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Apparently you can't do polls on here.... but

Do any of you think that Jesus actually existed? What do category do you fall into?

A. Believed he existed, claims are false

B. Believed he existed, claims are exaggerated

C. Don't believe he existed

D. Believe he existed, claims are true (sorry had to leave the idiot category open)

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I find the whole issue of Jesus’ alleged birth to be particularly interesting.
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a CITY of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.(Luke1.26,27)
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the CITY of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David:
(Luke 2.3,4)

The story is nonsense on several levels, first there is no record that the city of Nazareth existed before the 2nd century CE. This assumption may have been made with the reference "Jesus the Nazarene" - the Nazarenes were an offshoot sect of the Essenes. Next is the fact that Galilee was not a Roman province and would have no reason to respond to a Roman census. And finally, there is no record of Augustus or any emperor conducting a census (the Romans taxed property not individuals). So except for those minor issues the story seems acceptable to the deluded.
There's a big difference between believing and knowing. I believe (suspect, actually) he possibly may have existed. I know that if he did exist almost everything ever written about him was written by people born long after he was killed, based on stories repeated over and over and then the writings were edited and redacted into incomprehensibility by people with political agendas.
And the story of the virgin birth? I bet even Jesus himself knew that wasn't true, but it kept his mom from being stoned to death, so he was probably more than willing to play along with it.
The "virgin birth" is a mistranslation. The word in Isaiah is not "betulah" (virgin) but "'alma" (young woman, maiden).
That's fine, but the virgin birth of Jesus is not described in Isaiah.
Isaiah 7:14. This is where the early church (ie. Constantine, Eusebius, and their successors) got the virgin birth idea. This is one of the "prophesies" that Jesus was claimed to fulfill.
Ah, gotcha. Yes, that might be where they got the idea.
That said, Isaiah 7:14 was not regarded as a prophecy by Jews of the time; the same goes for many other passages in Isaiah that Jesus supposedly fulfilled: many of them were never meant to be prophecies at all. They only came to be interpreted that way by Christians.

That's why it's dubious that the legend arose simply as a means of fulfilling prophecy.
No, "prophecy" was a very convenient way to shore up a new form of government, contrived by Constantine and Eusebius. And to assure that the pagans could be assimilated too.
I place them as leaders of Salvation cults (yeshua) and Messianic cults (christos) which were later synthesized into a "catholic" (universal) religion (read: form of government) by Constantine and Eusebius (the probable forger of Josephus, among others).
A. Believed he existed, claims are false
E. I don't know.

Joseph Smith showed us that key religious characters can be entirely made up. Fortunately, we know that Smith pulled the Book of Mormon out of his hat. Did Paul follow a made up character? I'm fairly certain that the parables and stories were added long after a charismatic character would have lived. Jesus is much like Moses, a partial name with a very big question mark.
Your question about Paul interests me. Paul (Saul) was basically an apocalyptic preacher who believed in an imminent end of days and taught that nothing in ordinary human endeavor mattered any longer in the face of it. In this respect he is very much like the Jesus of the gospels. Scholars agree that the New Testament letters traditionally ascribed to Paul could not all have been written by him. Ephesians and the Pastoral epistles (Titus, Timothy), for instance, reveal historical contexts dating well after the end of Paul's life. Ephesians reveals a more elaborate, developed christology (theology of Christ) than does any of the rest of the Pauline corpus. Ephesians was probably written by someone living around the end of the 1st century. As to those epistles that are generally accepted as authentic Paul, we can say at most that they are 'signed' by Paul and that they are reasonably congruent in content, language, style, and historical context (ca. 40-67 CE). That is pretty good evidence that at least they were all written by the same author.
The 'historical' Paul is also a bit of a mystery. All we know about him is what he says of himself (very little) in the letters, together with the much later stories about him told in the Acts of the Apostles. This latter work is thought to have been composed by someone who lived decades after Paul's death. Here we are told that Paul knew Peter and James, apostles of Jesus, that he persecuted early Christians, that about three years after his 'conversion' he began preaching about Jesus among the gentiles, and that he acquired several disciples of his own among the churches that he founded in Asia Minor. Most of the Acts of the Apostles is about Paul's heroic exploits. However, the Acts is not regarded by very many scholars as an historically reliable document. But that's another story. The account of Paul's conversion is suspect. For one thing, how did he obtain authority to persecute Christians? This is not explained, and it surely does need explanation. Indeed, this and other details of Paul's narration suggest that he knew very little about 1st century Palestinian Judaism, which was very complex, as Flavius Josephus attests in The Jewish Wars.
Could it be that this person named Paul (Saul) invented the Christian religion out of whole cloth? Some scholars have suggested so. Nowhere in his letters does Paul claim to have known the 'historical' Jesus in life, nor does he relate any second-hand stories about Jesus that he might have heard from others. He does not teach any connected account of Jesus' trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. Always he refers to direct revelations given through the risen Christ as the sole source of his decidedly well-developed theological teachings. Nowhere does Paul refer to any miraculous deeds or any of the teachings of Jesus, except for his reference to Jesus' 'words of institution' at the Last Supper (I Corinthians). Is it possible that the gospel authors invented their contradictory stories of the Last Supper, suggested by Paul's brief and pointed reference, as context for a creedal statement that Paul or someone else actually invented? Some scholars think so. Sorry I didn't document this better, but I don't want to go on and on. I'll leave my contribution for someone else to pick up.
Thank you for your detailed reply. I agree that Paul never knew the Jesus he wrote about. The "authentic" Pauline letters indicate that a tradition existed before Paul fell off his horse. The later letters and gospels are far too removed from the origin to be useful in discovering an authentic Jesus. It is unclear if Paul revered a completely mythological character or a person that was given mythological status. I think it is safe to say, that even if a Jesus existed and got the ball rolling, the current idea of him is so far removed that it is just as correct to say he never existed.


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