Is there really a consensus of scholars on historical facts about Jesus?

November 18th, 2012 in Belief. Tags: , , , , ,

Jesus

Akhenaten has been attacking statements I have made here, and on my other blog theWay?. The latest comment on Christians and cathedrals questions whether “there exists a scholarly consensus that a reasonable if modest amount of facts about Jesus can be known”.

I decided this question required a longer answer … (and I apologise for the length of this post)

There are too many historical scholars to simply count their opinions, so I suggest the best way to test this proposition is by considering what the leading, or most respected scholars, say.

How can we decide which scholars are most respected?

Scholars from reputable universities, who have relevant PhD qualifications, who publish in reputable journals, and whose books are well received and often-quoted, are more likely to be respected than those from specifically christian colleges, with lesser qualifications or are not published in peer-reviewed journals.

Assessing how often historians are quoted favourably is quite subjective, but can still give an indication. But sometimes scholars specifically nominate who they believe are most expert or respected.

So who are the leading scholars?

  • In his 2000 textbook on historical Jesus scholarship, Mark Powell named 5 scholars he felt were the most respected at that time: JD Crossan, M Borg, EP Sanders, J Meier and NT Wright,
  • Paula Fredriksen in Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (2000) lists the same 5 scholars plus Geza Vermes.
  • In his book on Jesus of Nazareth, Maurice Casey mentions with approval EP Sanders, Geza Vermes and NT Wright from Fredriksen’s list, plus R Bauckham, C Evans, J Dunn, M Hengel, P Fredriksen, D Allison and B Chilton.
  • When Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? was heavily criticised by generally non-recognised scholars, a number of scholars (e.g. Maurice Casey and Larry Hurtado) supported him.
  • Not all scholars agree with Richard Bauckham, but he is recognised by many scholars (e.g. J Dunn, NT Wright, M Hengel & L Hurtado) for his expertise.

Several names appear again and again – notably EP Sanders, Geza Vermes and NT Wright – and these may be considered among the leading scholars. It is interesting that one is an agnostic, one a Jew and one a christian. Most of the others mentioned above could be considered to be among the most respected.

Most of these studied or taught at reputable universities (e.g. Wright at Oxford, Durham & St Andrews; Casey at Nottingham; Bauckham at Cambridge & St Andrews; Sanders at Duke, etc), publish in journals and have written books.

My own choice of scholars to read and quote depends on who I have found in my local library or on the web and who I have decided to buy. I mostly quote EP Sanders, M Casey, Michael Grant and B Ehrman (all non-believers) and NT Wright, R Bauckham, C Evans & John Dickson (all christians), but I have read something by almost all of those mentioned above.

So what do these scholars say?

we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned. ….. In recent years, ‘no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus’ or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.”

The late Michael Grant, eminent historian of the Roman Empire

This view [that Jesus didn’t exist] is demonstrably false. It is fuelled by a regrettable form of atheist prejudice, which holds all the main primary sources, and Christian people, in contempt. This is not merely worse than the American Jesus Seminar, it is no better than Christian fundamentalism. It simply has different prejudices. Most of its proponents are also extraordinarily incompetent.

Maurice Casey, Nottingham University

I don’t think there’s any serious historian who doubts the existence of Jesus …. We have more evidence for Jesus than we have for almost anybody from his time period.

Prof Bart Ehrman, University of North Carolina

The historical evidence for Jesus himself is extraordinarily good. …. From time to time people try to suggest that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, but virtually all historians of whatever background now agree that he did”

NT Wright, Oxford & St Andrews Universities

some judgments are so probable as to be certain; for example, Jesus really existed, and he really was crucified, just as Julius Caesar really existed and was assassinated. …. We can in fact know as much about Jesus as we can about any figure in the ancient world.

Marcus Borg, Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University

[In answer to the question, did Jesus exist?] I would say it is much more likely that he did than he didn’t. To believe that he had been imagined or invented is a much harder task than to rely on the available evidence, which is obviously not as clear-cut as one would like, but is sufficiently good to say that somebody by the name of Jesus existed around the time when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea in the first century AD.

Geza Vermes, Oxford University

Jesus did exist; and we know more about him than about almost any Palestinian Jew before 70 C.E.”

Prof James Charlesworth, Princeton Theological Seminary

Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it [the theory that Jesus didn’t exist] as effectively refuted.”

Robert Van Voorst, Western Theological Seminary

Jesus did more than just exist. He said and did a great many things that most historians are reasonably certain we can know about today. …. A hundred and fifty years ago a fairly well respected scholar named Bruno Bauer maintained that the historical Jesus never existed. Anyone who says that today – in the academic world at least – gets grouped with the skinheads who say there was no Holocaust and the scientific holdouts who want to believe the world is flat.

M A Powell, Trinity Lutheran Seminary

I think that the New Testament does provide prima facie evidence for the historicity of Jesus. It is clear, then, that if we are going to apply to the New Testament the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we should not require independent confirmation of the New Testament’s claim that Jesus existed.

Jeffery Jay Lowder, writing on the Secular Web

So in one sense I think I’m not alone in feeling that to show the ill-informed and illogical nature of the current wave of “mythicist” proponents is a bit like having to demonstrate that the earth isn’t flat, or that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, or that the moon-landings weren’t done on a movie lot.

Larry Hurtado, Emeritus Professor, Edinburgh University

Research in the historical Jesus has taken several positive steps in recent years. Archaeology, remarkable literary discoveries, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and progress in reassessing the social, economic, and political setting of first-century Palestine have been major factors. …. the persistent trend in recent years is to see the Gospels as essentially reliable, especially when properly understood, and to view the historical Jesus in terms much closer to Christianity’s traditional understanding

Prof Craig Evans, Arcadia Divinity College, Arcadia University

…. a growing conviction among many scholars that the Gospels tell us more about Jesus and his aims than we had previously thought ….. subsequent Christianity may be in greater continuity with Jesus than was previously thought.

J Paget, Cambridge University

An ancient historian has no problem seeing the phenomonon of Jesus as an historical one. His many surprising aspects only help anchor him in history. Myth and legend would have created a more predictable figure. The writings that sprang up about Jesus also reveal to us a movement of thought and an experience of life so unusual that something much more substantial than the imagination is needed to explain it.

Emeritus Professor Edwin Judge, Ancient History Research Centre, Macquarie University, Sydney

[The following is beyond reasonable doubt from everyone’s point of view:] “that Jesus was known in both Galilee and Jerusalem, that he was a teacher, that he carried out cures of various illnesses, particularly demon-possession and that these were widely regarded as miraculous; that he was involved in controversy with fellow Jews over questions of the law of Moses; and that he was crucified in the governorship of Pontius Pilate.

A.E. Harvey, formerly at Oxford University

Historical reconstruction is never absolutely certain, and in the case of Jesus it is sometimes highly uncertain. Despite this, we have a good idea of the main lines of his ministry and his message. We know who he was, what he did, what he taught, and why he died. ….. the dominant view [among scholars] today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first-century Judaism.

EP Sanders, Oxford & Duke Universities

I shall first offer a list of statements about Jesus that meet two standards: they are almost beyond dispute; and they belong to the framework of his life, and especially of his public career. (A list of everything that we know about Jesus would be appreciably longer.)
Jesus was born c 4 BCE near the time of the death of Herod the Great;
he spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village;
he was baptised by John the Baptist;
he called disciples;
he taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities);
he preached ‘the kingdom of God’;
about the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover;
he created a disturbance in the Temple area;
he had a final meal with the disciples;
he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest;
he was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.

EP Sanders

Conclusion

I could gather more statements, but surely it is clear enough. With only one or two exceptions, scholars are in little doubt that Jesus existed and the Gospels tell us some reliable information about him. Anyone who says otherwise is not willing to accept what the experts say.

We need to be clear what the historians are saying, and not misunderstand. They are not necessarily endorsing christian belief about Jesus – some of the above historians are christians, some are not. And they are not saying that the New Testament is 100% reliable on matters of history. They are simply saying that the New Testament provides useful historical information and a person recognisable as the Jesus of the gospels truly lived, taught, gained a reputation as a miracle-worker and was executed.

For more on what they conclude we can know about Jesus, see Jesus in history.

Nevertheless, christian belief is built on this historical foundation. I personally accept the truth of christian teaching about Jesus because I accept, on faith, the pictures painted by the gospel writers.

60 Comments

  1. Okay, Let’s consider this the last time I shall anwer this particular question.

    I consider the likliehood of there being an historical person by the name of Jesus or Yeshua or whatever the common local equivelant who may have been considered an apocolyptic preacher/teacher quite possible and that the future religion of Christianity may well have been based on such a character who may have been crucified.
    I believe there was a definite identifiable group that split from manstream Judaism and became known as Christians to be historicaly factual.

    I do not believe the character of Jesus of Nazareth AS REFLECTED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT (the miracle performing ,ressurecting, supernatural, divine man-god -so we are perfectly clear) to be an actual flesh and blood historical person.
    There are no grounds whatsoever to believe any scholar that suggests otherwise.

    I apologise for the capitals, I realise they look silly, I just wanted to make absolutely sure you were clear on this point.

    Consider this my answer.

  2. After reading your response to the Mary/virginity question I have tried to frame a response that covers this whole Jesus/historicity/ scholar thing.
    I hope this will finally clear up any and all misunderstanding between us.
    Consider this as an over rider for all previous comments, rendering them moot but not necessarily invalid.
    One of the major differences between Protestant and Catholic belief is Salvation.
    You, as a Protestant, believe Salvation is gained comes through Faith; not Faith AND Works. Sating the obvious -bear with me.
    Thus your belief re: the Virgin Birth clarified your position for me. It is Faith. I should have realised before of course, and this shows how much of a bloody fool I am for being the one to allow emotion to cloud perspective. Apologies for ever suggesting you were. You have known what you were doing all along.
    Why this issue of faith is so important is simply because no matter what any Non-Christian scholar states about Jesus it will, ultimately, have no bearing whatsoever on the way you view Him; a point I was so slow to realise that in hindsight it’s ridiculous, verging on absurd. In fact, you will more than likely dismiss even the more liberal Christian scholarly views. You raised some doubts about J.D. Crossan if I remember rightly?
    And this is the crux of the disagreement I have had with the way you present your material all along, yet was unable to phrase it in a clear enough manner.

    The Jesus that Non-Christian scholars vouchsafe for is not the same individual as the one reflected within the pages of the bible.
    I understand that sentence may be viewed as an analogous minefield so I hope you are 100% clear in what I mean. If not, please say so.

    This is why I state that your use of these scholars’ opinion is intellectually dishonest, even though this may be unintentional and even though you are sometimes at pains to come across as self-effacing, as you have no need of their expertise to strengthen your case.
    Furthermore if the consensus of Non-Christian scholars changes – more ancient text, contradictory archaeological evidence for example-(even though you have stated that it isn’t likely to change and further revelation will come from God) your opinion would not change either as this would mean you would give up your faith. Something you will not even likely consider.
    There may be several reasons for this, and I am not going to speculate why.
    But I do wonder who are you really trying to convince? Fellow Christians? Like you, they are in the same boat, basing their belief firstly on Faith. Anything else is a bonus and you don’t require non-believers for that.
    Suffice to say, it is acknowledged that you are a Christian. Leave the non-christians scholars ‘at home’, Unklee. We get it. Honestly we do.
    Peace.

  3. Akhenaten,

    It is a “nice” condescending comment, but unfortunately many of the things you say about me are either wrong, or at least only partly right. I don’t think it is worth correcting you, for I have said the same things before and you still don’t get it. So I will just list the things that you said about me that were wrong or partly wrong:

    “You, as a Protestant, believe Salvation is gained comes through Faith; not Faith AND Works.”
    ” It is Faith.”
    ” no matter what any Non-Christian scholar states about Jesus it will, ultimately, have no bearing whatsoever on the way you view Him”
    ” you will more than likely dismiss even the more liberal Christian scholarly views. ”
    “you have no need of their expertise to strengthen your case.”
    “if the consensus of Non-Christian scholars changes ….. your opinion would not change either”
    “Something you will not even likely consider.”
    “We get it. Honestly we do.”

    Honestly Akhenaten, you don’t get it very much at all as far as my beliefs are concerned. After all this time, you are saying what you think rather than reading what I say.

    But as I have suggested before, let us stop this “discussion”, it is going nowhere.You are happy now it seems, lets us leave it at that.

    Thanks for taking the time to visit my website so much and to comment. I am flattered by the interest. And now I wish you the very best.

  4. Of course it isn’t worth correcting…*is there really anythin to ‘correct’?
    Corrections would highlight the gaping holes in the highly subjective case you mount for your version of Christianity.
    It is cherry picking.
    Don’t worry, I understand. There are around 40,000 individual Christian denominations to support this.
    If one removes every single aspect of secular non-chirstian views on Christianity you will still believe what was left to be true.
    You claim impartiallity in your approach but this is fallacious as it is the supernatural that HAS to be as the crux of Christianity; a belief in the Resurection and Godhead of Jesus. Anything less is a fraud. This is the very bedrock of the Nicene Creed’of Christianity.
    One cannot be a partial Christian for goodness sake!
    The historicity of the character merely confirms this.
    How MUCH history rests upon the historian. Or more pertinantly, how many historians can reach consensus with the available evidence.
    Thus, every argument presented that views Christianity in a favorable or at the very least, plausible light you will grasp and attempt to builld a rational argument around.
    But this comes after the faith as a bonus to stabilise tenuous facts.
    Christianity is not solely (soul -ly?) about viewing it as some sort of religious smorgasbord.

    If it was only about the evidence presented by non-christian scholars there would be no religion.
    You may dance on the pinhead for as long as you want. No problem this side.

    My previous comment stands.

  5. Hey UnkleE,

    If you are up to taking suggestions for blog articles, I have one for you. It is this statement made by arkenaten:

    “There are around 40,000 individual Christian denominations to support this.”

    Now you know that you and I hardly agree on these matters of Christian faith. I never argue with you about it on your blog because I believe you are free to your beliefs and your Faith is frankly none of my business. But I would like to see, if possible, this statement challenged from the Christian’s point of view. I see it all the time from atheist and skeptical articles, and it just drives me crazy. Nobody is ever called out on it. I would like to know where this ‘40,000 denominations’ number originated. Actually, I usually see it as 30,000 but I think the number is just pulled out of the skeptic’s posterior and never challenged. Every time I see or hear this claim of 30,000 denominations made, I just cringe. If you have time and are up for suggestions, could you do a bit of research and debunk this claim once and for all?

  6. NOV 18, 2012
    “Is there really a consensus of scholars on historical facts about Jesus?”

    Nothing like a few hours away from my desk to jog the old grey matter…

    So, this consensus you go on about?
    What exactly are the facts you suggest these eminant scholars ALL agree upon?
    I have been able to deduce these…..

    That Jesus existed.
    That he was baptised by John the Baptist.
    That he was crucified by Pilate.

    And that is IT.

    And those above statements I am pretty happy to accept as they stand.
    But if one attempts to expand on any of the above topics the glue comes unstuck and immediately you will dissagreement.
    It will be polite to vociferous.
    I even found two scholars disagreeing about the meaning of the term apocolyptic in reference to Jesus as a preacher!
    One of the said scholars had a go at Sanders but quickly stated he is one of his favorite writers!

    So, I will, for the sake of peace (lol), agree on those three points of scholarly consensus.

  7. G’day HeIsSailing,

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I still read your blog too, but I have taken a break from commenting, for similar reasons that you give here.

    Thanks too for the suggestion. I will give it some thought. I think the difficulty will be (1) to define a separate denomination and (2) to get any meaningful information on the numbers of them. You may well be right that the figure is just an invention, but I will investigate.

    Thanks.

  8. For the pair of you…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations
    and here…

    http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/p/christiantoday.htm
    According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world. This statistic takes into consideration cultural distinctions of denominations in different countries, so there is overlapping of many denominations.
    Center for the Study of Global Christianity (2011)

    So no, it actually didn’t come from my “skeptic’s posterior”.
    and so, HeIsSailing, your challenge might be considered bumf.
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bumf
    have a super, duper day! 😉

  9. “What exactly are the facts you suggest these eminant scholars ALL agree upon?
    I have been able to deduce these…..

    That Jesus existed.
    That he was baptised by John the Baptist.
    That he was crucified by Pilate.”

    I wonder if you could name the scholars who say these are the only facts we can know about Jesus please – all the ones you have read who say this. Thanks.

  10. “I wonder if you could name the scholars who say these are the only facts we can know about Jesus please – all the ones you have read who say this. Thanks.”
    Smile…as ususal you missunderstand.
    I did not state that these are the only facts scholars agree upon rather these are the only areas they are able to reach unanimous consensus.
    To illustrate:It does not preclude that 2 out of 3 may agree that Jesus eyes were blue, or that 3 out of 5 agree he had long hair and a beard.
    But try and find consensus of every single historical point scholars use to attempt to define an historical Jesus is impossible.

    And remember, what are the guidelines for general consensus?
    51%? or 80 %? You tell me .
    Even if we accept the latter that still leaves 20% of scholars who may vehemently disagree that Jesus’ hair was long.

    In the wonderful realm of statistics the statistician rules supreme.

    “90% of women prefer to wash their clothes in Surf”
    Which looks more convincing than saying “… we asked 20 women and 18 said it was better than soap

  11. “But try and find consensus of every single historical point scholars use to attempt to define an historical Jesus is impossible.”

    I have supplied quotes from more than a dozen leading scholars that not only do they believe we can know a lot of things about Jesus, but that regard that as the consensus view of most scholars. You have supplied the name of one scholar who believes differently.

    There is no need to say any more. There are many scientists who disbelieve in evolution, but you and I both agree with the vast majority who accept the truth of evolution. There are many climate scientists who are climate change sceptics, but you (I presume) and I both accept the verdict of the vast majority who accept the science. Your unwillingness to do the same for the vast majority of historians who conclude that we can know quite a bit about Jesus is now clear.

    There is no point in discussing history with you any more, I’m sorry to say. Please feel free to continue to visit my blogs and comment, I will be happy to discuss with you, but there is no point in commenting on history and Jesus while you refuse to either accept the conclusions of the vast majority of scholars, or offer cogent reasons to support a different view – it would be like two ships passing in the night.

    I’m truly sorry to have to say this, but that is where we have come to. Best wishes.

  12. I DO accept the consensus that spmeone called Jesus existed. I have pretty much said this all along. All I am disputing is that any consensus that says Jesus existed is NOT the same as saying the character reflected in the bible existed. And there is nothing on gods’ (sic )earth that can be offered as evidence to show otherwise.

    In other words….see the first comment on this post.

  13. I have no idea, I have done no reading on the OT. But I imagine there are severe doubts that any such character existed, while others say that he did.

  14. Then I’m curious; as the New Testament is OT prophecy fulfilled,
    a Character like Moses is crucial.
    He is mentioned in the OT. Surely New Testament scholars have an opinion regarding him?

    If there are doubts how can NT scholars be so sure of the veracity of aspects of the NT?
    It is certainly something that has crossed my mind.

  15. “He is mentioned in the OT. Surely New Testament scholars have an opinion regarding him?”

    Sorry, that should have been , ‘He is mentioned in the NT…..”
    Obviously.

  16. How does the historicity or otherwise of Moses affect the historicity of the NT?

    I’m not going to get into further arguments about NT history and I don’t want to antagonise you, but I honestly think you don’t understand how NT historians do their work, and what conclusions they do and don’t come to. And I still don’t think you have come to grips with what I have said about my own beliefs.

  17. “How does the historicity or otherwise of Moses affect the historicity of the NT?”

    I would have thought it obvious. If there is overwhelming belief that Moses was a ficticious character, or at leat a composite figure and Jesus mentions him then something is not right with Jesus.
    Either he is not who Christians believe, Jesus was misguided concerning Jewish history or he didn;t exist.

    Many of the conclusions re: the NT were made many years ago.
    Louis Feldman for one, and I haven’t picked up many new theories.
    Bart Ehrman certainly isn’t stating anything new.

    Re: Your own position. You seem to think I haven’t understood.
    I am merely drawing conclusions based on our discussions and what you have posted on your ‘About’ page.
    My understanding is thus.
    You are a Christian of 50years. You have faith in Jesus as the Son of God. Believe in the virgin birth, the Trinity, miracles and where applicable use science to compliment your faith.
    You accept the consensus CHristian and Non Christian *in historcal matters re: Jesus etc) but “agree to disagree” where it involves
    conflicting proposals regarding Jesus as God, although you may be prepared to reevalute certain aspects should new evidence come to light (but in all honesty you highly doubt this will happen unless revealed by God)
    Did I miss anything?

  18. Well done, I’ll give you half points!

    “Either he is not who Christians believe, Jesus was misguided concerning Jewish history or he didn;t exist.”

    Historians, generally, are not committed to the idea that Jesus could not have been misguided, nor that he never used the thought concepts of the day. They simply look at what he is reported to have done and said, how much of that we can reasonably believe he really did and said, and how to understand that. It would make little difference to them whether he understood Moses in the same way we do today.

    A christian may be concerned about the question, but there are many more possible answers than the ones you mention, and not all of them are threatening to christian faith.

    So I think I was mostly correct there.

    “Did I miss anything?”

    But I’ll give you nearly full marks here! The only thing I would substantially disagree with is your statement “but “agree to disagree” where it involves conflicting proposals regarding Jesus as God”.

    So well done, we were each half right.

  19. HeIsSailing,

    I did the research you suggested on denominations, and found there are two main sources, both of which give the estimate of over 40,000 denominations worldwide.

    But you need to read the fine print. These denominations are not defined by differences in belief but by being separate organisations. Your suspicion was therefore correct. Those who quote this number of 40,000+ as an indication of christian division have not done their homework.

    I think it is a scandal that christians argue amongst themselves as much as they do, but these figures are not measuring that in any direct sense. See my full summary at How many christian denominations worldwide?

  20. “It would make little difference to them whether he understood Moses in the same way we do today.”

    Oh, I believe it would make a HUGE difference, but the political ramifications over the Middle East situation would be mind-boggling.

    For what it’s worth, the best scholars in this field (check out Finkelstein) agree that Moses is legendary or a composite ( Martin Noth) at best.
    There is no archaeological evidence. (the Merneptah stele has been re-evaluated in case you were going to rush off to that)

    If one stops to consider the implications and logistics of over a million people – please do the math before refuting this figure, I beg you- traipsing around the desert for 40 years without leaving a single trace.
    Let alone the near impossible task of maintaining a cohesive unit.

    So, following similar criteria when investigating the historicity of Jesus there was no Moses. So who was Jesus referring to? As god incarnate he must know his history, surely?
    So,you tell me…..

    “A christian may be concerned about the question, but there are many more possible answers than the ones you mention, and not all of them are threatening to christian faith.”

    So , unlike the historicity surrounding Jesus, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever to back the Biblical tale of Moses, offer me the plausible Christian answer that would find consensus.

    Just for interest sake, why not see if you can come up with an honest answer YOU find acceptable. At least one that doesn’t default to the supernatural.

  21. “So, following similar criteria when investigating the historicity of Jesus there was no Moses. So who was Jesus referring to? As god incarnate he must know his history, surely?
    So,you tell me…..”

    The truth is slightly less black and white than you say. There is no clear evidence of a Moses of the stature of the character in the OT leading a large group of Hebrews around the desert – doesn’t mean there was no Moses at all. We just don’t know. I’m not making any claims because I haven’t read up on this.

    Scholars describe the OT as “fictionalised history”, and I haven’t got enough information to say any more.

  22. Well, in reality, there aren’t that many choices Unklee, are there?
    If you accept the verdict that it is “fictionalised history”, where does that leave the NT?
    Moses is mentioned/referenced over 80 times. Why would a fictionlised character be mentioned to this degree?
    If you are certain of the New Testament re accuracy to the point you consider trustworthy then questioning Moses is out of the question, for Jesus as God would have known the truth of this matter. He certainly speaks with authority suggesting without doubt Moses was a real person.
    But not JUST a real person but the person the OT claims.

    Wich brings me back to the point about Jesus.
    As God he wuld know the truth, there would be absolutely no doubt whatsoever.
    As a man, brought up on Jewish Tradition, then there iis ery good cause to suspect he was merely reciting this traditioon, passed on through the generations.

    You say you don;t have “enough information to say any more”
    I don’t doubt your faith, truly I don’t, merely the evidence that questions it.
    If you ignore it, then there is always that nagging doubt…
    And to put that doubt aside is to refuse to confront it.

    Do you think that perhaps having a somewhat restricted approach ( staying primarily within New Testament boundaries) encourages believers to maybe abandon reason?

  23. “I don’t doubt your faith, truly I don’t, merely the evidence that (SUPPORTS)questions it.”

    One day I shall learn to write in Word first.

  24. 1. I think the evidence points to God existing and Jesus being divine.

    2. That conclusion doesn’t depend in any way on the OT.

    3. Therefore I don’t think that much about the problems with the OT, because it wouldn’t make that much of a difference either way. I have plenty more to learn.

    4. The OT may all be true, it may all be myth, it may all be fictionalised history, it may all be stories based on truth, it may all be poetic and symbolic, but probably it is several of those in different places. I don’t have to know. But I note what scholars say if I happen to come across it.

    5. When you discuss Jesus’ views of Moses, you make large assumptions and consider a small subset of all the options, then make strong statements about things about which neither you nor I could possibly know. Without those assumptions and with a wider range of options, I don’t see a major problem.

    6. If you knew me, you’d know your statement “And to put that doubt aside is to refuse to confront it.” is ludicrous. I have been a doubting and questioning person all my life. But on the major issues I have found answers that stand up even to my continual questioning, and this website gives the results of my thinking.

    So there you have it. But like I said before, I have no intention of continuing an interminable discussion with someone who keeps making wrong assumptions about me, and responds to evidence with sly and occasionally nasty comments. You will note I have stopped replying on other threads, this is just my farewell and best wishes.

  25. The truth is what ever you wish it to be, and your faith will help fill in the corners. The facts apply to us all.

    “…. this is just my farewell and best wishes.”

    Likewise…

  26. I’m a little surprised that you didn’t mention, craig bloomberg, Daniel Wallace, William lane Craig or Eldon Epp. (and I think Eldon epp might be agnostic).

    But this looks like a very good list so far

  27. “I’m a little surprised that you didn’t mention, craig bloomberg, Daniel Wallace, William lane Craig or Eldon Epp. (and I think Eldon epp might be agnostic).”

    Hi Marcus, thanks for visiting. I try to distinguish factual matters from opinion, and I try to base all my conclusions on good evidence. When writing about Jesus on this website, I mainly stick to factual matters (i.e. those matters on which most secular historians agree). Obviously my own beliefs affect all this, but I try to be even-handed and accurate.

    So I don’t generally quote scholars who are not active in the field and not writing from a secular viewpoint (even if they are christians), because that is one way to keep myself honest, and also because I want to meet non-believers at least halfway.

    Craig Blomberg is a competent scholar, but he writes from christian assumptions, I haven’t read much Wallace but I think he may be the same. Craig is a competent philosopher, a brilliant debater, and his Reasonable Faith is the best christian apologetics book I have ever read, but although he has a PhD in New Testament study, he is not working or writing in the field. I know nothing of Epp.

    I’m glad you have found the list helpful.

  28. In response to Arkenaten. You might find the following facts interesting.

    Empirical evidence:

    1. The excavations at various sites such as Jericho and Hazor match the predictions that the book of Joshua makes in regard to what we ought to find when we dig there. Here is a great video that provides some excellent visual examples:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-cmdl4Cqdo

    Textual evidence:

    2. The Amarna letters record a series of requests from Canaanite vassal states to Cairo pleading for help in defending against a group of people called “Habiru.” The term “Habiru” was a derisive term denoting a peoples with no country or state– nomadic in nature.

    As these “Apiru” continue to take city after city in Canaan, the tone of desperation in their pleas increases over time. One of the final letters says, “As truly as the king, my lord, lives, when the commissioners go forth I will say, ‘Lost are the lands of the king! Do you not hearken unto me? All the governors are lost; the king, my lord, does not have a [single] governor [left]!’”

    Chronological corroboration:

    3. The letters began during the rule of Pharaoh Amenhotep III (~1390-1350 B.C.). The letters stopped coming under the rule of Pharaoh Akhenaten (~1350-1340 B.C.).

    4. The Merneptah Stele establishes, as fact, that Israel was well established in Canaan no later than 1200 B.C.

    Additional circumstantial evidence:

    5. Pharaoh Akhenaten attempted to institute monotheism during his reign– apparently, he thought there was something to it. . . given the fact that his entire Canaanite sphere of influence was lost to nomadic, stateless invaders during his reign. His attempt at monotheism failed miserably.

    Summary: the historicity of Joshua’s conquest is well established by the archaeological and textual evidence. Which means that Joshua, and the numbers and force necessary to take Canaan, had to come from somewhere. . .

    The Exodus offers a perfect explanation as to how a group of nomadic, stateless peoples could show up out of nowhere and take an entire region in the face of the worlds second greatest military power.

  29. Hi Steve, thanks for all that info. I think there is lots of archaeology that confirms parts of the Old Testament accounts, but it appears that other archaeology doesn’t.

    In the case of Jericho, it appears that the majority of scholars doubt what is in the YouTube video – e.g. the dates seem to be wrong. This means I don’t think we can be as sure as you say about Joshua’s conquest being established by archaeological evidence. At best, the evidence seems to be far from clear.

  30. In the hands of some authors, the Hapiru hypothesis becomes destructive to the invasion hypothesis as the group would be made up of local outcasts mixed with some nomads as some sort of violent counterculture. But in any case “Hapiru” doesn’t seem to be related to the Hebrew word for “Hebrew”.

    But I think Steve has a strong point with respect to Hazor. It definitely seems suggest to suggest an Israelite military presence. However, the fact that the Israelites came to speak a Canaanite dialect in any case suggests at least an influential local Canaanite element. All in all I think there was an invasion, but with some local support.

  31. Hi IN, thanks for this input. You know I value your input, especially on matters like this which I know little about. What’s your thought’s on Jericho?

  32. Thanks. I don’t know much about it, but the crucial destruction is usually dated to the 15th/16th century BC and almost only by conservative Christians to the 13th. During the thirteenth Jericho didn’t have a wall and seems to have undergone erosion, which doesn’t indicate a large settlement like a city. The main archeological work during the 20th century was done by Kenyon and she seems to have been open to the speculation that there was a city but that it was eroded away before being resettled by Israelites in the first millennium. It is extremely unlikely that all signs of settlement would have been eroded away, because the Late Bronze Age layer doesn’t lie on bedrock. And can that explain the lack of evidence for a fire?

    Kitchen argues that the later rebuildings and destructions of Jericho would have also removed much evidence, but the problem for that interpretation is that the instances of destruction have left later evidence remaining. Again, the odds are long that all evidence would be removed. Resettlement seems to have been gradual anyway, already taking place before the famed Hiel in the 9th century.

    It should be kept in mind that for earlier periods of settlement the evidence is quite extensive at times, especially during the early neolithic and the early bronze age.

    All in all, it seems very improbable that Jericho was anything more than a small village at the critical time.

  33. Could the 15th/16th century destruction be what Joshua is about? Is dating of the Exodus and conquest (at whatever level they occurred) certain?

  34. From the top of my head it isn’t very likely. The Bronze Age-Iron Age transition takes place in the thirteenth century with the arrival of the Sea Peoples and around this time a new material culture arises in the Judean highlands (distinct from the Sea Peoples) that appears as a precursor to the Israelite culture.

  35. So what do you think led to the Joshua story we have? Is it totally invented, a memory of the earlier destruction re-applied to Joshua, a real invasion of a much smaller settlement, or what??

  36. @ IgnorantiaNescia

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Kitchen#Biblical_scholarship
    Kitchen is an evangelical Christian and has published frequently from that background on questions relating to the Old Testament. His publications in this area have consistently defended the historical books of the Old Testament as an accurate record of events, i.e., as history, against the academic consensus that they are primarily theological in nature.

    I have been following this discussion on an off for the past week as it seems to tie in with what we are discussing at the moment.
    Why would you consider someone like Kitchen as a reliable scientific source to look to when everything he believes is based on faith?

    Surely, if you wish to know what happened at Jericho you acknowledge what the experts in the field say, rather than someone like Kitchen who is an evangelical Christian and at best ”on the fringe”?

  37. UnkleE, I don’t think we can disentangle the history of the tradition with much certainty, as our earliest sources in Joshua are from the early first millennium whereas the destruction took place in the sixteenth century. An invention based on the sight of Jericho’s destroyed walls seems most likely to me, but a mix of traditions might very well be true.

    One Skeptic, I am aware of Kitchen’s biases and they are very obvious to me when I read him. However, if you read carefully what I say you’ll notice that I think his suggestion about Jericho is implausible. Nevertheless, I acknowledge his expertise as an archeologist and think a layman should consider his opinion. It's not that all he offers is simply faith, but he does have a strong religious bias and is often scornful of experts on the Hebrew Bible. On the other hand he is the to-go-to expert on the Third Intermediate Period (which roughly coincides with the time of the monarchies in Israel and Judah) and has a broad grasp of ancient languages. Besides, he directs most of his ire against an equally unscholarly minimalist bias, so his insights are not without worth. But one should definitely handle him with care on second millennium Palestine.

  38. @IgnorantiaNescia
    I think there is nothing wrong with utilizing whatever tools come to hand and this includes the bible. One archaeologist is even quoted saying she (?) works with a trowel in one hand and a bible in the other, as no doubt , did Albright.
    But when the ‘guiding light’ as it were, is a propensity toward biblical literalism as seems to be the case with archaeologists like Kitchen one is naturally skeptical about anything they approach and it is unfortunate their scholasticism is overshadowed by evangelical nonsense which generally discourages and drives away non-believers.

  39. Yes, I sort of expected that to be the case. If I was left to make up my mind without any input from experts, I would guess basically historical events somewhat garbled and “talked up”, with legends and historical events from other times and places mixed in. I would guess most legends have some basis in fact, if only tenuous.

  40. ” everything he believes is based on faith”

    This is an awfully big call! Everything? In fact IN has indicated he has very strong credentials.

    “if you wish to know what happened at Jericho you acknowledge what the experts in the field say, rather than someone like Kitchen who is an evangelical Christian and at best ”on the fringe””

    You ignore the fact that everyone (even you!) has a point of view and a potential bias, as IN also points out.

    Surely the correct course is to read all “sides”, take notice of everyone’s bias (we will see our opponents’ bias more easily than our own) and look for the areas of consensus?

  41. Surely the correct course is to read all “sides”, take notice of everyone’s bias (we will see our opponents’ bias more easily than our own) and look for the areas of consensus?
    In context, this is rather silly.
    There was no Exodus so there was no conquest of Canaan as described, and certainly no walls falling down, so any approach to trying to identify this event with the biblical tale is sheer lunacy.
    I see no reason to respect an opinion that regards the bible (OT Pentateuch ) as an historically accurate document reflecting true events any more than someone like Ken’s Ham or Ron Wyatt deserves respect.
    What do you hope to gain by tacitly supporting an evangelist with an obvious
    bent to showing that such nonsense really took place when the consensus has already agreed that the biblical tale is fiction?

  42. Skeptic, first of all I want to reiterate I disagree with Kitchen’s views on Jericho.

    I want to say I agree on your ideal of scholarship. The results shouldn’t be predetermined by the “Biblical view” (insofar one can speak of a single view), but some portions of the Bible provide relevant evidence for the period under discussion. Also, we can agree Kitchen steers too much to biblicism in this respect.

    However, it must be noted that there is broader problem with the extremes. It is not a happy fact, but there are both people with a strong pro-Bible bias and people with a strong anti-Bible bias. I think Kitchen’s strong point is that he can muster a lot of data and popularise it to people unfamiliar with archeology.

    For instance, some sceptical minimalists still maintain that the Tel Dan stele isn’t evidence for the historicity of David, despite the fact it dates from one or two centuries after his death. Some (Lemche, Thompson) do this by claiming it actually dates to a much later era, others (Garbini) claimed it is a forgery.

    But there is also a similar instance with Kitchen. At some point he takes bibilical scholars to task for dating Daniel to late, stating it dates to the period it describes (sixth century BC, late Babylonian/early Persian period). But this completely goes against scholarship of the Aramaic language. Written Aramaic was quite stable during the second half of the first millenium BCE, but there are still some developments that appear in Daniel that date it late, later than Ezra-Nehemia. So it cannot be dated to the sixth century BCE at all.

    I hope this puts the issues into some more perspective. It is part of a broader issue in scholarship, the existence of multiple extremes.

  43. There is always going to be head butting in such scholastic endeavor yet it is crucial to bear in mind that there will always be a supernatural element to the evangelical/religious point of view, no matter how much ‘secularism’ an archaeologist such as Kitchen tries to imply in his methodology.

    And his approach is where he ( and every other person of a religious bent) comes up against an insurmountable hurdle); for if the biblical tale of the Exodus ( for instance) were to be an actual historical event then this would have to include such facets of the tale as the Parting of the Red Sea ( which we already know is a miss-translation) Manna from heaven etc etc. including the Egyptian captivity.
    So it simply isn’t good enough to demonstrate that the physical aspects are archaeologically and historically correct ( which they aren’t even this) but also the supernatural events, and this is a ridiculous proposition only someone completely indoctrinated would admit to. Furthermore, would you truly consider them worthy of respect or credibility?
    This is why people like Kitchen carefully avoid making outright statements of faith so they are not lumped in with blatant idiots such as Ken Ham or Wyatt.

    As consensus seems to be one of the overriding concerns of the host, then this should be what is focused upon rather than if, buts, and maybes and any further attempts to hold in abeyance judgement concerning the Pentateuch
    and characters such as Moses etc. and be honest enough to recognise we are simply dealing with fiction. And then… move forward from this position.

  44. I think Kitchen genuinely believes history shouldn’t make any pronouncements on the supernatural. Often he reads supernatural elements as theologised stories, so an angel slaying an army becomes a plague. He does often try to come up with parallels from other cultures.

    All in all, I think there are good reasons to take Kitchen seriously, even if we find his approach problematic.

    May I ask what your point is in arguing, though? I get the impression we are talking past one another.

  45. Apologies, I didn’t think I was arguing with you?

    All in all, I think there are good reasons to take Kitchen seriously, even if we find his approach problematic.

    Though I am a little confused with this statement. Thererare any number of archaeologists in the field so why must I consider the view of an evangelist?
    If his view is biased for one thing there is always the danger of him allowing his faith to interfere with his work.
    Albright suffered from the same malaise.
    I reiterate, any scholar who pursues a career from a religious background and maintains this view in the face of evidence or complete absence of runs the risk of making a mockery of the science and when there are plenty of archaeologists in the field I wouldn’t give Kitchen a second look, simply because he is evangelical.
    There is no place for religion in science.

  46. I think that is too binary. Even if views are biased, there is an intellectual responsibility to investigate and refute the claims made. Besides, bias isn’t only an issue on the conservative side. Everybody has it, but it’s most problematic for maximalists and minimalists.

  47. I think that is too binary. Even if views are biased, there is an intellectual responsibility to investigate and refute the claims made

    I agree there is responsibility, but Kitchen’s bias comes from believing in the supernatural and believing ( to a degree – I have no idea to what extent) in the ridiculous biblical text, which is as un-scientific as one could get.

    He might think or even truly believe he is miles ahead of a crackpot like Ken Ham or the late Ron Wyatt, and has all the right letters after his name etc, but yet, he is still a Christian therefore he already has a bias -a negative one at that.

    This is the problem with religious indoctrination: To actually give up on crucial aspects of this belief means admitting one – and the source of this belief- is wrong.
    And this means the bible is wrong and suddenly there has to be another paradigm shift to allow for those who interpret the text to come up with another excuse that is palatable.

    At one time in the not too distant past, merely questioning the bible was unforgivable, and serious punishment meted out.
    These days only an absolute moron would countenance something like the Red Sea crossing as described.
    Yet, Christian archaeologists seem to find a way around these problems ( usually by simply ignoring the fact that they have dismissed yet another ‘miracle’ and still come up smelling of roses.)

    Such people believe they can have their cake and eat it…not so.
    Every anomaly is eventually accounted for. By science.
    Albright couldn’t fit his god into the picture, neither Wyatt or Ham or any scientist attempting to marry the supernatural aspects of the bible with reality.

    When there are so many archaeologists out there; when you know you are dealing with a ‘scientist’ who puts the nonsense of the supernatural on a par with reality it simply diminishes one’s own credibility to side with someone like Kitchen.
    You might as well cheer for Ken Ham.

  48. Have you seen the YouTube video of ancient Roman and Greek historian Dr. Richard Carrier, “Why I Think Jesus Didn’t Exist” http://youtu.be/mwUZOZN-9dc

    The video is only a synopsis of his book

    http://www.amazon.com/On-Historicity-Jesus-Might-Reason/dp/1909697494/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1406153163&sr=8-1&keywords=richard+carrier

    which goes into very specific peer-reviewed original research that puts the likelihood of a historical Jesus at between 32% and virtually zero (using Bayesian analysis). This is now the one book that apologists will have to contend with from here on out, if they wish to argue for a historical Jesus.

  49. Hi Don, thanks for visiting and commenting. No I haven’t seen the YouTube video or read the book, though I have read a number of Carrier’s blog posts.

    I don’t think many christian apologists will be too worried about this. The vast majority of scholars don’t accept what Carrier says (as I’ve shown in this post), so why would anyone give Carrier credence over against the almost unanimous consensus? If his arguments were convincing, they would have convinced some of them, but mostly they think his arguments are not convincing. If you Google his name with that of eminent scholars Bart Ehrman or Maurice Casey you should find reference to where they strongly disagree with Carrier.

    When you say “peer-reviewed original research” what do you mean? I have read that Carrier has barely published any papers in peer-reviewed journals, so I would be interested to know.

  50. No mention of Richard Carrier? Really? I cannot take this blog post seriously unless Carrier is at least mentioned somewhere.

  51. Hi Eliot. Well you and Don (above) have at least ensured he appears in the comments and hence on any Google search! 🙂

  52. There are several issues with an article like this. Firstly, you very seldom see in academia a scholar who has chosen to study Jesus who doesn’t first believe in him or isn’t already a member of the christian faith. It is an unfortunate phenomenon of both christian studies and to almost an absolute degree, theology. You simply don’t attract PhD candidates wanting to study the life of christ without them already operating under the assumption that he existed in the first place. There is an argument for not including Theological Faculties among the consensus for this reason, and instead only those from History faculties
    Secondly, consensus is a moving target. In the last few years a growing number of books have been published that challenge the historicity of Jesus. What might have been the consensus when those citations were made may no longer hold true.
    To me, rather than appeal to the authority of handful of cherrypicked academics of christian faith, it would be more revealing to poll all Historians (academics only) on their views on historicity of christ, not just the theological ones, such as the membership of one of the Society of Historians.
    Still, an interesting article.

  53. G’day Bob, thanks for commenting.

    1. Do you have any information on whether most NT scholars are christians? I don’t have that information, but I can tell you that at least 6 of the 16 scholars I reference are not christians, and there are a few whose personal beliefs I don’t know.

    2. Most of these guys are historians working for universities. I don’t think any are theologians.

    3. It wouldn’t matter if a dozen books were written in recent years denying the existence of Jesus, it would take hundreds before the consensus would be challenged. And if you want to remove christians from the list, to be fair you’d also have to remove atheists, which would pretty much leave no-one denying his existence.

    This conclusion isn’t a christian conclusion – try this review of a mythicist book by a strong minded atheist.

    Virtually no historical scholars deny Jesus existed – it is whether he was who christians claim him to be that separates them.

  54. I think it’s obvious that most scholars of religion have entered their field of study carrying a bias: That Jesus existed and God is real. I’ve looked up quite a few religious scholars and almost all of them are deeply religious. I find this fact to be unsettling, because people like the folks who post on this site use those people’s opinions to base their own life around and to reinforce their own personal view of their shared religion and when someone like Richard Carrier comes along and writes several books about religion and specifically the historicity of Jesus, he doesn’t get taken seriously by some scholars because they have differing fundamental beliefs about the supernatural. It’s hard to argue against this. Most scholars of Christianity or religion start out with the presupposition that Jesus and God exist, so obviously they will look to support their confirmation bias, its human nature. So I suppose we could say that ultimately the consensus will will bend towards however many religious or atheist scholars we have, and since Jesus being real is a core principal to a Christian’s faith religious scholars can’t keep their own objectivity free from pollutants.

  55. Hi Eliot, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    If it is true that all scholars of religion carry a bias, then that would be true of atheists as much as christians wouldn’t it? So then we wouldn’t trust any of them?

    My understanding is that scholars try to use objective methods, and that this keeps the biases from having too much impact. But the only way to make sure is to read scholars from all sides of the question.

    That is what I have done here. I have referenced 16 scholars here – 5 are non-believers (atheist or agnostic), 1 a Jew, 7 are apparently christian (some of them quite liberal christians) and 2 I don’t know. So there is a fair mix there.

    Richard Carrier’s problem of being taken seriously (as you put it) isn’t especially religiously based. Two books have been written recently opposing the views Carrier espouses, and they were both written by non-christians (Bart Ehrman and the late Maurice Casey).

  56. To answer your question, I have something I’d like to say concerning something Bart Ehrman wrote, when asked about Jesus’ historicity:

    “If it is true that all scholars of religion carry a bias, then that would be true of atheists as much as christians wouldn’t it? So then we wouldn’t trust any of them?”

    I can’t remember where I read this, it may have been a blog post he wrote or in one of his books, in response to a question about the Christ Myth Theory, Bart said that he had never once stopped to consider that Jesus didn’t exist, ever since he was a small child and was taught about Jesus, even as an adult the idea that Jesus may not have even existed had never occurred to him. This illustrates pretty well my point about religious people as scholars of Christianity. I can’t remember where I had read at exactly, I’d love to link it if I could. I’m being truthful, I’m not making anything up.

    To address what you said about atheist scholars having bias:

    They wouldn’t enter into their field of study with any presuppositions about the supernatural, they would operate purely on what they have experienced in the past and statistics of the past to make judgments on their subject matter thus they would be ideal candidates to study history; without bias. There may be some who are against supernatural things I admit, but I don’t think there are much of them

    Hope that helped clarify my point a bit.

  57. I really recommend watching the first 20-30 minutes of this synopsis Carrier does about Jesus historicity. I simply assumed Jesus did exist as a historical person until I saw this, then bought the book he wrote On the Historicity of Jesus Christ. There is some fairly compelling questions and points made, and he covers some of them in the video I’ll link here, if you get some free time and want to gain a bit more perspective you should take a look.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwUZOZN-9dc

  58. Bart Ehrman nevertheless wrote an entire book opposing the Jesus myth view, giving reasons. A scholar of his repute was hardly going to make all that up!

    A reasonably well informed person like Carrier can always make points which an amateur like you (I presume) and I may not know the answer to. On the other side, Craig Blomberg (a christian scholar) could do the same. The only way for anyone to be informed is to read the best scholars from various viewpoints.

    If you want to believe Carrier against the rest, feel free to do so, but know that virtually no-one among scholars, not even his fellow atheists, agrees with him. (You may be interested to know that on other matters he has been found to be biased and unreliable – read this.) I’ll stay with the experts thanks.

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