Atheist Luigi Cascioli alleges Jesus never existed in his book, ‘The Fable of Christ’

In one of the most ominous legal cases in an era of ominous litigation, an Italian judge today heard arguments on whether or not a parish priest in that nation should stand trial for claiming Jesus of Nazareth actually existed.

Viterbo, Italy, north of Rome, is the venue where Rev. Enrico Righi is being sued by his childhood friend, atheist Luigi Cascioli, for allegedly deceiving people into thinking Jesus was an actual historical figure.

“This complaint does not wish to contest the freedom of Christians to profess their faith, sanctioned by [article] 19 of the Italian Constitution,” says Cascioli, “but wishes to denounce the abuse that the Catholic Church commits by availing itself of its prestige in order to inculcate – as if being real and historical – facts that are really just inventions.”

Attorneys for Righi and Cascioli presented their arguments before Judge Gaetano Mautone in Viterbo in a short, closed hearing.

“The point is not to establish whether Jesus existed or not, but if there is a question of possible fraud,” said Cascioli’s attorney, Mauro Fonzo, to reporters, according to the Associated Press.

Although Cascioli and his attorney know their case has little chance of success in the home of the Roman Catholic Church, their strategy is to go through the necessary legal steps that will enable them, ultimately, to bring their anti-Jesus case before the European Court of Human Rights. There, says Fonzo, he will accuse the church of “religious racism,” said the report.

Cascioli, the author of “The Fable of Christ,” claims his childhood friend violated local laws against deception when he stated in a 2002 parish gazette “that the historic figure of Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary (two totally imaginary characters and therefore historically non existing [claims Cascioli]); of having the same Jesus been born in the village of Bethlehem and of having grown up in Nazareth.”

Specifically, Cascioli says Righi has broken two Italian laws: the “abuse of popular belief” – which amounts to intentionally deceiving someone – and “impersonation” – meaning one gains by giving a false name to someone.

On his website, Cascioli alleges the person known as Jesus is “for the most part based on the figure of John of Gamala, son of Judas, downright descendant of the Asmoneian stock.”

Rev. Righi says the existence of Jesus is “unmistakable” due to a wealth of both pagan and Christian evidence pointing to his reality.

“Cascioli maintains that Christ never existed. If he doesn’t see the sun at midday, he can’t denounce me just because I do. He should denounce all believers!” Righi told the London Times recently.

Among his examples are the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, thought by scholars to be the most important non-Christian source on the issue. One of his passages of “Jewish Antiquities,” a work completed in A.D. 93, mentions the execution in A.D. 62 of “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, James by name.”

In a provocative analysis of the case in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper, columnist Colin Bower says Cascioli’s legal challenge may be daunting:

He has thought out his grounds with wit and insight. He happily concedes that theological argument is rightfully the preserve of theologians – and that theologians can believe whatever they want to. His case is based on history, not theological reasoning. The theology of the Roman Catholic Church – indeed all Christian theology – is based on a particular historical understanding. Cascioli examines Christian history minutely, and reaches the conclusion: “It never happened like that, your history is false.” He will be helped by precedent set in litigation successfully brought against scholars who deny the existence of the Holocaust. …

What grips the imagination is not so much the historical argument itself as the unprecedented courtroom drama that will unfold this week as Righi presents his case. He, and his long-dead witnesses, will be subject to cross questioning and to character and credibility audit. Under these circumstances he will have to think long and hard about who he calls. The Gospel writers ought to be a major concern. Imagine the kind of cross questioning that would take place in a “normal” court proceeding: “Is their existence attested by any non-Christian source?” Well, no. “Can you prove that they existed?” Well, no. “Do their accounts conflict?” Yes. “In material considerations?” Yes. “Is there evidence that their work was tampered with or edited by later writers?” Yes. “Do they provide any corroborating evidence of the miracles they report?” No. “Are they eye witnesses to the events they describe?” No.

Clearly, if the issue before the court was a case against a person whose fate might be jail or the hangman, any self-respecting judge would have to disqualify the evidence of such unreliable witnesses.

Cascioli declares he is not intent on having the matter be decided by a court of law, saying, “I wrote to [Righi] an open letter, stating that I would withdraw the lawsuit if he were capable of supplying proof, just one proof, of the historical existence of Jesus.”

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