Did Jesus Exist? (Part 2 of 2)

As promised in part 1, here are some reasons why it is reasonable to doubt the reliability of the new testament as well as the historicity of Jesus:

1.  There are no Contemporaneous sources that talk about Jesus:  He lived in a well documented time in ancient history and as such no source from his life time has a thing to say about him.  All known sources about Jesus, including the books of the new testament, are from several decades if not centuries after the fact.  Additionally, there is a lack of early sources on Jesus that come from non-Christians.   Nothing so much as record of his trial proceedings or a testimony from someone who received on of his healing miracles or casual mention by some Jewish or Roman figure, that his sermons were causing disruptions and drawing crowds exists. What we have is an enormous lack corroborating evidence.

2.The Pauline letters, which tend to be considered earlier than the Gospels say nothing about the actual biography of Jesus, and largely speak of him as a spiritual being whose life and divinity are attested for, not by empirical evidence, but old testament scripture.  Even if, Paul saw Jesus as a historical figure, this make it likely that at least some of the biographical details of his life were later added. Also, note any appearances of Jesus, Paul discusses tend to be of the apparitional nature.

3.  The Pauline letters are not what they claim to be: They are clearly religious tracts, and tended to be much longer than any actual letters written the ancient world.  Romans, for example with it’s 7111 words would have been the longest and most expensive known letter in the history of the Roman world.  They are no known references to them prior to when the wealthy “heretic” Marcion published them in the mid-second century.  Additionally, Ephesians 2 states “that you not be soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter supposedly from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means.”  Leading Bart Erhman to state “Either 2 Thessalonians is from Paul’s own hand and he knows of
a forgery that is floating around in his name, or 2 Thessalonians is not from Paul’s hand and is itself a forgery.”  Scholars now consider many of the letters of Paul to be fakes, including 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Epistle to the Hebrews, and the apocryphal 3 Corinthians, while Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, are heavily disputed. Even the ones traditionally recognized as real have reason to have their authenticity questioned.

4.The biography of Paul in Acts (and the history of the early church in Acts) is not backed up by his letters as:  The Acts of the Apostles make an awkward attempt to tie the Pauline tradition to what is written in the Gospels.  Paul’s letters tend to be silent on much of Jesus’ biography, and they present Paul as a strong willed independent promoter of a new found religion, rather than the cooperative associate of the church in Jerusalem, that he is depicted as in Acts. Additionally, Paul’s own works, mention nothing of his famous
conversion on the road to Damascus. Furthermore, Paul mentions the futility of circumcision:

Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing! And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace!” – Galatians 5.2-4.,

Acts on the other hand claims he personally circumcised Timothy (though this is mentioned, by Paul no
where!).  Furthermore, Acts’ claims that Paul was a tent maker, a student under Gamaliel, formerly known as Saul, a native to Tarsus, or a Roman citizen (his Judaism and Christianity would both make this unlikely)
are all missing from his own writings.

5. The Gospels are anonymous and undated:  They were not written byMatthew, Mark, Luke or John, as these names were assigned to them later.  Conservative scholars tend to date them optimistically in the late 1st century, after the fall of the temple of Jerusalem in the year 70, and yet in Mark’s gospel (generally considered the earliest gospel) Jesus notes this time will be Marked by “wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.”  This indicates that the author knows
that years after this event, Jesus’ return will not have taken place and at least some references in Marks seem to allude to events in the second century.  Either way, this puts the earliest Gospel a life time after Jesus’ death.

6. The 3 synoptic gospels were not written by eye-witnesses.  They show many of signs of copying one another and yet still completely fail to corroborate each other in many places.  A large portion of what is in Mathew’s and Luke’s is word for word, repetition of Mark and at least one other shared source (known
as Q).  Both of these, place Q material at different places in Marks narrative and disagree with each other on such things as Jesus’ genealogy, who or what was at Jesus’ tomb, who or what visited Bethlehem at Jesus birth, the year of Christ birth, the circumstances under which the holy family moved to Nazareth and many more details. Additionally, Mathew, regularly pulls events in Jesus life out of the old testament (for example the slaughter of the innocents mirrors the Egyptian Pharaoh’s slaughter of Hebrew babies)

7. The Gospels make verifiable claims that fail:  Matthew’s gospel mentions the bodies of the dead crawling from their graves and walking into Jerusalem, a large hovering star, the mass murder of infants, a visit by eastern noblemen and earthquakes that are not mentioned anywhere else, by anyone else.  One would think that someone else would have recorded at least some of these events.

This is not to mention, the darkening of the sky for 3 hours, mentioned in the synoptics (and nowhere else) at the time of the crucification, or the miracles Jesus supposedly performed before thousands of people.  If any of these things happened it seems likely that there must be some independent evidence for them, and yet we get nothing.

8.  John’s gospel differs from and omits many of the other  gospels writers’ details:  It lacks a nativity sequence, and neglects to give a name for Jesus’ mother, (in fact, verse 7:52 mentions claims that Jesus was from Galilee, rather than Bethlehem, and says nothing to refute them). John’s gospel has John the baptist reject identification with Elija, while the opposite is true in Mark and Matthew. John’s gospel places Jesus’ temple incident at the beginning of his ministry rather than the end. John does not include the sermon on the mount or the Olivette discourse, as well as much of what Jesus says in the other threegospels.  Additionally, John’s gospel extends Jesus’ public ministry from a year to over three years.  Scholars tend to consider John’s
gospel as part of separate tradition, that is arguably irreconcilable with the other gospels, and possibly related to Gnosticism.

9. The Gospels, Act, the epistles and The Revelation of John are known to be parts of widespread literary genres during the late first and second centuries.  Christians today reject the majority of these works as heretical, and many make bizarre claims.  That said there is little reason to suspect that the small number of these works that made it into the new testament, were selected for their historical accuracy rather, than for their relative internal consistency (which is still lacking, despite the verbatim copying), their popularity (which is no indication of accuracy) and their usefulness to Church leaders.

10. Early first century Jerusalem, was a time and place where, self-proclaimed religious leaders, magicians, faith healers, wonder-workers, agitators, con-artists, rebel-leaders and cult-leaders.  The historian Josephus mentions 19 individuals, with variations of the name Jesus, most of whom fit these descriptions.  It is far more plausible that one or more of these men became the subject of fantastic legend, than it is than one such figure, was genuine holy figure with supernatural abilities.

11.The Jesus story has many parallels to the mythology of the ancient world.  A great deal of material (some sources better than others) has pointed out similarities between Jesus, Mithra, Dionysus (and the associated Greek mystery religions [the possibly had a major influence on gnostic Christianity]) and various Egyptian deities.  Second century Christian apologist actually argued against pagan religionists, that Christianity was legitimate because of it’s similarity to the worship of Pagan deities.  Further more, the similarities are strong enough, that Christians had to concoct the story that these pagan Gods were the creation of the devil working to deceive  people in anticipation of Christianity.  As such, it would seem to me that some of the similarities must have been quite impressive, and it strikes me as far more likely that a legendary story would take on elements from legends of neighboring cultures, than the possibility that a first century Jew with supernatural powers ever existed.

12.There is evidence of many contending sects within Christianity within a century after Jesus supposed life.  These include several Gnostic groups, as well as the Marcionits, Ebionites, Arian Christianity and many more.  Nearly every piece of doctrine associated with Christianity these days, was rejected by some of the groups, and many had a wide range of unique beliefs as well as their own gospels. It was not until after one sect (now called Catholicism) insinuated itself with the Roman state that anything like a consensus of Christian orthodoxy emerged.  Had another sect won out we would have a different bible with potentially very different teachings.

These are among many reasons to question the reliability of the New testament, and consider the possibility that perhaps Jesus did not exist or the not notion that even if he did exist we still cannot differentiate the legend built around him from anything in his actual biography.  Perhaps you know, other reasons, why we should question the accuracy of the bible, or perhaps you disagree and can provide uswith your reason for believing.

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