The Spiritual Nonsense of the Search for the "Historical Jesus"

Now, in the discipline of history itself, there is nothing problematic about trying to decide if "Jesus of Nazareth" was a real person. (And most historians have decided he was.)

But really, on the spiritual level, what difference does this make? From the point of view of noetic consciousness, it is clear that someone in 1st century Israel achieved a dramatic breakthrough. What if it turns out his real name was "Bill," or even that her real name was "Abigail"? How would that change the importance of that breakthrough?

UPDATE: this post is only addressing the attempt to dismiss Christianity with the claim "Jesus did not even exist." There are many, many other issues it is not tackling. Please do not think I am dismissing any of those things as valid concerns.

38 comments:

  1. If that "Someone" was primarily to bring a change in a noetic consciousness, then indeed the historical accuracy would not be of great importance, because it would be the effect and impact that actually counted. However, there is an event historicity of which is, so to say, crucially important.

    Consider:
    (...) if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. (...) if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (...) If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."

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    1. I am not addressing that question. I am only addressing the question of whether or not Jesus existed.

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  2. The question is obviously not "Was the name of Jesus 'Jesus' or 'Bill'?", but "Is the Gospel story generally history, or merely mythology?".

    Even if you believe that mythology is something very powerful - that the metaphors it provides hint at some underlying metaphysical structure, the Gospel stories don't seem internally compatible with the claim that, for example, St. Paul invented the entire story whole cloth. If he had done so, then on what basis do we believe that death has been conquered and sin transformed by Jesus. If it was only the invention of one man, by what are we saved?

    I kind of get the point of your post, but you really understate the importance from a Christian point of view for the reality of Jesus as a historical god-man.

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    1. No. There is no "the" question. There is *A* question as to whether a person named Jesus ever existed. I am addressing that question. I am not addressing the question of whether or not the Gospels are accurate in other ways.

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    2. Gene, your post has your trademark vagueness. What does "achieved a dramatic breakthrough" encompass? Would this include the possibility that Paul invented Jesus out of whole cloth? Obviously *that* would have a difference "on a spiritual level"!

      And I would conclude that Jesus of Nazarath did exist even if it turns out that (for whatever reason) his name was actually Bill, but for whatever reason it was recorded differently. Yet this seems to be a red herring because I've never heard anyone say that the search for the historical Jesus was about finding out the real name of this guy who inspired a mass movement from his apparent resurrection.

      If indeed the spiritual question hinged on his name, your second paragraph would make more sense. As it is, I can only guess what your point is.

      And "on a spiritual level", a lot hinges on the question of whether the Gospels portray a fictional Jesus. Obviously. Even if you think such a fictional Jesus is theologically revolutionary.

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    3. "Gene, your post has your trademark vagueness."

      Insults will get you everywhere, big guy!

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    4. I'm not trying to get anywhere except to the point! I'm sorry, but I am frustrated by evasion.

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  3. Guys, see my update to the original post.

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    1. I understood *that* the first time I read your post. I was taking issue with your claim that spiritually the question was insignificant! And that the question of whether Jesus existed was equivalent to a quibble about his real name.

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    2. What would it matter if the real name of the person who rose from the dead was Bill of Jerusalem?

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    3. I guess it would imply that the Gospels were not accurate, which has spiritual implications. But whether Jesus existed at all would have even greater implications. To say that on a spiritual level it would make no difference is absurd. How can a Christian say it doesn't matter spiritually if Christ is real or a mere fiction?

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    4. No, not if there wasn't a person named Jesus. If there wasn't a person at all. That would be a problem.

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    5. It would mean that the whole tradition, including scriptures, by which we believed that we knew the name under which we were supposed to be saved, is very dubious. And this casts very serious doubts on other teachings transmitted through that tradition. If the scriptures and traditions failed at such a basic thing as reporting the name, how could we know and trust about such unprecedented event as the resurrection?

      (I assume that by "Bill" or "Abigail" you do not mean a name that would roughly correspond to Jesus - e.g. Yeshua)

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  4. Gene, I think there's a miscommunication going on here. You think John Goes (and others) are saying that the issue of Jesus' real name is important to Christianity, but they're actually saying the opposite - they're saying the issue of his real name isn't important, but that that's not what the search for the historical Jesus is about. The search for the historical Jesus can still be spiritually important to Christianity even if the search for the real name of Jesus isn't.

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    1. I know what they are saying. Oddly enough, while I am trying to defend Christianity, they are undermining it.

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  5. Of course the historicity of the gospels matter. Christians base claims on that alleged historicity. If Jesus never was he was never resurrected and John 3:16 is piffle.

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    1. Very funny, given I just explained John 3:16 with no reference to any historical events at all.

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    2. Actually you did it with no reference to John 3:16 at all. None of the passages you quoted and glossed were John 3:16.

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    3. Indeed you did so. How many other Bible passages (or any other pieces of tradition) you can explain and what religion do you arrive at? My guess is that you will end up with something similar to the contents of Gospel of Thomas, which seems immune to attacks based on its historicity.

      It means that you will arrive at something that does not resemble any Christianity that ever existed. You might get close to what some gnostics said, or to a kind of unitarian universalism, depending on your private interpretation. But that scarcely counts as Christianity.

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    4. Gene, you didn't explain John 3:16, you only explained earlier verses of John 3. But it's John 3:16 that's crucial to Christianity: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Now how would you explain John 3:16 without reference to historical events?

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    5. Actually the lines were later. But I can't see how "historical events" have any bearing in that line at all. What, we can use the methods of history to determine if "God loved the world," or if he "gave his son"?! What kind if historical evidence would determine if Jesus (or Bill) is "God's son"?

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    6. "It means that you will arrive at something that does not resemble any Christianity that ever existed."
      It will not resemble any dogmatic Christianity, that is true enough.

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    7. "But I can't see how "historical events" have any bearing in that line at all." Gene the historical event that is important for that line is whether a human in the first century was resurrected or not. The argument is that resurrection requires an act of God, so if someone was resurrected then that's an indication that their statements have divine authority. So if such a person who would later be resurrected said that his death would redeem humanity's sins, then that's a good indication that that person's claim was accurate.

      So the argument is that if no one was resurrected, then there's no reason to believe that anyone in the first century redeemed humanity's sins.

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    8. Gene, I don't want to toss a smelly fish into this conversation, but I think that the Christian's response to the question 'what sort of historical evidence would determine if Jesus (or Bill) was God's son?' would be the historicity of the Resurrection. I understand the point that you are trying to make here - and I can see how it is flying high over most people's heads. But for Christians, the spiritual truth of the Gospels - what makes Christianity completely unique - is the historicity of the alleged events contained in the New Testament. It is the unique claim that the previously 'Unknown God' attempted to communicate with us in a concrete, human way - in the person of a human Himself.

      Perhaps you should do a post on Christ to put some more insights into your views of Christianity. I understand that your views are similar to Voegelin's, but I'm still reading about Voegelin's Christology, and many people on here might want to hear what you have to say on the matter. I certainly would.

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    9. Anyone who argues like that is confused, Keshav, which has been my whole point. More tomorrow.

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  6. Let's move this question to a different context. Does it matter if the Koran was dictated by god, represents his unchanging will, and can serve as the source of all law?

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  7. Just a note: Ken B. is an atheist, but John and wywialm are his collaborators in discrediting Christianity.

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  8. Gene, you are being very patient with some very obnoxious people on here.

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  9. I suppose I may be implicitly discrediting some kind of New-Agey interpretation of Christianity. But it is you who are apparently discrediting traditional Christianity, which affirms the importance of the Gospels. If Christ were not real, if he were not raised from the dead (really raised from the dead), then your faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14).

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  10. Seems to me that two seperate conversations are going on here.

    1. How confident would/should we be in the (rest of the) gospels
    if we knew that the name of the main character was wrong?

    2. Does the existance of a Jesus/Bill/Abigail character (hereafter called JBS)
    Have any spirtiual signifigance.

    In my view the answer to question 1 is: If it's wrong on the name that should
    lower our confidence that it's right on the other stuff.

    The answer to question 2 is (or seems to me to be): JBS dying for our sins in kinda central to Christianity. If no JBS existed then JBS couldn't have died (for our sins or otherwise) and the whole idea of redemption is bunk. If that wouldn't be "spiritually significant to a christian" then I can't imagine what would be.

    Gene which question are you trying to talk about? 1 or 2? Which of my answers do you disagree with?

    Full disclosure I'm an atheist (which is probably obvious from the rest of my post).

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    1. ANd my whole point is that regarding the Gospels as historical documents is a complete confusion. The only truth that is important is their spiritual truth.

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    2. That went over my head, so I'm going to ask for some elaboration.

      Two (related) clarifying questions.
      1. What exactly do you mean by "spiritual truth"?
      2. If (only a hypothetical) tomorrow we found out that the gospels where made up by second century Romans (i.e. no historical JBS). Would this do anything to the spiritual truth in the gospels? If so how?

      Also yes I should have made JBS, JBA. Sorry about that.

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    3. The idea that the Gospels might have been "made up" is really silly.

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    4. Silly or not, I still don't know what you mean by "spiritual truth" or weather this has anything at all to do with the historical claim of christ rising. I'm really just trying to figure out what you're trying to say here.

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    5. In what sense consistent with your argument is the the idea that the gospels were made up "really silly"? It's only really silly if it cannot plausibly be true, but that claim requires their obvious historicity. So are you arguing that their historicity cannot be challenged but does not matter?

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  11. The question of whether the Gospels were "made up" has nothing to do with their historical accuracy, Ken. The eyewitnesses to an event they give very in accurate reports of the event, But to say those accounts are "made up" is to say they are a deliberate fiction, which is very different than there simply being inaccurate.

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    1. In the context of the claim "the historical truth of the gospels isn't a prerequisite for their spiritual truth", I don't see much practical difference between them being deliberately made up and them simply being very very wrong.

      Look in your original post you said "it is clear that someone in 1st century Israel achieved a dramatic breakthrough". Ok so this mysterious "spiritual truth" depends on someone (JBA?) existing (which is absolutely a historical claim). Does it also depend on JBA rising from the dead (another historical claim)?

      I guess what I'm trying to ask here is "how much of the gospels could be historically inaccurate before this spiritual truth of them becomes undermined?"

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    2. I get that distinction Gene. I don't see though that you have answered my question.

      Nor is it silly at all. We KNOW that people forged gospels and epistles. We know that people make up stories too. It's not a matter or postulating a hoaxer sitting down to write an entire fictional Gospel of Mark. It's a matter of accretions, deletions, and changes made for polemic reasons, of oral history mutating. Here's my old stand-by example one more time. http://kenblogic.blogspot.com/2012/06/casting-stones-at-bob-murphys-favorite.html

      A very clear example of this is the mass manufacture of hadith. Even early Muslim cataloguers knew there were fakes. Modern scholarship has destroyed the whole corpus; they are mostly reified bits of koranic exegesis or tendentious legal claims. Essentially all made up.

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