Q & A about the Historical Jesus

Question 1: Is it not true that we don't even know in what century Jesus lived? How come we only have a lot of references in the New Testament and no where else from that general time?

Answer 1: You will have to work pretty hard to find scholars who argue the thesis that Jesus never lived. Even most "liberals" dismiss these views as baseless. It has been refuted time and time again. Why? Because there are first century references to Jesus, several of which critical scholars date to within months to a couple of years after Jesus' death. I'm speaking here chiefly of the early creeds in the New Testament, like 1 Corinthians 15:3ff. Besides all of the New Testament writings, we have a few extra-biblical writings that date from the mid-first century to about 110 AD. Altogether, there are even about a dozen and a half non-Christian sources that mention Jesus within the first 150 years after his death. For all these sources plus a critique of views like those who question or deny Jesus' historical existence, see my book The Historical Jesus (College Press, 1996).

Question 2: Is it true that Josephus' statements about Jesus are in fact not his and were added later in history by those seeking to prove that Jesus was a historical figure?

Answer 2: The vast majority of scholars who address this issue think that although Josephus' longer statement about Jesus in Antiquities 18:3 has been altered a bit, the bulk of it was written by Josephus. This view means that Josephus supplies some very important material about Jesus. An even larger percentage of scholars accepts Josephus' second statement concerning Jesus being the brother of James (Antiquities 20:9). Further, we have to make sense of ancient non-Christian historians like Thallus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Lucian, who reported all sorts of facts about Jesus. In The Historical Jesus, pages 243-250, I provide a long list of well over 100 items that are reported about Jesus, many by non- Christians. So, to argue that Jesus never existed totally ignores a large body of historical data. That's why, of over a thousands recent publications on the subject of the historical Jesus, I am aware of less than five who doubt or question his existence.

Question 3: Why do you suppose Josephus does not discuss Jesus in even more detail? Assuming from his two passages that he was in fact aware of Jesus and the corresponding movement, isn't it a bit odd that he includes no other discussion on Christianity? There is plenty about John the Baptist, Pilate, Caiaphas, etc., but very little about Jesus.

Answer 3: I don't suppose anyone knows exactly why Josephus doesn't say more about Jesus than he does, or why, more generally, any writer doesn't say more about someone, especially in ancient times. One possibility could be that Josephus catered to his Roman patrons, and of course, they crucified Jesus. For instance, neither Tacitus, nor Suetonius, nor Pliny the Younger speak well of Christianity. All of them, by the way, along with Josephus, clearly place Jesus in the traditional time slot. But given this general reluctance not to laud Jesus (Pliny states that early Christians sang hymns to Jesus as to a god and even says that he killed Christians who failed to worship the gods), it's not terribly surprising that Josephus doesn't say more.

5 Reasons to Believe Jesus Christ Rose from the Dead

What? Are you serious? Who’d believe this in our modern world? You’d have to think the gospels are inspired by God or something like that, and they’re a bunch of myths!”

To the contrary, I will assume nothing special about the New Testament writings whatsoever. I will use only the historical information that is accepted as historical by virtually all scholars who have studied this material today — no matter how skeptical or liberal they are. That means, for example, that I will only cite New Testament passages, ones that pass the customary skeptical standards and are recognized as such.

Using only these “minimal facts,” I will still maintain that Jesus’ resurrection is the most likely explanation for what we know.

Consider just the following details that the vast majority of skeptical scholars allow:

1. Most scholars agree that Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty shortly afterwards.

With almost two dozen reasons favoring this report alone, what best explains this? Other hypotheses do not account for all the data.

2. Many eyewitnesses assert that they saw the risen Jesus, both individually and in groups.

Even apart from the Gospels, we can establish this totally from just two passages in Paul’s “undisputed writings”:

–Paul told the Corinthians that he had received the  resurrection report from others (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

–The consensus critical view is that Paul probably obtained this material in Jerusalem, when he visited the eyewitness apostles Peter and James, the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:18-24).

–Paul returned to Jerusalem 14 years later and specifically checked out the nature of the Gospel message, again with eyewitnesses Peter, James, and now John (Galatians 2:1-10).

–All the apostles agreed that Jesus appeared to them after his death (1 Corinthians 15:11).

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3. Scholars also agree that Paul received this material from the other apostles at an exceptionally early date — only about five years after the crucifixion.

But since the others knew the reports before Paul did, we are right back to the events themselves. Even one of the best-known critical scholars today, non-Christian specialist Bart Ehrman, dates several Christian traditions as early as just a year or two after the crucifixion!

4. But why should we believe that these eyewitnesses were being honest? We have first century sources that the three apostles mentioned above were all martyred: Paul, Peter, and James the brother of Jesus.

Of course, people die for all sorts of ideas, but only for what they are convinced is true. But unlike others, the apostles were in a position to know whether or not they had seen Jesus Christ alive after his death. By being willing to die, scholars agree that they were convinced that Jesus had indeed appeared to them. At the very least, this addresses their honesty and conviction.

5. Of these eyewitnesses, Paul was a persecutor of the early Christians, and James was an unbeliever.

Skeptical scholars accept this in both cases. But why did they become believers? Again, they were certainly in a position to know whether the risen Jesus had appeared to them.

But aren’t the gospels full of myths? I don’t think that claim can be substantiated at all, but that’s another subject. Notice that we didn’t use the gospels here. We only used texts that are accepted by virtually all scholars who have studied these events in detail. As Ehrman points out, the pagan dying and rising gods motif has many serious problems and cannot be used to argue some sort of copycat theory by the early Christian apostles.

Altogether, these five reasons are each based on a well-evidenced foundation, built on texts that are accepted as historical by virtually all scholars, whatever their religious persuasion. Readers who choose to reject them must consider whether they are doing so for other than factual reasons.

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Fox News: "3,000 year old text proves King Solomon existed."

A few characters scratched into the side of an ancient earthenware jug have archaeologists scrambling for their dictionaries -- and wondering if it corroborates the Bible's stories of King Solomon.

The Ophel inscription -- 3,000-year-old characters found in Israel in July -- is the earliest alphabetical written text ever found in Jerusalem. It proves the real basis behind the parables and stories in the world’s most famous book, said Gershon Galil, a professor of ancient history and biblical studies at the University of Haifa.

"We are dealing here with real kings, and the kingdom of David and Solomon was a real fact," Galil told FoxNews.com, in a phone call from Israel.

Read the full article from Fox News here....

"Did the Resurrection Really Happen?" - Dr. Gary Habermas

What is the Historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Do Atheist admit key historical facts that point towards the truth of the Resurrection?

Listen to a concise but insightful and informative response from the world's expert on the Historical evidence for the man Jesus of Nazareth, and His Resurrection from the dead - Dr. Gary Habermas.

In 3 minutes, he shares his powerful, revolutionary approach to demonstrating the reality and veracity of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, almost 2,000 years ago.

Have a blessed "Resurrection Sunday" today - Jesus is Risen!

- Pastor J. 

Atheists Scholars Give Evidence for Easter! - Dr. Gary Habermas

Can Christians show that Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as a Historical Event?

Can Christians demonstrate the Resurrection by using only 4 HISTORICAL FACTS?!?

Dr. Gary Habermas has pioneered one of the most effective approaches to demonstrating the historical nature of Resurrection:  

He only uses 4 historical facts, all of which are accepted by Atheist scholars of the New Testament.

This approach, called"The Minimal Facts" method, is not only unique in that it uses data accepted by Atheists, but it is arguably the quickest and most efficient way to discuss the "Core Historical Facts" surrounding Jesus of Nazareth.  

I encourage you to go to www.garyhabermas.com to investigate the great (and free) audio, video, and articles Dr. Habermas offers regarding the historical facts surrounding Jesus of Nazareth and His Resurrection from the dead.

This is an indispensable approach to use this Easter, as you share the Gospel and the Hope of Everlasting life - found only in the Risen Christ!

- Pastor J. 

Atheist Scholars Provide Evidence For The Resurrection?!?

If you haven't yet heard of him, Dr. Gary Habermas is probably the world's leading expert on the historical, medical, and archaeological evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. 

He has pioneered a method called the "Minimal Facts Approach" that uses the minimal data which Atheist New Testament scholars accept, and proceeds to demonstrate the historicity of the Resurrection from those facts alone.

Here, Dr. Habermas gives a quick summary of this revolutionary method.  As we get closer to celebrating Easter, we will be posting much of his research in order to equip you to intelligently and effectively speak about the historical nature of Christ's Resurrection.

Have an Intelligent Faith! 

- Pastor J.

The Lost Tomb of Jesus: A Response to the Discovery-Channel Documentary Directed by James Cameron

by Dr. Gary R. Habermas and Colleagues

Jesus Burial Tomb?

Recently, questions have been raised regarding the historicity of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  These issues emerged from the directorial genius of 

James Cameron and is entitled, "

The Lost Tomb of Jesus

." This new Hollywood-quality documentary is set to air March 4th, 2007 on the Discovery Channel. However, this documentary is poorly supported by the historical and scientific data, regardless of how well the film has been made.

Good TV, Bad History & Science

"[The Lost Tomb of Jesus] will make good TV but involves a bad critical reading of history. Basically, this is old news with a new interpretation. We have known about this tomb since it was discovered in 1980. There are all sorts of reasons to see that this is much ado about nothing much."

-

Dr. Ben Witherington, New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary and author of 

What Have They Done With Jesus?

An incredible number of problems are present in the recent claim that Jesus' grave has been found.  In the end, the time-honored, multi-faceted evidence for the Gospel data of the Deity, death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus are more convincing than ever. Even the early opponents of the Christian message acknowledged that Jesus' tomb was empty. 

And the evidence for Jesus' bodily resurrection appearances has never been refuted

.

I've known about "The Lost Tomb of Christ" and the story behind it for quite some time.  Last summer (2006), I interviewed James Tabor, the main scholar involved with "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" project.  James was very helpful in answering my questions about the Talpiot site and we have become friends.  Still, I am convinced that he is mistaken at virtually every evidential turn in the road.  

There is no way this should challenge a Christian's faith

.

  • The tomb was discovered in 1980; it is a very old story and it did not take anyone by surprise.
  • The BBC did a documentary on the tomb in 1996.
  • ... So why is this situation suddenly getting media attention?

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The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity

Introduction

In recent years, an increasing number of studies have begun to employ what I have termed the “Minimal Facts” approach to a critical study of the resurrection of Jesus. This methodology differs significantly from older apologetic tactics that usually argued from historically reliable or even inspired New Testament texts to Jesus’ resurrection. The Minimal Facts outlook approaches the subject from a different angle. In this essay, I will concentrate on the nature, distinctiveness, and value of the Minimal Facts methodological approach to the resurrection of Jesus. After a brief overview, I will interact directly with the use of such an approach by Michael Licona in his recent volume, 

The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approachincluding considering a few caveats for future study.

The Minimal Facts Method

For more than 35 years, I have argued that, surrounding the end of Jesus’ life, there is a significant body of data that scholars of almost every religious and philosophical persuasion recognize as being historical. The historicity of each “fact” on the list is attested and supported by a variety of historical and other considerations. This motif began as the central tenet of my PhD dissertation.

2 This theme has continued in virtually all of my other dozens of publications on this subject since that time.

3 Interestingly, my second debate on the resurrection of Jesus with philosophical atheist Antony Flew began with his general acceptance of my list of historical facts as a good starting point.

From the outset of my studies, I argued that there were at least two major prerequisites for an occurrence to be designated as a Minimal Fact. Each event had to be established by more than adequate scholarly evidence, and usually by several critically-ascertained, independent lines of argumentation. Additionally, the vast majority of contemporary scholars in relevant fields had to acknowledge the historicity of the occurrence. Of the two criteria, I have always held that the first is by far the most crucial, especially since this initial requirement is the one that actually establishes the historicity of the event. Besides, the acclamation of scholarly opinion may be mistaken or it could change.

Throughout this research, I have produced two lists of facts that have varied slightly in the numbering from publication to publication. The longer list was usually termed the “Known Historical Facts” and typically consisted of a dozen historical occurrences that more generally met the above criteria, but concerning which I was somewhat more lenient on their application. This would apply especially to the high percentages of scholarly near-unanimous agreement that I would require for the shorter list. From this longer listing, I would extrapolate a briefer line-up of from four to six events, termed the Minimal Facts.

6 This latter list is the stricter one that Licona is addressing and which is the focus of much of this essay.

I explain my use of the longer and shorter versions this way: since I have surveyed this material for decades, I can report that most contemporary critical scholars actually concede far more facts than those included even in the long list, let alone just the few Minimal Facts alone. But the problem is that, as the numbers of events expand, fewer scholars agree on each one. So there could be more give and take on “whose facts” ought to be utilized. Obviously then, longer lists would not fulfill especially the second strict criterion of the Minimal Facts method.

So I decided to be even more selective than the majority of critical scholars by shortening the list in order to get more scholars (and especially the skeptics) on board. This methodological move has the benefit of bypassing the often protracted preliminary discussions of which data are permissible, by beginning with a “lowest common denominator” version of the facts. If I am correct in holding that this basis is still enough to settle the most pressing historical issues, then it is indeed a crucial contribution to the discussions. We will return below to some ramifications here.

Regarding my references to the “vast majority” or “virtually all” scholars who agree, is it possible to identify these phrases in more precise terms? In some contexts, I have identified these expressions more specifically. At least when referencing the most important historical occurrences, I frequently think in terms of a ninety-something percentile head-count. No doubt, this is one of the reasons why the concept has gained some attention.

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THE HISTORICAL JESUS: Scholars debate it!

As a part of our Friday series "Ancient Non-Christian Historical Sources for Jesus of Nazareth", I wanted you to listen to the first part of a scholarly discussion regarding the historical information surrounding Christ and his life. 

There are few minds within Christian Academia more qualified to speak on this matter that Dr. Gary Habermas (www.garyhabermas.com) from Liberty University.  He is considered to be one of, if not the, world experts on the historical research of Jesus of Nazareth, whether it be from Christian or non-Christian sources.

Kick back, enjoy, ..... and have an Intelligent Faith!

- Pastor J.