I’m always a sucker for some historical discussion of mythological beings. Are they or aren’t they real? Yes, to both questions. I’m willing to go along with this based on existing historical knowledge even though it is very thin, indeed, as some actual Jesus person in the role later defined and deified.
Having taught world history for some twenty years, a long time ago now, I had to deal with traumatized, young students, who had managed to avoid being told that the Garden of Eden was a myth and not everyone thinks that Jesus was a god. I could give them the olive branch that Jesus was probably a person or a composite who impressed people at the time. But that is about all you can say and it is a reach given the near complete absence of evidence that was not clearly biased.
And much of the assumptions for evidence was based on complex issues of Aramaic versus Greek of the day not to mention the heated world of 1st century eastern Mediterranean politics, it is hard to even explain to people what they must know to make any kind of judgement.
The problems with this are easy to see by checking the bullshit that is commonly believed about George Washington in the US and he was only two hundred fifty years ago and actually existed for sure. Being able to escape any reference at all in one of the most troubled places in the Roman Empire, I think, hurts the ‘very’ part of your ‘very likely’ existed. I’m leaning more toward the composite person and put the weight back on Saul of Tarsus as the creator of a Jewish version of a good Greek mystery cult. He was very concerned with avoiding any of the actual biographical information that should have still been around at that time. This is not to discount the Q document that was a collection of related stories but probably from different sources and, maybe, different people, but who knows?
At this point, with the accelerating decline of the old religions, I’m becoming very interested in the problems with Gautama’s historicity. Same situation but some four hundred years earlier. The Buddhist mythic tradition was tighter and more rigorously maintained but lacks any actual historical reference. The only thing that can be said is that Gautama was not what was claimed but a Scythian forest monk in the Ayurvedic tradition. He certainly did come up with a shockingly sophisticated method for dealing with the concept of self and the verification of knowledge because most of it was quickly ignored in favor of standard mythic development. The interesting link to classical Greek philosophy seems much more relevant now as better information on Pyrrho’s time in India with Alexander shows influences from the original form of Gautama’s earliest teaching. This links Greek Skepticism to Gautama through acatalepsia or the inability to know anything directly on the nature of things.
But that’s another story as well as a possible link from the Buddha to Saul of Tarsus as a Hellenized Jew. Oh, what tangled webs we weave but just don’t take it as fact.