A press release came out two days ago about an upcoming conference in the UK where the world will learn from two scholars that the Romans actually invented Christianity.
A concerned man read the press release and, feeling a bit shaken, contacted the Credo House for help. The press release for the conference can be found here:
Here was our quick response so when it hits the news in the next couple weeks you will hopefully have already thought through it a bit:
Whenever something like this comes up we first need to say, “Ok, show me your evidence.” Is Joseph Atwill’s evidence more compelling than the idea that Jesus was who Christians believe him to be.
In this realm I think Dr. Mike Licona’s book on the historical reliability of the Resurrection is helpful, Dr. Craig Blomberg’s book on the historical reliability of the Gospels and Dr. Darrell Bock and other scholar’s many works on the historical Jesus. There are many more works in this vein that show how we should go about having confidence in the historical reality of the events communicated in the Bible. Even an atheist like Dr. Bart Ehrman will think it is historically absurd to claim that Jesus never existed.
It looks like Joseph Atwill is building his whole argument off of a new way to interpret the writings of Josephus. A way that might even be hard for people to understand. He even admits in the article that he thinks he has seen something in Josephus that all other scholars have missed. He writes, ” Many of the parallels are conceptual or poetic, so they aren’t all immediately obvious. After all, the authors did not want the average believer to see what they were doing, but they did want the alert reader to see it. An educated Roman in the ruling class would probably have recognised the literary game being played.”
It seems from an observation of history, however, that educated Romans were not making the claims of Mr. Atwill. Paul’s interaction with the Aereopagus on Mars Hill is a good example. All people involved were educated Romans yet this idea of a Roman concoction of Jesus was never mentioned. We have absolutely no evidence, at least that I’ve ever heard, that anyone claimed the whole story of Jesus was invented by the Romans.
You may think Joseph Atwill is completely unbiased, but there seems to be an agenda driving the interpretation of history. Atwill even grants, ” what my work has done is give permission to many of those ready to leave the religion to make a clean break. We’ve got the evidence now to show exactly where the story of Jesus came from. Although Christianity can be a comfort to some, it can also be very damaging and repressive, an insidious form of mind control that has led to blind acceptance of serfdom, poverty, and war throughout history. To this day, especially in the United States, it is used to create support for war in the Middle East.”
A fellow scholar presenting with Mr. Atwill is Kenneth Humphreys who is the author of the book, “Jesus Never Existed.” This is a title that Bart Ehrman, and many other atheists, would consider a historically absurd statement.
All-in-all I consider Joseph Atwill to fall into the “What If?” camp. This is a camp of people who believe one “What If?” statement without any concrete historically reliable evidence can carry the same weight of tons of historically reliable orthodox evidence. It would be like me saying the entire existence of the world is actually a dream I am currently having. JFK never lived. JFK only lived as a subpart of my dream where I conceived of a president of a country that was assassinated.
Instantly, if I was trying to convince the world that they existed only in my dream, they would start pointing to all sorts of evidence. There would be historical evidence. Archeological evidence. Physical books written and copied (the field of textual criticism). There would also be a lot of philosophy to assist our epistemological question.
At the end of the day I wouldn’t be able to give very much strong historical evidence. The greatest argument I would have is, “What If?”
I think Joseph Atwill has taken up the “What If?” banner. He will more than likely be shown tens of thousands of points of historical evidence toward the contrary of his view but he will probably be able to make millions and speak to millions by saying over and over again, “Yes, I know, I’ve heard all the evidence. But what if my unique way of understanding Josephus is correct!” Crowds will applaud. I think Jesus will find it all amusing as someone cashes in on his non-existence.