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 very existence of someone named Jesus whom we might recognize as the "pretty face on the cereal box" is based on best-guesses more so than hard evidence."

We just might be getting somewhere. Replace "best-guesses" with "reasonable inferences made on the balance of the evidence we can expect and have" and I'm on board.

"If by "Historical Jesus" we mean "Historical originator of the ideology in the bible," we have no way to know if that pretty face on the cereal box fits that bill, and very good reason to believe he probably doesn't."

You keep saying that like a mantra but never actually say what you mean by that. I've given you list of items before that are almost certainly historical (lived in Nazareth, baptised by John the Baptist, crucified by Pontius Pilate, brother James). Do you have a problem with any of those things, yes or no?
Because I am fully prepared to say that there are many things on which we can't know what the historical Jesus thought. It's very hard to distill his opinion on whether he believes to be the Messiah or not, for instance; and it's equally hard to distill his opinion of the Romans through the lens of the gospels. Those are things that are probably forever lost in the fog of time.

But what about the things I mentioned above? I maintain that we can reasonably infer those from the evidence, which means we have a pretty good idea of who this guy was - better than most preachers of the time.


Matt, I will grant you, I haven't made much contribution to this discussion, but may I make a suggestion? How about a handful of bullet points, much as the items you mention in the fourth paragraph of the above comment, regarding what IS historically verified or plausible regarding Jesus, maybe with source if you like. If nothing else, it would be a nice tool for discussion and/or debate moving forward.

Just a thought.
Hi Loren,

Sure. I think I've done that a couple of times already (it's a far more interesting subject IMO), but the problem is that those posts keep getting forgotten after the next few pages of discussion :)

Anyway, as with any historical figure, some events are more plausible and better attested than others; historians regularly use criteria to do this. Some of them are (perfectly explained by Eschaton Now):
"1) Embarrassment: A fact or event that appears to cause embarrassment to the theology of the gospel authors is less likely to have been invented by them than a fact or event that bolsters their theology.
2) Discontinuity: A fact or event that does not appear to have had any basis in earlier tradition is less likely to have been invented by the gospel authors than an event that may have been predicated in an earlier tradition.
3) Multiple Attestation: A fact or event that appears to have been preserved down multiple lines of independent tradition is more likely to be true than one that is only preserved down a single line.
4) Coherence: A fact or event that appears to be consistent with our present understanding of the historical context is more likely to be true than one which appears to be at odds with it.
5) Rejection and Execution: A fact or event that looks as though it might provide an realistic explanation for the rejection or execution of Jesus is more likely to be true than the more tendentious explanations offered consciously by the gospel authors (e.g. divine providence, the Jews being in league with the devil etc.). (This criterion is less strong as it presumes historicity of the execution to begin with, but given that the execution of Jesus appears to satisfy each of the four previous criteria, it's based on a fairly solid foundation so far as second-order criteria go.)"

Using these criteria on the available source material on Josephus, Tacitus and the gospels, I'd argue the following about a historical Jesus.

In the almost certainly accurate category (these are things practically all non-fundamentalist scholars agree on, mainly due to the fact that they pass all or most of the criteria above):
- Nazareth was Jesus' hometown (not Bethlehem)
- Jesus was a faith healer
- Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist in his early years
- Jesus preached about the coming apocalyps
- Jesus had a brother James
- Jesus caused a disturbance in the Temple of Jerusalem at Passover
- he was subsequently crucified by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius

In the (very) likely category:
- Apocalyptic teachings were accompanied by moral precepts much like those of other apocalyptic teachers: centering around the apocalyps and how to behave in the meantime
- Specific phrases that return in all the gospels, like "Turn the other cheek" or "Elio elio, lama sabachtani"
- he was a devout Jew who followed Old Testament law
- believed in a general resurrection which would precede the Apocalyps

In the plausible but hard to verify category (where there is certainly plenty of debate):
- his stance towards the Romans was mainly one of 'apocalyptic pacifism', in the sense that it was futile to combat the Romans now because they would be swept away in the coming Apocalyps anyway
- his stance towards Gentiles was mainly dismissive but at the same time mildly proselytizing
- believed himself to be the Messiah

In the impossible to accurately verify category:
- whatever happened to his body after the crucifixion: burial? (In a tomb??) Stolen? Eaten by dogs?
- anything really specific, like his ideas on the nature of the alleged general resurrection etcetera or particular sayings and parables
- his favourite colour, hairstyle, and musical preferences

I'll save this post so I can refer to it later.

Take care,

--- I said --- If by "Historical Jesus" we mean "Historical originator of the ideology in the bible," we have no way to know if that pretty face on the cereal box fits that bill, and very good reason to believe he probably doesn't.

--- To which Matt VDB asks --- You keep saying that like a mantra but never actually say what you mean by that.

I honestly don't know how to simplify it any further.

You say the following is "almost certainly" historical:
- Lived in Nazareth
- Baptised by John the Baptist
- Crucified by Pontius Pilate
- Brother James

I'm assuming you mean because these are elements of the story that come from the Josephus/Tacitus entries? I wouldn't call any of it "almost certain," but let's pretend for a moment that Josephus and Tacitus got all of that right.

It still tells us nothing about ideology. Once again, I'll use Wizard of Oz as an analogy. Let's say we learn that Frank Baum named his lead character after a real girl from Kansas named Dorothy who lived on a farm. (I don't actually know, but let's play with that hypothetical).

Based on that information alone: Tell me which specific lines or elements of Dorothy's character are made up by Baum and which ones belong to the real Dorothy.

We can't. Because all we have is name/place/occupation. With no more points of reference than that we don't know if she said "Oh my" a lot, or if she ever mused "There's no place like home." We can speculate, saying these seem like key elements of the story, so if Baum used any of historical-Dorothy's persona, these might be most likely. But we still have zero evidence of that. All the extra-novel evidence we have is name/place/occupation.

Even more ambiguous with Jesus as we have not one novel but several, many of which tout a wildly different "Jesus" from the others. We have zero extra-biblical evidence of anything outside of name/place/occupation. And we do know that the various scriptures were written with varying degrees of spin from major-spin to outrageous-spin.

Even if we lump it all together and come up with a few common themes, which at best we can speculate that these might have been some of the earliest Christian ideologies. But as these scriptures are all many years to many generations removed from the supposed source, we still have no way of knowing if those hypothesized early ideologies originated with Jesus (whose existence still comes with a huge asterisk) or those who came immediately after him.

I notice you jumped at Loren's request for a short list of what is historically verified, but didn't jump so hard at his request for "with source if you like." Traditionally I see you toss out the names Ehrman and Vermes. This is not sourcing. Book title, chapter, page number. That is a source.

If you don't feel the need to do that or don't have time, great. Few of us do. But that also means that the harder you insist you have sources to back up your "almost certainty," the more conspicuous the absence of those sources becomes.

To my knowledge, anything today's scholars have to say about Jesus' ideology comes from scriptures. See above why I don't trust the bible as being absolutely accurate.
I just gave five of the criteria commonly used to determine exactly that, and you're asking me how I determined this... Unbelievable.

Try this, Jo, pick one of the items from the "almost certain" category, and we'll go over the evidence for those together. Then you'll get to try to explain them away.

Cool? Go ahead.
No, that would be piano teacher and New Age kook Rene Salm who says that. Back in the real world, actual archaelogists (Zvi Gal, Richard Freund, Fanny Vitto, Nurit Veig, Ross Voss) have excavated the region and have in fact found remains.
They've even found a bathhouse from Roman-era Nazareth.

I'll be very surprised if you can find a single archaelogist who says that Nazareth was uninhabited in the First Century CE. You'll find plenty of kooks and apologists (like Salm and his best pal Frank Zindler) who will say so though.

Don't believe everything you hear.
--- Matt VDB says --- I just gave five of the criteria commonly used to determine exactly that, and you're asking me how I determined this... Unbelievable.

I know. A skeptic, on an Atheist website, asking for evidence from someone demanding that we believe in Jesus. Unbelievable.
Even if somebody did exist who was the seed of the character we now know as Jesus, that guy would fall far short of living up to the mythos of the religious symbol. Personally, I don't really see the significance of of whether Jesus actually existed. It has no bearing on the fact that, even if he did, he was still just a man.
You are wise, Thomas :-)

I better bow out before acrimony sets in. If we beat this dead horse any longer, he might resurrect.
wow, 99 pages of Jesus rant. Didn't think it make it this far.
See what you went and started Jennifer?


We know certain stars have planets orbiting them despite not being able to see them. The gravitational effect of the planet causes a slight wobble of the star. We know that Hannibal had contemporaneous records of his exploits, despite those records being lost, because those records were referenced by other commentators, both Roman and Carthaginian.

My distinction between Hannibal and Jesus, which I've admitted is a minor one, is that there are no references to contemporaneous records of Jesus. Yes, neither Hannibal or Jesus have any surviving contemporaneous records but, unlike Hannibal, Jesus doesn't have references to contemporaneous records either. There is only a void where evidence of Jesus should be . . . not even a wobble. That's not sophistry . . . that's a real (albeit minor) distinction.




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