Popular Mechanics / The Real Face of JesusChristians love to assume their religion is founded on historical fact. Specifically, they’re absolutely certain their Jesus lived and walked the earth in the first decades of the 1st century CE. This assumption is so compelling that we count the years in terms of Jesus’ supposed lifetime … i.e. our Year 1 is, supposedly, the first year he was on earth.

The reality of it, though, is that it’s by no means certain at all that Jesus ever actually lived. Many people find this surprising, but Jesus’ historicity has been a subject of scholarly review and conjecture for over a century now. While devout believers in Christianity are certain Jesus lived, the rest of us, and scholars especially, aren’t as sure, because the historical record of his existence is vastly less clear and compelling than Christians claim.

Despite the lack of scholarly certainty, this month’s National Geographic cover story proudly trumpets that Jesus definitely lived (Archive.Is cached article). Their evidence? The discovery of a tomb:

Just yards from the tomb of Christ [at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem] are other rock-hewn tombs of the period, affirming that this church, destroyed and rebuilt twice, was indeed constructed over a Jewish burial ground.

Nat Geo has made a big deal about the recent discovery of one particular tomb near the Holy Sepulchre. The problem is, in historical and archaeological terms, this finding doesn’t really tell us anything, and it certainly doesn’t prove Jesus must have lived. The site of that church was “found” by the (Christian) Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine. When she was there in the 4th century, it’s possible she knew tombs were nearby, and that may have been why she picked that location. So finding a tomb in the area doesn’t mean anything.

The problem here is that Nat Geo is accepted as an authoritative publication. Many Christians looking to promote Jesus’ historicity are sure to use this article as ostensible “proof” that he actually lived. Unfortunately for them, it’s not “proof” of anything, other than that Christians would like to think he existed and will go to ridiculous lengths in order to say they’ve “proven” it.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: Popular Mechanics.

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  • To the best of my knowledge, there’s no evidence at all that Jesus existed. The Bible stories about him are rife with borrowings from other myths and with events that don’t square with known history. There’s no more reason to think Jesus was real than to think Odin or Apollo were real.

    • Actually, what there is, is a mixed bag. It’s not safe to say there’s noevidence any Jesus existed. 

      Keep in mind that, when historians review that evidence for a “Jesus” having existed, they aren’t necessarily anchored to the super-powered, miracle-working, came-back-from-the-dead-then-left-just-so-he-could-return-a-second-time Jesus of the gospels. It’s possible there was a man named Jesus whose career and teachings formed the core of a small splinter-group of apocalyptic Judaism, and the body of legend which eventually became fossilized in the gospels and later Christian tradition, grew from the followers of that group.