Jesus historical existence

Jesus historical existence

An article in the Washington Post sparked this article, which is a rebuttal to the article written by Raphael Lataster in the Post.  My comments like this. This started from a FB discussion on how the Resurrection of Jesus was false.  That can be found at:

Did a man called Jesus of Nazareth walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the “Historical Jesus” actually existed primarily reflect disagreements among atheists. Believers, who uphold the implausible and more easily-dismissed “Christ of Faith” (the divine Jesus who walked on water), ought not to get involved.

Numerous secular scholars have presented their own versions of the so-called “Historical Jesus” – and most of them are, as biblical scholar J.D. Crossan puts it, “an academic embarrassment”. As usual most atheists use only part of a quote; the fuller quote is “John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar grumbles that “the stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment.”  In this he is complaining that there are so many people deviating from actual scripture to create a theory that would provide them with headlines.  Dr Crossan is a very well respected theological scholar (I have several of his books) even though De Paul University is somewhat on the liberal side of theological debates. From Crossan’s view of Jesus as the wise sage, to Robert Eisenman’s Jesus the revolutionary, and Bart Ehrman’s apocalyptic prophet, about the only thing New Testament scholars seem to agree on is Jesus’ historical existence. And here the author goes into a logical fallacy:

Jesus was a wise sage and the author is a very knowledgeable writer

Jesus was a revolutionary and the author is a very knowledgeable writer

Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet and the author is a very knowledgeable writer

Since all three knowledgeable writers disagree

Jesus was none of them.

We can ignore the first paragraph in the article, as it is nothing more than superfluous hype to set you up for the remaining article.  However, when you have two major problems in the next paragraph, one has to wonder why bother reading the remaining article.  I will continue because I made a promise I would for my own intellectual integrity and the hopes that the author might correct his obvious mistakes. But can even that be questioned?

The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith.

These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. We will lump these statements together and prove otherwise as follows: As an atheist from high school to college and a lot like the skeptics quoted above, I was inclined to reject the Gospels as late works of fiction. I considered them to be mythological accounts written well after all the true eyewitnesses were dead. They were late, and they were a lie.  I believed that the Gospels were written in the second century or later and were worthless as to being an eyewitness account. A true eyewitness would have lived and written in the first century. If they were written shortly after 33 AD they would be eyewitnesses, If written nearer to 350 AD they would have been modified by the Council of Laodicea. This logic should provide an answer, since if later in time they would be closer to the church councils and the formal establishment of the Catholic Church there would be good reason to doubt that they were true witnesses to the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 5: 1) or that they actually saw Jesus with their own eyes (1 John 1: 1– 3). The closer they appeared to the life and ministry of Jesus, the more seriously I could consider their claims.   For further details of the accuracy and historical timing of the Gospels see:  The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify.  It is strange, and I would like to find out someday, why only non-believers do not know who the Gospel writers are, what their qualifications  are (disciples of Jesus) and on what authority they are writing about and for whom (It is easy, really. The first authority has 3 letters and commanded the second authority to spread the word and has only 5 letters- God and Jesus).

Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.

The methods traditionally used to tease out rare nuggets of truth from the Gospels are dubious.

The criterion of embarrassment says that if a section would be embarrassing for the author, it is more likely authentic. The criterion of embarrassment is one point listed in the Criteria of Authenticity used by academics which also lists: the criterion of dissimilarity, criterion of language and environment, criterion of coherence, and the criterion of multiple attestation, This criterion (embarrassment) is rarely used by itself, Clearly, context is important. Some Biblical scholars have used this criterion in assessing whether the New Testament’s accounts of Jesus’ actions and words are historically probable. Key word SOME. Very few actually. 

Unfortunately, given the diverse nature of Christianity and Judaism back then (things have not changed all that much) (Strange, that a progressive would complain about diversity), and the anonymity of the authors, it is impossible to determine what truly would be embarrassing or counter-intuitive, let alone if that might not serve some evangelistic purpose.

The criterion of Aramaic context is similarly unhelpful. Jesus and his closest followers were surely not the only Aramaic-speakers in first-century Judea.

The criterion of multiple independent attestation can also hardly be used properly here, given that the sources clearly are not independent.  (Misinterpretation of the criteria. Simply put, the more independent witnesses that report an event or saying, the better. A limitation is that some sayings or deeds attributed to Jesus could have originated in the first Christian communities early enough in the tradition to be attested to by a number of independent sources, thus not representing the historical Jesus. Finally, there are some sayings or deeds of Jesus that only appear in one form or source that scholars still consider historically probable. Multiple attestation is not always a requisite for historicity, nor is it enough to determine accuracy by itself)

Paul’s Epistles, written earlier than the Gospels, ( give us no reason to dogmatically declare Jesus must have existed. Avoiding Jesus’ earthly events and teachings, even when the latter could have bolstered his own claims, Paul only describes his “Heavenly Jesus”. (Completely wrong about the timing of Paul’s epistles as you will learn in the above link.)

Even when discussing what appear to be the resurrection and the last supper, his only stated sources are his direct revelations from the Lord, and his indirect revelations from the Old Testament. In fact, Paul actually rules out human sources (see Galatians 1:11-12). (Yes, he received it by divine revelation- which we all know non-believers cannot get a grasp around it but fully understand that amoebas became atheists)

Also important are the sources we don’t have. There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses, most of whom are obviously biased.

Little can be gleaned from the few non-Biblical and non-Christian sources, with only Roman scholar Josephus (only 1 of three references is in doubt.  The other two references are considered completely accurate)  and historian Tacitus having any reasonable claim to be writing about Jesus within 100 years of his life. (Once again an outright misstatement of the truth. the most accurate review of his work.)

And even those sparse accounts are shrouded in controversy, with disagreements over what parts have obviously been changed by Christian scribes (the manuscripts were preserved by Christians), the fact that both these authors were born after Jesus died (they would thus have probably received this information from Christians), and the oddity that centuries go by before Christian apologists start referencing them.  (see above link for Tacitus- no mention of manuscripts preserved by Christians or Jews for that matter)

Agnosticism over the matter is already seemingly appropriate, and support for this position comes from independent historian Richard Carrier’s recent defence of another theory. Namely, that the belief in Jesus started as the belief in a purely celestial being (who was killed by demons in an upper realm), who became historicised over time. (Carrier is a believer in metaphysical naturalism.  I suggest he spend more time defending his faith in that than criticizing believers in Christ, his faith has a lot more problems in  order to believe it.)

To summarise Carrier’s 800-page tome, this theory and the traditional theory – that Jesus was a historical figure who became mythicised over time – both align well with the Gospels, which are later mixtures of obvious myth and what at least “sounds” historical.

The Pauline Epistles, however, overwhelmingly support the “celestial Jesus” theory, particularly with the passage indicating that demons killed Jesus, and would not have done so if they knew who he was (see: 1 Corinthians 2:6-10).  (Absolutely no ‘demons’ mentioned in any way shape or form.  But I do not expect non-believers to understand, either.)

Humans – the murderers according to the Gospels – of course would still have killed Jesus, knowing full well that his death results in their salvation, and the defeat of the evil spirits.

So what do the mainstream (and non-Christian) scholars say about all this? Surprisingly very little; of substance anyway. Only Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey have thoroughly attempted to prove Jesus’ historical existence in recent times.

Their most decisive point? The Gospels can generally be trusted – after we ignore the many, many bits that are untrustworthy – because of the hypothetical (i.e. non-existent) sources behind them.

Who produced these hypothetical sources? When? What did they say? Were they reliable? Were they intended to be accurate historical portrayals, enlightening allegories, or entertaining fictions?

Ehrman and Casey can’t tell you – and neither can any New Testament scholar.

Given the poor state of the existing sources, and the atrocious methods used by mainstream Biblical historians, the matter will likely never be resolved. In sum, there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence – if not to think it outright improbable. (Believe half-truths, partial quotes out of context and logical fallacies if you want. Or read my article that is fully referenced:


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