Sunday, March 2, 2008

Did Jesus even exist?

I had an argument with my friend David the other day. I seem to be having a lot of arguments lately. I think I'm just getting obstreperous in my old age. We were at a party, and our son (David is my ex-husband AND a very good friend) had just had a minor altercation with David's born-again Christian sister. After we had both given our son the high five (neither of us would have dared get into an argument regarding Christianity with her), and David's sister was out of earshot, I mentioned that Jesus probably hadn't even existed.

David said, "Yes he did."

I said, "No, I don't think so."

He said,"Yes he did."

I said, "No, there isn't any evidence that he did."

He said, "Yes, there is."

I said, "No, there isn't."

It went on like this for a while.

His point was that although he believed that Jesus more than likely was not the son of God, he believed he was a "minor" historical figure and that he had probably been a rabbi (in the sense of a Hebrew title of respect for a Jewish scholar or teacher). He also pointed out that Jesus is considered a minor prophet in both Islam and Judaism.

Honestly, I had always thought that Jesus was a real person until I started reading a little about it. I mean, we live in 2008 Anno Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, right? I certainly never believed that he was supernatural in any way, but I assumed he had existed.

The trouble is, there is no evidence that he existed at all. He supposedly lived for thirty some-odd years and did some pretty amazing things, but there are no contemporary (to his time) writings that even mention him. The first writings about him - The Gospel of Mark - has been dated to 30 to 80 years after he died. Granted, it was 2000 years ago, but there are many surviving writings about and by many people who DID live at that time. If he did exist, he certainly didn't do anything extraordinarily noteworthy.

As for the assertion that Jesus was a minor prophet of Judaism; some people believe that the Yeshu mentioned in the Talmud is actually Jesus. According to Judaism 101 website, the Talmud (oral Torah), was not written down until about the 2nd century C.E. In addition, Jesus is considered a minor prophet of Islam, but Islam didn't even exist until well over 600 years after Christianity. As Jim Walker says in his article Did a Historical Jesus Exist?, "after-the-event writings [cannot be used] as evidence for the event itself."

Many people believe that the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John are eyewitness accounts. Jim Walker and Earl Doherty do a very good job of explaining why these are not reliable sources.

I don't think it is possible to know for sure whether he existed or not, but 2000 years ago, if you wanted to make up a superhuman figure who would awe superstitious, gullible people, setting the story 50 years B.P. makes sure you are not likely to have anybody alive to contradict you. Nobody will stand up and say, "Hey! I knew Jesus, and I don't remember him walking on water, turning water into wine, etc." Or, "I lived in that town and I don't remember this Jesus guy." Your assertions are pretty safe. The stories only get better and more amazing over time.

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