The Hopeless Romantic's post "Did the ridiculous question ever truly exist?" required a bit more of an answer than a comment would allow...

Mahayana (Zen) Buddhists have never made a big deal about the historical existence of the Buddha. Robert Aitken Roshi summed it up when he said, "Even if it could be proven today beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Buddha never existed, his story would still be our guide."

Some Christians have always run into trouble because of their insistence on the bible as a literal, historically accurate document. With very little effort one can point to numerous inaccuracies and logic flaws in both testaments, but the same can be said of most books of scripture. It is only because Christians insist that the bible (and ONLY the bible) is true and infallible, that they have always invited critique. If only they would take the sane route Clay has suggested, and view the bible as a hagiography and not a biography, none of this angst would be necessary.

In answer to the question posed by your title, however, there IS room for doubt that Yeshua ben Pantera existed, and the debate has raged for centuries. Most scholars today accept his existence as valid, based on the the few references we have from that era. In addition to Christian and Rabbinic sources, a few secular documents from the period following his death (64-100AD) make mention of him, most notably writings by Tacitus and Flavius Josephus. There is also a letter from Justin Martyr to Emperor Antonius Pius, written in 150AD, that mentions a now lost text called "The Acts of Pilate." Supposedly, the Acts were an offical Roman document that detailed the activities of Pontius Pilate, and thus would contain anything of note - like the squelching of the rebellious preaching of Jesus. There is a text that bears the same title, but it is an acknowledged forgery dating from the 4th century - evidence that there has been a controversy over the existence of Jesus for at least that long.

I'm sure this film will catch all sorts of crap from the Christian community, and make millions because of it... it is to be expected, after the success of Mel Gibson's revolting little snub film about the crucifixion. But like "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Godspell", "The Last Temptation of Christ", and "Life of Brian" before it, this too shall pass. For people who believe so firmly in the eternal nature of the teachings of Jesus, some Christians sure do get worked up about the ephemeral.

I don't know if I would go as far as Clay in saying that "Religion, ethics and morals are always good...". One can certainly point to numerous historical examples of religions being REALLY bad for the folks who didn't go along with them. In the OT there are several passages where God incites the Jews to war on other peoples; the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch trials, and the Jihad we are currently facing in the Middle East also spring to mind. I think it might be more accurate to say that the ideas behind these religions are good, but as he pointed out, the people are often not.

(By the way, according to the South Park website, the episode for this week is "All about Mormons." Saturday, 10PM/9C, on Comedy Central.)


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