I am writing this brief refutation in response to a claim allegedly made by author Michael Paulkovich in the following article authored by Jonathan Vankin.
I have researched and written on the Jesus Myth hypothesis, and although I am no mythicist (a person who believes Jesus was a purely mythical character), I do concede that the sources we have for the historical Jesus are problematic. The sources we have are hampered by a lack of contemporaneity, meaning, aside from certain hypothetical sources, like the Gospel of Quelle and various theories about pre-existing oral traditions, the earliest Christian author, Paul, whose primary testimony derives from hallucination and not history, appeared to have known next to nothing about the Jesus recorded in the later gospels. These official gospels were selected for theological reasons in the late second century by the Church father, Irenaeus of France, from a plethora of others that all contained conflicting depictions of this legendary figure. Between the falsely named gospels we now know as the Gospel of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, exist even more conflicting historical data about Jesus. The earliest gospel, Mark, was written an entire generation after Jesus’ alleged death, and thus fails the historical test of contemporaneity. Further still, the historicity of Jesus is problematic to establish due to the culture of forgery that existed in the ante-Nicene and post-Nicene churches. Numerous forgeries exist within and beyond the official/canonical corpus of Christian literature, like Jesus’ forged Greek conversation with Nicodemus, the story of the woman taken in adultery, Jesus’ letter to the King of Syria, and numerous others. Regarding his miraculous/mythical nature, there are arguments from similarity, like his death and resurrection, although slightly unique, his virgin-born status, the very nature of his miracles, and various other pre-existing motifs, all accounted for in the myths of earlier gods, quasi-historical and historical characters.
Finally, the sources we have are affected by bias. The primary historical sources we have for Jesus come from Christian witnesses who wrote fanciful biographies of Jesus to propagate their religion, not to impartially document history. There are no reliable independent (non-Christian) attestations for Jesus from the first century, aside from two brief and suspicious references to him in one of the works of the Jewish historian, Josephus, which again, fail the historical test of contemporaneity, as they were written at the end of the first century CE. Further, the historicity of Jesus is brought into question by damaging arguments from silence. Contemporary authors who should have mentioned him, like Philo, Seneca and numerous others, made no mention of him at all. Christian apologists often argue that Jesus was just an insignificant character in history, and so none of these contemporary authors and historians living in his time and place would have noticed him. However, if we are to believe the gospel narratives which describe Herod killing all the children of Bethlehem, (mentioned nowhere but the Gospel of “Matthew”), his scribes being aware of Jesus’ birth, or Jesus feeding thousands during his mission, and being mocked by a multitude at his crucifixion, as well as his condemnation by Pontius Pilate, who never mentioned him, nor even the miraculous and noteworthy events that allegedly surrounded his death, like the sun going dark in the middle of the day, the huge earthquake that accompanied his death, not to mention all the zombies in Jerusalem rising from their graves, then we must ask why none of these events made it into the historical record. The most likely answer is that they did not happen.
Notwithstanding all of these problems, there is still sound scholarship that suggests that Jesus may have been a historical/legendary character, whose biography was embellished with mythical fiction, which was a common biographical technique in antiquity, as evidenced by similar mythical motifs added to the biographies of Alexander the Great, Plato, Pythagoras and other ancient figures. This argument is known as the argument from genre.
Having heavily qualified my critique of Paulkovich’s problem, I would like to now address the fatal flaw in his assessment of the historical Jesus. If this author has been quoted correctly, he has made a fundamental mistake with regards to the alleged reference to Jesus in one of Josephus’ works. The error in the article reads as follows:
“Paulkovich says that only one of the 126 texts he combed through contains any mention of Jesus — and that, he says, is a forgery. That text is the first-century history book The Jewish Wars by the Roman historian Josephus Flavius, who wrote his work in the year 95 CE.”
The suspicious references to Jesus by the Jewish historian Josephus do not appear in his Jewish Wars, but in his Antiquities of the Jews (see Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3 and Jewish Antiquities 20.9.1).
Again, I am unsure whether this error rests on the shoulders of the author or whether it boils down to sloppy journalism, however, I feel that it is an important mistake to address, for with it, apologists will be able to convince unread Christians that all those who bring the historicity of Jesus into question, do so by relying on bad information, when the truth happens to be that there are substantial problems with the historical Jesus, and insurmountable ones with regards to his magical and mythical nature.