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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"His mention of Jesus (Christ) is just a reiteration of one Christian story. Thus he was NOT writing about Jesus the person, he was writing about Jesus the myth or, if you prefer, Jesus the object of Christian worship."

Nope, that statement needs to be proved, rather than asserted. Tacitus referred to Christianity as a "mischieveous, vile superstitio" and utterly despised it. So the idea that he would simply talk to Christians about their prophet and trust them, is absurd; also, Tacitus regularly tells us that he doesn't trust hear-say, so that makes it doubly absurd that he's going to make an exception in this specific case.
Tacitus did, on the other hand, have access to senatorial records spanning over several decades (by virtue of having been consul); almost certainly including records of Pilate as well.
That's where the wheels fall of their argument: the most reasonable conclusion is that he got it from Roman records of the time, not Christian hearsay.

"There's no agreement on what the interpolations are in Josephus' citation. Therefor, anything Geza Vermes removed would have been his best guess. Many scholars discount the entire passage."

Few, actually. Most (a study found something like 42 out of 50 surveyed scholars) agree that it was added to.
And for good reason, too:
- the Syriac translation of Antiquities contains a paraphrase of this precise passage, but it does so without the interpolations (the ones Vermes removed); most likely because these were added later to an original mention
- Same story with the Arabic version: it contains a paraphrase that talks about Jesus but does not have any of the interpolations
- and last but not least, Origen says about Josephus that he "did not believe Jesus to be the Christ" meaning that Josephus clearly had said something about Jesus, but that the reference has been altered

Your argument isn't looking too good.

"Like I said, Matt, second-hand information . . . repeated stories."

Just like everything else ancient historians wrote down. Are we going to get all hypersceptical about that too?
Remember what I said about double standards?

"There's a huge void where evidence of Jesus should be. Where is the contemporaneous evidence?"

Where is the contemporaneous evidence for Hannibal?
Answer that question before you do anything else: that will make you realise the nature of the material we have.
You can't point to contemporaneous evidence for Jesus BECAUSE THERE IS NONE. You want to pretend that "evidence" [sic] that comes a generation or more after Jesus was allegedly crucified is somehow conclusive or convincing . . . despite admitting that interpolations have crept into Josephus' written record.

Was Jesus a real person? Perhaps. But not because he's mentioned by Tacitus and Josephus long after he was dead.
At least, Matt, the contemporaneous evidence for Hannibal was known to exist . . . but has since been lost. Contemporaneous evidence for Jesus was never referenced: not in scripture and not in history.

Even if Hannibal were a myth, that has no bearing on Jesus.

Nice try though.

P.S.
You're not into Intelligent Design are you? Just wondering :-)
Hey John D

Your list works for me.
On non-contemporaneous evidence...

Matt, you seem to be touting/demanding an either-or judgement. Either non-contemporaneous evidence is fully reliable, or it is fully unreliable.

What Free Thinker, I, and many others who haven't the patience to still be here are saying...Any evidence, but especially non-contemporaneous evidence comes with wide degrees of reliability. You keep asking about Hannibal and Boudica, saying that if we 'believe' in them, we must believe in Jesus.

If I were to finally take that bait and chase after those red herrings, I'd argue that no, we don't. I honestly haven't studied historicity of Hannibal or Boudica. But if I did, I'd ask questions like, "Do the non-contemporaneous sources reference contemporaneous sources? Who are the sources? Do they worship/venerate these figures or treat them as mundane history? How much might they have been influenced by others who did worship/venerate these figures? How detailed are the mentions? Do they appear to be referencing the figures themselves or referencing the people telling stories about them (as in Tacitus)? Do these references come from one, localized area or from all across the land?"

Hopefully I'm not inspiring someone to give us a drawn-out history lesson on Hannibal and Boudica. That's not the point. Point is, there are degrees of reliability; not either-or.

The conclusion doesn't have to be Positive or Myth. It can also be "Inconclusive" or "Somewhat compelling one way or the other, but not conclusive."
Free Thinker,

"You can't point to contemporaneous evidence for Jesus BECAUSE THERE IS NONE."

You can't point to contemporaneous evidence for Hannibal BECAUSE THERE IS NONE.
My God, isn't this fun?
"You want to pretend that "evidence" [sic] that comes a generation or more after Jesus was allegedly crucified is somehow conclusive or convincing . . . "

Conclusive, no. Convincing in the face of no evidence to the contrary, absolutely.
You seem to have a hard time dropping this hyperscepticism.

"despite admitting that interpolations have crept into Josephus' written record."

I've said that since my first post on this thread, so it's not an admission of anything: the fact that there was something to be interpolated in the first place is a point against your thesis.



"At least, Matt, the contemporaneous evidence for Hannibal was known to exist . . . but has since been lost. Contemporaneous evidence for Jesus was never referenced: not in scripture and not in history."

And that's just bullshit sophistry attempting to make a distinction where no basis for one exists. We have no idea how much contemporaneous evidence for Hannibal there was, just as we don't know that for Jesus. Considering how long Livy and Polybius were writing after Hannibal died, and contrasting that timeframe to the gap between Jesus and Josephus and Tacitus, it's actually much more likely that Tacitus was able to rely on contemporary senatorial records of Jesus, and that Josephus relied on contemporary eye-witnesses for his references (seeing as he was a native of Jerusalem).
And may I remind you that contemporary sources are referenced with regards to Jesus? Paul says he has met Jesus' brother, for example, a figure also attested too by Josephus. That's actually more than we can say for Hannibal.

"Even if Hannibal were a myth, that has no bearing on Jesus."

Way to miss the point of what I was saying. My point was that you are holding Jesus to completely unrealistic standards of evidence compared to his actual stature.
Hannibal was the greatest adversary Rome ever faced and brought the Republic to the brink of defeat. He destroyed almost a dozen Roman legions, killed dozens of Senators and nobles and his name lived on in literature for hundreds of years. Despite this, NO contemporary records of him survived.

Now compare the stature of that man to the stature of a preacher in Palestine whose main event in life was getting into enough of a ruckus with the authorities to get crucified. If we don't have any surviving contemporary evidence for Hannibal, only a complete idiot would expect contemporary evidence for such a preacher.

Which means that destroys your constant pleas for contemporary evidence.
Now, do we have that settled and can we move on to the subject of comparing the evidence that exists to that for other preachers of the time?

"Nice try though."

Try again.

"P.S.
You're not into Intelligent Design are you? Just wondering :-)"


I'll see whether you can work that one out for yourself. It's always interesting when people demonize me and ascribe positions to me based on nothing but bias and (usually butthurt) feelings; usually tells me a lot about them.

Jo,

"You keep asking about Hannibal and Boudica, saying that if we 'believe' in them, we must believe in Jesus."

You keep missing the point too. The comparison with Hannibal doesn't serve as an argument, it serves as a retorical point to destroy the argument that we should be expecting contemporary evidence. You're still going off on that tangent regularly, and many others too, i.e. "There is a void where evidence of Jesus should be."
This perceived void only exists because you're still working from assumptions about how abundant contemporary evidence is and how well-attested we can expect any event in the ancient world to be. A while ago you were even going on about how you wanted your sources to be unbiased!

Reality checking, most figures in the ancient world don't have contemporary evidence; none of the preachers of Jesus' time were attested to in surviving contemporary material. Not John the Baptist, not Theudas, not the Egyptian Prophet, not any of the others. If you looked at these for a reasonable standard of comparison, you'd quickly discover that instead of a "void", we actually have more evidence for Jesus than we have for these figures.
But instead we go off on tangents where you're asking for the kind of evidence that doesn't exist for Hannibal.

That's the point I'm making: next time you ask for any particular mode of evidence, check in your mind whether or not Hannibal has it. When he hasn't, you know that your request is utterly unreasonable.

"Hopefully I'm not inspiring someone to give us a drawn-out history lesson on Hannibal and Boudica. That's not the point. Point is, there are degrees of reliability; not either-or."

Yes, there are. And not of that has any bearing on the fact that asking for contemporary evidence of any kind is folly in these cases.

John D,

"Hey MattVDB - Does my list work for you? If it is pretty close that means that you guys have been arguing over nothing... if you know what I mean."

It seems like a pretty self-evident list to me. But what's important for this discussion is that Jesus comes before any other Jewish preacher of the time, and before the vast majority of people in the ancient world. That's the real point we are arguing about.


Regards,

Matt
There is quite a difference between scientific empirical evidence and historical evidence. Too many skeptical thinkers in skeptical communities seem ignorant of this. In history, you deal with biased accounts almost as a rule. It's up to the historian/reader to find corroborating facts that paint a picture where it's possible to glean the probable from the improbable, the truth from the bias. To do this, you have to use logic to weigh one bias against another, and you must understand the bias and it's motivations, often. You can't just throw away biased and altered accounts and dismiss them as evidence if you want to discuss matters of history.
I vacillate between the pros and cons of a historical Jesus. The delay before any historical record starts mentioning Jesus tells me that Christianity spread and, with it, Jesus' fame. But that doesn't necessarily mean Jesus was a real person. I tend to believe he was a real person but I don't like the absence of contemporaneous evidence or recorded documentation.
--- Matt VDB --- What Mythers have to do is dismiss the actual evidence we do have, and that is simply impossible without engaging in double standards.

And all Asterisk-ers need to do is insert reasonable doubt on that evidence. Such as:

- The bible is not inerrant.

- Paul sounds like a guy with an agenda, capable of spinning, twisting, or even fabricating truth to forward that agenda.

- Josephus/Tacitus come many years later, after scriptures started circulating, at the least could have been influenced by those scriptures/Christians or simply describing Christians without making such a critical judgement on the historicity of their god-ma, and at best tell us nothing more than name/place/occupation.

- A conspicuous void during and just after Jesus' supposed lifetime. Later scriptures and the preservation thereof indicate that Xians weren't having that much trouble writing/preserving 'evidence,' so why did they not bother to do it while Jesus was still alive? Why did Jesus himself not write any of it?


The world is not divided into Mythers and Positivers. There is a middle ground that many of us take that says existence is probable/improbable, but not beyond reasonable doubt and/or we have no way to know if that hypothetical person is preserved in the canon bible.
"There is a middle ground that many of us take that says existence is probable/improbable, but not beyond reasonable doubt and/or we have no way to know if that hypothetical person is preserved in the canon bible."

Well sure, but simply preaching the gospel of doubt doesn't do much for us. I see people all the time nitpicking evolutionairy biology and its supporters, and whining about how we're not certain about everything, how we've changed our positions sometimes, how we don't have all the fossils, blah blah blah... and yet it doesn't win them any points because (i) they're not telling us anything we don't already know and (ii) none of the little doubts we might give are enough to offset the fact that evolution is by far the best theory we have for bio-diversity.

One of the reasons this "we can't know anything about Jesus from the Bible" position is practically non-existent among scholars is that it's based on hyperscepticism instead of actual scepticism.

Take your criticisms now:
"Paul sounds like a guy with an agenda"? Well no shit Sherlock: try reading Tacitus and Josephus, or Philo and Herodotos, or Livy and Polybius and see how they're busy propping up emperors and glorifying some people while demonizing others and trying to push a (usually moralistic) agenda, and then tell me Paul is anything special.
So "the Bible is not inerrant"? Well great, then that makes it exactly the same as any other book and we can use the same methods of textual criticism that we employ on other figures: those tend not to come to a sudden end where we throw up our hands in the air and say "Anything could have happened"
So Tacitus and Josephus could have been influenced by Christians when writing about Jesus? Well geez, that sounds much like they could be influenced by Carthaginians when they talk about Hannibal, or how they could be influenced by people from Capua if they're writing about a Capuan.

Nothing about these criticisms is even remotely special: they are entirely in keeping with the other source material of the time, and they're precisely what we expect. Yes, it's second-hand, and it's not contemporary, and it's not 21st century historical analysis; it never is.
Would you apply these criticisms to any other terrain in history? Would you dismiss every biography of Hannibal out of hand just because they're all written by Romans? Would you dismiss all historical figures who don't have contemporary evidence?

Exactly.
--- Matt VDB asks me --- Would you dismiss every biography of Hannibal out of hand just because they're all written by Romans?

That depends. Is every biography of Hannibal in massive conflict with the others on specifics and all of them proclaiming him to be the Son of God who walked on water and rose from the dead and I'd better worship him or else face the dire consequences? Biographies written by people with apparent agendas in having Hannibal "say" what they want to hear him say? With the only 2 secular supports coming decades after those biographies and not biographies in and of themselves but only listing name/place/occupation? In wording vague enough to be either suspect as forgeries and/or could be referring to believers in Hannibal Son Of God rather than Hannibal himself?

If so, then just as with Jesus, I would say that the Hannibal story is probably inspired by a real person, but we don't know for sure and that real person is forever obscured behind the very, very tall tales. That the Hannibal biographies say more about the people who wrote them than they do about any hypothetical person named Hannibal.

--- Would you dismiss all historical figures who don't have contemporary evidence?

Not necessarily. As I said in another post, it's not black/white, either/or. Non-contemporary evidence can be very compelling, or it can be very likely a lie or based on bad intel, or anywhere in between.
--- Free Thinker --- History is (allegedly) not manufactured out of thin air. The void where evidence of Jesus should be is very telling. For consistency's sake, invoking the "historical" should be accompanied by actual historical evidence.

I'm assuming the void you speak of is evidence during Jesus' supposed lifetime or at least really, really close to it. In which case you're right. The first secular mentions come many years after scriptures began to circulate, which in turn began many years after Jesus' supposed lifetime.

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