Not much evidence for a historical Jesus

Apart from angry letters I get from believers—or kinder ones in which they pray for my salvation—perhaps the most frequent genre of emails in my box is about the historical Jesus. While I’m about 99.9999999% sure that any Jesus person who lived wasn’t divine, the son of God, or a miracle worker, I’m not all that sure there was a real human being around whom the Jesus myth accreted.  Just looking at the evidence as a scientist, I find no evidence for Jesus’s existence as a historical person except in Scripture, and the different gospels tell different stories. Most telling is the complete absence of good evidence for Jesus from people writing during the time when he was supposed to have lived, especially the Jewish philosopher Philo, who would have been a contemporary of Jesus. If Jesus had such a huge impact on the Jews and on Palestine, why didn’t anybody notice it? Why are there no descriptions of the earthquakes and people rising from their graves when Jesus was crucified?

But my doubt angers Christians. If they can show that a historical Jesus-person exists, they think—wrongly—that they’ve gone most of the way  towards establishing Jesus as the Messiah. To even doubt that such a person existed, well, that nips their claim in the bud. (Of course, even if such a person did exist, Christians would, as Hitchens used to say, “have all their work ahead of them.”)

I know Bart Ehrman thinks there was a historical (though not a divine) Jesus, and I’ve read his “evidence,” but haven’t found it very convincing. And the other “evidence” for a historical Jesus person is either fraudulent, derived from scripture, or are second- or third-hand accounts from people who wouldn’t have been contemporaries of Jesus and are simply repeating what other Christians said. So I don’t have a firm opinion one way or another. And yes, I know that the mantra here is “Nearly all reputable scholars and historians admit that there was a real Jesus-person,” but we scientists don’t accept truth simply because there’s a consensus. In fact, I think that consensus is based on evidence that’s pitifully thin.

For a handy summary of the evidence used to adduce the existence of a historical Jesus, I’d recommend the short and easily digested post on Rosa Rubicondior, “The historical evidence for Jesus.” I can’t vouch for all the author’s claims (though what I do know is accurately represented), but there’s a handy table giving all the early writers and theologians whose words are used as evidence for a historical Jesus. At least you can see the lack of evidence in one short-ish post.

There’s also a very lively argument with the author in the comment section.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 1.18.35 PM

h/t: Heather

191 Comments

  1. tracy
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    You are confusing Jesus Christ who is a myth with Jesus of Nazzerth who was a real person and is noted in historical documents.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, but you must not have read my piece, which clearly distinguishes a historical Jesus from the mythical Jesus Christ. What I wrote is ABOUT “Jesus of Nazzerth”.

      And I’m curious, are any of the “historical documents” in which “Jesus of Nazzerth” is “noted” different from those cited in the Rosa Rubicondior piece?

      I presume your misspelling of Nazareth is a triple typo.

      • frednotfaith2
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

        Can anyone even verify that a city or town or even a village or pub called Nazareth existed in 1st century CE Israel? I used to think that it was likely the biblical Jesus was based on a real person but now I lean very strongly to the view that he was entirely mythical and the gospels bad fiction.

        • trou
          Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

          Rene Salm wrote a book about it called the Myth of Nazareth. He has made it clear that there wasn’t a Nazareth at the time due to lack of evidence of any kind (pottery and other archeology).

          • frednotfaith2
            Posted August 29, 2016 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for the answer! I’d read before that there was some serious doubt about it and that likely one of the composers of the gospel fictions mistook reference to a Nazarene sect for a place and eventually a town was established and named Nazareth near where they thought the mythical city was supposed to be but a few centuries after the alleged time of Christ.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      Jesus was not described or even named in any historical documents until long after his supposed lifetime. By then, writers were describing what Christians believed about Jesus. Just like a newspaper article about bigfoot hunters is not evidence of bigfoot.

      Nobody knows for sure when the various parts of the New Testament were written, but the general consensus is that the Pauline epistles were first, and then the gospels of Mark (a generation or more later), Matthew, Luke, and finally John. If you line them up in that order you notice a telling fact: the earliest authors, the ones supposedly closest to the “facts” of Jesus’ life, have the least information about him. Paul described a celestial being which was almost completely mysterious and inaccessible. Then came Mark, who placed Jesus on Earth, and then later writers who added more and more layers of story elements, like Jesus’ supernatural birth, loads of direct quotations, miracles, dream narratives, menus, action scenes, a trial, an execution, post-resurrection appearances, a glorious journey to heaven, his promises to return and bring on the End Times almost immediately, and finally, backpedaling to try to explain why that hadn’t happened yet. The later the story, the more details.

      Doesn’t that sound more like a legend that grew in the telling, than history or biography?

      Of course none of this proves that there never was a Jesus. It only proves that we are not justified in believing it.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        Well, the big bone of contention between mythicists and historicists is whether or not Paul’s Jesus is only celestial. The historicist view is that Paul’s Jesus is a celestial being descended to earth, possibly by merging with a human nature.

        The best known mythicist, Earl Doherty, claims that Paul believed Jesus wrestled with demons in some lunar sphere, just below the moon, a claim roundly rejected by mainstream scholars, although much of Doherty’s argument rests on it.

        • Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

          A celestial being that descended to earth and merged with a human still sounds pretty mythical to me!

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

            And very hard to distinguish from a human fraud who claims to be a celestial being who has descended to Earth and (whatever the rest of the claims are).

            • Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

              Actually, many humans can make such claims without being frauds.

              There is an old Muslim joke about a mentally unstable fellow who claimed to be God. The Shah called him to caution him, not wanting to be harsh to a person in such a condition:

              “I heard that you say you are God. Be careful what you talk, because last year I executed a man for declaring himself a prophet sent by God!”

              “You did the right thing, oh Shah! That man was an impostor. I didn’t send anyone last year.”

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted August 30, 2016 at 11:30 am | Permalink

                I have a friend who talks with god when his medications don’t match his personal chemistry (it can vary in a matter of just days). Deranged people I don’t have a problem with. but frauds I call frauds to their faces.

            • rickflick
              Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

              Questions of fraud aside, as a celestial being, I still wonder: Middle-aged yellow sun; red giant; dwarf; neutron; super-giant? Without specifics how can we calibrate our reverence? How can we know how deeply to bow?

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted August 30, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

                How can we know how deeply to bow?

                Look for the bloodstains and try to work out how low your head needs to be to avoid reproducing the splatter patterns. (Other rationalist analyses may also work.)

              • carlosmoya79
                Posted August 31, 2016 at 8:33 am | Permalink

                I’d say brown dwarf, a fake star 😛

        • AdamK
          Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

          The “mainstream scholars” are largely Christians themselves, and hardly objective; and the few qualified secular scholars are largely dependent on the Christian majority in their field for their academic positions and livelihoods. Moreover an objective look at their methodology and reasoning discredits much of their “expertise.”

          • JonLynnHarvey
            Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

            There are currently a fair number of Jews (Paula Fredriksen, Amy Jill-Levine, and others) doing New Testament scholarship, and occasionally folks trained mainly in Greek and Roman classics venture into the field like Mark Grant or Robin Lane Fox, both of whom are atheists.

            Many who identify as nominally Christian have very non-orthodox views and would not be recognized by evangelicals as ‘real Christians’.

            The methodology always becomes problematic when Jesus is wrenched out of his historical context (Marcus Borg’s “real” Jesus is a 20th century liberal Christian, not a first-century Jew).

            Just how many non-Christian scholars are teaching at seminaries?? Neither Paula Fredriksen nor Bart Ehrman are- they are not dependent on Christians for their livelihood.

            • Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

              “Neither Paula Fredriksen nor Bart Ehrman are- they are not dependent on Christians for their livelihood.”

              They are however dependent on their reputations among their peers, and short of slam dunk new evidence supporting the Jesus as myth theory they have nothing to gain by simply recanting their belief in evidence they, and their peers have accepted, and supported their entire careers.

  2. CJColucci
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    If Jesus had such a huge impact on the Jews and on Palestine, why didn’t anybody notice it? Why are there no descriptions of the earthquakes and people rising from their graves when Jesus was crucified?

    Because if he existed: (1) he didn’t have a big influence at the time — he was a minor-league preacher with a handful of followers, who was ignominiously executed after starting a minor ruckus in Jerusalem; and (2) there were no earthquakes or rising dead.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately for that theory, the contemporary scribes DO tell us about ~ 17 other rabble-rouser preachers named Jesus who had small followings around that time and place.

      And, if the Gospels are untrustworthy about even the size of the “crowds” who listened to the supposed J.C’s preaching – along with all the other stuff about which they are counterfactual – then we must assume all false until validated, surely?

      • busterggi
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

        What contemporary source mentions Jesus, the zombie invasion, the slaughter of the innocents, the magical star? Please tell me because I can find none.

      • jeremy pereira
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        Actually, I think Josephus notes about 200 apocalyptic preachers who fit into the same sort of mould as the “real Jesus”. I think these people were pretty common at the time and that it is quite a reasonable hypothesis that one of them was responsible for founding the religion that grew into Christianity but was not actually recorded anywhere.

        And no, being untrustworthy about the size of crowds is not an indicator of the veracity of the rest of the account. The sizes of crowds were routinely exaggerated or minimised in ancient documents. In particular, we wouldn’t have any reliable accounts of ancient battles.

        That’s not to say the gospels are reliable documents – they are not – but the reasons we think they are mostly (or all) fiction is about a lot more than just exaggerated numbers.

        • busterggi
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 9:24 am | Permalink

          The size of the crowds should be determinable by reviewing the sign-in sheets. They did preserve them didn’t they?

        • Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

          There is not nearly so many first century messiah types. The ones that are mention had a far bigger impact than the NT claims Jesus had. And I suspect even that is over blown. (Not to mention based on hearsay and legend.)

          This Yeshua person would not have been noticed by those scribes. They other examples are people who raised actual armies and actually marched on cities.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      “if [he] existed”. But then you go outside historical science, and starts to adduce evidence for non-historical individuals.

      They of course existed, since anthropologists can study them and their genetic and cultural remains. But they aren’t studied as specific individuals, they are member of populations.

      So that line of reasoning fails miserably to establish a test for existence.

      Especially here, since the anthropological evidence speaks at length against the myth it is supposed to not reject.

  3. Stephen Barnard
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    The lack of contemporary accounts is strong negative evidence, and nearly clinches it for me. Another curious thing is the close resemblance of the Jesus myth to other religious mythologies.

    • Nicolas Perrault
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      I agree, the evidence should be there but is not. Therefore absence of evidence becomes evidence of absence.

      • Johan Richter
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:28 am | Permalink

        Why should there be a lot of evidence? How much source material do you think we have from the ancient world? For Pilate, the actual governor of Palestine (and so much more important than Jesus) we have two contemporary sources, namely Philo and a stone with an inscription that was discovered in 1961. The non-contemporary sources for Pilate’s life are, as it happens, Tacitus, Josephus and the Gospels. (So largely the same as our sources for Jesus.)

        • Jim Little
          Posted August 31, 2016 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

          The references in Josephus are highly dubious.

          Tacitus is also dubious for the lack of knowledge of Annals until a single manuscript appeared in the Middle Ages, and for 9i) the lack of reference to Jesus, & (ii) the reference to Chrestians.

    • GM
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      I would say that there probably was an apocalyptic preacher named Jesus who was executed by the Romans for disturbing the peace, but this is where the grain of truth behind the mythology ends.

      His life was largely a fabrication and his sayings and deeds were almost entirely fabricated over time.

      Which was kind of pointed out even by the Romans — the emperor known as Julian the Apostate in the 4th century complied a long list of glaring holes in Christian doctrine, and he did from the position of someone much closer to the source of it all than we are. One of his points was that according to the scriptures themselves, Jesus had siblings (but that was never sufficiently elaborated on, there was talk of a twin brother, for example) which made the whole story of his birth very suspicious, and the later developments of the virgin Mary the mother of God myth simply laughable.

      But this is also the kind of thing that makes it likely that there was a real Jesus even if one very very far removed from the portrayal in the Gospels — there would have been fewer inconvenient details in the stories if it was all made up.

      Also, there would probably not have been such a difference in the christology of the synoptic gospels and John. You can kind of see how Jesus became more and more divine as time passed if you follow the chronology of the dates of the gospels.

      I am more than willing to concede that Jesus existed, denying that in no way weakens the atheist position.

      The atheist position is that religion is a non-supernatural product of human culture.

      Deriving Christianity from a real Jesus is just as (if not more) informative and illustrative as it being a complete myth.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        “You can kind of see how Jesus became more and more divine as time passed if you follow the chronology of the dates of the gospels…”

        But you can also see how the non-divine biography of Jesus developed over time if you follow the chronology of the dates of the gospels. Neither the epistles of Paul nor the gospel of Mark have anything about Jesus’ genealogy, nor the whole nativity scene. These only show up later in Luke and Matthew.

        • GM
          Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

          Sure, I wasn’t talking about that.

          Paul’s epistles (the half that were actually written by a single person whom we may call “Paul”, not the falsified ones) are the earliest parts of the New Testament.

          And there is pretty much nothing about Jesus in them.

          Of course, they were letters, not gospels, but that’s still a very notable silence.

        • Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          The reasons scholars think that the Jesus of the NT was probably based on a Jewish man named Yeshua is because there are awkward things that people wouldn’t make up. For example, his baptism by John the Baptised or the fraudulent census story (retcon). And calcification wasn’t just execution. It was the humiliating kind of execution. They wouldn’t have made them up if they didn’t have to.

          • busterggi
            Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:43 am | Permalink

            Except those awkward things weren’t made up, they were edited & rewritten ‘prophecies’ taken from the OT. Without these embarassments there would be no supposedly fulfilled prophecies.

  4. Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    The fact that the gospels say absolutely nothing about jesus’s physical appearance suggests to me that he was not a real person.

    • strongforce
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Virtually all Biblical writing is sparse on visual details of almost anything. It seems to be not a priority of ancient Hebrews.

      I wish they had so we could be spared the plethora of blond blue-eyed Jesus’ is bad religious art, surely not J of N’s appearance if he did exist.

    • GM
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      It’s hard to include visual details when you’re writing about someone living half a century before your time who you have never seen, there are still 1800 years before photography is invented, and while Greco-Roman portrait painting was actually at a very high level (almost on par with the European Renaissance), that tradition had not penetrated into the circles of lower-class Jewish peasants on the outskirts of the empire.

      Of course, if you are writing under divine inspiration, then it should be fairly trivial to have accurate visions of Jesus…

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      The Quran doesn’t mention camels, therefore there were no camels during the time of Mohammed.

      • Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        We have independent evidence for the existence for camels in the ancient middle east. Holy books are not relevant. Quite different for jesus.

      • Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        A quick Google search confirms my suspicion that camels are one of the many animals mentioned in the Quran.

        • Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          Indeed. The story of the miraculous she-camel of god is mentioned in the quran.

  5. Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    There are lots of candidates for someone that the Jesus myth could have been founded on. Perhaps it’s many of them. My favorite is Yeshu Ha Notzri often translated Jesus the Nazarene.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeshu#Yeshu_Ha-Notzri

    • Paul S
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      If that’s the case, you can claim Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was based on a real person.

      • darrelle
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think the evidence supports a real Jesus either, but I don’t think this argument works very well. Yes, in the case you present you can indeed say that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was based on a real person. And that is actually correct.

        That is exactly analogous to how most of the people commenting here at WEIT that think there was a historical Jesus think of it. They don’t think a historical Jesus person supports any notions of a magic Jesus.

        It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if some convincing evidence came to light showing that there was indeed a historical Jesus. As has been pointed out countless times, all of the believers work would still be before them. But I’ve yet to be persuaded by any historical Jesus arguments, not even here at WEIT. In fact I am always a little surprised how some of the people here I’ve come to know argue heatedly that there was indeed an historical Jesus. I chalk it up to cultural inertia.

        It seems to me that based on the scant and well tortured evidence the best that could be supported is that there were many actual people that were an ingredient in the concoction of the Jesus myth, among many other things (Like lots of borrowing from other myths, sometime wholesale). To the extent that the closest that can be reasonably supported is that the Jesus Myth was based on a group of people generally, the rabble rousing preachers from the early days of pre-Christianity. The Jesus myth is like the story that evolves in a teens daydreams in which they are vindicated and show the people who have been keeping them down, and the whole world, just how awesome they really are. Only writ much larger and masticated by many over a much longer time period.

        So I wonder how watered down, how attenuated does the basis of a myth have to be before it can be said that it is not based on a historical person?

        • Scote
          Posted August 29, 2016 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

          “I don’t think the evidence supports a real Jesus either, but I don’t think this argument works very well. Yes, in the case you present you can indeed say that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was based on a real person. And that is actually correct.”

          The analogy works very well to point out that whether there is a “historical person” you can tie to the myth A) proves nothing about the veracity of the mythical person and B) shows that claiming there was a “historical person” is a meaningless statement until you narrowly define what a historical person means in context. Jesus may be made up entirely out of whole cloth, or may also be inspired by a composite of various actual people.

          When journalists take true elements of various people and combine them into a single composite character their actions are called fraud, and their false character is not called “historical”.

          • darrelle
            Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:04 am | Permalink

            “The analogy works very well to point out that whether there is a “historical person” you can tie to the myth A) proves nothing about the veracity of the mythical person and B) shows that claiming there was a “historical person” is a meaningless statement until you narrowly define what a historical person means in context.”

            I agree with that. And as I said in my first comment all, or nearly all, the people here do too, even the ones who argue for a historical Jesus. So the analogy is not a counter to anything anyone here is arguing.

            “When journalists take true elements of various people and combine them into a single composite character their actions are called fraud, . . .”

            Again, yeah. So?

            “. . . and their false character is not called “historical”.”

            Again, I don’t recall anyone arguing that magic Jesus, the false character, is historical. That’s what believers argue. The historicists here merely argue that there is likely a real person, an ordinary non-magical one, that was the magic Jesus stories were based on.

      • phil
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

        Are you implying that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was not based on a real person?

        I think in a sense he was, but the story is still a fabrication.

      • jeremy pereira
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:53 am | Permalink

        He was. In fact, I think that is a very good analogy for how I think the Jesus of the Gospels relates to the real founder of Christianity.

        • jeremy pereira
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:53 am | Permalink

          Sorry, I was meant to be replying to phil’s Vampire Hunter post.

  6. Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    The most interesting thing I have read lately about “the historical Jesus” is complete fiction. It’s also a very good book, Nick Tosches’s “Under Tiberius”. Tosches discusses some “evidence” for a historical Iesus, as he spells it, and dismisses it. But, as I said, it’s fiction. But then, so it the Jesus story.

    • Newish Gnu
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

      About 35 years ago I read a sci-fi novel called “Behold the Man” by Michael Moorcock. (IIRC). A 20th century man uses his time travel machine to meet Jesus. (Spoiler alert) He finds him. Jesus turns out to be a congenital idiot. He has the intellect of a young child. The modern day man decides the world needs “Jesus” so he takes Jesus’s place. He does the stuff the gospels say Jesus did (finds a donkey to ride into town, etc.). He is crucified. As I recall, the ending is ambiguous as to whether or not he thinks he has acted wisely right before he dies. No resurrection, of course.

  7. Paul S
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I know I’m flogging the dead horse again but…

    If you’re going to claim that there was a Real Jesus™, you are invariably talking about the biblical Jesus. If like Ehrman, they claim Jesus wasn’t divine, then it’s not the biblical Jesus and they’re no longer arguing anything meaningful.
    So, Jesus wasn’t divine, wasn’t resurrected, wasn’t crucified, and the miracles are out. After you remove all the defining characteristics what’s the point of claiming he was a real person.
    Next they’ll say his name might have been Bob instead of Jesus, but is doesn’t matter because he was really and truly real, honest he was.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      George Wells, one of the early prominent mythicists, eventually came around to the position that possibly the Q sayings (all the parables and sermons in Matthew and Luke that are NOT in Mark) might all be the product of an itinerant wandering preacher similar to the Biblical figure of Jesus.

      It would run about 14 pages in a printout and contains several of the most famous sayings of Yeshua.

      =-=-=

      I’ve pointed out that virtually all the popular legends about Daniel Boone are false although he is a real person, largely because of an early biography of him that was mostly fabrication but became far more popular than more factual biographies.

      • Historian
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        Yes, biographies of historical characters often contain fiction, even if they are written at approximately the same time as the character lived. A classic example is the biography of George Washington written by Parson Weems. Weems tried to show how noble Washington was by having him say to his father, “I can never tell a lie.” This is the famous cherry tree story. Britannica.com puts it this way.

        “Mason Locke Weems, byname Parson Weems (born Oct. 11, 1759, Anne Arundel county, Md. [U.S.]—died May 23, 1825, Beaufort, S.C.) American clergyman, itinerant book agent, and fabricator of the story of George Washington’s chopping down the cherry tree. This fiction was inserted into the fifth edition (1806) of Weems’s book The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington (1800).”

        Thus, even if some contemporaneous description of Jesus should ever be found, it would have to be viewed with the greatest skepticism in regard to accuracy. Stories that greatly exaggerate the virtues of historical figures are not uncommon.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

          But then, fictional stories of fictional characters also often contain fiction.

          So while the presence of some fictional elements does not negate any accurate biography, where’s the beef? Where are the biographical details that are non-fictional in the NT documents, and how can we tell which are fictional and which are not?

      • Paul S
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        Daniel Boone was a person who’s exploits were exaggerated. Those exaggerated exploits didn’t define Daniel Boone.
        Jesus on the other hand is defined by his divinity and his exploits. Without them his existence / non-existence is meaningless.

        • CJColucci
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          I doubt that the non-divine person around whom the divinity stories later coalesced would agree that his existence was meaningless. He was probably very much attached to his existence and liked existing far more than the alternative.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      Why do you think that, if some real Jesus existed, he wasn’t crucified? This method of execution was standard at that time and place.

      • Paul S
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        I’ll grant you that people were executed, some people were crucified and some people were named Jesus. I’ll even grant you that some person named Jesus may have been crucified. That however says nothing about the Jesus we’re talking about which is the the one described in the bible with all the divinity and miracles attached.
        Once you remove his defining characteristics we are no longer discussing the Real Jesus™.

        • busterggi
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 9:22 am | Permalink

          Of course Jesus is not just a name, its also a word that means ‘savior’. Jesus was the prototype for Hiro Protagonist from Snow Crash.

        • CJColucci
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          Who is this “we” of whom you speak? Many, if not most, of us are talking about something other than what you insist “we” are talking about.

  8. Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Several years ago I read a book by historian Bill Johnston called “The Emperor’s New Clothes-An (Un)popular Account of the Origins of Christianity”. He explained how Christianity evolved from the the past religions that evolved in the area. He also could not find the historical Jesus described in the Bible.
    Peter

  9. Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, only 99.9999999%? Religious claims don’t even warrant 0.0000001%. Of course, everything, even the most absurd assertions could be true, but that’s a feature of the problem of induction.

    I understand why you phrase it like this, but I think for all practical purposes, we should drop it, and be even more “militant”. Claims like those of the monotheisms are demonstrably wrong. They can be rejected as obviously made up: they are simply false.

    If it turns out, against all odds, laws of nature, everything we know, that religious claims are true, we have other worries than believers who taunt us as “Ha-ha told you so! What now atheist? You should have kept 0.0000001% of doubt!”

  10. Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    For me, the best evidence for a historical Jesus is the lengths the gospel writers went to to turn Jesus into a messiah figure. Born in Nazareth but supposed to be born in Bethlehem? Introduce a convoluted back story to make it happen (hey, why not 2?). Executed as a criminal? All part of the divine plan!

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      This is pretty much what historical Jesus apologists (called ‘historicists’ by the folks who call themselves ‘mythicists’) call the criterion of embarrassment.

      Ehrman takes the view that preaching a crucified Messiah was making a virtue of necessity given the unexpectedness of Jesus death.
      The suffering servant and the Messiah figure (two figures in Isaiah) were blended into a composite, along with the elements of dying and rising pagan gods (Osiris) thus making Christianity.

    • Starr
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Actually there are good reasons why someone might make up both Bethlehem and Nazareth.

      1. The only source for the Bethlehem stories comes from Matthew and Luke, but they used Mark as a source. Mark has Jesus hailing from Nazareth, but Matthew (whom IMO Luke also used as a source, I don’t find the evidence for Q convincing) wanted prophecies about a savior coming from Bethlehem fulfilled. Walla! That doesn’t mean Jesus was “really” from Nazareth though, as you would first have to show that Mark himself wasn’t writing fiction.

      2. It is fairly clear that early Christians had prophecies declaring that the savior would be called a “Nazorean”. Early Christians also seem to have been referred to as Nazoreans, and in fact there is a modern religion, the Mandeans, who used to be called Nazoreans, and splintered off from Judaism back around the same time Christianity did (they also revere John the Baptist, whom it is clear the early Christians also had great respect for). Now, as far as I know, no one knows what “Nazorean” means, but it certainly could either mistakenly or purposely be related to Nazareth. Thus Jesus being from Nazareth could have been pulled out of scripture. Additionally there are scriptures which generically refer to a savior coming out of Galilee, if not Nazareth specifically.

      Btw, if you are interested in religions, I highly recommend looking up the Mandeans. They are the only surviving sect of Gnostics. They are an offshoot of Judaism like Christianity and Islam but have very distinct views from those three religions. For instance while they revere characters like Adam and Noah, they reject characters like Abraham and Moses as false prophets. They also have a negative view of Jesus, considering him a Mandean apostate. They also believe in the Holy Spirit, but unlike Christians, they consider it to be evil.

      Here is a great introduction to them if you are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvv6I02MNlc

      • Posted August 30, 2016 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        Hell yes I’m going to look up the Mandeans – thanks!

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      This happens in acknowledged fiction as well. Consider any of several fictional worlds in which multiple books or movies are produced (e.g. Star Trek). Later authors must deal with details introduced by earlier authors. Story lines get convoluted as additional stories are added.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        The Wonderful World of (

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        I’ll try that again.
        The Wonderful World of Retcon.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      Is that ironic? Because that is an added reason to think this unlikely myth had a real template, if you go beyond the lack of evidence in the first place.

  11. Michael Vousden
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    The most interesting thing to me about the so called ‘gospels’ is that the original gospel – which is considered by all modern scholars to be Mark – originally had what is called the ‘short ending’ (basically ‘not added to’). In this original gospe there was not even a mention of a divine Jesus character: there was NO resurrection and NO miracle birth! It was just a story of an ordinary guy who wandered down to see John the Baptist and had some sort of ‘spiritual experience’ which changed his life.
    The ‘divine’ stuff was added by Irenaeus to begin with and then further added to by Eusabius to keep the Roman Emperor Constantine happy. So originally NO DIVINE JESUS.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      No one really knows who wrote the longer ending of Mark which adds a resurrection narrative.

      Even the longer Mark never asserts Jesus is divine, but rather portrays him as being in some sense adopted by God at his baptism.

      The first document to claim Jesus was divine is the final of the four Gospels, the Gospel of John, and early letters of Paul which indicate Jesus is some sort of mixture/synthesis of a human nature with some sort of pre-existent heavenly being.

      • Michael Vousden
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        Well the longer ending (or longer endings to be more accurate) has him appearing after a resurrection to his followers – so for me that is divine. And then there is some sort of ascension.
        To me this doesnt matter as the original writing – Mark the shorter – is the one that is ‘copied’ and then extended to make the story sound more fantastic. The question is ‘why’ would the original gospel not bother with the divinity angle. It was just a morality play about becoming a higher form of person.

    • GM
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      The ‘divine’ stuff was added by Irenaeus to begin with and then further added to by Eusabius to keep the Roman Emperor Constantine happy. So originally NO DIVINE JESUS.

      Jesus becomes God during the 1st century.

      Irenaeus comes more than a century later.

      One can trace the progression from a messianic preacher to a divine figure within the gospels. But by the time John was written, it was mostly over.

      Of course, there was a lot of idiocy to be layered on top in the centuries after that when the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was hammered out. But people believed Jesus to be a God already in the 1st century.

      • Michael Vousden
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        Well the Jesus character never was ‘divine’ but the later gospels CLAIMED that he was (it seems) then Irenaeus about 180 CE ‘interpolated’ and invented stuff to fight against the ‘Gnostics’.
        The point is that the original ‘Jesus’ never was divine – whether he was a real historical figure or not.
        The original story reads more like a script for a play.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    … the complete absence of good evidence for Jesus from people writing during the time when he was supposed to have lived …

    Why wouldn’t Jesus have jotted down a few ideas himself, the way other historical moral teachers did? Or failing that, find a 13th disciple from among the literate Sadducees or Pharisees to act as his amanuensis?

    I mean, after all, all that depends upon following his teachings is the fate of every human soul ever. Why leave those teachings to word-of-mouth for the better part of a century before anything gets written down?

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      There are lots of cultures which are primarily oral. Homer;s poetry wasn’t written down for a long time.
      See this Wikipedia article on oral tradition.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oral_tradition

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        Last I heard, no one was claiming that Homer was a deity, or that it was necessary to study the Iliad and Odyssey to gain eternal salvation. If the Lord God Almighty is sending his only begotten son to show mortals the way, and that way requires the study of Jesus’ life and teachings, you’d think He’d show the foresight not to be bound by contemporary oral traditions.

        Anyway, plenty of people around the Mediterranean were, in fact, committing important matters to writing in the First Century — hell, we’ve got fragmentary evidence of written gospels, and the Pauline epistles, not to mention the writings Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, et al. that Christians are so keen to trot out as historical evidence of Jesus’ existence.

        Those who claim the divinity of Jesus need to make a better excuse than that for why no contemporary writings by Him or his immediate followers exist.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        Homer;s poetry wasn’t written down

        Surely Matt Groening has a script for Dan Castellaneta and the drawing elves?
        I’m just having a bizarre image of the Simpsons doing an Odyssey skit. Or even the Wars. They can’t have missed this one, surely? Marge carried off to Paris, Texas, perhaps? The one-eyed sea captain as Polyphemus?

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Because Jesus did not have any disciples, he had 12 Apostles. Disciples are taught by a mentor. Apostles teach from visions they had of the Master.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        By common convention, the 12 who are said to have followed Jesus during his lifetime are both “apostles” and “disciples,” and those terms are used interchangeably for them. Jesus had other supposed followers — e.g., Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus) — who were not among the 12 present in his lifetime, yet who are nonetheless classified as “disciples.”

        • Posted August 30, 2016 at 2:08 am | Permalink

          Richard Carrier, for one, would be an Historical Jesus historian who would disagree with you about that – he makes a clear distinction.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted August 30, 2016 at 6:24 am | Permalink

            I respect the work Richard Carrier has done in this field, but his use of terminology can be idiosyncratic.

  13. Pliny the in Between
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Messiah’s blink in and out of existence on a fairly regular basis. The clincher appears to be the need for a strong second act to convert a cult of personality into a marketable enterprise.

    L Ron and Miscavige
    J Smith and Young
    Jesus and Paul,
    etc.

    • AdamK
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      But Jesus and Paul never met–Jesus only appeared to Paul in visions. Their relationship isn’t like Smith to Young, but like the Angel Moroni to Smith. Nobody argues that the Angel Moroni was an historical person.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

        Nobody (so far as I know) claims Moroni was corporeal, but Joseph Smith certainly claimed, and Mormons seem uniformly to believe, that Moroni had an ontological existence apart from Smith’s imagination.

        I don’t think Pliny’s point about second acts hinges on a flesh-and-blood meeting between parts 1 and 2.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 29, 2016 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

          I read that as “the angel Marconi”. Must be the angel of long distance communications. 😇🎙📡

          • Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

            Appropriate, sort of, since “angelos” means “messenger” (or thereabouts), of course.

  14. Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always felt that much of the consensus is fueled by the historic consensus. We’re not that far removed from the days that believing Jesus was a myth was heresy punishable by death, and we’re still at a point where having mythicist on your CV at best makes getting a job in your field less likely.
    I also suspect that people who believe Jesus is a myth aren’t flocking to school to study the historicity of the bible, making the consensus self replicating.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      I meant to add that I suspect the consensus among bigfoot experts is that bigfoot exists.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      I agree: and part of the problem is that virtually all of the scholarly ‘work’ being done on ‘Jesus studies’ takes place in academic theological departments, where the existence of JC, and the truth of the biblical accounts, is taken as read. If you start out with a sceptical position, you don’t get appointed to a serious research post in the first place!

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        By way of example, I might adduce Thomas Thompson, whose PhD dissertation in the early 70s on the mythical nature of the biblical account of the “patriarchs” was rejected by the University of Tubingen (in the form of Ratzinger, the future Pope). I understand that Thompson found it virtually impossible to obtain an academic place subsequently. The RCC doesn’t brook dissent in any shape or form; and strives to suppress it when it arises. Not that any of the other sects are any better.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        takes place in academic theological departments, where the existence of JC, and the truth of the biblical accounts, is taken as read.

        That is implying that “theology” is taken as synonymous with “Christian theology”.
        Surely that is susceptible to (1) (in USA) First Amendment challenge and (2) (world wide) donor challenge, where donations to one’s alma mater are reduced while the theology department only studies one god. Rich Jewish, Mormon or [whatever] potential donors can break the monoculture too, if they wish.
        Hang on – didn’t we discuss this a year or so ago?

    • GBJames
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      Indeed.

      And sub.

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      My school history textbook stated that, “According to scientific studies, no person named Jesus Christ has existed.” Reading this, I wondered how this could be proven, without the modern registries of citizens.

      • jeremy pereira
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 8:25 am | Permalink

        Science (well, linguistics) tells us that “Christ” is a title meaning anointed one in Koine Greek – as is “messiah”. It’s not a name or part of a name, so the history textbook was correct in a pedantic sense.

        • CJColucci
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

          You mean Jesus Christ wasn’t the son of Joe and Mary Christ?

        • Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

          Only in a pedantic sense. Many individuals are recorded in history books by their nicknames (e.g. Ataturk or Stalin).

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 30, 2016 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

            Or Monophthalmos (one eye) a guy in Alex the Great’s army.

            • Posted August 31, 2016 at 5:57 am | Permalink

              I checked him; the poor one had for first name “Against procreation” (Antigonos)!

  15. Petrushka
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Joseph Smith’s golden tablets are well attested by reliable witnesses.

    If that helps.

    • busterggi
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      They swore they ‘hefted’ them, not that they saw them. For all they really knew they were ‘hefting’ a box of rocks.

  16. bluemaas
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Lucy, of ~3.18 million gazillion years ago, is thought, today, by some to have died from a fall out of a T R E E !

    As of thus: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature19332.html and so: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/archaeologists-fuming-over-study-claims-161128460.html

    Of course, not All agree.

    Not a lotta difference — in the agreeing or the disagreeing departments — from whether or not an historical Yesus existed … … in order for him to even have had a Cause of Death !

    ‘CEPT for this One Big Difference: the evidentiary BONES of Lucy ! Whether or not she fell out of a tree ? Debatable.

    At the least though, those bones of hers? At the least, … … Lucy actually existed !

    Blue

  17. rickflick
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    The Jesus debate (was he or wasn’t he) is fascinating, although it seems to me hardly to matter. Either Jesus was a real person who inspired a movement or the movement was inspired by imaginative writers who needed no actual corpus. It makes not much real difference in the end.
    Something Matt Dillihunty recently discussed on his call in show seems relevant, at least at a high level. Why, he asked, would an omni-everything god make discovering his important message so damned difficult? Why leave it to bunch of johnny come lately, unimpressive scribes to announce what should be the most important thing ever, to the world? Why isn’t there solid empirical evidence that Jesus was real strewn about for all to see? It seems bizarre that such a god would make a giant Easter egg hunt out of his plan to rule the universe.

    • phil
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:17 am | Permalink

      I agree that “[i]t seems bizarre that such a god would make a giant Easter egg hunt” out of his plan to save the universe, but it isn’t so odd that he/she/it might want to conceal plans to rule the universe.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 4:40 am | Permalink

        “but it isn’t so odd that he/she/it might want to conceal plans to rule the universe.”

        If you think of God as a simple fraudulent human like Dr. Evil, that’s true. But he’s supposed to be the all powerful creator of the universe. In that case, no, there’d be no reason to to make his plans obscure.

        If you were in control of a city and made all the traffic rules and then hid the rules so that when people tried to get around they were constantly being ticketed to hell, what kind of a mayor would you be? Doesn’t make any sense unless you were totally incompetent or a malicious sadist.

        • phil
          Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

          I think your argument applies to god’s desire to save the world, but not so well to god’s desire to rule the world, as I originally suggested.

          • rickflick
            Posted September 1, 2016 at 7:27 am | Permalink

            I’m afraid the hopes and desires of a first-rate hobgoblin would be more accessible.

    • jeremy pereira
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      The answer to that question is that Whether Jesus existed or not, the Christian version of God doesn’t.

    • Posted September 21, 2016 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Here’s something: it can pretty easily be shown that devout believers of other religions are as sure of their faith’s truth as christians are. If you debate a religious person, you can usually get them to admit that the followers of competing religions believe as strongly as they do. It seems that the feeling of being the one true faith, the one tasked with salvation of humanity, is pretty much omnipresent. Maybe this could be an explanation for why many christians think it matters? They may have a subconcious will to actualize their religion by findind the smoking gun, as it were. I guess it doesn’t hold up because it’s pretty easy to prove that L. Ron Hubbard existed… But then, modern-day religions are easily dismissable on other grounds.

  18. Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    i would argue that there is a consensus that there could have *possibly* been a human itinerant rabbi that may have been the kernel for the jesus Christ myth. Since there is no evidence for this human, then it is just wishful thinking that a fair number of people agree with.

    • phil
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:22 am | Permalink

      Some writers suggest that Palestine was literally crawling with apocalyptic preachers who could be described as “itinerant rabbi[s]”. Some have even provided a list of names, and some of those names are very similar to “Jesus”. From what I have read there is indeed evidence for such a human, although it is still a long way to Jesus of the Bible.

      • Posted August 30, 2016 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        So, what is this evidence you claim exists for “such a human”?

        • phil
          Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

          Only what I have read of the likes of Carrier, Ehrman and Lataster, i.e. that Palestine was awash with apocalyptic preachers. I’m sorry I can’t recall any more specific details. I’m not suggesting that any of them in particular was the source of the biblical stories about Jesus.

          There is plenty of evidence that people lived in Palestine at the time, doing things that people do, some of them were preachers, apocalyptic and itinerant, and some were called Jesus, so in that sense there is some evidence that “such a human” could have existed. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that “such a human” did exist however.

          In my view it is at least as probable that the character of Jesus in the Bible is an amalgam of characteristics of people (without the supernatural powers) who did exist, as that Jesus was a real live person.

          • Posted September 1, 2016 at 5:34 am | Permalink

            I am not surprise that you cannot recall any details, since I know that there aren’t any and I know that Richard Carrier doesn’t agree with the claim of a historical Jesus Christ figure.

            To be blunt, no kidding that there is evidence that people lived in Palestine at the time. You have made the claim that there was a historical Jesus e.g. “such a human” and now you demonstrate you have nothing.

            As I indicated, there is a possibility of such a human but no evidence at all of such a human ever existed. The probability of such a being is also very low since again, no evidence of a singular human being considered the Christ of the bible. If you now say you wouldn’t go so far to say as “such a human did exist” then why did you say this: “I am not surprise that you cannot recall any details, since I know that there aren’t any and I know that Richard Carrier doesn’t agree with the claim of a historical Jesus Christ figure.

            To be blunt, no kidding that there is evidence that people lived in Palestine at the time. You have made the claim that there was a historical Jesus e.g. “such a human” and now you demonstrate you have nothing.

            As I indicated, there is a possibility of such a human but no evidence at all of such a human ever existed. The probability of such a being is also very low since again, no evidence of a singular human being considered the Christ of the bible.” if you now “wouldn’t go so far as to say “such a human” did exist, then why did you say “From what I have read there is indeed evidence for such a human, although it is still a long way to Jesus of the Bible.”

            You seem to have entirely abandoned your initial claim. It is good that you can change your mind but to try to appear that you didn’t, well, I find that dishonest.

            • phil
              Posted September 2, 2016 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

              You need to review that post. Furthermore I think you misunderstand what I was trying to say in my reply to your original post (#18).

              You write that “there is a possibility of such a human but no evidence at all of such a human ever existed.” But in what sense is there a possibility if you have no evidence? Sure, in the trivial sense that “anything” is possible, but I assume we are not talking in that sense. So, there must be some evidence that people with the ascribed characteristics existed for there to be a possibility that they existed.

              “You seem to have entirely abandoned your initial claim.”

              I think that is only because you misinterpretted my intial claim. My claim was not that there was a single person called Jesus that is the basis of the NT, but there is evidence that there were people with similar characteristics, who were possibly woven into the Jesus story. Having evidence for someone who might fit the person of Jesus is not the same as having proof that Jesus existed. Evidence exists that fits the description of Jesus, but it does not prove he existed, and might well be explained by something else. That is all I ever tried to say.

              How is “wouldn’t go so far as to say “such a human” did exist” inconsistent with “From what I have read there is indeed evidence for such a human, although it is still a long way to Jesus of the Bible”? I think you are a bit confused. My primary point is, and always has been, there IS evidence (though not conclusive), but I have never written that I believe it proves any particular person existed. Actually I think we are arguing the same thing about the existence of a person, but I contend that there is evidence.

              • Michael Vousden
                Posted September 3, 2016 at 9:10 am | Permalink

                Phil,
                I think a lot of the confusion in this whole discussion is in differentiating various aspects of the ‘Gospel Stories’ concerning a possible historical figure.
                As you say “From what I have read there is indeed evidence for such a human, although it is still a long way to Jesus of the Bible”? Here some may say “such a human” is the same as saying “Jesus of the Bible” and in fact there is a possible third character that is being discussed, who is “the character who was claiming to be a Messiah”. I think the point everyone is making is that there is no meaningful evidence of any divinity in “Jesus of the Bible” but there may be “such a person” who did the normal human things of the Jesus character in the gospels and this same real character may indeed have “claimed to be the Messiah” and have caused a few people to get excited about that possibility. The same “historical person” who “claimed to be the Messiah” may indeed have been crucified.
                Anyeay thats how I see it.

              • phil
                Posted September 3, 2016 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

                @Michael Vousden

                I had assumed that nobody here accepted the concept of divinity and that no-one believed the supernatural stories described in the Bible. I assumed that we were arguing about whether the Jesus story was based on a real flesh and blood person, or an accumulation of characteristics that some people of the time possessed.

                Like you I suspect that there is some confusion about exactly whom “such a person” might refer to. I accept the possibility that “the point everyone is making is that there is no meaningful evidence of any divinity in “Jesus of the Bible”… ” but the historicity debate is not about divinity, it is about the actual existence of the person. For atheists engaged in the debate (and atheists vigorously argue both sides) the lack of divinity of Jesus is pretty much an uncontested. It is an argument of theology not history, and I am somewhat baffled as to why an atheist would engage in it (particularly in a debate over historicity).

              • Posted September 4, 2016 at 7:11 am | Permalink

                I may have misunderstood what you meant but I don’t think I misunderstood what you wrote, which is this “From what I have read there is indeed evidence for such a human, although it is still a long way to Jesus of the Bible.”

                In this, you seem to indicate a singular human who was the model for the idea of Jesus Christ, not “people”. Evidence does not fit the description of Jesus Christ, the god/man miracle worker. There is plenty of evidence indicating that there were wannabee messiahs who were only human. Also, do you realize that Richard Carrier isn’t a proponent of a historical Jesus? You lumped him in with Ehrman who is.

              • phil
                Posted September 5, 2016 at 3:27 am | Permalink

                @clubschadenfreude

                You need to read what I wrote again, and analyse it in its context: “Some writers suggest that Palestine was literally crawling with apocalyptic preachers who could be described as “itinerant rabbi[s]”. Some have even provided a list of names, and some of those names are very similar to “Jesus”. From what I have read there is indeed evidence for such a human*, although it is still a long way to Jesus of the Bible.”

                * i.e. an itinerant rabbi

                Quite clearly “such a human” does not refer to a biblical Jesus, the term obviously refers to “itinerant rabbi[s]”. Your assumption that I was making a reference to any supernatural or biblical Jesus is simply unwarranted.

                You wrote “… a human itinerant rabbi that may have been the kernel for the jesus Christ myth. Since there is no evidence for this human…” but quite clearly there is evidence for “such a human”, i.e. “a human itinerant rabbi that may have been the kernel…”.

                You wrote of “a human itinerant rabbi” and “the kernel for the jesus Christ myth”. Since neither a myth nor a kernel is a human it is obvious that “there is no evidence for this human” refers to “a human itinerant rabbi”, and your statement is incorrect. That is the original point I was addressing.

                “Also, do you realize that Richard Carrier isn’t a proponent of a historical Jesus?”

                Well bugger me! (As Owen used to say) How could I have missed that after reading all those books and blog posts?

                I mention Carrier, Ehrman and Lataster because IIRC they all say “that Palestine was awash with apocalyptic preachers”. As David Fitzgerald (I think) has pointed out, Ehrman mostly agrees on the evidence, he just comes to a different conclusion.

  19. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Why are there no descriptions of the earthquakes and people rising from their graves when Jesus was crucified?

    A significant earthquake in urban Jerusalem in about 30 CE would have left both documentary records (“Dear Tiberius, please don’t chop my head for for being 15% light on this year’s tribute. We had an earthquake and tax take is down. XXX, Pilate”) and archaeological records (e.g. roof-tile fragments in a context between 20 CE pottery styles and 40 CE pottery styles).
    Does any reader have the set of crockery they were given as a house warming or wedding present in 1980+/- 5 CE? Can you differentiate it from crockery sets on the shelves today? Wow, archaeological technology still works! Hail Petrie! Father of seriation!

  20. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t buy that most scholars accept the historical Jesus schtick. Classics scholars, who would have the most objective and learned position on the matter, don’t care about Jesus for the most part and the only others who really take an interest are theologians and their biased so I call shenanigans on the claim and want to see supporting data.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      I think that people who say “most scholars accept the historical Jesus” they mean “most theologians accept”. Which is not a legitimate argument, for obvious reasons.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        Although a majority of New Testament scholars are Christians (at least 75%) hardly any of them would qualify as theologians in any significant sense of the word.
        The obvious exception is Rudolf Bultmann who is so reputable even mythicist/atheist Robert Price is a fan.

        Classics scholars who have veered into Jesus studies are Michael Grant (I earlier posted him as Mark Grant), Robin Lane Fox, and Richmond Lattimore of which the first two are atheists (though Fox more publicly so).

  21. Roger
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Rosa’s article says:

    Another local historian of the time was a certain Justus of Tiberius who wrote a (now lost) chronicle of the kings of Israel from Moses to Agrippa II about which a ninth century patriarch of Constantinople Photios I complained:

    He [Justus] makes not the least mention of the appearance of Christ, of what things happened to him, or of the wonderful works that he did.

    Haha that’s hilarious. Photios attributes Justus’s failure to mention Christ to Justus’s “very concise” style and to Justus’s Jewishness of course lol.

    http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/photius_03bibliotheca.htm

  22. Kevin
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    God did this on purpose and Christians secretly love the fact that there is no evidence because without evidence, nothing can be disproved and all can be relied on solely on faith.

    If faith had to be shared with fact, the faith would become weaker or altogether extinguished.

  23. Jeff Lewis
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m not an expert in any of this and so can’t really debate intelligently, but here’s a very interesting article that for the time being has edged me towards the historicist position:
    Quora answer to question about historical Jesus

    Bear in mind, this is about Jesus the itinerant peasant preacher who formed the nucleus of the Biblical legend, not Jesus the miracle working son of God. A few of the interesting points:

    Noting that contemporary accounts for any ancient historical figure are hard to find, including none for Hannibal, by far more famous in his time than Jesus
    Noting that only one historian of the era, Josephus, really did make note of all the numerous Jewish preachers, while other historians, like Philo, pretty much ignored them all. So, it’s really only Josephus’s writings where we should expect to find mention of Jesus, and we do (twice, with one being more reliable than the other)
    Rationalizations of events that wouldn’t necessarily be expected from a pure legend (what I believe someone above referred to as the criterion of embarrassment), such as having to account for the Messiah being baptized by John the Baptist, or inventing the stories to explain why the Messiah came from Nazareth instead of Bethlehem, or even the crucifixion itself.
    Noting that Paul did make references to Jesus that are much more consistent with believing him to be an actual man rather than existing in some heavenly realm like the mythicists propose (Galatians 4:4, Romans 1:3, 1 Cor. 2:8, 1 Cor 15:3-4, Galatians 1:19)
    The fact that the gnostics, who “emphasised his spiritual/mystical aspects and saw him as an emissary from a purely spiritual world to help us escape the physical dimension”, still described Jesus as a human, when a purely celestial being would have fit into their mythology so much better
    The fact that early critics of Christianity never brought up the mythicist argument in their criticisms

    There’s a lot more. I highly recommend reading the article. At the same time, like I said, I’m not an expert, so I’d also be interested in counter arguments.

    Granted, none of that is iron clad proof that Jesus existed, but there’s no iron clad proof for mythicism, either. The question is which is the more likely origin of the story. And frankly, notable figures who have been mythologized (George Washington, Davey Crocket, John Henry, etc.) are common enough that it’s not particularly extraordinary to think that’s the origin of the Jesus legend.

    • busterggi
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Except that one of Josephus’s mentions of Jesus is a later interpolation (the earliest Christian writers know nothing of it) and the other is a completely different Jesus as is explicit in the text.

      • Jeff Lewis
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        I’m still writing from a position of relative ignorance, but the article I linked to did examine both passages from Josephus. According to him, the consensus is that the Testimonium Flavianum has been added to by later Christian writers, but not that the entire passage is an interpolation. Wikipedia, impeachable authority that it is, says roughly the same thing.

        The reference to ‘James the brother of Jesus’ also seems to be in reference to the Jesus of Christianity, especially if ‘who was called Christ’ is authentic. What is the argument that it’s some other Jesus

        • busterggi
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          From Josephus –

          “brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, …, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”

          The brother of Jesus was clearly originally meant to be Jesus the son of Damneus, the “who was called the Christ” is an interpolation.

          • Jeff Lewis
            Posted August 30, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

            You say ‘clearly’, but I don’t think it’s obvious at all. The first Jesus is ‘Jesus, who was called Christ’, and the second Jesus is ‘Jesus, the son of Damneus’. I suppose it’s possible they’re the same person, but the more likely reading, at least to me, is that they’re two different people who just happen to have the same name, which would explain why Josephus referred to them differently, to make it clear that they’re two different people. I mean, it seems a bit odd to refer to James as the brother of Jesus, while referring to Jesus as the son of Damneus. Why wouldn’t James have also been noted as a son of Damneus? It also seems a bit unlikely, but not impossible, that a Jesus with so much clout that he would be named the next high priest wouldn’t have been able to use some of that clout to save his brother from being stoned to death (perhaps he and Ananus were political rivals, or Ananus really was just that much of a jerk).

        • cornbread_r2
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          It’s written “brother of the lord”, not “brother of Jesus”. It often seems that the whole debate on the subject of historicity boils down to whether that’s a reference to actual or spiritual kinship.

          • cornbread_r2
            Posted August 30, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

            I was referring to that phrase as it appears in Paul’s epistle and not Josephus.

            • Jeff Lewis
              Posted August 30, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

              Okay. I was wondering if there was more controversy to the translation of Josephus than I was aware of. It appears there’s not, on this phrase, at least.

    • phil
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:46 am | Permalink

      On the issue of Jesus’ baptism, Ehrman writes that early beliefs were that he was a mortal who became divine (as distinct from being born a divine being). The baptism was a sign of Jesus’ anointment, and was necessary for him to become divine.

      Later theologies had him born as a divine being thereby rendering the baptism irrelevant and an apparent embarrassment, but only to recent students who do not appreciate the origins of the story.

      • Jeff Lewis
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        Well, yes. That’s kind of the point. Jesus the man going to be baptized by John the Baptist, the man, makes sense. If the event happened and was well known to his followers, then later ‘biographers’ would have to include it, even if they sort of white washed it in the later biographies once his legend had grown even greater and people began believing he was God incarnate from birth.

        Jesus as a purely celestial being wouldn’t have had to go be baptized by a mortal man.

        • phil
          Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

          “Jesus as a purely celestial being wouldn’t have had to go be baptized by a mortal man.”

          Hmmm, well, except some might use it as a plot device to demonstrate that he was in fact anointed, on this earth even though he was already anointed in some divine sense or realm, rather than just relying on someone’s word. That’s the point at issue here, there are actually differing theologies, and they evolve with time, and that is why the argument from embarrassment is really quite suspect.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      I’ll mainly copy a previous comment of mine:

      “this is about [Jesus the itinerant peasant preacher]”. But then you go outside historical science, and starts to adduce evidence for non-historical individuals. A mentioning of a name, repeated in different contexts to boot, is not historical evidence.

      Non-historical individuals existed of course, since anthropologists can study them and their genetic and cultural remains. But they aren’t studied as specific individuals, they are member of populations.

      So that line of reasoning fails miserably to establish a test for existence.

      Especially here, since the anthropological evidence speaks at length against the myth it is supposed to not reject.

  24. Doug
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    The problem I have with all revealed religion is this: Why does an omnipotent God, who has a message that He wants spread throughout the world, only tell one person and then tell that person to spread the Word? God could just as easily tell everyone on Earth at the same time. This goes for prophets, gurus, popes, oracles, etc. God tells Moses to tell Aaron to tell the Pharaoh . . .why doesn’t God tell the Pharaoh? Very inefficient.

    • bluemaas
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      re “… … why doesn’t God, etc ?”

      “It is a Mystery,”* Mr Doug, don’cha’ know.

      “This is most certainly TRUE!”* per a gazillion such .exact. sentences made by Mr Martin Luther within his own wee catechismal WOO !

      Blue

      *I am sorry, Sir. I could not resist !

  25. Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Aside from the questionable assertion that we live in a “rationalist age”, I’ve always felt that what Isaac Asimov wrote about Jesus in Asimov’s Guide to the Bible makes some sense:

    There have been those who have maintained … that Jesus never existed, but this seems going too far. The synoptic gospels do not bear the marks of outright fiction as do the books of Tobit, Judith, and Esther, for instance. The synoptic gospels are not filled with anachronisms but prove accurate when they discuss the background of their times. What they say of John the Baptist, or instance, jibes with what Josephus says. Moreover, they contain no incidents which seem flatly to contradict known historical facts.

    To be sure, the synoptic gospels are full of miracles and wonder tales which are accepted, in toto, by many pious Christians. Still, if some of us, in this rationalist age of ours, wish to discount the miracles and the element of the divine, there still remains a connected, nonmiraculous, and completely credible and sensible story of the fate of a Galilean preacher.

    The truth almost certainly lies somewhere between Asimov’s view and Jesus being totally fictional, but I don’t see any way to narrow it down from there.

    • Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Careful reading about what the texts actually do and do not claim can really help.

      The argument from contemporary silence (which the website referenced does a good job enumerating) is only part of the story.

      I would also look carefully at how contemporary general texts handle the question. This *really* shocked me when I did it for one textbook – Perry’s small Western Civilization textbook – it just cites Acts!! What incredibly uncritical scholarship!

    • Xuuths
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      My respects to the great Asimov, but he was wrong in that known historical facts contradict the claim of an earthquake in Jerusalem, or the claim about the graves being opened and zombies roaming about. That’s kind of an unbelievable lapse in the record.

  26. Christopher Bonds
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    What I would like to know (so I can argue better) is how we know Alexander the Great existed, but we are uncertain about Jesus of Nazareth. I do know that all the original source material on Alexander is lost, but there are many secondary sources quoting several original sources, e.g., Alexander’s generals. His image also appears on coins distributed throughout his empire. But I think some would argue that if you say Alexander existed, Jesus did too. But I’m very skeptical about that. Ideas?

    • darrelle
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      I am by no means an expert on Alexander, but I did study him in college for a couple of years (quite awhile ago). The evidence that Alexander actually existed is overwhelming, I think. Comparing the evidence for Alexander to that for Jesus will only shine more light on why the evidence for Jesus is not convincing.

      As you say, nearly all the 1st hand accounts, certainly all the narrative ones, have not survived but they have been referenced as sources for 2nd hand accounts. Those 2nd hand accounts are quite different in nature than the 2nd hand accounts of Jesus. The nature of the accounts that do survive for Alexander, biographies and histories, and the nature of the people who wrote them, historians / scholars, are also what you would think we should have for Jesus, but we don’t.

      And there is much more. There are primary records that do survive, just not narrative accounts. The Babylonian Royal Diary, a day to day account of events in Babylon, not a narrative. A government document from Bactria which notes the arrival of Alexander in Bactria. A royal decree issued by Alexander, the Decree of Philippi.

      Just the entire scope of the history of a large part of the ancient world corroborates the existence of Alexander. From his father, Phillip, through his own death myriad traces of Alexander can be seen throughout the archaeological evidence for the ancient Greek city states, the Persian empire, India and other regions. And though there are of course inconsistencies among the evidence, uncertainties, fabrications and other types of errors, there is also a very large amount of consistency on a very large number of details regarding the life of Alexander.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 31, 2016 at 6:52 am | Permalink

        As I commented a few days back (to some Xtian who was querying how we know Alexander existed) – we would *expect* there to be plenty of records of Alexander. His actions had immediate major repercussions across half the world.

        Jesus, on the other hand, did next to nothing out of the ordinary. Preached a bit, caused minor local disturbances, got himself executed along with a couple of common thieves… it might make a column-filler in the local paper but it wouldn’t make headlines in Rome. (Metaphorically speaking).

        (The Xtian’s argument was, we don’t have *direct* evidence of Alexander, we don’t have *direct* evidence of Jesus, therefore Jesus is as reliably historical as Alexander. Errm, no chance.)

        cr

    • Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      We have the evidence beyond the “there’s nothing record”. We have things like Paul *telling us* that he and nobody else learned anything from anywhere other than revelation and scripture. We have Hebrews (8) telling us that Jesus was never on earth. Etc., etc. We have midrash piled upon midrash when it comes time to actually getting what is now claimed to be a biography. And so on.

  27. Christopher Bonds
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    I recommend G. A. Wells’s book _Did Jesus Exist?_ for an overview of the scholarship in this area.

  28. Flint
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    One thing Richard Carrier emphasizes is the tenor of the times. Judaism was really festering and splintering, and many scriptures (only a few of which made it into the bible) seemed to indicate the immanent arrival of the Jewish messiah. Christianity started as a splinter cult, like many others.

    Bear in mind that Rome annexed Judea in about 6 BCE, and there was no realistic hope of a Jewish physical messiah driving them off – though the Jews did try, and were duly stomped, from 66-70 CE. So any durable messiah had to be of the spiritual, celestial variety. Paul’s surviving letters make it clear that he’s talking about the celestial type. Paul says no human informed him, that everything he knew came from existing scriptures and personal visions.

    So it seems clear that there were political battles going on among the Jews of the times. Paul’s celestial Jesus view ultimately didn’t win out, and the faction favoring an actual physical Jesus won.

    But that meant the physical Jesus needed to be created, and this is not an easy task. If he didn’t do much, he’s not worth worshiping, but if he did too much, the silence of all other voices is suspicious. Indeed, two major histories of the region covering the life of the gospel Jesus just coincidentally happen to have holes in them, where the periods covering Jesus’ birth and his missionary work and death, are conveniently missing.

    This problem was “solved” mostly by having Jesus do his thing long ago and far away and in a different language, but the problem remains that IF he’d done what the gospel Jesus did, surely one of the many writers of the day would have noticed. That all of them are silent, that no writing of other splinter factions remain, that holes are cut out of histories, LOOKS suspicious but this seems not to matter in the face of the Will To Believe.

    So we have lots of BCE documents by and about the Jews and their issues, then about an 80 year period of complete silence, and then Mark pops up represent the winning (and preserved) Official Theology.

  29. Hempenstein
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    In re. the mantra: “Nearly all reputable scholars and historians admit that there was a real Jesus-person,”

    Well, sure, if they took issue with that, nobody would call them a Biblical scholar or historian. They’d be first-century Middle Eastern scholars or historians, and the pay’s probably not as good.

    • phil
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:53 am | Permalink

      If there were no historical Jesus then what is being studied would hardly be history, it would be merely ancient literature.

  30. Posted August 29, 2016 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    The problem I have with the “historical” Jesus is that the only facts that are relevant are so generalized that it makes positing a historical Jesus unnecessary for explaining why Christianity happened.

    So there was a guy named Jesus who was crucified in the early to mid 1st century. That’s about as useful as saying there was a guy named John who was killed in a war in the early to mid 20th century.

    Of course, biblical scholars try to add more detail to this, like saying he had 12 disciples. Unfortunately, if they are positing this they need actual evidence for it: Nowhere outside of the gospels in early Christian literature does it say that Jesus 1. was any sort of teacher or 2. had any students (“disciples”; fun fact, the Greek word used for “disciple” in the gospels is where we get the word “math”). No, Paul does not mention 12 disciples, he mentions “the” twelve, along with a Cephas (who is supposed to be “Peter” and is supposed to be included in the twelve) and even according to the gospels, Jesus only appeared to 11 (since Judas killed himself).

    As we all know, adding unfounded details to a story makes that story less likely: If we are 90% certain that a guy named Jesus was crucified in the early to mid 1st century, adding the unknown of 12 disciples to his necessary story is basically 90% plus a coin flip. Which brings the likelihood of this particular iteration of the “historical” Jesus to 45% likely.

    Biblical scholars keep adding more facts not in evidence in this manner, and it seems to me that their reconstruction becomes less and less likely.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Good point!

  31. Flint
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    “Nowhere outside of the gospels in early Christian literature does it say that…”

    In fact, there IS no early Christian literature. At all. Nothing survives that was surely written by or about any of those who were part of that period, nor about those who disagreed or agreed with them. What we have is a deafening silence, by everyone (and the silences of some of the historians is very selective, with holes chopped out concerning the periods of interest).

    Mark pops up from basically nowhere, because the church during the first few centuries tracked down all relevant documents and all REFERENCES to those documents, and caused them to vanish (by not being preserved). What’s worth observing is that IF a Jesus had ever existed, surely much would have been written by Greeks and Romans as well as Jews, all of which the early church would have preserved very meticulously – as meticulously as they made sure nothing survived.

    (And it’s worth noting that “biographers” of the day created fictitious lives for several mythical figures like Romulus and Hercules, and “stuck them” into somewhere and somewhen.)

  32. Johan Richter
    Posted August 30, 2016 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    Maybe almost no respectable scholar is a mythicist because the mythicists not only have to explain why the evidence that exist, they have also been utterly unable to come up with a good alternative theory. They have no evidence for the existence of any myths about celestial Messiahs that could become historicized, they have also failed to explain how this myth became localized to a very specific place and a very specific, recent time.

    Even if we had no evidence for existence of Jesus, other than Christian say-so, the idea that the story was based on a real crucified Messiah claimant would make perfect sense and fit with normal dynamics of how religions develop, and would probably be preferred over mythicist alternatives.

    • Posted August 30, 2016 at 2:32 am | Permalink

      Except that Jews of the time would never follow some mortal guy who merely claimed to be a Messiah. See the problem?

      Have you spent much time looking into mythicism?

      • phil
        Posted September 3, 2016 at 12:09 am | Permalink

        I’m not certain that is true. From my what I have read it was usually believed (by Jews) that the messiah was a purely mortal person who would deliver the nation of Israel from their earthly oppressors. He was not a divine person at all, and he would be known as the messiah merely by defeating the oppressors.

        Clearly nobody called Jesus freed Israel, so the story had to be reworked into something that worked in the spiritual world and not the material one.

    • Flint
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      There seems to have been a theological dispute between the celestial Jesus faction and the earthly Jesus faction. Eventually the latter won out (and that faction Orwellized history to fit). I would guess that people found a Jesus who died and was resurrected in heaven (Paul’s Jesus) less compelling than one who was a real human resurrected on earth. If he was, THEY might be as well. With the purely celestial Jesus, not so much.

    • Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Localized? Not at all. There are precursors, as Ben Goren has been tirelessly reminding us (based on Carrier’s work). Furthermore, Paul’s letters are Platonic in their “when the drama took place” – they take place in the realm of myth, and he says so. This does *not* mean that he means he’s made it up. It means, instead, something utterly foreign to our way of thinking, theologians included.

      Why does it crop up there? Well, Paul is presumably the first author that could be bent into historical shape – almost – with appropriate emendations. Or someone did so because they wanted the theology for other reasons.

      (I have wondered for a while if there were other early Christians who held a Jewish mystery religion involving a Christ which was killed some other way than crucifixion, whence the line about “we preach Christ crucified” etc.)

      • Johan Richter
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        This is just absurd. Paul’s Jesus is definitely not a celestial being, there are many references that shows he is human. Such as being born of woman, having an earthly brother, being descended from King David, etc. Can you cite one scholar that takes seriously the idea that Paul thought Jesus a celestial being?

        It is interesting that Jesus mythicism is supposedly driven by hard-nosed skepticism, yet in every discussion of the topic there are loads of completely unsupported assertions made about the historical record, and they never seem to get challenged by fellow mythicists.

        • Flint
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

          I think an informed response to this comment requires some understanding of Paul’s cosmology (which was commonly accepted among many of the Jewish cults of the time.) In that cosmology, there were many layers of heaven. The lowest layer, between the highest clouds and the moon, was thought to be where the evil spirits dwelled, but beyond that it was regarded by this cosmology as the “real world”. Down here on earth was considered to be a very imperfect copy of that “higher reality”.

          In Paul’s mythology, a higher spirit, from the top layer of heaven, descended to the lowest layer in order to trick the devil into killing him. To work the trick, this spirit took on a human name and body. It worked, Paul says, and Jesus (NOW the messiah – in Paul’s theology, one cannot become a messiah until one is killed and resurrected) – rose back up into the seventh heaven, top layer, with Paul’s god.

          Outside the context of this theology, much of what Paul writes makes no sense.

          • Michael Vousden
            Posted August 30, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

            Good point about the layers of heaven.

        • Posted August 31, 2016 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          Paul does not say that Jesus was born of a woman. He says that he was effectively *created of* a woman, which is consistent with a Platonic demiurge. Similarly, he’s not a descendent of David, but formed in that way. (Think of how in the Timaeus the cosmos is “formed after perfect animal”.)

          Also, those become “odd” (if taken as the “birth reading” suggests) if one reads the rest about where the divine events took place. So Hebrews tells us that the sacrifice took place in the heavens. And yet the lamb was a *human*? What?? Of course, Hebrews basically out-right says that Jesus was never on earth: it says (ch. 8) that if he had been on Earth he would have been a priest.

          He does *not* have an earthly brother, James is a *brother of the Lord*, which is a *title*.

          As for the references, Doherty, Carrier, the German mythicists of the 19th century (for some earlier work not necessarily on just this) and so on. There are also non-mythicists who agree that there is no information in the gospels. (Zeba Crook)

        • phil
          Posted September 3, 2016 at 12:29 am | Permalink

          “Can you cite one scholar that takes seriously the idea that Paul thought Jesus a celestial being?”

          Richard Carrier. Raphael Lataster writes “It is possible that early Christians (such as Paul)did not see Jesus in the literal fleshly, Earth-visiting way that modern, orthodox Christians do” and “Bart Ehrman notes that there are instances in the New Testament where a docetic-type of Jesus may be hinted at, particularly among the writings of… Paul. Big surprise.” (There Was No Jesus, There Is No God)

          Richard Carrier also criticises other mythicists for their poor scholarship, and claims it was part of the motivation for his own work.

          “[T]here are loads of completely unsupported assertions made about the historical record…” That would appear to be the case for the historicist case.

          I recommend you read “Ehrman and Brodie on Whether Jesus Existed: A Cautionary Tale about the State of Biblical Scholarship” by Tom Dykstra.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      The basis for this comment seems to come from, well, ‘above’.

      1. There isn’t any historical evidence to predict. So there isn’t any ‘celestial Messiahs that could become historicized’ to discuss.

      2. Which by the way make the null hypothesis outcome of the test.

      3. And this outcome is the normal for religions. As far as I know they all fail to establish that their mythical founders were historical individuals. (Even ‘Confucius’ has a mythical grave.) So where did the basis for this claim of “fit with normal dynamics” come from? By the way, it doesn’t make sense, and there is as little – that is, null – evidence for the practice of ‘crucifixion’ as there is for ‘celestial Messiahs that could become historicized’. The closest historical evidence I have found for ‘crucifixion’ is that Alexander, who reasonably made an impression in the area, put up Tyros’s defenders on poles that made an X (but notably not a cross). That is the one piece of history that (2nd source) biographers agree on.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 3, 2016 at 7:24 am | Permalink

        Hang on, are you saying the Romans *didn’t* go casually crucifying people all over the place?

        That’s quite contrary to the impression I think most people have.

        It would, however, make sense. Crucifying someone would be an extremely laborious, wasteful and expensive business, except in a heavily wooded countryside where they could use any convenient tree. They could I suppose build a permanent cross and re-use it, but even then they’d have to build ladders or something to get the victim up there. Just hanging somebody from any convenient edifice would be much easier and more practical.

        cr

  33. Posted August 30, 2016 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    Thank you for that. I wondered why I was getting so many hits all of a sudden. Thanks to Heather Hastie too.

  34. ladyatheist
    Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    I doubt that the original radical rabbi was even named “Jesus.” Jesus is a variant of Joshua, who was the last great king of the Jews. As this person (if he existed) was mythologized he was given the name to show he was the next great king.

    • phil
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      But what did his middle initial (H) stand for?

  35. Reggie Cormack
    Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    It seems mad to me that there’s any discussion at all. There’s basically no documentary evidence that this Jesus character lived at the time. But then the conversation moves on as if this miracle worker, son of god or maybe god himself was somehow believable and therefor true. Not myth, superstition and absolute utter nonsensical rubbish. Yet the conversation goes on. And on. And, by the way, it’s the Wests Christian god who’s the only true god. Ceiling Cat save us.

  36. Erwin Kloeck
    Posted August 30, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I have the feeling people here are too sceptical. Do you think the founder of Christianity, Paul, existed? Do you think that he wrote the 7 genuine letters? Especially do you think he wrote Galatians, where he claims that he met James, the brother of the Lord, in Jerusalem? I don’t find it surprising that no external evidence exists of the leader of a minor Jewish sect in Galilee who got executed after causing a ruckus in the temple at passover.

    • Kevin
      Posted August 30, 2016 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      But It’s the Son of God. If It were a ‘leader of a minor Jewish sect in Galilee who got executed’ then there would be no need for this bl*g entry.

      • Erwin Kloeck
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        I was trying to address Jerry’s doubt:
        >>I’m not all that sure there was a real human being around whom the Jesus myth accreted.<< I take it as a given, that Jesus was not the son of God, did not raise the dead and was not raised from the dead himself. These are the accretions. But there was a human being that travelled thru Galilee and preached to people and collected a following who had to come to terms with his execution. And they did the 'Elvis lives' thing.

        • Jeff Lewis
          Posted August 30, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

          Love the last sentence. I’d never thought of that example before.

        • phil
          Posted September 3, 2016 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

          But, according to some, we do have historical references for itinerant rabbis, but not Jesus of Nazareth who seems to have had the greatest influence by far.

          I have been plagued by a problem since PCC put up this post. Just a few (2 or 3) days before I read a post on the topic which included a list of about half a dozen people attested in some history or other (as I recall) who broadly fitted the description of Jesus, but with different names and titles. Sadly I can’t recall any more of the details, the author’s name, nor where I read it, and I have since deleted my history. If somebody could point me to the post I would be grateful.

    • Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Your questions: Probably not by that name, and certainly not the fictional character describe in Acts. There was probably one author who wrote some parts of the “7 genuine” letters. It could have been Marcion, it could have been Simon Magus or a devotee, or, maybe, the mysterious Paul who knew of Jesus as a non-human character. James? no, that part is a clear interpolation.

    • Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I think Paul met James. But who was James? A *brother of the lord*. Not “Jesus’ brother.” There’s a *big* difference; Carrier or Doherty can walk you through how that works. Short: one is a title, the other is a description.

      (Similarly for the “lord’s supper” vs. “the last supper”.)

  37. KCS
    Posted August 30, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    The story of the 3 wise-men or Magi is about men from the far-east seeking Jesus as a new-born (but only appears in the book of Mathew). So, shouldn’t they have returned home and started “preaching” about this ‘king of kings’ in their homelands? Seems like there should also be historical evidence from far-east countries as well as ‘local’ historians as well.

  38. Johan Richter
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    To comment on Jerry’s original post it is striking how he confuses two separate issues: did the miracles Jesus supposedly did happen? and did there exist a Jewish messiah claimant that was crucified and whose followers gave rise to the Christian movement?

    We might expect contemporary sources to mention earthquakes or dead rising from their graves, but why should they mention yet another executed preacher?

    That his doubt angers Christians is neither here, nor there. It is correct that establishing the existence of the historical Jesus does nothing (or nearly nothing) to establish the truth of Christianity. You would think atheists would realize that and focus their arguments on denying the miracles (where their arguments are overwhelming) and not on denying that there was a human founder of the religion. That the latter position is so popular among atheist activists (why do they even care? It is not like ancient history is a major shared interest otherwise among New Atheists) is interesting to say the least.

    As for the consensus of experts, that actually is evidence, at least if you are not an expert yourself. To be more precise, it is evidence of what the evidence says, just like the consensus of biologists is evidence as to what the biological evidence says.

    Finally, let me note the distinction between doubting Jesus’ existence, and affirmatively supporting an alternative theory. It is not the case that if you decide that the mentions in Paul, the Gospels, Tacitus and Josephus can not be trusted that some mythicist theory wins by default. That would only lead to agnosticism, which Jerry seems to realize, but which is sometimes forgotten by others. Before accepting a mythicist theory you should actually have affirmative evidence for it, it should not merely be an alternative possibility that is more annoying to Christians. And unsupported assertions does not count as evidence, despite what most mythicists commenting here seem to think.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      The mythicists’ interpretations of the feeble scraps of evidence available are no more, or less, unsupported assertions than the historicists’ are. The only difference is that the historicists have the inertia of nearly 2000 years of biased interpretations and beliefs supporting them.

    • Michael Vousden
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      You can’t have ‘affirmative evidence’ that a myth is nothing but a fraud – just try coming up with ‘affirmative evidence’ that Santa Claus is not a historical figure or even Robin Hood. All the historical evidence says is that the Jesus character is of the same form as a made up story that a lot of people believed in for a very long time. A lot of people need to wake up and realise that.

    • Posted August 31, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      I (a mythicist) am fine with saying (as are Doherty and Carrier, who I have learned a lot from – their Greek for example is much better than mine) that agnosticism would result if the situation were simply that the references in the outside sources were unreliable or worse (forgeries, which is true of a lot of even on the most conservative interpretation). But when the NT itself *when read carefully* has *positive* evidence supporting the mythicist, and so on, one should examine the case. (Assuming interest, of course.)

    • Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Oh, as why an atheist would care: I care (and I take it Carrier cares, for example) because I find cultural and intellectual history interesting. Isn’t that enough?

    • phil
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 1:05 am | Permalink

      “It is correct that establishing the existence of the historical Jesus does nothing (or nearly nothing) to establish the truth of Christianity.”

      While that may be true it is also true that disproving the historicity of Jesus pretty much demolishes the foundation of Christianity. For some people establishing doubt as to the historicity of Jesus will go a long way to disproving Christianity. Furthermore, atheists, more specifically mythiscists, are not trying to deny “that there was a human founder of the religion”. Quite the contrary, the aim is to demonstrate that the origins and foundations of christianity are purely human invention.

      “[W]hy do they even care?”

      We seek a means to discredit christianity, because it is a nasty ideology that is propagating evil. What is really amazing is that that has to be explained.

      “It is not the case … that some mythicist theory wins by default.”

      While that is, on the surface true, it is ignores the real nature of the debate. The historicist argument is that Jesus is a real person who etc, etc. It is a positive truth claim, and it requires evidence. Mythisicsts point out that the evidence presented is very unreliable, and present evidence and arguments for why. The contest is much like the the sides of the atheism debate: the theist side posits a god (and a lot else besides), and the atheist side replies “you arguments and evidence are unconvincing, you have failed to prove your case.” IMO the evidence presented to support a historical Jesus is weaker than counter evidence presented by mythisicists.

      “And unsupported assertions does not count as evidence, despite what most mythicists commenting here seem to think.”

      Just what are these unsupported assertions? Your unsupported assertion might be taken more seriously if you did in fact support it with evidence.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      he confuses two separate issues: did the miracles Jesus supposedly did happen? and did there exist a Jewish messiah claimant

      It is the same myth. It is your unsupported hypothesis that we can pick out elements of a myth and they magically become an issue instead of part of the null hypothesis.

      But as far as separate tests go, that hypothesis has also failed to separate from the null – myth is myth.

      You would think atheists would realize that and focus their arguments on denying the miracles (where their arguments are overwhelming) and not on denying that there was a human founder of the religion.

      It appears you don’t grok facts, how they come about and why experimenters/skeptics adhere to them, by nature of personality and work. Facts are useful, and some people like them wherever they can be found.

      The established fact is that ‘a human founder of the religion’ is Saul and the individuals that he prompted to found a later religion. The first evidence of said religion dates from some 1,800 years ago, not the 2,000 years of the myth, and that is a fact too.

      Remember, your “unsupported assertions” does not count as factual “evidence”. And I don’t necessarily agree with your convenient label, since as an experimenter I wouldn’t agree with being labeled “a relativist”. Facts are facts, in whatever form they can be found.

  39. saxonrooinek
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. Extremely well put. I only recently started watching podcasts of Bart Ehrman. 

    From a 70 year old …..who from age 21 till now has been deluded into believing all my adult life that to dare question my evangelical fundamental Christianity is merely allowing satan a foothold in my life.

    If I could have only one wish it would be to have my wasted years returned to me !

    Diana. 

    Sent by my 4G Ready Samsung Galaxy S III on Three

  40. Jim little
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Besides expecting Philo to have mentioned Jesus (of Nazareth) one might also expect Josephus or Plutarch would have mentioned him or Christianity.

    The mentions of Christ (or Chrestus) or Christians (or Chrestians) by Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Suetonius (all contemporaries) fail to use the name Jesus. Another contemporary of theirs, the emperor Hadrian, is alleged to have written a letter to his consul & senator brother-in-law Servianus about events he witnessed in Egypt –

    “There those who worship Serapis are, in fact, Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are, in fact, devotees of Serapis. Even the Patriarch himself, when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ.“

  41. Posted September 1, 2016 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    🍷

  42. sowberryhagan
    Posted September 29, 2016 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    The assumption in Jerry’s argument seems to be that if Jesus existed, he is likely to have been mentioned in Philo’s writings, and similar accounts of contemporaries. Therefore the absence of his name is a low probability event conditional on the existence of Jesus.

    I would argue the opposite: during Jesus time he would certainly been perceived as one of dozens of nutty street-corner preachers of no historical significance whatsoever. Certainly charismatic enough to attract a small personality cult, but of zero political or economic importance. The fact that he was not mentioned is not evidence that he did not exist; it is evidence that no contemporary thought him worth writing about.

    A stronger argument for his non-existence would be if other contemporary cult leaders were mentioned by name, but Jesus was not. This however is not the case.

    As a modern example: think of all the gurus and ashrams in India that are not mentioned specifically in any treatment of the modern history of India. Nobody mentions them because they are considered of essentially zero historical importance individually. As a general cultural phenomenon, the guru phenomenon is worth mentioning, but why would any general history list any of these gurus by name? They are constantly coming and going and most of them are nuts.

    Or take the state of Oregon for example. The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh managed to settle there in the 80s and set up a religious ashram and had quite a following that basically worshiped the guy. Yet his name is not mentioned in any history of Oregon, or in the Oregon Blue Book, etc. His only claim to historical fame was the bioterror attach, and if that hadn’t happened probably nobody outside Oregon would know that he existed. By Jerry’s argument he never existed.

    I think a more likely explanation of the absence of Jesus name in contemporary accounts is that Jesus was just one of dozens, maybe hundreds, of nutcases not worthy of mention.

    But he was charismatic enough to attract a following that, like the Rajneeshees, outlived its founder and was exploited for political purposes long after he was dead.


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