Why are atheists more skeptical about Jesus than they are about Alexander the Great?

The earliest biography of Alexander the Great was written 400 years after his death.

The earliest account of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15) was written within 5 years of Jesus’ death. The earliest gospel, Mark, was written about 30 years after Jesus’ death . And the earliest non-Christian source, Josephus, wrote about Jesus about 70 years after his death.

I’ve never come across people who claim Alexandra the Great didn’t exist or that the basic facts we know about him are invalid. Why are atheists more skeptical about the Christian account of Jesus’ life than they are about the way history books describe the career of Alexander the Great?

Posted: October 25th 2007

jonecc www

Contrary to the questioner’s bizarre claims, there is a great deal of historical controversy surrounding Alexander the Great.

But the basic facts are clear. There is for instance archaeological evidence for the burning of the palace at Persepolis. More importantly, his conquests left dynasties in his wake. The dynasty of Ptolemy, for instance, continued to rule Egypt up to the time of Cleopatra. This period is known as the Hellenistic Era.

For Jesus, on the other hand, there is no conclusive evidence to back the literal interpretation of the Bible. For instance, the story that after the crucifixion the dead rose up and walked through the streets of Jerusalem (Matthew 27:53) is backed up by no external commentator. One might have thought that for dead 'saints’ to stalk the streets of a major city of the Roman Empire would have excited some comment.

The text we are supposed to have received from Josephus is now known to have been edited in later centuries, and scholars are divided as to whether Josephus actually wrote about him at all.

The difference between Jesus and Alexander is that Jesus is a historically trivial figure, whose actual life affected his world in small ways if indeed he existed at all. Had Jesus worship not emerged from a pack of competing religions in the fourth century, he would not today be remembered. Alexander, on the other hand, commanded tens of thousands of men, and conquered an Empire stretching from Corfu to Karachi. It is hardly surprising if his real historical legacy looms rather larger.

Incidentally, according to some sources he also claimed to be the son of God, or at least the son of a God. Whilst at Siwa, Egyptian priests are supposed to have told him he was the son of Amun.

And one piece of evidence for Alexander can be found in the Book of Daniel. In Chapter 8, one of the usual tedious metaphors is, unusually, explained. It describes a Greek king, and Biblical apologists like to claim that it refers to Alexander.

Stephen Jay Gould school claimed that religion and scholarship occupied separate, non-overlapping worlds. I don’t agree with this view, but it would help the case for it if religious buttinskis didn’t keep shoving their noses into subjects they clearly aren’t qualified to discuss.

Posted: October 29th 2007

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flagellant www

I’m not sure that I agree with your premises and I note that you limit the comparison with writing about Alexander to his 'earliest biography’. Where’s the equivalent biography of Jesus? I wouldn’t call any of the Gospels, nor Paul’s writings, 'biographies’. Comparatively little is known about Jesus – far less than about Alexander, for example. The large gaps in knowledge have led to speculation of the sort in The Da Vinci Code. Further, it’s not just that Jesus is badly-documented, even if he is; it’s more the unbelievable stuff that’s associated with him.

Alexander the Great was never said to be born of a virgin and to be the 'Son of God’. Nor was he part of an incomprehensible package called 'The Trinity’. Nor did he die and come alive again. Nor did he ascend bodily into the air (heaven?)...

However, Alexander the Great and his conquests are well-documented. Documentation about him, from all over the ancient World, has been used in later biographies. Oxford’s Bodleian Library Catalogue lists more than forty biographies and there are more than a hundred books, as far as I can judge, entirely about him, e.g. about his different campaigns. We even know about his sex life!

Had you phrased the query more even-handedly, you would have said 'We know as much about Jesus as about Alexander the Great’, to which the simple answer would have been 'Rubbish!’

Posted: October 28th 2007

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John Sargeant www

I am skeptical about the supposed events surrounding Jesus. I doubt very much he fed thousands of people from a single basket; that he literally turned the molecules of water into wine, and that three days after being murdered he rose from the dead. And other supernatural things.

Paul, the first accounts of Jesus in the New Testament, makes no mention of these miracles. That and the differing accounts about Jesus are for me more telling – if he existed he was a man. As such we can judge his philosophy as one.

Whether Jesus lived or not is not so important to me. I just do not find the evidence for him being the son of god, or god in the flesh convincing.

Richard Burton’s performance as Alexander the Great (if anyone had the voice of a god he did) was convincing – and the artifacts and monuments dotted around the world he conquered, and the historical record suggests that individual existed. But I would doubt any supposed supernatural claims about him being the son of god. Alexander that is.

Posted: October 28th 2007

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