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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--- Matt VDB --- What Mythers have to do is dismiss the actual evidence we do have, and that is simply impossible without engaging in double standards.

And all Asterisk-ers need to do is insert reasonable doubt on that evidence. Such as:

- The bible is not inerrant.

- Paul sounds like a guy with an agenda, capable of spinning, twisting, or even fabricating truth to forward that agenda.

- Josephus/Tacitus come many years later, after scriptures started circulating, at the least could have been influenced by those scriptures/Christians or simply describing Christians without making such a critical judgement on the historicity of their god-ma, and at best tell us nothing more than name/place/occupation.

- A conspicuous void during and just after Jesus' supposed lifetime. Later scriptures and the preservation thereof indicate that Xians weren't having that much trouble writing/preserving 'evidence,' so why did they not bother to do it while Jesus was still alive? Why did Jesus himself not write any of it?

The world is not divided into Mythers and Positivers. There is a middle ground that many of us take that says existence is probable/improbable, but not beyond reasonable doubt and/or we have no way to know if that hypothetical person is preserved in the canon bible.
"There is a middle ground that many of us take that says existence is probable/improbable, but not beyond reasonable doubt and/or we have no way to know if that hypothetical person is preserved in the canon bible."

Well sure, but simply preaching the gospel of doubt doesn't do much for us. I see people all the time nitpicking evolutionairy biology and its supporters, and whining about how we're not certain about everything, how we've changed our positions sometimes, how we don't have all the fossils, blah blah blah... and yet it doesn't win them any points because (i) they're not telling us anything we don't already know and (ii) none of the little doubts we might give are enough to offset the fact that evolution is by far the best theory we have for bio-diversity.

One of the reasons this "we can't know anything about Jesus from the Bible" position is practically non-existent among scholars is that it's based on hyperscepticism instead of actual scepticism.

Take your criticisms now:
"Paul sounds like a guy with an agenda"? Well no shit Sherlock: try reading Tacitus and Josephus, or Philo and Herodotos, or Livy and Polybius and see how they're busy propping up emperors and glorifying some people while demonizing others and trying to push a (usually moralistic) agenda, and then tell me Paul is anything special.
So "the Bible is not inerrant"? Well great, then that makes it exactly the same as any other book and we can use the same methods of textual criticism that we employ on other figures: those tend not to come to a sudden end where we throw up our hands in the air and say "Anything could have happened"
So Tacitus and Josephus could have been influenced by Christians when writing about Jesus? Well geez, that sounds much like they could be influenced by Carthaginians when they talk about Hannibal, or how they could be influenced by people from Capua if they're writing about a Capuan.

Nothing about these criticisms is even remotely special: they are entirely in keeping with the other source material of the time, and they're precisely what we expect. Yes, it's second-hand, and it's not contemporary, and it's not 21st century historical analysis; it never is.
Would you apply these criticisms to any other terrain in history? Would you dismiss every biography of Hannibal out of hand just because they're all written by Romans? Would you dismiss all historical figures who don't have contemporary evidence?

--- Matt VDB asks me --- Would you dismiss every biography of Hannibal out of hand just because they're all written by Romans?

That depends. Is every biography of Hannibal in massive conflict with the others on specifics and all of them proclaiming him to be the Son of God who walked on water and rose from the dead and I'd better worship him or else face the dire consequences? Biographies written by people with apparent agendas in having Hannibal "say" what they want to hear him say? With the only 2 secular supports coming decades after those biographies and not biographies in and of themselves but only listing name/place/occupation? In wording vague enough to be either suspect as forgeries and/or could be referring to believers in Hannibal Son Of God rather than Hannibal himself?

If so, then just as with Jesus, I would say that the Hannibal story is probably inspired by a real person, but we don't know for sure and that real person is forever obscured behind the very, very tall tales. That the Hannibal biographies say more about the people who wrote them than they do about any hypothetical person named Hannibal.

--- Would you dismiss all historical figures who don't have contemporary evidence?

Not necessarily. As I said in another post, it's not black/white, either/or. Non-contemporary evidence can be very compelling, or it can be very likely a lie or based on bad intel, or anywhere in between.
--- Free Thinker --- History is (allegedly) not manufactured out of thin air. The void where evidence of Jesus should be is very telling. For consistency's sake, invoking the "historical" should be accompanied by actual historical evidence.

I'm assuming the void you speak of is evidence during Jesus' supposed lifetime or at least really, really close to it. In which case you're right. The first secular mentions come many years after scriptures began to circulate, which in turn began many years after Jesus' supposed lifetime.
Yes, Jo, I was speaking of contemporaneous evidence/records.
--- Fred Werther --- Does anybody really know [Jesus]? :)

No, not really. But lots of people desperately want us to believe that they do.

--- Christ as a spiritually present savior already groups believers spread around same area. So no Jesus was not needed to be a physical person to believe in.

I think you nailed it Fred. The ultimate Theist fallback position is "I know in my heart that Jesus was..." At which point they're talking about spiritual Jesus. Not whomever might have been the physical, flesh-and-blood template to call the god-man myth "Jesus" rather than "Bob" or "Ralph."

And exactly why historical Jesus, as someone else here so wonderfully put it, is a sideshow.
I don't believe he existed at all, actually. My main reasons are because there are no records of him and no one wrote about him until many many years later. I think he was kind of a robin hood type legendary character. I mean if there was a Jesus that caused as much of a ruckus a he supposedly did, why is there not a record? And without any record, how much truth can there be in something written decades later?
Hi Lisa,

"My main reasons are because there are no records of him and no one wrote about him until many many years later."

That goes for pretty much every ancient figure that ever existed. So do we conclude that this simply the nature of our source material or that the Ancient world was largely uninhabited? The former of course.

"I mean if there was a Jesus that caused as much of a ruckus a he supposedly did, why is there not a record?"

That's an excellent argument to argue that the ruckus he supposedly caused is greatly exagerrated by his followers and he gets propped up a lot, but it's not a good argument to go from there to saying that he did not exist at all.
Where would you expect to find such a record, by the way? We don't have any such records from the ancient world. Why expect it in this particular case?

"And without any record, how much truth can there be in something written decades later?"

That's actually pretty obvious. I have no idea how old you are, but I'm assuming you know plenty of people who have served in the Vietnam war or who were around in the 1970's. If you were to interview them about these events, could you reconstruct an image of the past (maybe ask them about their squad)? Of course you could: the story might be embellished and clouded a bit, but they'll at least be able to say with some accuracy who existed.
That's about the situation we have with Jesus (and again, for just about every figure of the time).
Some guy (whose name I can't remember) who came on The Daily Show not too long ago was promoting his latest book, "The Ghosts of Cannae". While talking with Jon Stewart he said that the earliest source for Hannibal/The Punic Wars was a historian who lived hundreds of years after the aforementioned conflict.

To my knowledge, this was often the case during antiquity, but yet, we secular people often accuse Christianity of having no historical basis, when it may be that Christianity has a better chance of being true than any other religion in world history.

Josephus mentioned Jesus, and he lived during the first century. Of course though, the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavium is suspect. Besides that though, it seems to me that the multiplicity of extant copies of the new testament during the latter half of the first century (at the very most) is perhaps the justification for my comments in the previous paragraph above.

Although Islam may have a comparable track record, (in terms of how quickly the qur'an was compiled) Muhammed's successor probably burned most (if not all) of the earliest extant copies of the qur'an, making it possibly less historically reliable than the gospels. Then of course there's the finding in Sanaa that may be the currently oldest known qur'an in existence, that's written in shorthand, which may compromise the qur'an's textual integrity.

Anyways, the question of the historicity of Jesus leads to the question of the historicity of the gospels. Other than the gospels, Josephus, maybe some other Jewish historians and the Talmud, there's no evidence that Jesus even existed. Since the gospels are the most detailed accounts of Jesus, that's why so much attention is focused on them, because what one can hope for by reading them is to be able to glean some historical truth from them.

And since it seems that they date back to the first century, and that even during that time there was a large multiplicity of copies of them, perhaps more so than any other antiquarian book, is why it seems to me that Christianity is more likely to be true than any other current religion in the world. But, just because this might be so, doesn't mean that it is so. If one judges Jesus' historicity according to the standards that are applied to most other figures from antiquity (like Hannibal) then perhaps we aren't doing enough as we should be able to do, considering the fact that if we do otherwise, then that would lead us to accept supernatural claims, which to me is anti-intellectual.

So, even if Christianity has more historical evidence on its side than any other religion, that still wouldn't be enough to convince me, at least considering my current views of the supernatural. Or am I wrong reader? Is Christianity as not as historically reliable as I think it is? I don't know. Maybe aliens made Jesus rise from the dead. Stephen Hawking is right about them. They're assholes. And to answer the question, "Did the Jesus of the Gospels exist?" my answer is I don't know.
Rorschach -

I'd then add to that "How are we defining 'Historical Jesus?'"

If we are asking "Did Jesus of the Gospels exist?" it's reasonable that what we are looking for is the originator of the ideology found in the gospels and attributed to Jesus. A) There are many authors of that ideology and B) we have no way of knowing what, if any, of those ideological bits might have actually originated with someone named Jesus. Even the most benefit-of-the-doubt evidence we have still can not tell us anything beyond name/place/occupation and some hints at "most likely" ideology.

But did that ideology come from the author of that gospel? From the most charismatic Christian(s) the gospel writers were paying attention to? From a friend of a friend of Jesus? We don't know. We can't know based on what we have.

I've used the comparison elsewhere of searching for "Historical" Dorothy Gale from the Wizard of Oz. Even if we find that Frank Baum knew a farm girl from Kansas named Dorothy Gale, have we found the Dorothy Gale of the book/film? We don't know. We have at best found the person who was the author's inspiration for using that particular name for his character. Whether or not "real" Dorothy bears any further resemblance than that to book-Dorothy, that truth died with the author. Ultimately, only he knows what he made up and what bits of her he felt were crucial to preserve intact.

Likewise, even if we find a real-life Jesus who was the human template for gospel-Jesus, have we necessarily found gospel-Jesus?
There's a slight difference between the historicity of Hannibal and of Jesus: Hannibal actually had contemporaneous, recorded, commentary which was referenced by other observers. Those records existed both on the Roman and Carthaginian side of events. Unfortunately, those originals no longer exist, lost over the course of many centuries. On the other hand, there are no references to contemporaneous records for Jesus. EVERYTHING we know about him originated well after his death (if he even existed at all).
--- Lisa --- And without any record, how much truth can there be in something written decades later?

Exactly the questions many of us ask. If it were up to my own immediate family to write down my life story and personal ideology, it wouldn't come anywhere close to reality. To the point that "historical me" will be forever lost behind what my family writes about me. But boy they would be quick to tell everyone that they know the "Real" me, and who would doubt them? After all, these are my parents and my siblings, and why would they/how could they possibly get any of it wrong?

If the task were left not to my family but to people a generation or three after the fact, going based on oral stories they heard from friends of friends of friends of my family, and those writers have an agenda of their own for which they are making me the frontman, I have even less confidence that a single word of it will be accurate.

It might be, but I wouldn't assume it must be accurate until proven otherwise. I'd err on the side of "Spin. Unimaginable amounts of spin."


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