Proofs Jesus Existed!

by J. P. Holding

You might be used to people saying Jesus never did miracles, never rose from the dead, or even never said half the things the New Testament said he did. But things are getting so desperate for some Skeptics that they now even want to argue that Jesus didn’t exist at all.

You might think that this is the sort of idea that is found in those kooky newspapers you see at the grocery store with headlines like Bigfoot Crashes Wine Tasting Party. And in a way, that’s true. The people who say this are not historians. They’re one of two things: Either people with education in a subject other than history, or else people with no real education at all.

This doesn’t mean scholars are always right. But it does mean that if you want to argue against what the smartest and most informed people say in a subject they’re good at, you’re going to need some mighty good arguments. And that’s exactly what “Christ mythers” (people who say Jesus never existed) do not have. In fact, Christ mythers often rely on stretching the truth and leaving out important facts.

Let’s look at an example of that right now. In the middle of the first century, a Christian named Justin Martyr wrote about a conversation he had with a Jewish person named Trypho. Here is a part of that conversation that Christ mythers often quote:

When I had said this, my beloved friends, those who were with Trypho laughed; but he, smiling, says, "I approve of your other remarks, and admire the eagerness with which you study divine things; but it were better for you still to abide in the philosophy of Plato, or of some other man, cultivating endurance, self-control, and moderation, rather than be deceived by false words, and follow the opinions of men of no reputation. For if you remain in that mode of philosophy, and live blamelessly, a hope of a better destiny were left to you; but when you have forsaken God, and reposed confidence in man, what safety still awaits you? If, then, you are willing to listen to me (for I have already considered you a friend), first be circumcised, then observe what ordinances have been enacted with respect to the Sabbath, and the feasts, and the new moons of God; and, in a word, do all things which have been written in the law: and then perhaps you shall obtain mercy from God. But Christ--if He has indeed been born, and exists anywhere--is unknown, and does not even know Himself, and has no power until Elias come to anoint Him, and make Him manifest to all. And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake are inconsiderately perishing."

The Christ mythers say that it was Jesus who was "made" and who was "entirely unknown." But the contexts makes it quite clear that Trypho is not referring to the man Jesus. Trypho takes Jesus' historicity for granted throughout the debate with Justin. Look what else he says in the same conversation:

What Trypho means in his earlier statement is that the Messiah - which is to say, the position or “job” of the Messiah - has been created by the Christians: He is saying that the "Christ" has not come in Jesus, but that Christians have made Jesus a Christ for themselves, and if the true Messiah was born and lived somewhere, he is entirely unknown. There was a Jewish belief at this time that the Christ, when he came, would not proclaim but let others say who he was. Trypho is accusing the Christians of identifying one as Christ who is not Christ -- he is not accusing them of making up a man of history.

Hey, wait a minute. That's not good enough. If Jesus existed and was so famous, we should have heard a lot more about him besides what Christians said. In fact, here’s a long list of writers who didn’t mention Jesus! What do you think of THAT?

Christ mythers like to pull out a long list of names sometimes of people back in Jesus’ day (supposedly) who did not mention Jesus. If you ever see a list like this, it probably came originally from an author named John Remsberg. Remsberg wasn’t a historian or an expert in history – he was a teacher and a superintendent of schools in the state of Kansas back in Abraham Lincoln’s time.

There are a lot of problems with Remsberg’s list. In some cases, an author he names really did mention Jesus (we’ll look at two of them below), although he sometimes argued against the mention of Jesus being worthwhile. In some cases there’s no clue who the person named is and what they wrote (as in, he gives a name, but it could be the name of several ancient people, because it is a name like “Smith” that a lot of people had). But in most cases, the people Remsberg named would never have any reason to mention Jesus in the first place, because they were writing about subjects that had nothing to do with Jesus. For example:

Arrian – he wrote a history of Alexander the Great, who was 300 years before Jesus! So what does Remsberg expect Arrian to say? "Alexander defeated the Persians. By the way, this has nothing to do with Jesus, who lived 300 years later."

Valerius Maximus – this guy wrote a book of stories for speakers to use, around 30 AD. In other words, he wrote the ancient equivalent to one of those desktop Dilbert calendars. Where would Jesus belong in that?

Columella -- this guy wrote about agriculture and trees!

Statius -- this guy was a poet who wrote the Thebaid, about the Seven against Thebes, the Achilleid, a life of Achilles, and a collection of poems called the Silvae. I see plenty of reason to mention Jesus, don't you?

Whenever a Christ myther claims that some writer didn’t mention Jesus, there are two things you can ask: First, did this person ever write anything that would have had a reason to mention Jesus? Second, did this person ever write about other people similar to Jesus? For example, there were many other Jewish teachers and people who were supposed to have done miracles at the same time Jesus lived. There were teachers like the rabbis Gamaliel and Hillel and Shammai. There were miracle-workers like Honi the Circle Drawer and Hanina ben dosa. By the logic of the Christ myther, the fact that someone like Columella doesn’t mention these people shows they didn’t exist either.

Why would any of these writers mention Jesus anyway? We have to understand why they would not, from their point of view. To someone like Columella or Statius, even if Jesus was someone within their topic, Jesus would not be seen as important. Obviously they would not believe he really did miracles, or if they did, they would say what a pagan guy named Celsus said later: That he got his power to do miracles from doing magic. Jesus did not address the Roman Senate, or write fancy works of philosophy. Jesus was also executed as a criminal, which would make him look very bad to a pagan. On top of all that, Jesus was poor, and lived out in the country – so the Roman writers would be too snobby to think he was worth talking about.

But that’s not to say Jesus was never mentioned by any historians of his time. He was, but the Christ mythers have to come and fight about whether those historians are any good for showing Jesus existed. Let’s talk about two of those historians who give the nest evidence – Tacitus and Josephus.

Tacitus was a Roman historian who wrote around 110 A.D. He wrote about Jesus in his work called the Annals:

But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.

This seems pretty clear. How do the Christ mythers explain this one?

“It’s a forgery! Some Christian fraud added it in later!”

That’s not a very good reason, and it certainly isn’t one the people who know the most about Tacitus would back up. It’s written just the way Tacitus would write; it’s found in every copy of the Annals we have from the earliest time (the 11th century); and it says such bad things about Christians that it’s not likely a Christian would write it, unless you want to really get crazy and say some Christian purposely wrote bad things like that to fool us. And that would be really crazy – more than we can help you with.

“Tacitus wasn’t reliable! He could have just put this down without looking into it.”

No way. When it comes to accuracy, care, critical capability, and trustworthiness, the people who study Tacitus are unanimous: The man knew his business. They say he always did his research, and was good at it. He wasn’t perfect, of course, but the point is that if you want to say he made a mistake here, you’re the one who needs proof.

“Tacitus was biased!”

This is true, but it won’t work because if Tacitus had any bias, it would be against Christians, not for them, because like most Romans, he didn’t like Jewish people, and Jesus was Jewish. And anyway, the people who are experts on Tacitus say that even when he was biased, it never caused him to make up things.

“Tacitus called Pilate a ‘procurator’ but he was really a prefect. So he probably messed up when he thought Jesus existed too.”

A procurator was someone who handled money matters, while a prefect was a military official. It’s more likely that Pilate held both titles than that Tacitus made a mistake.

“Tacitus calls Jesus ‘Christ’ and not by a proper name. That wouldn’t be right.”

Why not? Tacitus would use the name with which his readers would be most familiar - and that would not necessarily be the name that Jesus was executed under. By the time he was writing, 80 years after Jesus died, “Christus” was used as a proper name for Jesus. In fact, it is already used as a proper name by Paul only 20-30 years after Jesus died.

Tacitus says there was a ‘great multitude’ of Christians at Rome. There wouldn’t be this many Christians in Rome at this early time.

How many would that be? What does Tacitus mean here by a "great multitude"? 50? 100? 500? Is it a relative for, "a lot, considering the crime committed"? (If we arrested 50 people for holding up a corner gas station, does that seem like a "great multitude" to arrest for such a little crime?)

Now let’s talk about Josephus. This guy was a Jewish historian who lived just after the time of Jesus, and he actually mentions Jesus in two places. Here’s the first one, which we can call the “shorter” reference:


Antiquities 20.9.1 But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.


And here’s the other, what we can call the “longer” reference:


Antiquities 18.3.3 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 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.


So, what do the Christ mythers say about these?

“They’re a forgery! Some Christian fraud added them in later!”

This time when they say something like this, they actually have a point – for one of the two references. The shorter one they have no case against – it’s in all the copies of Josephus we have, as is, and the scholars who know a lot about Josephus stand behind it completely.  It uses a non-Christian term when it describes James as “brother of Jesus" (Christians liked to use "brother of the Lord" or "brother of the Savior" instead).  It doesn’t make a big deal about Jesus, but mentions Jesus in passing. It also doesn’t connect Jesus with John the Baptist, as we would think a Christian would do if they added it in.

Some Christ mythers say the phrase “so-called Christ” is Christian because it is the same words used in Matthew 1:16. But Josephus uses the word for “so-called” himself in his writings elsewhere.

The larger quote is another story. On that one, we have some evidence from a copy of Josephus (one written in Arabic) as well as some historical and style issues. Let’s look at that quote again, with some stuff highlighted:

Antiquities 18.3.3 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 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.

On this one, all the people who are experts in Josephus agree that there were some things added to this passage that should not be there. The stuff in bold they say definitely or very likely doesn’t belong. But there’s no argument from them against that Josephus did write most of this. The Christ mythers of course don’t agree.

“Josephus would never say nice things about Jesus, like that he did wonderful works and was wise.”

That’s not true. Josephus could easily have admired Jesus as a teacher and a miracle worker, just as we might admire someone for doing charity work even if we don’t agree with their politics. Even today there are many people who respect Jesus for his teachings but aren’t Christians. There’s even a group that exists today called Atheists for Jesus! So why couldn’t Josephus have called Jesus a “wise man”?

There’s also no reason Josephus could not have said that Jesus did miracles. Actually, he may not even be complimenting Jesus here because the word he uses can mean strange, surprising, or wonderful.

“It’s out of context. Josephus is discussing Jewish troubles, and the longer passage is out of place. Without it, the text runs on in proper sequence.”

This isn’t much of an argument either. Experts on Josephus have called him a "patchwork writer" who jumps around a lot, so he doesn’t always stick to his topics. Besides, look at what’s covered around it:

This is in no way a set of connected events. Pilate has a part in all of them, but there’s no other obvious connection that lets us say, “The one about Jesus is out of context.”

That leaves one question: Why did Christians add in those things? Some Christ mythers say they were being dishonest, but there’s no need to say that. You probably know how some people like to “argue” with books they read and scribble "replies" in the margins. The stuff that scholars think was added looks a lot like someone doing that.

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