Monday, June 21, 2010

Was Jesus a Real Man?

Was Jesus a real man? And no, I don't mean did he eat meat, do one-handed push-ups, watch football, and drink beer. I mean did he even exist in the first place? Obviously any Christian you ask will say "Yes" (and rightly wonder why you'd even waste time asking them). However, what might surprise you is the huge percentage of non-Christians who believe he was a real man, as well.

If so many non-Christians (including atheists) believe in a historical Jesus, there has to be something to it, right? As it turns out, not really at all.


Hearsay and Bias

One of the basic logical elements of our legal system here in the U.S. is that hearsay is inadmissible as evidence. If a witness on the stand said, "My friend told me that this guy committed the murder," how far do you think that would get the prosecution's case? So, we obviously only should consider what's told to us by people who were actually there -- eyewitness accounts.

Even within eyewitness accounts, testimony is, of course, subject to bias. It's one thing for one of the alleged disciples -- who had a vested interest in claiming that Jesus existed -- to recount the story of Jesus. It would obviously be much more convincing coming from either an unbiased source or a source biased in the opposite direction (who had something to lose by admitting Jesus' existence).

So, we only should believe first-hand accounts, and among that subset, we should place a lot of suspicion on biased sources.


Who Wrote About Jesus?

With those guidelines, let's take a look at who was talking about Jesus and when.

Christians

Well duh, of course Christians wrote about Jesus. Even the Gospels in The Bible itself could technically be considered historical recordings of the life of Jesus. However, even if the obvious bias in such writings wasn't enough to discredit them, there are two important things to take into account about the Gospels. First, the earliest Gospel was written after 70 C.E., long after when Jesus was supposed to have lived. Second, it is the overwhelming opinion of most historians that none of the Gospels were written by people who were eyewitnesses. First, even if Mark and Luke truly wrote their namesake gospels, they weren't disciples of Jesus and don't have eyewitness testimony to give -- it's all second-hand. Second, John and Matthew were disciples, but John's Gospel has been fairly soundly discredited as having been written by him (even many Christians admit this), and the credibility of Matthew's authorship is tenuous at best.

Ultimately, we have biased accounts written by second-hand sources several decades after the events happened. There isn't a court or reputable historical society that would accept these writings as proof of any kind.

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (Plus)Add to all of the above the fact that The Bible went through many changes and that which writings would be accepted was literally voted on, and it's easy to see that there isn't much to base validity on within The Bible itself. See the excellent book Misquoting Jesus for more on these changes.


Non-Christians

Pontius Pilate often is pointed to as having written about Jesus. Pilate was the judge at Jesus' trial and the man ultimately responsible for condemning Jesus to death. So, if Pilate had written of Jesus, this certainly would be impressive evidence of Jesus' existence. Christians will readily cite letters that Pilate wrote to Seneca mentioning Jesus and confirming facts from The Bible.

There's just one problem: The only known letters -- or writings of any kind -- from Pilate mentioning Jesus are from a novel. Yes, a novel ... like, in the fiction section.

Letters of Pontius Pilate: Written During His Governorship of Judea to His Friend Seneca in RomeThe letters so many Christians quote from or cite as evidence come from the book Letters of Pontius Pilate: Written During His Governorship of Judea to His Friend Seneca in Rome, a novel written in the late 1920s. Since the time of that book's printing, the fact that it was a work of fiction has been increasingly obfuscated. One example of  such obfuscation is that the author of the book -- and thus all of the letters -- is credited as an "Editor" on the cover of the book (shown at right) rather than the author. Seeing "Edited by" on the cover of any book obviously leads readers to believe that the contents were not written by the person named as editor, and in this case the assumption follows that Pilate actually wrote the letters.

Unfortunately, it is surprisingly easy to claim something as fact -- even in the Internet Age -- and have that message snowball to the point that the uninformed masses never would waste time double-checking since it's unlikely that such a "commonly accepted fact" wouldn't be true. But to give credit where credit is due, at least the reviewers on Amazon know better ...

There were non-Christian people from the era who genuinely mentioned Jesus, though ... what of them?

The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius is often cited as having written of Jesus. He was born in 37 C.E. -- at least four years after Jesus' supposed death -- and he didn't even mention Jesus until 93 C.E., which was after the Gospels themselves already had started coming out.

Pliny the Younger's writings also serve as evidence to many Christians. Sorry, he was born in 64 C.E., so he's nothing but hearsay either.

Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus also were born after Jesus' death. Seriously, what's the guy gotta do to get some ink during his lifetime?


With Great Fame Comes Great ... Obscurity?

The lack of timely written mentions of Jesus really is the most damning evidence against the existence of a real, flesh-and-blood, historical Jesus. Despite claims in The Bible of Jesus' fame preceding him, no one wrote about him within his lifetime. Here are some examples of The Bible claiming that word of Jesus reached far and wide during his time on Earth:

Matt 14:1 -- At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus

Luke 5:15 -- But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities.

So, Jesus was a rock star, and yet there's not a single instance of someone writing anything about him during his lifetime -- including by his followers. No historians recorded these miraculous events by this prominent fellow. No philosophers pontificated about his Sermon on the Mount. No followers jotted down how Jesus was changing their lives. Keep in mind, these aren't just poor illiterates who may have written of him, this collection of potential writers included rich politicians, scholars, and religious leaders -- many of whom surely knew how to write. So, this super famous guy went around healing the sick, walking on water, and so forth, and everyone collectively thought, "Meh, I'll write it down later."

No, it wasn't until the actual cult of Christianity started gaining popularity that people began writing about Jesus. Why do you think that is?


Been There, Done That

Another reason to be skeptical of the historical accuracy of the story of Jesus is that his story is basically a carbon copy of the mythology surrounding the protagonists of other major religions of the era. You know how everyone complains that we don't see any good, original movies lately because everyone keeps rehashing or remaking classics? Yeah ... guess that's how religions were back then. No one had an original idea, and all of the saviors were dying (or being martyred), being resurrected, and then ascending into some sacred realm.

A writer on Listverse does an excellent job with a top-10 list of Christ-like figures who predate Jesus and how they share similar stories. It's also well known that early Christians adopted aspects of other religions in an attempt at conversion, and that goes even further to explain the similarities in the story of Jesus. It's much easier to convert people when there isn't much to convert from. Some of the similarities include a Dec. 25 birthday, a miraculous birth/virgin birth, death and resurrection after (specifically) three days, healing the sick, walking on water, and so on.

Here's the top-10 list of Christ-like figures he gives:
  • Buddha
  • Krishna
  • Odysseus
  • Romulus
  • Dionysus
  • Heracles
  • Glycon
  • Zoroaster
  • Attis
  • Horus
Seriously, read about Horus in particular. Jesus could not be a more obvious Horus clone if he tried.


Conclusions

Here are the conclusions we can take from the above: There is a story of a famous man that very closely mirrors other fables that already were circulating at the time, and this story was only written well after the man's alleged life, and then only by people who never could have met him. All other noteworthy men of that era were written about during their lifetimes -- so there was a precedent for that sort of historical record-keeping -- yet not a single word was written of this man during the height of his living fame or even for decades afterward.

Jesus may have been a real man -- to deny that would be closed-minded -- but there is no sound evidence that he was. In the absence of religious bias, no historian would argue that this man probably existed.


Further Reading (/Viewing)


The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical 
Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical JesusI need to give a shout-out to two fantastic resources on the topic, a critically-acclaimed book and a superb documentary. The book is called The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus. The book is incredibly thorough, gives sources and citations, and is easy to read. This book is especially good for a non-believer who nevertheless thinks that there's a decent chance that Jesus was a real man with no divine powers.

The God Who Wasn't ThereIf you don't have time for that, the documentary The God Who Wasn't There is right up your alley. It's an incredibly fun movie, but while it gets its facts right, it takes a kinda "Gotcha" style reminiscent of a Michael Moore film, which serves to tarnish its credibility in many people's eyes. Nevertheless, like I said, it's fantastically entertaining, and it cites a lot of evidence that Jesus is likely myth only.

-- The Atheist Apologist --

32 comments:

  1. if jesus did exist I bet he screamed like a bitch when they nailed his ass to that cross!

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    Replies
    1. I'm sure anyone would, I mean like seriously dude, what was that about.

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    2. Jewish Historians: The Jews had the most to gain by denying Jesus’ existence. But they always regarded him as real. “Several Jewish writings refer to Jesus as a real person whom they opposed.[11]

      Noted Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote of James, “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ.”[12] If Jesus wasn’t a real person why wouldn’t Josephus have said so?

      In another somewhat controversial passage, Josephus speaks more extensively of Jesus.[13]

      At this time there was a man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified, and he died. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was thought to be the Messiah.”[14]

      Although some of his words are in dispute, Josephus’ confirmation here of Jesus’ existence is widely accepted by scholars.[15]

      Israeli scholar Shlomo Pines writes, “Even the most bitter opponents of Christianity never expressed any doubt as to Jesus having really lived.”[16]

      World historian Will Durant notes that no Jew or Gentile from the first-century ever denied the existence of Jesus.[17]

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    3. Roman Historians: Early Roman historians wrote primarily of events and people important to their empire. Since Jesus wasn’t of immediate importance to the political or military affairs of Rome, very little Roman history referenced him. However, two important Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, do acknowledge Jesus as a real person.

      Tacitus (a.d. 55-120), the greatest early Roman historian, wrote that Christus (Greek for Christ) had lived during the reign of Tiberius and “suffered under Pontius Pilate, that Jesus’ teachings had already spread to Rome; and that Christians were considered criminals and tortured in a variety of ways, including crucifixion.”[18]

      Suetonius (a.d. 69-130) wrote of “Chrestus” as an instigator. Most scholars believe this is a reference to Christ. Suetonius also wrote of Christians having been persecuted by Nero in a.d. 64.[19]

      Roman Officials: Christians were considered enemies of Rome because of their worship of Jesus as Lord rather than Caesar. The following Roman government officials, including two Caesars, wrote letters from that perspective, mentioning Jesus and early Christian origins.[20]

      Pliny the Younger was an imperial magistrate under Emperor Trajan. In a.d. 112, Pliny wrote to Trajan of his attempts to force Christians to renounce Christ, whom they “worshiped as a god.”

      Emperor Trajan (a.d. 56-117) wrote letters mentioning Jesus and early Christian origins.

      Emperor Hadrian (a.d. 76-136) wrote about Christians as followers of Jesus.

      Pagan Sources: Several early pagan writers briefly mention Jesus or Christians prior to the end of the second century. These include Thallus, Phlegon, Mara Bar-Serapion and Lucian of Samosate.[21] Thallus’ remarks about Jesus were written in a.d. 52, about twenty years after Christ.

      In total, nine early non-Christian secular writers mention Jesus as a real person within 150 years of his death. Interestingly, that is the same number of secular writers who mention Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor during Jesus’ time. If we were to consider Christian and non-Christian sources, there are forty-two who mention Jesus, compared to just ten for Tiberius.[22]

      Delete
    4. Roman Historians: Early Roman historians wrote primarily of events and people important to their empire. Since Jesus wasn’t of immediate importance to the political or military affairs of Rome, very little Roman history referenced him. However, two important Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, do acknowledge Jesus as a real person.

      Tacitus (a.d. 55-120), the greatest early Roman historian, wrote that Christus (Greek for Christ) had lived during the reign of Tiberius and “suffered under Pontius Pilate, that Jesus’ teachings had already spread to Rome; and that Christians were considered criminals and tortured in a variety of ways, including crucifixion.”[18]

      Suetonius (a.d. 69-130) wrote of “Chrestus” as an instigator. Most scholars believe this is a reference to Christ. Suetonius also wrote of Christians having been persecuted by Nero in a.d. 64.[19]

      Roman Officials: Christians were considered enemies of Rome because of their worship of Jesus as Lord rather than Caesar. The following Roman government officials, including two Caesars, wrote letters from that perspective, mentioning Jesus and early Christian origins.[20]

      Pliny the Younger was an imperial magistrate under Emperor Trajan. In a.d. 112, Pliny wrote to Trajan of his attempts to force Christians to renounce Christ, whom they “worshiped as a god.”

      Emperor Trajan (a.d. 56-117) wrote letters mentioning Jesus and early Christian origins.

      Emperor Hadrian (a.d. 76-136) wrote about Christians as followers of Jesus.

      Pagan Sources: Several early pagan writers briefly mention Jesus or Christians prior to the end of the second century. These include Thallus, Phlegon, Mara Bar-Serapion and Lucian of Samosate.[21] Thallus’ remarks about Jesus were written in a.d. 52, about twenty years after Christ.

      In total, nine early non-Christian secular writers mention Jesus as a real person within 150 years of his death. Interestingly, that is the same number of secular writers who mention Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor during Jesus’ time. If we were to consider Christian and non-Christian sources, there are forty-two who mention Jesus, compared to just ten for Tiberius.[22]

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  2. This article just tore Jesus a new asshole

    ReplyDelete
  3. http://history1800s.about.com/od/abrahamlincoln/tp/ebookslincoln.htm

    Your logic is a week. Abraham Lincoln classic books were written years after his death

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. People wrote about Lincoln during his lifetime because he was a famous person. Nobody wrote about jesus during his supposed lifetime likely because he either 1) was not famous (making the bible a pack of lies) or 2) he did not exist (ditto). Your logic is WEAK.

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    2. Christianity is a pagan religion. Osiris-Dionysus is Jesus. His entire life story was already in countless pagan religions thousands of years before christianity existed. The only difference between christians and all the pagans before them was that christianity took the ancient myths and decided they were true, an actual biography of a real man called Jesus. First century christians (even though according to the biblical stories of Herod, Jesus must have been born in the 3rd or 4th century) were aware of this and retaliated by claiming the devil had been busy giving the pagans and egyptians knowledge of the future events to discredit their 'real' Jesus.

      These other mythological gods were sons of god, born of a virgin. (originally the bible never claimed mary was a virgin but called her 'almah mary' or young maiden) They were crucified or otherwise killed. They asked for bread and wine to signify their bodies and blood. They offered baptism, healed the sick, performed miracles including water into wine at a marraige ceremony. Osiris-Dionysus dies at easter time, descends to hell and on the 3rd day he rises to heaven. His followers await his return at judgment day. His birthday was the 25th of december, this is not in the bible but tradition from the original stories has carried through. It was prophesied by a star. He has 12 disciples, he rides into town on a donkey as people wave branches, he is accused of heresy, he offers followers a chance to be reborn.

      There are so many more parallels, far too many to type here. For political reasons, what became the roman catholic church ordered one ruler and one religion, they created a church and decided which texts would be allowed to appear in this one size fits all book of religion. As the winners they wrote history (like 'how the West was won rather than how the west was lost) This is an issue since the gnostic books have been found since then and they had claimed the gnostics had branched of off their religion, in reality it was the other way around.

      The word 'pagan' was created as a horrible word to describe anyone who wasn't a christian. It means 'country dweller', meant to imply the so called primitive nature of their faith. This was alien to the pagans who embraced all spirituality, science and philosophy and couldn't believe their own stories were being preached as 'gospel'. Much of christianity was spread through force. Pagan temples were desecrated, the vatican stands on pagan sacred ground. Christians like to play the 'persecuted' people but that's exactly how they became a religion. People like socrates and pythagoras were pagans, christians (or 'literalists' to everyone else at that time) had to be extreme to enforce such a ridiculous concept to people who were used to freedom of thought.

      There are many names for the man in the 'jesus story' and all of the great concepts found in the bible: love your neighbour as yourself, you reap what you sow, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven (or something like that), store your treasures in heaven etc etc are just mere hollow echoes of the beautiful texts written long before them.

      The christians won a spiritual war, replacing the open universal idea of spirituality with literalist ideas of religion, and rituals. Without any understanding of the allegories and metaphorical stories the pagans taught, they reproduced them in a supposedly 'historical' document that claimed to be fact and encouraged superstition over logic.

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    3. History in the ancient world was not written contemporaneously with the events. If this was your criteria, you would erase most of it if you knew how many hundreds of years after the events some of it was recorded And since Jesus was not a governor or any high ranking person, and was crucified as a common criminal, it was unusual that he rated even a passing mention in Rome's official records. Then, too, the Jewish temple which held all the records kept by the priests was destroyed in 70AD by the Romans, (which Jesus predicted). So these mentions by Pliny, Tacitus and Josephus are significant.
      More has been written in this vein. See
      http://www.strangenotions.com/an-atheist-historian-examines-the-evidence-for-jesus-part-1-of-2/

      Delete
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  5. Because he lives I can face tomorrow

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