I don’t think Jesus existed.
I mean, there’s scholarship on it, and for some of you, ‘no, we can give the concession,’ and there’s a host of opinions. Lots of people I know, atheists even, even active anti-thesists, think that Jesus existed, or rather, say that they think that Jesus was a ‘real person’ and attribute the teachings in the gospels to that person.
I don’t. I don’t see how I have to give that concession. And, like, I think the idea that ‘there’s a real kernel of truth’ to Jesus mythicism is really weird. Why? Because the text that describes Jesus also describes massive sermons memorised perfectly, specific literary devices that would be very unnatural as observed practice, historical characters behaving wildly out of character, an actual zombie apocalypse, and people coming back from the dead. Those things don’t happen, meaning any text that includes those things is inherently suspect. Like, The Walking Dead happens in Macon, Georgia, and the fact that Macon exists doesn’t mean that The Walking Dead is a good text to use to learn about it.
And largely, the thing is… what is there left, then? If you take all the stories in aggregate and just drop the stuff that contradicts one another, and the stuff that absolutely could not have happened, you’re left with a very vague outline that at some point, a dude named Jesus existed. Historically, the best record we have is a hundred years later is people saying ‘hey, Christians exist, and they say this is their backstory,’ which I mean, that doesn’t mean anything. Every religion we’ve ever seen founded with good record keeping has an obviously nonsense origin story, why is this the one we take seriously? Because that’s the only records we have? But those records also have again, total nonsense in them.
There are some academics who have written on the topic*, and they construct a reasonably solid argument for the mythical nature of the Christ story. In 2007, the Jesus Project was kicked off to attempt to settle the question in an independent and authoritive way, only to be shuttered two years later when its own coordinator determined that the project could neither get reliable enough historical information to prove Jesus existed, nor could it in any way verify the idea that Jesus did not. There was also a problem with how the researchers seem to split into people who assumed Jesus was real and people who didn’t, which meant there wasn’t a proper skeptical framework. And when people say ‘we have more proof of Jesus than we do of Julius Caesar,’ it’s kinda this auto-disqualifying position, but it’s seen as the norm to say that.
Personally, I think that the way we give Jesus the benefit of the doubt is a form of religious privilege; that Jesus gets held to a much lower standard of evidence, because well, there’s all this stuff. Look at how much Christian-ness there is around us, surely the history of this church has to be, like, based on something right? And we defer to the experts within the textual space, in the privilege superstructure of the church itself. And like, surely there have to be good sources for this, right? Right? It’s a coincidence I’m sure that in our Christian culture surrounded by Christian media with Christian colleges that have Christian teaching positions for Christian students that there’s a bias towards selecting academics who may think that there’s something to this Christianity nonsense.
One predominant complaint about mythicists that’s used to dismiss them wholesale, tends to be ‘these people aren’t getting hired in academia,’ which I mean, that sounds like a hiring practices problem? Like, the argument seems to literally be ‘we don’t hire mythicists, and none of these mythicists work as professional scholars.’
Anyway, I find the entire idea of a historical Jesus unnecessary, and any historical records we have are so far beyond the life of an actual cult leader that any of the records about his life presented in the Bible are no different than Qanon fanfiction.
There is a problem with my position though.
You see that *?
That * is where I would normally talk about and share excerpts from those scholars and why I find them compelling. And I used to be happy to do that. Except now… I don’t. Rather than swerve this little piece all the way into the ditch, though, I’ve put an explanation for those things down under the fold. Basically, the scholars on this subject that helped me build to this position – where I now don’t feel I need their writing to do it – are people I’m not comfortable mentioning in public, because of Content Warning bits.
It’s not necessary? Like, I don’t think that you need these scholars to serve as the undergirding for dismissing the idea of Jesus. If you don’t think the Bible is a historical text, and I don’t, because of all the stuff in it that is fictional, then literally all that we have is ‘Christians say they followed a dude with an extremely common name, who came back from the dead,’ and like… that’s just repeating a clearly fictional story. I don’t need any of the people with degrees to tell me that that’s not convincing.
I don’t know what a historical Jesus gets you anyway? Like, if you don’t believe in the miracles or the ahistorical bits, or the fictional bits that can’t work, or the teachings that are in many cases inconsistent, or the weirdly threatening culty bits, or the ability to see the future, and you say ‘well, I do think there was a guy, in this time, in this place, who had a cult, and that became Christianity,’ then I’m left wondering what’s left of that that matters?
… And now, the Content Warningy bit.
There are three predominant scholars, who have written good books, from which I got a lot of the grounding for my opinion about Jesus’ being ahistorical. And here’s where the problem starts, because for all that these people are ‘fringe’ academics in their field, there is solid scholarship in their work, but… mentioning them has problems.
See, first up we have Richard Carrier. I would suggest that Richard Carrier is an overly horny boundary-pushing weirdo sex pest, but if I did suggest that there’s a risk that Richard Carrier would sue me for saying he was an overly horny boundary-pushing weirdo sex pest, and we know that because Richard Carrier is currently suing someone for saying that he was an overly horny boundary-pushing weirdo sex pest, in which he is representing himself in his case defending himself against the charges of being an overly horny boundary-pushing weirdo sex pest, and where he has entered into the court record an entire email chain that explicitly demonstrates him being an overly horny boundary-pushing weirdo sex pest. I wouldn’t want to risk that!
David Fitzgerald has done some great talks and presentations on his books like Nailed, and his explanation for his opinion of the mythical Jesus is very solid, to me. He’s also studied the mormons, and his talks on them serve as a really good brisk summary of the church’s real world history and the problem that history has reconciling with the faith, and the problem that the mythology has with reconciling with real world information. Aaaaaand he’s mentioned in Richard Carrier’s submitted papers in a way that I need to make clear does not make me think David Fitzgerald is an overly horny boundary-pushing weirdo sex pest, but which does make me think that David is probably okay with Richard’s general style. And it’s also really quite intimate and private, and I mean, the best chance is that David Fitzgerald might say ‘hey, dude, that was super weird of you to put in court record, could you not?’ and maybe their scholarship will be less… linked.
But! But but but, there’s Robert M Price, who is an ancient lorebeast of a man, known as the Bible Geek, and an author of a number of books of bible scholarship. He’s also responsible for The Incredible Shinking Son Of Man, which is a book about how the case of Jesus falls apart under scrutiny, and how the Bible has many signs of being stitched together from a variety of sources (which it is). He’s an older bloke, I know nothing about his sex life, and his background as a fundamentalist preacher and lover of the Bible as a book for its own sake is pretty solidly respectable.
Then I remembered that Robert Price doesn’t believe in climate change.
Look, every field of study has its weirdoes and kooks. Part of the point of the system of academia is that the work gets examined aside from the people presenting it.