Excerpts from a very interesting article on Debunking Christianity blog:
“I propose Jesus of Nazareth was a person of scant importance from a village of no importance, a man of humble beginnings who achieved a brief regional reputation as an apocalyptic preacher who established his bona fides by wonder working. He became a disciple of John the Baptist, and like John he drew excited crowds as well as the surveillance of the Jewish authorities.42 At Passover he went to Jerusalem, raised a ruckus in a religiously explosive atmosphere, and being marked as a troublemaker, got himself arrested, handed over to the Romans and executed. Basically that simple.”
“It is important to remember that at rock bottom, ancient Christians and pagans shared an essential belief: spirits pulling the wires behind the scenes control the visible world.”
“The pagan polemicist Celsus, writing about 180 CE, knew that Jesus had been accused of sorcery: “After being brought up in obscurity, he hired himself out in Egypt and having become experienced in certain magical arts, he made his way back and on account of those powers proclaimed himself a god.”23 Celsus concluded that Jesus was merely “a worthless sorcerer, hated by God.”24
Fritz Graf: “…those who accused Jesus of being a magician (they were not few among the pagans) argued that he, after all, had spent part of his youth in the homeland of magic, after the escape from Palestine.”25 It is likely that Matthew’s infancy story, which connects Jesus both with magicians and Egypt,26 reflects past and current accusations that Jesus practiced magic and sought to disarm by explaining Jesus’ association with Egypt as circumstantial and not the true source of his amazing powers—“…the story of the flight to Egypt (Matt. 2:13-15), which [Matthew] strains to relate to an Old Testament prophecy…is perhaps a response to the Talmudic charge that Jesus had learned magic and sorcery in Egypt.”27
Although the reason may ultimately remain a matter of speculation, exorcism is remarkable for its absence in the gospel of John. Plumer has suggested that charges of sorcery resulted in the omission of this key form of miracle,28 and while questioning that conclusion, Piper admits that “control over spirits …leaves Jesus himself sometimes open to suspicion and accusation” and concedes that “persons who had the capacity to perform exorcisms or control spirits in other ways were quite liable to be suspected of sorcery.”29
Perhaps Celsus had the answer all along. The charge of sorcery spurred Origen into a frenzy of writing, pouring out page after page in his attempt to disprove it. It seems likely that the accusation of sorcery, which originated during Jesus’ own career, motivated the gospel writers to substantially alter the primitive tradition. Leaving aside the facticity of miracles generally, it is abundantly clear that the people of the New Testament believed demons were real, that magic was real, and that exorcists were casting out real entities. The controversy over Jesus’ powers, as well as the defensive posture assumed by the later gospel writers in the face of accusations that Jesus practiced magic, cohere perfectly with what we know of the era from multiple sources. While all this does not and cannot prove the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, it is completely consistent with what we know about similar figures from antiquity such as Apollonius of Tyana, widely conceded to have been a real person.”
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