Ask An Atheist: Did Jesus Christ Exist?

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By Jim Downard

Did Jesus Christ Exist?

That’s an easy one (for me at least): yes, at least the Jesus part.  Admittedly, there’s no direct independent confirmation of this, but Bart Ehrman, among others, has made an adequate circumstantial case that the most reasonable background for the early history of Christianity is that there was at one point a Jesus person whose followers eventually created a big church around the idea.

This is not a unique problem with Jesus, by the way.  Was there an actual Homer who wrote the Illiad and Odyssey?  Poetry doesn’t leak from the air like dew, it requires minds to imagine and repeat them, and eventually write them down.  So I’m in the Homer was real camp too.

As for the divine Son of God – Triune Creator of the Universe Jesus, that one’s mythological, a mixture of wishful thinking and selective reporting, greased by the theological infighting over what Messiahs were supposed to be, and whether they could live with the Messiah not actually doing the Messiah thing when it came to overthrowing the Roman tyranny.  A few centuries removed from the non-Parousia, and the centuries of rationalization to come (and occasional internal and external fights over doctrine, leading now and then to actual bloodbaths) was only to be expected, if not not quite excusable.

We know mythologization can happen.  Look at Washington and the cherry tree myth.  And that was in modern historic times, glutted with printing presses and fairly reliable mail.  Now imagine the same process going on in an environment where the mythos can settle in as tradition without pesky reporters being able to pull it apart fairly quickly.  Or where you could be burned at the stake for venturing a discouraging word on it.

About Jim Downard

Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose.

He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).

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