Does Christianity Need a Historical Jesus?


No . That's the short answer. The longer answer is more complicated. I have argued, here , and others have done so even more pe...

No. That's the short answer.

The longer answer is more complicated. I have argued, here, and others have done so even more persuasively, here, that the belief in a historical Jesus does not rest on strong historical facts. With Jesus, there are no facts. No facts he was a historical person and no facts he was not. By that I mean a guy named Jesus who created the movement that would later be called Christianity might have existed, but no facts proving he was historical have survived. This is also true, by the way, of almost every Jew who lived during the time of Jesus; it’s also the case for almost ever non-Jew who lived at that time. They lived--we know someone lived--but we have almost no direct proofs of specific individuals who lived, that they lived. Alternatively, it could have been that Jesus and the Christian movement was created by some guy staying in the back room of his mother's house, who had nothing else to do. A possibility, but we have no evidence of that or of other alternative scenarios on how Christianity came about.

We just don't know. We believe a lot of stuff, but we do so without historical facts. What few facts we have can barely be called historical facts, but we must make do with what we got. We have the books of the Bible's New Testament as evidence, which I will admit, is evidence for something, but it is unclear exactly what it is evidence of. The earliest books of the New Testament, written by Paul, were some twenty years after Jesus was supposed to have died. The oldest book was perhaps a hundred years later. Those early books by Paul say almost nothing about the historical Jesus and the New Testament books that do discuss the historical Jesus were written after Paul's death and were third hand at best.

But if Jesus did not exist how could Christianity be possible? When I was much younger and a believer, I used to think Jesus and the Bible had to be real because you could not make this stuff up. I think many Christians think that. They are wrong. The people of the ancient world had nothing better to do in their spare time but make this stuff up. And they did, often.

Jesus was not the first hero/God to die and be reborn. Many others before Jesus and during the time of Jesus competed to be noticed. The motif of death and rebirth had been the theology of the ancient religion for at least two thousand years before Jesus is thought to lived.

Two Thousand Years!

We have all read about the mummies of Egypt and about the Pyramids of Egypt. The mummies and the Pyramids were all about death and rebirth and preceded Jesus by thousands of years. I do not know whether the Egyptians started the whole concept of dying and being reborn, but I think they are the first people we know about who believed that. The Egyptian story of death and rebirth is more complicated than the Christian story, but it is interesting that while Jesus symbolically tore his flesh, Osiris actually was torn to pieces.

After Osiris came Perseus, then Heracles, then Theseus, then Dionysus, Persephone, Isis (the mysteries), Mithra and others. In fact, I suspect every community in the Mediterranean region had some kind of death rebirth God. The exception might be the Jews, but even they seem to have inherited a vestigial of a tradition of death and rebirth, which we can read in the stories of Noah and the crossing of the Jordan River, and also the Jewish cleansing with water tradition. The point is there are many other traditions of death and rebirth far older than Christianity.

So did Christianity need a historical Jesus to become established and become what it is today. They answer is certainly no. It's possible someone actually named Jesus started the Christian movement, someone did start it after all; why couldn't his name be Jesus. But that person was not the same person we read about in the New Testament. Just as a strong following developed around the religions of Persephone and Dionysus, which lasted for a thousand years or more, and Persephone and Dionysus did not exist; a strong following could have existed around a Jesus who did not exist.

Yes, we have a long tradition that Jesus existed. But that tradition did not get firmly established until several hundred years after the new millennial started, and it stays a tradition simply because so many people want it to be true. The belief in a historical Jesus is not about history, it's about religion.

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Consider This:
If Jesus Christ were to come today, people would not even crucify him. They would ask him to dinner, and hear what he had to say, and make fun of it.--Thomas Carlyle (1795 - 1881)



The Evolving Monkey : Does Christianity Need a Historical Jesus?
Does Christianity Need a Historical Jesus?
The Evolving Monkey
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