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What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?

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Author Topic: What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?  (Read 225 times)
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« on: December 02, 2017, 08:23:38 pm »

 What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?

Today some claim that Jesus is just an idea, rather than a real historical figure, but there is a good deal of written evidence for his existence 2,000 years ago

… Robert Powell as Jesus of Nazareth in the 1977 TV miniseries.
Christ alive … Robert Powell as Jesus of Nazareth in 1977. Photograph: ITV/Rex


Dr Simon Gathercole

Friday 14 April 2017 09.07 EDT
Last modified on Monday 27 November 2017 21.00 EST

How confident can we be that Jesus Christ actually lived?
The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings. Compare that with, for example, King Arthur, who supposedly lived around AD500. The major historical source for events of that time does not even mention Arthur, and he is first referred to 300 or 400 years after he is supposed to have lived. The evidence for Jesus is not limited to later folklore, as are accounts of Arthur.

What do Christian writings tell us?
The value of this evidence is that it is both early and detailed. The first Christian writings to talk about Jesus are the epistles of St Paul, and scholars agree that the earliest of these letters were written within 25 years of Jesus’s death at the very latest, while the detailed biographical accounts of Jesus in the New Testament gospels date from around 40 years after he died. These all appeared within the lifetimes of numerous eyewitnesses, and provide descriptions that comport with the culture and geography of first-century Palestine. It is also difficult to imagine why Christian writers would invent such a thoroughly Jewish saviour figure in a time and place – under the aegis of the Roman empire – where there was strong suspicion of Judaism.

What did non-Christian authors say about Jesus?
As far as we know, the first author outside the church to mention Jesus is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who wrote a history of Judaism around AD93. He has two references to Jesus. One of these is controversial because it is thought to be corrupted by Christian scribes (probably turning Josephus’s negative account into a more positive one), but the other is not suspicious – a reference to James, the brother of “Jesus, the so-called Christ”.

About 20 years after Josephus we have the Roman politicians Pliny and Tacitus, who held some of the highest offices of state at the beginning of the second century AD. From Tacitus we learn that Jesus was executed while Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect in charge of Judaea (AD26-36) and Tiberius was emperor (AD14-37) – reports that fit with the timeframe of the gospels. Pliny contributes the information that, where he was governor in northern Turkey, Christians worshipped Christ as a god. Neither of them liked Christians – Pliny writes of their “pig-headed obstinacy” and Tacitus calls their religion a destructive superstition.

Did ancient writers discuss the existence of Jesus?
Strikingly, there was never any debate in the ancient world about whether Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. In the earliest literature of the Jewish Rabbis, Jesus was denounced as the illegitimate child of Mary and a sorcerer. Among pagans, the satirist Lucian and philosopher Celsus dismissed Jesus as a scoundrel, but we know of no one in the ancient world who questioned whether Jesus lived.

How controversial is the existence of Jesus now?
In a recent book, the French philosopher Michel Onfray talks of Jesus as a mere hypothesis, his existence as an idea rather than as a historical figure. About 10 years ago, The Jesus Project was set up in the US; one of its main questions for discussion was that of whether or not Jesus existed. Some authors have even argued that Jesus of Nazareth was doubly non-existent, contending that both Jesus and Nazareth are Christian inventions. It is worth noting, though, that the two mainstream historians who have written most against these hypersceptical arguments are atheists: Maurice Casey (formerly of Nottingham University) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina). They have issued stinging criticisms of the “Jesus-myth” approach, branding it pseudo-scholarship. Nevertheless, a recent survey discovered that 40% of adults in England did not believe that Jesus was a real historical figure.
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Is there any archaeological evidence for Jesus?
Part of the popular confusion around the historicity of Jesus may be caused by peculiar archaeological arguments raised in relation to him. Recently there have been claims that Jesus was a great-grandson of Cleopatra, complete with ancient coins allegedly showing Jesus wearing his crown of thorns. In some circles, there is still interest in the Shroud of Turin, supposedly Jesus’s burial shroud. Pope Benedict XVI stated that it was something that “no human artistry was capable of producing” and an “icon of Holy Saturday”.

It is hard to find historians who regard this material as serious archaeological data, however. The documents produced by Christian, Jewish and Roman writers form the most significant evidence.

These abundant historical references leave us with little reasonable doubt that Jesus lived and died. The more interesting question – which goes beyond history and objective fact – is whether Jesus died and lived.

•Simon Gathercole is Reader in New Testament Studies at the University of Cambridge
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« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2017, 08:26:11 pm »

I read Tacitus as a child - in translation of course - he certainly mentions Christ, just not describing his followers in `over kindly` fashion!:
Tacitus Annals (15:38-45)
Got this from WIKIPEDIA, thay have Latin original as well, safe enough source for mere texts:
"Consequently, to get rid of the report, 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 Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, 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. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind"
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« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2017, 08:26:32 pm »

It must also be pointed out that Tacitus' hostile accounts of Nero (as most other accounts by early historians) are now regarded as highly suspect by many historians, and are frequently contradicted by more recent study of historical evidence.

For example, as regards Nero's alleged persecution of Christians, recent scholarship suggests that some Christians did participate in helping propagate the disastrous fire in Rome as they believed it to be the coming of a prophecised apocalypse, and it seems to be generally accepted that many confessed to this whether or not they had in fact participated. The result was that many were rounded up and arrested, however, legal documents discovered suggest that, far from persecuting them summarily, it was actually Nero himself (who had previously served as a consul) who insisted on proper investigations and trials (which is consistent with the account of Suetonius).

Historical accounts of Nero are hugely problematic as during his reign he had managed to alienate and infuriate almost all of the wealthy, the powerful and influential, the Senators and upper classes (from whose ranks the writers of the subsequent accounts came), and also because he was apparently so popular amongst the lower populace that, even though he was declared public enemy after his death and serious attempts were made to erase his image and memory from public consciousness, belief in the popular legend that he would return after death persisted for several centuries.

There is a very readable (though not necessarily authoritative) account of some of the more modern perspectives on a somewhat rehabilitated Nero called Nerone: Duemila anni di calunnie by a journalist called Massimo Fini, but I'm not aware of an English translation. You might be able to catch some of the flavour here:
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