Can you prove to me that your grandfather actually existed?
We have been using photography for over a hundred and fifty years but despite this technological advantage many of us would struggle to prove that our grandparents really existed. What proof could there be for the life of an ordinary person? If not photographs what exactly would convince us?
Where is Ceylon?
My grandfather was born in a country called Ceylon in the late nineteenth century. Now, just over a hundred years later, most people don’t even know that the country ever existed let alone know that my grandfather lived and died there.
I have textual evidence that my grandfather existed, I have his name on my father’s birth certificate but that doesn’t prove ‘who’ my grandfather was? My father and his brother were both as brown as two antique chesterfields but my father’s brother refused to believe that his family came from the colonies. I had evidence but I didn’t have proof enough to make him reconsider his preconceived ideas. All I had was textual evidence, assertion and conjecture. That my grandfather served as an officer in the First World War, was wounded and married his English nurse I can assert based on family stories but I have no ‘proof’.
When it comes to Jesus most people have preconceived ideas that are almost impregnable to persuasion. The further we slide down the slope of cultural decline into the bottomless pit of Cultural Marxism people feel increasingly uncomfortable hearing opinions, which differ from the ones they have been programmed with.
Can we trust the Bible?
For some, the Bible is enough but we have already seen that, of itself, the Bible is an unreliable authority. After two thousand years, what evidence could there be for the life of an ordinary man? What evidence would be enough to convince us of his existence?
The first question we have to ask is whom are we referring to when we say ‘Jesus’? Jesus is not a Jewish name. The name Jesus was invented by Paul for his Gentile audience. Jesus was not the son of Mr and Mrs Christ of Number One, The Manger, Bethlehem.
If we follow the streams of Christian belief backwards in time, we invariable find ourselves face to face with Paul of Tarsus. In his letter to the Galatians (1.11) Paul confirms “But I certify to you, brethren, that the gospel which I preach is not of any man For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by a vision of Jesus Christ.”
Paul created a fictional character called Jesus Christ based on the Jewish Rabbi called Yeshua bar Yosef whom he had, by his own assertion, never met. The Rabbi’s brother, James the Just, was still in charge of the Nazarene Yeshiva in Jerusalem. That Paul was teaching to non-Jews a long way from Judea gave him a lot of leeway but ultimately while people who had known the historical Rabbi still lived he had to restrict his story to that which could not, immediately, be disproved. It was for this reason that the earliest gospel and letters did not include witness statements about the resurrection. The five hundred witnesses and the Holy Ghost were added much later when the problematic Jews who had known the Rabbi were all safely dead.
Ian Fleming is 007
Just as James Bond is a fictional character loosely based on Ian Fleming’s own life. It is interesting to note that in two thousand years time, there will be more evidence for the life of James Bond than there will ever be for the life of Ian Fleming.
So if we are looking for evidence for the life of Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, who died for our sins, a sane man would have to admit that there is none. On the contrary, there is overwhelming evidence that this was a fictional character created by Paul and what a profitable scam it was.
“Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your ‘liberality’ unto Jerusalem.” Corinthians 1.16
Nice work if you can get it!
So if we leave the fictional character of Jesus Christ to one side, what evidence is there for the Jewish Rabbi called Yeshua bar Yosef and if there is evidence how useful is it?
I agree with Dr Bart D. Ehrman and try to prioritise evidence based on the following criteria:
- The earliest sources are best.
- Hostile witnesses are better than positively biased statements.
- It is possible to accept a positive witness if you can identify the person’s agenda.
- Lots of contemporary mentions are also really useful.
An almost contemporary account by a man who hated Christians as part of his profession, so could safely be counted as a hostile witness, is the Tacitus the Roman Senator, orator and ethnographer. He was also one of the best Roman historians.
He mentions “Christus who was executed by Pontius Pilate and from whom the Christian’s derived their name.”
Tacitus as a contemporary of Paul, could easily have debunked the story as baseless, if he suspected that this was the case. In the late first century there were a lot of people still alive who would have known if Jesus, or rather the person upon whom the cult was based. Further, it would have been pointless basing a fictitious cult on a fictitious person. You need a reasonably famous person as a basis for a myth in order to convince people that you are not lying. (Paul spent an extraordinary amount of his time trying to convince people that he was telling the truth.)
Who the hell is James Bond?
As the Proconsul of Asia, it is likely that Tacitus would have had the opportunity to question people directly; so if there had been any evidence against the historicity of Rabbi Yeshua then I feel that he would have found it. That Paul based his cult on an actual person is therefore obvious. If Paul had turned up in Damascus, after his epiphany, saying “I’ve just had a vision of James Bond” I’m sure a lot of Jews would have said, “Who the hell is James Bond?” People only took notice of him because he wandered into town saying that he had a vision of a person they knew had existed.
Our next ‘Witness’ is Josephus, a Jewish Roman historian. Josephus refers to James the Just, the leader of the Ebionite/Nazarene movement who taught in the Temple in his history of all things Jewish.
Josephus mentions “James the brother of Jesus who was called Mashiach.” As James (Ya’akob) is a common Jewish name and the father was Yosef, also a common name, Josephus makes the connection to Yeshua as a distinction. This would assume that most people would have heard of the Nazarene Rabbi unlike James Bond.
Josephus grew up in a priestly family in first century Judea so he would have every opportunity to know if the physical story of ‘Jesus’ was baseless.
The earliest Rabbinic texts content themselves with disparaging Jesus as a Roman bastard, they never deny his existence. Even today Jews hate Jesus with a passion. The simplest way to destroy a man is to deny his existence. If Rabbinical Judaism could have proved the fiction they would have done so.
In the earliest sources no hostile Pagan or Jew opposed Jesus’ historicity or even questioned it.
If anyone had a reason to hate the new anti-Semitic cult of Christianity it was the Jews and yet they treat him as a fully historical person.
Lucian of Smosata (115 to 200 CE) refers to Jesus with contempt in his satire.
So much for textual proof. We also now have archaeological evidence for the life of the Jewish Rabbi in Talpiot. Despite the ‘experts’ immediately calling this tomb a fake or irrelevant, it has been proven to be legitimate in court but no retraction has been printed.
We know from Josephus again, that the Jews had won the right to have their crucified dead buried.
“The Jews are so careful about funeral rites that even those who are crucified because they were guilty are taken down and buried before sunset.” (Josephus in War 44.5.2)
Our best evidence for the manner of crucifixion comes from a heel bone with a nail stuck in it, which was found in an ossuary and was obviously therefore buried. So we have a tomb of the right date with all the names of the Jesus family including his wife and son.
Jesus had a Wife
We have the ‘Jesus wife’ Papyrus, which has also been proven to be legitimate although a lot of experts are still blogging away in their bedrooms trying to discredit it.
So what is the truth? I guess it will always depend on the question!
If you are asking for proof of the life of James Bond, it will depend on what you will accept as evidence. If you want to believe in James Bond then you will accept the books of his adventures as proof of his life. If you don’t want to believe in James Bond then even meeting Ian Fleming would not change your mind.
As it is with the fictional character of Jesus Christ. If you want to believe in him, then the New Testament will be enough for you but if you don’t want to believe in him then no amount of proof would be enough.
On the other hand, if you are asking about Ian Fleming, then we can have a conversation. There is a surprising amount of evidence for the life of the first century Jew called Rabbi Yeshua bar Yosef, who was the brother of James and upon whose name a cult was based.
There is certainly more evidence for the life of the Jewish Rabbi than there is for my poor Grandfather. It does occur to me that just because people no longer believe in the paradise called Ceylon, it still does actually exist, which must be relief to the pilots that try to land their planes there.
Research Paper: Did He Really Exist – The Jesus Family Tomb
Blog: The Jesus of History
Blog: The Jesus Family Tomb