Monday, January 17, 2005
This is a list of Historians' answers to the question "Did Jesus Exist?" Now keep in mind, these historians are not saying that a miracle-performing Son of God that rose from the dead existed. What they are saying is that a historical Jesus (supernatural or not) best explains the rise of the Christian movement. This list was originally compiled by Layman of the Christian CADRE
I. Howard Marshall points out that in the early-to-mid 20th century, one of the few "authorities" to consider Jesus as a myth was a Soviet Encyclopedia. He then goes on to discuss the then recent work of G.A. Wells:
"There is said to be a Russian encyclopedia in current use which affirms in a brief entry that Jesus Christ was the mythological founder of Christianity, but it is virtually alone in doing so. The historian will not take its statement very seriously, since ... it offers no evidence for its assertion, and mere assertion cannot stand over against historical enquiry.
But more than mere assertion is involved, for an attempt to show that Jesus never existed has been made in recent years by G.A. Wells, a Professor of German who has ventured into New Testament study and presents a case that the origins Christianity can be explained without assuming that Jesus really lived. Earlier presentations of similar views at the turn of the century failed to make any impression on scholarly opinion, and it is certain that this latest presentation of the case will not fare any better."
Professor Marshall was correct. Neither any earlier attempt nor Wells have swayed scholarly opinion. This remains true whether the scholars were Christians, liberals, conservatives, Jewish, atheist, agnostic, or Catholic.
Atheist historian Michael Grant completely rejected the idea:
"This skeptical way of thinking reached its culmination in the argument that Jesus as a human being never existed at all and is a myth.... But above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. Certainly, there are all those discrepancies between one Gospel and another. But we do not deny that an event ever took place just because some pagan historians such as, for example, Livy and Polybius, happen to have described it in differing terms.... To sum up, modern critical methods fail to support the Christ-myth theory. It has 'again and again been answered and annihilated by first-rank scholars.' In recent years, 'no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus' -- or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary...."
Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels, at 199-200.
Secular scholar Will Durant, who left the Catholic Church and embraced humanism, also dismisses the Jesus-Myth idea:
"The Christian evidence for Christ begins with the letters ascribed to Saint Paul. Some of these are of uncertain authorship; several, antedating A.D. 64, are almost universally accounted as substantially genuine. No one has questioned the existence of Paul, or his repeated meetings with Peter, James, and John; and Paul enviously admits that these men had known Christ in his flesh. The accepted epistles frequently refer to the Last Supper and the Crucifixion....
The contradictions are of minutiae, not substance; in essentials the synoptic gospels agree remarkably well, and form a consistent portrait of Christ. In the enthusiasm of its discoveries the Higher Criticism has applied to the New Testament tests of authenticity so severe that by them a hundred ancient worthies--e.g., Hammurabi, David, Socrates--would fade into legend. Despite the prejudices and theological preconceptions of the evangelists, they record many incidents that mere inventors would have concealed--the competition of the apostles for high places in the Kingdom, their flight after Jesus' arrest, Peter's denial, the failure of Christ to work miracles in Galilee, the references mission, his confessions of ignorance as to the future, his moments of bitterness, his despairing cry on the cross; no one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of th figure behind them. That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so loft an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospel. After two centuries of Higher Criticism the outlines of the life, character, and teaching of Christ, remain reasonably clear, and constitute the most fascinating feature of the history of Western man."
Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, at 555.
Even the famously liberal Professor Bultmann, who argued against the historicity of much of the gospels, is quite adamant that Jesus-mythers are "insane."
"Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the Palestinian community."
Rudolf Bultman, Jesus and the Word, at 13.
It is also obvious that the diverse and all-but completely unanimous opinion of modern Jesus scholars and relevant historians remain completely unconvinced by the Jesus-myth arguments -- whatever their background.
"Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed their arguments as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them
completely.... The theory of Jesus' nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question."
Robert Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament, at 6, 14.
"Today, nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed and that the gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which as to be weighed and assessed critically. There is general agreement that, with the possible exception of Paul, we know far more about Jesus of Nazareth than about any first or second
century Jewish or pagan religious teacher."
Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, at 140-41.
Because historians and New Testament scholars -- whether atheists, secular, Catholic, or Protestant -- realize how silly the "Jesus did not exist" position is, most proponents of that idea are untrained laypersons.
Perhaps the most famous of Jesus-Mythers is Dr. G.A. Wells. Of course, Mr. Wells has no historical training at all. He taught German. Nevertheless, Mr. Well's arguments received a direct response from a real historian who thoroughly trashed them. It's an affordable little book by R.T. France, The Evidence for Jesus.
Another "Dr." that is often relied on by Jesus-Mythers is "Dr." Gordon Stein. But Dr. Stein has no training in historical studies either. He's a physiologist, not a historian or New Testament scholar.
Next up is Acharya S. (cringe). Hero to skeptics--reputed critical thinkers--the internet wide. These skeptics claim to be critical persons. They claim to rest only on logic and science. They claim that we have to scrutinize our sources carefully and not be taken in by our preconceived notions and biases. Of course, no such person could in good-faith rely on Acharya S. Her website: http://www.truthbeknown.com
She also maintains a discussion group styled, "From Sex to Superconsciousness." She also wrote the classic: "The Aquarian Manifesto: A Handbook for Survival into and a Blueprint for the New Age." I especially enjoyed her diatribe against the United States. Apparently--I did not realize--the Pledge of Allegiance is nothing more than a "cult oath." Oh yes, but she is impervious. She refuses to be recognized as "patriotic" or an "American." Afterall, "We are all members of the cosmos."
For her diatribe against the family (it's exclusive you see), check out this link:
She also, apparently, hates McDonalds. "In a sane society, the invasion of junkfood would be fought against tooth and nail, for it is major contributing factor in societal breakdown." http://www.truthbeknown.com/junkfood.htm
Oh, and she has discovered that there is no such thing as AIDS. It's just a result of our culturally repressed fears of sexuality: http://www.truthbeknown.com/aids.htm
For a review of her work, check this out: http://www.tektonics.org/JPH_SFS.html
It quotes from a radio broadcast where Acharya talks about talking with aliens and being instructed by aliens to spread the word. The link to the audio file is apparently dead, but I listened to it myself a while back.
Finally, there is Early Doherty. He has no doctorate in history or New Testament studies. And because he is unable to get his work published in any respected academic journals, he's propogated his theories on the internet.
So on one hand we have a diverse scholarly community that has completely rejected the "Jesus Myth" idea as silly. On the other hand, we have proponents of the Jesus Myth who typically committed atheists, have little or no formal training in history or the New Testament, and who cannot convince even other atheist historians that their theories should be respected.