Was Jesus a real person?

“Prove to me Jesus Existed”

The first question, or rather, proof I was asked to give, is to this statement. As I pondered at this request it crossed my mind. “Who is Jesus?” Never having been to Mexico I was having trouble narrowing down the countless people who might be named Jesus. Who was this person asking me to prove existed? 

You’re reading this now, saying to yourself, what is he doing? We know he means Jesus Christ, who is said to have lived 2000 years ago. Any idiot can see that. Ah, but this becomes the very point. Why, when the name Jesus is mentioned do we all assume the same basic outline of the person in question. Some of us reading this may have a different criterion we’re using to come to our conclusions and some of us may differ on the details. But, how many of us opened this page expecting me to talk about anything less than Jesus of Nazareth? 

When looking back into antiquity about any historical figure, it’s good to first look at what we think presently. In history we tend to remember figures that changed the world or at least influenced it to some degree. Good or bad matters little. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Nero, Vespasian, Jesus Christ, Antiochus IV.

The simple fact that we have heard of these people is, in itself, a testimony toward the fact that they may have existed rather than evidence that they never existed. If the world has forgotten somebody it can be for many different reasons. Perhaps what they did was only important for that time but is meaningless in our own? Perhaps, they weren’t worth remembering or maybe they never existed. How do we know anyone existed in the ancient world?

Usually we look at writings of the time. Did anyone record what he or she did? The closer the written record to the events, the better we have at knowing what is said to have happened. But, what if nobody wrote anything or the earliest record we have is hundreds of years after the person lived. Do we just throw away those accounts and come to the conclusion that they never existed? Or rather we say that they existed but the details are naturally going to be fuzzy and possibly (very possibly) the accounts will be exaggerated and myth has crept in among facts.

Take Alexander the Great for example. How many of us doubted he lived? How many of us know that the earliest manuscripts about the events of his life are 300 or more years removed from when the events took place? His life is based on the writings of about 5 men and they were including what they claimed were histories about Alexander. If you want to reject Jesus based on a hearsay argument, be sure to reject Alexander the Great as well. Sure we have cities like Alexandria but is it the same Alexander? Are you foolish to think that a 20 something year old actually had a city thrown into the sea? Of course you wouldn’t believe this, because it’s in the bible. This is the only reason for rejecting Jesus Christ also. The mantra of the Atheist bumper sticker would read, “If the bible says it, I reject it, that settles it.” 

So you don’t have to look it up, here are the versus. Ezekiel 26:3-4, 12
Therefore this is what the sovereign LORD says: Look, I am against you, O Tyre! I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers. I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. They will tear down your walls and destroy your luxurious homes. Your stones, your trees, and your soil he will throw into the water.

Alexander the Great, after Nebuchadnezzar, finished the literal understanding of this prophecy by throwing the remains of the old city into the sea to make a land bridge to attack the Island of Tyre. As far as I know he never finished the bridge but he did, “scrape her soil and make her a bare rock.”

The reason people believe this is because of the written evidence of the accounts and within those accounts are people whom the accounts are written around. The same is true when it comes to the person and work of Jesus Christ. But, who are the people that believe he actually existed? A bunch of nut job bias Christians who desperately want to believe. Well, yes, of course. This doesn’t negate the facts but what about non-Christians? There will be non-Christians who read this who have heard of the historical Jesus. Whether or not they believe he existed most of them could give a pretty good outline of the life he is said to have lived. So, are there any non-Christians who say Jesus was a real person, today? If so, who are they and are they even credible? Let me introduce you to The Jesus Seminar.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The Jesus Seminar is a group of about 150 individuals, including scholars with advanced degrees in biblical studies, religious studies or related fields as well as published authors who are notable in the field of religion, founded in 1985 by the late Robert Funk and John Dominic Crossan under the auspices of the Westar Institute. One of the most active groups in biblical criticism, the seminar uses votes with colored beads to decide their collective view of the historicity of Jesus, specifically what he may or may not have said and done as a historical figure. 

Please take notice of the members qualifications, areas of study, and goal. Their website includes qualifications for becoming a Fellow. Westar Institute welcomes the participation of scholars with advanced academic degrees (Ph.D. or equivalent) in religious studies or related disciplines from accredited universities worldwide. (www.westarinstitute.org) Before you insist that these are all Christians let me give you a list of the things they affirm about Jesus through the Jesus Seminar.

Everything is done by voting with colored beads. Here’s a quick outline of the beads.
Red beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus did say the passage quoted, or something very much like the passage. (3 Points)
Pink beads – Jesus probably said something like the passage. (2 Points)
Grey beads – Jesus did not say the passage, but it contains Jesus' ideas. (1 Point)
Black beads –Jesus did not say the passage—it comes from later admirers or a different tradition. (0 Points)

For more information you can Wiki this yourself. I would like to highlight a few things that they say about the historical Jesus. According to the Jesus Seminar:
•    Jesus of Nazareth was born during the reign of Herod the Great.
•    His mother's name was Mary, and he had a human father whose name may not have been Joseph.
•    Jesus was born in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem.
•    Jesus was an itinerant sage who shared meals with social outcasts.
•    Jesus practiced healing without the use of ancient medicine or magic, relieving afflictions we now consider psychosomatic.
•    He did not walk on water, feed the multitude with loaves and fishes, change water into wine or raise Lazarus from the dead.
•    Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem and crucified by the Romans.
•    He was executed as a public nuisance, not for claiming to be the Son of God.
•    The empty tomb is a fiction – Jesus was not raised bodily from the dead.
•    Belief in the resurrection is based on the visionary experiences of Paul, Peter and Mary Magdalene.

Notice what the seminar denies is the essential hinge that Christianity hangs on. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are at the center of the Gospel. Here is what St. Paul says about this doctrine in his letter to the Corinthians. 

1 Corinthians 15:13-17 

“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty. Also, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified against God that he raised Christ from the dead, when in reality he did not raise him, if indeed the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins.”

This is the hinge of the Christian faith according to our own Holy writings. No Christian would ever deny this or be associated with a group who did. 

Now, take notice, none of these scholars are debating if he existed. Only what he did and said. The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is not up for debate. It would seem that every self-respecting scholar, Christian and non-Christian alike, would affirm this point. It seems that only a small fringe group reject that Jesus existed. Because of this the burden of proof now rests on the shoulders of those who think he was just a figment of someone’s imagination. 

Now, I don’t want to be accused of simply shifting the burden or committing an argumentum ad populum (popular appeal or appeal to the majority as proof). In the next section we’re going to look for the reasons all these highly trained people would believe Jesus existed. What evidence are they looking at? Is it credible? Was there time for embellishment? How is this evidence different than that of any other mythology? I don’t know if I’ll get to all of this in the next post but I hope you can see where we will be going from here.

Things we’ve proven so far:

1. Only fringe groups with an ax to grind deny Jesus Christ was a real person.