Historical Evidence of Jesus. Josephus accounts

Now, I’m debating with a sciencey type guy who claims that there is no historical evidence of Jesus and that he was not the leader of the christian movement. He claims that Roman journalists would’ve written down the wonders of Jesus and also would’ve written down that he was apart of this religious “cult”. He also denys the validity of the gospels. Now I mentioned the writings of Josephus, but he states BOTH quotes are fakes. Do you guys have any resources I might can use which are not made by Catholics which shows that Jesus did in fact exist and that he did start the Christian movement?

Here’s a good non-Catholic reference, written by former atheist Lee Strobel:
The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus

amazon.com/The-Case-Christ-Journalists-Investigation/dp/0310209307

topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-case-for-christ/

Ask him why no Roman journalists bothered to write down anything about the Nero Caesar, the filppin’ Emperor of the Roman Empire (his reign lasted 14 years, longer than most Caesars). The earliest account of Nero comes from someone writing 50 years after Nero’s death. The next two are from 150 years after Nero’s death.

There are FAR MORE contemporary and near-contemporary accounts of Jesus (a condemned criminal who was not even a Roman citizen) than about Nero, the Emperor of the Roman Empire.

Would your friend thus claim that Nero never existed? Just because the contemporary and near-contemporary historical record about him is practically non-existent?

But your friend is right about one thing - the Josephus quotes are fakes. So we don’t have any early non-Christian writings about Jesus. Of course, we have no early non-Roman writings about ANY Roman Emperor. Why are Christian historians (writing about Christians) considered unreliable, but Roman historians (writing about Romans) are considered acceptable? And, mind you, all of these Roman historians were not merely Roman - they were all members of the Roman Senatorial Caste. It’s a bunch of uppity Romans writing about uppity Romans.

You may be dealing with a mythicist. In which case, he’s not scientific, but “scientistic.” People who are taken with the mythicist idea are kinda kooky. I might just say that there are no mainstream scholars that seriously question whether Jesus existed.

Bart Ehrman himself, who posits an skeptical alternative history of Christianity, himself wrote a book, “Did Jesus Exist?” refuting the mythicist claim.

To me, the existence of Christianity is a pretty strong piece of evidence, but die-hard mythicists won’t accept that. Why did a persecuted sect (Jesus’ followers, later called “Christians”) make up a story about a guy, when it subject them to persecution by both Jewish and Roman authorities from very early on? It would be politically (and actually) suicidal for early Christians to just make him up.

With regard to Josephus, it’s the Testamonium Flavianum that contains the text in question. Most scholars accept it as containing a kernel of historicallly reliable reference to Jesus, but also interpolations from later Christian scribes. Here’s a reconstruction of what most scholars think is the real (plain text) vs. interpolated (bold text):
"About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man* [if indeed one ought to call him a man.] **For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. **[He was the Christ.] **When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. ** [On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him.] *And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared."
Here’s a translation of 10th Century Arabic version of it, which does not contain the bold text:
“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And 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. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”
Note that this version includes the phrasing “They reported…” The Arabic version probably was translated from an earlier Greek version. I got this text from this web site.

Aside from Josephus, there are also references to Jesus in the writings of the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius.

Tacitus’ Annals contain the following passage about how Nero blamed the great fire of Rome in 64 AD on Christians, within which he recounts the death of Jesus:
“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 Judæa, 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. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind”.

Suetonius refers to the expulsion of Jews from Rome by the emperor Claudius (reigned 41-54 AD):
“Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”
This is not a slam dunk, because skeptics will point out the misspelling of Christus as Chrestus.

In his work on Nero, Suetonius also mentions Christianity:
“Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”

Mara bar Serapion was a Stoic philosopher in Syria, who wrote about people who killed their wise men and leaders.
“What else can we say, when the wise are forcibly dragged off by tyrants, their wisdom is captured by insults, and their minds are oppressed and without defense? What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the “new law” he laid down.”
The “wise king” is generally believed to represent Jesus, who laid down a “new law” (i.e., Matthew 5:17-18).

The Babylonian Talmud includes what scholars like Andreas Kostenberger believe to be a clear (hostile) reference to Jesus:
“It is taught: On the eve of Passover they hung Yeshu and the crier went forth for forty days beforehand declaring that “[Yeshu] is going to be stoned for practicing witchcraft, for enticing and leading Israel astray. Anyone who knows something to clear him should come forth and exonerate him.” But no one had anything exonerating for him and they hung him on the eve of Passover.”

I don’t know if it’ll help, but Galatians 2, which most scholars agree was written by Paul in the early 50s AD, includes a chronology that puts Paul’s meeting with Peter and James in Jerusalem in the late 30s.

The notion that Roman “journalists” would have covered Jesus is pretty silly. Travel wasn’t easy then, and there was no telephone or internet. Even letters had to be carried physically over long distances. I wouldn’t discount the Gospels so readily. As noted by Amy-Jill Levine, the New Testament is a primary historical source for information on Judaism of the time! If it contains information that scholars of Judaism think is useful, why shouldn’t people find its information on Jesus useful?

He believes that Josephus was fake or his writings on Jesus were fake? If so on what basis? And if Jesus wasn’t the leader of the Christian movement, who was and how did it start? Ask him for his evidence, not his or someone’s conjecture.

Also, the New Testament, the Gospels in particular, are a historical account of the life of Jesus. It’s not complete in everything he said or did but it is sufficient that we should know that he is the Son of God, prophesied in the Old Testament.

The Gospels are reasonable evidence of Jesus’ existence. They are not reasonable evidence of the fulfilment of the OT prophecies since they were written after those prophecies, and were ‘adjusted’ to fit.

For example, the two accounts of Jesus birth in Bethlehem have a lot of problems, such as a complete misunderstanding of Roman censuses and a ten year gap between King Herod and Quirinus. The Gospel writers knew about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem, so they had a problem explaining how Jesus “of Nazareth” came to be born in Bethlehem. Matthew and Luke came up with different solutions to the problem, which do not match. Anyone arguing against the historicity of the Gospels will likely be aware of these problems.

Historically the most probable thing is that Jesus was a heterodox Jewish preacher, born in Nazareth. Jesus-as-myth is likely incorrect. However, stories have been added to the core of Jesus’ life, as tended to happen with famous people, and some of those stories are recorded in the Gospels. Any reading of contemporary biographies: Plutarch, Suetonius, Josephus etc. shows some inclusion of legendary material. Suetonius’ Lives of the Emperors has miraculous happenings at the birth of many Emperors.

rossum

Thanks again everyone.

Interesting information. Glad I took the time to read.:thumbsup:

Actually I may need one last thing. Does anyone have a source which claims that quote from Josephus was a partial forgery? Someone who is a scholar that is.

yes for sure.

They are not reasonable evidence of the fulfillment of the OT prophecies

Rossum, do you have a list of all the OT prophecies that Jesus fulfills?

since they were written after those prophecies,

by definition of course they were written afterwards…how can anything later in time not be?

and were ‘adjusted’ to fit

certainly this is your opinion. the question then remains how to explain what you perceive as discrepancies.

such as a complete misunderstanding of Roman censuses

Please elaborate here.

and a ten year gap between King Herod and Quirinus.

Please elaborate here too.

However, stories have been added to the core of Jesus’ life, as tended to happen with famous people, and some of those stories are recorded in the Gospels. Any reading of contemporary biographies: Plutarch, Suetonius, Josephus etc. shows some inclusion of legendary material. Suetonius’ Lives of the Emperors has miraculous happenings at the birth of many Emperors.

The over riding question being asked is: was Jesus who he said he was? The Son of God, God incarnate come to earth for the salvation of mankind. The twelve apostles spent three years with him and were witnesses of his death, resurrection and ascension. Eleven out of the twelve, plus St. Paul died as Martyrs believing so as did many of their descendants.

The question is why would these people do so and all lie about what they heard, saw and experienced?

PnP

Were they really martyred though or was that also part of a legendary add on that exagerrates reality?

I think what hes saying is Jesus existed. But, his story might be legend regarding the things He accomplished here on earth, as was done to several other historical figures.

The wikipedia page is pretty good: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus

It is the prophecies not fulfilled that are more important. Being born in Bethlehem is doubtful, see below. Rebuilding the temple, uniting the Jewish people and bringing in 1,000 years of peace have definitely not been fulfilled. Partial fulfilment does not a Messiah make. I myself partially fulfil the prophecies of the Messiah, since I am male. Very partially, but better than half the population of the world.

When Jesus has fulfilled all the prophecies then we can look again. That will take at least 1,000 years and some building work in Jerusalem.

Please elaborate here.

1) Roman Censuses: we have census records from Egyptian papyri, so we have a good idea of how Romans ran their censuses. Firstly, they only ran censuses in Roman provinces, not in client kingdoms. King Herod was ruler of a client kingdom, so there was no Roman census during Herod’s reign. The censuses were run on new provinces to assess them for taxes: a poll tax and a property tax. You were taxed on any house you owned. Legendary ancestry was of no importance, and you were expected to be taxed in your normal place of residence: Nazareth for Mary and Joseph. This is a made-up story hung on the post-Herod census to allow Jesus to be born in the prophesied place, not in Nazareth where His parents lived.

2) Herod and Quirinus: Both Herod and Quirinus are mentioned in Josephus. Herod’s death is dated about 4 BCE, or possibly 6 BCE. Quirinus became governor of Syria in 6 CE. That is at least a ten year time difference between the two men. Matthew’s account associates Jesus’ birth with Herod, so it must have happened before Herod died. Luke’s account dates the birth with Quirinus becoming governor of Syria, Luke 2:2. That is a ten year discrepancy between the two stories.

Jesus was an obscure carpenter, “of Nazareth”. After he died, the Gospel authors were well aware of the prophecies that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, not in Nazareth. Both Matthew and Luke came up with a story explaining how Jesus of Nazareth was really born in Bethlehem, as required by the prophecy. The prophecy was only “fulfilled” because the stories were written that way. Unfortunately the two authors didn’t coordinate their stories, and we can still see the discrepancies.

Eleven out of the twelve, plus St. Paul died as Martyrs believing so as did many of their descendants.

I have no doubt that the Apostles believed that Jesus was very special.

The question is why would these people do so and all lie about what they heard, saw and experienced?

Paul never met Jesus. I am not sure about Luke. None of the Bible authors were actually present at Jesus’ birth, so those stories have to be hearsay.

rossum

It seems like you don’t get how Jesus was actually redefining the expectations of the Messiah. During his ministry, so many of the parables were about why the Kingdom of God is radically different from what everyone expected, his fellow Jews included. If you look at the parable of the unruly Tenants, it’s a clear example of Jesus talking about how Israel had not listened to the prior prophets God sent. If you look at the parable of the wedding feast where none of the original guests show up (Matthew 22:1-14), it’s a clear depiction of how God had extended chances to Israel, and that Israel had rejected those offers, and how Jesus was putting forth new way of being Israel that was faithful to God. Jesus, like John the Baptist before him, indicted the Temple for its corruption (e.g., the cleansing of the temple, the cursing of the fig tree), and predicted the destruction of Jerusalem unless Israel would change its ways. In Mark 13 and the Synoptic parallels, he tells his followers to run away from the coming disaster, because (reading the context) Rome was going to destroy it. That’s the clear meaning there, and in Luke 23:28-31, where he warns the “daughters of Jerusalem” of the coming calamity, “for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” Who’s Jesus talking about? The Romans!

He’s calling the people, including those around him (and us today), to live a life where love is the law, and not one where we seize temporal power as other pretenders to the Messiah claimed. Look at Mark 10, as Jesus berates James and John for their ambition for worldly power: “42… You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. 43 But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; 44 whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”

It’s clear that Jesus’ disciples expected just the kind of messiah you’re saying everyone should expect (arguably, it’s why Judas betrayed him), and it’s just as clear that Jesus shocked them with what his version of the Kingdom of God meant. Look at what Cleopas and his companion (possibly his wife) said on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24: “19… The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. 21 But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place."

Other examples include Jesus stopping his followers from defending him during the arrest at Gesthemane / Kidron Valley, Jesus’ response to Pilate in John 18: 36, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here,” and so much more.

Jesus is not the kind of Messiah you’re describing. You’re describing one that is exactly what his followers expected, and that’s exactly what the Gospels (and the Epistles of Paul) say he wasn’t.

Luke getting dates wrong for Quirinius doesn’t substantively affect the rest of the New Testament. Actually, we have other instances where Luke gets chronology wrong. In Acts 5:36-37, he mentions two messianic claimants, Theudas and Judas of Galilee, and says that Judas was after Theudas, but as the US Catholic Bishops’ web site mentions, that wasn’t right.

Also, he has a few things that skeptics tend to overlook. Like how in Luke 1:39, Mary departs “in haste” from Nazareth. It doesn’t say why. But if you think about the end of the reign of Herod the Great, you can read between the lines… the destruction of Sepphoris in 4 BC included two Roman units, one of which attacked the rebels in the city, and the other of which scoured the countryside for rebel supporters. Nazareth is about 4 miles from Sepphoris. Now the author of Luke-Acts goes out of his way to show that Christianity was not a direct political threat to the Roman empire, but the Roman destruction of Sepphoris shows that there was a lot of danger for a young woman at the time and place that Luke describes Mary as being.

Luke may have been confusing two rebellions in Galilee. That in 4 BC and another in 6 AD, the latter of which (led by Judas of Galilee) did occur in during the reign of Quirinius, who did impose a census for collecting tax. In Acts 5, the author of Luke-Acts writes of Judas’ followers, all “who were loyal to him were scattered.” Jesus would have been a boy of about 9 years old during the tax rebellion led by Judas of Galilee. Don’t you think he’d remember it if the Roman army was invading his homeland?

Now you’re making a big deal about the birth in Bethlehem, and proposing that the infancy narratives are just whole-cloth inventions. But the history provides reasons for why Joseph and Mary would not want to be in Galilee in either 4 BC or 6 AD.

Jesus was an obscure carpenter, “of Nazareth”.

He was a tekton, which might be better translated as a craftsman or builder. He probably grew up rebuilding Sepphoris.

After he died, the Gospel authors were well aware of the prophecies that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, not in Nazareth. Both Matthew and Luke came up with a story explaining how Jesus of Nazareth was really born in Bethlehem, as required by the prophecy. The prophecy was only “fulfilled” because the stories were written that way. Unfortunately the two authors didn’t coordinate their stories, and we can still see the discrepancies.

Think about that. If they didn’t coordinate their stories, why do they both have so much in common? There are commonalities between Luke and Matthew (whose narrative is heavy with midrash on Exodus – e.g., the slaughter of the firstborns): the birth during the reign of Herod, the need to flee south, birth in Bethlehem, and the return to Nazareth. To me, if you mix in the rebellions and Roman military suppression of Galilee, it adds a whole new layer to what was happening.

Luke got dates wrong. Matthew, writing from a Jewish-Christian perspective, used midrash to explain the theological significance of the birth of Jesus. Not a big deal.

I have no doubt that the Apostles believed that Jesus was very special.

And they’d be suicidally stupid to make Roman authorities think that they weren’t Jews, because Jews were allowed not to sacrifice to the Imperial Genius. Yet they split from the other sects of Judaism at the time, and were subject to massive persecution over time. That persecution shows up throughout the New Testament, the writings of Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, Ireneaus, Polycarp…

Ancient people weren’t stupid. They knew dead people stayed dead, just as much as we in our post-Enlightenment age. Yet they went around, getting stoned, tortured, beheaded, and crucified to tell the world around them that Jesus rose from the dead.

Paul never met Jesus. I am not sure about Luke. None of the Bible authors were actually present at Jesus’ birth, so those stories have to be hearsay.

It’s not clear if any of the Bible writers knew Jesus personally. Paul says God revealed his Son to him (Galatians 1:16), which is corroborated by Acts 9:4-6. Paul details that he met with Peter in Jerusalem, which we can date at least 14 years before he wrote Galatians (using chapters 1-2), which probably was written either 48-50 or 54-55 AD, putting his meeting with Peter between 34 and 41 AD (he says this was 3 years after his revelation).

I didn’t claim any direct effect on the rest of the NT. All I claimed was a direct effect on the veracity of the stories surrounding Jesus birth, where none of the Gospel writers were eye-witnesses and had very obvious motives for writing the story that should have happened.

Actually, we have other instances where Luke gets chronology wrong.

Which indicates that there is not some divine protection from error in the Gospels. We can treat Matthew and Luke as we would any other ancient writer, some facts mixed with some stories. Suetonius was happy to give stories of miracles along with some real history of the emperors.

Now you’re making a big deal about the birth in Bethlehem, and proposing that the infancy narratives are just whole-cloth inventions.

There are too many discrepancies between the two different stories for both to be correct. Any Jew who sincerely believed that Jesus was the Messiah would have ‘known’ that Jesus had to have been born in Bethlehem, and the stories were written accordingly.

There was a blank in Jesus’ life story round His birth. The two Evangelists filled the blank with what they ‘knew’ must have happened. In the same way, Thucydides wrote down the speeches he thought various people should have given on important occasions, despite not being there in person. Filling in obvious gaps was not uncommon among ancient historians.

rossum

Or alternatively, Jesus followers were redefining the OT prophecies so that they matched Jesus’ life. Basically, Jesus’ story was retrofitted to some of the OT prophecies, with the ones that didn’t fit being postponed until the Second Coming.

Jesus immediate Jewish followers knew the OT texts, so they would have been able to do some post-editing on Jesus’ life story to improve the fit.

rossum

Really? Do you have a link or something that explains more about that?

Some blog posts debunking the Jesus myth theory

armariummagnus.blogspot.com/2011/05/nailed-ten-christian-myths-that-show.html
armariummagnus.blogspot.com/2014/01/did-jesus-exist-jesus-myth-theory-again.html

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