Was There No Historical Jesus?

by Earl Doherty



David writes:

    Thank you for making your writings and research
available on the Web.  The Jesus Puzzle is excellent!
It ties together so many loose ends and explains so
much that had been confusing and contradictory to me.
A true revelation!

Allen writes:

    Mind-Bogglingly Undeniable!  Who this side of 
Sensibility can honestly castigate you with the same old, 
miserably dogmatic boilerplate which some of them yet 
continue to do?
    Seriously, great job!  Beats Crossan all to hell.

Sean writes:

    I have two points: "But I saw none of the other
apostles except James, the Lord's brother."  Galatians 
1:19.  This is an odd, and EARLY, statement.  It does 
not fit any type of Community situation.
    "Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a 
wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord?"  
1 Corinthians 9:5.  Wouldn't apostles, disciples or 
brethren have enough authority?

Response to Sean:

James "the Brother of the Lord"

There is no denying that Christians for 19 centuries have taken the phrase in Galatians 1:19 as meaning "sibling of Jesus," and traditions that James the Just was a (half) brother to Jesus of Nazareth may well be solely dependent on James' designation as "ton adelphon tou kuriou", which here makes its one appearance in the New Testament epistles. But was Paul referring to a blood brother?

The term "brother" (adelphos) appears throughout Paul's letters, and was a common designation Christians gave each other. In 1 Corinthians 1:1 Sosthenes is called adelphos, as is Timothy in Colossians 1:1. Neither of them, nor the 500+ "brothers" who received a vision of the spiritual Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:6, are being designated as siblings of Jesus or anyone else. "Brothers in the Lord" (ton adelphon en kurio) appears in Philippians 1:14 (the NEB translates it "our fellow-Christians"). Surely this is the clue to the meaning of the phrase applied to James. Indications are that James was the head of a particular conventicle in Jerusalem which bore witness to the spiritual Christ, and this group may have called itself "brethren of the Lord." (Just as the term adelphos was common in Greek circles to refer to the initiates who belonged to the mystery cults.) The position of James as head of this brotherhood may have resulted in a special designation for him as the brother of the Lord. Or Paul may have used the phrase simply to identify him as one of these "brethren". Thus I cannot agree with Sean that the phrase in Galatians "does not fit any type of Community situation." Note, too, that such designations are always "of the Lord", never "of Jesus."

Paul's listing in 1 Corinthians 15 of those who had undergone a "seeing" of the Christ suggests a number of things. The "more than 500 brothers" seems to be distinct from "all the apostles", although the latter may be a sub-group within the overall brotherhood. Paul implies that 500 is only a portion of it, making it a sizeable organization. Probably its members lived in Jerusalem and its environs, and assembled for meetings and ceremonies. At one of these, a group of over 500 (is this exaggeration on Paul's part, or of the tradition as it came down to Paul?) had some kind of revelatory experience of the spiritual Christ.

The size of this group makes it difficult to believe that it would not have been known in Palestinian circles in its day. If this were a new religion, following an executed messianic pretender or teaching sage, especially one whom all these people were convinced had been raised from the dead, first century commentators would hardly have been so silent about it. But if it were essentially a Jewish sectarian group (the "Lord" of "brothers of the Lord" may even have referred to God), one holding commonplace apocalyptic expectations as well, it would have blended into a landscape with many such manifestations and would not likely have been treated as a separate movement (including by Josephus). However, its size might at the same time have given a certain profile to its leader, James the Just, and notice was taken of him by Josephus—in Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1, where he describes James' murder. (For more on the Josephus passages, including the phrase "brother of the Lord," see Supplementary Article No. 10: The Josephus Puzzle.)

Let's take a close look at 1 Corinthians 9:5, which Sean offers, and note especially the words Paul uses. Here is a literal translation: "Have we not the right to take along a sister (adelphen), a wife, as do the rest of the apostles and the brothers (adelphoi) of the Lord and Cephas?" Look at the word "sister". No one would say that Paul is referring to his own or anyone else's sibling. He means a fellow-believer of the female sex, and he seems to use it in apposition to (descriptive of) the word "wife". Indeed, all translations render this "a believing wife" or "a Christian wife."

This should cast light on the meaning of adelphos, both here and elsewhere. It refers to a fellow-believer in the Lord. Our more archaic rendering as "brethren of the Lord" conveys exactly this connotation: a community of like-minded believers, not "siblings" of each other or anyone else. Thus, a "brother of the Lord," whether referring to James or the 500, means a follower of this divine figure, and in 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul would be referring to some of these members of the Jerusalem conventicle.

It is sometimes argued that the "brothers of the Lord" mentioned here cannot signify the Jerusalem group with James as its head, since Peter is named separately, and "apostles" are also referred to as distinct from these "brothers". I don't see a problem. Paul himself is an apostle (as he vociferously claims in this passage) and he is not a part of James' group; the reference to "the rest of the apostles" may simply be to missionaries like himself, whether from Jerusalem or other places. Or it may be that he is referring to those among the brothers in Jerusalem who specifically do apostolic work. As for Peter, Paul may simply be picking him out of the group for special mention, as someone well known to his readers, even if only by repute. It is even possible that Peter, like Paul, was not formally one of the "brothers".

Can we find other support for the view that James was not known as the blood brother of Jesus? Two of the non-Pauline epistles offer pretty strong evidence. The letter ascribed to James himself opens this way:

Few believe that James the Just actually wrote this letter, but if a later Christian is writing it in his name, or even if only adding this ascription, common sense dictates that he would have identified James as the brother of the Lord Jesus if he had in fact been so, not simply as his servant. A similar void has been left by the writer of the epistle of Jude. (Few likewise ascribe this letter to the actual Jude, whoever he was.) It opens:

Now if James is Jesus' sibling, and Jude is James' brother, then this makes Jude the brother of Jesus, and so he appears in Mark 6. So now we have two Christian authors who write letters in the name of supposed blood brothers of Jesus, neither one of whom makes such an identification. How likely is this?

Scholars have attempted explanations for this silence, but none of them are convincing. E. M. Sidebottom's claim that the absence of a reference to Jesus by James "would be natural in his brother" is unsupported by any reasoning as to why this would be so. Helmut Koester wonders whether the silence in Jude was "chosen for polemical reasons." J. N. D. Kelly suggests that Jude's reticence was due to "humility and reserve." Too bad the letter itself gives no evidence of such traits, with its doom-laden condemnation of those who follow beliefs and practices which make them "brute beasts." Besides, no one would expect or value such "reserve". And the "avoidance of presumption" (another suggested reason) is hardly a strong characteristic of early Christian writers either.

As in all such cases, commentators ignore the overriding consideration that would surely operate. In the highly contentious atmosphere of much Christian correspondence, nobody passes up anything that would help their cause. For "James" and "Jude", the advantage of drawing on a kinship to Jesus himself to make the letter's position and the writer's authority more forceful would annihilate any other dubious motive for being silent about it.

The standard arguments make even less sense in letters that are pseudonymous, because the writer has chosen to adopt a famous name of the past precisely to add authority to his words. He also makes links to others (such as Jude's link to James) in order to increase that authority. There is no sensible reason to think that such a writer would pass up a link to the greatest authority of all, Jesus himself.

Scholars are particularly concerned to hang onto Jude's relationship to Jesus, since if this letter shows that there was no tradition familiar to its author that Jude was in fact the brother of Jesus, and yet he declares Jude to be the brother of James, then James cannot be the brother of Jesus. And that would be a blow. Mark 6 would have to be acknowledged as an invention, or at best a misinterpretation of earlier terminology. With this much at stake, it is not surprising that not a single commentator I've encountered ever raises the question as to whether there might have been no such tradition in the minds of first century Christian writers. No one uses the silence in the Epistles of James and Jude to question whether in fact Galatians 1:19 has been properly interpreted. In any other historical discipline where confessional considerations do not come into play, such a possibility would be closely examined.

Charity writes:

    In Acts 9, the Lord stopped Paul in his tracks and in 
an instant Paul's life was changed.  Now, after being 
engulfed in a blinding light and hearing the voice of 
Jesus booming from heaven, how earthly do you expect 
Paul to view Christ?
    You state (in Part One): "Read passages like Romans 
16:25, Colossians 1:25-27, Ephesians 3:5-10, and ask 
yourself where is Jesus' role in disclosing God's long-
hidden secret and plan for salvation?"  Jesus' role is 
pretty obvious.  He IS the "long-hidden secret and plan 
for salvation."

Response to Charity:

Jesus' Missing Ministry / Paul's Call

Taking your last point first, you have it exactly right. This is precisely Paul's view of Christ. And he tells us clearly that God has revealed this Christ, the long-hidden divine secret, to inspired apostles like himself, through the Spirit. The question I asked is, why does Paul make no mention of the idea that Jesus himself, on earth during an earthly ministry, had anything to do with disclosing his own role, with the revelation of himself as God's long-hidden secret and plan for salvation? To hear Paul tell it, and the later writers pretending to be Paul, God's first disclosure was to him and others like him. Why does writer after writer speak of the revelation of God's secrets surrounding Christ and never express the thought that the Son on earth was the first and primary revealer of such things?

You go on to say that the reconciliation between God and man is the ministry of people like yourself, "to those who are lost. Jesus himself commissioned this to us." It's too bad Paul (or any of the other epistle writers) couldn't have said the same thing, referring to the directives given and the examples set by Jesus in his earthly ministry, as recorded in the Gospels? Why does no one speak as though they are carrying on the work of Jesus? Why do they all describe the current apostolic movement preaching the Christ as something which has proceeded entirely from God, by revelation through the Spirit? Why is there no such thing as apostolic tradition going back to Jesus in the first century correspondence?

Nor does Paul ever speak of that dramatic event you quote from Acts, about the "blinding light and Jesus' booming voice from heaven" on the road to Damascus. If he had undergone such an experience, why in 1 Corinthians 1:1 is it "the will and call of God", why "approved by God" in 1 Thessalonians 2:4, or "called to the gospel of God" in Romans 1? In Galatians 1:16, it is God who has revealed his Son to Paul, God's actions which made him an apostle to the gentiles in 2:8. In 2 Corinthians 3:6, it is God who qualifies Paul to dispense his new covenant. (And didn't Jesus, in his ministry, do any of this dispensing?) The pseudo-Pauline writers continue in the same vein. It is the "commission God gave me," in Colossians 1:25. Paul is commissioned "by the will of God," in Ephesians 1:1; in 3:7 he is "made a minister by God's gift and power." (For more on this, see the Robert Funk Book Review.) And I'll combine both your points by quoting Titus 1:2-3:

By God—our Savior? And can you see a crack in this facade where Jesus could gain a foothold? In the past lie God's promises of eternal life, and his first action on those promises is the present revelation to apostles like Paul who had gone out to proclaim the message. Jesus' own proclamation of eternal life has evaporated into the wind.

Note that 1 Corinthians 15:8 is a reference to some visionary experience of the Christ, similar to the ones Paul has just listed to Peter, James, other apostles, etc. But this is not specified as a conversion experience, and considering that Paul's other references speak exclusively of a call by God, not by Jesus, we must assume that this revelatory "seeing" of the Christ was an experience subsequent to his "call". It may well have been under the influence of the visions of the others, and motivated by Paul's need to claim, as a late arrival, that he too was authorized to be an apostle. In fact, he points to such a vision in 1 Corinthians 9:1 as a vindication of his claim, implying that proper apostleship had to do with visions and inspiration from the Spirit, and nothing to do with whether one had known and followed an earthly Jesus. The latter idea is another deafening silence that fills the epistles.

How "earthly" do I expect Paul to view Christ? Whether Paul is overwhelmed by his vision of the divine Christ or not, I expect him to show an awareness of the human man's ministry, not cut it out of the picture entirely. I expect him to appeal to those elements of Jesus' ministry which would have supported his own activities and the great debates he is continually engaged in. I expect him to face demands from his hearers and converts (who didn't experience the blinding light and booming voice) that he give them some details about this man who was God. I expect him to have to defend before critics and believers alike the unprecedented and (for Jews) blasphemous elevation of a mortal, a crucified criminal, to full identification with the God of Abraham.

And yes, I expect him, precisely because he is overwhelmed by this divinity, to feel an intense interest, a fascination with his incarnated identity and experiences, the work he did on earth, the places where he lived and taught and died and rose from the dead. At the very least, considering what he says in Philippians 3:10, Paul would surely ache to stand on Calvary's hill, on the sacred ground where that great sacrifice for sin he is always talking about took place, or at the very spot before the empty tomb where Jesus' followers saw clear evidence of the resurrection which Paul is so anxious to assure his readers, and himself, has guaranteed a resurrection for the believer.

Wouldn't you, Charity?

Emma writes:

    I would say that Paul's (and others') continual 
references to Jesus having died as a result of crucifixion 
only makes sense if they are talking about an actual event.
    You assume that the Gospel writers basically invented 
most of their material. Why all the specific circumstantial 
detail? Why did they choose to put him within the lifetime 
of people who might read their accounts?  I'd be sure to 
put him a good 200 years prior!
    The writer of John's Gospel obviously has absolutely no 
problem in using the most outrageously spiritual language 
of Jesus, and at the same time making it clear that he's 
talking about an actual person.  Why not Paul?

Response to Emma:

Mythic Deaths / Writing Mark and John

For centuries, the devotees of the Mithraic mysteries spoke vividly of Mithras' slaying of the bull. The same applies to the myths of other Greek salvation deities, many of whom underwent a gruesome death. Did all these believers feel that such things could only make sense as "actual" events—in an historical sense? Remember that the ancient world's "reality" contained spiritual dimensions which were counterparts of and closely interactive with the world of matter. "Actual events" could very well take place in the higher spiritual realms. (See Part Two and Supplementary Articles No. 3: Who Crucified Jesus? and No. 8: Christ as "Man": Does Paul Speak of Jesus as an Historical Person?)

All good fiction writers use vivid (and often accurate) circumstantial detail to bring their stories alive. And I'm not so sure "Mark" wrote when many people's lifetimes went back to the time of Pontius Pilate. Certainly the later evangelists didn't. Besides, if Mark originally meant his Gospel only as a piece of midrash, his first hearers and readers would not have regarded it as history anyway. In any case, I don't think you appreciate the extent of the upheaval created by the first Jewish War throughout all of Palestine. Three quarters of the population were either killed or dispersed. There wouldn't have been too many records, memories, or warm bodies around from the earlier period which were in a position to dispute anything the evangelists wrote. And those that were could simply be ignored or condemned as the product of Satan, an attitude we can see from writers like Ignatius (and, unfortunately, some modern readers of this web site).

Keep in mind, too, that the writer of Mark would have been forced to place his midrashic tale during the period of the earliest traditions about apostles of the Christ. Peter, John and other legendary figures (their visions of the Christ are placed by Paul about 20 years before his letters) could well have represented for Mark the beginnings of the Christian movement.

There are two things to note about your observation on John. One is precisely that the evangelist does "make it clear that he is talking about an actual person." Unfortunately, Paul and the other New Testament epistle writers make it anything but clear; it is we who must bring Gospel assumptions to Paul. And John is outrageous, isn't he? Which should tip us off. All this spiritual language (like Paul's cosmic attributes for the Christ) would be perfectly acceptable if it were applied to a wholly spiritual figure, an intermediary force that reveals God (in accordance with the philosophical thinking of the time). It's only when metaphors describing this force as "living bread", "living water", "the door of the sheepfold", etc., are subsequently applied to a presumed historical man (or worse still, placed in his mouth) that it becomes outrageous and ridiculous. This is one indication that the language in John came first, and the invented Jesus (borrowed from the Synoptics) was superimposed upon it. I discuss this analysis of the Gospel of John in my Supplementary Article No. 2: A Solution to the First Epistle of John.

"Johnson" writes:

    Your web page is well researched and very informative,
but I still believe that a man we now call Jesus did exist
at one time.
    I believe SOMETHING must have happened to get the
entire movement started.  I think it would be extremely
difficult to get people to follow you based on a fictional
character that you had no evidence for.  Jesus was
probably a "wise man" or "sage" who preached that the
Kingdom of heaven would soon be arriving.  Perhaps
Jesus was a little wiser or more charismatic than the
others preaching similar things, so that he gained such
a following. . . .

Response to "Johnson":

How Christianity Started / Rules of Authenticity

The first and second centuries witnessed the preaching of many salvation cults and the deities attached to them: Isis, Mithras, Attis, etc. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus, with popular success, went about preaching the brotherhood of men (in the sexist language of the time) and the existence of a beneficent divine Providence. We have a record of at least one Hellenistic sect which treated the Greek "Logos" principle as a saving divine being. What was the "something" that got all these movements started? Certainly not the life of a human being who was turned into a divinity. The preaching of savior gods and personal salvation was the obsession and spirit of the age. Paul and others like him were simply reflecting that expression in their own ways, preaching a divine entity like all the rest, and had no trouble finding an audience to listen and believe.

As for groups who preached the Kingdom of God, this too was an expression of the age among Jews, based on five centuries of prophetic expectation. It came to a head in the first century in a spate of reform and repentance movements (baptist sects, groups rejecting the Temple cult, etc.), aggravated by a spirit of rebellion against Roman occupation. Such things needed no unique individual 'starter'.

Besides, if the "something" was a wise man or sage who preached the coming of the Kingdom, how did this sage manage to get himself turned into the divine Son of God (a blasphemy to Jews), pre-existent creator of the world, sustaining force of the universe and a cosmic redeemer—as the epistles variously describe him. Such things are hardly the usual paraphernalia attached to even the "wiser and more charismatic" among such figures. This mind-boggling elevation, together with the fact that the early record about the Christian divine Son shows no sign of him having preached (or even lived a life) as a "wise sage", is one of the greatest obstacles to accepting the view which Mr. Johnson supports. That, and the fact that writers like Paul simply make no room for such a human antecedent.

Mr. Johnson goes on to offer another argument, which I will paraphrase. It is a common one and needs addressing. It is often argued that the Gospels introduce certain events, behavior on the part of the Apostles, characteristics allotted to Jesus, etc., which are seemingly embarrassing, unflattering, or paint a negative picture in one way or another, and that if such things are not based on actual traditions why would a writer (even of fiction) choose to introduce them? Mr. Johnson offers examples like the rejection of Jesus in his home town (Matt. 6:1-6), the failure of the disciples to understand Jesus' teaching (Mark. 4), the denial by Peter during the Passion story, etc. This, he claims, hardly presents a picture of "a perfect Son of God".

Very true. But why assume that this is the evangelists' primary objective, or that he would feel this to be necessary? In fact, if the Gospel of Mark is fiction, and was originally meant as such (a metaphorical piece of midrash, let's say), the readers or hearers would sense that such features served other purposes. They would recognize that many elements of the story reflected the experiences of their own community. In a sectarian setting, justification for the present always lies in the past, in a sacred archetype. If the establishment scoffs at the sect's beliefs and practices, this is illustrated as having a 'sanctified grounding' in the similar experiences of the presumed founder: thus the portrayal of Jesus as rejected in his home town. The failure of Jesus' disciples to understand him makes acceptable the failure of outsiders to understand the sect's preaching. Sectarian groups, in the face of failure, often take refuge in declaring their doctrines fit only for the spiritually mature, inaccessible to any but the mind with an 'inside track'. God himself has set up this 'chosen-few' response capability, a kind of predestination, which is the theme of Mark 4:11-12.

Originally, Mark's piece of midrash may have served these sectarian purposes simply in a literary and metaphorical way, but I have little doubt that one of the impulses to eventually regard his tale as having a basis in history (the religious mind is capable of many forms of self-deception) was the advantage, both for the sect's self-image and in its dealings with the outside world, that would come through regarding such a founder and such archetypes as being historically real.

Mark's dim-witted Apostles, slow to understand, serve these archetypal purposes. Sometimes they are portrayed as guilty of other failings, even of denial of Jesus himself (three times before the cock crew). This would show members of the sect that even those greater than they had possessed such weakness, that they could repent and be forgiven, even as Peter was. Many scholars realize that much of Mark's portrayal of the Apostles was designed to provide "lessons" to the community. And by extension, what better role model for such lessons than Jesus himself? Look how even the Lord himself could doubt and fear, during his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. If even he, on the cross, could cry that God had forsaken him (if this is indeed how Mark's cry should be interpreted) no Christian believer with similar fears need feel ashamed or be cast out. Such psychological underpinnings could well be the governing factor in most of the "problem" passages which Mr. Johnson and others hold up as objections. (See the book review of Robert Funk's Honest to Jesus for more on "Rules of Evidence".)

We might note that when the later evangelists deliberately change such potential "problems", this helps prove the rule. Matthew, Luke and especially John regularly change Markan features which they, or their communities, cannot accept, because they would have had different standards. John recasts Jesus as indeed "the perfect Son of God", fully in control of the situation, never doubting, barely suffering, not needing baptism (because he was perfect). This is hardly to be taken as historically accurate, but rather as a fictional creation fitting John's tastes and requirements. But if John and to some extent Matthew and Luke could create their own revised portraits of Jesus to fit their needs, why not Mark? If it is claimed that Mark had to be "true to tradition" and was forced to include elements which were supposedly problematic, why didn't the same strictures apply to the others? John in particular shows not the slightest compunction about doing a thorough recasting job on his Jesus story. He chucked not only the baptism but Gethsemane and the Last Supper. If such important events had taken place—and how could he not have known of them—could they really have ended up on his cutting-room floor?

The whole picture of how the various evangelists have constructed their stories of Jesus leads to only one conclusion: they were not following tradition, they were not reproducing history, they were not the slightest bit concerned with any sort of factual accuracy. However they viewed and used it, each community was constructing its Jesus story for its own needs and purposes, and thus we must assume that every element within that story was completely acceptable and fitted the pecularities of that community's beliefs and practices.

Victor writes:

    (Commenting on the Postscript passage about the
"ludicrous proposition" that almost overnight, Jews and
Gentiles around the empire were converted to the idea
that a crucified criminal had risen from the dead, was
the Son of God and redeemer of the world.)  
    Jesus dies about 30 AD, and now you say that at least
ten years is "overnight".  A fact that you fail to mention
too is Pentecost, and the converted Jews who were there
from all over the empire who then went back to their
respective cities and undoubtedly spread the word.  
They had heard the message from Peter, and in fact had
been there for the events of the crucifixion.

Response to Victor:

The Spread of Christianity / Acts' Pentecost

Within a handful of years of Jesus' supposed death, we know of Christian communities all over the eastern Mediterranean. As Ernst Haenchen points out in his study of Acts, "the congregations at Damascus, Antioch, Ephesus and Rome were founded by unknown Christians." (As no doubt were countless others.) Reading between the lines of the picture Acts presents concerning the spread of the faith, one perceives that Damascus in Syria already possessed a Christian community before Paul was even converted (that is, within a couple of years of Jesus' supposed death!), and that Antioch and Rome had congregations long before Paul got there.

Scholars are increasingly coming to realize that Paul founded almost no congregations himself, he simply built on circles of belief that were already in place. His letters indicate that it was the nature of this belief in the spiritual Christ that he brought new ideas to. In other words, to groups which already believed in a divine Son, he introduced new concepts and emphases of his own, especially concerning the idea that this Son had been crucified (in the spiritual realm) and the significance of that sacrifice. In this work he was challenged by rival apostles who had different ideas. For a look at a good example of this rivalry, that between Paul and the apostle from Alexandria, Apollos, with whom Paul has to deal in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians, see Supplementary Article No. 1: Apollos of Alexandria and the Early Christian Apostolate.)

So who founded all those congregations of the Christ so soon after (perhaps even earlier than!) the supposed death of Jesus? Rome is a case of special interest. If Suetonius' reference to "Chrestus" refers to Christ, Jews who professed the Christ belief were, as I said in the Postscript, numerous and troublesome enough to be expelled from Rome by Claudius in the 40s. The date may even have been as early as 41, hardly more than a decade after the crucifixion, if that. (I acknowledge the possibility that Suetonius' reference may not be to a Christian sect, but simply to messianic Jews, or may even refer to an agitator named "Chrestus", so that his witness to the presence of "Christians" in Rome in the 40s is uncertain.)

However, Paul's letter to the Roman Christians reveals a community that has "many years" behind it (15:23). How could such a community have formed so soon? Who brought the kerygma there?

Jews visiting Jerusalem at the time of the first Easter and (Christian) Pentecost, as Acts maintains, and suggested by Victor? Well, few critical scholars today would subscribe to much, if any, of Acts' picture of the beginnings of the missionary movement. Acts is a tendentious creation, probably from well into the second century, whose object was to create a golden-age, perfect scenario for the onset of Christian preaching, including the role of Paul, even if it was flatly contradicted by the early evidence found in Paul's letters. And one of the deafening silences in that early record is the lack of any reference to Acts' Pentecost, that collective visitation of the Spirit to the Apostles in Jerusalem after the departure of the risen Jesus.

The epistles, especially those of Paul, are full of references to the Spirit and God's bestowal of it upon Christian apostles, but there is not a whisper of the event in Acts which is supposed to have launched the entire missionary movement. In fact, Paul gives us a quite contradictory picture of an apostolic frenzy across the empire, of uncoordinated preachers and prophets like himself (many with no apparent connection to the Jerusalem group), all having received their own individual inspirations from the Spirit. Some of them were so incompatible with Paul's that he could curse such rivals as apostles of Satan (2 Corinthians 10 and 11; compare 1 John 4). And they in turn were no friends of Paul, going about trying to undo or override his work.

Visiting Passover Jews carrying to all parts of the empire the report and their own sudden faith about a crucified subversive risen from the dead who was the Son of God? And welcomed back at home with open arms? This is even more ludicrous than the idea of conversion from the preaching of the "dusty disciples" themselves. At the very least, if Acts' picture were correct, Jesus and the new religion, with its claim that a preacher and miracle-worker had walked out of his grave, would have been the talk of Jews and Gentiles from one end of the empire to the other, and the silence we find in the entire Jewish and pagan record of the next 85 years would have been impossible.

Acts' story of Pentecost is a piece of mythmaking that was designed to translate that amorphous (perceived) activity of the Spirit during Paul's and Peter's time into a representative event which had supposedly launched the golden-age beginning of the Christian movement. Such reconstruction of the past is the epitome of sectarian expression.

Actually, the true state of affairs may be indicated by the later churchman known as Ambrosiaster, who in the 4th century remarked in his commentary on the epistle to the Romans that, "One ought not to condemn the Romans, but to praise their faith; because without seeing any signs or miracles and without seeing any of the apostles, they nevertheless accepted faith in Christ, although according to a Jewish rite."

Whether such Christians were Jews or Gentiles (some scholars even postulate two separate congregations in Rome), such a tradition points to something very telling: that Christian belief in Rome arose independently of any proselytizing movement from outside. How is this possible? Because the genesis of Christianity, all over the empire, was a spontaneous, concurrent expression of the religious and philosophical concepts of the time (see Part Two) and did not begin from any central point or figure of origin—although various travelling apostles could 'spread' their own particular ideas. It expressed a belief in a spiritual entity who, like all the savior deities of the day, operated in the spiritual world.

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