Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Extra Biblical Evidence for Jesus

I've done this before but I'm going to do it again in order to provide a safe place to stick my most recent thoughts on the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth.

The argument is not that there is no evidence, the argument is that the evidence is weak and better explanations exist for the emergence of Christianity than it originated with a historical figure. I keep running into Youtube videos repeating the same old supposed evidence. Tacitus - There is a major flaw with the Tacitus passage. Pontius Pilate wasn't a procurator, he was a prefect. This makes it almost certain that Tacitus did not get his information from official Roman records. Tacitus was writing in the early 2nd century about the Emperor Nero who had been dead for over 40 years. Tacitus is listing all of the attempts by Nero to dispel the rumors that he was responsible for the great fire of Rome in 64 C.E. He lists these items and ultimately gets to Nero supposedly trying to pin the blame on the Christians. "Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace." "Called Christians by the populace" implies he is in fact working from hearsay or common knowledge. Accuracy in describing the Christians or their beliefs is not one of Tacitus' priorities here as it's just one more example of Nero trying to shed blame. Lucien - He is describing Christians and their beliefs. He never mentions Jesus by name. The beliefs of Christians are not in doubt. Suetonius - The position that "Chrestus" is the misspelled title "Christus" of someone not in Rome at the time is no more likely than it is the proper name of someone that was in Rome. Thallus - This is simply Julius Africanus arguing that Thallus is wrong about a solar eclipse he records. Why should anyone believe Africanus over Thallus?  Pliny the Younger - Like Lucien, Pliny is talking about Christians and their beliefs. Again, Christian beliefs are not in doubt. As for their willingness to die, people are dying today in the Middle East for Allah and the promise of 72 virgins. Mara Bar-Sepion - The letter mentions the men of Samos burning Pythagoras but there is no record of this happening. How Pythagoras dies is unknown so how reliable should one consider the rest of the letter? Josephus - Then there's Josephus. Josephus was a Pharisaic Jew. He would never have called Jesus the Messiah so if it actually says that then it is almost certain that the main passage is at least a partial interpolation. If he was recording the beliefs of others then the entire passage is hearsay isn't it?  Yes there is evidence but it isn't very strong and the silence of people such as Philo of Alexandria is deafening. Personally I was always of the position that Jesus was a historical character despite the weak evidence. Recently however Richard Carrier has been winning me over a bit so now I have to say I'm uncertain. The web site you reference presents nothing new. In order to accept that as sufficient evidence one would already have to be a believer.

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