Did Jesus exist?

Did Jesus Exist? Almost certainly yes. View Photo Gallery: Christians around the world raised palm branches in traditional observances launching Holy … Continued

Did Jesus Exist? Almost certainly yes.


View Photo Gallery: Christians around the world raised palm branches in traditional observances launching Holy Week, which for believers marks the Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Because of the outspoken and surprisingly influential conspiracy theorists among us, I have recently written a book that sets forth the consensus-view on this question, held by virtually everyone else, and certainly by all the acknowledged experts in the field.

At the same time, even though most people have never had reason to doubt Jesus’ existence, writing my book proved to be a most unusual and interesting intellectual exercise. How do you demonstrate that someone from the distant past actually lived –when there is no physical or archeological evidence for his existence, no writings from him, and no references to him by writers of his own day? Oddly enough, as I came to realize in the course of my work, no previous scholar in the fields of biblical studies, ancient history, or classics had ever set out to prove that Jesus actually existed.

There is plenty of compelling evidence for Jesus’ existence, most of which I won’t be able to get into here. But there is one piece of the puzzle that is particularly relevant to the season. Easter is again upon us, and three days before that is the much less celebrated but equally important Good Friday, the traditional date of Jesus’ crucifixion. The celebration of Jesus’ death by crucifixion from the very early days of the Christian movement is, odd as it might seem, secure evidence that Jesus in fact really did exist.

The Christian claims that Jesus was the Messiah and that he was crucified by the Romans seem natural and coherent to Christians today. But in the early days of the Christian church, these two claims were recognized as highly paradoxical and potentially at odds with one another, creating the single largest stumbling block for convincing others — anyone, really — that the Christian faith could be true. The reason is not hard to find. Prior to the advent of Christianity, there was no one on the planet who thought that the Messiah was going to be –or was supposed to be –crucified.

Those who deny that Jesus ever even existed, including such prolific authors as Earl Doherty and Robert Price, typically claim that he was invented by early Christians in imitation of pagan gods and demi-gods who, like Jesus, but before him, were said to have died and risen again. This view is wrong on all scores. For one thing, there are serious questions about whether there were any dying and rising gods in pagan antiquity (Osiris, Adonis, Attis, Heracles, and other examples typically cited certainly do not apply). But what is equally significant, the earliest believers in Jesus did not think of Jesus as a dying-rising god. For them, he was not God. He was the Messiah. And there is a world of difference between the two.

Many Christians today appear to think that the Messiah was supposed to be God. Nothing could be farther from the truth. For ancient Jews, the Messiah was the figure sent by God to bring his deliverance to earth. Some Jews, probably the majority, understood this coming Messiah to be a (completely human) warrior-king, like King David of old. Hence the title “Son of David.” This one would destroy the enemies (the Romans, for example) and set up a new kingdom for Israel in its capital city Jerusalem. Other Jews thought the Messiah would be more like a cosmic figure, a great angel who would come from heaven and execute judgment on the enemies of God. Other Jews had different expectations of what the Messiah would be like. In none of them would he be God –let alone a god who died and rose again. More than that, in all of them he would be a figure (human or angelic) of grandeur and power who would overthrow the forces of evil in a mighty act of judgment and wrath.

And who was Jesus? He was, arguably, just the opposite: an itinerate preacher from the rural backwaters of Galilee known to be a crucified criminal. The idea that the Messiah would be crucified by the state, even if innocent of the charges, was so far removed from what anyone expected the Messiah to be that Christians had their hands full in trying to convince anyone that Jesus could possibly be the one expected, as the Apostle Paul himself tells us (1 Corinthians 2).

Aaron Favila

AP

A Filipino girl touches an image of Jesus Christ as a church prepares for visitors as part of Holy Week rituals in Manila, Philippines on Wednesday, April 4, 2012.

One of the most interesting questions in the history of religion involves how Christians argued with Jews over the matter, as they tried to show that despite universal expectations to the contrary, God’s Messiah was in fact supposed to suffer and die. The Christians appealed to scriptures of the Jews that never mention the Messiah (Isaiah 53; Psalm 22; etc.) but that speak of someone suffering; they urged their potential converts that these were in fact prophecies of the Messiah. Jews responded, sensibly enough, by pointing out that these passages never mention the Messiah and were never understood, prior to the Christian reinterpretations, to be referring to the Messiah. And the debates continue till today.

For the question of whether Jesus existed or not, this religious debate is both intriguing and decisive. If Christians wanted to invent a Messiah, they would not have created a crucified Messiah, since that was a Messiah no one expected and that proved to be the greatest “stumbling block,” to use Paul’s term, for anyone’s conversion. Why then did Christians proclaim a crucified Messiah? It was because they believed, on one hand, that Jesus was the Messiah and they knew, on the other, that he was a real person who had been executed by the Romans. Christians did not invent the existence of the man Jesus. They invented the idea that the Messiah had to be crucified. They had to. Jesus really lived and actually did suffer an ignominious death.

For many religions, the facts of history often clash with the claims of faith. When that happens, something has to give. In the case of Jesus’ death, the facts triumphed over the beliefs. Christians knew that Jesus was crucified, so that to call him the Messiah they had to alter what the Messiah was supposed to be. In doing so they invented a new theological concept, a suffering Messiah. Whatever one makes of the concept, one has to acknowledge that it is rooted in a historical reality, the very real and tangible life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, a man who lived and died in Roman Palestine. For Christians today, of course, these events of history continue to be considered a reality that convey good news, so much so that they still label the date of Jesus’ death a good Friday.

Bart Ehrman is the author of “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth,” now available from HarperOne.

About

Bart Ehrman Bart Ehrman is one of the most renowned and controversial Bible scholars in the world today. A master explainer of Christian history, texts, and traditions, his work continues to drive debate among supporters and detractors alike. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.
  • larryclyons

    If jeabus did exist and exited this mortal coil as spectacularly has advertised then why were there no contemporary accounts of the events? Even the first so called contemporary account, the Chronicle of Josephus Flavius was written a full generation later. And its been determined that his account of the cruxifiction has been shown to be inserted by copyists during the middle ages.

  • ThomasBaum

    When the Holy Spirit revealed to me that the Catholic Eucharist is Jesus I “knew” what I used to believe concerning the Eucharist, therefore it is obvious that Jesus existed in space and time on this planet, at least to me.

  • RickWatcher

    The denying comes at the cross and God’s word tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.
    It is true that the Jewish nation were not looking for a meek messiah but a conquering Lord. However if the old testament prophecies are seriously studied they clearly show a suffering Messiah and a conqueror. The sacrificial Lamb of God had to come first and can be clearly seen in such scriptures as Isaiah 53 which clearly depicts the rejection and suffering of Messiah. Daniel 9 clearly shows that the Messiah had to be killed before the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. There are 365 prophecies in the Old Testament that tell of the Jewish Messiah and he is known as Yesua Ha-Mashiach. The Lord had to come first as the Savior to pay for mens sins. Next he will come as a conquering Lord to reign the nations with a rod of iron and to rain down God’s wraith upon a sinful and rebellious world.
    You can debate about this issue until you die yet if you die without accepting the truth of Jesus and His death upon the cross as the only way to God, you will die in your sin and they will condemn you to an eternity of seperation and suffering. Knowing Jesus as Savior this world is the closet you will come to hell. To die without Him this is closest you will come to Heaven.
    Better wake up to the truth before it’s too late.

  • larryclyons

    Funny a lot of words not one shred of verifiable evidence.

  • ThomasBaum

    I didn’t say that I “heard” the Holy Spirit but that the Holy Spirit revealed this to me, God does not need words to reveal something to someone.

    The bible is very clear that Jesus said, “This Is My Body…” and “This Is My Blood…” and that many walked away from Jesus on account of these words.

    As far as “crucifying Jesus afresh daily”, as you put it, the bible is also very clear that the “Last Supper” where the Eucharist was instituted, happened the night before Jesus was crucified, is this what the bible says about it or is it not?

  • ThomasBaum

    Many underestimate God.

    As it is written, “My Ways are not your ways and My Thoughts are not your thoughts”.

    Also as it is written, “It is God’s Will that ALL be saved”.

    Also as it is written, “When I am lifted up, I will draw EVERYONE to Myself”.

    Many seem to want to know all of the details.

    It doesn’t seem to be all that many that believe or want God to be the Saviour of ALL as long as they, themself, are among the saved.

  • ThomasBaum

    Ever think that there might be a reason for the word “faith”?

  • ThomasBaum

    Hell and the lake of fire are not one and the same.

    Do you even know what “hell” is and have you ever experienced “hell”?

    Do you know just who is and who isn’t written in the “Lamb’s Book of Life”?

    And if you do know, just how do you know this?

    You seem to think that I’m a heretic, many thought Jesus to be a blasphemer, I’d say that this puts me into Good Company.

  • itsthedax

    “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
    - S. L. Clemens

  • itsthedax

    So, Rick, Tom, Scott; Is Ann Frank undergoing eternal torment in hell for the crime of being the wrong religion?

  • quiensabe

    I suspect you did not fully research your topic, Bart. To say “there was no one on the planet who thought that the Messiah was going to be –or was supposed to be –crucified” is fallacious. It’s all throughout the Old Testament. Try Psalm 22.

  • quiensabe

    Jesus said He was the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through Him.

  • Chip_M

    “How do you demonstrate that someone from the distant past actually lived –when there is no physical or archeological evidence for his existence, no writings from him, and no references to him by writers of his own day?”

    You don’t. Everything else is just rationalizing.

    “If Christians wanted to invent a Messiah, they would not have created a crucified Messiah”

    The Hero Pattern – Incidents which occur with regularity in hero-myths of all cultures:

    1. Hero’s mother is a royal virgin;
    2. His father is a king, and
    3. Often a near relative of his mother, but
    4. The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
    5. He is also reputed to be the son of a god.
    6. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grand father to kill him, but
    7. he is spirited away, and
    8. Reared by foster -parents in a far country.
    9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
    10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future Kingdom.
    11. After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast,
    12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
    13. And becomes king.
    14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
    15. Prescribes laws, but
    16. Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
    17. Is driven from the throne and city, after which
    18. He meets with a mysterious death,
    19. Often at the top of a hill,
    20. His children, if any do not succeed him.
    21. His body is not buried, but nevertheless
    22. He has one or more holy sepulchres.

    A few scores: Mithradates VI of Pontus (22) / Krishna (21) / Moses (20) / Romulus (19) / King Arthur (19) / Perseus (18) / Jesus (18) / Watu Gunung of Java (18) / Heracles (17) Mohammad (17) / Beowulf (15) / Buddha (15) / Czar Nicholas II (14) / Zeus (14) / Nyikang, a cult-hero of the Shiluk tribe of the Upper Nile (14) / Samson (13) / Sunjata, the Lion-King of Ancient Mali (11) / Achilles (10) / Odysseus (8) / Harry Potter (8)

    From The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myths, and Dreams by Lord Raglan

  • ThomasBaum

    When Jesus extended the invitation to “Come follow Me”, it was not just to be an “Easter people” but also to be a “Good Friday people”.

    Jesus died for us and He also said that there was “work to be done”, ever thought that Jesus asked us to be active participants in Salvation rather than just passive receivers?

    There is no “Easter” without “Good Friday”.

    “Many are called, few are chosen”.

    See you and the rest of humanity in the Kingdom.

    Doesn’t seem to be very “Christian” if all one is concerned about is their own redemption or is content that as long as they are “saved” than that is good enought news for them.

    It is not referred to as ‘good enough news’, It Is GOOD NEWS.

    If the GOOD NEWS is not, ultimately, for ALL than it is not Good News at all but is horrific news.

  • catatonicjones

    Ann Frank is burning in hell, alongside Gandhi and Hitler. While Jerry Fallwell is rolling in hookers … virgins … whatever, sometimes it’s hard to separate these ridiculous religions.

  • ThomasBaum

    itsthedax

    You asked, “So, Rick, Tom, Scott; Is Ann Frank undergoing eternal torment in hell for the crime of being the wrong religion?”

    As I have said many times on these sites: God is a searcher of hearts and minds, not of religious affiliations or lack thereof and It is important what one does and why one does it and what one knows.

    And as I have also said many times, “Ultimately, ALL will be with God in God’s Kingdom, the new heavens and the new earth.

    See you ALL in the Kingdom.

  • ThomasBaum

    quiensabe

    You wrote, “Jesus said He was the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through Him.”

    Sure doesn’t give a limit on the number of ways to Jesus, does it?

  • ThomasBaum

    ScottinVA

    You asked, “Why is there a Book of Life?”

    I would only be guessing if I attempted an answer to this, so I leave it up to God for the “Why”.

    You also asked, “Why does the John say, “All whose names were NOT found written in the Book of Life were cast into the Lake of Fire,” if EVERYONE’s names are written in it?”

    You, on your own, seem to figure that some are not there but it doesn’t say that and for that matter, it could be that God told us this for a reason that you can not even conceive of.

    You also wrote, “And of course I know the difference between hell and the Lake of Fire, but I had hoped to avoid splitting hairs, as you so like to do.”

    Have you ever experienced helll, personally?

    Do you believe that Jesus went to hell and not just for a visit but went to hell, seeing as Jesus took everyone’s sins upon Himself?

    You then wrote, “Since you profess to be a Christian (at least you have refered to Christ), and the founding document of Christianity is the Bible, and you deny and teach against what is clearly written in it, then the shoe fits.”

    Actually, I profess to be a messenger chosen by God to speak.

    As far as “what is clearly written in it”, it seems that not only are some things that are written in the bible not totally understood and agreeded upon by all but many of the things concerning Jesus were not understood until after the fact.

    There are many “prophesies” in both the OT and the NT that have not yet come about and not only were some caught off guard, so to speak, in Jesus’s day there apparently will be some caught off guard concerning some of the unfulfilled prophesies.

  • ThomasBaum

    itsthedax

    You wrote, “”Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”
    - S. L. Clemens”

    Mark Twain wrote a lot of fiction, is this an example?

  • ThomasBaum

    I would rather listen to God when I know God is talking to me, even if it is without words, rather than when you think God is talking to me.

    It is up to you to follow God, if you so choose, the way that you feel God is leading you but to think that God has to work in other people’s lives only what you think is possible is an attempt to limit God and God can and does work in other people’s lives in a myriad of ways.

    God can be surprising and God has definitely been surprising in some of the ways that God has reached out to me.

    Divine Justice and Divine Mercy, so entertwined as to be One.

    The Creator, The Redeemer, The Sanctifier, The Trinity.

  • itsthedax

    Actually, its from “Following the Equator”. Definitely non fiction.

  • itsthedax

    Isn’t it interesting how fundamentalists always lack the courage to answer simple hard questions? Even when asked whether their god sends innocent jewish girls to hell for having the wrong religion – one of the central pillars of their faith – they have to weasel word around the answer.

  • ThomasBaum

    Actually for me, faith was believing in something that I did not know if it was true or not and then God “rewarded” my faith with “some knowledge”.

    I now know that God is LOVE, not an attribute but God’s Very Being and I know that God is a Trinity and I know that satan is real and I know that the Catholic Eucharist is Jesus, there is still plenty that I “just” believe but, as I have said, there is some that I know.

  • ccnl1

    From the Land of Loading More Comments:

    Yes. Jesus existed BUT”

    Putting the final kibosh on religion to include Mormonism:

    • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added references are available.
    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • ThomasBaum

    Is there a ccnl1 or does a computer program keep repeating itself?

    Hope you are doing fine and Happy Easter to you.

  • pxhoplite

    So, Larry, do you believe Socrates existed? There are no existing writings written by him, nor a tomb, nor anything of the sort, but only those writings of his students referencing his teachings. Funny, I’m sure you wouldn’t expect the same “shred[s] of verifiable evidence” from any other historical figure, now would you?

    theanthistemi.blogspot.com

  • Whuff

    Ehrman fails to understand that there is a very sound historical basis for the Jesus story and a need for the religion as an introduction to philosophy.

    Ehrman clings very hard to the view that experts are experts for a reason: years of study, consistent agreement with others; the result being that almost everyone with the right qualifications agrees Jesus existed, he fails to mention what the other people with all the right qualifications think, but we infer that they don’t!

    Ehrman’s discussion is childish and shallow, by the time we get to page 221 he is suggesting that the pagan mystery religions were about fertility deities. He completely misses the whole point of the mystery religions, they offered a spiritual progress to those prepared and capable of studying the philosophy and concepts they required.

    His explanation for the lack of historical evidence for the resurrection seems to be that his followers came to think he had been raised from the dead, well of course you’d think that if there was no body. No Burke and Hare in those days!

    Does he really have no idea of the spirtual concept? If he has, it obviously has no place in discussing the religious ‘plot’. Whilst back at the story we find that the fact that the Gospel stories replicated the storyline from earlier Jewish history, “has nothing to do with the question of whether or not Jesus existed”. So he has no evidence apart from the Gospels, but the fact that they aren’t original, authentic or agree with one another doesn’t matter either! Whose shaping the facts to meet his needs, the mythicist or Ehrman?

    His analysis of the mythicist position and the place of Jesus in the religion of the time is weak. He does not use the original or alternative sources to investigate the proposals. He appears to know all about Bible studies and nothing of philosophy, spiritual practices or history of the time. His book seems weakly constructed and sparse in content.

    If his grades don’t improve, he’ll have to resit the clas

  • ccnl1

    As a good student, you have read the reiterations of the “fems” (flaws, errors, muck and stench) of religion. Therefore the seeds have been planted in rich soil. Go therefore and preach the truth to all nations, reiterating as you go amongst the lost, bred, born and brainwashed souls of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as Reality makes its triumphant return all because of you!!!!

  • ThomasBaum

    As you know or should know, even if one were not to believe it, neither Judaism nor Christianity are religions but both are covenantal relationships with God.

    In Judaism, it is a covenantal relationship between God and a people and in Christianity, it is a covenantal relationship between God and a person.

  • Chip_M

    Thanks for the link. It’s good to see this debate finally hitting the mainstream. The arguments from the pro-Jesus side are really nothing but appeals to emotion, speculation, and heavily biased opinion. Without additional evidence I don’t think we need any more books masquerading as serious scholarship arguing for a historical Jesus. Without new evidence the author can bring nothing new to the debate. The only honest answer to the question given the evidence that exists is that there’s no way to know. Certainly nowhere near enough evidence to make doubt unreasonable. No amount of navel gazing will change that.

  • telemachus

    Mr. Ehrman is not much of a historian, when he says that Jesus was ” a man who lived and died in Roman Palestine”.

    Jesus lived and died in Jewish Judea, a Roman province around the year 30 or so of the Common Era.

    Judea did not become Roman Palestina until the failure of the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 66 CE, a good 30 years after the death of Jesus the man.

  • logicrules

    Religion is a phase of mans existence, a thought, an idea that is due to mans lack of understanding of the world around him. He has to rely on it until he has reached a point of caring for his fellows, though not many religions are helping him to do so.
    Until then he will follow any fool that claims to be a messenger of whatever god(s) he prefers.
    What god has made itself evident? None. For one to claim that in some distant time a man came along and claimed he was the son of god is about as ridiculous as one can be in order to state their religious foundations.
    There is nothing wrong in believing such idiocy but then people believed in other tyrants that led their societies to ruin. They have placed their trust in anyone that would provide prosperity, health, and happiness, and have ended up being murdered by their trust.
    What man has been unable to do is place his trust in himself; for the leaders know that an educated society will not accept his rule. To develop a god is the simplest solution the people accept the god as their savior and allow the tyrant to have their way, for god will prevail and save them from any wrong doing. Uneducated fools, weaklings, and sheep; being led by a dog(ma).
    I know very little about religions because as a child I refused to accept the insanity religions presented, but I do have some knowledge of Catholicism. It is one of the most ridiculous religions one may consider. I must accept an old man in a dress as my leader; someone that displays very little knowledge of today’s societies, that places himself in expensive surroundings and jewelry, hides church information from his followers, allows his colleagues to sodomize little boys and when suspected passes them on to a different area to hide the churches involvement. All of this is what they are involved in at the present time. What they have done to people in the past amounts to war crimes.
    The ridiculous rules that must be accepted should be a sign of the farce being placed upon people

  • WheelChairPal

    I guess we will all find out eventually. Imagine if he did really exist… WHOOPS!~ That’s going to HURT@!

  • WheelChairPal

    I’m so glad you wrote a book that really no one is going to read.

  • ccnl1

    As a good student, you have read the reiterations of the “fems” (flaws, errors, muck and stench) of religion and convenantal relationships with god or between god and a person. Therefore the seeds have been planted in rich soil. Go therefore and preach the truth to all nations, reiterating as you go amongst the lost, bred, born and brainwashed souls of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as Reality makes its triumphant return all because of you!!!!

  • AgentFoxMulder

    The important thing to remember is that even Mr. Ehrman admits that Jesus existed, which flies in the face of many of the usual nay-sayers who post comments on this site. And Mr. Ehrman comes from the extreme left side of the discussion.

    I believe that a key point of the debate begins with Mr. Ehrman’s statement, “One of the most interesting questions in the history of religion involves how Christians argued with Jews over the matter…” Christianity started in Jerusalem, among the jewish population, and spread from there. This was truly a miraculous feat and indeed the witness of the earliest Christians is that it was a series of miracles (culminating in the resurrection of Jesus) that actually convinced those early jewish converts.

    I may disagree with Mr. Ehrman on many of his positions, however I do appreciate his honesty in stating that Jesus DID exist.

  • itsthedax

    The unstated assumption of this question is that, if a historical Jesus existed, the christianity must the the true religion. This is a completely invalid argument.

    We also know that L. Ron Hubbard existed, Joseph Smith existed, and Mohammed existed. Would Mr. Ehrman accept this as proof that Scientology, Mormonism and Islam are the correct religions?

  • persiflage

    He honestly believes he existed – the fact has not yet been established, so maybe congratulations should be held until such time as irrefutable proof is offered.

  • persiflage

    Why so? Do you imagine that in the afterlife you will receive more favorable treatment if you believed that Jesus was God? Hey, maybe you won’t see Jesus at all in the life beyond the grave.

    You’ll just wake up and say, ‘well I’ll be damned, here I am…..but where’s Jesus?’ Your discarnate ushers into the afterworld will say, ‘ damned if I know…..that’s what everyone asks’.

    Now wouldn’t that be funny?!

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