The Existence of Jesus?


#1

How much historian evidence is there for Christ? Are there sources from non-religious or non-Chrisians as well regarding Christ as a true living figure of history? I always thought there was. But at an atheist site I visited recently, this man was saying that there is NO evidence whatsoever for the existence of Christ and that anyone who says there is is laughable.

Also, has anyone ever seen “The God Who Wasn’t There” a documentary attacking the Faith? In it it talks about:

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation.

Robert M. Price, Jesus Seminar fellow and author of The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man.

Alan Dundes, Professor of Folklore at the University of California at Berkeley

Richard Carrier, historian and author of Sense and Goodness Without God Barbara & David P. Mikkelson, authors of the Urban Legends Reference Pages at snopes.com

and ESPECIALLY: “The Scholar.” This track delves deep into the Jesus Myth hypothesis with pioneering scholar Earl Doherty (The Jesus Puzzle). If you are intrigued by the possibility that Jesus Christ did not exist at all, you will find this audio track fascinating. Doherty has been studying for decades the evidence that mainstream academics are only beginning to discover. Prepare to be astounded."

There’s also a section on Richard Dawkins preaching his usual hatred toward the Faith.

I’m sorry if I sound so negative, it’s just these questions are really bothering me lately. Need help from reliable sources.


#2

I just found an interesting article debunking Earl Doherty’s “Jesus Puzzle.” tektonics.org/doherty/dohertyhub.html


#3

I’ve been finding answers to my own questions hehe. I just read a respone in critisizing Sam Harris’ “Christian Nation.”

I’ve had my mind wrapped up in so many atheists debates lately, talking trash about the Faith, supposively giving good evidence, that I felt I became confused. But this response really helped: tektonics.org/gk/harrisletter.html

Anyhow thanks for at least reading, anyone, hehe.


#4

Ask them how exactly there is no claim that Jesus was not real prior to the 20th century.

Why did Celsus, a noted and adament pagan opponent of Christianity not ever call Jesus “fake”. He calls him things like “liar”, “magician” or “deceiver” but never fake.


#5

The Jewish historian Josephus wrote about Jesus

"At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of starling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the Messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of thse and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this day the tribe of Christians named after him has not died out (Antiquities 18.3.3)

Josephus had no reason to lie because he had no fight or belief in Jesus.

Peace,

Ryan :slight_smile:


#6

Why would they discount the Bible as a historical book?

Here are some other links of interest:
Link
New Advent
Amazon


#7

Because it would disprove their point :wink:

Automatically discounting the Bible is sorta like automatically discounting all Greek sources for the Pelaponissian War and then saying it never happened.


#8

The << Also, has anyone ever seen “The God Who Wasn’t There” a documentary attacking the Faith? In it it talks about: >>

Got it, memorized it. :stuck_out_tongue: Your best response was written by evangelical Mike Licona, which I re-edited for my site since their site www.AnsweringInfidels.com is (in my opinion) poorly formatted. Mike’s devastating article I put here and beefed it up with some links:

Review and Critique of “The God Who Wasn’t There” DVD

Your best single book on this topic is now:

The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (2007) by Greg Boyd / Paul Eddy

If you buy one book, that’s the one to get. Very thorough. It addresses the arguments of G.A. Wells, Earl Doherty, Robert M. Price, etc.

Plenty of other books are also good rebuttals:

The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg (Intervarsity, 1987)
Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus edited by Wilkins / Moreland (Zondervan, 1995)
The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels by Luke Timothy Johnson (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)
The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ by Gary Habermas (College Press, 1996)
Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence by Robert van Voorst (Eerdmans, 2000)
Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels by Craig Evans (Intervarsity, 2006)
Can We Trust the Gospels? by Mark D. Roberts (Crossway Books, 2007)

And some more advanced books on the biography genre of the Gospels and historical Jesus:

What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography by Richard Burridge (Cambridge / Eerdmans, 1992, 2004)
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham (Eerdmans, 2006)
A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (volume 1) by John P. Meier (Anchor / Doubleday, 1991)

The latter covers Josephus in some depth. His two passages are both considered authentic references to Jesus, although the first one probably went through some Christian interpolation with a core statement on Jesus.

The << Robert M. Price, Jesus Seminar fellow and author of The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. >>

On Robert M. Price, I find him funny, but his scholarship in my opinion is very sloppy. Some evangelicals have taken him seriously such as Greg Boyd who has debated him at least four times. Their fourth debate is available on my site:

Greg Boyd vs. Robert M. Price debate (MP3)

The << and ESPECIALLY: “The Scholar.” This track delves deep into the Jesus Myth hypothesis with pioneering scholar Earl Doherty (The Jesus Puzzle). >>

Got the Doherty book, don’t think it stands up at all. His whole case revolves around St. Paul supposedly preaching a “heavenly Christ” with no reference to his earthly ministry. He dismisses the Gospels, dismisses Josephus, Tacitus, etc. Rebutted in full by any of the books above.

The << If you are intrigued by the possibility that Jesus Christ did not exist at all, you will find this audio track fascinating. Doherty has been studying for decades the evidence that mainstream academics are only beginning to discover. Prepare to be astounded. >>

I wasn’t astounded, since I put the whole interview on my site. :stuck_out_tongue:

Doherty hasn’t presented anything new since G.A. Wells, basically a re-hash of all his “Jesus myth” arguments. Even Wells now believes Jesus lived based on the (hypothetical) “Q” document. See The Jesus Legend by Boyd/Eddy for your best response.

Jeffery Jay Lowder of Internet Infidels: “There is simply nothing intrinsically improbable about a historical Jesus; the New Testament alone (or at least portions of it) are reliable enough to provide evidence of a historical Jesus. On this point, it is important to note that even G.A. Wells, who until recently was the champion of the christ-myth hypothesis, now accepts the historicity of Jesus on the basis of ‘Q’.” (“Josh McDowell’s ‘Evidence’ for Jesus,” also Wells The Jesus Myth [Open Court, 1999])

Secular historian Will Durant: “The Christian evidence for Christ begins with the letters ascribed to Saint Paul…No one has questioned the existence of Paul, or his repeated meetings with Peter, James, and John; and Paul enviously admits that these men had known Christ in his flesh. The accepted epistles frequently refer to the Last Supper and the Crucifixion…in essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of Christ…no one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them. That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so loft an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospel.” (Ceasar and Christ, volume 3 of Story of Civilization)

Graham Stanton of Cambridge: “Today, nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed and that the gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which has to be weighed and assessed critically. There is general agreement that, with the possible exception of Paul, we know far more about Jesus of Nazareth than about any first or second century Jewish or pagan religious teacher.” (The Gospels and Jesus)

Robert Van Voorst: “Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed their * arguments as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them completely…The theory of Jesus’ nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question…Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it as effectively refuted.” (Jesus Outside the New Testament, 6, 14, 16)

Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright: “It is quite difficult to know where to start, because actually the evidence for Jesus is so massive that, as a historian, I want to say we have got almost as much good evidence for Jesus as for anyone in the ancient world…the evidence fits so well with what we know of the Judaism of the period…that I think there are hardly any historians today, in fact I don’t know of any historians today [aside from G.A. Wells, etc], who doubt the existence of Jesus…No Jewish, Christian, atheist, or agnostic scholars have ever taken that [proposition] seriously since. It is quite clear that in fact Jesus is a very, very well documented character of real history. So I think that question can be put to rest.” (“The Self-Revelation of God in Human History” from There Is A God by Antony Flew and Roy Abraham Varghese [HarperOne, 2007])

Phil P*


#9

#10

Jason B << What do you think of Sam Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation” ? >>

I’ve read parts in the bookstore. I could probably finish it in the store, it’s not a very long book. He makes good points here and there, but he is responding to mainly fringe, radical, fundamentalist religion, whether Christian or otherwise. Harris also seems to think these questions haven’t been asked before (i.e. the classic “problem of evil”). Someone like moderate evangelical / philosopher scholars like William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, J.P. Moreland, or biblical scholars like N.T. Wright, or even Peter Kreeft would take most of his arguments apart. Not to mention St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, who dealt with this stuff long ago, etc.

I would love to see the Bill Craig vs. Sam Harris debate, maybe that’s been suggested and Harris refused, I don’t know. :stuck_out_tongue: You can hear Craig address arguments of skeptics (MP3) like ex-fundy minister Dan Barker, Sam Harris, and others.

I also see that while Harris makes fun of religion and even Catholicism, especially the Catholic Eucharist in some of his talks (I forgive him), he considers himself a “spiritual” person and recognizes the value in that. For example, see his comments in the “Four Horsemen of Atheism” video (available free online or as high-quality DVD). I think All Four of them make good points, but they are all arguing (mainly) against a radical, fundamentalist version of religion, one that rejects reason and science, especially evolution.

Many many Catholics, evangelicals, even Muslims and others who practice religion are not who they want to criticize. We are basically on the same team in wanting a better society, etc. And it was Catholic Christianity which gave birth to modern science – see “The Church and Science” (MP3) chapter of the Thomas E. Woods book How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.

Phil P


#11

In general, those who reject the historical reality of Jesus are unwilling to take a truly critical look at history, rather they take a look with the mere appearance of being critical. I will address what I think are the basic points.

  1. No non-religious references to Jesus.
    Well I agree with many of them that we can set aside Josephus for while the extant texts do make reference to Jesus, there is sufficient evidence that it might be an interpolation added at a much later date. Further, his very statements seem to be more those of a Christian than of a Jew who never accepted Christianity.

But aside from that, since when do religious reference have to be rejected as historical documents? Jesus was a religious figure, it is most likely that most of the people writing about him were going to be followers of the religion he founded. From an historians perspective, one needs to view the documents with a skeptical eye, but that doesn’t mean we need to reject them. Further, if we include the Gnostic writings and the other apocryphal writings on Jesus, we have hundreds of documents to sift through in an attempt to try to look at Jesus as a purely historical figure (i.e. divorced from his divine nature (purely for the sake of the argument).

  1. How do we explain Christianity without Jesus?
    This is the area where, to my mind, the skeptics really fall flat. If Jesus was not real, then how does one explain the emergence and quick expansion of Christianity? Remember, the Apostles were preaching a set of teachings that were in some respects a radical departure from the Judaism they would have grown up with. It seems very unlikely to me that this group would have made that radical departure without some dramatic shared experience. Now, even if we can reject the resurrection as that dramatic experience (which I wouldn’t do because I believe in it, but I am arguing purely as an historian here), it seems likely that there was some unifying experience; the most likely experience after the resurrection would have to have been Jesus’s crucifixion. Any other answer makes far less sense.


Bill


#12

mchale << 1. No non-religious references to Jesus. Well I agree with many of them that we can set aside Josephus for while the extant texts do make reference to Jesus, there is sufficient evidence that it might be an interpolation added at a much later date. Further, his very statements seem to be more those of a Christian than of a Jew who never accepted Christianity. >>

No way do we give them Josephus. From a previous post I made:

There are two passages in Josephus that mention Jesus, a longer passage with more details, and a shorter passage on James, “the brother of Jesus.” Both passages are considered at least partially authentic by modern scholarship, but as I understand the longer of the passages has some interpolation in the text, with a core authenticity that shows at least Josephus mentions Jesus and his crucifixion under Pilate.

Internet Infidels regular Peter Kirby of EarlyChristianWritings.com summarizes “all sides” from various scholars and concludes:

“But assuming that at least the shorter reference is authentic, what can we conclude from this? It shows that Josephus accepted the historicity of Jesus. Simply by the standard practice of conducting history, a comment from Josephus about a fact of the first century constitutes prima facie evidence for that fact. It ought to be accepted as history unless there is good reason for disputing the fact.” (Peter Kirby, study on Testimonium Flavianum from EarlyChristianWritings.com)

Christian apologist Mike Licona on the shorter passage:

"May it suffice to say at the moment that today’s leading Josephus scholar Louis Feldman writes, ‘The passage about James [Antiquities Book 20, Sections 197-200] has generally been accepted as authentic.’ [a] Elsewhere he mentions this text and ‘the authenticity of which has been almost universally acknowledged.’ ** Another Jewish scholar, Zvi Baras, states that this passage ‘is considered authentic by most scholars.’ [c] Edwin Yamauchi comments, ‘Few scholars have questioned the genuineness of this passage.’ [d] Robert Van Voorst writes, ‘The overwhelming majority of scholars holds that the words the brother of Jesus called Christ are authentic, as is the entire passage in which it is found.’ " [e] (see Mike Licona’s response to The God Who Wasn’t There)

[a] Louis H. Feldman and Gohei Hata, eds., Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity (Wayne State Univ Press, 1989), 434.
** Ibid, 56.
[c] Ibid, 341.
[d] Edwin Yamauchi, “Jesus and the Scriptures,” 53.
[e] Robert Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament** (Eerdmans, 2000), 83.

There is also a long discussion on the authenticity of the Josephus passages in John P. Meier A Marginal Jew (1991), Volume 1, chapter 3, pages 56-88. Meier lays out four positions (page 59) on the longer passage:

(1) The entire account about Jesus is entirely a Christian interpolation. Meier says this position “has its respectable defenders” but is not the majority position.

(2) While there are signs of Christian redaction, some mention of Jesus was made by Josephus at this point, perhaps a pejorative one, which caused a Christian scribe to in turn make a positive statement.

(3) The text before us is basically what Josephus wrote, with two or three insertions by a Christian scribe that are easily isolated from the clearly non-Christian core about Jesus written by Josephus.

(4) The longer passage is entirely by Josephus.

Position (4) “with few exceptions” has been “given up today by the scholarly community” with positions (2) and (3) being within the spectrum of most scholarly opinion today about the Josephus passage (see Meier, A Marginal Jew, volume 1, page 59).

The shorter passage on James, “the brother of Jesus…” reads:

“He [referring to Ananus the high priest] assembled the sanhedrin of the judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus called Christ [Greek given], whose name was James, and some others. When he had accused them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.” (Josephus, Antiq of the Jews, 20:9:1, c. 90 AD)

Van Voorst comments that the overwhelming majority of scholars holds that the words above are authentic, as is the entire passage in context. (Jesus Outside the New Testament [2000], page 83)

Gary Habermas in his book on The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (1996), says the following facts can be gotten out of Josephus about Jesus:

(1) Jesus was known as a wise and virtuous man, one recognized for his good conduct.
(2) He had many disciples, both Jews and Gentiles.
(3) Pilate condemned him to die,
(4) with crucifixion explicitly being mentioned as the mode.
(5) The disciples reported that Jesus had risen from the dead and
(6) that he had appeared to them on the third day after his crucifixion.
(7) Consequently, the disciples continued to proclaim his teachings.
(8) Perhaps Jesus was the Messiah concerning whom the O.T. prophets spoke and predicted wonders.
(9) Jesus was the brother of James and
(10) was called the Messiah by some.

Habermas notes: “There is nothing really sensational in such a list of facts from a Jewish historian. Jesus’ ethical conduct, his following, and his crucifixion by the command of Pilate are what we would expect from a historian to mention…Josephus, like many historians today, would simply be repeating the claims, which were probably fairly well known in first century Palestine. That the disciples would then spread his teachings would be a natural consequence.” (page 195-196)

Someday I’ll summarize all this with arguments and evidence in my own article.

Phil P**


#13

mchale << it seems likely that there was some unifying experience; the most likely experience after the resurrection would have to have been Jesus’s crucifixion. Any other answer makes far less sense. >>

And if Jesus was crucified with no resurrection, he would have been like every other messianic claimant after he died: he would have had no followers after being shown to be a failure. Remember “all the disciples forsook him and fled” according to the Gospels (Mark 14:50).

So needless to say, if Jesus never existed, he would have had no followers either and no Christianity could have gotten off the ground as you said. Regardless Earl Doherty (The Jesus Puzzle) tries to make an argument mainly from silence.

Phil P


#14

There are also references from Romans but they are from the second century.

Roman historian Gaius Tacitus and Suetonius, and Roman rhetorician Lucian of Samosata.

I expect any source you reference will be rejected because they will say "They were not eye-witnesses.

Peace,

Ryan :slight_smile:


#15

It interests me, the hypocricy that some historians have when it comes to the authenticity of Scripture. Much of (secular) ancient history is based on one or two copies of ancient manuscripts, and is accepted without question.

Yet there are thousands of ancient copies or fragments of Scripture in existance, and they’re discounted because they were written by believers.

:shrug:


#16

Many believe this quote was inserted hundreds of years after Josephus. (Including me).

But I don’t dispute that Jesus existed.


#17

I’ve heard the different thoughts as well. I’m of the opinion that he was making a historical observation on what the chistians believed. (Not that he believed it. instead, writing it down for posterity sake) He commented on alot of things he didn’t necessarily support.

I can prove any of this, just my feeling.

Peace,

Ryan :slight_smile:


#18

The same reason there is no claim that any fake religious figures were fake. It was the first century. It was difficult to check on these things.

Why did Celsus, a noted and adament pagan opponent of Christianity not ever call Jesus “fake”. He calls him things like “liar”, “magician” or “deceiver” but never fake.

Because he lived hundreds of years after jesus. He would have no way to know if he was fake.


#19

Becuase it’s not. It’s a loose collection of rumors writen many generations after the events in question.

The harsh reality is that there are two good reasons why historians tend to lean towards Jesus being real.

  1. There was a reference to a brother of Jesus in an extra-biblical source. Some historians firmly believe that this is a literal brother, not just “brother” in the sense of someone who follows jesus. This, unfortunately for you, contridicts church teachings. So if you want to follow church teachings, then you destroy all rational reasons for believing christ existed at all.

  2. Jesus acted like a con man. He made excuses when called up to perform his miracles, that people with lack of faith “supressed” his powers, he claims his biggest miracles happened in far off small cities in the middle of no where and then complains that the people there still don’t believe even though they saw these big miracles. He sounds like a man making excuses and con artisting his way through life. No fake figure would be intentionally writen this way. Again, if you want to say “jesus is real because historians say so” you might want to consider what ideas you’re really supporting.


#20

:smiley:

Mersenne appears not to have heard about the Dead Sea scrolls, which, of course, support many of the OT prophetic writings and doesn’t know when the Gospels were written (Hint: it’s not “many generations” after the events).

As well, this is rather confusing logic about Celsus’ claims about Jesus:

“Because he lived hundreds of years after jesus. He would have no way to know if he was fake.”

There’s no way he’d know he wasn’t fake either. Wouldn’t it be much easier to dismiss Jesus as fake as a good argument against Christianity? It’d be much more convincing to claim he never existed rather than to try to debunk his miracles, wouldn’t it?


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