Arguments for and Against the Historical Jesus, Written by AIGBusted

I am writing this to discuss whether or not the evidence we have (the Bible and other historical documents) shows Jesus was a real person or a myth. To begin with, I want to note that no one piece of the evidence we have seems to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus existed, but when taken together it looks more likely than not that Jesus existed. In this post, I am going to begin with some arguments which I think support a historical Jesus, then move on to bad or feeble arguments for a historical Jesus (This is intended to a series of posts, each looking at different arguments concerning Jesus’ historicity.

Good Arguments for a historical Jesus:

1. In Mark 15 Jesus’ last words are recorded: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani”, which is Aramaic for “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?”

Why is this signifigant? Well, you have to remember that Mark was written in Greek even though first century Judeans spoke Aramaic. It would make sense for Jesus’ followers to want to preserve his exact words, untranslated and as he spoke them. Yet it would not make sense to record this if Jesus had been viewed as a cosmic, supernatural figure who never walked the earth.

2. Paul calls Jesus the “first fruits” of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). What Paul seems to be saying (reading the passage in context) is that Jesus was the first of the dead to be resurrected (It was thought that in the end times all the dead would be raised) and that the end times were now. This implies Jesus was a man of flesh and blood and lived recently.

Bad/Feeble Arguments for a Historical Jesus

The argument (or rather, arguments, as this involves many scriptures) we will consider is the argument from the Pauline epistles. This argument contends that

1. The letters of Paul were written in the 50’s (This is not doubted by even non-Christian scholars).

2. Paul Speaks of Jesus as a Historical Person (This is disputable, as we will see, many people misinterpret Paul as speaking literally when, read in context, he speaking figuratively. I know of only two Pauline passages which clearly point to a historical Jesus and I have mentioned them above).

3. No one would invent a figure who lived so recently (less than 20 years prior) in Judea and contended that they knew his siblings and had those who had known him during his life. (I have no truck with this conclusion so long as the premises are sound).

Let’s take a look at the passages John posted in one of his blog posts about the historical Jesus:

Jesus descended from Abraham (Gal. 3:16);

Let’s look at the passage:

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.”

We notice right off the bat that the connection between Jesus and Abraham is probably not a literal, flesh and blood relationship, at least in this context: There was something about Jesus which made him a successor to Abraham, something which was beyond DNA (Since the Jewish people were not also considered to be Abraham’s “seed” in the same sense that Jesus was). We also need to pay attention to the metaphor in use here, which I will discuss shortly: In Galatians 4 Paul also discusses how Sarah and Hagar, the wife and concubine of Abraham, should be thought of figuratively and how the Christians are the sons of Sarah, the free woman.

[Jesus] was born of a woman and lived under Jewish law (Gal. 4:4);

Allow to provide a lengthy excerpt from an essay by Rook Hawkins, who explains this passage much more clearly than I am able:

Those out to verify the historical Jesus are quick to jump on this verse without considering what Paul is actually saying here. This verse is taken for granted, presupposed to be about a person which Paul never knew. For Jesus was not born at all but made (genomenon), specifically, under the law. What is the law? Paul actually tells us what “the law” (tou nomou) means. “It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom the promise has been made. It was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator (mesitou).” (Gal. 3:19) Paul clarifies for us, “For we know that the law (ho nomos) is spiritual (pneumatikos), but I am of the flesh (sarkinos), sold under sin.” (Rom. 7:14) To Paul, what comes from the flesh is corruption and sinful. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” (Rom. 7:18) The law is the spiritual custodian (ephrouroumetha) of the flesh, a teacher by which Paul feels leads one to life. It is through this custodian, the spirit, per Paul, that we are also saved. There is also an underlining allegory to this passage that most scholars seem to ignore.[28] Do those who want to understand Paul so easily forget the allegory of the two women, Sarah and Hagar, for which we are all a part of?[29] This chapter (Galatians 4) is not about Jesus at all. It is entirely about the law and how to be saved under the law.[30]

“Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, don't you listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid, and one by the free woman. However, the son by the handmaid was made according to the flesh, but the son by the free woman was made through promise. These things contain an allegory, for these are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children to bondage, which is Hagar. For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to the Jerusalem that exists now, for she is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, "Rejoice, you barren who don't bear. Break forth and shout, you that don't travail. For more are the children of the desolate than of her who has a husband." Now we, brothers, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But as then, he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. However what does the Scripture say? "Throw out the handmaid and her son, for the son of the handmaid will not inherit with the son of the free woman." So then, brothers, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the free woman.” – Paul, Galatians 4:21-31

The context is very important. Jesus is made under the law—the spiritual custodian—by a “woman” or specifically, “the Jerusalem above” (hê de anô Ierousalêm), which also happens to allegorically be the mother to everyone. Not everyone in a worldly sense, Paul makes this clear, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16) But Paul was speaking specifically to everyone who is adopted into the death of Jesus Christ, “but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15) And here the understanding of the parable comes back around. We die, the same way Jesus dies. We call out to our father, allegorically, as we become kin with Jesus through the spirit. But through this death we are saved, from the flesh which is corrupt, through a rebirth. This rebirth is of this allegorical woman in the same way that Paul’s Jesus is born through the same allegorical woman. Indirectly we, like Jesus, are born again spiritually by way of the heavens, or directly, by God.

[Jesus] was the son of David (Romans 1:3);

In order to keep this article’s length to a minimum, I ask you to read the essay linked above as it also has the answer to this passage: It is an allegory intending to portray Jesus as one who treated Jews and Gentiles according to their deeds, just as David did.

[Jesus] had a brother named James (Gal. 1:19) and other brothers (I Cor. 9:5).

Both of these passages use the phrase “brother of the Lord” or “brothers of the Lord” which seems to me to indicate a spiritual relationship rather than a genetic one (Why not simply call James, ‘the brother of Jesus’). I also must note the words of early church father Origen:

"Now this James was he whom that genuine disciple of Jesus, Paul, said he had seen as the Lord’s brother; [Gal. i. 19.] which relation implies not so much nearness of blood, or the sameness of education, as it does the agreement of manners and preaching. If therefore he says the desolation of Jerusalem befell the Jews for the sake of James, with how much greater reason might he have said, that it happened for the sake of Jesus."

Of course, I also need to note that I have discussed this with Dr. James McGrath and he told me that by the third century some Christians believed Mary remained a virgin her whole life and thus they sought to explain away the references to Jesus’ siblings as symbolic. But think about this: Would it make more sense for the perpetual virgin dogma to spring up from a sect which believed (originally, at least) in a spiritual Christ, or would it make more sense to think that one day Christians decided Mary had to be a virgin and so they’d just explain away all the references to her other children? Of course, religious dogmas rarely make sense, so perhaps it is the latter.

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:23-25); was betrayed (I Cor. 11;23);

It does not tell us where or when Jesus was killed, and so this does not affect the Jesus myth theory as I present it: Jesus may have appeared to Paul in a vision with a cup of wine and a loaf of bread and instituted the eucharist for all we know.

[He] was killed by the Jews of Judea (I Thess. 2:14-15),

This is very likely an interpolation (See here). Although the link I give is to one of those “conservative Christian” sites, there is a reasonable discussion of why this is thought to be a later addition to the text. In the end, however, I must disagree with the author’s conclusion that we need a text without the offending passage to make up our minds about its authenticity. The earliest manuscripts of Paul’s letters date to well over 100 years after Paul wrote, and we know that scribes made alterations to Biblical texts they copied (See Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman). So there may be a lot of interpolations which we will never be able to prove (using manuscriptural evidence) are interpolations. We are stuck looking for clues within the text.

[H]e was buried and seen as resurrecting (I Cor. 15:4-8).

Again, where and when? In the New Jerusalem or somewhere on earth 20 years ago?

-- AIGBusted


Pull The Other One! said...

While I incline to believe that Jesus was a historical figure, I can't agree that the words “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” are strong evidence.

Whether you believe in a historical Jesus or not, I think we can agree that the gospel writers scoured the Old Testament for details to include in their accounts. The above words are found in Psalms 22:1. Even if the writer of Mark never visited Judea (as is thought), it probably wouldn't have been difficult for him to get a translation into Aramaic in Rome, where he is likely to have come from.

Unknown said...

Rook Hawkins? LOL!

AIGBusted said...

Hi Pull,

My point was that it seems unlikely Mark would go to the trouble of translating Jesus' last words into Aramaic if he never really existed. However, if the gospel was based on an Aramic oral tradition and Jesus' EXACT final words were memorized out of reverance (which to me seems plausible) we then see that this makes sense.

And Darren,

I have people all the time who say things like, "You're referencing Richard Carrier or Rook Hawkins? Just shows how much you know. Or (Over when talking to creationists): You're referencing Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers? Just shows how much you comprehend".

Keep arm waving and mocking. Keep trying to act like you're above addressing the real issues.

busterggi said...

I've got to agree with Pull. Kindly note that not too long ago it was common to throw in a few foreign words into one's writing to show how knowledgable the writer was.

Besides, if Jesus' last words were so important they had to be saved in their original then why do the other gospels not only not use translations of the Aramaic but totally different last words.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...


I'd like to see more before going too deep into this one.

Ooh, by the way, I'm still not finished with that macro-micro evolution thing either, but I'll go back to your site to get that started when I'm ready ;)


Luke said...

I think Jesus probably existed, but if anyone makes a strong mythicist case, I think it's Richard Carrier.

AIGBusted said...

Hi Luke,

I think you are spot on. Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, and Robert Price all make good cases against the historical Jesus although I don't think any one of them has got everything right.

kiwi said...

Where has Richard Carrier made a case for mythicism?

And by the way, yes, using Rook Hawkins as a reference is probably the easiest way a person can lose credibility, regardless of if Hawkins happens to be right or wrong on whatever he is referenced for. A proper analogy is not Carrier or Dawkins, but Paris Hilton.

AIGBusted said...

Hi busterggi,

Could you give me an example of an ancient writer using foreign words in order to "seem knowledgable"?

Also, I had completely forgotten that the other gospels changed Jesus' last words (duh!), but I still think that my interpretation makes more sense.

AIGBusted said...

Hi Kiwi,

Richard Carrier has talked about Jesus mythicism on the infidel guy show. Go to, click on downloads, click on search, and then search for "Richard Carrier". It will be there for you to download. He has also reviewed "The Jesus Puzzle" for

Secondly, I don't consider Rook to be some kind of authority on ancient history, but his comments on the passage in question were spot on. I think if anyone has a problem with his comments on the subject, they should address the flaws in his interpretation and not him personally.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Daddy Cool, you know you're banned for lying and misrepresenting things.

Logosfera said...

Supose I write the following things about a character:
"Adolph Hitler was born in Austria and his grandmother was jewish. He had a small moustache and was engaged in an adoulturous affair with a certain Eva Braun. Adolph wrote the 4 symphonies at the age of 31 and. He died on stage of the Metropolitan Opera of Chicago in 1945".
Was THIS Adolph Hitler an historical figure? We have records of an Adolph Hitler with a moustache and lover of an Eva Braun. Is it enough to consider that THIS Adolph Hitler is an historical figure? Of course not. Because one of the ESSENTIAL properties of Adolph is that he was a dictator not a composer.

Likewise, one of the ESSENTIAL properties of Jesus was that he resurected. Cause if the ressurection is not essential we can go on and say muslims believe in Jesus and are just as christians as... well... christians. (they believe he was a teacher just not god's son)

It is not different than saying "We have proofs for the existence of God. God is the Big Bang and we have proofs for the Big Bang".

Anebo said...

1. Mark would not have had to go to much trouble to translate into Aramaic since he was a native Aramaic speaker who wrote in Greek as a second language. But as already pointed out, this is a biblical quotation, so it hardly has any evidenciary value.

2. You don't seem to be citing New Testament historians in these discussions, rather fundamentalists or notorious atheists. Neither group has any expertise on this question.

3. An ancient writer who quoted a foreign language to seem knowledgeable? Hmmm. I can give you a useful parallel though. Caesar's last words were not Shakespeare's invention, 'et tu, Brute,' but rather, a curse in Greek, spoken at the moment Brutus thrust the dagger in, 'Kai su!' "You, too' or 'the same to you!' It was spoken in Greek either because Caesar was used to conversing in Brutus in Greek and habit took over (you can be sure both were thoroughly conversant with the language), or because Greek as a foreign language was thought to be more efficacious in curses, or because the whole thing was made up and the author had one of those ideas in mind.

4. The usual means of arguing for the historicity of Jesus among historians is that James is mentioned by the hostile witness Josephus, and James' stoning is probably the kind of thing Josephus would have been well informed about. Now if James existed and was the leader of a sect hostile to the temple authorities, then it would follow that Jesus must have been as well, since James and his followers would hardly have invented a fake brother as the founder of their movement.

But really, the best evidence is that there is a whole body of sayings ascribed to Jesus that the Gospel authors either didn't understand or didn't want to understand, and these tend to be of the same persuasion against the established order of society. Since they could not have been manufactured by Mark or by the strata of tradition represented by Q and Thomas (which already tend to de-radicalize them), they must come from somewhere. If not from Jesus, then from a teacher just like Jesus, so we might as well say Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Rook Hawkins is the biggest fucking idiot that has ever walked on this planet.

Logosfera said...

"If not from Jesus, then from a teacher just like Jesus, so we might as well say Jesus."

You know how all sounds like?
The first person who was able to replicate the fire was like Prometheus, taking the ability to create fire from gods and teaching other. If it was not Prometheus was some person like Prometheus. We might as well say Prometheus. We know how to make fire, there was a first person that learned how to make fire so we have the proofs that Prometheus existed. The problem is the historical Prometheus is completely different from the mythical Prometheus. Just like the historical Jesus is completely different than the biblical Jesus. So we might just as well not call him Jesus.

AIGBusted said...

Hi Anebo,

1. I was not aware that Mark spoke Aramaic. How exactly do we know that?

2. Bart Ehrman supports my interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:20 (He talks about it in his new book, "God's Problem", although I forget the exact page number). Also, my argument for Jesus via his last words in Aramaic was discussed on the blog of a moderate Christian, although I forget specifically who. Anyway, most of my arguments presented don't reference a fundamentalist or an atheist. The arguments stand or fall on their own merit and I don't have much use for outside sources in this post.

3. That is interesting, but I would prefer you having an example of this sort of thing happeing within a century or two of the time Mark wrote just to show that this sort of thing was going on back then.

4. I will address the passages in Josephus in a future post. But for now, let's just say that neither one of them is as solid as most people make them out to be.

Anebo said...


Really, you think there was a person named Prometheus? that would be news to ancient Greeks--he was a Titan after all. I suppose you're unfamiliar with the rhetorical trope reductio ad absurdum? I don't think anyone is liable to suppose that there is another peasant revolutionary wisdom teacher not named Jesus who said everything that we can reasonably attribute to Jesus, and then someone made up Jesus as a secret identity for him. The bottom line is, its really quite desperate to suggest that there was no such person as Jesus (and I'm not a Christian so don't accuse me of special pleading, please).

1. His Greek is filled with Semiticisms.

2. my general point was that someone like Dawkins, while he might be good at refuting creationism, has no special knowledge about the NT and so doesn't need to be consulted or referred to in this discussion. Ehrmann, does however.

3. I would date Mark to Just after 70, Caesar's assassination to 44 BC and Suetonius' Vita to between 112 and 122, so, what isn't within a century or so? But again, the seven last words are OT exegesis, so we hardly have to worry about their historicity.

4. Well, the one that mentions Jesus is an interpolation, certainly.

Anonymous said...

Is that what you got from my comments? I previously made another one where I stated that we have to meet criteria in order to determine historicity of a person. For 2.5 billion people one of the ESSENTIAL attributes of Jesus is that he rose from the dead.
To present proofs that there was a person who cursed a fig tree but didn't rose from the dead and say "Hey, Jesus existed". Is just like finding the first homosapian to make fire and say "Look, we found Prometheus".

As for the revolutionary wisdom of the Jesus teacher... are you kidding me? Cursing fig trees for not having fruits outside the season is wisdom? 350 years after Aristotle naturalistic approch to life casting demons into pigs is wisdom? Not to mention sacrificing for a non-existent original sin. Yeah, wisdom galore...

Anebo said...


I mean wisdom like advising that when your landlord slaps you in the face with the back of his hand in the usual way, turning the other cheek so that you can humiliate him by forcing him to slap you with the palm of the hand. that sort of thing.

The essence of his teaching was that the conditions of life were unjust for the poor and needed to be changed. Something not many people antiquity had the courage to say.

Anonymous said...

Allow to provide a lengthy excerpt from an essay by Rook Hawkins, who explains this passage much more clearly than I am able:

John, there are worse things than quoting Rook (despite what some people have said here), but I'd exercise real caution before using Rook as a source.

For Jesus was not born at all but made (genomenon), specifically, under the law.

"Genomenon" is a perfectly fine way to say "born". "Born of a woman" was a common idiom that identifies someone's "human-ness". In fact, Earl Doherty, after reading Ehrman, has floated the idea that this was an interpolation for that exact reason:

Earl Doherty: "“Born of woman” would be a natural insertion in Galatians (let’s say around the middle of the 2nd century to counter docetics like Marcion and others) to make the point that Jesus was in fact a human man from a human mother."

For Jesus was not born at all but made (genomenon), specifically, under the law. What is the law? Paul actually tells us what “the law” (tou nomou) means. “It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom the promise has been made. It was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator (mesitou).” (Gal. 3:19) Paul clarifies for us, “For we know that the law (ho nomos) is spiritual (pneumatikos), but I am of the flesh (sarkinos), sold under sin.” (Rom. 7:14)

If you look closely, you can see that Rook is forcing a number of passages -- adding gratuitous Greek transliterations, I might add -- to try to associate Gal 4:4 with the analogy that Paul uses. But Paul clearly says where the analogy starts, and that is after Gal 4:4.

This is the passage:

"God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that he might redeem those who were under the law."

Here is the explanation given in the link above: "Paul here operates on the principle that the redeemer had to be like those redeemed. We see this same principle at work in Hebrews 2.18; 4.15; 5.2... he was telling the Galatians how it could be that they were sons instead of slaves of God (Galatians 4.6-7): Jesus, the true son of God, was made human like them so as to redeem them."

This is in line with Doherty's comment. Now, compare that explanation with Rook's. Look at Doherty's comment. Which explanation makes the more sense?

Seriously: It is easy to mistake density for profundity. I'd recommend going through Rook's explanation again in the paragraph you reproduced, to see how he hops from one passage to the next. See how he goes from Gal. 3:19, to Rom. 7:14, to Rom. 7:18 in this extract below. Can you make sense of it?:

"What is the law? Paul actually tells us what “the law” (tou nomou) means. “It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom the promise has been made. It was ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator (mesitou).” (Gal. 3:19) Paul clarifies for us, “For we know that the law (ho nomos) is spiritual (pneumatikos), but I am of the flesh (sarkinos), sold under sin.” (Rom. 7:14) To Paul, what comes from the flesh is corruption and sinful. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” (Rom. 7:18) The law is the spiritual custodian (ephrouroumetha) of the flesh, a teacher by which Paul feels leads one to life. It is through this custodian, the spirit, per Paul, that we are also saved."

Anonymous said...

Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, and Robert Price all make good cases against the historical Jesus although I don't think any one of them has got everything right.

Neither Richard Carrier nor Robert Price have ever made a case against a historical Jesus.

Carrier has stated several times that he leans towards mythicism, but has never made a case for it as far as I am aware.

Price is largely agnostic on the idea. His position is that, if there was a historical Jesus, he has been lost to history and only the myth remains.

Doherty is the only one among the three to have made a case.

Anonymous said...

@Anebo... ah, the good-ol' cherry picking.

Couldn't the lord slap the guy with the other back of the palm? Obviously Jesus didn't know that in China both cheeks can be slapped with both feets.

As for the interpretation of the slapping you might want to research when did that interpretation was generated. If I remember correctly is just the result of 19th centry appologetics. That wisdomess interpretation should have been available from the 1st century otherwise it's just 19 centuries of lost wisdom.

Thomas Verenna Hawkins said...

Rook Hawkins is actually Tom Verenna. We write about him here:

It would be a good idea for atheists to stay way from Verenna.