Here is one of the most interesting things about Jesus: For two thousand years people have believed that he was historical, that he existed as a living, breathing man. That is interesting because there is no real reason to believe that he did exist. We believe he existed, it would seem, simply because we want to. Much as children believe Santa Claus is real because they want him to be real. And in truth, I would like Santa to be real too. Jesus is like Santa but for grown-ups.
I am sure the very idea that Jesus might not be real will upset a lot of people. Just remember that if you want to believe he is real, no one can stop you, just as no one can stop a child believing in Santa. If you are interested in this debate read the article by Salon, and you can also read my article, “Why You Should Not Believe Jesus Was A Historical Person.”
I think it would be a good idea to take a moment to discuss what makes a person historical. The simple answer is that a person is historical if he or she actually lived, not as a myth but as a breathing human being. That is true in one sense. However, there are a lot of people who did exist who we have no record of or knowledge of. Perhaps most people who lived more than several hundred years ago, we know nothing about. We do not even know if they existed. It would be correct to say these people are not historical.
It is not that they did not exist, but that we have no knowledge of their existence. They are not historical in the sense that nothing can be written about them because there are no records of them. There are so many people who have died, most people perhaps, who we have no knowledge of. Sometimes we find their bones, so we know they did live at one time, but we know absolutely nothing else about who they were. The inability to know anything about someone means they are not historical. They were real, but a college of history cannot study them because there is no information.
Jesus is like that.
I do believe the New Testament is some evidence for the existence of Jesus. The problem is that it is not very good evidence. The New Testament can even be used as evidence that works against believing Jesus was historical. See my article for more on that.
There is a possibility that a real human did exist that gave rise to the Jesus myth. The person could have been real, but still not be historical because we have no reliable evidence for him. However, I for one do not think he was ever real. The story of Jesus reads too much like a Greek mythical story. In many ways, it follows the same template as Heracles and Perseus. And while it is possible that a real person might be behind the Heracles and Perseus myth, I doubt that too.
To see more about how a person can be lost to history, read my article, Who Was the Author of Shakespeare?
In the common words we use every day, souls of past races, the thoughts and feelings of individual men stand around us, not dead, but frozen into their attitudes like the courtiers in the garden of the Sleeping Beauty. -Owen Barfield, author (1898-1997)