Some people, but not very many, ask whether Jesus ever lived. Thomas L. Thompson, of the University of Copenhagen, is one of them.
At first, it seems to be a ridiculous question, but over time, as scholars find more and more of the New Testament to be late and legendary, this question is becoming increasingly difficult to answer.
Most of what we know about Jesus comes from four ancient theological biographies: the Gospels. Many secular scholars believe that the greater part of John’s gospel is fictional.a The other three Gospels are variations of but one original, the Gospel of Mark. As we analyze the narratives in Mark’s gospel and remove the legendary material, such as stories of Jesus’ Elisha-like feeding of thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes, the voice from heaven at his baptism, his Transfiguration, his cursing of a fig tree and so forth, not a great deal is left. Of what is left, some argue that Mark has contrived the itinerary of the disciples’ journeys with Jesus and the settings for their conversations, and that he has invented the scenes of Jesus’ encounters with various opponents in order to suit the purposes of his narrative. Academicians such as Burton Mack argue that most or all of Mark’s stories of Jesus’ trials and the events surrounding his execution were invented to accord with Hebrew Bible prophecy.