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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Nick,

Strangely, I do not see a "Reply to This" link after your latest reply (I guess the forum has a maximum level/depth of responses), so I will post my reply here.

I understand and accept that you did not mean "imagine" in the literal sense. Thanks for clarifying.

I must confess, though, that my understanding of the other points in your latest post are only partially clear to me. For example, it's not at all clear to me what you mean by "the first position."

Hopefully, the following comments will appropriately address your points and questions.

Regarding the range of time my view falls into, which I understand to include the conception of the earliest Yeshua story now in the New Testament and the finalization of New Testament content; I haven't a clue when the former (the beginning of that range) might have been, but the latter (the end of that range) was, to the best of my understanding, late fourth century AD. I'm not sure I understand how that contributes to clarity of my position, however.

As to whether the "amalgam" process transpired inadvertently over a period of centuries, or intensionally at a particular point in history, by those wishing to found and promote a new religion, (which I understand to be one of the questions you raised) I would think that both are likely. Do I understand correctly that you think the former is possible, but not the latter? If so, why not the latter?

If you are also asking whether I think the same process may have transpired in reference to other historical or mythical figures (not entirely sure that's what you meant), I have little doubt that it probably has happened, under similar conditions.
D. Miller

"First allow me to take issue with comments that I am "pretending" or "imagining." I am pretending NOTHING; everything I have written here is my honest opinion and understanding."
I understand that: I do not doubt that your stance on this matter is genuine.

"1) I am NOT claiming that ALL of the biblical references to Yeshua in the biblical texts are to different persons of the same name. There are some that obviously DO refer to the same person, in that they are linked to each other in ways besides the name "Yeshua", as you have pointed out. For example, there are passages, even by different authors/plagiarizers that tell the same story using exactly the same words. They were obviously copied from each other or from a common source, so of course they are about the same person (real or otherwise). On the other hand, my recollection from my bible reading days, is that there are also a number of references that are not mutually linked in any way other than the name. Setting aside the contradictions you (Matt) mentioned earlier, I think this lack of linkage, even though it is not universal, is more than adequate cause to question whether or not they refer to the same character."

I got what you were saying. It's just that this is what I would call a hyper-sceptical approach to history, and I don't consider it very reasonable. Now, that in itself would still be fine, as long as you were consistent: I know almost for certain, however, that you would not use the same criteria in any other text (ancient or otherwise).
For example, you complain that there are "there are also a number of references that are not mutually linked in any way other than the name."
OK, well, what did you expect from a story? Of course any story (after introductions and stuff like that) will start saying "Jesus did this" and then "The Messiah said that", and then of course we can wonder "Wait a minute, is this really still the same guy?". But in practice, we always assume this unless we have a reason to suppose otherwise: in this case, we don't have that; the story about Jesus is more or less coherent and hangs together: he's a preacher and a faith healer, he was born in Nazareth, preached apocalypticism, and got crucified. There's not a single story where we have a reason to doubt that we're suddenly talking about someone else: all throughout the book, he's preaching the more or less same message, doing similar "miracles" (those of a faith healer), and surrounded by the same entourage.
Again, for this coherent story to be the result of a conglomeration of two or more figures would require all these figures to be remarkably similar: otherwise we'd be seeing vastly different messages and vastly different events taking place.

On top of that, what you seem to be forgetting is that the timespan we're talking about is by no means long enough to comfortably confuse people. By the time Paul and Stephen were preaching about Jesus' message, Jesus had been dead for less than decade. That means many (most) of the people Jesus would have preached to were still alive, and to say that they wouldn't have noticed that two Jesus figures were blended together is very strange: in fact, we hardly ever see these kinds of scenarios in history except when centuries of oral traditions start confusing the details between two figures.

"2) Use of words like "conglomeration", "amalgamation" conjure up images of crowds of Yeshuas as far as the eye can see. That is not what I meant. I seem to recall using the rather ambiguous term "many", in my first post in this thread, which in retrospect I think was an unfortunate and misleading choice of words. My apologies if that lead to confusion. In fact, I would not attempt to quantify the number of Yeshuas in those texts, other than to suggest that there is at least a statistically significant probability (and IMHO a great deal more than that) that there is more than one."
Ah, OK. English is not my first language so the word has no such connotation to me. I'll refrain from using it if it bohers you though.

"I hope that clarifies my position. I would likewise like to confirm my understanding of yours. Correct me if I am wrong, but I understand your position to be that:
1) ALL references to Yeshua appearing in the biblical texts were intended to refer to the same individual, by their respective original authors.
2) The evidence supporting 1) above, is that ALL such references are linked, either directly or indirectly, to ALL other such references and/or historical references by details other than the name.
Again, if I have misunderstood on either of these points, please let me know."

Pretty much, yes. That's what we do in other cases as well: if we have a text with multiple references to someone, we assume that they are talking about the same figure unless we have a good reason to assume otherwise. Here, we really don't, except the vague idea there were so many Yeshua's around that they wouldn't have confused very easily (even though some of them would have been dead and others were not, and some of them would have died by crucifixion and others not, yet they were still confused; it starts getting very strange when you get right down to the details).

"It seems to me that it would be a relatively simple (though exceedingly time-consuming) endeavour to analyze the validity of 2) above. For example, one could construct a network diagram of the specific references (ALL of them) as nodes, and represent linkages other than name between those references as connections. Any node or group of nodes that is isolated from any other node or group of nodes, would be valid cause to question whether there may be more than one Yeshua referenced. If there were no such isolations, and especially if there were multiple connections to each node, I would have to concede that you are correct. I would suspect that someone somewhere has already done that. I wonder if the result can be found online somewhere."
I don't recall that being done anywhere, though it would definitely be an interesting exercise. The idea that Jesus was a mix of various figures does not have much (if any) scholarly support, so it's not that surprising.

Cheers.
Matt,

For the most part, I think we have both made our respective points, understand each other's respective points, and simply disagree. So there is not much point in beating the issue to a pulp. I'll limit my reply to points where I think there is potential for increasing mutual understanding.

"I know almost for certain, however, that you would not use the same criteria in any other text (ancient or otherwise)."

Incorrect. If I knew of any other "text" that was actually a compilation of multiple earlier texts by a variety of authors, where any (I repeat, ANY) of those included texts contained references to the same common name, without linking all of those references in other ways than the name, I would most certainly apply the same criteria.

"For example, you complain that there are 'there are also a number of references that are not mutually linked in any way other than the name.'"

For the record, it was not a complaint, it was an observation; but that's beside the point.

"OK, well, what did you expect from a story?"

"a story?" From your use of the singular, it seems that you are again proceeding from the assumption that it is indeed a (single) story. Is that not the very point we are disputing? You cannot assume something is true in order to support a claim that it is true. There are many, many Yeshua stories in the bible. Some of them are similar enough that we can reasonably conclude that they are about the same person, but certainly (in my opinion) not ALL of them.

'1) ALL references to Yeshua appearing in the biblical texts were intended to refer to the same individual, by their respective original authors.
2) The evidence supporting 1) above, is that ALL such references are linked, either directly or indirectly, to ALL other such references and/or historical references by details other than the name.
Again, if I have misunderstood on either of these points, please let me know.'
"Pretty much, yes."


This, I think, is the root of our disagreement. I would answer "Definitely not", primarily because of the word "ALL." As I mentioned, I would no more agree with it by replacing "ALL" with "NONE." I would be entirely comfortable replacing all instances of "ALL" with "SOME", however. Or by "Pretty much, yes." did you mean that I had misunderstood? If so, please let me know in what way.

"if we have a text with multiple references to someone"

"Someone" is an individual. Here again you seem to be supporting your assertion by assuming it's true (circular argument). And "a text" is in the singular; it is actually a compilation of multiple texts.
D. Miller,

Yes, it seems we're bound to disagree, but still I've got some major problems with your current statements (besides, I'm not trying to get you to agree; this is simply a subject that interests me).

"Incorrect. If I knew of any other "text" that was actually a compilation of multiple earlier texts by a variety of authors, where any (I repeat, ANY) of those included texts contained references to the same common name, without linking all of those references in other ways than the name, I would most certainly apply the same criteria."
If by the 'compilation of multiple earlier texts' you mean the Bible (which I'm assuming you are, since the individual gospels are not compilations of texts) then that statement is simply wrong: the included texts in the Bible don't just refer to the same common name "without linking all of those references in other ways than the name". All four gospel authors (and Paul) refer to a guy by the same name who does the exact same things: he preaches, he does faith healings, he calls himself the Messiah, he lived in Nazareth, and he eventually gets crucified (and survives death in some way). The only criticism you can make is that the texts themselves don't mention all this every name Jesus' name is said (see below).

The main point where they differ is that one author decides to include one story, and another author includes other stories; but again, that is completely to be expected.

""a story?" From your use of the singular, it seems that you are again proceeding from the assumption that it is indeed a (single) story. Is that not the very point we are disputing? You cannot assume something is true in order to support a claim that it is true"
Yes, I was assuming my position to be true; that was the point: I was hoping to show that the fact that each individual book refers to their character simply by his name Yeshua, is not surprising: any book utilises this. We can't seriously expect them to begin every paragraph with "Oh by the way, we're still talking about the same Yeshua guy..."

In fact, another point I could bring up is that the individual books don't just link different stories together by the name: they utilise various nicknames. For example, they consistently refer to Jesus as the Nazarene, or the Messiah, or the Son of God (Jewish synonym for Messiah), or "rabbi". So again we're not only searching for people with the same name (which could be easy enough), but who also have the same nicknames (and the nicknames in this case tell us things about the character himself).

""Someone" is an individual. Here again you seem to be supporting your assertion by assuming it's true (circular argument). And "a text" is in the singular; it is actually a compilation of multiple texts."
Fine. If we have multiple references to the same name in various different books, and all the same things happen to this name in various books we find (crucifixion, birth in Nazareth, blah blah) in the same timeframe then it is more reasonable to say that this is probably about the same guy.

I'm getting confused, actually. Are you arguing that the stories within each individual gospel might be related to different individuals, or are you arguing that the gospels themselves are about different individuals? The latter is flat out absurd considering the similarity of the overall story, which is why I didn't assume you took it. But now I'm getting confused because you're stressing that the gospels are written by different authors; which, unless you're arguing for the latter proposition, is a red herring.
Matt,

Ok, I think we are in agreement on one point, that we disagree on other points of the discussion, and there is little or no possibility that will change. Again, my primary point of disagreement is with your frequent use of the word "all", which in my opinion is inaccurate. Here are some examples:

"All four gospel authors (and Paul) refer to a guy by the same name who does the exact same things"

"All four gospels" constitutes only a subset of the NT, not ALL of the NT.

"ALL references to Yeshua appearing in the biblical texts were intended to refer to the same individual, by their respective original authors." (my paraphrase, but you agreed)
"another point I could bring up is that the individual books don't just link different stories together by the name"

By "ALL references" I thought we were discussing the bible as a whole, NOT individual books separately. That's one of the points I hoped to confirm by the above paraphrase.

"If we have multiple references to the same name in various different books, and all the same things happen to this name in various books we find (crucifixion, birth in Nazareth, blah blah) in the same timeframe then it is more reasonable to say that this is probably about the same guy."
Here again I would dispute that "all" of the same things happen, and that "various books" constitutes the entire NT.

And an additional point:

"that is completely to be expected."
"OK, well, what did you expect from a story?"
"the fact that each individual book refers to their character simply by his name Yeshua, is not surprising: any book utilises this. We can't seriously expect them to begin every paragraph with . . . . ."


It hadn't occurred to me to characterize any observations as unexpected or surprising, because I didn't consider it relevant. Do you? Again, expected or not, I am simply suggesting that references by unrelated sources to the same common name, that are not also linked by other details, cannot be logically be concluded to refer to the same individual. Of course, I agree that there is some justification to make that conclusion in cases where such links DO exist, and the more extensive the links, the greater the justification. But I sincerely doubt your claim that *ALL* biblical reference are so linked.

"I'm getting confused, actually. Are you arguing that the stories within each individual gospel might be related to different individuals, or are you arguing that the gospels themselves are about different individuals?"

To this point, I have not limited my discussion to the gospels, let alone any individual gospels, which is why I'm unclear why you seem intent on doing so. My comments pertained to the bible as a whole. For the sake of simplicity though, I would be willing to exclude purportedly prophetic references in the OT.

Regarding the possibility of references within the same gospel referring to different individuals, it's not the scenario I had in mind. I hesitate to open yet another can of worms, but now that you mention it, my response is as follows: I think each of the authors, and probably groups of related authors, such as the apostles, intended to impart to readers a single identity in their references to Yeshua. On the other hand, it seems entirely possible that some of those stories may have been based on earlier renditions (probably verbal), which may or may not have originally been about the same individual. Your earlier point, that the apostles would not likely have accidentally mistaken Yeshua identities, is valid, but that does not preclude the possibility of intentional deception. It is easier to convince the less-than-profoundly-gullible of a story with which they are already somewhat familiar, and merely attribute it to a new identity, than to convince them of a completely new story they have never heard before. Again, however, this is a very different scenario than my earlier posts that dealt with unrelated authors.
""All four gospels" constitutes only a subset of the NT, not ALL of the NT.
"By "ALL references" I thought we were discussing the bible as a whole, NOT individual books separately. That's one of the points I hoped to confirm by the above paraphrase."

Alright, but the gospels (and some of the genuine Pauline epistles) are the central part of the NT concerning the Jesus story. All that's left at that point are the Acts of the Apostles (which hardly mentions Jesus at all: it focuses on the actions of the early church), the so-called Catholic epistles (invariably written after the gospels and usually not about Jesus' life anyway), and Revelation (which is also useless as a historical work).
So I don't quite see how this matters: I'd say the gospels rather obviously talk about the same figure (since they agree on every important moment of his life, give him the same nicknames, and they tell the same story by and large).
The Pauline Epistles are written by Paul and so clearly Paul had to be talking about one figure he had in mind: the question is whether this is the same figure of the gospels. And again, the fact that he mentions the same key aspects of Jesus' life as the gospels (and indeed, the gospels borrow from his interpretations of Jesus' teachings) seems to suggest that this is the same person. The other books are hardly about Jesus at all and are thus irrelevant.

"Again, expected or not, I am simply suggesting that references by unrelated sources to the same common name, that are not also linked by other details, cannot be logically be concluded to refer to the same individual. Of course, I agree that there is some justification to make that conclusion in cases where such links DO exist, and the more extensive the links, the greater the justification. But I sincerely doubt your claim that *ALL* biblical reference are so linked."
You'll have to give me a relevant example because, no, I can't think of any place where there is a reference simply to the name 'Yeshua' without the author making it perfectly clear (either by context, nickname or previous mentions) who he is talking about.

"To this point, I have not limited my discussion to the gospels, let alone any individual gospels, which is why I'm unclear why you seem intent on doing so. My comments pertained to the bible as a whole."
Alright. If it's not what you had in mind then I won't bang on about it :)
I'm agnostic towards the existence of Jesus.

He definitely wasn't the son of God, but such a person could have existed. I wouldn't rule it out as a story. However, all the claims are exaggerated or blatantly false.
A. Given I accept secondhanded evidence about nearly every historical figure, I am willing to accept the claims of a historical Jesus. I do not believe that he was the son of God or born to a virgin. I do not know if he believed them so I hesitate to call him a liar so I will give him the benefit of the doubt and simply assume he was highly mistaken on a great number of issues. Since it just came out, Ill mention that I believe in Robin Hood with the same degree of uncertainty. There are a lot of exaggerated stories about him, but I believe those stories, while not true, hold some basis. If I were proven wrong, it would hardly interrupt the flow of my day either way. Except for Robin Hood, atleast those tales hold some morality.
"I do not know if he believed them so I hesitate to call him a liar so I will give him the benefit of the doubt and simply assume he was highly mistaken on a great number of issues."

Good point. I would be less hesitant to call his real Mom & Dad liars though. As I understand it, premarital hanky panky was strongly frowned upon in those days, so I think they would have a strong motive to explain Mary's big tummy by claiming that she was knocked up by the almighty (no-one would stone Him for it). But if a kid grows up constantly hearing that his dad is the master of the universe, he may well come to actually believe it.
He probably did not claim he was the son of the god. The messiah of Judaism is more of a prophet that was foretold of than a divine son of god, as I understand it. I think that's one of the most striking aspects of it when you consider the things that were fabricated over the years and held to be facts by his followers.
I wish to address the issue of some of the non-Biblical and non-Christian historical evidences for a Jesus of Nazareth cited in the comments for in this discussion. In my limited spare time to address these issues not properly considered in the depth that circumstances warrant, in segmented comments.


This comment will focus on the big enchilada of evidences, the Testimonium Flavinium, by Jewish war strategist turned historian in Roman custody, Flavius Josephus.

My next comment will concern the Josephan reference from the same work on, "James, the Brother of Jesus, who was called Christ".

My final comment will deal with alleged reference by the esteemed Roman historian by posterity, Cornelius Tacitus,


The alleged Testimonium was written as a fragmentary paragraph within the comprehensive history of the Jewish and Israelite peoples, in Greek, by Flavius Josephus ca. 90 CE. The question of it's authenticity has seldom enjoyed intellectual consensus even among Christian scholarship. Only in the last 50 years, has there seemed to be a concerted effort to shore up its bona fides. Even in the 20th century, such Christian Jesus biographers as Charles Guignebert and Maurice Goguel deem the passage spurious. Even the founder of modern day American evangelism, F.F. Bruce regards the passage as "problematic". The surviving text that has come to us reads as such:
"“Now about this time there lived Jesus a wise man, if one ought to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing [lit., the principal men] among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place had come to love him did not forsake him. For he appeared to them alive again on the third day, as the holy prophets had predicted these and many other wonderful things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, continues to the present day.”
Antiquities of the Jews (XVIII, III, 3)

Juxtaposition of the text:
Some scholars have argued that both the preceding and successive paragraphs of the text work best as smooth transition when no passage about Jesus interrupts, suggesting some scribal interpolation by a copyist. The last sentence prior to the passage reads “About the same time another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder.” The crucifixion of Jesus did not throw the Jews into disorder. Josephus does engage in digressions in his textual continuity, but is always careful to identify his commentary as such. For example, describing the seduction of the virtuous matron Paulina in the Temple of Isis by Decius Mundus, who pretended to be the god Anubis, At its conclusion he alerts the reader: “I now return to the relation of what happened about this time to the Jews of Rome, as I formerly told you I would.” He makes no such declarations in the TF.

Suggested Alternative text:
Many Christian scholars have conceded that the tone of the passage shows a decided bias on behalf of distinctly Christian theology, something that would not appeal to the author in any way. His commentaries on the 1st century are highly derisive of developing sects and cults. So another more reductionist and purportedly neutral text has been opined as more realistically authentic;
“Now about this time there lived Jesus a wise man, for he was a doer of wonderful works and a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place had come to love him did not forsake him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, continues to the present day.”
Notice that this is the 1st text with emboldened and presumably subjective phrases removed. But this is simply special pleading, as there is no manuscript evidence for it. A passage which describes Jesus as “a wise man” who “performed many wonderful works,” who “won over many Jews and gentiles,” who was perhaps a teacher of the truth, cannot be described as neutral, and would hardly be viewed as such by Christians.

Argument from silence is golden or illogical?
If the Antiquities was written in 90, one might think that the early patristic apologists would sing its praises. How about Justin Martyr (mid 2nd century)? Nope! Irenaeus and Theophilus of Antioch (late 2nd century)? Nada! Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria (turn of 3rd century)? Nyet! Origen and Hippolytus (early 3rd century)? Nein! Nein! Cyprian (mid-3rd century)? Wrongo Again! Lactantius and Arnobius? (late 3rd century).NO! and NO! Church historian and propagandist for Constantine as a Christian, Bishop Eusebius of Caeseria? BINGO!

Some have argued that Christ's historical references from other sources would not be important to the early theologians. But closer examination reveals that apologies and polemics focused on debunking "heretical" notions of non-human cosmic entity or "docetic" Jesus archetypes that were common beliefs among Gnostic sectarians at the time. For Irenaeus and Tertullian especially, it was all about the historic "Incarnation" of Christ. Origen and 1 or 2 others referenced other textual content from Josephus, but not the TF. This is why the silences from these sources on the TF are compelling, unexpected, and hence when pointed in argument are not the least bit illogical.

More silences later
Although reference to the TF started and continued in the 4th century, Chrysostom late in that century must not have gotten the right copy. He also makes other references to content of Josephus, but not the TF. As late as the 9th century, Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, in his composition, Library, a critique of many ancient works including those by Josephus, he is silent on the TF.

Questionable Word Use
Perhaps for another comment, I can take the time to elaborate on some questionable word use by Josephus - phrasing and words more likely inclined to the style of, you guessed it, Eusebius. I have presented enough information here, while not proving the inauthenticity of the Josephus passage, but critiquing it as nearly fatally unreliable.


My next comment will be on the "James, Brother of Jesus" passage by Josephus.

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