BBC poll: 40% of Brits don’t believe that “Jesus was a real person,” but BBC assumes he was!

October 31, 2015 • 10:15 am

The link to this BBC article came from reader Ant, and when I first read it I think I completely misinterpreted it. Here it is in its entirety, along with the headline (emphasis is the BBC’s, not mine).

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Forty percent of people in England do not believe Jesus was a real person, a survey suggests.

However, 43% of the people asked said they did believe in the resurrection – although many did not think it happened as described in the Bible.

The figures also found while 57% classified themselves as Christian, fewer than 10% actually go to church.

The survey of over 4,000 people for the Church of England will be discussed at its next General Synod in November.

Many scholars agree that Jesus was a real man, who lived in Galilee over two thousand years ago, although many details surrounding his life are still debated.

But, the Church of England survey found that four in 10 people did not realise Jesus was a real person, with a quarter of 18 to 34 year olds believing he was a mythical or fictional character.

The poll was part of a wider research project looking at both practising Christians and the wider population.

After Christians, the second biggest group identified in the poll – 12% – were atheists, while 9% were agnostics, Muslims represented 3%, with Hindus and Jews both making up 2%.

English Christians are more likely than the average English adult to work in education, or professional jobs, but less likely to work in finance or insurance, the survey concluded.

When I first read this quickly, I took this to be the message: 40% of British are mythicists, unconvinced that the Jesus either did the things he’s said to have done in the New Testament, or even that there was a real person on whom the Jesus legend was based. I found that heartening.

But then I realized that I was probably wrong about what the article was saying. Those 40% weren’t mythicists who had considered the evidence, I think, but simply people who don’t REALIZE that Jesus was a real person, and haven’t thought much about the issue. That is, they didn’t consider the writings of Josephus or of mythicists like Richard Carrier, and then made a decision that there was no historical Jesus-person. Rather, they are just oblivious.

Now I may be wrong, but the more I read this, the more I think that reader Ant was right in his interpretation.  What’s more galling is that the BBC is taking what “many scholars believe” as the gospel truth—pardon the pun—despite the fact that close scrutiny gives virtually no extra-Biblical evidence for a historical Jesus. I’m still convinced that the judgement of scholars that “Jesus was a real man” comes not from evidence, but from their conviction that the Bible simply couldn’t be untruthful about that issue. But of course we know of cases where myths grew up that weren’t at bottom derived from a historical individual.

And the “details about Jesus’s life” that “are still being debated” will of course never be settled unless some new archaeological or historical evidence turns up, because that debate center sentirely and solely on what the Bible says. One might as well debate the details of Paul Bunyan’s life from the legend that grew around him.

But never mind: the article is still heartening. After all, 21% of respondents were nonbelievers, and only 10% of the sample of British people go to church. Religion is dying in Britain, and dying faster than in the U.S.

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156 thoughts on “BBC poll: 40% of Brits don’t believe that “Jesus was a real person,” but BBC assumes he was!

  1. The Media are never going to buck the percentages on an issue like this. They know what side their communion wafer is buttered on. I am waiting for the story that “X% of People Still Believe in Y,” where Y is god, Jesus, herbal or homeopathic medicine, or that starving yourself is healthy.

    1. Did the media know which side of their unleavened bread was oleomargarined back in the days of War 2 food rationing?

  2. This is great news!

    Who would consider seriously the proposition that Hercules or Osiris or Thor or Santa were real historical figures? You could maybe suppose that there were some vague hints tracing back to bits and pieces of various historical figures, but to merely suggest that they’re even possibly historical is as insane as suggesting that Superman or Paul Bunyan are real — again, notwithstanding any inspiration the many authors of those fables might have drawn from real life.

    Indeed, were it not for Christian propaganda, it wouldn’t even occur to anybody to ponder the historicity of Jesus.

    And just look at the lengths advocates of historicity go to to twist Jesus into something plausible. They outright reject the suggestion that he was born of a virgin according to prophecy, raised the dead, walked on water, and zombified himself and got a fetish for visceral fondling. Instead, they strip him down to, literally, the absolute most unremarkable entity imaginable: a crazy street preacher with one of the most common names of the period. It’s like saying that maybe Batman is really real because you know a guy named, “Bruce,” who tinkers with gadgets and does volunteer work for the police.

    I had no clue that we’re now to the point where this is obvious to over a third of Brits…but, damn is that good news!

    Cheers,

    b&

    1. I’m quite happy to think that the ‘Real Jesus’ might have been a commonplace apocalyptic preacher, preaching to fellow Jews about the need to get right with their Jewish God. I’m reasonably certain that the ‘Elaborated Jesus’ (all the miracles and rebirth etc.) is mythical and the outcome of re-branding the product for gentiles.

      Does the difference matter? In the UK we are getting to the point that Christianity is just not a major part of our collective lives, even for those who still ‘believe’.

      1. By now, the mythicist/historicist position comes down to whether the origins of Christianity are 90% cultist delusion or 98% cultist delusion. Until roughly that percentage of people regard it in this vein, the discrepancy is too wide between the confident respect Christian origins (and Jesus) garners and the low credibility of the writings themselves.

        In the UK we are getting to the point that Christianity is just not a major part of our collective lives, even for those who still ‘believe’.

        And yet we’re apparently a “Christian nation”. Even though the atheist demographics here are closer to Sweden’s than to the US’s, they’re still in favour of a Christian majority, and I get the impression there’s an equally unsatisfactory mixture of “belief in belief” and “don’t ask don’t tell” around the issue. It’s at best a symptom, and not a particularly clinching one at that.

        It’s a start, but there’s not much in the present situation that’s encouraging to see.

    2. As I understand it, there were a number of itinerant apocalyptic preachers roaming the eastern Mediterranean littoral in the early 1st century CE. It’s certainly possible that the Jesus stories find their origins, at least in part, in such a person. Indeed, that would account for why those stories strain to explain away certain inconsistent and embarrassing biographical detail (like how it was that a Nazarene came to be born in Bethlehem so as to fulfill OT prophecy).

      It’s also possible that the stories are an amalgam based on more than one such apocalyptic preacher — which could help account for the apparent contradictions between (and even within) the canonical gospels.

      And another possibility is, as you say, that the thing was spun from whole cloth. There seems to be no legitimate way to resolve these questions absent, as Jerry mentions, some additional archeological finds.

      1. Indeed, that would account for why those stories strain to explain away certain inconsistent and embarrassing biographical detail (like how it was that a Nazarene came to be born in Bethlehem so as to fulfill OT prophecy).

        The “internal consistency” argument isn’t compelling when theists use it as a counter to atheist arguments. I don’t see why it should be any more compelling when applied to the Bible, which is basically an anthology of Jesus fan writing. Heck, fans of fictional works today obsess over consistency and canon all the time, but you’d be foolish to conclude that therefore the fiction might be anything but fiction.

      2. On reflection, I’m in agreement with Ken’s first two paras. I think it highly likely that an actual Jesus did exist.

        This view isn’t based on any specific evidence, just on the facts that (a) Jesus or its middle eastern counterpart was a common name in those days and (b) there were a considerable number of preachers around.
        It seems unlikely that none of those preachers to be called ‘Jesus’ – a bit like looking through the phone book for plumbers and expecting that none of them would be called ‘John’.

        The connection of that actual Jesus (or, as Ken says, Jesii) to the legends, now that’s more problematic. To paraphrase Hitchens, if we concede your actual, real, physical Jesus, you (Xtians) still have all your hard work ahead of you.

        cr

    3. ” . . . a crazy street preacher with one of the most common names of the period.”

      I gather that “Jesus” (“HAY-soos) is a common-enough name in Latin American Catholic culture.

      Even more so “Mohammed” and “Ali” in Islamic culture.

      I’d think all this profligate, trivializing naming of human primates would incense the zealots. Apparently not. (But just see what happens when one names a pet with these names.)

      1. It is my understanding that ‘yeshua’ is Hebrew for ‘salvation’. That suggests the preacher we’re searching for likely took on that name sometime after he started his ministry, but was born with another name.

        So when historians are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, they’re looking for a 1st century preacher who wasn’t named Jesus and possibly didn’t come from Nazareth. Other than that, there should be no problem locating him.

    4. Some legendary figures are known to be fabulous exaggerations of real people- notably Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett.

      Some are known to be false- notably Paul Bunyan.

      Still more are at least highly likely to be false or so distorted from the original that they might as well be fiction- notably King Arthur. (And if Moses is at all based on anyone real, it would be a Spartacus-like figure in Palestine, NOT Egypt.)

      But other figures are heavily debated.
      There is no consensus as to whether the steel-driving man John Henry is based on a real person or not. Historians have likewise argued both a historicist and mythicist case for Robin Hood, with no consensus emerging.

      Richard Carrier’s argument is in part a probabilistic one based on Bayes’ Theorem and similar figures like the above. Not that many historians are on board with Bayes’ Theorem as a tool to adjudicate these things.

      I’ve never found either the historicist or mythicist position on Jesus to be glaringly obvious. I think the truth is lost is the mists of time and the fog of the New Testament.

      1. I’ve never found either the historicist or mythicist position on Jesus to be glaringly obvious. I think the truth is lost is the mists of time and the fog of the New Testament.

        I agree it’s too uncertain either way, but I don’t think this entails a 50/50 “they’re both equally bad” conclusion. On balance I’d probably incline towards the mythicist position. Ignore for the moment the obvious mythical elements in the New Testament, as well as the biographical details that couldn’t possibly be recorded in that level of detail that long after the fact without at best severe memory distortion, there’s such scanty detail in the “earliest” accounts (the few Pauline Epistles that aren’t faked) that a real Jesus would be superfluous:

        1. The closest they get to Jesus is second-hand apostles’ accounts.

        2. Those accounts are virtually all posthumous vision of Jesus – including Peter’s, who is never once suggested to have actually met a corporeal Jesus in these letters that otherwise dip into the history a fair few times.

        3. The sum total of his biography here is: “He was born from a woman in sin, he took bread before he let the Jews kill him, he was buried, and he was seen posthumously in visions”.

        4. The Pauline Epistles read a heck of a lot like the works of a morally self-righteous cult, none of whose members ever encountered Jesus except in visions. That suggests the same mechanisms for cult formation are at work, which involves extreme incredulity in the face of virtually non-existent evidence.

        5. The closest any epistle gets to Jesus is James being the “brother” of someone no one ever met except posthumously. Even if “brother” here is intended to mean relative, that hardly makes it true, especially when this is being reported – surprisingly flippantly in context – by a less-than-credible witness who believes Jesus is the Son of God.

        While pedantically speaking, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it’s on par with Bigfoot. It’s nigh-impossible to pin down a detail that can be mustered in support of historicism.

        1. “the few Pauline Epistles that aren’t faked”

          I would say the few Pauline Epistles that may have fragments that might have been written by the original gnostic “PauL” or at least by someone of his school.

          I find it implausible that any of the Epistles are completely or even primarily the work of “Paul”

  3. It was phrased the same way on the news bulletin on BBC Radio 4 this afternoon — i.e. that 40% didn’t *realise* he was a real person. A bit disappointing from the BBC. I wonder if they’re just parroting the Church of England’s words?

    Great though it is in many ways, I’m sure you’d find the BBC much too faith-friendly for your taste if you lived over here. A particular bugbear for some is the Thought for the Day segment on the Today programme (morning news programme on Radio 4) which gives a few minutes each day to some cleric or rabbi or imam to give their take on current events. I can’t say it bothers me personally, although they’re often quite tedious.

    1. Yes, that was my take. (And note that it’s a CoE survey as well, not a BBC poll.)

      But I’m not sure I expressed my position clearly to Jerry or that he reflected it clearly above.

      My issue was that the CoE spokesperson takes it as read that Jesus was real (well, they would, wouldn’t they?), and therefore concludes that people who think Jesus wasn’t real are just unaware that he was real, ignoring the possibilty that some of the 40% have thoughtfully considered the claim and positively rejected it.

      And that that opinion was passed on uncritically by the BBC. Even though they’d already said only that “many scholars agree” rather than “all” or even “the majority of”. (I think they said “most” on the Radio Two news this morning.)

      /@

  4. A friend told me about his dawning realization as a child that the adults around him in church actually believed those bible stories to be true. He had treated it all as fun and games. Bible stories were like Saturday morning cartoons to him. He didn’t think Johnny Quest was real. Why would he think Jesus was real?

  5. It is likely that there was an itinerant preacher named Yeshua ben Yusef, originally from Nazareth, who attracted a group of followers. It is unlikely that he had bears any relationship to the person described in the Christian scriptures.

      1. Books have been written about King Arthur and Robin Hood, and the same amount of evidence exists for them as for the bible stories…

        1. “Books have been written about King Arthur and Robin Hood, and the same amount of evidence exists for them as for the bible stories…”

          It is not the same kind of literature. The books of the New testament have been written over more than half a century, the oldest ones (Paul’s epistles) only 20 years or so after the postulated death of Jesus, and the later they were written, the more fantasy divine elements they add. Paul’s epistles have none of the superpowers nor immaculate conception stuff, only the atonement idea. There is a consensus that Paul of Tarsus was a historical person, that his epistles (except the pseudonymous ones) are real letters written to religious communities that he founded and then left behind, and the details of his visits to Israel and the people who he met there and were Jesus’s followers do not have the basic features of literary fiction. Or he was an incredibly skilled a liar (and at the same time a rather bad and crude theologian, which is also a consensus).

          1. Paul’s epistles have none of the superpowers nor immaculate conception stuff, only the atonement idea.

            And nor do they have the concept of Jesus as a recently lived person. Really, they don’t! To Paul Jesus was a character who one learned about in the Old Testament scripture, and who appeared in visions.

            No-one is doubting that Paul and his fellow Christians were real at that time, the issue is whether their “Jesus” was a character in the OT, or a recently lived human. The evidence of Paul’s letters points to the former.

            Or he was an incredibly skilled a liar …

            Really? If, to Paul, “Jesus” was an OT god who appeared in visions, which part of his letters would have to be lies?

            1. “And nor do they have the concept of Jesus as a recently lived person. Really, they don’t! To Paul Jesus was a character who one learned about in the Old Testament scripture, and who appeared in visions.”

              This is simply incorrect, and obviously so. He wrote that he travelled to Jerusalem and met people who knew him personally and were his disciples – so he obviously must have thought that he had lived recently. The Judaic branch of early Christianity (Jesus’s followers) existed as Paul was starting his missionary work in Greece.

              1. This is simply incorrect, and obviously so. He wrote that he travelled to Jerusalem and met people who knew him personally and were his disciples …

                Can you quote the bit where Paul says these people “knew [Jesus] personally”? Can you quote where he makes a distinction between “disciples” (people who had met Jesus in person) and apostles (people who were spreading the Christian message)?

                The Judaic branch of early Christianity (Jesus’s followers) existed as Paul was starting his missionary work in Greece.

                Mythicists don’t doubt that there was an early Christian church, followers of Jesus Christ, which Paul joined. The claim is that their “Jesus” was a heavenly being, a being known from OT scripture and who appeared in visions.

            2. Can you quote the bit where Paul says these people “knew [Jesus] personally”?

              The only example I know of in the Epistles is the claim that James was Jesus’ brother. Setting aside the uncertain “brother as in Brother James, not as in actual blood relative” supposition, which I think is twisty.

              There are also the claims that Jesus was born of a woman, took bread before death, was killed by Jews, and was buried. At the very least, Paul expects his believers to think Jesus wasn’t all that long ago and had taken human form at some point.

              That said, his epistles read at cross-purposes if you claim there’s nothing supernatural in them. I guess believing the resurrected and revealed Son – who you met in a vision and who you understand as a spiritual Adam in contrast to an earthy Adam – of a soon-to-be-apocalyptic God entails nothing supernatural whatsoever.

              1. Twisty as in “It’s a bit of a stretch to believe ‘brother’ didn’t mean flesh-and-blood sibling”.

              2. Why not? How about the occurrence of the same word for “brother” a few sentences earlier in that letter, which quite clearly means “fellow Christian”?

          2. Coel has it right. Paul only mentions a discorporated spirit. The story *begins* in the literature with the more fantasy-divine element. The corporeal comes later… which is, as has been noted by the mythicists, precisely how many myths are known to evolve. So the literature even fits the pattern of pure myth-making.

              1. The author of Hebrews affirms Jesus’ humanity:
                2:14 – he too shared their humanity
                2:17 – made like his brothers in every way
                2:18 – he himself when he was tempted
                5:7 – during the days of Jesus’ life on earth
                7:14 – for it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah
                12:3,4 – him who endured such opposition from sinful men.
                In chapter 8 the writer is affirming that Jesus was not an earthly priest – he was not descended from Levi.

              2. Most gods and all demigods have some essential degree of humanity. What made Hercules so compelling was not his inhuman strength but his oh-so-human struggle with his Labors.

                The way that you know a character in a story is divine as opposed to mortal isn’t whether or not he has an human side to him. It’s wither or not he has divine characteristics…and Jesus is positively dripping with divinity at every turn. Prophets foretell his birth, the Heavens announce it and their pleasure with him, he performs miracles, he conquers death itself.

                And, indeed, those passages you cite? They go out of their way to emphasize how remarkable it should be that a god should take such care as to share in the human condition. It’s not that he’s some regular schmuck who gave some inspiring motivational speeches; it’s that the very Lord Himself graced us with his presence, and isn’t it wonderful how well we can relate to Him, even as his perfection is otherwise made plain?

                b&

        1. You should use the word “possible,” rather than “likely.”

          You have no basis for it being “likely”.

      2. Bart Ehrman is a reasonably sound scholar who’s come out in favour of historical existence. Mind you, he’s had some fairly vitriolic exchanges with Richard Carrier on the subject.

        1. I think if Ehrman had read Carrier’s latest book without Carrier’s name on it, he’d be much more amenable to the notion of a mythological Jesus.

        2. Ehrman’s career was based, in part, on the idea of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet. He is not a disinterested historian, in fact he isn’t an historian at all.

          1. I am not arguing either side on the question at hand, but please, by that logic, Carrier is as biased as Ehrman. Carrier works outside all the academic contexts intended to preserve academic freedom and neutrality (e.g., tenure) and depends a great deal upon identity politics for his income. Whether or not his arguments end up being right, it’s just as easy to accuse him of arguing what atheists want and need to hear.

              1. Some clearly do!

                Or are you saying rather that they are disinterested and unbiased and so can evaluate the evidence dispassionately?

                Well, that might not be the case. Validating the mythicist case might be seen as a “good” result by some antitheist atheists, as it proves the fictive basis for Christianity.

                /@

              2. My point is that whether or not Jesus was wandering around Judea 2000 years ago is irrelevant to the question of the existence of gods. I am an atheist and I care whether or not he existed, this is true, but I do not have a vested interest in it. I was using the vernacular as you suggest.

          2. “Ehrman’s career was based, in part, on the idea of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet.”

            Curious – how so? That sure would explain his disappointing book on historicity if he had a vested interested in the conclusion.

  6. I don’t like this story as there is no link to the actual survey and it’s slanted towards the religites view.

    I suspect the surveyors may say ‘we are conducting this on behalf of..’ which may skew the result towards the C of E.

    Religion is fast declining in the UK, and is propped up by parents ‘getting on their knees to avoid fees’ to get into what are perceived to be better schools, successive govts encourage ‘faith’ schoolsd.

  7. Sorry but I don’t conclude this as good news and maybe I do not understand the question properly. If 40% said they did not know that Jesus was a “real” or “actual” person, wouldn’t that say they did not know what the bible is or did not understand what Christianity was. Would these same people think the same about Winston Churchill? Acknowledgement of stupidity is not generally good news.

    1. This is exactly what I thought too. As a Brit I delight in the fact that religion, especially Christianity is on its backside. However many younger people that I speak to have an alarmingly sketchy knowledge of history. I think this survey reflects the ignorance of those individuals more than their lack of religiosity.

    2. According to a 2008 survey, 20% of young British thought Winston Churchhill was fictional. And 58% thought Sherlock Holmes was real.

      1. That means more people believed in the reality of Sherlock than Jesus? I’ll go with that. 😉

        cr

  8. Interesting timing. Last night as I sat watching the CBC national here news in Canada, I was appalled by their final story on a Pepperdine university prof who takes his students surfing to learn about spirituality. It is essentially Christian bible class on the beach followed by some surfing.

    The weird thing is that this story had no Canadian connection whatsoever and didn’t seem to be news at all. It came off as just a promo add for Christianity. I was shocked as CBC is no Fox news and I still can’t figure out why they would run that piece. So to hear at the same time that BBC is also trying to promote Christianity is very disconcerting.

      1. Good I’m glad I’m not the only one. At best it was a local fluff story but with no Canadian connection it’s absurd and even suspicious for that story to be considered national news in Canada. Still shaking my head.

        1. Although I did not see this segment, I would guess it was just “interesting” filler on a low news night. Why they used “Christian filler”, well who knows, but maybe they will counter balance over the years with atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, Mormon etc filler.

  9. I think this is not clear.

    My nomenclature …

    Christ is the myth that has crystallized around the probably real person called Jesus. This myth contains many additions from other cultures and world view.

    Jesus is likely a real person where scant evidence remains outside of scripture, that subsequent scribes have added apocryphal stories on his behalf.

    The confusion starts when we refer to Jesus Christ.

  10. Some more findings from the survey (link here).

    The question about Jesus being real was phrased like this (with answer percentages):

    “Which of the following best describes your understanding of Jesus Christ?”

    “Jesus was a real person who actually lived” (60%).

    “Jesus was a mythical or fictional character” (22%)

    “don’t know” (18%) [The 22 + 18 gives the headline 40%.)

    Another question gave answers that Jesus was:

    “God in human form …” (21%)

    “A normal human, not God” (17%)

    “A spiritual leader, not God” (30%).

    Question on “Do you know a practising Christian”.

    Yes, 67%, No, 27%.

    Question for “non-Christians who had a conversation with a
    Christian about their faith”

    “Felt sad I did not share their faith” (16%)

    “Felt glad I did not share their faith” (42%)

    Question “Having spoken to a practising Christian they know about their faith
    in Jesus …”

    “Wanted to know more” (19%)

    “Did not want to know more” (59%)

    “Felt more positive towards Jesus” (23%)

    “Felt more negative towards Jesus” (30%).

    1. I am concerned that this may be used to encourage ‘evangelism’ to unbelievers, which repeated court cases/employment tribunals have said is unacceptable, and is considered legitimate grounds for dismissal.

    2. Yes, thank you, that was my first question, what did the survey actually ask.

      I am not one to condemn all media because some reporters do a bad job, but this BBC report was very badly done. And to state that many scholars agree that Jesus was real is the worst part of the article. It is endorsing a religious tenet.

    3. I wonder how they came up with those questions. The second one is downright confusing with its last two answers. How is “prophet or spiritual leader” appreciably different from “a normal human being”? You can be both, I should have thought.

      That said, the fact that there are still a significant number of pro-religious respondents isn’t particularly encouraging.

  11. The consensus of religious scholars (including the nonreligious ones) is that Jesus was a historical figure – a minor apocalyptic preacher without any of the superpowers. Either that, or St. Paul has made the whole thing up (ant he had to lie A LOT and SYSTEMATICALLY for the latter to be a plausible explanation.) The views of people such as Richard Carrier are considered fringe and semi-amateurish theories.

    Now ask yourselves – why do you tend respect the consensus of climate scientists (or evolutionary biologists, or epidemiologist with respect to vaccines) and at the same time reject the majority view of (religion-agnostic, highly professional) biblical scholars? Is there something you know and they do not? Or could it be because the idea of Jesus being wholly made up “osculates your rump”, as Jerry likes to say, i.e. caters to your preexisting beliefs better than the alternative (which by the way does not assign any divine features to historical Jesus, so does not really goes against your preexisting beliefs, just gives you one made-up thing less)? Because this is what you are doing here – rejecting the consensus of an academic field in favour of a minority view that hasn’t responded adequately to the issues that their minority view raises (and which badly violate Occam’s razor).

    1. Either that, or St. Paul has made the whole thing up (ant he had to lie A LOT and SYSTEMATICALLY for the latter to be a plausible explanation.)

      No, it’s not *Paul* who would have made it up. Paul *never* talks about a Jesus living on Earth as a human being. He never shows any awareness that anyone he talked to had ever met Jesus as a human being. To Paul, “Jesus” is a person who is talked about in “scripture” (ie the *old* testament) and who appears in visions.

      It was *Mark* who then made the whole thing up. But, if he intended it as a storified allegory then he wasn’t lying.

      … at the same time reject the majority view of (religion-agnostic, highly professional) biblical scholars?

      Because the field is dominated by apologetic Christians. When that is the case it is hard for the agnostics to be objective.

      … (and which badly violate Occam’s razor).

      In what ways does mythicism violate Occam’s razor?

      1. Paul’s epistles were written before Mark’s gospel. Mark may have made up some of the initial mythical elements – which Paul was apparently unaware of – but could not have been the source for Paul’s knowledge of Jesus.

        “Because the field is dominated by apologetic Christians.”

        Non-religious scholars do not have to agree with them on the historicity of Jesus. And yet most of them do. So it cannot be the reason.

        “In what ways does mythicism violate Occam’s razor?”

        It violates the timeline and the content of the New Testament books – i.e. who knew what at which point in time.

        1. Mark […] could not have been the source for Paul’s knowledge of Jesus.

          Sure, but Paul does not have any knowledge of Jesus as a living, historical person. Paul’s Jesus is known from “scripture” and appears only in visions.

          Mark then took Paul’s *heavenly* Jesus and wrote an allegory about it, with Jesus now as a human. The point of that allegory was to tie the death of Jesus to the destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD71.

          It violates the timeline and the content of the New Testament books – i.e. who knew what at which point in time.

          No it doesn’t, not if you look at the actual mythical case, as constructed by people such as Robert Price.

          You start with the Old Testament conception of Jesus — that’s what Paul was talking about. Just look at the more than one hundred places where Paul cites the OT (whereas, in contrast, he shows near-zero awareness of Jesus as a recently lived human).

          Then, after the AD71 disaster, “Mark” wrote a storified allegory about Paul’s Jesus.

        2. Non-religious scholars do not have to agree with them on the historicity of Jesus. And yet most of them do. So it cannot be the reason.

          It is actually quite hard for *any* scholar to go radically against the mainstream in any field. Especially when the 90% mainstream have a strong emotional attachment to an idea. Have you seen how the mainstream actually do react to the minority of scholars arguing for mythicism?

    2. Well, when the layperson can actually examine the evidence, and for Jesus it’s a lot easier than for global warming, you can indeed begin to question the “consensus.” I myself used to think it was a “no brainer” that the Jesus myth accreted around a real person, but now I’m agnostic about that. In truth, I don’t see any convincing evidence for a historical Jesus, and I’ve read a lot about it. So I’m a bit dubious about that historical consensus. Regardless of whether you think Carrier is a fringe character, there’s simply no credible evidence I’ve seen outside of Scripture that a real person named Jesus existed and had disciples.

      1. Layperson can also examine the evidence for climate change or evolution and then reject it – as a result of either their relative ignorance with respect to experts, ideological prejudices or both.

        Nobody claims that the evidence for the historicity of Jesus is anywhere as strong as the evidence for global warming or evolution. Regardless of that, based on the available evidence, the biblical scholars – who thought much harder about the problem than the laypersons and used the best possible tools (such as literary criticism) to judge the relative plausibility of different scenarios – have settled on the consensus that differs from your favourite explanation as a layperson. I think it would be intellectually responsible to try to understand why there is a consensus in the first place (even among the nonreligious scholars) and allow the possibility that they do know something we do not and use tools that we do not understand (and most people have never heard for the methodology of literary criticism) – because they obviously find some pieces of evidence to be stronger than you do. We owe it to our academic colleagues before we effectively dismiss them as nincompoops.

        1. You simply can not compare the veracity, objectivity, and training of “Biblical scholars” with those of trained climatologists.

          Most Biblical scholars have little to no training in historilogical investigation, and most of them received their educations in Christian schools. Most of them have been employees of institutions who require belief in the historical Jesus as a condition of employment.

          And even if you can find Biblical scholars who are more secularly-educated, almost none of them have in interest in the topic. And why should they? To pursue the non historical Jesus is to sign your own professional death warrant.

          The other sad fact is almost all real historians have no interest in whether Jesus was historical.

          1. The fact that there are many biblical scholars with theology background does not really tally with the consensus I am talking about – that Jesus was most likely historical but not divine, does it?

            There have been more than enough secular biblical scholars with the interest in the historicity of Jesus, including those who lost their faith as a result of their studies of the Bible (such as Bart Ehrman). They have been doing what all academic researchers do – they tried to find the most plausible explanation for the phenomenon under study based on the available (in this case very limited) data. The objective fact that the data is very limited is neither an indication of researcher bias nor of their shoddy scholarship – it is simply an area of study where you cannot go in the lab or in the field and collect more data. That is why textual criticism was developed. If you don’t like the criteria such as multiple attestation, tendencies of developing tradition, criterion of embarrassment etc., fine – go ahead and provide arguments why they or their concrete applications are flawed. They are not applied only to the historicity of Jesus but elsewhere in the study of historical sources – should we throw the other instances of their application out of the window, too? We should, if we want to be consistent.

            I am always a bit queasy when people dismiss a research field because its methodology and data are not at the level of what they are used to in their field. That way physicists may dismiss most of population genetics or economics. Which would be wrong and unjust. And so is this.

            1. The “criterion of embarrassment” is one of the most piss poor arguments of all. It’s very telling that it was made up by Jesus scholars and, afaik, is not use outside of Jesus scholarship. It’s plainly apologetic and needs no argument as to why its concrete applications are flawed when Jesus scholars cannot convincingly attest to its reliability (he burden of proof lies with them).

              /@

              1. The criterion of embarrassment was devised by New Testament scholars because they are the primary ones whose task is to try to find evidence to decide whether the character they are studying was real or not. If the historicity of a person is not in question (i.e. prophet Mohammad) or that person is not claimed to be divine or otherwise perfect, there is simply no need for this tool – which does not mean it is not appropriate to use it in this case. Other religions have deities that are clearly mythical, and potentially embarrassing details about them are notably lacking. The same goes for Old Testament characters – grand people are grand without nagging exceptions, holy people are holy without potential sources of embarrassment, and imperfect/fallible characters have been deigned as such with a purpose. If Jesus was an Old Testament-like mythical creature, he would most likely be from a more significant place, a more significant immediate family, and would not have died as an ordinary rabble-rouser but a much more heroic death – if he was made up, most of those things could have made up in a way that would make a much more heroic story – just like the made-up deities of other religions.

              2. “If the historicity of a person is not in question (i.e. prophet Mohammad)”

                Well, that’s not true!

                “Other religions have deities that are clearly mythical, and potentially embarrassing details about them are notably lacking.”

                That’s certainly not true either; see the stories about the Greek and Norse gods!!!

                “but a much more heroic death”

                Nonsense! Jesus was the ultimate scapegoat, and crucifixion (or hanging or nailing to a tree) is entirely consistent with that role.

                /@

              3. If Jesus was an Old Testament-like mythical creature, he would most likely be from a more significant place, a more significant immediate family, and would not have died as an ordinary rabble-rouser but a much more heroic death …

                You assert such things as though they were obvious. But, really, this line of argument is just designed to get to the desired conclusion.

                Let’s suppose that the point of the allegory written by “Mark”, in the aftermath of AD71 when the Jewish temple had been destroyed and the Jewish nation decimated, was to reflect on why God had allowed it to happen. “Mark” placed the blame on the Jews for failing to recognise and follow Jesus, and instead having him killed (the whole “who am I?” theme of the gospel, and the disciples’ failure to recognise his identity). It’s an allegory for the Jews turning away from God, with the Romans being the executor.

                Your suggestions above don’t fit with this theme, and more heroics from Jesus wouldn’t fit with the general post-AD71 despair.

              4. “The criterion of embarrassment was devised by New Testament scholars because they are the primary ones whose task is to try to find evidence to decide whether the character they are studying was real or not.”

                Oh boy. If you think New Testament scholars are on an objective quest for the truth of whether Jesus was historical or not, you haven’t read enough New Testament scholars! 😉

            2. If you don’t like the criteria such as multiple attestation,

              Of maybe a handful of people, writing decades after the alleged events, the provenance of which can only be reliably dated to a century after the alleged events at best. It’s not even as if the Gospels were independent works; they copied passages off each other. Not to mention multiple eye-witness accounts have to be, well, eye-witness accounts. Even the alleged earliest works – the Epistles – are only as good as “I met a man in a pub” claims.

              tendencies of developing tradition,

              Which contradicts the multiple attestation requirement, since it involves adopting others’ writings. In any case, narrative tropes being adopted and passed on has never been evidence that the content is true. A pseudo-historian can adopt a historical writing style just as well as a genuine historical one, even if they believe they’re writing the gospel truth.

              criterion of embarrassment etc.,

              See my example above with fan fiction writers. They obsess over consistency of details and canonical status without ever once needing to have anything to do with non-fiction.

              fine – go ahead and provide arguments why they or their concrete applications are flawed.

              Given how they make much ado about nothing, such biblical historians don’t seem much better than homeopaths insisting their expertise separates them from the requirements of regular medical trials.

              If bad arguments and appeals to authority are the legitimate methods of such an uncertain field, you don’t need to be a physics snob to wonder whence the overconfidence comes.

              1. “The fact that there are many biblical scholars with theology background does not really tally with the consensus I am talking about – that Jesus was most likely historical but not divine, does it?”
                How many biblical scholars are going to disagree with the consensus (if they want to work in the field) baaed on a framework established over hundreds of years primarily by scholars who needed an actual Jesus to exist. Just admitting there’s no evidence for his divinity is huge. I mean how many graduates from Bigfoot college are going argue that Bigfoot doesn’t actually exist? Even if they weren’t believers when they went into the field, their intent presumably is going to be to use their education to put food on the table, and get a gig teaching Bigfoot 101.

            3. If you don’t like the criteria such as multiple attestation, …

              Multiple *independent* attestation is of course a fine doctrine; I’ve no complaint at all about its use.

              Which makes it rather a pity for the historicists that they don’t actually have multiple independent attestation to a historical Jesus.

              All they have is “Mark” and the rest is derivative of that.

              The theologians, though, then *hypothesize* extra sources. Being Christians they couldn’t possibly accept “Luke and Matthew took Mark and added made-up stuff to embellish it”, so they claim there must have been sources, which they call Q, L, M, etc.

              And then, having *hypothesized* additional sources, they then claim that these extra sources amount to independent attestation! It really is apologetics at its worst.

          2. Axolotl, you’ve made a number of good points in this thread, but you are likely wasting your efforts. There is evidence that Jesus existed. Paul’s reference to James “the brother of the Lord” combined with Josephus’ passing reference to James “the brother of Jesus, who is called Christ,” demonstrates that Paul knew a member of Jesus’ immediate family and that Josephus knew about this same person’s death. As Meier has pointed out, Josephus did not need any Christian testimony to know about events in Jerusalem in 62 CE [I’m leaving out details, but those who ignore evidence and argument wouldn’t follow up any way]. The evidence is minimal, but solid. The argument is sound, and widely accepted by almost all experts in the field. Thus, the historicity of Jesus is probable–the basic standard in historical study. If you read the counter-arguments of those like Price and Carrier, you’ll see that they say, “It is possible….” What they rarely admit, though, is that their claims are not probable. In other words, there is a reason that experts in the field reject those ideas. Unfortunately, far too many so-called freethinkers are unwilling to follow the evidence wherever it leads. That Jesus did exist is very likely. Nevertheless, what Bultmann said remains indisputable: the Jesus of history is someone “about whom we can now know almost nothing.”

            1. There is evidence that Jesus existed. Paul’s reference to James “the brother of the Lord” combined with Josephus’ passing reference to James “the brother of Jesus, who is called Christ,” demonstrates that Paul knew a member of Jesus’ immediate family and that Josephus knew about this same person’s death.

              Well, if you believe that, then I’m the sibling of a Nigerian Prince who desperately needs your money to help him escape to political asylum. And if I find two people willing enough to copy my claim – even if it might be ironically – then I’ll have three times the amount of evidence I need.

              Paul, for starters, never met Jesus except in a spiritual vision, and every other follower met him in the same way. Find me a backwater religiously gullible enough to accept visions as good evidence, and I’ll find you somewhere I could claim to be the sibling of a walking messiah. And this isn’t assuming his credibility hadn’t already been shot to pieces by his full-blooded and pontificating credibility in the story to begin with, given his standard of evidence is “I saw it in a vision once”.

              As for Josephus, who was definitely writing second-hand long after the events and who doesn’t even source his reference; why exactly is his testimony compelling? His mention was a parenthetical in a much larger tome discussing more important matters like local Ananus’ bad temper and his summoning a sanhedrin without a license. At best, this would prove (if “prove” is the word) the existence of another credulous apostle. This is before we get onto the issue that any Jesus real enough to have that impact would have earned a better mention in Josephus’ writings.

              This same “Oh yes and this chap was involved with Christians/Jews because of this Jesus chap thing” level of casualness marks out all the “best” non-biblical writings that aren’t tampered with, such as Tacitus’ and Suetonius. I won’t even mention the outright fabrications that have emerged over time, one of which was also Josephus.

              If that’s solid evidence, then it seems the words are being stretched beyond breaking point.

            2. Paul’s reference to James “the brother of the Lord” …

              And a couple of paragraphs earlier in the same piece Paul uses the same Greek word for “brother” in a way that clearly means “fellow Christian”. Christians then and now often used “brother” and “father” for unrelated fellow Christians.

              Thus, yes, this is indeed one piece of evidence for a historical Jesus but on its own it is fairly weak. The counter-evidence in Paul’s letters is actually much stronger.

              As for the Josephus reference, see, e.g. Carrier’s article on it for why it is unlikely to refer to a familial brother of Jesus.

              1. Are you sure? Cephas/Peter and other individuals aren’t described as “brother”, and it doesn’t make sense to single out James as “the Lord’s brother” unless it meant familial brother rather than spiritual brother.

              2. We really don’t know. The appellation could have been reserved for particularly esteemed elders, or “Brother of the Lord” could have been a rank or could have meant a particular grouping (e.g. “Christian Brothers”, “Sisters of Mercy”), or it could have been used for someone less known to Paul

                (In the same way that you might refer to someone you don’t know as “Mister …”, but not use that for someone you do know.)

                So, overall, yes, this is one point in favour of historicism, but it is not a conclusive argument. Given the rampant Christian use of “brother” for fellow Christians there are other explanations.

                By the way, that phrase is generally considered the single best piece evidence for historicity; that is as good as the evidence for historicity gets.

        2. “Nobody claims that the evidence for the historicity of Jesus is anywhere as strong as the evidence for global warming or evolution.”

          But you were implying that when you made the comparison!

          It is exactly because the evidence for Jesus is nowhere near as strong is why we tend to trust the Jesus scholars less than the scientists.

          “have settled on the consensus”

          Clearly, it’s not settled.

          “I think it would be intellectually responsible to try to understand why there is a consensus in the first place…”

          We have, and, as Coel and others indicate, there are strong indications that there is a significant degree of confirmation bias at work (lots of Kahneman tropes turn up here: availability heuristic, question substitution, what-you-see-is-all-there-is, and more).

          “most people have never heard for the methodology of literary criticism”

          Many of us have as the question and the nature of the evidence have been discussed at length in other posts on this website. At best it seems a useful tool to differentiate between original authorship and later interpolation, rather than a way of establishing the actual basis in fact of any text.

          /@

          1. “But you were implying that when you made the comparison!”

            No I was not. I am saying that different problems have different amounts of data at their disposal, and that they call for different methodologies to assess the relative plausibilities of competing explanations. Also I am saying that academics in different disciplines that are trying to find objective truth – in any of them – should not be a priori considered biased or incompetent when the majority of them – in their, not my field of expertise – go for an explanation I hoped they would not go for. I should be charitable and assume that something in their expertise – the expertise I do not have – has made them choose one explanation over the other. I might even be better scientist they are – but that woulld only mean that I am better in my field of research (genome biology) than they are in theirs. But I can not assume that, because of that, I am better in their field of research than they are. And neither should you.

            1. “academics in different disciplines that are trying to find objective truth – in any of them – should not be a priori considered biased”

              Well, that’s kind of the point. It’s their objectivity that is less than clear.

              And the “better than” comparison is irrelevant when the volume and quality of data has such a great disparity.

              /@

            2. academics in different disciplines that are trying to find objective truth … should not be a priori considered biased …

              The vast majority of scholars on this topic are Christian, simply because they are the ones most interested. It is almost impossible for a Christian to be unbiased and objective on a matter as basic to their religion as whether Jesus existed.

              … when the majority of them … go for an explanation I hoped they would not go for.

              Well I don’t “hope” either way. Really, the idea of Jesus as a cult leader is so mundane that atheists can accept it fine. It does zero damage to atheism to have Jesus as a real human being, in the same way that David Koresh was a real human being.

              I’m arguing that mythicism is a strong case simply because it is — it fits the evidence as well as or better than historicism.

              1. “The vast majority of scholars on this topic are Christian, simply because they are the ones most interested. ”

                Some are clearly not, and the consensus is not ideal for Christians. By dismissing those that are not, you imply that they are in some other way incompentent or biased. That is really not justified. Instead, you are happy to acceptthe views of Richard Carrier, even 1) he is not academic and 2) the most competent biblical scholars have identified mistakes in his mythical Jesus book that you are ignoring. For you biologists out there, Carrier is to biblical scholarship what Rupert Sheldrake is for biologists – a cracpotty contrarian who is not an academic researcher despite having a PhD from a distinguished university, and who peddles his views to lay audience because they are so scientifically flawed that they cannot gain traction in the relevant part of the academic community. This “lone genius against dogmatic/biased/blind establishment” narrative is what anti-scientific stance is all about. And here it is _you_ who are taking that stance – as laypeople, without listening to the arguments of the academic consensus.

              2. I’m not ignoring the handful of non-religious Jesus scholars. As I’ve said, when a field is dominated by an apologetic mainstream consensus, it is actually hard to go against that consensus. Essentially you get ostracised and subjected to non-stop denigration. Have you noticed how utterly rancorous relations are between historicist and mythicist scholars?

                As for Carrier, well ok, let’s leave Carrier out of this. He did not originate any of this stuff! Others such as Robert Price did (and he does have academic credentials).

              3. “Carrier is……a cracpotty contrarian who is not an academic researcher despite having a PhD from a distinguished university, and who peddles his views to lay audience because they are so scientifically flawed that they cannot gain traction in the relevant part of the academic community. This “lone genius against dogmatic/biased/blind establishment” narrative is what anti-scientific stance is all about. And here it is _you_ who are taking that stance – as laypeople, without listening to the arguments of the academic consensus.”

                “As for Carrier, well ok, let’s leave Carrier out of this. He did not originate any of this stuff! Others such as Robert Price did (and he does have academic credentials).”

                Price does not hold that same view of Carrier as crackpot, as I’ve heard Price express admiration directly to Carrier when both were guests on a podcast I listened to recently. I don’t recall the name of the podcast, unfortunately. I will have to strive to discover this academic dissent of Carrier, because as a layperson I find him quite compelling.

              4. I agree that Carrier is not a crackpot (though I disagree with him on many things). But it’s important to realise that the mythicist case does not depend on Carrier — he is just one of several scholars advancing it.

              5. Out of curiousity, what are the 2-3 most significant “things” you disagree with? I am always looking to learn more.

              6. My disagreements with him aren’t about this historicity issue.

                I do disagree with Carrier on his moral realism, and his SJW politics (including his general “FtB” behaviour, for want of a better shorthand).

                I also think he harms himself by his highly aggressive attitude to other scholars (he’s not nearly as good a philosopher as he thinks he is, and is way too quick to denigrate others). This is one reason why he’s considered a fringe scholar. [Having said that, the behaviour of many Jesus historicists towards Carrier is worse, so Carrier does have some justification.]

              7. So, if I read you right, you agree with him on the historicity, or lack thereof? You just don’t like his politics?

    3. I tend to accept climate change because the experts have presented a whole lot of evidence for it. I tend not to accept the story of Jesus because nobody has any evidence for it, different accounts of it contradict each other, and a lot of the story is not credible.

      It’s not a question of accepting something simply because I respect their academic credentials, they have to offer evidence of their claims.

    4. The existence or non-existence of Jesus is an historical question. And if he did exist, exactly what was he like? On this issue, many books have been written and many views expressed. How does a layperson in this very specialized area of academic study (which is almost everybody except a select few who have immersed themselves in the literature) judge which hypotheses are reasonable and those that can be dismissed for lack of evidence or sound argumentation? It is not easy. But, there are least three things a person can do.

      1. Examine the credentials and training of the person writing on a subject. For example, the favorite of right-wingers is “historian” David Barton. Upon examination, however, it is clear he doesn’t have the training to be the historian of anything.

      2. Determine if the historian is likely to have a bias. For example, after the Civil War Jefferson Davis wrote a history of the Confederacy. While this volume may provide some useful insights into his presidency, his interpretations and judgments are highly suspect. Likewise, theologians or highly religious people writing on the existence of Jesus should certainly be suspect of bias. To be fair, people who are strong atheists writing on this topic certainly could be biased, even if this bias is unconscious.

      3. Ask if sufficient evidence exists to render anything approaching a definitive judgment on the given historical topic. It seems to me in the area ancient history as a whole judgments are rendered on very limited evidence, i.e., the minimal availability of primary sources. Thus, an honest historian of ancient history would need to admit that judgments about a person (or non-person) or an event must be considered tentative at best. Some questions will never be answered with anything approaching certainty. The honest historian of ancient times could only say something like the following: “I think there is a 60% chance (for example) that my conclusion is correct. But, it is quite possible that I am wrong, especially if additional evidence comes to light.”

      The Jesus question is one of academic interest. But the important point is that there is zero reliable evidence that he was a deity. If in the unlikely event that it could be proven that the Jesus myth grew out of the existence of an itinerant preacher, who was charismatic, a loon, and con man, should we care? Perhaps we should care if it would turn people away from religion, at least Christianity. Upon reflection, I think from the point of view of atheists, they would be more successful in propagating their viewpoint if in fact enough historical evidence comes to light to reasonably conclude a con man Jesus existed than saying he did not exist. If at least some of the faithful realized that they had been duped, they would turn away from religion. I think they would be less receptive to accepting an historical conclusion that Jesus did not exist because they would say that non-existence of a reputed historical person who lived 2,000 years cannot be proven despite what historians say. My conclusion here is, indeed, quite tentative and I am open to contrary views.

      1. There is a fourth thing you can do when determining the credibility of an historian. Read reviews of the book. But, of course, you need to check on the credentials and possible biases of the reviewer.

        1. I recall someone saying there has probably been more books written on Lincoln than anyone but Jesus Christ. I have no idea how that really stacks up but I’ll take Lincoln anytime and I’m not real big on fiction. I can’t imagine reading all those thousands of books about someone and discovering later that none of it was real. We know that Lincoln was real and your forth thing to determine is still very important.

      2. While you make a lot of good points, one thing to add is that the amount of actual evidence on the matter is rather low. Thus it really is possible for the non-expert to acquaint themselves with the evidence and the arguments, and make some sort of assessment.

        You’re entirely right that a vast number of books have been written on the topic, but the actual original sources pertinent to the issue are far fewer.

        You’re also right that any conclusions should be fairly tentative, since there is insufficient evidence (either way) for a knock-down settling of the issue.

        1. “You’re also right that any conclusions should be fairly tentative, since there is insufficient evidence (either way) for a knock-down settling of the issue.”

          I agree with this. Unfortunately it’s the worst of all possible worlds. As there will never be conclusive proof that Jesus is God, it would be great if we could have conclusive proof that jesus was an insignificant rabble rousing madman or that Mark created him out of whole cloth. Either would advance the secular cause more than tentative conclusion.

          The way it is leaves a gaping hole for apologists to fill with speculative nonsense.

          1. The problem is that we know quite a lot about insignificant rabble-rousers of that time and place – including several who were named Jesus!

            But not a darned thing about you-know-who. So… if he wasn’t performing miracles, how in the world could he convince Jews of the era to consider him a deity, even after his death? Such an idea would not fly at all.

            So, even the insignificant rabble-rouser theory makes no sense.

            1. “The problem is that we know quite a lot about insignificant rabble-rousers of that time and place – including several who were named Jesus!”

              I have seen this claim several times, but never any actual evidence for it. Could you perchance break the pattern and point us to actual sources that explicitly mention (by name) “insignificant rabble-rousers of that time and place”?

              1. Here is a partial list from [http://www.cosmoetica.com/b125-des76.htm]:

                ‘Josephus, the first century Jewish historian mentions no fewer than nineteen different Yeshuas/Jesii, about half of them contemporaries of the supposed Christ! In his Antiquities, of the twenty -eight high priests who held office from the reign of Herod the Great to the fall of the Temple, no fewer than four bore the name Jesus: Jesus ben Phiabi, Jesus ben Sec, Jesus ben Damneus and Jesus ben Gamaliel. Even Saint Paul makes reference to a rival magician, preaching ‘another Jesus’ (2 Corinthians 11,4). The surfeit of early Jesuses includes:
                Jesus ben Sirach, reputedly the author of the Book of Sirach (aka ‘Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach’), part of Old Testament apocrypha. This Jesus, writing in Greek about 180 B.C.E., brought together Jewish ‘wisdom’ and Homeric-style heroes.
                Jesus ben Pandira. A wonder-worker during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (106-79 B.C.), one of the most ruthless of the Maccabean kings. Imprudently, this Jesus launched into a career of end-time prophesy and agitation which upset the king. He met his own premature end-time by being hung on a tree – and on the eve of a Passover. Scholars have speculated this Jesus founded the Essene sect.
                Jesus ben Ananias. Beginning in 62AD, this Jesus had caused disquiet in Jerusalem with a non-stop doom-laden mantra of ‘Woe to the city’. He prophesied rather vaguely:
                ‘A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against the whole people.’
                (Josephus, Wars 6:3)
                Arrested and flogged by the Romans, he was released as nothing more dangerous than a mad man. He died during the siege of Jerusalem from a rock hurled by a Roman catapult.
                Jesus ben Saphat. In the insurrection of 68AD that wrought havoc in Galilee, this Jesus had led the rebels in Tiberias. When the city was about to fall to Vespasian’s legionaries he fled north to Tarichea on the Sea of Galilee.
                Jesus ben Gamala. During 68/69 AD this Jesus was a leader of the ‘peace party’ in the civil war wrecking Judaea. From the walls of Jerusalem he had remonstrated with the besieging Idumeans (led by ‘James and John, sons of Susa’). It did him no good. When the Idumeans breached the walls he was put to death and his body thrown to the dogs and carrion birds.
                Jesus ben Thebuth. A priest who, in the final capitulation of the upper city in 69AD, saved his own skin by surrendering the treasures of the Temple, which included two holy candlesticks, goblets of pure gold, sacred curtains and robes of the high priests. The booty figured prominently in the Triumph held for Vespasian and his son Titus.

    5. But Saul/Paul of Tarsus never met the corporeal Jesus. Their only encounter came in a vision when Paul was struck blind on the road to Damascus, sometime after Jesus had been crucified. Seems someone whose scriptural story starts with a divine encounter during a blind vision is a poor candidate for “didn’t just make it up.”

    6. I have a lot of problems with the claim that historians, who are the experts, have a reasonable consensus here.

      First, it is clear that ‘Jesus’ is not a historical person as per the usual criteria – described by contemporary persons; having contemporary statues, arts or coins in his or her; having contemporary buildings and grave/graves raised by them or over them – so why the double standard.

      Second, Wikipedia claims there are only two things that historians agree on. That they can’t agree on definition of ‘Jesus’ I am okay with, see how we can’t agree on a definition for life or for cars.

      But the two things they agree on are seen – as per a friend who has studied history – as hopthetical “stories”. Again I am not against story telling as such, the are I am interested in of astrobiology has such to make a basis for hypotheses and theories.

      What I have a problem with is that these two things are _testable_. Yet historians prefer Just so stories instead of rejecting what they can reject.

      Here is my latest iteration:

      Only two things agreed on: baptism by ‘John the Baptist’ and crucifixion. Of those two only the latter is putatively not myth. but crucifixiona has problems. Josephus mentions them, but only historically. I found a ref that his life description should have him seen such, but I can’t find it after deep search by the two usual notation systems and text search in an english translation. In fact, much of crucifixion seems to be made up. Herodotus mentions hanging on a plank, Alexander’s putative crucifixon is from the vulgar descrition only, the Spartacus myth is once again from only one and the original says hangings which Romans met in Europe at the time.

      Only one skeleton with a spike has been found and it looks as spiking to a living tree, not a cross. While for example hanging and the older stakings has lot of historical evidence.

      1. Test by supported history: Unlikely as per the scant crucifixion record and the lack in Josephus.

      2. Tests supported by myth (two independent claims): ~ 50 % of myth is unsupported, ~ 48 % is erroneous, 1-2 of ~ 100 claims seems correct (Juda was an actual king, crucifixions happened). So 0.02*0.02 likelihood of being correct against the demanded 95+ %.

      Historian consensus here seems historian confabulation. I wouldn’t say that all of history is pseudoscience, but on this area it looks to be.

      As for bayesian models or your mentioning the philosophic razor, I’m not fond of either.

      1. Oy, what many spelling mistakes. Sorry about that, but I think it is (barely) legible, and it is too long to repost.

        Also, the Spartacus description was incomplete. There are two sources, and only one mentions hangings. (Seems to have been a political divide, where Crassus gets as much honor as possible from Appian and Pompey from Plutarch.)

      2. Torbjörn Larsson wrote: ‘’Only two things agreed on: baptism by ‘John the Baptist’ and crucifixion. Of those two only the latter is putatively not myth. but crucifixiona has problems.’’

        The NT crucifixion claim is a historical claim and as such needs to be addressed historically. The NT dating for the Jesus crucifixion, Luke 3.1, is under Pontius Pilate and Tiberius. Josephus, apart from the TF, makes no mention of Roman crucifixions of Jews during the period 4 b.c.e. to 46-48 c.e. i.e. outside the time of Tiberius.

        Lena Einhorn has suggested a time-shift theory – moving the Jesus crucifixion to post 46-48 c.e. However, if one is working from the ahistoricist position such a forward time-shift only adds more speculation not historical details. (i.e. there being no historical evidence, the Josephus story nothwithstanding, for the existence of the Egyptian Prophet).

        http://lenaeinhorn.se/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Jesus-and-the-Egyptian-Prophet-12.11.25.pdf

        The Roman crucifixion of Jesus is the fundamental historical claim of Christianity. That the gospel Jesus is a literary creation does not cancel out the probability that this Christian claim – that the Romans executed/crucified a historical figure that was relevant to their gospel story – has some historical substance.

        If one views the gospel story as a sort of political allegory rather than actual history, then the field of inquiry opens up. (Bearing in mind that Luke 3.1 is not the only crucifixion date – the Acts of Pilate and it’s 7th year of Tiberius fits better with the TF than Luke 3.1 – i.e. the Jesus story developed over time.)

        The question is what Jewish history did the Jesus story develop from. Taking the Roman crucifixion story as fundamental to early Christian writers then Jewish history will take one back to the end of the Hasmonean period and the execution, hanging on a cross/stake, of the last King and High Priest of the Jews – Antigonus II Mattathias in 37 b.c.e. Yes, Antigonus was beheaded, re Josephus. However, Cassius Dio states that he was hung on a cross and flogged.

        Cassius Dio’s Roman History: “These people [the Jews] Antony entrusted to a certain Herod to govern; but Antigonus he bound to a cross and scourged, a punishment no other king had suffered at the hands of the Romans, and so slew him”.

        With this Roman execution of a King of the Jews the NT writers have the basis for their Jesus crucifixion story. Antigonus ruled for three years. Antigonus, re Josephus, bit off the ear of his uncle to prevent him ever again being a High Priest. Antigonus was insulted when captured, called a woman’s name, Antigone. Antigonus used bilingual coins, Hebrew and Greek. The sign, King of the Jews, above the crucified gospel Jesus, was trilingual – Aramaic, Latin and Greek.

        What the history of Antigonus indicates is that the NT story does have historical roots. It’s Jesus being ahistorical does not cancel out a historical core to it’s story. To deny a historical core to the NT story is to deny it’s very Jewish and OT roots. History mattered to the gospel writers – as it did to the OT writers.

        The history of Antigonus mattered to the gospel writers for their Jesus crucifixion story. But the gospel Jesus story is more than the history of Antigonus. History did not stop with Antigonus as later Jewish history would be incorporated into the NT Jesus story – thus creating a political allegory with an ahistorical, literary, Jesus figure. Around 70 years after Antigonus captured Jerusalem, 40 b.c.e., the Lukan writer begins his Jesus crucifixion story.

        So – methinks the Jesus historicsts need to drop their gospel Jesus and reach for a history book. The Doherty/Carrier mythicists need to drop their all in the mind mythical approach to the gospel story and, likewise, reach for a history book. 😉

    7. Imagine that when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963 there was no TV and no contemporaneous print coverage. No Zapruder film either. And imagine that now, 52 years after the fact, written accounts of the assassination are first starting to surface, bearing the names of authors who themselves are now dead — call them the synoptic gospels of Schlesinger, of Sorensen, and of Teddy White.

      Imagine also that there are many other, apocryphal written and oral accounts of the assassination now circulating — variously attributed to Jackie, to Bobby, to Lyndon and to others both in and out of the Kennedy circle — some attributing the shooting to a lone gunman, others to a conspiracy involving the mafia or the Cubans or the CIA, or all three together. Some say the shots came from the schoolbook depository building; others, the grassy knoll.

      How much credence in any of these accounts of what happened in Dealy Plaza on 11/22/63 do you think might be given them by people two millennia in the future?

      That’s how much we should give the historicity of the gospels.

      1. Ken Kukec re Kennedy and the gospel story.

        The fact of the matter is that Kennedy was assassinated – the stories about his assassination can’t change that historical fact.

        So, while it can’t be proven that the gospel Jesus was historical and was crucified by the Romans – there is a high probability that this gospel story has been built upon an actual Roman execution/crucifixion/beheading of the last King and High Priest of the Jews. (see my above post)

        The Jesus historicists are not going to give up on their historical claim i.e. that there is some history in the gospel story. Since the claims regarding Jesus cannot be historically verified – the question becomes what history contributed to the gospel story – not, re many mythicists, there is no history reflected in the gospel story, it’s all pure literary invention without any historical relevance.

        As that old saying goes, there is no smoke without a fire. As with Kennedy conspiracy stories etc we need to cut through the gospel smoke screen (the political allegory) and feel the heat of that fire…..

    8. “The consensus of religious scholars (including the nonreligious ones) is that Jesus was a historical figure”

      As I mentioned elsewhere isn’t it true that among Bigfoot scholars the consensus is that Bigfoot exists? And wouldn’t opinions that he doesn’t be considered fringe within that community? Isn’t Jesus’ existence their bread, and butter, even for the nonreligious ones? I’m not saying this means he didn’t exist, but I don’t think it’s nearly the slam dunk people claim.

  12. Probably that same subset of young people who don’t realise that the sinking of The Titanic was a real historical event (rather than a Hollywood movie) and think that “Hitler wasn’t actually that bad – it’s just all Western propaganda”. It’s because the ‘yoof’ just don’t learn any history these days.

  13. Has the Beeb done a survey lately gauging Brit attitudes about Zeus and Mt. Olympus, what they “realize” concerning the source of thunder?

  14. There are 3 possibilities: Jesus was a real person; Jesus is a composite of more than one individual; or he never existed at all. We will probably never know. The Gospel stories seem to reflect the existence of a charismatic figure with at least a local following. He may have been a conjuror of sorts as well. I base that on the biblical report that he “couldn’t perform many miracles in his home town.” I can imagine the people saying, “Hey, we know you! You’re that carpenter’s kid. You can’t fool us!”

    The more-than-one hypothesis I get from Robert M. Price. I think he points to disparity between Paul and the Gospels for support.

    If there never was a Jesus, what is the origin of the stories? That’s what historians need to work on.

    1. The origin of the stories? Certainly oral traditions. Certainly. Nailing such things down as to who said what to whom when, and having this based on forensic evidence will always be a pipe dream.

      I’ll add this pretty much sums up the situation of Paul Bunyan – whose stories originated much more recently. I’d rather historians work on this much more trenchant problem. At least here, they might stand a chance of getting even a glimmer of some results.

      1. I’m with Les R. It doesn’t matter to an atheist or even to any non-Christian.

        And while it might matter to Christians, since there’s almost certainly no way to ascertain the facts of the matter, it’s what they believe that has an impact on their behaviour (and thereby potentially matters to the rest of us), not the actual reality.

        (My guess is there probably was some preacher called Jesus (whole lotta preachers, whole lotta people called Jesus) – so in that sense Jesus was a person – but the stories that accumulated were just that, stories, with no connection to any particular Jesus. But it’s irrelevant to any practical concerns).

      2. A historicist Jesus doesn’t offer any comfort either, because the writings of the earliest Christians are so fantastical that they are transparently the works of deluded, gullible, or cynically exploitative individuals. Modern psychology has revealed that it’s distressingly easy to get nonsense spread around and solidified into “common truth”. As Ben Goren and others point out, once you strip the mythical elements away, there’s barely a scrap of detail left.

        If there was a historical precursor, he bares virtually no resemblance to the figures that carry his name in the New Testament.

        1. Or else he was deluded, gullible, or cynically exploitative himself. And where does that leave Christianity?

    1. It matters to people who are interested in history and human psychology. If Jesus really existed then we need to explain how a man, no one wrote a single word about during his life, got turned into the creator of the universe with a couple of decades of his death. If he didn’t exist then we need to explain why Mark wrote his gospel. I was an atheist for my whole life assuming Jesus existed, until I started reading up on the subject, and was astonished to discover that he almost certainly didn’t. I just like to understand what really happened as far as possible.

      1. Interestingly enough, the writings of Paul are the best evidence (thought weak) given for the existence of Jesus. Yet as Detering, Price and now Parvus are demonstrating, The Paul of Acts probably didn’t exist and Marcion could well have been the first to create Paul’s writings using fragments of other writings from several different sources.

        So historical Jesus is a house of cards built on a house of cards.

        1. IMNSHO the writings of Paul are the best evidence that Jesus never existed at all. Surely, had Paul known anything of Jesus’ life on Earth, he would have mentioned it, but he never did.

          1. It would be interesting to analyse (and maybe someone already has) where the points Paul makes in his epistles could have been illustrated or reinforced by citing Jesus’s miracles or parables.

            /@

            1. If you really want to investigate this question I recommend Earl Doherty’s “JESUS: NEITHER GOD NOR MAN”, but he doesn’t do a comprehensive list of all the places Paul could have put a Jesus quote and failed to do so. It’s a pretty heavy book though, and shows that Paul knew nothing of a real Jesus and in fact made it clear that his Christ was a cosmic saviour who lived and died in heaven.

      2. The other pissers are there was no “mark”. no “luke”. (skywalker was real, though) — no “john”. These are the names of books (disparate codifications of various oral traditions), not individuals writing them. If only the chrisper jeepers knew.

  15. Wonder if Richard Carrier showed up at the BBC building first thing the next morning, banging on the front door, pressing pages of his book against the glass, insisting that they read them.

    1. Having watched W1A (tv series), I wonder if it isn’t close to the truth about the inner workings of the BBC…

  16. Reblogged this on Nina's Soap Bubble Box and commented:
    I watched a documentary about the Mayan Civilization and it was by the BBC, so this makes it suddenly clear why the otherwise anthropological documentary had started with a line

    “At the time Jesus was walking in Jerusalem, the Mayans..””

    We must not pretend that any part of any religion is real – that is where religion must be removed from the public square.

    No more coddling delusions. No more profits nor prophets over people.

    if christians are scared of not being dominate culture, they shoulda been less genocidey of others.

    frankly, they should be glad that the worst they get is mocked and laughed at.

    when will pens be mightier than weapons?

  17. It seems that Jesus existed in the same way Atlantis existed, fiction to fact then back to fiction and so the REAL Jesus has been “discovered” as many times as Atlantis.

  18. The gap between that 57% identifying as “Christian” and the 10% of actual churchgoers is the subject of the Dawkins Foundation research undertaken immediately after the last UK census in 2011 — see https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2921/Religious-and-Social-Attitudes-of-UK-Christians-in-2011.aspx. What it revealed is the “Christian” for such people is a cultural affiliation label almost completely divorced from any specific theological beliefs or social attitudes.

  19. An exercise for the historicists to try: read any standard history of “western civilization” for university freshmen or thereabouts. Read the references for what supposedly happened in the first century in the relevant period. One book I did this on if read carefully points out that there is effectively nothing to go on: it says basically “here’s what Christians said happened”, and cites Luke and Acts. (!!!!!!)

  20. The “argument from silence” would apply to all sorts of ancient figures of history, Jerry. That said, even the denialists who claim more pertinent academic credentials (though they aren’t that pertinent) don’t recognize that.

    For people sneering at “historicists” without understanding things like that, have fun hoisting your own petards. Meanwhile, here’s more on the shortcomings of the leading denialists:

    http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-academic-shortcomings-of-jesus.html

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