Once again: did Jesus exist?

August 29, 2014 • 7:16 am

UPDATE: Several readers have said in the comments that this is a non-issue: why should anyone care whether a historical Jesus existed?  I would have thought the answer was obvious, but I’ll let Sajanas, who has already commented, give it:

But so much of Christian philosophy is based around the argument for authority, that Jesus not existing at all really just crushes it. Then, they’re really no more valid than the philosophies of the Iliad or the Aeneid.

It’s important because one of the major world’s religions is based critically on the claim that a historical Jesus existed, which in principle could be supported with evidence. (It’s also supported by claims for the divinity of said Jesus.) Sometimes I get the feeling that people just say, “Who cares?” because they have a form of xkcd Syndrome.  But millions of Christians do care!

______

For some reason I’m very curious about whether the Jesus myth is based on a historical person. Even if such a person existed, of course, that gives no credence to his status as the divine son of God/part of God, or to the stories about him in the Bible. After all, many myths are based on historical people who are later deemed to have done miracles, been divine, and so on. “John Frum,” the iconic figure of the Pacific cargo cults, may well have been based on a real American G.I.

Christians, of course, are intensely interested in the historicity of Jesus, for if you can show that such a person existed, it at least gives a boost to their beliefs about his divinity. If, in contrast, there is little or no evidence for a Jesus-person, then the whole myth pretty much collapses, at least if you think Jesus was a real person walking about and doing stuff in Palestine. That’s why Christians are obsessed with whatever evidence exists for a historical Jesus, and why Bart Ehrman’s books substantiating such historicity are best-sellers.

The evidence for a Jesus-person, as we all know (and thanks largely to reader Ben Goren’s arguments on this site), is paper-thin. Because of this, scholars debate the issue hotly, with the “mythicists,” like Richard Carrier (who thinks that Jesus is not based on a historical person), fighting the “historicists,” like Bart Ehrman, who—while denying the divinity of Jesus—thinks that the Jesus myth is based on a real apocalyptic preacher who lived at that time.

Yet the more I look at the evidence—and I’m by no means an expert—the more dubious I become about the evidence for a historical Jesus-person. Yes, one may have existed, but where is the evidence?

As far as I can see, it lies solely in scripture: the New Testament.  There seem to be no credible extra-scriptural sources attesting to the existence of anyone like Jesus. There are no contemporary accounts of his presence and deeds, though there should have been some given the number of people who were writing then in that area of the Middle East, and the remarkable character of Jesus’s deeds. (This includes the earthquakes, renting of the Temple, and arising of zombie saints from their graves during the Crucifixion.) All the accounts come from decades or centuries after Jesus’s supposed death, by which time the myths may have begin forming—and around nobody in particular. In contrast, we have far more historical evidence for the existence of people like, say, Julius Caesar, including contemporary accounts, statues and coins with his image, and contemporary accounts.

As far as I can see, then, the “evidence” for a Jesus-person is twofold: first, that he’s described in the Bible (but so are Noah and Moses), and second, that people think that myths MUST have accreted around some historical person. The first I find unsatisfying; the second unconvincing. Myths may well have formed around no historical person at all. Was the myth of Paul Bunyan really based on some lumberjack who had a pet ox?

Yet it seems churlish—an offense to Christians—to doubt that a historical Jesus existed. It’s as if by being skeptical about that, you are deliberately trying to tick off Christians. And yet, I think, our doubt is warranted. We should not automatically concede to religionists that Jesus must have existed in some corporeal form, divine or otherwise.

This long introduction is to call attention to a new piece at Alternet by Valerie Tarico: “5 reasons to suspect Jesus never existed.” (Tarico is described as “a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” )

Her piece is a short and readable account, which I recommend, and I won’t summarize it except to give the five points that Tarico discusses in detail.

1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef. 

2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.

3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.

4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.

5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.

She also includes a quote from Bart Ehrman, who, curiously, thinks a historical Jesus did exist:

“What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp. 56-57 of  Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium)

Yet if that’s a real quote from Ehrman, and not taken out of context, why does he claim with such assurance that a historical Jesus existed?

h/t: Barry~

582 thoughts on “Once again: did Jesus exist?

        1. I’m not sure about that. It seems to me a scholar can make an interesting career out of revealing the truth about history – what is known and what is not known – without buying in to something he can’t support.

          1. Jesus=Dionysus(greek)=Isa(koran)=Horus(egypt)

            Jesus story of death and resurrection is common in ancient myths of sun gods. Jesus is the Son (Sun) of God (Universe). That’s why people worship Jesus on SUNday.

            1. They whorship on Sunday because that was the day the ancient Celts in Europe whorshipped the Sun. This day was hi-jacked by the Christian Cult to convert the pagans. Various other Celtic feasts were also “converted”
              Yuletide to Christmas although the man Jesus seems to have been born in March was it ?
              Ostara became Easter – that’s where all the egg
              and fertility rites come from – perpetuated by chocolate manufacturers. To be fair any religion that includes chocolate can’t be all bad !!

      1. More that, by his own admission, doubting the historicity of Jesus will lead to the historicists trying to destroy your career.

        Citation, please.

        1. It’s in his book, Did Jesus Exist? He’s includes himself in that number as well (historicists that should destroy the career of mythicists).

    1. “Book sales?”

      That’s been my guess, too. He seems to strike a very narrow balance in his writing and speaking so that both believers and skeptics find something they like.

    2. Sure. If you can’t refute the other guy’s evidence or arguments, attack his character or motives.

      1. After what I’ve read so far, I don’t think you can defend the guy’s arguments. I’m pointing out an obvious possible motive. Richard Carrier elaborates. But, you are right, it’s only a guess. How can we know someones motives?

        1. Then you haven’t read very much of what he’s written. Or you don’t understand it. Even if you have read and understood everything, and disagree, that does not justify you impugning his motives, especially when, as you admit, you have no evidence.

          As for Carrier, what about his motives? Why not impugn them, too? He apparently depends on his books for his living (Ehrman at least has his salary as a professor), so he needs to drum up sales for them.

    3. I think that’s a little unfair. Ehrman is quite honest about the fact that the evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus is inconclusive, and that the lack of records argues against it. But he seems to feel that there was some spark that caused all that smoke. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced either way. But I do think we should recognize that there’s more than disproving Christianity (Why bother? It disproves itself!) involved in the quest. Wouldn’t you like to know if King Arthur was based on a real person? Robin Hood? I know I would!

  1. When Tom Holland went looking for contemporary sources for Mohammad he found none.
    Devout muslims believe the the Qu’ran is the uncreated word of Allah. Less devout believe that it was inspired by god but composed by Muhammad. The only actual records we have are that it was written by the team of editors who collected the stories years later on orders from the Caliph and written with his political agenda in mind and then the contrary scriptures were destroyed.

    1. He also shows the very first coin to have the “No God but Allah” phrase on it, and it was minted years after the start of the Arab conquest, during a time of civil war between various Arab factions.

        1. It’s more fundamental than that. “There is no god but god” states emphatically that there is only one god. None of that trinity nonsense for them.

  2. I am a fan of Bart Ehrman and I have read several of his books, including the one in question. Ehrman’s reasons for thinking that there was a historical Jesus are laid out quite clearly in his book which is well worth reading if you are interested in the topic.

      1. If anyone is going to read Carrier’s blog, be sure to read what Ehrman actually wrote, not what Carrier claims Ehrman wrote. They aren’t always the same thing.

        1. Citation needed.

          I followed the exchange between Carrier and Ehrman and I don’t recall find Carrier misrepresenting Ehrman. Of course I many have missed it, do you have an example?

            1. The only thing that I could find is the claim by Carrier that Ehrman implied that a scholar that would support a mythicist position would have hard time getting a job in academia. Is that what you’re referring to?

              I’ll have to look how accurate that accusation is. I seem to recall Ehrman making a statement of the form “No respectable scholar with a position in a prestigious institution would support such a thesis.” I’ll have to look it up. I guess it’s a matter of interpretation but I find Hoffman’s protestation disingenuous. As an example look at what happen to Thomas Thompson when he proposed that the Jewish Patriarchs are mythical: http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/critscho358014.shtml

              1. Ok. I did some looking up. Carrier accused Ehrman about implicitly threatening that people who hold mythicist views won’t be able to find jobs in academia in his critique of Ehrman’s Huffighton Post article. There Ehrman wrote:

                These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.

                I don’t think Carrier’s interpretation is that far fetched, especially given what happened to Thomphson (see my previous post) or more recently to Thomas Brodie.

  3. Yet if that’s a real quote from Ehrman, and not taken out of context, why does he claim with such assurance that a historical Jesus existed?

    An interesting question, and the answer I think is along the lines that he wants to be regarded as a serious scholar.

    The field he is in is still riddled with Christian apologists, and they can cope with a secular writer doubting Jesus’s divinity, but they simply can’t cope with one doubting Jesus’s historicity.

    Therefore they just get dismissive and angry with anyone arguing for it, and not even regard them seriously.

    The other part of this explanation is that Ehrman has swum in those waters for so long that he himself now cannot take seriously the idea that Jesus was not even a historical person.

    One thing is for sure, it is not because Erhman actually has evidence for Jesus’s historicity.

  4. I don’t mean to be crass, but who cares if a man called Jesus actually existed? Either way it is irrelevant; whether the fairy tale is ascribed to an actual person or to an amalgam of persons, or completely made up, it is a fairy tale nonetheless.

    1. Well, lets look at another example. The evidence for the Buddha is probably thinner than Jesus… his biographies were made hundreds of years after his death, making similar miraculous claims. But I think a fair amount of Buddhist philosophy would survive even if he never existed at all.

      But so much of Christian philosophy is based around the argument for authority, that Jesus not existing at all really just crushes it. Then, they’re really no more valid than the philosophies of the Iliad or the Aeneid.

      1. Further than that is just genuine curiosity. Was there ever a real King Arthur or Robin Hood? Those certainly aren’t all that important of questions, but many people are still interested in the answers.

        1. That’s certainly true too, and I think that the whole Jesus myth/history thing taps into a hunger not just for the real story, but for the story of how we know what we know, and how stories develop over time.

          I find it fascinating how you can have something that is obviously a myth, like Atlantis (which was just a literary device for Plato) and still have people think its real because it taps into some desire.

            1. I think that neatly proves my point. It could have been based on any number of things… its not like ancient people were so sheltered they couldn’t conceive of an ancient civilization that collapsed. But an ancient civilization destroyed by Athens? Its just not real.

            2. Possible? Yes.
              Proven? No.
              A couple of years back I adjusted the family holiday to cater for my moderate interest in the topic by persuading the wife that we should take a week of our vacation on Santorini (the island of Thera). I don’t claim to have been doing novel geological research there (it’s the bloody Med ; it’s far too hot, though not as bad as being “cultural” in Athens the week before), but while there’s lots of interesting geology, I still remain to be convinced of the “Atlantis = Thera” theory.
              The volcano is intermittently grumbling from a new centre outside the caldera, according to divers in the area. Hydrothermal springs, intermittent earthquakes off the NE coast.

      2. I’m with Jeff on this, it’s an interesting but not relevant question. Myths are not important because of what they say about reality but of what they say about human perception. But seeing as there is no proof of Jesus’s existence, there can be no confirmation, so it’s irrelevant to a believer. Part of their belief is that he existed; you can’t erase that belief with any sort of proof of a negative.

        1. One can, however, erode the dominant narrative in society that coddles believers. Or more importantly, the narrative that is used to provide cover for organized religion. Imagine 100 years from now it is “common knowledge” that Jesus was ahistorical. There will be believers, sure — but I’d wager they’d be more likely to keep it in the closet if the larger consensus was against them. I’m reminded of Tony Blair’s desire not to appear to be a “nutter”.

          There’s individual-level dynamics… and I’m with you — I’m not inclined to give a crap. And then there’s the bigger picture. Politics, economics, morality… and religion. And one of those things is not like the others. Finding either Jesus’ corpse or such an absurdity of coincidences that it would be perverse to think that he really existed (the view I am drifting closer to) — either of those outcomes seem to me to be of colossal impact if subscribed to by the majority.

          1. I haven’t believed Jesus was a historical figure for some time, and I’ve stopped caring about the debate personally. However, I think it is an extremely important debate for believers; especially in regards to what Stephen said since religion overlaps politics, economics, morality and I’ll add the way we connect with the planet. What is distressing to me is how moderate/liberal Christians politely refuse to have the debate and fundamentalists froth at the mouth when confronted with the debate.

            My parents are somewhere in the middle of moderate and fundamental Christianity, but I’ve stopped sending them articles on subjects such as these (at their request). First they always accused me of being drunk. wtf? (Most likely I was baked) 😉 I guess that was their way of rationalizing my fruitless attempts at showing them the other side. And they also asked me to stop because it’s “disturbing” for them to see how “far I’ve fallen”. So that’s what frustrates me; the people who really need to debate topics such as these (or even acknowledge the debate exists) refuse to engage. That to me is truly disturbing.

          2. Eroding beliefs is a good point, but there is more wishful thinking in it. Most Christians would simply scoff at the idea that Jesus did not exist (or that he was a white guy with a beard).

            1. Most Christians today. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the effect of diffusion of innovations in the longer run, though. And there’s a strange kind of momentum to these things… most times people right in the middle of a sea change won’t know the game is on until way, way later, when things have already changed. And it usually takes a crisis for all kinds of attitudes to change… but when it does, look out. Peer pressure is just that kind of force that causes things to happen, I think. A good example to give is to consider the religiosity in Scandinavia right now. Now guess what those numbers looked like 100 years ago.

              I think one of the biggest motivators is not appearing foolish to one’s peers. All it takes is enough momentum on the attitudes of an influential 10% or so, and if the conditions are right, you just might be in for an avalanche.

        2. As a former believer, I can tell you, even in a liberal church they aren’t upfront with you about the real historicity of Jesus until you’re an interested adult member. To say that proof is irrelevant to belief isn’t accurate… people claim all the time to feel God’s presence, to have answered prayers, and the like. The historicity of those stories is terribly important, or no one would have bothered to write them down in the first place.

          And I think the stories of a lot of the atheists here would tell you that knowing about the history of religion is a powerful incentive to abandon it. When you are given a bill of goods about your personal savior, and find out that, well, we don’t actually know if he exists or not… the story just doesn’t have the hold it once had.

          1. I am of the group who think it doesn’t matter if he existed or not. I became an atheist on those common sense grounds, as I couldn’t believe some of the fantastic things. It just made no sense to me. But others have their faith grounded in different things, and I think most of them would let out a gasp if the life of Jesus could ever be disproved, yet they would keep on believing the same things anyway.

            1. The problem is that disproof is impossible in many ways. Guy with that name could easily have existed. Carpenters certainly exist. Fanatical preachers certainly exist. How could one possibly “prove” that the combined characteristics never existed?

              But if this is what believers have to fall back upon, it is a long way from something to pray to.

              1. How could one possibly “prove” that the combined characteristics never existed?

                The exact same way you can prove right now that there aren’t any angry hippos in the room with you right now.

                If Christianity was founded by a fanatical carpenter preacher named, “Jesus,” there would be credible evidence supportive of that fact; instead, the evidence contradicts such a claim. Indeed, the evidence is overwhelmingly supportive of a perfectly incompatible position — namely the perfectly mundane one that early Christians were right and Jesus is indistinguishable from Perseus, Bellerophon, Mithra, and all those other Pagan demigods whom they themselves compared Jesus with.

                Cheers,

                b&

              2. No, Ben, because these attributes are as common as fishes and loaves. It is perfectly reasonable that a guy with that name was a carpenter and a nutty preacher. This is a trivial possibility. Angry hippos in my room is the opposite.

                If believers have to fall back on the possibility that someone named Fred once ate a banana they’ve set the bar so low that your average turtle could jump over it. Which is the point. You can’t disprove the trivial possibility. But that doesn’t make the fellow interesting or historically important. Let alone divine.

              3. No, Ben, because these attributes are as common as fishes and loaves. It is perfectly reasonable that a guy with that name was a carpenter and a nutty preacher.

                But that a nutty carpenter / preacher named, “Jesus” would be thought of by Paul as being the terrestrial incarnation of the divine creative force that Spoke existence into being is is hard to swallow as an angry hippo in your room. Especially when so much of Paul is dedicated to the proposition that Jesus was an otherworldly figure, trebly so when so many other early strains of Christianity (especially the various Gnostics) would have considered the notion of Jesus sullying himself with the corruption of the flesh the most insulting blasphemy imaginable.

                Hell, even the New Testament records the evidence of that fight. 2 John 1:7 “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” If even the Bible has to caution the faithful against the many who claim that Jesus didn’t “come in the flesh,” how can one take seriously the possibility that he did?

                b&

              4. I agree here. Like with homeopathy, people will simply continue to look as there is no discrete “halt” state that force them to conclude.

                Of course, for everyone else someone whose popularity approaches zero can hardly fill the shoes of being such an important person. But isn’t this the situation already?

                However, there are countless arguements like these against Christian religion and none seem persuasive to the ardent believer. If all fails, Jesus joins the metaphors or allegories. He already died for one, so he could as well turn into one as well.

                Is it useful to apprehend yet another argument against religion, and that would be a big one? It always is. Will it have the effect everyone hopes it would? Most likely not. They’ll just keep looking.

              5. How could one possibly “prove” that the combined characteristics never existed?

                The exact same way you can prove right now that there aren’t any angry hippos in the room with you right now.

                But Galilee is a little bit bigger than my living room. Harder to do an exhaustive search.

              6. But Galilee is a little bit bigger than my living room. Harder to do an exhaustive search.

                Not much. Construct a theory of Jesus recognizable as the central figure in Christianity, and we have scores of examples who couldn’t help but have noticed him but who didn’t. Construct a theory of Jesus as somebody insignificant enough to have escaped notice by all those who failed to notice him and there’s no way to reconcile him with the Jesus Christians (imagined they) knew.

                Same deal with the hippo. If the hippo at all resembles what people would recognize as a real, living, breathing river mammal, it’s trivial to spot in your living room. If the hippo can reasonably escape notice (because it’s invisible and intangible, or whatever), there’s no way you can claim with a straight face that it’s “really” a “real” hippo.

                b&

              7. If Christianity was founded by a fanatical carpenter preacher named, “Jesus,” there would be credible evidence supportive of that fact;

                Except that the religion that the Biblical Jesus preached was not Christianity, at least before John was written. Jesus said that the end of the world was nigh, not that he was god (except in a few isolated passages).

                Indeed, the evidence is overwhelmingly supportive of a perfectly incompatible position — namely the perfectly mundane one that early Christians were right and Jesus is indistinguishable from Perseus, Bellerophon, Mithra, and all those other Pagan demigods whom they themselves compared Jesus with.

                Which early Christians were those?

              8. Except that the religion that the Biblical Jesus preached was not Christianity, at least before John was written. Jesus said that the end of the world was nigh, not that he was god (except in a few isolated passages).

                Paul’s Jesus was the divine creative entity who Spoke existence into being. The earliest-written Canonical gospel opens with said entity miraculously impregnating the Virgin Mary. It just don’t get any more divine than that, in either example.

                Which early Christians were those?

                Justin Martyr especially, and especially in his First Apology, which I’ve quoted and referred to and linked to repeatedly in this thread. Also Origen. Others who escape my recollection right now.

                b&

              9. Ben–If I say that you are the messiah, does this mean that: 1) you do not exist; 2) you do exist, but I have described you inaccurately; or 3) you do exist, but I have not referred to you because my description is inaccurate?

                The first and third possibilities have the interesting result of making it impossible to make inaccurate statements about real people. I think this is, at least, contrary to how language is ordinarily understood.

              10. Your trilemma fails as badly as so many of these.

                If you say that I’m the messiah, the “me” you’re pointing to clearly bears no semblance to the actual “me” whatsoever.

                Additionally, it’s quite common for claimed instances of messiahs to not have existed at all — and that’s pretty much universally the case when the messiah is not a contemporary but an historical figure. See every demigod from the Classical Era in which Christianity arose, as well as Moronism (Moroni doing his deeds a millennium before Smith) and Scientology (Xenu doing his deeds umpteen brazilian years ago).

                No accounts of Jesus were contemporary; most were about a century after the “fact.”

                Which of those two models would you say Christianity best fits?

                b&

              11. As another example, consider the following sentence:

                “Hillary Clinton is the President of Russia.”

                There is no person that fits the description. However, I think you know who I am talking about.

              12. But Galilee is a little bit bigger than my living room. Harder to do an exhaustive search.

                Not much.

                You have a bizarre sense of scale if you think my living room is the size of Galilee.

                Construct a theory of Jesus recognizable as the central figure in Christianity, and we have scores of examples who couldn’t help but have noticed him but who didn’t.

                Nonsense. Why should anybody have noticed him, outside those who had personal contact with him? Was he the only apocalyptic prophet in town? Was he the only person crucified? He was utterly insignificant, except to his closest followers, especially after he died.

                Even if your scores did notice him, they wouldn’t necessarily publish anything about him; and even if they did publish, those writings would not necessarily have survived.

                Would you please identify the “scores” of people whose writings about John the Baptist have survived?

              13. Why should anybody have noticed him, outside those who had personal contact with him?

                If you want a serious answer for that, you’re going to have to start by telling me who you think Jesus was. The Jesus of the only records we have of him was a zombie necromonger who terrorized all of Jerusalem. You’re clearly stripping away at least 90% of what we allegedly know about him, likely inventing from whole cloth lots more about him — and expecting me to know exactly what this Jesus of yours you have in mind is.

                So, if you would: describe who you think Jesus really was; give evidence that supports your position; and provide reasonable explanations for the evidence that will inevitably contradict your portrait of Jesus.

                Clear those hurdles, and the rest of your objections might be worth considering. But I’ve yet to encounter anybody who can actually clear those hurdles….

                b&

              14. Paul’s Jesus was the divine creative entity who Spoke existence into being.

                Huh? I think you’re confusing Paul and John.

                The earliest-written Canonical gospel opens with said entity miraculously impregnating the Virgin Mary.

                Again, huh? Mark says no such thing.

                It just don’t get any more divine than that, in either example.

                Sure, it does. Heracles was not a god (until he died). Neither were any of the numerous offspring of Greek gods and mortals.

                Which early Christians were those?

                Justin Martyr especially, and especially in his First Apology, which I’ve quoted and referred to and linked to repeatedly in this thread. Also Origen.

                Justin was second century, Origen third. Hardly “early” in the context of the current discussion.

              15. “…that a nutty carpenter / preacher named, “Jesus” would be thought of by Paul as being the terrestrial incarnation of the divine creative force that Spoke existence into being is is hard to swallow as an angry hippo in your room”

                To whom? Have you ever heard of Charles Manson? David Koresh? Ron Hubbard? Joseph Smith? Every one of them, and countless other equivalent nobodies had a handful of people willing to… well, you know the rest.

                It doesn’t take a remarkable being to sit at the root of a religion. It doesn’t necessarily take one at all, I suppose. But sometimes we don’t know.

                John Frum.

              16. GBJames – Well, David Koresh was not a prophet. Therefore, any description of a “David Koresh” who *is* a prophet clearly does not refer to the actual person named David Koresh, but instead refers to an imaginary being who happens to have the same name. The two otherwise have no similarity whatsoever. And so on for your other examples.

                In order to refer to real people, descriptions must be accurate. If they are not accurate, they instead refer to imaginary people. This will presumably be great comfort to anyone who has ever been defamed–if it’s not true, *they weren’t talking about you*! 🙂

              17. @aspidoscelis: Who gets to define when a religious leader is a prophet?

                And what is the level of accuracy that fits your “must be accurate” claim? No description of anything is 100% accurate to the extent that descriptions are abstractions of real world things.

                We aren’t in the realm of certainty. We’re talking probabilities. So there is some chance that some real human with normal human weird leadership skills was the kernel from which grew that dreadful bush, Xtianity. There’s no way to disprove this possibility given the pathetic available evidence.

                What’s important is that it doesn’t matter. The possible existence of a totally mundane figure leads nowhere if your project is to demonstrate the existence of the Sky God and his Divine Alter Ego.

                Can we please now shift the conversation to who might have been the original real-world Kukulkan? It is _possible_ that there was a human at one time from whom the myths arose. Can’t we have some equal time spent on other divinity myth origins?

              18. I would like to remind, too, that the minimum qualifications for being a Christian is to accept the divinity of Christ. If his existence is understood as at all doubtful, being a Christian doesn’t amount to much. On the other hand, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out, if Socrates did not, in fact, exist, absolutely nothing is lost of his significance.

              19. If you want a serious answer for that, you’re going to have to start by telling me who you think Jesus was.

                Sorry, that’s not the way it works. You made the claim that Philo would certainly have know of Jesus, had Jesus existed. You did not qualify what you meant by ‘Jesus’. Therefore, for your claim to be true, it must apply to any kind of Jesus. And it is up to you to prove your claim. That you are trying to deflect attention merely indicates that you know that you can’t support your claim.

                Clear those hurdles, and the rest of your objections might be worth considering.

                Very funny. I’ve yet to hear anything from you that is worth considering.

              20. What is rude or uncivil about it? Goren flat out lied about what Justin wrote. Is it not permitted to point out such errors?

                I will certainly not apologize unless he apologized for the lie.

              21. You can certainly point out errors, but rudeness is against my rules,which you apparently haven’t read. . Stating something inaccurately is not. You will never post here again, and we won’t miss you. Bye.

            2. GBJames – I agree with your objections. I intended to reduce to absurdity what I take to be Ben Goren’s position. I guess I wasn’t sufficiently absurd for this to be readily apparent. 🙂

              I think Ben Goren’s argument against a historical Jesus relies on this claim: that in order for a text to refer to a real person, it must describe that person *accurately*. I agree that it isn’t clear how accurate is accurate enough, but I don’t think this is the worst problem. If I say, “Barack Obama is a Muslim!” we easily understand to whom I am referring even though the only description I provide (“a Muslim”) is completely inaccurate. We can and do refer to real people while providing wildly inaccurate descriptions. Ergo, reference to real people does not rely on accurate description of them.

              There is some further complication here. For instance, sometimes we have to deal with multiple people who share the same name. Then we might fall back on a description, e.g., “Greaser Bob–the original Greaser Bob–is hunting north of the picket wire and would not begrudge its use.” However, even in this case what is required for the “original Greaser Bob” to refer to a particular person is neither accuracy (he might not be “original” in any particular fashion, he need only be *known as* the “original Greaser Bob”) nor comprehensibility to outside audiences (we may have no idea who the “original Greaser Bob” is, but it still serves the purpose of establishing reference if the speaker and intended audience *do*).

              Also, I agree entirely with this:

              “What’s important is that it doesn’t matter. The possible existence of a totally mundane figure leads nowhere if your project is to demonstrate the existence of the Sky God and his Divine Alter Ego.”

              If there was a historical Jesus, the biblical accounts of him are demonstrably false and contradictory… and that’s plenty.

              1. Well, this is the thing, isn’t it.

                If your argument for a historical Jesus relies upon events and characteristics described in the NT, then the lack of contemporaneous extra-biblical evidence is damning.

                But if you claim that the “real” Jesus (the person about whom the myth coalesced) was, at that time, too obscure for anyone like Pliny to notice, what events and characteristics described in the NT can you use to determine his historicity?

                /@

              2. But if you claim that the “real” Jesus (the person about whom the myth coalesced) was, at that time, too obscure for anyone like Pliny to notice, what events and characteristics described in the NT can you use to determine his historicity?

                And, at the same time, if the “real” Jesus was too obscure for Pliny (the Elder) and the others to notice, how could the same person also have been famous enough for the Gospel authors to think he was the most important person of that era?

                Another note: the only examples we have of people living this sort of double life are from fiction: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Clark Kent and Superman, Nick Bottom….

                b&

              3. We also have serial killers in modern times that led double lives; Ted Bundy comes to mind.

              4. That sort of analogy doesn’t work. Criminals lead secret lives to hide from prosecution. Others lead secret lives to hide activities otherwise considers shameful.

                Jesus as the Christians knew him was very much out and proud, and he’s the one we’re looking for in history and not finding. For the analogy to work, the out and proud has to be simultaneously shameful and hidden. That can only possibly happen if the out and proud is completely fictional, putting us right back at my Clark Kent / Superman analogy.

                b&

              5. The super heroes aren’t out. They hide their identity but I’m not really sure why. Serial killers hide their identity so they can keep doing their killing hobby.

              6. Yes, that’s what makes Tony Stark awesome. He just can’t hold in that he’s Iron Man.

              7. I think Ben Goren’s argument against a historical Jesus relies on this claim: that in order for a text to refer to a real person, it must describe that person *accurately*.

                No — or, at least, not exactly.

                If a description of a person is to be considered a real person, then there must be some independent standard by which you can separate fact from fiction.

                When you write that “Barack Obama is a Muslim,” we can identify a particular well-known very real person by that name, but we can also independently determine that the President is not a Muslim.

                But if you were to insist that being a Muslim is an essential characteristic of your Barack Obama, and that Barack Obama is nothing if he’s not a Muslim, then we’d be force to conclude that, whoever you’re referring to, he’s not the current President of the United States.

                Such it is with Jesus.

                You’d be damned hard pressed to find a Christian, today or in ancient history, who would recognize an individual as Jesus unless he fits the description given in the Credo: Born of the Virgin Mary, crucified on Pilate’s orders, buried, resurrected, and ascended. Additionally, I don’t think you’ll be able to discard the Sermon on the Mount, the scene with the moneychangers at the Temple, the trial, and at least some healing / resurrection miracles. If you have some Jesus in mind who doesn’t fit that description, then, just as with Muslim Barack Obama, it’s some other Jesus entirely who bears as much semblance to “the” Jesus as does Brian.

                Now, for the sake of a naturalistic discussion, we can leave aside whether the supernatural elements in that biography were really real or a con artist’s sleight-of-hand or even just conspiratorial propaganda manufactured concurrently with the events. But they had to have been part of who he was from the get-go, or else he has as much bearing on the “real” Jesus as your Muslim fabrication does on President Obama.

                Cheers,

                b&

              8. “And, at the same time, if the “real” Jesus was too obscure for Pliny (the Elder) and the others to notice, how could the same person also have been famous enough for the Gospel authors to think he was the most important person of that era?”

                The problem I have with this line of reasoning is that you’re making the argument from incredulity. You wouldn’t let a creationist get by using it, so why do you rely on it. There are better arguments.

              9. It’s not incredulity; it’s consistency.

                Let’s say we have a “report” that Superman stopped an airliner from crashing into the White House moments before impact, and that he saved everybody on board by gently setting the plane down on the White House Lawn.

                Is it incredulity to observe that CNN didn’t even have a mention on its news ticker?

                One of the most important motivating literary factors for the Gospel authors was to demonstrate how cosmically significant Jesus was — not just to mankind generally, but also to the locals. There was the prophecy of his birth, the Magi, the Herodian Massacre…the triumphant entry into Jerusalem…the Trial…the Ascension…indeed, the only stories in the Bible of Jesus which aren’t huge and / or hugely significant public spectacles are either of huge public spectacles in the spirit world or of him revealing mind-blowing cosmic Truths to his inner circle.

                At least for the Gospel authors, Jesus being some random nobody schmuck whom nobody had even heard of makes every bit as much sense as Barack Obama being a secretly gay married Muslim Kenyan. If the person in question really is a secretly gay married Muslim Kenyan, then we know for a fact you’re referring to somebody other than Jesus as understood by literally every Christian since Paul.

                At absolute best, that puts you into Michelle Bachman crazy witch conspiracy theory land. How on Earth is that preferable to simply cutting out the conspiracy, and saying that fictional made-up superstar Jesus is fictional and made up in exactly the same way as Dionysus, Perseus, Mercury, Mithra, and all the other fictional made-up superstars of the era?

                b&

              10. In that case, then all science is an argument from incredulity. I just can’t imagine how CERN could get a six-sigma signal of the Higgs unless they actually found the Higgs.

                Let’s try another approach.

                I think it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that any proposed Jesus must be recognizable as Jesus to Christians ancient and modern. I would submit both that historicist proposals fall laughably short of that standard, and that, by the very way Christians have defined their Jesus from the beginning, no Jesus recognizable as such could possibly have existed.

                That’s the whole point of demigods.

                They’re not meant to be really real. We’ve got lots of really real people; what we don’t have, and what people want, and the need that demigods are meant to fill, is somebody more than human — superhuman.

                Why are you so hellbent on insisting that Superman really could be really real because you once heard of some nerdy guy who wore glasses and worked at a newspaper? What makes you think that Clark Kent is anything other than a literary device, and of what relevance could an historical Clark Kent possibly be to establishing the historicity of Superman? And why do you think the authors would even think to bother basing Superman on an historical Clark Kent, or that it would even occur to them that it might be a good idea to do so? Or, if they did because of some bizarre publicity stunt, that said really real historical Clark Kent was actually in any way even superficially connected to Superman? Or, to more accurately model your theory, that historical Clark Kent was the genesis of Superman?

                Can you not comprehend the absurdity of your proposition? Are you really that firmly convinced of Christian propaganda that they couldn’t possibly lie, would never make up stories?

                b&

              11. “Can you not comprehend the absurdity of your proposition?”

                What is my proposition, Ben? Because I don’t think it is what you seem to think it is.

              12. At least part of it must be that there was an historical Jesus of one form or another.

                And any such position must be absurd in one (or both) of two ways. Either it contradicts all extant evidence along with all other examples of Classical Era pagan demigods; or it posits an individual so radically unlike Jesus that none but the person proposing it can see the semblance.

                b&

              13. “At least part of it must be that there was an historical Jesus of one form or another.

                And any such position must be absurd…”

                Men named “Jesus” is not a difficult historical hurdle to jump.

                What is absurd is to assert with such repetitive certainty that no such name could possibly have been used by a guy two millennia ago.

              14. But that’s only part of the historicist position — and not even, for many, an essential one. “Jesus” was as popular a name then as it remains today in its modern form of, “Joshua.”

                Are all those men named, “Jesus,” the original Christian Jesus? Clearly not! So we need something more to identify the person we’re looking for.

                And it’s that “something more” that’s the kicker. Either that “something more” takes you away from the Christian Jesus, or he takes you into realms of fame if not fantasy.

                …another point I’ve not yet mentioned this time ’round. A literal translation of, “Jesus Christ,” could reasonably be, “YHWH’s anointed savior.” Strike the “Christ” and you strike the “anointed.” What are the chances that the human man was born with his job title? How much more likely is it that the name was chosen to fit the imaginary demigod? Where would you draw the error bars on those two propositions?

                b&

              15. Ben, I’m tired of the game. You insist on framing your (overly lengthy) comments in terms that assume opponent positions instead of recognizing the actual positions. It is fatiguing and, frankly, pointless.

                It is like watching Don Quixote go after windmills. People point out that the windmill isn’t an actual knight on a horse only to see you wheel around and charge the windmill yet again.

              16. Ben Goren–I think you’re just trying to cherry-pick in which cases and to what extent a depiction of a person must be accurate in order to refer to a real person–and doing so in a way that is convenient for your argument but otherwise indefensible.

                “When you write that “Barack Obama is a Muslim,” we can identify a particular well-known very real person by that name, but we can also independently determine that the President is not a Muslim.”

                If we could not do so, this would have no bearing whatsoever on Barack Obama’s existence. It would only change what we know. I’m quite certain there are people alive now who have never heard of Barack Obama. Those people are not in a position to determine whether or not he exists, or whether or not the description is accurate, but he still exists.

                “But if you were to insist that being a Muslim is an essential characteristic of your Barack Obama […]”

                Then you’d be wrong, but we would still know who you’re talking about. But no one says anything like that, anyways. The folks out there who say that Obama is a Muslim do not say, “And if he isn’t a Muslim, he doesn’t exist!”

                Similarly (although there are enough Christians with enough varying ideas about their religion that it wouldn’t surprise me if someone, somewhere, did say such a thing) a claim that, “Jesus must be born of the Virgin Mary, crucified on Pilate’s orders, buried, resurrected, and ascended, or else he didn’t exist!” is not part of mainstream Christian belief. It certainly isn’t in the Nicene Creed or Apostle’s Creed. It’s not a description of Christian belief, it’s a claim you are making, contrary to Christian belief–and are then ascribing to Christians.

                “You’d be damned hard pressed to find a Christian, today or in ancient history, who would recognize an individual as Jesus unless he fits the description given in the Credo: Born of the Virgin Mary, crucified on Pilate’s orders, buried, resurrected, and ascended.”

                I think you have this backwards. If we knew of a well-documented, historical Jesus, we’d be damned hard-pressed to find a Christian who didn’t insist that he had these attributes regardless of what the historical record says. However, we’d also be damned hard-pressed to find a Christian who insists that the existence of a historical Jesus is contingent upon documentation of these attributes in non-religious sources.

                There are similar recent examples that are not hard to find and have been mentioned several times in this discussion. For instance, there is a well-documented, historical Joseph Smith who we know founded the Mormon faith. Adherents of the Mormon faith insist that he has various attributes (that he spoke to angels, received and translated a religious text inscribed on golden plates, etc.) that are not verifiable in the historical record. Non-Mormons generally disagree that he had these attributes. However, both Mormons and non-Mormons understand the reference of “Joseph Smith” to a particular person. Both agree that he was a real person and on various of his non-supernatural attributes (that he was born in Sharon, Vermont, published the Book of Mormon, was killed in Carthage, Illinois, etc.). Mormons do not insist that the existence of a historical Joseph Smith is contingent upon his having the various supernatural attributes ascribed to him by their faith (although they insist he did have those attributes) and neither do historians. So far as I am aware no one insists on that.

                “Now, for the sake of a naturalistic discussion, we can leave aside whether the supernatural elements in that biography were really real or a con artist’s sleight-of-hand or even just conspiratorial propaganda manufactured concurrently with the events. But they had to have been part of who he was from the get-go […]”

                If your meaning here is that if there was a historical Jesus that he must have been a religious figure who espoused doctrines in line with the biblical accounts and who was at the time considered to have various supernatural attributes and by his followers, sure, absolutely. However, that doesn’t get you where you want to go. Such a person could have been obscure! Your argument then relies on this: the biblical accounts describe him as being a very prominent figure and we would expect such a prominent figure to be recorded. That is, IMO, an extremely weak argument. It is not in the least bit surprising that members of a religion would view the founder of their religion as centrally important regardless of how he is viewed by society as a whole. The importance ascribed to Ron Hubbard, Joseph Smith, David Koresh, Warren Jeffs, Rulon Allred, Joel LeBaron, Winston Blackmore, Elden Kingston, Leroy Johnston (and dozens of other recent examples) differs dramatically between their followers and society at large. Some of the people in that list are well-known because they either founded religions that are presently large and successful or because of high-profile confrontations with the law. Some of them are very obscure even though they lived quite recently or are still alive–but even these obscure people are founders of religious groups and considered to be extremely important by their followers.

                “If the “real” Jesus was too obscure for Pliny (the Elder) and the others to notice, how could the same person also have been famous enough for the Gospel authors to think he was the most important person of that era?”

                How can Rulon Allred be too obscure for most historians to give him even a footnote, while the same person is famous enough for the Apostolic United Brethren to think he was the most important person of his era? This is utterly trivial. He is central to the lives and beliefs of his followers. His followers are an obscure and unimportant group.

                A historical Jesus need not have been hiding in secrecy to avoid attention from contemporary historians, he need only have been unimportant to society at large. And a historical Jesus need not have been important to society at large to have been considered extremely important by his followers. You’re relying on his followers to have accurately depicted him even though it is commonplace and expected that members of a religion will not depict their central religious figures (real or otherwise) accurately. Inaccurate depiction of reality is an essential characteristic of religion!

              17. Similarly (although there are enough Christians with enough varying ideas about their religion that it wouldn’t surprise me if someone, somewhere, did say such a thing) a claim that, “Jesus must be born of the Virgin Mary, crucified on Pilate’s orders, buried, resurrected, and ascended, or else he didn’t exist!” is not part of mainstream Christian belief. It certainly isn’t in the Nicene Creed or Apostle’s Creed. [Emphasis added.]

                I’m sorry; I didn’t make it past this. If you had anything substantive that didn’t rely on this or similar errors of fact, please feel free to re-work them appropriately.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostles'_Creed

                The English text used in the Mass of the Roman Rite since 2011 is:

                I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

                [Emphasis added, of course.]

                Might I suggest? Your error is indicative of an ignorance of Christianity so profound that I doubt you’ve ever even attended Sunday services, let alone encountered any more formal information on the subject. You would be well served to at least read some Wikipedia articles about Christianity and Jesus before jumping back into the fray.

                Either that or, in your eagerness to defend the historicity of Jesus, you’ve blinded yourself (unknowingly, intentionally, or otherwise) to what are literally the most important and non-controversial facts about the religion. You’ve just said that the statement of faith repeated at every service doesn’t include what it includes…you can’t get more out of touch with reality than that.

                Cheers,

                b&

              18. What of the non-creedal religions like Methodism? While many Methodist services include a creed — Apostles, Nicean, Korean or another — that is a local choice, not a requirement.

              19. With the possible exception of the Universalists, you’re just simply not going to find any mainstream Christians who don’t accept either the Credo or a basic formulation of the same claims. The most that you’re going to get is, for example, arguments about the nature of the resurrection — was it corporeal or spiritual? Did Jesus’s resurrected body have form, or did he only appear in waking dreams to the Apostles? That sort of thing.

                That sort of quibbling does nothing to change the balance of affairs when it comes to questions of historicity, even if it is more than enough to prompt schism and even intercontinental war.

                b&

              20. As a lifelong Methodist, until recently when too many members wanted to move the church toward a more fundamentalist view, I was taught we were a non-creedal Christian denomination, a view supported by the Methodist ministers I have known, especially those who graduated from Claremont.

                The Methodists are guided by three books: The Holy Bible, The Book of Discipline, and The Book of Resolutions. While the first is always open for revision and interpretation, the latter two are modified every four years. None of them are binding. There is no way a Methodist can be dismissed from the church with the exception of ministers. Even they have great latitude.

                John Wesley’s credo was, “Think and let think.” Sounds good to me.

              21. As stated earlier, Methodism is a non-creedal church. None of the creeds — Apostles, Nicean, Korean or any other– are a part of the church discipline. They are included in a church service at the option of the minister.

              22. Ah, sorry. The answer is, “You would have to ask them.” Since no creed is an official part of Methodism, the decision as to whether any part of any creed is accepted by any member is their choice.

              23. Within my circle of friends I would say virtually none. Still, I agree that too many are because they do not understand what Methodism is about. They get their instruction from parents and non-Methodist friends. I suspect fewer than 5% have ever read any of the Book of Discipline which is the basic text on Methodism.

              24. My point wasn’t to suggest that you had to agree to a certain dogma to be Methodist.

                It was that, if you were to survey Methodists about who they thought Jesus was and what vital biographical elements must be included in his story, you’d get roughly the ancient Credo with variations that aren’t relevant to the discussion we’re having about historicity.

                I’ve played more Christmas and Easter gigs at Methodist churches than I can count, and the Credo is a perfect summary of those services.

                b&

              25. Methodism does not have an orthodoxy. Each Methodist is free to find his/her way. My point was that Methodism is a non-creedal church. That’s all. Whether any creed has meaning is decided by each individual.

              26. Never mind the proscriptive; we’re going for the descriptive here.

                Do a survey of Methodists that includes each of the key points in the Credo in some form or another, with enough variation and / or wiggle room to get, for example, accurate responses from both those who believe in a bodily and a visionary resurrection.

                I’m willing to bet that the number of Methodists who reject every single one of those key points is as close to zero as makes no difference. I’d further bet that the overwhelming majority of Methodists accepts the overwhelming majority of points in some form or another.

                Will there be disagreement as to the interpretation and nature and significance of those points, and perhaps even some serious contention over one or two of them? Of course. But that’s not relevant to the discussion of historicity.

                What is relevant is whether or not a Methodist would recognize an artist’s sketch of the Credo Jesus (“Yeah, that’s him, but his nose is a touch smaller.”) or if we’re talking about somebody completely different (“No, no, no — I told you it was an old, short, fat, bald Asian woman! Why are you still showing me pictures of NBA stars with dreadlocks?”)

                b&

              27. Since I’m unsure as to your use of ‘proscriptive’ here, I will answer as best I can. Since no creed is a part of Methodism, the question as to whether any Methodist accepts any, part of or all of any creed is a personal choice independent of Methodism. That’s all. I suspect those who are raised in the church have varying views. I did not learn of Methodism being a non-creedal church until adulthood.

              28. What I mean is, let’s not worry about what the official Church does or doesn’t demand that a member believes, what it proscribes unto them. Rather, let’s ask what description actually best fits the members.

                Yes, each individual member is free to accept or reject, say, the Virgin Birth. But how many actually reject it? Continue on down the list, and I’ll bet you that, despite the freedom to reject all of it, virtually all members accept virtually all of the ancient Latin formulation of the Credo in some form or another.

                This should not be surprising nor derogatory. The Methodists obviously choose their association with the Church of their own free will, and that association is with like-minded individuals. It would be most bizarre, indeed, for a Neopagan Satanist Buddhist Yogi to choose to associate with the Methodist Church. Rather — what with it being a Christian church and all — you get, overwhelmingly, people who believe in Jesus Christ as he’s been understood since ancient times.

                Cheers,

                b&

              29. You ask good questions the answers to which may be of interest to each individual, but not me. My involvement with the church was similar to what John Wesley intended. There is the Assembly, the local congregate body, and Classes, smaller groups within the Assembly. The Assembly meets weekly — today there are frequently two or more Sunday Services — which are probably attended by less than a half of the members. The Classes, not to be confused with Sunday School classes, are smaller groups which meet, usually weekly, for study, often Bible study or something akin to same. In my last two Churches I refereed classes focused on contemporary Christian scholarship, mainly the Jesus Seminar and some of its Fellows. as for what the majority of Methodists believe w.r.t. specifics, I really didn’t and don’t care. The work of the Church was more social than religious.

                That was true in my former affiliation. back to my main point, trying to characterize Methodism, even Catholicism, is a meaningless effort in my view.

              30. Then, in that case, I would suggest that the beliefs of such Methodists are even less relevant to the question of the historicity of Jesus than I had been giving them credit for. If the Methodist Jesus is as plastic as you imply, then there can’t even in principle be anything any historical person could have lent to it other than the name — and even that could just as well be a stage name.

                Of course, that still leaves open the question of what first- and second-century Christians understood Jesus to be, but that’s a different branch of the discussion.

                b&

              31. The idea that there is a definite historicity of Jesus cannot be supported by any facts. Similarly for many others of that era and before. Two problems exist: the lack of verifiable record and the friendly editing of what little record exists.

                The question of Jesus’ virgin birth is dismissed by anyone who has read Crossan’s God and empire or Rank’s Myth of the Birth of the Hero.

                The only religious groups I know whose members march in obedient lockstep are cults of which neither Methodism nor any mainstream religion can be so classified.

                As is commonly the case, the greatest criticism of any field often comes from spectators. Your views are yours.

                As for first and second century Christians, I think those before the fall of the Second Temple were Jews and the separation began as they were excluded from meeting in synagogues.

              32. BTW, there aren’t any Universalists left. They merged with the Unitarians and Christianity is a personal, not congregational option. Atheists are not only welco but for the strength of many UU churches including the one I attend.

                If you want to dismiss honest discourse as quibbling, feel free. 🙂

              33. Sorry for my lack of precision. I’m sure it’s important to congregants, but all I intended was that that general class of people don’t fit into the overwhelming class of Christians for whom Jesus was the virgin-born son of Mary yada yada.

                b&

              34. Ben Goren–

                Please feel free to point out what part of the quoted Nicene Creed says that, “Jesus must be born of the Virgin Mary, crucified on Pilate’s orders, buried, resurrected, and ascended, or else he didn’t exist!”

                I think you missed those last five words. Would you care to reconsider your claim that I am profoundly ignorant?

              35. The “or he didn’t exist” is implicit. Indeed, there wouldn’t even be any need for such a statement of faith otherwise. “I believe that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West, and that grass is generally greenish and most kittens are fluffy” — what type of Credo would that be?

                The Christian (presumably) believes each of those things about Jesus to be true. Imagine a person who believed none of those things about Jesus; in what sense is that person a Christian? Now, imagine a person who not only believed none of those things about Jesus, but did believe that Jesus fought Darth Vader to the death in a lasso duel outside the Leaky Cauldron Inn. Do we really have to consider that this person’s Jesus can reasonably be identified as the “real” Jesus?

                To any Christian modern or ancient, your fabrication of an historicist Jesus is every bit as foreign and absurd as the one I just made up right here.

                b&

              36. The Nicene Creed simply does not state a set of conditions under which a historical Jesus does not exist.

              37. Ben Goren–

                “The “or he didn’t exist” is implicit.”

                I am aware that this is your opinion. I am not inclined to simply take your word for it. 🙂

                Out of curiosity, are you willing to agree, at least in principle, that members of religions might have incorrect beliefs about people who did in fact exist?

              38. Out of curiosity, are you willing to agree, at least in principle, that members of religions might have incorrect beliefs about people who did in fact exist?

                I’d say that, in principle, this would have to be viewed as something on a continuum. One could, for example, postulate a religion who had an highly detailed and perfectly accurate description of somebody, save that the specification for the beard length was off by an eighth of an inch. We can certainly reasonably overlook such inaccuracies.

                We could also propose a religion pointing to somebody sitting in a chair, and stating that this person whom you see before your very eyes is the Great One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater who, right this very minute as you cast your gaze in his direction, is battling Zem, the evil mattress of Squornshellous Zeta, for dominion over the souls of all mankind. You and I would (I hope!) agree that there’s a real person sitting in that chair, but the rest is nonexistent.

                Now, if you’d agree with me that the presence of an human being sitting in that chair is entirely irrelevant to the question of the existence of the religious figure, we might be able to make some progress.

                Cheers,

                b&

              39. Ben Goren–
                “We could also propose a religion pointing to somebody sitting in a chair, and stating that this person whom you see before your very eyes is the Great One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater who, right this very minute as you cast your gaze in his direction, is battling Zem, the evil mattress of Squornshellous Zeta, for dominion over the souls of all mankind. You and I would (I hope!) agree that there’s a real person sitting in that chair, but the rest is nonexistent.”

                I was wondering if you would agree to the existence of a real person in even such a context. 🙂 I would characterize that as an inaccurate description of a real person. If you looked in the world for a person who met that description, you would not find one. You would be incorrect, though, if you inferred that the person to whom those attributes are ascribed does not exist–he does, he’s right in front of you sitting in a chair. He exists and his existence is not contingent on the accuracy of the description given by his followers.

                “Now, if you’d agree with me that the presence of an human being sitting in that chair is entirely irrelevant to the question of the existence of the religious figure, we might be able to make some progress.”

                I would not in the least agree to that! We have plenty of recent or contemporary “prophets” and whatnot to point to, and clearly they are not irrelevant to the religious groups of which they are the central figures. For instance, without the real, historical Joseph Smith there would be no Mormonism. Without Rulon Allred, there would be no Apostolic United Brethren. For Christianity, the question is essentially: was he a Joseph Smith or a total fabrication? Personally, I don’t think we have enough evidence to decide the issue. However, unless we are Christians who adhere to something like the Nicene Creed, the claim that there was a historical Jesus is not a claim that Jesus existed as depicted in the New Testament, nor that this depiction is particularly accurate or recognizable as a particular person documented in the historical record. It is a claim that there was someone like Joseph Smith–not supernatural, not accurately depicted by his followers, but nonetheless a real person who did in fact found a religion. That’s the proposition at hand in this discussion. I don’t think you’ve really addressed it in a meaningful fashion. You seem convinced that it just… isn’t there. I haven’t figured out why.

              40. For Christianity, the question is essentially: was he a Joseph Smith or a total fabrication? […] That’s the proposition at hand in this discussion. I don’t think you’ve really addressed it in a meaningful fashion.

                Really?

                <sigh />

                Once more, unto the breach.

                There was a Joe Smith figure at the origins of Christianity, no doubt — indeed, we know for a fact there were a number of competing such figures.

                But Jesus wasn’t the Joe Smith figure. Jesus was the Angel Moroni of the story.

                Let me do this with a short series of exemplary quotes, ones I’ve repeatedly used in this thread with full attribution and URLs and everything. You want to see them in context, look them up for yourself. Emphasis added, of course.

                Lucian of Samosata, Passing of Peregrinus 11. “It was then that [Peregrinus] learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And — how else could it be? — in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.”

                Justin Martyr, First Apology 66. “And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.”

                Plutarch, Vita Pompeii 24. “The power of the pirates had its seat in Cilicia at first, and at the outset it was venturesome and elusive; but it took on confidence and boldness during the Mithridatic war, because it lent itself to the king’s service. […] They also offered strange sacrifices of their own at Olympus, and celebrated there certain secret rites, among which those of Mithras continue to the present time, having been first instituted by them.

                [Geographical note: ancient Cilicea’s borders were roughly congruent with modern Turkey’s. The capital city was Tarsus, as in “Paul, of.”]

                Lastly, an extended Bible quotation:

                1 Corinthians 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.

                21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

                22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

                23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

                24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

                25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

                26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

                27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

                28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

                29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

                Was Paul Peregrinus? I tend to think so, but that’s not what I stake my mythicist claim on. But it’s perfectly clear that, either Paul was Peregrinus or we have Paul plus Peregrinus playing the role of Joe Smith.

                But wait! There’s more! All but the most fundamentalist of Bible “scholars” will readily admit that each of the Gospel authors were playing this game as well, adding their own Jesus sauces to the Christ stone soup. That’s the essence of the “Q” hypothesis: Mark was reworking “historical factual” oral tradition; Matthew and Luke “improved” upon Mark plus they also added their own interpretations of the “Q” “sayings” text. (I’m rather skeptical of “Q,” but the de novo invention in each is pretty obvious.)

                If even this isn’t enough to persuade you…I doubt there’s anything more I can offer.

                Cheers,

                b&

              41. Ben Goren–

                “There was a Joe Smith figure at the origins of Christianity, no doubt — indeed, we know for a fact there were a number of competing such figures.”

                And Joseph Smith has had his own successors “playing the role of Joseph Smith”. It’s a long list, including most of the modern “prophets” I mentioned earlier. At every period since the founding of Mormonism there have been competing figures trying to reshape it in one way or another. This is not an argument against the existence of Joseph Smith!

                Knowing that there are other historical figures who played various important roles in the development of the early Christian faith does not demonstrate that there was not a historical Jesus at the center of it. You might as well argue that finding a dozen spiders in my living room proves that there isn’t a spider in my bathroom (there almost certainly is, BTW).

              42. Once again, you’ve got your analogy worng.

                Joe Smith = Paul + Peregrinus (if they’re not the same man) + Mark + Matthew + Luke + John + all the others

                Moroni = Jesus

                Walk the dog backwards with me.

                Do you agree that each of the Gospel authors added their own novel inventions to the Jesus story? That, for example, Matthew invented the Nativity? (Or, pedantically, that the Nativity didn’t exist when Mark wrote his gospel but did when Matthew later wrote his?)

                Do you agree that none of the Gospel narrative existed at the time of Paul, save for the Last Supper which Paul himself interpolated from the Mithraic Eucharist and vague and detail-free notions of the Crucifixion and Resurrection?

                If so, would you grant that all the rest of Jesus’s biography (including the words he’s famous for having spoken) was fabricated by multiple sources beginning with Paul and not even ending with John?

                Do you further agree that Paul’s Jesus was explicitly visionary, and that he was explicit in stating that all other experiences of Jesus were equally visionary?

                Now, if you agree with all that, you could still perhaps insist that there could have been some human who somehow inspired everybody’s visions. They palled around with this guy, but they also somehow claimed to have experienced some sort of fantasy vaguely associated with him in the spirit realm, and that’s what Paul was describing in his visions.

                But, first, do you have any evidence for this hypothesis, and how do you reconcile it with the previous points?

                And, more importantly…how is this not the case of you claiming that the One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater is based on a real person, because somebody’s pointing to a person sitting in a chair and saying that that’s his true identity?

                Finally, walk it back up for me. If you still insist that, under this bizarre scenario you’ve constructed, we should consider your Purple People Eater to be the “real” Jesus…

                …are you prepared to now start insisting that Xenu and Moroni are also real historical figures?

                b&

              43. Ben Goren–

                “Now, if you agree with all that, you could still perhaps insist that there could have been some human […]”

                Yes, I could. 🙂

                People make false statements about, have visions of, and write fiction about real people. Modern examples of statements about real religious figures that are fabricated or even intended as fiction (google “pope fanfic” for some horrifying examples) are so common that it really is not an extraordinary proposition that there might have been a real person a couple thousand years ago about whom we have accumulated a massive pile of BS in the intervening years.

                All of the necessary processes are readily observable in the present day.

                “And, more importantly… how is this not the case of you claiming that the One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater is based on a real person, because somebody’s pointing to a person sitting in a chair and saying that that’s his true identity?”

                As I’ve already stated, yes, in such a case I would consider this a description of a real person (albeit a very inaccurate one).

                If we have a person in front of us, and someone points at him and says, “This guy has characteristics X, Y, and Z,” we have a description of a real person. That’s it. No other conditions are necessary.

              44. Your definition of reality would seem to have no bearing on reality…but let’s see just how far you’ve gone down the rabbit hole.

                In the real world, and not bothering with any hypotheticals, in what way, if any, do you consider it reasonable to describe Xenu as a real historical figure?

                In the real world, and not bothering with any hypotheticals, in what way, if any, do you consider it reasonable to describe The Angel Moroni as a real historical figure?

                In the real world, and not bothering with any hypotheticals, in what way, if any, do you consider it reasonable to describe Bacchus as a real historical figure?

                It might or might not be worth continuing this discussion, based on your responses….

                b&

              45. Ben Goren–

                “It might or might not be worth continuing this discussion, based on your responses…”

                I’m pretty sure it isn’t, based on yours. 🙂

              46. Well, if, as you imply, you think that Xenu can be considered historical, then I’d suggest you’re demonstrating the danger of having a mind so open your brains have fallen out. If you ever find your way to Kolob, do be sure to send us a postcard, okay?

                Cheers,

                b&

              47. “Well, if, as you imply, you think that Xenu can be considered historical […]”

                *headdesk*

                I’m not sure who you’re talking about, but it ain’t me.

              48. “Then, once again: in what real-world non-hypothetical sense, if any, is it reasonable to consider Xenu an historical figure?”

                I do not know. You’ll have to work that out on your own.

                Until next time, adios.

              49. If you think it’s reasonable that Xenu could be an historical figure…well, that’s exactly what that original mind open / brains fall out quote was referring to.

                We could have a fruitful discussion over whether Jesus was more like Hubbard or like Xenu. But if you think Xenu is in any sense even hypothetically an historical figure, I ain’t got nothin’ for ya’.

                b&

    2. Well, dying on the cross etc etc etc takes on a far greater meaning for the vast majority of Christians of there was actually a human being type person named Jesus up there.

      Or so I firmly believe having been one once and having lived among them (Christians) and studied them all my long life.

  5. I’ve read that one reason to suspect Jesus was historical is because the whole Roman census story, where everyone has to return to their homeland, is such a stupid fiction that there’s absolutely no reason to bother with something so convoluted unless you need to cover up an actual person’s birthplace. If he’s fictional anyway, why not just have Jesus be born in the right place to begin with? There’s certainly no evidence that he was well known at the time, but considering how relatively few people made it into the historical record from that era, I’m not surprised that a preacher from the middle of nowhere got left out.

    1. The problem is that the Roman census is itself a myth, and found only in one Gospel. Romans did have censuses, but none of them were Empire wide and requiring you to go back to your birth place. Could you imagine such a thing? It would be recorded, and it wasn’t.

      1. That’s not a problem. It strengthens John’s point. The census was concocted to give a man known as “Jesus of Nazareth” the proper birthplace for a messiah. If Jesus is fictional, why make up such a complicated story rather than just making him “Jesus of Bethlehem” to begin with?

        1. Because there were competing theological narratives for Jesus’s origins, including most likely some confusion between “Nazorean” and “Nazareth.”

          You see that sort of thing all throughout. Jesus was born of a virgin according to prophecy because Perseus and so many others were, but the Christians couldn’t well use Pagan prophecies about other demigods to prove the point, so they turned to Isaiah and found a prophecy that kinda sorta worked if you squinted hard enough — never mind that it was about a specific young woman who wan’t virginal who did, in fact, conceive according to the story in Isaiah. And this was known to Jews and Christians both at the time; see Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho.

          Cheers,

          b&

          1. I read somewhere that the born of a virgin is possibly incorrect due to translation error. That makes everything even worse as far as Christians are concerned since they sure do talk about that part a lot.

            1. First, Jesus was born of a virgin for the same reason Perseus and all the others were born of virgins: to establish their divine origins.

              But what you’re specifically referring to is Isaiah 7:14. Even in the early second century, the first of the Christian apologists had to defend that misinterpretation:

              Trypho: The Scripture has not, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,’ but, ‘Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son,’ and so on, as you quoted. But the whole prophecy refers to Hezekiah, and it is proved that it was fulfilled in him, according to the terms of this prophecy. Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower.

              Martyr’s response to Trypho is no more compelling than the modern ones — indeed, because they’re exactly the same.

              Much more where that came from in the Dialogue with Trypho.

              Cheers,

              b&

              1. It’s even conceivable that the modern phrase traces its origins to ancient times, and that similar titters would have been heard in the second century in response to that phrase….

                b&

              2. First, Jesus was born of a virgin for the same reason Perseus and all the others were born of virgins: to establish their divine origins.

                The problem is that Perseus was not born to a virgin. Take a look at this page, which contains extracts of the ancient sources of this story. I believe it is exhaustive. No where does it say or imply that Danae was a virgin after her encounter with Zeus.

                Here is Apollodorus: “Now some say that Proitos seduced [Danae], which led to the hard feelings between the brothers, but others say that Zeus had sex with her by changing himself into gold that streamed in through the ceiling and down into her womb.” No virgin here, obviously, despite the unconventional form of penetration.

                Hyginus: “But Jove [Zeus], changing into a shower of gold, lay with Danae, and from this embrace Perseus was born. Because of her sin her father shut her up in a chest with Perseus and cast it into the sea.” Zeus lay with her and embraced her. Sounds non-virginal to me. And if she were still a virgin, what was her sin?

                Homer: Zeus is speaking: “… when I loved Akrisios’ daughter sweet-stepping Danaë, who bore Perseus to me, …”

                Ovid: ‘”I [Perseus], who am the son of Regal Jove [Zeus] and her whom he embraced in showers of gold, leaving her pregnant in her brazen cell.”‘

                If you know anything about Zeus, you know that he couldn’t keep it in his chiton. He wasn’t interested in saying some magic words and impregnating some mortal woman; he wanted sex, and lots of it, sometimes using his godly powers to make the night last for days. The idea that a woman would leave an encounter with Zeus still a virgin is laughable.

                I would also argue that the reason that two of the gospel writers made up the virgin birth was that they thought that that would be a fulfillment of prophesy. They could have made him divine the way “John” did, by simply saying he was and always had been.

              3. See, that’s why Christian apologetics is such bullshit — all the legalistic cherry-picking and special pleading that doesn’t even pass the sniff test. If Zeus in the form of a golden shower impregnating Danae deflowered her, then so, too, did YHWH in his holy spirit form impregnating Mary deflower her. You want to deny Danae her virginity, then you’re also denying Mary hers. Is that really what you want?

                But don’t take my word for it.

                Justin Martyr, First Apology Chapter 22. Analogies to the sonship of Christ

                Moreover, the Son of God called Jesus, even if only a man by ordinary generation, yet, on account of His wisdom, is worthy to be called the Son of God; for all writers call God the Father of men and gods. And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic word of God. But if any one objects that He was crucified, in this also He is on a par with those reputed sons of Jupiter of yours, who suffered as we have now enumerated. For their sufferings at death are recorded to have been not all alike, but diverse; so that not even by the peculiarity of His sufferings does He seem to be inferior to them; but, on the contrary, as we promised in the preceding part of this discourse, we will now prove Him superior — or rather have already proved Him to be so — for the superior is revealed by His actions. And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Perseus. And in that we say that He made whole the lame, the paralytic, and those born blind, we seem to say what is very similar to the deeds said to have been done by Æsculapius.

                At that point, it matters not whether the Pagans themselves thought Perseus was born of a virgin; all that matters is that the Christians unquestionably thought that Perseus was born of a virgin.

                Cheers,

                b&

            2. I vaguely remember the same – something like the Greek word for young woman being the same as for virgin*.

              Given the myths they were following, quite a convenient “error ” to make.

              * mind that I think this is very common, i.e. in Middle Dutch the word “maagd” means both maiden/girl as well as virgin. In modern Dutch the former meaning has become unused; I would consider it (faux-)archaic in an expression like “oh schone maagd” (o, pretty girl).

        2. The “of Nazareth” part was thought by the authors of the gospels too. It could be argued that both nativity stories are attempts to reconcile two fundamentally contradictory prophecies.

      2. Yeah, this always seemed stupid to me. As if people would even comply – how would the Romans know you weren’t from there?

        1. Exactly, and what would it tell the Romans? It doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you live now, and its probably easier to tax people if you don’t make them take a trip first.

          1. Unless the Romans had done a side deal with the camel and donkey industry. Transport infrastructure is a very powerful lobby because it can collect taxes more efficiently than government can.

        2. As if people would even comply – how would the Romans know you weren’t from there?

          More to the point, how would you know what town your 40-times-great-grandfather came from? Even today.

    2. If he’s fictional anyway, why not just have Jesus be born in the right place to begin with?

      The counter to that argument is that the first gospel to be written (Mark) doesn’t mention Jesus’s birth at all.

      The second (Matthew) does exactly what you suggest, just declaring that he was born in Bethlehem, and later lived in Nazareth.

      It is only the third (Luke), drawing on the first two, that then produces a reason for the birth in Bethlehem, and who knows that aspects of the story had by then accreted and needed to be explained?

      The reason for being in Bethlehem also emphasizes the descent from David, so there is a reason for emphasizing that anyhow — he is not just incidentally from Bethlehem, but he is of the line of David and thus also the City of David.

        1. Matthew does “just have him born in Bethlehem to begin with”. It’s only later he goes to live in Nazareth. Why? Who knows?

          Then Luke comes along and has to be consistent with Matthew, so he already has to include both places somehow.

          1. I just wonder why they felt the need to have him “from Nazareth” (as opposed to “Jesus of Bethlehem” unless there was some Nazareth connection (i.e. based on a historical or mythical figure from Nazareth).

            1. The first mention of Nazareth is in the first gospel, Mark’s. Mark simply declares him “from Nazareth” and refers to him three more times as “… of Nazareth”, but otherwise makes no issue of Nazareth.

              Why “from Nazareth”? Who knows, it could be as simple as him having to be from somewhere.

              Then Matthew comes along, and Matthew wants him to be of the line of David (in the first line he declares Jesus “the son of David, the son of Abraham”).

              So, he simply declares “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea” (being the City of David).

              There is no contradiction with Mark, who had not mentioned any birth or childhood. But, then, to be consistent with Mark he declares: “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”

              Now that suggests some significance to Nazareth, which may explain why Mark had him from there in the first place.

              Then Luke comes along, and to be consistent with Mark and Matthew he needs to include both places, so he does so by inventing the census story.

              At this point, Luke, who is the first to talk about the census, cannot just locate him as from a single city, otherwise he is inconsistent with Mark and Matthew.

              1. According to Matthew 2:23:

                And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

                As far as I can tell, though, Matthew was either referring to a scriptural passage since lost, or just making stuff up.

              2. “Mark simply declares him “from Nazareth” and refers to him three more times as “… of Nazareth”,”

                Actually, Mark doesn’t write “Jesus of Nazareth” ever. He writes “Jesus the Nazarene” throughout. Mark 1.19 is the outlier. Which is significant, because Nazarene — using the logic of Greek language’s demonym — doesn’t mean “from Nazareth” in Greek. It means someone from Nazara. Which, coincidentally, is what Matt and Luke write in Greek as well (but translators fudge over this confusion by writing all of it as “from Nazareth”).

                Internal to Mark is an example of why “Nazarene” means “from Nazara” as opposed to “from Nazareth”. At Mark 5.1, Jesus goes to the area of the Gerasenes (where he meets the demon Legion), which means “someone from Gesara”.

                The problem is that the town Nazara doesn’t exist, so subsequent writers probably doctored the logic a bit to make Jesus from a similar sounding town: Nazareth.

          2. There was a Jewish sect called the Nazarenes which had nothing to do with the city of Nazareth. Mathew may have misinterpreted the term Jesus the Nazarene to mean that Jesus was from Nazareth.

          3. Matthew does “just have him born in Bethlehem to begin with”. It’s only later he goes to live in Nazareth. Why? Who knows?

            Both Matthew and Luke had him born in Bethelehem to fulfill an alleged prophecy in Micah 5:2 (NRSV):

            2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, / who are one of the little clans of Judah, / from you shall come forth for me / one who is to rule in Israel, / whose origin is from of old, / from ancient days.

            The real Jesus, assuming there was one, probably came from Nazareth, so they had to get him there somehow.

            Then Luke comes along and has to be consistent with Matthew, so he already has to include both places somehow.

            I believe the consensus is that neither Matthew nor Luke knew of the other, although both used Mark and Q as sources.

            1. I believe the consensus is that neither Matthew nor Luke knew of the other, although both used Mark and Q as sources.

              Yes, that is the mainstream consensus, but it is less probable than Luke having used Matthew, and there not being any Q.

              There is no evidence for Q. the concept is invented only as a device to try to make Luke and Matthew independent of each other, and to create a link from them to earlier times nearer (the supposed) Jesus (“They can’t have just made stuff up, therefore they had to get it from somewhere, let’s call the somewhere Q”).

              The simpler version that Matthew was an embellishment of Mark, with Luke then using both, is more parsimonious and works fine. (See also Mark Goodacre’s “The case against Q”)

              1. There is no evidence for Q.

                Of course there is. You might not find it persuasive, but there is evidence.

                (See also Mark Goodacre’s “The case against Q”)

                I haven’t read his book, but I looked at his website. I found it underwhelming. He misapplies Occam’s Razor. The Razor cslls on you to minimize your assumptions, not your outputs. The existence of Q is not an assumption, but a conclusion. It is hardly outlandish that there were sources that no longer exist. Note that Luke explicitly states that he used “many” sources.

              2. Your own post refutes “Q.” If there are many sources, what sense does it make to single out just one? How do you know which of the many are directly shared, and which are indirectly shared through some other intermediaries?

                In other words, it’s all hearsay. The most you can glean from hearsay is that there’s hearsay going on and what the person reporting the hearsay thinks the hearsay is about.

                This notion — shared by the Q hypothesis and Ehrman’s amazing Aramaic application — that, once you suspect the existence of another layer you can then reasonably come to conclusions about it…damn, but that’s literally the first thing any honest investigator knows is the absolutest stupidest thing you can do if you want to be taken seriously.

                Just check this Web site for all the references to prime Arizona oceanfront property for sale. Must be true, what with all those “independent” mentions of it? And there’s certainly consistency — always in Arizona, always oceanfront, always for sale. So, by your own reasoning, you’re a fool for not buying it from me.

                b&

      1. You would get the same result if the mythical narrative was half written when someone decided to write about his birth. And then they noticed the birthplace problem. .The convoluted Bethlehem story could just as easily support a myth that evolved over time.

    3. Ehrman covers this in one of his books (I forget which one). IIRC Ehrman’s argument goes something like this: different Gospel writers were trying to make different theological points. (The writer of) Luke was very much concerned with showing how Jesus fulfilled earlier Jewish prophesy, so he had to figure out a way to locate Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem when Joseph lived in Jerusalem. So…the strange census thing. The reason it’s not in the other Gospels is because the other authors were not as concerned with showing how Jesus fulfilled various Judaic prophesys.

      Note that Ehrman doesn’t defend the story as factual, he’s just explaining why the author included it.

      1. But what the argument is getting at is that, if Joseph doesn’t exist, what do you need to explain away? If Jesus is entirely made-up, why isn’t he just from Bethlehem to begin with? I thought it was an interesting idea, but I’m far too ignorant of the research to have any sort of meaningful opinion on whether or not a historical Jesus existed.

        1. In Forged, Ehrman points out that forgers do just this sort of thing – they add nonsequiturs and unnecessary wierd details to make their writing look more “human.”

          1. Very interesting discussion. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming the “forgers” (i.e., the authors of the Gospels) were knowingly making things up. They may have sincerely believed the myth and did their best to try to connect the dots. Just because there is a more logical way to tell a story (so it conforms to a particular objective) in hindsight, doesn’t mean the author necessarily should have realized that at the time.

            1. Literal analysis of the gospels shows that their authors clearly knew what they were doing. Mathew and Luke used Mark and changed the details in specific ways to fit their own theological details. They were making things up and they knew it and it shows.

              A very good book on the subject is Gospel Fictions by Randel Helms.

    4. I’ve read that one reason to suspect Jesus was historical is because the whole Roman census story, where everyone has to return to their homeland, is such a stupid fiction that there’s absolutely no reason to bother with something so convoluted unless you need to cover up an actual person’s birthplace. If he’s fictional anyway, why not just have Jesus be born in the right place to begin with?

      This seems a curious argument from incredulity. Most of what Luke and the other Gospel-writers wrote is such a stupid fiction that, according to this logic, it wouldn’t have been written if it wasn’t just an elaborate way of doctoring up an actual person’s exploits around Judaea. According to this logic, the twisted convolutions of the stories must be inverse proof that there was a real Jesus being doctored up.

      The problem with this argument is that it assumes mythicists think everyone involved was a conspirator rather than a dupe, which isn’t necessarily so. It’s perfectly plausible and likely that Luke had Jesus born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth simply because that was what he believed to be the case. His arguments for why this had to be the case would be weak nonsense like “scriptural prophecy said so, and it can’t be wrong”, and might be borne from unconscious biases, wishful thinking, and distortions, but they’d be arguments for what he considered true nonetheless.

      Arguments for historicism seem to forget how insane people’s thinking becomes when religion is involved.

      1. Well, I say the problem, but it’s not the only one. Another is that it seems to think that the concocter of the census story could only have been doctoring a true story, as if the notion of doctoring somebody else’s fiction for a niche audience wasn’t a viable option. That’s basically what sects do, not to mention people adapting a franchise and shaping it with their own biases, views, and interpretations.

      2. Its also worth remembering that the Jewish and Christian communities in Judah had basically gone through an apocalyptic war during or shortly before the writing of the Gospels. The Romans butchered and scattered whole Jewish populations, which I’m sure could lead to certain storytelling bottlenecks.

      3. I don’t see this as an argument from incredulity. It’s a big outlier that needs to be investigated. Once you look at this outlier, you see that other stories also contradict one another so you have shaky evidence in the bible and no evidence outside the bible. Therefore, there isn’t much of a case for Jesus.

        1. I meant that it’s not a problem for mythicism if the writers tie themselves in knots trying to shoehorn details into a previously existing story. The argument from incredulity is an argument for historicism, trying to claim that a real birthplace (and therefore a real Jesus) must be behind the Luke account, or else Luke wouldn’t go to so much trouble to make the story “fit”.

          But this is an admission that the arguer is simply relying on personal incredulity, not any cogent counterpoint. A fanfic writer might shoehorn details into their Harry Potter story to make it fit with the events described in the books; by the logic of the argument from incredulity, no one would go to so much trouble unless they were massaging a true story into shape. As Coel explains above, Luke’s contortions were following at least one previous work.

          What would be good support for a historical Jesus would be a historical text that:

          – was plausible

          – contained claims that archaeologists could corroborate

          – was largely consistent with other texts reporting the same events independently

          – was written close or during the events themselves

          – fulfilled all the above criteria.

          The Pauline letters alone – the earliest accounts of Jesus – can’t pass any of these tests, never mind the Gospels.

      1. I think the argument is more that if someone is entirely fictional, you don’t need to bother with a fictional explanation for why they were born in a certain city. You can just say he was born there. If he’s real and actually grew up in Nazareth, then you need the census story.

        1. The argument from embarrassment is a perennial favorite of con artists and others trying to pull a fast one. Look at that clean-cut man in the defendant’s seat; he wouldn’t admit to snorting coke off a stripper’s tits at a nightclub the night of the murder unless it was really true, so you just know that alibi is solid and there’s no way he could have been at the crime scene and so can’t be the murderer.

          b&

  6. Hitchens used to argue that the whole census fabrication in Luke (in order to explain how Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem, as the messiah was supposed to) is a strong indication a person called Jesus of Nazareth must have existed, and been quite famous. Otherwise, it would have been a lot easier to directly invent Jesus of Bethlehem.

    1. I don’t recall him saying anything of the sort. In God Is Not Great, he said that this was a standard Christian argument for the bible – not his own – and then, after claiming an attempt to be “open-minded”, points out that John contradicts it by throwing out the whole idea. “If the apostles themselves cannot agree, of what use is my analysis?”

      From that context, it comes across more as “OK, that’s your objection, and for the sake of argument let’s grant it… we’ve still got problems with this book.”

      1. Hitchens did make such an argument in a debate with Dinesh D’Souza but he wasn’t convinced of it himself. First, he pointed out that there is no good evidence to believe in a historical Jesus then he said, well maybe the fraud is so ridiculous that it really was based on a real person. But this was speculation and he was far from committed to such a position.

  7. Just my two cents…

    Extraordinary claim (which requires ordinary evidence):
    [the person known as] Jesus was born from the Virgin Mary according to prophecy. He, the Son of God, healed the sick and preached the word of God. He was put to death, descended into Hades, rose again on the third day and later ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right-hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

    Ordinary claim (which requires ordinary evidence):
    A Jewish carpenter came up with some new ideas about religion. He traveled the region and obtained a cult following. He was executed by the local Roman government, at the behest of influential local religious leaders, for being a heretic and a rabble-rouser. His followers continued to embellish his story afterward.

    1. Of course, ordinary evidence isn’t NO evidence. We still have to look at the evidence available and see what the likelihood is that it supports the claim. Yes, the second claim is far more likely, i.e. has a much higher prior probability, than the first. Yet all the evidence we have talks about the first claim!

    2. The problem as I see it is that there isn’t really any ordinary evidence of the ordinary man either. The best they can do is extrapolate backwards and argue that there must have been a real man. And yet, what have they been able to tell us of this ordinary man? Nothing. Not his name, where he lived, what his day job was before he took up apocalyptic preaching, who his family was. That ought to really bother people arguing for an historical person.

  8. I think Bart Ehrman tends to tow the line of Jesus’s historicity by saying both that the Gospels were based on earlier Aramaic sources (which doesn’t seem to be obvious to me) and that its not that big of a stretch to imagine a historical preacher that myths crystallized around. But Ehrman and a lot of other scholars are pretty invested in the idea of Jesus as a person (and, usually, Jesus as a particular sort of person).

    But I do think that as people from other historical fields get drawn into looking at the Bible, there will be more people who have experience with historical figures that really are nebulous. The founder of Zoroastrianism was cloaked in the myth making of several different kings, and the dates for Buddha’s life vary a lot, and are based on much less contemporary sources than the Bible. Similar debate exists about Socrates, Homer, and others, even though they were considered historical by later (but still ancient) sources. Jesus being a myth isn’t too hard to imagine in that context.

    1. Earliest gospels were written in greek. Not sure if claims have been made that the greek tomes came from earlier Aramaic txts (I’m highly doubtful). But i have seen english translations of the gospel of mark that had supposed direct quotes from Jesus in Aramaic followed by the english translation of course.

      1. Yeah, I think in Mark, at least, Jesus uses some Aramaic words in the Greek text (I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong, of course). But Bart Ehrman then goes on to make the presumption that there are lost Aramaic sources in his book on the historical Jesus, and I don’t think that necessarily follows. It just means that the author recognized Jesus would use Aramaic in the time in which he was supposed to preach.

        1. Ehrman further states there are passages with awkward construction indicating they are a translation from Aramaic into Greek.

          1. Of course, even if there were earlier Aramaic sources, that doesn’t make them eye witness accounts either. I’d be interested to see what neutral a non-NT scholar would think of his analysis. I like Richard Carrier a lot, but I lack the knowledge to really judge the claims treated between him an Ehrman on more than a cursory, ‘Does this look like some nonsense’ level.

            1. If no Aramaic copies exist, how do we know that earliest copies of Mark are translations from Aramaic? Perhaps the fouled up or awkward translation is a result of translating from Greek to Aramaic. Perhaps early scribes (for lack of better word) translated jesus’ supposed words into his assumed native tongue for credibility reasons. This is all conjecture of course! I would be interested to hear from a few different experts on this subject.

              1. No Aramaic sources have ever been found. In my view (admittedly that of an outsider) this is because there weren’t any. (Disclosure: I’m a mythicist, convinced by several matters I’ll mention below.)

                Having a few sentences in A. is such a *weak* argument that way. It is no more than an episode of MacGyver containing a few scraps of Russian or German to establish location for the adventure. (And I *like* MacGyver, but its use of langauge is ridiculous.)

              2. Ehrman specifically cites Mark 2:27-28 in which the use of the Greek phrase “Son of Man” makes no sense at all, but if it is regarded as a mistranslation of the Aramaic “barnash” which can mean both “son of man” and “man” then the passage makes sense.

                He also argues John’s Gospel can NOT be from Aramaic because the whole “born again” discussion contains a pun that only makes sense in Greek. Hence, Greek original, and very possibly something Jesus never said.

                Section beginning on p. 87 of “Did Jesus Exist?”

  9. If I consider the collection of speeches and sayings attributed to Jesus, and allow the possibility that he was not a historical person, then the name ‘Jesus’ must be a pen-name. Perhaps used by a team of writers, but not too large a team since the sayings are a fairly small collection. Does anyone have a hypothesis for who the real authors are (sources), and is there any extra-Biblical evidence for their authorship?

    1. Read Justin Martyr’s First Apology. He lays out exactly which Pagan myths were used for which Jesus stories. Next, compare Lucian’s Passing of Peregrinus with Paul’s instruction of the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11 — and keep in mind Martyr’s identification of the Eucharist as having been stolen from Mithraism as well as that Mithraism’s center was Tarsus (as in, “Paul of”).

      The Gospels themselves are pseudonymous works; all that we will ever know for certain is that they weren’t authored by the people whose names are printed at the front. Think of the Federalist Papers, but with all evidence linking the actual writers to the texts long gone.

      Cheers,

      b&

      1. The Gospels themselves are pseudonymous works

        No. None of the Gospel manuscripts have names signed. Rather, they are anonymous works. Attribution to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are down to “early church tradition,” not anything in the manuscript themselves.

            1. We can fairly say that six of the 13 letters alleged to be by Paul are forgeries (based on analysis of their language, syntax, and forgery). This is worse than a pseudonym. Is there a word for this ending in -nym?

  10. It doesn’t bother me one jot whether there was a wandering Rabbi in 1st Century (and I know using that date format is an irony in itself) who preached that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to be nice to each other and who pissed off the Vichyite Jewish leaders so much that they had the occupying powers kill him. It is possible but no more than that.

    What I flatly and completely deny is that this man was any form of deity.

    1. Yeah I have the same attitude towards historicity. The bible paints John the Baptist as coming from a whole big group of ascetic Jewish troublemakers, so positing that there was some ascetic Jewish troublemaker on which the story is based seems perfectly reasonable to me…the walking on water, turning water into wine, ressurrection stuff? Not so much.

      However I’m glad Carrier and his like are in the ‘Bible’ field. Right or wrong, I think he’s doing good work by forcing the community to think more carefully and critically about some of its baseline assumptions.

    2. I’ve heard speculation that there were any number of “street preachers” around, much as we have even yet, and that there may have been many who contributed to the legend of the “composite Jesus”. That’s one way to explain some of the evident contradictions. However, christianity has only arguments rather than evidence, and rather suspect arguments at that. I dismiss any supernatural claims out of hand, until that extraordinary rock-solid replicable evidence shows up. I’m not holding my breath.

  11. I read ” Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth” by Carrier et al. It is tedious to get through, but it shows that Ehrman has gone off the deep end lately and either did no research or very shoddy research for his historical Jesus. I used to be a fan of Ehrman and some of his earlier books but it appears that he has lost it.

  12. On this issue, I consider myself technically agnostic, but leaning towards the mythicist camp (if not actually in it).

    But this pales in comparison to what the first known Christian writings, those of Paul, reveal about early Christianity. After reading the Pauline letters (the authentic seven plus a couple of others), I have to conclude early Christianity is either total insanity borne from self-deluding gullibility, or someone’s cynical ploy to exploit others’ insanely delusional gullibility. Either way, the atrociousness of it is overwhelming, and you get the impression it would be roundly denounced as the internal ravings of a mad cult if it happened today. If there was a real life person who inspired the Jesus depicted therein, it wouldn’t improve the situation an iota.

    Not a chapter goes by where Paul the writer is some combination of spiritualistic, moralistic, emotionally manipulative, pathetic in his arguments, tribalistic, unpleasant in his false modesty, and just plain boring in how much he reiterates all these points over and over, as if he’s enjoying his own self-indulgence. As for any actual details of Jesus and Paul himself, they barely add up to anything substantial. The notion that the myth was invented, whether by nefarious scheme or insane delusion, doesn’t seem so unlikely to me, given how little ground there is to work off of and how much pontificating goes on in its stead.

    I wonder how “metaphoricists” can explain away Paul’s letters, because they’re clearly not wooish metaphors masking some secular humanist point. He’s explicitly writing them to clarify theological doctrine, make real-world claims, and alternately kick and coddle his believers into doing the “right” things with the threat of an impending apocalypse and the reward of a promised utopia.

    1. That’s actually where Ehrman is the strongest. He has books about early forms of Christianity and how what we know as the Bible came to be. If what he claims is true, it’s pretty obvious that Jesus went around telling the Jews they were being Jews wrong. When he died (assuming he existed) his brother James carried on Jesus’ message. Meanwhile Paul started his own version of Christianity meant to lure in non-Jews (no more required circumcision). Paul’s version of Christianity is what stuck more with what we know of the religion.

      Beyond that, it seems like many of Jesus’ superpowers came from other people’s Pagan gods. When traveling around spreading Christianity, people told stories of their gods rising from the dead, raising others from the dead, healing the sick, being born of a deity father and human mother, etc. If you’re trying to say your god is better, he better be able to do things the other people’s gods can do, so gradually, Jesus obtained the same abilities. We can see signs of this in how Christianity absorbed pagan celebrations of the vernal equinox and winter solstice into Easter and Christmas.

  13. I respect and admire Erhman’s writings, but I’ve always thought Ehrman’s “evidence” in DJE was a bit below standard. For example, he states that Paul’s discussions with Peter and James serve as proof that Jesus existed. Isn’t that like saying Rowling’s discussions with Ron and Hermione prove Harry existed? Perhaps I’m missing something…

  14. Here is one lengthy comment about the evidence for an historical Jesus made by Ehrman on his blog:

    Even more telling is the much noted fact that Paul claims that he met with, and therefore personally knew, Jesus’ own brother James. It is true that Paul calls him the “brother of the Lord,” not “the brother of Jesus.” But that means very little, since Paul typically calls Jesus the Lord and rarely uses the name Jesus (without adding “Christ,” or other titles). And so, In the letter to the Galatians Paul states as clearly as possible that he knew Jesus’ brother. Can we get any closer to an eyewitness report than this? The fact that Paul knew Jesus’ closest disciple and his own brother throws a real monkey wrench into the mythicist view that Jesus never lived.

    The Brothers of Jesus

    To expound on the situation, I need to say something further about the brothers of Jesus. I pointed out in an earlier chapter that Paul knows that “the brothers of the Lord” were engaged in Christian missionary activities (1 Corinthians 9:5), and we saw there that Paul could not be using the term “brothers” in some kind of loose, spiritual sense (we’re all brothers and sisters; or all believers are “brothers” in Christ). Paul does frequently use the term “brothers” in this metaphorical way when addressing the members of his congregations. But when he speaks of “the brothers of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 9:5, he is differentiating them both from himself and from Cephas. That would make no sense if he meant the term loosely to mean “believers in Jesus,” since he and Cephas too would be in that broader category. And so he means something specific, not something general, about these missionaries. They are Jesus’ actual brothers, who along with Cephas and Paul were engaged in missionary activities.

    The same logic applies to what Paul has to say in Galatians 1:18-19. When he says that along with Cephas, the only apostle he saw was “James, the brother of the Lord,” he could not mean the term “brother” in a loose generic sense to mean “believer.” Cephas was also a believer, and so were the other apostles. And so he must mean it in the specific sense. This is Jesus’ actual brother. (The word, by the way, does not mean “cousin” as has sometimes been claimed; there is a different Greek word for that – ANEPSIOS).

    And so, Paul knows one of these brothers personally. It is hard to get much closer to the historical Jesus than that. If Jesus never lived, you would think that his brother would know about it.

    Mythicist Views of James

    Mythicists have long realized that the fact that Paul knew Jesus’ brother creates enormous problems for their view, that in fact the otherwise convincing (to them) case against Jesus’ existence is more or less sunk by the fact that Paul was acquainted with his blood relations. And so they have tried, with some futility in my view, to explain away Paul’s statements, so that even though he calls James the brother of the Lord, he didn’t really mean it that way. The most recent attempt to resolve the problem is in mythicist Robert Price’s comprehensive study, where he cites possible explanations for how James may not actually be Jesus’ brother. Price has the honesty to admit that if these explanations “end up sounding like text-twisting harmonizations, we must say so and reject them.” In the end he doesn’t say so and he doesn’t reject them. But he doesn’t embrace any of them either, which at least must leave his readers puzzled.

    One of the explanations is that which has been most forcefully argued by G. A. Wells, who revives a theory floated, without much success, by J. M. Robertson back in 1927. According to Wells, there was a small fraternity of messianic Jews in Jerusalem who called themselves “the brothers of the Lord.” James was a member of this missionary group. And that is why he can be called “the brother of the Lord.” Wells likens it to the situation that Paul refers to in the city of Corinth, where he calls himself the “father” of the community (1 Corinthians 4:15) and where some of the members of the congregation claim that they are “of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:11-13). As Wells concludes

    Now if there was a Corinthian group called “those of the Christ,” there could also have been a Jerusalem one called “the brethren of the Lord,” who would not necessarily have had any more personal experience of Jesus than Paul himself. And James, as “the brother of the Lord” could have been the leader of the group.

    Wells cites as well Matthew 28:9-10 and John 20:17 where Jesus speaks of his unrelated followers as his “brothers.”

    This view sounds reasonable enough, until it is examined in a greater detail. In evaluating it, the first thing to point out is that the final two Gospel passages that Wells cites are irrelevant. They do not refer to a distinct group of people who are zealous missionaries; they refer to the twelve disciples of Jesus, pure and simple. But Wells does not think that James (or anyone else) was a member of that group, because he does not think Jesus lived in the recent past and even had disciples. And so the Gospel references to the disciples as Jesus’ brothers does not support Wells’ claim that there was a select missionary group in Jerusalem that included James.

    Nor does it work to claim that there was an analogous situation in the church in Corinth. Paul thinks of himself as the “father” of the entire church of Corinth, not of a specific group within it. Even more important, we decidedly do not, contrary to what Wells asserts, know of a group that called themselves “Those of the Christ.” There were, to be sure, Christians who said their ultimate allegiance was to Christ (not to Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos). But we have no idea what they called themselves, because Paul never tells us. They are not, then, a named group comparable to what Wells imagines as being in Jerusalem, headed by James.

    And what evidence does Wells cite for such a group of zealous messianic Jews in Jerusalem that separated themselves off from all the other Jerusalem Christians? None. At all. What evidence could there be? No such group is mentioned in any surviving source of any kind whatsoever. Wells (or his predecessor Robinson) has made it up.

    And there is a good reason for thinking that such a group did not in fact exist. Throughout our traditions Cephas and James are portrayed as being completely simpatico with one another. They are both Jews, believers in the resurrection of Jesus, residing in Jerusalem, working for the same ends, participating in the same meetings, actively leading the home church together. Cephas, moreover, is a missionary sent out from this church. If there was a group called “the brothers of the Lord,” made up of zealous Jewish missionaries in Jerusalem, why wouldn’t Cephas be a member? Why is James the one called “the brother of the Lord,” precisely to differentiate him from Cephas?

    Since there is no evidence to support the idea that such a group existed, this explanation seems to be grasping at straws. It is important to review what we know. We have several traditions that Jesus actually had brothers (it is independently affirmed in Mark, John, Paul,and Josephus). In multiple independent sources one of these brothers is named James. So too, Paul speaks of James as his Lord’s brother. Surely the most obvious, straightforward, and compelling interpretation is the one held by every scholar of Galatians that, so far as I know, walks the planet. Paul is referring to Jesus’ own brother.

    1. Hilariously, one group which has steadfastly supported the position that references to Jesus’ “brothers” did not mean biological brothers is the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Among their reasons for doing so is their position that Mary remained a virgin all her life.

    2. The first book of Ehrman’s that I read was Misquoting Jesus. I thought it was an excellent book. However, given all of the difficulties Ehrman described in accurately reconstructing ancient texts, it seems like he and other historicists give an awful lot of weight to the presence of a few words in a single sentence. In all the letters of Paul, the best/only example historicists can point to of Paul referencing a biographical fact about Jesus is “James, the brother of the Lord”. Even if you dismiss alternative explanantions of the use of the phrase “brother of the Lord,” (and I don’t think it’s so easy to dismiss them) it just doesn’t seem like it’s enough to counter the silence in the rest of the Epistles.

    3. Carrier in the “On the Historicity of Jesus” interprets “brothers of the Lord” to mean simply “fellow Christians”. I can’t say that I find his arguments entirely convincing but they are plausible.

      IMO the historicists argument from this phrase would be much stronger if Paul actually said “brothers of Jesus” instead of “The Lord”. If brother is used in a biological sense I would expect Paul to use Jesus not Lord. The phrase “brothers of The Lord” sounds weird to me when it refers to a real human. Not saying it’s impossible that he meant biological brothers, it’s just not as clear.

  15. Often missing from these discussions is that there is overwhelmingly compelling second century evidence from Christians themselves that Jesus is every bit as fabricated as any other Pagan demigod from the era.

    In particular, see Justin Martyr and especially his First Apology. The whole point of his writing is that Pagans had no right to mock Christians for their beliefs — virgin birth, miracle healing, ascension to the heavens, even the Eucharist and lots more — because they were no different from what Pagans themselves believed. Granted, Martyr attributed the parallels to evil daemons with the power of foresight who planted the Pagan stories centuries in advance to lead honest men astray when Jesus finally arrived, but….

    We get the same story from the Pagan side. Lucian of Samosata told of the Passing of Peregrinus, a lovable cad who conned the Christians into taking him in as one of their own, and who “revealed” many of their own mysteries to them, shamelessly stolen from Pagan mystery cults. And whether or not Peregrinus was, as I suspect, Paul, we see exactly that when Paul (of Tarsus) instructs the Corinthians in how to perform the Eucharist, a ceremony we know from Martyr was a Mithraic rite (originating in Tarsus) before it was a Christian one.

    The mythicist position isn’t simply some ad-hoc explanation thrown together to try to reconcile some inconvenient facts for rhetorical reasons. It’s nothing more nor less than taking the earliest authors at their word when they themselves describe Christianity as invented from whole cloth. That it’s consistent with all other facts just seals the deal.

    Cheers,

    b&

    1. I have read at Vridar an interesting explanation of how Peregrinus could have been re-branded as Ignatius. It explains a lot of things, but I am not an expert.

      1. I’ve also heard of those who identify Peregrinus and Ignatius, and that one is also plausible.

        What I don’t think is at all controversial is that, whether Peregrinus or not, what Paul does in 1 Corinthians 11 is exactly the same thing that Lucian describes Peregrinus as having done.

        So, either Paul was Peregrinus, or there were multiple scam artists using the exact same con on Christians.

        I’m fine with either interpretation.

        b&

        1. Are you sure you mean 1C 11? I looked it up and it’s about women wearing veils in church.

          It is quite possible that some of Peregrinus’ letters were re-branded to the name of Ignatius and others were put under Paul’s name, possibly by different men. Wouldn’t surprise anyone I’m sure, but I wanted to see what it was that Paul and Peregrinus had both done.

  16. What does it mean to claim a “real” Jesus existed? How much does the “real” Jesus have to resemble the character in the New Testament for the claim to have any value? 5%? 10%? 50? We can safely say that there were people named Jesus, and that there were itinerant rabbis. Is that enough? Or does the historical Jesus need to be exactly the same?

    Ultimately, whether or not there was a historical Jesus tells us **nothing** about the veracity of the **supernatural** claims of the bible, no more so than a “historical” Paul Bunyan would give us any reason to believe in 15 foot tall humans. Even the100% certainty that there was a historical Abraham Lincoln tells us nothing about vampires being real nor that Abraham Lincoln hunted them, as a recent book and movie portray.

    What is the end game to this line of inquiry? What does proving or disproving a historical Jesus get us?

    1. I think a frank discussion of what we know about Jesus, how we know it, and how nebulous it all is brutally undermines the certainty that comes with the way the Jesus story is presented in churches.

      A lot of Christians simply don’t know that the Gospels aren’t historical accounts, and those that do know about the late authorship of the Gospels often think that Josephus and Tacitus are slam dunk evidence, which they aren’t. Showing people what a rocky footing the very *existence* of Jesus is on puts the supernatural elements even more into disbelief. And it also is a good way of showing what a rotten mess of self affirming believers the theologians and New Testament scholars are, since a lot of them overlook counterarguments, make personal attacks on their opponents, and the like.

    2. Scote, you nailed it.

      Sure, Jesus was a historical person. It is just that his name was not Jesus, he was not born in Bethlehem, he was not born of a virgin, never performed miracles, did not rise from the dead, was not the son of gawd.

      1. Here’s my 2 cents. Sherlock Holmes was a real person, only (as Polyman71 might say) his name wasn’t Sherlock Holmes, he wasn’t a detective, he didn’t live at 221B Baker Street, or smoke a calabash pipe, or have a friend named Watson or an arch-enemy named Professor Moriarty. His name was Joseph Bell, and he was a Scottish physician who sometimes aided police in investigations. Years later he taught medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where one of his students was Arthur Conan Doyle, who would go on to create Sherlock Holmes, based–he acknowledged–on Bell. Later on other writers, artists and actors embellished the character, adding the deerstalker cap, the calabash pipe, the line “Elementary, my dear Watson,” etc. If there was a real Jesus, he bore as much resemblance to the Jesus of the gospels as Bell did to Holmes.

        Or Jesus may have been like those figures from the American West (Davy Crockett, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, etc.) who were featured in Dime Novels during their own lifetimes. They were real, but the adventures in these books were completely fictitious.

        So was he real? I dunno.

    3. You could ask the same question about Julius Caesar, Arsinoë, or the line of dinosaurs that became birds. The answer in each case is we want to know the truth. Some people will not care and will even scoff that there are specialists in these fields that use every method of critical thinking to get to the truth because it is of no impact to their lives, however many think that knowing the truth is worth working for.

      1. But then we’d have people studying the reality of fairies, because we simply want to know the truth. There has to be at least a shred of reason to go looking for the truth in any one direction, and there are no shreds in the direction of an historical Jesus, so the exercise is futile and not worthy of serious consideration.

        1. However, we are still documenting the lack of evidence. Also, it’s of interest because millions of people believe 1) the myth 2) the existence of the person 3) both.

      2. Exactly. Who wouldn’t want to understand the origins of the foundational myth of the most powerful cult in all of human history?

        That’s what’s most frustrating to me. Doesn’t anybody care about what is and isn’t true?

        I’d have no problem were it to have turned out that Jesus was the Joe Smith or Hubbard of his day. But it was Paul who was (kinda sorta) real, and Jesus the equivalent of Moroni or Xenu. Wouldn’t you be upset to think that you thought that Moroni was a real historical figure, or to not care whether or not that whole fake Egyptian / early American colonization thing was really real or not?

        b&

        1. What makes you think Paul was real?

          He was supposed to have raised from the dead, escaped death and shipwreck, have founded a mediterranean-wide religion yet is never mentioned in any secular history. The writings with his name on it were clearly written by a whole bunch of different people, even the few that seem to be by the same person are clearly edited together from earlier sermons, letters and sources. He claimed to have been a key figure in the early Jesus movement, yet is never mentioned by any source until decades after his death. And conveniently, he has a classic and frankly laughable conversion story involving being a persecutor of Christians who is visited by Christ himself.

          I don’t see why anyone would think Paul isn’t a convenient fiction for later religionists who need some framing ‘messenger’ myth to go with their mythical messiah.

          Sure, there may have been some wandering evangelist (who may or may not have been called Saul, Paul or something else) who wrote some letters (which originals, who knows), who was not able to perform miracles, who did not have divine visitation. But in what sense would that person be ‘Paul’?

          1. What makes you think Paul was real?

            Paul is almost as problematic an historical figure as Jesus. As you note, his official biography (especially in Acts) is clearly pure fiction.

            …but we do have an half dozen or so epistles, and somebody wrote them. Was that person’s name, “Paul”? I have my own suspicions that Lucian knew him by a couple other names that started with, “P.”

            So, when I refer to “Paul,” I’m generally using it in the same sort of shorthand as one would use Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to refer to the authors of the respective Gospels. We can be certain that the Biblical figures with those names aren’t the ones who wrote the texts, and reasonably confident that the authors didn’t have those same names…but we gotta call them by some names, and the traditional names are as good as any.

            And, in that sense, there most certainly was an historical figure who wrote the Epistles, and said figure played a similar role in Christianity as Smith and Hubbard played in their religions. Maybe more or less prominent, and certainly not the only such figure — but, than again, Smith also had Young and Hubbard Miscavige. Sussing out the org chart for first century Christianity is likely an impossible task, but it seems reasonable to suggest that “Paul” (or whatever was the name of the author of the Epistles) played a significant role in at least a major splinter faction.

            b&

            1. The author which epistles? You seemed to drop back into Paul-historicism towards the end there. Given that even the ‘authentic’ epistles of Paul are likely compilations and redactions of other documents, why do you think it is reasonable to suggest that there was a specific individual person at work there? Would the editor of, say 2 Cor, count as Paul, if the texts he edited together were written by someone else?

              On another note. Hubbard claimed to be the saviour of the universe (or humanity, depending on what day you caught him). Neither “Paul” or Smith does. Hubbard seems a bit of an awkward analogy. And you lost me on Young and Miscavige. Are you suggesting that Smith and Hubbard should also be considered non-histortical? Certainly one can very definitely make the case that LRH, in any form recognizable from scientologist claims, didn’t exist.

              Perhaps Muhammad and Gabriel, or maybe Shogi Effrendi and Bahaullah (who’s historicity shouldn’t get a free pass either, on the same grounds as above) are better analogies.

              Where are you on the existence of a historical John the Baptist?

              Sorry to give a big religious-figure dump.

              Perhaps it is better to see ‘historicity’ of a religious figure as a continuum rather than a binary.

              1. First, while we’re on the subject, I find it exceedingly unlikely that there was an historical Muhammad. It’s the exact same pattern we see with Jesus and all the others: no contemporary accounts, a generations-long oral tradition, and an official biography shamelessly stolen from well-loved Pagan heroic archetypes. Muhammad flew Buraq into the sunset for the same reason Bellerophon rode Pegasus into the sunset.

                There was undoubtedly a third-rate SF author named Hubbard who palled around with Heinlein and the crew who wrote Dianetics and founded Scientology. The official Scientology biography of Hubbard bears only passing semblance to the actual man.

                John the Baptist I haven’t seriously investigated. Seems plausible; no compelling reason I’m aware of to outright reject; definitely has an embellished biography if nothing else; and could also plausibly be a complete fabrication. Others not entirely unlike him would almost certainly have been not uncommon features of the landscape.

                Back to Paul…I’m not an expert on the Epistles. It seems reasonable that a plurality if not a majority of them share a common author. It’s also unquestionable that even the most-intact examples have gone through an incredible editorial filter spanning centuries — the provenance for the entire Bible sucks donkey balls, to put it politely.

                But, still, there are some broad facts one can be rather certain of about Christianity. One is that it was small but well established in the second century, giving it a generation at least in the middle of the first century. Its origins earlier than that get murky…it could even date back to the first or second century BCE as a tight-knit fast-evolving mystery cult that glommed onto Philo’s Hellenization not long after he authored it. Or it could have been the amalgamation of a couple different cults, or it could have been like Moronism and a charismatic figure (like Peregrinus) inserting radical new theology into an older cult and thus causing a schism. Or something else entirely.

                Somewhere in the middle of the first century, maybe the second half of the century, at least some of the epistles were authored seemingly by a single individual. This was before the fabrication of Jesus’s sermons and aphorisms, before the accretion of most (but not all: see the Eucharist in 1 Cor 11) of the Pagan biography so thoroughly detailed by Martyr, but after the adoption of the core Hellenized Jewish philosophy of PHilo (that later got formalized in John).

                That several of the Epistles were originally authored by a single individual seems reasonable. That subsequent edits to those Epistles happened in undocumented and irretrievable ways is unquestionable — as is the fact that the original texts of those epistles are long since gone. And that the figure in Acts bears no more relation to the author of those Epistles than Hubbard does to his official biography.

                That doesn’t leave us with an awful lot to stick a name tag of “Paul” to, but, again, it makes for shorthand as convenient as using “Matthew” to refer to the author of the first Gospel in the KJV Bible.

                Cheers,

                b&

              2. I’m confused what you regard as the ‘broad facts’, and what are your inferences about sequence and source material

                1. It was small but well established in the second century.

                I agree.

                2. Somewhere in the middle of the first century, maybe the second half of the century,

                You seem to be presuming dating based on historicist assumptions of timescales. What entirely mythicist grounds are there for assuming the “Paul” individual or group wrote/redacted in the second half of the first century, and not earlier, or later (I’m aware there are tiny quotes from other works assumed to be early C2, but as we’ve seen these epistles are often collections).

                3. at least some of the epistles were authored seemingly by a single individual.

                What does this mean? At least some of all pieces of writing were authored by a single individual.

                4. the epistles were later edited in undocumented ways.

                I agree.

                So are these the broad facts you mean? Or are your inferences about the source materials used also what you mean by ‘broad facts’?

              3. What entirely mythicist grounds are there for assuming the “Paul” individual or group wrote/redacted in the second half of the first century, and not earlier, or later (I’m aware there are tiny quotes from other works assumed to be early C2, but as we’ve seen these epistles are often collections).

                I don’t have any firm dating of “Paul.” The second century dating of the various early apologists seems not unreasonable, and half a century or so, thereabouts, give or take, seems a not unreasonable amount of time for Christianity to develop from the primitive nature it displays in “Paul” to the mostly-formed state we see with Martyr where all the major biographical elements are not only firmly established but clearly identified with their Pagan antecedents.

                What does this mean? At least some of all pieces of writing were authored by a single individual.

                Yes, and some significant portion of the Epistles seem to fit that single-author origin. Adopting the “Paul” name to refer to that author, about whom much more is difficult to discern, doesn’t seem at all a stretch, does it?

                So are these the broad facts you mean?

                I thought I made that clear. Christianity — or, at least, the branch that would survive the internecine wars to become established orthodoxy — coalesced into recognizably its current form in the early second century. “Paul” — whoever he was — was almost certainly writing significantly before that. Somebody had to have written those letters, so why not call him, “Paul”?

                b&

              4. I’m not trying to be antagonistic, Ben. I’m just puzzled why you’re giving such credence to historicist claims about Paul, when even a cursory reading of the scholarship on the epistles will show that the letters are amalgams and redactions of prior writings.

                Why is it reasonable to think that, in a text that is a compilation of other writings, the similarity is due to a single author, rather than a single redactor? Calling the writer “Paul” because somebody must have written them? Written which bits? Seems bizarre to me.

                And then your willingness to say that it is ‘reasonable’ that “Paul” is seen in some sense as the founder of Christianity seems really credulous to historicist scholarship to me. Plenty of people think it is ‘reasonable’ that Jesus was a historical character. Into every question some evidence must fall.

                If we don’t take on face value historicist claims, it isn’t reasonable to say there is a historical Paul, or that the person who ‘founded’ Christianity is the author of any of the epistles.

                I’m not trying to be antagonistic, but it sounds like you are very willing to take on historicist conclusions when you feel like it.

              5. You raise some good points I’ve clearly not thought enough about. Thanks; I’ll have to do a bit more digging.

                At the very least, I’m probably still going to be stuck using the single name, “Paul,” to refer to whatever person and / or persons who wrote and edited the Epistles collectively and / or the particular passage in discussion. I imagine that’s going to get confusing and / or tedious.

                b&

              6. This strikes me as a bit like the convention of calling the author of Shakespeare’s plays ‘William Shakespeare’. The fact that there is no credible biography of a person of that name that could have written the material and can be fitted into a historical context is (except for specialist historians of the period) not really relevant. (The last thing I read on the subject was by Mark Twain, but I doubt there’s a lot of new data.)

          2. I’ve wondered whether Apollonius was the inspiration for Paul. Apollonius was said to travel to the same places the Paul supposedly did and at the same time.
            I agree with you though. Paul doesn’t appear to be any more real than Jesus.

          3. Robert M. Price suggests that Paul was in fact Simon Magus rebranded to make him acceptable to orthodoxy. “The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul”. I have started reading it but it’s pretty dry.

    4. I do agree 100% there.
      There certainly were preachers who preached the eschaton. Probably thirteen in a dozen.
      On the other hand we know that stories about turning water into wine, virgin birth and the multitude of dead rising are BS.
      I think the probability of a kind of eschatological preacher on which the fictitious Jesus is based is good. After all Tacitus did not doubt that a Jesus was crucified. Admittedly at 60 ad, but still close. And Tacitus is a kind of reliable source(IMMO).
      The passage of Josephus concerning Christ is generally thought to be a later insertion, a hoax, in other words.
      Just like the Holy Trinity (as discovered by nobody less than Newton!) and the “he who is without sin throwest the first stone” (the passage in the NT which gives me some sympathy for christian doctrine) are fourth century fabrications.
      There is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus promoted the things we would call christian now, in fact, Christianity (again IMMO) should be called Paulism.
      Pauls road to Damascus revelation appears indeed to be a genuine attack of epilepsy to me, the different accounts (auditory/visual) appear to me to give it some authenticity.
      So, if there were a historical Jesus he would not correspond (for lack of a better term) to the Jesus Christians believe in.

  17. “We now know that the four gospels were assigned the names of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not written by them.”

    That is a slight error, as Luke was not one of the apostles. According to tradition, Luke was an associate of Paul.

    1. If you’re talking about disciples, then neither was Mark. I believe apostles had a more nebulous connotation, and could refer to other followers of Jesus, particularly after the time of his death. See 1st Corinthians 15:5-7, where it appears that “the apostles” and “the twelve” are two distinct groups. But then again, the names of the twelve disciples is also inconsistent over the four gospels. They even differ in different manuscripts of the same gospel. It’s a complete mess.

  18. Richard Carrier’s new book, ‘On the Historicity of Jesus’, pretty much kills it. I defy anyone to finish it and not be embarrassed at how obviously made up the whole lot is.

  19. Has anyone else read “Nailed: Ten christian myths that show Jesus never existed at all” by David Fitzgerald?

    I read it recently. I was left feeling fairly strongly that Jesus never existed, yet there were some parts where I sensed some possible intentional omission of inconvenient data. Nothing strong enough to say definitively one way another. I wound love to hear what others think.

    There were some interesting points I remember:
    – early christians collected every scrap that in any way alluded to Jesus, but multi volume histories they kept that should have mentioned Jesus are missing the one volume that covers the time of Jesus.
    – the calming the sea motif is common, so when the writers wanted one for Jesus, they picked the sea of Galilee for him to calm, not realizing it is closer to a big pond than a sea.
    – one of the supposed proofs of Jesus listed by christians is actually just an ancient critic who said something like “Those christians are gullible. They will believe any fraud who comes into their midst.”

    1. “Those christians are gullible. They will believe any fraud who comes into their midst.”

      Not much has changed in 2 millennia then.

  20. There seems to be a popular idea that every myth must have some germ of truth at its center. (I’d like to know where that idea came from; probably the German Romantics?) We could say, therefore, that the Greek, Roman, and Norse myths all might have had something real in their origins. Surely no one would just make up such things? On the other hand, we have examples of modern faiths, such as Mormanism, which, not shielded by the mists of time, are clearly bunk, made up by men who are at best delusional and at worse frauds.

    There might a first-century Jewish preacher at that heart of Christianity, and his name might have been Jesus. Nothing in the evidence leads me to conclude that he was any more real than Romulus or Remus, though.

    I put my money on myth. Which reminds me of one of my favorite Biblical verses, by way of Runyon: The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s how the smart money bets.

  21. First a side digression praising author Tarico.
    [BEGIN digression]
    Valerie Tarico is one of my favorite atheist bloggers (though she is little known) and of the eight books I have read which combine an autobiographical account of exodus from fundamentalism and a systematic critique of same, her book “Trusting Doubt” is my top favorite!! One of its unique features is in the book she never discloses her current position (secular humanism) thus making the book accessible to atheists, Buddhists, and liberal Christians alike. Most books of this kind also trumpet the authors new views, while Tarico stays silent thereof. (but anyone who finds her blog “Away Point” can easily found out what she really thinks.)
    [END digression]

    I think all sides on the Jesus question overstate their case. Ehrman shows IMO that an existing Jesus is plausible but has not fully demonstrated that it is probable!!

    Valerie Tarico’s first four points are right on target, but the fifth is easily answered. The Albert Schweitzer/Paula Fredriksen/Bart Ehrman portrait of Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher is the only one that squarely reconstructs Jesus as a 1st-century Jew, not as a 20th-century liberal Christian (Marcus Borg) or proto-Marxist (Paul Verhoeven- yep the same guy who directed “Basic Instinct”, “Robocop” etc.) or in the service of some 20th/21st-century ideology. Even mythicist Robert Price admits it’s the most embarrassing (to modern religious) of all the reconstructions.

    A lot of discussion hinges on two contested verses in Paul. At least some of the mythicists claim a verse in Philippians illustrates Paul thought of Jesus as a mythical deity who fought demons in some heavenly realm and was never thought of by Paul as a man walking the earth. Historicists ride a lot on a verse in Galatians which involves Paul meeting various disciples and James whom he refers to as “brother of the Lord” and was believed by Jewish Christians of later generations to be the biological brother of Jesus.

    For about three centuries AD there was a group called the Ebionites who were non-Pauline Christians who thought Jesus simply came to reform Jewish Law and not abolish it. The only Scripture they accepted was the Gospel of Matthew (as easy guess to anyone familiar with the New Testament) and they claimed a dynastic succession from the Apostle James (Though there is historical dispute on this). See
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebionites#James_and_the_Ebionites

    Atheist blogger and YouTube poster TaylorX04 (Blogs http://godless-skeptic.blogspot.com/ and http://godlesshaven.com/) oddly came to the conclusion Jesus existed after all after reading a book on the Apostle James and his place as a figurehead of the Ebionite movement entitled “James the Brother of the Jesus” by Robert Eisenman. It’s one of the few major works on Jesus I haven’t read even part of, so it’s now on my list.

    Ben Goren makes a lot of good points (and some hilarious laughlines) but is mistaken in claiming that all historicists think the non-supernatural parts of the Gospels are entirely true. Lots of historicists think there is something “fishy” (pun on ichthys intended- so sorry) about the accounts of Jesus’s arrest and trial, and argue that it was really the Romans who had the biggest vested interest in Jesus’ arrest, and the Gospel’s insinuation that the Jewish religious authorities were the prime instigators is just wrong.

    1. Actually, Tarico also needs to do more work on her second point, but I will concede that mythicist Earl Doherty has addressed it.

      There is a good case to be made that Paul and the Christians in Jerusalem were at odds with each other and that the latter might not have shared all their traditions with Paul. Either way the sayings attribute to “Q” in Matthew and Luke seem to be a tradition !*very independent*! of Paul running simultaneously on a parallel track.

      But as I say, Earl Doherty, has taken this into account.

      The book she cites at the end is by a good personal friend, David Fitzgerald, who has valiantly run the annual Atheist Film Festival in San Francisco for the past 5 years. My (tentative) disagreement with his conclusions has never eclipsed our strong affection for each other.

  22. I scratch my head at why no one other than believers wrote contemporary accounts. Paul claims that Jesus showed his risen self to over 500 people – you have to think that someone would have noted that? No a single early scientist/medic examined a man cured of blindness? Not a single court historian recorded the trouble in Judea with this rascally itinerant healing people, raising the dead, and feeding a large city (5000!) with a handful of fish?

    1. I have tried to find the link for it, but somewhere, Richard Carrier made list of 40 prophets contemporary to Jesus that were recorded in historical sources, and, quite frankly, a lot of them were just losers who accomplished much less than even Jesus stripped of the supernatural bits did.

      That Jesus wasn’t on that list at all was a bit telling.

    2. First, nobody wrote contemporary accounts. The earliest by any measure is Paul’s, and he’s unabashedly a latecomer.

      Next, it’s much worse than you suggest. We have an entire library of the actual pieces of papyrus and parchment actually penned by actual millennialist Jews actually living in and around Jerusalem during the actual period this is all supposed to have happened — I refer, of course, to the Dead Sea Scrolls — and there’s not even the slightest hint of a peep of anything that could remotely be twisted into vaguely referring to Jesus or his remarkable biography. We’ve got most of what Philo of Alexandria wrote; he was the Jewish philosopher whose claim to fame was the integration of the Logos (of John 1:1) from Paganism into Judaism, and he was a member of the royal family and a diplomat active well after the reign of Pilate concerned with all the injustices that were most famously said to have been heaped upon Jesus. We have Pliny the Elder, obsessed with all things supernatural…the Roman Satirists whose stock in trade was the scandals surrounding the Temple scene and the Sanhedrin and Pilate…and and and and and….

      Fabricate the most banal story you might care to about Jesus that leaves him vaguely recognizable as “the” Jesus, and even that Jesus couldn’t possibly have gone missing.

      Yet he did.

      Cheers,

      b&

    3. I don’t scratch my head. If the ‘original Jesus’ was not a miracle worker and only convinced a few tens or at most a couple hundred people to follow his new sect of Judaism – not the thousands or tens of thousands that the NT implies – then the Romans and Jewish authorities would have very little reason to write about him. Consider this – do you know how many “tens of people” or even “hundreds of people” splinter cults there might be in the US today? No? Why not? Well, if you’re like most everybody, you don’t know beacuse such a small group is not newsworthy.

      Nondocumentation is certainly inconsistent with the sort of ‘major local figure’ that the NT implies Jesus was. But it is reasonably consistent with a small cult that exaggerates their own historic importance in later writings.

      1. Except that they did wrote about rascals – some of whom were named Jesus – who had few followers. There is not a vacuum of references to preachers, rabblerousers, and iconoclasts of the time. But there is zero about you-know-who.

  23. I’d like to get Bart Ehrmann and Reza Aslan (“Zealot”) and David Fitzgerald (“Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All “) into one room to debate. The range of POV (existed vs. existed-but-misunderstood vs. pure myth) would be entertaining.

  24. I think Bart Ehrman makes a very compelling case in his book, DID JESUS EXIST? He’s obviously a scholar with a deep knowledge of ancient sources, and the fact that he’s not a believer gives him an objectivity that other biblical scholars lack.

    The argument that some people here have made–that Ehrman only wants to sell books or maintain his credibility with other scholars–reminds me of the arguments made by climate change deniers about how you can’t trust scientists because obviously they are all in cahoots and just want money to study this thing they just all made up. Ditto many of the mythicist arguments–awfully similar to the mental gymnastics of believers who want the facts to correspond to their preconceived outcome.

    The most parsimonious explanation for the origins of Christianity is that Jesus was a real person who became mythologized into a Christ figure. Whether or not that aids the arguments of religious people should not be a factor if we value rationality and intellectual honesty.

    1. I agree with you that dismissing Ehrman with allegations of lucre-seeking or reputation-chasing is lame. However, Carrier makes some very compelling arguments too about why the Jesus character could plausibly be purely mythological in origin:

      “As Bart Ehrman himself has recently confessed, the earliest documentation we have shows Christians regarded Jesus to be a pre-existent celestial angelic being.Though Ehrman struggles to try and insist this is not how the cult began, it is hard to see the evidence any other way, once we abandon Christian faith assumptions about how to read the texts. The earliest Epistles only ever refer to Jesus as a celestial being revealing truths through visions and messages in scripture. There are no references in them to Jesus preaching (other than from heaven), or being a preacher, having a ministry, performing miracles, or choosing or having disciples, or communicating by any means other than revelation and scripture, or ever even being on earth. This is completely reversed in the Gospels. Which were written decades later, and are manifestly fictional. Yet all subsequent historicity claims, in all subsequent texts, are based on those Gospels.”

      http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/08/car388028.shtml

    2. The most parsimonious explanation for the origins of Christianity is that Jesus was a real person who became mythologized into a Christ figure.

      Actually, I don’t think that’s parsimonious at all given that there is scant evidence outside the bible for Jesus’s existence. If you follow the evidence (or lack thereof) the most parsimonious explanation is that Christianity was yet another mystery cult along the lines of the Cult of Mithras, Cult of Isis, etc. with similar themes and contemporaneous of one another.

      1. The problem isn’t that there’s only one group of texts that claim Jesus existed, even if they are biased to present him favourably; it’s that the only group of texts that claim Jesus existed are batshit crazy.

        The most parsimonious explanation is that a disturbing chunk of humanity in the first century AD were delusional and gullible. The unresolved question is whether everyone involved was, or if con artists entered the picture somewhere.

        Also, as there’s no independent evidence, and therefore no prior reason, to suppose they hijacked a real figure and used his image or likeness for their own purposes, I think we’d have to conclude an independent figure’s existence unlikely.

    3. I think we have to look a little bit deeper than that. The Jesus historicity affair isn’t as shrouded in confusion as many would like to make it appear.
      For as long as religion was married to politics, questioning was simply frowned on- or worse. And that led to people taking certain things for granted- such as the case for a historical Jesus.
      Ehrman comes from a background of Christian belief whether or not he later changed his mind. Add to that the ‘unusual’ statements he makes in the book- and we’re left with some serious questions.

    4. Like the others have remarked, I don’t think that is the most parsimonious explanation at all – for this argument applies to, and is clearly wrong for, all genuinely fictional characters, from Rodion Raskolnikov to Harry Potter.

      There NOT being a very specific, highly defined person with a set of characteristics X is very much more parsimonious than there being one. That precise person existing is an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence.

      1. I don’t think that is the most parsimonious explanation at all – for this argument applies to, and is clearly wrong for, all genuinely fictional characters, from Rodion Raskolnikov to Harry Potter.

        Only if you ignore the fact that fictional characters are fictional.

        There NOT being a very specific, highly defined person with a set of characteristics X is very much more parsimonious than there being one.

        So you don’t exist? (Assuming you have a set of characteristics that describe you.)

        In the specific case of Jesus, you also have to account for the stories about him, and for the existence of Christianity. To account for these, you need a bunch of extra assumptions.

  25. Interesting issues w.r.t. whether many of the historic figures existed. I’m a fan of the words of Jesus, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Socrates, Plato, and others mainly because they invoke in me a considerations to how to live a better life.

        1. It’s even worse than that! The fig tree wasn’t even infertile, it just “was not the season for figs” according to Mark 11:13.

          Think about how much of a crazy jerk I would come off as if I strolled into an apple orchard in late winter and cursed the trees because they weren’t producing any delicious Granny Smiths!

          1. Why Chris! You mean to tell me you don’t have a local organization yet? Check out the web site and fill out an application. December is right around the corner and you’ll want to have, the outfits, the beany hats, and paraphernalia ready for the winter solstice.

        2. That fig tree story has always been lame. Anyone can kill a tree without much effort. I kill plants all the time! Bringing one to life; now that’s impressive.

        3. The fig was then and remains to this day the primary symbol of Rabbinic Torah scholarship. The cursing of the fig tree was a powerful bit of anti-Semitism, explicitly intended as such.

          What, you ask? Jesus as the original and most virulent anti-Semite? Can’t be — he was a Jew!

          News flash: Orpheus was a Thracian in the story, and yet the whole story is powerfully anti-Thracian. And in the exact same ways; Orpheus, too, was horrifically and barbarically executed after a travesty of injustice of a kangaroo court presided over a mockery of a trial. Both faced trumped-up charges that were really just an excuse to do away with this radical reformer who was trying to cleanse the local establishment of systemic corruption and bring new hope and new life to the common people. (Many more parallels between the two, but not directly related to the anti-Semitic / anti-Thracian theme.)

          It might help to understand that Christianity and Orphism are both purely Greek phenomena. That’s not a controversial statement with respect to Orphism. But remember that all the sacred Christian texts were originally written in scholarly Greek by native-Greek-speaking Greek-educated Greek authors and addressed in Greek to a Greek audience — and that all the plot elements and themes and especially theology is entirely Greek and consisted of stuff that Greek parents had been telling to their Greek children for as long as Greeks have been Greek.

          You greek? I mean, “grok”?

          b&

      1. Only if you read it as report instead of metaphor… as for me, I love bacon and sometimes don’t give a fig so he may be a soul mate… 😉

  26. Pamela Turner’s comment closely parallels my own view. I think Ehrman makes a very good case in his book that there was an historical personage on which the Jesus myths were based. I wish Jerry would stop commenting on matters he is not adequately acquainted with. Sorting through bits and pieces of arguments about the historical Jesus to find those with which one agrees and excluding all the others seems to me to be confirmation bias.

    1. I happen to have read Ehrman’s books on the subject, and written about them. I wish Lamar would stop making comments telling me what to do, and assuming things about what I know that aren’t true. So, on the grounds of rudeness, incivility toward the host, and ignorance, you will never comment here again unless you apologize unreservedly. And no, Ehrman did not, in my opinion, make a convincing case for the historicity of Jesus.

    2. What!? Assertions like these are how people get away with spewing BS in the world. These books are written so that those who read them can evaluate their arguments for themselves and if those arguments are sound, meaning they are properly referenced with primary sources that support the argument, then the reader may feel they are convinced. This is called critical thinking.

  27. The earliest extant portion of the New Testament is a tiny piece of John’s Gospel which was written ( and I am being generous here) about 100 years after the event. Plenty of time for myths to coalesce around a historical Jesus in order to enhance, possibly for political reasons, the stature of Jesus and for certain “prophecies” to be fulfilled. Another example might be of the Robin Hood stories where there might have been a kernel of truth in them, for instance there is a historic Prince John – he is buried about 1km away – but have been so embellished that extracting the truth is all but impossible. Interestingly the time frames for the Robin Hood stories are somewhat similar with the first documented ones appearing about 100 years after the supposed events. Yes, there are major differences I agree but the similarities are there.

    1. Agree. It’s like playing the game of telephone where each time the message is relayed from one person to the next, the message morphs a little bit. Now, try doing that game for 100 years among a group of people where only liek 10% could read.

      1. BTW, that piece of John’s gospel is in, of all the places, Manchester, England. Wonder if Matthew Cobb has seen it?

  28. I recommend at least reading part of Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ.

    I say this not because I think it will convince any of you; but rather because it provides a quick and easy overview of what partisans for the Jesus cult consider to be evidence for their historical Jesus.

    And incredibly lame it is. Just read a few of the chapters and you will realize that it’s all built on thin air.

    I had this book recommended to me by a Xian in some online forum. More or less: Oh yeah? Read Lee Strobel and then come back here and admit that you are wrong and now see that Jesus is real!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    What struck me on reading it was: Seriously? This is the best that these partisans can do? This stuff is laughable!

    I’m sure some will say that this isn’t the best Xian apologetics can offer, and I don’t doubt that. But it was written as a persuasion piece intended to be read by lay people and (as I said) I’ve had (several) Xians recommend it as a great case for their cause.

    (I suspect that the academic writing on the subect simply uses larger words to gussy-up the same lame lack of evidence.)

    1. Some of the least-worst apologetics is of the variety of “look at these dozens of early historical references to Jesus!” Superficially, they are indeed very impressive.

      That is, until you go to confirm them for yourself. What you find is that not a one of them was penned by anybody alive at the time; all are merely reporting on the beliefs of Christians; and most paint the Christians as gullible lunatic idiots who bear a striking semblance to today’s Raelians. Suddenly, what seemed like an overwhelming weight of evidence in support of Christianity is made into one of the most powerful arguments against Christianity.

      b&

    2. Apologetics are only ever convincing to people who already believe in the Christian religion. Their problem is a simple but fatal one, and yet one that they seem incapable of realising: they all start from the base assumption that the Christian god is real in some form or other.

      It never occurs to any of them that the base assumption is not at all obvious to anyone outside of their religion.

  29. Every religious cult I can think of where we have good documentary evidence for their means of creation starts with a single charismatic person.

    It seems reasonable therefore that Christianity started with a single person. Paul does talk about the “Christ” a bit claiming he met his brother.

    I think, therefore, it is more probable than not that there was an individual who founded Christianity. Let’s call that individual “Jesus” because it is the Greek version of a very common name.

    Job done.

    OK, so it falls a bit short of Christian claims about the founder of their religion, But a lot of them are clearly false whichever way you look at it.

    1. Every religious cult I can think of where we have good documentary evidence for their means of creation starts with a single charismatic person.

      That’s a common theme, but not universal. But more to the point, the “single charismatic person” is often not the central deity in the religion. Hubbard isn’t Xenu; Smith isn’t Moroni…

      …and Paul isn’t Jesus.

      Cheers,

      b&

    2. I think how the myth supporters tend to view it is that, rather than Jesus being the human source, its more of a situation of Mohammad and Gabriel. Paul (or some other person) was the human start of the religion, who claimed inspiration from a supernatural being, Jesus Christ, or just Christ.

      Its just that later people then took that supernatural character and made biographical accounts of him as a living person, rather than turning him into a more spiritual being.

      1. I think the evidence of the existence of Mohammad (an Arab warlord who conquered most of Arabia) is much stronger than for Paul.
        Note, much of the Hadith is made up later, but still, there actually was a kind of Mohammad -something we may doubt about Paul. The fact that I do believe there probably was a kind of Paul is just a matter of opinion, no hard evidence.
        Needless to say that this historical existence of Mohammad does not at all imply his preachings have any value, no more than the historical certainty about Smith or Hubbard does.

        1. My point was less that Mohammad wasn’t real (though there are interesting discussions to be had on that), and more that no one was claiming that Gabriel was a real, historical person. A lot of Jesus as Myth supporters view Paul as the real person and author of a portion of his letters, but that his source of inspiration, Christ, was just a supernatural being in his head.

    3. Paul does talk about the “Christ” a bit claiming he met his brother.

      What he does is refer to someone once as “Brother of the Lord”. This could mean a biological brother but could also be a respectful way of referring to a Church elder or fellow Christian.

      Use of terms such as “brother” or “father” for fellow Christians was common then and now. Paul uses it in other places, when he is clearly meaning fellow Christians, e.g. “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, …”

      1. I’d go further. Even if there really was a person called James who claimed to be Jesus’ brother, that doesn’t rule out outrageous lying or someone’s delusion, especially when that same person is alleged to be a witness of resurrection through personal revelation. While not a conclusive factor, it should destroy the confidence in such nonsense as Ehrman’s claiming that “the fact that Paul knew Jesus’ brother creates enormous problems… that in fact the otherwise convincing (to them) case against Jesus’ existence is more or less sunk by the fact that Paul was acquainted with his blood relations”.

        Never mind that this argument doesn’t contradict any of the others for mythicism: The sheer nonsense Paul peppers his letters with suggests he was either an opportunistic liar – in which case his credibility as a reporting party is shot to hell – or severely deluded – in which case his credibility as a reporting party is shot to hell. If he spends one chapter telling his believers how he saw Jesus come to life in a magic vision, followed by six chapters eagerly explaining how this means all sin will be removed and utopia will come if you believe in him and also thank you for your earthly tributes supporting us back in Jerusalem… then how can I trust him in another chapter when he claims there’s a man called James back in Jerusalem who’s the brother of Jesus and who also saw him posthumously in a personal revelation?

        1. This is exactly how I felt about Ehrman’s James claims. I’m just supposed to take his word for it after all of the other crap he writes about? Like Paul is a completely unbiased source of information about this? Please.

        2. If Paul wasn’t Peregrinus, he was certainly cut from the same cloth. That he was a fraud and a charlatan there can be no doubt.

          It was then that [Peregrinus] learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And — how else could it be? — in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.

          Proof?

          1 Corinthians 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.

          21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

          22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? what shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

          23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

          24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

          25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

          This is far and away the earliest mention of the Eucharist in Christianity — and, incidentally, about the most detailed terrestrial biographical detail we ever get from Paul.

          Compare and contrast with Justin Martyr’s First Apology, chapter 66:

          And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist] [….] For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn. [emphasis added]

          Forget not: Tarsus (as in, “Paul, of”) was the home port of the Cilician pirates, who were notorious for their worship of Mithras.

          Cheers,

          b&

    4. Every religious cult I can think of where we have good documentary evidence for their means of creation starts with a single charismatic person.

      Perhaps a good hypothesis to start with but that’s only the beginning. Now you need to go out and see if you can accept or reject that hypothesis and from what scholarship tells us, you need to reject that ol’ null and accept the alternate.

    5. There is a good chance that there was in fact one charismatic person who created the myth out of whole cloth. His name was Paul.

      David Fitzgerald in Nailed argues that Paul may have believed christ was spiritual, not a real person, and attempts to merge Paul’s creation with a first century wandering jewish messiah’s came later.

      I’m not sure I buy everything in Nailed, but it was interesting to read.

  30. Several readers have asserted that they don’t give a rat’s patootie whether Jesus was a historical figure or not. I’ve added an update to the post (at top) responding to that issue.

    1. It isn’t that I don’t care, but rather that I think that many people tackle this question without even so much as defining their terms first. We can’t really address the question of whether there was a “historical” Jesus until we define what that would entail. How much would the character in the New Testament have to be accurate for there to have been a “historical” Jesus? Would it count if the Jesus was a composite character? Would it count if there was a rabbi named Jesus who angered the Pharisees, but never made any supernatural claims or hinted that he was the Messiah?

      The discussion mostly seems to presume that one can discount a historical Jesus because there are no contemporary mentions of someone as as influential as Jesus supposedly is in the bible, but such arguments do not in any way disproves that there could have been a historical Jesus who only did some of the things in the NT.

      I don’t know if there was a historical Jesus or not but I doubt that there was one who did everything in the NT (not even including the supernatural stuff). But could there have been one who only did some of the things? That I don’t know. And, I’d say, can’t know, because such a Jesus could easily have escaped being recorded in contemporary records, especially ones that survive to this day. And there is my point. It isn’t possible to disprove a vague historical Jesus, much as it isn’t possible to disprove vague concepts of a god. Thus, as with theistic arguments, we need to specify what “kind” of historical Jesus we are arguing against, just as we specify what kind of god we are arguing against in theistic arguments.

      1. I said more or less the same thing in comment 47. There’s a definite parallel in both the historical Jesus and God arguments. They both get very vague before they get even remotely plausible.

      2. We can’t really address the question of whether there was a “historical” Jesus until we define what that would entail. How much would the character in the New Testament have to be accurate for there to have been a “historical” Jesus?

        If you read Dr. Tenrico’s article (the one Jerry links to), two things pop out. First, that the scholars involved in the debate have done exactly what you insist they do (define what it entails), and you just haven’t read that they did it.

        The second thing that pops out is that the bar for an “historical” Jesus is set pretty low. She phrases it as a debate over the Jesus figure is mythologized history or historicized mythology. To count as mythologized history, you basically just need there to be a warm body living at the time around which the stories etc. accrued. Basically, none of NT accounts could be accurate, but if there was some guy at the center of the beginning of christianity because of what he said (even if none of it made it into the NT, and what we have in the NT is all lies), then there was a real Jesus in the sense of it being mythologized history.

    2. I think it is a question that should be resolved if it can be.

      If the evidence shows that no person resembling the gospel Jesus ever existed (which I think is the case), this is needed to counter the feeding frenzy every time some fake or real first century artifact surfaces with one specific fairly common name written anywhere on it. Remember the ossuary?

      Maybe one or more of the first century wandering jewish messiahs was named Jesus. The gospel myths are still appear to be nothing more than a collection of common motifs of the time with the name of the main character changed to Jesus.

    3. I used to think it doesn’t matter either, but actually considering the core claims of Christianity, I’ve come round to thinking it matters a lot.

      Very similar to the New Atheist shortcut of “where’s the evidence (for God)? “, it cuts the bull and goes straight for the jugular: “where’s the evidence for this Jesus bloke of whom you speak so highly?”

  31. Sometimes I get the feeling that people just say, “Who cares?” because they have a form of xkcd Syndrome. But millions of Christians do care!

    This doesn’t quite make sense to me. Yes, millions of Xtians care. And, yes, if JC didn’t exist then the Xtian project is totally undermined.

    But

    There might have been a person (quite a regular human type person) who led a cult that eventually became Xtianity. This doesn’t validate a single one of the claims for divinity that the religion asserts. So for me, not being an Xtian, I can say “who cares?” meaning “it doesn’t matter… the beliefs are still bogus”. Jeebus’ existence is necessary for the Xtian project to make sense but it is far from sufficient. Cult leaders are a dime a dozen. So… who cares if Xtianity can trace to one? The fact that L. Ron Hubbard existed doesn’t legitimize Scientology.

  32. What’s intresting to me is the work by people like Robert Price who looks at the other popular stories & myths that were known at the supposed time of Jesus to make the case that the wholle Jesus story in an appropriation of other material. Almost like plagarism.

  33. While the lack of good evidence is interesting, the bible does count as evidence. Maybe not good evidence, maybe it’s very bad evidence, but it’s a nudge in support of the idea that there was an historical Jesus. However Carrier and other mythicists aren’t resting on the lack of evidence, they’re arguing that the bible accounts (plus some extra-biblical sources) show that the early Christians believed that Jesus was a heavenly being who was sacrificed in a heavenly/spiritual realm and whose teachings reach us only through revelation. This isn’t merely an argument from silence (though the silences are strong) but a positive argument against Jesus existing even as a mundane preacher.

    This argument has many lines of evidence. One note he left in a recent blog post touches upon this:

    In part 8, Covington says the content of Hebrews is “one of the most compelling arguments for mythicism.” I agree it is compelling. But I wasn’t sure it was that conclusive when I wrote OHJ, owing to its plausible vagueness. So I gave all the epistolary gospels collectively a 5:2 against historicity, or 5:3 a fortiori (p. 594). But Covington makes a good argument that, again, I was being way too generous to historicity. Observe the elegance of his argument:

    The author of Hebrews believes that there are copies of things in heaven mirroring the things on earth … and that the animal sacrifices [in the Jerusalem temple] are a copy or shadow of Jesus’ sacrifice … Think about the Hebrews author’s logic:

    1. There are imperfect earthly copies of heavenly things.

    2. Animal sacrifices are an imperfect copy of Jesus’ sacrifice,

    Therefore: Jesus’ sacrifice was a heavenly sacrifice.

    This is essentially what I myself argue, but I did not conceptualize it so clearly. It evokes a powerful syllogism:

    P1. Hebrews 9-10 says the imperfect copies of any x are on earth and the perfect copies of x are not on earth.
    P2. The sacrifice of Jesus is the perfect copy of x.
    C1. Therefore, Hebrews 9-10 says the sacrifice of Jesus was not on earth.

    You can read his blog and his books for more details. But it’s certainly not the case that he’s making some hand-waving, off-the-cuff argument that because we can’t prove absolutely that Jesus was real, we should then believe Jesus was a myth.

    1. Is the Bible then a “nudge in support of the idea that there was a historical Noah”? If not, why not? The argument, by the way, isn’t the way you characterize it in your last paragraph. The argument is that if we can’t find even any remotely convincing evidence that a Jesus-person existed, we should not say that he did. It’s the same argument many atheists make against accepting God: no evidence. The Covington stuff is simply gobbledy-gook and doesn’t make Jesus’s existence one iota more credible. And if you think the bible counts for evidence, God help you, because there are tons of people in there that you have to say could have existed just as credibly as Jesus. Moses, Job, Jonah . . . etc. etc. etc.

      1. I may have spewed a bit of a brain fart, but I may have just explained myself badly. Sorry. I’ll try to clarify a bit…

        Is the Bible then a “nudge in support of the idea that there was a historical Noah”? If not, why not?

        Yea, but not enough to withstand the counter-evidence. If we were to look at all of the observations which could inform our belief/conclusion then a written account of the Noah character would have to factor in there somewhere. Because this sort of account can arise without there being an actual historical Noah and because the evidence against Noah is so strong, it’s not going to shift our confidence very much.

        Put it another way: I think that the bible is an object/observation which can be used to support the position that Jesus existed. One would have to evaluate the quality of the evidence to see how much it should shift our belief then weigh this against the evidence that Jesus didn’t exist.

        The argument, by the way, isn’t the way you characterize it in your last paragraph.

        I agree. I don’t think you’re saying that either. I have heard that presented as an argument by some people though. I think some mythicists spend a quarter of their time attacking bad mythicist arguments 🙂

        The argument is that if we can’t find even any remotely convincing evidence that a Jesus-person existed, we should not say that he did. It’s the same argument many atheists make against accepting God: no evidence.

        I’m not convinced these are equivalent cases. We have good evidence that ancient preachers and prophets existed and some inspired fictitious hero stories so that puts an historical Jesus much farther ahead of a god in terms of simple prior probabilities. Because a god claim is so extraordinary (ie: very low prior probability) it requires extremely good evidence which we don’t have.

        The Covington stuff is simply gobbledy-gook and doesn’t make Jesus’s existence one iota more credible.

        I had a little blockquote fail there, maybe the reason it looks like gobbledy-gook is because of that. It was a snippet from Carrier’s review of Covington’s review of Carrier’s book so context is probably also an issue 🙂

        What he and Carrier are arguing is not that the bible should be dismissed entirely, nor should it be believed uncritically. It contains indications of what the early Christians thought of Jesus. Carrier argues it shows they believed that Jesus was was sacrificed by the “Rulers of the age” which were demons, not humans. Jesus was a “perfect” sacrifice, and perfection is only achievable in the heavens which is further evidence Jesus wasn’t sacrificed on earth. Other elements like the way Jesus communicated to Paul only via revelation further strengthens the argument that that Paul believed Jesus was a heavenly being and not a human, corporeal one.

  34. There appears to be very compelling evidence that L Ron Hubbard did in fact exist. No evidence what so ever that his revelations were anything beyond his third rate Sci-Fi pulp. And yet a lot of people have been indoctrinated to believe that he was some kind of messianic character. Same for Joseph Smith. So whatever mechanism accounts for the human ability to totally suspend belief probably isn’t tied to historicity in any meaningful way, but is instead a product of the marketing apparatus that springs up to support the mythology.

  35. “why does he claim with such assurance that a historical Jesus existed?

    Again, after reading most of Carriers critique (from link above) it appears Carrier has a possible answer to this question. Ehrman is writing outside his core area of expertise and appears to have put his book together quickly, unsupported by in depth research.

    “:he is fully competent to make up for not being a classicist or specialist in ancient history, by getting up to speed in what he needed (which for this task might have taken a year or more), but instead he just relied on “what he knows,” which was all just what he was told or has read in New Testament studies. Which isn’t enough. Disaster resulted.”

    Put that together with Ehrman’s certain knowledge that he would be writing a best seller, and…

  36. I was greatly amused by one occasion when upon my professing to being an agnostic about the historicity of Jesus I was attacked by two good friends of mine. One was a culturally Jewish atheist and the other a very liberal Jew, so it seemed ironic that I got in hot water for criticizing the evidence for a historical Jesus. I was accused of sloppy-thinking, cherry-picking and ignoring both the historical evidence (which consisted of the accounts of Josephus and Tacitus) and the consensus of historians and theologians. Strangely I have never had a similar argument with a Christian.

  37. As Ben Goren has indicated many times and in many ways (and perhaps does again in this thread – I haven’t read much of it yet). this statement doesn’t follow,

    But so much of Christian philosophy is based around the argument for authority, that Jesus not existing at all really just crushes it. Then, they’re really no more valid than the philosophies of the Iliad or the Aeneid.

    In an of itself, the historical existence of some apocalyptic preacher named “Jesus” lends not one iota of validity to Christian philosophy – just as the historical existence of L Ron Hubbard or Joseph Smith lends not one iota of validity to Scientology or Mormonism. What we know about who Jesus could and could not have been and, especially, what we know about the insane and despicable nature of Christian philosophy renders that philosophy at least as invalid as philosophies of the Iliad or the Aeneid – quite apart from whether there was some guy named Jesus.

    1. It’s true that Christianity in and of itself is invalid, but it is also true that the historical existence of Jesus is a necessary condition for the validity of Christianity. In order for Christianity to be true, the following two conditions need to obtain: (1) Jesus existed; (2) Jesus was divine. So, of course you could just deny (2) (which is much easier), but denying (1) is also a valid attack on Christianity.

  38. I am a mythicist. Several pieces of evidence converged to convince me:

    (1) Earl Doherty’s tome. This is meticulous and careful. As Richard Carrier will point out, it needed an edit and reformat, and a few corrections, but the thesis is correct as far as I can tell. (I have yet to read RC’s book, but I have heard him talk about it in person a few months ago.)
    (2) The non-canonical gospel fragments. These are so *odd* if there were a historical basis for any of it – they are even more contradictory and bizarre than the canonical ones. (See earlychristianwritings.net for one source)
    (3) Looking again at something as basic as an introductory Western Civilization textbook. Normally such basic course books have a few references to footnote their chapter on a subject. Suddenly the chapter is almost silent, and echoes D. and C.’s point that there are *no* extrabiblical soruces. Not even any *scholarly analysis of the bible* is cited for what they claim about what happened (which is admittedly quite “vague”).
    (4) At Doherty’s recommendation, the lines in Hebrews 8. Even the KJV preserves the “smoking gun” subjunctive: “If he had been on earth …”
    (5) Rereading the relevant other parts of Pauline letters *after* I had studied Plato and read some neo-Platonic stuff. I had not done that when I first did. It fell out plain as day that there’s more going on here than just “weird stuff” – it is specifically *Platonic* weird stuff.
    (6) Jewish-raised friends and colleagues (from different backgrounds – reform, conservative, orthodox) each, independently, telling me about how the gospels read like midrash.

  39. One problem here is that demonstrating the lack of evidence that Jesus existed – or even finding evidence that he did not – is unlikely to convince many true believers. Perhaps the best one can hope for is, ‘all right, I accept he probably didn’t exist, but I affirm the teachings.’ This would get you a kind of Christian agnostic, and indeed, I have a couple friends like this. But, maybe that’s a good thing.
    An interesting social-historical question arises, though: Has the ideology so saturated our culture that we can’t quite think beyond it even when believe we do? Perhaps we feel the need to keep the Christian myth alive, if only to debunk it? Disturbing thought!

    1. You should tell your christan-agnostic friends to read the ‘teachings’ again and judge for themselves how many are worth affirming, once you take away the myth. A lot of the stuff attributed to Jesus is deeply peculiar and morally objectionable to the unbiased mind.

  40. What I find interesting is why people find the question of Jesus’s existence of any relevance. The origin of a myth has nothing to do with the function of the myth. That would be the equivalent to saying the George Washington myth is relevant because there was a George Washington. The origin of a myth is part of that myth’s myth. Which parts are real and which are illusory make no difference; it’s their combination into a myth which is significant, not their origin.

  41. Re: the update.

    I get that demonstrating non-existence is a fatal (or near-fatal, you never can tell with religions) blow. But its also difficult to convincly do. It may be more effective just to chip away at the minor inconsistencies.

    Think of it this way: the mythic argument is a “high risk, high payoff” strategy to deconversion. There are lower risk, lower payoff strategies. And two people who might agree that deconversion is a good thing can still rationally disagree on how much time or effort to invest in either strategy.

    1. Think of it this way: the mythic argument is a “high risk, high payoff” strategy to deconversion.

      I don’t know about that.

      1) To “win”, you don’t have to convince an opponent of the full truth of the mythycist position. You just have to get them to look into the evidence. They will in all likelihood be shocked at how thin it is.

      2) This is not necessarily a deconversion tool. Some of us care about the actual truth for its own sake.

      1. When you care about knowing the truth, you read up on the subject, you don’t tell others to read up on the subject. If you’re telling other people to read up on the subject, that’s a pretty obvious indicator that you’re trying to change their minds.

  42. For an amusing account of what might happen after the body of the dead Jesus is found hidden in the catacombs under the Vatican, I would refer you to “Another Roadside Attraction” by Tom Robbins.

  43. What does it even mean to say, “Jesus existed”? We seem to run into the same problems as we run into with the argument that God exists.

    Define Jesus. If we define him as the man who performed all the miracles attributed to him in the Bible along with the grotesque violations of nature, then of course there’s no evidence he existed.

    If we define him as an apocalyptic rabbi named Jesus who was from Nazareth and said some of the things attributed to him, well, the evidence is still quite thin, but at least it’s within the realm of plausibility.

    If we define him as merely an apocalyptic rabbi who pissed off the Roman authorities and was crucified (without saying his name was Jesus or that he was from Nazareth), now we’re getting vague enough to conclude that someone fitting that description is statistically likely to have existed. Now, remove the crucifixion and define him as merely a man who wandered the desert and had a group of people who listened to him, I’ll buy that someone like that existed, probably many such people.

    1. But in what sense can either of your second or third examples be considered the “real” Jesus?

      More to the point, we have mounds of evidence — especially including the New Testament — that is violently inconsistent with such an interpretation, and no supporting evidence.

      You can posit that Jesus was essentially as the Gospels describe him, which gets you something consistent with Jesus as he’s understood to be but inconsistent with reality. You can posit Jesus as any of an huge variety of influential mortal humans, but that’s inconsistent with well-established historical facts as well as with Christian understanding of Jesus. Or you can posit Jesus as one of an even bigger variety of utterly inconsequential nobodies — but not only does that fail where the previous example fails, it also fails to account for how this nobody could even theoretically have turned into the most consequential somebody of all history.

      Besides, once you’re fabricating that much about Jesus, why bother with an original Jesus in the first place?

      b&

      1. But in what sense can either of your second or third examples be considered the “real” Jesus?

        Since the topic is mythologized history vs. historicized mythology (Dr. Tarico’s terms), then the key “sense” for calling someone the real Jesus is there was some individual human living around the time on which the stories are based. If there was, it’s mythologized history. If there wasn’t, it’s historicized mythology.

        1. It’s the Ship of Theseus problem. Let’s say that there was an historical Jesus, but he wasn’t Jewish, he wasn’t a rabbi, he wasn’t apocalyptic, he wasn’t a carpenter, he never went to Jerusalem, and his name was, “Samuel.” But he was the real Jesus because…because!

          There’s a certain set of biographical facts which simply must apply to anybody whom one can even pretend to apply to a “real” Jesus, and there’s simply no way that that minimal set could possibly apply to any actual human being.

          Yes, there were men named, “Jesus.” It was just as popular then as it remains today in the Anglicized version of “Joshua” or the Latin version of “Jesus” (pronounced, “hay-seus”). Yes, there were street preachers, and rabble rousers, and miracle workers, and people tried by the Sanhedrin, and people crucified by the Romans, and all the rest. But it’s damned hard to find anybody with two of those characteristics — especially as soon as one adds the requirement that this person be in his thirties during Pilate’s reign, and most especially as soon as one adds a connection to Christianity.

          And, again again again, that’s all irrelevant as any such person would fail the ultimate test: being consistent with Paul’s Jesus. That’s just not possible, any more than you could conceivably find somebody who could plausibly be described as the “real” Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker or Clark Kent. The actual Jesus is so painfully and thoroughly and unabashedly fictional in every possible way that it still blows my mind that we’re having this discussion….

          Cheers,

          b&

      2. My more vague examples could only be the real Jesus in the sense that if this person had a group of followers who then started the religion we now know as Christianity, then that person was Jesus. Even if the things “real Jesus” said got lost in translation or other things were attributed to him, if there was a preacher around whom the religion started, I’d accept that as being a real Jesus.

        That said, those terms are much too vague to ever establish certainty about his existence in one way or another. The evidence we have is consistent with such a person existing and it is also consistent with the story being a whole cloth fabrication.

        From a traditional Christian perspective, there simply is no interest in such a person. Christians must accept at a minimum that Jesus existed, he was crucified, and then rose from the dead. The great majority of Christians believe all the teachings and miracles attributed to him as well. I’m in agreement with you that discussion about the existence of Jesus without the Resurrection simply isn’t relevant. Even if a Jesus existed in the vague sense I describe above, there’s nothing even particularly interesting about him. There is nothing especially original or earth shattering about anything he supposedly said.

        My main point was to draw a parallel between the arguments for Jesus and God and demonstrating that the only arguments for either that are even remotely plausible or compatible with what we know from science is such a far cry from what most Christians believe that all the work is still ahead of them.

        1. My more vague examples could only be the real Jesus in the sense that if this person had a group of followers who then started the religion we now know as Christianity, then that person was Jesus. Even if the things “real Jesus” said got lost in translation or other things were attributed to him, if there was a preacher around whom the religion started, I’d accept that as being a real Jesus.

          This may be a judgement call related to the problem of the Ship of Theseus.

          First, I’d argue that there’s no good reason to accept as plausible the scenario you outline, and overwhelming reason (especially Paul) to reject it.

          But, even if we grant it for the sake of argument, it seems too much to me like declaring Nicholas of Smyrna to be the “real” Santa. Shirley, there must be a recognizable speciation event somewhere along the line, even if there’s continuity of generations?

          b&

  44. Recently added to the ranks of scholastics who think that Jesus never existed as a historical person — and my favorite to cite in discussions with Catholics on the subject — is Thomas L. Brodie, Catholic priest, co-founder and former director of the Dominican Bible Institute. Brodie had been building his case incrementally for decades without serious objection from the RCC until he wrote his conclusion for mythicism in his last book. Since then, he’s been removed from ministry and been forbidden to teach or write on the subject: a lesson on how the so-called Bible Guild polices its own.

  45. I can understand why Xtian apologists and fundamentalists are quick to defend against any arguments casting doubts on the historicity of Jesus: if Jesus never existed, there was no resurrection and hence the entire foundation of Christianity is a lie!

    It’s interesting that such a relentless assault has been made against the theory of evolution, yet you don’t see much in the news (outside of the “learned circles”) regarding this, “Did Jesus Exist?” idea. The “defense” of the Garden of Eden story (manifested as an assault on anything that contradicts the myth), of course, is actually a defense of the literal truth of the Babble: if one part of the book can be proven wrong, perhaps the part concerning Jesus’ divinity is “guilty by association” as well?

    The question of Jesus’ existence remains low-key, I think, for two reasons:
    (1) They know that it’s going to be almost impossible to prove that Jesus DIDN’T exist; (2) to keep the fires of belief burning, all they have to do is pump out a book or article now and then that claims he was a real person, much as a defense lawyer only need raise a “reasonable doubt” in a jury.

  46. Reply to the reply:

    Yes, millions of Christians do care, but they already have their belief and it’s not predicated on what you or I think. The myth of Christ will never be more debunked than it is now, and that debunking means nothing to believing Christians. It’s only an obtuse argument that apologists like to get into; it’s right up there with number of angels on the head of a pin: no one is paying any attention. It’s not worth arguing the point with an apologist; just don’t let them take that ground; tell ’em it’s bullshit and they have to get more solid ground. Don’t legitimize the debate.

    1. “…will never be more debunked than it is now” – well, don’t we try to teach Science to every schoolkid? The most basic element of science is epistemology: what is evidence, what are facts? If people learn how to answer those questions at all, they can apply them to truth-claims in all areas of life, and religion is going to get even debunkeder.

  47. This has gotten a lot of commentary. Probably a lot of this has been thoroughly covered but anyway….

    I honestly don’t think Jesus actually existed. But even if he did, most of what is said, written about him anyway from virgin births, miracles and rising from the dead is mythology anyway, so the Jesus of believers doesn’t exist anyway. Most of the figures in Genesis like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph etc. probably didn’t exist either, or reflect faint memories of ancient heroes. I think many historians doubt that Moses or even David existed. This is important as a historical matter, a kind of puzzle in a way. It matters in particular to Judaism, Christianity and Islam because their faith is tied to the existence of historical figures, in order, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. I’ve even heard there is some dispute as to whether Mohammed existed as well. To a religion like say, Buddhism, these historical figures don’t matter as much. To Buddhism, enlightenment is what counts, not the figure of the Buddha. Of course, that is not completely true, since there are forms of Buddhism, where the Buddha is treated almost like a god, Pure Land Buddhism.

    If a day comes when actual historians with the competence to judge, move the consensus that Jesus didn’t exist, it will hardly sway the faithful, except the more liberal ones perhaps. After all the documentary hypothesis, that the Pentateuch is a composite document with multiple authors, effectively refuting that Moses was the author, has been around almost as long as Darwinism, and has little effect on religion. The conservatives and true believers will just ignore it, like they ignore everything else.

  48. It seems to me that there must have been some such figure as Jesus living in Palestine in the beginning of the first millennium. It’s not that the direct evidence for his existence is strong: there isn’t any. It is just that, if Jesus didn’t exist, it would seem very hard to explain the existence of Christianity and its early evolution as a faith.

    Without the Jesus actually existing in reality as a historical figure (however garbled the account of his life in various gospels), one has to resort to a conspiracy theory, or perhaps a series of incredible contradictions to explain how Christianity came to be. Secular critics like ourselves have to explain not merely the existence of the Gospels (which could easily exist without Jesus ever existing), but how the early Christian community came to exist and undergo its early evolution(s). It seems to me that the most likely explanation for this is that there was indeed some such person, living in ancient Palestine, around whom a community of spiritual followers formed a faith which became Christianity.

    Basically, it goes like this. Jesus lived in Jerusalem, and was an apocalyptic, the-end-is-nigh type of preacher, who are found everywhere throughout history. He preached of a kingdom to come for the Jews, which is the same as what is preached in the Jewish prophecies. He got a bunch of followers and declared himself king of the Jews. The Roman authorities viewed this as a threat and put him to death.

    His followers kept on believing that the end of the world was nigh, and went on preaching this same thing to other Jews around the region. But then… the world didn’t end. What was the community to do? They had to go on living, but the-end-is-nigh kind of religious belief doesn’t give you much to go on, so the religion changed. As Bart Ehrman puts it, Jesus’ preaching of end-times Judaism was transformed into preaching ABOUT Jesus. From a religion that Jesus proclaimed to a religion that proclaimed Jesus. That’s what the gospels and other “New” Testament books are for: to give the community moral and spiritual sustenance to stay together when end-times preaching didn’t give them what they needed.

    From there, Christianity became a runaway hit by declaring that membership in the community of One True God™ was not restricted to those descended from the Twelve Tribes of Israel, but open to anyone who would get baptized and make certain declarations.

    And that, in a nutshell, is the most plausible explanation as to how Christianity got started. Trying to explain all that, WITHOUT Jesus, seems to involve too much hand-waving. It’s not merely books that we’re arguing about here. It’s how a movement got started in the first place. They don’t started with mere books, they start with people.

      1. I don’t see that my argument above could be used to “conclude that every god ever worshipped must have an historical mode”, since my argument wasn’t intended to be conclusive. All I’m saying is that the existence of the gospels about Jesus, and the religion that grew up around an increasingly mythicized figure, is much more easily explained if there was a historical Jesus in the first place, than it would be if there wasn’t. If your position is that he never existed, how to explain the origins of Christianity?
        The Passing of Peregrines you linked above doesn’t prove anything.

        1. If your position is that he never existed, how to explain the origins of Christianity? The Passing of Peregrines you linked above doesn’t prove anything.

          If we take Lucian seriously, then Peregrinus inserted much Paganism into Christianity.

          If we take Justin Martyr seriously, then every biographical detail about Jesus has Pagan origins.

          Martyr even gives a very specific example of the Eucharist having come from Mithraism, and in 1 Corinthians 11 we see Paul insert the hitherto-unknown-to-the-Christians-in-Corinth Eucharist into Christianity in a manner exactly as described by Lucian. And let’s not forget: Tarsus (as in, “Paul, of”) was the home port of the Cilician pirates who spread Mithraism in the second and first centuries BCE.

          Make a list of everything you could consider essential or even merely uniquely identifiable about Jesus. Now cross off that which Martyr or others reasonably identify as having a Pagan precedent. You’re left with absolutely nothing.

          Finally, compare Christianity with the aforementioned Mithraism, or with the cults of Osiris or Dionysus or Perseus or Bacchus or Orpheus or any of the others. Do you resort to historical figures to explain all of them, too? No?

          So, if you’re perfectly fine ascribing the origins of those cults to the typical stone soup mythical fabrication origins we all readily accept, what makes you think Christianity was so special that this one cult, out of all the wacko nutjob cults in human history, actually has a real basis to its foundation?

          Cheers,

          b&

      1. Or, how ’bout Bacchus, Bellerophon on Pegasus, Mercury, Perseus, Mithra, or any of the many others Justin Martyr explicitly equated with Jesus? We know they were made up, too…but the Jesus who was an amalgam of this cast of fictional superheroes was himself somehow really real?

        b&

        1. This comment could well be a threadwinner. I love the snark, but it also gets to the heart of the matter with Jesus.

          I submit that any standard which reliably demonstrates the fictive origins of Xenu and Moroni will, when similarly applied to Jesus, also demonstrate him to be fiction.

          b&

  49. Jesus’s brief public career was mostly in a the rural regions of backwater province of the empire, visits (we’re not sure how many) to Jerusalem aside. There aren’t that many sources come down to us even about Julius Caesar. Who were the recorders of goings on in the Empire whom one would reasonably expect to have been trailing on apocalyptic preacher in the boonies and noting down what he was up to? What sort of paper trail could Jesus possibly have left for someone to come in later and gather up? Coyne says there should have been such a note taker. There in fact wasn’t, and why expect there would have been?

    Ignorance of detail. This fits Paul, but not a few important details, historical facts, about Jesus are to be found in Mark and in the double tradition first recorded in Matthew. Jesus was crucified on orders of Pilate, he was accused of pretending to be king of the Jews, he drew crowds not so much by the pungency of his teaching as by his success in exorcism and healing (of course this is in large part nonsense–but think of how successful spiritual healers are today and it’s easy to see how, among illiterates who knew nothing of bacteria and the circulatory system and epilepsy he could acquire a reputation for expelling demons–and believe it himself), Some of his sayings and teachings are of high literary quality and it’s not surprising they might have been remembered and orally transmitted. Crucially, of course, a handful of Jesus’s devoted followers after his ignominious execution came quickly to believe he had been raised from the dead. That opened the way to the founding of a new religion, one fundamentally diverging from the apocalyptic beliefs espoused by Jesus and many others in Palestine at the time.
    Anyway, there is a modicum of detail with historical value, as well as lot of legendary malarkey, recounted about Jesus in Mark and the double tradition.

    There is no eyewitness account of Jesus. His closest followers all or very many of them illiterate, and they expected his return as the harbinger of the Kingdom of God any day. Most couldn’t write, and those who could saw no reason to until it became evident the Kingdom wasn’t coming as soon as initially expected.
    But we do have the testimony of Paul writing twenty years or so after the crucifixion. Paul says he talked extensively with people who knew Jesus intimately, including his brother and Peter.

    Yes, the gospels are full of contradictions, some of them important (Luke’s serene Jesus as he faced the cross, Mark’s anguished and despairing), They’re also full of crap–demon-haunted herds of pigs leaping over cliffs, shriveled fig trees, walks on water, bread loves that reproduce themselves. Credulous people–as the first followers of Jesus and the early Christians surely were–believe lots of crap. But there’s also important solid historical evidence. Jesus created a ruckus in the temple when Jerusalem was a passover powder keg. (Fairly solid.) Jesus healed and exorcised. Jesus proclaimed the coming of he kingdom, as did John before him and Paul after. Jesus was crucified on orders of Pilate (nobody else had the authority). Jesus was charged with claiming to be king of the Jews. Jesus’s followers, some of them, came quickly to believe he’d been raised from the dead. (This belief was critical to the success of what was to become a new religion.)

    Many people who are well informed and highly intelligent interpret the evidence (yes, it all comes from believers till Josephus–what would you expect in this out of the way, in many ways isolated part of the world) that’s come down to us very differently. Well, duh. Many people who are well informed and highly intelligent insist global warming is some kind of hoax. Many believe Shakespeare didn’t write the plays attributed to him. The capacity to believe what’s preposterous and not to believe what’s obvious is very human and very deeply entrenched. Too bad so many of us atheists are discrediting our cause by joining the ranks of those who deny the obvious, the existence of the man who preached the coming of the kingdom so winsomely his followers couldn’t help but believe he hadn’t really died and would soon be vindicated, and embrace what anyone with a modicum of historical judgment rejects, another brand of the preposterous, mythicism.

    1. Jesus created a ruckus in the temple when Jerusalem was a passover powder keg. (Fairly solid.) Jesus healed and exorcised. Jesus proclaimed the coming of he kingdom, as did John before him and Paul after. Jesus was crucified on orders of Pilate (nobody else had the authority).

      These are all NT claims, nothing more. How is any of this evidence?

      Your last parenthetical is a real howler. Whe some novelist writes a book about someone going to jail, I expect they’ll get the idea of a judge issuing the sentence right. That’s not evidence the story is true, it’s evidence the author has some minimal knowledge about how the local judicial system works.

    2. “Jesus’s …”.

      BZZT! Wrong, you are hereby excluded from further participation in this quiz contest!

      The question was whether or not a myth construction was corresponding to a real person in a testable sense. It was not a non-testable pattern search for confirmation of what you assume.

      So we can do two things:

      1. Ask for evidence of a historical person.
      2. Look at the statistical properties of myths.

      These yield evidence for “not (enough evidence for) a historical person” respectively “not a real person”.

    3. Jesus’s brief public career was mostly in a the rural regions of backwater province of the empire, visits (we’re not sure how many) to Jerusalem aside.

      Except, of course, for the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the sermons preached in front of thousands of cheering admirers, the upheaval at the Temple, the bizarrely incomprehensible mockery of a trial by the Sanhedrin in the middle of the holiest holiday of the year, the way Jesus made Pilate into an utter ass — and that, of course, is long before we get to all the supernatural bits.

      There aren’t that many sources come down to us even about Julius Caesar.

      Bullshit. Purest bullshit.

      We’ve got Caesar’s own extensive autobiographical account of his conquest of Gaul, for starters — and account that’s been repeatedly confirmed by archaeological digs. We’ve got letters he wrote and received, in many cases including both sides of the conversation, again confirmed by archaeological evidence. We’ve got other contemporary mentions, we’ve got detailed histories and biographies soon after and in every generation since. We’ve got buildings and roads and monuments and statues — hell, for about as much as you spend on a month’s rent / mortgage, you can buy for your very own collection a coin minted during his reign with his portrait on it.

      Who were the recorders of goings on in the Empire whom one would reasonably expect to have been trailing on apocalyptic preacher in the boonies and noting down what he was up to?

      The Dead Sea Scrolls, for starters — one of the greatest archaeological finds in all history, a copious library of the actual paper and parchment documents actually penned by actual millennialist Jews actually living in and around Jerusalem before, during, and after all this is supposed to have gone down. And they’re full of discussion of contemporary events of the same type as Jesus was interested in, as well as the prophecies he allegedly fulfilled. And not the slightest hint of anything remotely related to Jesus.

      Then we’ve got Philo of Alexandria, the Hellenized Jew who incorporated the Logos of John 1:1 into Judaism. He was related by marriage to the Herod Agrippa whom the Gospels describe as reigning at the time of the Crucifixion. He was a prolific author who mentioned all of his contemporaries who were even tangentially related. At the end of his life he was a diplomat who personally travelled to Rome to petition Caligula about the mistreatment of Jews at the hands of the Romans — and even a secular Jesus would have been the ultimate example of said mistreatment. Again, no mention of Jesus.

      And there’s Pliny the Elder, fascinated with all things supernatural…the Roman Satirists whose stock in trade was scandals of the type presented of the Sanhedrin and Pilate…and…and…and…

      …and that’s just the contemporaries! Expand that to the next generation or three, and the list grows exponentially, yet all are silent save for Christians and Pagans describing those wacky Christians and their bizarre beliefs.

      The rest of your screed is typical Christian apologetics (whether you yourself are Christian or not) that doesn’t even begin to make sense once this false foundation you’ve built upon is taken away, so I won’t bother addressing any of it.

      Cheers,

      b&

      1. Also, Nazareth didn’t exist at the time Jesus was supposedly living there.
        Read Rene Salm’s book or his blog.

      2. The Dead Sea Scrolls have “not the slightest hint of anything remotely related to Jesus” – unless you believe Barbara Thiering, who has a method she calls pesher (making shit up).

        1. Maybe she can work interpretive dance into her methods? Inspired, of course, by a nice cup of loose-leaf tea, followed by the remains of a boned chicken….

          b&

    4. There are places where you would expect to see Jesus mentioned. Herod had a biographer who should have mentioned him murdering baby boys, but didn’t. Contemporary accounts of Pilate’s time in Palestine don’t mention any itinerant preacher shutting down the city by riding in on a donkey or cleansing the temple.

      There are many places where the events of the gospels would have been mentioned, but were not.

      Historical figures like Julius Caesar are mentioned in multiple sources, including mentions by enemies and opponents.

    5. Paul says he talked extensively with people who knew Jesus intimately, including his brother and Peter.

      No actually, he doesn’t. He never says that anyone he talked to had met an earthly Jesus. He shows no awareness at all of the concept “met an earthy Jesus”.

      Paul never, for example, distinguishes between those Christians who had met an earthly Jesus and those who had not. He never, for example, gives any special credit to anyone or their beliefs, owing to the fact that they had known an earthly Jesus.

      Indeed, he explicitly pulls rank and claims that *he* has the greatest authority, because *his* ideas come directly from Jesus — the road-to-damascus incident with a heavenly Jesus — which is a really weird thing to do if he thinks that others around had lived with an earthly Jesus for years.

      Where does Paul say that Peter had met an earthly Jesus? (Yes, there is the passage about Peter getting a post-resurrection vision akin to Paul’s own.)

      Yes, we’re aware of that one “Brother of the Lord” phrase, which can have all sorts of interpretations (given that “brother”, “sister”, “father” language was commonly used for fellow Christians then and now). But is that really it?

      1. Well, there is 1 Corinthians 11, but…

        11:22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

        11:23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

        11:24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

        11:25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

        11:26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

        Judging from the other translations of 1 Corinthians 11:23, Paul really does mean that this one biographical tidbit about Jesus was divined through personal revelation, not from the disciples:

        https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/1%20Corinthians%2011:23

        And as I discussed elsewhere, Paul’s saying that James was the Lord’s brother is remarkably understated, given that this should make him a close eye-witness and a good source of biographical detail. Yet Paul spends more words talking about his argument with Peter over preaching to Jews and Gentiles, and seems to positively encourage revelation and “take my word for it or you’ll be damned” as valid conversion tactics.

        I’ve already said I’m agnostic-leaning-towards-mythicism, but at this point I have to wonder if the only case for a real apocalyptic executed preacher called Jesus with the son-of-God complex is as weak as the arguments for bigfoot.

        1. You’ve actually pointed out the smoking gun that proves that “Paul” invented much of what we “know” about Jesus.

          Yes, the sentence you’ve bolded is the Last Supper.

          But the passage as an whole is the Eucharist, in pretty much the exact same language as you’ll hear at Mass today.

          And we know from Martyr that the Christian Eucharist is an wholesale adoption of the Mithraic Eucharist.

          That’s not Jesus’s bread and blood Christians consume, but Mithra’s.

          See elsewhere in this thread for exact citations, quotes, links, etc., etc., etc.

          b&

          1. And we know from Martyr that the Christian Eucharist is an wholesale adoption of the Mithraic Eucharist.

            You’re joking, right? Justin (that’t the man’s name, not Martyr, which is an epithet) accuses the Mithraists of copying the eucharist from the Christians, not the other way around.

            Even if he had said what you claim he said, how in the world could Justin have possibly known what the secret rituals of the Mithra cult had been a century before he was writing? Even assuming he had some Mithraist informants, how would they have known? All they could have told him was current practices, not the practices of a century ago.

            But that’s not important. What is important is the Justin said the exact opposite of what you claim he said.

            1. He attributed the imitation to the dame evil daemons who made Bacchus turn water into wine or Perseus be born of a Virgin or Mercury be the divine messenger or all the rest, all centuries before Jesus. And we know from Plutarch that the Mithraists were well-established and practicing their rituals at least a century before the Pauline Epistles were authored. Established religions didn’t steal their most sacred rites and beliefs from brand-new upstarts, but brand-new upstarts were all about stealing from their precedents.

              b&

  50. Ask OJ Simpson. I am sure he could tell you if Jesus existed.

    The credulity of Jesus’ existence does not improve the veracity of any Christain claim. Christian mysticism is so deep, a ficticious leader is simply in the noise.

  51. I’m very curious about whether the Jesus myth is based on a historical person.

    That is like asking whether the Santa Claus myth is based on a historical person. And quite obviously the answer is no, if we go by historical criteria. Paraphrasing Ben, ‘JC [the dictator] is historical, JC [the martyr] is not’.

    And it gets worse if you dig into the construction of the myths. The JC martyr persona is a riff of other myths, and purposefully set up to be self-fulfilled to boot. E.g. the Dead Sea scrolls’s diverse sectarian myths had some cases of those elements that asked for a magical prophecy fulfillment. And evidently those were picked for effect, or perhaps the effect picked them. (Selection among Dawkins’s memes.)

    So the question becomes, what would the likelihood be that a myth persona would be real, or based on a real person, be? Especially a conglomerate myth with a decidedly splintered history in, well, historical evidence.

    That is a statistical question over the set of myths, with a statistical answer: roughly 0. Especially for the subset of similar religious myths, all before the invention of the press, conspicuously with all (AFAIK) later being well known scam artists instead. Near enough 0 to correspond to a 3 or 5 sigma test at a guess.

    To quote The Authority once again:

    “[HISTORICAL PERSON]”?!? Mate, this [myth] wouldn’t “[impersonate]” if you put four million volts through it! ‘E’s bleedin’ demised! … ‘E’s passed on! This [myth] is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-[MYTH]!!”

    After all, many myths are based on historical people

    Claim in need of reference. The Cargo Cult example shows exactly the reverse, a historically unknown ‘originator’.

    1. You’re being too generous with the Santa Claus example. There is far more evidence for a <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas"historical Santa Claus than there is for a historical Jesus. At least we have a man named Nicholas, who on occasion left gifts for people.

      The existence of Saint Nicholas is irrelevant to the claims about a bearded man who lives at the North Pole and flies around the world in a sleigh pulled by reindeer so he can leave gifts for people. The claim is absurd regardless of the existence of a man upon who these obvious mythical attributes were added.

      As ridiculous as these claims are, the claims that Jesus is a consubstantial being with another thing that can’t even be said to be a being and together this GoB/Being created everything ex nihilo is many orders of magnitude more ridiculous. Santa Claus is quite plausible in comparison, yet we find ourselves in a world where many people accept the Jesus claim and very few, if any, people accept the Santa claim beyond childhood.

  52. Let’s be Bayesians for a minute. Consider the probability Jesus was a real person (J), given what the bible says (A) and that there is no other contemporary evidence (~B), i.e., we want P(J|A,~B). But I think that P(~B|A) is very close to 1, which means that P(J|A,~B) is almost the same as P(J|A).

    Here’s my thinking: Suppose Jesus was real and there was contemporary writing about him. Then surely that writing would contradict the biblical versions of what happened, and the early christians would have searched out and burned every last bit of it. There would be none left, nor a record of the purge (for obvious reasons). So the fact that there is no contemporary evidence around today does not really change the likelihood that he existed or didn’t exist.

  53. Another way to think about this is that science or any kind of rational viewpoint about the natural world was nonexistent, with the exception of the Greeks, and some the the practical engineering skills adopted by the Romans. There are other things here and there like the invention of mathematics by the Babylonians, and all kinds of other practical discoveries could be brought up as well.

    But by and large ancients, especially in Palestine lived essentially in the dark ages. It is hard to relate for example to all of the sacrificial rituals as spelled out in Leviticus. It has absolutely no meaning or sense to a modern person, even a fundamentalist. It is an utterly foreign world of savage superstition they lived in. Demonic possession is one of the most common motifs in the Gospels. Obviously this reflects the superstitious beliefs of the time. These people had virtually no knowledge whatsoever about the natural world, except practical matters like how to build buildings, plant crops and feed livestock. I’m skeptical that we can really fully understand the thought world they inhabited, nor do I think I would want to. I would be a world of fears, dominated by demons and judgmental gods, as well as eye for an eye frontier justice at minimum, like stoning kids to death for disobedience. For all we know, they may have envisioned the earth as a flat disk and the sky as a solid dome which god peered through from time to time.

    Once I read some of the journals of Columbus, and I was shocked by the rampant superstitious nature of beliefs even in his day.

    Of course lots of superstitions persist to this day, but it’s hard to imagine how one would inhabit a world in which virtually nothing was known about the natural world, which is the world of the Bible. I don’t blame them for their superstitions, they couldn’t know better. I don’t necessary blame modern fundamentalist superstition, particularly if they were raised in it, and have no exposure to outside ideas. But when exposed, reason should prevail and not adopt the views of superstitious people who couldn’t have known better.

  54. I looked into this a while back and came to the conclusion that the majority opinion (Jesus existed) is probably correct. Main reasons are:

    – As you look further back into the earliest sources (Paul, Mark, Q) you find a LESS mythologized Jesus.

    – Mythicists have failed to provide a satisfactory account of the data (the above, for example).

    As an atheist, I find it kind of embarrassing, actually. Denying the existence of Jesus when nearly all the experts (historians, Biblical scholars) accept it is uncomfortably similar to being a climate change denier, or evolution denier. If you haven’t investigated the evidence in detail, why do you think your opinion is superior to the experts’?

    My take on it here:
    http://mysite.verizon.net/vze12av71/id4.html.

    1. There’s a less mythologised Jesus in Paul? I’ve not heard that one before. Jesus in the epistles is basically a voice in the sky that has “revealed” himself to Paul. Seems very mythologised to me.

      Mark still contains a highly mythological Jesus. See my comment below (sorry, it’s a bit long).

      Q might be the best argument for a historical Jesus, but it is still a hypothetical document (there are arguments that it never existed: see Mark Goodacre’s The Case Against Q).Even if it did exist (as an amateur bible scholar I still tentatively accept it did) it might have simply been a collection of sayings that was doing the rounds. There’s not much in it that hadn’t already been said by Cynic and Stoic philosophers of the time. It doesn’t necessarily go back to the same person.

      An uncritical appeal to the majority in this area of study is dangerous. There’s an awful lot of motivated reasoning going on, even among non-fundamentalist sections of scholarship. It’s a poor comparison you make with climate research and evolutionary biology. These disciplines have solid empirical evidence to back them up. Historical Jesus studies have nothing like the same level of rigorous methodology and certitude of conclusions.

    2. According to Paul, Jesus is the son of God, born from a mortal sinner woman and taking on human form to fulfil prophecy and reverse Adam’s fall by conquering death and becoming a spiritual body; he set up the Eucharist as a sort-of ritual cannibal feast; was crucified (possibly by Jews) and buried before rising from the dead on the third day; resurrection appeared as a spiritual vision to Peter/Cephas, 500 people, James the Just, the other apostles, and finally Paul, who is subsequently the only one to actually write anything.

      Oh yes, this is the less mythologized version of Jesus, all right. You can tell by the abundance and specificity of possible and credible biographical detail, such as:

      – he was born

      – he had a dinner with his followers that explains the ritual they subsequently follow

      – he got crucified

      Paul himself knew this, by his own admission, thanks to a time-honoured technique of historians called a mystical vision. He also claims to have met people who had similar visions and claim to be the Lord’s followers, so clearly he was getting the insider’s exclusive.

      And as for that unaccountable data on par with evolution and climate change, let’s not forget that this vision business was the standard way of proving one’s bona fides as a Christian in the day, again according to Paul’s own account. Let’s not also forget that other convincing tool of conversion Paul recommended: that one should approach particularly the poor, the unwise, and the less rigid Jewish, and convert them with the Pascal-Wager-esque logic that, if you don’t believe the story being told to you, you’re screwed when the apocalypse comes. Five hundred people and then their converted, some of whom died since and some of whom became a bit restless over this, can’t all be wrong about the existence of some person they never met and probably only ever saw through mystical visions, or else we’d have to conclude the worst about at least some of humanity during that time. Well, that’s practically no-nonsense modern science in its reliability, isn’t it?

      1. Oh yes, and James the Just is said to be “the Lord’s brother” by Paul a grand total of once in a throwaway line, while James himself gets a couple more background mentions as indistinguishable from the other disciples.

        Because why would Paul say that if there wasn’t a James, or if he wasn’t really a brother of a real Jesus? He wouldn’t lie or be delusionally gullible. It also doesn’t account for the huge amount of doctrine and clarifications Paul wrote about, which he either got in his vision or from the others who had their visions or claimed to be his disciples. It’s not like he or the others could have made stuff up, through delusion or mischief.

        So let me add that to the compellingly rich biography of Paul’s Jesus, shorn of the supernatural bits:

        – He was born

        – He had a dinner that explains the “origin” of a religious ritual

        – He preached apocalypse, which all explains what Peter and the others were, at best, gullible enough to end up preaching (assuming of course that this wasn’t something Paul got solely through the visions)

        – He was executed

        – He had a vision-prone brother

      2. According to Paul, Jesus is the son of God, born from a mortal sinner woman

        Most of the rest of your analysis is reasonable, but I’m certain Paul never made any mention of Mary or the circumstances of Jesus’s birth. I think there might be mention that he’s of the line of David, but I can’t remember if that’s in one of the authentic or pseudoepigraphical epistles. That, and I’m certain nothing in the New Testament describes Mary as a sinner, and I don’t think any unambiguous statements exist as to her mortality.

        b&