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A Taboo Christmas Topic: The Historicity of Jesus
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Joy to the world! The Lord has come!
Unless, of course, this is not the case.
What if the Lord - namely God’s son, Jesus Christ - never arrived in the first place? While most Americans would surely balk at such a suggestion, the response around our planet is likely to be much more mixed. Why not? The overwhelming majority of humankind is far from Christian.
As technology has advanced -- at least in Western and East Asian societies - the social importance of organized religion has nosedived. In an unprecedentedly secular era such as our own, we can freely discuss matters once so taboo that ‘forbidden’ does not begin to describe them. , ,
Chief amongst these is the historicity of Jesus. Most Americans have a concrete idea of who he allegedly was, but where are the verifiable facts to back up said allegation?
Dr. Richard Carrier, who wrote the peer-reviewed ‘On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt’, explains to me that “Jesus was probably called a carpenter because he is, in the theology Mark is allegorizing, the creator of the world (see OHJ scripture index for Mark 6:3; the word used is actually not carpenter but craftsman; that it meant ‘carpenter’ specifically was a later legend). The description also assimilates Jesus to Odysseus, as shown by Dennis MacDonald.”
MacDonald is one of our country’s preeminent biblical scholars. He currently serves as the Claremont School of Theology’s John Wesley Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins.
Carrier continues: “Notice that Joseph was not a carpenter originally. Jesus was. It was switched to Joseph by Matthew, who might not have liked the symbolism of making Jesus the creator, rather than his father: in the story, Joseph; but in the theology being symbolized by the story, God. In Matthew, Jesus is never said to be a carpenter, Joseph is. In Mark, Jesus is the only one said to be a carpenter, not his father. Note also that Mark never says the father of Jesus was named Joseph. That appears to be an invention of Matthew.
“Similarly, Joseph was a symbolically resonant name, the model of the patriarch Joseph carrying useful symbolism. That’s probably why Joseph was chosen to be the father of one of the eschatological messiahs even by the Rabbinical Jews, as attested in the Talmud, where they speak of two messiahs, the one fathered by Joseph who would die and be resurrected by the second fathered by David. Christian messianology appears to have combined these two messiahs into one.”
What about Jesus’s purported mother, Mary?
“Mary is likewise the name of the sister of Moses, also connected with Egypt, which affords similar symbolism of use to whatever the author who invented this narrative wanted to say,” Carrier mentions. “Notice again Mark never identifies the mother of Jesus as being named Mary. That also appears to be an invention added by Matthew. I discuss the likely symbolism of these names in OHJ.
“We might not know for sure if this was the reasoning behind the stories, but we have no more evidence for any of these details being true than we have for them being invented for some potent allegory or symbolism.”
Joseph Atwill, bestselling author of ‘Caesar’s Messiah’, believes that Jesus was created by Roman imperial forces so domestic upheaval could be quelled.
“The Gospels are a Roman mockery of the real messianic movement that rebelled against the Roman occupation of Israel between 66 and 73 CE,” Atwill mentions to me. “Thus, the Romans saw all of the followers of the Christ as ‘Marys’, that is to say, rebellious females.
“The messianic rebellion against Rome began at the time of the Census - around 6 CE - when Judas the Galilean refused to pay the Roman tax. By having Joseph register the authors showed that he accepted Roman taxation. In other words, like his son Jesus who said to ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ Joseph was a loyal, tax-paying Roman subject. This was obviously propaganda designed to influence Christians to be like the father of their Lord and pay the Roman taxes.”
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! What a tangled web history weaves.
Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at