Historicity of Jesus

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The historicity of Jesus concerns the historical authenticity of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. Scholars often draw a distinction between Jesus as reconstructed through historical methods and the Christ of faith as understood through theological tradition. The historical figure of Jesus is of central importance to various religions, but especially Christianity and Islam, in which the historical details of Jesus’ life are essential.

With few exceptions (such as Robert M. Price), virtually all scholars in the fields of biblical studies and history agree that Jesus was a Jewish teacher from Galilee who was regarded as a healer, was baptized by John the Baptist, was accused of sedition against the Roman Empire, and on the orders of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate was sentenced to death by crucifixion.[1]

The four canonical Gospels (most commonly estimated to have been written between 65 and 110 A.D[2]) and the writings of Paul of the New Testament are among the earliest known documents relating to Jesus' life. Some scholars also hypothesize the existence of earlier texts such as the Signs Gospel and the Q document. There are arguments that parts of the Gospel of Thomas are likewise early texts.

Scholarly opinions on the historicity of the New Testament accounts are diverse. At the extremes, they range from the view that they are inerrant descriptions of the life of Jesus,[3] to the view that they provide no historical information about his life.[4] The sources extant contain little evidence of Jesus' life before the account of Jesus' Baptism, and it has been suggested by many [5] that the events recorded in the gospels cover a period of less than three years. As with all historical sources, scholars question the extent to which the authors' motivations shape the texts, the sources that were available to them, the amount of time that elapsed between the events described and when they wrote about them, and how these factors lead to inaccuracies such as exaggerations or inventions.


[edit] History of research

Attempts to use historical rather than religious methods to construct a verifiable biography of Jesus began in the 18th century with Hermann Samuel Reimarus, up to William Wrede and Albert Schweitzer in the 19th century Reimarus pioneered "the search for the historical Jesus", applying the Rationalism of the Enlightenment Era to claims about Jesus. Although Schweitzer was among the greatest contributors to this quest, he also ended it by noting how each scholar's version of Jesus seemed little more than an idealized autobiography of the scholar himself.

A later generation of scholars emphasized the "constraints of history", so that despite uncertainties there were historical data that were usable. Yet another generation tended to focus on the early textual layers of the New Testament for data to reconstruct a biography for the historical Jesus. Many of these scholars rely on a redactive critique of the hypothetical Q Gospel and on a Greco-Roman "Mediterranean" milieu as opposed to a Jewish milieu and tend to view Jesus as a radical philosopher of Wisdom literature. Jesus is featured throughout the New Testament and other Early Christian writings, as can be seen in such works as the Gospels, the Pauline Epistles, the book of Acts, the writings of the early Church Fathers, and the New Testament apocrypha.

[edit] Earliest known sources

[edit] Christian writings

Jesus is featured throughout the New Testament and other Early Christian writings, such as the Gospels, the Pauline Epistles, the book of Acts, the writings of the early Church Fathers, and the New Testament apocrypha.

[edit] Gospels

P52, a papyrus fragment from a codex (c. 90-160), one of the earliest known New Testament manuscripts.

The most detailed accounts of the life of Jesus in the Bible are the four canonical Gospels: the Gospel of Matthew; the Gospel of Mark; the Gospel of Luke; and the Gospel of John.[6] These Gospels are narrative accounts of part of the life of Jesus. They concentrate on his ministry, and conclude with his death and resurrection. The extent to which these sources are interrelated, or used related source material, is known as the synoptic problem. The date, authorship, access to eyewitnesses, and other essential questions of historicity depend on the various solutions to this problem.

The four canonical Gospels are anonymous. The introduction to Luke mentions accounts of what was handed down by eyewitnesses, and claims to have "diligently investigated all things from the beginning". The epilogue to John states that "these things" are testified to by the beloved disciple, whose "testimony we know ... is true".[7] The authors in antiquity who discussed the authorship of the Gospels generally asserted the following:[8] Matthew was written by Matthew, one of the Twelve apostles of Jesus; Mark was written by Mark, a disciple of Simon Peter, who was one of the Twelve; Luke was written by Luke, who was a disciple of Paul, who was the Apostle to the Gentiles; John was written by John, who was one of the Twelve. In addition, the book of the Acts of the Apostles has traditionally been attributed to Luke.

The first three Gospels, known as the synoptic gospels, share much material. As a result of various scholarly hypotheses attempting to explain this interdependence, the traditional association of the texts with their authors has become the subject of criticism. Though some solutions retain the traditional authorship,[9] other solutions reject some or all of these claims. The solution most commonly held in academia today is the two-source hypothesis, which posits that Mark and a hypothetical 2nd source, called the Q document, were used as sources for Matthew and Luke. Other solutions, such as the Augustinian hypothesis and Griesbach hypothesis, posit that Matthew was written first and that Mark was an epitome. Scholars who accept the two-source hypothesis generally date Mark to around 70, with Matthew and Luke dating to 80-90.[10] Scholars who accept Matthean priority usually date the synoptic gospels to before 70, with some arguing as early as 40.[11] John is most often dated to 90-100,[12] though a date as early as the 60s, and as late as the second century have been argued by a few.[13]

"Thus our prime sources about the life of Jesus were written within about fifty years of his death by people who perhaps knew him, but certainly by people who knew people who knew him. If this is beginning to sound slightly second hand, we may wish to consider two points. First... most ancient and medieval history was written from a much greater distance. Second, all the Gospel writers could have talked to people who were actually on the spot, and while perhaps not eyewitnesses themselves, their position is certainly the next best thing."[14]

Mainstream scholars hold that the authors wrote with certain motivations and a view to a particular community and its needs. They regard it as virtually certain the authors relied on various sources, including their own knowledge and the testimony of eyewitnesses. The later authors did not write in ignorance of some texts that preceded them, as is claimed explicitly by the author of Luke.

The extent to which the Gospels were subject to additions, redactions, or interpolations is the subject of textual criticism, which examines the extent to which a manuscript changed from its autograph, or the work as written by the original author, through manuscript transmission. Possible alterations in the Gospels include: Mark 16:8-20, Luke 22:19b–20,43–44, John 7:53-8:11.

Other issues with the historicity of the Gospels include possible conflicts with each other, or with other historical sources. The most frequent suggestions of conflict relate to the Census of Quirinius as recounted in Luke, the two genealogies contained in Luke and Matthew, and the chronology of the Easter events.[15]

[edit] Pauline Epistles

Jesus is also the subject of the writings of Paul of Tarsus, a Hellenistic Jew who presented himself as Jesus' "Apostle to the Gentiles" and who dictated[16] letters to various churches and individuals from c. 48-68. There are traditionally fourteen letters attributed to Paul, thirteen of which claim to be written by Paul, with one anonymous letter. Current scholarship is in a general consensus in considering at least seven of the letters to be authored by Paul, with views varying concerning the remaining works. Paul seems to nowhere report his own eyewitness account of Jesus' life, but did claim knowledge of Jesus through visions (Gal 1:11-12 and 1 Cor 11:23). He met some of those described as Apostles of Jesus in the Gospels referring to them as Apostles (Gal 1:18–20, and 1 Cor 9:5). In his letters, Paul often refers to commands of Jesus or events in his life that seem consistent with the Gospel accounts. Paul in many places and in a combative way relates other preachers' differing view of Jesus, suggesting that even as early as 20 years after his crucifixion Jesus was a very strong interest of Jewish moral teachers preaching to Gentiles.[citation needed]

In his First Epistle to the Thessalonians Paul writes in chapter 2:14-15, referring to his fellow Jews, that they "...killed the Lord Jesus..." (though we should note that the authenticity of this passage has been doubted by some.[17][18]). He also refers to the "Lord's own word" in chapter 4:15 discussing the future coming of the Lord.

In his Epistle to the Galatians, Paul writes that after God "revealed his Son in" him (Gal 1), he did not discuss it with those who had been Apostles before him, but traveled to Arabia then back to Damascus. It was three years later that he went to Jerusalem where he saw the Apostle Cephas/Peter, and James, "the Lord's brother" (or "the brother of the Lord", αδελΦος του κυρίоς 1:18–20), believed by many to be James the Just. Paul some years later had a meeting with Peter, James, and John, the Council of Jerusalem (circa AD 51).

In Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians he says in chapter 2:8 that the "... rulers of this age ... crucified the Lord of glory ...". In 7:10-11 he gives what he says are commands of "the Lord" regarding divorce. In 9:5 he refers to "the Lord's brothers" (or "the brethren of the Lord", αδελφοι του κυριου) and refers to what "the Lord has commanded" in 9:14. Paul gives a description of the Last Supper in 11:23-26, which he says he received from "the Lord". In 15:3-8, he talks of the death and resurrection of Christ and witnesses to resurrection appearances, including Peter, who he knew.

In his letter to the Philippians, 2:5-11 Paul writes that Christ Jesus had the form of God, and speaks of his "appearance as a man" and his "human likeness". In his letter to the Romans, 1:1-4, Paul describes "Christ Jesus", as the "Son of God" and says that Christ Jesus was from the seed of David, "according to the flesh". He says that he was a minister to the Jews in Romans 15:8.[19]

[edit] The Acts of the Apostles

The book of the Acts of the Apostles, written at least twenty but probably thirty or forty years after Galatians, gives a more detailed account of the Council of Jerusalem in chapter 15. Acts also claims Jesus' family , including his mother, were members of the early church (1:12-14).

[edit] Ancient Creeds

The authors whose works are contained in the New Testament sometimes quote from creeds, or confessions of faith, that obviously predate their writings. Scholars suppose that some of these creeds date to within a few years of Jesus' death, and were developed within the Christian community in Jerusalem.[20] Though embedded within the texts of the New Testament, these creeds are a distinct source for early Christianity.

1Corinthians 15:3-4 reads: "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." This contains a Christian creed of pre-Pauline origin.[21] The antiquity of the creed has been located by many Biblical scholars to less than a decade after Jesus' death, originating from the Jerusalem apostolic community.[22] Concerning this creed, Campenhausen wrote, "This account meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly be made of such a text,"[23] whilst A. M. Hunter said, "The passage therefore preserves uniquely early and verifiable testimony. It meets every reasonable demand of historical reliability."[24]

Other relevant creeds which predate the texts wherein they are found[citation needed] that have been identified are 1John 4:2: "This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God",[25] 2Timothy 2:8: "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, this is my Gospel",[26] Romans 1:3-4: "regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.",[27] and 1Timothy 3:16: "He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory," an early creedal hymn.[28]

[edit] New Testament apocrypha

Jesus is a large factor in New Testament apocrypha, works excluded from the canon as it developed because they were judged not to be inspired. These texts are almost entirely dated to the mid second century or later, though a few texts, such as the Didache, may be first century in origin. Some of these works are discussed below:

[edit] Gnostic texts

The Gnostics' opinion of Jesus varied from viewing him as docetic to completely metaphorical, in all cases treating him as someone to allegorically attribute gnostic teachings to, his resurrection being regarded an allegory for enlightenment, in which all can take part. Nonetheless, certain Gnostic texts mention Jesus in the context of his earthly existence, and some scholars have argued that Gnostic texts could contain plausible traditions.[29] Examples of such texts include the Gospel of Truth, Treatise on Resurrection, and the Apocryphon of John, the latter of which opens with the following:

It happened one day when John, the brother of James — who are sons of Zebedee — went up and came to the temple, that a Pharisee named Arimanius approached him and said to him: "Where is your master whom you followed?" And he said to them: "He has gone to the place from which he came." The Pharisee said to him: "This Nazarene deceived you all with deception and filled your ears with lies and closed your hearts and turned you from the traditions of your fathers."[30]

Of all the Gnostic texts, however, the Gospel of Thomas had drawn the most attention. It contains a list of sayings attributed to Jesus. It lacks a narrative of Jesus treating his deeds in a historical sense. Some[who?] date it to the second century, while other scholars contend for an early date of perhaps 50, citing a relationship to the hypothetical Q document among other reasons.[31][32]

[edit] Early Church fathers

Early Christian sources outside the New Testament also mention Jesus and details of his life. Important texts from the Apostolic Fathers are, to name just the most significant and ancient, Clement of Rome (c. 100),[33] Ignatius of Antioch (c. 107-110),[34] and Justin Martyr.[35]

Perhaps the most significant Patristic sources are the early references of Papias and Quadratus (d. 124), mostly reported by Eusebius in the fourth century, which both mention eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry and healings who were still alive in their own time (the late first century). Papias, in giving his sources for the information contained in his (largely lost) commentaries, stated (according to Eusebius):

…if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders — that is, what according to the elders Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying.[36]

Thus, while Papias was collecting his information (c. 90), Aristion and the elder John (who were Jesus’ disciples) were still alive and teaching in Asia minor, and Papias gathered information from people who had known them.[37] Another Father, Quadratus, who wrote an apology to the emperor Hadrian, was reported by Eusebius to have stated:

The words of our Savior were always present, for they were true: those who were healed, those who rose from the dead, those who were not only seen in the act of being healed or raised, but were also always present, not merely when the Savior was living on earth, but also for a considerable time after his departure, so that some of them survived even to our own times.[38]

By “our Savior” Quadratus means Jesus, and by “our times” it has been argued that he may refer to his early life, rather than when he wrote (117-124), which would be a reference contemporary with Papias.[39]

[edit] Greco-Roman sources

There are passages relevant to Christianity in the works of four major non-Christian writers of the late 1st and early 2nd centuries – Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger. However, these are generally references to early Christians rather than a historical Jesus. Of the four, Josephus' writings, which document John the Baptist, James the Just, and possibly also Jesus, are of the most interest to scholars dealing with the historicity of Jesus (see below). Tacitus, in his Annals written c. 115, mentions popular opinion about Christus, without historical details (see also: Tacitus on Jesus). There is an obscure reference to a Jewish leader called "Chrestus" in Suetonius. (According to Suetonius, chapter 25, there occurred in Rome, during the reign of emperor Claudius (circa AD 50), "persistent disturbances ... at the instigation of Chrestus".[40] [4] Mention of "Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla" (Acts of the Apostles 18:22) has been conjectured[41][42] to refer to the expulsion at the times of these "persistent disturbances". Pliny condemned Christians as easily-led fools.[citation needed]

[edit] Josephus

Flavius Josephus (c. 37–c. 100), a Jew and Roman citizen who worked under the patronage of the Flavians, wrote the Antiquities of the Jews in 93 C.E.. In these works, Jesus is mentioned twice. The one directly concerning Jesus has come to be known as the Testimonium Flavianum.

The Testimonium's authenticity has attracted much scholarly discussion and controversy of interpolation. Louis H. Feldman counts 87 articles published during the period of 1937-1980, "the overwhelming majority of which question its authenticity in whole or in part."[43]

In the second, very brief mentioning, Josephus calls James "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ."[44] For this shorter passage, most scholars consider it to be substantially authentic,[45] while others raise doubts.[46]

More notably, in the Testimonium Flavianum, it is written:

About this time came Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is appropriate to call him a man. For he was a performer of paradoxical feats, a teacher of people who accept the unusual with pleasure, and he won over many of the Jews and also many Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon the accusation of the first men amongst us, condemned him to be crucified, those who had formerly loved him did not cease to follow him, for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, as the divine prophets foretold, along with a myriad of other marvellous things concerning him. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.[47]

Concerns have been raised about the authenticity of the passage, and it is widely held by scholars that at least part of the passage is an interpolation by a later scribe. Judging from Alice Whealey's 2003 survey of the historiography, it seems that the majority of modern scholars consider that Josephus really did write something here about Jesus, but that the text that has reached us is corrupt to a substantial extent. In the words of the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Flavius Josephus, "The passage seems to suffer from repeated interpolations." There has been no consensus on which portions are corrupt, or to what degree.

In antiquity, Origen recorded that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Christ,[48] as it seems to suggest in the quote above. Dr. L. Michael White argued against authenticity, citing that parallel sections of Josephus's Jewish War do not mention Jesus, and that some Christian writers as late as the third century, who quoted from Josephus's Antiquities, do not mention this passage.[49] While very few scholars believe the whole testimonium is genuine,[50] most scholars have found at least some authentic words of Josephus in the passage.[51] Certain scholars of Josephus's works have observed that this portion is written in his style.[52]

There is one main reason to believe Josephus did originally mention Jesus and that the passage was later edited by a Christian into the form we have now. There is a passage from a 10th century Arab historian named Agapius of Manbij who was a Christian. He cites Josephus as having written:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and (he) was known to be virtuous and many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not desert his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.[53]

The text from which Agapius quotes is more conservative and is closer to what one would expect Josephus to have written. The similarities between the two passages imply a Christian author later removed the conservative tone and added interpolations.[54]

[edit] Pliny the Younger

Pliny the Younger, the provincial governor of Pontus and Bithynia, wrote to Emperor Trajan c. 112 concerning how to deal with Christians, who refused to worship the emperor, and instead worshiped "Christus".

Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ — none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.[55]

Charles Guignebert, who does not doubt that Jesus of the Gospels lived in Gallilee in the first century, nevertheless dismisses this letter as acceptable historical evidence: "Only the most robust credulity could reckon this assertion as admissible evidence for the historicity of Jesus"[56]

[edit] Tacitus

Tacitus (c. 56–c. 117), writing c. 116, included in his Annals a mention of Christianity and "Christus", the Latinized Greek translation of the Hebrew word "Messiah". In describing Nero's persecution of this group following the Great Fire of Rome c. 64, he wrote:

Nero fastened the guilt of starting the blaze and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [Chrestians] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius 14-37 at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.[57]

There have been suggestions that this was a Christian interpolation but the vast majority of scholars conclude that the passage was written by Tacitus.[58] For example, R. E. Van Voorst noted the improbability that later Christians would have interpolated "such disparaging remarks about Christianity".[59]

There is disagreement about what this passage proves, since Tacitus does not reveal the source of his information.[60]Biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman wrote that: "Tacitus's report confirms what we know from other sources, that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, sometime during Tiberius's reign." [61] It has been speculated that Tacitus may have used official sources from a Roman archive. Tacitus drew on many earlier historical works now lost to us in the Annals. The description of the suppression of Christianity, calling it a superstition for instance, is not based on any statements Christians may have made to Tacitus. However if Tacitus was copying from an official source some would expect him to not incorrectly label Pilate a procurator, as he was a prefect.[62]

Others would say it tells us only what the Christians in the year 116 believed, and is not therefore an independent confirmation of the Gospel reports. For example, historian Richard Carrier speculates:

"it is inconceivable that there were any records of Jesus for Tacitus to consult in Rome (for many reasons, not the least of which being that Rome's capitol had burned to the ground more than once in the interim), and even less conceivable that he would have dug through them even if they existed … It would simply be too easy to just ask a Christian--or a colleague who had done so … there can be no doubt that what Pliny discovered from Christians he had interrogated was passed on to Tacitus."[63]

Charles Guignebert argued "So long as there is that possibility [that Tacitus is merely echoing what Christians themselves were saying], the passage remains quite worthless". [64]

R. T. France concludes that the Tacitus passage is at best just Tacitus repeating what he has heard through Christians. [65][66]

Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz conclude that Tacitus gives us a description of widespread prejudices about Christianity and a few precise details about "Christus" and Christianity, the source of which remains unclear. Christus was a Jew and a criminal who Pontius Pilate had executed. He authored a new religious movement that began in Judea and was called Christianity which was widespread around the city of Rome during Nero's reign.[67]

[edit] Suetonius

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 69140) wrote the following in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars about riots which broke out in the Jewish community in Rome under the emperor Claudius:

"As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he (Claudius) expelled them from Rome".[68]

The event was noted in Acts 18:2. The term Chrestus also appears in some later texts applied to Jesus, and Robert Graves,[69] among others,[70] consider it a variant spelling of Christ, or at least a reasonable spelling error. On the other hand, Chrestus was itself a common name, particularly for slaves, meaning good or useful.[71] In regards to Jewish persecution around the time to which this passage refers, the Jewish Encyclopedia states: "... in 49-50, in consequence of dissensions among them regarding the arrival of the Messiah, they were forbidden to hold religious services. The leaders in the controversy, and many others of the Jewish citizens, left the city".[72]

Because these events took place around 20 years after Jesus' death, the passage most likely is not referring to the person Jesus, although it is most likely referencing Christians—who were the instigators of Jesus and his legacy—whom Suetonius also mentioned in regards to Nero and the fire of Rome.[73] As such, this passage offers little information about Jesus himself.[61]

[edit] Others

Thallus, of whom very little is known, wrote a history from the Trojan War to, according to Eusebius, 109 BC. No work of Thallus survives. There is one reference to Thallus having written about events beyond 109 BC. Julius Africanus, writing c. 221, while writing about the crucifixion of Jesus, mentioned Thallus. Thus:

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in his third book of History, calls (as appears to me without reason) an eclipse of the sun.[74]

Lucian, a second century Romano-Syrian satirist, who wrote in Greek, wrote:

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day — the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account… You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.[75]

Celsus wrote, about 180AD, a book against the Christians, which is now only known through Origen's refutation of it. Celsus apparently accused Jesus of being a child and a sorcerer[76] and is quoted as saying that Jesus was a "mere man".[77]

The Acts of Pilate is purportedly an official document from Pilate reporting events in Judea to the Emperor Tiberius (thus, it would have been among the commentaii principis). It was mentioned by Justin Martyr, in his First Apology (c. 150) to Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, and Lucius Verus. He said that his claims concerning Jesus' crucifixion, and some miracles, could be verified by referencing the official record, the "Acts of Pontius Pilate".[78] With the exception of Tertullian, no other writer is known to have mentioned the work, and Tertullian's reference says that Tiberius debated the details of Jesus' life before the Roman Senate, an event that is almost universally considered absurd.[79] There is a later apocryphal text, undoubtedly fanciful, by the same name, and though it is generally thought to have been inspired by Justin's reference (and thus to post-date his Apology), it is possible that Justin actually mentioned this text, though that would give the work an unusually early date and therefore is not a straightforward identification.[80]

[edit] Jewish records

The Talmud Sanhedrin 43a, which dates to the earliest period of composition (Tannaitic period) contains the following:

On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu was hanged. Forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried: "He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf." But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.[81]

However, Jewish sources reject this as referring to Jesus in the gospel as the Rabbis quoted in the incident lived at least a century before the time of Jesus. Other discrepancies between the two accounts are that here Yeshu has five disciples, as opposed to twelve, and all the disciples are executed, by the Sanhedrin, after court cases for spreading apostasy.

[edit] Jesus as a historical person

The Historical Jesus is a reconstruction of Jesus using modern historical methods.

Paul Barnett pointed out that "scholars of ancient history have always recognized the 'subjectivity' factor in their available sources" and "have so few sources available compared to their modern counterparts that they will gladly seize whatever scraps of information that are at hand." He noted that modern history and ancient history are two separate disciplines, with differing methods of analysis and interpretation.[82]

In The Historical Figure of Jesus, E.P. Sanders used Alexander the Great as a paradigm—the available sources tell us much about Alexander’s deeds, but nothing about his thoughts. "The sources for Jesus are better, however, than those that deal with Alexander" and "the superiority of evidence for Jesus is seen when we ask what he thought."[83] Thus, Sanders considers the quest for the Historical Jesus to be much closer to a search for historical details on Alexander than to those historical figures with adequate documentation.

Consequently, scholars like Sanders, Geza Vermes, John P. Meier, David Flusser, James H. Charlesworth, Raymond E. Brown, Paula Fredriksen and John Dominic Crossan argue that, although many readers are accustomed to thinking of Jesus solely as a theological figure whose existence is a matter only of religious debate, the four canonical Gospel accounts are based on source documents written within decades after Jesus' lifetime, and therefore provide a basis for the study of the "historical" Jesus. These historians also draw on other historical sources and archaeological evidence to reconstruct the life of Jesus in his historical and cultural context.

In contrast, Charles Guignebert, Professor of the History of Christianity, at the Sorbonne, maintained that the "conclusions which are justified by the documentary evidence [concerning the life of Jesus] may be summed up as follows: Jesus was born somewhere in Galilee in the time of the Emporeor Augustus, of a humble family, which included half a dozen or more children besides himself."[84] (Emphasis added). He adds elsewhere "there is no reason to suppose he was not executed".[85]

Recent research has focused upon the "Jewishness" of the historical Jesus. The re-evaluation of Jesus' family, particularly the role played after his death by his brother James,[86] has led scholars like Hans Kung to suggest that there was an early form of non Hellenistic "Jewish Christianity" like the Ebionites, that did not accept Jesus' divinity and was persecuted by both Roman and Christian authorities. Kung suggests that these Jewish Christians settled in Arabia, and may have influenced the story of Christ as portrayed in the Qu'ran[87].

[edit] Jesus as myth

The existence of Jesus as an actual historical figure has been questioned by a few scholars and historians, some of the earliest being Constantin-François Volney and Charles François Dupuis in the 18th century and Bruno Bauer in the 19th century. Each of these proposed that the Jesus character was a fusion of earlier mythologies.[88][89][90][91]

The views of scholars who entirely rejected Jesus' historicity were summarized in Will Durant's Caesar and Christ, published in 1944. Their rejections were based on a suggested lack of eyewitnesses, a lack of direct archaeological evidence, the failure of ancient works to mention Jesus, and similarities early Christianity shares with then-contemporary religion and mythology.[92]

More recently, arguments for non-historicity have been discussed by George Albert Wells, by Earl Doherty (The Jesus Puzzle, 1999), and by biblical scholar Robert M. Price. Doherty, for example, maintains that the earliest records of Christian beliefs (the earliest epistles) are best explained if Christianity began as a mythic saviour cult, with no specific historical figure in mind.

Nevertheless, the historicity of Jesus is accepted by almost all Biblical scholars and classical historians. James Dunn describes the mythical Jesus theory as a 'thoroughly dead thesis'.[93][94][95][96]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave (New York: Doubleday, Anchor Bible Reference Library 1994), p. 964; D. A. Carson, et al., p. 50-56; Shaye J.D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Westminster Press, 1987, p. 78, 93, 105, 108; John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, HarperCollins, 1991, p. xi-xiii; Michael Grant, p. 34-35, 78, 166, 200; Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, Alfred A. Knopf, 1999, p. 6-7, 105-110, 232-234, 266; John P. Meier, vol. 1:68, 146, 199, 278, 386, 2:726; E.P. Sanders, pp. 12-13; Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew (Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1973), p. 37.; Paul L. Maier, In the Fullness of Time, Kregel, 1991, pp. 1, 99, 121, 171; N. T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, HarperCollins, 1998, pp. 32, 83, 100-102, 222; Ben Witherington III, pp. 12-20.
  2. ^ Mack, Burton L. (1996), "Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth (Harper)
  3. ^ Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), pages 90-91
  4. ^ Howard M. Teeple (March 1970). "The Oral Tradition That Never Existed". Journal of Biblical Literature 89 (1): 56–68. doi:10.2307/3263638. 
  5. ^ B. Chilton and C. Evans, eds., "Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research" (NTTS 19; Leiden: Brill, 1994)
  6. ^ On John, see S. Byrskog, "Story as History - History as Story", in Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 123 (Tübingen: Mohr, 2000; reprinted Leiden: Brill, 2002), p. 149; Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006) p. 385.
  7. ^ John 21:24.
  8. ^ See the commentary by St. Augustine on hypotyposeis.org; also see the fragments in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.1, 3.39.15, 6.14.1, 6.25.
  9. ^ For an overview of the synoptic problem that discusses the traditional view in detail, see Drane, Introducing the New Testament (San Francisco: Harper Row, 1986) chapter 11. Also, see Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1990)
  10. ^ Raymond E. Brown. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Anchor Bible.
  11. ^ J.A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament. Philadelphia: Westminster Press. 1985. pp.86-92.
  12. ^ Brown 7
  13. ^ For an early date, see: J. A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament, and William F. Albright, Towards a More Conservative View, in Christianity Today (18 January 1963); for a late date, see R. Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate; for a brief overview, see also this article at bethinking.org
  14. ^ Jo Ann H. Moran Cruz and Richard Gerberding, Medieval Worlds: An Introduction to European History Houghton Mifflin Company 2004, pp. 44-45
  15. ^ Genealogies Brown p. 236, Ehrman, p. 121; census Brown p. 321, Ehrman, p. 118; Easter events Ehrman, p. 277 and see An Easter Challenge For Christians by Dan Barker
  16. ^ Joseph Barber Lightfoot in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians writes: "At this point [[Gal 6:11]] the apostle takes the pen from his amanuensis, and the concluding paragraph is written with his own hand. From the time when letters began to be forged in his name (2 Thess 2:2; 3:17) it seems to have been his practice to close with a few words in his own handwriting, as a precaution against such forgeries… In the present case he writes a whole paragraph, summing up the main lessons of the epistle in terse, eager, disjointed sentences. He writes it, too, in large, bold characters (Gr. pelikois grammasin), that his handwriting may reflect the energy and determination of his soul."
  17. ^ 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation, Birger A. Pearson, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 64, No. 1 (Jan., 1971), pp. 79-94
  18. ^ 1 Thess 2:13-16: Linguistic Evidence for an Interpolation, Daryl Schmidt, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 102, No. 2 (Jun., 1983), pp. 269-279
  19. ^ Murphy p.69
  20. ^ A basic text is that of Oscar Cullmann, available in English in a translation by J. K. S. Reid titled, The Earliest Christian Confessions (London: Lutterworth, 1949)
  21. ^ Neufeld, The Earliest Christian Confessions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) p. 47; Reginald H. Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (New York: Macmillan, 1971) p. 10; Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man translated Lewis Wilkins and Duane Pribe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968) p. 90; Oscar Cullmann, The Earlychurch: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology, ed. A. J. B. Higgins (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966) p. 64; Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, translated James W. Leitch (Philadelphia: Fortress 1969) p. 251; Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament vol. 1 pp. 45, 80-82, 293; R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973) pp. 81, 92
  22. ^ see Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man translated Lewis Wilkins and Duane Pribe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968)p. 90; Oscar Cullmann, The Early church: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology, ed. A. J. B. Higgins (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966) p. 66-66; R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973) pp. 81; Thomas Sheehan, First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity (New York: Random House, 1986 pp. 110, 118; Ulrich Wilckens, Resurrection translated A. M. Stewart (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew, 1977) p. 2; Hans Grass, Ostergeschen und Osterberichte, Second Edition (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1962) p96; Grass favors the origin in Damascus.
  23. ^ Hans von Campenhausen, "The Events of Easter and the Empty Tomb," in Tradition and Life in the Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968) p. 44
  24. ^ Archibald Hunter, Works and Words of Jesus (1973) p. 100
  25. ^ Cullmann, Confessions p. 32
  26. ^ Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament vol 1, pp. 49, 81; Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus translated Norman Perrin (London: SCM Press, 1966) p. 102
  27. ^ Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man translated Lewis Wilkins and Duane Pribe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968) pp. 118, 283, 367; Neufeld, The Earliest Christian Confessions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) pp. 7, 50; C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980) p. 14
  28. ^ Reginald Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology (New York: Scriner's, 1965) pp. 214, 216, 227, 239; Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus translated Norman Perrin (London: SCM Press, 1966) p. 102; Neufeld, The Earliest Christian Confessions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) pp. 7, 9, 128
  29. ^ James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1977) and especially his essay in Hedrick and Hodgson, Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1986); Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Random House, 1979); R. E. Brown, "The Christians Who Lost Out" in The New York Times Book Review, 20 January 1980 p. 3; Koester in Robinson, Nag Hammadi in English, vol. 2 pp. 4, 47, 68, 150-154, 180. It is important to stress that all these scholars, with perhaps the exception of Pagels (whom the rest were critical of on this point) distanced themselves from using the texts as historical sources for the most part, and only proceeded to consider information therein with great caution.
  30. ^ Apocryphon of John 1:5-17
  31. ^ Koester, Helmut; Lambdin (translator), Thomas O. (1996), "The Gospel of Thomas", in Robinson, James MacConkey, The Nag Hammadi Library in English (Revised ed.), Leiden, New York, Cologne: E. J. Brill, p. 125, ISBN 9004088563 
  32. ^ Miller 6; it also is not quoted in any contemporary writings, and suffers from a paucity of manuscripts, see these articles at answers.org and ntcanon.org
  33. ^ Clement, Corinthians 42
  34. ^ Ignatius, Letter to the Trallians 9, Letter to the Smyrneans 1, 3
  35. ^ Justin First Apology 30, 32, 34-35, 47-48, 50; Dialogue with Trypho 12, 77, 97, 107-108, &c.
  36. ^ translation by Richard Bauckham in his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 15-16.
  37. ^ Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 15-21.
  38. ^ Quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.3.2, translation by Richard Bauckham in his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006), p. 53.
  39. ^ Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 53l.
  40. ^ G. R. S. Mead : Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.? pp. 50-51
  41. ^ []
  42. ^ origin of the name "christian"
  43. ^ Feldman (1989), p. 430
  44. ^ Josephus Antiquities 20:9.1
  45. ^ Louis H. Feldman, "Josephus" Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, pp. 990–91
  46. ^ "Testimonium Flavianum". EarlyChristanWritings.com. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/testimonium.html#reference. Retrieved on 2006-10-07. 
  47. ^ Josephus Antiquities 18.3.3
  48. ^ Origin Commentary on Matthew 10.17; Against Celsus 1.47
  49. ^ L. Michael White, From Jesus to Christianity. HarperCollinsPublishers, 2004. P. 97–98
  50. ^ i.e. Daniel-Rops, Silence of Jesus' Contemporaries p. 21 and G. R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus p. 193
  51. ^ John Drane Introducing the New Testament (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986) p. 138; John P. Meier. A Marginal Jew (Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1991) v.1; also, James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism (Garden City: Doubleday, 1988) p. 96
  52. ^ Henri Daniel-Rops, Silence of Jesus' Contemporaries p. 21; J.N.D. Anderson, Christianity: The Witness of History (London: Tyndale, 1969)p. 20; F.F. Bruce, New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1967) p. 108
  53. ^ Agapius Kitab al-'Unwan, 239-240
  54. ^ F.E Peters, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam Vol.1 p. 149
  55. ^ Pliny to Trajan, Letters 10.96–97
  56. ^ Jesus, by Ch. Gugnebert, Professor of History of Christianity in the Sorbonne, Translated from the French by S. H. Hooke, Samuel Davidson Professor of Old Testament Studies in the University of London, University Book, New York, 1956, p. 14
  57. ^ Tacitus, Annals 15.44 (Latin, English and also here [1])
  58. ^ Robert Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament, pp. 42-43 as quoted at earlychristianwritings.com
  59. ^ Robert E. Van Voorst (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Wm. B. Eerdmans. p. 43.  See also the criterion of embarrassment.
  60. ^ F.F. Bruce,Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) p. 23
  61. ^ a b Ehrman p 212
  62. ^ Theissen and Merz p.83
  63. ^ Did Jesus exist? Earl Doherty and the argument to ahistoricity, by Richard Carrier. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.html
  64. ^ Jesus, University Books, New York, 1956, p.13
  65. ^ France, RT (1986). Evidence for Jesus (Jesus Library). Trafalgar Square Publishing. pp. 19–20. ISBN 0340381728. 
  66. ^ For example R. T. France, writes "The brief notice in Tacitus Annals xv.44 mentions only his title, Christus, and his execution in Judea by order of Pontius Pilatus. Nor is there any reason to believe that Tacitus bases this on independent information-it is what Christians would be saying in Rome in the early second century ... No other clear pagan references to Jesus can be dated before AD 150, by which time the source of any information is more likely to be Christian propaganda than an independent record." The Gospels As Historical Sources For Jesus, The Founder Of Christianity, Truth Journal [2]
  67. ^ Theissen and Merz p.83
  68. ^ Iudaeos, impulsore Chresto, assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit; [3]
  69. ^ see his translation of Suetonius, Claudius 25, in The Twelve Caesars (Baltimore: Penguin, 1957), and his introduction p. 7, cf. p. 197
  70. ^ Francois Amiot, Jesus A Historical Person p. 8; F. F. Bruce, Christian Origins p. 21
  71. ^ R. T. France. The Evidence for Jesus. (2006). Regent College Publishing ISBN 1573833703. p. 42; ]:
  72. ^ "Jewish Encyclopedia: Rome: Expelled Under Tiberius". http://jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=352&letter=R&search=Sejanus#1006. 
  73. ^ Suetonius, Nero 16
  74. ^ Julius Africanus, Extant Writings XVIII in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973) vol. VI, p. 130
  75. ^ Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13 in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, translated by H. W. Fowler (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949) vol. 4
  76. ^ Morton Smith, Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God? (1978) pp. 78–79.
  77. ^ Celsus the First Nietzsche
  78. ^ Justin Martyr, First Apology 48
  79. ^ see Tertullian, Apology V
  80. ^ for a discussion, see Daniel-Rops, Silence of Jesus' Contemporaries, p. 14
  81. ^ Sanhedrin 43a.
  82. ^ Paul Barnett, "Is the New Testament History?", p.1.
  83. ^ Sanders 1993:3
  84. ^ Jesus, by C. Guignebert, translated by S. H. Hooke (University fo London), University Books, New York, 1956, p132.
  85. ^ Jesus, C. Guignebert, 1956, p473.
  86. ^ Eisenman, Robert(1997) "James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls". (Viking Penguin)
  87. ^ Kung, Hans (2004) "Islam, Past, Present and Future" (One World Press)
  88. ^ Van Voorst, p. 8
  89. ^ Constantin-François Volney, Les ruines, ou Méditations sur les révolutions des empires (Paris: Desenne, 1791); English translation, The Ruins, or a Survey of the Revolutions of Empires (New York: Davis, 1796).
  90. ^ C. F. Dupuis, Origine de tous les cultes (Paris: Chasseriau, 1794); English translation, The Origin of All Religious Worship (New York: Garland, 1984).
  91. ^ Durant, Will. Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1972
  92. ^ Durant 1944:553-7
  93. ^ J. G. D. Dunn, The Christ and the Spirit, Volume I: Christology, (Eerdmans / T & T Clark, 1998), page 191. see also Bruce, FF (1982). New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? InterVarsity Press, ISBN 087784691X
  94. ^ Herzog II, WR (2005). Prophet and Teacher. WJK, ISBN 0664225284
  95. ^ Komoszewski, JE; Sawyer, MJ & Wallace, DB (2006). Reinventing Jesus. Kregel Publications. pp. 195f. ISBN 978-0825429828. 
  96. ^ Walter P. Weaver, The Historical Jesus in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1950, (Continuum International, 1999), page 71.

[edit] References

(1991), v. 1, The Roots of the Problem and the Person, ISBN 0-385-26425-9
(1994), v. 2, Mentor, Message, and Miracles, ISBN 0-385-46992-6
(2001), v. 3, Companions and Competitors, ISBN 0-385-46993-4
  • Mendenhall, George E. (2001). Ancient Israel's Faith and History: An Introduction to the Bible in Context. ISBN 0-664-22313-3
  • Messori, Vittorio (1977). Jesus hypotheses. St Paul Publications. ISBN 0-85439-154-1
  • Miller, Robert J. Editor (1994) The Complete Gospels. Polebridge Press. ISBN 0-06-065587-9
  • Murphy, Catherine M. PhD. 2007. "The Historical Jesus for Dummies". ISBN 0470167858
  • New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version. (1991) New York, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-528356-2
  • Price, Robert M. (2000). Deconstructing Jesus. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-758-9. 
  • Price, Robert M. (2003). The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition?. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-59102-121-9. 
  • Tacitus (2006), The Annals of Ancient Rome. Translated by Michael Grant and first published in this form in 1956. The Folio Society, 2006.
  • Voorst, Robert Van (2000). Jesus Outside of the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  • Theissen, Gerd & Annette Merz. (1996). The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide. Fortress Press. ISBN 0-8006-3123-4
  • Wells, George A. (1988). The Historical Evidence for Jesus. Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-429-X
  • Wells, George A. (1998). The Jesus Myth. ISBN 0-8126-9392-2
  • Wells, George A. (2004). Can We Trust the New Testament?: Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony. ISBN 0-8126-9567-4
  • Wilson, Ian (2000). Jesus: The Evidence (1st ed.). Regnery Publishing.

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