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(44,014 posts)
Sun Feb 18, 2024, 01:05 PM Feb 2024

There was no Jesus [View all]

How could a cult leader draw crowds, inspire devotion and die by crucifixion, yet leave no mark in contemporary records?


Most New Testament scholars agree that some 2,000 years ago a peripatetic Jewish preacher from Galilee was executed by the Romans, after a year or more of telling his followers about this world and the world to come. Most scholars – though not all. But let’s stick with the mainstream for now: the Bible historians who harbour no doubt that the sandals of Yeshua ben Yosef really did leave imprints between Nazareth and Jerusalem early in the common era. They divide loosely into three groups, the largest of which includes Christian theologians who conflate the Jesus of faith with the historical figure, which usually means they accept the virgin birth, the miracles and the resurrection; although a few, such as Simon Gathercole, a professor at the University of Cambridge and a conservative evangelical, grapple seriously with the historical evidence. Next are the liberal Christians who separate faith from history, and are prepared to go wherever the evidence leads, even if it contradicts traditional belief. Their most vocal representative is John Barton, an Anglican clergyman and Oxford scholar, who accepts that most Bible books were written by multiple authors, often over centuries, and that they diverge from history.

A third group, with views not far from Barton’s, are secular scholars who dismiss the miracle-rich parts of the New Testament while accepting that Jesus was, nonetheless, a figure rooted in history: the gospels, they contend, offer evidence of the main thrusts of his preaching life. A number of this group, including their most prolific member, Bart Ehrman, a Biblical historian at the University of North Carolina, are atheists who emerged from evangelical Christianity. In the spirit of full declaration, I should add that my own vantage point is similar to Ehrman’s: I was raised in an evangelical Christian family, the son of a ‘born-again’, tongues-talking, Jewish-born, Anglican bishop; but, from the age of 17, I came to doubt all that I once believed. Though I remained fascinated by the Abrahamic religions, my interest in them was not enough to prevent my drifting, via agnosticism, into atheism. There is also a smaller, fourth group who threaten the largely peaceable disagreements between atheists, deists and more orthodox Christians by insisting that evidence for a historical Jesus is so flimsy as to cast doubt on his earthly existence altogether. This group – which includes its share of lapsed Christians – suggests that Jesus may have been a mythological figure who, like Romulus, of Roman legend, was later historicised.

But what is the evidence for Jesus’ existence? And how robust is it by the standards historians might deploy – which is to say: how much of the gospel story can be relied upon as truth? The answers have enormous implications, not just for the Catholic Church and for faith-obsessed countries like the United States, but for billions of individuals who grew up with the comforting picture of a loving Jesus in their hearts. Even for people like me, who dispensed with the God-soul-heaven-hell bits, the idea that this figure of childhood devotion might not have existed or, if he did, that we might know very little indeed about him, takes some swallowing. It involves a traumatic loss – which perhaps explains why the debate is so fraught, even among secular scholars. When I’ve discussed this essay with people raised as atheists or in other faiths, the question invariably asked goes something like this: why is it so important for Christians that Jesus lived on earth? What is at stake here is the unique aspect of their faith – the thing that sets it apart. For more than 1,900 years, Christianity has maintained the conviction that God sent his son to earth to suffer a hideous crucifixion to save us from our sins and give us everlasting life. Jesus’ earthbound birth, life and particularly his death, which ushered in redemption, are the very foundation of their faith. These views are so deeply entrenched that, even for those who have loosened the grip of belief, the idea that he might not have been ‘real’ is hard to stomach.

Secondo Pia’s photograph of the Shroud of Turin (May 1898), digital print from the Musée de l’Élysée, Lausanne.

You’d think that a cult leader who drew crowds, inspired devoted followers and was executed on the order of a Roman governor would leave some indentation in contemporary records. The emperors Vespasian and Titus and the historians Seneca the Elder and the Younger wrote a good deal about 1st-century Judea without ever mentioning Jesus. That could mean simply that he was less significant an actor than the Bible would have us think. But, despite the volume of records that survive from that time, there is also no death reference (as there was, say, for the 6,000 slaves loyal to Spartacus who were crucified along the Appian Way in 71 BCE), and no mention in any surviving official report, private letter, poetry or play. Compare this with Socrates, for example. Though none of the thoughts attributed to him survive in written form, still we know that he lived (470-399 BCE) because several of his pupils and contemporary critics wrote books and plays about him. But with Jesus there is silence from those who might have seen him in the flesh – which is awkward for historicists like Ehrman; ‘odd as it may seem,’ he wrote in 1999, ‘in none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.’ In fact, there are just three sources of putative proof of life – all of them posthumous: the gospels, the letters of Paul, and historical evidence from beyond the Bible.

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There was no Jesus [View all] Celerity Feb 2024 OP
k&r nt flying rabbit Feb 2024 #1
At this point, does it matter? Ocelot II Feb 2024 #2
Everything matters - or ... dchill Feb 2024 #3
It only matters as an objective response to the Mike Johnsons of the world... Thunderbeast Feb 2024 #7
Bookmarking True Dough Feb 2024 #4
Good read. Fascinating analysis of the analysts. . . . . nt Bernardo de La Paz Feb 2024 #5
I think this is the earliest form of good marketing...nt mitch96 Feb 2024 #6
I think a lot of liberal Christians harumph Feb 2024 #8
I'll go with the Harry Potter analogy. Voltaire2 Feb 2024 #10
I take a more charitable view - but I'm not a literalist... harumph Feb 2024 #11
Using Flavius Josephus as a reference is a mistake Christians often make Doc Sportello Feb 2024 #34
And one of the references is now generally Voltaire2 Feb 2024 #63
Is that 'Christian', though? pandr32 Feb 2024 #55
Yeah but the vast majority of biblical historians, Voltaire2 Feb 2024 #9
Ok, did Siddhartha Gautama actually exist do you think? harumph Feb 2024 #12
I have no idea, and no. Voltaire2 Feb 2024 #15
The historical record is routinely altered. colorado_ufo Feb 2024 #14
The Roman Empire was generally tolerant Voltaire2 Feb 2024 #18
Interesting and informative. colorado_ufo Feb 2024 #28
But wasn't that how "Christianity" began.... Think. Again. Feb 2024 #52
Not sure about that. colorado_ufo Feb 2024 #59
To me, that seems to be the most logical conclusion... Think. Again. Feb 2024 #60
I think he is a composite character Mr.Bill Feb 2024 #13
And here's a composite drawing to go with that composite character: True Dough Feb 2024 #30
And another image based on forensic science True Dough Feb 2024 #32
Orange Jesus is real. twodogsbarking Feb 2024 #16
And yet, ideas attributed to him survived 2,000 years. surfered Feb 2024 #17
As a seeker, these are not unique to this religion I've found. slightlv Feb 2024 #22
These aren't necessarily him either angrychair Feb 2024 #26
The "Golden Rule" exists in all the major religious and spiritual traditions, Ocelot II Feb 2024 #29
You sure those weren't stolen True Dough Feb 2024 #35
About the beatitudes Voltaire2 Feb 2024 #36
Attributed incorrectly. SarahD Feb 2024 #41
But those are basic 'good' human traits that go all the way back, way before the Jesus thing, aren't they? Think. Again. Feb 2024 #53
👇👇👇👁️👁️ Goonch Feb 2024 #19
Kicking. MontanaMama Feb 2024 #20
"The Christian theory is little else than anciano Feb 2024 #21
I said something similar above, slightlv Feb 2024 #24
Imo, a person that came to be called Yeshua lonely bird Feb 2024 #23
I even asked my sister slightlv Feb 2024 #25
The repetition of ancient themes in christian myth orthoclad Feb 2024 #27
Jesus died again yesterday in Navalny's death Ponietz Feb 2024 #31
Thank you! pazzyanne Feb 2024 #38
The greatest lesson of the Bible - don't fuck with the men who has the money and the power Probatim Feb 2024 #56
Our calendar is all wrong then? pwb Feb 2024 #33
Just for the record, pazzyanne Feb 2024 #37
Just for the record, this forum is open Voltaire2 Feb 2024 #64
Just for the record - pazzyanne Feb 2024 #65
Your opinion is welcome. Voltaire2 Feb 2024 #66
Thank you, Voltaire2. pazzyanne Feb 2024 #67
Well twodogsbarking Feb 2024 #39
I cite, for example..... Shoonra Feb 2024 #40
No shooting an apple? No killing Gessler? SarahD Feb 2024 #43
A lot of earlier religions preached the same story. Emile Feb 2024 #42
Thought this theory was interesting & logical: Roman Emperors Invented Christianity Attilatheblond Feb 2024 #44
One bit of evidence that Jesus did exist thucythucy Feb 2024 #45
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Qutzupalotl Feb 2024 #46
It actually is evidence edhopper Feb 2024 #48
There was a revolution some years after his death Warpy Feb 2024 #47
I had heard that Christianity edhopper Feb 2024 #49
Washn't he dead by this time? Warpy Feb 2024 #57
Not Mark the Apostle edhopper Feb 2024 #58
An interesting observation edhopper Feb 2024 #50
Look up Jim Palmer AwakeAtLast Feb 2024 #51
I'm just getting started studying what I agree is the evolution of religion. I watched a lot of Bart Ehrman on his brewens Feb 2024 #54
Very peculiar presentation of this statistic: Qutzupalotl Feb 2024 #61
I like omnipotent beings that get it right the first time. czarjak Feb 2024 #62
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