Might this topic of the historical Buddha's existence be worth splitting off from the main topic, since both topics are worth continuing? Just a thought.
I'm not surprised to hear that there is debate over whether or not Gotama was a real person -- philosophers have speculated for ages that Socrates was not a real person, but rather a literary device employed by Plato in his dialogues. Since both Socrates and Gotama lived around 2500 years ago, and almost no one from 2500 years ago can be "proven" to have existed, I guess it makes sense.
Anyway, though I'm not surprised to learn of this debate, I must confess to knowing nothing about Sanskrit historical scholarship. And googling "Did Buddha exist" turns up a ridiculous amount of hits, most of which have nothing to do with the question, so if anyone can point me to some links dealing with this I'd be very curious to read more and would appreciate the guidance in advance.
"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi
"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." -- Heraclitus