It should not be a surprise to find a bust of Jesus on a secular building. Many early members of the Society came from a Christian background, particularly Unitarian, and saw Jesus as an altogether human teacher with nothing supernatural about him.
This view was supported by, amongst other writings, by two books by German theologians: Das Leben Jesu [The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined] (1835) by David Friedrich Strauss and The Essence of Christianity (1841) by Ludwig Feuerbach. These books were translated into English (1846, 1854) by the famous novelist Mary Ann Evans who wrote under the male penname of George Eliot. She was prominent among the freethinkers of the time, and of course she knew G. J. Holyoake, the founder of Secularism, and like him came from the midlands.
The following comments on these two books are from Kathryn Hughes: George Eliot: The Last Victorian (Fourth Estate 1999).
"Although the title of the work was The Life of Jesus, it is the subtitle Critically Examined which provides the key to Strauss's methodology. He takes each episode in the life of Jesus, as told in the four Gospels, and shows how it 'may be considered not as the expression of a fact, but as the product of an idea of his earliest followers'. Steeped in the Jewish tradition of the returning Messiah, Jesus's disciples shaped their understanding of their master's life to fit inherited expectations." [Hughes p.98]
"Feuerbach's ... The Essence of Christianity ... was an attempt to salvage the spirit of Christianity in an intellectual landscape for ever changed by Strauss. If the Bible was no longer a literal account of faith, then what was left? Feuerbach suggested that religion was a psychological necessity for man, who projected the best of himself upon God and then proceeded to worship his own magnificence. Far from resulting in an arid solipsism, Feuerbach's Christianity was a warm and generous humanism, which saw acts of love ... as the building blocks of faith ..." [Hughes p.205]
We would also like to add links to the full text on-line of the works mentioned here - if you come across them, please let us know!
There are no accounts of Jesus in the surviving records of contemporary historians and commentators. There is a brief mention in Josephus, a Jewish historian who wrote around Y90, although the surviving manuscript of his Jewish Antiquities is a much later copy, and Christian writers had certainly altered the text. Josephus mentions John the Baptist, and the stoning to death of 'the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, James by name'. There are three brief references to 'Christus' or 'Chrestus' in Roman writings from Y110 - Y120 of Pliny the Younger, Tacitus and Suetonius. Roman destruction of the Temple in Y70.
Evidence that Jesus Never Existed
Jesus and the Jewish Resistance by Hyam Maccoby
The Myth of the Historical Jesus by Hayyim ben Yehoshua
The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty
Origins of Christian Mythology by S. Acharya
Historical Jesus Theories
Jesus the Pretend Christ from Inquisitive Atheists
Did a Historical Jesus Exist? by by Jim Walker
Our member John Edmonson has written about Jesus in several editions of our newsletter, the Leicester Secularist
Page updated 12/2/2020.