Robert Stewart, Ph.D. & Marilyn Stewart, M.Div.
Watchman Fellowship, Inc.
The claim that Jesus never existed is virtually unknown prior to the 18th century. Up to that time even Christianity’s fiercest detractors did not deny that Jesus was a historical person. Most New Testament scholars have viewed the arguments behind this claim as too weak to merit a response or to merit anything more than a reference in a footnote. The radical English Deist Lord Bolingbroke in the late 18th century is known to have promoted this idea, followed by French Enlightenment thinkers Constantin-Francois Volney and Charles Francois Dupuis who argued that Christianity borrowed from ancient Persian and Babylonian myths.
The notion gained some traction in the mid-1800s when German theologian Bruno Bauer attacked the historical merit of the Gospels and Paul’s letters by insisting they were inventions of early 2nd century authors. Bauer claimed that early writings that mention Jesus [such as the Jewish historian Josephus and Roman historian Tacitus] were late, secondary or forged. Christianity, Bauer insisted, was the product of Roman Stocism, Greek Neo-Platonism and Judaism, and Jesus was invented as its founder. Though Bauer’s arguments were effectively refuted by scholars, his teaching left at least one lasting mark: Karl Marx, Bauer’s student and the father of Communism, incorporated Bauer’s claims of a mythical Jesus into his ideology.
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