Why think that (1) … Jesus existed?

Christianity is a historical faith. Christianity is founded on the figure of Jesus and so it really matters whether Jesus was a real person or not. If he did not exist then our seeking ends there. But if Jesus did exist then we can move on to the more interesting questions of what he did, who he claimed to be and in what ways he is special.

What is unusual about the question of Jesus’ existence is that it is a loaded question. The majority of historians recognize that Jesus existed and yet you will find plenty of skeptics who think that the existence of Jesus is still an open question. Of all known individuals from the first century AD very few feature in as many sources written within living memory as Jesus and yet of all known individuals from the first century AD it is Jesus whose existence is doubted. This disparity between what reliable historical methods indicate and what skeptics choose to doubt tells you something about the sort of question this is.

So let’s recap the evidence, starting with non-Christian sources. Perhaps the most well-known source is Josephus, who in one passage talks about “Jesus … a doer of wonderful works”, whom Pilate condemned to the cross (Antiquities 18.63-64). Many people think this text has been tampered with because it includes the line “he was the Christ” (and it’s unlikely that Josephus, a Jew, would have said that) so we cannot be sure what this passage originally wrote. But this is not the only time Josephus mentions Jesus. In another passage he talks about an early Christian elder, who was stoned to death; Josephus describes him as “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ” (Antiquities 20.9).

Mara bar ‘Serapion: Assyrian Stoic philosopher in the Roman province of Syria

Another Jewish writer, Mara Bar-Serapion, mentions a “wise king” whom the Jews put to death in a letter to his son. Many scholars believe this “wise king” was Jesus. The Talmud, the book of Jewish tradition, also contains stories about Jesus. Though greatly embellished and particularly anti-Christian, the Talmud refers explicitly to the death of Jesus “on the eve of the Passover” (Sanhedrin 43a).

Nuremberg chronicles f 111r 1.png

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus c. 69 AD Rome, Roman Empire

Jesus is also mentioned by two Roman historians. Tacitus records that “Christus … suffered the extreme penalty” under Pontius Pilate (Annals 15.44) and Suetonius mentions one “Chrestus”, whose followers were causing disruption in Rome (Life of Claudius 25). The Roman satirist Lucian writes about the founder of Christianity, who was crucified (The Death of Peregrine).

It is significant that early critics of Christianity, like the Platonist philosopher Celsus, did not dispute that Jesus existed – they only disputed the claims he made.

Of course, our main source of information about Jesus comes from texts written by Christians in the first century. These include texts from the late 40s or early 50s, like James and the Didache; texts from the mid-50s, like Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, Thessalonians and Romans; and, of course, the gospels, which probably date from the 60s or 70s. All easily within living memory of the events of Jesus’ life.

This is why historians do not doubt the existence of Jesus – you’d need to ignore all the evidence.

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Additional reading:

  1. Who was Jesus?
  2. Some christians do have problems with the Christian connection with Jews
  3. A Jewish Theocracy
  4. First Century of Christianity
  5. The Beginning of the life of Jesus Christ
  6. Jesus begotten Son of God #2 Christmas and pagan rites
  7. Jesus begotten Son of God #7 A matter of the Future
  8. Jesus begotten Son of God #8 Found Divinely Created not Incarnated
  9. Jesus begotten Son of God #9 Two millennia ago conceived or begotten
  10. Jesus begotten Son of God #10 Coming down spirit or flesh seed of Eve
  11. Jesus begotten Son of God #11 Existence and Genesis Raising up
  12. Jesus begotten Son of God #12 Son of God
  13. Jesus begotten Son of God #13 Pre-existence excluding virginal birth of the Only One Transposed
  14. Jesus begotten Son of God #14 Beloved Preminent Son and Mediator originating in Mary
  15. Jesus begotten Son of God #15 Son of God Originating in Mary
  16. Jesus begotten Son of God #17 Adam, Eve, Mary and Christianity’s central figure
  17. Jesus begotten Son of God #18 Believing in inhuman or human person
  18. Jesus begotten Son of God #19 Compromising fact
  19. Jesus begotten Son of God #20 Before and After
  20. Trusting, Faith, calling and Ascribing to Jehovah #1 Kings Faith
  21. The meek one riding on an ass
  22. Jesus spoke Hebrew and Aramaic
  23. Believing what Jesus says
  24. If Shroud of Turin was fake, how come no man on earth able to replicate it
  25. History of the acceptance of a three-in-one God
  26. Christianity is a love affair

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  • Evidence Of Jesus IS Meaningless (thebuybulljournal.wordpress.com)
    Sextus, who claimed this reference of Thalius, was a christian who’s life was dedicated to christianity full time (motive of lying and fabrication).
  • Book Review: Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (Part IV) (diglotting.com)
    Pokorný’s application of the criterion of dissimilarity. He uses it in regards to the analysis of “the stylistic and rhetorical peculiarities of the early Jesus traditions”. He mentions that while the criterion of dissimilarity has been heavily criticized in recent times, it “does not mean that [it] should be abandoned” (338). But regarding the criterion of multiple attestation, Pokorný notes that its validity “is limited” and that he “would almost warn against it” (339).In an attempt to sketch an image of Jesus, Pokorný analyzes the Pauline evidence, the Synoptic traditions, and the Johannine traditions.
  • The Historicity of Jesus: Ancient Pagan Sources (3dchristianity.wordpress.com) + Josephus on Jesus: Evidence for Jesus’ Existence?Thankfully, there are non-Christian ancient documents that mentioned Jesus that we can turn to. There are, at least, seven ancient Classical or Greco-Roman authors who mentioned Jesus that scholars have attested as authentic. And there are various ancient Jewish writings as well, the most famous being the Jewish historian Flavious Josephus.
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    we have a historical corroboration of the New Testament that Jesus and James existed, they were brothers and that early Christians were in trouble with the religious authorities of Judaism, and persecuted.
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    look at pagan Greco-Roman authors as sources for the historical Jesus
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    We learn that about 80 years after Jesus was crucified, Christians have grown in such number that they were a threat to the Roman Empire and were being persecuted. We learn that early Christians met regularly on a determined day (perhaps Sunday) and sang hymns to Christ as if Christ is god. Also that early Christians were rather exemplary in their moral behaviour. And that early Christians would not worship or bow down to other gods/idols/images, and would not revile or curse Christ. The overall tone here suggests that Pliny assumed Christ was a real person whom the Christians worshiped.
  • “Is This Not the Carpenter?” – References to Jesus outside the Christian Sources (vridar.wordpress.com)
    Grabbe sugests that Tacitus more than likely had access to imperial archives and accordingly argues the likelihood that Tacitus did indeed pore through those official documents to acquire his material, including the fact of Christ’s crucifixion under Pilate.
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    I was particularly disappointed that Grabbe failed even to point out that in one of the key passages in Suetonius that the name appearing there, Chrestus, was a common slave name of the day. Readers are led to understand only one possibility: that Suetonius confused the name Christ for Chrestus:

    Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [the emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome.

    Maybe this did originate as a confused account of Jewish Christians. Even if so, it tells us nothing about a Jesus in Galilee over a decade earlier. The passage appears to understand “Christ” (if this was originally meant) as a figure the troublesome Jews believed was in their midst in Rome.

  • Jesus’ Existence, Myth of Fact? (theperfectprescription2014.wordpress.com)
    Even without reference to Scripture the case for the existence of Jesus is as axiomatic as the case for any other historical figure such as Julius Caesar. Extra biblical material compiled by historians and archaeologists is replete with attestations that the Lord Jesus walked on earth in the flesh. Bible students interested in studying further about the testimonies of non-Christian historical sources can look up the following ….
  • Secular Historians Prove Jesus was a real Historical Person (nathanaelcoffman.wordpress.com)
    What we tend to overlook, as Christians, is that many seek to disprove Christianity by disproving the historical figure of Christ. One internet article writer said, “Christianity was the ultimate product of religious syncretism in the ancient world. Its emergence owed nothing to a holy carpenter. There were many Jesuses but the fable was a cultural construct” (“Welcome…”). There are many others who feel this way and even have well formulated arguments to support these claims. This paper shall seek to disprove the “Jesus the cultural concept,” by quoting ancient historians who mention Jesus. To further the argument that Jesus was a real historical man who lived and died (and resurrected) on this earth, one could use the work of secular historians. Through a chronological listing and study of these secular historians and their writings, one could prove both the legitimacy of the secular historians as well
  • Craig S. Keener: Jesus Existed (huffingtonpost.com)
    Contrary to some circles on the Internet, very few scholars doubt that Jesus existed, preached and led a movement. Scholars’ confidence has nothing to do with theology but much to do with historiographic common sense. What movement would make up a recent leader, executed by a Roman governor for treason, and then declare, “We’re his followers”? If they wanted to commit suicide, there were simpler ways to do it.One popular objection is that only Christians wrote anything about Jesus. This objection is neither entirely true nor does it reckon with the nature of ancient sources. It usually comes from people who have not worked much with ancient history. Only a small proportion of information from antiquity survives, yet it is often sufficient.
  • 6. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Jewish Sources (vridar.wordpress.com)
  • Joe Atwill, Bill O’Reilly, and Josephus sitting in a tree… (unsettledchristianity.com)
    Atwill’s most intriguing discovery came to him while he was studying “Wars of the Jews” by Josephus [the only surviving first-person historical account of first-century Judea] alongside the New Testament.
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    I do believe Mark is writing against Rome (Vespasian) and even fellow Jews (Simon bar Giora) by using known stories he is doing so based on a historical figure and a pre-existing outline. This is the only way it would work and the only way Mark could appeal to /an/Christians.
  • Josephus on Jesus: Evidence for Jesus’ Existence? (3dchristianity.wordpress.com)
  • Proof of Jesus outside the Bible (thatfaith.wordpress.com)
  • The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth (religion.blogs.cnn.com)
  • Encouragement doesn’t “just happen” | Darkness Inverte
  • The Central Challenge of Discipleship: Recognizing Jesus
  • Letter to a friend on Jesus and the end of the age of decay
  • Jesus in the Talmud
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4 thoughts on “Why think that (1) … Jesus existed?

  1. Pingback: Why think that (2) … Jesus claimed to be something special | Stepping Toes

  2. Pingback: Why think that (3) … Jesus rose from the dead | Stepping Toes

  3. Pingback: Why think that (4) … God would reveal himself in words | Stepping Toes

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