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Historical Jesus

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Submitted by Allonehhob (Canada), Nov 7, 2005 at 14:55

Here is some of many resources about proofs on Christ Historical existence from non-christians sources.

Commenting on the uniqueness of the New Testament's claim for Jesus, Micahel Green has observed,

It is all about the Jesus of history. Remove him from Christianity and nothing distinctive is left. Once disprove the historicity of Jesus Christ, and Christianity will collapse like a pack of cards. For it all depends on this fundamental conviction, that God was made
manifest in human flesh. And that is a matter not of ideology or mythology but history. 1

Just how well founded the claim for the historical Jesus is will be seen in the evidence as follows.

1. Micahel Green Runaway World, Inter-Varsity Press, p. 12.

From Pagan Sources
Palestine of the first century has been referred to as an unimportant frontier province in the Roman Empire. Those provincial governors assigned to that region of the world were often thought to have received hardship posts. Too, those who wrote the history of Rome were in the upper strata of Roman society and usually had a personal dislike of Orientals, disapproved of their religions and looked upon their superstitions as very un-Roman.2 This partially accounts for the little trickles of information that comes from their pens about the Christian religion. They wrote about it only as it forced its way into the mainstream of their view. Yet what they did write is proof positive that Jesus Christ was both a real person and that he had made such an impact upon society that the Roman world found it increasingly difficult to disregard him.

2. Ibid., p. 12.

1. Thallus
Our initial witness makes a contribution of a unique sort inasmuch as he had no
intention of making Christianity to appear genuine. To the contrary, Thallus, a Samaritan-born historian who lived and worked in Rome about A.D. 52, wrote to offset the supernatural element which accompanied the crucifixion. Though the writings of Thallus are lost to us, Julius Africanus, a Christian chronographer of the late second century, was familiar with them and quotes from them. In a comment on the darkness that fell upon the land during the crucifixion (Mark 15:33), Africanus says that "Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun."3 Africanus stated his objection to the report arguing that an eclipse of the sun cannot occur during the full moon, as was the case when Jesus died at Passover time. The force of the reference to Thallus is that the circumstances of Jesus' death were known and discussed in the Imperial City as early as the middle of the first century. The fact of Jesus' crucifixion must have been fairly well known by that time, to the extent that unbelievers like Thallus thought it necessary to explain the matter of the darkness as a natural phenomenon. Will Durant observed that Thallus' "argument took the existence of Christ for granted."4 Neither Jesus nor the darkness at his death were ever denied as factual. Durant summed up the matter of Christ's historical existence for himself by saying that it never occured to the early opponents of Christianity to deny the existence of Jesus.5 Ironically, Thallus' efforts have been turned into the mainstream of historical proof for Jesus and for the reliability of Mark's account of the darkness at his death.

3. F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, Eerdmens, p. 113.
4. Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, Simon and Schuster, p. 555.
5. Ibid.

2. Mara Bar-Serapion
F.F Bruce, Rylands professor at Manchester University, tells of a manuscript in the British Museusm preserving the text of a letter sent to his son by a Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion. In prison at the time of the writing, the father pleads with his son to be wise. He illustrated the folly of persecuting wise men like Socrates, Pythagoras, and the wise king of the Jews, which the context obviously shows to be Jesus.

What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment 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 king?
It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger, the Samians were overwhelmed by the
seas; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die
for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which He had given. 6

6. British Museum Syriac Mss., F.F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, p. 31.

Some inaccuracies exist in the letter, says Bruce, about Samos and Athens, but the references to Christ and to the Jews are undeniably accurate, and there is no denying the historical existence of the three men mentioned. By the time this letter was written, Jesus had already received a place of recognition equal to the sages of the ages. Jesus was as real a person of history as was Socrates and Pythagoras.

3. Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius

Three Roman officials, who held stature with emperors as well as with the empire, wrote of Jesus in such a way as to take his historical existence for granted. Their writings appeared at the turn of the century.

The first of these, usually rated as the greatest of Roman historians, was Cornelius Tacitus, who was born about A.D. 52-54. At about the age of sixty, while writing of the reign of Nero (A.D. 54-68), he told how the Christians were made scapegoats for the Great Fire of Rome in A.D. 64. It had been rumored that Nero had himself started the fire so that he could attain to glory by rebuilding the great capital city in more glorious fashion. When Tacitus wrote about this, he mentioned Jesus by the name of Christus:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus. 7

To Tacitus, a pagan who knew little or nothing of Jewish messianism, "Christus" was more than likely only a proper name; but to him, Christus was as real as the Roman procurator who executed him.

C. Plinius Secundus, called Pliny the Younger to distinguish him from his uncle, the elder Pliny, was governor of Bithynia about A.D.112. He often wrote to the Emperor Trajan asking his Imperial advice on how best to deal with the problem of the
Christians in his province. According to him, they were causing trouble. In one of his
letters, he spoke of Christ as he reported of some information which he extracted from some Christian girls by torture, "They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang an anthem to Christ as God, and bound
themselves by a solemn oath not to commit any wicked deed . . . after which it was their custom to separate, and then meet again to partake of food, but food of an ordinary kind."8

7. The Annals and the Histories, 15:44. From Britannica Great Books, Vol. 15, p. 168.
8. Epistles, 10:96.

Pliny seemed to be perplexed by the innocence of the whole matter, and perhaps to keep from countermanding any governmental policies about Christians, he thought it best to write to the Emperor before taking any action.

There is also a testimony to the historical Jesus from Suetonius, annalist and court official of the Imperial House during the reign of Hadrian. About A.D.120, he wrote the Life of Claudius. From this work comes his most famous statement: "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he (Claudius) expelled them from Rome."9 The reason for the fame of this quotation is due to the fact that Luke, some sixty years earlier, had recorded this same incident as the reason for the apostle Paul yoking up with a Christian Jewish couple named Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-2). Again, the mention of Christ in the historical context is observed in extra- biblical literature.

After having referred to the above three Roman officials as an evidence for the actual existence of Jesus Christ, Durant explains that while these references prove the existence of Christians rather than of Christ, unless we assume that Christ did indeed live, we will be driven to the "improbable hypothesis that Jesus was invented in one generation; moreover we must suppose that the Christian community in Rome had been established some years before 52, to merit the attention of an imperial decree."10

9. Life of Claudius, 25:4.
10. Durant, Caesar and Christ, p. 555.

When this evidence is compiled in the company of such an historian as Tacitus and with Roman officials of the stature of Pliny and Suetonius, it makes the historical reality of Jesus as certain as that of any outstanding figure of antiquity.

1. The Talmud

There are two separate books of writings dealing with Jewish law called the Talmud. The first of these is the Mishnah, which is the Jewish code of religious jurisprudence. It began to be compiled sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and was completed about A.D. 200. This great body of newly codified case law became the object of Jewish study from which grew a body of commentaries called Gemaras. Together, the Mishnah (the law book) and the Gemara (the commentary) are called the Talmud. Being Jewish, suffice it to say, all references to "Yeshu'a of Nazareth" in the Talmudic writings are unfriendly, but nevertheless sufficient in number to establish beyond doubt his historical reality.

2. Josephus

The most important references to the historical Jesus from a Jewish source is from a former Jewish general turned historian by the name of Flavius Josephus. In his writings he tells us who he was, what he did, and his own evaluation of a historian. He wrote of many of the outstanding persons we read of in the New Testament: Pilate; Quirinius of Syria (during whose governorship Rome enrolled the Empire for taxation purposes); the Caesars; the Herods; the Pharisees and the Sadducees; Annas and
Caiaphas, who had Jesus crucified; Felix and Festus, under whose governorships the apostle Paul was arrested and before whom he spoke of Jesus; Jesus' brother, James; and John the Baptist.

Most significant is his reference to Jesus himself in the following words:

And there arose about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed we should call him a man; for he was a doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with
pleasure. He won over many Jews and also many Greeks.
This man was the Messiah. And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross at the instigation of our own leaders, those who had loved him from the first did not cease. For he appeared to them on the third day alive again, as the prophets had predicted and said many other wonderful things about him. And even now the race of Christians, so named after him, has not yet died out. 11

11. Antiquities, 18, 3.3.

All attempts to discredit this reference to Jesus as having been dressed up by a Christian copiest have failed. The reference is included in all of the manuscripts of Josephus, including the copy from which the fourth-century historian, Eusebius, read and quoted.

At the close of his excellent book offering evidence for the historical reliability of the New Testament, F.F. Bruce has observed,

Whatever else may be thought of the evidence from early Jewish and Gentile writers . . . it does at least establish, for those who refuse the witness of Christian writings, the historical character of Jesus himself. Some writers may toy with the fancy of a 'Christ-myth,' but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It
is not historians who propagate the Christ-myth" theories. 12

12. F.F. Bruce. The New Testament Documents. p. 119.

Whatever reasons may be given for accepting the testimonies of Josephus or of Tacitus or of any other writer from antiquity as reliable histories, to be fair and consistent, must be equally applied to the New Testament writers. Fairness demands that we give at least the same consideration to the New Testament books as we would to any other writing from the same period. All of the New Testament writers were contemporaries of Jesus. Five were eyewitnesses, three accompanied Jesus throughout his ministry, and all of their writings are in remarkable agreement. In addition to this, their
writings continue to stand the tests of genuineness and historicity. These New Testament writings are by no means the least of the evidence testifying to the actual existence of Jesus as a real person of history. As a matter of fact, if the New Testament books were the only single source from antiquity which presented to us the life of Jesus Christ, that would be more than sufficient proof of his historical reality. It is stated in the Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem) that the fact that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have written of Jesus' life is conclusive proof of his reality. That admission from unbelieving Jews should satisfy the most skeptical doubter as to the trustworthiness of the evidence.

H. G. Wells rejected the supernatural element in the gospels, but nevertheless used them as his source material for writing about Jesus and the spread of Christianity in the first century. He admitted that the gospel accounts carried the conviction of reality and felt compelled to say of Jesus, "Here was a man. This part of the tale could not have been invented."13 Will Durant wrote, "That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels."14

The fact of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, as supplied to us by sources both friendly and hostile, is seen to be an indisputable matter. It is conclusive that there was a real Jesus, a man of outstanding character and of unique personality and ability, whose life and teaching truly "constitutes the most fascinating feature in the history of western man."15 We can be as certain of this fact as we can of any matter of history.

13. H. G. Wells, The Outline of History, Vol. I, p. 420.
14. Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, p. 557.
15. Ibid.

He Lived, So What?

With the evidence before us, we can expect most atheists to admit that Jesus lived. But the fact that he existed does not convince us he is God. Practicality leads us to ask if there is any real value to modern men in knowing this single fact?

It Admits to the Reliability of the New Testament

We have all made admissions to one thing or another, while we were unaware that we had admitted to other things at the same time. If, for example, we say that the Bible is the word of God, we are admitting that there is a God. By the same token, if we admit that Jesus was a great man of history, as most of us certainly do, though we may not be aware of it, we have also admitted that the New Testament is historically reliable. To determine this, consider three things: First, Jesus has received a place of preeminence among the great men of history. Second, men do not receive such recognition merely because they have existed; they must either say or do something that is considered to be truly great. Third, the only source of information from which we can reproduce the great life of Jesus Christ is the New Testament. Beyond the New Testament books, we can know only that he lived and that he was crucified by Pilate in Jerusalem. To know of his works, his personality, his life and teachings, his death and resurrection, in short, what it was that made him great, we are totally dependent on the New Testament. It seems conclusive that a recognition of the greatness of Jesus is, at least to an appreciable degree, an admission of the historical reliability of the New Testament which tells us about him.

This conclusion is of great practical value to those who would know whether the New Testament expresses an outdated sentiment or whether it is actually a historical revelation from God for the redemption of ruined humanity.

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