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February 28, 2004


Did Jesus exist?
Jesus may or may not have ever existed. I consider this an open question. Obviously there's no reasonable basis for claiming that he was God. He may, however, have lived as a common itinerant preacher.

There seems to be scant evidence of his existence. At least with Santa Claus, we know there really was a Saint Nicholas on whom all the later wild stories are based. We can't be so sure with Jesus.

There seems to have been little or no mention of Jesus at the time. The Biblical texts seem to be the only "contemporary" mentions of Jesus. At that, "contemporary" seems to be pushing the point of credibility, as the Biblical gospels appear to have been written somewhere around a century after the supposed time of Jesus.

Given this paucity of documentation, some Christian scholars put a great deal of stock in a passage from Josephus, a Jewish historian who wrote Jewish Antiquities. [ORIGINAL GREEK TEXT] [ENGLISH TEXT]

Here is the complete Josephus passage, the only near contemporary supposed reference to Jesus I've found:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.
- Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3

From what I was ever able to make of it, the Josephus reference looks like an obvious fraud, inserted by some Christian long after the fact.

Josephus wrote a long and exhaustive history of the Jews, yet Jesus gets just this one paragraph. In one quick paragraph in the middle of a thousand pages we come up with something to the effect of, 'oh and there was this guy Jesus who was the son of God come to save humanity, was crucified and rose from the dead.' Then it was on to the next thing.

If this were REALLY part of Josephus' book, he'd have had more than one paragraph. If he thought Jesus was the savior, he'd have come up with more than one paragraph. It doesn't fit in or add up with the rest of the book. Thus, the conclusion that this was a forgery inserted into the document perhaps centuries later.

So far as I know, this spurious Josephus reference is the only near contemporary reference to Jesus outside of the Bible itself.

Thus, I continue to doubt not just the divinity of Jesus, but the actual historical existence of even a mortal man corresponding to the mythology.

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posted by Al at 2/28/2004 09:24:00 PM

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