Atheists Skeptical of Atwill’s Claim of a ‘Fabricated Jesus’

Atheists Skeptical of Atwill’s Claim of a ‘Fabricated Jesus’

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

Recent: Mother Teresa Was No Saint Says Study

Related: Jesus Was Made Up?


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Robert M. Price Blog


7 Responses to "Atheists Skeptical of Atwill’s Claim of a ‘Fabricated Jesus’"

  1. pixelhungry   March 27, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    Look out of the window, or go to your dead relatives grave site, or turn on the news. You are all arguing over the same stuff that any logical person would dismiss in seconds.

  2. Sean   May 22, 2014 at 8:19 am

    I don’t mind the atheist community being skeptical of Atwill’s hypothesis. What I find disturbing are the attempts at debunking something they have zero understanding of. Read Atwill’s book. Read the material he is referencing. That might give your critiques validity…maybe. Although I find Prices critique sincere, it really doesn’t hold up when you evaluate it. Every other attempt to disprove the Flavian hypothesis is just air…including the above article.

  3. ren (@ren1999)   October 25, 2013 at 5:26 am

    These comments are awful. I do not expect atheists to not read Atwill’s book and just make general dismissing comments. Prove to me that you read the book by arguing specific points. Was not Simon Peter a Jewish rebel leader that surrendered at the Battle of Jerusalem? Was not John also a rebel leader who was spared and sent to life in prison? READ THE BOOK. Do not dismiss it for any reason until you have read it.

  4. Murph Callahan   October 13, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Re: the statement in the above article that “…the gospels and epistles contradict each other so much….”: Read “Paul: Follower of Jesus, or Founder of Christianity,” by David Wenham, a scholar who is very aware of the perils of “parallelism.” Nevertheless, Wenham is convincing in his thesis that Paul was wide awake to both Jesus’ life and teachings. Similarly, Ben Witherington’s “Jesus, Paul, and the End of the World,” demonstrates that Paul agreed thoroughly with Jesus’ eschatological teachings.

  5. Mark Zima   October 12, 2013 at 4:45 am

    There is good reason to be skeptical of Atwill, but the article goes astray when it starts knocking the idea of conspiracy generally. Faith-healers, for example, often conspire to defraud the foolish who are eager to believe. And to think of the origins of the Book of Mormon and the founding of Mormonism as being some sort of conspiracy is not far-fetched, for another example. It’s just that Atwill’s particular conspiracy theory that is far-fetched.

  6. Nobama   October 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    This is beyond idiotic. Hey, lets all get mental health exams from ‘self proclaimed’ psychiatrists as well.

    Everyone can see the agenda here. There is no reason to promote the ravings of a man with NO experience in the field, other than to continue a narrative of attacking Christians.

    Has this outlet run an article on Holocaust deniers? Among historians, they are about as numerous as those who say Jesus was a ‘fabrication’. Pure idiocy.

  7. Peter Thurston   October 11, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    I’m glad that the atheist community’s response is one of skepticism, if we merely start accepting stuff on word how are we better than those we frown upon e.g. Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron etc etc… Yet I still look forward to what Atwill has to offer and I do hope that there’s something to be found here, even if it only ends as a cautionary reminder to the atheist community that we can also get carried away at times.


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