Can we ever really discover the facts here?
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.
5 thoughts on “Did Jesus really exist?”
Plus when I was a Muslim the so called peaceful Muslims would say a prayer for there brothers who gave there life during the Mali & Kenya massacres
Mohammed the so-called profit peace be upon him has never prophesied of anything except what every cult leader would tell you that the fate will be the biggest if they didn’t tell their followers that then followers would not stay with them.so Muhammad the profit or so-called profit is in fact a murderer & the slave bully thing would fit that nature of him he not only got his people to kill a lot of Jewish people he murdered them himself in case they helped The prophet Abrahams followers
Good write-up. From my perspective, the question being asked is an uninteresting one, and one might go so far as to say an irrelevant one. Whether or not an itinerant parabolic sermonizer perambulated around Galilee some ~2000 years ago is of equivalent import for the Christian faith if the miracles and narration of the gospels is later fabrication. In other words, if this person was exclusively human, endowed with no different attributes from you and me, excepting perhaps an elevated level of insight into the moral dimension, than the question of whether he existed is indeed a trivial one. The Christian faith is pinned entirely on whether the gospel accounts are historically true as regards the nature of Jesus.
Given how much of these gospel accounts we know to be mythologized – accretionary detail so common to spiritual narratives throughout history – such as the Septuagint’s mistranslation of the Hebrew rendering for “young woman” in Isaiah, which the author of Matthew used for his text to render “parthenos” (“virgin”), the three-hour darkness in Mark that no historian apparently noticed, the rock-splitting earthquake in Matthew that history apparently felt apt to omit, the parades of corpses thronging the streets of Jerusalem in Matthew for which there exists no extra-canonical account, etc., what confidence do we have in the central tenets of Christian faith that have coalesced around the figure of Jesus, namely that he performed miracles in violation of physical law and physical causality culminating in that pinnacle of contra-physics (or paraphysicality) known as the resurrection? Well, it doesn’t give us any confidence at all.
And so, sure, a rabbi touting himself as the Messiah likely existed with some threadbare connection to the narratives in the canonical gospels (as with several other Messiah-claimaints who preceded him). But this isn’t what all the hubbub was ever about.
Kereng, if curious, I cite all the hadith references for you (via the link below) and note that we are talking about multiple chains of narrators …
However, your point is well made, we are not specifically talking about independent sources. What is in this specific case interesting is that even the Islamic sources paint the story of a rather dubious character who is not quite the perfect man as is claimed by many modern versions of islamic thinking.
As an aside, the historian Tom Holland does make a rather good case that throws into question rather a lot of the traditional claims. Not sure where you are, but here is a link to a documentary he made entitled “Islam: the Untold Story”. If 40D does not work where you are you could perhaps search YouTube for it … (assuming it is of interest) … http://www.channel4.com/programmes/islam-the-untold-story/4od
You write about Mohammed: “there are multiple islamic sources that verify this.”
As far as I know there are only islamic sources that were written 100 or 200 years later and no independent sources to be verified. There are no other sources than the islamic legends for the existence of Mohammed or Mecca or that the koran originated in that area.