Did Jesus Exist? (2)
|Christ Pentocrator, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mt. Sinai (AD 560)|
- John Dominic Crossan
I did not plan to write a second post about the historical nature of Jesus. But I found myself tonight reading the writings of one of the early church fathers, Ignatius of Antioch, and felt I had to elaborate on some of the early sources I mentioned previously that validate Jesus' historical existence in a little more detail.
As I have already mentioned, Christians from the very beginning have confessed and lived in light of the event of Jesus' life, crucifixion, and resurrection. The earliest extant non-Biblical writers whose authors claim to be believers unitedly and unanimously speak as followers of a crucified and risen Messiah. Ignatius (bishop of Antioch) was one of the first from whom we have substantial material and mention of the historical Jesus.
As I mentioned in my second post in my study on Islam(1), Ignatius wrote many letters to the churches that existed during the first couple centuries after the death of Jesus. In these letters we have not only Jesus being described as "our God" but we also have other interesting historical contexts being given in a document dated within 80 years of Jesus' death. Ignatius writes in AD 108:
"I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise, for I observed that you are established in an unshakable faith, having been nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in both body and spirit, and firmly established in love by the blood of Christ, totally convinced with regard to our Lord that he is truly of the family of David with respect to human descent, Son of God with respect to the divine will and power, truly born of a virgin, baptized by John in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him, truly nailed in the flesh for us under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch (from its first we derive our existence, that is, from his divinely blessed suffering), in order that He might raise a banner for the ages through His resurrection for His saints and faithful people, whether among Jews or among Gentiles, in the one body of His church."
What is the interesting historical context that we find in this section of Ignatius' letter to the Smyrnaeans? We are not only given the "who" in validation of who Jesus was from an extremely early non-Biblical source, but also the "what" in mentioning the fact of who Jesus' mother was, who baptized Him, and that He died by crucifixion. The "where" is in the details mentioned of the crucifixion event: that He was, "truly nailed in the flesh for us under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch," Pontius Pilate being the 5th prefect of the Roman province of Judea and Herod being the tetrarch - puppet king of Galilee.
Along with Ignatius we have Clement of Rome who wrote a letter to the church in Corinth and Polycarp's writings (both dated around AD 95), outlining facts quite similar, stating that Jesus was born of a virgin (Mary) that He lived in Galilee and that He was crucified under Pilate.
The Jewish historian Josephus makes reference to Jesus in Antiquities XVIII (AD 85) and even though some sections of Josephus are attributed as later additions there are clear mentionings of Jesus that are not.
Tacitus, a Roman historian, writing around AD 115 makes derogatory reference to the early Christian movement and mentions that its founder had been executed under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. There was no reason for later Christian scribes to insert such a statement given its nature, its style, and the fact that no one was disputing the existence of Jesus as a living character in history at that time.
We must keep in mind the realities of ancient historical research. In truth, that the events in the life of an itinerant Jewish rabbi are recorded anywhere is slightly unusual for the time. That they are recorded by contemporary witnesses (in regard to the Biblical New Testament) is unheard of and astounding for any form of writing at the time, and that they are confirmed by a varied stream of witnesses, writers, and historians is amazing. The sheer number of those who write about this crucified Jewish Messiah within the first 200 years of His death are staggering in comparison with writings about other figures within antiquity.
At the beginning of these last two articles on the nature of Jesus' existence, I started with quotes from New Testament historians and scholars. I made a point however, to quote atheist scholars, not only this but the two leading atheistic scholars in Biblical-textual criticism. Scholars that have been quoted to me to support claims against the Bible. I did this very much on purpose, simply to show that even though you may not be a believer in what Christians claim Jesus said and did, you cannot deny that such a historical figure ever existed.
Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." - John 20:29
(1) Islam and Chrsitianity Part 2: The Definition Of The Dialogue
Yamauchi, Edwin, “Jesus Outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence?” in Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, edited by Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, Zondervan, 1995, 212-14 and John P. Meier, “Jesus in Josephus: A Modest Proposal,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52 (1990): 76-103.
Jesus Outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence?
Arabic summary, presumably of Antiquities 18.63. From Agapios' Kitab al-'Unwan ("Book of the Title," 10th c.). See also James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~humm/Topics/JewishJesus/josephus.html).
John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), pg 145.
Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography
Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for jesus of Nazareth (New York: Harper One, 2012)
Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument For Jesus Of Nazereth