Resources for "Jesus" study
It's well known that AC was sceptical of the very existence of "Jesus" and wrote an extended critique of the idea, and of Christianity in general, in his The Gospel According to St Bernard Shaw; Marcelo Motta also wrote a broadside against what he (following the Portuguese poet and Thelemite, Fernando Pessoa) called "Christism", in his slim but potent pamphlet Letter to a Brazilian Mason.
Just to fill in for those who might not be familiar with this area of thought, study and research: the "mythological Jesus" hypothesis (MJ as it's known in a lot of debate nowadays, as opposed to HJ, historical Jesus), i.e. the idea that "Jesus" is myth all the way down (as opposed to an actual historical man who was subsequently mythologised), had a burst of popularity towards the end of the 19th century amongst scholars, especially amongst certain schools of German and Dutch biblical scholars (in whose views some scholars are taking a renewed interest). Orthodox scholarship then circled the wagons at the beginning of the 20th century (beginning with Albert Schweitzer), and the "party line" since then has been sundry variations on the compromise "man mythologised" idea (i.e. he was a prophet or a mystic or a psychedelic-mushroom-eating revolutionary, etc., etc., etc., who for some reason or other subsequently came to be believed to have been the one and only incarnation of God on Earth).
But the MJ hypothesis is having a bit of a comeback nowadays. First of all, there are a couple of writers who are probably already known to many people who frequent this website: Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, who have written three great books on the subject from a fundamentally non-dual mystical point of view: The Jesus Mysteries, Jesus and the Lost Goddess, and The Laughing Jesus(and I gather they have just written a new, even more radical book on the same subject, with a more contemporary slant, info at Freke's website). The impeccability of their scholarship has been questioned, but it's not absolutely trashy (not as bad as Dan Brown's, say), and it's sufficiently tight to make a plausible case to most intelligent people, especially to those who are seriously interested in mysticism.
Next there's a guy who flew the flag for a version of the MJ hypothesis through a time when it was more or less laughed out of court, during the 70s and 80s, a professor of German called G. A. Wells, who in a serious of meticulously argued books, each of which answered critics of the previous book, in exhaustive detail, laid out an MJ theory based on an argument from silence in Paul's letters. Since the MJ hypothesis has often been put forward by scholars who aren't in the biblical scholarship field, this has given ammunition for mockery to scholarly snobs who think that it actually matters, and Wells was often unfairly mocked for being a mere professor of German, and not classics or biblical studies. However, the fact that he could read German gave him an advantage few English-speaking biblical scholars had - he could read the 19th century wave of German radical scholarship in its native tongue!
Next in line, there's a rationalist and humanist with a degree in classics, called Earl Doherty, who has written a difficult-to-get-hold-of book called The Jesus Puzzle. Fortunately, most of the material in the book is on his vast and excellent website The Jesus Puzzle. This guy is a gem. Incredibly smart and articulate, not afraid to muck in and argue tooth and nail with biblical scholars and apologists on forums, etc.. A true warrior. His point of view, while rationalist and materialist (he has no time for magick, although he does see some mileage in mysticism understood as a distinct and possibly valuable brain phenomenon), is deeply spiritual in a humanist sense, and I think Thelemites will find reading him quite congenial (in particular, check out his review on his website, of one of the recent slew of Mary Magdalene books). His argument is similar to Wells', in that it's root is an argument from silence in Paul's letters.
Next, probably the biggest scholarly dog in this field today is a biblical scholar called Robert Price, who has written several books, amongst which are The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man and Deconstructing Jesus. Price is a one-time evangelist, superhero comix fan and Lovecraft aficionado, who was a member of something called the Jesus Seminar, a serious attempt by some liberal biblical scholars to try and get at what "Jesus" might actually have said. Having already gotten some distance away from his evangelical roots by the time he joined the Jesus Seminar, Price eventually disassociated himself from it because he thought it wasn't being honest enough in admitting we have no way of knowing what "Jesus" might have said, or even if he existed at all. Price has recently nailed his colours to the MJ mast: his position is highly nuanced (he admits there might have been a "Jesus", but that if there was there's still no evidence for such a fellow, and even if there was, we have no evidence for anything he might have said, done or taught), but at the end of the day, he's definitely in the camp, and probably the smartest and most reliable (in the scholarly sense) person propounding the MJ idea today.
There are a few "also rans" in this area: Acharya S, Tom Harpur, and quite a few others. I don't include them not because I think they're crap, but because their scholarship isn't tight enough - most of them are worth reading, just not good enough to use as ammo in rational debate. (Freke and Gandy are almost in this camp, but just about pass muster. Doherty and Price have some respect for them, which is a good enough recommendation.)
There are also quite a few respected biblical scholars who don't go as far as the MJ hypothesis, but go quite some way towards it, or provide good intellectual ammunition for it, such as Bart Ehrman, Thomas Thompson, etc.
There's also lively HJ vs MJ debate on a few websites. There's a Yahoo mailing list (JesusMysteries) that started as a list devoted to discussing Freke & Gandy's first book when it came out, but developed into a list dedicated to a more general discussion of the topic. There's also the Internet Infidels Biblical History and Criticism forum. Both these forums have a long history and a very high standard of scholarly discussion that's great for laypeople to listen in on and contribute to occasionally (although if you jump in like a klutz with a bee in your bonnet, without having some familiarity with the terms of debate, or without having used the Search facility, prepare to be incinerated - neither of these lists suffers fools gladly).
Finally, the most widely used web resource for sourcing quotes from early Christian texts is the magnificent, nonpartisan Early Christian Writings website that has a neat summaryof most of the "Jesus" theories to date, both HJ and MJ and everything inbetween.
A simple question regarding the mythogical vs factual Jesus debate: If the crucifiction ( 😉 ) of Jesus was the event that it is portrayed as in the New Testament, and a group of common people were affected by the life of death of Jesus, why is there an utter lack of symbolic evidence supporting those claims? The oldest known Christian crucifix is the Mandelion of Edessa, which is no older than the majority of the oldest manusrcipts of the New Testament, dated to around 400 CE, evidence that suggests reverence for the crucifix as a symbol of Jesus began at the same time the first written accounts of the story appeared, despite the fact that the use of religious symbolism by illiterate communities was widespread and commonplace throughout the area known as the Middle East prior to the timeframe suggested for the birth of Jesus. The evidence, or lack of it, suggests the crucifixtion of Jesus was not the historical event that some believe it is.
The point about crucifiction was that it was a horrible, degrading, humiliating form of execution, reserved for the worst of the worst.
Since it continued to be practiced for another three centuries, it makes sense that people would not want to consciously remind themselves of just how their holy man had died.*
When Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and banned crucifiction, the stigma of this method lessened. In addition, his mother's expedition to find the remains of the True Cross (tm)** started the idea that this cross, at least, was holy.
I would guess that the cross become dominant as Christianity spread because it didn't rely on someone knowing Greek to understand the symbolism.
*I have a theory that this is why so many people believe that Elvis is still alive- his fans don't want to believe that someone like him could die aged and bloated on the toilet.
*Now I've got the Blackadder the first episode stuck in my head....
Considering how the Romans persecuted Christians in those early days. I would have thought they'd have jumped at the chance if they thought him to have not existed at all?
These, and many other questions, can be answered by the several MJ hypotheses floating around in the links I gave above and in the forum discussions. Believe me, there's not one possibility in this area that hasn't been gone over again and again! 🙂
For that particular (and very reasonable) point, I think most MJ theorists would argue that a) by the time there was persecution (of which there actually wasn't very much, and most of which was was highly localized and sporadic, and politically motivated rather than religiously motivated), the idea of a historical Jesus was already underway in many Christian circles, and b) Rome is probably the branch of early Christianity where the HJ idea first took root, and it was probably well established there by about 150 CE, and c) one of the distinctions between HJ and MJ believers in that time was that the HJ believers were precisely the ones who were prepared to die for a belief. Other kinds of early Christians, however, had no problem "rendering unto Caesar" because their form of Christianity wasn't based on belief but on experience (Gnosis), and indeed some of them thought the very idea of martyrdom for a belief ridiculous.