Historicity of Jesus

While the Internet is flooded with articles against the historicity of Jesus, there is a silence within the academy arguing this hypothesis. While this is not the only parting between the academy and the general population on issues of biblical studies, it is one that is quite troubling.  Websites and blogs around the place repeat the same old arguments that show a complete disregard for historical evidence and method. Dealing in early Christian history online I feel obligated to provide a guide through the artificially created debate. Content wise, this page is scanty consisting mostly of a bibliography. The reason for this is that the best historical investigations are those that the individual has done the leg work in.

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.
Video and Audio

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.

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.

Bibliography on general historical Jesus studies

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.

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