Did Jesus really exist?
This is a question that is definitely controversial. Some people may even get offended for the sole fact that it is being posed. Furthermore, it can easily trigger acts of hate against people who voice it. However, in spite of possible negative reaction, it forms part of a fascinating subject which deserves to be analyzed in an objective way. In the following paragraphs I will show the information that is available. It has to be pointed out that there are extensive written records of the important events which happened in the times of the Roman Empire.
The people who would answer "yes!" to the question will argue that Jesus existed because it is in the Gospels. However, if we are analyzing the topic in an objective way, we cannot take the Gospels as necesarily being correct since they were picked up to be in the Bible in order to reinforce the belief in Jesus' existence and his godly nature. Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge that the Gospels might be referring to some historical figure because the Gospels that were not chosen to be in the Bible also mention Jesus, with variable degrees of divinity. So, the divinity of Jesus might not be part of history, but the existence of a being with that name who had followers around 30 CE could be true.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who lived in the first century CE, mentioned Jesus in his famous Testimonium Flavianum. However, it is also said that the document was forged in order to boost the belief in the existence of Jesus. The reason to believe there was a forge is the finding of a document with an alternate version of the paragraphs in which Jesus is mentioned.
Pliny the Younger, at the time governor of the Roman provinces of Pontus and Bithynia wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan in 112 CE. In that letter he asked for advise about how to deal with a group of individuals who called themselves "Christians" and who revered a "Christus" as a god. He does not mention the word "Jesus". "Christus" is Greek for anointed. Anyone who is to be revered has the right of being a Christus, therefore, although being a possible early mention to Jesus, it is not convincing enough.
Gaius Suetonius, also in 112 CE, wrote ,as part of the biography of Emperor Claudius, that there were Jews who were causing trouble inspired by "Chrestus". The problems with this reference is that the name Jesus is not used and that it seems to describe events that happened in 54 CE.
Tacitus wrote in 116 CE 2 paragraphs in which he described the existence of Christians in Emperor Nero's time and that they followed the example of Jesus, who was executed during Pontus Pilate's government of the Roman province of Judea. He expressed himself very negatively about the Christians, paradoxically giving more credibility to his account.
Summarizing, the fact that we have such minimal references to Jesus at times in which records were kept of important events, probably means that if he existed, it was not an important personality. His importance was therefore magnified by other writers and religious leaders of the early Christian churches. I personally lean slightly in favor of his existence, only after reading Tacitus's account. This article has nothing to do with faith, because in order for believers to believe, historical proof is not important.