The story of Jesus bears many similarities to the story of Heracles and other mythical Greek heroes. This does not mean that Jesus could not have existed as a real historical person, but it causes doubt. The mythical template used to create the Jesus story is so strong that even if a real Jesus existed one wonders if there is anything left of him in the story as we know it.
As it is, I don’t think there is any reason to assumed that he lived. For the reasons I will give below, I think he is more likely mythological. When the gospel writers crafted their stories of their visions of who Jesus was, they based their stories on verses of what we now call the Old Testament, and on the religious ideas their readers were used to. If you wish to create a new sect, it’s necessary to make potential converts comfortable. This is done by wrapping the new ideas in old ideas. The old ideas that the Christian writers wrapped their Gospels in are the Greco-Roman Mythological stories.
It’s a good idea to note that the Gospels were written a good 350 years or more after the death of Alexander the Great; the conquer of the entire Near East, including Judea. Judea would stay under a strong Greco-Roman influence for that entire time, include during the Maccabean period. At least in the bigger towns, and maybe even the smaller villages, they could have known as much Greek mythology as a Greek in Athens.
The Jesus story starts with his mother, Mary, becomes pregnant by no other than himself. Zeus, as we all know, often does the same thing. Even as Jesus’ mother was a human and his father was a , so to was it for Heracles, Jason, Perseus, Theseus, and Dionysus. What happened to Jesus’ mother happened to many women in ancient Greek mythology, but the Greek gods were much more earthy in how they got their mortal lovers pregnant.
The not yet born Jesus and his parents either go to or already live in Bethlehem, which is close to Jerusalem in central Judea. Once there, Jesus is born but soon afterwards they are forced to leave and either go to Egypt and then to Nazareth in Galilee, or they go straight to Nazareth without going to Egypt. Either way this is a classical Greek mythological move. In Greek hero stories, and even in some stories of the gods, the hero cannot stay in his land of birth, usually land he is the rightful king of, but has to leave the land and grow up elsewhere. Heracles too had to leave his homeland, in his case because he was so violent as a child. Jason the aeronautic also had to leave his homeland as child. Perseus (the star of the movie “The Clash of the Titans”) had to leave. They would all eventual return as heroes.
There is a story of Jesus as a young boy showing his magnificence by talking to the temple priests. He amazes the priests with his knowledge and wisdom. Heracles too showed off his stuff as a child; he killed two giant snakes that crawled into the bedroom he and his brother slept in.
There is a story that before starting his ministry, Jesus walked into the desert, lured by Satan, where Satan gave him choices that could change Jesus’ life. Jesus rebuffed Satan and chose the way of the hero. Heracles did the same: Two beautiful girls, one called Vice and the other called Virtue, approached Heracles. Vice offered Heracles an easy life of happiness and pleasure. Virtue offered Heracles a harder life of great deeds. Heracles, like Jesus, chose the life of a hero (meaning Virtue).
In his story, Jesus proves his worth by his deeds. In his case that is done by doing miracles and showing great knowledge and wisdom. Heracles also had to prove himself. In his case, which reflects a major difference between the outlook of Greeks and Jews, Heracles shows his worth by performing feats of strength and quick thinking.
In each of the four Gospels, Jesus raises one person, two in Luke, from the dead (not counting himself). Heracles also raises a person from the dead. This is easy to overlook because while Jesus does it in a straight forward way, Heracles’ method for doing the same is more dramatic. Heracles wrestles with Death himself. He, of course, wins and the lucky girl is no longer dead and gets to live for a while longer.
The biggest feat in Jesus’ life, and what he is most known for, is dying and soon after rising from death and living again. Heracles does the same thing, and he does it hundreds of years before Jesus. Heracles died on a bonfire, then he ascended to Mount Olympus to live with Zeus; he even gets married. The very popular Dionysus, also known as the twice born , also died and was reborn. Perseus did the same, symbolically, when he entered Medusa’s cave and killed Medusa (the cave and Medusa combo is a symbol of death). the hero Theseus goes into the maze to kill the human eating Minotaur, kills it and with help finds his way out. Also, as Jesus becomes a king in the Gospels, both Perseus and Theseus too become kings (although they are only earthly kings, the similarity is strong). Strangely, Heracles never becomes a king.
And one more detail which is small, but I have always found fascinated. Jesus, when he is carrying his cross on his way to be executed, needs help so the guards pull a man from the crowd to help him. The Greek heroes also receive help. Heracles as he stands on the wood that will burn and kill him, can’t light the fire, so he has to get help. Perseus gets helps from several of the gods. Theseus gets help from the king’s daughter (this is the same king who is making Theseus fight the human eating Minotaur.)
One last mythical connection between Jesus and the Greeks. In the Gospel of John Jesus turns water into wine, and John tells stories using the image of vines. Wine and vines are symbols of the Greek Dionysus. I don’t think John was a hidden pagan. But I do believe John is consciously using pagan symbols to make his gospel seem more familiar to the ancient reader. For the same reason the gospel writers, all of them, used Greek mythical patterns to write their stories.
By the first century, when Jesus was supposed to have been born, the idea of death and rebirth was old news. Christianity was not new in that respect. Roughly two thousand years before, Osiris and Isis began the whole thing in Egypt. The mummies of Egypt are all about death and rebirth. It is fair to speculate that all the religions of the Near East had some version of a dying and reborn .
This alone does not prove Jesus did not exist as a real person. There is no absolute proof of that. Who knows, maybe he did. But as I said before, there is reason to doubt.
The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living. Marcus Tullius Cicero