4 Reasons to Think That Jesus of Nazareth Really Lived:
1) The Majority of New Testament Scholars Hold to Jesus’s Historicity
The point here is not that there is widespread agreement regarding peripheral details of Jesus’s life. Nor is the point that there is agreement about the interpretation or implications of Jesus’s claims to divinity. Rather, the point is that there is at least one “core” candidate for a historical fact that is both so well-attested that the majority of scholars in the relevant fields assent to it and that implies Jesus’s historicity.
To put it more exactly, it is widely held that there was a religious figure named Jesus who was put to death by the Roman government at the behest of the Jewish leadership. When assessing the historicity of various persons and events, historians employ canons such as multiple attestation and dissimilarity.
The case for Jesus’s historicity can be made adhering to these standard canons. Consider the criterion of multiple attestation. That the four documents known as the “canonical Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are bundled together and presented side-by-side as the “tetramorph” in a collection bound under the title “New Testament” tends to obscure the fact that they are, in fact, considered independent accounts.
This is so in part because each of the four Gospels has different source dependencies. Specialists suggest that Mark draws on antecedent, hypothetical materials, the best known of which is designated “Q.” Matthew and Luke (Acts of the Apostles is something of a second part to Luke), in turn, depend on the material unique to Mark, Q as well as displaying unique features – referred to as “Special Matthew” (M-Source) and “Special Luke” (L-source), respectively. Together, Mark, Matthew and Luke con-stitute the “Synoptic Gospels.”
John diverges and is more or less entirely independent of the Synoptics. The Pauline and (non-Pauline) epistles are distinct from both Gospel strands. In all, we have no fewer than five different, independent lines of source material – Q, Mark, M-Source, L-Source and Paul – all substantiating (but not colluding with respect to) the basic contours of Jesus’s death-event (the “Passion”). Specialists in the field hold that these accounts contain reliable historical information.
Reacting to non-conservative scholar John Dominic Crossan’s (the ex-priest of “Jesus Seminar” fame) idiosyncratic analysis of the historicity of the Gospels’ Passion story, New Testament Profes-sor Mark Powell declares: The “dominant (and, in my mind, more likely) view [is] that the passion narratives are early and based on eyewitness testimony.”
One piece of background information is especially salient about the above remark. JAAR is a publication of Oxford University. From its website: “The Journal of the American Academy of Religion is generally considered to be the top academic journal in the field of religious studies.”
Powell’s opinion, therefore, is neither idiosyncratic nor marginal. It can reasonably be taken to indicate the relevant scholarly consensus. The consensus is that the “Passion” (that is, the torture and judicial execution of Jesus) is considered historical. However, if the Passion is historical, then Jesus existed.
When one thinks on the matter, it seems quite remarkable that academics who entertain radically different background assumptions, who range across the political-theological spectrum and who otherwise express widely divergent opinion about the activities, person and nature of Jesus, should agree on anything. Yet we see that the bulk of writers agree that Jesus existed.
Since the present excursus is directed merely toward establishing Jesus’s bare historicity, I could (and maybe should) leave the matter here. However, Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig argues that one may even go beyond the plain fact of Jesus’s historicity and, on the basis of additional, multiply-attested facts, actually marshal empirical evidence in support of belief in the Resurrection. Craig writes:
“First, the evidence indicates that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on [the] Sunday morning [after his crucifixion] by a group of his women followers. According to Jacob Kremer, an Austrian scholar who has specialized in the study of the resurrection, “By far, most exegetes [i.e., interpretive scholars] hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb.”
“According to New Testament critic D. H. Van Daalen, it is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.
“Secondly, the evidence indicates that on separate occasions different individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death. According to the late Norman Perrin of the University of Chicago, “The more we investigate the traditions with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based.” These appearances were physical and bodily and were witnessed not only by believers, but also by unbelievers, skeptics, and even enemies.
“And thirdly, the very origin of the Christian faith implies the reality of the resurrection. We all know that Christianity sprang into being in the middle of the first century. Well, where did it come from? Why did it arise?
“Well, all scholars agree that it came into being because the disciples believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead. And they proclaimed this message everywhere they went. But where in the world did they come up with that outlandish belief?
“If you deny that Jesus really did rise from the dead, then you’ve got to explain the origin of the disciples’ belief in terms of either Christian influences’ or Jewish influences. Now obviously it couldn’t have come from Christian influences for the simple reason that there wasn’t any Christianity yet. But neither can it be explained by Jewish influences. For the Jewish concept of resurrection was radically different than Jesus’ resurrection. As the renowned New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias puts it, “Nowhere does one find in the literature [of ancient Judaism] anything comparable to the resurrection of Jesus.” Apart from the resurrection of Jesus, therefore, there simply are no antecedent, historical factors that would explain the origin of the disciples’ belief.
“Attempts to explain away these three great facts, like “the disciples stole the body,” or “Jesus wasn’t really dead,” [do not have much explanatory scope or power and] have been universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. The simple fact is that there just is no plausible naturalistic explanation of these three facts. Therefore it seems to me we are amply justified in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and was who He claimed to be.”
2. Even Fervent Anti-Christians Have Seldom Denied Jesus’s Historicity
For example, “Voltaire, no friend of traditional Christianity, sharply rejected such conclusions [as that Jesus was fabulous or mythical], commenting that those who deny the existence of Jesus show themselves ‘more ingenious than learned.’”
Voltaire declared: “[…(N)either Josephus nor Philo made the least mention in any place about the expectation of a Messiah. [Will you conclude from this that there was no Jesus, just like some have dared to conclude from the Pentateuch itself that there was no Moses? No, seeing that after the death of Jesus they wrote for and against him, it is clear that he existed. …[I saw some disciples of [Henry] Bolingbroke, more ingenious than educated, who denied the existence of Jesus because the story of the three wise men and the star and the massacre of the innocents are, they said, the height of eccentricity; the contradiction of the two genealogies that Matthew and Luke gave is especially a reason that these young men allege to persuade themselves that there was no Jesus. But they drew a very false conclusion.]”
Even contemporary “liberal” scholars, such as the above-mentioned John Dominic Crossan, have not usually denied Jesus’s existence. In particular, Crossan “distinguish[es] three stages in the development of the passion stories.” The first of these he labels “the historical passion – what actually happened to Jesus, what anyone present would have seen.”
Regarding this historical category Crossan states: “That he [i.e., Jesus] was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus …agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”
3. Those Scholars That Have Denied Jesus’s Historicity Seemingly Do So, Not on Historical Grounds Per se, But on the Basis of Controversial, Idiosyncratic Presuppositions
This hearkens back to the point, made by David Van Daalen and gestured toward by William Lane Craig, that “Most people who object to the story [of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection], …do so on other than historical grounds.” For example, Dorothy M. Murdock’s (“Acharya S”) The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Soldis a feminist-slanted rewarming of the 18th-century rationalistic “Christ-Myth Hypothesis.” In general, Murdock is apparently motivated by a desire to take “down a peg” any “patriarchal” form of religion that crosses her radar.
“…[B]efore the exclusive domination of a monotheistic male god, much of the world recognized and worshipped a female version…
“[F]or thousands of years …people around the globe recognized and worshipped a female version of God, the Goddess, and their belief in and acknowledgement of this goddess were just as divinely inspired and truthful as the belief in and acknowledgement of the presently accepted version of God.”
That Murdock’s overarching purpose is the pursuit of a feminist agenda is evident from such statements as the following.
“This fascist egoist we call 'God' is a bully, coward and insecure sadist who demands constant approval. …This concept of a male deity who needs to be exalted, thanked, honored, praised, worshipped, venerated, adulated, extolled, complimented, admired, glorified and idolized is completely out-of-date and belongs to the Stone Age…
“[H]umanity must stop putting responsibility for its own messy creation on such an imaginary creature as the male god…”
As far as the “Christ myth” is concerned, Murdock simply latched onto that hypothesis as it was articulated by figures in the French Enlightenment who are today virtually unknown. “At the end of the eighteenth century, some disciples of the radical English deist Lord Bolingbroke began to spread the idea that Jesus had never existed.”
Bolingbroke himself believed that Jesus had existed; but he held that “Christianity was …actually no more than the ‘natural religion,’ and Jesus did not teach anything more than could be discovered by reason.”
Insofar as Bolingbroke’s followers went beyond him on this point, they tended to do so in conformity with an increasing anti-supernatural bias that issued, ultimately, in the demise of deism as a worldview and the rise of atheistic naturalism. One writer called deism an “ephemeral” perspective that is really best-described as “the isthmus between two great continents – theism and naturalism.”
In other words, apart from those who deny Jesus’s existence in order to buttress pet varieties of liberal cultural activism, are those – descended from the stream of deists criticized even by Voltaire – who denigrate anything that smacks of the magical, mystical or paranormal. This is the sort of “Scientistic” thinking that is rightly dismissed for depending on the “dry-as-dust” assumptions of tired, old materialism that even many modern physicists reject.
Yet this sort of anti-supernaturalist bias informs many contemporary, atheistic “Christ myth” proponents. Take Richard Carrier for instance. A Columbia University educated ancient historian, Carrier denies the “Christ event” entirely; and – to borrow a memorable phrase from Jim Brandon – he does so without any “bothersome folderol” like an investigation. His justification? The “smell test.”
“The 'Smell Test' is a common methodological principle in the study of myth, legend and hagiography. This test can be most simply stated as 'if it sounds unbelievable, it probably is.' When we hear tales of talking dogs and flying wizards, we don’t take them seriously, even for a moment. We immediately rule them out as fabrications. We usually don’t investigate. We don’t wait until we can find evidence against the claim. We know right from the start the tale is bogus. Yet the only basis for this judgment is the Smell Test. …
“[A] bias against the supernatural is warranted…”
It is true that some contemporary Gnostics (perhaps like Jay Weidner) do not always fit neatly into either of the above two categories. That is, although some Gnostics may (for all I know) be feminist (or black or whatever) activists in addition to being Gnostics, many (I presume) are not. And most Gnostics cannot plausibly be labeled “naturalists” (in the relevant sense).
Still, Gnostics tend to display an anti-literalist bias; or, if you prefer, they tend reflexively to seek allegorical or mythical interpretations of religious texts. Often this is done without due concern for justifying this hermeneutical approach. The main reason given is typically the bare (if hazy) recognition of “parallels” between the text under review and other texts known or believed to be mythical.
This approach is fraught with danger, however. The existence of parallels between Story A and Story B (where B is chronologically subsequent to A) does not, by itself, guarantee that B is fabulous or metaphorical.
A striking example of this comes to us by way of one Mark Foreman. He writes, concerning the received lore surrounding Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy:
“Imagine we are 2,000 years in the future. Through some sort of cataclysmic event only a handful of documents of the history of the United States are available, and these are just fragments. After sifting through these fragments, a small group of historical enthusiasts come to a radical conclusion: The myth of President John F. Kennedy is based on the myth of Abraham Lincoln. Their reason for such a conclusion: “Just look at all the parallels!”
“Lincoln was elected to congress in 1846; Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946. Lincoln was elected president in 1860; Kennedy was elected president in 1960.“Lincoln” and “Kennedy” each have seven letters in their names. Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy; Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln. Both married, in their thirties, a 24-year-old socially prominent girl who could speak fluent French. Both presidents dealt with civil rights movements for African-Americans. Both presidents were assassinated on a Friday …before a major holiday, while sitting next to their wives. Both their assassins were known by three names consisting of 15 letters (John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald). Oswald shot Kennedy from a warehouse and was captured in a theater; Booth shot Lincoln from a theater and was captured in a warehouse. Both assassins were shot and killed with a Colt revolver days after they assassinated the president and before they could be brought to trial. Both presidents were succeeded by vice presidents named Johnson, from the South, born in 1808 and 1908 respectively.”
Whatever bones we might pick with the facticity of the above accounts, Foreman’s point seems intuitive. Even the presence of numerous striking parallels, by themselves, cannot license the conclusion that an account is fictitious. In a similar way, however, even if the “Jesus story” has parallels in pagan and mystery cultic fables, this establishes neither that Jesus was not a historical person nor even that the Christian confession is false.
As a coda I note that some alleged “parallels,” like those supposedly existing between Christianity and Mithraism or between Christianity and various mystery rites, are not as strong as they might at first glance appear. Take Mithraism. Little is known about the contours of Mithraism. Much of what is speculated comes from the interpretation of bas-reliefs and is surely eminently questionable. With respect to mystery religions, two points should be made. Number one, there is little evidence that first century-Palestine had any substantive contact with such systems. Number two, most historical information about the mysteries comes from second- and third-century accounts. Hence, whatever similarities exist between Christianity and mystery religions is more likely explicable by the predictable borrowing of eclectic mysteries from Christianity, rather than the by the highly unlikely borrowing on the part of the notoriously exclusivistic Christianity from the mysteries.
4. Perpetual Jewish Hatred of Jesus Is Evidence of His Historicity.
Hatred of Jesus has become an integral part of Judaism. Spitting on crosses and burning New Testaments (and possibly worse) continues unabated in some places even to this day. However, it appears that this Jewish vitriol is primarily reserved for real-life persons. Consider that, besides Jesus, animosity is directed against the Roman Emperor Titus, the Spanish Queen Isabella and the German Führer Adolf Hitler. I think it is may be urged, therefore, that the fact that Jesus’s name shows up on such a list is evidence for his historicity.
Aside from Jesus, the only person on Judaism’s traditional “hate list” whose historicity might be reasonably doubted is Haman. However, Jesus’s case is really incommensurable. Haman, if he existed, would have lived five hundred years before the Christian era. We do not have independent attestation of his life. That this poses special historical problems in Haman’s case cannot be doubted. But with respect to Jesus, the situation, as I hope I coherently sketched above, is quite different. Even so, that Haman did not exist is by no means a foregone conclusion.
As the unfortunately too-numerous, hateful anti-Jesus passages have been amply catalogued, and expounded upon, by Gustaf Dalman, Johann Eisenmenger, Heinrich Laible, Alexander McCaul, Peter Schäfer and others, I will not take energy, space or time setting them forth presently. I submit, however, that – when added to, and considered in the light of, the other evidence that I enumerated, these repugnant Jewish texts, libelous though I believe they are, still testify in a backhanded sort of way to Jesus’s historicity.
I have sketched a case in favor of that Jesus’s historicity. I have premised this on four points. First, I cited the fact that the majority of New Testament scholars, despite having many intramural disagreements, agree that Jesus was a real, historical individual. Second, I noted that several noteworthy thinkers – including no less a personage than the brilliant satirist Voltaire – notwithstanding holding thoroughgoing and ardent anti-Christian views, have acknowledged Jesus’s historicity. Third, I observed that many of those that have denied Jesus’s historicity have seemingly done so not on historical grounds, but on the basis of their endorsement of contentious ideologies (such as radical feminism or materialism/naturalism). Fourth, I gestured toward the vast corpus of rabbinic hate literature and noted that Jesus falls into a small class of highly despised individuals, most of whom (Hitler, Isabella, Titus, &c.) were indisputably historical.
While the case that I have outlined is not ironclad, I think that it is cogent. Those who affirm Jesus’s historicity seem to me well-situated with respect to the available evidence. Such an affirmation is therefore rationally justifiable, which is why I recommend it.
 I.e., claims, like that Jesus’s tomb was discovered empty by a group of his female followers, that agree in several, independent sources.
 I.e., claims, like that Jesus was resurrected bodily - and not, say, translated or transfigured – that diverge notably from the cultural milieu and cannot be easily explained as extrapolations from widely-held assumptions
 Even if many non-Christian scholars insist that they also contain legendary accretions.
 Mark Allan Powell, book review, John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus, San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998, Journal of the American Academy of Religion [JAAR], vol. 68, no. 1, Mar., 2000, p. 171 [169-171].
 Jacob Kremer, Die 0sterevangelien-Geschichlen um Geschichte, Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977, pp. 49-50.
 David Hendrick Van Daalen, The Real Resurrection, London: Collins, 1972, p, 41.
 Norman Perrin, The Resurrection According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974, p. 80.
 Craig remarks that, while Judaism did have a belief in occasional and exceptional bodily translations into heaven, Jewish beliefs precluded anyone’s “rising from the dead before the general Resurrection” at the final judgment.
 Joachim Jeremias, “Die älteste Schicht der Osterüfiberlieferung,” Edouard Dhanis, ed., Resurrexit, Rome: Editrice Libreria Vaticana, 1974, p. 194.
 William Lane Craig, debate with Michael Tooley, Univ. of Colo. [Boulder, Colo.], Nov. 1994, <http://www.reasonablefaith.org/does-god-exist-the-craig-tooley-debate>.
 F. M. Voltaire, “De Jesus,” Voltaire, Dieu et les hommes, Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat de Condorcet, and Jacques-Joseph-Marie Decroix, eds., Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, vol. 33, Paris: Société Littéraire-Typographique, 1785, p. 273; cited by Robert Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2000, p. 8.
 “…[N]i Joseph, ni Philon, ne son ten aucun endroit la moindre mention de l’attente d’un Messie. Conclura-t-on de là qu’il n’ya a point eu de Jésu, comme qulques – uns onto se conclure, par le Pentateuque méme, qu’il n’y a point eu de Moïse? Non, puisqu’après la mort de Jésu on écrit pour & contre lui; il est clair qu’il a existé. …J’ai vu quelques disciples de Bolingbroke plus ingénieux qu’instruits, qui niaient l’éxistence d’un Jésu, parce que l’histoire des trois mages, & de l’étoile, & du massacre des innocent, est, disaient ils, le comble de l’extravagance; la contradiction des deux genealogies que Matthieu & Luc lui donnent, était surtout une raison qu’alléguaient ces jeunes gens pour se persuader qu’il n’ya a point eu de Jésu. Mais ils tiraient une très-fausse conclusion.” Voltaire, Dieu et les hommes, œuvre théologique, mais raisonnable, À Ber-lin: [i.e., Geneva], Chez Christian de Vos, 1769, pp. 153-154; archived on-line at <http://books.google.com/books?id=te3C7_GjNb4C&pg=PA153>.; translated in God and Human Beings: The First English Translation by Michael Shreve, Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2010, p. 104; archived online at <http://books.google.com/books?id=OMclM7Qz6o0C&pg=PA104>. Van Voorst adds that the agnostic Bertrand “Russell, in his Why I am Not a Christian [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957], implicitly accepts the historicity of Jesus,” op. cit., p. 16, in the sense that Russell does not launch an outright attack on Jesus’s historicity.
 John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, New York: HarperOne, 1995, p. 163. Italics in original.
 Ibid., pp. 163-164.
 Loc. cit.
 Kempton, Ill.: Adventures Unltd. Press, 1999.
 D. M. Murdock [Acharya S], The Gospel According to Acharya S, Seattle: Stellar House Publ., 2009, pp. 132-133.
 Ibid., pp. 22-23. Besides laying bare her feminist orientation, such ravings also expose her generally muddled thinking. How impressed should readers be with attempts to revivify “goddess worship” when they are told that belief in the “goddess …[is]just as divinely inspired and truthful” as belief in a male god that is, after all, “imaginary”? And if worship of a “male god” can be fairly criticized and dismissed as “outdated,” why should a female goddess have any appeal when such a deity was itself already “outdated” 2,000+ years ago when Christianity replaced it?
 Van Voorst, loc. cit.
 “Henry St. John Bolingbroke [1678-1751],” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, <http://www.iep.utm.edu/bolingbr/>.
 James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1997, pp. 49 and 53. Metaphysical naturalism is, essentially, atheism.
 Richard C. Carrier, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2012, pp. 114-115.
 Mark Foreman, “Challenging the Zeitgeist Movie,” Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds., Come Let us Reason, Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publ., 2012, pp. 184-185.
 For an introduction, see Jewish history, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, London and Boulder, Colo.: Pluto Press, 1994. At least one other printing of this book is archived online. See <https://archive.org/details/JewishHistoryJewishReligion>.
 See, e.g., Robert Travers Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (London: Williams & Norgate, 1903) and Michael Hoffman, Judaism Discovered (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: Independent History & Research, 2008).
 I also note in passing that the efforts of the Jewish filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici to profit by alleging the “discovery of Jesus’s tomb,” while in my view variously misguided and error-filled, nevertheless presupposes that Jesus existed.