First off, it's not guaranteed that there was a Jesus at all. It's pretty likely, all up, but there's no available physical evidence. Religious historians work from a set of documents about his life, most of which likely reference one another anyway. The most famous of these documents are of course the four Gospels that were selected for the Bible. There were many other Gospels which weren't.
Here is an apologetic site which argues that Jesus claimed to be God, or the son of God, or whatever. (I won't get into the whole Trinity argument about whether the two are separate.) The support given is exclusively Gospel quotes, and all but two of them are from John. Even the John quotes are not all explicit or delivered in the first person, especially when you consider the idea that we're all God's children, and He's everyone's Father.
Jesus himself probably never wrote a word in his life. It's not surprising given that literacy in the area was about 3%. Everything he said, if he said it, is filtered through at least one chronicler, or journalist if you like. That's even before translation and interpretation began. Nothing about him is straight from the horse's mouth.
Furthermore, none of the four Gospels was written within 20 years of Jesus' death. As far as we know, nothing was written about him in that time. The fact that the life expectancy was 25-30 years casts doubt on two things: that his actual companions wrote the Gospels named for them, and that the people who saw him would still be alive and able to corroborate or contradict the accounts (again, remember the literacy rate). Perhaps there was a reason the writers waited.
There's a major line of apologetic which argues that Jesus would not have sacrificed himself if he had not believed in his own divinity, and the apostles would not have carried on his message if they hadn't witnessed the resurrection with their own eyes. I've discussed that elsewhere. I won't deny that it can be a compelling argument, because it convinces a lot of people. That's not to say that it's necessarily sound.
Even if you accept a priori that Jesus and the apostles were all sincere, which I personally doubt, there are still ways in which they could be mistaken. One way is if a false resurrection was perpetrated by other people entirely, using a Jesus double. The Bible suggests that very few people actually saw Jesus after his death anyway, and were convinced simply by the empty tomb. If that's all it took to convince the average Israelite, hoaxers must have had it pretty easy back then.
With my kind of brain, I look at it probabilistically. One estimates for oneself the probability, given the assumption that the accounts of Jesus are mostly accurate, that he was actually divine and not just lying for a good cause or honestly mistaken. One then estimates the separate probability that the accounts of Jesus really are mostly accurate.
One then has to multiply the two probabilities together (converting into fractions first), and if they come to 50% or more then it's more likely than not (though not at all certain) that Jesus was divine. For that to happen, the two probabilities need an average of at least 70.7%. I'm not that sure by a long shot. How about you?
For those who came in late: Zeitgeist puts forward three major theories, the first of which is that the character and story of Jesus is based very closely on the Egyptian god Horus, and thus Christianity is descended from sun worship.
I would first recommend contributions to this site by Rook Hawkins, and those on the main RRS site (link at right). Next, just google "Zeitgeist Horus" and you'll be swamped with counterpoints. It's as if there are as many Christian responses to Zeitgeist as there are Christians who've seen it.
All up I'm terribly skeptical of the specific claims about Jesus in Zeitgeist, mainly because the other two major claims are way into conspiracy theory territory. So I wouldn't use it to examine doubts like yours.
Pick individual aspects of Jesus' life and research them out of context: virgin birth, exile, healing by touch, resurrections, posthumous appearances, etc. You'll find tons of examples, many of which pre-date 1 BC by centuries. If Jesus' story is based on something earlier, it doesn't have to be Horus. It could have come from anywhere.
If you like, come back and let us know what interesting stuff you find. Best of luck.
What is a Gospel? For the last few hundred years, New Testament scholars, particularly in Germany, have been asking themselves this very question. Are they the biographies of a miraculous savior written by those who knew him and were closest to him? If that is the case, were they redacted by later Christians to include specific dogmatic and doctrinal ideals? Or, were the Gospels written up to centuries after a historical, human Jesus, by which Christians embellished his story into fictional history? And If that is what they are, do the discrepancies between the four Gospels represent the authors own theological perspectives? If so, how would one accurately determine which perspective is that of the authors and which is the perspective of the so-called real Jesus?
Since the time of the Bultmannian school, theologians have worked tirelessly, it seems, to locate the historically real behind the fictitious myth. In their eyes, and the eyes of historical Jesus scholars across the world, the legendary embellishments and indeed even literary narrative created by the authors overshadow the historical events of a real Jesus. And since the start of this ‘demythologizing’, as Bultmann put it, there have been detractors. These detractors who label themselves as apologists—Christians with the intent to defend the Gospel narratives has wholly accurate, including the miraculous parts—have published their own books relying on early Christian testimony and their so-called historical authority to prove that not only were these texts derived from those who knew and spoke with Jesus as his disciples, but also that they recorded accurately the events of Jesus’ ministry and even parts of his life.
Indeed, according to these apologists, the very reason why discrepancies exist (although some claim, falsely, that no discrepancies exist) is because eyewitness testimony could not be 100% similar across four accounts; that, had they been all copies of each other, this would have raised suspicion of their accuracy. Therefore, per these apologists, the Gospels are different and conflict precisely because they are eyewitness testimony. In response to these claims, historical Jesus scholars have accurately shown, through textual criticism, that the discrepancies do not exist through memory recall. To start, the historical Jesus scholars show that the similarities exist not because four authors recall similar events, but rather because the authors copied off each other. The discrepancies, therefore, exist because the authors altered the text of the version they copied from.
This is why there are different theological perspectives in each of the four Gospels. This is why Mark agrees with Paul and his denouncement of Jewish law, why he has Jesus changing the law, and why he has no birth narrative. This is also why Matthew, who disagrees with Paul, sought to have his Jesus condemn those who change the law to eternal damnation and hellfire, and why he includes a birth narrative resembling the narrative of Hezekiah’s found in Isaiah. It is why Luke makes Matthews birth narrative allude to the narrative of Isaac’s birth with Abraham and Sarah. He plays on multiple themes, to combine the Hellenistic Pauline theology with Matthew’s more Jewish theology. This is, according to the historical Jesus scholars, precisely why there are both similarities and discrepancies in the Gospel narratives.
But then we have an additional problem which threatens the foundations of scholarship as a whole. By attempting to pick which parts of the narratives are historically grounded, and which are not, scholars have effectively fractioned the Gospel narratives into fragmented sections or verses. A line here in this chapter may be historical, but the rest can be dismissed as fiction. The obvious problem of utilizing this method is that the narrative ceases to be looked at as a whole, and is only examined in small amounts, bit by bit. And what is examined depends entirely on which scholar is doing the examination. When one looks at the vast amount of literature that exists in scholarship on the historical Jesus, one can see that there is not one historical Jesus presented. There are as many representations of the so-called historical Jesus as there are scholars writing about him. This is because each scholar is giving us their own interpretation of what fragment of text is historical based on their own presuppositions, their own hermeneutical understanding of the text, and their own self reflections. So, what is happening is that we are getting fragmented selections of text based on a biased reason of a scholar. We are not getting a strict, underlining history based on critical observation of the whole manuscript. All that scholars can agree on, it seems, is that the events of the Gospels, as a whole, are not accurately reporting historical events. This fact is not helpful in answering the question posed in the title of this piece, it only confounds the problem. But there may still be a way to save this question, and present an answer based on the evidence presented above.
That brings us to an additional third option in an attempt to answer the original question: What is a Gospel? If scholarship is already in agreement, that fictional narrative is the functioning motif of the Gospels, why is there a broad presupposition that somewhere under this narrative exist historical fact? Hellenistic scholars outside of New Testament fields agree that Hellenistic Jews were famous for inventing fictional stories, events, characters and even whole wars to make their traditions more ‘Greek’, while reinterpreting scripture to show their cultural superiority. Is that not what the Gospels are? Are they not reinterpreted scripture, written in Hellenistic fashion? It’s a fact that no outside testimony to Gospel events are ever recorded by contemporaries. And scholarship admits that most of the “events” in the Gospel narratives relate back to reinterpreting scripture – the birth narratives, Jesus’ trial for 40 days in the wilderness, the transfiguration, the crucifixion (taken right from Psalms and Isaiah), every event that originally seemed to make Jesus appear real is nothing more than fictional restyling of scripture passages. Even the name “Jesus” (which means “savior” or “Yahweh saves”) is representative of earlier traditions where biblical patriarchs were named for their purpose (Abraham = “Father to many nations”; Isaac = “laughter”; etc…). There are twelve disciples just as there are twelve tribes, representing the instant where Moses father-in-law instructs him to find a head of every tribe for which to handle the business of their tribes – where Moses effectively sends out these twelve heads to their flock to make them straight in the sight of the lord.
So then what does that make the Gospels? If historical Jesus scholars do not view the Gospels as biographies, in the sense that they are depictions of somebody’s life, and that they are made up of fictional events created from scripture reinvention, a common method of Jewish Hellenistic writing, what is a Gospel? It seems more plausible that these narratives are probably completely fictitious in nature. That they were not, as it is commonly assumed, written about a historical Jesus, but instead these narratives were originally intended to be read as historicized fiction.
It is important to remember that the intent of this discussion is not to determine who wrote them, or for what additional purpose the narratives might have been written, although this author could certainly provide evidence for these questions. Instead, the question must be asked, and indeed, it has been asked: What is a Gospel? And the answer has to be met with criticism, in light of the exposed presuppositions mentioned above, and needs to be addressed by scholarship as a whole. Until this is done adequately, scholarship will continue to present us not the Jesus of history, nor a Gospel history, but a history fashioned entirely by the scholars themselves. Whole worlds have been—and will continue to be—created which never existed. Entire reflexive trends in Judaism have been assumed and, in a typical ad hoc manner, critiqued and presented as if they were known to Jews in the first century Common Era. Of course, they were not.
For some great resources on this subject, please read my blog.
First, I think it's important to understand the incredible amount of information one has to look over tediously before they can reach a conclusion of a historical or ahistorical nature. The truth is, I've been researching this subject for seven years and there are things I'm just starting to skim over now.
Now that that is out of the way, let's tackle your questions. You ask, "What evidence is there to support that Jesus never existed?" First and foremost, if you can provide me evidence to support that fairies don't exist, I'm all ears. One can't ask to disprove a negative, because there is nothing to disprove. One must look at the available evidence that already exists (or doesn't...as in this case) and determine if that evidence is sufficient to establish historicity.
To help you better understand this lets use an example given by Christians where they assume that we mythicists assume the historicity of somebody famous without evidence. Aristotle is usually totted around the most by some ignorant or misinformed person as having no contemporary evidence of his existence - as a standard if you will to suggest that Jesus should be considered to be on the same level of accepted historicity as Aristotle. However when comparing the list of evidences between the two, there is no compatibility. Here's a brief list of the differences between Aristotle and Jesus:
And this is not the half of it. Aristotle not only wrote tomes of prose in his time, by his own hand, but also contemporary accounts exist of Aristotle. As Richard Carrier states on Aristotles contemporary accounts, "There is one fragmentary inscription dedicated to Aristotle still extant at Delphi that I believe was erected in his lifetime. We have substantial portions of the Elements of Harmonics by Aristoxenus, a contemporary of Aristotle, which mentions him briefly. Anaximenes of Lampsacus (not the presocratic of the same name), also a contemporary, wrote an Art of Rhetoric that survives, and it addresses Aristotle. Theophrastus was his pupil and contemporary and we have some few of his writings, but I don't know off hand if they mention Aristotle by name. Isocrates was his contemporary and sometimes opponent and he may have mentioned him, too, but again I can't say for sure if he ever actually names him in extant works. There was certainly a great deal of contemporary writing about Aristotle, but as far as I know little to none was preserved, except in later sources. TLG shows a few hundred contemporary, named references to Aristotle, which are cited or quoted by later authors." Carrier also suggested a book, "Lloyd's book "Aristotle" would probably say what else there is."
This is vital because we have NO accounts of contemporary evidence for Jesus. None. The earliest extant manuscripts for Jesus date to Paul, thirty years after Jesus supposedly died, written by a man who never met Jesus, knows nothing about him, or about any of his deeds, or miracles or speeches. Paul doesn't attribute any words to Jesus nor does he seem to - in any fashion - refer to Jesus in a physical, literal sense.
After Paul, we have a forty year gap of nothingness. At the very end of the first century CE, we have rumors (just rumors) of hearsay about a being Jesus. The earliest Gospel fragment we possess is the P52 fragment, and it's barely a scrap of parchment from what appears to be John. But it's too weak a source to use to compare. That is it. And when is this P52 fragment from? 130 CE and no earlier. That's a hundred years after the supposed death of Christ. Now here's the funny part, we have works from Aristotle that survived from 500 years before THAT, and yet we can't find one contemporary account of a man who is said to have walked on water, and preformed all these miracles, or even rose from the dead?
I hope that helps you understand a little bit as to the problems associated with the question of whether there can be a way to disprove a negative, and also with understanding what sorts of evidence is looked for when trying to determine historicity. Your second question is far easier to answer, as I have already written extensively on the subject.
At this link HERE you will find all you need to know about the supposed evidences for Jesus and why they hold no water. You can ALSO check out THIS LINK for additional information on the Mythicist position and the case against a historical Christ.
Oh, by the way....welcome to the campaign.
Rational Response Squad Co-Founder