If you have only thirty minutes to build a case that Jesus of Nazareth really existed, how do you do it?
That was the problem I was confronted with this past Friday at the Mythicist Milwaukee conference, in my debate with Robert Price. Rather than mount a lot of arguments and say very little about each one of them (what we used to call “the shotgun approach” when I was in high school), I thought it would be better just to make a few points and pack them up with evidence and reasoning.
The first and most obvious point, to me, is this. Jesus is one of the two best attested Jews living in Palestine in the entire first century. There were hundreds of thousands of Jews in some way connected with Palestine at the time Only one is better attested than Jesus (with a proviso, which I’ll explain). That one is the Jewish historian Josephus. The reason he is better known than Jesus is because he has left us a large number of writings – a twenty-volume history of the Jewish people, for example, a six-volume discussion of the Jewish War against Rome, and an autobiography. Now *that’s* a lot of documentation for a person! Jesus, so far as we know, didn’t write a thing, and so we have nothing like that from him. Or for any other Jew at the time and place.
But if you look simply at external documentation – that is, references to and discussions about a person by other sources – Jesus in fact is much better documented than Josephus. By an enormous margin.
We have four biographies of Jesus written by different people from the next generation. Four biographies?!? About how many people in all of antiquity do we have four biographies???
I’m not – I am decidedly not – saying that the four Gospels are unproblematic, that they are free from error, contradiction, and bias. As I pointed out during the debate, I have more or less made a career out of evaluating their errors, contradictions, and biases. But we cannot overlook the fact that we have four narrative accounts of the things Jesus said and did. Four lengthy narratives. Written by different people at different times and in different places.
How many (non-self-authored) narratives do we have about the words and deeds of Josephus? None. How many narratives do we have of Caiaphus, the most highly placed Jew of Jesus’ day? None. How many narratives do we have of the words and deeds of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, the most powerful man in all of Palestine in Jesus’ day? None. How many narratives do we have of any of the hundreds of thousands of people living or even visiting in Palestine from the first century, apart from Jesus? None.
And so for Jesus, we have a wealth of material…
The Rest of this Post is for Members Only. To join costs less than a Starbuck’s a month. And it will keep you SO much more alert and happy. So JOIN!!! Every dime goes to charity (instead of to Starbucks).