Guest Post: Greg Monette, Ph.D. student at the University of Wales/Oxford Centre for Mission Studies
Did Jesus exist? At first blush this might seem a silly question. “Of course he existed,” you might say. However, movies like Zeitgeist, as well as authors Tom Harpur  and Robert Price,  seem to think that a minimalist position on the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is the most historically responsible position to hold.
In a recent interview published in the United Church Observer, Canadian author Tom Harpur, a lapsed Christian, said the following about conservative and liberal New Testament scholars who “take the historical Jesus pretty seriously”: “Yeah, but they don’t offer a shred of historical evidence. Since my book was published, there has not been one scholar come forth with solid evidence from the first century, apart for [sic] a dubious reference in Josephus that they love to hurl around, a reference that is clearly, clearly, clearly false. I’ve been waiting for the evidence to show up”  Is Harpur right? Is there not “a shred of historical evidence” that Jesus of Nazareth existed? Is Christianity based on a myth?
For economy of space and time, I will not reproduce every early source that attests to Jesus’ existence from antiquity. However, I will list some of the major references where you can find the exact quotations relating to Jesus if you are interested in looking further: 1. Roman: Pliny the Younger (AD 62-113) Epistles 10.96; 2. Roman: Tacitus (AD 60-120) Annals 15.44; 3. Roman: Suetonius (AD 75-160) Life of Claudius 25.4; 4. Roman: Mara Bar Serapion (2nd or 3rd Cent.) in a letter; 5. Jewish: Flavius Josephus (AD 37-100), a disputed passage most historians feel was interpolated: The Antiquities of the Jewish People 18.3.3 [18.63-64], and one undisputed passage: Antiquities of the Jewish People 20.9.1 [20.200-203]. 6. Jewish: Various Rabbis (2nd-5th Cent.) The Talmud: b. Sanhedrin 43a (Babylonian Talmud).
There are also many other references to Jesus in Gospels not located in the New Testament due to their late dating (mid to late 2nd Century composition). There are too many to list here, the following book would be helpful to consult for some of these ancient texts: J.K. Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009).
However, despite this mountain of supporting evidence to the existence of Jesus in these non-Christian sources, the best evidence is found in the New Testament. The New Testament is made up of twenty-seven different documents (ancient biographies, letters, apocalyptic writings), all written in the 1st Century. Yes, the New Testament is biased because Christians composed it, but every text is biased. Bias does not necessarily equal unhistorical; if this were the case, every text from antiquity would be unhistorical. Historians agree that what we have in the New Testament alone is good enough to solidify the historical position that Jesus of Nazareth did exist.
Why do historians feel this way? The strongest argument is that before and during the time of Jesus, Jews did not believe that the Messiah (or Christ) was going to die. They believed that the Messiah was going to rise up and conquer the Romans, taking back Jerusalem, where the Messiah would replace Caesar as king. There is no way that the early Christians (a group of 1st Century Jews) would have made up a fictional story about a Messiah who dies. Even the skeptical New Testament scholar and co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, John Dominic Crossan wrote “That [Jesus] was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be” 
In fact, New Testament historians use the historical fact of the death of Jesus (attested throughout the New Testament as well as outside the New Testament in many of the non-Christian sources referenced above) as a criterion for determining historically authentic material (sayings and deeds of Jesus) in the New Testament Gospels. There must have been a reason Jesus was put to death by the authorities. He must have said and did certain things to infuriate the establishment. He did not get crucified by telling people to love one another. He said a few other things too and scholars look to find these in the New Testament Gospels. University of Notre Dame New Testament Scholar John P. Meier is famous for saying: “A tweedy poetaster who spent his time spinning out parables and Japanese koans, a literary aesthete who toyed with 1st-century deconstructionism, or a bland Jesus who simply told people to look at the lilies of the field—such a Jesus would threaten no one, just as the university professors who create him threaten no one.” 
So far we have laid out the literary evidence for Jesus’ existence. This alone is more than enough to convince serious historians that Jesus of Nazareth existed. However, it may surprise some to know that we may actually possess genuine archaeological evidence for Jesus’ existence, namely a 1st Century burial box or ossuary with the following inscription: Ya’akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua (English translation: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”). If genuine and not forged, it may be hard non-literary evidence for the existence of Jesus. The burial boxes discovery was announced at a meeting on October 21, 2002 in Washington co-hosted by the Discovery Channel and the Biblical Archaeology Society. The Israeli Antiquities Authority took the owner of the ossuary (Oded Golan) to court accusing him of forging the box. However, most experts called to testify during the court proceedings have supported Oded Golan in claiming the authenticity of the box and its antiquity. The Israeli judge is deliberating at this moment in order to decide whether or not the burial box was forged or not. After more than 5000 pages of testimony and 75 witnesses who gave expert testimony, the judge advised the prosecution in open court to highly consider dropping the case as their evidence against the boxes authenticity was weak. We will see in the coming months what the verdict is on this potentially very important artifact from antiquity which may provide hard evidence for the existence of Jesus. 
One final argument for the existence of Jesus is, quite simply, the existence of Christianity. It is a historical fact that Christianity exploded in growth in the second-half of the 1st Century and has continued to grow until today.  The minimalist needs to give a convincing argument to explain all of this away, and so far it has not been done.
All in all, I have yet to hear an intellectually plausible reason why one should believe Jesus never existed. Can you imagine if people started writing books about Caesar Augustus never existing, Alexander the Great or Muhammad? No serious historian doubts that any of these famous men from the past existed. It has been said that there is more historical evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than any person from antiquity; this is probably true. Historians in other fields would love to have the embarrassment of riches that New Testament historians have to work with when they reconstruct historical portraits of Jesus of Nazareth. So, did Jesus exist? What do you think?
 Tom Harpur, The Pagan Christ (Walker & Company, 2005);
 Robert Price, “Jesus at the vanishing point” in James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (eds.), The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009) 55–103)
 Tom Harpur: as quoted in Ken Gallinger’s, “A Truly Spiritual Person Never Stops Thinking about the Implications of the Christos,” United Church Observer 74/11 (2011) 30–31, with quotation from p. 31).
 John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (New York: HarperCollins, 1994),145.
 See: John P. Meier, “The Criterion of Rejection and Execution,” in A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (Vol. 1, New York: Doubleday, 1991), 177.
 For more see: http://www.bib-arch.org/press-james-ossuary.asp).
 See: Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (Princeton: HarperCollins, 1997).
Yes. But I am not sure if this is true: »Jesus who simply told people to look at the lilies of the field—such a Jesus would threaten no one« He was and still is with this simply word alone a threatening to every mammonservice. And if the existence of mammonservice is not evident today too, if there is no mammon, there is no threatening at all from the existence of the risen one too!
I think that the problem with your strongest argument for the historicity of Jesus is that it doesn’t take a group of people to invent the story. It only takes one person to invent it and to convince others to believe it. There are 14 million Mormons in the world today because of the fantastic stories that Joseph Smith invented. I have no problem believing that most 1st century Jews would have found the idea of a crucified Messiah too ridiculous to warrant a second thought, but I suspect that most 18th century Americans thought Smith’s stories were nonsense as well. I just don’t think that we can infer anything about the historicity of Jesus from the fact that some 1st century Jews came to believe in a crucified Messiah.
@Mirche: I think what Greg is emphasizing here is that alone sayings like this one would not make Jesus a easily remembered figure.
@Vinny : While there may be similarities between Joseph Smith’s inventions it seems a tad harder to lead many to believe in a resurrected Jesus when you came into your partnership with the man expecting something else other than him being crucified (i.e. one of the worst forms of capital punishment imaginable) than it would be to convince people that you found gold plates with Scripture on them. The rise and spread of Mormonism has more in common with the rise and spread of Islam in that it is centered on a prophet with access to a deity who gives a holy book. Christianity rises on a story about a Messiah who was killed by the state only to resurrect before the general resurrection.
Likewise, people like Paul proclaiming the resurrection (a comfortable, zealous Jew who had everything to lose by inventing this story) and Joseph Smith proclaiming his message (a man with a reputation that leads one to expect him to be seeking fame and a following) are not the same.
Finally, Greg’s point seems slightly different than what you’re aiming to say. He is saying the spread of Christianity seems to lend itself back to the existence of an actual founder. The comparison you made would need a Mormonism without a real Joseph Smith.
As far as I am concerned, the Gospels and Paul are our strongest historical support for the historical Jesus. There is no reason to discount these documents just because they were later placed in the New Testament. There seems to be a belief that once a text is placed in a holy book it loses its historical value. There is no logical reason for this. Stanley Porter and I responded to Tom Harpur’s version of this in our book Unmasking the Pagan Christ.
@Vinny: Brian actually answered your question exactly as I would have when he stated that “the comparison you made would need a Mormonism without a real Joseph Smith.” I’m not arguing that Christianity is true in this article. I’m simple making the claim that Jesus of Nazareth existed. As well: the brutal crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth doesn’t exactly compare with the fantastic nature of the Mormon story involving the golden plates coming down from heaven. Why make up a story of a crucified Messiah?
@ Stephen Bedard: I completely agree with you. Great book by the way with Stan Porter. Keep writing good books!
Brian & Greg,
I am only addressing what Greg claimed was the strongest argument for the historicity of Jesus, i.e., that there is no way that a group of 1st Century Jews would have invented a crucified Messiah because Jews of that time did not believe that the Messiah was going to die. I think that history tells us that all it takes is one man to invent the story and to convince others that it is true. For example, could Paul invent the story of a crucified Messiah and convince some others that it was true even if most Jews of the day thought that the idea was absurd? There may be plenty of good reasons to believe that this is not what happened, but I don’t think that Greg has put forth a very strong argument for why it could not have.
As far as the comparative character and motivation of Paul and Joseph Smith goes, the only source we have for Paul’s is his own writings and the writings of early Christians. If we had to rely on the writings of Joseph Smith and early Mormons, we might well conclude that Smith was just as unlikely to fabricate the story of the Golden Plates.
@Vinny : We would need a more plausible theory for why the early Christians invented a resurrection narrative than that “they could have”. There seem to be good reasons for why Joseph Smith invented a story of golden plates from heaven, but it is much harder to find reason for the story of Jesus. And again, it would be a better comparison if one claimed Brigham Young made up the existence of Joseph Smith.
@Brian LePort: “I think what Greg is emphasizing here is that »alone« sayings like this one would not make Jesus a easily remembered figure.”
Quite the contrary. He or I may agree that Jesus indeed existed however but if we don’t believe that he is risen as the Lord of our life now too, as the Judge of living and dead we are still in a mammonservice somehow and we have no threatening from the living Judge. Without the real Lord Jesus Christ we can not live as Christians (as followers of Messiah).
1. The one point is that the best evidence is the faith in the risen one as my Lord and Judge now.
2. That he was hated and remembered, just because what he said, e.g. that he is greater then Solomon, Abraham, Jakob, etc. »… And yet I say to you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, … how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?« – Mat. 6, 27–28 (Not in garments of so pure a white. The eastern monarchs were often clothed in white robes.)
3. Another evident text to consider about it are these words of our Lord: »`No domestic is able to serve two lords, for either the one he will hate, and the other he will love; or one he will hold to, and of the other he will be heedless; ye are not able to serve God and mammon.’ And also the Pharisees, being lovers of money, were hearing all these things, and were deriding him, and he said to them, `Ye are those declaring yourselves righteous before men, but God doth know your hearts; because that which among men is high, [is] abomination before God; the law and the prophets [are] till John; since then the reign of God is proclaimed good news, and every one doth press into it; and it is easier to the heaven and the earth to pass away, than of the law one tittle to fall. `Every one who is sending away his wife, and marrying another, doth commit adultery; and every one who is marrying her sent away from a husband doth commit adultery.« (Luk. 16, 13–18)
Once again, I am only responding to what Greg claimed was the strongest argument for historicity, which (if I may paraphrase), boils down to “there is no way it could have been invented.” Showing “they could have” is a sufficient response to “there is no way.” I agree, however, that it is far from sufficient to show that it was in fact invented. It is simply a response to one particular argument for historicity.
To the extent that it is easier to figure out the reasons for what Joseph Smith did and why people followed him, I think that it is because the primary source material is so much more extensive and includes so many contemporaneous accounts from non-Mormons who dealt with him and ex-Mormons who left the fold. If we had to rely on only one side of the story, I think we might find it just as difficult to explain.
Here’s what one well-known scholar says on the issue:
@Mirche: I’m not following your response. Maybe you misunderstood me? What I am saying is that Jesus’ sayings alone would not have made him a figure easily remembered over time. I’m not sure if you intended to disagree with me or not. I couldn’t figure out from your comment.
@Vinny : I guess, but I’m not seeing how this point is relevant to Jesus as an actual person from history rather than a completely mythological figure. Like Greg said, it may function as a decent argument against some of the claims of Christianity (though I disagree with you to the degree that you find the comparison worthwhile) but not the historicity of Jesus.
@Brian LePort: »I’m not following your response. Maybe you misunderstood me? What I am saying is that Jesus’ sayings alone would not have made him a figure easily remembered over time.…«
I think I didn’t misunderstood you. What I am saying is that without Jesus sayings (and without that one from Mat. 6 too) is not understandable at all why he died and rose again? He is greater then Solomon indeed! »`A queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and lo, a greater than Solomon here!« (Mat. 12, 42) »and I say to you, that a greater than the temple is here« (Mat. 12, 6) I think that these words alone made Jesus a figure easily remembered much more then whole Solomons wisdom!
@Mirche: Do you think that he would be remembered today has he been crucified but never resurrected?
@Brian LePort: Our Lord was much more then Solomon remembered before his dead, although not understood sometimes even from the apostles (Joh. 2, 22) but what would be today if he was never resurrected no one can answer. What I am saying is not only that Jesus really existed, but that He really exists still now too, and that is the best evidence in faith that he is the same today too. I hope this is an answer of your question 😉
@Vinny has a point. I admit that when i said “there is no way first century Jews would have made up a fictional story of a messiah who died” (paraphrasing myself). Anything is possible, so I should have said: it is very hard to imagine and highly unlikely why first century Jews would have fabricated a story of a dying messiah. As anything is possible, but what is plausible? So, I agree with Vinny that my language was too strong in that one regard.
If Greg is correct about that being the best argument for the historicity of Jesus (which I think is debatable) and it is not a very good argument (which I maintain but don’t claim to have proved), then I think that would be a good reason for maintaining agnosticism about a historical Jesus (which I do). I don’t think that it’s possible to prove that Jesus was more likely a purely mythological figure than an actual historical person. If there was an actual historical person, however, I think it likely that he has been so thoroughly mythologized that nothing about him can be known with any reasonable degree of historical certainty. I call my position “historical Jesus agnosticism” but “minimalism” may be a reasonable label as well.
I think we know enough about war and politics that we can be reasonably confident that we would not have the evidence we have concerning the history of the Roman Empire if there had not been an actual historical Julius Caesar who did many of the things which he is reported to have done. On the other hand, we know so little about how great religions begin and grow that I think it’s hard to be certain that any of the evidence we have can only be explained by the existence of an actual historical person who did the things with which Jesus is credited.
I think it is useful to look at Mormonism because it is the only religion of its size whose origins are documented so extensively.
Based on the historical record, however, we would have to say that the idea of a dying Messiah in fact had great appeal to a great many 1st century Jews and pagans who were downtrodden. Is it so hard to imagine that someone in the 1st century would have seen the appeal of this idea and invented a story about such a person to advance some agenda of his own? I’m not claiming to know that’s what happened. I just can’t see any basis to assess the relative probability of that versus other scenarios involving an actual historical person.
@Vinny: I guess we all have our own plausibility structures and if you don’t think literary evidence has much value (Christian, non-Christian: Roman, Jewish) for the existence of Jesus, I guess that’s your call. As a bit of an aside: I would highly recommend reading some books on ancient historiography and how it is done by historians. Historians use historical criteria to help them determine what we can know. Even if you hold to a purely naturalistic worldview, I still think you can say quite a bit about Jesus of Nazareth (i.e. words and deeds) actually happened. But once again, it is not an arm-wrestling competition. One needs to decide for themselves what their threshold is for accepting something as being historical. I’m more than comfortable with Jesus’ existence. As well: my argument doesn’t hang on simply the creative imaginations of 1st Century Jews (If you are right that they may have fabricated the part of Jesus’ life: i.e. his death by crucifixion, thought I wonder what benefit this would have been to the movement). It also depends on the various types of testimony concerning his existence as well as the fact that so many different literary traditions referenced him as a historical person, and I include the New Testament in that literature. One must provide good reasons why historians should reject the New Testament outright, even if they hold to a naturalistic worldview and can’t allow the miraculous aspects found within the New Testament documents. I’m always more than happy to listen to competing hypothesis. So far, the Robert Price’s and Tom Harpur’s of the world have not swayed many (if any) New Testament historians to change their minds and adopt in your words “historical Jesus agnosticism.” I think Bart Ehrman says it well in the video Nick posted in the comments section above.
Paraphrasing Vinny: “I don’t think we can be sure of anything people say because it only takes one person to make something up (i.e. Joseph Smith), so…yeah.”
In all seriousness, can you even speculate as to the usefulness a dead Messiah who prophesies about the destruction of his own people, who also end up rejecting him, to a 1st century Jewish culture that is looking for the return of King David?
In my experience, hyper-skeptics who deny the existence of a historical Jesus usually end up making the category mistake of demanding from ancient history a level of empirical evidence that’s more appropriate to the hard sciences. The embarrassment of riches that NT historians have to took worth is so much dross to them as they’re looking for nothing less than a perfectly preserved camcorder through which they can view the historical Jesus with their own eyeballs as in the case of a scientific experiment.
I see no need to speculate because I think that the growth of the religion shows that the idea was useful in giving hope and meaning to downtrodden and disenfranchised Jews and pagans alike. That it was a useful idea seems to me to be an indisputable fact. The question is whether the appearance of an idea so useful required a historical person corresponding to the Jesus of the gospels or whether a theologically creative individual could have come up with the idea on his own.
The problem is that If a 1st century Jew wanted to invent a story so as to provide hope to the downtrodden it hardly seems necessary to invent a protagonist that is as antagonistic to the very 1st century Jewish culture.that you’re trying to inspire as the NT figure of Jesus was.
Isn’t the Old Testament filled with prophets who were antagonistic to the Jewish cultures of their day? It seems to me that calling out contemporary religious leaders might be the single most important prerequisite.
Yes, but the OT prophets aren’t exactly good source material for a 1st century Jew trying to provide hope for Israel as they invariably prophesied the destruction of Israel. And besides, the NT figure of Jesus is in many ways far more offensive than any of the OT prophets, which begs the question of why our hypothesized storyteller would go beyond his source material in this way, especially if he’s trying to provide a message of hope for Israel.
Here’s your big problem, the NT teaches that the God of Israel came in the flesh, prophesied the destruction of Israel, was subsequently rejected Israel, and abolished the old [Abrahamic] covenant that he had made with Israel in order to establish a new covenant in which Israel is redefined to include Gentiles. Why on earth would a 1st century Jew make this up? If anything, the story of the NT seems calibrated not to provide hope but to offend the sensibilities of 1st century Jews in almost every possible way.
@Vinny: I wonder if you are grasping the foolishness, offensiveness, of preaching a crucified christ to jews or greeks? Maybe you are and I am misunderstanding you. A good, short, read on this issue is by Martin Hengel, “Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the folly of the message of the cross” http://www.amazon.com/Crucifixion-Ancient-World-Message-Facets/dp/080061268X
I think that the problem we have is that we simply have no evidence for the hypothesis that a Jesus existed.
No evidence? What do you need, DNA?
@Rich….if you are serious (and it is hard for me to believe that you are) then you are engaging in the type of extremely pathetic historical thinking which leads others to deny the holocaust. In an academic meeting these people would be laughed out of the room. I hope you are kidding. If you are not just poking fun, I think you should read more before you discuss these matters.
I think the reason I am having difficulty grasping the foolishness and offensiveness of preaching a crucified Christ to 1st century Jews and Greeks is the undeniable fact that such preaching was wondrously successful. Had you described the Tea Party movement to me five years ago, I would have thought it absurd to suppose that it would have any political influence today. However, I have to acknowledge that my understanding of the cultural factors at work five years ago was less than complete. Any analysis I conduct today has to include the fact that the Tea Party has been successful. By the same, any analysis of what was foolish or offensive to 1st century Jews and Greeks has to take into account the fact that Christianity was very successful. I don’t know how any evidence of the idea’s offensiveness could outweigh the evidence of its success.
Is it in your words, an undeniable fact (pretty strong language), that the christian message successful for claiming the christ was crucified? This is a good question, but the fact that you ask it makes me wonder how much you have studied christian origins. All scholars who study christian origins estimate that by the end of the second century less than 2% of people across the roman empire were confessing Jesus the crucified one as Messiah and LORD. Suetonius tells us that the Jews were throwing the new jewish sect out of the synagogues in rome, and as a result Claudius expelled all the jews (including what we call christians) from Rome. Tacitus tells us that Nero was feeding the followers of this new sect to lions, and using them as torches to light his dinner parties. Pliny the governor of Bithynia tells us that this group was a mischievous sect who ‘foolishly’ worshipped a crucified man. Lucian mocks the christians as a bizarre cult who worship the crucified man. The Alexamenos graffiti, depicts a christian worshipping a ‘Jackass’ nailed to a cross. Finally, all jews understood anyone who was ‘hung on a tree’ to be accursed by God according to the Torah. Paul even has to say over and over to his congregations “not to be ashamed of the gospel message, even though it is foolishness!” Why does he have to say that? If the gospel message was successful it was because God raised Jesus from the dead, vindicating him from a shameful and supposedly accursed death and was behind this new movement, it was not because the ‘crucified Christ’ message was palatable to a 1st or second century Jewish or greco-roman audience. Does that make sense? If Jesus was not raised, preaching Jesus simply as a crucified christ would be absolutely ludicrous. No one would have preached simply a crucified christ, and no one, absolutely no one, would have listened! They only listened because the motley crew proclaimed the shamed one had been vindicated in resurrection.
As an aside, Tom Harpur is perhaps the least rigorous thinker ever. I picked up his books at a time in my life when I sincerely wanted to believe the ideas he espoused and ended up being absolutely disgusted. His overuse of the same unreliable/outdated sources and the weak connections he makes between pagan traditions and Christianity are the worst. Even before I researched the things he said, something felt very off. His arguments were poorly constructed and unbelievable.
His ideas in general warrant discussion but his scholarship is…. well, just not there. How do genuine scholars/theologians take his work seriously?
There are only 14,000,000 Mormons in the world today, which is pretty small compared to the Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. However, for a religion that started less than 200 years ago, it is quite amazing, particularly given the absurdity of its claims. By the same token, I would say that 2% of the Roman Empire in less than 200 years was very impressive growth.
I’m not sure whether the Christian message was successful because it claimed Christ was crucified. The success might have been due to the promise of eternal life or some other factor. Nevertheless, it was successful and it included the claim that Christ had been crucified. In trying to assess how foolish and offensive a crucified Christ would have been to 1st century Jews and Greeks, I have to take into account the fact that many people embraced a religion that included that element.
I do appreciate that you are thinking seriously! That I can tell. I wonder though, do you think it is possible you are being a bit anachronistic by comparing a 19th century american cult to second temple Judaism????
Why do you continue to think christianity was “successful” in the first two centuries of the common era? Even when Constantine ‘christianized’ the roman empire many people would say he co-opted the first faith, turning the cross into a symbol of conquest, rather than shame. Your bias that the first jewish followers of Jesus were starting a religion to be successful, the way Joseph Smith, and Charles Taze Russell (JW’s) is anachronistic in a high degree.
It is not as if these people were in power, or owning companies, or influencing a wide culture with their billions of dollars like the mormons? They were not offering miracle seed (Russell) to uneducated farmers.
These early jewish christians were preaching a crucified man, as LORD of the world, to Jews and Romans. This was nonsense!!
The epistle to the hebrews (possibly written by paul) is written to a Jewish christians who wanted to go back to the Temple and stop following the way of Jesus because they couldn’t swallow the idea of atonement on a cross. The Docetic movement of the late 1st century is a movement that completely rejected the idea that Jesus was even crucified, and advocated that it only appeared he was crucified.
The crucified christ was not a successful message, and even when ‘christianity’ came to power and was ‘successful’ in your terms, the cross was twisted from shame to conquering by a bloodthirsty constantine.
Your analysis of religious developments seems anachronistic to me.
But I can tell you are committed to truth, and so for that I say, Jesus is with you because He is the end of truth. He is drawing you to himself. Much love brother! You are a truth seeker! Keep it up!
If a historian is trying to figure out what happened in an ancient battle, he can compare the data he has to data from many other battles in the ancient world. He may even be able to find a well documented battle on similar terrain between armies of similar size with similar weaponry. This could give him a very solid basis to draw conclusions about what was likely to have happened in the battle he is studying.
Unfortunately, when it comes to how a great religion originates and spreads, we lack well documented examples. The interesting thing about Mormonism is that we have extensive primary source material about its origins from outsiders like non-Mormons who dealt with the LDS and ex-Mormons who left it. That makes it useful for considering how the stories that a cult preserves about its own origins compare to those of independent observers. If I had anything closer in time with similar documentation, I would love to use.
“Well documented” is subjective, since plausibility structures differ from person to person.
Does the NT, Josephus, Philo, DSS, Tacitus, Suetonius, Apostolic Fathers, Gnostic Literature, Lucian, Mara, Celsus not count to you as ‘PRIMARY SOURCE MATERIALS’?
I am unable to keep up with this conversation anymore. Much love in Jesus of Nazareth to you.
It often needs to be clarified if one is talking about a historian or a religion industry professional. These are two different groups. Once problem that has arisen is that people in the religion industry are calling themselves and each other “historians”. This has lead to a group deal of confusion.
@Rich: While I am sure there is some truth to your observation it is an overgeneralization. Many who do work in historical Jesus studies are concerned with historiographical method just like any historian of any other subject.
I think you make my point. For example, both you and I have an interest in the study of the legends of Jesus. Are you saying that this makes us historians? Of course not, and this is why the religion industry is a sham. The use terms like “historians believe…” but there are not actually even talking about historians. They are talking about other people working in the religion industry.
It is been a purposeful attempt to mislead that the religion industry has taken part in. The problem is that there is virtually no historical information RE the jesus legends, and few if any professional historians would make many if any claims RE the jesus legends and early christian times. YET… the supernaturalistic members of christianity what to believe that their supernaturalistic beliefs are grounded in some ways in history. So… an entire industry, the religion industry sprung up. If the history inudstry would not confirm the christian supernaturalists ideas… the religion industry would simply great a group of people not in the history field, that would call themselves historians, and refer to each other as historians, and them tell the supernaturalistic christian members that “historians believe…”.
This is why the religion industry is not respect by anyone other than those that are looking t pretend that there is historical knowledge about the jesus legends and the very early beginnings of the christian cults.
@Rich: So you are saying that John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, N.T. Wright, Rich Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, John P. Meier, E.P. Sanders, Nicholas Perrin, James Dunn, Craig A. Evans, Bart D. Ehrman, and a host of others are not professional historians doing historical work?
If so, have you actually read the work of any of these people? Have you asked what criteria they use?
@Brian, Look up each of them and see if any of them have degrees in history. I think that you will find that they have degrees in the religion industry, NOT the history industry. But look that up for yourself. That is something you can easily check. Any that have degrees in history I would say yes, they are historians. If they have degrees in some religion study, then they would be in the religion industry.
@Rich: Then you continue your overgeneralizing because if people have degrees aimed to study something like the ancient near east background of the Hebrew Scriptures, or they are reading Syriac to examine how early Christianity formed in that part of the world, then they are likely preparing to do serious historical work. Your either-or here is absurd.
@Brian, More and more people are understanding the vast difference between the religion industry and the history industry. I get email from people all the time saying they are finally understanding the difference, and it has helped them understand better ho to study the history of Christianity. I do not see anything “absurd” with the view, and from the emails I am getting, it seems that a many others don’t either.
@Rich: OK, that’s great, crusade on. Cheers!
As a Mormon, let me take a moment to ask a simple, unscholarly question. Why do you feel the need to prove his existence beyond the Bible?
I do not have a PhD, or a Master’s, or even a Bachelor’s in any religious studies; I only have a couple religious studies courses from my BA, but I do not require empirical evidence of the existence of Christ. Have any of you thought that you are just over thinking this whole thing?
My testimony of truth exists the same for the Bible as it does for my testimony of the Book of Mormon. I do not require the winning argument in a scholarly theological debate to tell me if Christ existed, he exists, its that simple, and it is plain to see as it in the book – which I asume as scholars – is right in front of you.
If you feast on its words daily, why do you need more? For a similar take on the Book of Mormon, you can refer to what TAD R. CALLISTER of the Seventy – the same office of the priesthood as the primitive church – said in a recent address.
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