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The Case for Christ IV: Who was the historical Jesus?

Did Jesus really exist? Or was he an ideal that was championed by a poor and desperate class?(as the philosopher Georg Hegel once theorized) Who was this Jesus? Who was this important albeit controversial and divisive, historical figure?

In this post I will try to briefly answer some of these questions about the historicity of Jesus.

1)The life of Jesus was mentioned in non christian sources very early on. Great Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius both speak about Jesus.  Tacitus in his Annals (AD 116) writes about Jesus as follows:

"Christus, from whom the name has it origins, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular."  
Jesus was also spoken about in the Babylonian Talmud where it says,

 "They hanged Jesus of Nazareth because he practiced sorcery, led men astray, and seduced Israel from her allegiance."
Most famously the Roman Jewish historian Josephus writes also about Jesus in his Antiquities as he reflects:

"Now there appeared about this time Jesus a Man of wisdom, 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 many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles."
These quotes were written about 50 to 100 years after the death of Jesus.  There has been no other ancient historical figure who has so much written about him in such a short time after his death.  To put things in perspective the earliest source of the Iliad and The Odyssey both authored by Homer were written hundreds of years after Homer's death.

So the question remains: What was it about this Jesus figure that was so fascinating that caused secular historians to write down their observations instead of just relying on oral history?

2)The life of Jesus was written about from Christian sources as early as 30 years after his death. The first written accounts of the nascent Christian church came from the writings of St. Paul particularly in his writings to the Romans, Galatians, and Corinthians. Paul was also credited as writing the most detailed account about Jesus' resurrection. Paul also wrote about:
 a)the last supper
 b)Jesus' role as the new Adam
 c)Jesus descending from Abraham
 d)Jesus being born under the Jewish law.
All of these important writings took place only a generation after the death of Jesus.  What makes Paul such a pivotal figure is the fact that before his conversion to Christianity he was one of its most ardent persecutors. After his conversion Paul spent years in isolation merging his understandings of the Jewish faith with the teachings of Christ.  It is important to note that Paul studied under the greatest teacher of the Jewish faith, Gamaliel. So the man who was responsible to for writing most of the new testament of the bible did so with much knowledge of Jewish teaching and tradition.

The second earliest Christian sources come from the gospel accounts. The evangelists Matthew, Mark Luke and John had a writing style that was careful not to add or subtract from the teachings of Christ. Their primary focus wasn't a literary one.  Their focus instead was to record the sayings of Jesus and present them in the most straight forward manner.  That's why there are so many similarities in the synoptic gospels because they were all working from the same sources, that being the actual accounts of Jesus' apostles. What makes these accounts so reliable is that the early Christian community already possessed a teaching authority which were Jesus' actual disciples.  These gospel accounts were always written from a communal perspective instead of a singular one.

That's why the Gnostic gospels were rejected by the magesterium (the teaching authority) when they were written about 300 years later as those accounts did not come from the earliest disciples.  This same teaching body(the magesterium) extends even now 2000 years later to the current bishops and dates back all the way to the apostles. Yes - the apostles - the actual men who walked, ate, talked and lived with Jesus. This feat is extraordinary given the fact that no other religion can claim to have this level of fidelity with the exception of Judaism to some degree.  To give perspective not even Islam which has survived over 1400 years and has become a robust religion has this same teaching authority.  It is this teaching authority gives Christianity its unique place in the history of world religions.

This post concludes my Case for Christ series as based on Karl Adam's sweeping work, The Son of God. I will be writing in the future about some similar topics, but not from this source.  It is my hope that this brief series has awakened in you the sense of the greatness of the figure of Jesus Christ.


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