Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Historicity of Yeshua

The Fate of Christians at the Hands of Romans
(see Polycarp)

Dear BK,

"And we're off...!" This isn't where I intended to start, but I don't blame you for forcing the issue! Had you given me any more time to research, I might have come away with an honorary degree in Judeo-Christian History. :-) (It's good you forced me to the table.)

In reading through some of the persons you presented below, it is worth quickly noting that Philo-Judææus [sic], though a Hellenized Jew, helped Christians apply the understanding of the Greek word "logos" as found in the book of John chapter 1, and that Pliny [the] Younger officially complained about his Christian subjects and asked the Emperor Trajan of Rome how he should deal with them.

It occurs to me that in my readings of my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, she never mentions the U.S. President who was in term during the height of her writing years, Franklin Pierce (March 4, 1853 - March 4, 1857), nor did she mention Abraham Lincoln (March 4, 1861 - April 15, 1865), the most famous and controversial U.S. President of his time who held office and was assassinated while she was still writing; even so, she makes no mention of him. Nor did another favorite author of mine, Edgar Allen Poe, mention famous U.S. Presidents, James Madison and John Quincy Adams, who served during his lifetime. Nor did Harvard historian William Leonard Langer mention Emily Dickison in any of his historical research and publications. Therefore, it is safe to assume that not all of the men you mention had their attention rivited upon Israel - not upon its politics nor upon its religious debates.

I also noticed when reading through the profiles of the men you presented below (not all of which were historians, by the way, but authors (of fiction in some cases), poets, and philosophers) that none of them mentioned the great Rabbis who lived just before or during their own lifetimes. Nor did any of them mention Israel or the Great Sanhedrin. Perhaps you can produce as many non-Jewish contemporary sources as proof that these Rabbis and the Sanhedrin actually existed. Here's a list to start. Please add you own Rabbis if you come across non-Jewish sources regarding any who lived between 100 BC and 100-150 AD.

1. Sanhedrin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanhedrin

2. Shammai http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shammai

3. Hillel the Elder http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillel_the_Elder

4. Rabbi Eleazer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleazer_ben_Shammua

5. Rabbi Gamaliel I http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamaliel

6. Rabbi Akiva http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbi_Akiva

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You presented the following:

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"The following historians all lived around the supposed time of JC, or a century later and not on of them makes a mention of him at all." - BK
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6. Dion Pruseus - no Wikipedia reference
7. Paterculus - no Wikipedia reference
20. Hermogones Silius Italicus - no Wikipedia reference
25. Phæædrus - no Wikipedia reference
39. Appion of Alexandria - no Wikipedia reference
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**References made to Christians or Christ in writings
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Suetonius
Suetonius was a secretary and historian to Hadrian, Emperor of Rome from 117 to 138 AD. Regarding Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) and the Riot of Rome in 49 AD, Suetonius wrote: As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [Christ], he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome.
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Interestingly, Acts 18:2 relates that Paul met Aquila and his wife Priscilla just after they left Italy because Claudius had expelled them. Later, Suetonius wrote about the great fire of Rome in 64 AD: Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.
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Mara Bar-Serapion, a stoic philosopher from Syria, wrote this letter to his son from prison sometime after 70 AD: What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from their executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: The Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.
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This letter refers to Jesus as being the "wise king." The writer is obviously not a Christian because he places Jesus on an equal level with Socrates and Pythagoras. Without bias in his reference to Jesus and the church, this letter is a valuable historical reference regarding the historicity of Jesus.
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Lucian of Samosata was a 2nd century Greek philosopher.
This preserved text is obviously satirical, but it's a powerful "extra-biblical source":
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The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day -- the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account... You see, these misguided creatures started with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.
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This piece is unflattering at best, but it absolutely supports the person of Jesus Christ ("the crucified sage") and the survival of the Christian Church into the second century. (http://www.allaboutthejourney.org/suetonius.htm)
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Pliny the Younger
Pliny the YoungerPliny the Younger (c. 62 - c.113 AD) was the Roman Governor of Bithynia (present-day northwestern Turkey). Around 111 or 112 AD, he wrote the following letter to Emperor Trajan of Rome asking for advice on how to deal with Christians.
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It is a rule, Sir, which I inviolably observe, to refer myself to you in all my doubts; for who is more capable of guiding my uncertainty or informing my ignorance? Having never been present at any trials of the Christians, I am unacquainted with the method and limits to be observed either in examining or punishing them. Whether any difference is to be allowed between the youngest and the adult; whether repentance admits to a pardon, or if a man has been once a Christian it avails him nothing to recant; whether the mere profession of Christianity, albeit without crimes, or only the crimes associated therewith are punishable -- in all these points I am greatly doubtful.
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In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. For whatever the nature of their creed might be, I could at least feel not doubt that contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved chastisement. There were others also possessed with the same infatuation, but being citizens of Rome, I directed them to be carried thither.
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These accusations spread (as is usually the case) from the mere fact of the matter being investigated and several forms of the mischief came to light. A placard was put up, without any signature, accusing a large number of persons by name. Those who denied they were, or had ever been, Christians, who repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered adoration, with wine and frankincense, to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for that purpose, together with those of the gods, and who finally cursed Christ -- none of which acts, it is into performing -- these I thought it proper to discharge. Others who were named by that informer at first confessed themselves Christians, and then denied it; true, they had been of that persuasion but they had quitted it, some three years, others many years, and a few as much as twenty-five years ago. They all worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, and cursed Christ.
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They affirmed, however, the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food -- but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. Even this practice, however, they had abandoned after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I had forbidden political associations. I judged it so much the more necessary to extract the real truth, with the assistance of torture, from two female slaves, who were styled deaconesses: but I could discover nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition.
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I therefore adjourned the proceedings, and betook myself at once to your counsel. For the matter seemed to me well worth referring to you, especially considering the numbers endangered. Persons of all ranks and ages, and of both sexes are, and will be, involved in the prosecution. For this contagious superstition is not confined to the cities only, but has spread through the villages and rural districts; it seems possible, however, to check and cure it.
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This is quite a letter preserved from antiquity. I reproduced a great deal of it here, because it was so powerful for me in its entirety. "Pliny the Younger" speaks of Christianity spreading throughout the Roman Empire and he addresses the procedure for persecuting followers out of this "superstition." Pliny also mentions Christ by name three times as the center of Christianity and describes Christian practices, including the worship of Christ "as to a god." (http://www.allaboutthejourney.org/pliny-the-younger.htm)
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Tacitus
Tacitus, writing about the fire in Rome in A.D. 64. Tacitus (A.D. 55- c.120) was made governor of the province of Asia soon after Pliny’s appointment to Bithynia, and something of his reputation as a historian may be discerned in part of the letter written to him by his friend Pliny:

Thank you for asking me to send you a description of my uncle’s death so that you can leave an accurate account of it for posterity. . . . I know that immortal fame awaits him if his death is recorded by you. (Epistles 6.16)

In his Annals of Imperial Rome written at about the same time as Pliny wrote the above letter, Tacitus describes how the emperor Nero attempted to divert blame from himself to a new and detested religious sect for lighting the fire that destroyed three-quarters of Rome:

But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations 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 our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a deadly superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but also in the City [Rome], where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who confessed; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of arson, as of hatred of the human race. (Annals 15.44.2-5)

It appears that Tacitus, like Pliny, despised but perhaps also feared this new movement. He describes the Christians as “a class hated for their abominations . . . a deadly superstition . . . evil . . . hideous . . . shameful.” He accuses them of “hatred of the human race,” which may refer to the Christian refusal to acknowledge Caesar as a god and the Roman state as divine.
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In one sentence from the above passage Tacitus confirms six details mentioned in the New Testament:

1. The public career of Christ occurred in the time of the emperor Tiberius (Lk 3:1).
2. Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor when Christ died (Mt 27:2; Mk 15:1; Luke 23:1; Acts 3:13 and 13:28).
3. Christ was executed as a criminal (Lk 23:2).
4. This occurred in Judea (Mk 11:16).
5. The movement did not die with Jesus, but “broke out” again.
6. The movement spread from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 1:4 and 28:14).

This sentence agrees, in a broad sense, with the geographic sweep of Luke-Acts, a two-volume work that begins with Jesus in Judea (Lk 2:4) and ends with Paul in Rome (Acts 28:14). Tacitus confirms both the existence of Christ and the spread of early Christianity. (http://www.ivpress.com/title/exc/2768-3.pdf)
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JEWISH SOURCES
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Benediction Twelve.
After the disastrous war with the Romans from A.D. 66 to 70, the Jewish Sanhedrin (or Senate), ceased to exist as a political and administrative body. The emperor Vespasian brought Judea under direct military rule, leaving the Sanhedrin with a purely religious role. Most of the sects and parties within Judaism perished with the war. Two that survived were the Pharisees, representing the mainstream of Jewish religious life, and the Nazarenes, or Christians, who by then were regarded as heretical. In the eighties the Pharisee-dominated Sanhedrin meeting at Jamnia, a town to the east of Jerusalem, formulated the following synagogue prayer:
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For the renegades let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom soon be rooted out in our days, and the Nazarenes and the minim perish as in a moment and be blotted out from the book of life and with the righteous may they not be inscribed. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who humblest the arrogant.

References in the Talmud indicate that the “minim” and the “Nazarenes” usually refer to Christians. This bitter prayer clearly attests the existence of Christians in Judea in the post-70 period, and it represents a tragic contrast with the frequently happy relations of Christian Jews with their fellow Jews in the period before the war. From Christian sources we read of Jewish Christian priests (Acts 6:7) and Christian Pharisees (Acts 15:5) and of “many thousands . . . among the Jews . . . who have believed . . . all zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20). Opposition there may have been from Sadducean high priests (Acts 4:1-3) and Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1-3), but the Pharisees appear either to have been neutral, as was Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-39), or well-disposed like those who protested at the unjust death of James brother of Jesus (Josephus Antiquities 20.197-203). The grim sentiments of Benediction Twelve reflect the thorough separation of synagogue and church after the end of the war in A.D. 70. (http://www.ivpress.com/title/exc/2768-3.pdf)
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The Talmud.
The Talmuds were compiled in Jerusalem and Babylon in the fifth and sixth centuries. Their late dating raises questions as to the authenticity of references to Jesus. Of various possibilities the most likely mention of Jesus is this:

It was taught:
On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus. A herald went before him for forty days [proclaiming]. “He will be stoned, because he practised magic and enticed Israel to go astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favour come forward and plead for him.” But nothing was found in his favour, and they hanged him the day before Passover. (b. Sanhedrin 43a)

This rather bitter reference is more likely to have arisen in the centuries after Jesus than closer to his times. We note the apologetic detail that since no one defended him he must have been guilty. Here Jesus is a magician and a deceiver of the nation and for this the Jews executed him. According to the Gospels and Tacitus (Annals 15.44), however, the Romans executed Jesus for treasonably claiming to be “king of the Jews.” Apart from the timing of his death to the Passover season there is little else here that coincides with other information at hand, including the manner of his death by hanging. (http://www.ivpress.com/title/exc/2768-3.pdf)
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Josephus.
Josephus, an aristocratic Pharisee, was born in A.D. 37. During the war with the Romans from A.D. 66 to 70, he was captured by the Romans and later was paid a pension by successive emperors for services rendered to the imperial family. Early in the nineties he wrote the Jewish Antiquities. Pharisees were not always bitterly opposed to Christians, as the Jewish historian clearly shows. Before the war, in an interregnum between Roman governors (A.D. 62), the high priest Annas (son of Annas of the Gospels) convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned. Those of the inhabitants of the city who were considered the most fair-minded and who were strict in observance of the law were offended at this. (Antiquities 20.197-203)

Those who were “strict in observance of the law” must refer to Pharisees, which suggests they showed a degree of sympathy to James, brother of Jesus, who was leader of the multitudinous Jerusalem church. The members of that church, Paul had been informed, were “all zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20), which explains why the Pharisees were favorably disposed towards
James. James’s reference to “many thousands” of such Jerusalem believers (Acts 21:20), while possibly an exaggeration, nevertheless confirms the impression given elsewhere of large numbers of people involved in Christianity, and that it was a worldwide movement.

In this extract, the authenticity of which is not in doubt, Josephus confirms two important pieces of information from the New Testament.

1. Jesus was “called Christ” (cf. Acts 2:36).
2. James was his brother (cf. Gal 1:19).
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Josephus indicates no doubt as to the genuine existence in history of either Jesus or James. (http://www.ivpress.com/title/exc/2768-3.pdf)
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Josephus (continued)
Flavius Josephus (37 - 100 AD), a Jewish general and member of the priestly aristocracy of the Jews, turned to the side of the Roman Empire in the great Jewish revolt of 66-70 AD. Josephus spent the rest of his life in or around Rome as an advisor and historian to three emperors, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. For centuries, the works of Josephus were more widely read in Europe than any book other than the Bible. They are invaluable sources of eyewitness testimony to the development of Western civilization, including the foundation and growth of Christianity in the 1st Century.
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Remarkably, Flavius Josephus mentions New Testament events and people in some of his works. For me, this was some of the most significant evidence against the legend theories that plagued my view of early Christianity. Here are some excerpts I found fascinating:
  • 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 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. 1
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  • After the death of the procurator Festus, when Albinus was about to succeed him, the high-priest Ananius considered it a favorable opportunity to assemble the Sanhedrin. He therefore caused James the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, and several others, to appear before this hastily assembled council, and pronounced upon them the sentence of death by stoning. All the wise men and strict observers of the law who were at Jerusalem expressed their disapprobation of this act...Some even went to Albinus himself, who had departed to Alexandria, to bring this breach of the law under his observation, and to inform him that Ananius had acted illegally in assembling the Sanhedrin without the Roman authority. 2
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  • Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. 3
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These three quotes from "Josephus" really speak for themselves! Professor Shlomo Pines, a well known Israeli scholar, discusses the fact of Jesus' historicity and the references to Jesus by Flavius Josephus:
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In fact, as far as probabilities go, no believing Christian could have produced such a neutral text: for him the only significant point about it could have been its attesting the historical evidence of Jesus. But the fact is that until modern times this particular hare (i.e. claiming Jesus is a hoax) was never started. Even the most bitter opponents of Christianity never expressed any doubt as to Jesus having really lived. 4
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Notes:
1 Antiquities, Book 18, chapter 3, paragraph 3 (translated from 4th century Arabic manuscript). An even more phenomenal Greek version of this text exists, which many scholars declare was "doctored" a bit in a few places. However, this version was quoted as early as 325 AD:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be 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 amongst 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 the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
2 Antiquities, Book 20, chapter 9, paragraph 1.
3 Antiquities, Book 18, chapter 5, paragraph 2.
4 Shlomo Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testamonium Flavianum and its Implications, Jerusalem Academic Press, 1971, 69. See also, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mark_eastman/messiah/sfm_ap2.html#note6b.

6 comments:

Bar Kochba said...

Please have some patience with me. I'm swamped with work and it will take a few days to answer you in full. Actually, I'm reading a book on the subject- 'The Jesus Puzzle' by Earl Doherty. The website is www.jesuspuzzle.com

Jungle Mom said...

Deborah, I am so glad I swung by! I was going to devote my weekend to this!
The fact remians that there is more evidence of the existence of Jesus Christ than for many other historical figures whom no one questions as to their existence.
It is a bit like trying to convince an atheist of G-d! Without citing the Bible. Which is a debate I am in on another blog!!
G-d Bless!

Nicholas Z. Cardot said...

What a great post. You have really done some great research. Both of you ladies have been helping me learn and grow in my own faith and I thank you for the spiritual encouragement.

When you hear all of the arguments that the Jews present, it can become overwhelming. Yet when you begin to dig into history and into the Bible you are quick to find that Christ was true and that your faith is stronger for it. I have been amazed at the things I have been learning through our discussions over the past few days.

I am very glad that I found your blog here and I have added it to my link list in my sidebar. I will definitely be back!

Deborah said...

JM, yes, evidence regardiog Yeshua's existence is not lacking, for sure.

Two things come to me immediately regarding your other debate,

"20 For [God's] invisible attributes, namely, [God's] eternal power and divine nature,have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things." (Romans 1:20-23.)

“44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” (John 6:44-45)

I'm praying for you! G-d bless you, too!

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Nicholas,
By the way, I love the name "Nicholas" as it is my grandson's name. See that cute little blond boy in the center of the picture on the sidebar, that's Nicholas. Cute, eh?! :)

Continue to be a good student of the Word of God, be a good Berean, examining the Scriptures to make sure that what you're hearing/reading is true!

"10 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men." (Acts 17:10-12.)

God bless you, Nicholas!

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Shalom y'all!

Bar Kochba said...

Here's my response. Its quite long:

Deborah,

I do not have the time or ability to search for proof of the Sanhedrin or of the great rabbis although this is immaterial to our discussion. Since you accept the story of JC, you recognize that there must have been a Sanhedrin and great rabbis in it. If we disprove that a Sanhedrin ever existed, the Gospel stories also fall apart so it makes no sense to seek to prove or disprove them. Due to lack of time, let us concentrate on the topic at hand. I’ll begin by examining the claims that you have presented, of corroborating evidence of JC by ancient writers, and then I’ll deal with the silence of the historical JC in Paul’s epistles (which I briefly mentioned at Nicholas’ blog).

Let’s begin with Suetonius. The passage in question is Claudius 25, where he mentions that the emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome (apparently in 49 C.E.) because they caused continual disturbances at the instigation of a certain Chrestus. If one blindly assumes that "Chrestus" refers to Jesus then, if anything, this passage contradicts the Christian story of Jesus. Jesus was supposed to have been crucified when Pontius Pilate was procurator (26 - 36 C.E.) during the reign of Tiberias and, moreover, he was never supposed to have been in Rome! Suetonius lived during the period c. 75 - 150 C.E. and his book, Lives of the Caesars, was published during the period 119 - 120 C.E., having been written some time after Domitian's death in 96 C.E. Thus the event he describes occurred at least 45 years before he was writing about it and so we cannot be certain of its accuracy. The name Chrestus is derived from the Greek Chrestos meaning "good one" and it is not the same as Christ or Christus which are derived from the Greek Christos meaning "anointed one/Messiah." If we take the passage at face value it refers to a person named Chrestus who was in Rome and who had nothing to do with Jesus or any other "Christ." The term Chrestos was often applied to pagan gods and many of the people in Rome called "Jews" were actually people who mixed Jewish beliefs with pagan beliefs and who were not necessarily of Jewish descent. Thus it is also possible that the passage refers to conflicts involving these pagan "Jews" who worshipped a pagan god (such as Sebazios) titled Chrestos. On the other hand, the words Chrestos and Christos were often confused and so the passage might even be referring to some conflict involving Jews who believed that some person was the Messiah. This person may or may not have actually been in Rome and for all we know, he may not even have been a real historical person. One should bear in mind that the described event took place just several years after the crucifixion of the false Messiah Theudas in 44 C.E., and the passage may be referring to his followers in Rome. Christians claim that the passage refers to Jesus and conflicts arising after Paul brought news of him to Rome and that Suetonius was only mistaken about Jesus himself being in Rome. However, this interpretation is based on blind belief in Jesus and the myths about Paul and there is nothing to suggest that it is the correct interpretation. Thus we may conclude that Suetonius also fails to provide any reliable evidence of an historical Jesus.

Mara Bar-Serapion’s letter, too, is worthless as historical proof. Written sometime after 73 AD, it is not based on historical fact but certainly on Christian belief. The ‘wise king’ reference certainly does not point exclusively to JC but you are simply inferring this into it. Messianic pretenders in Judea were extremely common and the ‘wise king’ may refer to the “Teacher of Righteousness" mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, although this is doubtful. Despite Christian claims of JC being “king of the Jews”, the Jews felt complete apathy towards him. As Gibbon, in his famous history of the Roman empire, points out, the Jews did not feel it necessary to publish or at least preserve even one Hebrew manuscript of the New Testament. (If the Jews were accused of plotting to kill JC, since they hated him, how could he be their king, implying that they accepted his kingship?) Moreover, given that Jesus was crucified by the Romans, not the Jews, Bar-Serapion's choice of words is inexplicable unless we assume that he received his information about this 'wise King' from Christians. (Remember that the Christians held the Jews at least partially responsible for Jesus' crucifixion.) However, if Bar-Serapion received his information from Christians, two conclusions follow. First, it is highly likely that this 'wise King' was JC. Second, Bar-Serapion does not provide independent confirmation of the historicity of Jesus. If the source of his information is Christians themselves, then it is worthless as they were saying what they believed and not what they saw. Yet another problem with Bar-Serapion's letter is its historical inaccuracies. In addition to the bogus claim that the Jews executed Jesus, Bar-Serapion's letter contains other errors. We should note that the letter implies Pythagoras had been killed by his countrymen, yet Pythagoras left the island of Samos in 530 B. C. and emigrated to the Greek colony of Croton in Southern Italy. He later died in Metapontum, which is now Metaponto, Italy. According to F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (p. 114), the Mara bar Serapion letter was written some time later than A. D. 73, but how much later we cannot be sure." Written in Syriac, this letter may actually have originated in the 2nd or 3rd century C.E. The "wise king" is not identified by Mara bar Serapion and may have lived in the same time frame as Socrates and Pythagoras - half a millenium earlier than Jesus. "The Bible itself recorded the political assassinations of Jewish royalty that occurred close enough to Nebuchadnezzar's capture of Jerusalem [586 B.C.E.] to consider the conquest of either Israel or Judea as an event that had happened 'just after' the murder of one of these kings. Josiah's father, King Amon, for example, was assassinated less than 50 years before Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 21:23)." (Farrell Till, "The 'Testimony' of Mara Bar-Serapion")
Lucian wrote his On the Death of Peregrinus in the 2nd century, when the Gospels were already in wide circulation. It was common knowledge what Christians believed, in those days, as their origins, and it is doubtful that he would have researched this, rather than simply have accepted Christian claims at face value. Again, this quote, written centuries after Jesus’s supposed death, is of little value.
Pliny the Younger’s letter is also meaningless as he discusses Christians and not Christ. We know that Christians obviously existed and that they had extremely strong faith. We might have expected, however, for Pliny to refer to the “Christ” as a man crucified in Judea as a rebel, if that were the object of Christian worship, for this would have been quite unusual to the emperor. It is quite odd that Pliny did not remark on how a crucified criminal for Judea came to be a god to the Christians.

Tacitus gives a very brief summary of the history of the Christian movement. “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” It is highly unlikely that Tacitus is quoting an official record of an obscure crucifixion almost 90 years prior. Despite the Roman’s efficient bureaucracy, it is nearly impossible that they kept records of every one of their countless crucifixions and executions that they carried out across the empire. At least one modern historian has said (G. A. Wells, The Jesus of Early Christianity) that Tacitus was not in the habit of consulting official records. Tacitus refers to Pilate as “procurator” although during the reign of Tiberius, governors were called “prefects”. Tacitus would have known this to be an anachronism had he consulted imperial records. The historian lived among Christians and the bishop of Antioch had been executed in the area barely 10 years prior.
As for Yeishu HaNotzri vs. Jesus, I will allow Hayyim ben Yehoshua’s article to speak for itself:

The Hebrew name for Christians has always been Notzrim. This name is derived from the Hebrew word neitzer, which means a shoot or sprout--an obvious Messianic symbol. There were already people called Notzrim at the time of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah (c. 100 B.C.E.). Although modern Christians claim that Christianity only started in the first century C.E., it is clear that the first century Christians in Israel considered themselves to be a continuation of the Notzri movement which had been in existence for about 150 years. One of the most notorious Notzrim was Yeishu ben Pandeira, also known as Yeishu ha-Notzri. Talmudic scholars have always maintained that the story of Jesus began with Yeishu. The Hebrew name for Jesus has always been Yeishu and the Hebrew for "Jesus the Nazarene" has always been "Yeishu ha-Notzri." (The name Yeishu is a shortened form of the name Yeishua, not Yehoshua.) It is important to note that Yeishu ha-Notzri is not an historical Jesus since modern Christianity denies any connection between Jesus and Yeishu and moreover, parts of the Jesus myth are based on other historical people besides Yeishu.
We know very little about Yeishu ha-Notzri. All modern works that mention him are based on information taken from the Tosefta and the Baraitas - writings made at the same time as the Mishna but not contained in it. Because the historical information concerning Yeishu is so damaging to Christianity, most Christian authors (and even some Jewish ones) have tried to discredit this information and have invented many ingenious arguments to explain it away. Many of their arguments are based on misunderstandings and misquotations of the Baraitas and in order to get an accurate picture of Yeishu one should ignore Christian authors and examine the Baraitas directly.
The skimpy information contained in the Baraitas is as follows: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah once repelled Yeishu with both hands. People believed that Yeishu was a sorcerer and they considered him to be a person who had led the Jews astray. As a result of charges brought against him (the details of which are not known, but which probably involved high treason) Yeishu was stoned and his body hung up on the eve of Passover. Before this he was paraded around for forty days with a herald going in front of him announcing that he would be stoned and calling for people to come forward to plead for him. Nothing was brought forward in his favor however. Yeishu had five disciples: Mattai, Naqai, Neitzer, Buni, and Todah.
In the Tosefta and the Baraitas, Yeishu's father is named Pandeira or Panteiri. These are Hebrew-Aramaic forms of a Greek name. In Hebrew the third consonant of the name is written either with a dalet or a tet. Comparison with other Greek words transliterated into Hebrew shows that the original Greek must have had a delta as its third consonant and so the only possibility for the father's Greek name is Panderos. Since Greek names were common among Jews during Hashmonean times it is not necessary to assume that he was Greek, as some authors have done.
The connection between Yeishu and Jesus is corroborated by the the fact that Mattai and Todah, the names of two of Yeishu's disciples, are the original Hebrew forms of Matthew and Thaddaeus, the names of two of Jesus's disciples in Christian mythology.
The early Christians were also aware of the name "ben Pandeira" for Jesus. The pagan philosopher Celsus, who was famous for his arguments against Christianity, claimed in 178 C.E. that he had heard from a Jew that Jesus's mother, Mary, had been divorced by her husband, a carpenter, after it had been proved that she was an adultress. She wandered about in shame and bore Jesus in secret. His real father was a soldier named Pantheras. According to the Christian writer Epiphanius (c. 320 - 403 C.E.), the Christian apologist Origen (c.185 - 254 C.E.) had claimed that "Panther" was the nickname for Jacob the father of Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus. It should be noted that Origen's claim is not based on any historical information. It is purely a conjecture aimed at explaining away the Pantheras story of Celsus. That story is also not historical. The claim that the name of Jesus's mother was Mary and the claim that her husband was a carpenter is taken directly from Christian belief. The claim that Jesus's real father was named Pantheras is based on an incorrect attempt at reconstructing the original form of Pandeira. This incorrect reconstruction was probably influenced by the fact that the name Pantheras was found among Roman soldiers.
Why did people believe that Jesus's mother was named Mary and her husband named Joseph? Why did non-Christians accuse Mary of being an adultress while Christians believed she was a virgin? To answer these questions one must examine some of the legends surrounding Yeishu. We cannot hope to obtain the absolute truth concerning the origins of the Jesus myth but we can show that reasonable alternatives exist to blindly accepting the New Testament.
The name Joseph for Jesus's stepfather is easy to explain. The Notzri movement was particularly popular with the Samaritan Jews. While the Pharisees were waiting for a Messiah who would be a descendant of David, the Samaritans wanted a Messiah who would restore the northern kingdom of Israel. The Samaritans emphasized their partial descent from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who were descended from the Joseph of the Torah. The Samaritans considered themselves to be "Bnei Yoseph" i.e. "sons of Joseph," and since they believed that Jesus had been their Messiah, they would have assumed that he was a "son of Joseph." The Greek speaking population, who had little knowledge of Hebrew and true Jewish traditions, could have easily misunderstood this term and assumed that Joseph was the actual name of Jesus's father. This conjecture is corroborated by the fact that according to the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph's father is named Jacob, just like the Torah Joseph. Later, other Christians, who followed the idea that the Messiah was to be descended from David, tried to trace Joseph back to David. They came up with two contradictory genealogies for him, one recorded in Matthew and the other in Luke. When the idea that Mary was a virgin developed, the mythical Joseph was relegated to the position of simply being her husband and the stepfather of Jesus.
To understand where the Mary story came from we have to turn to another historical character who contributed to the Jesus myth, namely ben Stada. All the information we have on ben Stada again comes from the Tosefta and the Baraitas. There is even less information about him than about Yeishu. Some people believed that he had brought spells out of Egypt in a cut in his flesh, others thought that he was a madman. He was a beguiler and was caught by the method of concealed witnesses. He was stoned in Lod.
In the Tosefta, ben Stada is called ben Sotera or ben Sitera. Sotera seems to be the Hebrew-Aramaic form of the Greek name Soteros. The forms "Sitera" and "Stada" seem have arisen as misreadings and spelling mistakes (yod replacing vav and dalet replacing reish).
Since there was so little information concerning ben Stada, many conjectures arose as to who he was. It is known from the Gemara that he was confused with Yeishu. This probably resulted from the fact that both were executed for treasonous teachings and were associated with sorcery. People who confused ben Stada with Yeishu had to explain why he was also called ben Pandeira. Since the name "Stada" resembles the Aramaic expression "stat da," meaning "she went astray" it was thought that "Stada" referred to the mother of Yeishu and that she was an adultress. Consequently, people began to think that Yeishu was the illegitimate son of Pandeira. These ideas are in fact mentioned in the Gemara and are probably much older. Since ben Stada lived in Roman times and the name Pandeira resembled the name Pantheras found among Roman soldiers, it was assumed that Pandeira had been a Roman soldier stationed in Israel. This certainly explains the story mentioned by Celsus.
The Tosefta mentions a famous case of a woman named Miriam bat Bilgah marrying a Roman soldier. The idea that Yeishu had been born to a Jewish woman who had had an affair with a Roman soldier probably resulted in Yeishu's mother being confused with this Miriam. The name "Miriam" is of course the original form of the name "Mary." It is in fact known from the Gemara that some of the people who confused Yeishu with ben Stada believed that Yeishu's mother was "Miriam the women's hairdresser."
The story that Mary (Miriam) the mother of Jesus was an adulteress was certainly not acceptable to the early Christians. The virgin birth story was probably invented to clear Mary's name. The early Christians did not suck this story out of their thumbs. Virgin birth stories were fairly common in pagan myths. The following mythological characters were all believed to have been born to divinely impregnated virgins: Romulus and Remus, Perseus, Zoroaster, Mithras, Osiris-Aion, Agdistis, Attis, Tammuz, Adonis, Korybas, Dionysus. The pagan belief in unions between gods and women, regardless of whether they were virgins or not, is even more common. Many characters in pagan mythology were believed to be sons of divine fathers and human females. The Christian belief that Jesus was the son of God born to a virgin, is typical of Greco-Roman superstition. The Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria (c. 30 B.C.E - 45 C.E.), warned against the widespread superstitious belief in unions between male gods and human females which returned women to a state of virginity.
The god Tammuz, worshipped by pagans in northern Israel, was said to have been born to the virgin Myrrha. The name "Myrrha" superficially resembles "Mary/Miriam" and it is possible that this particular virgin birth story influenced the Mary story more than the others. Like Jesus, Tammuz was always called Adon, meaning "Lord." (The character Adonis in Greek mythology is based on Tammuz.) As we will see later, the connection between Jesus and Tammuz goes much further than this.
The idea that Mary had been an adultress never completely disappeared in Christian mythology. Instead, the character of Mary was split into two: Mary the mother of Jesus, believed to be a virgin, and Mary Magdalene, believed to be a woman of ill repute. The idea that the character of Mary Magdalene is also derived from Miriam the mythical mother of Yeishu, is corroborated by the fact that the strange name "Magdalene" clearly resembles the Aramaic term "mgadla nshaya," meaning "womens' hairdresser." As mentioned before, there was a belief that Yeishu's mother was "Miriam the women's hairdresser." Because the Christians did not know what the name "Magdalene" meant, they later conjectured that it meant that she had come from a place called Magdala on the west of Lake Kinneret. The idea of the two Marys fitted in well with the pagan way of thinking. The image of Jesus being followed by the two Marys is strongly reminiscent of Dionysus being followed by Demeter and Persephone.
The Gemara contains an interesting legend concerning Yeishu which attempts to elucidate the Beraita which says that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah repelled Yeishu with both hands. The legend claims that when the Hashmonean king Yannai was killing the Pharisees, Rabbi Yehoshua and Yeishu fled to Egypt. When returning they came upon an inn. The Aramaic word "aksanya" means both "inn" or "innkeeper." Rabbi Yehoshua remarked how beautiful the "aksanya" was (meaning the inn). Yeishu (meaning the innkeeper) replied that her eyes were too narrow. Rabbi Yehoshua was very angry with Yeishu and excommunicated him. Yeishu asked many times for forgiveness but Rabbi Yehoshua would not forgive him. Once when Rabbi Yehoshua was reciting the Shema, Yeishu came up to him. He made a sign to him that he should wait. Yeishu misunderstood and thought that he was being rejected again. He mocked Rabbi Yehoshua by setting up a brick and worshipping it. Rabbi Yehoshua told him to repent but he refused to, saying that he had learned from him that anyone who sins and causes many to sin, is not given the opportunity to repent.
The above story, up to the events at the inn, closely resembles another legend in which the protagonist is not Rabbi Yehoshua but his disciple Yehuda ben Tabbai. In this legend, Yeishu is not named. One may thus question whether Yeishu really went to Egypt or not. It is possible that Yeishu was confused with some other disciple of either Rabbi Yehoshua or Rabbi Yehuda. The confusion might have resulted from the fact that Yeishu was confused with ben Stada who had returned from Egypt. On the other hand, Yeishu might have really fled to Egypt and returned, and this in turn could have contributed to the confusion between Yeishu and ben Stada. Whatever the case, the belief that Yeishu fled to Egypt to escape being killed by a cruel king, appears to be the origin of the Christian belief that Jesus and his family fled to Egypt to escape King Herod.
Since the early Christians believed that Jesus had lived in Roman times it is natural that they would have confused the evil king who wanted to kill Jesus with Herod, since there were no other suitable evil kings during the Roman period. Yeishu was an adult at the time that the rabbis fled from Yannai; why did the Christians believe that Jesus and his family had fled to Egypt when Jesus was an infant? Why did the Christians believe that Herod had ordered all baby boys born in Bethlehem to be killed, when there is no historical evidence of this? To answer these questions we again have to look at pagan mythology.
The theme of a divine or semi-divine child who is feared by an evil king is very common in pagan mythology. The usual story is that the evil king receives a prophecy that a certain child will be born who will usurp the throne. In some stories the child is born to a virgin and usually he is son of a god. The mother of the child tries to hide him. The king usually orders the slaying of all babies who might be the prophecied king. Examples of myths which follow this plot are the birth stories of Romulus and Remus, Perseus, Krishna, Zeus, and Oedipus. Although Torah literalists will not like to admit it, the story of Moses's birth also resembles these myths (some of which claim that the mother put the child in a basket and placed him in a river). There were probably several such stories circulating in the Levant which have been lost. The Christian myth of the slaughter of the innocents by Herod is simply a Christain version of this theme. The plot was so well known that one Midrashic scholar could not resist using it for an apocryphal account of Abraham's birth.
The early Christians believed that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. This belief is based on a misunderstanding of Micah 5.2 which simply names Bethlehem as the town where the Davidic lineage began. Since the early Christians believed that Jesus was the Messiah, they automatically believed that he was born in Bethlehem. But why did the Christians believe that he lived in Nazareth? The answer is quite simple. The early Greek speaking Christians did not know what the word "Nazarene" meant. The earliest Greek form of this word is "Nazoraios," which is derived from "Natzoriya," the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew "Notzri." (Recall that "Yeishu ha-Notzri" is the original Hebrew for "Jesus the Nazarene.") The early Christians conjectured that "Nazarene" meant a person from Nazareth and so it was assumed that Jesus lived in Nazareth. Even today, Christians blithely confuse the Hebrew words "Notzri" (Nazarene, Christian), "Natzrati" (Nazarethite) and "nazir" (nazarite), all of which have completely different meanings.
The information in the Talmud (which contains the Baraitas and the Gemara), concerning Yeishu and ben Stada, is so damaging to Christianity that Christians have always taken drastic measures against it. When the Christians first discovered the information they immediately tried to wipe it out by censoring the Talmud. The Basle edition of the Talmud (c. 1578 - 1580) had all the passages relating to Yeishu and ben Stada deleted by the Christians. Even today, editions of the Talmud used by Christian scholars lack these passages!
During the first few decades of this century, fierce academic battles raged between atheist and Christian scholars over the true origins of Christianity. The Christians were forced to face up to the Talmudic evidence. They could no longer ignore it and so they decided to attack it instead. They claimed that the Talmudic Yeishu was a distortion of the "historical Jesus." They claimed that the name "Pandeira" was simply a Hebrew attempt at pronouncing the Greek word for virgin--"parthenos." Although there is a superficial resemblence between the words, one should note that in order for "Pandeira" to be derived from "parthenos," the "n" and "r" have to be interchanged. However, the Jews did not suffer from any speech impediment which would cause this to happen! The Christian response is that possibly the Jews purposefully altered the word "parthenos" to either the name "Pantheras" (found in Celsus's story) or to "pantheros" meaning a panther, and "Pandeira" is derived from the deliberately altered word. This argument also fails since the third consonant of both the altered and unaltered "parthenos" is theta. This letter is always transliterated by the Hebrew letter tav, whose pronunciation during classical times most closely resembled that of the Greek letter. However, the name "Pandeira" is never spelled with a tav but with either a dalet or a tet which show that the original Greek form had a delta as its third consonant, not a theta. The Christian argument can also be turned on its head: maybe the Christians deliberately altered "Pantheras" to "parthenos" when they invented the virgin birth story. It should also be noted that the resemblence between "Pantheras" (or "pantheros") and "parthenos" is actually much less when written in Greek since in the original Greek spelling their second vowels are completely different.
The Christians also did not accept that Mary Magdalene was connected to Miriam the alleged mother of Yeishu in the Talmud. They argued that the name "Magdalene" does mean a person from Magdala and that the Jews invented "Miriam the women's hairdresser mgadla nshaya)" either to mock the Christians, or out of their own misunderstanding of the name "Magdalene." This argument is also false. Firstly, it ignores Greek grammar: the correct Greek for "of Magdala" is "Magdales" and the correct Greek for a person from Magdala is "Magdalaios." The original Greek root of "Magdalene" is "Magdalen-," with a conspicuous "n" showing that the word has nothing to do with Magdala. Secondly, Magdala only got its name after the Gospels were written. Before that it was called Magadan or Dalmanutha. (Although "Magadan" has an "n," it lacks an "l" and so it cannot be the derivation of "Magdalene.") In fact, the ruins of this area were renamed Magdala by the Christian community because they believed that Mary Magdalene had come from there.
The Christians also claimed that the word "Notzri" means a person from Nazareth. This is of course false since the original Hebrew for Nazareth is "Natzrat" and a person from Nazareth is a "Natzrati." The name "Notzri" lacks the letter tav from "Natzrat" as so it cannot be derived from it. The Christians argue that perhaps the Aramaic name for Nazareth was "Natzarah" or "Natzirah" (like the modern Arabic name) which explains the missing tav in "Notzri." This is also nonsense since the Aramaic word for a person from Nazareth would then be "Natzaratiya" or "Natziratiya" (with a tav since the feminine ending "-ah" would become "-at-" when the suffix "-iya" is added), and besides, the Aramaic form would not be used in Hebrew. The Christians also came up with various other arguments which can be dismissed since they confuse the Hebrew words "Notzri" and "nazir" or ignore the fact that "Notzri" is the earliest form of the word "Nazarene."
To sum up, all the Christian arguments were based on impossible phonetic changes and grammatical forms, and were consequently dismissed. Moreover, although the legends in the Gemara cannot be taken as fact, the evidence in the Baraitas and Tosefta concerning Yeishu can be traced back directly to Yehoshua ben Perachyah, Shimon ben Shetach and Yehuda ben Tabbai and their disciples who were contemporaries of Yeishu, while the evidence in the Baraitas and Tosefta concerning ben Stada can be traced to Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and his disciples who were ben Stada's contempories. Consequently the evidence can be regarded as historically accurate. Therefore modern Christians no longer attack the Talmud but instead deny any connection between Jesus and Yeishu or ben Stada. They dismiss the similarities as pure coincidence. However, one must still be aware of the false attacks on the Talmud since many Christian books still mention them and they can and do resurface from time to time.
Many parts of the Jesus story are not based on Yeishu or ben Stada. Most Christian denominations claim that Jesus was born on 25 December. Originally the eastern Christains believed that he was born on 6 January. The Armenian Christians still follow this early belief while most Christians consider it to be the date of the visit of the Magi. As pointed out already, Jesus was probably confused with Tammuz born of the virgin Myrrha. We know that in Roman times, the gods Tammuz, Aion and Osiris were identified. Osiris-Aion was said to be born of the virgin Isis on the 6 January and this explains the earlier date for Christmas. Isis was sometimes represented as a sacred cow and her temple as a stable which is probably the origin of the Christian belief that Jesus was born in a stable. Although some might find this claim to be farfetched, it is known as a fact that certain early Christian sects identified Jesus and Osiris in their writings. The date of 25 December for Christmas was originally the pagan birthday of the sun god, whose day of the week is still known as Sunday. The halo of light which is usually shown surrounding the face of Jesus and Christian saints, is another concept taken from the sun god.
The theme of temptation by a devil-like creature was also found in pagan mythology. In particular the story of Jesus's temptation by Satan resembles the temptation of Osiris by the devil-god Set in Egyptian mythology.
We have already hinted that there was also a connection between Jesus and the pagan god Dionysus. Like Dionysus, the infant Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger; like Dionysus, Jesus could turn water into wine; like Dionysus, Jesus rode on an ass and fed a multitude in the wilderness; like Dionysus, Jesus suffered and was mocked. Some early Christians claimed that Jesus had in fact been born, not in a stable, but in a cave--just like Dionysus.
Where did the story that Jesus was crucified come from? It appears to have resulted from a number of sources. Firstly there were three historical characters during the Roman period who people thought were Messiahs and who were crucified by the Romans, namely Yehuda of Galilee (6 C.E.), Theudas (44 C.E.), and Benjamin the Egyptian (60 C.E.). Since these three people were all thought to be the Messiah, they were naturally confused with Yeishu and ben Stada. Yehuda of Galilee had preached in Galilee and had collected many followers before being crucified by the Romans. The story of Jesus's ministry in Galilee appears to be based on the life of Yehuda of Galilee. This story and the belief that Jesus lived in Nazareth in Galilee, reinforced each other. The belief that some of Jesus's disciples were killed in c. 44 C.E. by Agrippa appears to be based the fate of Theudas's disciples. Since ben Stada had come from Egypt it is natural that he would have been confused with Benjamin the Egyptian. They were probably also contemporaries. Even some modern authors have suggested that they were the same person, although this is not possible since the stories of their deaths are completely different. In the New Testament book of Acts, which uses Josephus's book Jewish Antiquities (93 - 94 C.E.) as a reference, it is made clear that the author considered Jesus, Yehuda of Galilee, Theudas and Benjamin the Egyptian, to be four different people. However, by that time it was too late to undo the confusions which had already taken place before the New Testament was written, and the idea of Jesus's crucifixion had become an integral part of the myth.
Secondly, the idea arose that Jesus had been executed on the eve of Passover. This belief is apparently based on Yeishu's execution. Passover occurs at the time of the Vernal Equinox, an event considered important by astrologers during the Roman Empire. The astrologers thought of this time as the time of the crossing of two astrological celestial circles, and this event was symbolized by a cross. Thus there was a belief that Jesus had died on "the cross." The misunderstanding of this term by those who were not initiated into the astrological cults, was another factor contributing to the belief that Jesus was crucified. In one of the earliest Christian documents (the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) there is no mention of Jesus being crucified yet the sign of a cross in the sky is used to represent Jesus's coming. It should be noted that the center of astrological superstition in the Roman Empire was the city of Tarsus in Asia Minor - the place where the legendary missionary Paul came from. The idea that a special star had heralded the birth of Jesus, and that a solar eclipse occurred at his death, is typical of Tarsian astrological superstition.
The third factor contributing to the crucifixion story is again pagan mythology. The theme of a divine or semi-divine being sacrificed against a tree, pole or cross, and then being resurrected, is very common in pagan mythology. It was found in the mythologies of all western civilizations stretching from as far west as Ireland and as far east as India. In particular it is found in the mythologies of Osiris and Attis, both of whom were often identified with Tammuz. Osiris landed up with his arms stretched out on a tree like Jesus on the cross. This tree was sometimes shown as a pole with outstretched arms - the same shape as the Christian cross. In the worship of Serapis (a composite of Osiris and Apis) the cross was a religious symbol. Indeed, the Christian "Latin cross" symbol seems to be based directly on the cross symbol of Osiris and Serapis. The Romans never used this traditional Christian cross for crucifixions, they used crosses shaped either like an X or a T. The hieroglyph of a cross on a hill was associated with Osiris. This heiroglyph stood for the "Good One," in Greek "Chrestos," a name applied to Osiris and other pagan gods. The confusion of this name with "Christos" (Messiah, Christ) strengthened the confusion between Jesus and the pagan gods.
At the Vernal Equinox, pagans in northern Israel would celebrate the death and resurrection of the virgin-born Tammuz-Osiris. In Asia Minor (where the earliest Christian churches were established) a similar celebration was held for the virgin-born Attis. Attis was shown as dying against a tree, being buried in a cave and then being resurrected on the third day. We thus see where the Christian story of Jesus's resurrection comes from. In the worship of Baal, it was believed that Baal cheated Mavet (the god of death) at the time of the Vernal Equinox. He pretended to be dead but later appeared alive. He accomplished this ruse by giving his only son as a sacrifice.
The occurrence of Passover at the same time of year as the pagan "Easter" festivals is not coincidental. Many of the Pessach customs were designed as Jewish alternatives to pagan customs. The pagans believed that when their nature god (such as Tammuz, Osiris or Attis) died and was resurrected, his life went into the plants used by man as food. The matza made from the spring harvest was his new body and the wine from the grapes was his new blood. In Judaism, matza, was not used to represent the body of a god but the poor man's bread which the Jews ate before leaving Egypt. The pagans used the paschal sacrifice to represent the sacrifice of a god or his only son, but Judaism used it to represent the meal eaten before leaving Egypt. Instead of telling stories about Baal sacrificing his first born son to Mavet, the Jews told how mal'ach ha-mavet (the angel of death) slew the first born sons of the Egyptians. The pagans ate eggs to represent the resurrection and rebirth of their nature god, but the egg on the seder plate represents the rebirth of the Jewish people escaping captivity in Egypt. When the early Christians noticed the similarities between Pessach customs and pagan customs, they came full circle and converted the Pessach customs back to their old pagan interpretations. The seder became the last supper of Jesus, similar to the last supper of Osiris commemorated at the Vernal Equinox. The matza and wine once again became the body and blood of a false god, this time Jesus. Easter eggs are again eaten to commemorate the resurrection of a "god" and also the "rebirth" obtained by accepting his sacrifice on the cross.
The Last Supper myth is particularly interesting. As mentioned, the basic idea of last supper occurring at the Vernal Equinox comes from the story of the last supper of Osiris. In the Christian story, Jesus is present with twelve apostles. Where did the story of the twelve apostles come from? It appears that in its earliest version, the story was understood to be an allegory. The first time that twelve apostles are mentioned is in the document known as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. This document apparently originated as a sectarian Jewish document written in the first century C.E., but it was adopted by Christians who altered it substantially and added Christian ideas to it. In the earliest versions it is clear that the "twelve apostles" are the twelve sons of Jacob representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The Christians later considered the "twelve apostles" to be allegorical disciples of Jesus.
In Egyptian mythology, Osiris was betrayed at his last supper by the evil god Set, whom the Greeks identified with Typhon. This seems to be the origin of the idea that Jesus's betrayer was present at his last supper. The idea that this betrayer was named "Judas" goes back to the time when the twelve apostles were still understood to be the sons of Jacob. The idea of Judas (Judah, Yehuda) betraying Jesus (the "son" of Joseph) is strongly reminiscent of the story of the Torah Joseph being betrayed by his brothers with Yehuda as the ringleader. This allegory would have been particulary appealing to the Samaritan Notzrim who considered themselves to be sons of Joseph betrayed by mainstream Jews (represented by Judas/Yehuda).
However, the story of the twelve apostles lost its original allegorical interpretation and the Christians began to think that the "twelve apostles" were twelve real people who followed Jesus. The Christians attempted to find names for these twelve apostles. Matthew and Thaddaeus were based on Mattai and Todah, two of Yeishu's disciples. One or both of the apostles named Jacobus (James) is possibly based on Jacob of Kfar Sekanya, an early Christian known to Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, but this is just a guess. As we have seen, the character of Judas is mostly based on the Judah of the Torah but there might also be a connection with Yeishu's contemporary, Yehuda ben Tabbai the disciple of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah. As already mentioned, the idea of the betrayer at the last supper is derived from the mythology of Osiris who was betrayed by Set-Typhon. Set-Typhon had red hair and this is probably the origin of the claim that Judas had red hair. This idea has led to the Christian stereotypical portrayal of Jews as having red hair, despite the fact that in reality, red hair is far more common among Aryans than among Jews.
Judas is often given the nickname "Iscariot." In some places where English New Testaments have "Iscariot," the Greek text actually has "apo Kariotou" which means "from Karyot." Karyot was the name of a town in Israel, probably the modern site known in Arabic as Karyatein. We thus see that the name Iscariot is derived from the Hebrew "ish Karyot" meaning "man from Karyot." This is in fact the accepted modern Christian understanding of the name. However, in the past, the Christians misunderstood this name and legends arose that Judas was from the town of Sychar, that he was a member of the extremist party known as the Sicarii and that he was from the tribe of Issacher. The most interesting misunderstanding of the name is its early confusion with the word scortea meaning a leather money bag. This led to the New Testament myth that Judas carried such a bag, which in turn led to the belief that he was the treasurer of the apostles.
The apostle Peter appears to be a largely fictitious character. According to Christian mythology, Jesus chose him to be the "keeper of the keys to the kingdom of heaven." This is clearly based on the Egyptian pagan deity, Petra, who was the door-keeper of heaven and the afterlife ruled over by Osiris. We must also doubt the story of Luke "the good healer" who was supposed to be a friend of Paul. The original Greek for "Luke" is "Lykos" which was another name for Apollo, the god of healing.
John the Baptist is largely based on an historical person who practiced ritual immersion in water as a physical symbol for repentance. He did not perform Christian style sacramental baptisms to cleanse people's souls - such an idea was totally foreign to Judaism. He was put to death by Herod Antipas, who feared that he was about to start a rebellion. John's name in Greek was "Ioannes" and in Latin "Johannes." Although these names were usually used for the Hebrew name Yochanan, it is unlikely that this was John's actual Hebrew name. "Ioannes" closely resembles "Oannes" the Greek name for the pagan god Ea. Oannes was the "God of the House of Water." Sacramental baptism for magically cleansing souls was a practice which apparently originated in the worship of Oannes. The most likely explanation of John's name and its connection with Oannes is that John probably bore the nickname "Oannes" since he practised baptism which he had adapted from the worship of Oannes. The name "Oannes" was later confused with "Ioannes." (In fact, the New Testament legend concerning John provides a clue that his real name might have been Zacharia.) It is known from Josephus's writings that the historical John rejected the pagan "soul-cleansing" interpretation of baptism. The Christians, however, returned to this original pagan interpretation.
The god Oannes was associated with the constellation Capricorn. Both Oannes and the constellation Capricorn were associated with water. (The constellation is supposed to depict a mythical sea-creature with the body of a fish and the foreparts of a goat.) We have already seen that Jesus was given the same birthday as the sun god (25 December), when the sun is in the constellation of Capricorn. The pagans thought of this period as one where the sun god is immersed in the waters of Oannes and emerges reborn. (The Winter Solstice, when days start getting longer, occurs near 25 December.) This astrological myth is apparently the origin of the story that Jesus was baptized by John. It probably started as an allegorical astrological story, but it appears that the god Oannes later became confused with the historical person nicknamed Oannes (John).
The belief that Jesus had met John contributed to the belief that Jesus's ministry and crucifixion occurred when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judaea. It should be noted that most dates for Jesus quoted by Christians are completely nonsense. Jesus was partly based on Yeishu and ben Stada who probably lived more than a century apart. He was also based on the three false Messiahs, Yehuda, Theudas and Benjamin, who were crucified by the Romans at various different times. Another fact that contributed to confused dating of Jesus was that Jacob of Kfar Sekanya and probably other Notzrim as well, used expressions like "thus was I taught by Yeishu ha-Notzri," even though he had not been taught by Yeishu in person. We know from the Gemara that Jacob's statement led Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus to incorrectly conclude that Jacob was a disciple of Yeishu. This suggests that there were rabbis who were unaware of the fact that Yeishu had lived in Hashmonean times. Even after Christians placed Jesus in the first century C.E., confusion continued among non-Christians. There was a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva named Pappus ben Yehuda who used to lock up his unfaithful wife. We know from the Gemara that some people who confused Yeishu and ben Stada confused the wife of Pappus with Miriam the unfaithful mother of Yeishu. This would place Yeishu more than two centuries after he actually lived!
The New Testament story confuses so many historical periods that there is no way of reconciling it with history. The traditional year of Jesus's birth is 1 C.E. Jesus was supposed to be not more than two years old when Herod ordered the slaughter of the innocents. However, Herod died before April 12, 4 B.C.E. This has led some Christians to redate the birth of Jesus in 6 - 4 B.C.E. However, Jesus was also supposed have been born during the census of Quirinius. This census took place after Archelaus was deposed in 6 C.E., ten years after Herod's death. Jesus was supposed to have been baptized by John soon after John had started baptizing and preaching in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias, i.e. 28-29 C.E., when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea i.e. 26-36 C.E. According to the New Testament, this also happened when Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene and Annas and Caiaphas were high priests. But Lysanias ruled Abilene from c. 40 B.C.E until he was executed in 36 B.C.E by Mark Antony, about 60 years before the date for Tiberias and about 30 years before the supposed birth of Jesus! Also, there were never two joint high priests, in particular, Annas was not a joint high priest with Caiaphas. Annas was removed from the office of high priest in 15 C.E after holding office for some nine years. Caiaphas only became high priest in c. 18 C.E, about three years after Annas. (He held this office for about eighteen years, so his dates are consistent with Tiberias and Pontius Pilate, but not with Annas or Lysanias.) Although the book of Acts presents Yehuda of Galilee, Theudas and Jesus as three different people, it incorrectly places Theudas (crucified 44 C.E.) before Yehuda who it correctly mentions as being crucified during the census (6 C.E.). Many of these chronological absurdities seem to be based on misreadings and misunderstandings of Josephus's book Jewish Antiquities, which was used as reference by the author of Luke and Acts.
The story of Jesus's trial is also highly suspicious. It clearly tries to placate the Romans while defaming the Jews. The historical Pontius Pilate was arrogant and despotic. He hated the Jews and never delegated any authority to them. However, in Christian mythology, he is portrayed as a concerned ruler who distanced himself from the accusations against Jesus and who was coerced into obeying the demands of the Jews. According to Christian mythology, every Passover, the Jews would ask Pilate to free any one criminal they chose. This is of course a blatant lie. Jews never had a custom of freeing guilty criminals at Passover or any other time of the year. According the myth, Pilate gave the Jews the choice of freeing Jesus the Christ or a murderer named Jesus Barabbas. The Jews are alleged to have enthusiastically chosen Jesus Barabbas. This story is a vicious antisemitic lie, one of many such lies found in the New Testament (largely written by antisemites). What is particularly disgusting about this rubbish story is that it is apparently a distortion of an earlier story which claimed that the Jews demanded that Jesus Christ be set free. The name "Barabbas" is simply the Greek form of the Aramaic "bar Abba" which means "son of the Father." Thus "Jesus Barabbas" originally meant "Jesus the son of the Father," in other words, the usual Christian Jesus. When the earlier story claimed that the Jews wanted Jesus Barabbas to be set free it was referring to the usual Jesus. Somebody distorted the story by claiming that Jesus Barabbas was a different person to Jesus Christ and this fooled the Roman and Greek Christians who did not know the meaning of the name "Barabbas."
Lastly, the claim that the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples is also based on pagan superstition. In Roman mythology, the virgin born Romulus appeared to his friend on the road before he was taken up to heaven. (The theme of being taken up to heaven is found in scores of pagan myths and legends and even in Jewish stories.) It was claimed that Apollonius of Tyana had also appeared to his disciples after having been resurrected. It is interesting to note that the historical Apollonius was born more or less at the same time as the mythical Jesus was supposed to have been born. In legends people claimed that he had performed many miracles which were identical to those also ascribed to Jesus, such as exorcisms of demons and the raising to life of a dead girl.


Josephu’s text reads: “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 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.” The passage often quoted as proof of the existence of Christ is believed to have been inserted by a Roman Catholic bishop, Eusebius, in the fourth century A.D. Eusebius was a historian in his own right, but the bishop was more concerned with proving the legitimacy of the early Roman Catholic church than he was in historical accuracy. When the passage believed to be inserted by Eusebius on Jesus is removed, the text that occurs in Joshepus's The Jewish War flows in context. This text does not make any sense in the context of Josephus. In various other places, Josephus condemns would-be messiahs and rabble rousers as they led to the destruction of the Temple and of Judea. It is absurd to assume that he made an exception for JC. Pliny’s letter to Trajan, the curse on heretics in the synagogues and the report in Tacitus all point to an enormous amount of hostility towards Christian sects and Josephus, being a practicing Jew would hardly be immune. Yet the acceptance of this text demands that Josephus, alone of all non-Christian witnesses, took an opposite stance.
Furthermore, Josephus wrote under Flavian sponsorship with many Roman and some Jewish readers. If Pilate had executed JC, then certainly in the eyes of the Romans he must have been guilty of something. There is no reason to believe that Josephus would speak of a convicted criminal as a wise man wrongfully executed, to a Roman audience. Keep in mind that Josephus writes that emperor Titus affixed his signature to all of his works so certainly Josephus would have shared Titus’ motives.
I posted this at Nichola’s site yet I didn’t get a response. This will really sum up my view of Jesus and the Gospels:
Corinthians 15:12-16

"12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised." [NASB/NIV]

There are some devastating implications to be drawn from this passage. Paul expresses himself as though the raising of Christ from the dead is a matter of faith, not of historical record as evidenced by eyewitness to a physical, risen Jesus at Easter. He is so adamant about the necessity to believe that the dead will be raised, that he is prepared to state—and he repeats it four times—that if they are not, then Christ himself "has not been raised." If men he knew had witnessed the actual return of Jesus from the grave, I do not think he would have thought to make even a rhetorical denial of it.

Moreover, the verb for "witness" (martureo) is often used in the sense of witnessing to, of declaring one’s belief in, an item of faith, not of factual record (though it can mean this in some contexts). Such a meaning here is strongly supported by what follows this verb: kata tou theou, or "against God." Translators often seem uncertain of the exact import of this phrase, but Bauer’s Lexicon firmly declares it as meaning "give testimony in contradiction to God." The idea that Paul is trying to get across here is that if in fact God did not raise Jesus from death (which would have to be the conclusion, he says, if all of the dead are not raised) then, rhetorically speaking, he and other apostles have been contradicting God and lying about Jesus’ resurrection.

The point is, and it’s unmistakable, Paul is saying that knowledge about Jesus’ raising has come from God, and that his own preaching testimony, true or false, is something which relates to information which has come from God—in other words, through revelation. Not history, not apostolic tradition about recent events on earth. In all this discussion about the trueness of Christ’s resurrection, Paul’s standard is one of faith, faith based on God’s testimony—meaning, in scripture. (Cf. Romans 8:25, 10:9, 1 Thess. 4:14.) Historical human witness plays no part.

Paul speaks of JC as being "revealed", in the sense of a divine being, a saviour god in the sense of Attis, Mithras or Osiris.

All I care for is to know Christ, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings . . . [NEB]

This amazing silence is one that resonates throughout the entire record of early Christian correspondence, but we can focus on it through one passage in Paul. This striking and pervasive silence, perhaps the most telling of them all, can be summed up in one question: Where are the holy places?

In all the Christian writers of the 1st century, in all the devotion they display about Christ and the new faith, not one of them ever expresses the slightest desire to see the birthplace of Jesus, to visit Nazareth his home town, the sites of his preaching, the upper room where he held his Last Supper, the hill on which he was crucified, or the tomb where he was buried and rose from the dead. Not only is there no evidence that anyone showed an interest in such places, they go completely unmentioned. The words Bethlehem, Nazareth and Galilee never appear in the epistles, and the word Jerusalem is never used in connection with Jesus. Most astonishing of all, there is not a hint of pilgrimage to Calvary itself, where humanity’s salvation was consummated. How could such a place not have become the center of Christian devotion, how could it not have been turned into a shrine? Each year at Passover we would expect to find Christians observing their own celebration on the hill outside Jerusalem, performing a rite every Easter Sunday at the site of the nearby tomb. Christian sermonizing and theological meditation could hardly fail to be built around the places of salvation, not just the abstract events.

Do Christians avoid frequenting such places out of fear? Acts, possibly preserving a kernel of historical reality, portrays the Apostles as preaching fearlessly in the Temple in the earliest days, despite arrest and persecution, and the persecution has in any case been much exaggerated for the early decades. Even such a threat, however, should not and would not have prevented clandestine visits by Christians, and there were many other places of Jesus’ career whose visitation would have involved no danger. And, of course, there would have been no danger in mentioning them in their correspondence.

Even Paul seems immune to the lure of such places. He can speak, as in Philippians, of wanting to know Christ, to know the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings. And yet, does he rush to the hill of Calvary upon his conversion, to experience those sufferings the more vividly, to throw himself upon the sacred ground that bore the blood of his slain Lord? Does he stand before the empty tomb, the better to bring home to himself the power of Jesus’ resurrection, the better to feel the conviction that his own resurrection is guaranteed? This is a man whose letters reveal someone full of insecurities and self-doubts, possessed by his own demons, highly emotional, a man driven to preach else he would go mad, as he tells us in 1 Corinthians 9:16. Would he not have derived great consolation from visiting the Gethsemane garden, where Jesus is reported to have passed through similar horrors and self-doubts? Would his sacramental convictions about the Lord’s Supper, which he is anxious to impart to the Corinthians (11:23f), not have been heightened by a visit to the upper room in Jerusalem, to absorb the ambience of that hallowed place and occasion?

Once again, such considerations render unacceptable the standard rationalization that Paul was uninterested in the earthly life of Jesus. Moreover, when Paul undertakes to carry his mission to the gentiles, surely he would want—and need—to go armed with the data of Jesus’ life, with memories of the places Jesus had frequented, ready to answer the inevitable questions his new audiences would ask in their eagerness to hear all the details about the man who was the Son of God and Savior of the world. Instead, what does he do? By his own account in Galatians, he waits three years following his conversion before making a short visit to Jerusalem, "to get to know Cephas. I stayed with him for fifteen days, without seeing any of the other apostles except James, the brother of the lord." Nor was he to return there for another fourteen years. Did Paul learn all the data of Jesus life on that one occasion? Did he visit the holy places? Not having felt the urge to do so for three years, his silence on such things is perhaps not surprising. But if he did, can we believe he would not have shared these experiences—and they would have been intensely emotional ones—with his readers? If not here, then at least at some point in his many letters?

But it is not only the places of Jesus’ life and death. What about the relics? Jesus’ clothes, the things he used in his everyday life, the things he touched? Can we believe that such items would not have remained behind, to be collected, clamored for, to be seen and touched by the faithful themselves? Would not an apostle like Paul be anxious to carry such a memento of the man he preached? Would not a rivalry develop between apostles, between Christian communities (as it did later), to gain such mementos and relics for worship and as status symbols? Did not one single cup survive from the Last Supper—one that would be claimed to have touched Jesus’ own lips? Was there not a single nail with Jesus' flesh on it, not one thorn from the bloody crown, not the centurion's spear, not a piece of cloth from his garments gambled over by the soldiers at the foot of the cross—not, in fact, a host of relics claimed to be these very things, such as we find all through the Middle Ages?

Why is it only in the 4th century that pieces of "the true cross" begin to surface? Why is it left to Constantine to set up the first shrine on the supposed mount of Jesus’ death, and to begin the mania for pilgrimage to the holy sites that has persisted to this day? Why would someone in the first 100 years of the movement not similarly seek to walk on the same ground that the Son of God himself had so recently walked on? The total absence of such things in the first hundred years of Christian correspondence is perhaps the single strongest argument for regarding the entire Gospel account of Jesus' life and death as nothing but literary fabrication.

Deborah said...

BK,
Wow! You do realize this may take me a week, week and a half, or two to refute, yes? How about I refute one or two points at a time until it they are satisfactorily exhausted... or until I have to declare you the winner since I already know I'm up against a brainiac ("brainic" is meant with the highest degree of respect - I wish I could be referred to as a brainiac, believe me!), who's going to be difficult to debate. If you end up being a lawyer, you're hired already! Well... not that I've ever had to hire an attorney aside from divorce, but I'd hire you, none-the-less! :-)

Yes, I agreed to engage in a debate regarding the Historicity of Yeshua. However, in asking for proofs regarding the existence of the Sanhedrin and other great rabbis during the same time frame serves as a leg in my argument. This is a crucial point to be made as it speaks of the cultures' abilities and desire to identify revolutionary, charismatic, and important personalities who affected their lives. Let's make sure the powers of observation were fully engaged and able to recognize both Yeshua, who you say did not exist, and his contemporaries, other influential and significant rabbis, who you say did exist.

Regarding the Sanhedrin, yes, I do believe they existed, but as I commented on Nicholas' post, The Mistrial of the Ages, I do not believe Yeshua was brought before the Sanhedrin - before a council of the Sadducees, yes, the Sanhedrin, no.

G-d bless you!

Laila tov!