Virtually all scholars of antiquity agree that a historical human Jesus existed. Historian Michael Grant asserts that if conventional standards of historical textual criticism are applied to the New Testament, "we can no more reject Jesus' existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned."
The New Testament represents sources that have become canonical for Christianity, and there are many apocryphal texts that are examples of the wide variety of writings in the first centuries AD that are related to Jesus.
Non-Christian sources used to study and establish the historicity of Jesus include the c. first century Jewish historianJosephus and Roman historianTacitus. These sources are compared to Christian sources, such as the Pauline letters and synoptic gospels, and are usually independent of each other; that is, the Jewish sources do not draw upon the Roman sources. Similarities and differences between these sources are used in the authentication process.
Tacitus, in his Annals (written c. AD 115), book 15, chapter 44, describes Nero's scapegoating of the Christians following the Fire of Rome. He writes that the founder of the sect was named Christus (the Christian title for Jesus); that he was executed under Pontius Pilate; and that the movement, initially checked, broke out again in Judea and even in Rome itself. The scholarly consensus is that Tacitus' reference to the execution of Jesus by Pontius Pilate is both authentic and of historical value as an independent Roman source.
The Mishnah (c. 200) may refer to Jesus as it reflects the early Jewish traditions of portraying Jesus as a sorcerer or magician. Other references to Jesus and his execution exist in the Talmud, but they aim to discredit his actions, not deny his existence.
Since the 18th century, three separate scholarly quests for the historical Jesus have taken place, each with distinct characteristics and based on different research criteria, which were often developed during that phase. Various criteria of authenticity are developed and employed to distinguish early oral elements from later literary elements in the Gospel stories, regarding those early elements as original elements of Jesus' teachings and biography.
Currently modern scholarly research on the historical Jesus focuses on what is historically probable, or plausible about Jesus. Since the late 2000s, concerns have been growing about the usefulness of these criteria.
Part of the ancient Madaba Map showing two possible baptism locations
Bronzino's depiction of the Crucifixion with three nails, no ropes, and a hypopodium standing support, c. 1545
There is widespread disagreement among scholars on the historicity of specific episodes described in the biblical accounts of Jesus, the details of the life of Jesus mentioned in the gospel narratives, and on the meaning of his teachings. Many scholars have questioned the authenticity and reliability of these sources, and few events mentioned in the gospels are universally accepted.
According to New Testament scholar James Dunn, nearly all modern scholars consider the baptism of Jesus and his crucifixion to be historically certain. He states that these "two facts in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent" and "rank so high on the 'almost impossible to doubt or deny' scale of historical 'facts' they are obvious starting points for an attempt to clarify the what and why of Jesus' mission."John P. Meier views the crucifixion of Jesus as historical fact and states that based on the criterion of embarrassment Christians would not have invented the painful death of their leader.
The criterion of embarrassment is also used to argue in favor of the historicity of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist as it is a story which the early Christian Church would have never wanted to invent. Based on this criterion, given that John baptised for the remission of sins, and Jesus was viewed as without sin, the invention of this story would have served no purpose, and would have been an embarrassment given that it positioned John above Jesus.
Amy-Jill Levine has summarized the situation by stating that "there is a consensus of sorts on the basic outline of Jesus' life" in that most scholars agree that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and over a period of one to three years debated Jewish authorities on the subject of God, gathered followers, and was crucified by Roman prefect Pontius Pilate who officiated 26–36 AD.
There is much in dispute as to his previous life, childhood, family and place of residence, of which the canonical gospels are almost completely silent.
Scholars attribute varying levels of certainty to other episodes. E. P. Sanders proposed eight "indisputable facts" about Jesus's life as a framework for biographical discussion:
Jesus was a Galilean preacher.
His activities were confined to Galilee and Judea.
He was baptized by John the Baptist.
He called disciples.
He had a controversy at the Temple.
Jesus was crucified by the Romans near Jerusalem.
The portraits of Jesus constructed in the quests have often differed from each other, and from the image portrayed in the gospel accounts. There are overlapping attributes among the portraits, and while pairs of scholars may agree on some attributes, those same scholars may differ on other attributes, and there is no single portrait of the historical Jesus that satisfies most scholars. The mainstream profiles in the third quest may be grouped together based on their primary theme as apocalyptic prophet; charismatic healer; Cynic philosopher; Jewish Messiah; and prophet of social change; but there is little scholarly agreement on a single portrait, or the methods needed to construct it. There are, however, overlapping attributes among the portraits, and scholars who differ on some attributes may agree on others.
^Jesus existed: Stanton (2002, p. 145): Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed and that the gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which has to be weighed and assessed critically. There is general agreement that, with the possible exception of Paul, we know far more about Jesus of Nazareth than about any first or second century Jewish or pagan religious teacher. Wells (2007, p. 446):"Today, most secular scholars accept Jesus as a historical, although unimpressive, figure." Ehrman (2012b, pp. 4–5) harvtxt error: no target: CITEREFEhrman2012b (help): "Serious historians of the early Christian movement—all of them—have spent many years preparing to be experts in their field. Just to read the ancient sources requires expertise in a range of ancient languages: Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and often Aramaic, Syriac, and Coptic, not to mention the modern languages of scholarship (for example, German and French). And that is just for starters. Expertise requires years of patiently examining ancient texts and a thorough grounding in the history and culture of Greek and Roman antiquity, the religions of the ancient Mediterranean world, both pagan and Jewish, knowledge of the history of the Christian church and the development of its social life and theology, and, well, lots of other things. It is striking that virtually everyone who has spent all the years needed to attain these qualifications is convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure."
^ abThe Christ myth theory is rejected by mainstream scholarship:
Robert E. Van Voorst, referring to G. A. Wells: "The nonhistoricity thesis has always been controversial, and it has consistently failed to convince scholars of many disciplines and religious creeds ... Biblical scholars and classical historians now regard it as effectively refuted".
While discussing the "striking" fact that "we don't have any Roman records, of any kind, that attest to the existence of Jesus", Ehrman dismisses claims that this means Jesus never existed, saying, "He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on clear and certain evidence."
Robert M. Price, a former fundamentalist apologist who is now a Christian atheist, says the existence of Jesus cannot be ruled out, but is less probable than non-existence. He agrees that his perspective runs against the views of the majority of scholars.
Michael Grant, a classicist, states: "In recent years, 'no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus', or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary."
"There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church's imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more."
Maurice Casey, an irreligious Emeritus Professor of New Testament Languages and Literature at the University of Nottingham, concludes in his book Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? that "the whole idea that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist as a historical figure is verifiably false. Moreover, it has not been produced by anyone or anything with any reasonable relationship to critical scholarship. It belongs to the fantasy lives of people who used to be fundamentalist Christians. They did not believe in critical scholarship then, and they do not do so now. I cannot find any evidence that any of them have adequate professional qualifications."
Bockmuel: "[F]arfetched theories that Jesus' existence was a Christian invention are highly implausible."
^ abcdBart Ehrman (a secular agnostic) wrote: "He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on certain and clear evidence." B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of GodISBN978-0-06-207863-6. p. 256-257
^"Introduction". The Historical Jesus : Five Views, edited by James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic. 2009. pp. 38–39. ISBN9780830838684. Contrary to previous times, virtually everyone in the field today acknowledges that Jesus was considered by his contemporaries to be an exorcist and a worker of miracles. However, when it comes to historical assessment of the miracles tradition itself, the consensus quickly shatters. Some, following in the footsteps of Bultmann, embrace an explicit methodological naturalism such that the very idea of a miracle is ruled out a priori. Others defend the logical possibility of miracle at the theoretical level, but, in practice, retain a functional methodological naturalism, maintaining that we could never be in possession of the type and/or amount of evidence that would justify a historical judgment in favor of the occurrence of a miracle. Still others, suspicious that an uncompromising methodological naturalism most likely reflects an unwarranted metaphysical naturalism, find such a priori skepticism unwarranted and either remain open to, or even explicitly defend, the historicity of miracles within the Jesus tradition.
^Bock, Darrell; Webb, Robert, eds. (2009). Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus : A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. ISBN978-3161501449.
^Blomberg, Craig (2011). "New Testament Studies in North America". In Köstenberger, Andreas J.; Yarbrough, Robert W. (eds.). Understanding The Times: New Testament Studies in the 21st Century. Crossway. p. 282. ISBN978-1-4335-0719-9. The fruit of a decade of work by the IBR Historical Jesus Study Group, Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence [Ed. Darrell L. Bock and Robert L. Webb (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming).] takes a dozen core themes or events from Jesus’ life and ministry and details the case for their authenticity via all the standard historical criteria, as well as assessing their significance. The results show significant correlation between what historians can demonstrate and what evangelical theology has classically asserted about the life of Christ.
^E. Meyers & J. Strange (1992). Archaeology, the Rabbis, & Early Christianity. Nashville: Abingdon, 1981; Article "Nazareth" in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.[page needed]
^Robert M. Price (a Christian atheist) who denies the existence of Jesus agrees that this perspective runs against the views of the majority of scholars: Robert M. Price "Jesus at the Vanishing Point" in The Historical Jesus: Five Views edited by James K. Beilby & Paul Rhodes Eddy, 2009 InterVarsity, ISBN0830838686 p. 61
^ abJesus Now and Then by Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould (1 April 2004) ISBN0802809774 p. 34
^Michael Grant (1977), Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels
^James D. G. Dunn (1974) Paul's understanding of the death of Jesus in Reconciliation and Hope. New Testament Essays on Atonement and Eschatology Presented to L.L. Morris on his 60th Birthday. Robert Banks, ed., Carlisle: The Paternoster Press, pp. 125–141, Citing G. A. Wells (The Jesus of the Early Christians (1971)): "Perhaps we should also mention that at the other end of the spectrum Paul’s apparent lack of knowledge of the historical Jesus has been made the major plank in an attempt to revive the nevertheless thoroughly dead thesis that the Jesus of the Gospels was a mythical figure." An almost identical quotation is included in Dunn, James DG (1998) The Christ and the Spirit: Collected Essays of James D.G. Dunn, Volume 1, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., p. 191, and Sykes, S. (1991) Sacrifice and redemption: Durham essays in theology. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press. pp. 35–36.
^Theissen, Gerd; Merz, Annette (1996). The Historical Jesus. Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press. pp. 17–62. ISBN978-0-8006-3122-2.
^"Jesus Christ". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Archived from the original on 3 May 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2010. The Synoptic Gospels, then, are the primary sources for knowledge of the historical Jesus
^Vermes, Geza. The authentic gospel of Jesus. London, Penguin Books. 2004.
^Mark Allan Powell (editor), The New Testament Today, p. 50 (Westminster John Knox Press, 1999). ISBN0-664-25824-7
^Stanley E. Porter (editor), Handbook to Exegesis of the New Testament, p. 68 (Leiden, 1997). ISBN90-04-09921-2
^Green, Joel B. (2013). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (2nd ed.). IVP Academic. p. 541. ISBN978-0830824564.
^Edward Adams in The Cambridge Companion to Jesus by Markus N. A. Bockmuehl (2001) ISBN0521796784 pp. 94–96.
^Mercer dictionary of the Bible by Watson E. Mills, Roger Aubrey Bullard (2001) ISBN0-86554-373-9 page 343
^Pontius Pilate in History and Interpretation by Helen K. Bond (2004) ISBN0-521-61620-4 page xi
^ abJesus and the Politics of his Day by E. Bammel and C. F. D. Moule (1985) ISBN0521313449 p. 393
^In Jesus: The Complete Guide edited by J. L. Houlden (8 Feb 2006) ISBN082648011X pp. 693–694
^Jesus in the Talmud by Peter Schäfer (24 Aug 2009) ISBN0691143188 pp. 9, 141
^Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey by Craig L. Blomberg (1 Aug 2009) ISBN0805444823 p. 280
^Kostenberger, Andreas J.; Kellum, L. Scott; Quarles, Charles L. (2009). The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New TestamentISBN0-8054-4365-7. pp. 107–109
^Ben Witherington, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (8 May 1997) ISBN0830815449 pp. 9–13
^Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell (1 Jan 1999) ISBN0664257038 pp. 19–23
^John, Jesus, and History Volume 1 by Paul N. Anderson, Felix Just and Tom Thatcher (14 Nov 2007) ISBN1589832930 p. 131
^John P. Meier "Criteria: How do we decide what comes from Jesus?" in The Historical Jesus in Recent Research by James D. G. Dunn and Scot McKnight (15 Jul 2006) ISBN1575061007 p. 124 "Since in the quest for the historical Jesus almost anything is possible, the function of the criteria is to pass from the merely possible to the really probable, to inspect various probabilities, and to decide which candidate is most probable. Ordinarily the criteria can not hope to do more."
^Keith, Chris; Le Donne, Anthony, eds. (2012), Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity, A&C Black
^ abcThe Quest for the Plausible Jesus: The Question of Criteria by Gerd Theissen and Dagmar Winter (30 August 2002) ISBN0664225373 p. 5
^ abcJesus Research: An International Perspective (Princeton-Prague Symposia Series on the Historical Jesus) by James H. Charlesworth and Petr Pokorny (15 September 2009) ISBN0802863531 pp. 1–2
^ abcThe Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum 2009 ISBN978-0-8054-4365-3 pp. 124–125
^ abFamiliar Stranger: An Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth by Michael James McClymond (22 March 2004) ISBN0802826806 pp. 16–22
^Amy-Jill Levine in The Historical Jesus in Context edited by Amy-Jill Levine et al. 2006 Princeton University Press ISBN978-0-691-00992-6 p. 1: "no single picture of Jesus has convinced all, or even most scholars"
^ abThe Cambridge History of Christianity, Volume 1 by Margaret M. Mitchell and Frances M. Young (20 February 2006) ISBN0521812399 p. 23
^Images of Christ (Academic Paperback) by Stanley E. Porter, Michael A. Hayes and David Tombs (19 December 2004) ISBN0567044602T&T Clark p. 74
^The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth by Ben Witherington (8 May 1997) ISBN0830815449 p. 197
Blomberg, Craig L. (2007), The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, InterVarsity Press, ISBN9780830828074
Brown, Raymond E. (1997). An Introduction to the New Testament. Doubleday.
Daniel Boyarin (2004). Border Lines. The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Bromiley, Geoffrey W., ed. (1982). "Jesus Christ". International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE): fully revised, illustrated, in four volumes. Vol. 2, E–J. Associate editors: Everett F. Harrison, Roland K. Harrison, William Sanford LaSor. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 1034–1049. ISBN978-0-8028-3785-1. OCLC500471471. Archived from the original on 30 July 2020. Retrieved 28 January 2019.