Sunday, April 1, 2012

The historical Jesus

Bart Ehrman, who is no longer a Christian, has been shocked to discover that there are those who argue that Jesus never existed. In a new book he sets forth to answer those who question the evidence. Justin Taylor provides Ehrman's introduction from which I excerpt this:
.... Anyone who chooses to believe something contrary to evidence that an overwhelming majority of people find overwhelmingly convincing—whether it involves the fact of the Holocaust, the landing on the moon, the assassination of presidents, or even a presidential place of birth—will not be convinced. Simply will not be convinced.

And so, with Did Jesus Exist?, I do not expect to convince anyone in that boat. What I do hope is to convince genuine seekers who really want to know how we know that Jesus did exist, as virtually every scholar of antiquity, of biblical studies, of classics, and of Christian origins in this country and, in fact, in the Western world agrees. Many of these scholars have no vested interest in the matter. As it turns out, I myself do not either. I am not a Christian, and I have no interest in promoting a Christian cause or a Christian agenda. I am an agnostic with atheist leanings, and my life and views of the world would be approximately the same whether or not Jesus existed. My beliefs would vary little. The answer to the question of Jesus’s historical existence will not make me more or less happy, content, hopeful, likable, rich, famous, or immortal.

But as a historian I think evidence matters. And the past matters. And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist. He may not have been the Jesus that your mother believes in or the Jesus of the stained-glass window or the Jesus of your least favorite televangelist or the Jesus proclaimed by the Vatican, the Southern Baptist Convention, the local megachurch, or the California Gnostic. But he did exist, and we can say a few things, with relative certainty, about him. [more]
Taylor also calls attention to Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence, by Craig Evans, and quotes from Evans describing the book:
I begin by explaining what archaeology is: the excavation and study of the remains of material culture. In the case of Jesus it means the excavating and interpretation of remains from the first century B.C.E. and C.E. in Israel (Galilee to the north and Judea and Jerusalem to the south). It means correlating what we discover with relevant written records (such as the writings of the New Testament and the writings of Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian). It often means applying space-age technologies. It is hard work and it is very rewarding.

The archaeological evidence shows that Jesus grew up in a small village, Nazareth, about four miles from Sepphoris, a prominent city in the early first century C.E. This city had a Greco-Roman look, complete with paved, columned street, but its inhabitants were observant Jews. The evidence further shows that Nazareth was linked to a network of roads that accommodated travel and commerce. The quaint notion that Jesus grew up in rustic isolation has been laid to rest. .... [more]
The Historical Evidence of the Existence of Jesus of Nazareth – Justin Taylor, Archaeological Discoveries and the World of Jesus – Justin Taylor
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