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Jesus was way cool. But did he exist?
April 5, 2006 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Jesus walked on the water ice. So sayeth... um... well, this guy at Florida State. Doron Nof has released a paper positing that when Jesus walked on the water in Galilee, he was actually walking on a patch of floating ice. What's interesting about science like this to me is that it both validates and invalidates scripture, since if Jesus was walking on ice... no miracle (although, it's a miracle he didn't slip and fall, har har har). But if Jesus was walking on ice, then at least he historically existed, which is still an open question at least in some quarters. In case you think you recognize Mr. Nof's name, you may be remembering his work explaining that the parting of the Red Sea was totally possible (flash video link).
posted by illovich (106 comments total)

 
Wow, check out the vein on Doron's bicep. Either he just came from the gym or he's about to explode.
posted by gurple at 3:46 PM on April 5, 2006


In what way is this not simple, unsubstantiated speculation? If we're going to take the gospel account at face value and say anything of the sort happened at all, shouldn't we also consider the part that the sea was also moving quite violently?

As for Jesus' historicity, those aforementioned quarters have all the historical credibility of an inventor at the Patent Office with a perpetual motion machine.
posted by jefgodesky at 3:46 PM on April 5, 2006


But if Jesus was walking on ice, then at least he historically existed, which is still an open question at least in some quarters.

I don't think it's that much of an open question among those who actually know what they're talking about, considering we have more contemporary documentation for Jesus than we have for Alexander the Great.

Strangely enough, you never see anyone questioning the existence of Alexander the Great.
posted by magodesky at 3:59 PM on April 5, 2006


Or maybe he never walked on water and some asshole who never knew him wrote that he did 30 or 50 years after he died.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:00 PM on April 5, 2006


Hmm... let's just see now.

Under certain very precise and rare conditions it's just barely possible that ice may have existed in a specific tiny location for a few days, once every thirty years or so?

Yipes!

Colour me convinced, then.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:02 PM on April 5, 2006


No true Christian would ever fabricate history like that.

Heh heh...I just wanted to see what that would look like written down....
posted by nevercalm at 4:02 PM on April 5, 2006


Strangely enough, you never see anyone questioning the existence of Alexander the Great.

Might have something to do with Alexander the Great not being alleged to be more unkillable than Rasputin and Jason Voorhees combined. Or that there aren't any stories about Alexander the Great spontaneously generating bread.

Bullshit hurts your credibility.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:05 PM on April 5, 2006


I don't think it's that much of an open question among those who actually know what they're talking about, considering we have more contemporary documentation for Jesus than we have for Alexander the Great.

This is not true. We have no contemporary documentation for Jesus (all texts having been written at least 40 years after his death) and none for Alexander either. Moreover, the four Gospels are significantly shorter than any of the major Alexander sources. The claim is purely sophistry.

The Jesus myth hypothesis is not dismissed out of hand by scholars who are not oathbound to accept historicity.
posted by graymouser at 4:07 PM on April 5, 2006


...and if you aren't convinced, Professor Nof will kick your ass.
posted by odinsdream at 4:08 PM on April 5, 2006


And konolia in 3......2.......1........
posted by nevercalm at 4:12 PM on April 5, 2006



I don't think it's that much of an open question among those who actually know what they're talking about,



Please provide this contemporary documentation for Jesus' existence that those who know what they're talking about have, magodesky.

As I understand it, there is precisely ZERO documentation that Jesus existed. None. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Not one iota.

This myth of Jesus' existence needs to challenged every time someone casually interjects it into a converstaion as a given.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:17 PM on April 5, 2006


In what way is this not simple, unsubstantiated speculation?

Indeed. As opposed the the biblical account, of course.
posted by Decani at 4:18 PM on April 5, 2006


He'll be crushed when he learns that Jesus may not have even existed.
posted by Laen at 4:19 PM on April 5, 2006


Jesus didn't exist. Jesus is a Greek bastardization (read: bad transcription) of the Aramaic name Jezua, the supposed name used in the original texts (normalized to english letters). It would have been pronounced Jeh-zhu-a and is the precursor to the name Joshua which started appearing shortly thereafter.

Now, whether Joshua existed...
posted by mystyk at 4:31 PM on April 5, 2006


Might have something to do with Alexander the Great not being alleged to be more unkillable than Rasputin and Jason Voorhees combined. Or that there aren't any stories about Alexander the Great spontaneously generating bread.

Bullshit hurts your credibility.


Oh, yeah. There are certainly no over-the-top legends about Alexander the Great.

This is not true. We have no contemporary documentation for Jesus (all texts having been written at least 40 years after his death) and none for Alexander either.

Well, let's see. Most scholars date the Gospel of Mark somewhere between 60 and 70 BC. That's only 30 years after the time Jesus supposedly died, and well within the lifetime of his contemporaries. And if, as suspected, Mark was based on the Q Document, that would have had to have been written even earlier. Then you have the Gospel of Thomas which, depending on who you believe, could have been written somewhere around 50 BC. The first Pauline epistles also crop up during that time period.

Then, if we widen our circle just a little bit to authors living close to the time of Jesus, the amount of source material absolutely explodes. If we also take into account the fact that it's not terribly uncommon for there to be very little firsthand source material on people from this time period, it's kind of hard to believe that Jesus didn't exist. Jesus has about as much documentation as anybody from this time period that wasn't royalty, and more than some people who were royalty. We can argue over the exact details of his life, but the fact that Jesus existed is hard to deny.
posted by magodesky at 4:35 PM on April 5, 2006


There's an interesting and well-reasoned discussion concerning the historicity (or lack thereof) of Jesus here. Whether or not you think Jesus existed, magodesky, it's disingenuous to claim it's just obvious to anyone who knows anything about the matter that Jesus was a living breathing person.
posted by heavy water at 4:48 PM on April 5, 2006


D'oh, I just noticed that link was in the FPP. My apologies.
posted by heavy water at 4:50 PM on April 5, 2006


We already did this.
Also see GetReligion's take on the walk-on-water/ice story.
posted by brownpau at 4:51 PM on April 5, 2006


Oh, yeah. There are certainly no over-the-top legends about Alexander the Great.

(violent coughing)

No one says Alexander the Great did anything supernatural. No religions that claim membership in the hundreds of millions exist around Alexander the Great. The President of the United States doesn't claim Alexander the Great as his personal savior. Has never been a cable network called AtGBN. There are no WWAtGD? bumperstickers, charm bracelets or board games.

Interestingly, however, both Jesus and Alex did inspire crappy cartoon shows.
posted by JHarris at 4:52 PM on April 5, 2006


...it's kind of hard to believe that Jesus didn't exist.

But it's easy to believe that he walked on water? Or changed water into wine? Or came back to life after being executed? The mind boggles.
posted by octothorpe at 4:56 PM on April 5, 2006


Might have something to do with Alexander the Great not being alleged to be more unkillable than Rasputin and Jason Voorhees combined. Or that there aren't any stories about Alexander the Great spontaneously generating bread.

Gordian Knot, anyone? There was a significant mythological cycle that developed around Alexander, comparable to King Arthur or Charlemange.

This is not true. We have no contemporary documentation for Jesus (all texts having been written at least 40 years after his death) and none for Alexander either. Moreover, the four Gospels are significantly shorter than any of the major Alexander sources. The claim is purely sophistry.

That's not true. The first gospels are written c. 30 years after the death, but the epistles start to appear within a decade. That's as close to a contemporaneous account as anyone in the ancient world gets--emperors included. I'm talking about establishing existence here, not necessarily details. That a Jesus existed, and was crucified (probably under Pilate) leading to a silly cult is one of the most well-established facts of ancient history.

Meanwhile, Alexander's sources are much more sordid. Quoting from a response I made on this topic some time ago (because somebody brings up that stupid "Jesus Myth" BS like clockwork every few months):
We have more evidence for the existence of Jesus than we do for Alexander the Great. Quoting from "Oriental sources on Alexander the Great":
Those who want to study Alexander, have access to four tertiary sources (written in Greek and Latin), many quotes from secondary sources (all written in Greek) and one primary source. It is written in Babylonian and is also interesting because it offers a non-Greek perspective.
Indeed, by the standards of ancient history, a "mountain of evidence." But note what we have for the "historical Jesus": the sayings gospel of Q (of questionable devotional content, and who knows who wrote it?), the original core of Mark (which has significantly less devotional content than any of the other gospels), all of the Pauline epistles, and the Testimonium Flaviun from Josephus (the concensus now states that the TF was almost certainly embellished, but must have been present in some form, or Josephus' entire narrative falls apart), all near-contemporaneously. Several Roman sources also indicate the existence of such a figue, though they are writing some time later--the Romans didn't really care until the Christians became a useful scapegoat for Nero's little land clearance project. While we might consider that fairly distant evidence in our day of microfiche and the county-courthouse records, in our consideration of the evidence for Alexander above, we're pulling in texts written some three centuries after his death. For Jesus, we're restricting ourselves to a much tigher standard of just one century. So that's one primary source, some quotes in secondary sources, and four tertiary sources for Alexander, versus what, 17 secondary sources and a dozen or so tertiary Roman sources, all independently attesting to the existence of Jesus and his crucifixion under Pilate?
The Jesus myth hypothesis is not dismissed out of hand by scholars who are not oathbound to accept historicity.

Take a look at Historical Jesus studies (HJ)--among those who know what they're talking about, the "Jesus Myth" is taken with all the credibility that anthropologists lend to the "Aquatic Ape Theory."

As I understand it, there is precisely ZERO documentation that Jesus existed. None. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Not one iota.

The epistles. Q. Secret Mark. The Testimonium Flavium. Not quite contemporary as we moderns understand it, but the "primary sources" for Alexander are all a full century after his death. You just don't get contemporary accounts from the ancient world, in the way you do for modern history. For ancient history, 10-40 years is considered "contemporary," because it's still within living memory.

Indeed. As opposed the the biblical account, of course.

Didn't say otherwise. I'm saying Jeses existed and got nailed to a cross. I don't say anything about whether or not he healed lepers, walked on water, or any of that other stuff.

No one says Alexander the Great did anything supernatural.

Yes. They do. Incessantly.
posted by jefgodesky at 5:05 PM on April 5, 2006


ihath has another speculative explanation of how Jesus walked on water.
posted by russilwvong at 5:09 PM on April 5, 2006


Whether or not you think Jesus existed, magodesky, it's disingenuous to claim it's just obvious to anyone who knows anything about the matter that Jesus was a living breathing person.

Maybe. Maybe I'm overstating my case a little. But if there are any serious arguments for saying that Jesus didn't exist, I've never seen them. Any time I see someone refuting Jesus' existence, it almost always turns out to be another atheist desperately grasping at straws.

So yeah, I don't put much stock in those kinds of claims any more.

No one says Alexander the Great did anything supernatural.

Well, you have a point there. After all, no one ever said that as a boy Alexander tamed a legendary horse descended from the man-eating Mares of Diomedes stolen by Heracles as his eighth labor after experienced horse-tamers had failed in the attempt. Oh wait. Yes, they did.

No religions that claim membership in the hundreds of millions exist around Alexander the Great. The President of the United States doesn't claim Alexander the Great as his personal savior. Has never been a cable network called AtGBN. There are no WWAtGD? bumperstickers, charm bracelets or board games.

This is all true. Irrelevant. But true.

But it's easy to believe that he walked on water? Or changed water into wine? Or came back to life after being executed? The mind boggles.

Didn't say that. In fact, I tend to think that most of the miracle stories, with the possible exception of the healing stories, are suspect. But that's beside the point. The fact that what was written about him may be bullshit doesn't mean that he didn't exist.
posted by magodesky at 5:12 PM on April 5, 2006


The epistles. Q. Secret Mark. The Testimonium Flavium. Not quite contemporary as we moderns understand it, but the "primary sources" for Alexander are all a full century after his death. You just don't get contemporary accounts from the ancient world, in the way you do for modern history.

Fair enough, but to my mind this suggests we should exercise great caution when studying any historical figure without contemporary documentation, and not that we should jump to the conclusion that Jesus existed. It may be true (I'm not in a position to determine) that there's more evidence Jesus existed than that Alexander the Great existed. But one could just as easily and consistently hold the opposite position from you: that we should be skeptical about the existence of both. It's not at all outlandish to suppose that many historical figures who've assumed superhuman proportions over the years never existed at all. Should we conclude Hercules existed simply because plenty of sources document his exploits?

Any time I see someone refuting Jesus' existence, it almost always turns out to be another atheist desperately grasping at straws.

Well, almost by definition anyone who doubts Jesus' existence is going to be someone with relatively little use for Christianity in particular or organized religion in general. But come on. It's not like Jesus' historicity is a major reason for atheism. One can perfectly consistently believe (as I'm sure most atheists do) that Jesus was a real person without believing he walked on water or turned water to wine.
posted by heavy water at 5:31 PM on April 5, 2006


That's not true. The first gospels are written c. 30 years after the death, but the epistles start to appear within a decade. That's as close to a contemporaneous account as anyone in the ancient world gets--emperors included. I'm talking about establishing existence here, not necessarily details. That a Jesus existed, and was crucified (probably under Pilate) leading to a silly cult is one of the most well-established facts of ancient history.

Modern estimates of Mark are dated no earlier than 70 CE, with the attested crucifixion in 29 or 30, giving at least a 40 year gap. What the gospels aren't is contemporary, that is, the average person who could've remembered the crucifixion would've been quite long dead by the writing of Mark.

"One of the most well-established facts of ancient history" is far, far off the mark. Much of the career of Alexander is at least moderately attested by archaeological remnants, coins and statues and the physical remains of a massive military campaign across Asia. Jesus has no archaeological evidence; just four relatively short, mutually inconsistent, hagiographical accounts that are known to have been edited for theological content. That's not a sound historical basis for any useful facts. (FWIW, I'm not a Jesus Myther; I believe that the question of whether the character of Jesus in the Gospels was based on a real person is historically unknowable, and that if it could be known, we would have absolutely no reliable data whatsoever on the person.)
posted by graymouser at 5:36 PM on April 5, 2006


So today we've learned that Jesus was married (and unhappily so), and didn't walk on water.

Tomorrow: the loaves and fishes were catered! Also, his disciples just followed him around 'cause he was the one with the drugs.
posted by First Post at 5:44 PM on April 5, 2006


How is it ok that it's ice that he was walking on?

I mean it's suddenly a localized weather phenomena that he took advantage of?

So what happened with the resurection and the water into wine, etc?

Are there some bizarre physical explainations for that?

So JC was a guy who happened to have a series of extraordinary coincidences happen to him, which he took advantage of to get this message out that - but he was the son of God anyway?

It's really an offensive idea on many levels. If I were an atheist I'd be insulted that someone would think physical laws were that easily suborned. If I were a christian I'd be insulted that a miracle is being degraded like this - particularly if I believed in the whole thing as a metaphor. Even as pretty much a spectator I'm having a hard time not feeling my rudimentary intellect is being insulted.

That guy should really stick to lifting the iron.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:45 PM on April 5, 2006


Your statement was that " we have more contemporary documentation for Jesus than we have for Alexander the Great", magodesky. You then cite texts written a century later, and insist that they qualify as contemporary. Well, they don't . But your statement that they do does shed some light on the lack of rigour in your analysis.

One needn't be a scholar of ancient history to understand and recognize the unreliability of even first-hand testimonials.

For over a hundred years, experimental psychologists have shown that, because of the normal deficiencies in the human memory process, eyewitness testimony is a notoriously unreliable form of evidence.

Sorry, but I've witnessed the reliability of human story-telling in action, first hand. Ever play telephone in Boy Souts? Twenty people in a room can't keep a single ten-word sentence straight , and yet your "proof " of Jesus' existence is the disjointed and mistranslated third-hand accounts of superstitious peasants who couldn't even get his frikken name right? Please.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 5:50 PM on April 5, 2006


It's a bit strange:

1. jesus walked on water
2. walking on water is impossible!
3. water was frozen!
posted by iamck at 6:03 PM on April 5, 2006


Strangely enough, you never see anyone questioning the existence of Alexander the Great.

We have 2000 years of documented Christian fraud, trying to "prove" the resurrection and the historicity of their beliefs by any means necessary, including major documented instances of interpolation, false attribution and plagiarism - and this is just in the central gospels themselves! From that point on the Church had a field day "protecting the faith" with their monopoly over the documentation.

I just love it when the kooky, superstitious weasels slime out of the wood-work and hint confidently at some "historical consensus" that doesn't exist. Jebus skeptics are holocaust deniers doncha' know, after all who could possibly doubt the authenticity of the hallowed Testimonium Flaviun (sic!)?

The sophism fills the air like funk in a jr. high locker room - the "overwhelming" contemporary evidence for Jesus (doesn't exist), the reliability of the Gospels and Epistles (completely null), the reliability of obviously fraudulent documents or accounts that occur hundreds of years later (laughable), the "scholarly consensus" (bullshit and irrelevant), the curious double-standards of them there atheists - what about Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great?! . . . you've got to be kidding me. There is far more hucksterism, dubiousness, and dirty dealing surrounding the birth of Christianity than there is the birth of Mormonism, and that's saying a lot when we have fairly recent and preserved modern records surrounding the squirreliness of Joseph Smith and company.

Richard Carrier's review of Earl Doherty is a must read for why doubting the existence of a historical Jesus is eminently defensible. When the Jesus defenders start spouting off about the wondrous reliability and historicity of their religious Gospels and embarrassing forgeries like the "Testimonium Flaviun" (heh), you know it's time to start doubting the wonders of the Emporer's luxuriant new clothes.
posted by dgaicun at 6:07 PM on April 5, 2006


Or 'Emperor's' even. Next time spell check!
posted by dgaicun at 6:11 PM on April 5, 2006


Summary: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
posted by jmhodges at 6:13 PM on April 5, 2006


JHarris writes "There are no WWAtGD? bumperstickers,"

MetaFilter: WWAtGD?
posted by Mitheral at 6:19 PM on April 5, 2006


You're right, smedleyman: and if you were one of a number of fundamentalist (my assumption), easily outraged christians, who don't believe in what you call 'metaphor', you'd be sending this guy death threats and warning him never to talk about the resurrection.
posted by jacalata at 6:22 PM on April 5, 2006


One can perfectly consistently believe (as I'm sure most atheists do) that Jesus was a real person without believing he walked on water or turned water to wine.

That's pretty much me, yup.

Modern estimates of Mark are dated no earlier than 70 CE, with the attested crucifixion in 29 or 30, giving at least a 40 year gap. What the gospels aren't is contemporary, that is, the average person who could've remembered the crucifixion would've been quite long dead by the writing of Mark.

Those estimates are based on the "Little Apocalypse," which gives you a latest date of 70 CE, but it could be at any point earlier than that. When we consider the...

Oh, who am I kidding, this thread's about surface ice, this is getting way too technical. I'm not even an expert, just an interested layman with a bookshelf full of Meyers, Crossan, etc.

Jesus has no archaeological evidence; just four relatively short, mutually inconsistent, hagiographical accounts that are known to have been edited for theological content.

You're discounting the epistles again. And the TF. That puts the number in the teens, not four.

Your statement was that " we have more contemporary documentation for Jesus than we have for Alexander the Great", magodesky. You then cite texts written a century later, and insist that they qualify as contemporary. Well, they don't . But your statement that they do does shed some light on the lack of rigour in your analysis.

That you can't appreciate (a) what "contemporary" means in ancient vs. modern history, and (b) that Alexander also lacks such sources--and in fact, his are significantly later--sheds some light on the lack of rigor in your analysis.

Sorry, but I've witnessed the reliability of human story-telling in action, first hand.

As have we all. That's what the study of history is all about. It's about analyzing sources, not believing anything they tell you. Dealing with these issues is exactly why we have historians.

...and yet your "proof " of Jesus' existence is the disjointed and mistranslated third-hand accounts of superstitious peasants who couldn't even get his frikken name right? Please.

OK, going back to Ancient History 101 ... the key to establishing the existence of any historical personage is multiple, independent attestation. If you can find multiple sources that show no knowledge of one another, all indicating the same person's existence, then you conclude that it's not the invention of any one author. If a person supposed to leave in living memory, you conclude the person was real; if long ago, you conclude that the legend is in circulation by the date of composition. Establishing that documents are, in fact, independent, is an entire branch of study called "historiography."

I just love it when the kooky, superstitious weasels slime out of the wood-work and hint confidently at some "historical consensus" that doesn't exist.

Most Christians wouldn't consider me one. I don't believe in the Virgin Birth, and I'm agnostic about the Resurrection and most of the other miracles. I do take quite an interest in the history of that period, but I assure you, my personal beliefs aren't terribly affected one way or the other--only my sense of academic fairness. Despite the vitriol in your response, it's lacking in substance. I mentioned that the TF had been altered, but it's also been pretty firmly established after a very, VERY long debate that there's almost certainly some original core there, wherein Josephus mentioned a "Jesus." One more source for our independent, multiple attestation. Any one gospel or epistle by itself is a completely unreliable source, but if you have four or five fairy tales all about the same character, then you know at the very least that when those fairy tales were written, lots of people had heard about that character. They count as sources for multiple, independent attestation. I never said the sources were, in and of themselves, reliable. That you think that's at all relevant to this discussion only shows that you don't understand how history is done.

That is at the core of this whole question--a complete lack of understanding of how history is done, and the standards of evidence for ancient history. More importantly, dgaicun and JHarris make an explicit argument that we should hold the historicity of Jesus to a higher standard than any of his contemporaries, because so many people today believe so many strange things about him. Should we? How is that any different from the way in which Creationists pick and choose their way through cosmology or evolutionary theory? You've become so fanatical, you've become exactly what you hate. You want to change the standards of historical evidence just to get a result that's politically useful. Like any ID fanatic, the "Jesus Myth" advocates are more interested in getting the conclusion they want, than the conclusion that's true. I don't have a horse in this race. I'm a pantheist, and very nearly converted to Judaism a few times over. Whether Jesus existed or not, my life will go on very much the same as it has. I accept Jesus' existence for the same reasons I accept evolution: the evidence is overwhelming. On both cases, the only detractors are overwrought zealots who exhibit a momentous ignorance of the fields involved.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:27 PM on April 5, 2006


Fair enough, but to my mind this suggests we should exercise great caution when studying any historical figure without contemporary documentation, and not that we should jump to the conclusion that Jesus existed. It may be true (I'm not in a position to determine) that there's more evidence Jesus existed than that Alexander the Great existed. But one could just as easily and consistently hold the opposite position from you: that we should be skeptical about the existence of both.

That would be the more cynical reaction. But I would suggest that while these texts can be considered dubious on a number of levels, you can generally establish at least that a particular person existed when you have so many independent accounts.

It's not like Jesus' historicity is a major reason for atheism. One can perfectly consistently believe (as I'm sure most atheists do) that Jesus was a real person without believing he walked on water or turned water to wine.

This is true. But I was referring mostly to the kind of atheists who feel a need to defend their atheism by overreaching and trying to disprove more than they reasonably can. That's why the "desperately grasping at straws" part is key to that statement.

Modern estimates of Mark are dated no earlier than 70 CE, with the attested crucifixion in 29 or 30, giving at least a 40 year gap. What the gospels aren't is contemporary, that is, the average person who could've remembered the crucifixion would've been quite long dead by the writing of Mark.

Mark is dated no later than AD 70-73. It's usually dated somewhere between 60-70. And you're ignoring accounts that were written before Mark, like Q and the epistles. All written within 30-40 years of Jesus' death. Suggesting that anyone who could have remembered the crucifixion would have "been quite long dead" by the time of these writings is simply not true.

If I were a christian I'd be insulted that a miracle is being degraded like this

Is it really a degradation, though? God created the laws of physics, after all. If He were to perform a miracle, why wouldn't it be one that uses physics? After all, isn't it still miraculous that this rare phenomenon happened to occur at precisely the time Jesus needed it to?

You then cite texts written a century later, and insist that they qualify as contemporary.

The latest date we're talking about here is AD 70. So by your math, 70 - 30 = 100? Talk about lack of rigor in analysis.

One needn't be a scholar of ancient history to understand and recognize the unreliability of even first-hand testimonials.

True, but even among eye-witness testimonies, you can generally assume that if enough people independently verify that someone existed, he probably existed. You might not be able to deduce much else, but you can at least be pretty sure that he was, in fact, a real person.
posted by magodesky at 6:35 PM on April 5, 2006


I related news, I walked on ice once and not a single line on newspapers !

I am offended, I am !
posted by elpapacito at 7:07 PM on April 5, 2006


Can someone provide a source that says the Epistles were written in 40AD? The only thing I found said only that they were written pre-70AD.

Not trying to be a smart aleck, just wondering. The earliest date of a gospel that I can recall is around 50 AD, and that was the Gospel of Thomas.

But not to be snarky -- I've noticed that folks talking about the "overwhelming" evidence for Jesus haven't really offered up sources, just "facts." I need sources, reputable peer reviewed sources! (well, not always, but it's nice).

One thing that I haven't been able to track down to a source I feel I can trust: In that god who wasn't there movie, Brian Fleming lays out this idea that there's a pretty wide historical berth that Jesus "could" occupy, starting in 400 BC. He makes some other claims like that Mark thought they were talking about something in the distant past.

Is this stuff coming mainly from Earl Doherty?
posted by illovich at 7:13 PM on April 5, 2006


> Fair enough, but to my mind this suggests we should exercise great caution when studying any historical figure without contemporary documentation, and not that we should jump to the conclusion that Jesus existed.

I love this one. It's so typically militant-atheist: "Revise our historical standards, doubt the existence of other people, just don't admit that Jesus could possibly have existed!"
posted by brownpau at 7:16 PM on April 5, 2006


Illovich--just from the books on my table, Eric Meyer's A Marginal Jew and John Dominic Crossan's The Historical Jesus will give you enough sources, evidence and citations to keep you busy for a month.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:17 PM on April 5, 2006


Gah, John P. Meier, not Eric Meyer....
posted by jefgodesky at 7:18 PM on April 5, 2006


Do most scientists keep lists of press releases related to their research on their website?

Does this help with your status as a researcher (funding, university politics, etc.)?
posted by imposster at 7:24 PM on April 5, 2006


Do most scientists keep lists of press releases related to their research on their website?

Does this help with your status as a researcher (funding, university politics, etc.)?


I'm pretty sure it does, unfortunately. It probably doesn't win you points with other researchers, but the development office loves it.
posted by illovich at 7:33 PM on April 5, 2006


I'm late here, illovich, but I have to say, I laughed out loud at "So sayeth... um... well, this guy at Florida State." Good work.
posted by digaman at 7:47 PM on April 5, 2006


. . .And this guy's head of the Spaceology Department at the Correspondence College of Tampa!
posted by dgaicun at 7:50 PM on April 5, 2006


since if Jesus was walking on ice... no miracle... But if Jesus was walking on ice, then at least he historically existed

Ah, a syllogism.
posted by nanojath at 8:19 PM on April 5, 2006


i don't mean to interrupt this scholarly discussion people are having here with something blindingly obvious, but is this person really suggesting that a person can walk on ice that's been formed in two days in 25 degree weather?

does he actually think ice would form in two days in 25 degree weather?

i say no way

i've lived in michigan all my life, some of it on a lake and i'm telling you he knows as much about it as, well, your average floridian does

it's got to get colder than that for longer ... and you need to wait at least a couple of weeks to be sure you won't fall through
posted by pyramid termite at 8:49 PM on April 5, 2006


Historians also claim that Yakety Sax was playing in the background the whole time...
posted by homunculus at 9:24 PM on April 5, 2006


Walking on ice without slipping is still a miracle.
posted by iamck at 9:51 PM on April 5, 2006


I love this one. It's so typically militant-atheist: "Revise our historical standards, doubt the existence of other people, just don't admit that Jesus could possibly have existed!"

That's an interesting reading, considering at no point did I actually said I don't believe Jesus existed. In fact I don't have much of an opinion one way or the other. My point was that if we applied the kinds of evidentiary standards we use in most disciplines to the study of ancient history, very little of it would pass muster. Now there's two ways you can take that. One route is to say "well, maybe, but it's reasonable to apply different standards for the sake of the discipline, otherwise there'd be no point in studying ancient history." The alternative is to take everything ancient historical documents say with a large pile of salt and realize much of it may ultimately be a fruitless endeavor. Personally I lean towards the latter view, but your mileage may vary.
posted by heavy water at 11:28 PM on April 5, 2006


pyramid termite is so right.

walking on a floating sheet of ice? clearly this Floridian has never actually set foot on a frozen anything. Frankly, the "he walked on a floating ice sheet" theory is less plausible than the claims of divine sonship.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:47 PM on April 5, 2006


Did Jesus exist? Sure, it's virtually guranteed that some guy named Jesus lived in Galilee around year 0-30.

Did he perform miracles? Was he the son of god? I don't know, but if you think he did and he was, then you're a christian.

Debating the scientific validity of 100 year old hearsay which has been transcribed, retranscribed, translated and retranslated for nearly two millennia is utterly lame.
posted by spazzm at 1:09 AM on April 6, 2006


And if, as suspected, Mark was based on the Q Document, that would have had to have been written even earlier.

no, no, no. what a mess.

Matthew and Luke may be based on Q, not Mark. that's why it's called the "Two Source Theory": both Matthew and Luke based their gospels on Mark and the lost Gospel of Q.

of course, we just don't know if Q ever existed. if it did, it didn't have a Passion narrative. and certainly didn't mention the Resurrection. or that Yeshua was God.

Then you have the Gospel of Thomas which, depending on who you believe, could have been written somewhere around 50 BC.

BC?
if you mean 50 CE, you're pretty much alone with a minority of scholars, most of them American. I suggest you read other non-American sources for your information on that. (and I really like Pagels, but this is beside the point).
the majority of scholars dates a Greek Thomas around 100, maybe even later, as a contemporary of John. it was then translated into Coptic.

The first Pauline epistles also crop up during that time period.

yeah, and Paul stays blissfully away of any detail about Jesus life except his resurrection. the sayings, the virgin birth, the healings, the exorcisms, the travels of Jesus? Paul is unaware of it all. the earliest Christian source is the least knowledgeable. ah the irony.

also, the great majority of texts about Jesus are conversionary documents. non-Christian sources are either mostly silent or, like poor Josephus, massively corrected by later Christian scribes.

what one can say is that it is highly likely that a charismatic faith healer and apocalyptic preacher (they were a dime a dozen in first century CE occupied Palestine) named Yeshua actually lived in Galilee at the begininning of the first century CE, and he was executed on a stauros (not exactly a cross, pace Mel Gibson) because he was considered a nuisance.

at the moment of his death he had a few dozen followers; decades later, layers of tradition were added thanks to conversionary documents written from 70 CE to 120 CE

funnily enough, 1.4 billion people (ie the Muslims) believe that the same Yeshua didn't die on that stauros.

so much for agreeing on history.

sorry for the long post.
posted by matteo at 1:19 AM on April 6, 2006


and by the way Mark's older manuscripts don't have a full resurrection story, they abruptly end with terrified women discovering the empty tomb
posted by matteo at 1:23 AM on April 6, 2006


Matteo--you're right on all of that. The only really reliable, historical facts about Jesus are, (a) he lived and (b) he was crucified. Everything beyond that is questionable, because all the rest of the details lack the kind of multiple, independent attestation you need. Like you said, Q was just a saying gospel, the Pauline epistles lack any detail, the oldest core of Mark is a much smaller document, etc. You're all concluding more from my defense than I've ever defended--I'm not a Christian, I don't think the gospels are historical documents, I just think it's pretty silly to think that Jesus never existed. I think he very obviously did, and then like any other legend, people attached a whole bunch of mythology to him. It's the very definition of a legend: a historical person that you start telling myths about. Happens all the time. Jesus is a classic case, like Alexander, Charlemange or King Arthur.
posted by jefgodesky at 5:17 AM on April 6, 2006


Hold on, hold on. Can't we just check the video?
posted by jon_kill at 6:00 AM on April 6, 2006


Might have something to do with Alexander the Great not being alleged to be more unkillable than Rasputin and Jason Voorhees combined.

Rasputin? That Rasputin? You mean Ra-Ra-Rasputin, lover of the Russian queen, they put some poison into his wine? Ra-Ra-Rasputin, Russia's greatest love machine, he drank it all and he said "I feel fine"? That one? Well, they finally killed the man, but they'll never be able to kill the legend!


So, ahem, what's this story that there's less documentation on the existence of Alexander the Great than of Jesus of Nazareth? I was going to ask "what about the archeological findings" and then saw graymouser already brought that up:

Much of the career of Alexander is at least moderately attested by archaeological remnants, coins and statues and the physical remains of a massive military campaign across Asia.

How do those count less?
posted by funambulist at 7:07 AM on April 6, 2006


no, no, no. what a mess.

Matthew and Luke may be based on Q, not Mark. that's why it's called the "Two Source Theory": both Matthew and Luke based their gospels on Mark and the lost Gospel of Q.


You're right. That was my bad. I got a little confused back there. Still, with Matthew being written somewhere around AD 80-85, Q probably would have been written somewhere within that same timeframe as Mark.

BC?
if you mean 50 CE...


Yup, another good catch. Must've had a brain fart on that post.

...you're pretty much alone with a minority of scholars, most of them American.

I'm aware of the debate, but I'd hardly say that I'm "alone." The early camp is actually the dominant view in North America. And I think that giving an earlier date to Thomas does have some merit to it.

yeah, and Paul stays blissfully away of any detail about Jesus life except his resurrection. the sayings, the virgin birth, the healings, the exorcisms, the travels of Jesus? Paul is unaware of it all. the earliest Christian source is the least knowledgeable.

So? All of that is completely irrelevant. You sitll have an independent source verifying Jesus' existence as early as AD 50.
posted by magodesky at 7:22 AM on April 6, 2006


How do those count less?

The divide between historians and archaeologists is unfortunate, and thankfully growing smaller. But I was discussing historical sources, not archaeological evidence. There is no archaeological evidence for Jesus--nor would one expect there to be. You just don't find archaeological evidence for specific peasants. Peasants tend not to leave a lot of coins with their images, or monumental architecture, after all.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:30 AM on April 6, 2006


Can't we just check the video?

cool

posted by matteo at 7:45 AM on April 6, 2006


But I was discussing historical sources, not archaeological evidence.

Well, but then, precisely because there's no archeological evidence for Jesus, and of course unlike Alexander he was not a warrior conqueror emperor with coins in his image and monuments erected for him in his time, then... isn't it a little disingenuous to put the existence of Jesus and Alexander on the same level of uncertainty?

You have more historical sources, plus archeological evidence, it's really not comparable, is it.
posted by funambulist at 7:53 AM on April 6, 2006


...isn't it a little disingenuous to put the existence of Jesus and Alexander on the same level of uncertainty?

You have more historical sources, plus archeological evidence, it's really not comparable, is it.


The point is that there are more historical sources for Jesus than there are for Alexander the Great, not less. And it's the historical sources that are being called into question.

The main point here is what constitutes evidence of a person's existence in historical documentation. Using the same measure that we use for any other person in ancient history, there is more than enough evidence to suggest that Jesus existed. But then you have overzealous atheists who want to apply a very different standard to Jesus simply because it suits their own agenda. And all I'm saying is that, from a scholarly point of view, that's wrong.
posted by magodesky at 8:04 AM on April 6, 2006


...isn't it a little disingenuous to put the existence of Jesus and Alexander on the same level of uncertainty?

As I pointed out above, if we're talking just about establishing a person's existence, not the details of their life or anything else, just whether or not they exist, we have more historical evidence for Jesus, than for Alexander the Great. When we play that little game of multiple, independent attestation, Jesus wins, with over a dozen seperate sources, while Alexander has, well, one. Now, archaeologically, we've got a lot of stuff with Alexander's face on it--mostly coins. That's why nobody doubts that Alexander existed. There's the point, though: if nobody doubts Alexander, why should we doubt the existence of Jesus?

Believe anything you want about him, I don't care, but it seems pretty clear that he was an actual person. Accepting that Alexander actually existed doesn't mean you have to accept that he cut the Gordian knot, was born of a virgin, or tamed the mythical mare. Details of a biography, and establishing that a person existed, are two entirely dfferent questions.

By the standards of ancient history, there is no question as to whether or not Jesus existed. The case that he didn't is utterly dependent on applying a standard of evidence to Jesus which, if applied universally, would require us to give up most of the things we know about ancient history.

It's a simple matter of coming up with your conclusion first, and then trying to find the facts to back it up--just like Creationists. Atheists and Christians both have their fanatics, and their tactics are quite similar. I get along with atheists and Christians alike; it's fanatics that really get under my skin.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:16 AM on April 6, 2006


Geez, this guy is waaaay off.
Jesus had wet feet, and the Sea of Galilee was a hot skillet.

My theory is a little more plausible than the fresh ice theory, now I just need to pump some iron and put out a press release.
posted by Floydd at 8:24 AM on April 6, 2006


Jesus was the first (and last) famous Jewish ice hockey player.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:46 AM on April 6, 2006


While this is not an issue that I have any knowledge about, I think you shot yourself in the foot with the comment

"we have more historical evidence for Jesus, than for Alexander the Great.... Now, archaeologically, we've got a lot of stuff with Alexander's face on it--mostly coins. That's why nobody doubts that Alexander existed. There's the point, though: if nobody doubts Alexander, why should we doubt the existence of Jesus?

It seems to me that you are arguing

1 -- that people believe in Alexander because of the weight of archeological evidence:
2 -- that there is more historical evidence for Jesus than Alexander (which in this thread seems to have been shown as less reliable than archeological evidence)

3-- Therefore, we should believe in Jesus' existence more than Alexander's.

massive non sequiter there.
posted by jacalata at 8:50 AM on April 6, 2006


Sorry, that was to jefgodesky.
posted by jacalata at 8:50 AM on April 6, 2006


Now, archaeologically, we've got a lot of stuff with Alexander's face on it--mostly coins. That's why nobody doubts that Alexander existed. There's the point, though: if nobody doubts Alexander, why should we doubt the existence of Jesus?

Aren't you answering your own question already?

Expanding: it looks like a bit of a trick to bring up Alexander the Great saying we're even less sure he existed, and wonder why despite that no one questions his existence, then acknowledge that - unlike with Jesus - there is a lot of archeological evidence of his existence, and that's the reason nobody doubts it, and then ask why do we doubt Jesus existed if we don't doubt Alexander did?

Can you blame me for getting the impression you're pulling a trick there? :)

You say the archaeology on Alexander is the smoking gun on his existence, then you want to restrain the field on historical sources alone, on which, incidentally, not being a historian, I'd have to take your word on the claim that historical sources on Alexander are less than those on Jesus, because I never heard such a thing before (could only be my ignorance as a lay person, of course, it's just, I was well aware of debates on aspects of his life, not radical questioning of all sources on his existence).

mind you, I haven't said anything at all about what I think of the existence of Jesus or whatnot. I only asked about that claim on Alexander.
posted by funambulist at 8:55 AM on April 6, 2006


I don't think we should believe in Jesus' existence more than Alexander's--I think that the evidence for Jesus' existence is on par with Alexander's. Nobody doubts Alexander's existence, and there's no rational reason to doubt Jesus' existence, either.

This thread has not shown that historical evidence is any less reliable than archaeological evidence--this thread has shown an incredibly elementary understanding of historiography and how historical texts should be treated. You don't believe everything you read in them, but if they all talk about the same thing and you can rule out collaboration, you start to have some significant indication that if nothing else, the author didn't just make it up. Archaeological evidence isn't perfect, either. It's open to interpretation, and sometimes archaeological interpretation gets really heated. History and archaeology are both really good sources of evidence, but in both cases, there are things to control for. I don't think you can denigrate one in favor of the other.

In the question of whether or not Jesus existed, you wouldn't expect to see any archaeological evidence, but the historical evidence is abundant. That's why you don't see any peer-reviewed articles on the "Jesus Myth," or any of this being taken seriously by any serious scholars. The few times I've seen it raised in the prescence of said scholars, the laughter was pretty much the same I'd heard from anthropologists any time someone mentions the "Aquatic Ape Hypothesis."

...and that's the reason nobody doubts it, and then ask why do we doubt Jesus existed if we don't doubt Alexander did?

That's not the reason no one doubts Alexander's existence. Alexander's existence was taken for granted before the archaeological evidence came in. We take his existence for granted based just on the historical evidence, because, by the standards of ancient history, that is an enormous mountain of evidence.

The kicker is, the mountain of evidence for Jesus' existence is even bigger. There's not too many things in ancient history that are this rock-solid, so that's a pretty rare thing. Any standard that eliminates Jesus is alien to ancient history, and applying it fairly would pretty much wipe out all history prior to 1700.

You say the archaeology on Alexander is the smoking gun on his existence...

I said no such thing. The historical evidence for Alexander is convincing enough all by itself. I raised the point because few laymen understand the standards of evidence for ancient history, or the nature of multiple, independent attestation.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:06 AM on April 6, 2006


“...you'd be sending this guy death threats and warning him never to talk about the resurrection.” -posted by jacalata

Or protesting his funeral.

“Is it really a degradation, though?”

For some folks I would think. I suspect many Catholics would have a problem with it. Explain how a miracle works and it ceases to be miraculous (as I understand it).

And I think jefgodesky ‘splained the legend end of it well.

But for me personally the ‘ice’ thing is analogus to arguing whether Shakespeare really existed/wrote the work instead of Bacon or whatever. The play’s the thing.
I don’t care whether JC existed or not. Whether he “actually” walked on water or not, etc. It’s a matter of aesthetic to me.

So to frame the argument that way - Shakespeare’s plays were actually written by Shakespere who would toss random words in the air and pull them out - which explains how he could compete with men of far greater learning and by extension we should enjoy his plays.

Entirely stupid concept. Bad work. And adds nothing to the enjoyment of say Othello or what not.

Ultimately (in the case of JC) - why bother?
You’re not going to convince anyone who doesn’t believe, you’re not going to strengthen the faith of anyone you want on your side ( ‘Oh, the ice froze - well, then I guess I’m more of a Christian now because of this incredibly rare and coincidental, but physically possible, explaination). And the people who don’t care (like me) will point out the shoddy workmanship behind the explaination in the first place.

Like spazzm said: “Debating the scientific validity of 100 year old hearsay which has been transcribed, retranscribed, translated and retranslated for nearly two millennia is utterly lame.”
posted by Smedleyman at 10:10 AM on April 6, 2006


Explain how a miracle works and it ceases to be miraculous (as I understand it).

Well, if you define a miracle as something that's impossible, then there have never been any miracles since if something happens, that means it's possible. Rather, I would think that a miracle is something that is highly improbable happening exactly when it needs to happen.

It's conceivably possible that all of the water molecules would arrange themselves such that a person could walk on them. Statistically, the probability is not zero. It is, however, so close to zero that it might as well be considered impossible.

Likewise, it's highly improbable that the water beneath Jesus' feet would suddenly turn to ice at the exact moment he decided to step out to go for a walk. So improbable that I don't think it would be out of line to describe it as "miraculous." Does the fact that it is scientifically conceivable diminish that?

As for why someone would bother with this sort of thing, I'm not sure it's terribly important from a historical perspective. But isn't it just kind of a fun thing to know?
posted by magodesky at 10:44 AM on April 6, 2006


In the question of whether or not Jesus existed, you wouldn't expect to see any archaeological evidence, but the historical evidence is abundant. That's why you don't see any peer-reviewed articles on the "Jesus Myth," or any of this being taken seriously by any serious scholars.

A couple points here: from what I've been able to come up with doing wiwkpedia & other internet searches (I know, I know), I'm still not clear what the "abundant" historical evidence of Jesus having lived is, other than religious writings about him. The Jesus Myth page over on wikipedia points out that "strongest evidence against the historicity of Jesus lies in the fact that no mention of him or the events of the New Testament can be found in any of the numerous contemporary and near-contemporary records of the day." (with the exception of Josephus, and I gather the problem there is the accusation that Joesephus was edited lateer on by Christiian scribes) .

The fundamental problem with using religious writings as historical sources is, of course they think Jesus existed (except for the Docetics I guess), but since few of them seem plausible as eyewitness accounts, you can't really take them as serious records of historicity. This is the reason that there's more skepticism towards Jesus as a historical figure, especially when viewed against Alexander for example.

Also, as far as a lack of peer reviewed articles being a final arbiter for the quality of an idea, there is a hole in the peer review process combined with who makes up the field you're talking about. Basically, if you write an article for a peer reviewed journal, it's sent to a number (usually 3 at least I think) of peers for review, and all have to agree that the publication is valid. My guess is that in the journals where you would publish papers on whether or not Jesus existed, you would have a large number of people involved who either have a stake in believing that Jesus existed (i.e. Christians), or do not wish to become embroiled in a controversy of that magnitude--and as such it would be difficult to get a paper published that argued that he didn't.

That's just a guess, but I bet I'm partially right. All of the academics that I know who are involved in something related to this topic are also ministers, so I'm reluctant to ask them because I a) think I know their answer, and b) because of that don't want them to think I'm antagonistic to their beliefs and field of study. Plus I have to work with them, so you know. Don't want things to get awkward.
posted by illovich at 12:15 PM on April 6, 2006


That's not the reason no one doubts Alexander's existence.

I was just referring to what you said yourself, one comment before that... Now, archaeologically, we've got a lot of stuff with Alexander's face on it--mostly coins. That's why nobody doubts that Alexander existed.

When instead, as in the case of Jesus, you have zero archeological evidence, of course, then you rely only on written accounts. I understand that, I'm not saying written accounts as such as always worthless without any archeological evidence to support them, but here you just claim the mountain of evidence for Jesus' existence is even bigger, as if that was a given uncontested fact. But there are indeed enough scholars disputing that, so, unless you want to go as far as claim they're all frauds and liars or loonies with an axe to grind and their position should not be taken into account at all, you can't just say there is no dispute.

Seems to me saying it's absolutely impossible to doubt or disbelieve his existence as a historical figure is as extreme a conclusion as saying it's absolutely impossible to believe in it.

Besides, even if most agree on the existence of a fairly well known Jesus/Yeshua historical figure in the particular area in that particular time, the whole question is who he was and what he actually did and where he actually ended up, and how much of that corresponds to what's in the Gospels, so it's not just a formal matter of physical 'existence', it's a lot more.
posted by funambulist at 12:34 PM on April 6, 2006


I'm still not clear what the "abundant" historical evidence of Jesus having lived is, other than religious writings about him. The Jesus Myth page over on wikipedia points out that "strongest evidence against the historicity of Jesus lies in the fact that no mention of him or the events of the New Testament can be found in any of the numerous contemporary and near-contemporary records of the day."

Well, for one thing, I think people here are discounting religious writings too quickly. It's not as though "religious writings" can't be used in historical research, especially during this time period when you have a lot of overlap between religious and historical documentation. The Hebrew Bible, for instance, is much more a history of Israel than it is a set of religious doctrine.

Then there is also the fact that when all you're trying to do is establish the existence of a historical person, it doesn't matter if the entire rest of the document is filled with fairy tales. This is one reason why the Jesus Myth is so flawed--because it's based on this asusmption that "no mention of him or the events of the New Testament can be found in any of the numerous contemporary and near-contemporary records of the day." That's quite simply not true.

Within the lifetime of Jesus' contemporaries you already have 7-9 epistles and 2-3 gospel accounts. By a century after Jesus' death you have 25-27 documents mentioning Jesus just including New Testament canon. So that's not even counting apocryphal works. All of these written in a shorter amount of time than it took for the first historical documentation for Alexander the Great to be written. All of these come from a wide variety of sources, with no evidence of collaboration. The fact that we have so many contemporary and near-contemporary independent accounts makes it difficult to believe that there wasn't some person like Jesus, no matter what else they might have made up.
posted by magodesky at 12:42 PM on April 6, 2006


But there are indeed enough scholars disputing that, so, unless you want to go as far as claim they're all frauds and liars or loonies with an axe to grind and their position should not be taken into account at all, you can't just say there is no dispute.

Isn't it funny how the majority of expert opinions only matters when said experts are on your side? The vast majority of historians and Biblical scholars don't believe in the Jesus Myth. But hey, there are those handful of guys who do, so you have to respond to each them... you know, even though we already did.

The vast majority of biologists don't believe in intelligent design, but there are those few folks who do, so we should certainly take them seriously too, right?

I guess it doesn't really matter what the facts are. You can always find a way to ignore them and go on believing whatever you want to be true.

Besides, even if most agree on the existence of a fairly well known Jesus/Yeshua historical figure in the particular area in that particular time, the whole question is who he was and what he actually did and where he actually ended up, and how much of that corresponds to what's in the Gospels, so it's not just a formal matter of physical 'existence', it's a lot more.

Well, no. When the whole point of your article is "Did a historical Jesus exist?" it's just a formal matter of physical existence.
posted by magodesky at 1:00 PM on April 6, 2006


A couple points here: from what I've been able to come up with doing wiwkpedia & other internet searches (I know, I know), I'm still not clear what the "abundant" historical evidence of Jesus having lived is, other than religious writings about him.

That's because it mostly is religious writings. Online, you run into the problem that everyone with a web page is either for the "Jesus Myth" stuff, or is a Christian apologist. Websites are something of a self-selected sample that only reflect the extremes in this case.

Like I said before, if you have a bunch of fairy tales all written about the same time, by different people, with no knowledge of each other, and they all refer to the same character, then you know that that character was known broadly at that time. In this case, we've got quite a number of writings, all of them religious to one degree or another, many of them saying some pretty outrageous things about him, and none of them terribly reliable in their own right, all referring to this "Jesus" character as someone who was only recently crucified. As far as establishing someone's historical existence, that's as good as you get in ancient history. Stories about miracles and virgin births are pretty much par for the course across the board in ancient history, but when they all mention the same thing, you know it wasn't made up by any one author. That's what we have here.

Does it really matter if a hundred articles are all from tabloids--if they all talk about a "Britney Spears," can't you still conclude that such a person exists?

The Jesus Myth page over on wikipedia points out that "strongest evidence against the historicity of Jesus lies in the fact that no mention of him or the events of the New Testament can be found in any of the numerous contemporary and near-contemporary records of the day." (with the exception of Josephus, and I gather the problem there is the accusation that Joesephus was edited lateer on by Christiian scribes) .

That's a terrible argument. He was a peasant. Who outside of his tiny cult would care? But there are a number of extra-Biblical sources, including a few Romans who write about Jesus a century or so after the fact. Not primary material, but still more mention, and closer to the time in question, than Alexander got (two biographies written 400 years after the fact). For the Romans of the second century, as bizarre as the Christians were, the existence of Jesus was not a question, and they would have LOVED to have been able to drop that one, I'm sure.

Secondly, what numerous records? The "Jesus Myth" usually starts off with a completely inaccurate picture of the Roman Empire as keeping records on par with the kind of detailed records we keep today. Nothing could be further from the truth. What's more, even what bureaucratic records they did keep have been almost entirely lost. It's not like we have Roman tax records from the first century. This is ancient history--there is no equivalent of microfiche. Historical evidence is scanty, incomplete, and usually comes only centuries after the events it describes. And usually, the source is full of extraordinary tales and legends. Ancient history is the study of how to eke out something meaningful from that.

The fundamental problem with using religious writings as historical sources is, of course they think Jesus existed (except for the Docetics I guess), but since few of them seem plausible as eyewitness accounts, you can't really take them as serious records of historicity.

That's a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of ancient history right there. Of course they're not reliable as historical accounts. We're not using them as historical accounts here. They mention a person. We have a sudden, large number of documents all mentioning the same person, having lived shortly before they were written. So, how does that happen without the person actually living? You would expect them all to write fantastic stories about said person--stories they had heard about other characters, hence the main feather in "The Jesus Myth's" cap, the syncretic, "pagan" nature of the stories about Jesus--but that doesn't change the fact that they're taking a story from Mithras, a story about Heracles, a story about Horus, and recasting the hero of the story as the same person, even though they show no sign of knowing about each other's work. That doesn't say anything about the stories, but it does say something about the person they all decide to pick. It suggests that he existed, and that he impressed at least a small circle of writers enough to motivate them to attribute various myths they'd heard to him.

This is the reason that there's more skepticism towards Jesus as a historical figure, especially when viewed against Alexander for example.

Really? Have you ever read those sources on Alexander? They're fewer, they're later, but they're no less fantastic. Alexander's attached to as many myths as Jesus. The sources themselves are highly questionable. A source that's totally unreliable as a narrative can still be just fine for establishing historicity of a character. By the same token, a reliable historical narrative can be utterly useless for the same. You're talking about two very different things.

My guess is that in the journals where you would publish papers on whether or not Jesus existed, you would have a large number of people involved who either have a stake in believing that Jesus existed (i.e. Christians), or do not wish to become embroiled in a controversy of that magnitude--and as such it would be difficult to get a paper published that argued that he didn't.

There are HJ journals, and they live for this kind of controversy. HJ studies has some Christians, but they're careful to check their religion at the door, and do so admirably well. There's just as many atheists and Jews involved, so I don't think you can just dismiss the entire field like that.

All of the academics that I know who are involved in something related to this topic are also ministers, so I'm reluctant to ask them because I a) think I know their answer, and b) because of that don't want them to think I'm antagonistic to their beliefs and field of study. Plus I have to work with them, so you know. Don't want things to get awkward.

Wow; ministers are almost barred from HJ studies. I've never seen or read a single one. I used to lurk on the XTalk list; it hosts all the folks you see making appearances on those Discovery documentaries and a pretty good listing of the field. It grew out of an internet debate between Crossan, Borg and Johnson. Very, very good stuff there.

I was just referring to what you said yourself, one comment before that... Now, archaeologically, we've got a lot of stuff with Alexander's face on it--mostly coins. That's why nobody doubts that Alexander existed.

Hmmm, yes, I can see where you got that. Allow me to clarify: "That's just one more reason nobody doubts that Alexander existed." Nobody doubted it before the coins were found, either.

But there are indeed enough scholars disputing that...

None of the people supporting the "Jesus Myth" are scholars. They're popular writers. None of them are specialists in the field. They're as much "scholars" as the global warming skeptics hired by Exxon. They have no credentials in the field.

Besides, even if most agree on the existence of a fairly well known Jesus/Yeshua historical figure in the particular area in that particular time, the whole question is who he was and what he actually did and where he actually ended up, and how much of that corresponds to what's in the Gospels, so it's not just a formal matter of physical 'existence', it's a lot more.

I'd agree, and there's a LOT of disagreement where that's concerned. But rather than discussing that important topic, the thread was asking the inane question of whether or not Jesus existed. But I'd much rather discuss that topic--it's far more interesting.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:04 PM on April 6, 2006


None of the people supporting the "Jesus Myth" are scholars. They're popular writers. None of them are specialists in the field. They're as much "scholars" as the global warming skeptics hired by Exxon. They have no credentials in the field.

Asking, not telling: Is Robert M. Price a scholar in your view? (I'm mostly asking jefgodesky & magodesky in this case)

His publication list is pretty lengthy, and the only reason I connect him to this debate is his interview in the God Who Wasn't There. But I'm wondering if he counts, since I've never heard of the institute he teaches at.

the thread was asking the inane question of whether or not Jesus existed

It was really more about the ice thing. In retrospect I probably shouldn't have brought it up, since it's not my axe to grind... but I did since I thought that the existence question was a nice contrast to proving how Jesus could have walked on water in a non-miraculous way.

And I'm still not convinced it's an inane question. I feel like it is if you start from the assumption that he must have existed, but when it the "jesus myth" hypothesis was presented to me, it seemed legitimate. And then when I approach the evidence under the filter of assuming non-existance, the evidence looks pretty flimsy to me. But I'm sure if I approach it thinking he did exist, it might be easy to come to the opposite conclusion.

It's probably easier for it to seem legitimate to me since it doesn't matter to me whether he did or not, although I'll admit it would make a lot of history sort of hilarious if it turned out he didn't.

My main problem at this point is i feel like I can't really trust either side, because they all seem like they have a greater stake in the outcome than the simple truth.
posted by illovich at 1:56 PM on April 6, 2006


Price is usually a damn good scholar. He's a maverick, pretty much as close to "Jesus Myth" as you get while still remaining a respectable scholar. He focuses on the syncretism, but as far as I know, he's also one of the mildest of the "Jesus Myth" crowd, and I believe the allows for the existence of a historical Jesus all the same.

And I'm still not convinced it's an inane question.

You'll need to get past a mere web search and hit the books, I'm afraid. After a bit of light reading, it will become obvious why I say it's inane.

My main problem at this point is i feel like I can't really trust either side, because they all seem like they have a greater stake in the outcome than the simple truth.

You can definitely say that about the "Jesus Myth" proponents and the evangelical apologists. That's why I'm relying on the HJ crowd for this. That's also where I'm coming from. It's got some Christians, but like I said, it's got just as many atheists and Jews. Unfortunately, they tend to be a bit on the Luddite side, and as far as they're concerned, answering this question yet again is about as compelling as answering a Creationist yet again would be for a biologist. So, it takes a little bit of homework.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:07 PM on April 6, 2006


magodesky (the two godesky's thing is confusing me) - I am not on anyone's "side" in this dispute just because I'm interested in the discussion.

I was honestly curious about what read to me as rather absolutist claims that no one seriously disputes the historical existence of Jesus and that there are more sources on Jesus than Alexander.

It's the exact opposite of what I always heard and was taught, so, I can't just take two people's word for it, and I want to hear more about this. That's all.

Just FYI, though, I can assure you I don't come from some "militant atheist" background, quite the opposite, and yet even there no one taught us the existence - and biography - of Jesus is absolutely uncontested by historians, they taught us we had to believe in his existence and message anyway, it was a matter of faith, as was the whole divine birth miracles resurrection thing. Now I don't believe in that anymore but the question on the historical existence for me is a curiosity rather than a question of ideological battle. I think it's perfectly conceivable there was a preacher named Jesus who was popular with the crowds and then was killed by the Romans, with all the stuff about miracles and resurrections being legend.

But I also don't understand why completely discount more radical positions claiming it's all myth based on previous pagan myths, when after all the only thing you have is accounts from proselytisers, followed by a few references to the same by Roman historians.

How can we be so quick to discount other views as a tiny bunch of worthless frauds with their own agenda, but not acknowledge religious texts are historically problematic because of their proselytising nature?

There is no comparison with intelligent design because that's a theological belief about the divine creation and structure of the universe, it's not an academic dispute over historical figures and their lives.

Intelligent design is comparable to claims about Jesus miracles and resurrection, not claims about his actual life.
posted by funambulist at 2:20 PM on April 6, 2006



jefgodesky: ok, I understand you want to focus on the written testimonies only, but still, see above, this thing about sources for Alexander being less weigthy than for Jesus is completely new to me. I need more than just restating that it simply is so. Especially because this obviously isn't unbiased territory!

None of the people supporting the "Jesus Myth" are scholars. They're popular writers.

I don't know about that really. That wikipedia link mentions historians too, is it wrong? I'm thinking of something more general anyway, all the doubts and areas of uncertainty and lack of evidence, not just flat out denial. Like I said, I think it's impossible to prove either way, and I always thought most historians agreed on at least that much.

I'd agree, and there's a LOT of disagreement where that's concerned. But rather than discussing that important topic, the thread was asking the inane question of whether or not Jesus existed. But I'd much rather discuss that topic--it's far more interesting.

The argument is still about myth-making either way, though. In the end, myth or historical figure, the important thing is why people spread all those fancy stories about him and why other people believed those stories and kept on believing them for all these centuries, so myth-making is involved in the process anyway. I think it is at least interesting to examine possible parallels between ancient myths and Christian beliefs.

I think it's a completely irrelevant question in terms of one's personal beliefs and convictions on the religious aspect of the matter (ie. whether Jesus really existed or not is irrelevant to whether you believe he was what the Christian religion claims he was and did what it claims he did, you're being asked to believe unprovable things anyway!); but it is after all a question worth asking for the purpose of research and study and theories and so on. (not least because any such question had conceivably been suppressed for centuries in the past)
posted by funambulist at 2:27 PM on April 6, 2006


Intelligent design is comparable to claims about Jesus miracles and resurrection, not claims about his actual life.

I disagree. "Intelligent design" is the invention of a group who are uncomfortable with the facts, so they have their conclusion, and find facts to fill it in. The same is true of the "Jesus Myth."

The "Jesus Myth" is based on the idea that there is insufficient historical evidence to say Jesus existed. This requires accepting a certain standard of evidence that would, theoretically, be sufficient. The "Jesus Myth" says that the Romans kept meticulous records, and that we have such records, so if Jesus existed, we should be able to look him up in Roman tax records, contemporary Romans should have mentioned him, etc. We can't, ergo, he must not have existed.

That is completely bogus. It's a standard of evidence that no one in the ancient world meets. These meticulous records they go on and on about don't exist for anyone. The premise is a misrepresentation of Roman society and the state of evidence in ancient history. You can't do ancient history without quickly realizing that this is completely asinine.

In fact, it's quite hard to find contemporary accounts of anything in the ancient world. The standard for what counts as "contemporary" shifts when you're studying ancient history to anything in living memory, since it runs the risk of someone reading it and saying, "I was there, and it didn't happen like that!" By the standards of ancient history, Q, the original core of Mark, and the Pauline epistles are all contemporary.

That these sources are filled with spectacular things and are completely unreliable as historical narratives is irrelevant. Ancient history is all about teasing useful information out of unreliable texts. Ancient historians rarely have the luxury of abundant or reliable sources. That's the name of the game.

The "Jesus Myth" gets a lot of play in radical atheist circles because it tells them what they want to hear. But for anyone who's ever done ancient history, it's immediately obvious that the whole mess is premised on a standard of evidence that simply doesn't exist for the ancient world. You simply cannot apply the standards of modern history to ancient history. That, however, is a technical point of methodology, one that few laymen are able to understand even when it's explained to them--and very likely to be drowned out in the sound and fury generated by the sensationalistic claim itself. In that cynical exploitation of the general public's lack of specialization, it is once again very much like ID.

Both begin with their conclusion, and look for facts to fit into it. Both misrepresent the fields of study involved. Both prey on the general public's ignorance of the fields involved to perpetrate an ultimately unreasonable idea that relies on our predilection to prefer sensationalism to a sober discussion of dry methodology.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:33 PM on April 6, 2006


jefgodesky: ok, I understand you want to focus on the written testimonies only, but still, see above, this thing about sources for Alexander being less weigthy than for Jesus is completely new to me. I need more than just restating that it simply is so. Especially because this obviously isn't unbiased territory!

See above.

That wikipedia link mentions historians too, is it wrong?

The Wikipedia entry has been flagged for a lack of neutrality, but even so it still says, "In recent years, the Jesus Myth has had few proponents in academia..." Where "few" means "none, really, but we want to be careful just in case we might've forgotten one."

Like I said, I think it's impossible to prove either way, and I always thought most historians agreed on at least that much.

Indeed; "proofs" are for mathematicians--historians deal in evidence, which is never entirely sure. Now, if you want to raise the standard of evidence in ancient history, that's a methodological discussion which also would be much more interesting. But that would also mean relinquishing most history prior to 1700 or so.

I think it is at least interesting to examine possible parallels between ancient myths and Christian beliefs.

I couldn't agree more! But that's a very different question, isn't it?
posted by jefgodesky at 2:39 PM on April 6, 2006


magodesky (the two godesky's thing is confusing me)

Sorry about that. I tried to get mag, but it wasn't available.

I am not on anyone's "side" in this dispute just because I'm interested in the discussion.

It just seemed rather strange to me the views that have been expressed in this thread toward majority opinions. On the one hand, you're saying that we can't just point to the fact that the vast majority of biblical scholars and historians discount the Jesus Myth because there are maybe a handful of radicals out there who do believe in it. On the other hand, when I bring up the early dating for the Gospel of Thomas and the majority opinion becomes useful, I'm told that I'm alone with a minority of scholars. Even though the early camp can hardly be described as a "minority," and I did mention that the dating was contested in the original post.

Anyway, I know those were two different posters, but it just struck me as funny is all. There just seems to be this general sense that majority opinion is only important when they say what you want to hear.

How can we be so quick to discount other views as a tiny bunch of worthless frauds with their own agenda, but not acknowledge religious texts are historically problematic because of their proselytising nature?

For one thing, we're not just "discounting" the Jesus Myth. It's been considered and rejected again and again because, frankly, they don't have a whole lot to back up their argument. Secondly, HJ scholars DO acknowledge the problems with the texts they have. But even when you take those problems into consideration, it still looks as though Jesus was a real person.

There is no comparison with intelligent design because that's a theological belief about the divine creation and structure of the universe, it's not an academic dispute over historical figures and their lives.

Well, most ID theorists would tell you that their work is academic. And it is, in the same sense that the Jesus Myth is academic.

Yes, they're about different subjects. But I think they are comparable in the sense that they are both theories that have been thoroughly rejected by just about everyone with any sort of expertise in those respective fields. So when somebody touts the Jesus Myth as reputable scholastic work, it sounds a lot like Christians demanding that ID be taught alongside evolution.
posted by magodesky at 2:43 PM on April 6, 2006


“So improbable that I don't think it would be out of line to describe it as "miraculous." Does the fact that it is scientifically conceivable diminish that?” - magodesky

I think it does. But that’s just my opinion. I would think the “power of God” would be inexplicable or unknowable to man. From a story perspective it diminishes the drama.
Add to that this particular idea has behind it a certain kind of proselytizing - a seeming desire for monopolization of this particular person/legend/story/etc. which has gone on for quite some time. Great deal of hubris I think.

Kinda like if some publisher said only their version of Hamlet was definative and is the only one that should be performed because the set pieces can be scientifically explained.

“But isn't it just kind of a fun thing to know?” - magodesky

I knew that anyway. I love science and extremes. I also like stories and myth. Put in this context, it’s demeaning to both.
I suppose it’s the whole “because” part that gets me.
Which it appears you are arguing against as well.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:26 PM on April 6, 2006


You godesky brothers are so goddamn ridiculous its unbelievable. Creationism! Creationism! Creationism! Holocaust denial! Holocaust denial! Overwhelming evidence! Overwhelming evidence!

What bullshit! There are millions of records and observations supporting Nazi crimes and evolutionary theory, but a handful of dubious table scraps for the Jesus issue. Please check this crazy rhetoric at the door, you look like assholes. We all know about and agree on the same several sources for Jesus - falsely attributed, second-hand, next-generation, contradictory, selectively preserved, error-filled, interpolated, plagiarized, propagandistic religious sources. jefgodesky essentially says "all we know" from these wacky sources is that there was a guy named Jesus and that he was crucified. First of all, that ain't much. Second, given that we don't have one first-hand account, I say that it is just as consistent with the evidence we have, and more plausible to me (due to the "madness of crowds" nature of religion and the mythological context), that there was simply a rumor or story about a man named Jesus that was crucified. That's an awfully thin line, and nothing has been, or will be, presented by the hebephrenic godeskii to show how this is "Creationism". In fact, if anything, the real Creationists here are the ones who, like our friend Jesus breaking a loaf of bread into a feast for a large crowd, attempt to rhetorically transform the laughable, scanty source material from the ancient near east into a feast of "overwhelming evidence" for the crowds here at MetaFilter.

One might wonder why they are trying to make the case for the existence of a real historical Jesus, look much stronger than it is or ever could be - even placing it up with evolution on the fact table?
posted by dgaicun at 4:17 PM on April 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


Add to that this particular idea has behind it a certain kind of proselytizing - a seeming desire for monopolization of this particular person/legend/story/etc. which has gone on for quite some time. Great deal of hubris I think.

Kinda like if some publisher said only their version of Hamlet was definative and is the only one that should be performed because the set pieces can be scientifically explained.


I guess it would look demeaning if that's the way you take it, but I don't think that's really the point. I think that when scientists do this kind of thing, they're not saying, "I have the one true scientific interpretation of the Bible. You must listen to me." I think they're merely suggesting that there is a certain amount of scientific credibility to Biblical stories, and here is one way it possibly could have happened.

There are millions of records and observations supporting Nazi crimes and evolutionary theory, but a handful of dubious table scraps for the Jesus issue. Please check this crazy rhetoric at the door, you look like assholes.

Okay. Well, so far, you're the only person in this thread to bring up the Holocaust. So who's the one with the crazy rhetoric?

Oh, and by the way, Godwin's Law states that you have now lost.

We all know about and agree on the same several sources for Jesus - falsely attributed, second-hand, next-generation, contradictory, selectively preserved, error-filled, interpolated, plagiarized, propagandistic religious sources.

None of which have anything to do with establishing existance, but go on.

jefgodesky essentially says "all we know" from these wacky sources is that there was a guy named Jesus and that he was crucified. First of all, that ain't much.

Well, that's all we're talking about. So we don't really need much more than that.

Second, given that we don't have one first-hand account, I say that it is just as consistent with the evidence we have, and more plausible to me (due to the "madness of crowds" nature of religion and the mythological context), that there was simply a rumor or story about a man named Jesus that was crucified.

That just popped into being out of a vacuum among several independent sources? I suppose it's possible, but to say that it's "more plausible," or even plausible at all, is really stretching credibility to its limits.

One might wonder why they are trying to make the case for the existence of a real historical Jesus, look much stronger than it is or ever could be - even placing it up with evolution on the fact table?

And one might also wonder why you're trying to make the case that a real historical Jesus didn't exist when you clearly have yet to even crack a book on the subject.
posted by magodesky at 4:43 PM on April 6, 2006


Ok, Godeskys, this is the last time I attempt to argue with 2 brothers! and on religion threads, to boot! why do I hate myself so much :]

- ID comparison: I meant that kind of argument is in the realm of supernatural beliefs, no matter how its proponents try and claim it's science; while any sort of discussion on the historical Jesus man and his existence or details of his life (not the miracles and such claims) is, while not in the realm of science, at least in the realm of the rational and factual, and if there are things that cannot be "proven" (I'm using the term in a generic sense, not in the scientific one) it's because it happened before the age of camera phones and DNA testing and because people may disagree on the reliability of sources, in fact, the very discussion on reliability of sources is miles away from an ID argument.

- what I'm saying here is not that a supposedly tiny tiny cabal of "Jesus Myth" people must count more than all other people writing in this field because I agrew with the tiny tiny cabal - in terms of the historicity of Jesus, I don't want to hear one voice only, I'm interested in what all camps have to say - what I'm saying is that I don't think one can say "there is no dispute" at all.

I know we're going round on this, but I think you're exaggerating in painting the dispute as totally marginal and only the work of a few discredited hacks; also, there isn't only material in the English language and there isn't one worldwide mainstream history committee. And it's not science vs ID.

Besides, the flat-out "Jesus never existed it was all pagan myths rehashed" people and the "there was a Jesus but he really didn't do all that stuff and maybe he went off to become a sufi and die and be buried in Pakistan after begetting 20 children with Mary Magdalen" people and the "yes there was a Jesus and yes he got killed by Romans but the rest is all myth made up by people who wanted to create a new religion" and any other position that radically disputes the accounts of the Gospels are still part of the bigger dispute on historicity, because we simply cannot take the Gospels as purely historical accounts. Challenging details of the story or challenging the entirety of the story is a very different question, yes, but stems from that same problem.

- I don't completely follow the argument that because a source is full of fairy tales then it doesn't mean everything in it is fairy tale. Yes, sure, that's true to some degree, but then it means you have to have something else to verify that bit that you don't think is fairy tale. That something else here is a few mentions by Roman historians that may simply have been reporting what they heard from the Jesus people. I never heard of a massive 'mountain of evidence' in that sense, and again, I promise you I didn't go to militant atheist school.

- The existence of Jesus, as well as the belief everything they said he did was true, has been accepted as fact for centuries because a successfully expanding and powerful Christianity allowed no dispute on the matter. What we're doing here talking about it in public would have been heresy and punished with death. Today there is no such thing but many religious scholars are still heavily associated with the religion and the religion still has its own little bit of influence anyway. I think all this should perhaps be taken into account too when considering the views on the matter. We're not talking about the existence of an ordinary son of a carpenter.

- I understand "you simply cannot apply the standards of modern history to ancient history", but that still doesn't make the Gospels history. The fact the Romans didn't keep records of everyone living in Palestine doesn't mean there was no Jesus, but also doesn't mean there was. We have known unknowns, and unknown unknowns, but we have no unknown knowns, you know?

Finally, I don't see why the hostility and scorn for the very idea of even raising such a question. And no, no comparisons with creationism/science apply here either.
posted by funambulist at 4:52 PM on April 6, 2006


Also, this is the last time ever I don't read all the comments in a thread. Sorry. What a waste of time...

The only really reliable, historical facts about Jesus are, (a) he lived and (b) he was crucified.

Then what is the argument about? Lots of men lived in that area at that time, and the Romans crucified a whole bunch of them. So, the story of Jesus could be about anyone = "Jesus is a myth".

Otherwise we're doing acrobatics with words here.
posted by funambulist at 5:09 PM on April 6, 2006


And one might also wonder why you're trying to make the case that a real historical Jesus didn't exist when you clearly have yet to even crack a book on the subject.

Interesting assertion, given that you two have demonstrated inferior knowledge of the issue - misspelling sources, flubbing dates, etc. Don't tell me what I've read until you catch me in error, or until you get your shit together. Thank you.

That just popped into being out of a vacuum among several independent sources? I suppose it's possible, but to say that it's "more plausible," or even plausible at all, is really stretching credibility to its limits.

Well, no in fact, it isn't, since there are abundant examples in religious history. If you check Snopes you'll find that rumors emerge and mutate everyday. The question is if the source for the Jesus story (which admittedly is as starkly bare as there was a man named Jesus and he was crucified) is a common real man/event, or a common rumor of a real man/event. Again the line here is so thin, the fact that you are so ready to assert that it "stretches credibility" seems to speak very loudly about the nature of your presuppositions. Certainly these assumptions go beyond what is required by the historical evidence.
posted by dgaicun at 5:21 PM on April 6, 2006


ID comparison: I meant that kind of argument is in the realm of supernatural beliefs, no matter how its proponents try and claim it's science; while any sort of discussion on the historical Jesus man and his existence or details of his life (not the miracles and such claims) is, while not in the realm of science, at least in the realm of the rational and factual, and if there are things that cannot be "proven" (I'm using the term in a generic sense, not in the scientific one) it's because it happened before the age of camera phones and DNA testing and because people may disagree on the reliability of sources, in fact, the very discussion on reliability of sources is miles away from an ID argument.

I got what you were saying. But I think you're making the mistake of assuming that ID is based solely or mostly on religious belief whereas the Jesus Myth is based solely or mostly on academic research. ID is a scientific theory, not a "supernatural belief." The fact that it's bad science that has been rejected by every reputable expert doesn't change the fact that it is based on academic research.

Similarly, the Jesus Myth is also based on academic research. But, like ID, it's bad research based on a lot of faulty assumptions cobbled together in order to lend some sense of credibility to a predetermined conclusion.

in terms of the historicity of Jesus, I don't want to hear one voice only, I'm interested in what all camps have to say - what I'm saying is that I don't think one can say "there is no dispute" at all.

I know we're going round on this, but I think you're exaggerating in painting the dispute as totally marginal and only the work of a few discredited hacks; also, there isn't only material in the English language and there isn't one worldwide mainstream history committee. And it's not science vs ID.


I agree that it's good to hear from multiple voices. But in certain situations, the argument really is that one-sided. Evolution vs. ID is one of them. And so is the Jesus Myth debate.

It's not that I'm discounting people who say Jesus didn't exist out of hand. I've read what they have to say, and their claim is totally bogus. And, with the exception of a few radicals, just about every biblical scholar out there agrees that it's bogus. It's not a matter of them all being part of "one worldwide mainstream history committee." It's simply that, as experts, they all looked at it, and they all came to the same conclusion. That's what happens when you have a theory like the Jesus Myth that's totally off the wall.

If anyone ever comes up with a reasonable argument for suggesting that Jesus didn't exist, I'd be more than happy to consider it. But so far, I haven't seen that argument.

I don't completely follow the argument that because a source is full of fairy tales then it doesn't mean everything in it is fairy tale. Yes, sure, that's true to some degree, but then it means you have to have something else to verify that bit that you don't think is fairy tale. That something else here is a few mentions by Roman historians that may simply have been reporting what they heard from the Jesus people. I never heard of a massive 'mountain of evidence' in that sense, and again, I promise you I didn't go to militant atheist school.

Well, we're dealing with texts that are generally based, at least tangentially, on history. So we do know that there is some history in these texts. Add to that the fact that we have so many independent sources--Paul, Q, Mark, Josephus, etc.--all referencing the same person, and we can be as certain that this person existed as we can be for any person in ancient history. This is what an ancient historian would consider an "orgy of evidence."

Today there is no such thing but many religious scholars are still heavily associated with the religion and the religion still has its own little bit of influence anyway.

Not really. We're not talking about priests and ministers here. We're talking about historians. Many of them aren't even Christian, and those that are tend to do a pretty good job of not letting their beliefs influence their work. So I really don't think it's fair to suggest that the entire field is somehow biased in favor of a historical Jesus because of their religious beliefs.

Finally, I don't see why the hostility and scorn for the very idea of even raising such a question.

You misunderstand. I'm not being hostile toward Jesus Myth proponents for raising the question. I'm mocking them for what they actually say about it. Just raising the question is perfectly acceptable. But the Jesus Myth is just stupid. Really, really stupid. And people need to know that.

Basically, you have to either accept that Jesus existed or, as jef said, deny all history prior to 1700. You can't have it both ways.

And lest you think I'm being one-sided in my mockery, I do it to fundamentalist Christians and militant atheists alike.

Now dgaicun on the other hand... loads of hostility there.

Then what is the argument about? Lots of men lived in that area at that time, and the Romans crucified a whole bunch of them. So, the story of Jesus could be about anyone = "Jesus is a myth".

Otherwise we're doing acrobatics with words here.


Um, I don't really think that's the take-home message here.

Well, no in fact, it isn't, since there are abundant examples in religious history. If you check Snopes you'll find that rumors emerge and mutate everyday.

Yes, but it's very rare for them to just come out of nowhere. And especially when you take into account... oh, who am I kidding? You've been nothing but belligerent since you entered this thread. You're clearly more interested in spewing your vitriol than you are in having an actual discussion. So I'm going to stop talking to you now. Why don't you just sit this one out and let the adults talk?
posted by magodesky at 6:26 PM on April 6, 2006


I look forward to the debate on whether or not Lara Croft really existed, in 2000 years time:

Historian: 'but there's so much consistent writing about her, consistent even down to the size of her boobs, that it's not possible that she didn't exist! And all that crap about the wonderful record keeping of the time ignores the fact that the majority of the world's population actually never made it into those records.'
posted by jacalata at 6:26 PM on April 6, 2006


I look forward to the debate on whether or not Angelina Jolie really existed, in 2000 years time:

Historian: 'but there's so much consistent writing about her, consistent even down to the size of her boobs, that it's not possible that she didn't exist! And all that crap about the wonderful record keeping of the time ignores the fact that the majority of the world's population actually never made it into those records.'

...oh wait
posted by magodesky at 6:34 PM on April 6, 2006


dgaicun, settle down. Go take your meds. The only one foaming at the mouth here about Nazis and the Holocaust is you.

I don't completely follow the argument that because a source is full of fairy tales then it doesn't mean everything in it is fairy tale.

That's because nobody said that. OK, so X, Y, and Z all write these fantastic, totally unbelievable, contradictory fairy tales. They all star Bobby as the protagonist. X, Y and Z don't know about each other, so you know that neither X, nor Y, nor Z made up "Bobby." They'd all heard of him. Now, if they all say, "Bobby died a few years back," then they're making a claim their contemporaries can check. It becomes very likely that "Bobby" existed--even if the fairy tales are total nonsense. Get it? In this case, you're greatly exaggerating the gap between Jesus' death and the first documents. It could be as little as a decade, or as much as three, but either way, it's still living memory.

I think all this should perhaps be taken into account too when considering the views on the matter. We're not talking about the existence of an ordinary son of a carpenter.

I think that altering academic methodology simply because of the political ramifications is the height of dishonesty. When conservatives demand an absurdly high standard of evidence before they accept global warming, I call foul. It's no better here just because it helps your cause.

I understand "you simply cannot apply the standards of modern history to ancient history", but that still doesn't make the Gospels history.

Most sources from ancient history are pretty crappy. They include fairy tales. They contradict each other. They're written centuries after the fact. Everything you say about the gospels is true. What you need to understand is how rare it is to find anything from the ancient world where that isn't true.

Then what is the argument about? Lots of men lived in that area at that time, and the Romans crucified a whole bunch of them. So, the story of Jesus could be about anyone = "Jesus is a myth".

Was there a person to whom the myths were attached to create a legend? Or was the story invented out of whole cloth, immediately distributed to a large number of disparate authors who knew nothing of each other, who then began writing feverishly to come up with something that looks exactly like the pattern of evidence a historian would die for? As you say, it's not like the historical core is an unlikely figure. Lots of people were claiming to be the Messiah then, and there were lots of faith healers and radical preachers at the time. So a historical Jesus is not only well-attested, but eminently plausible. Meanwhile, the "Jesus Myth" theory is utterly lacking in any evidence, founded on a total misconception of ancient history, and requires the kind of grand conspiracy usually attached to UFOs. That's why you won't find any scholars who support it--just ideologues with an axe to grind who care more about what's politically useful, than what's true.

Interesting assertion, given that you two have demonstrated inferior knowledge of the issue - misspelling sources, flubbing dates, etc. Don't tell me what I've read until you catch me in error, or until you get your shit together. Thank you.

I was wondering what you thought was so funny about the Testimonium Flavium, but -- I didn't misspell it. Nor did we "flub dates," the way you consistently have.

If you check Snopes you'll find that rumors emerge and mutate everyday.

Today. What was the Roman equivalent of the internet and telephones and newspapers? As Judas put it in Jesus Christ Superstar, "Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication."

Similarly, the Jesus Myth is also based on academic research. But, like ID, it's bad research based on a lot of faulty assumptions cobbled together in order to lend some sense of credibility to a predetermined conclusion.

More importantly, in both cases, it's bad research that's defended nonetheless because it supports a conclusion that its defenders would like to be true. ID is bad science defended by Christians because it scores points against them damn atheists. The "Jesus Myth" is bad history defended by atheists because it scores points against them damn Christians. Fanatics are fanatics, no mater how many gods they worship--1,000, 1, or zero.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:13 PM on April 6, 2006


magodesky, did you completely miss my point?

Just because people talk about something does not mean it is real. Even if they talk about it in the same amount/way as they do something that is real.

To continue with Lara Croft and Angelina Jolie: there is a lot written about both of them. Only one of them exists. I have no idea what point you thought you were making.
posted by jacalata at 7:41 PM on April 6, 2006


magodesky, did you completely miss my point?

Just because people talk about something does not mean it is real. Even if they talk about it in the same amount/way as they do something that is real.

To continue with Lara Croft and Angelina Jolie: there is a lot written about both of them. Only one of them exists. I have no idea what point you thought you were making.


The point I was making is that suggesting that a reference to a particular person in a video game is somehow equivalent to a reference to a person in historical documentation is completely absurd. Yeah, there's a lot written about both Lara Croft and Angelina Jolie. But there's a huge different in the kinds of sources you'll find them in. In the same way that there's a huge difference between the historical texts that mention Jesus and first century Roman plays.

And even if we did lose all other historical context, I would like to think that historians 2000 years from now would pick up on the fact that all of the stories written about this Lara Croft person are linked to a strange cult known only as "Eidos Interactive." So considering that what we know about Jesus comes from several contemporary and near-contemporary sources, Jesus still wins.
posted by magodesky at 8:18 PM on April 6, 2006


dgaicun, settle down. Go take your meds. The only one foaming at the mouth here about Nazis and the Holocaust is you.

The Nazis, I control+F'd and you are the first one to mention Nazis; Ok, now who's being a finicky douche? Creationist is just another word for Holocaust deniers is just another word for crank. Your scientised denunciations of those who reject assumptions the evidence does not support, speak volumes. Even besides that, equating the scanty scraps of "evidence" turds that do exist with the immense store of real evidence that supports evolution undercut the notion that you have any realistic sense of perspective on this matter. Sociology may be one of the softer sciences, but how much softer a "science" is trying to divine the existence or nonexistence of a real man based only on a handful of ancient, anonymous and falsely attributed, second-hand, next-generation, contradictory, selectively preserved, error-filled, interpolated, plagiarized, propagandistic religious documents?

Today. What was the Roman equivalent of the internet and telephones and newspapers? As Judas put it in Jesus Christ Superstar, "Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication."

Look, if a fact can spread, a lie can spread just as easily. You're the one who said all we can really surmise is that there is a second-hand consensus among the remaining religious sources that a guy existed and he was crucified. On top of that, only a grand mess of fictionalized details that sometimes overlap. Ok. Sounds like the small, immensely-general consensus bits, where ever the hell they came from, could just as easily be based on misinformation as real information. In fact, IMO, there is no baby to throw out with this bathwater. I don't reserve much space for the historical Goldilocks, the tale just had to be based on. If something is 95% fake, maybe the remaining 5% doesn't have much too strong in its favor either.

Nor did we "flub dates," the way you consistently have.

Yes, y'all did. Here's your bro eating crow on several elementary errors, including a date. Now please link to just one of the many dates I've apparently flubbed?
posted by dgaicun at 8:31 PM on April 6, 2006


Yeah, there's a lot written about both Lara Croft and Angelina Jolie. But there's a huge different in the kinds of sources you'll find them in.

Dude, our "source" for Jesus is religious propaganda! The comparison to Croft is more apt than you'd care to acknowledge.

Oh, I'm sorry, remind me again that the existence of Jesus has been proved by Science.
posted by dgaicun at 8:39 PM on April 6, 2006


ID is a scientific theory, not a "supernatural belief."

Okay. Hello. You're wrong!

It's not a scientific theory by the standards of American scientists, it's not by the standards of scientists in the rest of the world. And here, there *is* a consensus on what scientific methods and scientific theories are.

Perhaps you meant philosophical theory? Philosophy is not science.


The fact that it's bad science that has been rejected by every reputable expert doesn't change the fact that it is based on academic research.

No it's not based on any academic research. It's based out of positing divine creation and intervention in the universe. That's not "bad science", it's simply not even close to science.

Like I said, this is a complete waste of time, you two brothers here just make up your own standards of what is history and now even what is science. How can you have any discussion on that basis? You drop gems like that and expect everyone to go "oh of course! you're so right!" and if they don't you get all "go take your meds". Oh well. Thanks anyway, it's been enlightening.
posted by funambulist at 12:32 AM on April 7, 2006


Ah, just a couple of things, jefgodesky, just saw your comment now (and I didn't mean to make a blur of you and your brother but it seems to me you're essentially saying the same things):

Most sources from ancient history are pretty crappy. They include fairy tales.

That's not true, and even more so in this case, you have an enormous difference between the content, style and purpose of the Gospels - proselytising material, edited and selected through the ages by the church that was born out of that proselytising - and Roman historians who may have had their own self-aggrandising political bias but had no religious proselytising intent and were not in the business of passing on stories about Messiah leaders who performed miracles.

If you don't even acknowledge that much, then there is nowhere to go from there.

You can't argue about historical 'evidence' and then cancel out any difference between historical records and accounts vs. religious pamphlets.

Also, when I talked of "taking into account" the kind of interest in perpetuating the stories of the Gospels and not allowing any debate on it for centuries, I'm not talking of imposing a political bias on history, I'm talking of taking an existing political bias into consideration. It's just a sly trick to ignore it deliberately, and then claim that simply taking it into consideration is political bias of its own.

Was there a person to whom the myths were attached to create a legend? Or was the story invented out of whole cloth, immediately distributed to a large number of disparate authors who knew nothing of each other, who then began writing feverishly to come up with something that looks exactly like the pattern of evidence a historian would die for?

What we know for sure is we have accounts of such miraculous faith healing self-resurrecting supernatural powers about a man claimed to be living 2000 years ago. We do know such claims are bogus by factual, non-religious standards.

What we don't know for sure is if there was a person from whom all the stories started, or if they just made a mashup of different faith healers legends to create a sect that was religiously and politically subversive towards the authorities of the time in that place.

Now this is where you had me confused as to your point.

There is a difference, yes, and yet, the substance is still unchanged. Especially if we reduce "Jesus existed" to "some man existed on which a bunch of stories were told".

You do acknowledge that there was indeed myth-making, that all we know for certain is that a man existed there and then and was killed by Roman rulers, like many other men, and then you flat out deny the possibility - not the certainty, the mere possibility - that myth-making could have extended to making up the existence of such a man in the first place.

If it was about a man living today, we could track him down, check his identity, check his story, interview him and even then, he could just be willingly lending himself to myth-making about his miraculous faith healing powers.

There is a guy in Siberia with a big following who claims he is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ Son of God the Saviour. There are people who believe him and his claims of performing miracles. He exists for real. A real man, a Russian citizen, the state has records to his name, he has been interviewed by papers and tv crews, with a real following. So in 2000 years people will know for sure this man existed.

But suppose he didn't really exist. Suppose the followers were making up stories about some man no one ever saw, named only by first name, no burocratic and historical records to be traced for future generations. The myths would still be there. You can't call it myth-making one way and "conspiracy" the other way. It's still myth-making. Formally different in extent, yes, that is indeed significant, but only up to a certain point - there isn't a big step to travel from a real man whose identity is mysterious plus whole lot of myths, or no real man plus whole lot of myths.

The myths are precisely what made the figure of Jesus of Nazareth so significant in the history of mankind - and that's the important thing, in the end - , they're what allowed the creation of a new religion, and that in turn is what made his existence an accepted fact for so long. You can't deny that.

As you say, it's not like the historical core is an unlikely figure. Lots of people were claiming to be the Messiah then, and there were lots of faith healers and radical preachers at the time.

Exactly! so again what is the argument here?

So a historical Jesus is not only well-attested, but eminently plausible.

Hehe... "A historical Jesus" of which, by your own admission, the only thing we can consider eminently plausible is he was a man, he existed and he died. Could have been anyone. You're saying that yourself.

If that is what you're referring to as "mountain of evidence", then yeah, I can see why the question becomes completely inane.
posted by funambulist at 1:57 AM on April 7, 2006


Okay. Hello. You're wrong!

It's not a scientific theory by the standards of American scientists, it's not by the standards of scientists in the rest of the world.


And now you know what most historians think about the Jesus Myth.

Like I said, this is a complete waste of time, you two brothers here just make up your own standards of what is history and now even what is science.

Actually, I'd say it's quite the opposite. We're going by the same standard used by every reputable historian when dealing with any historical figure. It's the Jesus-Mythers who want to invent a whole new standard of what is history when dealing specifically with Jesus simply because it suits their own purposes.

You drop gems like that and expect everyone to go "oh of course! you're so right!" and if they don't you get all "go take your meds".

We're not dismissing dgaicun for disagreeing. We're dismissing him because the only thing he's contributed to this entire thread is being a belligerent asshole. I mean, look at him. He's ranting about the Holocaust and desperately grabbing on to typos as proof that I'm wrong. If you want to put yourself on the same level as dgaicun, that's fine. I just think that that would be degrading yourself. You, along with most air-breathing mammals, are better than that.

That's not true...

No, really. Have you read some of the texts from the ancient world? It really is true.

If you don't even acknowledge that much, then there is nowhere to go from there.

I think we've already established that the texts are biased. But that fact has very little bearing on the issue at hand, which is merely establishing existence. For that, the sources we have are more than enough.

You can't argue about historical 'evidence' and then cancel out any difference between historical records and accounts vs. religious pamphlets.

Since there aren't a lot of historical records to go on, much of what we know about this time period does come from "religious pamphlets." And there was a lot of overlap between historical documents and "religious documents," especially in the Hebrew tradition. But the fact that a text may be religious in nature doesn't make completely worthless. You can still use them to establish certain things, such as existence. Because if this guy over here mentions a particular historical figure, and that guy over there mentions the same historical figure, and there's no sign of collaboration between the two, it's a pretty good sign that they didn't just make this person up.

I'm talking of taking an existing political bias into consideration.

You're also talking about a bias that, for the most part, doesn't really exist within the academic community we're talking about.

...there isn't a big step to travel from a real man whose identity is mysterious plus whole lot of myths, or no real man plus whole lot of myths.

Except that the source material we have for Jesus is much more consistent with what one would expect to see if he were a real person with myths built around him, as opposed to simply a made up character.

Hehe... "A historical Jesus" of which, by your own admission, the only thing we can consider eminently plausible is he was a man, he existed and he died. Could have been anyone. You're saying that yourself.

If that is what you're referring to as "mountain of evidence", then yeah, I can see why the question becomes completely inane.


Let me say this again as clearly as I can: EXISTENCE IS ALL WE'RE TALKING ABOUT.

Even if we can't say anything else about him other than that he existed, that is wholly, completely, and utterly meaningless. I really don't know how many more ways I can say this.

Do you realize how ridiculous you sound you say, "All you can say is that he existed. You can't say anything else about him." We don't have to show anything else about him. Since when does one need to be able to give a full biography just to show that a person existed?
posted by magodesky at 7:25 AM on April 7, 2006


The Nazis, I control+F'd and you are the first one to mention Nazis; Ok, now who's being a finicky douche?

Still you. First occurence of "Nazi," dgaicun, 7:17 PM. First occurence of "Holocaust," dgaicun, 9:07 PM. First time I mention either--the comment you're responding to, telling you to settle down and take your medication.

Now please link to just one of the many dates I've apparently flubbed?

9:07 PM and 7:17 PM. "Centuries" and "generations" are not terribly accurate ways to denote "10-30 years," which is the gap for the first documentation of Jesus.

Dude, our "source" for Jesus is religious propaganda! The comparison to Croft is more apt than you'd care to acknowledge.

Most of our ancient sources are religious propaganda. But they claim to be reporting historical facts. We know they're not, but that's what they claim. No stories about Lara Croft claim to be reporting anything factual. The original assertion was the kind of annoyng comparison usually drawn by laymen with no understanding of historical methodology.

It's not a scientific theory by the standards of American scientists, it's not by the standards of scientists in the rest of the world. And here, there *is* a consensus on what scientific methods and scientific theories are.

That makes it a bad scientific theory. ID poses itself as based on evidence (it's evidence is terrible, and the counter-evidence is overwhelming). It does not base itself on spiritual beliefs (explicitly; really, its defenders just want to champion their religious beliefs).

The "Jesus Myth" is a bad historical theory. It poses itself as based on evidence (its evidence is terrible, and the counter-evidence is overwhelming). It does not base itself on spiritual beliefs (explicitly; really, its defenders just want to champion their religious beliefs).

No it's not based on any academic research. It's based out of positing divine creation and intervention in the universe. That's not "bad science", it's simply not even close to science.

ID? No, ID tries to whitewash the Creationist connection and distance itself from it. Its not based on positing a divine creation, it's about "irreducible complexity." Bullshit nonsense, but it's not religious--it's just bad science, that's all. Bad science used by religious folks, but bad science, nonetheless.

Like I said, this is a complete waste of time, you two brothers here just make up your own standards of what is history and now even what is science.

I spent a long time in ancient history. These aren't arbitrary standards I'm making up as I go along. If you spend any amount of time with the subject, you'll find that out. I've dropped a few book titles to get started with; if you're not willing to read them, there's not much else I can do, is there?

That's not true...

Sure it is! We've got something like a hundred sources, total, for which that isn't true. Everything else is complete crap as a historical narrative. Primary sources, in the sense we know today, are all but unheard of. The Gallic Wars, Aurelius' writing, the El Amarna tablets ... it's not a very long list. Even most of our reliable sources include a dragon or two, and at least one virgin birth.

...and even more so in this case, you have an enormous difference between the content, style and purpose of the Gospels - proselytising material, edited and selected through the ages by the church that was born out of that proselytising - and Roman historians who may have had their own self-aggrandising political bias but had no religious proselytising intent and were not in the business of passing on stories about Messiah leaders who performed miracles.

The gospels are really written more in the style of some of the Roman "novels," especially Luke. They really resemble something like the biography of Apollonius of Rhodes, who very much resembles Jesus and had a small cult of his own. More importantly, you need to understand the shift in the way we think about "religion" since the Reformation. Politics and religion were inseperable in the Roman world. The gospels were writing politics, and Tacitus was writing religion. The gospels range from gospel to gospel in tone, intent and audience, but there's not too much seperating the writing style of, say, Luke, from some of the Roman historians of the time.

You can't argue about historical 'evidence' and then cancel out any difference between historical records and accounts vs. religious pamphlets.

*sigh* Rather than do this yet again, I'm just going to quote myself from upthread:
A source that's totally unreliable as a narrative can still be just fine for establishing historicity of a character. By the same token, a reliable historical narrative can be utterly useless for the same. You're talking about two very different things.
Also, when I talked of "taking into account" the kind of interest in perpetuating the stories of the Gospels and not allowing any debate on it for centuries, I'm not talking of imposing a political bias on history, I'm talking of taking an existing political bias into consideration. It's just a sly trick to ignore it deliberately, and then claim that simply taking it into consideration is political bias of its own.

In what way is that not a sly trick to finangle the evidence to make it say what you want it to say?

What we know for sure is we have accounts of such miraculous faith healing self-resurrecting supernatural powers about a man claimed to be living 2000 years ago. We do know such claims are bogus by factual, non-religious standards.

1.) The resurrection doesn't appear in the earliest documents.
2.) We've established various scientific means by which shamans and faith healers have actual effects on health, so we haven't proven them to be "bogus," even though a healthy dose of suspicion is certainly warranted.

What we don't know for sure is if there was a person from whom all the stories started, or if they just made a mashup of different faith healers legends to create a sect that was religiously and politically subversive towards the authorities of the time in that place.

That's a highly implausible scenario. Consider what it would entail. We do have a certain amount of "teachings" that are consistent across independent sources, so we need a basic story to be invented by someone (even mashups of previous stories can be wildly different, depending on which stories you mash and in what order), distriubted to a bunch of people without any of those people knowing each other, ostensibly set in the recent past and making claims that people should know about, to be written down by all these people and distributed to their communities. Now, dgaicun's date-flubbing aside, we are talking the first few decades after the fact. If I wrote a book about the huge stir in San Francisco made by Flabby the Flabbergaster back in '86, do you think I'd be able to distribute a lot of copies in San Francisco? Probably not. People would know there was no big fuss in '86, and they'd never heard of Flabby the Flabbergaster. That's why most iterations of the "Jesus Myth" rely on some kind of large conspiracy to formulate the story, and pass it on to the appropriate people.

It seems much more likely that ten or twenty years after the fact, reading a gospel some Jerusalemite might say, "Oh, I remember hearing about a 'Jesus' way back, but I didn't know he turned water into wine!" People don't expect to know details, but you can't claim that someone made a stir like that, so soon after the fact, and expect anyone to buy it if nothing of the sort ever happened.

But suppose he didn't really exist. Suppose the followers were making up stories about some man no one ever saw, named only by first name, no burocratic and historical records to be traced for future generations.

That's kind of like saying, "But suppose there was no sun, and all the light and heat is coming from nothing!" Well, no, because that's where it comes from. The myths are made up about the person. No person, no myths. That's the way mythology works. It either accrues slowly over generations of retelling, or it's hung on a historical person like a cheap suit. The scenario you're talking about would be something new under the sun--and I tend to doubt the existence of such things anymore, especially when there's a rather typical process that has a lot more evidence for it.

Hehe... "A historical Jesus" of which, by your own admission, the only thing we can consider eminently plausible is he was a man, he existed and he died. Could have been anyone. You're saying that yourself.

Yeah, that's been my point all along. I wasn't beaten down to this; I was saying this five years ago, too. That I ever claimed anything more existed only in the imaginations of the commenters in this thread.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:55 AM on April 7, 2006


So I'm suppose to assume that a bunch of fisherman who've lived their entire lives on that sea are going to be fooled by a guy walking on a frozen patch of water. I'm suppose to assume that these other fisherman didn't know about the frozen patches, that they're boats didn't hit the patches from time to time... that in there many years of fishing and travelling on that sea, that they didn't see them or hear about them. Ok. I guess I can go with that.
posted by Deltron3030 at 8:08 AM on April 7, 2006


“I think they're merely suggesting that there is a certain amount of scientific credibility to Biblical stories, and here is one way it possibly could have happened.” - magodesky

Yep, fair enough. We’re missing each others’ line of reasoning. I’m just talking story. Your point is taken.
Don’t know if I’d use the term “scientific credibility” regarding the bible, but there’s certainly a wide array of latitude in meaning on both ends there (science and bible).
posted by Smedleyman at 8:45 AM on April 7, 2006


Don’t know if I’d use the term “scientific credibility” regarding the bible, but there’s certainly a wide array of latitude in meaning on both ends there (science and bible).

That's why I said "a certain amount" of scientific credibility. Never said what that amount was. ;)
posted by magodesky at 9:21 AM on April 7, 2006


Sure, hence the latitude.

Still, if Christ and by some accounts several apostles were on ice....who was the goon? I’m thinking John.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:02 PM on April 7, 2006


The myths are made up about the person. No person, no myths. That's the way mythology works.

So, that would mean Zeus, Minerva, Athena, Apollo, Prometheus, etc. must all have existed as real people, simply because there were myths about them?

There are pre-christian myths about men-god who resurrected. They all must have been real people too, right?

What a silly argument. Mythology works by inventing myths about people and also inventing fictional people to invent myths about. You cannot reduce the whole argument to "because there are myths, there must be a real person the myths started from".

Discarding outright the possibility it was all myth based on a mixture of those pre-christian myths, when you acknowledge it's already 99% myth and this Jesus character, if he existed, could have been anyone, is an absolutist position. It's also reducing the whole argument of historicity to a straw man. "Existence is all we're talking about" - but whose existence? An ordinary Jewish son of a carpenter killed by the Romans, of the Jewish son of a carpenter who led the masses and preached a whole lot of new things and had followers that started an offshoot of Judaism that would become the biggest religion on earth? Tree, forest...
posted by funambulist at 5:12 AM on April 9, 2006


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