Analyzing Jesus: Scientific Evidence for being Jewish Messiah

Analyzing Jesus
Part Three: Scientific Evidence for being Jewish Messiah

Deadseascrolls.JPGSo 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 all the prophecy he has fulfilled (and the probability of doing so). Today’s post I will continue with the idea of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, and hopefully successfully address some major questions.

The first issue I will address is a question that I posed at the end of the last part in this series. It was the following:

“couldn’t have all the stuff about Jesus fulfilling prophecy have just been added by zealots after his death?”

Quite a valid question, in fact, many people ask it today. I mean, how can it be possible for one man to actually fulfill every single one of the prophecies written over 1,000 year span? Someone HAD to change the prophecy around right?! Not necessarily.

Enter the Dead Sea Scrolls.

If you are unsure as to what these are, the Dead Sea Scrolls “have been called the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times. They were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. This is an arid region 13 miles east of Jerusalem and 1,300 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea Scrolls are comprised of the remains of approximately 825 to 870 separate scrolls, represented by tens of thousands of fragments. The texts are most commonly made of animal skins, but also papyrus and one of copper. Most of the texts are written in Hebrew and Aramaic, with a few in Greek.

The Dead Sea Scrolls appear to be the library of a Jewish sect, considered most likely the Essenes. Near the caves are the ancient ruins of Qumran, a village excavated in the early 1950’s that shows connections to both the Essenes and the scrolls. The Essenes were strictly observant Jewish scribes. The library appears to have been hidden away in caves around the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 AD) as the Roman army advanced against the Jews.” (Niles)

The scrolls have been separated into biblical and non-biblical categories. The part of interest to us here are the biblical sections. The discover of the Dead Sea Scrolls gave us 19 fragments of Isaiah, 25 fragments of Deuteronomy, and 30 fragments of Psalms. The “Isaiah Scroll” is recorded to be at least 1,000 years older than any other previous copy of Isaiah.

More importantly, carbon dating (and other methods) have shown that manuscripts such as Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 61 date at least to 100 BC. These scriptures are crucial Messianic prophecy within scripture… So what does this mean? It means that these ancient manuscripts (containing specific prophecy about the Jewish Messiah) existed prior to Jesus even walking the earth. Therefore, there was no religious fanatic changing the scripture after Jesus came…no conspiracy existed!

Recall that the basis of this series is to analyze Jesus in the way one would in a courtroom today. With this in mind, consider what it is you just read. Put Jesus on the stand and look at the evidence.

Prosecutor: “So you think you are the Messiah?!”

Jesus: “You say that I am”

Prosecutor: “Well, I can tell you now that it is impossible for you to have done all those things written about you, in fact, it seems statistically more likely for someone to change these ‘prophecies’ around to make it look like you did it”

Defense Attorney: “Objection your Honor! We have scientific proof that these sayings about the Messiah were written at least one century before my client was born”

Prosecutor: “No further questions.”

That is all for this part of my multi-part series. I hope you are enjoying my approach (I swear I am trying to be unbiased, but I know that it doesn’t always come across that way). Nonetheless, It seems that all the information about Jesus fulfilling scripture is a miracle… and that is the very concept I will attempt to objectively analyze in the next section of this series, which will be titled: Analyzing Jesus: His Miracles.

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8 Responses

  1. Justin,

    I think the question is not the validity of the Tanakh, or any changing of the Tanakh, but rather whether the stories of the New Testament were created to imply Jesus was fulfilling certain scriptures and claiming those were prophecies.

    By way of brief example to demonstrate: the prophecy of Jesus being speared on the Cross. (One you pointed out earlier.)

    Zechariah 12:10 says “…they will look on Me whom they pierced…”

    No one (that I know of) is claiming that Christians modified Zechariah in the First Century to add this verse, or modify this verse. The claim is that the author of John sees this verse, decided to turn it in to a prophecy, and created the story of Jesus being stuck in the side with a spear. It is the New Testament that is being created to claim Jesus was fulfilling prophecy—not that the Tanakh was being changed.

    To bolster that particular point (continuing my example) the Author of John even explains that this is a fulfillment of prophecy—letting us know s/he knows of the Tanakh, is claiming it is prophecy, and is writing this particular portion of the tale to fall in line with the prophecy. John 19:37 (Although the author has to change the wording slightly to “…look at Him, whom they pierced…”)

    How easy is it to make up a story about a person, and dig something out of the Tanakh, claiming “See? See? That was a prophecy and this person fulfilled it?”

    Secondly, the fact that John (once again) lists an incident that was NOT recorded in the Synoptic Gospels raises the question as to whether it happened. How did the author of Matthew miss this one?

    Over and over we see the authors claiming something occurred, and then relating it back to a prophecy. The Slaughter of the Innocents. Jesus from Nazareth. Riding on a donkey. How easy would it be to make these events up?

    THAT (as it seems to me) is the question that is more often raised. How do you address that? What is the possibility, even the probability, that these stories were made up, and then deliberately claimed to be prophecy fulfillment?

  2. Justin,

    Excellent summary. Again, I am amazed at how dense you were able to write this considering the sheer volume of material on the subject. An excellent and comprehensive summary.

    I think it is also valuable to point out that the Isaiah scroll found is almost EXACTLY the same as the next earliest copy we have found. With such a small margin of error for the same given text, but on two copies separated by hundreds of years, we can even more greatly trust in the accuracy of other OT and NT texts over time (in terms of copying accuracy).

    DagoodS,

    Sooo… you claim the conspiracy theory, then? I have a few problems with this line of thinking.

    1.) No evidence of it. Zero. It is pure speculation.

    2.) If it were true, and assuming Jesus did exist (which, as Justin has shown, is hardly deniable), we would have multiple uproars and claims that the events themselves did not happen at all, or at least as described in the NT. As it is, even the priests and Pharisees did not challenge the events of Jesus life, words, or crucifiction. They only challenged his claims of divinity and messiahship as blasphemy, and his resurrection from the dead. Where are all the other accounts that would challenge the historical inaccuracy of this conspiracy? Where are all the historians claiming that “actually, it happened THIS way…”?

    3.) Your claim assumes intent to deceive on the part of NT authors. What gain is there in deception when the reward is execution? The authors, and first generation of believers, had nothing to gain in fabricating these events. They lived in poverty, did not seek power but submitted to it, and sought only to love their neighbor and their God. Every one of the twelve original disciples were martyred for this “fabrication,” with the only possible exception of John (who, we last heard of being exiled on the isle of Patmos with no further account of his life).

    In short, while your claim is entirely plausible, it is highly unlikely when examined in light of the full context of the situation that the authors sat in.

  3. brad,

    What I was trying to say was that if Justin was addressing the point of “zealots” adding items to bolster the claim of fulfilled prophecy, it is my understanding that the claim is they were added to the New Testament. Not the Tanakh. It seems to me (and perhaps I am wrong here) that this was more focused on the textual integrity of the Tanakh as of the First Century.

    To put it bluntly (sorry), we skeptics are often criticized for not addressing the REAL claims of Christianity. In my personal opinion, this does not address the REAL claims of the skeptics.

    That being said, I will address some of your concerns…

    “Conspiracy Theory” I hold to no “conspiracy theory” that I know of. What theory is it and who are you claiming is conspiring?

    As to “no evidence for adding stories,” well, that would take a very long post to fully respond! To simplify, I presume you know the stories of Jesus in the Infancy Gospels of Thomas. And the claimed statements of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. And the crucifixion story in the Gospel of Peter.

    Do you hold those stories are true, or made up? If you do not—what method do you use to determine which stories are true and which stories are false? See, most Christians I converse with agree that stories about Jesus have been made up. The only question left is determining which ones—and why the canonical Gospels are exempt.

    brad: …we would have multiple uproars and claims that the events themselves did not happen at all, or at least as described in the NT.

    From who? Even giving Christians the benefit of the doubt, we have Christian authors writing to Christian audiences about singular events that the Christians are prone to believe! The claims of Pharisees and Sadducees disputing with Jesus are within those tales. We have no extra-Christian writings confirming those incidents.

    We have the problem of the Midrashic elements of the Crucifixion, the style of Mark being in the form of chiasms, similar to a Greek novel, all derived from the Tanakh. The Synoptic Problem of Matthew and Luke modifying Mark to “correct” errors, as well as John being completely different and (in my opinion) contradictory to the Synoptic Gospels. We have these books written long after the incidents, and more importantly, long after a War.

    brad: Your claim assumes intent to deceive on the part of NT authors.

    Not at all. Not to be rude, but I am genuinely curious as to how much study you have done regarding historiography as written in the First Century. Are you aware of how historians wrote, what the accepted principles were regarding accuracy? Further, we correct perceived errors all that time with no intent to deceive. Luke’s corrections of Mark’s mistakes would have nothing to do with ill-intent.

    Are you aware of how Josephus and Tacitus wrote? Or including events that the author thought should happen, whether they did or not?

    Further, if the Johannine community was removed from the Synoptic community (if you have heard of the Galilean vs. Jerusalem church, perhaps) this would explain how different stories arose.

    Only by applying our black/white 21st Century view of the Gospels do we come up with intent to deceive.

    brad: Every one of the twelve original disciples were martyred for this “fabrication,” with the only possible exception of John…

    Actually this is a great example of what we are talking about. This is a very common claim among Christians. Many, if not most, believe it to be true. You just wrote it to me, and I am quite, quite sure you had no intention whatsoever to deceive. (I truly mean that. No sarcasm, no nothing but honest statement here.)

    It is legend. Not true. Look it up. Give me a source where I can find how any of the Twelve died, and more importantly why they died. I will give you James the brother of John from Acts 12:2 as to the how but not the why. I will also give you Peter from 1 Clement, that he died, but does not include either the how nor the why.

    What happened to the other nine? How and why did they die?

    This is exactly how the Gospels can come to being.

  4. Sorry, I have to agree with Dagood here. I would like to add one other point to his rebuttal of Brad’s post.

    Brad said: …we would have multiple uproars and claims that the events themselves did not happen at all, or at least as described in the NT.

    I would have to disagree with this. Mark is considered the oldest gospel, I believe anywhere from around 60-70 A.D. (I could be mistaken on that, sorry, can’t remember exactly), Even if Mark were written as early as 50, that is still approximately 20 years or so after the crucifixion. A very short amount of time no doubt. However, it is my understanding that literacy rates weren’t exactly high at this point. Also, without a printing press, how long would it take for the book of Mark to make it’s way around.

    In other words, how many of the people, both alive at the time of Jesus and intimately knowledgeable of his life, would be aware of the book of Mark? Sure it was likely read in services, but Christianity was so scattered and such a minority at the time that I can’t honestly believe there would have been many people at all that would raise an uproar.

  5. “it is my understanding that the claim is they were added to the New Testament. Not the Tanakh.”

    I think I interpreted you correctly in this, and was attempting to address the motivations behind such a claim (particularly in point #3).

    ““Conspiracy Theory” I hold to no “conspiracy theory” that I know of. What theory is it and who are you claiming is conspiring?”

    Simply that there was some kind of attempt to rewrite history in an effort to reconcile it with OT prophecy. For this to be accomplished at all, multiple apostles and the authors of the NT would have to be involved. This is pretty much the definition of “conspiracy theory.”

    “To simplify, I presume you know the stories of Jesus in the Infancy Gospels of Thomas. And the claimed statements of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. And the crucifixion story in the Gospel of Peter.”

    The reasons why these are rejected as fiction are many. Many scholars (Christian and non-Christian) recognize the many inconsistencies within each text (even more so the intertextual issues), and severely doubt them to be accurate. Even if they were, however, you are using that which you are arguing against (open sourced or probably altered documents) to make your claim. I could turn this point around and claim that the gnostic gospels inserted text or wrote into it various events.

    “If you do not—what method do you use to determine which stories are true and which stories are false?”

    In short, “many.” For a very detailed analysis, I would refer you to F.F. Bruce’s “The Canon of Scripture.” In summary, intertextual consistency, intratextual consistency, historical verification (archaeological, 3rd party sources), and contextual accuracy. There are MANY methods that must be utilized to accurately discern this.

    “From who?”
    Anyone? The chances that another source surviving to the extent that Christian canon has is at least equally as possible. Historical accounts have been maintained in the works of those like Josephus. The records of Emperor Claudius show that he kicked all the Jews out of Rome for a disturbance caused by a man named “Kristas” (Latin of course, and one letter off from the Greek “Xristos”). Why not anything else?

    “We have the problem of the Midrashic elements of the Crucifixion, the … We have these books written long after the incidents, and more importantly, long after a War.”

    In response to this entire section: Many of these points are very good observation. However, coincidence does not equal causation, and the evidence gathered from all those aspects have more than one equally possible explanation or cause. Just because it “could” point to something, doesn’t mean it “does.”

    In response to “corrections” made by synoptic writers, I would say that you are familiar with the Jesus Seminar, and very few historically critical scholars put much stock in their “findings.” Thomas Jefferson might agree, though….

    “Not at all. Not to be rude, but I am genuinely curious as to how much study you have done regarding historiography as written in the First Century. Are you aware of how historians wrote, what the accepted principles were regarding accuracy? Further, we correct perceived errors all that time with no intent to deceive. Luke’s corrections of Mark’s mistakes would have nothing to do with ill-intent.”

    No rudeness taken. I have not done too much study on First Century Histriography, but I have a good amount of experience in the formulation and writing of Canon and textual criticism. There are multiple authors who refute many of the “principles regarding accuracy” that I think you are eluding to (although I will keep from making that assumption completely). For example, J.I. Packer and D.A. Carson.

    Also, this was in reference to your comment about the spear piercing Jesus’ side. That is hardly an issue of historical accuracy, and a ready and legitimate assumption for changing that aspect of the crufiction would be to add evidence to the claim of Jesus as the prophecied messiah.

    “It is legend. Not true. Look it up. Give me a source where I can find how any of the Twelve died, and more importantly why they died.”

    I’ll have to get back to you on the specifics of that, but am aware that church tradition weighs heavily as evidence for much of it. Considering the war and persecution that began within a few decades of Christ’s death, it is a fairly safe assumption that church tradition is at least plausible. As for academic sources, I will have to do some research.

    “This is exactly how the Gospels can come to being.”
    That is quite a stretch of logic in view of all the other evidence that exists to the contrary. To extend the inaccuracy of a single claim to the entire subject is, by definition, a fallacy. Christians and Christian Scholars have been known to be wrong (forsooth!), but that does not mean that the entire basis for the faith is empty words.

  6. I’m in agreement with DagoodS here — no one that I’ve come across says that the Tanakh was altered to fit what happened to Jesus (though that may not be true over Psalms 22. And possibly Isaiah 7, depending on the Greek or Hebrew version).

    What I think most that disagree with the prophecies would say is that verses in the Tanakh were re-interpreted to fit Christianity. Such as references to one being pierced, or Isaiah 53, and that the NT was then based on those re-interpretations. To go back to the differences between Judaism and Christianity. The prophecies the Jews used held no hint of a crucified Messiah. So the argument would be that because Jesus was crucified, which was totally out of the left field (in terms of expectations), his followers went back and said that other verses, such as Isaiah 53, were actually prophecies the whole time.

    Now, this isn’t in turn saying that the NT set out intending to maliciously deceive. It’s more along the lines of … well, let’s look at it this way. Say person A is proofreading Person’s B book about to be published. Person A sees that Person B said something that cannot possibly be true, and person B really doesn’t mean that, so Person A corrects it. Well, it turns out that Person B did mean what s/he typed. Was Person A being deceptive? in a way, I would argue no, because person A didn’t intend to lie or deceive — that person honestly thought s/he was doing the right thing, and correcting an error.

    Brad,

    **In response to “corrections” made by synoptic writers, I would say that you are familiar with the Jesus Seminar, and very few historically critical scholars put much stock in their “findings.” **

    Wait — the Synoptic modifications to one another isn’t just a Jesus Seminar thing. I think that’s a major belief in acedemia (aside from the conservative acedemia). The ‘Q’ source, the Synoptic problem: I see those in a lot of the scholarly books I read, and from a lot of people who have a background in Judeo-Christian history. Unless you’re referring to another modification?

    **As it is, even the priests and Pharisees did not challenge the events of Jesus life, words, or crucifiction. They only challenged his claims of divinity and messiahship as blasphemy, and his resurrection from the dead. **

    How are you using challenge here? As in, there wasn’t a challenge issued in the NT? Or there wasn’t a challenge listed overall, including other sources?

    **In summary, intertextual consistency, intratextual consistency, historical verification (archaeological, 3rd party sources), and contextual accuracy. **

    What archaeological evidence are you referring to? For example, if someone says that they know the location of Peter’s house (the first disicple Peter) and shows everyone, I don’t see that as evidence that supports the entire NT. I see that as evidence that a man named Peter existed, and the house was located where someone said it would be. But it can’t in turn be used as evidence to say that everything else said about Peter is true.

    The difficulty I tend to have with using archaeological evidence is because it seems to only prove that a temple existed here, or crucifixions occured there — and if the NT was based on both history and myth, then it would’ve pulled from locations familiar to the reader. Historical fiction does that all the time, and yet we wouldn’t use archeological evidence to prove the book. For example, if there’s a book on Jane Austin that’s historical fiction — naturally, the author would use real events, such as the names of her parents, her homes, and so on. But we couldn’t use that as proof that the book is 100% accurate. However, I do know that the proofs Christianity uses are not only based on archeology.

  7. whooooo! DagoodS sighting! I’ve sorely missed your stuff at Debunking Christianity.

    I was wondering how you came by this site, but then I saw that the post included the words “prosecutor” and “defense attorney”. An unfortunate addition for the original poster 🙂

    If no one minds, I would like to address something Brad stated:

    Where are all the other accounts that would challenge the historical inaccuracy of this conspiracy? Where are all the historians claiming that “actually, it happened THIS way…”?

    First of all, who would be around to question the accounts? The Gospels were written decades after the events they purportedly described, and were not in widespread circulation until much later after that. The earliest, obscure references to them occur in the early second century.

    Second, even if Christian enemies acquired the Gospels, why would they spend much time attempting to debunk the literature of what was then a minor and very obscure cult?

    Third, the NT Gospels were not the only Christian literature circulating around at that time. DagoodS has mentioned other literature. If someone was truly interested in countering Christian claims, where would they start?

    Fourth, you’re assuming that people during that period read the Gospels as literally true, as they do today. That’s not necessarily the case.

    Finally, it would be a rare critical document indeed that emerged from centuries of Christian censorship. Much of what we know about criticism of Christianity only comes from books by its defenders who quoted the critics.

  8. brad, thank you for the discussion. It is more along the lines of what I think skeptics are questioning as to the story of Jesus fulfilling prophecies.

    I would emphasize a few points in addition to what the others have said:

    brad: Simply that there was some kind of attempt to rewrite history in an effort to reconcile it with OT prophecy. For this to be accomplished at all, multiple apostles and the authors of the NT would have to be involved.

    Re-write history”? No, they were writing history. They weren’t “changing” what had occurred—they were including incidents that a Messiah/savior would do. They were including fulfillment of prophecy. They were making them up out of either legends heard (and modified) or on their own.

    I am still a bit confused as to the “conspiracy” theory. A conspiracy theory requires two or more persons working together. Usually (but not necessarily) for nefarious means. Again, I ask: WHO is conspiring here?

    We have Paul writing first who list extremely few historical markers. The Author of Mark is next, and, knowing Paul’s Jesus, “fleshes” him out with a Greek tale of Jesus’ life, based upon the Tanakh. Who is “conspiring” together here?

    The Authors of Matthew and Luke actually change what Mark writes! And disagree with each other as well. Not only is there no conspiracy here-there is outright disagreement!

    The Authors of John, not being aware but through oral tales, create a completely different story of Jesus. Not so much disagreement, but lack of knowledge.

    The Johannine Epistles follow the John school. The other epistles follow either Paul or the traditions established by the same Churches that are circulating the Gospels.

    I am genuinely confused as to what Christians are claiming skeptics are claiming is some sort of “Conspiracy.” Far, FAR from it-we see a great deal of disagreement. Not collusion.

    brad: The reasons why these [non-canonical Gospels] are rejected as fiction are many. Many scholars (Christian and non-Christian) recognize the many inconsistencies within each text (even more so the intertextual issues), and severely doubt them to be accurate.

    Good. We are started on a method. How many “inconsistencies within a text” qualify for us to reject a work as historically accurate? How many “inconsistencies within a text” are there in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter?

    Note: I am NOT asking how many inconsistencies there are with the canonical books. The claimed method is “within the text.” If this is the method, this should be easy.

    For the second part of the method, “Many scholars…severely doubt them to be accurate.” Again, we are getting somewhere. How many is “many”? At what number can we say there are enough scholars who doubt their historicity that we can reject the Gospels?

    I hope, brad, you quickly see the problem. See, the canonical Gospels ALSO have inconsistencies within the text. (Riding two animals?) The Canonical gospels ALSO have “many” scholars who doubt them to be accurate. If I apply the same method as you just described, we lose the canonical four as well.

    Can you develop a method that both keeps the Canon AND loses the non-canonical?

    As to the canon itself, we are discussing whether Jesus actually did the things that the authors claim. Just because a book is canonical does NOT mean it is historical. (See: “Exodus.”)

    I also have to emphasize what heather said: What archeological evidence is there for Jesus performing an act, or a specific event occurring that fulfilled prophecy? Same question for non-Christian sources. (And I am aware of the TF, and its problems.)

    brad: However, coincidence does not equal causation, and the evidence gathered from all those aspects have more than one equally possible explanation or cause.

    Two extremely important points.

    1) How can chiasms be “coincidence”? This is like saying a Shakespearean play coincidentally had lines with the same numbers of syllables and coincidentally ended in words that rhyme.

    A chiasm is a deliberate framing of events, in a certain order. It is not a “coincidence” by its very definition. A simple example is Mark 11:12-20 where Mark opens with the cursing of the tree, sandwiches the temple cleansing, and then closes with the results of the tree. In order for it to BE a chiasm, Mark has to put the tree first and last.

    Could it coincidentally happen? Sure—if Jesus was attempting to live in the framework of a Greek novel style! Like us talking in iambic pentameter all the time. Could we do it? Sure, but it is far more likely that Romeo and Juliet is a fiction then that they talked that way!

    2) Are you saying that it is “equally possible” that Mark is a Greek novel? How strong (especially considering Matthew and Luke are based on Mark) does that support the claim that these could not be stories made up by the authors?

    Even if it is not “equally” possible—it is still a real possibility that should be dealt with. To bring it back to the original blogger, I have to ask—if Justin is being truly objective in this study? Doesn’t he have to deal with equal or real possibilities in a convincing manner?

    Finally, as heather also pointed out—the Synoptic Problem is recognized by even the most conservative Christian scholars. In my opinion, one of the best concise articles on this problem is written by Daniel Wallace. A Th.M, Ph.D. from Dallas Theological. Hardly a hot bed of “Jesus Seminar” writers!

    See brad, I take my information from the Jesus Seminar. I also take it from Bruce, Metzger, Packer, Wallace, Schnelle, Craig, etc. I am not bound to listen to a certain set of scholars merely because of theological preference.

    Can you do the same? Can you set aside any theological bias, and actually engage with scholars who happen to not agree with your concept of God? Or are the only acceptable scholars acceptable because of their religious beliefs?

    And with that, I must sincerely apologize. I really only meant to point out a problem to Justin, in the hopes he would write a blog more along the lines of what skeptics actually say. More along what we have commented on.

    You see…I am going on vacation tonight. Out for a week. A week of no Internet. So this must be my last response for awhile. I will come back and find this thread, and we can pick up the discussion another time.

    Thank you for your demeanor in responding. Quite a pleasure.

    (P.S. Robert. You made me blush! I am around. Happen to know Justin from de-conversion.com)

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