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NOTE: Some liberal to moderate scholars are mentioned herein. Generally, we do not use them as authorities but it is used here as, “even these critics, skeptics, doubters cannot deny the overwhelming evidence of the Historical Jesus. If you want a true conservative and evidence that is sound, there are many articles mention herein, and the featured book by Dr. Gary Habermas: EVIDENCE FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS: Is the Jesus of History the Christ of Faith.
Virtually all reputable scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed. Reconstructions of the historical Jesus are based on the Pauline epistles and the Gospels, while several non-Biblical sources also bear witness to the historical existence of Jesus. Since the 18th century, three separate scholarly quests for the historical Jesus have taken place, each with distinct characteristics and developing new and different research criteria.
Scholars differ about the beliefs and teachings of Jesus as well as the accuracy of the biblical accounts, with two events being supported by nearly universal scholarly consensus; that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate. Historical Jesus scholars typically contend that he was a Galilean Jew and living in a time of messianic and apocalyptic expectations. Some scholars credit the apocalyptic declarations of the gospels to him, while others portray his “Kingdom of God” as a moral one, and not apocalyptic in nature.
The portraits of Jesus that have been constructed through history using these processes have often differed from each other, and from the image portrayed in the gospel accounts. Such portraits include that of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet, charismatic healer, Cynic philosopher, Jewish messiah, prophet of social change, and rabbi; but there is little scholarly agreement on a single portrait, nor the methods needed to construct it. There are, however, overlapping attributes among the various portraits, and scholars who differ on some attributes may agree on others.
Most scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed. Historian Michael Grant asserts that if conventional standards of historical textual criticism are applied to the New Testament, “we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.” There is no indication that writers in antiquity who opposed Christianity questioned the existence of Jesus.
Sources for the Historical Jesus
There is no physical or archaeological evidence for Jesus; all existing sources are documentary. The sources for the historical Jesus are mainly Christian writings, such as the gospels and the purported letters of the apostles. All extant sources that mention Jesus were written after his death. The New Testament represents sources that have become canonical for Christianity, and there are many apocryphal texts that are examples of the wide variety of writings in the first centuries AD that are related to Jesus. The authenticity and reliability of these sources have been questioned by many scholars, and few events mentioned in the gospels are universally accepted.
New Testament Sources
The Synoptic Gospels are the primary sources of historical information about Jesus and of the religious movement he founded. These religious gospels–the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Mark, and the Gospel of Luke–recount the life, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of a Jew named Jesus who spoke Aramaic and wore tzitzit. There are different hypotheses regarding the origin of the texts because the gospels of the New Testament were written in Greek for Greek-speaking communities, and were later translated into Syriac, Latin, and Coptic. The fourth gospel, the Gospel of John, differs greatly from the Synoptic Gospels. Historians often study the historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles when studying the reliability of the gospels, as the Book of Acts was seemingly written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke.
Only seven of the fourteen Pauline epistles are considered by scholarly consensus to be genuine; these are dated to between AD 50 and 60 (i.e., approximately twenty to thirty years after the generally accepted time period for the death of Jesus), and are the earliest surviving Christian texts that include information about Jesus. Although Paul the Apostle provides relatively little biographical information about Jesus and states that he never knew Jesus personally, he does make it clear that he considers Jesus to have been a real person and a Jew. Moreover, he claims to have met with James, the brother of Jesus.
In addition to biblical sources, there are a number of mentions of Jesus in non-Christian sources that have been used in the historical analyses of the existence of Jesus.
Biblical scholar Frederick Fyvie Bruce says the earliest mention of Jesus outside the New Testament occurs around 55 CE from a historian named Thallos. Thallos’ history, like the vast majority of ancient literature, has been lost but not before it was quoted by Sextus Julius Africanus (c. 160 – c. 240 CE), a Christian writer, in his History of the World (c. 220). This book likewise was lost, but not before one of its citations of Thallos was taken up by the Byzantine historian George Syncellus in his Chronicle (c. 800). There is no means by which certainty can be established concerning this or any of the other lost references, partial references, and questionable references that mention some aspect of Jesus’ life or death, but in evaluating evidence, it is appropriate to note they exist.
Josephus and Tacitus
There are two passages in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, and one from the Roman historian Tacitus, that are generally considered good evidence.
Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, written around 93–94 AD, includes two references to the biblical Jesus Christ in Books 18 and 20. The general scholarly view is that while the longer passage, known as the Testimonium Flavianum, is most likely not authentic in its entirety, it is broadly agreed upon that it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus, which was then subject to Christian interpolation. Of the other mention in Josephus, Josephus scholar Louis H. Feldman has stated that “few have doubted the genuineness” of Josephus’ reference to Jesus in Antiquities 20, 9, 1 (“the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”). Paul references meeting and interacting with James, Jesus’ brother, and since this agreement between the different sources supports Josephus’ statement, the statement is only disputed by a small number of scholars.
Roman historian Tacitus referred to Christus and his execution by Pontius Pilate in his Annals (written c. AD 116), book 15, chapter 44. Robert E. Van Voorst states that the very negative tone of Tacitus’ comments on Christians makes the passage extremely unlikely to have been forged by a Christian scribe and Boyd and Eddy state that the Tacitus reference is now widely accepted as an independent confirmation of Jesus’s crucifixion.
Other considerations outside Christendom include the possible mentions of Jesus in the Talmud. The Talmud speaks in some detail of the conduct of criminal cases of Israel whose texts were gathered together from 200–500 CE. Bart Ehrman says this material is too late to be of much use. Ehrman explains that “Jesus is never mentioned in the oldest part of the Talmud, the Mishnah, but appears only in the later commentaries of the Gemara.” Jesus is not mentioned by name, but there is a subtle attack on the virgin birth that refers to the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier “Panthera” (Ehrman says, “In Greek the word for virgin is parthenos”), and a reference to Jesus’ miracles as “black magic” learned when he lived in Egypt (as a toddler). Ehrman writes that few contemporary scholars treat this as historical.
Mara bar Serapion
There is only one classical writer who refers positively to Jesus and that is Mara bar Serapion, a Syriac Stoic, who wrote a letter to his son, who was also named Serapion, from a Roman prison. He speaks of Jesus as ‘the wise king’ and compares his death at the hand of the Jews to that of Socrates at the hands of the Athenians. He links the death of the ‘wise king’ to the Jews being driven from their kingdom. He also states that the ‘wise king’ lives on because of the “new laws he laid down”. The dating of the letter is disputed but was probably soon after 73 AD.
Historical Reliability of the Gospels
The historical reliability of the gospels refers to the reliability and historic character of the four New Testament gospels as historical documents. Little in the four canonical gospels is considered to be historically reliable.
Who Were Christianity’s First to Third Centuries Non-Christian Witnesses for the Historicity of Jesus Christ?
Historians subject the gospels to critical analysis by differentiating authentic, reliable information from possible inventions, exaggerations, and alterations. Since there are more textual variants in the New Testament (200–400 thousand) than it has letters (c. 140 thousand), scholars use textual criticism to determine which gospel variants could theoretically be taken as ‘original’. To answer this question, scholars have to ask who wrote the gospels, when they wrote them, what was their objective in writing them, what sources the authors used, how reliable these sources were, and how far removed in time the sources were from the stories they narrate, or if they were altered later. Scholars may also look into the internal evidence of the documents, to see if, for example, a document has misquoted texts from the Hebrew Tanakh, has made incorrect claims about geography, if the author appears to have hidden information, or if the author has fabricated a prophecy. Finally, scholars turn to external sources, including the testimony of early church leaders, to writers outside the church, primarily Jewish and Greco-Roman historians, who would have been more likely to have criticized the church, and to archaeological evidence.
That Jesus had a brother named James is corroborated by Josephus.
There is widespread disagreement among scholars on the details of the life of Jesus mentioned in the gospel narratives, and on the meaning of his teachings. Scholars differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the biblical accounts of Jesus, but almost all modern scholars consider his baptism and crucifixion to be historical facts.
The existence of John the Baptist within the same time frame as Jesus, and his eventual execution by Herod Antipas is attested to by 1st-century historian Josephus and the overwhelming majority of modern scholars view Josephus’ accounts of the activities of John the Baptist as authentic. One of the arguments in favor of the historicity of the Baptism of Jesus by John is the criterion of embarrassment, i.e. that it is a story which the early Christian Church would have never wanted to invent. Another argument used in favor of the historicity of the baptism is that multiple accounts refer to it, usually called the criterion of multiple attestation. Technically, multiple attestation does not guarantee authenticity, but only determines antiquity. However, for most scholars, together with the criterion of embarrassment it lends credibility to the baptism of Jesus by John being a historical event.
Was There Really an Epistle to the Laodiceans as Stated at Colossians 4:16, and, If so, Why Is It Not In Our Bibles?
John P. Meier views the crucifixion of Jesus as historical fact and states that, based on the criterion of embarrassment, Christians would not have invented the painful death of their leader. Meier states that a number of other criteria — the criterion of multiple attestation (i.e., confirmation by more than one source), the criterion of coherence (i.e., that it fits with other historical elements) and the criterion of rejection (i.e., that it is not disputed by ancient sources) — help establish the crucifixion of Jesus as a historical event. Eddy and Boyd state that it is now firmly established that there is non-Christian confirmation of the crucifixion of Jesus – referring to the mentions in Josephus and Tacitus.
Most scholars in the third quest for the historical Jesus consider the crucifixion indisputable, as do Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan and James Dunn. Although scholars agree on the historicity of the crucifixion, they differ on the reason and context for it, e.g. both E. P. Sanders and Paula Fredriksen support the historicity of the crucifixion but contend that Jesus did not foretell his own crucifixion and that his prediction of the crucifixion is a Christian story. Géza Vermes also views the crucifixion as a historical event but believes this was due to Jesus’ challenging of Roman authority.
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SCROLL THROUGH DIFFERENT CATEGORIES BELOW
BIBLE TRANSLATION AND TEXTUAL CRITICISM
BIBLICAL STUDIES / INTERPRETATION
CHRISTIAN APOLOGETIC EVANGELISM
CHURCH ISSUES, GROWTH, AND HISTORY
 Richard A. Burridge states: “There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that anymore.”
 Ehrman says, “There is historical information about Jesus in the Gospels.”
 In Galatians 4:4, Paul states that Jesus was “born of a woman.”
 In Romans 1:3, Paul states that Jesus was “born under the law.”
 That Jesus had a brother named James is corroborated by Josephus.