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Did Jesus exist, or was he a mythical character?

Debate held at UFV offered two scholarly points of view on the question

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By Taylor Breckles (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: September 24, 2014

B101 was packed on Saturday, September 20 for a debate on the historicity of Jesus. (Image: Joshua Kehn)

B101 was packed on Saturday, September 20 for a debate on the historicity of Jesus. (Image: Joshua Kehn)

“It is multiply attested by both Christians and non-Christians that Jesus existed,” Michael Horner said in a debate on the historicity of Jesus.

Horner, who has an MA in philosophy from the University of Toronto, faced off against Richard Carrier (PhD in ancient history, Columbia University) who argued Jesus is a mythological figure who never existed.

The Fraser Valley Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists (FVASH) hosted the event. The audience filled the B101 lecture hall on Saturday, September 20.

Prior to the debate, different religious community organizations offered handouts to the audience, most of which supported the argument that Jesus existed.

Horner argued that the Jewish community couldn’t have simply created the figure of Jesus because they were a monotheistic religion (believing in one god) in a world of polytheistic religions (believing in several gods), and they wouldn’t have wanted to touch “pagan views” by creating a character so similar to pagan deities.

Carrier then took the floor, noting that although his idea is not yet the mainstream go-to explanation, neither initially was the belief that Moses was a myth, which is now popularly believed. Carrier also commented on Jesus’ origins, stating that Jesus began as a celestial being rather than an earthly one. He went on to say that years later Jesus was fictionalized as an earthly man.

“[This] picture of Jesus then became the most successful among the competing varieties of Christianity … [and] preserved documents supporting their view, and very little supporting any other,” Carrier writes in his book, Questioning the Historicity of Jesus.

Horner and Carrier discussed the theory Carrier presented, Carrier arguing that because earlier cultures had very similar myths of deities performing miracles and being sacrificed and resurrected, it is probable Jesus was also a myth.

Horner argues that the existence of a god means the similarities between these myths are null and void. For example, the Egyptian god Osiris is said to have been cut up into several pieces and hidden, before later being resurrected — as opposed to Jesus having been crucified, buried, and then resurrected. Horner argues that the differences within each myth mean that we cannot judge one’s likelihood based on another’s.

Horner also questioned Carrier’s theory because of how young it is, as his book was only released in June of this year. However, Carrier defended his theory.

“[Just like with the theory about Moses], that is how change occurs,” said Carrier.

The debate ended with a 45-minute question period, and several members of the audience took the opportunity to engage in discussion with the two scholars.

Most of the questions were directed toward Carrier, often asking him to expand on his theories, explain his doubt of biblical stories, or further debate the arguments of the opposition.

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