Did Jesus Exist?

The following is Wayne VanWeerthuizen's post at the discussion in the Pickover Discussion Group.

Someone said: There is already a very compelling argument being made _against_ the possibility of Jesus being an historical person. So any evidence _for_ the existence of Jesus will have to be very persuasive and reliable if it is to tip the scales back. This questionable artifact doesn't change the situation.

April asked: Any interesting web sites about the evidence for Jesus?

See the list at the end of this message.

If Jesus is as fictional as Homer and his Odyssey or Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, why so many believers?

First, the claim is not that Homer is fictional, (although some scholars debate if the Iliad and Odyssey are from the same author.) The better comparison is to Odysseus or Hercules. Dennis R. MacDonald in his book "The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark" demonstrates many striking parallels between Homer's epics and the gospel of Mark. These similarities are not merely analogous situations or characters, but run much deeper. Mark uses many of the exact same words and word forms as Homer, and often describes details of a scene in the same exact sequence. The claim that MacDonald is making is that the gospel of Mark was a deliberate recasting of Homer's stories so as to reflect the values and ideals of the Christian community. And so much of what is in the gospel of Mark has parallels in Homer, leaving too little other narrative material in Mark for us to reliably speculate that the other narrative material may have originated from other sources. And this is regardless of whether these other sources are assumed to be memories of a real Jesus person, or just fictional stories from other sources.

Regarding the number of Christian believers, the best source is the book "The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History" by Rodney Stark. Stark is a sociology professor at the University of Washington. First he argues that the growth of Christianity was not very fast, and was slower than the growth of many modern cults. Further on, he gives reasons for Christianity's continued success, emphasizing the survival value of various Christian ideals.

But anyway, my answer to the question of why there were so many believers in the first century was that the Romans built many roads in the area and vastly increased the volume of trade. This accelerated contact between adherents of existing religions: Jewish, Greek, Mythraic, Zoroastrian, etc. New sects formed as people tried to reconcile these earlier beliefs. Christianity began as a merging of Jewish, Platonic, and Mythraic beliefs. The main "breakthrough", and what would identify the first Christians as such, is the "discovery" of the heavenly "mediator between God and man", within the Hebrew scriptures. The Mythraic concept of payment for our sins already having been achieved, via events long ago in the heavenly realm, was found to be substantiated by the Hebrew scriptures. At the same time, much other Mythraic "baggage" was dropped, especially any ideas that were not consistent with Jewish monotheism. And at the same time influence of Greek philosophical ideas regarding nonviolence and the value of human life, pushed Christianity towards the moral standards that have become Christianity's trademark.

So where does Jesus come into this? That became the name for the heavenly mediator. Later, the heavenly Christ became the obvious source for the ethical sayings and parables (such as found in the Gospel of Thomas) that were being collected by the Christian community. At some point an early version of Mark's gospel was written, with Jesus being the example for ideal Christian behavior. I doubt it was originally meant to be taken as a literal account of recent history. It was just a story and understood to be as much, at least initially. Mark's account came the be merged with the list of parables and further embellished. By the middle of the second century, many different gospels were being spread. By this time many sects began to mistakenly take gospel accounts literally as real events.

(The above picture is very oversimplified, and may be wrong in some details. It is more likely that the genesis of Christianity involved many earlier short-lived sects which over time merge and split from each other. When and if some of these early sects existed is speculative, but some of the sects with combinations of Jewish and Mythraic tendencies could have existed as early as the second century BCE. Anyway, many scholars who are highly convinced that something of this sort took place, still differ in their reconstruction of the process. Really, we still have more questions than answers, and much of the puzzle still remains for us to try to solve. I can not prove events occurred in the manner I describe, but I do find lots of evidence that something of this general sort is likely to have taken place. And I am still reading more on the subject.

So please do not take my reconstruction of what happened too seriously! My own theory is not yet that well developed and may be subject to many revisions as my study proceeds. Rather I recommend you read some other books on the subject, especially those by Earl Doherty, Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy, Robert Price, or G .A. Wells.)

Why don't people also believe Homer and Bunyan were real historical people?

Actually, most scholars do believe that a Greek named Homer wrote at least a substantial portion of one the epics attributed to him. So I assume you really meant to say Odysseus or Hercules, which are fictional characters in those stories. (Although other Greek authors such as Plato do write of these characters as if they were real historical people.)

And here are two links regarding the question of whether King Arthur was historical, which is also quite controversial. The debate over Arthur involves many of the same scientific methodologies that are disputed in the debate over the historicity of Jesus.


Besides, a real historical Jesus still doesn't mean he rose from the dead. At least give Mr. Christ credit for being a real, unusually charismatic person.

I am not trying to eliminate Jesus, it just happens that the evidence points that way. Primarily, I am trying to trace the origin of the various ideas expressed in the Christian writings. It seems to me the best interpretation of the evidence is thus: that Paul and many other early Christians believed only in a heavenly Jesus and had no concept of a Jesus who has recently walked on earth. This makes the best sense of the majority of the earliest Christian writings. Inversely, if Paul did believe in an historical Jesus, much of what he wrote would seem to be awkwardly phrased. Also, there would be questions about why he didn't refer to specific events in the historical Jesus's life, nor to specific parables or teachings analogous to what we find in the gospels.

He makes no mention of people having actually learned from Christ on Earth, nor any mention of anything Jesus did or taught while supposedly on Earth. * What about the outside the Bible mention of Jesus by that Jewish historian, Josephus?

Those two passages in Josephus are very controversial, and many scholars believe that they are later additions to the text.

See: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/testimonium.html

Here are many more links on the "Jesus as Myth" theory:

Robert M. Price - Christ a Fiction

Other articles by Robert Price:

Richard Carrier's Review of the Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/homerandmark.ht ml

Richard Carrier's Review of Earl Doherty's book, "The Jesus Puzzle"
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.sht ml

Response from Earl Doherty:

Earl Doherty's web site for "The Jesus Puzzle"

Jim Walker - Did a historical Jesus exist?

Jesus: Fact or Fiction?

Scott Bidstrup - The Bible And Christianity - The Historical Origins http://www.bidstrup.com/bible.htm

M. M. MANGASARIAN - The Truth About Jesus, Is He A Myth?
http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/m_m_mangasarian/truth_about _jesus.html


Marshall J. Gauvin - Did Jesus Christ Really Live? http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/marshall_gauvin/did_jesus_r eally_live.html

More links http://www.mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/messiahlinks.html