Most people, even if they do not believe Jesus was a , believe that he did exist as a real person. This has been taken for granted, that Jesus was a real human being, for two thousand years. How can so much history be wrong? The answer is this: it is only the documents or oral stories from the people who were actually there when Christianity got started (the very first Christians) that matters, and we have no written documents from them, and it is also debatable if we have any oral history from them. That generation was the generation which could determine what we could know and could not know about Jesus or the early beginnings of Christianity. The generations that followed that first generation either destroyed what written documentation that was left to them, combined that documentation or oral history into the Gospels, or simply made stuff up to fill in the void of information.
So what is the evidence that Jesus did exist as a historical person? There is none. The first generation of Christians did not write anything down about his life, at least nothing that has survived. That might be a shocking statement to some, but the things you have probably taken as evidence for a historical Jesus are not, at least not first hand, direct evidence. I’m not saying that nothing exists that can be thought of as evidence; I’m just saying it is not direct. Maybe Jesus could have existed as a historical human; I am not saying that is impossible. I’m just saying he probably did not and there is no direct evidence that he did and there is some evidence to suggest that he did not.
Such a bold claim requires some good explanations. First, I will consider the evidence that many believe proves that Jesus did, in fact, exist. Perhaps the number one bit of evidence is that Paul claimed to have actually met the brother of Jesus and to have met Peter the apostle of Jesus (he begins relating this at Galatians 1:18). It is assumed that the James and Peter, who Paul talks about in his letter, actually knew Jesus, and therefore, that proves Jesus did exist. The Bible does not say this. Paul, in the Bible, never states that these two men he is talking about knew Jesus personally; eager Christians just assume that they did. Calling James the brother of Christ means little in this context because Paul was always addressing people in his letters as brothers or sisters. Moreover, if the Peter who Paul mentions had actually known Jesus, even someone as egotistical as Paul would not have argued with him a few chapters later.
Next, the Gospels are thought to be direct evidence that Jesus was historical. The Gospels are a type of evidence and cannot be dismissed, but they are second or third hand evidence at best. Most scholars believe the Gospels were written between 50 and 100 CE. If that is the case, none of the writers of the Gospels probably actually knew Jesus, and they do not claim to have. However, it is sometimes claimed, and it is possible, that the Gospels contain oral history about the life of Jesus. This could be true, but we can’t be sure. Instead, it could be that the stories in the Gospels were developed to illustrate theological points. In other words, they are short stories created for teaching purposes.
What are the reasons for thinking that Jesus did not exist as a historical person, read on:
We have good reasons for actively doubting that Jesus was historical. One reason is that Paul, the earliest known Christianity writer rarely, if ever, talks about the historical Jesus, not even in passing. In his letters, Paul spends a good amount of his time trying to get his congregations to donate money for the church in Jerusalem. Not once does he talk about how the historical Jesus benefited from the donations of his followers, nor does he bring up the parable about the poor lady giving her last two coins. It is possible that the Christians who Paul was writing to already knew those stories, so he did not need to retell them, but we would still expect him to allude to those stories in passing, especially when stories about Jesus’ would have helped him to make his points or get money. He does not. If Paul had actually known the brother and apostle of Jesus, you would expect that Paul would have asked them many, many questions about the life of Jesus, and you would then expect Paul to be eager to share those stories, especially if they highlighted a point he was trying to make.
Next, the really big reason for believing that Jesus was not historical. For me, this is the most important reason. This is the reason for believing the Gospels are not oral history, but just stories thought up to teach important theological lessons. The story of Jesus found in the Gospels are very pagan in nature. They have many similarities to the Greek myths that we are familiar with, such as Heracles, Perseus, Theseus, Isis, Demeter and Dionysus. It turns out that Jesus was hardly the first /hero to be born, die, then be reborn. The whole death and rebirth idea had started at least two thousand years before Jesus with the Egyptians and their stories about Osiris and Isis; that’s what those mummies were about.
There are many differences between these other myths and the story of Jesus, but often those differences are superficial or just cultural. For instance, in the story of Hercules, he goes around the Mediterranean doing feats of strength; this is the Greek way of proving one’s worth. In the story of Jesus, Jesus too has to prove his worth, but he does it by doing miracles and showing wisdom; this is the Jewish way of proving one’s worth. In both stories, the hero is born of a and a mortal woman, making them sons of and sons of man. In both stories, the hero raises from the dead one person. In both stories, the hero undergoes a willing sacrifice, Hercules on the fire (which he built himself) and Jesus on the Cross. And in both stories the hero, after death, goes up to be with . Hercules goes up to mount Olympus and Jesus goes up to heaven. And interestingly, they both need help leading up to their death. Jesus needs help carrying his cross, and Hercules needs help starting the fire that consumes him. And what is important for Christians to understand is that the story of Hercules and the other similar pagan myths had been around hundreds or even thousands of years before the Jesus myth.
There are many comparisons between the myth of Jesus and the many other death/rebirth Gods that were worshiped for thousands of years before Jesus. The point is that the story of Jesus is just a retelling, with some new twists perhaps, of an old story.
This is the best evidence that Jesus was not a historical person. His story is just a retelling of old mythical ideas.
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True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own. -Nikos Kazantzakis, poet and novelist (1883-1957)