The “Historical Records” for Jesus?

I had a friend recently ask me, “Where does one go to find the historical records that can be used to make a case for or against the scriptures?”

I explained to him, in as respectful a way as possible, that the simple and honest answer is that you don’t go anywhere because there are none. Certainly not when it comes to the New Testament and anything remotely relating to the supposed life (or resurrection) of Jesus, and certainly not when it comes to the most significant stories of the entire Old Testament. There is simply no contemporaneous historical or archaeological evidence whatsoever to back up any of those stories in any meaningful way.

When it comes to Jesus, the unaminous consensus among historians and Biblical scholars is that there is literally not a single existing document or shred of archaeological evidence from the lifetime of Jesus which makes any reference to Jesus whatsoever. And that includes the Bible itself.

The writings of Paul, the very earliest of the New Testament books and literally the earliest written documents of any kind which reference Jesus, were not written until at least a decade after Jesus died (and, incidentally, Paul’s writings did not include any details whatsoever of Jesus’ life, made no mention of when/where he lived, said nothing about anything Jesus did during his lifetime, and said nothing about how/when/where the crucifixion took place).

The Gospels of the New Testament (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John), the very earliest written documents of any kind which actually contain any details of Jesus’ life, were not written until several decades after Paul’s writings and thus decades after Jesus’ death.

You have to go all the way to 93 AD (at least 60 years after Jesus’ death) to find the first historical reference to Jesus from a legitimate historical source, in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus; unfortunately that reference has been severely tampered with if not entirely fabricated (i.e. added to the historical text decades later). And that one reference is the only reference to Jesus’ existence from a historical source in the entire 1st century.

You have to go well into the 2nd century to find the earliest undisputed historical references to Jesus, and even those are more references to the beliefs of the early Christians than to the actual figure of Jesus (and even if they did attest to the historical validity of Jesus, they were written so long after Jesus’ lifetime that none could have possibly been written by actual witnesses).

Incidentally it’s worth noting that there were several other messiahs and so-called “Christs” around the time of Jesus, and several of them did manage to make their way into the historical records. There were also several historians during the lifetime of Jesus who kept detailed historical records of events throughout the region, yet none of them made any reference whatsoever to Jesus. One of them, Philo, even lived in the same region (if not city) where the most significant events of the New Testament allegedly took place.

Per John E. Remsberg, in The Christ:

“Philo was born before the beginning of the Christian era, and lived until long after the reputed death of Christ. He wrote an account of the Jews covering the entire time that Christ is said to have existed on earth. He was living in or near Jerusalem when Christ’s miraculous birth and the Herodian massacre occurred. He was there when Christ made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He was there when the crucifixion with its attendant earthquake, supernatural darkness, and resurrection of the dead took place — when Christ himself rose from the dead, and in the presence of many witnesses ascended into heaven. These marvelous events which must have filled the world with amazement, had they really occurred, were unknown to him. It was Philo who developed the doctrine of the Logos, or Word, and although this Word incarnate dwelt in that very land and in the presence of multitudes revealed himself and demonstrated his divine powers, Philo saw it not.”

Now to be clear, I’m not saying any of this to make the case that Jesus did NOT exist; the writings of the New Testament certainly constitute enough evidence to affirm Jesus’ basic existence, and (as I’ll be discussing further with my next post) some of the strongest evidence that Jesus existed is also evidence against his supposed divinity.

However, with the state of the evidence for Jesus’ mere existence being as it is, it certainly draws into question ANY claims regarding his life, and shows how absurd it is to believe that the evidence in any way supports the miraculous and supernatural claims regarding him.

Further Reading:
The Case Against The Case For Christ by Robert M. Price
Godless by Dan Barker
Challenging the Verdict by Earl Doherty


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