Jesus – historicity
Stephen – you keep asking for the evidence, and I’d be quite happy to provide a worked example of what is considered as evidence, but I want to first ask the question: do you consider all of the documents gathered into the New Testament to be invalid as evidence? Because there is very little else. (NB if you _do_ think it invalid, then I would take it as confirmation of your ‘unreasonableness’!!)
My response: What might reasonably support the claim that a particular historical individual existed? Prima facie, four rather inconsistent documents, written by true believers some decades after the event, telling a story about that individual, attributing extraordinary miracles to him in not just one or two, but many of the episodes, is not, by itself, terribly good evidence even for the existence of such an historical figure (not even when you add Paul, who seems to know very little about Jesus). Not enough to make me confident such a person even existed.
As I say, if the documents simply said there was such a person, I’d give it more weight. But the fact that almost every episode of the Jesus story involves miraculous claims integral to the story that are pretty obviously silly undermines that support.
I can’t really believe you think otherwise. But I am stressing the “prima facie”. I am happy to acknowledge there may be something about these documents and what they claim that I’m currently ignorant about, which actually makes at least the *existence* of such a person fairly likely.
Given what I know (which is much less than what you know) I’d currently put the probability of there even being such an individual at or possibly below 50 percent. Let’s be clear, though, that I also doubt the hypothesis that Jesus is entirely mythical. At this stage, given the evidence available to me, I’d say it was no better than 50/50 whether there’s a single historical individual as the subject and source of these stories.
What would you say the percentages are, and why? Obviously you won’t say 100 percent – so it would be helpful to have a figure. Perhaps we’re only 15 percent apart?
P.S. I just read all of Mark – the earliest Gospel. It’s a great story. No nativity story, of course. But loads of miracles, especially in first eight or so chapters – the story pretty much is the miracles for the entire first half. Then we get more teaching coming in. But much of it is weird and I can’t believe you think it should be taken literally: the kingdom of God coming in their lifetime, Jesus cursing a fig tree for failing to provide fruit out of season (he approaches it, having thought it would have figs, and disappointed, curses it – charming!) – the rich man being as likely to go to heaven as a camel to pass through eye of a needle, etc. But hardly any actual narrative other than miracle stories. Then right towards the end, we finally get a bit of non-miraculous extended narrative. A rather terse account of betrayal and crucifixion in 14 and 15. Followed by the biggest miracle of all at 16. In short, Mark is almost wall-to-wall miracles of one sort or another, plus various weird and cryptic teachings, with hardly any real non-miraculous narrative at all, except of course for 14-15.
This, I think, makes my Bert analogy particularly relevant. If what an ancient document – the earliest, and probably a source for two of the others – reports is mostly miraculous, the suggestion that, nevertheless, the non-miraculous bit of the story is quite likely to be substantially true is pretty questionable isn’t it? Even if the document were written by a supposed eye-witness, which it wasn’t?
But look that’s just me looking at this earliest text myself, without the benefit of any training. I am aware I do need educating (really- I’m not being sarcastic.)