“Jesus is a MYTH” blasted the Daily Mail on Good Friday, right in time for the celebration of Christians’ most sacred feast, Easter. Just last November, the same publication was reporting that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had children by her.
Christians by now are used to the mainstream media’s yearly attacks on their faith, usually timed to coincide with the primary Christian holy days, such as Christmas and Easter. It matters little how hokey and historically improbable the claims, as long as they undermine some basic tenet of orthodox Christianity, the media seem willing to entertain them.
During Holy Week, an article appeared online titled “The Passion of the Bieber: A Star Attempts to Resurrect his Career,” featuring an iconographic image of Justin Bieber nailed to the cross and bleeding from his hands, feet, and side. The piece revealed spectacularly bad taste, as well as a blatant disregard for the sensibilities of Christians, who seem to be the only unprotected group left in America.
The “Jesus as Myth” essay picks up on an old hypothesis that gets dusted off every few years for an unsuspecting public, purporting to offer “new evidence” that Jesus Christ never existed as a historical figure. It stacks up right next to stories of the finding of Jesus’ bones, the “married Jesus” theory and the “Jesus didn’t found Christianity, Saint Paul did” proposition.
None of these theories holds much weight among serious scholars, but the media love to repeat them ad nauseam as a way to keep Christians’ feet to the fire, and of course as a way to sell magazines.
The Daily Mail picks up on the proposal of atheist writer David Fitzgerald, claiming that there is no evidence Jesus ever existed. In studied seriousness, the Mail ponders Fitzgerald’s arguments as if he were an important scholar rather than the latest crank trying to make a buck by denying the historicity of the gospels.
Fitzgerald says nothing that many others haven’t said before, using arguments that have already received ample rebuttal. As hard as he might try to discredit the testimony of the Roman historian Tacitus or the Jewish scholar Josephus, Fitzgerald can’t help coming across as someone who desperately wishes that Jesus never existed and so is willing to bend the historical record to coincide with his desires.
The fact remains that all history requires a little faith, since no one now living ever met Julius Caesar, Napoleon, or Benjamin Franklin. We either trust the historical record or we don’t. Of course, anyone is free to invent a conspiracy theory attempting to show that George Washington never really existed, but was concocted as a larger-than-life mythical figure central to America’s founding.
The difference is that the mainstream media wouldn’t bother picking up a silly story like that. If the story somehow undermines Christian belief, however, game on.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome