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Article: Jesus - History or Hoax?

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Tom S.

(Just a side note, I wrote this as a research paper for my English class last year)

Jesus of Nazareth. No other has affected the course of history as He did. The calendar is divided by His birth. His life and teachings were the foundation of the faith of billions, and it continues to be today. Jesus is called Lord by some, a great teacher by some and yet is a liar and lunatic by others. Could it be possible that He never existed? Is it possible that Jesus of Nazareth is like other mythological figures such as Zeus or Odin, and never physically existed? The purpose of this paper is to analyze the arguments and evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth and whether or not the historical accounts found in the New Testament are accurate.

Cornelius Tacitus, respected Roman historian that lived from 55 to 120 AD, the reign of a half dozen emperors was a great historian of Ancient Rome, and is acknowledged among scholars for his morals, integrity and essential goodness (McDowell, 120). His most prominent writings on Christ and the early Christians is: But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of their name, was put to death by Pontus Pilate, Procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where it originated, but through Rome also. (McDowell, 120-121) The first thing to point out is the spelling of Christs name as Christus. It was common for Roman writers to misspell His name (McDowell, 120). However, it is clear from the text that it refers to Jesus Christ. It also lends a lot of support to the existence of Jesus Christ, and that the same Jesus had followers during His life and after His death. Tacitus was also a non-sympathetic witness, which adds credibility to his statements, since he had nothing to gain from mentioning what he does about Jesus. Tacitus writings also seem to support the Gospel accounts of Jesus being born in Judea, and in particular the Gospel of Lukes account found in Luke 3:1, Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, Pontus Pilate being governor of Judea.... From Tacitus writings, we know that Jesus Christ was born in Judea under Pontus Pilate during the reign of Tiberius, and at the time of the burning of Rome in 66AD, His teachings had spread as far as Rome.

Another Roman historian, Suetonius, whom was a historian to the emperor Claudius. Suetonius records in 49AD that; as Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome. (McDowell, 121) Chrestus is another misspelling of Christs name. This same event is recorded by Luke in Acts 18:2; And found a certain Jew, named Aquilla, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome), and came unto them.(Holy Bible) Suetonius also records the fire in Rome, confirming Tacitus records.

Lucian of Samosate, a Greek satirist that lived in the second century spoke scornfully of Christ and His followers. Lucian wrote this of Christians; 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 the contempt of death and voluntary self devotion which are so common among them; Then it was impressed upon them by their original Lawgiver that they are brothers from the moment they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, live after his law. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise worldly goods alike...(McDowell, 121) The writings of Lucian confirm the existence of Jesus and that His followers were in Greece, but are valuable because they show the doctrines and beliefs of the early church before becoming the state religion of Rome around 350AD. This is vital because in becoming a state religion, some fundamental changes could have been made in the teachings of Christianity concerning Christ. However, from this record, we can see the fundamental teachings of Christ: His deity, eternal life through Him, love for their neighbors and their brotherhood in Christ.

Another person who wrote concerning Jesus and His early followers was Pliny the Younger, governor of the Roman province of Bithynia. In 122AD, he wrote the emperor Trajan concerning Christians in his territory. He mentions killing men, women and children, and asks the emperor Trajan if he should keep killing anyone that confesses to being a Christian, or just certain ones such as leaders. He also writes to Trajan that he made them curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do. (McDowell, 122)

The following two historians accounts seem to be the most controversial, the first being written by the Jewish historian Josephus. Flavius Josephus, born 37 AD, died after 100. (McDowell, 125) He was a Jewish aristocrat, priestly politician, commanded rebel Jewish troops against Rome in the First Jewish Revolt. Became a close friend with the Emperor Flavius, and became one of the emperors inner circle. (McDowell, 125) He wrote two books, in his book, Jewish Antiquities he records; Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise 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 Jews and many of the Gentiles. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him. And the tribe of Christians so named for him are not extinct at this day. (McDowell, 125-126) The principal men mentioned by Josephus are most likely the Pharisees, and this would confirm the Gospel accounts concerning the Pharisees involvement in the crucifixion of Jesus.

Perhaps the first secular writer who mentions Jesus is Thallus. Written around 52 AD, he wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the

Trojan War until his time (McDowell, 122). It is unfortunate that only fragments remain of Thallus writings, but he is quoted by other authors whose writings survived. One author who quoted Thallus is Julius Africanus. Africanus makes these comments on Thallus writings on an unnatural eclipse that occurs in the season of Christs death; Thallus in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun - unreasonably, as it seems to me (unreasonably because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of a full moon, and it was the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died).(McDowell, 122). Since Africanus was commenting on Thallus writing, it is possible for objections to be made against its reliability, since the exact words cant be read. It can be inferred however, that Thallus wrote that an eclipse of the sun occurred in the season of Christs death. Africanus later adds that it isnt reasonable to say it is an eclipse, as solar eclipses could not take place at that time. The records of the dark sky that occurs in the season can be used to support Luke 23:44, where it says And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. (Holy Bible). If these are talking about the same event, then the trustworthiness of the Gospels can be shown to be very reliable in its records.

In the previous paragraphs, several ancient writings concerning Christ and Christians were quoted and discussed. In the following, several objections to the historicity of Jesus and objections to the Gospels will be discussed. The first is made by the philosopher Bertrand Russell. In his book Why I am Not a Christian he states Historically it is quite doubtful whether or not Christ existed at all, and if He did, we do not know anything about Him. (McDowell, 119). There are two objections to what he wrote. The first objection is that Christ did exist. Mentioned previously, these ancient writers had no reason to include Christ in their writings, and certainly did not doubt His existence. These ancient writers make it clear that Jesus is a man of history. The second objection made is that Jesus is not an unknowable blip of history as Russell makes it, but has plenty of extra-biblical writings about Him. From the records of the writers mentioned in this paper alone, we can conclude that Jesus was born in Judea under the rule of Tiberius, was a great teacher, was tried by Pilate and crucified, and that His followers after His death worshipped Him as God. This is certainly some significant information, all of it coming from sources other than the Bible. Professor Rylands, Biblical criticism and exegesis professor comments, Some writers may toy with the fancy of a Christ-myth, but they do not do so on the grounds of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not the historians who propagate the Christ-myth theories. (McDowell, 120).

Another objection to the Gospels is made in Armstrongs book, A History of God, We know little about Jesus. The first full-length account of His life was St. Marks Gospel which was not written until 70AD. By this time, historical facts had been overlaid with mythological elements which expressed the meaning Jesus had acquired for His followers...(Strobel, 32). First off, the unknowable Jesus argument is made here as well, which was previously addressed. The second thing is the difficulty of false teachings to be made about Christ. Even with the Gospel of Mark being dated into the early 70s this is still within the lifetimes of various eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus, including those who were hostile, then, they would serve as a correction toward any false teachings written about Him. (Strobel, 33). Craig Bloomberg, the countrys foremost authority on the biographies on Jesus made this analogy: The biography of Alexander the Great written 400 years after Alexanders death are considered trustworthy information. It was only 500 years later that legendary material entered. In other words, the first 500 years kept Alexanders life story pretty much intact; legendary material began to emerge over the next 500 years. So whether the Gospels were written sixty years or thirty years after the life of Jesus, the amount of time is negligible by comparison...(Strobel, 33). We can see that the time period that the Gospels were written in, extraordinary material about Jesus being written down is implausible. Another factor to consider is what was at stake for the authors of the Gospels. During the time of their authorship, there was a hostile environment towards Christians. The authors had nothing to gain by writing false information about Jesus, but had the chance to lose everything by doing so, including their very lives. However, the authors had everything to lose if what they wrote is true, and they didnt.

In this paper, the writings of several ancient writers concerning the historicity of Jesus were discussed. We can come to the conclusion from extra-

biblical sources that Jesus was born in Judea, under the rule of Tiberius, was a great teacher, was tried under Pontus Pilate and crucified, that after the crucifixion His followers dispersed, and then went out again after a time, that His early followers worshipped Him and were spread out from Rome to Jerusalem to Athens by 100AD. None of these records contradict the Gospel accounts, but many confirm them. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude from these historical evidences that Jesus of Nazareth existed, and that the Gospel accounts are historically reliable.


Works Cited:
Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.

McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Heres Life Publishers, Inc, 1999.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998.

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