The God Who Wasn't There is a 2005 documentary film on the "Jesus myth." It is the work of ex-fundamentalist Brian Flemming. I missed all the excitement about the film, if there was much. I recently discovered it on Netflix and since apologetics is a keen interest of mine ( I teach it academically) I thought it looked like a pretty interesting attack upon the “myth of Jesus.”
The film producers believe this documentary will do to religion what Bowling for Columbine did to the gun culture and Super Size Me did to the fast food industry. Of the three films Bowling for Columbine was the most interesting but none of these films did a great deal to change minds or actions regardless of your view of their importance or their impact on the larger culture. Hype does not mean that minds are being changed regardless of what side you are on in a debate. Most "pop" documentaries are the ideological dreams of writers and producers who have an odd angle (conservative or liberal) and want to promote it. Really good documentaries, which I enjoy a great deal, are generally done by PBS.
The God Who Wasn’t There “irreverently lays out the case that Jesus Christ never existed.” This claim, which is not new, is advanced with the following claims:
1) The early founders of Christianity seem wholly unaware of the human Jesus. Jesus was a mythical figure and the details of his life were added more than five decades after his death. A case is made, using a simple time line, that since Paul wrote his letters first, and the four Gospels were written several decades later, that this time gap is just too huge to accommodate serious history.
2) The letters of Paul were written four decades before the first Gospel and Paul mentions none of the stories or details of the life of Jesus at all, not even quoting Jesus. (This is patently wrong!) He does mention the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension but only in a manner that sees them as taking place in a mythic realm.
3) The death-resurrection-ascension sequence of the Gospel events was common in pagan myths and other religions. Others stories mentioned in the Gospels also occurred in previous mythologies and religions and were simply copied by the early Christians.
4) The Jesus of the Gospels bears a striking resemblance to other ancient heroes and the figureheads of pagan savior cults.
5) Contemporary Christians are largely ignorant of the origins of their religion. Interviews are included to prove this point.
6) Fundamentalism is as strong today as it ever has been, with an alarming 44% of Americans believing that Jesus will return to earth in their lifetimes, 22% saying it will be in the next five years or so.
All of the above claims are not new, with the possible exception of number five. They were all made in antiquity (except of course numbers five and six) by brilliant critics of Christianity who used far better arguments than those employed by Brian Flemming. Ancient Christian apologists, two of whom Flemming cites out of their context, answered many of the very claims this film makes. Flemming presents most of this material as if it was really some new discovery that he wove together for this film! One Christian blogger noted: “Anyone with the most cursory knowledge of the early ecumenical councils will know of the fierce debates which took place on the humanity and divinity of Christ: the Creeds of the Church did not come from nowhere.” Amen!
The fifth assertion made above is accurate and thus may be the only thing in the film that I found worth seeing. (The film is so badly made, and poorly patched together with clips taken from several old films about Jesus, that any awards for cinematography would be a real joke!) Flemming cleverly uses about six different Christians, not scholars or serious apologists, to demonstrate that most Christians are ignorant of the origins of their religion. I have no doubt that he is right in this claim. But it proves absolutely nothing about his bigger claim that the Jesus story is a “myth.”
Flemming presents what he believes is overwhelming proof by using interviews with several popular atheists, including the infamous Sam Harris. The Los Angeles Times said the film is “provocative—to put it mildly.” I didn’t find it provocative in the least. If I wanted to undermine Christian faith I would look for something far more professionally and carefully made than this sad excuse for a credible documentary. It was a total waste of time to watch it.
If you want to know more about the film a simple Google search will reveal both fans and critics coming from a number of perspectives. Count me as another critic, not because the “Jesus myth” idea is not worthy of apologetic debate but because this film doesn’t make a serious contribution to that debate. Sadly, the film borders on buffoonery. I had hoped that I could find something here to use in one of my apologetics classes but this film is too easy to refute.