The Historical Evidence for Jesus Christ?
A correspondent: "There is a written Roman record from 1996 (sic) years ago of the crucifixion of a man claiming to be "King of the Jews." And there are many other writings outside the Bible from Christ's time referring to his life and deeds."
My brief reply: "You say many. Produce one. Just one."
The above is an e-mail exchange in January 2002. As of the end of March, there was no response to this challenge. It is now open to the world to reply. And quite a few have as can be seen by the resulting discussions.
Aside from the occasional atheist, (Meditation 28, Talk Back 16) only Christians write me trying to convert me. And it is only Christians who knock on my door with their message, or who stuff their flyers in my mailbox and scurry away before I can suggest to them other viewpoints are possible. Perhaps that is why there is a tendency in my writings to challenge the tenets of Christianity and not accord the same degree of attention to other theistic religions.
Generally, my exchanges with Christians go as follows:
"Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Saviour?"
"No, I'm an agnostic. First prove to me there is a god, and then I'll worry about the minor details between religions."
"But if you accept Jesus Christ into your heart, you'll know God exists."
"But surely your God is the more important element. Where's your proof of god?"
"It comes from accepting Jesus Christ..."
and so it goes; talking past each other until they go away when I offer them a UCTAA pamphlet..
As they won't play my game of truly addressing proofs of the existence of a supreme being, I will, in this meditation, play their game. Instead of asking them about God, I'll ask them to prove that Jesus Christ actually existed. What is the proof, outside of biblical texts, that this person ever lived? I will offer a Doctorate of Divinity degree from the International University of Nescience to anyone who can provide that proof. (Make sure you note the nature of the proof required as described two paragraphs below.) As in the previous challenge (Meditation 20) which no-one has successfully taken up, as many degrees will be issued as there are sound submissions, and those submissions will be published on this web site in either Debate & Discourse or Talk Back.
I have to admit that proving the existence of an historical Jesus is not going to change my mind about the existence of a supreme being. All it will do will establish that there is a basis for at least some of the content of the four gospels (which were written about 20 -100 years after the events reported).
What kind of proof am I looking for? It is unlikely that there is any archeological evidence. So what is needed is contemporary documentary evidence, the type of evidence the correspondent quoted at the top of this page claimed to know about. Contemporary means, for the purpose of this challenge, during the purported life of Christ, and that is the period of about 7 BC to 33 AD. And I don't want secondary and tertiary references. We need to know what the primary source documents are, where they are located, who authenticated them, who confirmed that authentication, who translated the content, and who independently confirmed that translation.
This should not be difficult... if such documentation really exists. There are a number of incidents reported in the four gospels relating to the life of Jesus that could very well have been recorded by observers at that time, if indeed the events occurred.
- Matthew 2.1: the wise men from the east - surely at least one of them would have written about such an important journey. They were wise men weren't they? And they visited Herod's court. That must have been documented in the palace records.
- Matthew 2.16: Herod's ordering killing of all the male children in Bethlehem and vicinity, two years and under. There would have to be a record of such an order, perhaps even a message from the local Roman commander back to Rome saying "Guess what crazy Herod did now..."
- Matthew 14.15 - 21: The feeding of the multitude with five loaves and two fishes: With five thousand people getting a free meal, couldn't one of them would have written about it at the time.
- John 11: The raising of Lazarus from the dead was widely reported and reached the ears of the chief priests and Pharisees who apparently discussed it. It seems reasonable that someone would have documented the incident.
- Matthew 26:14 - 15: The thirty pieces of silver; As anyone who has worked in a organization knows, you don't go spending thirty pieces of silver without filing an expense claim.
- Matthew 27: The crucifixion - is there a record? The correspondent quoted in the opening seemed to feel so, even though he was unclear on dates. Whether 6 AD or the more commonly accepted approximately 27 - 33 AD, is there really any independent record of this specific event?
Those are just suggestions. Feel free to look for other evidence. But it must be provably contemporary, not something written decades or centuries after the event. I await responses with interest. But I'm not holding my breath.
Footnotes & Asides
- I don't think my correspondent deliberately lied when he claimed documentary evidence existed. He sincerely believed it, having heard it from a Sunday School teacher, or from his Pastor in a sermon, or some other "credible" source. It's just one of those factoids, that if repeated often enough within a community becomes generally accepted truth.
- That is existed as a person who actually lived approximately 2000 years ago. I'm not interested in musings about a metaphysical or poetic concept living in your heart.
- Thereby implicitly supporting the point being made in the Meditation.
- If any member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints wants to take on the equivalent challenge with respect to the Book of Mormon, the same offer applies.
- I have to admit that proving the existence of an historical Jesus is not going to change my mind about the existence of a supreme being. All it will do will establish that there is a basis for at least some of the New Testament. But, in itself, it provides no proof of god. But this is no different than saying that the substantiated existence of an Emperor of Japan does not prove the existence of the Sun Goddess (Amaterasu) from whom the Shinto religion claims he descends.
- According to an article in the March 2002 Harpers, current archeological evidence, on balance, serves to disprove the literal validity of the Old Testament.
- We have to admire the ecological soundness of cleaning up the scraps of this feast, but I wonder why just they happened to have 12 empty baskets out there in the middle of the desert when neither the feast nor the clean up was planned ahead of time. It's these little embellishments in anecdotes which bring the whole story into question
- Given the state of medical science at the time and the lack of embalming, the occasional individual rising from the dead was not entirely unknown, and this event not particularly miraculous. But, given the number of people who ask me why I don't write a meditation based on the sayings of Heinlein's fictional Lazarus Long, I decided to toss them a bone by mentioning this Lazarus. And if anyone else wants to submit a Lazarus Long meditation, please feel free to do so. I have no intention of taking that one on.