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"In the Year of the Lord": 4 Reasons to Believe Jesus Historically Existed


Historical Jesus

[*Article also appears on www.thegodofabraham.com]


Time is an interesting concept. How we understand time shapes our existence in more ways than we often care to acknowledge. If I were to ask you what year it is, you would say "2021." If I were to ask you why it is 2021, you may look at me with a confused expression on your face, as if to say, “what do mean?”


I do not think that we think about why it is the year it is as often as we should.


Prior to modern scholars bastardizing our universal time designations, we collectively understood exactly what our year represented. That is to say, before modern scholars started jamming BCE and CE (which stand for “Before Common Era” and “Common Era” respectively) down our proverbial throats, most scholars distinguished ancient history from modern history with the demarcations “BC” and “AD.” The former of course stands for “Before Christ” and the latter stands for anno domini, which is Latin for “In the year of the Lord.” In other words, before modern scholars tried to change the historical rules by which most of us have faithfully adhered to for over a millennia,[1] it was much more apparent to everyone exactly what our year represented.


The origin of how we calculate our year in the Western World began with Dionysius Exiguus in 525 AD. No one is exactly sure which method he used for measuring his own time period back to the incarnation of Jesus.[2] Nonetheless his calculations were quite accurate. Perhaps he got his calculation from the 4th Century Church historian Eusebius, who posited that Jesus turned 30 in the year 28/29 AD, thus placing his birth around 2/1 BC.[3] The traditional scholarly consensus, puts Jesus’s birth between 6 BC and 4 BC.[4] So, as you can see, Dionysius’s understanding of his own time in relation to that of the historical Jesus was quite accurate.


The point is, we say that it is 2021 because it is believed that Jesus was born approximately two thousand twenty one years ago. Furthermore, it seems preposterous on the very face of it, to have to prove whether or not Jesus the man historically existed, when the way in which we understand history itself is directly related to his life. Nonetheless, with this post I will present four reasons that I believe prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth.


You may not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but hopefully by the end of this you will believe that he was at least a man.



Evidence


Before I present you with four reasons why you should believe that Jesus of Nazareth historically existed, I must first address one piece of “evidence” that is often cited whenever this subject is discussed. That is to say, when the topic of the historical Jesus is brought up, it is common for the Shroud of Turin to be invoked as tangible proof of his existence. Believers claim that the Shroud of Turin is the actual burial shroud of Jesus. Indeed, it is difficult for anyone to explain how or why it seems to bear his likeness in the fibers. The shroud is without a doubt intriguing, but pardon my pun here, it is too deeply shrouded in mystery to be of any practical use to our current discussion. The inconclusive nature of the carbon dating has kept both, believers and skeptics, from claiming a definitive victory in the matter, and therefore neither side should cite the shroud as proving or disproving anything.


Nevertheless, despite not being able to use the Shroud as evidence to prove the historicity of Jesus, I implore anyone to try to recreate anything like it; it simply cannot be done. So in that sense, the shroud is absolutely miraculous, and should not be disregarded completely. It definitely holds value — how much value it holds, however, remains to be seen.


I mention all of this to highlight the intent of this writing. This post does not seek to prove miracles. The goal of this post is simply to present a reasonable argument for the historical existence of a man known to the world as Jesus of Nazareth.



1. History vs. Myth


In scholarly circles, the contention that Jesus did not historically exist is called the Christ Myth Theory. In this section, I will attempt to refute two common arguments in support of this theory. The first is that Christianity was not a new religious phenomenon, but rather, it is the syncretism of Greek and Jewish belief structures at the time, and the second is that the story of Jesus fits a hero archetype pattern found in many other ancient myths, and is therefore just an invention and has no basis in historical fact. Without a doubt, there are elements of truth in these two mythicist arguments. Nonetheless, just because they can be argued for persuasively and contain elements of truth, does not mean that they are the TRUTH. Let me explain what I mean by that distinction.


As for the first argument, that Christianity is just an amalgamation of Greek and Jewish thought and belief, and is therefore not the new phenomenon that many claimed that it was. I am sorry, but that is not exactly a ground breaking revelation. The New Testament is written in Greek, mostly by Jews to persuade both Jews and Greeks to convert to Christianity. It seems self-evident that if you want people to understand you, you need to speak their language, so to speak. So, it is not exactly earth shattering scholarship to point out that these two cultures coalesced into parts of Christianity.


Let us look at a clear example of how easily this syncretism can occur, and why it is not the huge problem to Christian faith that mythicists believe it is. The minority of modern scholars that believe that the apostle John is the actual author of the Gospel that bears his name, contend that he wrote the gospel during his exile in Patmos. Or another way to put it, a Jewish man was writing in Greece about the life of Christ. Looking at it this way, it is not difficult to see where and how certain aspects of Jewish and Greek culture innocuously converged via early Christianity. The point I am trying to make here is that this seems to be a misguided set of parameters by which to judge the reliability of the historical basis for someone.


In fact, if anything, the fact that Christianity holds within it some age old truths from two ancient cultures full of wisdom enhances Christianity, it does not diminish it. As Augustine wrote in Retractions, “That which is called the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist, from the beginning of the human race until Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion which already existed began to be called Christianity.”[5] In other words, Christianity is the ultimate culmination of something that was already centuries in the making. I do not think any Christian would (or should) deny that fact.


The Jewish people looked to their scripture for signs of the Messiah (i.e. an anointed King sent by God) who would come and save them. And the Greeks looked to their philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, and others) to make sense of their world by acquiring wisdom. We open up the Gospel of John and read, “In the beginning was the Word (Logos) and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” With one line John has brought together the language of the Jewish scripture with the philosophy of the Greeks into a new belief structure which came to be known as Christianity. “In the beginning” is the same language we see in the Book of Genesis — the first book of the Law of Moses— and the Logos is a Greek philosophical concept that means wisdom or reason. Mythicists may argue that Jesus is an amalgamation of Jewish and Greek culture, but believers could just as easily (and perhaps more persuasively) argue that Jesus is just the fulfillment of ancient Jewish prophecy AND the perfect embodiment of Greek wisdom. Which, to achieve both simultaneously, seems like a miracle unto itself. But like I said earlier, this post is not trying to convince you of miracles.


As for the second, and much more controversial argument of mythicists, that Jesus fits the typical mythical hero archetype, and because of that he was not a real historical figure. There is a lot to unpack here. Before I proceed any further I should address what is meant exactly by the “mythical hero archetype.” Its more technical scholarly moniker is the Rank-Raglan Mythotype. This narrative concept is derived from the work of Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank and anthropologist Lord Raglan. Other notable names in this academic arena include Joseph Campbell and James G. Frazer.


Rank and Raglan each outlined a set of hero tropes that they saw as the repeating pattern found in the stories of mythical heroes across different cultures. Mythicists like to claim that because the story of Jesus has some of these traits, then it must mean that he is mythical.


There are three huge flaws in this argument:


The first is that, according to prestigious folklorist Alan Dundes, Lord Raglan never actually denies the historicity of the heroes he studied.[6] And Raglan’s successor in this field of study, Joseph Campbell, is quite explicit about the historical basis of Jesus. Campbell writes, “If we think of the crucifixion in only historical terms, we lose the symbol’s immediate reference to ourselves.”[7] Campbell’s point may be in favor of the allegorical over the literal interpretation, nonetheless, it still confirms the existence of the literal, which is to say, the historical Jesus.


The second flaw of this mythicist argument is that the parameters that define the hero are so general that many prominent people who are indisputably historic figures like Abraham Lincoln or Augustus Caesar fit the description of a Rank-Raglan mythical hero even better than actual mythical heroes like Achilles or Odysseus they are meant to describe. To apply generalizations such as “unusual conception,” “coming from a royal line,” or “grew up” as a way to determine if someone historically existed or not is ridiculous.


And the third flaw of the argument, that Jesus’s story is just like any other ancient mythic hero, is that the statement in and of itself is verifiably false. Let me put it this way: I invite any mythicist who makes such a claim to tell me exactly what mythic hero story in the 1st century AD or prior, ever depicted the hero as having no army, preaching non-violence, and dying the death of a disgraced criminal? Although Jesus may fit into some general mythic hero tropes, Jesus’s story is a lot less common than you may think.


That last point, about Jesus dying the death of a disgraced criminal, provides us with a good segue to brings us to the second reason we know that Jesus historically existed:


Frankly, his story is kind of embarrassing.



2. Embarrassment Factor


Just to be clear: on this matter of the historicity of Jesus, it is the mythicists, who hold the minority opinion. There are two points about the historical life of Jesus about which the majority of scholars (skeptics and believers alike) are in agreement -- Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and Pontius Pilate sentenced him to death by crucifixion. Why are most scholars in agreement about these two points? It is simple: they are embarrassing to the followers of Jesus, because they are a direct challenge to his divinity. In the world of Biblical scholarship, this way of proving the historical reliability of something is referred to as the “Criterion of Embarrassment,” a phrase popularized by Biblical scholar John P. Meier in his seminal work, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus.


First, let us look at Jesus’s baptism and why the criterion of embarrassment helps us see the historical validity of the story. The question must be asked, why would Jesus, who is the (supposed) sinless Son of God, need to be baptized by someone preaching a baptism for the repentance of sins? It does not make sense. And why would the (supposed) “King of the Jews” be seen bowing down before someone else in the middle of the Jordan River? So, even though this story can be interpreted in a light that makes Jesus seem imperfect and “less than,” his baptism at the hands of John the Baptist is depicted in all four gospels. Why would these Evangelists record this story, if it is a potential challenge to the faith? It is simple: because that is what actually happened.


Now let us look at Jesus’s crucifixion. According to Jewish scripture, the Messiah (i.e. the Christ) was supposed to be a man promised by God who would conquer the enemies of Israel, establish God’s Holy Kingdom, and set things right for God’s chosen people. Instead, what you have in Jesus is a man, tortured and humiliated by the oppressor and given the death of a criminal.


In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul acknowledges the difficulty that preaching a crucified Christ presented. He writes, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and a folly to Gentiles”[8]. In other words, for Jews the fact that Jesus was defeated by the oppressors showed that he was not the promised Christ, and the fact that Paul preached that the Son of God died like a lowly criminal just seemed silly to the Greeks. The point here seems clear, we can infer that Jesus was really crucified, because it was such a shameful way for the Jewish Messiah and/or the Son of God to die. If people were just inventing the story of Jesus, as mythicists contend, then why would anyone add such a difficult event to explain to his story? The point: the story, as it is, makes his followers look foolish to outsiders, so it stands to reason that the only reason to write that a man named Jesus was crucified, is because in fact, a man named Jesus was crucified.[9]



3. Eyewitness Testimony


It seems hard to believe that this year is the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. It seems like just yesterday when that tragedy unfolded before our eyes. Everyone remembers where they were that tragic day, where they stood shocked and deeply saddened by the sights they saw either on their television screens, or worse, in person. Everything seemed to change that day. It is difficult to comprehend how the events of one day could change the lives of so many people. So many different stories could be told by so many. Now let us keep all of that in mind — how the events of twenty years ago can still burn vividly in the memories of so many — as we transition back to the subject at hand.


Think about it, within less than twenty years of the crucifixion, Paul was writing letters about the death of a man named Jesus, “For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.”[10] Despite the fact that Paul’s letters leave out many of the biographical elements of the life of Jesus found in the Gospels, and the fact that he never met Jesus personally, Paul is very clear that Jesus was in fact a real man who actually lived on earth. But you may be wondering, if Paul never met him personally then how can we trust that Paul knew he really existed?


In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, which is believed by many scholars to be his earliest letter, he explicitly states that he spent more than two weeks with Peter, Jesus’s closest disciple, and James, Jesus’s brother.[11] This occurred, Paul tells us, when he went to Jerusalem three years after his conversion (which by most accounts is about five years after the death of Jesus -- circa 35/38 AD). One can only imagine that since Paul had given up everything in his life for his belief in this man Jesus, a man he never met in the flesh, that the most important thing for Paul to discuss with Peter and James was the man's life (that is, if that was a question at all). As agnostic biblical scholar Bart Ehrman poignantly puts it, "If Jesus didn’t exist, then surely his best friend and his brother would know about it.”[12]


What is more, you would think that if Jesus did not actually exist, Paul would realize he was a fool to abandon his former life. And instead of writing letters to inspire followers to keep their faith that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God, he would instead return to persecuting followers of Jesus for following what he now knew to be a lie, since the myth would have been exposed to him when he met with those closest to him. Nevertheless that was not the case, which seems to suggest historical truth.


Most modern scholars claim that we have no genuine eyewitness accounts of Jesus, and of course the mythicists have latched onto this argument.


While I could possibly accept the opinion of most modern scholars that the Gospel of Matthew was not written by the Apostle Matthew. That is, if they could more persuasively prove Markan priority among the Synoptic Gospels. Because if Matthew's Gospel was written after Mark, it would be clear that it was not written by an apostle, because an actual Apostle would not have had to rely on the words of Mark, who was not an apostle, as much as he clearly does.


What I find interesting is the acceptance of each evangelist as the actual author of the Gospel that bears his name is usually ordered by their distance from the events of Jesus. In other words, the more likely the author was to actually know Jesus and bear witness to him the less likely scholars are to believe the authenticity of the gospel. That seems like a counterintuitive way to judge validity. The point is, most scholars dispute Matthew and John's authorship because they were actually disciples, and Mark is sometimes disputed because sometimes scholars think he may have witnessed Jesus, and Luke admittedly never personally knew Jesus, so likewise is authorship is typically widely accepted. (For the purposes of our current discussion, I am focusing solely on possible eye witnesses of Jesus among the Gospel writers and not the epistle writers. To read about how I believe that the Letter of James was in fact written by the brother of the Lord read my Commentary on the Letter here).


My opinion about the authorship of John is at odds with modern scholarship. I believe that that Gospel of John was in fact written by Jesus’s disciple John. And so, yes, we do therefore have an eyewitness account of Jesus among the Gospel writers. And ironically, this gospel which I believe to be the closest to the life of Jesus, is also ironically, the one that is the furthest from his life. I mean that in the sense of time, not in personal connection. It is believed that the Gospel of John, despite being written (in this writer's opinion) by the Gospel's namesake, was in fact the last one written, with most scholars dating it somewhere between 85 and 95 AD,[13] although John A.T. Robinson makes a persuasive case for a much earlier date in both Redating the New Testament, and The Priority of John.


The question remains: Why do I believe the apostle John really wrote the Gospel of John? It is simple, because he says he does. That is to say, in no other gospel does the author claim to be an eyewitness to Jesus. This claim of authorship only happens in the Gospel of John.


In the final chapter of John, it is written, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.”[14] No other Gospel makes such a claim, which I believe is important to note. Even still, putting that contention about John’s Gospel aside and even accepting (for the moment) what modern scholars say about there not being a genuine eyewitness account of Jesus. I think that these same scholars should (at the very least) concede my previous point about Paul speaking with Peter and James in Jerusalem for two weeks, and how if they accept Paul’s words about these events (which I believe most actually do), then they would have to admit that the fact that we have Paul’s letters proves that Peter and James confirmed for him beyond a shadow of a doubt the historical existence of Jesus (even though I doubt Paul had any such doubts about his historical existence after his experience in Damascus anyway - and not only that, the Gospels make it clear that Jesus was famous, so surely someone living as close to the events as Paul was, would know what was happening in his own time and have heard all about the man Jesus long before his conversion and/or conversation with his apostle and brother).



4. Contemporary Corroboration


As I already noted, Paul was writing his letters within twenty years of the death of Jesus. Most scholars date Paul’s epistles between 49 and 67 AD.[15] Nevertheless, Paul might not be the earliest writer of the New Testament. Some have argued that the first piece of writing in the New Testament was the letter written by the aforementioned James, the Lord’s brother. Some scholars have dated this letter to as early as 45 AD,[16] which puts it within (approximately) a dozen years of Jesus’s crucifixion.


So even though we have letters dated within a generation of the life of Jesus, mythicists often dispute the historical value of such writings because they are written by followers of Jesus, and therefore cannot be trusted to be unbiased. Fortunately we also have writings from three highly respected non-Christian historians, Flavius Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger — three men that have no interest in furthering the cause of some “mythical hero.” I will go through what each of these historians wrote about the historical Jesus in order to separate the man from the myth, and convince the mythicists that he was indeed an historical man.


Flavius Josephus


The first non-Christian historical source that mentions Jesus is the 1st Century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus. In his Jewish Antiquities (93 AD), Josephus mentions Jesus in two separate passages. The passage in Book 20, which the vast majority of scholars deem to be completely genuine, references the aforementioned James, and his death by stoning. Josephus explicitly describes James as “the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ.” Keep in mind, Josephus is writing history not myth. He is writing about the death of an important man, James, who was the brother of another important man, Jesus. Josephus is not saying that Jesus is the Christ, just that he was “so-called.” Josephus is simply describing, in historical terms, who these men were and their place in the world.


The second passage where Josephus mentions Jesus is in Book 18, and this passage is known as the Testimonium Flavianum. The Testimonium is arguably the most debated passage of literature anywhere in the world. The passage commonly reads:

"About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was the achiever of extraordinary deeds and was a teacher of those who accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When he was indicted by the principal men among us and Pilate condemned him to be crucified, those who had come to love him originally did not cease to do so; for he appeared to them on the third day restored to life, as the prophets of the Deity had foretold these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day.”[17]


Based on the fact that this passage was recorded by a Jewish historian (i.e. not a follower of Jesus), and it claims that Jesus “was the Messiah,” “restored to life,” and “God foretold these things,” it would appear that this is the undeniable proof that Christians have been looking for, in order to prove, not only the existence of Jesus, but that he was exactly as the Bible portrays him to be. The problem, however, is that almost all scholars believe that this passage is not completely authentic. Up until about a few hundred years ago, however, this passage was universally accepted as complete truth. Nonetheless, over time skeptics began to question its validity. For one thing, it was hard to explain why Josephus, a non-Christian Jew, would describe Jesus in such Christian-sounding terms.

The criticism leveled against the authenticity of the Testimonium begins at the source. That is to say, the passage originally appeared to the Western World in the early 4th century writings of Christian historian Eusebius, and because it was relayed to us through a Christian historian many scholars believe that the text must have been corrupted somehow.


According to historian and translator, Paul L. Maier, there are certain parts of the Testimonium that are believed by many to be Christian interpolation. According to Maier, the italicized parts of the above passage are what scholars believe to be Christian interpolation.[18] These scholarly assumptions about Christian interpolation of the passage turned out to be confirmed in 1972, when Professor Schlomo Pines discovered a 10th century Arabic translation of the Testimonium that is translated as follows:


"At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known as virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become 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 who the prophets have reported wonders. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day."[19]


As Maier points out, this version of the passage confirms the scholarly projections of what we would assume a non-Christian Jew like Josephus would actually write about Jesus the man. Josepehus is not saying that Jesus is divine, just that people thought Jesus was divine, which I think we can all agree is historically accurate.


One more thing I want you to notice about the Testimonium, before we move onto the second non-Christian historical source, is the fact that even the skeptical scholars never challenged the “Pilate condemned him to be crucified” part of the passage. I already spoke about why we should believe that Jesus was crucified — because it is a “stumbling block” to the faith. Nevertheless, this passage is yet another reason to believe in Jesus’s historical death on the cross.

Tacitus

Moving on from the Testimonium of Josephus, we find much less controversy in the writing of our second (semi) contemporary non-Christian source for the historical existence of Jesus: the Roman historian Tacitus. There is little debate among scholars of the complete authenticity of this writing. Tacitus does not mince words about the followers of Jesus, and because of his clear disdain for them, as well as his esteemed reputation as an historian; his words hold a weight of certainty in modern biblical scholarship. In his Annals (115 A.D.), Tacitus writes of Jesus and his early followers, and their persecution in the Roman Empire:

"Nero fastened his guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called 'Chrestian' by the populace. Christus from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of evil, but even in Rome, 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."[20]

Here Tacitus has recorded the Roman Emperor Nero’s attempt to blame the burning of Rome in 64 A.D. on the “Chrestians.” Tacitus seems to clearly understand that Nero was making them the scapegoat for the burning, but he also seems to be in agreement with Nero’s motives. That is, Tacitus, like Nero, seems to see the Christians “hatred for mankind,” as the real crime. Nevertheless, Tacitus also reveals in this passage that this sect was in fact very “popular” and despite their leader “Christus” suffering “the extreme penalty” at the hands of “Pontius Pilate,” they kept growing in number and spread all the way from Judea to Rome. In other words, in just under thirty years this movement of Christianity was spreading like wild fire (no pun intended).


Consider the circumstances here: Tacitus is writing of a time, only three decades after Jesus’s death, and already the movement was growing so rapidly that the Roman Emperor felt the need to act against them and “check” this “superstition.” What is more, this very unflattering passage of Tacitus, not only proves that Jesus, lived and died, but that he did something so amazing that in less than three decades after his death, one of the greatest historians of the day was already noting his effect on mankind.

Pliny the Younger

The third and final (semi-) contemporary non-Christian historian writing of the historical existence of Jesus is the Roman historian, Pliny the Younger. Pliny writes of Christ’s followers in his Epistles (112 A.D.):

"They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang alternate verses of a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food, but of an ordinary and innocent kind."[21]

So we are, roughly eighty years since the crucifixion of Jesus, and according to this highly respected non-Christian historian, Jesus’s followers are singing hymns to him “as a god,” and swearing oaths of morality in his name, which seem to contain rules that are very much in line with the Law of Moses and the tradition of Israel. This passage does not explicitly say that Jesus historically existed, but it does show us that, historically, within only a few generations of his (assumed) death, Jesus was ritualistically worshipped as a God by a growing number of people. It is hard to imagine that if so many people were basing their whole lives on the story of a man who actually walked the earth, that none of them would have figured out it was all just a myth. The point is, it clearly was not a myth. It was still recent history to them, and thus possible to still ascertain the truth without too much difficulty. They are after all still within a lifetime’s span of the man they were worshipping as a God.



Conclusion


The argument against the historical existence of Jesus features all or some of the following points:

  1. Christianity stole its beliefs from Jewish and Pagan traditions

  2. Jesus’s story fits the same pattern as other mythic heroes, so his story must be a myth

  3. The New Testament was written too far after the “life” of Jesus and is all just a legend

  4. Paul does not speak about the details of Jesus’s life enough in his letters

  5. We have no eyewitness accounts

  6. We have no non-Christian accounts of the life of Jesus


I hope that this post has made it clear why each one of these points is either not true, or if it is true, why the truth of it is irrelevant to the point of whether or not Jesus the man historically existed.


It is 2021, and all the evidence seems to suggest that nearly two thousand years ago, a man named Jesus was crucified by the Roman Empire.


Whether or not you believe that this man rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion, or if he was wrapped in a shroud during those three days which we still have today, is not germane to the matter at hand. Just because you may strongly disagree with these miraculous claims (or others), or that you may hold an animosity against his “followers” and the heinous things that they may say or do in his name, that all holds no bearing on the question of whether or not Jesus of Nazareth lived as a mortal man at a specific moment in history. A moment, mind you, that has seemed to shape our “time” in more ways than we would often care to admit.


We are literally living “in the year of the Lord.” Too often I think we overlook the profundity of that. Maybe you do not like the BC/AD time delineation because it is “too religious.” I can accept that, because I know that deep down we all know why history is divided where it is. If nothing else, I can take solace in the fact that because of this man named Jesus, we now live (according to agnostic scholars) in the “common era.” Or to put it another way, the time that we share is all thanks to the life of this one man.


Notes:


[1] The history of the standardization of time in the Western World is complicated. It was the work of Bede in the 8th Century that popularized BC/AD and it was the reign of Charlemagne in the 9th century that started the standardization of it. Nevertheless, as early as the 18th century, we have the first use of the term “common era” (CE). It was not until the 20th century, however, when the BCE/CE time designation gained ground in academia. (www.anceint.eu — see following footnote for full citation)

[2] Joshua J. Mark, “The Origin and History of the BCE/CE Dating System.” World History Encyclopedia. www.ancient.eu.

[3] Paul L. Maier, Eusebius: The Church History. (Kregel Publishing, 1999, 2007), 41.

[4] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, v.1, Anchor Bible Reference Library (1991), 373-433

[5] Augustine of Hippo, Retractions.

[6] Alan Dundes, In Quest of the Hero, (Princeton University Press, NJ, 1990).

[7] Joseph Campbell, Joseph Campbell Companion, A, () 169-170.

[8] 1 Corinthians 1:23.

[9] I owe a great deal of what I say in this paragraph to insights I derived from the work of Biblical Scholar Bart Erhman (See Note 11 for full citation).

[10] Romans 5:15.

[11] Galatians 1:18-19.

[12] Bart Ehrman. “Bart Ehrman & Robert Price Debate - Did Jesus Exist?” March 26, 2017. The Bart Ehrman Blog.

[13] Bible Overview, (Rose Publishing: 2012), 185.

[14] John 21:24

[15] Bible Overview, 200.

[16] https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Epistle-James

[17] Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities Book 18, Chapter 3, (93 AD).

[18] Maier, Eusebius, 336.

[19] Ibid., 337.

[20] Tacitus, Annals, XV, 44 (115 AD)

[21] Pliny the Younger, Epistles 10.96 (112 AD)