Jesus Challenge on WEIT

On the Why Evolution Is True (WEIT) site, guest post writer and frequent commenter, Ben Goren has posed a thorough six step challenge to those who believe that Jesus was a historical figure:

  1. Start with a clear, concise, unambiguous definition of who Jesus was. Do the Gospels offer a good biography of him? Was he some random schmuck of a crazy street preacher whom nobody would even thought to have noticed? Was he a rebel commando, as I’ve even heard some argue?
  2. Offer positive evidence reliably dated to within a century or so of whenever you think Jesus lived that directly supports your position. Don’t merely cite evidence that doesn’t contradict it; if, for example, you were to claim that Jesus was a rebel commando, you’d have to find a source that explicitly says so.
  3. Ancient sources being what they are, there’s an overwhelming chance that the evidence you choose to support your theory will also contain significant elements that do not support it. Take a moment to reconcile this fact in a plausible manner. What criteria do you use to pick and choose?
  4. There will be lots of other significant pieces of evidence that contradict your hypothetical Jesus. Even literalist Christians have the Apocrypha to contend with, and most everybody else is comfortable observing widespread self-contradiction merely within the New Testament itself. Offer a reasonable standard by which evidence that contradicts your own position may be dismissed, and apply it to an example or two.
  5. Take at least a moment to explain how Jesus could have gone completely unnoticed by all contemporary writers (especially those of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, and the various Roman Satirists) yet is described in the New Testament as an otherworldly larger-than-life divine figure who was spectacularly publicly active throughout the region.
  6. Last, as validation, demonstrate your methods reliable by applying them to other well-known examples from history. For example, compare and contrast another historical figure with an ahistorical figure using your standards.

If you’d like to participate in the discussion or just read what people are saying, head over to the site.

If you want to know more about the historicity of Jesus, Richard Carrier is probably one of the best scholars to consult. A search at his site will reveal his thoughts on the topic.

23 thoughts on “Jesus Challenge on WEIT

  1. So… a former usenet troll is challenging people who read an atheist blog to write an executive summary of a doctoral level thesis about the historicity of jesus… yeah that sounds like time well spent.

    Or maybe he could do some research into the consensus of actual historians… nah. Pageviews for the win.

  2. 1. Jesus is the lead character the good-news trilogy, plus one latter re-write.
    2. Jesus appeared in the minds of the trilogy writers sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem; a historical event that Jesus had prophesied.
    3. The historical Jesus is corroborated by the Imperial historian who’s nom deplume was Josephus.
    4. Several Imperial court writers and historians commented on the historical existence of Jesus as an actual human being a few centuries later.
    5. Philo, Pliny and Suetonius were among the hundred’s of Imperial court scribes, parchment tanners, scroll whittlers, ink chemists, shipping department slaves, Imperial mail carriers and Imperial Church Bishops responsible for the dissemination of Christianity in the later centuries.

    This is the consensus of some of the Internet sites dealing with the authorship of this material.

    Then there are the conservative sites who take a more magical approach to the publication of this widely disseminated and rarely read work.

    • I believe the point Goren is hinting at is that what everyone thinks is historically true about Jesus isn’t.

      For example – and it’s been a long time since i’ve read this stuff, so my memory may be a little fuzzy – there are two mentions of Jesus in Josephus’s histories. One is a hilariously blatant Christian forgery – like it has the Jewish Josephus referring to Jesus as “lord” or “saviour” or something like that and talking about how he might not have really been human. The other is not so obvious a forgery… but it refers to the previous mention which is, so, you do the math. Even among mainstream research into a historical Jesus, which is famously overly credulous, the mentions in Josephus are considered mostly fraudulent.

      As for the other mentions: no, “several Imperial court writers and historians” did *NOT* comment on the historical existence of Jesus. There were debates that raged for hundreds of years over whether Jesus was an ordinary human or divine, but these didn’t *start* until the third century. In the entire first century and most of the second there are literally maybe a half-dozen secular references that *might* be vaguely interpreted as *possibly* relating to Jesus – and Josephus alone is two of those references. I can’t remember Philo, but I do remember Pliny and Suetonius. Both of them were writing about *Christians* – not Jesus – and gave absolutely no evidence that Jesus was real. Most of the references don’t actually refer to Jesus at all, and those that do merely say things like “Christians are a cult that worships Jesus”… which proves Jesus’s existence as much as saying “Aetherians are a cult that worships Aetherius” proves Aehterius’s existence.

      • What you are saying is much closer to the history available than what I wrote. There just isn’t much data to go on.
        Some sites, taking a literary criticism approach rather than an analytical historical approach, try to interpret what the gospels say in conjunction with what Josephus and Suetonius wrote.
        These sites conjecture that Philo and Pliny were probably in on the creation of Christianity: hence the anonymous ascription of Matthew Mark and Luke.

  3. Diana, I’m afraid you do yourself and Canadian Atheist a disservice by referring your readers to Richard Carrier, or, for that matter, by repeating Ben Goren’s guest post at whyevolutionistrue as containing anything of substance. The so-called quest for an historical Jesus has a long scholarly history, in which the attempt is made to discern, within the historical record, the existence or non-existence of Jesus, whether the divine Christ is the accretion of a mythology around an historical person who carried on a prophetic ministry in early first century Galilee and Judaea, or whether he is a purely mythological figure. It seems, for some reason, that atheists think this is necessary in order to defeat the claims of Christians, yet, from the very start, the quest for the historical Jesus took it for granted that whoever was found at the end of the quest, if historical, would be an ordinary person to whom apocalyptic legends were attached. The scholars who have dealt with this question are legion, but very few of them would consider Jesus, even when they think that he existed as an historical person, as in any way a divine. Indeed, finding the historical person is more likely to defuse the idea of a Christ of faith than otherwise.

    Besides this, Ben Goren’s challenge is ill-formed, since it assumes that one can start out with some kind of definition of what we will find. This is a sure way to start out with biases. History is seldom done this way. One assumption any historian would make is that, whatever we may say about any figure who counts as historical could not also be a supernatural figure, since history does not allow for such things.

    But take the first step of Goren’s challenge. Suppose we were to start off a history of World War I by presupposing that the war was (or was not) inevitable, and that the system of alliances simple made it unavoidable. If we start out with this assumption, is it likely that we would come to the conclusion that it was not inevitable? Indeed, wouldn’t we already be prejudiced in our reading of our source material? This is precisely what Albert Schweitzer complained about regarding the quest for the historical Jesus: the questers found what they were looking for, a figure who matched their own moral ideals. Dominic Crossan writes a book about Jesus entitled “The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant.” One writer rightly objects that he merely assumes this, but does not show that Jesus or his followers were peasants. So, if we start off with a definition, we are likely to end up with what we were looking for. The rest of his challenge is composed of statements which state Ben Goren’s presuppositions about what will be found. This is scarcely a dispassionate way to do history.

    As for Richard Carrier, he has very little credibility as an historical Jesus scholar. If anyone is really interested, they should consult a survey like Theissen and Merz’s The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide. This is a scholarly work, and does not start off with Carrier’s rather odd philosophy of history based on Bayes’ Theorem, which has no support from the guild of historians.

    • Starting off with the idea that Jesus Christ simply isn’t historical may be rash but it probably is true.

      We have had a few millenniums to sort this out.

      If the Romans just created the story as a mock Jewish Messianic joke it shouldn’t be too surprising.

      Keep in mind that the Romans did a real holocaust thing and followed up by absconding all the Jew’s scriptural material.

      Having near sole possession of the holy material and brutally destroying any competing war records put them in total control of the histories and the religions throughout the empire.

      Most religious discussion sounds like a big elaborate name-game interspersed with elaborate calls to appeals to authorities.

      I realize you have little other recourse but I try to dispense with both of these culturally imbued demands.

    • Hi Eric, I don’t think it really is a disservice. I think there was a lot if discussion in the WEIT thread and readers of this site would be interested in viewing what many participants, you among them, had to say on the matter if they are interested in the historical Jesus.

  4. Tim, whether or not it is true, starting off with that assumption, being rash, is simply not on historically. The only way to get to the bedrock of history here is to analyse the documents that we have (and they are very considerable, more considerable than we have for many other ancient figures), and try to determine, based on a sound historical analysis, what is or is not likely to be historical. Starting off with assumptions is a sure fired way of finding what you start off with. This is not the way that history is supposed to be done. What we are looking for is what is true historically, not what any individual may believe or want to be true or false.

    What do you mean by this?:

    Keep in mind that the Romans did a real holocaust thing and followed up by absconding all the Jew’s scriptural material.

    Since the empire was not a bureaucracy, and actual Roman records are few and far between, how do you come to this conclusion? There is a tradition that during the Second Jewish war (Bar Kochba rebellion, around 117 or so), some Pharisees (the forerunners of Rabbinic Judaism) were allowed out of the besieged city of Jerusalem to set up a religious colony at Yavneh. Presumably they took much of their own literature along with them before the Temple was destroyed and Jews banned from the city (when it became Aeolia Capitolina).

    There is a lot of historical material from this period, and it is not, as you suggest, a name game interspersed with appeal to authorities. Indeed, from the very start (with Reimarus d. 1764), historical Jesus studies has been marked more by scepticism than by authoritative pronouncements.

    As to having had a few millennia to sort this out, critical study of the Bible did not begin until the 17th century (with Spinoza), and has developed, with new discoveries, methods and conclusions, since then. And contrary to what you suggest, there is an abundance of data to go on. Compare this with the exiguous data we have for the early Greek philosphers, for example, or for many ancient historical figures, and it amounts to a mountain by comparison. The problem lies in sorting the material out into historically credible sources vs those which have no historical value. In this area, disputes, analyses and theories abound.

  5. From the mid first century we only have the ‘Gospels’ and ‘The War of the Jews’.
    There are later writers who were all Imperial Court associates or friends. Lots of inside jokes.
    The Dead Sea Scrolls are alien to Roman Christianity.
    The nostics buried their alternative Jesus tales; most likely out of fear.
    Jesus may be a worthy literary research subject but probably not even a weak historical research subject.
    There is no history or archeology to research.
    I hate to site authorities but you may like Rod Blackhurst’s (spelling) youtube presentation on something he calls The Flavian Hypothesis.

  6. First off, there is absolute no historical basis for the so-called Falvian Hypohtesis. There is a great deal more historical value in the gospels that we have than is supposed in the internet debate about the historical Jesus. It is not clear that the gnostics hid their gospels, except insofar as Gnosticism included a theory of a spiritual elite, and therefore kept their doctrines secret from the uninitiated or the undeserving. However, we do have a number of gnostic gospels or fragmenst thereof, which are studied by Elaine Pagels, amongst others. The study of the historical Jesus, like the study of any ancient figures, is often very difficult, and depends upon isolating the earliest documents we have, and showing their independence. The histories of the early Greek philosophers suffers from the same limitations, and yet are legitimate figures for historical study. Blackhurst is not, whatever you might say, an authority on this issue. If you are really looking for a reliable survey of the historical Jesus study you should consult the book already suggested by Theissen and Merz. There is, in fact, lots of history to research, if not archaeology.

  7. It makes very little difference if Socrates existed or not. His work is independent of his existence. He didn’t die so we could have an afterlife. He did his work so we could profit from his questions (possibly). Pretending to know that he existed is of no value to anyone.

  8. Wasn’t talking about Socrates, but about Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, etc. But Socrates is an interesting theoretical case from the standpoint of history. We have mainly three witnesses: Plato, Xenophanes, and Aristophanes; and they each give a very different picture of Socrates. In one sense, of course, history doesn’t do anything for anyone, if you take history as just informing us about things we did not know before. But if you think about history in terms of the advance of knowledge, then it is of great importance, and it is absurd simply to say that it makes no difference. Indeed, Socrates’ work is not independent of the evidence we have, since we have nothing from Socrates’ own hand. We don’t know whether Plato’s representation of him is reliable or whether Xenophanes or Aristophanes are closer to the original. That is something for historians to decide based on the indirect evidence that we have. The same is very similar to the witnesses we have for Jesus. There seem to be a number of independent witnesses, and the question is, taking the evidence provided by these witnesses, what kind of a man was he? I’m assuming, along with the generality of scholars, that he did exist. That may be wrong, but wrong or right, it has to be based on evidence. So far, the answer is by no means certain, but, of course, history never provides us with certainty. We can only come as close as our sources allow us to come, and this is what the quest for the historical Jesus is all about, just like the quest for the historical Socrates.

  9. Well, Veronica, they are a number of independent documents which were used to construct the three Synoptic gospels, plus a number of other documents, related to, but apparently independent of any of the documentary background of the gospels which reflect similar sayings traditions. Some of these documents (including the Gospel of Thomas which, surprisingly, for a supposed Gnostic gospel, has no records of miracles, and was discovered sometime, I believe in the 1950s) were discovered in the twentieth century. These have been fairly thoroughly analysed and discussed in scholarly literature that is now much longer than it would take anyone a lifetime to read. Besides this, there are some early witnesses amongst the early (so-called) Church Fathers who repeat so-called agrapha (unknown sayings of Jesus which are consistent with these existing sources). Besides this, there are a number of historical references to Jesus (or Christ) by Roman authors, including Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger (Governor of Bithynia), where the latter wrote to the Emperor Trajan about Christians who met on Sunday and worshipped Christ “as” a God (and you can scarcely worship “as” a god something that is other than a person — or some physical object, though Pliny was talking of someone named Christ). Jesus’ crucifixion is often mentioned as having taken place while Pilate was Prefect of Judaea. In fact, almost the only historical notice taken of Pilate is in connexion with the crucifixion, though of course Philo — and I believe Josephus — mention him as well. There is enough independent evidence here which, in the judgement of many scholars (including the mythologiser G. A. Wells), is enough to secure the place of Jesus as an historical person living in first century Palestine. There seems little reason to doubt that Jesus (apart from the Jewish apocalyptic mythology which came to be attached to him) was a genuine Jewish teacher of the first century who was, for some offence against the Romans, crucified while Pilate was Prefect. No one doubts that the theological overlay is unhistorical, though it is possible that his followers might have believed him to be the Messiah of Jewish expectation, and identification which later coloured accounts of his life and death (and prompted the idea of the resurrection, though of course, it is always possible that the resurrection reflects a genuine religious experience which Jesus’ followers had when they were together after his death).

  10. There are not a number of independent documents. You’re talking about the apocrypha. A religious story doesn’t become “independent” merely by virtue of being rejected by Council of Nicaea. A religious myth remains a religious myth even if it is shrugged off by the mainstream of that religion.

    There are absolutely no references to Jesus by any extant authorities. None. Zero. Zip. There is only one in the entire first century, and that is the clearly fraudulent insertion in Josephus’s writings (and even that was written a half-century after the alleged crucifixion date).

    Comparing that to the “quest for the historical Socrates” is disingenuous at best, deliberately misleading at worst. First of all, if all we had was the writings of Plato and Xenophon (not Xenophanes), then there would be a problem because they both worshipped Socrates (metaphorically speaking). Even then, unlike the Gospels, the differences in Plato’s and Xenophon’s accounts were mostly matters of interpretation – they don’t disagree on the objective facts – but it would still be problematic if the *only* sources we had were either disciples or those repeating the claims of disciples.

    But that’s not the case. We have Aristophanes, who was certainly not a disciple. He *mocked* Socrates. He portrayed him as a sophist con man. He called him fat, dirty, and bald. This is telling, because it means that Plato’s and Xenophon’s claims that Socrates had an impact is true – to end up being satirized in a play, you have to be a fairly well-known person.

    So already we’re way better off in the historical record than with Jesus. Unlike with Jesus, we have multiple contemporary sympathetic witnesses who all agree on the objective facts (while differing in their interpretations of the facts), *and* we have a contemporary unsympathetic witness whose version of the facts actually jibes quite well (albeit interpreted in a much less flattering way). We could stop there and say there’s no contest… but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Because the reality is we have *DOZENS* of contemporary mentions of Socrates – not just the three sources – including people he worked with, and people he fought with when he was a soldier. And even more importantly, none of these sources disagree with each other on the substantive points, and virtually all of these sources either refer to each other or – crucially – are attributed to by yet other sources.

    At this point, we’ve well-cleared the threshold where doubting the existence of Socrates can be called ridiculous.

    Now let’s look at the case for Jesus.

    There is literally no-one who claimed to have known Jesus. There is literally no-one who claimed to have even *spoken* to anyone who claimed to have known Jesus. There is literally no mention of Jesus by *any* contemporary writings, at all.

    The *first* writings mentioning Jesus (that we have) don’t appear until *at least* 20 years after his supposed death. And even then, the earliest documents were apparently not actually records of a living Jesus, but rather sayings and teachings (that would include the Gospel of Thomas, and the hypothetical Q document(s)), and of course Paul’s letters – and Paul flat-out stated he never met Jesus nor spoke to anyone who did (he got his information about Jesus via visions). Stop and think what that means for a second. Imagine someone walking around today saying they wanted to carry on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and telling everyone what King really wanted when they had never met King. How well do you think that would go? Do you think that the people who actually knew King would let that slide? We know there was a struggle between Peter and Paul for influence in the early Church (at Antioch)… think about how that could possibly have gone down had Jesus been real and Peter someone who actually hung out with him.

    The first mentions of Jesus as a historical person don’t start until ~35 years after his alleged death. That would be Mark, but note that the writer of Mark never once claims to have been a witness to Jesus’s life, nor do they cite any kind of source for their tale… and even more damning is the fact that there are things in Mark that no one could have possibly witnessed (how the hell could he have witnessed the trial?). Not long after Mark we start getting other Gospels – Matthew, Peter, Luke – which all use Mark and expand on it. The problem is that most of their additions are bullshit. For example, Jesus was apparently born while Herod reigned, but after the census of Quirinius… neat trick given that the census was done a decade after Herod’s death.

    The bottom line is that not a single word was written by *anyone* in the decades following Jesus’s supposed life and death, who claimed to have met Jesus or even to have met someone who knew him. All we have are things either written by people who flat out admitted they never knew him, or things that are clearly fabrications… and we have not a single thing written by anyone “correcting” any errors made by those sources, or putting their own spin on a set of objectively agreed facts. For Socrates we have his fanboys fawning over him… but we also have Aristophanes giving his spin (not to mention other sources). For Jesus, there’s not even a single instance of his opponents mocking him… do you really think it’s plausible that a man walked around Judea claiming to be godly because he was born of a virgin, and not a *single* commentator would have taken the opportunity to call his mom a lying slut? We have records of people mocking Socrates by calling him fat, bald and, smelly… but not a single anti-Jesus writer calling him scrawny, ugly, or whatever else? We have records of fierce battles for influence in the early Church… and not a single person claiming authority by virtue of – ya know – actually having heard the man himself speak?

    By the time we come to the sources you keep repeating, pretty much a hundred years have passed, so these are automatically not contemporary sources. Even worse, all the sources you list either give absolutely no information about Jesus at all… or merely repeat the Gospels. Both Suetonius and Pliny are cases of the former – both are talking about *Christians*, not Jesus, and only mention Jesus in the sense of “Christians are people who worship Jesus”. That’s not evidence of existence, as i’ve already explained, so i don’t know why you keep repeating those examples. Tacitus is an example of the later – he actually talks about Jesus himself, but he only repeats the Gospel account. And he’s writing a hundred years after the fact. That’s as if i wrote a history book about the day we beat the Martians, using only H. G. Wells as my source. (Also, Tacitus was actually writing about Christians, too – not Jesus. His mention of Jesus is literally only a single sentence, noting wryly that he and his followers were alike in their propensity to piss off Rome and get executed, and it’s probably just him showing off that he’s done his research, and for the lulz.)

    The fact is, there is absolutely zero evidence for the existence of Jesus. Absolutely… zero. This is obviously not proof that he was a myth, but it is completely wrong to claim that it is reasonable to believe that he existed. That is the traditional view, yes, but as the cases of Jericho and the Exodus have taught us, the traditional view can quite easily be complete bullshit.

    • Actually, in order for this to be a relatively thorough albeit short criticism, I think one would have to include some mention of whether or not there even exists texts at all, for the period and location, of the type that one would expect to have mentioned Jesus. It’s not quite honest to say there are no texts mentioning jesus if there are not even any texts (or barely any texts) at all anyway. I think a proper analysis would be in the vain of ‘look, there are all these tons of texts from, in, or mentioning the area, AND none of them mention Jesus.’
      Just to nitpick.

      Another good form to take would be an analysis of whether or not the practice of fictional religious hero worship of the poor everyman variety was a common practice for the area and the time.

      • None of that is necessary. You seem to be confused. I am not making any positive claims – I am just pointing out that there is no existence of a historical Jesus. That does not mean Jesus certainly does not exist, but it certainly does mean that anyone who says he certainly did is full of crap.

        For the record, despite what some apologists claim, there is a *wealth* of data from the period. We have detailed histories of all the shenanigans that went on as Judea, Syria, and the Levant were passed around various leaders under Roman rule, and we even have records of other Jews who gathered up followers and were eventually executed at the same time as Jesus supposedly did… even though none of them actually had followers that worshipped them as gods. But no Jesus. Not a single word. Not by his followers, not by his enemies. Nothing.

        Regardless, the burden of proof is not on me to prove that there *should* have been documentation of Jesus. The plain fact is: there is none. That’s it – that’s the point. There is no evidence – whether or not there *should* have been is irrelevant (in this context), because the fact that there is no evidence means that anyone who tries to claim he actually existed (and even worse, tries to reconstruct his life) is full of crap.

  11. Indi, thanks for the correction about Xenophon. Other than that I can’t make head nor tail of your comment. Dating the gospels isn’t without its problems, but Mark was in existence by the early 70s of the first century, and it seems clear that it was based on sayings sources which he organised in a theological way. The other gospels were probably in existence by the end of the first century, and the much more mythological account in John by the last decade of the first or the first decade of the second century. In other words, before 100 years since the death of Jesus. If Jesus didn’t exist, it would be hard to say how far these documents are from their source, or what ‘contemporary’ means in this context. In any event, it is clear that Matthew and Luke had other sources than Mark, which must therefore have been in existence before they were written, just as Mark was, and there is no sign that Mark and Q (the supposed common source of Matthew and Luke) were not independent. Therefore, there are at least two independent sources for Matthew and Luke … And we could go on. Your claim that there is no evidence at all is simply not borne out by the facts. These are difficult questions, no doubt, but just saying something with emphasis doesn’t make it true, and you certainly don’t provide any evidence for the claims that you make. The fact that Roman writers refer to a figure named Jesus, Christ (Tacitus — who also mentions that this man ways crucified by Pilate), or Chrestus (Suetonius), and that Pliny says that this person is worshipped “as” a god, suggests that, from Pliny’s point of view this person was an ordinary man, which at least suggests that there may be a real person at the heart of Christian ritual practices. In any event, saying that something is not a “contemporary” source says very little. It is probable that, if the early Christian community was an uneducated one, the immediately contemporary sources would have been largely oral. Also there is the fact that remembering sayings of Jesus would be remembered in connexion with community needs, so, certainly, there may be adaptations and modifications. But this does nothing to show that, once they were written down, Jesus’ sayings were not the sayings, or at least the remembered sayings of a person. Since together they form a fairly formidable body of work, in which many of the sources display an independence from one another, suggests that there may reasonably be thought to have been a person at their centre.

    From a non-believing point of view this makes no difference, for the supernatural elements attached to the story are obviously myth making at work. Acknowledging that there may have been a real person at the heart of the myth making is saying no more than that a Jewish teacher, who came to be thought of as a Jewish prophetic figure or even as the Messiah, existed at some point. Since there is a very extensive scholarly literature on the subject, showing so much unnecessary scepticism and contempt is not particularly reasonable, which is what I thought atheists were supposed to be.

  12. To repeat what i said: although there was a church apparently big enough for there to be various factions arguing theological points by ~50 CE… which is just 20 years after the alleged crucifixion… there is not one single document from anyone who is claiming to use what Jesus actually said or did to bolster their argument. I mean, Paul actually admits he only knew Jesus through visions, yet there he was dictating theology and even disagreeing with *Peter* – who supposedly travelled with the guy – yet we have nothing written by Peter or any of his supports that says, “fuck Paul, Peter actually *knew* Jesus”. (Also, Paul does not actually refer to any events or teachings that appear in the gospels, which would make sense if the gospels are fiction since he was writing ~20 years before Mark, but makes absolutely no sense if they’re historical.)

    The only writings about Jesus that we have or have any evidence of in the entire first century are Mark – which could very well be a story – Paul’s letters – which repeatedly implies Jesus wasn’t actually a recent historical person – and then several “sayings” books, like Thomas and the hypothetical Q. The thing with the “sayings” books is that they do not, in any way, have anything to do with a historical Jesus; they’re just collections of teachings. That’s what Matthew and Luke used when they expanded on Mark’s story.

    And no, a century after the events is not “contemporary”. A contemporary writer would be a letter from someone saying something like: “You know that Christian cult that’s getting big now? My buddy Maximus actually met the guy they worship, before he was crucified. He was a bit a putz.” We have letters like that for just about historical figure of the time – from Herod the Great to Herod Antipas, to Pilate – even other Jewish “rebels” who gathered crowds and were eventually executed, like Simon and Jacob. But not a single thing for Jesus.

    What you’re trying to tell me is plausible is that for almost a hundred years, a man that was followed around by thousands, met major leaders of Judea, got executed in dramatic fashion and within 10 years of his death was worshipped as a god… yet not… one… single… follower – *or* detractor – bothered to write or preserve one… single… word… about him. That’s absolutely ridiculous.

    And as for your sources, once again: Tacitus was writing almost a hundred years (~110 CE) after the alleged crucifixion (~30 CE). His account, which is all of 13 words, contains nothing that, by then, wasn’t already well known from the Gospels. It is quite plausible that he just assumed – just as modern readers do – that the stories were historical, and had no other real sources. He certainly didn’t seem to care much about Jesus as a historical figure beyond that. All of the others say literally *nothing* about Jesus – they are talking about Christians, and just remark in passing that they worship some dude named Jesus (or Christ or Chrestus or whatever). That is no more evidence of Jesus’s existence than “Scientologists believe in Xenu” is evidence of Xenu’s. Furthermore, Pliny again was writing almost a hundred years after the fact, and Suetonius’s reference is just plain wrong: he claims “Chrestus” was alive at the time of the expulsion of the Christians from Rome… which could actually be true, because “Chrestus” was a common name.

    These “sources” are all crap. Every single one of them is either falsified, a century or more after the events, basing their “facts” on the gospel stories, and/or just plain wrong. The fact that we have absolutely *NOTHING* contemporary, and *NOTHING* that doesn’t just repeat the Gospel claims (when the Gospels themselves are demonstrably ahistorical), is beyond ridiculous. If Jesus really existed, and really had been executed ~30 CE – even if absolutely nothing else at all is true – then it is absolutely implausible to suggest that there would have been a community of Christians in Rome big enough to attract the personal attention of *two* Emperors ten (Claudius) and thirty (Nero) years after the crucifixion… but *NOBODY* wrote a single word about an extant, human Jesus in all that time (because Mark wouldn’t come along until 40 years after the crucifixion).

    And let me be clear, I’m not claiming he was a myth. I don’t even need to (and don’t care to). I’m just pointing out that anyone who claims he *isn’t* is full of shit. All these long-winded theories about how he was some itinerant street-preacher or a rebel commando… all of them are pulled right out of people’s asses. Because there is not… one… single… shred of evidence about a historical Jesus. If we apply the same standard of evidence for Jesus as we dd for Robin Hood, King Arthur, Hercules, or Romulus and Remus, we would have no trouble shrugging him off as likely mythical. But no, Jesus is “special”, for some reason.

  13. Indi, I don’t think it’s worthwhile responding to your diatribe, and the rather crude way you have of dismissing those who believe, on pretty sound grounds, that there is sufficient evidence that a man named Jesus existed. It’s just composed of assertion, as though that were enough to settle the matter. Trust me, history is done by patient and exhaustive study, and does not dwell with those who think that asserting their own prejudices is enough to establish the truth.

    • In other words, i have provided so much evidence against your position that you can no longer pretend it is reasonable, so your only recourse is a parting ad hominem shot so you can try to pretend to retain some dignity while you slink away to hide from the evidence, and cling to your beliefs.

  14. Last spring in Ottawa we had a discussion (not quite a debate) between mythicist Richard Carrier and historicist Zeba Crook (Carleton prof of religion, also an atheist). The video is here (go to 11:00 to skip the intros)

  15. No, Indi, that’s not the case. You never provided an argument, or any proof for your point of view. Just reread your last comment. Saying something is crap doesn’t make it true. Saying that there is no evidence doesn’t make it so. And contradicting yourself is, for those for whom logic is important, a crushing indictment of your position. You are making claims for which you have no evidence. Based on your “argument” such as it is, it would be impossible to reasonably argue that Heraclitus, Parmenides, Thales, or Zeno existed. This is an historical question, not a religious one, and you have to base yourself reasonably on historical premises. Saying that there are no independent sources is contested by almost all the authorities in the field. Saying this is crap is showing ignorance, not displaying either the truth or even trying to.

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