It’s Xmas and, quite beside all the other issues related to the holiday there’s a much more fundamental one that most take for granted.
Did Jesus even exist?
Even atheists take it for granted that Jesus was an historical figure, they just think he wasn’t magic. This is a bit of a mistake though as, as it turns out, there is no evidence – whatsoever – that he was ever a real person.
That sounds like a grandiose claim, even though it isn’t, simply because we take it so for granted. We’re not the only ones either. As is often claimed by apologists ‘Most scholars agree Jesus was a real person’. Indeed, but without the evidence and reasoning behind that, this is just an argument from authority or popularity. So, what you need is evidence.
So. That given. What would be evidence for the existence of an historical Jesus? Any such evidence would need to be:
- Contemporaneous: From the period alleged to be the lifetime of Jesus (7BCE to 36CE).
- Non-Christian: Christian claims are the ones you’re trying to confirm.
- Multiple: Multiple sources inter-correlate and back each other up.
So, let’s look at the various items that are usually claimed as evidence for Jesus and show why they’re not:
You can’t use a claim to prove itself. The Bible is the source of the claims about god, Jesus etc and so is biased. You can’t believe it any more than you could L Ron Hubbard’s claims. You need unbiased sources or, even better, sources biased against Christianity. That way anything they do admit is likely to be at least a little true.
Even if this wasn’t a problem, the earliest gospel – Mark – dates from 70CE at the absolute very earliest and is not even a contemporaneous source. None of the gospels were written by the supposed disciples, many of whom probably didn’t exist. Modern Christianity is the result of the actions of Paul (Saul of Tarsus), someone who never met Jesus and the first unquestionably historical character associated with it.
Josephus wasn’t even born until 37CE, at least one year after the supposed lifetime of Jesus and so is non-contemporaneous. Even if that wasn’t an issue there are further issues. The mentions of Jesus aren’t consistent across the lineages of copies of Josephus’ works. Josephus’ works have been heavily interpolated (interfered with) by Eusebius and so, even if we didn’t have all these other issues, it couldn’t be trusted as a source.
Non-contemporaneous (Born 125CE) Lucian is also eliminated as any form of confirmation for the existence of Jesus. Even without that, Lucian was a satirist and taking the piss out of what Christians believe, not confirming it as true. South Park’s episode on Scientology makes fun of it, but doesn’t mean it’s true. Same thing.
Non-contemporaneous, again, 73CE at the very earliest. There’s also the problem that Mara writes about other figures, gods, disasters in the same breath. Things that didn’t happen, mythologies that Christians would reject. It’s not even certain (Jesus isn’t mentioned by name) that he was talking about Jesus.
Pliny the Younger
Non-contemporaneous, again, 62CE. Also talks about what Christians believe, not what’s true. Now, if Pliny the ELDER mentioned Jesus, people might be on to something as he was around in the right period and place. Jesus is conspicuously absent from the writings of Pliny the Elder however.
Non-contemporaneous, yet again (seriously, try harder and learn some basic historical methodology apologists). Also mentions the title ‘Christ’ (Chrestos) which was not exclusively Christian at the time. Doesn’t directly mention Jesus at all.
Non-contemporaneous, yet again (56CE). Tacitus’ Jesus references are, again, only found in one lineage of copies which are almost certainly interpolated. Assertions made within those passages are, furthermore, contradicted by other lineages of documentation with better confirmation. Again, also, it only talks about what Christians believed, not what was true.
Specifically the Babylonian Talmud. Non-contemporaneous – yet again – by as much as three centuries. It does mention a Yeshua. It mentions about a dozen Yeshuas one of which Christians like to interpret to mean Jesus, even though the story attached is nothing like the Jesus story.
Again, non-contemporaneous (writing long after the alleged lifetime of Jesus) and what’s more doesn’t actually mention Jesus at all, so why he’s brought up I’m not quite sure. Rather Thallus is usually brought up to try and substantiate some of the supernatural claims. Thallus does talk about an eclipse (a natural event) but gets the date of it wrong compared to other historians of the time. We know, through astronomy, when these take place and Thallus doesn’t match up.
That about covers it.
As we can see, there’s nothing that constitutes evidence for the existence of Jesus as a real person, supernatural or otherwise. Given that, we are forced to hold the negative position under the Burden of Proof.
Enjoy the holiday, but remember, it’s just a myth.
If you want a longer-winded version with more references, rather than this overview, this is a good one
Also, if you have time, watch this: