Beyond Tradition

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men." Colossians 2:8

The Jesus-myth Myth

 by Sean D. Harmon 

So, how do we really know Jesus was an actual historical person and not a myth? Interestingly enough, the thought Jesus was a myth that never actually existed didn't appear on the pages of historical commentary, by either Christian friend or foe, until the 18th century. Most mainstream scholars, even extreme secular critics and skeptics,[1] no longer doubt the historicity of Jesus.[2]

This theory has since been abandoned to the cellars of the far fringed internet communities, atheists with anti-religious or anti-church axes to grind, or just the grossly misinformed.

The common skeptical argument today from those a bit more informed about the subject is that a Jewish man from Nazareth named Jesus existed, but since the original gospels were composed decades later by adherents who had a bias affection towards him, the stories about this Jewish man reflect theological and evangelistic fictional saturation in an ancient world where legendary and mythical heroes were the norm. They argue that we really can only find a mere 20% of the historical Jesus buried in these bias Christian stories, known as the gospels.

This is the standard argument today among most critics and skeptics, and a belief that I've tackled in other articles. In any event, the full Jesus-myth theory will never die completely, and its adherents will typically assert the lack of secular material that even mentions Jesus as their primary argument to support it (which I'll discuss here in a bit).

However, the main issue Jesus-mythicists have always failed to solve in light of their theory is origin and motive, the two very important factors. They typically propose a slew of theories for the formation of this so-called myth in the Roman Empire, but the theory then comes to a dead halt when they attempt to explain who specifically created the Jesus-myth and why they went to such trouble, particularly in the historical context of first century Judaic culture wherein the so-called myth originated.

These two simple questions become the ultimate death sentence for those who uphold this theory, and I'll explain why.

A Judaic myth?

An historian who has looked at the New Testament material knows that even if you outrightly dismiss Jesus entirely as a mythical creation, fact is, much of the content within the gospels that Jesus is immersed in is not based on fabrication, and this is an extremely fine and difficult line for the Jesus-mythicist to have to walk; at least those with any sort of knowledge of Judean history and culture and then looking at it in this historical-gospel context correlation.

Historians know from archeology and other historical data that there was obviously a Roman Empire. The Jewish state known as Judea (Israel) was a province known as Palestine under the rule of this empire in the first century.

Certain emperors, kings and High Priests were ruling or politically prominent during this period. Specific geographical territories, landmarks and residences existed within this Judean landscape during the time.

Jerusalem was the religious epicenter of Judea. There was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. There were certain rituals and typical practices, social and religious, associated with the Jews during the time. There were pilgrimages of Jews from all over the world into Jerusalem during certain annual feasts and festivals. There was a hierarchical rule of Jewish authorities with certain titles, functions and duties (the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the scribes, etc.). All of these elements are clearly and accurately ingrained in the New Testament stories and documents.

Jesus didn't speak English. He spoke Aramaic and possibly Hebrew. Much of the region was bilingual, and the common language among Jews was Aramaic first, Hebrew and then Greek. These languages can often be traced in written material because they show distinct traces seen in various expressions, in grammar, or the way the text is structured almost as plainly to a linguistics expert as listening to it coming directly from someone's mouth (which can be traced even through additional linguistic translations). Although scholars debate the exact degree, most agree there are at least undertones or underlying traces of these Aramaic patterns buried within the textual substrata of the gospels (discussed in detail here: The Q Conundrum, Problem #3). 

However, there numerous other Jewish elements in the gospels that aren't as subtle, but quite overt.[3] This firmly bolsters the fact that the Jesus-traditions were rooted in Jewish culture, despite the fact the gospels were written in the Greek language. In fact, the only thing really Greco-Roman about the gospel texts is that they are written in Greek.

The gospel stories are saturated with accurate socioreligious and political aspects that were common among Jewish religious groups of the early first century. 

Jewish rabbis often feuded with each other over theological issues or issues about the law as Jesus frequently did with other rabbis. They often spoke in puns, similes, parables, hermeneutics and riddles as Jesus frequently did in his teachings. Charlesworth writes...

 

"Hillel (c. 60 B.C.E. to 20 C.E.) was a Jewish genius and theologian who lived before and during Jesus' life (7/6 B.C.E. to 30 C.E.).   His thought is so similar to Jesus' words that some scholars conclude, incorrectly, that Jesus was a disciple of Hillel."[4]

 
Craig Evans also states...

 

"The parallels between his [Jesus] teachings and activities and contemporary Judaism are so numerous that they fill more than 1500 pages in Paul Billerbeck’s commentary on the Gospels, a commentary based on comparisons with Talmudic and midrashic literature."(parenthesis added)[5]

 
An example of one of Jesus' many hermeneutics...

 

Matthew 12:11: "And He [Jesus] said to them, "What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out?"

This saying doesn't the impact on us as it would have on a specific culture it was directed at since it goes without saying that anyone hearing the cries of an animal in distress wouldn't leave it stranded in a pit. However, according to the Cairo Damascus,[6] a document that dates to this period, one tending to an animal stuck in a pit on the Sabbath was a serious violation. The significance of this saying thus becomes exceptionally relevant in a specific historical context. Leaving an animal to suffer on a Sabbath day would have been the norm to Jews during this period who had listened to Jesus teach and who were undoubtedly stunned by such a revolutionary view.

Recent archaeological digs of ancient Judea that discovered numerous houses at Capernaum with only one room, thus family members not only slept in the same room, but most likely in the same bed. Compare this with Luke 11:7, 17:34.

First century wooden boats found in Galilee were shallow and close to the water (Fig. on the left). This made it easy to cast fishing nets, but highly vulnerable to rough seas that had the potential to quickly engulf the boat with water. Compare this with Mark 4:37-38

Vineyards in Nazareth have been dug up that contain wine presses and oddities such as stone fences and towers.[7] Compare this with Matthew 21:33; Luke 14:28.

We find numerous minute details and situations such as these throughout the gospel stories, too many to actually document each and every one here, that correlate with first century Judaic life. Many of these references are extremely subtle, random and obviously unintentionally described in ways that we would expect only from someone intimately familiar with these details.

The discovery of the Qumran scrolls, or Dead Sea scrolls, also underscored a stark correlation with the New Testament and first century Judean society. The scrolls consist of a library of manuscripts that were preserved and stored in caves by the community of Qumran during this period; many works written within the community while other works were brought into the community from the outside, all of which date back 100 years BCE up to 68 CE.[8]

The Qumran community could essentially be described as an apocalyptic community of pious fundamental Jewish practitioners who preserved ancient Old Testament texts along with other documents. Scholars, including Evans, point out that these works remarkably reflect off the four gospels in a variety of ways, such as:

 

  • Matthew's beatitudes had a stark similarity to a string of beatitudes found in a Dead Sea scroll labeled 4Q525 (it should be noted that the scroll reflects a typical wisdom pattern, as opposed to Matthew's writings that reflects an eschatological pattern).
  • Jesus' Messianic claim to John the Baptist (Matthew 11:2-6; Luke 7:18-23) reflects the description found in a messianic scroll labeled 4Q521, both based on a reference to the prophet Isaiah.
  • Jesus' instructional prayer found in Matthew (6:9-13) and Luke (11:2-4) is akin to a Jewish prayer known as the Qaddish.[9]

 

John's story about the blind man at the Pool of Siloam was actually once thought of as fictional tale by some because no such pool was known or mentioned in any other historical document. This was until the site was recently unearthed, which consisted of five porticoes, exactly as it was described (John 9:1-7). In another article, I discussed how the details in the gospel of John give very accurate and minute nuances of pre-70 Judaic elements (here: The Ghost Writers: John).

In fact, the entire Christian motif expressed in all four gospels is entirely based on religious beliefs of Judaism (discussed here: The Myth That Never Was, The Jewish gospels). From this cumulative evidence we can comfortably conclude with no doubt whatsoever is that the gospels are thoroughly saturated with first century Jewish cultural roots through and through, or as Evans declares: "are Jewish to the core."[11]

Martin Hengel also states...

 

"Along with these Jewish foundations of the new, messianic movement, one must note that the great majority of the New testament authors were Jewish Christians who for the most part either came from the Palestinian homeland or had some connection to it on account of their education and the groups to which they belonged."[12]

 

The point to all this is that it becomes clear the Jesus-tradition found in the gospels was formulated by first century Jews in Judea. Thus, the Jesus-mythicist who denies Jesus ever existed is forced to conclude that we have a group of Second Temple Jews who invented a purely mythological figure and portrayed him as a pious rabbinic man set against a pre-diaspora contemporary backdrop.

With numerous references to (and in some cases direct interactions with) Tiberius Caesar, Herod Antipas and his father Herod the Great, Caiaphas, Pilate, etc., and a whole slew of historical locations and events, the mythological story obviously takes place in Judea around 30-36 CE, or the early part of the first century.

A key factor that presents problems to the Jesus-mythicist in light of this data is that not only did the first Christians, who were Jews, worship this figure as a deity, but formed an entire theological creed around this figure, and this certainly was no gradual formulation or an evolving myth that developed over many generations.

It was an immediate phenomenon in the first part of the first century. We see a collection of written material describing Christ that date well within just a generation or two (both the gospels and the New Testament letters), or within 60 years from the historical focal point of Jesus' life (2 BCE-36 CE).

The first traces of Christology and Christian doctrine arguably saturate the pages of the letters of the former Pharisee, the apostle Paul, ranging between 40-60 CE. Not only are these letters rife with outer layers of tradition that are fully theologically developed content with Christ as Savior, Redeemer, Lord, God's Wisdom, God's righteousness, the Son of God, etc., but the letters themselves contain buried primitive Christian tradition about Christ, or internal credal layers that scholars predate to a period of the church much earlier than Paul's letters.[13]

This further entrenches a Christological doctrine very early within the movement as it was still prevalent within a Judaic environment. Jews simply didn't create contemporary myths from whole cloth this rapidly and of this magnitude, ever.

To combat this, the Jesus-mythicist usually disregards the distinction of Jew and pagan, and trumpets the fact that this was nothing unusual about this culture; a culture where we find certain kings and emperors like Alexander the Great, Augustus, Julius, Caligula, Vespasian and Apollonius of Tyana all hailed as miracle workers or even divine sons of god in some cases, or who forced others to hail them as a god themselves while they were alive.

However, this argument is not at all relevant to the Jesus-myth theory because these figures obviously didn't start off as mythical legends as the Jesus-mythicist supposes about Jesus. In other words, bonafide historical figures worshiped as gods even in pagan culture were obviously not built around fabricated legends that preceded them. Instead, in this particular case, fabricated legends were built around real historical figures. The Jesus-myth is entirely unique, one of kind, not just within a Jewish cultural scope but even a pagan one.  

 

Historical presentation

Pure religious mythology based on fictional deities, such as the divine healer Asclepius or Mithra, was typically associated with a nebulous existence, an ancient past, just unknown or with variable origins and traditions of which were passed down from many generations past, usually imported from other foreign countries and ancient cultures.

Inventing myths and demigods from whole cloth was not only totally absent in Judaic practice and culture, much less building entire religious creeds around them, but it was unheard of even for pagans to create mythical figures and demigods from pure scratch and then place them within a contemporary setting where they took part in contemporary events and interacted with contemporary people, which is what we see in the gospel stories.

Mithra, imported from Persia, never personally interacted with the Greco-Roman contemporary world of its adherents. The epics of Homer, the Odyssey and Iliad, were most likely written 300 years or more after the specific historic focal point it describes and is saturated with uncertain historicity that most scholars either question or doubt.

As I pointed out earlier, the gospels were written well within 60 years of the historic focal point, just within a generation or two. The writers of the gospel Luke (1:1-4) and John (21:24) at least didn't intend for their works to be viewed as fiction by their readers, so we might assume they either believed it to be true or were trying to trick their readers into believing it was true.

Either scenario presents an extremely questionable feat that assumes implausible gullibility on the part of not only their audiences but the gospel writers themselves.

Suppose it's the year 2011 and you’re an American writer who just wrote a novel about a character called Joe. You also happened to have an uncle Joe from whom you borrowed a few elements of his life to give your fictional Joe a sense of authenticity. In that novel, your historic focal point is the 20s-50s (I’m assuming the maximum late date of 70-100 CE for the gospels in this analogy, though they could actually date much earlier). Your character has superpowers and does all kinds of magical feats.

However, here’s the problem. You’re not writing a novel and you even assure your readers that everything you’ve written is actual fact. When Joe is a baby, you record a census instituted by Calvin Coolidge in the 20s that required all residents of the US to register in their state of birth. You place Joe, as an adult, in the state of Washington D.C. in the 1950s. You then record Joe proclaiming that he’s the Messiah and have him visiting places throughout Washington and interacting with known historical figures throughout his ministry that were prominent in the 50s.

You then have Joe arrested on charges of treason and trying to overthrow the US government. A trial ensues where the governor of Washington at the time is called as a witness against Joe. Joe is finally sentenced and executed on the 4th of July, and resurrects after three days.

Aside from the myriad number of problems you'll have just among outsiders who read or hear about this story and have even basic knowledge of historical events that you claim are connected to Joe, at least some of the people who knew the real Joe, your uncle Joe, are still alive. How far do you think you’ll get convincing Americans that what you've recorded about Joe is true, even if you believe it's true?

There's simply no reason whatsoever for us to assume the people back then were any less privy to the historical facts, 60 years removed from those facts, than we would be today of the historical facts surrounding Joe.

The gospels are filled with claims of "connections to" and associations with historical places and personages often at specific times confirmed from other historical works, such as Josephus, archeological discoveries or both, such as:

 

  • Pontius Pilate, the presiding procurator (known as Perfect prior to 44 CE) over a portion of the territory in Judea, who played the chief role in the trial and execution of Jesus. 
  • The ossuary (grave) for Simon of Cyrene that was also discovered with the names Simon and Alexander engraved at the site; the latter name being unusual among Jews living in Jerusalem but familiar to those in Cyrene in North Africa, which fit the gospel of Mark's (15:21) description to a tee. 
  • Caiaphas the High Priest
  • Annas
  • Herod Antipas who were also involved in Jesus' interrogation.
  • James, the brother of Jesus.

 

The gospel authors also included political events: a national census, rebellions, Jewish festivals, astronomical and other natural anomalies, including in many cases the date and time of such events.

Once again, not only was this the type of myth creation unheard of in this culture, but it would have been as unwise or just unsuccessful for the gospel authors to include these historical contemporaries in their mythological storyline even if it was 60 years after the fact as it would have been for me today to include known figures interacting with Joe and passing my story off as history. 

This could have also proved dangerous as well as careless. The author of Acts, for example, reported that Herod Agrippa was eaten alive by worms and died, after which his son Agrippa II took his reign (Acts 12:21-23); or Matthew's account about Herod the Great (Antipas' father and predecessor) slaughtering the children in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16).

Considering these stories were written well within 60 years of these events, there could have been serious repercussions if Herod's household or one of his cohorts got a hold of this story if it wasn't true (remember many of these stories were oral at some point), and this, among other reasons, is why we don't find ancient mythological characters placed in contemporary settings that interact with known historical people.

This is why typical narrative works that contain mythological elements trace back centuries to ancient lands or unknown backgrounds with historicity that is often questionable or can't be confirmed. 

 

An inconvenient truth

The Jesus-myth is not only historically unique, which runs against the typical grain of myth formulation, was impractically employed, but was also downright self-defeating.

No one in the first century, Jew or Roman, would have invented a beloved teacher dying via crucifixion, one of the most humiliating and repugnant ways one could ever die in this culture, and then proceed to aggrandize this particular death the way it was aggrandized by his followers.

This is where the Jesus-myth argument is struck the fatal blow. A mythological death by crucifixion in this culture would have been analogous to someone in our culture inventing a fictional person as a social icon and then not only describing him as a pedophile but actually aggrandizing this fact to further support a theological meaning behind it (I discussed this topic in greater detail here: The Evangelists, part III: The Roman disgrace). There are many other inconveniences such as this saturating the gospel traditions.

Another example is how the authors describe Jesus' burial. The burial of Jesus accurately reflects a dishonorable burial that was relegated to criminals (discussed here: Onward Christian Martyrs: Legend of the Empty Tomb; The tomb of shame), something that is consciously inconceivable if the creators were making such events up from whole scratch.

Thus, a summary of the barriers against the Jesus-myth theory is as follows:

 

  • We have a clear historical starting point of the myth based on historical persons, places and events within the supposed myth that we know were actual historical elements. Thus the invention would have occurred well within a generation or two (60 years max), and the theology itself that surrounds the myth occurred within just a couple of decades (New Testament letters) with hymns and creeds that date as early as a decade, contrary to myths that usually developed and evolved over many generations.
  • Since the myth was clearly invented by Jews, it was an unprecedented creation of this type of socioreligious culture.
  • Since no other adherent of a religious movement had ever created a mythological character that interacted with known historical figures within a contemporary backdrop and within a specific contemporary period, it was an unprecedented creation even among Greeks and pagans.
  • It's contradictory to how legends of great men formed in this culture -- i.e. natural historical figures morphed into unnatural legends, whereas Jesus would have started off as an unnatural legend (i.e. dogmatic theology expressed in early letters) which then formed into a historical figure settled in a contemporary setting (later gospel works).
  • There are problematic elements about the history of Jesus (i.e. the crucifixion, his burial, etc.) that in all likelihood would not have been created as myth this way, within such a culture. Instead, the logical scenario from a skeptical point of view is that strands of legend was invented or formed around or in spite of these problematic elements concerning the real person of Jesus.

 

I think we can now fully see why no serious scholar or historian considers the non-existence of Jesus credible, and that the Jesus-myth theory is merely a conjecture that not only defies basic logic in how it was created, why and by whom, but is atypical of the way myths formed in ancient history.

 

The Jesus-myth apologetic

Since we have basically dissected how historically implausible this idea is, and that it has no verifiable historical support, we'll look at what is actually used as support by the proponents of the theory. The two basic arguments Jesus-mythicists use to support the Jesus-myth is guilty by association and argument from silence:

 

  • Guilty by association: Since Christianity was spawned in a region that was engulfed by an empire made up of diverse people who were notorious for incorporating just about every Eastern cult and myth under the sun into their daily lives, it just stands to reason that the environment was ripe for a legendary creed like Christianity to sprout fourth, which appealed to the lowly outcasts and peasants in the empire (and from this, the alleged similarities with other mythical religions are asserted).
  • Argument from silence: Jesus is not highly acknowledged by most secular ancient historians as much as it is supposed he should be. Thus, if Jesus was so famous, evident by the impact of Christianity today as well as the adoration and aggrandizement one would obviously expect if the incredible miracles he had performed were true, it leaves this somewhat of a doubtful puzzle why there are such limited historical non-Christian sources that even mention him. 

 

I'll address the former argument in other articles. The argument from silence is sort of a popular one, which is not surprising since this is the only argument that can be loosely demonstrated to support the Jesus-myth theory or the only argument's A-game.

It's true that the secular sources that even mention Jesus are scant at best, and on the surface this might appear as a very strong counter against the historicity of Jesus, but it's an argument from silence. An argument from silence is fine in some cases, but one must consider all the facts before weighing it against other options so that one is certain myth invention is the most logical option to explain this silence.

It clearly is not the logical option. The reasons for the silence can be broken down into four basic categories:

 

  • Scant ancient records overall
  • Jewish apostasy
  • Political insignificance
  • Lack of Greek interest in Jewish culture

 

Scant ancient records overall

The odds of silence are greatly increased in light of the quantity of ancient material we currently have in our possession. Generally speaking, ancient historical records dating from the first, even second century that detail events specifically occurring in first century Judea (please note what I've emphasized here) are lacking to begin with. Much of the references to anything about Jews and Judea are but quotes or brief summaries from lost works we find quoted by other writers.[17]

Josephus, Tacitus, Luke (assuming the author of Acts), the Talmud and Philo are essentially the only complete ancient written materials we have apart from the gospels that detail specific aspects of first century Judean history and culture.

The former three do mention Christ. Some believe the Talmud mentions Christ but this is highly debatable, however, considering Jesus was marked a Jewish apostate, it would be remarkable if he was mentioned by that source at all.

Philo does not mention Christ but does not mention even a fraction of the history we find in the former three works because Philo only targeted a specific time period (subsequent to Christ), a specific location that Christ never traveled (Alexandria), and specific subject matter that had nothing to do with Christ (certain acts and deeds of emperor Caligula and his political associates).   

Jewish apostasy

Jesus presided in an isolated Jewish territory where basically its entire culture and identity was swallowed up by the imperial government of Rome. The Jewish political establishment, undoubtedly the primary conveyor between this movement and the world outside of Judea (politically speaking) from day one did not accept his authority and thus would not have taken the necessary steps to keep his legacy publicized, if not taken the steps to keep it snuffed out all together. To the first century Jewish establishment, Jesus was an apostate and false prophet, certainly uninteresting to a typical Jewish historian if not an anathema to even mention.

To the Romans, he was just a criminal among many others executed as a slave for sedition, and his movement was just another superstitious sect that would come and go and probably end up dying out like all the rest.

Now add to this the fact that the movement had no ancient origins tracing back hundreds of years for the Christian to proudly tout, such as Judaism, but was a mere splinter of Judaism that was born from an absurd first century proclamation -- the resurrection -- with hardly any political influences from the first century, and it's no wonder any secular Greek historian gave this new movement much notice until the movement as a whole itself spread and actually affected the empire later on.

Political insignificance

As far as Jesus himself, he never instigated any revolts, attempted any political coup or caused any great political disturbance, at least against Roman authority that required troops to intervene. In fact, Jesus had no political aspirations he offered to his followers and expressed indifference to the political environment around him. Such political issues were certainly associated with other self-proclaimed messiahs and Jewish deliverers of that era, yet who themselves are not even mentioned much other than in the works of Josephus.

Lack of Greek interest in Jewish culture

Anything about Jesus would have been further eclipsed by political events that were much more noteworthy to the Greco-Roman empire as a whole, notably the Jewish-Roman war of 66-70 CE, unquestionably the biggest historical event of that time to the ancients. Interestingly, this event is also scarcely mentioned by Greek writers, and only Josephus and Tacitus give a detailed description of it, which continues to demonstrate the lack of Judean interest among the pagans, even an event as big as this particular war.

Greek writers also don't mention any of the other historical Jewish figures that were renown during this period and who all had varying degrees of impact on the political aspect of the era, some much more than Jesus had, such as the Herodian dynasty, Hillel, Shammai, the Teacher of Righteousness or John the Baptist.

Moreover, when we analyze the history, we find a logical explanation for this. Not only were the Greeks not interested in this culture unless it had a relevant impact on the social aspects of the Empire and its political significance as a whole, but we might even contribute cultural and religious prejudice.

Josephus lamented the arrogance and revisionist tendencies of Greek writers and the fact they paid little attention to the culture and history of the Jews and when they did, did it with disdain and prejudice.[18] Ancient writers were selective, thus giving a religious person recognition in a written record was giving the person historical relevance and credence, which was a form of honor. Only an adherent of the Christian faith and one who had a personal affection to it would have taken the time to detail anything about the movement and its founder.

As I mentioned earlier, the odds of any outside literature mentioning Jesus greatly decrease when considering the fact we have scant records that even detail anything about first century Jewish society to begin with. When we couple this with the fact that detailing history was a selective process among the ancients, reason upon reason suggest why Jesus would not have been highlighted in any of the scant information we still have of that era, in fact, unusual we can find any information at all about him outside the adherents of the movement.

But, as was briefly also mentioned, Jesus is not totally absent from the pages of secular history. Of these sources that do mention him, they can be listed from strong to weak in this order:

 

    Celsus **
    Josephus
    Tacitus
    Pliny the Younger
    Suetonius
    Lucian
    the Talmud
[19] [20]

 

The veracity of some of these sources has been up for serious debate, and some are indeed questionable at best, so I won't elaborate. I don't dispute, nor do I really rely on these external sources because there is more than enough evidence to reasonably conclude Jesus existed and additionally, as I have shown, that there are logical reasons why his name wasn't important to most historians of that period that far exceed the argument from silence used to support the Jesus-myth.

 

The Jesus of Paul

Paul may not have known Jesus or even ever saw Jesus prior to Jesus' crucifixion, but he was a contemporary of Jesus. Jesus-mythicists often show desperate reaches for rationales when they're forced to contend with Paul's letters that span between 40-60 CE.

Not only do they contain deep Christology that transcends even the gospels in some cases (discussed here: The Christology of Paul), but conversely contain a human Jesus that Paul clearly recognized as his contemporary, such as:

 

 

Paul's Christ is just as human as the gospels had portrayed, just not in as much illustrated detail. Paul was a Jew who taught a Jewish messianism, something most Jews in the first century taught, which was based on a hope of a tangible future king who would come from the tangible lineage of Abraham and David, and would restore Israel's preeminence.

Throughout Paul's teachings, particularly his Galatians letter (Galatians 3:1-29), he does not relay mythology, but relays what he considered Jewish history in connection to Jesus. Abraham was undeniably a historical figure in Paul’s view as well as every other Jew. Paul believed that God made a promise regarding Abraham's and David's "seed" of a future descendant that would come from this seed. Paul declared that the law or covenant given to the Israelites by God -- unquestionably a historical event in the eyes of a Jew -- would be retained until this promised descendant should arrive. Paul declared that this promised seed from Abraham was Christ, a direct descendant of Abraham.

All of this, along with Paul’s salvation history collapses into nonsensical babble if we interpret his references to a mythical being. This once again is a death blow to the Jesus-myth theory and would take nothing short of a sheer quack historian to dismiss it all.

The historicity of Jesus is child's play really, an axiomatic truth based on the truth of other subjects that are more complex. Proving whether the resurrection is a historical event or how reliable the New Testament records really are will inevitably prove the veracity of the historical Jesus along the way.

Jesus-mythicists are truly a rare breed, and a dying one. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, a more sensible secular argument that has emerged from the ashes of this theory is myth permeation, or that Jesus was a historical figure who morphed into an exaggerated legendary figure supposedly decades later, which is at least more consistent with historical reality that simply cannot be denied.

Just how reliable the Jesus-traditions are from its historical focal point up to the written conception of these traditions is a subject I covered in another article (discussed here: The Evangelists).

 

** Celsus, a Greek philosopher, was one of the most outspoken anti-Christian skeptics of the second century, which is probably the strongest case in favor of the historicity of Jesus (no one could argue Christian interpolations in his case!). Celsus inadvertently brought up some of the best points, proving from logic why Jesus could not have been a myth creation, as there are just too many things that stood in stark contrast to conventional first century myth formulation which marked Jesus as ideally inferior to other pagan gods, in addition to things about Jesus that were outright embarrassments to the movement in the eyes of the ancient world. Though Celsus stated that the story of Jesus was nothing more than "a monstrous fiction"," he was clearly referring to the divine acclamation Christians bestowed upon Jesus, not his historic existence, otherwise Celsus would not have called Jesus a "mere mortal" or the son of a woman "convicted of adultery," and it's clear throughout Celsus' arguments against Jesus that he never once questioned his existence, but instead argued against the fact he qualified as a deity, and that his miracles were nothing more than just clever tricks. [21]

 


Go home

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Source References

1. See Jesus Seminar. 

2. Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould claim: "There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more." Jesus Now and Then, p.34; 2004.

    Robert E. Van Voorst declares of the Jesus-myth theory: "Some readers may be surprised or shocked that many books and essays – by my count, over one hundred – in the past two hundred years have fervently denied the very existence of Jesus. Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed their arguments as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them completely." Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, p.6;  2000.

    Graham Stanton: "Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed and that the gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which has to be weighed and assessed critically. There is general agreement that, with the possible exception of Paul, we know far more about Jesus of Nazareth than about any first- or second century Jewish or pagan religious teacher." The Gospels and Jesus, p.145; 2002.

    Walter P. Weaver: "The denial of Jesus' historicity has never convinced any large number of people, in or out of technical circles, nor did it in the first part of the century." The Historical Jesus in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1950, p.71; 1999.

     L. Michael White: "That Jesus was a real figure of First-century Judean history is no longer much questioned, as it once was. Later sources from opposing camps-Romans, Jews, and Christians-show that all sides acknowledged both his life and his death." From Jesus to Christianity, p.95; 2004.  

     Amy-Jill Levine, Dale C. Allison, and John Dominic Crossan: "There is a consensus of sorts on a basic outline of Jesus' life. Most scholars agree that Jesus was baptized by John, debated with fellow Jews on how best to live according to God's will, engaged in healings and exorcisms, taught in parables, gathered male and female followers from Galilee, went to Jerusalem, and was crucified by Roman soldiers during the governship of Pontious Pilate (26-36 CE)." The Historical Jesus in Context, p.4; 2006.

      Bart Ehrman: "What I think we can say with some confidence is that Jesus actually did die, he probably was buried, and that some of his disciples (all of them? some of them?) claimed to have seen him alive afterward. Among those who made this claim, interestingly enough, was Jesus’ own brother James, who came to believe in Jesus and soon thereafter became one of the principle leaders of the early Christian church." Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, p.229; 1999.

3. B. C. Butler, The Originality of St Matthew, pp. 147-156; 1951.

    Brunett H. Streeter, The Four Gospels, p. 297; 1964.

    Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts; 1967.

    W. D. Davies, Dale C. Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 2, p. 43; 1991.

    Pierson Parker, The posteriority of Mark, in New Synoptic Studies of W. R. Farmer, pp. 68-70; 1983.

    The Aramaic New Testament: A repository for scholarly work in the field of Aramaic Source Criticism (www.aramaicnt.org).

    F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: The Gospels, Chap. 4, (www.bible.ca/b-new-testament-documents-f-f-bruce-ch4.htm).

4. James H. Charlesworth, The Historical Jesus; p. 18; 2008.

5. Craig A. Evans, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewishness of the Gospels, p.2; html, pdf (www.craigaevans.com).  

6. Charlesworth, ibid., pp. 49-50.

7. ibid., pp. 85-95.

8. Charlesworth, Damascus document II, pp.xxv-xxvi; 2006.

9. Evans, ibid., p. 1, pp.4-5, pp.6-7.  

10. See Jewish-Roman War.

11. Evans, ibid., p. 2.   

12. Martin Hengel, Charles Kingsley Barrett, Conflicts and challenges in early Christianity, p.4; 1999.

13. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, pp.8-22; 2006.

      Richard N. Longenecker, Contours of Christology in the New Testament, pp.68-74; 2005.

14. Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, p.31, 33-36; 2005.

15. See Pontius Pilate.

16. Charlesworth, The Historical Jesus, pp. 91-92.

      ibid., Jesus and Archaeology, p.338-340; 2006. 

17. Brent Nongbri, Greek Authors on Jews and Judaism, p.2 (http://www.academia.edu). 

18. Josephus, Against Apion, book 1, section 1 (www.ccel.org).

19. Origen, Contra Celsus (www.newadvent.org).

      Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, book 18, chap. 3:3 (http://wesley.nnu.edu).

      Tacitus, Annals, 15:44 (www.mcadams.posc.mu.edu).

      Pliny the Younger, Letter to Trajan (www.mc.maricopa.edu). 

      Suetonius, The Life of Claudius, 25.4 (www.penelope.uchicago.edu).

      Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13 (www.sacred-texts.com).

20. Sam Shamoun, Jesus in the Rabbinic Traditions (www.answering-islam.org).

21. Origen, Contra Celsus, disqualifications as a god - book 1, chap. 70, book 2, chap. 30, 36, 37; book 4, chap. 41, 42; a bastard child - book 1, chap. 32; a trickster - book 1, chap. 68, book 2, chap. 14 (www.newadvent.org).