God is from Mars, Jesus is from Venus (Literally)

Bill Maher’s recent comment reminded me of a thought experiment I came up with to try to determine what, if anything, Jesus really was. This isn’t an attempt to determine this with certainty. It’s just a “what if…” to see what different conditions would look like.

Who was Jesus? I came up with six distinct possibilities. What if Jesus:
(A) Didn’t exist
(B) Was an ordinary guy
(C) Was a magician
(D) Was an alien
(E) Was a time traveller
(F) Was a deity/spawn of deity

I’ve arranged this list in decreasing order of likelihood. You are welcome to propose and discuss other options that I’ve overlooked. The real answer may even be a variation of one of the above or some combination of more than one.

Let’s take this list and see where it gets us.

Where's Jesus?

(Image from Religious Freaks.)

The first possibility is (A): Jesus never existed. This is quite likely. There are no contemporaneous accounts of his life, only stories that came later. Furthermore, some of the things he is supposed to have done are so monumental that you’d think that somebody would have bothered to mention them when they were busy recording the other events of the day. (“Dear diary: Today the whore of Babylon raised her rates again. I’m going to have to cut back to just once a week. Lot’s wife is almost gone now, so I’m going to have to buy another salt lick for the cattle. Oh, BTW, I saw this crazy dude walking across the lake.”)

Despite the plausibility of this scenario, it’s the most pedestrian of the explanations. What if Jesus had been real, at least a little bit? What was the original story that got distorted into what we know today?

Ray Comfort deep-throats a banana

(Image from Iron Chariots.)

Option (B): Jesus was an ordinary guy. What if he was just some preacher guy? What if he was just some annoying twit like Ray Comfort, who stands on the street corner annoying passersby with his logical fallacies? No miracles, no prophecies. He really said the things that are attributed to him, but he never did any of the supernatural stuff.

This is a very real possibility. Then all of the miracles and fulfilled prophecies were added in later.

Join the cult of Blainetology

Option (C): Jesus was David Blaine. The miracles that people witnessed were just street magic. Then as these stories were retold, the size of the illusion was exaggerated and new miracles were added to round out his repertoire. The guy could have played Vegas!

This is another very real possibility. It would have been very easy to pass off stage or street magic as supernatural ability. Charlatans continue to do it to this day.

Alf

Option (D): Jesus was Alf. This is what Bill Maher suggested. It is worthwhile to remember Arthur C. Clarke’s third law:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

In this scenario, everything that Jesus is supposed to have done he very easily could have done. An alien landing in the middle of a simple society could very easily end up being worshipped, even if all he did was land for ten minutes so he could change a tire. There is still the problem of no contemporaneous accounts of his existence, so I would suggest that if this scenario has any merit, it would be that somebody appeared in the boondocks (the way the UFOs always seem to do even today) where there aren’t many people. The alien could have said a few things, done a few tricks, then left. The religion would have grown up around this. As in any oral tradition, embellishments would still occur, throw in a few unrelated stories that you can bend to fit the facts, and you have yourself a fully-realized religion.

Despite having just shown you how this scenario could have played out, I’d say the liklihood of it is remote. Existing UFO reports from today are shoddy at best, so we don’t have a good reason to believe that we’re being visited, either now or in the past.

World Health Organization

(Image from Brickshelf.)

Option (E): Jesus was Dr. Who. Just thinking about this turns my stomach. I mean, how stupid would our ancestors have to have been in order to be fooled by those cheesy special effects?

Maybe he was a more believable time traveller. Well this one would be almost identical to the alien hypothesis. It really wouldn’t matter if the super-advanced technology that the ancients saw was extra-terrestrial or not. I can imagine the traveller getting spanked big time when he returns to his own time for screwing over the timeline as bad as he did.

On a probability level, I’d have to assess this one as being even more unlikely than the extra-terrestrial. Life almost certainly exists elsewhere in the universe. The only question is whether they’ve gotten around to our remote outpost. The possibility of time travel is purely speculative at this point. There are lots of hypotheses, but they’re so far beyond our current ability to build that I cannot come up with a realistic probability figure. Until we have that, we have to keep this option in the near-fantasy category.

God

Finally, we come to option (F): Jesus was a god or god-spawn. This would account for everything attributed to him. It is important to realize that even if this scenario were true, we don’t know that the ancient scribes recorded the events and sayings properly. Modern newspapers can’t get their facts straight, so why would we assume that the ancients could, especially since they were writing decades after the events they chronicle? Even if the story is largely true, we probably have some of the major tenets wrong.

What about the probability of this option being the correct one? I’d say it is almost zero. There is no credible evidence that a god exists. Don’t waste your time on this scenario.

Conclusion

As I said above, I arranged these possibilities in the order of their likelihood. Option (A) is the most probable, even if it is the least fun. Some of the other options are quite plausible. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if any of the options except (F) turned out to be true.

There are a lot of choices on that list. Take you pick. Just make it a rational one.

11 Responses to “God is from Mars, Jesus is from Venus (Literally)”

  1. Rick Says:

    Gee, a mention of the Christ-as-time-traveler scenario without a mention of Michael Morcock’s wonderful treatment of this in his Novela “Behold the Man”.

    http://www.amazon.com/Behold-Man-Michael-Moorcock/dp/1585677647/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1202126967&sr=8-1

  2. ParrotLover77 Says:

    I think B/C is the most likely, personally. Now, that doesn’t mean that the historical Jesus did much of anything (option B), nor might his name even be Jesus, but over time the story changed and changed until you get what we have today.

    I guess it’s hard for me to wrap my head around somebody being completely made up and get such a large following without there already being an oral tradition that stemmed back from a real person (no matter how ordinary that person might have been).

    But I guess anything is possible.

    The Doctor so is not Jesus. The Doctor is too good to do something that would cause mankind to war and kill for centuries. The Master, maybe, but not the Doctor.

    Hmmm. The more I think about it, the more Jesus may be Galifrean in origin. Miracles? Definitely a sonic screwdriver at work. The resurrection? Hello!? Regeneration! Although the face change might be hard to explain. Maybe that timelord’s TARDIS’ chameleon circuits worked better and with that and some psychic paper might have been able to fool people into seeing the same person he was before.

  3. vjack Says:

    I love the Jesus on a milk carton image! Good stuff.

  4. Ron Britton Says:

    Rick:

    Thanks for the tip. I’m surprised I hadn’t heard about that book.

    ParrotLover:

    I used to think B was the most likely. Maybe it still is, especially if almost everything attributed to him was added later. There was a fair number of preachers wandering around in those days. One of them is bound to have accumulated enough followers to make it stick.

  5. Richard Says:

    Comment 5: I can’t believe no one pointed this out yet.

    “I’ve arranged this list in increasing order of likelihood.”

    I’m pretty darn sure you meant “decreasing”.

  6. Ron Britton Says:

    Whoops! It’s fixed now! Thanks!

  7. ParrotLover77 Says:

    There are a lot of historians that believe in the historical existence of Jesus. Actually there are citations even in the Wikipedia.

    “One recent study has stated that biblical scholars and most historians accept the historical existence of Jesus and regard claims against his existence as ‘effectively refuted’.[35]”

    Biblical scholars OF COURSE believe it, but why would most historians if there wasn’t sufficient evidence? Of course the wikipedia is not authoritative, but I’m just using it as an example. I saw a special on History Channel too a while back on the historical Jesus (ie, in a non-supernatural point of view) and the scientists they had on there were all pretty well convinced he existed in some fashion, actually asking the question “was it made up” at one point in the special at which point they all pretty well agreed he existed in varying degrees of biblical accounts (minus the supernatural stuff). Of course this could all be through rose-color glasses on their part, but that is where I base my thinking of “B” is most likely.

    I don’t really even know where to begin researching the lack of actual existence, other than as a thought experiment (as in this post). I haven’t seen a good argument against from a historian with respect to evidenciary reasions why he never existed. That could be for a lack of effort on my part, but I’m just saying. 🙂

    *shrug*

  8. Brian Says:

    What I find interesting is that the basic story of Jesus is hardly unique to Jesus. There were many other “messiahs” that predated the time of Jesus, and most of them were also claimed to be born of a virgin, descended from God, capable of miracles, and here to save us from ourselves. This suggests to me that the commonality of such stories tells us more about the times and cultures that spawned them than it does the life of any particular individual. Given that this legend was so widespread, I suppose it was only a matter of time before one of them stuck.

    Christianity is an accident of history. If not for Constantine, Rome would probably have continued to embrace some form of paganism. One can only imagine the horrors Europe (and eventually the rest of the world) would have been spared if a far more tolerant form of polytheism had prevailed and the cult of Christianity had been relegated to the dustbin where it belongs.

    Did Jesus exist? Frankly, I don’t care. But if I had to bet, I’d probably go with option #1. The prevalence of such stories at the time, and the utter lack of compelling evidence for his existence would seem to make that the most likely conclusion.

  9. Ron Britton Says:

    ParrotLover:

    Brian said it best. There is virtually nothing original in the Jesus myth, at least as far as the magic and origin story go. Some of the things he is alleged to have said might be unique to this story.

    All I’m asking for is a little bit of corroborating evidence that the guy existed. Options A & B are probably indistinguishable from our perspective in the 21st century. If he really existed but he was some two-bit preacher, then there’s little doubt why there are no contemporaneous accounts of his existence. He was just too small for anyone to notice. Then after he’s gone, oral traditions being what they are, some of those other stories got confounded with his.

    Or he never existed, but these multiple related myths got consolidated around one figure. Who knows where the name came from? It could have been made up.

    In fact, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if there were several preachers in that same period who were preaching similar messages. Often throughout history, when an idea’s time has come, it will be conceived by multiple people independently. Maybe the age was ripe for sermons about peace, love, and charity. All of their sermons eventually got consolidated along with the magic tales.

    So we probably can’t tell whether he existed or not, because if he existed, the evidence hasn’t survived. The bottom line is that either option A or B (or possibly C) is much more probable than any of the others. Just not as much fun. I’d laugh pretty long and hard if we ever found out that billions of people have been worshipping Alf for the last two millennia.

  10. ParrotLover77 Says:

    From that perspective (so small hardly noticed) I can see your point about “what’s the difference.” I personally don’t give this subject much thought at all, but the fact remains that there are many historians that believe he historically existed, whether or not they believe supernatural portions happened. So I guess I’m differing to them because I just don’t know. Certainly the “legend” portions were available from many sources (as was much of the old testament / Tora) with the way stories get passed from culture to culture because of trade. Again, I really don’t care much one way or the other, but I feel it’s important to “eat our own dog food” and differ to experts in the field, just as we ask Creationists to do with respect to other scientific endeavors. Being a non-historian, I can’t say one way or the other on the topic, I just know that it seems to be common belief that a historical Jesus existed — for whatever reason. Maybe they are biased? It wouldn’t be the first time religious bias affected influenced (aka corrupted) science. I’d love to be proven wrong here. But right now, in this blog, all we have are thought experiments. Which, while useful and entertaining, isn’t a peer-reviewed paper (for instance). If the general consensus swings the other way, I’d love to hear about. History Channel may have lied to me. 😉

    As for Constantine… Certainly Christianity was brought forth to dominance because of Rome. But I’m not sure all atrocities attributed to Christianity would not have happened just because Christianity didn’t exist. During periods such as the Crusades, Christianity was merely a catalyst. Political motivations by the church and irrational hatred is what drove the wars / killing. Even if some other religion was dominant, would they not have had the desire to “fix” the heathens? Their religion would still have been different from the Muslims and they still would have probably killed them. But it’s easy to speculate because the truth is we don’t really know what would have happened.

    My POV is that a specific religion is just gang colors. What’s the difference between gangs? Not a damn thing! Maybe race, maybe some orientation, maybe hobbies (bikes vs cars vs whatever), but when you get down to it, it’s all about territory and money. Well, the same is true about countries with their religious inspired wars. Your enemy doesn’t wear the right colors (religion) and/or they walked on your turf (trespassed through your country), it’s time to kill them.

    So I’m sure history would be different, but I’m not so sure violence/wars/killing would have been avoided. We’d just have some other religious zealotry to blame for it.

  11. Jeremy White Says:

    I agree with ParrotLover.
    There’s certainly many historical experts saying Jesus existed and the fact that many of the legends about Jesus can be found elsewhere, doesn’t take away from evidence that he DID exist.

    From my belief, those legends were merely attributed to Jesus in order to convince people he was the messiah.

    And some people may have exaggerated some events.
    Some idiot may have seen Jesus give some bread to 25 people that didn’t really fill them up, but they were grateful.

    “Oh God, Jesus, thanks for all this bread! I’m so full now!”

    This guy is pretty impressed that one small loaf was enough for so many people, not realizing they’re just being polite. He tries to convince some friends that Jesus fed a lot of people.

    “Dudes! He fed like 100 people with one loaf!”

    Then it’s like the game telephone. The message gets exagerrated. His friends say, “Listen! This dude Jesus fed like a bazillion people with one loaf!”

    Anyway, the fact that the legends happened elsewhere and/or don’t make sense doesn’t discredit the historians.