Did Jesus Exist? (Plus a Bonus Swipe in the General Direction of Some Polemicists)

Opponents in polemical religious debate are always on the lookout for a handy silver bullet. Some students of Mormon thought like to load their revolvers with “Mormons aren’t Christians” (which is not the topic of this blog). On another note, some observers of Christianity prefer “Jesus Never Existed” ammunition. I’ve always considered both of these claims on the ridiculous side, distractions really, from far more important issues. But in the search for the historical Jesus, we need to consider the question how we “know” he existed.

“What if . . . there were absolutely no evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus?” asks the back cover of the popular book The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God? by authors Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy. Wait a minute, I just read The Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood Holy Grail which clearly demonstrate the startling fact that the lineal descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene are still alive today, probably living (to the embarrassment of some) in France. I guess you could reconcile these two theories by combining them: “What if there were absolutely no evidence for the existence of descendants of the historical Jesus?” There, that’s easier to swallow.

Well, if what Freke and Gandy have recently claimed were the case, then I might believe their book. But it’s not the case, not at all. I hate to point out the obvious, but there are multiple documentary sources that attest to the existence of the person known as Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, there is more evidence Jesus existed than there is for the existence of many other persons we read about in antiquity. Here’s a brief look at some of that evidence and its evidentiary worth.

Of course, the earliest Christian writings are the letters of Paul beginning sometime in the 50s AD (the gospels being written after 65-70 AD). You’d think that Paul, the greatest Christian missionary of the early church, would present enough evidence in his letters to demonstrate the mere existence of Jesus. Not according to Freke and Gandy: “It is a completely remarkable fact … that Paul says nothing at all about the historical Jesus! He is concerned only with the crucified and resurrected Christ, whose importance is entirely mythical …. Paul’s Christ, like the Pagan’s Osiris-Dionysus, is a timeless mythical figure.” (p. 151, emphasis added). Okay, it is true that Paul never met Jesus (other than in a vision, something beyond historical inquiry) and that he is mainly interested in the death and resurrection of Jesus as the heart of his gospel message. Okay, okay, it is also true that some of Paul’s message about the death and resurrection of Jesus mirrors myths of dying and resurrecting gods throughout the Ancient Near East. But is it a fact that Paul says nothing at all about an actual person named Jesus of Nazareth? Um …. no.

Let’s look at 3 of Paul’s undisputed letters: Galatians, 1 Corinthians and Romans. Here are some facts gleaned from those letters:

1. Jesus was born a Jew (Gal. 4:4) (that counts as 2 facts, actually).

2. Jesus had brothers, one named James (Gal. 1:19; 1 Cor. 9:5) (ditto).

3. Jesus was a teacher to Jews (Rom. 15:8; 1 Cor. 7:11; 9:14).

4. Jesus had 12 disciples (1 Cor. 15:5) (okay, I’m not going to count that as 12 facts).

5. Jesus held a last supper with his disciples (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

6. Jesus was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23).

7. Jesus was crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).

Any thoughts? Please note at this point we’re not trying to construct an historical Jesus from this information, just demonstrate the mere existence of Jesus. Next week we’ll look at the “existence” evidence in the gospels, in particular at what we lawyer-types like to call “admissions against interest” that are widely viewed as not just admissible evidence, but weighty evidence for the truth of the matter being asserted. Later we’ll see that this type of evidence is used by scholars for demonstrating the historicity of many details in the life of the historical Jesus, not just his mere existence.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I’ve always thought that people who claim Jesus never existed, like that Italian fellow is doing now, are trying way too hard, and are actually arguing in a manner counterproductive to their cause.

    I suppose there is no documentary way to *prove* beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus existed. The allusions to him for instance in such sources as Josephus, Pliny and Tacitus are late. But I think it is very difficult to account for the unquestionable existence of a Jesus movement in the absence of a Jesus man. Christianity unquestionably exists today; where did it come from? Eventually you’re going to go back to a small group of Jewish sectaries in Palestine in the first century (who still thought of themselves as Jews). I have a very difficult time seeing how such a movement could get off the ground if at its outset there were not witnesses of the man himself.

    Of course, arguing that Jesus never existed is completely unnecessary to the atheist. I should think it would be much more productive to acknowledge that a man named Jesus existed, but that he wasn’t the son of God.

  2. J. Watkins says:

    The one point that you listed that carries the most weight in my mind is number two, the part about having siblings, particularly a brother named James. The rest a critical mind could probably work into a myth about Jesus’ past (like the Osiris myth). It seems to me that noting that Jesus had siblings that are fully human, some of which who were not important figures in the church or “myth” of Jesus life, argues strongly for a historical figure. Anyone know of any other gods that had mortal human brothers and sisters? It’s a detail that doesn’t seem to fit into the mythological context that these critics are trying to fit Jesus into.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Good point about James and the other siblings. Also, the siblings appear *not* to have believed in Jesus’ divinity during his mortal life, which kind of falls under Ed’s admission against interest category of evidence.

  4. You’re right that the debate over the historical Jesus is too polemical and too sensationalistic. Trying to identify the Jesus that comes out of the gospels with gods of pagan religions is simplistic and demonstrates a naive approach to the New Testament’s textual history.

    There remains, however, a black hole in the evidence surrounding the historical Jesus (compared to Buddha or Mohammed). There are reasons to explain why there is a black hole, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is one.

    The main problem with trying to find evidence for the historical Jesus is that it’s not obvious what to look for. The gospels are of a rather late date (I’d argue for dates decades later than the 70 AD that you’ve put forth), and they ended up in the cannon for reasons relating more the politics of the (apostatized) church than to their perceived historicity.

    And a careful reading of the canonized documents that describe Christ’s life and the early church leaves adequate room to conclude that they’re simply collections of earlier legends and fabrications. As I’ve pointed out in a comment on different thread pertaining to historicity of the scriptures, there is good reason to think that the authors of the gospels never lived in Israel/Palestine, because they are often unfamiliar with the geography and plants that are indigenous to the region. Moreover (as pointed out with the example of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen in the same comment linked to earlier) many of the stories present too many implausible contextual elements to allow for a decisive conclusion that they resemble actual occurrences.

    The New Testament in general is convoluted enough to have led many, many authors to write about how discarding certain aspects and re-interpreting others can lend it same level of coherency–including Joseph Smith. When it is so easily demonstrated of a book that it makes no sense, I have a hard time admitting that it is a worthwhile endeavor to try to make sense of it.

  5. Julie M. Smith says:

    Good grief–if you set your standard for historical evidence so high that you argue that Jesus didn’t exist, you’ll have to disallow the existence of virtually every major historical figure.

  6. D. Fletcher says:

    You guys should read the book Yahweh and Jesus, by Harold Bloom. He asserts that Jesus did indeed exist, but this man Yeshua is in reality quite a different person from the fictionalized Jesus written in the New Testament. For one thing, the original Yeshua may only have meant to reform Judaism, and his teachings were meant almost exclusively for the Jews.

  7. D. Fletcher says:

    And by the way, the Epistle of James, I believe, is the earliest Christian writing, preceding Paul’s letters. The writer of James possibly knew Jesus, or knew people who knew Jesus.

  8. DKL, thanks for the comments (and thanks to everyone else too).

    On dating the gospels, I may have time to wade into that later–or others can. Since the Apostolic Fathers quote text from the gospels, you can come up with outside “production date boundaries” for them, and by looking at internal hints, you can peg the dates pretty well I think inside those boundaries. The 65-70 AD date is the common dating of Mark, with Matthew and Luke coming later (they appear to depend on Mark), with John after that, although more and more John looks like it may be an earlier production than previously thought. When you factor in Q (more on this “source” used by Matthew and Luke later), you get a source that might even be earlier than Mark.

    There is a black hole, of sorts, with 20 years or so between the crucifixion and Paul (and possibly Q, although it’s possible Q was earlier than Paul). But I’m confident the “criterion of embarassment” I mentioned earlier as an “admission against interest” is a fairly trustworthy tool to recover details worthy of being called historical.

    Here’s an example of how this criterion of embarassment has been used in Mormon history. Quinn’s folk magic research is at its strongest when it quotes early sources friendly to Mormons that reveal folk magic practices. Such “embarassing” details would not likely have been fabricated, so goes the argument.

    Likewise, the crucifixion of Jesus as a criminal is something early Christians would not likely fabricate about their founder. In fact, they have to make all sorts of arguments to get around the objections that the messiah would NOT have died such an ignominous death. Ergo, it must have really happened to Jesus. The problem is, if this is the only criterion you use, you end up with a limited portrait of an historical Jesus.

  9. Oh please.. have we all forgotten the evidentiary Shroud of Turin? Debate settled (No one questions the authenticity of…. The Shroud….)

  10. The only other source that can be reasonably dated to an early period (and the attribution of which to Clement of Rome actually has some small amount of plausibility), also weighs against an early date of the current gospels, since it seems entirely unaware of their existence; it refers to Christ but uses none of the phrasing common among the synoptics.

  11. Ed, you’re welcome for the comments. This is one of my favorite topics–right up there with Fawn Brodie (people may end up hating you for bringing this up). (Sorry about the delay in my answer, btw–the first Wednesday of every month is our Scouting district’s roundtable meeting.)

    Regarding your “production date boundaries,” 65 to 70 are on the early range of even conservative estimates. I really don’t know which apostolic fathers you’re referring to. Extra-scriptural sources on Christianity begin with the famous passages in Josephus (96 AD), and these are widely considered interpolations. Pliny the Younger (as governor) mentions Christians when he seeks approval to kill them in 106 AD.

    Tacitus, in 115 AD offers the first account that can be used to corroborate anything that is said to occur in the gospels. In his Annuls he states that in 64 AD, Nero used the Christians as scapegoats to deflect blame from him for the fire of Rome. He also states that Pontius Pilate had presided over the execution of the religion’s founder, Christus. This is generally considered unreliable, since (a.) Pilate would have been almost entirely unknown, and the passage presumes knowledge of who he is, (b.) the Christian community in Rome would have been much smaller than the one described by Tacitus, and (c.) the notion that Nero was responsible for the fire of Rome did not arise until many years after the fire.

    Suetonius, in his Lives of the Caesars (125 AD) makes two supposed references. First, he refers to a Chrestus, whom he says was a Jewish insurgent in Rome who incited riots among the Roman Jews. This is certainly not a reference to Jesus, who never set foot in Europe, and couldn’t very well have incited a riot in Rome. Second, he says “Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.” This may be authentic, but isn’t really useful.

    Clement and Tertulian enter the picture with a sizable production, and their citations of other works give us a glimpse at the emerging body of church literature. But by the time they arrive, it’s already well into the mid 2nd century. And the body of literature that they site looks very different from the one that we now have (e.g., Gospel of the Egyptians, Apocalypse of Peter, Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas)

    The example that you provide embarrassing details bears no similarity to Quinn’s usage. You’re notion about what counts as embarrassing is purely speculative. The death accounts of risen gods in other religions often involve grotesque aspects such as mutilation, dismemberment, and being eaten. Christ’s death is pretty tame fare compared to this.

    Furthermore, Christ’s story doesn’t end in death. His death isn’t even the climax. He’s resurrected, and the more fantastic the death, the more fantastic the resurrection (in this sense, Christ’s story is thematically similar to the standard fall/redemption story cycle).

    I see nothing compelling about your assertion that his ignominious death as a martyr is embarrassing. On the contrary, I see every reason to believe that it is embellished. And the evidence seems to suggest as much. For example, given the distance between the locations at Herod’s and Pilate’s, it’s nearly impossible to have gone back and forth between them multiple times in a day. Moreover, people that were not Roman citizens were seldom nailed to the cross.

  12. When it is so easily demonstrated of a book that it makes no sense, I have a hard time admitting that it is a worthwhile endeavor to try to make sense of it.

    DKL: So the New Testament makes no “sense”? I’m not sure I’m following you here…

    And are we talking about whether or not it matters if there was a real person named Jesus (well, who was the Son of God)? Or just that we can’t find evidence He existed? The first question may sound obtuse, but this post reminds me of the questions raised in Roasted Tomatoes/JNS’ post last week about finding a truce in the Book of Mormon wars.

  13. Dave,

    Interesting.

    I’m not as familiar with the literature as you are, but let me ask an obvious question: If there’s no Jesus, then why exactly does _Paul_ spend so much time and effort building up the Jesus myth? I mean, it’s one thing for us, in 2006, to say that the mists of history are too thick for us to penetrate, and that we can’t really tell anything. It’s quite another for a major evangelizing figure to posit a bunch of facts that should have been readily provable or disprovable, to your A.D. 55 audience. If it was all a bunch of hooey, why weren’t people calling him on it in A.D. 55?

    Also, it’s my understanding that the crucifiction as a criterion of embarrassment is fairly well-accepted. See, e.g., some discussion between historians in this Slate dialogue (and subsequent dialogues). But I could certainly be wrong — if I’m getting my information from Slate, I’m clearly not an expert in the field.

  14. Well, DKL, first, I’m not going to use any Roman authors in my discussions–they add nothing really.

    Second, Josephus does add a lot, actually. Of course his statements that sound like Christian interpolations are no doubt … Christian interpolations, but the core of his statements about Jesus otherwise are likely sound. I recommend John Meier’s vol 1 of _A Marginal Jew_ for a definitive discussion of this. I may touch on it later, maybe not. It is secondary.

    As for the rest, I’ll have to defer to next week’s blog for some details. For now, I’m puzzled–I don’t know where you’re coming from with some of your information.

    For instance, on dating the gospels, Bart Ehrman, hardly a Christian apologist, has these dates for early Christian literature (see his _The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Earl Christian Writings_, Oxford Press, p. 49):

    1. Letters of Paul: 50-60 AD
    2. Mark: 65-70 AD
    3. Luke, Matthew: 80-85 AD
    4. John: 95 AD

    You may be looking at some old scholarship. German theologians at one point in the 19th Century had placed John as late as 160 AD, but (i) the Rylands fragment of John pushes this date earlier, the fragment dating possibly as early as Trajan, circa 98-117 AD, suggesting an earlier date for the actual composition of John (unless you think the Rylands fragment is the original) and (ii) the DSS suggest that John’s language is earlier than previously thought and very Jewish.

    Look at a conservative source, say the Blomberg interview in Lee Stroebel’s _The Case for Christ_ (not because I like this book, but because it lets Blomberg compare liberal and conservative scholarship on the dating issue). Says Blomberg: “The standard scholarly dating, even in liberal circles, is Mark in the 70s, Matthew and Luke in the 80s, John in the 90s” (p. 33). Then Blomberg tries to make a case for some earlier dates (unsuccessfully, I think). Says Blomberg: “[Then] you end up with Mark written no later than about AD 60, maybe even the late 50s” (p. 34). This is conservative dating.

    As for crucifixion, I recommend you take a look at Raymond Brown’s _The Death of the Messiah_, part of the Anchor Bible reference series (pp. 945-952). Says Brown: “It was primarily a punishment applied to lower classes, slaves, and foreigners …. Cicero expresses oratorical horrow at the thought of daring to crucify a Roman citizen. Actually sometimes that did happen; but overall, unlike the Carthaginians, the Romans spared the upper classes and nobility from crucifixion.” (p. 96).

    Concerning crucifixion as an embarassment to Jews, Christians and Pagans, says Brown: “Josephus calls crucifixion ‘the most pitiable of deaths.’ Besides the NT references to the shame of Jesus’ death on the cross, we have the constant scorn of pagan writers for a religion that so esteems a man executed by the worst deaths on the infamous cross.” (p. 947).

    So far I’ve tried to stay away from too many footnotes trying to keep this to what I believe to be (i) non-technical “common sense” thoughts and (ii) mainstream scholarly conclusions. Later, as I narrow my focus a bit, I will make some appeals to authority as well, but would rather stick to the middle of the road so I don’t have to drop a lot of footnotes.

  15. Isn’t all this simply the reason we need continuing revelation? Faith in the text alone seems misplaced because these sorts of objections can always be established, even though they tend to rest upon questionable inferences (IMO).

  16. Ooops. My first Raymond Brown quote was from p. 946, not 96.

  17. Ed, I’m genuinely puzzled. I claim that your production date of 70 AD for the gospels is on “the early range of even conservative estimates,” and you respond by providing date ranges of gospel authorship that are (for the most part) decades later than 70 AD.

    I’m glad you site Brown, because it’s his date ranges that I was referring to that when I placed yours in the early part of the spectrum. The dates you site by Erhman are heavily weighted on the early side–especially for John, which seems to be more punctuated by phases than the others. We could have a date-range dual wherein we site different opinions of plausible ranges, but I don’t see where that would get us. Nevertheless, your list seems to make it safe to assume that (with the exception of Mark) you now agree with my initial assertion that the gospels were written decades later than 70 AD (the date that you initially proposed).

    (The issue of dating Pauline epistles hasn’t even come up yet, so I’m left to wonder whether your inclusion of them in the list is merely a rhetorical trick aimed at weighting the average dates in the list to an earlier time. Do you write for FARMS?)

    The Roman authors are relevant to demonstrate the complete lack of influence of any of the gospels until late in the 2nd century. And if Josephus’s passages on Christians are interpolations (however sound they may otherwise be), then this robs him of the historical priority that makes him a significant source in the first place, and he becomes just another post-first century source on Christianity.

    As I clearly stated in my initial comment, I believe that “a careful reading of the canonized documents that describe Christ’s life and the early church leaves adequate room to conclude that they’re simply collections of earlier legends and fabrications.” This is a fairly easy assertion to defend. Over the courses of two comments, my argument for it has included the following components:

    1. That production dates of the gospels are decades later than your asserted 70 AD
    2. That there is an historical “black hole” surrounding the historical Jesus.
    3. That the stories related by the New Testament “present too many implausible contextual elements to allow for a decisive conclusion that they resemble actual occurrences” (example provided in a comment that I wrote in another thread)
    4. That the there is “good reason to think that the authors of the gospels never lived in Israel/Palestine,”
    5. That the gospels we have ended up in the cannon thanks to political expedience (and not due to any perceived historicity)
    6. That details of Jesus’s death (being nailed–as opposed to tied to–the cross, being given audiences before both the King and the Governor) may well be embellished
    7. That an ignominious death is more compatible with a spectacular resurrection than a mundane death (if Elvis had been dismembered or mutilated, would anyone think he was still alive?)

    So far, all you’ve done is provide a survey of dating schemes and added some sources on the ignominy of crucifixion. I just don’t see how you expect readers to find that convincing.

    Elisabeth, thanks for noticing that sentence (“When it is so easily demonstrated of a book that it makes no sense, I have a hard time admitting that it is a worthwhile endeavor to try to make sense of it”). I was especially pleased with the way that one turned out. I think that when one approaches the New Testament as an historical document, it makes no sense at all. Even Ed seems content to come away with little more than the fact that Jesus was a Jew who died on a cross. Mormons are Christians because Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith. Had Allah or Vishnu appeared to Joseph, then we’d be an altogether different religion.

    Kaimi, it’s interesting that you ask about Paul building up the Jesus myth when Paul never met Jesus as a mortal. Indeed, the most compelling argument for an early date of the Pauline epistles is (to my mind) the primitiveness of his Christology. As far as people calling Paul out on the facts in 55 AD, why didn’t fastidious Mormons call others on the legend of the crickets vs. the locusts just decades after it (probably) never occurred? Moreover, Paul may well be lying about about a few things; for example, he claims to be a trained pharisee, and I think that it is not unreasonable for an objective reader to find this unconvincing. As far as the embarrassment thing with the crucifixion, it is too self-serving to modern christianity to have any credence in my book as a “well-accepted” belief. Besides, what’s “well-accepted belief” to me? I’m just a loudmouth crank.

  18. DKL,
    Question:
    You are right that Mormonism’s Christian belief is Joseph-centric. You have recently shared your testimony of that belief (at LDSLF). As the Mormon Jesus (especially the Book of Mormon Jesus) seems (to me) not strikingly different to the Jesus of the Gospels, what’s going on?

  19. Ronan, I’m not sure what you’re asking. The Jesus of the Book of Mormon is very light on biographical detail and the description of the functioning of the early church in the Book of Mormon is quite different from what is portrayed in the New Testemant. Do you see some incompatability between believing in Mormonism and faulting early Christian sources on their record keeping?

  20. The vision of Nephi fleshes out Jesus’ life somewhat. And the Sermon at the Temple is, of course, very close to Matthew. I’m just wondering what you think a belief in an historical BoM compels one to believe about the “historical” Jesus.

  21. DKL, I enjoy these kinds of discussions … to a point. I’d rather not defend ALL of the mainstream positions of early Christian historians that I might mention in some rather short pieces on BCC. Some of them are germane to what I’ve been blogging about, and those I’ll be happy to discuss.

    DKL wrote:

    “Ed, I’m genuinely puzzled. I claim that your production date of 70 AD for the gospels is on “the early range of even conservative estimates,” and you respond by providing date ranges of gospel authorship that are (for the most part) decades later than 70 AD.”

    This is easy to clear up as a mere misunderstanding. What I actually wrote in my original blog above was this:

    “Of course, the earliest Christian writings are the letters of Paul beginning sometime in the 50s AD (the gospels being written after 65-70 AD).”

    I didn’t say they were ALL written by 65-70 AD, but AFTER 65-70 AD. There is no issue here.

    DKL also wrote:

    “So far, all you’ve done is … added some sources on the ignominy of crucifixion.”

    Actually, I was responding to these comments from you:

    “I see nothing compelling about your assertion that his ignominious death as a martyr is embarrassing.”

    Several early critics of Christianity make this very point that Jesus was an executed criminal, ie, how could you follow such a person? A Mormon example. Why have Mormons traditionally downplayed polygamy when Joseph Smith is discussed? It was embarassing–had to be explained in some way. So with the crucifixion. This isn’t the only historical Jesus matter that fits into this category. Let’s argue more about this later.

    “Moreover, people that were not Roman citizens were seldom nailed to the cross.”

    Where did this conclusion come from? I thought it was a typo at first. It makes no sense to me at all and my Raymond Brown quotes were intended to address it.

  22. Ronan, I’m not an adherent to Ostler’s expansion thesis, but I also don’t have a problem with Vogel’s timeline which places the Isaiah block during the period in which Joseph was out of town looking for a printer and theorizes that he may have instructed Oliver to simply copy the relevant portions of Isaiah into the manuscript.

    There’s an extent to which (a.) portions of the Book of Mormon are dependent upon Joseph’s understanding. There’s also an extant to which (b.) portions of the Book of Mormon are dependent upon the King James Bible. I think that it’s obvious that (b.) is an instance of (a.), otherwise (for example) why isn’t the Book of Mormon dependent on the Vulgate?

    One can broaden (b.) into a third dependency, which posits that (c.) portions of the Book of Mormon are dependent upon the Bible (as opposed to any specific translation of the bible). I think that the (c.) dependancy can be construed quite broadly without having to sacrifice historicity or even make concessions like Ostler’s thesis (though I’m aware that Ostler doesn’t view his thesis as a concession–he seems to argue that he’s actually capturing the common way that people do, in fact, view the Book of Mormon). It follows from this that the biographical details of the Book of Mormon may be more attached to Biblical accounts than they are to Christ’s life. Joseph may not have been aware of this influence, just as most readers are unaware of the influence that tradition has on them when they fail to see the discrepancies among the various gospels.

    But just to be clear, I’m not arguing that the New Testament is altogether incorrect. For all I know, it may be completely and utterly correct. I’m arguing that for various internal and external reasons, it doesn’t give a lot of strength to the claim for an historical Jesus. I think that it follows from this that disbelief in the historical Jesus is a reasonable position (isn’t that broadminded of me?), and this is the primary area of disagreement between Ed and me.

  23. DKL,
    I would be fascinated to see a DKL-portrait of Jesus, removing the NT, and NT-inspired Book of Mormon images. Who is your Jesus? I would genuinely be interested in seeing this.

  24. Ed, I was mistaken about Roman citizens being the only ones nailed to crosses. Other elements pointing to embellishment remain. As I mentioned earlier, the idea that he had multiple audiences before the governor and the king is not terribly plausible (especially given the geography). Also, the idea a Roman governor took an interest in a colonial rebel and believed that he was innocent doesn’t ring true.

    Regarding the embarrassment factor of Christ’s death: Having heard the sadistic manner in which Christians (including Mormons) celebrate the brutality of crucifixion and scourging by enumerating everything that is grotesque about them (he did all that just for us…), I just can’t swallow the idea that it’s was supposed to have been found embarrassing. It’s considered part and parcel of the miracles of atonement and resurrection.

    Like I said, if they’d have done that to Elvis, nobody would think that he is alive today.

  25. DKL, we’ll get to know each other’s views better during these exchanges.

    I too find ample bias in the gospels, as well as what I would call “theological shaping” of events. You’ll find no argument with me there. One of the more interesting aspects of synoptic gospel study is that the reader is led to discover Matthew and Luke take Mark’s gospel and change it to suit their own theological purposes. After all, the gospels are theological tracts first, and, I would argue, bits of history second, the trick being to find the bits. I’m a bit (no pun intended) more optimistic than you are in that regard.

  26. blog responder says:

    “Wait a minute, I just read The Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood Holy Grail which clearly demonstrate the startling fact that the lineal descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene are still alive today, probably living (to the embarrassment of some) in France.” … “on dating the gospels, Bart Ehrman, hardly a Christian apologist, has these dates for early Christian literature…”

    Given what you’ve written here, you might be interested to know that Ehrman has written a book on the veracity of the Da Vinci Code:

    Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code : A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine

    I haven’t read either but would like to some day. My impression is that Ehrman is somewhat sceptical of Holy Blood Holy Grail.

  27. This was kind of convenient, but I put a post about this at De Rerum Natura basically defending against statements that Christ was a Jewish conflation of the god Mithras.

  28. DKL, the mention of Chrestus by Suetonius is widely believed by scholars to be a reference to Jesus Christ. The fact that he didnt ever go to Europe by no means indicates that his influence didnt. I think that it means more that the Jews in Rome were brought to rioting by the influx of Christian teachings. This happens at 43 BC at the earliest, so Christ was dead for awhile, giving enough time for the teachings to make a hold in Rome. Also, there is some evidence that people who werent Roman citizens were almost never crucified as a punishment. This was done primarily to slaves and foreigners.

  29. blog responder says:

    Personally, although I am a non-believer, I have no problem believing that Jesus Christ was an actually existing person. Whether we know what he actually said is harder to say, as far as I can tell, but I see no reason not to believe that the man actually existed.

  30. as per 28… I meant to say people who were Roman citizens were almost never crucified. This is also why Peter was crucified, but Paul wasnt.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] First, some believe that the very ignominy of crucifixion points to Jesus’ historical legitimacy. Ed Snow has advanced this position in the bloggernacle. The idea is that if early Christians wanted to emphasize the glory of their Messiah, it’s unlikely that they’d say He was crucified unless it actually happened; it constitutes what lawyers call an “admission against interest,” which is among the most powerful kinds of testimony. [...]

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