I see this question asked a lot in this forum. Is it possible to get a discussion going where we can put this question to bed once and for all among atheist? It's so obvious to me that the answer is no, he didn't exist and is total mythology.
Your goal is worthwhile and ambitious. I don't know if you will but this question to bed. It's also not as simple as it looks -
1. I think that most atheists will accept that Of course, the Jesus who is the son of god / is god / born in Bethlehem / resurrected, did not exist.
2. Some will say that the entire character is fictional, made up for various reasons, or the product of wishful thinking.
3. Some will say that there were various men who existed, and had the characterists of Jesus but not divine. Maybe he was psychotic, maybe he was the first hippy, maybe he was a spiritual scholar. I don't know if this matters.
Regardless of whether the Jesus of the Bible was completely made up, a transformation of much older myths, retold tales of a man or men who existed but whose legends grew, I don't think you'll find many atheists who really think he existed.
It would be nice to show actual that Jesus did not exist but that is nearly impossible. The problem is that means we shift the burden of proof from where it belongs. It is better to point out that that no contemporary evidence of Jesus exists. We know of no writing about him dated to when he supposedly lived or have writing in his own hand. It is best never to put yourself in a defensive position.
We can't be on the offense. the traditional line is too prevalent. It has to be attacked and subdued. If you ask a Christian to prove that Jesus existed they will just refer to the bible. The more intellectual ones will bring up Josephus, who's existence is also suspect.
What you can do is point out that the only evidence for any of these characters is biblical; the bible has been in control by religious/political authorities without independent review, since it was put together by people with a religious agenda in earlier times; and that even the reports within the bible have contradiction with one another.
I think it's reasonable to accept that a man with name something like Yeshua bar Yosef MAY have existed in the C1st CE, possibly dying some time in the reign of Tiberius.. (14-37CE) There are no vowels in written Hebrew, so the choices are fascinating . "Jesus" is Roman; there is no "j" in Hebrew.
He may have been a rabbi,who founded small JEWISH sect. There is nothing in the teachings ascribed to Jesus which are antithetical to Judaism. The sect Jesus allegedly founded was exclusively Jewish for over 5o years. To join one HAD to first be Jewish or convert. This included being circumcised and following ALL of Mosaic law. ( the full 613 mitzvot, not just the piddly 10)
The gospel writers,and Saul removed the hard bits of Judaism to allow gentiles to join. Saul even made it especially attractive to slaves,women and the poor. He invented stuff and borrowed bits of pagan beliefs to come up with a novel religion which appealed especially to the marginalised; slaves,women and the poor. Perhaps his spiffiest inventions were the notions of eternal heaven and hell,ideas not present in traditional Judaism.
I have little doubt that the Jesus of the New Testament is a complete fabrication. To what degree the fabrication was intentional is moot.
Ohh, please don't use any references to the bible to verify these claims. The bible is the root cause of the problem and all of the evidence that validates Christianity and Jesus seems to always veer back to the bible.
Did Paul ever meet Jesus? What about the other gospel writers?
Bart Ehrman says that Gospels weren't written by their namesakes, and that whoever wrote the gospels would have to have been educated and had a lot of leisure time on their hands (most people had to work consistently; if you had the money for education, chances are you didn't have to work, either), which obviously is not a description of the Gospel writers. My devout Fundamentalist friend said that one of the four was a physician, so he would have been educated, and that the other was ..well, something damnit, someone educated. I don't believe I buy that; even physicians in THIS day may not be able to write well, and besides, that's only two of the four. Are there any other points to add to this?
Did Jesus Exist? I'm torn. Though it wouldn't bother me if they could prove that a Jesus existed back in those times. Doesn't mean much beyond being a concrete link to a mythology.
Here's the opinion (which I liked) of one reader who was leaving feedback on "The Jesus Puzzle" by Robert Price (it is also possible that the reader could be summarizing the book, haven't read it yet, so don't know):
The Jesus of the Gospels never existed as translated (more often mistranslated), instead, another Jesus did-same name, different biography, one which peeks out here and there in the gospels, but whose real and complete story is still missing and may never be found.
I could reiterate all of the errors and contradictions, the Greek words which translations have been slanted (Almah, Betulah, Anepsios, Adelphos, etc., etc.), the error of Qyrenius as governor during Mary's pregnancy, and many, many, more. The key in the 5400 fragments and entire gospels now extant, are the consistent changes over the centuries, the stories dropped and added, the reality that the earliest Gospels being copies of copies, of copies, of copies and even they were from the second century. The unearthing of the Nag Hammadi with it's rich variety of gospels, buried in the second century or later displayed a somewhat different Jesus-a Jesus with a ready temper and a Jesus with an affection for Mary Magdalene, but not even these are the true solution to the Jesus mystery. Contemporary with Jesus were men like Honi the Circle Drawer, Hanninah ben Dosa, and Apollonius of Tyana, the former two Jews, the latter a Roman, all of whose works were amazingly similar, if not duplicates to those of Jesus, and there was also the 'unknown prophet', another man named Jesus who for several years disturbed the peace by shouting a prophecy of the razing of Jerusalem to come soon. This Jesus was arrested and scourged, let go and shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem and subsequently was killed by an errant catapult shot.
Honi the Circle Drawer, Hanninah ben Dosa, and Apollonius of Tyana, all healed the blind, raised the dead, cured the lame, but stopped short of their own resurrection.
The reality of Jesus existence is not the question, he did exist, the question is, why were not the apostles and everyone he knew crucified with him? Crucifying the only the leader of any movement is unprecedented in Roman crime and punishment. They crucified 6,000 of Spartacus' followers, and acted consistently in like manner, but why did they ignore Jesus' followers?
They did because Jesus was not crucified for his religious beliefs, but because his call for The Year of the Lord in Jerusalem, which was a call for the Jubilee Year in which landlords and land commercializers like the Herodian Priests owned land in violation of their code and were most likely dealing with corrupt lower level Roman officials-the consequeces of such ownership is death for treason and misuse of office. The pay back for these violations was stoning for the priests and worse for the corrupt Romans. That is the only explanation for the quick arrest and murder of Jesus-they did not want him to expand on his "Jubilee Year" theme, it would have meant returning seized lands to the families of those from which the exploited lands were taken. There were ample disagreements among various priestly sects and the Pharisees were, in contradiction of the Gospels, actually in agreement with Jesus on immortality, the soul, angels and more, while the Sadducees agreed with none of that. Religious differences arguments were as common among the Rabbis in Jesus era as they are today.
The Christian myth of Jesus being sent by his Father to absorb sin and die for them is illogical. Could a near omnipotent Creator to need to send a redeemer is a puzzle. The God who supposedly created a functioning engine, an electro-mechanical universe of immense proportions riding on a quantum, and every creature within, all of which function within their environment, perfectly in tune with an evolutionary cycle, be perfect at the engineering of the universe and everything within it, but a failure in his design of man, strikes one as an incredibly false note.
Jesus, the one who lived in the years from about 4 BC to about 25 AD-29 AD, seems, from the available material, including Jewish Talmud, Midrash, and related writings, to have been a prophet, perhaps a messiah, but the `Good News' he brought was a reminder of immortality, which some sects denied, not that he was to die for their sins, although in a way, blood ransom was a popular theological belief.
In summary, in my studies and research, the Jesus who lived and the Jesus of the gospels differ in one respect, the itinerant preacher healer was one of several of his genre, and the gospels present a semi-fictional figure whose present day persona is more a creation of Paul, Augustine, Athanasius, Tertullian, Origen, and codified by Constantine's influence and need for order and conformity. The Greeks and other Gentiles had no comprehension of "Messiah" they would buy nothing less than a god as their leader, and so the human with divine powers, one of several of his era, was reborn as a god/God.
You are confusing me. First you say you're not sure he existed, then you go on to say he did exist. Your claims are very abstract and based on nothing that can be independently verified, that I'm aware of. it would be great if you provide your sources for your research. I wonder why you haven't read the Jesus Puzzle that you reference? You sound like you have a stake in upholding the Jesus myth. Are you a Christian?