The following are the arguments for the historicity of Jesus. I have taken them from Dr James McGrath’s various comments to posts on this blog, and they are essentially direct quotations of his words. I want to be clear that none of my engagements with the methodology of historical Jesus scholars misrepresents any of the following arguments.
It should also be understood that simply critiquing each of the following does not establish a case for mythicism. My critiques of the methodology of NT historians do not do that. Whenever I have addressed this point I have always insisted that the critiques mean that additional evidence needs to be introduced to decide either way for the historicity or nonhistoricity of Jesus.
Each of the following has been responded to, in many cases more than once. And McGrath is quite right when he says that merely picking weaknesses in an argument does not prove an alternative case.
My own arguments recently have not been mythicist arguments. They have not been critiques of any of the following. (As I said, each of the following has been addressed amply elsewhere.)
What my arguments have been are a critique of the assumptions and methods of NT historians. They are most comprehensively outlined here.
My view is that an historical enquiry into Christian origins must first address methodology. I have exposed the current methods of NT historians as fallacious and inconsistent with standard historical methods in nonbiblical subjects. I suspect that once this is recognized, it is but a small step to seeing existing sources in new perspectives, and the whole historical/mythical Jesus discussion takes a very different turn from the way it has gone in mainstream biblical scholarly circles till now.
Unlikelihood of inventing a crucified Messiah
The unlikelihood that any Jews would invent a crucified Messiah and seek to persuade other to believe in him remains an important piece of evidence.
And so long as a “historicist” paradigm makes sense of most or all of the available data, admittedly with many puzzles and uncertainties, it is unclear why anyone should even consider mythicism seriously, which has the early Christians inventing a crucified Messiah and then trying to persuade their fellow Jews why that isn’t an oxymoron.
Paul’s references to having met people who knew Jesus
Paul’s references to having met people who knew Jesus — his brother James and disciple Peter.
As soon as I mention to a mythicist Paul meeting Jesus’ brother, I get insistence that such passages do not mean what they seem to mean.
Prophecies are used to explain, not invent, history
What we see in a range of Jewish literature is an attempt to interpret one’s experience by finding “prophecies” however much of a stretch it was to relate them to one’s own experience, rather than rewriting of history based on what was understood to have been predicted.
A priori acceptance of existing narratives
The existence of a story doesn’t prove anything, but the fact that a story is told but cannot be confirmed with more concrete evidence doesn’t lead automatically to the story’s dismissal by historians. The situation will be less certain than if there were other types of confirming evidence, to be sure, but uncertainty is part and parcel of the historical enterprise. But to suggest that written texts can always be discounted seems bizarre.
Criterion of embarrassment
First, we have details that are unlikely to have been invented — again, not impossible but unlikely. Jesus’ rejection by the Jewish leadership; Peter’s denial of him; Jesus’ prediction that his twelve apostles would sit on 12 thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (even though one later betrayed him); Jesus’ prayer that he wouldn’t have to undergo suffering (why invent a Jesus who dies to save humanity and then invent such a prayer); and so on. The presence of such material is most easily explained as data that simply happened and thus had to be dealt with.
Next we can mention hostile sources. Josephus mentions James brother of Jesus called Christ. Tacitus’ hostile reference.
Not quoted from McGrath, but summaries of what he has said elsewhere:
Jesus was descended from David, born of a woman.
Earliest stories are not of a divinity but of a man.
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