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Debunking Christian Circular Arguments and Assumptions
Argument # 6: The Historicity of Jesus Argument.
Sometimes stated as: “There is more historical evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ than even for Julius Caesar.”
This is a strange argument that is very lacking in evidence and seems to be more of a rhetorical mantra than anything else. Nevertheless, I have heard this argument uttered by preachers, Youth Pastors, Christian authors, etc. The only supporting evidence given for this argument is that there are more manuscript copies of the Bible than for any other book in history. However, just because many copies exist for a particular book or story doesn’t mean that the original copy is a factual historical account. Anyone should be able to deduce that. For example, there are millions of copies of the movie “Star Wars” on video tape and DVD, but that doesn’t mean that the story itself is a true story. Therefore, this is a very silly argument.
Also, the existence of Julius Caesar is documented by many historical documents, accounts, and the writings of secular historians of his time. On the other hand, there is no such evidence for the existence of Jesus, so the two analogies are not even comparable in the slightest.
Despite Christian rhetoric, here are the facts regarding the historicity of Jesus:
1) His existence
has not even been historically
proven. None of the secular historians of
(See Did Jesus Christ Really Live? by Marshall Gauvin, and Did a historical Jesus exist? by Jim Walker. For a scholarly analysis of the subject, see The Jesus Puzzle by James Doherty.)
2) The historians Christians usually cite as evidence for the existence of Jesus, such as Josephus, Tacitus, or Pliny, lived long after Jesus lived and never even met him, so they were only going by what they heard. Also, Josephus’ famed passage citing Jesus in his works of Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, has been hotly contested among scholars. Here is the passage in question:
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.”
There are three scholarly positions on this passage. Some scholars believe it to be a genuine passage of Josephus. Others believe it to be interpolation or a forgery added in by Christians. The third group considers the passage to be genuine in a simpler form, with the words in italics above added in later by Christian copyists. But there are many problems with this, and I will only list the main ones. First, Josephus did not live in the time of Jesus nor did he meet him. He was simply writing what he had heard from others that was passed on. Second, this passage was not even mentioned by the Church fathers until 300 years after Josephus lived! The Church fathers were fond of quoting passage that supported the Christian faith, so it would be odd that they never mentioned this one for 300 years, if Josephus had indeed written it. The first Church father to mention is was Eusebius, and this man also said that it is permissible to lie for the Christian faith! Therefore, it is feasible that Eusebius could have embellished or forged this passage. In addition, Church fathers such as Origen quoted Josephus often but never this passage, which would indicate that it didn’t exist at the time, since it would have had enormous apologetic value had it did.
For a more in-depth analysis of this passage and others claimed to support the historicity of Jesus, see Historicity Of Jesus and Josh McDowell's "Evidence" for Jesus -- Is It Reliable? Also check out Earl Doherty’s Josephus Unbound: Reopening the Josephus Question. Archarya S, author of The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold also has a helpful page on this subject: The Jesus Forgery: Josephus Untangled
For a list of articles and books on the subject, see these compilations:
3) Despite all this though, the consensus of most non-religious historians is that there was a historical Jesus Christ who lived, but that he was probably not the same Jesus as described in the Gospels. In other words, the Jesus of the Gospels may have been based on a real Jesus, but most likely the historical Jesus was not the legendary Jesus of the Gospels. That conclusion was also made by the famous Jesus Seminar as well, which consisted of hundreds of Bible scholars from around the world. In spite of this objective historical view of Jesus, most Christians have no knowledge of its existence. In fact, this historical view of Jesus is not even acknowledged by the Christian community, and is never even addressed or dealt with in Evangelistic books and literature, oddly enough.
More on the Jesus Seminar’s research and findings can be found at: http://religion.rutgers.edu/jseminar/jsem_b.html and also at http://www.jesusseminar.com/Jesus_Seminar/jesus_seminar.html
(To learn about the secular historical view of Jesus, see the website of PBS’s Frontline series, From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/ or you can check your local public library to see if the video of this series is available for rent. I have seen all episodes and found it a great informative program filled with vivid pictures, scenery and music.)
Some non-Christians who believe in a historical Jesus maintain that the historical Jesus may have just been an executed criminal or martyr, and that it was Paul who created and promoted the legend of him as a risen savior. (See Paul and Christian Origins) For example, George Bernard Shaw said:
conversion of Paul was no conversion at all: it was Paul who converted
that has raised one man above sin and death into a religion that
millions of men so completely into their dominion that their own common
became a horror to them, and the religious life became a denial of
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Although most historians and scholars believe that a historical Jesus existed, there is a growing number who now argue for his non-existence. Though they are in a minority, one cannot discount their arguments honestly, because the arguments and evidence they cite is quite convincing and thorough. One proponent of this new theory on the leading edge is a woman who goes by the pseudonym Archaya S (http://www.truthbeknown.com/) Her book The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold is very acclaimed, scholarly, and informative. It argues that the Jesus story was created from ancient Pagan myths with dying savior themes and motifs. From its book description on Amazon.com:
and explosive, The Christ Conspiracy
marshals an enormous amount of startling evidence that the religion of
Christianity and Jesus Christ were created by members of various secret
societies, mystery schools and religions in order to unify the Roman
under one state religion! This powerful book maintains that these
upon a multitude of myths and rituals that already existed long before
Christian era and reworked them into the story the Christian religion
today-known to most Westerners as the Bible. Author Acharya
makes the case that there was no actual person named Jesus, but that
characters were rolled into one mythic being inspired by the deities Mithras,
Heracles/Hercules, Dionysus and many others of the
Another great work out there is Earl Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle. Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ?: Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus. It is also very scholarly and informative. The publisher’s introduction on Amazon.com raves:
“During three years of exposure on the World Wide Web, where he has presented convincing evidence, on a half a million word website, that no historical Jesus existed, to enthusiastic (and not so enthusiastic) reaction from around the globe, Earl Doherty's first published book has been eagerly awaited. The wait will not disappoint. In a highly attractive product (the cover itself is stunning), the author presents all the details of his argument in an immensely readable and accessible format.”
of Doherty’s shocking
discoveries is that Paul never even referred to Jesus as a historical
but only in spiritual form, and therefore the idea of a historical
exist until later. Therefore, Paul may not have even believed
was ever a real man on Earth!
Here are some colorful-looking sites on this topic as well:
Whoever Jesus was, and whether he existed or not, he is definitely one of the most controversial figures in history. In fact, there are more interpretations and views on who Jesus was than you can imagine. They range from the tradition Christian version of Jesus, to the secular version where he was just a great moral teacher or executed criminal whom Paul deified somehow, to the New Age version where Jesus was a self-actualized being who achieved cosmic consciousness but his words were twisted around to mean other things. There are even theories that speculate on Jesus being an ancient astronaut or extraterrestrial. (e.g. Erich Von Daniken’s “Ancient Astronauts Theory”) Perhaps a CNN program on Jesus I saw entitled The Mystery of Jesus put it best at the end when it concluded: “There is so little known about who Jesus was that everyone sees what they want to see.”
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