model for how philosophers, apologists, and theologians should’ve been discussing this problem decades ago. 

Richard Carrier: “Loftus has again produced a brilliant gallery of informed experts, now addressing the problem of evil from every angle, and with such power and depth that it shall be required reading for anyone promoting or opposing evil as a disproof of God.” 

Christian theists like David Geisler, Randal Rauser and Chad Meister are recommending it. Dr. Meister is the co-editor of the The Cambridge Companion to the Problem of Evil. 

1) I’m here today because I was honored to co-edit a book with Robert Price, Varieties of Jesus Mythicism. He never wanted to do another anthology after The Empty Tomb. Frustrating time-consuming work. So he asked me to help publish it. I’ve proven myself with five previous anthologies. This one answers the question, “If Jesus didn’t exist then how did the myth originate?” In Bob’s words, when it comes to how it all originated, “may a thousand flowers bloom”. Throw out any number of potential hypotheses for people to consider. 

[EDIT: When Dr. Price was asked about our book at the conference he said, "it's sure to be a classic."]

--Frank Zindler, atheist debater, scholar and editor of American Atheist Press, says the book will be absolutely necessary for any future Jesus mythicist scholar. 

--Foreword is by Dr. Richard C. Miller, a scholar of Christian origins and author of Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity, who writes for Debunking Christianity:

 “The essays contained within this anthology draw their readers out on a provocative adventure, a quest certain to yield many treasures. Yet, this quest is altogether different than that described by Albert Schweitzer in his landmark work The Quest of the Historical Jesus over a century ago. Despite the seeming nobility, such an academic pilgrimage to uncover the originary kernel of the Gospels, now having played out for decades in the halls of academia, has proven little more than a fool’s errand. We are now faced with the obvious: these cultic tales are not and were never given as historiographical “footage” of live first-century events in time and space.” 

2) My Journey 

I am a debunker…I don’t have to say what happened, only what didn’t happen. Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little bighorn by the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes in June of 1876. 

To do my job effectively I cannot be seen as a crank…I must meet believers on some common ground. 

Example 1: Even though I’m a Bernie Sanders progressive democrat and support most everything he says, I’m not going to disassociate myself from any conservative right leaning atheist who has different views than me on moral and political positions, so long as they help me reach believers, my target audience.  

Example 2: I have resisted taking a stand on Jesus Mythicism for the same reasons. “At best Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet.” Halfway position. Not so sanguine now. I have since changed my mind. For a few years I embraced agnosticism. 

I have now established myself enough to take a stand on this issue. At what point can we say all traces of any real Jesus are gone, and that they’re gone because he never existed as a real person in the first place? We have to work with what we have, not what we hope will be discovered. What we can conclude is that whatever traces of a human being we might find behind the ancient tales of Jesus, at best they are indistinguishable from him not existing at all. Any real Jesus is therefore an unnecessary figure we can do without. That’s good enough when it comes to god and science. It’s good enough here. 

3) Highlights of last few decades of Jesus mythicism: 

In 1985 the Jesus Seminar was founded by New Testament scholar Robert Funk. The goal was to reconstruct as best as possible the historical Jesus, what he said, did and who he was. It initially included 50 biblical scholars and 100 laymen, called Fellows. They placed the burden of proof on any passage under consideration and voted on what they considered historical and what was non-historical. It had three main phases: Phase 1, Sayings of Jesus (1985-1991); Phase 2, Deeds of Jesus (1991-1996); Phase 3, Profiles of Jesus (1996-1998). There was a lot of disagreement. Afterward, there was historically little remaining about Jesus. A stream of books came from it. Although never formally disbanded, the seminar effectively ceased functioning in 2006 after Robert Funk died. 

Robert Price, a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar, led the current mythicist charge with the first two of many books on it, Deconstructing Jesus in 2000, and The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man in 2003. 

Following on the heels of the Jesus Seminar, The Jesus Project was convened in December of 2008. It was sponsored by, and held at the Center for Inquiry campus in Amherst, New York. It was dedicated to exploring what can be known about Jesus based on a rigorous application of historical critical methods to the gospels and related literature. The Jesus Project contained a number scholars who felt that the Jesus Seminar had been too hesitant to follow where the evidence led. 

One of the most significant mythicist developments was the documentary in 2005 by Brian Flemming, The God Who Wasn’t There. At the height of the New Atheist movement people watched Robert Price, Richard Carrier and others showing why Jesus mythicism has merit. 

Jesus mythicism continually gained greater attention, with Price being invited to exchange views in the debate book, The Historical Jesus: Five Views. It was edited by evangelicals James Beilby & Paul Eddy, published by IVP Academic Press in 2009, and included authors like John Dominic Crossan, Luke Timothy Johnson, James D.G. Dunn, and Darrell L. Bock. In 2014 Richard Carrier’s massive peer reviewed book, On the Historicity of Jesus, thrust mythicism into the highest acknowledgement that could be hoped for. Sheffield Phoenix Press! 

The camel is now inside the tent. It might possibly be the consensus among atheists. Jesus mythicisim is now being taken seriously by such scholars as James McGrath, who in 2010 said mythicists “deserve to be ignored like young-earth creationists, and other such groups” but has written extensively in criticism of it ever since. In 2010 the late Maucie Casey felt compelled to defend a historical Jesus with his book, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian's Account of his Life and Teaching. In 2013 Bart Ehrman felt compelled to write a book on whether Jesus existed, and later he debated Robert Price in March of 2017, hosted by the Milwaukee Mythicists, who have held other conferences on Jesus mythicism. 

The GCRR eConference you’re attending is a testament to the fact that mythicism is here to stay, and for good reason.


Rauser’s view can no longer be taken seriously by anyone who is paying attention. If anyone represents the flat-earthers it is people like him who believe and defend the indefensible without any objective evidence.


4)  My Preface in Varieties of Jesus Mythicism:  

        In 1929, E. C. Segar introduced his cartoon character, Popeye, in a comic strip based on a one-eyed, pipe-smoking sailor named Frank ‘Rocky’ Fiegal.[1]

So there was an actual person behind the Popeye cartoons.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, with the knack for solving crimes through observation and reason, was modeled after Dr. Joseph Bell. Bell was one of Conan Doyle’s medical school professors.[2]

So there was an actual person behind the Sherlock Holmes novels.

Santa Claus, who supposedly brings presents to good boys and girls on Christmas Eve, is based on a fourth-century Greek bishop named Saint Nicholas.

So there was an actual person behind the Santa Claus myth.

So what?

Popeye the cartoon character never walked the earth. Neither did Sherlock Holmes. Neither does Saint Nicholas do a fly-by over it. At their absolute best these characters are composite ones, with elements drawn from several sources, along with the mythical creative imaginations of human beings. But by speaking about composite persons, we’re not speaking about particular persons, people who actually walked the earth, much less any literary/cartoonish or magical/mythical characters.

The parallels are obvious. It’s how biblicists argue with regard to Jesus. They do it along these same lines:

Since there was an actual person behind the Popeye traditions, Popeye existed according to mainstream Biblical historians. No one could reasonably doubt that Popeye was based on a real sailor who liked to get into fights, if they studied history properly.

Since there was an actual person behind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Sherlock Holmes really solved crimes in his day.

So too Santa Claus really exists. Who else brings the presents on December 25th, and who else eats the cookies, and drinks the milk left for him?

All biblicists need for someone to exist is for a literary figure to be based on a real historical person. So Jesus existed too!

It doesn’t really matter if Olive Oyl, or Dr. Watson existed, or Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. These additional literary characters are not relevant to the “historically certain” fact that Popeye, Sherlock Holmes, and Santa Claus were based on historically attested figures. So likewise, it doesn’t really matter if Lazarus or Judas Iscariot or Joseph of Arimathea existed. These additional literary characters are not relevant to the “historically certain” fact that Jesus existed.

But to say that since the gospel ‘Jesus’ was based on a real person he therefore existed, is no different than saying that since Popeye, Sherlock Holmes, and Santa Claus were based on real people they existed.[3]

Let’s say there is a human person behind the myths about the Jesus in the Gospels. So what? There are many non-historical myths about such a person to be found, significant ones. Examples of these include that he existed before creation, was one with a father god, fulfilled prophecy with his life, was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, had the authority to speak for a god, did miracles, atoned for our sins on the cross, bodily arose from the dead, and that he’d return soon. With so many non-historical myths as these, it doesn’t make a difference if the person pictured in the Gospels is a completely made up, mythical person.

He might as well be.

The Jesus pictured in the Gospels is a myth. If we must take the mythical tales at face value, then such a person found in the gospels never existed. So, the Jesus depicted in the Gospels never existed. If there was a real human being who was the basis for the Jesus character in the New Testament, he is dead now.

But what if it’s worse than that? What if there was no actual person behind the Jesus found in the Gospels, at all? What can account for Gospel origins?

That’s the focus of this present book.

Prepare to enter into the ancient mythical mind. In that world anything can happen.

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