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Friday, 24 August 2012

The Historical Evidence For Jesus.

Is there good, extra-biblical evidence for the Jesus described in the New Testament?

Most Christian apologists and most preachers will usually be able to quote a list of names of ancient 'historians' or other writers who mentioned Jesus and will confidently assure us that these prove beyond reasonable doubt that the biblical Jesus existed and that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are accurate biographies (in spite of the conflicting, contradictory and obviously anecdotal and/or invented details). It's almost as though Jesus was being regularly referred to in contemporary accounts and written about by all manner of historians of his day. No doubt at all that the Bible is real history and can be verified by independent eye-witness accounts.

Or that's the impression apologists want to give you - and some of them may actually believe it. But, as so often, the historical facts were very different to the claims of Christian apologists.

In his book, "Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One Of America's Leading Atheists", Dan Barker tells how, when he became a free-thinker he realised how shallow had been his study of the documentary evidence for Jesus during his four years of religious study at Azusa Pacific College (now University).

Not that it was a bad class, but it seemed so unnecessary. It provided an answer to a question nobody was asking...

The class did not delve deeply into the ancient documents. We recited the roster of early historians and read some of the church fathers, and then promptly forgot them all. I figured that Christian scholars had already done the homework and that our faith rested on a firm historical foundation, and that if I ever needed to look it up I could turn to some book somewhere for the facts. I just never needed to look it up.

p. 251. Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

The usual list of 'historical documents' which 'prove' the historicity of Jesus, and which is routinely trotted out by Christian apologists, is usually a copy and paste from a Christian apologists on-line source. It will normally include:


Wow! Impressive, or what? Clearly masses of extra-biblical evidence!

Er... or maybe not.

Photios I of Constantinople. What? No Jesus!
I'll deal with these in a moment but it's first worth mentioning none of these were written contemporaneously within the supposed years of Jesus' life - about 4 BCE to 30 CE. Not a single record exists which was made at a time and in an Empire which is one of the most well-documented periods of ancient history. As John E. Remsberg said in 'The Christ':

Philo[-Judeus] 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.


Another local historian of the time was a certain Justus of Tiberius who wrote a (now lost) chronicle of the kings of Israel from Moses to Agrippa II about which a ninth century patriarch of Constantinople Photios I complained:

He [Justus] makes not the least mention of the appearance of Christ, of what things happened to him, or of the wonderful works that he did.

Now to that list of Christian apologist's favourite 'historians':

SourceComment
Flavius Josephus 37 CE - c.100 CE
(Also known as Titus Flavius Josephus, Joseph ben Matityahu, Yosef ben Matityahu or simply Josephus)

Josephus was a highly regarded Roman historian and Messianic Jew who produced two major works - The Wars Of The Jews (seven volumes) and The Antiquities of the Jews (twenty-one volumes). It is the latter which contains the most often quoted 'proof' of the existence of the biblical Jesus, the so-called Testimonium Flavianum (Testimony of Flavius) written in c.90 CE:

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 to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men 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 at this day.

Antiquities of the Jews. Book 18, Chapter 3

The problem with this is that it was written some 60 years after the supposed death of Jesus and cannot be considered a contemporaneous account, and not even the Testimonium Flavianum makes a claim to be the report of an eye-witness. It was written when, if this is to be believed, the myth of Jesus was already formed and Christian communities already existed, complete with the beliefs recorded here as facts. At best, this cannot be regarded as any more an authentic account of something than would a story about something happening in 1952 without the benefit of newspaper records, newsreels, magazines and official records. If you think that possible, ask anyone who was an adult in 1952, what the strike by the United Steelworkers of America was over and what President Truman's role was in the affair. Then check their account against the records. Do you think it would qualify as accurate, reliable history?

The other problem with the Testimonium is that it's very probably either a total forgery; an interpolation added later, or a later elaboration of a brief original mention of an anecdotal account of an execution of a man called Jesus. Urban myths would have been no less common then than they are today.

Dan Barker list seven reasons for thinking it may be a outright forgery:

  1. The paragraph is absent from early copies. Origen, who vigorously defended Christinity and quoted widely from Josephus but never referred to this paragraph. The paragraph suddenly makes its appearance in the 4th century when it was first quoted by Bishop Eusabius, an ally of Constantine, who is recorded as saying it is permissible "medicine" for historians to create fiction.
  2. Josephus, a Messianic Jew would not have called Jesus 'the Christ'. If he had believed him to be the 'Christ' he would have become a Christian. He did not. Origen even referred to him as "not believing in Jesus as the Christ".
  3. The paragraph is out of context. It follows an account of a massacre of Jews by Pilate following a period of unrest, and is followed by, "And about the same time another terrible misfortune confounded the Jews...". In what sense would a Messianic Jew have regarded the death of Jesus a 'terrible misfortune'? Eusabius might well have though. The paragraph can be lifted out from the surrounding text with no damage to the chapter.
  4. The phrase 'to this day' shows this is a later addition. There was no 'tribe of Christians' in 90 CE since Christianity did not take off until the second century.
  5. Josephus appears to know nothing more about Jesus apart from a reference to 'James the brother of Jesus'. He shows no awareness of the Gospels nor of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, even though, had these been contemporaneous accounts of Jesus, they would have been invaluable sources for him. Nor does he show any awareness of the writings of Paul. He mentions the deeds of other prophets at length but has nothing to say about the miracles of Jesus, about an earthquake and eclipse at Passover, of dead people rising from their grave and wandering around or the reputed damage to the Temple. In short, apart from this one paragraph, it's as though for Josephus, Jesus never existed, at least in the form reported in the Bible.

    In all of Josephus’ voluminous works, there is not a single reference to Christianity anywhere outside of this tiny paragraph. He relates much more about John the Baptist than about Jesus. He lists the activities of many other self-proclaimed messiahs, including Judas of Galilee, Theudas the magician and the Egyptian Jew Messiah, but is mute about the life of one whom he claims (if he wrote it) is the answer to his messianic hopes.

    Barker, Dan Op.Cit. (p. 257)
  6. The Testmonium mentions that Jesus was prophesied by 'divine prophets' yet neglects to say who they were or what they said - an uncharacteristically incomplete account for Josephus.
  7. The paragraph is not in Josephus' style but reads more like the sectarian propaganda associated with the New Testament, e.g. "... as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him."
As Dan Barker points out, if we remove this almost certainly forged paragraph from Josephus' Antiquities his works become evidence not for but against the historicity of Jesus.
Seutonius c. 69 – c. 122
(Also known as Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus)

His most important surviving work is a set of biographies of twelve successive Roman rulers, from Julius Caesar to Domitian, entitled De Vita Caesarum. He recorded the earliest accounts of Julius Caesar's epileptic seizures. Other works by Suetonius concern the daily life of Rome, politics, oratory, and the lives of famous writers, including poets, historians, and grammarians. A few of these books have partially survived, but many have been lost.


In about 112 CE Suetonius wrote in De Vita Caesarum, also know as The 12 Caesars, "[Claudius] banished the Jews from Rome, since they had made a commotion because of Chrestus,” and reported that under Nero, "punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief..."

Nowhere does Seutonius mention Jesus by name and never refers to Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ. Some Christians have claimed, with no basis whatsoever, that 'Chrestus' was a mistake and meant 'Christ'. Crestus is a name which simply means 'good' and was in common usage at that time in Rome, but even if it was a mistake, 'Christ' could have meant the expected Messiah of the Jews of Rome.

Suetonius also recorded that the body of Caesar Augustus rose bodily into heaven when he died. Few historians regard that as factual, least of all Christian ones.

As historical proofs go, this is a great example of something that, well... isn't.
Pliny (the Younger)
61 CE – ca. 112 CE
(Also known as Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo)

Pliny is known for his hundreds of surviving letters, which are an invaluable historical source for the time period. Many are addressed to reigning emperors or to notables such as the historian, Tacitus. Pliny himself was a notable figure, serving as an imperial magistrate under Trajan (reigned AD 98–117). Pliny was considered an honest and moderate man, consistent in his pursuit of suspected Christian members according to Roman law, and rose through a series of Imperial civil and military offices, the cursus honorum (see below). He was a friend of the historian Tacitus and employed the biographer Suetonius in his staff.


In 112 CE Pliny reported that "Christians were singing a hymn to Christ as a god..." And that's it. No mention of Jesus by name. It was normal for Messianic Jews then to refer to their current Messiah as (the) Christ so this could even be a reference not to Christians as we now use the term, but to a local Jewish sect. But even if it does refer to a group of Christians as we now understand the term, this is only a record of the beliefs of a group of people. It is not a record of Jesus, who supposedly died some 80 years earlier. Frankly, to call it contemporaneous, extra-biblical evidence is to stretch the meaning of the words 'contemporaneous' and 'evidence' beyond breaking point.
Tacitus 56 CE – 117 CE
(Also known as Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus)

Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117) was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors. These two works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus in AD 14 to (presumably) the death of emperor Domitian in AD 96. There are substantial lacunae in the surviving texts, including one four-books long in the Annals.

[...]

Tacitus is considered to be one of the greatest Roman historians. He lived in what has been called the Silver Age of Latin literature, and as well as the brevity and compactness of his Latin prose, he is known for his penetrating insights into the psychology of power politics.


Around 117 CE, Tacitus wrote in Annals:

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 Christus, 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.

Annals Book 15, Ch 44

Tacitus does not paint a very flattering picture of Christians and this passage tells us nothing about Jesus of Nazareth whom he does not name and about whom he claims no first-hand knowledge. It only tells us of the then common ideas about Christians. As Dan Barker points out, this is the equivalent of someone today reporting that Mormons believe that Joseph Smith saw an angel. It does not make it historic proof.

This is the only historical reference to Nero persecuting Christians, though he did persecute Jews. Perhaps Tacitus was confusing them with Christians as there was not a 'great crowd' of Christians in Rome in 60 CE, nor was the term 'Christian' then in use. Tacitus appears to be repeating a myth without checking the facts and even includes an allusion to Nero burning Rome, for which he needed a scapegoat, something which, despite the legend, never actually happened.
Thallus - Dates unknown
Thallus (Greek: Θαλλός), was an early historian who wrote in Koine Greek. Some scholars believe that his work can be interpreted as the earliest reference to the historical Jesus, and argue that it was written about 20 years after the Crucifixion. He wrote a three-volume history of the Mediterranean world from before the Trojan War to the 167th Olympiad, c. 112-109 BCE. Most of his work, like the vast majority of ancient literature, perished, but not before parts of his writings were repeated by Sextus Julius Africanus in his History of the World.


A further problem for Christian apologists who want to rely on this account is that all the works of Africanus have also been lost. So, the only knowledge we have of Thallus and his reputed account of the 'Passover solar eclipse' (which is technically impossible given the relationship of Passover to the lunar cycle) is a putative quote from Africanus by a ninth century Byzantine writer, George Syncellus, a Christian monk and syncellus (literally, cell-mate) to Tarsius, patriarch of Constantinople. He can scarcely be called unbiased.

As Dan Barker points out:

We have no idea who Thallus was, or when he wrote. Eusebius (fourth century) mentions a history of Thallus in three books ending about 112 C.E. so the suggestion is that Thallus might have been a near contemporary of Jesus. (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.")

Barker, Dan Op.Cit. p. 261.
Mara bar Serapion (dates unknown)

Mara bar ("son of") Serapion, sometimes spelled Mara bar Sarapion (sic) was a Stoic philosopher from the Roman province of Syria. He is noted for a letter he wrote in Syriac to his son, who was also named Serapion. The letter was composed sometime between 73 CE and the 3rd century, and may be an early non-Christian references to the crucifixion of Jesus.


Although the other examples are named, no first name is given for the 'wise king', so this could equally refer to, for example, the Essene 'Teacher of Righteousness', who was killed by the Jews, whereas, so Christians believe and so the Gospels report, Jesus was killed by the Romans.

The actual text is preserved in the British Museum having been obtained from an Egyptian monastery by Henry Tatton. The 1855 English translation of the key original Syriac text is:

What else can we say, when the wise are forcibly dragged off by tyrants, their wisdom is captured by insults, and their minds are oppressed and without defense? What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the "new law" he laid down.


Given the uncertainty over the date and the ambiguity of the reference, this cannot be regarded as serious historical evidence for the historicity of the biblical Jesus.
Lucian c. CE 125 – after CE 180
(Also known as Lucian of Samosata)

Lucian of Samosata (Ancient Greek: Λουκιανὸς ὁ Σαμοσατεύς, Latin: Lucianus Samosatensis; c. CE 125 – after CE 180) was a rhetorician and satirist who wrote in the Greek language. He is noted for his witty and scoffing nature. Although he wrote solely in Greek, he was ethnically Assyrian.


The often cited 'evidence' for the historicity of Jesus comes from a satire entitled The Passing of Peregrinus in which the eponymous character, Peregrinus Proteus, takes advantage of gullible Christians. In it he describes the basis for the Christian sect as "a man who was crucified in Palestine".

But this was in the second century, when this would have been known anyway. It has no more historical value as a source document than would modern writing reporting the same thing. It is nothing more than the equivalent of saying the basis for Mormonism is a man who saw an angel.

The real historical value of this source is that it is probably the earliest record of the pagan perception of Christians in the second century.
Phlegon 2nd Century.
(Also known as Phlegon of Tralles)
Phlegon of Tralles (Ancient Greek: Φλέγων) was a Greek writer and freedman of the emperor Hadrian, who lived in the 2nd century AD.

His chief work was the Olympiads, an historical compendium in sixteen books, from the 1st down to the 229th Olympiad (776 BC to AD 137), of which several chapters are preserved in Eusebius' Chronicle, Photius and George Syncellus.


He is quoted as having made some passing references to the Jews but is not recorded anywhere as saying anything about anyone called Jesus nor anything which could be interpreted as a reference to him.

It seems Phlegon is included in the traditional lists of historical 'proofs' of the historicity of Jesus merely to pad the list and make it look more impressive.
Tertullian c.160 – c. 225 CE
(Also known as Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus)

Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225 AD), was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy. Tertullian has been called "the father of Latin Christianity" and "the founder of Western theology".


Tertullian was too late to be considered contemporaneous with Jesus or with anyone who might conceivably have known him. His writings are nothing more than early Christian apologetics, no more reliable as authentic history than those of any modern apologist.

Again, he seems to be included in the lists as impressive-looking padding.
Justin Martyr 100 CE –ca.165 CE
(Also known as Saint Justin)

Justin Martyr, also known as just Saint Justin (AD 100–ca.165), was an early Christian apologist, and is regarded as the foremost interpreter of the theory of the Logos in the 2nd century. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue did survive. He is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.


Just another early Christian apologists who seems to be included by insecure modern Christian apologists who seek safety in numbers.
Clement of Rome 'flourished' c.96 CE
(Also known as Pope Clement I, Saint Clement of Rome, Clemens Romanus)

Pope Clement I (fl. 96), also known as Saint Clement of Rome (in Latin, Clemens Romanus), is listed from an early date as a Bishop of Rome. He was the first Apostolic Father of the Church.

Few details are known about Clement's life. According to Tertullian, Clement was consecrated by Saint Peter, and he is known to have been a leading member of the church in Rome in the late 1st century.


The Catholic Church is hopelessly muddled about whether Clement was the second, third or fourth Pope after Peter. The only existing writing is a letter from him to the Christian congregation in Corinth in which he calls for the reinstatement of some deposed bishops on the grounds that they had been consecrated by the Apostles. It contains nothing which could be interpreted as a reference to a historic Jesus. Clement was merely stating the, by then, established Latin Christian dogma.

Once again, mere padding for a list, which modern Christian apologists seem only too aware is embarrassingly meagre if only the sources with any realistic claim to substantiate the historicity of the biblical Jesus are included.
Ignatius from 35-50 to 98-117 CE
(Also known as Ignatius of Antioch or Theophorus)

Ignatius of Antioch (Ancient Greek: Ἰγνάτιος Ἀντιοχείας, also known as Theophorus from Greek Θεοφόρος "God-bearer") (ca. 35 or 50-between 98 and 117) was among the Apostolic Fathers, was the third Bishop of Antioch, and was a student of John the Apostle. En route to his martyrdom in Rome, he wrote a series of letters which have been preserved as an example of very early Christian theology. Important topics addressed in these letters include ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the role of bishops.


Church tradition, which has no documentary support, says that Ignatius met Jesus as a child and was taken in his arms and blessed. This seems to be based on his 'stage name', Theophorus ('God Bearer') involving some curious notion of role reversal. He, along with his friend Polycarp (of whom more later) may have been disciples of the Apostle John.

Many letters and other documents once attributed to him have been shown to be forgeries and others have been heavily doctored with interpolations. A claimed eye-witness accounts of his martyrdom is also a forgery.

Probably included in the list to give it the caché of including some early Christian fathers and martyrs.
Polycarp 69 – 155 CE

Polycarp (69 – 155) (Ancient Greek: Πολύκαρπος) was a 2nd century Christian bishop of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him. Polycarp is regarded as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches.

It is recorded by Irenaeus, who heard him speak in his youth, and by Tertullian, that he had been a disciple of John the Apostle.

[...]

With Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is regarded as one of three chief Apostolic Fathers. The sole surviving work attributed to his authorship is his Letter to the Philippians; it is first recorded by Irenaeus of Lyons.


The only extant document attributed to Polycarp is a letter to the Philippeans which shows a heavy reliance on the New Testament. At best, it can only be regarded as a statement of early Christian belief.

Polycarp, like the preceding two members of the list, appears to be included to create a trio of early Christian Church Fathers. He has nothing to offer by way of historical authentication of the biblical Jesus either. Maybe the 'argument' is that, if they believed it, it must be true, maybe as a form of ancestor worship or quoting the beliefs of a Founding Father as 'proof' of that belief.
Clement of Alexandria c.150 – c. 215 CE
(Also known as Titus Flavius Clemens)

Titus Flavius Clemens (c.150 – c. 215), known as Clement of Alexandria, was a Christian theologian who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. A convert to Christianity, he was an educated man who was familiar with classical Greek philosophy and literature. As his three major works demonstrate, Clement was influenced by Hellenistic philosophy to a greater extent than any other Christian thinker of his time, and in particular by Plato and the Stoics. His secret works, which exist only in fragments, attest that he was also familiar with pre-Christian Jewish esotericism and Gnosticism. Among his pupils were Origen and Alexander of Jerusalem.


It's hard to see why a Christian theologian who could not possibly have had any first-hand experience of events between 4 BCE and c.30 CE should be included in a list of people providing authentic, contemporaneous evidence for the biblical Jesus.

List padding and a desire to mislead seems to be the only possible explanation.
Hippolytus 170 – 235 CE
(Also known as Hippolytus of Rome)

Hippolytus of Rome (170 – 235) was the most important 3rd-century theologian in the Christian Church in Rome, where he was probably born. Photios I of Constantinople describes him in his Bibliotheca (cod. 121) as a disciple of Irenaeus, who was said to be a disciple of Polycarp, and from the context of this passage it is supposed that he suggested that Hippolytus himself so styled himself. However, this assertion is doubtful. He came into conflict with the popes of his time and seems to have headed a schismatic group as a rival bishop of Rome. For that reason he is sometimes considered the first antipope. He opposed the Roman bishops who softened the penitential system to accommodate the large number of new pagan converts.


Again, someone who could not and does not provide any direct, or indirect evidence for the historicity of the biblical Jesus, being born some 140 years too late, and who the early church did not hold in very high regard, seems to be there just to provide bulk in order to impress those who are too lazy to check and who will just accept the list on 'faith'.

Origen c.184 - 253 CE
(Also known as Origen Adamantius)

Origen (Greek: Ὠριγένης Ōrigénēs), or Origen Adamantius (184/185 – 253/254), was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, largely because he believed in the pre-existence of souls and apokatastasis, or universal reconciliation, ideas acknowledged to be beyond the pale of Christianity. Today he is generally regarded (in the Catholic Church) as one of the Church Fathers.


Once again there seems to be no reason to include Origen in this list as his 'knowledge' can only ever have been received. Simply retrospectively rehabilitating a former heretic and elevating him to the status of Church Father does not add the weight of historical authenticity to his opinions.

Historical authentication does not work by fiat.
Cyprian died September 14, 258
(Also known as Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus)

Cyprian (Latin: Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus) (died September 14, 258) was bishop of Carthage and an important Early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works are extant. He was born around the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa, perhaps at Carthage, where he received a classical education. After converting to Christianity, he became a bishop in 249 and eventually died a martyr at Carthage.


Maybe not the least in the list, but thankfully the last in a list which would be more honest by its absence.

So what have we from this impressive-looking list of sources which allegedly prove that the Biblical Jesus existed and was as described in the, often contradictory, Gospels in the New Testament, and as talked and written about by 'Paul' and others pretending to be Paul?

What we have is nothing at all which can't be dismissed as forgeries, hearsay, received 'wisdom' or merely statements of orthodox Christian dogma written by people with a personal commitment to belief in Jesus and/or a vested interest in promulgating it.

Jesus of Nazareth, as described in the Bible, is thus probably one of the least well-attested figures in all legend, on a par with King Arthur, Prester John, Rip van Winkle and William Tell. A person who no one alive at the time seems to have noticed or to have considered worth reporting on as a person of any importance.




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38 comments:

  1. Wow great work Rosa. I've heard of three of the "sources" but not all of those. Still, I'm agnostic about the whole historicy thing. Sure would be easy for us if dude never existed...and it could be proven. I believe Richard Carrier is coming out with the definitive Historicy of Jesus book. Apparently Erhmans was, as the cool kids say, "not all that." Awesome,

    Kriss

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  2. This list doesn't prove Jesus didn't exist, of course, and it's entirely possible the myth could have been built on the nucleus of a few facts about a real charismatic Jewish leader/teacher of some sort, or on an amalgamation of several people one or more of whom may have been executed, just as the Essene 'Teacher of Righteousness' was.

    The sheer lack of historical evidence and especially from historians who were living and writing in the area at the time, is strong evidence that the biblical Jesus never existed and did the things the Gospels claim and that the story of the resurrection is a later addition to this myth, probably fitting the Jesus myth into existing narratives of resurrection and bodily assent into heaven after death then common in that part of the Roman Empire.

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  3. Excellent overview. I too had heard of a few of these, but not most of them.

    Technically "you can't prove a negative", but realistically, absence of evidence is evidence of absence, in cases where the presence of something would be expected to generate unmistakable evidence. I can pretty much "prove" that there is no elephant in my apartment right now, because if there were one, it would be impossible to avoid noticing it.

    Historians like Philo-Judeus were in the right place at the right time and didn't notice the elephant. It wasn't there.

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    Replies
    1. It amuses me how quickly theology resorts the the "absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence" technicality when, and especially when evidence would be expected, they live their every-day lives on the assumption that, if there is no evidence for something being there, it's normal to assume it isn't actually there

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    2. It doesn't mean there wasn't some relatively unpopular guy named Jesus wandering around preaching, of course.

      When historians and archaeologists found independent evidence of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel... we also discovered that they'd vastly over-advertised themselves in the Bible and were minor microstates of miniscule importance with very unimpressive buildings and artifacts, the period equivalent of Andorra and San Marino (OK, I exaggerate a little, but not much). Presumably, if there was a historical Jesus, the advertisers of Jesus did the same sort of puffery. It was a tradition by then!

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  4. I like the quote from Dan Barker, "I figured that Christian scholars had already done the homework and that our faith rested on a firm historical foundation, and that if I ever needed to look it up I could turn to some book somewhere for the facts. I just never needed to look it up."

    That was my experience exactly. I'm glad you looked it up.

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  5. Good post, but there is something I am noticing.

    Tacitus writes: "This was the sect known as Christians. Their founder, one Christus, had been put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius"

    And you write: "Tacitus does not paint a very flattering picture of Christians and this passage tells us nothing about Jesus of Nazareth whom he does not name and about whom he claims no first-hand knowledge."

    It seems that Tacitus statement does indeed affirm that founder of the Christians, which he refers to as "one Christus", was indeed executed by the order of Pilate. The founder of the Christians is referred today as "Jesus Christ", and whether he was actually called by that name during his life seems, to me, an arbitrary detail. The crux of the argument around historicity, is: did the founder of the Christians--the man whom the NT mythology is built around--actually exist. The name of this man, then and now, is a really just a secondary detail.

    Perhaps Tacitus is parroting mythology and passing it as history. Who is to say? What stands, however, is that one of the leading historians of the day does write about it. This of course, does not validate the mythology. But that isn't the argument at hand.

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    1. Tacitus does not name Jesus, nor does he tell us anything about him.

      The term 'Christ' refers to the Jewish Messiah and was used for any claimant by followers of the particular claimant. 'Christ', as it is used by Christians today, is Jesus' title, not his name. At the time of Nero, the term would have been used by his followers as the title for any acclaimed Jewish Messiah and would have referred to different people according to the Messianic sect.

      The fact that Tacitus refers to 'a great crowd [of Christians]' existing at a time when there were but few in Rome suggests he was either confusing them with Messianic Jews, who were both numerous and persecuted by Nero, or was simply repeated a myth, as we know he did with the myth that Nero had Rome burned.

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    2. Indeed, but Tacitus is explicitly referring to a very particular Christ--the founder of the Christians, who was executed by Pilate. Whether the NT names him as 'Jesus' or as 'Bill', and what his name actually was, is rather arbitrary. Tacitus, by his own words, is referring to the Christian messiah.

      Does this tell us anything about the Christian messiah? Not really much. If we are to believe Tacitus, this person lived, founded the Christians, and died by execution. At some point, Christians referred to this founder as Jesus.

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    3. >but Tacitus is explicitly referring to a very particular Christ--the founder of the Christians<

      Tacitus also refers to a 'great crowd' of Christians, which would have been impossible in Nero's time. He is clearly either confusing 'Christ' with a Jewish Messiah at the time or merely repeating mythology.

      It was no secret that, when Tacitus actually wrote this, people knew the myth of Jesus and that the Jewish Messianic sect which believed he was the Christ had adopted the name 'Christians', yet, maybe significantly, Tacitus doesn't use his name, only a title which was not unique at the time he was writing about.

      So the point still stands that Tacitus never actually named Jesus of Nazareth and told us nothing about him other than (possibly) merely repeating the myth of his execution.

      The question then is whether this is a useful document in establishing the historicity of Jesus (which it isn't) or merely an interesting early reference to a growing early Christian religion, which it might be. It might also be an interesting illustration of how the term 'Christian' was used for one or more Jewish Messianic sects at the time of Nero if there could be a 'great crowd' of them.

      But probably the most damning thing about this Tacitus quote is that it is itself contained in an account of Nero burning Rome, so needing a scapegoat, which is known to be false.


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    4. Tacitus does refer to an executed founder, a crowd, and Nero burning Rome. From a logical standpoint the truth value of one does not imply a truth value of the other. Inconsistency may, on the other hand, rightly call into question the reliability of the author; but that said, we need to be careful with our swans: nine being black do not preclude the tenth being white.

      You are right that your point still stands about Tacitus not actually identifying the founder as the Christians as "Jesus", but I'm not sure of the importance of this point standing. While I clearly don't regard this as a strong counterpoint to the historicity of the one who founded of the Christians, I will concede that it does bear more weight as a counterpoint to the assertion that Jesus in the NT is the founder of Christianity that Tacitus writes about. The mention of execution by Pilate is really the only connector to 'JC of the canon' that an apologist has to stand on, and I don't think that this can be argued with any more strength than it could be denied. In this regard, I believe that you are correct to say that Annals is useless.

      To be honest, I find the whole argument surrounding the historicity of "Jesus of the Bible" to be a little strange. Even if the apologist can make the case that there was a historical founder of their cult, and that this person is who is now known as JC of the NT, this case, as mentioned earlier, would not legitimize any of the mythology around this founder. Legitimizing these tales would require evidence, insanity, and/or credulousness--which doesn't leave much to be desired given that there is no evidence to be found. But now I digress--and perhaps destructively to the thread at hand--so I'll end it here.

      All in all, you've made some good points and helped me think about this. Thank you, Rosa.

      Delete
  6. Excellent work, Rosa. I'll be passing this article along. What I haven't been able to find in your blog is a way to contact you to let you know of a forum where mythicists, who you will recognize, post. Please join us: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/JesusMysteries/

    All are welcomed.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. You can contact me the way you just did. :-)

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    2. Rather too many hoops to jump through I think.

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  7. Rosa,

    Excellent job, you've beaten me to the punch as I've been meaning to go through this list and eviscerate these supposed proofs myself for some time. I've had about half of these names thrown at me by a number of apologists in the past and have discounted them in exactly the same way...it really only takes a look at the dates of birth to recognize that they aren't worthy of quotation as extra-biblical eye witness account.

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  8. "...it's first worth mentioning none of these were written contemporaneously within the supposed years of Jesus' life - about 4 BCE to 30 CE."
    >>>

    Surely you're aware of the fact that historians don't require contemporary accounts for accepted history? (If you think they do, then you'd have to rewrite much of history) They accept both first hand and secondary accounts, among other factors. While your info may seem to be impressive to the uninformed laymen, but it doesn't stand up to the scholar's/historian's criteria and scrutiny.

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    1. Perhaps you'd like to actually read the article, even if you are afraid it'll make you face up to your doubts.

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    2. I did read the article actually, but I don't see where you addressed my concern. If you did and I missed it, will you kindly point it out? Thanks in advance.

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    3. Razor Swift

      You were actually 'concerned' that I had written something self-evidently factual, eh?

      I wonder why I got the impression that you just latched on a random sentence from the first few paragraphs as an excuse to try to smear the rest of the article because it addresses something about which you are understandably hypersensitive.

      I'm sorry facts concern you, but I really don't see how I can address that problem for you. Perhaps it's something to do with the way you handle cognitive dissonance by pretending inconvenient facts aren't true.

      I hope that helps.

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  9. You are aware that virtually every mainline historian, regardless of religious leanings, accepts Jesus as a real, historical figure and finds the evidence for his existence more than persuasive? Not my words, the words of Bart Ehrman:

    http://www.amazon.com/Did-Jesus-Exist-Historical-Argument/dp/0062204602/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346309403&sr=8-1&keywords=bart+ehrman

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    1. To Cory Tucholski,

      I think what these 'mainline historians' mean is that they accept a man existed and the NT fables were likely based on some of what he did. Ehrman himself does not accept Jesus was in any way supernatural, was the son of God, was born of a virgin, was resurrected from the dead; in fact, he claim Jesus was just another doomsday prophet, one of hundreds in the region at that time. It's almost irrelevant that such a man existed, because he bears very little resemblance to the myth figure created in the NT. Very few (if any) 'mainline historians' would accept that the NT description - the Christ - is real.

      PS Brilliant stuff, Rosa, thank you.

      D.

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    2. Cory Tucholski,

      If you have actually read Bart D Ehrmann, you are no doubt aware that he is an Atheist and has no doubt the the biblical Jesus was not as described in the Bible and that the Gospels are not accurate biographies of a real person - the exact point this blog argues.

      Have you been fooled by being given that link and not bothering to check it, or were you hoping to fool other people with it?

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  10. Razor Swift makes a good point that you have chosen to ignore the weight of, as he stated real Historians don't necessarily need contemporary accounts to rebuild a historical person or event. Those standards are unrealistic in regards to ancient history and its surprising that you don't acknowledge that, and instead your article simply fells a straw man. No offence but a real ancient historian would literally laugh in your face and Barkers attempt at masquerading as a historian.

    Even by your own standards one cannot simply ignore the gospel tradition or Paul's letters even if you were to ignore the supernatural claims, that's not what real historians do, they look closer for say off the cuff almost pointless remarks that shed light on people. One such example would be Paul's reference to James the brother of Jesus in Galatians 1:19.

    I must point out that I am not myself an ancient Historian, I specialised from the 1400 onwards but many of the principles and methodology remain the same.

    Certain Christians like to masquerade as Biologists and now Atheists are all ancient Historians.

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    1. Sorry you were also unable to provide any substantive evidence to support your superstition.

      Paul's 'letters', whoever wrote them, are evidence merely that someone wrote something. Unless you can produce any evidence that they describe real events, then they are no more evidence for the historicity of Jesus than are Harry Potter books that harry Potter is real and can do magic.

      Hint: tradition, no matter how frequently repeated, does not turn myth and legend into real history.

      Thank you for pointing out the paucity of real evidence that Christians have to make do with, what with not having any real evidence you can call on. It's another example of Christians needing absurdly low standards of evidence to maintain a delusionary belief in the God of Low Standards.

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    2. Failedatheist.

      I like the lie in your name, BTW. I've blogged about people who try that trick in "As A Former Atheist. Don't Give Me That Crap". You might learn from it and discover why your ploy fails.

      Then you might like to think about why you decided to use tactics over substance to promote your superstition, though I dare say people could hazard a good guess about what the motive for that is.

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  11. I'm so bloody tired of history as myth foolishness. It's like NOMA for historians. If the facts aren't there, then there must be something of substance underlying belief? Nah. Just credulous idiots repeating something they heard when they were 7.

    Just ask a xian whether Constantine or the truth of jesus is the reason for christianity's success. Every single time, they answer that jesus is self-evident.

    Your "facts" are wasted on everyone without the capacity for reason.

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  12. The whole jesus/god/holy fairy fairy tale is total fiction, so why would (supposed) evidence for the magic jew be considered any differently? I love how those afflicted by religion try and justify the nonsense by quoting "experts" and those said to be breathing at the time. It's really quite fun listening to them talk themselves into a corner and completely fail at presenting the message they're trying to sell.

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  13. Have you ever considered that science could become a bizarre religion?

    I advise you to see how science sometimes follows money interest and how science could be manipulated to serve interests...

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    1. Anonymous

      Have you ever noticed how science produced the computer and the Internet whilst religion never even produced the wheel?

      A computer of some sort, and the Internet, are the scientific means you are using to try to discredit science.

      I hope that helps.

      Delete
  14. Actually, there is considerable evidence that Jesus was a 1st century king of Edessa (in northern Syria) - King Manu VI.

    Why? There are many reasons, including that they were both Nazarene Jews, royal princes, and revolutionaries who tried to take over Judaea; both were 'persecuted' by the Romans, and both wrote letters to Edessa. In addition they both:
    a. Had the same names.
    b. Wore a Crown of Thorns.

    And why have you never heard of kings Abgarus and Manu of Edessa before, despite their being very closely involved in Judaean politics and appearing in the Acts of the Apostles?? Because Josephus Flavius and others have deliberately deleted them from history. Why? Because they were known to have been the originators of the gospel stories.

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  15. @Unknown: King Abgarus/Abgar is fairly well known by historians and theologians, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abgar_V .

    In that Wikipedia article you can read: The legend tells that Abgar, king of Edessa, afflicted with an incurable sickness, probably leprosy, had heard the fame of the power and miracles of Jesus and wrote to him, acknowledging his divinity, craving his help, and offering him asylum in his own residence; the tradition states that Jesus wrote a letter, commending Abgar on his faith, but declining to go, but promising that after his ascension, he would send one of his disciples, endowed with his power.

    The 4th-century church historian Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, records a tradition concerning a correspondence on this occasion, exchanged between Abgar of Edessa and Jesus. Eusebius was convinced that the original letters, written in Syriac (Aramaic), were kept in the archives of Edessa. Eusebius also states that in due course, after Christ's ascension, Thaddeus, namely Addai (called Addaï), or one of the seventy-two Disciples, called Thaddeus of Edessa, was sent by Thomas the Apostle in AD 29. Eusebius copies the two letters into the text of his history.

    Need I say that Bishop Eusebius has a very bad reputation among historians for being a liar? See for example: http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/eusebius/eusebius_the_liar.htm and http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Lying_for_Jesus .

    A quote from the last one: Lying for Jesus is a form of pious fraud which happens when some Christians believe that falsifying information is acceptable if that brings people to Jesus or somehow supports his historicity, saintliness or supposed godliness.
    The practice has a long and venerable history in the Christian religions.

    And need I say that the correspondence between King Abgar of Edessa and Jesus has mysteriously disappeared?

    So the important question to ask is: Has it ever existed? Other than in the church father Eusebius' pious imagination?

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  16. Oh, one more thing. I forgot this comment:

    Roger Viklund is a Swedish scholar who is engaged in the same questions (i.e. about the historical evidence for the biblical Jesus). I can strongly recommend his blog, for example this article: http://rogerviklund.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/richard-carriers-article-origen-eusebius-and-the-accidental-interpolation-in-josephus-jewish-antiquities-20-200/ .

    Also many other of Roger Viklund's blog articles are written in English. 

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  17. Really? You read this entire thing and you're still coming back with this?

    This is desperation.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Not sure who or what this is aimed at but I assume you've gone for an ad hominem because you don't have any facts to use.

      Delete
  18. @WriterWriter: You seem to be a real woo. At least you act and behave like one. First of all, your accusation or criticism is so vague that neither Rosa Rubicondior nor I know for sure whom you're shooting at. And we also don't know what upsets you so much, since you don't reveal any details.

    Tell me, do you mean it's you who are desperate? I can't see that interpretation of your comment being out of the question. In that case i hope and recommend that you'll calm down. It's not good for your - for anyone's - health to be upset.

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  19. Rosa
    Love your site.
    The layout the content all great. I send your addy to all I meet.
    I wonder if you could comment on an article in another blog I have encountered.
    It seems to me very well written. http://armariummagnus.blogspot.ca/

    a bit from his blog on the "Cartoons and Fables - How Cosmos Got the Story of Bruno Wrong" page
    reads as follows:
    Scholars who specialise in the origins of Christianity agree on very little, but they do generally agree that it is most likely that a historical preacher, on whom the Christian figure "Jesus Christ" is based, did exist.


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    1. Love the way Christian apologists always assert that all or most scholars and historians agree with them but never say who, or where this 'fact' came from and how they validated it.

      Another case of just accepting what someone else said 'on faith', like the alleged list of eyewitness listed in the blog.

      Delete

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