This afternoon is a long, cloudy Saturday afternoon and I'm spending it doing random reading from a ton of different sources on the topic of the myth that Jesus never existed. I really do have fresh brewed coffee in front of me, and I'm enjoying the topic and thought; "I'll just link to some random sites that I'm perusing on my blog...." So I am.
This one can be found at this source: http://www.bede.org.uk/jesusmyth.htm
(This is just a tiny snippet... feel free to visit the site to read more of what this author has to say or to peruse his books, listed at the bottom of the post).
Refuting the myth that Jesus never existed
The thesis that Jesus never existed has hovered around the fringes of research into the New Testament for centuries but never been able to become an accepted theory. This is for good reason, as it is simply a bad hypothesis based on arguments from silence, special pleading and an awful lot of wishful thinking. It is ironic that atheists will buy into this idea and leave all their pretensions of critical thinking behind. I will adapt what has become popular usage and call people who deny Jesus' existence 'Jesus Mythologists'.
A huge amount has been written on the web and elsewhere which you can find in the further reading section below. Not all Jesus Mythologists are lunatics and one at least, Earl Doherty, is extremely erudite and worth reading. Nevertheless, he is still wrong and, as I have seen myself, he reacts badly to those who demonstrate it. It is not my intention to study the minutiae of the argument but instead focus on three central points which are often brought up on discussion boards. These are the lack of secular references, the alleged similarities to paganism and the silence of Paul. Finally I want to bring all these together to show how ideas similar to those that deny Jesus' existence can be used on practically any ancient historical figure. With this in mind I set out to prove that Hannibal never existed.
Occasionally people ask why there is no record of Jesus in Roman records. The answer is that there are no surviving Roman records but only highly parochial Roman historians who had little interest in the comings and goings of minor cults and were far more concerned about Emperors and Kings. Jesus made a very small splash while he was alive and there was no reason for Roman historians to notice him.
Christianity is mentioned by the historian Tacitus in the early second century. But he talks about it only because Christians were unfortunate enough to be made scapegoats by the Emperor Nero for the great fire of Rome. Tacitus is interested in the Emperor, not his victims about whom he gives very limited information. Still, he does tell us that Jesus existed and was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Jesus Mythologists counter this by claiming that he could have got his information from Christians which means his evidence is not independent. So, we have a very convenient situation for the Jesus Mythologists. Until Christianity had spread no one except Christians would be interested in Jesus but all later records are ruled out of court as they are tainted by association with Christianity. This sort of special pleading is one of the reasons that modern historians have no time for these theories as they are set up to be impossible to disprove. In fact, Christian evidence for a human Jesus who was crucified is trustworthy because it ran counter to the myths of the time and suggested that he had suffered a humiliating death. If they made it up and then suppressed the truth with clinical efficiency, why did they come up with a story which even the Christian apologist, Tertullian, admitted was absurd? It seems far more likely that they had a large number of historical facts that they had to rationalise into a religion rather than creating all these difficulties for themselves.
Sometimes Jesus Mythologists will produce long lists of writers none of whom have the slightest reason to mention an obscure Jewish miracle worker and somehow think this strengthens their point. In fact, it has all the relevance of picking fifty books off your local library shelf and finding that none of them mention Carl Sagan. Does that mean he did not exist either? Jesus was not even a failed military leader of the kind that Romans might have noticed - especially if he had been defeated by someone famous.
Further reading by James Hannam available through Amazon or his site sourced above;
God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam
The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution