Did the Romans invent the story of Jesus?

Without wasting much time, for one to think of the historicity of Jesus as invented hoax is below the academic belt. It’s like somoene who still believes climate change is hoax or holding on to the geocentric theory of the universe. Of course several people continue to hold on to fake theories as though their lives depend on them.

The “Historical Jesus” movement is a twentieth century quest to search for the historical veracity of Jesus Christ. Several theories exist in this movement. There are those who think the miracles of Jesus were made-beliefs (naturalistic view). Example is the “Jesus Seminar” formed in 1985 by Westar Institute to trace the historical Jesus outside the miracles in the Bible. Other schools of thought believe that Jesus never existed (mythicists), and if he even existed, he’s just one of the wise people (moralists) who walked on the surface of the Earth like what William Lecky, a notable British historian and opponent of Christianity says about Jesus that he was an “ideal character” presented to the world.

One significant recent critic of the existence of Jesus is the computer programmer Joseph Atwill’s claim that the story of Jesus was invented by some Roman aristocrats. Atwill is a self-acclaimed “Bible scholar” without any professional training in theological methodologies. It was in 2013 when Atwill hit the news with his discovery. Atwill had already hatched such ideas in his previous published book, (Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus, 2005). Similar theories are found in the writings of Italian amateur theorist Francesco Carotta (Jesus was Caesar: On the Julian Origin of Christianity: An Investigative Report, 2005), and accountant Daniel Unterbrink (Judas the Galilean: The Flesh and Blood Jesus, 2004) 1.

Atwill’s theory suggests that Christianity was invented by Emperor Titus, a member of the Flavian dynasty, following the destruction of Jerusalem in c.70 AD. If taken as a serious argument, that suggests no Jesus Christ, Christian church, apostles, manuscript, or whatever existed prior to c.70 AD in Judea. But Atwill’s thesis falls for so many reasons.

1. How can someone invent a story in the first century that mentions Jewish towns and provinces and expect Jews to believe such stories? Early Christianity was mainly of Jewish adherents. And why should they be persecuted after a short period of time? And why are there no Jewish literature from the second century mentioning such an invention?

2. Authentic historical records from Roman historians mention the presence of Christianity as early as in c. 64 AD before the destruction of Jerusalem. Tacitus, a historian and governor in his Annals gives accounts of Roman Emperors from Tiberius (14-37 AD), Caligula (37-41 AD), Claudius (41-54 AP. AD), Nero (54-68 AD) in which he metions the persecution of Christians under Emperor Nero in 64 AD. He precisely mentions Christus (Christ) as “executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate” (Annals XV.44). As a governor, Tacitus might have presided over the execution of Christians the same way Pliny, another Roman governor and historian who gave accounts of the execution of Christians in his Letters (Epistulae X.96). Classical historians on Christianity did not mention any conspiracy of an invented sect to overthrow emperor worship of the Romans. The Roman empire itself, according to historical accounts, was hostile to Christianity until the fourth century.

3. J. P. Holding, a Christian apologist, in a review of Atwill’s book writes, ” Even more problematic for Atwill is what is said by Roman writers whose works he ignores. Tacitus’ comment in Annals 15.44 places the origins of Christianity, and Roman reaction to it, nearly a decade before Titus’ final victory. Atwill says nothing at all about this critical passage; nor does he mention Pliny’s letter to Trajan asking what to do about Christians.”2

4. Scholars who even oppose the story of Jesus, mythicists, have debunked and rubbished Atwill’s claims of an invented Jesus’ story as nonsense. Dorothy Milne Murdock, also known as Acharya S, is a staunch proponent of the Christ myth theory and one who believes the Jesus story was invented from the Egyptian god Horus, says: “[T]here is no scientific evidence that the canonical gospels were written by any Flavians, whether Josephus or otherwise.”3 Robert Price is a New Testament scholar who denies the existence of Jesus Christ writes about Atwill’s thesis: “One hates to be so severe in the analysis of the work of an innovative thinker who gives us the gift of a fresh reading of familiar texts, but in the present case it is hard to euphemize. The reading given here is just ludicrous.”4

We can go on and on with counter factualities. The evidences in favor of the existence of Jesus are overwhelming and beyond myth. The only myth here is mythicism that seeks to sensationalize exaggerated facts to create a story. Atwill’s claims are just one of hundreds of atheistic theories against Jesus Christ.

  1. Tim O’Neill, An Atheist Historian Examines the Evidence for Jesus (Part 1 of 2)  
  2. J. P. Holding, “Joseph Atwill’s “Caesar’s Messiah”“. Last visited 27.09.2017.  
  3. Dorothy Milne Murdock, “A Conversation on the Caesar’s Messiah Thesis.” Last visited 27. 09. 2017  
  4. Robert M. Price, “Joseph Atwill’s, Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus.” Last visited 27.09. 2017  
Clifford Owusu-Gyamfi

Clifford Owusu-Gyamfi

Pastor/PhD Student
I am a Seventh-day Adventist pastor designate for the Adventist Fellowship Geneva in Switzerland, and studying for a PhD at the University of Geneva.
Clifford Owusu-Gyamfi
- 3 weeks ago
Clifford Owusu-Gyamfi