The Historic Jesus

Gary Lenaire

 

Before the internet, history was handwritten, rewritten, copied, discussed, forgotten, remembered, and insisted upon by people in positions of power. Before digital photos, videos, and internet accountability, the victorious pens authored ancient stories. Histories. In those days both uncut truth and selfish bullshit were muddily mixed on hieroglyphs, statues, parchments, stained glass, and coins. 

People claiming that a man is also a god? This is a pattern that predates the Bible.

Jesus as the Christ is not alone in the "Dying and Rising God" category. During Jesus’ time there were many cults that believed in this. Adonis, Dionysus, Osiris, and Attis (Roman gods) died and allegedly rose to life before the time of Jesus. According to the religions, all of those gods suffered gruesome torture then died horrific deaths (ancient religious folk were very often twisted, violent and sadomasochistic thinkers). All of those so-called gods rose to triumphal life. Interestingly, none of them are around to talk about it, including Jesus. In the case of Jesus, however, it seems very reasonable that if he did stir the people politically and spiritually, then he would have been executed by way of Roman crucifixion. The cross was a very Roman means of execution as well as being a solar symbol in many ancient cultures. It is well known that many solar deities die and are reborn on the winter solstice (December 25). The cross and the myth of the dying and rising god was so popular among the Roman people that it makes perfect sense that Jesus would become a famous religious symbol throughout the region (so much so that the Romans could not destroy it by the sword). As we will see, the Roman Emperor Constantine drove that fame home when he instituted Christianity as the official Roman Religion in 324 C.E.

 

The Roman Emperor Nero died in 68 C.E. From that time until 88 C.E. a number of imposters claiming to be him tried to claim the throne. One of those charlatans convinced many that he was Nero; within only a year of his death. He was willing to fake physical resurrection. Nero didn’t even claim to be a messiah preparing to be resurrected! In our time we have seen similar proof that superstitious people are indeed willing to believe resurrection stories. Many people believe that L. Ron Hubbard and Elvis Presley are still alive. Those guys are dead, very dead. Enoch is dead. But what about Jesus?

 

The primary manuscripts we have today describing first century Palestine are a combination of Jewish, Christian, Greek, and Roman writings. In these documents there is little evidence of a Jewish teacher by the name Jesus. The attestation that Jesus was a person is documented (some scholars contest the validity of that attestation because of the possible religious bias of later Christian redactors and copyists). For the most part, first and second century Roman history is silent concerning Jesus.

 

Some people claim that Jesus is the most authenticated person of antiquity. That is simply not accurate. Many historians have rightly noted that the earliest written attestation of Jesus dates from within 400 years of the claimed crucifixion; much earlier than Aristotle’s manuscripts (the earliest copied manuscript we now have was written 1400 years after the original was written) or Caesar’s Gallic Wars (1000 years after). This is all true. However, what fundamentalists don’t usually mention is that there are other objects of attestation found in archaeology. Busts and statues of Roman emperors and statesmen, Roman coins depicting specific people.

It is one thing to claim that a Jewish teacher named Jesus lived. It is a very different claim, however, to say that Jesus was a Christ god and performed miracles and was resurrected from the dead.

 

It is predominantly the (canonized) Bible that tells us about Jesus as a Christ. Other than a few very brief accounts given by other sources, we have only the scriptures as a reference for Jesus as the Christ. Roman records give us no verified indication of an arrest or crucifixion of Jesus. Since the Bible has been shown to contain multiple errors, contradictions, and inconsistencies we cannot trust it as an independent source of history. The Bible, however, has been shown to be accurate concerning other various historical events.

There is much dispute over the validity of later versions of The Antiquities of the Jews by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. Josephus was a Pharisee, not a Christian. Religiously, he would have thought and wrote more like Saul of Tarsus than Paul the Apostle. But in later (and most likely revised) versions of Antiquities that we have today, Josephus is quoted as saying:

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works-a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and 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, for he appeared to them alive again in the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (90 C.E.)

By his praise of Jesus (“He was the Christ”) a reader would think that Josephus had indeed converted to Christianity. There is no record of that. Further, if Josephus really did think Jesus was the Christ, where are all the other words about Jesus? Josephus is almost silent on the topic of Christ. He mentions Jesus only twice and never mentions Christians or Christianity again. Whole pages are devoted to simple robbers and trivial leaders. Nearly 40 chapters are devoted to the life of a single king. Yet the alleged Supreme Being, the greatest product of the human race, a being of whom the Jewish prophets foretold “ten thousand other wonderful things,” is discussed in only a few sentences. Many Christian scholars and theologians admit that this is fishy. Christian historians would have written chapters on him! Therefore, many theologians hold that the references to Jesus as being the “Christ” are a Christian forgery. Also, the idea of a Jewish “Christ” was a later Christian idea, not an Old Testament Jewish idea (that’s why “Christ” isn’t in the Old Testament). The Jews of Josephus’ time were not looking for a “Christ.” It was most likely later Christian redactors who edited this text to embellish Jesus as a Christ.

Let’s examine what Christian writers have said about Josephus’ comments regarding Jesus.

“This passage is not quoted nor referred to by any Christian writer before Eusebius, who flourished at the beginning of the fourth century. If it had been originally in the works of Josephus it would have been highly proper to produce it in their disputes with Jews and Gentiles. But it is never quoted by Justin Martyr, or Clement of Alexandria, nor by Tertullian or Origen, men of great learning, and well acquainted with the works of Josephus. It was certainly very proper to urge it against the Jews. It might also have been fitly urged against the Gentiles. A testimony so favorable to Jesus in the works of Josephus, who lived so soon after our Savior, who was so well acquainted with the transactions of his own country, who had received so many favors from Vespasian and Titus, would not be overlooked or neglected by any Christian apologist.” -Dr. Nathaniel Lardner 1684-1768, Works

Christian Bishop Warburton also declared it to be a forgery: “If a Jew owned the truth of Christianity, he must embrace it. We, therefore, certainly conclude that the paragraph where Josephus, who was as much a Jew as the religion of Moses could make him, is made to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, in terms as strong as words could do it, is a rank forgery, and a very stupid one, too.” -Quoted by Lardner, Works

 

The Christian Reverend John Allen Giles (1815-1884), of the Established Church of England, said “Those who are best acquainted with the character of Josephus, and the style of his writings, have no hesitation in condemning this passage as a forgery, interpolated in the text during the third century by some pious Christian, who was scandalized that so famous a writer as Josephus should have taken no notice of the gospels, or of Christ, their subject. But the zeal of the interpolator has outrun his discretion, for we might as well expect to gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles, as to find this notice of Christ among the Judaizing writings of Josephus. It is well known that this author was a zealous Jew, devoted to the laws of Moses and the traditions of his countrymen. How, then, could he have written that Jesus was the Christ? Such an admission would have proved him to be a Christian himself, in which case the passage under consideration, too long for a Jew, would have been far too short for a believer in the new religion, and thus the passage stands forth, like an ill-set jewel, contrasting most inharmoniously with everything around it. If it had been genuine, we might be sure that Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Chrysostom would have quoted it in their controversies with the Jews, and that Origen or Photius would have mentioned it. But Eusebius, the ecclesiastical historian (I, 11), is the first who quotes it, and our reliance on the judgment or even honesty of this writer is not so great as to allow our considering everything found in his works as undoubtedly genuine.” Christian Records

“It is interpolated with many additional clauses.” -Dean Milman, Gibbon's Rome

Theodor Keim, a German-Christian writer on Jesus said, “The passage cannot be maintained; it has first appeared in this form in the Catholic Church of the Jews and Gentiles, and under the dominion of the fourth gospel, and hardly before the third century, probably before Eusebius, and after Origen, whose bitter criticisms of Josephus may have given cause for it.” (Jesus of Nazara)

“Flavius Josephus, the well known historian of the Jewish people, was born in A.D. 37, only two years after the death of Jesus; but though his work is of inestimable value as our chief authority for the circumstances of the times in which Jesus and his Apostles came forward, yet he does not seem to have mentioned Jesus himself. At any rate, the passage in his 'Jewish Antiquities' that refers to him is certainly spurious, and was inserted by a later and a Christian hand.” -Christian Reverend Dr. Hooykaas, Bible for Learners   

I have included the above Christian quotes regarding Josephus to draw attention to the level of forgery that Christian editors went to in order to claim that Jesus was more than a man; that he was a Christ. Let me point out the reason why many have forged documents in order to promote Christianity. It is because the burden of evidence is on the Christians. Christians insist on an extremely miraculous claim: “Jesus the Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.” Because of that immense claim, some believers have tried to give immense historic evidence for their faith. Those efforts of forgery have been detected by the watching eye of honest Christian and secular scholarship through the centuries.

 

More importantly, whether those indeed were the words of Josephus or not we are still faced with the same problems we are faced with in the Bible: Josephus’ claim that Jesus was the Christ is a miraculous claim and miraculous claims cannot be proven, verified, or demonstrated. In any case, I do not think a zealous Jew like Josephus would refer to an executed heretic as “the Christ” in the first place. Other historians such as Pliny the Younger and Tacitus were subject to the same kind of criticism. Christian scholars and teachers could easily see the forgeries and interruptions in the text flow of these historians. 

 

The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus must not have been around when Jesus was crucified. If he had then we are sure that he would have at least mentioned the anomalous events that took place. Many dead saints were raised from the dead, left their tombs and appeared to many people (Matt 27:51-53). You would think that someone Josephus knew would have definitely mentioned that to him at the Temple service the following week; especially with the veil being torn and all (Matt 27:51)! Josephus doesn’t even include a memo on any of that. None of the other gospel writers talk about the dead saints rising to life either. Weird, huh? Not really when you consider that many different people wrote and edited those manuscripts.

 

To point out that Christian editors did change the text of Josephus and other texts is not in the least unreasonable. The church, throughout history, has committed bloodthirsty crusades, tortures, massacres, burnings, drownings, boilings (hot oil), and public humiliation all in the name of Christ. What makes you think they wouldn’t change written history for their cause? Consider some of the extreme fundamentalist Christians today (some are regularly in the news). These Christian fundamentalists often make comments promoting executions and war. Just because you may not be an extremist doesn’t change what other Christians do. Christianity has been largely created through the centuries by zealots and extremists. War and violence has marked Christianity throughout history. Violence and biblical religions go hand in hand.

 

There are literally hundreds of books contributed by the Jesus Movement and the Christ Cult, many of which never made it into the Bible’s final canon.