James Crossley compares Joseph Atwill’s Jesus conspiracy theory to Dan Brown fiction

J. Warner Wallace tweeted this article from the UK Daily Mail featuring comments by atheist historian James Crossley. The article responds to a sensational story that came out in the past week about an alleged conspiracy by ancient Romans to “invent” Jesus. Naturally, this was reported far and wide in the press. But this article by Dr. Crossley offers a more sober assessment.

Here’s the introduction:

An American scholar claims to have made a controversial discovery that proves the entire story of Jesus was made up by Roman aristocrats.

Joseph Atwill asserts that Christianity did not start as a religion, but was instead created as a sophisticated propaganda tool to pacify subjects of the Roman Empire.

He says he noticed a pattern forming when he was studying the only surviving account of first-century Judea, which he claims contains dozens of parallels between the life of a Roman emperor and that of Jesus in the New Testament.

Mr Atwill argues that these ancient ‘confessions’ provide ‘clear evidence’ that the biography of Jesus is ‘actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar’.

The theory itself seems to be based on finding parallels between the New Testament sources and other ancient sources:

[Atwill] says he stumbled upon his discovery while studying War of the Jews by Josephus – the only remain first-person account of first-century Judea – alongside the New Testament.

He said: ‘I started to notice a sequence of parallels between the two texts.

‘Although it’s been recognised by Christian scholars for centuries that the prophesies of Jesus appear to be fulfilled by what Josephus wrote about in the First Jewish-Roman war, I was seeing dozens more.

‘What seems to have eluded many scholars is that the sequence of events and locations of Jesus ministry are more or less the same as the sequence of events and locations of the military campaign of [Emperor] Titus Flavius as described by Josephus.’

[…]Atwill maintains he can demonstrate that ‘the Roman Caesars left us a kind of puzzle literature that was meant to be solved by future generations, and that the solution to that puzzle is “We invented Jesus Christ and we’re proud of it”.’

I’m not very optimistic about these Jesus-parallels approaches to history, but maybe there is something to it this time.

But Dr. Crossley doesn’t think that there is:

But bible academic Professor James Crossley, from the University of Sheffield, compared Mr Atwill’s theory to a Dan Brown fiction book.

He told Mail Online: ‘These types of theories are very common outside the academic world and are usually reserved for sensationalist literature.

‘They are virtually non-existent in the academic world.’

He also suggested the theories are not taken seriously by experts.

Mr Crossley said: ‘People do debate about how much we can know about Jesus, but the idea that Romans invented stories about Jesus is outside of the academic world.’

He added that this sort of theory can be ‘irritating’ to religion academics.

Dr. Crossley has debated against evangelical scholars, in particular Dr. Michael Bird and Dr. William Lane Craig. Although he is on the other side, he is aware of the reasons why people believe in a more traditional picture of the historical Jesus.  It’s good to see experts on the other side weighing in on these sensational stories.

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3 thoughts on “James Crossley compares Joseph Atwill’s Jesus conspiracy theory to Dan Brown fiction”

  1. Well, I’d be interested to know if Crossley has specific challenges to Atwill’s ‘theory. They seem to be lacking here, which is mostly a recitation of Atwill’s idea. There occur to me many reasons against it, among them: Atwill ignores the many arguments for the early belief and writing of Scripture; & ignores the intricate tapestry & interrelationship of OT & NT. The Bible is not a book that man would make up if he could, or could make up if he would.

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