Did Jesus even exist?

Scott Smith —  January 4, 2012 — 36 Comments
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Jesus  never existed. He was merely a myth.

This is typical charge anyway.

So, how about it? Was there ever a man named Jesus of Nazareth?

The very simple answer is, yes. I’m not saying this on faith or on some religious book’s say-so. I’m stating what historians agree is an indisputable fact. You see, history is done a specific way. Historians have rules for what is acceptable evidence. If there is any doubt about Jesus’ existence, then the same doubt is cast on all historical figures. Simply put, if we cannot be certain the Jesus was a real man from Galilee, we cannot be certain of anything.

Virtually all historians – regardless their religion or philosophy – are agreed that Jesus’ existence is a historical fact. Are there those who disbelieve? Perhaps there are a handful, but there are holocaust deniers too. The real challenge is not whether Jesus existed.

Here’s the real challenge: ask a skeptic to produce a reputable historian (someone with a degree and a job, not just a guy with a blog) who believes that Jesus did not exist.

The best examples come from the lips of skeptics:

Albert Einstein:
Einstein was then asked to what extent he was influenced by Christianity. “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”[17] Einstein was then asked if he accepted the historical existence of Jesus, to which he replied, “Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”[17]

H.G. Wells:
I am a historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.” (…) “Christ is the most unique person of history. No man can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to the penniless teacher of Nazareth.”

Bart Ehrman
And finally, there is this interview with atheist historian Bart Ehrman that backfired horribly:

Scott Smith

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Scott Smith is a lifelong Christian and an active member of his church. He enjoys blogging and teaching on Christian theology and defense as well as engaging skeptics in debate regarding Christian truth claims. Scott is a co-founder of Etcetera as well as TC Apologetics, and in his spare time he runs his own 3D design company.
  • http://www.joshuapostema.com/ Joshua James Postema

    That video is hilarious… I almost feel bad for the guy.

    • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

      I had the same reaction. He should have done his homework before going on air!

  • Anonymous

    The video is not just astonishing because Ehrman is clearly
    on top of it, on this point, but that the guy shoots off every well within the
    box atheist group think talking point de jour he can think of and gets solid
    responses.

    As an FYI, here is a video providing 237 citations to Jesus within the first two centuries after His birth:

    • http://twitter.com/GRIMACHU James Desborough

      Sorry, but that’s not evidence for Jesus. You need contemporaneous accounts. The sheer fact is that there is nothing that constitutes evidence for an historical Jesus. Just a lot of unfounded opinion.

      • the TruthSpeaker

        Pliny the Younger, Tacitus,  Lucian of Samosata and the Royal Historian to Ceasar are a few contemporaries of Jesus, all non-believers, that documented his life and/or death. The Babylonian Talmud also records facts concerning his life and death.

        • http://twitter.com/GRIMACHU James Desborough

          Pliny the Younger: Born 61 CE, non-contemporaneous.
          Tactitus: Born 56CE, non-contemporaneous.
          Lucian: Born circa 125CE, non-contemporaneous.

          The Babylonian Talmud: 3rd-5th century CE, non-contemporaneous and cannot be said to be talking about Jesus without engaging in special pleading and ignoring massive story differences.

          None of these are contemporaneous, many of them are interpolated and most talk only of what Christians believed, not the truth (or not) of it.

          It’s like finding a modern newspaper article about Scientology and inferring from that, that Xenu is real.

          • sparrish

            JD: If I understand you correctly, the only evidence that you accept is that written on the spot–i.e., reports of Jesus that were written when Jesus was alive and doing the things that the writings report.  

            If this were the case, then nothing could be written now about past events before the present generation.  For example, nothing could be written about the American Civil War because everyone who was alive at that time is now dead. 

            If you reply that contemporary histories of the Civil War could be based on things written at the time, then the same thing could be said about the Gospels, that they could be based on things written or memorized at the time of Jesus.

            In fact though, professional historians do not assume that testimony of people who witnessed something becomes worthless after the event.

          • sparrish

            JD’s argument apparently rests on the assumption that memory is worthless.  E.g., my testimony about what I had for breakfast this morning is worthless, because I didn’t write it down while I was eating.  Or, the memories at what happened at my wedding two and a half years ago are worthless (as is the testimony of the other 150 people who were there) if the records of the marriage written at the time were destroyed. 

            Frankly, this is ridiculous.  Most of what we do in life depends on memories.  Not only history, but the legal system and much of ordinary life would be rendered useless if we could not rely on memory.    What really has been done by historians and others,  is to develop criteria by which memories can be tested.  

            JD, are you really saying that all the experts are wrong as to how to work in their own profession?  That historians don’t know how to do history?

      • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

        Hey James. I appreciate you stopping by.
        A couple of questions for you:

        #1 – Why do you suppose the vast majority of secular historians accept Jesus’ existence as an undeniable fact?

        #2 – We do have contemporaneous accounts. In the bible alone, we have a number of different authors from Jesus’ lifetime who recorded their eyewitness testimony. You can think they were mistaken about his divinity if you like, but what reason do you have to throw them all out as vouching for the fact that Jesus was a historical figure?

        • http://twitter.com/GRIMACHU James Desborough

          1. Tradition, historical Christian influence.
          2. No, no contemporaneous accounts. Even the Bible accounts aren’t, Mark being the earliest gospel and dating 70CE or later. Nor can you use a claim to prove itself in any case.

          • the TruthSpeaker

            1. No serious historian is influenced by tradition.

            2. Three of the Biblical accounts were written by eyewitnesses that traveled with Jesus throughout His ministry. That’s not a case of using a claim to prove itself, it’s eyewitness testimony, valid in any court of law.

          • http://twitter.com/GRIMACHU James Desborough

            1. Then no serious historian should be claiming Jesus exists.

            2. Not a single one. Saul’s letters are the closest in time, but then he never met Jesus or claims to and again, you can’t use a claim to support itself.

            EG: “Truthspeaker interferes with goats” is an accusation, not evidence (chosen for humour value, not a dig). One would expect to then bring evidence forth in support of that accusation, not to take the accusation, or the accuser, as evidence for the deed.

          • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

            #1 – So you’re telling me that historians whose reputations are on the line, and who are also atheists hostile to Christianity, would bow to Christian tradition rather than see the truth?

            #2 – They most certainly are contemporaneous. Acts was written in the early 60s. Luke was naturally written prior to that, and most argue that his was the latest gospel. That puts the gospels in the 50s – only twenty years after Jesus’ death. Had he been a figment of their imaginations, countless witnesses could have testified to the fact.

            Then there is also the book of 1 Corinthians, which is uncontestedly written by Paul. In chapter 15, he records an early creed that dates to within years of Jesus’ death. If his claims were fabricated, his books would have been discarded.

          • http://twitter.com/GRIMACHU James Desborough

            1. Apparently so. You’re making a fallacious argument from authority. If they’re so convinced then where is the evidence that convinces them? As we’ve started into in the other part of the post, that which is claimed as evidence, isn’t.

            2. Mark is the earliest, at some point later than 70CE. The others, according to linguistic analysis, derive from Mark. None match up to the supposed authors and most appear to have multiple authors. They’re non-contemporaneous, non-eyewitness accounts.

            Saul himself never met Jesus, rather claims to have had a vision, plus, again, you can’t use a claim to support itself so anything from the bible is right out, even if it weren’t, the other issues still stand.

          • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

            #1 – James, you’re mistaken. An argument from a historian about history is not fallacious, but appropriate. An argument from an orthodontist about history would be fallacious.

            #2 – Your dating information is simply incorrect. The dating of Acts is undisputed because of the internal verified history.

            Just one question for you…
            Do you really expect me to discard the opinions of professionals speaking within their fields of expertise – both on my side and opposing it – based on your assertions?

          • http://twitter.com/GRIMACHU James Desborough

            1. Saying ‘it’s true’ just because a historian says so is. So, where’s the evidence that convinces them? Otherwise yes, that’s just an argument from authority.

            http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority.html

            2. Acts isn’t a Gospel according to, and is still non-contemporaneous, dating (at least) to 60CE. Plus it still has the issue of being part of the bible.

            I do expect you to argue from the evidence (of which there is none) rather than simply relying on authority. IF these professional are convinced WHERE is the evidence that has convinced them?

          • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

            1 – Sorry James, but you’ve just got your facts wrong. The link you posted is exactly right. But it is talking about viewing people as authorities in fields outside of their expertise. I agree that is bad reasoning, but that is not what I am doing. We are talking about history, so I am listening to historians. This is not a fallacy, it is sound thinking.

            If you are really interested in what evidence convinces them, you ought to read their writings, not mine. Ehrman gives some good reasons in the video I posted. That’s a decent place to start. If you are honestly interested in others, let me know.

            #2 – I never said Acts was a gospel. I used its dating to establish the dating of Luke, Matthew, and Mark as being within the lifetime of those who knew Jesus. If that’s not contemporaneous, I don’t know what you mean by the word.

            Here’s the big issue James. I have given evidence, and you don’t accept it. Your rebuttal has been the equivalent of “nuh-uh”. You are free to your opinion, but opinions are not arguments.

          • http://twitter.com/GRIMACHU James Desborough

            I have read and looked, extensively. Like you I used to think Jesus was an historical character with plenty of evidence and yet, I found none.

            You have presented what you think is evidence, yet it is not. You have presented parts of the bible, which are inadmissable in any case, and a great deal of spurious hearsay, much of it interpolated.

            Everything you have presented is non-contemporaneous. Post-dating the supposed lifetime of Jesus.

            None of this may be considered evidence for him as an historical figure.

            Any convincing evidence (indeed any evidence) must be contemporaneous and non-biblical.

            If you took a step back and considered what you’d accept for similar, but different claims, you’d likely see the problems yourself.

          • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

            Well James, it seems we are at an impasse. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment! I’ve enjoyed the interaction. I hope you stick around.

          • Anonymous

            Sorry to butt in here….

            1. If we aren’t allowed to appeal to authorities on matters of the same subject (whatever that may be), then  we have some extremely flawed processes occurring daily within just about any field of “knowledge”, including the field of science.   The transmission of facts from someone within their credentialed discipline to someone who is not (or is for that matter), like a scholarly paper, research paper or finding, is well within its right to be considered trustworthy and useful–not just an appeal.

            Furthermore, you’ve sort of set the bar pretty high for yourself in the matter.  You’ve claimed that you searched for evidence for the historical Jesus, but found none, yet you are appealing to your own  expertise or authority on the matter, while trying to argue that appealing to authorities is illogical.  How then can we share knowledge?

          • Jay Osborne

            I probably will never visit this site again and I realize I am a late running into it but I will post anyway.Anyone wanting to debate or refute what I post should send to my email address I will post below.Now let me tell you Scott I have written many supposed biblical historians,scholars and apologetics about a historical Jesus,but I say to them the Jesus I want you to prove is the 4 gospel miracle worker,crucified and resurrected from the dead Jesus,once I do it that way these supposed biblical historians,scholars and apologetics simply stop corresponding because they know there is no reliable proof.Yes there were plenty of Jesus’es (people named Jesus)in the first century so of course these supposed scholars will say there was a Jesus but they have no answers when you say the Jesus I want proved is the miracle worker,crucified and resurrected from the dead Jesus.
            If they attempted that their reputation would be ruined.So your dependence on biblical historians for proof of a historical Jesus is worthless if you put the question to them properly.By the way the biblical biased historians who claim the 4 gospels were even written in the first century are just that Christian biased historians,there is more proof the 4 gospels were not even written until the last half of the second century than there is that they are first century writings.
            There is no reliable way to claim Acts was written in the early 50’s as you claim and evidently you have no idea what contemporary means.The 4 gospel writers are anonymous writers no one,ZERO knows who wrote them.

          • Jay Osborne

            I got cut off of responding anymore in my above post.My email address is:josephosborne59@yahoo.com

          • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

            If you want to talk about the topic I’m happy to. I’m confused though – do you or do you not believe that Jesus (the one called Christ who grew p in Nazareth) was a historical figure?

          • Jay Osborne

            Hi Scott,
            No I do not believe that Jesus was a historical person.Understand though that yes there were a lot of people named Jesus in the first century,Josephus names 19 different people named Jesus so you know there were many more than that named Jesus.Because there were many named Jesus in the first century is the way biblical historians,biblical scholars and apologetics get away with claiming yes Jesus existed,they have plenty of Jesus’es to choose from.But there is not one iota,not one ounce of contemporary proof the miracle worker,crucified and resurrected from the dead Jesus ever existed.There are many reasons to disbelieve Jesus existed which if you want to we will go through them.
            In Real Truth,
            Jay Osborne

      • Anonymous

        James, thanks for the input. I see from below that you guys have been busy and I hate to jump in and certainly do not want to team up.

        The historian in the video explains why historically there is historical evidence. That is how history works and the field cannot be redefined to fit your views. To claim that 237 citations in about as many years is not historical evidence is simply fallacious. Your statement as to this being “Tradition, historical Christian influence” is not an argument nor evidence but an assertion.

        If you will, I have two questions:
        1) Looking backwards in time, which history does by definition, who is the first person who we can say that we have evidence for, according to your interpretation of what counts as a historical evidence?
        2) Do you actually realize what you are asking of history, what you are expecting it to provide for you?

        Thanks James.

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  • Anonymous

    See http://buy-bull.tumblr.com
    James D. ,yes!

  • Ninjabeast94

    Who exactly was the one getting backhanded? There is much more sensible, credible and contemporary evidence for Caesar than the accounts of Jesus written in starting 60 C.E.

    Sources:
    http://www.forumromanum.org/literature/caesarx.html
    http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/exist.html
    http://ravingatheists.com/forum/showthread.php?t=16376

    There is also this of course:

    http://www.nobeliefs.com/exist.htm

    Use Ctrl-F and go right to the Epistles of Paul. It would in fact seem that there are some “serious historians” out there who do doubt the legitimacy of those letters. And if you wish to disagree, to purport that Paul does in fact reference knowing an earthly jesus in the letters, a citation is always appreciated.

    Please note, I am not open to conversation or changing my point of view. There very well might be historical evidence for Jesus Christ, contemporary accounts, but I have yet to find any. If you know of some, please share and help me to learn. That’s all I am hoping for- for someone to learn. Whether it’s me or you, I could care less :) 

    • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

      Hello Ninjabeast. I’ll respond briefly, though I’m not sure why since you say you are not open to conversation. This makes me wonder why you bothered, but nevertheless…

      There is more evidence for Caesar than Jesus
      Well, we could debate whether that is true, but I would counter by asking what difference it makes. I’m not arguing that there is an extensive library of writings about Jesus. I am merely stating that he existed. To turn your example on you: There is more evidence for Bill Clinton than there is for James Buchanan. Are you suggesting that Buchanan wasn’t president, or worse that he didn’t exist?

      Serious historians doubt the legitimacy of Paul’s letters
      We could debate this as well, but it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. I know you said you aren’t interested, but the truth is there is no historian I am aware of that discounts 1 Corinthians as being Pauline. Chapter 15 of that letter contains the earliest and most clear account of the first church’s beliefs. No one contests this. How would you square this fact with your belief that Jesus never existed?

      Citation is required to show Paul knew Jesus
      Not sure where you got this. I’ve never made such a claim, and neither would any Christian or secular historian. What are you driving at?
      I am not open to conversation or changing my point of view.
      Well, I am interested in conversation. What makes you so unwilling? I have to admit, the last few sentences leave me quite confused as they sound like they are asking for a response.

      Bottom line: If you want to discuss this, I’d love to continue the topic. Please let me know as briefly as possible your reason for believing Jesus never existed. No other web sites – just your best argument. That will make it much easier to stay on the same page.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • Ninjabeast94

        Hello Scott,

        I apologize for the lack of context; looking back on the post, I realized that I never mentioned my statements were referencing  points made in the video. OH my goodness, I am terribly sorry! I meant to explicitly say that I AM open to conversation…  Jeez I feel absolutely terrible! 
        Allow me to address what you said in response, and thank you very much for writing back  in spite of my close-minded conclusion (which was a complete accident :/ ) 
        1. You’re misleading comment about James Buchanan, while appealing at first glance, has nothing to do with the point I was making. I said that there seems to be a lot more credible evidence for Caesar’s reign, while the man in video tries to claim that there is very little evidence that he did exist. That is all. Comparing my sentence to an allusion or another example will only distort my point of view and detract from the scholarly professionalism of the conversation. Should you disagree, please provide me with some contemporary accounts, and by that I mean accounts written by people, about jesus, written while he was still alive or by people who were alive while he was, that provide evidence for his existence (that was a mouthful).2. Popularity doesn’t mean much without explanation. I don’t doubt that there is a number of historians who do not doubt the existence of jesus, but why do they purport he existed is my question. When they go on to reference the Talmud and writers who lived decades after Jesus’ death, that seems to be no more than hearsay, or at the very best, an honest misunderstanding. Let’s say that these people were told that Jesus did exist, were told stories of his work the same way people talked about the Roman or Greek Gods, as matters of fact. Then if they decided to write down what they honestly believed was fact, they would write about Jesus. Since, however, they were not actually there at the alleged times these events occurred, they’re testimonials are open to an array of distortions and rumors. If there is a contemporary account about Jesus, one that fits the description I laid out earlier, I would be eager to read it; I am only looking for knowledge here!

        3. If Paul did not know Jesus, then why would his Epistles be any bit believable, as the man in the video says? Again, I’m sorry if these all sounded like they were directed at you: that was a major error on my part. I would indeed love to continue this conversation, but I refuse to state my opinions without links or evidence. My convictions stand as they are because I have no reason to believe there was a Jesus right now. I am looking for evidence, appropriate evidence, so that this claim can be fortified, but I don’t seem to be able to find any. To sit and explain why I feel this way without providing sources would not make any sense. Why would you believe anything I say? I wouldn’t expect you to, and likewise I will be a lot less likely to take your claims as true without validation of some sort – evidence. Thank you again Scott, and have a wonderful day! 

  • phiclub

    Here’s a short, accessible summary of the debate between mythicist (“Jesus never existed”) historian/philosopher Richard Carrier and non-mythicist Bible scholar Thom Stark about whether there is a pre-Christian precedent for a dying messiah. (Links to the text of the debate are included).

    One aspect of the mythicist debate hinges on whether Jesus would have upset (rather than fulfilled) messianic expectations via his death. If so, it becomes much harder to argue that the Jesus story is mere myth, as a mere myth would likely have confirmed those expectations.

    http://lorenrosson.blogspot.com/2012/06/precedent-for-dying-messiah.html

    -Chris

  • Question

    Can anyone PLEASE tell me why Philo Judaeus never mentioned Jesus. Out of all the great historians of the time, he would most certainly be the one to of mentioned Christ. I have looked all over the web for an answer to this question, and have found 0. So can, somebody, give me a good answer.

    Thanks.

  • Chris Van Allsburg

    Would Jesus Mythers be an example of public education gone awry?

    • http://sarcasticxtian.com/ Scott Smith

      It’s certainly not an example of education resulting in proper use of reason. :)

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  • Dan Renner

    Einstein, Wells, and the assertion of a backfired interview with Bart Ehrman. Among them, Ehrman is the ONLY one with any qualifications to lend a knowledgeable opinion on the matter. And yet, having read Ehrman’s book “Did Jesus Exist”, it quickly became apparent that he’s sticking to his guns, and being careful not to rock the boat of scholars (most of whom are Christians and lend a faith-based assumption concerning the existence of Jesus). Ehrman is long on arguments – many of which run contrary to his earlier books – and very short on evidence. But evidence is the only definitive measure, and even Dr. Ehrman is quick to state that when it comes to writings mentioning Jesus within the biblical time of Jesus, there simply aren’t any.