On Thursday, October 17, Christopher Zara of International Business Times weighed in on the ongoing debate about the "Covert Messiah" symposium that will be held by "Caesar's Messiah" author Joseph Atwill in London, England on Saturday, October 19.
Atwill's book claims, according to the synopsis on his blog, that "... a Roman imperial family, the Flavians, had created Christianity to pacify the Jews' rebellion against Rome, and even more incredibly, they had placed a literary satire within the Gospels and 'Wars of the Jews' [by first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus] to inform posterity of this fact."
Atwill also claims that Jesus of Nazareth was a fictional character. He sees evidence of this in parallels that allegedly exist between stories in the New Testament Gospels and the history of the Roman Emperor Titus Flavius.
Zara said Atwill is promising to reveal new information that strengthens his case during the event.
According to Zara, "... For an admission price of £35 ($55), attendees can watch Atwill’s presentation as he unveils purported evidence to back up his claims.
"He's been sounding the alarm for several years -- his book 'Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus' was published by Ulysses Press in 2006 -- but for Saturday's event, he promises new research that will convince even the staunchest skeptic that Jesus was a fabrication."
According to Carrier, "The Roman aristocracy was nowhere near as clever as Atwill’s theory requires. They certainly were not so masterfully educated in the Jewish scriptures and theology that they could compose hundreds of pages of elegant passages based on it. And it is very unlikely they would ever conceive of a scheme like this, much less think they could succeed at it (even less, actually do so)."
Zara said there has been more discussion of this recently. In his article about the symposium, Zara provided links to several articles and blog posts that try to debunk Atwill's claims. He also provided a link to debates about the historical Jesus on Reddit that may be interesting to people who would like to read more about whether or not Atwill's theory has any merit.
According to Zara, "Atwill’s critics -- and there are plenty of them -- say it's Atwill who is the fake. Recent posts on Patheos, the Blaze, Christian Post and elsewhere cite his lack of credentials and peer-reviewed research. Moreover, the question of whether Jesus was an actual person is not hotly debated among historians, although theories such as Atwill’s persist and in fact are quite prevalent in some parts of the world.
"Bart Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recently sought to quell the deniers with his book 'Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.' In it, Ehrman asserts that the historical existence of Jesus is widely accepted in academia."
However, not everyone disagrees with Atwill.
According to Zara, "Atwill has his supporters, however. At the symposium, he will be joined by fellow denier Kenneth Humpreys, author of the book 'Jesus Never Existed' and its accompanying website. The event will also include a documentary based on Atwill’s book."
In a recent blog entry, Carrier said he engaged in a lengthy email debate with Atwill about his book several years ago. He concluded from their conversations that Atwill is not qualified to discuss the historical Jesus the way he does in "Caesar's Messiah."
According to Carrier, "The last straw for me was when I realized he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to studying Greek, or manuscripts, or textual criticism, skills that would be essential for anyone defending any thesis like his."
These are strong words, especially considering that Carrier is an atheist who also believes that Jesus Christ was a fictional character--although apparently for different reasons.
Atwill has said that he is convinced Christians will eventually accept his conclusions as true and that his new evidence is very compelling. Based on what his critics have been saying, that seems highly unlikely.