More “proof” that Jesus existed

I don’t want to be a Scrooge, but then again it wasn’t I who decided to put up the post below at The Big Think—not an appropriate name any longer—just before Christmas. Read and weep, and then decide if you want me to send you a reader’s essay about why this article is bogus. The Big Think author, Paul Ratner, is a writer and filmmaker:

I’m not going to dissect Ratner’s “evidence” for a historical Jesus in detail (Ratner says he’s not dealing with the divine Jesus, though, as you’ll see, he is to some extent). There are three lines of what Ratner considers “evidence for Jesus”, and the last is so gnarly that even Ratner doesn’t believe it.

1.) There were writings about Jesus not that long after his supposed death. Ratner quotes the Apostle Paul, who never met Jesus and didn’t even tell stories about the historical Jesus in his letters. As Peter Nothnagle shows below, Paul conceived of a non-earthly, celestial Jesus. The other writings about Jesus are derivative, as with Pliny and Tacitus, as well as Josephus, whose quotes about Jesus may have been later interpolations.  It remains the case that the entirety of evidence for a historical Jesus comes from the Bible and assertions about its timeframe, and that gave rise to people writing about Jesus from decades to centuries after he supposedly died. There is no convincing contemporary evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus—or at least evidence that would convince me.

Yet I am willing to be convinced, because I don’t really have a dog in this fight. Even if there was a person on whom Jesus was based, that doesn’t show that the person was a divine, miracle-working Son of God. I think I’m just being skeptical, and feel that those scholars who are nearly certain that there was a historical Jesus are guilty of confirming what they want to believe. But of course others will feel differently: this is about how much evidence it takes to convince someone, and that will differ among people.

2.)There were eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life by people who would have been alive during his time. Paul is the main one, but he never met Jesus, and the notion that he met Jesus’s apostles is doubtful at best (see the essay I tout below).  And that’s pretty much it. Ratner then adds superfluous and unconvincing evidence that doesn’t even fall into this category. It’s unbelievable, so I’ll show it to you:

The accounts of the witnesses also correspond quite well to what other sources of information tell us about the life in the Palestine of the first century. For example, having large crowds coming to a healer like Jesus is confirmed through archaeology, which tells us that residents of the area had to contend with diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis. A study of burials in Roman Palestine by archaeologist Byron McCane revealed that between two-thirds and three-quarters of the graves they looked at had remains of children and adolescents. McCane underscored the prevalence of childhood mortality at the time, explaining that “during Jesus’ time, getting past 15 was apparently the trick.”

Of course, just having the details of the environment right doesn’t prove that Jesus Christ existed. Dr. Gathercole, thinks it just wouldn’t make sense for the writers of the time to create such an elaborate character, stating: “It is also difficult to imagine why Christian writers would invent such a thoroughly Jewish saviour figure in a time and place – under the aegis of the Roman empire – where there was strong suspicion of Judaism.”

This sentiment is supported by Byron McCane, an archaeologist and history professor at Florida Atlantic University who said in an interview with National Geographic that he “can think of no other example who fits into their time and place so well but people say doesn’t exist.” In other words, it would be rather unprecedented for such a person to be made up.

This is how deep Jesus “scholars” have to dig to buttress his existence: the Bible says Jesus was a healer, and lots of people were sick during his time. Got it? That’s really strong evidence! And then there’s the old trope that the story is so unbelievable that it must be believed: in this case, “why would Christian writers invent a thoroughly Jewish saviour figure” and so on. That’s the argument for Jesus from ignorance, but of course there were no Christians before Jesus. It’s along the lines of “the women found Jesus’s body, and nobody would believe women back then, so it must have been true.”

3.) The argument from relics. This is so stupid that Ratner doesn’t buy it, and Ratner winds up saying, “Well, Jesus must have been a real person because scholars of that era said so.” Have a gander:

There have been a number of relics associated with Jesus, but none have been proven to be undoubtedly authentic. These include the infamous Shroud of Turin, supposedly the negative image of a man who was allegedly Jesus Christ. Some claim it to be Jesus’s shroud after the crucifixion. The science on the dating and origins the Shroud is very much being debatedand doesn’t generally support the claims.

Another famous relic of dubious authenticity is The True Cross. There are hundreds of fragments of wood claimed by various people throughout history as being from the cross used in the Crucifixion of Jesus. Many of these fragments are dispersed in various European Churches despite little confirmation they are real.

Other Crucifixion-related purported relics include the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus, the nails used in the cross, or the Veil of Veronica – supposedly used to wipe the sweat from Jesus’s brow when he was carrying the cross.

Why is this even given as a “piece of historical evidence”? Even Ratner says that “none have been proven to be undoubtedly authentic”. Let’s fix that: “There is no reason to believe that ANY of these are authentic.” Note, too, that this is not evidence for a historical Jesus, but for a divine Jesus, which Ratner says he’s not presenting.

Finally, Ratner’s Big Punt.

Based on the evidence we have, can anyone with certainly say Jesus really existed about 2,000 years ago? While incontrovertible proof may be impossible to come by, those who study the period believe there was someone named Jesus Christ living in the area and time period that we generally agree on, said archaeologist Eric Meyers, emeritus professor in Judaic studies at Duke University.

THE PALLIATIVE TO THIS NONSENSE: As a special Christmas gift to my readers, I’m offering an article by reader Peter Nothnagle, who has made a hobby out of studying “historical Jesus scholarship.” Peter has produced a 21-page document, “Jesus: Fact or Fiction?”, derived from a talk he gave in 2016 to the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Iowa City City Secular Humanists and Secular Students of Iowa. It’s a learned but very clearly (and humorously) written document that concludes that there’s no convincing evidence for even a historical Jesus. I’ll just excerpt a bit from the end, and then offer you his piece:

So what have I learned in my efforts to uncover the historical Jesus? I’ll be blunt. The whole, vast edifice that is Christianity looks like it was built on a foundation of myth and fiction. That doesn’t mean that it’s all false, but here’s the important bit: it does mean that there is no good reason to believe that any of it is true. Believe it, if you like, on faith, but know that all the evidence that supports it is weak, contradictory, or fraudulent.

Before I wrap up I’d like to say one thing to the critics of the Christ-myth theory. I am not taking an extreme position. It’s not like there are people on one end of a spectrum who claim that “Jesus is the son of God”, and I’m at the opposite extreme when I say that there was no such person. Christ-mythicism is a position of neutrality. I am equally unconvinced of the Jesus of Paul, the Jesus of Mark, of Matthew, of John; I’m not prepared to say that Jesus was a rebel leader, nor would I say Jesus was invented by the Romans to pacify the Jews, nor that he was a wandering faith healer whose followers exaggerated his accomplishments. Maybe some of those Jesuses are more plausible than others, but I don’t think there’s enough evidence to conclude that any of them was real, or even likely. Like most mythicists, I am simply trying to find an answer to an important question, and I would be absolutely delighted if any good new evidence for Jesus should come to light – and who knows, maybe that will happen some day. But today a Christ-mythicist like me is not some crank, a Christ-mythicist is just someone who has looked at everything put forth by believers, historians, archaeologists, and folklorists, and concluded that the Jesus venerated by Christians is far more likely to be a literary creation than a historical person.

This discovery hasn’t destroyed my faith, because I didn’t have any to begin with, but even as an atheist it still leads me to a sobering conclusion: that there is really no limit to humans’ capacity to deceive ourselves.

If you want me to send you Peter’s piece, email me and ask at my well known address. But please don’t ask unless you intend to read it (remember, it’s 21 1.5-spaced pages long), as it takes time to send it out. But it is very good.

And have a happy Xmas—with “X” representing a mythological character.

h/t: Kit

95 Comments

  1. CJColucci
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    There is not now and never will be “proof” that some sort of person who was the real-life model for the Jesus stories ever existed. Two thousand years ago, there will likely be no proof that I existed, and maybe only a few scraps of evidence that Jerry Coyne existed. There is a fair amount of evidence that the emperor Tiberius existed, and a few scraps that Pontius Pilate existed, but no sane person doubts the existence of either of them.
    There is about as much evidence as one could reasonably expect for the existence of a wandering Jewish preacher in first-century Palestine. There is a similar amount of evidence for the existence of other, similar folks whose historicity does not seem to be questioned. Ancient Palestine was infested with such people, and the existence of any particular person of that sort is far from improbable. As a first approximation, therefore, the most likely explanation for the existence of Jesus stories is that there was a guy who inspired them. That’s about all anyone can say, and it seems to be as much as anyone can reasonably expect.

    • Martin X
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      “it seems to be as much as anyone can reasonably expect.”

      Yes, but only assuming that the more fantastic elements of the stories are false.

    • Geoff Toscano
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been in an argument recently with a guy who tried to tell me that Jesus is the best attested person in ancient history, even more so than Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great. When I pointed out that actually there are no eyewitness accounts relating to him he informed me that the gospels were eyewitness accounts, written by the actual disciples named. When I pointed out that they are actually anonymous writings, penned decades after the events they purportedly portray, he became abusive. The reason was he had been immersed all his life in a culture that never wanted to investigate the truth, and couldn’t handle the possibility that he’d been wrong all this time.

  2. Martin X
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    No need to email anything…here’s a link to the document:

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5x4SUZZrHuKcjVBMmR6THZiV1E/view

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Martin

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Excellent.

    • aljones909
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      Thanks

    • Diane G
      Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:22 am | Permalink

      Thanks, indeed!

    • Geoff Toscano
      Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:43 am | Permalink

      Thanks for that Martin. Really enjoyed reading that.

  3. Posted December 24, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    MERRY CHRISTMAS, FRIEND! BUT EVEN Bart ermin has proven to himself the historical actuality of Jesus! 🙂

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      Bart D. Ehrman…

    • Posted December 25, 2018 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Proven to himself.

      The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.

      — Richard Feynman, “Cargo Cult Science”

      /@

  4. Posted December 24, 2018 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, but the mythicists’ sometimes mutually contradictory arguments will not work for me. No, it is aimply not true that Paul says nothing about Jesus the man. There is very little in previous Jewish belief detailing a life in a sort of middle heaven which aome mythicists posit. The mythicist case for this is unconvincing. Parts of the 4 gospels and Paul’s genuine writings are independent of each other geographically.

    Any reasonable historian would conclude that it is highly likely that a man Jesus existed around whom these stories developed.

    • Martin X
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Your definition of “reasonable historian” is probably circular. The best you can say is “most historians”. Even so, I’m not sure how accurate historians’ estimates of this sort thing are. It’s hard to falsify their claims.

      • Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:12 am | Permalink

        No reasonable historian would accept as fact the contents of a document whose author, provenance, or very purpose or genre is unknown.

        NB: biblical ‘historians’ are not trained in History (I, for example, hold more History degrees than Bart Ehrman, 1-0) and do not practice sound historical methodology. Instead they engage exclusively in circular reasoning.

    • Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:08 am | Permalink

      Which of Paul’s writings are “genuine”, and what methodology has been applied to parse the genuine from the false?

      • abear
        Posted December 25, 2018 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

        It turns out that sad/mad Saul/Paul didn’t have an epileptic seizure but Christian Science proves it to be a true message from God/Jesus. I would have rolled down the hill and grunted if that happened to me.

  5. Posted December 24, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I skimmed Ratner’s article but, unless I missed something, he doesn’t seem to be making the case for a supernatural Jesus, just laying out the evidence for a real person on whom the stories are based. I have no idea whether he does a good job of this as I have no idea what historians know about this subject. It’s mildly interesting to me but only so far as history in general interests me. I certainly don’t believe in religion or the supernatural so the case for Jesus being more than just a man is of no interest.

    Digging a little further into Ratner, it appears he’s interested in odd historical characters. Jesus, if he existed at all, would certainly qualify.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:25 am | Permalink

      He does a bad job.
      All the writings that talk about an actual person are non-contemporary Christians, at least a generation, if not generations later.
      The Roman sources: Tacitus makes not clear if he went to the archives or just repeats what these Christians themselves say (the fact that he refers to Pilate as a procurator -the title in his time- and not as ‘prefect’, Pilate’s official title, appears to indicate the latter). We cannot know one way or another, But as evidence for a historical Jesus goes it is extremely weak.
      Same for Josephus, the longer passage, about all scholars consider a later insertion, a falsification. The passage considered ‘genuine’ only mentions that James is a ‘brother of Jesus’ ie. a Christian.
      The ‘evidence’ from relics even Ratner considers weak, read: BS.

      • Roger Lambert
        Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Think you meant to write “brother of the Lord” not “Jesus”. 🙂

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I find it extremely hard to believe. If Jebus is real he would be on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at least. He would also at minimum, have a channel on cable to be up there with Oprah.

  7. Roo
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I’ve tried briefly Googling who actually wrote each Gospel (for most of my life I assumed it was the person whose name was on it, it wasn’t until much later that I realized this wasn’t the case.) I do find the topic of whether or not Jesus or Buddha existed as real people pretty interesting, although now that I am a Vague Spiritual Type, I’m fine with saying “He didn’t have to exist on Earth anyways, he could have existed as a formulaic truth or in the ‘subtle realm’ or something. He is still helping us on our path to becoming Beings Of Pure Light through the process of quantum purification and Divine Epigenetics that manifests in all world religions using the Force, although I’m not sure if we’ll evolve into like, those aliens with giant heads first, or just become Enlightened first, or if it doesn’t matter because time is an illusion so really all of this has already happened anyways. Is there any group who I have *not* caused to facepalm yet? If so please let me know, I can keep going.”

    Anyways, on a more serious note, from what I can tell the various gospels come from a variety of sources and yet do mirror each other in fairly precise but not perfect detail, which, while not conclusive evidence, seems interesting at least. Especially considering that the Gospels are not super short – if it was *just the Nativity story, for example, that is a story that is short enough to have traveled easily. But given that there are many parables and happenings involved and they all seem to line up, that seems to align with the standard that the police might use when interviewing witnesses. Again, not conclusive, but enough to be of interest I think.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Errm, Roo, as I understand it, many of those incidents disagree significantly among various books of the Bible.

      Re its length, it’s probably more accurate to regard the books of the Bible as an anthology of short stories rather than novels.

      cr

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      No. No. No.

      To simplify somewhat: The police, if they could go back in time, would be sorely disappointed to discover that their four ‘witnesses’ [Matthew, Mark, Luke & John] were not named Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, had not met Jesus of Nazareth [or whatever his name was] & lived in different times such that the more recent witnesses had the opportunity to base their accounts on earlier accounts.

      As to the Nativity Story – it is a well known fiction tacked on later. There was no need for people to travel to the places of their birth for a census – a census that didn’t occur. This fiction was added [I think I read] much, much later to the evolving Bible so that Jesus of Nazareth could be presented as being of the House of David [David was reportedly born in Bethlehem] for the purposes of promotion of Jesus to The Messiah.

      • Wayne Robinson
        Posted December 24, 2018 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        There’s also the discrepancy that Matthew and Luke give different lines of descent of Joseph. Matthew has 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus passing through David. Luke is more ambitious, working backwards from Jesus, ending with ‘Adam, son of God.’

        But many of the names are different. And the number of generations from Abraham and David are also different.

        I don’t even know who my great-grandparent were. It’s a remarkable feat of memory to know your ancestors going back 1000 years to the House of David.

        Actually, almost everyone living currently in the world would share common ancestors living 1000 years ago, regardless of whether they’re native Han Chinese or North Europeans. Humans have always been a widely roaming species.

        In a small area such as Palestine everyone living around 4 BCE would have common ancestors living just a few centuries earlier. Everyone would be a direct descendent of David (if he existed). If his descendants managed to survive to have reproducing children.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted December 24, 2018 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

          Interesting. Thanks for info Wayne – I know next to nuffin on this subject. And a Merry Godlessmas to you.

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted December 25, 2018 at 1:48 am | Permalink

          Wayne, all inhabitants of Judea were probably descended from David. The conclusion -sometimes heard- there was only one that was not, ie Jesus, since not descended from Joseph, cuts no wood, David must have been an ancestor of Mary.
          (As you point out: if David existed at all that is, which I personally find more credible than the existence of Jesus).

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:11 am | Permalink

          In a small area such as Palestine everyone living around 4 BCE would have common ancestors living just a few centuries earlier.

          That’s susceptable to the religionista’s nightmare : numbers.
          When did “King David” live (if he lived). Several Babylonian and Egyptian records might point at someone of that name, in that area. As always with archaeology, there are overlapping ranges, but somewhere around 950BC would be in the median. So, we have 950 years for breeding, which would be 41 or 42 generations.
          David is listed as having 20 sons and one can estimate the same number of daughters, just not worth naming. So at 925, the clan of David is around 40 strong.
          What was the population of Judea around 0.BCE? Thorny question, but one estimate (based largely on population densities) gives 4 to 5 million for “Greater Syria” in 14CE.
          A little basic maths (well, LibreOffice Base, not BASIC, but “meh”) gets those figures to match up if each generations grows by a factor of 1.0144. Which would be remarkably low, unless somebody somewhere is doing an awful lot of “smiting of God’s Chosen People”.
          Personally, it sounds like being one of God’s Chosen People is a pretty good way to being out-bred by the un-chosen Infidels.

      • Charles Minus
        Posted December 24, 2018 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

        Also let me interject for the time of year that there is not one but two nativity stories which are, incidentally, mutually contradictory. This has been pointed out for years, probably first and best in _The Life Of Jesus Critically Examined_ by D. F. Strauss in 1835. It’s a great read.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted December 25, 2018 at 4:20 am | Permalink

          There’s a few editions about Charles – can’t tell if they’re different translations or something. Which one do you recommend? Perhaps there’s one with extra notes & the like. Thanks.

          • Charles Minus
            Posted December 25, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

            I think the translation by George Elliot (yes, that George Elliot – an amazing woman)is the most widely used. You can get a free audio of the book from Librivox https://librivox.org/

    • Mike Cracraft
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      I’d recommend visiting Richard Carrier’s website. Although a bit strident, he is a scholar and historian and has thoroughly debunked the new testament.

      • Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:01 am | Permalink

        “A bit strident” is a generous way of describing a complete boor, full of hubris, certain of his infallibility, who heaps the most vile, childish insults and ad hominem attacks upon any who disagree with him.

        Not sure how Carrier has “thoroughly debunked ” the NT, (especially as he accepts 7 of the Pauline Epistles as authentic). Carrier misapplies Bayes Theorem — in any case a GIGO formula, and Carrier inputs plenty of G — to ‘prove’ Jesus never existed, as outlined in two prolix, unreadable tomes. Carrier also counted up the steps in the apocryphal Ascension of Isaiah to ‘prove’ that Jesus was crucified in “outer space”, thereby concluding that no early Christians believed Jesus was real.

        In short, the boy is not right in the head, and perusing his turgid writing is a complete waste of time.

        One would do much better perusing the trove of materials at René Salm’s http://www.mythicistpapers.com , as well as books & essays by Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, and Hermann Detering. The work of the 19th Century Dutch Radicals and Tübingen School is also worthwhile, as is the venerable but accessible Antiqua Mater by Edwin Johnson. (These older works are available at Archive.org, though not all in English.)

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:11 am | Permalink

          Matt, I think you are a bit harsh on Carrier, and also note that you do not really debunk his theses.
          He may be a nasty or arrogant boor, but I think there is much in what he contends.
          Your link leads to a blog about the gnostic meaning of the Exodus.

          • Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:19 am | Permalink

            What is Carrier’s thesis? He performs a cargo cult imitation of Bayes’ analysis and thinks one can mathematically prove or disprove history.

            The site I link contains a variety of materials, including transcriptions of scholarly works now in the public domain.

          • Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:28 am | Permalink

            There you can also find Hermann Detering’s response to Carrier’s critique of Detering’s The Fabricated Paul (which I highly recommend.) I think you will find it illuminating wrt to Carrier’s scholarly merits:

            http://www.mythicistpapers.com/2016/06/15/h-detering-confronts-r-carrier-pt-1-2/

            • Roger Lambert
              Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

              Carrier responds to Detering on his website, for any so interested.

              • Roger Lambert
                Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

                I think it needs to be said that Carrier’s blog is his private domain where he definitely uses vernacular and the profane.

                However, his published scholarly work is a different matter. Personally, I find his analyses and logic most often, though not always, rewarding, refreshing, and irrefutable.

                He also has true bona fides in ancient history, knows his business about ancient Greek and Latin, and specialized in the Roman era. He is very well-suited to speak on the topic of the origins of Christianity.

    • chewy
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      I like that first paragraph, and suspect there is something up your sleeve. But if you really, truly in the interest of Pure Light want to delve into the gospel contradictions (instead of saying what you did), there are thousands of sources. But currently, try Prof. Bart Ehrman (who really wants to be an atheist, but can’t quite make the jump). The history of the Gospels is fascinating, but sums up to myth-making by different groups a generation or two or three after Elvis or whoever made his appearance.

      • Roger Lambert
        Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

        Bart Ehrman’s short book on the topic of the historicity of JC was written for an uninformed general reader, and has been widely (and rightfully imho) panned as devoid of scholarship. His “evidence” for the historical Jesus is his assumption of undiscovered unknown manuscripts which he believes should exist.

        Ehrman’s education was completely within religious institutions – Wheaton and Princeton Theological Seminary – what formal training he has had in historical forensics is unknown.

    • Roo
      Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:18 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the replies all. In the grand scheme of things I am not interested / invested enough to spend the time really digging for an answer (my conclusions about the origins of the Gospels are similar to my conclusions about trying to understand my nephew’s beloved Pokemon – after about 20 minutes of Googling, I realized there is no ‘Quick Go-To Summary’ of a long and convoluted topic and one must invest a lot more to build a paradigm of the big picture – something I’m not really wiling to do, seeing as how we all have to divvy up the finite resource of ‘time’ in our lives.)

      Regarding discrepancies – I actually see that as a checkmark on the side of credibility. It would be far more implausible for a lengthy story consisting of many parts to be absolutely identical from multiple sources. Even eyewitnesses to crimes that were short in duration and are retold soon after the event tend to involve fairly divergent accounts of what people saw, down to witnesses recalling very specific details such as clothing ‘clearly’ (to their minds, I mean,) but differently. And that is for very short scenarios. Getting identical-to-the-last-detail reports would be more suspicious than divergent ones, I think.

      The bigger question is probably who these sources actually *are, and on that, again, it’s like trying to figure out who the heck the various Pokemon tribes are. It would take a lot of time and even then not be entirely clear.

      • Diane G
        Posted December 25, 2018 at 3:31 am | Permalink

        I think you would quite enjoy reading the Ratner article, the subject of Jerry’s post, a link for which Martin X posted in comment 2 above. It is most entertaining! 🙂

        • Diane G
          Posted December 25, 2018 at 3:37 am | Permalink

          Arrgh–“…the Ratner Nothnagle article…”

        • Serendipitydawg
          Posted December 25, 2018 at 4:52 am | Permalink

          I would second this – don’t let the 21 page length put you off, it is well written and full of detail that easily repays the time taken.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 25, 2018 at 4:41 am | Permalink

        Roo:

        “Thanks for the replies all. In the grand scheme of things I am not interested / invested enough to spend the time really digging for an answer…”

        LOL. But, quite a few people “invested” in tackling your comment don’t you think? Perhaps future speculative comments by you, of this type, should include a footnote about how you’re not “invested” in the time to investigate the questions that you yourself pose.

        I have an observation about your old chestnut that the differences in the Gospels increases the likelihood of their authenticity, but I will not share it, because it risks burdening you with another decision about how best to use your time.

      • Roo
        Posted December 25, 2018 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        Again, thanks all, and thanks for the article. As an aside, when I say ‘invest time’ I mean ‘invest a great deal of time in, as in build up an area of minor expertise.’ That would take days of research at least, so what I have concluded from casual reading on the topic is:

        – There is no consensus on who actually wrote the various Gospels and when they first appeared, although there are a few theories (this is where I would have to know a lot more about it, to judge for myself what theories seem plausible and what evidence there is and whatnot, as I’d need a lot more background to say which ones I think are likely.)

        – Who wrote the Gospels and when is an important question as, if you have a strikingly similar story being told from multiple sources that do line up quite well, it would seem to support the idea of a historical Jesus. That said, if they were written by the same person or the same group of people working together, it’s no surprise that they’d match up.

        – At a totally speculative level, I lean towards the idea that Jesus was a real historical teacher, as the stories about him read more like what one would expect of people relaying memories of a guru vs. a classic mythological character. If you hear modern day adherents talking about their gurus, the themes and memories of what stood out (“I remember one day we asked him X, and I’ll never forget he say…”) are fairly similar in style. When you hear stories about visitations from gods in various other cultures, there tends to be much more Sturm und Drang fights in the clouds and whatnot.

  8. Wayne Robinson
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I just had a thought. If the Shroud of Turin was genuine, i can see a novel in which Christian fundamentalists steal it, and use the DNA from the blood stains to clone Jesus, and causing the Second Coming.

    So perhaps the reason why the Second Coming has been so delayed is because God thought we would have worked out genetics and cloning technology much earlier than we did.

    • XCellKen
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      You mean like how the Klingons cloned their God from the blood of his dagger on an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation ?

      • Wayne Robinson
        Posted December 24, 2018 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        Never saw that one.

        Actually, I’m probably thinking about ‘das Nazaret-Projekt’ by the German author Heinrich Hanf.

      • Richard
        Posted December 25, 2018 at 3:11 am | Permalink

        As I recall, Klingon monks cloned Kahless, the first Klingon emperor, and claimed he had been re-incarnated.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:35 am | Permalink

      If the Shroud of Turin was genuine, i can see a novel in which Christian fundamentalists steal it, and use the DNA from the blood stains to clone Jesus, and causing the Second Coming.

      For a film script, it’s a perfectly workable … is “pitch” the right word? A dark, sticky mess of indeterminate composition and completely malleable form.
      On the other paw, for as long as I’ve paid the trivial attention that the Turin Shroud is worth, I’ve noted that the idiots are careful to avoid calling the stains “blood”, or anything amenable to pesky little things like testing, or analysis, or that sort of thing. Last generation it was “energy discharges from the resurrection”, next generation, it’ll be skid marks from the speed of change of direction.

  9. Joe Hahn
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Dear Dr. Coyne,

    Yes, I would like to read your essay about this.

    `I, too, have very serious doubts about the existence of an historical Jesus.

    All the Best,

    Joe Hahn (joehahn100@hotmail.com)

    ________________________________

  10. Ashley Haworth-roberts
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Off-topic but young earth creationist Ken Ham has been reading your recent newspaper article – and isn’t impressed:
    http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=2967&p=52336#p52336

  11. Joe
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    The pdf of the article is available as a link from an earlier WEIT post (January, 2017). It is downloadable and easily read.

  12. Posted December 24, 2018 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    He’s me thinking… thinking…
    He lives once a year for holidays, presents, food, drink and a family gathering…
    well done mythical Jesus, fucking amazing how you do that!
    He lives once a year to drag people into debt, make others miserably lonely, cheat on partners at Xmas work functions, promote bad eating habits(huh)i love trifle! over consumption of booze… well done mythical Jesus, fucking amazing how you do that!
    So i postulate he is not of a virgin birth, did not rise from the dead but is more a… twice a year, Jack-in-the-Box.

    Have to say though: “Jack” has given me a lot of holidays over my working life.

    Merry Xmas from down under. Thanks You Jack.

  13. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m pretty sure Jesus existed. That is to say, some actual person named Jesus. Just as I’m pretty sure Mohammed existed. And an ancient Briton named Arthur (or something near enough). Just as I’m pretty sure a John exists today (I met one yesterday).

    Of course, any connection to the entirely fictional characters in the Bible / Koran / King Arthur legends / [any holy book at all] is entirely coincidental…

    cr

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      But there were more ‘Jesuses’ running about at the time than you could shake a stick at! Each of these loony or charlatan street entertainer & prophets [“available for children’s parties, here’s my card!”] would have had stories spun around them & each their own coterie of adherents [“this one’s good at the wine trick & him over there banishes boils!”].

      You might have trouble finding just the one Jesus even in a one horse town like Nazareth. It’s all very fishy – especially him disappearing for twenty years. Two bios or more combined into one?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 24, 2018 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

        I wouldn’t doubt that there were dozens of Jesi running around. For the purposes of my argument it only needs one. 😉

        cr

      • Posted December 25, 2018 at 6:28 am | Permalink

        “Two bios or more combined into one?” Is this the main hypothesis of the Jesus-probably-didn’t-exist-even-as-mere-mortal side? It sounds pretty plausible, but how often did it happen that legends coalesced into one? And how does that compare to the frequency of prophets claiming to heal people, and attracting a following, and those stories not coalescing into one amalgamation?

        If you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. Prophets who each have their own stories are a dime a dozen. Prophets whose stories coalesce … ?

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted December 25, 2018 at 7:06 am | Permalink

          PT:

          “Two bios or more combined into one?”

          Is this the main hypothesis of the Jesus-probably-didn’t-exist-even-as-mere-mortal side? It sounds pretty plausible, but how often did it happen that legends coalesced into one? And how does that compare to the frequency of prophets claiming to heal people, and attracting a following, and those stories not coalescing into one amalgamation?

          I wouldn’t know if it’s the main hypothesis of the mythicists [“the gospels are mythological expansions of historical data crowd”] because I don’t have a depth of learning on this subject. I must trust the people with the language & textual skills who understand the wide time slot in which ‘the Bible’ evolved.

          BUT I think I have a small grasp on how legends & extra plug-in history modules adhere over time to both real & mythical figures.

          My ‘go to’ is the fictional Sherlock Holmes who is based on a real person, Dr Joseph Bell, a forensic scientist at Edinburgh University – Arthur Conan Doyle served as his clerk. Thus we have a mythical ‘Investigating Detective’ who is rooted in one small scrap of truth.

          In 500 years when most of today’s literature has passed into dust there may be squabbles between various groups of Holmes scholars. In 2018 there are many alternate Holmes Gospels written by various authors & they are solidly contradictory. We’ll have the Mel Brooks ‘Brookians’ school of thought about his smarter brother versus the ‘Russellians’ who are convinced he married versus the ‘Gaimians’ who’re convinced Holmes was connected to the Cthulhu Mythos versus etc etc [there’s a lot]! Then there’s the solid evidence for Holmes being real [a blue plaque in the excavated Baker Street, though strangely there’s no 221B…].

          A certain sort of person with no knowledge of the datings of the various Holmes Gospels would claim that all these contradictory ‘witness’ accounts lend credence to Holmes being a real historical character.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted December 25, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

            I do like that analogy.

            As I recall, Holmes was even killed off (the Reichenbach Falls) and rose from the dead again.

            (In fact, if one visits Meiringen in Switzerland, th Reichenbach Falls main claim to fame – judging from the signage – is that Holmes visited them. There we are, independent corroboration! 🙂

            cr

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted December 25, 2018 at 7:22 am | Permalink

          There will be thick tomes of textual analysis trying to track down & date the proposed ‘source Q’ from which the phrase “Elementary my dear Watson” sprung – [the phrase isn’t in the books, but it appears in a film or two & no doubt many comedy sketches, alternate histories & so on].

  14. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Peter Nothnagle’s piece is excellent. One might also read some work by Richard Carrier, he’s written whole books about it.

  15. BJ
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    I wish the article was written by Brett Ratner. I’d love to hear about Jesus and Mary’s butts and what he thinks of them.

  16. Posted December 24, 2018 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I am doubtful the Jesus myth is based on a real person. OTOH, I think “So what if it is.” The fact that Count Dracula was based on a historical Vlad the Impaler doesn’t make vampires real.

  17. Dan Morrison
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Not a comment.. I do not have your email address but wanted to share a picture of some ducks. Think best if you reply and will forward. The pics are inmy phone and not sure I can figure how to send as attachments. Tx Dan

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      [1] Upload images straight from your phone to a photo sharing site such as Flickr: SEE LIST HERE
      [2] Make sure all the photos are in one album on the site & that album is set to share
      [3] Email a link to that album to the Prof. You can find his email in the “Research Interests” link top right of this page – the email is in the line starting with “Office:”

  18. Serendipitydawg
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    The PDF by Peter Nothnagl is well worth a read, being both cogent and informative. I don’t know how I haven’t encountered it previously.

    Happy Coynezaa, it’s Bushmills time 😀

    • Serendipitydawg
      Posted December 24, 2018 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      Rats! Peter Nothnagle. I have to question whether more alcohol is a good plan.

      Oh well, goodnight all.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 24, 2018 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

        Merry Christmas Serendip

        • Serendipitydawg
          Posted December 25, 2018 at 4:44 am | Permalink

          Good morning and thank you Michael.

          Happy Humbug 😀

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted December 25, 2018 at 4:55 am | Permalink

            It comes natural to me. I’m off out now to shout at some elves on my lawn. 🙂

  19. aljones909
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always regarded this as a fair summary of the debate. Philip Davies, Professor of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield, “Did Jesus Exist” (Prof Davies died in 2018)
    http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/dav368029.shtml

    • Posted December 24, 2018 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      After skipping around in that article, it seems that it is a religious scholar basically trying to steer people away from looking closely at Jesus the man. The concern seems to be that if we found out more about the actual Jesus, it would simply alienate those whose religion requires a different Jesus. I can see their point. The more we find out about a real human Jesus, the crazier their miracles will seem. The ultimate example, ignoring the difficulties of identification, would be discovery of the actual Jesus’ body. That would blow a big hole in any kind of resurrection theory. Of course, they would just claim that it was only his spirit which rose to heaven but who cares?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 25, 2018 at 12:00 am | Permalink

        “The ultimate example, ignoring the difficulties of identification, would be discovery of the actual Jesus’ body.”

        I’d say that would be flatly impossible.

        Suppose one *did* find such a body? How would one go about proving it’s the ‘right’ Jesus? By definition it isn’t the one who rose again. The Jesus story contains so many contradictions that no one person can logically fit the description.

        cr

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted December 25, 2018 at 1:56 am | Permalink

          “By definition it isn’t the one who rose again.”, I would not say that. Some, such as Albert Schweizer, think he died later and was buried, disappointed that the Kingdom of Heavens did mot materialise.
          The one that it can’t possibly be is the one that ascended to heavens ‘in the flesh’ (unless he came down again and got buried).

        • Posted December 25, 2018 at 11:41 am | Permalink

          I’m not here to estimate its likelihood but perhaps some archeologist discovers evidence of Jesus and that it includes recoverable DNA, dental records, or whatever. New finds are made all the time.

          Regardless, the point I was making is that Christians don’t really want a more human, real Jesus as it would potentially open up all kinds of difficulties. What if it turned out that Jesus was a pedophile?

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted December 25, 2018 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

            Okay, I’ll concede your proposition as a debating postulate. And I tend to agree with your conclusion.

            (I think, in reality, it would be impossible as I said).

            cr

  20. David Jorling
    Posted December 24, 2018 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    I have read Bart Ehrman’s book “Did Jesus Exist” and found it unconvincing. As a matter of fact, I surmised that if his book is the best case that can be made for the existence of Jesus, then convinced I am that he didn’t. In any event, I have had occasion to debate the subject, and if I have the book handy I read the summary of the life of Apollonius of Tyana, without naming him. (The summary appears on page 208 of my hardcover edition, in Chapter 6 under the heading “The Claim and its Exposition”.) I then ask the believers the identity of the person summarized, and they always reply “Jesus, of course”. I love the reaction when I tell them it is of Apollonius, a pagan philosopher that lived 2000 years ago.

  21. Posted December 24, 2018 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand why the same people who encourage us to ‘have faith’ keep trotting out these ludicrous ‘proofs’. But they can’t have it both ways. If someone can prove it then I don’t need to have faith. And that sort of faith, quite frankly, is really hard work.
    And anyway, if God wanted to give us proof then He is surely capable of doing so. I think He is hiding. God is a fugitive and is carefully covering his tracks. He doesn’t want us to find Him.
    Perhaps it’s time we just let Him be.

  22. Jim Jones
    Posted December 25, 2018 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    “Our documentary sources of knowledge about the origins of Christianity and its earliest development are chiefly the New Testament Scriptures, the authenticity of which we must, to a great extent, take for granted.”
    (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. iii, p. 712)

    “… the most distinguished body of academic opinion ever assembled” (Catholic Encyclopedias, Preface) admits that the Gospels “do not go back to the first century of the Christian era”
    (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. vi, p. 137, pp. 655-6).

    “… the earliest of the extant manuscripts [of the New Testament], it is true, do not date back beyond the middle of the fourth century AD”
    (Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit., pp. 656-7).

    In the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Constantine united all religious factions under one composite deity, and ordered the compilation of new and old writings into a uniform collection that became known as the “New Testament”. Those prototype writings survive in the form of the 4th century fabricated bibles known today as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. These oldest christian bibles differ from each other and both differ in thousands of ways from later and modern human fabricated bibles.

    There is not one single item of evidence of “Jesus” that originates from within the 1st century. No Roman. Greek, Jewish or Aramaic text or private letter mentions “Jesus”. No 1st century chronicler, historian, clerk, politician, poet or philosopher mentions “Jesus”. No 1st century fabricated artifact, inscription or graffito mentions “Jesus”. There are many messiah claimants that appear in historical evidence that dates from between Circa 6 BCE and Circa 140 CE. Most noticeably “Jesus” is not found among them.

    http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/

    http://www.csntm.org/Manuscript/View/GA_03

    http://www.katapi.org.uk/BibleMSS/EphraemiAnimation.html

    https://www.religion-online.org/article/the-oldest-extant-editions-of-the-letters-of-paul/

    http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/biblianazar/esp_biblianazar_25.htm

  23. Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    Minor annoyance: If/when Jesus existed in Palestine, he was not Jesus Christ. The “Christ” wasn’t added until information about Jesus spread to predominantly Greek-speaking areas.

    If Paul was real, he supposedly met with Jesus’ brother, James (if real), and disciple, Peter (if real), in Jerusalem. Supposedly, there were followers of Jesus overseen by James and Peter in Jerusalem after Jesus died. These were Jews at this time, not Christians yet.

    • Roger Lambert
      Posted December 25, 2018 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      He speaks of meeting a “James, a brother of the Lord”, not a “James, the brother of Jesus”.

      And then never mentions anything else about him. Curious,if he was supposed to be the blood relative of JC himself.

      The term “brother of the Lord” is a phrase used often to describe a brother within the flock, while the term for a biological brother is different and not used in that “brother of the Lord” reference.

      We still to this day talk about members of the Congregation as “brothers and sisters” or “brethren”.

  24. Posted December 25, 2018 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    How apropos! I’m currently reading “Who Wrote the New Testament? – The Making of the Christian Myth” by Burton L Mack. An interesting read for anyone interested.

  25. Brian Jones
    Posted December 25, 2018 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry I would be very interested to read Peter Nothnagle’s paper.

    Regards Brian

    Brian

    ________________________________

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 25, 2018 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      You were asked to email Jerry. Anyway, no need download it yourself Brian from the link in comment #2 by Martin X

  26. Raymond Cox
    Posted December 25, 2018 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    An interesting article. But I still think it more likely that both the “mystical Christ” of Paul and the ideas of the first Jesus- followers in Jerusalem ere inspired by a real historical figure rather than simply being figments of the imagination.

  27. Kirbmarc
    Posted December 25, 2018 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I find “pure mythicism”, the idea that there was absolutely NO real figure that inspired the gospels and Christianity, pretty unlikely for a long series of reasons; mostly the fact that Tacitus, not exactly a fan of Christianity, seems to refer to him as a real person, and no ancient writer, even those hostile to Christianity, ever seemed to have brought up the idea that he was pure fiction.

    However it seems that many people confuse the idea that the Jesus of Gospels was inspired by a real person with the idea that he was the “son of God” and that everything that is reported about him in the gospels is true and sound.

    The historical Jesus was probably one of the countless “Messiahs” (like Judas of Galilee, Theudas, the Egyptian, John of Gischala, and later Bar Kochba), that preached a return to the times of traditional Hebraism and, incidentally, of the Kingdom of Israel (let’s not forget that even in the Gospel there are passages when Jesus seems to imply that a “kingdom of god” will come within a generation).

    “Life of Brian” actually got this right!

    It’s not improbable that the Romans and the Jewish elites got rid of him as a potential danger to social stability. Hell, it’s even possible that he was crucified as a rabble-rouser.

    It’s possible that he was from Nazareth, and the whole “trip to Bethlehem” story (which is highly inconsistent with recorded history) was made up to make his birth be “predicted” by a prophecy. It’s also possible that he was baptized by John the Baptist, which is awkward to explain away as the “son of god” (why would the “son of god” need to be cleansed of any sin? why would he be baptized by someone else?)

    The awkward nature and contradictions of the Jesus story make it clear that the prophecies and the “son of god” story are complete hogwash. However if Jesus was just a myth, an invented story, there’d be no need to craft such a complex, contradictory narrative.

    It’s more likely that the “son of god” story was tacked onto the life of a not-so-remarkable preacher among many other preachers.

    There’s absolutely no need to believe that Jesus was a complete myth to disbelieve the majority (or almost the entirety) of what is written about him in the Gospels. L. Ron Hubbard existed, but this doesn’t mean that we should believe in what the Church of Scientology says about him (and indeed there are many lies that the Scientologists put out about Hubbard).

    In times where there were no recording devices and where accurate reporting wasn’t a big concern it was extremely easy for anyone to put words in someone else’s mouth. It’s hard to guess what exactly Jesus believed about himself or about his sect. Much of what is written in the Gospels is probably half pure bullshit and half propaganda. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus was invented out of thin air.

  28. Kirbmarc
    Posted December 25, 2018 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    The Shroud of Turin, the Crown of Thorns, the fragments of the True Cross, the Veil of Veronice are very likely medieval fakes.

  29. abear
    Posted December 25, 2018 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    It turns out that sad/mad Saul/Paul didn’t have an epileptic seizure but Christian Science proves it to be a true message from God/Jesus. I would have rolled down the hill and grunted if that happened to me.


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