SWiFT members, do you think Jesus was a historical person?

I'm not sure this question is of broad interest to SWiFT members, but as an ex-Catholic, I can't help wondering and would love to know what others think.

I raise the question of Jesus' historical authenticity in the book I wrote for my kids.  It's provoked interesting responses from my family and friends.  Like, "It's one thing to not believe in god, it's another to deny history."  Below are the questions I raise in my book, god is redudnant.   I would love to know what SWiFT members think.

I assume we can all agree that Jesus is not god, but what is the likelihood that he isn't even historical?



"Personally, I’d always assumed Jesus was a historical figure.  But I now admit it may have been an assumption on my part. I thought the lack of historical evidence for Jesus was the result of him being an itinerant preacher from a backwater town.  Like Thomas Jefferson, I’d always regarded Jesus as a historical figure mythologized by the evangelists to compete with the contemporary gods he was intended to replace.  After all, there are other examples of historical figures being mythologized, such as Alexander the Great.

...with so many authors, so many audiences, so many motives – Judaize, Hellenize, Catholicize – and so much tampering [with the Bible], how can you possibly deduce the historical Jesus with any accuracy, or even if there was one?  Jesus’ historical authenticity is largely an assumption on my part with little to no evidence.  My confidence is now waning in light of the striking parallels with other ancient savior-god cults, Old Testament stories, and other historical writings.  But assuming Jesus was a historical figure, I certainly don’t believe he was a god, and, frankly, I’m not convinced he thought so either.

I wonder if Jesus isn’t a little like Daniel Webster.  Maybe there was a historical preacher from Galilee just like there was a historical statesman from New England.  But maybe not all of the stories we associate with them are historically accurate.  For example, Daniel Webster never really defended a New Hampshire farmer who sold his soul to the devil, did he?  It’s just a great story based on an earlier one, The Devil and Tom Walker, which itself is really a retelling of the old German legend Faust. Similarly, maybe Jesus wasn’t really born of a virgin and didn’t really survive his own death.  Maybe the gospels are based on earlier stories which themselves are really a retelling of the old Egyptian myth of Horus.  Once ancient tales take on mythic proportions, it becomes rather difficult to separate fact from fiction, history from theology.  But this doesn't mean there wasn't a historical preacher named Jesus in first century Galilee."

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I've thought about this before. It would be really hard to say if he ever really existed, because any true "proof" is long gone, however, if you take into account the fact that the story of Jesus runs parallel to other stories, such as mythra and zoroaster, it's hard to deny that there is a possiblity that not only did he never perform miracles, but that he never even really existed in the first place.

Hi Angela,

I found all the parallels fascinating too -- Adonis, Attis, Beddou, Dionysus, Bel, Krishna, Mithra, Osiris-Horus, Prometheus, Quexalcote, Tammuz...  I don't think anyone believes these gods exist anymore.  But my sense is that scholars think people like Buddha and Mohammad were historical.

All the supernatural elements of these stories are mythical.  I just wonder if Jesus was a historicized myth, or a mythologized historical figure.

Thanks for the reply,


There is a great book by Wilbur Smith that tells a fictional tale of ancient Egypt. In it, children were born to the queen of Egypt whose husband (the Pharoh) had died. The queen was having an affair with a top general, and bastard children weren't really an option. The births were explained as since Pharoh was divine, he visited his wife in spirit form and impregnated her. Maybe Joseph and Mary found themselves pregnant before thier marriage and as bastards really weren't an option, the whole divine birth thing came into plan. It would be a good story to tell if that had really happened and the poor kid just took himself too seriously about the whole thing. But I guess the story would be too close to The Life of Brian

Troy, you remind me of some ancient heresies around the "virgin" birth.  Since you probably haven't got to that chapter yet, don't want to spoil it for you...  Looking forward to catching up.  Mark

I look forward to getting there.

I saw a movie a long-long time ago about Sherlock Holmes. The premise is that Watson was really the brains in the outfit who just gave all the credit to Holmes as he didn't want the fame and pressure on his family. I have often wanted to write a story about Socrates with the same premise. As Plato was the author of all of his works, this premise would be Plato is the great mind, but due to his sense of humor and controversial content, all the phylosophy is attributed to Socrates - the town drunk. Now I feel like adapting the same premise to Jesus of Nazareth. He is just the bastard child who believes totally the story his parents gave him. All of his fame is orchestrated by Peter and the rest of the apostles as a get rich quick scheme as walking around preaching is far easier work than fishing.

Hey Kurt. 

Thanks for the response.  I'll check out the links.  I agree with your point on Nazareth.  There was also an ancient Jewish sect called the Nazarenes.  I had wondered if this was another case of mistranslation.

Totally agree with your and Angela's point about Mithra and other dying-and-rising savior gods.  Did I tell you I actually saw an ancient Mithra temple?  It was in Croatia, the city of Pula if I remember correctly.

I also agree that the silence in the historical record is deafening.  Never bought into the Josephus forgeries.  Have you seen the documentary, "The god who was not there?"  I have it on DVD if you want to borrow it.

Also never trusted Paul.  Always assumed the vision was a product of something natural -- sun stroke, seizure, etc.

I posted this question on my book's facebook page.  Very low respons rate, but the results mirror the comments here with the vast majority of atheists thinking historical authenticy highly unlikely.

I wonder at the psychology of historicizing a myth.  How does this happen?  Are there other examples?  Do Hindus think Vishnu was historical?  Thomas Jefferson didn't think Jesus was divine, but he did seem to think he was a historical moral reformer.  This is just so bizarre to me.

This section of my book provoked the strongest response.  So I really appreciate hearing from others.

See you Sunday.

In researching all of this, I have come accross a website: http://www.truthbeknown.com

Anyone have any expirience with this? How accurate and reputable is this information? Can it be trusted?

Hi Troy.

I've only seen one or two of her you tube videos pertaining to Christian holidays and their shared basis in astronomy like other ancient pagan religions, i.e., Christmas & the winter solstice; Easter & the spring equinox, etc.  I actually agreed with what little I saw.  Was unaware of the alien claims until I read Kurt's post. 

If you are interested in myth themes, a source I consider very reputable is Joseph Campbell.  His talks on the Hero's Journey shows parallels the world over.

Troy, if you come Sunday, please bring your petition.  I would like to sign it.



Thanks.  I'll spend some time with this.  I of course agree that all supernatural accounts are false.  But to be honest, I spent the first few decades of my life sharing Thomas Jefferson's opinion that he was a mythologized historical person.  I assumed the resurrection account was tacked onto the Gospel of Mark, and that Christology grew over time.  I never bought into the Shroud, or burial boxes.  I didn't even know about the Pontius Pilate hoaxes when I was growing up.

Then I researched all the parrallels with ancient religions and the complete lack of historical evidence from his own time, and it was newsworthy to me.  I was fascinated with books and DVDs debunking historical authenticity.  So I tackled this topic in my book, tactfully, like a dad telling his kids there's no Santa for the first time.

Well, this really freaked out some member of my family -- not my wife and kids -- my parents and siblings.  They knew I didn't believe Jesus was divine, but they looked at me like a Holocaust denier over this one.

So thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.  I appreciate the support and knowing that I'm not the only one who thinks this way!


It sounds glib, but he either did exist historically...

...or he didn't.

There's no tangible evidence to support the claim that he did.

And even if there was some evidence that he existed historically all it really tells us that a man existed who may have ruffled some feathers somewhere in an illiterate part of the ancient world - a revolutionary, a politician, a preacher. And I'm sure there were many.

He may also be a conflation of several figures, or even a mythologised personification of a genuine movement/group. Using such a personification - a fictional 'figure head' - to represent a scattered grouping of either people or ideals - a focus figure - was quite common. And still is; indeed, it's the foundation of all storytelling.

As a screenwriter, you get to learn a lot about the construction of stories and it becomes quite obvious what has been adapted to fit the universal model or structure of a fictional account. These structures are ingrained in our collective human consciousness and work in a very similar way. They did at the time of Aristotle (read his poetics) and they still do now (compare Aristotle with a Hollywood movie and you'll be surprised by the similarities)

Besides, his existence or lack of it doesn't really matter: either way, as discussed, the only version we have is the mythologised figure, which certainly didn't exist. I've studied mythology (Joseph Campbell's et al work is highly recommended) on and off for some time and Jesus ticks all the boxes for a classic mythologised figure. As you probably know, very few attributes of his story are unique to this particular myth.

It's worth mentioning also that the ancient world had a very different way of thinking. They did not think like we do at all. The lines between fact and fiction were blurred. People like Campbell believe that the monotheistic traditions forgot how to see and accept religious symbols and signs as metaphors (which is how many eastern religions function) and instead began to take literally the blurred mental metaphors - they began to think of them as fact.

Love your response.  I'm also a fan of Campbell.  I had read about how some scholars think the stories some people take literally today would have been understood as metaphors in their own time.  Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Bart D. Ehrman weighs in on the historical authenticity of Jesus (with a yes vote).  My understanding is that Ehram used to be a born-again fundamentalist and is now agnostic.  For a biblical scholar, he seems progressive based on his previous books.  I thought I'd share this article since it speaks directly to our discussion below.  Let me know what you think.




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