What if Jesus Christ never existed at all? The answer may surprise you if you take it from Santa Barbara author and filmmaker Joseph Atwill. He’s spent years developing the theory that the Christian messiah was created as a tool of political propaganda by Roman rulers to pacify the empire and undercut the more dangerous Jewish leaders of the era. With his findings detailed in a book and documentary, both called Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus, Atwill is frequently called on to discuss and debate his views all over the world, including recent bits on the BBC, and he believes his influence is growing.
“I didn’t have anything against Christianity,” said Atwill, who was raised Christian, fell away for no particular reason, and then became fascinated when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. “I thought this was something the population would want to know about, and I’m happy to explain it.”
When he dove into the Dead Sea Scrolls, Atwill was surprised to find the messianic movement of Jesus’s time described as militaristic rather than pacifist. “The whole thing made no sense to me,” said Atwill, who then discovered a lot of weird parallels between the gospels and the writing of Roman scribe Josephus, who detailed the Jewish-Roman wars, as well as the recurrent biblical themes from the Old Testament that are used to describe Jesus’s life, which he finds suspicious. He also sees the official designation of Christianity as the Roman religion by Constantine a convenient means of ushering in a new system of feudalism. “The religious context for slavery worked for over 1,000 years,” said Atwill. “That’s what happened — a complete nightmare. Merry Christmas.”
Seasonal well-wishing aside, Atwill’s ideas have sparked a wave of new websites and researchers, but he considers himself the origin of recent inquiries. “As far as I can tell, I was the first person to have this strange insight,” said Atwill, who describes himself as a hobbyist interested in literary analysis. “The reason I’m able to see this stuff is that I didn’t have any mis-training.”