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by Saints and Sceptics
1. It is impossible to explain why Christianity would shift from worshipping a mythical Christ to preaching an historical Christ. Suppose the shift was the result of a deliberate conspiracy. Why would the conspirators open their message to refutation in this way? And why invent a crucified messiah when the very notion seemed risible to the Hellenists and blasphemous to the rabbis? Suppose the shift was accidental. How could the first Christians forget that a man called Jesus was not born during the troubled years that surrounded the death of Herod the Great? How could they forget that he was not crucified by a notorious prefect named Pilate?
2. Given that the Roman and Jewish elites had access to many documents and records from early Palestine which are now lost to us; and given that these elites opposed Christianity; and given that the early Christians claimed to follow an historical figure; why did these elites never point out that Jesus doesn’t appear in their records? That would have ended the growth of Christianity. But Christian apologists never had to argue against the thesis that Jesus never existed[iii]. In fact, there does not even seem to have been a rumour that Jesus had not lived and died in Palestine! It was accepted by sceptical pagan and Jewish opponents that Jesus had existed. (For example, when Tryphon expressed doubts that God would send a Messiah to Israel, he did not express doubts about the existence of Jesus).
3. The letters of Paul – probably the earliest Christian documents, written during the first three decades of the Church – assume an historical Christ. In his earliest letter Paul mentions that he met James, the brother of the Lord. In a parenthetical remark in 1 Thessalonians 2 v 15-16, Paul refers to Jesus execution by the Jewish people.
Paul also notes that Jesus, like any other Jew, could claim to be descended from Abraham1 Corinthians 15 refers to Jesus’ death and burial and 1 Corinthians 11 describes how Jesus instituted the last supper before his death. Paul’s teaching on love and judging reflects Jesus’ and Paul’s views on eschatology parallel Jesus’. True, he does not mention the parables or miracles of Jesus; but neither does the book of Acts, which has the same author as the gospel of Luke.
4. Tacitus quite clearly affirmed that “Christ suffered the extreme penalty under Pontius Pilate” (Ann. 15.44.3.) It is logically possible that Tacitus uncritically copied a Christian source at this point; but it is also logically possible that America faked the moon landings. We are interested in what is plausible. Tacitus was quite capable of distinguishing rumour from a solid source. Furthermore, he refers to Christianity as…
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