Self-proclaimed Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill has written a book in which he claims that Jesus was fabricated by a little-known group called the Flavians. He also claims he has some sort of “smoking gun” type of “confession” from these ancient people that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that they entered into a conspiracy with the Roman government of the time to fabricate a character called Jesus as a “gentle Messiah” figure to wage psychological warfare on, and control, the masses so they would pay Caesar taxes without complaining. He is apparently going to present this evidence at a symposium later this month to which he is selling tickets. Atheists don’t believe in God, and therefore, don’t believe in Jesus, so Atwill’s claim must be immediately adopted and enthusiastically promoted by Atheists, right? …Wrong. Atheists are a notoriously skeptical lot, and when reviewing this claim by Atwill of a fabricated Jesus, their famous skepticism is not only alive, but thriving.
The first thing that jumps out at some Atheists when reviewing Atwill’s claim is his description of what he calls “evidence” of his theory: the gospels themselves. He claims that he sees “parallels” and “connections” between the gospels and historian Flavius Josephus’ book entitled The War of the Jews. The reason why this jumps out at many Atheists is because Atheists know that whenever people see conspiracies, “connections,” and “parallels” between two seemingly unrelated texts/events/signs/Nostradamus’ verses etc., it’s generally not because there is any actual connection between the two works in question but rather it’s because our brains are wired to make sense out of chaos, find connections between things, and create order where none is organically available. Our brains also work on a platform called “confirmation bias,” which is defined by Science Daily this way: “In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.”
Besides confirmation bias, humans also have a tendency to utilize a brain function called “motivated reasoning.” This happens when someone wants to arrive at a particular conclusion, and this desire shapes and shades their processes and finally, their outcomes, or findings, when studying a given work. Because Atheists are, in general, very aware of these scientific brain processes, Atwill’s description of a vast “conspiracy” that he finds evidence of in the gospels themselves sets off major alarm bells.
Indeed, Atheist message boards and Facebook pages are flooded with both people asking questions about Atwill’s work and a growing sense of skepticism about it. In a blog post by noted freethinker Dr. Richard Carrier entitled Atwill’s Cranked-Up Jesus, he makes no bones about how he feels when discussing Atwill’s research:
… his theory entails a massive and weirdly erudite conspiracy of truly bizarre scope and pedigree, to achieve a truly Quixotic aim that hardly makes sense coming from any half-intelligent elite of the era..all to posit that the entire Christian religion was created by the Romans (and then immediately opposed by it?), who somehow got hundreds of Jews (?) to abandon their religion and join a cult that simply appeared suddenly without explanation on the Palestinian (?) book market without endorsement. I honestly shouldn’t have to explain why this is absurd.
Dr. Carrier goes on to call Atwill “a total crank,” and says it is a bunch of “pseudo-historical nonsense.” He then outlines and explains eight major problems with Atwill’s thesis, including the fact that the gospels and epistles contradict each other so much that it would be impossible to use them as a “systematic” outline of events in the first place.
Numerous Facebook groups devoted to Atheism and Agnosticism have also been sending around skeptical reviews, such as the one done by Robert M. Price, Professor of Theology and Scriptural Studies at the Colemon Theological Seminary. In this review, Price points out the aforementioned “alarm bell producing” parallels seen by Atwill. Price writes:
Atwill gives himself license to indulge in the most outrageous display of “parallelomania” ever seen. He connects widely separated dots and collects sets of incredibly far-fetched verbal correspondences, from gospel to gospel and between the gospels and Josephus, then uses them to create ostensible parallel accounts. Then he declares himself justified in borrowing names, themes, and intended references from one “parallel” account and reading them into the other, thus supplying “missing” features.
It is this “finding of parallels” that immediately sets skeptics’ thoughts on the “debunk” track, and rightly so. Another blogger at the Tektonics website points out the “conspiracy-mindedness” of Atwill’s work.
Facebook has come alive with questions about the upcoming conference in London, during which Atwill has promised to reveal new information that will be compelling and persuasive. For now, though, Atheists remain skeptical of Atwill’s claim of a fabricated Jesus. Atheists generally believe that the character of Jesus was fabricated, although some believe he was a historical person; however, Atwill’s story doesn’t seem to gel in any circle, Atheistic or otherwise. That most likely won’t stop Atheists from following this story though, particularly during and after the upcoming London seminar. Will Atwill produce a blazing piece of smoking gun evidence of an ancient confession about a fabricated Jesus, or will he simply indulge more of the same “conspiracy” thinking Atheists are loath to accept?
By: Rebecca Savastio
Related: Jesus Was Made Up?