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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The problem here seems to be that people have hard time distinguishing between an itinerant preacher who wandered around saying some intelligent things and some really stupid things, while performing the typical parlor tricks of so many other itinerant preachers, and the idea idea of some man-god, with two thousand years of lessons and interpretations dumped on him by adoring but ill-informed fans.

The fact is that just because he was born doesn't mean he was born of a virgin. Just because he died doesn't mean that he was resurrected, any more than the fact that Muhammad was born means that he flew to heaven on a winged horse to receive the Qur'an.

What's important about the story is that it provides some insight into how legends develop around people to the extent that they serve to obscure the truth. It's something that continues to happen today among dominant figures that shape a generation. The "legends" about people who lived in recent memory have overwhelmed the historical facts (e.g. Hitler was not a vegetarian, and Reagan actually raised taxes more often than he lowered them). The problem is that you can't make a historical assessment if you are working on the basis of a myth. In the case of Jesus, Zeitgeist bullshit is as much a myth as the resurrection.
What's important about the story is that it provides some insight into how legends develop around people to the extent that they serve to obscure the truth.

Including the capability of obscuring the truth of who that person was, where they were born, what they did for a living, what their name was. When the important bit of the legend is the supernatural bits, then the mundane bits are exchangeable and interchangeable.

The problem is that you can't make a historical assessment if you are working on the basis of a myth.

Couldn't agree more! Which is why I feel it is highly misleading to start talking about biblical Jesus as if he *is* historical Jesus. It's like looking for the historical Little Red Riding Hood. There might have been one. The author got the character from somewhere. It could just as well have been a little girl he knew who actually did wear a red hood while traveling to grandma's house.

But to take that strong possibility and say "Ah-ha! So you admit little red riding hood is real! Now let's try and figure out what she meant when she said "My what big teeth you have..."

...is highly misleading. For now we've gotten away from the possible/probable real person the story may have been based on and we're back to mythical red riding hood.
Jo writes: Including the capability of obscuring the truth of who that person was, where they were born, what they did for a living, what their name was.

Actually, less than you imagine. Those are actually the things that are least contestable. One of the biggest problems fundamentalism has caused for biblical scholarship is that it has established the false concept that the authors of the Bible believed the stories that they wrote as literal, historical fact. Actually, biblical books were never intended as historical texts. They were intended to take what was believed to be a historical event and put an ideological/theological spin on it. They were written as theology, not history, and interpreted and toyed with events (or in some cases, imagined events) to ensure that they fit some ideological perspective.

That's something we still see happening today, with events that occurred in my lifetime. I'll give you an example. On on June 12, 1987, Ronald Reagan appeared at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and made his famous statement: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" On November 9, 1989, the wall came down. Republican ideologues have since created an entire narrative about how Ronald Reagan's single-minded determination led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Historians (myself included) will say that there was no cause and effect, Reagan took advantage of a crumbling infrastructure in the Soviet Union that was in collapse, his statement was a later rhetorical flourish, he wasn't even there about the wall in the first place (it was the 750th anniversary of the founding of Berlin), etc., etc. Regardless, there are two events, which competing histories give different spins. Nonetheless, there are certain incontestable facts. There was a Reagan, there was a wall, there was a Mr. Gorbachev, and there was an eventual collapse of the Soviet regime. One thousand years from now, historians are likely to still be debating how those known facts fit together, if at all. Nevertheless, there are core components of the story that we have no reason to challenge. (BTW, the wall came down over two decades ago, when I was in my mid-20s, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember where I was, who I was with, and what scotch I was drinking.)

New Testament accounts are similar. The trick is to remove the layers of spin and get to the kernel of historical information. To support that we seek out external corroboration, which in this case means unrelated individuals who heard vague rumblings of those stories that were making the rounds at around the same time. We have that from two historians who were roughly contemporary (historian may be a misnomer here. Josephus and Tacitus were both chroniclers, guilty too of adding their own spin to their texts). The fact that Josephus mentions him only in passing indicates that the guy, Jesus, wasn't really that interesting--he was just some anecdotal figure, who still had a small following. A curiosity, so to speak. Nothing more. Every town has one. Think of the local homeless poet that everyone in your town kinda knows, but who will not likely go down in the history books.

What is interchangeable, and for me fascinating, is that it is precisely the legends that are interchangeable. Why did they later claim that Jesus born of virgin and not, say, hidden in the bullrushes, or born of the waves, or brought by a stork, or found while shelling peas. Why does one gospel claim his last words were "Forgive them," while another says "lama sabachtani," while another says "Into thy hands ..." My guess is that if he was crucified--the one thing the texts all agree on--he probably said, "Ouch." As theological, rather than historical books, however, each parting words connote something different to the reader, a different message, if you will, that the author is attempting to relay. IN fact, we see throughout the texts that it is the legendary, mythical stuff that is interchangeable.

You go on to mention Little Red Riding Hood. It's an interesting case study in itself, because while no one suggests that she was real (I can, however, argue that the wolf in the modern version was real and died in 1589), you can break it down to its components to understand what the authors were really trying to say, or rather the spin that they were giving it. I'll give a couple of examples. The Russian Peter and the Wolf (I have the original 1939 RCA recording) has the boy defeating the wolf, while Little Red must wait for a male figure (the Huntsman) to rescue her from the belly of the wolf. Why the significance of red? (Menstrual blood, but I won't go there. Suffice it to say that Bettlelheim disagrees.) You can also do a nice compare and contrast with the biblical Jonah myth, and the distinction between human and divine intercession.

See, all of that is spin. What biblical authors were doing was similar, with one exception. They were taking historical or perceived historical events and giving them spin. Isaiah and Kings both do it with the Assyrian raid on Jerusalem, for instance. Grover Norquist did it with the Reagan presidency (when in fact, he raised taxes more often than Reagan lowered them. Go tell that to a teabagger).

Oh yes, I mentioned the wolf. the Little Red Riding Hood myth seems to have taken distinctive form and gained popularity around the time of the trial and execution of Peter Stumpp. While he was probably executed because he converted to Protestantism at the time of religious wars in Germany, he was condemned as a werewolf who engaged in cannibalism. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Stumpp
AL-KADIM - For the same reasons you give, I have always contended that there *very likely* was a historical Jesus.

However, also for the same reasons that you contend, that the goal is to put a theological spin on things, we can not know how much of this original person was preserved in the bible.

And as Theists cling to the tidbit of "But he existed! So he must have been a great man who said/did..." that is where I emphasize that no, we don't know who 'real' Jesus was. Even to the point that his very existence is based not on hard evidence but on inference as to how legends are usually born. Jesus apologists speak of historical Jesus as if we have a birth certificate, death certificate, and personal diary of his 'real' sayings. We don't.

I hand you a bag with 6 marbles and tell you one of them is mine. Which one? You don't know. You can't know. You don't have enough evidence.

I hand you DNA samples from 6 men and tell you one of them is my brother. Which one? Without a reference sample from me, you can't know.

I hand you a book that has 6 quotes and tell you one of them is from my great-grandmother. Which one? You don't know. Furthermore, the fact that I have put my grandmother on a supernatural pedestal and I am known to be using her name to further my own agenda and ideology, you have good reason to suspect I could be lying or wrong about all of them. After all, like Paul with Jesus, I never met my great-grandmother; I've only spoken with her ghost who appeared to me in the desert and told me to spread ideology in her name. All I have are stories that other people tell me, and of course my own ideology I wish to spread in her name.

This is what I mean when I so vehemently try to put a gigantic wedge between historical Jesus and biblical Jesus. People seem incapable of believing that historical Jesus is either lost in the spin of the bible, or at the most extreme but still plausible, isn't there to be found.
It's funny because our positions are not that far apart. I would still contend that a very basic outline is obtainable from the biblical texts, particularly as it is confirmed in other sources. Essentially, that is how we understand history of the ancient world, whether it is ancient Judea, Greece, Rome, India, or China.

There are, however, means of stripping back the spin. Corroboration, which I mentioned, is but one possibility. We are also quite familiar with the historical context of that place and period from other non-Jesus sources, which enable us to place things in a historical perspective. The discovery of previously unknown sources (Nag Hamadi, for example), provide us with somewhat later texts, but they help in the cross-referencing of the story. Dating texts through language helps us to understand where elements were first introduced--it is no coincidence that Mark, considered the oldest Gospel, makes no mention of the virgin birth, for example, or only the vaguest reference to what could be interpreted as a resurrection.

As for biblical inerrancy, neither Matt nor myself adhere to that in any way. I can say for myself that I have been to both Jericho and Ai, and can vouch for the fact that the Joshua story is a later myth. I reject Diana's hypothesis of a Canaanite Joshua god, but so would anyone who has studied the area, including Finkelstein, the best known proponent of the mythic Joshua.

As for claiming that the scholars who argue for a historical Jesus, it is unfair of you to claim that they are Christians either or influenced by Christian religion. While Ehrman began as a fundamentalist Christian, he openly says that he is now an agnostic as a result of his studies. I would suggest that he goes a step further, intellectually if not emotionally. Vermes comes from a secular Jewish family, converted to Christianity, then left it and now identifies as a Reform Jew. Even Hugh Schonfeld, largely discredited, but the scholar closest to accepting a resurrection, was a practicing Jew, not a Christian.

While you are mostly correct in presenting the problems, scholars tend to see them as a riddle, and have come up with some ingenious solutions to solve it.

What may be interesting for you is to look at the story of Alexander the Great, and see where our earliest sources for that are. Now I will start a blog post to toy with your comments about "Spare the rod ..."
I would still contend that a very basic outline is obtainable from the biblical texts, particularly as it is confirmed in other sources.

What other sources? The Josephus/Tactius triad say nothing more than name/date/occupation and come late enough to have even that much plausibly sourced by scripture and Christians themselves.

On my claim of Christian influence driving scholarship, I'm not claiming that all Jesus Positivers are Christian. I'm saying that 2,000 years of support-us-or-face-the-consequences, plus widening one's audience by supporting Christian claims are factors to consider when asking, "Why are we putting so much faith in the accuracy of the bible?"

On our positions not being so far apart ... exactly. As far as the evidence is concerned, one of us is saying the glass is half empty, the other is saying the glass is half full. The bee in my bonnet is the tendency to not only take the half-full approach, but take it as (pardon the pun) gospel truth.

Here's another example of the same trend: Reading an article the other day about an archaeological site, the author waxes poetic about a stone tool. "We can imagine the craftsman, sitting by the fire, skillfully crafting his projectile. He (or she, we don't know)..." And save for that little bit in parentheses, the author goes on saying "Craftsman" and using the male pronoun. Same as when discussing hunters.

For the last couple of centuries, the image of hunter-man/gatherer-woman has been based on current ethnocentric and cultural bias around gender roles. Indeed, in most of written history the men do the athletic tasks while the women are more relegated to sewing and child-rearing. It's more than possible that cultural gender division has always existed. I have my own hypothesis why, biologically, it makes great sense to keep the women out of the hunt. I can also hypothesize why it makes just as much sense to have women join in the hunt. Either way, I seriously don't see why a woman can't hammer a bit of flint.

Point is, we don't know for sure. Even the author in this article gives that asterisk, but it is a teeny, tiny, barely noticeable one, before he goes on using language that reinforces the men-did-all-the-hunting-and-toolmaking assumption. The more responsible approach is to wax philosophical about the description using gender-neutral terminology. Or occasionally describe a craftswoman alongside the craftsman.

Back to Jesus; the more we talk about biblical Jesus as if he is historical Jesus, the more we lose sight of the fact that all we know of HJ are suppositions. Some are very solid, probable suppositions, but still suppositions nonetheless. Theists and non-Theists alike have for 2,000 years taken for granted that Jesus of the bible is real. The key to exposing him as very probably mostly myth is to drive a big brick wall between historical and biblical.
There's a line between critical thinking and denialism. I can respect contending specific points of evidence, and addressing them logically, but to just dismiss it all and call conspiracy is pure laziness with the evidence we have. Denialism is no better than faith in a god head. They both lead to stagnation of the mind.
There's not equal support. The contemporary view by historians is that Jesus was a real person, and this is accepted in the historical/scientific community. It's denialism to suggest otherwise based on simply what it "seems" like to you. If this is more than simply your opinion on what "seems" to actually be true, make an actual point of contention with the evidence to be debated. To ignore specific points of evidence and make a blanket statement claiming conspiracy is one of the basic steps of denialism. Replying to specific points with a summation of your opposition being "blah blah blah" and then claiming some privileged frame of reference outside the contemporary body of professional knowledge is exactly what a denialist's tactics are. Let's strive to not fall victim to such fallacious arguments.
The contemporary view by historians is that Jesus was a real person, and this is accepted in the historical/scientific community.

A contemporary view that coincides with 2,000 years of support-the-religion-or-face-the-consequences and the common sense that tells me that even with an Atheistic view, if I say that Jesus was real I'll sell more books (to Xians) than if I don't.

Not to say that popular opinion and truth can't coexist. They very often, most often, do. But couple the above with the fact that the evidence consists of scripture written decades after the fact and a passing mention from 2 secular sources yet more decades later, well after the scriptures and popular opinion had solidified the legend.

As an Atheist, I don't buy it when a Theist says "The bible is true because the bible says it's true." Neither do I buy it from an Atheist. It might be, it might not be. But anyone else comes to me with this kind of 'evidence' of their worshiped god-man-hero, and I'd be skeptical.

Contemporary views are not *always* correct.
Replying to specific points with a summation of your opposition being "blah blah blah" and then claiming some privileged frame of reference outside the contemporary body of professional knowledge is exactly what a denialist's tactics are. Let's strive to not fall victim to such fallacious arguments.

These are the tactics of anyone trying to sell their point without having to cite sources; either because they don't have any or don't want to look them up.

As has been pointed out here many times, it seems we're all working with the same body of evidence.

One side says the bible is true and Josephus/Tactius can not possibly have been forged or parroting popular opinion/scripture until absolute proof to the contrary surfaces.

The other side says the bible is highly vulnerable to spin of the authors and Josephus/Tactius are vulnerable to forgeries or basing their history on said scriptures or popular opinion. Without further corroborating evidence, we can't be so sure. And if there is a 'real' Jesus, we most definitely can't be sure what bits of the canon bible are spin and what bits if any are 'true.'

I could care less how much you believe in the bible. But to insist the evidence is beyond a reasonable doubt, the evidence that consists entirely of scripture and people who could very easily have been influenced by scripture ... that I'll challenge the same I would challenge any Theist who tries to use that argument on me.
"One side says the bible is true and Josephus/Tactius can not possibly have been forged or parroting popular opinion/scripture until absolute proof to the contrary surfaces."

No, we're not saying that at all. Stop misrepresenting us.

A while ago I asked you to give us your opinion on Josephus and Tacitus (see last post on this thread). What are you waiting for?
Of course contemporary views are not always correct. It's a red herring to suggest I said otherwise. As is your allusion to the bible being true or not. Please stop misrepresenting us.

I never cited contemporary acceptance of the evidence as support of my position, it was in reply to the notion there is an equal support for both sides, there isn't.

I am weary of you citing "because the bible says" as well as if that has anything to do with the position your opponents are taking, it's pretty clear we don't believe whatever the bible says, being atheists. It's up to logic to look at historical bias and to seek the truth from biased accounts. Logic would dictate if Jesus was never real, his earliest detractors would have used that argument rather than attack his divinity or credibility as a person. It's that simple fact above all others I think he probably existed. It makes more sense than this conspiracy being touted.

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