I’ve had an interest in religion and atheism for a long time, especially since I started writing on this blog three years ago. I’ve covered topics like evolution and creationism, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (the religion I was raised in), and a whole lot of thoughts and opinions on religion in general and the existence of God. While I’ve done plenty of research, it still shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I tend to have my own personal biases when looking at evidence for things like God or evolution.
Even though I’ve been writing and reading about this stuff for years, there is still one very relevant topic here that I have not touched at all, and that’s the existence of a historical Jesus. In my experience, when I first thought about the existence of Jesus without the Christ-colored glasses of Christianity, I thought, “You know, the bible is so messed up, and God almost certainly does not exist, and so I have no reason to believe that Jesus ever even existed.” Thinking this, I know that deep down, I was allowing a bias to creep in that for some reason, if there was a historical Jesus, then Christianity might be true and I might be wrong.
There was a reason why I wouldn’t publicly profess a disbelief in Jesus: I had no basis for it. It was a literal, complete guess. My only research into a historical Jesus was reading his Wikipedia page, which said that “Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed historically, although the quest for the historical Jesus has produced little agreement on the historical reliability of the Gospels and on how closely the Jesus portrayed in the Bible reflects the historical Jesus.” Although I don’t tend to believe in things just because of a majority rule, I kept this in mind throughout the years; I’m no “modern scholar of antiquity,” and I’m betting that those who are have a much better picture of Jesus’ existence than I do.
So I finally decided it was time to figure this out. While I may have a stronger bias with topics like Christian apologetics or the case for evolution (both of which I’m more familiar with), I didn’t really start famed New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? with any great biases. I had come to figure out that Jesus’ existence doesn’t really have anything to do with the bible being infallible or Jesus being the son of God. I just wanted to know the truth.
Ehrman starts the book on kind of a distasteful note. He essentially says, “Well, I wanted to write a different book next, but people keep annoying me about whether Jesus existed or not. I didn’t even know that this is something people don’t know already. Of course Jesus existed! Are you really going to make me spell it out for you?” So he didn’t seem particularly thrilled to have to write this book. I understand why; while it’s the first book of his that I’ve read, I get the impression that his other books are a lot more exciting. He has books on who wrote the bible, the contradictions of the bible, the beginnings of the Christian church, and more. This is just “Did Jesus exist?” and nothing more.
For the amount of people that even I have seen on Twitter and Instagram who don’t believe that Jesus existed, I think that this book is important, even if it’s not a thriller. It’s not exciting, and it’s not really fun to read. It’s more like something you might need to read for a class, but in the class of the historicity of Jesus… you do need to read this.
Did Jesus Exist? has two main parts and a third, much shorter part, which I’m sure is a compressed version of something he’s covered extensively in other books. They are:
Part One: Evidence for the Historical Jesus
Part Two: The Mythicists’ Claims
Part Three: Who Was the Historical Jesus?
Part One is exactly what it sounds like: evidence for Jesus. Ehrman just lists out all of the sources that point to the historical Jesus. They include some extra-biblical sources and many biblical sources. Of course he includes the gospels, and before you say “Why would I believe something included in a book with a virgin giving birth, a guy turning water into wine, and more than one bodily resurrection!?” you have to understand the context in which this was all written. Ehrman knows that the bible says these things, but if you understand the order in which the gospels were written, where they got their stories from, and what their authors believed, then you would be able to figure out which parts are historically likely to have happened and which aren’t. The miracles aren’t. Jesus’ ministry, his having apostles, and his crucifixion are all pretty well-substantiated historical events.
In “The Mythicists’ Claims,” Ehrman takes on pretty much any mythicist argument that may be running through your head right now if you think that Jesus was entirely fictional. These include the most popular mythicist argument, which is that Jesus was invented as a dying-rising god based on pagan myths.
I had heard of Jesus being plagiarized off of previous deities before, and I was persuaded by it briefly years before actually getting into researching or writing about any of this. (I’ll talk about this more in next week’s post!) My idea was reinforced when I saw this Jaclyn Glenn video, but once I saw it, it didn’t take long for me to realize that while these ideas would be condemning for Christianity, they were just entirely made up. Jaclyn had probably heard them from someone who heard them from someone (repeat probably dozens of times) who said that it would be a really bad look for Jesus if he was plagiarized off of more ancient gods.
The link that people make between gods like Horus and Jesus is fascinating, and can easily cause people (like me) to fall down rabbit holes on Google and Wikipedia. But all that I will say on the topic for now is that if you search “Horus” and NOT “Horus and Jesus,” you don’t find anything that Jaclyn listed there. It should also be noted that the video description has absolutely no sources; the closest thing to a source is Jaclyn’s saying that Horus was described in the Egyptian Book of the Dead in 1280 BC. I don’t have any reason to think that the Book of the Dead says anything about Horus at all (source), or that Horus is in any way the inspiration for the invention of Jesus (source). The Wikipedia page for Horus has the following to say concerning his story. I’ll warn you now to read at your own discretion, as it’s kind of… rated R. And gross, and unsettling.
I think that’s enough of that for now, but definitely come back next week when I will dive back into these weird claims! Suffice it to say that while Did Jesus Exist? didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat, it finally answered the question I’ve been cluelessly wondering about for years. I’m excited to read more about this, and in order to give both sides an equal opportunity, I also plan to (eventually) read Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We May Have Reason for Doubt. But for now, you could say that I’m an atheist who believes in Jesus.