Jesus: A Factual Debate

I made a post similar to this in the Pit (long story, don’t ask), and was referred here for further questioning. I’m going to present six beliefs I have about Jesus. They’re very specific, and they leave out a few important things, certainly. Anyway, here we go…

  1. A man named Jesus lived in and around modern-day Israel between 50 BC and 50 AD.

  2. This man was arrested and prosecuted for various crimes after a series of journeys.

  3. Jesus was executed by crucifixion, and was placed in an empty tomb, which was then placed under armed guard.

  4. Later, the tomb was found open and empty.

  5. Several witnesses report seeing Jesus alive and well after his execution and burial.

  6. Again, several witnesses report seeing Jesus rise in full body into the heavens.

Based on the dates at which the Gospels were written, I’m going to assume that the stories were kicked around for 50-100 years of oral tradition before they were written down.

So, here’s the question (finally): Where do those of you who don’t believe all these statements stop believing them? Why? Is it mistrust of the witnesses, or do you believe that the stories were corrupted by the oral retellings and some overzealousness? Or some other reason?

Wow, that was long-winded. Hey, it could be worse. I could be standing on a street corner now. :wink:

I certainly do believe all those things. However, I am going to allow that it is not impossible that 5 & 6 were delusions or mass hysteria. That would be the “rationalist” view. You must accept these as a matter of faith, as with any other miracle.

Certainly 1-3 are as verifable as nearly anything 2000 years ago, and there is no reaon to disbelieve #4. There does remain the possibility that the guards were bribed.

I’ll buy 1 and 2. From 3 on, you’re trying to prove your conclusion.

I remembered why I loved my wife so much when she popped out the pearl, “The most influential man in history is whoever had the bright idea to hide the body.”

Gotta love that cynical minx!

Or I could say, “He was eaten by dogs”, but that line’s been taken.

I would have to stop at #5. 1 through 4 are all reasonable and well within the bounds of what I have observed as likely/possible occurrences. As to why #5 and #6 became a part of things, it’s all guesswork. Certainly we have seen our share of “pious frauds” who will lie in order to promote their faith within the realm of Creation Science. Forged documents and photographs abound in UFO circles, and although some say Joe McCarthy’s motives were ones of personal gain, others maintain that he really believed communism was the evil conspiracy he portrayed it to be, and that he felt perfectly justified in concocting all sorts of false evidence in order to fight it.

In short, I think it likely that the whole resurrection bit was concocted by JC’s disciples, even though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they had bad intentions at heart. But obviously they would have a hard time selling a religion built around a guy, supposedly the son of God with miraculous powers, who was rounded up and executed as a common criminal.

My father the agnostic had no trouble believing there was a historical Jesus. However, he felt that the Gospels were a series of myths and tales that were attached to a set of characters, sort of like Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

I myself happen to be a practicing Christian – I only tell you his views as a part of answering the question.

I don’t find any of them incredulous, and I do find historical references to concur with all of them.

However, once you get to the last three items, a couple of things happen.

One, the list of witnesses goes down as this list goes down, and the last three being really small numbers of actual witnesses.

I mean, you probably can get into a room more people who have witnessed UFOs and believe in their heart they were from outer space, people who have had contacts with ghosts and believe that they exist, ad nauseum, than witnessed the last two items on the list.

Secondly, the credibility of those who witnessed what happened changes as the list goes down. People who ran into Jesus - a large number of folks, many of whom would have said, “Jesus… Oh yeah, I saw him on the corner preaching once… Great rabbi that one…” or similar.

At the end of the list, you have people who followed Jesus around lie a puppy dog, people who were to become the first Christians.

Now, this is not to imply that the latter things did NOT happen. Only that if one looks at the facts of the number of people who stuck with it as the story progressed and what their motivations were, it allows for skepticism.

Yer putz,
Satan :wally

Two months, two weeks, five days, 11 hours, 47 minutes and 46 seconds.
3219 cigarettes not smoked, saving $402.45.
Life saved: 1 week, 4 days, 4 hours, 15 minutes.

I’m agnostic myself, just so’s you know.
I just want to point out that it is possible to have your beliefs stop BEFORE 1. British professor G.A. Wells has written a series of books in which he makes the case that Jesus didn’t exist. (The Jesus of the Early Christains, Did Jesus Exist? , the Historical Evidence for Jesus, and others)He makes his case well, and at length. It’s been argued that he is himself “arguing from silence”, and that you can’t prove anything that way. The counter-argument is that Jesus did not, in fact, exist, then it becomes extremely difficult to prove the fact, and Wells does indeed do the best that can be done with the available facts.

wells is not alone in this – I have a few books by others making the same argument.

It has to be agreed that SOMEONE came up with the parables and sayings ascribed to Jesus, but that’s a long way from saying that whoever it was (and it may have been multiple people) lived a life anything like the life Jesus is supposed to have lived.

As for me, I’m agnostic, so I don’t believe anything. If you want a completely different interpretation, read Morton Smith’s Jesus the Magician, or The Lost Gospel.

Oh my God, Cal. You don’t believe in anything? You just killed Tinkerbell!

Dinsdale, I just don’t believe you!

(pins dead fairy in butterfly display)

Keeping in mind that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence:

  1. There are no contemporary accounts of Jesus.

The Gospels were written after his death and there are few secular historical mentions of him. Flavius Josephus (born AD 37) and Cornelius Tacitus (born AD 112) and Suetonius (AD 120). The Josephus passage may well be a forgery, as it does not seem to fit with the surrounding text and seems out of place ( ). The Suetonious passage uses the name “Chrestus” which may or may not be a misspelling of “Christus,” but Chrestus was a Greek name of the time. Tacitus’ references could have been based on Christian writings (and it was 100 years after the facts).

  1. Historical records do not support the story of Jesus’ life.

Luke claims that Jesus was born when Herod was King of Judea and when Cyrenius was Governor of Syria. Cyrenius did not become Governor until 10 years after Herod’s death ( ) No Roman census required people to return to the historical home of their ancestors. There was a census in Palestine in that time, but a local one, not the large scale one described in Luke (ibid). Their are no secular accounts of Herod killing newborns (and censorship was not absolute, it’s hard to believe that noone recorded this occurrence at the time). Pilate has been confirmed as a historical figure, though, I believe.

On Gospel contradictions: even excluding the appocryphal gospels of Thomas, Nicodemus, Mary and Peter, the 4 accepted Gospels differ on some details, such as whether the centurion approaced Jesus himself or sent a servant, and how many and who went to the tomb. I have heard this actually used as “proof” of it’s accuracy however, on the grounds that eye-witness testimonies rarely match while a fabricated account would agree on every little point (if duplicated at all). Another explanation is that the different authors had different points to stress.

And then, of course, is the whole debate on who authored the Gospels and when.


There is an addition to the Josephus passage which is very likely a forgery, but there is still a passage which mentions Jesus (and his brother) which is of extreme likelyhood to be original. The original passage is not very complimentary to JC, which prompted the later (likely) forgery.

Herod died in 4BC, but Cyrenius/Quirinius was governor TWICE, 6-4BC, and 6-9AD. Thus there is no contradiction.
The Romans had a census, of sorts, every 5 years, and implemented this in 5BC. So it appears there was a minor census in 5BC, and a later, major census in Q’s second governorship (which is mentioned by Josephus). Likely the two were confused to some degree. And Herod was a beast of the first order, killing many innocents; Asimov in his Guide to the Bible documents Herod’s killing of all the Maccabees, for eg. It has been calculated that the population of Bethleham was between 300-1000, thus the slaughter would have effected about a dozen. In those days a dozen was hardly “Front Page news”.

You also forget, that it would have been REALLY stupid to release a book that was chock full of historical inaccuracies while many were still alive that remembered those days. Nobody in the early Christian days, including the sworn enemies of Christianity had any doubts that JC lived, was an important religous leader, was executed, and that the Gospels were as correct historically as anything was in those days. Some of the Miracles, such as the Ressurection, were disputed, some claiming the guards were bribed, for instance. If JC did not exist, the Romans & the Jews would have simply said so. However, the period writings accept Him as a historical figure, without question. There are many referances to the FOLLOWERS of JC being persecuted, without any doubts as to the historical reality of JC. Only a few JC haters have doubted His historical existance. Even Isaac Asimov- an Atheist, Secular Humanist of Jewish heritage, and a cynic of the 1st order, posited no doubts at all of JC’s actual historical existance.


Why? Writing things that were patently false was in all the vogue those days. They didn’t put the same weight on the truth that we do. The romans did it, the jews did it. People would write about people being descended from gods performing otherworldly miracles. No one really thought anything of it.
Do I believe that JC was a real person. I don’t know enough eithe way, but I have enough doubts that anything is possible.


This seems to be a popular Christian harmonization. Unfortunately, it’s not true:

(from Internet Infidels)
One approach to “solve” this contradiction is to argue that Quirinius had been governor of Syria on a previous occasion, perhaps in the very time of Herod when Jesus was born. The first problem with this is that it does not appear to be possible given what we know of the career of Quirinius, since he was fighting a long war in Asia and then aiding Gaius in Armenia between 12 and 1 B.C., and we know that Quintilius Varus, not Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, was governor of Syria from 6 B.C. to beyond Herod’s death in 4 B.C. (and Saturninus from 9 B.C. to 6 B.C.), the entire time in which Jesus was to be born according to Matthew, unless we suppose a birth date prior to the year 9 (although that does not solve the problem of the census). Some have tried to appeal to a headless (and thus nameless) inscription as proving that Quirinius did hold the governorship of Syria twice, but the inscription cannot belong to Quirinius–the military achievements described do not match what we know of him, and all the details more closely fit other men, especially the infamous Piso [5]. We have no evidence at all that Quirinius served as governor of Syria twice, much less that he did so in when Herod was king.

Click on the above Url for the full article.

I qoute from Issac Asimovs Guide to the Bible, Avenel; “Luke 2:2…Cyrenius was indeed an important Roman official in the time of Augustus. His name was Quiriniuu, actually… Quirinius was in charge of Roman military affairs in Syria, an office which placed him over the legions in Judea as well, on two different occasions: from 6 to 4 BC, and from AD 6 to 9”. I believe ol’ Issac, with no axe to grind here, can be trusted, as opposed to your cite.

I also quote from a more 'pro-Bible" source- Baffling Bible Questions Answered, by Larry Richards: “It is known that the Roman Governor Quirinius took a census in AD 6 when he was Governor of Syria… records of the time suggest that Quirinius may have served two terms in Syria…”

My citation’s better than your, neener neener.

Gents, howsabout finding the sources. Where did Asimov get his info? Where did Infidels get theirs?

Which doesn’t address the question of requiring people to return to the home of their ancestors for a census, which did not and likely has never occurred. Now, this does not prove anything one way or another for the existence of Jesus, it merely casts doubt on the veracity of the account of his birth.

Ah, but surely a historian would cover "killing a dozen babies because one was rumored to be “King of the Jews.” And, it’s never been explained why, if he was so proclaimed at birth, why none of the shepherds or wise men ever showed up again, even granting that 30 years was a long time in those days. Everyone seemed completely ignorant of the events of his birth. Again, this does nothing for the argument on whether or not he existed, but merely questions the accuracy of the Gospels. Interesting point, too, is that Siddartha Buddha’s birth was also proclaimed by angels (well, the equivelant) and (also in India) the local king killed all male children born in the same time frame to try to do away with Krishna. I believe (pending verification) that both tales predate Jesus.

Personally, I’ve never studied the matter in depth and have no firm opinion. My working hypothesis is that such a person did exist, but the Gospels are only “based on a true story;” with all the accuracy that implies.


Actually, this raises another interesting point, which is somewhat related. Knowing that many mythologies/cultural histories share elements (a creation story, a flood story, etc.) how can we be sure that Buddha, Moses, Abraham, or any of the early religious leaders/founders actually lived. I’m guessing that most people see the story of the Garden of Eden as mostly myth/allegory (I do, personally), but what about the story of the Exodus? How close to true is that?

And… how much does it matter? Surely, the existence/non-existence of Jesus would make or break the faith of millions at least, but what about other religious leaders? How much of faith are we willing to accept “on faith?”

(In case you’re wondering, I still think all six statements are true.)

Actually, my guess is that Herod thought there was another descendent of the Maccabees hiding out there. His slaughter of anyone with a trace of Maccabee blood was well documented, and not thought to be all that evil, by the way, just insecure. If you mentioned “King of the Jews” to Herod, he automatically thought Maccabee, and to Herod to think “Maccabee” was to order them put to death. He even had the High Priest executed, because of his Maccabeen blood.

Also, I will grant that there very well could have been confusion over what happened when, especially when you are trying to put down on paper something that you got 3rd hand, after 70 years. The wording seems almost purposely inexact,
ie “in those days” “began to be about” “and this taxing was first made”.

There does seem to be excellent evidence that many of the sayings of JC were written down first hand, and recorded for posterity. No reasonable Biblical scholar doubts this.

Is the Quintilius Varus mentioned above as one of the Syrian governors the same Varus that was beaten by Arminius in the Teutoburg Forest? I wonder if he did something to piss off the youngster Jesus, who in an old fashioned, Old Testament fit of pique arranged to have him sent off to Germany and suffer the worst Roman ass-whomping between Cannae and Adrianople.


I actually DO have books that make precisely those claims – that Buddha did not exist, that other OT characters were fiction or at best symbols for an entire tribe. Even that Mohammed did not exist. These are reasoned works, nt crackpot ravings. Some of the cases they make are good and thought-provoking. The same arguments have been made for Zoroaster and Lao Tze. I’ve never heard it about Confucius, though.

Of course, the fact that one can raise reasonable doubts proves nothing. But it does make you think.