History

Scholar Claims Jesus Was a Roman Hoax

A historian claims to have found evidence that the story of Jesus was a hoax based on a Roman emperor's biography. Continue reading →

A historical scholar claims to have found evidence proving that the story of Jesus as described in the New Testament is a fiction, and that historical claims about Jesus were actually created by Roman aristocrats to control the poor.

According to a news story in The Independent:

"Joseph Atwill, who is the author of a book entitled ‘Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus', asserts that Christianity did not begin as a religion, but was actually a sophisticated government propaganda exercise used to pacify the subjects of the Roman Empire."

Atwill's take on Jesus is of course not new. In 1844 Karl Marx famously declared religion as the opiate of the masses. History is filled with skeptics, freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and other doubters who have questioned religious doctrine and dogma.

PHOTOS: Ancient Tomb Holds Jesus Mystery

Atwill's claims are based on what he described as important and revealing parallels between a first-person account of first-century Judea (an ancient Roman province now part of Israel and Palestine) and the New Testament.

"What seems to have eluded many scholars is that the sequence of events and locations of Jesus ministry are more or less the same as the sequence of events and locations of the military campaign of (Emperor) Titus Flavius as described by Josephus," Atwill wrote in a blog on his web site.

Atwill believes that the story of Jesus was actually copied and created from the biography of the Roman emperor.

Evidence for a Historical Jesus?

While Atwill's thesis is intriguing, there are reasons to be skeptical.

"The reality is we are unlikely ever to know the ‘facts' about Jesus," says Ronald A. Lindsay, a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry, a non-profit educational organization. Lindsay authored an essay on the evidence for Jesus in the book "Sources of the Jesus Tradition."

"There are too many different stories about him, all of which have some serious credibility problems and which are inconsistent with one another," Lindsay told Discovery News. "For the objective historian, he will always remain a shadowy figure, with little substantive biographical content. On the one hand, we have many who will take things on faith, accepting some subset of the stories as unquestionably true. On the other hand, there are those who insist that Jesus is an invented figure, a myth or a hoax. I think both of these extremes are almost equally implausible."

Biblical scholars, as well as lay Christians, have long sought hard evidence of events and miracles described in the Bible, ranging from Noah's Ark to the Shroud of Turin, with little success. New claims about proof of Jesus surface every few years.

People Claiming to Be Jesus

For example, in 2003 a relics dealer claimed to have discovered a limestone mortuary box that held the remains of Jesus' brother. The inscription read, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

The find made international news and spawned several documentaries, including one titled "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," which aired on the Discovery Channel. Further investigation by the Israeli Antiquities Authority concluded that though the ossuary box was authentic, the inscription on it had been faked.

And just last year an historian at Harvard Divinity School claimed to have found documentary evidence in the form of a fragment of Coptic writing on papyrus that Jesus was married; a later analysis by Biblical scholars suggested the writing was hoaxed.

Over and over, these "discoveries" typically turn out to be far more hype than fact and are trotted out as teasers to promote a new book, TV series or film. And, of course, Dan Brown made millions from his own fictional, conspiracy-laden versions of Jesus' story - though his premise is claimed by a few writers to be based on fact.

Though Atwill's claims have yet to be verified by other historians, whatever their consensus it will certainly not resolve the matter. The likelihood that any sort of real, definitive proof about Jesus will suddenly be discovered two millennia after he died (assuming, of course, that he existed) is vanishingly remote. Then again, that's why religions are based on faith.

March 1, 2012

-- This tomb, carved out of rock, could be "directly connected to Jesus' first followers, those who knew him personally, and to Jesus himself," according to researchers. Located beneath a modern condominium complex less than two miles south of the Old City of Jerusalem, this first-century burial, now named "patio tomb," is only 200 feet away from a second tomb, dubbed the "Jesus Family Tomb." Lying beneath a garden area in the same condominium complex, the burial was discovered in 1980. It contained 10 ossuaries, six of them inscribed with names associated with Jesus and his family. Critics dismissed the synchronicity of names as mere coincidence. "The object of our investigation was to determine whether the 'patio tomb,' still intact, might contain names or other evidence that would provide for us further data that might conceivably shed light on the adjacent 'garden tomb' with its intriguing cluster of names," James D. Tabor, professor and chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, wrote in a preliminary report published online in the "The Bible and Interpretation" website. He investigated the "patio tomb" with documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici.

Photo: Jacobovici at the entrance of the sealed "patio tomb"

New Find Reignites 'Jesus Tomb' Discovery

In 2010, Tabor and Jacobovici entered the sealed tomb without actually opening it. They had obtained a license from the Israel Antiquities Authority to explore it through a minimally invasive procedure. Using 8-inch, custom-made diamond tooth drills, the team drilled two holes into the basement floor above the burial. A robotic arm was custom made so that it could be introduced into the tomb through the holes. The robotic arm not only had a main camera mounted on its tip, but a snake camera with a light that could extend about 4 feet beyond the main probe "to allow filming of several of the ossuaries that were deep in the recesses of the niches," said Tabor. The camera also had the capability of shooting laser beams to obtain micro-centimeter measurements.

Photo: Robotic arm

The probe was successful and the researchers were able to reach all areas of the tomb. Typical of Jerusalem in the period from 20 B.C. until 70 A.D, the tomb had a single central square chamber with a very shallow "standing pit" area. It contained nine carved burial niches with skeletal remains and several limestone ossuaries, or bone boxes.

Photo: Map of the tomb

Lost Tomb of Jesus: Explore the Evidence

PHOTOS: The Shroud of Turin Through History

One ossuary was finely carved with a decoration which the researchers believe is "a clear image of a fish, complete with tail, fins, and scales." According to Tabor, it has "a stick-like human figure with an over-sized head coming out of its mouth." He interpreted the drawing as a representation of the biblical story of Jonah and the "big fish." In the earliest gospel materials, the "sign of Jonah," as mentioned by Jesus, has been interpreted as a symbol of his resurrection. "As Jonah was in the fish for three days and three nights, but emerged alive, Jesus would likewise emerge from the tomb/death," wrote Tabor. Jonah images only appear in the third and fourth centuries A.D., but never earlier, given the prohibition within Judaism of making images of people or animals. In this view, the fish would represent the oldest Christian art ever discovered, predating the earliest Christian symbol in the catacombs of Rome by at least 200 years. It would also represent the first archeological evidence related to faith in Jesus' resurrection from the dead -- "presumably by his contemporary 1st-century followers," said Tabor.

Image: CGI enhanced image of Jonah and the Big Fish

Another finely decorated ossuary contained an intriguing four-word Greek inscription. There are several ways to read the inscription, but according to Tabor, almost all of them have to do with resurrection, some linking directly to Jesus. The most likely readings are: "The Divine Jehovah raises up from (the dead)" or "The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place" or "God, Jehovah, Raise up! Raise up!" or "Lord, Jesus, Rise up! Rise up!" "We are dealing here with a family or clan that is bold enough to write out the holy name of God in a tomb, with a declaration about 'raising up' or resurrection -- something totally unparalleled in any of the 900 tombs from the period known in Jerusalem," wrote Tabor.

Photo: The unique four-line Greek inscription

'Jesus-Era' Burial Cloth Casts Doubt on Turin Shroud

According to Tabor, the family buried in the tomb was undoubtedly Jewish. Apart from the Greek epitaph and fish image, "the style of the tomb, the ornamentation of the ossuaries, and everything else about it is nothing out of the ordinary," he said. Yet, taken together, the fish image and the inscription represents the earliest archaeological evidence of faith in Jesus' resurrection, the first witness to a saying of Jesus that predates the New Testament gospels, and the oldest Christian art ever discovered. "We are convinced that the best explanation for these unusual epigraphic features is its proximity to the Jesus family tomb," wrote Talbot. "What we apparently have is a family connected to the Jesus movement who reaches beyond the standard burial norms of the Jewish culture of the period to express itself individually in these unique ways," he said.

Photo: Complete Findings from the Patio Tomb

Explore Evidence for the Lost Tomb of Jesus