Do Modern Historians Agree Jesus Existed?

15 Aug

Yes, most modern historians agree Jesus the Nazarene existed. And this consensus should be good enough for a layman, if you don’t feel like diving deeper.

However, if you either have academic training or are an academic, you would know that not all facets of academia share the same standards of rigor. If you fall in this area (or are just curious), just having a consensus isn’t good enough; e.g., consensus in biology about the theory of evolution isn’t enough to show that the theory of evolution is correct.

So what are some good rules of thumb when encountering an academic field you’re not familiar with?

First of all, academia is driven by research. If a field is new and has a lot of promising research for neophyte academics to dive into, then this is a good sign. Bright minds will use their talents to push the edge of what’s known. This will obviously bias more hands-on, empirical (e.g., STEM) research than older or more humanities focused fields.

On the opposite side of things, if a field is old and/or has no low hanging fruit, then bright newly minted PhDs will be forced to show their intellect and value to the field in other ways. This will usually involve lots of convoluted theories that are attempts to prove things that have already been demonstrated in the field or are in reality impossible to prove.

Another thing to look at in a field is how readily weaponizable or ideologically blinkered a field can be. A good example is a lot of sociology or evolutionary psychology. These fields and the knowledge therein can be weaponized easily; they can be used to give scientific justification for what might be essentially racist or sexist ends. A field can also be blinkered if it deals with a sacred premise or sacred aspect of a (sub)culture that field belongs to.

With these two very general rules of thumb in mind, I find that research into Jesus the Nazarene is subpar. There’s not a lot of low-hanging fruit in “Jesus Research” and the field is definitely blinkered; most researchers are either believing Christians (so Jesus not existing literally refutes their religion and cannot even be countenanced) or grew up in the West where the character of Jesus is still a secular figure of morality. Essentially a sacred secular symbol, his birthday is a secular holiday after all.

All that being said, a consensus among Western historians that Jesus the Nazarene existed doesn’t fill me with the same level of confidence that a consensus in astrophysics does about whether the big bang happened. And the consensus among historians isn’t as complete as the consensus among astrophysicists or biologists in their respective fields.

For other rules of thumb, check out my post what makes something a good explanation.

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Posted by on August 15, 2019 in Quora answers, religion


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