Jesus Christ is unlike any other person in the ancient world, real or fictional.
Jesus lived in an obscure part of the world, was brought up in a the family of a
tradesman, and never took political or personal power. Ultimately he was crucified
and then rose bodily from the grave. These were all ideas that were unlikely to be
believed in the ancient world unless there was truth behind them.
The Apostle Paul describes Jesus in these terms:-
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling
block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:22,23)
The Jews imagined that their Messiah would immediately bring about the Kingdom of
God by defeating the Romans and setting off on a string of great military conquests.
The Greeks imagined a hero who would suffer hardship without complaint, would move
in the highest levels of society and would finally overcome his enemies. Neither
Jews nor Greeks were expecting a cruxifixion; they certainly weren’t expecting a
bodily resurrection and indeed they believed that such things were beneath the consideration
of any educated person.
The same picture continues into the second century AD. The writings of Celsus (especially
his book “The True Word” c178AD) show elements of the life of Jesus that a pagan
would never imagine to be part of the experience of a person sent from Heaven:-
The idea that Jesus was brought up in an obscure part of the world, a rural village
in Palestine where he was raised by a Carpenter.
Jesus’ choice of disciples: “ten or eleven people of notorious character... Tax-collectors,
sailors, fishermen”. (Contra Celsum )
Jesus didn’t do the things that the ancient world expected of someone who was descended
from God. “What great deeds did he perform? Did he put his enemies to shame, or bring
an end to what was designed against him? No calamity happened to him who condemned
him... Why did he not give some manifestation of divinity and free himself from this
reproach, and take vengeance on those who insulted both him and his Father?” (Contra
Celsum) - The Greeks expected a hero who would impose his will on his critics by
The important point is that if the Gospel writers had invented the person of Jesus
then they would have included none of these points within their accounts. Instead
a Gentile would have made Jesus a demigod like Hercules or Perseus while a Jew would
have attached Messiahship to a successful general or revolutionary who fought the
Hercules was the archetypical Greek hero, son of the God Zeus and a human woman (Alcmene).
As a result Hercules was effectively superhuman from the time of his birth. This
picture shows the infant Hercules in the process of killing a large snake that has
been sent to destroy him. Other demigods appear in Greek mythology who show similar
A Greek from the period following the time of Jesus would have expected the Son of
God to have been like Hercules or Perseus. Instead Jesus lived a much more quiet
life where he reveals the word of God rather than taking part in heroic activities,
raising armies and overcoming enemies.
The comparison of Jesus with mythological figures forms a significant element of
contemporary criticism of the Jesus of the Gospels.