Evidence of the Historical Jesus
Dear Rev. Jamison,
I have been told that only the New Testament mentions Jesus. Are there other documentations of Jesus' existence?
The only mention of Jesus outside the Bible is in a disputed short paragraph buried in the hefty tome titled ANTIQUITIES OF THE JEWS, published in the year 94 A. D., and written by Josephus (his Hebrew name) Flavius (his Roman name). What is disputed about it is the way the copy we have today is clearly altered from the original by a later editor who was obviously Christian. By extracting all the language not sounding like Josephus Flavius, scholars figure that the following comes close to what he wrote, if he wrote the paragraph at all:
"At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following among many Jews and among many of Gentile origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians (named after him) had not died out."
Even in that scholarly revised paragraph, the last sentence is highly suspect, because it implies that Josephus accepted Jesus as the messiah (or Christ) the Jews were looking for, which he did not. The Jew, Josephus, took on the Roman name, Flavius, to ingratiate himself all the more with the Roman general, Vespasian, who had taken Josephus prisoner in the year 67 during a Jewish uprising. To gain Vespasian's favor still more, Flavius prophesied that he would become emperor. When the prophesy became true, Flavius then declared Vespasian to be the Christ. Clearly, Josephus Flavius was an opportunist. He would not blow the good life he had established for himself with the Romans (they put him on a pension so he could write his many histories) by writing anything that sounded Christian (at that time the Romans were persecuting the Christians as much as they were persecuting the Jews).
Bottom line: What do we know about Jesus existence outside the Gospel account? Not much, if anything. Does it matter? Not at all. It does not make any difference who taught the wisdom recorded by the Q document (author unknown), the four canonized Gospels (authors unknown), and the Gospel of Thomas (author unknown). It does not matter if the authors conspired to make it all up and merely invented the character called Jesus as a mouthpiece for themselves. All that matters is whether or not the teachings make a difference in your life when you read them, understand them, and apply them. Who originated them is irrelevant.
I believe in very little, as I prefer to know instead of believe. Based on such skimpy history, there is no way that I can know if Jesus actually existed. I believe he did, but it makes no difference to me if he did not. The personality known as Jesus is not important; the principles allegedly taught by Jesus, whether he was a fictional personality or not, are very important. In Unity, we do not value the sands of personalitY; we value the rock of principle. Examine and employ the principles attributed to Jesus, and your life improves whether Jesus taught them or not.
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