The Jesus Question

Photo Credit: RubioBuitrago via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: RubioBuitrago via Compfight cc

It is Christmas day as I write this article and I thought it fitting to write some of my thoughts about the man to whom this day is dedicated. In the process of letting go of my religious beliefs, Jesus was the last to go.

As a Christian, I was a big fan of preacher and author, Josh McDowell, who claimed to have spent his younger years in an earnest effort to disprove Christianity, yet could not do so because he couldn’t find a way to refute the person, death and resurrection of Jesus. For many years, I felt the same way as well.

However, this argument presupposes two things: One, that Jesus was a real, historical figure; and two, that the accounts of his miracles (especially his resurrection) are factual, accurate and reliable.

For most of my life, I was convinced that I had a “personal relationship” with him. I could “feel his presence” and talk to him, sing praises to him, worship him. Then I began to realize that all I ever knew about Jesus, I learned in Sunday School, or through the Bible, or through a sermon or books written by Christian authors.

And then I thought it was such a joke for me to claim to have a personal relationship with an entity whom I only know about through second-hand sources, an entity I have not even seen, heard, touched or smelled (or tasted, just to round out the senses).

How do I know that the picture of Jesus in my head was the real and actual Jesus? Was there even a real and actual Jesus?

So I set out to learn and study more about him. I was especially interested in material that was scholarly and as unbiased as possible. I didn’t want anything with an agenda (although that is quite difficult), and I had to do a lot of reading, cross-referencing, listening to debates, arguments, counter-arguments and finally letting everything sink in, letting the emotions dissipate, and doing my own thinking and reflection.

I would just like to share my personal realizations so far in this little quest of mine.

I do not have a clear stand on whether or not Jesus was a real, historical figure. I am around 60% convinced that he is historical because of traditional scholarship and also because of agnostic scholars such as Bart Ehrman. I used to scoff at the idea that Jesus is pure myth but Robert Price and Richard Carrier make some intelligent and compelling arguments for this case and I am intrigued enough to do further readings and reflection on them.

I have reason to highly suspect the miracle accounts. Jesus may have been a real person who existed in history, but much about him may have been embellished and even contrived. The gospels are not first-hand accounts of Jesus’ life as most people believe. They are most probably not written by the people whose names they bear (e.g. the book of Matthew was not really written by Matthew). One has to remember that Matthew and John were illiterate, Aramaic-speaking Jews while all the copies of the gospels that we have are written in highly literate Greek. Moreover, they were written at least 30 to 60 years after the events had taken place — that is more than enough time for legends and fiction to develop. Besides, we do not even have the originals of these documents but rather copies of copies of copies of copies.

We might think that it would be easy for actual eyewitnesses to refute the gospels if they had not been factual. But how exactly would they do that? If a document reaches another city where no one has heard of Jesus, and one person preaches it so fervently there, would there be an eyewitness to refute what he says?

Even in our generation, we have charismatic personalities able to convince large numbers of people to believe their slant of “truth” — think of political leaders like Hitler or Mao, or religious founders like Joseph Smith or Felix Manalo.

Even with the internet, we still get our fair share of people believing in myths and false tales. Just look at your Facebook page at the people who still post the hoaxes about those colored bars found in toothpaste tubes, or who tell you (wrongly) how to circumvent Facebook’s new privacy policy.

Many historical documents (even supposedly reliable ones) are full of “miracles” simply because people at that time were more superstitious and less knowledgeable about science and hence explained the unexplainable with magic or stories of divine intervention.

I do not claim to have all the answers about Jesus, or that my ideas are right, and honestly, it’s more confusing now than before when I only listened to one side of the argument. But I would not have it any other way. I was raised believing that this man’s life was the most important thing in my life (and in all life, for that matter) — and millions around the world, including many of my closest friends, still believe it. I owe it to myself and to them to find out the truth.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman by profession and an educator by obsession. You may email him at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

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3 thoughts on “The Jesus Question”

  1. “Was there even a real and actual Jesus?” I find this to be one of the most difficult things to believe, that someone could doubt that Jesus even existed. Yes, there is a lot of debate only brought on by very biased people.

    “Following is a list of extra-biblical (outside of the Bible) references of biblical events, places, etc. The list is not exhaustive but is very representative of what is available.

    Flavius Josephus (AD 37?-101?, a Jewish historian) mentions John the Baptist and Herod – Antiquities, Book 18, ch. 5, par. 2
    “Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.”
    Flavius Josephus (AD 37?-101?) mentions Jesus – Antiquities, Book 18, ch. 3, par. 3.
    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, (9) those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; (10) 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.
    There is debate among scholars as to the authenticity of this quote since it is so favorable to Jesus. For more information on this, please see Regarding the quotes from the historian Josephus about Jesus
    Flavius Josephus (AD 37?-101?) mentions James, the brother of Jesus – Antiquities, Book 20, ch. 9.
    “Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done.”
    Flavius Josephus (AD 37?-101?) mentions Ananias the High Priest who was mentioned in Acts 23:2
    Now as soon as Albinus was come to the city of Jerusalem, he used all his endeavors and care that the country might be kept in peace, and this by destroying many of the Sicarii. But as for the high priest, Ananias (25) he increased in glory every day, and this to a great degree, and had obtained the favor and esteem of the citizens in a signal manner; for he was a great hoarder up of money
    Acts 23:2, “And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him [Paul] on the mouth.”
    Tacitus (A.D. c.55-A.D. c.117, Roman historian) mentions “Christus” who is Jesus – Annals 15.44
    “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, 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 centre and become popular.”
    Ref. from http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.mb.txt
    Thallus (Circa AD 52, eclipse of the sun) Thallus wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time. His writings are only found as citations by others. Julius Africanus, who wrote about AD 221, mentioned Thallus’ account of an eclipse of the sun.
    “On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.”
    Is this a reference to the eclipse at the crucifixion? Luke 23:44-45, “And it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 the sun being obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two.”
    The oddity is that Jesus’ crucifixion occurred at the Passover which was a full moon. It is not possible for a solar eclipse to occur at a full moon. Note that Julius Africanus draws the conclusion that Thallus’ mentioning of the eclipse was describing the one at Jesus’ crucifixion. It may not have been.
    Julius Africanus, Extant Writings, XVIII in the Ante Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), vol. VI, p. 130. as cited in Habermas, Gary R., The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company) 1996.
    Pliny the Younger mentioned Christ. Pliny was governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. Pliny wrote ten books. The tenth around AD 112.
    “They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”
    Pliny, Letters, transl. by William Melmoth, rev. by W.M.L. Hutchinson (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1935), vol. II, X:96 as cited in Habermas, Gary R., The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company) 1996.
    The Talmud
    “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.” But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!”
    Gal. 3:13, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.”
    Luke 22:1-2, “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching. 2And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how they might put Him to death; for they were afraid of the people.”
    This quotation was taken from the reading in The Babylonian Talmud, transl. by I. Epstein (London: Soncino, 1935), vol. III, Sanhedrin 43a, p. 281 as cited in Habermas, Gary R., The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company) 1996.
    Lucian (circa 120-after 180) mentions Jesus. Greek writer and rhetorician.
    “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.”
    Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 1113, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, transl. by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949), vol. 4, as cited in Habermas, Gary R., The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company) 1996.
    Though Lucian opposed Christianity, he acknowledges Jesus, that Jesus was crucified, that Christians worship him, and that this was done by faith.
    ___________________
    Sources

    McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict. San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1979.
    Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1996.
    Encarta on the Web at http://encarta.msn.com

    Plus, a little common sense. Why would people make Himself up? To be ridiculed for their beliefs and to eventually be killed for it? Something must have happened to someone around that time. BTW, did you see the Josh McDowell citation in there?

    Your assertion that ancients were illiterate lack any proof. When they were written is very hotly contested, with good evidence that all of the new testament was written before 70 A.D. When word of the resurrection spread to towns, people may not have been jet setters, but they got around.

    “Even in our generation, we have charismatic personalities able to convince large numbers of people to believe their slant of “truth”. Hitler, Mao, Joseph Smith, Felix Manalo. What does these people have in common? The quest for power. What did the early Christians do? Did they go out on military campaigns to force people to convert? Did they preach in such a way that new converts gave them all their worldly possessions? Nope. Big difference.

    “Many historical documents (even supposedly reliable ones) are full of “miracles” simply because people at that time were more superstitious and less knowledgeable about science and hence explained the unexplainable with magic or stories of divine intervention.” Your repeated assertions that ancients were a bunch of bumbling fools I have addressed in several of your other posts.

    ” Besides, we do not even have the originals of these documents but rather copies of copies of copies of copies.” Many findings to compare. Again, but one: https://carm.org/manuscript-evidence . Plenty more options with just a slight amount of typing to find many, many more.

    “I was raised believing that this man’s life was the most important thing in my life (and in all life, for that matter) — and millions around the world, including many of my closest friends, still believe it. I owe it to myself and to them to find out the truth.” Enough said.

  2. It would be more interesting if you could read Carrier’s rebuttal of each of the points you mentioned here in his peer-reviewed book, On the Historicity of Jesus…he discusses at length, the arguments from Josephus, Tacitus, and so on, as well as the manuscript-evidence link you posted. Although I see the logic in both, I find his explanations more compelling. They are too long to repeat here so I’ll just leave it up to you if you’ll read them or not.

    Christian scholars have an inherent bias to confirm their belief and even though they work very hard to be objective, it is very difficult for them to present ideas contrary to the church community they belong to (or risk some social backlash). So while I am not saying that all Christian scholars are intentionally being biased and deceitful, that belief has somehow got to affect their stand on the matter.

    To answer your question at the end, “Why would people make him (Jesus) up?” Well, think about it, people made up other gods and fictional characters, many with “biographies” that place them in actual human history (called Euhemerism). Now why would people do that? I don’t know exactly why but they did, and if they could make stuff up about other “gods” then it’s not so implausible to think they would make things up about Jesus.

    To answer another point — I think you should be more careful about accusing me of “asserting” things like the ancients being illiterate or that they were “bumbling fools.” I do not recall giving such a blanket generalization. In this article, I specifically mentioned only that Matthew and John were illiterate given their backgrounds, which numerous scholars agree with (and if you finish the sentence, you’ll see that I meant illiterate relative to the highly classical Greek of the gospels — yes, I could have written that better to avoid misunderstanding).

    I do not also recall generalizing ancient authors as “bumbling fools.” If I remember right, I described them as primitive and superstitious, a word you also used. So I’m sorry but this seems to be a straw man fallacy on your part, unless you can show me exactly where I said what you said I said.

  3. So I did read quite a bit from Carrier. I could only make it so far. I find his arguments unconvincing. Part of the reason is his attitude. Not the best reason to disgree with someone, I know. However, it seems to stem from a confirmation bias. It only seems to be convincing if that is what you want to believe. It seems like he has a preconceived idea, and writes to attempt to justify his position. His attitude seems to preclude the notions that there can be a God, especially in Jesus, and that he could be wrong and everyone who disagrees with him could not possibly be right. I did not find one piece of his writings that made me pause to say that he could be right or that he even made a good point.

    “Christian scholars have an inherent bias to confirm their belief and even though they work very hard to be objective, it is very difficult for them to present ideas contrary to the church community they belong to (or risk some social backlash). So while I am not saying that all Christian scholars are intentionally being biased and deceitful, that belief has somehow got to affect their stand on the matter.” This goes for all writers, including scientists, especially when trying to state something outside of their scope of training. It goes for agnostics and athiests, too. Your point does seem to lose merit when, at other points, you say that their is such a wide variety of Christians and point out different denominations. Their is plenty of diversity within the body of Christ, especially when it comes to secondary issues. I have a tendency to gravitate toward authors, who, like myself, have changed positions because of evidence they found compelling.

    To your point about making up of other “gods”, there can be reasons people would do that. Some believe the Roman and Greek gods (among others) were made up as fiction and over time, people either chose to “worship” that particular God and some eventually believed it, not realizing why they were made up to begin with. Specifically about Jesus, making up a fictional person seems unlikely. The time frame and assertions lead to a reasonable conclusion (which can be an extremely long outline) that He was not a fictional person. As far as claiming that He is God, when Mohammed made his claims, he lead 70 plus offensive campaigns and forced people to believe. Christianity spread way too quickly, especially in the areas where the Bible states He lived. It is one argument for outlying areas (which you and I disagree about), and another about the immediate area. If I were to claim that my best friend was God after he died, I would not claim that he physically resurrected and was around for 40 or so days and saw hundreds of people. If I were to make it up, I would not write stories about it and show myself and my other friends in the way the apostles did. I would most likely be going for a power grab and not humble myself the way that Jesus’ followers did. And I absolutely, positively would not die for that lie.

    As far as the bumbling fools assertion, it is based on the overall presentation of ancients people. I did not mean it as, nor do I see it as a strawman. You did not mention the physician, Luke. Your choices for people of Antiquities only seem to mention that (the two you mentioned by name) there were illiterate Aramaic speaking Jews (which many scholars disagree with) who could not have possibly written the Greek text (which, since you say we do not have the originals, how do you know the originals were written in greek?), and were superstitious, less knowledgeable (about science) “and hence explained the unexplainable with magic or stories of divine intervention.” Your also stated that you thought that someone could go into a town that never heard of Jesus and preach fervently, it really seemed like you were implying that there would be no eyewitness to dispute the claims, so everyone would not be able to think for themselves, would be wowed, and be ready to die for this “wild” story they were just told. There was not one thing positive, very arguably nothing neutral, leaving only the possibility that they were bumbling fools. So, no, you did not expressly say it, and maybe you did not mean it, but, what you wrote would surely leave the impression that they were that way.

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