1) Jesus.

2) John the Baptist.

3) Mary Magdala.

4) The Gospel of John mentions the most beloved disciple, but it's generally believed to refer to John. However, as the later additions of Mary Magdala into all the chapters that mention 'the most beloved disciple' prove, this gospel was originally written from Mary's perspective. To avoid heresy claims and the emergence of a more human picture of Jesus, the gospel was later edited. Although not written by John or by Mary, this gospel should, in fact, be called the Gospel of Mary.

5) When Jesus was crucified, his cross had the letters I.N.R.I. on it. That is short for In Nomine Romanum Imperium (In the name of the Roman Empire).

6) When Judas Iscariot left the group, he was immediately labeled a traitor and an enemy of Jesus. Much later it was also rumored that it was him who was responsible for the capture of Jesus, but that is not true. It's typical for all sects and cults to see apostates as enemies and traitors.

7) Prophet Elijah

8) 2 Kings 2: 1-12. That name later evolved into Gilgal-tha and Golgotha. In actuality, there has never been a place called Golgotha or Gilgal-tha in Jerusalem. Later the verses 15-16 gave the disciples the idea to believe in a "Holy Spirit".

9) "Yahve Is My God" is the meaning of the Hebrew word Eliyahu (Elijah).

10) In religious sects that face an unexpected event not compatible with their original framework of beliefs it is common for the followers to restructure their beliefs to avoid cognitive dissonance. The cognitive dissonance that Jesus' followers faced was caused by two conflicting cognitions: "Jesus is the Anointed One who will save Israel from the Romans" and "Jesus is dead". The old prophesy from the Second Book of Kings helped the followers solve the conflict by offering an alternative interpretation to the situation: "Jesus is dead, but that is what was supposed to happen to the Savior". See Wikipedia for more information on the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance by Leon Festinger.

  1. Preface

  2. A Young Man With a Passion
  3. Yeshua And The Twelve
  4. The Most Beloved Disciple
  5. The Night of The Soldiers
  6. "He Wasn't The Messenger of Yahve!"
  7. Old Prophesy, New Hope

  8. Further reading


The Bible portrays Jesus as a magnificent Son of God to whom nothing was impossible. According to the gospels, he performed miracles, cured the sick and was morally perfect. Yet, he also lived as an ordinary man among ordinary men and women. What was this man really like? What was his childhood like? What were his earthly parents like? What really happened when he died? What made people believe he resurrected? Where is his tomb?

The birth of Christianity is an extraordinary story, which has not been portrayed thoroughly from a secular point of view before. Here is an attempt at that, but first, some important factors concerning our sources:

  • Pseudepigraphy. Pseudepigraphy means the custom of attributing a text to a person who has not actually written it. This is the case with many of the letters in the New Testament, as well as with the gospels. When the gospels were written, the authors (individuals or groups) did not see a need for a title. All the gospels were merely "Good news about Jesus". The titles were added much later, when it became important to distinguish the widely accepted ones from the gospels that the majority considered unorthodox or even heretic. The names of the four gospels in the New Testament are not the names of the authors, but the names that the contemporaries found most suitable based on the content of each gospel.
  • The Gospels chosen into the New Testament. One should also know, that the gospels that were chosen into the New Testament, were the ones that the majority of the 4th century clergy felt were the best depictions of Jesus, based on who they thought Jesus had been. The decision on which gospels to canonize (include in the New Testament) was not unanimous.
  • Dating the gospels in the New Testament. The order in which the four gospels are in the New Testament is not a chronological order. The first written gospel of these four is the gospel of Mark, which was written approximately 40 years after the death of Jesus (around the year 70). The gospel writers did not hurry writing down the life of Jesus, because they expected his immediate return. The second oldest gospel is the gospel of Matthew. It was written using the gospel of Mark as the primary source. The gospel of Luke was written using both of these gospels as sources. For more information on the origins of these three synoptic gospels, see the Farrer-Goulder hypothesis. The gospel of John was written much later than the synoptic gospels.
  • Saul of Tarsus wrote the first Christian documents. These so-called Pauline letters tell very little about the details concerning Jesus' life, even less than the somewhat twenty years later gospels.
  • More details, less accurate. The amount of details in the gospels should not increase as time passes. If the newer version of a story contains more information than the older version, it is likely that the newer version was edited without proper knowledge of the events and could contain fictional elements.
  • "The Messiah does this in the prophesies, so Jesus must have done this". Many of the events linked to Jesus, like the feeding miracle (see 2 Kings 4: 42-44) or the trampling of the sea (see Psalm 107: 28-30), are not historical events but events that the gospel writers believed Jesus must have done. They believed him to be the Messiah, so they believed he had done everything that the Old Testament prophesied the Messiah would do.
  • The Roman influence. The gospels could very well have been written by Roman professional writers since by the time they were written, Christianity had already arrived in Rome. The infancy gospels of Matthew and Luke, for example, reflect basic Roman hero myth literature.
  • The Resurrection. The earliest gospel, the gospel of Mark originally ends in verse 16: 8*, where the women have found the empty tomb but have not seen Jesus appear to them. Later generations then wrote a longer ending to the story to answer the criticism of "how do we know someone didn't steal the body?". Because of this criticism a guard was placed on the tomb in the following gospels. In the gospel of Peter this guard even has a name "Petronius" and the tomb is sealed with seven seals to prevent entry (See verses 30-33). However, even the information about finding an empty tomb can very well be an answer to the criticism of "How do you know he was taken into heaven?" since the story in itself is dubious in several ways: 1. The names of the women who visit the tomb vary in all gospels, 2. crucified criminals were not buried in separate graves but mass graves and 3. it is not plausible that the women would go to embalm a body that had been in a grave for three days already.

I've used the original Hebrew names of all the characters involved. The English names are present in the marginal to the right. The right marginal also includes some interesting information that would cause fluency problems if placed inside the text itself. In some details I've used my artistic freedom. These details, however, should not be crucial to the story.

A Young Man With a Passion

Yeshua¹ was born around the year 4 BCE. He was born into a family of several children. His life was changed dramatically on the day when his father left the family and their mother, who was now forced to make a living by herself. Being abandoned by his father and seeing the hardships her mother had to face, Yeshua became aware of the grim realities of life at a very young age. He saw how people were forced to do sinful deeds just because they had no other choice. He understood how evil deeds were consequences and not indicators of a person's evil nature. He came to believe that the worst sin was indifference towards the people close to you. In Yeshua's view, the Roman occupation was a sign that Yahve had turned his back on the Israelis for their lack of compassion.

In his youth Yeshua met a preacher called Yohannas². Yohannas shared Yeshua's belief that the Roman occupation was a sign that Israel was on an evil path. Yohannas believed that if the whole of Israel changed their ways, the Roman might would immediately be brought down. Yohannas baptized all who came to him and heard his message. Yeshua took the baptism as well. He joined Yohannas's, who was also called "the Baptist", group when he was in his twenties.

Image courtesy of

Yohannas acquired a large crowd of followers unhappy with the Roman occupation.

When the Romans heard of Yohannas's group, they thought it was planning a riot. They had Yohannas captured and the group was divided. Yohannas was kept in captivity until he was eventually executed as an enemy of Rome.

After Yohannas' death Yeshua took over his mission. He was convinced that Yahve had chosen him to carry Yohannas' message. He started preaching love, compassion and the sanctity of marriage - values that had meant the most to Yohannas. By this time Yeshua had embraced the idea that the worst transgressors were the rich who didn't share their wealth with those who had nothing, and the men who left their wives and families.

When Yeshua's mother heard of his mission, she thought he had gone mad. Yeshua was hurt by this but he was certain of the will of Yahve, and so he cut ties with his mother. He told people that he had no mother and that his followers should cut ties with their parents and instead commit themselves completely to Yahve. The group that was following Yeshua became his family.

Yeshua differed from the other prophesying preachers of his time by not refraining himself from eating or drinking. He enjoyed life fully, and only abstained himself from hatred and other thoughts he considerd unrighteous. He didn't even follow the life style of Yohannas who was said to only eat honey from wild bees. Because of Yeshua's ordinary habits, people called him a glutton and a drunkard. They didn't expect a prophet to behave like he did and so they didn't believe his message.

Yeshua And The Twelve

Yeshua traveled around the country for a few years and acquired a following of 20 to 30 people. These followers were people who took his word as the word of Yahve and left their homes and livelihoods, taking only their families with them to follow this charismatic speaker. Yeshua believed that twelve of his closest followers would be the twelve kings of the new Israel, which would emerge when all of Israel heard Yeshua's message about charity as the greatest commandment.

Yeshua believed that twelve of his followers would be the twelve new kings of Israel.

The twelve followers Yeshua was most fond of, were his most passionate followers. They too believed that the Roman occupation was a clear sign of Yahve's anger. They believed Yeshua to be a messenger of Yahve just like the prophets of the Scriptures they had heard stories of. They also believed Yeshua had healing powers because many people had been healed after Yeshua had visited them. These followers expected something remarkable to happen soon.

The Most Beloved Disciple

During his years preaching Yeshua also met a prostitute called Miriam³, to whom he gave the surname Magdala, "great and elevated". He felt extreme sympathy for this woman. Most of Yeshua's followers suspected Miriam's suitability to be part of the group, but Yeshua insisted that Miriam be treated with respect. Miriam reminded Yeshua of his mother: a pure-hearted woman who had become a victim of circumstances. Miriam also held Yeshua in high regard. Yeshua treated her better than anyone before. She joined Yeshua's group and the two became very close. Among Yeshua's followers, Miriam got the nickname 'the most beloved disciple'4.

Yeshua and Miriam had a deep relationship.

Yeshua's most devoted follower and closest friend besides Magdala was Simeon, who Yeshua gave a name referring to his baldness: Cephas, "rock". Cephas had become a follower of Yeshua after he saw his ill mother-in-law heal the day after Yeshua's visit. Cephas believed Yeshua to be a true messenger of Yahve, who would save Israel from the Romans.

Cephas became convinced of Yeshua's healing powers when his mother-in-law was healed after Yeshua had visited her.

The Night of The Soldiers

The Romans heard of Yeshua and his "twelve kings" when the group arrived in Jerusalem between the years 26 and 36. The Romans wanted to prevent all possible commotions and captured Yeshua for questioning on suspicion of planning a revolt against the Roman empire.

Image courtesy of

Yeshua was captured for planning a revolt against the Roman empire.

This event was a massive shock to Yeshua's followers who now had to hide, so that they would not be captured. They couldn't believe how the man they so loved and believed to be a chosen messenger of Yahve could be caught by the Romans. They went into hiding to wait news of Yeshua's release.

"He Wasn't The Messenger of Yahve!"

For days Yeshua's followers prayed and waited news about their charismatic leader. When the news finally came, the group was devastated. A man, working for the Romans, Yosef of Arimathea, told them that Yeshua had been sentenced to death by a brutal roman custom: crucifixion. He told them that Yeshua had been nailed from his hands and feet to a wooden cross charged with crimes against the Roman Empire5.

Image courtesy of

When Yeshua was crucified, none of his followers were present. They had to hide so that they wouldn't be captured. A reliable source told them about Yeshua's death.

The news about Yeshua's death spiraled the group into inner chaos. Some denied the news saying it was impossible. Some accused themselves for this horrible incident: "We did something wrong, and now Yahve has punished our lord". Some of the followers left the group saying that Yeshua was a false prophet and not a true messenger of Yahve. One of those who left the group was Yudah who Yeshua had called Iscariot, "the man from Kerioth".6

In Yeshua's absence Cephas became the leader of the group. People now looked to him for answers but he felt lost and confused, too.

Old Prophesy, New Hope

After days of confusion and chaos, Yeshua's most beloved disciple Miriam was in a synagogue praying and looking for answers when she heard the Second Book of Kings being read. In this scripture there is a prophesy of how the prophet Eliyahu7 is taken up to heaven by Yahve after he leaves a place called Gilgal8. Miriam took this prophesy in her heart and contemplated on it. On the night of the next day she had a revelation: "This prophesy must speak about Yeshua!".

She finally found hope. She believed that Yeshua had suffered the fate prophesied to Eliyahu. She felt ecstatic and ran to Cephas.

Miriam then told Cephas what she had just learned. Cephas, who had felt as if his whole world had collapsed after the news of Yeshua's death now found something to hang on to. For days he had been disappointed in himself for not knowing what to do or what to say to the others, but now everything seemed to fall into place. His eyes opened to all the things Yeshua had said before. "Yes, he must have been Yahve Is My God9!"

Cephas gathered all the others and told them to rejoice: "Yeshua is alive! He was taken up to heaven!" The others were doubtful at first, but Cephas' firm belief made them convinced about Yeshua's resurrection. By believing in the resurrection, the followers gained consonance: They had not left their previous lives (to which they could no longer return) for nothing, and they once again found purpose in their lives.10

And so began the story of Christianity. The message of Yeshua's resurrection spread like a wild fire and the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem in the year 70 only added interest towards this charismatic man revered by his followers. Unlike in any other religion before, every Christian was a messenger and a missionary, who told people this extraordinary story and asked them, too, to follow the teachings of Yeshua.

Creative Commons License
The Atheist New Testament by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Further reading

  • Berger, K 1991. Historische Psychologie des Neuen Testaments.
  • Capps, D 2000. Jesus: A psychological biography.
  • Capps, D 2001. “Sundén’s role-taking theory: The case of John Henry Newman and his mentors”, in Belzen, J A (ed), Psychohistory in psychology of religion: Interdisciplinary studies.
  • Capps, D 2002. Response to Ellens, Miller, and Anderson. Pastoral Psychology, 50(6), 425-440.
  • Ellens, J H 2002. A psychological biography for Jesus: Responding to Donald Capps. Pastoral Psychology, 50(6), 401-407.
  • Ellens, J H & Rollins, W G (eds) 2004. From Christ to Jesus, Volume 4 of the series Psychology and the Bible: A new way to read the scriptures.
  • Festinger, Leon 1957. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance.
  • Harjula, Raimo 2011. Jeesus - mies myyttien takana.
  • Holm, N G 1995. Role theory and religious experience, in Hood (ed), Handbook of religious experience.
  • Kirkpatrick, L A 1999. Attachment and religious representations and behavior, in Cassidy & Shaver, Handbook of attachment.
  • Malina, B J & Neyrey, J H 1996. Portraits of Paul: An archeology of ancient personality.
  • Miller, J W 1997. Jesus at thirty: A psychological and historical portrait.
  • Moreland, J P & Craig, W L 2003. Philosophical foundations for a Christian worldview.
  • Myllykoski, Matti 1991. Die letzten Tage Jesu: Markus und Johannes, ihre Traditionen und die historische Frage.
  • Pargament, K I 1997. The psychology of religion and coping: Theory, research, practice.
  • Runyan, W McK 1984. Life histories and psychobiography: Explorations in theory and method.
  • Sanders, E. P. 1996. The Historical Figure of Jesus.
  • Schweitzer, A 1913. The psychiatric study of Jesus: Exposition and criticism. (English translation 1948.)
  • Stark, R & Finke, R 2000. Acts of faith: Explaining the human side of religion.
  • Van Aarde, A G 2001. Fatherless in Galilee: Jesus as a child of God.
  • Verhoeven, Paul 2011. Jesus of Nazareth.