Although Harris appeared in the film the God Who Wasn’t There, he did not make any claim that Jesus did not exist. Reading his book, it seems that he blandly accepts that a historical Jesus existed, although obviously not as a virgin born or divine entity.
In his other appearances, Mr. Harris seems to posit that many of the reputed sayings of the gospels attributed to Jesus did not in fact get uttered by the historical Jesus.
Does Mr. Harris think that the historical Jesus did not teach eternal damnation or the imminent end of the world? I ask because these ideas are identified as two of the prime causes of violence by Mr. Harris in numerous places, so if the historical Jesus taught these ideas, I certainly do not think Mr. Harris would hold him as great thinker.
Must non-Christian New Testament scholars attribute the Q1 sayings to the historical Jesus and there is some collateral evidence that such a person did live in the Levant. But the story goes from Teacher/School followings to myth makers as Paul helps to shape the thinking and then the embellishments of the gospels follow. Many quotes attributable to the historical Jesus are patterned after Greco-Roman martyr mythology and some of the sayings attributed to the historical Jesus were reworks from older philosophers and myths.
As to the “Great Thinker” title, the ambiguous “Kingdom of God” garble was about the only genuine idea that is associated with the historical Jesus. I guess this being a major part of our discourse today probably does distinguish the historical Jesus (or his ghost writers) as a significant thinker of sorts. What is funny to me, is when you actually read what he is credited for saying, he appears very anti-establishment (and that probably struck a chord with so many people in those same Greco-Roman times…lost in diaspora and away from their homeland.
I posit that if the early Christians had tried to convert only Jews that we would not be discussing this today. It was the spiritual hunger of the Gentiles that gave any of Jesus’ ideas the subsistence to become a major religion.