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Historicity of Jesus
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Historicity of Jesus

The neutrality of this article is disputed.

Table of contents
1 Historicity of Jesus
2 See also
3 External links
4 Reference

Historicity of Jesus

Topics related to Jesus
Christology | as Christ & Messiah; | his Resurrection | Jesus in Islam | Jewish views | Other views of Jesus | Sources about Jesus | Historicity of Jesus | Fictional portrayals |edit|

Several generations of scholars have debated and investigated the historicity of Jesus.


Taking a starting point loosely connected with Higher criticism, a rigorous historical analysis of Biblical texts in the 19th century, also known as the "Tübingen School" and connected to the Eberhard Karls university in Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, a number of critics have proposed that there was no historical Jesus.

On the Christian side, the increased importance of the Christological argument for the existence of God in modern evangelical teachings have informed questions of the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth with an enhanced urgency. The usual historian's criteria of authenticity, documentation, and the like, tend to be removed from ordinary historical discourse, to take up newly important places in Christological theology.

On the opposing side of the question, perhaps most prolific of those Biblical scholars denying the historical existence of Jesus is a professor of German, George Albert Wells, who argues that Jesus was originally a myth. Another example is Earl Doherty, who suggests that Paul's idea of Jesus was derived from his reading of the Torah.

In this extreme position within the skeptical view, Paul never met— "nor heard of" is an extreme formulation— any actual person named Jesus from Nazareth (or Bethlehem), but rather believed in a metaphysical Jesus who died on some ethereal plane at the beginning of time, or some far-off time in history. The Jesus of Nazareth character was made up after Paul's time by a composite of Old Testament prophecies, with embellishments added by many people. In this view, the interpretation of the meaning of Jesus was also informed by messianic, apocalyptic and resurrectionist myths that were common during the late Hellenistic age. A persistent idea is that his existence is based on a whisper campaign to expel the Roman rulers.

Many other scholars, who do not doubt the historical Jesus, would agree that these Pauline interpretations of his sayings at secondhand and literary extrapolations from his actions and mythologized invented detail have been applied to an historical figure. They demonstrate that the Pauline Christians were unfamiliar with Jewish culture and that the term "Nazarene" was unfamiliar to those transcribing Aramaic oral tradition into Greek: a more appropriate translation, this school suggests, of the historical rabbi Jesus, who came to be so thoroughly mythologized, was "Jesus the Nazirite." (see also Nazareth link below)

Others contend that aspects of Jesus' life as related in the New Testament were entirely derived from popular mystery religions in the Roman Empire at that time period. These religions worshipped saviour figures such as Isis, Horus, Osiris, Dionysus and Mithras, and Christian Gnosticism which flourished in the 2nd and 3rd centuries openly combined Christian imagery and stories with the beliefs and practices of Mediterranean mystery religions. This is not supported by the earliest surviving Christian art from the late 3rd and 4th centuries. In the catacombs of Rome it would seem that only Orpheus was adapted. The Christian's "Good Shepherd" carries a lamb and a flute.

Proponents of this view generally date the gospels much later than some mainstream scholars and assert textual corruption in the passages supporting the existence of Jesus in Paul and Josephus as interpolated. Flavius Josephus was trained as a Pharisee and the passages attributed to him do not read true to this; It fails a standard test for authenticity, in that it contains vocabulary not used by Josephus per the Complete Concordance to Flavius Josephus, ed. K. H. Rengstorf, 2002. Professor Shlomo Pines found a different version of Josephus testimony in an Arabic version of the tenth century. It has obviously not been interpolated in the same way as the Christian version circulating in the West. Cornelius Tacitus echoed popular opinion about Jesus and had no independent source of information. The passage in the Annals as written in 115 CE has no value as a historical evidence for Jesus.

Recourse is not necessary to later pseudepigraphical writings, such as the much later alleged letter from Herod Antipas purporting to be directed to the Roman Senate defending his (Herod's) actions concerning both John the Baptist and Jesus, and said to be found among the records of the Roman Senate. Whatever their internal details, the very existence of such pseudepigraphical writings and of interpolations into authentic documents, which accumulate from the 2nd century onwards, to judge from internal evidence, has genuine historical value, in that they document a perceived need to supplement the documentation on the part of Christians who apparently felt the need to support the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, by providing the kind of documents they felt ought to have existed. A simpler explanation could be: a street-wise forger knew how to sell his work (it still happens today).

The term "demythologize" is very misunderstood. When Rudolf Bultmann says he wants to demythologize Jesus' teachings he means he wants to make those teachings a modern day reality, not something that stays and belongs to an ancient primitive world. Bultmann remained convinced the life of Jesus was theology in story form.

Critical historians do not confuse the memory and records of past events (things said and done) with the events themselves. Professional, critical, ancient historians are generally avoided by those "writers and readers" who think they can find out "what really happened" in the remote, ill-documented ancient past. This reluctance is unlikely to change. Only with a fair knowledge of what history is, and is not, can "quackery" be recognized. The goal of history is a search for objectivity, not the support of various movements or preconceived convictions and self-serving conclusions. A professional, critical, ancient historian relishes the lost and unknown. There is a love of mystery.

Defence of Jesus

Most historians do not dispute the existence of a person Christians would recognise as Jesus; Evidence for Jesus' existence 2000 years ago are by historical standards rather persuasive. Jesus is not only mentioned extensively within the New Testament, but is also considered a historical figure within the traditions of Judaism, Islam, Mandeanism and other losely Christian traditions like Gnosticism. Both John the Baptist and James the Just are documented in Josephus, where Jesus also receives a brief, if disputed, mention. See the Josephus on Jesus and Tacitus on Jesus.

Moreover, the same historians generally agree that at least some of the Gospels are based were written within living memory of Jesus's lifetime. Historians therefore accept that the accounts of the life of Jesus in the Gospels provide a reasonable basis of evidence, by the standards of ancient history, for the historical existence of Jesus and the basic account of his life and death. The Gospel of Mark is considered by historians to be the earliest of the four. It is dated between 55 and 65, which means it was probably circulating while some of the apostles and their immediate disciples, as well as numerous other eye witnesses, were still alive; so we can conclude that it was probably fairly close to the actual events of Jesus' life. When a document has been written within living memory of the people described in it, it is considered fairly reliable by historical standards.

And religious accounts are not the only evidence for Jesus' existence. Some early secular sources also mention Jesus or his followers. Will Durant the philosopher and historian wrote in his book Caesar and Christ (pp. 554-5):

The oldest known mention of Christ in pagan literature is in a letter of the younger Pliny (ca. 110), asking the advice of Trajan on the treatment of Christians. Five years later Tacitus described Nero's persecution of the Chrestiani in Rome, and pictured them as already (A.D. 64) numbering adherents throughout the empire.... Suetonius (ca. 125) mentions the same persecution, and reports Claudius' banishment of "Jews who, stirred up by Christ [impulsore Chresto], were causing public disturbances," the passage accords well with the Acts of the Apostles, which mentions a decree of Claudius that "the Jews should leave Rome." These references prove the existence of Christians rather than Christ; but unless we assume the latter we are driven to the improbable hypothesis that Jesus was invented in one generation.

See also

External links