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."

Um... what?

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."

Exodus 24:7

"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 :"

Deuteronomy 31:24-25

"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 of God 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.


Views: 68

Tags: Archaeology, Bible, Dating, Historicity, Jesus, John, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Messiah, More…NewTestament, OldTestament, Paul, Prophecy

Comment by The Big Blue Frog on July 22, 2010 at 1:01pm
Great post, although I don't agree that it's a foregone conclusion that Moses wrote the Torah. Later writers could have inserted the statements about Moses writing the events down. It would have been highly unlikely that Moses would have written about himself from the third person.
Comment by KEVIN GRUBBS on July 22, 2010 at 4:00pm
All is myth out of egypt,before the abrahamic faiths. Only the names have changed.
Comment by Zack on July 22, 2010 at 11:15pm
LOL, just to clarify. ahah not necessary we know. Funny though.
Comment by Obie Holmen on July 23, 2010 at 8:53am
An interesting post, but you confuse the question of the divinity of Jesus (a legitimate and debatable question) with the existence of the human, Jesus of Nazareth (which historians would consider settled and beyond dispute). Your post is lengthy and I cannot respond to all your points, but I will attempt to answer a few of your questions.

You are correct that the first documents that we still have copies of (Paul's letters) date from a generation following Jesus' death and that the gospels are later. But, scholars are quite convinced that earlier documents existed which are now lost. One of these is the famous "Q" document which is believed to have been a list of the sayings of Jesus which later gospel authors used as a source for their compilations (the name "Q" comes from the German word "Quelle"for "source"). Scholars also are virtually unanimous in seeing the gospels as based heavily on an oral tradition passed down around the ancient campfires. The recently discovered Gospel of Thomas may also be an early sayings source.

Why didn't Jesus' own disciples write down an eyewitness report?--probably because they were all illiterate as would have been the case for the vast majority of the population of the day, especially the lower class followers of the Jesus movement. It would also appear that the early Jesus' movement was apocalyptic in their expectation that they were living in the end times--why write anything down if the world would end soon?

I would agree that Paul's letters and the gospels contain significant theological and mythological layers atop the purely historical. To wonder and debate about the process in which the early Jesus movment with a mixed bag of political, social, and religious reformist or revolutionary ideas evolved into a new world religion which portrayed its early leader as "Son of God" is a fascinating and debatable endeavor. However, to doubt the human existence of the man and this early movement is skepticism run amok.

My recently released work of historical fiction, A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle, explores these issues in depth.
Comment by willailla on July 23, 2010 at 3:17pm
Hello, Obie, [

“...the existence of the human, Jesus of Nazareth (which historians would consider settled
and beyond dispute).”

Aside from hearsay, what eyewitness proof is there that Jesus existed?

“...scholars are quite convinced that earlier documents existed which are now lost. One of
these is the famous "Q" document...”

Scholars are not convinced, some merely postulate based on an assumption.

“Scholars also are virtually unanimous in seeing the gospels as based heavily on an oral
tradition passed down...”

All scholars--not one dissenting voice in the whole world? How reliable are oral traditions?
Were these orators divinely inspired, too? Not withstanding oral tradition, the written bible,
itself, is a jumbled up mess. So much so that it has undergone numerous revisions since the
earliest editions. Were these revisionists divinely inspired, too--and how would you know?

“However, to doubt the human existence of the man and this early movement is skepticism
run amok.”

And your proof?
Comment by Obie Holmen on July 23, 2010 at 3:23pm
What would you have from me, "I was there, I saw it?" When dealing with ancient histories we must rely on reasonable assumptions and scholarly consensus. That a man called Jesus of Nazareth walked and talked and was involved with a movement in the early first century that now bears his name is beyond reasonable dispute.
Comment by Obie Holmen on July 23, 2010 at 3:44pm
Willaila,

Please read my post closely before you make assumptions about my meaning. Never once did I suggest divine inspiration. I have not argued any theological or religous significance of the man Jesus, merely that as a human, he existed. You assume I argued theological or religious points of view regarding the man; I did not.

The proof of his human existence (not divine which is certainly open to question) is circumstantial but compelling. As a former trial lawyer, I often reminded jurors that circumstantial evidence can be more persuasive than eyewitness. I won't bore you with the first year law school examples. In any case, any potential eyewitnesses are now 2000 years dead so the only available proof is hearsay, by definition. Suffice it to say, the overwhelming consensus of scholars of the history of the first century would agree that Jesus the human existed. His religious significance, if any, is open to debate. Please don't assume that I make any religious claims.
Comment by willailla on July 23, 2010 at 4:25pm
I didn't ask you for proof of Jesus' divinity--merely proof of his existence. Do you have any?

As a lawyer you should know that hearsay evidence is not admissible in a court of law in the US, as a rule. In some rare exceptions if the voracity of a sayer can be examined under oath and subject to cross examination it may be allowed. But ancient hearsay for the existence of a 'human' Jesus is not admissible because, as you say, the sayers can't be question. No court would accept such evidence.

'circumstantial evidence' is not the same as hearsay evidence, mon ami. Pray tell, who are these scholars who overwhelmingly are supposed to convince us by hearsay evidence?

Sorry to beat a dead horse but I forgot to insert the following quote:

"Although many people say the Bible was passed down verbally from generation to
generation before it was written, there is no proof this actually occurred. All those who wrote
the Bible are long dead, and there are no testimonies from them or people they spoke with
saying that all they did was write down the family histories and campfire stories that had
come down to them. Can it be proven that the men who wrote the Bible just put down oral
traditions on paper? It cannot. So when people say the Bible was passed down from
generation to generation, they are just stating a theory. There is no actual proof to
substantiate it." Truth and Tradition
Comment by Obie Holmen on July 23, 2010 at 4:37pm
Willaila,

None that will satisfy you, and I'm a fool for trying.
Comment by willailla on July 23, 2010 at 4:51pm
A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.

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