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Featured What do we mean by a historical Jesus?

Discussion in 'Religions Q&A' started by It Aint Necessarily So, Jul 1, 2017.

  1. It Aint Necessarily So

    It Aint Necessarily So Well-Known Member
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    The term "historical Jesus" generally refers to the idea that a real man once existed who is the inspiration for the central character in Christianity.

    To a believer, this probably refers to a person who fits the description of the Jesus of the New Testament, but to the skeptic, the term allows one to remove the supernatural aspects (virgin birth, changing water into wine, walking on water, resurrection, etc) and still call what remains a historical Jesus.

    My question is, how much can we remove from what remains before it is no longer close enough to the character in the scriptures to be called a historical Jesus?

    Let's look at two extremes:

    Suppose that all naturalistic aspects of the New Testament actually occurred but one. Maybe Jesus wasn't born in Bethlehem during a census. If that fact can be disproved (and I believe it has), but all of the rest were correct, we could probably all agree that a historical Jesus actually once existed.

    At the other extreme, suppose that none of the story has a historical correlate apart from the fact that a rabbi named Jesus existed in the first century CE. If that were the case, we could probably agree that Jesus of the New Testament was a fictional character.

    The question is, just how much can we carve away from this story and still say that what remains can be considered a historical Jesus?

    Suppose the story is true except for the miracles, Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, he only had eight disciples and one was named Felix, Jesus was not a carpenter, his mother was not named Mary, there was no Last Supper or betrayal by Judas, Jesus was married and had children, and the Sermon on the Mount never occurred, but the rest is historical. Is that still the Jesus of the New Testament?

    I realize that there is no good answer to this question. My point is to illustrate the problem with the question. Just what do we mean by a historical Jesus?
     
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  2. Desert Snake

    Desert Snake Veteran Member

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    What "problem", I don-t refer to Jesus as the "historical Jesus"
     
  3. George-ananda

    George-ananda Advaita Vedanta, Theosophy, Spiritualism
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    The historical Jesus is what objective researchers taking all sources and information into reasoned consideration, consider most likely. There is overwhelming consensus among them that there was a real person that the New Testament (NT) stories were based on and who lived the general narrative of the NT.

    If the overwhelming consensus was that the NT was not based on the life a single historical person then we would have the situation you are considering where there is nobody we should call the 'Historical Jesus'.
     
  4. KenS

    KenS Face to face with my Father
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    The only problem I am seeing here are the stories you are making up :D
     
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  5. It Aint Necessarily So

    It Aint Necessarily So Well-Known Member
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    I didn't make up the story. I found it in an old book. My question, which was rhetorical, related to how much of that story one could strip away and still call what's left the account of an actual person that once lived.
     
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  6. KenS

    KenS Face to face with my Father
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    As Paul said... if Jesus wasn't resurrected from the dead, then we have nothing to preach about.

    However, it is so comforting that the report is correct.
     
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  7. Deeje

    Deeje Avid Bible Student
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    My question would be why would you want to remove the 'supernatural' aspects of this man? It is the supernatural aspects that confirm his divine origins. How can you state with any authority that none of those things were demonstrated by Jesus?

    "Historian H. G. Wells said that a man’s greatness can be measured by ‘what he leaves to grow, and whether he started others to think along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him.’ Wells, although not claiming to be a Christian, acknowledged: “By this test Jesus stands first.”

    Alexander the Great, Charlemagne (styled “the Great” even in his own lifetime), and Napoleon Bonaparte were powerful rulers. By their formidable presence, they wielded great influence over those they commanded. Yet, Napoleon is reported to have said: “Jesus Christ has influenced and commanded His subjects without His visible bodily presence.”

    By his dynamic teachings and by the way he lived in harmony with them, Jesus has powerfully affected the lives of people for nearly two thousand years. As one writer aptly expressed it: “All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully.

    Respected historian Will Durant argued: “That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels.”

    Even calendars today are based on the year that Jesus was thought to have been born. “Dates before that year are listed as B.C., or before Christ,” explains The World Book Encyclopedia. “Dates after that year are listed as A.D., or anno Domini (in the year of our Lord).”

    Critics, nevertheless, point out that all that we really know about Jesus is found in the Bible. No other contemporary records concerning him exist, they say. Even H. G. Wells wrote: “The old Roman historians ignored Jesus entirely; he left no impress on the historical records of his time.” But is this true?

    Although references to Jesus Christ by early secular historians are meager, such references do exist. Cornelius Tacitus, a respected first-century Roman historian, wrote: “The name [Christian] is derived from Christ, whom the procurator Pontius Pilate had executed in the reign of Tiberius.” Suetonius and Pliny the Younger, other Roman writers of the time, also referred to Christ. In addition, Flavius Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, wrote of James, whom he identified as “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.”

    The New Encyclopædia Britannica thus concludes: “These independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and at the beginning of the 20th centuries.”

    Essentially, however, all that is known about Jesus was recorded by his first-century followers. Their reports have been preserved in the Gospels—Bible books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. "
    ("The Greatest Man who Ever Lived" WTBTS)

    People are free to make up their own minds about the historicity of Jesus, as well as his divine origins..
     
    #7 Deeje, Jul 3, 2017
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2017
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  8. arthra

    arthra Baha'i

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    I think the work of the Jesus Seminar The Jesus Seminar - Westar Institute

    is still probably one of the best replies to your question:

    "Just what do we mean by a historical Jesus?"

    The Jesus Seminar was organized in 1985 and probably is best described in the following opening statement:

    Thirty scholars took up the challenge at the initial meeting in Berkeley, California. Eventually more than 200 professionally trained specialists, called Fellows, joined the group at various phases. As the editors of the Seminar's 1993 book The Five Gospels explain in their Preface, the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar represent a wide array of Western religious traditions and academic institutions. They have been trained in the best universities in North America and Europe. » More about Westar Fellows

    The Seminar met twice a year to debate technical papers that were prepared and circulated in advance. At the close of debate on each agenda item, Fellows voted using colored beads to indicate the degree of authenticity of the words and deeds attributed to Jesus in the gospels.
     
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  9. blü 2

    blü 2 Veteran Member
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    Once upon a time on a religious board far away I started a thread asking for evidence suggesting that the Jesus of the NT had been a real person.

    The routine and only answer was, 'Every knows that Jesus existed' and various scholars were quoted, but only asserting the case, not reasoning it from evidence. I kept asking those who cited them, What evidence persuaded them to an HJ? But all I got back was abuse.

    I was the one who raised the question of whether Paul's reference to 'James the brother of the Lord' (Galatians 1:19). (My own view is that it's simply not a clincher ─ Paul elsewhere refers to fellow followers of Jesus as 'brothers'; but that doesn't rule it out, even it doesn't rule it in.)

    The starting point for the lack of an HJ is Paul, earliest writer about Jesus that we know of (starting 50 CE; traditionally Jesus was crucified about 30 CE so Paul's some 20 years after). Paul never met the HJ and says "the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ' (Galatians 11-12). That's to say, everything Paul tells you comes out of his own head. This is consistent with the fact that if indeed Paul ran into Jesus' brother, it seems he learnt from him not a single biographical fact about his hero. And if you study of Paul for biographical information about Jesus, your results will fit in a couple of lines: he was a Jew, he had a ministry, he was in Jerusalem, he had disciples, he performed a eucharist, he was 'handed over' to the 'rulers of the age' and crucified. And the ambiguous possibility of a real brother James. No parents, no miracle tales, no mention of charges or trial, all but nothing. He doesn't even know the story about Judas betraying Jesus, perhaps because it hadn't been written yet.

    Next we have Mark, about 75 CE. I have this vision of the author of Mark sitting at his table with reed in hand, and Mrs Mark says, 'Why have you been staring into space for two hours?' 'Well, I want to write a history of Jesus but, well, no one knows anything.' 'Ha! Silly Mark! Just make a list of OT things that the messiah's supposed to do, and write a story in which Jesus does them!' And so, with the addition of some sayings, and a trial scene closely modeled on the trial scene of Jesus son of Ananias from Josephus, the gospel of Mark gets written. (And as you probably know, the original ends with Jesus' death; the resurrection is added later.)

    Then about a decade later, the authors of Matthew and Luke don't know anything either and substantially borrow from Mark, each adding further 'fulfilment of prophecy' scenes and adding sayings and altering the tone to taste.

    And finally around 100 CE ie about 70 years down the track, we have John, which tells some of the same stories other way, adds others, and does its own thing. In particular it's anti-Jewish in a way the others are not.

    Nowhere in the NT is a purported eyewitness account of an historical Jesus. Nowhere in contemporary records is he mentioned. (Had the trial of Jesus really happened, forcing a collision of wills between the Roman governor and the Sanhedrin, no way would it have gone unnoticed, but ─ not a peep.)

    So my own view is that it's possible but not necessary that there was an HJ. I call the odds 50:50, since nothing decides the case one way or the other. If an HJ existed, then he was an ordinary human, a small player in Jerusalem's religious industry, and we don't know what his message was, though we might wonder if it were like John the Baptist's ─ Get ready, the kingdom is at hand! Did he say some of the sayings? Crossan wrote an interesting book trying to find out, but in truth we'll never know for sure.

    In 2013 Bart Ehrman published Did Jesus Exist?, and he's regarded by many (including me) as an intelligent and accurate writer on biblical texts, a good guy. Since he concluded Jesus must have existed, a lot of people cheered and said, Yea, game over! I didn't find it so ─ I was very disappointed to see the arguments from authority as his main evidence ─ Tom says so, Dick thinks it's true, Harry's on board; and of course James brother of the Lord. So I felt I'd already been there and done that and worn out the T-shirt.

    For a very readable if at times self-congratulatory work on reasons to doubt an HJ, try this version of David FitzGerald's Nailed!. He's more confident of the answer than I am, but his arguments are well researched and presented.
     
    #9 blü 2, Jul 19, 2017
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2017
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  10. KenS

    KenS Face to face with my Father
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    I find your position, based on the above facts, very one sided, hardly logical and filled with personal opinions.
     
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  11. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    The works of Paul, Luke, and Josephus are more than sufficient to establish historicity as an instance of historical inference to best explanation.
     
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  12. Desert Snake

    Desert Snake Veteran Member

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    I think that the Biblical narrative is real, at least from their perspective. Notice that the only traditions/texts, that differ, are some judaism ideas, and those are not reliable, for reasons of "differing religion"bias etc.

    I did read, that even some rabbis, actually just thought that jesus was using the power of satan, that sort of thing. Though not a christian idea, even that fits the "narrative" of the bible,
     
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  13. Desert Snake

    Desert Snake Veteran Member

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    The religion timeline did not allow for certain mythical ideas to be presented in a real context.
    There were christians, at the time of the crucifixion, resurrection, and afterwards. They just werent part of the european church.

    This religion, monotheistic Jesus/deity religion, was extant in Israel, and elsewhere, at the time of the occurences.
     
    #13 Desert Snake, Jul 19, 2017
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2017
  14. Skwim

    Skwim Veteran Member

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    And you know for a fact that it's correct because __________________________________________________________________ .

    Point being, I don't believe your knowing that it's correct goes beyond having faith that it is. Which is just fine . . .for you. My only problem is when people, not necessarily you, try to sell Jesus as something more than that.

    [​IMG]
    Not that they don't have the right to say anything they want, but it's nice if there was a bit more Truth in Advertising.


    .
     
  15. KenS

    KenS Face to face with my Father
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    It's OK Skwim, I'm not trying to force you or coerce you. I support your right to freedom of thought.

    I know because of various reasons... testimony of many of His time, the supportive evidence by non-Christians that we all basically know about and by my personal experiences.
     
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  16. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification
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    It is odd that Jesus's historical existence is even understood to be significant.

    One would expect the doctrine to stand on its own merits, but apparently not.

    That said, I don't think there is even much of a reason to hope for a historical Jesus. I stand unconvinced that the Bible was even meant to present him as a real person.
     
  17. Milton Platt

    Milton Platt Well-Known Member

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    I would say an historical Jesus would simply be a man like any other man. Remove the miracles and god claims and that is what you have left.
     
  18. Jayhawker Soule

    Jayhawker Soule <yawn> ignore </yawn>
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    The bulk of the "Bible" -- i.e., the Tanakh -- knows nothing of Jesus and cares less, but to suggest that the epistles, Acts, and the synoptics were not intended as layered witness to a real man-god strikes me as more than a little strange.
     
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  19. blü 2

    blü 2 Veteran Member
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    KenS

    I find your position, based on the above facts, very one sided, hardly logical and filled with personal opinions.

    It's a quick summary on an extensive topic.

    Would you care to specify what you found one-sided, and why?
     
  20. blü 2

    blü 2 Veteran Member
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    Jayhawker Soule

    The works of Paul, Luke, and Josephus are more than sufficient to establish historicity as an instance of historical inference to best explanation.

    Can't agree.

    As I said above, Paul never met Jesus, knows next to nothing about a biography of Jesus, and tells us that everything he tells us about Jesus comes out of his own head, not from reports he's heard (Galatians 1:12).

    Luke's gospel, like Matthew's, gets the large part of his biographical data about Jesus from Mark.

    Josephus is writing what the cult of Jesus was saying. He had no personal knowledge.

    Bear in mind that my position is not that an historical Jesus never existed. It's that honest and reasonable doubt that he existed is possible.
     
    #20 blü 2, Jul 20, 2017
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2017
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