Is anyone in the Bible real?

Since this is a question about religion and the Bible and that sort of thing, I hope to tread lightly in my asking of this and that others will try to tread lightly in the replies. I’m not looking to debate God, the Bible, religion, or the possible existence of anything related to that at all…I’m merely looking for a factual answer to: Did anyone who is mentioned in the Bible really exist, for sure?
This question came from me looking up info about Moses and David and Solomon just now… I always thought they were real people who actually existed in real life, far back in history, but I was surprised to find out that there is actually very little evidence that any of them actually existed at all.

So that got me thinking: Surely someone mentioned in the Bible had to exist eventually… Or is that totally wrong? Is there any point, in the line/succession of kings where there is little to no evidence of one existing, but definite proof that the next king that took the throne existed?
I started clicking on the “next” buttons for Kings of Israel…and got as far as Jeroboam, who seems to have actually existed, but I’m not certain. And unlike his father Asa (of which Wikipedia has the disclaimer the only proof of his reign is from the Bible), Jehoshaphat’s page doesn’t seem to have one.

At what point did the line go from “probably fictional” to “most likely real”? At what person?

I’m not sure if you’re referring to only the Old Testament, but there is a reliable cite that Jesus did indeed exist; He is referred to briefly by the Jewish/Roman historian Josephus who lived shortly after Jesus (about 37-100 CE according to Wikipedia)

Luke 2:1 mentions Caesar Augustus. Does he meet your standard of sufficient proof?

How is a cite by a guy who was not born when Jesus was supposed to be alive considered reliable?

However, I was under the impression there was ample evidence for the existence of Herod and a number of Romans. Is that not the case?

Pontius Pilate was really the prefect of Judea and is known from other sources besides the bible.

But the Testimonium Flavianum is widely believed by modern scholars to have been inserted during the fourth century by another author.

The bible is a collection of texts written by different (most unknown) people over a long period of time, and only subsequently assigned the status of “scripture”. Lots of people mentioned in these texts are widely accepted as historical figures. Apart from political figures like Caesar Augustus, Herod, Cyrus the Great, Pontius Pilate, etc, I don’t think anybody seriously challenges the historicity of, eg. Saul/Paul of Tarsus.

Obviously, the older the text, the less likely that it is that there will be external corroboration of the historicity of anyone mentioned it it, and it’s unsurprising that the best-attested characters are political and military leaders and people from outside Israel, who are most likely to be mentioned in non-biblical chronicles. The conclusion, though, is not that the unattested figures didn’t exist; just that we can’t really know whether they existed or not.

That’s not to say that in some cases there might not be other reasons for doubting the existence of some figures - Adam and Eve, as one obvious example. But the lack of external corroboration isn’t in itself evidence against the historicity of a figure for whom we would have no reason to expect to find external corroboration. Why would any culture outside Israel bother to record anything about, e.g, the minor prophets of Israel? So the fact that we have no independent evidence of Hosea tells us nothing, one way or the other, about whether Hosea existed.

There is debate over the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth - some of it conducted on these very boards. I think it’s fair to say that the majority view among historians of the period is that, yes, Jesus of Nazareth is a historical figure. Which is not to say that everything said about him in the Christian scriptures is taken to be historically accurate.

The Mesha Stele, which “bears the earliest certain extra-biblical reference to the Israelite God Yahweh” mentions Omri and his son, the great Kings of Israel from the 9th century BC. It tells stories recognizably the same as 2 Kings, though the perspective is different. Recall that Omri’s son Ahab was married to Jezebel of Tyre, the famous Old Testament villainess.

The same document contains a controversial reference to the “House of David.”

List of biblical figures identified in extra-biblical sources.

Generally around 1000BC is the earliest date at which there is sufficient archaeological record to ascertain the existence of most of the persons mentioned.

It does get complicated. In some cases the real person is known by a different name in the Bible; for example Shishak is generally accepted to be the Pharoah Shoshenq I.

Belshazzar, of writing on the wall fame; is now thought to be a real person; however his position was misinterpreted; he was not a King, he was the King’s eldest son.

Look, I’m not going to intrude on this thread the way I did the other one. I’m just curious. What are the sources which verify Paul’s existence?

I’m not trying to debate you I Just wonder what those sources are.

And: what about John The Baptist and Peter?

The primary evidence for the existence of Paul is the texts that are attributed to him.

Obviously, someone wrote those texts. They didn’t grow on trees. And they have been subject to exhaustive scholarly analysis which enables us to identify (not in a faith-based way) those of them which probably are all the work of one man, and those where this is doubtful, or probably not the case.

Scholars accept that the bulk of the writings attributed to Paul probably are by the same person. And the biographical information they contain - largely about the missionary journeys of Paul - is unlikely to be false because, if it were false, it would have been very easily refuted in the author’s own time. Why would somebody spend a couple of decades compiling a series of texts making easily-refuted claims? And, if he did do that, why have we no evidence of their ever being refuted?

So, the parsimonious explanation for the existence of the letters of Paul is that Paul is a real person who wrote the letters and the (limited) biographical information they contain about Paul is, basically, true (if somewhat coloured). To think otherwise we have to make an awful lot of unevidenced and not very probable conjectures.

John the Baptist is attested by several independent sources - John (the Fourth Evangelist), the Synpotics, the Gospel of the Nazarenes, Josephus. True, some of those sources were later compiled by Christian believers into “the Bible”, but I don’t think how the text is handled after it has been written can affect its historical credibility.

Peter is attested by John, the Synoptics and Paul. (There are also texts attributed to him, but I think historians generally don’t accept that attribution as reliable or even likely).

Josephus basically wrote down much of the oral history (aka “gossip”) of his time. Whether you consider this “proof” for anything depends on your standards. There are plenty of other sources for people like Herod; there was even a full archeological exhibit at the museum in Jerusalem a few years ago; they have dug up what they think was his grave. Herod was a friend of some high-0ranking Romans (as was Josephus). Emperor Augustus is reported to have joked (by a Roman source) “it is better to be Herod’s pig than his son…” since Herod ate kosher but executed some of his sons for conspiring against him.

Josephus also describes that Herod Antipas (son of* the* Herod) lost a battle with his once father-in-law and his army was destroyed and some people believed it was because he had executed a holy man named John “called the Baptist”. This passage is generally thought to be part of the original, not a Christian insertion centuries later, because it does not mention the whole Salome thing, just the execution happening. Like most stuff written down long after the fact (decades later) the timeline is confusing.

Josephus also mentions Jesus and his brother James; he has this to say about Jesus:

There’s a general consensus that this was a genuine mention by Josephus - but that there were some insertions (bold italic) probably added by later transcribers of the text to assert Jesus’ divinity. But… here’s a guy who mentions someone who lived in his neck of the desert maybe 40 or 50 years after the fact. That’s as close as documentary fact as you are going to get, for 2000 years ago. It’s not like someone has Jesus’ long form birth certificate.

OTOH, for someone like Paul, we have only his bible writings, and the Acts. Anything else is 50 to 100 years afterwards by other Christians and not very specific.

For old testament characters, other than invading big empires, there’s very little evidence. OTOH, a lot of stories are specific (sometimes) about locale. So it’s pretty specific where the fight between David and Goliath happened - but no evidence corroborates their existence, other than that “House of David” reference. Moses? There’s nothing in the extensive writings of Egypt about Jewish slaves, their escape, seven plagues, or an army drowning at sea. There’s archaeological evidence of the Israelites taking over the area they inhabited about the right time (1000BC). The Babylonian exile and return happened. Later Egyptian writings mention the Israelite kingdom… and so on. Specific people? Less definite. And like George Washington and the cherry tree, fanciful stories have often been spun about historical characters.

Ok, that was a good explanation… but… I thought there were records (from the Roman Perspective) of Paul being in prison???

There are ample records of the tradition that Paul was imprisoned in the Mamertine Prison in Rome, but so far as I know there are no prison records of Paul (or anyone else) being imprisoned there.

Ah, ok.

I agree he was a pretty good writer. If all of his letters are consistent that says something at least. I think he is the best of the NT writers.

I know this isn’t IMHO but I agree, those books attributed to him are my favorite parts of The Bible.

Is Josephus somehow less reliable than Plutarch? Plutarch routinely wrote about people who have lived centuries before his own life but nobody disputes the historical existence of people like Alcibiades or Pericles.

Yes, and Josephus actually was an eyewitness to a lot of what he wrote; for instance in the Jewish war.

If Plutarch had only written half a paragraph about Alcibiades or Pericles based on local oral history and this was the only reference to them outside of second hand religious texts describing acts that had little to no influence on history in the region, then they’d be disputed as well.

You can hardly think that the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth had “little or no influence on the history of the region”.