Did Jesus Exist?
The following is Wayne VanWeerthuizen's post at the discussion in the
Pickover Discussion Group.
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.
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
Those two passages in Josephus are very controversial, and many
scholars believe that they are later additions to the text.
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
Richard Carrier's Review of Earl Doherty's book, "The Jesus Puzzle"
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
M. M. MANGASARIAN - The Truth About Jesus, Is He A Myth?
Hayyim ben Yehoshua - REFUTING MISSIONARIES
PART 1: THE MYTH OF THE HISTORICAL JESUS
Marshall J. Gauvin - Did Jesus Christ Really Live?