By Mark Fulton | 13 October 2013
The Gospel writers and editors were myth-makers. Many historians suspect the authors didn’t base their writings on a genuine character, and they may be right. No contemporary archaeological evidence has ever been found for Yeshua’s existence. Do contemporary historians mention him?
Flavius Josephus (37–100 CE), a prolific and comprehensive Jewish historian, who would frequently write a few pages on the execution of common Jewish thieves, has not one authentic line that mentions Yeshua. “He” does mention “Christ” on two occasions, yet both have been convincingly exposed as interpolations. So if Yeshua existed, either Josephus chose not to write about him, or early Christians destroyed his record because it didn’t fit with their manufactured image.
Justus of Tiberias (35–100 CE) was a first-century Jewish author born in Galilee. Although he wrote extensively about contemporary Jewish history, there is no record that he ever mentioned Jesus.
Philo-Judaeus, a prolific writer and historian, was an Alexandrian Jew who visited Jerusalem in the years Jesus was allegedly teaching and working miracles. He too failed to mention Jesus.
We might expect Jewish religious officials to have said a significant amount about him, but they didn’t. The earliest references to him in Judaic rabbinical literature didn’t occur before the third century CE and bear little relation to the Jesus of the Gospels.
What about the Roman writers of the first century? There are no Roman records of Pilate’s or Herod’s dealings with Jesus. The Roman world left behind senate records and volumes of other writings, which provide historians with a large amount of data, yet nothing about Jesus. Edward Gibbon, writing in the latter half of the eighteenth century in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, stated:
“How shall we excuse the supine inattention of the Pagan and philosophic world to those evidences which were presented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses? During the age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their first disciples, the doctrine which they preached was confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, demons were expelled, and the laws of nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the Church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the moral or physical government of the world.”
Gibbon devoted twenty or so years of his life to his classic seventeen-volume work on the Roman Empire. It’s the result of exhaustive research, so we can trust that his comments are authoritative.
Saint Paul, who probably appeared on the historical scene only fifteen plus years after Yeshua’s death, does repeatedly commend his Christ, but some scholars suspect he refers to a different character to the human Yeshua. If this is so, his references to “Jesus” are interpolations. Whether or not Paul’s Christ was Yeshua, his writings are remarkably deficient in facts about Jesus.
Pliny the younger did mention the existence of Christians in Asia Minor in 112 CE, but wrote nothing about Jesus the person.
It’s said that in 115 CE, the Roman historian Tacitus made the first mention of Jesus. However, this reference isn’t mentioned by any of the church Fathers (eminent priests and theologians of early Christianity) and is considered by many historians to be a forgery. This reference is frequently referred to in pro-Christian literature.
The surprising truth is that no contemporary literate official, scribe, merchant, soldier or priest documented details about Jesus that have survived. If he’d preached to thousands, cured cripples, expelled demons, and risen from the dead, surely some of these people would have jotted down some notes about him, but it appears they didn’t.
Despite the dearth of reputable evidence, I think a man named Yeshua probably did exist, and that parts of the Gospel plots are loosely based on his life. My reasoning is as follows.
There is non-biblical evidence for the existence of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, and for James, Jesus’ brother. John and James were leaders of a Jewish sect, the Nazarenes, and many scholars claim Yeshua was their boss between these two, an idea that fits with what we know about Yeshua. The Nazarenes soldiered on for a few centuries after Jesus’ death, weren’t Christians, and there’s evidence from the church fathers’ writings that they believed Yeshua had existed.
Paul, the creator of Christian theology, claimed he met James and Peter, who may have been Yeshua’s brother and disciple.
I propose that Yeshua probably existed, but his life story was far less remarkable than the Gospels would have us believe. I think his genuine historical record, if it ever existed, would have recorded his insignificance, so was destroyed by evangelical Christians sometime in the second, third or fourth centuries.
Once Yeshua’s existence is assumed, anyone who writes about him must comb through the Gospels to get specifics about his life. This is unfortunate, because the Gospels are unreliable records; yet to do so is unavoidable because details about him are lacking in other literature.
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