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Is there any record of when people started to give the idea that Jesus never existed? Is this a 19th - 21th century phenomena, or did it arise earlier?

I frequently meet people that say Jesus never existed and at best they pull forth Josephus as an argument to back up their standpoint. A lot of people also argue that Jesus was a common name and it was likely a collection of fantasy stories and myths about a lot of people of the time, etc., etc.

So, again, I'm not after contemporary or other sources mentioning Jesus, but wondered when the denial of Jesus as a historical person came about. Is there for example a specific historical person, work or society that is seen as a milestone for this etc?

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The 'Christ myth theory' Wikipedia page actually provides quite an in-depth exposition on the development of the concept Jesus wasn't a historical person:

The beginnings of the formal denial of the existence of Jesus can be traced to late 18th century France, and the works of Constantin François Chassebœuf de Volney (1757–1820) and Charles-François Dupuis (1742–1809). Volney and Dupuis argued that Christianity was an amalgamation of various ancient mythologies and that Jesus was a totally mythical character.

Later still...

In 1835, German theologian David Friedrich Strauß (1808–1874) published his extremely controversial The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined (Das Leben Jesu). While not denying that Jesus existed, he did argue that the miracles in the New Testament were mythical retellings of normal events as supernatural happenings.

Finally...

German Bruno Bauer (1809–1882), who taught at the University of Bonn, took Strauss' arguments further and became the first author to systematically argue that Jesus did not exist.

A key component of the theory is the supposition that the new testament texts are utterly useless in providing any accurate historical data regarding 'the person of Jesus of Nazareth'.

However, most scholars today, even those with a critical view of the new testament, agree that Jesus certainly existed and made some manner of impact on the religious-political scene of first-century Judea. His crucifixion during the governorship of Pilate is a historical fact taken for granted, and his baptism by John is usually admitted even by those who criticize the reliability of the new testament in its depiction of historical events.

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Great. Was not aware of that name or page. It is surely a topic where a lot of people have a meaning. –  user129107 May 15 '14 at 23:32
    
Lovely answer. Straight and to the point and taught me something. Thank you. –  gideon marx May 17 '14 at 9:55

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