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Jesus of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ)

Did he actually exist? Part 2:
Indicators (cont'd). Author's view.

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This essay is a continuation from Part 1

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Indicators of Jesus' existence or non-existence (Continued):

bullet Flavius Josephus: He was a Jewish historian who was born in 37 CE. He wrote a book, Antiquities of the Jews circa 93 CE, perhaps between the times when Luke and John were written. He described Jesus' as a wise man who was crucified by Pilate. The passage appears below.

[Colored sections in small print are commonly believed to have been added by a later Christian forger and probably do not form part of Josephus original writing]:
"About this time arose Jesus, a wise man, [if indeed it be lawful to call him a man. For he was a doer of wonderful deeds, and a teacher of men who gladly receive the truth.] He drew to himself many [both of the Jews and of the Gentiles. He was the Christ]; and when Pilate, on the indictment of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him at the first did not cease to do so, [for he appeared to them again alive on the third day, the divine prophets having foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things about him.] And even to this day the race of Christians, who are named from him, has not died out." 1

Origen, published a book Contra Celsum circa 254 CE, over 150 years after Josephus' book Antiquities of the Jews. In it, Origen wrote that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ:

"For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer [Josephus], although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple ..."

Origin also published a book Commentary on Matthew which also contained a reference to Josephus rejecting Jesus as Christ. He wrote:

"And the wonderful thing is, that, though he [Josephus] did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and ..."

Both of these references confirm that Josephus' writing in Antiquities of the Jews did not include a reference to Jesus being the Christ, at least in the middle of the 3rd century CE. It is probable that the Christian forgery was done after that time.

Modern-day historians' and theologians' opinions about Josephus' passage:

bulletMost religious historians believe that the paragraph in which he describes Jesus is partly or completely a forgery that was inserted into the text by an unknown Christian. The passage "appears out of context, thereby breaking the flow of the narrative." 2

bulletJosh McDowell, Don Stewart and other fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians accept the entire passage as Josephus' actual text. 3

There exists no consensus on a second passage in Antiquities which refers to Jesus' brother James, having being tried and stoned to death. Some consider it legitimate; others assess it to be a forgery.

bullet Cornelius Tacitus: He was a Roman historian who lived from 55 to 120 CE and wrote a book Annals, circa 112 CE. McDowell and Stewart accept his writings as a strong indicator of Jesus' existence in the early 1st century CE. 3 However, the information could have been derived from Christian oral tradition circulating in the early 2nd century.
 
bullet Suetonius: He was the author of The Lives of the Caesars circa 120 CE. He wrote to "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, [Emperor Claudius in 49 CE] expelled them from Rome." This passage is often used to support the historicity of Jesus, assuming that Jesus' title was misspelled. But Chrestus was in fact a common Greek name. There is a good chance that the reference is to a Jewish agitator in Rome by that name.
 
bulletOther ancient Roman historians: There were about 40 historians who wrote during the first two centuries. 4 With the exception of the above, none stated that Jesus existed in the 1st century.
 
bulletJewish literature: The Talmud states that Jesus lived in the 2nd century BCE. However, this passage itself dates from the early 2nd century CE. The authors were probably basing their writings on a reaction to some of the dozens of Christian gospels circulating by that time.
 
bulletPope Leo X (1513-1521): Some believe that he considered Jesus to be a mere legend.

bulletBarbara Walker in her Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Page 471, quotes him as as having said "What profit has not that fable of Christ brought us!"

bulletRev. Taylor, in The Diegesis, Page 35, has a slightly different quote "It was well known how profitable this fable of Christ has been to us."

bulletThe Catholic Encyclopedia refers to a widely circulated remark: "How much we and our family have profited by the legend of Christ, is sufficiently evident to all ages."

The first two quotes appear fictional, and unrelated to any actual statement by Pope Leo X. They have the flavor of folk tales. One reason is than they have appeared in so many different wordings. The origin of the quote appears to be in a fictional work by John Bale. The Catholic Encyclopedia refers to him as an: "...apostate English Carmelite, the first to give currency to these words in the time of Queen Elizabeth" (1533 - 1603). 5 Even if Leo X said something like one of these "quotes" the meaning is not clear. He may have been referring to legends and fables arising about the life of Jesus which accumulated after his death.
 

bulletPresent-day theologians: The assertion that Jesus is not a historical figure or that he did not live in the early 1st century CE is held by a small number of academics.

In interests of full disclosure....:

B.A. Robinson, this web site's main author, normally restricts his writing on this web site to the reporting the views of other individuals. However, he occasionally makes an exception. He has a hunch concerning the sources of stories about Jesus that is a heresy when compared to the orthodox position. He suggests that there were many Jewish teachers wandering in Galilee during the interval 20 to 30 CE. One or more may have been named Yeshua (Hebrew for Joshua -- a common name). One developed a devoted following of fellow Jews, committed aggravated assault in the Jerusalem temple, and was arrested by the occupying Roman Army. He was crucified as an insurrectionist as one of perhaps ten thousand other Jews who suffered the same fate at the hands of the Roman occupying army during the first century CE.

The beliefs of two or three of these Galilean teachers were subsequently merged and recorded in the early gospels that explained the life of a single individual: Yeshua of Nazareth as a single individual:

bulletOne was an itinerant Greek cynic philosopher who lived a life of poverty and challenged the public on philosophic, ethical and religious matters. The closest example to a cynic philosopher today would be a combination of stand-up comic and political cartoonist.

bulletA second was a apocalyptic teacher who preached about the imminent end of the world in his immediate future -- much like John the Baptizer.

bulletThere might even have been a third teacher who was a follower of Hillel. The latter was a 1st century CE Jewish liberal theologian and one-time president of the Sanhedrin.

There is some evidence of this merging of the stories of separate individuals. The Gospel of Q, appears to be the oldest surviving gospel. It was written in sections over time. The first section describes the sayings of a Greek cynic philosopher; the second section describes sayings of an apocalyptic teacher. Meanwhile, many of Yeshua's teachings, as found in the synoptic Gospels, closely match those of Hillel except on matters of divorce where Hillel was more liberal.

Between about 40 CE and 100 CE, when the Gospel of Q, the three synoptic canonic Gospels, and the Gospel of Thomas were first written, the teachings of these multiple teachers were merged and attributed to a single individual: Yeshua of Nazareth. The rest is history.

I stress that these are my personal hunches. They are shared by few if any theologians. They are certainly heretical when compared to modern-day Christian beliefs.

This topic continues in Part 3

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References used:

The first draft of this essay was written in 1998 using the books and web sites listed below. Unfortunately, most of the latter are no longer online.

  1. "Josephus on Jesus," California Baptist University, at: http://www.calbaptist.edu/ This is a PDF file.
  2. Michael Martin, "The case against Christianity," Temple University Press, (1993) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  3. J. McDowell & D. Stewart, "Did Jesus really exist?," from "Answers to Tough Questions," at: http://members.aol.com/ *
  4. Acharya S, "The origins of Christianity and the quest for the historical Jesus Christ," at: http://www.truthbeknown.com/
  5. "Pope Leo X," Catholic Encyclopedia, at: http://www.newadvent.org/
  6. R.M. Price, "Christ a Fiction (1997)," at: http://www.infidels.org/
  7. J.M. Robertson, "Pagan Christs," 2nd edition, Barns & Noble, (1911; reprinted) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  8. Rae West, "Existence of Jesus Controversy," at: "http://www.homeusers.prestel.co.uk/ *
  9. Apostle James, First Apostle to the Antichrist, "The Jesus Myth," at: http://www.antichrist.net/ *
  10. Historicus, "Did Jesus ever live or is Christianity funded upon a myth?," United Secularists of America at: http://www.infidels.org/
  11. Ross Clifford, "Leading lawyers look at the resurrection" Albatross, Australia, (1991)
  12. R.A. Eyre, "Did Jesus Christ exist?" at: http://www.cs.york.ac.uk/ *
  13. Bible Alive, "Did Jesus Exist?" at: http://www.biblealive.org.nz/
  14.  "Answers to tough questions: Did Jesus really exist?," Emmanus Evangelistic Ministries, at:     http://home.sprynet.com/ *
  15. J.M. Robertson, "Christianity and Mythology," 2nd edition, (1910)
  16. George Fletcher, "Did Jesus Christ exist?," at: http://pages.prodigy.com/ *
  17. Cathy ?, "Did Jesus really exist?," http://www.geocities.com/  *
  18. M.A. Copeland, "Christian Apologetics: The Historical Jesus," at: http://ccel.edu/
  19. G.A. Wells, "Historicity of Jesus" in "Encyclopedia of Unbelief," Prometheus, (1985). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

* These essays are no longer online.

The Amazon.com book data base:

A search of their data base for "Gospel of Q" returned the following books

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Copyright © 1998 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-APR-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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