The historicity of Jesus is the question whether Jesus existed in actuality as a historical figure (rather than being myth, legend or fiction), and whether any of the major events in his life as portrayed in the gospels can be confirmed by historical evidence as having actually happened. The historical analysis techniques used by Biblical scholars have been questioned, and according to James D. G. Dunn it is not possible "to construct (from the available data) a Jesus who will be the real Jesus."
However, virtually all scholars of various disciplines who have commented on the subject consider Jesus to have actually existed, although biblical scholars differ about the beliefs and teachings of Jesus as well as the accuracy of the parts of his life that have been recorded in the Gospels.
There is no archaeological evidence of Jesus - the available sources are all documentary. In conjunction with the Christian New Testament, three passages in non-Christian works have been used to support the historicity of Jesus. These are two passages in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, and one from the Roman historian Tacitus. Although the authenticity of all three passages has been disputed to varying degrees, most biblical scholars believe that all three are at least partially authentic.
Scope of the topic
This topic consists of many over-lapping aspects, and more information can be found in the following related articles:
Christ Myth Theory
The Christ myth theory (also known as the Jesus myth theory, Jesus mythicism or simply mythicism) is the proposition that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and the accounts in the gospels. This theory has little scholarly support.
Historical background of the New Testament
Most scholars who study the Historical Jesus and Early Christianity believe that the Canonical Gospels and life of Jesus must be viewed as firmly placed within his historical and cultural context, rather than purely in terms of Christian orthodoxy. They look at the "forces" such as the Oral Gospel tradition which were in play regarding the Jewish culture at that time, and the tensions, trends, and changes in the region under the influence of Hellenism and the Roman occupation.
Historical Jesus refers to scholarly reconstructions of the life of Jesus, based on critical methods including critical analysis of gospel texts as the primary source for his biography, along with consideration of the historical and cultural context in which he lived.
Historical reliability of the Gospels
The historical reliability of the Gospels refers to the reliability and historic character of the four New Testament gospels as historical documents. Although some claim that all four canonical gospels meet the five criteria for historical reliability, others say that little in the gospels is considered to be historically reliable.
Jesus Christ in comparative mythology
The study of Jesus Christ in comparative mythology is the examination of the narratives of the life of Jesus in the Christian gospels, traditions and theology, as it relates to Christian mythology and other religions. Various authors have drawn a number of parallels between the Christian views of Jesus and other religious or mythical domains. These include Greco-Roman mysteries, ancient Egyptian myths and more general analogies involving cross-cultural patterns of dying and rising gods in the context of Christ myth theory.
Quest for the historical Jesus
The quest for the historical Jesus refers to academic efforts to provide a historical portrait of Jesus. Since the 18th century, three separate scholarly quests for the historical Jesus have taken place.
Sources for the historicity of Jesus
The sources for the historicity of Jesus are mainly Christian sources, such as the New Testament books in the Christian Bible. These include detailed stories about Jesus but scholars differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the Biblical accounts of Jesus. There are three non-Christian sources used to study and establish the historicity of Jesus - two mentions in the work of the Jewish historian Josephus, and one mention by the Roman historian Tacitus. The authenticity of all three mentions is disputed to a degree.
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- Jesus Remembered Volume 1, by James D. G. Dunn 2003 ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 pp. 125-126: "the historical Jesus is properly speaking a nineteenth- and twentieth-century construction using the data supplied by the Synoptic tradition, not Jesus back then," (the Jesus of Nazareth who walked the hills of Galilee), "and not a figure in history whom we can realistically use to critique the portrayal of Jesus in the Synoptic tradition."
- Meir, Marginal Jew, 1:21-25
- T. Merrigan, The Historical Jesus in the Pluralist Theology of Religions, in The Myriad Christ: Plurality and the Quest for Unity in Contemporary Christology (ed. T. Merrigan and J. Haers). Princeton-Prague Symposium on Jesus Research, & Charlesworth, J. H. Jesus research: New methodologies and perceptions : the second Princeton-Prague Symposium on Jesus Research, Princeton 2007, p. 77-78: "Dunn points out as well that 'the Enlightenment Ideal of historical objectivity also projected a false goal onto the quest for the historical Jesus,' which implied that there was a 'historical Jesus,' objectively verifiable, 'who will be different from the dogmatic Christ and the Jesus of the Gospels and who will enable us to criticize the dogmatic Christ and the Jesus of the Gospels.' (Jesus Remembered, p. 125)."
- Fox, Robin Lane (2005). The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian. Basic Books. p. 48. ISBN 978-0465024971.
- Dickson, John. "Best of 2012: The irreligious assault on the historicity of Jesus". Abc.net.au. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
- While discussing the "striking" fact that "we don't have any Roman records, of any kind, that attest to the existence of Jesus," Ehrman dismisses claims that this means Jesus never existed, saying, "He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on clear and certain evidence." B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of God ISBN 978-0-06-207863-6. page 285
- Robert M. Price (a former fundamentalist apologist turned atheist who says the existence of Jesus cannot be ruled out, but is less probable than non-existence) agrees that this perspective runs against the views of the majority of scholars: Robert M. Price "Jesus at the Vanishing Point" in The Historical Jesus: Five Views edited by James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy, 2009 InterVarsity, ISBN 028106329X page 61
- Michael Grant (a classicist) states that "In recent years, 'no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus' or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary." in Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels by Michael Grant 2004 ISBN 1898799881 page 200
- Richard A. Burridge states: "There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more." in Jesus Now and Then by Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould (Apr 1, 2004) ISBN 0802809774 page 34
- Jesus Remembered by James D. G. Dunn 2003 ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 page 339 states of baptism and crucifixion that these "two facts in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent".
- Prophet and Teacher: An Introduction to the Historical Jesus by William R. Herzog (4 Jul 2005) ISBN 0664225284 pages 1-6
- Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145. ISBN 0-06-061662-8.
That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus ... agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.
- Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell 1998 ISBN 0-664-25703-8 pages 168–173 Cite error: Invalid
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- Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? Harper Collins, 2012, p. 12, ""In simpler terms, the historical Jesus did not exist. Or if he did, he had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity." further quoting as authoritative the fuller definition provided by Earl Doherty in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. Age of Reason, 2009, pp. vii-viii: it is "the theory that no historical Jesus worthy of the name existed, that Christianity began with a belief in a spiritual, mythical figure, that the Gospels are essentially allegory and fiction, and that no single identifiable person lay at the root of the Galilean preaching tradition."
- Fredriksen, Paula (1988). From Jesus to Christ ISBN 0-300-04864-5 pp. ix-xii
- Sanders, E.P. (1987). Jesus and Judaism, Fortress Press ISBN 0-8006-2061-5 pp. 1-9
- Amy-Jill Levine in the The Historical Jesus in Context edited by Amy-Jill Levine et al. 2006 Princeton Univ Press ISBN 978-0-691-00992-6 pages 1-2
- Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium by Bart D. Ehrman (Sep 23, 1999) ISBN 0195124731 Oxford Univ Press pages ix-xi
- Jesus Remembered Volume 1, by James D. G. Dunn 2003 ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 pp. 125-127
- Ehrman, Bart. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-19-515462-2, chapters 13, 15
- Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993.
- The Myth about Jesus, Allvar Ellegard 1992,
- Craig Evans, "Life-of-Jesus Research and the Eclipse of Mythology," Theological Studies 54 (1993) p. 5,
- Charles H. Talbert, What Is a Gospel? The Genre of Canonical Gospels pg 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977).
- “The Historical Figure of Jesus," Sanders, E.P., Penguin Books: London, 1995, p., 3.
- Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word (Vol. II): Meditations on the Gospel According to St. Matthew – Dr Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Ignatius Press, Introduction
- Grant, Robert M., "A Historical Introduction to the New Testament" (Harper and Row, 1963) http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=1116&C=1230
- Sandmel, S (1962). "Parallelomania". Journal of Biblical Literature. 81 (1): 1–13. doi:10.2307/3264821. JSTOR 3264821.
- Campbell, Joseph (2003) The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology Vol. 3 ISBN 978-0-14-019441-8 pg 362
- Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell (1 Jan 1999) ISBN 0664257038 pages 13-15
- The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth by Ben Witherington (May 8, 1997) ISBN 0830815449 pages 9-13
- The Quest for the Plausible Jesus: The Question of Criteria by Gerd Theissen and Dagmar Winter (Aug 30, 2002) ISBN 0664225373 pages 1-6
- Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell (1 Jan 1999) ISBN 0664257038 pages 19-23
- The Cambridge Companion to Jesus by Markus N. A. Bockmuehl 2001 ISBN 0521796784 pages 121-125
- Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research by Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans 1998 ISBN 9004111425 pages 460-470