For American Christians, Jesus is fact. But does historical evidence support that?
Some scholars say the evidence is weak at best.
For instance, consider the following, noted by David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All: For centuries, the only people researching Jesus’ presumed life were Christians, predisposed to finding only evidence that supported what they already believed.
Even now, the vast majority of historical scholars interested in the historical figure of Jesus are either Christians or come out of the Christian tradition, meaning they are already predisposed to certain findings, and come at the history of the time period not from a place of skepticism, but instead, from a place of belief.
Here are the key points, however, for the argument against a historical Jesus, all of which point to Jesus instead as a myth, rather than a man:
No secular evidence supports a historical Yeshua ben Josef
Consider the following words of scholar Bart Ehrman:
“What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries.
There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind.
I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp. 56-57)
The earliest Christian texts are the least detailed when it comes to Jesus’ life.
For instance, the letters of Paul were written before the gospels, and yet not only are the details he offers regarding Jesus spare at best, he never even mentions the disciples. Early leaders of the church, such as Peter and James, are supposedly part of the original disciple group according to the Gospels written later, yet most of Paul’s epistles to them are chastising.
Reading the books of the New Testament in chronological order would confuse the hell out of most Christians, is what I’m saying.
The gospels were written a century (or more) after the events they claim to portray.
Yes, that’s correct: They aren’t first-hand accounts. Given the time frame, they’re likely third-, fourth-, or fifth-hand accounts at best. And yet, they remain the foundational texts of the Christian church—and our understanding of the man, Jesus.
The gospels themselves contradict each other.
And not just a few times. Regularly. Frequently. In ways that trip up plenty of pastors and scholars, because the differing accounts are often incompatible. Consider for instance the differences in the way the four gospels treat Jesus’ birth or the difference in Easter stories.
But what do you think? Is Jesus yet one more example of Christian myth? (And, depending on how you feel about the Christian tradition, does it matter?)