I'm not sure this question is of broad interest to SWiFT members, but as an ex-Catholic, I can't help wondering and would love to know what others think.
I raise the question of Jesus' historical authenticity in the book I wrote for my kids. It's provoked interesting responses from my family and friends. Like, "It's one thing to not believe in god, it's another to deny history." Below are the questions I raise in my book, god is redudnant. I would love to know what SWiFT members think.
I assume we can all agree that Jesus is not god, but what is the likelihood that he isn't even historical?
"Personally, I’d always assumed Jesus was a historical figure. But I now admit it may have been an assumption on my part. I thought the lack of historical evidence for Jesus was the result of him being an itinerant preacher from a backwater town. Like Thomas Jefferson, I’d always regarded Jesus as a historical figure mythologized by the evangelists to compete with the contemporary gods he was intended to replace. After all, there are other examples of historical figures being mythologized, such as Alexander the Great.
...with so many authors, so many audiences, so many motives – Judaize, Hellenize, Catholicize – and so much tampering [with the Bible], how can you possibly deduce the historical Jesus with any accuracy, or even if there was one? Jesus’ historical authenticity is largely an assumption on my part with little to no evidence. My confidence is now waning in light of the striking parallels with other ancient savior-god cults, Old Testament stories, and other historical writings. But assuming Jesus was a historical figure, I certainly don’t believe he was a god, and, frankly, I’m not convinced he thought so either.
I wonder if Jesus isn’t a little like Daniel Webster. Maybe there was a historical preacher from Galilee just like there was a historical statesman from New England. But maybe not all of the stories we associate with them are historically accurate. For example, Daniel Webster never really defended a New Hampshire farmer who sold his soul to the devil, did he? It’s just a great story based on an earlier one, The Devil and Tom Walker, which itself is really a retelling of the old German legend Faust. Similarly, maybe Jesus wasn’t really born of a virgin and didn’t really survive his own death. Maybe the gospels are based on earlier stories which themselves are really a retelling of the old Egyptian myth of Horus. Once ancient tales take on mythic proportions, it becomes rather difficult to separate fact from fiction, history from theology. But this doesn't mean there wasn't a historical preacher named Jesus in first century Galilee."
It sounds glib, but he either did exist historically...
...or he didn't.
There's no tangible evidence to support the claim that he did.
And even if there was some evidence that he existed historically all it really tells us that a man existed who may have ruffled some feathers somewhere in an illiterate part of the ancient world - a revolutionary, a politician, a preacher. And I'm sure there were many.
He may also be a conflation of several figures, or even a mythologised personification of a genuine movement/group. Using such a personification - a fictional 'figure head' - to represent a scattered grouping of either people or ideals - a focus figure - was quite common. And still is; indeed, it's the foundation of all storytelling.
As a screenwriter, you get to learn a lot about the construction of stories and it becomes quite obvious what has been adapted to fit the universal model or structure of a fictional account. These structures are ingrained in our collective human consciousness and work in a very similar way. They did at the time of Aristotle (read his poetics) and they still do now (compare Aristotle with a Hollywood movie and you'll be surprised by the similarities)
Besides, his existence or lack of it doesn't really matter: either way, as discussed, the only version we have is the mythologised figure, which certainly didn't exist. I've studied mythology (Joseph Campbell's et al work is highly recommended) on and off for some time and Jesus ticks all the boxes for a classic mythologised figure. As you probably know, very few attributes of his story are unique to this particular myth.
It's worth mentioning also that the ancient world had a very different way of thinking. They did not think like we do at all. The lines between fact and fiction were blurred. People like Campbell believe that the monotheistic traditions forgot how to see and accept religious symbols and signs as metaphors (which is how many eastern religions function) and instead began to take literally the blurred mental metaphors - they began to think of them as fact.
Love your response. I'm also a fan of Campbell. I had read about how some scholars think the stories some people take literally today would have been understood as metaphors in their own time. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.
Bart D. Ehrman weighs in on the historical authenticity of Jesus (with a yes vote). My understanding is that Ehram used to be a born-again fundamentalist and is now agnostic. For a biblical scholar, he seems progressive based on his previous books. I thought I'd share this article since it speaks directly to our discussion below. Let me know what you think.