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Debate: Historicity of Jesus

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Did a historical Jesus ever really exist?

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Background and Context of Debate:

The historicity of Jesus concerns the historical authenticity of Jesus of Nazareth. Scholars often draw a distinction between Jesus as reconstructed through historical methods and the Christ of faith as understood through theological tradition. The historical figure of Jesus is of central importance to many religions, but especially Christianity and Islam, in which the historical details of Jesus’ life are essential.

Most scholars in the fields of biblical studies and history agree that Jesus was a Jewish teacher from Galilee who was regarded as a healer, was baptized by John the Baptist, was accused of sedition against the Roman Empire, and on the orders of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate was sentenced to death by crucifixion. However, a very small minority argue that Jesus never existed as a historical figure, but was a purely symbolic or mythical figure syncretized from various non-Abrahamic deities and heroes.

The four canonical Gospels and the writings of Paul of the New Testament are among the earliest known documents relating to Jesus' life. Some scholars also hypothesize the existence of early texts such as the Signs Gospel and the Q document. There are arguments that the Gospel of Thomas is likewise an early text. Many later texts provide valuable historical information as well.

Scholarly opinions on the historicity of the New Testament accounts are diverse. At the extremes, they range from the view that they are inerrant descriptions of the life of Jesus, to the view that they provide no historical information about his life. As with all historical sources, scholars ask: to what extent did the authors' motivations shape the texts, what sources were available to them, how soon after the events described did they write, and whether or not these factors lead to inaccuracies such as exaggerations or inventions.

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