Wednesday, June 29, 2016


I have taken the liberty of taking this from "The Jesus Mysteries" by Timothy Freke abd Peter Gandy:

The Missing Man

There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the kingdom of God, who founded the kingdom of heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence. This image has not been destroyed from without, it has fallen to pieces, cleft and disintegrated by the concrete historical problems which came to the surface one after another.                                                                                                        Albert Schweitzer

We began our quest for the historical Jesus with the Romans. Jesus is said have been crucified by the Romans and they were renowned for keeping careful records of all their activities, especially their legal proceedings, so we felt we could be optimistic that they would mention such a celebrated case as that of Jesus. Unfortunately, however, there is no record of Jesus being tried by Pontius Pilate or executed.
This was an extremely literate period in human history. Here is a list of Pagan writers who wrote at or within a century of the time that Jesus is said to have lived:

Arrian                          Pliny the Elder                       Martial
Petronius                    Appian                                    Plutarch
Seneca                       Juvenal                                   Apollonius
Dion Pruseus             Theon of Smyrna                   Pausanias

Valerius Flaccus   
Florus Lucius
Silius Italicus
Dio Chrysostom
Aulus Gellius
Valerius Maximus

The works of these writers would be enough to fill a library, but not one of them refers to Jesus. The only Roman writers to mention anything of interest are Pliny, Suetonius, and Tacitus, who were writing at the beginning of the second century.
Pliny, the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, wrote a very short passage to the Emperor Trajan in 112 CE requesting clarification on how to deal with troublesome Christians. The Roman historian Suetonius, in a list of miscel­laneous notes on legislative matters (between considering the sale of food in taverns and briefly discussing the behavior of charioteers), relates that in 64 CE, "Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and wicked superstition. " But all these sources really tell us is that a few Christians existed in the Roman world-which is not in doubt-and that they were not considered of any particular importance. They tell us nothing about Jesus himself.

Suetonius also relates that between 41 and 54 CE, the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome, "since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Crestus." Although Crestus was a popular name, this is often taken as a corruption of "Christ." Even if this were true, however, Christ is simply a Greek translation of "Messiah" and there were at the time any number of would-be Messiahs rousing the Jews to rebellion, so the supposition that any reference to "Christ" necessarily refers to the Jesus Christ of the gospels is completely unfounded. Anyway, Jesus is not believed to have ever visited Rome. Again, all we are really being told is that Claudius had to deal with troublesome Jews, which was a regular occurrence in Roman history.

The Roman historian Tacitus does give us a little more. Writing about the great fire of Rome in 64 CE, he states that nothing could eliminate the rumor that Emperor Nero had himself started the blaze, so Nero blamed the Christians:

Nero fabricated as scapegoats, and punished with every refinement, the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius' reign by the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. But in spite of this temporary set­back the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief started) but even in Rome. All degraded and shameful practices collect and flourish in the capital.

The evidence of Tacitus is not contemporary, however, but dates from about 50 years after the event. As governor of Asia c.112 CE, he must have bee familiar with Christian "troublemakers," as his friend Pliny obviously was. The only thing that would make Tacitus' writings an independent testimony to the existence of Jesus and not merely the repetition of Christian beliefs would be if he had gained his information about Christ being crucified under Pontius Pilate from the copious records that the Romans kept of their legal dealings. But this does not seem to be the case, for Tacitus calls Pilate the "procurator" of Judea when he was in fact a "prefect," so Tacitus is clearly not returning to the records of the time but quoting hearsay information from his own day.

Despite their obsession with records and histories, that concludes our survey of relevant Roman texts. However, it could be argued that other Roman literature, which may well have mentioned Jesus, has been lost over time. But surely any such texts would have been carefully preserved by the Roman Church once it held power in the Empire. Not only this, but it is safe to assume that well-educated early Christians, such as Justin Martyr, would have quoted these texts in support of Literalist Christianity, but they do not. There are only two credible explanations for Jesus' conspicuous absence from Roman texts. Either there simply was no historical Jesus or Jesus seemed of so little importance to the Romans that he was deemed not worthy of mention. Let us turn, therefore, to Jewish historians. To the Jews Jesus would either have been the long-awaited Messiah or a blaspheming impostor who stirred up the masses. Either way, someone somewhere should refer to him.


Philo was an eminent Jewish author who lived at the same time that Jesus is supposed to have lived and wrote around 50 works that still survive. They deal with history, philosophy, and religion, and tell us much about Pontius Pilate-yet make no mention at all of the coming of the Messiah Jesus. Philo's contemporary, Justus of Tiberias, was a Jew who lived near Caper­naum, where Jesus was often said to have stayed. He wrote a history that began with Moses and extended to his own times, but again gave no mention of Jesus.

There is still Josephus, however, a younger contemporary of the apostle Paul. He wrote two famous history books, The Jewish Wars and the monu­mental Antiquities of the Jews. These two works are our most important sources of information on the history of the Jewish people during the first century of the Christian era. And here at last, as one might expect, we seem to find the evidence we are looking for. Josephus writes:

At about this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one might call him a man. For he was one who accomplished surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as are eager for novelties. He won over many of the Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon an indictment brought by the principal men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him from the very first did not cease to be attached to him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the holy prophets had foretold this and myriads of other marvels concerning him. And the tribe of the Chris­tians, so called after him, has to this day still not disappeared.

Josephus also tells us that when the "miracle-worker" was brought before Pilate, he concluded that Jesus was "a benefactor, not a criminal, or agitator, or a would-be king." Josephus relates that as Jesus had miraculously cured Pilate's wife of a sickness, Pilate let him go. However, the Jewish priests later bribed Pilate to allow them to crucify Jesus "in defiance of all Jewish tradi­tion." As for the resurrection, he tells us that Jesus' dead body could not have been stolen by his disciples, which was a common argument advanced against Christian claims that Jesus miraculously resurrected, since "guards were posted around his tomb, 30 Romans and 1,000 Jews"!

For hundreds of years these passages in Josephus were seized on by Chris­tian historians as conclusive proof that Jesus existed. Critical scholarship, however, has revealed them to be much later additions to Josephus' text. They are not of the same writing style as Josephus and if they are removed from the text, Josephus’ original argument runs on in proper sequence. Writ­ing at the beginning of the third century, Origen, whom modern authorities regard as one of the most conscientious scholars of the ancient Church, tells us that there is no mention of Jesus in Josephus and that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ since he did not believe in any Jewish Mes­siah figure.

Josephus was in fact a pro-Roman Jew. He was hated by his fellow coun­trymen as a collaborator, which led him to flee Judea and live in Rome until his death. Here he received patronage from two Emperors and a wealthy Roman aristocrat.

Josephus does mention various would-be Jewish Messiah figures-about whom he is entirely uncomplimentary. At the time he was writing, the long­ held belief amongst Jews that their God would send them the Messiah to free his people from oppression had become an obsession. But Josephus had his own interpretation of what he calls this " ancient oracle.” He did not deny that it was a divine prophecy; but believed that his fellow Jews had misun­derstood it completely. According to him, the prophesied ruler of the world had come in the person of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, who had happened to be proclaimed Emperor while in Judea!  It is absolutely inconceivable that Josephus could have, quite suddenly, broken with his style of writing, all his philosophical beliefs! and his characteristic political pragmatism to write reverentially about Jesus!

Early Christians who, like us, searched for historical evidence of Jesus' existence, would have seized on anything written by Josephus as conclusive proof. Yet early Christians do not mention Josephus. It is not until the begin­ning of the fourth century that Bishop Eusebius, the propagandist of the Roman Church, suddenly produced a version of Josephus which contained these passages. From that point onward, Josephus became the foundation for the historicity of Jesus.

Unable to provide any historical evidence for Jesus, later Christians forged the proof that they so badly needed to shore up their Literalist inter­pretation of the gospels. This, as we would see repeatedly, was a common practice.


Although there is no evidence for the historical Jesus in the writings of Jewish historians, there are a handful of passages in the Jewish Talmud that are sometimes wheeled out to provide some evidence for Jesus the man. These are clearly not Christian forgeries. Here is what they say:

.:. It has been taught: On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu . . . because he practiced sorcery and enticed Israel astray.
.:. Our rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples-Mattai, Nakkia, Netzer, Buni, and Todah.
.:. It happened with Rabbi Elazar ben Damah, whom a serpent bit, that Jacob, a man of Kefar Soma, came to help him in the name of Yeshu ben Pantera.
.:. Once I was walking on the upper street of Sepphoris, and found one of the disciples of Yeshu the Nazarene.

"Yeshu" is a shortened form of "Yehoshua" or "Joshua," which in Greek becomes "Jesus," so perhaps these passages are about the Jesus of the gospels!
However, dismissing the fact that we have mention of only five disciples with completely unrecognizable names, there are other reasons why these passages are not the proof we are seeking.

The fact that we have a mention of "Yeshu the Nazarene" is not extraordi­nary. The Nazarenes were a Jewish religious sect and the use of the word does not imply "from Nazareth." Yeshu was an extremely common name that could refer to any number of people. Josephus mentions at least 10 Jesuses, although it is revealing to note that some translations of Josephus only trans­late the passages that they want the reader to identify with Jesus Christ using the Greek version of the name that we all recognize, while leaving the names of all the other Jesuses in the untranslated Hebrew!

As the scholar who unearthed these passages in the Talmud admits, even if they do refer to Jesus and not some other Yeshu, they cannot be taken as proof of Jesus' existence, because they are written so late. Although based on older writings, the Talmud was not written unti1200 CE, and we do not know whether these were early passages. Anyway, the rabbis are so vague in their chronology that they differ by as much as 200 years in the dates they assign to the figure that mayor may not be Jesus!

There does not seem to be anything substantial here. Where else can we look? Remarkably enough, that's it! We've reviewed all the potential histori­cal evidence for the existence of Jesus. Extraordinary as it may seem, there simply is nothing else. All we are left with are Christian testimonies. Can these be regarded as historical documents?

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