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A Silence That Screams
Do you watch TV? People love "murder mysteries" right? Well the greatest story ever told is also the greatest "murder mystery" ever. Want to know about it? This is the behind-the-scenes of the greatest story ever told that will never appear on TV. It goes like this... The most popular figure in western civilization, claimed to be so important and so revered by so many people for thousands of years, apparently was never known to anyone during the time when he was supposedly alive.. Seriously! Even though there are records before, during and after this time...
Where are the contemporary accounts of Jesus' life?
- "There is not a single contemporary historical mention of Jesus, not by Romans or by Jews, not by believers or by unbelievers, not during his entire lifetime. This does not disprove his existence, but it certainly casts great doubt on the historicity of a man who was supposedly widely known to have made a great impact on the world. Someone should have noticed."
- - Dan Barker
- The Gospel story, with its figure of Jesus of Nazareth, cannot be found before the Gospels. In Christian writings earlier than Mark, including almost all of the New Testament epistles, as well as in many writings from the second century, the object of Christian faith is never spoken of as a human man who had recently lived, taught, performed miracles, suffered and died at the hands of human authorities, or rose from a tomb outside Jerusalem. There is no sign in the epistles of Mary or Joseph, Judas or John the Baptist, no birth story, teaching or appointment of apostles by Jesus, no mention of holy places or sites of Jesus’ career, not even the hill of Calvary or the empty tomb. This silence is so pervasive and so perplexing that attempted explanations for it have proven inadequate.:
- - Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle
- "What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.": - Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pp55-56, 2001
It may surprise Christians to learn that there are no contemporary historical documents for 'Jesus, the Christ'. Even though there are writings that have survived from the time periods, before, during and after Jesus, and the Christian church has these records! The writings of Paul are not contemporary accounts: they do not appear until years after the purported time of Jesus and they include a concession that Paul never actually met Jesus. The Gospels come much later (as evidenced by the fact that Paul never cites them) and there is good reason that all four of the surviving, accepted Gospels are based on Mark, which in turn is likely to be a form of 'Midrash', not historical documentation:
While some apologists attempt to wave this problem away by claiming that "Jesus" would not have been a noteworthy figure, this apologetic tactic contradicts what the Gospels say about Jesus. One cannot hold, at the same time, that the Gospels are true eyewitness accounts of actual events, AND that the Jesus figure in those works would not attract the attention of men like Philo, Pliny or Seneca. It's an absurd contradiction.
Even the relatively sober account of Jesus found in the first gospel, The Gospel of 'Mark', presents us with a Jesus who garnered quite a bit of attention. Consider for example, Mark 2:1-12, where the crowd coming to see Jesus is so great, that a paralytic has to be lowered through the roof of a building Jesus is in, in order for Jesus to see him. Elsewhere Mark tells us that the crowds that Jesus drew were so overflowing that he has to lecture from a boat on the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus travels from Bethany to Jerusalem, throngs of people line the roads to welcome him. Mark also tells us of how Jesus performed miracles before thousands: on two different occasions Jesus feeds thousands through miracles.
In short, 'Mark' gives us a 'Jesus' who is bigger than the Beatles, and I believe the Beatles analogy is a good one: we even have a nice parallel between the story of Jesus' lecture from a ship at Galilee, and the Beatles famous 'rooftop' audition, where they were forced to play an impromptu concert on a rooftop, lest the crowds that would rush to see them cause a riot. In both cases, the crowds had reached, hysterical, historically noteworthy, proportions. Yet, John E. Remsberg, in 'The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence' makes the curious observation that no one from this era wrote a single word about the Jesus Hysteria. Remsberg notes: "(While) Enough of the writings of the authors named in the foregoing list remains to form a library, (no where)... in this mass of Jewish and Pagan literature, aside from two forged brief passages in the works of a Jewish author (Josephus), and two disputed passages in the works of Roman writers, there is to be found no mention of Jesus Christ."
There are Christians today who hold that Remsberg has 'been refuted' because many on his list either were not contemporaries, or were 'not the sort who would have been interested in Jesus'. They tell us, straight faced, that writers who were mainly interested in drama, or reporting war stories, wouldn't have bothered to write down anything about a crowd-drawing, miracle-working, godman striding the earth.
Leaving aside this bit of insanity, it is a red herring to respond to this problem by saying "Remsberg has been refuted", for no matter how many problems one may be able to point out concerning his famous list, no matter how many people one removes from the list, there remain people on his list who should have noticed, and their silence is glaring. And we need not even have direct physical evidence of a contemporary account - even just the evidence of a provenance between a later account and an earlier, no longer existent, contemporary source would suffice. Yet nothing exists at all to point to a real Jesus.
Let's take a look at the more notable names on his list, just to get an idea, again, of how glaring this silence is... We can call this list:
"They Would Have Noticed"
Philo (~20 BCE - ~40 CE) was a Hellenized Jew who lived in Alexandria, Egypt. He visited the Temple in Jerusalem, and corresponded with family there. He wrote a great many books on religion and philosophy which survive to this day, and mentioned many of his contemporaries. His main theological contribution was the development of the Logos, the "Word" that opens the Gospel of John. Yet Philo not once mentions Jesus, anybody who could be mistaken for Jesus, or any of the events of the New Testament. His last writings come from 40 CE, only a few years after the end of Pontius Pilate's reign, when he was part of an embassy sent by the Alexandrian Jews to the Roman Emperor Caligula.
Philo wrote an account of the Jews covering the entire time that Christ is said to have existed on earth. He was living in or near Jerusalem when Christ's miraculous birth and the Herodian massacre (which also has no independent corroboration) supposedly occurred. He was personally very interested in the concept of resurrection. He was there when Christ supposedly would have made his triumphal entry in Jerusalem. He was there when the Crucifixion with its attendant earthquake, supernatural darkness, and resurrection of the dead would have taken place--when Christ himself supposedly would have risen from the dead. Yet, none of these events are ever mentioned by him.
- "Much as Josephus would, a half century later, Philo wrote extensive apologetics on the Jewish religion and commentaries on contemporary politics. About thirty manuscripts and at least 850,000 words are extant. Philo offers commentary on all the major characters of the Pentateuch and, as we might expect, mentions Moses more than a thousand times.
- Yet Philo says not a word about Jesus, Christianity nor any of the events described in the New Testament. In all this work, Philo makes not a single reference to his alleged contemporary "Jesus Christ", the godman who supposedly was perambulating up and down the Levant, exorcising demons, raising the dead and causing earthquake and darkness at his death.
- With Philo's close connection to the house of Herod, one might reasonably expect that the miraculous escape from a royal prison of a gang of apostles (Acts 5.18,40), or the second, angel-assisted, flight of Peter, even though chained between soldiers and guarded by four squads of troops (Acts 12.2,7) might have occasioned the odd footnote. But not a murmur. Nothing of Agrippa "vexing certain of the church" or killing "James brother of John" with the sword (Acts 12.1,2). "
It simply makes no sense that Philo would not have recorded something about Jesus, vis-a-vis the Jesus described in the book of Mark. Those who argue that Philo would have merely ignored a crowd drawing, miracle working godman because he could not have conceived of the 'logos' in human form merely beg the question that Philo's position would never change, even in the face of negating evidence!
Philo never reports ever seeing the god-man represented in the Gospels. His silence is glaring. And Philo may well have even provided us with a positive rule out for a real Jesus Christ:
- "And even if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let him labour earnestly to be adorned according to his first-born word, the eldest of his angels, as the great archangel of many names; for he is called, the authority, and the name of God, and the Word, and man according to God's image, and he who sees Israel."
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder (~23 CE - 79 CE) wrote a Natural History that mentions hundreds of people, major and minor; he even writes about the Essenes in Natural History, section V, 15 . Yet nowhere in his works is any mention of the Jesus phenomena described in Mark. The typical apologist response is that Pliny would not have taken interest in a backwater preacher, but given the claims given in the Gospels concerning the purported life of Jesus, it is glaringly obvious that Pliny would have either seen, heard of, or at least investigated events as incredible as those reported in the book of Mark; yet not a word of these putative events is alluded to in his work.
Pliny also provides us with a direct refutation of the Gospel claims of earthquakes and eclipses (i.e. such as those found in Matthew). Pliny collected data on all manner of natural and astronomical phenomena, even those which were legendary - which he himself did not necessarily regard as factual, yet he records no prodigies associated with the beliefs of Christians, such as an earthquake or darkening of the skies at a crucifixion, or any star of Bethlehem.
Seneca the Elder
Seneca the Elder (54 BCE - 39 CE) was a Roman rhetorician and writer and father to the more famous Seneca the Younger. Seneca was the author of a lost historical work, containing the history of Rome from the beginning of the civil wars almost down to his own death. While the work is lost to us, it was published by his son. The latest references in his writings are to the period immediately after the death of Tiberius, probably around the time of his own death in 39 AD.
Seneca the Younger
Seneca the Younger (ca. 4 BCE – 65 CE) Seneca was a philosopher and statesman, who wrote both philosophical works and papers on morality. He lived during the purported time of Jesus, in the general area of Jesus, and would have had contact with Roman authorities who in turn would have had contacts with Jesus. More importantly, he was interested in matters of morality and religion very similar to the concerns of later Christians. Yet, he does not take note of any of the miraculous events reported in the gospels.
- The life of Seneca, like that of Philo, was contemporaneous with the "Jesus" of legend. Yet though Seneca wrote extensively on many subjects and people, nothing relating to "Jesus" ever caught his attention, nor does he show any awareness of a "vast multitude" of Christians, supposedly, punished for the fire that ravaged Rome in 64 AD. (See Tacitus for more on this)
- The lack of any reference to Jesus Christ or Christians by Seneca was an embarrassment to the early Church fathers. There was a futile attempt to rectify this during the 4th century by a forger familiar with Seneca's letters to his life-long friend Lucilius. What emerged was a correspondence purporting to be friendly exchanges between the eminent Roman philosopher – at the height of his fame and political influence – and an unknown itinerant preacher we now call St Paul.
The catalyst for the fabrications appear to have been remarks by Tertullian, in the early 3rd century. Tertullian, aware that Seneca had articulated sentiments suited to a "great moral teacher" referred to Seneca as "often our own." By the time of Constantius II (337-361), Seneca had been taken captive by the Christians, his fidelity to the cause vouched for by a lively exchange of letters (in Latin!) with the Jewish Christian apostle. Today, no serious scholar accepts these as valid communications between Seneca and Paul, they are universally accepted as fraud.
- "The tradition that Gallio sent some of St. Paul's writings to his brother Seneca is utterly absurd; and indeed at this time (A.D. 54), St. Paul had written nothing except the two Epistles to the Thessalonians."
- – Rev. F. W. Farrar.
After Philo, Seneca the Younger and Pliny the Elder one of the most damning omissions would be in the works of Josephus and Tacitus.
Josephus (37-100 AD). Theists may be surprised to see this name on the list, and the inclusion is debatable, but read on.
Josephus was not a contemporary and could not have been a first hand eyewitness of "Jesus", however, as a Jewish historian who focused on Jewish history and religion, he would have been greatly interested in the appearance of the Jewish Messiah. Josephus wrote The Antiquities of the Jews. This is a work that focused on Jewish history from "Adam" to Josephus' time. Yet, while Josephus devotes a good deal of time and space to John the Baptist (Note, the claim that he actually writes about John the Baptist is controversial) and other historical figures mentioned in the Gospels (He gives a detailed account of Pontius Pilate in The Jewish Wars) he does not appear to have actually written anything at all concerning the life of Jesus the Christ! This is 'damning' considering that we would expect that the appearance of the Jewish Messiah ought to have dominated a work dedicated to Jewish history.
Furthermore, Josephus was interested both in the concept of resurrection, as well as in the histories of various Jewish sects which a real Jesus would have either 1) been a member of or 2) have had substantial discourse with. How could a man with these experiences, and with these interests, not have dedicated volumes to "Jesus" if there were any reason to believe such a messiah existed?
- "When I was sixteen years old, I decided to get experience with the various sects that are among us. These are three: as we have said many times, the first, that of the Pharisees, the second that of the Saduccees, the third, that of the Essenes. For I thought that in this way I would choose best, if I carefully examined them all. Therefore, submitting myself to strict training, I passed through the three groups."
Now we have a man with a keen historical interest in Judaism, combining this interest with a wealth of first hand experience concerning the very groups Jesus would have been numbered amongst, who doesn't mention a word about Jesus! Josephus is also known to have recorded the term in office of Joseph, son of Caiaphas, the very same Caiaphas whom the Gospels claim organized the plot to kill Jesus. Yet nothing in his report on Caiaphas alludes to such an event.
For this very reason, the claim that Josephus never mentions a Jesus the Christ was a concern for early Christians. Therefore, it is no surprise that a later interpolation of a reference to Jesus the Christ appears in the Antiquities. The infamous "Testimonium Flavium" appears to have been inserted into the Antiquities about the time of the 4th century. A key proof for this comes from the fact that while early Christians cited Josephus, none of them ever cited the Testimonium, even in situations where they were striving to provide historical proof for Jesus (i.e. in debates with Jewish scholars):
- Justin Martyr (circa C.E. 100-165) never once quoted the passage -- even in the face of charges that Christians had "invented some sort of Christ for themselves" and that they had accepted "a futile rumor" (Dialogue with Trypho 8; circa C.E. 135).
- Clement of Alexandria (ca. 192) - familiar with the works of Josephus
- Tertullian (ca. 193) - familiar with the works of Josephus
- Origen (circa C.E. 185-254), who in his own writings relies extensively upon the works of Josephus, does not mention this passage or any other passage in Josephus that mentions Christ. Not even when he is in dialogue against Celsus' accusations!
- Jerome (circa C.E. 347-420) cites Josephus 90 times, but never once cites the Testimonium.
(citation: Lost and Hostile Gospels, Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould)
Logic itself tells us that had Josephus written the Testimonium, he would have written more than 3 lines concerning the existence of the Jewish Messiah in a book dedicated to Jewish History! You can't mention the Jewish messiah in passing in a book dedicated to a history of Judaism. You might as well write a book called "The Solar System" without mentioning the sun, except in a footnote on page 474.
Remsberg writes on this point poignantly:
- "Its brevity disproves its authenticity. Josephus' work is voluminous and exhaustive. It comprises twenty books. Whole pages are devoted to petty robbers and obscure seditious leaders. Nearly fourty chapters are devoted to the life of a single king. Yet this remarkable being, the greatest product of his race, a being of whom the prophets foretold ten thousand wonderful things, a being greater than any earthly king, is dismissed with a dozen lines."
It's brevity in fact points to interpolation:
Richard Carrier writes:
- "An expert on manuscripts would know the problem here: scrolls have a fixed length. Each book of a work usually had to be no larger than would fit on one scroll, and certainly it was problematic for a copyist to break the pattern and use more scrolls than his source text (it would throw off everything, and make consulting the work a nightmare for any reader). This fact argues in favor of interpolation. If the material came from Josephus, he could have written more about such a topic (surely, since as we now have it, it is a marvelous digression indeed to warrant so slight a coverage), and just ended the whole book sooner, thus creating no problem. But if the material was added by a later editor, there would have been very little space to work with: so the addition had to be short, short enough to prevent the whole book from exceeding a standard scroll's length. (The interpolation was perhaps made by the 4th century Christian librarian Eusebius: see Kirby's "The Testimonium Flavianum."
Logic also provides us with yet another powerful clue as to the falsity of the Testimonium: Josephus lived and died a Jew, never converting to Christianity. Why would he call Jesus "the Jewish Messiah" in the text? Even a Christian apologist, normally at home with warping logic well past its breaking point, ought to find it difficult to reconcile the claim that Josephus had any substantial evidence of Jesus as the Messiah with the fact that he never converted to Christianity. How could Josephus have good evidence for the existence of a messiah, and yet, at the same time, die a Jew?
There's really only one way to salvage the Testimonium: to use Jeffery J. Lowder's argument that the Testimonium was radically altered by Christians, and that the original Josephus passage was a second hand reference to a purely human Jesus who, while worthy of a brief note, did not merit more than a few lines of text, let alone consideration as the Jewish Messiah. This would explain why Christians did not cite it until it was radically altered: because it was an actual refutation of the gospel claim of Jesus the Christ.
- "There are many scholars who believe the original text contained an authentic reference to Jesus but was later embellished by Christian copyists. I have italicized the sections widely regarded as interpolations":
- 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 among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; 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.
Lowder states that this may explain why no early Christian cited the Testimonium: because it did nothing to support the existence of Jesus as Jesus the Christ.
The two most plausible explanations for the Testimonium: that it is either entirely or partially a fraud, both create a serious problem for the Christian.
If the Testimonium is a complete fiction, it leaves the christian without any historical corroboration from Josephus.
If it is a tampered document, it shows that there is a non contemporary account of Jesus, one who may even meet one of the criteria mentioned in Mark (drawing crowds). But it indicates that Josephus did not consider this Jesus to be anything more than a revered teacher - literally noteworthy - but hardly the wonder worker of the book of Mark, a fact that embarrassed early Christians to the point that they 1) ignored the passage for centuries, even while citing Josephus elsewhere and 2) later saw fit to deceptively alter the passage.
It should also be noted that some argue that Antiquities section 20.9 makes an indirect reference to Jesus. This claim is examined here: http://www.inu.net/skeptic/gospels.html
There is good reason to believe that the reference to a "Jesus' here is actually a reference to Jesus, son of Damneus that has been tampered with by later Christians, and not an actual reference to 'Jesus, son of Joseph', although Origen does cite this passage as historical evidence for Jesus. And again, the same point remains: the idea that a historian would mention the Messiah in passing while discussing an issue of minor relevance (and not elsewhere) staggers reason itself.
Tacitus (ca. 56 – ca. 117)
Tacitus is remembered first and foremost as Rome's greatest historian. His two surviving works: Annals and The Histories form a near continuous narrative from the death of Augustus in 14 CE to the death of Domitian in 96.
Interestingly, I cannot report on the silence of Tacitus concerning Jesus, because the very years of the purported existence of Jesus 30, 31, are suspiciously missing from his work(!)
Richard Carrier writes:
- "...we are enormously lucky to have Tacitus--only two unrelated Christian monasteries had any interest in preserving his Annals, for example, and neither of them preserved the whole thing, but each less than half of it, and by sheer luck alone, they each preserved a different half. And yet we still have large gaps in it. One of those gaps is the removal of the years 29, 30, and 31 (precisely, the latter part of 29, all of 30, and the earlier part of 31), which is probably the deliberate excision of Christian scribes who were embarrassed by the lack of any mention of Jesus or Gospel events in those years (the years Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection were widely believed at the time to have occurred). There is otherwise no known explanation for why those three years were removed. The other large gap is the material between the two halves that neither institution preserved. And yet another is the end of the second half, which scribes also chose not to preserve (or lost through negligent care of the manuscript, etc.)."
Ironically, Christians often cite Tacitus as historical evidence for Jesus.
This is the passage cited:
- But neither the aid of man, nor the liberality of the prince, nor the propitiations of the gods succeeded in destroying the belief that the fire had been purposely lit. In order to put an end to this rumor, therefore, Nero laid the blame on and visited with severe punishment those men, hateful for their crimes, whom the people called Christians. He from whom the name was derived, Christus, was put to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. But the pernicious superstition, checked for a moment, broke out again, not only in Judea, the native land of the monstrosity, but also in Rome, to which all conceivable horrors and abominations flow from every side, and find supporters. First, therefore, those were arrested who openly confessed; then, on their information, a great number, who were not so much convicted of the fire as of hatred of the human race. Ridicule was passed on them as they died; so that, clothed in skins of beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or committed to the flames, and when the sun had gone down they were burned to light up the night. Nero had lent his garden for this spectacle, and gave games in the Circus, mixing with the people in the dress of a charioteer or standing in the chariot. Hence there was a strong sympathy for them, though they might have been guilty enough to deserve the severest punishment, on the ground that they were sacrificed, not to the general good, but to the cruelty of one man."
However, there are serious problems with using this passage as independent corroboration of Jesus:
Jeffery Jay Lowder states:
"There is no good reason to believe that Tacitus conducted independent research concerning the historicity of Jesus. The context of the reference was simply to explain the origin of the term "Christians," which was in turn made in the context of documenting Nero's vices..."
It is not just 'Christ-mythicists' who deny that Tacitus provides independent confirmation of the historicity of Jesus; indeed, there are numerous Christian scholars who do the same! For example, France writes, Annals XV.44 "cannot carry alone the weight of the role of 'independent testimony' with which it has often been invested." E.P. Sanders notes, "Roman sources that mention [Jesus] are all dependent on Christian reports." And William Lane Craig states that Tacitus' statement is "no doubt dependent on Christian tradition."
So it may simply be that Tacitus was relying on oral tradition, and not on any historical research for his reference to Jesus. Tacitus himself tells us about the value of such traditions:
- "...everything gets exaggerated is typical for any story" and "all the greatest events are obscure--while some people accept whatever they hear as beyond doubt, others twist the truth into its opposite, and both errors grow over subsequent generations"
As weak as the Tacitus claim is, it remains a possibility that even this weak bit of apparent corroboration is a later interpolation.
Some of these problems are summarized by Gordon Stein:
- "While we know from the way in which the above is written that Tacitus did not claim to have firsthand knowledge of the origins of Christianity, we can see that he is repeating a story which was then commonly believed, namely that the founder of Christianity, one Christus, had been put to death under Tiberius. There are a number of serious difficulties which must be answered before this passage can be accepted as genuine. There is no other historical proof that Nero persecuted the Christians at all. There certainly were not multitudes of Christians in Rome at that date (circa 60 A.D.). In fact, the term "Christian" was not in common use in the first century. We know Nero was indifferent to various religions in his city, and, since he almost definitely did not start the fire in Rome, he did not need any group to be his scapegoat. Tacitus does not use the name Jesus, and writes as if the reader would know the name Pontius Pilate, two things which show that Tacitus was not working from official records or writing for non-Christian audiences, both of which we would expect him to have done if the passage were genuine.
- Perhaps most damning to the authenticity of this passage is the fact that it is present almost word-for-word in the Chronicle of Sulpicius Severus (died in 403 A.D.), where it is mixed in with obviously false tales. At the same time, it is highly unlikely that Sulpicius could have copied this passage from Tacitus, as none of his contemporaries mention the passage. This means that it was probably not in the Tacitus manuscripts at that date. It is much more likely, then, that copyists working in the Dark Ages from the only existing manuscript of the Chronicle, simply copied the passage from Sulpicius into the manuscript of Tacitus which they were reproducing."
Supporting Stein's claim is that, as with the Testimonium, there is no provenance for the passage: No early Christian writer uses Tacitus' passage in their apologetics, even when discussing Christian persecution by Nero:
- Tertullian (ca. 155–230)
- Lactantius (ca. 240 - ca. 320)
- Sulpicius Severus (c. 360 – 425)
- Eusebius (ca. 275 – 339)
- Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430)
However, the key point here is that Tacitus did in fact write a thorough history of the purported times of Jesus and his ministry, and while this work is lost to us, Tacitus never makes any cross reference to it during his discussion of christians and Nero nor at any other point in his surviving works.
Plutarch (ca. 46 - 127) again, was not a contemporary, he wrote about the same time as Josephus, about contemporary Roman figures, oracles, prophesies, and moral, religious, and spiritual issues. A figure such as Jesus, whom the Gospels portray as interacting with Roman figures, making prophecies, and giving sermons on novel religious and spiritual issues to throngs of people, would have been of great interest to him. Yet we cannot find even a word about "Jesus" from Plutarch.
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (ca. 69 - 130)
Suetonius was not a contemporary of the purported time of Jesus. However, since some theists cite Suetonius as independent corroboration of Jesus, I will discuss him here.
Jeffery Jay Lowder writes:
- "Suetonius, the Roman historian and biographer formerly known as Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, wrote several works, including his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, which is an account of the lives of the first twelve Roman emperors. In his Life of Claudius, he writes:
- As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.
- The claim that 'Chrestus' is a misspelling of 'Christus' "can never be more than a guess, and the fact that Suetonius can elsewhere speak of 'Christians' as members of a new cult (without any reference to Jews) surely makes it rather unlikely that he could make such a mistake
"Chrestus" means 'The Good" in Greek, while "Christus" means "The Messiah." Actually, Chrestus was not an uncommon name in ancient Rome. Since Jesus was admittedly not in Rome instigating the Jews, we are almost definitely talking about someone other than Jesus here. I should mention that the entire relevant quotation from Suetonius which is involved here reads as follows:
- "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome." The "he" is Claudius. As just mentioned, not even McDowell claims that Jesus was at Rome in 55 AD, when this incident is alleged to have occurred. It is also difficult to see why Jews would be led by Jesus. That is pretty strong evidence that this passage does not refer to Jesus of Nazareth at all, and so is irrelevant to our discussion of whether Jesus ever lived. We can, however, add the lack of a mention of Jesus in Suetonius to our list of "negative" evidence for the existence of Jesus as an historical person. The reference in Suetonius is Life of the Caesars (Claudius 25:4).<ref?\>The Jesus of History: A Reply to Josh McDowell Gordon Stein, Ph.D. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gordon_stein/jesus.shtml" rel="nofollow" title="Source">[ref]</ref>
Justus of Tiberius
Justus of Tiberius ( ? - 95 ?) Remsberg states that "Justus was a native of Christ's own country, Galilee. He was a contemporary and rival of Josephus. He wrote a history of Jewish people Kings (who the gospels state Jesus had interactions with) covering the time of Christ's reputed existence. This work perished, but Photius, a Christian scholar and critic of the 9th century, was acquainted with it said:
- 'I have read the chronology of Justus of Tiberias ... and being under the Jewish prejudices, as indeed he was himself also a Jew by birth. He makes not the least mention of the appearance of Christ, of what things happened to him, or of the wonderful works that he did.".
Dio Chrysostom (c. 40–c. 120) was a Greek orator, writer, philosopher and historian of the Roman Empire in the first century. Eighty of his Discourses remain in existence. While Chrysostom was not a contemporary of Jesus' purported time (He was a contemporary of Plutarch, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger) he was both a historian and a person with great interest in moral matters. His philosophy has been considered a moral parallel to that of Paul of Tarsus and indicates that the early Greek Christians drew upon the Cynic and Stoic philosophies when developing their Christian faith. So we again have an early writer who certainly would have had interest in Jesus as Mark or any of the other Gospels, present him.
Epictetus (55-130) Again, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus was not born until sometime after the purported time of Jesus, however, his silence remains noteworthy. A translator of Epictetus, Elizabeth Carter, was baffled that he was not a Christian. “There are so many of the sentiments and expressions of Christianity in it, that one should be strongly tempted to think that Epictetus was acquainted with the New Testament,..” [p. xxii] Well, he was not and never even so much as mentions Christians in passing. He lived in Rome and as a slave to Epaphroditus, a senior member of Nero’s government would have known of the fire and the Christian sacrifice in the aftermath. However, all he has to say about Nero is his persecution of some good men who refused to attend his performances.
They all should have noticed. It appears that none did.
All that is left is to sum things up. The historian Edward Gibbons writes:
- "But how shall we excuse the supine inattention of the Pagan and philosophic world, to those evidences which were represented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses? During the age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their first disciples, the doctrine which they preached was confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, demons were expelled, and the laws of Nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the moral or physical government of the world. Under the reign of Tiberius, the whole earth, or at least a celebrated province of the Roman empire, was involved in a preternatural darkness of three hours. Even this miraculous event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice in an age of science and history. It happened during the lifetime of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena of Nature, earthquakes, meteors comets, and eclipses, which his indefatigable curiosity could collect. Both the one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of the globe".
Could the most amazing event ever go unnoticed? Only the intellectual dishonest can answer with a "yes".
Those who claim to "know"
Let's now consider a person who 'does' 'notice' Jesus:
St. Paul of Tsarus
St. Paul of Tsarus (10-67)
As Franc Tremblay writes:
- "Such a deafening silence on the existence of any other historical figures would be extremely suspicious. In the case of an earth-shaking messiah who raised the dead and fed the multitudes, clearly we should find masses of testimonies and evidence, but we find none. It is clearly an argument for the non-existence of Jesus. But the clinching evidence is that even Christian leaders considered Jesus purely as a mythical figure and did not know anything about his life":
Indeed. And just to demonstrate how sparse in details early writings on Jesus are:
- "In the first half century of Christian correspondence, including letters attributed to Paul and other epistles under names like Peter, James and John, the Gospel story cannot be found. When these writers speak of their divine Christ, echoes of Jesus of Nazareth are virtually inaudible, including details of a life and ministry, the circumstances of his death, the attribution of any teachings to him. God himself is often identified as the source of Christian ethics. No one speaks of miracles performed by Jesus, his apocalyptic predictions, his views on any of the great issues of the time. The very fact that he preached in person is never mentioned, his appointment of apostles or his directive to carry the message to the nations of the world is never appealed to. No one looks back to Jesus’ life and ministry as the genesis of the Christian movement, or as the pivot point of salvation history."
Ironically, though supposedly in Jerusalem at the right time, he can give no witness to a historical Jesus.
Then we must consider the basis for the earliest known claims for Jesus are based not on eyewitness accounts, but on a vision:
- But the truth is, "after Jesus rose from the dead" our earliest and only eyewitness report says he only spoke "in a revelation" and not in "flesh and blood" (Gal. 1:11-12, 1:15-16). In other words, it was a subjective experience in the mind of the believer that Jesus was speaking to him. We know there are many other causes of such an experience besides an actual spirit of a deceased person contacting us, and have never yet confirmed that any such contact can or ever has happened to anyone.
So tracing back the claim to its earliest trackable origin, we have a claim based on a vision. Not even Paul is an eyewitness!
As Rook Hawkins writes:
- (The only Jesus we have is the Jesus of the Gospels) Jesus... is only the Jesus of Francis of Assisi, and Tertullian, and Augustine.... You just cannot locate a historical Jesus in Gospels. Where is he? Is it when Jesus walks on water in Matthew 15:22-33 or after that when Jesus condemns the Pharisees? Perhaps it is when Jesus hands off his cross to Simon in Mark 15:21? Where is he? Without any actual credible, extrabiblical data to attest to Jesus you are only left with two choices. Either Jesus is the Jesus of the Gospels or he fails to exist on any plane other than that of literary invention.
For those who wish to respond to this Essay :
First, those who wish to question my argument from Silence, please recognize that my argument not only meets all of the requirements, it actually meets the criteria required for a strengthened Argument from silence
Now, if you still wish to respond, unless you have entirely new points to raise, please save yourself some time and note which of the canned excuses you're selecting:
No one would have noticed, because "Jesus" was a minor figure.
This response simply ignores the essay. Reread the opening points on the book of Mark, which demonstrate that the Jesus presented in the Gospels cannot be sanely held to be a figure that anyone could ignore, no matter their pre-xistent beliefs.
Richard Carrier writes:
- One could say that Jesus was an insignificant, illiterate, itinerant preacher with a tiny following, who went wholly unnoticed by any literate person in Judaea. However, this would not bode well for anyone who wished to maintain he was God, or did any of the more amazing things attributed to him. It is very implausible, for instance, that a biography would be written for the obscure itinerant philosopher Demonax in his own lifetime (by Lucian), yet God Incarnate, or a Great Miracle Worker who riled up all Judaea with talk, should inspire nothing like it until decades after his death. And though several historians wrote on Judaean affairs in the early 1st century (not just Josephus and Tacitus, but several others no longer extant), none apparently mentioned Jesus (see the Secular Web library on Historicity). Certainly, had anyone done so, the passages would probably have been lovingly preserved by 2nd century Christians, or else inspired angry rebuttals.
- For instance, the attacks of Celsus, Hierocles, and Porphyry, though destroyed by Christians and thus no longer extant (another example of the peculiar problem of Christian history discussed above), nevertheless remain attested in the defenses written by Origen, Eusebius, and Macerius Magnes. But no earlier attacks are attested. There is no mention of Christians in Plutarch's attack On Superstition, nor a rebuttal to any attack on Christianity in Seneca's lost work On Superstition (which ruthlessly attacked pagans and Jews, as attested in book 10 of Augustine's City of God), so it seems evident Christians got no mention even there, in a text against alien cults, by a man who would have witnessed the Neronian persecution of 64 A.D. (alternatively, the fact that this is the only work of Seneca's not to be preserved, despite the fact that Christians must surely have been keen to preserve an anti-pagan text by a renowned pagan, might mean it contained some damning anti-Christian material and was suppressed, though Augustine clearly had access to the work and says nothing about such content). All of this suggests a troubling dichotomy for believers: either Jesus was a nobody (and therefore not even special, much less the Son of God) or he did not exist.
"The people I listed wouldn't care about writing about a god striding the earth in earthly form, attracting throngs of people and working miracles... because they preferred to focus on other things... like philosophy."
Response: Sure, and people dealing with philosophy, the meaning of life, matters of the true nature of existence, would not be interested in a godman striding the earth, working miracles, offering redemption, because such things have nothing to do with the meaning of life...
Please think your argument through. It relies on circular logic when the very conclusion of such an argument is being ruled out in the first place: Had they encountered such a being, it's unlikely that they would have carried on writing about other matters in the first place. The fact that they did focus on other matters works against you, not for you.
We would never expect disinterested parties, or outright 'enemies' of Christianity to record it, since it would not serve their purposes.
First, we would expect to hear criticisms and attacks from enemies.
But more importantly, this is circular logic. If the book of Mark, a book that reports epoch shattering events, is a historical account, then how could there be so many disinterested third parties and outright enemies of Christianity in the first place? It is simply begging the question to assume that doubters would remain doubters, even in the face of overwhelming evidence as per the claims of the book of Mark. It is simply backwards logic to argue that doubters would simply remain doubters: the more parsimonious explanation is that these amazing events didn't occur in the first place. This better explains the silence.
As Richard Carrier writes:
- "Of course, if the evidence were really so clear, there would not be many enemies in the first place: many leading, literate Jews would have converted, many more than just Paul, and all would have left us letters and documents about their experiences and reasons. But that would fall under the category of eyewitness testimony, of which we have none, except Paul, who of course never testifies to ever meeting Jesus in the flesh, to seeing the empty grave, or to seeing the actual corpse of Jesus rising and talking. In fact, Paul never really says anyone saw these things.
Instead, my category of hostile attestation is distinct from this, for if even those who don't like it or don't believe it nevertheless report it, even if only to denounce or deny it or explain it away, that is itself stronger evidence than we now have. For example, if we had what Matthew claims the Jews were saying in Matthew 28:11-15 from a first-century Jewish writer, that would be hostile attestation. Certainly many Jews would have an interest in publishing such lies or explanations, if in fact Christians were making such claims then, and there really were enough Christians making these claims for anyone to care. Instead, the complete absence of any Jewish texts attacking Christianity in the first century is astonishing--unless Christianity was a socially microscopic cult making unverifiably subjective claims of revelations from God that no one could falsify. Otherwise, ancient authors were not beneath writing tracts slandering other people, and later pagan authors had no scruple against attacking the Christians. So why did no one attack the Christians earlier? There are problems here, surely."
"Remsberg was refuted a long time ago."
This essay corrects the flaws in his argument. However, while many have pointed out flaws in Remsberg's original list, his main point still stands: it's ridiculous to claim that a historian or a philosopher wouldn't be interested in mentioning that he saw a god man working miracles. In addition, those who questioned the original list by pointing to authors of questionable merit, critics rarely, if ever bothered to concede the existence of early authors whose works are lost to us, but would have been available to second century Christians.
- Socrates vs Jesus
- Did Jesus really exist?
- Historicity of Jesus
- The Jesus Puzzle: http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/home.htm by Earl Doherty
- Jesus Never Existed: http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/ by Kenneth Humphreys
- Choking on the Camel; The historical evidence for Jesus: http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/camel.html
- Did Jesus Exist?: http://www.atheists.org/christianity/didjesusexist.html by Frank Zindler
- The works of Richard Carrier: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/
- The works of Robert Price: http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/
- The works of G. A. Wells: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/g_a_wells/index.html
- http://www.bibleorigins.net/ http://www.christianorigins.com/
- And a rare, well reasoned counter position: Jeffery Jay Lowder http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jury/chap5.html
Other points to consider
Imagine the existence of letters by Caiaphas or "Joseph of Arimathea" or "Peter" or Pontius Pilate. A reference from any of these figures would present us with strong evidence for at least a historical Jesus. While it shouldn't surprise us that most historical documents are lost to us, shouldn't it at least arouse our suspicions that no letters exist from any of these men?
"If we had an actual papyrus carbon-dated to the first century containing a letter by Pilate or Peter documenting or detailing any of the key facts surrounding the resurrection claim, that would be physical evidence. If we had an inscription commissioned by Joseph of Arimathea attesting to the fact that he found his tomb empty and that Jesus then appeared to his disciples, that would be physical evidence. If we had a coin issued by Agrippa just a few years later declaring faith in Christ, that would be physical evidence. If the empty tomb acquired miraculous powers as a result of so momentous a miracle there, or if the angels never left but remained there to converse with all who sought to know the truth, so that either fact could be physically confirmed today--so that we could go there now and see these miracles or angels for ourselves--that would be physical evidence.
- "On the Resurrection, however, no eyewitness wrote anything--not Jesus, not Peter, not Mary, not any of the Twelve, nor any of the Seventy, nor any of the Five Hundred. All we have is Paul, who saw nothing but a "revelation," and who mentions no other kind of experience or evidence being reported by anyone. On the Resurrection, no neutral or hostile witness or contemporary wrote anything--not Joseph, not Caiaphas, not Gamaliel, not Agrippa, not Pilate, not Lysias, not Sergius, not anyone alive at the time, whether Jewish, Greek, or Roman. On the Resurrection, no critical historian documents a single detail, or even the claim itself, until centuries later, and then only by Christian apologists who can only cite the New Testament as their source (and occasionally bogus documents like the letter sent by Jesus to Abgar that Eusebius tries to pass off as authentic). On the Resurrection, no physical evidence of any kind was produced--no coins, no inscriptions, no documentary papyri, no perpetual miracles. And everything that followed in history was caused by the belief in that resurrection, not the resurrection itself--and we know an actual resurrection is not the only possible cause of a belief in a resurrection."
- Richard Carrier
When you add up all of the facts, the case for the existence of Jesus as an historical person becomes rather remote:
- There are no proven, legitimate references to the existence of Jesus in any contemporary source outside of the New Testament (which is really not a contemporary source, as it was written from 30 to 70 years after Jesus supposedly died),
- There is no evidence that the town of Nazareth, from which Jesus' mother supposedly came, ever existed at the time he was supposedly living there,
- The existence of Jesus is not necessary to explain the origin or growth of Christianity (were the Hindu gods real'?),
- The New Testament accounts do not provide a real "biography" for Jesus until you look at the Gospels. The earlier Pauline epistles imply only that he was a god, and
- The biblical accounts of the trial and death of Jesus are logically self-contradictory and legally impossible. Jesus could not have been executed under either Roman or Jewish law for what he did. Whatever you call what he did, it was not a capital offense under either system. Rather, it looks like someone is trying to make Old Testament prophecies of the death of the Messiah come true by fabricating a scenario which simply doesn't make sense legally.
- . http://www.bartdehrman.com/books/jesus_apocalyptic_prophet.htm
- . http://www.rationalresponders.com/the_gospels_are_midrash
- . See the bible, Mark 8:1
- . The Truth Seeker Company, NY, no date, pp. 24-25
- . http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/philo.html
- . Philo, "On the Confusion of Tongues," 146
- . http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/seneca.html" rel="nofollow" title="http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/seneca.html">http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/seneca.html
- . http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/seneca.html" rel="nofollow" title="http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/seneca.html">http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/seneca.html
- . http://reluctant-messenger.com/josephus.htm" rel="nofollow" title="http://reluctant-messenger.com/josephus.htm">http://reluctant-messenger.com/josephus.htm
- . http://www.inu.net/skeptic/gospels.html" rel="nofollow" title="http://www.inu.net/skeptic/gospels.html">http://www.inu.net/skeptic/gospels.html
- . Life, 1.2, 10-11
- . The Christ, by John E. Remsburg, reprinted by Prometheus Books, New York, 1994, pages 171-3.
- . http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.html" rel="nofollow" title="http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.html">http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.html
- . http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/mckinsey.html" rel="nofollow" title="http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/mckinsey.html">http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/mckinsey.html
- . (Annals XV, 44)
- . Jeffery Jay Lowder, "Evidence" for Jesus, Is It Reliable? http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jury/chap5.html" rel="nofollow" title="Source">[ref]
- . (Annals 3.44 & 3.19). (Cited via Carrier's article)
- . The Jesus of History: A Reply to Josh McDowell Gordon Stein, Ph.D. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gordon_stein/jesus.shtml" rel="nofollow" title="Source">[ref]
- . Jeffery Jay Lowder http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jury/chap5.html" rel="nofollow" title="Source">[ref]
- . Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, Bibliotheca, Code 33
- . (Rome, Vol. I, pp. 588-590)
- . The Jesus Puzzle, by Earl Doherty (Journal of Higher Criticism, Fall 1997)
- . Jesusneverexisted.com by Kenneth Humprehys
- . Richard Carrier, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/resurrection/" rel="nofollow" title="Source">[ref]
- . Richard Carrier, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.html" rel="nofollow" title="Source">[ref]
- . Richard Carrier, From "The Rubicon Analogy
- . Carrier, The Rubicon Analogy.
- . The Jesus of History: A Reply to Josh McDowell Gordon Stein, Ph.D. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gordon_stein/jesus.shtml" rel="nofollow" title="Source">[ref]
Those who know the good, do the good. - Socrates Bold text
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