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Bruce, Why Are You an Atheist if You Think Jesus was a Real Person?

middle eastern jesus

Recently, a reader left the following comment on the page titled Why I Hate Jesus:

Just wondering if you believe in the Jesus that walked the streets and died on the cross, why are you an atheist?

I think Jesus was a real flesh and blood human being born in Palestine two thousand or so years ago. It is likely that Jesus was either a Jewish rabbi or teacher and attracted a small following in his thirty-three years of life. Running afoul of Roman law and teaching things contrary to the Jewish teachers of the day, Jesus was arrested, tried, and executed. His body today lies buried somewhere in an unknown grave. (I have less than zero interest in debating with mythicists over the existence of Jesus.)

I reject all the supernatural claims made for Jesus: his divinity; his virgin birth; his resurrection from the dead; his ascension to Heaven; the miracles attributed to him in the Bible.

As an atheist, I think Jesus was real because of the historical evidence for his existence. I reject Jesus’ divinity because of a lack of evidence for any of the supernatural works attributed to him. I suspect many atheists believe as I do.

One of the challenges all of us have when studying the lives of historical figures is distinguishing between fact and fiction. This is especially difficult when we are talking about people who lived thousands of years ago. It is much easier to study the lives of modern historical figures thanks to the printing press and the Internet. I have written extensively about my life on this blog. I still have things I haven’t written about or “secrets” that shall never see the light of day if I have anything to say about it. (And don’t read too much into that statement. I don’t have a secret love child, nor do I have a gay lover, and I have not been arrested for a crime. Now let your imaginations run wild.) 🙂 I suspect after I am dead, it would be fairly easy for an author to write a biography of my life. There’s plenty of source material that would be readily available to the author. That is not the case for most ancient historical figures, including Jesus.

Yes, I “believe” in Jesus, much like I “believe” in my mother who lies buried in Fountain Grove Cemetery in Bryan, Ohio. Both of them lived and died. Both of them left a legacy behind, but neither of them will be showing up for dinner on Thanksgiving.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    What is the basis for that historicity Bruce ? I have always looked at the parallel story of “John the Baptist” in the gospels and thought if the trousers of time had split slightly differently they would be worshiping another young rabbi from Palestine.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      The gospels (which, to some degree, are historical documents) and the few mentions of Jesus in the first and second centuries. I take a minimalist approach. And as I said, I don’t debate or argue about this issue. I am not a fan of mythicism. The reasons are many, but I have no interest in rehashing them here. Been there, done that. 🤣

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    I agree that there was probably a historical Jesus, but the evidence is very sparse. Ignoring the gospels, there’s very little in the way of historical reference, but that which there is suggests that such a character did exist. There’s a tradition in some religious circles of saying that the evidence for Jesus is the same as for Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, but this is just pure nonsensical stupidity. The evidence for Jesus’ existence is consistent with what we would expect of a very low key character from antiquity, with little in the way of note other than being the leader of a very insignificant irritation to the Roman Empire. The evidence that apologists use regarding his existence is actually the very evidence that can be cited to demonstrate that there were no miracles, no nativity (the planting of sperm in the womb of a young virgin without her consent), and no resurrection. It’s not rocket science!

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      Yulya Sevelova

      Hey, the picture of ( supposedly) what Jesus may have looked like, actually looks just like Jonathan Kahn. He wrote a book called ” The Harbinger.”. The resemblance IS uncanny, lol 😄

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    Occam’s Razor is my go-to on the existence of a teacher named Jesus. The simplest answer is that there probably was a Jewish teacher named Jesus that pissed off the wrong people and was killed. His ardent followers told stories about him. Those stories grew and morphed into deity claims. Am I wrong? Possibly. I really don’t care enough to dig into this farther than I ready have.

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    Hello Bruce. I very much appreciate your article. In my humble and relatively uninformed opinion, evidence for the historicity of Jesus or Yeshua is sparse. The name was evidently common in Judea, back in the day. The gospels were written anonymously. Jesus apparently left no written evidence of himself. There could have been any number of delusional rabbis named Yeshua roaming Judea at the time. There is, I suppose, a fine line between a fictional Yeshua and an irrelevant Yeshua. Do I care? Not that much, but always a fun topic. Thank you for all you do.

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    One way to put it succinctly is to compare Jesus to George Washington. George Washington is a lot easier to pin down, there is a trove of information on him, writings that are from him, official portraits, his dentures in a museum (that is probably in his old estate Mt. Vernon). Just because we can be extremely certain that George Washington really existed, we can also say the whole George Washington cutting down the cherry tree or throwing a silver dollar over the Potomac river are likely if not certainly fabrications.

    As for historical Jesus, I’m thinking there almost certainly was. Dr. Richard Carrier would compare Jesus and Hercules and point out all the similarities that make them mythical. The problem is that I think Hercules existed as well. Of course Herc got stronger every time the bard spun a yarn. Then we also have something interesting in the Gospels themselves. The good Samaritan, Render unto Caeser, Don’t be a hypocrite and pray in public. Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. These are all things Christians ignore, because not only are they hard to do, they actually are something a reformer of the Jewish religion (or religion in general) would command. If not Jesus himself, somebody came up with that. So Jesus could be a composite of a real charismatic figure from about two millennia ago as well as the authors of the wit and wisdom of Jesus.

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    Merle Hertzler

    The problem is that it is very hard to see a historical Jesus in the writings of Paul and other earlier epistles that may have been written before the gospels. Paul’s Jesus is a cosmic Jesus who lives inside people’s heart, not a 5′ 8″ man who has his own physical (resurrected) body. Paul shows no interest in the life of Jesus, and Paul never references Jesus’s earthly teachings as an authority, even when Paul is speaking on the same subject. If Jesus lived on earth several years before Paul, why doesn’t this fact permeate Paul’s writings?

    I know this is a controversial subject, and I won’t derail your blog by getting into it. People who are interested in understanding the mythical Jesus position can begin with the book “Jesus from Outer Space” by Richard Carrier.

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Bruce Gerencser