Oh Jesus!

I find your lack of faith disturbingI was having a conversation with my friend Steve earlier about Jesus. Was there a Jewish rabbi named Yeshua walking around the Fertile Crescent around 2000 years ago, preaching the end of days? Does it matter? This is my conclusion. No, not really. We'll never know the truth of it, and it doesn't matter anyway.

Steve says the majority of scholars feel that there was such a guy. I've been under the impression for many years that the biblical Jesus never existed. But I think it's just an exercise in scholarship and semantics, really.

Here's where I started:

  • Josephus was the nearest contemporary to Jesus, and he never met him.

  • All the gospels were written 40-80 years after the supposed crucifixion. None of the gospel writers or Paul/Saul ever met Jesus.

  • The Romans were meticulous record keepers back then. Not a word of the uppity Jew named Yeshua/Jesus whom they had to crucify.

  • Never a word of the miracles in Roman record keeping either.


Here is what he said:
Most biblical scholars agree that there was a man named Jesus who was an apocalyptic prophet who was wandering about at the time. It doesn't matter what their personal convictions are, (religious or not) but the vast majority of them say the character of Jesus was based on a real person. (Although certainly not a supernatural one!)

The reason for this consensus is that at the time, there were tons of apocalyptic prophets preaching the end of days at that time. (And we do have extra-biblical evidence of that; the Greeks wrote about them quite often...) That one of them was named Jesus isn't a stretch because it was a pretty common name at the time. And Christianity itself had no foundation until a hundred years afterwards anyway- there were many schisms and fragmenting taking place, I mean heck, some of those Gnostic Christians didn't even believe Jesus was really human and others were convinced he didn't really die on a cross. And while the Romans were meticulous record keepers, they wouldn't have necessarily logged the crucifixion of a regular agitator (because there were so many of them...) Again, I'm parroting what the atheist scholars believe. I know Robert Price is convinced that there was no historical Jesus, but he's in the minority and admits as much in his writings. Bart Ehrman is the guy I've read the most of and he is on the other side of the coin.

Personally, I don't care one way or another as whether he was real or not has no bearing on whether the religion is true, but the only way (I think) that we have as much information about the bible as we do is because of those guys who do nothing but study and research, and until the consensus changes, I would go with the majority.

See, the problem is that yes, the lack of a historical Jesus does throw the basic tenets of Christianity out the window and as an atheist, that feels good and is a powerful argument to use if it is true. However, I threw religion away because I didn't want to engage in confirmation bias... I want to get at truth and I don't want to use an argument that isn't backed up by a legitimate source.

I see Steve's reasoning, and it makes sense too, in a way. I guess it matters on which scholars you trust and how enamored with the religion they are and not just the history.
I’ve heard these ideas before and yes, it’s true there were other prophets preaching the apocalypse back then. I got the impression if there was a guy named Yeshua (which equates to John here in America, very common) who was a prophet, he might have been a mish mash of several prophets.

I think you have a tough battle to prove that there was such a guy living back then. If he did, why didn’t he write anything down himself? So he was a prophet who was illiterate. Why are there no contemporary records?

It really doesn’t mean anything in the long run, though.

I agree, I also prefer to get to the truth. Honestly, some things will never be known completely. One of those is this: did a prophet named Yeshua ever live and preach? How can we ever know that? Based on what I know, I’d say that it doesn’t matter at all.

If you look at the new testament, it was all written long after the supposed jesus lived and was crucified, rendering it all hearsay and story and fable. So who cares if one prophet happened to be named Yeshua? It means nothing. His life was not that significant because he wasn’t written about in his time, and he was illiterate so he never wrote his own thoughts down.

His reply:
I think you're right- it really doesn't matter, it's kind of irrelevant and it's almost impossible to prove, especially with my layman's knowledge of ancient times.

For the matter of contemporary records- if there were a lot of godmen running around in those days (enough to be written about in general terms by the Greeks, anyway) and one of `em was really named Yeshua I don't think what he would have said would been that different from what all the others were saying (behold, the end is near, repent, yada yada), which would explain the lack of contemporary records. Tempest in a teapot and all of that... Still doesn't matter a jot or a tittle.

Heh. The New Testament. Can you imagine drawing an accurate picture of the civil rights movement in the sixties today, if no written record *from* the sixties existed? I think it would be a very different narrative... Although an apologist would certainly try and pull the oral *coffbullshitcoffcoff* tradition argument out of his butt.

I have to say, though, that Bart and Robert are two of my favorite biblical scholars- both atheists, both with good arguments to back up their completely contradictory viewpoints on that particular topic.

And I said:
Good point about the 60’s and how differently we’d look back on that time if nothing had been recorded then. It would be doubly hard because everyone back then were a bunch of stoners and hippie druggies! LOL!

History is written by the winners, as they say. It all definitely needs to be taken with a pound of salt. Where's Lot's wife when you need her?

31 comments:

  1. I generally agree, it doesn't matter if Jesus was a real man or not, the lack of contemporary documentaion of any kind throws the legitimacy of Christianity into question.

    And, as an atheist and a Star Wars geek, that pic is the most awesome thing I've seen all week. :)

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  2. Have you read The Other Easters? Before I read this I entertained the possibility that a charismatic man named Jesus might have existed. I now believe he's just an amalgamation of other mythical characters.

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  3. Great points there, Johnny. I was going to mention that bit about MLK myself, but it was getting late and I had to finish watching Terminator. Heh.

    That era is fascinating to me as well, the mystery cults, the splinter Christianity sects, and how they interacted with the existing power structure in terms of the Roman government. It's pretty interesting stuff.

    One thing I read in Bart Ehrman's New Testament that really stuck with me is how we tend to overlay our culture on the one that existed two thousand years ago. We can't, really, because it's so radically different from where we are now.

    Imagine trying to describe a roller coaster to a man from the ancient world who doesn't have the concept of a train, rails, or cars.

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  4. Hmm. No I haven't. One more book gets added to my list!

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  5. Just an article (not a book); I haven't finished it yet, but it starts good.

    Thanks for posting that Buffy!

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  6. More food for thought, Johnny. I find the Mithra cults rather interesting too.
    Behold the Man sounds rather different. I might have to look into that. Kind of reminds me of the Life of Brian, but not really.

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  7. Glad you liked the picture. I was hoping it would bring a smile to someone's face. And yes, it really doesn't matter.

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  8. That's a good point, Steve, about overlaying our culture on the past. It makes sense that we would do that by our nature, but it only serves to confuse and muddle how we see the past.

    I think the best way is to look upon the past (even back in the 1960's) as almost a foreign world. And if you look back to the Middle East 2000 years ago, you'd really need to do that. The world was so different back then.

    Which makes me wonder how christians can feel that they can use texts written from around then and even before to help lead them in their lives today. I've always found that to be rather crazy.

    You know, just look at the bits of footage coming out of Iran right now. I'm sitting in my nice comfy house, having just watched a comedy movie, having eaten a filling meal, after writing about religion and whatever else I care to on my uncensored blog, in my (supposedly) democratic country.

    It's not easy to see what's going on in Iran, or the Middle East and their struggles, or even how people live in other parts of the world, and reconcile that with my comfy life here in the USA. Sure, some of our issues are the same, but so many things they are dealing with are so very different.

    I hope that made some semblance of sense.

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  9. Although...

    I think that it would be easier for a person from the middle of the twentieth century to adjust to modern living than someone from the late nineteenth century to do so. The further we get from the now the harder it is to make comparisons and square off culturally. A hundred and ten years ago women couldn't vote and children were working eighty hours a week for nearly nothing.

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  10. I know, we sure have come a long way.

    Sometimes it's hard to remember and imagine what life was like in the 70's before personal computers, never mind what it was like 2,000 years ago.

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  11. In case any of you guys are interested, after a few days of thinking it through, I posted something of a conclusion to all of this at my own blog:
    http://infidelicacy.blogspot.com/2009/06/on-atheism.html
    I'd be interested to see what you might think!

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  12. My thoughts on this whole issue, as if I was talking to a supporter:

    "The reason for this consensus is that at the time, there were tons of apocalyptic prophets preaching the end of days at that time. (And we do have extra-biblical evidence of that; the Greeks wrote about them quite often…) That one of them was named Jesus isn’t a stretch because it was a pretty common name at the time."

    Really? Tons is a very relative term, further, "common" names are very relative. Tell me, do you like to take a gamble with at max 2% for getting the "common" name?

    First, let's take the extreme rarity that you were an apocalyptic prophet. I'm going to say near zero. And of course, having one of the most popular names is going to help you fit in with society, making you less likely to become a raving lunatic.

    The argument basically goes like this, oh, certainly there was at least one. Well then, what if their was two? What now? Why stop there? Let's say a couple hundred, we really hit jackpot on the percentages and gambling here. Let's even say, there was one "Jesus" per "act" in the bible...

    .

    It just really amounts to a bunch of, coincidences. Furthermore, it just wouldn't add up anyways. Just because there was some who had the same name, doesn't mean it was based upon them... and it couldn't be.

    The reason being, would be it conflicts with the whole reason of Jesus. How much does bases make reality? Simply saying, oh, surely there was a apocalyptic prophet by the same name gives no bases. Indeed, it ruins THE WHOLE point of the new testament.

    If Jesus didn't exist, in supernatural form, it does, in fact, destroy all credibility of the bible. People who think otherwise, have gotten too used to just looking at small parts of it... and forget, to look at it as a whole. That is where the damage is done, to the bible as a whole... it'll unravel like an onion.

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  13. I probably should have said one of the reasons for this instead of the reason for this...

    There are actually quite a lot of reasons for the consensus. And though the Jesus Project will go a long way towards unraveling the onion, so to speak, I personally don't feel that the nonexistence hypothesis is the most compelling argument one could use until the scales tip more in favor of nonexistence. If he didn't exit, the New Testament would be shot to folks like you and me, but heck, the fact that the Exodus never happened didn't destroy Judaism!

    Also, one of the compelling arguments is throwing the Q factor in there- As I wrote in my post, it seems as though there were a compendium of quotes from some guy named Jesus- Matthew and Luke jive on 257 passages- but Q makes no reference to death on the cross or resurrection- almost as if it's just taking notes on the ravings of that apocolyptic prophet... I'm just saying... :)

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  14. Hi Buffy, I finally read the article you shared here. It was excellent! Thanks for sharing it. I learned a lot. I've always wondered where the Easter Bunny and the egg came from. But this went so much further too. :)

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  15. I'd suggest reading the article that Buffy linked to in an above comment. It really made sense. And Yeshua was a very common name at the time.
    According to that article, The Other Easters, which is referenced, there were a lot of Essenes preaching the end of days back then.
    Not that I believe there was a man named Yeshua who Jesus is based on. But there are people arguing both sides.

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  16. That Q factor, I don't know if I understand it very well. It doesn't make any sense to me. I was always under the impression that Matthew or Luke just sort of copied from the other. But I don't have references for that so I don't really know.

    Thanks for telling us about the Jesus Project in your article that you linked to. That's quite interesting. I need to know more about that.

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  17. Yes, I read it.

    For clarification, I wasn't arguing it wasn't a very common name, I was arguing what a common name means. Any name holding near 1% of a population can easily be considered a common name. The amount of Yeshuas during the time, was probably no more than 3% of the population, if that.

    "Common" is a fairly large misnomer here. It wasn't very common... unless put relatively with the occurrence of other names.

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  18. Ok, that wasn't clear in your previous comment.

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  19. Turns out I had read it before, and I read it again. It's pretty good stuff there...

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  20. Eh, it's not really *that* important.:)

    FYI, Essentially, scholars think that this hypothetical document called Q contained the quotes of an apocalyptic prophet without all the supernatural garbage. Matt & Luke were written at different times and places, and the commonality of those passages doesn't make sense without this extra biblical "Q."

    But take it all with a grain of salt.

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  21. Oh, yeah. The Jesus project is pretty rad. With a guy like Price onboard, it might just go ahead and tip the scales so that the nonexistence hypothesis won't be a hypothesis any longer.

    I just like the fact they're using a scientific approach to get at the truth.

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  22. I've heard some of that information, but parts of it are new to me. I still wonder if he actually existed, and if it matters at all.

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  23. To us (atheists in general), the IF probably really doesn't matter; especially not in our day-to-day lives.

    Since most Christians probably wouldn't believe the evidence, even if there was absolute evidence, the IF probably doesn't matter to them either.

    I guess what I'm thinking is that I will try to play-up the *if he existed, he was not the love, rainbows, and everlasting life* Christians try to portray him as. And while I'm at it, *if he existed, he wasn't even all the bible portrays him as.*

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  24. Yeah, it's like I was saying earlier- The Exodus never happened: six hundred thousand men would have left an amazing amount of stuff behind showing their passage through the wilderness for forty years and yet archaeologists have never found anything...

    But that didn't destroy Judaism...

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  25. Thanks Johnny! That looks very interesting. I've already bookmarked it. :)

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  26. That's interesting, Johnny. Thanks for the link and the excerpt. :)

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  27. Thanks Johnny. I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, but I'm looking forward to it when I can. You find the greatest stuff, and I greatly appreciate you sharing it with us. :)

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