Did Jesus Really Exist?

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Discussions' started by paynedaniel, Mar 15, 2005.

  1. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    Maybe not so obvious to me, because I'm not exactly sure what you mean.

    Maybe you mean what I think you mean? That's to say that Jesus, the man, is absolutely dwarfed by Jesus, the legend. Parsing through what we can KNOW about him historiographically is a profoundly daunting exercise since there are no extant records contemporary to his life (as you allude to) and that all of the earliest surviving records have inexorable theological bias.

    On the other hand, there is quite the temptation on the part of skeptics, especially anti-theists, to go all the way, so to speak, with their debunking exercises- aiming to leave absolutely nothing in the Christian apologetic's hand.
    heirophant likes this.
  2. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

  3. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    This is true, sort of. The existing non-Christian sources are all secondary sources from many decades after Jesus lived and died. They mostly address Jesus, the figure of the lore of the early Christian movement, rather than Jesus, the historical human being. What makes them interesting is that some scholars (that is, people who aren't me, so please don't ask me to explain it...) see evidence that the primary sources of the non-Christian sources are not any known new testament or apocryphal work. That raises the question of where that info actually came from- a lost writing? Another oral tradition? They're apparently independent attestations, but we can't know just who and what those attestations actually are.
  4. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    I mean the absence of any direct evidence of a man so famous--who encountered so many famous people and who lived and died in such a public way--seems odd. Yes, records from that time are difficult to find and even harder to interpret. But nothing?
  5. tadj

    tadj Active Member

    No, the question is not "up for debate" among serious academics. It is debated among internet trolls, particularly the least knowledgable and hyper-skeptical atheists in cyberspace. They are largely responsible for the continuing "debate." This group is known as Jesus mythicists. By the way, you can also find "debates" in a similar vein on whether the earth is flat, or whether the U.S. government is run by Lizard people.

    Dr John Dickson teaches the Historical Jesus at the University of Sydney and is an Honorary Fellow of the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University. Here is a quote from him;
    "To repeat a challenge I've put out on social media several times before, I will eat a page of my Bible if someone can find me just one full Professor of Ancient History, Classics, or New Testament in an accredited university somewhere in the world (there are thousands of names to choose from) who thinks Jesus never lived. I don't deny that there are substantial questions that could be raised about the Christian faith, but the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth isn't one of them."
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  6. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    He didn't become famous until well after his death, and he died as a common criminal. Historically, Jesus only matters due to what his (mostly illiterate) followers began saying about him after he died. We have just as much attestation contemporary to his life as we could ever expect from such a person- none.

    I'm not exactly sure what you mean by the famous people Jesus encountered. If you mean all of the religious leaders and governmental officials he verbally sparred with, we don't know much of anything about any of them either. Ironically, those who were more rich, powerful and famous during his life are only well-known today because (as the stories go), they happened to have bumped into the lowly Jesus once or twice along the way.
  7. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Okay, so here it is. A lack of evidence is not evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Finally, you can't prove something didn't happen. But you don't have to accept that it did, either.
  8. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member


    I understand the intention of this maxim, but I find it to be a tautological moving target. (More on this later...)

    Sure you can. At least, just as much as you can prove something DID happen. If you can prove that George Washington was the first US President, you can prove that Rich Douglas was not the first US President. Of course, we have to add that pesky asterisk that qualifies ALL historical events as various levels of probably having occurred as opposed to definitely having occurred. Also, of course, most of history is permanently lost to us.

    Well, we don't really ever have to accept anything. We could just state that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and then set an unrealistic criteria for what qualifies as extraordinary evidence.

    I'm not accusing you of doing that, btw, just critiquing the assertion.
    Rich Douglas likes this.
  9. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    Psssh, I know differently because Q told me so.
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  10. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Asserting that a guy met Herod, met Pilate, and was publicly flogged and then executed by the latter (after being offered to the crowd for pardoning) ought to have some sort of evidence to back it up.

    If you've proven the former, there would be no reason to assert the latter. I was referring to unanswered questions. I thought that was obvious.
  11. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Hold on. We're not talking about the faceless bureaucracy here. We're talking about the King of Galilee and Perea and the Roman governor of Judea. The existence of these people is very well established and in great detail.

    I'm not saying he didn't encounter these figures, that the Gospels are wrong, etc. I'm suggesting that to claim all that is claimed requires stronger evidence than second-hand accounts (or further), and that the lack of eyewitness accounts and/or other direct evidence preponderates against the hypothesis, especially if there should be some.

    Claim it? Prove it. That's all.

    (I'm way out of my depth regarding the events told in the Gospels, and I'm not really arguing that point. However, I'm pretty well-versed in social science, and my points are about that.)
  12. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    Well, now, here is where we get to the meat of what I was mentioning earlier. The main sources for Herod Agrippa's life are his new testament mentions and the writings of Flavious Josephus- the very same sources that confirm the existence of Jesus the Nazarene and John the Baptist.

    As for Pontius Pilate, hardly anything is known about him outside of what the new testament records about him, save for a couple slivers of basic biographical information.

    These two guys are only "famous" for having had those brief run-ins with Jesus, and their sources of attestation are the exact same sources of attestation for Jesus.

    We can't have this one both ways.

    Well, I'm not as smart as my avatar looks :emoji_blush:
  13. heirophant

    heirophant Well-Known Member

    This thread is certainly a blast from the past. Lots of posts from old-timers that I really liked back in the day. I just reread my old posts in this thread and they still hold up pretty well. So I'll just quote from them:

    "As I said in my first post to this thread, I don't really actively deny that somebody named Jesus once existed. But I don't consider it absolutely certain either.

    Obviously the same thing could be said for many ancient figures. The fact is that our knowledge of the distant past is sketchy to say the least. Many of the Hellenistic philosophers are only known today through fragments recorded in secondary sources. It's conceivable that any one of these people never existed.

    Actually, raising these skeptical questions occasionally is probably valuable. It reminds us that our knowledge of Jesus is a historical question as well as an article of religious faith."

    Getting to the heart of the matter...

    Even if we accept for the sake of argument that a man named Jesus once existed, Christ might not have existed, God's human incarnation might not have existed and man's Savior might not have existed... And these questions are where history is least equipped to help us. History can't provide us with any criteria to judge whether something or somebody is divine or not...

    ...the gospel stories (like the stories of other religions' founders) weren't just an objective and dispassionate chronology of stuff that simply happened.

    These writings are collections of illustrations that were intended to communicate religious meaning. Jesus is portrayed as delivering a teaching, fulfilling a prophecy, or acting out his death drama. Everything that Jesus is portrayed as doing is significant.

    The same thing is true in the Tripitaka. Events in the Buddha's life aren't just recounted because they happened, they are there because they illustrate his teaching.

    Though countless books have been written about myth, I think that a concise definition might be: "A narrative through which religious affirmations and beliefs are expressed." (I borrowed that from the first line of the article on 'myth' in the 'Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions'.) The gospels certainly seem to satisy that little definition.

    It isn't necessary that myth be historically false. True events can be interpreted as having religious meaning, after all. Nor is it impossible for people to write edifying stories by adapting historical figures and locales. Historical figures can be made to say and do what faith says that they said and did. And obviously many myths seem to have little or no historical truth content at all. It's a spectrum, from 100% to zero, with all points in between.

    The dictionary article makes the interesting point that for some religions, the historical truth of the narrative is of little account so long that the moral of the story expresses a religious truth. So for example, some religions have several inconsistent creation accounts and the inconsistency doesn't really bother anyone at all, because they are all true.

    But the Hebrews are particularly notable for tying their myths closely to historical events, essentially collapsing their myth and their history together. The early Christians, being Jews after all, obviously followed them in that.

    That leaves scholars today with the task of dissecting the historical facts out from among all the edifying story. You see all kinds of attempts, not least the two hundred years or more of searches for the "historical Jesus".

    But my feeling is that most of these historical Jesuses (Jesi?) are highly imaginative re-creations that exist to illustrate some scholar's own ideas of what Jesus was (or should have been). So we have things like the social-revolutionary Jesus.

    Personally, I question how successful these attempts can be. I suspect that literal objective truth is so inextricably intertwined with expressions of religious purposes that the two can never be cleanly separated."

    That was my view 15 years ago and it's my view today as well.
  14. heirophant

    heirophant Well-Known Member

    Isn't that argumentum ad populum? The problem is that while people might all be agreed on something, they might nevertheless be wrong. The history of ideas provides no end of examples of once widely held opinions that are rejected today.

    I'd exclude New Testament scholars and I'm not familiar enough with the views of historians and classicists to name any names.

    But I will say that the challenge seems biased right out of the gate. I suspect that if we inquire about how many of these worthies entertain the possibility that Jesus might not have existed or more to the point, that the actual historical man might have had little resemblance to the figure of religious myth, that we would find many examples. Most non-Christian scholars for example. It's certainly possible to be an ancient historian and not be a Christian.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2020
  15. tadj

    tadj Active Member


    A short forum post cannot provide all the relevant evidence to consider as part of the inquiry into Jesus' existence. For this reason, it may seem like I am just referring to a mere headcount. That's not correct. I always refer people to lengthy books containing evidence for the scholarly consensus (this wouldn't fall under the fallacy), as I am not a fan of discussing such intricate subjects on internet forums. If someone truly cares about the issue of the historical Jesus, I would hope that this person won't be satisfied with asking a few clueless internet pals for opinion on the matter. There are some fantastic books on the subject.

    I am not sure what you mean by excluding the New Testament (or scholars in the field of biblical studies who actually come from all sorts of backgrounds). It's almost like saying 'Let's study the historical Muhammad. However, let's exclude the Qur'an and the Hadiths, and the earliest written Islamic sources from our inquiry. Let's also exclude all the people who have studied the sources.' Furthermore, popular opinion is not the same thing as expert opinion. Can experts be wrong? Yes. Is it more likely that Joe Sixpack (who just lost his faith in Jesus and now is happy to console himself with the notion of Jesus' non-existence among a group of like-minded atheists) has got it right, or that people who have devoted their whole lives to asking tough historical questions in peer-reviewed settings are right? I would go with the latter.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2020
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  16. tadj

    tadj Active Member

    E.P. Sanders, a world-famous New Testament scholar, provides a list of facts that all scholars and historians can agree upon with virtual certainty in the quest for the historical Jesus. This stuff falls under the scholarly consensus. It does not fall under faith, or belief in Jesus. It can be easily acknowledged by people from different faith and non-faith backgrounds. Here is the list;

    1. Jesus was born c. 4 BCE, near the time of the death of Herod the Great.
    2. He spent his childhood and early-adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village.
    3. He was baptized by John the Baptist.
    4. He called disciples.
    5. He taught in the towns, villages, and countryside of Galilee.
    6. He preached "the kingdom of God".
    7. About the year AD 30, he went to Jerusalem for Passover.
    8. He created a disturbance in the temple area.
    9. He had a final meal with the disciples.
    10. He was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest.
    11. He was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.
    12. His disciples at first fled.
    13. They saw him (in what sense is not certain) after his death.
    14. As a consequence, they believed that he would return to found the kingdom
    15. They formed a community to await his return and sought to win others to faith in him as God's Messiah.
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  17. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    You're supporting my point that a lack of evidence is not evidence. Thank you.
  18. Maniac Craniac

    Maniac Craniac Moderator Staff Member

    Well... ok. Lack of evidence can't be evidence- by the very definition of those words.

    Since I can't figure out what you're getting at, and since you haven't responded to any of the points I made in that post, I'm all out of ideas as to what to say next, except that Epstein didn't kill himself.
  19. Lerner

    Lerner Well-Known Member

    Yeshua (Jesus) existed, even Jewish sources such as Talmud, mention Him.
    It's possible that some of the treatments evolved further.
    Early followers many Jewish, accepted his leadership just like Jews have today in the Hassidic movement.
    The Ebionites held more of adaptionist theology, that He was a son by adoption.
    As very early codex has it at Baptism by John passage - This is my son today I have begotten you.

    Others find accounts of Yeshua in India and claim He was a Yogi or Buddhis monk.
    While there is no biblical support for the idea that Jesus meditated in India before beginning His ministry in Israel.
    There are 18 years between the age of 12 in the Temple and age 30 beginning of his ministry that are we are not in the NT.
    The author to promote this view is Holger Kersten, whose book Jesus Lived in India: His Unknown Life Before and After the Crucifixion (1994) supposedly presents "irrefutable evidence that Jesus did indeed live in India."

    A precursor to Holger Kersten is Nicolas Notovitch, a Russian war correspondent, who visited India and Tibet in the late 19th century. While there, Mr. Notovitch learned of the life of Saint Issa, the "best of the Sons of men." Mr. Notovitch chronicles the life of Saint Issa, whom he identifies as Yeshua (Jesus), and tells how Saint Issa grew in wisdom and knowledge while attending the ancient Indian university at Nalanda. However, Mr. Notovitch’s work was discredited by one J. Archibald Douglas, who claims that Mr. Notovitch never visited the monastery of Hemis (where he purportedly learned of Saint Issa).
    So there is a lot of speculation about the "missing" 18 years of Yeshua (Jesus).

    Some archeological findings of papyrus fragments of Matthew date to the first century AC.
    Papayrus P104 (P. Oxy. 4404) is a late first early second-century papyrus fragment that contains Matt. 21:34-37 on the front, and traces of verses 43 and 45 on the back.
    This manuscript is 6.35 cm by 9.5cm in size. Scholars date the writing of Matthew’s gospel to the late 50’s or early 60’s in the first century.

    A Recent Discovery Dates P64 Near 60 A.D.
    The Jesus Papyrus [3]


    One of the most stunning discoveries in the field of New Testament criticism comes from Dr. Carsten Peter Thiede, director of the Institute of Basic Epistemological Research in Paderborn, Germany. Using a scanning laser microscope to carefully examine these fragments, this technique can differentiate between a twenty-micrometer (millionth of a meter) layer of papyrus. This allows for the measuring of height and depth of the ink as well as the angle of the stylus used by the scribe.[1]

    Dr. Thiede compared the fragments with four other known manuscripts: one came from the caves of Qumran, dated to 58 A.D.; one from the Herculaneum, dated prior to 79 A.D.; one from Masada, dated between 73-74 A.D.; and one from the Egyptian town of Oxyrynchus, dated 65-66 A.D.
  20. tadj

    tadj Active Member

    Maurice Casey (Author)
    Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?
    Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing, Year: 2014

    "The presentation of this view [that Jesus did not exist] has changed radically in recent years, led by unlearned but regrettably influential people in the United States. As far as I can tell, as we live through this change, it has three major features. One is rebellion against traditional Christianity, especially in the form of American fundamentalism. It is very striking that the majority of people who write books claiming that Jesus did not exist, and who give their past history, are effectively former American fundamentalists, though not all are ethnically American. Of these, only Robert Price can be regarded as a qualified New Testament scholar. After early involvement in a fundamentalist Baptist church, Price went on to become a leader in the Montclair State College chapter of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. He eventually received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Drew University in 1993. He has been listed as Professor of Theology and Scriptural Studies at Coleman Theological Seminary and Professor of Biblical Criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute, as well as a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion and the Jesus Seminar. The second major feature of recent presentations of the view that Jesus did not exist is the massive contribution of the internet. Unlike published scholarly work, the internet is uncontrolled and apparently uncontrollable, making it a perfect forum for people with negative views about critical scholarship. It is therefore important that two of the most influential writers of published work advocating the mythicist view – that is, the view that Jesus was not a historical figure, but rather a myth – appeal directly to an audience on the internet. A third major feature is drastic reliance on work which is out of date, most of which was of questionable quality when it was written, mostly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This level of incompetence is rare in conventional scholarship."

    "The internet audience is ‘lay’, but most of it is not open-minded. It has both the ‘Christian apologists’ whom mythicists love to hate, and atheists who are determinedly anti-Christian. Both groups consist largely of people with closed minds who are impervious to evidence and argument, a quite different world from the critical scholars among whom I am happy to have spent most of my life, whether they were Christian, Jewish or irreligious."

    "I introduce here the most influential mythicists who claim to be ‘scholars’, though I would question their competence and qualifications...Price is alone among mythicists in that there is no doubt that he was more or less a qualified New Testament scholar. It is, however, enough for him to bear a heavy responsibility for the views which he has promoted. Perhaps his most important book is The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. What is important about it is that it lends an air of scholarship to his personal opinions, opinions which I consider to be utter falsehoods. Price has in common with other mythicists a central point: he was a fundamentalist whose background does much to explain his genuine inability to come to terms with critical scholarship."

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