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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Errr, you seem to be very confused. I'm here at this site because I am an atheist. I'm not a Christian, so where you get the idea that I simply want to believe Jesus existed, I really have no idea.
However, I do happen to be an atheist who is very fond of history, and likes to do his homework. I share your anti-Christian bias to an extent, but I advise you that if you're going to talk about history in an objective fashion, then you need to leave that bias at the door. Objective historical analysis is a science too (albeit more of a "soft science").

Why do I care? Because (i) I like history and I want to find out what really happened and (ii) because I want atheists to have good arguments, not arguments based on a very biased look at history and on no evidence at all and (iii) historical myths like the "Jesus never existed!" one are the equivalent of "Evolution asks for a crocoduck!" and it bugs the hell out of me. Especially when the ones using these arguments are supposed to be rational.

Speaking of no evidence at all, instead of reading badly researched novels like the Jesus Puzzle by amateur historians, why don't you bother reading real scholars? Like you know, Bart Ehrman, Geza Vermes,... scholars who try to be objective and who, because of not taking a biased look at history, all arrive at the conclusion that a historical Jesus existed.
Sorry, but what you're doing is no better than a Christian reading a book by Ken Ham and thereby thinking that young-earth creationism makes sense. It's no better.

Now as to the point you make, what you seem to forget is that first of all, it's highly unlikely Roman historians of the time would have heard about Jesus, with or without the miracle stories; these guys were Roman or Greek aristocrats that wrote about events in Greece and Rome. That's why our knowledge of obscure provinces like Galilee is so poor.
Second of all, the Romans were extremely superstitious. They believed in miracles. They thought they happened all the time, and miracles were attributed to all kinds of emperors, generals or politicians (Caesar, Vespasian,...). The idea that even if the stories about Jesus made it that far away from Palestine, Roman historians would be able to discern them from the hundreds of other superstitious miracle stories they heard every day, is absurd.
They would not have been aware of those stories unless they attended a Christian liturgy. The gospels and apostolic letters were circulated among local churches. They were not available at the local library. Procurators in outlying provinces like Galilee may or may not have kept records of the local troublemakers they killed, particularly if they were not Roman citizens.
Doesn't sound like a stretch at all to me. This is just the sort of thing I was asking for, my thanks for the information. I now have reason to suspect there was a person this was founded upon. I am still open to the possibility that it was fabricated, but I lean more towards the possibility it was based on some sort of actual movement or event now, with this information.
Much of the evidence is inferential. John Shelby Spong argues that no one would invent a messiah born in Nazareth, the hellhole of Palestine. The gospel of John alludes to Nazareth's bad reputation when one of Jesus' future followers first hears of him:

1.45"Philip found Nathanael and told him, ;We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.'
46'Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?' Nathanael asked."

That is presumably why some traditions changed his birthplace to Bethlehem, the more prestigious birthplace of King David.

The Jesus Seminar ( is a good source for information on other questions about the historical Jesus. The Acts of Jesus analyzes the first century narrative gospels for clues about what seem likely to be historical events in the life of Jesus. The Five Gospels does the same for the sayings attributed to Jesus.
Having him come from a backwoods area, to me, seems a tactic aimed at attracting the slaves and lower classes of Rome, which the rising seemed to have rose up among. I could see the error in such a setting there if it was meant to start out as a religion to rule or become an institution, but I always imagined the roots to be among small groups of slaves and such who met in secret in the crypts and whatnot, designed to spark an uprising against the upper classes.
Some hypotheses are dismissed out of hand for no better reason than that they do not serve the pet interpretation of the expert in question. For instance: it seems an obvious conclusion to me that Barabbas -- "the father's son" -- aka "Jesus Barabbas" in one gospel is a portrait of "the historical Jesus," a reference to the real reason he was crucified: he was an insurrectionist. When I asked Jesus Seminar scholar John Dominic Crossan his opinion of that possibility at a Q&A, he dismissed it as implausible but gave no reason. My impression was that it did not fit with his contention that Barabbas is purely a literary device to serve the wish to exonerate Pilate of Jesus' death.

The "many Jesuses" conjecture seems so obvious to me, even assuming one of them was known as Jesus of Nazareth, that one would have to present compelling evidence for some of the words and deeds not being borrowed from another person (people's words are frequently misattributed even now) to dismiss it.
That does sound implausible.

The story about Barabbas is certainly not one with much historical value, but that it is a reference to the real reason he was crucified is actually rather absurd: why would they reference that which the Apostles try so hard to deny?

The evidence we have suggests that Jesus was arrested by Jewish authorities for causing a disturbance in the Temple at Passover, and was promptly handed over to the Romans (considering they were the ones who really hated figures that proclaimed themselves "King of the Jews") to appease the Romans.
These events are downplayed by the gospel authors in order to white-wash the Romans and blame Jewish authorities: the goal was to distance Jesus as far as possible from any rebellious role against the Romans. So the idea that they would use the Barabbas story as a kind of "hidden clue" to what really happened stretches credulity.
Unless it was common knowledge among Christians that Jesus was executed for insurrection and they wanted to change the collective memory -- or unless they did not intend the narrative to be taken as factual and wanted to emphasize that the true Christ was not the political zealot the Jews clamored for, but the one who would bring about a spiritual kingdom. Crossan argues that Jesus' disciples did not realize until some time after he was dead that violence was not the way to institute a kingdom of God. They created the Jesus they thought should have been to replace the Jesus who was. They definitely planted clues to that effect. In Mt. 11.12 Jesus says, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force." Lk. 22.36 "He said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.'" They apparently wanted people to understand that the historical Jesus failed and they had a better one to offer.
We might be operating around a misunderstanding here.
I would agree that the historical reason the Romans wanted Jesus dead was certainly "insurrection" as in rebelling against the standing authorities (Sadducees and Romans), however I don't think that means imagining a Jesus going around hiring thugs and organising street fights.

The insurrection the Romans executed him for consisted of just calling himself the Messiah, let alone "King of the Jews". In an inflammatory province like Palestine, the Romans were not very interested in theological niceties: if they found a guy screaming about how the Kingdom of Yahweh was coming and would replace Roman rule by divine rule, that was more than enough reason to nail that guy up.

In that sense proclaiming yourself the Messiah was certainly a "political message" (and a rebellious one), albeit an indirect one, which is why the Romans frequently tracked down and murdered preachers that got too dangerous.

What we certainly agree on, however, is that the story the gospel writers conjured up about how Jesus was betrayed by the Jews over theological differences is a false one.
The insurrection the Romans executed him for consisted of just calling himself the Messiah, let alone "King of the Jews".

According to canon gospels (and religious writings are all we really have to go on), it was Jesus' followers who called him King of the Jews, not Jesus himself. A distinction he is careful to make.

According to the Gnostic gospels, he had even less messiah/king complex.

Although all of that from what I can see falls under the realm of mythology and legend. If there was a historical Jesus, who knows what he/his few cult followers thought.

But yeah - declaring oneself or your cult leader a messiah, or any such major heresy, was a capital crime. And quite a common one for people to be accused of.
Exactly. It's tough to determine exactly what nicknames Jesus was given and at what times they became in vogue. "King of the Jews" is fairly well-documented though, since it was (according to most Gospel sources) how the Romans sarcastically referred to him. Whether Jesus himself called him that or whether he was simply called that by other sources was probably an irrelevant theological nicety for the Romans: their motto in these cases was "Nail first, ask questions later."

It's actually quite hilarious how the Gospel writers make it seem that Pilate and the Roman authorities are really chummy with Jesus and have absolutely no problem with preachers calling themselves the Messiah and preaching the coming of God; while this was effectively interpreted as declaring war on Rome.

Of the 17 Messianic claimants that we know about in and around the First Century AD, thirteen were hunted down, persecuted, arrested and executed by the Roman military itself. Two others were dealt with by Herodian forces following Roman instructions.

Clearly this was stuff that the Romans took seriously. The sympathetic and mild Pilate we seen in the Gospels is as ahistorical as can be.
The pagans worshiped a son of god who was born at the Winter Solstice, on or about 25 December. He spent his time on earth doing good until he was killed by his enemies – but he didn't stay dead. He rose up and went to live with the other gods – but promised that he would return and judge all mankind according to their deeds.

Back in the days of Ezekiel (8:14) and Jeremiah (10:3-4) the Jews were already worshiping some of those pagan gods, and a few hundred years later, Daniel (chapter 12) casually refers to the resurrection of the dead at the end of time. It was the first time that pagan ideas were included in Jewish holy books.

The Jews enjoyed self-rule for about 100 years after the time of Daniel, but once again came under foreign domination when they were conquered by the Romans in 63 BC. Many prayed that god would send a “messiah” to lead them to freedom. They were familiar with the book of Daniel and they knew that some of his ideas came from the pagans, and that got them wondering…

Maybe the Jewish messiah was similar to the pagan “sons of god”. Maybe he had appeared in the holy land way back in the dim, distant past. Maybe he had died. Maybe he had come back to life. Maybe he had ascended into heaven. And maybe he was preparing to return to earth to judge all mankind. After all, Daniel had made it clear that such things could happen.

Naturally people wanted to know more about this messiah and there was always somebody ready to provide the details. His name was Joshua – Joshua the Messiah (which would be later translated into Greek as Jesus Christ). He was the “son of god” and he was as good as any of the pagan sons of gods being worshiped at that time:

The pagan son of god healed the sick – so did our messiah.
The pagan son of god rose from the dead – so did our messiah.
The pagan son of god changed water into wine – so did our messiah
The pagan son of god will return to judge all mankind – so will our messiah.

In 10 AD Philo wrote about one of these Jewish groups known as the Theraputae and 300 years later Eusebius declared them to be the very first Christians. They weren't – the term “Christian” hadn't been invented in 10 AD – but it's not surprising that the mistake was made, because the story told by the Theraputae was pretty much the same as that which Eusebius was reading in his own “New Testament”.

The idea spread and soon there were “messiah worshiping” churches in towns and cities all over the Roman Empire – but not in Jerusalem. That city was controlled by the temple priests, and no way were they going to let a bunch of rebel Jews start up a new religion in their jurisdiction.

It was about 30 AD when James, John, Peter and Stephen opened a Church in Jerusalem, and right away the temple priests went on the attack. They hired a gang of thugs to get rid of them. One of these bruisers was Saul of Tarsus (later known as Paul) and he boasts, in Acts 7:54-60, that he was there when Stephen was stoned to death.

Ten years later Paul changed sides and converted to the new religion. He tried preaching to the Jews, but Peter put a stop to that, and Paul found himself preaching only to the Gentiles.

As it turned out, the Jews eventually lost interest in “messiah worship” but the Gentiles stuck with it, and it was they who became known as “Christians”.

The pagans and the very early “messiah worshipers” (including Paul) had always known that their son of god was a mythical character from the world of the supernatural, but the Gentile Christians came to the opinion that Joshua the Messiah (whom they called Jesus the Christ) was an historical character who had lived on earth just a few decades earlier. They no longer regarded him as a myth and the stories about him were now interpreted literally rather than symbolically - and truth was the first casualty...

If you read the bible chronologically. You can see the myth developing over time. Paul had nothing to say about Jesus except that he died, resurrected, and promised to return. Mark adds a few more details. Matthew adds more and Luke adds even more.

Consider, for example, the healing miracle mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 1:32-34, Matthew 8:16 and Luke 4:40) where you can see the legend growing as the years pass by:

* Marks says ALL were brought to Jesus and MANY were healed.
* Ten years later Matthew says MANY were brought to Jesus and ALL were healed.
* And ten years after that, Luke says ALL were brought to Jesus and ALL were healed.

It amazes me that some people (including some atheists) think that Jesus is an historical character who lived about 30 AD. That character (who ever he was) was definitely NOT the biblical Jesus who is reputed to have performed over forty miracles during his last few years on Earth. The biblical Jesus is a myth.



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