Jesus didn’t actually exist?

 

A new view of Jesus?

 

Lately, I’ve been seeing a small flurry of attention to a crank who argues that “Jesus” is a fictional character invented by the Romans.

 

So it seems appropriate to call attention, again, to a column that I wrote some time back about a prominent agnostic — Bart Ehrman, a real New Testament scholar, in this case — who argues against the notion that Jesus never existed:

 

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765589224/An-agnostics-argument-that-Jesus-did-exist.html?pg=all

 

This is an old idea, but I can’t think of a single reputable New Testament scholar who takes it seriously.

 

Some critics, will, of course, compare this to Mormon claims about the Book of Mormon, etc., which receive little serious attention from mainstream scholarship.  But this is apples and oranges.  Mormonism is a small movement that is still rather easy to ignore.  Jesus, however, is a very big matter; even this crank is getting international attention.  But only in the media.

 

Real historians and scholars, overwhelmingly, just brush the Jesus-as-fiction stuff off with a weary sigh.  Frankly, I was surprised and pleased that Bart Ehrman was willing to take the time to respond to it.

 

Posted from Keokuk, Iowa

 

 

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  • Stephen Smoot

    I have said that if Bart Ehrman can believe in the historicity of Jesus, then anyone can.

  • brotheroflogan

    I am glad that I came across this video shortly before reading about this latest argument.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay_Db4RwZ_M (Gary Habermas on historicity of the empty tomb).

    • RaymondSwenson

      Convincing and persuasive and intelligent lecture discussing the actual evidence for not just the existence of Jesus, but also the evidence of his resurrection. I was struck by his statement that the martyrdoms of Peter, Paul and James were of a special character because they were affirming not just their belief in a religious teaching, but their own eyewitness testimony of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.

      The martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith was their affirmation of the reality of the events they testified to, including the reality of the ancient record that was the Book of Mormon. And the testimony of the eleven Book of Mormon witnesses, along with that of Joseph making twelve, deserves to be given the same serious study by scholars of any faith, or none, that has been given to the apostolic witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. Christians would love to have eyewitness testimony of the resurrection of Christ recorded so contemporaneously to the event, by men whose lives could be examined for their credibility. If the resurrection has reliable evidence, so does the reality of the Book of Mormon plates.

      I was also intrigued by his mention of a book he was working on, whose thesis is that 80% of skeptics about God have made that choice for emotional rather than intellectual reasons, a prime example being people who are angry at God.

      • Lucy Mcgee

        I’d like to see what data he uses to defend the thesis that 80% of of skeptics regarding the existence of God make that choice using emotion rather than reason. That would be an interesting rabbit hole to unearth.

        I’ve never been angry at the God of Abraham and why should I since I hold no belief in this deity.

        What I find unbelievable about Jesus, son of man, son of God, creative force of the universe, is that people can believe that this force would choose to interact with humanity in such a bizarre and inefficient way. One would think that at the very least, Jesus would have written something down or spread the “good news” in a manner which could be received by the entire population instead of a few preachers within the Roman Empire.

        It is equally curious to me, why this same creative force would choose Joseph Smith of Palmyra to offer all of humanity better information, given that the Book of Mormon’s readership and Church membership was and is so small?

        It seems to me that such questions are reasonable to ask, especially by those who’ve not been exposed to religious indoctrination.

        • RaymondSwenson

          Lucy, this life is an intermediate point in our own eternal lives. It functions as a test of our character, so it is largely a closed book test. When God communicates unmistakably to all humanity, it will be pencils down, and the test will be over.

          You seem to be arguing that God’s spokesman on earth should always have lots of earthly power and prestige, to make it impossible to miss him. Again, when that happens, when every person on earth acknowledges Jesus as Lord of the earth, the exam will be over.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            I’m not arguing that at all! Power and prestige are what mega-churches amass. Religion has become a large scale tax exempt business enterprise with all manner of cottage industries operating within it. People have converted the sage advice of ancients into an ongoing enterprise of salvation into which believers pay to play.

            What I am referring to is the silence of the God of Abraham, and Christ among many of the planet’s population. Only an unjust deity would give a closed book exam before offering the book.

            What has bothered me since the days of the “moral majority” and the exam they want to give, is their desire to abuse scripture in their attempt to create some theocratic nation based on what they believe as “biblical law” and “truth” as they see it, and to force others to bend and accept this world view. And within this world view, there is little room for people who do not adhere to their particular ideology. I use Pat Robertson, and those like him, as example.

            When I look at prosperity preachers, fire and brimstone sermons, fear based pulpit proclamations and the like, I cringe. Always have. When I see people like Sen. Ted Cruz, and his father Rafael Cruz, wanting to insert their right-wing Christian ideology into the body politic, I become uncomfortable. When I read PEW research that shows that some 47% of Christians believe that Christ will return to earth in the next 40 years, and where some actually look forward to some planetary cataclysm which they believe will usher in this eventuality, I cringe.

            I don’t believe in final exams for all of humanity and never will. And simply because Christians have been awaiting Christ’s return for over 2000 years certainly doesn’t prove anything but that they have held and hold a belief in belief, which in some religions today is maximally exploited.

          • Stephen Smoot

            “Only an unjust deity would give a closed book exam before offering the book.”

            Yep. You’re right. Thank God for Joseph Smith, who came along and exploded this pernicious belief, upheld by centuries of creeds and dogma, with his paradigm-changing, and inspired, theodicy.

            http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=100&chapid=1111

          • Lucy Mcgee

            But isn’t it interesting that the creative force of a universe (containing billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars), would have selected a few humans, in obscure places (either Judea or Palmyra, etc.), to found a religion and offer up a game-changing human paradigm for all of the billions existing on earth who will never, ever hear this message?

            Look, I lived for years in the Rocky mountain region and worked months in Utah and was never once approached by an LDS missionary or had I ever heard of Joseph Smith. So much for that paradigm-changing offering to the world of which LDS members occupy 0.2%. What kind of offering is that?

          • Stephen Smoot

            Lucy,

            Do yourself a big favor and actually read the stuff I post.

            If you bother to take the time to look at the link I provided, which very cogently explains Joseph Smith’s revolutionary theodicy, you’ll see why these kinds of comments of yours come across as just ignorant.

            FWIW, if it weren’t for Joseph Smith’s theodicy I’d probably be an agnostic. As it is, though, his answers to the “problem(s) of evil” satisfy me immensely, to the point where I’m willing to exercise faith.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Great to offer me the favor of reading your post, but that still doesn’t explain why the larger world will never hear Joseph Smith’s message. I’m ignorant of your belief system, yes, and my comment may seem ignorant to you, but for this in the weeds human, the message of your faith is scarcely a blip. Why is that? One would think that the creative force of all that we know, if interested in our human proclivities, would at the very least be interested in getting the word out.

            By the way, it is my belief that the “problem of evil” is a huge cop-out by the evangelical community at large, who are willing to shuffle off any discontinuity to some evil force.

            And PS, I’ll read your link and respond.

          • Stephen Smoot

            Lucy,

            You’re only excusing your ignorance. That’s fine if you don’t want to inform yourself vis-a-vis the belief system of the Latter-day Saints. Nobody is coercing or compelling you do to so. But don’t expect to be taken very seriously when you ask questions like this, are given homework to do to find the answer, then respond that you don’t want to do the homework, and just repeat the question.

            I will say, however, that I agree that the run-of-the-mill, mainline Judeo-Christian response to the problem of evil is underwhelming at best. Like I said, if it weren’t for Joseph Smith’s theodicy (as well as what I see is very tangible evidence for the existence of God in the form of the Book of Mormon), I’d probably be an agnostic.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            We’re all ignorant in some aspect of planetary knowledge, so I don’t feel at all bad. I’ve done some homework, but my conclusions don’t agree with yours.

            As I wrote, I’ll read the link and respond. I certainly realize that I’m not coerced into believing as you do, just as you’re not coerced in believing that an intervening deity is nonsense. So good for us. I’m simply thankful that I wasn’t indoctrinated much past the age of eight.

            What bothers me, are those who make statements about the fate of human kind, based on scriptural interpretation. And when push comes to shove, they can only rely on the musings of others, which often rely on the musings, of musings of musings of others throughout history. Just look at all the questions your own faith raises, not to mention the many questions within the faiths of Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, Jews, etc. How can every religion be true?

            For me, there are far more questions than answers and I’m fine with that.

          • RaymondSwenson

            Lucy, your statement about the problem of evil indicates you don’t know what Stephen is referring to. The Problem is a question posed by everyone who has tried to reconcile the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent and lovong God with the reality of great evil and suffering in the world. It is the favorite argument of atheists against the existence of such a God. Personally, I am not impressed by the atheists’ “solution” because it leaves us with all the evil and suffering, and not even the comfort and hope for eventual consolation that traditional Christianity holds to.

            In any case, I don’t see how the Problem has anything to do with “the evangelical community at large” doing anything to be criticized for.

            Joseph Smith’s teachings, including those about our personal nature as eternal independent intelligences who were adopted into the family of God before our birth into mortal life, and the opportunities every person will have to repent before the final judgment and resurrection, respond eloquently to the Problem like no other branch of Christian theology. There is a beautiful little book about this called Eternal Man, written by the recently deceased philosophy professor Truman Madsen, that explains how Joseph’s teachings resolve many of the major conundrums that have burdened Christian theology and western philosophy for centuries.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            I hold the belief that the evil humans foist on ourselves is a part of the world we create. Passing off “evil” as some transcendent force, is, in my opinion, an easy escape for those who believe in something which can never be proven as anything but a human creation.

            Until humans realize that we alone are responsible for the future of humanity, nothing much will change. Although religions offer some other earthly future, based on the writings of other humans, which speak of some eternal afterlife, I for one, don’t buy it. We exist in a time where voices matter.

            I look at a young girl, Malala Yousafzai, who has engaged a listening planet. I wept listening to her. There is nothing finer within human thought than that of a strong voice for justice, education and equality. She is strong in her faith, and well represents a billion humans, and yet she would be easily discounted by Christian fundamentalists in a heartbeat as believing in the wrong God. This can’t be the best way forward, can it?

            I have little understanding of LDS thought. For me, it is an aside. But I often wonder how it is that some believe that some humans can achieve something other humans cannot, simply because of a book, or books, written by a few that many will never, ever read, or understand. So it is with all religious faiths.

          • RaymondSwenson

            Ah, Lucy, you are asking questions that were answered by Joseph Smith. He restored the ancient Christian teaching that Christ provided a means of salvation for the spirits of all mankind who ever lived on earth, his church that has been operating full steam ahead in the post-mortal realm of those who are between death and the resurrection, where every person will have the opportunity to hear and accept the message. Peter and Paul and Joseph Smith are on the team there, ensuring the justice of God by offering Chrisy’s atoning mercy to all the billions who ever lived on the earth.

            The Restored Church of Jesus Christ here on earth is a mere branch operation of that church that has been operating for over two millennia.

            And we believe there are countless inhabited worlds out in the universe where this same process is operating, God rescuing his children on infinite worlds like this.

  • joe e.

    trying to confirm the passing of Joseph F McConkie that a saw a post on early today? hope it was mistaken….

    tks

  • Ryan

    Sorry to derail the topic, but I think it’s worth mentioning that Switzerland is considering giving each adult $2,800 a month.

    What is happening to your blessed land dear Sir?

  • David_Naas

    Having read several of Bart Ehrman’s books over the years, I stand in awe of his scholarship, though not of his conclusions. He apparently doesn’t like the cranks, fakes and frauds which inhabit the fringes of scholarship, which easily accounts for his willingness to do battle with same. Only, I keep seeing him referred to as a “former” fundamentalist. In my perception, h is still a Fundamentalist, only having changed the subject about which he is so durn tooin’ Fundamental. Maybe his rigor will help him someday to return.

    • Stephen Smoot

      “In my perception, h is still a Fundamentalist, only having changed the subject about which he is so durn tooin’ Fundamental.”

      Really? I’ve found Ehrman to be surprisingly even-handed for an agnostic. He doesn’t care too much for fundamentalist approaches to the Bible (nor do I, really), but he’s made it clear in a number of places in his books that he’s not out to destroy faith or make people stop believing in the Bible. He just wants to inform people about what current scholarship is saying about the NT, and how that undercuts the fundamentalist position.

      As a faithful Latter-day Saint, I don’t agree with all of Ehrman’s conclusions. But I still enjoy his research, including his work on the historicity of Jesus.

      • David_Naas

        Sorry that I was not clear in what was intended. “Fundamentalist”, from what I have experienced, is not necessarily a set of beliefs, but an attitude, the mildest expression of which is, “I’m right, you’re wrong, neiner-neiner-neiner.”, An ex-member anti-Fundamentalist is like an ex-member anti-Mormon — they can leave the church, but they can’t leave it alone.
        Other than that, Yes, I do indeed appreciate the work B.E. has done. Once he gets over the feeling of having been “betrayed” in his youth, perhaps the agnosticism will evaporate also.

  • RaymondSwenson

    To argue that Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure of the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles of Paul and the other epistles never existed, you might as well be arguing that the other main characters in those documents never existed. After all, they tell miraculous stories about those men as well, and if a story of miracles forces the conclusion that the persons involved are merely mythical and not real, then that criterion has to apply to the apostles as well.

    Yet then you have to start dealing with all of the writings of the Pre-Nicene Fathers, which begin with people who knew Peter and Paul and John, and people who knew those people and got the information about the apostles from first hand witnesses that they were real. Indeed, the “canon” or standard against which the various New Testament books were measured for authenticity in earliest Christianity, when they circulated individually and then were combined into the holy books–the Bible–was the endorsement of, and consistency with, the witness of those early witnesses of the apostles. There were, as have been recovered in the last century, many works that were considered spurious by those early Christians because they were outside the body of shared knowledge that had been handed down by those who knew the apostles personally.

    So the apostles and other New Testament authors were multiple witnesses of the reality of a man named Jesus–Joshua–from the village of Nazareth who was executed by the Romans at Jerusalem at the beginning of the Christian era. And the people who maintain all of those witnesses were wrong about the simple fact that Jesus lived at that place and time offer what as evidence? Nothing but there own wishful thinking.

    The reality is that the only evidence we have today about most of Jesus’ contemporries and other figures from 2000 years ago or earlier is from far smaller bodies of documents that even in the original were composed many years after the fact. The quality of the evidence for Jesus as a real person is stronger than for any of them. We might as well doubt the existence of Socrates, a man of great wisdom who never wrote anything himself, and who died because of his community’s rejection of his teachings. But then you go down the road to losing your cultural memory and all the hard lessons learned over milennia, which is probably the goal of the skeptics. It is the skeptics who are creating a false history so they can mislead people.


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