Monday, May 2, 2011

Literary Traditions: Ten Reasons the Gospels are Works of Fiction

Literary Traditions

Ten Reasons the Gospels are Works of Fiction

The NT documents, especially the Gospels, are precisely the sort of literature we would expect to emerge from a time when the dividing line between the natural and “supernature,” indeed, the divine and the human, was not clearly drawn: the true miracle would have been for the NT to stand completely outside the limits of Hellenistic storytelling and the rudimentary historiographical interests of a religious community.
–R. Joseph Hoffmann

Often times a certain work of fiction so profound that will challenge the way we perceive the world around us. As a student of literature, I know the profundity of stories which can capture the human imagination and hold power over us. In all this, there is probably one figure, one story that is still considered taboo to criticize completely—a story that has for centuries been so venerated, so inviolable, as to avoid the critical commentary of the iconoclast—and that is the story of Jesus Christ.
Recently, however, there has been a greater attempt by scholars and historians alike to treat the material more explicitly. The Gospels, which contain the exploits of the so-called historical Jesus, once safeguarded from criticism by a shroud of uninfringeable piety and tireless orthodox conviction, are now being adjudicated in a different light by those seeking an unadulterated truth.[i] Whether we are scholarly historians, laymen, believers or nonbelievers we must set aside our preconceived biases and correct our misperceptions by exposing what religious patriarchs would rather keep veiled and out of sight—evidence which shows the Bible to be—a work of fiction.

Christians seems to get annoyed by the mere suggestion that the Gospel Jesus may merely be little more than a fictionalization. They often rebut the statement by pointing toward all the historical information, never mind that much of it is inaccurate or altogether wrong, what counts for historical material also counts for Jesus’ historical validity in the eyes of the religious.
In fact, devout belief in Jesus’ historicity (as a matter of fact) has been one of the leading reasons why the mythicist view, as well as the legendary and literary hypothesis, have all but been dismissed by Christians. But what strikes me as peculiar is the sheer ignorance and naïveté of believers with regard to the Gospel Jesus as he would have had to have existed in the historical context of the first century of the Common Era. My hope is that this article will help lift this veil of deceit, allowing us to see past the theological shroud of Christian piety and orthodoxy, perchance to expose even the slightest glimpse of an underlying truth beneath it.

Identifying the Gospels as a Literary Tradition
For some time now I have been of the opinion that the Gospels are fictional works, but reading both Does the New Testament Imitate Homer by Dennis R. MacDonald, the Gospel Fictions by Randel Helms, as well as the work of Robert Eisenman, Gerd Ludemann, R. Joseph Hoffmann, Bart D. Ehrman, Richard C. Carrier, and Robert M. Price sealed the deal for me. Read them if you get the chance, because honestly, I do not see how anybody (even third rate apologists) can contest these fine scholars research, although some have tried.[ii]
Audacious as it may seem to those unfamiliar to the literary hypothesis, it does seem to me that the Gospels are part of a literary tradition, and as such are distinctly works of fiction. To better clarify this issue, however, I have composed a short list of reasons why we know the Gospels are fiction and the New Testament Jesus to be little more than a literary fabrication. Clues which reveal a literary (e.g., fictitious) Jesus are:

      1)     The Jesus tradition has its Roots in Archaic Myth
            There is nothing in Jesus’ life story that does not conform to the mythic hero archetype (to acquaint yourself with the mythic hero archetype read Joseph Campbell's A Hero with a Thousand Faces). Nearly every event, every miraculous deed, even the themes of his teachings and the adventures he has with his merry band of Apostles, from his virgin birth to his death and resurrection, all these events fit with similar events cataloged in the stories of countless other heroes of myth and legend—which subsequently either predate (i.e., precede) or immediately follow (i.e., tag on to) the Jesus narrative.
            Although this doesn’t prove there was no historical figure named Jesus, it does confound any attempt to separate the historical Jesus from the Gospel Jesus—leaving Christians in a bind. As numerous religious critics have pointed out, the Gospel Jesus is a palpable fiction—little more than a literary fabrication.[iii] Textual criticism shows the Gospel Jesus to be an amalgamation of Christian faith, Hellenistic legends, and pagan myths. Consequently, Christians must concede one of two points, neither of them trivial. Either they concede to the fact that there was probably never any real historical Jesus and side with the mythicist view, or else they can salvage their faith in the historical Jesus as long as they concede to the fact that, as the Biblical historian R. Joseph Hoffmann has made abundantly clear, there is relatively nothing that can be known of Jesus to any certainty which would pass as historically trustworthy. In other words, we must remain agnostic as to who and what the historical Jesus may have been. Although, such a confirmation, the admission that Jesus is a blank page, would tear down one’s faith in Jesus as lord and savior, since these are just unsupported assumptions. It is no surprise that Christians are extremely reluctant to admit to either.
            Thus far I have primarily focused on the Gospel figure of Jesus, showing how he is a literary concoction whom the unoriginal fables of Hellenistic mythology have been selectively attached, Jesus is not the only character in the Gospels to have his literary prototype formed from a collection of unorthodox myths. As MacDonald has shown us, even the book of Acts contains heavy constructions lifted out of the Odyssey and Iliad. Meanwhile, other central Gospel figures seem to be assembled from Hebrew lore and the stories of the OT, such as the Apostle Peter, who seems to be modeled heavily off of the Book of Ezekiel.[iv]
            Although orthodox tradition wants to find a historical Jesus hiding in the pages of the Gospels, it seems a futile endeavor. The fact that there is an overwhelming interconnectedness, not only with the OT, but with Hellenistic and pagan mythology as well—so much so that it goes beyond mere coincidence—cannot simply be dismissed. In fact, the borrowing, influence, and shared interconnectivity between the Gospels and other myths are so blatant, so deliberate, that one would be mistaken to deny it. Hoffmann observes:

Jesus had become a theological necessity before the end of the second century and a confessional statement in the fourth…. To accept the “reality” of Jesus after the fourth century is to accept the rather bizarre figure immortalized in the icons, the Jesus of the fertile Christian imagination. This Jesus is a myth cobbled together from other myths—imperial, soteriological, apocalyptic and messianic, priestly, Gnostic, Stoic with a healthy dash of Byzantine splendor tossed into the mix…. Historically, then, the reality of Jesus cannot be indubitable because his existence does not meet the high standard of proof we set for other historical figures.[v]

            For these reasons we can safely presume that the Gospels are more fiction than fact—and the figure of Jesus is more mythical than historical.

      2)     No Authentic Eye-witness Testimony and too much Third Person Narrative
            The Gospels contain the tradition of literary third person narrative for events which couldn’t possibly have had any eye-witnesses. Whether it is Jesus praying to God alone in the desert, or having a conversation with Satan atop of the highest pinnacle of the Jerusalem temple (cf. Luke 4:1-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13), or his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Mark 14:32-42; Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:39-46), the fact is, there couldn’t have possibly been anyone around to account for these moments of solitude. Third person narration is a technique frequently employed by storytellers while first person narration is usually used by those who have experience a particular event and later reflect upon it.
                  In addition, the NT continually gives itself away, as is the case in Mark (Mark 16:1-8) when the two women stumble upon the empty tomb of Jesus and flee in terror to tell know one of it, this only begs the question, who’s telling us (if nobody else is the wiser) and how on earth did they find out? The problem here is obvious; any theory which comes after the fact of the women’s silence which literally attempts to account for how we could possibly know what they never spoke of can only be post hoc speculation.
                  As for the five-hundred eye-witnesses, an account found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, is surprisingly nowhere to be found in the Gospels. NT historians have long suspected this piece of information to be apocryphal legend.[vi] Besides, there is more than enough evidence to suggest the story of the resurrection is pure legend, and if so, then the story of the five-hundred eye-witnesses would only be part of a fake story (most likely to make the incredible sound more credible) and therefore not a part of any historical event. If this wasn’t bad enough, another reason to disbelieve the claim that five-hundred witnessed Jesus is because Paul claims that he saw the risen Jesus only in a vision, and there is nothing to suggest the five-hundred weren’t just having similar visions like he was (and like many Christians continue to have today).[vii] As you can see, we have no valid reason to take the claim of five-hundred eye-witnesses seriously—at least no more so than we should take the eye-witness stories of five-hundred people who claim to have sighted UFOs hovering above Roswell. Just to be clear, what we have here are both the same sort of claim. Both sets of claims are about visions, or hallucinations, but not about actual observations regarding confirmed events. 

      3)     There are Signs of Literary Embellishment, Embroidery, and Forgery Throughout
           The Gospels, in their proper chronological order, have signs of literary embellishment which move further and further away from the original source of Mark, which itself may purely be fictional. About Christ’s resurrection the Biblical historian James D. Tabor reminds us, the Gospel authors tendency is to tack on more grandiose, fabulous, or fantastic events or happenings, always taking the mundane framework of the stories themselves and building them up into marvelous tales of intrigue, that “What’s happening is that you get this embellishment of legend and a magnification of the theology.”[viii]
        The same can be said with other details as well, such as who was at the tomb, was there no one, a boy perhaps, maybe an angel or two? How many animals did Jesus ride side-saddle into Jerusalem, was it one, or did he surf in on two? When Jesus rose on the third day did he hang around for forty days and sup with the remaining disciples, did an army of the undead rise and parade down the streets with him, or did he fly off into the sky like Superman? Up, up, and awayyyy! The point is, the pattern of embellishment always follows the progression of the mundane to the phantasmagorical. All this, of course, is the stamp of the literary imagination running wildand the taller the tale gets the less certain we can be it ever had its roots in reality to begin with. The consequences being that if, for example, we know elements A, B, and C are each fabrications then what it to suggest that elements E, F, and G are not also? Therefore the whole NT becomes suspect.
        On top of this there are other literary signs which strongly suggest the NT is unreliable. For example, the common census among Biblical scholars and historians is that only seven of the twenty-one Epistles in the NT are authentic. The remaining six are forgeries. The authorship of the remaining letters is also in question, as 1 and 2 Peter are considered forgeries as well, while the rest of the letters are pseudepigrapha. With so many known forgeries in the Bible we cannot have any confidence in the rest of the so-called historical documents of the NT.

      4)     The Gospels are Self-reflexive and Self-affirming
            The Gospel Jesus often times contradicts himself, so frequently in fact that he negates many of his own sayings (meaning it’s more likely they aren’t genuine sayings at all—John 5:31 and John 8:14 are good examples of this). Not only this, but many of Jesus’ so-called sayings fit the pattern of literary persuasion, or rhetoric. Frequently when a NT author would want to get across a message they would use Jesus as a mouthpiece, but often times the authors disagree on what the message should be. An obvious case with this is with regard to Jesus final dying breath of Jesus, in which, according to the Gospels, each time he dies he says something inharmoniously different. First, I should like to point out, this again rules out any eye-witness testimony, since we can reasonably assume that if there were eye-witnesses they all would have reported Jesus last words to be the same—instead of the discrepant and discordant reports we do get. Second of all, within these sayings are embedded subtle strands of Midrashim—as the basis and content for Jesus’ dying speeches are rooted in the Psalms, for example. Randel Helms has pointed out that the NT frequent interpolation of OT text, utilized to supply an intended meaning, is an element of literary creation, observing:

In the language of literary criticism, the Gospels are self-reflexive; they are not about Jesus so much as they are about their own attitudes concerning Jesus…. The Gospels are Hellenistic religious narratives in the tradition of the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, which constituted the “Scriptures” to those Greek-speaking Christians who wrote the four canonical Gospels and who appealed to it, explicitly or implicitly, in nearly every paragraph they wrote.[ix]

The Literary critic Northrop Frye also points out the self-reflexive co-dependency of the Gospels, stating:

How do we know that the Gospel story is true? Because it confirms the prophecies of the Old Testament. But how do we know that the Old Testament prophecies are true? Because they are confirmed by the Gospel story. Evidence, so called, is bounced back and forth between the testaments like a tennis ball; and no other evidence is given us. The two testaments form a double mirror, each reflecting the other but neither the world outside.[x]
      5)     Lack of Authentic Jesus Sayings and Paulenization of the Gospels
            What’s more, many of the self-reflexive elements also appear to be anachronistic reflections of the evangelist and not the original teachings or sayings of Jesus at all. The Gospels, which are about Jesus, did not appear until decades after his death, written by men in a foreign country who never even met Jesus or anybody acquainted with him! As Hector Avalos reminds us:

In the case of Jesus, the difficulty is magnified by the fact that any “original” sermons and discourses of Jesus are actually oral compositions. But not only are Jesus’ sermons originally oral compositions, they may also have been in Galilean Aramaic, the presumed language of Jesus. So even if we were to find the original Greek texts behind all the Greek manuscripts we now have, we would end up only finding a translation of Jesus’ words. And Greek translations, by definition, cannot be the “original” text of anything Jesus said in Aramaic.[xi]

As such, I am willing to posit that most of the Jesus’ sayings contained in the Gospels are the work of later evangelical authors and very few (if any) of the sayings are genuine.[xii]
            Thus it is no surprise that we find Paul’s words placed in the mouth of the Gospel Jesus, as Eiseman has observer.

Both Mark 7:6-7 and Matthew 15:7-9 picture Jesus as using this passage to attack the “vanity” of those who “teach as their doctrines the Commandments of Men,” meaning, “the Traditions of the Elders” just mentioned in Mark 7:5 and Matthew 15:2 above. Not only is this clearly an attack on what in Rabbinic parlance is called “oral tradition,” but it turns around the parameters of Paul’s debates with those of the Jamesian school or, if one prefers, inverts their arguments turning them back against themselves. Again, the meaning both the Gospels of Mark and Matthew are clearly ascribing to their Jesus from the start here is that “hypocrites” of this kind, following “the Tradition of the Elders,” are forcing people to wash their hands before eating, something that most people nowadays would consider as not only normal but hygienic; however, in Paul’s inverted invective, something Paul (to say nothing about his alter ego, Jesus) would obviously consider quite reprehensible…. As in all of the previous episodes above, the enouement of this abolishing purity requirements/table fellowship episode in Mark 7 and Matthew 14… further legitimatizes the Pauline Gentile Mission...[xiii]

Eiseman goes on to add:

The reason for all this borrowing, parody, and sometimes even derogation has to have been that so original and impressive were these new ideas and usages, we now know from the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and so well versed were some of the original creators of some of this material from the Gospels (in this instance, particularly Matthew), to say nothing of the material in Paul, that they were unable to resist continually playing off them and reversing or inverting the actual original sense or meaning.[xiv]

What Eiseman points out not only shows that the Gospels have been retooled to sponsor the individual message of each faction of early Christian, in this case the Pauline movement, but it is also a good example of yet more self-reflexive writing.
            Furthermore, Paul’s message was distinctly not Jesus’ message. Paul preached a different message, and more than this, he changed the message of Christ to be his own. As the premier historian Gerd Ludemann has remarked:

Paul’s theology, together with its theological, anthropological, and soteriological ideas in no way represent a recapitulation of Jesus’ preaching nor even a further development of it…. It comes, therefore, as no surprise that according to some, Paul founded a new religion centered on the cult of Christ, one that has little in common with the religion of Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem and Galilee…. Be that as it may, we find a clear disparity between the Jesus revealed by historical study and the Christ proclaimed by faith. A troublesome question therefore arises: Can Paul, whose seven genuine letters are likely the oldest Christian documents, serve as a reliable witness to the historical Jesus?

            After examining all the relevant evidence, Ludemann concludes, “In short, Paul cannot be considered a reliable witness to either the teachings, the life, or the historical existence of Jesus.”[xv]
            Meanwhile, it seems, that if the historical Jesus should have ever uttered genuine words of wisdom, they have been lost, overwritten by a series of competitive, often opposed, Christian authors all attempting to make their message the true and final one. Trying to pry out the words of the historical Jesus from the debris becomes not only difficult, but perplexing, as we cannot be sure that underneath the rewrites and emendation there was ever an actual original saying to begin with.

      6)     There Are No Hebrew or Aramaic Sources
            Now it is well known that there is no Aramaic or Hebrew source for the synoptic tradition, something which Christians never seem to think twice about, but such a fact should cause us to pause. Without an original source written in the language of Jesus, we have little reason to assume any of the Gospels are authentic sayings. Even so, this has not prevented Christians from attempting to make the Gospels appear “authentic” by rewriting them to contain Hebrew or Aramaic grammar and vocabulary. Randel Helms outlines this showing how certain original Greek phrases in the Gospels were changed to Aramaic to sound more authentic, but then the Aramaic was changed to Hebrew as an apologetics ploy to avoid linguistic confusion which would arise through use of the Aramaic. In fact, this is such an important point in exposing the Gospels as works of fiction that I feel obliged to quote a large section of Randel Helms’ work since he explains things far more judiciously than I could. Again, we come back to the last words of Christ.

Mark presents these words in self-consciously realistic fashion, shifting from his usual Greek into the Aramaic of Jesus, transliterated into Greek letters: Eloi eloi lama sabachthanei (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?—Mark 15:34). Mark gives us no hint that Jesus is “quoting” Psalm 22:1; we are clearly to believe that we are hearing the grieving outcry of a dying man. But the author of Matthew, who used Mark as one of his major written sources, is self-consciously “literary” in both this and yet another way: though using Mark as his major source for the passion story, Matthew is fully aware that Mark’s crucifixion narrative is based largely on the Twenty-second Psalm, fully aware, that is, that Mark’s Gospel is part of a literary tradition (this description would not be Matthew’s vocabulary, but his method is nonetheless literary). Aware of the tradition, Matthew concerned himself with another kind of “realism” or verisimilitude. When the bystanders heard Jesus crying, according to Mark, to “Eloi,” they assumed that “he is calling Elijah [Eleian]” (Mark 15:35). But Matthew knew that no Aramaic speaker present at the Cross would mistake a cry to God (Eloi) for one to Elijah—the words are too dissimilar. So Matthew self-consciously evoked yet another literary tradition in the service both of verisimilitude and of greater faithfulness to the Scriptures: not the Aramaic of Psalm 22:1 but the Hebrew, which he too transliterated into Greek—Eli Eli (Matt. 27:46)—a cry which could more realistically be confused for “Eleian.” Matthew self-consciously appeals both to literary tradition—a “purer” text of the Psalms—and to verisimilitude as he reshapes Mark, his literary source. The author of Mark was apparently unaware that his account of the last words was edifying fiction… but Matthew certainly knew that he was creating a linguistic fiction in his case (Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew), though just as clearly he felt justified in doing so, given his conviction that since Psalm 22 had “predicted” events in the crucifixion, it could be appealed to even in the literary sense of one vocabulary rather than another, as a more “valid” description of the Passion.

Continuing on, Helms identifies similar literary emendation in Luke, observing:

Luke is even more self-consciously literary and fictive than Matthew in his crucifixion scene. Though, as I have said, he knew perfectly well what Mark had written as the dying words of Jesus, he created new ones more suitable to his understanding of what the death of Jesus meant—an act with at least two critical implications: First, that he has thus implicitly declared Mark’s account a fiction; second, that he self-consciously presents his own as a fiction. For like Matthew, Luke in 23:46 deliberately placed his own work in the literary tradition by quoting Psalm 30 (31):5 in the Septuagint as the dying speech of Jesus: “Into your hands I will commit my spirit” (eis cheiras sou parathesomai to pneuma mou), changing the verb from future to present (paratithemai) to suit the circumstances and leaving the rest of the quotation exact. This is self-conscious creation of literary fiction, creation of part of a narrative scene for religious and moral rather than historical purposes.[xvi]

            What this analytical approach shows is that the basic grammar and vocabulary of the text has been manipulated in an attempt to try to make it appear historically valid. Yet the leftover discrepancies reveal a rather slapdash approach where one author is attempting to correct the mistakes of a previous author, proving that the Gospels were written, rewritten, and rewritten yet again only to be (in many cases) redacted by later evangelical authors before they were ever considered finalized. As such, we have no reason to believe that they are not literary fabrications.

      7)    The Gospels Are Historically Unreliable
            Doubting the historical reliability of the NT is easy—especially since it gets more wrong than it gets right. Luke is reporting himself to be a careful (supposedly reliable) historian (Luke 1:3), yet seems to have the most trouble accurately reporting on historical concerns, such as the census debate, incorrect genealogies, conflicting accounts which era Jesus was supposedly born, and so on. Whereas the author of the book of John contains a high Christology which is strong evidence that he was writing from a very different mind-set and from a much later Jesus tradition. It’s not the fact that one or two of the NT stories have historical inaccuracies which should bother Christians, but the fact that there are so many as to constitute the NT as a unsanctioned, unauthorized, and unofficial work by hack historians who are all but malfeasant in how they practice and apply the historical method[xvii] (apparently a tradition which has carried on in Biblical studies relatively uncontested).[xviii] On the other hand, if the Bible, the Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament are works of fiction then (at least) the historical inaccuracies are forgivable, albeit an eyesore for any historian and any knowledgeable reader. As Hoffmann attests, “It seems self-evident to many people that it is “important” for there to have been a historical Jesus, and yet the reasons for his importance are not altogether clear from the sources available to reconstruct his life and thought.”[xix]
          Archeology, meanwhile, has proved beyond a reason of a doubt that there was no town called Nazareth during Jesus’ day (See Rene Salm’s book The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus for more on the Christian problem of a distinct lack of archeological evidence with regard to the Gospel stories, also read Frank R. Zindler’s essay “Where Jesus Never Walked”). In fact, as I’ve previously mentioned, but is worth repeating, is that, oddly enough, the capital city Sepphoris (called the Jewel of Galilee) is missing altogether from the New Testament—it’s not even mentioned once. The implications of this all point toward the Gospels being a later literary creation—as the Greek authors of the New Testament were obviously unfamiliar with the basic geography of the region they were writing about. Nobody from Galilee would have made this stupendous mistake, which coincidentally enough, definitively proves that the synoptic tradition has no actual eye-witness testimony to speak of (since any living eye-witness would have corrected the inaccurate and/or missing information).
            This presents a two-fold problem for Christians because it reveals that the authors were 1) entirely incompetent, habitually misreporting the historical facts or overlooking them entirely, thus making anything else contained in the Bible spurious at best, and 2) it reveals that the whole of the New Testament is more likely to be part of a literary tradition than it is to be accurately recorded history.
            This is to say, if the Gospels were originally regarded as historical documents this missing information would have been such an embarrassment to later Christians that it would have needed to have been corrected, or at least redacted. Just to make this clear, in modern terms, you could not talk about the politics of White House and President Obama—let alone write about Senate politics in the New York Times without briefly mentioning Washington D.C.—at the very least the news correspondent from Washington D.C. would be referred to in the byline as the news correspondent from Washington D.C.! The fact that nobody ever took the time or effort to redact the name of the capital of Galilee back into the NT suggests that those of the period understood the Gospels to be historical fictions and thus not representative of real history—therefore a few minor historical inaccuracies didn’t matter so much because it was the overall message the stories contained that mattered—not the precise details.

      8)     The Gospels Were Written By Greek Authors Unfamiliar With The Geography of Jesus’ Day
            The Gospels were written, not by people from Galilee who knew Jesus, but by Greek authors living hundreds of miles away from where the purported events took place who were more concerned with the message of their story rather than getting basic history or geography right. Reading the Gospels we find that he Gospel authors were unfamiliar with the basic geography and history of the region, thus left out information a native Galilean would never have accidentally omitted. As such, they wrote down their versions of these events (most likely) from hearsay and oral tradition, but themselves had not been witness to the events they purport to report, which explains why they get so many historical details wrong (such as setting the town of Nazareth in the wrong historical time-line, placing it in a time when it didn’t yet exist) or simply neglecting to mention pivotal historical locations (such as the aforementioned Sepphoris or the second Jewish Temple in Egypt at Leontopolis). This contradicts the popular conviction of the Christian apologist that the Gospels were written in such temporal and geographical proximity to the events they record that it would have been almost impossible to fabricate events. As we have seen throughout, the Gospel authors frequently employ literary methods of storytelling, such as remolding popular myths to fit their own religious messages and viewpoints, frequently write in third person narrative voice, use self-reflexive techniques which make the text appear self affirming, put their words into the mouth of Jesus, and all this goes a long way to suggest the Gospel authors were, in fact, writing undeniable works of fiction.

      9) Confidence in the Literary Hypothesis as the Best Inference to the Truth
            Finally, we must be brave enough to face the facts, and the fact of the matter is all the evidence we have alludes to the the Gospels all being a conspicuous work of fiction. Thus, the only estimation of Jesus we can make is that he may have been a real historical figure, however, all the evidence points to the contrary. As history it is hopelessly flawed, problematic, and highly improbable, but as a literary fiction it makes perfect sense.

      10)  No Competing Theory About Jesus Explains Quite As Much
            Until Christians can satisfactorily address all of these points clearly and without theological conjecture—that is without adding strings of useless conjecture in the form of multifarious theories, excuses, explanations, and harmonizations which usually only account for some of the problems, or else complicate matters instead of resolving them, we have no reason to prefer any other theory over the Literary Hypothesis. Indeed, without any genuine historical evidence to back up the alternative hypothesis we often hear from Christian apologists, we have no reason to believe, period. Until Christians can come up with a single unified theory which works as efficiently and reliably as the literary hypothesis, then we can be confident that the literary hypothesis has a higher probability of being the correct depiction of how the Gospels came about, explains for why Jesus is a literary hybrid of various traditional myths, and at the same time accounts for the discrepant (or missing) information found within the Jesus narrative and tradition. No other working theory accounts for nearly as much as the literary hypothesis and so I think the simple rationalization, the logical conclusion, becomes that the Gospels are entirely works of fiction and that Jesus is more likely to be merely the byproduct of a pious literary tradition rather than an actual historical person.
            Summing up I’d like to quote, once again, the well spoken Hoffmann.

Historically, the existence of Jesus to be indubitable would need to be demonstrated in the same way the existence of any other human being can be shown. The standard of proof is fairly high, making allowance for the age in which the person lived or is thought to have lived. Normally we would expect records, reports, artifacts (bones are best), or the writings of people who mention Jesus in their reports of other events. For example, a chronicle of the Roman administration of Pontius Pilate in Palestine with a mention of the crucifixion of an outlaw named Yeshu, a Galilean, would be very helpful. But we do not possess such a record. Instead, we possess reports written by members of a religious group that had very specific and self-interested reasons for retelling his story. And the way in which it is told differs so markedly from the sorts of histories the Romans were writing in the second and third century CE that scholars have acknowledged for a long time the “problem” of deriving the historical Jesus from the Gospels—and even more the problem of deriving his existence from the letters of Paul or any other New Testament writings.[xx]

Pragmatic Peroration
            As we have seen, there are just too many clues and too many pieces of evidence which compound to prove a rather startling case—the Gospels, as well as the Gospel Jesus, appear to be all part of a larger literary tradition. That isn’t to suggest there was no historical Jesus, since for all we know there very well may have been a real genuine historical figure lurking in the penumbra of ancient history, but this is only speculation. The origins of Christianity are on the cusp of prehistory, and as fate would have it, there isn’t enough historical evidence to identify let alone nail down (pun intended) any actual Jesus.
In short, there is nothing to suggest the Gospels were not intended to be historically realistic fictions (as the Christian theologian Hans Frei insightfully suggested), since, as we have seen, they have all the trimmings and stylings of a literary tome. A surplus of evidence shows the bulk of the Bible’s content is ahistorical, discrepancy filled, incongruent, inharmonious, and has been embroidered and embellished upon time and time again, and that:

The NT documents, especially the Gospels, are precisely the sort of literature we would expect to emerge from a time when the dividing line between the natural and “supernatural,” indeed, the divine and human, was not clearly drawn: the true miracle would have been for the NT to stand completely outside the limits of Hellenistic storytelling and the rudimentary historiographical interests of a religious community.[xxi]

            This is a fact which casts serious doubt on any theoretical model which would attempt to make the Bible, and more specifically the Gospels, exact accounts of authentic history. This much we do know—and this has been the entire premise of this book—the Old and New Testament could not possibly be literal accounts of history. We know enough about the time, the era, the history of our immediate past to know the Gospels are egregiously inexact, poorly written, barely passable “historical” reports at best, and at worst they are the religious fictions penned by men who, knew surprisingly little about the real Jesus, and who lived and wrote several decades after the purported events of his life ever took place. Therefore any person who contends that the Gospel or New Testament account of Jesus could possibly be historically accurate need to put on their analytical thinking-caps and re-read their bibles.
Alas, I think it’s safe to assume any such theory which tries to claim the Gospel Jesus as a purely historical Jesus can be readily dismissed. To continue to posit that the Gospel Jesus is historical is just to deliberately ignore the accumulation of historical facts. Rather a new dominant theory must emerge which makes sense of both the historical as well as the literary elements, and the best theory I know of which includes both and leaves nothing out is the literary hypothesis of Jesus which comes out of the mythicist view developed in the radical Dutch school of thought which is held by a wide variety of scholars and historians to varying degrees (e.g., Charles Francois Dupuis, Constantine-Francois Volney, David F. Strauss, Bruno Bauer, J.M. Robertson, William Benjamin Smith, Arthur Drews, Paul-Louis Couchoud, Bertrand Russell, John M. Allegro, G.A Wells, Alvar Ellegard, Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, Richard Carrier, Frank R. Zindler, Michel Onfray, Thomas L. Thompson, and R. Joseph Hoffmann just to name a few).
Subsequently, the Gospels, while lacking almost any valid historical basis for support, really do, it seems, fit the model of a Christian progressive literary tradition. Thus the literary hypothesis, it seems to me, explains the most about Jesus as well as the truth about Christian origins. Since we cannot name any one historical founder for Christianity in particular, and by the same token Christianity seems to have had various incarnations (perhaps being simultaneous offshoots of Judaism) and so we cannot say which version was the original or true start of the faith, the origin of Christianity remains mysterious and is open to debate. What I am saying here, however, is that regardless of how it may have originated the best explanations for the development of the texts, tenets, and traditions we have today is that of the literary hypothesis. Anything less than the literary hypothesis would have to explain more than it does, with at least as much lucidity and elucidation, and I do not know of any other competing theory which does.


            [i] See: The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong biblical scholar Thom Stark and The Rise and Fall of the Bible by Timothy Beal.
            [ii] One such third rate apologist is J.P. Holding. You can read his rather lack luster and puerile review of Randel Helm’s book here:
            [iii] Some of the more convincing arguments for this hypothesis can be found in The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty, Deconstructing Jesus and The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man by Robert M. Price, Gospel Fictions by Randel Helms, The Jesus Mysteries by Timoth Freke and Peter Gandy, and Did Jesus Exist? By George A. Wells, just to name a few.
            [iv] Randel Helms, The Gospel Fictions, p. 21
            [v] R. Joseph Hoffmann, Sources of the Jesus Tradition, p. 177
            [vi] Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 344
            [vii] Richard Carrier, “Why the Resurrection Is Unbelievable,” in The Christian Delusion, p. 301
            [viii] See: “Mysteries of History,” p.41, 2010. Available in PDF courtesy of James D. Tabor:
            [ix] Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions, p.16
            [x] Northrop Frye, The Great Code, p.78
            [xi] Hector Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies, location 782, Kindle.
            [xii] The Q Hypothesis along with the shared similarities between the sayings of Jesus as found in the Gospels and the Gnostic gospel of Thomas, suggest that there may have been an “original” sayings list.
            [xiii] Robert Eiseman, “Every Plant… Shall be Uprooted,” in Sources of the Jesus Tradition, p. 160
            [xiv] Ibid, p. 170
            [xv] Gerd Ludemann, “Paul as a Witness to the Historical Jesus,” in Sources of the Jesus Tradition, pp.196, 212.
            [xvi] Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions, pp.16-17
            [xvii] See: Forged by Bart D. Ehrman.
            [xviii] See: The Case Against the Case for Christ by Robert M. Price
            [xix] R. Joseph Hoffmann, Sources of the Jesus Tradition, p. 171
            [xx] Ibid, pp.174-175
            [xxi] Here Hoffmann’s quote can be found online at:

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