What History Says
Many today will say that the Bible is a book of myths and fairytales and that Jesus and others never really existed. Historical documents and archeology dispute this in a big way. Here is what some ancient historians had to say about Jesus;
"Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, a member of a priestly family and who became a Pharisee at the age of 19, became the court historian for Emperor Vespasian. In the Antiquities, he wrote about many persons and events of first century Palestine. He makes two references to Jesus. The first reference is believed associated with the Apostle James. "…he brother of Jesus, who was called Christ." He also wrote, "At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive, accordingly, he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders."
Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus recorded information pertaining to Jesus. He told of how Nero blamed a certain sect called Christians whom he said followed the teachings of Christus for the burning of Rome and decided to make an example of them buy torturing them in the Colosseum.
Thallus wrote about the crucifixion of Jesus. His writing date to circa 52 A.D. and the passage on Jesus was contained in Thallus’ work on the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to 52 A.D. Thallus noted that darkness fell on the land at the time of the crucifixion. He wrote that such a phenomenon was caused by an eclipse.
Pliny the Younger, a Roman author and administrator who served as the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, wrote in 112 A.D., two hundred years before the "deity" reaffirmation, that Christians in Bithynia worshipped Christ.
The Talmud, which consists of Jewish traditions handed down orally from generation to generation, was organized by Rabbi Akiba before his death in 135 A.D. The writings in the Talmud embrace the legal, ritual and exegetical commentaries that have developed right down to contemporary times. In Sanhedrin 43a, reference to Jesus is found. "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."If Jesus had been stoned, his death would have been at the hands of the Jews. The fact he was crucified shows that the Romans intervened. The Talmud also speaks of five of Jesus’ disciples.
The science of archaeology supports the existence of Jesus in that the names of people and places mentioned in the Gospels have been proven to be factual. Here are some of the discoveries made.;
The existence of Nazareth in Jesus’ day had been doubted by critics until its name showed up in a first-century synagogue inscription at Caesarea. Augustus’ census edicts (in connection with the Nativity) are proven by an inscription at Ankara, Turkey, his famous Res Gestae ("Things Accomplished"), in which the Roman emperor proudly claims to have taken a census three times. That husbands had to register their families for the Roman census was mandated in census papyri discovered in Egypt.
That Herod the Great ruled at the time Jesus was born is demonstrated by the numerous excavations of his massive public works in the Holy Lane, including the great Temple in Jerusalem. That his son Herod Antipas ruled Galilee is shown in similar digs at Sepphoris and Tiberias. Coins from these and the other Herodian rulers are a commonplace in coin collections.
As for Jesus’ public ministry, the remains of the foundation of the synagogue at Capernaum where He taught still exist below the present ruins of the fourth-century synagogue there. The remains of Peter’s house at Capernaum, later converted into an octagonal Christian sanctuary, have been uncovered. The hull of a first-century boat that plied the waters of the Sea of Galilee in Jesus’ time was discovered in 1986, giving us new information on how Jesus could sleep through a storm during the famous episode of the Stilling of the Tempest (Mark 4:35).
Relating to Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem, an ancient flight of stairs down to the Brook Kidron has been excavated, doubtless used by Jesus and His disciples on the way to Gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives, where ancient olive trees still thrive. An inscription naming His judge on Good Friday, Pontius Pilate, was discovered at Caesarea in 1961. The very bones of the chief prosecutor at that trial, the high priest Joseph Caiaphas, came to light inside an ossuary (a stone chest used to store bones from burial sites) uncovered in 1990, the first bones of a Biblical personality ever discovered.
That they nailed victims to crosses, as in Jesus’ case, was proven when another ossuary was open north of Jerusalem in 1968, and a victim’s heel bones appeared, transfixed with a seven-inch iron spike.
Burial in tombs closed up with rolling stone disks is more than apparent today in many such sepulchers in Judea and even Galilee.
In addition, many of the sites in Jesus’ ministry, such as Bethsaida, Chorazin, Capernaum, Caesarea Philippi, Shechem, Bethany and, of course, Jerusalem are in process of excavation, promising even more archaeological discoveries relating to the life of Jesus. If the past is any precedent, almost all of these will confirm the New Testament accounts.
So where do you stand? History and archeology support that Jesus existed. Will you believe today? Who do you say He is?
For further reading on these subjects, read The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
Part III on Monday