Years ago I had ongoing communication with an atheist who was an extreme skeptic in regards to the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. He was one of these atheists that went as far as to doubt the very existence of Jesus (not just the miracles or divinity ascribed to him). He was well familiar with standard apologetic arguments and did not find them persuasive. This would include, among many other examples, Lee Strobel’s A Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus . Lee Strobel was an atheist- turned-Christian, due to his quest, despite it being originally motivated by his intention to debunk Christianity/show that it was based on a myth.
In one of the many back and forths that me and my atheist acquaintance had, he said the following:
“Look at the jesus stories evidence now.
Zero archaeology of jesus or anyone else close in the story except for pilate and thats up for debate if its jesus’s pilate.
No originals of the bible.
Zero contemporary corroborating documents to back up the gospels.”
I was so frustrated at him that I decided to contact multiple professors (and I mean LOTS) in relevant fields from different universities concerning the objections that he had raised. I literally went onto college and university websites, to the faculty pages, looking through history and religious studies departments, in search of anyone who’s listed area of specialization or competence sounded relevant to the questions about the “historical Jesus”.
Fields such as New Testament studies, Greco-Roman history, early Church history, biblical manuscripts/textual criticism, etc. While I did not exclude Christian professors, I made it a point to primarily seek after secular/non-religious professors via secular schools because I figured that the atheist I was debating would be more open to them than to those who have an ‘apologetic axe to grind’.
Here is a small sampling of excerpts (quoted verbatim) from some of the responses of different scholars to the skeptical statements found above.
“It is correct that there is no archaeological evidence for Jesus himself or most of the people close to him in the story. But you could say the same for Socrates or Moses or any number of other figures from the ancient world. And some of them might indeed have never existed. That doesn’t mean much as a historical argument by itself.”
“Of course there is no ‘archaeological’ evidence. He was not an elite person and so left behind no inscription (Pilate was an equestrian and a Roman; jesus was essentially a nobody in social and economic terms.). 99.9% of the population of Galilee left behind no ‘archaeological’ remains.”
“The historicity of the Pilate inscription, found in Caesarea Maritima [Caesarea ‘By the Sea’], in present day Israel, is not doubted”
“Pilate was governor of Judea at the time of Jesus? No question. All the sources (including Josephus and the later Roman historian Tacitus) agree that this same Pilate is the one who ordered the execution of Jesus. And that at least affirms that Jesus really lived. Otherwise, there’s not much point in killing him.”