Most people would be shocked to learn how little is actually known about Jesus.
Note: This story was co-authored with David Fitzgerald, author of “Jesus: Mything in Action.”
Before the European Enlightenment, virtually all New Testament experts assumed that handed-down stories about Jesus were first recorded by eye witnesses and were largely biographical. That is no longer the case.
Assuming that the Jesus stories had their beginnings in one single person rather than a composite of several—or even in mythology itself—he probably was a wandering Jewish teacher in Roman-occupied Judea who offended the authorities and was executed. Beyond that, any knowledge about the figure at the center of the Christian religion is remarkably open to debate (and vigorously debated among relevant scholars).
Where was Jesus born? Did he actually have twelve disciples? Do we know with certainty anything he said or did?
As antiquities scholarship improves, it becomes increasingly clear that the origins of Christianity are controversial, convoluted, and not very coherent.
1. The more we know the less we know for sure. After centuries in which the gospel stories about Jesus were taken as gospel truth, the Enlightenment gave birth to a new breed of biblical historians. Most people have heard that Thomas Jefferson secretly took a pair of scissors to the Bible, keeping only the parts he thought were historical. His version of the New Testament is still available today. Jefferson’s snipping was a crude early attempt to address a problem recognized by many educated men of his time: It had become clear that any histories the Bible might contain had been garbled by myth. (One might argue that the Protestant Reformation’s rejection of the books of the Bible that they called “apocrypha,” was an even earlier, even cruder attempt to purge the Good Book of obvious mythology.)
In the two centuries that have passed since Jefferson began clipping, scores of biblical historians—including modern scholars armed with the tools of archeology, anthropology and linguistics—have tried repeatedly to identify “the historical Jesus” and have failed. The more scholars study the roots of Christianity, the more confused and uncertain our knowledge becomes. Currently, we have a plethora of contradictory versions of Jesus—an itinerant preacher, a zealot, an apocalyptic prophet, an Essene heretic, a Roman sympathizer, and many more —each with a different scholar to confidently tout theirs as the only real one. Instead of a convergent view of early Christianity and its founder, we are faced instead with a cacophony of conflicting opinions. This is precisely what happens when people faced with ambiguous and contradictory information cannot bring themselves to say, we don’t know.
This scholastic mess has been an open secret in biblical history circles for decades. Over forty years ago, professors like Robin S. Barbour and Cambridge’s Morna Hooker were complaining about the naïve assumptions underlying the criteria biblical scholars used to gauge the “authentic” elements of the Jesus stories. Today, even Christian historians complain the problem is no better; most recently Anthony Le Donne and Chris Keith in the 2012 book Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity.
2. The Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. Every bit of our ostensibly biographical information for Jesus comes from just four texts – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Though most Christians assume that associates of Jesus wrote these texts, no objective biblical scholars think so. None of the four gospels claims to be written by eyewitnesses, and all were originally anonymous. Only later were they attributed to men named in the stories themselves.
While the four gospels were traditionally held to be four independent accounts, textual analysis suggests that they all actually are adaptations of the earliest gospel, Mark. Each has been edited and expanded upon, repeatedly, by unknown editors. It is worth noting that Mark features the most fallible, human, no-frills Jesus—and, more importantly, may be an allegory.
All of the gospels contain anachronisms and errors that show they were written long after the events they describe, and most likely far from the setting of their stories. Even more troubling, they don’t just have minor nitpicky contradictions; they have basic, even crucial, contradictions.
3. The Gospels are not corroborated by outside historians. Despite generations of apologists insisting Jesus is vouched for by plenty of historical sources like Tacitus or Suetonius, none of these hold up to close inspection. The most commonly-cited of these is the Testimonium Flavianum, a disputed passage in the writings of ancient historian Flavius Josephus, written around the years 93/94, generations after the presumed time of Jesus. Today historians overwhelmingly recognize this odd Jesus passage is a forgery. (For one thing, no one but the suspected forger ever quotes it – for 500 years!) But defenders of Christianity are loathe to give it up, and supporters now argue it is only a partial forgery.
Either way, as New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman points out, the Testimonium Flavanium merely repeats common Christian beliefs of the late first century, and even if it were 100% genuine would provide no evidence about where those beliefs came from. This same applies to other secular references to Jesus–they definitely attest to the existence of Christians and recount Christian beliefs at the time, but offer no independent record of a historical Jesus.
In sum, while well-established historic figures like Alexander the Great are supported by multiple lines of evidence, in the case of Jesus we have only one line of evidence: the writings of believers involved in spreading the fledgling religion.
4. Early Christian scriptures weren’t the same as ours. At the time Christianity emerged, gospels were a common religious literary genre, each promoting a different version or set of sacred stories. For example, as legends of Jesus sprang up, they began to include “infancy gospels.” As historian Robert M. Price notes, just as Superman comics spun off into stories of young Superboy in Smallville, Christians wrote stories of young Jesus in Nazareth using his divine powers to bring clay birds to life or peevishly strike his playmates dead.
Early Christians didn’t agree on which texts were sacred, and those included in our New Testament were selected to elevate one competing form of Christianity, that of the Roman Church over others. (Note that the Roman Church also proclaimed itself “catholic” meaning universal.)
Our two oldest complete New Testament collections, Codex Siniaticus and Codex Vaticanus only go back to the beginning of the fourth century. To make matters worse, their books differ from each other – and from our bibles. We have books they don’t have; they have books we don’t have, like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Gospel of Barnabas.
In addition to gospels, the New Testament includes another religious literary genre—the epistle or letter. Some of our familiar New Testament epistles like 1 Peter, 2 Peter and Jude were rejected as forgeries even in ancient times; today scholars identify almost all of the New Testament books as forgeries except for six attributed to Paul (and even his authentic letters have been re-edited).
5. Christian martyrs are not proof (if they even were real). Generations of Christian apologists have pointed to the existence of Christian martyrs as proof their religion is true, asking “Who would die for a lie?” The short answer, of course, that all too many true believers have died in the service of falsehoods they passionately believed to be true—and not just Christians. The obvious existence of Muslim jihadis has made this argument less common in recent years
But who says that the Christian stories of widespread martyrdom themselves were real? The Book of Acts records only two martyr accounts, and secular scholars doubt that the book contains much if any actual history. The remaining Christian martyr tales first appeared centuries later. Historian Candida Moss’ 2014 book The Myth of Persecution gives a revealing look at how early Christian fathers fabricated virtually the entire tradition of Christian martyrdom—a fact that was, ironically enough, largely uncovered and debunked by later Christian scholars.
6. No other way to explain the existence of Christianity? Most people, Christians and outsiders alike, find it difficult to imagine how Christianity could have arisen if our Bible stories aren’t true. Beyond a doubt, Christianity could not have arisen if people in the first century hadn’t believed them to be true. But the stories themselves?
Best-selling New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman believes that the biblical stories about Jesus had their kernel in the person of a single itinerant preacher, as do most New Testament scholars. Historian Richard Carrier and David Fitzgerald (co-author of this article) take an opposing position—that the original kernel was a set of ancient mythic tropes to which unsuspecting believers added historical details. Ehrman and Carrier may be on opposite sides of this debate, but both agree on one important fact: the only thing needed to explain the rise of Christianity is the belief fostered by the rival Christian preachers of the first century.
Witchcraft, bigfoot, the idea that an American president was born in Kenya, golden tablets revealed to a 19th century huckster by the Angel Moroni . . . we all know that false ideas can be sticky—that they can spread from person to person, getting elaborated along the way until they become virtually impossible to eradicate. The beginnings of Christianity may be shrouded in mystery, but the viral spread of passionately-held false ideas is becoming better understood by the year.
Keeping Options Open
University of Sheffield’s Philip Davies—who believes that Christianity probably began with a single Jesus, acknowledges that the evidence is fragile and problematic. Davies argues that the only way the field of New Testament studies can maintain any academic respectability is by acknowledging the possibility that Jesus didn’t exist. He further notes this wouldn’t generate any controversy in most fields of ancient history, but that New Testament studies is not a normal case.
Brandon University’s Kurt Noll goes even further and lays out a case that the question doesn’t matter: Whether the original Jesus was real or mythological is irrelevant to the religion that was founded in his name.
That is because either way, the Christ at the heart of Christianity is a figure woven from the fabric of mythology. The stories that bear his name draw on ancient templates imbedded in the Hebrew religion and those of the surrounding region. They were handed down by word of mouth in a cultural context filled with magical beings and miracles. Demons caused epilepsy. Burnt offerings made it rain. Medical cures included mandrakes and dove blood. Angels and ghosts appeared to people in dreams. Gods and other supernatural beings abounded and not infrequently crossed over from their world to ours.
Who, in the midst of all of this, was Jesus? We may never know.
This article is the second in a series examining what we think we know about Jesus as a historical figure.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.
David Fitzgerald is an award-winning historical researcher and the author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All and the Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion series. His latest book is Jesus: Mything in Action.
Jesus is only a small part of what’s wrong with the National Superstition. None of its doctrines make sense, including “God,” original sin, redemption by God torturing Jesus, etc. That its dogmas are so amazingly ridiculous validates the assertion of Jared Diamond and others that to be fully accepted in a religion and trusted by its members, one must believe extremely implausible claims. It’s very much like Orthodox Jews who, by their bizarre appearance, deliberately set themselves apart from the common populace.
Gosh, I guess some things you need to just take on faith! ;o)
I was commenting just the other day that myriad early Christian writings have been declared apocryphal for The Church … until they are needed to back up one of their arguments, then they become Christian Tradition. Basically, Christian Tradition is “but we’ve always told this story this way.”
I probably wouldn’t even be interested is Christianity weren’t woven through and through our culture with many effects some positive, others negative. In North Carolina, God is telling legislators to get rid of them LGB … whatever people. They shouldn’t be marryin’ and such. This we are told is from people who believe that the Bible is the word of God but are ignoring God telling them that slavery and polygamy are fine with Him.
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Once you meet Him face to face; no one can take away the Reality of His Presence. Jesus is the Ultimate Reality. Run to Him in Faith and repentance now and receive His Forgiveness and Salvation. If you don’t, we will meet Him at the GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT as The Great God Almighty and Your Judge. Then it will be too late, you will pay for your own sin and you will be thrown into the awful Lake of Fire forever and forever. Your choice! Choose life, choose Jesus!
Assuming for one moment that your religion is true, the eternal lake of fire makes your god infinitely more evil than Hitler or Stalin. What’s there to worship other than out of fear? How can you find nothing wrong with this?
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A belief in an external God is just am emotionally concreted in thought. Thoughts are just representations. Representations can be of something or nothing. If they are of nothing they could threaten our survival if we acted according to them. Consequently we have evolved the ability to feel discomfort when operating off empty representations. That is why thoughts like hell fire and damnation had to be introduced into Christianity in order to counter act the discomfort naturally arising from the representation of a fictitious external God.
A curious combination of delusion and sadism. People like her are eagerly awaiting the “final solution” which will make the Holocaust look like a picnic. May they all drop dead.
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Marietta, have you any evidence for any of your silly claims? Didn’t think so. Enjoy living in fear.
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Evidence please. And while you are at it please explain why the bible is so full of errors and contradictions?
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I hope this is a Poe’s Law situation but I suspect it is not. If it is, I suggest you put a little “/sarcasm” notation at the end of your “amusing” diatribe.
If it is not, the horrific things you choose to believe says a lot more about your worrisome state of mind than it does about what might or might not be a historical figure.
I tend to side with Bart Ehrman — According to Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger and few other ancient literary sources, Jesus the apocalyptic preacher lived and died, but that’s all we know for sure. Everything else is a fabrication. An honest reading and evaluation of the countless contradictions, ambiguities and made-up mythologies in the Old and New Testaments proves it.
Sadly, for most Americans Christianity is the only game in town for those who fear death and suffering and want to live forever. It’s all nonsensical dogma, but most people just can’t get past it. If God exists, he she or it surely ain’t the God of Abraham, and it surely isn’t Jesus.
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Ehrman’s claim is on extremely shaky ground. I recommend you read one of Earl Doherty’s books which show that there is really no reason to believe that Jesus existed in any form. Paul did not think Jesus lived as a human and, as everyone knows, no writers of the time mentioned him even in passing. Josephus’ TF is a blatant fake.
This is being added after my comments appearing below which were in response to your later comment. I HAVE read some of Doherty I believe, though not recently so I can’t recall just what. If I recall he draws/quotes from G.A. Wells, “The Historical Evidence for Jesus” which book I own and have read. I’ve made myself pretty familiar with the arguments against Jesus’ existence and with a broad survey of the field of skeptics as well as non-believing (as Christians or even theists) scholars such as Ehrman who take Jesus as an actual person in the early 1st century, crucified by Romans.
Can you summarize what you consider evidence that “Paul did not think Jesus lived as a human”? He certainly minimizes importance on his earthly life, but this statement goes well beyond that and seems hard to prove. Rather, his all-important death (to Paul) Paul sees as a bodily one, from all indications I’m aware of and what scholars typically presume… not that of a “seemingly” physical person as docetism or forms of Gnosticism came to adopt. It gets complicated quickly, for sure. One has to read more than a few books and interact deeply with the actual NT texts (and a few related historical texts) to get some grasp of how to sort it all out. Even many seminary-educated people haven’t really done that. Maybe you’ve done that kind of “homework”…. I’d be interested to hear your story.
Valerie, I think you know where I come down on this, after a whole lot of study, but others won’t. I realize the evidence for Jesus’ existence is thin in terms of historical accounts, but I do think it is sufficient to make the case. Not so for the “empty tomb” and “bodily resurrection”, however (with Easter upcoming). On that point, the evidence is virtually nonexistent. And that is certainly a core “mythologizing” point.
Though I do identify as a progressive (non-orthodox) Christian, I believe orthodox Christians made a grave error a century or two back in choosing to center their apologetics for a literal-historical understanding of the Gospels and Acts around resurrection claims. This was a rationalist “Enlightenment” move and part of the reason for such a confused and confusing version of Christian faith help by most Westerners.
If people (especially Christians) would read the New Testament more closely and seriously (on a scholarly, not just devotional basis), they would realize this… largely on the basis of the earliest of Christian writers, Paul (well before the Gospels… about 20-50 years). Paul’s discussion of the “risen” Jesus make no similar claims to the Gospels. Rather, their context and language make it pretty clear his visionary experience of Jesus (as even embellished by Acts) was akin to that of the other Apostles and disciples. I won’t go on with other issues about this. But the move of Paul from anti-Jesus Judaism to being a key “apostle” (messenger) of his does, taken with other evidences, support that there WERE a good number of visionary experiences of Jesus quite soon after the “historical” time of his execution. This alone does not explain his actual existence, but it does push the date of such belief back to within about 3-8 years of his time, if not much earlier.
And Paul certainly WAS a “mythmaker”. That is pretty obvious, as is the mythmaking venture of the canonical Gospels and Acts (a purportedly historical work, with some elements of that, but far from our modern histories). Paul’s version of Christian myth goes well beyond that of particularly the first 3 Gospels, even though they were influenced a lot by his earlier work. Christians would be well off to face and explore (some already do) the differences between the teachings and priorities of Jesus, as storied, and of Paul. Paul has some beneficial additions, along with some sloppy logic and detrimental aspects. A more simple focus on the universally-loved (beyond just Christians) teachings of Jesus and a selective use of Paul would take us in a good direction.
Everyone, religious or not, believes in some elements of myth (consciously or not). To me, the problem is not Christians “believing in” at least aspects of what, overall, is heavily mythological. Rather, it is in too often not even trying to realize what is or may have been created for religious reasons and patched onto a bare historical framework.
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Howard, I see no reason to hang onto any vestige of Christianity. If there is a reason it would have to be based on any truth the myth contains, not on its perceived benefits.
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Stephen, I can appreciate your perspective. I was certainly questioning if there was any reason myself for several years after departing orthodox Christianity. It was mainly my prior knowledge of a bit about Process philosophy and theology (Whitehead) that enabled me to come back to a very “progressive/process” form of Jesus-following (perhaps better so-called than “Christianity” because it differs on essential matters so much). If you’re not familiar with these theoretical systems, a combination of them provide an intellectually, philosophically and scientifically deep and defensible set of reasons:
1) Process theology (as mentioned)
2) Ken Wilber’s (not “Wilbur”) Integral Theory and sub-set of Integral Christianity
3) Centuries of “historical criticism” of the Bible combined particularly with the “Social Interest” theory of Jonathan Z Smith and Burton Mack (anthropologists/theologians, neither of whom I think consider themselves Christian, at least in the orthodoxy sense. Mack’s essays or book chapters on the “Christian Myth” as evolved and expressed particularly in American history to the present (both “civil religion” and Christianity) is very fascinating and enlightening.
What’s the oldest recorded christianism? I mean, do we know who mentioned christianism first? Do we really know if Paul really lived? Who mentioned christianism before him? Is there any organization not religious that can answer these kind of questions?
CS Lewis Unavoidable
If what you want is an argument against Christianity (and I well remember how eagerly I looked for such arguments when I began to be afraid it was true) you can easily find some stupid and unsatisfactory Christian and say, “So there’s your boasted new man! Give me the old kind.” But if once you have begun to see that Christianity is on other grounds probable, you will know in your heart that this is only evading the issue. What can you ever really know of other people’s souls-of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next door neighbours or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anaesthetic fog which we call “nature” or “the real world” fades away and the Presence in which you have stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable?
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How do we explain Paul?
Think about it. Why is it we don’t have anything the 12 apostles wrote—or had written for them? (They were probably illiterate.) Why did Jesus spend three years of his life painstakingly teaching those 12 guys what his mission was, only to have Paul, who never even met Jesus in the flesh, be the one who set the agenda for that mission?
How do you explain that? Seems like a screwy way to kick off a worldwide religion.
Here’s what I think happened. Something may indeed have transpired on the Damascus Road. However, I don’t think it’s what is described in Acts. We all know God doesn’t work like that. He doesn’t speak from the clouds and then blind a guy to make a point. (Anyone who has had God teach him/her a lesson in this manner is welcome to correct me in the Comments.) What I think is more likely is that Paul’s revelation, if he had one, was gradual and ephemeral. At a certain point, the revelation was firmly gelled in place enough that Paul holed up—perhaps for three years as he says—and fashioned what he calls “my gospel,” to distinguish it from the pro-Torah gospel preached by the apostles back in the Mother Church in Jerusalem.
Bingo… as far as I’m concerned. Your last paragraph I could have written myself. I wish many more would do the kind of careful comparison work you’ve done (or you’ve read good, informed and careful sources).
Thanks for the kind words, Howard. I just subscribed to your blog
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Yeah, sure. So Paul LIES about his encounter with Jesus, and with Witnesses no less. If you are going to lie, why include witnesses that could be tracked down?? Then, after preaching for some years, he purposely goes back to Jerusalem to check with Peter, James, and John (Galatians 2) to see if his gospel is the same. Another thing that could be verified. Your story doesn’t match what the New Testament says.
Paul had no witnesses, even according to the Bible story. But there is no reason to think he was lying. Many people who have vision experiences, whether because of seizures or hallucinations or for other reasons genuinely have those experiences. Of course my story doesn’t match what the New Testament says. The New Testament doesn’t even match what the New Testament says. Have you ever read the Easter stories in parallel?
Yes, I HAVE read the Easter stories. Please tell us Exactly how they contradict, as opposed to being different viewpoints on the same event.
Here you go. http://articles.exchristian.net/2004/04/easter-facts-quotes-and-quiz-for-you.html
1. There WERE witnesses to the voice Paul heard: Acts 9:7, plus Ananias witnessed his blindness after that. If someone is going to make up a story, don’t include witnesses!
2. Yes, I’ve seen that Easter quiz before. It is well-done, and perhaps it will help us agree that the gospel writers were NOT in collusion, or they would have ironed out the differences.
Nevertheless not one of them is a Direct contradiction. For example, if you realize there could be several groups of people at different times, you can see where the differences arise. See the following for an explanation:
Click to access 136BC.pdf
“The more scholars study Jesus, the more confused and uncertain our knowledge has become.”
But for true believers there is no room for uncertainty. With Easter weekend upon us, there are numerous articles on this subject, such as this one in the Guardian:
“What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?”
The author, Dr. Simon Gathercole, a Reader in New Testament Studies at the University of Cambridge, ends with this: “These abundant historical references leave us with little reasonable doubt that Jesus lived and died. The more interesting question – which goes beyond history and objective fact – is whether Jesus died and lived.”
I’m not sure what a Reader in NT studies is, but he is certainly a certain believer. It seems to me that regardless of the evidence or lack thereof, die-hard believers will cling to their faith and find some way to disregard or explain the evidence in their favour. In another article I read this morning, discussing historical accuracy in a Canadian TV series, the author describes an assignment he was on at an archaeological site in Jerusalem. When reporters at a briefing asked officials what the significance of the new find was, they were told to draw their own conclusions. But later, one of them made the following comment:
“As the Israeli official who briefed us later put it, if anyone ever uncovers evidence proving or disproving the existence of Jesus Christ, he’d better either bury it or go into hiding, because that sort of thing can get you killed.”
“It’s impossible to present history in a way that won’t offend someone”
Simply to clarify, the verb ‘to read’ in British but not American English has a secondary meaning ‘to study‘ when used in the context of university education. So a ‘reader’ in such and such a subject is a lecturer who constantly studies and researches said subject
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Here’s another of the numerous Easter weekend articles online, this one an interview with Jimmy Carter. It is an excellent example of the cognitive dissonance required to be an evangelical Bible believer. The first question and answer is particularly revealing.
“President Carter, Am I a Christian?” by Nicholas Kristof
“ME How literally do you take the Bible, including miracles like the Resurrection?
PRESIDENT CARTER Having a scientific background, I do not believe in a six-day creation of the world that occurred in 4004 B.C., stars falling on the earth, that kind of thing. I accept the overall message of the Bible as true, and also accept miracles described in the New Testament, including the virgin birth and the Resurrection.”
It’s astounding that he can cite science as his reason for rejecting young earth creationism, but not reject miracles, virgin birth and resurrection. I too once was duped into believing that creation myth, but once I freed myself from religious dogma and learned the basic Darwinian science of evolution I rejected all aspects of creationism. And once I rejected that, my other fundamentalist beliefs easily fell like dominoes. Something else I noticed in that interview, something I commonly find with other fundamentalists, is Carter’s claim that, “In His day, Jesus broke down walls of separation and superiority among people. Those (mostly men) who practice superiority and exclusion contradict my interpretations of the life and teachings of Jesus, which exemplified peace, love, compassion, humility, forgiveness and sacrificial love.”
He then goes on to essentially ignore the question about the exclusivity of Jesus’ message that he was the only way to God. It’s a good example of cherry-picking or cafeteria Christianity, choosing only those scriptures that fit his personal interpretation, while ignoring those that contradict his interpretation. For example, John 7: 43 “So there was a division among the people because of him”
and Matthew 10:36,37 “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” contradict Carter’s claim that Jesus broke down walls of separation. And John 14:6 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” sets out very clearly the answer to the question of exclusivity that Carter doesn’t want to deal with.
And in another common twist of logic Carter says: “I look on the contradictions among the Gospel writers as a sign of authenticity, based on their different life experiences, contacts with Jesus and each other. If the earlier authors of the Bible had been creating an artificial document, they would have eliminated disparities.” But some of those contradictions are not merely different points of view, there are impossibilities. For believers like Carter, the Bible is supposedly the inspired (from Greek for God-breathed) “Word of God”. The earthly writers were merely instruments, God’s “pens”. Seems to me a god who performed miracles, virgin birth and resurrection could have avoided contradictions in the holy book meant to convey that god’s message to the world.
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We evolved with brains. Our brains were to enable us to successfully negotiate the physical world long enough to reproduce. Brains function by modeling the world by means of representations. Representations can be of something or of nothing. If a representation is of nothing it is of no survival benefit. How does the brain distinguish between representations that are of nothing and representations that are of something? The brain does this verification through one or more of the external senses, sight, sound,smell, touch, taste and one internal experiential sense, which is not triggered off by any of the external senses but by settling the mind in a meditative mode. This inner sense provides the only sense verification that there is something greater than the self. This inner experience is not verified by any of the external senses therefore it does not exist in any external form thus there is no external God so if Jesus existed he was acually promoting a fiction.
I believe that Jesus is up therein the upper realms of the spirit world wondering why their is such a fuss going on about him!!
Here’s my answer to these arguments:
I once visited a Nottingham museum, they had an exhibit that explored how the Robin Hood legend came to be in a way that parallels the Jesus story, i.e.: probably based on not one, but a number of actual historical people who lived, along with exaggerations and fanciful stories invented whole-cloth or adapted from other characters’ legends/myths/stories over time to embroider the story and make it more “real.”
We’re watching the same thing being done with Sherlock Holmes in real time. I know people who swear he lived and was real, even after I’ve pointed out that Doyle based the fictitious Holmes on a real person named Dr. Bell. I have literally had to use Wikipedia to prove my point. This belief will only grow over time as our culture moves further and further away from the Victorian era.
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This tendency can be attributed to several things:
1. People don’t often read and what they do read is garbage.
2. Celebrity worship, which makes ordinary citizens admire anyone famous even if fictional.
3. The so-called president makes truth and lies equally respectable – to idiots.
4. The ongoing dumbing-down of the U.S.
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Similar stories are those of King Arthur and Sherlock Holmes. For Arthur there is a continual search for a real figure “behind” the legend while followers of Holmes are always seeking a real figure who inspired Conan Doyle.
For myself the Sherlock Holmes parallel is particularly interesting as, within 10 years of the 1st story people were writing to Mr Sherlock Holmes at 221b Baker Street asking for his assistance. This continued pretty much until the late 1970s and from the 1930’s onwards the company occupying the site had a special department dedicated to answering these letters.
Of course the original “Pauline” short stories about Holmes have since been added to by non-“canonical” novels, films and television series. Many newspaper articles and books have examine the idea of the man behind the myth. All in all Holmes has become the demi-God of detection
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The question of the the Mythical and Historical Jesus’ (as opposed to the Gospel Jesus) are pretty much the same story as the legends that accrued to the Christian foundation make an historical Jesus moot; the person worshiped is entirely unrelated to any underlying real figure. Sayings, philosophy and ethics cited as being sourced in a “real” Jesus seem to have been common to the culture and period, pre-dating any possible historic figure.
Personally I am a mythicist, seeing the putative historical figure only traces of the many rebels and Messiahs that seem to have inhabited Judea in the 2 centuries round 1 AD. I find it strange that the foundational text of Jesus’ life (Mark) appears to have been written 35 – 40 years after supposed execution and cites no sources and that the founding father (Paul) never cites Jesus’ own words nor any details of his life. Similarly it would seem strange that an historical figure would only begin his ministry at the mythologically significant age of 30
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