We can perhaps gain some insights by looking at how belief systems portray their founders, and what the historical documented facts really tell us. When we look, we discover a rather consistent pattern.
If we review belief systems that have recently emerged such as Mormonism or Scientology, we have independent historical information that we can fall back upon that enables us to discover the facts regarding the founders of those beliefs, and what we find is rather interesting.
Take for example Joseph Smith. He is asserted to have been especially chosen by god and is also asserted to be a prophet, but there is no truly independent evidence to verify those specific claims. What we do however discover from other sources outside the belief system is that Smith was neither ethical nor honest, but rather a bit of a rogue who was more than willing to cash in on peoples gullibility. His contemporaries consistently describe him as a con man whose chief source of income was hiring himself out to local farmers to help them find buried treasure by the use of folk magic and “seer stones.”, and that is not simply opinion, there is a legal record that verifies this, because in 1826 he was put on trial for money-digging. Smith also claimed in his 1838 account that he had suffered “great persecution” for telling people of his vision, but rather oddly none of his critics writing in the 1820s about his money digging activities appear to have be aware of any such claims.
So ask yourself this – is Smith really the most obvious and best choice for a supernatural entity to make when choosing a human to be his representative? Is is not not far more probable that a known fraudster was pulling yet another con.
The ex-mormon Richard Packham discusses it all it a lot more detail here: http://packham.n4m.org/tract.htm#MONEYDIGGING
L Ron Hubbard
As for L Ron Hubbard, the founder of scientology and science fiction writer, his life is well-documented and there are still people alive today who knew him personally. The Church of Scientology describes him as a pioneering explorer, world traveler, and nuclear physicist with expertise in a wide range of disciplines, including photography, art, poetry, and philosophy. His critics, which includes his own son, have pointed out that he was in reality a liar, charlatan, and mentally unstable. There is of course an official autobiography, and despite being verified as completely fictitious, the church endorses it as fact.
James Randi, the renowned skeptic, when asked about L Ron Hubbard, nailed it all with this observation, “I’ve personally met Ron Hubbard twice, and both times he was drunk”.
We can in fact look further back and still see a similar pattern persisting. If we consider Mohammed as viewed by most Muslims, we find a sugar coated view of a perfect man who supposedly received a revelation from a god and so is asserted to be a prophet. If however we dig into the facts, we find a rather different picture and instead discover an individual who was a slave trader, and also a violent thug who enriched himself by raiding trade caravans. We also find an individual who was a pedeophile – yes really, at the age of 50 he marries Aisha a 6 year old child, and this is not simply a slur invented by his detractors, there are multiple islamic sources that verify this.
There are two points here:
- Belief systems tend to generally have an individual who initiated it all, and don’t just appear out of nowhere.
- The founder tends to get revered and is usually deemed to have been especially chosen or inspired by a god to be his official representative and is also asserted to be perfect, or at least an ideal, and yet when we look, we find in every case that what the belief asserts, and the actual reality are very much at odds.
So What About Jesus?
The problem with Jesus is that too much time has passed, and so we do not have anything independent that actually verifies the claims asserted by the belief, but given the above pattern, what we do know is that in every single case where detailed independent information does exist, the claims asserted by a belief regarding their founder, and the actual reality are distinctly different, so any of the belief-asserted claims need to be handled with an appropriate degree of skepticism.
I personally find it to be highly probable that there was indeed an individual from Galilee who managed to gather together a small band of followers as he wandered about proclaiming himself to be a messiah and preaching a religious message that was most probably aligned with the specific religious thinking that prevailed in the region at that time. I also find it highly probable that he was executed as an undesirable.
Do we have any candidates at all?
Do we have any non-Christian records about somebody from Galilee about 2000 years ago who proclaimed himself to be the Messiah, and ended up being killed by the Romans?
Actually yes we do, there is not just one, but several. First there is Judas of Galilee who founded the “fourth sect” of 1st century Judaism and ended up being executed by the Romans. Then there was also his son Menahem ben Judah, who also claimed to be a messiah, and also ended up dead because of a conspiracy against him. The sources for both of these comes from the writing of Josephus, and discusses them in detail.
It turns out that when you consider the wider picture, it becomes clear that wandering about claiming to be the messiah and drumming up a bit of support and then getting killed was was popular at that time, so while neither of the above is a match for Jesus, it does indicate that the most probable answer here is that the ideas of a similar wandering messiah claimant most probably went viral.
Today, most scholars do agree that Jesus as an individual existed, was a Jewish rabbi from Galilee who preached a message, was baptized by John the Baptist, and was crucified in Jerusalem, and yet for everything else beyond that, there is no consensus at all – no miracles, no resurrection, and not god, that all got added on later.
So if we do go with that consensus, then what is very clear is that after his death there was the addition of rather a lot of supernaturalism along with death and rebirth myths.
The ideas took root, grew and evolved over time into the prevailing variations of Christianity that we have today – what the belief today asserts regarding the character and behaviour of Jesus is distinctly different from who he really was.