Did Jesus exist?


"The church lives on the fact that modern research about Jesus is not known amongst the public." -- Hans Konzelmann


Since I am an atheist, I don't claim to know very much about Jesus Christ. In fact, I don't even claim to know whether he existed or not. I would like to say about Jesus what Bertrand Russell, in his History of Western Philosophy (Russell, 1961), says about Socrates:
"Socrates is a very difficult subject for the historian. There are many men concerning whom it is certain that very little is known, and other men concerning whom it is certain that a great deal is known; but in the case of Socrates the uncertainty is as to whether we know very little or a great deal."

The only sources there are about Jesus have been edited, re-edited, translated, interpreted, forged and cheeted by people of the church. Much of what is written has been edited to fit the author's purposes. It is said that history is written by the winner. For centuries the Christian religion was in power and, thus, the story told by the church is not trustworthy.

Now, many Christians will claim that I am stupid, close minded, arrogant, lying or whatever, but they are wrong. I'm just being earnest. If historians admit that they don't know if Socrates really said what he is supposed to have said, why wouldn't they admit that about Jesus? Compared to the evidence that Jesus existed, the evidence for Socrates is overwhelming. There are even people who lived contemporary to Socrates, who have written about him.

When it comes to Jesus there is nothing. The gospels were written at least thirty, perhaps even eighty, years efter Jesus' supposed crucifixion, and were written by church-people. If you think about how fast gossip spreads, and how much gossip must have come to be during thirty years, you would have to rename the gospels to the gossips. The authors probably never even met Jesus personally, and some parts that are read today were added in the second century (I may be wrong here, could be the fourth century).

And then we have a principle that most people use. It may seem unfair at first, but actually it is a fundamental principle in taking things for true. The principle is this, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Well... shouldn't we require extra-extraordinary evidence for the claim that a man two thousand years ago was God incarnated? Michael Martin, in his book The Case Against Christianity (Martin, 1991), writes:

"The various reports of miracles connected with Jesus' life may be true but a rational person will surely demand better evidence than the conflicting reports of four unknown authors writing decades after the events."

There aren't even any contemporary historians who wrote about Jesus. If Jesus was such a great man as the Bible tells us (e.g. Mark 6:13-14, Luke 7:14-17), shouldn't we have some scriptures from contemporary historians mentioning him? Some historians, who were in Jerusalem when Jesus supposedly was there, wrote exhaustive accounts of far less events but did not mention Jesus. How can that be if Jesus really existed? Either he was not the man the Bible says, or he didn't exist.

I have to admit that there are historians that did write about Jesus, but none of them were contemporary to Jesus. The most cited is Josephus Flavius. For an account of the Josephus passage, see the file by Gordon Stein, Ph.D (Stein, 1982). But according to e.g. (McDowell, 1972) Josephus was born 37 CE (Current Era). In other words Jesus, if he really existed, was already dead when Josephus was born, so he can only have reported what he heard from Christians. The same problem goes for all historicians who mention Jesus (see e.g. McDowell, 1972 for dates). They only report about the traditions of the early christian church.

Lack of evidence for a hypothesis does not prove that it is false, but there is one more fundamental principle for knowledge. The Negative Evidence Principle (NEP) states that:

"A person is justified in believeing that p is false if (1) all the available evidence used to support the view that p is true is shown to be inadequate and (2) p is the sort of claim such that if p were true, there should be available evidence that would be adequate to support the view that p is true and (3) the area where evidence would appear if there were any, has been comprehensively examined" (Scriven, 1966)

If Jesus was a man of history, and if Jesus performed any miracles we would suppose many reports from contemporary historians. We have comprehensively examined all accounts, and none of then adequately supports the existence of Jesus. On these grounds, and the NEP, my conclusion is that Jesus did not exist.

References:

  1. Michael Martin, The Case Against Christianity, Temple University Press, 1991
  2. Josh McDowell. Evidence that Demands a Verdict, San Bernadino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972.
  3. Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, George Allen & Unwin, 1961, p. 101.
  4. Cf Michael Scriven, Primary Philosophy, New York: Mc Graw-Hill, 1966 (as quoted in Martin, 1991)
  5. Gordon Stein, Ph.D., The Jesus of History: A Reply to Josh McDowell, 1982, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gordon_stein/jesus.html

Further Reading

  1. Acharya S, The Origins of Christianity and the Quest for the Historical Jesus Christ -- Great link which covers most of the case that Jesus was a fictional charachter. New
  2. Cygnus Study - Great site for critical studies on the historicity of Jesus
  3. Jesus: History or Myth? - Well written critical examination of the historicy of Jesus. New
  4. Did a historical Jesus exist? - Another great essay
  5. Alvar Ellegård, Myten om Jesus, Bonnier Fakta, 1992 (Translated as "Jesus One hundred years before Christ")
  6. Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, 1991
  7. G A Wells, The Jesus Myth, Open Court Publishing Company, 1997

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File created: May 13, 1997
Last update: Sunday, October 31, 2004

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