I recently finished The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus by Earl Doherty and decided to provide a brief review.
Doherty's book makes the controversial claim that a historical Jesus of Nazareth probably never existed. Christians should not be so quick to dismiss this claim, however, because Doherty's evidence is drawn directly from their bible and a wealth of biblical scholarship. For example, he notes that biblical material written before the Gospels made no mention of Jesus, that the Gospels relied heavily on Old Testament prophecy to create a mythical Jesus figure, and that numerous revisions to biblical text were completed hundreds of years after the supposed crucifixion. In fact, if you really want to get a taste of Doherty's core argument, you can find it here.
Doherty's writing style is scholarly but still approachable. He quotes the Christian bible at length but also references material that was written before their bible, as well as the source material (referred to as the Q document) for the Gospel authors. He shows how the early Christian traditions that emerged in Galilee and Jerusalem were quite different and how these differences account for some of the apparent inconsistencies in the bible.
I found Doherty's case to be extremely convincing, and I am not sure that it can be effectively refuted. I must confess that this was all completely new to me. I had always assumed that Jesus lived, was simply a wise fellow, and was later perverted into what would become Christianity. I feel that I learned quite a bit about the way the Christian bible was written from Doherty's book, and I now find it quite likely that Jesus never lived.
Not only is The Jesus Puzzle highly recommended, but it has acquired a coveted space in my Atheist's Bookshelf.
Tagged as: book review, Christianity, Jesus