For all I know you may never end up hearing about it, but PRWeb recently covered the story of Joseph Atwill, a Biblical scholar who has discovered a document apparently supporting the idea “that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats and that they fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ.”
Quoting the document’s linchpin statement, “we invented Jesus Christ,” the article goes into detail about Atwill’s “ancient confession.” Before this stumbling block gets any further, though, there are two crucial things to consider in regard to its claims about the figure of Jesus Christ.
Atwill attests his discovery proves Jesus as a fictional character fabricated by Romans for the pacification of an erstwhile unruly Jewish populace. What this notion fails to account for is the implausibly extensive knowledge of Hebrew prophecy needed by said Romans to compose the Biblical messiah.
Biblical scholarship holds that there are more than 300 Tanakh/Old Testament prophecies manifested in the figure of Jesus Christ. Even cutting the number down to the messianic essentials as listed thoroughly by Mary Fairchild on About.com, the prophecies comprising Christ’s life would have been far from common knowledge. Ranging from lineage prophecies to obscure references buried in the psalms, to infer that such thorough understanding of Judaic scripture would be gleaned and compatibly pieced together by anyone – especially foreigners – is not exactly watertight. Even Jewish scholars, who live solely to study the scriptures, have not correlated the entirety of the Tanakh’s prophecies concerning the messiah. If this knowledge is beyond the grasp of Judaism, for whom the scriptures were written in the first place, setting the task of building a Hebrew god within the reach of Romans is unlikely, to say the least.
The other issue Atwill’s evidence suffers from comes by way of Jesus Christ’s followers. The document purports fabrication of the New Testament, but if Jesus was completely fictional, how then to explain the historically verified lives and deaths of his foremost followers?
As John Oakes lays out at Evidence for Christianity, Eusebius, a 4th century bishop, has been found to have documented the deaths of Peter and Paul. These are just two followers of Jesus that Atwill’s discovery would imply never existed, characters in the fiction that is the New Testament. This ouroboric claim pits history against itself, and these aren’t the only scriptural witnesses history has authenticated. Eusebius, Polycarp, Papias of Hierapolis and Tertullian are all writers who lived within one to three centuries of the Biblical advent of Christ and corroborate the existence of his apostles. If the New Testament was a work of fiction, if Jesus was false, then His followers would have to be false as well. To the contrary, though, we can trust that the many followers of Christ were indeed true. (After all, we accept the existence of other historical figures with far more distanced testimony than those surrounding Christ.) If, then, they were true, what does that say for the object of their first-person faith?
In the end, those who will believe will believe, and those who will not will not. I put no real stock in Atwill’s discovery to sway those who love Christ any more than I trust these words to sway those who do not. I only hope that, whichever side you fall on, you analyze and justify your reasons for being there.
Seek the truth.