Several years ago, atheist author David Fitzgerald wrote a book called Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All. It was an overview of some of the strongest arguments he knew that disproved the Christian narrative, but there were a lot of questions left unanswered. Why did so many biblical scholars (including non-religious ones) insist Jesus existed? Were the “Jesus myth” arguments all equally viable? What evidence was actually out there to support the idea that a real singular Jesus ever existed?
So Fitzgerald began working on a follow-up book. But several years later, that research, even when edited, clocked in at more than 900 pages. So he split it up into three volumes and called it Jesus: Mything in Action. (As he says in the books, “I just gave birth to triplets.”)
All three books are now available online. As I’ve said about his work before, this is not written like a dull academic paper. It’s easy to understand, even if you’re new to the subject, and it’s an important debate that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should.
In the excerpt below, Fitzgerald introduces the “trilogy” by raising a seemingly straightforward question: Which Jesus are we even talking about?
Two billion or so people on this planet claim to be on a first name basis and in constant psychic contact with Jesus of Nazareth. This book is not for them. Instead, I want to talk to you — those of you who have weighed the claims of religions like Christianity and found them wanting; or perhaps never even took them that seriously to begin with: you, the atheists, the agnostics, the secular humanists, the unbelievers — the complete heretics, if you will. Here is my question to you, Heretic Nation: Did Jesus exist?
What a silly question! Fifteen-plus years ago, it had never even crossed my mind that Jesus might not have been a real figure. Sure, he was probably the most over-rated figure in history, but of course there had to have been a Jesus (or even several of them) wandering around first-century Galilee and Judea, preaching and teaching until he was crucified and became revered by his followers as the divine Son of God. How could a major world religion start without a real person at its core to found it?
Or so I thought. What made me change my mind? Ironically enough, all of those presumptions started to come apart the moment I became curious to know what Jesus really said and did, and how much of his story was simply legendary embellishments piled on later. Only when I began looking into the historical evidence for Jesus did I begin to realize how shockingly sparse it is. And not just sparse; every word of what little we do have is complete hearsay — and also seriously problematic, contradictory and suspiciously reminiscent of older writings… Still, I soldiered on, comfortably certain there was a real Jesus to be found somewhere. But long story short, after two years of pulling on that thread, it became increasingly apparent that there was no sweater left. I was stunned and baffled, but I couldn’t shake the conclusion that there had been no Jesus of Nazareth at all — a conviction that has only grown stronger since.
But here’s a second question for you: Does it matter if Jesus was real or not? Don’t answer just yet; because first we need to ask a different question: Which Jesus?
What do I mean when I ask which Jesus we are talking about? Well, even that simple question is more complicated than it looks. That’s because the truth is, there are (and as we’ll see, always have been, even right from the beginning) lots of Jesuses, each as individual as a snowflake. For the purposes of our discussion, let’s concentrate on two in particular. In reality, both are placeholders for two huge family trees of competing Jesuses, but for the moment we can pretend there are just two of them: The “Jesus of Faith,” and the “Jesus of History.”
The whole series is like the opposite of A Case for Christ. With research instead of confirmation bias. Be sure to check it out.