It follows that one can only accept the Gospels as historical evidence if one accepts the content of these books.
That doesn't follow at all though. Of course we can't say that because the gospels say something, it therefore must have happened; that would be a face-value reading of an ancient text and no serious historian would do that with any text ever.
The gospels do, however, seem to record the beliefs of early Christians (70-95 CE), and in that sense they are historical documents. Historical documents that show a clear evolution in Christian thought, for instance, from a very Jewish preacher to a very pro-gentile half-God (and eventually: full God).
What the gospels do show is that early Christians believed in the existence of a flesh-and-blood preacher who had lived in Palestine a few decades earlier (within living memory). The historical Jesus theory accounts for this in a very straightforward way, the mythical Jesus ones cannot without engaging in a lot of supposition. That's why the mythical Jesus theory isn't taken very seriously: it chooses to reject a straightforward conclusion for rather patently obvious ideological reasons.
Dr. Richard Carrier has done excellent work in pointing out the lack of evidence for a historical Jesus, and he has great videos on youtube.
If we're going to recommend people, I would recommend the work of non-Christian scholars who actually produce peer-reviewed work, like Geza Vermes, Paula Frederiksen, Joseph Hoffman, Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey. There's no shortage of really qualified scholars who don't happen to have a strong bias.
When the christian view of our world was set, judged, and measured by the bible, the popular view was that all 4 of the gospel writers knew and had met Jesus, and they were writing it all in a narrative for us to read. Later, we find that some writers would use the name of one of the 4 (or others) to give authority to the writing. Once our scientists got into not using the bible as a starting point, and taking that book as a "given", we have come to see that the video of this Islamist just might be correct.
The modern view is that:
1. The gospel writers are not likely to be who they say they are.
2. The very existence of Jesus is questionable.
While this makes the Islamist coorect on the issue, it does not make Islam (or any other world religion) correct. A little study will show that there are no gods. Not even Allah. God is imaginary.
The gospel writers are not likely to be who they say they are.
Errrrr, most "scientists" (historical scholars) would find that statement quite bizarre.
It's a bit hard for the gospel writers to not be who "they say they are", when in fact nowhere in gospels do they actually say... who they are.
It is said nowhere in the gospels who has written them; the gospel of John comes closest in its final chapter, but even there it's clear that there are in fact other people actually writing the gospel. The gospels got their names (again, except John) by having an apostle atributed to them several decades after they were actually written.
So it's not true to say that the gospel writers aren't who they say they are: rather, the modern consensus is that the original attribution was baseless to begin with and that the gospels were anonymous.
Are we not saying the same thing, Matt? Facts are that in my part of the world people have assumed that the gospels were written by the ones whose name they carry. That was all I meant. Nothing more and nothing less.
It was more of a musing that when summarizing the modern view in two points, one of which is phrased poorly and the other of which is wrong, maybe you're not fully up to date on "the modern view" ;)
I've read a number of books on this topic. The consensus of scholarly opinion is:
1. The gospels were written by anonymous, literate, greek speaking, authors for the benefit of their particular religious communities. (All of the gospels were written in koinè greek which was the lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranian.)
2. The gospels writers lived long enough after the death of Jesus that it is unlikely they had access to any eyewitnesses.
3. Jesus was intending to reform Temple Judaism & not start a new religion.
4. The original followers of Jesus were wiped out when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 CE.
5. Paul of Tarsus states clearly that he never met the living Jesus.
6. Paul claims he met James, brother of Jesus & leader of the Jerusalem congregation, but repudiated James' teachings. Read: Epistle of James.
The list goes on but these are the main points.
> Jesus was intending to reform Temple Judaism & not start a new religion.
This point has always struck me as significant and strangely ignored. I've never seen the slightest indication that Jesus ever wanted or intended a new religion to be started in his name. So if it wasn't done on his behalf, what was the real motivation and how valid can christianity possibly be?
Although not germane to the question, this chart of the relationship between the three synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—is helpful. For a long time Matthew was considered to be the earliest gospel of the three, but scholars seems to have converged on Mark as the earliest. Mark contains no account of the birth of Christ or of the Sermon on the Mount. Part of the account of resurrection events is thought to have been added to Mark later.
The gospel of John is almost entirely separate in content from the synoptic gospels and considerably different in theology—it does not contain any account of the virgin birth, the baptism of Jesus, and does not contain the Lord's Prayer. It differs in the naming of disciples.