The Instigator
SNP1
Con (against)
Winning
5 Points
The Contender
Buckethead31594
Pro (for)
Losing
0 Points

Did Jesus of Nazareth exist as a historical figure?

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 1 vote the winner is...
SNP1
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/3/2014 Category: Religion
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,222 times Debate No: 48264
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (6)
Votes (1)

 

SNP1

Con

This is a debate on whether Jesus actually existed as a historical figure, not if he was God or not. As con I will show that there does not exist the evidence for Jesus' existence. You, as pro, must show evidence for the existence of Jesus as a historical figure.

Before we begin we must remember one thing, it is impossible to know with absolute certainty what happened in the past, especially the distant or ill-preserved past. This includes whether or not Jesus even existed. We cannot prove with absolute certainty that he did not exist, just as you cannot prove with absolute certainty that he did. This means that we have to evaluate the evidence and make a conclusion.

If, while evaluating the evidence, we find that it is historically unreliable then we cannot use that piece of evidence.

This debate is debating a positive and a negative, but, as logic says, you cannot prove a negative. Luckily, proving is not what we are trying to do since we cannot know for sure what happened in the past. This means that what we must do is evaluate the evidence that Jesus existed and determine if the evidence is reliable or not. If we cannot find reliable evidence that Jesus existed then we can safely say that Jesus probably did not exist.

Remember, this is a debate about if Jesus was a real person or not. Neither you nor I cannot use any supernatural aspects of Jesus to prove that he existed or not. If you do wish to use any of the supernatural aspects of Jesus then you also must prove he had said supernatural power.

So, how do we test if a document is historically reliable? I will be using the Historical-Critical Method, also called Higher Criticism. The Historical-Critical Method is a branch of literary analysis that investigates the origins of a text.

When using this analysis method we must ask 3 questions:
Were the authors there personally or have good access to people that were there?
If they did have access, did they offer reliable testimony?
If they did write reliable testimony, has their testimony survived to the present substantially unaltered and intact?

If the answer to any of these three questions is "No", then that document is not historically reliable and cannot be used as evidence.

As a note, the three questions do not refer just to the document as a whole. If a section of the document that would go through this process would have a "No" as an answer to any of the three questions then that section of the document is not historically reliable and cannot be used for evidence.

Another thing we must do when analyzing the documents is to see if we can determine what they are actually saying. We should take the following steps to determine the meaning of the document:
If words in the document have multiple meanings where a specific interpretation, we must determine what the different meanings could be.
We must determine if there is support in the document (that is relevant to the actual part that we are analyzing) for a specific interpretation of the words.
If there is a specific interpretation, and it passes the test from Higher Criticism, then we can use it as evidence.
If there is not a specific interpretation, even if it passes the test from Higher Criticism, then we cannot us it as evidence.

We must now look at what years Jesus is said to have lived, and afterwards determine the latest year that reliable information could possibly be provided.

It is speculated that Jesus would have been born ~4 B.C.E. and died ~33 C.E. This means that he died at ~37 years old.

Life expectancy in the Roman Empire during the time Jesus would have lived was 35 years of age. We can use as the life expectancy during the early 1st century through the 2nd century.

We can now attempt to find out at what point we can stop relying on documents for evidence for the existence of Jesus. This is possible because of the first question of Higher Criticism. There will be a time where we can expect that the authors could not have been there personally and did not have access to people that were there.

Since it is speculated that Jesus died in ~33 C.E. we can try and find out when the eye-witnesses could have been dead, and then when the last people who had access to eye-witnesses could have died.

Studies show that long term memory starts in a baby at 17-21 months of age. I have yet to meet someone that remembers anything from that young of an age, but let"s just say that people can. This means that anyone that could be considered an eye-witness would have to be at least 1.5 years old.

Jesus" death at ~33 C.E. would mean that people born in the latter half of ~31 C.E. would be able to be considered the youngest eye-witnesses. With a life expectancy at 35 years of age, the expected time that all eye-witnesses died at is 66-67 C.E., which means that all the best evidence that Jesus did exist must come from between ~4 B.C.E. and 67 C.E. We now need to look at the documents that could have been written by people that had access to eye-witnesses. Assuming that learning stories happens at the same time that long term memory develops, the latest someone born that could have been told by an eye-witness is the latter half of 65 C.E. With life expectancy at 35 years of age that means that the last of these people would be expected to have died at about 100 C.E.

100 C.E. is the latest reliable evidence that Jesus existed could have been written, but only if the eye-witnesses and those that had access to eye-witnesses could remember this stuff from when they were 17-21 months old and actually remember it accurately. This is not reasonable, especially since the American Psychological Association says that memories from earlier than about 3.5 years of age is, for most of people, a blank slate.

When we calculate for 3.5 years of age, which is the more reasonable age to use, we get the expected time that people with reliable information died in 96 C.E. This means that any document written after 96 C.E. cannot be reliable for evidence of Jesus" existence. This means that the documents written from ~4 B.C.E. to 96 C.E. would be the absolute most reliable. Documents written from 97 C.E. to, let"s say (since I cannot find what old age was), 120 C.E. have a possibility at being outlier documents, but they still would not be considered that reliable unless you can provide evidence that the author was alive before the latter half of 63 C.E.

Not all evidence is equal. Contemporary evidence, written during the time of the events, is the most reliable. Next, do we have many sources saying the same thing, and are they independent? This is called corroboration without collaboration. Are the sources internally consistent? Are the sources externally consistent? Finally, are the sources unbiased?

Now that I have listed how to find out if the documents are historically reliable or not, we need to list the documents that need to be addressed.
From the reliable years (~4 B.C.E.-96 C.E.):
1. The New Testament (The Gospels, Pauline Epistles, and the other Epistles)
2. Josephus
3. Tacitus
4. Pliny the Younger
5. Thallus (only for an event mentioned in the Bible)
6. Mara Bar Serapion

From the questionably reliable years (97-120 C.E.):
1. Suetonius

From a mix of both:
1. Babylonian Talmud

From after the questionably reliable years (121 C.E-present):
1. Lucian
2. Celsus
3. Mishnah
4. Phlegon of Tralles

Now, we need to see if these accounts are historically reliable or not. We shall start with the New Testament.
Were the authors there personally or have good access to people that were there?
If they did have access, did they offer reliable testimony?
If they did write reliable testimony, has their testimony survived to the present substantially unaltered and intact?

I will put each of these through Higher Criticism in the next round as I am sadly short on characters for this round to fully address them. If I missed any pieces of evidence in the list of documents, records, etc. then, if you bring them up, I will address them as well.

Sources:
http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com...
http://news.harvard.edu...
http://www.apa.org...
Buckethead31594

Pro

I gladly accept this debate. I have nothing more to add to my opponent's in-depth analysis.

May we arrive at truth.
Debate Round No. 1
SNP1

Con

Thank you, sadly I do not have enough characters to fully address all the documents listed in this round, but I will address them in the next one. I hope you find the analysis of the documents to be accurate. We have to not only address if the documents are historically accurate, but also if they refer to Jesus or not. To simplify that I have combined the three questions of higher criticism with if it refers to Jesus in certain documents.

First, let"s look at what is in the New Testament. The New Testament is made up of 27 different books:
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts of the Apostles, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation are the books that have various authors.
We also have 14 Pauline Epistles, but they are not all written by Paul:
Romans*, 1 Corinthians*, 2 Corinthians*, Galatians*, Philippians*, 1 Thessalonians*, Philemon*; 1 Timothy**, 2 Timothy**, Titus** (pastoral/pseudopigraphic); Ephesians***, Colossians***, 2 Thessalonians***, Hebrews (internally anonymous)

Pauline Epistles Key:
*=Undisputed, written by Paul
**=Modern Scholars agree are Forged
***=Scholars about evenly divided on if they are forged or not
Hebrews is thought by an overwhelming majority to be a forgery
We see 27 books in the New Testament, four are to be forged, and three are disputed on whether they are forged or not. Because of that, these books cannot be used as evidence. That leaves 20 books left in the New Testament to address.

Now, scholars agree that Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon are written by Paul. That is seven books from the New Testament. These cannot be used as evidence either. The reason is that Paul never met Jesus while Jesus supposedly lived, instead he met Jesus" spirit. If Paul is to be considered a witness of the life of Jesus then Jesus must have been the son of God in order to appear to Paul as a spirit.

This leaves us with 13 books out of 27 to address.

Now, not only did Paul never meet Jesus, but Luke even says so as well. If Luke did not meet Jesus, then that takes another book out as eye-witness testimony. Only 12 books left.

Now, we must address another part of the Gospels. How did they get their names? Pastors and Bishops will say that they are named after the authors, yet that is not accurate. The authors of the Gospels were anonymous, and the names attached were voted on centuries later. We do not know who wrote them, but we can find out things about them.

The apostles were Arabic speaking, not Greek like the books were written in. They were uneducated peasants and fisherman. They could not even write, and very few people knew how to write. The ones that knew how to read and write were all sons of the rich, rabbis would teach people how to read, but they would not teach people how to write. Peter and John are even said to be illiterate in Acts.

The authors of the Gospels were educated and Greek speakers, and they knew how to read and write.

The alleged authors of the Gospels and the real authors are different people. Not a single author of any book of the New Testament was an eyewitness to Jesus' birth, life, ministry, trial, or death. None of the New Testament authors claim to be a witness, and the books were written in 3rd person view not 1st.

This means we have taken out 3 more (since we already eliminated Luke) books. Only 9 of 27 are left. Acts of the Apostles, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation are all that are left.

Acts was anonymous, but thought to have been written by the author of Luke, which means that is not written by an eye-witness of Jesus either.

Revelation is written by a man named John, but we do not know if it is the apostle John or not, but scholars do not think it was.

John did not write 1, 2, or 3 John. These books were written by John"s followers, meaning they aren"t eye witnesses.

James is just referred to as James, which was a common name during the time. James, being as common of a name as it was, cannot be used as evidence as no one knows who wrote it.

Although the text identifies Peter as its author the language, dating, style, and structure of this letter has led many scholars to conclude that this letter is pseudonymous. Many scholars are convinced that Peter was not the author of this letter because the author had to have a formal education in rhetoric/philosophy and an advanced knowledge of the Greek language.

Jude is also currently in dispute on who the author was. Some say it was the apostle Jude, others say that it isn"t because the author of that letter does not identified himself as an apostle and refers to the apostles as a third party.

So, who wrote the NT?
Except for 7 of the 13 Pauline epistles, we really do not know. Saul/Paul wrote the [undisputed] epistles - earliest NT author, though he and "Luke" (in Acts) both say they never met Jesus. None of the canonical gospels were actually written by their "traditional" authors. Whoever was the author of Luke may have also written Acts. The author of Revelation was named John, but scholars agree that it is not the author of the Gospel of John.

Did the NT authors offer historically accurate testimony?
No, they contradict each other and extrabiblical history on some major points.

There are ~400,000 variations of the New Testament. The New Testament only has ~181,400 words. Even when looking at the oldest versions of the New Testament we can find it is obvious that it has been changed over time.

The oldest fragment of the New Testament is from the Gospel of John. It includes John 18:31-33 and 37-39 (about 3.5"x2.5"). It was dated to be 117-138 CE, 100 years after Jesus's death. It is a copy. The oldest complete New Testament is from the 4th century, ~300 years after Jesus' death. We do not have the original documents.

When was the New Testament written?
Paul wrote in the 50s C.E. (close to 51), but we only have copies of them. The earliest complete copy of any New Testament book comes from the 3rd century. The earliest complete New Testament dates to the 4th century. It is believed that the canonical gospels written between 70-95 CE (After the reliable years). Most scholars agree that all autographs of the canonical NT were written by ~110 CE.

But, what about the three questions?
Were the New Testament authors in a position to offer reliable, primary-source testimony?
No
Did they, in fact, offer a historically-reliable account?
No
Did their testimonies survive to the present substantially unaltered and intact?
No

It only needs to fail one of the questions to be considered historically unreliable. The New Testament fails all three.

The New Testament is not historically reliable. The New Testament cannot be used to prove that Jesus existed.

Now, onto Josephus.

Josephus' writings about Jesus have been admitted, even by Christian Scholars, to have been tampered with. We also see that the one that most likely tampered with them, Eusebius, also forged letters of Jesus. Josephus was not born until after Jesus had supposedly died. He was upper class while Christians are usually portrayed as being the lower class. In this time the upper class did not usually communicate with the lower class.

We cannot take Josephus' writings about Jesus as reliable because they conflict with his personal beliefs and have been tampered with, if not entirely added. In the court of law tampered evidence cannot be used, so why should we be able to use Josephus' "accounts" of Jesus?

The three questions regarding the mentioning of Jesus by Josephus:
Was Josephus in a position to offer reliable, primary-source testimony?
Most likely not.
Did he, in fact, offer a historically-reliable account?
With the knowledge of the tampering, this question cannot be answered.
Did their testimonies survive to the present substantially unaltered and intact?
No.

Josephus is not historically reliable. Josephus cannot be used as evidence for Jesus" existence.

Tacitus is next.

Tacitus was born 25 years after Jesus' death, meaning he could not have been an eye-witness. It"s also important to note that the original Tacitus Annals Books 11 " 16 are lost. We only have copies, written centuries later. It is doubtful that he was quoting an official Roman document from the period. Scholars are quick to point out that he mistakenly calls Pilate a procurator when he was actually a prefect. Tacitus used his friend Pliny for information before, and he most likely got information from him about Christians. What we can tell is that Tacitus is simply repeating what Christians of this period of time were saying about their origins.

Tacitus most likely did not have access to official documents to get information, if official documents even existed, but we do have confirmation that the Christian religion was growing at this point in time. There is not much basis for concluding that he was presenting independent testimony about the historical figure of Jesus.

The three questions regarding the mentioning of Jesus by Tacitus:
Was he in a position to offer reliable, primary-source testimony?
No
Did he, in fact, offer a historically-reliable account?
No
Did their testimonies survive to the present substantially unaltered and intact?
We do not know

Conclusion is that two of the three questions have failed, Tacitus does not offer historically reliable evidence for the existence of Jesus, just the uprising of the Christian religion.

Next round, since I am low on characters, I will address Pliny, Thallus, Serapion, and the Talmud.

Sources:
https://www.youtube.com...
http://ourrabbijesus.com...
http://jeromekahn123.tripod.com...
Buckethead31594

Pro

Buckethead31594 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2
SNP1

Con

I find it unfortunate that my opponent was not able to post in his second round and that he, as he said in the comments, must concede the debate.

I do, however, wish to post my next round as it would otherwise leave my previous 2 rounds incomplete.

I left off with Tacitus, so Pliny the Younger is up now.

He wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan asking for advice on how to deal with the rapid growth of the Christian community in his area. Among other things, he describes the Christian custom of holding weekly meetings to sing praises "to Christ as to a god." Pliny was only describing an element of Christian worship. His comments say nothing about the historicity of Jesus. It is just confirming that the religion exists.

The three questions regarding the mentioning of Jesus by Pliny:
Was he in a position to offer reliable, primary-source testimony?
We do not know
Did he, in fact, offer a historically-reliable account of Jesus?
No, he did not give any testimony to the existence of Jesus, only to the worship of Christians.
Did their testimonies survive to the present substantially unaltered and intact?
We do not know

Pliny never accounted for the existence of Jesus, he simply confirmed that Christianity was growing. Pliny cannot be used as evidence of Jesus" existence.

Thallus" mention of a biblical event is now ready for a simple debunk.

Historian Richard Carrier states the following "It is commonly claimed that a chronologer named Thallus, writing shortly after 52CE, mentioned the crucifixion of Jesus and the noontime darkness surrounding it (which reportedly eclipsed the whole world for three hours), and attempted to explain it as an ordinary solar eclipse. But this is not a credible interpretation of the evidence. A stronger case can be made that we actually have a direct quotation of what Thallus said, and it does not mention Jesus"

We do not need to put it through the 3 question system as Richard Carrier already stated it is not a credible source by stating that Thallus never mentions Jesus. If it does not mention Jesus then it does not give evidence of Jesus" existence. Thallus cannot be used for evidence.

Mara Bar Serapion now has to be addressed.

"... What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King?"

All this document talks about that is supposedly a reference of Jesus is the mention of the Wise King of the Jews. It does not refer to Jesus directly, it doesn"t even mention Christ. How is this a mention of Jesus? It is not.

During the time that Jesus supposedly lived there were many people pretending to be the Messiah of the Jews. There is also no way of knowing where the information from this letter was obtained. When we put it through the 3 questions, this is what we get.

Was he in a position to offer reliable, primary-source testimony?
We do not know
Did he, in fact, offer a historically-reliable account of Jesus?
No, he did not give any testimony to the existence of Jesus, only to the "Wise King," which does not necessarily mean Jesus.
Did their testimonies survive to the present substantially unaltered and intact?
We do not know

It fails the second question, so it cannot be used for evidence that Jesus existed either.

Finally, we must address the Babylonian Talmud.

Starting in the 13th century, manuscripts of the Talmud were sometimes altered in response to the criticisms made during the disputations. Johann Maier, a talmudic scholar, discounts accounts with no mention of the name Jesus, and further discounts those that do mention Jesus by name, such as Sanh. 43a and 107b, as later medieval changes. As well as that, most mentions of "Jesus" are vague and/or mention Jesus as a different person (for example, Jesus son of Pantera).

Let"s put this through the three questions now.

Was he in a position to offer reliable, primary-source testimony?
We do not know
Did he, in fact, offer a historically-reliable account of Jesus?
No
Did their testimonies survive to the present substantially unaltered and intact?
No

It fails the test, it is not historically reliable. This means it cannot be used as evidence for the existence of Jesus.

Now, we need to look for other evidence that could confirm the existence of Jesus and put it through Higher Criticism after evaluating the evidence itself. We can also look at documents that should include Jesus, but do not. The best thing we can bring up for that is that there exist no official Roman documents about Jesus and there exists no contemporary evidence about Jesus. One other thing we can do is point out that there existed people whose job was to record cult movements around the area but never mentioned Jesus.

We can also look at where Jesus is supposedly from, Nazareth. When we look at records, even from Josephus, we see no mention of Nazareth anywhere but in the New Testament. Josephus even recorded a military campaign where the Romans moved into the very vicinity of Nazareth, but he makes no mention of it. Other evidence people bring up is the caves, yet that goes completely against Jewish traditions and customs. They buried people in caves and did not live near cemeteries or graves, and they would not live near dead bodies. It is always pointed out that a popular website of an excavation of Nazareth calls it a "single family farm." A single family farm is not a city or a town. It seems that there is no evidence that Nazareth even existed, and by the Null Hypothesis it is most logical to think that Nazareth did not actually exist.

We are lacking historically reliable evidence and we have no contemporary evidence of the existence of Jesus, we don't even have evidence that Nazareth existed. It appears that there is nothing to show Jesus actually lived. Furthermore, the earlier copies of many documents that we have say Chrestos, Christos, Christians, etc., but the problem is that that does not automatically make it Jesus. Chrestos could be a person"s name, worshipers of the Pagan God Serapis (sometimes called Chrestos) were called Christians. Further, the word Christ does not even mean Jesus. The word Christ was a title that was given to any "anointed one of God." This included pretty much every priest and king, and occasionally prophets.

Sources:
http://www.doxa.ws...
http://www.jgrchj.net...
http://www.mountainman.com.au...
http://ourrabbijesus.com...

I again am sorry to hear that my opponent is to concede the debate, I hope that we can continue this debate some other time.

Buckethead31594, I hope everything turns out alright for you and your family.
Buckethead31594

Pro

As posted in the comments:

"SNP1, I sincerely apologize for my forfeiture. I intended to concede the debate anyway, on the account of a family crisis that has occurred. I won't be able to come online as much as I want to, so it is with great dismay that I concede the debate to you.
"

I thank SNP1 for his condolences, I simply cannot call him an opponent. In regards to SNP1's arguments: they are enlightening and thought-provoking. I am peaved with myself that I won't be able to allot the time that this debate requires; the potential truth that could come from such a debate is exciting. Nonetheless, I appreciate that SNP1 chose to continue with his points, despite my absence.

Thus, I would urge the viewers to vote CON, on the account of 1.) his in-depth analysis, that of which I wasted his time, and 2.) my premature forfeiture. Nevertheless, that is/was not the focus of this debate.

Debate Round No. 3
SNP1

Con

Normally I would also concede so that this debate could be redone later, however, this is part of a team debate. I wish I could have this debate remain a tie and redo this debate buckethead later, but that would not be fair to the team.

Since pro has conceded, vote Con.
Buckethead31594

Pro

I couldn't agree more. However, it is now in the hands of the voters.

Take care.
Debate Round No. 4
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by SNP1 3 years ago
SNP1
It is okay, family is more important than debates.
Posted by Buckethead31594 3 years ago
Buckethead31594
SNP1, I sincerely apologize for my forfeiture. I intended to concede the debate anyway, on the account of a family crisis that has occurred. I won't be able to come online as much as I want to, so it is with great dismay that I concede the debate to you. I will post this in my next available round.

I hope that we can have this debate at a later time, I apologize for wasting your time.
Posted by SNP1 3 years ago
SNP1
All I do have to do is put it through the higher criticism that I mentioned in my round one and determine if it does actually talk about Jesus of Nazareth or not. I can look for sites that might help that process, but it seems a little unnecessary after my first round.
Posted by Jifpop09 3 years ago
Jifpop09
Huh, I see you guys have gotten this on a role. My one piece of advise for con, is to use more then 3 sources when disproving 9 records.
Posted by SNP1 3 years ago
SNP1
Thank you, I like the fact that you seem as open-minded about this as I am. I will be using, as I said in my opening, Higher Criticism to determine if Jesus existed or not. I cannot wait to see your response, and I wish you good luck on this debate.
Posted by Buckethead31594 3 years ago
Buckethead31594
I appreciate your motive towards disproving the resolution. It is an honor to debate such an open-minded person. May we ultimately discern the most plausible conclusion for the resolution at hand; one that is genuine and free of bias. I will post my response shortly.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Geogeer 3 years ago
Geogeer
SNP1Buckethead31594Tied
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Total points awarded:50 
Reasons for voting decision: Con forfeited and SNP1 accepted.