Defending the Theistic View

The Myth of Jesus: A Refutation of the Zeitgeist — Part 13

As Zeitgeist nears the end of part 1, it then calls the historicity of Jesus into question by saying not a single historian mentions Jesus. It then goes on to say,

Four historians are typically referenced to justify Jesus’s existence. Pliny the younger, Suetonius, Tacitus and the first three. Each one of their entries consists of only a few sentences at best and only refer to the Christus or the Christ, which in fact is not name but a title. It means the “Anointed one”. The fourth source is Josephus and this source has been proven to be a forgery for hundreds of years. Sadly, it is still sited as truth.

The film says that the first three historians mentioned only use the term “Christus,” or the “Christ,” and then goes on to say that it is only a title and not a name. — No Christian denies that Christ is a title. But it seems that the impression Zeitgeist is tying to give is that this “Christ” could be someone other than Jesus.

If that is the impression it is trying to give, then it is guilty of yet more deliberate distortions because at least one of then, Tacitus, is more specific as to what happened with “Christ” and his followers,

He [Nero] falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.

flavius-josephus1It is obvious to anyone who reads this that Tacitus is talking about the followers of Jesus. But there are some objections made by the “Jesus Myth” crowd against the use of this passage.

One is that it is not cited by Tertullian, or any other early Christian apologist to support their faith. The conclusion therefore many “Christ-Mythers” reach is that it is probably a later Christian forgery. — My answer to this objection is that no Christian apologist in the early Christian church cited it because there would have been no point to it because the passage is very anti-Christian and insinuates that Christians were guilty of heinous crimes,

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.

Tacitus’ passage reflects the early Roman misconception of Christians being Atheists and Cannibals, exactly what the early Christians were trying to defend themselves against. So it would have made no sense at all for any early Christian to use Tacitus to defend the Christian faith. Also it is unlikely that the passage is a Christian interpolation because of its anti-Christian bias.

One argument is that Tacitus probably didn’t have primary sources for his personal information about Jesus himself. This suggests that Tacitus only uncritically accepted what others said as gospel without investigation. This, however, goes against Tacitus’ way of dealing with history. He actually reported hear-say and rumors for what they were around seventy times. He didn’t just uncritically accept anything.

One of many examples of Tacitus reporting his skepticism of a certain event is found in The Annals 15: 53 where he calls information he received from his friend Pliny the younger “absurd.” — Considering the fact that Tacitus was a critical historian, there is no reason to believe that he would all of a sudden throw away his standards just for this one passage mentioning Jesus.

Even with the unlikely event that Tacitus accepted the mention of Jesus without any investigation of the facts, he would have had much clearer knowledge of  the “immense multitude” of Roman Christians which Nero had used as scapegoats. — The time of Nero’s persecution of Christians in 64 AD would have been close enough to the time of Jesus for any extremely early critic of Christianity to credibly claim that Jesus had never existed. Interestingly enough, that never happened because more than likely, Tacitus himself as well as any Christian hater would have reported it.

The next historian that has been cited to support the existence of Jesus is Flavius Josephus. — A famous passage in Josephus’ works known as the Testimonium Flavianum is often appealed to for mentioning Jesus as a worker of great deeds and as a very wise man. (Antiquities of the Jews, 18.63-64) — The problem with the passage is that it uses terminology that a dedicated Jew would never use. For example, it insinuates that Jesus was more than a man and also says, “He was the Christ.” It then goes on to say that after being dead for three days he was then resurrected.

However, the claim that Zeitgeist makes by saying that this passage “has been proven to be a forgery for hundreds of years” is actually am oversimplification. It is not that simple. — Livius.org, a website which specializes in ancient history in its discussion on the Testimonium Flavianum states,

Some argued that we had to admit that Flavius Josephus had become a Christian; others maintained that it was made up by some Byzantine monk who copied the Jewish Antiquities. The latter explanation can be ruled out because a more or less identical text had been found in an Arabian translation of a part of the Jewish Antiquities. In 1991, John Meier has suggested that Josephus did in fact mention Jesus, but that the text was glossed by a Christian author.

Scholars do not seem to object to the idea that Josephus actually mentioned Jesus. Where the objection lies is that there are detailes in the passage that would not likely have been used by a non-Christian Jew who was still awaiting the Messiah. — Personally, I believe the first option mentioned can be ruled out as well since there is no evidence that Josephus converted to Christianity. Basically in this case, it appears that secular scholars and Christian apologists (like J. P. Holding) are largely in agreement that the passage is authentic with later interpolations.

Other than the Testimonium, there is another passage that mentions Jesus in passing,

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still upon the road. So Ananus assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of that Jesus who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some of his companions. And when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.  (Antiquities 20, 200)

The basic objection that the “Jesus Myth” crowd brings up is that Josephus uses the term “was called Christ” in association with Jesus. — However, Glenn Miller did a word study of the term used for “was called.” He concluded that the term used in Josephus’ passage “λεγόμενος” (pronounced as “legomenos”) was just a general term for naming without determining accuracy of the name. — Not to make simply an appeal to authority,  I looked at how this term was used in the New Testament and it seemed to confirm what Glenn Miller argues (click here, and here).

Also Jeffery Jay Lowder, a skeptic of Christianity and a co-founder of Infidels.org,  agrees and admits that Josephus’ terminology in this particular passage is “noncommittal” and is the strongest argument for the authenticity of the passage. (Text link) And although he considers many of the usually cited passages referring to Jesus as “inconclusive” he says in the conclusion that “the writings of Josephus also provide two independent, authentic references to Jesus.”

Robert E. Van Voorst, Professor of New Testament Studies, in his book Jesus Outside the New Testament on pages 83 and 84 affirms that,

The overwhelming majority of scholars holds that the words “the brother of Jesus called Christ” are authentic, as is the entire passage in which it is found. [ . . . ] A Christian interpolator would have used laudatory language to describe James and especially Jesus, calling him “the Lord” or something similar. At least, [ . . . ] he would have used the term “Christ” in an absolute way. Josephus’s words “called Christ” are neutral and descriptive, intended neither to confess nor deny Jesus as the “Christ.”

Professor Voorst’s basic points are that the passage which mentions both Jesus and James in passing does not fit the profile of how a Christian interpolator would tamper with the text of Josephus. Such an interpolator would have used Christian language to describe James as “the brother of the Lord” like the Apostle Paul does instead of simply calling him “the brother of Jesus.”  Also, the term used to describe Jesus doesn’t either affirm or deny Jesus’ role as the Messiah or Christ. The term is neutral, and no Christian interpolator wanting to show Jesus was the undisputed Christ would have been satisfied with such neutrality.

Louis H. Feldman, another higly credentialed Josephus scholar, confirms the Josephus passage “has generally been accepted as authentic.”  He points out that if the passage indeed is an interpolation, then the forger would have had to be extremely careful not to contradict anything else Josephus said. (Josephus, the Bible, and History page 434) — These statements show that the authenticity of this particular passage confirming the existence of Jesus is heavily supported.

Another fact that supports the authenticity of the passage is that neither Jesus or James are even the focus of the passage — The High Priest Ananus is. This fact is also inconsistent with the hypothesis that this passage was tampered with by Christian copyists.

Lastly, a major objection used by the “Jesus Myth” crowd is that even if these passages were authentic that doesn’t mean that they are reliable because they were written decades after Jesus lived. The problem is with this kind of logic we would therefore throw out a lot of known history because a good amount of what he know comes from historians such as Herodotus and Xenophon who wrote their historical accounts decades and even centuries after the events they describe. But no reputable historian would ever make the claim that because they are not first hand accounts that therefore they are not authentic.

Even though Josephus was born in 37 AD, about six years after the death of Jesus, he was alive when the event he covers in his second passage was happening. He was writing about the stoning of James which historians believe happened in 62 AD, when Josephus would have been twenty-five years of age. (After Jesus: The Triumph of Christianity, page 53) There is therefore no reason why Josephus wouldn’t have had good information about this event about a man known as the brother of Jesus. – If the name was known, then almost certainly so was the man.

The truth is, whether or not the makers of  Zeitgeist, the Movie or any other “Jesus-Myther” wants to admit it, the evidence leans towards the existence of Jesus being a fact which is supported by non-Biblical evidence given by Josephus. To say otherwise is to fly in the face of the best current scholarship. Attempts by “Jesus-Mythers” to show otherwise are only based on prejudice and wishful thinking.

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3 responses

  1. Pingback: The Myth of Jesus: A Refutation of the Zeitgeist — Part 14 « Explanation

  2. Riley

    What about the list of more than 20 historians that were alive at the time of Jesus or soon after that lived in or around the Mediterranean? I can’t understand why only 4 people recorded Jesus?

    February 5, 2009 at 4:03 am

  3. krissmith777

    Riley

    One major fact that Zeitgeist does not point out about the Historians in that list is that A LOT OF THE WORKS OF SEVERAL OF THOSE HISTORIANS HAVE BEEN LOST. So it cannot be said that they didn’t know about him.

    Besides, even if they didn’t mention Jesus that would not indicate that he was unknown because they would not have seen Jesus as unique because there were many alive at the time that claimed to be special. Their attitude about writting about a man they didn’t think was unique would have been on the lines of “Why should I write about this man? He’s not any more special than any of the others who claim to be God.”

    Besides, it is more than just 4 people.

    Here’s a link: http://www.thedevineevidence.com/jesus_history.html

    February 5, 2009 at 4:09 am

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