Did Jesus Really Exist?

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

  1. uncle janko

    uncle janko member

    No, the list was intended to demonstrate the nonexistence of Jesus, not that ancient non-Christian writings survive. Daniel said so, and he adduced the list.

    The question of why no one noticed might be answered with a question: why would they have noticed? Why would Roman writers at a great geographical remove and an infinite ideological/religious remove from Jesus and his immediate followers have noticed him or them?

    I really do not want to be drawn into the "did Jesus exist or not?" debate, just as I would not be drawn into a "was Jesus this or that?" debate.

    But Daniel made classical-studies claims, and I would like to see him back them up. Perhaps he will, perhaps he won't. But if he won't or can't, he should drop the claims drawn from an alien discipline. And then, let him proceed to debate the "existence of Jesus" question however he likes.

    I have no interest in this thread beyond that.
  2. CB3

    CB3 New Member

  3. paynedaniel

    paynedaniel New Member

    re: to Uncle Janko

    I want to begin by saying that I do not call into question that Tacitus wrote at least the foundation of what we now have in his Annals 15.44. If I implied I thought the whole passage was a 15th century forgery, I apologize. I do not think it is an entire forgery, but I do think it is edited to a degree. Now to answer some of your questions:

    Q: What do you know about the textual transmission of Tacitus?
    A: I am familiar with the steps of textual criticism: (1) recensio [the creation of a family tree]; (2) selectio [comparison of readings of various family members]; (3) examinatio [study of texts to look for primitive errors]; and (4) emendatio [correction of primitive errors]. First of all, there is no clear scholarly evidence for doubting the authenticity of the original text, but it's likely later editing was done. Even if we are not questioning Tactitus' original penning of 15.44, the factual accuracy of his work is often questioned due to his use of secondary sources of unknown reliability. Tacitus wrote c. 100 (give or take a few years). The earliest copies we have of the passage in question is c. 1100. There are 20 copies. In all textual criticism, biblical and otherwise, the first rule of thumb in determining the worth (in terms of truth content) of a document is how close the copies of that document were written to the time of the autograph. With 15.44, we have a time span of 1000 years. Of the 16 books in the Annals, 10 survive in full and 2 in part. The texts of these extant portions depend entirely on 2 MSS, one from the 9th century, and one from the 11th century. All of the late Italian manuscripts are copies of a single mediaeval manuscript, also in the Laurentian library, where it is number 68.2. It is referred to as the 'second Medicean', to distinguish it from the codex of Annals 1-6. Bound with it are the major works of Apuleius, written slightly later than Tacitus but at the same place. This MS is written in the Beneventan hand. It was written at Monte Cassino, perhaps during the abbacy of Richer (1038-55AD). It derives from an ancestor which was written in Rustic Capitals, as it contains errors of transcription natural to that bookhand. There is some evidence that it was copied only once in about ten centuries, and that this copy was made from an original in rustic capitals of the 5th century or earlier, but other scholars believe that it was copied via at least one intermediate copy written in a minuscule hand. How the MS came to leave Monte Cassino is a matter of debate. It was still at Monte Cassino, and was used by Paulus Venetus, Bishop of Puzzuoli, sometime between 1331 and 1344. However Boccaccio had seen the text by 1371, and the MS is listed among the books given by him at his death to the monastery of S. Spirito in Florence. The MS is next seen in 1427, in the hands of the book-collector Niccolo Niccoli. At Niccolo's death in 1437, the MS passed with his books to the monastery of San Marco at Florence with the Medici as executors, and the humanist copies all date from this period or later. The editio princeps was from the press of 'Spira' at Venice, a folio volume containing only the last 6 books of the annals and the first five of the histories. It is undated, but supposed to be from either 1468 or 1470. (information from Dibdin, Thomas Frognall, An introduction to the knowledge of rare and valuable editions of the Greek and Latin classics, 4th edn., London (1827), vol II. p.466).

    Q. Why is multitudo ingens inconsistent with Tacitus' highly baroque and ornamental style?
    A. It may or may not be inconsistent, but is serious enough to call into consideration. Tacitus' style shifts throughout his work. From the 13th books of the Annals on, the style becomes more conformed to the fundamentals of the classical style. He begins, in general, to use more normal and moderate expressions. Tacitus is usually quite concise, and multitudo ingens seems flattering to the Christians of the time.

    Q. Why on earth are you using Eusebius and Tertullian as your authorities for determining the authenticity and accuracy of a passage in Tacitus?
    A. Tertullian and Eusebius were copious in their documentation of evidence of Christianity from Jewish and pagan sources. Tertullian (which I have read along with Eusebius) often quotes Tacitus, but makes no use of 15.44. Now, I stated at first i am not questioning that the roots of 15.44 go back to Tacitus, but for Tertullian not to use such a useful passage seems to imply there wasn't an original passage of much use (i.e. one not so obviously laden with Christian history). Granted, this is an argument from silence, one of the weakest arguments. And, of course, I cannot get into anyone's mind, however much I may want to. [I'd love to get inside yours, Uncle Janko:)]

    Q. 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.
    A. True - my mistake. Tacitus, in 116, was writing about the existence of Christians during the time of Nero (54-68).

    Q. What is the source for calling the followers of Serapis "Christiani"?
    A. A correspondence from Emperor Hadrian refers to Alexandrian worshippers of Serapis calling themselves bishops of Christ:
    "Egypt, which you commended to me, my dearest Servianus, I have found to be wholly fickle and inconsistent, and continually wafted about by every breath of fame. The worshipers of Serapis (here) are called Christians, and those who are devoted to the god Serapis (I find), call themselves Bishops of Christ."
    - Hadrian to Servianus, 134A.D.

    Q. What evidence do you have about the lost works of Tertullian, Eusebius, or Clement of Alexandria?
    A. I have no evidence about the lost works, but we have a great deal of writings in which it would be expected to find the Tacitus passage. (Please do not reiterate the "silence" argument - your point is taken.)

    Q. What do you know of Tacitus' own biases?
    A. Tacitus is mostly concerned with the motivations of the mind and the nature of power. His focus is usually directed toward the relationship between the Senate and the Emporers of Rome.

    Q. 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?
    A. "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 a 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." (15.44)

  4. pugbelly

    pugbelly New Member

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

    They did. Talmud - Sanhedrin 43a:

    "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."

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 19, 2005
  5. JLV

    JLV Active Member

    Hi, very interesting discussion. I have to agree with Stanislav who said that atheism (like comunism or nationalism) is another religion. It is so true, they shared so many elements. I think it just shows how avid is human nature to embrace anything that satisfy its spiritual needs. But this could be material for another discussion.

    Regarding the figure of Jesus, I *think* he existed. I also think he´d be surprised to see what happened after him (with my outmost respect to Christians). I consider myself an agnostic, I just think I have no enough elements to discern whether a God exists or not. Culturally I am a Christian, a Catholic, educated in the principles of Christian humanism but I don´t think there exist a God as portrayed by the religions. I am pretty sure that we all have a common destiny, disregarding our beliefs, creeds, national origins, be it paradise or hell or simply ... nothing.

  6. BillDayson

    BillDayson New Member

    Hi Pug. Yeah, you are right about that.

    But my understanding is that the Palestinian Talmud dates to roughly 500 AD, and the Babylonian Talmud to maybe a century later, not long before the Islamic conquest. (Nosborne can probably say more about that.) So the Talmud is relatively late.

    What I was thinking in the passage you quoted was that if Jesus had created so much messianic excitement in Jerusalem that the Jewish authorities and their Roman overlords saw fit to execute him, and if the events surrounding that execution were so extraordinary, then it's reasonable to assume that somebody in the Jewish community produced some kind of contemporary written comment about it.

    Or, assuming for the sake of argument that Jesus didn't exist, or that he did exist but that the events of his life bore little resemblance to the gospel stories, then I expect that the Jews would have produced some written comment on the small Christian sect growing in their midst which was making some rather outlandish claims about this guy. So I'm assuming that even in these conditions there would have been some written Jewish comment contemporary to the events in Acts.

    In other words, whether or not Jesus existed, and whether or not the events of his life and death bore any resemblance to the what the gospels depict, we can reasonably assume that there were Jewish writings about him that have subsequently been lost.

    Perhaps that happened in the Jewish wars of 70 and 130 AD. We know that the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden in caves at that time for safe keeping. Perhaps the early Jewish writings about Jesus weren't so lucky.

    The relevance of this to the thread's argument and to Daniel's list is that if we have reason to assume that relevant writings have probably been lost, then the argument from silence loses its force, whether it's being used to attack Christianity or to defend it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 19, 2005
  7. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member

    I gather that Sanhedrin 43a falls in Sanhedrin Vol. III in the Steinsaltz edition, which is the edition I use for reference. (Lightweight of me, I know.)

    I own Vols. I, II, and IV. Davka.

    I will look in our Temple library copy tomorrow.

    Pure speculation about the context? Sanhedrin spends an amazing amount of time talking about each of the four forms of execution and when each is indicated.

    A statement like this does not necessarily mean that the majority of contributors to Talmud are vouching for the objective existance of Jesus or not; more likely, the story is an illustration of which form of execution applies in a given case. BTW, crucifixion is NOT a Jewish method of execution.
  8. CB3

    CB3 New Member

    Ancient Records

    Does anyone feel there is any knowledge of archaeological findings that support his inner circle of family? A Roman census of recorded births? Roman records of Jesus being crucified? Records in the past that show Jesus or his family paying taxes? That would be interesting to know. I will research and maybe others will as well?
  9. uncle janko

    uncle janko member

    Hi CB3:

    I know little or nothing about archaeology, so I can't answer that question. As to the rest, I would frankly be shocked if any such came to light. Roman censuses, from the very little I have read about them--and that some time ago--did not record the kind of family data that our censuses record. The purpose was to get a handle on numbers of people and possibly property, both for tax purposes. I know nothing about tax payment records--don't know if they were kept apart from local bookeeping, nor if any have survived from anywhere. There are classicists who have made thorough studies of this sort of thing: Rostovtzeff, Alfo"ldy, Braund, Frayn, maybe Fergus Millar, but it's never been an interest of mine. I doubt if Jesus or his family were the sort of people who would show up in prosopographical studies (one thinks of Szemler's or Alfo"ldi's [not Alfo"ldy with a Y] work here); they weren't socially notable, or Roman citizens, or client royalty. In sum, if *authentic* Roman government records of Jesus from Jesus' lifetime still exist, I would be amazed.

    (Smallish theological note: as a very very conservative Lutheran, I have no use for or interest in evidentialist apologetics. If the famous bone box that may or may not have had the name of James (Jesus' half-brother) on it from ancient times is real or fake--I don't recall what the final take on the thing was--I don't much care. If the Shroud of Turin is real (which I rather doubt), it doesn't help my faith at all. The whole "evidence demanding a verdict" sort of thing is simply neither here nor there to me. Its successes prove nothing one way or the other; nor do its failures. Its special pleadings are frequent and embarrassing enough for me to prefer to avoid it altogether.)

    [Jesus' claim to Davidide status might have gotten him crucified, but not a place in any permanent Roman records--noncitizens just weren't individuals of note, generally speaking, even if one of them happened to be the Word Incarnate. Part of our underlying problem here, apart from the abuse of classical studies which has not yet been satisfactorily cleared up, is that Christians, particularly the pop-evangelical variety (including atheists of such cultural provenance), want Jesus and his coterie to have been famous or celebrities. They just weren't, not among those who mattered in Roman circles, not at all. Holy Week may well be critically important to Christians and Bible-debunkers, but I doubt that any Romans, not even (or especially?) Pilate, gave its events much of a second thought.]

    I remain deeply suspicious of the use of classical philology (especially by nonclassicists without training in it) to prove or disprove this or that biblical account. Please note that despite actually having training in the field I am very careful in the beginning of this post to disclaim CP knowledge or expertise where I do NOT have it. Nothing is stupider than fake expertise, nothing wiser than carefully asking questions instead of reacting according to one's wishes or likes and dislikes.That's part of the discipline, too. And expertise is not acquired by cut-and-paste in this or in any field. It just isn't. One might as well stand on a rock and wait for the Holy Ghost to fly into one's mouth feathers and all. CP is not (in another Luther phrase) a wax nose, after all, not the way religious or antireligious polemic is.


    P.S. Nero's immolation of human beings was not part of Roman law.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 19, 2005
  10. CB3

    CB3 New Member

    I know little or nothing about archaeology, so I can't answer that question. As to the rest, I would frankly be shocked if any such came to light. Roman censuses, from the very little I have read about them--and that some time ago--did not record the kind of family data that our censuses record. The purpose was to get a handle on numbers of people and possibly property, both for tax purposes. I know nothing about tax payment records--don't know if they were kept apart from local bookeeping, nor if any have survived from anywhere. There are classicists who have made thorough studies of this sort of thing: Rostovtzeff, Alfo"ldy, Braund, Frayn, maybe Fergus Millar, but it's never been an interest of mine. I doubt if Jesus or his family were the sort of people who would show up in prosopographical studies (one thinks of Szemler's or Alfo"ldi's [not Alfo"ldy with a Y] work here); they weren't socially notable, or Roman citizens, or client royalty. In sum, if *authentic* Roman government records of Jesus from Jesus' lifetime still exist, I would be amazed.

    Hello Uncle Janko :)

    I appreciate you writing in reference to what I have said previously. As I delve into the ancient world trying to find clues from the world's past. I have more questions than answers of course. However, nevertheless, I find myself believing that Jesus Christ lived on this Earth. In honesty, I look to archaeology to help skeptics see that biblical accounts aren't totally a fairytale of sorts. As you have probably have read earlier in my post; prophecy is another area that generates excitement in interest to me. Like you said if "authentic" Roman government records are around then I would be amazed as well. After researching it is notably hard to find anything regarding Roman records unless you go into the Bible. Conversely, people who do not believe in Christ would rather have non-christian accounts or other evidence to support the claims that Jesus lived in those ancient days. The only census documented outside the Bible near this time under Quirinius is the one referred to by the historian Josephus (Antiquities XVIII, 26 [ii.1], which he says took place in 6 A.D. Luke 2:2 says that the census taken around the time Joseph and Mary went down to Bethlehem was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. There are probably a few more scriptures that offer evidence of censeses that could be of great value while studying this area. If anyone wanted to of course. I have a great respect for what you have to say Uncle Janko. While it is true I am nowhere near a classicist and I acknowledge that completely. I find the classical studies very interesting and perhaps will study further into more of it. I'm not sure where to start, but with advice from you; I would be very grateful. I concur with the cut, copy, paste as one can never be an expert in a field of study such as: classical philology by gaining knowledge from another for their own purposes to prove a point. A neophyte such as myself would be embarrassed to commit such a fraudulent act. I would hope others would feel the same way. Thus we shall learn and research from experts and self-learning to appease our own appetites and thirst for knowledge. When you said,"Nero's immolation of human beings was not part of Roman law." Perhaps was this a belief system he had under another religious order? I probably have rattled on enough and I thank you for your time Uncle Janko.

    Take care,

  11. uncle janko

    uncle janko member

    Hi CB3:
    Keep on the way you are going and you'll know a lot more than I do (really not too hard, as I think about it...).

    Your question "Perhaps was this a belief system he had under another religious order?" is a good one. The answer is utterly and categorically no!

    Roman religion is of interest to me, and there's nothing in standard-issue Roman religion or Roman philosophy that would approve of something like that. Human sacrifice occurred very early and very rarely in Roman religion and only in times of the very direst distress for the whole country. Nero burnt people alive because he liked burning people alive. It was fun! This was the sort of thing that made the Roman philosopher Seneca and his nephew the poet Lucan very nostalgic for the old Roman Republic--because then one just didn't do that sort of thing. Of course, they were both executed (compulsory suicide) by Nero. Tacitus, who wrote later on, also was nostalgic for the lost Republic.

  12. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member

    I can't imagine how Jesus could have been anything OTHER than a Jew; esle why (and how) could he have been tried before the Sanhedrin? I believe in that trial, BTW; there are things wrong with it from a Jewish law standpoint but the accounts contain details that are at once arcane and show a reasonable knowledge of practice at the time.

    Though a Jew, I think he may not have been a fully fledged member of the Jewish community perhaps as a result of the circumstances of his birth but THAT analysis requires a good bit more background than I have.
  13. Stanislav

    Stanislav Well-Known Member

    Exuse me, but this is just false. "Weak faith in the Bible" is a religion in itself, I agree. "Weak faith in science", on the other hand, would be just dumb. Science, as it is, is a demonstratably valid method of producing knowledge about the world. (I say "valid" and not "true", because science itself is very careful with this word. Say, Darvinian evolution is a "valid theory" and not nessesarily "truth". On the other hand, so is, technically, electricity, but we have enough confidence in it to actually turn on our computers.)

    It is interesting to point out that supposed religious person would use the word "faith" as a negativity. Why is that?

    I don't understand why people on both sides equate "science" and "atheism". Science is not atheistic, it is, by definition, agnostic (scientists, of course, can be atheists, agnostics, or religious - and they are). Question "is there a God", in strictly scientific methodology, is gnoseologically meaningless and outside the scope of inquiry.
  14. CB3

    CB3 New Member

    Thank you for the answer to the question uncle janko and the encouragement. Roman history and Jewish history are quite interesting to me as well. :)
  15. Guest

    Guest Guest


    You have made a good point that Jesus was a jew (as were Peter and of course Paul, etc). Part of the problem with our own theology has often been the interpretation of scripture from the point of view of Greek and Western philosophical/historical lenses. Of course we have even taken pains to paint Jesus and the Apostles in forms that are meaningful to us. That is not say these pictures are in and of themselves wrong but they are when they allow for no other vision.

    One of the books I have purchased is John Shelby Spong's book "Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes". I have read another book of his (Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism). Now, I do not agree with all that he says and some of his arguments in the latter, I could drive a truck through the holes but the liberal perspective is interesting none the less. In the former book, I look forward to absorbing what he has to say about seeing these scripture through the Jewish interpretive lense in which much of it was based. He delves into Midrashic elements, etc as a way of giving new understanding.

  16. CB3

    CB3 New Member

    I would just like to expand a little on this it may or may not have a direct link as to the purpose and the point of your post. I think of how important science is to all of humanity and religion and how they correspond together. In what way do you mean? The following examples such as: Isaiah 40:22, "It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
    Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in." I think it is good to note that the book of Isaiah was written sometime between 740 and 680 BC, and science confirmed this at a much later date that the world isn't flat but spherical. Another example, 1 Corinthians 15:41, "There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory."
    As we have learned in Astronomy 101 for those who have taken this course we know this to be true. Because a light spectra can analyze and reveal that each star is unique and different. In light of this, we wouldn't expect that someone from the 1st century A.D. to understand the complexities of astronomy. I believe this will be enough
    examples. It is really neat how we can compare science and the Bible together. I feel the Bible has a lot to offer us in life whether you believe or not. Perhaps faith is built up over time reading this incredible book. I find it quite amazing. Hopefully, I didn't take this too far out on a tangent. :)

  17. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member


    The thing that always amazes ME is that the statuary representing Jesus, his mother, and the Apostles usually show them a caucasians with decidedly European features.

    Yet the priginal apparition of the Lady of Guadalupe portrays her as an Mexican Indian.

    I have long held a nasty suspicion that the reason the Jewish Bible was "baptised" in the Christian church as "the word of God" was precisely to avoid ever having to tell anyone that JEWS wrote it!
  18. decimon

    decimon Well-Known Member

    Forget it, Nosborne, there are no residuals. :)
  19. Dave Wagner

    Dave Wagner Active Member


    Hi. My personal favorite illustration of Jesus can be found in the LDS Book of Mormon, where he is depicted as a Nordic superman, when he was mostly likely a swarthy or darker-skinned person of modest build. This is the essential problem with attempts by the Rationalists, the Empiricists and now the Historicists. The research questions surrounding the inquiry into Jesus' life and depictions of him are so strongly shaped by the cultural background of the researchers, that when the study is complete the researchers conclude essentially that Jesus looks just like them... The commonality of conclusions seem to indicate that the researchers might have just wondered about the divinity of Christ and were satisfied when they completed their inquiry by reaching the opposite conclusion...


  20. nosborne48

    nosborne48 Well-Known Member


    We'll file a civil complaint on Judgment Day.

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