Jesus, most scholars agree, existed–in the sense that Yeshua the Nazarene wandered around, said some of the things attributed to him; Jesus made an impression, locally; drew some followers, was crucified. (As for what he really said, see, the “Book of Q” for some sayings they feel certain of, and see also, in my opinion, the Gospel of Thomas.) Jesus made an impression, locally; drew some followers, was crucified. He may not have died during crucifixion, according to one story, which is more believable than resurrection–he simply looked dead. The Bible, as I recall, does say they got permission to take “his body down early”. But dead on the cross or not, he was likely just a “wisdom teacher” of the time, perhaps a bit mad, in some ways, but brilliant, quite possibly a genius. And well meaning. He was likely not nearly so apocalyptic in his oracular sayings as later evangelists, pissed off at their persecutors, liked to make him out. And it is those later evangelists we can likely blame for the fabrication of most of the fantastic elements of the Jesus mythology.
I believe Jesus was likely more of an Essene-flavored gnostic than a teacher of what people now think of as Christianity, and likely never claimed he was the son of God. He called himself the son of man. He seems to have had deep insights into man’s nature, a philosophy of life that was rather like Lao Tzu, and not far from Buddha, and may have had enlightenment experiences.
He did believe, apparently, that he had a divinely ordained mission. He may well have been the bastard son of a Roman soldier, whom Mary explained as a miraculous birth. Joseph had to tolerate him but probably never accepted him as his own child, leading to Jesus having a neurotic attachment to his “divine father”, a projection on the supposed father of the universe, the only one he could psychologically accept.
Jesus seemed to like children, the poor and oppressed–and Mary Magdalen. A gnostic text mentions him kissing her on the mouth and in another he defends her worthiness to his male followers.
Jesus was called “the annointed” by his followers–that is, Cristos–and the Romans (Tacitus) record him as having been executed for insurrection. “…Christus, from whom the name [Christian] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…”
Sometime after the execution of Jesus, elderly Jewish writers rolled their eyes at the recollections of him, saying they remembered him well, as a “sorceror”, a trickster, and the bastard son of a Roman soldier named Pantera. Essentially saying: “Him? We remember, already–he was a schmuck!” (Okay, so I’m paraphrasing).
There are two references to him found in some versions of “Antiquities”, attributed to the Jewish historian Josephus, but the more enthusiastic one was clearly interpolated–an out and out fraud, simply inserted in the text–by a later Christian copyist.
However there was one text, likely authentic, attributed to Josephus, that has the ring of authenticity:
“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous.”