A revisionist work of biblical criticism argues that Jesus never existed.
The idea that Jesus is a fictional creation might sound like a ridiculous one to most people. But the Christ myth theory—the concept that the Jesus of the New Testament was an invented character who was later misinterpreted as a historical figure—has been around for centuries even if it has never formed the majority viewpoint among biblical scholars. While it is famously impossible to prove a negative, debut author Price thinks he has found definitive evidence that Jesus did not exist. His argument centers on the idea that all accounts of Jesus’ life originate from the four Gospels and that the three later Gospels (Matthew, Luke, and John) are themselves directly based on the earliest one (Mark). The author argues that the Gospel of Mark, rather than being a biographical account of the life of Jesus, is actually “a fictional allegory that was likely written sometime between 70 and 80 CE in reaction to the First Jewish-Roman War and the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans.” Furthermore, the main character in Mark’s Gospel is modeled on a divine (but never human) messiah figure named Jesus who was worshipped by a small cult of apocalyptic Jews under the leadership of Paul of Tarsus. According to this understanding of the origins of Christianity, the teachings of Jesus (as readers think of them) are actually based on the precepts of Paul and not vice versa. Following the sacking of Jerusalem, a follower of Paul wrote the Gospel of Mark, placing this divine Jesus in a didactic narrative meant to explain how the Jews were being punished by God. By examining the relevant texts, particularly the Gospel of Mark, the author seeks to show that clues in the Scripture support this theory.
While that may sound convoluted, Price manages to lay out his ideas in a clear and accessible manner. He writes for a general audience, giving necessary background information for those readers not familiar with the nuances of biblical scholarship: “Most biblical scholars simply view the sacking of Jerusalem as a reference point in time in relation to which the Gospel of Mark can be dated—simply an event on a timeline. But few actually put the Gospel of Mark in the context of the war.” Though Price admits to being an amateur in the field (he is a software engineer and data analyst), he proves to have a strong command of the material. The author’s conclusion is that because Jesus did not exist, the world should cease to care about him, which will likely upset any Christians who weren’t already turned off by the premise. But this work and questions of Jesus’ historicity in general are perhaps most useful when viewed as textual puzzles rather than matters of faith. Price’s proof is not definitive—it is likely that none ever will be—but much of it is persuasive and all of it is thought-provoking. Anyone interested in the evolution of Jesus as a world figure should find much here to chew on.
An original and well-executed addition to the Christ myth theory canon.