Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

No Jesus for you!
January 29, 2009 12:47 PM   Subscribe

The Jesus Project, established by The Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, is "the first methodologically agnostic examination of the question of Jesus’ historical existence." The Project recently held its first conference, which included presentations from several individuals who argue against the historical existence of Jesus. R. Joseph Hoffmann, Chair of the CSER, writes, "I do not think we are dealing with a man who became god, but a god who was made man."
posted by No Robots (63 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
What's new about voting with marbles?
posted by topynate at 12:55 PM on January 29, 2009


I first read the second half of the second sentence of this post as "...several individuals who argue against the historical existence of Jesus R. Joseph Hoffman..."

And I was like, what the hell?

(thanks, by the way; this dovetails nicely with a conversation I was having with my girlfriend over fish and chips last night)
posted by hifiparasol at 12:59 PM on January 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's definitely worth examining, but I think that 2,000+ years after the fact, "proving" Jesus didn't exists, if it comes to that, won't make throngs of Christians renounce their faith, or make the teachings ascribed to him any less meaningful to those same people. Remember that these are the same people who contend God exists - something which cannot be scientifically proven in any shape or form. It will, however, probably give the same people who spam links to Zeitgeist more incentive to do so.

But as I said, it's a worthwhile exploration. My guess is that Jesus could have been comprised of older legends, and a couple of contemporaries.The parallels to the Horus/Osiris myth, for example.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:59 PM on January 29, 2009


There is nothing new under the sun.
posted by jquinby at 1:08 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Doesn't matter, that's why it's called "faith".
posted by owtytrof at 1:09 PM on January 29, 2009


Listen, don't take this the wrong way, but I'm having trouble finding the real meat of this post. I suppose what I'd hoped for was some... material of some sort from the conference. something to chew on, maybe? I don't know. That memo to himself that Hoffman wrote is really inside baseball, and I don't get it, except for the last sentence. Is there something here for those not totally in the scene? If there's some more specific content here buried deeper in the links, I'd love it if someone linked it.

pretty great, though, to see Bruce Chilton was there. He teaches at my Alma Mater! As far as I'm aware, he does - in fact - believe that Christ existed, being a priest and all.

which leads me to wonder what portion of the speakers present were arguing against his existence. again, any more informative links would be appreciated.
posted by shmegegge at 1:13 PM on January 29, 2009


Heh, this is just the Jesus Seminar, part II, and it has nothing to do with science.
posted by brenton at 1:13 PM on January 29, 2009


Richard Carrier, whose position is against the historicity of Jesus, blogs details on the conference, at which he made a presentation.

Here is Chilton on the Project. He, too, made a presentation at the conference.
posted by No Robots at 1:21 PM on January 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


C.S. Lewis, in acknowledging the numerous pre-Christian myths of a king who dies yet returns and thereby gives new life to his people, did not consider them evidence against faith in the divinity of Jesus. He called them "good dreams" - sent by God to tide us over until the real thing came along.

He also found the Gospel report of Jesus saying unambiguously that he would return in the lifetimes of his followers to be evidence of its reliability - observing that the mark of an honest witness is being unafraid to include details that undermine his larger story.

If an Oxford-educated linguist with such a beautiful prose style can entertain circular thinking to this degree, what chance would you have arguing anyone else out of their belief?
posted by Joe Beese at 1:23 PM on January 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


Joe Beese, I think there's an argument to be made that it's harder to sway an intelligent, educated believer than an unintelligent, uneducated one. But really, what does this have to do with the historicity of Jesus? I'd be very interested in persuasive evidence one way or the other, but what believers will think about it is none of my business.
posted by topynate at 1:35 PM on January 29, 2009


I first read the second half of the second sentence of this post as "...several individuals who argue against the historical existence of Jesus R. Joseph Hoffman..."

Oy, that Jesus of Nazareth! He used to be such a nice Jewish boy!
posted by jonp72 at 1:36 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


(thanks, by the way; this dovetails nicely with a conversation I was having with my girlfriend over fish and chips last night)
posted by hifiparasol at 12:59 PM on January 29 [+] [!]


You guys had fish and chips last night?

I'm jealous. I ate a can of black beans while I prepared delicious food for others.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 1:37 PM on January 29, 2009


"I do not think we are dealing with a man who became god, but a god who was made man."

Wait, is this a 2x2 matrix?

man -> god: NO
god -> man: YES
man -> man: NO WAY THAT'S DISGUSTING
god -> god: omnipotent and idempotent
posted by GuyZero at 1:38 PM on January 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


I can't really tell if the Jesus Project actually cares about whether Jesus existed or more about proving to the Jesus Seminar that the Jesus Project members are smarter, more thoughtful, and more "objective" than the community behind the Jesus Seminar.

The Jesus Project, as CSER has named the new effort, is the first methodologically agnostic approach to the question of Jesus’ historical existence.

This really does have less to do with the truth behind Jesus and way more to do with internal academic bickering about some of the people who were behind the Jesus Seminar.
posted by Stynxno at 1:39 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Speaking of Jesus, I was reminded too of the NFL game coming up and it brought to mind the follow (needs to be sung):
Oh, the game was played on Suday
In Heaven's own backyard
With Jesus playing quarterback
And Moses playing guard
The angels in the bleachers
And how the crowd did yell
To see the boys from Heaven
Defeat the boys from Hell

chorus:
Hold that line
Hold that line
Jesus on the 5 yard line
Jesus doing mighty fine
Hold that line
Hold that line
Rock 'em Jesus sock 'em Jesus
But hold that line
posted by Postroad at 1:40 PM on January 29, 2009


Allow me to separate out this project from the Jesus Seminar, which it is almost the opposite of.

The Jesus Seminar was the culmination of Jefferson's desire to figure out the identity of a "Yeshua of Nazareth", that is, a specific, non-magical person in human history who said some really great stuff and sparked a new religion. This is an Enlightenment-based study: to deterine that Jesus was just a man, perhaps one who made extraordinary claims but still a man, and that his followers, out of religious craze, made him into a miracle-performing superman with power on loan from God. The Jesus Seminar demonstrated that this was a dead end in scholarship, because our only sources for what Jesus said are the four Gospels and early apocrypha, and you can argue about that for as long as you like but in the end the only interpretations that will make sense are individually constructed theories like Crossan's and Ehrman's.

So, it turns out that the quest for the historical Jesus was a quasi-religious idea, not a scientific one. Thus, Bible scholars turned to their next study: figuring out if Jesus is at all separable from his Biblical identity. You have probably seen ads on Google for "The God Who Wasn't There", which is a trashy misstatement of these recent trends in scholarship. Outside of atheist cloud cuckoo land, it doesn't matter whether Jesus was a real person or a religious myth because the only thing relevant to us is that about 20 years after his death, a guy named Paul sat down and started writing some letters to new members of his specific community, and 20 years after that his first extant biographies appeared. These documents are the creation of a myth, and people don't write myths with historical accuracy in mind-- check out an American Thanksgiving pageant, for example. So the honest questions being dealt with here is whether Jesus existed to a community of believers before he was the figure of Paul's redemption myth, and how perceptions of him changed over the first one hundred years or so. It ought to be pretty clear that Christianity had some major changes in between the Crucifixion and Nicaea: the study of Jesus as a myth, when it's good, focuses on the Crucifixion to Marcion.

Unfortunately this seems to be bound up with the irrelevant issue of whether there was some sort of devious plot around 30 AD to invent Jesus out of whole cloth, which is utterly impossible to figure out through extant sources alone. There are a lot of insufferable old farts who really don't care whether they're shedding new light on the Bible (and extrabiblical sources) but wish only to prove that because the Jesus story stuck pretty tightly to contemporary messianic themes, Jesus must have never existed.
posted by shii at 1:41 PM on January 29, 2009 [10 favorites]


owtytrof, please don't throw around cute little homilies. We call people who's "faith" tells them that God will heal their daughter of crippling illnesses, and refuse to take her to a hospital, child abusers. A person's "faith" that HIV doesn't cause AIDS does not excuse them infecting and killing others. "Faith" that isn't grounded in objective reality we call "fantasy" or "delusion".

People use their absolute belief that their God existed, walked the earth, and spoke to common man as a way of justifying the most horrendous wrongs (and, to be fair, to inspire great and inspiring works of selflessness, charity and benevolence).

I have no problem with those who acknowledge the Bible as the work of hundreds of largely unrelated people over approximately 1600 years that interweaves tribal and state politics with philosophy and poetry. People who accept its flaws, inconsistencies, and self-aggrandizement, and observe it all through a historical lens rather than as a life lesson for all time. But most people don't do that: they fall back to "Jesus said". If the lack of historicity of Jesus can be given a wider audience - or indeed, if some evidence for the physical existence of Jesus can be found - then either case deserves all the publicity it can get.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 1:49 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


If the lack of historicity of Jesus can be given a wider audience - or indeed, if some evidence for the physical existence of Jesus can be found - then either case deserves all the publicity it can get.

Let's ignore your claim to perfect knowledge of 1st century history. You seem to be under the delusion that people believe in Christianity because they studied all the religions of the world and determined that Christianity was the one best supported by empirical evidence.

When people come to the opinion that traditions which are not based in empirical knowledge are usually not the best way to make real-world decisions, Christianity becomes useless to them regardless of any review of evidence. Most people tend to have a more wishy-washy opinion of tradition, and the empirical accuracy of evidence makes little difference in their acquaintance or divorce from religion. So in reality "publicizing" your knockout case against Jesus is gonna be a waste of time. If you claim any deconverts be sure to ask them if they checked your sources against a summary review of modern scholarship.
posted by shii at 2:17 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Jesus Project sounds like an indie band.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:22 PM on January 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


[Lewis] called them "good dreams" - sent by God to tide us over until the real thing came along.

I know many hardcore Christians of the "be born again or burn in hell" variety. These particular ones believe everyone who has ever lived or died on Earth must do/have-done the "accept Jesus as your savior" thing, or they are going/have-gone to hell. No asterisks, no exceptions. Jews? In hell, of course!

I asked what about, for example, like, Polynesians or American Indians in the second century BC who had zero opportunity to even hear about Yahweh, let alone this Jesus guy who had not even appeared yet. Surely there must be some kind of exception, since they had no chance, right?

They went away for a few days and "talked to their pastor". He explained that these people had the chance to "look ahead to the Cross" (that's a quote), and "accept the Jesus who was coming" (that's another one) and if they had failed to do that... yeah, they ended up in Hell, too.

I had no real response. I'm just sharing.
posted by rokusan at 2:32 PM on January 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


I do not think we are dealing with a man who is a scientist, but a man who is pursuing an idiotic agenda.
posted by sfts2 at 2:38 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


If they are saying things like 'we aren't dealing with a man who became god, but a god who became man', then they aren't reading the same book I am because as far as I know from being a Catholic, Jesus is SIMULTANEOUSLY God and Man and always was. He was never a man and he is never a God. He is both. Always. It's the whole freakin point. Maybe I need to go back to CCD?
posted by spicynuts at 2:46 PM on January 29, 2009


Ok I see what he meant was ....there never was any man named Jesus...so someone invited a man version of their god and named him Jesus. My mistake.
posted by spicynuts at 2:51 PM on January 29, 2009


INVENTED..not invited.
posted by spicynuts at 2:52 PM on January 29, 2009


So in reality "publicizing" your knockout case against Jesus is gonna be a waste of time.
posted by shii at 2:17 PM on January 29


Unless your goal is actually the study of history, in which case evidence helps. I don't think anyone intends to prove or disprove Christianity, nor could such an endeavor have any meaning, nor do these scholars necessarily have axes to grind. Sometimes history is just history. If I want to find out what happened in the 1st century AD, then I need to find out if there was or wasn't a Jesus. I don't have to be for or against Christianity to seek an answer to this question. It's an interesting question.

Maybe I need to go back to CCD?
posted by spicynuts at 2:46 PM on January 29


Again, they are asking historical questions, not theological ones. Was there a man who resembled Jesus which the stories about him are based on, or are they mythological? On preview, yes.
posted by mek at 3:01 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


They went away for a few days and "talked to their pastor". He explained that these people had the chance to "look ahead to the Cross" (that's a quote), and "accept the Jesus who was coming" (that's another one) and if they had failed to do that... yeah, they ended up in Hell, too.


The Roman Catholic theology is kinder. People who never ever hear of Jesus get a free pass. It's only after the missionaries show up that you are liable to go to hell for not believing.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:19 PM on January 29, 2009


An excellent piece of work on this subject is A Marginal Jew. The link is to the first of three volumes. Personally, I am of the opinion that there was a historical figure behind the story of Jesus, but it's one of those questions that will never actually be settled. Too little evidence either way combined with too much blood in the water over the issue.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:35 PM on January 29, 2009


It's only after the missionaries show up that you are liable to go to hell for not believing.

Bit sadistic of them to send out missionaries, then?
posted by fleetmouse at 3:36 PM on January 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Roman Catholic theology is kinder. People who never ever hear of Jesus get a free pass. It's only after the missionaries show up that you are liable to go to hell for not believing.

well, people who never ever hear of Jesus go to Limbo, which is a nicer suburb of Hell. specifically, it's the Limbo of Virtuous Heathens. People like Homer, Virgil and those guys all get to go there. Also babies, I think. You do still have to be virtuous, though. Non-virtuous heathens go to the same place the rest of us go, I think.
posted by shmegegge at 3:44 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Limbo is not official Catholic doctrine, though. It's just a concept theologians have enjoyed tossing about. The latest word that I've been able to find is that a Vatican council recommended that "Limbo should be definitively abandoned by the Church, in favor of the belief that pre-embryos, embryos, fetuses, and unbaptized babies who die will go directly to heaven."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:01 PM on January 29, 2009


you know, that's probably true. I often forget how much of my understanding comes from Dante, which is not by any stretch of the imagination official canon.
posted by shmegegge at 4:08 PM on January 29, 2009


I often forget how much of my understanding comes from Dante, which is not by any stretch of the imagination official canon.

It's hard to trump Dante in the genre of Christian fanon, though. The innermost point of Hell is freezing cold? Sounds true enough to me.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:16 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Outside of atheist cloud cuckoo land

Ahh, the irony.
posted by rodgerd at 4:39 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


the genre of Christian fanon

I believe in the Father/Son/Holy Spirit.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:51 PM on January 29, 2009


The Jesus Project sounds like an indie band.

Seriously, I expected the Jesus Lizard. Disappointed, would not convert again, F-minus.
posted by joe lisboa at 5:36 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


But who will prove the existence of science?
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 6:51 PM on January 29, 2009


They should debate the existence of Jesus H. Shatner. There's much more evidence to analyze.
posted by lukemeister at 6:58 PM on January 29, 2009


The search for the historical Jesus is pretty much a pointless one, if only from the practical stand point. Prior to his sermons and leading the Apostles, he was just a small town carpenter. Which leaves precious little time for him to bring enough attention to himself to warrant enough inclusion into documents that would have survived 2,000 years. He only came to the attention of the Roman authorities in the last days of his life. To give an idea of the difficulty in historical evidence appearing, it wasn't until the last nearly fifty years that evidence surfaced giving truth to the existence of Pontius Pilate, the chief ruling official over Judea.

One piece of evidence, that I've always liked, is the fact that you had a bunch of guys, who dropped their various lifestyles, to go preach the word of a man who had been in their lives only a few years. So strident in their belief in what the man said lead them to travel hundreds to thousands of miles, and to ultimately, accept generally gruesome deaths in the course of spreading those words.
posted by Atreides at 7:00 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


The whole story of Jesus's life is told in a year-to-year chronicle in the Urantia Book which was "transmitted" in the 30's and published in 1955. The book is available in many formats (including audio) online.
posted by rmmcclay at 7:29 PM on January 29, 2009


The footnote on Jesus is that his historicity has never been established. Apologists will often cite a common fallacy to establish historicity, which goes something like this: The minor quote from Josephus (the one not obviously forged) hints at a figure called Jesus and a small following of his, around the year 63 AD in Jerusalem, therefore there were those living within memory range of his purported existence. The problem with that reasoning is that it concludes a 63-year timline to someone not yet assumed to exist, so the argument is useless and circular.

More compelling for historicity is the idea of internal evidence, suggesting a clandestine Jesus, reluctant to his calling, traveling by night. However, anyone is free to suggest a literary basis for this seemingly human existence.

The fact remains that most people, including authors on the subject, are completely ignorant of pre-existing savior cults that make Jesus look not only like a historical trend, but a cultural demand, especially among grain cultivators who imported similar religions in the names of Osiris, Dionysus, Attis, Demeter, Mithra, etc. The prophesied Jewish messiah may have supplied, in absence, a very important component in this demand, which was the drama of an unnoticed human betrayal who rose from the dead to become a god. The other deities lacked this tragic quality, but ended up supplying all the ethics and eschatology.

I would suggest the idea here that Jesus never showed up as they waited for him as prophecy (and was very late when he would have appeared anyway). This sort of failure is really what makes a major religion happen. Everyone involved then has the cognitive dissonance to travel around and convince everyone otherwise, including looking backward into the recent past for viable candidates, or inventing them. It actually makes the redundant "second coming" make more sense if there really never was a first.
posted by Brian B. at 7:55 PM on January 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


One piece of evidence, that I've always liked, is the fact that you had a bunch of guys, who dropped their various lifestyles, to go preach the word of a man who had been in their lives only a few years.

But is there any evidence of the existence of *those* men? (Not snarky - really, are there any documents of who got martyred where?)
posted by harriet vane at 11:23 PM on January 29, 2009


The fact remains that most people, including authors on the subject, are completely ignorant of pre-existing savior cults that make Jesus look not only like a historical trend, but a cultural demand, especially among grain cultivators who imported similar religions in the names of Osiris, Dionysus, Attis, Demeter, Mithra, etc.

Actually the existence of savior cults can be found in pretty much any textbook about early Christianity. Your examples are pretty spurious and I think you must have got them from Zeigeist, but Ehrman's "The New Testament" (for example) describes the lives of Honi HaM'agel and Hanina ben Dosa.
posted by shii at 12:55 AM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think you must have got them from Zeigeist

YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE!!! IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!!!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:16 AM on January 30, 2009



One piece of evidence, that I've always liked, is the fact that you had a bunch of guys, who dropped their various lifestyles, to go preach the word of a man who had been in their lives only a few years. So strident in their belief in what the man said lead them to travel hundreds to thousands of miles, and to ultimately, accept generally gruesome deaths in the course of spreading those words.


Right, because that's totally never happened in any other religious context.
posted by rodgerd at 1:18 AM on January 30, 2009


Right, because that's totally never happened in any other religious context.

I don't think he's arguing that this is unique to Christianity; just that this is evidence that Jesus the religious leader physically existed. FWIW.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:45 AM on January 30, 2009


Five years, eh?

Project Schedule
1 Jan 2007 9AM to 11AM: Review all primary sources.
1 Jan 2007 11AM to to 1 Jan 2012 3PM: PARRRRRR-TAAAAAAAAAAAY!
1 Jan 2012 3PM to 1 Jan 2012 5PM: Type up conclusions.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:18 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really don't understand the argument that, because Christianity makes use of/overlaps with earlier beliefs, Christianity's Jesus wasn't very loosely modelled on a historically existing Jewish preacher. Why would they make someone up out of whole cloth?

Also, the idea that the whole thing was made up to fit in with pre-existing prophecies or messianic expectations or Jungian archetypes or whatever is silly. If it had been, they'd have done a better job of it - eg, a better fit with the Jewish scriptures than what the early Christians actually managed to concoct.
posted by Mocata at 2:48 AM on January 30, 2009


rokusan: "I asked what about, for example, like, Polynesians or American Indians in the second century BC who had zero opportunity to even hear about Yahweh, let alone this Jesus guy who had not even appeared yet. Surely there must be some kind of exception, since they had no chance, right?"

Heh, I remember asking that of my sweet Bible-thumpin' grandmother when I was about seven. I don't remember the answer to that one, but I do remember posing a follow-up on whether I, in Heaven, would be permitted by God to create my own little mini-universe. (The answer was no).

I was a weird kid.

(Also, Spore has not lived up to that childhood dream, alas.)
posted by Rhaomi at 3:05 AM on January 30, 2009


History needs corroboration to be reliable.

There is lots of corroboration for figures contemporary to Jesus, such as Nero, Hadrian, Herod ETC.

The only evidence for the existence of Jesus is the new testament.

Some scholars write that the new testament was written some seventy years after Jesus was supposed to have died, this alone makes me question the whole thing.

The Jews wrote things down, why did they not write anything about Jesus?

It is laughable that the majority of Americans are purported to say they do not believe in evolution, when the amount of evidence is all around us, how people can look at a chimpanzee and not see the similarities between them and us baffles me.

A good few years ago I came across this.

Don't get me wrong, some of the things that Jesus is supposed to have said, I agree with - but that don't make him any more real than father christmas.
posted by dollyknot at 3:52 AM on January 30, 2009


Mocata, that's why this stuff is so interesting. There are so many people writing such contradictory stuff about Jesus, at least some of it has to be mythological. Setting aside the Apocrypha (a lot to set aside), how do you explain mormons and the cathars? Or gnostic christians? They all have Jesus-centered religions, and they're pretty different from mainstream christianity. And mormanism and catharism are damned-near religious opposites of each other. I don't know much about the beginnings of catharism, but I think the standard explanation of the origions of the LDS church is: Joseph Smith wrote some stuff down, and people liked what he had to say. Doesn't mean Jesus really came to America. And there's no question that he based his work on existing "myth" ---he was previously aware of christianity.

So, maybe Paul is really THE founder of christianity. Of course, things changed a lot after him, and myths existed before him too, so Paul definitely isn't solely responsible, in the way that Joseph Smith is. The question is, how much? Can you demonstrate which stories if any predate Paul and/or which come into being after him? The historicity of Jesus isn't a binary matter. There are parts of the gospels that are seemingly counter-factual. On the other hand, it's impossible to prove that there wasn't some obscure jewish religious leader with a small following, who had a name similar to "Jesus" and inspired Paul. So the question is, how much can you say about this guy, and about the beginnings of christianity?
posted by Humanzee at 4:47 AM on January 30, 2009


Sounds like you and Mocata agree with each other.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:51 AM on January 30, 2009


From the first search result:
"However, Judaism's ethics and morality were incompatible with the hallowed Roman institution of slavery on which the aristocracy fed, lived and ruled."
They must be talking about some religion I hadn't heard of before, that is coincidentally named "Judaism".
posted by Humanzee at 4:59 AM on January 30, 2009


On the other hand, it's impossible to prove that there wasn't some obscure jewish religious leader with a small following, who had a name similar to "Jesus" and inspired Paul.


The problem would be that there were perhaps too many, making Jesus seem less likely to be singular as meaningful. The Essenes were said to manufacture such people as a ritual, perhaps expected to go out to seek crucifixion like their founder, the Teacher of Righteousness. John the Baptist may have been such a character, but they tend to stay dead, perhaps losing their appeal to later generations. No admitted connection to Paul here, however, because when he encountered some followers of John the B. later, they had never heard of Jesus.

Your examples are pretty spurious and I think you must have got them from Zeigeist, but Ehrman's "The New Testament" (for example) describes the lives of Honi HaM'agel and Hanina ben Dosa.

Like I said.
posted by Brian B. at 6:32 AM on January 30, 2009


There are so many people writing such contradictory stuff about Jesus, at least some of it has to be mythological. Setting aside the Apocrypha (a lot to set aside), how do you explain mormons and the cathars? Or gnostic christians?

People make stuff up/creatively alter their traditions to fit changing circumstances etc etc etc. All I'm saying is that it's more of a stretch to say that Paul (or whoever) invented Jebus ex nihilo than it is to say that Paul & co used some remote hearsay about a historical person to build their religion on. Obviously the "historical Jesus" can't be reconstructed with any certainty, but that doesn't mean there wasn't one (one who woud almost certainly have been bemused/appalled by the notions about him that developed within a few generations).
posted by Mocata at 8:03 AM on January 30, 2009


PS - from No Robots' first link above:

"Indeed, the world's leading expert on Acts, Richard Pervo, now argues (on similar and additional evidence) that Luke-Acts dates to the first half of the 2nd century... So this seems to be the trend today in biblical scholarship on Luke-Acts. (FYI, though Pervo was recently convicted of collecting child pornography--ironically, considering his name--that may impugn his character, but not his scholarship, which is still top notch and well respected)."
posted by Mocata at 9:14 AM on January 30, 2009


There is lots of corroboration for figures contemporary to Jesus, such as Nero, Hadrian, Herod ETC.

Of these, two were Roman emperors (i.e., arguably the most important people in the world) and one was a king. The fact that there should be corroboration for their existence is not in the least surprising, whereas the existence of a carpenter who never even reached the age of 34 (and thus wasn't remembered by his children and so on) suggests much less corroborating evidence. There were a lot of people around that time who wrote nothing, read nothing, and were never mentioned in any documents. That was still the case even in 1600 AD.
posted by nasreddin at 9:20 AM on January 30, 2009


Right, which is why a carpenter who founded a religious movement that swept across the Western world would have been noted in contemporary annals.

Or so one would think.
posted by grubi at 11:48 AM on January 30, 2009


And I don't think anyone's claiming Paul et al, made Jesus up out of absolutely nothing. Scholars have pointed out that there is no contemporary evidence to support a figure named Jesus who founded such a religious movement at that time. They more often say that that story, as is, was culled from several other stories: older gods, charismatic leaders of Jewish nationalist movements, local myths, etc.
posted by grubi at 11:51 AM on January 30, 2009


shii, I don't normally debate people who put words in my mouth (or at my fingertips, as the case may be). Nowhere in my post did I suggest a perfect knowledge of ancient history - in fact, I was referring to the entire history of the Bible, not the New Testament, and was being deliberately conservative in the date range (we could easily expand it another 1500 years or so and include the original, unnamed myth-makers of the Sumerian deluge and the writer(s) of Gilgamesh, and likely earlier).

You seem to be under the delusion that people believe in Christianity because they studied all the religions of the world and determined that Christianity was the one best supported by empirical evidence.

Again, I said no such thing, and I'm confused as to how you came to that conclusion from what I wrote.

When people come to the opinion that traditions which are not based in empirical knowledge are usually not the best way to make real-world decisions, Christianity becomes useless to them regardless of any review of evidence.

Which would be wonderful, if human beings were consistently logical beings. We're not. Scientists are still often religious believers, albeit at a significantly lower percentage than the general public. Ain't cognitive dissonance grand?

Most people tend to have a more wishy-washy opinion of tradition, and the empirical accuracy of evidence makes little difference in their acquaintance or divorce from religion.

For the majority of people, I am sure that's true. That doesn't make placing Jesus in a historical context wrong, or a waste of time - nor does it take showing that Jesus is unlikely to have existed (assuming the lack of evidence and historical incongruities persist or deepen) worthless.

You're essentially arguing against doing something because there's the possibility that it won't change everyone's mind. But that's not the point. Sometimes you take action, or do research, simply because it's interesting, or the right thing to do, or valuable... and one cannot always predict the effects or spinoffs of such effort, for good or ill. I do feel that the findings from the Jesus Project, and similar efforts, may be very useful in allowing more people to learn that the Jesus we read of in the Bible is very much modeled on ascendant messiah figures in other religions, as noted above, and may cause some believers to question the uniqueness, divinity, and reality of their Christ. On the other hand, finding historical evidence that Jesus actually existed would be a revolution in history, and also a very worthy goal.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:49 PM on January 30, 2009


the genre of Christian fanon

I believe in the Father/Son/Holy Spirit.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:51 PM on January 29 [+] [!]

I see what you did there.
posted by threeturtles at 2:02 PM on January 30, 2009


Eat my sword you varlet!
posted by dollyknot at 2:56 PM on January 30, 2009


Right, which is why a carpenter who founded a religious movement that swept across the Western world would have been noted in contemporary annals.-grubi

If I'm misinterpreting this, I apologize in advance. (also sorry for the belated response!)

However, it must be remembered that when Jesus was crucified, he was at most, briefly famous within a small regional population based around the city of Jerusalem overseen by a Roman of which it took nearly 2,000 years to find evidence of even existing. It was the Apostles who really hit the circuit and made things known, but even then, it's a long road from Crucifixion to Emperor Constantine declaring Christianity the state religion. Essentially, at the time of Jesus' death and resurrection, Christianity wasn't even called Christianity (the term Christian came later). It was essentially a sect of Judaism that was frowned upon, barely tolerated (often not), and hardly a blip on the radar for a number of years afterward.
posted by Atreides at 10:05 AM on February 15, 2009


However, it must be remembered that when Jesus was crucified, he was at most, briefly famous within a small regional population based around the city of Jerusalem overseen by a Roman of which it took nearly 2,000 years to find evidence of even existing. It was the Apostles who really hit the circuit and made things known, but even then, it's a long road from Crucifixion to Emperor Constantine declaring Christianity the state religion. Essentially, at the time of Jesus' death and resurrection, Christianity wasn't even called Christianity (the term Christian came later). It was essentially a sect of Judaism that was frowned upon, barely tolerated (often not), and hardly a blip on the radar for a number of years afterward.

Misplaced concreteness all around. At some point it becomes self-referential:

A: Did you hear the good news, the messiah actually came afterall!

B: Really, when?

A: Years ago, but only a few people noticed. He was betrayed by the Sanhedrin and crucified by Pontius Pilot, and died virtually unknown. Spread the word!

B: Are you sure? I mean, where was he from?

A: Nazareth, where he was a carpenter.

B: Never heard of Nazareth either.

A: No wonder we never heard of him!

posted by Brian B. at 11:25 AM on February 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


« Older "The Department of Defense claimed in a dramatic p...   |   Man found dead [warning, graph... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments