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Conspiracy theories New Testament Richard Carrier

Atwill’s cranked-up Jesus

by Richard Carrier

Joseph Atwill is one of those crank mythers I often get conflated with. Mythicists like him make the job of serious scholars like me so much harder because people see, hear, or read them and think their nonsense is what mythicism is. They make mythicism look ridiculous. So I have to waste time (oh by the gods, so much time) explaining how I am not arguing anything like their theories or using anything like their terrible methods, and unlike them I actually know what I am talking about, and have an actual Ph.D. in a relevant subject from a real university.

Note that I have divided this article into two parts, the second (titled ‘Our Long Conversation’) is something you can easily skip (see the intro there for whether reading it will be of any interest to you). So although this post looks extraordinarily long, it’s really that second part that gives it such length. You can just read up to the beginning of that section though. You don’t have to continue beyond that to get the overall point.

Atwill who?

Atwill is the one dude I get asked about most often. And now apparently even Dawkins is tweeting about Atwill, thanks to his upcoming venture into England later this month to sell his weird Roman Conspiracy variety of Jesus mythicism. To get the gist you can check out his PR puff piece. Thomas Verenna has already written a deconstruction of that. Notably even D.M. Murdock doesn’t buy Atwill’s thesis, declaring that she does not concur with Atwill’s Josephus/Flavian thesis and that ‘the Flavians, including Josephus, did not compose the canonical gospels as we have them’. Robert Price has similarly soundly debunked his book, even after strongly wanting to like it.

Atwill is best known as the author of Caesar’s Messiah (subtitle: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus, Roman meaning the Roman imperial family… yeah). In this Atwill argues ‘Jesus [is] the invention of a Roman emperor’ and that the entire New Testament was written by ‘the first-century historian Flavius Josephus’ who left clues to his scheme by littering secret hidden coded ‘parallels’ in his book The Jewish War. Atwill claims to prove ‘the Romans directed the writing of both’ the JW and the NT, in order ‘to offer a vision of a “peaceful Messiah” who would serve as an alternative to the revolutionary leaders who were rocking first-century Israel and threatening Rome’…

Notice 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 (even after adjusting for the Flynn effect), all to posit that the entire Christian religion was created by the Romans (and then immediately opposed by them?), 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. But I’ll hit some highlights. Then I’ll reveal the reasons why I think Atwill is a total crank, and his work should be ignored—indeed everywhere warned against as among the worst of mythicism, not representative of any serious argument that Jesus didn’t exist. And that’s coming from me, someone who believes Jesus didn’t exist.


The rest of Carrier’s long piece with hundreds of comments in the comments section of his website can be read: here. It is a pity that quite a few commenters in the racialist right promote Atwill’s conspiracy theory.

One reply on “Atwill’s cranked-up Jesus”

Don’t bother trying to make comments defending this conspiracy theorist: I won’t pass up your comment. Instead, read Carrier’s lengthy article, and if in doubt, read what the commenters say and his replies, or try to discuss directly with Carrier there, not here.

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