Historical Evidence for Jesus

I’ve been at it again, calling “bullshit!” on Christians in Twitter. My main sparring partner has been this guy Corrie Bergeron aka “Skydaddy” from Ohio. A couple of days ago he made the big claim: “We have at least two eyewitness accounts, plus first-person accounts of other witnesses w/in living memory.”

So I’ve spent the last two days asking him, over and over and over, at least ten times, to provide the names of the alleged “eyewitnesses” and what they wrote. His response is to play a familiar Christian game I like to call “change the subject”. He repeatedly asks questions like “Did Homer exist? Aristotle? Aristophanes? Plato? If yes, on what basis do you say so?” I keep explaining that we aren’t debating other characters from history – I do that on The Biography Show by the way – we’re talking about Jesus and who these alleged eyewitnesses are that he claims to have. Corrie then says “well you didn’t answer my questions so I’m not answering yours”. Of course, I have answered many of his questions, but he always has another question. It’s like talking to a 4 year-old brat who just tries to talk louder and longer than you do until you get tired of the annoyance. And it’s a standard Christian evasion tactic. The other one, which I’ve also got on Twitter recently, is “well I *would* tell you my evidence, but you wouldn’t believe it anyway, because you’re a cynic”.

Finally, Skydaddy manages to say: “I have names, and I have told them to others here.” In other words, “to others… who don’t have the ammunition to call me on my bullshit”.

Here’s the facts – there are NO eyewitness accounts of Jesus. None. Zero. Nothing.

Another Twitterer. Andrew Nicholson aka andrewdotnich, thought he had me with the obvious answer: “the Gospels are eyewitness acccounts – also, one of the requirements for apostleship was that they had to have seen Jesus… ”

So then I asked him to back that up with facts. Surprise – he couldn’t. Why not? Because he’s completely wrong. It’s amusing to me how many Christians seem to think that the New Testament gospels were written by disciples or apostles of Jesus. How can they profess to be Christians while knowing NOTHING about their own religion?? It astounds me.

Here’s the quick summary of the gospels, taken from the notes for the book I’m writing “Debunking Christianity”:

Claim One: The Gospels Were Written By Jesus’ Disciples / Apostles.

There are four “canonical gospels” in the New Testament: They are known colloquially as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The first three of these, Matthew, Mark and Luke, are known as the “synoptic gospels” and share a lot of material. The most commonly held belief in academia today is the “two-source hypothesis” which suggests that Mark was witten first, in the 60s or early 70s, with Luke and Matthew being written 10 – 20 years later. Luke and Matthew seems amalgamations of Mark and another document lost to history which scholars refer to as “The Q Source”. Most scholars believe John was written from 90 – 100 CE.

So immediately we can see that the texts which claims to be a detailed account of his life were written 40 – 60 years after the date of his supposed death.

Who were the authors?

Let’s start with MARK, as it seems to have been written first.

MARK:

The gospel itself is anonymous. It doesn’t say who it is written by. As early as the 2nd century, however, it was attributed to Mark, a disciple of Peter. Most scholars do not accept the Papias citation as a reliable representation of the Gospel’s history, pointing out that there is no distinctive Petrine tradition in Mark. Even if the attribution is correct, Mark was a disciple of PETER, not JESUS. So the earliest source was not an eye-witness to the events and is merely passing along heresay. As I like to put it:
“Some guy who MIGHT have been Mark was told a story by another guy who claimed to have seen Jesus.” It’s hardly a historical document. Imagine being in court and the judge says “Sir, did you see the crime happen?” and you reply “No, your honour, but I spoke to another guy who told me it did. Of course, he isn’t around anymore to tell you his own story, so you’ll have to believe me.” Yeah, right.

MATTHEW:

Most scholars do not consider the apostle Matthew to be the author of this Gospel for a number of reasons, including the text being in Greek, not Aramaic and the Gospel’s heavy reliance on Mark. Scholars believe it is a product of the second or third Christian generation. The traditional name of Matthew is retained in modern discussion only for convenience.

LUKE:

Nowhere in Luke or Acts does it explicitly say that the author is Luke, the companion of Paul, nor does he say he was an eyewitness. In fact, he states the opposite:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Scholars don’t seem to me quite sure who Luke was, but one thing we can be quite sure of is that he wasn’t an eyewitness of the events described. Some scholars believe Luke was written as late as 150 CE, because of the following parable:

But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful. (Luke 12:45-46)

Mark and Matthew both contains passages that appear to predict that Jesus would return within the lifetime of his disciples. Luke not only omits these stories, but inserts the one above, where Jesus appears to chastise servants for losing faith in the timing of their master’s return. This makes some scholars believe that Luke was written well after people had given up on his imminent return.

JOHN:

John’s Gospel is widely thought to be the least historical and trustworthy of all the gospels, mainly because John shows a great difference in the sequence and type of his narrative from the Synoptic (Matt, Mark, Luke) Gospels. However, on first sight it looks as though John can claim the highest authority, as it claims to have been written by John, brother of James, an eyewitness, and unlike Matthew (the only other gospel with an ‘author’ who might be an eyewitness) does not depend upon another gospel for its source.

Starting in the 19th century, critical scholarship has further questioned the apostle John’s authorship, arguing that the work was written decades after the events it describes. The critical scholarship argues that there are differences in the composition of the Greek within the Gospel, such as breaks and inconsistencies in sequence, repetitions in the discourse, as well as passages that clearly do not belong to their context, and these suggest redaction. Most scholars agree on a range of c. 90-100 for when the gospel was written, though dates as early as the 60s or as late as the 140s have been advanced by a small number of scholars.

The Jesus Seminar, a collection of 150 biblical scholars and historians who analyzed the scriptures for almost 20 years, concluded that the Gospel of John was the least likely accurate of all the gospels, with almost all of the saying in it attributed to Jesus to be inauthentic. Most of the famous sayings, such as “the Golden Rule”, are plagiarized from earlier sources or later constructs. Certainly some of the sayings attributed to Jesus bear a striking resemblance to earlier philosophers such as Plato or Confucious. The Seminar, which assumed for the purposes of the analysis that Jesus did exist as some sort of wise man who preached a “social gospel”, concluded that of the various statements in the “five gospels” (they included Thomas) attributed to Jesus, only about 18% of them were likely uttered by Jesus himself. The Seminar also concluded that the “acts” of Jesus portrayed in the gospels are equally unreliable.

So, in summary, we can see that the gospels of the New Testament were, according to most scholars, not written by anybody who knew or even saw Jesus firsthand. Even if Jesus is assumed to have existed, the gospels are, according to the experts, highly unreliable source of factual information.

Claim Two: Non-Christian’s Wrote About Jesus

Of the non-Christian writings from that era which have been preserved, very few mention Jesus or Christianity.

Four major non-Christian historians contain passages relevant to Jesus: these are Pliny the Younger, Josephus, Suetonius, and Tacitus. However, these are generally references to early Christians rather than a historical Jesus. Pliny condemned Christians as easily led fools. There is an obscure reference to a Jewish leader called “Chrestus” in Suetonius. Tacitus, in his Annals written c. 115, mentions popular opinion about Christus, without historical details. Of the four, Josephus’ writings, which document John the Baptist, James the Just, and possibly also Jesus, are of the most interest to scholars dealing with the historicity of Jesus.

Flavius Josephus was a Jewish Roman citizen who lived c. 37 CE – 100 CE. In 93 CE he published his history “Antiquities of the Jews”. It’s important to recognize here that Josephus was born four years after Jesus supposedly died. So he was certainly not a firsthand witness.

In Antiquities we find this passage:

About this time came Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is appropriate to call him a man. For he was a performer of paradoxical feats, a teacher of people who accept the unusual with pleasure, and he won over many of the Jews and also many Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon the accusation of the first men amongst us, condemned him to be crucified, those who had formerly loved him did not cease [to follow him], for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, as the divine prophets foretold, along with a myriad of other marvellous things concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.

Most scholars appear to think that this passage (often referred to as the ‘Testimonium Flavianium’) is inconsistent with the rest of Josphus’ writing, leading them to think that part of all of it may be a later addition. It has also been argued that his book on the Jewish War makes no mention of Jesus. In addition, Christian writers from as late as the third century CE, including Origen (ca. 185–ca. 254), who were well aware of Josephus’ writings, make no mention of his passage on Jesus and in fact state that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the messiah. So it seems very unlikely that the above passage existed in the original copies of his Antiquities. It was probably added later as an attempt to strengthen the case for the historicity of Jesus.

Later Josephus also refers to the trial and execution of James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” This is considered by the majority of scholars to be authentic although the words “who was called Christ” are considered by many to be a later addition by Christian scribes. James and Jesus (Yeshua) were, of course, very common names in ancient Jerusalem.

In ‘The Jewish War’ (100AD) Josephus says: ‘In the days of our pious fathers this curtain was intact but in our own generation it was a sorry sight, for it had been suddenly rent from top to bottom at the time when by bribery they had secured the execution of the benefactor of men – the one who by is actions proved that he was no mere man.’

This line is considered by most scholars to be a later Christian insertion, like the Testimonium Flavianium. The early Christian writer Origen claims that Josephus did NOT recognize Jesus as the Messiah, so it’s doubtful he would have written something like this. Also, early Christian writers don’t mention the paragraph (like the TF), which also detracts from it’s credibility.

As we can see, the non-Christian writings about Jesus are brief and highly unreliable and, most importantly, not written by anybody who could be considered an eyewitness to the events described in the gospels. So what evidence do we have that Jesus even existed? None. All we have are some highly unreliable stories which were written many decades later by people who heard myths passed down amongst uneducated people living in the desert. And while I am happy to concede there are some wonderful ideas contained in these myths, such as being kind to each other and trying to understand your enemies, they should be treated like any other primitive mythology, not as “gospel” truth, but as a collection of stories told by ancient tribes.

Anyone who tells you that there is historical evidence for Jesus is either ignorant of the facts or just plain lying their ass off, hoping you won’t catch them out. Of course, I suspect most well-meaning Christians are in the former category. They just regurgitate what they hear from their church leaders and never do the research for themselves to find out the truth because, let’s face it, they aren’t interested in the truth. They are interested in fairy tales.

18 thoughts on “Historical Evidence for Jesus

  1. One thing I’ve always wondered is how is it in any way satisfactory for Christians that there is just a handful of supposed accounts of Jesus existence and acts outside of the Christian literature.

    I mean, this was a person that routinely performed miracles, was a “political activist”, was crucified and then resurrected. And the most we hear from him outside if its own religion is “And oh yeah, there was this guy Christ which I don’t think he was human because he did some amazing shit”.

    The only explanation I can think of is that miracles were so common back then that nobody paid special attention to them. For some reason, though, since we have more or less detailed and accurate historical records nobody seems to bother in doing miracles anymore.

  2. Cam – you crack me up, man. In a good way… consistantly. You’ve done your homework. I love it. You’re constantly making me think. Great stuff.

    I do believe that there is something intelligent going on – ‘Intelligence Energy’ as Sailor Bob refers to IT. And despite your thoughts about Christianity I do have ‘faith’ in something infiniately wiser than what my puny mind can fathom. Whatever assembled this body and makes it go, whatever causes synchronistic, ‘personally’ meaningful moments of grace, I refer to it as God for lack of a better term.

    But I digress. I come here because I’m open minded and you are so freakin’ funny. Keep on telling your truth!

  3. And then there is the lack of any notation in contemporary accounts of events in biblical history, such as the massacre of the innocents, and the zombies who walked around Jerusalem mentioned in Matthew 27:51-53. People seriously believe that zombies walked around Jerusalem and no one documented that anywhere?

  4. Important note for future messiahs:
    1) write a memoirs before you’re crucified
    2) take lots of photos of yourself
    3) make sure your disciples are literate (maybe get them blogging as well)

  5. Humans have not yet evolved to completely rid themselves of the virus of the mind: religion and need for a god.

    An alternative: that we are alone on a small planet in this incarnation of the universe is a hard, cold reality for many child-like minds to understand.

    I for one find it difficult to reconcile our minute place in this universe. Regressing to wish for a parental god (or gods) is a sad reflection on how little our stone age evolved brains have moved on.

  6. As much as we rail against the kind of thinking that would have a creator and a messiah as essential for being classed as a proper human being, I don’t believe it will be our generation that will be the one to cast off this way of thinking.

    I agree with Nick we have some physical/chemical leftover from our distant past to cause some people to be more susceptible to thinking this way (the fact that a religious “experience” can be manufactured easily in some people and not at all in others leads me to believe that). How we breed this trait out, I don’t know.

    Bring on the aliens maybe to fast track that process~!

    Cameron, I know this is just a blog post and all, but some citations of the scholars who discuss the apostles stuff would be cool.

  7. Hi Cam!
    I have just been listening to your show 265. You are trying to cure a christian. You give him som data on a guy, wich he then thinks is Jesus. But it is in fact, Horrace, som egyptian dude.
    You the reffere to a film called “Zeitgeist”, in wich they proof that several gods and religious peole have the same data’s. You know, born dec 25th, mother was a virgin and so on.
    I have seen that movie, and thinks it’s quite interresting. But I discovered a big mistake in it. Because, on that list is Odin and Tor from the northern mytholigy. They how ever, have nothing in common with horrace and jesus. They where not born the 25th, there mother was not a virgin, the don’t heal sickness, the don’t walk on water and they have not been executet and resurrect.
    What I’m trying to say, is that there is at least two major mistakes in that movie, and it makes me question it. What other errors have the made making the film? Now I can’t show it to christians, in my effort to cure them.
    I am like you, an atheist. But I have read alot about the northern mythology, and finds it very intertaining, and interessting.
    I’m a Viking from the cold cold north, Denmark.

  8. Steen, what dates did you get for Odin and Thor? Wikipedia seems to partially confirm Zeitgeist:

    Originally the name Giuli signified a 60 day tide beginning at the lunar midwinter of the late Scandinavian Norse and Germanic tribes. The arrival of Juletid thus came to refer to the midwinter celebrations. By the late Viking Age, the Yule celebrations came to specify a great solstitial Midwinter festival that amalgamated the traditions of various midwinter celebrations across Europe, like Mitwinternacht, Modrasnach, Midvinterblot, and the Teutonic solstice celebration, Feast of the Dead. A documented example of this is in 960, when King HÃ¥kon of Norway signed into law that Jul was to be celebrated on the night leading into December 25, to align it with the Christian celebrations. For some Norse sects, Yule logs were lit to honor Thor, the god of thunder. Feasting would continue until the log burned out, three or as many as twelve days.
    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_solstice)

  9. Oh and by the way, I used to work with your current Princess. Or, I should say, she worked for me briefly in one of my earlier start-ups. She was much hotter back then. 🙂

  10. well, she’s still hot. Speak better Danish than our French Prince Henri.
    Odin is a son of Bor and Bestla. He has two brothers Vile and Ve, with whom he createt the first humans, Ask and Embla. He’s married to Frigg, with whom he has 6 sons and one daughter. Balder and Thor is two of the sons. Balder is later killed by Loke.
    Odin knows everything and see’s everything. Odin once drank of Mimers wellto become wise. To do that, he had to pay with one of he’s eyes.
    He can’t walk on water. But then again, he has a horse called Sleipner, that can run equally as fast on the ground, on sea and in the sky.
    Thor isn’t know for curing diseases, he more known for bashing Jætter (trolls). He will die in “Ragnarok”, but not before he has killed “MidgÃ¥rdsormen”. Ragnarok is the final battle with the Jætter. And MidgÃ¥rdsormen is a big snake/ Dragon that lies in the sea, and goes all the way around the earth. By the way, MidgÃ¥rdsormen is a son of Loke.
    Thor is married to Sif, and has tree sons. Mode, Magne and Trud.
    I can’t see the connection between Odin and thor, and jesus. Non of them is born the 25th. Non of them will resurrect,
    The celebration of Midwinter, is for celebrating the days becomes longer, and the spring will come. The celebration of life.
    King HÃ¥kon was christian born, and tried to make Norway christian, but failed. So offcause he tried to connect the 25th with midwinter. He tried to convince people into christianity. If you say to people “what you have clebratet in 1000 years is wrong” people starts wondering. But, if you connect it with there originally religion it is more likely they will like your idea. Turning the Vikings into christians, wasn’t done over night. It took many many years. And for a long time, they combined the two religions. I have seen a christian cross, with the hammer of Thor in it. Some vikings where baptised more than once. because the munks gave them a new set of clothes everytime.
    Here in Denmark, the old religion is becoming more and more popular.
    In Denmark the church is called “peoples churc”. We pay church tax’es on 0.9%. Everybody pays that, unless you give notice about it. I don’t pay church tax anymore, but still the salery to the priests and there pension is payed by the State. So I still pay somekind of hidden church tax. hopefully we will get a parting of church and State

  11. Cam fabulous article and Charlie your comments made me nearly piss myself
    I was taught by nuns for the first 3 years of school, the old penguins in their outfits
    I spend more time talking to my dad about mythology so when we got to Catholic studies and I still remember this in kindergarten they ask us to draw a picture of Jesus and I wouldn’t do it because I said..they didnt’ have cameras back then so no one knows what he looks like and the picture on the wall was just someone idea of what he looked like so started me getting in trouble…but thankfully the nuns thought I was an angel and let me get away with things…so I drew the ark…it was a boat I could believe there was a big boat so drew one LOL
    I have enough bad things that have happend in my family via the catholic church to cringe when I hear people say the word god and spent a great deal of my life fighting against anything bigger than us…the thought of something in the sky that made us…and as George Carlin said…why if he lives in the sky does he always seem to need money, and tons of it LOL
    anyway I do believe we as humans need to stand up and realize that we are all connectied that the energy that is life in in every living thing and that when we die this body goes back to the earth with all the atoms that made it up, and the energy that is contained in it goes……you gotta leave to find that out….BUT I must say that life is much better lived with care, with love of fellow man, with love for this planet, for caring about what will happen after we are gone…and history does show us there were billions on years with no humans…and the planet can do it again…so what will we leave behind…to be dug up 200 milions years into the futrue…a gold cross, an iphone and a can of fosters…no what will that say about us????

    cheers mates

  12. “Steen Lindholt Hansen”

    I am sorry to say you claim many things founded on pure guessing.

    Let us look at the Norse Gods you mention.

    Tor: Tor is a sun god. He rides his chariot over the sky bringing the sun from the east to the west. I recommend you read up on the symbolism about sun-chariots in many ancient cultures. Mjølner, his hammer, is shaped like a swastika. Again I recommend you read up on the real symbolism the swastika represents. At dawn when he comes home with his chariot
    he slaughters his rams for feasting. Knowing that when the sun once more will rise, they will come back to life in order to pull his chariot. Tor was the god closest to humans. And when Ragnarok comes, he will die fighting Midgardsormen on behalf of the humans. Thus sacrificing himself for us.

    The son, and the father.

    Odin. The sun god. Father of Tor. He is the all seeing. His ravens watches the land for him. Like the symbol of Horus, Odin is represented as “one eye”. To gain knowledge of humans and their suffering, he hangs on the tree of life for several days. He is also while he hangs on his tree, penetrated by a spear into his heart.

    It is possible to expand the symbolism very much. But I would like to mention that in old Norwegian churches from the “dark ages” historians have found symbols of Odin, Tor and Jesus inside them. This perhaps because the people of that time did not see them as entirely different. They represented more or less the same.

  13. Interesting. I would be very honored and appreciative if you would consider submitting to my blog (honestuncertainty.com) I am currently doing a 100 day analysis of the veracity of Jesus’ resurrection, taking all viewpoints. http://honestuncertainty.com/2009/03/did-jesus-raise-from-the-dead-or-not-100-days-to-convince-me/ Also please check me out on Twitter: @HonestUncertain. I’d follow you but you don’t mention your Twitter ID in this post (that I can find. ) 🙂

  14. Hi Thor! Well, most religion is pure guessing, isn’t it? :-).
    Where have you found the story about Odin, and the spear in his heart? I can’t find it myself. Could it be from the era, where they needed to use some of the old beliefs to persuade people into christianity?
    Jesus and Odin side by side, must be from that time of transfermation from Northern Mythologi and Christianity.
    This transformation was not made over night. It took hundreds of years.
    And even today, there is a lot of old religion mixed with christainity, in our life. For example christmas, called Jul here in Dk.
    Tor is not the sun god, he is the strongest god armed with a hammer. He’s job is to protect the humans, and to fight Fenris in Ragnarok.
    I have never seen his hammer formed as a swastika. Could it be a picture made by some Nazi, trying to put together some symbols that fittet into there beliefs??
    The swastika is seen on the on some Indian religius figure, who was made before some painter in Austria took it as he’s symbol 🙂
    The things I now about the northern mythologi, is purely from Danish sites. The religion has been around for thousands of years, and is offcause different from time period to time period, and from area to area.
    Might I ask you, where you are from?

  15. Sorry everybody, kind of repeatet myself. My first input was from way back, and I did’nt read that before this new one.

  16. I love it, I love it, for yrs I have been trying to explain to some why I feel and pretty sure, no one by name like Luke, Mathew, John etc etc, no one in this part of the world would have nor will to this era called by these names, they fo find just one, these name are not common or even known, these are English names, and these people werre and most are still illitarate, how would they have known.

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