Did Jesus Really Exist?

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Discussions' started by paynedaniel, Mar 15, 2005.

  1. paynedaniel

    paynedaniel New Member

    Uncle is referring to my post in which I listed some historians, and he's right - some of them do not pertain to the discussion at hand. But some of them do.
  2. uncle janko

    uncle janko member

    Right, Paynedaniel.

    Please tell us which ones are historians, and which historians are germane to your argument, and why. As you can tell (Kirkland can't) my post was not offered as a rebuttal to any of your arguments about the existence or nonexistence of Jesus. By actually reading my post--thank you--you were able to tell that it was a reply to your stuff and not to Kirkland. You and others can have the Jesus discussion. Having brought classical studies into this, however, you are now messing in my mudhole.

    If you insist on this list, please explicate it. Are they all historians, except for the Roman world's Wendell Berry and a prematurely dead Greek trial lawyer? Are they all germane, except for Columella and Lysias? Would you mind illustrating the germaneness from their extant works?

    And would you please prove that silence = nonexistence. I am not a philosopher, but you may likely be better versed in logical proof than I. I might well not understand your proof, but I should like to read it. If no such proof can be offered, of what evidentiary value then is the list? If it has evidentiary value, this can be demonstrated from the works of these authors.

    If you don't mind my asking, how well-versed (sorry, you were the one who hauled in Columella) are you in classical Greek or in Latin? I'm assuming that you know the languages to some extent and have read fairly widely in classical authors.

    I could recite a list of ancient Indian philosophers, but since I know neither Sanskrit nor Pali nor any other classical Indian language (nor, regrettably, any modern language of the Subcontinent), and have no formal training in philosophy, my recitation of such a list would be sheer incantation. I cannot imagine you resorting to such folly (mutatis mutandis).

    So, what I should like from you is an explication of that list. You brought it in. You used it to impress. You made it an integral part of your discussion. You further illustrated your commitment to the list by making a refinement: that some historians are germane and some are not, indicating that you know which ones are germane, which ungermane, which are historians (unless they all are) and which are not. You have given us your list of classical authors derived from a book you described as itself a classic in the broader sense of the term. Now make it stick. Author by author, text by text.

    Ioannes Carpathicus
  3. adamsmith

    adamsmith member

    Let's not quible over translations. Are we talking about something miraculous and notable in these three hours of darkness, or can they be explained away as a 'natural event'?

    And what of the events surrounding the 'darkness' -

    Matthew 27:51 - 53 "...and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split. And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many."

    People rising from the dead and walking around town? Surely this would warrant some attention?

    Again, I emphasis the point that was so aptly made by Gibbon; all these miraculous events have been ignored by secular scholars of the day! Why? Especially when they recorded and reported on all sorts of other unusual events such as comets, earthquakes (!), meteors and eclipes!
  4. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Re: Re: Re: re:

    You go ahead and be disappointed if you like Daniel. You missed the part of the post that after addressing your assertion (which I felt did not make good use of logic & yes I realize you were quoting an atheist association or some such) went on to say "As to some other arguments......". This addressed the Hitler issue and some spurious assertions made by others. I did not say "you"....und das ist alles mein freund. Ach so.........ruhe mein Freund.

  5. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Re: Re: Re: re:

    You go ahead and be disappointed if you like Daniel. You missed the part of the post that after addressing your assertion (which I felt did not make good use of logic & yes I realize you were quoting an atheist association or some such) went on to say "As to some other arguments......". This addressed the Hitler issue and some spurious assertions made by others. I did not say "you"....und das ist alles mein freund. Ach so.........ruhe mein Freund.

  6. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Re: Re: Re: re:

    You go ahead and be disappointed if you like Daniel. You missed the part of the post that after addressing your assertion (which I felt did not make good use of logic & yes I realize you were quoting an atheist association or some such) went on to say "As to some other arguments......". This addressed the Hitler issue and some spurious assertions made by others. I did not say "you"....und das ist alles mein freund. Ach so.........ruhe mein Freund.

  7. uncle janko

    uncle janko member

    Final parenthetical note from me on this thread: Adamsmith raises a very good classical-studies issue about the Jerusalem prodigia. This is indeed the sort of thing in which many classical Roman authors were interested, whether by way of affirmation, debunking, discerning the favour or disfavour of the god(s), or just mentioning this really weird thing that the locals say happened.

    This is only a guess, but the lack of mention of this stuff might well be due to where it (according to the NT) happened: in a misbegotten rat's nest of a city populated by barbarians with a weird religion in a nearly ungovernable and practically useless corner of the Empire.

    For so the Romans regarded Zion.

    I have read no Josephus and very little Philo (Wolfson's book was quite enough for me, thanks very much). I do not know whether they, as Jews--after a fashion, in the case of Josephus--shared the Roman interest in prodigies. In fact, it's a good question to what extent first century CE Hellenistic writers shared this Roman interest, and I'm not entirely sure of the answer.

    So, while this answer casts no classical-studies light on the reality or otherwise of the Jerusalem prodigies (as a very conservative Christian, I believe they occurred on the strength of the Biblical testimony to them), I hope it casts a little light on the sorts of questions--and the sorts of limitations on breezy answers--which occur in the discipline of classical philology (even in the hands of a not very skilled practitioner such as myself).
  8. paynedaniel

    paynedaniel New Member

    I will do my best to provide the information requested on the above list of historians. It may take some time, so do not think I have run away:) I am man enough to realize that I am out of my league when it comes to classical languages and me & Uncle Janko, so Janko, in my posts to come, I expect to learn many things from you.

  9. paynedaniel

    paynedaniel New Member

    Re: Re: Re: Re: re:

    Should I be disappointed times 3?

  10. Bill Grover

    Bill Grover New Member


    Well put! You and I disagree about Jesus, but we agree about my Uncle Janko. He is very learned...but testy at times :)
  11. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member


    I LOVE your description of Judea!

    "n a misbegotten rat's nest of a city populated by barbarians with a weird religion in a nearly ungovernable and practically useless corner of the Empire."

    And the Brits in 1929 would probably say that things hadn't changed much!
  12. uncle janko

    uncle janko member

    Thank you for looking into this, Daniel. I am sure we will both learn some things. Don't forget to wrestle with the philosophical issue of textual silence = actual nonexistence. J.
  13. Anthony Pina

    Anthony Pina Active Member


    With all due respect, I'm afraid that your telling of the "evidence" is not quite accurate. Those who saw the papyri that Joseph Smith possessed described the section used for the Book of Abraham ias "exquisitely written" in a combination of red and black characters. The manuscripts discovered at the Metropolitan museum in 1967 were given to the LDS Church, which immediately published reproductions in Church magazines and commissioned translations from several experts. It was obvious from the beginning that these fragments (which constituted only aout 15% of the total papyri possessed by Smth) could not be the ones used for the Book of Abraham, since they were sloppily copied (not "exquisite" by any stretch of the imagination) and contained not one trace of red ink.

    Anti-Mormons, ignorant of what had been published previously about the nature of the Joseph Smith papyri and the Book of Abraham, predicted the immediate demise of the Church. Others, equally uninformed, have repeated the same thing for 37 years, while the LDS Curch has grown to become the fifth largest denomination in the country. In short, the so-called "evidence" is hardly "overwhelming" and is quite easily disputed.

  14. paynedaniel

    paynedaniel New Member


    OK - let's start with Jospehus. Uncle Janko gave a good suggestion when he advised not to equate silence with non-existence. Therefore, I want to begin with the historians who actually mention Jesus (or Christ, Chrestus, MEssiah, etc.). The two passages from Josephus' Antiquities are as 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 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." (Book 18, Chapter 3, Item 3)

    The passage w/out the Testimonium reads,

    "...So he bid the Jews himself go away; but they boldly casting reproaches upon him, he gave the soldiers that signal which had been beforehand agreed on; who laid upon them much greater blows than Pilate had commanded them, and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not; nor did they spare them in the least: and since the people were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about, there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition. About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder, and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome..."

    The second passage reads,

    "But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought it before the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned." (Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus 20.9.1 ¡×200-201)

    About the first passage, John Dominic Crossan, in The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (1991), has this to say: "The problem here is that Josephus' account is too good to be true, too confessional to be impartial, too Christian to be Jewish." Three passages stood out: "...if it be lawful to call him a man... He was [the] Christ... 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."

    The first passage has three major problems: (1) the text contains several hapax legomena, which is often evidence of different authorship; (2) the text would not have been written by a Jew; (3) the logical flow is interuppted by the Jesus passage.

    The first person to cite this passage was Eusebius c. 324. Origin, c. 240, fails to mention this passage. Origen also claims that Jospehus did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. The 2nd passage is not known before c. 200 CE.

    If a concensus existed, I think it should comprise the following: (1) The extant Greek Testimonium is not the original. At best, favorable phrases about Jesus are later insertions - at worst, the entire passage is a later insertion, and (2) Josephus would most likely not claim Jesus was the Messiah or that he rose from the dead.

    We can deal more with Josephus, but I'd like to move on to Tacitus next. Of course, we can discuss more than one historian at a time, but in order to remain half-way sane, I'm going to try to stick to one at a time in my posts.

  15. paynedaniel

    paynedaniel New Member


    Tacitus is considered by many scholars to be the most reliable historian of his time, but as many historians must do, he often uses secondary sources in the recording of history. Tacitus records two paragraphs on Jesus and Christianity. The 1st paragraph states what nobody is disputing here: that Christians existed in Rome in AD 116. The 2nd paragraph states that Christianity arose in Rome and Judea and that Jesus was put to death by Pilate.

    The Latin passage is as follows (with a translation):

    Sed non ope humana, non largitionibus principis aut deum placamentis decedebat infamia, quin iussum incendium crederetur. Ergo abolendo rumori Nero subdidit reos et quaesitissimis poenis adfecit, quos per flagitia invisos vulgus Christianos appellabat. (15.44.2) Auctor nominis eius Christus Tibero imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat; repressaque in praesens exitiabilis superstitio rursum erumpebat, non modo per Iudaeam, originem eius mali, sed per urbem etiam, quo cuncta mundique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque. (15.44.3.)

    Translation: But, despite kindly influence, despite the leader's generous handouts, despite appeasing the gods, the scandal did not subside, rather the blaze came to be believed to be an official act. So, in order to quash the rumour, Nero blamed it on, and applied the cruellest punishments to, those sinners, whom ordinary people call Christians, hating them for their shameful behaviour. (15.44.2) The originator of this name, Christus, was sent to execution by Procurator Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius, but although checked for a moment, the deadly
    cult erupted again, not just in Judaea, the source of its evil, but even in Rome, where all the sins and scandals of the world gather and are glorified. (15.44.3)

    The following are some serious problems with this passage:

    (1) The phrase "multitudo ingens" which means "a great number" is opposed to all that we know of the spread of the new faith in Rome at the time. There were not more than a few thousand Christians 200 years later.
    (2) Death by fire was not a form of punishment inflicted at Rome in the time of Nero.
    (3) The worshippers of the Sun-god Serapis were also called "Christians." Serapis or Osiris had a large following at Rome especially among the common people.
    (4) The expression "Christians" which Tacitus applies to the followers of Jesus, was by no means common in the time of Nero. Not a single Greek or Roman writer of the first century mentions the name. The Christians who called themselves Jessaeans, Nazoraeans, the Elect, the Saints, the Faithful, etc. were universally regarded as Jews. They observed the Mosaic law and the people could not distinguish them from the other Jews. The Greek word Christus (the anointed) for Messiah, and the derivative word, Christian, first came into use under Trajan in the time of Tacitus. Even then, however, the word Christus could not mean Jesus of Nazareth. All the Jews without exception looked forward to a Christus or Messiah. It is, therefore, not clear how the fact of being a "Christian" could, in te time of Nero or of Tacitus, distinguish the followers of Jesus from other believers in a Christus or Messiah. Not one of the gospels applies the name Christians to the followers of Jesus. It is never used in the New Testament as a description of themselves by the believers in Jesus.
    (5) This passage which could have served Christian writers better than any other writing of Tacitus, is not quoted by any of the Christian Fathers. It is not quoted by Tertullian, though he often quoted the works of Tacitus. Tertullian's arguments called for the use of this passage with so loud a voice that his omission of it, if it had really existed, amounted to a violent improbability.
    (6) Eusebius in the 4th century cited all the evidence of Christianity obtained from Jewish and pagan sources but makes no mention of Tacitus.
    (7) This passage is not quoted by Clement of Alexandria who at the beginning of the 3rd century set himself entirely to the work of adducing and bringing together all the admissions and recognitions which pagan authors had made of the existence of Christ Jesus or Christians before his time.
    (8) There is no vestige or trace of this passage anywhere in the world before the 15th century. Its use as part of the evidences of the Christian religion is absolutely modern. Although no reference whatever is made to it by any writer or historian, monkish or otherwise, before the 15th century (1468 A.D.), after that time it is quoted or referred to in an endless list of works.
    (9) The fidelity of the passage rests entirely upon the fidelity of one individual (first published in a copy of the annals of Tacitus in the year 1468 by Johannes de Spire of Venice who took his imprint of it from a single manuscript) who would have every opportunity and inducement to insert such an interpolation.

  16. paynedaniel

    paynedaniel New Member

    Backtrack and Admission of Guilt

    Is backtracking and guilt admission allowed on this board?:) Well, I have some backtracking to do. The list of historians I posted a few posts above is, as stated, borrowed from a source. I used this list without thinking. Some of the historians listed would have no interest in recording things about Jesus or his followers. Since I posted the list, however, I will address every historian on the list and why some of them would not bother with writing about a supposed Jesus or his followers. That's the price I must pay for posting without thinking first. I will also address the historians who do mention Jesus, and the problems with these passages. Fair enough?

  17. uncle janko

    uncle janko member

    What do you know about the textual transmission of Tacitus? (I took two grad-level courses on Tacitus. No one questioned the authenticity or Tacitean authorship of the passages.) What do you know about Tacitus' word choice? Why is multitudo ingens inconsistent with Tacitus' highly baroque and ornamented style? What is the source for your comments on the passage, or are they original with you? Why on earth are you using Eusebius and Tertullian as your authorities for determining the authenticity and accuracy of a passage in Tacitus? The passage says precisely NOTHING about burning people to death as a form of execution in the time of Nero. Where did you get that from? The passage does NOT say that Christians existed in Rome in 116 CE, as you directly state--it says that people used to call them Christians, that is, in the time of Nero. (If you are using the argument from silence here, why do you not claim that Tacitus is saying there were no longer any Christians in Rome in his own day?) What is the source for calling the followers of Serapis "Christiani"? How do you know that the term "Christiani" was uncommon at the time of Nero? The Acts of the Apostles [a NT book] says the term originated in Antioch in the first generation of the Christian movement. What evidence do you have for the universal use of the various appellations you list? What evidence do you have about lost works of Tertullian, Eusebius, or Clement Alex.? You keep doing this "they don't mention or use thus and such, therefore thus and such is untrue/inauthentic"; would you kindly show me why this is so? Can you get into the minds of these authors? Have you read any of them? If you have not, why do you temerariously cite them as supporters of your notion that Jesus did not exist? How in any case does the Tacitus passage speak to that question? Is the Tacitus passage from the Agricola, the Germania, the Annals, or the Histories? What do you know of Tacitus' own biases? Do you have any idea how many classical authors exist for us today on the strength of one ms or stemma of mss? What is the "imprint" by de Spire? What are the "opportunity and inducement"? Can you prove that the interpolation you allege actually happened? Which textual critics and commentators on Tacitus support this claim? Is "monkish" actually your term? In 2005? What is "monkish" about the renewed interest in classical authors in the 15th Century?

    I assure you that not one of these questions is rhetorical. Not one.

    I look forward to learning much from your answers to them.

    But why don't you tell us which names on your earlier list are actually the names of historians who deal with first century CE Judaea? Or which are historians at all? You did not know that Lysias was an Athenian orator well before the time of Christ or that Columella wrote just about farming.

    Thus far you have not demonstrated any awareness of the realities of classical studies. Now the nice thing about Bible-debunking is that it is a game anybody and everybody feels entitled to play since "religion is only a matter of opinion" or some other such bromide serves as the governing rubric of the game. In this respect, Bible-debunking is much like founding a fundamentalist sect: it requires neither learning nor perspicacity, but only zealotry and an ignorant ability to quote out of context. In the field of classical studies, unlike devotional ejaculations pious or impious about the Bible, there are some standards of language competence, textual criticism, stylistic sensitivity, and historical knowledge which are in varying measure brought to bear upon the text under discussion.

    You can orate against the Bible all you like. This is a relativistic age, so you can always fall back upon "that's just your opinion" or some other cavalier dismissal of any challenge to your expertise. But relying upon a 19th century village atheist for your handling of classical texts is an act of faith, not of scholarship. It is a frail reed which, if a man lean upon it, it shall pierce his hand.
    Having entered into the field of classical studies, wishing a text to speak at your command will get you nowhere. Such things may be acceptable in religious or anti-religious polemic; that is why I do not engage in such polemic on this board. In the treatment of Tacitus, however, you will have to come up higher.

    Please do so, or leave Tacitus alone.
  18. BillDayson

    BillDayson New Member

    It's been a long time since I studied this (in secondary sources, in English), but as I recall, Pliny's letters aren't really a very good source about the existence of Jesus, one way or the other.

    Pliny was essentially clueless about Christianity when as Governor of Bithynia he received complaints about them (the nature of the complaints seems to be obscure). So he investigated and found that Christians celebrated some kind of sacred meal (an agape feast?) in honor of Jesus, as if he were a god. Pliny didn't see anything particularly dangerous about these Christians. So what we have is a rather vague report of what Christianity looked like to a well educated outsider. It also tells us something about the unfamiliarity of top level Romans with Christianity and its practices in the first couple of decades of the second century.

    Pliny and Trajan exchanged some letters, the Christians were determined to be an illegal secret society on the precident of the earlier Bacchus cults in Italy which the government had been forced to suppress, but Trajan instructed Pliny not to accept anonymous accusations against Christians and not to actively seek Christians out. So the letters provide an inside look at how Roman officialdom conceived of and reacted to the Christians in those years.

    But that doesn't tell us much of anthing about whether Jesus really existed or not. We just learn that the early Christians apparently worshipped him, but we already knew that.

    Not silly, but certainly unpersuasive.

    The argument from silence is interesting and probably valid in its way. (Similar arguments work in other historical contexts.) But it works both ways, and can be used both to attack and defend Christianity. I've seen it most often used by Christians themselves to argue that the miraculous events in the gospels must be true, because if they weren't true, somebody would have written that they were present and that's not what happened.

    But of course, had the events happened, you would expect non-Chistians (particularly all those Jews) to have commented on it.

    Unfortunately, just too few writings from that time survive. What's more, for well over a thousand years much of the copying and transmission of ancient writings, particularly on these subjects, was religiously motivated.

    So we see Paul fuming about his opponents in Jerusalem and actually fearing to travel there, but the writings of those opponents don't survive. We could use the argument from silence to argue that nobody disagreed with Paul, but Paul himself records that some people did.

    I guess that I'm saying that where our data is so fragmentary (in the cases of ancient writings, often literally so), arguments from silence are often difficult because we don't really know what's been lost.
  19. uncle janko

    uncle janko member

  20. BillDayson

    BillDayson New Member

    I don't have any proofs for you Unk.

    But nevertheless, I'm reasonably certain that a nuclear explosion hasn't occurred within twenty miles of me in the last five minutes. Why? The silence.

    I think that when an event is of the sort that we can reasonably be expected to see evidence of it, failure to see that evidence is itself evidence that the event didn't occur.

    Of course, we have to know that the event was the sort to leave evidence, and we need to be confident that whatever evidence there may have orginally been has successfully made its way to us. That's where this particular instance of the argument from silence kind of wobbles, in my opinion.

    I think that the list was simply intended to demonstrate that many ancient non-Christian writings survive.

    The idea seems to be that if we have ancient writings on so many other topics, then why don't we have some independent non-Christian accounts of Jesus?

    Of course, one could make any number of replies to that. Perhaps Jesus never existed. Perhaps he did exist, but was too obscure or insignificant for anyone to comment on until his sect grew to the point it couldn't be ignored. Or perhaps there really were early non-Christian writings that contradicted (or for that matter verified) the gospels, but they haven't survived.

    I expect that the Jews probably did write something contemporary to Jesus. Or, supposing for the sake of argument that he never existed or that he existed in some form very different than that described in the gospels, contemporary to the events described in Acts. But whatever those writings may have said, they presumably were lost in the Jewish wars or subsequently.

    Not really. The list doesn't need to suggest that every extant ancient non-Christian author should be expected to have written about Jesus. But it does raise the question about why nobody seems to have done so until a century or so later, when their writings were in response to the Christian sect and not to the events surrounding its founding.

    As I've said, I'm not really sure how persuasive that argument is, but there it is.

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