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Was there a real Jesus of Nazareth ?


mistermack
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10 minutes ago, exchemist said:

The historian, however, will consider the evidence of the sources.

Sure but as I'm new to the site I'm finding the rules of being off-topic are a bit confusing to me. Regarding personal prejudice, I was just owning up to mine as a preamble but you see where that got me.

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52 minutes ago, Arthur Smith said:

Do you have evidence to support that personal opinion?

Outside this thread, none that I think it's worthwhile to dig up. David Fitzgerald comes to mind. Bart Ehrman, and carrier, too,  seem unduly concerned with the details of the gospels, which we already know were written (possibly dictated) from imperfect memory and with the lack of a back-story for a preacher whom none of his disciples even met until he was 30 years old and far from home... Why would he be telling them about a home and childhood he had forsaken when he reinvented himself as a prophet. Obviously, the virgin birth and Bethlehem  had to wedged in  decades later to make the prophet more magical - probably the miracles, too. 

All that shows is that there was no one physical person who ticks all the boxes in the  Jesus story --- not that those ideas and sermons didn't come from a real person - whatever his name and ancestry might have been. 

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13 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

Outside this thread, none that I think it's worthwhile to dig up. David Fitzgerald comes to mind. Bart Ehrman, and carrier, too,  seem unduly concerned with the details of the gospels

This is not evidential support that "Unfortunately, too many non-Christian historians are just as determined to see deceit and fakery as the christian ones are to deny it, they go to absurd lengths to attack even reasonable evidence for the other side's position." unless three is too many. Not having heard of David Fitzgerald, maybe he fits your description of going to absurd lengths etc. I see he is a myther. Your description does not fit Ehrman though I'll grant you Carrier. That's two. Too many?

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8 minutes ago, Arthur Smith said:

Too many?

Yep. Nothing depends on their position. For a theologian, there is a prior commitment, a faith, a canon to uphold: a great deal at stake. So I can understand why they're entrenched and will defend their position by any means at their disposal - even if it includes stretching credulity and accepting evidence unsupported by outside sources.  I think atheists should be more open-minded and consider a longer perspective.

But that's, again, a personal opinion.

 

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1 hour ago, Arthur Smith said:

Sure but as I'm new to the site I'm finding the rules of being off-topic are a bit confusing to me. Regarding personal prejudice, I was just owning up to mine as a preamble but you see where that got me.

For one thing, the thread title concerns the existence of Jesus of Nazareth.
But the last few pages seem concerned with the existence of a historical Saul of Tarsus, and whether his writings as St. Paul were 'truthful' or not.

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1 minute ago, MigL said:

For one thing, the thread title concerns the existence of Jesus of Nazareth.
But the last few pages seem concerned with the existence of a historical Saul of Tarsus, and whether his writings as St. Paul were 'truthful' or not.

Again regarding truth, I'd like to respond. Is the culture to start a new thread?

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5 minutes ago, Arthur Smith said:

Well, that is an interesting point of view to which I would very much like to respond.

Another time, another place.

On topic, however, I'd like to say that reasonable evidence should be considered in a neutral light. I think there is no argument over the existence of Pontius  Pilate, his animosity toward the Jews, or the political unrest and mass executions under his prefecture?  The revolt of 67CE, was real enough? 

What if divinity, immaculate conception and other miracles were not considered as prerequisite to existence? What if an obscure carpenter from a province that didn't assume importance until after rebellion isn't mentioned by name in contemporary Roman records? How many common tradesmen are mentioned by Roman historians or scribes? How many records were there of baby boys named Yeshua, or any similar phonetic transpositions from the Hebrew alphabet to the Greek? 

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Although the vast majority of Jews did not belong to a party, the study of these parties reveals the substantial variety within the general framework of Judaism. Another indicator of this variety was the diversity of Jewish leaders. Among them were charismatic healers and miracle workers, such as Honi the Circle Drawer and Hanina ben Dosa; hermitlike sages, such as Bannus; eschatological prophets, such as John the Baptist; would-be messianic prophets, such as Theudas and the Egyptian; and apocalyptic visionaries, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jesus/The-Jewish-religion-in-the-1st-century

The Romans just let them get on with their little internecine squabbles, reforms, heresies, cleansings and schisms. Why would they remark on one more itinerant preacher? Why would they remark the crufixion of another blasphemer?

And, as blood sacrifice was a traditional form of atonement and divine forgiveness in the Jewish religion, why wouldn't the followers of that preacher take his martyrdom for a sign of his divinity?

If you don't demand strict correspondence to the Biblical version - which is obviously embellished and inflated, as well as Europeanized at a much later date -  there is no obstacle whatever to the existence of a mortal man at the branching-off of a new religion  from an old one.

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1 hour ago, MigL said:

For one thing, the thread title concerns the existence of Jesus of Nazareth.
But the last few pages seem concerned with the existence of a historical Saul of Tarsus, and whether his writings as St. Paul were 'truthful' or not.

I don't think there's anything wrong with that. We have nothing written by Jesus. The gospels are not historical, they are later Jesus Stories, and can't be relied on for History. What we do have is the letters of Paul, and with all their faults, that's pretty much it, historically. 

Paul definitely existed. At least, someone wrote his letters, so that person definitely existed. So if you want to talk about the historicity or mythical nature of Jesus, you end up discussing Paul and his letters. Historically, there's Paul, there's a couple of very suspect passages in books written by the Jewish historian Josephus, and nothing else. 

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1 hour ago, mistermack said:

Historically, there's Paul, there's a couple of very suspect passages in books written by the Jewish historian Josephus, and nothing else. 

Except Christianity itself, which started before Paul's ministry and spread, via zealous missionaries, all across the Roman occupied territories and into Rome itself, during the first half of the first century CE. 

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Despite its growing popularity, Christianity was sometimes misunderstood and membership could bring enormous risks. Widely criticized after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, the Emperor Nero tried to divert attention away from his own failings by providing an easy scapegoat: the Christians. https://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/christians.html

The time-line would strongly suggest a precipitating event or person at or near the beginning of that century, in or near Jerusalem. After the temple was destroyed in 70CE, each Jewish community was centered on its own local synagogue, but the Christian idea had already been transmitted to Gentiles, and by 100 CE, it's an independent religion. 

This is long before it becomes a Roman official religion, long before the Bible is compiled or the canon decreed.

So it had to get going and take root on its own merits and by the efforts of its apostles. They didn't come from nowhere for no reason, and they were not preaching any mish-mash of pagan demigods and equinox myths: they had a clear, strong, coherent message that won people over.

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14 hours ago, Arthur Smith said:

Sure but as I'm new to the site I'm finding the rules of being off-topic are a bit confusing to me. Regarding personal prejudice, I was just owning up to mine as a preamble but you see where that got me.

If you were to confine yourself to discussing the historical evidence, as I am trying to do, there would be no problem.  Personal opinions on Christianity as a whole, however, have no bearing on historical evidence. That distinction does not seem confusing to me. 

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12 hours ago, mistermack said:

Historically, there's Paul, there's a couple of very suspect passages in books written by the Jewish historian Josephus, and nothing else. 

Flavius Josephus was nearly contemporary --started giving his account a few decades after the "facts". While his focus wasn't on Jesus of Nazareth, he provides a good account on the contextual scenario for the appearance of such figure (relevance of the Essenes). IMO, this contextual scenario is very important and shouldn't be ignored. The case for the existence of a real Jesus, I think, is reinforced by the fact that these different "Jesus-like figures" had been appearing ever since the time of the Greek takeover of official Jewish religion that led to the Maccabean revolt (against the Seleucid kingdom) 200 y before. John the Baptist is a famous example. Another famous one is the Teacher of Righteousness from the Dead Sea Scrolls. While this teacher of righteousness has been robustly, IMO, ruled out as a good candidate for Jesus, his existence goes to prove that the existence of a Jesus figure is very plausible. Political/religious leaders, will tend to adopt strategies that suited their predecessors. And at the time it was very fashionable to go to the desert and start preaching alternative versions of the Jewish law that could find a wide-enough following.

Life of Brian paints a hilarious picture of this cauldron of ideas and beliefs.

Never mind how the collective memory works, by adding more and more layers of narrative that make the whole thing very confusing. Sometimes previous myths are refused into the new story --here I'm trying to address Richard Carrier's main arguments, although he's a scholar, and I'm just a person who tries to apply common sense almost every minute of the day.

Similar cases can be made for David and Solomon, Mohammed, and even Gilgamesh.

I'm in no doubt that there was (some kind of) a Gilgamesh king of Uruk. He probably didn't, almost single-handedly, kill a giant in the forests of Lebanon, as the Epic of Gilgamesh tells us, but he just didn't pop out of a vacuum.

I'm relying heavily on memory, please correct me if I'm wrong.

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20 hours ago, Peterkin said:

We didn't. We were fine with nature spirits, demons, totems and all sorts of local, familiar supernatural entities. Rulers need big, powerful gods. 

So do people, but what ruler can guarantee justice for the average person?

20 hours ago, Peterkin said:

Mostly, he said "Stop fornicating and obey me."

For me he mostly said "stop worrying about thing's you can't control."

But if you were a contempory and understood what he said, then I will stop and obey you, but what will we tell the children?

53 minutes ago, joigus said:

John the Baptist is a famous example. Another famous one is the Teacher of Righteousness from the Dead Sea Scrolls. While this teacher of righteousness has been robustly, IMO, ruled out as a good candidate for Jesus, his existence goes to prove that the existence of a Jesus figure is very plausible. Political/religious leaders, will tend to adopt strategies that suited their predecessors.

I've always thought that John the Baptist taught Jesus, but Jesus had better PR skills...

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46 minutes ago, joigus said:

While this teacher of righteousness has been robustly, IMO, ruled out as a good candidate for Jesus, his existence goes to prove that the existence of a Jesus figure is very plausible.

I agree with the genertal thrust of your post. There's nothing implausible about the notion of a real life character starting it all off. That sort of thing happens all the time. And not just political, but religious figures, like David Koresh, and the Branch Davidians. I'm arguing that the other scenario, the Jesus figure starting out as a myth of a son of god in heaven, morphing into an earthly figure, is equally plausible. 

It wouldn't be plausible today, I would certainly agree to that. Attitudes are so different now, that something like that sounds alien. But 2,000 years ago, there were gods all over the place, with new ones popping up all over the place. Rivers, mountains, the Moon, the Sun, thunder, etc etc etc all identified as having their own gods. And gods became people, and people became gods. These stories were being invented all the time, and getting followings. 

Like I said earlier, the reason that I personally favour the myth version, is the lack of any biographical details in Paul's letters, and the lack of any independent reference to Jesus from the time. There are loads of references to Christians, but none to Jesus except pretty obvious forgeries.

If there had been a real Jesus, I think we would have very different letters from Paul, and genuine contempory references to him, and no need at all to forge references to him. And the gospels wouldn't need to be so contradictory and full of pure invention, they would have real facts to draw on. 

So I'm just saying that we can never know, both scenarios are plausible, but right now I think the myth version is more likely, given the little we DO know. 

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2 hours ago, joigus said:

Never mind how the collective memory works, by adding more and more layers of narrative that make the whole thing very confusing. Sometimes previous myths are refused into the new story --here I'm trying to address Richard Carrier's main arguments, although he's a scholar, and I'm just a person who tries to apply common sense almost every minute of the day.

Think in terms, not of Judea, but the Roman Empire. The original Christian narrative is simple: an itinerant preacher comes out of an obscure province and gives sermons that resonate with simple men. He has a magnetic personality, a commanding presence and a clear, compelling message. He collects a small, devoted following. Everywhere he goes, people gather to listen: he gives them hope and does some faith-healing.... IOW, revival meetings of the kind we still know today.

All that magical stuff, that's tacked on much later. Partly by exaggeration, partly through faulty memory... "Oh that ain't nothin'! I was there when he brung a dead guy back to life." But the divine bits, the pagan gods and feast days - that's all deliberately added by Roman prelates, the better to sell their new messiah to the conquered nations. Rome had already been in the habit of identifying the local deities with their own gods.https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/story-of-england/romans/religion/

It's silly to expect a real, practicing hedge-priest of Judea to anticipate any of this. He was just trying to drag his own people back to the path of righteousness, so that their god would help them again. (Jehovah had a history of forsaking the Jews whenever they were disobedient. Every time some big military empire rolled over them, their prophets would yell at them about sin and shame and how it's all their fault.) 

2 hours ago, mistermack said:

It wouldn't be plausible today, I would certainly agree to that. Attitudes are so different now, that something like that sounds alien.

Really? I don't think attitudes are ever different. People who feel helpless - as in foreign occupation or under a harsh dictatorship - are always looking for supernatural help. Even relatively peaceful and prosperous nations give rise to revival and reformist movements from time to time. https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/new-religious-movements-new-religious-movements-europe

Remember, Jesus (whoever) wasn't trying to start something new or become a god himself - he was just trying to clean up and perhaps liberalize a corrupt version of Judaism. If you look at the core of the message, it's quite straightforward and plausible. It doesn't need virgin birth or astral travel. All those embellishments come later. The real Jesus would have found them cripplingly burdensome.

(While Life of Brian gives a vivid picture of the times, I think Jesus Christ Superstar is closer to the probable man. Without all the singing, obviously. Though i liked the singing.)

2 hours ago, mistermack said:

the Jesus figure starting out as a myth of a son of god in heaven, morphing into an earthly figure, is equally plausible.

Through what mechanism? Given the communications capability of those times, how does a nebulous myth - especially a foreign one - spread and take hold so fast in ancient Judea, Syria, Cyprus....?  All of these peoples had complex established religions, with their own mythologies, legends, heroic figures, monuments, temples and rituals.

Besides, somebody would still have to have started it, and convinced other people of it.

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9 hours ago, exchemist said:

If you were to confine yourself to discussing the historical evidence, as I am trying to do, there would be no problem.  Personal opinions on Christianity as a whole, however, have no bearing on historical evidence. That distinction does not seem confusing to me. 

Sure. Each forum has its own way of operating. I'll lurk and maybe chip in if something interesting develops. 

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21 minutes ago, Arthur Smith said:

Sure. Each forum has its own way of operating. I'll lurk and maybe chip in if something interesting develops. 

We're not always that strict here. Read any random thread and there are usually off-topic comments or conversations going on. Kind of depends on who is monitoring, and when it comes to other members complaining about off-topic conversations keep in mind that "off-topic" is in the eye of the beholder. "Off-topic" rules are most stringently enforced when they are blatant, or people are doing so along with other violations, such as preaching or pushing pet theories in science threads. Also, the person who starts the thread is allowed to define what is and is not off-topic.

Always listen to the moderators as their judgement actually counts, and as you said, lurk a bit till you understand the culture. You'll get the hang of our idiosyncrasies. 

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20 hours ago, mistermack said:

So I'm just saying that we can never know, both scenarios are plausible, but right now I think the myth version is more likely, given the little we DO know. 

Here's where we disagree. Remember the Aztecs believed in Quetzalcoatl since time immemorial, then came Hernán Cortés, and they immediately identified him with the feathered-serpent-god. Did he look at all like a serpent? No. But myths have a way of hovering there for centuries, and even millenia, in people's minds, until something happens that breaths life into them again. I think there's an element here of how myths operate in the mind of people. It's as if they're there waiting for something significant, memorable, to happen, and "fit the bill."

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9 hours ago, joigus said:

Here's where we disagree.

That's fair enough. But while what you believe is perfectly possible, it's worth remembering that a lot of religions did NOT start with a charismatic leader. Most scholars agree that Moses didn't exist. Or Dionysus, or Odin, or all of the various Hindu gods. The muslims’ Allah didn't start with Mohammed, he was a legend long before. 

Christians have a trinity of gods, only one is claimed to have existed as a material being. They also have a long list of angels, none of whom began as a human. They all started out inside someone's head, not flesh and blood. The Egyptians started off with a whole host of heavenly gods, and morphed into having human/god hybrids as Pharoes. 

If I were to list all of the gods who started out as myths, it would run to many pages, and that’s just the known ones. Compare that to established gods that started out as real humans, it’s probably a thousand to one.  

Here’s Richard Carrier, talking about earlier myths, similar to the Jesus myth : https://youtu.be/CC6TzlZtdCo?t=579 

I think that people today give the Jesus story more credibility, just because it’s such a successful religion.

If there were just a few thousand Christians around today, I don’t think many people would have problems with believing that Jesus was a mythical figure. But with 2.4 billion supposed believers, it’s harder to contemplate that he never existed at all.

Even though the huge numbers are purely the result of centuries of compulsion, and nothing to do with evidence, they still influence our thinking.

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1 hour ago, mistermack said:

That's fair enough. But while what you believe is perfectly possible, it's worth remembering that a lot of religions did NOT start with a charismatic leader.

How do you know? It's impossible to trace the origins of most religions.

1 hour ago, mistermack said:

Most scholars agree that Moses didn't exist.

 But somebody started Judaism and somebody led the Jews against all those other tribes. Myths don't just rise up out of the sand.

 

1 hour ago, mistermack said:

They all started out inside someone's head, not flesh and blood.

What, then, was that head made of?

1 hour ago, mistermack said:

Here’s Richard Carrier, talking about earlier myths, similar to the Jesus myth

We all know about that. The Christian god(s), just like the Roman gods, were deliberately identified with whatever mythology already existed. The Holy Virgin was added to make up for the lack of goddesses in Judaism, because most of the pagan belief systems have female deities. The saints more or less represent the guardian spirits of various localities. None of this precludes an originator of the doctrine.

A real person is easy to mythify. A myth is very hard to make flesh.

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8 minutes ago, Peterkin said:

But somebody started Judaism and somebody led the Jews against all those other tribes. Myths don't just rise up out of the sand.

Yes, but we've been through all that. Harry Potter didn't exist as J.K. Rowling. They are two different entities. J.K.Rowling exists. Harry Potter does not. Harry Potter came out of her head. That doesn't mean he existed as a person.

The OP asks, was there a real Jesus of Nazereth. Not, were there real people that helped inspire the story.

Every story is based on people that the author knew or heard of. If you use that as your yardstick, there was a real Odin, a real Hercules, a real Superman, a real Spiderman etc. etc.

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52 minutes ago, mistermack said:

Yes, but we've been through all that. Harry Potter didn't exist as J.K. Rowling. They are two different entities. J.K.Rowling exists. Harry Potter does not. Harry Potter came out of her head. That doesn't mean he existed as a person.

It doesn't work the same way. The readers of harry potter stories are passive consumers. The believers in Jesus were prepared to die gruesome, painful martyr deaths. That kind of devotion is not earned through some contribution from various people writing a story. Inspiring fanatics is the work of a charismatic leader.

56 minutes ago, mistermack said:

The OP asks, was there a real Jesus of Nazereth. Not, were there real people that helped inspire the story.

That's two very different propositions. My stance is: there was a charismatic revivalist preacher, and he had contemporary peers, disciples and imitators, the most successful of whom were identified with him by the followers, who later attributed to this composite memory everything that supported their belief. But the belief, the enthusiasm, the fanaticism  comes before the embellishments, not after.

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