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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Many of the early church apologists reference works that were well known to the wealthy and well-educated, especially Tertullian. Christian historians often portray the earliest believers as slaves and among the lowest classes, but the literature poses a profound contradiction.

BTW, the first 3 Popes are not mentioned by any of the earliest patristic apologists. It is not until Irenaeus, many decades after their alleged See in Rome, are they mentioned, in 170 CE at the earliest.
(C) I do not believe Jesus Christ ever existed as an actual person, combined with (E) don't think it matters anyway since all religion is false.
B: I believe there may have been a man named Jesus or it may have been many people all merged in to one character. But I think that any acts of healing were mostly likely a result of him being a well educated man and that when recorded they were greatly exaggerated, as for most of the other events in the bible I find then rather hard to believe.
There is no real historical proof that Jesus ever existed .. The dead sea scrolls, which are first and second century documents which are consistent with "old testament" myths, which don't include Jesus .. The orthodox Jews have a story of a young rabbi, who they believe was a profit, who lived during this period and may have been the person the "Jesus Myths" evolved from.. However, their young rabbi lived, married, and died as a mortal man .. His mother conceived him as the result of a adulteress relationship ,was married to a carpenter. That's where the similarity ends .. the "resurrection" of the zombie god is not part of the story. That's strictly christian mythlogy . My question is, why is a non-religious person like yourself, asking this question? You must know, by now, that all religions are just different shades of "Bullshit" created by the wild imagination of idle men. So my category is : E. Christian mythlogy is unimportant and not relevant to any critical thought.
What? No, the vast majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written before Jesus was even born. And they were written by the Essenes, a sect who chose to live in total isolation (that's why we find their documents in caves). Why you would expect these guys to mention Jesus is beyond me.

Also, I think you'll find that rather than religions being created by "wild imagination by idle men", they tend to be influenced very heavily by real life events. They exaggerate these actual events to mythic proportions.
Jesus supposedly existed from, about 4 or 5 BCE to about 29 or 30 CE ..The scrolls pro-ported to have been penned between 150 BCE to about 70 CE .. One would think that somewhere in the 900 or so documents translated from this period, there would be some mention of him .. There is not ..
Wikipedia:" The texts are of great religious and historical significance, as they include the oldest known surviving copies of Biblical and extra-biblical documents and preserve evidence of great diversity in late Second Temple Judaism. They are written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, mostly on parchment, but with some written on papyrus.[1] These manuscripts generally date between 150 BCE and 70 CE.[2] The scrolls are traditionally identified with the ancient Jewish sect called the Essenes, though some recent interpretations have challenged this association and argue that the scrolls were penned by priests in Jerusalem, Zadokites, or other unknown Jewish groups.[3][4]"
Indeed, as Danny says, the documents are by no means evenly distributed amongst those years: the majority are very much First Century BCE works.
And then again, the Essenes were a sect that chose strict isolation from the outside world as one of the paths to God. Why would they be mentioning things that happened in the outside world?

That's why the Dead Sea scrolls are hardly good historical material: they are theological works that can teach us a lot about how the Essenes thought, but not much about history in terms of how many preachers there were in Judea and Galilee.
A. I took a really interesting class a while back called "The Origins of Western Morality," and for my final paper I wrote about something called the Jewish Cynic Jesus Theory. Although this doesn't go too far into the question of whether or not Jesus actually existed, it looks at the historical, philosophical, and religious context underlying the parables and teachings that are attributed to him. Basically, I think that there was a Jesus (like the popular rabbi/prophet mentioned by Doug here), and that he was even a pretty revolutionary guy, influenced by the Cynic philosophers that preached revaluation and anti-establishment. I think he combined ideas like those with his understanding of Judaism, and a desire to loosen the bonds of Roman governance. Although there are several contradictions in the four canonic gospels regarding his words and acts, and though these were all written long after Jesus supposedly died, there are also a great amount of consistencies, which have led scholars to point to a "Q" source that the four writers must have had in common. This source would have obviously predated all four gospels, and thus it would have been written much closer to the supposed time of Jesus. For these reasons, I think Jesus did exist, and gained significant attention for his new ideas during his life. However, I think this "Q" source was written after his death by a group of people unconnected with him who realized they could use him to combat the Romans, based on the revolutionary idea that power lied not in money but in faith: something the Jews could finally have more of than the Romans. So they found a way to associate him with the prophecies of Ezekiel and other Old Testament prophets, started calling him the Son of Man, and... well the rest is perhaps the darkest period of intellectual history known to man.
Some good points there, but it's got one major flaw: the people who wrote the gospels and other Christian documents (who supposedly realised they "could use him to combat the Romans") were invariably Romans.
In fact, early Christianity did as much as it could to distance itself from anything anti-Roman, and they go through a great deal of trouble to make Jesus look as a friend (or at least not an enemy) of the Roman establishment: we see him healing the son of a Roman centurion, the saying 'render unto Caesar' is underlined, and we see him getting real chummy with Pontius Pilate who thinks Jesus is a decent guy. On the other hand, the Pharisees and the Sadducees (many of whom would later become revolutionairies) get cast as the bad guys: we see them constantly trying to get dirt on Jesus by asking tough questions, Jesus regularly gets upset with them, and it's the Jewish establishment that eventually hands Jesus over to the Romans and convinces Pilate to execute him.

The message here is obvious: Jesus is portrayed as non-revolutionairy as can possibly be. The reason is obvious. When the gospels were written, Judea and Galilee had just rebelled against their Roman conquerors. Rome had to fight a long and extremely bloody war to suppress them and bring the area under control again. It was hard enough trying to sell a Jewish religion to Romans anyway, let alone if those treacherous Jews had just tried to fight the Empire: that's why the gospel writers (who were Romans) make it clear that Jesus had nothing whatsoever to do with that revolt.

So Christianity was not born out of revolutionairy zeal at all: many of Christian theology is an attempt to downplay any potential association with revolutionairy ideas.
Thanks for the close read, Matt, and for the new information. I get that the early Christians did a lot to dissociate their movement from other problem groups like the Pharisees, but I wonder if this wasn't done just to publicly cover their tracks. In other words, were quotes like "render unto Caesar" a way of appeasing Roman governors like Pilate? I don't know, I'm just asking. The reason I'm so stuck on my "anti-Roman rebels" hypothesis is because of the overall philosophy common to the four gospels, found in moments when Jesus tells his followers they have to abandon their families (the backbone of any societal structure) to be with him, or that "it's easier for a camel to pass through they eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven" (wealth, or the economic force underlying the status quo of a society, is evil). The lessons and parables taught by Jesus (or the earliest Christians, depending on what you believe) are some pretty mind-blowing ideas, and I think the early Christians might have looked for a way to spread rebellion among the Jews while keeping things quiet with the Romans. But that's just my perspective, and it wouldn't be right if I held onto that deaf to reason. I'm curious to hear what you have to say, especially since I admit most of this is my own speculation.
It's of course always possible that they covered their tracks, but I think there's a more likely explanation which I choose because it is clear simply from reading the gospels, why the Romans wouldn't have liked what Jesus had to say. Whether he was a revolutionairy or not wouldn't really have mattered to them: the ideas of Jesus that we see in the gospels would have been more than enough reason to nail him to a cross.

First off, every single one of Jesus' teachings makes more sense of you keep in mind that he was an apocalyptic preacher: he was, like many Jewish teachers of the time, convinced that an imminent apocalyps is coming ("this generation will not pass away before they see the kingdom of God") that would introduce a Kingdom of Yahweh where the Romans would be swiped away by God's righteousness. Second, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, which means that he effectively was the guy that would lead the people of Israel into this glorious kingship.

It also shows why apocalyptic preachers weren't that compatible with the revolutionairies, or with anything else for that matter: the corollary of believing in an imminent apocalyps means that you shouldn't care for your family (that's why he says to abandon them), for wealth or material possessions (like the camel through a needle metaphor), revenge (turn the other cheek), oppression, etcetera; these things are all pointless if the apocalyps is coming: you need to stop caring about familiy, politics, wealth and start making sure that you're going to be regarded as one of the good guys when God comes out of the clouds!
That's why apocalyptic preaching of this nature is incompatible with any material goals like striving for an actual revolution against the Romans. That's not to say it never happened, but the two different mindsets make it unlikely: other apocalyptic preachers tended to think that angels would descend from heaven to do the fighting for them.

That said, these theological niceties didn't bother the Romans. It didn't matter that Jesus emphasised that "his kingdom was not of this world". Anyone preaching about how the Kingship of God was coming to do away with the Romans, was doing a very dangerous thing. Anyone preaching about how the Kingship of God was coming and they themselves - the Messiah - were going to lead the Jews there, was (for the Romans) inciting to rebellion and was asking for a death penalty.
In other words, while Jesus would not technically have been a revolutionairy (because of the spiritual rather than material goal) that wouldn't have mattered to the Romans.

And in fact, when you look at the records we have of the period, we see that there are relatively few people who claimed to be the Messiah (contrary to popular perception) precisely because it was so dangerous: you were effectively declaring war on Rome. Not surprisingly, of the 27 (or something, I have the precise list lying around here somewhere) only 1 died a natural death. All the others were hunted down, arrested and executed by the Romans, for inciting to rebellion. The penalty of which is - you guessed it - crucifixion.
The gospel writers try to downplay this by pretending that claiming to be the Messiah was really not a big deal to the Romans, and that Pilate totally understood and cared for the theological niceties that detailed why this man wasn't really advocating physical violence. This is ahistorical to the point of being laughable: Pilate was quite possibly one of the most violent Roman rulers we know of (he was abdicated for being too violent. By Caligula! Caligula!!) and he would have nailed first and asked questions later. Which is probably what happened.

That's why I doubt anything was downplayed at all. The reason for Jesus' crucifixion was most likely preaching to be the Messiah - just that would have done it.
This all makes a lot of sense. Paul also ran into trouble assuming the apocalypse was near, recommending the Ephesians not to bother marrying or concerning themselves with other worldly concerns like family only to find himself still walking and breathing (and changing his mind) 20 years later.

But if the gospel writers were Romans as you say they were, writing between 100 and 400 years after Jesus' death, were they still awaiting the apocalypse? And it's one thing to stop caring about family, wealth, and the rest, but another to completely avoid them, isn't it? I mean, Jesus doesn't just recommend abandoning family and money, he says it's impossible for someone to get into heaven if they still love their family and money.

I understand that the early Christians weren't all working together, and that even the canonical gospel writers (especially the John writer/s) weren't on the same page, but supposedly they all had an agenda and unfortunately that agenda ended up working insofar as it convinced a lot of people to do a lot of crazy things. I'm just fascinated by the ability of a movement that started with so many loose ends and such a disorganized infrastructure (and decentralized too, because even if Jesus did exist he probably wasn't used as the rallying point of the movement until a little while after his death anyway, since his "resurrection" was necessary to prove his "divinity") to grow to take hold of the human race as powerfully as it did. It's a quiet revolution when the philosopher preaches loving the neighbor as yourself in a greedy, selfish world, or when the very institution that denies the importance of wealth grows to become the richest and most powerful organization in the world. What part did Jesus and the gospels play in this movement? I don't know, but I suspect that they weren't after the same things, and I doubt that any of them pictured anything like the Roman Catholic church at all. So to get back to the original question on this thread, I think Jesus existed and was used for a variety of different reasons, but I don't claim to know what all those reasons were or what he himself actually thought about his teachings. Any ideas?


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