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Crucified Jesus Probably Existed, But Not "of Nazareth"

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Posted by John Morgan Powell on April 17, 2001 22:54:22 UTC


You wrote:

> In any case, for me Paul is the most convincing
> evidence that Jesus of Nazareth lived. His
> letters reveal a man who believed in the
> historical life of a man. He records other
> apostles who knew Jesus, and who rejected him
> because he didn't know the historical Jesus.
> Being that Paul was so defensive about this
> accusation and that he knew the 'heavenly
> Jesus' and said he spent 3 years in Arabia with
> this 'heavenly Jesus' leads me to believe that
> Jesus was a real person who lived around the
> beginning of the first century.

I have to agree with you about Jesus, but not the "of Nazareth" or "heavenly" part. I was beginning to doubt that someone named Jesus was even crucified, but rereading Paul made me reconsider the reality of someone named Jesus who was of the lineage of David, brought before Pontius Pilate and was crucified. I have no good reason to doubt the existence of Paul. Paul seemed to believe in these points about the historical Jesus even though he never met him personally. I still doubt Nazareth and the rest of the Gospel accounts. I don't believe the "created the world", "sinless", "rose the third day", "Christ = Messiah", etc. beliefs which Paul also held about Jesus, but someone named Jesus who was crucified probably existed who Paul believed resurrected partly because he saw him in one or more hallucinations. I still consider it most likely that the Gospel stories were mostly (but not entirely) fabrications based loosely on the crucifixion of a man named Jesus, but not of Nazareth.

I could be annoyingly skeptical and suggest that references to Pontius Pilate, the crucifixion, and such things were added to Paul's epistles after the Gospels were written. Paul, according to this more extreme view, believed in a spiritual Jesus that had nothing to do with any historical person. An historical Jesus was invented later by Christians who felt the need to defend their "spiritual" savior from detractors. Despite warnings of God's punishment, "adding to" and "taking away" has been an option for religious scribes through out history.

I don't know if Paul was gay. If he were it could be useful, but isn't crucial to the atheist cause.

Zindler may have this more skeptical point of view of Paul's conception of Jesus. I'll have to look at that again and see if I agree with Zindler on this point.

> No one is going to prove or disprove the
> existence of Jesus of Nazareth. The
> circumstances of his life are currently
> correlative with the New Testament.

Perhaps Zindler has given convincing argument against the "of Nazareth" part. The "correlative" with the New Testament is a weak argument for the historicity of Jesus since Matthew and Luke are elaborations of Mark and Mark seems to be speaking from hear say evidence. So thinks Zindler.

> . . . There's even evidence to suggest that a
> few New Testament fragments are found at the
> same caves the Dead Sea scrolls were found.

It would have been a major bust for historians debating the historical existence of Jesus if the Dead Sea Scrolls had clearly spoken of Him. Unfortunately for the Jesus-defenders, the best they've come up with is reference to someone called the "Teacher". Some Christians want to think of this as Jesus, but that's not supported. The Jesus-detractors seem to have the upper hand because of the lack of any reliable reference to such an important person in the Qumran caves. Perhaps Jesus wasn't important to the Essenes.

Having New Testament fragments in the Dead Sea Scrolls is very interesting. This should invalidate what I just wrote in the previous paragraph about "Teacher" being the best reference possible to Jesus. Is it possible to have NT fragments that don't mention Jesus? I doubt it.

I think Paul and Peter were supposed to have been executed in Rome about 65 A.D., so their letters were written before that. The Gospels were supposed to be written a generation or two after the Pauline epistles partly because Paul doesn't refer to them by name. There's a hypothetical work called the Q document which Mark and the other Gospels supposedly had access to. Maybe the Qumran Essenes or whoever they were had copies or parts of this or a pre-Q document which they buried in their caves about 70 A.D. when Jerusalem was destroyed. This chronology would suggest that the Qumran group could not have had copies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but only of precursor documents. If what you say is true, it could be very valuable in identifying the original sources of the Gospel stories.

If the Dead Sea Scrolls included sufficiently complete versions of the Gospels that would establish that they were completed prior to 70 A.D. It wouldn't prove that the stories they told were true, just that the argument is false that the Gospels were written many decades after the events described.

Can you tell me more about New Testament documents found in the caves of Qumran?

Whether this discovery better supports Christian theism or atheism has yet to be determined.

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