Did Jesus exist? Was he crucified? The historicity of Jesus deals with the issue of analyzing the historical record to determine whether Jesus lived, as well as whether any of the events set forth in the Gospels, such as the crucifixion, happened. Historicity is to be distinguished from reconstructing the historical life of Jesus. We are solely looking at the issue of whether there is historical evidence of Jesus apart from the Gospels.
It is beyond the scope of this five-part article to deal with the entirety of the historical record and, therefore, we will focus upon only two records at this time and will return to this issue at a later date. The records to be reviewed are The Antiquities of the Jews, written by Josephus (Part I), and the Annals, written by Tacitus (Part II).
Josephus wrote in Chapter 3, Book XVIII of his Antiquities:
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.
Why should we believe this account? There are a number of reasons which include: (1) the identity of Josephus; (2) date of the writing of the Annals; (3) mentions of Jesus by Josephus in other of his works; (4) his profession of wanting the facts, the true facts, to be recorded; and (5) his accuracy in presenting the facts of other events recorded in his works.
Joseph ben Matthias, later Titus Falvius Josephus, was born in Jerusalem around 37 AD to a father of priestly descent and a mother claiming royal descent. As a general, he fought against the Romans in the First Roman Jewish War. He surrendered after the siege of Jotapata to Vespasian about whom Josephus made the prophecy that Vespasian would rule the world. Vespasian kept Josephus as a hostage and as a translator. Later, after Vespasian became Emperor, Josephus was granted his freedom and took the Flavian family name. He became close friends with Vespasian son, Titus, and fully defected to Rome. Thereafter, as Titus besieged Jerusalem, Josephus acted as his translator. With this background, as a Jew who defected to Rome, it is highly unlikely that Josephus would write accounts of Jesus, if Jesus were not a historical personage. This account confirms both the existence of Jesus, as well as his crucifixion.
Many noted scholars have concluded that the crucifixion of Jesus, as well as obviously his existence, are historical facts. One, John P. Meier, states that several criterion proves the historicity of Jesus and the crucifixion including the criterion of embarrassment, by which he means that early Christians would not have invented the death of their leader, particularly by crucifixion; the criterion of multiple attestation, that is the confirmation of Jesus by many different sources; the criterion of coherence, that is it fits with other established historical elements; and, finally, the criterion of non-rejection, by which he means that ancient sources did not dispute either the existence of Jesus, nor his crucifixion.
In my next blog, I will continue with an examination of the Annals by Tacitus.
Please let me know if these articles are of value to you, as well as topics you would like to see discussed in future blogs.