Joseph Francis Alward
The first gospel stories were written about 40 years1 after "Jesus" allegedly was crucified and resurrected. Skeptics argue that these stories are mythical, while believers claim that if the stories had been false, religious groups that would have been threatened by the Christian movement would have refuted the stories. Only 40 years after Jesus allegedly had walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee working miracles, there would have still been many alive who could have testified against the gospels, if they were untrue, they say. The believers argue that the reason the gospel stories went unchallenged in that time was that the stories could not be refuted, because they were true.
The fallacy in this argument lies in what is known as "begging the question," which essentially is assuming to be true the very thing that is in contention. In this case, it's assuming that it's true that the Jesus stories were in wide circulation 40 years after Jesus' alleged crucifixion and resurrection (about 33 AD), and that there was a significant Christian movement, and that therefore the stories and the movement were a threat to other religious groups. However, there is zero evidence from that time that anyone, anywhere, had heard of the "miracles" the gospel writers attributed to Jesus. Not one single historian during those forty years after Jesus allegedly had died made any mention of this person or his miracles.
Josephus, the most important Jewish historian of that era (37-100 AD), had virtually nothing of consequence to say about Jesus, and mentioned not so much as a single one of Jesus' alleged "miracles." If he had heard that someone had once fed four thousand persons with just a handful of bread and fish, and later repeated the "miracle" with five thousands persons, this leading historian surely would have mentioned it. The same is true about the stories of a "Jesus" turning water into wine, curing a demoniac, expelling demons from pigs, walking on water, healing the leper, curing the blind man, and raising the dead.
Hopeful Christians sometimes attribute Josephus' failure to mention the Jesus miracles to his disbelief; he wouldn't have reported events he believed were fictional, they say. However, even if Josephus didn't really believe the stories, and therefore regarded them as fantastic, he would have seen it to be his duty as a historian to report the fantastic tales accepted as truth by large numbers of people, if such really were the case.
The fact that Josephus and every other historian had nothing to say about these alleged miracles is almost certain proof that the gospel stories were not widespread enough to warrant even a passing reference to them in the historical accounts of that time. And, it wasn't just the Jesus miracle stories that were overlooked.
If one can believe the account in the gospel of Matthew, King Herod ordered the murder of all of the young boys in Bethlehem and its surroundings4, but yet neither Josephus nor any other historian mentioned a word of it. Nor did the historians mention the sensational story the gospel writers tell of John the Baptist's head being brought to the banquet table on a platter.5 How could they not have been aware of these remarkable events, unless they never happened?
Why, then, did no religious group during the time the gospel stories allegedly were "widespread" circulation rise up to challenge them? The answer seems simple: Few people beyond the writers who made up the stories were aware of them.
1. The first gospel is believed to have been written by Mark around 70-80 AD, about 40 years after Jesus allegedly was crucified and resurrected. The remaining gospels by Matthew, Luke, and John, were written sometime between 75-120 AD.