Showing posts with label "Jesus Never Existed". Show all posts
Showing posts with label "Jesus Never Existed". Show all posts

There is a Greater Probability Jesus Didn't Exist Than That He Arose from the Dead

When it comes to miracles, at best they are virtually impossible events (not necessarily impossible). This is the case even if they have occurred on rare occasions throughout history, and even if the resurrection of Jesus was one of them. But an improbable event is always going to be more likely than a virtually impossible one, always! So while I am not a mythicist with regard to the existence of Jesus, it's still more probable Jesus never existed than that Jesus arose from the dead. Even if we lowered the odds that Dr. Richard Carrier arrived at in his magisterial book, On the Historicity of Jesus, from 33% to 5%, it's still more probable Jesus didn't exist than that he arose from the dead.

Did Jesus Exist? An All Out War Is Going On

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman in his book Did Jesus Exist? weighed in by arguing along with me that Jesus existed, although I have not had the time to read his book yet. Actually, my argument is a bit more nuanced than that, as seen in chapter 12 of my anthology The Christian Delusion, that "at best Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet." Well, my friend Richard Carrier rips Ehrman a new one, and I mean he rips into him in a fashion that is unbecoming of the cool headed detached scholar that he is. Then PZ Myers, a scientist with no specialty in biblical studies, endorsed what Carrier had written. Jerry Coyne, another scientist, one who recognizes he's no expert in the matter also weighed in, saying something I think is important:

The Jesus in the Gospels Never Existed!

[Written by John W. Loftus] Yep, that's right. It comes from something that mythicist Steven Carr recently wrote:

Did Jesus Exist?

Knowing this provokes debate among skeptics let me say it this way...

"Independent Confirmation is Not Necessary to Establish the Mere Existence of the Jesus of the New Testament"

75 comments argued Jeffery Jay Lowder, co-founder of the Secular Web. I think people who deny the existence of a mere man named Jesus who was the founder of the Jesus cult have to explain away too many things to think the way they do. They could likewise claim Paul never existed by the same standards of reasoning that they do with Jesus. Where is Paul's existence independently confirmed outside of the New Testament?

Historical studies can be used to deny almost anything in history. Historical studies are like that, so we must exercise caution. There must be a limit to how skeptical a historian can be about historical conclusions simply by virtue of the fact that someone could be skeptical of almost all of them. As evidence for this, people today even deny the Holocaust happened.

Lowder makes the case that independent confirmation of a man named Jesus is not necessary, and I agree. He writes:.
There simply is nothing epistemically improbable about the mere existence of a man named Jesus. (Just because Jesus existed does not mean that he was born of a virgin, that he rose from the dead, etc.). I think that the New Testament does provide prima facie evidence for the historicity of Jesus. It is clear, then, that if we are going to apply to the New Testament ‘the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material,’ we should not require independent confirmation of the New Testament's claim that Jesus existed.”
Again, the standards for accepting historical conclusions cannot be as rigorous as the standards for scientific conclusions; otherwise we could not believe anything happened in the historical past. But something did happen in the past. So we cannot demand such high and rigorous standards. This is basic Philosophy of History.

What I do know is that charismatic leaders start religious cults, not committees and not authors. I also know that end time prophets have a higher than normal likelihood for starting religious cults. I also believe the best understanding of the Jesus in the New Testament is that he was a doomsday prophet, and that there is a likelihood the Jews of that era were expecting a Messiah, especially since they were under an oppressive Roman rule. Without a better explanation for how the Jesus cult started, I have good solid reasons for thinking it started with an end time prophet like the one described in the New Testament named Jesus.

Look at it this way. Since we can deny almost anything in the historical past, then when we read in an ancient text where a person existed and where it’s also said he did something, the burden of proof is on those who would deny this, under normal non-miraculous circumstances which have the burden of proof. This applies to characters like Adam, Noah, and Moses as well as for Jesus. We must take what the text says as a given in a prima facie sense, until shown otherwise. If, on the other hand, the burden of proof is on the person who accepts this textual testimony, then she could probably never meet that burden simply because historians cannot meet that burden in the first place.

This is Part 3 of my case for the existence of the end-time prophet named Jesus described in the New Testament. Other parts can be found here: Part 1, and Part 2

I Believe Jesus Was a Historical Person, Part 2

I believe there are some identifiable fables and mythic tales in the Bible, such as the Genesis creation accounts, the sons of God producing children from the daughters of men in Genesis 6, the Exodus, wilderness wanderings and Canaanite conquest in the Old Testament. In the New Testament there are some other identifiable fables and mythic tales, like the virgin birth story about Jesus, several miracle stories, the existence of Judas Iscariot, Joseph of Arimathea, and the resurrection story about Jesus. There are others. Given these things it becomes an important task to try to figure out if Jesus himself really existed.

I do not intend to revisit this question very often, because while it is an interesting one it’s not essential to debunking the Christian faith, nor are Christians likely to even consider the question unless they are first convinced that the other things I just mentioned are mythic tales. That’s why I focus on these other fables and myths. Getting them to recognize these things as myths is hard enough. Why focus on that which is harder when there is an easier route?

I’ll be excited to hear the conclusions that will come from next weekend's seminar on the Sources of the Jesus Tradition: An Inquiry, which includes participants Hector Avalos, Robert Price and Richard Carrier, all friends of mine

In any case let me once again delineate the problems for someone wishing to deny that a man named Jesus existed and further argue that he did. If you haven’t read my first foray into this field you must stop reading and begin reading what I have previously wrote about this issue right here. Again, stop reading and go there.

Let me elaborate in this post and further make my case.

That there are myths in the Bible doesn’t automatically lead to the conclusion that it is all mythic in nature. It may be, as I admit, but what reason is there for throwing out the baby with the bathwater? Let’s say Benny Hinn’s followers are called Hinnites and carry on after he dies. Does the mere fact that they claimed he did miracles, something we would call myths and fables since we don’t believe he actually did any miracles, automatically mean he didn’t exist? No.

Furthermore, what good reason can be given for demanding that there must be independent confirmation outside the NT before believing anything inside of its pages? That there is some need to do this I don’t doubt, given the nature of the stories, but why must we discount anything in the NT unless it is independently attested? What if there was no independent attestation to the existence of the Pharisees outside the NT? Why must we doubt they existed merely because of this? That’s one of my questions.

There are plenty of details in the NT that have been confirmed, most notably the historical setting of the gospels and the book of Acts. It hasn’t all been confirmed, of course, like the fabricated Roman census at the time of Jesus’ birth for instance, but much of it has. Sir William Ramsay has documented that the setting of the book of Acts, the places mentioned, the people who ruled, and other details are remarkably historical in his classic book, St. Paul, the Traveler and Roman Citizen, as has A.N. Sherwin-White, in his book, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. The setting of the Gospel of John has a remarkably historical setting as well, when it comes to its description of buildings, people groupings, and geographical landscape at the time, like Jacob’s well, the Samaritans, Solomon’s porch, the pool of Siloam, and so forth. According to Christian apologist Paul Barnett, “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the fourth evangelist was quite familiar with the topography and buildings of southern Palestine.” (p. 64).

Sure this isn’t enough, but it is something. It leads us to think the authors (or the sources they draw from) lived at that time, although it doesn’t prove this.

What would prove that Jesus existed? Nothing. Nothing in the historical past can be proved anyway. Almost anything can be denied in history even if it happened. So what can show us Jesus existed? No single piece of evidence can do this, since no single piece of evidence ever led people to believe he did in the first place. It's the convergence of evidence that leads people to think he existed.

In the first place, there is no testimony in the ancient world that denies he existed. There may be some significant silences about his existence, but arguing from these silences doesn’t show he never existed. They are merely silent about it. One cannot conclude from silence that the author didn’t know of a Jesus or an early Jesus sect. That’s an informal fallacy, especially when we have NT documents maintaining he did, including Paul who was the earliest writer of the NT.

What did Paul claim? He claimed he received what he knew about Jesus from revelation of course, which makes us suspect his knowledge, but he also claims he met with the early leaders in Jerusalem and that he had received information directly from them in I Corinthians 15:3-8. What he received from them he passed on to the Corinthians a few years earlier expressed in that creed. He also says he spent fifteen days with Peter three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:18-19), where one could conclude he first learned the creed he repeats to the Corinthians. Paul gives us several details about Jesus, depending on how we date his letters and whether we think he wrote them. Jesus descended from Abraham (Gal. 3:16); was the son of David (Romans 1:3); was born of a woman and lived under Jewish law (Gal. 4:4); had a brother named James (Gal. 1:19) and other brothers (I Cor. 9:5). Paul tells us Peter was married (I Cor. 9:5), and that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper (I Cor. 11:23-25); was betrayed (I Cor. 11;23); was killed by the Jews of Judea (I Thess. 2:14-15), and that he was buried and seen as resurrecting (I Cor. 15:4-8).

This is evidence that shouldn’t just be ignored simply because mythic elements to the life of Jesus were added in the telling of his story. Did Jesus think his last supper was his last one? I don’t know. It might be reasonably concluded that he did, since he would certainly know that people wanted him dead. In any case, such a story and the subsequent weekly practice of communion is evidence he ate the Passover meal at least one time with some men he called his disciples. It might even be thought Jesus did this on the night of his crucifixion, regardless of whether he predicted his death or not. Cultic leaders have been known to be paranoid and to think the authorities will kill them for their teachings, anyway. Some have called upon their followers to die with them, like David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, and Jim Jones.

I have proposed that the best explanation for the rise of the Jesus cult is that Jesus was an apocalyptic doomsday prophet who called for the end of the world. There have been a lot of charismatic doomsday prophets who have gathered a following. Such an explanation fits the facts of what we read in the NT itself and has been the dominant view of Jesus since the time of Albert Schweitzer, as I said. There are other alternative suggestions, but this one makes the most sense to me. That there are ancient pagan parallels to some of the elements in the life of Jesus is interesting to me. Certainly the life of Jesus as told by the early believers took on some of those characteristics. Whether they completely explain the rise of the Jesus cult is something I doubt. Again, I could be wrong since historical studies are fraught with problems like this. It just makes better sense to me personally, even if I might be shown wrong at a later date.

To read my next installment on this see Part 3.

I Believe Jesus Was a Historical Person

I know fellow bloggers here at DC may disagree with me, perhaps even Biblical scholar Hector Avalos. But let me very briefly outline the case for the historical person of the man Jesus. Even though I think the Christian faith is delusional, I think a man named Jesus existed who inspired people in the first century who is best seen as an apocalyptic doomsday prophet.

It’s a worthy question though, something I’m willing to learn about. But here are my reasons.

I think pure historical studies cannot prove whether Jesus actually existed or not. That something happened in the historical past doesn’t mean we can show that it did. That something did not happen in historical past does not mean we can show that it didn’t. You’ll have to read my chapter on “The Poor Evidence of Historical Evidence” to know why I think this, where I argue that if God revealed himself in the historical past he chose a poor medium and a poor era to do so. Historical studies are fraught with difficulties. Even Christian scholar Richard Bauckham acknowledges in his book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, that “Historical work, by its very nature, is always putting two and two together and making five—or twelve or seventeen.” (p. 93)

The very fact that several scholars have reasonably concluded Jesus probably never existed is proof that historical studies is a slender reed to hang one’s faith on. Historians disagree over a great deal, even over mundane things. Christian, your faith is based upon so many conclusions about history, including whether Jesus even existed at all, that with each question the probability of your faith diminishes. Why don't you admit this fact and then turn around and say something like this: "I am willing to stake my whole life on the basis of a probability from historical investigations. It's probable that my conclusions on a whole host of historical issues are true by, say ____% (insert the probability)." [51% 55% 60% ???].

I’ve read the relevant passages in Tacitus (64 AD), Pliny (112 AD), Suetonious (49 AD), Rabbi Eliezer (post 70 AD), the Benediction Twelve (post 70 AD), Josephus (post 70 AD). I’ve read the Christian inscription in Pompeii, too (79 AD). I understand the debates about them. But consider the majority scholarly consensus about the two-source theory of synoptic gospel tradition (Q and Mark) that predate the Gospels, and that we have early creeds inside Paul's writings (I Cor. 8:6; 12:3; 15:3-4; Galatians 4:4-5; I Tim. 3:16) that predate his letters. Consider also the close connection between the New Testament era with the early church fathers like John the elder, Polycarp, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and others. We have to date these texts, no doubt, and many of them are indeed late, and some were forgeries. But they still offer some kind of early testimony to the historicity of a man called Jesus. Even a tradition is based on something. I just don’t see why we must discount the various independent writers of the New Testament itself on the historicity of Jesus. Why, for instance, should we not believe anything at all in the New Testament unless there is independent confirmation from outside sources?

Furthermore, what Jesus may have did and said seems to correspond to the Jewishness of that era as best as we can tell. E.P. Sanders in his book, The Historical Figure of Jesus, even thinks there was nothing strange about his message that would've gotten him killed by the Jewish authorites (he argues instead that the Romans were the sole actors). He argued that "the level of disagreement and arguments falls well inside the parameter of debate that were accepted in Jesus' time." (p. 216). He adds, "If Jesus disagreed with other interpreters over details, the disputes were no more substantial than were disputes between the Jewish parties and even within each party." (p. 225).

I could be wrong. But here is why I think I’m right. Passionate cult-like religious groups are always started by a cult figure, not an author, and not a committee. It’s always a single charismatic leader that gathers passionate religious people together. So who is the most likely candidate for starting the Jesus cult? Jesus himself is, although Paul certainly was the man most responsible for spreading what he believed about his story. And even though Paul never met Jesus and only had a vision of him on the Damascus Road (Acts 26:19), his testimony is that there were already Christians whom he was persecuting in Palestine in the first century.

I think if we look at the New Testament texts it's clear Jesus was an apocalyptic doomsday prophet who's message, like that of John the Baptist before him, is for people to "repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." It was to be imminent eschaton in his day and age, when the prophesied “son of man” was to come. At his coming it was believed there would be cataclysmic events that would take place, even such that The Stars Will Fall From Heaven; literally! Such a message would be more than adequate for starting a cult-like group of people later to be known as Christians. That Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet has been the dominant Christian view since the time of Albert Schweitzer and given a robust defense recently by Christian scholar Dale Allison in his book, Jesus of Nazareth. For an excellent overall treatment of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet see Bart D. Ehrman’s book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.

So even though historical studies are fraught with some serious problems, I think the evidence is that an apocalyptic prophet named Jesus developed a cult-like following in Palestine in the first century. I cannot be sure about this though, from a mere historical investigation of the evidence. I could be wrong. But that's what I think.

Fire away now, on both sides. I stand in the middle.

For a Part 2 on this topic read this post.