Despite what Zeitgeist said, Jesus really did exist

by Greg Monette, Ph.D.

Did Jesus exist?  At first blush this might seem a silly question.  “Of course he existed,” you might say.  However, movies like Zeitgeist, as well as authors Tom Harpur [1] and Robert Price, [2] seem to think that a minimalist position on the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is the most historically responsible position to hold.

In a recent interview published in the United Church Observer, Canadian author Tom Harpur, a lapsed Christian, said the following about conservative and liberal New Testament scholars who “take the historical Jesus pretty seriously”: “Yeah, but they don’t offer a shred of historical evidence. Since my book was published, there has not been one scholar come forth with solid evidence from the first century, apart for [sic] a dubious reference in Josephus that they love to hurl around, a reference that is clearly, clearly, clearly false. I’ve been waiting for the evidence to show up” [3] Is Harpur right? Is there not “a shred of historical evidence” that Jesus of Nazareth existed?  Is Christianity based on a myth?

For economy of space and time, I will not reproduce every early source that attests to Jesus’ existence from antiquity. However, I will list some of the major references where you can find the exact quotations relating to Jesus if you are interested in looking further: 1. Roman: Pliny the Younger (AD 62-113) Epistles 10.96;  2. Roman: Tacitus (AD 60-120) Annals 15.44; 3. Roman: Suetonius (AD 75-160) Life of Claudius 25.4; 4.  Roman: Mara Bar Serapion (2nd or 3rd Cent.) in a letter; 5. Jewish: Flavius Josephus (AD 37-100), a disputed passage most historians feel was interpolated: The Antiquities of the Jewish People 18.3.3 [18.63-64], and one undisputed passage: Antiquities of the Jewish People 20.9.1 [20.200-203]. 6. Jewish: Various Rabbis (2nd-5th Cent.) The Talmud: b. Sanhedrin 43a (Babylonian Talmud).

There are also many other references to Jesus in Gospels not located in the New Testament due to their late dating (mid to late 2nd Century composition). There are too many to list here, the following book would be helpful to consult for some of these ancient texts: J.K. Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009).

However, despite this mountain of supporting evidence to the existence of Jesus in these non-Christian sources, the best evidence is found in the New Testament.  The New Testament is made up of twenty-seven different documents (ancient biographies, letters, apocalyptic writings), all written in the 1st Century.  Yes, the New Testament is biased because Christians composed it, but every text is biased.  Bias does not necessarily equal unhistorical; if this were the case, every text from antiquity would be unhistorical…

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Despite what Zeitgeist said, Jesus really did exist | Near Emmaus

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