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James Lindsay on the Historicity of Jesus

Philosopher James Lindsay (not to be confused with CFI Director Ron Lindsay), author of God Doesn’t; We Do has written an interesting piece about my book, On the Historicity of Jesus, but tangentially, i.e. he isn’t reviewing the book but responding to the way some people might use it. See Why I Really Don’t Care If Jesus Existed or Not.

Notably I have long agreed with his overall thesis: objectively, the historicity of Jesus is no more important than the historicity of Socrates, and is really only an interesting question in history. It’s not an earth-shattering thesis in counter-apologetics. It would be only if we had smoking-gun scale evidence against historicity, and we don’t, due to the paucity of evidence survival and its hugely compromised state (OHJ, chs. 7 § 7 and 8 § 3-4 and § 12; also chs. 4, Element 22, and 5, Element 44). For example, if Christianity were based on the belief that a flying saucer was found at Roswell and alien bodies recovered from it and autopsied by the government, the evidence against that even having happened would certainly be exhibit A in any refutation of Christianity. But we have in the Jesus case nothing like the survival of evidence we have in the Roswell case. Hence I’ve made the point before: Fincke Is Right: Arguing Jesus Didn’t Exist Should Not Be a Strategy.

My interest in it is because I’m a historian, whose specializations include ancient religions and the origins of Christianity, I was paid with a research grant to study the issue, and the way Christian dogma and faith beliefs have infected even secular study of the subject is a serious issue long overdue for a correction. Exactly as happened for the Patriarchs: Christian dogma and faith beliefs infected even secular study of that subject until a serious corrective effort was launched in the 1970s which has resulted in what is now a mainstream consensus among non-fundamentalist experts that the Old Testament Patriarchs are mythical persons who almost certainly never really existed. Christianity was not thereby overthrown. But the shift was nevertheless necessary to maintain the respectability of biblical history as an honest profession. The same is now true of the debate over the historicity of Jesus, as even historicity advocate Philip Davies has said.

The end result has been, I believe, a lot of increased clarity and discovery concerning many issues in the origins of Christianity, and not just the target issue of how certain we can be that Jesus was even a person. Readers of my book will notice that every chapter has wide utility for counter-apologetics without even having to mention much less affirm the non-existence of Jesus; you will recognize a lot of cherished Christian apologetical shibboleths being demolished there, and the citations of sources and scholarship extremely useful to anyone taking them on. But even apart from counter-apologetics, our understanding of ancient religion, ancient culture, ancient politics, and earliest Christianity, is significantly advanced and made more coherently clear by the effort. Which is as it should be. That’s a historian’s job.

So some corrections are still warranted to Lindsay’s analysis.

When he says, “Flatly, I don’t know what is being talked about…when someone starts talking about a historical Jesus, so I don’t know (or care) whether or not it makes for evidence of a real historical figure,” he might have benefited from reading chapter 2 of OHJ, since it is entirely about what we have to mean by that, to mean anything substantial. And ch. 3 makes clear what the most important alternative is. Once you see how they differ, you’ll understand why the question is important. Important, that is, to history. Not as much to counter-apologetics. Lindsay is right about that. Arguing Christianity is false by arguing Jesus didn’t exist is a non-starter. There are vastly easier paths from A to B on that, which for that very reason should always take precedence. See all the reasons I lay out in my concurrence with Fincke.

Lindsay is likewise correct say, “Though it sounds like irritating pedantry or even trolling to ask, the question “which (New Testament) Jesus?” is of profound relevance.” It is indeed. Hence ch. 10 of OHJ shows how each Gospel is creating its own mythical version of Jesus. And that’s true even if Jesus existed. This is actually already the mainstream view, and historians do take the task seriously of answering Lindsay’s question (so among actual experts, it is most definitely not seen as irritating pedantry or trolling; there is actually a vast literature on the subject). And all who are interested in understanding the origins and development of Christianity and the books Christians now use in its defense would benefit from knowing more about that. And my book helps with this, even for those who don’t care whether Jesus existed.

Likewise my book dispels myths begun by Christian apologists that even atheists have been duped into repeating, such as “Christopher Hitchens’s astute observation that the outright fraud in the Gospel birth narratives (which is obvious) is possibly best accounted for by assuming a real figure that needed to be squared with an unreal story somehow.” That is an argument that actually originated in Christian apologetics, in which, unknown to Hitchens, nearly every relevant fact had been twisted or glossed over to suit the Christian agenda, and when we see the correct facts instead, Hitchens’ argument crumbles. Hitchens was not a biblical historian. Nor could he read ancient Greek. Hence the importance of reading books by actual biblical historians–who aren’t aiming to defend some sort of religion (liberal or otherwise)–and who actually can check translations against the original Greek, and thus detect modern Christian shenanigans in the presentation of the evidence. In OHJ I explain why Hitchens’ argument does not work, and that in fact the evidence he tried to muster argues in quite the opposite direction (OHJ, index, “Nazareth”; with Proving History, index, “Nazareth”).

So I think there is more that is interesting to this question than Lindsay allows. He might “simply [not] think the historicity of Jesus constitutes an interesting question,” but he certainly cares about effective counter-apologetics, and I suspect he also cares about educating the public as to the actual circumstances of the origins of Christianity and its development, likewise of its literature. And studying the one question provides a wealth of useful information on those others. Thus OHJ is an extremely useful book even if you “have no clear idea what is meant by [the] question” whether Jesus existed and even if you think that question is “pretty irrelevant” to the question of whether Christianity is true.

Just FYI.

Lindsay does say, that though he doesn’t care whether Jesus existed or not, nevertheless:

I also don’t care if people like Richard Carrier or other historians want to try to sort this out–more power to them. And so far as a matter of history is concerned, though I referred to it as a footnote, it is of some importance, I suppose. But it is only of any importance at all as a point of historical fact and thus is profoundly unimportant in the ongoing discussion about Christian beliefs in our contemporary world (which I guess is the main motivation, particularly for outspoken and ardent atheist writers and speakers like Richard Carrier). So, I’m not saying people shouldn’t care about the question as a matter of history, but they should do so realizing that without absolute proof one way or the other, they aren’t doing anything terribly important in the cultural debate about religion.

Which is precisely what I’ve been arguing for years. Although, as I just noted, the collateral benefits remain enormous.

Like the Apollo project. Many didn’t care whether we landed a man on the moon, yet nevertheless benefit tremendously from all the technological advantages developed to achieve that feat, which then became integrated into our economy, industry, and culture–from portable computers to satellites (upon which everything depends from cellphones to weather tracking to the internet)–as well as products developed earlier but then popularized by the program and thus fully integrated as well (from velcro to cordless power tools). On the Historicity of Jesus does the same thing. A lot of it gathers, organizes, summarizes, and makes available to the public a lot of what had actually already been discovered and published before, but never in one place and often beyond the access of most people (being in other languages, or obscure journals and monographs), facts and findings of use to counter-apologetics wholly apart from the question of historicity. And a lot of it also produces new discoveries and observations from original source material and integrating diverse scholarship that serves the same useful end.

So the fact that the historicity of Jesus is not useful for counter-apologetics does not mean the study of the historicity of Jesus is not useful for it. Lindsay seems to have overlooked that.

Likewise, that historicity questions are certainly problematized is true, for all historicity questions not just in Christianity. Which is an interesting philosophical question (in the philosophy of history), which is part of the purpose behind OHJs companion volume, Proving History, which is as much a work in the philosophy of history as in the specific question of the historicity of Jesus. Ironically, almost the same argument about this was written by Ron Lindsay in Sources of the Jesus Tradition. See my review. Although I find James Lindsay’s piece to be more extensive, Ron Lindsay’s does have some few points to add, all toward the same general point of the problematization of the question of historicity for any figure. But that questions are problematic does not mean they should not be asked, or not be answered.

To the contrary, as all questions about history are ultimately questions about the historicity of something, they have to be.

Comments

  1. Steve Watson says

    Why I Really Don’t Care What James Lindsay Has To Say About Anything

    From the main body of his post:

    “Like I said–I think something like this is probably the most plausible scenario, not least because of Christopher Hitchens’s astute observation that the outright fraud in the Gospel birth narratives (which is obvious) is possibly best accounted for by assuming a real figure that needed to be squared with an unreal story somehow.”

    From the Comments:

    “Carrier, though, is seen as an atheist apologist, so his contributions are mostly nugatory unless they lead to fairly broad consensus among historians, which given his methods (which I think misinterpret the meaning of probability, as a math guy), I don’t see that as being terribly likely.”

    He’s mistaken and I don’t have time to check the rest of the spoons.

    It is probably a fallacy on my part, but if someone is mistaken on a non-trivial matter it poisons their well for me. I have great trouble in taking anything else they might say seriously. It’s a trust thing.

  2. says

    To me, the question of Jesus’ existence is quite important. Christianity is the largest religion in the world today, and the existence of Jesus lies at the heart of its dogma. As more Christians start to doubt his existence, more will leave the religion.

    On a lighter note: I recently bought the hardcover edition of your new book On the Historicity of Jesus. On the cover is an interesting painting of someone’s idea of Jesus. Where and when does that picture come from? I guess it was painted no later than 1000 AD, but I am no art expert.

    • says

      It’s a medieval icon, I believe. I don’t know much more. There was a better one we had in mind but the publisher couldn’t get the rights to it. The only point of the image is to show how routinely and thoroughly this historical character is mythologized (the image has almost no plausible historical content; it’s just what Christians at the time wanted or needed Jesus to be; which is a metaphor for the whole historicizing movement the book is about). The image, BTW, was selected by the publisher’s art department. It wasn’t my idea. I was just fine with the concept.

  3. Slimy Man says

    You pretty much summed up my thoughts when you said “So the fact that the historicity of Jesus is not useful for counter-apologetics does not mean the study of the historicity of Jesus is not useful for it. Lindsay seems to have overlooked that.” The historicity of Jesus is something apologists take as a given, and so often when I express doubt regarding this, people becoming immediately dismissive or condescending. Perhaps I should become somewhat like a Jehovah’s witness here and start asking if people would like to discuss how they can incorporate the word(s) of Carrier and Price into their lives?

    On a side note… I was under the impression that Hitchens believed Jesus was a myth entirely, and only sometimes let apologists have their historical Jesus because he did not wish to argue for the point.

  4. Iris Wong says

    “Readers of my book will notice that every chapter has wide utility for counter-apologetics without even having to mention much less affirm the non-existence of Jesus; you will recognize a lot of cherished Christian apologetical shibboleths being demolished there, and the citations of sources and scholarship extremely useful to anyone taking them on.”

    Yes, that’s unquestionably the case. I’d go even further: there’s quite a bit that would be of interest even to a fideist. OK, they’re fine with all the supernatural stuff and they’ll accept the most plausible harmonization of the contradictions, however implausible, etc. So consider typology. Fideists believe God sort of uses history to paint pictures of the Gospel. Rationalists believe that mythmakers make myths that reflect or modify or even invert previous myths. Well, that’s important either way. Even if all someone cares about are Old Testament types, she’ll very likely learn quite a few new ones from OHJ.

    They think that Acts and Galatians somehow present a coherent narrative? Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that the guy who wrote half of the New Testament is completely ambivalent about the fact that Peter spent three years in daily conversation with Jesus. Paul (allegedly) knows that Jesus conducted a lengthy, wide-ranging ministry, but he doesn’t care at all about it. Paul acknowledges Peter’s authority, but only because Peter was at that time receiving revelations. That’s important. There’s a tiny branch of Evangelical Protestant theology called Mid-Acts Dispensationalism. Wikipedia does a decent job with it. If they were aware of a few issues raised in OHJ on the Epistles, they’d be shouting them from the rooftops, albeit with a very different agenda. So they’re obviously not, and they’ve been studying the Bible (devotionally, uncritically, with no proper grounding in historical context) for a century and a half.

    I’m certainly not suggesting the book as a whole is going to strengthen anybody’s faith (if it does, I’d like to sit down and have a few beers with that person). I’m just pointing out that it’s so comprehensive and meaty it’s of interest not just to Historicists and Mythicists, apologists and counter-apologists, but to anyone with any interest in the pre-history and early history of the Christian church. It’s very well done.

  5. Raymond Briggs says

    I find the fact that historians and other scholars can seriously argue that it is possible that there was no Jewish man behind the “Bible Jesus” to be a powerful counter apologetic argument. How can Christian apologists (like William Lane Craig) argue that it is reasonable to accept that Jesus rose from the dead when serious scholars argue that there are good reasons to doubt that such a man even existed?

    • says

      That might be a usable argument when significantly larger numbers of experts come out as agreeing with at least historicity agnosticism or an uncertain historicism. That may happen. But it hasn’t yet. It may take I expect at least ten years. In the meantime Christians can just say we’ve “failed to convince” almost all experts. That’s an inaccurate description of what’s happened so far (“almost all experts” have yet to even be aware of my book much less have read it; and they can’t have countable opinions about a book they haven’t read). But it’s how the rhetoric goes. You can only gain traction when even that rhetorical tactic can’t honestly be deployed anymore. Meanwhile, there are far better and more effective (and thus to believers far scarier) arguments against the truth of Christianity.

    • M-Source says

      Uh, virtually no historian or scholar today thinks Jesus was a myth. The consensus is that Jesus of Nazareth existed. The debate is not over his existence but who he was and how much we can know about him. Those are two different questions. Why do mythicists always twist the consensus?

    • Geoff says

      @M-source: The question we are trying to answer is: What are the origins of Christianity? I do not care if there was a Jesus or not. The questions you allude to: “Who was Jesus and what did he actually say and do?” I think is not answerable with the evidence that we have. Did Jesus exist? is another such question. What I see emerging here, especially in the work that Richard has published, is the idea that we do not need to explain the origins of Christianity as the result of the teachings of a particular, undefined and probably undefinable, 1st century preacher. We can see the threads of Christian theology emerging clearly in Jewish works and the syncretism of Jewish and Greek religious beliefs and philosophy. Richard does not touch on this much, but in addition to all the evidence that he has compiled and presented to support his case for doubt in OHJ, we can continue to look forward from the first century into the writings of other early Church fathers that are hard to explain if the religion was really based on the life teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and not on the emergence of a particular philosophic train of thought that somehow got wrapped around these Jesus stories (whether or not there was a Jesus).

      To me, it is a very interesting and somewhat exciting breakthrough. The paradigm of only exploring the origins of Christianity filtered through the life of a Galilean (peasant? cynic? rabbi?) is confining and stifling. The tendency then is to discount sources that contradict the paradigm as somehow inauthentic. However, those sources are authentic as representing the viewpoints of whoever created them and are important to understanding early Christian beliefs. So, what I am saying is: Yes, you are correct, the academy has chased the rabbit down the hole. Hopefully, some of them will soon return from Wonderland.

  6. says

    Comment submitted:

    Yet it is useful to sweep away the unthought out assumption that Christianity was a result of the remarkable life of an historical and unique individual since then we can learn much about human nature in trying to understand how and why Christianity actually did arise. Without an historical Jesus we have to think more deeply about the political and ideological stresses affecting various strata of society at the time, investigate more deeply the crises of Near Eastern and Hellenistic thought, and perhaps learn more about human nature then if not in general. The absence of an historical Jesus is I would suppose a more profound hypothesis than the probable none existence of King Arthur or [Ned] Lud, the probable existence of a Socrates or a John Ball.

  7. blotonthelandscape says

    “So the fact that the historicity of Jesus is not useful for counter-apologetics does not mean the study of the historicity of Jesus is not useful for it”

    This is why I found [your] Not the Impossible Faith valuable (at least the free version on Secular Web). I wasn’t familiar with the apologist you’d written against, but as someone raised in a post-pentecostal “Pseudeo-Christian” family, the insights about the millieu in which christianity arose were entertaining and enlightening. Even though I’d never have convinced by his particular apologetic, it was certainly a useful education.

    Likewise, I find most utility from the historicity discussions on the periphery of the actual subject.

    No apologetics are more annoying than the “Resurrection” one (okay, maybe TAG), and forcing scholars out of their ivory towers and into the mainstream to defend their version of historicity means that guys like Bill et al can’t pass off their fluff as the consensus view any more.

  8. moarscienceplz says

    Minor quibble:
    The Integrated Circuit was not developed for Apollo. Most of the important IC patents were applied for in 1959, two years before JFK made his speech about going to the Moon.
    Apollo was such a rush job that very few of the inventions traditionally credited to it can truly be considered as such. Nearly everything NASA used was based on existing technology that their engineers appropriated, much of it coming from our missile programs. If anything, it was the Cold War that spawned both Silicon Valley and Apollo.

  9. DrVanNostrand says

    I didn’t care much about historicity until your blogging and presentations about Bayes Theorem and how you were applying it. I’m not a historian, but I’m a history enthusiast, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing an attempt to make some historical pursuits more systematic and mathematically rigorous (I’m an engineer after all). I certainly can’t weigh in on historicity personally, but I am convinced that the historicists are doing a terrible job at engaging mythicists (In fairness, most of the mythicists I’ve read about suck). Unfortunately, this makes it very hard to bite my tongue. The moment I say something like, “Jesus, if he even existed, was heavily mythicized”, I’ve irrevocably derailed the conversation. Damn you for making me exercise self-control.

  10. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    I think a better question would be “How much of the texts of the NT are based on the actions and/or sayings of a historical Jesus?”

    If we work on the question that way round then most of OTHOJ can be read as shrinking the need for a historical Jesus. It is pretty obvious that Mathew is adding nothing factual to Mark, he is simply trying to keep Christianity a Jews-only club. Luke is pushing the other way. It looks like his trial accounts might well be accurate-ish. But he is obviously not contributing anything based on like fact. Same goes for John.

    Mark might have been inspired by an actual person, there were plenty of messiahs and divines running round at the time. Jesus ben Ananias for example who would have died only shortly before Mark was writing (but not from being crucified). But he is obviously writing after the destruction of the temple and the gospel makes much better sense as an allegorical explanation for what must have been a cataclysmic event by recasting the ascension of Isaiah. He is rather obviously putting Paul’s words in Jesus’s mouth time and again.

    Historicity matters because if ‘they’ have been lying about the foundation for what formed the basis for the entire Western belief system for 1800 years then they are probably lying about a lot else.

    • Geoff says

      In my opinion, historicity matters for the sake of understanding history and the historical origins of foundational western beliefs. I do not think there should be a motive implied in attempting to uncover Christian origins (such as “it is all a big lie”). Motives bring in bias and we have to be careful of that. I was fascinated at a young age (sometime in high school) by the idea that a major world movement could be inspired by the martyrdom of a single man. The question of how that could occur caused me, on and off, to delve into what is known about the origins of christianity. The fact is though that there was always a black hole right where we want data: the whole life and ministry of jesus went unnoticed by contemporary historians,looking for hints in Paul turns out to be disappointing, the Gospels are myth, and even later extra-biblical sources are all fraught with flaws. In the end, I still have trouble understanding how followers of an actually crucified, little known, Jewish man/teacher could have turned their failure into a massive movement (even before Paul, it seems). Mythicism offers a much more satisfying solution: Christianity evolved out of beliefs current in first century Judaism, no “great man” is needed to explain where it came from.

  11. says

    Is the Platonic background in Paul, and early Christianity in general, something widely acknowledged in the field? You cite scholarship dealing with individual issues (e.g. the two Adams of Paul), and a massive amount of primary sources, but I wondered how widely that is all know. I’m mostly speaking of elements 34-39. That background would seem indispensable to understanding Christian origins and, even if it is widely known, gathering it all together like you’ve done is surely very useful.

    • says

      The field debates the extent and nature of influence, not its existence. And some die-hards try to argue it all comes from Paul and thus can’t explain the origins of Christianity (an argument a great many scholars have dismantled, per the elements you mention, in On the Historicity of Jesus, chapter 5, for those unaware of the reference).

      Also, the path of influence is debated, and on that I concur: it is inaccurate to say it’s just ‘Platonism’. Philosophy under the Roman Empire was actually eclectic, that is, committing to a single sect or being influenced by a single sect was actually unusual, most people studied and were influenced by them all and assembled a personal philosophy that was an amalgam, possibly trending more toward one than another, but still a mixed bag. This was especially the case in ‘pop theology’ such as we see in Paul: that was not ‘Platonism’, it was a stew of ideas that filtered down to the masses from several schools of thought, those ideas that resonated most with popular religious and other beliefs, becoming its own congeries, and no longer any one type of philosophy. Thus we see in Paul (and other Christian writers) elements of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism. What was most rejected by the religious public was atomism (e.g. Epicureanism). Over the centuries Christianity became increasingly enamored with Platonism (as it started actually studying the schools and realizing how unacceptable the others were to the needs of dogma) and thus over time shifted its ideas more in line with it, but even by then the Platonism they adopted had already been eclectically influenced by other schools of thought. And again, Platonism was already part of the stew of ideas influencing the origin of the sect.

      Most experts who have actually studied this question concur or mostly concur. A lot of experts who haven’t actually researched it but spew opinions from the armchair might say different things, but the opinions that count are people who have really done the research, or are summarizing those who have. (And, of course, we should discount all fundamentalists; they cannot be trusted to be honest even with themselves, much less us.)

  12. KT says

    Hey Richard,

    Take a min and go look at this. It is a discussion with fellow “historicity” author Robert Clifton Robinson. I proved him to be a lying slimy bastard. Feel free to correct my mistakes as I’m obviously not as smart or educated as others. I doubt he leaves the comments up but he and I have a back and forth discussion where he proceeds to lie to me after writing an article about Robin Williams and Atheists that was nothing but subterfuge and mischaracterzation.

    http://robertcliftonrobinson.com/2014/08/12/robin-williams-life-is-not-a-joke/comment-page-1/#comment-112

    Which is a result of his posts here: http://hollowverse.com/robin-williams/?fb_comment_id=fbc_10150851591901478_10152255362271478_10152255362271478#f3cbe4c272003cc

    This is what passes for a Christian apologist now. A lying, slimy, book shilling tool. Can you comment on his work about historicity? I haven’t read it and would like your take. Thanks for your time.

    • says

      But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. –Matthew 5:44-45

      I will, Lord…

  13. Florian Blaschke says

    I don’t recall who made the point, but the fact that every portrayed and reconstructed Jesus happens to agree precisely with those beliefs of the portrayer or reconstructor that she wishes to spread more widely, is strongly suggestive that there is so little of substance behind the universal mouthpiece/sockpuppet that everybody agrees with that the man behind the myth might as well not exist, for practical purposes.

    Personally, the “They Should Have Noticed” argument was what swayed me initially, long before I discovered Richard Carrier, but now I find this point to be much more socially relevant.

    Defining the historical Jesus is hard. There were so many people around in the relevant time period and region who bore significant similarities to the Jesus of the Gospels, even counting only those known to us, that the minimalist historicist-consensus Jesus is simply too generic to be useful. Even with a time machine the issue would be unsolvable. We would end up with dozens, if not hundreds, of plausible candidates for being the inspiration behind Gospel Jesus. I call it the “Would the Real Historical Jesus Please Stand Up?” problem.

    And that’s why I think that moderate historicism, minimalism, agnosticism and mythicism are far closer than people realise and the dividing lines between these stances are nowhere as strong as commonly believed.

    If we cannot find out anything about what Jesus truly believed (or at least preached), and thus what True Christianity™ is, however, that’s a powerful argument against Christianity, and ultimately against religion in general, at least as far as it relies on the ever fallacious appeal to authority. Because if believers create God, Jesus, the Bible, and their analogues in other religions, in their own image, in order to make it less obvious that they’re simply trying to pass off their own opinions as more authoritative than they truly are, that is very revealing. And of course what critics of religion have always been saying.

    Instead of “What Would Jesus Do?” ask yourself “What Would I Do if I Were a Good Person?”

    Ultimately, Christianity has, in practice, never really quite stopped being a hodgepodge of influences that the individual believer happens to agree with – especially in America, where it’s easy to switch sect denomination as you please. Christianity has ALWAYS been Cafeteria Christianity – or, actually, Cafeteria New Age Judaism. The resemblance to modern New Age believers (and conspiracy theorists) eclectically assembling bits and pieces of pop philosophy and pop science into a more or less coherent outlook is striking. Neopagans tend to do something similar, but they also tend to be more honest about it. (And Unitarian Universalists, of course.)

    Turns out that “Truth” is quite a moving target, for believers even more so than for scientists.

    • says

      the man behind the myth might as well not exist, for practical purposes.

      That doesn’t answer the question whether the Jesus spoken of in the Epistles existed. Because that does matter for practical purposes. It is fundamental to any attempt to explain how Christianity began.

      Defining the historical Jesus is hard.

      I did not find it to be. See chapter 2 of OHJ. Which is all about that.

      However…

      …the dividing lines between these stances are nowhere as strong as commonly believed…

      That’s arguably true. That is, I think Philip Davies was right when he argued “a recognition that [Jesus’s] existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship towards academic respectability.”

  14. Florian Blaschke says

    Hey, let’s reconstruct a secretly atheist, rationalist Historical Jesus™ who tried to get people to understand that logic, scepticism and science are awesome, by spouting so much self-contradictory nonsense that they would get mad and crucify him! Except his plan didn’t go quite as intended – reverse psychology and satire don’t always work …

    Oh wait, haven’t Monty Python already gone there?

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