Monday, December 22, 2014

Jesus: fictional or real?

Though I have no trouble believing that Jesus was an actual historical person, I know that some are inclined to disbelieve in Jesus simply because of all the amazing things the Bible says about him. For those who need some form of proof outside the pages of the biblical text, I am glad to be able to state that evidence can be found to point to a historical person named Jesus from the same time period and location as that presented in the pages of the gospel accounts.
What makes this extra-biblical evidence even more reliable is that it comes from historians who were not, themselves, Christian believers. These are men who lived and wrote shortly after the time of Christ's 33 year life dating from about 4 or 5 b.c. to about 28 or 29 a.d. The other thing to understand about these writers is that their purpose was not to write about Jesus himself, but in the process of writing histories about either the Jews , Greeks, or the Romans, they mentioned incidents involving the followers of Jesus and briefly pointing back to the person who was the originator of what they described as a cult-like group. Without getting into great detail, I will just mention these writers by name and tell something briefly about what they wrote and what they said about Jesus:
  • Tacitus was a Roman senator who was one of the best Roman historians. He lived from around 55 to 118 a.d. His final writing before his death entitled "Annals" included a biography of Emperor Nero who was suspected of burning a part of Rome and shifting the blame to Christians. In writing about this incident Tacitus, who despised Christians, wrote briefly about their founder "Christus" who had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. This brief statement inadvertently confirms the New Testament on certain details about Christ's death.
  • Josephus started out as a Jewish priest but wound up in Rome during the reign of Vespasian. He wrote about the Jewish war against Rome and also wrote a work on Jewish Antiquities. Both histories were written in Greek. His Antiquities mentioned Jesus twice. One account mentioned Jesus as the brother of James and wrote, "Jesus, who is called Messiah" in order to identify which James he was writing about. A second mention about Jesus is a paragraph describing him as a "wise man" and telling about his death by crucifixion and the large group of followers who had not died out at the time of that writing.
  • Pliny the Younger was a Roman governor who wrote derisively about people who worshiped Christ as though they were worshiping a god.
  • Lucian was a Greek writer of satire including a work called "The Passing of Peregrinus." In that work he referred indirectly to Jesus by calling him, "that crucified sophist".
  • Celsus was a philosopher who considered Jesus to be a magician.
We have five examples of historical writers who mentioned Jesus in one way or another, thus confirming that such a man existed in history. None of these writers were Christians. In fact, some of them were very derisive in what they wrote about Jesus or his followers. Still, this collection of writings confirms quite a list of details from the biblical accounts.  These extra-biblical writers may not confirm that Jesus is who he claimed to be in the gospels, but they help to eliminate the supposition that Jesus never lived. While the Bible is sufficient proof about Jesus Christ for me, it is reassuring to also point to the other proofs outside the Bible that Jesus was an actual historical person living during the first century.

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