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Jesus Did Exist


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By FightingAtheist

 

As an Atheist and a former Christian, I am frequently confronted by Christians claiming that Jesus was real and I should believe in him again. These Christians fail to realize that I do believe Jesus existed. I believe he may have been crucified. I do not believe he rose from the dead. If Jesus existed then there are a few possibilities. He was either, the actual son of God, a con artist, a mentally deranged man, or a normal man that had embellished stories written about him after his death. We can examine evidence to determine which of these is most likely.

 

For those who are not sure he existed, there are several people that have written about the existence of Jesus outside of the Bible. Cornelius Tacitus born in 55 AD wrote that Christ suffered at the hands of Pontius Pilate. This is an example of a non biblical writer recording the existence of Jesus. There are several others. These writings make a strong argument for the existence of Jesus. But did Jesus have powers?

 

In the past few decades several people have claimed to be God or a messenger from God. But in today’s society these people are seen as con artist or delusional. There are a few who fall under the spell of deception and believe these people really have some magical powers or believe they are God, but the rest of us are not fooled. We know these people are not special and have no magical powers.

 

We see their followers in highly emotional states claiming their new friend is the messiah, and we know they have been deceived or brainwashed. David Koresh made claims like this and had many people believing his deceit. Now he is dead, but there are still people who believe he was God. Yes, there are a few Branch Davidians still around. If his followers pass these beliefs onto their children and friends, in the future they may become just as numerous as the followers or other religions. Why is this any different than Mohamed, Joseph Smith, Marshall Applewhite, Jim Jones, or Jesus?

 

We can clearly see that people that make these ludicrous claims today are not magical. Why is it any different when the story is passed down for thousands of years? Does the passage of time make the story more valid? Not one shred of evidence was left by any of Jesus’ alleged miracles. Due to the lack of evidence and the sheer ridiculous nature of the stories I do not believe Jesus had any magical powers and was not the son of any God. So was Jesus a con artist?

 

At the time of Jesus’ life, knowledge about the world was only a fraction of what it is today. This advance is not just in science. People now question things that sound either too good to be true or not realistic. This type of questioning mind is far more advanced than primitive man. We know today that if a man is seen walking on water it is just a trick. If we see someone claiming to bend spoons with there mind, they are simple using slight of hand. No magical powers are needed to perform these deceptions.

 

 

 

I am not claiming everyone today is a skeptic. Unfortunately we still have people today who believe in ESP, psychics, ghost, UFOs, Bigfoot, Unicorns, Dragons, and faith healers. These are the same people that would most likely believe someone claiming to be a messiah.

 

Would it have been easier to fool people in the first century? Imagine, if Houdini had time traveled back to the first century and performed his illusions for hundreds of people and also claimed to be the son of God. Then today we would likely have millions of Houdini churches, with all the followers worshiping the magician.

 

So was Jesus a con artist like Peter Popoff or Uri Gellar? Or did he really believe he had powers. Most magicians and physics are trying to make money with their tricks. According to the outside biblical references to Jesus, he seemed to be humble man and not very wealthy. Therefore I do not believe he was knowingly trying to deceive people for material gain. He did not seem to gain any wealth or social status with his claims. So, was Jesus delusional?

 

If Jesus really believed he was the son of God and believed he possessed magical powers, he was delusional. This seems likely because Jesus was willing to die for his beliefs. Although being willing to die for a belief does not make the belief true. The Branch Davidians were willing to burn alive in the Waco compound for their delusion, and Muslims are certainly willing to blow themselves up for their beliefs. But dieing for a belief is the ultimate sacrifice. It shows a true commitment and shows the person truly does believe their claims. If any charlatan today was threatened with their life because of their alleged powers, they would most likely admit to the scam to save them self. Jesus was never recorded denouncing him claims. But were the stories about his teachings accurate?

 

The New Testament stories of Jesus were written long after he died. Paul did not write about Jesus until long after Jesus’ death and the gospels were not written until after that. These stories could have been embellished to make Jesus look powerful and divine. To a first century mind these miracles seemed possible and adding them to the stories may have seemed like a good way to promote Christianity. It is possible that Jesus never even claimed to do miracles. The miracles may have been added to the spoken stories.

 

Imagine telling your friend of something spectacular you just saw. How accurate is your story. Maybe you stretched the truth just a bit to make the story a little more exciting, you may have even done it on accident. Just like other legends, the story of Jesus was first passed down by word of mouth and eventually written down. This word of mouth passing is where the story could have been altered to such a degree the end result might barely resemble the truth. Jesus may not have even claimed to be the son of God. He could have been a very wise man that taught people to love one another and to be kind to everyone without the magical additions. But in an attempt to make Jesus impressive, the story tellers may have fabricated the miracles, the Son of God claim, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the ascension. I think this is a plausible explanation.

 

 

It’s ashamed too. They may have taken a man who could have possible been one of history’s great philosophers of love and human understanding and made his story so unbelievable, that people question his very existence. Their intentions may have been good, but the truth would have been better. For me, I believe Jesus existed, and was a good man with some wise teachings, even without the miracles.

 

Actions are more important than Beliefs.

 

To monitor comments posted to this topic, use comment-ful.gif.

 

http://exchristian.net/exchristian/2007/06...-did-exist.html

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Good article. You put a lot of thought into it. I would like to point out a few things I've come across in my studies regarding the truth of Jesus and the stories around him. One is the Passing of Peregrinus by Lucian of Samosata. Lucian tells us exactly what he did. Verses 38-42 is where he makes the confession that he told some people there had been an earthquake, etc. Some people thought they saw Peregrinus walking in white garments after his death.

 

The connection I see between Lucian and the NT writers is the story-telling tactics. When I read that story I thought the NT writers very probably used the same kind of approach. Lucian intentionally embellished for a certain audience but not for an educated audience. Since the NT writers were not educated in the sense that the Greek philosophers were, I think it is possible that they were not even aware of embellishment; they actually believed things were as they had been told.

 

Here's a site with writings of Tacitus. In the critique of Annals 15.44.3 we read: the reference [to Christus] appears in Tacitus merely as an explanation of the origin of the name Christian, which in turn is being described only as an example of Nero's cruelty.

 

This does not seem to me like evidence that anyone knew that Jesus actually existed. All it proves is that people existed in the early second century who believed he did.

From Pliny the Younger Letters 10:96-97: they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.

 

Note that he does not say Christ lived or that he was a god. He simply says that the Christians treated him as a god. I don't consider that evidence for Jesus' existence at all. I consider it to be evidence of people who believed that Jesus had lived. As we know belief does not necessarily equal historical fact.

 

There was a discussion on some of this back in Sept. I was at the time taking a course in NT in a Christian seminary. The prof used the same sources to prove Jesus' existence as the exChristians here used for a basis of their disbelieve. I concluded that it all depends how one interprets these references.

 

All that said, I have no problem if you like Jesus. I like him, too. Another point. All the stuff Jesus supposedly preached was also preached by people like Socrates many centuries earlier. For these reasons, I feel most content to see Jesus as a legendary figure whose lifestory is a sacred myth that has come down to our day. You might enjoy Tom Harpur's Pagan Christ. He is a Christian who sees Jesus as a mythical figure. Not all Christians own Harper as one of their own but he personally identifies as Christian. In my opinion, a person who identifies as Christian should be accepted as such.

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One is the Passing of Peregrinus by Lucian of Samosata.

Lucian, writing over a century after the supposed fact, was attempting to make fun of what Christians believed and show how ignorant they were to believe such. He, in no manner, can be counted as a witness for the existence of Jesus, only as a witness for the existence of Christians in the 2nd century CE – something we were already well aware of.

 

Here's a site with writings of Tacitus

The quote that you are referencing in his “Annals” reads:

"Nero looked around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures on a group of persons already hated for their crimes. This was the sect known as Christians. Their founder, one Christus, had been put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This checked the abominable superstition for a while, but it broke out again and spread, not merely through Judea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself, the great reservoir and collecting ground for every kind of depravity and filth. Those who confessed to being Christians were at once arrested, but on their testimony a great crowd of people were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson, but of hatred of the entire human race."

If you leave Tacitus and check out his contemporary Dio Cassius, (Roman History, 60.6) you will find the following report of the same incident:

"As for the Jews, who had again increased so greatly that by reason of their multitude it would have been hard without raising a tumult to bar them from the city, he did not drive them out, but ordered them, while continuing their traditional mode of life, not to hold meetings." – Roman History, 60.6.

Christian was not a term used in the 2nd century CE and did not come into common use (even among those followers of the religion) until well into the 3rd century CE. During the 1st century, they were called (by the Romans) either Atheists or “those affecting Jewish ways”. Even in the 2nd century CE, they were only identified by their particular brand of the cult, such as Nazoreans, Ebionites, Valentinians, Basilidaians, Marcionites, etc. Dio Cassius quote shows no signs of being altered and the identification of the group punished is the Jews, which at that time Christians would be lumped in with.

The quotation from Tacitus appears to be unknown until the 5th century CE, none of the first Church Fathers ever made mention of it. In the 5th century CE, when it appeared almost word for word in the works of a known antique document forger, one Sulpicius Severus, a man also suspected of doctoring the works of Suetonius.

 

From Pliny the Younger Letters 10:96-97: they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.

As you pointed out further on, all Pliny’s letters do is confirm the existence of a group of believers (later called Christians) in the 2nd century CE…something we were well aware of.

 

There are several other “sources” that Christians like to quote. Celsus, the Greek philosopher writing sometime between 175 and 180 CE had this to say about Jesus:

 

“First, however, I must deal with the matter of Jesus, the so-called savior, who not long ago taught new doctrines and was thought to be a son of God. This savior, I shall attempt to show, deceived many and caused them to accept a form of belief harmful to the well-being of mankind. Taking its root in the lower classes, the religion continues to spread among the vulgar: nay, one can even say it spreads because of its vulgarity and the illiteracy of its adherents. And while there are a few moderate, reasonable, and intelligent people who interpret its beliefs allegorically, yet it thrives in its purer form among the ignorant.”

( Celsus, "True Discourse," Celsus, on the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians, R. Joseph Hoffmann, ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 57.)

 

Quite a nice confirmation of Jesus, don’t you think? Unfortunately, it was written nearly a century and a half after the supposed fact and the source of Celsus’ information could only be from Christians. True Discourse was written as a rebuttal of Chrisitanity, not as a confirmation of the existence of Jesus. In other writings, Celsus treated various Pagan Gods as if they also actually existed. Celsus is not a valid source for proving Jesus actually existed.

 

Another source often quoted as evidence not for the existence of Jesus directly, but instead for the actual occurrence of part alleged miracles surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus is Thallus. In the 9th Century CE the chronologer George Cyncellus cited Julius Africanus as writing in reference to the darkness mentioned in the synoptic gospels as occurring at the death of Jesus:

Africanus says, “Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the Sun in book three of his Histories, without reason it would seem to me. It should be noted that an eclipse cannot occur at Passover when the moon is full and therefore diametrically opposite the Sun.” Again, strangely no one prior to Syncellus made any mention of Thallus’ supposed reference of the darkness. Thallus may have only put forth the idea that the darkness that Christians claim occurred at the death of Jesus was only an eclipse, quite possibly the eclipse of 29 CE. Another problem with Thallus, other than the fact that little of his works survived the centuries, is that it is impossible to date when he wrote. He based his dates on “Olympiads” and the ones he gave could date his writings as early as around 200 BCE and as late as 200 CE. Thallus is not a good source for the existence of Jesus.

 

A final source that Christians love to quote is Gaius Suetonius Tranquillas, better known simply as Suetonius. Suetonius was the chief secretary of Hadrian (ruled 117-138 CE) and considered Jesus a Roman insurgent who stirred up seditions under the reign of Claudius (41-54 CE), reporting:

"Because the Jews of Rome caused continous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, [Claudius] expelled them from the city."

 

Christians are ecstatic over this quotation, not realizing that Chrestus is not a corruption of Christus, but rather a very common Greek name of slaves and the lower classes of Rome, an especially popular name with Jews living in Rome. We have several hundred inscriptual examples of this name and it’s popularity. Rather than this being evidence of Jesus, it is simply evidence of a Jewish mob being led by an individual named Chrestus, a mob whose actions got the Jews kicked out of Rome!

A second quotation from Suetonius’ “Twelve Caesars” (a good book and available on line at http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roma...esars/home.html, it reads like a combination of recorded history and gossip from the 1st century CE Rome) is:

"After the great fire at Rome [during Nero's reign] . . . Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief."

 

This quotation is believed to be the work of our old buddy, Sulpicius Severus, the gentleman also suspected in doctoring Tacitus. Once again, this particular quotation is not mentioned by anyone until it appeared in Severus’ 5th century writings. Even were it true, it would only prove the existence of Christians, but the very fact that it calls them Christians is suspect (see above in the bit on Tacitus). Suetonius is quite useless as evidence for the existence of Jesus.

 

I hope this has been somewhat of a help to you – Heimdall :yellow:

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“First, however, I must deal with the matter of Jesus, the so-called savior, who not long ago taught new doctrines and was thought to be a son of God. This savior, I shall attempt to show, deceived many and caused them to accept a form of belief harmful to the well-being of mankind. Taking its root in the lower classes, the religion continues to spread among the vulgar: nay, one can even say it spreads because of its vulgarity and the illiteracy of its adherents. And while there are a few moderate, reasonable, and intelligent people who interpret its beliefs allegorically, yet it thrives in its purer form among the ignorant.”

( Celsus, "True Discourse," Celsus, on the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians, R. Joseph Hoffmann, ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 57.)

 

 

Wow, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Even over millienia. :twitch:

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FightingAtheist (via webmaster) pitches the ball and Heimdall, as usual, knock it out of the park. Awesome posts, guys :D

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It's a curious thing, to me, that people who have long ago rejected deities and the divinity of the supposed Jesus of Nazareth, refuse to let go of the notion that there ever WAS a Jesus of Nazareth. Does anyone know why this would be?

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It depends on intellectual honesty, and evidentiary levels required for the personal ' beyond reasonable doubt'... For me, there's not enough evidence either way to make a reliable opinion on the existence/non-existence Jesus. I can argue either case... but it doesn't make either right... For me it's a hung jury...

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It depends on intellectual honesty, and evidentiary levels required for the personal ' beyond reasonable doubt'... For me, there's not enough evidence either way to make a reliable opinion on the existence/non-existence Jesus. I can argue either case... but it doesn't make either right... For me it's a hung jury...

This how I feel about it too Gramps. And personally it doesn't terribly interest me whether he was an actual historical figure or not.

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Guest Escaped From Catholicism
The New Testament stories of Jesus were written long after he died. Paul did not write about Jesus until long after Jesus' death and the gospels were not written until after that. These stories could have been embellished to make Jesus look powerful and divine. To a first century mind these miracles seemed possible and adding them to the stories may have seemed like a good way to promote Christianity. It is possible that Jesus never even claimed to do miracles. The miracles may have been added to the spoken stories.

 

Not much to add here....

 

Brilliantly observed!

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