Multae Sententiae is Latin for "many thoughts". Free thinking leads to Enlightenment. Enlightenment leads to happiness...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 CE

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.


Blogger The Intolerant One said...

I appreciate your closing statement:

"in order for believers to believe, historical proof is not important."

Very accurate. Even as a Christian I have certainly pondered some of the suggestions and questions you have in your article.

I think it's important to note the fact that even today, 2,000 years after the death (and as I believe) ressurection of Jesus Christ, he still mangaes to provoke debate, discussion, and passion(sometimes heated) among believers and non-believers alike. This I believe is a testimony unto itself of his existence.

Never in history has one individual come into the world and turned it upside down the way He has. Movies are made about him and also some that slander him. Likewise with the arts and books. He is mentioned in everyday language, for me it is praise, to others he is another curse word.

I searched for some of these same answers you appear to be looking for yourself. Too much for me to write about or even remember.

I do not know Marco if you like to read alot but if you do(and you impress me as a man who seeks out all the knowledge he can) I would like to suggest a very excellent book that helped me with alot of the curiousity about the existence of Christ.

It is called "The case for Christ" by former investigative journalist Lee Strobel. It is a very intriguing read as Lee, like yourself, was an atheist.

Combining his lawyer like skills(he has a masters in law) to weigh the evidence with his investigative journalist skills, he set out on a 2 year journey too pose the toughest questions to the worlds top scholars and historians in order to prove to his own wife (she had recently converted to Christianity) that the claims of Christ were false.

He journaled it into the book that became "The case for Christ" and at the end of the 2 years, in his opinion, discovered the evidence to be overwhelming regarding the claims. At the end of his 2 year investigative journey, due to the evidence, Lee became a Christian.

Check out his book Marco. It may address some of the very legitimate questions you pose in your article. Lee, like yourself, is a man who wanted "evidence" and "facts".

9:10 PM  
Blogger Alanita said...

I second that motion :)

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

The difference between me and Intolerant and Alanita is that they want to believe, they want to arrive to the conclusion that Jesus existed. Myself, I really do not mind if he existed or not. I just try to be as unbiased as possible, analyze the little information which is available, and attempt to obtain a personal conclusion. Other person might obtain, using the same information, the opposite conclusion and he or she would not be wrong either.

Intolerant: I will check on the book you recommended

8:07 PM  
Blogger The Intolerant One said...

Correction Marco...I do not WANT to believe...I DO!

Hope you find a copy of the book. I recognize your unbias which is why I felt free to recommend the book to you.

11:58 PM  
Blogger Nik Saunders said...

i find it fascinating that believers will believe without historical proof. if i was a christian, i would be doing nothing but trying to find the historical evidence of Jesus and the events which surrounded him,
particularly the miracles

2:18 AM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Intolerant: That is what I meant, sorry if I was not clear. You do want to believe. That makes you a faithful believer. I am an skeptic

6:40 AM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Niki: You are right, however, a religious person would tell you that thay base themselves in faith, not in evidence. Actually, it is the complete opposite.

6:43 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

I can't read the historical stuff in the original languages, so I'll just accept that it's likely that he existed. However, I see no evidence that he was divine, even if he did exist. Why come to earth and not show the poor benighted people of the old world the glory of tomatoes, potatoes, or chocolate. That's just evil.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Alanita said...

Again--I'm standing right beside the intolerant one...I also do not "want to believe" as you mention. But I do, because it's something as plain as day to me. It's as fact based as science to me...just on a different realm: a spiritual realm that you know nothing about. But don't you worry, Dr. Marco--I am praying for ya. God will get you someday! :)LMAO

1:58 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Alanita: I disagree with your analogy with science since any scientific paper is analized rigourously and the true scientist has no faith at all, at least with respect to his job. He has to doubt and see other experiments showing the same results before accepting something as a fact. There is nothing like that in a religious belief.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Foilwoman: Evidence of divinity is something that is impossible to obtain. An evidence belongs to the natural world. A divinity belongs to the supernatural (imaginary for some people) world. This is why there will never be "an evidence" of any god. that is why I chose to be an Atheist.

6:57 PM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Bueno Sr. Dr. Marcos, let me be clear. I don't expect proof (and since I don't believe, I think it highly unlikely that I would find proof) that god exists. However, for a kind and loving god to creat a portion of this world for any period of time where women with PMS existed but did not have access to chocolate. That's a bad god. Bad, bad, bad god. That's my final statement on the subject.

Rather than believing in such a benighted and malevolent deity, I believe there is no god. The universe thus seems somewhat less harsh and hateful -- it wasn't intentional, you see?

10:15 PM  
Blogger KA said...

Dr. Marco:
Haven't read Strobel's book, but from what I understand, Strobel interviewed 11 experts, all on one side. It doesn't sound very objective to me.

Tacitus' reference to 'Chrestus', BTW, is that the translation is actually 'Honored one'.

Suetonius was given to hyperbole (he actually gave an eyewitness account to the birth of a phoenix).

There are multiple reasons I contest the historical veracity of said person, which I illustrate at my website.

That the myth has persisted so long is intriguing.

Since Theodosius' edict, I'd theorize that since Xtianity came into power, the folks in charge held tight the reins of power (it was actually against the law NOT to be Xtian, for many centuries, in Europe).

Not to mention the burning of documents, the wholesale squelching of opposing ideologies (& they were numerous).

I believe in the book, "Lies my teacher told me", it states that 'Morality cannot be determined by history'.

I say it goes to track record, myself.

1:55 AM  
Blogger The Intolerant One said...

Marco: No need for an apology I just wanted my point clarified that I already believe. But thank you anyway.

RA: You are correct when you say Strobel interviewed people all on the same side. He did this with INTENT as an atheist (at the time) in order to try and stump them. Read the book and draw your own conclusions.

8:45 PM  
Blogger KA said...

Intolerant One:
I understand your point.
However, I feel that journalists should provide a balanced viewpoint. 1-sided is just that: 1-sided.
Jeff Lowder has an interesting criticism here:

9:59 PM  
Blogger The Intolerant One said...

RA: Lee Strobel was the other side of the arguement. His goal was to refute "their" claims.

2:55 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Hey, no-one addressed by admittedly sarcastic but still requiring explanation about the meanness of whatever divinity their might be toward women with PMS. A chocolate-less world is just a bad thing for which there is no explanation that involves a truly loving god. You know I'm right.

9:09 AM  
Blogger 3 lions said...

Hmmm. Its 2006 now, 2006 is significant for a reason. I have to say though, I know He exists because I know Him. He is my LORD and Saviour. The word says, "seek and you shall find".
Interesting site sir, thank you for allowing me to surf by.


10:07 AM  
Blogger KA said...

"Lee Strobel was the other side of the arguement.:
I understand that completely.
My point is, that a balanced viewpoint consists of 12-to-12, as opposed to 1-to-12.
It just struck me, here & now: why the number 12?
Unless he was a Mithraist prior? LOL.

"However, for a kind and loving god to creat a portion of this world for any period of time where women with PMS existed but did not have access to chocolate."
Ummm...& which part of the poor bedeviled world (I'm an atheist: can I still use that word?) is chocolate-free? I'm afraid you have me at an advantage here, as I thought chocolate was EVERYWHERE.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:56 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

RA: Chocolate (as well as potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and vanilla) only came to the Old World after the discovery of the New World after 1492. So women with bad PMS in Europe (or anywhere not in the Western Hemisphere) before then just had to do without. Clear evidence of a non-existent or malevolent divinity, really.

And imagine the Italian food: No spag bol. No decent pizza. Imagine German or Danish food (no potatoes). Of course, the British wouldn't be able to violate all that is good an holy by putting little corn ears on pizza (doi?), but, really, the lack of chocolate really does it. Could Switzerland or Belgium even function (not as countries, because they didn't exist as such then) as cultural entities without chocolate? Imagine the grumpiness. Especially of hormonal women without chocolate assistance, and the men who would love them but are really, really, really keeping their distance. No god or malevolent god. the only realistic choices when you consider the facts.

9:03 AM  
Blogger The Intolerant One said...

Niki Saunders: I share your fascination from a different perspective. When I look up at the universe and the way things seem to hold together in a mystical harmony, I am somewhat astounded that people do not see the fingerprints of God's creation. From my view the evidence is laid bare before me already. Why would I need to look for more?

Alanita: Thanks for having my back sista!

RA: You make a good point, however, that should not dismiss the findings or legitimacy of the book. As I said before, read the book and draw your own conclusions. I checked out the site you recommended. Alot of reading there! I will have to go back to it when I have more time. I am not surprised to find a site that would be somewhat critcal of this book. Every controversial book will have those who would critique it. No different then "The Origin of the Species".

Marco: Thanks for your site. You really know how to pick the topics that get the dialect going.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Violet Socks said...

Hi, Dr. Marco. I just came over here by way of pharyngula. Nice blog -- and welcome to the U.S. (four years late!)

There must have been something in the air last week, because I wrote a post on the historical basis of Christianity just one day before you did (

By the way, I would like to point out that the evidence for Jesus's existence is entirely distinct from the evidence for his divinity. After all, we accept that Julius Caesar existed, but not the claims of his historians that he was of divine lineage and became a God upon death...

As for Lee Stroebel, I haven't read his books, but if he's anything like Josh Marshall, the arguments are specious.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

Thanks Violet. I think the analogy to Ceasar is great, I never thought about it.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Paul V said...

Niki Saunders: Do you belive that miracles happened.? Or that they still happen? Want to see a video of my left leg being shortened by nearly two inches? (The only concrete proof I can offer).

Trick question: If Jesus did exist, and He is the only road to salvation, how can we not believe? But that's what's great about being human: "I stand at the door and I knock." But we can choose not to open the door, or we don't even hear the knocking...

10:27 AM  
Blogger KA said...

Paul V:
Want to see a video of my left leg being shortened by nearly two inches?
How, pray tell, does this qualify as a miracle?
Trick question: If Jesus did exist, and He is the only road to salvation, how can we not believe?
How is that a trick question?
Substitue Vishna/Muhammad/Krisna for Jesus, and it's still the same.

Violet Socks said it best:
"I would like to point out that the evidence for Jesus's existence is entirely distinct from the evidence for his divinity."

10:38 PM  
Blogger Paul V said...

Hey RA

I will try to explain better: You sort of had to be there, to see the guy pray for me, my own realisation that my leg was longer than the other one, the gasps of the audience as my leg shortened, the feeling in my leg as it shortened, the knowledge that today, 14 years later, they are still of equal length. Funnily enough, I watched the video November last year for the second time only, and there it still was.

Insert another name for Jesus: My understanding is that by grace alone can we be saved. Not our good works (very glad about that, else I would never see heaven), and I also understand that Jesus paid the price for our sins, that we may be saved. Else we would surely die because of all the stuff we get up to in a lifetime.

My apologies for not writing this more eloquently in the previous post. You know the saying: Assumption is the mother of....

You separate the existence of Jesus from His Divinity. To that I do not want to answer, because you have to make that call yourself. Stuff just happened in my life, and I have made my call.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Puma said...

Have you read this book?

It is absolutely fascinating, I am about halfway through. I think you might like it.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

I just added it to my wishlist, so that I don't forget. I have still a couple of books that I am slowly reading.

8:40 PM  
Blogger KA said...

Paul V:
You sort of had to be there, to see the guy pray for me, my own realisation that my leg was longer than the other one
So let me understand this:
You weren't aware of the difference in length, until it was pointed out to you at this meeting/revival/whatever you may call it?
And it was being videotaped?
My suggestion is that you make a copy of it, & send it to the amazing Randhi ( Unsure).
All due respect, I'd say this sounds somewhat...apocryphal. No offense.
Do you have proof that 1 leg was shorter than another prior to this miracle?
I mean, I have but your word for it, & I know little enough about you, other than a few words on a screen.

9:26 PM  

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