Literary Critics Examine the New Testament

As a Christian Case Maker myself, I constantly hear the accusation that…the New Testament Documents are simply stories, legends, myths. Those who claim this never have any evidence to demonstrate their claims…but that doesn’t seem to stop them beating this drum constantly! G Smith has done a great job of summing up some great scholarly opinion on why the Gospel Myth accusation is just that…an unfounded accusation. Enjoy…

Thomistic Bent

The facts presented in the New Testament have a large amount of corroboration from sources outside the Bible (see here, and here, and here). The typical objections to these facts is claiming the Bible to be historical fiction and dismissing miracles outright. To see the fallacy of these typical objections, see here and here.

Let us turn to how the style of writing is evaluated……not by laymen, but by literary scholars. I know of two who were atheists who were teaching literature at the university level, then became Christian when they turned their eye toward the Bible.

Dr. C. S. Lewis was a professor of literature at Oxford and Cambridge. He said the following:

 All I am in private life is a literary critic and historian, that’s my job. And I am prepared to say on that basis if anyone thinks the Gospels are either legend or novels…

View original post 355 more words

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RESPONDblogs: Four Inconvenient Facts Surrounding Jesus’ Resurrection

presuppositions

Last year around Easter time, I had the opportunity to discuss Jesus’ Resurrection with a friend who is not a Christian, and is generally hostile to the idea of God…religion…and Jesus. What was fascinating about the conversation, was that we were coming at the subject of the Resurrection from two opposite directions.

 

My friend’s presupposition – his starting point – was that miracles do not happen. He is a Naturalist.

 

My own presupposition is the opposite. Nature is not all that there is. It cannot be, because it has been created. So there is the possibility of an influence from the realm outside of Nature impinging upon the material Universe. In other words…miracles. I am a Super naturalist.

 

During our discussion, I was laying out the historical facts that surround the Resurrection. But he refused to see them as any historical evidence or proof that Jesus was raised from the dead. Now, while I agree that this evidence does not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Resurrection happened, it mounts a very strong historical case that it did. But – presuppositions are strong. And my friend would not budge one inch.

 

Facts are facts – but facts NEVER speak for themselves. They must be evaluated. People who review these facts must interpret them…and we always interpret facts starting with our presuppositions (or personal biases). Our conclusions are always driven by these personal biases. Always.

 

My question is this – are the conclusions we draw the most reasonable ones?

 

The thing is…I think that when we look at the historical basis for the Christian claim that …

  • Jesus of Nazareth died at the hands of the Roman + Jewish authorities by crucifixion on the Friday
  • yet rose physically from the dead on the Sunday

… we have to go to incredible lengths to explain this evidence any other way! Collective hallucination, the hypnotism of un-consenting adults, a sudden widespread conspiracy run by people not known for lying and with no resulting personal gain from perpetrating it. What an unlikely mess of a conclusion.

 

The simplest explanation of the documented evidence – the most obvious conclusion is that – Jesus rose from the dead. Or more accurately…God raised Jesus from the dead.

 

What is the evidence? Well – lets watch our presuppositions as we review it…but I thought you’d never ask! Here you go…

 

Fact #1 – After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.

People in 1st century Jerusalem generally knew where the tomb was, both Jews and Christians. It is truly baffling that belief in Jesus resurrection could arise, flourish and grow…in the face of a well-known tomb containing his corpse.

“The honourable burial of Jesus is one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus” – A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University

 

Fact #2 – On the Sunday morning following the crucifixion, the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers.

“It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.” – D. H. van Daalen, Mathematician + Historian of Science

 

Fact #3 – On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.

Even many sceptical and critical scholars – who do not believe in the claims of Christianity – acknowledge this to be true.

“It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.” – Gert Ludemann, New Testament Scholar and Critic, University of Gottingen

 

Fact #4 – The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every reason not to.

Jesus’ friends were strict monotheistic Jews. Everything in their worldview and their religious upbringing taught them that, while a resurrection from the dead was going to happen one day, it would not happen until the very end of human history. Jesus’ disciples had every reason to be sceptical of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

And yet – they bravely proclaimed it and most of them went to an early death as a result.

F. D. Moule of Cambridge University describes the situation in these terms. Each disciple’s belief in Jesus’ resurrection cannot be accounted for in terms of previous events or expectations or influences on these people. The only thing that can account for their belief – is Jesus’ literal, bodily resurrection.

 

 

 

I suggest to you that – having evaluated the available evidence – the simplest conclusion is that God raised Jesus from the dead.

 

 

 

 

 

Adapted from:

Craig William Lane. “Jesus and His Passion”. Reasonable Faith. Accessed 30th March 2015. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/jesus-and-his-passion.

RESPONDblogs: A Conclusion on the Historical Jesus

 

historical_jesus

In a previous blog post, I posed the question – Did Jesus exist? Usually, people appeal to the New Testament for their evidence. Yet I also suggested that many people come to the Bible with presuppositions firmly in place. Namely that the Bible is biased and untrustworthy in its portrayal of Jesus and its evidence of him as a real person.

 

I do not believe the Bible misrepresents the person of Jesus or his true identity in any way. But instead of getting side-tracked onto defending the reliability and honour of the Bible, I decided to focus on the original question at hand – Did Jesus exist? And to answer this question, I have set the Bible aside. I have investigated 3 historical sources which are external to the Bible and provide evidence to the historical Jesus.

These sources are written by Roman Historians who were not professing Christians, they did not contribute to the Biblical canon in any way. In fact, their Roman background suggests more likelihood of hostility to the claims of Christianity. Yet as we examined their testimony, we found some particularly interesting facts surrounding the historical background to Jesus of Nazareth.

 

You can find my analysis of the sources here:

 

Suetonius

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/respondblogs-was-jesus-a-real-person/

Tacitus

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/respondblogs-did-jesus-exist-tacitus-thought-so/

Josephus

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2015/03/12/respondblogs-did-jesus-exist/

 

The responses I got from people who read these posts were interesting.

“But these sources only confirm the existence of the Christian Church, not Jesus of Nazareth.”

“But these sources only confirm the existence of an itinerating preacher named Jesus, and nothing else.”

“But these sources are not to be trusted. Someone told them something…and they just wrote it down. It doesn’t mean it’s true.”

 

It turns out that some people don’t just come to the Bible with presuppositions. They also come to the extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus armed with presuppositions too!

 

“But these sources only confirm the existence of the Christian Church, not Jesus of Nazareth.”

Not true at all. A plain reading of each of the sources gives clear evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person. The sources talk about the person of Jesus himself.

 

“But these sources only confirm the existence of an itinerating preacher named Jesus, and nothing else.”

Not true at all, they go much much further than that. These sources identify him as a real person, and go on to corroborate details in the Bible’s account of his life.

 

“But these sources are not to be trusted. Someone told them something…and they just wrote it down. It doesn’t mean it’s true.”

So are you saying that we cannot trust what history books say? Why not? What evidence do you have that history books cannot be trusted? Because if you are right  – then we can dismiss a lot of knowledge that we depend on today. History records that World War One started in 1914 and ended in 1918. Even though we were not personally eyewitnesses to it, we know this happened because it is part of our culture’s history. We know that and believe that – right? Well – the same argument applies to Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius. Using the 1st century historical sources at their disposal, at the turn of the 1st century they wrote about events that occurred 60 years earlier. This is how history is recorded, whether it is about World War One, the events surrounding the reign of Roman Emperor Nero or Jesus Christ.

 

So what data do these three non-Christian Roman historians actually give us about the historical Jesus? Here’s a summary:

  1. Christ, or Jesus, was a person who founded a movement called the Christians.
  2. He was the brother of James.
  3. He was called Messiah by some.
  4. He was a wise, virtuous man who was known for his good conduct amongst people.
  5. Perhaps he was the Messiah that the Old Testament Prophets spoke of and predicted.
  6. Jesus Christ was put to death by crucifixion.
  7. The Roman procurator Pontius Pilate ordered Jesus’ crucifixion during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (14 to 37 A. D.).
  8. After his crucifixion, Jesus Christ caused his followers in Rome to cause an uproar by sharing his teachings.[1]

 

What information do these three sources give us about the first Christian claims about the person of Jesus Christ?

  1. The followers of Jesus, the Christians, followed him as their teacher.
  2. There were many followers known as Christians who were both Jew and Gentile.
  3. When Christ died, the Christian movement…or the superstition…ended for a short time.
  4. Jesus Christ’s followers reported publically that:
    1. Jesus had been raised from the dead (surely the mischievous teaching that Tacitus and Suetonius make reference to).
    2. Jesus had appeared to them on the third day after his crucifixion.
  5. The Christ movement broke out again very quickly and they continued to proclaim his teachings.[2]

 

 

When you remember Jesus Christ’s social status during his life (he was essentially a peasant)…it is truly striking that so much detail exists on him in Roman Historical works. There is more written about political leaders like Caesar, Nero and Cicero; Jesus Christ was a no-one by comparison. Yet in spite of his obscurity, “if you limit yourself just to people at Jesus’ socio economic status … lower class peasant … there isn’t anyone from the ancient world that comes close to the amount of evidence we have for Jesus.”[3] And I have only just touched on some of the evidence available for Jesus. There is so much more.

 

Further, scholars we would not call themselves Christians look at this data and are under no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth existed, that he was a real person.

 

“John Dominic Crossan: ‘That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.’”[4]

“Crossan: ‘I take it absolutely for granted that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Security about the fact of the Crucifixion derives not only from the unlikelyhood tat Christians would have invented it but also from the existence of two early and independent non-Christian witnesses to it, a Jewish one from 93-94 C.E. and a Roman one from the 110s or 120s C.E.’”[5]

“Gerd Ludemann: ‘It is certain that Jesus was crucified around the year 30.’”[6]

“Ludemann: ‘The fact of Jesus death as the consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.’”[7]

 

Did Jesus of Nazareth exist? Human history says yes.

 

On a personal note – I am pleased that historians took time to record these details. But in my experience, I know more about Jesus through personal experience than ancient history. Jesus is the most exquisite, heart changing, life transforming person you will ever meet. You see…he is not primarily someone you meet in the pages of history. He is someone you encounter in your life today; he is not dead, he is risen and alive today. He is not just a person from the past, he is the living Lord who is not distant but right now is longing to walk beside us each day of our lives.

 

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:1-3, NIV

 

 

 

[1] Gary Habermas, “The Historical Jesus Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ Select chapters by Gary R. Habermas,” Dr. Gary R. Habermas Online Resources, Information, Media, accessed February 4th, 2015, http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/historicaljesus/historicaljesus.htm.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bart Ehrman and Justin Brierly, “Did Jesus Exist?,” Unbelievable Podcast Saturday 18th August 2012, accessed January 31st, 2015, http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Did-Jesus-Exist-Bart-Ehrman-Q-A-Unbelievable.

[4] Clay Jones, “Jesus Wasn’t a Real Person? That’s Dumb!”, Clay Jones, accessed March 25th, 2015, http://www.clayjones.net/2010/08/jesus-wasnt-a-real-person-thats-dumb/.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

RESPONDblog: An Eclipse within a Finely Tuned Universe

I was sitting watching the solar eclipse this morning on the TV…cos it was so cloudy in Gloucester…Rebecca, Naomi and I couldn’t see a thing in the sky!

As we hit the Totality of the eclipse…and the temperature suddenly dropped in my sitting room…I was hit by how much we take the functioning of our solar system for granted. The Sun just is, our experience of it is just treated like an absolute. We’ve always had the advantage of it.

I was also hit by the mathematical inevitability of this event…and all heavenly events. And it strikes me that the movement of countless planets, stars and other heavenly bodies thru our universe…reveal our Universe as a mathematically precise, finely tuned mechanism. And the mechanics of our Universe point towards a designer of our Universe…you can read more about that below.

Peace!

http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/is-god-true-gods-existence-make-sense-of-our-universe/

RESPONDblogs: Was Jesus a Real Person?

josephusDid Jesus of Nazareth, who was called the Christ, exist? Was he a real human being? Or, as some sceptics claim, was he an invention? I have been looking at various historical sources external to the Bible to see if they can help answer this question.

First century Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus gives a fascinating perspective on the historical Jesus. Josephus was a Jew who changed sides and worked in Rome for General Vespasian. Scholars understand Josephus was not a Christian himself; Josephus had no theological agenda. Yet when he wrote his Jewish War in 94 A.D. he mentioned key people in the early Church; and he mentions Jesus twice.

Let’s start with the second reference because it is the shorter one. It appears in Book 20 and says the following:

Being therefore this kind of person [i.e., a heartless Sadducee], Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting [literally, “sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.[1]

Josephus mentions a man named James. In order to explain which James he is talking about, he links him to his famous brother …namely Jesus. And to explain WHICH Jesus he is talking about (both James and Jesus were very common names at the time) he clearly describes James’s brother as “Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah”.

This is a clear reference to Jesus of Nazareth. But sceptics are liable to shout, “not so fast!” Perhaps the phrase “who-is-called-Messiah” has been added by later Christian scribes wanting to manufacture historical evidence for the Jesus of the New Testament? Could it be possible that Josephus did not originally write the words “Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah” in his Jewish War Book 20…but later Christian scribes made it look like he did? I think this is very unlikely for two reasons:

  1. the early Church Fathers wrote about the same man Josephus is talking about…James…and they refer to him as “the brother of the Lord”. Josephus’s description of James and Jesus uses very different language. Christian scribes would have used the “brother of the Lord” language. We don’t see these words, and this suggests an author who was not a Christian himself – Josephus himself is the best candidate.
  2. this mention of James only makes sense with the full “Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah” comment. Why? Well both James and Jesus were common names, there had to be a distinguishing factor here that identified exactly which men named James and Jesus that Josephus was talking about. That distinguishing factor is – Jesus was famous because he was known by many people as Messiah.

In summary then, Josephus clearly mentions the Jesus of the New Testament in Jewish War Book 20.

 

Let’s turn now to the more famous first reference to Jesus in Josephus’ work; it comes earlier in Jewish War Book 18. All surviving Greek copies of this text, called the Testimonium Flavianum, say the following:

 

Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who did surprising deeds, and 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 among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him, for on the third day, he appeared to them restored to life. The prophets of God had prophesied this and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out.

 

Scholars are all agreed that (probably) medieval Christian scribes modified Josephus’s original Greek text to add Christian theology to it to “sex it up a bit”. This counts against the quality of this text as extra-Biblical evidence for the real historical Jesus. But it does not mean we should disregard it, it just means we need to treat the text carefully.

Scholars agree which parts of the text have been added by the scribe; I have highlighted them in italics above. As sceptical scholar James Tabor points out, “we are more than fortunate that these pious scribes had such heavy hands, since their additions appear to be so blatant and obvious, in both placing and phrasing.”[2] We know that, “Origen was an early Church father and [he] indicated that Josephus was not a Christian.”[3] So Josephus would therefore not have written the italicised phrases; his personal declaration of Jesus as the Christ, fulfilment of prophecy and resurrection appearances look like later interpolations.  But in spite of these later interpolations…we can begin to work out what Josephus originally wrote:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of wonders. He drew many after him. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day (Antiquities 18:63-64).[4]

Because of the effort involved in discovering Josephus’s original wording, some have therefore dismissed the whole passage as a fabrication. Richard Carrier has commented on this text: “even if it were completely genuine – and it’s not – [it] says nothing that could not have simply been read out of a Gospel or gotten from any other Christian source relying on one.”[5]

But Carrier’s theory does not hold water when we examine the Testimonium Flavianum in the light of the rest of the rest of the Jewish War. The language used in this recovered passage does not sound like it was lifted from a Gospel. It reads consistently to the rest of Josephus’s writing style. While it is not impossible that a later forger could imitate Josephus’s writing style, this is far beyond what normal revisionists would do. Licona comments, “(a) the term, “wise man” is typical for Josephus and less than we would expect from a Christian editor, (b) the style belongs to Josephus, (c) the Greek word for tribe [found in Greek translations] is not a typical Christian expression.”[6] But crucially, we also know the Testimonium Flavianum is not a complete forgery because the reference to “Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah” by Josephus in Book 20 requires this earlier reference in Book 18 as essential background; the later reference assumes the reader has already read the Testimonium Flavianum. So there can be no doubt, Josephus originally mentioned Jesus in BOTH Book 18 and Book 20.

Further, we are not forced to try to recover Josephus’s original wording from the interpolated Greek manuscripts. We also have an ancient Arabic manuscript that was clearly translated using a much earlier copy of the Greek text before it had been interpolated by scribes. Professor Schlomo Pines revealed this ancient Arabic manuscript containing the Testimonium Flavianum in 1972. This is different from the typical surviving interpolated Greek ones; it includes a briefer rendering of the entire passage, including changes in the key phrases listed above:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.[7]

Pine’s Arabic manuscript has eliminated much suspicion on the Josephus text; scholars can be certain that they have the essential original wording of this passage now. Pines concludes, “it is quite plausible that none of the arguments against Josephus writing the original words even applies to the Arabic text, especially since the latter would have had less chance of being censored by the church.”[8] Habermas summarises his resulting position: even though a troublesome historical source to read, “’We can now be as certain as historical research will presently allow that Josephus did refer to Jesus’, providing ‘corroboration of the gospel account.’”[9]

While Carrier has decided the Testimonium Flavianum is fabricated, the recovered text requires it be taken as genuine history. Why would later Christian scribes wish to improve a Greek version of the text if the text had not already been written by Josephus first?

In final summary, Jewish historian Josephus clearly wrote about Jesus of Nazareth in the first century. He corroborates the New Testament on many details of Jesus’ life and, providing that we treat the Greek version of the Testimonium Flavianum carefully, we can be sure that we have a piece of high quality extra-Biblical evidence of the historical Jesus.

Now it is time to summarise what these extra-Biblical authors tell us about who Jesus of Nazareth was…that is coming up next.

 

[1] Lawrence Mykytiuk, “Did Jesus Exist? Search for Evidence Beyond the Bible”, Bible History Daily, accessed March 12th, 2015, http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/did-jesus-exist/.

[2] James Tabor, “Josephus on John the Baptizer, Jesus and James,” Tabor Blog, accessed February 4th, 2015, http://jamestabor.com/2012/08/12/josephus-on-john-the-baptizer-jesus-and-james/.

[3] Mike Licona, “A Refutation of Acharya S’s Book, The Christ Conspiracy,” Risen Jesus the Ministry of Mike Licona, accessed 4th February 2015, http://www.risenjesus.com/a-refutation-of-acharya-ss-book-the-christ-conspiracy.

[4] James Tabor, “Josephus on John the Baptizer, Jesus and James,” Tabor Blog, accessed February 4th, 2015, http://jamestabor.com/2012/08/12/josephus-on-john-the-baptizer-jesus-and-james/.

[5] Richard Carrier, “Ehrman Trash Talks Mythicism,” Richard Carrier Blogs, accessed January 31st, 2015, http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/667.

[6] Mike Licona, “A Refutation of Acharya S’s Book, The Christ Conspiracy,” Risen Jesus the Ministry of Mike Licona, accessed February 4th, 2015, http://www.risenjesus.com/a-refutation-of-acharya-ss-book-the-christ-conspiracy.

[7] Gary Habermas, “The Historical Jesus Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ Select chapters by Gary R. Habermas,” Dr. Gary R. Habermas Online Resources, Information, Media, accessed February 4th, 2015, http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/historicaljesus/historicaljesus.htm.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

RESPONDblogs: Free Resources for Christian Case Makers

sale conceptHey there!

My friends at truthbomb.blogspot.co.uk have linked to some great, free resources that will be useful to all Christian Case Makers…as well as interested sceptics.

 

You can find their original post here…

http://truthbomb.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/free-apologetics-study-downloads.html?utm_content=bufferf37b0&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer&m=1

 

But in the interests of making things easier for you…here are the links reposted below. Thank you truthbomb!

What is Apologetics?

The Cosmological Argument

The Design Argument

The Moral Argument

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead

The Problem of Evil

Do Miracles Happen?

Is the Old Testament Reliable? 

Is the New Testament Reliable?

Is there One True God?

Is Jesus the Only Way?

Where Did the New Testament Come From?

Has Prophecy Been Fulfilled?

 

Share and enjoy!

Stu

RESPONDblogs: Did Jesus Exist? Tacitus thought so!

HPIM0645.JPG

Jesus of Nazareth was not a person of wealth or political influence. Yet details of his life and legacy are documented by ancient accounts found outside of the Bible; texts written by people without pro-Christian bias. These sources corroborate each other and support the New Testament Gospels themselves.

 

Now – it is true that there is more written about important political leaders like Caesar Augustus or Cicero…and Jesus is simply a no-one by comparison. Yet in spite of his obscurity, “if you limit yourself just to people at Jesus’ socio economic status … lower class peasant … there isn’t anyone from the ancient world that comes close to the amount of evidence we have for Jesus.”[1] And that quote comes from a sceptical scholar who rejects the supernatural claims about Jesus life!

 

I previously discussed Roman historian Suetonius’s reference to Christ. Now let’s turn to Cornelius Tacitus.

 

Cornelius Tacitus was governor of Asia and he documented Nero’s reign in the first century. Much of Tacitus’s Annals is lost, but what remains points to the historical Jesus. In Annals we read:

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 Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome[2]

This account gives valuable data supporting Jesus’ historicity.

First, Tacitus says that “Christus”, which is Latin for Christ, was responsible for the Christian class. Second, Tacitus gives extra-Biblical support for the account of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. Third, these events reportedly began in Judea[3]. Fourth, the Christian Church is describes as a “most mischievous superstition.” This phrase echoes something that Suetonius also says, when he describes Christian belief as a “new and mischievous religious belief.”[4]

 

Some sceptics will ask, “can we be sure the Christ Tacitus speaks of is Jesus?” Tacitus does not use Jesus’ name directly; Christ is the Greek form of Messiah, a Hebrew title meaning “a king, priest or prophet”[5], or could also refer to a specific, expected Jewish “Anointed One”[6] who would usher in God’s rule. Extra-Biblical sources show evidence of various first century Christ candidates. Jewish historian Josephus, writes about King Herod’s slave Simon who, “was so bold as to put a diadem on his head, while a certain number of the people stood by him, and by them he was declared to be a king.”[7] Having led a rebellion, Simon was killed by the Romans and his followers scattered. History clearly records that various Jewish rebel leaders thought of themselves as kings. Yet only one individual is recorded as being punished by Pontius Pilate, leaving more followers after his death than he had before, and known as Christ. Josephus mentions Jesus by name, “there was a wise man who was called Jesus. … Pilate condemned him … those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. … he was perhaps the Messiah.”[8] This corroborates Tacitus who also refers to the Christ who suffered the extreme penalty under Pilate, and whose teachings broke out after his death[9] possibly supporting the Christian preaching of Jesus’ resurrection.  Therefore, I conclude that our extra-Biblical sources only refer to one historical person with the title Christ who fits Jesus’ profile.

 

Richard Carrier is a sceptic who does not believe Jesus of Nazareth existed. Carrier suggests Tacitus’s original text documented the punishment of a Jewish rabble who followed someone named Chrestus. Decades later, Carrier says that a Christian scribe came along with his writing instrument and repurposed this passage by inserting a sentence mentioning Christ and Pilate, thus erasing the original Chrestus link, and bolstering a Christian myth about Jesus of Nazareth: “the suspect line was probably not written by Tacitus … More likely Tacitus was originally speaking of the Chrestians, a violent group of Jews first suppressed under Claudius, and not the Christians, and accordingly did not mention Christ.”[10]

However, there are problems with Carrier’s argument.

  • First, Tacitus never mentions Chrestus, but does mention Christians. In order to force his case, Carrier must himself re-write Tacitus and replace mention of Christians with “Chrestians.”
  • Second, Carrier’s suspect line does not just document Christ and Pilate, we also read a judgement on the Christian religion itself. Christianity is cynically described as a “most mischievous superstition.”[11] Wouldn’t a later Christian interpolator present an apologetic for Christianity instead? Licona comments, “the style of the text definitely belongs to Tacitus. … a Christian editor would not have had Tacitus call Christianity a ‘deadly superstition’.”[12]

Carrier further justifies his replacement of the word “Christians” with “Chrestians” by observing that while Nero blamed the Christians for arson, no Christian writer recorded this until the 4th century. Carrier states,

Given the immensity of the persecution Tacitus describes … and the injustice of it being based on a false accusation of arson to cover up Nero’s own crimes, what are the odds that no Christian would ever have heard of it or made use of it or any reference to it for over three hundred years?[13]

In other words, Tacitus cannot be referencing Christ or his church, Carrier says, because no early Christians complained about Nero’s accusation; arson was blamed on a different group.

 

But hang on a minute, Richard.

Tacitus would have known of Nero’s arson accusation because he had used official Government records when writing historical accounts. Perhaps Tacitus read privileged evidence of Nero’s private plot to blame the fires on the hated Christian sect?

Further, if we can show Tacitus’s report is typical of Christian persecution under Nero, this points to the passage’s authenticity, and helps to strengthen the case that Tacitus is also referencing Christ. While no record exists of Chrestian persecution, much evidence of Nero’s Christian persecution survives.

  • Acts, for example, shows Roman Christians being viewed with suspicion; this was surely due to Nero’s influence. The Roman Jewish leaders said, “We understand that people everywhere are against this new group.”[14] Perhaps Roman Jews would view Christian behaviour through the filter of anti-Christian Government propaganda. Acts lends weight to this.
  • Also, the second century Christian writer Tertullian records Christian persecution in his Ad Nationes. Tertullian’s account gives many reasons for the general hatred toward the Christian Church, but “no proof is forthcoming of any crimes, only rumour; the first persecutor was Nero, the worst of emperors.”[15] What rumour is Tertullian referencing? Alongside many documented accusations, he is most likely referencing Nero’s Christian arson rumour.

 

Yet sceptics will continue; since they cannot label Tacitus as a later interpolation, they will try to discredit his credentials as a historian. Sceptical New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman questions the quality of Tacitus’s research. Tacitus claims Jesus received, “the extreme penalty … at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”[16] Ehrman commented during a conversation on the Unbelievable podcast on this passage:

I wanted to show that Tacitus knew something about the historical Jesus. I also said he had not done research in archives in Rome. Pilate wasn’t that kind of Governor. He was actually a Prefect. We know this because there was an inscription discovered in Caesarea Maritima in the 1960s put up in honour of Pontius Pilate naming him Prefect not Procurator.[17]

Ehrman is saying, if Tacitus recorded Pilate’s job role incorrectly, could this count against the accuracy of his Jesus report?

I propose not. When Tacitus wrote Annals, he was a person of power with a reputation to maintain. Habermas demonstrates this by saying, “Tacitus had to receive his information from some source … It may even have been contained in one of Pilate’s reports to the emperor, to which Tacitus would probably have had access because of his standing with the government.”[18] Therefore it would seem unlikely that Tacitus would put his reputation at risk through poor research. Ironically, it is Carrier who leaps to Tacitus’s defence: “provincial prefects were often also imperial procurators … throughout the Annals Tacitus has a particular motive to emphasize that fact.”[19]

 

In summary, yes sceptics will try to dismiss Tacitus’s Annals as an independent reference to Jesus of Nazareth. But there are no good reasons for doing this.

  • Tacitus’s report is clearly an original unmodified record of the historical Jesus and his church.
  • It is unreasonable to dismiss the reliability of Tacitus’s account of Jesus’ execution by Pilate because of poor research.

 

Cornelius Tacitus gives us excellent, early evidence that Jesus of Nazareth existed. As does the much debated JOSEPHUS…

 

 

[1] Bart Ehrman and Justin Brierly, “Did Jesus Exist?”, Unbelievable Podcast Saturday 18th August 2012, accessed January 31st, 2015, http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Did-Jesus-Exist-Bart-Ehrman-Q-A-Unbelievable.

[2] Clay Jones, “Prepared Defence”, Jones, DVD-ROM (version 2.2).

[3] New Testament Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all record Jesus’ activity in the region of Judea.

[4] Gary Habermas, “The Historical Jesus Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ Select chapters by Gary R. Habermas”, Dr. Gary R. Habermas Online Resources, Information, Media, accessed February 4th, 2015, http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/historicaljesus/historicaljesus.htm.

[5] I. H. Marshall, “JESUS CHRIST, TITLES OF.” In New Bible Dictionary Second Edition (Inter-Varsity Press, 1993).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Peter Kirby, “Antiquities of the Jews – Book XVII”, Early Jewish Writings, accessed March 1st, 2015, http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/josephus/ant17.html.

[8] Habermas, “The Historical Jesus”.

[9] Jones, “Prepared Defence”.

[10] Richard Carrier, HITLER HOMER BIBLE CHRIST The Historical Papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013, (Philosophy Press 2014), 391.

[11] Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, “The Annals By Tacitus”, The Internet Classics Archive, accessed February 23rd, 2015, http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.11.xv.html.

[12] Mike Licona, “A Refutation of Acharya S’s Book, The Christ Conspiracy”, Risen Jesus the Ministry of Mike Licona, accessed February 4th, 2015, http://www.risenjesus.com/a-refutation-of-acharya-ss-book-the-christ-conspiracy.

[13] Carrier, HITLER HOMER BIBLE CHRIST, 390.

[14] Acts 28:22 NLT.

[15] John Chapman, “Tertullian”, The Catholic Encyclopaedia, accessed 23rd February 2015, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14520c.htm.

[16] Habermas, “The Historical Jesus”, Dr. Gary R. Habermas.

[17] Ehrman and Brierly, “Did Jesus Exist?”, Unbelievable Podcast.

[18] Habermas, “The Historical Jesus”, Dr. Gary R. Habermas.

[19] Richard Carrier, “Ehrman on Jesus: A Failure of Facts and Logic” Richard Carrier Blog, accessed January 31st, 2015, http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1026.