Evidence For Jesus: Introduction

Even after I lost faith in Christianity, for years I continued to take the existence of Jesus, at least as a real person, on faith. It wasn’t until the last couple of years when I saw that there were people who doubted his existence that I began to seriously question it.

I believe I can look at this issue objectively, because for me it doesn’t matter whether or not a human being named Jesus (or Yeshua) existed as the basis for the Jesus character in the Bible. I don’t believe in the supernatural elements of the Bible for a multitude of other reasons, and although Jesus not existing would be critical for believers, for me it is not.

I can’t promise to be perfect in my search for and examination of evidence, and I may or may not be able to draw a definite conclusion at the end of the search, but I will do my best to research any evidence I find, and I will try to judge it fairly.

You can help by leaving comments giving more details and different perspectives or suggesting more evidence I should look at. I already have a short list started including the perennial favorites Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus along with a few others, but I’m still looking for more.

I have already started researching, so whenever I feel I have sufficient information on a subject I will post it. I do not expect to have a complete and perfect understanding, but through research and then discussion of the issues I believe we can come to reasonable conclusions, and hopefully in the end we will be able to answer the question “Was Jesus a real person?”

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About Kazz

My name is Shawn Esplin and I am an advocate of Free Thought and general good sense and thought in general. To that end, I encourage people to seriously question the things that they have been taught, especially as children, because many of these things - religious and secular - are taken on faith until we actively choose to seriously examine them for ourselves.

16 thoughts on “Evidence For Jesus: Introduction

  1. I recently began to research this topic as well, and have found the following books to be informative.

    The Pagan Christ, by Tom Harpur

    Jesus Never Existed, by Kenneth Humphreys

    The River of God, by Gregory J. Riley

    The Jesus Mysteries, by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy

    Jesus Christ, Sun of God; Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism, by David Fidler

    I have also found this website to be informative

    http://www.pocm.info/index.html

    And books I have not yet read, but would like to, include:

    One Jesus, Many Christs, by Gregory J. Riley

    And several books by Robert M. Price

    You may also want to read Lost Christianities, by Bart Ehrman

    I hope this helps, and enjoy your research

  2. There are some more sources as well. Did a quick search and pilfer through my room to find the references.

    Suetonius, Thallus, Lucian, Celsus, and a document referenced by Justin Martyr, the Acts of Pilate.

    Celsus is a document against Christianity, we know it only through I believe refutation of it. I do not believe that an original exists still, Justin Martyr has problems because the Acts of Pilate I do not believe an original is still existing and I believe him to be the only person to reference the document. Thallus has no original works surviving. Very little is known about him at all and Julius Africanus is the person who references Thallus as having written about the crucifixion of Christ, writing somewhere in 220ish I believe. Lucian is a 2nd century satirist who references Christ pertaining to Christians and not his life and Suetonius writes on riots in Judea. However these are mostly referenced to be Christian riots occurring around 20 AD(?) after Christ’s death. His book is the Lives of the Twelve Caesars.

    Hope that helps get all or most of the evidence together.
    And good luck!

  3. I’m definitely an exChristian but not quite an atheist. Admittedly, I’ve never looked honestly at the historicity of Jesus. Definitely something I plan to do.

  4. For a more well-rounded approach – as opposed to what “user keith” recommends – try these on for size:

    1. WILL THE REAL JESUS PLEASE STAND UP?
    a debate between william lane craig and john dominic crossan –
    edited by paul copan

    2. lord or legend?
    gregory a. boyd (an open theist, incidentally) and paul rhodes eddy

    3. jesus as a figure in history
    mark allan powell

    4. the historical jesus
    gary habermas
    TO ME, THIS IS THE BEST ONE

    5. the case for the real jesus
    lee strobel

    6. jesus under fire
    j.p. moreland
    on westminster john knox press

    7. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
    Alfred Edersheim

    8. Shattering the Christ Myth
    James Patrick Holding

    9. What Have They Done with Jesus?
    Ben Witherington III

    10. Fabricating Jesus
    Craig A. Evans

  5. There is noting well-rounded about Craig Evans, Lee Strobel or James Patrick Holding. They are apologists (as are most on the list, I would guess), and of course will tell you that Jesus was a historical figure – that is their job and there wouldn’t be much left of their religion if the didn’t come to that conclusion. That said, I did watch Lee Strobel’s video, the Case for Christ, and was not that impressed. It was the same old apologetic arguments. You might want to watch, the God That Wasn’t There. The middle third is pretty good, the rest not so much. And I agree with Vocab, most of that list is worth a look, but don’t expect anything more that the same old tired arguments.

    And I just came across this website, looks interesting

    http://www.opposingviews.com/questions/was-jesus-an-historical-figure

  6. Vocab,

    I just took a look at your website. Very impressive. It looks like you have put a lot of time and thought into it. I look forward to checking it out when I have more time.

    Merry Chirstmas

  7. KEITH:

    It is not only “apologists” who affirm the existence of Jesus – that is the mainstream consensus of historical scholarship and has been for a very long time. Those who deny this basic fact place themselves in an uber-minority – Robert M. Price even admits this. Even atheistic NT scholars like Funk and ultra-critical experts like Crossan know Jesus existed. It is almost an unbelievable position to hold.

    The authors I mentioned, with the exceptions of Holding and Strobel – they are more “pop” in their approach – are thoroughly credentialed and respected. I can not say the same for some of the folks you mentioned, especially Freke and Gandy, who are known frauds. I mean Craig A. Evans is an established authority on this stuff – he was prominently featured on the National Geographic Special on the “Gospel” of Judas, right along with Ehrman. The worst thing one could do is cite Bryan Fleming and his idol, Earl Doherty, as a legit source on these matters. Even many atheists that I know are embarrased by that DVD (e.g., Omar Call), as it is only for the faithful believers (or should I say the UNfaithful NONbelievers =) …

    Merry Christmas to you sir and thanks for peepin’ out the web site!

    Vocab Malone

    PS – here is some good audio for a debate between Habermas and Humphreys: http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/2008/06/gary-habermas-and-kenneth-humphreys.html

  8. Vocab,

    Firstly, it is not surprising that majority of historians believe Jesus to have been a real person. That has been the default position in Western Civilization since at least the 4th century. I would suggest, however, if one were to survey scholars of mythology or folklore, the majority would state that the Jesus narrative is either purely mythical, or has been so mythologized, that it is impossible to know anything about Jesus, if he in fact actually lived. And even if we accept the purported extra Biblical sources for the existence of an historical Jesus, at the end of the day, we have somewhere between 500 and 600 words, which are simply hearsay accounts that report the existence of Christians, and some of their beliefs, in the late first century, early second century.

    Secondly, regarding Freke and Gandy, the only criticism I have found about them is the allegation that the amulet on the cover of “the Jesus Mysteries” was a forgery and that their research is out of date. And of course, the Ad hominem attacks made by Holding. I have seen no evidence to support the contention that they are known frauds. As far as Bryan Fleming goes, I place his movie in the food for thought category, nothing more. I was a bit disappointed with the tone of the DVD, but did think parts of it brought up interesting points worth exploring. Regarding Doherty, I think he relies way too much on the analysis of “Q”, which frankly, may or may not have existed; and relies too on the theory that Paul was a gnostic. I am not sure I am ready to go down that road.

    And I listened to the debate between Habermas and Humphreys, although not really on point regarding the historicity of Jesus, it was interesting. Not surprisingly, I tended to agree with Humphreys.

    Thirdly, I know this a bit of a non sequitur or a red herring, but please indulge me, I have a point to make. Do you really want to argue that if the mainstream consensus of scholarship concludes something to be true, then the minority is likely wrong? That seems to be at the heart of the “Jesus isn’t a myth, because everyone believes he’s real” argument. Placing the shoe on the other foot, you appear to be a proponent of a young earth. I would argue that those who deny the basic fact of an old earth place themselves in the uber-minority. Would you concede that your belief is groundless since virtually every scholar in the natural sciences knows that the world is more that 6,000 years old? I suspect that you think the majority view is wrong, and most likely, deceived.

    This brings up my final point. How can we skeptics accept the arguments of fundamentalist regarding the historicity of Jesus, or anything for that matter, when they also argue that they have evidence (ala Answers in Genesis, or Ken Hovind) that the universe is only 6,000 years old? A belief in a young universe simply is a denial of tangible reality. We know that universe is bigger than 6,000 light years, hence it is older then 6,000 years. Ice cores been been bored that go back well over 100,000 years. There is a living tree in Sweden that is 9550 years old. And a bristle cone pine cut down in 1964, was 4862 years old at the time (dated simply by counting the rings), which means, it somehow survived the flood, and started growing approximately 164 years after the death of Adam. Some might find that plausible, I find that to be preposterous.

    My point in all this is to question the fundamentalist’s ability to discern credible evidence, when they are looking through the filter of faith. Jesus may very well have been an historical person; but remember, two hundred years ago, the majority of scholars thought Adam and Eve were historical figures as well. I think some very plausible arguments have been made that Jesus is mythical, and are are well worth investigating. Who knows, the Jesus myth hypothesis may be position held by the majority of scholars two hundred years from now.

    Regards

  9. On more point on the historicity of Jesus that I would like to make (and I create J.L Armstrong for pointing this out). Those who argue that Jesus is historical tend to point out that the Jesus myth theory is a relatively new phenomena. However, the Bible itself warns against those who would deny that Jesus was a flesh and blood (and I would add, historical) man.

    1 John 4:1-3

     1Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
     2Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
     3And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

    2 John 1:7
     
    7For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

    These passages were likely written around 85-90 AD, just a few decades after the supposed life of Jesus, likely to combat a docetic and/or gnostic view of Jesus. I am sure I will be told that these verses are taken out of context, and I need to study hermeneutics, but it seems to me, that at the very founding of Christianity, there were enough people arguing that Jesus was not a physical being, but some sort of phantasm, that a response was warranted. And I admit, these people would likely have argued that Jesus was real, he just was not physical; but to a skeptic, a spiritual Jesus, with only the appearance of a physical form, is not the stuff of history.

    Again, Jesus may have been an historical flesh and blood person, but it appears there was at least a sizable minority in the first century who questioned this view.

  10. Of course. I “credit” J.L. Armstrong. Hey, it’s early on a Sunday morning and I need more coffee.

  11. KEITH:

    I’ll make a quick comment on your post on Gnosticism (#9).
    The Gnostics most certainly did not believe that Jesus never existed.

    What many of them postulated, though, was that Jesus was an emanation
    from the Father, not God Himself/Herself/Itself because Pure Spirit/Divine
    could not “touch” matter/physicality. This frame of mind owes its allegiance
    to Platonist philosophy, among other things, but not Christianity, which at this
    time (1st Century) was still closely associated with Judaism, a religion which is
    inherently focused on the reality and original goodness of material stuff. These two systems (Gnosticism vs. Early Christianity) are therefore patently opposed to one another. This is what you are alluding to, I believe.

    Certain Gnostics were “Docetists”; dokeo (sp?) is a Greek root word for “to seem”. These Gnostics thought Jesus only seemed to suffer on the Cross but did not. Docetism in no way taught that Jesus never actually existed in history; it was their understanding of what His existence actually meant that was at stake and the main issue was the Crucifixion.

    What John was dealing with was more of a proto-Gnosticism as opposed to the full-blown forms which would crop up in the mid-second century. It is true those passages were written around the date you mentioned but what he was combatting is not really what you are putting forth. Even if 2 and 3 John were dealing with a Gnosticism of the sort that you speculate (which is not the case) why do we have no record of this type of “Christ as a man of history” denial until the late 90′s? This belief could have never survived in the 30′s, 40′s, 50′s and the like and it really has no chance of survival now.

    Vocab

  12. Let me see if I can add a response to KEITH’s other post on this (#8). I will italicize your quotes and then respond.

    it is not surprising that majority of historians believe Jesus to have been a real person. That has been the default position in Western Civilization since at least the 4th century.

    QUESTION: do you believe that historians “believe” things because it’s the “default position”? If so, that is a serious misunderstanding of how we do historical work and come to solid conclusions. Even if you were right on this, you must ask yourself: why is it the “default position”? Perhaps there is something to it!

    I would suggest, however, if one were to survey scholars of mythology or folklore, the majority would state that the Jesus narrative is either purely mythical, or has been so mythologized, that it is impossible to know anything about Jesus, if he in fact actually lived.

    !!! What do scholars of mythology have to do with this ??? We are talking strictly HISTORY and these folks deal in a different arena. Plus, I would strongly challenge your assertion that most of them would say Jesus was “purely mythical”.

    And even if we accept the purported extra Biblical sources for the existence of an historical Jesus, at the end of the day, we have somewhere between 500 and 600 words, which are simply hearsay accounts that report the existence of Christians, and some of their beliefs, in the late first century, early second century.

    You are incorrect on both points: 1 – you are under reporting how much evidence we have (have you even read any of the non-Biblical letters by Christians, such as Clement, who wrote around 95 AD!?) are and 2 -your description of the accounts you are familiar with is wrong as well, with a few exceptions. Example: TACITUS, a Roman historian wrote this around 115: “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.” (Annals, 15.44)

    As Habermas points out (Ancient evidence for the life of Jesus., 189), here’s what we can learn from this:
    (1) Christians were named for their founder, Christus (from the Latin),
    (2) who was put to death by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilatus (also Latin),
    (3) during the reign of emperor Tiberius (AD 14–37).
    (4) His death ended the “superstition” for a short time,
    (5) but it broke out again,
    (6) especially in Judaea, where the teaching had its origin.

    Tacitus was a Roman official who apparently had access to government records no longer extant; in fact, several other early writers assert as much. He was no friend to the Christians but was merely reporting the well-known facts about Jesus; I only hope that modern day critics can do the same.

    regarding Freke and Gandy, the only criticism I have found about them is the allegation that the amulet on the cover of “the Jesus Mysteries” was a forgery and that their research is out of date.

    I would hope that would suffice!

    On the last portion of your post, I agree with you it is a red herring and would stretch this discusssion into something other than what it is – maybe another time when we have the time to talk more about time? =)

    vM!

    PS – here is a good description of the aforementioned Docetist sect of the Gnostics:
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05070c.htm

  13. Good stuff, Vocab. I am really enjoying this. I have to commend you on both the thoughtfulness and tone of your posts. I am going to be busy for a while, so I may not be able to respond for a week or so. Have a Happy New Year!

  14. KEITH:
    Understand and right back at ya …
    you have done your homework more than most
    so that is always appreciated indeed.

    As for my posts, once it hits school time again -
    around the first week of Jan. – I will be a little
    les prolific as well … but in the meantime …

    HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!
    vm

  15. I just purchased a copy of “Shattering the Christ Myth” by JP Holding. I look forward to seeing what he has to say.

  16. hey that’s cool!

    I just checked out:
    The Jesus Puzzle, two books by GA Wells, The Pagan Christ, Frazer’s Golden Bough and two books by Freke and Gandy … I think there may be others but I forget right now so I’d have to get back w/ya …

    Anyway, are you in AZ? You are the kind of dude that is fun to talk to … e-mail me if you can vocab -at- vocabmalone.com …

    peace
    vM!

    ps – on Holding … he is a bit of an abrasive polemicist sometimes who writes more like a msg. board poster than a hardcore ‘author’ BUT he does document his sources and give a much needed balance. he gets relatively detailed when it comes to Doherty as well. but you may be taken aback by his “style”; i know i was. nonetheless, i am glad i got his book so i can see some of the interactions and some pretty good answers to common doubts that are raised by Mythicists. let me know what you think, though

    vm

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