What about Hillel, Gamaliel, Confucius, Buddha and Mohammed?
If we applied the same level of scrutiny that the Jesus-mythists apply to the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, many religious figures from antiquity would vanish from history. The Jewish rabbis Hillel and Gamaliel who lived at the time of Jesus then have no “contemporary eyewitness accounts” according to the skeptics’ accepted criteria. The eastern religious figures of Confucius and Siddhartha (Buddha) don’t have any surviving accounts written until hundreds of years after they lived.
In fact, only few ancient figures had biographies of their lives written while they still lived and any surviving record written in their own hand comes down to us from copies hundreds and even over a thousand years after the original autographs were written.
The Sira and the al-Maghazi were accounts about the life of Mohammed written after his death. Like the New Testament we do not the original autographs of the Koran, so using this level of scrutiny we have to discount Mohammed as a real figure too.
Was William Shakespeare a real person?
Just for fun, I searched for “Was Shakespeare a real person?” I wasn’t too surprised to find out that numerous Shakespeare doubters are out there on the blogosphere too. As a high school English teacher who has taught units on Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest, I am familiar with the popular yet spurious idea that Shakespeare did not write his own plays.
The evidence that Shakespeare was an actor and a playwright who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries is overwhelming. Since Shakespeare has become renowned as the world’s greatest writer in any language, there is understandably a thirst for more information about his personal life than we have available. However, there was no E! television in the 1600s to chronicle the personal foibles of famous actors and play writers. Shakespeare was one of hundreds of other actors and playwrights in London.
Therefore, little is known about his personal life. He left no Memoirs but we know quite a bit of biographical information including his date of birth and death, his family background, and the names of his wife and children. He was not a self-promoter like his contemporary, Ben Johnson, who although stingy in his description of other playwrights, predicted that Shakespeare would become known as the greatest writer calling his plays “not of an age, but for all time.” A more reliable witness than Johnson cannot be hoped for since he knew Shakespeare closely and the Bard even acted in Johnson’s plays.
Shakespeare still has enough contemporary corroboration to prove that he wrote about 37 plays. Some are doubted as “apocryphal” and it is thought that playwrights often culled lines and refined their stories from works of other writers, but it is certain that the work entitled the plays of William Shakespeare were both penned and at times performed by a man by that name who was born at Stratford on Avon, married Anne Hathaway at age 18, had three children, and so on.
As Mark Twain supposedly quipped, “William Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him; they were written by someone else with the same name.”
The same could be said of the Apostles, “If Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, Peter, Paul and Jude did not write the books and letters that bear their name, then the New Testament was written by eight other men by the same name who were contemporary witnesses to the events they described.”
So … Did Jesus Exist?
Not surprisingly, when we compare the vacuous arguments of the Shakespeare doubters with those of the Jesus mythists, they are similar. The intellectual quality of this theory is aptly described here:
A woman from New England named Delia Bacon who taught Shakespeare in school went to England in 1853 to try to dig him up to prove that there was no body in his grave, just a bag of rocks. She went to his grave at night with shovel in hand, but the British authorities, in furtherance of the scheme or conspiracy to hide the fact that there was no Shakespeare, stopped her from digging him up…. An additional factor was that the tombstone of Shakespeare specifically states that under no circumstances should this grave be dug up. His tombstone reads: “Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare, To digg the dust enclosed heare. Blese be ye man that spares the stones, And curst be he that moves my bones.” Why would a gravestone possibly contain such an injunction? The answer must be that, in reality, there are no bones in that grave.
Follow here the faulty logic. Since no one has ever dug up Shakespeare’s bones, the bones must not exist, therefore Shakespeare did not exist. This argument too, is similar to the level of logic used by the Jesus Mythists.
Gary Lenaire writes in An Infidel Manifesto: Why Sincere Believers Lose Faith:
Roman records give us no verified indication of an arrest or crucifixion of Jesus.
Again, here is a doubter using the argument from silence fallacy. There are no “Roman records” of Jesus arrest and execution, therefore Jesus did not exist. The claim is that there is a glaring hole in the “Roman records of crucifixions” where Jesus ought to be. To make such a claim then there should be some records of other crucifixions from the time when Jesus would have been crucified. The problem with this is that we have no Roman records of any first century Jew’s crucifixion during this time. Josephus and Philo record that there were many crucifixions under Pilate and later rulers, but there are no Roman records that exist today.
Likewise, the claim that “none of the contemporary historians of Jesus mentioned Him,” necessitates at least one extant eyewitness history of Palestine in the three years that Jesus ministered. If people were not living in Palestine or the immediate vicinity, they never would have heard of Jesus until Christianity began to spread in the decades that followed. That much ought to be obvious, but I am amazed at how often people unthinkingly swallow this line with no clue as to why it’s unreasonable.
This illustrates one of the reasons why the Jesus Myth fallacy is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. We live in a postmodernist era. Few people are trained to think logically. So ironically, we have a group calling itself the Rational Responders (the promoters of the Blasphemy Challenge videos on YouTube) whose arguments against the existence of Jesus are the most irrational lines of logic one could ever come up with. Therefore, their critics, some of whom are atheists, have taken to calling them the “Irrational Responders.” In fact, if I had to come up with a worse argument to convince people of their position, I’d be hard pressed to do it.
This leads me to believe that their modus operandus is intentional. Like the Blasphemy Challenge, the goal is not to get people to think, but to create a band wagon appeal, “Look, everyone is blaspheming God, so you should too. Look, no rational person thinks that Jesus was a real person any more. Neither should you.”
The goal is not to get atheists to feel safe about coming out of the closet, as they claim, but rather to enrage Christians with sibilant screeds against Jesus’ existence. This is the way that postmodernist thinking works. It’s mainly an appeal to emotion and consensus. And the information revolution has only made it worse. If there are a thousand blogs, websites and YouTube comments out there all telling the same lie, then pretty soon people will start to believe it.
Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda in Nazi Germany, understood this tactic well:
If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the state can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie.
There is one of two things going on. The new generation of atheists has either lost the ability to reason, or they understand that there is no need to construct logically coherent arguments in order to get people to jump on the blasphemy bandwagon. Unlike the time of Nazi Germany, however, they don’t need to shield people from reality. They can simply rely on the fact that most people of the postmodernist worldview are motivated by emotional gratification – they believe only what backs up their mental grid rather than a critically formulated and coherent worldview based on factual data.
Hitler and Goebbels would be impressed.