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An Eyewitness to the Crucifixion? Another Modern Forgery

I’ve started to discuss several modern forgeries connected with the life of Jesus.   These are all completely bogus, but they’ve nonetheless fooled a lot of people.  I get emails from people maybe once a month who want to ask me about something they’ve “heard” about Jesus, and it usually turns out that it comes ultimately from one of these things, which someone has read, and then told someone else, who told someone else, who took it as Gospel truth.

The Essenes mentioned in this apocryphon are that Jewish sect in the time of Jesus who were a kind of separatist group concerned to retain its own ritual purity in view of the coming apocalypse, which they expected any day now.  Today they are most famous for having produced the Dead Sea Scrolls.  But when this Gospel account was forged, the Scrolls had not yet been discovered.  The Essenes were seen at the time as a kind of secretive magical group on the fringes of real Judaism.

Again, I have taken the account from my book Forged.




The Crucifixion of Jesus, by an Eye-Witness,

An equally interesting modern apocryphon, The Crucifixion of Jesus, by an Eye-Witness, deals not with the beginning of Jesus’ adult life, before his ministry, but with its ending and aftermath. [1] The account comes in the form of a letter written, in Latin, seven years after Jesus’ crucifixion, from a leader of the mysterious Jewish sect of the Essenes in Jerusalem to another Essene leader who lived in Alexandria, Egypt.  All elements of the supernatural are completely …

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  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 17, 2019

    For those new to the blog, Dr. Ehrman’s “Fraud” is a good and very readable book

    The capacity of humans to make stuff up and then for other humans to believe this made up stuff is really common.

  2. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  May 17, 2019

    Given the multitude of translations, this must have been rather popular.

  3. Avatar
    Hon Wai  May 17, 2019

    “For one thing, there is no way an Essene in Jerusalem would write his account in Latin, of all things.”
    Why so?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 19, 2019

      Because Essenes were Palestinian Jews who spoke Aramaic. We don’t have a single Latin writing from Jews in Palestine in the period.

      • Avatar
        Hon Wai  May 19, 2019

        Given most, if not all, books of the New Testament originated outside Palestine, how many extant writings do we have from Jews in Palestine in the 1st century (aside from Josephus)?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 20, 2019

          Literary writings? None by any named author. Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls could have been written then.

  4. Avatar
    fishician  May 17, 2019

    Was Venturini one of the first to assert that Jesus was an Essene, or was that idea kicking around before then? I just read an old interview with Hugh Schonfield who said Jesus was not an Essene, but his views of the Messiah were shaped by the Essene teachings. Do you think there is any credence to that idea?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 19, 2019

      I’m not sure if Venturini was the first; I suppose Schweitzer says in the Quest. Yes, back in the 60s especially it was very common to think that Jesus either had been an Essene or that his views were deeply influenced by them. I think today the more common view is that Jesus, the Essenes, John the Baptist, Paul and lots of other Jews of various persuasions shared a general apocalyptic outlook on things; they were similar in these apocalyptic views but not in lots of other beliefs and practices. (As an analogy: no one would say that both George W. Bush and Barack Obama were both Republicans or deeply influenced by the same Republican politians because they both firmly subscribed to the idea of democracy and American ideals)

  5. Avatar
    godspell  May 17, 2019

    Still sounds better than The Da Vinci Code. (Also plagiarized from a dubious work of history.)

    • Bart
      Bart  May 19, 2019

      Yes, with “history” in quotation marks. Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Holy Moly….

  6. Rick
    Rick  May 17, 2019

    First Century Latin letters between Hebrew Essenes who were fore runners of Freemasons, not otherwise known to history before the 15nth Century, about a member of the Sanhedrin and hence Kohanim or Levite and thus Sadducee (Aramathea ) who was also an Essene? That’s about like a letter in Italian from a U.S. Supreme Court Justice saying Adolf Hitler was a card carrying member of the ACLU!

  7. Avatar
    Brand3000  May 18, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Very IMPORTANT matters here: This is a good topic, and one of the helpful things you say in one of your CD lectures is that there are only relatively few legitimate sources for Jesus, especially from outside the New Testament i.e. Josephus and Tacitus, but very few others. I’m sure this frustrates people on the right and the left, but of course that’s the way real scholars must go about their work. BUT my question is this: How far removed from an eyewitness source is “good enough” for deeming something to be historical? For example, how do you reason, as you do, that Jesus was crucified when we don’t have an account by a first-hand witness? Are we justified in saying that it’s historical because Paul who mentions it and writes fairly early and knows Peter seems to be “close enough?” Do you agree we can’t be too strict either? Because especially dealing with ancient history, if we said we’re not going to believe anything that wasn’t of a first-hand testimony, we would pretty much erase all of ancient history.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 19, 2019

      Historical argument does not depend on eyewitness testimony, and, conversely, eyewitness testimony does not guarantee historicity. A historical *argument* has to be made in every case. If an event is multiply attested all over the map, with no contrary evidence. and stated by people who would prefer to say otherwise, and the event makes perfect context in the alleged historical context, then there would have to be a very good reason indeed for thinking it’s not historical.

      • Avatar
        allaalikaaee  May 19, 2019

        Dear Dr. Ehrman, I have been a member for about two years and never, ever posted anything. This is my first time. Is it possible for you – or anyone else for that matter – verify this article? I would greatly appreciate it!

        Vatican In Shock As 1,500-Year-Old Bible Claims Jesus Wasn’t Crucified
        By Victor Ochieng


        • Bart
          Bart  May 20, 2019

          No, it’s completely bogus. Sensationalized nonsense, as usual with this kind of thing.

      • Avatar
        Iskander Robertson  May 20, 2019

        Are the gospels earlier than josephus and tacitus? if each gospel writer needs a dead jesus, why would any of them give clues that jesus escaped or survived ?

        in the garden , jesus does pray to be saved from dying, but how much of that has been “markanized” ?

        we see in gospels, jesua is always on the run from death and even is scared to enter dangerous areas, so my question is, are there clues in the gospels that they are addressing christians who did not believe in crucifixion?

        why paul has to keep on hammering “christ crucified” ?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 20, 2019

          The standard dating is Mark: 70 CE or so; Matthew and Luke 80-85 CE or so; John 90-95 CE or so. Jospehus final book was the Antiquities from around 93 CE; Tacitus was writing around 115 CE.

          • Avatar
            dannawid  May 21, 2019

            dr ehrman,
            suposing mark was written around 70 ce same year as the destruction of the temple and when titus flavian brought all the relics of the temple back to rome, do you give credence to the theory that he, titus, commisioned greek speaking scholars to write gosples that would not be in conflict with roman rule.

          • Bart
            Bart  May 22, 2019

            No, I don’t think there’s a single piece of evidence for that and many, many reasons for thinking it’s nowhere near the truth! (For one thing among a thousand: the Gospels *do* portray views precisely opposed to Roman rule; their central figure that the authors adore and worship as lord was crucified for treason against the Roman state).

      • Avatar
        Dialogues  April 26, 2020

        Dear Dr Ehrman,

        Doesn’t the appearance of Jesus to his disciples and circle of friends/believers after the event of the cross, and not to others, whether they be Jews or Romans, suggest to the rational mind that he had escaped death on the cross?

        Being a few hours on the cross (3 or 6) apparently made Pilate wonder at the news of his death, which I understand normally took days on a cross. His surprise was despite the flogging, which, if it was as severe as depicted in ‘the Passion of the Christ’ film, would probably not have made Pilate wonder.

        Also, if death is not certain (e.g. decapitation, decomposition and decay, total incineration), medical experts are required to verify death. Soldiers may be good at killing, but aren’t experts at detecting the subtle signs of life in the unconscious. Besides, the job of killing was being done by the cross, not the soldiers, who apparently didn’t even know about the vital signs.

        The existence of forgeries shouldn’t prevent us from exploring the rational possibilities.

        Please share your thoughts.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 27, 2020

          I think most people who know how Romans crucified people would have trouble thinking that he got off the cross. We don’t know of any instances when someone managed to escape the punishment. So I’m not sure it’s “most rational” to think that in this case he did. It may be more rational to question when he actually *did* appear to his disciples (i.e. as a living human being).

          • Avatar
            Dialogues  April 28, 2020

            Dr Ehrman, many thanks for your valued response.

            I have in mind the statement of Josephus:

            “And when I was sent by Titus Caesar with Cerealins, and a thousand horsemen, to a certain village called Thecoa, in order to know whether it were a place fit for a camp, as I came back, I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered.”

            Source: https://pages.uncc.edu/james-tabor/archaeology-and-the-dead-sea-scrolls/josephus-references-to-crucifixion/

          • Bart
            Bart  April 29, 2020

            Yes, this is a highly unusual case — I don’t know of anything similar. Josephus was an upper crust elite on personal terms with the Roman emperors (he was actually made part of the Roman court) who made a special request. We don’t of other incidents like this. Jesus certainly didn’t have any high placed friends at this level. But I thought you were saying that he somehow got off the cross himself. If not that — his friends were all lower class Jews from rural no where. They would not have had an audience with Pilate any more than you would have an audience iwth Donald Trump just by asking for one, let alone any persuasive power.

          • Avatar
            Dialogues  April 29, 2020

            Pilate’s wifes’ dream might have persuaded him sufficiently to try to save Jesus. Otherwise, why would he care to consider a Jew as innocent, wash his hands publicly, and hand Jesus over to Joseph of Arimathea?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 30, 2020

            That’s only in Matthew, of course; the other Gospels don’t say anything about it. so it wouldn’t explain the extreme measures he takes in the other Gospels.

  8. Avatar
    SScottb149  May 18, 2019

    Dr. Erhman,
    Do you think it is probably that no one knew the words of Jesus on the Cross (if he spoke anything at all) and that Mark and the other gospels simple put words on his mouth from the Psalms and the prophets? Thank you.

  9. Avatar
    HoltG  May 18, 2019

    If Hollywood writers ever run out of material for screen plays, maybe they should consider some of these forgeries and making them into movies of fiction. At the very least, the movies would be entertaining.

  10. Avatar
    Eric  May 20, 2019

    “The narrative was then brought to Germany by the Free Masons, understood to be modern-day ancestors of the Essenes.”

    ‘Ancestors’ of the Essenes? Now that really is some trick!

    I guess Freemason’s do say their order was founded by Hiram, so….

  11. Avatar
    dannawid  June 1, 2019

    dr ehrman,
    i heared you once mentioning the infancy gospel of thomas so i read it and found it facinating. is this thomas the same as the author of the gospel of thomas? was this gospel discovered in nag hamadi also?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 2, 2019

      Both authors claim to be the same person; neither one of them actually was that person (Didymus Judas Thomas). They were two different authors. And no, Infancy Thomas was not discovered at Nag Hammadi. And it is not a Gnostic text.

  12. Avatar
    Elagabalus  June 24, 2019

    Here’s another one, currently being discussed in the Evidence for Jesus thread in the Historical Jesus forum:


    • Avatar
      Elagabalus  July 5, 2019

      Dr. Ehrman,
      I don’t know if you had a chance to look at this thread yet, but one poster pointed out that the pen name of the alleged translator of this work–Ben Armhardt–is an anagram of Bart D. Ehrman!

  13. Avatar
    tjjohnson61@yahoo.com  July 19, 2019

    I have read elsewhere that it was suggested that Venturini may have been influenced by the ideas of one Karl Friedrich Bardt, an eccentric German theologian who was pretty whacked. Both Venturini and Bardt put forth the “swoon hypothesis” – that Jesus did not die on the cross, but that he instead “swooned” and I guess appeared to be dead when he was not. In his book, “Strange New Gospels” by Edgar Goodspeed, 1931, Goodspeed speculated some connection between Bardt, Venturini and the so-called “Crucifixion Eyewitness.”

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