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← Care in Atheist Terminology

hitchens_jnr's Avatar Jump to comment 8 by hitchens_jnr

COmments 5 and 7 by DamianIcely

I'll try to deal with this briefly. First up, you're of course right that Christians massively over-state the case, they do have a tendency to make a lot out of sources that aren't relevant, and any historical claims based on Biblical inerrancy are clearly very poor.

You're right that Jesus lived "in a time when just about everything was recorded" - what you don't follow on to say is that not all of these records (in fact only an infinitissimally small proportion of them) survived. Entire wars in the Hellenistic Period escaped the literary record: how much less likely is it that the career of an eccentric peasant preacher would get noticed! (And the Roman government records for first-century Judaea were destroyed in the Jewish War of 66 - 70 CE anyway!) Jesus is only important with hindsight: at the time he was nothing special, an eccentric religious teacher and rabble rouser executed in Jerusalem. Contemporary Jews and Romans are unlikely to have perceived him as a significant figure. The fact that there is no contemporary literary evidence for Jesus' existence is not enough to claim that he didn't exist.

We do, however, have evidence for the existence of Jesus' brother, James. Josephus, the Jewish historian, records the execution of "James, the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ", in a passage which all textual critics accept as being genuinely written by Josephus (unlike Josephus' account of the Crucifixion, which is clearly a Christian invention). James was supposedly executed in the 60s CE, when Josephus was living in Jerusalem. So we have an independent source for the existence of a man called James, the brother of a Jesus who claimed the title Christ. And the Gospels and Paul tell us that Jesus had a brother called James (he's even wrongly accused of writing one of the Epistles in the New Testament!) This is, I would say, independent literary evidence for Jesus' existence.

A final point: we know that Christianity originated in Galilee and Judaea (Tacitus tells us this as well as the Gospels). Less than 20 years after the purported date of the Crucifixion, Paul tells us there was a large Christian community in Jerusalem. Is it likely that all these Jerusalemites would follow the religion of a man who supposedly lived well within living memory, and was executed in their own city, despite none of them being able to remember any of these purported deeds? It would be entirely unparallelled in all of antiquity for an invented religious figure to be located in recent histoircal time, as opposed to a distant "mythical" past, and such a religious movement could not have hoped to enjoy any success, least of all in the very regions where they claim these events took place.

Of course, absolutely none of this means we should believe that he performed miracles or was the son of God. But I'm afraid that just as you get annoyed when you read people claiming that Jesus' existence is likely, I (as a trained ancient historian) get cross when I hear people claiming that Jesus almost certainly didn't exist!

I know I said I'd be quick, but believe it or not this is quick: there are other arguments I could use! I hope all that makes sense and isn't too waffly.

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 19:09:58 UTC | #547395