Did Jesus Exist?  Hermeneutics For Middle School Kids

A long time ago in Germany, which was always an important place for ideas, the thinkers made a distinction between the natural sciences and the human sciences.  The natural sciences were thought to produce the most exact knowledge (like physics), while the human sciences like the study of literature were more about interpretation.  Since then the human sciences have been jealous of the respect the natural sciences get.

So, the human sciences became jealous of the natural sciences and wanted to become more like them.  They focused on what was “math like” in them.  Some historians thought that they could show Jesus “probably (math)” didn’t exist, with ideas like this: If we put all the names of figures who were as heavily mythologized as Jesus into a hat, the likelihood of pulling the name of a historical figure out of the hat is 1/3.”  So, such historians said based on these kinds of ideas there is only a 1/3 chance Jesus existed.  So who was Jesus?  These mythicist historians say Jesus was originally thought to be a mythological figure who was never on earth, but was later put in earthly stories like Hercules.  Jesus was thought to be a space being crucified in outer space by sky demons.  So, are they right?  Did Jesus Exist?

In doing history, we are mainly doing hermeneutics, which means strategies for interpretation.  Some of our earliest New Testament bible documents are the letters of Paul, which inspired the first gospel: the gospel of Mark.  What was Paul most known for?  His success at spreading the message of the cross of Christ to the pagans.  And in fact, we see a tribute to this success with the pagans of Paul in Mark when the soldier looks up at the crucified Jesus and says “Truly this is the son of God,” and similarly in the Gospel of Luke the soldier says “Truly this is an innocent man.”  What is going on here?  The New Testament writers are saying when a society wrongfully puts a good person to death, it uncovers our hidden faults and is an opportunity for ethical growth.  Sound familiar?  This is how Plato interpreted the death of Socrates.  And it worked, because society no longer executes people like Socrates for being a what Plato called a gadfly/nuisance.  In other words, we can conclude Jesus existed on earth because how does an outer space Jesus who was never on earth and killed by sky demons un-cover my guilt and inspire repentance?!

Where did these mythicist Jesus mathematic historians go wrong?  While there is math (quantitative) in history (finding out what “probably” happened), the main task is a hermeneutic/interpretive (qualitative) one.  In the mathematical example I gave earlier in support of the outer space Jesus model, this is actually a type of hermeneutic reasoning mistake called a “type fallacy,” and is very common in interpreting literature and history.  Why?  While the “hat” thought experiment tells us the likelihood that Jesus existed is 1/3, if we look at it a different way and say the lens of looking at Jesus is figures around that time who claimed to be the messiah, all of those were 100% historical figures.  So, doing historical thinking in this “type fallacy” way is an error, or what we would call a “typology fallacy” if we want to sound impressive!

Question: How would you demonstrate King Arthur probably did, or didn’t, exist?