Reflecting on the Jesus Question

“What Have I Changed My Mind On?” I was asked by my Christian interlocutor when I stated that I have in fact researched the topic of the historicity of Jesus. It’s a great question in general. One I probably haven’t reflected on in a while. It can be enlightening and something that I urge anyone who values intellectual honesty to do. However, I don’t think the answer I have is quite what he was expecting.

I had long since rejected the biblical stories of miracles and the divinity of Jesus. However, for years I just took it for granted that a historical person named Jesus was the actual person being referenced in the Bible and his life was chronicled in the New Testament. But when I started actually looking into it, I quickly found that the New Testament itself has some real problems that simply couldn’t be ignored if I was to remain intellectually honest[1]. And these challenges were fully exposed when I began reading the work done by mythicists[2]. The works of Richard Carrier, Robert Price, and Earl Doherty provided convincing scholarly arguments to the mythicist position. When I cross-referenced these arguments with the work published by theologians and Christian historians, I found that the evidence for a historical Jesus is much weaker than I had ever considered. It became glaringly apparent that many of these Christian Scholars were simply writing in there own religious beliefs wherever these difficulties were found. They simply glossed over many of them as not being difficulties at all. Ignoring that from a historical standpoint, these issues are actually quite devastating to their particular reading of the history[3]. Given all this, I began to realize that the mythicist position has real credibility to it.

Another obvious problem I found was that most of the prominent biblical scholars are already believers in the divine Jesus and how this belief can be clearly seen to taint their investigations into the historical Jesus. Religious and supernatural language can often be found peppered throughout their work and miracles and/or the divinity of Jesus are commonly invoked to mask the dubiousness of their conclusions drawn. Not surprisingly, this goes largely ignored by christian readership. Such a grandiose presupposition (that Jesus is their God in human form) can’t help but to impose upon the very method by which they build their hypothesis. Historian Richard Carrier points out a number of these flaws in the methods used by these mainstream scholars[4]. These are methods that are not permitted (or at least not held as very credible) in other historical investigations, least not if the historian wants to remain credible as a historian[5]. Much like in other fields in science, the bias towards their deeply held religious convictions couldn’t be more obvious. An easy way to spot these biases is to read some of their investigations of other religions. Needless To Say, you won’t find any even-handedness in method there.

We can hear the bias (and profound ignorance) echoed in the rhetoric of the average Christian. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that “the resurrection is the best attested fact in history” or “there’s more evidence for Jesus than for Julius Caesar” and nothing offered to support it. It’s simply just not taught that there is very strong evidence pointing to the gospels[6], and several of Paul’s letters, being forgeries. Or that many of these accounts were written well after the events supposedly took place. That there is evidence of scribal error, omissions, redactions, and not to mention a lack of contemporary outside (non-biblical) sources. While the majority of biblical scholars don’t much contest this, the general public seems oblivious. I too, was unknowingly influenced by such obscurantist rhetoric and misinformation. I grew up believing that the historicity of Jesus was a foregone conclusion and NO scholar disputed it (which in hindsight should’ve been a red flag). So I was quite surprised to find that there were, in fact, even prominent theologians that not only doubted the evidence for a historical Jesus, but actually argued against such a claim. Take theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer for example. He is one of several prominent christian scholars that argues that the quest for the historical Jesus is hopeless[7]. His work on this topic is never mentioned by these mainstream apologetic historians and go largely unknown in the Christian community.

But is this enough to cast the credibility of a historical Jesus into doubt? I think so. However, this brings me to the most significant issue that I have changed my mind on, and that is that the question simply isn’t that important of one. Not in regards to the claims of Christianity. Historically speaking, it’s not really a particularly interesting question, either. Let me explain…
First off, we can demarcate between a historical Jesus and a divine Jesus that performed miracles and such. The parts that ARE entirely myth are those stories of a divine Jesus (for reasons other than just the criteria we use for a historical, human Jesus). These dubious claims can be refuted wholly apart from a historical Jesus. So could there have been a person at that time claiming religious divinity, or claiming to be acting on behalf of the divine, that people found believable enough to follow? Sure, I don’t find that to be particularly controversial or all that improbable. We have countless accounts of such people doing that very thing, even today! Are there some stories in the Bible that are a reference this same person? Maybe, maybe not. We may never have conclusive evidence of this. But if we are to honestly engage in such an investigation, we must also consider that many of the stories in the Bible could be embellishments of what may have taken place. Perhaps to give Christianity a foothold? Seems plausible. Could many of these embellishments be borrowed from other myths? Of course. Given the evidence, this line of thinking seems highly likely. Or could many of these stories justifiably be complete fabrications with no connection to a single person? Absolutely!

The question is, without being weighed down by the baggage of the “divine”, where does this leave the historical Jesus? Well, it seems that when stripped of the exaggerations and embellishments of what very well could be references to a historical person in the character of Jesus, then we’re left with a quite unremarkable figure. Just one of many such figures in antiquity. The true “power”, influence, and interest surrounding Christianity is in the myths and propaganda of Jesus and not in the historical living human that people came to know as Jesus. Without the myths of the miraculous, then there’s just not much to talk about. I, like many, used to think that the existence of a historical Jesus was somehow one step closer to “proving” the existence of a divine Jesus and this was one step closer to proving God exists and to verifying Christianity. I came to realize that that is not the case. Jesus, a human, the son of a carpenter, a preacher and prophet from the ancient times, is not the what Christianity is built upon. Jesus, the son and lamb of God, 1/3rd of the trinity, the crucified and resurrected savior, is the foundation of Christianity. The existence of a historical Jesus has no bearing on the existence of the Divine Jesus of the Christian faith. It does not take us one step closer in any way to the existence of a god anymore than the existence of a historical Muhammad brings us any closer to existence of Allah and vindicating the miracle claims found in the Quran.

– Rich

Notes:

[1] I think it is uncontroversial to state it as philosophy professor Matthew McCormick does. He writes “…we have learned that a well-justified conclusion must be based upon a wide, objective aggregation of evidence followed by a balanced evaluation that adequately explores possible counter-evidence, alternative hypotheses, an error checking.” and then goes on to correctly point out that the process whereby the Jesus story was recorded and transmitted to us failed miserably on these criteria. The religious goal of fostering belief is at odds with the epistemological goal of believing only those conclusions that are justified by the evidence.” Atheism and the Case Against Christ, Matthew S. McCormick, p12.

[2] (Broadly)Those who argue there is not enough evidence to support a historical Jesus and posit that it is more likely that the whole story is a myth and no such person existed.

[3] In his book, Jesus is Dead, Robert Price systematically dismantles several of the most influential of modern biblical Scholars, such as N. T. Wright, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, et al. Taking apart their arguments with surgical precision.

[4] Why I Think Jesus Didn’t Exist: A Historian Explains the Evidence That Changed His Mind – Richard Carrier
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwUZOZN-9dc

[5] Here Robert Price details the Historical Method and why these popular apologists, theologians, and Christian biblical Scholars are mistaken and why we can’t honestly reach the same conclusions they do.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITq6Cv-R8JM

[6] It is important to point out that the gospel authors we not historians, they were writing to serve their theological motives
The Case Against Christianity, Michael Martin – p38

[7] The Quest for the Historical Jesus, Albert Schweitzer
*It must be noted that Schweitzer challenges the secular view and the traditional Christian view.

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One thought on “Reflecting on the Jesus Question

  1. As you must know, it’s a scam! The holy books are fiction. It is likely that JC was based on a real person because that is how cults begin. The tale of Joseph and the Mormons is a classic case. Trying to get to the core of scam, I think it is the dream/delusion of resurrection. The Jews are still waiting, but once JC came to life again the cult was on its way. GROG

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