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Meditation 1080
Thoughts on (an admittedly unread) Covert Messiah.

by: John Tyrrell

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According to a press release which received a lot of buzz on atheist and agnostic forums this week:

American Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill will be appearing before the British public for the first time in London on the 19th of October to present a controversial new discovery: ancient confessions recently uncovered now prove, according to Atwill, that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ. His presentation will be part of a one-day symposium entitled "Covert Messiah" at Conway Hall in Holborn

Now I have sympathy, which I've expressed in earlier meditations, for the idea that Jesus may not have existed.* But should we credit Atwill with an astounding new addition to studies of the origin of the New Testament.

I think the first clue in evaluating Atwill's theory is that this information has been made public by press release; and not just any old press release, but one made through an organization which, for a fee, is used to increase the visibility of their news, improve their search engine rankings and drive traffic to their websites.  This, as opposed to publishing in a scholarly journal, subject to peer review.

Now if we look at the website for the symposium, we find there are only two scheduled speakers; in addition to Atwill, there is Kenneth Humphries the author of "Jesus Never Existed." Also there is a documentary based on Atwill's 2006 book "Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus." ** It doesn't look like this symposium is designed to promote debate and discussion on the issue - but simply to promote one point of view, that point of view being "Christianity was invented by a little known family of Roman Caesars, the Flavians..."

Little known? I suspect most people with a passing interest in Roman history have heard of at least one of the members of the dynasty: Vespasian, Titus, and Domition. And of course we have the problem that much bible scholarship places the writing of those Pauline letters actually considered to have been written by Paul prior to Vespasian's rule. That's technically necessary as Paul supposedly died two years before Vespasian was appointed to restore order in Judea, let alone becoming Emperor. Of course if Vespasian invented Paul along with Jesus...

It strikes me that if Christianity was invented, then the various books of the New Testament would be significantly more consistent with each other. The variations in so many details point to a lack of a guiding hand rather than the presence of one.

With a week to go before the symposium actually occurs, we don't know what those ancient confessions recently uncovered consist of. I could be proven wrong, but right now I see this symposium as nothing more than an attempt to sell speculative books and a speculative documentary and not a serious investigation into the truth about the historical Jesus. To my friends in the UK who might be tempted to attend, I suggest save your £25.00. There are much better ways to spend it.


* On balance, I think a historical Jesus probably existed and that at least some of the words attributed to Jesus were actually uttered by him. And a lot of other words and deeds coalesced around his memory in the years before his tale was written down.

** I won't be reading either of these books unless I am given free review copies. I'll stick with buying books by more reputable scholars such as Bart D. Ehrman.

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