The Dutch Atheist

Big Think? Big Mistake

3 March 2017.Wesley.0 Likes.0 Comments


Big Think is a popular website with over 2,5 million followers on Facebook. They publish videos with people like Bill Nye and Michio Kaku. You can find a lot of good stuff on their page but I think they really jumped the shark with this article. I’ll try to show you why I think that’s the case.

The article I am reffering to is called: “A Growing Number of Scholars Are Questioning the Historical Existence of Jesus” and dates from December last year. The article mainly wants to show us why it is a growing number of scholars are questioning the historical Jesus. So let’s see what the article has to say.

Quote 1

Today more and more, historians and bloggers alike are questioning whether the actual man called Jesus existed.”

The article starts out with a flat out assertion. It tells us that more and more historians are questioning whether Jesus from Nazareth existed. Where is the evidence for this? What source can the author Philip Perry provide to justify this claim? He leaves us in the dark as he mentions none. He also mentions bloggers, which feels like an insult to historians. How are bloggers a credible source to even mention? Don’t get me wrong: we take this blog very serious and I will proclaim as much of what scholars say on this blog, but that’s exactly the point. I can only base my information of of scholars. In doing so we try to reference to these scholars as much as we can. At the end of the day- I am simply not a credible source, I am no authority in the field, they are.

“Unfortunately, many of the writings we do have are tainted, the authors being religious scholars or atheists with an axe to grind.”

Which writings are tainted? And why? Again, a flat out assertion. Granted, it might very well be possible that personal convictions play a role when someone writes his or her article, book or blog. This is a simple ad hominem argument. Obviously someone who has a point to make can be expected to falsify writings in favour of his point. But this simple fact does not entail that you can discard any claim that doesn’t suit your agenda. You would have to prove the point wrong or unsubstantiated. Even when an author makes false claims time and time again can he still make truthful claims. If we were to follow Philip Perry’s line of reasoning here we should conclude that evolutionary biologists are not to be trusted when they speak on evolution? Not only that- we would also have to conclude that we cannot trust the writings of Philip himself! Although, that would make sense.

“One important point is the lack of historical sources. In the bible, whole chunks of his life are missing. Jesus goes from age 12 to 30, without any word of what happened in-between.”

This, I am afraid, is not a good argument to prove Jesus never existed. We do have historical sources for his life. Not only do we have the gospels, which are written by four different authors and for the main part tell the same story, we also have sources outside of the Bible such as Josephus and Tacitus. I wrote a whole article on the historical Jesus in which I defend his existence.

Quote 2

“What we do have are lots of sources completed several decades after the fact, by authors of the gospels who wanted to promote the faith. The gospels themselves are contradictory. For instance, they tell competing Easter stories. Another problem, there aren’t any real names attached to many of them, but rather an apostle’s who “signed off” on the manuscript. There is also evidence that the gospels were heavily edited over the years.”

All very much true and all very much irrelevant if you want to prove Jesus existed. Mark based his independent account on earlier oral traditions about Jesus. Matthew and Luke borrowed from Mark but also present us with information not found in Mark. This information the most probably got from another source called the “Q” source. Matthew and Luke also provide us with information not found in any other of the three synoptic Gospels and these sources are called the “M” and “L” source. So we have four independent sources written within a hundred years after Jesus died which is enough for historians to claim that Jesus at least existed.

Quote 3

“St. Paul is the only one to write about events chronologically. Even then, few facts about Jesus are divulged. Paul’s Epistles rest on the “Heavenly Jesus,” but never mention the living man.”

This is simply wrong. Here’s a list of things Paul tells us about Jesus:

  • Jesus was born as a human
  • Jesus was a Jew
  • Jesus was a descendant of King David (really, he wasn’t)
  • Jesus had brothers, one of them named James
  • Jesus had a ministry to Jews
  • Jesus had twelve disciples
  • Jesus was a teacher
  • Jesus anticipated his own death
  • Jesus had the last supper the night he was handed over
  • Jesus was killed at the instigation of Jews in Judea
  • Jesus died by crucifixion

Quote 4

“For such an important revolutionary and religious figure, there are surprisingly no eyewitness counts.’’

If someone actually studies the historical Jesus you would know that he wasn’t an important and revolutionary man. Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet from rural Galilee who got convicted as a state criminal for most probably calling himself the king of the Jews.

“And the writings we do have are biased.”

True, but that’s no reason to dismiss them as historical sources entirely. Bart Ehrman agrees.

Bart D. Ehrman

Quote 5

“Roman historians Josephus and Tacitus do make a few, scant remarks about his life. But that was a century after Jesus’s time.”

Flat our wrong again. Josephus mentions Jesus in his “Antiquities of the Jews” written around 93/94 CE. So that’s within a hundred years after Jesus died. Tacitus mentions Jesus in his “Annals” written somewhere around 116 CE. Still within a hundred years after Jesus died.

“So they may have garnered their information from early Christians. And those threadbare accounts are controversial too, since the manuscripts had been altered over time by Christian scribes whose job it was to preserve them.”

I really would like to know what the evidence is for this claim. The text by Tacitus is a Christian interpolation? It’s all known that Josephus’ text suffered from a Christian interpolation but when the interpolation is removed, the text goes like this:

“At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. He was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. When Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease tot do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.”

This, along with the gospel’s, Paul’s letters and the mentions of Josephus build a very strong case for the existence of a historical Jesus.

Quote 6

“Today, several books approach the subject, including Zealot by Reza Aslan, Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All by David Fitzgerald, and How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman.”

I am truly wondering if the author actually read all these books, or even any. I am guessing he didn’t. Both Ehrman and Aslan actually defend the existence of the historical Jesus. A simple Wikipedia search would have saved Philip Perry this humiliation: Dale Martin, the Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, who specialises in New Testament and Christian Origins, writes in The New York Times that although Aslan is not a scholar of ancient Christianity and does not present “innovative or original scholarship,” the book is entertaining and “a serious presentation of one plausible portrait of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.”  Ehrman is an American professor and scholar, currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is one of North America’s leading scholars in his field, having written and edited 30 books, including three college textbooks. He has also achieved acclaim at the popular level, authoring five New York Times bestsellers. Ehrman’s work focuses on textual criticism of the New Testament, the historical Jesus, and the development of early Christianity. And in his book ‘Did Jesus exist’ Ehrman calls the number of historical mentions of the historical Jesus found in ancient texts “astounding for an ancient figure of any kind”, concluding that Jesus from Nazareth actually existed.


The article is poorly written for such a renowned website and the author is basing to much of what he says on scholars with very non mainstream views or who are not even serious scholars in the field. Big Think appeared to have not thought this trough even a little.

Knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Follow us on Facebook.