By Harry V. Martin
March 23, 2005 , Originally Published in 1995
Forward courtesy of Jack Lancaster
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article does not debate the divinity
nor the spiritual aspects of Christianity, but only the historical evidence
that Jesus Christ did, in fact, exist. The recent finding of the burial
cave of Caiaphas, the high priest, adds even more evidence to the general
historical truth of the New Testament. Most Biblical scholars, historians,
archeologist and even the clergy are knowledgeable about one fact of Christianity
that the Christian worshipper is not, there is limited historical facts
to establish finite historical evidence that Jesus Christ existed. The vast
majority of what Christians believe today is based purely on the New Testament
, a collection of writings and testimony of those who knew Jesus and from
those who never saw him. The origin of the New Testament was not the "bible"
of the Christians until after 150 A.D. The actual "bible" of the
early Christians was the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament.
For more than a century after the death of Christ, the early Christians
relied on the Old Testament.
The writings in the New Testament were mostly from men of
little literary learning, they were from long-time memories, and some were
from hearsay. Biblical scholars have often pointed to glaring errors
in the New Testament, conflicts in the testimonies between those who knew
Jesus. Many "books" or testimonies were omitted from the New Testament.
The writers of these Testaments were less concerned with the historical
accuracies of their words and more concerned with the spiritual meanings
of Christ's teachings.
The most fascinating time in Christianity began after the
death of Christ through to the conclusion of Emperor Constantine's Christian
conclave, the true shaping of Christianity as we know it today, this epic
period merged the diverse views of the Apologists to the Gnostics. Jesus
Christ and his Disciples were not part of the long series of debates
that established Christian dogma. The Early Christian Fathers,
published by The Westminster Press, states, "The most striking facts
about early Christian literature are its rich variety and its almost exclusively
Gentile authorship. Outside the New Testament writings, little belongs to
the first century, the only considerable document being Clement's Letter
to the Church of Corinth." No Jewish Christian literature appears to
have survived the ages. Few Jewish Christians from the Palestinian Church
survived after the fifth century, though their teachings and work can be
found in the religion of Islam. The Gentiles, and not the Jewish Christians
who lived and worshipped in the land of Jesus, dominated the Christian religion,
and changed much of its original concepts.
EARLY CHRISTIAN SCHISM
The main battlelines in the second century focused around
the "Orthodox" Christians and the Gnostics. After
Constintine's conclave, the Gnostics vanished into history, some of their
work survived and was unearthed in 1945 near Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt.
The discovered writings are known as the Nag Hammadi library, the Gnostic
manuscripts virtually begin where the Dead Sea Scrolls end. These writings
provide insights into early Judaism and the roots of Christianity. The Gnostics
challenged the New Testament and rejected the Old Testament. They viewed
the Jewish and Christian revelations as antithetical, noting the contrast
of the good God revealed by Jesus Christ with the Old Testament God of retaliation
and vengeance. The Gnostics, in essence, were responsible for doing away
with the Old Testament as the sacred book of Christians, and in its place
supplied a cannon called The Gospel and the Apostile. There was no unity
in determining which books should be contained in the New Testament until
the fourth century.
The Early Christian Fathers states, that Christian doctrine
was established to embrace the Gentile concepts. "To interpret it to
the Gentile mind, its affinities were the best in pagan religious thought
were utilized. To maintain it against persecution, the martyr was willing
to suffer. Finally, to ensure the perpetuity of the faith, the Church built
up a close knit organization that was as uncompromising toward heresy and
schism as it was toward the demands of the State." In The Verdict of
History by Gary R. Habermas, this concept is carried further. "The
charge is often made that Jesus' message was actually quite different from
the one which Christians have traditionally taught concerning him. This
sometimes is said to be the case, for instance, because the Gospels represent
the teachings of the early church and not those of Jesus himself."
Hugh Schonfield, a noted religious scholar, explains why the changes may
have taken place. He states that Jesus was a teacher who was true to Judaism
and who had no desire to start any new religion. "That is why, for
instance, he never proclaimed his own deity," Schonfield wrote. Schonfield
even challenges the early Church by claiming they may have written some
of the New Testament books and influenced others to rewrite the story of
Jesus. "The result is that Christian theology as it is taught today
is not the teachings of Jesus and the apostles."
Paul's writings reveal little of the historical Jesus. A few
historians have stated that Paul knew little of Jesus' historical life,
the time of his birth, or death, for instance. G.A. Wells indicates that
Paul may have conceived of Jesus as a supernatural being who led a very
obscure life that was ended by crucifixion, perhaps even centuries before
Paul's own time. But Paul was not interested in historical details, nor
were the other writers of the New Testament, spiritual considerations dominated
their thoughts. Habermas states that the "Gospels do not purport to
record actual historical events, but that they simply report the faith of
early Christians. We know much less about the historical Jesus than the
Gospels actually recorded, for these writers were just not too concerned
Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus recorded information pertaining
to Jesus, thus removing the only supporting source for His existence as
being in the New Testament. In 115 A.D., Tactius wrote about the great fire
"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero 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 Tiberious
at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous
superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea,
the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous
and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.
Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then upon
their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the
crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every
sort was added to their deaths, Covered with the skins of beasts, they were
torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to
the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight
had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting
a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of charioteer
or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme
and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was
not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that
they were being destroyed."
It is believed by some scholars that Tactius gained his information
about Christ from official records, perhaps actual reports written by Pilate.
Tactius also wrote about the burning of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans
in 70 A.D. The Christians are mentioned as a group that were connected with
"All we can gather from this reference is that Tactius
was also aware of the existence of Christians other than in the context
of their presence in Rome," states Habermas.
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillas,
chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian, wrote, "Because the Jews at Rome
caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled
them from the City." Chrestus is a variant spelling of Christ. Suetonius
refers to a wave of riots that broke out in a large Jewish community in
Rome during the year 49 A.D. As a result, the Jews were banished from the
Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, a member of a priestly
family and who became a Pharisee at the age of 19, became the court historian
for Emperor Vespasian. In the Antiquities, he wrote about many persons and
events of first century Palestine. He makes two references to Jesus. The
first reference is believed associated with the Apostle James. "...he
brother of Jesus, who was called Christ." He also wrote, "At this
time there was a wise man who was
called Jesus. And his conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous.
And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples.
Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become
his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had
appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive,
accordingly, he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the prophets have
recounted wonders." These historical writings predated the Old Testament.
Josephus died in 97 A.D.
Before Tacitus, Suetonius or Josephus, Thallus wrote about
the crucifixion of Jesus. His writing date to circa 52 A.D. and the passage
on Jesus was contained in Thallus' work on the Eastern Mediterranean world
from the Trojan War to 52 A.D. Thallus noted that darkness fell on the land
at the time of the crucifixion. He wrote that such a phenomenon was caused
by an eclipse. Though Christ was not proclaimed a deity until the fourth
century, Pliny the Younger, a Roman author and administrator who served
as the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, wrote in 112 A.D., two hundred
years before the "deity" proclamation, that Christians in Bithynia
Two references have been made to a report by Pontius Pilate.
The references include Justin Martyr (150 A..D.) and Tetullian (200 A.D.).
Both references correspond with the fact that there was an official document
in Rome from Pilate. The Pilate report detailed the crucifixion but also
reported acts of miracles. Emperor Tiberius acted on Pilate's report, according
to Tertullian, to the Roman Senate. "Tiberius accordingly, in whose
days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received
intelligence from Palestine of events which had clearly shown the truth
of Christ's divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own
decision in favor of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval
itself, rejected his proposal. Caesar held to his opinion, threatening wrath
against all accusers of the Christians."
RECORDED IN THE TALMUD
The Talmud, which consists of Jewish traditions handed down
orally from generation to generation, was organized by Rabbi Akiba before
his death in 135 A.D. The writings in the Talmud embrace the legal, ritual
and exegetical commentaries that have developed right down to contemporary
times. In Sanhedrin 43a, reference to Jesus is found. "On the eve of
the Passover, Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took
place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because
he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can
say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.
But since nothing was brought forward in his favor, he was hanged on the
eve of the Passover."If Jesus had been stoned, his death would have
been at the hands of the Jews. The fact he was crucified shows that the
Romans intervened. TheTalmud also speaks of five of Jesus' disciples and
recounts their standing before judges who made individual decisions about
each one, deciding that they should be executed. No deaths are recorded.
Other Talmud references to Jesus indicated that Jesus was
"treated differently from others who led the people astray, for he
was connected with royalty." These Talmud accounts were written long
before the New Testament was assembled. They provide clear evidence that
Jesus did live. The Talmud does not embrace Christ as a deity and would
have no reason to sanction his existence. The Talmud also states that Jesus
was 33 or 34 years old when he died. The risen Christ is the foundation
of Christianity. But Christ would have to have lived and died before His
resurrection could become an historical factor.
Toledoth Jesu is also part of Jewish writing, as well. The
disputed text states that the disciples of Jesus had planned to steal the
fallen body of Christ. However, a gardener named Juda discovered their plansand
dug a new grave in his garden. Then he removed Jesus' body from Joseph's
tomb and placed it in his own newly dug grave. The disciples came to the
original tomb, found Jesus' body gone and proclaimed him risen. The Jewish
leaders also proceeded to Joseph's tomb and found it empty. Juda then took
them to his grave and dug up the body of Jesus. The Jewish leaders were
greatly relieved and wanted to take the body. Juda replied that he would
sell them the body of Jesus and did so for thirty pieces of silver. The
Jewish priests then dragged Jesus' body through the streets of Jerusalem.
Strangely enough, Juda and Judas are similar, in the Talmud Juda receives
thirty pieces of silver and in the New Testament Judas receives thirty pieces
of silver. Shortly after this time, the Emperor decreed that grave robbing
in Palestine would be a capital offense.
These commentaries have been discredited by Jewish and Christian
scholars. The anti-Christian commentary was created in the fifth century.
The importance of this passage, historically correct or not, is to place
Jesus in the tomb of Joseph after crucifixion and to record the consternation
of the Jewish Priests. This places historic significance on the fact that
Jesus did live and die in history. He was not a myth.
The New Testament speaks of a census at the time of Christ's
birth. Historical records indicate that a census was ordered in Syria and
Judea between 6 and 5 B.C. and 5 and 6 A.D. Returning to a person's home
city was definitely the practice of the time. Luke refers to Quirinius being
governor of Syria during the time of the census, again historically correct.
The second century Greek satirist Lucian, though speaking
derisively of Jesus and the early Christians, does establish the worship
of Christ within the first century of his death. "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. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise
all worldly goods, alike, regarding them merely as common property."
THE BURIAL CAVE OF CAIAPHAS, THE LATEST FIND
The New Testament refers to the High Priest Caiaphas. Records
of the Temple of Jerusalem where destroyed and history has not been able
to verify that Caiaphas, like Christ, existed. If no evidence existed of
Caiaphas when the New Testament was embraced by the Christians of the second
century, then it would have been a fact lost to history. But now, 1,950
years after the crucifixion of Jesus, a public works project building a
water park in November 1990 accidentally uncovered an ancient burial cave.
The inscription in the burial chamber was that of the Caiaphas family. The
Caiaphas name had only been mentioned in the New Testament and by Flavius
Josephus, no Jewish records have been found with Caiaphas' name linked to
being the high priest. The remains of a 60-year-old man were found in the
burial cave that may have been the High Priest Caiaphas. The inscription
on his craved ossuary, fit for a high priest, was the name Yehosef bar Qafa
(Joseph, son of Caiaphas). Coins found in the cave were bronze minted in
42/43 (C.E.) during the reign of Herod Agrippa I. These are similar to images
of coins found on the Shroud of Turin Ð believed by many scientists
to be the burial shroud of Christ.
According to Ronny Reich in an article in Biblical Archaeology
Review, "Very few of the hundreds of people who walk through the pages
of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament have been attested in archeological
finds. Now, to that small list, we may add, in all probability, the high
priest who presided at Jesus' trial, or at least a member of his family."
It adds, "From the period between the second century B.C.E. and the
second century C.E., there are only six such names, and perhaps you will
exclude one or two of these because they are names of rulers or former rulers.
Three of these names, however, are especially pertinent here because they,
like Caiaphas, come from priestly families."
The New Testament only refers to the High Priest as Caiaphas,
but Josephus refers to him as Joseph, who was called Caiaphas of the high
priesthood. Joseph or Caiaphas was the high priest in Jerusalem between
18 and 36 C.E.
The debate over the divinity of Christ may never end, but
historical evidence has become more supportive of the fact that Jesus can
be proved historically to have lived, to have been a dominant figure during
his lifetime and of a major concern to the establishment of the Temple and
of Rome. What his exact words were, may have been lost in history. Robin
Lane Fox writes in The Unauthorized Version, Truth and Fiction in the Bible,
"Recognition does not require historical truth...In the Bible we recognize
a human awareness in what scores of anonymous authors have written. This
level of recognition is not at all the same as reverence for the Bible as
a handbook for life, a role for which its detail is not well suited. The
Gospels are not often specific on detailed points of conduct, and as a handbook
they would be very patchy indeed. Those who want such details have to look
back to the Hebrew books of law...As for the four Gospels, the idea that
they usually give us Jesus' exact words in their exact context is a popular
mirage; there are too many disagreements.' She adds, "In the Bible,
therefore, we recognize human truth even when the stories themselves are
Though the New Testament has many historical errors, the fact
is that many of its points have been proven historically correct. Roman
historians, Jewish historians, the finding of the Gnostic materials at Nag
Hammadi and now the finding of Caiaphas' burial cave, establishes an historic
fact that Jesus lived and died in a time and a place described in the New
Testament. Some of the evidence supporting these writings surfaced nearly
2000 years later, adding a strong rule of evidence toward their historic
accuracy. Many books were omitted from the compilation of the New Testament,
the writings of John and of Mary, for instance, were never included in the
scriptures. But the same is true with the Old Testament. It was the early
church father, in the case of the New Testament, that made the decisions
on the composition of the New Testament.
The exact words of Jesus may not be contained in the New Testament,
but the essence of his teachings appeared to be confirmed from sources outside
the New Testament.
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