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According to the Gospels, Jesus was famous. His renowned ministry and high-profile healings drew huge crowds from Syria to the southern Decapolis. He miraculously fed 5,000 people at one sitting and 4,000 at another. He even purportedly raised the dead.

During his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he was followed by multitudes throwing palm fronds and shouting, “Hosanna!”

At his death, according to Matthew who had a flair for the dramatic, a three-hour supernatural darkness fell across the land. There were earthquakes, a torn temple veil, and long-dead “saints” were milling about. Luke, who by his own admission was not an eyewitness, claims Jesus ascended to heaven before crowds, his fame spreading rapidly to Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece and Rome.

First century Judea was a relatively well-documented time and place. Yet, curiously, known writers around the region failed to chronicle these momentous events. Many discuss far less interesting would-be messiahs but ignore the Jesus who really performed the magic.

In his book “Nailed,” David Fitzgerald explains the “argument from silence” and briefly discusses a few of the most prominent writers of the first centuries who would have mentioned Jesus, had they known of him.

Nicolaus of Damascus: Court historian to Herod the Great, he wrote a history of the world up to the end of Herod’s reign. Though his works do not survive, Josephus discusses them at length but neglects to mention the star or nativity in Bethlehem.

Philo of Alexandria: From a wealthy and prominent family intimately connected to the royal house of Judea, Philo created Hellenistic Judaism, a synthesis of Greek and Jewish philosophy, and expounded upon the Greek idea of Logos, the word made flesh. So one would expect an actual flesh-and-blood Logos might invite comment by Philo. He even specifically documented fringe Jewish cults like the Essenes and Therapeutae, yet he penned not a word about the biblical Jesus.

Seneca the Younger: Stoic philosopher, playwright, and tutor of the emperor Nero, Seneca spills much ink on the topic of superstition, lambasting every religious cult of the time — except Christianity. It was as though he’d never heard of it. A few centuries later, Augustine, in his “City of God,” tried unconvincingly to explain away this glaring omission.

Gallio: Seneca’s older brother, mentioned in Acts as the magistrate who threw the Apostle Paul’s case out of court. According to Acts, Gallio never heard of Jesus before Paul’s story, and he apparently didn’t share the tale of the amazing miracle-worker with his brother.

Justus of Tiberias: A native of Galilee, he was the personal secretary to Herod Agrippa II (who allegedly met Paul). Justus wrote a history of the kingdom of Judah during the purported life of Jesus, yet says nary a word about him. We know this because the 9th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Photius, reported his displeasure upon finding no Christ in Justus’ chronology.

Flavius Josephus: In his “Antiquities of the Jews,” a brief, disputed paragraph about Jesus exists. However, the vast majority of scholars agree it’s a later insertion. The only debate is how much is forgery. About the year 250, Church Father Origen complained that all that was known of Jesus came from the Gospels. He was frustrated by the scarcity of corroborating evidence and criticized Josephus for not having mentioned Jesus in his “Antiquities.” Had the disputed passage been in the original writing, it would have been seized upon by Christians like Origen who were hungry for this kind of confirmation.

Pausanias: A Greek travel writer in the 2nd century, he stopped in Antioch, Joppa and Jerusalem to chronicle gods, holy relics and legends — yet not a whisper of Christ.

Other 2nd century chroniclers in the region, such as Maximus of Tyre and Aelius Aristides, also failed to cite Jesus or his teachings.

Some try to hang their hats on the scraps that do exist, like the 2nd century chronicler Tacitus who briefly reported on the rising Christian cult. However, he also documented the widespread Isis cult, yet few would argue this lends credibility to the goddess’ historical reality.

So when is absence of evidence, evidence of absence? Contemporary writers should have known what Jesus said and did, and they certainly had reason to discuss it. Considering the multitudes who supposedly witnessed the miraculous events, the lack of non-biblical corroboration for the Gospels and Acts is a serious problem. The silence is deafening.

Believers defend the silence by claiming Jesus was not widely known until much later. But you can’t have it both ways.

In the end we’re left with two choices: Either Jesus was just another wandering preacher with a meager following and the Gospels grossly exaggerated his life events, or, like Osiris and Romulus before him, he was a mythical character historicized.

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Ed Neumann is a member of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society.


Digital news editor

Digital news editor

(18) comments


If they were truly "Free Thinkers", one would think that they could diversify their thoughts to more than one subject.

Buggs Raplin

Huh? Are you even paying attention to the debate? You embarrass yourself.


What debate? Free Thinkers are atheists. I think that everyone understands that. Do they have any other thoughts beyond being atheists? Once a month, the Tribune runs a long editorial by a Free Thinker in which he or she explains why they are atheists. Is there anything more to "Free Thinking" than just being an atheist? I don't think that my daughter's guinea pig believes in God; can it join the Free Thinkers?

Bill O'Rights

ahasp--You are wrong in your definition of "Free thinker". Try doing a little objective research and you will find that there is a range of beliefs beyond a denial of the assistance of a deity. Many of the Founding Fathers of our country were free thinkers. I believe that is when the term came into fairly wide usage.


Bill O' Rights: From the La Crosse Area Freethought Society: "A freethinker may define themselves as an atheist, agnostic, skeptic, secular humanist, etc. Most of these labels are interchangeable, and are not mutually exclusive. Freethinkers can have different opinions on politics, education, environment, basically everything. The one thing that we all tend to have in common is that we lack a belief in a god."

Based on this, the only common belief is the lack of belief in a god. If you would like to provide "a little objective research" I would be happy to read it.


Since the first book of the new testament was written ~ 60 years after the death of JC, how can anyone consider it more than a vast exaggeration, based on hearsay and composites of old myths? It is past the time for humans to grow up, logically think for them selves and outgrow the fairy tales with the warm fussy ending for the good little sheep. And, as a free thinking atheist, I do not want a nitwit who can not distinguish between fact and fantasy to have control over any part of my diverse life interests.

Bill Payer

This feeble Christ Myth theory has been dismissed countless times by reputable, non-Christian historians yet still seems to live on with amateur historians who are primarily motivated by their anti-Christian axe to grind.
The theory originated in Europe, particularly Germany, in the 19th century. Some have argued this movement was rooted in the anti-Semitisim of the time. Jesus was a Jew after all, and the idea that your 'savior' was Jewish could not be reconciled with their bigotry.

sam maelstrom

Wow! All you need to know is that Philo of Alexandria didn't write about Jesus. He lived right there in the time (20 BCE-50CE) and region. He even visited Jerusalem around the time of the J man's purported ministry. If it weren't for Philo, there'd be no "holy trinity," and idea fully developed in the 2nd century. This guy definitely would have mentioned a real messiah -- especially one with the name of the archangel Joshua (Jesus). Obviously no Jesus who did what the gospel (fiction) writers said he did existed.

And then Justus of Tiberius who lived right then and there said nothing?? Sorry, thumpers, there is no Savior. But rejoice! there's nothing to be save from!!

This was a refreshing read!


As far as atheists go, these local guys are pretty low class. They simply use atheism as a cloak for their anti christian sentiments. Week after week they vent their religious hatred of only Christians.

Oh, and thank you to the La Crosse Tribune for providing a platform for these bigots to vent their poison. Our society is fractured enough without providing this type of purposeless hatred (on Sunday, no less).

All around sad. For Mr. Neumann and the Tribune.

Former subscriber.


Seems to me that religion gets the most press: off weeks (3 of the 4) that lcafs doesn't have a column on Sunday, religion is front and center. In addition, every Saturday, one whole page is devoted to "Faith" (read RELIGION). Plus usually there is a letter or two to the editor during the week from a religious person talking about .... (wait for it) RELIGION!

Sad that the religion messages don't get more press. Oh, that's right! You have Sunday at church (and possibly other days too) to do your religion. Hm, maybe I should cancel my subscription; but I won't because the Tribune is giving space for all people to air their opinions and comments. Don't you just love that we live in the land of the free? Wow!


Yes Mr Salty, we are free to think, read, write as we wish (so far). Read Nuemann's column again, there is no social value in his statements. If atheism is so good, lets here what's so good about it.

This incessant tearing down of others beliefs is nothing but bigotry. And always using Christians as the target is cowardice.

I would offer Taco Tuesday as the day to print the works of these people; not Sunday.


The vast majority of the world's most eminent scientists are, and have been, atheists or agnostics. They freely discount religious dogma when it impedes their work. Without them you and I would not have the benefit of modern medicine and technology. Many of the world's most influential leaders in the political realm are secular non-religious people. You must remember we in the U.S. are a relatively minute portion of the world's people. Any objective analysis of living standards worldwide many doing as well, a number doing after, than us. Most of Asia is atheistic as regards belief in a supreme being. If you study the proclamations of the Secular Humanist community they will be very ethical, compassionate toward humans and other sentient beings, and difficult to dismiss. WHAT HAVE ATHEISTS GIVEN US? A lot actually, and more often than not, in a tolerant, non-judgemental way.


I suspect that most members of this local Freethought group are educated, successful people. Many, I am sure, are highly skilled professionals. Their concerns, more often than not, are to counter the ill effects religious dogma often has on our country and the world. The impediments of religious dogma, throughout history, continuing to the present day, are legend. Are they susceptible to the same dogmatic black and white views of some religious folks? Absolutely, and I think it good to remind them of that. Having said this, I will submit that their writings in the Tribune do much more good than harm and are a valuable contribution to our community.


Ms. Redwall, there is no value in your statements. It is you who is attacking the writer for his opinions and written presentation of the facts.

Funny how emotionally obscure you become the minute anyone tests your faith. Good luck with that.


"Week after Week..."?????? That ma'am is a lie.

"Providing a platform...."????? You do realize you're reading the opinions section, right?


The realities of historical documentation, or lack thereof, are of little to no value in changing the minds of many people of faith. In Europe and Israel, where the horrors of World War 2, were felt personally and directly those people, who once held such faith, are very secular today. They hold no illusions that a heavenly being is looking over them. The younger people in this nation are increasingly secular and certainly read and seriously consider factual essays. This is where the hopes of our nation rest. A century from now, there will be little, if any, blind religious faith in the U.S. It is not terribly compatible with an educated populace. The irony today is that there are likely more atheists and agnostics, than those who so vehemently process their Chrisianity, who actually live by the precepts that have been attributed to Jesus Christ. :


Religion is about faith, not facts. The more you challenge the faith of the religious with facts, the more and the tighter they will cling to that faith. Logic and rational thinking have no place in faith so the believer wears blinders to anything that challenges their faith and simply...believes. If a believer engages in honest critical thinking about their faith then they begin to tread a dangerous path for that faith. It's likely a large number of atheists and agnostics walked that path. In the end, faith is about hope, things not seen or tangible and has nothing to do with facts or logic.

Some of the best people you could know are religious...kind and generous, nonjudgmental. If only more Christians would lead their lives by the words of Jesus. But some of the worst people are religious...bigoted and hateful who believe that the Bible says God helps those who help themselves (it doesn't) and so help nobody but themselves, but they're crippled inside. Too bad for all of us.

Buggs Raplin

It's apparent the gospel writers just made stuff up about Jesus. In doing so, they sometimes contradicted each other. For example, one gospel says Jesus was crucified on a Thursday; another on a Friday. As to Jesus's existence, I think the Nag Hammadi gospels confirm that. From my reading, Jesus was a zealot who imagined himself the Jewish messiah, and was all for overthrowing Roman rule. The Romans didn't take kindly to that idea, and crucified him. The gospel writers blamed the Jews for the crucifixion, and thus began anti-Semitism. Jesus either died shortly after the crucifixion, or survived, and went on to lead a long life. It appears he was married to Mary Magdalene and had children with her. Barbara Theiring's "Jesus the Man" and Reza Aslan's "Zealot" are my prime sources for my beliefs.

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