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If Jesus Never Existed...


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If it was somehow proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was never a historical Jesus at all that the gospels were based on and the entire story of the NT narrative was mythological, would you still be a PC? How would the lack of a historical Jesus impact the way you see the bible and Christianity?

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This is a good question. And I understand it is hypothetical, but I'd just like to first note, one might wonder what kind of proof would have to surface that would actually prove Jesus didn't exist. It would be hard to find proof in general, that is, negative proof, of the non-existence of a person or thing. But I'm sure you already know that.

 

Now, if it were proven, I think it would impact a lot of progressive Christian thought of the kind that is rooted in historical reconstructions of Jesus, like Borg's 'Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.' It would change the way we relate to the Gospels. I, for one, relate to the texts with some amount of belief in their historicity. Not that my faith truly rests in their historical accuracy. But the way I read it and tend to draw from them, assumes that there was pre-Easter Jesus.

 

Obviously then I think the evidence definitely supports that there was a historical Jesus; few scholars seem to disagree. I do however read the Gospel narrative as myth primarily, history secondarily; plus, the heart of my religious practice has very little to do with historical considerations. Krishna can hardly be considered a historical figure, yet his life is still considered efficacious in Hindu religion. As such, I think PC theology would change but as a movement it would not die. PCs are already very comfortable, it seems, with the role of myth in their faith.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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There have been some attempts by various authors to show comparisions between Christianty and pagan religions as "proof" Christianity stole its religion from the pagans. And then there was that horrible Zeitgeist movie, but even those would only prove that the mythology was lifted from pagan myths, not that there was no historical man beneath the myths, if you accepted that as "proof." The only way I could think of as proof would be like if somebody had discovered a lost letter of Paul where Paul writes he invented the character of Jesus to make up his own religion or something like that. You're right though about it being impossible to prove a negative, but if it turned out there was no Jesus, do you think progressive Christianity would become more of a life philosphophy than a religious movement like atheistic Buddhism?

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If it was somehow proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was never a historical Jesus at all that the gospels were based on and the entire story of the NT narrative was mythological, would you still be a PC? How would the lack of a historical Jesus impact the way you see the bible and Christianity?

 

Jesus and what He stands for will always exist in the hearts of those who 'know' Him. He will always exist in those who know the freedom that comes from living according to His teachings. Love certainly exists; Jesus epitomized love, He epitomized what it means to love not only God, but our neighbors as ourselves. Whether He existed historically makes little difference to me, as in the end, it isn't the man we honor, but that which the man stood for.

 

James

Edited by DHAWLIA
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Krishna can hardly be considered a historical figure, yet his life is still considered efficacious in Hindu religion.

Interestingly the ancient Christians, the Gnostics, believed that Jesus' physical body was just an illusion but he still had a lot of meaning in their lives and faith.
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There have been some attempts by various authors to show comparisions between Christianty and pagan religions as "proof" Christianity stole its religion from the pagans. And then there was that horrible Zeitgeist movie, but even those would only prove that the mythology was lifted from pagan myths, not that there was no historical man beneath the myths, if you accepted that as "proof." The only way I could think of as proof would be like if somebody had discovered a lost letter of Paul where Paul writes he invented the character of Jesus to make up his own religion or something like that. You're right though about it being impossible to prove a negative, but if it turned out there was no Jesus, do you think progressive Christianity would become more of a life philosphophy than a religious movement like atheistic Buddhism?

 

It is true that many authors have tried to tie Christianity in with various pagan religions, and in a way there is definite substance to such arguments. It is true that many of the practices and dogmas of the Church, including the virgin birth, either have precedent in other traditions or the Church directly incorporated them through cultural assimilation. Some authors though, as you point out with the Zeitgeist movie, I think greatly overstate that point, and some outright lie (as far as I can tell) about it. To me it is rather outlandish to claim that the New Testament writers directly copied point-for-point from other religious traditions, and I am not aware of any genuine scholarship that backs it up. For instance I am somewhat familiar with the Krishna story, and what I do know about it directly contradicts what many 'Zeitgeisters' have to say about it. I do however believe much of what the New Testament has to say about Jesus qualifies as 'myth,' not in a bad sense, and you are right that the mythology surrounding Jesus does not negate his historical existence.

 

But if it did turn out that there was no Jesus, I do not see why PC would lose its religious nature and become just a philosophy any more than Hinduism loses its religious nature if Krishna is seen as myth rather than history. In the publisher's introduction to a book written by a contemporary Hindu mystic named Devi Vanamali, entitled 'The Play of God: Visions of the Life of Krishna', it says:

 

'At one of her [the author's] talks, someone asked about whether Krishna is an actual historical figure. Her answer was interesting. Devi, whose whole life is lived in devotion to her Lord Krishna, said that if it was proved that Jesus Christ was not an actual historical figure, many Christians would feel that the underpinnings of their faith had been destroyed. But if it was proved that Krishna was not an actual historical figure, Hindus would hardly care! The message of this book is of a reality that transcends cultural and historical particularities.'

 

I think it is possible for the same to be stated for Christianity. That is why Jesus for the Church never stayed dead; he never remained a 'historical figure', that is, a figure of the past. For the Church he has remained an ever-present, living reality, and that is the only place he can be if he is to remain relevant.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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If it was somehow proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was never a historical Jesus at all that the gospels were based on and the entire story of the NT narrative was mythological, would you still be a PC? How would the lack of a historical Jesus impact the way you see the bible and Christianity?

 

NG,

 

Personally it would make no difference for me. Many of the teaching that were attributed to Jesus were experienced personally and were transformative in my life. Whether there was an actual historical Jesus, at this time, would make no difference in my life. It seems to me, it is the teaching that is most important, rather than the individual.

 

Love in Christ,

Joseph

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Some authors though, as you point out with the Zeitgeist movie, I think greatly overstate that point, and some outright lie (as far as I can tell) about it. To me it is rather outlandish to claim that the New Testament writers directly copied point-for-point from other religious traditions, and I am not aware of any genuine scholarship that backs it up.

I think there's more myth in the NT that's "copied" from the Hebrew bible than I think from paganism myself. Like I side with Borg and Spong that the virgin birth myth is a Jewish midrash on the Hebrew scriptures. There's one scholar I know of who holds to the view Jesus never existed, Robert M. Price, but he holds to this view that the Jesus character is based on multiple messiah figures.
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The beliefs that support and influence my thoughts and actions come from a tradition that I see in Christianity that has existed since at least the second century. It centers on the words and actions of those who have supported the poor and oppressed and who have opposed what I call the "domination systems" of their various times. I have redefined words such as Christ, Lord, and Savior to reflect that tradition. So in that way Jesus exists in that tradition, and his existence as a real person is sort of incidental. However, I do take the Bible very seriously, and rely on my understanding of it to inform my thinking. And yes, I do pick and choose, as that is how one gains from it what is helpful, discarding that which is not.

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If it was somehow proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was never a historical Jesus at all that the gospels were based on and the entire story of the NT narrative was mythological, would you still be a PC? How would the lack of a historical Jesus impact the way you see the bible and Christianity?

 

I don't think it particularly matters, to be honest. We could continue to use the same name, or we could revert to Odin, and just carry on; it makes very little difference.

 

What matters to me is, can I find a better way to live my life, and a more meaningful relationship with that which is beyond humanity, and beyond creation. If I find that through Christ as I have found him to be, that reality is not impacted by historical 'proof'. It is about who I am as much as it is about who the Lord is to me.

 

In other words, to 'disprove' the historical Jesus does not just require proof that he did not exist; it would also require proof that I do not exist.

Edited by Anglocatholic
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  • 2 weeks later...

If it was somehow proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was never a historical Jesus at all that the gospels were based on and the entire story of the NT narrative was mythological, would you still be a PC? How would the lack of a historical Jesus impact the way you see the bible and Christianity?

 

I don't believe there is enough evidence to support Jesus as a historical figure, though I do still remain a fence-sitter and am open to the other side of the fence. There has been no one who has provided me enough information to get off this fence in either direction, no person, no author, no pastor, and not even God Himself has made any petition I change my view (meaning it probably doesn't matter a whole lot). The lack of a historical Jesus hasn't impacted my Christianity at all, nor my views on the Bible (a book created by man). The Christ story is still important in my personal life and in my reconciliation with God whether there was a man to be hung physically on a cross or not.

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I don't believe there is enough evidence to support Jesus as a historical figure, though I do still remain a fence-sitter and am open to the other side of the fence. There has been no one who has provided me enough information to get off this fence in either direction, no person, no author, no pastor, and not even God Himself has made any petition I change my view (meaning it probably doesn't matter a whole lot). The lack of a historical Jesus hasn't impacted my Christianity at all, nor my views on the Bible (a book created by man). The Christ story is still important in my personal life and in my reconciliation with God whether there was a man to be hung physically on a cross or not.

This is an interesting distinction. Do you not think that there must have been someone, however different from the Biblical version, on whom the Bible version was based?

 

Even Santa can be traced to a historical figure; St Nicholas of Smyrna. Similarly, mythical characters such as Zeus and Odin are postulated as being based on shamen figures in prehistory, rather than conjured out of thin air.

 

It seems unlikely to me that such a rich, and relatively recent, Christian tradition could be fabricated out of a wholly mythical or imaginary creation.

 

We know that Julius Caesar existed. We also know that not everything that he became in tradition or myth can be believed of an actual human being. He was a very famous, very well attested person, and for every such person there are millions who live in obscurity, and leave no 'evidence' behind them. And yet we know they must have existed, or else we ourselves would not exist.

 

In other words, perhaps there is some kind of evidence in the church itself? As Charles Dickens says of the French Revolution, there is no such thing in history as a harvest that is reaped, which was not first sown.

 

If the church is the harvest, then who did the sowing, if not some variant of the historical Jesus? What alternative is there? Paul? James? John the Baptist? But their existence also lacks evidence, if we discount the Scriptures.

 

I am not intending to change your mind on this; that is really your choice, but it seems to me to require a lot more faith NOT to believe in the historical Jesus than to accept that there was such a man, just as there was the Buddha, and Mohammed, and Gandhi, for that matter, and then to try to work out we think that this actually means.

Edited by Anglocatholic
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This is an interesting distinction. Do you not think that there must have been someone, however different from the Biblical version, on whom the Bible version was based?

 

As mentioned, I am a fence sitter at the end of the day.. however ;)

 

I do lean strongly toward not believing there was a historical man, no. I believe the bible stories were most likely compilations are far earlier mythologies and literature, that the Christ concept is most likely as old as time itself, which actually gives me strength in belief, rather than taking it away.

 

 

 

I am not intending to change your mind on this; that is really your choice

 

I appreciate that :)

 

But I have no interest in debate.. [Edit: I find it a shame that these things must be put in a forum called "Debate and dialogue" -- I'd much prefer just discussion over debate.] I don't come to change people's minds either.. Just to share, and read.

 

I began responding to every part of your post but.. I quickly realized I had no interest in doing so. I mean, I could sit here and respond to every point, and someone else will come along and do the same to me, and I'll be stuck in this bloody endless loop of insanity trying to defend my beliefs..

 

.. and if there's one thing an Agoraphobic person hates the most, it's being trapped.

 

So I steer clear of debate ;) No one needs to believe as I do, afterall.

 

 

but it seems to me to require a lot more faith NOT to believe in the historical Jesus than to accept that there was such a man

 

Not nearly as much as you might think. :)

 

I've spent my short life (I'm 28 but I've been studying religion since I can remember, it's truly been my one and only consistent passion -- had I not been so agoraphobic I should have gone to university to study professionally. Eh, I am what I am...)

 

I have not come to my conclusions lightly or flippantly, I assure you.

Edited by ada
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My computer crashed while trying to edit the last post.. by the time I got back, I couldn't edit it anymore. I hate timed edit windows, lol.

 

That last paragraph ended up incomplete, it should read:

 

 

"I've spent my short life (I'm 28 but I've been studying religion since I can remember, it's truly been my one and only consistent passion -- had I not been so agoraphobic I should have gone to university to study professionally. Eh, I am what I am...)
studying religion and spirituality.
"

 

 

I also want to add an emphasis that I am still a fence-sitter on the issue at the end of the day! I'm willing to swing one way or another with enough information and knowledge on the subject, but for now I am seated on my fence contently, facing the direction which has provided me the most information to date.

 

I'm always open to change and knowledge and learning. I have not ceased to learn... when we cease to learn, we truly die. :)

 

 

 

Edited by ada
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Hi all.

Like I said I work with the assumption that Jesus was a historical figure. For reasons, including those that Anglocatholic provides, which to me are not very easily dismissed, and taking into consideration that, from what I've seen, the scholarly consensus works with the assumption that there was a pre-Easter Jesus, I think to say that Jesus was entirely made-up is to go too far. I suppose it is similar in the case of Socrates, who never wrote anything and whose historical existence is confirmed by his students.

But ultimately it doesn't matter, because it is the mythical and mystical attributes that the church has found in Jesus that defines him and makes him what he is for us. In this sense the 'Christ' is timeless. My knowledge of the subject is by no means exhaustive - I studied the subject only enough to get a sense that nobody actually knows for certain who Jesus was from a historical-critical perspective.

There is another perspective, a religious one, however, in which a person may 'know' who Jesus is, and that's more important.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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But ultimately it doesn't matter, because it is the mythical and mystical attributes that the church has found in Jesus that defines him and makes him what he is for us. In this sense the 'Christ' is timeless. My knowledge of the subject is by no means exhaustive - I studied the subject only enough to get a sense that nobody actually knows for certain who Jesus was from a historical-critical perspective.

 

 

 

Good post. I particularly enjoy the above, and agree with you here for sure. Especially the underlined portion :)

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Thanks Ada. I certainly wouldn't make any disagreement we may have a point of contention because to me it simply doesn't matter. To dispute who Jesus was becomes a matter of academic debate - to me who Jesus was is not as important as who Jesus is. By this I mean that from a historical perspective I think the church certainly 'invented' Jesus to a large degree, and that Christianity is not, and probably should not be, all about who he was.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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I wrote a short fiction story called The Uncertainty Principle about an experience I had when I discovered Taoism. I was hooked by the opening of the Tao Te Ching, “The word that can be spoken is not the true word, the name that can be named is not the true name.” When I read this, my head snapped around almost quick enough to break my neck. “Who said that!” In the game I play, every description reveals the position of the person describing it, and Lao Tzu was standing in a place that I had stood, and it was a place I considered very difficult to reach.

 

I would say the same about what I call the Hero Jesus story. I agree with JosephM -

 

“Many of the teaching that were attributed to Jesus were experienced personally and were transformative in my life.” The most potent part of the Hero Jesus story for me is while he hangs dying on the cross and says – forgive them, they know not what they do. In my opinion, this is a description from a place very difficult to reach. Maybe it never happened, and some writer made it up. Would that matter to me? Yes, somewhat. But I would still like to know who DID stand there, and see that. Because the real author's life might reveal an even better hero story. I love a good hero story.

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If it was somehow proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was never a historical Jesus at all that the gospels were based on and the entire story of the NT narrative was mythological, would you still be a PC? How would the lack of a historical Jesus impact the way you see the bible and Christianity?

 

Good question, and I find myself at odds with most of the other posts on this board. I find the existence of the historical Jesus to be vital to my identification with the term Christianity. I find very little of value in the term Christian without a historic figure behind it. At this point it is scholastically accepted that the man did exist, and no evidence that he was a literary construct. Even the camp that claims he is a composition of several Messiah figures is on the very fringe of credibility. The search for a historical Jesus is an ongoing scientific endeavor and much has been discovered and written since the Jesus Seminar was founded in 1985 for the purpose of exposing the historical Jesus. No one is actually disputing his existence as a real person at this point in time and still retaining any academic credibility.

It is also widely accepted academically that most of the New Testament accounts of Jesus are written with emphasis on the fantastic rather than the factual, and none written by anyone who actually knew him. Some statements in the Gospels are obviously pure fiction as well. There was no malicious intent to mislead followers in these fabrications of truth, but there was the intention of tying this man, Jesus, into the existing myths, legends, and religious practices of that time in history.

While there are specifics of his life that can only be imagined using our limited knowledge of life in Nazareth during the 1st century and a whole lot of speculation there is one thing that remains immutable in my mind. At some point, a man named Yeshu lived, and the men and women that encountered him had a transcendent experience associated with him that was so profound they came to feel that he was touched by the divine. We may never know what that experience was, or who he truly was, and we can prove the historical inaccuracy of the scriptures associated with him, but we cannot deny the literal truth of his impact on his followers.

So, without the historical man behind the myth, the movement would have never been spawned, and Christianity would never have been born, and we wouldn't have this discussion. Without the man behind the myth available for my contemplation I would probably stick to the Tao Te Ching. It is not the parables and the myths of the Bible that grab me. I find the Bible to be one of the most tedious and unenjoyable reads on my bookshelf when compared to other works in it's company. It has been by looking through the text and engaging in a deeper search for this man, Jesus that leads me to identify with the term Christian, and to understand just how radical and revolutionary he was before his message was edited, embellished, and institutionalized into the Jesus of the western Christian Church.

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I began responding to every part of your post but.. I quickly realized I had no interest in doing so. I mean, I could sit here and respond to every point, and someone else will come along and do the same to me, and I'll be stuck in this bloody endless loop of insanity trying to defend my beliefs..

 

.. and if there's one thing an Agoraphobic person hates the most, it's being trapped.

 

 

That is not very friendly, is it? How would your agoraphobia have responded to being on the receiving end of these particular words, do you think? Mine is struggling with them, to be honest, particularly the very unfortunate term 'loop of insanity'.

 

The problem with being a broken person is that we often think we are the only one who is broken, in a world of whole, healthy, sound people. We are not. Everyone is broken, in a different way. I am as prone to this as anyone else, and I recognise it in you.

 

I think, therefore, the best thing for me to do is to accept all that you say as being not for discussion, and will refrain from commenting further.

Edited by Anglocatholic
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Good question, and I find myself at odds with most of the other posts on this board. I find the existence of the historical Jesus to be vital to my identification with the term Christianity. I find very little of value in the term Christian without a historic figure behind it.

 

I agree.

 

I don't mind other people having another interpretation, but to me the historical Jesus is as real as any other historical figure; all are necessarily distorted by the passing of time and by the addition of mythologies, but that does not negate the reality of the originals; it just makes identifying the authentic realities a bit harder (and perhaps, with some figures, mostly impossible.)

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As to the existence of Jesus, I certainly support the desire of those for whom that existence is necessary, though that is not the case for me. Yesterday I read a review of a book by Robert M. Price called Deconstructing Jesus. In the book, Price makes what for me is a pretty good case for the likelihood that there is no actual Jesus as described in the Gospels. Yet he is open to the possibility that there is. Just a thought.

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Price's book is on my future reading list. I just completed Gospel Truth, by Russell Shorto. He does a good job of presenting the case from a scholastic, theological, skeptic, and literalist perspective. It is a really good read for anyone into the topic. I'm a bit fixated on it myself. Most scholastic theories are generated with a variety of models. All of the known evidence is placed on a timeline. hen a theoretical model is generated using guesswork based on anthropological models, Greek crossover philosophies, even hypothetical documents to fill in the blanks.

All arguments are incredibly weak on hard evidence, and isn't a scientist's guesswork no different than a Christian's faith? They both require one who believes in them to embrace the unknown. For myself, the scholastic pursuit of a historical Jesus has been faith enhancing.

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Price is also working on a new book in which he debates whether or not Paul really existed. His theory is that Paul is really Simon Magus who he believes was a follower of Marcion and Paul's letters were written by Marcion and his followers or something like that.

Edited by Neon Genesis
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From my layman's perspective, It is a far reach to claim that Paul never existed. Most of the research that I have read used the Judaic historian, Josephus, as a litmus test for historical relevancy. His work is detailed, archaeologically, and academically defendable. He goes into detail on John the Baptist, touches on Jesus, and gives Paul an honorable mention without the motive of promoting them. It is, however, widely acknowledged that a good portion of the work he is given credit for was actually written by other people.

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