Who is the Best Candidate for Starting the Jesus Movement?
Even though I think the Christian faith is delusional, I think an apocalyptic prophet named Jesus existed in the first century Palestine who was the founder of the Jesus cult. That’s all he was and nothing more.
I think pure historical studies cannot prove whether Jesus actually existed or not. That someone existed in the past doesn’t mean we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did. That someone did not exist in past does not mean we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he didn’t.
I’ve read the relevant passages in Tacitus (64 AD), Pliny (112 AD), Suetonious (49 AD), Rabbi Eliezer (post 70 AD), the Benediction Twelve (post 70 AD), Josephus (post 70 AD). I’ve read the Christian inscription in Pompeii , too (79 AD). I understand the debates about them. But even a cultic group tradition is based upon something. The majority scholarly consensus is the two-source theory of synoptic gospel tradition (Q and Mark) that predate the Gospels, and that we have early creeds inside Paul's writings (I Cor. 8:6; 12:3; 15:3-4; Galatians 4:4-5; I Tim. 3:16) that predate his letters. There is also a close connection between the New Testament era with the early church fathers like John the elder, Polycarp, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and others. We have to date these texts, no doubt, and some of them may indeed be late, and some were forgeries. But they still offer some kind of early testimony to the historicity of a man called Jesus. I just don’t see why we must discount the various independent writers of the New Testament itself on the historicity of Jesus. Why, for instance, should we not believe anything at all in the New Testament unless there is independent confirmation from outside sources?
I could be wrong. But here is why I think I’m right. Passionate cult-like religious groups are almost always started by a cultic charismatic figure especially a doomsday prophet, not an author, and not a committee. It’s almost always a single charismatic leader that gathers passionate religious people together. So who is the most likely candidate for starting the Jesus cult? Jesus himself is, although Paul certainly was the man most responsible for spreading what he believed about his story. And even though Paul never met Jesus and only had a vision of him on the Damascus Road (Acts 26:19), his testimony is that there were already believers whom he was persecuting in Palestine in the first century. So by Paul's own testimony he was not that charismatic person.