Jesus Christ is often assumed to be a real historical figure but many academics question this assumption with some believing he wasn’t a man but a myth. This especially divides agnostics into historicists and mythicists. Both sides don’t believe he was the Son of God or a supernatural being. But they are bitterly divided over whether he was a historical figure (historicists) or a literary construct (mythicists).
And both sides have compelling arguments. It’s a fascinating topic because at the heart of it is the question – how did Christianity ever get off the ground? How did an eastern mystery cult, built around an executed Judaean seditionary, become the state religion of the Roman Empire?
Historicists are faced with the challenge of bridging a gap of about forty years between the likely date for the crucifixion of Jesus and the first gospel. They normally claim that the first gospel writer, widely recognised as Mark, got the biographical details on Jesus from a mix of sayings past down and oral traditions. Mythicists retort – you have no hard evidence. And why didn’t Paul, who was writing before Mark, ever refer to the life story of Jesus?
Then we have the next two gospel writers, chronologically….Matthew and Luke. Mythicists say they basically rewrote Mark but with twists designed to appeal to their specific Christian communities. Historicists say they used Mark but also a long lost book of sayings referred to as “Q” and sources unique to each of them – accounting for the differences in their accounts.
And then both historicists and believing evangelicals like to point to non-Christian (pagan) Roman sources that seem to prove the existence of a historic Jesus. Roman historians like Tacitus, Josephus, Cassius Dio and Suetonius. But even historicists will admit that Christian scribes very likely altered texts and added references to Jesus to suggest he was a recognised figure in his lifetime – or shortly afterwards. Mythicists scoff at these Roman sources as faked interpolations.
FIND OUT MORE: Why is Jesus depicted as blond?
To find out more about this truly fascinating debate – watch the video I’ve just made for you on my YouTube site.