What do scholars have to say?
Many may be misled in their investigation that the view that Jesus did not exist is popular or that those who affirm the positive do so on shaky evidence. For example, historical claims about Jesus have been mounted by popular advocates of the so-called "New Atheism". Richard Dawkins in his popular The God Delusion states "It is even possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all" (97). Michelle Onfray in his The Atheist Manifesto paints a far more bleak picture stating, "Jesus’s existence has not been historically established. No contemporary documentation of the event, no archaeological proof, nothing certain exists …… We must leave it to lovers of impossible debates to decide on the question of Jesus’s existence"(115-116).
But is this the case?
Esteemed historical Jesus scholar E.P. Sanders of Duke University represents a consensus position when he writes that "There are no substantial doubts about the general course of Jesus’ life: when and where he lived, approximately when and where he died, and the sort of thing that he did during his public activity” (Sanders. The Historical Figure of Jesus.11.) Similarly, Luke Timothy Johnson writes that "Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate, and continued to have followers after his death.", (Johnson, The Real Jesus. 121.) This is not to imply that all scholars agree about everything, but that scholars do not only just agree that Jesus lived but that a number of things can be said about him with a high degree of historical certainty.
Robert E. Van Voorst, Professor of New Testament Studies at Western Theological Seminary, in his discussion on the historical evidence of Jesus outside of the New Testament states:
"The theory of Jesus' nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question." (Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence.14.)Mark Allan Powell, a professor of NT and chairman for Historical Jesus at the Society of Biblical Literature puts it harsh stating:
Anyone who says that today [i.e. that Jesus didn't exist]--in the academic world at least--gets grouped with the skinheads who say there was no Holocaust and the scientific holdouts who want to believe the world is flat. (Mark A Powell, Jesus As a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee. 168)The late F.F. Bruce in his popular The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? said:
"Some writers may toy with the fancy of a 'Christ-myth,' but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the 'Christ-myth' theories." (Bruce, The New Testament Documents. 123.)
Guide: * for recommended introductory sources.
- Dan Barker v Dr Chris Forbes - Jesus: Man or Myth (or some variant of that title.) The audio gets better after the first few minutes. Here or here.
- Mark Goodacre, NT Pod 47: Did Jesus Exist? (13min.)
- Mark Goodacre, NT Pod 44: What did Paul know about Jesus?
Works dealing directly with Christ Myth arguments
These books, often more apologetic than most scholarly discussions, deal directly with the Christ myth argument as forwarded by proponents such as Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty and G.A. Wells.
- Gregory Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition.
- _________. Lord or Legend?: Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma. [A summary of the much fuller version above]*
Works advocating the CMT
The following works advocate the Christ myth argument. As a piece of trivia, you may notice that none of the works are published by an academic press.
- Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle:Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus.
- Robert M. Price, Jesus is Dead. [A review by Tony Costa in the Review of Biblical Literature.]
- _________. Deconstructing Jesus.
- Acharya S, The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold. [A thoroughly useless work of conspiracy and gross historical ignorance. See my review.]
Bibliography on general historical Jesus studies
- Paul Barnett, Messiah: Jesus - the Evidence of History. [This is a simple introductory text which examines the historical evidence for Jesus - whether it be the sources within the New Testament or outside the NT. Barnett discusses what we can know.]*
- Paul Barnett, Finding the Historical Christ. [An expanded and more advanced, although still quite straightforward historical Jesus study by Barnett]
- James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Editors), The Historical Jesus: Five Views. [A great interaction between some reputable scholars, including Christ Mythicist Robert M. Price.]* James McGrath has reviewed this book, and the contribution by Price here.
- Darrell L. Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods.
- James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1).
- Ben Witherington, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. [A review of the major schools within the third quest for the historical Jesus]*
Bibliography on Jesus outside the New Testament
Despite the mass of evidence for Jesus found within the New Testament documents, proponents of the theory insist that evidence for Jesus must be found outside the New Testament. Although there is no reason to disregard the New Testament documents as evidence, a certain historical burden can be met in examining outside sources.
- C.K. Barrett, The New Testament Background: Selected Documents.
- F.F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins outside the New Testament. [Recommended introduction]*
- James H. Charlesworth and Craig A. Evans, "Jesus in the Agrapha and Apocryphal Gospels" in Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (New Testament Tools and Studies). ed. Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans.
- Craig A. Evans, "Jesus in Non-Christian Sources" in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels ed. Joel B. Green, et al*
- _________. "Jesus in Non-Christian Sources" in Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (New Testament Tools and Studies). ed. Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans.
- L.H. Feldman, “The Testamentum Flavianum: the State of the Question”, in R.F. Berkey and S.A. Edwards, eds., Christological Perspectives, New York, 1982.
- John .P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol. 1. pp. 59ff. [An extensive study on the historical Jesus, as well as non-canonical sources for Jesus]
- Alice Whealey, Josephus on Jesus: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late Antiquity to Modern Times (Studies in Biblical Literature, Vol. 36).
- Robert .E. Van Voorst, Jesus outside the New Testament: an introduction to the ancient evidence.[Extensive discussions on the evidence and following discussions of Jeuss outside the NT; deals specifically with the Christ myth theorists concluding that ""Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it as effectively refuted" (p.16)]*
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