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Louis W. Cable
Any religion makes sense if you look at it only from the inside. George C. Scott Was Jesus of Nazareth a real historical person? Today, we cannot give a positive yes or no answer to this question. But after studying the evidence it becomes highly plausible that, as portrayed in the New Testament, Jesus of Nazareth, hereinafter referred to as Jesus, is a myth and nothing more. It is reasonable to speculate, however, that somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean region of two thousand or more years ago a talented young leader appeared preaching what was for those days a radical doctrine. Although he in no way resembled the Jesus of the New Testament, he well might have provided the inspiration for him, i.e., the kernel of truth out of which grew the myth. First, it is inconceivable that if a historical Jesus had actually founded a world religion, Christianity, that there should be no contemporary record of his activities. Surely one of the several Jewish historians active during that period would have mentioned him. But they remained silent about him - a silence, it should be noted, which speaks volumes. So in our search for Jesus we are restricted to the conflicting depictions of the New Testament gospel writers who are themselves under suspicion by modern Bible scholars. Surely if such a person as Jesus had existed, the historians of his day would have recorded something of his teachings, his alleged miracles, his doctrines as well as the many other extraordinary events associated with his short life. Preeminent among the Jewish historians of the first century is Philo Judaeus of Alexandria. His dates, 30 BCE - 452, include Jesus’ alleged life span. Among his writings is a history of the Jewish people. It is still available today. Philo was particularly interested in contemporary religious movements and sects of which there were many. Yet he never once mentions Jesus or any of the extraordinary events associated with him in the New Testament. Justus of Tiberius, another contemporary Jewish historian, also wrote a history of the Jewish people covering this period. 1
Although the work is now lost, we know that it was extant at least until 891 because Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, read it and expressed astonishment that it contained not one reference to Jesus (Photius’ Bibliotheca, code 33)3 . Flauvius Josephus (37-100?), an important first century Jewish historian, wrote about Pontius Pilate in his important work, Antiquities of the Jews4. It is unimaginable that he should not have mentioned the trial and crucifixion of Jesus had they really occurred. It is evident that at an early date Christians were painfully aware of this fatal omission and took steps to correct it. Between sections two and four of chapter 3 of Antiquities there appears a short section, appropriately titled section 3, in which Jesus and the Christians are indeed mentioned. However, section 3 interrupts the natural flow of the text and appears to be out of place. When section 3 is removed chapter 3 makes more sense. Section 3 is an acknowledged interpolation5. Also, early Christian writers, such as Origen and Tertullian, frequently referred to Josephus without once citing this passage. They certainly would have done so had they been aware of it. Last, but by no means least, the passage was obviously written by a Christian which Josephus was not. It is interesting to note that in the sixteenth century Vossius6 had a manuscript of Josephus which does not contain the passage in question. A second reference to Jesus is also found in book 20, chapter 9 of the Antiquities. Here it is said that by order of Annainas, James the Just, the brother of Jesus, and some others were stoned to death. It is extremely doubtful that Josephus would have made such a casual reference to Jesus without having said anything about him elsewhere. This passage seems to imply the existence of the earlier one therefore it has to be an interpolation also. The claim that Josephus confirms the existence of Jesus is refuted. For more information on the writings of Joseph see Are the Gospels True? on this web site. There is a reference to Jesus in a letter which Pliny the Younger, Proconsul of Bithynia, wrote to the emperor Trajan in the year 113. In it Pliny asked for instructions as to any action that he should take against the Christians. He informed the emperor that they sang hymns to Jesus Christ as to a god. They did not worship the emperor as was required by Roman law of that day. Although judged to be authentic, the letter, because of its relatively late date, is of no use in proving the existence of
Jesus. Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, because he is so consistently cited by Christian apologists as providing extra-biblical proof of the existence of Jesus, deserves special attention. Tacitus, a prominent Roman historian who lived from 56 to 120, authored several major works on Roman history some of which have survived. Among his most ambitious work is The Annals of Imperial Rome, a 30 volume set dealing with the empire in the period from 14 to 68. In chapter 44 of Book 15 of the Annals is found the following passage: "Consequently, to get rid of the report (that he was responsible for the devastating fire which consumed Rome in 64), Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular." (Annuls, Book XV,sec.44). Christians claim this passage is a valid confirmation of the historicity of Jesus. However, when subjected to further analysis the authenticity of the passage appears to be highly questionable. First, it must be recognized that in history no topic is above questioning. If it is claimed that an author wrote a certain passage, then it is the responsibility of those making the claim to provide proof of authenticity. If such proof is not forthcoming, then it follows that the passage in question has no validity. Also, much of the Christian literature that has come down to us from the first and second centuries shows clear evidence of editing and/or interpolation. Among the more compelling reasons for doubting the authenticity of the statement in question is the fact that there is no evidence that Nero blamed any group for the fire in question nor is there any evidence that a group called "Christians" were well known in Rome during Nero's reign (5468.) Also, there is no mention of Jesus by name. The passage, as important as it obviously is to Christian apologists, is never referred to by any of the early church fathers. In fact, it was not mentioned by Christian writers until as recently as the15th century. However, it is the issue of Pontius Pilate that stands 3
out as clear evidence of forgery in the subject passage. The name Pontius Pilate is used as if the reader would recognize it. But, there is no reason to believe that a pagan Roman living more than half a century after Pilate's time would recognize the name of a minor official governing a distant province. However, a Christian would recognize it instantly. This raises another important question, "Assuming that Tacitus actually wrote the passage, where did he get it?" He was far too late to have had any first hand knowledge of Jesus and the extraordinary events allegedly surrounding his life. So did he rely on the gospels as a source of information? They were available at the time the Annals was written. If so, here we have a classic case of circularity. There is also the problem of Pilate's title. According to Encyclopedia Britannica (2002 deluxe electronic edition), Pontius Pilate’s title was "prefect," not "procurator" as Tacitus says. The office of procurator was not created until the reign of the emperor Trajan (98-117) which fits within the time of Tacitus’ writings. Prefect, on the other hand, was the title used during the reign of the emperor Tiberius (14-37) under whom Pilate served. The gospels are of no help here because in them Pilate is referred to neither as prefect nor as procurator but simply as governor (Matthew 27:2, Luke 3:1). The claim that Tacitus was quoting from official government records is not plausible for the following reasons. First, there is the problem of Pilate's title as mentioned above. Second, official government records would not have referred to an executed man as "the Christ." The conclusion is that, although attributed to Tacitus, the passage in question is obviously a forgery interpolated into the Annals long after they were written. Its sole purpose was to make it appear that Tacitus actually wrote about a historical Jesus7. The Roman historian Suetonius (69-122) tells us in his Life of Claudius that the emperor expelled the Jews from Rome because, "At the instigation of 'Christus', they were continually making trouble." Some Christian apologists contend the Christus referred to in this sentences is none other than Jesus himself. Therefore, it stands as proof positive of the historicity of Jesus. First, the words, "at the instigation of Christus," imply that the instigator was present at the time. Claudius reigned 4
from 41 to 54 therefore no rational theologian or historian would seriously make such a preposterous claim that Jesus was in Rome inciting the Jews to riot some 15 years after his alleged crucifixion. The name, Christus was common in Rome of that day. Also, no reference is made to the fire nor of the attendant circumstances which Suetonius does mention elsewhere. The sentence obviously does not fit into the context of the narrative in which it appears. It looks suspiciously like another Christian interpolation. In any case, the sentence, due to its relatively late date, has no evidentiary value in the quest for the historical Jesus. If Jesus had lived, disputed with the scribes and Pharisees, desecrated the holy temple and had been put to death after a trial by the Sanhedrin or at the instigation of the chief men among the Jews, the rabbis certainly would have had independent knowledge of him, and there would have been some mention of him in Jewish writings such as the Talmud. Many passages, we know, were deleted from the Talmud by the censors. Did any of these deletions reference Jesus? Here is one example of a censored passage from Sanhedrin 43 referring to a Jesus: It has been told that on the eve of Passover they hanged Jesus. An announcer went out for forty days before the hanging saying that he was going to be stoned and hanged for the crime of leading Israel astray, and asking that anyone having anything to say in his favor let him come and plead on his behalf. Not having found anything in his favor, they hanged him on the eve of Passover. This account has nothing to do with the Jesus of the New Testament for the following reasons: 1) Jesus, according to the gospels, was not stoned and then hanged. He was crucified by the Romans for insurrection. 2) The gospels tell us that the trial and execution of Jesus were on the same day, not separated by 40 days as said in the censored Talmud passage. 3) The gospels relate that Jesus was crucified at the sixth hour (noon) not towards evening as is stated in the Talmud. 4) In the gospels Jesus was condemned to death at a Roman trial before Pontius Pilate not before the Sanhedrian. 5) While in the Gospel of John the day of execution is the day before Passover, the three synoptic gospels made it the day of the Passover which again disagrees with the censored Talmud story. 6) The Jesus of the Talmudic account lived and died during the reign of King Alexander Janaus, 150 years before the alleged time of Jesus of 5
the New Testament. There are those who will say, "But Jesus could not just have been invented. His good works, his miracles and his ethical teachings are a proof of his existence." However, the ethical doctrines of many before and since Jesus have reached ethical levels as high and perhaps higher than that ascribed to him. For example, the golden rule, said to encapsulate the Christian mystique, was enunciated by Confucius centuries before Christ. Socrates, in the speech he delivered to his judges, is reported to have said, "We know that no evil happens to a good man either in life or after death. I am not angry with my accusers. They have done me no harm, though none of them meant to do me good. For this I may gently blame them." The point is that there existed in antiquity a body of ethical doctrine and sufficient examples of the finest kind of behavior to supply the gospel writers with ample sources with which to construct the mythical portrait of the ideal man, if that is what they intended to do. Evidence that Jesus ever lived is found only in the New Testament gospels. But just how reliable is it? Consider the following: 1) The dates of their writings are well after the alleged time of Jesus and contain numerous irresolvable contradictions and obvious forgeries9. 2) The writer of the Gospel of John presents a different Christ from that of the synoptic gospels. 3) Paul presents a mystery Christ unlike that of both John and the synoptics. 4) Much in the gospels was borrowed from pagan sources. 5) No two gospels writers could agree as to the date or circumstances of Jesus’ birth, and the birth narratives appear to have been contrived. 6) The gospel writers cannot agree on the short inscription over Jesus' head at the alleged crucifixion. 7) The gospel accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection are hopelessly contradictory. The New Testament is the last place to look for historical facts. It is simply a book of church dogma and an exhortation to faith in that dogma. It is believed that the ideas of a suffering messiah is out lined in the 53rd chapter of the Old Testament book of Isaiah. And it is certain that this and other passages in the Hebrew Bible supplied details for the prophecy of the birth and crucifixion of a suffering servant. The conception of a son of God who came to earth, was a benefactor of man, died and rose again, was widely prevalent in the pre-Christian pagan world of the eastern Mediterranean area. Examples include Adonis, Hercules, Houris and many others. Naturally, during 6
their stay on earth these "sons of god" were said to have had mortal bodies. So, the attribution of a mortal body toa divine man, Jesus, proves nothing whatsoever as to his historicity. The Pauline writers were interested only in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul did not tell his converts anything about the beautiful earthly life of a good man. What he did was to preach Jesus and the means of redemption offered through his death. In other words, Paul preached a dogma, and the death of Jesus in the Pauline epistles is no more an historical event than is that of the death and resurrection of Osirus. For more information on this subject see The Mystery of Paul's Ignorance on this website. If Jesus did not exist, how did the story about him begin? One must remember that in the time when Jesus was supposed to have lived, there were many Jewish cults, especially in Galilee. Jewish mysticism, mixed with the Hellenistic stoic philosophy, gave birth to the legend of Jesus. Gullible minds accepted the myth, and as the centuries passed, a new religion developed out of a legend. Over time, as the gospels went through successive editions, "corrections" were made which reflect the compromises upon which the minds of Christians were exercised at the time and speeches were put in the mouth of Jesus in order to give authority to some particular dogma or view. The parable of the Good Samaritan, for example was added for the purpose of combating Jewish exclusiveness exhibited in many passages of earlier gospels. Meanwhile the Hebrew Bible was ransacked for passages which could be manipulated so as to apply to Jesus. Corresponding incidents were then written into the gospels to make it appear that Jesus had fulfilled these prophecies. This was done to such an extent that one writer observed that the Old Testament was converted to a biography of Jesus. The early Christian writers tried to prove the truth of Christian beliefs not by contemporary evidence of Jesus’ existence, which surely they would have done if they could, but out of the prophets and the Psalms by taking verses out of context and in many cases altering them so as to make them appear to be speaking about Jesus. There are those who would protect the gospels by saying that everything in them is symbolism. But symbolism is not history. If the conclusion is accepted that the primitive gospels were essentially symbolism, with some infusion of myth, then the further conclusion must follow that the writers of these gospels were not intending to relate the actions of a real man. Thus the 7
only evidence, such as it is, that Jesus ever lived ceases to be any evidence at all. ______________________________________________ 1 Compiled by Louis W. Cable in part from audio tape #41 of The Light of Reason by Shmuel Golding of the Jerusalem Institute of Biblical Polemics. 2 All dates are Christian era (CE) unless otherwise indicated. 3 Larson, M. A., The Story of Christian Origins, p. 304. 4 Josephus, Flauvius, Antiquities of the Jews, book 18, chapter 3. 5 Larson, M. A.., The Story of Christian Origins, p. 305. 6 Voss, Gerhard theologian. Johann (1577-1649), Dutch Humanist
7 Wells, G. A., Did Jesus Exist?, p. 13. 8 Ibid, Jesus and the Early Christians, p. 186-187. 9 See New Testament Forgeries on this web site.
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