8 Reasons Jesus Definitely Existed
The quickest way to get a reaction in the modern world is to shout âreligion!â on a crowded server. From diehard fundamentalists to rabid atheists, the internet is a breeding ground for lunaticsâall of whom will throw the worldâs most-condescending temper tantrum if you question their insanity. Luckily, when it comes to answering some of the most important questions in historyâsuch as âdid Jesus really existââwe have centuries of work by scholars and archaeologists to build on, such as:
Using one part of the Bible to back up another might seem counterintuitive, but itâs not as insane as it might first appear. For one thing, Paulâs letters are the earliest writings on Christianity, predating the Gospels by some fifty years. Also, we know he existed. Textual analysis of the epistles proves at least seven of them were written by one guy; and Paulâs historic efforts to open the new church to gentiles are the main reason youâre not reading this in, say, Hebrew. But the biggest thing Paul has going in his favor is his ego. Rather than detail the life story of Jesus, Paul prefers talking about himselfâincluding descriptions of his conversion and travels. Travels which, by the way, include two brief meetings with Jesusâ brother James. Since Jamesâ existence would have been objectively verifiable to Paulâs readers, the likelihood he made him up is somewhere around âzeroââespecially since both meetings seem to go quite badly.
Iâve mentioned before how the Gospels kinda donât agree on anything. Some see this as the final nail in historical-Jesusâs coffin; but for others, these screw-ups point in exactly the opposite direction. Take the Gospel of Markâseveral times, Mark quite clearly states that Jesus came from Nazareth. A few decades later, Luke and Matthew decide, nu-uh, Bethlehem is where it started. Trouble is, thereâs no historical record of anything they say happened thereâthe census, the slaughter of the innocentsâever, well, happening. On the other hand, there does exist an ancient prophecy saying the messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Not exactly subtle, is it? However, these shenanigans actually give more credence to Markâs account. Itâs called the criterion of embarrassmentâbasically, the idea that youâd be unlikely to make up something that makes you look bad. Since Nazareth is the âwrongâ town for Jesus to come from, Mark wouldâve claimed a fictional Jesus came from Bethlehem. That he didnât suggests his writing was at least grounded in reality.
Like a birthplace in the sticks, the Baptism is another feature of Jesusâ story that doesnât tally with Biblical prophecy. At the time, the idea of a spiritually inferior person baptizing a superior one was completely unheard of. Having the messiah baptized by anyone would be seen more as humiliation than humility. Nowadays, we see it as an early sign that Jesus was the humble guy he later turned out to beâbut in ancient Judea, that wouldâve been a hard sell. A writer looking to recruit people to his newly made-up church would have probably had Jesus flying over the river, shooting fire and doing backflips while giving John the finger. The fact itâs such a step down for the âson of Godâ suggests itâs probably based in factâeven if itâs been distorted in the centuries since.
Josephus was a 1st century Roman-Jewish historian whoâs most-famous passage is the Testimonium Flavianumâan âearlyâ reference to Christ thatâs probably a fake. So why bring him up at all? Well, Josephusâs works also include a much less-famous passage thatâs definitely genuine. Buried deep in Book 20 of his Antiquities of the Jews is a passing reference to the execution of âthe brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was Jamesâ. Thatâs as far as it goes. But, like Paul above, it confirms the historical existence of James and therefore Jesus. And itâs almost universally acknowledged to be genuineâhereâs the worldâs leading scholar on Josephus explaining why it couldnât be a fake. It might tell us very little, but it at least gives us a starting pointâespecially when combined with stuff like:
Tacitus was the Roman equivalent of The History Channel and National Geographic all rolled into one brainy, cynical guy. Over a stupefying number of books, his Annals describe life under Tiberius, Nero and other lunatics, while also dealing with day-to-day existence in Rome. Significantly, that includes the period surrounding the Great Fire. For those of you who hate clicking on links, the important bit goes:
âNero 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.â
Thatâs the first reliable account of the crucifixion in history. Although he doesnât cite his source, Tacitus had access to a heck-load of official documents and almost always noted when he was using hearsay. Since everyone but the most-insane of scholars accept this passage as genuine, it establishes the crucifixion as a historical eventâone widely known even by A.D. 64. Furthermore, recently physical evidence was found proving the existence and presence of Pilate just where the Gospels say he was.
If youâre above a certain age, you might remember the 2001 discovery of an ancient bone box inscribed with the words âJames, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.â For those of you that arenâtâyou should know that the world went nuts. Here was undeniable proof of Jesusâs historical existence. Then, in 2004, Israeli police arrested the Tel Aviv collector who found it on suspicion of forgery. So much for that, huh?
Not exactly. Last year, an Israeli court threw out the case when it became apparent most of the âexpert witnessesâ were either lying or just plain wrong. The âsmoking gunâ was a fake inscription that turned out to be nothing of the sort, and more tests are now being done to figure out (again) if the box is genuine. Now, we still currently donât know if itâs realâonly that itâs not a deliberate, modern fake. But if it turns out to be the real deal, it could yet prove to be the most important religious find of the century.
Despite most of the âbig onesâ having been around for centuries, new religions are always cropping up. Mormonism, Scientology, Rastafarianism, cults like The Manson Family or North Koreaâs creepy âKimâ cultâŚ and nearly all of them have one thing in common: they stem from a single, real individual. By contrast, movements with no grounding in reality whatsoever are much rarer. And sociologists have noticed this. By tracing how modern religions grow, they can make assumptions about their older cousinsâincluding the importance of having a living, breathing figurehead. Think about it. Itâs a lot easier to get people onboard your new movement if they can see your leader is an actual person and not, yâknow, completely made up. But even if you donât accept the logic of that, itâs worth remembering how utterly alien Jesusâs teachings were compared to any other branch of first century Judaism. Such a great mental leap had to come from someone, somewhere so Paul could get so fired up about it ten years later. For all intents and purposes, you might as well call that âsomeoneâ Jesus.
For all his reported ability to kill things with the power of words, Gospels’ Jesus is basically the Aquaman of Biblical figures. Compared to, say, King David, his awesomeness-to-piousness ratio is sadly lacking. And thatâs important, because the Messiah was prophesied to be a warrior king who would flush the scum out of Jerusalem and bring about Godâs kingdom on Earth. By contrast, Jesus rides around on a donkey and is executed before he can get anything done. Remember the criterion of embarrassment? In the first century, crucifixion was a humiliating way to die. Anyone writing Jesus from the ground up would have had him go out in a one-on-one fistfight with Julius Caesar or something. As scholar Bart Ehrman puts it: âThe Christians did not invent Jesus. They invented the idea that the messiah had to be crucified.â Basically, early Christians were so embarrassed by the crucifixion they did everything they could to turn it into a victory. Hell, they probably wished they had just made him upâit wouldâve saved them all a lot of trouble.