My atheist friend, Tom, likes to start religious debates on Facebook. For the life of me, I don’t know why because he’s not very good at it. Nevertheless, he persists. One specific argument I’ve never bothered with while arguing with him is the one that, if you based your belief on whether a historical figure existed on the amount of extant contemporary sources, you’d have far more reason to believe Jesus existed than Alexander the Great. I’ve heard this alluded to before but never really looked into it and didn’t feel it was necessary to mention in any of the arguments I’ve had with him. We have a mutual friend, Jerry, whose debating skills really aren’t any better than those of Tom’s and I’ve stepped in on several occasions to bail him out when he gets in over his head. They’re at it again and Jerry decided to make the claim that you can’t say Jesus didn’t exist based on the lack of contemporary resources without also saying that a whole slew of other ancient, historical figures didn’t exist. Tom rebutted with some pretty standard attacks on the historicity of the Gospels while ignoring any extrabibilical references (I’m guessing mainly because Jerry doesn’t know enough to even mention them).
Tom’s a nut for certain historical figures, Alexander the Great being one of them, so I decided to look at the old argument to see how valid it is. As it turns out, it actually has some value. In terms of extant contemporary references to Alexander, there really aren’t any worth mentioning. The earliest surviving works date to a 200-300 years after he died, while the rest are much later. Jesus has him beat pretty much all around. That being said, how would you recommend presenting the argument in a way that doesn’t make it sound as though you’re saying you don’t believe Alexander existed? I don’t want to leave Jerry hanging but I’m not sure I’m in the mood to devote the time to the sort of Socratic debate I usually like to string Tom through (mainly because it’s such a chore to lead him to simple conclusions, let alone more complex ones).