Lion of the Blogosphere

Was there a historical Jesus?

with 90 comments

Below is a copy and paste of something I previously wrote, but some of my newer readers may not have had the chance to read it.

* * *

This question is not whether God impregnated a virgin woman, but whether there was an actual man named Jesus who started Christianity, or inspired others he personally spoke with to start Christianity.

I always assumed the answer was yes. For example, Ghandi, a Hindu, seemed to believe that Jesus was a real person. He said, “The example of Jesus suffering is a factor in the composition of my un-dying faith in non-violence. What then does Jesus mean to me? To me, He was one of the greatest teachers humanity has ever had.” This is the polite thing to believe, but is it true?

Upon doing some research on the internet, I now think it’s most likely that Jesus was a myth made up by early Christians rather than a real historical person. Were Hercules or Dionysus real people? [Or Romulus and Remus?] Today we understand that they are myths, but during the time of the Roman empire, you might get punched in the face for telling someone that Hercules never existed. I mention Hercules and Dionysus because they were both, allegedly, the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. As you see, the idea of a guy being the son of a god but having a human mother was hardly very original. [And the same with Romulus and Remus. Not an original idea at all!] Dionysus was also resurrected, so that part wasn’t original either.

Learning that the Gospels weren’t actually written by people who knew Jesus or by the authors they are attributed to, and knowing the complete implausibility of the events in the Gospels, I am lead to suspect they were acts of creative story-telling rather than based on an account of an actual person’s life. And for all we know, Christianity evolved from a Dionysian mystery religion rather than being created from scratch. They are called “mystery religions” because we know nothing about them.

Some people seem to get pissed off upon hearing that Jesus never existed. Why does it matter?

Here is an extremely detailed explanation for why Jesus was not a real person. It has the aura of truth about it.

* * *

And in case you think I’m just picking on Jesus, there’s good reason to believe that Mohammed is also a myth and not a historical person.

And despite all this, yes, I prefer the religious holiday of Christmas over the secularized orgy of consumerism that we now call the “holiday season.”

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

November 29, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Religion

90 Responses

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  1. Jesus was obviously a real historical figure.

    Otis the Sweaty

    November 29, 2016 at 1:49 pm

  2. Didn’t you ask this before? FWIW, Tacitus mentions him. And there is the “Pilate Stone.” Now was He truly the Son of God? That’s another argument. Now go and sin no more…

    Vincent

    November 29, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    • Tacitus heard about him from early Christians and assumed they were telling a true story.

      The Pilate Stone only is evidence that Pilate was a historical person, it says nothing about whether Jesus was a historical person.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      November 29, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      • It’s called supporting evidence. Whaddya want to burn in hell or something?

        Vincent

        November 29, 2016 at 2:15 pm

  3. There probably was a preacher wandering around at that time that got subsequently mythologised and constructed using themes and archetypes of other real and mythological figures.

    Kinda like Martin Luther King.

    The Philosopher

    November 29, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    • There were surely many preachers… doesn’t mean that any of them are the person behind Jesus.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      November 29, 2016 at 1:59 pm

      • There are Roman penal records and Roman historians that mention Jesus in their books. Reza Aslan did a proper historical treatment of it if I recall.

        The point I was trying to make, is that it could be anyone that got big in the cult business and had followers subsequently mythologise him. We see that with even politicians, dictators and kings all the time. Or

        Like Joseph Smith did in Utah, Ron Hubbard in Cali or Martin Luther King in America.

        The Philosopher

        November 29, 2016 at 3:07 pm

      • “Australian historian Dr. John Dickson questioned Aslan’s expertise in the subject claiming ‘Aslan has not contributed a single peer reviewed article’ and further said ‘Aslan’s grandiose claims and his limited credentials in history is glaring on almost every page.'”

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        November 29, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      • Never heard of these penal records. Can you provide more information?

        Greg Pandatshang

        November 30, 2016 at 12:08 am

  4. This nonsense again… I knew you were teeing something like it up with your Christmas post.

    Makes me wish for the Palin fixation (almost).

    Lion of the Turambar

    November 29, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    • It’s bullshit. You don’t have to believe Jesus was the Son of God but he was obviously a real historical figure. Even the guy who wrote “The Jesus Myth”, a book with the thesis that Jesus was just made up ended up changing his tune and conceded that the Jesus of the Gospels was probably based on a real historical figure.

      Otis the Sweaty

      November 29, 2016 at 2:14 pm

  5. So is Atheism the truth? I don’t know what to believe, and don’t have bias neither, death forever is sad but the idea of a hell is worse. We need to feel loved and made God to our image because he is supposed to be in need in love and if he doesn’t like you then sent you to hell? it doesn’t make sense for a perfect being, I rather rest in peace.

    Joe Allan

    November 29, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    • A meaningless caper across the mud flats, lacking any significance, followed by extinction and replacement by other animals; then all life on this world dies out because of changed circumstances; then later, the world is cindered and dissolved into plasma; yet some time later, the universe tears itself apart into nothingness (if we believe in the dark energy theories).

      Glengarry

      November 29, 2016 at 2:17 pm

  6. More interestingly, was there an actual man named Karl Marx? We know there were some documents of unclear provenance (funded by Engels, significantly — the Soros of his time), and photos of what appears to be a homeless man. Scattered evidence which is hardly convincing, to put it mildly. While the matter is by no means settled, it should not be dismissed that this ‘Marx’ was merely an energizing fantasy concocted for credulous adherents.

    Glengarry

    November 29, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    • Karl Marx wrote stuff.

      Jesus never wrote anything, and his alleged disciples never wrote anything either.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      November 29, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      • That’s what some claim, but it would be clearer to say that some documents attributed to ‘Marx’ now exist, as do works by ‘Ellery McQueen’.

        Glengarry

        November 29, 2016 at 2:19 pm

      • ” and his alleged disciples never wrote anything either.”

        Who wrote the Revelations then?

        Can you prove Marx wrote anything more than John did?

        Lion of the Turambar

        November 29, 2016 at 3:20 pm

      • Was there a real man named Alexander Hamilton? Yes, and he was black. Show biz says so.

        gothamette

        November 29, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    • that’s basically the same way I feel about trump

      averagechump

      November 29, 2016 at 3:09 pm

  7. See also this recent Daniel Drewes article on the historicity of the Buddha: https://www.academia.edu/29314105/The_Idea_of_the_Historical_Buddha_forthcoming_JIABS_40_2017_

    Greg Pandatshang

    November 29, 2016 at 2:26 pm

  8. The Jewish writer Josephus also mentioned Christ much earlier than Tacitus, by around 94 CE/AD.

    Camlost

    November 29, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    • He mentioned the name every so briefly and not in the context of someone who was the founder of a new religion.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      November 29, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      • No one is claiming that Jesus “founded a new religion” by that time. His message had to spread. There was no WWW or social media.

        Christianity had utterly few followers until it started becoming the religion of the common folk of the Roman empire late in the 2nd century. Even Constantine in the 330’s CE/AD wasn’t a full-time Christian despite what is said about him.

        Camlost

        November 29, 2016 at 2:59 pm

  9. Droit du seigneur indeed.

    Anthony

    November 29, 2016 at 2:37 pm

  10. Where is the proof Muhammed really existed? Or Confucius? Or the Buddha? What is the point of saying that historical figures didn’t actually exist? Jesus is easily far better attested than any of these. By the usually standards of historical evidence, he is about the most thoroughly attested of any person of his time. That is not a religious argument. I am not a Buddhist, but I don’t doubt there was such a person. I don’t get the point.

    not too late

    November 29, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    • The Buddha and Confucius are barely attested if at all. So what is it that you think it establishes to say that somebody is better attested than them?

      Greg Pandatshang

      November 29, 2016 at 3:17 pm

  11. We, the Jews, have a tradition that Jesus did exist. I go with that rather then with research done on the Internet. Now, obviously the ‘Son of G-d’ is an ancient idolatrous belief common to many cultures, but a blood and flesh Jew named Jesus of Nazareth did happen. Christianity is beneficial for society, so we shouldn’t undermine it’s beliefs even if we think that they are nonsense. It has taken on most aspects of Jewish morality and thus has spread a watered down version of Judaism over the world. Some Jewish thinkers think that in that respect it has accomplished what we have failed and has served towards a positive end. Others think just the opposite – that it has replaced a belief in One Almighty G-d with an idolatrous doctrine of Trinity, has given divine attributes to flesh and blood, and has replaced man’s ultimate responsibility for his actions with the doctrine of the Divine Grace.

    Regardless of the theological differences and on a practical level it’s a beneficial religion and we shouldn’t interfere with it. It’s interesting to me that so many smart people through the ages beleived in Trinity and the virginal birth. They worshiped icons and statues, amazing. Think, they’d read in the Five Books of Moses how the Almighty hates idolatry more then anything else, how the Jews are commanded to destroy it everywhere they go, and they still worshiped idols! Amazing! This makes me pause and think: hie come?

    Yakov

    November 29, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    • I love your down-to-earth treatment of this. With depth and heart while still accessible.

      You have a blog or a book? I can see it now, “The HVAC Prophet”

      On the question of idolatry, I’m of the opinion that this is the one for our ages.
      Whether, celebrity and fame or working for the beautiful flesh through bodybuilding and weightlifting or through chasing goals like marathons… So much of what is important to my peers seems hollow… false idols, emperor’s new clothes… whatever.

      Thin-Skinned Masta-Beta

      November 29, 2016 at 6:42 pm

      • What’s hollow about it? Physical beauty is awesome.

        Otis the Sweaty

        November 29, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      • Otis, physical beauty is temporal. With exercise, like with most things, the middle way of moderation is the best. In Russian there is a saying: ‘exercise heals, sport cripples’. Very true, mate. At the end of one lifewhays important?

        Masta-Beta, idolatry in a sense of being pursuits devoid of true meaning, not in the legal sense. You can’t crucify people for obsessing with bodybuilding, unlike claims to be king messiah who came to fulfill and annul all the Devine Commandments which are actionable.

        Yakov

        November 29, 2016 at 11:54 pm

      • @Masta-Beta

        No book or blog, I’m just a simple little creature.

        Yakov

        November 30, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    • I was under the impression that Jews never were interested in convincing outsiders that your religion is correct, or at least not for the last fifteen hundred years.

      Stealth

      November 29, 2016 at 7:33 pm

      • Convincing in the sense of proselytizing, no. But they were supposed to lead by example. That had not happened to the expected extend. Christianity and Islam have spread basic monotheistic and moral Jewish Creed in the world. The good that these religions have has been taken from Judaism.

        Yakov

        November 29, 2016 at 11:39 pm

      • Actually, the good came from Aristotle.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        November 30, 2016 at 12:17 am

      • Of course Aristotle was very great, but we are discussing religion and morality, not science and philosophy. In this realm Abraham and Moses rule the minds and hearts, not Aristotle. For example, Aristotle, Plato any many other Greeks required infanticide to control the quality and size of population, Abraham and Moses taught about the sanctity of human life. Aristotle was very great, but at the end of the day he was a pagan philosopher, not a Devine prophet. They whole Christian and Muslim world claims to follow Abraham and Moses, who claims to follow Aristotle today? Nobody out of the members of these religions denies that Moses and Abraham had the real Truth, who makes this claim about Aristotle today?

        Aristotle was great in a historical context, Abraham’s greatness was absolute, eternal and transcending. See the difference?

        Yakov

        November 30, 2016 at 7:34 am

    • We, the Jews, are the same as any innocent Romans reporting much later on that a first century Jesus existed, on the basis of nothing that would pass for evidence today.

      mcd

      November 29, 2016 at 8:52 pm

  12. By this reasoning, how would you know if George Washington was a real historical figure? How do you know ol’ GW is not some American Creation Myth like Romulus and Remus? After all, we know GW could not tell a lie and that he chopped down cherry trees in Virginia. We know that he refused to be crowned King of America, which sounds suspiciously like the Roman general Cincinnatus who famously refused to be crowned Emperor of Rome.

    If Jesus did not actually exist, then that casts suspicion on any evidence that is largely documentary and testimonial. The problem is, most of what we call evidence is largely documentary and testimonial: we believe it because someone told us it is true. So why is the documentary and testimonial evidence of Christ suddenly false but the documentary and testimonial evidence of GW is true?

    map

    November 29, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    • There is contemporary evidence for GW, not for JC

      biffonaut

      November 29, 2016 at 5:15 pm

      • But that contemporary evidence is of no difference in kind from the evidence of Christ.

        map

        November 29, 2016 at 11:05 pm

      • Yeah, he on a dolla bill, nigga.

        Vincent

        November 29, 2016 at 11:22 pm

    • The difference, presumably, is volume. Hundreds or thousands of people living in the 18th century wrote about Washington in private letters, newspapers, and government and business documents, and those documents are all pretty consistent, agreeing on such matters as what he looked like, what he was doing at such and such a place at such and such a time, etc. And they don’t claim Washington did prima facie impossible acts, like performing magic.

      Gozo

      November 29, 2016 at 5:23 pm

      • List these sources.

        Or do you just know what you have been told

        Lion of the Turambar

        November 29, 2016 at 6:29 pm

      • By that reasoning, there is far more documentary proof of Christ than that of GW. Not only is there proof, but such evidence has been accepted across a period of two thousand years. How did this story survive for sol long when so many others have died out?

        map

        November 29, 2016 at 11:08 pm

  13. The problem of evil is checkmate for the existence of a Christian God.

    It is either completely obvious that God does not exist, or else, if by some miracle he does exist, then he is equally obviously worthy of our profoundest contempt. not praise.

    martin2

    November 29, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    • Lucky for us that you’re smarter than everyone and in charge in the universe. Please continue telling me what to think.

      Robert the Wise

      November 30, 2016 at 3:03 am

    • martin2,

      Actually, the presence of evil does not discredit a Christian God at all. Evil exists in the world because it is the world. The world belongs to the devil and the bad things that happen are due to the breach of man’s covenant with God. After all, Eve and Adam disobeyed God and were cast from the Garden of Eden.

      It’s like arguing that God does not exist because the world is not Heaven.

      map

      November 30, 2016 at 1:10 pm

      • Does the Devil poses powers independent of G-d?

        Yakov

        November 30, 2016 at 6:14 pm

  14. What I don’t understand is why someone would start a religion saying, “Hey, some guy lived named Jesus who started this religion, which I’m just now telling you about.” Why not start the religion yourself and get credit for being the founder? You’re just needlessly shedding status. It’s good to be the founder.

    I can’t think of any analogous human behavior.

    We are aware of movements and organizations being founded by charismatic men. It happens constantly throughout history, up to the present day. We even have a perfect religious analogy in Mormonism — Jesus as Joseph Smith, Peter as Brigham Young.

    It’s also obvious to me that the Gospel of John, at least, was written in part by an apostle or by people close to him. See all the references to the “Beloved Disciple,” in particular, John 20:2-8. That passage would be bizarre if the Beloved Disciple had no connection to the Book of John. It makes perfect sense if John is seeking the status of having been there (and having beaten Peter to the chase). John was probably competing for status with other apostles.

    Lastly, the fact that Jesus cried out, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” attests to his historicity — if you were making up a story, that’s not how you’d want it to go.

    In fact, see the gnostic gospels for a closer idea of how a more fictionalized account would have gone. They were written centuries after the canonical gospels.

    Wency

    November 29, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    • “Why not start the religion yourself and get credit for being the founder? You’re just needlessly shedding status. It’s good to be the founder.

      I can’t think of any analogous human behavior.”

      There is Mohammed the myth, Buddha the myth, people like their mythical religion founders. If religion made sense, it wouldn’t be religion, it would just be science or history.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      November 29, 2016 at 6:04 pm

      • Mohammed was a prophet who spoke to God directly. Buddha was just a man. It makes a lot more sense to claim divinity yourself or speak directly to God than to simply be an apostle of a secondary figure like Christ.

        map

        November 29, 2016 at 11:25 pm

      • If religion made sense, it would just be science or history, not religion.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        November 30, 2016 at 12:17 am

      • “If religion made sense, it wouldn’t be religion, it would just be science or history.”
        Repeating it doesn’t make it any more true.

        Robert the Wise

        November 30, 2016 at 3:05 am

    • If you follow the link and read the article, you will understand how “someone” could found a mystery religion that was later mis/reinterpreted as a historical religion.

      mcd

      November 29, 2016 at 8:49 pm

  15. I will throw down the same challenge I threw down last time you brought up this nonsense: Go find at least 5 secular Biblical scholars or historians of religion (there are thousands of them) who believe Jesus was not an historical personage. You will not find 5. I’d be surprised if you found 2.

    The Gospels and the epistles are documents from the first and second centuries. Thanks to the Rylands Papyrus P52, a purely secular argument can be made that the entire New Testament was in circulation as early as 90AD. Like all classical sources, the Gospels and epistles are biased and propagandistic . . . but they aren’t myth. And I mean that quite literally. Many of NT’s “books” are identifiable as very particular ancient genres: biography, apocalyptic, and so on. . . but they aren’t myths.

    (Not particularly religious myself, but I am an academic with an interest in ancient history. If you throw out the NT as “myth” then, to be consistent, you would also need to throw out basically all our knowledge of ancient history. Should I list the number of ancient personages whom we know only through a few biased texts?)

    Seth Long

    November 29, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    • Please see the “mythicist Who’s Who” that Neil Godfrey compiled: http://vridar.org/whos-who-among-mythicists-and-mythicist-agnostics/

      Greg Pandatshang

      November 30, 2016 at 12:10 am

      • I don’t have time to click on every single one of those links, but the ones I clicked did not send me to university faculty web pages. Which of the people in those lists are actual professional historians employed by a university or research institute?

        Seth Largo

        November 30, 2016 at 1:45 pm

  16. Why does it make a difference to atheists if Jesus existed or not? I’ve always wondered that. I doubt most Christians base their faith on the best available evidence for Jesus being an actual person. And if you don’t believe in the supernatural, it doesn’t matter much if he did or did not walk the earth.

    Hey, I’m a grown man, I can believe whatever I think is correct. For that matter, I can believe whatever I want (the nerve of me), and if I want to believe that Jesus was the son of God and rose from the grave, that’s exactly what I’ll do. If it bothers people, I won’t lose any sleep over it. Right or wrong, I’ll meet my ultimate fate alone; none of them will be there.

    Stealth

    November 29, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    • “Why does it make a difference to atheists if Jesus existed or not?”

      It’s interesting, that’s all there is to it.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      November 29, 2016 at 8:26 pm

      • Nothing wrong with that. I never got the impression that you were one of THOSE unbelievers. Some unbelievers, especially those who were raised Christian, seem to live their lives around their atheism. I have (or maybe had. Time flies) a friend who was very religious as a child and maintained a facade well into adulthood – except on those rare occasions when he was in the passenger seat of my vehicle. He would regale me with the story of how his philosophy professors liberated him from religious nonsense and tell me that God couldn’t possibly exist. Life is pointless, he claimed, and his survival instinct was the only thing that kept him from contemplating suicide. After hearing this speech several times over the years, I concluded it would have been better for him to remain a Christian.

        Stealth

        November 29, 2016 at 9:37 pm

      • However: Do Jews consider disbelief in the existence of Jesus a big thing? It can hardly be a sign of atheism as such. For comparison, I find myself rather relaxed regarding the question of whether Muhammed actually existed or not (though I presume he did, unlike Karl Marx).

        Also, is it considered bad in Judaism if you do not believe in the historical existence of Abraham or Moses or similar figures? And, going back to the Garden of Eden, what are the Judaic views on evolution (and science) contra the Old Testament? These issues are seldom brought up, at least when I’m around, so I’m actually somewhat curious about them. We all know they’re the baseball bats of Christian atheists vs Christians.

        Glengarry

        November 30, 2016 at 10:32 am

      • “Do Jews consider disbelief in the existence of Jesus a big thing?”

        Among secular in the Jews in the U.S., who don’t really believe in anything at all, not believing in Jesus is what Judaism, to them, is all about!

        For Orthodox Jews, Judaism means believing that the Old Testament is the literal word of God plus they also have to follow all the laws in the Talumd. They don’t concern themselves much with what the goyim are doing or believe in.

        I, on the other hand, am only interested in the truth, but from the perspective of religion being a noble lie that’s good for society, Christianity can fill that role and Judaism can’t.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        November 30, 2016 at 11:40 am

      • Lion, why is Judaism not good for society?

        Yakov

        November 30, 2016 at 6:16 pm

      • @ Glengarry
        “Do Jews consider disbelief in the existence of Jesus a big thing?”

        The Jewish Sages never questioned the historical existence of Jesus or Mohammed. Maimonides that’s them ad real historical figures. If you do, it would look like you think that you are somehow hollier or smarter then them and that is a big thing.

        If you don’t beleive in historical existence of Abraham and Moses, what do you beleive in? This isn’t just ‘a big thing’, you are a heretic.

        Yakov

        November 30, 2016 at 6:40 pm

      • @Glengarry

        Most Orthodox Jews deny evolution and beleive in the literal interpretation of the story of Genesis. I accept evolution as an operating theory because it’s neat, makes sense, and explains things such as HBD. Also, I dislike ridiculous arguments against it. However in my heart of hearts I beleive that G-d created Man in a literal way. I don’t know how to reconcile the two, but the more I talk evolution the more of a clandestine creationist I become. I have no doubts that I possess an eternal devine soul and where did that cone from? It’s a little weird, but that’s how I’m. Eventually this thing will sort itself out, or at least this is what I think.

        Yakov

        November 30, 2016 at 10:49 pm

    • All of humanity has had a relationship with the transcendant. It is perfectly reasonable.

      map

      November 29, 2016 at 11:35 pm

    • In some ways Christianity is a more compelling religion if a historical man named Joshua of Nazareth never existed. The New Testament is frankly ridiculous if taken literally, but if you take it as a parable of God manifesting himself on earth and sacrificing himself for humanity you still keep the powerful message of redemption and the 2000 year old community of faith, which is what I find most attractive about Christianity anyway. Most believers with an IQ over 90 don’t take the Old Testament literally, no reason to take the New Testament literally either.

      Peter Akuleyev

      November 30, 2016 at 7:34 am

      • Most of the Old Testament is literal, commandments are literal, prohibition of homosexuality is literal. The fundamental difference is that in the Jewish Bible Abraham, a man, sacrifices his son for G-d. In the New Testament it’s G-d who sacrifices his son for humanity. Our fundamental belief, as expressed in Abraham’s prophetic vision of sacrificing his son, is that man is here to serve The Almighty G-d, the Almighty is not here to serve man.

        Redemption is dependent on our actions and is up to us. What is faith without a practical expression in everyday life? Deception and hypocrisy, if you ask me. Abraham and Moses had demonstrated it.

        Yakov

        November 30, 2016 at 2:45 pm

  17. Obviously the rise of great religions like Christianity and Islam is incomprehensible if extraordinarily charismatic individuals did not found them. I don’t think either were created by committees.

    To be sure accounts of the lives of these individuals may well contain inaccuracies such as the story of George Washington and the cherry tree but it is silly to suggest that they are totally fictitious just as it would be silly to say that Pythagoras is totally fictitious just because he is very poorly documented.

    Even figures like Abraham probably do correspond to historically real personages. The stories of King Arthur may possibly be related to some actual Celtic ruler in Britain.

    There is a list of generals in the army of Charlemagne which contains the name “Roland”.

    Jim

    November 29, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    • “I don’t think either were created by committees.”

      LOL

      Comment of the day right there.

      not too late

      November 29, 2016 at 10:16 pm

  18. Lion – You might enjoy reading some of the books by biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman, especially his “Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth”.
    Ehrman was a Christian believer in his youth, but after 30-some years as a scholar of ancient times, he is now an agnostic.
    In my view, he weighs the evidence carefully and applies traditional historical standards of veracity to the story of Jesus the man.
    He comes down on the side that Jesus as a historical figure actually existed. He doesn’t claim that Jesus was divine, but he assembles evidence that he was indeed a preacher, almost certainly illiterate, and that he was crucified.
    He also describes what life was like in the turbulent world of the first century AD in that part of the Middle East, and how it chafed under Roman rule. He points out that even famous history-changing people of that era, like Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, have gaps in their biographies. Typically preachers of that time (and there were many) left no mark on the historic record at all, but Jesus did.
    Ehrman acknowledges that the four main Gospels were written decades after Christ’s death (around 70 AD) by people who did not know him personally, and quite likely did not speak his language. The Gospels were written originally in Greek and purposely in a literate, educated style, he says. They were written that way by his followers because Greek was the lingua franca of educated people of the Roman Empire – they wanted to get the word out as efficiently as possible.
    Another good book by Ehrman is “Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior”.
    Lastly, for fun, the following is a good read, especially if you’ve seen the Da Vinci Code movie or read the book: “Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code – A Historian Reveals What We Really Know About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine”.

    Rexxous

    November 29, 2016 at 9:15 pm

  19. The reason I believe that Jesus existed is the existence of James the ‘brother of Jesus’. If the story of Jesus was fake then the early Christians would have brushed James’ inconvenient existence away.

    But they didn’t.

    Therefore James existed. Therefore his brother Jesus existed.

    Dave

    November 29, 2016 at 10:31 pm

  20. There was a recent debate between Bob Price (con historicity) and Bart Ehrman (pro historicity) on this subject. Ehrman gave a better debate performance by all accounts. This seems to be a deeply emotional issue for him for some reason (he’s an atheist as far as I know), so he defends his position passionately and vehemently. Price is basically an agnostic on historicity and is also a great admirer of Ehrman’s earlier work; I don’t think his heart is in it the same way.

    The debate itself is not available for free. Here are interesting kvetches about it from mythicists: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGBouQbYpqM

    I think Christianity succeeded because the church fathers stumbled on the greatest story ever told: the god who becomes a man, part of history, and makes himself a human sacrifice. It has deep emotional resonance. Its success does not require the story to be true.

    Greg Pandatshang

    November 30, 2016 at 1:02 am

  21. Sure, Lion, and I’ll add Trump-style ‘where’s the birth certificate?’

    The TruthBeKnown site is run by an anthropologist who makes a convincing case that Jesus was like Mother Goose, but then people started believing Mother Goose was a real person.

    Robert

    November 30, 2016 at 2:06 am

  22. Number of contemporary accounts of Jesus:

    SIX
    Matthew
    Mark
    Luke
    John
    Josephus
    Tacitus

    Number of contemporary accounts of the Battle of Thermopylae:

    ONE
    Herodotus

    So, Lion, you now understand that the Last Stand of the 300 never occurred, that King Leonidas is a myth, and the Persian Empire never existed. Right?

    Robert the Wise

    November 30, 2016 at 3:12 am

    • The gospels are not contemporary, and the brief mentions in Josephus and Tacitus are considered to be later Christian insertions by many more scholars than just the mythicists.

      mcd

      November 30, 2016 at 9:40 am

      • Herodotus wrote his histories ~40 years after Thermopylae. The Gospels were written about ~40 years after Jesus’s crucifixion. The Pauline epistles were written ~20-30 years after the crucifixion.

        Very few historians consider the Josephus reference to be a “later insertion.” The later insertion is the aside stating that Jesus was the bestest Messiah ever, which is found in some manuscripts. The reference itself is generally considered to be genuine.

        Among historians, mythicists have about as much clout as flat-earthers do among physicists. I love Lion, but he’s wrong wrong wrong about this one.

        Seth Largo

        November 30, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      • Paul didn’t know Christ and makes no useful claims about him as a historical figure. Most (non-mythicist) dating of the gospels is actually 40-70 years after the crucifixion, and mainstream biblical scholars don’t attribute the gospels to anyone who actually knew Christ either. They don’t qualify as contemporary accounts.

        mcd

        November 30, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    • Why not also include the Diatesseron, Peter, Thomas, and the Apocryphon of James? Heck, if you included every gospel, you could claim hundreds of contemporary accounts!

      Greg Pandatshang

      November 30, 2016 at 11:00 am

      • We have a papyrus of John’s Gospel (the last one to be written) circulating far away in Egypt around 90-110 AD. What’s the earliest gnostic fragment we have?

        Seth Largo

        November 30, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      • Well, a papyrus of a tiny fragment of John. But, still, that’s not bad. Doesn’t disprove traditional accounts. The dating is by paleography (handwriting analysis), with a variety of possible results. 90 is a bit earlier than I’ve seen, but, sure, maybe.

        I fail to see what this has to do with anything. I’m not seriously claiming that gnostic gospels are contemporary. If John dates to 90~110, how does that make it contemporary with Jesús? Nor does it make it independent. Most scholars think John is later than Matthew and Luke, and those are obviously not independent.

        Greg Pandatshang

        November 30, 2016 at 4:42 pm

      • Here’s the reasoning: John’s gospel, as you rightly point out, was written later than the Synoptics. So Rylands papyrus gives us the last-written gospel circulating far from Palestine around 110AD (to use a later date). John’s Gospel itself would have thus been written before 110AD, at least a decade or two earlier, in fact, putting its composition at the generally accepted date of ~90AD. Synoptics were written earlier than John, between 70-90AD, although Mark is probably pre-70 because its author doesn’t seem to mention the destruction of Jerusalem—pretty big thing not to mention. But let’s say 70-90AD for the Synoptics. That puts us within 60-70 years of Christ’s life. This timeline is accepted by many scholars.

        So put that timeline in contemporary context: 60-70 years ago was, what World War II? Plenty of WWII witnesses still around, and even more direct descendants of witnesses who could still provide a reliable(ish) second-hand story.

        None of this “proves” anything, of course, but historical research can never prove anything, just provide likely scenarios. And what’s more likely? That the Gospels and epistles just made up some dude who lived within the lifetime of peoples parents and grandparents, and that somehow no one called BS? Or that the Gospels and epistles actually reference a real-life dude who peoples’ parents and grandparents remembered meeting, seeing, or hearing about?

        Seth Largo

        November 30, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      • If there were such a person as Christ, witnesses would still have been around, yes. The incorrect leaps in your logic are where you conclude that the Gospel writers were such witnesses (or had even spoken to witnesses), and that they were writing for other witnesses who could have fact-checked them. In reality, somehow Christ escaped the notice or memory of every historian in the Roman Empire (later Christian interpolations not withstanding), so he certainly can also have escaped the notice or memory of the target market of the Gospels.

        In any event, the Gospels were not historical documents; they do not conform to the standards of secular historical documents of the time. Even when non-mythicist scholars study their genre, ‘history’ isn’t it.

        mcd

        December 1, 2016 at 1:11 am

      • Also note that, in Mark, JC is zealous about maintaining the secret that he is the Messiah. Together with the short ending of Mark (“They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. full stop. the end.”) these look like deliberate mythmaking excuses, i.e. this guy was a big deal, but you’ve never heard of him until now, because, see, it was a secret.

        Personally, I go back and forth about whether I think the account I just sketched out holds water. I sometimes get the impression that the author of Mark (even an early version of it) was already fooled: working from earlier sources, he believed there was a historical Jesus. The short ending could be an excuse for something more specific, e.g. the empty tomb. It’s also possible that the there was an original long ending that is now lost, i.e. that the short ending was never really the end of the story & the long endings we have now are emendations (either because the original was heretical or simply because all copies were damaged) rather than appended material.

        Greg Pandatshang

        December 1, 2016 at 10:51 am

  23. The Master and Margarita, Bulgakov’s great and very funny book about the Devil visiting Stalin-era Moscow, begins with two Soviet writers talking in a park about whether Jesus ever existed (the older instructing the younger that he didn’t), to which the Devil interrupts and says, no, no, he existed, I was there.

    I’m going to side with the Devil on this one.

    spottedtoad

    November 30, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    • Incidently, everyone should read this great book.

      Yakov

      November 30, 2016 at 6:06 pm

      • I was about to mention Master and Margarita when I started reading the comments… I completely agree. It is one of the best novels of the 20th century and diabolically funny.
        Otherwise, Seth and others referred to the current historical state of the art. Discounting atheist internet cranks there is almost consensus among secular agnostic historians that Jesus of Nazareth existed. Of course no history could ever prove the doctrinal point about the son of God etc. But the historical existence is better documented than for many other historical figures (e.g. better forget about Pythagoras, what we know about him is almost pure myth).

        parrhesia

        December 2, 2016 at 4:11 am

      • Pythagoras is a great example; like Christianity starting with a group of Christians who only later began to write inconsistent and historically baseless gospels about the earthly existence of a Christ who none of them actually knew, the myth of Pythagoras started with the cult of the Pythagoreans, and only later were biographies written about his life, long after any real historical detail was lost in myth. As with the Jesus Myth, some scholars have suggested the possibility that he never existed at all, and others take the more conservative position that were merely have no historical evidence of him, but some person almost wholly unrelated to the figure of myth may have founded the group of Pythagoreans.

        Pythagoras is more believable, however, because despite his mythical feats, there is no actual supernatural aspect to his person, and certainly not an entire mystery-religion story of his angelic existence and battles in the heavens to explain where such a non-existent founder came from. The beliefs of Pythagoreans that might have led them to make up a Pythagoras are not as well understood to us as the beliefs of the first century mystery religions that could easily have led Hellenized Jews to make up a Christ.

        mcd

        December 2, 2016 at 11:14 am

    • “Heart of a Dog” is even better and far more offensive to the proletariat.

      Seth Largo

      November 30, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    • Reminds me of a song…

      Vincent

      December 1, 2016 at 12:11 am


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