Did Jesus Even Exist?

Responding to 5 Objections Raised by @rawstory

Before I respond to her five reasons below, it may be helpful to understand how unusual articles like this really are. The reason most Christmas articles simply want to rewrite the story of Jesus is because virtually all scholars agree–liberal and conservative alike–that there is little reason to doubt his existence.

 

Well, its that time of year.  Christmas is this week and we are already seeing various media channels releasing stories, articles, and documentaries on Jesus.  And when the dust settles, they all make the same point: the real Jesus is a lot different than you think.

As some might recall, this same sort of thing happened last Christmas with Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek article, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.”  You can read my two part response hereand here.

This Christmas it is happening again with an article by Valerie Tarico, “Here are Five Reasons to Suspect Jesus Never Existed.”  But she takes things even further than most other Christmas articles on Jesus.  Rather than suggesting Jesus is different than we think, she is arguing that Jesus never existed at all.

I suppose that might put a damper on some people’s Christmas.

Before I respond to her five reasons below, it may be helpful to understand how unusual articles like this really are. The reason most Christmas articles simply want to rewrite the story of Jesus is because virtually all scholars agree–liberal and conservative alike–that there is little reason to doubt his existence.

Indeed, so convinced are scholars that Jesus certainly existed, that it is difficult to even find scholars who might argue otherwise.  The most notable modern example is no doubt Richard Carrier and his book, The Historicity of Jesus.

And incredibly, even the consummate biblical critic, Bart Ehrman, has responded to Carrier in his book, Did Jesus Exist?  I must say, it is an unusual experience reading Erhman when he is actually defending (to some degree) the historicity of the Gospel accounts!

So, can Tarico (a psychologist by training) overcome the vast scholarly consensus in favor of Jesus’ existence?  Here are her five arguments:

1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef.

Not surprisingly, Tarico begins with the fact that secular sources don’t talk about Jesus in the first century. But there are a number of problems with this line of reasoning:

(a) It is functionally an argument from silence.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Secular historians would have little interest in a stir created by a backwater preacher from Galilee. This simply would not have been on their radar screen. Arguments from silence are widely regarded as fallacious precisely because we don’t always know why historians talk about some things and not others.

(b) Tarico conveniently rules out the numerous Christian sources that do tell us about Jesus (Gospels, epistles, Acts, etc.).  She will claim, no doubt, that these sources cannot be trusted.  But, ironically, these are precisely the sources that would have actually taken notice of a person like Jesus. Many of the New Testament authors would have actually been in Galilee and Judea and would have been able to record such things (more about this below).

(c) Tarico fails to mention the comments about Jesus in the writings of the first-century historian Josephus. Perhaps this is because Josephus is Jewish and therefore not “secular.” But this is hardly a convincing reason to omit his testimony.  As a Jew, he would have had little sympathy to the burgeoning Christian movement.

2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts.

Next Tarico appeals to the well-worn argument that since Paul, our earliest Christian writer, provides little biographical details of Jesus’ life, then Jesus must not have existed. This argument is problematic on a number of levels.

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