Jesus Christ + Julius Caesar
Who has the most evidence - JC or JC?
It is frequently said that there is more evidence for Jesus Christ than for Julius Caesar. Surely, that's not true! I have a history degree and I am quite certain that it isn't true.
Further; not only do some Christians claim that there is more evidence for Jesus than for Caesar, they claim that there are thousands of times more evidence!
Thousands of times more!?
Where is it?
I can only assume that they are referring to all existing Bibles / Biblical manuscripts and parts thereof.
But one cannot, for example, take the 'Book of Mark' as a piece of evidence and then take every copy of it as a new piece of evidence!
Early copies may be helpful in learning more about a document, but they cannot be counted as further pieces of evidence.
* * * *
The real problem, for me, is that some highly respected experts seem to support the idea that evidence for Julius Caear is either unreliable or in short supply.
I find that bewildering!
So let's check this out: JC or JC; for whom is there more and / or better evidence?
Jesus - Arguments
We should bear in mind that this 'debate' is not really concerned with Julius Caesar; it is an attempt to prove that Jesus was a real man.
This argument, concerning the lack of evidence for Caesar, is put forth by those who believe in the existence Jesus; whether or not they are Christians.
However, Christians want more. They want to prove that, not only was Jesus a real man, but he was also a real God.
Some areas of this topic deserve particular attention:
~ The evidence supplied by Josephus (supposedly), is really important.
~ A book and recent statements, from Bart Ehrman, are also worthy of inspection.
Further reading will be found in the links, for those who want to know more.
Nativity - Duccio’s Maestá, 13th century
Evidence for Jesus - What Is Evidence?
Before considering the evidence that we have Jesus, we should ask: what constitutes evidence?
Evidence might be any artefact, which indicates that something is true or real.
The Oxford Online Dictionary states that it is 'the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.'
This might include witness testimony, contemporary records, relevant images, relevant objects, etc.
Some evidence is reliable and some is less so.
What sort of evidence do we have for Jesus?
Crucifixion - Simon Vouet - 1622
Evidence for Jesus: Ancient Documents
There are mentions of Jesus in a number of ancient documents:
1. Canonical Gospels - authors unknown, but attributed to saints Mark, Matthew, Luke and John
2. Non-canonical Gospels, eg Thomas, Philip, James, John, Judas and others
3. Mentions in other parts of the New Testament; eg Acts of the Apostles; Letters of St Paul, etc. [Not all of Paul's letters were actually written by Paul.]
4. Apparent mentions in the work of Josephus Flavius
5. Apparent mentions in the work of Pliny the Younger
6. Apparent mentions in the work of Tacitus
7. Apparent mentions in the work of Suetonius
8. Mentions by Papias
9. Apparent mentions in the Talmud
* * *
'The Resurrection of Christ' by Noel Coypel - 1700
How reliable is the evidence?
Reliable evidence is usually contemporary and corroborated.
None of the available evidence for Jesus is contemporary.
Can any of the available evidence for Jesus be corroborated?
The Gospels do support each other, in parts, but they also contradict each other, in parts.
Furthermore, the synoptic gospels, in particular, have been shown to rely heavily on each other, and on earlier, non-extant, documents.
Documents that appear to be derived from each other cannot be used as corroborative evidence of each other; neither can non-existent documents.
In addition, the Gospels were 'Good News' stories; not histories. Thus, by their very nature, it would be difficult for them to be taken as strong evidence of anything.
Canonical Gospel Dates:
Geza Vermes notes:
"According to mainstream scholarship these [were] .. produced ... between c. AD 70 and 110."
"The large majority of modern scholars date Mark's account ... to ... AD 66-74 - more likely to the years following the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70."
"New Testament scholars place Matthew's work to circa AD 80-100."
"The combined evidence suggests that the fourth Gospel was published in the early second century, probably between the years AD 100 and AD 110."
* * *
Don Cupitt and Peter Armstrong, in their 1977 book 'Who Was Jesus?', give provisional dates, as follows:
Mark: AD 65
Matthew: AD 75
Luke: AD 75
John: AD 85
* * *
James D Tabor, in his 2006 book 'The Jesus Dynasty', provides these dates:
Mark: circa AD 70
Matthew: circa AD 80
Luke: circa AD 90
John: circa AD 99 (?)
Gospel and Non-Gospel New Testament
The Gospels have to be treated with caution. They are our main sources for Jesus, yet they are specifically meant to be 'good news' stories. As such, they do not have to be truthful histories.
Old English 'godspel' was equivalent to Latin 'bona annuntiatio' and Greek 'euangelion'.
The gospels (Canonical and otherwise) were written with a purpose ~ to spread a message. (Compare 'angel' meaning 'messenger').
Furthermore, the Gospels were written after Jesus is believed to have lived. They are not contemporary evidence.
They were written in Greek, but, by whom, remains a mystery.
Elsewhere in the New Testament there is, of course, further mention of Jesus but, often, by the very people who feature as major characters within the Gospel stories. Again, these people cannot be taken as evidence of themselves.
What about Saint Paul?
He acknowledges that he never met or even saw Jesus during his supposed lifetime. Paul is recorded as having described a mystical experience of some kind, but mystical experiences are not considered to be evidence.
Paul's letters generally support the gospel stories, but that is hardly surprising. He was a convert to the 'early Christian' cause and, like the gospels, his epistles were sent out to spread the good news. Indeed, his letters were written earlier than the gospels and may even have influenced some of the content of the gospels.
The stories and the letters were, in effect, missionary work. They include mystical events, miracles and parables, none of which are evidence for a living, breathing person. They might even be termed propaganda for the cause. I do not see how they can be considered as independent corroborative evidence.
Experts agree that a number of letters attributed to Paul were not actually written by him.
I, personally, would say that nothing in the New Testament should be taken as strong evidence, or solid proof, of the existence of Jesus. But it seems that the experts (or, at least, some of them) disagree.
Bart Ehrman, Expert Scholar, Believes in the Man Jesus
Bart D Ehrman, PhD., is James A Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He was once a devout Christian but is now an agnostic. He has a Masters of Divinity and a Ph.D., both from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Ehrman has written many books and in March 2012 he published: 'Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth'. His answer, regarding the existence of Jesus, is in the affirmative.
In an interview, with Reginald Finley, concerning his new book, Ehrman said some (to me) rather surprising things.
Does Ehrman Believe in Julius Caesar
Just to set the record straight, yes, of course Bart Ehrman believes in Julius Caesar!
Here are some quotes from his new book:
'All we [historians] can do is give enough evidence ... to convince enough people ... about a certain historical claim, for example, that Abraham Lincoln really did deliver the Gettysburg Address or that Julius Caesar really did cross the Rubicon. ..... In neither of these particular cases ... is there really much doubt.' (Kindle page 38).
'Julius Caesar left us an account of the Gallic Wars.' (Kindle page 40).
'... some things are far more certain than others. It is far more certain that Julius Caesar fought the Gallic Wars (he wrote about them and we still have the books) than that Apollonius of Tyana raised a genuinely dead person back to life .... Historians deal for the most part in probabilities, and some things are more probable than others.' (Kindle page 288)
Ehrman, Bart D. (March 2012). 'Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth' Harper Collins.
'What hardcore evidence is there that Julius Caesar existed?'
'We have more evidence for Jesus than for almost anybody from his time period.'
* * *
Here are some extracts from an interview, between Reginald Finley and Bart Ehrman, related to the March 2012 publication of Ehrman's book 'Did Jesus Exist?'.
The video can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdqJyk-dtLs
Bart Ehrman: 'I don't think that there is any serious historian who doubts the existence of Jesus'.
Reginald Finley: 'There really isn't any hardcore evidence, though ....'.
Ehrman: 'I disagree with that. What hardcore evidence is there that Julius Caesar existed? .....'
Finley: 'What is the evidence .....? Because we don't have anything that exists, right, until after he died?'
Ehrman: 'But that's true of everyone'.
Finley: 'But we don't have any ancient records of anyone who wrote about Jesus while he was alive, do we?'
Ehrman: 'Just as we don't have for billions of people, who lived in the past, but we're pretty sure existed. I mean .. we have more evidence for Jesus than for almost anybody from his time period. ......'
Agnostic Scholar, Bart Ehrman, would disagree with me!
It would appear that agnostic scholar, Bart Ehrman, whose books I really enjoy, would disagree with at least some of my views and conclusions.
In his 2012 book, he encourages readers to consider the different parts of the New Testament, not as a single entity, but as a set of individual documents, to which can be added at least some of the non-canonical gospels ~ as well as earlier written and oral traditions.
I agree with him, that all historic documents are of value to the historical researcher. And I appreciate that the gospels, etc, were individual items, before being gathered together into the New Testament. But, even after reading this book, I still find it impossible to accept that the New Testament is reliable evidence.
The gospels were just that ~ gospels. They were 'good news stories' with an agenda; to tell of the God-man Jesus. They are bound to support each other, at least in part. And, in Matthew, Mark and Luke ~ and even in small parts of John ~ the similarities are huge; even to the extent of the very same words being used.
Often, the stories include 'prophecy' from the Old Testament, which, clearly, is not a record of Jesus, but an ancient quote. Surely these items cannot be considered, individually, as independent corroborated evidence!
There are angels and miracles, which, though of great interest to believers, cannot be taken as reliable evidence for historians.
And the differences, where they exist, often tend to contradict each other, so certainly cannot be corroborative evidence (or evidence of the perfection of God's book).
It is very likely that earlier Gospels were written, and stories told, which influenced the canonical ones ~ but, if they influenced each other, then they cannot be taken as independent, even if they still existed, which they do not.
Saint Paul's writings are also, apparently, to be taken as corroborative evidence for Jesus. But Paul never met Jesus. He may have heard of his life and works, and known his followers. He may, even, have learned his stories from them - in which case they would be bound to be written in a similar vein.
We don't and cannot know, for sure, who Paul met and what he knew and how much of it was true. We only have letters that were written with a missionary's purpose - including some of 'his' letters that were not, actually, written by him.
The Jesus stories existed; we know that, because Christianity blossomed. But we do not know whether the stories were true.
And, again, Paul's letters had an agenda - a similar agenda to the gospels.
It strikes me that my argument against this 'more evidence for Jesus view' needs to be taken up with Ehrman. Christians repeat it, but Ehrman is the expert. Furthermore, he states that most experts on the planet agree with him.
I admit that this was a huge surprise to me. All of the unbiased, well-read people, with whom I had discussed this subject ~ mostly historians and teachers ~ had been as convinced as I that there is no proof for the existence of Jesus, and that the view that there is more evidence for Jesus than for Caesar is nonsensical. Yet the experts either believe it, or give the impression that they do!
Ehrman may now be agnostic, but I am wondering how many of those other experts are Christians?
Certainly there are experts, who acknowledge that there is no existing contemporary evidence for Jesus.
With all due respect to the experts, who most definitely outrank me as far as both experience and qualifications are concerned, I am still unconvinced that there is enough good evidence to state, with any certainty, that Jesus really lived.
Man-God and Mythicism
The 'mythicists' may or may not be correct when saying that Jesus was fabricated in the tradition of dying and rising God-men. I do not consider myself to be a mythicist. I am interested in the subject, but do not know enough about the early gods.
Ehrman seems to think that the 'mythicists' are mistaken. But let us not forget that Jesus was presented to us as a God-man, not by mythicists, but by the New Testament. This is a demi-God, comparable to Hercules; half God; half human.
Would evidence about Hercules receive the same attention to detail as the search for the historical Jesus is getting?
Would anyone suggest that Hercules was real (though probably not divine) because there are stories about him?
According to the New Testament, God is the father of Jesus and a human woman is his mother. Jesus is considered to be both 'Son of God' and 'God incarnate'.
According to the Gospels, this is what happened after the conception of Jesus:
' .. the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream , saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.'
'.. the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
'And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. .... The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.'
Bart Erhman: 'Did Jesus Exist?'
Bart Ehrman on 'The Mythicists'.
'The Mythicists' believe that Jesus was a mythical character, based on earlier 'God-men' themes.
In one article, Bart Ehrman asks ~ apparently baffled ~ if it is a 'surprise to hear [the suggestion] that Jesus never even existed?'
After all, this is '... the greatest figure in the history of Western civilization, the man on whom the most powerful and influential .... religious institution in the world ... was built, the man worshipped ... by billions ...'
Yet there is doubt about whether he ever lived at all:
"That is the claim made by a .. growing cadre of ... mythicists. ..."
As Ehrman expains:
"Few ... are actually scholars trained in ancient history, religion, biblical studies ... ... there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity ... at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world .."
And Ehrman certainly disagrees with them:
"The reality .... is that Jesus was real. ...."
He makes a few concessions:
"It is true that Jesus is not mentioned in any Roman sources of his day ... these same sources mention scarcely anyone from his time and place.
"it is also true that our best sources about Jesus, the early Gospels, are riddled with problems. These were written decades after Jesus' life by biased authors ...."
But, quite rightly, he notes:
"The question is not whether sources are biased but whether biased sources can be used to yield historically reliable information ....."
And he adds:
"With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) ..... "
* * *
According to NPR Books' site (npr.org):
'Mythicists' arguments are fairly plausible, Ehrman says. According to them, Jesus was never mentioned in any Roman sources and there is no archeological evidence that Jesus ever existed.'
James D Tabor
James D Tabor
James Tabor, Expert Scholar, Believes in the Man Jesus
Professor James D. Tabor is Chair of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Tabor has interpreted the New Testament in his own way and has written a very interesting book: 'The Jesus Dynasty - Stunning New evidence About the Hidden History of Jesus'.
Tabor writes: "the Jesus Dynasty presents the Jesus story in an entirely new light. It is history, not fiction".
"It is history, not fiction". Tabor seems certain that Jesus was a historical figure.
Josephus: Antiquitates Iudaice libri XX, De bello Iudaico libri VII - 1466 Manuscript
Josephus Flavius - A Potentially Important Source
Josephus Flavius lived from 37 AD to about 100 AD. Thus, he was born just a short time after the alleged death of Jesus.
Good testimony from him would be invaluable ~ though still not contemporary. His 'Antiquities of the Jews' was written in around 93 ~ 94 AD.
There is a tendency to accept Josephus's writings as fairly reliable, but they still have to be regarded with some caution. We should always be wary of accepting any evidence at face value.
Furthermore, it must be noted that the earliest surviving Josephus manuscripts date only to the 11th century.
If genuine, the 'Jesus' references, in Josephus's writings, are the best extra-Biblical evidence that we have for him.
There are two references, and both are found in the 'Antiquities of the Jews'. The most important is found in the so-called 'Testimonium Flavianum'.
First Mention: The 'Testimonium Flavianum', Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, 3
"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 .........
"He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate ..... 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."
Comments on the Testimonium
John E. Remsberg, author of 'The Christ':
For nearly sixteen hundred years Christians have been citing this passage as a testimonial, not merely to the historical existence, but to the divine character of Jesus Christ. And yet a ranker forgery was never penned. Its language is Christian. Every line proclaims it the work of a Christian writer.'
* * *
Rev. S. Baring-Gould, author of 'Lost and Hostile Gospels'
“This passage is first quoted by Eusebius (fl. A. D. 315) in two places; but it was unknown to Justin Martyr (A. D. 140) Clement of Alexandria (A. D. 192), Tertullian (A. D. 193) and Origen (A. D. 230). Such a testimony would certainly have been produced by Justin in his apology or in his controversy with Trypho the Jew, had it existed in the copies of Josephus at his time. The silence of Origen is still more significant. ... He could not have failed to quote the words of Josephus, whose writings he knew, had the passage existed in the genuine text.'
Apparently Proving Jesus?
Regarding 'The Testimonium Flavianum'
This evidence, where Josephus mentions the 'wise man' Jesus, seems impressive. Josephus was a Jew; not a Christian, so he was unbiased. His writings are, generally, respected as being of historical value.
Even so, it is not possible to prove that Josephus actually wrote these particular words and, at various times, experts have suggested that they may be later forged additions or adaptations.
Quote~ Gordon Stein: " ... the vast majority of scholars since the early 1800s have said that this quotation is not by Josephus, but rather is a later Christian insertion in his works. In other words, it is a forgery, rejected by scholars."
This quote is from an essay on the website of 'infidels.org': 'The Jesus of History: A Reply to Josh McDowell' by Gordon Stein, Ph.D.'
Along with the essay are some editor's comments:
'While there is no doubt among the majority of scholars that the Testimonium has been tampered with (and thus the entire passage cannot be authentic), a decent number of scholars believe the Testimonium is based upon an authentic core. In other words, on their view, Josephus really did write a passage referring to Jesus on which the modern Testimonium is based, but that passage was embellished by later Christians.'
Apparently, one reason for accepting the 'Testimonium' is that it was quoted by both Jerome and Michael the Syrian. They would have referred to a Greek version that must have existed by the 5th century. That may be the case, but the 5th century is well after the assumed dates for Jesus.
The earliest known reference to this important piece is in the early 4th century writings of Eusabius. This, again, is much too late to be contemporary with Jesus and it may even have been an invention of Eusabius, himself.
We may conclude, then, that the most important reference to Jesus the Christ, outside of the Bible, is a controversial one. Either it is genuine, or it is a forgery, or it is part genuine and part tampered with. That is not very helpful.
Jona Lendering, who writes the articles for 'livius.org', notes, quite reasonably, that 'It is unlikely that a pious Jew like Flavius Josephus would have written that Jesus 'appeared to them on the third day, living again''.
He goes on to say that John Meier reconstructed what he thought Josephus might have written ~ ie. without later Christian 'improvement'.
Here are Meier's resulting words:
'At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of the people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.'
'New Testament' scholar, Professor Meier, holds the 'William K. Warren Foundation Chair' at the University of Notre Dame. He is a Roman Catholic priest. My personal opinion is that priests might be biased on this subject.
If his transcription is correct, then what might it tell us? ~ That, in about 93 ~ 94 AD, in Rome, Josephus heard about a crucified miracle-worker and preacher, named Jesus, whose followers existed until that day.
That is not surprising. This was sixty years after the apparent death of Jesus. We know that Christians existed. We know that the story said that Jesus died on the cross.
We also know that there were plenty of men called Jesus, plenty who were supposed miracle workers and plenty who claimed to be the Messiah.
It is not surprising that Josephus should have heard 'his' story.
On the other hand, Josephus was born in Jerusalem, only a few years after Jesus apparently died. If Jesus had become famous, leading thousands of people around the area, whilst performing God-given miracles, then Josephus's family should, surely, have known more about him. (Especially if this was God on Earth!)
Why didn't Josephus write more about him?
Josephus wrote that his father, Matthias, was a Jewish priest, who was descended from the first priests of the Jerusalem Temple, yet there is no mention of Jesus causing uproar in the Temple prior to his arrest.
Josephus wrote that his mother was descended from the royal Hasmonean Dynasty, yet there is no mention of Jesus portraying himself as 'King of the Jews' and being arrested for insurrection.
This 'Testimonium Flavianum' is truly fascinating, but controversial.
I have trouble accepting an ancient document, of this nature, as definite proof of the existence of Jesus.
It might be considered evidence for the existence of Christians ~ but not of Jesus.
2nd Mention: Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 9, 1:
' ..... the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession ... on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. ....
'Ananus ... assembled the sanhedrin ... and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and ... some of his companions; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned ... .....................................................
'king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him [Ananus] .. and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.'
Regarding Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 9
This reference, apparently to the brother of Jesus, is intriguing. Is it evidence of the true existence of Jesus, the Christ?
Apparently it is found in all known manuscripts and most scholars accept is as genuine.
But ... 'John Remsburg, in his 1909 book 'The Christ', stated:"(t)o identify the James of Josephus with James the Just, the brother of Jesus, is to reject the accepted history of the primitive church which declares that James the Just died in 69 A.D., seven years after the James of Josephus was condemned to death by the Sanhedrin." '
Furthermore, Josephus was writing sixty years after the supposed death of Jesus, many miles away, in the city of Rome ~ and the only version we have of it is 11th century. Is that reliable evidence?
The reference to 'Jesus, the son of Damneus' raises the possibility, at least, that this James and Jesus were not Biblical, but were both sons of Damneus. 'Jesus' was a common name.
Did Josephus really refer to the first Jesus as 'the Christ'? It seems highly unlikely. How can we know? We have nothing early to confirm this.
Earl Doherty (Bachelor's Degree ~ Ancient History and Classical Languages. Author of 'The Jesus Puzzle') wrote: ".... a good case can be made for saying that Josephus wrote nothing about Jesus and was probably unaware of any such figure."