The stumbling stone

The year 2003 was quite eventful. I was coming of age by then, and my troubled mind could stop at nothing short of knowing every aspect of world happenings. The Invasion of Iraq. The outbreak of SARS. The Nigerian elections in which the incumbent Olusegun Obasanjo defeated Muhammadu Buhari. It was the time Arnold Schwarzenegger became the Governor of California. 

In boxing, Lennox Lewis met Vitali Klitschko. He failed to beat Klitschko on scorecards and was controversially declared a winner. Lewis retired after this bout, though he had initially indicated his interest in a rematch. Fans wanted him to win convincingly, but Lewis baulked. 

Evander Holyfield was beaten up by an underdog too; James Toney. I think age had caught up with these two legendary boxers – Lewis and Holyfield. 

In the IRB Sevens Series 2002/2003, Shujaa team slowly but surely cemented its place among the Rugby top echelons. They caused a major upset in 2002, Wellington 7, by beating Australia. By the end of the IRB series, Kenya was placed in the ninth position finishing within the top 10 brackets.

It was the time when William Lane Craig teamed up with JP Moreland (two philosophers) to write ‘Philosophical Foundations for Christian Worldview.’ Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli gave us, ‘Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics.’ 

It was the time when William Lane Craig, a philosopher, met with Victor John Stenger, a physicist, for a debate titled ‘Is there God?’

Fantasy world

The Curse of the Black Pearl was the first release of the famed Pirates of the Caribbean films. That was back in 2003 too, and it was the biggest talk in the hamlet and the borough. 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 huge craving must be satisfied even if it means eating gossip. Many other similar films have been churned out by Holywood and some of us have watched them. We also have television series such as The Shannara ChroniclesAtlantisMerlinGame of ThronesGrimmLegend of the SeekerVampire Diaries, among others. 

There is one thing common to all these films: They belong to the fantasy genre. 

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 – where most introverts live. 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 historians 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

According to 1 Peter 2:8, Jesus is the stone that makes people stumble and the rock that makes them fall. It is not Hannibal, not Julius Caesar, not Confucius, not Homer, nor Socrates. It must be Jesus. We can’t help but question his existence. We can’t help but distrust his words. We can’t help but deny Him. Who else should we doubt? The world has been asking this question and still asks it. It is selective scrutiny at best and hypocrisy at worst.

The understanding among scholars, including non-Christian scholars, is that a historical Jesus doubtlessly existed. The possibility that there was no such an individual at all and that “Jesus Christ” was a legendary figure began in the eighteenth century, no more than a handful scholars still pay homage to this line of thinking. 

The authenticity 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 states, “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 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 this is what he says about the historicity of Jesus, “These views are so extreme (that Jesus did not exist) and so unconvincing to 99.99 per cent 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 sceptics have dismissed this as hogwash. They argue 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 and non-biblical scholars. The New Testament was completed in approximately sixty years after Christ’s death.

There are ancient 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 ‘marvellous 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 the 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. Some other hostile writers and philosophers 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 – Polycarp (A.D. 69-155) and Irenaeus (A.D. 130-200).

The claims of the Jesus Mythicists, then again, require distortions and suppositions that just don’t stand up to Occam’s Razor and are persistently hinged on positions that are not supported by both non-Christian and Jewish scholars. The champions of the Jesus Myth theory are mostly amateurs with an axe to grind and their position is and will in all likelihood stay on the external edge of hypotheses about the roots of Christianity.

The bottom line is that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is a historical figure as it is with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Hannibal and Alexander the Great. We cannot accept Hannibal and Julius Caesar as historical figures but at the same time deny Jesus the same status.

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