On the Why Evolution Is True (WEIT) site, guest post writer and frequent commenter, Ben Goren has posed a thorough six step challenge to those who believe that Jesus was a historical figure:
- Start with a clear, concise, unambiguous definition of who Jesus was. Do the Gospels offer a good biography of him? Was he some random schmuck of a crazy street preacher whom nobody would even thought to have noticed? Was he a rebel commando, as I’ve even heard some argue?
- Offer positive evidence reliably dated to within a century or so of whenever you think Jesus lived that directly supports your position. Don’t merely cite evidence that doesn’t contradict it; if, for example, you were to claim that Jesus was a rebel commando, you’d have to find a source that explicitly says so.
- Ancient sources being what they are, there’s an overwhelming chance that the evidence you choose to support your theory will also contain significant elements that do not support it. Take a moment to reconcile this fact in a plausible manner. What criteria do you use to pick and choose?
- There will be lots of other significant pieces of evidence that contradict your hypothetical Jesus. Even literalist Christians have the Apocrypha to contend with, and most everybody else is comfortable observing widespread self-contradiction merely within the New Testament itself. Offer a reasonable standard by which evidence that contradicts your own position may be dismissed, and apply it to an example or two.
- Take at least a moment to explain how Jesus could have gone completely unnoticed by all contemporary writers (especially those of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, and the various Roman Satirists) yet is described in the New Testament as an otherworldly larger-than-life divine figure who was spectacularly publicly active throughout the region.
- Last, as validation, demonstrate your methods reliable by applying them to other well-known examples from history. For example, compare and contrast another historical figure with an ahistorical figure using your standards.
If you’d like to participate in the discussion or just read what people are saying, head over to the site.
If you want to know more about the historicity of Jesus, Richard Carrier is probably one of the best scholars to consult. A search at his site will reveal his thoughts on the topic.