This will be short (I hope). Two articles have come to my attention about the existence of a person on whom the Biblical Jesus was modeled. The newest one, “A growing number of scholars are questioning the historic existence of Jesus“, is at the Big Think. It takes a more skeptical view of the question, and here are a few excerpts:
What we do have are lots of sources completed several decades after the fact, by authors of the gospels who wanted to promote the faith. The gospels themselves are contradictory. For instance, they tell competing Easter stories. Another problem, there aren’t any real names attached to many of them, but rather an apostle’s who “signed off” on the manuscript. There is also evidence that the gospels were heavily edited over the years.
. . . St. Paul is the only one to write about events chronologically. Even then, few facts about Jesus are divulged. Paul’s Epistles rest on the “Heavenly Jesus,” but never mention the living man. For such an important revolutionary and religious figure, there are surprisingly no eyewitness counts. And the writings we do have are biased. Roman historians Josephus and Tacitus do make a few, scant remarks about his life. But that was a century after Jesus’s time. So they may have garnered their information from early Christians. And those threadbare accounts are controversial too, since the manuscripts had been altered over time by Christian scribes whose job it was to preserve them.
. . . Of course, there may very well have been a Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef (as would have been Jesus’s real name) who gathered a flock around his teachings in the first century. Most antiquarians believe a real man existed and became mythicized. But the historical record itself is thin.
The last bit is my view: that “antiquarians” are going on thin evidence—almost entirely the Bible itself—and all we can say is “We don’t know.” And perhaps we never will. The fact is that we have far more evidence about the historicity of Julius Caesar than we do about Jesus.
The other, and longer, piece—”The Truth about Jesus” (from 2012)—is at Truthdig, and deals with the work of the Jesus Seminar of the Westar Institute, which attempts to parse out what words Jesus actually said, which were attributed to him, and which were fictional. That endeavor uses a combination of textual analysis, reconstruction of an original “Q” Gospel, and examination of the non-canonical Gospels. The underlying assumption seems to be that there was a historical person on whom Jesus is based. But the attempts to parse out his message seems dicey at best.
I won’t go into the details, but the article says things like this:
The truth about Jesus is that he was a human being who lived and died as every person born ever has. Jesus was most likely born and was certainly raised in Nazareth in the province of Galilee—not in Bethlehem. The Bethlehem story was added to the Gospel accounts (note that Paul never speaks of a miraculous birth of Jesus) to match the royal lineage and miraculous births of other “great men” of Greco-Roman culture. (Alexander the Great, for instance, was said to have been conceived by a god in the form of a serpent.)
Jesus was a Jewish wisdom teacher and exorcist/healer who lived in the Galilee province of the Roman Empire between 4 B.C. and 30 A.D. His mother was known as Mary. His father was likely Joseph.
The truth about Jesus is that he never intended to start a church or a new religion. He did not understand himself to be the divine son of God, but rather the “son of [hu]Man[ity],” or an “average Joe” with no place to lay his head.
That, of course, is begging the question: assuming that Jesus lived and then trying to find out his nature and message.
I continue to be skeptical, trying to wear my scientist’s hat while listening to what the scholars say. But I can’t help but feel that many scholars have an a priori commitment to Jesus’s existence as a real model for the person in the Bible, and that they are relying too heavily on speculative reconstruction. I would not for a minute deny absolutely that there was a person on whom the Biblical Jesus was based. I just want more evidence.
So, a question to readers: what do you make of this? Are you convinced that such writings give us confidence that a real Jesus-person existed? If so, why? If not, why not?
But there was one thing that I’m pretty sure of, and it’s that a Jesus-person didn’t look like this: