Between AD 30 and AD 175, many Christian and non-Christian sources/writers testify to Jesus's existence.
• In [AD 33] The 1 Corinthians 15 creedal formula was asserting Jesus was “born of a descendant of David,” he had a “brother”, that “[Jewish leaders] both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets,” and “that Christ died… and that He was buried” etc.
• In [AD 45] Paul's letters to churches at Corinth, Galatia, etc. were speaking of an historical Jesus (e.g. “born of a woman, born under the Law,”
• In [AD 55] Thallus's 3rd volume of his history book speaks of Jesus's crucifixion, and consequences in “many places in Judea and other districts”
• In [AD 70] The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke spoke of Jesus as a historical figure, “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses”
• In [AD 70] Acts of the Apostles we also hear often of "Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified,"
• [AD 80] The Gospel of John we hear often of this historical "Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph"
• [AD 93] Josephus's Jewish Antiquities 18 speaks of this Jesus who "won over many Jews and many of the Greeks"... "Pilate... condemned him to be crucified"
• [AD 93] Josephus's Jewish Antiquities 20 we hear of how "the Sanhedrin [was convened] and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ," (note James is well-known as Jesus's biological brother often in Paul's letters; Paul knew James personally).
• [AD 95] 1 Clement's letter speaks of Jesus, e.g. "remembering the words of the Lord Jesus" who came from "the line of Judah."
• [AD 100] The Didache speaks of Jesus, from "the holy vine of... David" (i.e. a descendent).
• [AD 100] Mara-Bar Sarapion's letter to his son likely refers to Jesus in a line of references ot historical figures like Socrates, saying the Jews gained nothing from "executing their wise king".
• [AD 105] Papias's report speaks of hearing what living disciple-witnesses of Jesus were still teaching ("the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying")
• [AD 107] Ignatius's Epistle to the Smyrnæans also speaks of "the seed of David according to the flesh," "baptized by John," and "under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross]"
• [AD 110] Polycarp's letter to the Philippians speaks of Jesus as a historical figure, e.g. how he was killed "upon the tree" (a Jewish prophetic reference to the cross).
• [AD 111] Pliny the Younger's letter to Trajan speaks of Jesus as a historical figure, and even how Christians sang "a hymn to Christ as to a god" (obviously believing Jesus was merely a recently executed man.)
• [AD 115] Tacitus's Annals speaks of "Christus, from whom the name ["Christians"] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus"
• [AD 120] Seutonius's Life of Emperor Claudius also mentions "Chrestus" and his followers ("[Claudius] expelled them from Rome," which is true of Christians).
• [AD 150] Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho records that the historical Jesus was "crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judæa, in the times of Tiberius Cæsar."
• [AD 165] Lucian's book, The Death of Peregrinus speaks of Christians quite a bit, and how Jesus "was crucified", calling him a historical "crucified sage."
• [AD 175] Irenaeus's book, Against Heresies too refers to Jesus as a historical figure, "being of flesh and blood.... [and was less than] fifty years old;"
Among the four gospels are many stories of Jesus's sayings and deeds, culminating in his death by Roman crucifixion. As it happens, we can know that the Gospel stories are largely or entirely rooted in witness testimony.
• Gospel authors got it all witness-approved or close.
• Gospels spew witness-based stories.
• Gospel stories are not lies/legends.
• Gospel stories are a subset of 1st church’s.
• The Gospels are historically reliable.
• Pop Jesus-bio was a subset of what witnesses said.
The stories we find in the Gospels are often very “dissimilar” to church in AD 31-90. Their behavior and language which was quite discontinuous with post-Jesus attitudes. (This include post-Easter beliefs, expectations, styles, background, understanding, and preferred vocabulary).
• Gospel stories spew church-hated content. For example, they spew content about Jesus that is quite embarassing to themselves. These range from things like his being baptized by John the Baptist, to his being disbelieved by his family (which was very shameful), up to his own apostles abandoning him in the end. See inside for 10+ examples.
• Speakers in Gospels think-talk as pre-Christians. The idea here is that the Gospel characters sound nothing like post-Easter Christians. For example, we never see Jesus or individuals in the Gospels speaking of believers "receiving" Jesus, which was par for the course in post-Easter Christianity. And if the Gospels were legends, we would see that language here. Explore inside to learn about several additional examples.
• Gospel Jesus-sayings repeat consistent quirks. This is the inverse of the point just above. For example, across our sources Jesus habitually prefaces his comments with "amen." Similarly, across our sources Jesus habitually identifies himself as the "Son of Man." These are quirks that are unique to the reported Jesus, however, and the church had no cooresponding tendency to apply these to Jesus.
In addition to reports explicitly on his existence, there are several justifiable facts about the historical Jesus which entail that he is a real historical figure.1
• We know that Jesus was crucified. Among our evidences for this (e.g. a panopoly of independent attestations from people who would know) is the fact that it is not the sort of thing Christians would invent; it was the highest humiliation and Jews in particular regarded it as a sure sign that God has cursed someone. Paul confirms the stigma associated with it when he dismissively says, “I am not ashamed” (Rom 1:16) and when in 1 Cor 1:23 he says “Christ crucified, [is] to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness.”
Miracles-workers are not going to be real historical figures. After all, miracles do not happen in the real world (e.g. because we know there is no God or because God obviously does not do that kind of thign). This fact comes in to play because, if Jesus existed, he was unquestionably a miracle worker. That is unacceptable, so it is better to say he did not exist at all.
But, by way of response
• Miracles can occur in history if God exists (especially if God has plausible reasons for performing said miracle).
And so what if miracle workers can't be real historical figures?
• Rather than denying that Jesus existed, it is easier to just say that Jesus was historical but did not actually perform miracles. Perhaps the miracles are legends. That is more rational than denying his existence altogether. (The same goes for Alexander the Great, Muhammad, and other historical figures who had miracles attributed to them.)
There are various historians or general writers in the 1st century (or soonafter) which speak on this or that issues relevant to their time. And yet as we survey this particular list of writers, they make no mention of Jesus. That is to say, even if some historians to speak of Jesus, there are many writers of the time who do not.
In response, however:
• We would not expect Jesus to be mentioned in all sources. (In fact, modern historians say we are lucking in seeing how much Jesus is mentioned, given his lowly status)1
Details about Jesus match the details of prior mythic deities or mythical figures.
• …Horus is just like Jesus.