Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Historicity of Jesus
The existence of Jesus, known by Christians as Jesus Christ (Jesus the Messiah) and by Muslims as Isa (عيسى), is accepted by the followers of two world religions, Christianity and Islam, on the basis of their respective scriptures - the Bible and the Qur'an. Many if not most Jews also acknowledge the existence of Jesus, although whether the Talmud itself contains references to him is in dispute. Christianity considers Jesus to be the Son of God, whilst Islam sees him as only a human prophet and teacher; adherents of Judaism do not accept him as a true Messiah.
The Bible also describes various miracles associated with Jesus' life, notably healings, a virgin birth and a resurrection from death. Although this is standard Christian teaching, liberal Christians and those Unitarian Universalists that hold Christian beliefs, do not (or do not strongly) believe in these miracles; non-Christians tend to dismiss them. This dismissal is usually founded on the general principle that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Many scholars also see the Biblical narrative of Jesus' life as a mythologised account of a historical figure, aimed at winning new converts rather than being a neutral historical record. This includes the idea that interpretations of Jesus' sayings are secondhand and literary extrapolations from his actions and include mythologized invented detail.
Although the existence of a historical figure named Jesus is commonly accepted by Christians and non-Christians alike, there is a school of thought, called mythological school , which sees Jesus as a later interpolation into one of the mystery religions which resemble Christianity. Others see the apparent relationship between Gnosticism and Christianity as based on a historical figure acting as the focal point for the linking of Jewish religious traditions and political history with a mystery religion, a syncretism - ultimately more popular among Gentiles than Jews - which would become Christianity.
Main article: Jesus and textual evidence
The primary source of historical knowledge about Jesus is contained within the Christian Gospels. Evidence for a historical Jesus is also provided by the Epistles, especially those by Paul. Other sources regarded as of less significance from the perspective of modern historians are other early Christian material, other religious traditions, and certain historians of the period.
Historians generally agree that at least some of the sources on which Gospels are based were written within living memory of Jesus' lifetime. They therefore accept that the accounts of the life of Jesus in the Gospels provide evidence 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. These scholars date it between 55 and 80; so they conclude that it was fairly close to the early oral preaching about Jesus' life.
Contemporary non-Christian sources
Of the secular commentators living within memory of Jesus, at least six are claimed to have written material relating to Jesus - Pliny the Younger, Josephus, Suetonius, Philo, Lucian, and Tacitus. Lucian wrote a satire condemning Christians as easily led fools, whereas Pliny the Younger wrote the same opinion in prose. Scholars draw on Josephus' mention of Jesus, and on mention of early Christians in Suetonius and Tacitus. Both John the Baptist and James the Just are also documented in Josephus. The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus also makes a mention (in a passage in the Annals written c. 115 CE), but merely echoes popular opinion about Jesus, having no independent source of information.
Main article: Josephus on Jesus
Many Christians use a passage from Josephus as evidence that the Bible is not the only contemporary document proclaiming the truth of their faith and its history (such as the Resurrection of Jesus as Christ, who was executed at the suggestion of Jewish leaders, and won many converts). However, John Dominic Crossan and K. H. Rengstorff have noted that the passage has many internal indicators that seem to be inconsistent with the rest of Josephus' writing and with what is known about Josephus, leading them to think that part or all of the passage may have been forged.
Pliny and Suetonius
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 (ca. 52) 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 of Christ; but unless we assume the latter we are driven to the improbable hypothesis that Jesus was invented in one generation.
(See the discussion of Gnosticism below)
The only known text which claims to be a form of official governmental record and which also mentions Jesus is the collection known as the Letters of Herod and Pilate . They are found in some 6th century manuscript copies of the work of Justus of Tiberius (who was of the same time as Josephus). Virtually all scholars dispute the attribution of the texts to Herod or Pilate, and consider them pure (and obvious) propaganda. Early commentators stated that Justus had no mention of Jesus.
Among other later pseudepigraphical writings (written by persons unknown under others' names), there is an 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 - they document an apparent need on the part of Christians to supplement existing documentation to support the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, by providing the kind of documents they felt ought to have existed.
Jewish records, both oral and written, of the period, were compiled into the Talmud, a work so large that it fills at least 32 volumes. Within its vastness, there is very little mention of anyone called Jesus, the closest match being a person or persons called Yeshu. However, the description of Yeshu does not match the biblical accounts of Jesus, the name itself is usually considered to be a derogatory acronym for anyone attempting to convert Jews from Judaism, and the term does not occur in the Jerusalem version of the text (which, compared to the Babylonian version, would be expected to mention Jesus more). Some Christians proclaim that the lack of references, and the difficulty in associating Yeshu with Jesus, is due to Christianity being negligible when the Talmud was predominantly created, in addition to the Talmud being more concerned with teachings, than recording history.
Jesus as a myth
The existence of Gnosticism and various mystery religions, with close similarities to Christianity, has led the mythological school to suggest that Christianity was strongly influenced by these, essentially building a mystery religion on the foundation of a Judaic tradition (syncretism). This would have included linking the two through Jesus' attempts to fulfill Old Testament prophecies, or else for later writers to claim that he did. More generally it would have included mythologising a Jewish leader into a Son of God, and a representative of wisdom and knowledge. Some have argued that, due to what they claim is a lack of physical evidence, he may never have existed outside the mythological realm at all.
Especially well known among the earliest adherents of this school was François-Marie Arouet, with a pen name Voltaire (1694-1778). Friedrich Engels was a mythologist, too. David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874) was a mythologist known after his work "Leben Jesu" (Life of Jesus). According to at least one authority, the Slovenian scholar Anton Strle, Nietzsche lost his faith in the time he was reading the book Leben Jesu (Life of Jesus), written by the German theologian David Strauss. An important mythologist was also Paul-Louis Couchoud (1879-1959), a philosopher and a consistent defender of the thesis that Jesus did not exist. 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 view, Paul was not interested in "nor heard of" 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 instead 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.
Jesus and syncretism
During the first and second centuries BC, Hellenic philosophy merged with various minor deities to produce mystery religions, in which a Life-death-rebirth deity was used as allegory to encode wisdom. Such religions quickly replaced many local religions as the dominant form throughout the Mediterranian, with the resulting variations of the central god-man figure becoming known as Osiris-Dionysus. Some scholars, most notably Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, who wrote The Jesus Mysteries, think that Jesus was one of the forms of Osiris-Dionysus. CNN's David Dodson, in a review of their book, however, found that "while the authors discuss many examples of elements of Osiris/Dionysus in the Jesus story, they virtually ignore the more direct ties to Jewish tradition and prophecy. This oversight undermines the credibility of many of their arguments, and could have the tendency to mislead the novice reader in this subject" .
Jesus and Gnosticism
Main article: Gnosticism and the New Testament
The Gnostics were a branch of mystery religion which sometimes incorporated some Christian elements; they were highly concerned with secret, esoteric interpretations of the teachings of Jesus, and less so with their literal content, which they may even have regarded as allegory.
The Gospel of John and the general epistles of Paul and John have often been connected with Gnosticism. If they were written by Gnostics, then these texts may not have been intended as historical material of Jesus, reducing their value as evidence for his existence. The Pastoral Epistles of Paul are not usually viewed as Gnostic. Christian theologians generally see Paul and John as refuting both contemporary Gnostic and Hellenistic philosophies, although they may have used terminology from both systems to do so. For example, Professor James Dunn argues "John was deliberately attempting to portray Jesus in a manner as attractive as possible to would-be (Christian) Gnostics, while at the same time marking out the limits he himself imposed on such a presentation." (Unity and Diversity in the New Testament 1977, p302)
Nazareth or Nazirite?
Some scholars have argued that the (largely Greek) 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." Some scholars argue that there is no evidence Nazareth existed before the 4th century AD. Against this theory is the fact that all four Gospels specifically speak of a place named Nazareth (see Matthew 2:23, Mark 1:9, Luke 1:26, John 1:46) in contexts where it cannot possibly be a confusion with "the Nazirite". In addition, Dr. Ray Pritz observes that the Gospels frequently give examples of Jesus drinking wine, which was forbidden for Nazirites. One such example is Luke 7:34 in which Jesus says, "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking and you say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard.'"
In 1962, in Caesarea, a marble slab in the size 15 cm x 12 cm with four lines of inscription in Hebrew square character was found by Israeli archeologists indicating that priests from Jerusalem were assigned to live in the village of Nazareth in Galilee. The slab bears the first non-Christian mention of Nazareth and is dated from the late 3rd century or 4th century. This indicates that Nazareth existed around the time the Gospels started to be transcribed.
From 1996, Dr Stephen Pfann, of the University of the Holy Land , has conducted excavations in Nazareth, and claims to have found pottery dating from the 1st to 3rd centuries AD, associated with agricultural terraces and wine presses . Based on this evidence, Dr Pfann argues that in the 1st century "Nazareth was tiny, with two or three clans living in 35 homes spread over six acres (2.5 hectares)" .
- Alleged relics of Jesus Christ
- Jesus and textual evidence
- Two source hypothesis
- Markan priority
- Textual criticism
- History of Christianity
- New Testament apocrypha
- Authorship of the Pauline Epistles
- discussion of potential syncretisms with other religions
- Beautifully illustrated site discussing syncretisms both of stories and of religious practices
- Christian site on Josephus evidence
- Argument from Christian point of view
- Pro Jesus' existence
- Argues Jesus was originally a relatively minor figure
- PBS' From Jesus to Christ
- The Jesus Puzzle
- The Quest of the Historical Jesus By Albert Schweitzer Full online text
- Highly critical view of archaeology at Nazareth from www.jesusneverexisted.com
- Radical Criticism
- Journal of Higher Criticism
- Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries - was the original Jesus a pagan god? ISBN:0722536771
- Mendenhall, George E. Ancient Israel's Faith and History: An Introduction to the Bible in Context 2001 ISBN 0-66422313-3
- George A.Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, Publisher: Prometheus Books; (January 1, 1988)
- Ian Wilson, Jesus: The Evidence, Publisher: Regnery Publishing; 1 edition (October 1, 2000)
- Messori, Vittorio. Jesus hypotheses, St Paul Publications, 1977, ISBN 0854391541
- Robert M. Price, Deconstructing Jesus, Prometheus Books, 2000, ISBN 1573927589
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details