OK, this topic got going here (at least most recently?) in this thread. I thought it best to move it to another.
I’ll preface this by my repeated insistance that [i:f89847c7da]I am not a Biblical scholar, nor play one on TV[/i:f89847c7da] so this is just some rambling thoughts on more [i:f89847c7da]prima facie[/i:f89847c7da] reasons why it’s best for a secularist to just [i:f89847c7da]grant[/i:f89847c7da] Jesus’s existence, rather than persist in arguing that he didn’t exist.
Having thought more about Kenneth Humphreys’s arguments, it occurs to me that all he can hope to establish is this: it is possible there is no single historical person who corresponds exactly with our na憊e notion of Jesus.
I see some problems with this line of argument.
I have one relevant book at home, which is Morton Smith’s book [i:f89847c7da]Jesus the Magician[/i:f89847c7da], a book we had to read years ago in a university course I took on early Christianity. Smith is professor of Ancient History at Columbia, or at least was when the book was written. His book is also [i:f89847c7da]not[/i:f89847c7da] beloved of Christians generally, since its entire aim is to show that Jesus’s importance was not so much as the Messiah, or a man of ethics, but rather as a magic-worker ... someone who could do the latter day equivalent of bending spoons.
Smith has a whole chapter on "What the Outsiders Said—Evidence Outside the Gospels". (pp. 45-67). In it he goes through a number of outside sources, in particular in the Jewish and Roman traditions, that discuss Jesus. For example, Josephus’s [i:f89847c7da]Antiquities[/i:f89847c7da], which were written in the 90s CE. Josephus does mention Jesus twice, in passing, mentioning such things as: "... the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, James was his name".
Smith then reconstructs a passage from Josephus thusly, with his interpolations in brackets:
[quote:f89847c7da]At this time [in the middle of Pilate’s governorship, about AD 30] there lived Jesus, a man [who was a sophist], if it is proper to call him a man. For he was a doer of miracles, a teacher of men who receive [impiety] with pleasure. And he led [astray] many Jews and many of the Greeks [who said that] this [fellow] was the Christ. And when, on accusation by our leading men, Pilate condemned him to the cross, those who formerly loved [him] did not cease [to do so], for [they asserted that] he appeared to them on the third day, again alive, while [pretended] prophets kept saying these and ten thousand other incredible things about him. And to the present [time] the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not disappeared. (p. 46)[/quote:f89847c7da]
Smith has many such passages in his book, from both Roman and Jewish sources ... NB, he believes that the historical Jesus is the "Jesus ben Pantera" that Humphreys mentions, since Pantera was supposed as Jesus’s historical father.
The more general point to make here is that the Romans and Jews around at that time were [i:f89847c7da]anti-Christian[/i:f89847c7da]. Christianity was seen as a cult, much like let us say Scientology is seen today. Christians were seen as a little crazy. If there were no historical Jesus to be found (or a confusion of many), one would at least suppose that the Roman and Jewish sources from around that time would call into question his very existence (since they were happy to ridicule him and use every other argument against his believers, even forcible suppression) ... But they didn’t.
I find that a very telling problem with the anti-historical-Jesus argument.
Happy to hear counterarguments ... as I said in the other thread, Jesus’s historicity isn’t of any personal import to me. Frankly, I don’t really care if he existed or not—the arguments against Christian theology are grave enough even assuming his existence is real.
But given that there is no really strong argument denying his existence, I think it’s the best argumentative strategy to [i:f89847c7da]assume[/i:f89847c7da] he existed and go from there.