Dr. Lena Einhorn’s “time shift” hypothesis

Lena Einhorn’s book The Jesus Mystery: Astonishing Clues to the True Identities of Jesus and Paul (2007) made two arguments: (1) the standard chronology of the New Testament is about twenty years too early (this is Einhorn’s “time shift” theory); and (2) that Jesus and Paul were one and the same person. I have not read the book, nor have I heard either of these theories before. But I have just finished reading Einhorn’s remarkable SBL paper regarding the first of the above theories. It is masterful.

Not the typical New Testament scholar

Lena Einhorn is a medical doctor with a PhD in Virology and Tumor Biology from the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm. In the 1980s she changed course and began working as a medical consultant and editor for television in the U.S. She wrote and produced medical documentaries for independent production companies as well as for PBS until 1994, when Einhorn returned home to Sweden and became an independent filmmaker, branching out to non-medical subjects and producing dramas such as Stateless, Arrogant, and Lunatic which won the Prix Europe in 1999. She also produced the biography Loving Greta Garbo, as well as a feature film Nina’s Journey (about her mother’s experiences during the Holocaust) which won awards for Best Film and Best Screenplay.

From Einhorn’s biography page: “In 2005, more or less by chance, Lena returned to more scholarly work when in the process of writing the book What Happened on the Road to Damascus? (2006), she came upon some hitherto undocumented parallels between the New Testament and other first century historical sources, a finding that took her back to Academia, and a new hypothesis on the Historical Jesus.”

The 2012 SBL paper

Einhorn’s lengthy SBL paper (PDF available here, bottom link) bears careful examination by open-minded readers, for it offers a refreshingly original view which also happens to align in significant ways with Jesus mythicism. Her overall thesis is that an artificial “time shift” from the 50s CE to the 30s CE was introduced by the evangelists and (to a lesser extent) by the writer(s) of the Pauline corpus. Einhorn has presented papers on this subject at each of the last three annual SBL meetings. This development and reiteration have now produced an unusually well researched paper.

Einhorn maintains that the New Testament writers made “Jesus of Nazareth” contemporary with Pilate but, in so doing, inevitably introduced a number of chronological anomalies—some of which have been previously noted in the scholarly literature. Einhorn writes (p. 29): “As a rule, when people in authority are introduced in the Gospels, their names match with those of people active during [the time of] Pilate. Their actions, however, do not.” She attempts to show that those actions match people active in the 50s CE—and, IMO, she largely succeeds.

Einhorn’s time shift hypothesis proposes a coherent scenario whereby the Jesus character known to history from the 4G is drawn out of elements of several messianic pretenders of a generation later (Theudas, the Egyptian, John the Baptist, Menahem). Occam’s Razor, at least, would seem to favor her theory which removes a number of riddles. Einhorn’s conclusion (p. 29):

[I]f we were to move the accounts from the Gospels (and some from Acts) fifteen to twenty years forward in time, and change the names of people in authority accordingly[, the] number of matches would increase significantly (fifteen are presented in this study, including some internal NT inconsistencies which would be resolved), and although the matches are separate, not inter-dependent, they form a pattern with regard to the subject matter. In addition, a person with significant similarities to Jesus would appear in both De bello Judaico and in Antiquitates Judaicae. This person, however, was not, as far as is known, tried or crucified.

The final sentence shows that some data do not fit into Einhorn’s overall thesis. However, if in the New Testament we are dealing largely with fiction—as mythicists and liberal scholars are increasingly persuaded—then the anomalous data could well be simply the results of authorial miscalculation—and/or incompetence.

Einhorn particularly focusses on the parallels between Josephus and the New Testament. Many of her parallels I consider feasible, but others forced. She also compares data between Acts and the 4G and makes some astonishing observations along the way. E.g. p. 20:

Note, for instance, that Acts 21:38 mentions the Egyptian leading “four thousand” into the “wilderness”, whereas Matthew 15 and Mark 8 mention Jesus leading “four thousand” into the “wilderness”.

Another detail that Einhorn notices (p. 25):

One might here even find an explanation for the puzzling “Lysanias ruler of Abilene” reference, used in Luke 3:1 to define the time when John the Baptist began his ministry. The only Lysanias known to have exercised authority in this area was Lysanias tetrarch of Chalcis, executed by Marc Antony in 36 B.C.E. (A.J. 15.92). However, Josephus, in A.J. 19.275, does mention that Claudius in 41 C.E. bestows upon Agrippa I “Abila of Lysanias” (the town retained its surname after its former ruler). If this, again, is an example of the Lukan subtext, the interpretation might be that John the Baptist actually started his ministry in the time of Agrippa I, 41-44 C.E. (Emphasis added.)

My overall impression in re-reading the primary texts is that Einhorn may indeed be correct. After all, if “Jesus of Nazareth” was an entirely fictional character (as I believe), then the evangelists needed historical fodder to locate that character in history. Where else would they have drawn their information except from the pertinent histories of Josephus? According to Einhorn, the evangelists freely borrowed elements from the historian’s voluminous corpus.

As regards Paul, Einhorn suggests “that the actual period between conversion and imprisonment is considerably shorter than presented; that both events could even fit within Felix’ reign (52-ca.59 C.E.), and that the time given for Paul’s arrival in Rome is the factual one, i.e. we are brought back to real time” (p. 27). In other words, a time shift must be considered for almost all of the New Testament writings.

In a chart (“Figure 5”) on p. 28, Einhorn presents the remarkable upshot of all this re-dating for the first time:

Jesus’ period of inactivity: 16-30 CE
Jesus in Egypt: 30-46 CE
Ministry of Jesus: 46-52 CE
Missionary activity and arrest of Paul: 53-60 CE

According to this surprising scenario, Jesus lived to be about fifty years of age (cf. Jn 8:57; Irenaeus 2.22:4), he went to Egypt as a young man (and spent many years there), and his ministry lasted five or six years. I find this scenario intriguing in several ways, especially the possibility that “Jesus” would have spent many formative years in Egypt (probably Alexandria). This would certainly buttress compelling Alexandrian connections in early Church history.

At one place I wanted a reference. Einhorn writes (p. 30):

Victorinus of Pettau… according to a surviving ninth century fragment in the monastery in Bobbio, wrote that Jesus was born in the consulate of Sulpicius Camerinus and Poppaeus Sabinus, i.e. in 9 C.E., that he was baptised in the second consulate of Valerius Asiaticus, i.e. in 46 C.E., and that he died in the third consulate of Nero, with Valerius Messala, i.e. in 58 C.E.

This, of course, supports Einhorn’s re-dating. She sees the “real Jesus” as having been active during a period of messianic zealotry in the 50s CE (p. 30). At the same time, however, she acknowledges the pacifist tenor of the New Testament parables and sayings and does not assert that Jesus was himself such a messianic zealot.

Einhorn’s research is so thorough that she is able to remark on subtleties which, as far as I know, have escaped other New Testament scholars. For example, she writes (p. 20):

If indeed the NT narrative is written on different levels, it would appear that whenever the story is disguised on one level, it is opened up on another. Another example may be the reversal of the order of Theudas and Judas the Galilean in Acts 5:36-37. The mentioning of Theudas could be interpreted as a disclosing subtext, and the following mention of Judas as his successor, rather than predecessor, as a disguise, aimed at hiding the previous disclosure. (Emphasis added.)


One must, of course, carefully separate Einhorn’s theory of Jesus and Paul being the same person from her time shift theory. The one hypothesis does not depend upon the other. Einhorn’s time shift hypothesis now reaches us fully formed, with the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. The bibliography to this paper is remarkably extensive (8 pages) and includes many mythicist and semi-mythicist authors, such as Dupuis, Drews, Doherty, Price, Eisenman, Ellegaard, Wells, etc. Einhorn is also not chary of making use of much older material such as Derenbourg (1867). The many endnotes and charts also betray a great amount of work. Whether or not one agrees with her, Einhorn’s time shift hypothesis is a proposition which must now be taken into account. One marvelous aspect of Einhorn’s work is that she is not merely pointing out inconsistencies but, more importantly, has set the groundwork for an alternative scenario of Christian beginnings, one which must now be given due consideration.—R.S


Dr. Lena Einhorn’s “time shift” hypothesis — 1 Comment

  1. Looks like I’ll have to read the book. This does show some affinity to Eisenman, like the Judas/Theudas part. From Eisenman’s method I determined that the entire ‘Betrayal’ scenario is a coverup of the installation of JAMES. Don’t know about Paul as Jesus, but with several quotes of James’ in Jesus’ mouth, like “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” and “You will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Hegesippus), seems clear Jesus was a stand-in for James, as was ‘Judas’, at least in those instances. There have been noted before parallels in John and Jesus’ life-stories, so there may be something to that also, like the birth narratives and dying at the hands of intolerant authorities. My book, “The Bible says ‘Saviors’ – Obadiah 1:21” covers my views on this from the perspective of a Satsangi (www.RSSB.org).