By LENNOX FARRELL
Is there extra-Biblical proof for the existence of the historical Jesus?
I recently read a posting that questioned the historical presence of Jesus the Christ; or Yeshua Hamaschia. The writer claimed that as a historical being, Jesus hadn’t existed; but that He had “been created by the Council of Nicea (the Nicene Council)”. Outside of the Bible is there any historical record of Jesus the Christ? Any supporting, non-Biblical evidence of His presence?
This is especially significant, not only for those who are Christians, but also for others who have felt the impact His example and teachings have had for millennia on social and religious precepts and practices: of ethical, legal, cultural, historical and Cosmic consequence? In fact, countless volumes of books and treatises have been written about – and wars fought over – the earth-shaking ideas of this carpenter-Rabbi from Nazareth; an obscure First Century village in Northern Israel.
Not formally trained myself in religious and theological scholarship, I’ll cite the opinions of others, Biblical, and non-Biblical; ranging between the 1st and the 21st Century. I am however, from my parents’ knees, well acquainted with the Scriptures. In 1995 I wrote and produced a musical, Soul Brother Job on an Old Testament favourite, the Book of Job. It was staged at the then Ford Centre for the Performing Arts, located in North York. In 1992 – the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s crimes – I also wrote and staged Warahoun, a play based on the life and ideas of St. Augustine, that magnificent 4th Century African thinker and theologian.
When was, and what occurred at, the Council of Nicea. First of all, there were two Councils of Nicea held three centuries apart: 325 AD and 787 AD. In between were five other Councils addressing issues of doctrine and governance. The first, convened at Nicea, and supported by the Emperor Constantine, was attended by more than 1,000 officials from every province, except Britain, in the Roman Empire (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_seven_Ecumenical_Councils).
The Emperor convened this council to settle a controversial issue, the relationship between Jesus Christ and God the Father. He wanted to establish universal agreement on it. The council drew up a creed, the original Nicene Creed. The council’s conclusions, based on the writings and teachings of 1st Century apostles like Paul of Tarsus (the Apostles’ Creed) that Jesus the Christ, “God’s only-begotten Son”, possessed the same Divine substance with God the Father. Therefore, the Council of Nicea was convened, not to confirm what was already confirmed, the historicity of Jesus, but based on centuries of apostolic scripture, to confirm His divinity. This subsequently became a canon of “Christian Trinitarianism”.
For want of a better comparison, what that Council did is understandable when compared, for example, with the founding of Black History Month. In 1926 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced February to be a time chosen to commemorate – not create – Black History, does it imply that there was no Black History before? That by making this announcement he created Black History? No! The Council of Nicea likewise did not create a historical Jesus. It confirmed His divinity with the Father, which, for Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians remains another issue altogether.
Why, too was this Council then called? First, the church had also recently emerged from yet another period of intense persecution. Centuries before, many of the original Apostles had been beheaded – if they were Roman citizens (Paul); crucified – if they were not (Peter); and banished if old (John the Revelator). Still considered a sect, the Christians had furthermore not endeared themselves to the rulers. They had even been accused by the Emperor Nero of setting the city on fire.
They, among other contentious precepts, had opposed the paganism of Emperor worship. They also preached a gospel of peace; as found in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Worst of all, they challenged the brutality of the gladiatorial contests and the seasonal wars waged to ensure regular supplies of slaves and wild beasts: spectacles of blood-letting in the Coliseum.
In fact, the opposition of Christians to this bloodshed had a significant effect centuries later on these contests. How brutal were these “games”? During one season, it is estimated, more than 5,000 victims were slaughtered, in addition to some 15,000 wild animals. But in one specific fight, after a gladiator had been vanquished and the Emperor had given the “thumbs down” allowing the other gladiator to kill the one fallen, a Christian named Telemachus, ran into the arena. Placing himself between the two men, he denounced the carnage. His condemnation, so enraged the spectators, they stoned him to death. However, so impressed was Honorius, the Emperor, that he issued an edict banning future gladiatorial fights. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Telemachus)
Are Christians today similarly moved to action against crimes like those of human trafficking? It’s a thought worthy of martyrdom commemorating Passover (Easter) 2015!
What, in addition are credible, non-Biblical evidences which support the historicity of Jesus? Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) writer, Ryan Turner says, yes! (https://carm.org/jesus-exist)
According to his, “Historical Textual Evidence for Jesus’ Existence”: “There are (the quotes reformatted) over 42 sources within 150 years after Jesus’ death which mention his existence, and record many events of his life. These – Biblically-based – (19 Traditional New Testament authors) include: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Author of Hebrews, James, Peter and Jude. Other writers and commentators include some Christians (not Biblical-based), “Heretical” and some Secular.
Those Christians (20 Early Christians, writing outside the New Testament) include: Clement of Rome, 2 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Didache, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Fragments of Papias, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Melito of Sardis, Diognetus, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, and Epistula Apostolorum.
Those Heretical (Four Writings) are the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, Apocryphon of John, and Treatise on Resurrection. And those Secular (Nine Sources) are Josephus (Jewish historian), Tacitus (Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (Roman politician), Phlegon (freed slave who wrote histories), Lucian (Greek satirist), Celsus (Roman philosopher), Mara Bar Serapion (prisoner awaiting execution), Suetonius and Thallus.”
There is additional textual evidence for the historical Jesus. Some ironically come from the life of Tiberius Caesar, the Roman Emperor who reigned during Jesus’ ministry. “Ten authors who mention his existence within 150 years of his life include: Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Seneca, Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Valerius Maximum and Luke.”
The point being made here is this: if one removes Luke (since he is a New Testament source), there are nine secular non-Christian sources for Tiberius Caesar. This means that there are just as many non-Christian sources for Jesus’ existence as there are for Tiberius Caesar’s. In fact, the ratio of comments made (secular and non-secular) of Jesus compared with Tiberius are 42:10. In short, there are over four times as many sources for Jesus’ life and deeds than there are for Tiberius Caesar’s. If one is going to doubt the existence of Jesus, one must also reject the proven historical existence of Tiberius Caesar.
Finally, it is understandable why many Black scholars and activists today oppose any affiliation with “Christianity”. However, what is supremely ironic is that when Christianity first emerged as Monotheism, not only did it come out of Africa, but the proponent most cited for it was an African: Moses. Coming out of Africa, Monotheism: the worship of One God: The I Am established the Ten Commandments; principles adopted in every judicial system today. Sadly, when Christianity re-emerged centuries later out of Europe, it was called Christendom: among the worst forms of lawlessness and genocides inflicted on Africa and the world. The Christendom of Europe turned the Good Samaritan into the Global Bandit.
However, the Biblical motifs of the Good Samaritan imbue the exemplars in our time: a Dr. King, a Bishop Tutu, a Rosa Parks; still calling us to Justice. To Truth. To Reconciliation. And why not? For isn’t this what Passover (Easter) is about? That while on the cross didn’t Jesus cry out, “Father forgive them?” Wasn’t this the ultimate call for Truth and for Reconciliation?
For Easter 2015 and beyond, be blessed; not stressed!