From Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus – Ancient Evidence For The Life Of Christ (in print at Amazon)

From the late eighteenth through the nineteenth centuries, both before and during the heyday of Protestant Liberalism, there were numerous attempts to formulate what Albert Schweitzer called the “fictitious lives of Jesus.” In his view, these volumes were chiefly characterized as the words of “a few imperfectly equipped free-lances.” Yet, in spite of the preponderance of fictional elements, Schweitzer considers them the first of the modern lives of Jesus.^1

Such works often attempted to invent Jesus’ internal motivations and speculate on other aspects of his life, even in areas where the Gospels are silent. The typical approach was to postulate the existence of a secret organization or association. Often this was the Essenes, who were portrayed as being leading, but secret, members of society, and hence were able to manipulate events and circumstances in Jesus’ life. But Schweitzer refers to these plot theses as “rather a sorry makeshift.”^2

Karl Bahrdt wrote one of the earliest attempts, a multi-volumed effort, from 1784–1792. For Bahrdt, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were Essenes who sought to keep secret their identity. At an early age, Jesus got involved with this clandestine order and later was viewed as a valued member. Through the efforts of this secret group, Jesus staged his “miracles.” Luke was particularly responsible for the healings. The Essenes also plotted Jesus’ death, and Luke administered drugs, causing Jesus to survive crucifixion. Afterwards, Jesus was nursed back to health, which allowed him to make several visits to his followers.^3

Perhaps the best known and most imitated of the fictitious lives of Jesus was written by Karl Venturini from 1800–1802. From his youth, Jesus was protected and trained by the Essenes. The “miracles” he performed during his public ministry were not really supernatural. His healings, for example, were effected by medicines. Venturini did not invent a plot surrounding Jesus’ death, and Jesus actually expected to die. But Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus noticed signs that Jesus might still be alive while they were preparing his body for burial. They signaled the Essenes, who later removed his body. After having recovered somewhat, Jesus was periodically seen by his disciples.^4