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Four Reasons I Think Jesus Really Existed

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Filed under Historicity

Did Jesus Exist?

A small handful of scholars today, and a much larger group of Internet commenters, maintain that Jesus never existed. Proponents of this position, known as mythicists, claim that Jesus is a purely mythical figure invented by the writers of the New Testament (or its later copyists.) In this post I’ll offer the top four reasons (from weakest to strongest) that convince me Jesus of Nazareth was a real person without relying on the Gospel accounts of his life.

4. It is the mainstream position in academia.

 
I admit this is the weakest of my four reasons, but I list it to show that there is no serious debate among the vast majority of scholars in the fields related to the question of the existence of Jesus. John Dominic Crossan, who co-founded the skeptical Jesus Seminar, denies that Jesus rose from the dead but is confident that Jesus was an historical person. He writes, “That [Jesus] was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be" (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 145). Bart Ehrman is an agnostic who is forthright in his rejection of mythicism. Ehrman teaches at the University of North Carolina and is widely regarded as an expert on the New Testament documents. He writes, “The view that Jesus existed is held by virtually every expert on the planet” (Did Jesus Exist?, p. 4).

3. Jesus’ existence is confirmed by extra-Biblical sources.

 
The first century Jewish historian Josephus mentions Jesus twice. The shorter reference is in Book 20 of his Antiquities of the Jews and describes the stoning of law breakers in A.D. 62. One of the criminals is described as “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.” What makes this passage authentic is that it lacks Christian terms like “the Lord,” it fits into the context of this section of the antiquities, and the passage is found in every manuscript copy of the Antiquities.

Josephus

Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100)

According to New Testament scholar Robert Van Voorst in his book Jesus Outside the New Testament, “The overwhelming majority of scholars hold that the words ‘brother of Jesus, who was called Christ,’ are authentic, as is the entire passage in which it is found” (p. 83).

The longer passage in Book 18 is called the Testimonium Flavianum. Scholars are divided on this passage because, while it does mention Jesus, it contains phrases that were almost certainly added by Christian copyists. These include phrases that would never have been used by a Jew like Josephus, such as saying of Jesus, “He was the Christ” or “he appeared alive again on the third day.”

Mythicists maintain that the entire passage is a forgery because it is out of context and interrupts Josephus’ previous narrative. But this view neglects the fact that writers in the ancient world did not use footnotes and would often wander into unrelated topics in their writings. According to New Testament scholar James D. G. Dunn, the passage has clearly been subject to Christian redaction, but there are also words Christians would never use of Jesus. These include calling Jesus “a wise man” or referring to themselves as a “tribe” which is strong evidence Josephus originally wrote something like the following:
 

“At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who received the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians (named after him) has not died out” (Jesus Remembered, p. 141).

 
Furthermore, the Roman historian Tacitus records in his Annals that after the great fire in Rome, Emperor Nero fastened the blame on a despised group of people called Christians. Tacitus identifies this group thusly: “Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius.” Bart D. Ehrman writes, “Tacitus’s report confirms what we know from other sources, that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, sometime during Tiberius’s reign" (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to Early Christian Writings, 212).

2. The Early Church Fathers don’t describe the mythicist heresy.

 
Those who deny that Jesus existed usually argue that the first Christians believed Jesus was just a cosmic savior figure who communicated to believers through visions. Later Christians then added the apocryphal details of Jesus’ life (such as his execution under Pontius Pilate) in order to ground him in first century Palestine. If the mythicist theory is true, then at some point in Christian history there would had to have been a break or outright revolt between new converts who believed in a real Jesus and  the “orthodox” establishment view that Jesus never existed.

Irenaeus

St. Irenaeus (2nd century – c. AD 202)

The curious thing about this theory is that the early Church fathers such as Irenaeus loved to stamp out heresy. They wrote massive treatises criticizing heretics and yet in all of their writings the heresy that Jesus never existed is never mentioned. In fact, no one in the entire history of Christianity (not even early pagan critics like Celsus or Lucian) seriously argued for a mythic Jesus until the 18th century.

Other heresies, such as Gnosticism or Donatism, were like that stubborn bump in the carpet. You could stamp them out in one place only to have them pop up again centuries later, but the mythcist “heresy” is nowhere to be found in the early Church. So what’s more likely: that the early Church hunted down and destroyed every member of mythicist Christianity in order to prevent the heresy from spreading and conveniently never wrote about it, or that the early Christians were not mythicists and so there was nothing for the Church Fathers to campaign against? (Some mythcists argue that the heresy of Docetism included a mythic Jesus, but I don’t find that claim convincing. See this blog post for a good rebuttal of that idea).

1. St. Paul knew the disciples of Jesus.

 
Almost all mythicists concede that St. Paul was a real person, because we have his letters. In Galatians 1:18-19, Paul describes his personal meeting in Jerusalem with Peter and James, “the brother of the Lord.” Surely if Jesus was a fictional person then one of his own relatives would have known that (note that in Greek the term for brother could also mean kin). Mythicists offer several explanations for this passage which Robert Price considers to be part of what he calls “The most powerful argument against the Christ-Myth theory.” (The Christ Myth Theory and Its Problems, p. 333).

Earl Doherty, a mythicist, claims that James’ title probably referred to a pre-existing Jewish monastic group who called themselves “the brothers of the Lord” of which James may have been the leader (Jesus: Neither God nor Man, p. 61). But we have no corroborating evidence that such a group existed in Jerusalem at that time. Furthermore, Paul criticizes the Corinthians for professing allegiance to a certain individual, even Christ, and as a result creating division within the Church (1 Corinthians 1: 11-13). It is unlikely Paul would praise James for being a member of such a divisive faction (Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend, p. 206).

Price claims that the title could be a reference to James’ spiritual imitation of Christ. He appeals to a nineteenth-century Chinese zealot who called himself “Jesus’ little brother” as proof of his theory that “brother” could mean spiritual follower (p. 338). But such a far removed example from the context of first century Palestine makes Price’s reasoning pretty hard to accept when compared to a plain reading of the text.

In conclusion, I think there are many good reasons to think that Jesus really did exist and was the founder of a religious sect in first century Palestine. This includes the evidence we have from extra-Biblical sources, the Church Fathers, and the first-hand testimony of Paul. I understand much more can be written on this subject but I think this is a good starting point for those who are interested in the (largely Internet-based) debate over the historical Jesus.

(P.S. If you think Jesus was just a rip-off of pagan religions (such as the Egyptian God Horus), then please see my colleague Jon Sorensen’s magnificent takedown of that hypothesis.)
 
 
Adapted from an article published in the May/June 2013 edition of Catholic Answers Magazine. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Alive With Christ, Biblical Archaeology,Wardrobe Door)

Trent Horn

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Trent Horn holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers. He specializes in training pro-lifers to intelligently and compassionately engage pro-choice advocates in genuine dialogue. He recently released his first book, titled Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity. Follow Trent at his blog, TrentHorn.com.

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  • ZenDruid

    Man, myth or message: which Jesus is relevant?

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Sorry ZenDruid, but I'm not sure I understand your comment.

      • ZenDruid

        I'm content to take away the message and discard the myth, as Jefferson did. Whether the man actually existed will forever be moot.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          Zen, thanks for the clarification. Two things in reply:

          1) Are you prepared to embrace the parts of Jesus' message in which he claimed to forgive sins and heal people? How about the parts where he maintained equality with God? Or the parts where he established a church and commissioned his disciples to run it? Or the parts where he tied baptism to salvation?

          2) As this article ably suggests, Jesus' existence is not a moot point. Trent has made a strong case for Jesus' existence as a historical person and for his crucifixion in the first century. If you disagree with his argument, you must show where it is wrong instead of dismissing it as "moot" without reason.

          • ZenDruid

            1) Both you and I can 'forgive sins' just as well as Jesus. I don't hold with faith healing though, or else why hospitals? The message I have in mind derives from the Thomas gospel as well as the Jefferson edition of KJV.

            2) The argument I will make (please understand that an argument from ancient commentary does not comprise evidence) is that Philo of Alexandria, being a commentator of Jewish society during the span encompassing Jesus' life, is conspicuously silent on the subject.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            ZenDruid, responding to each point:

            1) I'm very confused by your first sentence. To "sin" is, by defintion, to estrange yourself from God. How could anyone else but God forgive sins? If nobody, then are you equating you (and me) with God?

            2) First, you haven't defended your original assertion that Jesus' existence is a "moot" point. (And by "moot" I'd like to know whether you mean "of no significance" or "impossible to determine.") Second, after switching gears in this comment by aiming to *disprove* Jesus existed, your fundamental argument is an argument from silence.

            The problem with this, of course, is that an argument from silence is always refuted by positive arguments elsewhere. It may seem surprising that Philo didn't mention Jesus, but that does nothing to refuted the fact that several other early-century, non-Christian writers *did* write about Jesus (see Trent's article.)

            To prove the Jesus never existed you need to do more than argue from silence. You need to show why all of the positive descriptions listed in Trent's article are fabricated or legendary.

          • ZenDruid

            1) Your god is the inventor of sin. He's the archetypical abusive parent. I was born with a better moral stance than he exhibits. You were as well.

            2) 'Moot' means impossible to determine in this context. My point is that Philo's argument from silence is equivalent to Josephus' argument from hearsay.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            He's the archetypical abusive parent.

            "God the Father" is a metaphor. God isn't a parent, let alone an abusive parent.

          • ZenDruid

            Then who or what is 'Pater Noster'?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Calling God "Father" is metaphor, just as calling God or Jesus "King," or Mary "Queen of Heaven."

            Interestingly, the word Jesus used for "father" was "Abba," which is a more familiar (in the sense of intimate) title. It is never translated such, but it means something close to the English word daddy. Little children in Israel call their fathers "abba."

          • John H. Graney

            Actually, it's the other way around. Earthly fathers are living metaphors for God the Father.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think your point about sin is off topic.

            I checked out Philo and didn't see any reason he would have written about Jesus Christ or his disciples. His writing are almost exclusively commentaries on Jewish Scriptures.

          • ZenDruid

            If we're talking about god, we're talking about sin.

            Curiously enough, there's an argument floating around that Philo might have contributed some philosophical grist for the mythmongers of the first few centuries.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            We're talking about if Jesus Christ existed not if Jesus is God.

            Your second paragraph just seems to be an insulting provocation without substantiation.

          • severalspeciesof

            Actually it would be Jesus without the 'Christ' part added that is being addressed in the OP...

            *Edit: I should have said, "...that is being largely addressed in the OP"

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You are correct.

          • Jon Hawkins

            ZenDruid- a correction if you don't mind. Sin is the absence or rejection of God. To say he invented it is kind of like holding the League of Nations responsible for the Nazi take-over in Germany. No, God created free will and allowed man to use it to reject Him.

            Furthermore, I am curious where you got your moral sense from?

            Finally, the number of extra-Biblical documents that talk directly about Jesus and affirm his existence definitely make up for Philo's silence.

          • ZenDruid

            Furthermore, I am curious where you got your moral sense from?

            The evolved human instinct that everyone shares.

          • Jon Hawkins

            I don't think so. If everyone shared it, then might we all have at least similar morals? Yet, our world is so confused that it can not even agree whether or not life is valuable.

          • ZenDruid

            I attribute the confusion to the superimposition of religious notions upon young consciousnesses that are already sufficiently acquainted with the 'Golden Rule'.

          • Jon Hawkins

            Ok, but being acquainted with the Golden Rule implies being taught. So it is not part of our instinct after all? Furthermore, we are always the subject of outside influence from religious and secular institutions alike. To say that the superimposition of religion on young people has confused our morals is purely speculative.

            Also, to say that it is part of our instinct almost makes it sound as if the more animalistic, cavemen have the better morals, since they rely more on instinct.

          • ZenDruid

            I argue from the thesis that the first year of a human child's life is spent learning important social cues, but is handicapped by the lack of communication skills. It isn't rocket science to distinguish a nice caregiver from a mean one.

          • Jon Hawkins

            "It isn't rocket science to distinguish a nice caregiver from a mean one.'

            That leaves the question of who gets to define "nice" and "mean" though. Since we are all corrupted by outside influence and can't be fully in touch with our instinct, who can say what is nice and what is mean? Who's opinion are we going to believe and how can we be sure it is even correct?

          • ZenDruid

            Are you serious?

            Nice makes Baby happy.
            Mean makes Baby cry.

          • John H. Graney

            I used to cry a lot for no apparent reason when I was a baby. I still do sometimes, in a different way, now that I am older.

            I serve Jesus and Mary.

          • geekborj

            Where is this bus going? Who is driving the bus? What compass (or map) is it using? What's the point of the bus?

          • R Golden

            "For all the points on the compass, there is but one direction. And time is its measure." -Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

          • John H. Graney

            Sir, according to your name given here, "ZenDruid," you must have two religions at least, which makes you more religious than any of us Catholics. I can certainly see where you're coming from. Two religions would certainly confuse me.

            I serve Jesus and Mary.

          • ZenDruid

            Actually, I'm a nondeterminist naturalist mechanist materialist stochastically variable logical positivist Sethian Gnostic ZenDruid. Thanks for asking.

          • John H. Graney

            That's got to be eight or nine religions.

            Incidentally I'm currently wavering between Neo-Platonist Palamist Byzantine Catholic and Thomistic Aristotelian Roman Catholic.

            I serve Jesus and Mary.

          • Seraphim

            I recommend the first one. It did wonders for my prayer life :)

          • midnightbrewer

            I live in Japan, a country that derives its moral values from Confucianism and Buddhism (a religion that predates Christianity). The former is not even a religion but a philosophy on one's social obligations to others based on their relationship and placement in society. The modern Japanese is mostly pagan (Shinto) with a smattering of Buddhist-derived rituals for good luck. Yet they are a peaceful and incredibly considerate people. No religion required for their morality.

            In the average Japanese mind, Buddha and Jesus were great men, and if they possess any godhood, it is as two among many.

          • selma

            I recall a period where the Japanese were not a peaceful and incredibly considerate people.Their murderous treatment of the Chinese in Nanking and deliberate starvation and brutalization of those who fell into their hands as prisoners of war comes to mind.

          • midnightbrewer

            If you want to talk about historical cruelties, Christianity in general and Catholicism specifically have a couple of thousand-year head-start on the Japanese. I believe Jesus said something about he being without sin casting the first stone. The Japanese have since forsworn all forms of war. How about your country?

          • selma

            Historical? Rather recent example of barbarism I'd say. There are still frail old Korean "Comfort Women" waiting for an apology for their captivity. How about those dolphins and "Whale Reasearch" expeditions. Off topic subject in any case..,

          • midnightbrewer

            You're right, it is. And an ad hominem/tu quoque attack against the Japanese doesn't excuse the hypocrisy of your argument. Also, historically speaking again, only the losers of wars are forced to apologize for their atrocities.

          • selma

            Yes the apologies only come from the losers. You have personal experience with the modern Japan. I do not. I do wonder about those game shows though.

          • quisutDeusmpc

            If "selma" is from Alabama, then I'm quite certain a U. S. citizen should be saying nothing about barbaric cruelties. The U. S. was the first country to drop the atomic bomb. After the Pearl Harbor attack (which, by the way, the Japanese military engaged in against a U. S. military post, and NOT U. S. civilian cities, housing areas, towns, etc), where approximately 2,400 servicemen were killed and 1,200 wounded, the U. S. dropped two atomic bombs, NOT on military posts, but on entire Japanese cities killing not just military members, but innocent civilians (men, women, and children, parents, and grandparents) as well as leveling most if not all of the buildings, leaving food and water contaminated with radioactive poison and killing over 100,000 in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki the 60% dying from flash burns, 30% from falling debris, and 10% from other injuries. Hardly civilized. Hardly a "proportional response". And by any definition, a "terrorist" attack, as it involved innocent men, women, and children and their food and water and homes, and not a military target.

          • Cole Pleshe

            Yes but the Americans warned the japanes prior to the bombing. Why didnt the japanese evacuate the city? Let's not also forget the extra hundreds of thousands of lives that would've been lost if the Americans had carried out the planned invasion of the islands. And in war, civilians are a primary target due to them being the motor behind the production of a whole military arsenal.

          • Miguel Adolfo.

            Japan has abandoned war because was forced to do so. Bushido, the fundament of military doctrine in Japan until the end of Second World War, was based upon Taoism and Bhudism, and taught, so to speak, to traet very badly prisioners and captures civilians.

            Sure, there are bad examples witihn Christianism, but the Far East religions -or spiritualities, if you prefer it so- don't have a lot to teach.

          • Jerry Murray

            Read the novel "Unbroken" which outlines the Japanese non-ethical treatment of WWII POWs. A friend is married to a Chinese gal - she hates the Japanese for playing games, at the time you mention, of toss the Chinese baby and catch them on bayonets - sick. Without Jesus in one's heart humans are capable of all sorts of despicable acts.

          • Fiona Deveney

            that is fine what you say- no one would doubt they are good people- but Jesus spoke about what comes after this world and so its important not to dismiss him... please would you view the rather long message I just wrote a few messages back- infact I made TWO comments- please view them, thankyou and God bless- ad by the way I like the japanse people- they always seem to have a great sense of humour aswel as good manners!! :)

          • R Golden

            That takes as big a leap of faith as believing in Jesus as the Christ.
            The evolved human instinct is still pretty much base, self-serving, and centered on survival of the self, not preservation of mankind.

          • primenumbers

            What about the argument from Josephus that the need for Christians to forge two entries shows that they thought they needed historical bolstering, because they knew their historical position was actually very week, and it also tells us that early Christians are not to be trusted when it comes to books that have passed through their hands?

          • John H. Graney

            In reply to 1), does my God exist? You say that He is 'the inventor of sin.' Well, if he doesn't exist, then who invented sin? In any case, the statement is false. God did not create sin; he allows it, in order to bring some greater good out of it.

            Sin doesn't exist!? I mean, really. All of the oppressed people aren't sinned against? If there is no sin, that means that Al-Qaida is not guilty of any sin. Are you comfortable with the statement, "al-Qaida is not guilty of any sin?" Furthermore, you accuse God of being "abusive," which is a bit silly, but even so, abuse is a sin!

            I serve Jesus and Mary.

          • ZenDruid

            Most of us can agree that there are petty crimes, serious crimes, and crimes against humanity. In a perfect world, justice would be fairly served.
            "Sin" is a red herring, as it only applies to whatever hypothetically stirs up the good old sacramental guilt&shame.
            Abusive, your god? Telling Abraham to kill his son to prove Abe's submission to him, and then saying "Just kidding"...
            Not only is your god character abusive, but every story that revolves around him seems, by default, to turn into snuff porn.

          • John H. Graney

            I certainly hope that *all* of us can agree with that.

            So do you just not like the _word_ sin? I think that most of my unbelieving friends would agree that there are things which could meaningfully be called sins. People these days don't like sins against God, like sacrilege, blasphemy, and so forth, but these aren't all of the sins. The four worst sins, the ones that cry out to heaven for vengeance, are murder, sodomy, rape, and defrauding a laborer of his just wage. Now I imagine that you don't like sodomy's inclusion in that list, but I imagine that you *would* agree that the other three are Bad Things that People Shouldn't Do. (Christians call such things sins).

            Well, they can't be snuff *porn,* can they, since they weren't written to arouse.

            I generally avoid having conversations about the Old Testament with non-Christians because the world was incredibly dark back then in a way that it's impossible for us moderns sitting in air-conditioned comfort typing on computers linked to the internet to understand. If we can't understand how dark the world was back then before Christ, we aren't going to understand what God did back then.

            I serve Jesus and Mary.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Not only is your god character abusive, but every story that revolves around him seems, by default, to turn into snuff porn.

            What I find interesting is that so many of the critics of theism, Judaism, and Christianity here scoff at people who take the Bible seriously, and then they themselves read it as if they were the most naive of fundamentalists. They are incredulous that anyone could believe biblical accounts, and then they not only take Bible stories literally, but reduce them to to a few crude details, leaving out all the complexity and sophistication, and then are outraged by their own simpleminded versions.

          • Sample1

            I don't see any weight to your objection.

            On the one hand, the Church has the very official ecumenical document, Nostra Aetate that among other things calls for inter-religious dialogue (clearly with people of faith who may interpret scriptures radically differently), and on the other hand people with naturalistic world views whose opinions about words as they appear on the page, are to be walled off from the discussion.

            Religions are organizing again, but this time under a new banner, the banner of faith. All are welcome so long as you present the faith card. You can disagree, have different rituals, have different interpretations of scripture, but as long as you have faith, we will stand with you.

            in reply to:

            They are incredulous that anyone could believe biblical accounts, and then they not only take Bible stories literally, but reduce them to to a few crude details, leaving out all the complexity and sophistication, and then are outraged by their own simpleminded versions.

            Mike

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            people with naturalistic world views whose opinions about words as they
            appear on the page, are to be walled off from the discussion . . . .

            There is no objection to people with naturalistic world views giving their interpretation of scripture. But not just any interpretation is acceptable. In interpreting the Bible (or any literature), you have to say something about the actual text, not your own crude paraphrase of it. The intent of many here, it seems to me, is to scoff at the Bible and dismiss it disdainfully as quickly as possible. Whether you believe in God or not, there is a lot more to be said about the story of Abraham and Isaac than, "Oh, what an evil God who would tell a father to sacrifice his son!" Do you think Jews and Christians both have not wrestled with the dark nature of the story? To go on and on about what a terrible God the Jewish and Christian God is without listening to what Judaism and Christianity have to say on the matter is not dialogue. It's monologue.

          • Sample1

            Whether you believe in God or not, there is a lot more to be said about
            the story of Abraham and Isaac than, "Oh, what an evil God who would
            tell a father to sacrifice his son!"

            But who among the faithful here are saying that? I think he makes a great point.

            Mike

          • Susan

            I understand your frustration there, David.
            But the trouble is that claims of the "sacred" and of "revealed truth" change the game a lot.
            We are a story telling species. When our stories venture out of the metaphorical realm and make very literal and ultimate claims about the universe, and are expected to be held above other stories, now there is a problem.
            The existence of Yahweh is a literal claim and the literal claim of Jesus as an incarnation of Yahweh to save a tiny portion of one species that is the tiniest fleck of the story of life on this planet complicates things as all literal religious claims do.
            There is no naïve fundamentalism here. Just the natural scepticism that can't help but notice that the metaphor is invoked to varying degrees to support a literal claim that is still without evidence.
            I can see the "complexity and sophistication" of Odysseus, Pandora, White Buffalo Woman and hundreds of other stories. But no one believes that they are true in any literal sense whatsoever.
            There's a difference.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I can see the "complexity and sophistication" of Odysseus, Pandora,
            White Buffalo Woman and hundreds of other stories. But no one believes
            that they are true in any literal sense whatsoever any more.

            I am not insisting that anyone believe in Abraham, Issac, or God in evaluating the story under discussion. The critics look at it as if it actually happened, and then judge it by today's standards. One plausible approach to the story is that it dates from a time when human sacrifice was simply accepted. As I recall, there is nothing in the story that indicates Isaac was a child, and also nothing that indicates Isaac wasn't aware of what was going on and wasn't a willing sacrificial victim. Also, in my opinion, no such incident took place. It is more along the lines of a parable or perhaps a legend.

            All I am saying—and I would say this to both atheists and Catholic and other Christians (especially fundamentalists) one's first approach to something in the Bible should be to look at it as ancient literature. Some may want to see it as something more, but it is not anything less just because a small percentage of people believe it is the literal truth dictated word for word by God.

          • E J Gordon

            I (up until today, Sunday 13th July) used to be a Christian although I did not go to a church, did not always read the bible, pray or even belonged to any particular denomination.

            I have found myself losing, finding and losing my faith from time to time and trying to pray for Jesus to come back into my life and for me to accept him.

            People say that when they have asked the same thing of Jesus that their lives have been changed, that they could feel his love, forgiveness, peace and presence.

            I have not....in fact I felt nothing!

            I have even asked for his help in recent job interviews to do well.

            I feel that he did not listen, does not want to know and does not care.

            People think that there is evidence of Jesus' existence.

            What I want to know is WHAT & WHERE is this evidence?

            I do not want any references to the Bible as this so-called 'Word of God' is not true at all as it was not written by the Apostles, Prophets etc. and does not even date from the 'time' of Jesus along with the fact that it was put together by men who chose and rejected certain manuscripts with testimonies to Jesus' life.

            So what if in AD 70 that the Romans destroyed Israel and Jerusalem.

            Another thing:

            So-called Relics

            Relics from Jesus' birth:

            The manger, swaddling clothes etc.

            WHERE ARE THEY?

            Relics from Jesus' crucifixion:

            The cross, nails, crown of thorns, the titulus and Jesus' robe and the spear that pierced Jesus' side.

            WHERE ARE THEY?

            So-called relics of Saints:

            How are Christians supposed to know as to whether the relics are of an actual Saint and not of a mere stranger whose remains have been altered in some way to mislead a Christian into thinking that they are looking at a body part of a Saint.

            WHERE IS THE PROOF?

            Christianity is a very deceptive, misleading and untruthful 'religion'.

            Until any person comes up with a perfectly acceptable and reasonable answer to my questions and those of other former Christians that will change my view and restore my faith, then I am sorry but Jesus is just a mythical, made up and non-existent person and therefore I no longer believe!!!

            I REST MY CASE!!!

          • BenS

            They are incredulous that anyone could believe biblical accounts, and then they not only take Bible stories literally, but reduce them to to a few crude details, leaving out all the complexity and sophistication, and then are outraged by their own simpleminded versions.

            The problem being that there is no real way to tell which bits are literal, which bits are metaphorical and which bits need additional interpretation bolted onto them to make them sensible and how much and what interpretation is needed.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Would we be better off to return to the status quo of the first millennium of Catholicism, during which the Bible was not made available in the languages of the laity and nonbelievers??

          • geekborj

            When one uses his own parameters and measures and "assess" his God, who is the true god?

            When this God deals with his People, He deals using contemporary human terms and actions. In order to "judge" how God managed his People in the ancient history, we must put ourselves in the contemporary and local culture. What was the culture then? How harsh was the act of God relative to others during that time?

            As he is the god, when God commands this, that act must be good as He is the source of all goodness. In fact, He is Goodness.

            Just as babies grow and learn how to develop morals, God allowed his People to grow from highly complaining people (with Moses) to trying-hard loving people (with Peter & Paul, present with Pope). However, if we allow morals to develop without guidance, we end up with many variations of morals many of which will end up to many people killing each other to extinction. The development must be organized, guided just as good parents do to develop their children well.

            So with Christianity, we end up preventing that self-destruction and self-driven extinction.

          • Proteios

            Aw man. For a while there you two had something almost like an intelligent discussion. In a combox, no less. I knew it was too good to be true and some intellectually lazy person would resort to mockery or name calling. Mr Druid, I'm afraid I will have to gong you.

          • geekborj

            Dear ZenDruid:
            1) God is the source of good as He is Goodness himself. As he is the god, he reserves the right (and property) to dictate which is good and which is not.

            Perhaps your judgement about our moral stance today will be deemed wrong in the next 6,000 years. Just as we judge His actions/decisions the same thousand years ago.

            2) Then both perhaps is just as unlikely (conversely, likely) as the other. But i do not see the point of leaning to the other argument.

            When a tree falls in the middle of a thick forest and nobody bothers to record it in a diary, do we conclude that the tree did not exist? Perhaps Philo did not bother to record a minority event (as viewed by him)?

          • Fiona Deveney

            hello ZenD! :) You may well be right about many many things- and I do not doubt it. The way things look to us when we look at ''christianity" - sometimes referred to as churchianity can be a pretty grim picture. Its a great shame about much of the way it is because Jesus was not trying to set up rules/ doctrines/ fear and narrow-mindedness. Sadly institutionalising goes on whereever people can get their hands on things. But Jesus tried to teach about respect and love for God and for eachother. Jesus said true followers would worship in spirit and truth ( not dogma or rules) Jesus gave us his Holy spirit and really and truely does do amazing spiritual healing works in the lives of those who ask. But Jesus lamented that so often we are not willing to go to Him and receive this eternal life. Please, DO continue to reject what is wrong about the institutiuonalised church- you are RIGHT to be so honset in your heart. But please also DO look for what is right in what Jesus said. He offered those with sincere hearts spiritual life ( that is eternal too) and He really really does physically heal people even nowadays. But grater than physical healing ( which truely goes on, check out 50- 100 claims on youtube and you will start to see that while some may be a bit kookie there really is something in this and an honest man can not just dismiss this phenomenon) is that that Jesus has restored completely broken lives - drug addicts have been INSTANTLY set free from the desire to take drugs after years of addiction, people drowning in depression have just been freed. Please dont deny or underestimate the power or existence of the spiritual. One day we will cast off our mortal coils and then we will see our spiritual selves.... Only Jesus ( who heals miraculously today) has made any promise or mention of what will come after this life. He has made a sacrifice for forgiveness and has shown us love and offered us life. If what I am saying sounds fantastic and too hard to swallow- then start with what CAN be easily verified of prooved wrong.Go to the modern claims of healing/ lives changed. drug addicts healed etc... observe the before and after of each case, the character, the whole veracity of the testimony before you make up your mind. In other words be fair and balanced in your judgement and give each case time to see the real truth.

          • severalspeciesof

            The problem with this, of course, is that an argument from silence is
            always refuted by positive arguments elsewhere. It may seem surprising
            that Philo didn't mention Jesus, but that does nothing to refuted the
            fact that several other early-century, non-Christian writers *did* write
            about Jesus (see Trent's article.)

            Except the extra-biblical sources are not early century. Josephus' Antiquities was written in 62AD... and Tacticus was written in the early 2nd Century not hardly early, and definitely not within Jesus lifetime, so one could reasonably give as much weight from the silence of Philo, plus no other contemporary writings at all, as to the voice of Josephus et.al.

            Glen

          • Jon Hawkins

            Lucian, The Talmud, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Josephus. All within the 2nd Century. Furthermore, it would be so strange for one with no interest in supporting Christianity (roman pagans) to write about Jesus as though he existed, if he did not. That just doesn't make sense to me at all.

          • Andrew G.

            Lucian and Pliny are writing about Christians, not about Jesus. Nobody doubts that Christians did exist in their time and had the beliefs they describe.

            The Talmudic sources are all late and derivative of Christian beliefs rather than representing an independent Jewish tradition regarding Jesus' existence.

          • severalspeciesof

            Why, In an age where dozens of religions abounded, most given equal weight, would they seem fit to write 'against' another religious faith?

            Glen

          • Andrew G.

            Antiquities was written about 94AD, not 62.

          • severalspeciesof

            Thanks for the correction, and it pushes my point just a bit further...

            Glen

          • primenumbers

            "It may seem surprising that Philo didn't mention Jesus, but that does nothing to refuted the fact that several other early-century, non-Christian writers *did* write about Jesus" - but Josephus didn't write about Jesus - later Christians inserted those passages (the brother passage makes no sense unless you realize the "Christ" is a later addition and is talking about a completely different James and Jesus referenced in the text above the usual quote, and neither were used by Origen in his arguments against Celsus, although he did know the works of Jospehus and quoted extensively from them to make his arguments) and that says a lot about us having any trust in works that have come to us through the hands of early Christians. Also, we know that some of the Pauline epistles are forged, there's the Comma Johanneum added later (no doubt for theological reasons), along with the longer ending of Mark that all show us that Christians had no issues tinkering with texts.

            What does make sense with regards to Josephus though is that later Christians thought it terrible that Jesus did't get a mention, so they gave him two.

          • midnightbrewer

            Mr. Vogt, you contradicted yourself. You said originally "Are you prepared to embrace the parts of Jesus' message in which he claimed to forgive sins and heal people?" Then you said only God can forgive sin.

          • Jo Jer

            God = Jesus. Blessed Trinity is the hardest thing to grasp yet the most 'basic' of the what Jesus + God + Holy Spirit embodied. Think of it like the author who wrote himself into the story... he is still him, just part of the story he is writing.

          • Max Driffill

            Joe,
            That doesn't really constitute an explanation.

          • midnightbrewer

            Then it was a poorly worded argument. The whole premise of the article was to debate whether or not Jesus actually existed and people are jumping straight to explaining the trinity? You can't have a well-reasoned argument with someone who immediately abandons reason in favor of faith. There isn't even any point in attempting to explain something which, at its root, must be accepted on faith. Disappointing. I'm comfortable in my beliefs; I have no desire to be converted or prosyletized to. I know what the trinity is and I reject it. I just wanted to know if people could prove if Jesus really existed.

          • R Golden

            Your first point is a bit in opposition to the Gospel I read, but it is definitely in alignment with the Jewish dogma of Jesus' times. Jesus himself told his disciples to forgive "seventy times seven times" and taught them to pray "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
            It would seem from Jesus' words not only can we forgive sin, we have a mandate to do so.

  • Octavo

    Pretty decent article. Jesus probably existed, and probably had a role to play in starting the Christian religion. However, it should be noted that this article only applies to the existence of Jesus, and not the truth of any of the miraculous deeds attributed to him.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      Octavo, thanks for the comment. It's a mistake to think that every article on this site aims to prove everything Catholics believe about Jesus (and/or God in general.) We need to take bits and pieces at a time. Please comment on what a particular article aims to prove instead of critiquing it for what it doesn't attempt.

      • David Egan

        But, in order for your religion to matter, the whole story has to be true. If the miracles didn't happen (and one in particular), the existence of some guy named Jesus is meaningless.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          David, I'm not sure I agree with your first sentence. I don't think Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, or atheism are completely true. But that doesn't mean they don't matter. Relevance is tied to truth but just because something isn't *completely* true doesn't mean it has no relevance.

          That said, as I replied to Octavo this article was not meant to prove "the whole story [of Catholicism] true." No single article--at least one between 500-1,000 words--can take an atheist from no belief in any divine entities to belief in the unique divinity of Jesus Christ and the truthfulness of Catholicism. You're asking us to do too much.

          That's why we've sought to prove (and discuss) each element of Catholicism piece by piece, and we think proving that Jesus existed and was crucified is fundamental to proving other things about his nature. Does that make sense?

          • David Egan

            The only thing about the Jesus story that matters is the resurrection. If that didn't happen, then the whole thing falls apart.

            For what it's worth, I doubt very seriously that Jesus ever existed but I'm willing to concede that some guy named Jesus may have been around and generated some notice since I'm sure that there were no miracles. And, without the miracles, there may as well not have been a Jesus at all.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "The only thing about the Jesus story that matters is the resurrection. If that didn't happen, then the whole thing falls apart."

            I agree if, along with St. Paul, you maintain that if Jesus was never raised from the dead, the faith of Catholics is in vain. But even if the Resurrection *didn't* happen, would that mean Jesus doesn't "matter"? Would that mean his existence has no historical relevance? What if all his miracles, healings, and teachings were true, but he just never rose from the dead? Would you then still say he doesn't matter?

            "For what it's worth, I doubt very seriously that Jesus ever existed."

            Since this very article aims to refute this belief, and offers many reasons why, please show where it is flawed.

            "[S]ince I'm sure that there were no miracles."

            I'm curious, how are you so sure? What evidence do you have that definitively proves Jesus did not perform miracles?

            "And, without the miracles, there may as well not have been a Jesus at all."

            Perhaps, I'm misunderstanding you, and if so please correct me. But are you arguing that if Jesus did *not* perform miracles, he didn't exist? If so, that would be a textbook example of a non-sequitur. For even if you could show that Jesus performed no miracles, it does not follow that he must not exist.

          • David Egan

            I'm saying that the only things that make Jesus really matter are the miracles. Without them, he was just another guy and who cares about some random guy running around the desert.

            And, I don't need to produce evidence that he didn't perform miracles. The people who claim he did these incredible things have the burden of proof and thus far there is nothing on that front. In the real world, miracles don't happen and I'm pretty comfortable that things were exactly the same 2000 years ago as they are now. You've got faith that the stories are true and that's fine but that falls way short for me.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Without them, he was just another guy and who cares about some random guy running around the desert.

            Just some random guy running around the desert who now has 2.18 billion followers around the world. Who was Buddha? Just "some fat guy"?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Actually, the buddha was probably pretty skinny. He didn't eat well. Most beggars don't.

            Who was Muhammed? Just some random guy running around the desert who now has 1+ billion followers around the world.

            Christians couldn't even convince the majority that Jesus was right - until Christianity became law.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Who was Muhammed? Just some random guy running around the desert who now has 1+ billion followers around the world.

            Are you saying Muhammed didn't exist? No matter what your opinion of Islam, Muhammed wasn't just some random guy. Buddha and Jesus weren't just random guys. Luther wasn't just some random guy.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Who was Buddha? Just "some fat guy"?

            You are confusing Buddha, the slim good looking one...

            "The Brahmin Sonadanda described him as "handsome, good-looking, and pleasing to the eye, with a most beautiful complexion. He has a godlike form and countenance, he is by no means unattractive."(D,I:115)."

            With Budai, the "fat guy" with the baldy napper.

            "Budai is traditionally depicted as an obese, bald man wearing a robe and wearing or otherwise carrying prayer beads. He carries his few possessions in a cloth sack, being poor but content."

            I only mention it because like some of the misconceptions on this thread, I get referred to as the former when I resemble the later. }80)~

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Was there a real, historical Buddha? Was there a real, historical Muhammad?

          • Ignorant Amos

            Was there a real, historical Buddha?

            I'm sure I couldn't say either way having read very little on the subject, but I am open to persuasion either way based on evidence or the lack thereof.

            Was there a real, historical Muhammad?

            Yes.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So I predict that if we all stick to the topic there won't be very much discussion in regard to this post, since it is so reasonable to assume Jesus Christ existed and was crucified.

            The real discussion will be begin with on what historical grounds do we have to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. At least, that's my prediction.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Kevin, I wish that were true. Unfortunately, as this very comment box discussion suggests, there are plenty of people who still deny Jesus actually existed, or that he was crucified.

            I wish these two basic and historically defensible facts were something all Catholics and atheists could agree on so that we could move on to more important and interesting matters.

          • Octavo

            I agree with this 100%.

          • primenumbers

            It's not so much denial, but that the argument brought forth (such as the argument 3) above) don't actually prove the cast at all leaving serious doubt.

          • Jon Hawkins

            Yes, but we can not holistically be sure that any ancient figure actually existed. We just have to look at the evidence and determine whether or not there is any reason to doubt. Based on the amount of evidence, Biblical and extra-Biblical, that supports his existence, I would assert that those who deny him have some reason for not wanting him to exist.

          • primenumbers

            " I would assert that those who deny him have some reason for not wanting him to exist." - and those that believe have a vastly stronger motivation to show existence. As 4) in the article notes, the standard historical position is one of a human Jesus that wasn't God and didn't do miracles. The atheist can happily accept that default position, whereas the Christian can not. Indeed there is vastly stronger motivation for Christians to show deity than for atheists to show myth as we have the default historical position (even after nearly 2000yrs of Christianity) on our side.

            There is no extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus, just evidence for early believing Christians of which we do not doubt they existed. That you can turn evidence for believing Christians (and due to the extra-Biblical evidence not being contemporary, those believers would not actually themselves have ever met Jesus) into evidence for Jesus is non sequitur.

            To suggest Biblical evidence is to suggest that Christians can be unbiassed in their reports of the birth of their religion, and as we today have to deal with apologists when they either over-exaggerate historical evidence or flat out lie, we can hardly think that early anonymous non-contemporary Christians (as in the writers of the Gospels) were telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth can we? Because if we were to believe what religious writers tell us, we'd be Mormons or Muslims or.... Wouldn't we?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            the standard historical position is one of a human Jesus that wasn't God and didn't do miracles

            Historians don't affirm miracles. It would never be the position of historians that Jesus was God. And historians wouldn't say Jesus wasn't God. They would give an account of what the followers of Jesus believed. So a consensus of historians that Jesus existed is meaningful. But claiming that historians said Jesus was just a man, not divine, isn't true and would not have any bearing on the question of the divinity of Jesus one way or the other.

          • primenumbers

            So if historically we're unable to show miraculous events, historically we cannot show the kind of Jesus that Christians need to have existed actually did exist.... What we're left with is the fait of Christians and no historical argument for Christianity.

            Actually we could show miracles - we could have good cross-globe attestation of when the whole sky went dark, the earthquakes, the saints rising from their graves etc. etc. but for some strange reason (yeah, right, no strange reason at all - they didn't happen) we have no contemporary historical account of them at all.

          • Jon Hawkins

            "Actually we could show miracles - we could have good cross-globe attestation of when the whole sky went dark, the earthquakes, the saints rising from their graves etc. etc."

            Lourdes, France has produced 67 miracles deemed "remarkable" by both religious and secular institutions. Medical miracles that have no explanation at all with loads of credible (and recent!) evidence.

          • primenumbers

            No secular body confirms Lourdes miracles. Medical "miracles" are a joke anyway. People are routinely mis-diagnosed and get better for no apparent reason so there's no way to actually determine a true miracle short of an amputee growing their limbs back.

            What at best you have is a religious person claiming a miracle and the best a doctor can say is "we dunno", which is not them confirming a miracle but being very honest.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Something went wrong at Lourdes...a flood was sent.

          • Max Driffill

            Jon,

            How many people visit Lourdes every year? According to Wikipedia, it is multiple millions. People have been visiting Lourdes to be healed since 1858. Probably not in the millions. but lots. 68 "confirmed" miracles, by which the medical board simply meant inexplicable recovery from illness. This out of 7000 who wanted their cases examined by the Lourdes Medical Bureau. But miracle is a ridiculous thing to say.

            Sometimes people heal from diseases we cannot be sure why in all cases though often, depending on the disease we can note the percentage of cases that will remiss. Given the quantity of people who visit Lourdes each year, a small percentage will get better. Consider again how many millions of people visit every year, so perhaps, over the years many hundreds of millions in total. and only 68 confirmed miracles? Seriously, this is just garden variety variation in disease processes. It must always be noted that disease processes which are unlikely to get better are every reported among these miracles. No one ever gets a new limb, or organ. This is not compelling evidence.

          • Andrew G.

            And of those 68 "recognized miracles", how many occurred in the past 50 years?

            Four.

            (Don't be misled by the recent dates of recognition given on the English-language website. Look at the dates on the original French version.)

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Why "confirm" only 68 out of thousands? If they're up to no good, they should "confirm" anyone who believes he or she has been miraculously cured.

          • severalspeciesof

            I'm not sure Max's take on the confirmation of the 68 miracles is because of some mischief, but then I can't speak for him, so I'll speak for myself. I am fairly certain that the miracles are definitively of such a state that they are believed as yet 'unexplainable" but because of the idea of 'miracle' they are laid at that doorstep... Had these cases been with unbelievers and not at Lourdes, they wouldn't be regarded as miracles (most likely) but a 'we don't know what happened.'...

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Well, if you insist that miracles don't happen, then even if you are wrong and a miracle happens right under your nose, you will classify it as "unexplained but not a miracle." And you will still confidently insist that miracles never happen.

            I would imagine just about anyone here who is firmly convinced that miracles don't happen can think up something that they would have to concede was miraculous. If I were to predict here (correctly) that the first initials of the next 427 winners of the PowerBall Jackpot would spell out, in order, the words of Psalm 23 as it appears in the NIV (t, h, e, l, o, r, d, i, s, m, y, s, h, e, p, h, e, r, d, . . . f, o, r, e, v, e, r), I don't think anyone would say it could be explained naturally.

          • Susan

            We are talking about millions and millions of people who go looking for a miracle and for the tiniest, tiniest percentage, something unexplainably positive happens.

            It would be useful to compare those numbers with the percentage of unexplainably positive things that happen when people don't go looking for medical miracles. Also, to understand the nature of each specific case (I admit I don't) and factor in the power of the placebo effect, although that's secondary, but should not be underestimated if applicable to that condition.

            I'm interested in the percentage of lab rats with cancer that go into remission for no explicable reason, for instance.

            A tiny percentage of millions and millions is a much different scenario than you predicting Psalm 23 in Powerball Jackpot winners. Even that COULD happen without it being a miracle. But I'll admit, it would impress the hell out of me. :-)

          • severalspeciesof

            I don't think anyone would say it could be explained naturally.

            Not so fast. ;-) ;-) ;-)

            The miracle would be this part: "predict ...the first initials of the next 427 winners".

            If that did happen, my eyebrows would certainly help fill in my receding hairline, but then I predict it's not going to happen ;-)

          • Sample1

            Can I ask you a question? How does my lack of faith harm anyone? And then, if you would be so kind as to return the favor, please ask me if faith harms anyone.

            Mike

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I am not sure what point of mine (if any) you are addressing. My point is that I don't think it is reasonable to believe that miracles cannot occur in principle. I think it's quite reasonable to believe they almost certainly do not occur. I think it is quite reasonable, when faced with an alleged miracle, to look for every possible natural explanation before accepting it is a miracle. I also think it is reasonable in almost any circumstance that I can think of that actually has occurred to say, "I can't explain it, but I don't believe it is a miracle." What I am saying, though, is that I think everyone can think up a scenario of something happening that is so wildly improbable or impossible that if such a thing occurred, they would say, "Well, I never believed in miracles, but that's a miracle."

            Briefly put, if anyone, theist or atheist, claims that absolutely no evidence, no matter how overwhelming, could change their position, they are being closed minded. That doesn't mean it is closed minded to set the bar very high when it comes to proof of a miracle. But to set it so high that there is no evidence at all that can change your mind means that ultimately, you don't believe in the concept of evidence.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I don't doubt for a minute that Jesus existed, and I suspect (perhaps unfairly) that people who doubt, or disbelieve in, the existence, ministry, and crucifixion of Jesus simply want not to believe, or want to annoy believers by claiming not to believe. The fact that, as the article says, "there is no serious debate among the vast majority of scholars in the fields related to the question of the existence of Jesus" should be reasonably compelling to any but those who have done their own in-depth research and can make a good argument why mainstream secular historians are mistaken.

            However, the big question is how much of the "real" Jesus are we getting from the Gospels and other New Testament documents.

            It seems to me as pointless to debate the existence of Jesus as it is to debate geocentrism versus heliocentrism. However, since the latter goes on here, I imagine the former will too!

            Of course Jesus existed. The question is how much we can know about the "historical" Jesus from the New Testament.

          • David Egan

            "Of course Jesus existed."

            This has been the default position forever but, thankfully, more and more qualified historians are taking a look. And, more than a few are not as sure as you. There will never be an answer to this question but the scant evidence we have makes "Of course Jesus existed" a questionable position.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            more and more qualified historians are taking a look.

            Who are they? Where are they publishing? I'm not saying you're wrong. I am just unaware of these people you mention.

          • primenumbers

            Not least most of western historians that have studied the subject are believing Christians or at the very least living in a Christian culture where the existence of Jesus has hardly ever been questioned. Much of the historical methods used seem to be rather poor....(see Carrier)

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            David, would you agree though that in light of the mythicist phenomenon, it makes sense to defend and solidify Jesus' existence before discussing who he was or what he did?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I suppose, although I suspect most people on this site who claim to be skeptical regarding the very existence of Jesus as a historical figure are impervious to arguments that he did, in fact, exist. Open minds, particularly on these topics, are rare. I'd like to think I have one, but it is very difficult to know!

            I would love to see something on this site about metacognition. I think that's the right word. I highly recommend Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz. She has a very entertaining TED talk, also.

          • JoFro

            You are a braver and more patient man than I!

            Seriously, half the people on the comments section seemed to have not actually read the article and what you were arguing about before they started posting comments refuting what you never claimed!

          • primenumbers

            "Of course Jesus existed" - I think that's a statement that goes beyond the evidence. I think there's no enough evidence to really know for sure with any degree of reasonable certainty.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I don't doubt for a minute that Jesus existed, and I suspect (perhaps unfairly) that people who doubt, or disbelieve in, the existence, ministry, and crucifixion of Jesus simply want not to believe, or want to annoy believers by claiming not to believe.

            Yep, unfairly. I'm interested in what we can prove with evidence. The supernatural aspects of the story are just that, supernatural. Historians can't, and don't make claims on such things.

            The fact that, as the article says, "there is no serious debate among the vast majority of scholars in the fields related to the question of the existence of Jesus" should be reasonably compelling to any but those who have done their own in-depth research and can make a good argument why mainstream secular historians are mistaken.

            The point about that is that there is a serious debate going on.

            Mythicism isn't a modern phenomenon by any means, but new approaches to how the historical method is approached is telling us stuff previously not available or disregarded.

            Check out the debate between Richard Carrier and Bart D Ehrman, both of whom I respect as scholars in the field, on Ehrmans book, " Did Jesus Exist?"

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1794

      • Octavo

        I thought it was in the scope of the discussion to clarify what "Jesus existed" really means. If you'd prefer not to discuss that, that's fine. There's not a whole lot to discuss about this article since it seems to represent the consensus of historians.

    • JoFro

      Yay! An atheist who finally got the freakin' point of this article!

      Checking out the other comments posted by atheists made me wonder about their reading comprehension skills!

  • Meta-N

    I'd like to point out that there is no Jesus in the K-12 public school history books. I asked my kids about this and they replied, "Dad, there's no Jesus, just early Christians in the history books". During the parent teacher conference, the 8th grade history teacher confirmed that Jesus probably wasn't a real historical person. I wasn't at all shocked by this, I had come to the same conclusion after reading the "Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam" by Michel Onfray

    Next on my reading list is "Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus" by Richard Carrier. This scholarly book weighs the evidence, and concludes that Jesus probably isn't historical.

    • David Egan

      Carrier won't really tackle the meat of the Jesus issue until his follow up book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ (it's in peer review now and should come out later this year). That said, Proving History is a worthwhile read.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "[T]he 8th grade history teacher confirmed that Jesus probably wasn't a real historical person. I wasn't at all shocked by this, I had come to the same conclusion"

      Considering Trent's article above, perhaps you can explain how each of his four points are flawed? Or how you arrived at the conclusion that Jesus probably didn't exist?

    • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

      I'd like to point out that there is no Jesus in the K-12 public school history books.

      The public school history books? There are a great many publishers for the K-12 market, and maybe some of the books don't mention Jesus. I kind of doubt it, though. I think you need to document your assertion. There are states like Texas that are pretty conservative about what textbooks they adopt. I simply don't believe there is no mention of Jesus in the Texas K-12 history curriculum.

      As Q. Quine says, "Got evidence?"

      By the way, not to knock elementary school teachers, but if you really wanted to know something about history, would you go to an 8th grade history teacher as an expert?

    • Ignorant Amos

      I recommend RC's book...I'm patiently awaiting the second part due out this Autumn.

  • primenumbers

    4) the mainstream historian position is also that Jesus wasn't a deity. If you ascribe to the historical position of academics they don't say anything to support the religious aspects of Jesus. That said, the evidence they have to go on that there was a Jesus is basically "not very much", and nothing from outside Christianity.

    3) Extra-biblical sources don't confirm Jesus even in the best possible readings of them. The confirm the existence of Christians and early Christianity, of which we have no doubt. The dismissal of criticism of Josephus as just something from mythicists doesn't do justice to the strong arguments why both mentions are forged, not least those mentions would have been superb for Origen to use in his arguments against Celsus, yet of course although he has a copy of Josephus and quotes from him, he never mentions these two passages.

    "But this view neglects the fact that writers in the ancient world did not use footnotes and would often wander into unrelated topics in their writings" - who cares about other writers in this context? You need to show that Jospephus would regularly do this in the books in question. To suggest other writers would put in un-related sections is a poor rationalization.

    Remember, even at best reading the words in Josephus don't show a real historical Jesus, and given some degree of forgery it proves that Christian scribes untrustworthy.

    That you think the shorter passage is "brother of Christ" is not a complete interpolation cannot be justified when you read the entire passage in context as with the "Christ" added it literally makes no sense. You need a stronger argument than one from a believing Christian authority here.

    2) why attack mythicism here when it's Jesus as deity you must defend? In 4) above historians think of Jesus as Jewish Rabbi (or whatever) with no magical powers.

    1) 5 words from early Christian believers is not much to go on, especially when we don't have access to original documents, just later copies that all have known transcription errors and interpolations in them.

  • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

    Here's a thought (well, two, actually) that might be legitimately spun off from this excellent post:
    1. For any "doubters" of the historicity of Jesus--would such doubters likewise also doubt the historical existence of the dozen or more "false messiahs" of Judaism that history also records? Why doubt only the historicity of *Jesus of Nazareth*? Only because he succeeded on a large scale while the others failed on a large scale? Doesn't seem very objective.
    2. For any who accept the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth but also deny His identity as Messiah--how ought the "success" of Jesus-as-Messiah be explained when compared to the multiple failures of others who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah? Why did He succeed where the others didn't?

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      1. In general, historians don't. False messiahs show up all the time, in Judaism and in other faiths.

      2. Success is not evidence of truth: otherwise we'd have to admit that the mormons are on to something. That Muhammed was a speaking truth, etc.

      • primenumbers

        Mormonism shows truth isn't needed for a prophet/messiah/religious leader to succeed.

        For doubt of the historicity of Jesus we have reasonable grounds for doubt, in that what evidence we have is all from and through believers (and nothing contemporary) and nothing comes from the contemporary historical record. So what we have is very reasonable grounds for reasonable doubt. We don't have to adopt a mythicist position but we can say that in all honesty we really don't know and that there's not really enough good evidence for anyone to actually know. What Christians do is fill in the gap between doubt and their certainty with faith.

        • ZenDruid

          We also have reasonable grounds to doubt the existence of Socrates, seeing as he didn't write a word. This is not snark, btw, but a valid skeptical approach.

          • primenumbers

            Exactly. To deny there are reasonable grounds to think that maybe a religious figure that's only attested to exist in religious texts from anonymous non-comptemporary religious believers is to rather deny how history works and to engage in strong confirmation bias.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            I have Robert E. Van Voorst's book, and recommend it. Just a few non-Christian mentions of Jesus in the historical, non-canonical documents (I think I have these right):

            Pliny the Younger (61-113 A.D) mentions Christ.
            Suetonius (70-140 A.D) mentions "Chrestus".
            Tacitus (56-120 A.D) mentions Christ, and the execution by Pilate.
            Mara bar Serapion (73 A.D) mentions the "wise king" killed by the Jews for the new laws he laid down.
            Lucian of Samosata (115-200 A.D) writes of "the man in Palestine who was crucified because he brought this new form of initiation into the world."

            There's more.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            What do these mean? That Roman historians were reporting about a new religious cult and what little they knew about its claims? Unfortunately, they don't constitute evidence of anything other than what folks were saying about christians at the time.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            No it's evidence about what people were saying about Christ.

          • primenumbers

            Yes, it's evidence that there were Christians that believed as Christians do - none of which is in doubt, and it tells us nothing about the truth of those beliefs.

          • BenS

            Would that be a bit like all the current newspaper stories that exist about scientology later being used to prove the existence of Xenu?

            They only really show the existence of a group called scientologist and they believe in the existence of Xenu, they don't show the existence of Xenu?

          • primenumbers

            Xenu is real I tell you, real! And of course, the stories on scientology don't come out and say "and of course, thetans, xenu etc are not real, just in case you got the wrong idea" because they don't have to - they just describe the scientology story and the reader knows it's not real because it's ludicrous.

          • primenumbers

            None of these mentions are in any way useful to show a real Jesus existed though - they all just show Christians existed who knew the standard Christian stories.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Is the only evidence that constitutes that a person existed purported writings of that person? That doesn't make any sense.

          • primenumbers

            No, that's just a good example of good evidence. The problem with Jesus is all we have comes from believing Christians, and it's not as if Christians have never lied to spread their faith, or that religious people in general have never told wild stories to spread their faith. We also know that Bible texts were altered (forged, or "interpolated" is the polite way of saying it) thus we know that truth was a problem for them.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I've read all of these. They're about the group, christians, not about the man, Jesus. They deal with social trends (well, except maybe Serapion).

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            They specifically mention Christ.

          • primenumbers

            But none of them were in a position to know anything about a real Christ, just know about Christians and what they believe.

          • Jon Hawkins

            Yes, but the fact that they affirm his existence shows how widely accepted Jesus' reality was. I think, based on the evidence, I can say Jesus' existence was practically undoubted by non-Christians in the first century.

          • primenumbers

            No they don't affirm the existence of Jesus, but that Christians believed Jesus existed. That's not the same thing at all.

            Um, we really don't have enough historical evidence to suggest that the existence of Jesus was not doubted. I mean I'm sure there's lots of things that historians of today doubt that hence don't warrant a mention. Remember the period of history we're talking about was when nobody knew the size the Christian religion would become as it was oh-so-tiny and hardly even worth a mention.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            They mention christ in the context of the religious group they are discussing. They're not dealing with christ as a specific person. Please check the actual passages involved. F'r instance, Tacitus: "Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind"

            He's not really discussing jesus - he's commenting on the great fire of Nero and the group that was blamed for it.

            Mind you, I'm of the opinion that jesus was real - just grossly misunderstood.

          • Andrew G.

            I also recommend it, for two reasons: firstly it's a good reference for all the sources claimed for Jesus' historicity; and secondly, it's an excellent example of how credulous the historicist arguments can get.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Exactly. One could DOUBT anyone. Even you. Even me. Especially me. ;-)

            The questions are, what's the simpler explanation, and what's a reasonable level of doubt?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Your analogy would work if Joseph Smith was mythical, but he was not. You are saying a real person could be a fraud and his followers could believe that fraud.

          It's not true we have no contemporary evidence. We have Tacitus and Josephus just from this post.

          • Andrew G.

            Misplaced analogy - the comparison isn't with Smith=Jesus, but with Smith=Paul and Moroni=Jesus.

          • primenumbers

            "It's not true we have no contemporary evidence. We have Tacitus and Josephus." -neither were contemporary and neither had it in their position to know if there was a real Jesus. At best they're reporting what believing Christians believe (and hence show evidence, not that we need any, for early Christianity). That Jospehus was forged (most likely) by Christians is actually evidence against a historical Jesus, or at the very least it shows that anything that comes to us through the filter of early Christianity is strongly suspect (along with all the interpolations they did to the Bible texts, the fake Pauls etc.)

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            They're not contemporary, and they're not evidence of Christ's existence. They're evidence of the existence of christians.

        • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

          Did Paul of Tarsus exist? What evidence do we have apart from "Christians" who believed in him?
          Did the Sanhedrin and HIgh Priests who first hired Paul (and then persecuted him) exist? Do we have evidence?
          If Jesus really did not exist, then why would the Jewish authorities first depute Paul to eradicate Christians--and then deput others to eradicate *Paul*--without *ever* once asserting that Jesus did not exist?
          Why are there no Jewish records in the first few centuries after Christ that assert Jesus never really existed?
          All the *Jewish* evidence indicates that the whole cast of primary characters featured in the Gospels interacting with Jesus and eventually crucifying Him did exist and spent a lot of energy on Him. All that is supposedly false?

          • Andrew G.

            The Jewish records in no way indicate that any Jewish authority spent so much as one second dealing with Jesus. Where are you getting this idea from?

            (The Talmud is late and is a response to Christian claims of its time, not a preservation of Jewish records.)

            More significantly, what would anyone, Jewish or pagan, have to gain by arguing that Jesus didn't exist? How would they be expected to prove their case? They would have had no access to any evidence capable of casting any serious doubt on the stories promulgated by Christians, and in an environment where magical and miraculous feats are taken seriously, it makes more sense for them to argue, as for instance Celsus does, that Jesus was a common-or-garden sorcerer rather than that he did not exist at all.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            The "Jewish evidence" I'm referring to is to the coherent belief *within* Judaism that Jesus really existed and was tried by Jewish authorities. There is not a shred of evidence from Jewish sources suggesting Jesus didn't exist.
            Would you also claim that we should doubt the existence of Rabbis Hillel and Shammai? What evidence do we have of their existence? What about Gamaliel? Did he exist? Why single out the Rabbi Yeshua?

          • David Egan

            I'd say that the fact that Josephus failed to mention Jesus in a very prominent and contemporary Jewish history is compelling evidence that Jesus didn't exist or, at the least, was so insignificant that he wasn't worth the ink.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            Uh, Josephus did *not* "fail" to mention Jesus. He *did* mention him. He also seems to have mentioned John the Baptist. Did John the Baptist exist?

          • David Egan

            No, he did not mention Jesus. The two references in the text are obvious later insertions.

          • primenumbers

            And indeed that Christians felt the need to doctor historical texts to insert Jesus doesn't bode well for historicity.

          • Andrew G.

            Why would any early Jewish source claim that someone didn't exist? Lots of people never exist.

            The only reason to do so would be after a claim became widespread that he did exist, and by that time there would be no evidence available to base such a claim on.

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com/ Jim Russell

            In the case of Jesus, this makes little or no sense to me, as the claim from the very beginning was that, not only did He exist, but that He ended up RE-existing--the Resurrection...
            From the very earliest beginnings of Christianity as a belief in a *resurrected* Messiah, the simplest and most *convincing* "real-time" argument against all those original believers in a "risen Lord" would have been to point out the blatantly obvious to everyone even remotely *considering* whether to become Christian--"Uh, hey, Lucius--there *isn't* any 'Jesus of Nazareth,' so how could he rise from the dead?!" would have been how the conversations would have gone anywhere in Jerusalem or Judea pre-70 AD.
            Christianity would have been literally dead on arrival if Jesus had never really existed....
            Existence is usually a pre-requirement for those individuals founding any religion--even when the individuals are subjected to wild or exaggerated claims later on.

          • Andrew G.

            You're really not getting this. Suppose someone did actually make that argument - the Christian would just respond that Jesus appeared to all these witnesses (none of whom are conveniently available for questioning) so obviously he did exist. What evidence is the pagan able to produce to refute this claim? [ETA for clarity: we know that the Christian is propagating a legend, just like modern friend-of-a-friend urban legends, but the pagan contemporary doesn't have the background knowledge to make this argument.]

            As for this conversation taking place before 70AD - even as late as 100AD there were, by the best available evidence, not more than around 10,000 Christians most of whom were outside Judea. The chances of any argument about the existence of Jesus coming to the attention of any significant Jewish scholar during that time were almost nil.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I think the mistake Christians (and Christian critics) often make is that Jesus was important and famous in his lifetime, and that all the events in the Gospels took place (or are believed to have taken place) on a grand scale—as if all of Jerusalem was paying attention to Jesus, took sides over his trial, and witnessed (or heard about) his execution. But I think it gives a sense of how wrong this idea is that John P. Meier's huge and not-yet-completed study of the historical Jesus is titled A Marginal Jew. Christianity started out very small, and the life of Jesus was not lived on such an epic scale that it is a mystery that there were no writings about him other than by his followers. That is why the Christian apologists' argument is so ludicrous (forgive me!) that the story of Jesus must be true otherwise people at the time would have contradicted it. Few at the beginning were even paying attention. But that in no way implies that Jesus did not exist.

          • primenumbers

            "the simplest and most *convincing* "real-time" argument against all those original believers in a "risen Lord" would have been to point out the blatantly obvious to everyone even remotely *considering* whether to become Christian"
            - you're repeating the naysayer argument. It doesn't work today, and wouldn't have worked back then. What you should be looking at is the psychology of belief and why people believe in all manner of things despite good defeating evidence readily available, and not just in the area of religion, but in all areas. Maybe if you'd spent time trying to show people their religion was false you'd know that facts don't matter, logic and reason don't matter. There's no evidence to show defeating facts work today, hence no reason to suspect it would have been any different back before there was an internet, photography, videos and easy and access to an absolute tonne of good factual information. Even today you just need to look at the growth of Mormonism and Scientology to understand that facts have nothing to do with it.

          • Ignorant Amos

            In the case of Jesus, this makes little or no sense to me,...

            That is the argument from incredulity.

            ...as the claim from the very beginning was that, not only did He exist, but that He ended up RE-existing--the Resurrection.

            Yes, you got it in one..the "CLAIM"...like Joseph Smith's claim to have been visited by a couple of good looking angels...like Mohammad claimed the angel Gabriel sent a winged horse to fly him to a meeting with Allah...like Ron L. Hubbard claimed that we are all infested with the souls of Thetans...and the Irish folklore claims that Fionn mac Cumhaill was a Celtic warrior that as a giant, built the Giants Causeway as a bridge between Ulster and Scotland.

            From the very earliest beginnings of Christianity as a belief in a *resurrected* Messiah, the simplest and most *convincing* "real-time" argument against all those original believers in a "risen Lord" would have been to point out the blatantly obvious to everyone even remotely *considering* whether to become Christian--"Uh, hey, Lucius--there *isn't* any 'Jesus of Nazareth,' so how could he rise from the dead?!" would have been how the conversations would have gone anywhere in Jerusalem or Judea pre-70 AD.

            Ignorance is bliss. You are making a lot of assumptions. The earliest known writing on the subject is Paul. He was apocalyptic in his message, he only needed the story, not any actual event. You don't believe Mo had a flying horse do you? No, he just needed the story. You don't believe Smith had two angels, the gold tablets, a magic hat and some spectacular seeing spectacles? No. One just needs a fabricated story and a small audience susceptible to said story. It has been played out many times, yet for none of the other performances will you give credence.

            Christianity would have been literally dead on arrival if Jesus had never really existed....

            Yet many of the worlds religions manage and have manged to have really existed in spite of this scenario. Unless you are suggesting it took the existence of all those other supernatural entities claimed by all those other religions you find extremely ridiculous to believe in, in order to have existed.

            Existence is usually a pre-requirement for those individuals founding any religion--even when the individuals are subjected to wild or exaggerated claims later on.

            No it isn't, it just isn't. The popular Roman military religion of Mithraism which existed in parallel during the first 4 centuries of Christianity is a point in question.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mithraic_mysteries

          • primenumbers

            "There is not a shred of evidence from Jewish sources suggesting Jesus didn't exist." - and not a contemporary shred that he did.

          • primenumbers

            So we can have some small doubts about Paul, not least that Christians forged letters in his name. However, you're Christians not Paulians, him just being the earliest Christian writer.

            "Did the Sanhedrin and HIgh Priests who first hired Paul (and then persecuted him) exist? " - we have stories about this. What reason do we have to think the stories true? What do we have other than stories?

            "If Jesus really did not exist, then why would the Jewish authorities first depute Paul to eradicate Christians-" - because Christianity doesn't need either a real existing Jesus or a truly divine miracle working Jesus to exist, just stories and imagination.

            "few centuries after Christ that assert Jesus never really existed" - why would they expect them to? Do we expect modern Jews to repudiate Xenu and the existence of thetans? Jews of the time would also only have to repudiate a true miracle worker, a true Messiah.

            "All that is supposedly false?" - well you have no evidence to show it's true outside of non-contemporary anonymous Christian writers so why would we expect such religious writings to be true any more that we expect the later writings about Muhammed to be true, or the stories of Joseph Smith?

    • Andre Boillot

      "how ought the "success" of Jesus-as-Messiah be explained when compared to the multiple failures of others who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah? Why did He succeed where the others didn't?"

      I suppose this brings up how much influence you think one of the largest empires in history adopting Christianity as it's state religion had.

  • severalspeciesof

    IMO, the mythicists wouldn't say that belief in the 'man' Jesus is unreasonable, but that their take is to be against using those reasons as a foundation of 'Truth' (capital 'T') since other reasons do exist, and that they obviously feel are 'better' reasons...

    Glen

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Do we have better historical evidence for the existence of Socrates than of Christ?

    • ZenDruid

      No we don't. Neither wrote anything; both had loyal followers; both had conflicting stories told of them; and both had an ending which indicated their submission to a social contract, to wit, if a group offends the authorities, kill the leaders and leave the followers alone.

      • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

        Don't forget that much was passed down orally back then too. There is plenty of testimony in writing that much was handed on in that way.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          Unfortunately, oral histories tend to me fairly unreliable.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        So, do you also seriously doubt the existence of Socrates?

        • ZenDruid

          His message exists, for what it's worth. He was a springboard for a plethora of philosophical schools, and the question of whether he existed in person is not the salient one. What is important is the philosophical legacy.

          I understand that Laotse is in a similar situation, the Wise Ancient who was possibly given credit for the work of several philosophers.

    • Andrew G.

      Yes.

      For Socrates we have the works of two pupils (Plato and Xenophon) and a contemporary parody (Aristophanes' The Clouds).

      To argue that Socrates did not exist would require an alternative hypothesis, for example that he was a fictional philosopher-archetype. The problems with this theory are various: there is no evidence of such a thing being common at the time (whereas Jesus fits into a common trope of his time); Socrates is historicized by his pupils (Plato refers to Socrates' trial and his reaction to Aristophanes' parody) whereas Jesus is historicized not by his direct pupils, arguably not even by Paul who only saw him in a vision, but by the Gospel writers who are separated from the action by both time and geography; the Greek writers had no strong reason to historicize a mythical Socrates; and so on.

      Also, nobody much cares what Socrates said other than from the point of view of tracing the development of Greek philosophy. It's widely accepted that most of what Plato attributes to Socrates is actually Plato's own words.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Others here have rejected all evidence that comes from Jesus' followers. Shouldn't we reject the evidence that came from Socrates' followers, too?

        • ZenDruid

          Depends. I would reject the 'evidence' of those followers who rape, pillage and plunder in his name.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Are you making the claim that the apostles and disciples and their followers raped, pillaged, and plundered or are you just making inflammatory statements?

          • ZenDruid

            I'm talking about the people who took their zeal to the extreme.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            People don't rape, pillage, and plunder out of religious zeal. They do it out of lust, hatred, and greed!

          • ZenDruid

            Yeah, there's a lot of that about. They just need an excuse.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Really? Wiping out the Amalekites for god doesn't count as rape, pillage, and plunder out of religious zeal?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Jesus' followers live in 1000 B.C.?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I didn't say jesus, now did I?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Are you saying you believe the story of King Saul and the Amalekites from the Bible? You think God personally ordered the slaughter of the Amalekites, and the Israelite army carried it out? Shouldn't we be consistent in terms of what we believe to be historical and not historical in the Bible?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Inasmuch as I am an atheist, no, I don't believe god personally ordered anything. I merely offer a document which purportedly shows people committing violence in the name of god.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I'd say he is making his animus against Christianity clear, and that animus probably accounts for his aggressive skepticism. I think the reasonable assumption is that Jesus existed, and at least some of his teachings are to be found in Christian documents. By the criteria being set out for the existence of Jesus, we have reason to doubt the existence of any number of historical persons whose existence no one would think to question.

          • Susan

            Who?

          • ZenDruid

            Me. ;-)>

          • primenumbers

            "By the criteria being set out for the existence of Jesus, we have reason to doubt the existence of any number of historical persons whose existence no one would think to question" - demonstrate this assertion.

            What other comparable historical figure is there that lacks contemporary historical documentation and what little we do know comes from later anonymous believers?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            By "comparable historical figure" do you mean another (alleged) historical person who currently has 2 billion followers?

          • primenumbers

            It's not the followers that matter to history, it's that, as I state above "lacks contemporary historical documentation and what little we do know comes from later anonymous believers".

          • Max Driffill

            David
            Not really. We simply don't have great records for the existence of Jesus. We certainly have no reason to believe any of the miraculous stories that surround Jesus.

            In any event, I think there are some decent textual reasons found in the Gospels to suspect that an apocalyptic preacher like Jesus existed. But none of this justifies any conclusion of deity, or supernatural explanations.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            But none of this justifies any conclusion of deity, or supernatural explanations.

            My position is that it is perfectly reasonable to believe that someone named Jesus existed, had a group of followers, said and did some of the things reported in the Gospels, was crucified, and whose family and followers continued to revere after his death in a movement that became Christianity. There were evidently followers of Jesus, and the reasonable conclusion is that the person they followed was real. I am not asserting that anything miraculous took place (though I wouldn't rule it out entirely), and as you can see from some of my other messages, I don't accept claims that the New Testament documents were written by eyewitnesses. Exactly how much we can know about Jesus is an open question, but I think it is overly skeptical to doubt he didn't exist at all. That such a cult (and I don't mean that as a pejorative) grew up around a person who didn't actually exist seems more improbable to me than that there was an actual person behind it all.

          • Max Driffill

            David,
            On the question of whether a person named Jesus existed, I think you and I are largely in agreement. I think we can safely reject them miracle claims, because there simply no evidence for them.

            However, I think the evidence for the existence of Jesus (apocalyptic preacher) is still fairly thin, and doesn't tell us much about the historical character.

          • Ignorant Amos

            My position is that it is perfectly reasonable to believe that someone named Jesus existed, had a group of followers, said and did some of the things reported in the Gospels, was crucified, and whose family and followers continued to revere after his death in a movement that became Christianity. There were evidently followers of Jesus, and the reasonable conclusion is that the person they followed was real.

            There is, and has been throughout history, people who
            believe fictional characters in stories as if real.

            Among the Brits...

            1. King Arthur – 65%
            2. Sherlock Holmes – 58%
            3. Robin Hood – 51%
            4. Eleanor Rigby – 47%
            5. Mona Lisa - 35%

            Have a look in Meinong's jungle for the fanciful.

            Fictional characters get huge followings.

            As I've said, A.C.Doyle believed in fairies. Ironically, his fictional character does rather well...

            "More than Half of Brits Believe Sherlock Holmes Was Real, Poll Says"

            Even Holmes has had all sorts of misconceptions developed around the character by popular culture in around little over a century.

            http://listverse.com/2013/02/11/10-common-misconceptions-about-sherlock-holmes/

            There are those that think the planet is flat too.

            Evidence please...got evidence?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Evidence please...got evidence?

            I think the problem with the case you appear to be trying to make is that while there may a large number of people who believe King Arthur was real, there are knowledgeable people one can consult (historians) who will tell you he was probably not. (King Arthur is like the Loch Ness monster. They keep looking for him but don't find any solid evidence.) But you can ask historians if Jesus existed, and I am sure the majority who have studied the first century Middle East will say he did, whether they are Christians or not, although they will also probably say it is difficult to know how much in the Gospels is historically accurate.

            So it's not a matter of mere popular opinion and numbers. It's also a matter of informed opinion and professional judgment of those who study such things. That is why we are able to say that people who believe in Sherlock Holmes, for example, are wrong. Because there are people who know the answer to whether or not he really existed.

            It seems to me it's just the simplest hypothesis that Jesus existed and that the story of his life and death was embellished as it was passed down orally.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I think the problem with the case you appear to be trying to make is that while there may a large number of people who believe King Arthur was real, there are knowledgeable people one can consult (historians) who will tell you he was probably not. (King Arthur is like the Loch Ness monster. They keep looking for him but don't find any solid evidence.)

            My point was that even though such experts and knowledge abound, folk don't bother. They are happy to hold such ignorant beliefs, even in these modern times, when finding out stuff is easy for the moderately educated. Now 2000 years ago it was a different ball game, 1500 years ago the same, 1000 years ago the same, 500 years ago the same. It has only been since the enlightenment that these things have been getting reasonably addressed and been found so wanting.

            But you can ask historians if Jesus existed, and I am sure the majority who have studied the first century Middle East will say he did, whether they are Christians or not, although they will also probably say it is difficult to know how much in the Gospels is historically accurate.

            Many are starting to question the status quo that existed for so long. Many scholars are not applying the historical methods in an unbiased manner as it appears they should be. Even Bart Ehrman appears to have gotten a bit slack on his scholarship in his last tome.

            So it's not a matter of mere popular opinion and numbers. It's also a matter of informed opinion and professional judgment of those who study such things.

            Exactly. The argument is just not as convincing as informed opinion and professional judgment of those in the genre are being portrayed as having. If it were, the whole issue could be put to bed immediately, but it is not. Scholarship, as I've pointed out, is aware of the attitude of professionals in their undertakings in the genre.

            That is why we are able to say that people who believe in Sherlock Holmes, for example, are wrong. Because there are people who know the answer to whether or not he really existed.

            Suppose the works of Conan Doyle on Holmes had been asserted as fact and not fiction after being discovered some 50 years after being authored, and authored by one Dr. Watson. Not unreasonable even though the books were written in modern times. Move forward 300 years and the detective has a reasonable following, enough to get the notice of some person of high degree to adopt his methods as the way forward in forensics. Weather or not the geezer was real or myth is of no consequence anymore. Absurd? Only because of hindsight.

            "Sherlock Holmes is, without doubt, the most famous fictional detective the world has ever known. HOW SHERLOCK CHANGED THE WORLD will show that Conan Doyle’s hero not only revolutionized the world of fiction, but also changed the real world in more ways than many realize. Holmes was a scientist who used chemistry, fingerprints and bloodstains to catch an offender in an era when eyewitness reports and “smoking gun” evidence were needed to convict criminals, and police incompetence meant that Jack the Ripper stalked the streets freely. In many ways, the modern detective can be seen as a direct extension of Conan Doyle’s literary genius."

            Not as absurd as we'd like to think.

            It seems to me it's just the simplest hypothesis that Jesus existed and that the story of his life and death was embellished as it was passed down orally.

            I don't know if Jesus is based on a real person or persons. It could be he was a myth made of whole cloth and It appears nobody knows for certain. I can just as easily write your comment thus...

            "It seems to me it's just the simplest hypothesis that Jesus never existed and that the story of his life and death was embellished as it was passed down orally."

            It makes the veracity of the no more or less truthful. But as has been explained, that will make no difference to a supernatural Jesus hypothesis, it's just an interesting point to history. Christianity didn't need a real Jesus to get started.

            Read "Not the Impossible Faith" by Richard Carrier.

            "Dr. Richard Carrier is an expert in the history of the ancient world and a critic of Christian attempts to distort history in defense of their faith. Not the Impossible Faith is a tour de force in that genre, dissecting and refuting the oft-repeated claim that Christianity could not have succeeded in the ancient world unless it was true."

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            That's not what he said. He's simply pointing out that he logically excludes those of Christ's followers who do not practice what he preached. I admit it does rather tend to look like the No True Scotsman, though.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            He's simply pointing out that he logically excludes those of Christ's followers who do not practice what he preached.

            How can ZenDruid say anything about the followers of Jesus if Jesus did not exist? And if he did not exist, he couldn't have preached anything.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            How can we say anything about the followers of the angel moroni, if the angel did not exist. The fact that christians existed as a cult derived from judaism is not in doubt. What he is trying to say is that if you find cultists who act in radically different ways than the tenets of their cult dictate, then their comments about the cult itself don't carry a great deal of weight.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Your point been???

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • primenumbers

          Depends... Do the followers of Socrates make large-scale miracle claims that if had occurred would have been recorded in the contemporary historical record?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What large-scale miracle claims would those be?

          • primenumbers

            Earthquake and all the sky going dark for hours. I think the Jewish saints marching from their graves would count too.

        • Andrew G.

          Even if we did, we'd still have Aristophanes, who was no follower of Socrates and was a contemporary.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Do we *have* Aristophanes? How old is the oldest manuscript? Weren't his works copied over and over by "unreliable" Christian Byzantine and Catholic monks?

          • Andrew G.

            I doubt those monks would have had any reason to forge references to Socrates.

          • mally el

            You choose your doubts to suit your views.

        • Andrew G.

          Actually I'll go further than my previous reply.

          If we had, for example, the text of a play known to have been performed in Jerusalem sometime around 30AD which parodied a preacher named Jesus with a bunch of followers from Galilee, and fragments of a second play with a similar character, we wouldn't be having this conversation because everyone would accept that Jesus was a historical figure (even if not divine).

          That's the equivalent of what we have for Socrates.

          • mally el

            Plays can be works of pure fiction. Does not prove your point.

      • Dcn Harbey Santiago

        ...one can say the same thing about the 2 of the 4 gospels, and the letters of John, Peter, Jude, and James.

        "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
        Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          No, it is the consensus of biblical scholars that none of the Gospels or Epistles were written by apostles (except, of course, Paul, who never met Jesus—or at least the earthly Jesus). Some people disagree about this, but it simply cannot be asserted as a fact that the people who met Jesus during his lifetime wrote anything.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            WOW!! THAT'S QUITE A STATEMENT THERE!

            "it is the consensus of biblical scholars that none of the Gospels or Epistles were written by apostles"

            I would concede the disagreement among scholars about some of these like the epistles of Peter, but James and 1-2-3 John??? You have to provide evidence for such and assertion. Perhaps a reference to the survey taken of the vast majority of reputable scholars that shows this "consensus" you are talking about?

            I would expect to see some recognizable names like,

            Fitzmeyer, Brown and Wright... You know people that are considered in academia as "world class scholars."

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"

            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • primenumbers

            For "James" we know not which James.... "Peter" text is anachronistic showing later forgery, and as for the John's - which John, and written way too late to be by someone who knew Jesus personally.

            We should also remember we have some forged Pauls so we know forging was something Christians did (along with, of course, the later interpolations in the anonymous Gospels).

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            but James and 1-2-3 John??? You have to provide evidence for such and assertion. . . . I would expect to see some recognizable names like, Fitzmeyer, Brown and Wright...

            Raymond Brown, in Introduction to the New Testament, does not assume that the Gospel of John and John 1, 2, and 3 were written by the Beloved Disciple, nor does he assume they were all written by the same person. He says,

            Some of these differences give the Epistles the air of being more primitive than the Gospel, but they may reflect the author's claim to be presenting the gospel as it was "from the beginning" (I John 1:1; 3:11). Overall, they suggest that the same person may not have written the Epistles and the Gospel. Some would distinguish, then, at least four figures in the Johannine School of writers: the Beloved Disciple (who was the source of the tradition), the evangelist who wrote the body of the Gospel, the presbyter who wrote the Epistles, and the redactor of the Gospel. [Italics in the original]

            Regarding the Beloved Disciple's relationship to John the Evangelist, Brown says,

            Such development may be explained best if tradition about Jesus stemming from the Beloved Disciple has been reflected upon over many years and expanded in the light of Johannine community experiences. . . . The Beloved Disciple may have lived through the historical development of the community (and perhaps through expulsion from the synagogue), and so there may have been a certain symbiosis between him and the Gospel that committed to writing a tradition that not only had its roots in his experience of Jesus but also embodied decades of his ongoing reflection on that experience. The evangelist, who wove the theologically reflected tradition into a work of unique literary skill, would presumably have been a disciple of the Beloved Disciple, about whom he writes in the third person. And the redactor, if there was one, may have been another disciple.

            Of the Epistle of James, Brown says,

            Therefore it is unlikely that a villager from Nazareth wrote it personally. One might appeal to the use of a scribe; but as we shall see, other factors favor the thesis that the letter was written after James' lifetime by one who respected that figure's authority. Speculations as to the exact identify of the writer then become useless.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            "Raymond Brown, in Introduction to the New Testament, does not assume that the Gospel of John and John 1, 2, and 3 were written by the Beloved Disciple,"

            Nice try but this has nothing to do with your original statement, which was:

            "it is the consensus of biblical scholars that none of the Gospels or Epistles were written by apostle"

            If you think about it, your quote from Father Brown "Intro to the NT" (Page 389) proves your original statement wrong, since what Father Brown says is that

            "the same person may not have written the Epistles and the Gospel. Some would distinguish, then, at least four figures in the Johannine School of writers: the Beloved Disciple (who was the source of the tradition), the evangelist who wrote the body of the Gospel, the presbyter who wrote the Epistles, and the redactor of the Gospel"

            Notice how Brown includes the evangelist as one of the potential writers? Hardly a denial of authorship.

            And since we are speaking of Brown and "consensus" of non-apostolic Epistle authorship, lets jump ahead a few hundred pages:

            "Of all the Catholic Epistles I Pet has the best chance of being written by the figure to whom it is attributed. A major argument advanced for composition by Peter is the knowledge of Jesus’ words shown in the work."

            Brown, R. E. (1997). An introduction to the New Testament (718). New York: Doubleday.

            It doesn't sound like Brown denies Petrine authorship to me.

            Also, I will concede Brown doesn't think James wrote his Epistle, mostly because I do not feel like finding the quote and reading the whole section to verify what Father Brown meant in context.

            Lastly... "One swallow does not a summer make", One scholar does not consensus make.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"

            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            And no consensus has ever made a truth.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Notice how Brown includes the evangelist as one of the potential writers? Hardly a denial of authorship.

            I believe you are misunderstanding what Brown means. He says:

            the Beloved Disciple (who was the source of the tradition), the evangelist who wrote the body of the Gospel, the presbyter who wrote the Epistles, and the redactor of the Gospel"

            The Beloved Disciple is John the Apostle, the person you believe wrote the Gospel of John, but Raymond Brown believes was only the source of the tradition.

            The evangelist would be the person who actually wrote the Gospel. We might call him John the Evangelist, but Brown is saying he is not John the Apostle (the Beloved Disciple). Then we have a third person who wrote the Epistles of John, who is neither John the Apostle nor John the Evangelist. And we have a possible fourth person, the redactor of the Gospel of John.

            You asked for a "big name," and I gave you one. Raymond Brown does not believe John the Apostle wrote the Gospel of John or the Epistles of John.

            It doesn't sound like Brown denies Petrine authorship to me.

            I think you quit reading too soon. After Brown says that "of all the Catholic Epistles I Pet has the best chance of being written by the figure to whom it is attributed," he goes on to give six reasons that "militate against authenticity." The sixth is as follows:

            There are indications int he circumstances to be discussed in the following paragraphs that also make more plausible a date not too long after Peter's martyrdom and the fall of Jerusalem. Accordingly a greater number of scholars posit pseudepigraphical composition, not by a purely fictional claimant but by a representative of those at Rome (a school of disciples?) who regarded themselves as the heirs of Peter.

            In other words, Peter the Apostle was dead when the epistles attributed to him were written. Also, you have from Brown himself a statement about the scholarly consensus. That is, "Accordingly a greater number of scholars posit pseudepigraphical composition . . . ."

            Also, I will concede Brown doesn't think James wrote his Epistle, mostly because I do not feel like finding the quote and reading the whole section to verify what Father Brown meant in context.

            In other words . . . .?

            Please forgive me if I say that I think any fair minded reader will acknowledge that I have clearly demonstrated that Raymond Brown does not believe that John the Apostle wrote the Gospel of John or the Epistles of John, does not believe the Apostle Peter wrote the Epistle of Peter, and does not believe the Apostle James (there were two, actually) wrote the Epistle of James.

            As for scholarly consensus, I can rely on various references such as The New American Bible or McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible or The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. I can't take a poll of scholars myself, though!

          • fact dragger

            and it was once the consensus of scholars that the earth was the center of the universe. the fact that a lot of people hold an opinion doesn't make it true.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            True, a consensus of scholars doesn't prove anything. But I think it puts a heavy burden on someone who dissents from that consensus—especially in a forum like this, where there are few or no bona fide biblical scholars—to back up what they say with solid evidence. Deacon Santiago not only disputed what I said. He disputed it as if I had said something wild and crazy: "WOW!! THAT'S QUITE A STATEMENT THERE!" And then, in trying to dispute what I said, he clearly misread the authority I cited.

            By the way, there is at least one person who writes very frequently here who still does believe in geocentrism!

          • Ignorant Amos

            I think you are getting things a bit back to front.

            While it is true that most folk on Earth thought the planet was flat, advances in our knowledge and science among other things, has brought us to a time in history where only the barking mad believe in a flat Earth, but there are flat Earthers out there.

            With regard to scriptures, there was a time when most folk thought they were the inerrant divinely inspired words of a deity. Advances in our knowledge, of history, of archaeology, of how we approach the historical method among other things, has brought us to a time in history where...well, lets just say that scholars are not that confident in the scriptures other than for theological reasons and we'll leave it there.

  • Andrew G.

    The standard historical position on Tacitus is that he did not have independent sources regarding Jesus' existence or fate, but is simply repeating what he has learned from Christians, either directly (he had been a member of an organization responsible for supervising foreign cults), or via his friend and correspondent Pliny (who we know had occasion to interrogate Christians).

  • Steve Reisiger

    No one here has mentioned the fact that many people who lived during and
    after the time of Jesus were willing to die by execution rather than
    deny Him or His church. They must have known something. Truth is still truth even if no one believes it. Lies are still lies, even if everyone believes it.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Somebody will bring up Jonestown.

      • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

        Or 9/11. Plenty of people die for lies.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Not the best example.

          In 9/11 the hijackers killed themselves and murdered others for lies. The first Christians harmed no one were put to death for preferring God to Caesar.

          • Sample1

            The first Christians harmed no one

            How do you know this? But nevermind, isn't there a story about one of the first followers of Jesus chopping off the ear of a servant? I bet that hurt.

            Mike

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Peter was still learning how to follow Christ.

            On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.

            When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”

            Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village. (Lk 9)

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            But nevermind, isn't there a story about one of the first followers (the
            first pope according to Catholics) using his sword to chop off the ear
            of a slave?

            First, I suspect you don't believe the incident actually happened. In any case, you miss the point of the story, which is in all four Gospels. In all four accounts, Jesus rebukes the person who attacks the slave. In one account, he even heals the slave's ear. (Do you believe that?) For example, in Matthew, we have the following:

            And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

          • Sample1

            In one account, he even heals the slave's ear.

            I don't see what this has to do with the original point. And besides, did Jesus also give the slave amnesia for the pain he suffered at the hands one of his followers?

            Mike

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Well, you brought up the severed ear in response to Kevin saying the following:

            The first Christians harmed no one were put to death for preferring God to Caesar.

            Kevin was responding to someone who was (in a sort of way) comparing the early Christians with the 9/11 hijackers. So in effect, your point that Peter cut off someone's ear was (in a sort of way) supposed to defend the comparison of the early Christians with the 9/11 hijackers. Now, in my opinion, there is no comparison between an organized and financed effort by terrorists to hijack and crash three planes, killing about 3000 people, and one person cutting of another person's ear. So I was rather taken aback you brought it up. But in any case, the hijackers represented and carried out the plans that were made for them, and their success was celebrated. On the other hand, the lone Christian who cut off the slave's ear was rebuked by the leader of Christianity, so unlike the hijackers, Peter's action is his alone, not the act of the early Christians.

            But if I am not mistaken, you don't believe the Gospels, so you regard the story of Peter cutting off the slave's ear as fiction. So I am not sure why you bring up the incident at all.

            Also, you seem to be exquisitely sensitive about the pain of a slave whose ear was cut off—even though I don't believe you accept that it actually happened—but that scarcely compares to being scourged and crucified. Even if you don't believe there was a Jesus who was crucified, the Romans did indeed crucify some Christians.

          • Sample1

            Descartes wrote that animals were unable to feel pain. David slaves feel pain, right?

            Mike

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Of course slaves feel pain. Do you believe that while Jesus was being arrested, later to be crucified, someone cut off a slave's ear? Did that actually happen? It's a rhetorical yes—not just to the cutting of the slave's ear, but to the arrest of Jesus—unless you respond and say otherwise.

            The subject of the thread is the existence of the historical Jesus, not whether we are insensitive to the suffering of slaves. With all due respect, I think you are not getting anywhere with your argument, so you are trying to put other people in a bad light by claiming you stick up for the rights of slaves, and other people don't.

            In any case, did it actually happen, as a historical event, that while Jesus was being arrested, Peter cut off a slave's ear.

          • Sample1

            That's easy, my answer is I don't know. What do you think?

            Mike

            In reply to:

            In any case, did it actually happen, as a historical event, that while Jesus was being arrested, Peter cut off a slave's ear.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            That's easy, my answer is I don't know. What do you think?

            I thought only yes or no answers were permitted.

          • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

            The whole original post here by Steve was about how people "must have known something" to sacrifice themselves for it. Well, Muslim extremists do that all the time. Lots of people prefer one thing over something else and land in hot water for it. It just doesn't follow in any way that such people "must have known something." If anything it just demonstrates that humans are extraordinarily suggestible and will drill down on lunacy even if doing so harms them. So I think the example stands just fine alongside Jonestown, wherein Christian extremists killed themselves and murdered others for lies.

            PS: Scholars are starting to wonder if those early Christians actually did face as much persecution as modern Christians would like to imagine. http://www.salon.com/2013/02/24/the_myth_of_persecution_early_christians_werent_persecuted/

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Your beef is with Steve.

            I don't think you mean that everyone who is willing to give up his life for a cause is a lunatic. Some have reasons we think are wrong and some reasons we think right, even heroic.

          • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

            Of course not. I never said that. I said that being willing to give up our lives for something doesn't lend that thing any moral or factual cachet in and of itself. I never once said that EVERYbody who would go to such extremes is a lunatic, only that it's not a guarantee that the cause is just or even truthful. I think you just said the same thing in different words, so good for us. ;)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Agreed.

          • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

            I feel like I should say something here but don't know what. "I LOVE YOU, MAN!" or something. But I'm so glad and amazed that an internet comment thread managed to stay civil and productive through several exchanges that I'm at a loss now. Well, heckies. What's the etiquette here?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I've suggested that everyone send me 10% of their income but for some reason no one has taken me up on that.

          • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

            This is the internet. You should be asking for pictures of people's cats.

    • Andrew G.

      Because (a) there's no actual evidence that anyone who would have been in a position to know whether Jesus existed was ever martyred in circumstances that would have allowed them to survive by recanting; and (b) there's plenty of historical evidence that people are prepared to die for causes they find meaningful even if they are not actually true.

      • mally el

        But you would have no reason to believe that it was not true. It is just your belief.

  • stanz2reason

    There is a universe of difference between a historical person(s) Jesus who might have existed around the time in that part of the world who in some way was involved in the events typically acknowledged by scholars, and the full on miracle making earth shaking cake baking he ain't faking son of god.

    Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States, and it's widely accepted he was a real person and actually existed. The Abraham Lincoln from 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter', while partially based upon and sharing some similarities with the actual President Lincoln, is in no reasonable way shape or form to have thought to have actually existed.

    I don't see the point of bringing up the existence of Jesus in an historical sense as that is clearly NOT the Jesus that's typically discussed here. Were we to grant his existence in some form in a historical sense, this does not speak at all to any supernatural claims, which is really the whole point of this discussion.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Disrespectful, mocking comment: "the full on miracle making earth shaking cake baking he ain't faking son of god."

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        Don't mistake fun rhetoric for disrespect. If you do, theists would be banned from this site.

        • mally el

          What is funny for some might not be so for others.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Of course. This is why a certain degree of civility AND a certain degree of tolerance are both necessary to make theist/atheist conversations possible. To make them profitable requires considerably more.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Should you be here if you are going to demand undeserved respect?

            I noticed no such complaint from you or your fellow theists...or even any Atheists about this remark...

            But there are so many obnoxious internet atheists who rag on and on about how "Jesus totally never existed, guys". Some of them have probably or will probably visit this site, and perhaps this post.

            On a thread intended for that very purpose...you all need to get a bit real.

      • stanz2reason

        What exactly is being mocked I might ask?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Why the coyness?

          • stanz2reason

            Coy about what? I really don't know what you're talking about.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You mocked Jesus Christ and those who believe he is the Son of God.

          • stanz2reason

            I did no such thing. I neither directed anything towards either jesus or his believers, nor was there the slightest bit of mockery in anything I said. I differentiated between a historical jesus and a supernatural one. Your accusations are libelous and I certainly won't apologize simply because you're sensitive.

          • mally el

            No expects an apology from you. If you do not believe that Jesus did not perform miracles that is simply your opinion. I have seen miracles happening today.

          • stanz2reason

            I'm curious, what miracles are those?

          • mally el

            The instant healing of two people living near me - one with a brain tumour about to be operated and another who was badly disabled following a car accident. Over the years I have known many cases.

          • stanz2reason

            Did these 'miracles' involve these people going to doctors?

          • mally el

            And the doctors were surprised!

          • Sample1

            Hypothetical: if your local bishop pulled you aside and said those instances you saw can't be considered miracles would you agree with him?

            In reply to:

            I have seen miracles happening today.

            Mike

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin,
            No he did not. You, as a worshiper were in no way mocked. Nor did Stanz even really mock jesus, he was using hyperbole, and human to underline a crucial distinction between the types of jesus in question.

            I think your offense meter is perhaps set to over sensitive.

          • mally el

            Which types of Jesus are you talking about?

          • Max Driffill

            The non supernatural Jesus and the supernatural one.

          • mally el

            They are the same.

          • Max Driffill

            Mally el,
            No they are not.
            One, the supernatural one, is at present best regarded as a myth. There is no compelling evidence to support the assertion of a supernatural Jesus.

            The other, an apocalyptic preacher who over extended himself and met a sticky end, was probably a real person, though it is always good to remember that the evidence that does exist doesn't really allow us to say much conclusive about him at all.

          • ziad

            Max and Stanz,

            What Kevin is talking about is the one sentence, not the whole post. The post was perfectly fine and related to the topic (in my opinion) but the following sentence was not necessary:
            ""the full on miracle making earth shaking cake baking he ain't faking son of god"

          • stanz2reason

            And that sentence, like the rest of the post, is not mocking anyone or anything. If he or anyone else was offended, grow a thicker skin. No offense was intended.

          • Max Driffill

            Ziad
            I know exactly what line Kevin has pulled out his fainting couch for. And that line, doesn't do any of the things you or Kevin have claimed it does.
            It was an attempt at humor, that in no way mocked believers. Or even god. It is the kind of thing I would expect to hear from some of my Southern Baptists friends actually.

    • Christian Stillings

      But there are so many obnoxious internet atheists who rag on and on about how "Jesus totally never existed, guys". Some of them have probably or will probably visit this site, and perhaps this post. Trent set out to make a case against this hypothesis, and I think he did so well. You're right that he made a rather inadequate case- in fact, no case at all- in this post for why it should be believed that Jesus was of Divine nature. That's not what Trent was trying to do. You may say "I wish this article had tried to argue for belief in a Divine Jesus", but the author set out a specific thesis and defended it well. There's no reason to call him out for failing to do something which he clearly didn't intend to try to do.

      ... which is really the whole point of this discussion.

      Except that Trent never meant for this post to be about Jesus' divinity. I agree that there's a wider discussion about Jesus involving a divinity claim, and that the topic is of great interest to many folks at this site. However, Trent set the parameters of discussion for his own post and wrote well within those parameters. It's sort of unfair for you to say "oh, well he should have discussed something else because I wish he would have." The author selected a specific topic, as was his liberty. If you find his selected topic of little interest, so be it, but that's no reason to complain.

      • stanz2reason

        Nothing about this article, nor your response, changes anything about what an atheist (or anyone for that matter) might say about Jesus having not existed. Whether or not you believe jesus, that is the historical jesus existed, depends on how much you buy the evidence presented. To me it seems possible, if not more likely than not, that a person or persons did at the very least some of the natural non-magical things that are typically attributed to Jesus.

        It is possible that King Arthur did in some way exist. This still doesn't lend any truth to Excalibur being a mystical sword or that he was followed around by the wizard Merlin. Similarly when an atheist says 'jesus totally never existed, guys' he/she is always referring to supernatural son of god Jesus, and only sometimes casting doubt in the historical sense to ordinary guy jesus.

        On a website, such as this, where there is an encouragement of a dialogue between believer and non-believer it is assumed that the jesus in question is the supernatural son of god jesus. The two jesus's have as much in common as the two Abraham Lincolns I mentioned above. Articles addressing the jesus that really isn't the jesus in question on this site seem kind of pointless.

      • primenumbers

        There's no point for Christians to have an existing but non-divine Jesus. Also, most of Trent's arguments only go to show the existence of early Christianity, which is not something that is in doubt. That he brings up non-contemporary historical mentions of Jesus in the content of what believing Christians believed as evidence of a true historical Jesus is showing that he really has very little evidence to go on.

        Also, Trent should be here, posting to defend his article.

    • Randy Gritter

      But it does speak to it in the sense that much of the same reasoning is involved. Point #2 is huge. A lack of controversy in Christian history is a massive problem for a lot of theories where Christians are supposed to have added stuff later. Christians have always been hugely conservative and even small changes can cause a ton of discussion. Atheists calmly suggest major changes were made to the deposit of faith and nobody said a thing. It just is not possible. Point #1 is likely to have parallels in many other arguments to. Christian history can be mapped by succession. So people knew people well. Polycarp knew John well. They talked about Jesus endlessly. They are not going to have radically different views of the life of Jesus. The names change but the arguments are similar.

      • stanz2reason

        Randy... this is all well and good were this anything to do with the real focus of this site.

        Say this was a website where we were focusing on whether or not the greek gods were real and what the implications might be for mankind. I then brought up a few academic points that the locations in ancient works like the Iliad & Odyssey might have been real in some sense. Does this say anything at all to the claims for Zeus & Hera existing? Wouldn't you say something along the lines of 'perhaps certain elements of those stories were real, but that they are or might have been so has no bearing at all on this discussion'? Wouldn't it be fair for you to ask that I, as a host of a site about the greek gods in a real sense, really cut the slight of hand efforts that are only a desperate attempts to pivot from academic real world points into the realm of fantasy?

      • Ignorant Amos

        A lack of controversy in Christian history is a massive problem for a lot of theories where Christians are supposed to have added stuff later.

        I can't believe anyone could say such a thing seriously and keep a straight face.

        Christians have always been hugely conservative and even small changes can cause a ton of discussion.

        Where do you all get the nonsense from. There is over 38,000 variations on Christianity. Do you have an understanding on the parts where they differ? Nah, a didn't think so.

        What about the fourth century and earlier sects of the Christian faith?

        Artotyrite, Ascitans, Encratites, Marcionism, Montanism, Valesians,
        Apellitae, Aquarii, Arrhabonarii, Nazarene (sect), Angelici (sect), Antidicomarianite, Apotactics, Arabici, Elcesaites, Gothic Christianity, Novatianism, Arianism‎, Church of Caucasian Albania‎, Abelians, Circumcellions, Colluthians, Collyridianism, Donatism, Meletians, Pneumatomachi, Priscillian, among others.

        Not very universal at all.

        The Arians lost out on the vote during the big party at Nicaea in early 4th century..

        "One purpose of the council was to resolve disagreements arising from within the Church of Alexandria over the nature of the Son in his relationship to the Father; in particular, whether the Son had been 'begotten' by the Father from his own being, or created as the other creatures out of nothing. St. Alexander of Alexandria and Athanasius claimed to take the first position; the popular presbyter Arius, from whom the term Arianism comes, is said to have taken the second. The council decided against the Arians overwhelmingly (of the estimated 250–318 attendees, all but two agreed to sign the creed and these two, along with Arius, were banished to Illyria). The emperor's threat of banishment is claimed to have influenced many to sign, but this is highly debated by both sides."

        The point here is that the Christian faith had little or nothing to do with a figure called Jesus and more to do with the power struggle by those involved in the few centuries after.

    • mally el

      This article is about the existence of the very Jesus that is discussed here. The person who wrote the Vampire Hunter story made it clear that it was fiction. No writings about Jesus were ever considered to be fiction.

      • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

        Good point. Thank you for that.

      • Max Driffill

        Mally,

        Its seems that the Apocrypha are now considered to be fictions.

        • mally el

          None of these books was regarded as inspired - even by the authors. No reference was ever made to them by Jesus or
          the apostles.

          • Ignorant Amos

            None of these books was regarded as inspired - even by the authors.

            Really? By who? When? And why? There is a reason why they are called apocrypha. You do know that half the books of the NT attributed to Paul are forgeries and pseudepigrapha.

            "The victors in the struggles to establish Christian Orthodoxy not only won their theological battles, they also rewrote the history of the conflict; later readers then naturally assumed that the victorious views had been embraced by the vast majority of Christians from the very beginning ... The practice of Christian forgery has a long and distinguished history ... the debate lasted three hundred years ... even within "orthodox" circles there was considerable debate concerning which books to include."

            Bart D Ehrman, Lost Scriptures P 2,3

            You are entitled to your own opinion, not your own facts.

            No reference was ever made to them by Jesus or the apostles.

            I'd have been well surprised had they. Did the Jesus character make reference to the canonical gospels or other NT books...some trick that. Or another miracle.

      • stanz2reason

        ... but again, clearly this is not true. Skeptics don't really care about the historical jesus any more or less than they do about the historical julius caesar or the historical richard iii rather than the one from shakespeares works. You can't prove or disprove their existence in the same sense as you can, say, a natural law. You offer evidence and those listening can weight the likelyhood and make up their own minds. There is reasonable reason to doubt with the regards to historical jesus, though for myself ill buy it to a point. But this isn't a website for discussions among historians. It addresses religious claims making the topic at hand claims for jesus's divinity.

    • ziad

      Stanz,

      as mentioned in other posts, the purpose of this article is to start at the beginning of the differences in the Atheistic and Catholic views. Some Atheists (not all as seen in replies on here) do not hold that there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth. The point is not to prove that the historical Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. I am sure this will come in the future.

      Once everyone is on the same page on the historicity of Jesus, then we can discuss the validity of His claim or His followers' claims.

      • stanz2reason

        We're not relying on some sort of revelation as evidence, but we're relying on the same historical evidence. There is reason to take claims for the existence of a historical jesus with an appropriate amount of doubt, but many non-believers, including myself, feel there is sufficient evidence to suggest some truth in a historical sense. In other words, that jesus did not exist in some sort of historical sense is not an atheist view (though it might be one held by some atheists), especially one that needs to be distinguished from believer views. Keep in mind also that it seems unlikely that you'd be able to prove such a claim beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition, even if we might accept certain claims for a historical Jesus, none of this would have any bearing or would offer any support for supernatural claims any more than for the claim about Kim Jong Il hitting a half dozen holes in one during a round of golf. Real world dictator Kim Jong Il existed in a way that magical Kim Jong Il did not. Establishing the existence of the first does in no way support claims for the second.

        So then, whats really the point?

        • JoFro

          So your the spokesperson for all atheists then?

          The article is clear that it is dealing with and answering that group of atheists that argues against the idea that a historical person called Jesus existed.

          It set to answer that! It answered it.

          Saying that argument had no point is a pointless claim in itself. It's merely pointless to you. It's not pointless to that group who claim the non-existence of a historical person.

          In time perhaps, there will be articles specifically aimed at dealing with the the "divine" claims of said Jesus! That's a whole other article and a whole other discussion!

          • stanz2reason

            So your the spokesperson for all atheists then?

            When did I say or even insinuate that? Thanks for not reading what I wrote and pulling things out of your backside.

            In time perhaps, there will be articles specifically aimed at dealing with the the "divine" claims of said Jesus!

            Perhaps, and perhaps not. Either way it will have nothing to do with this article. I'll say it one final time, which I can only assume you'll ignore again, that the establishment of historical jesus says nothing about supernatural jesus, which makes an article attempting to do so on a site designed to flush out the supernatural jesus both superfluous & utterly pointless.

          • JoFro

            But that was itself answered by the author wasn't it?

            Whose the one not reading?

            He is making clear that before he makes the argument for the supernatural Christ, his opponent first at least accept that a historical figure called Jesus existed.

            He is not here making arguments for those atheists who accept Jesus' historicity and argue against his supernatural aspects.

            Hence why this rant of yours is silly - this article is not aimed at an atheist like you! It is aimed at the sub-group of atheists who deny even Jesus' existence.

            Before you debate your opponent, you need to understand what his views are - and he is answering that sub-group of deniers of the historical Jesus with the relevant proof.

            You are not part of that sub-group, so why on earth are you here blasting away from your backside? It makes no sense!

            Claiming that this site is designed to flush out the supernatural Jesus is irrelevant - he plans to do that eventually but he's sussing out his various audiences, answering their questions before he gets to that important topic but you seem to be butthurt about an article not aimed at your views.

            Wait damnit!

          • Ignorant Amos

            The article is clear that it is dealing with and answering that group of atheists that argues against the idea that a historical person called Jesus existed.

            The problem is not how clear the article is, but your ability to read it correctly. Here....try again...

            "A small handful of scholars today, and a much larger group of Internet commenters, maintain that Jesus never existed. Proponents of this position, known as mythicists, claim that Jesus is a purely mythical figure invented by the writers of the New Testament (or its later copyists.) In this post I’ll offer the top four reasons (from weakest to strongest) that convince me Jesus of Nazareth was a real person without relying on the Gospel accounts of his life."

            Not all Mythicists are Atheists, and not all Atheists are Mythicists. I don't see the word "Atheist" mentioned anywhere in the article, which I'm sure was intentional by the author.

            The whole point is that the name Yeshuah was as common as Tom, Dick or Harry in the first century Levant. Was there Rabbis, Teachers or Carpenters of that name...more probable than not by all accounts. Was any of these folk the inspiration for the historical figure of the NT, or was the name applied to a myth formed out of whole cloth by someone unscrupulous subsequently? The evidence just isn't there. If the irrefutable evidence was there, this argument would be moot and the rise of the Mythicist movement dead in the water.

  • David Wilson

    Thank you for writing the article, Mr. Horn. It reminded me of a similarity between the Romans and ourselves: bureaucracy. The Romans kept records for everything, from all parts of the empire. I apologize for not recalling the source, but seem to remember reading a brief comment from one of the saints, written circa 378 A.D., wherein he mourned that it had been ten years since one of the attacks on Rome had resulted in the destruction of the records of Jesus' crucifixion, which had been in Rome since Apostolic times, which he'd treasured reading in the past.

    • Andrew G.

      I'm sorry but this is just bunk.

      • mally el

        What's your evidence?

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          The evidence is that I seem to remember reading somewhere—I don't remember where it was, but it was a very trustworthy source—that it was just bunk that somebody in the fourth century claimed they had read Roman records of the crucifixion that were subsequently destroyed. What is your evidence that I didn't read that?

          • mally el

            I did not say that you did not read some junk. I asked what real evidence do you have that what David said was junk.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Sorry. That was sarcasm, and I usually wind up regretting sarcasm.

            Here's what I would say. First, when someone makes a claim like David Wilson did, it is up to him to provide evidence that it is true, not up to others to provide evidence that is not.

            Second, I doubt that many of us here have not covered most of this territory before regarding the evidence for the existence of Jesus outside the New Testament. I hope Andrew G. won't mind me speaking for both of us, but if evidence existed that there had ever been Roman records of the crucifixion, we would know about it.

          • fact dragger

            "if evidence existed that there had ever been Roman records of the crucifixion, we would know about it."
            sorry to say, but you presume too much about what we 'know'. New things are being learned ALL THE TIME, whether about new species of animals or ancient historical documents or archeological finds.

          • Ignorant Amos

            "if evidence existed that there had ever been Roman records of the crucifixion, we would know about it."

            sorry to say, but you presume too much about what we 'know'.

            So are you asserting there is some knew knowledge? Citation please?

            New things are being learned ALL THE TIME, whether about new species of animals or ancient historical documents or archeological finds.

            Yes, but until such times as the undiscovered is known, it remains, well, unknown. So it is not a presumption to say that if there was Roman records known to the scholarship that recorded a crucifixion of a first century chappy called Yeshuah, who went about upsetting the establishment, it would be widely known to believer and non-believer alike.

            So, until this new evidence is cited, the assertion by David Wilson is bunk, and David Nickol's parody still stands.

  • Geoffrey Miller

    This whole discussion reminds me of a book review of "Nailed: Ten Christian Myths that Show Jesus Never Existed at All" that I recently read on a very excellent blog. I'm sort of shocked and saddened that so many people in the so-called rationalist camp are so ignorant of historical methods and show a total lack of curiosity about world history in general, dismissing Jesus as unimportant simply because they think he may not have resurrected from the dead.

    http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com/2011/05/nailed-ten-christian-myths-that-show.html

  • TristanVick

    Regarding #4.

    It is the mainstream position of most Biblical scholars. But since most Biblical scholars are Christian anyway, there is no big surprise here. But I think it is as the mythicist Robert M. Price, a man with not one—but two—PhDs in religion (theology and NT criticism), answered this very question in his book The Crhist-Myth Theory and Its Problems, when he stated, “"If we appeal instead to "received opinion" or "the consensus {30} of scholars," we are merely abdicating our own responsibility, as well as committing the fallacy of Appeal to the Majority."

    Also, the appeal to authority isn’t in itself a proof for the existence of the historical Jesus. It is merely that, an appeal to authority. And the authority can still be mistaken, which is why Price’s warning that we should perhaps reconsider a position that has been widely held exclusively by people who were already predisposed to hold such a position to begin with, isn’t such a bad idea after all.

  • TristanVick

    Regarding #3.

    Actually, no it’s not.

    I’ve written in detail on this subject, so I won’t rehash everything. But briefly. We have nothing written about Jesus by anyone who knew him while he was alive. All the Gospels are pseudepigrapha, meaning that they were falsely attributed to authors who didn’t actually know the historical Jesus, should he have existed. Moreover, the authors get basic historical details wrong: e.g., Luke’s incorrect census information, for starters, different authors giving Pontius Pilate different titles, oops!, different and discrepant endings to the same story, not at all fiction, wildly different accounts of the resurrection event, did I read that right... zombies?

    Not only this, but there is a basic lack of geographical information, so much so that it is clear that the authors were not familiar with the geography of the region. The time it takes from any of the NT characters to go anywhere happens practically overnight. Sepphoris isn’t even mentioned even though Jesus would have had to pass through the capitol every time he went home to Galilee, or to Jericho, and back to Jerusalem again. Speaking of missing towns, there isn’t any archaeological evidence that Nazareth even existed in Jesus’ day (see Rene Salm’s work: The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus).

    The only possible near *contemporary authors who could have written about Jesus were Josephus Flavius, Philo of Alexandria, and Tacitus. Philo makes no mention of Jesus. None. At all.

    Josephus’ comments about Christians is primarily in regard to their beliefs in a messiah, and mentions as much in his Antiquities. The problem is, however, the part that mentions Jesus Christ is a demonstrable interpolation.

    A brief comment on why modern historians tend to discount the reference to Jesus Christ in Josephus. Two things to keep in mind:

    1) Josephus was a Jewish historian writing in the first century (circa 37-70 C.E.), and so he would have never referred to an Ascetic Jewish Prophet who had died leaving prophecy unfulfilled as the Messiah, let alone a *divine prophet, and so he could not have referred to Jesus as the Christ. No orthodox Jew of antiquity believed Jesus was the chosen messiah, nor would any Jew have considered Christ to be divine—in any sense of the word—since the Jews continued to hold the covenant with Yahweh believing him to be the one true God. As such, Josephus would *not have called the Jewish messiah by the Greek "Christos." As Christ's divinity would have been seen as blasphemous to any first century Jew—but not to later Christians—it's a strong bet that this Christos business is a later Christian theological consideration. Josephus' utilization of the Greek “Christos” and not the Hebrew "messiah," at the time of his writing, seems to be out of place, and thus a likely denotes a later addition.

    But the biggest give away is the second fact:

    2) The earliest Christian writers, such as Origen and Justin the Martyr, frequently quote Josephus but often quote from an earlier version which lacks any reference to Jesus being the Christ. And since their account of Josephus is from an earlier source than the one modern Christian apologists love to quote mine from, we can reasonably be sure that the later addition of Jesus being referred to as the Christ, at the very least, suggests a Christian forgery from no earlier than the third century.

    So what can we make of these facts?

    Well, we can say that in the 1st century of the common era there were Christians who believed in a man named Jesus which they deemed the Christ. But all the evidence is the same in that it's all merely accounts of what Christians believed, not actual hard evidence for the historical Jesus.

    It’s strange that you ignore other possible extrabiblical evidences such as Tacitus’ comments about Christian belief in a messiah and the Babylonian Talmud, but he may simply be unaware of these examples. Even so, I’ve critiqued them elsewhere and offered sound explanation why they are untrustworthy as evidence (which you can read about here: http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.jp/2013/04/the-extrabiblical-christ-on-historicity.html).

  • TristanVick

    Regarding #2.
    Basically you dismiss all Christian heresies as false, because the Church deemed them false long ago. But you might want to look up the meaning of heresy. It literally translates to: a difference of opinion. Never mind that the supposed heresies which were stamped out were by an Orthodox Church which came two-hundred years after the facts. Bart D. Erhman has a good book entitled Lost Christianites, and one of the things he points out is that early Christian beliefs were quite varied. There was no such thing as a “Christian heresy” in the first century of Palestine, because no orthodox Christianity had been established yet. Gnostic Christian beliefs were equal to that of Pauline Christian beliefs. It is only after a long series of events that Pauline Christianity wins the favor of the majority, and so the alternative Christian beliefs recede as they grow less influential over time. But that doesn’t mean they were in anyway “false” beliefs. They were held as equally viable as any other form of Christianity.

    But I can see why you would be quick to dismiss competing views which go against his orthodox views. Because they add the challenge of him having to defend his views against so-called “heresies” minus any evidence to prove his beliefs more or less accurate—and when it comes to the question of the historicity of Jesus—this poses a big problem. This is the real gist behind the Mythicist argument. We’re not saying that anyone view of Jesus is correct, we are merely saying that no one view can be validated, and as such, belief in one over another is simply a confirmation bias invoked by the fact that most today’s Christians adhere to the orthodox view of Christianity without ever questioning it. When confronted with the challenge to question these beliefs, many, such as yourself, simply dismiss them since, after all, they’re just heretical views and so do not count.

    • Jonathan Easlick

      Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna Irenaeus
      of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria,
      John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor, and John of Damascus would probably disagree with you on the idea there wasn't heresies.I suggest reading all their writings and then deciding if there wasn't heresies.

      The Mythisist view must fail to take in account that there was plenty of Christians before the Nicene Council that wrote extensively on the teachings of Christianity and the life of Christ. But I'm sure all these guys were horribly biased and out for power right? Aside from the fact that some of these men were martyred or exiled for their beliefs.

      • TristanVick

        The point I was getting at was there is no justifiable criterion to what constitutes a divinely inspired bit of scripture or a heresy, regadless of whether you take a historicist or mythicist view. Therefore, the mythicist view simply cannot be dismissed, because what if it all turns out to be heressy on top or canonized mth and legend? How would you know?

  • TristanVick

    Regarding #1.

    Your last argument for the existence of Jesus is that most scholars, including secular ones, agree that Paul was a real person. Since we have Paul’s letters which attest to the existence of Jesus, and the disciples, then how could we possibly be in doubt?

    Well, many of Paul’s Epistles are forged. Bart D. Ehrman writes in depth on this fact in his book Forged. After all is said and done, however, very little relates back to the historical Jesus and his disciples. In fact, other than a meeting with James and Peter, there is literally nothing in Paul’s writing that attests to a historical Jesus. In fact, it does just the opposite. Paul speaks of an apparition, a visage, of Jesus which he experiences in a vivid waking dream on the road to Damascus. Such visions are not usually considered valid evidence for encounters with real historical figures of antiquity, and well, this is basically all Paul has to offer us.

    Other obvious questions, like why James (the supposed brother of Jesus) never considered Jesus divine is ignored. It’s only important to you that Paul met James. Never mind that James the Just is a much more complicated historical figure than most Christians even realize.

    Now, if you want to know more about why the Gospel Jesus likely didn’t exist, then you might want to read my article “Literary Jesus: Ten Reasons that Show the Gospels to be Works of Fiction.” http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.jp/2011/01/literary-jesus.html

    If you’re up for some heavier ended scholarship, then you may like to read Robert M. Price’s The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man and Deconstructing Jesus, Gospel Fictions by Randal Helms, The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty, and Not the Impossible Faith by Richard Carrier. Although not an exhaustive sample of competing views, they are a good place to start if you want to begin to consider the critical position with regard to the popular consensus in academia. I for one think it’s well worth considering.

  • shieldsheafson

    It is incredible that Jesus Christ should have risen in the flesh and ascended with flesh into heaven;

    It is incredible that the world should have believed so incredible a thing;

    It is incredible that a very few men, of mean birth and the lowest rank, and no education, should have been able so effectually to persuade the world, and even its learned men, of so incredible a thing.

    Of these three incredibles, the parties with whom we are debating refuse to believe the first;

    ....... They cannot refuse to see the second,

    ............... which they are unable to account for if they do not believe the third.

    St. Augustine , City of God XXII, 5

    • Max Driffill

      shieldsheafson,

      Augustine was being excessively parochial, and not very historical, while making an enormous amount of assumption.

      "It is incredible that Jesus Christ should have risen in the flesh and ascended with flesh into heaven;"

      It would certainly be, if it could be proven. Until such time, it is just more mythology with out evidence to support it.

      "It is incredible that the world should have believed so incredible a thing;"

      Here is that parochial perspective in fine, and blatant form.

      The world does not believe "so incredible a thing." This was even more the case in his day. Not everyone believes the Jesus story. Not by a long shot. Even if it were true that the majority of the people of the world did believe it, it would in no way lend any support to any of the ideas within Christianity. Those stand or fall based on the evidence that supports them (or disconfirms them).

      "It is incredible that a very few men, of mean birth and the lowest rank, and no education, should have been able so effectually to persuade the world, and even its learned men, of so incredible a thing."

      Not exactly historical.

      This is not really how Christianity spread. It was a minority religion for a very long time, and doesn't achieve real influence and when it happened to be adopted by a very powerful state indeed.

      "Of these three incredibles, the parties with whom we are debating refuse to believe the first;

      ....... They cannot refuse to see the second,"

      The second was not stated correctly and is immaterial to the factual claims made by Christianity

      "............... which they are unable to account for if they do not believe the third."

      The third "incredible" neglects the role of a powerful state that adopted Christianity, and presents the spread of Christianity as a humble thing. It was not. Constantine's endorsement was crucial to the spread of Christianity and didn't come until the early 300s. It wasn't just the work of humble missionaries after that.

    • primenumbers

      And a con-man persuaded people of gold tablets and the angel Moroni. And LRH persuaded people that they were thetans and all that xenu stuff. Or an illiterate desert warrior persuaded people about winged camels.

      The reason religion works is because it uses (one could say abuses) what we now know as cognitive biases and flaws in human psychology. It's not about being gullible to believe in a religion, or stupid, or to lack reasoning ability or to be naive.

    • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

      What an astonishingly brilliant quote.

      When we have defenders of the faith like Augustine again, then it will be morning.

  • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

    "Other heresies, such as Gnosticism or Donatism, were like that stubborn bump in the carpet. You could stamp them out in one place only to have them pop up again centuries later,"

    I find it chilling that you refer to the so-called 'heresies' that the Catholic church tried to eliminate by launching wars of extermination in these terms. Where was the so-called Catholic respect for life when it came to the Cathars, for example? Fellow human beings burned alive just for holding a slightly different interpretation of Christianity.

    In many ways, the Albigensian Crusade was a precursor of the Holocaust.

    And the eliminationist attitude that heretics are an inconvenient "bump in the carpet" to be stamped out, like cockroaches clearly still persists in the mind of Trent Horn, at least.

  • Dagnabbit_42

    Of course Jesus of Nazareth is a real historical figure. It isn't plausible that he isn't.

    Rational actors spend their time on the reliability of the gospels in relating his words and (apparent) deeds, not on whether the man existed. The case given above is the most shy and tentative beginning for arguing THAT.

    • primenumbers

      "It isn't plausible that he isn't" - um, it's certainly plausible he isn't. After all, we only have the slimmest of evidence to suggest he's a real person, not really enough to be sure at all. I think any honest investigator of the issue would be agnostic on the existence of a real Jesus - we basically cannot know with the evidence we have available.

      • Max Driffill

        Primenumbers, I do like the term, I think it was coined by Hitch, quasi-historical figure.

        I don't think opening of Dagnabbits post is warranted. At least not the confidence with which it is asserted. I do think it probably that Jesus was a real person, but you point out how slim the evidence actually is. What we can reliably know about Jesus is very nearly nothing.

        • primenumbers

          Exactly - as a historical person we know very little, which makes historicity somewhat useless for Christians. Quasi-historical works for me, although I do think as we're talking about historical knowledge, agnosticism is also a good way to put it.

          • Max Driffill

            I think that is quite right.

        • Ignorant Amos

          I do think it probably that Jesus was a real person, but you point out how slim the evidence actually is.

          It is so slim that what there is can be, and is, easily refuted.

          What we can reliably know about Jesus is very nearly nothing.

          It is widely believed that Sherlock Holmes is modeled on a number of acquaintances from Conan Doyle's youth, Dr. Joseph Bell being one such inspiration.

          Arthur Conan Doyle also believed in fairies BTW.

      • Randy Gritter

        I think that shows an ignorance of the historical data and what it means. Honest investigators? Many scholars who would love to deny the existence of Jesus admitted they didn't doubt it. So even a strong bias against is not enough. There has to be serious ignorance. Either not knowing the facts or just dismissing solid historical data because you don't know how historical scholarship is done.

        • primenumbers

          "just dismissing solid historical data" - that's just it and just what is lacking. When it comes to Jesus we have four anonymous non-contemporary highly biassed accounts (with significant copying between three of them) and the non-contemporary accounts of Paul who never even met him and again, a highly biassed source and that my friend, is it.

          • Randy Gritter

            We have 4 gospels the church accepts. Many more the church has rejected for one reason or another. We have some other writings from the time. Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp both disciples of John who claim to have discussed Jesus with John extensively. We have Clement of Rome who was an associate of Peter there. It is just confusing what you think they might have talked about. Were they just lying all the time?

          • primenumbers

            "Many more the church has rejected for one reason or another. " - indeed, false stories abound about Jesus. Does a raft of false stories and forgeries help your case or hinder it?

            "We have some other writings from the time" - you mean more non-contemporary words by people who never met Jesus and are merely repeating what believing Christians believe?

            "Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp both disciples of John" - there's no really good evidence for that.

            "We have Clement of Rome who was an associate of Peter there" - as told to us by Tertulian who was born 60yrs after Clement died. Clement's existing work doesn't tell us this, and how many hands did that "tradition" pass through until it reached Tertullian?

            "Were they just lying all the time?" - was Joseph Smith lying?

          • mally el

            Over the years some scientists have given us incorrect information does this mean that we must reject all the good that has come from scientists?

          • primenumbers

            Indeed they have but the results of science are re-testable. There is a correction mechanism. The fact that you know that some scientists have lied proves my point on correction mechanism - lying in science gets found out.

        • Max Driffill

          Randy,

          You will have to really start responding to the things people say, and stop projecting, or imagining your opponents are overly plagued with foibles.

          Given the historical data, primenumbers is correct, its plausible to suggest that Jesus might not have been a real person. The historical evidence is pretty thin, in fact it isn't much better than the evidence for a historical Hercules. I tend to think Jesus was probably a real person in history (sans supernatural embellishments). He was likely an itinerant, apocalyptic preacher, who over extended himself and met a sticky end at the hands of two political bodies he had managed to offend. I think even that might be going to far. But that is, based on what evidence we have, all we can , with only the thinnest of confidence, possibly say about the historical figure of Jesus.

          It doesn't matter to me whether or not Jesus (or Hercules) were real historical figures. It would validate not a single supernatural claim made on their behalf. I am not eager to deny him, or affirm him as a real figure in history.

          • Randy Gritter

            The reality is foibles are all over the place on both sides. That is why I like the testimony that goes against the interests of the scholar in question. If an orthodox Catholic scholar would come to the same conclusion I would not be so sure.

            You are right that the simple question of existence is not that big. Still it relates to how you read the evidence. It is easy for someone to just dismiss all the evidence on the other side for no good reason.

            You do that in your post. Hercules? Really? Don't give up your day job. You dismiss the bible? Why? It is there historical evidence for doing that? Just your bias. You dismiss everything written by Christians. Would it make sense to dismiss everything about Plato written by followers of Plato. Then say there is very little evidence remaining so he likely didn't exist. You can. Should historians take that seriously?

            We need to get down rules for what evidence counts before addressing the deeper questions of who Jesus claims to be and whether we should believe Him.

          • primenumbers

            Again, the atheist position is consistent here. We don't believe in winged horses, golden tablets, xenu and thetans or the supernatural tales of any religion. The Christian is not consistent as they deny the supernatural events of religions other than their own.

          • Max Driffill

            Randy,
            I have a moment, so I'll try to address everything you have said.

            "The reality is foibles are all over the place on both sides. That is why I like the testimony that goes against the interests of the scholar in question. If an orthodox Catholic scholar would come to the same conclusion I would not be so sure."

            Its neat that you pay lip service to the fact foibles can be experienced by believer and non-believer alike. However this is only lip service. In many of your posts you dismiss atheists, question our integrity and thus our scholarship while juxtaposing that with the saintly virtues of believers views

            Any scholar that values evidence over interest is indeed a scholar worthy of that title. My favorite example of this it the fact that Jewish archeologists have concluded that the story of Exodus is a mythology, and that it never happened.

            "You are right that the simple question of existence is not that big. Still it relates to how you read the evidence. It is easy for someone to just dismiss all the evidence on the other side for no good reason."

            I certainly have not done this. I don't think primenumbers has done this. They have adopted an appropriately skeptical stance.

            "You do that in your post. Hercules? Really? Don't give up your day job."
            I know it really grates on the nerves of believers when people juxtapose their beliefs with those from other mythological sources. While I am not interested in starting a Historical Hercules project there are reputable scholars of classical Greek antiquity who think he was probably a real person, around whom legend grew, into myth. This is not the first time something like this has happened and it won't be the last (in fact it happens in our own time).

            "You dismiss the bible? Why? It is there historical evidence for doing that? Just your bias. You dismiss everything written by Christians."

            Not true. The bible is not a good source for much quality historical evidence for the life of Jesus. No gospel was penned until well after the events they purport to describe. They were not written by eye-witnesses, it is unlikely the information in the gospels was gathered using good data sourcing methods, and journalistic integrity (the gospels differ in key ways for one thing). That is not to say that there are not some historical facts about Jesus that have made it into the gospels. But it is excessively difficult to glean anything but the barest skeleton of these facts from the bible because there is no independent, contemporary historical support for the stories we find in the bible about Jesus (which, i have to repeat, are inconsistent with each other).

            " Would it make sense to dismiss everything about Plato written by followers of Plato. Then say there is very little evidence remaining so he likely didn't exist. You can. Should historians take that seriously?"

            There are, I think, contemporary historical references to Plato and his discourses from people who were discussing he and them at the time. This would lend support for the the notion that Plato was person living during a certain period of time in ancient Greece.

            This contemporaneous reporting is not something we find with the life of Jesus.

            However, nothing in the philosophy of Plato is contingent on his being a real person. The lessons and thought provoking ideas stand whether or not Plato ever existed.

            "We need to get down rules for what evidence counts before addressing the deeper questions of who Jesus claims to be and whether we should believe Him."

            When we do this we must hold the bible as historical evidence very skeptically. It is something we cannot take at face value because it is so often at odds with history, and with itself.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Randy...be careful what ya wish for....

          Donald Akenson, Professor of Irish Studies in the department of history at Queen's University has argued that, with very few exceptions, the historians of Yeshua have not followed sound historical practices. He has stated that there is an unhealthy reliance on consensus, for propositions which should otherwise be based on primary sources, or rigorous interpretation. He also holds that some of the criteria being used are faulty. He says that the overwhelming majority of biblical scholars are employed in institutions whose roots are in religious beliefs. Because of this, he maintains that, more than any other group in present day academia, biblical historians are under immense pressure to theologize their historical work and that it is only through considerable individual heroism that many biblical historians have managed to maintain the scholarly integrity of their work.

          John Meier, Professor of theology at University of Notre Dame, has said "...people claim they are doing a quest for the historical Jesus when de facto they're doing theology, albeit a theology that is indeed historically informed..."

          Dale Allison, Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Early Christianity at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary too says, "...We wield our criteria to get what we want...We all see what we expect to see and what we want to see...."

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    I remain agnostic about the existence of a historical Jesus mostly because our earliest source, Paul, seems to know so little about him. Paul had some sort of visionary encounter with a heavenly being. He seems to have thought that this heavenly being had once been a man named Jesus who walked the earth, but we cannot infer from Paul's vision that such a man actually existed any more than we could infer the existence of a historical Moroni from Joseph Smith's visions. Paul never claims that anyone he knew was a disciple of the man Jesus. Paul knew apostles who, like himself, had visions of the risen Christ.

    I certainly accept the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical person, but I find the fact that our earliest source knows only a heavenly being highly problematic.

    • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

      Paul never claims that anyone he knew was a disciple of the man Jesus. Paul knew apostles who, like himself, had visions of the risen Christ.

      No, that is incorrect. The Apostles knew the historical Jesus—that is, they knew the man Jesus before he allegedly rose from the dead. The Apostles were disciples. Sometimes the words disciples and apostles are used pretty much interchangeably. The Apostles were the first disciples and those closest to Jesus.

      In Galations 2, Paul tells of meeting the Apostle Peter and speaking to him.

      It is true, though, that Paul doesn't say much about the ministry of Jesus in his surviving writings, leading to questions about how much Paul really knew about the "earthly" Jesus. There are various explanations for this.

      • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

        David,

        I think it is correct. Paul does not indicate that Peter was Jesus's "disciple" during his earthly ministry or that Jesus even had either disciples or an earthly ministry. Those are details that we find in later sources.

        We tend to use "disciple" and "apostle" interchangeably, but Paul didn't. Paul never uses "disciple" which means a student. Paul only uses "apostle" which mean a representative. Paul believed that he had been commissioned as an apostle by his encounter with the risen Christ and it's possible that he thought all the other apostles had been commissioned in this way as well. I see no indication that Paul thought any of them had been taught by the earthly Jesus.

        There are many theories about Paul's silence regarding the earthly Jesus. Some make more sense than others, but I don't think any of them are sufficient to establish that Paul's visions of the exalted risen Christ necessitate the historical Jesus of the gospels. On the other hand, I am equally skeptical that mythicism will ever be anything more than an interesting hypothesis.

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          Is it your thesis that the Apostle Peter and James the Brother of Jesus, whom Paul mentions seeing, did not know Jesus personally? That that their connection to Jesus was that they had some kind of vision they believed to be an encounter with him, like the one Paul is supposed to have had, and that the Gospel accounts "fill in" the story of the Apostles with untrue accounts about how, during his lifetime, Jesus recruited them, interacted with them, and so on?

          Paul is defensive about his claim to be an apostle, and it seems to me that if a vision of the risen Christ were enough to qualify as an apostle, Paul would have had a solid claim. It is not his vision of the risen Christ which is in question when his apostleship is doubted. It is the fact that he never was a follower of the earthly Jesus.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            David,

            I would not call it my thesis. I would call it a thesis that the evidence does not eliminate to my satisfaction. I would point out that Paul says he saw "the brother of the Lord" not "the brother of Jesus." As Paul preached the risen Christ, I think it would be natural for his converts to be curious about the man Jesus and to look to the scriptures to see what kind of things the Messiah would have done during his lifetime.

            Paul does seem to be defensive about his status as an apostle and that could be explained by the fact that his predecessors knew Jesus as a man. On the other hand, it could also be explained by the fact that the other apostles had their visions first. I can't see anything in Paul that makes me think the former more probable than the latter.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I would point out that Paul says he saw "the brother of the Lord" not "the brother of Jesus."

            Why, when we know James the Just aka James the Brother of Jesus was head of the Church in Jerusalem, would we suspect that James the Brother of the Lord was not James the Brother of Jesus? Paul does routinely uses phrases like "our Lord Jesus Christ" or "Jesus Christ Our Lord." He does not call anyone but Jesus Lord.

            I think it would be natural for his converts to be curious about the man Jesus and to look to the scriptures to see what kind of things the Messiah would have done during his lifetime.

            There are two problems with that. Paul's converts were Gentiles, so why would they look to Hebrew scripture? And Paul himself doesn't make the case that Jesus was the Messiah (although he uses the title Jesus Christ). Also, Jesus does not do anything that Jews expected the Messiah to do, so there is no case in Hebrew scripture to look for. (That will be heresy to the Christians, but I would assume you agree.)

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Do we know that James the Brother of Jesus was head of the Church in Jerusalem? The only other New Testament source to discuss this James is Acts, but it's author declines to identify him as Jesus's biological brother. The tradition on that point has never seemed all that consistent to me.

            Isn't Christ simply the Greek translation of Messiah, i.e., anointed one?

            Since Paul cites the Hebrew scriptures frequently in his letters, I think that would be a natural place for even gentile converts to look information. Certainly much that we find in the gospels draws on passages in the Old Testament, although I agree that the Jews didn't view most of those passages as referring to the Messiah.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Do we know that James the Brother of Jesus was head of the Church in Jerusalem?

            I believe James is mentioned as the brother of Jesus in Mark and several other New Testament documents. Also since Paul does not rely on Acts and Acts does not rely on Paul, I see no reason not to consider the mention of James in both as two independent attestations. Josephus also mentions James, and apparently only died-in-the-wool Christianity doubters dispute the authenticity of the reference.

            Isn't Christ simply the Greek translation of Messiah, i.e., anointed one?

            Yes, but what I am saying (somewhat rashly, I suppose, since I am basing it on my impressions and on memory) is that Paul doesn't use the Old Testament the way the Gospels do—to try to demonstrate that what Jesus did was foreshadowed from Genesis onward, and the Old Testament is full of prophesies of the coming of Jesus and passages that Jesus "fulfills."

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Mark and Matthew both mention that Jesus has a brother named James, but neither indicates that he was ever associated with the early Christians. Luke/Acts tells us about a James that played a prominent role in the early church, but doesn’t tell us that he was Jesus’s brother. Moreover, Luke drops Mark’s reference to one of Jesus’s siblings being named James which seems to me to raise the possibility that Luke specifically wanted to avoid the James in his story being identified with the James in Mark’s story. At the time, James was a pretty common name.

            I think you are right about the gospels and epistles using the Old Testament differently although I can’t claim to have analyzed those differences closely enough to say what the possible implications are.

          • Mikegalanx

            And don't forget, according to the Catholic Church Jesus didn't have any brothers.

      • Andrew G.

        Paul never uses the term "disciple", and he repeatedly applies the term "apostle" to himself, even implying that he sees himself as just as much of an apostle as anyone else, even Cephas.

        Paul tells of meeting Cephas (Peter) and James, but clearly sees himself as able to dispute with them (rather than deferring to them).

        Paul also refers to some others in ways that might or might not imply they are apostles (the Greek is ambiguous).

        More interestingly, the Didache also refers to apostles, giving instructions as to what they should be allowed to do and how to distinguish false ones - implying that the intended audience actually has some chance of this happening to them, in spite of the fact that it most likely dates from c. 100AD when any original apostles will have been long dead.

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          The word apostle need not necessarily refer to one of The Twelve, and the word disciples is often used to refer to The Twelve. Barnabas, who was not one of The Twelve is referred to as an Apostle. Clearly Paul was not one of The Twelve, but he refers to himself as an Apostle. It seems to me that Paul is not interested in the earthly life of Jesus, and consequently he insists that he is an Apostle because Jesus called him. It seems to me that Paul is defensive about his status as an Apostle almost certainly because he is not one of The Twelve, whom some would consider to have a special status because they were the followers of the earthly Jesus.

          As I said earlier, the hypothesis being hinted at here is that the Apostles (that is, The Twelve) did not know the earthy Jesus (who, apparently according to this hypothesis, did not exist), and a "fictitious" story arose about a man named Jesus. The Twelve knew of the fictitious character Jesus, whom they believed to be real, and they also believed to have encountered the risen Christ. From that the fictitious story of Christ was elaborated on, and The Twelve were incorporated into the fictitious story as having been recruited, taught, and commissioned by Jesus during his lifetime. But of course, since he didn't exist, that means real people—the Apostles—were incorporated into the already fictious story of the life of Jesus.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            David,

            I think you have some of the hypothesis in the wrong order.

            At least for me, It starts with the visionary encounters with the risen Christ. At least Paul, but probably some others, too. From these encounters a flesh and blood man who walked the earth is inferred. None of the visionaries knew him when he was a man, but they certainly did not view him as "fictitious." The visions of the risen Christ proved the existence of the man Jesus. As time went by stories about what the man said and did arose through invention, revelation, an reinterpretation of the scripture.

            I do not think that the evidence is sufficient to establish this as most likely, but it seems to me to be within the range of possibilities that the evidence allows.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            At least for me, It starts with the visionary encounters with the risen Christ. At least Paul, but probably some others, too.

            Wouldn't there have to be something people believed about Jesus first before anyone had visions of him? Paul, as a persecutor of Christians, at least knew that Jesus had been crucified and that his followers believed he risen from the dead. But what was the content of the visionary encounters with Christ before Paul's if the Gospel stories were invented significantly later to give the "backstory" for the visions? It seems to me there had to be something powerful enough to make people believe they were having visions of Christ rather than of someone else. So there must have been something already believed, otherwise how would different people who had visions conclude they were seeing the same person as in other people's visions?

            Also, why would Paul say he is the last to see Christ? Paul seems to be aware that he is coming along just at the tag end of the story of Jesus's life, death, resurrection, and ascension. He's adding himself as the last part of the story. Why does he seem to think his is the very last experience of Jesus on earth? If Peter and the others encountered Jesus through visions, why can't they have more visions?

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Wouldn't there have to be something people believed about Jesus first before anyone had visions of him?

            I’m not sure. Joseph Smith had visions of the Angel Moroni without first knowing anything about an ancient Nephite warrior named Moroni (at least as far as we know). I don’t think we really know enough to say what the necessary conditions are for such religious visions.

            Paul never really tells us why he was persecuting the Christians and I think that it can be shown that perpetrators of religious persecutions often lack an accurate picture of what it is their victims actually believe. Early Christians were thought to practice incest and cannibalism. Jews have been thought to practice ritual infanticide. After his conversion, Paul says he went out and preached for three years before he even bother to go meet the original apostles. I don’t think we can be sure how much continuity there was between what Paul believed and what those he viewed as his predecessors believed.

            I think the traditional story line seems most plausible because we are used to it, but we are missing so many pieces of the puzzle.

      • primenumbers

        "The Apostles knew the historical Jesus—that is, they knew the man Jesus before he allegedly rose from the dead." - but we don't get from reading Paul. If all we ever had was Paul, we'd be hard pushed to have anything on an earthly historical Jesus at all.

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          I agree we get very little about Jesus from Paul, but do we need to have Paul say, "Peter the Apostle knew Jesus in person and so did James the Brother of Jesus," in order to believe that Paul knew it and it was true? When Paul speaks of Peter (Cephas), he does not explain to his readers who Peter is. He writes as if they already know, so it seems reasonable to assume they do know. He does, though, say,

          . . . . just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles)

          So he acknowledges, it seems to me, the primary importance of Peter. Paul is making a bold claim, saying he is the apostle to the uncircumcised just as Peter is the apostle to the circumcised. But it seems clear that Paul doesn't take Peter to be "just another apostle." He takes him to be the apostle Christ is working through to reach the Jews, while he (Paul) is the apostle Christ is working through to reach the Gentiles.

          So I acknowledge it is strange that Paul says so little about Jesus and what he said and did during his lifetime. I do think the claim that Paul just assumed his audience already knew what was to be told in the Gospels is very weak. But I think it is only natural to assume that Paul expected his audience know who Peter was without him spelling it out, and therefore I do not think it is strange that Paul doesn't say that Peter followed Jesus when Jesus was still alive. And certainly we have good reason to believe that James the Brother of Jesus would have known Jesus before he was crucified.

          • primenumbers

            "But I think it is only natural to assume that Paul expected his audience know who Peter was without him spelling it out, " - well, as Paul was first a persecutor of very early Christians, no doubt it is that most early of Christian traditions that told of Peter. The problem being that Paul is our best insight in that that most early of tradition as the Gospels are too late and Christianity has moved on too much for them to be properly representative. I guess what I'm saying is that we don't know anything at all about pre-Paul Christianity other than what the anonymous post-Paul Gospel writers tell us, and that for good reason I cannot think that what they say is an accurate portrayal of the very earliest of beliefs of the earliest Christians.

            What it comes back to the agnosticism I have because the historical evidence just isn't there to really know much or enough of what was actually going on. It seems that many possible theories could fit to produce Paul and the Gospels we have; some of those theories requiring an earthly Jesus, others requiring just a spiritual Jesus (like Paul encountered). What I think that leaves us with is a big "don't know".

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I agree we get very little about Jesus from Paul, but do we need to have Paul say, "Peter the Apostle knew Jesus in person and so did James the Brother of Jesus," in order to believe that Paul knew it and it was true?

            That would be by far the best way to establish Paul's thinking on the question. I'm sure that there were lots of things that Paul knew that never made it into his letters because they weren't relevant to a point he needed to make, but those letters are still our only direct evidence of what he knew and they have to be our starting point. Once we have let Paul speak for himself, we can consider the extent to which we are justified in modifying our interpretations based on later sources, but I don't think we can justify simply reading the gospels back into Paul.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            . . . . but I don't think we can justify simply reading the gospels back into Paul.

            I am not sure that it is "reading the Gospels back into Paul" to consider it plausible that later accounts that Peter and James are the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem not only are consistent with what Paul says, but Paul and Acts mutually support each other. And as for the contention that Peter was someone who knew Jesus face to face, we have Mark (along with Matthew and Luke) and John, two quite different accounts.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            It may be plausible, but that doesn't make it probable. As I understand the mainstream view of the thing, a major part of early Christian worship and practice consisted of sharing stories about the things Jesus said and did during his time on earth. This oral tradition was eventually reduced to written form in the gospels.

            However, when I look at our earliest source, Paul doesn't seem to have the slightest interest in the earthly Jesus or his ministry. Paul cares only about the risen Christ who manifests him self through revelation and in the scriptures. I don't see a hint in Paul of an oral tradition concerning the pre-crucifixion life of Jesus. Can we really have any grounds for thinking such a tradition existed if our earliest source doesn't corroborate it?

            This of course doesn't prove the non-existence of a historical Jesus, but for me it renders the traditional accounts suspect.

  • Jesus S Aaron Uni Christ Payne

    I have kinky on my 2 feet because I am Kin 2 the key. I have wrath on my Knee but my wrath has heart look and see. I have SAP on my back from the cross from which I was hung. I have compass about me, true North No Lie. I have the World of God on my side. I dwell in the House of Payne with the Lord.

    Those are the religious markings on my body. I was born to the 7th Daughter of 7 sisters, the 7 seal's. I was loathed from the day I was born because I was breach.

    Sin,
    The House of Payne Church of God
    S2 Eisu S. Aaron Uni Peg Unix Christ-Payne
    The Unicorn Pegasus
    The direct bloodline descendant and Heir that is being denied by Rome.

    • Vicq_Ruiz

      Hey, a Christian poster who's right on point. You should write some lead articles for th' site.

      • Jesus S Aaron Uni Christ Payne

        Its not a poster and I'm not a Christian and neither was Jesus.
        We are pagan indians

  • Eric Turtles Peterson

    Every person who tells me Jesus never existed, or that he wasn't a religious leader or important figure, I challenge to admit that Socrates wasn't a philosopher. After all, we have a great many Gospels, plus at least two mentions by historians of Jesus. We have four contemporaries who talked about Socrates, only one of whom was a historian (and one of whom, Plato, would have been keen to "mythicize" and idealize Socrates). We have far more evidence of Jesus' position as the Messiah (or at least a very compelling teacher) than Socrates' position as a philosopher, yet no one ever seems to question the latter.

    • primenumbers

      "After all, we have a great many Gospels, plus at least two mentions by historians of Jesus" - we have our altered and amended copies of the four canonicals, written anonymously many years after the supposed events occurred by writers who were not eye-witnesses to the events and don't document sources. The existence of the other gospels that are not accepted just goes to show the cherry-picking that went on by the early Christians and weakens the case rather than strengthens it.

      As for the historical mentions - they don't mention a real historical Jesus. They mention (at best) real historical early Christians believing as real early historical Christians do (in Jesus) and of course the existence of early Christians is not in doubt. At worst, the case of the mentions in Josephus show that early Christians felt nothing of altering historical documents for their own ends and inserting Jesus mentions where there were none already.

  • newenglandsun

    This was a really good case for the existence of Jesus. Can any mythicist honestly answer this?

  • Morten

    Hi
    Can you help me with this:
    Why did Ireneaus and Origen believe that the kinship between James and Jesus was spiritual, rather than anything else?

  • sebastian

    Uh huh, 1st you talk about consensus among scholars as evidence, and 2nd you pick up Josephus, which is, according to scholarly consensus again, the most unreliable and most likely fake source? There is hardly any division on Josephus among scholars, and I'm talking about catholic scholars now, not to mention others.
    I know you are apologist so putting some twists and "pimping" everything is present, but Jesus as we knew him 100 years ago is gone, so I guess it all depends on which Jesus are we talking about when it comes to his historicity.

  • pastor luke

    The bible interprets itself on the subject. Here watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxlSj-imvDA

  • Fiona Deveney

    hello Zen, my father in law was an atheist till he was 79. He had had an ulcer on both of his shins from the knee to the ankle and about 2 inches wide. They oozed pu and the nurses came to change the bandages every day. He had had them for 2 years and had also gone to a specialist clinic for 6 weeks but they sent him home becaseu he could not be healed. So the nurses continued coming and doing daily bandages. He was in pain and very incomfortable. Well, get this.... us very naughty christians pleaded with him to come to the healing service at our church and eventually he gave in ( despite calling my husband, his son a fair few news saying christianity was stupid). The healing service is always tuesday evening at 7.30 ( at Christian Renewal Centre, solihul, Birmingham, uk).. Amazingly, Tom agreed to go up for prayer and came back with tears in his eyes saying that when they prayed for him he could feel tingling in his shins where the ulcers were even tho they had not touched his legs. He was amazed and kept talking about it. The next day, weds morning when the nurses came the oozing had dried up significantly and the nurse commented on it and seemed very surprised. The next day, thursday morning the skin had formed right to the miuddle. There was still bruising and it was very delicate but there was no more pus, no more oozing. My father in law was so amazed that he became a christian at the rip old age of 79 though he had been very against it all his life!! His comment i remember was that now that he had seen for himself he could only believe. He changed a lot and became a lot less angry and his relationship with his sons improved as did his general outlook on life. When he died a few years later he was peaceful and a different man. I was also healed and changed ( and I was a non-believer )- but that is another story. The bible says If you seek with all your heart you WILL find the Lord. But we need to seek Him now, not after we have died when it will be too late. I never thought I would be a believer- but now that i have seen I do believe. Jesus came to save us from all the evil and horridness ( hell) that i don't think any sane person can deny. There is a spirit realm ( who could deny this after even a few hours research). There is good and there is evil ( who could deny these, either)... and once we have left this mortal coil- can we honestly say that the good and evil will not both continue.... And if they do, where will we go ? Can we be SURE ????? Jesus who was so aware, so spiritual, such an amazing healer and predicter of future events... this Jesus who heals people today said that He came to save us from the evil one and bring us into a right relationship with God.. If we turn to Jesus He promises to save us from the evil one. Can I recommend you watch Ian McCormack's Glimpse of eternity and also Howard Storm's testimony on youtube... very vital things from unexpected people!!! God bless x :)

  • Brandon Roberts

    jesus dis exist i think most reputable scholars and historians agree jesus existed. even dawkins agrees jesus existed although thinks he would have been an atheist which is a lie. because jesus founded christianity and claimed to be god multiple times. oh and i'm not trying to be mean just admitting that there's tons of historical evidence for jesus of nazarene.

    • Michael Murray

      If you are keen on reputable scholars you might like to look at the latest popular book from Bart Ehrman who disagrees with your belief that Jesus claimed he was God.

      The claim at the heart of the Christian faith is that Jesus of Nazareth was, and is, God. But this is not what the original disciples believed during Jesus’s lifetime—and it is not what Jesus claimed about himself. How Jesus Became God tells the story of an idea that shaped Christianity, and of the evolution of a belief that looked very different in the fourth century than it did in the first.

      http://www.amazon.com/How-Jesus-Became-God-Exaltation-ebook/dp/B00DB39V2Q/ref=la_B001I9RR7G_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397890957&sr=1-1

      • Brandon Roberts

        oh no i was not saying they said he is god. i just meant they agree he existed i think mostly as a man who claimed he was messiah. and i was refuting dawkins claim that jesus would have been an atheist. i personally believe he is god but i'm not going to go on a big rant because others don't (at least in the bible jesus claims to be god).

        • Michael Murray

          But you did say "jesus founded christianity and claimed to be god multiple times". Ehrman is disputing that Jesus claimed to be God.

          • Brandon Roberts

            yeah tour right i did and i read the little blurb thing. so christianity was founded after jesus and never claimed to be god. so i may have been wrong it's all good

  • Fiona Deveney

    whateve people say or think it interesting that people are being healed in the name of Jesus today- and have been for centuries. Doctors have become christians because their medically terminally ill patient have been healed. Regardless of what you may think this is worth investigating and you should not only take my word for it. I am a converted believer myself and have genuinely seen people healed by the power of Jesus. Arguing and working out Jesus' reality from history is one thing; but surely its worth taking a look at what is actually taking place in the very real and tangible ( and verifiable) modern world. drug addicts are being instantly healed in Jesus' name, cancers and paralysis and blindness is healed in His name too. This is more than coincidence. I have seen it myself. My father-in-law became a christian at the ripe old age of 79 after being an atheist most of his life after he was prayed for and miraculously healed of a condition he had had and sought help for for 2 years. He converted the everning he was prayed for because he felt the power of the Holy Spirit touching him and he was different after that. I know of many people personally who have been healed by power in Jesus' name, Jesus' main message ws love and forgiveness- the sort of things you might expect God would want us to know about. Jesus said all the way back then that miracles would accompany those who believe and shared his gospel of this good news. ... God bless x

  • lifeofliberty

    All specious claims. Paul NEVER met the mythical Christ and admits it. And the comments by Josephus - widely discarded as being authentic.

    This leaves what? Nothing. No evidence in history AT ALL. A rather "poor showing" for such a controversial figure.

    Or maybe it means the entire story is a FABLE.

    This was really a poor effort to "defend the historical Christ". Is this the best Christianity has? Then Christ never existed.

  • Michael Roy

    Albert Einstein said, " no one can say Jesus did not exist". Saturday evening post, Berlin, October 1929.