AN American Bible scholar says he has discovered that the entire story of Jesus was made up by Roman aristocrats.
According to Joseph Atwill, Christianity did not start as a religion, but was instead created as a sophisticated propaganda tool to pacify subjects of the Roman Empire.
Atwill's claim is reported in Britain's Daily Mail newspaper.
"He says he noticed a pattern forming when he was studying the only surviving account of first-century Judea, which he claims contains dozens of parallels between the life of a Roman emperor and that of Jesus in the New Testament," The Daily Mail report said.
The American scholar argues that these ancient "confessions" provide "clear evidence'" that the biography of Jesus is "actually constructed, tip to stern, on prior stories, but especially on the biography of a Roman Caesar".
The Mail reported a news release published on PRWeb as saying that Atwill will be giving a presentation on his findings, entitled 'Covert Messiah' at Conway Hall in Holborn, London, on October 19, where he is encouraging sceptics to challenge his theory.
Atwill, the Mail said, accepts that his theory will upset some believers, but he is confident that it will be accepted in good time.
However, the newspaper reported Bible academic, Professor James Crossley, from the University of Sheffield, as comparing Atwill's theory to a Dan Brown fiction book.
"These types of theories are very common outside the academic world and are usually reserved for sensationalist literature," Crossley told the Mail. "They are virtually non-existent in the academic world."
Crossley also suggested the theories are not taken seriously by experts.
"People do debate about how much we can know about Jesus, but the idea that Romans invented stories about Jesus is outside of the academic world," the Mail quotes Crossley, who added that this sort of theory can be "irritating" to religion academics.
According to the Daily Mail report, Atwell says he doesn't want to directly cause Christians any harm, but claimed that it "is important for our culture".
"Alert citizens need to know the truth about our past so we can understand how and why governments create false histories and false gods," he said. "They often do it to obtain a social order that is against the best interests of the common people. Once those sources are all laid bare, there's simply nothing left."
Atwill, the newspaper reported, argued that the Romans turned to subtler ways of keeping order when heavy-handed tactics failed.
"Jewish sects in Palestine at the time, who were waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah, were a constant source of violent insurrection during the first century," Atwell is quoted as saying.
"When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare.
"They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system.
"That's when the 'peaceful' Messiah story was invented.
"Instead of inspiring warfare, this Messiah urged turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and encouraged Jews to 'give onto Caesar' and pay their taxes to Rome," Atwill said.
"Although Christianity can be a comfort to some, it can also be very damaging and repressive, an insidious form of mind control that has led to blind acceptance of serfdom, poverty, and war throughout history," the American Bible scholar is reported as saying. "To this day, especially in the United States, it is used to create support for war in the Middle East."