Existence of Jesus
The existence of Jesus as a real, historical figure has been debated for centuries. Apologists who believe Jesus did actually exist try to use this purported fact to support other claims, such as that he was divine or that his teachings should be followed. Contrary to the assumption of many believers, the Bible is not a reliable historical source.
Historical vs. Biblical Jesus
When debating the question of whether Jesus really existed, it is necessary to distinguish between several questions: "Was there a preacher named Jesus in Judea around 1-33 CE, who was crucified by the Romans?" and "Was there really a person who performed the miracles attributed to Jesus in the Bible?" The former is an ordinary and plausible claim; the latter is an extraordinary claim, and requires extraordinary evidence. This is like asking "Did George Washington exist?" vs. "Is it true that George Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac river?"
If Jesus was an ordinary human who did not perform any miracles, it would not be surprising that there are no contemporary accounts of his existence, since most people from that era have gone unrecorded.
However, if he had performed miracles, or if his life had been accompanied by extraordinary events, we would expect many people to have written about them. For example, Matthew 27:51-53 says that when Jesus died,
"And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many."
The fact that there is no contemporary extra-Biblical evidence of such an extraordinary event strongly suggests that it never happened. Likewise, the star of Bethlehem, which allegedly marked Jesus' birth, would presumably have been seen all over the world, and been recorded by other literate societies, such as China.
Contemporary Extra-Biblical Evidence
Contemporary extra-Biblical evidence is often requested to help corroborate the existence of Jesus Christ. This is a very important epistemological application. Objections to this requirement come in several forms:
- All the "extra-Biblical" texts that were available would have been aggregated into the Bible.
- The different books of the Bible are each individually independent corroborations.
It's unfortunate if the above is true, because the problem is still present - contamination.
When an incident or dispute occurs in modern society, and the police are called to address the situation, one of the first steps they take is to separate all the individuals involved. Next, they interview each person for his/her interpretation of events. The individual stories are then cross examined by the police officers in order to identify discrepancies and similarities, attempting to reconstruct what really happened.
If two witnesses are standing next to each other while one or the other is interviewed, the other person's testimony will be contaminated. If the second person is asked what happened right after the first person, and parrots what he/she heard, it's hardly independent corroborating evidence.
Yet that's what happens when all the evidence is collected into the Bible - it's all contaminated, and for all we know, has been edited to match. If we discover independent evidence that has not been contaminated, and it matches, it's going to be much more helpful in corroborating assertions in the Bible than not.