Washington Post to Christians on Christmas Morning: Jesus Didn’t Exist

Unwrapping some fake news

By William M Briggs Published on December 26, 2017

Early Christmas morning, the Washington Post thought it should stick its thumb in the eyes of those celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Its official “Post Opinions” Twitter account tweeted, “Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up.”

Many commented on the provocative timing. Publisher of Encounter books and author Roger Kimball said that the Post’s tweet was, “Really, all you need to know about that pathetic publication.” Conservative actor James Woods tweeted, “Why is this necessary today? Why insult people of a certain faith on the day they most cherish? It’s not a matter of being right or wrong, it’s a matter of simple courtesy. #Rude”. (He added a ruder hashtag as well.) Many others were affronted.

What “good reasons” does he have? Lataster claims that there are a “lack of early sources” about the life of Jesus. What about the Gospels?

The gibe was deliberate. It’s not like the story the Post touted was new. It contained no “breaking” news of some scholar unearthing new historical evidence. After all, the link in the Post’s tweet was to a three-year old, already-debunked opinion piece they published in December, 2014.

The Doubters

The article was by Raphael Lataster, with subtitle, “There are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence.”

What “good reasons” does he have? Lataster claims that there are a “lack of early sources” about the life of Jesus. What about the Gospels? He dismisses those because, he says, they

all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity — which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources — which they also fail to identify.

Dismissing Antiquity

Should we dismiss Lataster’s (and, tacitly, the Washington Post’s) argument because he wants to promote atheism? The fallacy is obvious. As is the suggestion that since the authors of the Gospels were not professional historians who knew modern footnoting, they can’t be trusted. If we applied this rule equally, we’d have to toss out nearly all ancient literature.

What about non-Christian, early professional historians, like Josephus and Tacitus? Lataster is equally disparaging. The excuse he uses for casting these men aside is to call their writings “controversial” and to say their work has “obviously been changed by Christian scribes.”

His argument can thus be boiled down to this. If you discount or ignore all the contemporary and near-contemporary eye-witness and other accounts of Jesus’s life, because these sources were biased, then the other evidence like miracles, the lives of the saints, the faith of billions, and so and on can’t possibly be true. Therefore, Jesus never existed.

Carrying Carrier

Lataster does himself no favors by leaning on the wild-eyed arch-atheist and Jesus-denier Richard Carrier. (By the way, Carrier recently “came out” as “polyamorous.”) Carrier’s behavior and litigiousness is so outré it annoys even his fellow atheists.

I once critiqued an argument of Carrier’s in which he claimed Jesus didn’t exist. It had all the coherence and logic of a Hillary Clinton speech. This critique must have stung because he claimed I “defamed” him (without, of course, saying how).

Now Lataster’s and Carrier’s bizarre views aren’t unusual. They’re based on myopic readings of history. But you usually hear them at a bar. You know, where that cranky old man who wears a parka all year round holds forth on how he was abducted by Bigfoot in a UFO (powered by water, a secret the oil companies are hiding from us) and was flown over a flat earth?

Why are such arguments showing up in the Washington Post?

Doubting the Doubters

And why are they appearing when the crank “mythicist” theories printed by the paper have been debunked over and over in scholarly works? A mythicist is one who claims Jesus didn’t exist, as a former appalled professor of Lataster’s explains. Three seconds of searching brings up, “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible” by Lawrence Mykytiuk from the journal Biblical Archaeology Review. This work has “voluminous endnotes,” which ought to please Lataster.

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Mykytiuk concludes, “We can learn quite a bit about Jesus from Tacitus and Josephus, two famous historians who were not Christian. Almost all the following statements about Jesus, which are asserted in the New Testament, are corroborated or confirmed by the relevant passages in Tacitus and Josephus.” The first? “He existed as a man.”

The Post’s Mysterious Motivation

Yet, again, the Washington Post didn’t bother to fact check this old story. Instead it chose to re-publicize it on Christmas day. Why?

A clue may be had at the bottom of the main article in the section, “More from PostEverything.” There we find links to similar articles, such as:

Perhaps the Post is eager to promote anti-Christianity?

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