What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died?

Today some claim that Jesus is just an idea, rather than a real historical figure, but there is a good deal of written evidence for his existence 2,000 years ago.

How confident can we be that Jesus Christ actually lived?

The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings. Compare that with, for example, King Arthur, who supposedly lived around AD500. The major historical source for events of that time does not even mention Arthur, and he is first referred to 300 or 400 years after he is supposed to have lived. The evidence for Jesus is not limited to later folklore, as are accounts of Arthur.

What do Christian writings tell us?

The value of this evidence is that it is both early and detailed. The first Christian writings to talk about Jesus are the epistles of St Paul, and scholars agree that the earliest of these letters were written within 25 years of Jesus’s death at the very latest, while the detailed biographical accounts of Jesus in the New Testament gospels date from around 40 years after he died. These all appeared within the lifetimes of numerous eyewitnesses, and provide descriptions that comport with the culture and geography of first-century Palestine. It is also difficult to imagine why Christian writers would invent such a thoroughly Jewish saviour figure in a time and place – under the aegis of the Roman empire – where there was strong suspicion of Judaism.

What did non-Christian authors say about Jesus?

As far as we know, the first author outside the church to mention Jesus is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who wrote a history of Judaism around AD93. He has two references to Jesus. One of these is controversial because it is thought to be corrupted by Christian scribes (probably turning Josephus’s negative account into a more positive one), but the other is not suspicious – a reference to James, the brother of “Jesus, the so-called Christ”.

About 20 years after Josephus we have the Roman politicians Pliny and Tacitus, who held some of the highest offices of state at the beginning of the second century AD. From Tacitus we learn that Jesus was executed while Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect in charge of Judaea (AD26-36) and Tiberius was emperor (AD14-37) – reports that fit with the timeframe of the gospels. Pliny contributes the information that, where he was governor in northern Turkey, Christians worshipped Christ as a god. Neither of them liked Christians – Pliny writes of their “pig-headed obstinacy” and Tacitus calls their religion a destructive superstition.

Did ancient writers discuss the existence of Jesus?

Strikingly, there was never any debate in the ancient world about whether Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. In the earliest literature of the Jewish Rabbis, Jesus was denounced as the illegitimate child of Mary and a sorcerer. Among pagans, the satirist Lucian and philosopher Celsus dismissed Jesus as a scoundrel, but we know of no one in the ancient world who questioned whether Jesus lived.

How controversial is the existence of Jesus now?

In a recent book, the French philosopher Michel Onfray talks of Jesus as a mere hypothesis, his existence as an idea rather than as a historical figure. About 10 years ago, The Jesus Project was set up in the US; one of its main questions for discussion was that of whether or not Jesus existed. Some authors have even argued that Jesus of Nazareth was doubly non-existent, contending that both Jesus and Nazareth are Christian inventions. It is worth noting, though, that the two mainstream historians who have written most against these hypersceptical arguments are atheists: Maurice Casey (formerly of Nottingham University) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina). They have issued stinging criticisms of the “Jesus-myth” approach, branding it pseudo-scholarship. Nevertheless, a recent survey discovered that 40% of adults in England did not believe that Jesus was a real historical figure.

Is there any archaeological evidence for Jesus?

Part of the popular confusion around the historicity of Jesus may be caused by peculiar archaeological arguments raised in relation to him. Recently there have been claims that Jesus was a great-grandson of Cleopatra, complete with ancient coins allegedly showing Jesus wearing his crown of thorns. In some circles, there is still interest in the Shroud of Turin, supposedly Jesus’s burial shroud. Pope Benedict XVI stated that it was something that “no human artistry was capable of producing” and an “icon of Holy Saturday”.

It is hard to find historians who regard this material as serious archaeological data, however. The documents produced by Christian, Jewish and Roman writers form the most significant evidence.

These abundant historical references leave us with little reasonable doubt that Jesus lived and died. The more interesting question – which goes beyond history and objective fact – is whether Jesus died and lived.

This post was adapted from The Guardian, written by Simon Gathercole – Reader in New Testament Studies at the University of Cambridge.

To find out more about our hope and how you can become a part of it, visit our website: www.ammanfordchristadelphians.co.uk.

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Public Enquiry: Did Jesus die and rise from the dead? – A Special Event for Easter

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Did Jesus die and rise from the dead?

Witnesses will be called.

The evidence presented.

The decision is yours!

The Ammanford Christadelphians are hosting an exciting dramatisation of a public enquiry into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Several ‘eye-witnesses’ will testify and describe the dramatic events. Evidence will be displayed and analysed through powerpoint presentation (some bits can be a little gory). YOU are the jury. Did Jesus really die and rise from the dead? That is for you to decide.

It is free entry and no need to book in advance, just show up on the night – everyone wlecome!

To find out more contact info@ammanfordchristadelphians.co.uk

The Ammanford Christadelphians invite you to this dramatised enquiry at 2 venues in the coming week:

Tycroes Village Hall, Ammanford Road

Wednesday 12 April 7.30pm

and

The Christadelphian Hall, Foundry Road, Ammanford

Sunday 16 April 6.00pm

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The truth of the empty tomb!

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I want to be direct and talk about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not just because it’s Easter time (a very good prompt of course) but because it is vital. It is the foundation of the Christian faith. Perhaps you do believe that “Christ died for our sins…that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. ( 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

I do hope you will find these thoughts positive and reaffirming. However, you may be sceptical or just cannot accept it. Well, perhaps what follows will be food for thought!

Jesus of Nazareth is an historical figure, real and recorded in the literature of the era. He was known as a Jewish teacher who was crucified as a criminal, a death his followers did not expect. Amazingly however, within weeks, they turned from dejection and inertia to become an active, vital and very convincing force. They preached at home and abroad that Jesus had risen from the dead and had been seen by many of them. Saul, a resolute enemy and persecutor of Christians, became utterly convinced. (Acts 8) He became known as the apostle Paul, the foremost preacher of Jesus Christ. He committed and ultimately gave up his life for his risen Lord. These facts about what happened 2000 years ago are on record.

Roman and Jewish enemies could have stopped the movement in its tracks and shown it to be false simply by producing Jesus’ body. But the tomb was empty and the body gone! The tomb was sealed and a guard had been placed there to stop his disciples from removing his body.

The apostle Paul said of the resurrection” I am speaking true and rational words” (Acts 26:25).

Many have spoken irrationally and falsely about the empty tomb. Many theories have tried to explain away Jesus’ resurrection but all disappear when the evidence is judged fairly and squarely. Some maintain that Jesus appeared dead but had merely swooned and then revived in the cool of the tomb. He had then escape. Hardened, seasoned soldiers and their centurion knew a dead, lacerated body when they saw one. Jesus had been pierced in his hands and feet, had hung on a cross in the heat of the day and, just to make sure that he was truly dead, the soldiers pierced him with a sword in his side !His followers would have looked desperately for signs of life as they prepared his body for the tomb. What is more, how could a man, so badly wounded have removed the huge stone sealing the entrance?. He would then have to evade the guards! Clearly impossible!

The truth of the empty tomb is that Jesus is alive and “declared to be the Son of God in power…. by his resurrection from the dead.”( Romans 1:4)

This wonderful ‘outside our experience’ supernatural fact is pivotal. It is the centre of the truth of the Bible. The grave could not contain him because he alone was sinless. His life, freely given, can save us and reconcile us to God. His resurrection is the assurance that God will raise and judge many at Christ’s return to our earth. (Acts 17:31)

So, as Paul says “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8)

(All quote from ESV Bible)

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