Historicity of Christ

The Christ of Calvary: Was He?

Without the New Testament or other Christian writings, what would we be able to conclude about Jesus from ancient, non-Christian sources, such as Josephus, the Talmud, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and others? Are there third-party, credible sources that attest to such Biblical truths?
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The Christ of Calvary: Was He?

Article#: 1574

Time as we know it will soon cease. Revelation 10:5-6:

5 And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven,

6 And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer:

When time stops, eternity begins.  At the place where time ends, eternal life in Christ Jesus begins, or eternal, cognizant damnation—also known as the second death—begins.  We have been given the responsibility of choosing.  A non-choice is, in fact, a choice for eternal punishment.  Never could any two outcomes be more 180° out from one another. 

Many mock the concept of time ending, but not today’s science.  Consider these few excerpts from GodSaidManSaid, “Time Shall Be No More:”  

In Discover magazine, the March 2009 issue, several interesting speculations concerning time are offered from the field of scientific theory.  The excerpts cited below are from the Discover article titled, “20 Things You Didn’t Know About Time:”

Some speculative new physics theories suggest that time emerges from a more fundamental—and timeless—reality.

Again from Discover:

Time has not been around forever.  Most scientists believe it was created along with the rest of the universe in the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago.  [End of quote]

A beginning of time: Yes.  A 13.7 billion-year-old big bang: No. 

Will there be an end of time even as God’s Word declares?  The final excerpt from Discover suggests so:

There may be an end of time.  Three Spanish scientists posit that the observed acceleration of the expanding cosmos is an illusion caused by the slowing of time.  According to their math, time may eventually stop, at which point everything will come to a standstill. [End of quotes]

Time, for earth and all its inhabitants, is running out and choices are being made at this moment—on this website—where one will spend eternity.  Have you made your choice?  Have you been born again—born a second time, this time of the Spirit of God?  If your answer is “no” or “I’m not sure,” settle this eternal issue today.  Today is your day of salvation.  Today is your day to participate in this limited-time, Holy Ghost offer.  Click onto “Further With Jesus” for childlike instructions and immediate entry into the marvelous Kingdom of God. NOW FOR TODAY’S SUBJECT. 

GOD SAID, Matthew 1:18-23:

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

20 But while he thought on these things, behold, 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.

21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

GOD SAID, Matthew 27:45-54:

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.

46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.

48 And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.

49 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,

53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

MAN SAID: There never was a “Jesus Christ.”  There isn’t one shred of evidence that this man “Jesus Christ” ever lived. 

Now THE RECORD: Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary to be the Saviour of the world.  He ministered salvation to those who would call upon His name, cast out devils, healed the sick and raised the dead, was crucified on Calvary, and raised by His Father from the dead on the third day.  Forty days later, the glorified Christ ascended into heaven to sit on the right hand of God where He intercedes for the souls of men.  Could such fantastical accounts be true?  Are there third-party, credible sources that attest to such Biblical truths?  One category of proof on GodSaidManSaid is called The Historicity of Jesus Christ.  A few excerpts from those features are quoted, with new content to follow.  History, archaeology, and geology will endorse the King of Glory. 

▶ GodSaidManSaid, “The Historicity of Jesus Christ Updated:”

Was there a Jesus Christ? Does history endorse the Bible’s account of the Lord of Glory? The answer, of course, is a resounding "YES!" Cornelius Tacitus, who was born in 55 A.D. and died in 120 A.D., was called the "greatest historian" of ancient Rome. He was born approximately 20 years after Christ’s crucifixion. Tacitus wrote concerning the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, and recorded the following:

But not all the relief could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus (Christ), the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberias: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also.

That’s a quote from Cornelius Tacitus. Later on we’ll see what enormities the early believers were accused of.

The following excerpt is from Josh McDowell’s book, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. It reads:

Cambridge lecturer Markus Bockmuehl notes that Tacitus’s comments provide us with testimony by the leading Roman historian of his day, "independent confirmation that Jesus lived and was formally executed in Judaea in the reign of Tiberias and during Pontius Pilate’s office as procurator (technically still a prefect, A.D. 26-36). That may not seem like much, but it is actually surprisingly useful in discounting two different theories which are still sometimes advanced: first, that Jesus of Nazareth never existed; and secondly, that he did not die by the duly-administered Roman death penalty." [End of quote]

Luke, the beloved physician of the Bible, spoke of the persecution the Christians experienced at the hands of the Jews. Acts 18:12:

And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat,

In regard to the unrest, secular Roman historian Suetonius, who was a court official under Hadrian, and annalist of the Imperial House, stated in his historic record, Life of Claudius, the following:

As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (another spelling for Christ), he (Claudius) expelled them from Rome.

This event took place in 49 A.D., approximately 12 years after the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.

Again, Suetonius chronicled the firing of Rome under Nero in 64 A.D. and recorded the following: "Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition."

As we continue, you’ll discover what “mischievous superstition” caused the death of the Christians. You will be surprised. Listen to this account by Pliniun Secondus, also known as Pliny the Younger. It was written in 112 A.D. He was writing to the emperor of Bythynia seeking counsel on how to treat the Christians. He explained that he had been killing both men and women, boys and girls—there were so many being put to death that he wondered whether he should continue killing all those who were discovered to be Christians, or if he should kill only certain ones. He explained that he had made the Christians bow down to the statues of Trajan. He went on to write that he also made them curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do. And in the same letter, he writes concerning the Christians who were being tried in the courts:

The whole of their guilt, or their error, was that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day as to a god and bound themselves to a solemn oath: not to do any wicked deeds, never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, nor to deny a trust when they be called upon to deliver it up.

The famous Jewish historian Josephus was hired by the Romans to record Roman rule and actions in Israel. His writings were recorded 30 to 40 years after Christ’s crucifixion. One excerpt follows:

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 is not extinct at this day.

Julian, the Roman emperor, an ancient enemy of the Cross of Christ, wrote the following:

Jesus...has now been celebrated about three hundred years; having done nothing in his lifetime worthy of fame, unless anyone thinks it a very great work to heal lame and blind people and exorcise demoniacs in the villages of Bethsaida and Bethany.

So you see that Julian, the Roman emperor, ascribes to Christ the power to perform miracles. Again from Josh McDowell:

In the Babylonian Talmud we read: "It has been taught: On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu. And an announcer went out, in front of him, for forty days (saying): ‘He is going to be stoned, because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and plead in his behalf.’ But, not having found anything is his favor, they hanged him on the eve of Passover." Another version of this text says, "Yeshu the Nazarene."

"Yeshu" translates through Greek to English as "Jesus," and the reference to him being a Nazarene makes the link to Jesus Christ even stronger.  Jesus Christ was crucified on the Passover. [End of quotes]

▶ GodSaidManSaid, “Forgery Trial of ‘Jesus Box’ Ends:”

Today the cautionary note attached to the first of two GodSaidManSaid features on the so-called "Jesus Box" comes down. The front page caption of the May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review reads, "Defendants Acquitted in Forgery Trial." Several foundational paragraphs follow from our original features on this matter:

The very fact that the ancient Jews constructed a defense against the testimony of Jesus Christ is in itself a certification that He did live. Their official position was that Jesus Christ was a bastard and a sorcerer. It was necessary that Jesus be a fatherless child (a bastard). Isaiah 7:14 speaks prophetically of the miraculous virgin birth of the coming Messiah. It reads:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

If Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary as the Scriptures attest, then the Jews crucified the Messiah. Therefore, we see their position that Jesus Christ was a bastard. Secondly, if Jesus Christ performed all the marvelous miracles ascribed to Him in the Scriptures as well as in ancient history, then He could only have been the holy prophet of God and the Messiah that He said He was and as the Bible declares. The Jews'' official position then is that Jesus Christ was a sorcerer or else they, the Jews, instigated the crucifixion of their Messiah. This is still the position of the unsaved Jews of today. They may have toned down the verbiage, but the result is the same. The Jewish defense against Jesus is a certification for the existence of the Christ.

Recently quite a stir was made over the archaeological find of an ancient ossuary discovered in Israel. This ossuary was a 20-inch long box which once held the bones of a dead man. Between the years 20 BC and 70 AD it was a burial custom to place one''s bones in the ossuary for final burial after the flesh was fully decayed. This find was especially electrifying because of the inscription on its side. It read, "Ya''akov bar Yosef akhui de Yeshua" which means "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." The following excerpts were found in an AP article dated October 22, 2002:

A burial box that was recently discovered in Israel and dates to the first century could be the oldest archaeological link to Jesus Christ, according to a French scholar whose findings were published Monday.

An inscription in the Aramaic language—"James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"—appears on an empty ossuary, a limestone burial box for bones.

Andre Lemaire said it''s "very probable" the writing refers to Jesus of Nazareth. He dates the ossuary to A.D. 63, just three decades after the crucifixion. Lemaire, a specialist in ancient inscriptions at France''s Practical School of Higher Studies, published his findings in the November-December issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

The Rev. Joseph Fitzmyer, a Bible professor at Catholic University who studied photos of the box, agrees with Lemaire that the writing style "fits perfectly" with other first century examples. The joint appearance of these three famous names is "striking," he said.

"But the big problem is, you have to show me the Jesus in this text is the Jesus of Nazareth, and nobody can show that," Fitzmyer said.

Lemaire addressed Fitzmyer''s question further in the article:

All three names were commonplace, but Lemaire estimates only 20 Jameses in Jerusalem during that era would have had a father named Joseph and a brother named Jesus.

Moreover, naming the brother as well as the father on an ossuary was "very unusual," Lemaire wrote. There''s only one other known example in Aramaic. Thus, this particular Jesus must have had some unusual role or fame—and Jesus of Nazareth certainly qualified, Lemaire concluded.

Lemaire dated the ossuary at 63 AD. History shows James the brother of Jesus being stoned to death in 62 AD.

In September of 2005, the forgery trial of Oded Golan, antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch, and three others began.

The following information is from the October 2010 issue of The International Jerusalem Post, under the title, "Putting the case to rest," with the subhead, "The judge considers his verdict in the five-year Jesus forgery trial." The reporter, Matthew Kalman, writes:

The discovery in 2002 of a limestone burial box with the Hebrew inscription "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus" electrified the world of archeology. If genuine, the burial box, or ossuary, would be the only archeological artifact found with a possible direct link to Jesus of Nazareth.

Amid international fanfare, the ossuary went on display at Toronto''s Royal Ontario Museum and swiftly spawned numerous articles, scholarly studies, several documentary movies and at least four books.

But experts at the Israel Antiquities Authority declared it a modern-day forgery. Israeli police seized the burial box and arrested its owner, Tel Aviv collector Oded Golan. In December 2004, he was charged with faking the ossuary and dozens of other items, including an inscribed tablet linked to King Joash, which, if authentic, would be the only physical evidence from the Temple of Solomon.

The indictment leveled 44 charges of forgery, fraud and deception against Golan and 13 lesser counts against a codefendant, antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch. The trial of Golan, Deutsch and three others opened in Jerusalem District Court in September 2005.

Last month the defense ended its summing-up with just two men left in the dock, bringing to an end five years of court proceedings that spanned 116 sessions, 133 witnesses, 200 exhibits and nearly 12,000 pages of witness testimony. The prosecution summation alone ran to 653 pages. [End of quote]

The summation of the issue of the "Jesus Box" is now complete. The following paragraph was written by Suzanne Singer in the May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review under the title, "Defendants Acquitted in Forgery Trial:"

As I write, the news is fresh. By the time you read this in BAR, however, surely nearly everyone knows that the defendants (Golan and antiquities deader Robert Deutsch) were acquitted on all counts of forgery. [End of quotes]

▶ GodSaidManSaid, “Geologists Say Yes to Crucifixion:”

Unfortunately for the Christ-deniers, there is a plethora of historic fact that shouts a resounding "YES!" to the Biblical record of this Jesus. New research published in the October 2010 issue of Acts & Facts is another addition to the overwhelming empirical evidence stacked up against the enemies of the cross of Christ. The feature was written by renowned geologist Dr. Steven Austin, under the title of "Greatest Earthquakes of the Bible." Several paragraphs follow:

Recently, geologists have investigated the 4,000-year chronology of earthquake disturbances within the uppermost 19 feet of laminated sediment of the Dead Sea. Hypersaline waters preserve seasonally laminated sediment because organisms cannot live or burrow in the bed of the lake. As a result, only a nearby earthquake (or very large distant earthquake) can homogenize the lake’s uppermost sediment layers, producing a "mixed layer" devoid of laminations. A sketch of a sediment core from the west side of the Dead Sea appears in Figure 1. The sketch shows the depth of the "mixed layers" within the laminated sediment sequence. Two deeper mixed layers in the Dead Sea are datable from historical, archaeological, and geological associations with faulting—the earthquakes of 31 B.C. (the Qumran earthquake) and 750 B.C. (Amos’ earthquake). Other earthquakes are represented in the Dead Sea sediment core with dates approximated by assuming a steady rate of sedimentation.

The following excerpts are found under the headings of "Qumran Earthquake of 31 B.C." and "The Crucifixion in Jerusalem, April 3, 33 A.D.:"

About sixty years before the ministry of Christ, a small group of Levites copied Scripture onto scrolls at the small village of Qumran in the desert northwest of the Dead Sea. In 31 B.C., a large earthquake occurred along the Jericho Fault on the western side of the Dead Sea. The earthquake dried up Qumran’s main spring and severely cracked the architecture. Spectacular evidence of the earthquake is seen at recent excavations at Qumran in cracked stair steps within the ritual baths. Grooved fault surfaces (what geologists call "slickensides") and ground rupture within lake sediment can be observed just south of Qumran. Josephus wrote of the regional devastation from the earthquake, and he said 30,000 men perished. The survivors buried the Dead Sea Scrolls and Qumran lay abandoned after the earthquake. The Bible, of course, is completely silent concerning this earthquake and other events during the intertestamental period. No doubt, everyone in New Testament times knew of ancestors killed in that event.

After three hours of darkness at midday on April 3, 33 A.D., the Lord Jesus exclaimed the words "It is finished!" as He died on the cross. Immediately, the curtain of the sanctuary of the temple was torn, a great earthquake occurred, rocks were broken, and many dead saints were resurrected from their tombs (Matthew 27:51-54). The earthquake upon the death of Christ called attention to the great salvation that had been accomplished that day on the cross.

An outcrop of laminated Dead Sea sediment can be seen at Wadi Ze’elim above the southwestern shore of the modern Dead Sea near the fortress of Masada. In this sediment outcrop is a distinctive one-foot thick "mixed layer" of sediment that is tied strongly to the Qumran earthquake’s onshore ground ruptures of 31 B.C. (see Figure 2). Thirteen inches above the 31 B.C. event bed is another distinctive "mixed layer" less than one inch thick. The sedimentation rate puts this second earthquake about 65 years after the 31 B.C. earthquake. It seems that the crucifixion earthquake of 33 A.D. was magnitude 5.5, leaving direct physical evidence in a thin layer of disturbed sediment from the Dead Sea.

Geologists say yes to Christ’s crucifixion.[End of quotes]

Edwin M. Yamauchi, one of the country’s leading experts in ancient history, was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book, The Case for Christ.  A profile of Yamauchi’s accreditations follows:

After earning a bachelor’s degree in Hebrew and Hellenistics, Yamauchi received master’s and doctoral degrees in Mediterranean studies from Brandeis University. 

He has been awarded eight fellowships, from the Rutgers Research Council, National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, and others.  He has studied twenty-two languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Egyptian, Russian, Syriac, Ugaritic, and even Comanche. 

He has delivered seventy-one papers before learned societies; lectured at more than one hundred seminaries, universities, and colleges, including Yale, Princeton, and Cornell; served as chairman and then president of the Institute for Biblical Research and president of the Conference of Faith and History; and published eighty articles in thirty-seven scholarly journals.  [End of quote]

Part of Strobel’s interview follows:

“When people begin religious movements, it’s often not until many generations later that people record things about them,” Yamauchi said.  “But the fact is that we have better historical documentation for Jesus than for the founder of any other ancient religion.” 

That caught me off guard.  “Really?” I said.  “Can you elaborate on that?” 

“For example, although the Gathas of Zoroaster, about 1000 B.C., are believed to be authentic, most of the Zoroastrian scriptures were not put into writing until after the third century A.D.  The most popular Parsi biography of Zoroaster was written in A.D. 1278. 

“The scriptures of Buddha, who lived in the sixth century B.C., were not put into writing until after the Christian era, and the first biography of Buddha was written in the first century A.D.  Although we have the sayings of Muhammad, who lived from A.D. 570 to 632, in the Koran, his biography was not written until 767—more than a full century after his death. 

“So the situation with Jesus is unique—and quite impressive in terms of how much we can learn about Him aside from the New Testament.” 

I wanted to pick up on that theme and summarize what we had gleaned about Jesus so far from nonbiblical sources.  “Let’s pretend we didn’t have any of the New Testament or other Christian writings,” I said.  “Even without them, what would we be able to conclude about Jesus from ancient, non-Christian sources, such as Josephus, the Talmud, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and others?” 

Yamauchi smiled.  “We would still have a considerable amount of important historical evidence; in fact, it would provide a kind of outline for the life of Jesus,” he said. 

Then he went on, raising a finger to emphasize each point.  “We would know that first, Jesus was a Jewish teacher; second, many people believed that He performed healings and exorcisms; third, some people believed He was the Messiah; fourth, He was rejected by the Jewish leaders; fifth, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; sixth, despite this shameful death, His followers, who believed that He was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by A.D. 64; and seventh, all kinds of people from the cities and countryside—men and women, slave and free—worshipped Him as God.”  [End of quote]

Jesus Christ was and Jesus Christ is.  The Apostle Peter speaks in Acts 4:10-12:

10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.

11 This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.

12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

GOD SAID, Matthew 1:18-23:

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

20 But while he thought on these things, behold, 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.

21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

GOD SAID, Matthew 27:45-54:

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.

46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

47 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.

48 And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.

49 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,

53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

MAN SAID: There never was a “Jesus Christ.”  There isn’t one shred of evidence that this man “Jesus Christ” ever lived. 

Now you have THE RECORD.

 

 

References:

Authorized King James Version

GodSaidManSaid, “Forgery Trial of ‘Jesus Box’ Ends

GodSaidManSaid, “Geologists Say Yes to Crucifixion

GodSaidManSaid, “The Historicity of Jesus Christ Updated

GodSaidManSaid, “Time Shall Be No More

Strobel, L., The Case for Christ, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1998

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