Silver-level articleEvidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ

From RationalWiki
Revision as of 18:22, 23 April 2012 by Prodigal (Talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search
Christ died so we could write articles on

Christianity

link=:category:
Christianity
Random examples
Resources

Evidence for the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth (the Christ) as portrayed in the Bible is only found in three places: the Bible itself, other early Christian writings, and references by the various early churches (c. 100CE) to the long dead leader of those churches. There are no contemporaneous sources outside of the early Christian community.

Historians focusing on this era generally accept that there was likely some fellow named Jesus who lived in Palestine roughly two millennia ago, had a very small following of people studying his views, was killed by the government for some such reason, and whose life became pivotal to some of the world's largest religions. Beyond this, however, there is doubt over the accuracy of any of the descriptions of his life, as described in the Bible or as understood by his believers. A handful of authors, past[1] and present[2] believe there is insufficient justification to assume any individual human seed for the stories.

Contents

Ancient history, evidence and Jesus studies

Ancient history is a process of reconstructing entire narratives from very scanty evidence, which may be overturned at any time by a new archaeological discovery. What an ancient historian means by the words "probably" or "likely" is not what a scientist means by the word.

If the question were the existence of any arbitrary first-century Judean who was not otherwise special, historians could provide the evidence, with weight, and give a nuanced answer. However, Jesus is the entire beginning and endpoint of Christian theology, and his existence and death is a critical point for virtually all Christians, and his life being exactly as detailed in the Gospels is important to a majority of Christians. The politics against any discovery of fact contradicting his existence and the details of what he said and did is vast. Further, a growing community of non-believers challenge Christian legitimacy, especially as it relates to secular laws and agendas. A lot of people are highly invested in the result either way, and have insufficient regard for the evidence or process. In studies of the history of Jesus and the New Testament in particular, the epistemology and methodology used is lower quality than in the study of other areas in comparable eras.[3]

The most compelling argument for historians that "a man named Jesus existed as the leader of a religious movement" is that a handful of pre-Christian churches existed[4] and cited Jesus[5] as their leader. The theory is that people do not generally make up leaders for all that they aggrandize and mythologize them.

Further, the existence of modern Christianity proves only that Paul of Tarsus — the man who revolutionized Christianity by pitching it to Gentiles — existed, and that Paul spoke of Jesus the Christ, based on oral stories going round and his own vision. The existence of a founding figure who can reasonably be tagged Paul is quite good as these things go, e.g. textual analysis showing that several of the Biblical texts attributed to Paul do indeed seem to have been written by the same single hand. This is comparable to the evidence we have for the existence of figures such as Socrates and Pythagoras; as with Paul, their existence is secondary to their body of work.

For comparison, other stories of semi-mythical figures such as King Arthur or Robin Hood appear to have no original author,[6] instead being legends that accreted — possibly from a basis of one original person, possibly from several, or possibly from pure invention. For example, John Frum is a claimed cargo cult founder in the range of current living memory, but even for him we don't have enough evidence to establish whether or not he was a real person - we just don't know whether the stories started from any actual person or just accreted spuriously.

Meanings of "historical Jesus"

Santa is real! He lives in Florida year-round, his name is Harold, he hates kids, and he’s never given anybody a Christmas present in his whole life. But he’s the real Santa!
—Ben Goren[7]

Biblical scholar I. Howard Marshall cautions that the term "historical Jesus" has two meanings:

  1. a man, Jesus, existed, and is the source of the myth but that the myth itself becomes the legend;
  2. not only did he exist, but the Gospels accounts give a reasonable account of historical events.

Because of this slipperiness in the meaning of the term, Marshall states "We shall land in considerable confusion if we embark on an inquiry about the historical Jesus if we do not pause to ask ourselves exactly what we are talking about."[8]

It is against this slipperiness in meaning background that the whole issue regarding evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ must be viewed. Is the historical existence being presented only being used to support the idea that a flesh and blood man named Jesus existed or is it being used to show the Gospel account has historical validity?

Jesus myth theory

See the main article on this topic: Jesus myth theory

Many scholars argue that the Biblical Jesus is so full of myth, legend and deliberate propagandistic distortion of the record that determining the historical accuracy of anything reasonably close to the man described is impossible, and that there is no epistemological justification for privileging the hypothesis of even a weakly historical Jesus over the other ways the story could have arisen.[9][10][11] They also point to early beliefs in a non-corporeal Jesus (docetism, as condemned in 2 John 1:7), which would help explain the lack of historical evidence for a human seed, and close correspondence of the Jesus story to many other myths of the time (a correspondence first noted by early apologist and saint Justin Martyr). The present-day Jesus mythicist position originated with Constantin-François Volney and Charles François Dupuis around the 1790s.

Biblical evidence

Using the Bible as partial biographical evidence of Jesus is not as completely insane or wall-bangingly circular as it may first seem. Although the gospels are generally published in one compendium known as The Bible, they are separate documents and almost certainly written by separate authors. There are also non-canonical gospels (such as the gnostic gospels) that also attest to Jesus' existence. Though the early Church excluded these texts when the Bible was being compiled, historians see them as fully relevant to the question.

Because of the way cultures have told their religious and mythic stories over time, and based in no small part on studies of modern "new" religions (especially cult religions) and how they deify their own leaders,[12] most scholars of Biblical history believe that the gospels of the Bible are sufficient evidence to say that Jesus, or some human seed for the stories who we may as well tag "Jesus", did exist, and his existence can be assumed from them.[13][14] And if such a person existed, it is equally likely that major broad themes are based in reality; he likely would have been one of the many teachers or self-proclaimed prophets of the time[15] and he probably ticked off the wrong people and found himself dead.[13] It is likely the rest is highly embellished, made up, or recycled from other mythology.

Paul

The earliest writings about Jesus — traditionally dated[16] 52-67 CE, earlier than any gospels, canonical or not — come from Paul, a man who never met a physical Jesus but who claimed to have seen a light and heard a voice.[17] This conversion is accepted by Christian doctrine on its face, and as proof that Jesus not only existed but was Risen as the Messiah. (The same Christians do not accept other religions' similar visions as fact.) No witnesses to this conversion event are mentioned.

Paul had no knowledge of Jesus' early life, just his claimed ultimate activities, and his teachings sometimes seem at variance with those of Jesus in the Gospels. He also does not mention the handful of churches that arose in Jesus' name, but having nothing to do with his own Christianity. Although Paul writes about numerous other people seeing Jesus, he provides no corroborating evidence or means by which they could be identified. He does (e.g. in Galatians) speak of meeting some of the Disciples, which is evidence for their existence. Depending on how one interprets Galatians he actually refers to James (the Just) as Jesus' brother; which, since Paul met James, would be fairly solid evidence for Jesus' existence.[18]

Paul also conveys that the earliest Christians tended to ecstatic trances, prophesying, relaying the communications of spirits, and speaking in tongues — so much so that outsiders thought they were lunatics.[19] The whole book of Revelation, for example, is a veritable acid trip, and yet it got into the Bible as an authoritative document.[20] Not only were they channeling spirits and speaking in tongues and having visions of angels and strange objects in the sky, they were putting on faith-healing acts and exorcising demons by laying on hands and shouting words of power. This tendency to ecstatic religious experiences, seeing the "Son of God" in vision, dreams, and trances might bring doubt to their reliability as witnesses to that same "Son of God's" real world existence.

Evidence from the gospels

The authors of the four canonical Gospels appear to be well-educated later writers who were skilled in Greek composition, writing about what they had heard, and doing so in religio-politically motivated ways;[21] since they were not witnesses to any of the events, their works must be read as second-hand knowledge only.

Gross geographical and cultural errors suggest the author of Mark (after 70 CE[22]) had never visited and knew very little about Palestine.[23][24][25][26] The authors of Matthew (end of 1st century[27]) and Luke (end of 1st century[28]) got most of their info from Mark (Luke appearing to be a local, correcting errors of customs in Mark,[29] and who also wrote about Paul in Acts of the Apostles) and the lost Q gospel, often copying Mark verbatim. John was synthesized later, based on the same story but rewritten around 110 CE.[30]

The Gospels' stories do not line up. In multiple narratives, it's expected that there will be things that do not match, but corroborations across authors lend credence to each event of the person's life. With the Gospels, the only time they agree on events is when they have been copied nearly word for word. Even if historians assume these are good sources, which book is to be trusted about the events of his life? This leads other historians to suggest that most of the story was invented and mythologized for effect.

Mark, the earliest gospel, mentions nothing of Jesus' early life, beginning with Jesus' ministry. It appears not to discuss Jesus' rising at all. Linguists have argued that the mention of the Risen Jesus in Mark was added.[31][32] Many parts of the gospels were added after their first version, such as the end of Mark 16, and the story of Jesus saying, "Let he without sin cast the first stone." There is a whole list of fragments that were added later.[33]

Gospels as history

As a primary historical record, the Christian gospels are dubious at best. For one, the gospels themselves are admittedly propagandist: "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have through his name." (John 20:30-31) The writers peppered the gospels with Old Testament references — most details of Jesus' life are Old Testament references.[25]

What is more problematic is that the gospels contain many events that contradict the historical record:[25]

  • Luke 2:1-4 claims Jesus was born in the year of a universal tax census, but the first such census did not occur until 74 CE (and it is not in the other gospels).
  • Herod's Slaughter of the Innocents is not recorded in any other history — even Josephus, who really didn't like Herod and meticulously catalogued his other misdeeds.
  • Jesus is depicted as hugely popular in the gospels. Yet he is unrecorded by non-Biblical historians.
  • None of the miracles described biblically, such as the dead saints rising from graves and visiting Jerusalem or a three hour long eclipse following Jesus' death, are picked up on by contemporary writers such as Pliny or Philo. One would reasonably expect that such events would be noticed.
  • Many of the stories in the gospels do not make any sense historically, such as the trial and crucifixion on Passover.[34]

As with most religious texts, scholars assume some basic level of reliability on topics like "Who were the players?", "What were the major events?" and "What was the attitude of the community the texts intend to represent?"[35]

Richard Carrier wrote on the supposed resurrection:

Can you imagine a movement today claiming that a soldier in World War Two rose physically from the dead, but when you asked for proof all they offered you were a mere handful of anonymous religious tracts written in the 1980's? Would it be even remotely reasonable to believe such a thing on so feeble a proof? Well—no.[36]

Because the gospels were deliberately meddled with, mistranslated many times, and changed over the decades of oral traditions, there is no sound basis for accepting them in their totality as literal truth or trustworthy historical documents.

Fragments of the Earliest Copies

While we do not have any of the original texts of the Gospels, we do have many copies of the manuscripts, but these copies tend to be nothing more than fragments. Examples of these fragments include the three Chester Beatty papyri and the 22 Bodmer papyri – all of which date to the 3rd century to the 4th century – two to three hundred years is a far cry from just “a couple of generations.”

A small scrap of John's Gospel, the Rylands Library Papyrus P52 – the earliest piece of any book of the New Testament we have. It is so tiny we can barely make any pronouncements on just what its text says or how much it matches our Gospel of John -the entire text could sit upon a credit card and contains no complete sentences, and only one complete word: kai (“and”).

P52 only goes back to some uncertain point in the mid-second century 150 CE, possibly later. Scraps like his are not datable any more precisely than a 75 year window. Carbon dating is not accurate enough. We can only judge by the script style, ad we can't say precisely when a particular scrip style was in fashion. Even if we allow P52 did date as early as apologists wish (~125 CE), the fact would still remain that there is not a single New Testament manuscript, original or copy, not even a scrap, that can be dated to within the lifetime of any biblical character.

The second oldest set of Christian fragments are the Egerton Papyrus 2, which is from a completely unknown Gospel!

More reliable than Homer?

Often, apologists make the argument that the gospel is more reliable due to the huge number of manuscripts we have discovered. Examples of this are Norman Geisler and Frank Turek in their book [16] and Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ. However, the historic reliability of Greek classics has no bearing on how closely the surviving texts of the New Testament match the originals. We have no reason to suspect that scribes altered writings from Homer to support their particular religious dogma. But we have every reason to suspect it with the New Testament – in fact, we know they did. Also, and rather very ironic, this analogy boomerangs on apologists to defend the historic evidence for Jesus since few historians today believe that a single historical individual named “Homer” ever really existed.

That aside, apologists commonly make the argument that fewer than 650 Greek manuscripts of Homers Iliad survive. However the New Testament on the other hand, we have discovered the following

  • Greek manuscripts – 5,664 (the "over 5,000 pieces of evidence" often noted by apologists)
  • Latin Vulgate – 8,000 to 10,000
  • Ethiopic, Slavic and Armenian – 8,000

This is impressive...24,000 manuscript copies! As Earl Doherty already noted in Challenging the Verdict, this would be impressive if these manuscripts did not come hundreds of years after the texts were originally written. The 2,865 Greek minuscule text manuscripts surviving today seems much less remarkable when you read further and learn that all these were written in the 9th century or later. In fact, all of these 24,000 intact copies are younger (by hundreds of years!) than our oldest complete Bibles, the Codex Siniaticus and Codex Vaticanus, and these two watershed tomes only date to around the year 300 or later – which gives literally hundreds of years for scribes to play with he texts as they liked, let alone allow mistakes to creep in.

This inflated count of manuscripts is a cheap trick apologists play on the flock. A true count would ignore the later copies as irrelevant and only take into account the root manuscripts. How may of these do we have? There are only around 720 root texts for the New Testament, and most of these are medieval. Also, a large number of those 720 texts are not even complete books and a considerable number are not in the original language. Of all of these 14 or so date prior to 200 CE and these are mostly mere scraps – most of which have fewer than 20 words. In fact, some don't have more than a fewer complete words at all, only pieces of words that scholars have reconstructed through educated guesswork. So suddenly, Homer's 650 extant copies do not seem so bad.

Finally, there is a little irony in hearing Christians bragging about the number of their scriptures that survive from antiquity, seeing it was the early Christians who controlled what was preserved and what was lost! Much of the ancient world's classic literature was discarded or even put to the torch by the Christian West.

Cutting across the grain

When attempting to deal with the veracity of an action or behavior of a historical figure, you can compare what was said about that event with how that action would look or be perceived by those who are negatively affected by the event.[37] When the Jesus Seminar attempts to decide the historicity of the sayings of Jesus, their main question is whether or not the words reflected poorly on the Christians who were in power when the Bible was edited. Statements that advance a theology, actions, or challenges that run contrary to the views of the establishment when a book was written, or more importantly, edited, are considered more likely to be true.

One example is the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Traditionally, the person who was spiritually superior baptized the one who was spiritually inferior. So, the argument goes, no Christian author would make up the story that John baptized Jesus and not the other way around - and the event is more likely to have happened. Ehrman concluded that "Jesus probably really did associate with John the Baptist at the beginning of his ministry, and probably was baptized by him."[38]

Another example is the issue of Jesus' birth. For reasons of biblical prophecy, the Messiah was expected to come from Bethlehem. However, our earliest gospel (Mark) has Jesus coming from Nazareth (though see below). Later gospels (Matthew and Luke) disagree with this and have him have him born in Bethlehem - albeit via other, contradictory stories. Nevertheless, the application of the above principle, it is claimed, makes it more likely that Jesus hailed from Nazareth - and taking the point one step further, the mere presence of a story against the interest of the author implies very strongly that Jesus actually existed. (It has been suggested that the geographical and cultural errors in Mark mean that this line of argument has other problems, though, as the Christian religion was still being invented at the time the gospels were being written, we should reasonably expect such incongruities and inconsistencies.)

A similar matter is the criterion of embarrassment, where more credence is given to story elements that make the characters look bad. This criterion is not used in history outside Biblical studies.

Non-Biblical evidence

One of the most telling features when looking for the historical existence of Jesus or the Christ is not what we do find, but the screaming silence from what we don't find.

The early years of the Roman Empire is one of the best-documented eras of ancient history; Jerusalem was a center of education; Jesus is claimed even to have had scribes following him and that the population at large was aware of him. [39] Yet not one single non-Christian document written before 93 CE mentions any "Jesus", or even the crucifixion of a holy leader of the Jewish people. [25] This includes well documented records from the Romans regarding criminal activities and crucifixion records.[40] "Jesus" (or "Yeshu" or "Yeshua" or "Joshua") was a very common name, with many contemporary troublemaking preachers of that name.[41] But even with that in mind, nothing of relevance seems to exist.

Philo-Judaeus and the lack of commentary

One prolific first century writer was Philo-Judaeus (sometimes known as Philo of Alexandria). John E. Remsburg, in The Christ,[42] writes:

Philo was born before the beginning of the Christian era, and lived until long after the reputed death of Christ. He wrote an account of the Jews covering the entire time that Christ is said to have existed on earth. He was living in or near Jerusalem when Christ's miraculous birth and the Herodian massacre occurred. He was there when Christ made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He was there when the crucifixion with its attendant earthquake, supernatural darkness and resurrection of the dead took place——when Christ himself rose from the dead and in the presence of many witnesses ascended into heaven. These marvelous events which must have filled the world with amazement, had they really occurred, were unknown to him. It was Philo who developed the doctrine of the Logos, or Word, and although this Word incarnate dwelt in that very land and in the presence of multitudes revealed himself and demonstrated his divine powers, Philo saw it not.[43]

In Embassy to Gaius (c40 CE) in addition to claiming that he was part of a embassy sent by the Alexandrian Jews to Emperor Caligula regarding his plans to erect a statue of himself in the temple of Jerusalem (showing that he and other Alexandrians were aware of major events in both Rome and Jerusalem and there is evidence in On Providence that Philo personally visited Jerusalem) he had a long chapter railing against the cruel and poor leadership of Pontius Pilate. Yet this condemnation of Pontius Pilate contains not one word regarding Jesus — not the person, not even stories. The idea that a man with strong social and family ties to both the Priesthood in Judea and Herodian Dynasty would have not talked with people who should have remembered or at least heard the stories, is strange, especially in his having noted many far more trivial stories just because he'd heard them and they interested him.[44]

Other contemporary sources

Philo is not alone. Contemporary sources, as significant as Philo, do not mention Jesus at all. Seneca's lack of mention was sufficiently troublesome to some early Christians that they forged correspondence between Seneca and Paul of Tarsus. Jerome, in de Viris Illustribus 12, and Augustine, in Epistle 153.4 ad Macedonium, both refer to the forged communication.

Others include Damis, who wrote of Apollonius of Tyana, a philosopher and mystic who was a contemporary with Jesus; Pliny the Elder, who wrote, in 80 CE, a Natural History that mentions hundreds of people, major and minor; Juvenal, Martial, Petronius, and Persius, Roman satirists who favored topics similar to Jesus's story; Pausanias, whose massive Guide to Greece includes mentions of thousands of names, including minor Jewish figures in Palestine; and historians Epictetus and Aelius Aristides, who both recorded events and people in Palestine.

Apologists' evidence

The following is a list of common evidence provided by apologists[45] in an attempt to provide historical evidence for Jesus. It is generally evidence for the existence of early Christianity, and none is evidence for Jesus per se. The writers were also born after the Crucifixion and so cannot have been eyewitnesses to Jesus.

Josephus Flavius

The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius was the earliest non-Christian to mention Jesus. Josephus' birth in 37 CE, well after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, means he could not have been an eyewitness. Moreover, he wrote Antiquities in 93 CE, even later than the first gospels. Despite Josephus having long been a favourite of apologists, many scholars think that Josephus' short accounts of Jesus (in Antiquities) came from interpolations perpetrated by a later Church father (most likely, Eusebius of Caesarea).

Antiquities of the Jews begins “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” and arduously parallels the Old Testament up to the time when Josephus is able to add equally tedious historical recountings of Jewish life during the early Roman period. In Book 18, Chapter 3, this paragraph is encountered (Whiston’s translation):

Now, there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works — a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal man amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.

This truly appears to give historical confirmation for the existence of Jesus. But is it authentic? Most scholars admit that at least some parts, if not all, of this paragraph cannot be authentic,[46] even the Catholic Encyclopedia concurring.[47] Many are convinced that the entire paragraph is a forgery, an interpolation inserted by Christians at a later time.[48][49]. Even Christian scholars consider the paragraph to be an overenthusiastic forgery.[50][51][52]

  1. The paragraph is absent from early copies of the works of Josephus. For example, in Origen’s second century Origen Contra Celsum, wherein Origen fiercely defends Christianity against the heretical views of Celsus, he quotes freely from Josephus to prove his points, but never once uses this paragraph, which would have been the ultimate ace up his sleeve. The paragraph does not appear at all until the beginning of the fourth century, at the time of Constantine, who was eager to demolish Gnostic Christianity and replace it with literalistic Christianity. Bishop Eusebius, a close ally of the emperor, was instrumental in crystallizing and defining the version of Christianity that was to become orthodox, and he is the first person known to have quoted this paragraph of Josephus. Eusebius once wrote that it was permissible "medicine" for historians to create fictions[53] — prompting historian Jacob Burckhardt to call Eusebius "the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity." Many scholars believe Eusebius was the source of the paragraph on Jesus.
  2. Josephus would not have called Jesus “the Christ” or “the truth.” Whoever wrote these phrases was a believing Christian. Josephus was a messianic Jew, and if he truly believed Jesus was the long-awaited messiah (Christ), he certainly would have given more than a passing reference to him. Josephus never converted to Christianity. Origen reported that Josephus was “not believing in Jesus as Christ.”
  3. The passage is out of context. Book 18 (“Containing the interval of 32 years from the banishment of Archelus to the departure from Babylon”) starts with the Roman taxation under Cyrenius in 6 CE and discusses various Jewish sects at the time, including the Essenes and a sect of Judas the Galilean, to which he devotes three times more space than to Jesus; Herod’s building of various cities, the succession of priests and procurators, and so on. Chapter 3 starts with sedition against Pilate, who planned to slaughter all the Jews but changed his mind. Pilate then used sacred money to supply water to Jerusalem. The Jews protested; Pilate sent spies into Jewish ranks with concealed weapons, and there was a great massacre. Then in the middle of all these troubles comes the curiously quiet paragraph about Jesus, followed immediately by: “And about the same time another terrible misfortune confounded the Jews ...” Josephus would not have thought the Christian story to be “another terrible misfortune.” It is only a Christian (someone like Eusebius) who might have considered Jesus to be a Jewish tragedy. Paragraph three can be lifted out of the text with no damage to the chapter; in fact, it flows better without it.
  4. There was no “tribe of Christians” during Josephus’ time; Christianity did not get off the ground until the second century.
  5. Josephus appears not to know anything else about the Jesus outside of this tiny paragraph and an indirect reference concerning James, the “brother of Jesus” (see below). He does not refer to the gospels now known as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, or to the writing or activities of Paul, though if these stories were in circulation at that time he ought to have known about them and used them as sources. Like the writings of Paul, Josephus’ account is silent about the teachings or miracle of Jesus, although he reports the antics of other prophets in great detail. He relates much more about John the Baptist. He lists the activities of many other self-proclaimed messiahs, including Judas of Galilee, Theudas the magician and the Egyptian Jew Messiah. He makes no mention of the earthquake or eclipse at the crucifixion, which would have been universally known in that area if they had truly happened. He adds nothing to the Gospel's narratives and says nothing that would not have been believed by Christians already, whether in the first or fourth century.
  6. The paragraph mentions that the “divine prophets” foretold the life of Jesus, but Josephus neglects to mention who these prophets were or what they said. In no other place does Josephus connect any Hebrew prediction with the life of Jesus.
  7. The hyperbolic language of the paragraph is uncharacteristic of a careful historian: “... as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him ...” This sounds more like sectarian propaganda — in other words, more like the New Testament — than objective reporting. It is very unlike Josephus.

There's actually not one but two references in Josephus. The latter is lesser known and cites James the brother of Jesus:

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was put upon the road; so he [Ananus, the Jewish high priest] assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, him called Christ, whose name was James, and some others. And when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king, desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.

Though there are good reasons to think this too is not Josephus' original text:

  1. Josephus was writing for a Roman audience. A Roman audience would not have been familiar with Jewish beliefs concerning the Messiah. Indeed, they probably wouldn't even have known what the word "Christ" meant.
  2. The original Greek wording of the passage itself is extremely similar to Matthew 1:16.
  3. After reading the rest of the text of this passage we find that the Jews were so angry about the stoning of James that they they demanded that King Agrippa fire Ananus. Why would the Jews be angered over the killing of a Christian, since Christians were seen as heathens by the Jews?
  4. The end of the paragraph seems to identify the Jesus described within as Jesus the son of Damneus, and clearly states that this Jesus was made high priest by Agrippa.

The "him called Christ" makes most sense as a margin note by a later scribe copying the text, inserted by error in a paragraph about Jesus son of Damneus.[54]

Pliny the Younger

Pliny the Younger was a Roman official born in 62 CE. In one letter he said “Christians were singing a hymn to Christ as to a god ...” That is all. In all of Pliny’s writings, we find one small tangential reference, and not even to Christ, but to Christians. Again, notice, the absence of the name Jesus. This could have referred to any of the other "christs"[55] who were being followed by some Jews who thought they had found the messiah.

Pliny’s report is only of what other people believed. Even if this sentence does refer to a group who followed Jesus it is not particularly enlightening as no one denies that Christianity was in existence at that time. Pliny's report might be useful in documenting the religion, but not the historic Jesus.

Tacitus

Tacitus was born in 64 C.E, well after the death of Jesus. He gives a brief mention of a "Chrestus" in his Annals (Book XV, Sec. 44), which he wrote around 109 CE He gives no source for his material. He says:

Nero looked around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures on a group of persons already hated for their crimes. This was the sect known as Christians. Their founder, one Chrestus, had been put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This checked the abominable superstition for a while, but it broke out again and spread, not merely through Judea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself, the great reservoir and collecting ground for every kind of depravity and filth. Those who confessed to being Christians were at once arrested, but on their testimony a great crowd of people were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson, but of hatred of the entire human race.

Tacitus depicts early Christians as “hated for their crimes” and associated with “depravity and filth.” This is not a flattering picture, so is less likely to be Christian propaganda. Tacitus claims no first-hand knowledge of Christianity, but is merely repeating the then common ideas about Christians.

There is no other historical confirmation that Nero persecuted Christians. There certainly was not a “great crowd” of Christians in Rome around 60 CE, and the term “Christian” was not in use in the first century. Tacitus is either doctoring history from a distance or repeating a myth without checking the facts. Historians generally agree that Nero did not burn Rome, so Tacitus is in error to suggest that he would have needed to blame Christians in the first place.

A more serious problem is that no one in the second century ever quoted this passage of Tacitus, and in fact it appears almost word-for-word in the writings in someone else, Sulpicius Severus, in the fourth century, where it is mixed in with other myths. The passage is therefore highly suspect and adds virtually no evidence even for early Christianity.

Tampering of the Tacitus source

The surviving copies of Tacitus' works derive from two principal manuscripts, known as the Medicean manuscripts, which are held in the Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy, and written in Latin. The second Medicean manuscript is the oldest surviving copy of the passage describing "Christians." In this manuscript, the first 'i' of the Christianos is quite distinct in appearance from the second, looking somewhat smudged, and lacking the long tail of the second 'i'; additionally, there is a large gap between the first 'i' and the subsequent 'long s'. Latin scholar Georg Andresen was one of the first to comment on the appearance of the first 'i' and subsequent gap, suggesting in 1902 that the text had been altered, and an 'e' had originally been in the text, rather than this 'i'.

In 1950, at historian Harald Fuchs' request, Dr. Teresa Lodi, the director of the Laurentian Library, examined the features of this item of the manuscript; she concluded that there are still signs of an 'e' being erased, by removal of the upper and lower horizontal portions, and distortion of the remainder into an 'i'. In 2008, Dr. Ida Giovanna Rao, the new head of the Laurentian Library's manuscript office, repeated Lodi's study, and concluded that it is likely that the 'i' is a correction of some earlier character (like an e), the change being made an extremely subtle one. Later the same year, it was discovered that under ultraviolet light, an 'e' is clearly visible in the space, meaning that the passage must originally have referred to chrestianos, a Latinized Greek word which could be interpreted as the good, after the Greek word χρηστός (chrestos), meaning "good, useful", rather than strictly a follower of "Christ".

Mara Bar-Serapion

(circa 73 CE) There is a fragment of a personal letter from a Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion to his son in prison that mentions that the Jews of that time had killed their “wise king.” However, the New Testament claims that the Romans, not the Jews, killed Jesus. The Jews had killed other leaders; for example, the Essene Teacher of Righteousness. If this truly is a report of a historical event rather than the passing on of folklore, it could have been a reference to someone else. It does not mention Jesus by name. It is near worthless as evidence for Jesus of Nazareth, yet it can be found on the lists of some Christian scholars as proof that Jesus existed.[56]

Lucian

(circa 125 - 180 CE) A second-century satirist named Lucian wrote that the basis for the Christian sect was a “man who was crucified in Palestine,” but this merely repeating what Christians believed in the second century. Lucian does not mention Jesus by name. This reference is too late to be considered more direct historical evidence.

Suetonius

A Roman historian, born in 69 CE mentions a "Chrestus," a common name meaning “good,” used by both slaves and free people and occurring more than 80 times in Latin inscriptions. Apologists assume that "Chrestus" means "Christ", which it generally does not. But even if Suetonius had meant "Christ," it still says nothing about an earthly Jesus.

Suetonius wrote a biography called Twelve Caesars around the year 112 CE, mentioning that Claudius “banished the Jews from Rome, since they had made a commotion because of Chrestus,” and that during the time of Nero “punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief ...” Notice that there is no mention of Jesus by name. It is unlikely that Christianity had spread as far as Rome during the reign of Claudius, or that it was large enough to have caused a revolt.

Note that "Chrestus" was not only a familiar personal name, but a name of the Graeco-Egyptian god Serapis, who had a large following at Rome, especially among the common people. Hence "Christians" or "Chrestians" may be followers of Serapis. Historians know what evil repute the Egyptian people, which consisted mainly of Alexandrian elements, had at Rome. While other foreign cults introduced into Rome enjoyed the utmost toleration, the cult of Serapis and Isis was exposed repeatedly to persecution. The lax morality associated with their worship of the Egyptian gods and the fanaticism of their worshippers repelled the Romans, and excited the suspicion that their cults might be directed against the State.

Talmud

Perhaps surprisingly, some Christians use brief portions of the Talmud, a collection of Jewish civil and religious law, including commentaries on the Torah, as evidence for the existence of Jesus. They claim that a man called "Yeshu" in the Talmud refers to Jesus.

However, this Jesus, according to Gerald Massey, is actually a disciple of Jehoshua Ben-Perachia who lived at least a century before the alleged Christian Jesus. And regardless of how one interprets the name "Yeshu", the Palestinian Talmud was written between the 3rd and 5th century CE, and the Babylonian Talmud was written between the 3rd and 6th century CE, at least two centuries after the alleged crucifixion.

In other words, even if it does refer to Jesus, it is even more recent then the gospels and even less useful as an eyewitness reference.

Julius Africanus and Thallus

In the ninth century a Byzantine writer named George Syncellus quoted a third-century Christian historian named Julius Africanus, who quoted an unknown writer named Thallus on the darkness at the crucifixion: "Thallus in the third book of his history calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun, but in my opinion he is wrong." All of the works of Africanus are lost, so there is no way to confirm the quote or to examine its context. We have no idea who Thallus was, or when he wrote.

Eusebius (fourth century) mentions a history of Thallus in three books that according to an Armenian translation of Eusebius ranged from the sack of Troy to the 167th Olympiad. (Actually, the manuscript is damaged, and “Thallus” is merely a guess from “_allos Samaritanos.” That word “allos” actually means “other” in Greek, so it may have been simply saying “the other Samaritan.”) There is no historical evidence of an eclipse during the time Jesus was supposedly crucified. The reason Africanus doubted the eclipse is because Easter happens near the full moon and a solar eclipse would have been impossible at that time, as was well-known. Compounding the matter is the Armenian translation of Eusebius has many corrupt numerals and so many apologists claim that 167th Olympiad (or 109 BCE) should really be 217th Olympiad.

Other sources used by apologists

Christian apologists mostly use the above sources for their evidence of Jesus because they believe they represent the best outside sources. All other sources (Christian and non-Christian) come from even less reliable sources, some of which include: Ignatius (50 - 98? CE), Polycarp (69 - 155 CE), Clement of Rome (? - circa 160 CE), Justin Martyr (100 - 165 CE), Tertullian (197 CE), Clement of Alexandria (? - 215 CE), Origen (185 - 232 CE), Hippolytus (? - 236 CE), and Cyprian (? - 254 CE). All of these provide merely hearsay.

Archaeological evidence

For other examples of lack of archeological evidence to biblical stories, see Evidence for the Exodus

When dealing with any historical discovery using archaeology, it must always be remembered that we are only able to uncover a fraction of what once existed and we are only able to understand a fraction of that. So no claim about someone or something not existing can ever be made by archaeology. However, the longer we excavate in a region or analyze written documents without finding evidence of the persons or place's existence, the greater the doubt becomes about such existence.

There is no physical archaeological evidence that Jesus existed. No tombs have been found that match the description of the tomb he was buried in, (or rather, one of the four descriptions), no prison cell has "Jesus was here" carved into it, no cross has been found, no drawings of a man with a crown of thorns, and of course, no body. Christians would say that is because he did not leave a corporeal body, but equally, no bodies, burial stones, or burial boxes have been found of his family or disciples.

Most of the cities mentioned in the New Testament have been identified or correlated through secondary sources (including maps) of the Palestine area. Even some of the people in the New Testament (for example, Nero, Caiaphas and Ananus) were real historical figures. However, these descriptions do not serve as evidence for the existence of Jesus any more than a fictional work which mentions Napoleon or the Hiroshima bombing would serve as evidence that the work of fiction is really truth.

Archaeological evidence exists for many of the towns and cities in the New Testament, leading to acceptance of their existence, including: Bethlehem, Capernaum, Chorazin, Ephesus, Gaza, Jaffa, Nineveh and of course Jerusalem. Critically, however, one city associated directly with Jesus, Nazareth, is a puzzle for scholars.

Nazareth

Nazareth is not mentioned by name in any pre-Christian Palestinian, Greek or Roman text. Nazareth is first noted at the beginning of the 4th century. There are towns with similar names, when you transliterate them, and there are known linguistic shifts in the region that could account for a misplaced name, but this is not evidence that any of these similar named towns are the Biblical Nazareth or that such a town even existed. There is a growing trend of scholars who doubt that the New Testament town referred to by the Greek name Nazara is the historical town of Nazareth in lower Palestine, since both its location and its description do not match what is in Luke. There is however evidence for some level of settlement in the area.[57]

It is also possible that little if any archaeological evidence of pre-existing artifacts for the simple reason that many cities get built on ancient sites. But this too should be taken with a caution. Given the amount of archaeological work in Palestine, if no evidence has been found, there is valid reason to be skeptical that such a town existed.

It is possible that Nazareth might have existed as an insignificant and easily missed village, thus no one recorded it. The gospels state that it had only one synagogue, so it would not be a large city. But, even a large village would likely have been listed somewhere - especially if the Lord and Savior of a people were from this town.

Ultimately, all of these "possibles" are not as probable as the idea that Nazareth may have been invented for the Story of Jesus.[58]

Hoaxes, fakes, and frauds

Shroud of Turin

See the main article on this topic: Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin is often proposed by some as historical evidence for Jesus. This mainly illustrates the deep seated desire of many people to have some relic or physical evidence for Jesus.

The provenance and authenticity of the shroud has been debated for many centuries. There is no record of where the shroud came from before the 13th century. Even if the shroud was authentically proven to come from 1st century Judea, this would only show that someone was crucified, and crucifixion as a common punishment at the time has never been disputed. There would be no reason to presume it was Jesus in particular.

Ossuary of James

Biblical Archaeology Review Nov/Dec 2002 ran a story claiming the discovery in Jerusalem of an ossuary inscribed "Ya'aqov bar Yosef akhui Yeshua'" ("James/Jacob,[59] son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"). This became a major news story around the world.

The inscription was claimed to have been dated to 70 CE If authentic, this would not have been conclusive evidence, but would have been intriguing to historians, marking the existence of a James who was the son of a Joseph who had a brother significant enough to mention, as it was uncommon on ossuaries of the day to inscribe other family than the person's father.

Unfortunately, though the box was old, part of the inscription proved fraudulent. The Israeli Antiquities Authority published a report in June 2003 concluding that a part of the inscription was added recently made to match the rest by the addition of a chalk solution. Oded Golan, the dealer who publicised the box, was arrested in July 2003; police found stencils, stones and yet-to-be-completed forgeries in his home.[60] Sadly, even with evidence it is a fake, believers still sometimes cite it as evidence for a historical Jesus.[61]

Letters of Pontius Pilate

There is an Internet myth that Pontius Pilate wrote letters to Seneca in Rome that mention Jesus and his reported miracles.[61]

This myth originates in the 1928 book Letters of Pontius Pilate: Written During His Governorship of Judea to His Friend Seneca in Rome[62] by W. P. Crozier, an Oxford-educated Guardian journalist (and later the paper's editor) with an interest in Greek, Latin, the Bible and Zionism. It was written in the style of scholarship, but was in fact Crozier's first novel, with no pretenses to being anything other than fiction.

How this became an Internet meme that such letters existed — despite the lack of any such letters or mentions of Jesus in Seneca's surviving writings — is not known. The letters themselves are quoted as if genuine,[63] with various spurious sources given,[64] rather than as parts of the work of fiction they came from.

Common objections about questioning the historical Jesus

I often read that most scholars think Jesus existed

What most historians and scholars think (as stated above) is that a human named Jesus was the seed for the Christian myths. But, it would be factually wrong to suggest that "most scholars think the Christ existed" — a seed is not the same as the myth.

The term "scholar" can be a weasel word. It's worth asking the question "Who is this scholar, and what are his investments in the issue?" If he is a theologian, then it is worth asking "Would this theologian ever be able to even say that The Christ did not exist, or would his theological underpinnings prevent him from saying that?" When apologists quote scholars or 'experts' of Jesus' historicity, they are often quoting theologians whose focus is theology, and whose vestment in the argument is clear.[65] Further, those who have a bias towards not challenging the theology as they know it have often preselected the texts that are "canon" and "authentic"[66]

Hector Avalos details the differences between the seminary and secular streams of Bible-related study in his 2007 book The End of Biblical Studies, which had some impact on the field.[67] It should be noted that some apologists for a historical Jesus are fundamentalists such as Lee Strobel who are rarely taken seriously in mainstream academia, others are liberal Christians such as Marcus Borg, and others are flat-out agnostics such as Bart Ehrman, or Robert Grant who are more respected in mainstream academic circles. (There are also quite a few Jewish New Testament scholars such as Amy Jill-Levine or Geza Vermes). Even taking scholars like Ehrman into account, mythicists such as Richard Carrier believe that the methodology of Jesus-related historical studies is of a much lower standard than the methodology of other historical study of comparable periods.[3]

Historians who are skeptical of the historicity of Jesus are often painted by theologians and apologists as fringe lunatics. However, these arguments rarely go beyond ad hominem attacks.[68][69] However, secular historians can also be critical of the mythicist position. In his recent book Did Jesus Exist?, Bart Ehrman distinguishes between mythicists whom he regards as flat-out pseudo-historians (such as Tim Freke) and those he regards as responsible mythicists such as Robert Price and Richard Carrier. He regards the latter as playing by the proper rules of historical inquiry, while the former simply make up facts to support wild surmises. However, Ehrman regards even Price's views as ultimately unconvincing and as therefore "fringe" in the sense of being believed by a very small percentage of scholars.

There is more evidence for Jesus than for (insert famous ancient person here)

When discussing the evidence for Jesus' existence, a common claim made by apologists is that there is "more evidence for Jesus than 'X'".[70] This is often because ancient records really are sparse for the existence of some ancient kings, Pharaohs of Egypt, or other historical figures. However, what evidence we do have is higher quality than what exists for Jesus. This does not mean it is necessarily worthless, but it means it is worth questioning. Court records, birth records, even lists of property owners or tax records do not have this doubt attached. Finding a document that said "Jesus, known as the Christ was crucified today, in the Court of..." would be this kind of evidence.

One common claim is that there are "over 5000 distinct pieces of evidence for Jesus". This number comes from counting each individual handwritten document (from full codices down to mere scraps) with New Testament text on it, including multiple copies of the same texts. The actual number is 5500 ancient fragments (dating from before the printing press) of any writings from the New Testament.[71]

How can you doubt the existence of Jesus when you accept (insert famous person or event)?

The comparison to other famous people has long been a counter-argument with the satires of Richard Whately ("Historic Doubts relative to Napoleon Bonaparte", 1819) and Jean-Baptiste Pérès ("Grand Erratum", 1827) that argued against the existence of Napoleon being among the first known. Comparisons to figures such as Alexander the Great, Socrates and Augustus Caesar or to modern events like the Holocaust have also been made.

The non sequitur with all of these and similar comparisons is that the historical person or event in question is in better shape in terms of provenance than what exists for Jesus. This is especially true after the introduction of printing into the Western world around 1439 — all the problems inherent with hand copied manuscripts (errors and limited numbers of copies) begin to disappear. This is what makes comparisons of Jesus to Napoleon or the Holocaust ridiculous strawmen — there is far more information for them than has ever existed for Jesus.

Even with figures of the ancient past like Alexander the Great, Socrates, and Augustus Caesar, you have truly contemporary (i.e., produced during their lifetimes) evidence for their existence. Rulers have coins, statues, mosaics, and a host of other evidence to their existence.

While Jesus Christ has had a lasting impact on the world, in his time he was rather insignificant, and thus one can't expect him to have received the same levels of celebrity and exposure that Julius Caesar had.

No one would have noticed, because "Jesus" was a minor figure

The other argument presented is that Jesus was in reality an obscure person that was largely ignored during his lifetime. This is addressed above under "non-Biblical Evidence." Jesus, as portrayed in the gospels, was very popular and well known.

There are some figures whose existence is historically questionable. However, they tend to be more minor figures who most people haven't heard of (a non-biblical exception would be Aesop).

American historian Richard Carrier writes:

One could say that Jesus was an insignificant, illiterate, itinerant preacher with a tiny following, who went wholly unnoticed by any literate person in Judaea. However, this would not bode well for anyone who wished to maintain he was God, or did any of the more amazing things attributed to him. It is very implausible, for instance, that a biography would be written for the obscure itinerant philosopher Demonax in his own lifetime (by Lucian), yet God Incarnate, or a Great Miracle Worker who riled up all Judaea with talk, should inspire nothing like it until decades after his death. And though several historians wrote on Judaean affairs in the early 1st century (not just Josephus and Tacitus, but several others no longer extant), none apparently mentioned Jesus (see the Secular Web library on Historicity). Certainly, had anyone done so, the passages would probably have been lovingly preserved by 2nd century Christians, or else inspired angry rebuttals.

For instance, the attacks of Celsus, Hierocles, and Porphyry, though destroyed by Christians and thus no longer extant (another example of the peculiar problem of Christian history discussed above), nevertheless remain attested in the defenses written by Origen, Eusebius, and Macerius Magnes. But no earlier attacks are attested. There is no mention of Christians in Plutarch's attack On Superstition, nor a rebuttal to any attack on Christianity in Seneca's lost work On Superstition (which ruthlessly attacked pagans and Jews, as attested in book 10 of Augustine's City of God), so it seems evident Christians got no mention even there, in a text against alien cults, by a man who would have witnessed the Neronian persecution of 64 CE (alternatively, the fact that this is the only work of Seneca's not to be preserved, despite the fact that Christians must surely have been keen to preserve an anti-pagan text by a renowned pagan, might mean it contained some damning anti-Christian material and was suppressed, though Augustine clearly had access to the work and says nothing about such content). All of this suggests a troubling dichotomy for believers: either Jesus was a nobody (and therefore not even special, much less the Son of God) or he did not exist.[72]

To put it simply, is the evidence we do have consistent with what we would expect to have for a person of the stature Jesus supposedly had? After all we don't know the names of any 2000 year old carpenters (potters, on the other hand, we do know).

The objection here is that the Gospel Jesus was connected to the likes of Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate (both of whom are recorded in the standard histories and have left at least some archaeological evidence) as well as being tried on the eve of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. On the other hand Josephus mentions various Jewish rabble-rousers who are not recorded anywhere else such as Simon of Peraea.

Carrier's argument does have faults, though. We only have one source on Demonax and that's only because he happened to teach the more widely known Lucian of Samosata who wrote Demonax's biography (perhaps there is also irony in Lucian mentioning Jesus in his works). It also appears it was possible to kick up quite a fuss in first century Palestine without people really noticing. Athronges led an armed rebellion for years and only gets a few paragraphs in Josephus. We don't even know his eventual fate since Josephus fails to mention it.

Would the Disciples die for a lie?

Argumentum ad martyrdom is often used by Christians to try to prove that Jesus was not only real, but also the messiah. The Apostles would have had first hand knowledge whether Jesus was the savior or not, and were willing to die since they knew the truth.[73]

However, this argument is fallacious and does not address historicity in any way. People throughout history have, in fact, died for beliefs which turned out to be false, deceptive, or poorly understood; such as suicide bombers being rewarded with virgins. Just because these men so firmly believed that their beliefs were true that they were willing to die for them does not give their beliefs any credibility. More refutations to this argument exist.[74]

Another explanation is that some martyrs were not actually sincere, that they professed Christian ideals but were actually engaging in a form of "suicide by cop." For example, during the Diocletianic Persecution, when possession of the Bible was outlawed, many people boasted that they had copies of it; the Church specifically proscribed such people from being honored as martyrs.[75]

But even that is making the generous assumption that the martyrs in question even existed. Some Christian writers are known to have fabricated martyr-stories whole cloth; the hagiography of St. Catherine of Alexandria, for example, is a partial rip-off of the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, the pagan philosopher who was skinned to death with tiles (by Christians!) because people thought she had bewitched the city governor into not attending church.

Skeptics just don't want to be accountable for their sins

This statement simply has no bearing on the question of whether the man referred to as Jesus actually lived or whether the gospel description of him is correct.

Skeptics have blind faith in the words of man

This argument is often presented by Christians, such as Ray Comfort in the debate against the Rational Response Squad, who said:[76]

Whenever you quote history books it shows you have blind faith in the words of man. We have the words of the living God in the Bible, the Bible is essentially in itself the words of God just by open study ... you can just open the Bible and read it; it is self-provable; it's axiomatic.

The argument claims that skeptics of the historicity of Jesus have blind faith in historians and the words of man, whereas Christians have the words of the true living God in the Bible.

The problem with this argument is that historians actually have evidence to support their claims. When a Christian is asked to provide historical evidence for Jesus, and fails, relying only on the gospel does not do the Christian any good. As already explained above, there are many problems with the gospels that mean they are not trustworthy sources for historical references.

See also

Footnotes

  1. Bruno Bauer (19th century German Biblical historian), George Wells (20th century historian of Germany)
  2. scholars Richard Carrier (historian), Robert M. Price (theologian), and author Earl Doherty (writer),
  3. 3.0 3.1 Richard Carrier puts it rather more bluntly: "Then I discovered that the field of New Testament studies was so monumentally fucked the task wasn’t as straightforward as I had hoped ... the biggest thing I discovered is that every expert who is a specialist in methodology has concluded, one and all, that the methods now used in Jesus studies are also totally fucked".
  4. These early churches took the name of disciples of Jesus, for example, the Church of Mary, the Church of Thomas, and the Church of Peter
  5. It is significant to note here that "Jesus" and "The Christ" are very different concepts. The earlier the church, the less likely they were to associate the Dying/Rising aspects of the Christ onto Jesus their leader and teacher.
  6. Although Geoffrey of Monmouth has a fair claim with King Arthur.
  7. Ben Goren, coment on Can philosophy or religion alone establish facts?, November 18, 2011
  8. Marshall, Ian Howard. I Believe in the Historical Jesus. Regent College Publishing, 2004, p. 27-29.
  9. Holding, J. P. Shattering the Christ Myth, 277
  10. Houlden, J. L. Jesus in history, thought, and culture: an encyclopedia, Volume 1, 660
  11. Eddy, Paul R. and Boyd, Gregory A. The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker Academic, 2007, pp. 24–27.
  12. Dawson, 1998 Sociology of New Religious Movements; R Robertson (1975) Religious Movements and Modern Society; Blackhorn (1985) Death and Deification
  13. 13.0 13.1 Funk, (1996) Honest to Jesus
  14. Funk et al., The Five Gospels
  15. WP:Jewish_messianic_claimants#Before_the_Common_Era
  16. Based mainly on internal evidence of order of writing, with a few correspondences to known history, c.f. [1]. R.G Price dates them to the end of the 1st century or early 2nd century (see The Amazing Colossal Apostie).
  17. Acts 9:20
  18. Although such an interpretation would not greatly please a number of prominent Christian groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church.
  19. e.g., 1 Corinthians 14.
  20. Numerous scholars, most notably Martin Luther, believed Revelation should not be included in the main Bible for this reason.
  21. Crossan (1995) Who killed Jesus
  22. Mark alludes to the Siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. See Theissen, Gerd and Annette Merz. The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide. Fortress Press. 1998. translated from German (1996 edition). p. 24-27.
  23. In Mark 5 and Luke 8, Jesus went to the country of the Gerasenes, transferred demons from a man into 2000 pigs, and drowned them in the sea. However, that was about 31 miles from Galilee, the nearest body of water. The King James translators realized his, and changed the location to “the country of the Gadarenes,” which was close to the sea. Later translators used the original. (Compare translations of Matthew 8:28 for different locations.) In Mark 10, Jesus said that a woman could divorce her husband, which was impossible in Palestine at that time.
  24. [2] has a good overview.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 R.G. Price, 2007-01-03. "Jesus Myth - The Case Against Historical Christ".
  26. Wall (2010) Opening and Entering Mark (a discussion of the place and space in the Gospel of Mark)
  27. Duling, Dennis C. "The Gospel of Matthew"., in Aune, David E. (ed.) (2010). The Blackwell companion to the New Testament. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1405108256.
  28. Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. "The Gospels" p. 266-268; Brown, Raymond E. (1997). Introduction to the New Testament
  29. But who made a mistake in Luke 8 - “Did Jesus Even Exist?” by Frank Zindler
  30. Harris 1985 pp. 302–10. "John." 90-110 CE is the optimistic "traditional" date; the earliest fragment we have of John is the Rylands Library Papyrus 𝔓52, dated around 170 CE based on handwriting analysis (the library has not allowed a sample to be taken for carbon dating).
  31. Crossan, Who killed Jesus
  32. MD Mathews - Neotestamentica, 2010, Does the synoptic tradition resolve this synoptic relationship
  33. B.A. Robinson, 2003-10-03. "Translation errors and forgeries in the bible." Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
  34. http://www.christianity-revealed.com/cr/files/thetrialthatnevertookplace.html
  35. e.g. JD Crossan, Historical Jesus, Life of a Jewish Peasant; A Schweitzer, Quest for the Historical Jesus; W. Blanton, Shadow of the Galilean.
  36. Richard Carrier. "Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story." (6th ed., 2006)
  37. Bart Ehrman. Jesus Interrupted. 2009. pp153 - 155
  38. Ehrman (2009), p 153
  39. Matthew 21:10
  40. [3], Do Any First Century Historians Mention the Jesus of Christianity?
  41. e.g. Jesus ben Pandira, a miracle-working apocalyptic preacher executed 1st century BCE; Jesus ben Ananias, an apocalyptic preacher who died in the Siege of Jerusalem; Jesus ben Gamala, a politician advocating peace; Jesus ben Thebuth, a priest who sold precious artefacts from the Temple; Jesus ben Stada, a 2nd century CE agitator; Jesus ben Damneus, an early 1st century high priest mentioned in Josephus.
  42. John E. Remsburg. The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence. New York: The Truth Seeker Company, 1909.
  43. The Christ, chapter 2.
  44. Philo notes such things as a four paragraph reference in Flaccus IV (c39 CE) about "a certain madman named Carabbas ...(that) spent all his days and nights naked in the roads, minding neither cold nor heat, the sport of idle children and wanton youths" who was driven from the public gymnasium so that some of his tormentors could dress and mock him as a king. Philo notes Carabbas, a totally obscure nobody, simply because he made an interesting story. How did he fail to notice Jesus?
  45. e.g. [4]
  46. [5], Testimonium Flavianum
  47. "Flavius Josephus." Catholic Encyclopedia. "Attempts have been made to refute the objections brought against this passage both for internal and external reasons, but the difficulty has not been definitively settled. The passage seems to suffer from repeated interpolations."
  48. [6], Josephus on Jesus: Forgery and Fraud?.
  49. [7], Eusebius of Caesarea forged Testimonium Flavianum.
  50. Bishop Warburton: "If a Jew owned the truth of Christianity, he must needs embrace it. We, therefore, certainly conclude that the paragraph where Josephus, who was as much a Jew as the religion of Moses could make him, is made to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, in terms as strong as words could do it, is a rank forgery, and a very stupid one, too." Quoted by Lardner, Works, Vol. I, chap. iv.
  51. The Rev. Dr. Giles, of the Established Church of England: "Those who are best acquainted with the character of Josephus, and the style of his writings, have no hesitation in condemning this passage as a forgery, interpolated in the text during the third century by some pious Christian, who was scandalized that so famous a writer as Josephus should have taken no notice of the gospels, or of Christ, their subject. But the zeal of the interpolator has outrun his discretion, for we might as well expect to gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles, as to find this notice of Christ among the Judaizing writings of Josephus. It is well known that this author was a zealous Jew, devoted to the laws of Moses and the traditions of his countrymen. How, then, could he have written that Jesus was the Christ? Such an admission would have proved him to be a Christian himself, in which case the passage under consideration, too long for a Jew, would have been far too short for a believer in the new religion, and thus the passage stands forth, like an ill-set jewel, contrasting most inharmoniously with everything around it. If it had been genuine, we might be sure that Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Chrysostom would have quoted it in their controversies with the Jews, and that Origen or Photius would have mentioned it. But Eusebius, the ecclesiastical historian (I, ii), is the first who quotes it, and our reliance on the judgment or even honesty of this writer is not so great as to allow our considering everything found in his works as undoubtedly genuine." (Christian Records, p. 30)
  52. Rev. S. Baring-Gould, in Lost and Hostile Gospels: "This passage is first quoted by Eusebius (fl. A. D. 315) in two places (Hist. Eccl., lib. i, c. xi ; Demonst. Evang., lib. iii); but it was unknown to Justin Martyr (A. D. 140) Clement of Alexandria (A. D. 192), Tertullian (A. D. 193) and Origen (A. D. 230). Such a testimony would certainly have been produced by Justin in his apology or in his controversy with Trypho the Jew, had it existed in the copies of Josephus at his time. The silence of Origen is still more significant. Celsus, in his book against Christianity, introduces a Jew. Origen attacks the argument of Celsus and his Jew. He could not have failed to quote the words of Josephus, whose writings he knew, had the passage existed in the genuine text. He, indeed, distinctly affirms that Josephus did not believe in Christ (Contr. Cels. i)."
  53. "How it may be lawful and fitting to use falsehood as a medicine, and for the benefit of those who want to be deceived." (translation by Gibbon, who really didn't like Eusebius)
  54. Richard Carrier. "Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20.4 (Winter 2012).
  55. “Christs”
  56. Enough so for him to rate a Wikipedia article over the letter.
  57. Israel Antiquities Authority. "Residential building from the time of Jesus exposed in Nazareth." (press release, 2009-12-21)
  58. James Randi made a video clip "Questioning the Bible" in 2009 critically examining many things, including the existence of Nazareth. He concluded that Nazareth is a fictional site that did not exist at the time of Jesus, and that the current city of Nazareth is a tourist marketing site living off pseudoarcheology.
  59. "James" and "Jacob" are the same name in Hebrew.
  60. Michael Foust, 2003-07-25. "A fake? James Ossuary dealer arrested, suspected of forgery." Baptist Press.
  61. 61.0 61.1 Jim Walker, 2001-01-30. "Did a historical Jesus exist?" NoBeliefs.com.
  62. Complete text
  63. [8], [9], [10]
  64. e.g. [11]
  65. Meier, John. "Finding the Historical Jesus: An Interview With John P. Meier". St. Anthony Messenger. "...I think a lot of the confusion comes from the fact that people claim they are doing a quest for the historical Jesus when de facto they’re doing theology, albeit a theology that is indeed historically informed. Go all the way back to Reimarus, through Schleiermacher, all the way down the line through Bultmann, Kasemann, Bornkamm. These are basically people who are theologians, doing a more modern type of Christology [a faith-based study of Jesus Christ]..."
  66. Akenson, Donald (1998). Surpassing wonder: the invention of the Bible and the Talmuds. University of Chicago Press. pp. 539–555. "...The point I shall argue below is that, the agreed evidentiary practices of the historians of Yeshua, despite their best efforts, have not been those of sound historical practice..."
  67. Hector Avalos. The End Of Biblical Studies. Prometheus, 2007. ISBN 1591025362.
  68. e.g. [12], [13]
  69. Some are actual cranks, such as Acharya S. However, historicists who call mythicists "cranks" tend to go quiet when asked if they mean Richard Carrier.
  70. e.g. [14]
  71. Robert Stewart, The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue p17
  72. Richard Carrier, 2002. "Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity (2002)" infidels.org.
  73. e.g. [15]
  74. "Would someone die for a lie?" (ironchariots.org)
  75. "Donatists." Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909.
  76. Rational Response Squad debate with Way of the Master#4th_Question:_RRS
Personal tools
Namespaces

Variants
Actions
Navigation
Community
Tools
support