The Historicity of Jesus

October 6, 2007 at 12:15 am 25 comments

Jesus on the crossWe’ve had several entries on this subject over the course of this blog including:

However, on a recent comment, evanescent mentioned this subject and I would like highlight it (with some slight edits for flow):

Quotation Marks 1

There is good reason to believe there was a man at the centre of the cult that became Christianity. Actually, there was probably many men at the time. The cult that become Christianity retrospectively convoluted stories about its leader.

A fantastic set of articles exploring the historical evidence (or lack thereof) for Jesus can be found here: http://ebonmusings.org/atheism/camel.html

Most of the people the bible mentions were people who actually existed, but the bible is also way off with its events and chronology.

For example, where is the evidence that Herod murdered all baby boys under 2 years old? Where is the evidence that the entire earth went dark in the middle of the day at Jesus’ supposed execution? How about the notion that Caesar Augustus ordered a census for taxation purposes? This is absolute nonsense. The Romans would have ordered no such thing and there is no evidence that they did.

Also, there was a LOCAL census by Governor Quirinius, (not one decreed by the Caesar), but it happened in 6 CE, long after Herod’s death! The account, as provided by Luke, is purely invented and can be historically confirmed as false.

The famous Jewish historian of the time Josephus has not one piece of confirmatory evidence to support the extravagant claims of the bible.

[Arguments that use the fact that the Bible mentions real historical people, places or events to prove the Bible is accurate] boil down to saying “the bible mentions the country Egypt. Look Egypt is a real place, therefore the bible is true!”

This is why I was very careful to say that there is no empirical evidence at all to support the Christian faith. I don’t deny that Christianity existed (!), but I deny the veracity of its claims.

[However,] the choice is not between Christianity being the total and true word of god, and it being a fabricated hoax.

There is at least one other possibility: it started as a small cult and grew and changed, and spread by hearsay and word of mouth. The gospels were written far after the supposed events, and the writers distorted events to fit supposed prophecy. The gospels contradict each other, and known history.

The only historical evidence you have suggests that there was a cult that Quotation Mark 2came to call themselves Christians. Well, yes, I don’t deny this. But raising the dead, walking on water, ascending to heaven? No, I don’t think so.

- The de-Convert

Entry filed under: The de-Convert. Tags: , , , , , , .

Divine Protection or Just Plain Lucky? Excerpts From a Dark Night

25 Comments Add your own

  • 1. LeoPardus  |  October 6, 2007 at 1:00 am

    At first I was afraid this was going to be another “Jesus is a total fabrication” bit. [And the stuff at ebonmusings.org is just such foolishness.] But after reading through, I seem to be in agreement with evanescent.
    There was a Jesus (or more probably Jeshua) who founded Christianity, along with a dozen or so of his friends. “But raising the dead, walking on water, ascending to heaven? No, I don’t think so.

  • 2. The de-Convert  |  October 6, 2007 at 1:32 am

    LP,

    You’ll probably like MOI’s review of Flemming’s “A God Who Wasn’t There”:

    http://de-conversion.com/2007/05/17/my-thoughts-on-brian-flemmings-the-god-who-wasnt-there/

    Paul

  • 3. The de-Convert  |  October 6, 2007 at 2:30 am

    LP,

    There was a Jesus (or more probably Jeshua) who founded Christianity, along with a dozen or so of his friends.

    In my opinion, the Book of James probably best describes the initial beliefs of this group. There’s not a whole lot of mysticism there other than the belief that “the Lord” was coming back soon. Other than that, it is a pretty practical book.

    Paul’s version of Jesus introduces the higher purpose behind Jesus’ death which is then expanded when the gospels were written. Much of Paul’s theology on salvation by “grace” contradicts James more simple and practical approach which focused on our actions.

    James’ teachings also line up with a lot of the basic teachings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels.

    However, all we can have here is theories. There’s no way to prove what is authentic and what is myth or if it’s all myth.

    Paul

  • 4. Stephen P  |  October 6, 2007 at 2:41 am

    LeoPardus: why do you think it foolish to propose that Jesus never existed? I’m not sure that the case is proven, but there are certainly very good reasons to doubt his existence. Have you, for example, read The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty? (The main article starts at that page; there is also a lot of other material on his site.)

  • 5. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 6, 2007 at 9:30 am

    The de-Convert,

    Good stuff here. I don’t think I’ll ever be convinced that Jesus didn’t exist. There’s too much evidence of other people’s reactions to Jesus to prove otherwise. See here: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/
    All the early gospels texts and scraps of texts would be insane if there wasn’t some catalyst.

    I do believe however in the Cult of Christianity; that a religion and an institution was built up around the perceived personality of Jesus and that they distorted most of his Jewish teachings in order to found a controlling organization. Paul’s probably at fault here. Frankly Christianity is Paul’s baby. He based everything on visions he had, having never met the real Jesus.

  • 6. darvish  |  October 6, 2007 at 11:40 am

    There were hundreds of Christian “cults” at the time of the Council of Nicea, (sp) but most were eradicated forcibly by the suggestion of St. Augustine, who wanted a unified version behind a strong church. The cults followed the teachings of a great Rabbi later named Jesus, and would have been shocked to hear anyone say that he thought of himself as the son of God. And so many so called gnostic gospels have been removed from the official text to solidify the official version that a full history is sorely lacking. A human and humane Jesus, who preached a new vision of love to counteract the Old Testament fire and brimstone God was surely a welcome relief to his followers. That he may have been an Essene, a Jewish sect of intense prayer and hermit like living, much like the monks who followed later, seems to have been forgotten.

    The message however still resonates: love one another. It is the essential teaching of every religion.

  • 7. HeIsSailing  |  October 6, 2007 at 11:53 am

    darvish:

    The cults followed the teachings of a great Rabbi later named Jesus, and would have been shocked to hear anyone say that he thought of himself as the son of God.

    I don’t think that is quite correct.

    And so many so called gnostic gospels have been removed from the official text to solidify the official version that a full history is sorely lacking.

    Have you ever read any of these Gnostic Gospels? I think it is widely recognized that they contain no history concerning Jesus whatsoever.

    A human and humane Jesus, who preached a new vision of love to counteract the Old Testament fire and brimstone God was surely a welcome relief to his followers.

    Not in orthodox Christianity. What you are describing is Marcionism, which was considered hereetical to orthodox teaching.

  • 8. HeIsSailing  |  October 6, 2007 at 11:56 am

    Have you ever read any of these Gnostic Gospels? I think it is widely recognized that they contain no history concerning Jesus whatsoever.

    Let me add the possiblity of some of the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas may be historical. But the docetic versions of Jesus as described in eg the Gospel of Peter or the Acts of John have no historical value.

  • 9. Iqbaldinho  |  October 6, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Lets have no doubts about it, if jesus existed (and I personally believe he did) – he was an orthodox jew as were his mother Mary, Uncle Zachariah and cousin John.
    He observed the sabbath on saturdays (which started on friday nights), he was circumcised – he spoke the gospel in araimic that was inspired in his heart and never transcribed it onto any parchment or tablet.
    Being a staunch jew it would have been that he followed the orthodox jewish teachings and as such worshipped only the God of Moses -the major patriarch of the jewish faith.

    And there are’nt any quotation in any part of the 4 gospels that is directly attributable to him or any of his closest disciples ascribing divinity to him (I invoke only the 4 gospels here to preclude a paulean bias in scriptural interpretation of the claims of Jesus.)
    What christians now know of and believe jesus to be was largely interpreted through visions (or schizophrenic episodes if you would like) – experienced by Paul of Tarsus.
    In any case Paul’s version of this man Jesus is at radical variance of who really jesus could have been and what he was made out to be by one who had not seen him.

    So the question that really needs answering to ascertain the real message of Jesus would be – was jesus crucified because he ascribed divinity to himself (that attracted the capital punishment under jewish law) or he threatened the authority of the then religious authorities of the Sanhedrins and the Pharisees?
    I think that the latter is more probable because If he ascribed divinity to himself, his own disciples would have distanced themselves from him and would have turned him in themselves.

  • 10. karen  |  October 6, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    I heard Tim Callahan (“The Secret Origins of the Bible”) address the issue of Jesus’s existence at a Skeptics Society meeting a few years ago. He said there was no good independent confirmation that an historical Jesus actually existed.

    However, he said he and most serious scholars were fairly convinced there was an historical person Jesus, although it’s not the divine, walk-on-water son of god that Christianity worships.

    He laid out some interesting reasoning. He pointed out that there are some very elaborate and convoluted stories in the gospels that seem to be there to justify certain bits of Jesus’s personal history. For instance, the writer of Luke says Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which jives with the OT prophecy.

    But “Luke” apparently had to deal with the reality that the actual Jesus was known to be a Nazarene. So Luke invents the wholly false story of the census and the trip of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem where Jesus is born.

    Callahan’s point: If he didn’t actually exist, why didn’t Luke just write that Jesus was born in Bethlehem to parents who lived in that city?

    Because there was the inconvenient fact that the man Jesus was known to be a Nazarene, so Luke had the embarrassing duty of inventing a clever history for him that explained how he came to be born in Bethlehem.

    There’s no reason to spin like that if there isn’t a real Jesus to start with. I thought it was pretty persuasive.

  • 11. Jon F  |  October 7, 2007 at 4:11 am

    Most people who call themselves followers of Jesus are actually followers of Paul.

  • 12. tian  |  October 7, 2007 at 7:18 am

    The simple way to prove that Jesus really-really exist is through the calling His name.
    Put any name here :
    Iqbaldinho, darvis, Hels sailing,Jon F, ,Siddaharta, Mohhamed, etc and Jesus itself.

    The way is by calling softly :
    O..Lord X , give Your shine and enlightment, if you really-really exist, show me and enter into me, if not, let me to be independent person and do anything that i want will do.

    Replace alphabet X with name above, one name every sentence.
    If you feel something, it is the answer.

    Thank you

    tian

  • 13. Stephen P  |  October 7, 2007 at 10:18 am

    I don’t think I’ll ever be convinced that Jesus didn’t exist. There’s too much evidence of other people’s reactions to Jesus to prove otherwise. See here: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/

    By all means look there. But what do we find? How many contemporary descriptions of Jesus’ earthly life do we find? Answer: none. How many do we find within fifty years after he lived (or is supposed to have)? Answer: only Mark, as far as I can see. (Have I missed one?) And there is evidence in the gospel of Mark suggesting that Mark was not even familiar with the geography and customs of Israel, so he must have actually lived somewhere else. (Randel Helms suggests modern-day Syria.)

    Contrary to what you suggest, this implies an exceedingly limited degree of enthusiasm among the people around Jesus.

    If Jesus did not actually exist, it does not however imply that the stories about him were a deliberate hoax. A more likely source is people telling stories that were intended to be understood as parables, but which some of their listeners took literally.

    Compare it to advertising copy-writers of today. They surely do not think of themselves as hoaxers, and few people would call them that. But there is nonetheless precious little truth in most advertising copy. Yet some people believe them.

    An even better example is formed by urban legends: stories which take on a life of their own. How many of these started as a joke, a warning tale for children or the embroidery of an after-dinner speech, only for them to have acquired in the retelling a veneer of spurious veracity?

  • 14. Stephen P  |  October 7, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    Karen: the issue of the convoluted stories in Luke is readily disposed of. Jesus was recorded as coming from Galilee in Mark’s gospel, written a couple of decades earlier and which had in the meantime presumably become well known. That is what Luke was having to address.

    A good parallel can be found in Conan Doyle’s story The Adventure of the Empty House, which has a convoluted and somewhat implausible tale about the aftermath of the fight at the Reichenbach falls. This was necessary because of the existence of a previous well-known story, The Adventure of the Final Problem in which it appeared that Sherlock Holmes had fallen to his death at the falls.

    The existence of a convoluted story in Luke no more implies that Jesus was a real person than the existence of a convoluted story in The Adventure of the Empty House implies that Sherlock Holmes was a real person. Both are adequately explained by the existence of a previous well-known story.

    To be honest, having read a couple of books by Callahan and been impressed by them, I am surprised that he would advance such a weak argument. But I suppose that none of us can think clearly all the time. I make silly mistakes as well.

  • 15. karen  |  October 7, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    He wasn’t only referencing Luke, Stephen P. He mentioned several other places in the gospels where the story is unnecessarily convoluted if there was no historical person whose real history had to be accounted for.

    Tim Callahan wasn’t utterly persuaded one way or the other, but gave that explanation for why he leaned toward an historical figure actually existing. He also said he didn’t really think it made a huge difference one way or the other.

  • 16. Stephen P  |  October 8, 2007 at 1:40 am

    Thanks Karen. Can you recall any examples he gave from Mark itself? I’d be interested in hearing them if so.

  • 17. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 10, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    StephenP,

    Well, if we follow your logic, there’s no evidence for Paul’s life either. No details about where he lived, who his relatives were, etc. Or Peter’s life, or James’ life, nothing, zip, nada. Since we don’t have that information why not insist none of these fellows lived either? Why focus only on Jesus’ “non existance?” Why? Because non-believers have a lot at stake on insisting it.

  • 18. Thinking Ape  |  October 10, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Well, if we follow your logic, there’s no evidence for Paul’s life either. No details about where he lived, who his relatives were, etc

    …but we have writings that were actually written by a man name Paul. Saying we have no evidence for Paul is like saying there is no evidence for Plato. Likewise, the only evidence we have for Socrates is second-hand – and most of that is considered a literary construct of Plato. Personally, I believe it is more reasonable to doubt the existence of Socrates than the existence of Jesus.

  • 19. karen  |  October 10, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    No, sorry, I can’t recall examples specifically from Mark. But Callahan has a number of books out, so maybe he fleshes out his argument further in one of those.

  • 20. LeoPardus  |  October 10, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    If not having something written first-hand by an historical person is a reason to doubt their ever existing, then we need to call into question most of the rulers of most of the countries in the world throughout most of history.

  • 21. Thinking Ape  |  October 10, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    If not having something written first-hand by an historical person is a reason to doubt their ever existing…

    I hope this wasn’t a response to me – I was speaking about the positive, not the negative: if that person had written something, then there is little reason to doubt they excuse (can we have an amen?), I only referred to the persons of Jesus and Socrates as a reference to the current debate on their historicity (on this blog and in academia). Like I said, I have more reason to doubt Socrates existed than Jesus, but my reasons have to do with how Plato uses the figure of Socrates in his works – an authoritative philosophical archetype without any historical value.

  • 22. LeoPardus  |  October 11, 2007 at 10:16 am

    TA:
    ‘Twas not a response to you. I was addressing the silly idea that lack of writings by an individual constitutes a reason to doubt their historicity. I’ve seen enough by you to figure that you did not subscribe to the idea.
    One thing I’ve noticed for many years regarding history: Folks generally have no idea at all how to think about it or investigate it. It’s much the same as science. I wish people would invest at least some of their hobby time for a few years in reading up on the foundations of history and science before spouting off about them.
    Ah well. Just a couple of “soap box” issues for me.

  • 23. Thinking Ape  |  October 11, 2007 at 10:30 am

    Leopardus:
    Ah, understood. I do find that most of the people subscribing to the idea are sensationalists, or people with a huge grudge against Christianity (*cough* Brian Flemming *cough*). From my limited studies of the historical Jesus I have found that very few scholars doubt the existence of Jesus, even if they have entertained the idea at one time.

    For those interested in a good introductory analysis of the historical Jesus, check out David Gowler’s “What Are They Saying About the Historical Jesus” (part of Paulist Press’ “WATSA” series). There are lots of resources referenced that allow for more in depth research.

  • 24. Stephen P  |  October 11, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    MOI: I’m not sure whether “Why focus only on Jesus’ non existance?” was a serious question of yours or just a bit of rhetorical blowing off of steam. In case it was the former, the following would seem to be reason enough:
    1. It is the subject of this thread.
    2. Jesus is the central figure of one of the world’s major religions where Peter and James are not.
    3. At least we have something written by people calling themselves Peter, James etc.

    But yes, the extent to which the apostles existed is also an interesting question, and I’m happy to write something on it if you want me to (when I have time – things are pretty busy at present).

    But your “because non-believers have a lot at stake on insisting it” is way off base, at least as far as this non-believer is concerned. (Do I sense a bit of projection?) I’m really not concerned whether the figure of Jesus is based on a real person or not. Until fairly recently I assumed that Jesus was indeed a real person, and I still don’t rule out the possibility. What I am concerned about is that the evidence receives a fair examination, and is not casually dismissed as “foolishness”.

  • 25. mysteryofiniquity  |  October 11, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    “MOI: I’m not sure whether “Why focus only on Jesus’ non existance?” was a serious question of yours or just a bit of rhetorical blowing off of steam.”

    And:

    “(Do I sense a bit of projection?)”

    Why all the personal attacks on this blog? Can no one give a straight answer around here without being affronted? Forgive the intrusion.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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