DID JESUS EXIST? May 19, 2021

How confident can we be that a religious figure named Jesus of Nazareth who died crucified on the cross was an actual living person who walked the Earth over two thousand years ago? Most historians and theologians are sure that Jesus lived and died as a man. Today, a minority claims that Jesus, and even Nazareth, were inventions rather than an actual historical figure or a real town. Nevertheless, there is a good deal of written evidence, biblical and non-biblical, for Jesus’ existence and sufficient archaeological data supporting Nazareth’s. Within less than thirty years after his death, Jewish and Roman historians wrote about his life. These abundant historical writings give credence to those who believed Jesus lived and died in first-century Palestine. To compare, King Arthur, who supposedly died around AD500, is first referred to around AD850. In my book, Mary Magdalene: The Lord’s Wife, you will find irrefutable proof that Jesus existed, went through an unfair trial, died on the cross by orders of Pontius Pilate, resurrected, and is now ruling the universe at the right side of his Father.

At the latest, within 25 years of Jesus' death, St. Paul wrote his epistles addressing his contemporaries. One important detail about St. Paul's letters is that he references that many of those who met the resurrected Jesus were still alive. A few years later, biographical accounts of his life became popularized because of the gospel writers, some of which witnessed his ministry, miracles, and resurrection. I cannot imagine why the early Christians would invent such a fantastic tale about a superhuman savior; particularly, in an era where Imperial Rome was in control of unwelcomed Jews and Judaism. Please understand that the New Testament is not a book but a collection of books written by different authors during a long period; furthermore, hundreds of other popular books were not included in the canon by the decision of the religious authorities. Skeptics and non-believers claim that only Christians wrote about Jesus, nothing further from the truth. As far as non-Christian authors, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, author of Antiquities of the Jews, a history of Judaism written around AD93, wrote two comments about Jesus. One is an indirect reference where he writes about James, "the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ." The other is quite controversial because most historians and theologians believe the original text was unfavorable to Jesus and Christian scribes corrupted it to make it a positive. Pliny and Tacitus, two Roman politicians who lived at the beginning of the second century, wrote negatively about Jesus. Tacitus said that Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judaea when Tiberius was emperor, executed Jesus, the leader of a "destructive superstition." Pliny spoke of the "pig-headed obstinacy" of those who "worshipped Christ as a god" while he was governor of northern Turkey. Neither Josephus nor Pliny nor Tacitus liked Jesus or his religion.

It is important to note that the ancient writers, Christians, Jews, or Gentiles, did not debate the existence of Jesus. They may have disqualified him calling him a sorcerer, the illegitimate child of a young Jewish woman, a blasphemer, and many other epithets; none doubted he was a historical figure. Lucian, a satirist, and philosopher dismissed him as a scoundrel but did not question whether he lived. The innumerable documents produced by Roman, Jewish, and Christian writers form the most convincing evidence of Jesus' existence. In today's world, you find some famous figures like the French philosopher Michel Onfray who asserts that Jesus is a "mere hypothesis, an idea, rather than a historical figure." The Jesus Project, a US organization lead by R. Joseph Hoffmann, intended to conduct a five-year investigation to find whether Jesus existed. The project ended when his founder found the examining members were more interested in discrediting Jesus than proving or disproving his existence. It is worth mentioning that the experts who wrote most about the non-existence of Jesus are atheists. These historians doubt the archaeological validity of Pope Benedict XVI's assertion about the Shroud of Turin that "it is an icon of Holy Saturday that no human artist was capable of producing."

Because the documentary evidence, outside of the canonical and apocryphal gospels, is so scant, a better question to ask would be whether the resurrection took place. Christianity’s foundation is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; without it, it wouldn’t exist. Suppose I can demonstrate that a man named Jesus of Nazareth was executed under orders from Pontius Pilate in the year 30 CE or close and came back from the dead. In that case, this action should satisfy the skeptics, and it would confirm the single most important act in Christianity. The sequence of events described by Mary Magdalene in my book leaves no room for doubt as to the historical reality of the resurrection.

Pontius Pilate served emperor Tiberius as his fifth prefect of Judea from 26 to 36 CE. His existence is in no doubt; there are coins and stones commemorating him. Many non-biblical sources reference Pilate’s life: he is mentioned by Philo, a contemporary philosopher, and, after his death, by Flavius Josephus and Tacitus. In addition to the four canonical gospels of the New Testament, there are three non-canonical documents deserving attention, although disqualified as forgeries by most academics: The Acts of Peter and Paul, the Acts of Pilate, and the Gospel of Peter.

Academically, there isn't non-biblical documentary evidence for Jesus' crucifixion; only the canonical and some apocryphal works support it. The absence of non-biblical evidence does not constitute proof of non-existence. Atheists and skeptics claim there were many holy land historians in Jesus' times and after his death. To them, these prominent authors documented almost every significant event from that century. It is incomprehensible that, with a couple of exceptions, there is no mention of Jesus Christ. They fail to consider that Judaea was not the most exciting part of the ancient world. They conveniently forget to mention that these theologians and historians lived in Rome, Athens, Alexandria, and other great cities, whereby the crucifixion of a rebel in Judaea could have happened without their noticing it.

I believe the New Testament writers were honest persons who wrote candidly about what they considered a historically accurate representation of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. There is a voluminous amount of anecdotal evidence supporting the existence of Jesus of Nazareth and his impact on humanity that persisted for more than two thousand years. The lack of contemporary documentation may indicate he was not very noteworthy in his day.

Although there is not incontrovertible historical evidence for Jesus existence, death, and resurrection, circumstantial evidence is of such magnitude that I declare without doubts that a man named Jesus, born in Nazareth, lived and preached in ancient Israel, was crucified under orders by Pontius Pilate, received an honorable burial, and resurrected, evidencing that he was who he said he was, the son of God.

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