Analyzing Jesus: The Historical Figure

6th century mosaic in Ravenna portrays Jesus long-haired and bearded, dressed as a Greco-Roman priest and king. He appears as the Pantokrator enthroned as in the Book of Revelation, donning regal Tyrian purple, gesturing a benediction, with a sun cross halo behind his head. Though depictions of Jesus are culturally important, no undisputed record of Jesus' appearance exists.

Analyzing Jesus
Part One: The Historical Figure 

It’s about that time again. Time for me to start up a new series regarding religion/faith/Christianity. I can already tell that this series will be a long one, so get ready for the long haul. I will address Jesus on a variety of different fronts, trying my best to be objective (like a lawyer). Granted, I cannot completely rid myself of my preconceived biases, but I hope that you can, at the very least, respect my investigative reasoning.

The title of this series is “Analyzing Jesus”, and the first section is ‘The Historical Figure’.

Before I begin though, let me define a few key terms. First, as I mentioned above, I will be using logic and reasoning to reach any conclusion (as oppossed to say, faith). Just so we are on the same page, logic is defined as:

The science that investigates the principles governing correct or reliable inference.

and reason is defined as:

a statement presented in justification or explanation of a belief or action…a premise of an argument

Okay, now that we have these two terms defined, let us continue with the analyzation of Jesus. I should note that I will draw upon a variety of sources during this entire series.

This first section (The Historical Figure) is necessary because in my experience, I have (suprisingly) come across some atheist individuals who doubt that Jesus even existed in the first place. Yes I know, it seems quite stupid to address a consperiacy theory designed to anger Christians, but nonetheless, I will address the issue objectively.

Truth be told, no real legitimate scholar believes Jesus did not exist. “The entire English-speaking world divides history into two principle periods: BC (“Before Christ”) and AD (“Anno Domini” — Latin for “Year of Our Lord”). Whether one subscribes to the BC/AD labels or the new “politically correct” BCE/CE (“Common Era”) labels, the birth of Jesus Christ has always been the dividing line in history.

Also, nobody can deny the fact that every leader of every major world religion has confronted the historical Jesus. Muslims recognize Jesus as a prophet, while Jews either see him as a blaspheming rebel or an exceptional rabbi elevated to deity by idolatrous Gentiles. Many Buddhists regard Jesus as a “bodhisattva” (a perfectly enlightened being who vows to help others), while there’s a Hindu tradition that Jesus was actually a guru who learned yogic meditation in India” (Niles).

Besides the impact Jesus has had on every major religion, we find evidence of his existence from the Babylonian Talmud, Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Seutonius, Mara Bar-Serapion, Lucian of Samosata, and so on (as I think you get the point). The plain truth is that Jesus of Nazareth lived, like it or not.

Now that it is clear that Jesus did in fact exist, we can continue on to other (more controversial) characteristics of him. The next section will address thedispute Jesus caused between the Jews, and that is the notion that he is the Jewish Messiah.  For if he is not the Messiah, then that alone will demonstrate he is nothing more than a very gifted man. 

God Bless,

Justin

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17 Responses

  1. Oooo… I’m looking forward to this series. My only request: Do not analyze the “historical Jesus” as the Jesus Seminar did (Marcus Borg and Company). I have very rarely seen a bigger load of crap produced under the guise of academia.

    Good stuff.

  2. yes that was crap, and much of it was for $$$…like everything in life.

  3. Oh yeah, it was a total publicity stunt, very Jeffersonian.

  4. Yes, because we should all take the word of a blogger over 200 scholars. It is one thing to disagree, it is quite another to say “that was crap” and “a total publicity stunt”. Very mature. Not defensive at all.

  5. Hi TA,
    I am not one to discard someone’s opinion just because they don’t have a university’s degree, that’s not being very mature. I think we can all be scholars in our own right, I have no problem accepting a “bloggers” view if it is presented with reason.

  6. TA,
    No need to be defensive in this case. 4 scholars declared themselves authoritative on a subject without subjecting any of their work to peer review or outside critique. Also, this blogger happens to be sitting under the teaching of a few dozen very authoritative and disagreeing scholars.

    Not just my disagreeing opinion.

  7. […] Part One of this series, we analyzed Jesus as a historical figure in history. The second part of this series […]

  8. Nice start to what looks like a promising series.

    Yes, the Jesus Seminar “scholarship” is crap. That they have degrees in anything says more about our culture’s gullability and the institutions that granted them than anything else.

  9. […] far in this series I have covered that Jesus did in fact exist (despite some conspiracy theories), and also the likelihood that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah given […]

  10. Hi, I would to comment on your post here, because I think it employs a few logical fallacies to support its point. You wrote, “Truth be told, no real legitimate scholar believes Jesus did not exist.” This is an example of the logical fallacy known as argument ad hominem, or “poisoning the well”. If a scholar doesn’t believe Jesus existed, that makes them non-legitimate? Here is at least one “real legitimate [sic]” scholar who doesn’t believe Jesus existed: Robert M. Price.

    You wrote, “Also, nobody can deny the fact that every leader of every major world religion has confronted the historical Jesus.” This is an example of the fallacy of argumentum ad verecundiam, or “appeal to authority.” Just because some authority believes it, doesn’t make it necessarily true.

    You wrote, “Besides the impact Jesus has had on every major religion, we find evidence of his existence from the Babylonian Talmud, Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Seutonius, Mara Bar-Serapion, Lucian of Samosata, and so on (as I think you get the point).”

    Well, not so fast. You may or may not be aware, but the references are heavily disputed, and may reflect what Christians believed, but what actually happened.

    With regards to comments about the Jesus Seminar, you do realize that they supported the notion of a historical Jesus, right?

    In any case, my reply is not to prove there was never a Jesus; rather, to demonstrate that your arguments in support are weak.

  11. Sorry, minor error. In my post above, I wrote: “Well, not so fast. You may or may not be aware, but the references are heavily disputed, and may reflect what Christians believed, but what actually happened.”

    It should say, “Well, not so fast. You may or may not be aware, but the references are heavily disputed, and may reflect what Christians believed, not what actually happened.”

  12. Hi Robert,
    thanks for stopping by. In regards to the fallacies. I will look and read about the scholar you pointed out…

    you must remember that the fact that an argument is an appeal to authority doesn’t make its conclusion untrue, nor does it make it unreasonable to believe the argument. The limitation of an appeal to authority is that it cannot guarantee the truth of the conclusion. So in my case, I presented multiple authorities (multiple attestation), some separate and some overlap (in the case of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). It’s up to the reader to determine if the argument warrants believing…in this case, I would say yes.

    I am aware at they are disputed (as most ancient documents are, especially with religion). Josephus is the most commonly “argued” reference, but even with it stripped of it’s “Christian” overtones (using the logic of the Jesus Seminar), it still paints a pretty obvious picture of his existence.

  13. […] installment of my series titled, “Analyzing Jesus”. So far, we have looked at the historical figure, looked to see if he was the Jewish Messiah, and looked at further evidence to analyze the […]

  14. Hello again! You wrote, “So in my case, I presented multiple authorities (multiple attestation), some separate and some overlap (in the case of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).” At one point in history, these same “authorities” believed the world was flat. Again, I think it’s a very poor argument.

    There are better ones, I think. Although he doesn’t believe Jesus existed, Professor Price, whom I referenced above, sees some evidence in Acts, Mark and Galatians of a succession struggle after Jesus’s (alleged) death, which implies existence.

    There are further arguments against the Josephus reference, but I think one of the most significant is that while the Testimonium Flavianum was written late in the first century, not one Christian apologist until the 4th century cites it. This is strange given that the passage, if authentic, would have been of great value in early Christian debates with the Jews.

  15. There are further arguments against the Josephus reference, but I think one of the most significant is that while the Testimonium Flavianum was written late in the first century, not one Christian apologist until the 4th century cites it. This is strange given that the passage, if authentic, would have been of great value in early Christian debates with the Jews.

    I am unsure why they would want to cite it in the first place as it only attests that he existed, which all believed anyway. The Jews who believed in Christ wanted to move beyond his existence and into his godliness…therefore you see the added changes.

    If they wanted to cite Josephus for some reason (which again, there would be no point since it was a given he did in fact exist), it would have been difficult given that the distribution of texts in antiquity isn’t like it is today (obviously) and therefore lacks the means for broad distribution.

    At one point in history, these same “authorities” believed the world was flat. Again, I think it’s a very poor argument.

    I believe that refutation is an example of a very poor argument. It isn’t very relevant and it would mean that we should discredit any great mind from history because of what they did not know (instead of what they DID know). The same principle could (but obviously shouldn’t) be said for us 2000 years in the future because we didn’t know _____________. In fact, it could be applied to us 10 years from now as knowledge progresses.

  16. Justin wrote,

    I am unsure why they would want to cite it in the first place as it only attests that he existed, which all believed anyway.

    This is absolutely not true. There was in fact a wide range of belief about what Jesus was, even among those who called themselves Christians. Some, for example, never even mention the words “Jesus” or “Christ” in their apologetics. Instead, for them, the “Son of God” is a philosophical concept, the Logos, and, with the exception of Justin Martyr in the mid second century, it is never associated with a human being.

    In his Dialogue with the Jew Trypho, Justin puts these words into Trypho’s mouth: “But Christ—if he has indeed been born, and exists anywhere—is unknown . . . And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves . . . ” If “all believed” that Jesus was an historical entity, then why invent the accusation to rebut? Justin, an assiduous reader of Josephus, makes no reference to the Testimonium Flavianum.

    It isn’t very relevant and it would mean that we should discredit any great mind from history because of what they did not know (instead of what they DID know).

    I think you misunderstood why I raised this example. It’s meant to show that “most people” can be mistaken over something, which is why it’s a logical fallacy (argumentum ad populum) to appeal to majority belief in an argument. On the question of whether Jesus is the Son of God and mankind’s savior, should we grant the beliefs of Muslims, Jews and Buddhists authority?

  17. Hi Robert,
    you bring up an interesting point. Today we argue much about Jesus’ divinity, yet back then, the argument was primarily over his humanity (hence the large range of different views…until it was finally decided by the Catholic church that Jesus was both fully human and fully God at the same time).

    As for your statements on ad populum, I refer back to my original reply in that such arguments don’t make the conclusion untrue, nor does it make it unreasonable to believe the argument. The limitation of an appeal to authority is that it cannot guarantee the truth of the conclusion – which is what we are both saying.

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