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Happy Easter - Did Jesus Exist?

Shadows of the crosses
Shadows of the crosses
Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Christians recently celebrate Easter. It seemed somewhat blander than I remembered from earlier years. Perhaps the businesses did not invest the time to decorate or maybe, hopefully, the world is just getting more secular.

Easter is not as much fun as Christmas, perhaps because a bloody, beaten, dying man on a cross is nowhere near as cute as a newborn baby in a straw pile surrounded by barnyard animals. Only kids receive gifts on Easter. No one is rushing to find the right Easter gift at the last minute. Except for "Here Comes Peter Cottontail" there are few secular Easter songs. There are no brightly wrapped packages around the, uh, cross?

I got into a discussion about Jesus with a religious friend of mine and he was surprised when I admitted that Jesus probably existed and that he was probably crucified. I added that the idea of the crucifixion of an apocalyptic prophet was quite probable but that we could not be very sure of the prophet’s name. Jesus was a good as any.

He seemed confused so I elaborated. Assuming that a prophet named Jesus was preaching his message of the coming kingdom of God and that he, Jesus, was the predicted Jewish messiah, his being crucified by the Romans as an insurrectionist was quite reasonable. I added that it was unlikely that a group of Jews in the first century would make up a story like that.

Nowhere in the Jewish canon is there anything about the messiah being ignobly crucified. Those Jews who believed in the coming of the messiah expected him to be a warrior and a leader who would drive the oppressors of the Jews out the Promised Land and return glory to the Jews.

As the followers of Jesus attempted to recruit other Jews into their cult, they would have to deal with questions. When they said that Jesus was the promised messiah, they would have to explain what Jesus didn’t drive out the Romans. They would have to explain away the miserable death of Jesus as criminal. A made up story would not start with an uncomfortable rationalization. So the story of Jesus’s death is probably true.

My friend then asked if I felt the resurrection was probable. I told him that it could not be verified on a historical basis, that it was a matter of faith.

I see no argument to the life of an apocalyptic prophet who may have been named Jesus. I see no argument to the brutal death of that prophet on a cross. The followers of Jesus turned that demeaning death into the centerpiece of Christianity by adopting the idea of resurrection from other religions. Christianity has gone on, in a variety of forms to become a dominant religion in the world.

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