My answer is “probably.” It is true that there aren’t any direct witnesses who wrote it down. That doesn’t mean the answer is no. It’s also true that there’s no hard evidence for him. There were people around recording events in the area like Philo of Alexandria. If there really was a Jew preaching to thousands and causing a stir at the Temple he would have noticed and recorded it.
The problem with the witnesses the Christians like to point to is pretty simple, they were all decades too late.
Josephus – Born 37 CE
Phlegon – Born about 80 CE
Tacitus – Born 56 CE
Pliny the Younger – Born 61 CE
Suetonious – Born about 69 CE
The Babylonian Talmud – 200CE
Lucian – Born 125 CE
Phlegon – 2nd century
It’s impossible to witness something that happened before you were born. None of them even actually claim they saw Jesus, so it was pointless anyhow. It just points out how desperate Christians are to find something that says they got anything right.
The problem with saying that Jesus wasn’t real should be pretty obvious however. These guys weren’t witnesses for Jesus. Heck, some of the references were probably hoaxes added in by Christians later. But they are pretty good sources that there were Christians in the first century. That’s close enough to say that there would have been people alive who would have known Jesus. So to me, it’s pretty hard to believe that there wasn’t a real Jesus. It’s a circumstantial case, but a damn good one.
Now I have no idea how close the story is. That leaves enough room to say that almost nothing you read about happened. Personally I doubt the entire crucifixion happened at all. I don’t know that it didn’t, but the stories are all over the place so I suspect that it didn’t.
This whole line is just a senseless distraction. I don’t see the point in bringing it up at all, even if you think this. It’s not a sure winner. It’s not something that’s easy to follow. It isn’t something that is helpful at all. But mostly, even guys like me think you are wrong. It poisons your case.
The only reason I might see to point it out is that this guy wasn’t impressive when he was alive. It’s pretty obvious that some of the story isn’t accurate or it would have been noticed. It does seem like this is just what you’d expect: A cult leader who’s fan club exaggerated things after his death and the whole thing got out of hand.
But I don’t even go there. It’s too complicated for the religious to follow.