mistermack

Did Christianity start with a real human Jesus?

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Was there a REAL person, at the heart of the Christian religion? Of course, if you're a Christian, you will answer yes.
But most atheists (like me) would probably say yes as well. There is so much detail written, that you would think that there probably was a real person, around who the tales were woven. That's been my position for years.
I have heard of claims by some people that there never was a historical Jesus, but always thought that they were a bit like conspiracy theorists, bending reality to match their obsessive belief.

On a whim, I thought I'd have a look at the evidence for a historical Jesus, at the root of it all. And I was amazed. At the lack of it. And the rubbish quality of what little IS out there. 
So I thought I'd start a thread on it, and give some facts and links, for anyone who's interested, and invite comments, hopefully from people who know a bit.


Just to give a basic outline of the question, and the available evidence, I'll start with a time-line. 

The EARLIEST physical evidence for the story is scraps of documents, written on papyrus. The very earliest are mostly tiny scraps containing a few dozen words. And the very oldest of these are dated about the year 200. That's right ! The year 200. 
Useful wiki reading here : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_manuscript#New_Testament_manuscripts
Now there is a general consensus among historians that these are faithful copies of much earlier documents. In fact, copies of copies of copies of copies. 
That's how documents had to be distributed in those days. You wrote copies by hand. And rarely had the original to copy. So after 150 odd years, there had to be a lot of copying of copies.
At any point in those 150 years, changes could be made. Words could be added or removed. "corrections" could be inserted. Improvements could be added.
The oldest COMPLETE new testament is from about the year 350. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Sinaiticus#Date_of_the_codex  

If you are looking for details about a historical Jesus, the gospels are full of it. All of the familiar stories. The problem is, that's what it is. Stories. 
Proper historians don't regard the gospels as historical data. They are anonymous, full of false facts and contradictions, and are not backed up by any other sources, like Roman historical documents, or inscriptions on walls, etc. etc.
The other problem with the gospels is their dates. Mark is the earliest, around the year 68. Then came Matthew, around the year 90. Then came Luke around the year 100, (although it was being changed and revised for many years after) And then John was the last of the four, dated to probably shortly after Luke. 
Other historians date these gospels to much later, but few go for any earlier. And, as I said, these dates are of documents long destroyed. We only have copies, dating from centuries later.
Matthew and Luke seem to rely heavily on the earlier Mark, whereas John seems different in lots of ways.

So historically, nothing in the gospels can be taken as history, and certainly, none of it is written by eye witnesses, or backed up by other sources. And it's all originally written at least 40 years after the events, and mostly much more.

Unfortunately, everything else in the bible has the same problems, apart from the letters, or epistles, of Paul. So if you are looking for actual historical evidence of a real Jesus, Paul is your only chance. Having come to that conclusion, for the first time in my life, I started reading Paul's epistles.

I should say here, that out of 14 epistles, only 7 are considered authentic and by Paul. So there are 7 genuine, and 7 forgeries.
Not great for the confidence. And the more you read about the Bible, the more accepted forgeries you come across. 
The genuine ones are :
1 Thessalonians
Romans
Galatians
1 and 2 Corinthians
Philippians 
Philemon

And they were written over about 10 years, beginning with year 52.

So, that's ALL there is, remotely reliable written about a historical Jesus. (and the oldest scrap of Paul's epistles is dated about the year 200)

If you're interested in reading what he wrote, the links are here : https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/  

I was amazed when I started reading them. He simply is NOT writing about the  real live Jesus in the gospels. In fact, there is hardly anything about the man at all. He does say that Jesus died and rose again. And once or twice he refers to someone as Jesus's "brother", but in an ambiguous way.

But, for a man writing about a supposed god who lived on Earth, he hardly gives him a mention. I find it quite astounding, and can only agree with the theorists who propose that the Jesus figure started out as an archangel figure, who morphed into the Jewish Messiah character, and was constantly embellished from that time onwards, till what we have today. 


Anyway, anybody agree, or disagree, or more familiar with the story? 
I'm open to any knowledgeable corrections, or to be convinced the other way, but at the moment, I'm thinking it's highly likely there never was a real man behind the myth.

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It is true that the historical evidence is not strong, but most academic historians agree that Jesus existed. With other words, to explain the way Jesus is mentioned in biblical sources and some other ancient historian's accounts on one side, and the way Christianity has grown in its early beginnings on the other, the best hypothesis is that he really existed. However the surest facts are meager:

- he was born in Nazareth

- he was an apocalyptic preacher in the Jewish tradition, and met John the Baptist

- he had a brother, James

- he was crucified under Pilatus 

That's it. All the rest of the sources is so mashed up with what people wanted to believe, that not more can be concluded historically.

There was a pretty long thread in this forum on this starting in 2014. Before I must repeat all points, please have a look there.

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11 hours ago, mistermack said:

Was there a REAL person, at the heart of the Christian religion?

Someone had to start it since it couldn't have been a god unless he was taking the piss...

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1 hour ago, Eise said:

It is true that the historical evidence is not strong, but most academic historians agree that Jesus existed. With other words, to explain the way Jesus is mentioned in biblical sources and some other ancient historian's accounts on one side, and the way Christianity has grown in its early beginnings on the other, the best hypothesis is that he really existed. However the surest facts are meager:

- he was born in Nazareth

- he was an apocalyptic preacher in the Jewish tradition, and met John the Baptist

- he had a brother, James

- he was crucified under Pilatus 

That's it. All the rest of the sources is so mashed up with what people wanted to believe, that not more can be concluded historically.

There was a pretty long thread in this forum on this starting in 2014. Before I must repeat all points, please have a look there.

Thanks very much. I did do a search before I started the thread, but didn't find that for some reason. I would have posted on it instead, if I had found the thread.

If the mods want to merge it, it's fine by me. 

Like you said, it's a long thread, so there's plenty of reading there.

I haven't seen any good evidence for your bulleted points, so I'll be looking at the previous thread, but would appreciate it if you have any or know where to look. 

Cheers.

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tbh I think the person who started it all was John the Baptist, everything happened after Jesus met him at least everything important; before was prophecies inserted for convenience  

After all, who is more evangelical: the X smoker or the never smoked?

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The evidence for a historical Socrates (and most historical figures in the ancient world) is even weaker of one applies the same standard of insisting on original surviving contemporary manuscripts.  

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58 minutes ago, mistermack said:

I haven't seen any good evidence for your bulleted points, so I'll be looking at the previous thread, but would appreciate it if you have any or know where to look. 

My main source is Did Jesus Exist?, by Bart Ehrman.

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3 hours ago, Eise said:

- he was born in Nazareth

- he was an apocalyptic preacher in the Jewish tradition, and met John the Baptist

- he had a brother, James

- he was crucified under Pilatus 

We have already discussed this at length in the other thread so I won't carry on too much but none of the above are provable. Rather they are just consistencies in Jesus's story. Consistencies doesn't equal proof especially when there are more inconsistencies than consistencies. Also those are all items which are known of Jesus from religious writings for which authorship cannot be determined. 

If is fair to say that in your opinion the story of Jesus was probably based on a real life individual. I think it is an overstatement to say there is proof Jesus was literally a real person. 

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2 minutes ago, Ten oz said:

We have already discussed this at length in the other thread so I won't carry on too much but none of the above are provable. Rather they are just consistencies in Jesus's story. Consistencies doesn't equal proof especially when there are more inconsistencies than consistencies. Also those are all items which are known of Jesus from religious writings for which authorship cannot be determined. 

If is fair to say that in your opinion the story of Jesus was probably based on a real life individual. I think it is an overstatement to say there is proof Jesus was literally a real person. 

A rose by any other name...

1 minute ago, David Hine said:

So, Jesus did exist in his spiritual form right from Day 1. 'Human' Jesus began His 'Second Covenant' (Times and a Half), and that's what many think is the start of Christianity. In fact Christianity began with THE Creation, as described in KJ Geneses. 

You do know this is a science site, right?

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7 minutes ago, Ten oz said:

I think it is an overstatement to say there is proof Jesus was literally a real person. 

Yes, that would be an overstatement. When even our physicist-colleagues say 'there is no proof in science', how much more true is this for ancient history 'facts'. 

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Eise said:

Yes, that would be an overstatement. When even our physicist-colleagues say 'there is no proof in science', how much more true is this for ancient history 'facts'. 

The standards of evidence vary by scholarly disciplines.  "Proof" is a poor word choice in most cases outside of the disciplines of mathematics and law (where there are articulated standards of "beyond a reasonable doubt" and "preponderance of the evidence.")

Rather than discussing "proof" from a scientific viewpoint, it makes more sense to ask questions like "How does the scholarly evidence for a historical Jesus compare with the scholarly evidence of well-established historical figures in the ancient world such as Socrates, Plato, and other historically important philosophers, teachers, and religious figures?"  Figures who were authors, politicians, and generals tended to leave more evidence than teachers, philosophers, and religious figures.  How does the scholarly historical evidence for Jesus compare with that for Archimedes and Pythagoras?  Creating an approach to apply to Jesus alone runs the risk of introducing biases and baggage that are better excluded from sound historical scholarship.

Edited by MathGeek

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22 minutes ago, MathGeek said:

The standards of evidence vary by scholarly disciplines.  "Proof" is a poor word choice in most cases outside of the disciplines of mathematics and law (where there are articulated standards of "beyond a reasonable doubt" and "preponderance of the evidence.")

Rather than discussing "proof" from a scientific viewpoint, it makes more sense to ask questions like "How does the scholarly evidence for a historical Jesus compare with the scholarly evidence of well-established historical figures in the ancient world such as Socrates, Plato, and other historically important philosophers, teachers, and religious figures?"  Figures who were authors, politicians, and generals tended to leave more evidence than teachers, philosophers, and religious figures.  How does the scholarly historical evidence for Jesus compare with that for Archimedes and Pythagoras?  Creating an approach to apply to Jesus alone runs the risk of introducing biases and baggage that are better excluded from sound historical scholarship.

Why not compare Jesus against historical figures where there is a broad agreement about? As you are surely aware some argue that Plato and Socrates may have been the same person or than one may have been invented by the other. Also why does the figure have to have been a philosopher or religious? 

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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, Eise said:

My main source is Did Jesus Exist?, by Bart Ehrman.

Thanks. I haven't got the book, but I have seen Bart discussing it on youtube, as well as Richard Carrier. I like Bart Ehrman, not so keen on Carrier, but to be honest, I was very disappointed by the weakness of Ehrman's evidence in the youtube videos. He puts it over really well, but when I looked critically at what he was saying, it's not very convincing. He makes an awful lot of just one or two instances in Paul's epistles, where Paul says something like "I met Peter, and James, the brother of Jesus".

I think it's a very ambiguous passage. Peter was Peter, every Christian knew he was considered the Leader. And James the brother of Jesus could have just signified he was a disciple, one of the "brotherhood", or it could mean that James was from the House of David, which was claimed for Jesus, as it was in line with the prophesies.  

What I suspect happened was that there was an archangel Jesus (which there was in Jewish folklore) and tales were being put around that he was going to be the Messiah. He battled Satan in heaven, was killed, and rose again, like in various prophesies. That was then morphed into a more human Messiah, and stories grew up turning him into an Earth based saviour.

Why I can't buy the real person story, is that Paul, only 20 years after the apparent death of Jesus, and having met his supposed sidekick Peter in person, wasn't FULL of Jesus in his letters. And yet there's hardly a mention. It should have been Jesus this, Jesus that, right through from beginning to end. 20 years is not a lot, and Peter, as a suppose EYEWITNESS, should have filled him in, and given him the full lowdown on everything. Paul's letters are simply NOT the letters of someone talking about a real person.

Put yourself in Paul's position. He's dedicating his life to the cult of Jesus. He's only ever met Jesus in a blinding vision. Then he meets Peter and James. What would you do? If Jesus had been a real human, I would be extracting EVERY SCRAP of information about Jesus the man from the two of them, and writing it all down, and sharing it in my letters. If you read any of the epistles with that in mind, it just hasn't happened. It jumps off the page at you. Either he didn't meet the two of them, or they had nothing to tell him, because all the stories hadn't yet been written. There really is virtually nothing about Jesus the man, when there should have been a torrent.

Edited by mistermack

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Posted (edited)

@mistermack Ehrman's information is good provided one accepts Paul is a creditable. The problem I have is that Paul isn't creditable. Paul claimed to have met a resurrected Jesus during a trip to Damascus. So either Paul lied or resurrection is real. Once one acknowledges that Paul's writings cannot be treated as facts unless verfied proof Jesus was real dries up. For example there is evidence Pontius Pilate was a real person but Pilate's only connection to Jesus if through Paul's writings. Once one removes Paul as creditable than the existence of Pilate has no relationship to Jesus. 

Then separately the story of Jesus appears to be similar to other Gods like Horus and Krishna. If we strip away the similarities what is left? 

Edited by Ten oz

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15 hours ago, mistermack said:

Thanks. I haven't got the book, but I have seen Bart discussing it on youtube, as well as Richard Carrier. I like Bart Ehrman, not so keen on Carrier, but to be honest, I was very disappointed by the weakness of Ehrman's evidence in the youtube videos. He puts it over really well, but when I looked critically at what he was saying, it's not very convincing. He makes an awful lot of just one or two instances in Paul's epistles, where Paul says something like "I met Peter, and James, the brother of Jesus".

I think it's a very ambiguous passage. Peter was Peter, every Christian knew he was considered the Leader. And James the brother of Jesus could have just signified he was a disciple, one of the "brotherhood", or it could mean that James was from the House of David, which was claimed for Jesus, as it was in line with the prophesies.  

What I suspect happened was that there was an archangel Jesus (which there was in Jewish folklore) and tales were being put around that he was going to be the Messiah. He battled Satan in heaven, was killed, and rose again, like in various prophesies. That was then morphed into a more human Messiah, and stories grew up turning him into an Earth based saviour.

Why I can't buy the real person story, is that Paul, only 20 years after the apparent death of Jesus, and having met his supposed sidekick Peter in person, wasn't FULL of Jesus in his letters. And yet there's hardly a mention. It should have been Jesus this, Jesus that, right through from beginning to end. 20 years is not a lot, and Peter, as a suppose EYEWITNESS, should have filled him in, and given him the full lowdown on everything. Paul's letters are simply NOT the letters of someone talking about a real person.

Put yourself in Paul's position. He's dedicating his life to the cult of Jesus. He's only ever met Jesus in a blinding vision. Then he meets Peter and James. What would you do? If Jesus had been a real human, I would be extracting EVERY SCRAP of information about Jesus the man from the two of them, and writing it all down, and sharing it in my letters. If you read any of the epistles with that in mind, it just hasn't happened. It jumps off the page at you. Either he didn't meet the two of them, or they had nothing to tell him, because all the stories hadn't yet been written. There really is virtually nothing about Jesus the man, when there should have been a torrent.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+15&version=NIV

 

13 hours ago, Ten oz said:

For example there is evidence Pontius Pilate was a real person but Pilate's only connection to Jesus if through Paul's writings. Once one removes Paul as creditable than the existence of Pilate has no relationship to Jesus. 

Pilate is mentioned in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  See: https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=Pilate&qs_version=NIV

Pilate is not mentioned by name in any letters attributed to Paul. 

We at least owe different faiths accurate representation of their primary documents when questioning their historicity.

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1 hour ago, MathGeek said:

Thanks MathGeek, 1 corinthians was the next epistle on my reading list. 

It comes across very strongly that Paul is categorically NOT talking about human bodies being raised from the dead. He's quite clear that the body is perishable and discarded, and what rises is a spiritual body. Which matches with the Jesus that he claims he met on the road to Damascus. It's pretty obvious too, that he's regarding Jesus's appearance to apostles, and the throng of 500 as a spiritual appearance. 

So in modern terms, it's a series of "happenings". We had a lot of those in the hippy era. I even eyewitnessed a similar phenomenon in Ireland in 1985, I witnessed and heard normally sane people claiming to be seeing statues moving, including levitating and hovering. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moving_statues 

The country went a little bit mad for a few weeks, and nearly every statue in every church had a little ring of people around it, praying and aching to see it move, with some declaring loudly that they saw it wobble. A sort of contagious mass hysteria. It did die out. There was a lot of mockery, as well as belief.

The other thing that's clear from Corinthians 1 is that there was a clear narrative, that it was NECESSARY for Jesus to die and rise again, in order for sin to be forgiven, and for souls to be able to rise again at the end of the world. It seems that that was the pre-ordained part, and all the stories were in the process of being woven, around that basic narrative. 

And that's not an original idea. Very similar narratives had been proposed before, in other countries, with other gods.

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35 minutes ago, Ten oz said:

And who wrote Mathew, Mark, and Luke? 

And now that we've traveled this tangent to its logical dead end, can we get back to the OP?

17 hours ago, Ten oz said:

Paul claimed to have met a resurrected Jesus during a trip to Damascus. So either Paul lied or resurrection is real.

there is a third way, Jesus or whatshisname being a motivated PR guy, convinced one or two Romans, with enough clout, to fake his death and on his way to his new life, who should he meet? Oh FFS... Ok, lets wing it...

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14 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

And now that we've traveled this tangent to its logical dead end, can we get back to the OP?

How is this not the OP? The Gospels are the only source which describes Jesus's life. If they are not reliable to some degree than there isn't much of a case which can be made for Jesus having been a real person. 

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Just now, Ten oz said:

How is this not the OP? The Gospels are the only source which describes Jesus's life. If they are not reliable to some degree than there isn't much of a case which can be made for Jesus having been a real person. 

You're missing the point; a human started it since it, is obviously real. 

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If you look at the Mormons, a real person, Joseph Smith, took earlier stories, and started a new religion, with new stories which now has millions of followers. 

It can be done, and the original story doesn't need to be based on a real person. After all, if Jesus WAS a real person, he based his story on previous mythical Jewish characters, like God, Satan, Angel Gabriel, etc etc. 

My position at present is that Christianity might or might not be based on a real Jesus. But it's certainly based on a false Adam and Eve, talking snake, Noah, and God and Moses. So it certainly doesn't HAVE to be based on a real Jesus. 

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1 minute ago, mistermack said:

If you look at the Mormons, a real person, Joseph Smith, took earlier stories, and started a new religion, with new stories which now has millions of followers. 

It can be done, and the original story doesn't need to be based on a real person. After all, if Jesus WAS a real person, he based his story on previous mythical Jewish characters, like God, Satan, Angel Gabriel, etc etc. 

My position at present is that Christianity might or might not be based on a real Jesus. But it's certainly based on a false Adam and Eve, talking snake, Noah, and God and Moses. So it certainly doesn't HAVE to be based on a real Jesus. 

He's just the most recent, but how does that argue my point?

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1 minute ago, dimreepr said:

He's just the most recent, but how does that argue my point?

Do you think Adam and Eve were real? Or Noah? What real person lies at the root of the Jewish religion?

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Posted (edited)
28 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

You're missing the point; a human started it since it, is obviously real. 

Opening sentence of the OP is below. The question isn't whether or not Christianity is real but rather Jesus as a individual flesh and blood person was. 

On 8/12/2018 at 7:50 PM, mistermack said:

Was there a REAL person, at the heart of the Christian religion? Of course, if you're a Christian, you will answer yes.

 

Edited by Ten oz

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Just now, mistermack said:

Do you think Adam and Eve were real? Or Noah?

Why would I?

2 minutes ago, mistermack said:

What real person lies at the root of the Jewish religion?

I don't know, probably Moses or whatshisname...

 

3 minutes ago, Ten oz said:

The question isn't whether or not Christianity is real but rather Jesus as a individual flesh and blood person was. 

Of course, he or she was real; or do you think God did it?

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