Whatever you think about him being the Son of God, the fact that Jesus existed as a historical figure has rarely been disputed.
After all, he is referenced across Christian, Jewish and Roman texts. Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, written around AD 93–94, mentions the biblical Jesus in books 18 and 20. Meanwhile the Roman historian Tacitus, in his Annals, written around AD 116, referred both to 'Christus' and his execution by Pontius Pilate.
However, historians and bloggers are now increasingly questioning whether the man called Jesus actually existed at all. He may be no more a historical figure than Hercules or Oedipus.
Today, several books explore the subject from a fresh angle, 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.
Historians point out the lack of reliable historical sources. Most of the accounts of Jesus of course come from Christian sources – and even these are largely third party narratives written years after his death.
In the Bible, there is no mention at all of Jesus’ life between the ages of 12 and 30 – a pretty glaring omission for a man who only lived to be 33.
A further problem is that few of the biblical accounts have a real name attached to them – rather an apostle who “signs off” the manuscript.
Where non-Christian sources exist, even these are problematic.
Fitzgerald argued that for centuries all serious scholars of Christianity were Christians themselves, and so even secular accounts rely heavily on the religious texts that did the groundwork. They therefore cannot be considered independent sources.
Historian Richard Carrier wrote that even references to Jesus in the work of Josephus were additions done by Christian scribes. He points out that one particular passage, the execution of Jesus under Pilate, was obviously lifted from the Gospel of Luke.
Carrier believes that the character of Christ may have derived from earlier semi-divine beings from Near East mythology. These myths would develop over time into the gospels, he argues.
Of course, there may well have been a Jewish preacher called Yeshua ben Yosef, who inspired a great many people with his teachings. Most historians believe a real person existed and became mythicized. But even of this we cannot be certain.