Jesus: The Historical Evidence

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  1.  Historicity
    1. Three possibilities
      1. Mythological
      2. Existed, but the Bible has reinvented him
      3. Existed, portrayed accurately in the Bible
    2. Jesus (2 BC-33 AD) v. Tiberius (emperor 14-37 AD), within 150 years of their lives.
      1. Jesus: 42 sources – 9 secular + 33 Christian
      2. Tiberius: 10 sources, including Gospel of Luke. (To be fair, there are also dozens of coins of Tiberius, naming him or portraying his image.)
    3. Historical facts accepted by most scholars (whether or not they believe in Christ)
      1. Born shortly before 1 BC (date of death of Herod the Great)
      2. From a large and poor family in the tribe of Judah
      3. Remained single
      4. Skilled in manual labor and physically tough (though of normal appearance)
      5. Critical of established religion, he aroused the wrath of the priesthood
      6. Executed by crucifixion (virtually no one survived this punishment) under Pontius Pilatus (26-36 AD)
      7. His first followers believed he’d been raised from the dead, and was the Messiah (anointed one)
  2. Insider testimony
    1. New Testament
      1. Written approximately 50-100 AD.
      2. Sources of the New Testament (like 1 Cor 15:3-5, as well as various hymns, like Phil 2:5-11 and Eph 5:14, and sayings, like Acts 20:35)
      3. Numerous aspects argue against fabrication.
        1. Conversion of skeptics like James the brother of Jesus and Saul of Tarsus
        2. Hostile testimony (see below)
        3. Criterion of embarrassment
          1. Admission of ignorance in Mark 13:32
          2. Rejection by his own family (Mark 3:20; John 7:5).
          3. Having the Messiah go to the Cross -- a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks!
      4. Patristic writings (extrabiblical)
        1. 1st C: 1 Clement (96 AD)
        2. 2nd C: Ignatius (107 AD), 7 letters; Polycarp (69-155), letter to Philippians & martyrdom account; Justin Martyr (100-165), Apology [Defense]; and many more!
        3. Thousands of pages during the early church period (30-325 AD)
        4. We could virtually reconstruct the entire NT from quotations in early sources.
  3. Outsider testimony
    1. Josephus (37-100 AD) – brother of James; claimed of Messiahship
    2. Mara bar-Serapion (73) – Syrian Stoic, writing to son from Romans prison: crucifixion of Jews’ wise king; loss of kingdom
    3. Thallus (52) – commented on daytime darkness at time of death of Jesus
    4. Phlegon (80-150?) – crucifixion; darkness; earthquake
    5. Suetonius (69-122) – instigation by “Chrestos” in time of Claudius (41-54)
    6. Tacitus (56-120) – Nero’s persecution, July 64
    7. Pliny the Younger (61-112) – asked emperor Trajan how to deal with Christians (112)
    8. Lucian (115-200) – wise man; crucified in Palestine
    9. Celsus (2nd) – ridiculed Christianity -- a foolish religion for foolish people
    10. Talmud (200-500) -- trial and crucifixion; charges Jesus with sorcery (Sanhedrin 43a).
  4. Conclusion
    1. Myth? – No, since Jesus is rooted in history.
    2. “Good teacher”? – No, for this teacher claimed divinity. Unless that was true, he would have been dishonest – and hence not a good teacher.
    3. Same as other religious founders? – not at all!
      1. Confucius – civil servant who made shrewd observations; a sage, not a religious leader
      2. Buddha – agnostic / atheist; no individual existence; at the end, no relationships
      3. Muhammad – did not claim to be God; did not do miracles (so the Qur’an)
    4. Jesus was neither myth nor fabrication. The possibility that makes the most sense is that he existed, and his remarkable life was fairly and accurately portrayed in the Bible.