Frank R. Zindler's, "Bart Ehrman and the Cheshire Cat of Nazareth"

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                                                      BART EHRMAN
                                    THE CHESHIRE CAT OF NAZARETH

                                                     By Frank R. Zindler

           Dubitando enim ad inquisitionem venimus; inquirendo veritatem percipimus.
                                                                                                  —Peter Abelard

When all that is left of a Cheshire cat is its grin, how can we be sure it is in fact the grin
of a cat? To be sure, if we have watched a grinning cat disappear progressively until all
we see is its grin, we can have some confidence that the aerial grin we perceive to remain
is in fact that of a cat. As the grin further dissolves into the fog and mist of a perplexing
day, however, it becomes harder and harder to determine if the motes that float before our
eyes are still the remnants of the grin or just the random rubbish of polluted air. At some
point, however, we will have to admit that the cat is gone—completely gone.

This all seems obvious enough and uncontroversial. But what if someone else were to
walk by as you were standing at the wayside peering into the low branches of a tree and
fixing your gaze on the fading remnants of the grin?

“What are you staring at?” the stranger might inquire.

“The grin of a Cheshire cat—a cat that used to live in Cheshire in England,” you

“Really?” he might ask. “Where exactly is it?”

You might point to a branch where the faint pattern of glowing dust still hovered in

the air. “Right there,” you’d explain. “A moment ago, the whole cat was on that branch,
but he’s faded away to just the grin you see up there now.”

“What?!” the passerby might challenge you. “That’s no cat! That’s just a will-o’-thewisp!”

“Well,” you affirm, “I know it’s a cat that grew up in Cheshire even though it’s gone

now and not even a trace remains.”

Who would believe you? Who ought to believe you?

Just as with Alice wandering around in Wonderland, a walk through the field of New

Testament studies comes again and again to faint, ethereal traces that one is told are
remnants of the scowl, or grin, or grimace, or smirk, or leer, or glare, or smiley-face, or
amorous glance, or winsome wink of another character of Western literature: Jesus of

Unlike the case of Alice and the Cheshire cat, no one now alive was around two
thousand years ago to witness Jesus of Nazareth in his physical entirety before he started
to fade into the blurry image of the past we now possess. Moreover, it certainly doesn’t
help when we learn that many of the earliest Christians didn’t believe that Jesus ever had
a physical entirety!

There is a further problem. Unlike Alice witnessing the fading of the Cheshire cat
from the beginning and so being able not only to attest to the identity of the pattern
glowing amidst the darkling leaves but even to confirm the physical reality of a feline
philosopher of known provenience, no one today can even attest with certainty to the


identity of the character they think they see in the Rorschach records of the past. Still
less can they vouchsafe the reality of his physical existence. No two persons see the same
Jesus, let alone the Jesus that Bart Ehrman describes in Did Jesus Exist?

One thing now seems certain to all scholars who are theologically free to follow the
trail of evidence whithersoever it might lead: the original character whose jigsaw-puzzle
image has fragmented and been scattered to the point where only a few pieces of the face
remain in the puzzle-box of history could not possibly have been any of the Jesuses of the
canonical New Testament.

From the time of the Enlightenment it has been understood that whoever Jesus of
Nazareth might have been in real life, he could not have been the miracle-worker of
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. That is to say, he could not have performed actual
miracles that violated the laws of science. The Rationalists, however, held on to the
stories as being history of a sort, but history that misunderstood what was really going on.
Jesus wasn’t really dead in the tomb; he had merely swooned. Jesus wasn’t really
walking on the water; the stones just below the surface weren’t visible in the fog. And so

The Rationalists rescued the various gospel Jesuses from deconstructive demise for a
time. But then in 1900 L. Frank Baum’s wonderful The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was
published, and the adventitious nature of Rationalist salvage efforts could eventually
come to be seen as no more credible than arguments trying to prove that Emerald City
isn’t green because it is made of emeralds; rather, it is green due to paint pigments that
exhibit high reflectance at wavelengths around 555 nanometers.

And so began the inexorable disintegration and disappearance of the Cheshire Jesus
of Nazareth—a god long believed to have been a man but now known to have been no
more real a man than was the Cheshire cat a real cat. After we briefly retrace the
dissolution of ‘The Historical Jesus’ a bit later, we shall see that insoluble
epistemological problems now rule out any possibility that Bart Ehrman—still less
believing Christian apologists—can save the Savior long piously believed to have come
from a place called Nazareth in the Galilee.

                                           Problems Facing Historicists

The greatest problem faced by modern questers of the Historical Jesus—the problem
of lack of physical evidence—actually existed already close to the time their quarry is
imagined to have lived. Practically from the beginning of the literary record still at our
disposal, there were Christians—‘heretics,’ according to the victorious Orthodox Party—
who denied that Jesus or Christ (not necessarily equivalent characters) had had any
physical reality at all. This problem was made extremely embarrassing by the apparent
fact that no physical remains at all existed that could attest to the historicity of any Jesus
at all, let alone to the physicality of a Jesus of an unknown place called Nazareth.

It is not surprising, therefore, to discover that a thriving industry developed for
manufacture and sale of holy relics—physical objects that could in some way be made to
attest to the reality of Jesus, his Twelve Disciples, his parents, his step-siblings, his
miracles, as well as the very geographical stage itself on which the drama of the ages was
thereby certified to have been acted out.


Several foreskins of Jesus were produced for sacred edification of the faithful.
Splinters of the True Cross, bones of the Apostles, and a mind-boggling array of artifacts
soon filled the reliquaries of the churches of the Mediterranean world. All the relics were
used to prove the unprovable—to bear false witness in support of a man whose existence
had never been witnessed by mortal man or woman. What was necessary even in ancient
times has become even more necessary in modern times. Forgeries such as the Shroud of
Turin, the James Ossuary, and the bones of Saint Peter at the Vatican1 continue to be
needed props if modern Christians are to maintain contact with the historical Jesus.

Although there were no unbroken traditions of habitation to tie present-day sites such
as Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethany, Bethphage, etc., to the New Testament venues of
Jesus’ supposed ministry, by the time of Constantine’s mother Helena tour guides seem
to have been doing a handsome business leading the faithful to the place where Baby
Jesus was born, where Gabriel spoke to Mary, where Jesus was crucified, buried, and did
everything else men do except… Well, Jesus apparently did those things too, but there
probably would have been no tourism potential in memorializing the places where the
Savior of the World did that sort of thing.

Before the tour guides could show credulous Christians the holy places of the gospels,
of course, names of places to venerate had to be created by the reverend evangelists
themselves. One of the places, Aenon,2 was an unintentional invention resulting from
dyslexia on the part of one of the authors of the Gospel of John trying to parse the
sentences of a Codex Bezae-like manuscript of the Gospel of Luke. Nazareth was created
to provide Jesus with a hometown in order to thwart the claims of the Docetists. Others,
like Capernaum,3 Bethany, Bethphage,4 Bethabara, etc., were created for symbolic
purposes. Most of the holy places of the gospels were unknown to ancient geographers
and other writers.

As shocking as these claims may seem, there is an even greater problem with which
historicists must contend. In my The Jesus the Jews Never Knew5 I have shown that there
is no evidence in all of Jewish literature surviving from antiquity to show that the ancient
Jews had ever heard of Jesus of Nazareth, due to the simple fact that they had never heard
of Nazareth!

In recent times, René Salm6 demonstrated that the city now called Nazareth was not
inhabited between the end of the Bronze Age or beginning of the Iron Age and Late
Roman times, and that the sites venerated by Roman Catholic Christians were the


1 The bones now venerated in the basement of the Vatican are actually the bones of two men, an old
woman, chickens, pigs, and a mouse, as I have shown in my essay “Of Bones and Boners: Saint Peter at the
Vatican,” THROUGH ATHEIST EYES. Volume One: Religions & Scriptures (Cranford, NJ, American
Atheist Press, 2011, pp. 99—122)
2 Details of how this came about can be found in my essay “Where Jesus Never Walked,” ibid., pp. 49–50.
3 An account of the outrageous ‘archaeological research’ that has been done at the present-day site of as well as proof that Josephus did not in fact know of a town called Capernaum can be found in
ibid., pp. 38–44, and in my technical paper “Capernaum—A Literary Invention,” Journal of Higher
Criticism, Volume 12, No. 2, Fall 2006, pp. 1–27.
4 Could there be a more appropriate place to curse a fig tree than Bethphage—‘House of Figs’ in Hebrew?
5 Frank R. Zindler, The Jesus the Jews Never Knew: Sepher Toldoth Yeshu and the Quest of the Historical
Jesus in Jewish Sources, Cranford, NJ, American Atheist Press, 2003. It appears that Ehrman did not read
the copy of this book that I sent to him.
6 René Salm, The Myth Of Nazareth: The Invented Town Of Jesus, Cranford, NJ, American Atheist Press,



remains of an ancient necropolis—a cemetery, not the kitchen of the Virgin Mary or of
anyone at all. The historicist cause was not helped at all by the Israeli archaeologist
Aviram Oshri,7 who showed that Bethlehem in Judea also was not inhabited at the
required time, even though a Bethlehem in Galilee was a going concern at the time in
which the gospel stories are set.

Since no ancient writers had noticed the birthing and ministry of the Son of Man,
a.k.a., the Son of God, it early on became necessary to forge witnesses by interpolating
the texts of writers such as Josephus. Entire compositions such as “The Correspondence
of Paul and Seneca” were needed to show that the Stoics had borrowed from Paul and not
the other way around as it so strongly appears.

Perhaps most embarrassing of all, the historical Jesus never wrote anything—at least
not during his lifetime. By the time of Eusebius [ca. 263–339 CE], however, Jesus had
gotten around to dictating a letter in response to a letter sent to him by King Abgar of
Edessa. The King, it became known, had written a letter to Jesus (now found in the
Doctrina Addaei—‘the Doctrine of Thaddaeus’)8 asking him to come and heal his ills and
find asylum from “the Jews.” Jesus’ letter basically was a dust-off, explaining that he was
too busy at the moment (“I ascend again to my Father who sent me”) but that he would
have one of his secretaries attend to it.

It has become obvious at this point that there is nothing outside the canonical New
Testament and the New Testament Apocrypha that can serve as a database from which to
construct an image even of Jesus of Anyplace-At-All. Is that sufficient to create even the
image of a disembodied grin? Let us see what historicists have to work with in the New

In the Pauline Epistles, there is no biographical material at all apart from creedal
claims that the savior of the world was “born of woman” “according to the flesh”—
passages that quite likely were put there to confute the Docetists.9 There is nothing in the
other epistles or the Apocalypse10 from which one might infer the agenda of a coffee
break, let alone important biographical details. That leaves only the Book of Acts and the
Four Gospels in their disenchanted, demystified, skeletal forms. Is that enough to satisfy
the ontological needs of historicists?

Enter The Jesus Seminar, a group of biblical scholars led by Robert W. Funk and
John Dominic Crossan. Convened in 1985, the group met several times a year to evaluate
the more than 1,500 sayings that have been attributed to the historical Jesus. The makeup
of The Jesus Seminar slowly changed over time, and even I was able to take part in the
debates for a number of years. Then, in 1993, the scholarly equivalent of detonating a
nuclear warhead at a fireworks display occurred: publication of The Five Gospels: The
Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus.11 Even though the scholars had included the
noncanonical Gospel of Thomas in their database, a majority of them could only defend
about twenty percent of the alleged Sayings of Jesus as likely to be authentic. (Of course,


7 Aviram Oshri, “Where Was Jesus Born?” Archaeology, Vol. 58, No. 6, November-December, 2005.
8 Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, I, xiii, ca. 325 CE.
9 See my essay “Bart Ehrman and the Body of Jesus of Nazareth.”
10 Although an astral account of the nativity of Christ or Jesus is to be found in the twelfth chapter of
Revelation, it is so symbolic and allegorical that nothing resembling biography can be gleaned therein. It is,
however, the sort of nativity narrative one might expect for a divine figure.
11 Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: The search for the
Authentic Words of Jesus, NY, Macmillan Pub. Co., 1993



I argued that none of them were authentic, but being a mere geologist and
neurophysiologist I repeatedly was voted down.) To this day, Fundamentalist Christians
are trying to see if ‘The Jesus Seminar’ can be identified with ‘the number of the name of
the beast’ of the Apocalypse—666.

The Five Gospels were followed in 1998 by The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the
Authentic Deeds of Jesus.12 The findings this time were fairly predictable. Jesus did not
rise bodily from the dead, the empty tomb is a fiction, Jesus did not walk on water, etc.
Just as predictably, a majority felt that Jesus had been born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem,
at the time of Herod the Great. His mother’s name was Mary, his father’s name might not
have been Joseph, and so on.

While The Jesus Seminar did not succeed in what I had expected would be a
complete dismantling and deconstruction of the gospel Jesuses, it was the beginning of
the end of the historical Jesus. One of the more important scholars who had taken part in
the deliberations was Dennis Ronald MacDonald. He had discovered copious evidence
that there had been a considerable amount of imitation of Homer’s Odyssey in the Gospel
of Mark and other early Christian literature such as The Acts of Andrew. This means that
at the same time that The Jesus Seminar was showing that the great majority of the
sayings attributed to Jesus were not authentic, MacDonald13 was showing that a
substantial amount of the Jesus storyline was not authentic either.

While MacDonald was busy identifying Homeric imitations in the Second Gospel
(Augustus Caesar’s was the first), I was focusing on the so-called Q-Document, the
hypothetical sayings gospel from which most of the sayings of Jesus had been derived in
the construction of the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Whereas Ehrman argues that Q is an independent witness of Jesus, I, would argue that
although it came to include material about John the Baptist and rudimentary narrative, it
began merely as a list of wise sayings or proverbs. Perhaps it was used in some ancient
school or other and then became attributed to Jesus fairly early in the manufacturing of
gospels. How can I say this?

My answer will probably seem even more shocking than my claim. If Q was a true
listing of the wise sayings of Jesus, then Ehrman could probably argue that Jesus had
been well educated in Greek literature—including Aesop’s Fables! In fact, Jesus had had
such a good Hellenisic education that he even quoted Aesop in one of his sayings that is
reported in Q and adapted as Matthew 11:17 and Luke 7:32.

        Luke 7:32: “They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling
        one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we
        have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.

        Mat 11:17And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we
        have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.


12 Robert W. Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus,
San Francisco, HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.
13 Dennis Ronald MacDonald, Christianizing Homer: The Odyssey, Plato, and The Acts of Andrew, New
York, Oxford University Press, 1994; Dennis R. MacDonald, The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark,
New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000.



This passage incorporates a phrase from the Fables of Aesop, the fable of the
“Fisherman Piping to the Fish” (Babrius 9 = Perry 11).14, 15 In the fable, the fisherman
plays his flute to attract fish, but it doesn’t work. So, he throws his net into the water and
brings up many ‘dancing’ fish: “When I piped you would not dance, but now you do so

 As suggestive as the Aesop evidence might be to indicate that the Q sayings
collection originally had nothing to do with Jesus of Nazareth—Q material then being
unavailable for Ehrman’s use—evidence from the Nag Hammadi ‘Library’ shows how
originally non-Christian sayings actually came to be attributed to Jesus. James M.
Robinson, the editor of the Nag Hammadi materials published in English, tells us that

        The Nag Hammadi library even presents one instance of the Christianizing
        process taking place almost before one’s eyes. The non-Christian philosophic
        treatise Eugnostos the Blessed is cut up somewhat arbitrarily into separate
        speeches, which are then put on Jesus’ tongue, in answer to questions (which
        sometimes do not quite fit the answers) that the disciples address to him during a
        resurrection appearance. The result is a separate tractate entitled The Sophia of
        Jesus Christ. Both forms of the text occur side by side in Codex III.16

With so much of the ‘Historical Jesus’ now having been pared away we may imagine
his total dissolution. For nearly two centuries, one scholar after another has claimed that
this or that feature of the ‘Life of Christ’ was borrowed from some Pagan source, adapted
from the Hebrew scriptures or Septuagint, modeled after Homer, other divinities, etc. A
large part of ‘Jesus’ can be seen to be ‘The New Moses’ or ‘New Elijah,’ and it is easy to
see how all the Old Testament ‘predictions’ of Jesus were actually the seeds that sprouted
and turned into the various Jesuses of the various gospels.

Certainly, it is not possible to prove such a thesis in an essay such as this.
Nevertheless, a fair number of scholars are busily at work adducing evidence to show that
practically every detail of the Jesus biography is either borrowed and adapted from non-
Christian sources, modeled after them, or was the creative fallout from ancient
theopolitical equivalents of nuclear wars of attrition. What if these scholars succeed?

What will historicists such as Bart Ehrman do if it can be clearly demonstrated that
eighty or ninety percent of the ‘biography’ of Jesus is bogus in the sense that it was
created ad hoc to create a terrestrial itinerary for a heavenly being sojourning on our
sublunary sphere? Some years ago I sent a questionnaire polling fellow members of The
Jesus Project in which one question read something like “If it could be clearly
demonstrated that the entirety of the gospel Jesus biography was inauthentic, would you
still believe in the Historical Jesus? If 90%? If 80%? … 


14 Ben Edwin Perry, Aesopica: A Series of Texts Relating to Aesop or Ascribed to Him or Closely
Connected with the Literary Tradition That Bears His Name, Vol. One: Greek and Latin Texts, Urbana,
Univ. Illinois Press, 1952, p. 32615 I was surprised to discover that John S. Kloppenborg, the famous Q authority, was unaware of this Aesop
borrowing. Neither his Q Parallels (Sonoma, Polebridge Press, 1988) nor The Critical Edition of Q with
James M. Robinson and Paul Hoffmann (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2000) notes the Aesopic origin of Q
16 James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library, 3rd rev. ed. (San Francisco: Harper, 1988), pp. 8-9.



To my astonishment, more than one of those hard-headed, secular scholars indicated
that they would continue to believe in the Historical Jesus even if his entire biography
were proven to be a fiction!

                                          What Historicists Must Try To Do

Having no authority more credible than the fabled witness of the disembodied grin of
a Cheshire cat, historicists must look to see if there are any dots or spots or splotches in
the blurred and broken image of the past that they can connect in such a way that it can
produce a convincing and unambiguous picture of even a character they might call Jesus
of Nazareth. Then, the picture must be sharp enough to convince not just themselves but
skeptics as well that the character was an actual man—not just a description of a
character in a work of fiction. And most importantly: they must take care to insure that
the picture at which they gaze is not their own image in a mirror.

Throughout the ages, millions of men and women have been able to convince
themselves and others not only of the identity of a pattern (actually, patterns) of traces
that they identify as the spoor of Jesus of Nazareth, but also of his physical reality in
Palestine around the turn of the era. Bart Ehrman is but one of millions of Alices who
have affirmed an antecedent physical reality behind the grins they have strained to see.
He must find his virtual quarry not amongst the leaves of trees, of course, but rather
amidst the leaves of codices and papyrus rolls. The James Ossuary and the Shroud of
Turin can no longer be called as witness to the ‘physical entirety’ of Jesus of Nazareth.

The image historicists in desperation try to see is made more difficult to descry by the
fact that the miracles ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth—what for Christian critics are the
most illuminating features of the image—must be masked or eclipsed in the image at the
outset. As a secular scholar who must always submit himself to the rule of reason,
Ehrman knows that if he accepts the stories of Jesus of Nazareth raising the dead, healing
the sick at a distance, walking on the water, etc., he must then admit not only the
possibility but the probability that all the miracles attributed to Asclepius, Dionysus, Isis,
Buddha, Allah, and thousands of other divinities who have been worshipped and talked
about since the Stone Age are just as credible. He probably also knows that he must not
fall into the old Rationalist error of trying to find ‘rational’ explanations for the ‘miracles’
lodged in narrative frameworks that to all appearances are fairy-tale fictions.

Once all the wonders and marvels have been removed from the canonical gospels,
what remains for historicists to use to demonstrate the historicity of a Jesus of AnywhereAt-
All? What must they do?

Let us remember, as bearer of the historicist banner, Ehrman has to stake everything
on the gospels and other documents of the canonical New Testament because there are no
eyewitnesses or contemporary writers who could vouch for the existence of Jesus or any
of his twelve disciples/apostles.17 Moreover, despite the thousands of fake relics ranging


17 The absence of historical evidence of the Twelve is even more significant than the lack of evidence for
Jesus. After all, what exactly would have been reported of Jesus if he didn’t do any of the miracles? The
apostles, however, had as their main function attracting the attention of the Roman world. My essay “The
Twelve: Further Fictions From the New Testament” [Through Atheist Eyes, Vol. I, pp. 81-98] examines



from body parts of Jesus and John the Baptist to splinters of the True Cross, no genuine
physical materials are reliably traceable to Jesus of Anywhere-At-All. And then there is a
further problem—a somewhat amusing one.

No one in early times ever described his physical appearance—even though
according to 1 Corinthians 15:6 Jesus appeared to five hundred people at the same time.
How did everyone know it was Jesus of Nazareth they were gawking at? How did they
recognize him? Perhaps he announced himself in the words of Bart Ehrman18—“I am
Jesus from a one-dog town called Nazareth”? Surely, if all five hundred had seen Jesus
when he had been alive, someone would have left a record of what he looked like. But
then, even if none of the ‘witnesses’ had ever known Jesus when he was alive, wouldn’t
some of them have left a record of what his virtual image had looked like? But then
again, Saint Paul himself—apparently on face-to-virtual-image speaking terms with
Jesus—is curiously silent concerning the visual details of his visions. Only rather late in
the story did Christians begin to imagine just exactly what Jesus looked like. Is it
unreasonable to ask historicists if he was tall or short? Slim or stocky? Black-haired or
blonde as in portraits painted by German Lutherans? Was his hair long and curly, or short
and kinky?

The gospels are the historicists’ last hope. For, in spite of the existence of many
Jewish, Greek, and Roman authors living and writing at the turn of the era and having
reason to take notice of Jesus, none of them mentioned either Jesus or Nazareth. Even
more inexplicable: if the Twelve Disciples/Apostles had done anything at all to
evangelize the world, they would have been noticed even if their master had spent most
of his life in the cave in which he is imagined to have been born.

Surely, if Jesus of Nazareth had been real, Philo of Alexandria [20 BCE–50 CE]
would have known about him and his disciples. Philo was a major developer of the Logos
theory of Platonism, Stoicism, and Christianity. He had intimate ties to the goings on in
Jerusalem, as his nephew Marcus Julius Alexander was the husband of the Herodian
Princess Berenice who is mentioned in the twenty-fifth chapter of Acts. His other nephew
Tiberius Julius Alexander became procurator of Judea [ca. 46-48] under Claudius. Unless
what Jesus and the Apostles were doing had no religious significance, Philo should have
noticed them. Historicists must try to find an answer to this problem that is more
compelling than the answers one might get from a Josh McDowell or a Lee Strobel.

Justus of Tiberias [second half of first century], the great rival of Josephus living just
fifteen miles from Nazareth as the angel flies, could not have been ignorant of Jesuine
traditions in Galilee had there been any. Moreover, the evangelists Matthew, Mark, and
Luke should have mentioned the controversial new city of Tiberias19 had they ever been


this problem in some detail. I don’t know if Ehrman simply did not read this essay in his obviously hasty
preparation for Did Jesus Exist? or if he was unable to answer my argument and so avoided mentioning it.
18 “Nazareth was a little one-horse town (not even that; it was more like a one-dog town) that no one had
ever heard of, so far as we can tell, before Christianity.” Did Jesus Exist?, page 189.
19 When Herod Antipas founded Tiberias as a Roman city sometime around 20 CE, he violated Jewish
ritual law by building it on the top of graves. At the time Jesus should have been traveling in the area, there
would have been great and noisy tumult concerning the propriety of Jews living in the new city. Curiously,
there is no record of anyone asking Jesus for his opinion about the city, which is mentioned only in the
Gospel of John. In John 6:1 the Sea of Tiberias is mentioned simply as another name for the Sea of Galilee.
In John 6:23, the city of Tiberias is mentioned simply as a departure point for boats needed in the narrative.
The Sea of Tiberias is mentioned once more in the anti-Docetic appendix added later to the Gospel, in the



in the Galilee themselves and if Jesus had ever done anything there as claimed by the
evangelist John.

Although the works of Justus of Tiberias were not preserved, Photius, Patriarch of
Constantinople [ca. 810-893] published a great volume of book reviews called the
Bibliotheca in which he commented on one of the writings of Justus, The Chronicles of
the Kings of the Jews. Obviously disappointed by the work, he sadly recorded that “of the
advent of Christ, of the things that befell him one way or another, or of the miracles that
he performed, [Justus] makes absolutely no mention” (Codex 33, my translation].20

Historicists must try to make up for the fact that no biographical material at all is
found in the Pauline Epistles except for the disputed “Brother of the Lord”21 of Galatians

1:19. Even if Ehrman is correct about “Brother of the Lord” meaning “Brother of
Jesus,”22 however, we must wonder why that would be significant. After all, in the
Gnostic traditions Jesus had a twin brother named Thomas! If James be accepted on
flimsy evidence to be a brother of Jesus, what reason might we give for rejecting Thomas
as his twin brother? Of course, some historicists might accept both James and Thomas,
provided that Thomas be a fraternal twin, not an identical twin. It seems, however, that
all historicists are faced with a dilemma. They must decide if the Catholics are correct—
that Jesus had no full siblings at all—or that a Gnostic-cum-Protestant position must be
defended: Jesus had brothers and sisters and a twin!
Although historicists need solid evidence to prove their Jesus, we must not fail to
keep in mind that they are limited to the New Testament as a source of information
concerning Jesus of Nazareth. To make matters worse, most of the data contained in the
canonical New Testament are not of any use at all.

So, to return to the Epistles: No Jesuine biography can be found in the non-Pauline
epistles—including the one supposed by some to have been written by James the disputed
brother of Jesus. Although “The General Epistle of James” is often supposed to have
been written by a certain James the physical brother of Jesus, its author curiously does
not even hint at any such privileged position. He does not begin his letter with anything at
all resembling “James, a servant of God relaying to the twelve tribes the directives of his
big brother Jesus the Messiah.”


first verse of chapter 21. Nowhere is there any hint that the authors of this gospel had any real knowledge
of the city and the religious controversy engulfing it at the time Jesus should have been in the
20 Photius of Constantinople. Myriobiblon Sive Bibliotheca. In Vol. 103, cols. 65-66 of Patrologia Graeca.
Edited by J.-P. Migne (Paris, 1857–1886).
21 I have argued [The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, pp. 75–88] that “Brother of the Lord” being understood
as signifying “Brother of Jesus” is an anachronism dating from a later period when “Lord” had become an
epithet or title of Jesus alone not just of Christ or Christ-Jesus. In the LXX—the ‘Old Testament’ for most
early Christians it would appear—the word Kyrios (‘Lord’) was used as a pronounceable substitute for the
unpronounceable power-name Yahweh. In the Hebrew Bible, the name is written as a so-called
Tetragrammaton—the four unpronounceable letters YHWH usually being written in Paleohebrew script.
When the Hebrew text had to be read aloud, under pain of death [Leviticus 24:16] YHWH must never be
pronounced correctly (Yahway or Yahweh). Instead, the Hebrew word Adonai (‘my Lords’) was spoken in
its place.

When YHWH had to be transcribed into Greek, however, the magical, secret name of God could not
be spelled out with all its vowels showing. So the substitute word ‘Adonai’ was translated into Greek as
Kyrios. I have argued that “Brother of the Lord” probably referred to a brotherhood of monk-like ascetics
in special service to Yahweh. How this brotherhood became associated with early Christianity is unclear.
22 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, p. 120 et al.


Instead, the letter begins “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ to the
twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” Then follows what can only be
described as an essay in Stoic philosophy.23 (We may note that this is the infamous
“Epistle of straw” against which Martin Luther railed.)

An interesting feature of this letter is the complete absence of any reference to Jesus
as a man or as the Messiah of the Jews. We have merely the formulaic “Lord Jesus
Christ.” Whatever the title ‘Christ’ may have meant to this author, it seems impossible to
read any messianic reference into it. To be sure, there is an apocalyptic purpose to this
piece, but it looks very much like an adaptation of Stoic eschatology to Christian use.

The database available to historicists is shrunken further if, as we must, we eliminate
the pseudopauline Epistle to the Hebrews. The first chapter does not even mention Jesus
by name, but rather speaks of “The Son who is the effulgence of God’s splendour and the
stamp of God’s very being, and sustains the universe by his word of power.” [Heb 1:3,
NEB]. In this verse it is rather difficult to make out the image of a fellow who just a few
decades earlier had been living in “a one-dog-town” that no one had ever heard of.24

Can this “Son” be Jesus of Nazareth? Can this Son have been the physical Christ
(Messiah) of the Jews? That Christ has to be anointed with real oil. But we learn in verse
9 that this Son—assumed by historicists to be equivalent to Christ who in turn is
equivalent to Jesus—has been anointed (echrisen) in heaven, not on earth. Moreover, the


23 A masterful analysis of the Stoic dimensions of the Epistle of James is to be found in Logos and Law in
the Letter of James: The Law of Nature, the Law of Moses, and the Law of Freedom, by Matt A. Jackson-
McCabe (Supplements To Novum Testamentum 100, Atlanta, Society of Biblical Literature, 2001).
Although the author accepts the historicity of ‘James the Brother of Jesus’ and the priority of Jewish
Christianity, he nevertheless demonstrates the pseudonymity of the letter. He concludes his analysis on
page 253 with the observation that

         James’s interaction with Pauline ideas provides a secure basis for locating it [the letter] within
         early Christianity. More specifically, the Letter of James was produced in some circle of
         Christians for whom the Torah remained the central expression of love of God, and thus a critical
         criterion for inheriting the promised kingdom that would be given to the “twelve tribes” at the
         Parousia of the messiah, Jesus. Its precise date and provenance, however, remain elusive. Clearly
         it was not written prior to Paul‘s activity; and if it does assume some collection of Paul’s letters,
         this would likely place it well after Paul’s death, and thus after the death of James the brother of
         Jesus ca. 62 CE. In fact, while the letter’s emphasis on the Torah seems consistent with our
         evidence for Jesus’s brother, its enlisting, to this end, of the Stoic view of law seems more
         consistent with later developments in the Christian debates about the Torah. All things considered,
         it seems most plausible to view James as a pseudonymous work, written in the late first or early
         second century, perhaps in Syria or Palestine. In any case, the Letter of James provides important,
         if all too rare evidence for a form of the Christian movement where soteriology centered not on
         rebirth through “the Gospel,” but on observance of the Torah.

If Jackson-McCabe is correct, this eliminates the Epistle of James from the database available for
reconstructing the Historical Jesus. Interestingly, by placing the Jewish Christian author after the collecting
of Paul’s letters, he provides us with another example of Jewish Christianity being later than what has come
to be viewed as proto-Orthodox Christianity.

A variety of views on the nature and significance of this epistle can be found in the symposium volume
Matthew, James, and Didache: Three Related Documents in Their Jewish and Christian Settings, edited by
Huub van de Sandt and Jürgen K. Zangenberg, Symposium Series No. 45, Atlanta, Society of Biblical
Literature (2008).
24 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, page 189.



annointment is not with olive oil and essences; rather, the ‘oil’ is “the oil of gladness”
(elaion agalliaseos). Can this Son be the carpenter’s son?

As noted previously, no biographical data can be extracted from the astrotheological
nativity brainstorm of the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse or Revelation of John. That
leaves the Gospels and Acts, and I will argue that this limitation will prove lethal to the
historicist cause. In trying to prove the quondam existence of any kind of gospel Jesus, it
will be seen, historicists come face to face with the greatest problem of all: a problem in
epistemology and philosophy of science.

                                                  The Epistemological Jesus

The historicists’ problem in epistemology is straight-forward. It is even theoretically
impossible for Ehrman—or anyone—prove the existence of Jesus of Nazareth on the
basis of the evidence available to us this late in history without falling into a scientifically
meaningless argument.

Before we go any further, I must explain what I mean by “scientifically meaningless
argument.” Let us consider by way of illustration two propositions: (1) ‘The moon is
made of green cheese’; (2) ‘Undetectable gremlins inhabit the rings of Saturn.’ Although
a non-scientist would be likely to say that both propositions are false, a scientist would
claim that only one of these claims is false—the green-cheese proposition. The Saturnian
gremlin claim, a scientist would explain, is neither true nor false; it is scientifically
meaningless. ‘True’ and ‘false’ can apply only to meaningful sentences.

Well, then, how does one tell if a proposition is meaningless or meaningful? To be
meaningful a claim must in principle be falsifiable. That is, one must be able at least to
imagine a test that could be performed that conceivably could show the proposition to be

The green-cheese proposition can easily be tested today. But even before our
astronauts went to the moon and discovered that moon dust is no good in salad dressing,
it was easy to imagine what one could do to see if the moon were, in fact, cheese. But the
gremlin sentence, by contrast, cannot be tested even in the imagination. Were we to send
a rocket to Saturn that was carrying the finest gremlinometers that the creation scientists
at NASA were able to build, ex definitio they would not be able to detect undetectable
gremlins. Undetectable gremlins are forever undetectable and thus unverifiable. The
gremlin proposition is thus meaningless and is neither true nor false.

Thus, the sentence ‘Jesus of Nazareth once lived in Nazareth’ is a meaningful
sentence. It can be tested and it has proven to be false. The sentence ‘The Jesus of the
gospels once lived somewhere or other,’ however, is meaningless. There is no
conceivable way to falsify it. Even if every square inch of Israel/Palestine were excavated
and no genuine Jesuine artifacts were discovered, one could always be told “You didn’t
search thoroughly enough,” or “All traces disappeared long ago,” or “He was too obscure
to leave an identifying trace.” The Jesus of Somewhere-or-Other, thus, is just another
undetectable gremlin.

Returning to Bart Ehrman and his book Did Jesus Exist?, we must look to see if his
theses not only are correct or incorrect, but also we must see if any of them are neither
true nor false—scientifically meaningless.


Let us consider the problem of Nazareth. René Salm and I have argued that Nazareth
was not inhabited at the turn of the era. Ehrman rejects our evidence, siding with
Franciscan archaeological apologists (who have destroyed most of the archeological
stratigraphy at the venerated sites they control and made further truly scientific
excavations impossible) and some recent archaeologists who have made claims of
habitation at Nazareth at the turn of the era but never have shown their data for critics to
evaluate. (It would, after all, be devastating to Christian tourism in Israel if it became
certain that the present city called Nazareth was not the “one-dog-town” of Jesus that
Ehrman claims it to have been.25

Just to be safe, however, Ehrman claims that it doesn’t really matter if Nazareth of
today isn’t the Nazareth of Jesus or if Jesus didn’t actually come from there. He would
still be Jesus, merely Jesus of Someplace-Else!

        “One supposedly legendary feature of the Gospels relates closely to what I have
        just argued and is in fact one of the more common claims found in the writings of
        the mythicists. It is that the alleged hometown of Jesus, Nazareth, in fact did not
        exist but is itself a myth (using the term as the mythicists do). The logic of this
        argument, which is sometimes advanced with considerable vehemence and force,
        appears to be that if Christians made up Jesus’s hometown, they probably made
        him up as well. I could dispose of this argument fairly easily by pointing out that
        it is irrelevant. If Jesus existed, as the evidence suggests, but Nazareth did not, as
        this assertion claims, then he merely came from somewhere else.”26

It is not clear in the above passage whether Ehrman has simply misunderstood the
argument that I and other mythicists have advanced or if he misunderstands the logic of
science. The former possibility seems likely from the fact that even though on the page
cited he discusses my article “Where Jesus Never Walked,”27 he incorrectly summarizes
the mythicist argument by the statement “The logic of this argument… appears to be that
if Christians made up Jesus’s hometown, they probably made him up as well.” Whether
such a claim would in fact be “irrelevant” could be debated, but it is not the argument I
would make and it is not the usual argument I have found other scholars to use.

Rather, the argument I have made is simply the fundamentally scientifically relevant
argument that if Nazareth did not exist when Jesus and the Holy Family should have been
living there, then of logical necessity Jesus of Nazareth could not have existed. By
extension, that would mean of course that the Jesus of Matthew and Luke also could not
have existed.28 Why is this argument not only relevant, but relevant in a way that is sine
qua non? Let us see.


25 Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, page 189.
26 Ibid, p. 191. It must not be thought that Ehrman is being facetious or alone in his judgment here. Some
years ago I polled my fellow members of The Jesus Project, asking them the question: “If it could be shown
conclusively that present-day Nazareth was not inhabited at the time of Jesus, would you continue to
believe in his historical reality?” A large fraction answered “yes” to the question.27 Through Atheist Eyes, Volume One, Cranford, NJ, American Atheist Press (2011) pp. 27–56.
28 Were it the case that Mark 1:9—“…Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee…”—was (contrary to my
opinion) not an interpolation, then the Jesus of Mark also could not have existed.



The difference between Jesus of Nazareth and practically all the other gods and
goddesses whose existence has ever been claimed is this. By being a character who was
defined as being physically associated with a specific town at a specific place at a specific
time, his existence could in principle be tested. Claims of his existence would thus be
meaningful in the scientific sense. Exhaustive archaeological surveying of the site
claimed to be Nazareth could in principle determine the existence claim to be false if the
site showed no evidence of habitation at the requisite periods. On the other hand, it could
only add a tiny bit of weight to the truth side of the claim if the archaeological evidence
of habitation at the turn of the era were positive.

Claims of the existence of a Jesus of Someplace-Else, however, like claims of the
existence of Zeus, or Thor, or Yahweh would be scientifically meaningless since in
principle they could not be tested or falsified.29 They are scientifically meaningless. It is
unfortunate that so many biblical scholars have not had adequate training in the
philosophy and logic of science. If Ehrman had read more of the first, second, and fourth
volumes of my recent Through Atheist Eyes: Scenes From a World That Won’t Reason,
he could have avoided blunders such as the Jesus of Someplace-Else.

Nevertheless, Ehrman is still able to assert he could identify some Jesus, even if not
Jesus of Nazareth. But just exactly which Jesus would that be?

                                                The Face of Ehrman’s Jesus

The image that Ehrman thinks he sees and describes in great and enhanced detail in
the last part of his book Did Jesus Exist? most certainly is not the Yeshu of Jewish
writings of late antiquity that can be interpreted to mean that Jesus was born a bastard at
the time of Alexander Jannaeus [r. 103–76 BCE]. According to one version of the Sepher
Toldoth Yeshu,30 the scurrilous antigospel some have claimed was cited by the Greek


29 Because they are not defined with respect to specific times, places, and physical properties, one is
perpetually on a wild-goose chase trying to find them. No matter where we might look, we are told that we
simply didn’t look in the right place or at the right time. All such gods are the equivalents of undetectable
gremlins. In the case of Jesus of Nazareth, however, an exhaustive search is possible in principle, and René
Salm has done an exhaustive analysis of the Roman Catholic ‘venerated sites’ owned and operated by the
Franciscans and has found no compelling evidence of habitation at the turn of the era. Desperate claims are
now being made that the right spots haven’t been examined, and other parts of the Nazareth hill are being
claimed to show proof of habitation at the proper time. Alas, by admitting that the venerated sites are not
the correct locations for the holy homes of the Jesus family, it must now be admitted that the Roman
Catholic Church was wrong in its profitable claim to the property deeds for Mary’s home and Joseph’s
workshop. Perhaps an Evangelical Protestant-run theme park such as The Nazareth Village Farm Project
will be able to stake a more durable claim.

It is worth noting, moreover, that the Gospel of Luke makes the claim that the Nazareth of Jesus had a
synagogue at the top of the hill at the edge of a cliff. [Luke 4:28–30] These details absolutely rule out
present-day Nazareth as the town of Jesus. Are there any hills in Galilee with first-century synagogue
remains atop them bordering a cliff? I don’t think so, but tour guides carrying out archaeological research
might be able to find one. Or create one.
30 Two thoroughly annotated versions of this antigospel have been reprinted as appendices A and B of my
book The Jesus the Jews Never Knew: Sepher Toldoth Yeshu and the Quest of the Historical Jesus in
Jewish Sources (Cranford, NJ, American Atheist Press, 2003).



philosopher Celsus around the year 177 CE, “In the year 671 of the fourth millenary (of
the world), in the days of Jannaeus the king, a great misfortune happened to the enemies
of Israel. There was a certain idle and worthless debauchee named Joseph Pandera, of the
fallen tribe of Judah…” According to this version of the Toldoth, Miriam gave birth to
Yeshu/Jesus at the time of Alexander Jannaeus—around a hundred years ‘Before Christ’!

Of course, historicists routinely dismiss this source as fanciful anti-Christian Jewish
polemics—as though the canonical sources are measurably less fanciful. Nevertheless,
Gibbon somewhere speaks of “the anachronism of the Jews, who place the birth of Christ
near a century sooner.” It is amusing to note that according to the Jewish calendar, which
was not standardized until the fourth century CE,31 the Julian year 1 CE corresponds to
Hebrew year 3762, so that the year 3671 of the Toldoth would place the birth of Yeshu
around the year 90 BCE.

Obviously, Ehrman’s picture of Jesus of not-Nazareth does not look at all like the old
photographs of Yeshu ben Pandera. Still less—here’s no surprise—the Ehrman image
exhibits no similarities at all to that of the early Jewish Christians discussed by Shlomo
Pines in his famous paper “The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries of Christianity
According to a New Source.”32 According to Pines, those early Christians placed the
ministry of their Jesus approximately five hundred years before the Council of Nicaea,
which was held in the year 325 CE! Doing the easy subtraction, we find that Jesus lived
around 175 BCE. Even I can agree with Ehrman that that Jesus could not have existed.
After all, archaeological evidence33 shows that Nazareth was not inhabited in 175 BCE.

Ehrman’s Jesus also does not match up with that of the unknown author of “The
Letter of Pilate to Claudius”34 who thought that Jesus was done in during the reign of
Claudius instead of Tiberius as everyone ‘knows.’ More importantly, he disagrees with
Irenaeus, the Church Father [120–202] who also thought that Jesus lived into his late 40s,
and thus into the reign of Claudius [r. 41-54]!

It is regrettable that Ehrman did not read the copy I sent to him of my The Jesus the
Jews Never Knew: Sepher Toldoth Yeshu and the Quest of the Historical Jesus in Jewish
Sources.35 In that book I discuss the twenty-second chapter of Against Heresies by
Irenaeus of Lyons [120–202 CE] who argued against the “heretics” who taught that Jesus
was in his thirties when he died! Arguing from the text of John 8:56-57,36 he explained


31 The Book of Calendars, Frank Parise, Editor. Facts On File, Inc., New York, NY, (1982), pp. 12–43.
32 Shlomo Pines, “The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries of Christianity According to a New
Source,” Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities 2 (1966): 237-310.
33 See the extended arguments and evidence of René Salm in his The Myth Of Nazareth, The Invented Town
Of Jesus (Cranford, NJ, American Atheist Press, 2008).
34 Not having taken the time to read my explanation of the tradition of Jesus living into his forties or even
fifties [The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, pp. 127–29], Ehrman writes in his introduction to “The Letter of
Pilate to Claudius” [The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations (with Zlatko Pleše, Oxford
University Press, 2011), p. 511], “It is not clear what to make of the anachronistic reference to Claudius as
the emperor at the time of Jesus’ death (rather than Tiberius; Claudius would not assume the throne for
another decade). The author of this letter, living so long after the fact, may simply not have known the facts
of Roman imperial history.” Actually there appear to have been many attempts post hoc to locate Jesus in
the frame of human history. This is hard to understand only if he had actually lived. 35 The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, pp. 127–129.
36 John 8:56. “Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day; he saw it and was glad. 57. The Jews
protested, ‘You are not yet fifty years old. How can you have seen Abraham?’” This is followed by the



“now such language is fittingly applied to one who has already passed the age of forty,
without having as yet reached his fiftieth year, yet is not far from this latter period.”

As if this all does not create enough confusion concerning the position Jesus of
Nazareth may have occupied in Roman chronology, there is another oddity of history that
seems somehow to relate to ‘the Historical Jesus’ and should have been investigated by
Ehrman. This is the peculiar fact that Iberia for a long time used a calendrical system for
which the commencement year corresponded to 38 BCE. According to an article in the
on-line edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia,37

        Spain, with Portugal and Southern France, observed an era of its own long after
        the rest of Christendom had adopted that of Dionysius [Exiguus]. This era of
        Spain or of the Cæsars, commenced with 1 January, 38 B.C., and remained in
        force in the Kingdom of Castile and Leon till A.D. 1383, when a royal edict
        commanded the substitution of the Christian Era. In Portugal the change was not
        made till 1422. No satisfactory explanation has been found of the date from which
        this era started.

Wouldn’t it be reasonable to conclude that the Iberians and their neighbors on the
north began their era on a date they took to be the year of Jesus’ birth? Remember, these
were very Christian nations. Why would they so long resist the general ‘Christian Era’ of
the rest of Europe unless they had reason to believe they had better information than did
Dionysius Exiguus when he set the starting point for his Christian Era at what so long has
been reckoned as the year AD 1? It certainly looks as though an important part of
Christendom believed that Jesus had been born 38 years ‘Before Christ’!38

Despite these problems in natal chronology, Ehrman seems quite certain that the dots
and spots and splotches he has connected into the image of a man are traces of an actual
man who was born and lived at the time the Gospel of Matthew says he lived, before the
death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE. Or, maybe, at the time the Gospel of Luke says—
during the Augustan census of Quirinius in 6 CE. Or, at any rate, some time around the
turn of the era. Yes, he lived somewhere some time around the turn of the era.

But there is a far more interesting and historically important Jesus whom Ehrman has
not called to sit to have his portrait sketched: the Jesus of the Docetists and Gnostics.
Although he gives no reasons for his manifest preference, Ehrman doesn’t think the true
Jesus of Christian origins was the Jesus of the Docetists or Gnostics—traces of whose
Jesus or Christ (sorting out the two is a difficult and daunting task) form a large chunk of
the picture we might be able to reconstruct of any Jesus. Removal of the Docetic and
Gnostic evidence from the data-set with which we might seek to test the historicity of the
Jesus of some place and some time around the turn of the era makes that testing more
difficult—and probably less meaningful. (By ruling out evidence that could disconfirm


apparently Docetic verses 58-59: “Jesus said, ‘In very truth I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am.’
They picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus was not to be seen; and he left the temple.”
37 The Catholic Encyclopedia (, article “Chronology,
General,” section “Beginning of the year.”
38 The Egyptologist Margaret Morris (personal communication) has informed me that 38 BCE corresponds
to the year in which worship of Octavian (Augustus Caesar) began in the Iberian Peninsula.



his hypothesis of historicity, Ehrman comes dangerously close to making his thesis
scientifically meaningless by making it less open to testing and falsification.)

How comes it then that an expert in the apocryphal literature would ignore his own
scholarship when trying to reconstruct his Jesus of Not-Nazareth? I am guessing that
Ehrman ignored the Jesus of the Docetists and Gnostics because he realized their writings
would be of no use whatever in reconstructing a historical Jesus or Christ. Given his
powerful historicist bias and the relative narrowness of his education, it probably never
occurred to him to weigh the significance of those documents as evidence against
historicity. Had he read my essay “What does it mean to be scientific?”39 he would have
realized the need to think like a scientist in order better to understand the relevance of his
own research.

Ehrman has shown in his magisterial The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture40 that a
large number of passages in the New Testament were altered to refute the Docetists and
Gnostics. How shall we evaluate this? If my thesis that both the genealogies and birth
narratives in the New Testament were made up to thwart the Docetists and Gnostics, the
veracity of a large amount of textual evidence is involved and so these passages now
become unavailable for constructing an image of Jesus. We cannot know a priori who
was correct—the proto-Orthodox or the Docetists and Gnostics.41

Ehrman is also the author of a New York Times Best Seller titled simply Forged, with
the more expansive subtitle Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are
Not Who We Think They Are. Although I am not certain he would agree with me that the
genealogies and birth legends were invented to confute the Docetists and Gnostics,
nevertheless he agrees that that material is not suitable for use in any residue of data
points to be used in connecting the dots of the Jesus picture:

        “With regard to the stories of Jesus’s birth, one does not need to wait for the
        later Gospels, mentioned above, to begin seeing the fabricated accounts; they are
        already there in the familiar versions of Matthew and Luke. There never was a
        census under Caesar Augustus that compelled Joseph and Mary to go to
        Bethlehem just before Jesus was born; there never was a star that mysteriously
        guided wise men from the East to Jesus; Herod the Great never did slaughter all
        the baby boys in Bethlehem; Jesus and his family never did spend several years in
        Egypt. These may sound like bold and provocative statements, but scholars have
        known the reasons and evidence behind them for many years. …

        It is almost impossible to say whether the people who made up and passed
        along these stories were comparable to forgers, who knew full well that they were
        engaged in a kind of deception, or whether they, instead, were like those who
        falsely attributed anonymous books to known authors without knowing they were


39 Frank R. Zindler, “What does it mean to be scientific?” Through AtheistEyes: Scenes From a World That
Won’t Reason, Volume Two: Science & Pseudoscience, (Cranford, NJ, American Atheist press, 2011) pp.
40 Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption Of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological
Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, New York, NY, Oxford University Press (1993).
41 We are debating the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth merely because the Orthodox won the war. If any
one of the non-Jewish ‘heresies’ had won out, the notion that Jesus of Nazareth had ever been born would
then be the heresy. We have no reason to believe the Orthodox more than we believe the Docetists or
Gnostics. There is danger in believing any of them. Caveat creditor!



        wrong. … They may not have meant to deceive others (or they may have!), but
        they certainly did deceive others. In fact, they deceived others spectacularly well.
        For many, many centuries it was simply assumed that the narratives about Jesus
        and the apostles—narratives both within and outside the New Testament—
        described events that actually happened.42

It is unlikely that Ehrman realized what he had admitted here when later he composed
Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Evidence for Jesus of Nazareth. We must emphasize the
sub-title of the book here. For it is precisely in the birth narratives that we find all but two
references to Nazareth43 in the entire canonical New Testament! When we eliminate the
birth legends from our database we no longer have any compelling support for the
existence of Jesus’ purported hometown, and without Nazareth, Jesus becomes inevitably
the Jesus of Someplace-Else—who, as we shall see, is a meaningless and identity-less
character. It is hard to estimate how much of the Jesus of (Not)-Nazareth database is left
now for Ehrman to use in reconstructing the face. Fifty percent? Forty percent? Even

It cannot be stressed too strongly: the more data Ehrman has to exclude from his
database, the less likely it is that he can produce a meaningful hypothesis concerning a
historical Jesus. By excluding all data that might argue against or falsify his thesis, his
thesis is in danger of becoming worse than wrong; it risks becoming meaningless.

                                    The Jesus of Nowhere-At-All?

The more Jesus becomes an ordinary component of the anonymous population
inferred to have existed in first-century Palestine, the fewer falsifiable statements
concerning him become possible. If Ehrman had understood this simple principle of
science, he would not have written that

        It is also true, as the mythicists have been quick to point out, that no Greek or
        Roman author from the first century mentions Jesus. It would be very convenient
        for us if they did, but alas, they do not. At the same time, the fact is again a bit
        irrelevant since these same sources do not mention many millions of people who


42 Bart D. Ehrman, Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Whe We Think
They Are, New York, NY (2011) HarperOne, pp. 140-41.
43 The first passage is Mark 1:9, that says that “Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in
the Jordan by John.” For important technical reasons presented in my chapter “Bart Ehrman and Mark’s
Jesus apo Nazareth,” I have argued that this passage is an interpolation, but Ehrman considers it authentic.
The other passage is in Acts 10:38, where the Lucan author has made up a speech in which Peter says “You
know about Jesus of Nazareth how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power.” (Readers may
be warned that in reading the KJV books of Mark and Acts many more occurrences of the word ‘Nazareth’
are to be found, but they are mistranslations from the Greek text which uses titles that should be rendered
Nazarene or Nazorean. Interestingly, Ehrman has also made such a mistake at least once. In his translation
of “The Letter of Tiberius to Pilate” [The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations, Bart D. Ehrman and
Zlatko Pleše, Oxford U. Press, 2011, pp. 532-33] he mentions “Jesus of Nazareth.” This, however, is a
KJV-type mistranslation of Iesou ton [sic] Nazoraiou—‘of Jesus the Nazorean.’



        actually did live. Jesus stands here with the vast majority of living, breathing,
        human beings of earlier ages.44

The fallacious nature of this comparison is obvious to anyone educated in the
sciences. By placing Jesus in the class of beings who could not be mentioned by ancient
writers because nothing was known about them—not even how many of them there were,
when they existed, where they existed—he is putting Jesus into the category of beings
about whom nothing specific can be said. From our point in time, nothing can
meaningfully be specifically said about any particular one of those millions of people we
infer to have lived at the time in question. We can only make meaningful claims about
the entire population and then, if we are lucky, we may make general, probabilistic
claims about hypothetical individual members of the population.

It might be possible to say, for example, that a person selected at random from that
population was 56% likely to be a woman over the age of 30, 92% likely to speak
Aramaic, and so on. But we could not make any specific claim about a person who is
completely and totally unidentified and unidentifiable. The nameless millions of whom
Ehrman writes are an inference, not an observation. If Jesus is one of those unnamed
millions, we can know nothing of him and can make no specific claims about him.

Carl Sagan’s aphorism “Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence” was never
more apt than in the case of the historical Jesus—even without his miracles. What test
could we do to learn if any claim regarding any one of the unknown millions of the past
is true or false if he evaded the notice of all the writers of the time and left no physical
remains that could yield clues to his identity? Could the Jesus of Nowhere-Specific be
detected if we had a time machine? How would we recognize him if none of the gospels’
identifying features were left for which to search and we couldn’t know for sure that we
had parked the Tardis at the right place and time?

We have come now to a point where the Historical Jesus is not yet completely gone,
even though Ehrman himself has helped to cause the disappearance of his arms and legs
and most of his torso. Nevertheless, soon all that will be left will not be the face of the
Historical Jesus; it will be the grin of a cat that can’t be traced to Cheshire.

Like Alice in Wonderland, the reader of this essay has just witnessed the progressive
dismantling and dissolution of a fascinating creation of the human mind. Like the
Cheshire cat, Jesus of Nazareth was never a real, living organism. Like the Cheshire cat,
who could not be beheaded because he had already lost his body, Jesus of Nazareth could
not be ‘beheaded’ by the loss of his Nazareth identity. New Testament critics including
Bart Ehrman had already hacked away most of his body by the time that empty
excavations at Nazareth had erased the testimony of the empty tomb at Jerusalem. All
that now remains is the fictive face on the Shroud of Turin—the laser display-like death
mask of the Cheshire cat of Nazareth. Sometime soon, everyone including Bart Ehrman
will have to admit that the cat is gone—completely gone.


44 Did Jesus Exist?, page 43.


*Posted with the permission of Frank R. Zindler, August 1, 2012.

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