5 Bad Reasons to Suspect That Jesus Never Existed

JesusThe Jesus myth theory continues to live on. Valerie Tarico recently wrote an article called “Here are 5 reasons to suspect that Jesus never existed” on Raw Story. Before going into details, it is interesting that she relies significantly on Bart Ehrman, even though Ehrman wrote an entire book against the Jesus myth.

In this post, I will address each of Tarico’s five reasons and demonstrate that they fail to make the case.

No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.

My first response is, what kind of “secular” evidence would she expect if Jesus existed? I think she meant pagan in her claim as there was no such thing as secular in the ancient world. She cites Ehrman in reference to the lack of birth records or trial transcripts. I would like to ask, what ancient figures do we have those things for? Her post makes it sound like we have tons of pagan reports of what happened in first century Galilee and Judea and somehow Jesus is missing. The Romans were not all that interested in Jewish religious leaders. There is no reason to expect that they would write about it. They only became interested when Christianity began to grow and that is when we see Suentonius, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger.

The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.

In this Tarico is referring to the lack of details about Jesus’ earthly life by Paul. The problem here is that Paul did not write any biographies of Jesus. Paul wrote letters to specific churches dealing with specific situations. He only wrote what was needed to address the situation and did not include random Jesus trivia to show how much he knew. Having said that, Paul does show some knowledge of the historical Jesus. This includes his Davidic heritage, certain teachings, the last supper, his betrayal and crucifixion. For more information on Paul and Jesus, see this article I wrote.

Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts.

The Gospels do not need to be first-hand reports to be historically valuable. That is not how historiography works. But is there any indication of first-hand witnesses in the New Testament? It seems that that the Beloved Disciple claimed to be a witness and the writer of that testimony. “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24 ESV) I would also recommend that people look into the work that Richard Bauckham has done on this subject. I will note that Tarico says there are six Pauline letters that are accepted as authentic but it is really seven.

The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other.

What are these contradictions? Tarico seems to take it for granted that it is obvious, although she does not mention the Easter stories. Tarico is obviously unaware of how ancients wrote history and biography. There is a certain amount variation among accounts that is acceptable. Compare how Josephus describes the same events in both Antiquities and War. Look at how different Roman writers talk about the emperors. The variations in these accounts are far greater than what we find in the Gospels. Variation in details does not disqualify a text from being historically valuable.

Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons.

Are there different interpretations of who Jesus was? Definitely. The question is, are there various interpretations of other historical figures as well. Absolutely. History is about taking the historical facts that we have and trying to make sense of how they fit together. If you brought all of the scholars together that she refers to, they would find significant amounts agreement in terms of what Jesus said and did.

Did Jesus exist? Almost every historian and biblical scholar would agree that Jesus is a historical person. The problem with articles such as this is that a different historical method is being used for Jesus than for other ancient figures. This must always be kept in mind.

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One thought on “5 Bad Reasons to Suspect That Jesus Never Existed”

  1. With respect to the New Testament stories not being first hand accounts, there is a very interesting tradition about the origins of the material in Mark and Matthew preserved by the the early church historian Eusebius, who became the bishop of Caesaria Maritimus (now an Israeli National Park) around 314 AD.

    Eusebius quotes Papias (60-130 AD), the bishop of Hierapolis (now Pamukkale, Turkey), who was intent on preserving the oral tradition from the early followers of Jesus before they disappeared. Papias wrote:

    “I shall not hesitate also to put into ordered form for you, along with the interpretations, everything I learned carefully in the past from the elders and noted down carefully, for the truth of which I vouch. For unlike most people I took no pleasure in those who told many different stories, but only in those who taught the truth. Nor did I take pleasure in those who reported their memory of someone else’s commandments, but only in those who reported their memory of the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the Truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders arrived, I made enquiries about the words of the elders—what Andrew or Peter had said, or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and John the Elder, the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from the books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice.”

    Papias also knew the daughters of the Apostle Phillip who were his contemporaries in Hierapolis.

    According to Papias, Mark was the interpreter of the apostle Peter:

    “The Elder (John) used to say: Mark, in his capacity as Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately as many things as he recalled from memory—though not in an ordered form—of the things either said or done by the Lord. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him, but later, as I said, Peter, who used to give his teachings in the form of chreiai, (anecdote?) but had no intention of providing an ordered arrangement of the logia of the Lord. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong when he wrote down some individual items just as he related them from memory. For he made it his one concern not to omit anything he had heard or to falsify anything.”

    As far as the Gospel of Matthew, Papias wrote:

    “Therefore Matthew put the logia in an ordered arrangement in the Hebrew language, but each person interpreted them as best he could.”

    This does not seem to relate directly to the book we call the Gospel of Matthew, which appears to have been written in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic.

    The scholarly consensus is that the Gospel of Mark was the first written gospel. It was almost wholly incorporated by both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke also contained material in common not found in Luke. On the basis of this common material, scholars have hypothesized a lost sayings gospel they name “Q” whose provenance is unknown.

    The material in the Gospel of Matthew not derived from Mark or shared with Luke contains many of the parables of Jesus. These parables may be a Greek translation of the original “logia” that Papias claims were written down in Aramaic or Hebrew by the apostle Matthew and then “interpreted” by others. It has often been pointed out that the Gospel of Matthew is the most “semitic” of the gospels and seems to have a better understanding of the life of the Jews in first century Judaea than do the other gospels.

    In summary:

    The Gospel of John claims to contain material from “the beloved disciple” – a first hand witness.

    The Gospel of Mark is likely a record of the preaching of the apostle Peter – a first hand witness.

    The Gospel of Matthew very likely contains material from the apostle Matthew – a first hand witness.

    The Gospel material shared by Matthew and Luke, and nicknamed “Q” is of unknown provenance but contains material about Jesus from the early 1st century.

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