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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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?

Nothing. I've already done so. Many, many times. My opinion is that they are as susceptible as anyone else to popular opinion. That at least one of the entries is highly suspect as a forgery or embellishment. That they could have used what we today would call scripture as sources.

Not that they did or didn't, but that the possibility/plausibility is there, putting an asterisk next to their entries.

Just as you seem sure enough of their accuracy not to put an asterisk next to their entries.
You'll have to do better than that. Saying that there's a possibility one way or the another is meaningless; just as meaningless as it is to say "Yes, there is a possibility that God exists". If you're going to hold the position that Jesus did not exist (or that he didn't exist with any resemblance to who we think he was) then you have to explain how those references arose and you have to make a case for why these non-Christians used Christian sources.
You'll have to do better than that.

No, I don't. You asked for my opinion. That's my opinion.

Saying that there's a possibility one way or the another is meaningless;

No, it isn't. The Theistic argument that the bible is true because the bible says so, or that people, even important people, are immune from religious influence, is meaningless.
David Martinson - If you stop trying so damn hard to win, you'll see that both sides basically agree that like every myth, this one is based on historical figures but that the story becomes so convoluted by followers that the mythical figure hardly matches the historical figure.

Yes! Thank you! Back on topic! Standing ovation! Hugs! Woo-hoo!

I'm still waiting for someone to disagree with my assertions:

-- If only by laws of probability, there was almost certainly someone named Jesus, who lived in the Middle East, about 2,000 years ago, who sang the praises of God. In fact, I'd wager by laws of probability there were several people who fit that description.

-- Religious texts, I.e. the scriptures, are fallible.

As everything we know about Jesus outside of name/town/occupation is a religious text, that came after and could have been influenced by more religious texts, written long after this Jesus guy was supposed to have been born, how then do we know what this person was really like? If he was Feminist Jesus or Misogynistic Jesus? If he was turn-the-other-cheek Jesus or I-come-bearing-a-sword Jesus? A plausible case can even be made for everything, including the name, being pulled out of someone's ass.

And so far, every time I go looking for evidence of what the 'real' Jesus was like, the self-proclaimed experts point back to the gospels, the epistles, the letters of Paul. The very scriptures that few scholars doubt are fallible. Written decades or centuries after the man supposedly lived, allowing for lots of time for possible alterations to the story. Religious texts which, by their very nature, are highly suspect of tall tales, additions and omissions.

Using the flawed text to prove the text's claims are not flawed. The bible is telling the truth because the bible says its telling the truth.

"I know the real Jesus because it says so in the scriptures" sounds no less ridiculous to these ears coming from an Atheist than coming from a born-again Christian.
"He defends Jesus with the zeal of a born again christian, but when cornered whittles that certainty of existence down to the probable existence of a Jewish Nazarene priest and his brother who had specific names."

I do what?
No, David, I defend historical analysis from being abused by people who can't seem to let their biases behind and think objectively.
And as for how I "whittle down" when cornered (by who?), that's all I've ever been doing: I've never defended the miracles of Jesus, or his divinity, or the inerrancy of the Bible. My position has been consistent all throughout.

Did you not understand all this or did you chose to ignore it? A bit of both I imagine.

"More to the point, if as atheists we agree that Jesus wasn't the son of god and that his teachings were mostly second hand aphorisms, then why worry so much about this question?"

He's the founder of the largest religion on Earth. Sounds like someone worth investigating to me.
Feel free to do something else with your time. But don't come in here with these pathetic jabs.
He's the founder of the largest religion on Earth. Sounds like someone worth investigating to me.

The largest religion on Earth claims its god walked on Earth as a man, yet there is a glaring, conspicuous lack of evidence for this founder outside the religion's texts themselves. Save for vague passing references that came after the cult began and could just as easily have been parroting popular opinion. Sounds like a claim worth investigating to me.

But don't come in here with these pathetic jabs.

I'm as much a part of this website and community as you. He who is without pathetic jabs, cast the first stone. I'll make a greater effort to throw fewer stones. Will you?
"The largest religion on Earth claims its god walked on Earth as a man, yet there is a glaring, conspicuous lack of evidence for this founder outside the religion's texts themselves. Save for vague passing references that came after the cult began and could just as easily have been parroting popular opinion. Sounds like a claim worth investigating to me."

Absolutely. Those are all claims worth investigating.
You want to debate the references in Josephus and Tacitus and whether they were parroting popular opinion? Because that's an interesting subject and one that we have not yet touched upon very much in this thread.

By the way, I was not adressing you with this post, Jo ;) I was responding to David. I probably should have mentioned his name explicitly to make that clear.
David came into the thread a while ago making bald assertions about how the amalgamation hypothesis was the most likely hypothesis to account for the available evidence. When challenged on this to simply give us an explanation as to why he thought this, he just said that he didn't need to justify his position.

Not very rational, but at least I thought him to be above re-entering in the thread just to throw cheap slurs like "Matt defends Jesus with the zeal of a born again Christian". That's just pathetic, and the kind of interaction we don't need.

"I'm as much a part of this website and community as you."

You absolutely are and we enjoy having you.

"He who is without pathetic jabs, cast the first stone. I'll make a greater effort to throw fewer stones. Will you?"

As I said, I tend to give as good as I get. So yes, I absolutely will. But again, the above "stone" was one aimed at David; and justly so.

Cheers
Yes, I believe he existed. People are not creative enough to think of something out of thin air, let alone an entire movement that still exists today. Those bible stories had to have a base through which later writers could manipulate and exaggerate to make said prophet into a god figure. Do we have any definitive proof? Absolutely not, but as I said, I'm pretty sure those group of people had to have a base with which to start their cult. In short, I would fall under category A.
- Oversimplified, but basic gist of a possible scenario: 5 hippie Jews in a pub figure they can tweak and resell their faith even better than, well everyone. The ideas mostly come from John and Paul who are the snappy speech writers. George has the travel resources, Ringo is someone's little brother who always tags along and Jesus is just there for the drinks that George buys. But Jesus is also the best looking, most charming, and a fabulous public speaker, so he's tagged to be the salesman. By the time any of it gets written down, the movement has morphed into a god-man story with the frontman's name attached to that god-man.

Oversimplified real-world example: Al Gore has become synonymous with the Climate Change movement. He starred in the movie. Other people made it. It is not the only movie and he's certainly not the lone scientist who discovered the theory or even a scientist at all. But his has become the movement's face.

- Oversimplified, but basic gist of a possible scenario: Jesus, the town redneck bar-brawler always getting into trouble, trashes the temple one day. Authorities arrest him for it but underground, it makes him a folk hero. Tales of the event travel to other towns.
“Yeah, and I heard he was a rabbi!”
“Really? Dude that's so awesome! What did he preach?”
”[Blah blah, stuff I want to preach but it sells better coming from a folk hero, blah]”
“Hey, isn't he the same Jesus who used to preach on 5th and Main?”
“No, different guy.”
“No way, I'm sure it was the same guy.”
“He's so cool, he had to be the guy.”
“Well, maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe it was the same guy.”
“And I heard he can heal people!”
“Wow! Cool!”
“And Aunt Betsy told me he has magical superpowers!”
“Whoa, like he's the son of god or something!”
“Hang on, I'm from there and he didn't do or say any of those...”
“Piss off.”
“Um, I'm from there too and I'm pretty sure he didn't...”
“You piss off too. We're telling a story here....”

Once divine ancestry and supernatural miracles come into the mix to sell the story, how concerned is anyone really about mundane semantics?

- Oversimplified, but basic gist of a possible scenario: Tim grows up listening to and idolizing his neighbor Jesus, who is like the coolest Jew ever in Tim's eyes. Tim grows up to be a charismatic street preacher, preaching all this wonderful stuff that Jesus taught him, plus all the wonderful stuff Tim thought of on his own but since Jesus was his mentor, he gives Jesus all the credit. Tim starts the movement, but in his own words, Jesus is the man.

- Oversimplified, but basic gist of a possible scenario: Several hippie Jews meet frequently underground to discuss politics and social issues and how they can better their religion. They are idealistic students of various rabbis from all around. Coincidentally 2 of these rabbis are named Jesus – one ben Joseph and one ben Samuel – and a third has a name very similar to 'Jesus' while a 4th is also ben Joseph but different first name. All credit their respective rabbis with inspiring them to go out and preach the good news.

By the time the story gets to the ridiculously supernatural god-on-earth, one name is easier to remember than four, so one name is chosen.

- Oversimplified, but basic gist of a possible scenario: A storyteller, who has come up with a Jewish version of the god-on-earth hero story that just about every religion has so why can't we have one too, wants to make the story as exciting and appealing as possible and put a fresh twist on it. “Hey, what's more appealing to the unwashed masses than to make our god-hero one of them?” So he develops his main character as Joe the Plumber from Buttfuck Ohio. Or Jesus the Carpenter from Nazareth depending on who's re-telling the story and what audience they're trying to appeal to. The folks in Nazareth know of no such person, but who cares? The son of God came from our humble little town? Hell yeah we'll take that honor!


All this to say:
We.
Don't.
Know.

At the end of the day, there was very likely a real someone named Jesus who, for any number of possible reasons, got his name attached to the Jewish Son of God movement.

That turns into, “Ah-ha! So you admit Jesus is a real historical person! Now let's look at the bible to see what he was like...”

By the time Paul gets around to writing any of it down, the sayings and teachings can just as well be more of a reflection of him and the people preaching the story, with no telling what, if any, involvement a person(s) named Jesus, or John, Paul, George, or Ringo, originally did/said. As we've acknowledged, if there was an originator, his/their actions likely didn't make much of a dent in their own time. The dent was made after their death, by other people, who might or might not have had their own separate agendas.
Hi Jo,

Basically, what you have here is five maybe's. Ok, fine. I'll add another maybe: aliens came down from the sky, brainwashed all of Palestine with gamma rays. That's a possibility too.

The thing is, simply giving us possibilities doesn't cut it. What you need to do is provide evidence that this is a better explanation than the one I and other have been proposing. Without evidence, all you have is five giant maybe's to go along with all the rest of the worthless maybe's we can come up.

So I'll repeat my question. These are things that I think we can know about the historical Jesus almost certainly:
- he was born in Nazareth
- he was a faith healer and preacher (most likely an apocalyptic one)
- he caused a disturbance in the temple at Passover
- he was crucified as a rebel by the Romans
- he was baptised by John the Baptist
- he said at least some of the sayings recorded in the Q document
- he had a brother called James
This is a strong framework for a historical Jesus. If you agree with all these facts, then you believe in a historical Jesus. If you don't, then now is the time to actually challenge any of those; because they are well attested in the evidence, and the case that they are simply the result of an amalgamation quite simply relies on far more assumptions.
Break out the champagne - Matt and I agree on something! - How about we drop the suppositions, look at the evidence critically, estimate how much we can reasonably expect, and then compare to what we have?

And that has been my goal all along. Invite discussion. Compare and contrast. How did this person come to that conclusion and why was the other hypothesis dismissed? Keep the door of conventional wisdom open to critical inquiry instead of slamming it shut in the face of anyone who dares inquire.

I spent the day yesterday running this thread and my subsequent seed of a dissertation thesis past a few university professors. Part of it, the part that involves the mud wrestling that has dominated this thread has not to do with the topic itself, but how it's presented, who is presenting it, and the questions raised by that. Put this specific biblical Jesus vs historical Jesus issue on the back burner for a moment. In any field of science/research/study...

- A question is raised. (What does this ancient widget do?)
- Hypotheses get bounced around (It looks like it could do A, or B, or C. Or something we haven't thought of yet or that future discoveries could shed light on)
- Hypotheses become theories and get tested (A, B, and C are all plausible, but 'A' is looking to most of us like the most likely candidate)
- Theory A becomes the pack leader. (Yay! 3 cheers for theory A and all who helped develop it!)
- People sell their books and documentaries using awesome theory A as the current given.

Then comes the mudslinging bit...

- Amidst all the rock stars selling their books and reputations on the now given of theory A, someone in the back of the room says, "Hang on, theory A still isn't the only one that fits. Hypotheses B and C were kind of intriguing. Surely there's something to be learned from..."

- "Hogwash!" Say the rock stars, (who now have books and a reputation to defend). "How dare you bring up B and C when clearly everyone who matters (to us) agrees with us. Just look how many of us agree with each other (and seriously don't want to write a new book telling our adoring fans that someone other than us might have a valid point). "We have the truth and no one else does! Stop looking over there, look here, here I say! Here and nowhere else!"

The problem: To quote one of my professors from his lecture yesterday, "Conventional wisdom is a very powerful tool but it can also stunt our understanding." We get so hung up on popular theory A as the current given that we blind ourselves to the fact that there were, and still are, theories B and C which weren't as simple or elegant but were, are still very much within the realms of possibility. By refusing to keep our options open, we stunt ourselves.

Again quoting yesterday's professor, "The big breakthroughs usually starte out as someone's crackpot theory that challenged conventional wisdom. By coloring outside the lines once in a while."

Bringing it back to the presentation style found in this thread... I did spend day before yesterday slogging back through all 90 pages. I see a few folks here - Matt VDB being the very tall king of this mountain - who are very articulate, very charismatic, very passionate in their defense of conventional wisdom, have obviously put a great deal of study hours into the subject. Matt, I really wish you would come to the states and go to work for the Democratic party, for they are in dire need of a good pitchman.

But I also, in all that passion from Matt, only found one paraphrased quote from a source (but no chapter/page number) and one book recommendation (no chapter/page, just this-is-a-good-book). And the quote didn't really have to do with the evidence but ironically was a warning not to get so rigid in our thinking that we start rewriting history to the exclusion of other possible avenues.

Granted, I give only a few links/citations myself. Because most of my arguments are not that the evidence we have doesn't exist, but that it isn't conclusive. Where's the connection between X and Y? What is the basis of the altruism of this emperor or that preacher when, by their very nature, emperors and preachers have a reputation for spinning the story to further their own agenda, even unconsciously so? We have seen in our own time how a talking head like Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin can completely skew the hardest, most fact-checkable facts trusting that their adoring fans would rather believe them than the facts. What exactly makes us think that talking heads in 1st century CE were any less good at or capable of this?

The answers Matt and a few others here have given me is a whole lot of because-the-rock-star-scholars-say-so. Because we have the truth and no one else does. Not one single book-edition-chapter-page number where that rock-star scholar gives us the rock-solid proof that x+y=z. That and a whole lot of insults. How silly of you to ask little girl. The notion that a preacher might have a personal agenda? That a religious zealot could mix up the facts in the midst of their zeal? Why it's as silly a notion as saying space aliens did it! Run away and play with your other uneducated friends.

Sorry Matt et al, but all the ego, insults and name-dropping in the world still hasn't convinced me that the notion of a preacher spinning the story to make it pop better to his audience is so far fetched. Or that the notion of a storyteller getting some part of the story wrong is so hard to believe. That Glenn Beck can get away with this shite in the information age, but Paul and whomever told the story to him, and whomever told the story to that person, and whomever told the story to that person, can't.

+++++++++

So to that end. I still maintain that yes, the name 'Jesus' in the canon (and non-canon) scriptures almost certainly traces back to a real, flesh-and-blood Jesus somewhere back in history. And I also maintain that the vulnerability of canon scripture to distortion, spin and embellishment is so great that we do ourselves a gross disservice to maintain that real, flesh-and-blood inspiration can absolutely, therefore be found in the sayings, deeds, and message of the canon bible.

In other words, when people ask the question, "Is there a historical Jesus upon whom the canon bible is based?" Yes, most likely. But that doesn't prove what if anything beyond the name itself has survived the wash-rinse-repeat spin cycle. Something might have, but it's misleading to assume we can know if or what that something-that-survived is. It gives Theists (and Atheists) the thumbs up to reconstruct 'historical Jesus' in their own preferred image. If one is looking for historical Jesus in terms of originator of this passage or that parable, Paul is a better candidate for historical Jesus than historical Jesus is.

Or not.

The avenues of inquiry are, and should remain, open for interpretation.
Oops, sorry - meant to put Matt's quote in italics: How about we drop the suppositions, look at the evidence critically, estimate how much we can reasonably expect, and then compare to what we have?

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