Here are a couple of papers that question what we think we know about early Christianity. It is fascinating. There are so many assumptions we make in trying to understand something. When these assumptions become shared beliefs of a society or of a field of study, a reality tunnel can form.
I don’t know if Jesus ever existed and I don’t know if even Christianity existed in the first century. It honestly doesn’t make much difference to me, but obviously it makes a big difference to many people and not just fundamentalist Christians. What interests me is both the questioning itself and the fact that we live in a time when people are free to question such things.
Anyway, here are the papers:
And here is part of the second paper:
Perhaps the most surprising discovery is somewhat akin to the famous Holmesian episode in which the dog didn’t bark in the night.
Not a single artefact of any medium – including textual – and dated reliably before the fourth century can be unambiguously identified as Christian. This is the most notable result of our archaeological survey of sites, inscriptions, libraries, collections and so on from the Indus River to the Nile and north to Britain.
Taking into account the vast volume of scholarly works claiming expert opinion for the exact opposite point of view, let me clarify terms.
There is, of course, much archaeology interpreted commonly as Christian. This does not contradict the bald statement above. The difference lies between data that spells out Christian clearly and unambiguously, and that which expert opinion claims to look as though it is Christian.
There are very many texts claimed to be Christian and composed before the fourth century, though the documents themselves are not dated to that early period. We have found no text before the fourth century which mentions either Jesus Christ, or the term ‘Christian’.
The earliest fragments and codex of the New Testament pre-date the fourth century, though nowhere in them have we found the key word Christ. Many biblical scholars claim that they do, but our visual inspection of them fails to find a single such usage of this term. We have been unable to find a single text transliterated correctly in this regard.
As there are gospels and other texts of a religious character, so there is archaeology for places of worship and many artefacts: none spell Christian. Claims that any are Christian are, in fact, a matter of opinion only and we disagree with all such opinions.
Six months ago, this was a tentative view and during this time, many scholars have been asked – challenged even – to provide evidence of a contradictory nature and other than largely silence, the response has been supportive of this view. We did receive a list of (well-known) sites and events purported as Christian, though not a single artefact.
This should not be understood as a claim that nothing was happening in these three centuries that can be related to the appearance of Christianity in the fourth century. The archaeology that can be associated most-closely with Christianity is for the name Chrest, a magical Jesus Chrest and for ‘Servants of Jesus’. We have termed these chrestic. In ancient Greek, the pronunciation of both terms – Christ and Chrest – is identical as far as is known today and this acutely interesting and fortuitous linguistic circumstance facilitated the re-working of textual artefacts as well as recasting the entire context of the original theurgy related to the cult.
As Chrest was expunged from the New Testament and replaced with Christ, so the possibility arises that following the prosecution of chrestic followers by Diocletian – mis-termed commonly ‘The Great Persecution’ of Christians – the chrestic archaeology record was wiped clean generally as far as possible.