Jesus is ahistorical

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Did Jesus exist? Can be be certain either way?

Some historians and critics of Christianity argue that the evidence for Jesus is very weak and therefore Jesus is ahistorical. [1] Arguments that are based on the lack of historical sources are sometimes called arguments from silence and are often considered as unreliable. The view that Jesus never existed is a minority view among historians. This is in contrast to other theories that seek to explain the existence of Jesus as either literally true, partly historical or mythical figure.

Contents

Arguments

No contemporary historians mention Jesus or his activities. Given that many miracles are said to have accompanied him, this would have left a strong impression on his audience. We would expect contemporary accounts and historians to mention Jesus if he was existed as described in the Bible. The Bible is not a reliable historical source and not contemporary. For this reason, some consider Jesus to be ahistorical.

For instance, Philo of Alexandria (25 BCE - 47-50 CE) was a contemporary of Jesus, had strong ties that that region and wrote extensively about the history of the Jews. He did not mention Jesus, Christianity or any of the events surrounding it. [2]

Josephus was born several years after the death of Jesus. He wrote the Testimonium Flavian, which mentions Jesus but is of questionable authenticity.

While some miracles occurred in a private setting, many are said to have been performed in public. This includes miracles at Jesus's baptism and crucifixion.

  • If we expect primary sources to exist, we can say the life of Jesus, if he existed, was rather less notable than described in the New Testament.
  • If we do not expect primary sources to exist, Christianity is based on a mythical rather than historical person.

What is a primary historical source?

Primary sources are fundamental to the study of history and would be expected to exist if Jesus was a historical person.

"A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. [3]"
"Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented."

Note that the New Testament is not primary source with respect to the life of Jesus, mainly because they were written decades after the events by anonymous authors who were probably not eye witnesses. Also, they are clearly written to support a particular religious point of view by people within that religion. This makes them an unreliable secondary source for the life of Jesus.

Massacre of the Innocents

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For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

While Herod the Great does seem to have been a historical person, there is no evidence of Herod's slaughter of the innocent. Matthew 2:16–18 Bible-icon.png [4]

Miracles surrounding Jesus's baptism

"And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

Matthew 3:16-17 Bible-icon.png

There is no primary historical sources describing a voice from heaven at this time.

Miracles in a public setting

There are no independent reports of the miracles of Jesus that occurred in public settings. This includes the feeding of the multitude. Matthew 14:16-21 Bible-icon.png; Mark 6:35-44 Bible-icon.png; Luke 9:12-17 Bible-icon.png; John 6:5-14 Bible-icon.png

Trial of Jesus

There is no record of a Roman tradition of releasing a prisoner at the Passover feast. [5] John 18:39 Bible-icon.png

In contrast to Jesus, Pontius Pilate does seem to have been a historical person.

Miracles surrounding the crucifixion

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For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

One of the more striking claims in the New Testament is that on the death of Jesus:

"Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many."

Matthew 27:52-53 Bible-icon.png

"And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom."

Mark 15:38 Bible-icon.png

"It was now about the sixth hour,[noon] and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,[3pm] while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two."

Luke 23:44–44 Bible-icon.png

Such remarkable events would have left an impression on witnesses, we would expect to see many accounts of the event from non-Christian sources. A darkening of the sun would be widely visible to many cultures, almost certainly including most of the Roman Empire and it would be been recorded. No such records survive. Therefore, these events did not occur.

Apologists argue that a secondary source, written by a Christian historian who lived hundreds of years after the event, still exists. [6] This is hardly compelling evidence.

"In Antiquities of the Jews Book V chapter 5, Josephus describes the temple curtain and the curtain to the Holy of Holies in some detail, with no suggestion of earlier damage or repair. [7]"

"The Temple" was Jesus's body

Some apologists interpret this prophecy figuratively. John 2:21 Bible-icon.png

"Jesus’ listeners later realized that the temple he spoke of was his body. [8]"

That still does not explain the lack of evidence of the darkness, the earthquake or the dead rising.

Speaking in tongues

A crowd heard the Apostles speaking and yet understood in the listener's own language.

"Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language."

Acts 2:5-6 Bible-icon.png

Counter arguments

Some evidence exists

While no contemporary evidence exists, apologists point to the New Testament and later writers who mention the early Christian church. [9] The most commonly cited sources are:

Unfortunately, the New Testament is not consistent or unbiased about Jesus. The later writers only provide evidence that the early church existed, not that the church's beliefs were valid.

Other historical figures are accepted on weaker evidence

Main Article: Many accurate copies of my holy book exist

Apologists argue that many figures in history are accepted based on similar or even weaker evidence. It is therefore unreasonable to consider Jesus as ahistorical.

"If we maintain that the life of our Lord is not a historical event, we are landed in hopeless difficulties; in consistency, we shall have to give up all ancient history and deny that there ever was such an event as the assassination of Julius Caesar[10]"

If we believe what the best sources say about Julius Caesar, then we should believe what the best sources say about Jesus Christ.

  • Alexander the Great: Unlike Jesus, we actually do have historical evidence for Alexander the Great. We have treaties, and even a letter from Alexander to the people of Chios engraved in stone (332 B.C.E). Alexander left a mass of destroyed and created cities behind. We have buildings, libraries and cities, such as Alexandria, left in his name.
  • Julius Caesar: We have portraits and artifacts of Caesar, contemporary witnesses, even letters written by his own hand. We have a number of inscriptions and coins produced contributed to Caesar. Contemporary and reliable historians (Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, Plutarch) all mention and describe the life and actions of Caesar. They often quote and name many different sources (both friendly and hostile to Caesar), showing a wide reading of the witnesses and documents. We have letters from his enemies, including Cicero, that mention Caesar. [11] Also, the history of Rome could not have proceeded as it did had Caesar not physically moved an army into Italy.
  • Augustus: For Augustus Caesar, we have the Res gestae divi augusti, the emperor's own account of his works and deeds, a letter to his son (Epistula ad Gaium filium), Virgil's eyewitness accounts, and much more.
  • Napoleon: Napoleon left behind artifacts, eyewitness accounts and letters. We have contemporary eye-witnesses, journals, even a portraits of Napoleon.

Arguments from silence are weak

Using the lack of evidence is used to argue that Jesus never exist, this is an argument from silence. This is a fairly weak argument because records can be lost for any number of reasons though history. It is rather like a god of the gaps argument which can be overturned by new evidence.

References

  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. [4]
  5. Charles B. Chavel, The Releasing of a Prisoner on the Eve of Passover in Ancient Jerusalem, Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 60, No. 3 (Sep., 1941), pp. 273-278]
  6. [5]
  7. [6]
  8. [7]
  9. [8]
  10. Monser, An Encyclopedia on the Evidences: Or, Masterpieces of Many Minds, 1961, p. 377
  11. [9]

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