Is there any credible evidence of an historic Jesus? I'm not looking for opinions here, I'm looking for actual evidence... so please sight sources.

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Thanks for the reply...
I'm certainly not an expert here, and I want to get my answers factually correct so I'm only going to answer in part today, whilst I do some fact checking. I will post again tomorrow after I've double checked my facts, but I also don't want to leave you hanging.

>>>>>"What do you mean by 'credible evidence?"

A very fair question, and I think by going through your post a step at a time I might be able to illuminate my definition of credible.

>>>>>>"Descriptions of his words and deeds by people who lived in the time and place he 'lived and moved and had his being'?"br />
That would certainly count as credible evidence if any such accounts existed. All of the accounts I am familiar with were written at the very least several decades after the event, and realistically no one can prove whether said texts were written by people who actually met the man.

>>>>>>>"If that *doesn't* count as evidence---if the only 'real' evidence is leaving behind a book you wrote yourself or having your tomb preserved---then the Roman Empire just dwindled to less than 100 people.

That argument doesn't really hold up because we have multiple verifiable accounts of many of the players through out Roman history. Several of whom didn't write a book, and whose tombs either never existed, or haven't been discovered.

>>>>>>>>>"Another thing I find highly credible is that we know about the James known as "the brother of the Lord" from Josephus."br />
Now we are getting to some solid serious arguments. My understanding is that many biblical scholars believe that Josephus is the definite proof of an historic Jesus.
However, I do have a couple of questions about the Josephus account. Firstly, the man died as a practicing Jew. Why would somebody recognize Jesus as the lord and still not convert? This seems a little awkward to me. Secondly, early apologist (this is where my memory gets a little hazy, hence the need for research and another post) that were familiar with Josephus' writings (I believe I'm thinking of Justin Martyr specifically)don't quote him in reference to defending christianity. It's not until a millenium later that apologist start quoting Josephus to prove the existence of Jesus.
My supposition is that some time in the intervening years there was an 'interpolation' (what we would call out right fraud in subjects other than religeon) adding references to an historic Jesus. Otherwise, why didn't Josephus convert, and why didn't early apologist use his writings in defense of christianity?

>>>>>>>Paul, whom we know existed, referred to [this] James in that way. Paul met James 'in the flesh' but never met Jesus that way. (And Paul referred to no one else in this way; it was a name reserved for James alone.)

Another excellent argument!! This is actually one of the things that led me to see the mythicist argument as being viable.

Paul certainly did exist, as did James. There is what I would call very credible evidence as to both of them actually existing. And yes Paul did refer to James as the brother of Jesus. On first blush this seems to be the end of the line for any mythicist argument...

However, the gnostic texts (again I'm fuzzy on exactly where this reference is, I will definitely be replying to this post with actual references tomorrow.) refer to James as the brother of Jesus in spirit. Which opens up some real questions.

Was James biologically the brother of Jesus, or was he spiritually the brother of Jesus, and if the latter what does that mean anyway? Are we just talking about a spiritual leader and therefor a brother of Jesus? Or did Jesus really exist, and they were so close that they were like brothers?

The last paragraph of your post contain very real tangible arguments. I suppose by 'credible' that is what I meant. Thank you so much for your post... I'm really enjoying the discourse, and hope others will join in as well.
Well i would call out that Alexander the Great was a leader of a nation who had an empire spanning over two continents, and that much of his biographical evidence has been corroborated with archeological finds... the difficulty and rampant skepticism that drives me against a lot of the accounts of historical Jesus are that the researchers are often funded by religious organizations (not all the time, but often, and more often than not), funding bias is well known in scientific circles, just check the science behind global warming...
I wouldn't say discredit, but does bring into question. Now when it comes to old testament archaeology we've seen numerous erroneous reports from biblical archaeologists, take Solomon's gates for example... the problem with church funded biblical archaeology is, like creation science most researchers are coming in with presupposed conslusions.. example, we find gates at three cities where gates are said to be built in the bible by Solomon, well they must be Solomon's gates.. late research showed two of the three to have been built one hundred years after the reign of Solomon.

Let us not forget that many biblical names were common names of the time (jesus, joseph, mark, peter, etc..), that the earliest fragment of new testament text dates to 125 years after Jesus death, and that the gospels of Matthew, Luke, etc.. were attributed to such authors without any signature.
Alexander the Great: Same holds for Gengis Khan. They can't even find his tomb. But the Genographic Project was able to isolate a DNA marker from where Khan ruled, and find it in something like 8% of the males there. The marker didn't exist outside of Asia except in a few isolated areas which also had oral/written histories of being invaded by the Mongolians (like Pakistan).
I actually wanted to avoid this topic. I think it's mostly pointless as it doesn't have anything to do with my atheism, nor does effect my view of the validity of Christian scripture. It's also important to point out that Jesus' historicity has no effect on history itself. Whether or not there was an historical Jesus, it is Christians, and not Christ, that had an impact on the world.

I believe there was an historical Jesus, but not because there's an abundance of compelling evidence; there isn't. It's just that I cannot imagine the fast growing first-century cult we now know as Christianity without Jesus, their founding prophet, being at the center of it. It would be like the Mormons without Joseph Smith or the "Seven Seals" sect of Branch Davidians without David Koresh.

So why am I posting this? Well, there are two reasons. First, this conversation is dominating group discussion at the moment. In fact, since we went off on this tangent a couple of weeks ago, group discussion has slowed to a crawl. I originally just let it go because I figured it would be best to allow everyone to air their concerns on the subject before can get a good discussion on the Gospels underway. Second, the conversation is thus far unfruitful because no-one is building an argument, i.e. introducing evidence for claims.

I think the reason for this is because some of you haven't given the other side of the argument real consideration. But wait! Isn't this the same argument as "teach the controversy" used by creationists? No. New Testament Scholarship is not science, and the historicity of Jesus is not a falsifiable claim. It's also noteworthy that the majority of scholars are practitioners of the faith and almost all of them receive research funding from religious organizations. Biblical scholarship is serious work; I'm not trying to say otherwise, but it cannot be compared to the natural sciences.
DISCLAIMER: I happen to think that this Josephus passage is at least mostly genuine. The following arguments are basically me playing devil's advocate for both sides. I just want to promote some critical thinking here.

Everett Marx wrote: Descriptions of his words and deeds by people who lived in the time and place he 'lived and moved and had his being'?

Don't tease us Everette. If you have evidence of any individual that "lived in the time and place he 'lived and moved'" then by all means, share it.

Everett Marx wrote: If that *doesn't* count as evidence---if the only 'real' evidence is leaving behind a book you wrote yourself or having your tomb preserved---then the Roman Empire just dwindled to less than 100 people.

That would count as evidence, but only if you provide it.

Everett Marx wrote: Another thing I find highly credible is that we know about the James known as "the brother of the Lord" from Josephus.

Indeed, but Josephus was born 3 to 5 years after Jesus died, so he didn't "live in the time and place he [Jesus] 'lived and moved'." He also did not refer to James as "the brother of the Lord." What he said was along the lines of "the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ."

Now, it should be noted that the majority of scholars consider this passage to be genuine, and if you're one to be compelled by authority, that's where the conversation ends. If you find authority as unimpressive as I do, then keep reading.

The first objection I would like to raise to this passage is this: why did Josephus feel the need to refer to James that way? Jesus of Nazareth wasn't the only person during the era that people "called the Christ"—hell, he wasn't even the only Jesus that went by that title! Doesn't it strike you as a little odd?

Origen quotes this passage roughly 150 years after The Antiquities (the work cited) was written. In the meantime, every Christian writer before Origen that cites Josephus never once mentions that passage—and there are more than a dozen. Why? Seriously, why is it that for well over a century not a single apologist for the faith cites that one passage? The Testimonium passage, also attributed to Josephus and from the same work, wasn't mentioned until yet another century later by Eusebius.

Would it be unreasonable to propose that Josephus' testimonies of Christ were interpolations? Would it not be conceivable that Origen himself wrote about the martyrdom of James, or that the Testimonium is the handywork of Eusebius?

Celsus (whom Origen knew of), a second-century Greek philosopher who argued against Christianity made this very telling observation:
"It is clear to me that the writings of the Christians are a lie, and that your fables are not well-enough constructed to conceal this monstrous fiction: I have even heard that some of your interpreters, as if they had just come out of a tavern, are onto the inconsistencies and, pen in hand, alter the originals writings, three, four and several more times over in order to be able to deny the contradictions in the face of criticism."

I'm just throwing this idea out there. I think that if anyone is going to hold a strong opinion, and voice it with any kind of authority, one must first understand the opposing arguments.

Bubba wrote: However, I do have a couple of questions about the Josephus account. Firstly, the man died as a practicing Jew. Why would somebody recognize Jesus as the lord and still not convert?

This wasn't an accurate quote. Josephus referred to James as "the brother of Jesus, known as the Christ." While I admit that phrase sounds awkward coming from a nonbeliever, it isn't completely out of the question that Josephus wrote it. There were many messianic pretenders at the time, and if Jesus was a prominent figure among them, then this passage would sound reasonable in its entirety.

Bubba wrote However, the gnostic texts (again I'm fuzzy on exactly where this reference is, I will definitely be replying to this post with actual references tomorrow.) refer to James as the brother of Jesus in spirit. Which opens up some real questions.

The Gnostic text you are referring to is The Apocalypse of James and I don't find it to be very credible. Suggesting that an apocryphal Gnostic text as evidence for or against familial relationships of Jesus is like suggesting that the Gospels were eyewitness biographies. It's just more of a stretch than I would care to take.
Sorry, and I'll never do it

History of Abrahamic Religion101.

A/Ibrahim(not his name yet) was a priest of the Sumerian deity EL. His tribe was small and had maintained a separate culture from many of the other followers of the Sumerian Trinity of Gods, so as a tribal leader, he declared a revELation from El(as in Israel -chosen of God, and Daniel - beloved of God) that the tribe could take no other God before HIM, El, and by the way, never say or write MY NAME again, except in a code understood only by the priesthood, so we can forget about that whole EL/Triumvirate thing. Abraham was a capable leader and warlord, and his tribe prospered. The priesthood he founded included much of the Sumerian religions myths of creation and the flood into their repertoire and maintained their 'secret' knowledge of the Sumerian calendar and astrological systems to keep themselves in position of power. They taught their tribe cultural racism and apartheid, but allowed enslaved and captured women to bare legitimate children, to avoid the inbreeding that even prehistoric humans knew, led to birth defects. So….slavery was ok, but not of your close neighbors, because that might defeat the purpose – diversity of the gene pool.

This tribe maintained its genetic and cultural uniqueness very successfully. The shared religion allowed leaders to exhort them to martial ferocity, when wronged, or to take some other tribes property and land. Remember the time they were supposed to kill every living thing in Canaan and make the land theirs? It took uncommon will, devotion, and brutality for such a small tribe to conquer a larger more technologically advanced civilization such as the Canaanites. This cultural bigotry served them well for over a thousand years. It also made them a universally hated tribe.

So, after they have been defeated and displaced several times, and finally completely conquered by the Romans, a group of radical Jewish rabbis, Zoroastrian priest, and Roman Freethinkers, used the local stories about a Jewish Rabbi/carpenter, embellished them borrowing heavily from the messianic traditions of Judaism which were stolen from the Sumerian religion and the tale of Hercules made this story attractive to Greeks, created the Christ myth. It took them quite a while, and they didn't get around to recording all of this until decades after the events supposedly had taken place. But…it is much easier to make up events after the fact, when the people who were there/then aren't around to dispute the 'facts.' Have you ever tried the party game where one person tells a story and it’s passed from person to person around a room and at the end the conversation is nothing like the original. Can you imagine what happens after 60-300 yrs. and thousands of people participating? The Emperor Constantine who never became a Christian, had his scribes compile, edite and rewrite what was mostly oral tradition with a few poorly scripted letters.

A few hundred years after that, a learned merchant that lives a life of leisure due to marrying a much older but wealthy widow, studies the Jewish religion, and realizes its real problem is its exclusivity. So exclusive they won’t let him join. So he copies large parts of it, and creates a religion that invites everyone to join. In fact it often insists. He keeps the most holy spot in his homeland though, and discourages translations from the Arabic, so his tribe maintains Top Dog First of the First status. The End of Time myth involves a leader, or Great Caliph, that can really only come from his tribe. So, in typical tribal fashion, members of the other powerful and rival tribe in the region, the Persians, claim the Arabic descendants have gotten it wrong, and they are the true carriers of the flame.

So, Christians begin loosing ground to Islam and begin the Crusades and the Inquisition. Islam gets pissed and begins taking parts of Europe in order give the Infidels a chance to convert. That only gets so far as the Shia/Sunni/Persian/Arabic infighting keep them too occupied with each other to maintain their triumphs over the Christians.

It ain't over yet folks.

Men create religions to consolidate tribal power and control other tribes of men.

I first read those ideas of jesus as a construct by those particalar group in the tragically now defunct magazine Arceaology Today. They presented facts that could lead to this conclussion that just aren't there as evidence for the existance of the historical jesus. I think it is important to refute that evidence because this is the basis for the argument that all religions are created by humans to control humans.
Actually "El" in Hebrew literally translates as 'power' or 'energy' or 'force' as in a cosmic/atomic/universal force.

"Elohim" adds a suffix that means either plural or big. That's why you'll see the same word translated in English bibles as either "God" singular or "Gods" plural, depending on the context.

This is one of many examples of where the OT doesn't even translate properly into English. "El" and "Elhoim" are words we literally do not have a translation of or even a linguistic/social concept of. It's like trying to explain "Green" to someone who's never ever seen the color green and never will. There's no linguistic or cultural context for El or Elhoim.

If the English texts had translated this as the new-agey "Higher Power" it would have still been off, but a lot closer to the truth than giving it the name "God."

The purpose of the OT using El, Elhoim and YHWH (another one that's hard to translate but loosely, "I am what I am"), is that what the Jews were referring to was a force-beyond-our-understanding. To claim to know the nature of this force was blasphemy, and to give it a name was to arrogantly claim to know its nature. In short, much of the original Old Testament documents, in their original language and context, were very intentionally meant to say, "Here are great mysteries way beyond our understanding, so here is an imaginative, human fairy tale to try and wrap our minds around it in a poetic, Mother Goose kind of way."

The more I learn about them, the more it seems the Ancient Hebrews had a much greater grasp on religion-as-substitute-for-science-we-don't-understand-yet than any of their counterparts or offshoots today.
---Lamar points out--- I actually wanted to avoid this topic. I think it's mostly pointless as it doesn't have anything to do with my atheism, nor does effect my view of the validity of Christian scripture. It's also important to point out that Jesus' historicity has no effect on history itself. Whether or not there was an historical Jesus, it is Christians, and not Christ, that had an impact on the world.

Well put.

Unfortunately, many a Xian does just looooove to harp on "At least our god(man) was real!" as a means of validating their religion and their scripture and touting biblical Jesus as a real person whose "real" sayings/deeds/ideology (usually whatever the person arguing the point likes best in the NT) should be venerated.

It is in that context that I do think it's important to underscore that:

A) We don't have nearly the historical evidence that many Xians seem to think we do. Whenever I engage a Xian in the subject, they nearly always assume there are boatloads of secular, contemporaneous evidence.

B) The evidence that we do have, if we presented similar evidence to a Xian as proof that Muhammad was a real, historical person whose sayings/deeds/ideology is preserved in the Qu'ran, they'd likely find that evidence to be weak at best.

C) Even when assuming that there probably was a historical Jesus who was the inspiration for the biblical Jesus, we have no way of knowing how much one resembles the other. Theists seem to have the most trouble making this distinction. An example I've started using is to suppose Frank Baum named his main character in "Wizard of Oz" after a real Dorothy Gale from Kansas. That still tells us zilch about whether real Dorothy in any way resembled the book or Judy Garland version. Maybe she did. Or maybe Baum just liked the name. Either way, Dorothy didn't write The Wizard of Oz. Frank Baum did.

Just like Jesus didn't write the bible. Saul of Tarsus and the various other authors involved write it. In the context of Scriptural Criticism, Saul of Tarsus makes a better historical Jesus than historical Jesus does. At least we can be far more certain that some (or a lot) of his ideology made it into the NT.
I haven't kept track of everything I've read on the topic but it all boils down to: 0. There are no verifiable facts about a "Historical Jesus." Most of the ones that have been claimed are either taken out of context, grossly exaggerated, or are outright forgeries. I don't know of any actual witnesses but I'd love to here of any you you find such an account.
In my own search for Historical Jesus, what I've found so far:

- The first credible, known, historical mention of The Jesus is the writings of Saul of Tarsus, somewhere between 30-60 years after Jesus supposedly died. Paul's writings are hardly secular, but even if we take them as historical, even he claims never to have known Jesus in real life; only meeting his ghost on the Road to Damascus.

- The Josephus mention, as discussed by others, is sketchy at best and very possibly added in later as one of...

- Copious amounts of fraudulent documents and evidence. This says a lot about the 'faith' of those trying so desperately to prove Jesus' existence.

- Now it's true; this wasn't exactly the information age. Just because Jesus wasn't mentioned in secular contemporary documents doesn't mean he didn't exist. But also consider that by this time, Rome was getting pretty decent at record-keeping. If Jesus made the slightest splash in his own time as the bible claims he did, we would expect to see something. Court documents. A soldier's diary. A letter from someone to someone saying, "Hey, this Jesus guy is causing quite a stir again..."

- On the other hand, look at the religion that sprung up around this one name, out of all the various names that held that same man-god story before him. Why did Jesus successfully carry the bio and not Mithras? Dionysus? Osirus?

My personal conclusion: There was quite possibly a charismatic itinerant preacher of the time named Jesus/Yeshua. Hell, in a time of social strife with an itinerant preacher on every corner, it would be surprising if one or several of them weren't named Yeshua. As underground socio-political-religious cults gain strength and need to spread their good word, the name of a now-dead preacher is as good a name as any. Sermons and deeds of other preachers get attributed to this one for simplicity's sake and of course he bears the same biography as Mithras, Osirus, et al. But if there was a Jesus or several, he/they did not make any real headlines in their own day except among the most devout of said underground socio-political-religious cult members.

Saul of Tarsus, at worst, made the whole thing up. Seized upon the oral stories and decided to make a name for himself by being the one to write them down. And/or had his own political agenda to further and, as was the tradition of the time, wasn't about to put his own head on the chopping block by saying, "I say that..." but rather says, "Jesus says that..." What are the Romans going to do? Execute Jesus again? It was common practice of the time to attribute your writings to someone already dead (possibly why 7 of the 14 letters of Paul in the New Testament are dated after he died).

At best, Paul got caught up in the fervor of the moment, had a dream or hallucination on that Road to Damascus which he interpreted as the ghost of Jesus visiting him and giving him his marching orders.

So was there a historical Jesus? Far as I can tell, possibly, but there's zero evidence for it, if he did exist he was not the famous miracle-worker of the bible, and he likely bore zero resemblance to the biblical Jesus who is a photocopy of the man-gods who came before him.
Awesome posts guys.....I have enjoyed reading these very much!! This is why I am convinced atheists are atheists, because they understand how the bible was written and the amount of fact there actually is in it. Bloody good work!!


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