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Discussion 12 to Meditation 38
The History of Jesus

by Billy

Editor's Note: To anyone planning on using this as a reliable reference - it is strongly recommended you read the comments in the following article first.[1]

To add to this discussion (or any other,) please use the Contact form. This discussion has been continued.

It may surprise you, but there some skeptics concerning the very existence of Jesus. They not only deny his divinity, but the very fact that the "man" Jesus existed. That viewpoint has been outdated for awhile and yet occasionally one will come across a skeptic or a web site and see the arguments. I came across one web page that tries to deny the existence of Jesus by distorting not only the Bible but secular history itself. Here are a few evidences concerning the existence of Jesus as a person:

1. The Papyrus Text

Until recently, the earliest New Testament ancient text we had was "The Papyrus Rylands Greek 457, a fragment of John's Gospel, which dates back to the first half of the second century. Then in 1994, another ancient fragment was found which dated earlier than 66 A.D. It is what is called the "Jesus Papyri" and more commonly called the "Magdelen Papyri". Each ancient document found is assigned an identification number. It is 17P64. It is a segment of the Greek text of Matthew's Gospel, Matthew 26:23 and 31. After being tested and dated with other ancient documents of the same period of time, it was determined that it actually could be part of the original text written or an immediate copy. Incidentally, the Mathew segment corresponds to Textus Receptus, the traditional source documents. This document was important for different reasons. First, since it was written before 70 A.D., it confirmed the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and actually proves to be an inspired book. Another reason is because it supports the fact that the Gospels were written separately and not simply copied from one source (example: the Book of "Q").

2. Reports from Pilate:

Within the "Archko Volume" or the "Archeologicial Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews," there is a letter from Pilate written about Jesus to Caesar of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. While some people are skeptical concerning the "Acts of Pilate" there must have been some substance to them. Early first century Christians knew of it and quoted from the letter. Justin Martyr, writing in approximately 150 A.D, informs emperor Antoninus Pius of the fulfillment of Psalm 22:16 by stating the following:

But the words, "They pierced my hands and feet," refer to the nails which were fixed in Jesus' hands and feet on the cross; and after He was crucified, his executioners cast lots for His garments, and divided them among themselves. That these things happened, you may learn from the "Acts" which were recorded under Pontius Pilate.

Justin also says:

"That He performed these miracles you may easily satisfy yourself from The Acts of Pontius Pilate."

3. Thallus (c. A.D. 52) Historical work referenced by Julius Africanus-explains the darkness at the time of Christ's death as a solar eclipse. While an eclipse did not occur in that period (pointed out by Julius Africanus), reference to Jesus' death was stated as a matter of fact.

4. The Talmud - Some skeptics have stated that Jesus is not found in the Talmud, but that is simply not true. In the book Sanhedrin 43, it is written "On the eve of Passover, Yeshua was hanged." The Talmud also identifies Jesus, along with the names of five of the disciples. It mentions the healings in the name of Jesus, and they scoff at the claim of Jesus being born of a virgin implying that his birth was "illegitimate". Even if the Talmud did not have this written, it literally confirms the fulfillment of Specific Old Testament prophecy. An example would be as follows: The Talmud was written within the first century (from around A.D. 70 until about A.D. 150).

In Genesis 49, Jacob prophesied over each of the 12 sons. When he prophesied about Judah and his decendents, he said, "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the people." The word "Shiloh" is recognized by rabbinical authorities as referring to the coming Messiah.

In A.D. 7 the Roman Procurator, Caponius, removed the legal powers of the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of the Jewish people at that time), including capital punishment. That is why the Sanhedrin had to go to Pilate when they wanted Christ to be executed.

Interestingly, the Babylonian Talmud records that the members of the Sanhedrin put on sackcloth and ashes and walked around the walls of Jerusalem weeping and saying "Woe unto us for the scepter is departed from Judah, and the Messiah has not come." They actually thought the word of God had been broken. They recognized Genesis 49:10 as a prophecy that the scepter would not depart until the Messiah came, and they wept because they had lost the scepter (power).

Little did they know that not far away while they were marching around Jerusalem in sackcloth, up in the town of Nazareth, at a little carpenter's shop, was a young boy named Jesus, the very Messiah they had been waiting for.

When we read Hebrews 1:8, we see that Jesus was given the scepter. "But of the Son he says, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; And the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of thy kingdom," and as it said in Genesis 49:10, "In HIM will the obedience of the people be."

Josephus: (A.D. 64-93)

This Jewish Historian referenced Jesus, his miracles, his crucifixion, and his disciples. Also referenced are James ".brother of Jesus who was called the Christ", and John the Baptist.

`Some atheist will deny that Josephus would have written the words about Jesus that are in his writings because they believe Josephus to have been a devout or "good Pharisee" (as one Athiest : Frank R. Zindler, stated) "In the case of Josephus, whose Antiquities of the Jews was written in 93 CE, about the same time as the gospels, we find him saying some things quite impossible for a good Pharisee to have said:"-

(Josephus) "About this time, there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared".

Zindlar states "Now no loyal Pharisee would say Jesus had been the Messiah.")

Then Mr. Zindlar feels that by saying the above that he has disproven the writings of Josephus concerning Jesus simply because he believes that Josephus was a devout Pharisee.

If Zindler was caught up on the history of Josephus, he would know that Josephus was considered a "Traitor" by the Jews because after he was taken as prisoner by Vespasian (who later became Emperor of Rome). He became an assistant for the Roman Government under the command of General Titus. When Vespasian became Emperor, he rewarded Josephus handsomely, freeing him from his chains and eventually adopting him into his family, the Flavians. Josephus thus became Flavius Josephus.

During the remainder of the war, Josephus assisted the Roman commander Titus, Vespasian's son, with understanding the Jewish nation and in negotiating with the revolutionaries. Called a traitor, he was unable to persuade the defenders of Jerusalem to surrender to the Roman siege, and instead became a witness to the destruction of the city and the Holy Temple.

Of course Josephus had nothing to gain by writing about Jesus because he was caught in between two worlds of people that not only knew of this Jesus but that also hated Him and His teachings.

Cornelius Tacitus: (A.D. 64-116) Wrote to dispel rumors that Nero caused the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D., he refers to Christians as the followers of "Christus", who "had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilates." The Resurrection was called the "pernicious superstition."

Many Atheists scoff at Christians who use this testimony as a historical record of the existence of Jesus simply because Tacitus was a pagan and did not believe that Jesus arose from the dead, yet even though he did not believe in the divine nature of Jesus or the resurrection, he did however publicly pronounce the following:

a. The Existence of Jesus the man

b. It was during the reign of Tiberius

c. The sentence was under the Procurator Pontius Pilate

d. He also stated that Jesus lived in Judea.

Other Historical Evidences:

Pliny the Younger (A.D. 112)

Hadrian (A.D. 117-138)

Suetonius (A.D 120)

Phlegon (A.D. 140)

Lucian of Samosata (A.D. 170)

Mara Bar-Serapion (A.D. 70 +)

Archeologicial Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews

There are other archived letters which seem to support the existence of Jesus. Within the "Archko Volume" or the "Archeologicial Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews" There are two letters written that support the existence of Jesus.

The first letter is from King Herod Antipater's (Herod the Great) letter before the Roman Senate in regard to his conduct of having the male babies killed. He claims no belief in God (atheism). He also states that the Jews are very superstitious. He states that the Jewish leaders are "no more to be trusted than the Hindoos." and the Priests are just taking from the poor and hoarding for themselves (a statement that also supports the message in the Bible). He spoke of the three "fantastic looking men" who came to the palace and asked where the child called the King of the Jews was born.

In a second letter, King Herod Antipas writes to Tiberius Caesar and the Senate of Rome concerning his execution of John the Baptist. He also writes of Jesus Christ, and writes of his father's execution of the male babies of Bethlehem along with comments of the three men asking about the Christ child. He states Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. He also claimed to have Jesus within his courts and that Jesus was a "wild fanatic" and learned soothsaying, while in Egypt to "a perfection".

Again, these letters do not confirm a divine nature of Jesus but do support the existence of Jesus.

Gamaliel. He was Pharisee. In his letter to the Sanhedrin, he stated he was not impressed with the family of Jesus at all and actually thought they were very selfish about the possibility that their son might be the Messiah. . Gamaliel did write that he never personally got to see Jesus as he wanted to, but did get to visit with those who knew Jesus during the time he was still alive. He did however venture to say after questioning many local witnesses and authorities that He believed it possible that Jesus could be the Messiah. He never actually said that he believed Jesus was the Son of God. In the book of Acts, this same Gamaliel told the rulers of Israel to be very careful about persecuting the people who were teaching about this Jesus because if it is not of God, it too will pass, but if it is of God, then it could not be stopped. Of course, he was right. Christianity has grown and is here to this day.

Therefore, there is a reasonable amount of evidence which supports the existence of the man Jesus.

Footnote:

  1. Editor's note added as a result of this.