Problems With Documentary Evidence of Jesus

This post originally appeared on my now defunct blog 2012 And All That (later renamed Illuminati, Lizard People and Pharma Shills). I’m copying it to here as it is content relevant to this blog’s occasional study of literature. Here, I examine all of the claimed evidences of Jesus’ existence from extra-biblical sources.

I know this will not be a popular post, but please be civil. If you are rude, insulting or want to fill my board with threats of damnation, you comment won’t be passed. Further, if any Christians or experts on The Bible wish to provide other sources not listed here, I am more than open to hearing about them.

Jesus Miracles Were Not Originally Attributed To Him

This may come as a shock to learn that there are two men, well documented, who could have provided inspiration for the miracles and teachings of Jesus. Most people will not have heard of them, but the claims made about these individuals will sound familiar.

It is said of Appolonius of Tyana that:

  • He had the ability to heal the sick and injured
  • He could predict the future  based on visions he had
  • Attempted to reform the practices of the cult to which he belonged
  • He made prophecies, some of which are said to have come true
  • He had strained relationship with popular cults for being a firebrand
  • Advocated care of the poor
  • Was against blood sacrifice
  • He came into conflict with Roman authorities and was arrested
  • He was said to have ascended to heaven on his death
  • He is said to have manifested after his death
  • It is said that he could summon the dead and to have resurrected a dead girl

The second figure is Simon Magus:

  • Presented as a mage that had special abilities
  • Had a large cult following
  • Presented himself as a god
  • Claimed to have descended to earth to free mankind
  • Projected himself as the triune god: father, son and holy spirit
  • Claimed to be born of a virgin

If things were different, it could have been that Judaism ended up the niche religion with Christianity one of many long-dead cults known only to academics. Educated Appolonians today, knowledgeable of their ancient religious texts, would no doubt refer to Jesus as a mythical figure and one of a myriad of cultists forgotten by history who made extraordinary claims. He couldn’t be the son of God because we know His only son was Appolonius.

These are not the only figures to mirror the life of Jesus, but they are the most intriguing and the best documented. This may sound controversial, but their history is actually better documented than the life of Jesus.

What is the External Evidence For Jesus?

The following sources are held up as extra-biblical sources (documents other than the bible) that prove Jesus’ existence. I’ve provided a short analysis of each one.

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 amongst 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, are not extinct at this day.

This is an extract from the writings of Josephus. At first glance it seems intriguing. However, many scholars including Theologians, give serious credit to the idea that this passage was added centuries after the event. Also:

  • Josephus was born between five and ten years after Jesus died
  • Many believe – with good reason – that Josephus’ writings were edited at a later date by somebody incensed that he did not discuss Christ in more detail
  • The actual text was compiled at end of the 1st century when Jesus had been dead at least 50 years.

“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he (Claudius) expelled them from Rome

This is from Suetonius.

  • This text is second century
  • It recounts something he was told by others
  • Chrestus is a common Greek name from the period
  • Vague text that does not expand on why the Jews were expelled from Rome
  • Suggests that “Chrestus” whoever he was, was present in Rome. Nobody has ever said Jesus went to Rome

On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in his third book of History, calls (as appears to me without reason) an eclipse of the sun

  • This text from Thallus does not mention Jesus
  • Original text does not survive. Above passage is being paraphrased, not reproduced, by Julius Africanus
  • Second century date
  • This is reporting a natural disaster, so why is this held up as proof of Jesus?

Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ — none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ

  • Pliny the Younger wrote this in the 2nd century
  • Discusses Christians and how to deal with their insolence toward the Emperor
  • Proves only the existence of Christians – this no more proves the existence of Jesus than The Egyptian Book of the Dead proves the existence of Osiris
  • No mention of 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. Ulla said: Would one think that we should look for exonerating evidence for him? He was an enticer and G-d said (Deuteronomy 13:9) “Show him no pity or compassion, and do not shield him.” Yeshu was different because he was close to the government.

  • The Talmud from which the above passage is taken was comprised of two parts that were compiled three hundred years apart. Part 1 was written in the third century, the second part in the sixth century
  • Discusses only what Christians teach. Recounting what Christians believe is not proof that their beliefs are true
  • References The Bible as a source for its claims – these are supposed to be extra-biblical evidences!

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day — the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account… You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.

  • Lucian was writing in the 2nd century
  • Discusses Christians and what they believe
  • It’s little more than paraphrasing

Many of the above are not contemporary, several are recounting what they have been told yet they are held up time and time again as the best evidence we have firstly of the existence of Jesus and secondly that he had magical powers.

The written record of the life of Jesus is scant at best.

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