At one occation the "Bu-SE yogis" have assembled in the forum and talked about "Are the Jataka tales of the Pali Canon authentic words of the Buddha?/ In what timeframe was Jataka tales added to Kuddaka Nikaya?", histrory, bad and good guys a around it and soon engaged in loud disputes. Then Johann entered and looked after what the matter was and thought "it would be better to talk on Dhamma or dwell in silence (2. Jhana), what would be good here to give or to avoid?" And the wrote: (Note, the stile here is to make it more alive and a teaching it self, no need to assume Johann as Buddha or anything special at all. But you can use such idea to lift yourself and your awarness if you like and find it useful)
Relating a little to the answer of Dhammadhuta here and itk possible problems: both, to be and not to be, are no really useful question for the path. Why, because if pondering wether "is it" or "is it not" "was it" "was it not" "what will it be if it was" "if it was not, where...", all this questions that cause dukkha are not contuctive for getti g beyound it and one can continue them endless and each stand will cause another to fight it.
So maybe its better to ask maybe:
- "How have the stories be used, for a good, such a long time?"
- "What do I not see for now, or overlook currently,that I see there conratictions? Whish part did I not understand so that it causes me doubt?"
To regard the first. Whenreading the stories and look also torward the situation they are told, the actors their structure and the possible purpose (see also "Befriending the Suttas - Tips on Reading the Pali Discourses" In this manner, when starting with the stories situations when told by themselfes, they mostly have been stories been told when the community of monks was assambled and allone with the Buddha, mostly involved in idle talk or when issues of Vinaya or special things happened.
When the minds awarness is currently in a very low stage, eager ofter papanca, its not possible to pull it into a sphere of Jhana and teach then things beyound the world. So the anchor here was always also very wordily to use the situation to give a lesson on moral, Vinaya but mostly to increase faith, that the audiance will be urged on one hand: "if you do like them, you will face this" (samvega) and on the other hand faith in this regard, that "even not really practising on the path, my merits have been of that sort, that I am now able to teach you as a Buddha", aside of the many sacrifies done to gain such perfections. So they are mostly not really purposed and in situations when supramudane teaching would have been possible.
In regard of urging the monks, for certain purpose of stilling desire after wordily stories (like you mostly have, TV, relatives... socialicings), or the way my person here presents an answer, similar, not with to high teaching to keep the mind entertaint and lift it to the most possible state, teaching there faith and precepts, the basics for the path.
Such teaching in stories, if either intended for idle purpose, to simply socialize for gains, or when meeting an audience that is only capable to use the food for entertaining the mind wrong, is of course fast and easy to use for currupt ways and for a bad.
Here again, the stories most have been told under the monks and in certain situations. Since a longer it was usual, especially because the audience is, if after gain, naturally a greedy one and after low etertainment, to use them as simple medium for improper purposes, but that circumstances does not make them bad, useless, unreal or not conductive perse. Every good teacher will from time to time sit down with his disciples and tell "very human" stories.
My person, for example, likes to tell such a "Jataka" in relation of "when I was stil a Bodhisatta, not walking direct on the path", "Devas" and fatherday, to give a moral lesson and chances to increase faith (Saddha, Sila and certain Samvega) like in the cinema (action, horror and love) for a good entertainment and purpose to increase the good qualities of mind, not to wn a lokk of audience for gains, even "risking" that most will say "look at this crazy".
The secound question is this of encountering seemingly conflicts, more and lesser, which mostly is because we again have this "this is real, only this" desire, forgetting that the teaching is a step by step way and has not equanimity and or Nibbana at the beginn, in the middle as in the end as means, but that are results of seeing "now this is the front and that is the behind" and vici versa and to know where our mind currently dwells, is attached with.
If we make all a matter of "not-self" not understanding that there are places where we need to multiplicate and places where we need to divide to get the task of de-velopement done, we/they are not only simply celebrate the Uposatha of the Jains, being just thieves and just cut us simply of for long time.
On the other hand, if we use the Jatakas like those celerbrating the Uposatha of the cowherds, we/they might not shine radiant, but do at least not cut them of from the path entirely, even if simply after gain and at least keep the cart, even without goods inside, alive.
If we use them like the elders and wise did since they exist, for laypeople especilly and all those still need to increase moral and faith to gain path, than we simply use them for the Ariya-Uposatha purpose, take the moral, practice the eight Silas minimum while listening and rejoice in the dwelling caused by the reflections, Buddhannusati... Devannusati, turn our mind to where ever it is nice to dwell or even use the teachings of a higher when having reached this concentrations and go beyound rebirth and their stories.
How ever, without the steps and their means, the higher can not be reached and if they have been ture, the steps and means, you will know only for sure, if you could have reached the heavenly realms or even awakening, as for the last it might be that you even again, do not really grasp after this question any more but maybe just give them as means for others to be able to clime up ond beyound where you have gone, beyond.
So having actually not been anywhere, it would be maybe not wise to cut away and destroy by starving it, what you can not understand for not or not clear enought to understand the purpose before having done the task.
To give at the end a simily of Ajhan Chah:
Rubbing Fire Sticks
The practice is like a man rubbing fire sticks together. He's heard people say, "Take two pieces of bamboo and rub them together, and you'll get fire." So he takes two pieces of bamboo and rubs them together. But his heart is impatient. After rubbing them together a bit he wants there to be fire. His heart keeps pushing for the fire to come quickly, but the fire just won't come. He starts getting lazy, so he stops to rest. Then he tries rubbing the sticks together again for a little bit, and then stops to rest. Whatever warmth there was disappears, because the warmth isn't connected.
If he keeps acting like this, stopping whenever he gets tired — although just being tired isn't so bad: His laziness gets mixed in too, so the whole thing goes to pieces. He decides that there is no fire, he doesn't want fire after all, so he gives up. He stops. He won't rub the sticks anymore. Then he goes about announcing, "There is no fire. You can't get it this way. There is no fire. I've already tried."
With other words, even you might know how to make fire, being taught with stones, don't run around and say "Its not possible with stones" either because you have not tried or could not manage, or because you did not know that the master teached other ways to come to the path that consumes the fires and releases.
Release is the aim, while how to make fire and the consume of it are just needed and good means. Don't waste time with "it is real - it is not real", "be or not be" for phenomenas have causes, also the phenomena to see as is really is and then the unbound remains.
And my person does not tell you - either because he does not know, or to provoke skillful speculations - who had been Gunavijaya, Hellyell, Dhamnadhatu and I at the Buddhas time. Tendencies and Upanissaya are not easy to chance since such reqires not only nissayapaccaya but upanissayapaccayena, people, places, weather and prefered food, that being a teaching that the Jatakas also transport, while the Suttas are for those who have more freedom to chance already accumulated.
And on that occation Johann said:
"Right decitions to chance ones foolish ways can be made every time, but the fool, attached to the food he is used since a child, does not taste what is not known to him and paised by the wise. Thinking having gone beyound, they continue to take live, take what is not given, abuse and tell what isn't fact, oppose the wise and nourish on the poison of desire after gain."
After that teaching 30 readers gained Streamentry and Gunavijaya rejoiced in the word and left.
You may find a maybe extended answered based on the original question, not modified by third, here, where also always welcome to discuss and comment it:
[Q&A] Are the Jataka stories authentic or later additions? Are they missleading?
(Note: This is a gift of Dhamma not meant for commercial purposes or other wordily gains.)