Jesus, a historical reconstruction
In-depth & documented research on the historical Jesus and the beginning of Christianity, from available evidence & critical methodology

On the Internet since March 1997. All emphases are mine.

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My work against the mythicist cases of Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier

For Doherty's 'the Jesus Puzzle', click here
Also, you may use these tags {Doherty} or {Carrier} or {mythicism} (for both authors), then copy the tag (c/w the brackets), then, on this page, paste it in the box of the Find (or Search) function/facility of your browser, then review the tabbed post titles & introductions and proceed to the post(s) of your choice

Check out my BLOG on historical Jesus and beginning of Christianity
(more than one hundred short, concise & focused blog posts)

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"For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed,
and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out in the open."

Mark's gospel 4:22


FOREWORD
As extracted from my readers' feedback
(complete texts in "my best review" and "... readers' comments" pages)

General observations:
* "Congratulations! ... easily the best documented & most objective piece of Jesus research that I have found on the internet in almost a year of surfing. ... independent evaluation of the historical evidence that you demonstrate so well. ... such historical clarity ..."
* "I was researching some information ... and sifted through 10 or 20 documents before finding yours. The others were not helpful in the slightest, and your site was clearly and concisely organized and had the information I needed."
* "I have visited your website on the historical reconstruction of Jesus and I have found it very interesting. You have done an excellent work on it ... Your website has helped me understand a great deal of Jesus and life of early Christians."
* "Your work is impressive, and valuable to those like myself ... but have immense difficulty accepting all the add-ons ... Again, thanks for your work, and for sharing it with others who care to explore the truth of religious matters."
* "This is where your rational approach is most helpful ... by using historical research and factual information. It really takes a careful eye to spot these things, some of which are buried under layers of "over-familiarity". This is not a criticism, rather more a compliment, but I do want to say that your site is demanding careful attention."
* "I have just finished reading Jesus a historical reconstruction ... What I found in your online book is something very believable ... Thank you very much for your dedication to these matters."
* "You have an excellent site. It's obvious you have put a lot of work/thought/effort into its construction."
* "Bernard D. Muller provides a beautifully presented picture of the historical Jesus ... he brings to the table, mostly, a lot of common sense. It's a deep site, with a lot to think about and ponder over. Highly recommended ..."
* "Your history of Jesus is fascinating! Very thorough and impressive. I was just surfing through the net and came upon your site, and I must say, I spent a lot of time going through everything you wrote ... Again, congratulations on your work!"
* "The author clearly writes with a great deal of knowledge ... Furthermore, Bernard does not break any academic rules ... The amount of valuable resources available at the site is exceptional and should not be ignored ... this website should not be overlooked in any study on Jesus."
* "I recently found your site and I am very impressed, you did a lot of work! I never read about the events at Cesarea before and I can see how they could inspire John the Baptist and Jesus to do what they did. ... I find your reconstruction very believable ..."
* "... what I found most refreshing about your work is its objectivity and impartiality ... Thank you for bringing me closer to the truth without inciting bad emotions. And thank you for providing such a gold mine of information. Your site is at the top of my bookmarks! ... Keep up the good work."
* "Here he does a good job of logically reconstructing the life and ministry of Jesus. It's a fascinating read whether you are a Christian or non-believer."
* "Pages are a little long, but easy digest. But most importantly, he usually supports his arguments with evidence, and never indulges in religious rhetoric and baseless speculations."
* "And in addition to that, I would suggest the following site for further in depth studies on "the historical Jesus". Very educative, I may say: ..."
"Yes, that is probably the best source for the historical Jesus that I have encountered. Glad you posted that link again, ..."
* "I am speechless ... Now, after reading most of your site, I can see that my simple view of Jesus was closer to the truth. Thank you for helping me see this. I am still in shock. There is much to catch up on. Many ideas to rethink ... I can see that a rational or scientific view is very helpful ..."
* "I visited your website and found it quite thorough and informative ... I thought that your comments at your site regarding the beginning of Christianity, proto-Christianity, and the later date for Acts, and its problems of continuity with 'Luke' and 'Luke's' discontinuity with the rest of the Gospels to be accurate observations that have been made by many scholars. Excellent stuff. ...
I realize English is not your native tongue, but I do hope someone sometime will re-edit your articles or utilize them in their own work, since they contain some excellent observations."
* "... Truly, thank you for being so kind and taking the time to help me find answers to the questions I have never been able to resolve on my own. Your scholasticism simply amazes me. It is so honest and pure. Yes, I am very familiar with the works of other scholars who begin with a "belief" and are "bent" on proving it ...
Sorry, but so little information is available to me. I go on line to find information, and it is almost like "mission impossible". Now, you see why I am so intrigued by your web site. I am still stunned and amazed by the hours of research you invested in making this knowledge available. Thank you, again ...
Time for me to get back to your site and uncover more of the truth that I have been searching for."
* "... I feel I have wasted much time and energy piecing ideas together from my own readings, when you have done such a thorough job already!
... these
[3-4] years have given me an appreciation of the work you must have put in, both in painstakingly reading, re-reading and comparing, as well as scrupulously arranging your material into coherent topics and valid conclusions.
So this sums up my second amazement, which is my real joy at seeing the elegant, lucid and compelling arguments you make - 'arguments' is almost the wrong word: since you rely so much on primary sources to tell the story, your own interpretations are almost unnecessary. The texts, when arranged and compared as you do, reveal their secrets quite readily for those with eyes to see. I ... had cause to laugh out loud in pleasure at the novel (to me anyway) but straightforward and undeniable conclusions that your patient research has yielded.
And for this, I thank you.
... I shall sign off there. Once again, let me register my deep admiration and appreciation for your wonderful work, which is at the same time so unlike any of the other Jesus resources available on the web, and so reassuringly transparent despite the obvious weight of reading and careful scholarship behind it."
* "... I suspect that you, as I, dislike the intellectual shallowness, strident vulgarity of expression and bad mannered tactlessness of the "New Atheists".
What really provoked this e-mail, however, was your clear concise and commonsensical methodological rules of thumb. I had to drop a line saying how much I was enjoying your work.
Many thanks"

* "... I found your site a few years ago and was very impressed. I remember it being one of the best "historical Jesus" sites I've seen on the web... And I think you've come up with one of the most plausible reconstructions of a possible historical Jesus that I've seen.
To everyone else here, I would say that Mr. Muller's site is well worth reading whether or not you buy into all of his conclusions. He brings in a wide range of sources (apocryphal accounts, writings of early church fathers, etc.) which are not often discussed in one place, and provides some excellent deconstructions and analyses of the primary texts..."

About "Q", the gospel of Thomas, etc.:
* "... the eloquent cases you make for a later (and real) 'Q', 'Thomas' and the like have given me pause over taking John Crossan's opinions as the last word ... I really think you are closer to disentangling the NT mess than most."
About the epistles of Ignatius:
* "I just read your website about "The epistles of Ignatius: are they all forgeries?". I was absolutely impressed. Zwingende Argumente! Great work! Will this be published in a "Fachzeitschrift"? ... I appreciate good scholarship - as you call it: "highly inquisitive" ..."
* "I discovered your admirable essay only yesterday. Your methodology is impeccable, your points are apropos & well explicated, your research is thorough and satisfying, and your speculative reconstruction of the writing of the epistles is persuasive and imho very likely to be true. I'm eager to explore & learn from the rest of your site. Thanks again, Bernard, for the opportunity to think with you on this fascinating episode!"
About a fully mythical Jesus:
* "First of all, congratulations for such a great job you have done! I have made some research by my own about this topic and I am very agreed with you. Earl Doherty has some good points about the mythological side of the Jesus conundrum but his underpinning thesis about a whole mythological Jesus is plain wrong, as you have very well proved. ... I have found very insightful your research methodology, it is closer to natural sciences than human sciences, making the arguments based on empirical evidence more than in speculations, this is a strong point on your side, summed up in honest and realistic statements. Congratulations."



WARNING
This work is based on historical objectivity and critical research,
but not on faith.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen."

Hebrews 11:1


INTRODUCTION

Note: my definition for 'historical' in "historical Jesus" is 'having lived in the past', based on the Collins English Dictionary (Canadian Edition), "belonging to past", and with 'Jesus' being the name of the man credited to have started Christianity.

Who was the historical Jesus?
On one side, his earthly existence is denied by some. On the other is the incarnated "historic" Word of the ecclesiastic establishment. And then we have the scholarly renditions of the "historical Jesus": the charismatic founder of a movement or sect, as a sage, revolutionary, healer, magician, myth maker, prophet, one "in the Spirit", etc.
This website is not about anyone of these theories. Instead, its outlook is entirely different.

First, let's keep in mind the following:
By a simple act (remaining seated in a bus, then arrested), Rosa Parks (a humble seamstress then) provided the spark which gave birth to the momentous modern Civil Rights Movement, led by others from the start. Decades later, she was considered its "Mother" and revered as an icon, despite the fact she withdrew from it early on.

Then, considering the above, can we assuredly answer "no" to this question:
Could Jesus have existed as just a lowly Jew, but through circumstances leading to (& about) his execution, triggered the later development, by others, of a (religious) movement and cultic beliefs?

But do we have evidence for this minimal Jesus and (despite his low status) about how he unwittingly initiated Christianity?
As a matter of fact we do, in a surprisingly large quantity, and many of them are found in the gospels (some others in Paul's epistles, as shown later). But then, can the gospels, criticized as unreliable, be used in the quest of the real Jesus?

"the writing of each Gospel reflects the experiences and circumstances of early Christians. They do not all tell the same story of Jesus because each one is responding to a different audience and circumstances." (PBS frontline 'From Jesus to Christ')

Despite their flaws, discrepancies, unhistorical items, suspected embellishments/fiction and overall purpose of bolstering faith, these writings (and some others in the N.T.) have "down to earth" and "against the grain" bits & pieces, which make a lot of sense on a human, social, cultural & historical standpoint. But how can we be sure of their truthfulness? Could these items be outright inventions?

But if it is the case:
- Why give Jesus four brothers and at least two sisters (Mk6:3), rather than emphasize his uniqueness?
- Why base him among the uneducated villagers of Capernaum, his new home (Mt4:13), a poor town in Galilee?
- Why bother to have him get a "mother-in-law" (Mk1:30) out of bed?
- Why give him a few "unschooled" fishermen (Mk1:16-20, Ac4:13) as his main followers?
- Why have him say: "you are worth more than many sparrows" (Lk12:7/Mt10:31)?
- Why tell his own people wanted "to take charge of him" and saying: "he is out of his mind" (Mk3:21)?
- Why reveal the disciples as "questioning what the rising from the dead meant" (Mk9:10) (after they supposedly saw an alive Moses!)?
- Why start Jesus' public life right after the arrest of John the Baptist, who attracted a much larger audience: "Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him [John]" (Mk1:5a)?
- Why have Jesus declare "among those born of women there is no one greater than John [the Baptist]" (Lk7:28a/Mt11:11a), lowering Jesus below John (conflicting with Mk1:7!)?
- Why write "Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John [the Baptist], whether he was the Christ or not" (Lk3:15)?
- Why relate, after John's execution, ""Who do people say that I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah"" (Mk8:27b-28a), when Christ is set far above John (and John himself as Elijah: Mk9:12-13)?
- Why report on failed expectations: "he [Jesus] was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once." (Lk19:11b)?
- Why have Jesus disowned by his companions and crucified as "king of the Jews" (Mk15:26) for the benefit of Gentile Christians?
- Why would the most reliable early manuscripts of Mark's gospel end as such, with the "empty tomb" undivulged and without reappearance: "... And they [the women who allegedly witnessed the empty tomb] said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." (Mk16:8)?

Some of these points, and a lot of other ones, are certainly creating doubts about Jesus as the Son of God, Lord or Christ (Anointed One). And some of them were troublesome for the early Christian writers/preachers, as for Paul:
1Co1:23 YLT "... Christ crucified, to Jews, indeed, a stumbling-block, and to Greeks foolishness ..."
Gal5:11 "... the offense of the cross ..."
2Co13:4 "... He was crucified in weakness ..."

However, these overlooked pieces of data, and many others, shed a lot of light on the real Jesus and why he set off unintentionally the evolution of Christian beliefs. Furthermore --and somewhat unexpected-- from them (& Josephus' works) the resulting reconstruction fits too well together (and explains so many things) that it cannot be easily dismissed.

**************

It took me three years doing research on the history of (very) early Christianity. Then, with no predetermined agenda, I decided to write this reconstruction about the historical Jesus and the sequence of events ('historical thread') leading to the earliest Christian doctrine. It is a sincere conclusion of a personal exercise motivated by my curiosity and not any anti-Christian propaganda or apologetic effort.

My approach, as an investigative and critical historian, will appear radically new. The research was not based on studying extensively scholarly works; but instead by inquiring about contextual facts, scrutinizing primary sources, getting free from past indoctrination and, above all, doing a lot of thinking. Never interested in learned opinions, lofty ("high context") intellectualism, slick or bullying rhetoric, agenda-driven "studies" or ill-validated theories, I applied myself to discover the bottom of things, the facts and the bare truth, as naive as it may sound.

"Hypotheses are established as valid when they are able to account for the bulk of the evidence." Malhon H.Smith
With its many components backed up by series of attestations & short arguments, this reconstruction (with its associated "deconstructions") is thoroughly documented and probably the most defensible among the many other ones. Furthermore,
- Contrary pieces of evidence & interpretations are flagged and addressed (which is usually not done in scholarly works!).
- Great care is taken about the dating, authorship & later alterations of crucial early Christian texts.
- Loose ends and miscellaneous critical issues are examined in the appendices.
I think you will find this work, as a whole, to be solidly stand-alone and fully coherent, despite covering a lot of ground before & after the crucifixion and handling a huge amount of multi-sourced evidence! No other "historical Jesus" inquiry goes as far!

Some elements have already been reported by others. But you will be astonished, just as I was, when stumbling upon the unexpected!
The reconstruction will show that, among other things, the main events of Jesus' last year & days are best explained by the peculiar historical context, and also, with the religious/political background, were likely to start later cultic beliefs (which they did).
A far-fetched supposition? Too big of a challenge?
Not at all: surprisingly, the numerous pieces fit easily into place, like the ones of a jigsaw puzzle, with no need for delicate argumentations, convoluted interpretations and long discussions.

**************

When eyewitnesses were still alive, Paul wrote about a minimal Jesus (but also, for Paul, pre/post-existent as a heavenly deity) who, from "Israelites, ... whose [are] the fathers, and of whom [is] the Christ, according to the flesh ..." (Ro9:4-5 YLT) and "come of a woman, come under law" (Gal4:4 YLT) (as a descendant of (allegedly) Abraham (Gal3:16), Jesse (Ro15:12) & David (Ro1:3)), "found in appearance as a man" (Php2:8) "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Ro8:3), "the one man, Jesus Christ" (Ro5:15) (who had brothers (1Co9:5), one of them called "James", whom Paul met (Gal1:19)), "humbled himself" (Php2:8) in "poverty" (2Co8:9) as "servant of the Jews" (Ro15:8) and, after "the night in which he was delivered up" (1Co11:23 Darby), "was crucified in weakness" (2Co13:4) in "Zion" (Ro9:31-33 & Ro11:26-27).
And the same picture can also be seen at the bottom of the earliest gospels, especially the first one, Mark's.

The early Christians did not seem to consider the earthly Jesus as (theologically) sacred:
"Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man [Jesus] will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven" (Mt12:32a)
His historic presence appears to have been rather minimal:
"but made himself [Jesus] of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant" (Paul in Php2:7)
Very little external evidence about him is available.
But then, according to Paul:
"... we speak not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, communicating spiritual [things] by spiritual [means]." (1Co2:13 Darby)
"we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden ..." (1Co2:7)
"For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? ..." (Ro3:7 KJV)
"... I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it." (1Co3:10)
"... it pleased God ... to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles." (Gal1:15-16)
"Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast." (2Co11:18)
"I must go on boasting. ... I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord." (2Co12:1)
"I did not receive it [Paul's good news] from any man [Paul had met Peter & other eyewitnesses], nor was I taught it; rather, ... by revelation from Jesus Christ." (Gal1:11-12)
"... we have the mind of Christ." (1Co2:16)
Christianity did not grow from the sayings or deeds of an earthly Jesus!
Still later, step by step, in order to propel the actual Jesus as "evidence" for the divine entity claimed by Paul:
"... Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1Co1:24)
"... one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom [are] all things ..." (1Co8:6 Darby)
"... God sent forth His Son, come of a woman ..." (Gal4:4 YLT)
the successive gospels considerably enhanced him beyond measure:
"But these [miraculous signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God ..." (Jn20:31a)

**************

I trust the quotes (mostly from first century authors) and data used here to be truthful or, at least, providing valid information. For example, I consider Mk14:27 (with Mt26:31 & Jn16:32) as an indication on what really happened, as the gospel author (and his community) knew it.

I carefully extracted any "truthfulness" and avoided the rest, but not the concealments,
(St. Augustine, 4-5th century bishop of Hippo. 'On lying 17':
"It is lawful then either to him that discourses, disputes, and preaches of things eternal, or to him that narrates or speaks of things temporal pertaining to edification of religion and piety, to conceal at fitting time whatever seems fit to be concealed")
from my study on early Christianity (with the political, social, religious and cultural background) and the making of the New Testament (and other early Christian writings), plus, of course, a review of the critical studies on the subject.

Finally, I hope you'll find this work to be informative, concise and relevant. Step back into time and make a journey of discovery (and keep an open mind!).
Note: for best reading sequence, please follow the blue arrow.

Then, if you have any questions or comments, if you find any errors, e-mail me, Bernard D. Muller.
I invite you also to read my best review from a distinguished scholar and the author's story (& more about my methodology).

Three brief webpages for readers in a hurry (but made it that far!):
1) Historical Jesus, in a few words
A brief & comprehensive account on how Christianity started through a sequence of events involving Pilate, John the Baptist, Jesus & others
2) Beliefs of "Nazarenes" and Jewish & Pauline Christians (57)
Vastly different! Shown in a table format
3) NEW: Graphics: from John the Baptist to John's gospel

From Nazareth to the desert:
Jesus' early years (HJ-1a)
Conception, birth, family, Nazareth, Galilee, education and language
John the Baptist (HJ-1b)
Pilate's blunder, John's meteoric public life and the Kingdom of God at hand

In and around Capernaum:
Jesus' public life (HJ-2a)
The "miraculous" Sabbath => Subsequent credited healing => Short-lived hysteria around Jesus
Jesus' message (HJ-2b)
Jesus' appealing, clear & simple message, inspired from his time & background. Also afterlife beliefs and Paul with Peter, James (Jesus' brother) & the "Nazarenes"; Didache & Ebionites

From Jerusalem to Son of God:
Jesus' last days (HJ-3a)
The "new John" and the "royalish" welcome, "disturbance" in the Temple, arrest & crucifixion. Also discussions about the Last Supper and the Empty Tomb
The beginning of Christianity (up to 57) (HJ-3b)
The group of Seven (proto-Christianity) => The church of Antioch (Jewish Christianity) => Paul (embryonic Gentile Christianity) => Apollos of Alexandria (full Gentile Christianity)
HJ-3b extension: interpolations in '1Thessalonians' & 'Hebrews' and dating of 'Galatians'

Appendices:
Appendix A (27) Appendix B (28)
Dating of Jesus' public life (A & B) and Paul's own (B)
Also "Luke" & Josephus' works, the "we" passages in 'Acts' (A) and dating of the Jerusalem council (B)
Appendix C (James)
Hegesippus and Josephus about James, Jesus' brother
The Testimonium Flavianum (Ant., Book XVIII)
Is it a Christian interpolation?
Parables and gospels: Sections 1 to 7 => Sections 8 to 10
Did Jesus teach in parables?
Also about the gospels (dating, "coloring", etc.)
The wandering journeys
Was Jesus an itinerant preacher?
The Q source & The gospel of Thomas
Studies on their respective origin and dating
The great omission in Luke's gospel
The missing block from Mark's gospel can be easily explained and is most revealing. Also about the authorship of Luke's gospel
Paul and the Corinthians during the third journey
Also about Paul in Galatia, plus the introduction for Paul's reconstructed epistles, c/w interpolations such as 1Co15:3-11:
1Corinthians a, b, c; 2Corinthians a, b, c; Philippians a, b, c
Also dating of all Pauline authentic letters
Gospels, the external evidence and dating
Justin Martyr, '1Clement', the Didache, etc. Up to Irenaeus and presented with graphics. Also provides a convenient access to gospels dating through the internal evidence
The epistles of Ignatius
Are they all forgeries? Dating & authorship. Also about early bishops and Peter & Paul in Rome
For the next pages, please read according to the indicated sequence:
John's gospel, from original to canonical
Introductory page and evidence for a progressive composition
=> The gospels according to "John"
The successive versions, by blocks
=> The complete text of the original gospel
COHERENT and well-ordered. Also about the authorship
<=> The latter additions

Jesus links & readers' comments


Critique of Earl Doherty's book, 'The Jesus Puzzle' (c/w arguments & evidence for Jesus' existence):
Part 1, Introduction and "Who crucified Jesus & where did that happen?"
Part 2, "Do Paul & 'Hebrews' not mention an earthly Jesus?" and Conclusion
A revealing sample of Doherty's work on the mythicist case, as examined through the evidence!

Daniel and Revelation
Historical & critical study: dating & authorship, and about the: seventy weeks or sevens, the four kingdoms/kings, etc.

Last notes:
All Bible quotes are from the NKJV or the NIV, except indicated otherwise.
The abbreviations are according to the NIV. Here they are, with range of years for time of (initial) publishing and place of origin, according to my own understanding:
Mk: Mark's gospel (GMark) (the earliest) late 70 to early 71, probably Corinth
Mt: Matthew's gospel (GMatthew), 81 to 93, a city in Syria, probably Antioch
Lk: Luke's gospel (GLuke), 81 to 93, Philippi in Macedonia
Ac: Acts of the apostles ('Acts'), months or a few years after GLuke, Philippi
Jn: John's gospel (GJohn), 97 to 105, a city of Asia Minor, probably Ephesus
(the dates and 'Philippi' are fully explained in my website)

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