Do atheists have new evidence that Jesus did not live?
Hello Dr. Oakes, I was wondering why – with all of the biblical and secular evidence of Jesus actually existing – do atheists contend there is new evidence that Jesus’ existance may not be true? Is this just another attempt to try and prove there can be no God or is there some new light on the subject that I’m missing? Thank you for your time.
First of all, as far as I know, no atheists claim that there is evidence that Jesus’ existence was not true. It is literally impossible to prove that someone from the ancient world did not live. It is possible to show that someone DID live. It is also possible to show that there is no evidence a particular person did live. What is not possible is to prove that a particular person did NOT live. We can have evidence that a person lived, or we can not have evidence a person lived, but we cannot have evidence that a person did not live. I Hope you understand the logical distinction here.
As an analogy, it might be possible to prove that God exists, perhaps, but it is literally impossible to prove that God does not exist. The best an atheist could do is show that what we know of the universe is not consistent with the belief that God exists. Except in mathematics, it is generally not possible to prove the lack of existence of something.
So, there is literally NO evidence that Jesus did not exist. Virtually every single reputable scholar accepts the obvious conclusion that Jesus was a real person. Even commited skeptics will admit that first century church believed that Jesus was real and believed in his resurrection. In fact, I only know of one “scholar” who says he believes Jesus did not exist. That is Robert Price. Even Price admits that Jesus probably existed, but he says that so much of the gospels are myth that we can know very little about the actual Jesus and, possibly he did not exist at all (one of his books is “The Incredible, Shrinking Son of Man”). Price is on the radical fringe of scholarship. Like I already said, virtually no reputable scholar is willing to make the claim that Jesus simply did not exist. Like you allude to, there is a vast amount of evidence, from both Christian and pagan sources that Jesus existed. From pagan or Jewish sources such as Seutonius, Josephus and Tacitus, we know about where he lived, approximately when he was born, we know several of his close associates, how and where he died. Arguably, we know about as much about Jesus as any other ancient figure in history. For example, it has been claimed that there are as many historical references to Tiberius Caesar as to Jesus of Nazareth.
The radical fringe who claim that Jesus was not real, do not attempt to prove that he did not exist as this is literally impossible. What they do is try to show that the stories about Jesus are myths. Price claims that the many details we know about Jesus are actually the result of creatively taking the myths about Mithra, Appolonius of Tyana, Osiris, Empodocles, Krishna and others to produce a mythical Jewish god/man. There are several problems with this. First of all, the supposed similarities between the facts we know about Jesus and the supposed parallel myths such as Osiris are exaggerated if not pure inventions. Most of the supposed parallels, for example, with Mithra or Empodocles come from things written about these mythical characters after Jesus lived, making the borrowing, if it happened at all, be from Jesus to the myths. Besides, one thing different about Jesus and these other mythical god/man myths (except for Apollonius) is that they never lived. We do not know where or when Osiris was born. We do not know the names of his friends. The reason is that he was not a real person. He is a pure myth. On the other hand, we know where Jesus was born, we know the names of four of his brothers, his mother and his father. We know the names of dozens of his close friends, some of whom wrote accounts of their interaction with Jesus. It is ludicrous to try to say that the gospels are stories of a person who never lived, but who was created as a synthesized Jewish myth.
The answer to your question is no, there is no new evidence that Jesus did not exist. What there are is new theories, created by atheists or agnostics, not because of evidence but because of their philosophical commitment to atheism or to the lack of supernatural.