Jesus: the Man, the Myth (Part 1)

(Reposted from April for some Christmas reflection.)


It has become a fad among pop-atheists and agnostics to deny the reality of Jesus Christ’s existence. Documentaries such as “The God Who Wasn’t There”[1]explore the possibility that “Jesus” was a spiritual message, not a historical person. Likewise, Zeitgeist,[2]which the filmmakers have provided free,[3] argues that Jesus is just another avatar myth and states “there are very high odds that the figure known as Jesus, did not even exist.” In an interesting discussion on “The Infidel Guy” radio program[4] (which began on the supposed corruption of the New Testament), Dr. Bart Ehrman (who disbelieves in the orthodox view of Jesus) was forced to defend the position that Jesus Christ existed.[5]

These attacks are not unique, but represent a conscious hatred of anything appearing “Christian” in history among many young, self-described free-thinkers on the Internet. Their attacks are not the focus of this paper, but they give cause for us to examine the human Jesus. Thus, we will look briefly at the external evidence that Jesus walked the earth. Then, we will move on to look at what the New Testament has to say about His earthly existence.

Tacitus, in speaking of suspicion that Nero started the blaze that leveled a third of Rome, says Nero turned blame on the Christians. He writes,
Consequently, to get rid of the report, 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 Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. [6]
This passage betrays Tacitus’ negative opinion towards the Christian faith, which is evidence of its authenticity. He writes of Christian “abominations,” calling the faith “a most mischievous superstition” and “evil.” He lumps the Christian faith with “all things hideous and shameful.” Because of this, it is doubtful that quote is a later interpolation (addition) of Christians to prove Christ’s existence, as is the common charge against this citation from Jospehus:
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 over 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 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. [7]
By contrast, Josephus gushes with Christian language—unlikely sentiments from a Jew never professing faith in Jesus as Messiah—making its alteration by believing copyists a real possibility.
However, we should be careful to note that alteration and invention are different matters, for Josephus likely spoke about Jesus. Josephus notes later in the Antiquities that “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others” were “delivered them over [to the high priest] to be stoned.”[8] This passage is likely genuine, as Christian copyists would not insert “so-called” as a qualifier to “Christ,” and would probably use the “brother of the Lord” formula of Galatians 1:19 rather than “of Jesus… Christ.”

Both Tacitus and Josephus stand as first and second century extra-biblical confessors of the reality of Jesus’ earthly existence. While we could look at other evidence, such as the letter by Pliny the Younger or the disputed contributions of the Talmud, for the sake of space and intended purpose, we will turn from further external testimony. We will now turn to the Scripture’s examination of Jesus.

A real person
Christ grew as any child would (Luke 2:40, 52). He, as French says, “attended the synagogue schools in Nazareth, mastering the principles of reading and writing under the guidance of real human teachers.”[9] He learned obedience (Heb 5:8).

When He met the woman at the well, she knew she was speaking with a Jew (John 4:9). He grew hungry (Mark 11:12). He experienced dehydration on the cross (John 19:28). He grew weary (John 4:6). He wept at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35). He seemed to desire companionship in Gethsemane (Matt 26:36–40). He was human, if not also divine.

To be continued...

_____________________________

Notes:

[1] Available at http://www.thegodmovie.com/.

[2] See http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com/.

[3] Available at Google Video, http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-594683847743189197. The transcript of the film is available athttp://www.zeitgeistmovie.com/transcript.htm, but note that the film takes fourteen minutes to reach the material listed in the transcript.

[4] Show site at http://www.infidelguy.com/.

[5] Podcast currently available at http://www.podcastdirectory.com/podshows/2160513.

[6] Tacitus, Annals: Translated into English with Notes and Maps, trans. Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb (London, McMillan and Co., 1906), 304. Book on-line. Available fromhttp://books.google.com/books?id=pSYMAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=tacitus,+annals&ei=IXrBSeTtAonAlQSRxNSFCA. Accessed 18 March 2009.

[7] Flavius Josephus. The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus, trans. William Whiston. (Chicago: Thompson and Thomas, 1901), 441. Book on-line. Available from http://books.google.com/books?id=C8HQPbznWW4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=josephus,+Antiquities&ei=L4PBSfSMBIHqkwS58uE1. Accessed 18 March 2009.
[8] Josephus, The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus, 494.

[9] French, Ivan. “The Man Christ Jesus.” Grace Theological Journal 1, no. 2 (1980): 187.

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