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Saturday, August 20

The Historicity of Jesus

By Johan de Haan

It is peculiar that one of the central figures of the Christian and Islamic traditions is an allegedly 1st century Jewish preacher for whom there is no contemporary evidence. Not only is there is no evidence that any of the claims contained in the contradictory gospels compiled decades after the events they claim to describe, and indeed after the Christian tradition had already been established by the likes of Paul of Tarsus, are even remotely true, but there is no evidence for a historical Jesus figure. Of course, in the mind of the religious believer this should and does not matter, afterall faith is belief without and often in spite of the evidence and as such the revelation that the entire tale is a myth would only matter if one cared sincerely about matters of evidence and reason. From the point of view of the objective observer however, it is a fact of history that there is no objective contemporary evidence that the person of Jesus ever existed. The only conclusion that can therefore reasonably be drawn is that the entire tale was a fabrication at the end of the 1st century CE to justify a religious tradition which was already in existence and to add royalty and divine merit to what was the concocted cult of a few deluded patriachs.

Let us be clear, there is not a single piece of physical evidence that a biblical Jesus ever existed, there are no artefacts, works of carpentry or any works allegedly written by the man-god himself. All that the religious tradition has to justify its claims is the very same religious tradition, it’s a house of cards no different to claiming the tale of Little Red Riding Hood is true because the tale of Little Red Riding Hood says so. We now know that the claims about the town of Nazareth are false, that the miracle birth and childhood of the Jesus figure was a later addition to the gospels and does not appear in the oldest Gospel of Mark, that all the tales were written by unknown but non-contemporary authors who lived decades after the alleged events they were describing, that there is no historical record to justify the miraculous events of guiding stars, ripping curtains, the darkened earth, of the resurrection of Saints in the streets of Jerusalem, the alleged census or any other of the concrete claims made in the Gospels which can be tested.

Every single claim made about Jesus whether in the bible or in the spurious non-contemporary accounts in the decades and centuries that followed are hearsay accounts, compiled after the alleged presence on earth of this man-god and without any source of objective authority or reference. Every single letter in every single book of the new testament was compiled over thousands of different manuscripts and books (many of which have not been included in the Roman Catholic Cannon) centuries later and therefore do not constitute a reliable source of information on which the existence of a historical let alone a biblical Jesus can be alleged. Indeed, this evidence would not survive inquiry in a court of law or a simple act of reasoning, why then it continues to convinces millions of fervent believers is a matter of some intrigue. Indeed, it is structurally no different to belief in Wotan, fairies or Unicorns yet continues to command the ear of countless grown up humans who insist that not only is it true, but that it is divinely true by the power of its own authority.

None of the New Testament epistle writers describe Jesus as a teacher or a miracle worker, or mention Nazareth. Indeed, despite these epistles being the earliest productions of the Christian tradition which predate the Gospels, there is not a single quote, parable or teaching of Jesus to be found. There is no mention of the disciples and the notion of Jesus is presented as a spiritual eternal god. As Earl Doherty writes in his book “The Jesus Puzzle”, “Christian documents outside the Gospels, even at the end of the first century and beyond, show no evidence that any tradition about an earthly life and ministry of Jesus were in circulation”.

The Gospels are dated between 70 CE and 90 CE and contain an inconsistent and often contradictory account of the life of Jesus. The fact that the four gospels on which the substantive notion of Jesus is based post-date the epistles of Paul of Tarsus adds to the intrigue of how the earlier Christian traditions came into existence and how these changed over time. With the adoption by the Roman Catholic Church, these fictitious accounts were elevated to the position of infallible godly inspiration and unquestionable history. Yet, they are not authored by the disciples, whose historicity cannot be evidenced, but were written based on the claims of various Church fathers and Christian leaders of the 1st and 2nd century CE, whilst their divine significance postdates their authorship by several centuries. We literally have no idea who wrote these texts and therefore no idea where they sourced their information, we do know that none of the authors even claim to have met the earthly Jesus and that what remains of their writings are the copies of copies of manuscripts that survived long enough for the Roman Catholic Church to incorporate them into Christian scripture.

There has of late been a apologetic attempt by some Christians to attempt to argue the historicity of Jesus based on extra-biblical sources, however, to make this claim is to either fundamentally misconstrue what is meant with contemporary or confirmatory evidence, or to deliberately misrepresent as evidence for that which it is not. For the avoidance of doubt, there is at present no evidence whatsoever of either the figure of Jesus or the claims made about him. All that exists is historical evidence confirming the presence of Christians in the first and second century CE and confirming some of the fundamental claims of the Christian tradition that had already been formulated at that time. One will note of course that the authorities cited are always the same, indeed, it is significant that after 2000 years of ardent searching this is the best by way of confirmatory evidence that the entire Christian tradition is able to muster. The most often cited examples can be commented on as follows:

1.Josephus Flavius: He was a Jewish historian and the first non-Christian to mention the Christian tradition or the figure of Christ. Most scholars now agree that Josephus' account of Jesus in his work "Antiquities" was a forgery by the Church Father, Eusebius, however, one can deny Josephus as a contemporary witness by simply noting that he was only born in 37 C.E. and he only wrote Antiquities in 93 C.E.

2.Pliny the Younger: His work references information about Christian believers and their beliefs, the existence of which is not denied. He makes no mention of the Jesus figure as independent from the claims of Christians and in any event he was born many decades after Jesus is alleged to have lived.

3.Tacitus: This Roman historian was born in 64 C.E. and therefore not a contemporary witness. His Annals, written in the early 2nd century CE makes an alleged and probably forged reference to a Christ figure, but there is no evidence justifying this reference and again he was not a contemporary of this Christ figure. His references to the presence of Christians in the Roman Empire is merely confirming what we already know and which no serious historian would deny, that there were Christians in the first and second century CE. Again, Tacitus is not a contemporary witness and in his account of Christ is entirely reliant on hearsay evidence.

4.Suetonius: Another Roman Roman historian, born in 69 C.E. makes an obscure mention of a "Chrestus,". Even if it were the case that this was a reference to Jesus, which is disputable, we would merely be dealing with another non-contemporary witness relying on hearsay evidence.

5.The Jewish Talmud: The attempt by apologists to rely on the Talmud to justify the figure of Jessu is rather bizarre, given that the Jewish tradition distinctly rejects the idea that a saviour man-god came to earth as the messiah. In any event, most Jewish scholars agree that the reference to Yeshu is in fact a reference to Yeshu ben Pandera, who lived in the 2nd centuy CE. In any event, it would be bizarre to claim that the Palestinian Talmud, which came into existence in the 3rd to 5th century C.E., or the Babylonian Talmud, which was written between the 3rd to 6th century C.E can be cited as authority for events in the 1st century CE. Again, to make this claim suggests that one either grossly misunderstands the concept of evidence or that one is deliberately misrepresenting non-Christian accounts for the Jesus figure.

The fact of the matter is that not a single historian, follower or scribe during the time when Jesus was alleged to have lived, performing miracles and generally upsetting the powers that be with the authority of God, makes any mention of him whatsoever. Given that he is alleged to have attracted great multitudes, argued and debated with the religious and political leaders of his time and healed the sick in great numbers it is utterly staggering that not a single reference can be found of this allegedly divine prophet who not only acted with the authority of God but was alleged to be God. This in circumstances where countless historians who did live during the time of Jesus make not a single mention of the fact that he even existed, I recommend in this regard the work of JE Remsberg “The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidences for His Existence”.

In summary, the claims about Jesus are as reliable as the claims about Prometheus, Hercules or Wotan and the entire tale is the evidentiary equivalent of Humpty Dumpty and Grandfather Smurf. Of course, if the believers wishes to maintain that an eccentric Jewish preacher existed during the early 1st century CE and that he constitutes their best chance at a fulfilled life, then by all means let them cling to this bizarre insistence. However, let us desist from the false claim that faith can be justified, that half truths and misrepresentations are a basis to maintain the cult of the Nazareen. After all, if there were evidence for a particularly tradition religious tradition, “faith” would become obsolete.

Unfortunately, those who believe without evidence or reason cannot be challenged in their beliefs with evidence and reason, and one can only be liberated from this primitive indoctrination by the personal choice to consider all matters of existence based on reason and evidence, not to justify one’s preconceptions and wish-thinking but in an earnest quest for what is true. For as Carl Sagan noted, "You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep-seated need to believe."
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