Jesus Never Existed
by Kenneth Humphreys
Iconoclast Press 2005 £15 (pb), ISBN 0-906879-14-0
That the story of Jesus is almost entirely myth is no secret to readers of this journal. The near-total lack of contemporary evidence for his existence, the implausibilities and contradictions of the alleged narratives of his life, the absence of any trustworthy independent confirmation, all these combine with the blatant borrowings from earlier sources to make it clear that the Jesus venerated by millions is little more than an abstraction. But is he nothing more?
To assert that there was no individual person named Jesus is next to impossible: proving his non-existence is even more difficult than establishing his existence. The author of this latest attempt has studied his subject deeply and marshals a formidable mass of reasons why we should be sceptical. But, no more than others who have tried to do it, he cannot prove his case. Yes, we concur, the teachings and deeds attributed to Jesus can be traced to earlier sources. Yes, the silence of Paul and other early Christians is very significant. Yes, the less-than-blameless history of Christianity, the absurdly-fabricated narratives of the Virgin Mary and the lives of the saints, confirm our scepticism if not our derision. Yes, the testimony of the Dead Sea scrolls, together with countless other non-canonical documents, show that what we are asked to believe about Jesus is partial, selective, and unreliable. Yet for all that, we cannot say with total confidence that there never was a teacher named Jesus. Humphreys doesn’t help his case by presenting his material in snack-size segments, with confusing sidebars. His five hundred pages, heavy with fact, are impressive but wearing. We are overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of the material he is determined to bring to our notice.
And in the end, it doesn’t matter. Yes, it would be sort of nice to know if a historical Jesus ever existed. But the Jesus in whose name the Crusaders went to war, who inspired the Christian missionaries to impose their beliefs on colonial populations, who justifies the likes of George Bush in his divinely-approved mission, is a fabrication. It doesn’t really matter whether a Jesus actually existed or was built from scratch like a robot. As Voltaire said of Jesus’s father, if he did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. And, God help us, between us we invented Jesus.