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  1. #1
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Was Jesus Christ a historical person?

    Not a poll but a thread to discuss the issue. My claim is that this question may not be able to be settles to a high degree of certainty but the argument for a historical Jesus is not very strong and takes advantage of a pro-Christian bias in Western culture in general and New Testament studies in particular.

    However the historical investigation of the stories of the old testament have shown that lots of them do not document historical events and as time progresses I suspect more and more questions will be asked about the historical claims in the New Testament.

    Certainly all the supposed extrabiblical evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus Christ does not bear close scrutiny. So the existence of Jesus basically comes down to the Gospels. Document written decades after the event and which also contain may mythic elements which no historian believes (like the story of the census during the reign of Herod and the massacre of the innocents).

    If you have something on this issue you want to post, please do so here rather than in other threads (like the one about Obama being an atheist).
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

  2. #2
    CC Grandmaster Tony Dowden's Avatar
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    Of course he was 'historical' figure. So was Pilate, Herod, Julius Caesar, the 12 apostles, Mary and Joseph, etc.

    The 'Jesus myth theory' has never been popular because it just isn't credible. The evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is overwhelming. Today there are millions and millions of followers of Christ. In the early years of Christendom hundreds and thousands of people were martyred by the Romans. Today they are still being martyred. The idea that all these people gave up their lives for an imaginary person is impossibly far-fetched.
    Last edited by Tony Dowden; 09-03-2015 at 10:17 PM.
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  3. #3
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Dowden View Post
    Of course he was 'historical' figure. So was Pilate, Herod, Julius Caesar, the 12 apostles, Mary and Joseph, etc.

    The 'Jesus myth theory' has never been popular because it just isn't credible. The evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is overwhelming. Today there are millions and millions of followers of Christ. In the early years of Christendom hundreds and thousands of people were martyred by the Romans. Today they are still being martyred. The idea that all these people gave up their lives for an imaginary person is impossibly far-fetched.
    Regarding the popularity of the historical hypothesis over myth has a lot to do with the bias of Western culture. Many westerners think, like you, that that the number of believers of a myth make that history. The bias is quite deep and difficult to remove from the discipline. But a close look at the evidence reveals the real reason history is assumed over myth is not due to the preponderance of evidence for history but rather a lack of evidence challenging it. However since all the textual evidence we have has gone through the filter of several cycles of copying by Christian monks the preservation of inconvenient evidence in unlikely and the preservation of pro-historical evidence and even the improvement of pro-historical evidence is strongly favoured. This has been documented in the corruption of biblical texts (e.g. Long ending of Mark, and forged Pauline letters such as 2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy and Titus) as well as deliberate corruption of extra-biblical texts such as Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews.

    One of the challenges to the historical side of the argument is why we have no written record of Jesus doing anything coming from an eye-witness? All the written records come from writers working decades after the fact. We would have to presume no literate person ever met Jesus and thought him noteworthy. Given the stories in the New Testament this seems unlikely especially when you factor in that the early church would have been trying to preserve any such texts if they existed. The uncontested Pauline letters are among the earliest writings we have and their author (Paul?) attests as to having never met Jesus Christ. The gospels were written later and not by eye witnesses.

    However if you disagree with this or believe there is good primary evidence for Jesus' existence somewhere you should cite it. The save some time you should review the Does God Exists thread and many common bad arguments for primary evidence for Jesus have been made there and shown to be wanting. (Particular around 2005). A good search string in "Josephus".
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

  4. #4
    CC Grandmaster Capablanca-Fan's Avatar
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    F.F. Bruce (1910–1990), Ryland professor of Biblical Criticism at the University of Manchester, writes:

    Some writers may toy with the fancy of a ‘Christ-myth’, but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the ‘Christ-myth’ theories. [F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? (London: Inter-Varsity, 1968), p. 119.]

    Indeed, the main proponent of the ‘Christ Myth’ idea was G.A. Wells (1926– ), a professor of German, not a historian.

    One of RW's heroes, British political philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) had no doubts that Jesus existed:

    It is of no use to say that Christ as exhibited in the gospels is not historical … . Who among his disciples or among their proselytes was capable of inventing the sayings ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the life and character revealed in the gospels? Certainly not the fishermen of Galilee, still less the early Christian writers.

    Indeed, we have less manuscript evidence for some of the people that Dr Dowden mentioned, e.g. Pilate, Herod, Julius Caesar, and the extend manuscripts are centuries after the events. E.g. we have only 10 manuscripts of Caesar's writings, and the earliest dates from about 1,000 years after he wrote. But there are over 20,000 manuscripts in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and other languages from the time and place—over 6,000 in Greek alone—and some go back to the second century AD. We also have about a million NT quotations in the Patristic (Church Fathers) writings.

    Classical scholar A.N. Sherwin-White, who laments the fragmentary manuscript evidence for classical figures, couldn't understand why unbelieving NT scholars would whinge about the paucity of manuscripts they have available.
    Last edited by Capablanca-Fan; 13-03-2015 at 07:05 AM.
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

  5. #5
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Historical arguments with fundamentalists are pointless as evidence by the batshit crazy assertions you made in the other thread on the dating of the gospels. Uncontroversial dating of the gospels gives no possibility that the authors were the people to whom they are ascribed. Mark is the earliest followed by Matthew, Luke and John is the youngest and dates to around 95 AD perhaps later.

    Not sure why Julius Ceasar is an issue we have mountain of evidence for him not from his writings but inscriptions, coins, and eye-witness accounts written in his lifetime. Likewise both Herod the Great and Herod Agrippa I are well attested in histories and could not possibly be fictions. Although these are famous men and so it is not surprising that there is mountains of evidence. Pilate likewise is also extensively covered in a number of sources including Philo and Josephus and we have at least one inscription mention Pilate as prefect of Judea.

    For Jesus we have no coins, no inscriptions, no eye-witness accounts. The earliest writing we have are the letters of Paul who never saw him and then decades later we have the gospels appearing which a large number of mythical elements contained in them. Philo's silence and the corruption of Josephus means we have no reliable extrabiblical evidence.

    The main reason NT historians accept the historical Jesus is that they believe the stories of the baptism and crucifixion based on the criterion of embarrassment. However that is projecting modern sensibilities back 2000 years. In fact I don;t know of any Christians who find ether element embarrassing. The baptism has been used to justify biblical prophecy and also it has been written in such a way that John acknowledges his inferiority to Jesus and the crucifixion is a powerful image because the main message of Christianity is that injustices in the present life will be overcome in the next. This idea found a lot of favour in a people who were subjugated by Rome without any hope of a military saviour to restore their national identity. So I would say the criterion of embarrassment has been incorrectly applied here and really all we have is taking the word of religious propaganda written decades after the events they attest to describe.
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

  6. #6
    CC Grandmaster Tony Dowden's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rincewind View Post
    ... For Jesus we have no coins, no inscriptions, no eye-witness accounts ...
    Simply untrue: we have all of these.

    We also have communities, churches, cathedrals, universities, cities, entire civilisations. What is more, these appear independently and have survived in inhospitable places for two millennia. Apart from European christendom, there's also Armenians and other minorities in Syria, Turkey & Iraq; the Coptic church in Egypt; and very old indigenous churches in Ethiopia and India. None of these have died out despite intense persecution and even genocide. Not what one would expect for a non-existent figure.

    There's nothing left to say about this issue except to consider why it continues to attract the occasional proponent.

    While the Jesus-myth theory itself is patently absurd, in my opinion there is a logical rationale that neatly explains why some will irrationally cling to the position. The Jesus-myth provides self-protection for those rare and commendable people who are intellectually honest but are afraid to address the central question pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth: Is he Jesus the Christ? Their terrible fear - from the position of an honest atheist - is that they will be confronted with the truth. But of course there is no reason for fear: the truth shall set you free.
    Fischer visiting Tal in hospital - Curaçao 1962

    "You must take your opponent into a deep dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one." - Mikhail Tal
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  7. #7
    CC Grandmaster antichrist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Dowden View Post
    Simply untrue: we have all of these.

    We also have communities, churches, cathedrals, universities, cities, entire civilisations. What is more, these appear independently and have survived in inhospitable places for two millennia. Apart from European christendom, there's also Armenians and other minorities in Syria, Turkey & Iraq; the Coptic church in Egypt; and very old indigenous churches in Ethiopia and India. None of these have died out despite intense persecution and even genocide. Not what one would expect for a non-existent figure.

    There's nothing left to say about this issue except to consider why it continues to attract the occasional proponent.

    While the Jesus-myth theory itself is patently absurd, in my opinion there is a logical rationale that neatly explains why some will irrationally cling to the position. The Jesus-myth provides self-protection for those rare and commendable people who are intellectually honest but are afraid to address the central question pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth: Is he Jesus the Christ? Their terrible fear - from the position of an honest atheist - is that they will be confronted with the truth. But of course there is no reason for fear: the truth shall set you free.
    Opposite mate, if I consider I become inflamed for attempting and wasting my time on absolute rubbish that is an insult to the intellect
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  8. #8
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Dowden View Post
    Simply untrue: we have all of these.
    That is just plain silly. Coins minted in early 1st century with Jesus' head on it? No there are none of these. (Not that we would expect any of course but we do have these for Pilate, not with head or name, and Julius Caesar).

    Inscriptions from early 1st century naming Jesus. There are none of these either. (Again possible but unlikely for Jesus but we do have inscriptions for both Pilate and Julius Caesar).

    Eye witness accounts to the events described in the gospels? We have none of these.

    Only fundamentalists believe the Gospels were written by eye-witnesses. Historians date them to past 65 AD and probably as late at 95 AD. Perhaps they stem from an oral tradition but the gospels in the form we have them were not written by eye-witnesses.

    Instead of making fact free (and faulty) assertions. You should simply cite this abundant evidence.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Dowden View Post
    We also have communities, churches, cathedrals, universities, cities, entire civilisations.
    None dating to early 1st century.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Dowden View Post
    What is more, these appear independently and have survived in inhospitable places for two millennia. Apart from European christendom, there's also Armenians and other minorities in Syria, Turkey & Iraq; the Coptic church in Egypt; and very old indigenous churches in Ethiopia and India. None of these have died out despite intense persecution and even genocide. Not what one would expect for a non-existent figure.
    The same can be said for the pyramids. South American, African and Asian civilisations. A Tony Dowden writing in the 4th century would has used the same argument to claim that Romulus must have been a historical figure because Rome thrived.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Dowden View Post
    There's nothing left to say about this issue except to consider why it continues to attract the occasional proponent.

    While the Jesus-myth theory itself is patently absurd, in my opinion there is a logical rationale that neatly explains why some will irrationally cling to the position. The Jesus-myth provides self-protection for those rare and commendable people who are intellectually honest but are afraid to address the central question pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth: Is he Jesus the Christ? Their terrible fear - from the position of an honest atheist - is that they will be confronted with the truth. But of course there is no reason for fear: the truth shall set you free.
    Your psychological analysis is as slap-shot as your history. Earlier in this reply you claimed physical evidence for a historical Jesus. That is artefacts or writings dated to early 1st century naming Jesus. Unlike Caesar, Herod and even minor identities like Pilate where we do have such evidence, in the case of Jesus there is none. You claim to disagree so cite your evidence.

    In fact, the historical cases for Jesus rests almost entirely in the gospels which are late 1st century at best and written as religious propaganda. Even then these are known to be mythic and historically dodgy so that the only events that nearly all historians agree on are the baptism and the crucifixion and the cases for these primarily rest on the criterion of embarrassment. However I think this argument to be over simplified since the embarrassment is minor at best.
    Last edited by Rincewind; 16-03-2015 at 07:14 AM. Reason: Added some parenthetical clarifications
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  9. #9
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Despite a call of evidence the best Jono or Tony have come up with is some quotes that claim that historicity is unquestionable and Tony's evidence of a bunch of stuff (like churches and cathedrals) which do not require historicity.

    The axiomatic historical fact of Jesus seems to be a very special kind of truth, one that is based on no physical evidence whatsoever.
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

  10. #10
    CC Grandmaster Capablanca-Fan's Avatar
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    RW can continue his fringe beliefs if he wants, but he has no historical support, and even Bart Ehrman thinks that the Christ-mythers like RW are batsh!t crazy.
    “The destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands, too, pari passu.”—Paul Johnson, Modern Times, 1983.

  11. #11
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Capablanca-Fan View Post
    RW can continue his fringe beliefs if he wants, but he has no historical support, and even Bart Ehrman thinks that the Christ-mythers like RW are batsh!t crazy.
    Bart Ehrman's reason for thinking Jesus was historical is a little odd and I won't go into his argument in detail as it rests on evidence which is supposed to have once existed but does not any longer. As like Bruce, Ehrman is a Textual Critic rather than an specialist in late antiquities per se and seems to confuse evidence we have with theories about what evidence might have once existed.

    But it is interesting that both Jono (and Tony) make such strong claims for the historicity claiming it is on a similar grounding as say one of the Caesars or kings of Judea when this is clearly not just wrong, but patently wrong.

    Even Pilate, who was only Procurator of Judea which was a fairly minor office has much better historical evidence than Jesus. One of the key differences is that we know that Philo of Alexandria (a contemporary) mentions Pilate whereas Philo is embarrassingly silent on Jesus. Secondly we also have a stone inscription from the 1st century mentioning Pilate. Thirdly we know Roman coins were minted in Judea around 28-30AD which would have been done at Pilate's direction if (as all sources confirm) Pilate was in charge at the time. Also the passages in Josephus mentioning Pilate are more lengthy and have less evidence of corruption than the two short passages mentioning Jesus (although Josephus is not an eye witness to either).

    Indeed denying Pilate as a historical person is difficult. But again offer the historicists to present the evidence that Jesus was a historical person so that it might be scrutinised.
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

  12. #12
    CC International Master Agent Smith's Avatar
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    batsh!t crazy.
    I think he means you RW, laugh.

  13. #13
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevenaaus View Post
    I think he means you RW, laugh.
    I think I am batshit crazy but only to the extent that I somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, expect religious fundamentalists to present a cogent argument grounded in historical evidence. The embarrassing point is that the historical assumption is based almost entirely on the gospels and even a fairly casual reading of those makes clear that they were written as myths and not history. The analogies to previous leaders (like Moses) are heavyhanded and not only do they relate stories to which they could not have been witnesses (like nativity myths) in exactly the same style, they also describe events which we know did not happen due to historical implausibility in exactly the same language. They also have broad disagreement on points of hsitory like the disagreement on the year of Jesus' birth.
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

  14. #14
    CC Grandmaster Tony Dowden's Avatar
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    My last contribution to this thread: I'm always willing to share my opinion with people who are sincere and want to honestly and reasonably consider another point of view but I'm not going to get involved with deceitful arguments, name-calling or applying unflattering labels.
    Fischer visiting Tal in hospital - Curaçao 1962

    "You must take your opponent into a deep dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one." - Mikhail Tal
    "Best by test" (on 1.e4) - Bobby Fischer

  15. #15
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Dowden View Post
    My last contribution to this thread: I'm always willing to share my opinion with people who are sincere and want to honestly and reasonably consider another point of view but I'm not going to get involved with deceitful arguments, name-calling or applying unflattering labels.
    It's ok Tony. I understand that you don't want to get involved in a topic that might bring into question your fragile world view. But I would appreciate an explanation why you participate in name calling me as 'deceitful'.

    I assure you and anyone that I have wanted nothing more than having a reasonable discussion on the historical evidence. At present however, you have brought none to the table. If you decide to ever actually participate in the thread some time in the future then you will be welcome back.
    So einfach wie möglich, aber nicht einfacher - Albert Einstein

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