Jesus is one of the most important figures in history. He has probably had a larger impact on Western civilisation than anyone else. Numerous miracles have been attributed to him and he is claimed to have been descended from God himself. Yet there is surprisingly little evidence to prove he even existed.
Pretty much everything we know about Jesus comes from the Bible. However there are many reasons to believe it is not the most reliable source. It is estimated that the Gospels were written anywhere between 50 and 150 years after the death of Jesus. Seeing as people in Roman times had a life expectancy of around 30, this means the books were written 2 to 7 generations after the incidents they described. Even still, none of these copies survive. In fact the oldest surviving Gospels date from 200-350 AD. It is clear that after such a long period memories would have faded and the stories become distorted.
Very little is known about who wrote the Gospels, or who in fact did write them. (for example most scholars believe the Gospel according to Mark wasn’t written by Mark but rather some unknown person, same story for the rest of them). There are many contradictions between the Gospels, for example Mark makes no mention of the virgin birth, the Sermon on the Mount or the Lord’s Prayer. It seems unusual that such major events in the life of Jesus could be ignored by someone who allegedly witnessed them. The Gospels contradict each other on Jesus’ ancestors and numerous other places (too many to mention here but a possible topic for a future post).
The original Gospels were written in Greek, which is unusual as none of the disciples are said to have able to speak Greek or even read (most of them were ordinary fishermen). There is another problem. It is presumed that Jesus spoke in Aramaic, the language spoken in Palestine at the time. This means his words were translated from Aramaic into Greek, into Latin and then into English. It is highly likely that words would have been lost in translation or other phrases given new meaning. If so, how can we possibly know for sure what was the original meaning of any Jesus’ words. In fact Christopher Hitchens claims that the whole story of the virgin birth is due to the Greek word for “young women” (“parthenos”) being mistranslated into “virgin” (“neanis”)
It is unclear when Jesus was born. Matthew says it was when Herod was King while Luke says it was when Cyrenius was Governor. The problem is that Herod died 10 years before Cyrenius became Governor. It was supposedly in Bethlehem were Mary and Joseph had to go as part of a census. There is no evidence that the census described took place. Roman censuses were concerned only with citizens (people born in Italy) and none required you to return to your ancestral home (a ridiculous notion that would have unnecessarily complicated the already complex task of running a census). Herod supposedly massacred all the infants when he heard about Jesus, surely that is the kind of thing that would get noticed and commented upon? But there is no recording of this alleged incident anywhere outside the Bible.
Jesus is described as coming from Nazareth, however it is disputed whether there was such a town during his time. There is confusion over whether or not he had a family. It is claimed he had brothers and sisters in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55-6, but Catholic Church disagrees claiming Mary was a virgin for life.
There are several other problems with the supposed story of Jesus’ life. Almost nothing is mentioned of him after his birth but before he began teaching, other than the story of with the elders in the temple. The gospels only record the last year of his life. Why does a book about the life of Jesus mention hardly anything about his life? It is a poor biography that does not mention 95% of a person’s life.
One thing I could ever understand, if Jesus did all these great things, why did the people want him killed? Why would they hate someone who healed the sick and preached about love? Either the people hated good works or the miracles never happened but were only claimed after his death.
The main part of the New Testament apart from the Gospels is the Letters of Paul. Yet he never mentions the virgin birth or any of the miracles Jesus is supposed to have performed. Nor those he mention the main stories about Jesus or even quote him. As he was a missionary trying to convince people he would surely have mentioned it if he knew about it. As he didn’t it possible that those stories were only added later.
Just like in a game of Chinese whispers where each time the story is told, details get changed, so the bible undoubtedly got changed over its 2,000 year history. His is especially likely as the only people who kept copies of books throughout most of this period were monks, who had a vested interest in portraying Jesus in the most favourable light.
Christians argue that there are independent sources supporting Jesus’ existence. However there are less than a handful, all of which only mention Christians and their claims about Jesus none contain actual accounts about Jesus. It is also accepted that these documents were tapered with as monks were the only people who kept copies of them.
I have to conclude that it is highly unlikely that the Jesus described in the Bible ever existed. He certainly wasn’t the Son Of God nor did he perform miracles. It is possible he was just an ordinary preacher the story of which was greatly exaggerated. Anyone who has been on a drunken night out knows that quite small incidents are transformed into wildly exaggerated events of epic proportions. Take the claim that Jesus brought a man back to life. What probably happened was the man was sick. So Jesus went to pray for him. The laws of probability say that if you pray for enough people one of them will eventually get better. So his supporters used this as an example of how great Jesus was. Naturally each time they changed it slightly to make Jesus sound better. So he went from being a sick man, to an extremely ill man, to one who was next to death. It would have been very easy for this to be mistranslated or miscopied and ending up with the story that he rose from the dead.
Therefore there simply is not enough independent evidence to conclude that Jesus existed and performed the miracles attributed to him in the Bible.
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