First, let’s begin by looking at some common mythicist objections.
We have no archaeological evidence of Jesus. What?! Oh my goodness, he must not have existed! Who all from the first century do we have archaeological evidence of? A few rich people.
If you think the fact that we have no archaeological evidence of Jesus means much, you simply don’t understand how doing ancient history works. We have very little archaeological evidence for anyone that lived that long ago and this surprises absolutely nobody.
Unless you were well-off enough, or high-up enough in the political order, there would be no archaeological evidence of you anyway, let alone any that could be discovered 2,000 years later. Jesus was a poor, Jewish, itinerant preacher, why would you even expect to find archaeological evidence?
We have no writings of Jesus. Again, so what? Most people were illiterate.
When I die, there will be thousands, if not millions, of my words left behind in the medium of writing and speaking. However, I live in a time and place where most people can read and write.
I actually did have a customer once who could not read, or sign his name, and I was in utter shock. Such people are a rarity today, but they were common in the first century.
It comes as absolutely no surprise that we have no writings from Jesus. We only have a handful of writings from people during this time. Does that mean they were the only people that ever existed? Of course not. This objection falls flat on its face.
No Greek or Roman in the 1st Century mentions Jesus. Obvious question: why on earth would a first century Roman or Greek mention a back-water Jewish peasant?
Do they mention any other Jewish peasants? No, because they had no reason to do so. They had absolutely no motivation to do so.
Of course this objection is also false. Luke was a Greek Physician and he mentions Jesus. “Luke didn’t actually write that Gospel! Blah blah blah!” You asked, and now you have received.
More importantly, how many Greeks or Romans in the 1st Century mention Pontius Pilate? Well, Luke does if you’re ready to accept that. Otherwise, none.
By the way, we also have no writings from Pilate or a lot of people either. Does that mean they didn’t exist? Of course not.
How many times is Josephus mentioned by Romans or Greeks? I’m glad you asked. Absolutely none. Pilate and Josephus were actually somebodies during this time period and we have no contemporary writings of them. This proves absolutely nothing.
The Gospels don’t count as sources because they are biased. This response is so rich, I want to put it on a plaque on my wall.
First, this is just as stupid as saying, “I don’t believe medical textbooks because they are written by doctors.” “Well, they’re the experts in their fields.” Exactly. Those closest to Jesus would be in the best position to tell us about him.
Secondly, the claim of bias insinuates that they had a reason to lie. I will have to wait the rest of my life for someone to give me a good reason as to why the disciples would’ve made the whole thing up.
“Yeah, John, what’s up?”
“Want to make up a story about how the Messiah came and was crucified and rose from the dead?”
“I’d love to buddy, can’t wait to be persecuted. In fact, I’ve been sitting around all day thinking about how much I want to lose my livelihood for a lie.”
Third, the mythicist making this objection is biased too, unless you are so self-conceited as to believe you are the bastion of objectivity with absolutely no biases.
If you do have biases, then we should reject you according to your own standard. But then we’d have to reject everyone, including ourselves, because everyone is biased. It means absolutely nothing.
That’s why I’m fine with saying “I want Christianity to be true.” I believe in Christianity first, and I actively go out and seek evidence. Does the fact that I already believe it mean my evidence is not good evidence? No.
Does the fact that I want it to be true mean it is false? No. Then what is your point? You are making a moot point. It literally means nothing. And here I am responding to it.
The Gospels are dependent so they aren’t multiple attestations. Good grief. First of all, John almost isn’t dependent at all. About 20% of Matthew’s Gospel is unique and about 35% of Luke’s Gospel is unique. Matthew and Luke share a common separate source besides Mark, and about 3% of Mark’s material is unique to him.
Matthew and Luke use a lot of Mark’s material, but not all of it, and they clearly share a separate source together, as well as have unique sources to themselves. That’s five sources alone.
By the way, the writings in the Gospels are certainly not just based on single sources. They would be drawn from multiple oral histories. So there’s actually no telling how many independent sources. But let’s just say five, that’s plenty.
So what you see is that while some accounts found in the Gospels don’t have independent attestation, there’s a lot that do. For one example, the resurrection narratives all have unique material. They are drawing from multiple different sources that essentially say the same thing: Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead.
In the Gospel traditions alone, we have at least five independent attestations that Jesus existed. If that isn’t good enough for you, you can excuse yourself from historical conversations.
But just wait, I’ll throw you a bone here in a second.
Before that, let me point out that besides the ridiculous “the Gospels are biased” and the false “the Gospels are really only one source,” what we have are nothing but arguments from silence.
The mythicist argues from what is not found, what is not said, people who did not mention Jesus, etc. This is a logical fallacy known as an argument from silence.
It simply does not count as an argument because well, it isn’t an argument. If someone argues like this, you are right to point out their mistake and dismiss what they have said.
I’ve taken the time here to actually respond, but it would have been sufficient to simply say “No, that is an argument from silence. What else you got?”
Pliny the Younger was governor of the Roman province, Bithynia-Pontus. We have some of his writings back and forth with the emperor Trajan. Letter 10 to Trajan around 112 CE is of the most importance to us.
He is writing to Trajan trying to figure out what he is supposed to do with these pesky Christians. In doing so, he describes a Christian worship service in which Christians “sing hymns to Christ as to a god.”
How would he be familiar with Christian worship services? Almost certainly from Christians, or former Christians, themselves.
There is no evidence of a later Christian interpolation. There is nothing inconsistent here. The idea that Jesus, the Christ, was a person worshiped by early Christians “as to a god” was clearly well-known enough that it had reached the politicians.
Tacitus was a Roman biographer who wrote his Annals of Imperial Rome around 115 CE which chronicled the history of Rome from 14 to 68 CE. He says that there was a great fire in the city in 64 CE that consumed a large portion of the populous.
Tacitus blames the fire on the emperor, and says that the emperor used Christians as a scapegoat because everyone already hated them, putting them to brutal death.
Here’s what he records of interest for our purposes. “The author of this name, Christ, was put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate, while Tiberius was emperor; but the dangerous superstition, though suppressed for the moment, broke out again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil but even in the city [of Rome].”
Again, there is no evidence of a later Christian interpolation. This is a specific, and explicit reference to a Christ put to death by Pontius Pilate under Tiberius. Sound familiar?
Flavius Josephus was a first century Jewish historian. He lived through the war and afterward was given a position by the Romans. In his writing, Antiquities, which was written around the end of the first century, we find an explicit reference to Jesus by name.
Josephus says that in 62 CE the Roman governor was withdrawn and the high priest Ananus used this opportunity to put to death James, “the brother of Jesus, who is called the Messiah.” (Antiquities 20.9.1)
Again, Jesus is referenced by name and Josephus adds that Jesus had a brother and was thought by some to be the Jewish Messiah. There is no actual evidence of a later Christian interpolation here either.
Josephus has a second passage, known as the Testimonium Flavianum, in which he mentions Jesus that is much more controversial. Well, it isn’t really controversial because nearly everyone accepts that there is a later Christian interpolation in this passage.
However, the majority of classical scholars agree that the interpolation can be removed, and reference to Jesus still remains and appears authentically Josephan.
People who try to say that the whole passage mentioning Jesus can be removed and it fits nicely with the rest of the text, ignore the fact that the Testimonium is a digression, and that there are other digressions in the surrounding text. Of course if you remove the text it will fit nicely, it’s a digression.
The overwhelming majority of scholars believe the passage to be authentically Josephan with a few words added later by Christians. They just couldn’t help themselves apparently.
Some try to use another argument from silence (which we just learned is logically fallacious) to argue against the Josephus passage.
They say, why doesn’t anyone quote the passage until Eusebius in the 4th Century? Again, aside from this being an argument from silence, why would they?
The battles the 2nd and 3rd century Christian apologists were facing did not necessitate quoting non-Christian sources of Jesus. This is a completely irrelevant objection.
Most importantly, remember that Josephus almost certainly hadn’t read the Gospels and would have got his information from somewhere else.
New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, no friend of conservative Christianity, so you know he must be the bastion of objectivity, concludes there are no less than seven independent sources within 100 years of Jesus’ supposed death that attest to his existence.
This is an extremely rare occurrence for figures of antiquity. Add on to this the fact that Jesus was a peasant Jew and not an important political figure, and this fact stands out as amazing, one might even say miraculous, but that would be biased of me, wouldn’t it?
Every Christian and non-Christians source for 1800 years assumed that Jesus was a historical figure. You have to go to the 18th century before you find your first source claiming Jesus wasn’t a real person.
The early antagonists of Christianity never dreamed of making the claim that Jesus was purely a myth, so why do so many modern (non-scholar) skeptics?
To assume the best, perhaps they are just ignorant of the flood of evidence. To assume the likely, they don’t want him to have existed. If he never existed then the claim that he rose from the dead and is the Son of God, to whom they should place their faith in, becomes irrelevant and obviously false.
Let me offer the mythicists an obvious cop-out. Just because Jesus existed doesn’t mean he rose from the dead and it certainly doesn’t mean he was the Son of God. Plenty of atheists and agnostics, like Bart Ehrman, believe that Jesus existed. They do so because the evidence is overwhelming.
In fact, aside from Bob Price and Richard Carrier (who is actually a classicist by training), there are no scholars in the field who believe Jesus didn’t exist. Jesus Mythicism only exists online and in the writings of people outside the field of New Testament History.
The reasons should be obvious. In fact, this idea is at least 30 years behind scholarship which is usually the case. Scholars no longer ask “Did Jesus exist?” They are asking “What can be known about Jesus?”
So this Easter, or Christmas, when you see this question brought up as click-bait and attempts to sell books, remember it has no basis in historical investigation. It rests upon mostly arguments from silence, false claims, and wishful thinking.