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Flickr photo of Jesus by Trevor Hurlbut

Ask An Atheist: Did people from sacred texts really exist?

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By Jim Downard

Do you believe the people from sacred texts existed as historical figures, like Jesus and Buddha and Muhammad? 

SPO_House-ad_Ask-an-atheist_0425133Oh yes.  I don’t know any historian of note who has the slightest that Muhammad existed, and I’m not aware of any who doubt the historicity of Buddha either.  Most mainstream historians would agree with Bart Ehrman (rather than a Richard Carrier) that a historic Jesus existed to, even if the mythologized divine Christ appears to have taken some time to kick in.
I don’t restrict the list to just religious figures, either.  There is scant physical evidence for the existence of an actual Homer who wrote the Iliad and Odyssey, but there too the existence of a specific lore suggests there was once a mind who first uttered their poetry.
It’s the historian in me.  People do things, and myths have to steep a long while if they’ve been inspired by real people.

About Jim Downard

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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2 comments

  1. Thanks for this perspective, Jim. I understand the take scholars like Bart Ehrman have on the historical Jesus, but I’d be interested to know your response on two points to that end:

    – Is it your belief/understanding that the Resurrection of Jesus was part of the mythologizing?

    – If so, how do you reckon that with the historically-reliable facts that all 12 of his followers, not to mention countless other Christians in the centuries following, went to their ridiculously-painful martyrdoms, in which none renounced the truth of the resurrection?

    • We have their stories, I wouldn’t call them historically reliable facts. But probably many Christians died martyrs, just like present day ISIS who die believing what makes no sense to Western thinking.