I have three questions:   1. It is said by some who do a lot of research that Jesus Christ of Nazareth did not exist and all stories about Jesus Christ of Nazareth were retellings of older pagan myths by relatively well educated Greek-speaking (and writing) Christians during the 2nd half of the first century.  Is is true? Is there any historical evidences to the above claim?    2. Did Romans invent Jesus Christ of Nazareth? Is there any historical evidences that Romans invented Jesus Christ of Nazareth?   3. Jewish myth says that Jesus Christ of Nazareth did not exist. Is there any historical evidences to their(Jewish) claim?


I have already written extensively on this topic.  We sponsored a debate with Robert Price, who is one of these people who claim that Jesus of the Bible is a creation of early Christians out of mythical material.   I am copying and pasting a couple of past responses to this question, including a summary of the debate (which is available, by the way, at  Please read the three articles below as an answer to your first question and let me know if this is not sufficient.

As for your second question, I guess I do not understand the question.  What do you mean when you ask whether Romans invented Jesus?  What Roman person would have done this? When?  Why?  There is no evidence that Romans invented Jesus.  None of the early writers about Jesus were Roman. Even the deepest skeptics will agree that none of the earliest believers in Jesus were Roman.  Many were Jews like Paul, John and Peter. Others, like Luke were Greek, but he was not Roman.  I doubt anyone seriously claims the Romans invented Jesus!

Jewish myths do not say that Jesus did not exist.  What myth are you talking about?  Generally, myths do not say that person X did not exist.  To be honest, this question does not make sense to me.  Are you asking why some Jews claimed that Jesus was a myth?  As far as I know there was no Jewish person in the first thousand years after Christ who claimed that he was merely a myth.  Some said that he did false miracles or he did miracles by the power of Satan, but none said he did not exist.  Probably if they had, their fellow Jews would not have taken them seriously.

John Oakes

Here are the articles:

[Editor’s Note:    I recently answered a question about R. G. Price but, not knowing his middle name, thought the question was about a different critic of Christianity named Robert Price.  Interestingly, the positions of the Robert Price and of R. G. Price are actually fairly similar.  Nevertheless, I am a bit embarrassed and apologize to this gentleman that I made such a silly error.  Here is my answer to his question.]Question:

Excuse me, I was not talking about Robert M Price, I was talking about R.G. PRICE!  Your recent article about Robert Price is a straw man response to my request for you to respond to an article from please look at the article!


Again, sorry for the first answer.  It was not completely orthogonal to your question, as the debate over the historical reality of Jesus is questioned by both Prices, but let me respond to the article.  I did, by the way, look at the article the first time, just so you know.

I believe that the evidence that Jesus was a real person is overwhelming.  The nine non-Christian authors who refer to him from the first 150 years AD are sufficient, on their own, to support this.  Tacitus did not make up Jesus, and neither did Josephus or Suetonius or Pliny the Younger or the writers of the Babylonian Talmud.  They had no interest in creating or supporting a myth of a person who was to eventually overturn both the empire and Judaism’s place as the dominant monotheistic religion in the empire.   Besides, although we can legitimately debate whether all the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus by the New Testament authors are indeed actual factual deeds done by and actual statements said by Jesus, to dispute that an actual person existed behind the movement known as The Way or the people known as the Nazarenes is downright irresponsible.  There is a reason the movement was known as the Nazarenes—it is because an actual person was born in that actual town of Nazareth who was the leader of this group. To think differently requires strange thinking in my opinion.   Let us add to this the fact three of the four gospels were written by the 60s AD.  This was less than forty years after Jesus died.   Perhaps as many as half those who had ever heard Jesus speak (or not speak if this was all a fantasy of a bunch of men desperate to create this false religion) would still have been alive.  This includes those who heard this man and did not agree that he was the Messiah.  The idea that no one would have stepped up and informed the disciples of Jesus that he did not exist is hard to support, to say the least.  We have Papias and Polycarp, both of whom knew people who knew the apostles.  Polycarp knew John himself (unless he is lying, in which case we need a reason that he would lie about this).  The idea that Polycarp, who died for his belief, would have been duped into believing in a person who literally did not even exist defies reason.   We can debate whether Jesus did in fact raise from the dead, but what cannot reasonably be debated is that the very early church did in fact believe he raised from the dead, which means that they believed he lived, obviously.   If this “myth” were to be created 200 years or perhaps even 150 years after the time when he was supposed to have lived, that people could be duped into believing an a non-real person might just possibly be believable, but to propose that people whose writings we have (such as Paul, whom all accept to have written Romans and 1 Corinthians, or Polycarp or the writer of the Didache or the Letter of Clement of Rome, both of whom wrote about AD 100) are from people who were duped into believing in a person who literally never even lived is not only unreasonable, but it defies reason to a very great extent—so much so that it borders on deliberate deceitfulness.

Now, I cannot respond to all the things stated in this article, as I only have a few minutes here, but let me hit on just a few.  I will copy and paste the questionable claims and give a response to the claims one at a time.

Someone called James was likely the leader of this movement. This was a small explicitly Jewish cult that had little significance and was not widely known.

This is not a reasonable statement because Paul, who even the skeptics admit wrote Romans and 1 Corinthians and Galatians, said that Peter was the head of this group.  James became the leader of the church in Rome by the 70s, as Josephus himself reports, as he describes the nature of his death, but in the 40s and 50s, no reasonable scholar that I know of doubts that Peter was the dominant leader of the church.   What is the evidence that Price has to oppose the evidence of Galatians 1:18 that Peter was the head of the church?  Price provides literally no evidence to support his speculation.  And by the way, this letter by Paul, which even the skeptics agree was written by the actual person Paul, tells us that the James Price refers to is in fact “the Lord’s brother.”   It is this same “Lord’s” brother who Josephus reports being martyred in Jerusalem in AD 62. (Josephus, Antiquities 20.9)   Here is the quote from Josephus which, as far as I know, no serious scholar questions to be legitimate:

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent. (24) Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.

Josephus the historian, living at the time of these events, but certainly not a Christian, says that Jesus was a real person and that his real brother was killed by the real high priest Annas.   Yet R.G. Price says that Jesus is not a real person “beyond a reasonable doubt.”   This statement by Price is downright irresponsible!

Jesus was not an actual human being.

Again, this claim is not supported by Price by a single actual statement of anyone from the first century, whereas we have Josephus who lived in Palestine in the 30s-70s AD who thinks quite differently.  A non-actual human being does not have a brother named James.  Josephus would know as he lived in Israel when the murder happened.

 Belief in a “real life Jesus” arose solely from the Gospel stories themselves. 

This statement is not only not true, it is strongly counter-factual.  I keep mentioning Josephus, but his is not the only example.   Paul was a very smart man, a Pharisee and a disciple of Gamaliel who was converted to the Way somewhere around AD 40, as is common knowledge to scholars.  Is Price going to propose that Paul was duped into giving his entire life over to a person who had supposedly died only ten years before, when he was able to meet hundreds of people who swore to his face that they had met him.  Were they all lying?  Paul said (in a book even the harshest critics agree was written by him around AD 55) that there were more than 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection (never mind the tens of thousands of eye-witnesses to his ministry) in 1 Cor 15:6.  Paul tells his readers that they should ask one of these 500 for themselves.   Is he counting on all of them keeping up this massive conspiracy to pretend that this person lived when most of them knew that it all was a total lie?  Can we believe this in face of the fact that all faced imprisonment and death for this belief?   Really????   Remember that Paul wrote these words about the hundreds of eye-witnesses to the resurrection before this supposed “myth” Mark was even written.  Price’s claim that Mark was the first to propose Jesus was a real person defies the evidence and it defies common sense.

the so-called twelve disciples. These stories were themselves a mix of concocted fiction, mythology, and urban legends. Indeed many of these later stories, written by former pagans, incorporated elements of local pagan mythology.

Forgive me, but it is really hard to listen to this kind of statement.  What is his evidence?  What “urban legends”?  Was there even such a thing as an “urban legend” in the first century?   What are his examples of “local pagan mythology” being incorporated into the book of Matthew or Luke?  Does he have any examples, or is he simply flinging mud around?   Is he going to propose that Peter and John never lived?  Was Paul simply making up these people when he wrote about them? Why would he do this?  What reason would he have to invent the existence of Peter when his readers would immediately know that he was making up stories?  Besides, we know the names and we have the writings of people such as Papias and Clement of Rome and Polycarp who tell us that they knew people who knew Peter and John and other apostles.  Are these people simply lying?  Sorry, but I need a reason for them to lie.   This claim is utter nonsense.  Worse, it is devoid of evidence and he literally does not even give a single example to support this contention that the book of John, for example has incorporated pagan mythology.  What chapter and verse does he have in mind here?

For example I would say that we actually know nothing more about Peter, a key figure in early Church “history”, than what was recorded in the letters of Paul, and it’s highly doubtful that “Peter” had anything to do with the founding of the Church in Rome or that he even lived beyond the early 1st century. Peter was, most likely, simply a follower of James, whom Paul had associated with in Jerusalem in the early 1st century and really played no role whatsoever in the development of the religion beyond whatever role he played in the small Jewish cult’s activities in Jerusalem. The “Peter” of importance to “Christian history” is just a fabrication based on the Gospel narratives.

OK.  Now one might hope that Price would have some evidence to support this contention. Does he?  No he does not.   He is simply stating opinion and literally not backing up this opinion with a single fact.   How can we take this seriously?

The idea, however, that Christians were heavily persecuted during the first few centuries of the religion’s history is highly dubious. The reality is that if Christians were in fact heavily persecuted the religion would likely never have gained prominence. The stories of widespread Christian persecution during the first through third centuries are later fabrications that were concocted largely after the religion had actually gained dominance.

Is he kidding?   So we are to ignore the decrees of Decius in 249 to destroy the churches and arrest the bishops of the churches in every city?  The Novatian sect of Christianity formed as an aftermath of this massive persecution.   And what about Pliny who asked what to do with the Christians who were arrested (in his letter of 112 AD to Trajan).  There is a mountain of evidence for persecutions under Severus, Commodus and many others.   Have some Christian writers at times exaggerated the evidence for persecution during certain times?  I suppose so, but this statement by Price is an outright falsehood.   I could give many many more references to pagans who mentioned the persecutions of the Christians.   Is Price proposing that the martyrdom of Polycarp is a fabrication?  “The reality” is that the Church grew in spite of much persecution.

I still have not gotten into the body of arguments that Price uses.  I have  only, so far, critiqued the unsubstantiated statements he uses by way of introduction.

The author of the story called the Gospel of Mark was a follower of a Pauline ministry (whether he had any real direct knowledge of Paul is impossible to say), who likely became disillusioned with the cult after the First Jewish-Roman War of 66 – 73 CE and the sacking of Jerusalem. 

Price is claiming that Mark probably had no direct information about Paul.  This is an amazing proposition, given that Paul took this same Mark on his first missionary journey around AD 45.   A recent find of a funerary mask from Egypt shows that the Gospel of Mark was already in general circulation in the 80s AD and that there was at least one copy which was used to the point of being recycled in paper mache to make the mask in the 80’s. This implies that Mark was written, let us be very conservative here, at least by AD 70, which would give it sufficient time to reach general circulation in the 80s and to find a used-up manuscript in a funerary mask.   The idea that Mark was written by someone who was disillusioned by an event which probably happened after he wrote is a dubious proposition.   We know from a consensus of scholars that Paul was either the most influential person in the churches by AD 60 or at the very least one of the most influential, yet Price is prepared to speculate that Mark may have had no real knowledge of him.  Where is the evidence that Mark was a disillusioned Jew after the sacking of Jerusalem, when Mark has Jesus predicting this fall in prophecy (Mark 13:9-23), providing a Christian explanation of this fall?

Much of the story called the Gospel of Mark follows the story of Elijah and Elisha from 1 and 2 Kings. In fact I would call the story of Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 Kings the primary template for the Gospel called Mark. The story of Elijah and Elisha was popular and would have been well known to a Jewish audience. The borrowing from this story was intentionally quite overt.

By the way, I agree with Price that Mark uses Elijah to a significant extent.   It is because the actual person Jesus and also John the Baptist fulfilled much of the messianic expectation which was attached to Elijah.   However, given that the crucifixion of Jesus is a historical fact (Babylonian Talmud, Tacitus, Paul, and many others), in what sense was the crucifixion, obviously the most important event in Mark, “borrowed” from Elijah?    How is the story of the twelve apostles borrowed from Elijah or Elisha?   Does this author believe that Paul reported the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus before AD 60 (as all scholars I know of agree) because of literary illustration in Mark which were written at least twenty years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (according to Price)?  This thesis literally makes no sense at all.  It would not stand up for an instant in front of true scholars, even if those scholars were skeptics of the miraculous.

Then Price goes into his thesis, which is that, for example, everything told about John the Baptist is a creation of pure fancy—a total lie and fabrication—created as a fiction so that the readers will recognize Elijah in John the Baptist.   There are two possible interpretations of the data.  Either 1. This is merely an allusion or 2. John the Baptist actually wore such clothes.   I will agree that both are possible, but Price acts as is this is proved by his “data”, but the only data is the similarity.   I think a more reasonable interpretation of the data is that John was aware of his relationship to Elijah and chose to dress like him.  Either that or possibly God, as a sovereign over this universe, caused both to behave in a similar way.   Price requires that Mark be a liar and a member of a huge conspiracy to foist this lie on the growing Christian community.  My explanation requires simply that Mark is reporting what he either saw himself or heard that someone else saw.  Price might be right, I suppose, but it certainly does not mount to the level of proof of his thesis, especially given the comments I made above.  Let me say this.  Unlike the examples above in which Price is just plain wrong, in the particular case of the data about John, I will grant that Price’s proposal is not unreasonable.  It does at least make some sense, and I want to acknowledge this.

As we continue through the article (which I will not do at this point, as I have already spent much time on this), Price continues to make charge after charge of literary allusion.   My general response is going to be that, if we do not make the mistake of presupposing that prophecy cannot be real, then in general, a better approach is to call these things in the Old Testament prophecies, prefigures or foreshadows of the actual events.   I suppose Micah 5:2 could be an allusion to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but it is more likely that Luke is not lying and that  he did his homework, as he claims to have done, and that Jesus was, in fact, born in Bethlehem.  If so, so much for the literary allusion.   Is Zechariah 11 an allusion or was Jesus actually betrayed by Judas for 30 pieces of silver.  Given that some of those present in the room when this event happened were still alive when Mark wrote his gospel, I believe it is no mere allusion.  The gospel writers would have been foolish to report factual claims which were lies when the eye witnesses to these events were still alive.  Is the reference to crucifixion in Psalms 22 an allusion or is it a prophecy?   I believe it is a prophecy, not an allusion because I know from more than one source, including Jewish, Roman and Christian that he was crucified.   The premise of this article is that these are all allusions, but in many cases the evidence moves in a very different direction.

Let me do this.  Can you find two or three specific claims in the article by Price you want me to respond to?   I have given a fairly detailed response to perhaps 10% of the article, but to respond to the whole thing is too much to ask me.  So, I will put the onus for continuing the discussion back on you.  Here is my specific request.  Please choose two or three very specific examples from this rather long paper that you feel particularly deserve response from me and I will happily do that for you.

I hope this helps.

John Oakes


Skeptics like Robert McNair Price and others says that a historical figure Jesus Christ of the Nazareth of our Christian Bible did not exist. Is there any historical evidences to their claim that  a historical figure Jesus Christ of the Nazareth of our Christian Bible did not exist?   My question is: Did the historical figure Jesus Christ of the Nazareth exist with 100 percent certainty? Can you please give me an evidence?   I want to defend my faith.


I happen to know Robert Price personally because the organization I am president of (Apologetics Research Society) put on a debate between Price and my friend Douglas Jacoby over the very topic you are asking about.  The debate is available at  Here is a review of the debate.  Price Debate Review  Price is on the radical edge of scholarship–so far on the edge that it is really debatable to me whether he deserves to be called a legitimate scholar.

Be that as it may, I can say with 100% certainty that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person, that he was born and raised in Galilee, that he was a famous preacher about whom it was claimed that he worked miracles and who was killed by crucifixion in Jerusalem.  There are many facts about Jesus that one could argue are debatable.  It is not unreasonable to question the factuality of individual events such as the miracle of turning water to wine.  However, the set of facts I just listed are all a matter of no possible serious doubt because they are confirmed by many ancient sources, including Roman historian Tacitus, Jewish historian Josephus and several others.   I am copying and pasting below some notes on the non-Christian sources about Jesus of Nazareth from the late first and early second century.

Besides, all reasonable scholars, including skeptics, will agree that there is no way to explain the existence of tens of thousands of Christians in Palestine in the mid-first century unless, at the very minimum, Jesus was a real person who really preached and who great numbers believed that he did in fact work miracles and was raised from the dead (note I am saying that these things were believed, not that they were 100% for sure true).

Anyone who questions the existence of Jesus or any of the facts I listed in the previous paragraph is either not well-informed about the facts or has a serious bias which makes their testimony seriosly unreliable.

John Oakes

Extra-Biblical references to Jesus:

1. Tacitus, Roman historian  (AD 56-118)(about AD 115 concerning Nero in AD 64);

Not all the relief that could come from the man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of bbeing believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome.  Therefore, to squelch the rumor, Nero created scapegoats and subjected to the most refined tortures those whom the common people called ‘Christians,’ [a group] hated for their abominable crimes.  Their name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate.  Suppressed for the moment, the deadly superstition broke out again, not only in Judea, the land which originated this evil, but also in the city of Rome, where all sorts of horrendous and shameful practices, from every part of the world converge and are fervently cultivated.

Annals 15.44

(note:  Tacitus has it wrong.  He was prefect, not a procurator acc to the Pilate inscription from Caesarea Maritima.  Also note:  The Annals have lost the years 29-32 which most likely also mention Jesus as this passage seems to look back to his earlier mention of Jesus)

Tacitus probably reports from second hand information regarding Christians in Rome and in Asia Minor where he served AD 112

2.  Flavius Josephus (AD 38-100) Writing about AD 94 under Domitian.  Concerning events he had indirect knowledge of.  Josephus was a Pharisee.  Jewish historian who was a turncoat, switching from the Jewish rebel side to Rome to serve under Nero and Vespasian.  Josephus is a relatively reliable historian.

The “Testimonium Flavium” (Antiquities 18:3.3)

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.  For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly.  He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks.  He was the Messiah.  When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him.  On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him.  And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

Agapius, an Arab Christian in 9th century probably quotes the original, leaving out the parts in parenthesis.  Note the passage reads grammatically well without the parts in parenthesis.

There is little doubt that Josephus wrote the passage as it presents Jesus in a light Christians would never accept.

Note:  Josephus also reports the martyrdom of “James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ”   (Antiquities 20:20)

3.  Babylonian Talmud  (late first or second century AD)  Babylonian Sanhedrin43a-b

On the eve of the Passover they hanged Yeshu and the herald went before him for forty days saying [Yeshu] is going forth to be stoned in that he hate practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel

It is taught: On the eve of Passover they hung Yeshu and the crier went forth for forty days beforehand declaring that “[Yeshu] is going to be stoned for practicing witchcraft, for enticing and leading Israel astray. Anyone who knows something to clear him should come forth and exonerate him.” But no one had anything exonerating for him and they hung him on the eve of Passover. Ulla said: Would one think that we should look for exonerating evidence for him? He was an enticer and G-d said (Deuteronomy 13:9) “Show him no pity or compassion, and do not shield him.” Yeshu was different because he was close to the government

Here Jesus is accused of sorcery, in obvious parallel with the charge leveled in Matthew 12:22-23.

Babylonian Sanhedrin107b  Jesus practiced magic.   tHul2:22-23  Healings done in the name of Jesus.

So we have confirmation of the crucifixion of Jesus and indirect confirmation of his working of public miracles—only charging that the miracles were worked by Satan, not God.

4. Seutonius about AD 120  Very reliable historian wrote concerning the times of Claudius about AD 50

“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he Claudius) expelled them from Rome”

5.  Lucian of Samosata  Social commentator and critic of Christianity

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account…  You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and life after his laws.        (Lucian The Death of Peregrine 11-13)

6.  Pliny the Younger  AD 112  Writing to Emperor Trajan.

Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ — none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Chris

7.  Celsus  (mentioned in Origen Contra Celsus 1:38 and 2:48).   A Greek philosopher and bitter critic of Christianity.  He accepted that Jesus worked miracles, but contended that he did so by the power of Satan

8.  Mara bar Sarapion

The pagan philosopher Mara bar Sarapion wrote a letter to his son in which he mentions Jesus as the wise king of the Jews. Mara was a Syrian Stoic.  In the late first century he describes the fall of Jerusalem as the gods’ punishment for the Jews having killed Jesus. Mara includes Jesus as one of three wise men, along with Socrates and Pythagoras, who were killed and whose deaths were met with divine retaliation. Jesus is not named in the letter but referred to as the Jews’ “wise king.” Mara refers to Jesus as primarily a lawgiver, with no mention of his resurrection.

9.  Thallus  We know of Thallus only from a third century Christian historian named Julius Africanus.  Thallus wrote a three-volume treatise of world history in the 50s AD.  In discussing the darkness at the time of the resurrection of Jesus, Julius Africanus mentions that in the 3rd book of Thallus’ history, he mentions the darkness and calls it an eclipse of the sun.  Africanus believes that Thallus is wrong—that there was no eclipse at that time.  Whether or not this source proves the darkness at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion is debatable, but it does support the idea that even non-Christians were aware of the resurrection as early as the 50s AD—at about the time the first book of the NT was written.  It also supports the claim, not necessarily of the darkness having occurred, but of the darkness having been claimed and believed by the Christians. 

The number of Pagan sources for Jesus Christ among contemporaries or within 100 years:  9

Debate Review  Jesus: Man, Myth or Messiah?


A debate on the question “Jesus: Man, Myth or Messiah?’ was put on by the Apologetics Research Society (ARS) as part of its International Christian Evidences Conference June 13 at the Morris Culture Center, Houston Baptist University in Houston Texas.  Over three hundred were in attendance.  Arguing that the Jesus of the New Testament is in fact the Jesus of history was Dr. Douglas Jacoby (chief instructor, Athens Institute of Ministry, D. Min. Drew University). Arguing that the Jesus of history is at best a man, certainly a myth, or more likely both, was Dr. Robert Price (author, PhDs New Testament, Systematic Theology, Drew University).  One irony of this debate is that both speakers have their doctorate degree from Drew University.  In fact, Jacoby received his MTS from liberal Harvard University, while Price has his MTS from the relatively conservative Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

The welcome to the event from ARS was given by Dr. John Oakes.  The moderator for the debate was Kedron Jones of the Apologetics Research Society.  The first to speak was Dr. Douglas Jacoby.  In his introductory comments he gave a five part outline to support the conclusion that the Jesus we read about in the Greek New Testament is in fact the Jesus who lived in Palestine about two thousand years ago.  First, he pointed out that Jesus made claims about himself which are so extraordinary that the only rational conclusion is that he is either who he claims he is (and therefore certainly not a mere man or a myth!), or he was a madman or a blatant liar.  He quoted from one of Price’s books that Jesus “left no footprint” in his time, pointing out that no rational person who looks at the data could make such a statement.  Even if he was a mere man, he certainly was not just a legend.  The point, of course, is that if we found anyone today making such outrageous claims as those Jesus made for himself, we would assume that this person is either crazy or some kind of off the wall liar.  Yet, the other things we know about Jesus makes these conclusions about him (crazy or blatant liar) to be completely unacceptable.  The only alternative is that he is who he said he is.  That is, unless one can prove that he never made these claims.  Yet, we know that at least eight of the apostles were killed for their faith and not one of them recanted of their story, specifically with regard to the public claims of Jesus.  There is no question at all that they proclaimed the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  This is in dramatic contrast to those who bore witness to Joseph Smith (later on, Price was to challenge Jacoby on this point, demanding some solid proof of these martyr deaths.  Jacoby replied with evidence from Josephus with regard to James, and the unanimous testimony of the early church fathers with regard to Paul and Peter)

Douglas’ second point in his opening remarks was that Jesus did miraculous deeds.  An important point is that so many of his deeds were done in the public (“as you yourselves know” Acts 2:22).  That he worked miracles was even attested to, at least indirectly, by Josephus and authors of the Talmud.  The miraculous acts are completely consistent with the claims that Jesus made and with Old Testament predictions about the coming Messiah, as well as with the character of Jesus as we know him.

Doug’s third point is that Jesus is the Messiah because, even as he claimed (Luke 24:44) he fulfilled the expectations of the Jewish Messiah as recorded in the historical prophecies and in the many historical foreshadows in the Old Testament.  Dr. Jacoby mentioned many specific historical prophecies, including Zechariah 9:9, Zechariah 12:10, Deuteronomy 18:15-18, Isaiah 11:1ff, Isaiah 52:13, Isaiah 53:12 and many more.  The evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls leaves no doubt that these Messianic expectations come from hundreds of years before Jesus was born.

Point number four was the resurrection of Jesus.  If, indeed, Jesus was bodily resurrected, this seems to put the nail in the coffin of both the man and the myth conclusion.  The facts remain to be explained.  Why was the tomb empty and why did hundreds of eye witnesses see Jesus?  The other proposed explanations (stolen body, swoon, etc.) simply do not work.  The supernatural explanation is not mathematically proved, but it is easily the most reasonable explanation of the facts, in agreement with the miraculous deeds of Jesus and with the prophecies about the Messiah.

The last point Douglas made was of a different sort.  He noted that the man Jesus Christ has transformed more lives that perhaps all other notable humans combined.  His presence in the lives of believers is evident in these transformations and these transformations demand a reasonable explanation.  The emergence of the Jesus movement demands the reality of the biblical Jesus.  Douglas proposed that this is because the Jesus of history is the Jesus of the New Testament.

Dr. Price’s opening statement followed.  He began by saying that he has no axe to grind with Christianity.  In fact, he finds the moral and ethical teachings of Christianity to be very attractive.  He applauds the good done in the world by those who follow the “mythical” Jesus idea.  He has nothing to gain by slandering Jesus or his followers.  He began as a believer, but as he began to ask questions, especially of those self-styled apologists such as Josh McDowell, he began to notice something which disturbed him.  First of all, their reasoning was shoddy and their “facts” had many holes in them.  Next, he noticed that there is an uncanny relationship between the Jesus presented in the New Testament and the dying and rising god/man myths of other religious movements and documents of the Near East, both before and after Jesus was supposed to have lived.  Ultimately he asked himself, how much of the Jesus we find in the New Testament is real history?  Slowly, his remnant belief in the Jesus of conservative Christianity became smaller and smaller.  Ultimately, Price ended up writing a book titled “The Incredible Shrinking Jesus.”

Robert then began a rapid-fire litany of reasons to both doubt the Orthodox view of Jesus and to believe that, in fact, the Jesus of the gospels and the letters is really just an accreted Near Eastern god/man myth.  Nazareth was not even a real place.  Jesus cast demons into pigs, and they ran into a lake, but in a city which is not even close to lake Galilee (Jacoby responded by pointing out that surely Price was aware that there is some question about the location of the miracle, with a city beside the Sea of Galilee as a very likely candidate).  Besides, this incident in the life of Jesus is clearly stolen from a story in the Odyssey of Homer (Later Jacoby rejoined that it is extremely that Jewish commoners stole a story from Homer).  He pointed out that Peter, Paul and John never mentioned the miracles of Jesus or the claims of Jesus in their letters (later on, Jacoby refuted this claim, using 1 Corinthians 15 and Paul’s description of the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 11 and his description of the Lord’s Supper, as well as 1 John 1, with his claims of having touched this Jesus; the Son of God, and others).  He claimed that the Jesus of the letters was at most some sort of Old Testament “Son of Man,” a sort of Greek/Jewish archon of Gnosticism.  It was only the gospels, especially John, written much later, that created the exalted Jesus we think of in Orthodox Christianity.  Price then described a long list of “parallels” to the Jesus “myth” in such Near Eastern myths such as that of Osiris, Baal, Hercules, Apollonius, Pelegrinus, Pythagoreanism, Greek mystery cults, Krishna and many more.  He claimed that if one strips away these ideas which, in his view, were clearly borrowed from other religions, we are left with virtually nothing.  Many of the New Testament stories were borrowed from parallel Old Testament events.  Price was very well prepared.  He was able to rapidly give such a long list of supposed parallels as to make it nearly impossible for Dr. Jacoby to respond to each charge, no matter how spurious it was.  He argued that Ockham’s razor demands the most obvious conclusion, which is that the Jesus of modern Christianity is not the Jesus who lived.  The Jesus of the New Testament is constructed from literary rather than historical sources.  It requires “special pleading” on the part of believers to accept the Jesus of Orthodox Christianity as historical.

Next, there was a section of cross-examinations in which each debater had opportunity to ask questions of their opponent.  Dr. Jacoby asked Dr. Price why it is that even his colleagues in the Jesus Seminar reject his ideas about Jesus being a myth.  Price responded by saying the he does not really care what others think.  He lets the evidence speak for itself and the hearer can decide for him or herself as well.  Douglas asked if Price was willing to defend his use of some sources in his books which include authors who are unquestionably dubious scholars.  Price wavered on this.  Price asked Jacoby how he knows for sure that Jesus really said what the New Testament has him saying.  Outside the New Testament, where are the direct quotes from Jesus, or even direct mention of specific miraculous acts?  Dr. Jacoby responded by mentioning nine non-Christian authors in the first and early second century, such as Tacitus, Josephus, Suetonius and others.  In point of fact, there are about an equal number of historical references to the emperor Tiberius and no one questions the general accuracy of these references to the emperor who ruled during the ministry of Jesus.  Price’s comeback to this was to claim that these authors only mentioned what others were saying but did not give any reliable eye-witness reports at all.  Jacoby countered that naturally, those who believed in the resurrection and the miracles of Jesus were believers and it is not reasonable to ask a non-believer to report eye-witness testimony of the miracles.

Jacoby then gave his response to Price.  He pointed out that there were indeed mythical stories about Jesus.  These are found in Gnostic writings such as the Gospel of Thomas, with their whacky baby Jesus miracles, sexist comments about women and the other marks of what we would call the mythical and many other clearly mythical stories.  The New Testament description of Jesus is very matter of fact, and has absolutely none of what is found in both these later spurious gospels and the supposed parallel god-became-man myths of other religions.  Luke is a historian of the highest order.  He records more than ninety places and dozens of rulers.  In every case we can verify from outside sources, he gets the name of the person and even the title right, when these are very difficult to get right in the confusing world of Roman rulers in the Near East.  Jacoby began to quote details from the supposed parallel accounts of Osiris, Apollonius of Tyana and others.  In each case, if you read the actual stories of these people the parallel is entirely in the eyes of the beholder.  Most of them are not even real people.  Many of the stories actually borrowed from Christianity and not vice versa.  The ones which preceded Jesus (the minority) have details which if one reads the sources are not even remotely close to the life of Jesus.  Being cut into thirteen pieces, sewed back together and ruling in the underworld is not exactly a parallel (Osiris).  A single dubious account from much later of Apollonius, with only the vaguest similarity to Jesus, a man about whom it was not even claimed he raised, an account which came after Jesus lived…  It this is Price’s best example of proof that the Jesus story is borrowed?  If so, then, on examination, who can believe this critique of the Jesus of the New Testament?  This is a clear example of searching all the evidence, not to find the true source of the biblical Jesus but to fit a pre-conceived plan to prove the New Testament Jesus was borrowed.

Price used one more rebuttal time to revisit his examples.  He mentioned some details from Osiris, Hercules and so forth.  In view of Jacoby’s earlier criticism, these arguments did not work very well.  He said the supposed virgin birth prophecy (Isaiah 7:4) is in fact about a rebirth of Jewish power around the time of Isaiah.  These messianic prophecies are taken out of context and are not a reference to the Messiah at all.  He claimed that the empty tomb argument for the resurrection of Jesus is really circular reasoning.  The gospels are not reliable historical documents because the other three rely on Mark, only making changes where the other writers do not agree with Mark’s perspective.

Douglas had one more opportunity to rebut Price.  He pointed out that you cannot simply make all the prophecies of Jesus go away.  Psalms 110, Daniel 7, Isaiah 52, 53 and others are messianic, even by Jewish standards.  Their fulfillment is a matter of historical record.  Please, do yourself a favor, read the New Testament, read the Gnostic writings, read the myths of Osiris and others.  Anyone who takes the time to do this will understand exactly what Price is doing here according to Jacoby.  He is fishing for evidence of parallels which on the face of it are simply bogus.

Price conceded his last time to offer rebuttal, after which a final summary was given by each speaker.  Dr. Jacoby gave a brilliant summary.  He compared Price’s attempt to find parallels in the god/man myths of other religions to Elasti-girl from the Disney movie The Incredibles.  She could stretch her arms and legs amazingly.  It was a bit comical as Douglas described how Price must streeeeetchhhhh the evidence to create a completely false picture of Jesus.  The Jesus of the New Testament is the Jesus of Jewish messianic expectation.  He is the Jesus of history.  He is the miracle-worker extraordinaire.  He is the one who left behind an empty tomb.  He is the one whose life is recorded by multiple independent, reliable historical accounts.  He is the one who has changed millions of lives.  Hopefully, he is the one who will change Dr. Price’s life as well.  Jesus is not a myth, he is not a mere man, he is not a liar, a legend or a lunatic.  The Jesus of history is Messiah.

Dr. Price’s final summary was not so much a rehashing of his previous arguments, although he gave a very brief summary.  He reminded the audience that he likes the Jesus of the Bible.  He certainly is not an enemy of Christianity.  He is comfortable with those who believe in the Jesus of orthodox Christianity.  However, for himself, he simply believes that, given the “clear” examples of New Testament borrowing from Old Testament ideas, Pythagorean models, dying and rising man/gods and so forth, he must conclude that Jesus, if he did indeed live, has been changed from the Jesus of history into something unrecognizable.  The Jesus of the New Testament is a myth.

I will now proceed to give my personal reflection on the event.  Of the three Douglas Jacoby debates thus far sponsored by ARS, this was clearly the most lively in that the debaters stuck largely to topic, created strong arguments, and engaged directly the arguments of their opponent.  The tone was respectful throughout.  There were no personal attacks.  Both debaters made great use of references to primary source material.  Both had a spectacular command of the sources, being able to quote in detail on the spot. Clearly, both were well prepared.  It was obvious that Dr. Jacoby had read all or nearly all of Price’s writings and had prepared detailed responses to all his arguments.  One got the sense that he had an excellent, well-reasoned response even to the spurious examples used by Price which he did not have time to respond to.  There was a sense in the debate in which Price had the momentum.  This was for two reasons.  First of all, the very nature of the question lent itself to the critic of Jesus of the New Testament having the advantage.  It is easier to disprove a contention (in this case that the New Testament Jesus is reliable) than to prove it.  Jacoby could mention twenty facts which support his contention that the New Testament is reliable and Price really did not have to refute any of these arguments.  All he had to do was present a single argument that you cannot trust the New Testament and Jacoby had to respond.  The second advantage to Price is that he talked very fast.  He obviously had not read Douglas’ books, but it really did not matter in this case.  He presented an almost unlimited litany of arguments against the New Testament.  It was literally impossible for Jacoby to respond in detail to each charge.  Price’s examples took twenty seconds to throw out there, but responses required two minutes each, and Jacoby had to think on his feet about each response.

Having said this, Douglas did an absolutely brilliant job of responding to the charges of Price against the New Testament.  As a rule, he responded to the more serious charges, and chose to ignore some of the almost silly, spurious arguments made by his opponent.  The charge that the Jesus of the letters is different from the Jesus of the gospels was an interesting one, but in the end it was shown to be weak.  The supposed parallels to Jesus in Near Eastern mythology was made to appear almost ridiculous.  One got the sense that if Doug had had sufficient time, he could have shredded every single one of Price’s arguments.  Price’s statement that the defense of the New Testament requires special pleading was ironic.  When he read his litany of charges against the New Testament I was just a little nervous.  Would Jacoby be able to respond to each and every accusation?  At the end of the debate, however, I was left with the clear impression that the one who was using special pleading was Dr. Price.  In summary, I would say that given his assignment, Dr. Price did an admirable job.  His task was to undermine belief in the Jesus of the New Testament.  He was very well prepared.  His arguments came with rapid fire.  He seemed to have an almost unlimited arsenal of weapons.  However, in the end, despite the fact that he had much momentum in the debate, for me the Jesus of the New Testament was left as strong as ever.  As has been my experience in thirty years as a Christian and nearly as many as a Christian apologist, I have seen that when biblical Christianity is held up to scrutiny it does just fine.  Doug Jacoby did an absolutely masterful job of defending the truth.  Jesus Christ is Son of God.  The Jesus of the Bible is the Jesus of History.  Jesus is not a mere man.  He is not a myth.  With Douglas, my faith was strengthened.  Jesus is the Messiah.

John Oakes, PhD

Comments are closed.