Is there no evidence that Jesus even existed? Part 1

I like people who cite my work (for the right reasons, that is). People like Joel Watts over at The Church of Jesus Christ.

Joel links to my material on the well and truly debunked copy cat theories surrounding the origin of Christianity. According to those theories, Christianity is founded on myth, and the person that Christians refer to as Jesus of Nazareth is a fictional re-writing of any one of – or perhaps a mixture of – saviour hero figures from various other ancient religions. I’ve commented at length on such creative revisionism before and may do so again, but won’t be doing so today.

What prompted me to blog today was the very first comment that appeared on Joel’s blog entry, made by one Robert Wilson.

There’s no such thing as an “historical Jesus”, since there are no non-Biblical records supporting the existence of the Jesus character.

Thanks to the internet, a number of people believe this. They don’t necessarily believe it because they’ve looked in the direction that any of the relevant evidence might lay, although some of them may, in all fairness, have looked at someone’s presentation of the evidence (that is, the alleged evidence that there are no non-biblical records supporting the existence of the Jesus character. Among ancient historians, the thesis that there literally was no historical Jesus on which the early Christian movement was based is like belief in a flat earth. It’s silly, not taken seriously, and there’s really no need to so much as acknowledge the fact that such a theory even exists. But the internet is another story. In order to get online, nothing has to pass peer review. There are no expertise-based prerequisites to post something at a blog (and yes, that applies to my blog as much as to any other). Stories – the wilder, the more damning of people with whom you disagree, and the more scandalous the better – spread online. This story is one of them, leaping like a virus from one message board to another, from one blog to the next. There is no evidence, we are told, none of any sort – and certainly not from ancient historical records – that there even existed a first century person who we now refer to as Jesus of Nazareth. And by “historical,” we naturally mean “outside of the Bible.” Of course.

The claim is so clearly false that it’s not just incorrect. It is truly weird. People who (it seems to me) are otherwise fairly normal (if a bit eccentric) and of at least normal intelligence seem to be effortlessly persuaded of tall tales that are just laughable. It’s a symptom of the powerful need to believe. But enough about my own bemusement. This blog post is here just to register my surprise that there’s anyone at all who takes claims like this seriously, and also to offer a couple of thoughts for those who either haven’t seen the claim discussed before, or who have, but just haven’t seen a response to the claim. I have two basic things to say, concerning two things: Firstly the methodology that is employed when trying to substantiate the claim, and then secondly the factual dependability of the claim.

First, the methodology. Suppose that someone claimed “there’s no evidence – none at all – from early America that there even was a George Washington who crossed the river Delaware in the eighteenth century.” Apart from being mildly amused that anyone would say this, suppose that you decided to rebut the claim. Imagine that you responded by giving this person five written accounts of people who claimed to have been there at the time. They actually witnessed the crossing. They report seeing Washington on one side of the river, getting into the boat, the boat moving out across the river, and then the boat reaching the other side and Washington getting out of the boat.

That should count as pretty substantial evidence, right? But the denier is not moved. “I reject all of this evidence from the outset,” he says. “You see, these people are believers in Washington’s Delaware crossing. Given that they belong to the group of those who believe this story, you can’t include this in the evidence. Their belief makes them biased.” Would you find that acceptable? Would any historian find this acceptable? Now consider what is actually going on when someone says that there’s no historical evidence for the life of Jesus “outside the Bible.” Why outside the Bible? Because the claims in the Bible are… what, biased? And what makes them biased? They are accounts compiled and written by Christians. And why does that make them biased? Because they believe this Jesus stuff, so their perspective is skewed. The first century writings that affirm the familiar Christian portrait of this first century Jew were gathered together and called the New Testament, which means that to require that in order to be deemed reliable, historical evidence must be outside of the New Testament is unacceptably partisan. It’s like demanding a trial in which the prosecution is allowed to speak but the defence is not. So there’s a fairly obvious flaw in the methodology right from the outset.

As for the factual inaccuracy of the claim about the silence of ancient sources, there are two options: 1) Hire me to write full time, or 2) wait until next time, when I’ll look at some of these sources that, we are told, don’t exist.

Glenn Peoples

Similar Posts:

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

51 thoughts on “Is there no evidence that Jesus even existed? Part 1

  1. When you first posted that link on FB, I knew that I had to share it with the world and with this idiocracy sprang up with Neil, it made a perfect fit.

    I just don’t get it, how people can be so ignorant.

  2. IMHO, this post raises a good point. I would only trust a historian who is an expert in this time period (which would necessarily include Biblical scholarship) for an opinion on whether Jesus of Nazareth lived and preached and rose from the dead.

    The reason why I stroked out the last few words of the preceding sentence is because of the notorious unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Of course, David Hume nailed this critique in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding over 250 years ago. The world is still waiting for an effective Christian rebuttal to the common sense suggestion that “no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous”.

    I have to admire the frankness of Paul who admitted that belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus is fundamental to faith in Christianity: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 1 Corinthians 15:14 (KJV)

    My problem with the supposed historicity of Jesus is not whether he existed but the fact that most Christians pay little attention to the historical record surrounding his supposed resurrection. Now let’s be clear on what they ALL believe: Jesus was crucified and was dead as a doornail on Good Friday. He remained dead on Holy Saturday and presumably started to rot as he lay in his tomb. He then rose from the dead sometime on Easter Sunday. Right [heavily dripping sarcasm]. Glenn, my contention is that a fellow who is as obviously bright as you are would not be willing to believe this bunk unless it had been drilled into you since birth. We can argue until we’re blue in the face about whether Christianity has had a positive, transformative effect on society or not – but none of this will change the fact that the belief system is based on a theoretical house of cards.

    BTW, for an interesting twist on this issue, I commend your readers to Edmund Standing’s article Against Mythicism: Case for the Plausibility of a Historical Jesus which can be found in the excellent journal Think: Philosophy for Everyone 9:24 (2010).

  3. To make your analogy complete, you should say that the eyewitnesses saw Washington not only cross the river, but walk on the water, and not only this, they also saw him bring people back to life, create matter out of nothing, have battles with supernatural creatures, and so on … now we have a real parallel. Anyone still want to take these people’s eyewitness testimony without a *little* skepticism? Would any historian use these records of Washington without just a *little* caution?

    “what makes them biased?” is not that they were written by Christians (they weren’t for starters. They were written by Jews), what makes them biased is that they have a strong theological agenda which at times takes priority of recording the exact historical events, and are full of many accounts which seem impossible to the modern man.

    You are right that it is still possible to use the gospels as historical sources, and that there are (very few as it happens) records of Jesus outside of the gospels, but the Jesus Mythers are not quite as illogical or insane as you make out.

    I would suggest looking at Robert M. Price’s work for a scholarly (non-strawman) argument for the Jesus as myth hypothesis (his essay “Jesus at the vanishing point” is a good summary of his arguments).

    But I do agree, that at the end of the day the Jesus as Myth theory does not stand up to the evidence.

  4. The problem with believing the bible is that you have to trust that it has not been altered or made up wholesale first because of the authors’ biases.

    Imagine that the only written contemporary accounts of the War of Independence you had access to were of british origin. You would probably conclude that Washington was a baby eating savage who crossed the delaware on a raft made of his own families skins (hyperbole for effect – I doubt the british propaganda was this bad).

  5. Also, where are the Roman records? Where are the Jewish records? Shouldn’t there be some of them, somewhere? You would be foolish to base all your scholarship on Washington based on only his most devoted followers’ words – even if you trusted them, would you believe in Washington if the everyone else listed a completely different person as being in charge of the American forces?

    One has to allow for propaganda from both sides when reading histories.

  6. A huge problem in believing the story of Jesus is that from a historical perspective the story appears to have been copied from previous religions in the region. In fact most of Christianity, including the old testament, can be shown to be variations of ancient Egyptian religious beliefs and stories. From the trinity (Osiris, Ra, and Horus), the commandments given to Mosses (Book of the Dead), and the story of Jesus (Horus).

  7. This is ridiculous…

    First of all, no one is saying that the eyewitness accounts of Jesus dont count because the authors were biased. There is NO eyewitness testimony. Comparing the historical evidence for Washington (which includes things written BY Washington himself, artifacts that belonged to him, EYEWITNESS testimony etc) to that of Jesus (which does not even include a record of his birth, his crucifixion, anything he owned etc).

    Also, none of the claims made about Washington even resemble those made about Jesus. Indeed, people made claims about Washington that were similar in nature to those made about Jesus there would be an entire movement disbelieving it.

    Since the claims about both of these characters are not even remotely similar and require different kinds and amounts of evidence, you have no point. You are comparing apples and oranges. We have eyewitness testimony of people claiming to have been victims of UFO abductions. They are supposed to be eyewitnesses, but that doesnt automatically mean their accounts are reliable.

    This is something that should be pretty damn obvious… I cant believe people seriously defend your position in the way you just attempted to defend it.

  8. This is armchair skepticism as it’s most blatant. You not only do not present evidence outside the bible for Jesus’s existence (Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to take part in a census, yet there are no records at all to be found for that, for example), you produce only rhetorical arguments for why the bible should be enough evidence for itself, in and of itself.

    Evidence. The people on the internet you so ridicule work off of evidence. Facts, easily provable, quantifiable, qualifiable. Not verbal fluff. When someone talks about watching Washington crossing the Delaware, chances are great that we got the account from a surviving copy from a diary, or a letter, some form of physical paper with the persons handwriting who has an identity that we can establish. There are no records from the Sanhedrin which back you up. And they kept records. Go ask a rabbi how well they kept records. That’s what we want. Evidence that is beyond argument, beyond contestation.

    Thomas wanted evidence. He not only wanted to see Jesus, he wanted to see the holes in his hands, the spear wound in his side. That’s what we want.

  9. 1. In your analogy, the accounts of Washington’s crossing are written by people who were there, and witnessed the event IN PERSON. The OLDEST physical document we have that references Jesus is from 125 AD, and the earliest written documents (of which we have only copies of copies of copies, alas) were written down in 50 AD at the absolute earliest, a decade or more after Jesus supposedly died.

    2. There are HUNDREDS of contemporaneous accounts of Washington’s existence (including numerous original copies of documents), including documents written in his own hand. We have precisely zero documents written by Jesus, and zero accounts of him written during his supposed lifetime. Again, the amount of evidence for the two men’s existence are not comparable.

    3. The Bible’s reliability in general I consider highly suspect, due to its containing many depictions of miracles and other supernatural events that, in general, are extraordinarily unlikely to have occurred. (Jesus’s miracles, God’s intervention in the world, etc.) Knowing how many other reports of supernatural events have been outright fabricated over the centuries, I assume that the supernatural events in the Bible were fabricated as well. If we assume that that much of the Bible is fabricated, where do we draw the line? This does not prove that nothing described about Jesus occurred, but it makes it much more difficult to say that Jesus did action A but not action B. As such, the Bible is extremely unreliable as “evidence” that there really existed person named Jesus, who did some (clearly not all) of the things described in the New Testament.

    None of this proves that Jesus did not exist, or that there is or is not any particular evidence that he existed; it merely shows your argument to be fatally flawed.

  10. I wonder what it would take to get some of the commenters who buy into the Jesus myth viewpoint to read a book by a mainstream atheist historian about this topic.

    I have long thought that the fact that, in espousing Jesus mythicism, they are embracing the historical equivalent of young-earth creationism, would help jolt self-proclaimed skeptics into some genuine historical skepticism. But time and again I hear the same arguments, the equivalent of “George Washington could have been invented based on any number of earlier military leaders” or “People came to believe Washington chopped down a cherry tree, but he didn’t chop down the cherry tree, therefore he never existed.”

    What bothers me most is the failure to understand how historical study works. Historical study deals in probabilities. Showing that it is possible for Jesus to have been invented is not enough. If you’re willing to posit an elaborate and implausible enough conspiracy, George Washington might not have existed. Based on the available evidence, every mainstream historian with expertise in the relevant time period ad sources draws the same conclusion: that it is more likely that Jesus existed than that he didn’t.

    Of course, the evidence and mainstream scholarship will not change mythicists’ minds, and thus they relegate themselves to being an obviously similar sort of movement to young-earth creationists.

  11. James, you are missing the point being raised by most of the commentators on this thread. We really don’t care whether Jesus existed or not. However, it would be nice if we had some contemporaneous records to confirm exactly what was going on during the apparently short life of the Nazarene who wandered around Galilee preaching the heretic message that he was the Son of God.

    As someone commented on the reddit posting for this article, nobody accepts The Odyssey as historical evidence of its contents. Why should we rely on the Bible (and nothing more) as evidence of supposedly miraculous events? Just because some of its contents refer to events and places that have a historical foundation? Surely you jest.

  12. Max: “To make your analogy complete, you should say that the eyewitnesses saw Washington not only cross the river, but walk on the water..”

    No. I am not writing about whether or not Jesus did all the things that Christians attribute to him but on whether or not he existed at all.

    Matt, in the first place you don’t make it clear how relevant it is (and why it’s relevant) that the actual surviving copies of accounts of people who personally knew that Jesus existed date to the second century. For events that occurred in the first century, this is hardly poor. Think of Alexander the great, for example (or most ancient historical figures).

    Secondly, you seem to imply that written accounts that were completed decades after a first century event are poor evidence regarding that event. I can only assume that you know little of ancient historiography and oral cultures in general if you think this.

    Thirdly, and this was incredibly telling, you say that you reject written accounts just if they include reference to the miraculous. This is effectively to admit that your bias controls what you accept and what you don’t. What’s more (and it’s predictable that people would intentionally overlook this), I am not commenting on whether or not all the biographical details of Jesus’ life are correct. I am commenting on the radical thesis that these accounts don’t event refer to an actual historical person at all, and there was not even any such person as Jesus of Nazareth.

    I have to hold down a day job, but at some point over the next couple of days I’ll move on from the shoddy methodology of this outlandishly sceptical theory on to some of the evidence to the contrary from ancient sources that, we are told, doesn’t really exist.

  13. Glenn wrote: “I am not commenting on whether or not all the biographical details of Jesus’ life are correct. I am commenting on the radical thesis that these accounts don’t event refer to an actual historical person”. IMHO, that’s keeping the bar pretty low.

  14. T.A.M., yes, definitely. The bar is low on this one, because the only people that I’m actually disagreeing with are those who make the rather radical claim that there never was a Jesus of Nazareth at all and that there are no early historical references to him.

  15. Glenn is right about what the real issue is here. It’s not the quality of the testimony (total red herring), it’s the types of events testified to. If there were five (or more) accounts of a 1st century roman pottery maker detailing his daily pottery making activities, no one would have any problem with establishing historicity. Involve the miraculous, and all bets are off.

    Easy to show as well. Atheists decry the deficiency of the written testimony about the events of the life of Jesus – but what difference would it make if:

    – Jesus wrote down a personal testimony
    – There were written accounts from multiple eye witnesses of every event
    – We still possessed the autographs

    None at all. It’s a red herring.

    Atheist Missionary: “IMHO, that’s keeping the bar pretty low.”

    Glenn is debunking a fallacy which is believed and preached by a huge number of atheists. If that is a low bar, well, you know who to blame, don’t you?

  16. People talk as though the events were written down startlingly late… for those of you who live in Dunedin this example may help:

    On 13 November 1990 a tragedy took place in a village just outside of Dunedin where 13 people were shot(14 including the murderer).

    It is now 2010, which is 20 years after the event. This is the sort of time when Paul would have been on his missionary work and writing his letters (maybe a *little* later but the point still stands). It is probably also the time when the first Gospels were in their proto-stage. The whole idea that someone who wanted to investigate the Aromoana tragedy now would have to rely upon “oral tradition” is farcical. Richard Baukham (convincingly in my opinion) argues that the Gospels are very close to being eye-witness testimony, and that although the writers themselves would not have been witnesses, there would have been many people still alive who were, and these people would have been active in the budding Christian communities.

    “Oral tradition” is something which happens over multiple generations – not when eye-winesses are still around. Often people try to apply a methodology developed studying how a story has changed over three or four centuries, and apply it to how the gospel narrative changed in a a couple of decades. Wrong tool.

    The first gospel writers would have valued above all else the testimony of those who were still in the Church who had witnessed the events first hand. I recently read a compelling paper arguing that “Q” was a Galilean document which was written *before* Jesus’ execution, and this explains the lack of a passion narrative. While I am undecided on this, it does draw attention to the fact that we are dealing with documents very close to the time the events happened.

    Peace.

  17. ‘Imagine that you responded by giving this person five written accounts of people who claimed to have been there at the time. They actually witnessed the crossing’

    A superb analogy.

    Can you name one document written in the first century where somebody names himself as ever having heard of Judas, Thomas, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Barimaeus, Joanna, Salome, Martha, the other Mary, Barabbas, Jairus, Simon of Cyrene?

    What is the name of the first century document where somebody names himself as having heard of these people?

  18. ‘I recently read a compelling paper arguing that “Q” was a Galilean document which was written *before* Jesus’ execution, and this explains the lack of a passion narrative. ‘

    If you read Neil Godfrey’s blog, you will see that mythicists like Doherty are under constant attack for thinking that Q might have existed.

    Biblical historians cannot even tell you if Q existed or not, which is why they claim huge expertise in saying what did or did not exist 2000 years ago.

  19. MATT
    The OLDEST physical document we have that references Jesus is from 125 AD,

    CARR
    Really? Where is the word Jesus in that manuscript?

    What we do have are people like Paul writing Romans 10, where he claims Jews could not be expected to believe because they had never heard of Jesus apart from Christians sent to preach about him?

    And even then some Jews were rejecting the message.

  20. GLENN
    The first gospel writers would have valued above all else the testimony of those who were still in the Church who had witnessed the events first hand

    CARR
    No, the first Gospel writers were fraudsters and liars who recycled stories from the Old Testament.

    Still, if you want to work on the theory that ‘If you want to know the truth about L. Ron Hubbard, ask a Scientologist’, or ‘Moonies always tell the truth about Moon’, then feel free to tell people that the Gospels are Gospel truth.

    And don’t look at the documented evidence of fraud and plagiarism in http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm

  21. MAX
    On 13 November 1990 a tragedy took place in a village just outside of Dunedin where 13 people were shot(14 including the murderer).

    It is now 2010, which is 20 years after the event. This is the sort of time when Paul would have been on his missionary work and writing his letters

    CARR
    I have to admit the Christians are coming up with superb analogies.

    Paul looked on the murder of Jesus and wrote the following ‘For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.’

    Paul looked on the horror of the crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans, and wrote that basically Jesus had it coming to him, and it would not have happened if Jesus had not been a naughty boy – ‘…. for he does not bear the sword for nothing.’

    No Christian could have imagined Jesus whipped, beaten, flogged, mocked, tortured and crucified by the Romans and then write ‘… for he does not bear the sword for nothing’

  22. Steven Carr, my analogy doesn’t require that people identify themselves and others as witnesses, and also name themselves. My analogy only requires that people provide accounts from the period itself, and nothing more. No names, ages or biographical details of the writers need to be provided.

    And Steven, please slow down. Maybe take a breather between comments, or better yet, instead of a large number of short posts in quick succession, just a couple of substantial posts. You’re going at such a frenzied pace that you’re even attributing quotes to the wrong commentors.

  23. “No, the first Gospel writers were fraudsters and liars who recycled stories from the Old Testament.”

    It is hardly a big surprise to most Christians that Jesus’ actions refer back to old testament events. I love it when atheists point out what is common knowledge as though it is a knock-down argument! Very amusing – rather endearing in a way.

  24. T.A.M, but what are you looking for? If it’s first century accounts believed to be about a person named Jesus of Nazareth, then that’s what you have.

    Would you mind explaining how much less “shaky” you would regard the New Testament books (and why) if each one had a name affixed to it?

  25. GLENN
    No names, ages or biographical details of the writers need to be provided.

    CARR
    I see.

    So if you wanted to prove that the Holocaust happened, you would not any names of witnesses?

    And if you wanted to prove that aliens landed at Roswell, you would rely on anonymous reports, which plagiarise each other and the Old Testament?

    And if you had named witnesses of the Elvis Presely Fan Club who never mentioned his tap-dancing, you would lambast people who did not accept anonymous reports, written decades after the death of the King, which claimed that Presley was famous for tap-dancing?

  26. THE ATHEIST MISSIONARY
    “No names, ages or biographical details of the writers need to be provided”. If that’s not an admission of shaky historical foundations, I’ve never seen one.

    CARR
    Please allow yourself some time for laughter at that admission by Glenn.

    A 5 minute laughter break will suffice.

  27. Steven, if you received a bunch of reports that there was a death camp at Auschwitz – the reports were not named by the writer, but they all named numerous witnesses and people who were there and who were still alive when the reports were distributed, would you consider those reports useless?

    Sometimes I think so-called “sceptics” seriously stop thinking about everything else in reality when it comes to rejecting the New Testament.

  28. I see.

    So Glenn admits there is not ONE named Christian in the first century who ever said he had even heard of Judas, Lazarus, Bartimaeus, Jairus, Joanna, Salome, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Barabbas, Martha, the other Mary etc.

    But he still claims those people exist.

    Because they are in the Bible – in anonymous sources which plagiarise each other and the Old Testament.

    How circular is that?

    Glenn, produce evidence that Judas existed before ‘Mark’ wrote a Novel about him.

    Produce the evidence. Stop saying that Judas existed because he is in the Bible.

    Produce ONE named person who wrote in the first century that he had ever heard of Judas.

    I also see that Glenn has no answer to my quote of Romans 13 – something no Christian could have written so soon after the murder of Jesus by people who ‘do not bear the sword for nothing’

  29. GLENN
    Steven, if you received a bunch of reports that there was a death camp at Auschwitz – the reports were not named by the writer, but they all named numerous witnesses and people who were there and who were still alive when the reports were distributed, would you consider those reports useless?

    CARR
    Produce evidence that Judas, Thomas, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea were ever alive.

    That’s all I want. Some evidence.

    Is that TOO much to ask?

  30. Steven, I think that you’re intentionally not trying to digest what is being said or presented here. I’ll treat you as an observer until that changes.

    And seriously, chill out. Why the frantic short posts, one after the other – on this blog entry and others? Are you drinking/consuming some metabolism boosters? I’m off to bed. You should try to relax too.

  31. In support of Steven’s writing style and as a casual observer of this conversation I have to say that a new post when addressing another person is quite a nice idea and not at all ‘frenzied’. And I think that you, Glenn, are either misreading these as ‘frantic’ due to your own biases or are trying to divert from what he is actually saying by painting Steven as a drunk or crack-head.

  32. Damian, if I were diverting from what Steven said in these short, rapid-fire comments, then I would not be commenting on the content of the comments, which I am (up until the point where it starts to look like he’s not quite seeing, concentrating or trying to seriously grapple with what is being said to him). What’s more, under this blog entry and part 2, Steven’s comments are not separated because they are directed at different people. On the contrary, under both blog entries I see one comment after the other directed at the the same person, with the second one written in a different style (e.g. GLENN:…. CARR:… etc), like a second person is having their brief say as well. Nobody mentioned or implied drugs or alcohol. All I said is that he needs to chill out before commenting.

  33. On further reflection, Damian, you may have thought that my reference to a “substance” was a reference to illegal drugs. That was definitely not the intention. In a comment on a more recent blog entry I actually said “coffee,” and that was my intention here as well.

  34. “I love it when atheists point out what is common knowledge as though it is a knock-down argument! very amusing…”

    While I don’t think belittling your opponents, even when their argument is that bad, is a good way to go about it, I will say something along those lines.

    I did once hear someone claim that Jesus was a mythical figure because He is called Jesus Christ, and Jesus = Savior and Christ = annointed one.

    After all, it’s not as though that information is contained in the very book the Christian faith is based off of or anything…it’s not like the bible ever says He was specifically to be named Jesus because He would be a savior (Matthew 1:21), or that Christ is a title (as opposed to being a last name) (Matthew 16:16, 22:42 Luke 3:15 and more). Not really something anyone is trying to hide…

  35. Carr says that Jesus wasn’t a king. I think we can at least take this statement as attesting to the fact that Jesus actually existed.

    After all, there is no such thing as a non-existent regal pretender.

  36. Steven, as I look through your comments, it seems clear that what you’re really interested in is not actually what this blog entry is about. This blog entry is part one of several, and it identifies a specific methodological bias in some of the less reputable work (in my opinion and that of many others) on the historic Jesus, work that flourishes more online than elsewhere.

    A lot of what you say and ask is not about this as much as it is about a different area, namely that of textual criticism and authorship of the Gospels in particular. This is well outside the scope of what this blog is about, at least in part because I’m not an expert on that. Earning a place from which one can speak with real authority on that question requires a significant amount of patience and a major investment of time, energy, and often a major expense (depending on the college one studies that subject at), and asking me to speak with authority on it is about as pointless if not more so, with all due respect, as me asking you to do so.

    So while I can understand your interest in that subject (namely, a very close study of the question of the authorship of the Gospels, as well as careful study around the proximity of their authorship/compilation with the actual events themselves) and your keen desire to know more, I can’t be of much help without first investing time and effort that you could invest yourself. That’s my confession. So with that in mind, I’d make just a few suggestions as you begin to come to grips with that very complex field of inquiry:

    Richard Bauckham Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

    And for something a little shorter, part 4 of: Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition

    Part 4 of this book focuses on “The Synoptic Gospels as Historical Sources for Jesus: Assessing the Evidence,” and I am sure you’d find it helpful, given the nature of your questions.

    There are also two volumes co-edited by Craig Evans that would probably help you as well:

    Authenticating the Words of Jesus
    Blurb: “Research on Jesus is a difficult task because of the number of primary source materials and their complexities. This volume reviews the criteria, assumptions and methods involved in critical Jesus research. Its purpose is to clarify the procedures necessary.”

    And:
    Authenticating the Activities of Jesus
    Blurb: “This companion volume to “Authenticating the Words of Jesus” examines the important issue of the original setting and context in which the words of Jesus were spoken. It proceeds on the assumption that authenticating the activities of Jesus is just as important as authenticating his words.”

    These are only suggestions, and there is more material to track down if you’re keen to look further, but I daresay that digesting all of the above is more than nearly anyone would need. I know some of the material is lengthy and complex, Steven, but given the level of certainty that you (appear to) have, I’m sure that a genuine grappling with the material and issues will be a sobering experience – but almost certainly a fruitful one. The internet encourages us to wish for immediate and full answers without delay – but a full appreciation of the issues you’re asking about just can’t be reached that way, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate.

  37. Y’know, I couldn’t see anything in the article Carr linked to that gave any indication that those parallels must have been plagiarism, rather than, say, the authors deliberately stressing details that called OT stories to mind in order to give the illusion of continuity between the OT and Jesus’ works. That’s not even close to assuming Jesus’ miraculous acts were factual.

    Just as, of course, it’s rather ridiculous to call “plagiarism!” on the Gospels regarding each other, without even trying to knock down the possibility that they could have drawn on each other with permission, or from a common document or oral teaching. Or, y’know, actual facts.

  38. Glenn:

    Oh dear, you’re putting words in my mouth. You said:

    “Thirdly, and this was incredibly telling, you say that you reject written accounts just if they include reference to the miraculous.”

    I said:

    “Knowing how many other reports of supernatural events have been outright fabricated over the centuries, I assume that the supernatural events in the Bible were fabricated as well. If we assume that that much of the Bible is fabricated, where do we draw the line? This does not prove that nothing described about Jesus occurred, but it makes it much more difficult to say that Jesus did action A but not action B. As such, the Bible is extremely unreliable as “evidence” that there really existed person named Jesus, who did some (clearly not all) of the things described in the New Testament.”

    Now, simple reading comprehension tells you that what I said is that the presence of obviously fabricated elements in the New Testament reduces its reliability overall. I even went to pains to point out that it does NOT prove that nothing described about Jesus actually occurred, and yet here you are claiming that I reject the entire document because it contains miracles.

    We know that parts of the NT are false; the miracles are so unlikely to have occurred that it is quite reasonable to assume that they did not. Why, then, should anything else in the NT be assumed to be true? Again, this does not prove that none of it is true, but since you argue that the NT is *itself* valid evidence for Jesus’s existence, I’m pointing out that it’s pretty weak evidence, considering that we know parts of it are false, which does not speak well for the parts which might be true.

  39. Matt, on review it seems that I represented you accurately. See:

    “We know that parts of the NT are false; the miracles are so unlikely to have occurred that it is quite reasonable to assume that they did not.”

    So you do in fact treat the NT in just the way I said. Miracles accounts, according to you, simply must be untrue.

  40. “Knowing how many other reports of supernatural events have been outright fabricated over the centuries, I assume that the supernatural events in the Bible were fabricated as well. ”

    This is a strange argument. Supernatural events aren’t the only kind of events that have been fabricated over history. Using this logic, knowing how many other reports of non-supernatural events have been outright fabricated over the centuries, we should also assume that any given account of non-supernatural events is fabricated as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available