New book claiming Jesus did not exist dismissed by historians

(AP)

A controversial new book claiming Jesus didn't exist has received considerable media attention, but Christian apologists have dismissed its research as inconsistent with the weight of modern scholarship.

In the book, 'No Meek Messiah', author Michael Paulkovich says he studied 126 historical texts by scholars who lived during and shortly after Jesus' lifetime.

He says he found no mention of anyone named Jesus, and therefore brands the scholars "silent" witnesses to the fact that Jesus is a "mythical character".

"When I consider those 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not...I must conclude this 'Jesus Christ' is a mythical character. 'Jesus of Nazareth' was nothing more than urban (or desert) legend, likely an agglomeration of several evangelic and deluded rabbis who might have existed," Paulkovich writes in an introduction to his book.

"It should be clear to even the most devout and inculcated reader that it is all up for Christianity, and in fact has been so for centuries. Its roots and foundation and rituals are borrowed from ancient cults: there is nothing magical or "God-inspired" about them," he adds.

Paulkovich's claims have been picked up by national and international newspapers including the Daily Mail, but apologists maintain that his research is inconsequential.

Simon Edwards, RZIM itinerant speaker and assistant chaplain at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, says that despite many people "at a popular level" doubting the claims of Christianity, "very few serious historians doubt Jesus' existence and his remarkable effect on human history."

In fact, scholars are in almost unanimous agreement that a Jewish man named Jesus did live in the early first century, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

"Biblical scholars Gary Habermas and Michael Licona have collated and analysed over 3,400 scholarly works and articles that have been written on the historical claims surrounding Jesus' life since 1975, so as to determine what are the minimal facts of history which all serious historians agree on," Edwards explains.

"Their work demonstrates that virtually every serious historian, whether Christian, atheist, agnostic or otherwise acknowledges the following three minimal facts about Jesus Christ: (1) that he died by crucifixion, (2) that his disciples genuinely believed that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them on a number of occasions; and (3) that the early church exploded in numbers soon after Jesus death."

While Paulkovich dismisses Christianity as "a very minor and inconsequential cult founded late in the first century," and Jesus himself as "nothing more than oral legend", Edwards maintains that modern scholarship is concerned not with Jesus' existence, but rather his resurrection.

He points to the "absence of any compelling naturalistic explanation for these agreed minimal facts of history," that is, the life, death and ministry of Jesus, that has led many academics to "seriously consider the evidence for the resurrection".

"For example, Oxford Professor Richard Swinburne in his book 'The Resurrection of God Incarnate' writes that it is 97 per cent probable, based on a Bayes Theorem probability analysis of the agreed facts of history, that Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead," Edwards says.

"Even Time Magazine, in an article published last year, acknowledged that this Jewish carpenter from Nazareth has left a bigger historical footprint in the world than any person who has ever existed."

Paulkovich may convince some that Jesus symbolises nothing more than "plenty of hoax and fraud perpetuated along the ages". However, says Edwards, the view that Jesus Christ never existed is "entirely against the weight of modern scholarly opinion." Any Christians alarmed by Paulkovich's book will take comfort from that.