The reality of Jesus Christ of Nazareth

The Curse of the Black Pearl was the first release of the famed Pirates of the Caribbean films. That was back in 2003, and it was the talk of the town – in high schools, colleges, universities, homes, and estates. I was coming of age by then, and my ever inquisitive mind could stop at nothing short of knowing every detail of world happenings. The Invasion of Iraq, The Kosovo war of the 1990s, the Military rule in Nigeria of 1990s and the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Second Intifada, Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming the Governor of California and much more.

The truth is that I never watched any of the films under this stable except the fourth one; On the Stranger Side. But somehow I know about them, for my big appetite must be satisfied even if it means eating the wind.

There is a host of similar films that have been watched by most of us. We also have television series such as The Shannara Chronicles, Atlantis, Merlin, Game of Thrones, Grimm, Legend of the Seeker, Vampire Diaries, among others. There is one thing common to all these films: They belong to the fantasy genre. Do not be surprised if I confess that I have never watched them. Perhaps I have watched a good number of them.  I always try to know what is happening around the world. I do not have to partake of it anyway. There is some fantastic creature that keeps creeping in to whet my appetite for knowledge. I guess this creature came from the expansive Congo Rainforest.

Filmmakers are churning out loads of fantasy films at breakneck speed. The market demand seems to be on an upward swing.

Fantasy films transcend human possibilities and physical laws. They take the viewer into an imaginary space and time. There are no dragons! There are no ogres! It is all fantasy!

 

Historicity of legends

History is replete with figures whose existence is doubtful. Yeah, as doubtful as fantasies! There have been serious debates among history scholars on the existence of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, Ragnar Ladbroke of the Vikings, Pythagoras of Greece, Lycurgus, Robin Hood, Homer of the famous Iliad, among others. It has been difficult to categorically state if indeed there lived a guy called King Arthur, who stopped Saxons from taking over Camelot.

On the other hand, there are dozens of historical personalities whose existence is not in question. For example Socrates, Hammurabi, Plato, Augustus Caesar, Alexander the Great, Siddhartha, Confucius, and Cleopatra.

 

Jesus Christ of Nazareth

Most tried historians agree that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is a historical figure. The reality of Jesus is attested to by a chunk of scholars. Paul Maier is a professor of Ancient History and a retiree of Western Michigan University. Maier says, “The total evidence is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence.”

Craig A. Evans, a New Testament Scholar says, “No serious historian of any religious or nonreligious stripe doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea and Samaria.”

Bart Ehrman is one of the leading scholars on Textual Criticism. Ehrman is an agnostic, but he has this to say concerning the historicity of Jesus, “These views are so extreme (that Jesus did not exist) and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology.”

 

The New Testament documents are some of the primary sources that establish the existence of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I know skeptics have dismissed this as hogwash. Their argument is that New Testament texts are not only unreliable source of historical accounts but also biased as they were put together by people who wanted to propagate Christianity. Bruce M. Metzger, a renowned New Testament scholar tells us that there are over five thousand Greek Manuscripts (Metzger 1968, 36) that fleshes up the New Testament text. Norman Geisler, a philosopher, agrees with Metzger and so are other Biblical scholars. The New Testament was completed in approximately sixty years after Christ’s death.

There are non-Christian shreds of evidence that point to the existence of historical Jesus. They are as follows.

  1. Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian. He lived circa A.D. 37 – 100. Josephus did not subscribe to Christianity as most of the Jews were at the time. He was a well-educated man and most historians agree that his writings are authentic. Writing in Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus twice refers to Jesus. He calls Jesus ‘the Christ’ and refers to his ‘marvelous deeds’. He also mentions his death and resurrection (18.3.3). He does not stop at that: He mentions the trial of James and identifies him as ‘the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ’ (20.9.1).
  2. Pliny, who was the governor of Bithynia, wrote to the Trajan, a Roman Emperor (circa A.D. 112), complaining that Christians were meeting at an appointed time to sing a hymn ‘to Christ as if to God’. Pliny wanted Trajan to advise him on how to deal with them (Epistle of Pliny to Trajan 96).
  3. Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman Historian and a senator who lived around A.D. 56 – A.D. 120. He wrote the history of Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero. His writings are called Annals. He referred to ‘Christus’ who ‘was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius’ (XV.44).
  4. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was a Roman Historian of the First Century. He was born around 69 A.D. and died around 122 AD. He wrote mostly about the Roman Emperors. At around 120 A.D. he wrote about the Jews being expelled from Rome by Claudius. He says the Jews ‘were continually making disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus’ (Vita Claudii XXV.4). Historians say that ‘Chrestus’ is a corrupted word for Christos. This situation was mentioned by Luke in Acts 18:2.
  5. There are other hostile writers and philosophers who lived in the First and Second Centuries, wrote derogatorily about Jesus, but never questioned his historicity. Examples of these are Celsus, who was a pagan philosopher, Lucian of Samosata and Porphyry of Tyre.

There are many other accounts written by non-Christians that show Jesus existed. Most of these accounts were hostile to Christianity. Interestingly they never at one point disputed the historical Jesus.

There are also accounts written by church fathers that buttress the argument that Jesus existed – Polycarp (A.D. 69-155) and Irenaeus (A.D. 130-200).

 

There could be unending arguments and counter-arguments. The bottom line is that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is a historical figure as it is with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. We cannot accept Julius Caesar as a historical figure and at the same time deny Jesus the same status.

What are your take friends?

 

 

 

References

  1. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 13.
  2. Tacitus, Annals 15.44, cited in Strobel, The Case for Christ, 82
  3. Pliny, Epistles x. 96, cited in Bruce, Christian Origins, 25; Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 198.
  4. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 199.
  5. Josephus, Antiquities xx. 200, cited in Bruce, Christian Origins, 36.

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