Apparently you can't do polls on here.... but

Do any of you think that Jesus actually existed? What do category do you fall into?

A. Believed he existed, claims are false

B. Believed he existed, claims are exaggerated

C. Don't believe he existed

D. Believe he existed, claims are true (sorry had to leave the idiot category open)

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"Although I follow this thread with interest since I know only a little about the period and some of the contributors seem to have done a lot of research on it, for various reasons of their own, the question remains, what does it matter? It kinda surprises me this debate hasn't just run its course."

I think this topic is a fascinating subject and a common debate central to the heart of atheism that has to be examined with logic and a balanced mind, so let's all remember to play Devil's Advocate when the time comes and challenge what we think, if nothing more than for the sake of the challenge. Belief leads to the stagnation of the mind, yes?

We are supposed to be espousing critical thinking, and to be accused of fallacy and bias in this topic by a Christian is an irony best avoided.

I'd say the only reason it hasn't run it's course stems from the constant addition of newcomers who enter the thread with feedback without reading the arguments already presented.
Sure Nick, and in the past I've been one of those contributors who've blundered into this debate without previewing all of what's been said here and not fully cognizant of the established research, but as David Martinson pointed out, 85 pages of meandering theoretical discussion is a big ask, unless you have some vested interest in the topic like preparing a book or formal thesis on it. I've managed to plough through quite a lot of it now, actually.

I'm also curious to understand, Matt, if you're reading, your vehement opposition to the amalgam hypothesis. Concerning the actual lifespan of Christ, we're dealing with conjecture, not facts, and it just seems to me one of several possibilities. OK, we have no data on any self-styled contemporary prophets, but we have no data on Christ either apart from the later secondary accounts.

If you take the things from the gospels he was supposed to have said - the parables for example, or the sermon on the mount, if it ever took place, there doesn't seem to be any reason why the pronouncements of others may have been woven in to the general message.

The parables may have been embellished versions of established Hebrew folk tales, or initiated by rivals (or followers). The sermon on the mount contains populist notions that were not entirely new - we are talking about events that occurred centuries later than the work of the classical Greek philosophers. The Great Library of Alexandria was still functioning, containing much of the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the western world. Not that the illiterate goatherders of Judea would have had access to it, but populist ideas have a way of proliferating among the poor and dispossessed. And the subjects of Rome certainly knew they were being oppressed. Radical ideas and dissent, to the extent that they could get away with it, would have been attractive to them.

You've cited 'Occam's razor' in defence of your argument. In the absence of relevant data, we must take the simpler explanation, in this case of one originator of the Christian legend. Yet this is no more than a deductive tool, helpful for reaching a tenable conclusion. It doesn't make anything into reality. And tenable conclusions are not possible on this issue anyway, which might explain to some extent why we have 85 pages of opinion and conjecture.

To me, amalgamation seems to be the stuff of legends. King Arthur, Robin Hood, William Wallace, Rob Roy, Che Guevara, Al Capone, all the stuff you read about them, some of which may have been true, some of which may have been embellished, some of which attributable to others but not proveable, and some of which may have been pure fantasy. I realize that of the examples I used, only some of them are actually historical people. My point is that this process could just as easily have occurred with Christ.

Your thoughts?
Sure, Occam's Razor is but a tool, and it's not always true. But it is a very practical and straightforward way of determining what is more practical and what is not. The theory that relies on the least amount of assumptions is the one you should take. If I hear the sound of hooves on the street outside my house, then the idea that it is a zebra takes much more suppositions than if I think it is a horse; but much less supposition than that it is a unicorn. So the reasonable conclusion is (in the absence of visual confirmation) that it is a horse.
Now, that doesn't mean that Occam's Razor always gets you the right answer. Maybe it really was a zebra. But the point is simply that unless you have evidence that it actually is, it is unreasonable to assume so.

Now, the reason why amalgamations are not very likely (and the reason why they almost never happen)...

Usually, when amalgamations do happen (such as is probably the case with Arthur) we are talking about oral traditions that have circulated for a century or more; more than enough time for any eye witness or even second or third hand accounts to have died out. Most of the legends around Arthur are several centuries after his (supposed) life. The legends around the Trojan war are probably written down 300-400 years after the events that inspired it. The earliest tales of Robin Hood we have are more than a hundred years after the fact too... you get my point. This is more than enough for all kinds of distortions and even amalgamations to occur.

The stories of Jesus, on the other hand, were already written down by 70 AD, and were in circulation (for example probably in Q) before that; and I'm not even talking about Paul. That means that these stories were circulating in a time where people who had known Jesus were still around. Now, do you recall the 1980's? I'm guessing you do. Imagine you were the devout follower of some chap wandering around your country. Now imagine someone else coming along, thirty years later, and trying to pollute the stories around this man with stories about someone else and sayings that didn't belong to him.
I think you can see where I am going with this. It is very hard to create amalgamations when the earliest followers of the guy who you're going to "amalgamate" with others, are still around. It also doesn't make a whole lot of sense: if you're the devout follower of some guy and you think he was the Messiah, why would you start stealing stories about other people and attribute them to your Messiah? Devout believers think they already have all the fantastic stories and miracles they need (because they believe them themselves) so don't need much more.

Then there's the followers of the guy from whom you're stealing sayings and deeds and attributing them to Jesus. I'm guessing they won't be too happy with that. Why didn't they notice and rant about it?
What about the enemies a young sect inevitably has? Were they all too stupid to notice that this Jesus character was simply an amalgamation?

Then there's the context of the time. Jews were waiting for the apocalyps and they really believed it was coming soon. Why would a bunch of Jews then make up a Messiah? They thought it was going to happen real soon, so that's a bad time to be inventing a false prophet. Especially one that continuously bangs on about the end of the world and how you have to give away everything you own. That doesn't earn you many points or benefit. And it gets you persecuted. So why invent it? Why not invent a prophet that says more things that you can use to your advantage?

The whole idea is riddled with absurdities and supposition.
It's much more common with prophets and god men that embellishment, white-washing and exaggeration takes place. And that certainly happened. We can even see this process of embellishment occur throughout the gospels, as the later authors try to iron out the inconsistencies and awkward stories that the earlier ones had. And we also see them making up stuff that was never in the earlier gospels, which we can also disregard right off the bat.

So this amalgamation idea, while plausible on the surface, winds up looking like a zebra with yellow dots and a diving helmet compared to the much more plausible alternative.
Ow!! I believe we have a winner in the logical smack-down category! Band-aids are available on the way out.
Interesting example. But the fact that he was caught and exposed within a decade, kind of invalidates it ;)
Still, there are other problems too. This is just an example of some guy making up a story about what he has experienced in his life, out of a desire for personal gain. We know that that happens.
But as always, the worth of a hypothesis is only revealed once you look at the things that don't fit.

Was Castenada preaching in a closely knit community of 1,6 million people about quite rememberable historical events (crucifixion after causing disturbance in the temple, for example). No, he preaches about a nobody he met somewhere in a small town, and who did nothing rememberable.
Was Don Juan said to have flesh-and-blood brothers who were significant enough to be recorded by a historian? No.
Did inventing Don Juan get Castenada persecuted and socially isolated? No, it gave him large financial benefits.
Was Castenada preaching in an environment where rival sects had a vested interest in vilifying the character? No. (in fact, the moment he became famous enough to be noticed was also the moment he got caught).
Does the Don Juan story contain awkward scenarios that Castenada has to downplay or ignore in order to sell the story? No, the whole thing is built for easy consumption.

I could go on, but I think you catch my drift by now.

"Gnostics wrote many scripts that presented their version of who Christ is. Some of them used the name Jesus too but that Jesus was rather different from the canonized Jesus."

And those "scripts" were usually written in the late Second Century. Your point?
All kidding aside, by now the point should be Don't Mess With Matt.
I learned a long time ago:
Never bet on another man's game.

And at this table, Matt rules with a velvet glove.
I've never heard that expression before.

It seems to mean that I'm a polite douchebag.
If so, I really like it :p
Matt, I simply meant you're at the head of the class, and at the top of your game.

Why anyone would want to do anything other than pay attention to what you're saying - maybe screw-up and actually learn something about the subject - is beyond me.

Otherwise, what good are these discussions - where everybody is simply committed to going tit for tat?

Sometimes one person's learned position is worth far more than anyone else's second-hand opinion. Personally, I appreciate the education.

I really like Melody's attitude - thank you Melody: She asks thoughtfully framed, reasonably informed questions of you, and then appears to have actually listened to your answers. Practically unique!
I came in here thinking Jesus was probably not a real person, and was probably a creation of people who created the religion in Rome to appeal specifically to the poor and lower class as a social movement to protest the Roman government and ruling system.

The book of Revelations being a manual for rising up and over throwing Roman rule that led to the great fires there. Later, Constantine for some reason or another developed an affinity for the religion, and it became much more popular and went on to adapt itself well to the colonization of other cultures.

I wasn't sure about this, it was just a suspicion.

Thankfully, I found this discussion, and soon had my opinions challenged by Matt. The logic was a breath of fresh air. For too long I had heard supposed evidence cited by Christians who were ignorant of the actual sources and evidence, growing up in the bible belt. The vague allusion to "evidence" of some sort was the best they could do.
David Sensei - Concerning the actual lifespan of Christ, we're dealing with conjecture, not facts, and it just seems to me one of several possibilities.

Indeed. Any number of very plausible possibilities.

As to the amalgamation theory, the argument I'm seeing 'against' is that if we're within a generation or two of the event, someone would correct the person and not allow a fabrication/embellishment/untruth be told. Amalgamation falls under these.

To which I cite a few modern examples:

- Sarah Palin is claiming that Susan B. Anthony was anti-choice, though Anthony never made her views on the subject known. Take a heroic figure, give her your views postmortem to boost your agenda.

- Talking head Glenn Beck held a rally last weekend on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. Beck is styling himself as taking up King's mantle as the leader of a new civil rights movement. Yet even a cursory glance at both men's political/social ideas ... Beck's is near opposite of King's. He even has a relative of King helping him out. Take a heroic public figure, give him your views postmortem to boost your agenda.

- Recent polls show 1/5 of Americans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim.

- A fair number of Republicans believed that the bank bailouts were passed under Obama. They were in fact passed under Bush. This is within the last three years.

Anthony's heyday was 90 years ago. King's 50 years ago. Obama is still alive. Yet, all this misinformation being believed by huge segments of the population, and this in the information age where most everyone can read and write, we have libraries in every town, half a dozen local newspapers to choose from, cable news, we can Google just about anything, see the King speech and Beck's views on video for ourselves, when so much is known and documented about Anthony.

Now imagine we have no written, audio or video documentation of the lives of Anthony, King, Obama or Bush. None. Nothing even proving their existence. We probably can't even read or write. All we know are what Grandpa, who hated King's guts, tells us. Or what Great Aunt Betty, who thinks King is the new Messiah tells us. Our next door neighbor tells us yet a different story. We pick the story we like best to tell our kids. Starting to see how the mythic person might get so far from the historic as to not even be remotely the same person?

Set the scene in Palestine 2,000 years ago. Dude named Saul, who had an epileptic seizure and saw Jesus' ghost telling him to take up the cause, comes to my town and starts rambling about all the great things Jesus did. I tell him, "Dude. I met Jesus from Nazareth but he died of natural causes. And I have an Uncle Jesus who was executed for heresy but he was hung, not crucified. And I'm pretty sure the guy's name who did the sermon on the mount was Bob."

Paul might say, "Wow little lady, thank you so much for correcting me! I will rewrite my epistle to reflect the accuracy of these three men's life details, just as soon as I go back to the last three towns I preached in and tell them how wrong I was."

Or Paul might say "Fuck you you illiterate wench" and stick to the first version he heard and has already started preaching. It's a better story, it'll sell more sermons, and who's going to stop me? If I'm charismatic and charming, the majority of my devoted followers will never think to question the details. The detractors will be drowned out, get pissed off and leave the discussion thread town square. Some eyewitnesses might even take my version over what they remember because hey, it sounds so much cooler. Kind of like how a Republican would much rather believe that the bailouts were under Obama, not Bush.

There. A plausible scenario. A possibility. One of many. Is that what happened? We don't know. We will probably never know. But to pick the Jesus-is-real-and-represented-in-the-bible possibility and preach it as if the others are wildly improbable ... that does as much a disservice to the critical thinking community as someone who picks the Jesus-was-completely-made-up-by-Paul theory and dismisses the possibility there could well have been a real Jesus(es).

*** And before someone asks, no. I don't have a 20th century example off the top of my head of amalgamation. Except perhaps that Americans often ascribe every political decision made to the president, even though many of those might have been made by someone else. It is harder in an information age to mash several Susan B. Anthony's into one. But in an illiterate age, where people are mostly known by one name, no surname, the glorious stories of Jesus ben (whomever) get shortened to Jesus. Suddenly, one Jesus is indistinguishable from another. Again, can't say if that's how it happened, but can't say it's not. It's very possible/plausible.
Wow, you postulate a guess, your guess is based in complete ignorance of Roman era Palestine, one of the best-known regions to us of the Roman empire. I'll just take a few lines and I will show you where what you are saying is nonsense:

"But in an illiterate age, where people are mostly known by one name, no surname, the glorious stories of Jesus ben (whomever) get shortened to Jesus. Suddenly, one Jesus is indistinguishable from another. Again, can't say if that's how it happened, but can't say it's not. It's very possible/plausible."

1. Illiterate age? Hardly. Literacy was probably as high in Palestine at the time as it was in Rome. This was a culture/religion based on sacred text. It was necessary to have people able to read the text in each village and town. IN fact, we know that each town of at least 120 men was required to have a court, though there is a minority opinion that the law only applied to a town with 230 men (see Mishnah Sanhedrin 1:6). Since literacy was a requirement for serving on the court, it means either 10 or 20 percent of the male population could read. But the number is actually higher, because of the the calculation of how they got to 120 (23 judges, 10 scholars, 2 scribes, 2 secretaries of the court, 2 charity collectors, 2 charity distributors, and a teacher, all of whom were required to be literate). In other words, in a town with 120 or 230 men, 42 people were literate, and there was a religiously required educational system that taught basic reading skills. And yes, it was a patriarchal society, though we do have records of women teaching men (Bruriah is a classic example). Benjamin Disraeli had it right ... but you probably have no clue who he was or what he said. IN any event, there was far more reading and writing going on than you imagine in some Disney/Jesus Christ Superstar vision you have of those times.

2. Where people are mostly known by one name. Actually, that is incorrect. People were not known just as Jesus or Joe, but by a patronymic as well. Almost always. IN fact, some people were known only by their patronymic (Ben Zoma, though we know his name was Simeon, Ben Heihei, whose personal name I don't know, etc.). In many cases, when the patronymic was deemed insufficient, the name of the town was added. So, we have two men who were called a Pair, because they shared court duties: Jose son of Joezer of Zereda and Jose son of Johanan of Jerusalem. In all texts they are known like that. Sometimes, if someone came from a very small village, just the first name and the village name was enough, i.e., Nahum of Gimzo, or, gasp, Jesus of Nazareth (I did some more research on the size of the city--no more than 500 people, assume half were women, and the number of possible Jesuses declines rapidly). There were people who were known by their profession--at one time a member of the Sanhedrin was Johanan Ha-Sandlar, or literally, John Shoemaker. Then there were people known by nicknames, such as the teacher of Bruriah's husband, Rabbi Meir (which was itself a nickname--his real name was Nehorai, though he likely had a Latin name as well, since his father was supposedly a convert from the Imperial family in Rome), who was simply known as Aher (the Other, real name Elisha ben Abuyah) because he converted to Gnosticism, but continued to teach.

3. "Where people are known by one name" also ignorant because it fails to consider some of the reasons why patronymics were important. Assigning someone to a clan, especially in the time of Jesus, was essential in a society where different families had different religious responsibilities and rights. For example, by saying that Jesus was a descendant of King David, he was ineligible to eat from the tithes that were required of all non-priestly families. Only priests could eat those, though minor tithes could also be eaten by Levites. Jesus was neither. (John the Baptist was, however, of a priestly family, so he could).

4. Which brings me to matronymics. Knowing a mother's name also had religious significance, though far less important than a father's name.

5. We also know of people who had the same name and the strategies used to distinguish them. For example, there were two Hillels who were roughly contemporary, Hillel the Younger and Hillel the Elder. There were at least three Simeon son of Gamaliel (one of whom, in Jewish tradition, was a teacher of Jesus) and a couple of Gamaliels son of Simeons as well. In those cases, different markers are used to distinguish them as well.

Remarkably, almost all of these people were contemporaries of Jesus. They were not all nobility either--John Shoemaker was, in fact, a shoemaker when he wasn't serving on the court with his buddy Yehoshua ben Perahiah, who was a blacksmith.

You wrote, "Suddenly, one Jesus is indistinguishable from another." Actually, that is based on supposition and complete ignorance of the culture at that time. The other amazing thing is that we have recorded statements written down by every single one of the people I mentioned. Even Ben Zoma, who died young. He asked: "Who is a wise man? He who learns from every man." He also challenged the idea of God creating the world as recorded in Genesis, but that's a very different story (maybe he just hung out too much with Aher).

Now place Jesus son of Joseph of Nazareth within that context. Suddenly, everything you just wrote is ignorant drivel.



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