Abuse and misuse of Evidence by a Greenhorn:

1. The Earliest Non-Christian References to Jesus (peace be upon him)

[Part 2]

 

Introduction

 

The Christian neophyte, greenhorn and polemicist, Sam Shamoun, has made a number of amazing claims in one of his usual shallow propaganda tracts entitled: The New Testament Documents and the Historicity of the Resurrection.

 

From the title it is clear that the greenhorn desires to demonstrate the "historicity" of the resurrection. He attempts to go about this task by offering reasons why one should view the New Testament as a reliable collection of documents. Of course, the greenhorn does not say that the New Testament writings are inerrant in this propaganda of his. But we know from his other writings that by "reliable" he means reliable to the point of inerrancy.

 

We do not intend to offer a point by point reply to the above in this paper. Instead, we will expose some of his clumsy assertions in this rebuttal.

 

Use of Josephus

 

In a section entitled "Early Non-Christian References to Jesus" the neophyte cites a few non-Christian writers. In this paper we will examine his strange use of the non-Christian sources beginning with a look at his use of the Jewish historian Josephus, who is cited as follows:

It comes as no surprise to find Josephus writing on the ministry of Jesus Christ, called the Testimonium Flavianum:

"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it is lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned Him to the cross, those that loved Him at the first did not forsake Him; For He appeared to them alive again in the third day; and the divine prophets had foretold these and countless other wonderful things concerning Him. And the tribe of Christians so named from Him are not extinct at this day." (Antiquities, xviii. 33.)

The following is a tenth-century Arabic version of the Testimonium:

"At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And His conduct was good, and [He] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became His disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become His disciples did not abandon His discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after His crucifixion and that He was alive; accordingly, He was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders."

Notice carefully the bits which have been emphasised: the part according to which Jesus (peace be upon him) was resurrected and appeared alive on the third day. The neophyte has placed bold emphasis on this part obviously because he wants his readers to take them seriously. Although he does not say it in so many words, the unstated message conveyed by the bold is "look! even Josephus mentions the resurrection!"

 

This is precisely the part which scholars almost universally regard to be a Christian addition to Josephus' writing. Almost no scholar accepts the authenticity of the reference to the resurrection within Josephus' above paragraph.

 

Realizing the problematic character of the paragraph as it appears above, the neophyte jumps into a desperate - and weird - damage control mode as follows:

 

Many scholars attacked this passage as nothing more than a Christian forgery due its pro-Christian statements. Others, however, agree that the reference has an authentic core to it, despite its seemingly pro-Christian insertions.

 

The neophyte does not state clearly that scholars who argue for an "authentic core" in the above paragraph do not include within it the reference to the resurrection of Jesus (peace be upon him). In other words, they too regard the mention of the resurrection to be a later Christian interpolation. Yet the neophyte still added bold emphasis upon the almost universally acknowledged interpolated part above! Why?

 

He proceeds to then cite scholars who actually exclude from the "authentic core" the reference to the resurrection:

New Testament scholar Edwin M. Yamauchi explains that although there is obvious Christian terminology used throughout, there are a number of factors that point to a Josephan style of writing:

1.      Jesus is called a "wise man." Though the phrase is complimentary, it is less than one would expect from Christians.

2.      "For he was one who wrought surprising feats." This is not necessarily a statement that could only have come from a Christian.

3.      "He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks" is simply an observation.

4.      "Those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him," confirms to Josephus' characteristic style.

5.      "and the tribe of the Christians, so-called after him, has till this day not disappeared." Most scholars would agree that the word phylon "tribe", is not a typically Christian expression. (Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, p. 213)

Renowned Jewish scholar Geza Vermes also believes that the Testimonium originates from Josephus, albeit with Christian additions. Vermes demonstrates that the expressions 'wise man' and a 'performer of astonishing deeds' are thoroughly Josephan in style:

(1) The form of the description of Jesus as sophos aner and paradoxon ergon poietes, when compared with the presentation of other personalities, biblical and post-biblical, strikes me as genuinely Josephan. King Solomon is referred to as 'a wise man possessing every virtue' (andri sopho kai pasan arÍten echonti) (Ant. viii 53). The prophet Elisha was 'a man renowned for righteousness' (aner epi dikaiosune diaboetos) who performed paradoxa erga (Ant. ix 182). Daniel, in turn, is portrayed as 'a wise man and skilful in discovering things beyond man's power' (sophos aner kai deinos heurein ta anechana) (Ant. x 237). A little later he appears as 'a good and just man' (aner agathos kai dikaios) (Ant. x 246). Ezra is said to have been 'a just man who enjoyed the good opinion of the masses' (dikaios aner kai doxes apolauon agathes para to plethei) (Ant. xi 121). Among post-biblical personalities, Honi-Onias is called 'a just man and beloved of God' (dikaios aner kai theophiles) (Ant. xiv 22), and Samaias 'a just man' (dikaios aner) (Ant. xiv 172). John the Baptist is introduced as 'a good man' (agathos aner) who 'exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God' (Ant. xviii 117). As for the leading Pharisee at the time of the outbreak of the first revolution, Simeon ben Gamaliel, he is presented as 'a man highly gifted with intelligence and judgment' (aner pleres suneseos kai logismou) (Vita 192) ...

In brief, there seems to be no stylistic or historical argument that might be marshaled against the authenticity of the two phrases in question. In fact, the clause that follows 'wise man', viz. 'if indeed one might call him a man' (eige andra auton legein chre), which is generally recognized as an interpolation, seems to support - as Paul Winter has aptly pointed out - the originality of sophos aner, an idiom which in the mind of a later Christian editor required further qualification.

(2) In addition to appearing prima facie to be Josephan, closer analysis of sophos aner and paradoxon ergon poeites points to the improbability of their later Christian provenance. To begin with, the title 'wise man' has no New Testament roots, and in the absence of such an authoritative backing it is, I think, totally unfit to express the kind of elevated theological notion that a forger would have intended to introduce into Josephus' text. It would have been meaningless to invent a testimony that did not support the belief of the interpolator. But not only does it fail to convey the idea of the divine Christ of the church; it actually conflicts in a sense with New Testament terminology. Jesus is admittedly twice identified by Paul in I Cor. 1:24 and 30 with the abstract 'wisdom of God', but the adjective sophos as applied to men in the same chapter (1:18-31) carries a pejorative connotation. Furthermore, on the only occasion where the Gospels put this word into the mouth of Jesus, 'the wise' are unfavourably compared to 'babes' (nepioi) (Matt. 11:25; Luke 10:21). In the few instances where the term sophos is employed positively, it relates to Christian teachers, but never to Jesus himself. (Vermes, Jesus In His Jewish Context [Fortress Press Minneapolis, 2003], pp. 92-93; bold emphasis ours)

Both Yamauchi and Vermes do not conclude that the reference to resurrection is coming from Josephus. Vermes is only concerned with showing the authenticity of two phrases: sophos aner and paradoxon ergon poietes. Both of these scholars regard it (the mention of resurrection) to be a later Christian interpolation.

 

In fact, Vermes clearly states in a recent book:

 

Josephus' reference in the Testimonium Flavianum to the resurrection of Jesus is considered by all modern experts as a Christian interpolation. (Geza Vermes, The Resurrection, 2008, Penguin Books Ltd, p. 157.)

 

The neophyte continues to quote and writes:

Even the radical liberal NT scholar and Jesus Seminar co-founder and member, John Dominic Crossan, believes that both the Testimonium and Tacitus' statement are basically authentic early witnesses to Jesus. Crossan writes:

Jesus' death by execution under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For, if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion, we would still know about him from two authors not among supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus ... We have, in other words, not just Christian witnesses but one major Jewish and one major pagan historian who both agree on three points concerning Jesus: there was a movement, there was an execution because of that movement, but, despite that execution, there was a continuation of the movement.

In describing civil disturbances during Pontius Pilate's rule over the Jewish homeland's southern half between 26 and 36 C.E., Josephus mentions Jesus and followers called Christians. His text was later preserved under Christian control, and I give their delicate but deliberate improvements italicized within brackets so that you can ignore them:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise [if indeed one ought to call him a man]. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. [He was the Messiah]. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. [On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him.] And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared. (Jewish Antiquities 18.63) (Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of The Death of Jesus [HarperSan Francisco, paperback edition 1996], p. 5)

Putting aside Tacitus for a while and focussing only upon Josephus, we need to ask: what does he mean by "basically authentic"? Crossan too believes that the mention of the resurrection is a secondary Christian addition/interpolation into Josephus' writing as is so clear from his above cited words.

 

Thus, the "basically authentic" part LACKS all mention to the resurrection.

 

Why then has bold emphasis been added upon the spurious lines: "For He appeared to them alive again in the third day" and "They reported that He had appeared to them three days after His crucifixion and that He was alive"?

 

Naturally, he placed bold emphasis upon the above lines since they convey something he likes. But the neophyte's own cited sources say they are interpolations!

 

The neophyte extracts the following points from his use of Josephus and other non-Christian sources (which we will discuss in a while):

 

1.       Jesus Christ was worshipped as God.

2.       Christ performed wonderful deeds.

3.       Christ was sentenced to die on a cross by the orders of Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.

4.       Christ's followers claimed that he had appeared alive to them after his death, affirming that he had been resurrected, something considered to be nothing more than a superstition.

5.       Those who were devoted to him refused to recant their faith, opting instead to die horrible deaths for the sake of the one they had come to love and adore.

6.       Jesus' brother was well known even by non-Christians, having been put to death presumably for his belief that his brother was in fact the Messiah.

 

(We have replaced the bullets with numbers so readers can more easily follow the response)

Numbers 1 and 4 find no mention in Josephus. If we had Josephus alone and if we were to accept the authenticity of "the core", then we could only infer some or all of the contents of numbers 2, 3, 5 and 6 (see below for what precisely we learn about Jesus (peace be upon him) from Josephus).

The crucial point, the resurrection, is in fact not mentioned by ANY of the non-Christian sources cited by Shamoun.

 

We will now consider his citations of other non-Christians one by one below (we will maintain the neophyte's emphasis):

 

1. Thallus:

 

In the third book of his history, Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun - wrongly in my opinion. (5.50)

 

No mention to the resurrection above or to any other points mentioned by Shamoun. More than that, we learn nothing from the above about any of the teachings and deeds of Jesus (peace be upon him), or even the views of his later followers.

 

Furthermore, if we suppose that Thallus did link the eclipse with Jesus (peace be upon him), then it is probable that he was simply repeating what Christians at the time already believed. Thus, instead of offering independent information based on his own personal witness and experience, Thallus countered a popular Christian belief with the argument that the darkness came about as a result of an ordinary eclipse and was not of a miraculous nature.

Voorst, who cautiously accepts the authenticity of Africanus' Thallus remark, writes:

Since Thallos seems to be refuting a Christian argument, he likely knew about this darkness at the death of Jesus from Christians, either directly or indirectly, not from an independent source. . . . Darkness at the death of Jesus was just as likely an element of oral Christian proclamation. As Craig Evans remarks, this reference does not prove that there really was darkness - however it is to be explained - during the time of Jesus' crucifixion.7 Rather, it is evidence for the early tradition of darkness at Jesus' death. (Robert Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Studying the Historical Jesus), 2000, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, pp. 22-23)

 

2. Pliny the Younger:

 

"I have never been present at an examination of Christians. Consequently, I do not know the nature of the extent of the punishments usually meted out to them, nor the grounds of starting an investigation and how far it should be pressed ... I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished ... They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error to be no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery ... This made me decide that it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women whom they call deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths."

 

There is no mention to the resurrection above. All it says about Jesus (peace be upon him) is that the Christians in the region worshipped Jesus (peace be upon him) "as if to a god." While this letter is valuable when it comes to knowing how far Christianity had spread in the second century and what some Christians believed at the time, it is of no use when it comes to ascertaining what the historical Jesus (peace be upon him) said and did. The letter only tells us what a group of Christians in a particular region believed about Jesus (peace be upon him). A group of leading Evangelical scholars conclude:

 

Pliny, the governor of Bithynia (now part of Turkey), writes about the problems Christians were causing for him, but the only mention of Jesus in his long letter is that they sang 'a hymn to Christ as to a god.' There is not much basis here for a knowledge of Jesus as a historical figure! (Dr Richard Baukham, Rev, Dr R. T. France, Melba Maggay, Dr James Stamodis, Dr Carsten Peter Thiede (Consulting Editors), Jesus 2000: A major investigation into history's most intriguing figure, 1989, Lion Publishing plc, p. 11.)

 

Meier agrees and says:

Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and Lucian are often quoted in this regard [as independent witnesses of Jesus' existence], but in effect they are simply reporting something about what early Christians say or do; they cannot be said to supply us with independent witness to Jesus himself. (John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol. 1, 1991, 1st Edition, The Anchor Bible reference library, Doubleday, p. 91.)

3. Lucian of Samosata

"the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world... Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and worshipping the crucified sophist Himself and living under His laws."

There is no mention to the resurrection above.  Lucian of Samosata (c. 125-180 C.E.) was a Greek satarist, well-known for his dialogues (Dialogues of the Gods, Dialogues of the Dead, The Sale of Lives), who spoke harshly against the Christians and Jesus (peace be upon him) (Lucian does not use the names "Jesus" or "Christ" but refers to Jesus (peace be upon him) as the "sophist".). He said that Christians were a gullible people who worshipped a man who was crucified. Lucian is writing at a late date (near the end of the second century) and is offering no independent information about Jesus (peace be upon him). Instead, he is aware that Christians of his time worshipped a man and he merely attacks Christian beliefs as he understood them. In other words, he does not know independently that Jesus (peace be upon him) was crucified, but is simply repeating and attacking what Christians at the time already believed. As Meier correctly notes:

 

. . . no doubt Lucian is reflecting the common knowledge "in the air" at that time, not an independent source of historical data. (John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol. 1, 1991, 1st edition, The Anchor Bible reference library, Doubleday, p. 92. (see also his comments under Pliny the Younger)

 

From Lucian we learn nothing about the teachings and deeds of Jesus (peace be upon him) or even the beliefs of his immediate followers.

 

4. Tacitus:

 

"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiation of the gods did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of its procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular ..."

 

There is no mention of the resurrection in the above. Yet the neophyte offers this amazing spin of Tacitus' words:

 

The only superstition that had broken out from Judea to Rome was the Christian claim that on the third day the crucified Christ had been resurrected from the dead.

 

Instead, the superstition is a reference to the Jesus (peace be upon him) movement itself and not to a specific belief held by its adherents. It is this Jesus movement which eventually spread out of Judea to other areas. While Tacitus may have indeed known the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus (peace be upon him), and perhaps other Christian beliefs, in this instance, however, he does not make mention of any specific Christian belief.  

Mark Allan Powell writes:

Tacitus gives no indication that he knows anything about the beliefs of these Christians . . . much less about the life or teaching of Jesus himself.6 (Mark Allan Powell, The Jesus Debate: Modern Historians Investigate The Life Of Christ, 1998, Lion Publishing plc., p. 39.)

As John Meier explains:

 

... they [the Christians] constitute a deadly or dangerous superstition. That is to say, they are a recently invented and rapidly spreading oriental cult that spurns the Roman gods, practices secret and probably nefarious rites, and therefore is subversive of the good order of the Roman state. In Tacitus' pessimistic view of Roman history, Christians are just another sign of Rome's decline from integrity and virtue into corruption and decadence. (John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol. 1, 1991, Doubleday, The Anchor Bible Reference Library, p. 90.)

 

Meier goes on to comment (Ibid, p. 91):

 

In Tacitus' view, the execution of this Christ suppressed the dangerous religious movement of Christians for a brief time; but it quickly broke out again, first in Judea, but then spreading rapidly as far as Rome. What should be noted here is that Tacitus implies by his phraseology that the Christian movement was already in existence before Christ's execution; otherwise, it could not have been "suppressed" for a brief period by his death. Thus could, of course, be just another example of a naive retrojection by a Greco-Roman historian; we have already seen an example in Josephus. But it is worth noting that Tacitus has no sense that Christians, as a movement named for Christ, arose only after his death. By implication, the same hateful vices of the movement that caused their execution under Nero caused the execution of Christ under Tiberius.

That this letter offers very limited information and is no independent source for the historical Jesus (peace be upon him) is also acknowledged by a group of Evangelical scholars:

.Tacitus (about AD 115) describes Nero's attacks on Christians in Rome. He explains who these 'Christians' are by mentioning that in Judea 'the originator of that name, Christus, had been executed when Tiberius was emperor by order of the procurator Pontius Pilate.' That is all, and Tacitus is only repeating what Christians in his day were saying about their origins. (Dr Richard Baukham, Rev, Dr R. T. France, Melba Maggay, Dr James Stamodis, Dr Carsten Peter Thiede (Consulting Editors), Jesus 2000: A major investigation into history's most intriguing figure, 1989, Lion Publishing plc, pp. 10-11.)

Furthermore, even the little that he says is problematic. For example, Pilate was not a "procurator" but a "prefect".

Pilate was in fact not a "procurator" but a "prefect"; that is, he not only oversaw revenue collection, but also had some military forces at his command. (Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, 1999, Oxford University Press, p. 58.)

In any case, Tacitus does not mention the resurrection. From him we learn only that "Christus, from whom their [the Christians'] name is derived, was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius" Tacitus called Christianity a "superstition", which first appeared in Judea. Besides this, he says nothing about Jesus (peace be upon him) or his followers.

Let us once again remind ourselves the inferences the neophyte drew from his use of the above non-Christian references:

1.      Jesus Christ was worshipped as God.

2.      Christ performed wonderful deeds.

3.      Christ was sentenced to die on a cross by the orders of Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.

4.      Christ's followers claimed that he had appeared alive to them after his death, affirming that he had been resurrected, something considered to be nothing more than a superstition.

5.      Those who were devoted to him refused to recant their faith, opting instead to die horrible deaths for the sake of the one they had come to love and adore.

6.      Jesus' brother was well known even by non-Christians, having been put to death presumably for his belief that his brother was in fact the Messiah.

In light of our discussion, we can safely conclude that none of the cited non-Christian sources mention the resurrection. So #4 can be immediately dismissed. It should be noted, however, that even if the neophyte is right in his interpretation of Tacitus, it simply does not follow that "Christ's followers claimed.." In this case Tacitus would be rehashing what Christians of his time (around 115-120 C.E.) believed and not necessarily what the immediate/original followers of Jesus (peace be upon him) believed. Suffice it to say that mention of the resurrection by second century Christians tells us nothing about the historicity of the event itself.

Instead, we will revise the above list as follows (excluding Josephus):

1.      Jesus (peace be upon him) was being worshipped as a god (Pliny the Younger, Lucian)

2.      Jesus (peace be upon him) was crucified (Lucian) in the reign of Tiberius (Tacitus)

3.      Christians were stubborn and met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses in honor of Jesus (peace be upon him) (Pliny the Younger).

4.      Jesus (peace be upon him) is presented as the founder of a superstitious movement.

The above discussed pagan sources tell us about the spread of Christianity in the early second century, what some Christians at the time believed and how Christians were perceived by non-Christians. Moreover, they presuppose the historicity of Jesus (peace be upon him). But there is no information within them about the deeds, sayings and teachings of the historical Jesus (peace be upon him).

Only from Josephus do we learn slightly more about Jesus (peace be upon him):

In his Antiquities, Josephus makes mention of Jesus (peace be upon him) twice. He mentions the Jewish high priest Ananus, who abused his power and unlawfully put to death James, described as "the brother of Jesus who is called the messiah." So we learn that Jesus (peace be upon him) had a brother called James and that he was thought by some to be the messiah. Notice carefully that Josephus does not state that Jesus (peace be upon him) was being "worshipped as a god" by these followers of his. Instead, Jesus (peace be upon him) was believed to be the messiah by them.

The second reference to Jesus (peace be upon him) in Josephus is of great controversy. Scholars either reject it in totality as a Christian interpolation, or attempt to prune from it Christian additions. At most, this is perhaps what Josephus may have originally said:

At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out. (Meier 1991, 91).

From the above we learn:

1.      Jesus (peace be upon him) was a wise man

2.      Jesus (peace be upon him) was a doer of startling deeds

3.      Jesus (peace be upon him) was a teacher of people

4.      Jesus (peace be upon him) had gained a following among both the Jews and those of Greek origin

5.      Pilate condemned Jesus (peace be upon him) to death on the cross on account of an accusation made by the leading Jewish men

6.      Jesus' (peace be upon him) followers continued to love him and they still exist.

There is no mention of the resurrection in the above and no mention of Jesus (peace be upon him) being "worshipped as a god". Josephus mentions a Jesus (peace be upon him) who is believed to be the messiah and not a divine being which requires worship.

According to Meier, Josephus is our only independent non-Christian source of information about the historical Jesus from the first century and that there is just a "bare possibility" that Tacitus, second century, might be another independent source, though he adds nothing new. See John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Vol. 1, 1991, 1st edition, The Anchor Bible reference library, Doubleday, p. 92.

Consider now the neophytes amazing conclusion:

In light of the preceding factors, we find that the non-Christian sources are in agreement with the New Testament portrayal of Jesus Christ. This serves to further establish the authenticity of the New Testament beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Reminder: Pliny the Younger and Lucian inform us that the Christians they knew worshipped Jesus (peace be upon him) as a god. Lucian and Tacitus inform us that Jesus (peace be upon him) was executed through crucifixion. Are we to believe that these extraordinarily meagre details - which convey no teachings and deeds of the historical Jesus (peace be upon him) - somehow validate everything within the New Testament writings and somehow "establish" the "authenticity" of the latter "beyond a shadow of a doubt"?! How does this work? How can anyone derive this bizarre conclusion?

If we are to rely upon Pliny, Lucian, Tacitus and Thallus, then we would learn only a precious little about what some later Christians believed about Jesus (peace be upon him) - that they worshipped him as a god. Period. We would also learn that these Christians were willing to die for their beliefs. How on earth can this fully validate the "New Testament portrayal of Jesus" or justify every claim and contents of the New Testament? On top of that, the New Testament presents multiple portrayals of Jesus (peace be upon him). Precisely which portrayal is "affirmed" by the above pagan references, and how?

With Josephus we begin to actually acquire some useful details about Jesus (peace be upon him). According to Josephus, Jesus (peace be upon him) was believed to be the messiah, a wise man, doer of startling deeds and a teacher of people. Surely this does affirm some details within the New Testament about Jesus (peace be upon him). But that does not mean that everything within the New Testament has been affirmed by Josephus, let alone that a so-called "New Testament portrayal of Jesus" is supported by Josephus or that the "authenticity" of the New Testament is "established" beyond "a shadow of doubt"!

And given Josephus' rather human and non-divine presentation of Jesus (peace be upon him), should we conclude that some claims of the New Testament are therefore undermined?

Putting aside the neophyte's vastly exaggerated and absurd comment, let us see what conclusions actual scholars draw from the non-Christian (pagan + Jewish) references to Jesus (peace be upon him).

According to Robert Grant:

Our four Graeco-Roman sources, then, contribute nothing to our understanding of the life of Jesus. The Christian interpolator of Josephus undoubtedly thought that he was helping history to confirm faith. All he succeeded in doing was to remove any independent value from the testimony of Josephus.

One might hope for some evidence from rabbinical Jewish sources, but the stories the rabbis tell are late in date and reflect no more than the attitude of the synagogue towards an early heretic.

We are left, then, with Christian testimony. If we wish to recover early non-Christian attitudes towards Jesus we can rely only on what Christian sources are willing to tell us about them. (Robert M. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the New Testament, Chapter 19: The Problem of The Life of Jesus)

Theissen and Merz rightly conclude:

Only the Christian traditions contain details about the life and teaching of Jesus. ( Gerd Theissen, Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide, 1998, SCM Press Ltd, p. 86.)

A group of Evangelical scholars some of whom occasionally impress us with their own exaggerated claims, have the honesty to conclude:

So there is, apart from Josephus, very little evidence about Jesus from contemporary or near contemporary non-Christian writers, and what there is comes from some generations after his time. (Dr Richard Baukham, Rev, Dr R. T. France, Melba Maggay, Dr James Stamodis, Dr Carsten Peter Thiede (Consulting Editors), Jesus 2000: A major investigation into history's most intriguing figure, 1989, Lion Publishing plc, p. 12.)

Compare this with the neophyte's ignorant boast.

If there is "very little evidence" in the non-Christian writers, then it is simply wrong to assert that "the non-Christian sources are in agreement with the New Testament portrayal of Jesus Christ."

Since we do not learn much - in fact barely anything - about Jesus (peace be upon him) in the earliest non-Christian sources, we have no choice but to be constrained to the Christian sources. However, the Christian sources are also problematic and cannot be used and trusted blindly to learn about the historical Jesus (peace be upon him). We will discuss the problems with the Christians sources in another paper.

 

Conclusion

 

In this paper we showed how the neophyte misused scholarly sources and tried to pull wool over the eyes of his readers by giving a vastly exaggerated assessment of the non-Christian references to Jesus (peace be upon him). He commits the same trickery in other parts of his paper as well.

 

In our next paper we will examine the greenhorn's abuse of other scholarly sources and his exaggerated claims to be found here: The New Testament Documents and the Historicity of the Resurrection

  

 

 

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