The Historical Jesus, Part 1 – The Fake Jesus

faceofJesus

The Historical Jesus – Part 1 of 3

What do we really know about Jesus? Well, for those of us who live according to the “for the Bible tells me so” mentality, there is quite a lot. But not everyone gives the Bible the credibility it deserves. Those who consider the Bible to be pseudo-history, or partial history, might say we know very little. In either case, most would agree that the modern view of Jesus falls short of describing Him accurately.

For one thing, the fair-haired, blue-eyed Jesus does not fit the eastern Mediterranean profile. In other words, Jesus looked nothing like a bearded Chris Hemsworth. In fact, the absence of middle-eastern features is one of the first discrepancies that dispelled the myth of the Shroud of Turin.

Another area that does not jibe is what I like to call “nimbus Jesus”. This is the idea that Jesus just seemed to glide from place to place, dressed in white, speaking in the flowery language of heaven to all who would listen. This Jesus always comes across as a mild-mannered victim of the most heinous of hate crimes.

Realistically, Jesus was dangerously radical. His teaching and actions challenged the religious, social, and political mores of the first century; not to mention the most powerful empire the world had ever known.

Consider these words of Jesus, as recorded in John 10:25-30:

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

This leader of a new Jewish sect, who was being touted by some as a fanatic and others as a messiah, was using the language of revolution. He claimed to come from God. He called His followers “sheep”. He promised them eternal life for their service, and He claimed to be God’s equal. The Roman Empire was not lenient on those whose zealotry reeked of revolt. Just 40 years or so after Jesus’ death, history records the brutal Roman siege of Jerusalem because of  Jewish uprising against the empire. The Jews lost many lives, most of their prized relics, and the heart of their faith — Herod’s Temple.

Jesus was dangerous. Just after He spoke the words above, John says that the Jews “picked up stones to stone Him.” (John 10:31)

JESUS OUTSIDE OF THE BIBLE

So is there anywhere else outside of the Scriptures where we can find historical evidence about Jesus? Absolutely.

The books of the New Testament are not the only early sources to mention Jesus of Nazareth. Historical records by Thallus, Tacitus, and Josephus all mention Jesus and His followers, as do the Gnostic pseudo-gospels and a number of other letters and books from the first and second centuries. The genuine existence and influence of a Jewish rabbi known as Jesus, who lived during the days of Caesars Augustus and Tiberius, is hard to dispute, despite a number of conspiracy theories arguing the contrary.

In 1906, a brilliant physician, musician, and theologian named Albert Schweitzer published the indelible work The Quest for the Historical Jesus. In it, Schweitzer chronicles “scholarly” descriptions of Jesus during different eras of history after the 1st Century. Depending on who initiated them, these quests were intended to either confirm the biblical view of Jesus’ life, or to separate the Jesus of history from the dogma of the Christian religion.

As scholars delved into this “quest,” something funny happened. Funny, but not surprising. In nearly every case, each scholar’s most innovative conclusions produced a Jesus that conveniently supported his own worldview. WHY? Because to separate Jesus from the world, or the Church, depending on one’s perspective, makes it possible for a person to make Jesus whoever he or she wants Him to be.

Jesus, therefore, can be depicted as a member of any race, nationality, or ideology. Jesus can support tyranny and democracy at the same time. He can be liberal, conservative, or a member of the Perot family. Jesus can support Moses or Muhammad, Stalin or Solzhenitsyn, the President or the Pope.

According to Schweitzer,

“Hate as well as love can write a life of Jesus and the greatest of them are written with hate.”

Schweitzer did not mean to suggest that anyone on these quests actually hated Jesus, but rather they hated the Jesus their opponents had created. Schweitzer’s conclusion has perplexed the Christian culture for more than a century now. He concluded that the Jesus of history was simply that…history. The Church’s view of Jesus simply could not be accurate, and Jesus merely believed Himself to be the fulfillment of His own Jewish worldview and its hopes for emancipation. In other words, even Jesus made Himself into the Jesus He wanted to be.

What a tragic conclusion Dr. Schweitzer came to. In his quest to discover what he believed to be the “true” Jesus, he was guilty of committing the same mistake he had lamented in others: fashioning his own Jesus. Oddly enough, having mythologized Jesus in many ways, Schweitzer spend the rest of his life serving in Africa as a medical missionary under the auspices of Christianity.

For most Christians, Schweitzer’s conclusion seems pretty depressing. From another point of view, however, Schweitzer did Christianity a favor by exposing many fake Jesuses.

Are we also guilty of making Jesus into who we want Him to be as opposed to who He really was and is? The real Jesus was not and is not defined by convenience. If our goal is to make Jesus into whomever or whatever we want Him to be, we will have successfully fashioned an impotent imitation.

May we never take lightly what it means to worship the true Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. As the book of Hebrews begins:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Next up: Part 2 – Who did Jesus claim to be?

4 thoughts on “The Historical Jesus, Part 1 – The Fake Jesus

  1. Br. James Patrick says:

    Great article, Dr. Eric. Total JP bait. 😉
    Sorry for this long comment, but this inspired me, and if you don’t mind, I would love to list the ancient historians that I know of, who mentioned Jesus outside the Christian Scriptures.

    1. Thallos
    Thallos, an author from antiquity gives the earliest possible reference for Jesus, from approximately 55 AD. He’s quoted in his lost three-part history of the Mediterranean, mentioning a fearful darkness around the date of the crucifixion which some claim could be the darkness that supposedly fell the day Jesus died (Matthew 27:45): When Julius Africanus writes about the darkness at the death of Jesus, he added: “In the third (book) of his histories, Thallos calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun, which seems to me to be wrong.” (Personally, this is a little weak for me, since the quote is later.)

    2. Pliny the Younger
    Pliny the Younger (61-112 AD) was a powerful Roman lawyer, senator and intellectual famed for his letters which were turned into ten popular books. In his tenth book is a letter written, #96, to Emperor Trajan asking for help with trials of accused Christians. Three times he mentions the Christians or Christ.

    3. Suetonius (ca AD 121)
    Roman writer Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was another Roman lawyer and friend of Pliny the Younger. His famous Lives of the Caesars included the section on the Deified Claudius, mentioning what most scholars concede is an allusion to Christ, or Chrestus. This is very important, showing Christians as far away as Rome in the Reign of Cladius ( 41 to 54). This Explusion was mentioned by Luke in Acts 18:2 and many scholars place the date as AD 49. So we are saying Christians in Rome, 16 years after Jesus’ death, a big enough group to ’cause trouble’ for the Emperor. And you know how we Friars love to cause trouble. 😉

    4. Tacitus (ca. AD 116)
    Tacitus is generally accepted as greatest Roman historian. In his Annals, he mentions Christ in a passage which most scholars accept as authentic regarding the Emperor Nero and the great fire of Rome. An excerpt from that passage gives us great detail on the origin of the Christian faith.

    “But neither human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts [flagitia], whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ, had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.”

    5. Mara Bar Serapion: The Wise Jewish King
    An ancient letter was discovered from early first millennium, written by Mara Bar Serapion to his son. This was a Jewish family, dealing with the fury of Rome after the Jerusalem rebellion was put down. The letter is dated anywhere from 70 AD to the second century. It appears to mention Roman occupiers and Christ as “Wise King.”

    6. Lucian of Samosata
    Lucian of Samosata (115—200 AD) was a celebrated Greek satirist and traveling speaker. His book, The Death of Peregrinus, (165 AD), is about a famed pagan who converted to Christianity.

    8. Josephus
    Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37—100 AD), aka Joseph ben Mattathias, is one of the most important writers of antiquity. He survived Rome crushing the Jewish revolt in 66 AD. His book Jewish Antiquities has a passage most scholars accept as authentic.

    9. Rabbinic Literature: Mishnah
    After the fall of Jerusalem, the Jews produced the Mishnah, a massive work of scholarship, purported to present the oral half of Moses’ Code from Sinai. A passage mentions Jesus being ‘hanged on the day before Passover’.

    However, if we accept Biblical witness as well (and most scholars do), then the earliest reliable witness would be Paul. Paul knew Jesus’ brother, James, and he knew his closest disciple, Peter, and he tells us that he did.

    Some people have said that His life story was copied after other ancient myths.

    Michael Grant, in his book Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels states “if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.”

    Bart Ehrman: …”if someone invented Jesus, they would not have created a messiah who was so easily overcome. “The Messiah was supposed to overthrow the enemies – and so if you’re going to make up a messiah, you’d make up a powerful messiah,” he says. “You wouldn’t make up somebody who was humiliated, tortured and the killed by the enemies.”

    Even the most liberal scholars on earth would laugh anyone out of the room who suggested that Jesus never existed.

  2. Jerry Jacobs says:

    Good research, as I perused it.
    You are so good!
    I look forward to reading it.
    Jerry
    Jerry M. Jacobs
    Minister of Education/Discipleship
    First Baptist Church of Tulsa, OK

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