Just to clarify: I don't mean "going on a date with Jesus." I mean historically determining the dates of his existence, although I like to think that the title caught your attention.
I've been really battling with proof of his divinity lately. I'm not too concerned about proof of his existence. I reckon if he did exist he was probably a Ghandi or Mandela-type figure, so I'm not too phased about whether he existed or not, although there are plenty of scholars with a fair amount of credibility, such as Prof G.A. Wells , who reckon he is a totally mythological figure.
What I specifically have a problem with is the shockingly large gap in time between the death of Jesus (5BC - 29/30AD) and the first scriptural mention of him.
Paul of Tarsus, a first century Hellenistic Jew, dictated letters to various churches and individuals from 48 - 68 AD. He was not personally an eye-witness of Jesus' ministry, but he states himself (note the circular proof) that he was acquainted with people who had known Jesus (such as the apostles Peter and John, and James, the brother of Jesus). Paul also refers to Jesus' teachings and events in his life such as Jesus' opinions on divorce, the second coming, and the remuneration of religious leaders. Likewise, Paul alludes to Jesus' humanity, the Last Supper, his crucifixion, and reports of his resurrection.
The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are written after Paul's letters earliest date. The first three are known as the synoptic gospels and share much material.
Matthew: 80 - 90 AD
Mark: Just prior to 70 AD
Luke: 80 - 90 AD
John: 90 -100 AD
Different times are accepted though with some dates as early as 40 AD and some as late as the second century.
Archaeologically, the earliest known manuscript containing evidence for the New Testament's writings, though still not its content, is a papyrus fragment (called P52) dating to about 90 - 160 AD.
If you're starting to get a bit annoyed with the wishy-washy-ness of all of this, hang in there for a bit longer, because there's more.
Jo Ann H. Moran Cruz and Richard Gerberding write in Medieval Worlds: An Introduction to European History
(2004, pp 44 - 45):
"Thus our prime sources about the life of Jesus were written within
about fifty years of his death by people who perhaps knew him, but certainly by people who knew people who knew him. If this is beginning to sound slightly second hand, we may wish to consider two points. First... most ancient and medieval history was written from a much greater distance. Second, all the Gospel writers could have talked to people who were actually on the spot, and while perhaps not eyewitnesses themselves, their position is certainly the next best thing."
There is, considering the earliest date given (the date for Paul's letters in about 48 AD), a horrible discrepancy between the date of Jesus' death (29/30 AD) and the first time someone writes something about him.
Approximately two decades
in fact. Why is this? Why did it take twenty years before anyone wrote about the Messiah, the Son of God who was prophecised in the Old Testament?
The Old Testament was transferred from a long-standing oral tradition to
the written mode approximately 3000 years ago, give or take. I do realise that dating this also depends on which book, or scroll, we're referring to.
Moses wrote the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) at the direct command of God around 1500 BC. Isaiah and Jeremiah also received specific instruction to write down their prophecies, so we know that the Middle East had experienced a rise in literacy quite a few centuries before Jesus rocked up.
"Then he (Moses) took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do
everything the LORD has said; we will obey."
"After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, he gave this command
to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD :"
"This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you."
Jeremiah 30:22 (around 600 BC)
"Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness."
Isaiah 30:8 (around 700 BC)
"But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and
there to increase knowledge."
Daniel 12:4 (around 530 BC)
There is also plenty in the Old Testament that counts as prophecies that predict or foretell the coming of the Messiah, namely Messianic prophecies.
The Old Testament verses are the prophecy; the New Testament verses proclaim the fulfillment. Check them all out for yourself.
Born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:21-23)
* A descendant of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 22:18; Matthew 1:1; Galatians 3:16)
* Of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10; Luke 3:23, 33; Hebrews 7:14)
* Of the house of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Matthew 1:1)
* Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4-7)
* Taken to Egypt (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:14-15)
* Herod´s killing of the infants (Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:16-18)
* Anointed by the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2; Matthew 3:16-17)
* Heralded by the messenger of the Lord (John the Baptist) (Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1; Matthew 3:1-3)
* Would perform miracles (Isaiah 35:5-6; Matthew 9:35)
* Would preach good news (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:14-21)
* Would minister in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 4:12-16) Would cleanse the Temple (Malachi 3:1; Matthew 21:12-13)
* Would first present Himself as King 173,880 days from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25; Matthew 21:4-11)
* Would enter Jerusalem as a king on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:4-9)
* Would be rejected by Jews (Psalm 118:22; I Peter 2:7)
* Die a humiliating death (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53) involving:
1. rejection (Isaiah 53:3; John 1:10-11; 7:5,48)
2. betrayal by a friend (Psalm 41:9; Luke 22:3-4; John 13:18)
3. sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12; Matthew 26:14-15)
4. silence before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7; Matthew 27:12-14)
5. being mocked (Psalm 22: 7-8; Matthew 27:31)
6. beaten (Isaiah 52:14; Matthew 27:26)
7. spit upon (Isaiah 50:6; Matthew 27:30)
8. piercing His hands and feet (Psalm 22:16; Matthew 27:31)
9. being crucified with thieves (Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 27:38)
10. praying for His persecutors (Isaiah 53:12; Luke 23:34)
11. piercing His side (Zechariah 12:10; John 19:34)
12. given gall and vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21, Matthew 27:34, Luke 23:36)
13. no broken bones (Psalm 34:20; John 19:32-36)
14. buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9; Matthew 27:57-60)
15. casting lots for His garments (Psalm 22:18; John 19:23-24)
* Would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:10; Mark 16:6; Acts 2:31)
* Ascend into Heaven (Psalm 68:18; Acts 1:9)
* Would sit down at the right hand of God (Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 1:3)
To name but a few.
Now, without getting into the glaringly obvious issue of self-fulfilled prophecies, since we all know that Jesus' disciples, if they really were ever his disciples (assuming they existed in the first place) would have read the Old Testament, why is it that no one wrote about Jesus while he was still alive and ministering? Why did no one write about his death right after his death? If they were trying to escape persecution, and we know that pretty much all of the disciples with the exception of John were cruelly martyred for spreading the Gospels, why did they feel the need to wait two decades
before they wrote about it? Some, like his disciple John, even waited until he was on the brink of death from old age (he walked with Jesus and the book of John is reportedly written between 90 and 100 AD) before documenting the life of the Messiah.
Considering the huge amount of information pertaining to Jesus and the ways Christians should live their lives contained in the book of John I would completely disregard anything in that book, especially because of the time frame. Can you remember, verbatim, what your best friend said in your 21st speech? Give it a shot. For me that was two years ago and I sure as hell do not feel like I'm in a position to be reciting it to anyone.
Some have answered this question saying that the disciples were too busy walking with Jesus at the time to write about it. I find this strange because I'm sure they must have spoken to other literate people or someone must have seen (since the entire New Testament places so much dependence on eye witness testimony) Jesus walking on water or turning water into wine. But no one says anything. This same person who posed such an answer explained the twenty year gap away by saying that the disciples continued ministering so they didn't have time. You have got to be kidding me. It's the Son
who's existence was prophecised
in the Bible.
What am I missing?
More answers I've received after posing this question on Christian forums:"The Gospels were written as the eye witnesses started to notice all these accounts of a Jesus that did not exist, and they knew Him personally.""Due to the fact that the disciples of Jesus Christ had to deal with 'mystery cults' they had a tendency to keep the 'straight goods' about the mysteries to themselves - so perhaps the gospel of John like the extra chapter version of Mark was a pastor's only version for a while - but then, as it is written "all that is secret will become known.""I'd say because Jesus said He'd be back soon the witnesses thought there was no need to write it down until they all started to get a bit older and thought .. hey .. soon to Him maybe a long time for me .. or something to that affect."
If anyone finds these arguments in the least bit convincing, please coat yourself in toxic glow-in-the-dark paint right now so that we can identify you. Alternatively, if you feel that you have a more verifiable option or alternative to offer me, I will welcome any additional information. I'm still convinced that I must be missing something. Some crucial document of some kind. Anything that will prove to me that the billions of people in the world who believe in the divinity of Jesus are not basing their beliefs on a two decade old "eye witness" text written two millennia ago about a man prophecised to come down to earth and do some crazy shit three millennia ago.