Do we know whether Jesus was a historical person? If we are honest, we would have to say that we don’t know. We cannot know. The historical data is far too sparse. There is hardly any mention of Jesus as a historical person outside of the Christian sources, and whatever support is found within these Christian sources is indirect at best.
There is also a plethora of earlier non-Christian mythologies that are closely aligned with the Jesus story. So the Jesus story may be just another in a line of similar mythological stories, all reflecting important inner truths. Or if such a person as Jesus existed, it is likely that the version we have now is highly mythologized and influenced by these earlier stories.
The evidence for Jesus as a historical person would not hold up in a court of law, nor would it be close to convincing in the “hard” sciences.
Yet, most Christians, theologians and historians seem to assume that Jesus was a historical person. Few bring it up even as a topic. Why is it so? Why does it seem to be almost a taboo? A non-topic? Why do some even try to brush it away by calling the possibility of Jesus as a non-historical person a “thoroughly dead thesis” when the historical data is so sparse?
Are they concerned about the implications for Christianity? Are they concerned about questioning assumptions that are shaky in the first place? If so, the solution seems a simple one: Develop – or find – an approach to Christianity that does not depend on Jesus being a historical person. The Jesus story is a powerful story in itself, as a basis for religion, a source for ethical guidelines, and a reflection of an inner process we each may go through in different ways. None of that is dependent on a historical Jesus.
If religion is about truth and honesty, this seems to be one of the first places we need to be honest and truthful.
P.S. This take on it is not entirely honest either. The popular media these days – at least in Norway – is full of stories of the similarities between earlier non-Christian mythologies and the Jesus story, and implicit in these articles is of course a questioning of the historical accuracy of the Jesus story. It is either entirely mythology, or highly mythologized. Here is one of these many media stories. Sometimes, I too abandon honesty to make a point, especially in my first draft.
If I decide to rewrite this post to be more honest, I would have to find the juiciness somewhere else than through creating the appearance of drama where there is none, through pretending this angle is not already pretty common and well-known. And that would be a good thing. It would invite me to look a little further. To find a more honest source of juiciness. For instance, I could go more into details of how a deeply meaningful take on Christianity, free from the requirements of a historical Jesus, may look. There is no lack of existing examples.
– honesty and the historical Jesus
— if we are honest, then don’t know if Jesus was a historical person or not
— very few sources outside of Christianity, only indirect support
— many similar stories before and at the time, at the very least, highly mythologized story of his life
— solution: develop an understanding of Christianity that does not depend on Jesus as a historical figure (find the inner meaning of the Jesus story)
— almost seem a taboo, either ignore or brush away, not sure why
Here is something I find slightly puzzling: Christians and others, including theologians and historians, rarely seem to question whether Jesus was a historical person or not. There is very little historical support for such a person having lived, outside of the Christian sources.
It seems to be a non-topic, perhaps even a taboo. I don’t know enough about conventional Christianity to know why, but if there is a concern about what
Yet, very few – whether they are Christians, theologians or historians – seem to question whether Jesus was a historical person. Why is it so? Why does it seem to be almost a taboo? A non-topic?
And the same is the case for the Jesus we know as a historical person, even if Jesus originally was a person in flesh and blood.