Do you remember that classic 1956 film Godzilla King of the Monsters starring Raymond Burr? Actually Raymond Burr wasn’t in the original Japanese version of the film. Burr was “edited in” to the film along with some ethnic Japanese actors filmed in a Hollywood studio. When you realize what’s happening, you see that Burr is really not part of the story.
Now, consider the story of 1st century Palestine. A history was written by the historian and Jewish apologist Josephus. It includes characters like John the Baptist and King Herod. Now the question is: was a fictional character named Jesus edited into history like Raymond Burr was edited into Godzilla?
If you look at Godzilla, the editing is pretty easy to spot. Burr has no effect on how the story turns out. Of course in the case of Jesus the Christian Church is the result, a significant event.
I think that there are some things in the Gospels that just don’t make sense if Jesus was not a real person. The phrase “can anything good come from Nazareth?” is one. The other is the story of the Baptism of Jesus, as told in each of the 4 Gospels. And today, the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, is a good day to consider it.
The Gospels were probably written in the order Mark, Matthew, Luke, John. Mark (as usual) has the simplest story: John the Baptist baptizes Jesus. Matthew has Jesus baptized only over John’s objections. Luke has Jesus baptized but we’re not sure by whom. And John has the story, but never actually mentions explicitly Jesus being baptized. This pulling away from the baptism story probably deals with a conflict between the disciples of Jesus and those of John. In a fictional account, there’s no reason to have a baptism in the first place and hence no need to “fix” the story. But this conflict and the embarassment of Jesus being baptized points to a real conflict and a real event.