Nothing we know about Jesus can be confirmed.
When we try to build up a picture of the ‘Historical Jesus’ in comparison to the ‘Christ of Faith’, we aren’t left with much information. To begin with, it is widely accepted that the gospel accounts weren’t written until decades after the death of Jesus, and they weren’t written by eyewitnesses, nor do they claim to be. The earliest Christian writings are by Paul, and he doesn’t provide us with any biographical information about a Jesus figure that had lived recently. The large majority of Paul’s writings refer to a Christ, a god, who created the world, and will judge it. No details are given of his family, ministry or miracles. The closest Paul comes to anything closely biographical is the mention of the one who betrayed him, which doesn't even necessitate an earthly event.
With that said, if we look at the gospels themselves, the authors of which may or may not have been influenced by the teachings of Paul, we don’t arrive at a coherent picture of who this Jesus person really was. Mark (the earliest) contains no information about the early years of Jesus’ life, we have to rely on Matthew and Luke for that, and they can’t agree on anything: the year he was born, the ruler he was born under, his genealogy and so on. If you find a detail mentioned in Matthew or Luke about the early years of Jesus, chances are, the other gospel says something different. Even if one of them provided us with an accurate picture of Jesus, we can’t tell 2000 years down the line which one is actually true.
To compound the problem even further, the synoptic gospels can barely agree on anything Jesus said or did. Even Matthew, who based his work heavily on Mark, diverges significantly from him on many issues. Names are changed, the order of events is changed, some events are left out, words are changed. These things aren’t even significant discrepancies, and are common types of variations in folklore. The biggest problem that we face in my opinion is that there is no real biographical information. He performed miracles, rose from the dead, had a suspicious number of close followers. His name suspiciously means "Yahweh delivers". There are quite frankly, a lot of things that just do not add up. Don't even get started on the gospel we call John, that thing is in a league of its own in terms of contradictory ideas.
On top of the lack of viable information we have about him, there is a lack of credible historical evidence he even existed in the first place! No contemporary sources even mention him, and the later historians merely mention the beliefs of Christians at the time. Considering Paul had written earlier than these historians, this is not a problem. When it comes to the Jewish Historian Josephus, who wrote extensively about Pontius Pilate, isn’t it suspicious that a later Christian scribe felt the need to interpolate a passage about Jesus into Josephus? If Jesus had existed, surely he would have garnered the attention of Romans and Jews at the time, enough to justify a mention in Josephus? (there is another passage that mentions "the brother of Jesus", but that has most likely been doctored by Christian scribes also, to include the words "was called Christ")
The stories in the gospels place Jesus reading scrolls, and have him making acquaintances with people such as tax collectors, along with what would now be working class people. So amongst his greatly diverse crowd of followers, there would surely be a handful who were educated and literate, and he was obviously literate himself (according to the stories anyway). So why then, if he was literate, and many of his followers were too, do we not have any accounts written by any of them? This is really an intriguing piece of the puzzle. How are we to determine what is actually historical about Jesus, and who he was as a person if we don’t have any firsthand accounts? All of the writings we have are either hearsay, or are merely inventions of the author. Take Paul for example, he says that much of what he teaches comes from his own personal revelation. Why should we take his word for any of it, considering he never even met Jesus?
If you think that the gospels are a legitimate source of historical information about Jesus, and think that the evidence provided by them is better than for other figures, whose existence we take for granted, such as Julius Caesar, I have a few things to say. Firstly, the evidence we have for many figures in antiquity are actually recorded in the works of historians. Regardless of how objective these historians were about the details of the lives of their subjects, this was their job. They wrote down historical works. As I mentioned before, the prolific first century Jewish historian Josephus doesn’t mention Jesus. The mention he gets was certainly added by a later Christian scribe, who was likely perturbed by the fact that Josephus didn’t acknowledge Jesus’ existence. On the other hand, the writers of the Gospel accounts are for the most part, anonymous. The only one we have some idea of who wrote it is Luke, who was supposedly a follower of Paul. Beyond this, we really have no information about them. We have no idea whether they wrote anything else beyond what is contained in the New Testament.
I actually am of the opinion that there was a historical Jesus to start off a movement that eventually led to the creation of what we now know as Christianity. I do not think however that we can really know anything about what he said and did. This is because many aspects of his life are not original, and were essential parts of the mythical stories of various other dying and rising gods and their associated cults. The miracle of turning water into wine for example, sounds remarkably like something Dionysus the Greek god of wine would have done. Dying and coming back to life? That story had been going around the region for centuries! Osiris, Horus and many others for example. Having a divine conception? Herakles had been there and done that hundreds of years before! Don’t even get me started on a god being in human form! That was part of virtually every single one of these myths.
Many details contained in the gospel accounts are not only contradictory, but absurd, take for example the earthquakes and darkness that supposedly happened when Jesus died. This isn’t recorded anywhere besides the (one or two) gospels. It isn’t exactly an un-noticeable event. Another example is the dead rising and walking through Jerusalem. This isn’t recorded anywhere but the book of Matthew. Then we have the star hovering above Bethlehem that apparently wasn’t noticed by anyone but the three wise Arabic men. None of these events are attested in ANY historical accounts, and they even defy common sense. A star in the sky cannot point you to a specific location. You may walk in an around-about direction, but you certainly aren’t going to end up at a small village in the middle of the Judean hill country.
There have been attempts to try and separate the fact from fiction in the gospels, to find the actual historical Jesus, but in my opinion, these events are wholly futile. The best we can do is to distinguish the elaborate fiction from the plausible. Jesus may have lived, been a teacher, the son of a carpenter, executed for heresy and had a following, but we certainly cannot say from the evidence we have that he was god incarnate, rose from the dead, performed miracles, atoned for the sins of the world, ascended into heaven or was born of a virgin. The historical Jesus is simply unverifiable, the evidence is scant and unreliable, much evidence in fact attests to a reality contrary to that of the gospels. So was there a historical Jesus? I think there probably was, but I do not think for one second that we can know anything about him, not even his real name.
'Misquoting Jesus' - Bart Ehrman
'The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man' - Robert M. Price
'The Mythmaker' - Hyam Maccoby
Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to AhistoricityHistoricity of Jesus FAQ
The Testimonium Flavianum
Who Was the Historical Jesus?