Was Jesus Christ invented by the Council of Nicea?

quest
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Was Jesus Christ invented by the Council of Nicea?

What evidence is there that a cult existed that venerated Jesus of Nazareth as the son of God prior to the Council of Nicea? By evidence I mean in the scientific sense, not the historical sense. Copies of supposed earlier works do not count, we all know that "the victor writes the history books". References to a Jesus cult or a Christ cult do not count, there seem to have been numerous mystery cults around in the first and second centuries. I was reading of an ancient church being excavated in Nazareth that had a mosaic inscription which might be "evidence" if it can be positively dated. There should be ceremonial implements or grave inscriptions that can be dated pre-Nicea. I am not an historian so I really do not know if this evidence exists or not.

 

If Jesus is an invented figure it seems that we can trace the story back to Emperor Justinian and Eusibius. The Roman Empire was very sophisticated about religion by this time and certainly had the means, methods and motivation to invent a state religion. Evidence of a thriving cult that worshipped Jesus of Nazareth as Christ prior to the Council of Nicea would prove this Hypothesis incorrect.


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 Quote:What evidence is

 

Quote:
What evidence is there that a cult existed that venerated Jesus of Nazareth as the son of God prior to the Council of Nicea?

Well, the difficulty is in establishing that they were worshipping "Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God as told by the Gospel and/or Paul."  There were certainly pre-Christian and Christian cults before the council of Nicea, and Jesus was certainly the focus of worship for the Pauline churches that were established towards the middle or end of the first century CE.  The question is how widely distributed either extant version of Jesus was, and whether the two extant versions represent the only versions that existed.  There's considerable evidence that Paul was not referring to the Gospel Jesus in many or all of his letters, so it's quite possible that there were multiple cults worshipping different versions of the same figure.

If you want first editions of the epistles or gospels, you're going to run into trouble, but the burden of proof has pretty much been met.  Even Jesus mythicists are happy to concede that the Gospel(s) and Pauline epistles existed in the first century, and made reference to Jesus.

I should note that none of this has any particular bearing on whether there was or was not a man named Jesus who really lived.

 

 

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quest
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Jesus Myth

Of course a man named Jesus really lived. I have actually met several men named Jesus. The point it seems to me is where, when and how the "Myth" of Jesus was started. If there is evidence of Jesus of Nazareth being worshipped as the son of God before the Council of Nicea it would certainly shorten the timeline. This is a simple question, isn't it?

"Jesus was certainly the focus of worship for the Pauline churches that were established towards the middle or end of the first century CE". What were the Pauline churches and what is their evidence for existence during the first century?

 

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Hambydammit
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 Quote:Of course a man

 

Quote:
Of course a man named Jesus really lived. I have actually met several men named Jesus. The point it seems to me is where, when and how the "Myth" of Jesus was started. If there is evidence of Jesus of Nazareth being worshipped as the son of God before the Council of Nicea it would certainly shorten the timeline. This is a simple question, isn't it?

Dude, I'm not being evasive, nor am I trying to complicate things.  If you want more detailed answers to these questions, here are some blogs and posts to read:

Which Jesus: A Legend with a Multiple Personality Disorder?

Josephus and the Testimonium: Is it Evidence of Jesus?

Biblical Languages and Dating [Revised: February 2008]

Do The Gospels Contradict Each Other?

Hambydammit's Response to John Loftus

Hambydammit's Position on Jesus Historicity

Hambydammit's Debate (1) with James McGrath

Hambydammit's Debate (2) with James McGrath

More from RRS, in THIS THREAD:

Hambydammit wrote:
I don't call myself a Jesus mythicist even though I suspect that there was no historical Jesus.  As I explained to a friend of mine a few days ago, talking about historical figures is a real problem anyway since what we're really discussing is a narrative.  Put another way, we can talk about the Vietnam war, but someone will rightly contest that it was the Vietnam Conflict, not a war.  Was the U.S. the aggressor at Tonkin?  Does that mean we invaded Vietnam, or did we assist the faction of Vietnamese who wanted democracy instead of communism?  These are all questions of narrative, but in the objective universe, there was series of events that happened in Vietnam.  This is the problem of history.

 

As far as Jesus goes, I find the evidence to be rather skewed towards the Gospels as fiction and the Pauline epistles as either misinformed or misleading or both.  I don't believe Paul referred to James as the brother of Jesus.  I believe he referred to him as "a brother" in the same way that all early Christians were called "brothers in Christ."  Peter?  I dunno.  However, I can think of a few reasons why someone might lie about being related to god.

Nevertheless, this doesn't really even address the question of a historical Jesus.  It only addresses the question of the narrative.  When we ask if there was a historical Jesus, we must be very clear about what we mean:

1) Was there a real person in the objective universe who did everything exactly as portrayed in the Gospel(s)?  Certainly not.

2) Was the first gospel partially inspired by a living man?  Possibly, though there's not enough evidence to say with any likelihood.

3) Was there a significant person who really existed who preached a message similar to that of the Gospel Jesus in or around the area depicted in the Gospel?  Who knows!

The point is, a "historical Jesus" need not be particularly similar to the Gospel or Pauline Jesus.  Consider that Wonder Woman (the DC comic character) was based on her creator's wife.  William Marston admired his wife's ability to tell when people were lying, and loved her for her sense of justice and fairness.  When he created Wonder Woman, he exaggerated the very human quality of intuiting lies and essentially deified it, giving his character a magic lasso, and having her come from a magical island of goddesses.

Will future historians ever debate whether or not there was a historical Wonder Woman?  I doubt it, mostly because nobody will care.  If they did, however, there would be a real problem.  You see, there was a historical Wonder Woman, but only in the loosest sense.  There was someone who inspired the story to be written.  She didn't do anything of significance that was the same as in the comics, but it's highly likely that some real life events in the Marston household inspired certain episodes in the life of Wonder Woman, though the significance might only be in the mind of the writer.

So is Wonder Woman fiction?  Clearly.  Is Wonder Woman historical?  Clearly not.  Is there a "Historical Wonder Woman"?  It depends on what you mean by "historical."

Further quotes from me in the same thread:

Hambydammit wrote:
It's worse than that.  Suppose we find archeological evidence of a preacher in or around Palestine on or around the first of the millenium.  Suppose we find a record of him being executed by the Romans.  Suppose his name is similar enough to Jesus to suggest a connection.  Even if we found all of that, we would still not be sure we had a historical Jesus on our hands, and we would still have to argue over the narrative.  I feel certain that William Marston knew quite a few women, and I feel certain that some other women in his life inspired him to create narratives in his comic.  Does that make all of them the historical Wonder Woman?

If we found a historical figure like the Maybe-Jesus I just mentioned, that's all well and good, but what if there was someone else who really lived around that time who claimed to be the son of the one true god and predicted that the Romans would kill him for his preaching?  How are we to know that the author of the gospel didn't look at the first Maybe-Jesus and begin to write a fictional story, and then included the death prediction after learning of the second figure?  We just don't know.

The bottom line is that the Gospel is fiction whether it was intended to be or not.  I can't think of any good reason to suppose it was not intended as fiction, but we can't say for sure, so there you go.  The point is, there most certainly was not a man who did any of the miraculous things attributed to Jesus in the Gospel because miracles don't happen.  ANY figure whose life in any way inspired the Gospel can only be viewed as an inspiration for a fiction.  The intent of the writer is irrelevant.

So, historians can dicker all day about the historical Jesus, but in the end, they're arguing about narratives, not real people who existed in the objective universe.  It's as simple as that.

Quote:
"Jesus was certainly the focus of worship for the Pauline churches that were established towards the middle or end of the first century CE". What were the Pauline churches and what is their evidence for existence during the first century?

Though there is some debate as to the authorship of some of what are called the "Pauline Epistles," Paul himself meets pretty much all of the historical criteria for a real person.  We have multiple writings attributed to him which are consistent in style, consistent with the period, and consistent with independent corroborating sources.  We have early non-Jewish writers mentioning early Christians (though not necessarily by the name "Christians" ) and early Christian churches.  In short, we have plenty of attributable documents from before the Council of Nicea that indicate some kind of organized religion centered around at least one Jesus figure.

Was "Paul" a pen name?  Who knows.  Did someone write most of the Pauline epistles at or around the time they were allegedly written?  Almost certainly.  If you want to know more about this, you should read "Christianity before Christ" by John G. Jackson, and The Jesus Puzzle, by Earl Doherty.  They're two of the best books on the subject that I've read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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A man named Jesus, yah

A man named Jesus, yah of course. I am sure that the local illegal immigrant labor pool has several of them. Honestly though, I think that you are trying to get to the question of “the man” named Jesus. So you are throwing a bit of a red herring in your own thread.

 

So did he really exist? That would be hard to say. AFAIK, nobody has found prima facie evidence on that one. If you say that in the presence of Christians, they often cite Titus Flavius Josephus as an eyewitness. Mind you, he was born no earlier than 37CE and only made one passing mention that there was some guy named Jesus and that was in the context of really talking about his brother.

 

As far as when the first Christian cult formed, I will develop that presently but let me touch on something else in getting there. You made a couple of factual errors in your original post. Nothing horrible mind you but if you want to knock the theists around, it is best to remember that some of them will be familiar with the material and you certainly don't want to leave yourself open to an obvious rebuttal. So with all due respect:

 

Justinian called the Council of Chalcedon in 451CE.

 

Constantine called the First Council of Nicaea in 325CE.

 

Regarding the creation of the church from nothing coming before, the First Council of Nicaea was not it. It was called specifically because by this time, there were quite a few Christian cults and they did not have any general agreement on what it meant to be a Christian.

 

One example would be the Nag Hammadi library, which is believed to be an “alternative bible” of sorts that was at variance with what we know today. The actual texts have been dated to the third century but there is internal evidence that they were teranslations of older works that may date to as early as 80CE.

 

The people who believed that material (Gnostic Christians) believed that anyone had the potential to be as cool as Jesus given the special knowledge which he obviously had. Obviously, this is not good for a church that is trying to organize around holding it's adherents in fear and for the purpose of social control.

 

Now, if you want a cheap shot for dealing with fundies, the First Council of Nicaea is the soft white underbelly of Christianity. The fact is that in 324CE nobody at all believed that Jesus was both god and man at the same time. Some cults believed one and some cults believed the other.

 

So how can the two beliefs be reconciled? Well, the fact is that they voted on the matter. And to no great surprise, the vote was split. So the whole idea of the dual nature of Jesus was a compromise that amounted to an “agreement to disagree”.

 

When I have to deal with especially bilious fundies, I am given to ask them what the vote tally was. They never have an answer because that would require them to know about the inconsistencies of their own belief system.

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quest wrote:What evidence is

quest wrote:

What evidence is there that a cult existed that venerated Jesus of Nazareth as the son of God prior to the Council of Nicea?

That's a loaded question.  Was Jesus believed in by multiple sects of Christians before the Council of Nicaea?  Yes.  We have not only pre-nicene church fathers like Justoin Martyr and Tertullian, Origen, and others but attestation to Christian belief in Jesus as the son of God (and as God) by Pliny the Younger, Celsus, and Tacitus (and a small part of Suetonius' works on the Twelve Caesars).  We also have New Testament books which predate the Council of Nicaea.  Mark was probably (although not conclusively proven to have been) written around the end of the first century CE.  Even at its latest (revisionist) terminus ad quem, somewhere around 116 CE--the date prior to the latest terminus a quo of Matthew (who used Mark's Gospel to construct his own)--precedes the Council of Nicaea by just over 200 years.  That doesn't even take into account Luke's probable authorship around the time of Marcion (early-mid second century CE) who not only believed in Jesus as the son of God, but disputed the reliability of the Hebew Bible/Septuagint and its God, claiming Yahweh was a false God and Jesus was the son of the better, bigger God  (Such were the beliefs of Marcion if the heresiologists can be trusted, that is).  I haven't even gone into the Nag Hammadi Christian texts, most of which predate the Council of Nicaea.

So yes, there is plenty of attestation to the cult of Christianity that worshipped Jesus.

Quote:
By evidence I mean in the scientific sense, not the historical sense. Copies of supposed earlier works do not count, we all know that "the victor writes the history books".

That is a rather naive thing to say.  History is a science.  Just because it doesn't utilize what pop-culture has come to think of as test tubes, that does not make the methods any less scientific. 

It is additionally naive to assume that all that exists are manuscripts.  There are additional inscriptions, crosses, artifacts, etc...that correspond with Christian origins prior to the Council of Nicaea.  There are also polemics against Christians which still exist and were preserved, no by Christians but mainly by Muslims and Jews, which attest contemporaneously to Christianity and Christian teachings during the second-third centuries CE. 

Quote:
References to a Jesus cult or a Christ cult do not count, there seem to have been numerous mystery cults around in the first and second centuries.

Um...didn't you specifically just ask for evidence earlier for a cult that worshiped Jesus?  Now you want to discount that evidence?  Are you okay?

Quote:
I was reading of an ancient church being excavated in Nazareth that had a mosaic inscription which might be "evidence" if it can be positively dated.

I am more amused by this than annoyed.  The fact that you would believe pop-culture fiction (i.e. the mosaics in "Nazareth"--which date to the Middle Ages by the way...) than actual historical investigations into the history of Christianity (like secular scholars such as Bart Ehrman for example). 

Quote:
There should be ceremonial implements or grave inscriptions that can be dated pre-Nicea. I am not an historian so I really do not know if this evidence exists or not.

It does exist.  There are quite a few Roman sarcophagi that date to the third century CE (Council of Nicaea was in the fourth century - 325 CE) that depict passion narrative scenes with Jesus.  There are also third century catacomb paintings beneath the Appian Way in Italy (an old road that literally led to Rome and spanned the length from Rome to Northern Italy).

Quote:
If Jesus is an invented figure it seems that we can trace the story back to Emperor Justinian and Eusibius.

You're talking about a large span here.  (Your whole conclusion is rather flawed, but more on this in a moment)  Eusebius was a witness to the Council and was responsible for gathering the resources and materials to formulate the beginnings of what we know as the New Testament (although it took another couple hundred years, the Council of Trent in the middle ages, to establish a canon).  Justinian was the last Roman emperor, who lived a few generations after Eusebius (you're talking two centuries later here...in the sixth century...).  But lets ignore that for a moment.

But forget that for a moment.  Your premise is illogical to begin with.  Eusebius had to convert into something, and Constantine didn't create Christianity (remember, he was trying to unify Christianity to stop his empire from falling apart).  So even without much thought, you have to conclude that Christianity existed prior to the Council of Nicaea (which was where Christianity became unified, for a short time anyway, under the supervision of Constantine). 

Quote:
The Roman Empire was very sophisticated about religion by this time and certainly had the means, methods and motivation to invent a state religion.

Errr...it already had one.  It didn't need to invent a new one.  *sigh*  Who is filling your head with these preposterous ideas?  Put down the magazines and turn off the History Channel...and go to a library, stat!

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Constantine and Eusebius

I incorrectly refered to Emperor Justinian when I actually was meaning to refer to Constantine. Sorry about that.

 

The third century sarcophogi and catacomb paintings are the type of evidence I would like to learn about. The Nag Hammadi text is interesting also. I looked at the Nag Hammadi Library website but I did not see anything about the dates the texts were written. The trouble with most written works is that the text was copied at a much later date and we do not have the originals. I have to admit that I do not trust historical analysis as much as I trust carbon dating. It seems like there is a great deal of debate about the veracity of every early historical account of the Christians that I have come across so far. That is why I am looking specifically for references to Jesus of Nazareth as Christ the son of God. Those are the elements of the Jesus Myth. Parts and pieces of the myth are not the same as the whole package. If the myth was a construct it would almost surely have been pieced together from parts that were already at hand. The state religion of Rome was emperor worship at the time of Constantine. This really did not work too well as there were about four different emperors at once and they were being replaced about every other year. Or are my "pop-culture" sources wrong about that too? Let me be the first to admit that I am no expert on these matters. That is why I am posting here. You must realize how hard it is for an amateur to wade through the mountains of information on this subject.

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 Quest, do you know much

 Quest, do you know much about evolution?  If you do, a careful study of phylogeny would help you feel more comfortable about history.  There are a lot of very scientifically accurate clues in various texts that lead directly to certain places and times, in the same way that a certain allele leads to a particular place in genetic history.

As a crude example, suppose there was a monastery that used a particular kind of ink that contained trace elements of some substance or other during a known period of history.  If we find a copy of the Gospel that is certainly from that monastery, and it has a certain error in it, and then we find another later copy from some other locale, and it has exactly the same error, we can be pretty damn certain that it was copied from the monastery.  Given the number of words in the gospel, the odds of the exact same error occurring are astonishingly bad.  If there are other corroborating data, we can establish a firm chain between the two locales.  When we get all the extant copies of the gospel together, we can create a tree, much like a phylogenic tree, tracing large groups of copies to common "ancestors."  With so many extant copies from early Christendom, we can be really, really certain of our findings.

 

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quest wrote:The state

quest wrote:
The state religion of Rome was emperor worship at the time of Constantine. This really did not work too well as there were about four different emperors at once and they were being replaced about every other year. Or are my "pop-culture" sources wrong about that too?

In a word: yes.

Listen, oversimplifying things until they no longer resemble what you're talking about is in essence a logical fallacy, an error in thinking that is neither critical nor rational. You're also jogging very close to confirmation bias as well, but you haven't leapt headlong into that chasm (yet).

The development of Christianity from an off-shoot sect to a Roman cult to a more organized religion in the Fourth century was a long, rather organic, and non-linear process. Nicea was a climax to this process, though it turned out being more of a cycle that created off-shoots of its own. I think you're being a bit hard on Constantine in your summaries-- he was a strong leader (though not necessarily a "good" one) who found something that worked and rode it all the way until his death. As was already posted, some people thought Jesus was a man, some people thought he was a god, and some people thought he figured out how to be both. Nicea took all those people and set them with the task of reconciling the differences in their beliefs.

And it would have worked, too, if it hadn't been for those pesky teenagers and that dog...


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When people talk history the

When people talk history the one thing I seem to see constantly getting lost in all this is human nature. Sure you can "trace" artifacts and people to certain dates. But Occham's razor simpfies human nature without getting caught up in detail.

Some human took a drawing tool at one point and drew a circle, later humans took tools and turned stone into wheels and then chisled wood to make wheels, then others, then others took metal and made wheels and then others added frames and made carts, then others added engines and made cars. ALL HAVE WHEELS.

So when people argue over which was the first Jesus cult, is silly and irrelivent to me, because the "chosen people" motif was arround even longer that the first written tradition.

Jesus was just another claim(maybe based on a real cult or real person) but still simply another claim of people who thought their hero was going to save them by commiting this act(incert different story here)

"My god(s) will save my(the chosen) people if I sacrifice this girl to this volcano"

"My god(s) will save my(the chosen)people if I sacrifice this dead fish to the ocean"

"My god(s) will save my(the chosen) people if I sacrifice this goat to this fire"

"Well the details are different" is the common mantra of every person of every label in human history, "That makes it original".

That is like saying because your Lamborginni is red, you invented the first wheel.

So when people harp on "history" I say understanding human nature is far more important and that humans will and usually do what they always have done. Inventing claims is nothing new and copying borrowing and incorperating and steeling old motifs into new product is nothing new and quite common in human behavior. Which is why both Coke and Pepsi both have Cherry flavored sodas.

 

 

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Oh, and I wanted to point

Oh, and I wanted to point out earlier:

History (historical study and documentation) is not a hard science. History is the practice of utilizing several hard sciences as well as some softer ones in order to examine and evaluate what has gone on in the past. Anyone using the "history is written by the victors" line as a reason to dismiss, discount, or marginalize historical study is displaying their own lack of understanding of the field of history in the first place. People who study history already take that as a given-- it colors every reading of old documents, every study of oral histories passed on. To the historian, assertions without context or evidence or a wealth of follow-up data don't tend to last very long in the field, and wind up taking their own place as data supporting the fallibility of our own memories and the reason we have historical study in the first place. In the context of this thread historical study doesn't rely on the tale told by the winners, it's more cognizant of the thousands of losers we know of and the possible thousands of others we only know a little about-- I'll reiterate what Rook said about looking int Ehrman for some insight into such people, as he's done extensive study on these groups.

Oh, and:

quest wrote:
The Roman Empire was very sophisticated about religion by this time and certainly had the means, methods and motivation to invent a state religion.

This isn't CSI or some other cop-show. Searching for an indictment will lead you nowhere but the land of conspiracy theories. Keep that in mind and let that really sink in as you look toward the stories of our past.