photo by Photo Giddy

Did a man ever exist whose name was Yeshua son of Yosef and Miriam, whose professions were carpenter/stoneworker and rabbi, and who was put to death by crucifixion? Was he the messiah? Was he made up by his followers? Was he just a normal bloke who taught unconventional ideas who ended up on the wrong side of the law?

What do you think? I’ve embedded the poll here. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Do you think Jesus ever existed?

View Results

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NOTE: This poll was technically flawed when it was first posted, so I decided to start from scratch! Thanks for understanding. –GG, Dec. 4, 2010

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31 thoughts on “Revised Poll: Do you think Jesus ever existed?”

Kristin · May 21, 2010 at 3:49 pm

I was able to use the poll in the sidebar, but the one embedded in the post kept telling me I had to choose a valid answer before I could vote, though I had selected one.

Felt like I was arguing with a theist.

    Godless Girl · May 22, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Sorry about the jacked up poll! I just made it in the sidebar only. No clue what messed up the post version!

Andrew Skegg · May 22, 2010 at 2:22 am

The answer rather depends on the definition of Jesus. Obviously only Christians truly believe in magical Jesus. I predict the remainder will be split between “based on an real person” and “wholly made up”. Personally I think the entire story is a myth.
.-= Andrew Skegg’s last blog ..Happy Draw Muhhamad Day! =-.

    Godless Girl · May 22, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    And Muslims also believe Jesus was a prophet, so there are a few groups out there who think this guy existed. Of course I think their ideas of him are *at least* skewed.

      Eric Haas · May 27, 2010 at 9:26 am

      The Muslims got their information on Jesus from the Christians around them, so they’re not an independant source.
      .-= Eric Haas’s last blog ..Great Blue Heron =-.

Andrew Hall · May 22, 2010 at 4:52 am

I tried to take the poll too but it wouldn’t work.
It must be God with all of his wrath mucking up the system.
.-= Andrew Hall’s last blog ..Texas Text Book Changes =-.

Freddy · May 22, 2010 at 11:18 am

I don’t see any proof of Christ’s existence but whether he existed or not doesn’t really matter. That his teachings are deemed as moral when they actually weren’t is of a greater concern to us.

Pseudonym · May 23, 2010 at 9:46 pm

I happen to agree with James McGrath, that mythicists proper (i.e. those who believe that Jesus was not a real person, as opposed to those who believe that the stories we have are highly exaggerated) are essentially the creationists of the ancient history world. Their “work” is a combination of ignorance of the evidence, logical fallacies and outright conspiracy theory, and is not taken seriously by the overwhelming majority of secular historians.

But nonetheless, the position can be used to support some peoples’ pre-existing religious prejudices, so it gains traction amongst those parts of the Internet where people don’t know very much about history.

Sorry to be so blunt, but this annoys the hell out of me. There’s plenty to criticise in religion without making stuff up.

    Jim Jones · January 17, 2012 at 1:12 am

    “Their “work” is a combination of ignorance of the evidence …”

    And the actual evidence for a “real Jesus” is? What? Where?

      duncan · May 26, 2012 at 12:17 am

      It’s worth looking at what scholarly historians think. There is a heap of written evidence for Jesus that appears in a very short time frame (50-100AD). The big question is how reliable are these writings?

      That’s a question primarily for professional historians although we all have a right to our own opinions. John Dickson, is an Australian historian who attempts to make academic historical research into ‘who was Jesus’ accessible to the general public. This is a link to one of his books.

        Jim Jones · May 26, 2012 at 1:12 am

        “It’s worth looking at what scholarly historians think.”

        Actual “scholarly historians” (and “professional historians”) aren’t interested. The only people who are interested include theistic researchers and the like and they have an axe to grind. The most notable thing about gospel Jesus is the complete lack of information on any such person, as exemplified by Remsberg’s “The Christ”.

mcbender · May 24, 2010 at 8:28 am

It’s an interesting question. I voted for the “he’s completely made up” option because the version I think most likely to be true isn’t there… I tend to go with “if he existed at all, he’s an agglomeration of stories about several similar people around that time”.

I’m mostly agnostic about this question, though… I tend to argue that he didn’t more often than that he did, simply because I want to get people to consider the possibility, but I’m not at all certain either way and I’m not sure if the question is even answerable from historical evidence.

The one argument that really gives me pause is actually from Christopher Hitchens – he said at one point that the fact that somebody went to such great lengths to try to make the stories fit (he was talking about the Quirinius thing, how the writers were adding convolutions to explain why Jesus was born in Nazareth instead of Bethlehem) makes it more likely that a person existed, because if he were completely made up they could just have had him born in Bethlehem in the first place. I’m not sure if I completely buy that, but it’s the primary reason that I often hesitate to committing to a “there was never any such person” position.

Sydney · May 31, 2010 at 6:50 am

For the poll, I voted for the existence of a historical Jesus who was “just a rabbi with some crazy ideas.” I do not believe the historicity of a Jesus like the one depicted in the Bible is supportable because any evidence we have about him was written after his death or written as hearsay. We do not have a single contemporary writing that mentions Jesus, which seems highly suspect. However, if basing the question of Jesus’ existence on a *very* loose definition of a Jesus-figure (which might have inspired the New Testament writings), there could have been a man or number of rabbis Jesus-like. The biblical writings then compounded his/their teachings with mythology, the theological discourse of the apostolic writings, and the extrapolation of the Jesus myth by early Christians, leading to the Jesus we have today.

Gauldar · May 31, 2010 at 11:28 am

There is as much proof that Jesus existed just as much as Heracles. The stories could be the over embellishments of accomplishments of one or many individuals, yet passed down through many cultures involving a single individual. Personally, I don’t know what to believe, so all I can really do is take it as mythology from any other culture.

Rob Crompton · May 31, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Like so much that people care deeply about (and squabble about) the reality and the legend differ widely. But it’s the legend that is sacred. Which is a pity because the probable reality is so interesting.
My own view is that Rabbi Jesus was a real person – his beliefs and the parables which he reportedly told are consistent with those of many other rabbis of his day. He was almost certainly a Pharisee of the school of Hillel and believed in a coming Messiah. His followers were convinced that he would take on the role of Messiah and probably brought about his execution by the Romans because of their enthusiasm for seeing him enthroned in Jerusalem.
.-= Rob Crompton’s last blog ..Variations of stories =-.

anti_supernaturalist · June 3, 2010 at 12:41 pm

** “Jesus” — a character of historical fiction / “Christ” — a fantasy figure**

• the “quest for the historical Jesus” ends in historical fiction

As you will see “Jesus” would have been an easy character to fake. However, it doesn’t matter whether there is a mustard seed’s worth of truth about yet another wonder-worker zealot in Palestine between 140 BCE and 100 CE. “Jesus” is so overlaid with jewish fable and hellenized xian “borrowings” from other Roman religions that as Nietzsche writes, “the text disappeared under the interpretations.”

“Jesus” instead of being unusual was a familiar product of a land long occupied by foreign armies and ruled by members of an alien elite along with its jewish collaborators. (Sound familiar? — Palestine has been a trouble spot on and off for millennia.)

“Jesus” proclaimed a view frequently made by his culture’s most deluded radicals beginning 150 years before his time. (The imperialists ca. 140 BCE were descendants of conquering Macedonians — in particular the perhaps insane ruler Antiochus IV.) “Jesus” believed that his time of unbearable imperial Roman oppression finally signaled that “now” the world was about to end.

God would soon restore Israel as “he” had before. Moreover, “he” would put an end to all oppression forever. First century CE Rome would be destroyed. Time would end. God would rule directly over righteous jews on the Earth purified from all “sin”. (This is the apocalyptic death impulse at work — trace it back to early Zoroastrianism.*)

Such was “Jesus,” a culturally restricted figure drawn from jewish fable, bound to one religion, one place, one timespan — radical judaism, ancient Roman occupied Palestine, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar.

• Torn from his context “Jesus” made over into “Christ”

The “Jesus” character in those historical fictions called ‘gospels’ did not appear on the Roman stage until after he had been detached from his original significance. The ‘gospels’ already interpret “Jesus” to be the earthly avatar of a hellenized world savior “Christ,” born into an uncomprehending environment in obscure Palestine.

“Christ” we owe to one man. One mentally ill man, a zealous hellenized jew and a citizen of the empire, he conceived an audacious idea which he could not admit to himself. He needed unconscious permission to unleash it.

Like many in the middle-east today, Saul hated heresy. He hated heretics. They needed a good stoning — it’s the punishment of choice even today, especially for disobedient women and willful girls.

Suffering a mental collapse on his way to Damascus (Syria) while hunting down jews belonging to the new Jesus-cult, he experiences an overwhelming shock. His idea addresses him: “Saul why are you persecuting me?” demands a voice speaking to him amidst his hysterical delusion. Not the voice of jewish cultural fable “Jesus.” But from a new god of personal salvation “the risen Christ.”

As part of a hysterical conversion, “Saul” rejects his jewish identity. Shifting his personal identity to hellenized Roman citizen, “Paul,” he “converts” to the despised Jesus-cult. Now, self-proclaimed messenger to all outside of judaism, he redirects his unrelenting zeal. Paul creates the “Christ of faith.” He is the very first Christian. Paul transubstantiates “Jesus” into a hellenistic fantasy character “Christ,” a paternalist god who takes personal care of believers.

“Christ” is Paul’s answer to Isis. Isis the Savior — her upper class cult had already spread throughout Rome’s empire. Paul’s new, but not novel, god addresses “himself” to people throughout the empire who had neither money nor social standing to worship Isis. These were hard working, poorly educated, over-taxed free men, women and slaves living in imperial cities, crowded, unsanitary, anonymous.

the anti_supernaturalist

*See: Cohn, N. Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come. Yale. 2001

    Hope · June 27, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Great response! I wholeheartedly agree.

    duncan · May 26, 2012 at 12:59 am

    You are definitely right to make the point that any understanding of who ‘Jesus’ is must first consider the context. 1st century Judaism had a wide variety of views of the Roman occupation but they generally resented it and expected a Messiah to come and deliver them. There were undoubtedly many Messiah’s who came to save the Jews but they all failed.

    What is odd about the portrayal of ‘Jesus’ in the four gospels is that he is not seen as fitting this model. He doesn’t complain about the Romans at all, he threatens the Jews that the temple and the city are to be destroyed. His followers are portrayed as wanting and expecting him to turn into the Messiah they were hoping for and his resisting them.

    The idea that the four gospels are highly hellenized is a stretch. They are written in a form of Greek and so could be said to have been influenced by Greek culture but they are thoroughly Jewish writings using Jewish names, places and themes. These accounts in no way create an image of a Greek styled God-Man figure.

    They’re has been excellent work done by a guy called Kenneth Bailey looking at how the parables in these documents make far more sense when read through rural, semitic eyes and also investigates the literary forms of the parables seeing in them hallmarks of Jewish styles of poetry.

    The term Christ is certainly one heavily used and influenced by Paul but to suggest that he was the sole user and shaper of the word would be wrong. It is the word used to translate Messiah into Greek and so was in use before Paul ever got to it. There is definitely an argument to be considered as to whether Paul corrupted it but his own writings suggest he considered others to be the authority on ‘Jesus’ and his message.

      Jim Jones · May 26, 2012 at 1:18 am

      Christos (Gr) merely means anointed. It isn’t really equivalent to Messiah which implies a warrior leader who rescues his people.

      Gospel Jesus cannot be the messiah because He did not:

      * gather all Jews back to the land of Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6)

      * bring about world peace (Isaiah 2:4)

      * spread the knowledge of the God of Israel, uniting humanity as one (Zechariah 14:9)

      * build the third temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28)

      Neither did he possess the attributes of the Messiah:

      * Prophet–Jesus was not a prophet, he did not live during a time when prophecy could exist (when a majority of world’s Jews live in Israel). He arrived 350 years too late.

      * Descended from David on his father’s side (Genesis 49:10 & Isaiah 11:1)–Nope, Jesus’s father was God.

      * Observed Torah–Nope, Jesus contradicts the Torah (John 1:45 and 9:16, Acts 3:22 and 7:37)

oddstruck · December 4, 2010 at 2:28 pm

I think he was an incarnation of The Doctor.

Anomaly100 · December 4, 2010 at 6:17 pm

“Yes, and I think he probably had a life similar to the accounts in the Bible, but not exactly.”

Thanks for the poll.

TheSecretAtheist · December 4, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Well, with the option “I don’t think the Biblical (emphasis mine) Jesus ever existed” I maybe should have picked that, but my answer is a bit different than any of those listed in the poll. I think that a man who the stories of Jesus could be based off of could have existed, but might not have existed.

So the answer would be MAYBE that he existed but the Biblical accounts of him are mostly made up, or MAYBE the Biblical accounts are entirely made up.

    Godless Girl · December 4, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    One option I definitely forgot was a plain old “I have no idea!”

Andrew MacVicar · December 5, 2010 at 6:54 am

I think Jesus probably existed as a rabi with a mental illness – similar to today’s American televangelists (I mean, come on, you tell me those guys aren’t “down a quart”). But the more I research the more I realize that my concept of Jesus (an actual historical figure that has been elevated to divine status by the Abrahamic faiths) might be wrong and he didn’t exist at all.

Ben · December 6, 2010 at 3:57 pm

I suspect he never existed and that “Jesus” is a composite representative of the many “inspirational speakers” that were common during that time and who who either claimed to be prophets or to whom that label was applied by zealous, overly credulous followers. I also suspect that the alleged “miracles” that are attributed to Jesus in the bible are terribly exaggerated accounts of very normal gestures of human kindness and compassion on the part of these very mortal orators.

McAthman · January 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Oh, the hatefulness in the comments section, always needed in a good blog. I think he, or someone like him, did exist but the rest is up in the air for me. interesting poll.

Anders · January 14, 2011 at 3:55 pm

I think there probably was some sectarian leader, he may even have claimed to have been a descendant of King David (making him messiah), I don’t even hold this to be improbable. There were many such people running around i Judea at the time, claiming to be the rightful heir to the throne. We even have people like that around today, so to think that someone was running around 2000 years ago is not exactly a stretch of the imagination.

I’m not sure about his name, that could have become confused later, and this is an option that I find missing in your poll.

I think there was a sectarian leader with some very extremist views. His name may or may not have been Jesus (Yeshua) and he most certainly performed exactly as many divine miracles as Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson combined, neither more nor less

NotSoMightyGod · March 24, 2011 at 11:40 pm

I’ve listened to Bart Ehrman’s lecture series on the ‘Historical Jesus’ and highly recommend it. Unfortunately, there is only one extra-biblical reference to Jesus. It was from Josephus (Jewish General and historian) and is rather short. It actually states more about his followers than Jesus himself. His reference can only be used to assert a probable physical existence of a person crucified by Pilate.

However, many of the stories around Jesus are derived from previous mythologies and/or considered ‘me too’ versions of abilities claimed by other miracles workers who were contemporaries of Jesus. Ehrman likes to point out Apollonius of Tyana who is considered to have performed some of the same miracles and lived at the same time.

What I take from the sources that I’ve read or listened to is that there is a likelihood that a person of Jesus historical description existed; from Nazareth, traveled, died in Jerusalem. The miraculous components of the stories are outside of historical perview. The philosophy/religious teachings can not be confirmed with any level of certainty as there are conflicting forms reported in the gospels and additions were made or changed as the gospels were translated and copied.

Ehrman is certainly an insightful and interesting speaker and I consider him a credible source for information on Biblical history.

Personally, I think it’s plausible that someone got crucified for treasonous claims against the Romans. The Romans in Judea crucified lots of people. I think that the rest is embellished or made up of whole cloth. The Gospels conflict with each other to much for all the stories to be true. Read the gospels side by side and you’ll see different Jesus’s emerge. Look up ‘Messianic Secret’ if you’re curious.

Roager · May 7, 2011 at 1:00 am

The existence of Jesus is irrefutable! It is what he is supposed to have preached and believed in that was 99% bullshit!!

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