Did a historical Jesus exist? Christianity is based on the teachings of a character Jesus of Nazareth. The whole basis for Christianity is Jesus being a Messiah, son of God, God incarnate or part of the trinity. Most Christians accept Jesus as a historical figure but was he? What evidence do we have that Jesus existed. While it can’t be proven that Jesus didn’t exist it is possible to show that he did if there was evidence. Is there evidence though?
The first evidence Christians give is of course the bible however the bible it self is internally inconsistent, parts are historically inaccurate, it contains fantastic stories and it is only one source. One source alone is not evidence, you need multiple sources. Though there are extra biblical sources that Christians use to show a historical Jesus existed. I will examine these.
Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian who wrote the Antiquities of the Jews which in book 17 supposedly mentions Jesus and the early Christians.
Antiquities of the Jews – Book 18 Chapter 3.3
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
However this is universally accepted to be a forgery (interpolation) added by later Christians. The first problem is that Josephus was not Christian and the text clearly is written from a Christian perspective. The style of writing doesn’t match the rest of the Josephus writings. Third: It interrupts the flow of the text. Paragraphs two flows into paragraph four, tree interrupts that flow.
But the Antiquities of the Jews in book 20 does mention a James brother of Jesus “who was called Christ”.
Antiquities of the Jews – Book 20 Chapter 9.1
“Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned:”
But the Jesus “known as the christ” mentioned can not be the Jesus of the bible because it later says.
“Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”
So it was clearly not the Jesus of the bible. Further the name “Jesus” is the anglicised version of the Greek Ιησους (Iesous) which is the hellenised version of Yehoshu’a  (which “Joshua” is the anglicised version of) which wan’t an uncommon Jewish name. It isn’t the biblical Jesus but maybe this was the historical basis for the Jesus of the bible? The only thing here that may suggest that is the “who was called Christ” but “christ” is a greek word meaning “the annoyted one”  and since the Chapter 18 3.3 it most likely a forgery “who was called Christ” could have been added by the same or another forger.
Putting those aside; the Antiquities of the Jews was written in 93 CE, thats 57 to to 67 years after Jesus supposedly died which is enough time for a myth to form.
Christians also use The Annals By Tacitus as evidence for a historical Jesus.
The Annals By Tacitus 109 C.E.
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”
The Annals was written in 109 CE far too late to be evidence for a historical Jesus. The mention of “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty” doesn’t necessarily represent accurate history but the beliefs of the Christians of the time.
Pliny the Youngers letter to Emperor Trajan
Christians also use a letter from Pliny the Youngers to Emperor Trajan. How ever on none of the sites claiming to show evidence for a historical Jesus did I find the whole letter only this part.
“‘[The Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food–but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.’ Pliny added that Christianity attracted persons of all societal ranks, all ages, both sexes, and from both the city and the country. Late in his letter to Emperor Trajan, Pliny refers to the teachings of Jesus and his followers as excessive and contagious superstition.”
How ever I did find the whole (or at least much more of it) letter at Infidels.org: Josh McDowell’s “Evidence” for Jesus but nether one mentions a historical Jesus.
The Lives of the Caesars by Suetonius
“Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”
The key word here is “Chrestus” but looking at the context (Chrestus inciting Jews in Rome to cause disturbances in Rome) “Chrestus” seems more like a Jewish leader in Rome who was inciting violence against Romans.
The Twelve Caears was written in 121 CE, far too late to be evidence for a historical Jesus.
“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account… You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”
Problem Lucian is from the 2nd century far too late to be considered evidence for a historical Jesus.
There is simply no evidence that there was a historical Jesus. But that in no way mean that there was not a historical Jesus. Many, many religious leaders, philosophers and leaders of nations have been lost to history because the evidence for there existence has been erased by time. If there was a historical Jesus, at the time he was just not important enough to write about.
Jesus isn’t alone in this. He is only one historical figure whose existence is in doubt; the historicities of Lao Tzu, Confucius, Socrates and Muhammad  are in doubt as well. In the past, people and events were not recorded as well as they are today and allot has been erased by time. Hell in 2000 years people will probably be debating the historicities of people who do and do not exist in today.
1. SAB – Contradictions
2. SAB -Science and History
3. Behind the name – Jesus
4. Online Etymology Dictionary – Christ
5. The Works of Flavius Josephus
6. Wikipedia – Crucifixion_of_Jesus
7. Google Books – The Lives of the Twelve Caesars By Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus
8. Wikipedia – Lucian
9. Lao Tzu The Old Master and The Tao Te Ching
10. Confucius and the Scholars
11. Socrates Biography: Biographical Profile of Socrates
12. Professor Hired for Outreach to Muslims Delivers a Jolt