SJ Fails at Archaeology and History
SJ the “Twitter Apologist” just loves and loves to retweet the same blog again and again. Well, at some point, someone has to clean up the mess and it might as well be yours truly.
In her blog SJ tries to make the case that there is archeological and historical evidence to validate Christianity and Jesus Christ. History is my ball park, so let’s do this!
“And He answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” Luke 19:40.“
The spades of the archaeologists have uncovered innumerable facts that confirm the Scripture. More than twenty-five thousand sites have been discovered that pertain to the Bible. Records of tens of thousands of individuals and events have been found. The most recent and continuing testimony of archaeology, like all such testimony that has gone before, is definitely and uniformly favorable to the Scripture at its face value, rather than to the Scripture as reconstructed by critics. Dr. William Albright says, There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament tradition.’” (Kennedy, 1999, pp. 23-24).
Biblical archaeology lies in ruins. Literally, socially, and metaphorically. (For more demonstrations and discussion of this point than are here to follow see Avalos, End of Biblical Studies, 109–84.)
Biblical archaeology once was a premier and even glamorous field within biblical studies, and now even some of its most famous practitioners are proclaiming its death. In 1995, William G. Dever, a doyen of the archaeology of ancient Israel, declared that “American Syro–Palestinian and biblical archaeology are moribund disciplines; and archaeologists like me who have spent a lifetime in the profession, feel like the last members of an endangered species.” (William G. Dever, “Death of a Discipline,” Biblical Archaeology Review 21, no. 5 (September/October 1995): 50–55, 70; quote is from 51. For a broader treatment on the demise of biblical archaeology, see Thomas W. Davis, Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).)
In 2006, Ronald Hendel, a professor of the Hebrew Bible at the University of California at Berkeley, remarked, “Biblical Archaeology doesn’t really exist today in the way it once did.” (Ronald S. Hendel, “Is There a Biblical Archaeology?” Biblical Archaeology Review 32, no. 4 (July/August 2006): 20.)
Biblical archaeology has helped to bury the Bible, and archaeologists know it. Ronald Hendel was exactly right when he said, “Archaeological research has—against the intentions of most of its practitioners—secured the nonhistoricity of much of the Bible before the era of kings.” (Ronald S. Hendel, “Is There a Biblical Archaeology?,” BAR 32/4 (July/August 2006) 20. https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/32/4/5)
One of the greatest sources of evidence for the authenticity of the Old Testament was found between the years of 1947 and 1956 along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea: the Dead Sea Scrolls (Centuryone, 2011). About 15,000 fragments provided the remains of between 825 and 870 separate scrolls. The scrolls included 19 copies of the book of Isaiah, 25 copies of Deuteronomy, and 30 copies of Psalms. The Isaiah Scroll, which was around 1,000 years older than any known copy of Isaiah, was found completely intact. “The Dead Sea Scrolls enhance our knowledge of both Judaism and Christianity. They represent a wealth of comparative material for New Testament scholars, including many important parallels to the Jesus movement. They show Christianity to be rooted in Judaism and have been called the evolutionary link between the two.” (Centuryone, 2011). Recent technological advances have also helped to advance the readability of the Scrolls. See https://cccdiscover.com/oldest-biblical-text-reveals-amazing-reality-about-the-hebrew-bible/?utm_content=buffer18976&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
I honestly see little point in including this: we are evaluating the truth behind Christianity, why should we care about surviving fragments of the Old Testament? Full disclosure, we have more texts than just the Dead Sea Scrolls (Cuneiform tablets, papyrus paper, leather etchings, etc) but why should that matter? Christianity concerns Jesus Christ and the New Testament. The later of which, for all the piles of fragments we have of the Old Testament, the New Testament has even much fewer surviving texts. We have zero fragments of the original gospels, we only have copies of copies of copies. The oldest texts we have are from Paul, but even he admits that he never met Jesus Christ and his work reveals how very little he knew about Jesus before he allegedly died. The oldest copy of the New Testament yet found consists of a tiny fragment from the Gospel of John, and the fragment (P52) is so tiny it’s basically the size of a credit card. Scholars dated the little flake of papyrus from the period style of its handwriting to around the first half of the 2nd century C.E.
At the end of the day, archeologists can find all the fragments they want about the Old Testament for all I care. I’m only concerned with the claims Christian apologists keep pushing: Christianity is true, Jesus died and rose from the dead, and if you don’t believe it and become a Christian, you won’t go to Heaven and end up in Hell. But if there was no Jesus, or if he wasn’t the Messiah, or if there was no Resurrection, then the whole issue is meaningless and Christianity has no legs to stand on. Which is why I only care about evidence that supports Christianity, and fragments of the Old Testament doesn’t help in the slightest.
Famed archaeologist Sir William Ramsay set out to discredit Luke (who authored the Book of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles) when he traveled to Biblical locations recounted in the New Testament. After twenty years of investigation, he converted to Christianity and determined that Luke “should be placed along with the very greatest of historians… You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s, and they stand against the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment” (Ramsay, 1915/2011).
Ramsay did a good job at archaeology, but not so much at analyzing the gospels. Ramsay concluded that ALL of the Pauline epistles were authentic… yet the scholarly consensus has overwhelming concluded most of them are in fact forgeries.
Roman historian Colin Hemer concurred. He identified eighty four historical and eyewitness details from Luke in Acts 13 through Acts 28 (Turek, 2014). These include the names of small town politicians, topographical features, specific weather patterns and water depths and local slang.
I looked at those 84 “facts,” and I’m not surprised that, considering that even though the gospel authors were anonymous, we know that they were educated men who wrote in Greek, then therefore of the 84 “facts” found in Acts, a big chunk of it has to do with knowledge of Athens and Greek and Roman culture. Most of the rest has to do with travel throughout Israel and knowledge of the court systems…. well considering this is Roman-occupied Israel, and the gospels were written in Greek and clearly by educated men, you’d think that an educated Greek would travel throughout the occupied land should know a thing or two about the law and order of the Roman-occupied land and the culture and geography of the places his language comes from.
What I find missing in these 84 “facts” is the lack of a single fact that shows any concrete evidence of Jesus Christ. In fact, his name isn’t even mentioned in the list. I’m not kidding, go look at it yourself.
Can you imagine someone trying to pull this exact type of case to nit-pick the little things to construct a case of “84 facts” found in Homer’s epic stories like the Odyssey? Imagine then someone arguing these facts discovered in the Odyssey was used to justify a belief in mystical sirens and giant one-eyed monsters? Any rational person would point out that is quiet a big leap to make. Just because a scholar can find X number of “facts” of little things mentioned in a story does not mean that the legend is true.
Additional archaeological evidence supports the existence of more than thirty prominent people in the New Testament (Turek, 2014). These people include John the Baptist, James the half-brother of Jesus, Pontius Pilate, Erastus, Agrippa I, Caiaphas, Bernice, Quirinius, Lysanias, Agrippa II, Felix, and several Herods.
Look whose name is missing from that list: Jesus Christ.
As an example of one piece of archaeological evidence, in Jerusalem in 1990, the burial box (ossuary) of the remains of Caiaphas was discovered. The ossuary is now featured in the Israel Museum of Jerusalem (Turek, 2014). Caiaphas was the Jewish high priest who demanded Jesus’ crucifixion.
Fantastic, archaeologists found the burial box of Caiaphas. Congratulations. What does that prove?
Where’s the archaeological evidence of Jesus Christ?
As a second example, Josephus recorded Quirinius’ governorship from AD 5 and AD 6, yet Luke wrote that Joseph and Mary returned to Bethlehem because a Syrian governor named Quirinius was conducting a census (Luke 2:1-3). Archaeological discoveries have identified Quirinius’ name on a coin, indicating he was the proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BC to the death of Herod (Vardaman, 2009). Quirinius’ name was also found on the base of a statue in Pisidian Antioch (Ramsay, 1915/2011).
According to the Gospel of Luke, and in contradiction to Matthew, it was the census called by Quirinius that compelled Joseph and the pregnant Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1), rather than (as in Matthew) the other way around (and for a different reason: fear of Herod’s successor, Archelaus). The census is undoubtedly a historical event. But unfortunately, the problems begin to pile up the moment we consider the whole story in more detail.
- According to Luke 2:3-4, Joseph had to go to Bethlehem because he was a descendant of David, who was from that town. Apart from being a logistical nightmare, this method of going to one’s ancestral hometown to register for the census is unheard of in other historical sources. Evangelicals refer to a papyrus dated to 104 CE where the prefect from Egypt ordered all “to return to their homes” to register for the census, as supporting evidence for such a requirement. But such an interpretation is incorrect. Many scholars have pointed out that Roman census were done for taxation purposes. This means that the “homes” being referred to in the order above is to where one’s properties are. In other words, the location of registration is at one’s permanent residence not their ancestral hometown.
- Luke 2:1 states Caesar Augustus ordered a census for “all the world.” Yet historians know of no such worldwide census. While the Romans did periodically conduct censuses at different times in various locations, there is simply no evidence that there was ever a simultaneous worldwide census under Caesar Augustus.
- According to Luke (1:26) Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth. But the area under the jurisdiction of Quirinius covered only Judaea, where Bethlehem was, not Nazareth. Nazareth in Galilee was under the rule of Herod Antipas (d. ca. 40 CE) and would not have been under the control of Quirinius. Given what Luke says, there is no way a census under the supervision of this Roman governor could have applied to Joseph and Mary who supposedly lived in Nazareth.
- Finally, the clincher. Both Matthew and Luke said Jesus was born during the time of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1, Luke 1:5). Herod’s date of death is unassailable—it was 4 BCE. The date of Quirinius’s census is also firmly established—6 CE. In other words, there is a discrepancy of about ten years between the two events—the death of Herod and the Quirinius census.
The last point has been doggedly attacked by evangelicals. The reason for such determined apologetics is understandable. If the above is unassailable, then the case is settled: the Bible contains fiction, and the biblical inerrancy is confined to the scrap heap of human history. Let us look in detail at some of these apologetic attempts.
The first step is to claim that there was an earlier census under Quirinius that was done during the reign of Herod the Great. This means that Quirinius was twice governer of Syria, once between 6 CE and 12 CE and another earlier tenure during the reign of Herod the Great. As “evidence” to prop this, the British archaeologist Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939) is normally invoked, together with the inscription Sir Ramsey interpreted to mean that Quirinius was governor of Syria not once, but twice, separated by a few years on both of the occasions mentioned above. This argument is obsolete, as it has been proven false. The reasons as follows:
- The inscription found by Ramsay simply mentioned that Quirinius was honored for his role is achieving a military victory. It was Ramsay who guessed that Quirinius’s reward for his rule was an earlier appointment, prior to 6 CE, as governor of Syria. Nothing in the inscription even suggests this. It is not surprising that most historians are of the opinion that the inscription does not provide any evidence to support the assertion that Quirinius was governor of Syria earlier than 6 CE.
- From Josephus we know most of the Roman governors of Syria around that time. Table 6.1 below shows the governors of Syria during the last years of Herod’s reign were Gaius Sentius Saturninus, who held the post from 9 to 6 BCe, and Publius Quintilius Varus, who was his successor from 6 to 4 BCE. It was Varus who, as governor, suppressed the uprising that occurred after the death of Herod (Antiquities 17:10:1). There are only two “blanks” in the list of governors between 23 BCE to 7 CE; once between 13-11 BCE and another time between 3-2 BCE. The latter gap is of no consequence, since by then Herod was already dead, and the former gap was probably filled by Marcus Titus, from 12 to 9 BCE, as we know he was governor sometimes in that period, and a three-year term was typical.
- Quirinius’s career is relatively well documented in our primary sources. Tacticus’s Annals of Imperial Rome (3:22-23, 3:48), Suetonius’s Tiberius (49), Strabo’s Geography (12:6:5) and Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews (17:13:5, 18:1:1) all mention aspects of his career. From these accounts we know that he was born sometime before 50 BCE and that he died in 33 CE. We know that he was consul of Rome by 12 BCE. He was in Asia Minor between 12 and 6 BCE, where he fought the war against the Homonadenses. He was the governor of Pamphylia-Galatia between 6 to 1 BCE. And he was serving as the adviser for Gauis Caesar for several years before 4 CE. Josephus mentioned Quirinius several times when he became governor of Syria in 6 CE (Antiquities 17:13:5, 18:1:1). So we read of Quirinius’s career spanning twenty years from 12 BCE to 6 CE, yet not once was he mentioned as taking over the governorship of Syria at any time during the reign of Herod.
The conclusion is inescapable—Quirinius could not have been governor of Syria twice.
To add on to this insurmountable difficulty there are still others concerning the suggestion of an earlier census. For instance, there is no historical evidence for any Roman census in Judea before 6 CE. The Romans took direct control of Judaea only after that time. Prior to this time the province was a “client kingdom”—under Roman domination but not direct Roman rule. The Romans have never been known to initiate any census in their client kingdoms. As mentioned above, the Roman census is taken primarily for taxation purposes. By all accounts Herod the Great was an obedient subject of Rome who paid his dues properly. There was no need for Rome to intervene directly with any kind of census in Judea prior to 6 CE.
With the links now completely severed between the nativity and world history, we can now see the rest of the nativity accounts for what they really are—the mysterious “wise men from the east” who followed a magical star that could “stand above” where the baby Jesus was (Matthew 2:9), the angels who spoke to Mary (Luke 1:26-37), to Joseph (Matthew 1:20) and the shepherds (Luke 2:15), people who could burst into spontaneous songs of praise (Luke 1:46-55; 1:68-79)—are not historical details but elements of a fairy tale. Removed from the anchors of history provided by Herod and Quirinius, the nativity accounts drift into the realm of myths and legends.
As third and fourth examples, a piece of pavement was discovered in Corinth in 1929 confirming the existence of Erastus, the city treasurer (Romans 6:23) (Wallace, 2013). Luke mentioned a tetrarch named Lysanias who reigned over Abilene when John the Baptist began his ministry (Luke 3:1). Josephus also recorded a man named Lysanias who reigned over the region from 40 BC to 36 BC, which is long before the birth of John the Baptist. Skeptics identified the inconsistencies, yet archaeological evidence offered the answers. Two inscriptions were discovered that mentioned Lysanias by name. One, which was dated from 14 AD to 37 AD, identifies Lysanias as the tetrarch over Abila near Damascus during the period of time described by Luke (Wallace, 2013). This evidence suggests the existence of two men named Lysanias: one described by Josephus and the second described by Luke.
3rd and 4th examples….. neither of which provide proof of Jesus.
This is getting tiring. Myths and legends use real places and include real people, but that doesn’t mean the legends are true.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” Psalm 118:22.
While historians often request two sources of evidence when piecing together histories, we have an astounding forty-two sources within one hundred and fifty years of Jesus’ resurrection that support accounts of Jesus (Habermas & Licona, 2004).
- Nine traditional authors of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Author of Hebrews, James, Peter, and Jude.
“While historians often request two sources of evidence when piecing together histories“… while she’s not wrong, SJ forgot to mention one vital detail of what historians want: contemporary eyewitness accounts. That’s the gold historians want. Yes, two or more is the ultimate desire, because multiple contemporary eyewitness accounts pretty much solidify our certainty of what happened (plus we also would love it if other fields like archeology helped confirm these ancient accounts). Non-contemporary accounts are pretty much hearsay, and hearsay is very unreliable.
How many of those “nine authors of the New Testament” were contemporary eyewitnesses?
So while 9 authors may sound impressive, the fact that they are not primary or contemporary makes all their stories based on hearsay, and that is very damning — esp. considering that we have no archeological discoveries that directly prove Jesus Christ. No one knows where his tomb is or anything, all we have is proving that certain towns and rulers existed, but myths and legends use real people and places in their stories all the time, that is what makes them believable.
2. Twenty early Christian writings outside of the New Testament: Clement of Rome, 2 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Barnabas, Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, Fragments of Papias, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Melito of Sardis, Diognetus, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, and Epistula Apostolorum.
All of these sources come from the 2nd century or later. Since none of them are contemporary (or even unbiased) sources, they’re all on the north side of useless. The only thing they can confirm is that there existed a group of people identifying as Christians in the 2nd century. Proving the existence of the religious group is one thing, but the group does not prove that their “savior” is real (if Christian apologists at this point try to argue “yes it does” then they’re going to open a whole can of worms because that would validate the thousands of other religions).
3. Four heretical writings: Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, Apocryphon of John, and the Treatise on Resurrection.
Again, non-contemporary sources. That pretty much turns “four” to piss all.
4. Nine secular non-Christian sources: Josephus (Jewish historian), Tacitus (Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (Roman politician), Phlegon (freed slave who wrote histories), Lucian (Greek satirist), Celsus (Roman philosopher), Mara Bar-Serapion (prisoner awaiting execution), Suetonius, and Thallas.
Josephus Flavius, the Jewish historian, lived as the earliest non-Christian who mentions a Jesus. Although many scholars think that Josephus’ short accounts of Jesus (in Antiquities) came from interpolations perpetrated by a later Church father (most likely, Eusebius of Caesarea), Josephus’ birth in 37 C.E., well after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, puts him out of range of an eyewitness account. Moreover, he wrote Antiquities in 93 C.E., after the first gospels got written! Therefore, even if his accounts about Jesus came from his hand, his information could only serve as hearsay.
At first glance, Josephus appears to be the answer to the Christian apologist’s dreams. He was a messianic Jew, not a Christian, so he could not accused of bias. He did not spend a lot of time or space on his report of Jesus, showing that he was merely reporting facts, not spouting propaganda like the Gospel writers. Although he was born in 37 C.E. and could not have been a contemporary of Jesus, he lived close enough to the time to be considered a valuable second-hand source. Josephus was highly respected and much-quoted Roman historian. He died sometime after the year 100. His two major tomes were the Antiquities of the Jews and the Wars of the Jews.
Antiquities of the Jews were written sometime after the year 90 C.E. It begins, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” and arduously parallels the Old Testament up to the time when Josephus is able to add equally tedious historical of Jewish life during the early Roman period. In Book 18, Chapter 3, this paragraph is encountered (Whiston’s translation):
“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 him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the[ Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal man amongst 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 to this day.”
This truly appears to give historical confirmation for the existence of Jesus. But is it authentic? Most scholars, including most fundamentalist scholars, admit that at least some parts of this paragraph cannot be authentic. Many are convinced that the entire paragraph is a forgery, an interpolation inserted by Christians at a later time. There are at least seven reasons for this:
1) The paragraph is absent from early copies of the works of Josephus. For example, it does not appear in Origen’s second century version of Josephus, in Origen Contra Celsum, where Origen fiercely defended Christianity against the heretical views of Celsus. Origen quoted freely from Josephus to prove his points, but never once used this paragraph, which would have been the ultimate ace up his sleeve.
In fact, the Josephus paragraph about Jesus does not appear at all until the beginning of the fourth century, at the time of Constantine. Bishop Eusebius, a close ally of the emperor, was instrumental in crystallizing and defining the version of Christianity that was to become orthodox, and he is the first person known to have quoted this paragraph of Josephus. Eusebius once wrote that it was permissible “medicine” for historians to create fictions—prompting historian Jacob Burckhardt to call Eusebius “the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity.”
2) The fact that the Josephus-Jesus paragraph shows up at this point in history—at a time when interpolations and revisions were quite common and when the emperor was eager to demolish Gnostic Christianity and replace it with literalistic Christianity—makes the passage quite dubious. Many scholars believe the Eusebius was the forger and the interpolater of the paragraph on Jesus that magically appears in the works of Josephus after more than two centuries.
3) Josephus would not have called Jesus “the Christ” or “the truth.” Whoever wrote these phrases was a believing Christian. Josephus was a messianic Jew, and if he truly believed Jesus was the long-awaited messiah (Christ), he certainly would have given more than a passing reference to him. Josephus never converted to Christianity. Origen reported that Josephus was “not believing in Jesus as Christ.”
4) The passage is out of context. Book 18 (“Containing the interval of 32 years from the banishment of Archelus to the departure from Babylon”) starts with the Roman taxation under Cyrenius in 6 C.E. and talks about various Jewish sects at the time, including the Essenes and a sect of Judas the Galilean, to which he devotes three times more space than to Jesus. He discuss Herod’s building of various cities, the succession of priests and procurators, and so on. Chapter 3 starts with sedition against Pilate, who planned to slaughter all the Jews but changed his mind. Pilate then used sacred money to supply water to Jerusalem. The Jews protested. Pilate sent spies into Jewish ranks with concealed weapons, and there was a great massacre. Then in the middle of all these troubles comes the curiously quiet paragraph about Jesus, followed immediately by: “And about the same time another terrible misfortune confounded the Jews…” Josephus, an orthodox Jew, would not have thought the Christian story to be “another terrible misfortune.” If he truly thought Jesus was “the Christ,” this would have been a glorious story of victory. It is only a Christian (someone like Eusebius) who might have considered Jesus to be a Jewish tragedy. Paragraph three can be lifted out of the text with no damage to the chapter. In fact, it flows better without it.
The phrase “to this day” shows that this is a later interpolation. There was no “tribe of Christians” during Josephus’ time. Christianity did not get off the ground until the second century.
5) Josephus appears not to know anything else about the Jesus outside of this tiny paragraph and an indirect reference concerning James, the “brother of Jesus” (see below). He does not refer to the gospels not known as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, or to the writing or activities of Paul, though if these stories were in circulation at that time he ought to have known about them and used them as sources. Like the writings of Paul, Josephus’ account is silent about the teachings or miracle of Jesus, although he reports the antics of other prophets in great detail. He makes no mention of the earthquake or eclipse at the crucifixion, which would have been universally known in that area if they had truly happened. He adds nothing to the Gospels narratives, and says nothing that would not have been believed by Christians already, whether in the first or fourth century. In all of Josephus’ voluminous works, there is not a single reference to Christianity anywhere outside of this tiny paragraph. He relates much more about John the Baptist than about Jesus. He lists the activities of many other self-proclaimed messiahs, including Judas of Galilee, Theudas the magician and the Egyptian Jew Messiah, but is mute about the life of one whom he claims (if he wrote it) is the answer to his messianic hopes.
6) The paragraph mentions that the “divine prophets” foretold the life of Jesus, but Josephus neglects to mention who these prophets were or what they said. In no other place does Josephus connect any Hebrew prediction with the life of Jesus. If Jesus truly had been the fulfillment of divine prophecy, as Christians believe (and Josephus was made to say), he would have been the one learned enough to document it.
7) The hyperbolic language of the paragraph is uncharacteristic of a careful historian: “…as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him…” This sounds more like sectarian propaganda—in other words, more like the New Testament—than objective reporting. It is very unlike Josephus.
Tacitus, the Roman historian’s birth year at 64 C.E., puts him well after the alleged life of Jesus. He gives a brief mention of a “Christus” in his Annals (Book XV, Sec. 44), which he wrote around 109 C.E. He gives no source for his material. Although many have disputed the authenticity of Tacitus’ mention of Jesus, the very fact that his birth happened after the alleged Jesus and wrote the Annals during the formation of Christianity, shows that his writing can only provide us with hearsay accounts.
“Nero looked around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures on a group of persons already hated for their crimes. This was the sect known as Christians. Their founder, one Christus, had been put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This checked the abominable superstition for a while, but it broke out again and spread, not merely through Judea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself, the great reservoir and collected ground for every kind of depravity and filth. Those who confessed to being Christians were at once arrested, but on their testimony a great crowd of people were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson, but of hatred of the entire human race.”
In this passage, Tacitus depicts early Christians as “hated for their crimes” and associated with “depravity and filth.” This is not a flattering picture. But even if it is valid, it tells us nothing about Jesus of Nazareth. Tacitus claims no first-hand knowledge of Christianity. He is merely repeating the then common ideas about Christians. (A modern paralled would be a 20th century historian reporting that Mormons believe that Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni, which would hardly make it historical proof, even though it is as close as a century away.)
Pliny the Younger, a Roman official, was born in 62 C.E. His letter about the Christians only shows that he got his information from Christian believers themselves. Regardless, his birth date puts him out of the range of eyewitness accounts.
He said “Christians were singing a hymn to Christ as to a god…” That’s it. In all of Pliny’s writings, we find one small tangential reference, and not even to Christ, but to Christians. Again, notice, the absence of the name Jesus. This could have referred to any of the other “Christs” who were being followed by Jew who thought they had found the messiah. Pliny’s report hardly counts as history since he is only relaying what other people believed. Even if this sentence referred to a group of followers of Jesus, no one denies that Christianity was in existence at that time. Pliny, at the very most, might be useful in documenting the religion, but not the historic Jesus.
Note that Pliny is relaying what those arrested said they believed (and there is no reference here to a ‘Jesus.’)
Phlegon, was a Greek writer who lived in the 2nd century AD. So already he’s not a contemporary witness… but it gets worse then that. We don’t have the word of Phlegon mentioning Jesus, rather we have the word of another guy who says Phlegon mentioning Jesus. It’s hearsay of hearsay. Who’s the guy? It’s Origen of Alexandria (182-254 CE). In Against Celsus (Book II, Chap. XIV), Origen wrote that Phlegon, in his “Chronicles”, mentions Jesus.
Lucian (circa 125 – 180 C.E.). A second-century satirist named Lucian wrote that the basis for the Christian sect was a “man who was crucified in Palestine,” but this is equally worthless as historical evidence. He is merely repeating what Christians believed in the second century. Lucian does not mention Jesus by name. This reference is too late to be considered historical evidence, and since Lucian did not consider himself a historian, neither should we.
Christian apologists mostly use the above sources for their “evidence” of Jesus because they believe they represent the best outside sources. All other sources (Christian and non-Christian) come from even less reliable sources, some of which include: Ignatius (50 – 98? C.E.), Polycarp (69 – 155 C.E.), Clement of Rome (? – circa 160 C.E.), Justin Martyr (100 – 165 C.E.), Tertullian (197 C.E.), Clement of Alexandria (? – 215 C.E.), Origen (185 – 232 C.E.), Hippolytus (? – 236 C.E.), and Cyprian (? – 254 C.E.). As you can see, all these people lived well after the alleged death of Jesus. Not one of them provides an eyewitness account, all of them simply spout hearsay.
There are also many recorded people named “Jesus” thought 1st century history: Jesus ben Phiabi, Jesus ben Sec, Jesus ben Dameus, Jesus ben Gamaliel, Jesus ben Sirach, Jesus ben Pandira, Jesus ben Ananias, Jesus ben Stada (who was crucified), and many, many more.
Celsus, was a Pagan critic of Christianity (secondary century CE), just as was Porphyry (third century CE). Celsus was born long after Jesus, which makes Celsus a non-contemporary source to verify the existence of Jesus. Rather, he only verifies the existence of a cult of Christians, who claim to believe that they follow a risen savior. Proving the existence of a new religious group does not validate or verify that the central figure they worship also is real, just as Joseph Smith and the Mormons don’t verify that the angel Moroni is also real. At best, Celsus reveals to us what he thought of the Christians. He already noted the discrepancies between the Old and New Testaments and between the various books of the New Testaments. In 178 C.E. Celsus shares that he had heard from a Jew that Jesus’ mother, Mary, had been divorced by her husband, a carpenter, after it had been proved that she was an adulteress. She wandered about in shame and bore Jesus in secret. His real father was a soldier named Pantheras.
Mara Bar-Serapion (circa 73 C.E.). There is a fragment of a personal letter from a Syria named Mara Bar-Serapion to his son in prison that mentions that the Jews of that time had killed their “wise king.” However, the New Testament reports that the Romans,, not the Jews, killed Jesus. The Jews had killed other leaders; for example, the Essene Teacher of Righteousness. If this truly is a report of a historical event rather than the passing on of folklore, it could have been a reference to someone else. It does not mention Jesus by name. It is worthless as evidence for Jesus of Nazareth, yet it can be found on the lists of some Christian scholars as proof that Jesus existed.
Suetonius, a Roman historian, born in 69 C.E. mentions a “Chrestus,” a common name. Apologists assume that “Chrestus” means “Christ” (a disputable claim). But even if Seutonius had meant “Christ,” it still says nothing about an earthly Jesus. Just like all the others, Suetonius’ birth occurred well after the purported Jesus. Again, only hearsay.
Suetonius wrote a biography called Twelve Casers around the year 112 C.E., mentioning that Claudius “banished the Jews from Rome, since they had made a commotion because of Chrestus,” and that during the time of Nero “punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief…” Notice that there is no mention of Jesus by name. It is unlikely that Christianity had spread as far as Rome during the reign of Claudius, or that it was large enough to have caused a revolt. Chrestus does not mean Christ. It was a common name meaning “good,” used by both slaves and free people and occurring more than 80 times in Latin inscriptions.
Julius Africanas / Thallus in the ninth century a Byzantine writer named George Syncellus quoted a third-century Christian historian names Julius Africanus, who quoted an unknown writer named Thallus on the darkness at the crucifixion: “Thallus in the third book of his history calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun, but in my opinion he is wrong.” All of the works of Africanus are lost, so there is no way to confirm the quote or to examine its context. We have no idea who Thallus was, or when he wrote. Eusebius (fourth century) mentions a history of Thallus in three books ending about 112 C.E. so the suggestion is that Thallus might have been a near contemporary of Jesus. (Actually, the manuscript is damaged, and “Thallus” is merely a guess from “_allos Samaritanos.” That word “allos” actually means “other” in Greek, so it may have been simply saying “the other Samaritan.”) There is no historical evidence of an eclipse during the time Jesus was supposedly crucified. The reason Africanus doubted the eclipse is because Easter happens near the full moon, a solar eclipse would have been impossible at that time. (Even ancient skeptics knew that full moon occurs when it is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun, where it is unable to move between the sun and the earth to produce an eclipse.)
Based on these sources, we find that (Turek, 2014, pp. 207):
1) Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
2) He lived a virtuous life.
Virtuous? What proof do we have of that?
All we have is the stories written by anonymous non-eyewitnesses who heard the story from someone who heard the story from someone, and the testimonial letters written by a guy who admits he hallucinated and yet wrote nothing about the life of Jesus before the crucifixion as if he didn’t know squat about Jesus’ life. Ask yourself, do you think it’s possible that a bunch of believers are so biased that when they tell the story to a guy who then tells the story to a guy who can write that the story would be told in such a way that would leave out a lot of damning details?
Of course it’s possible.
The fact is we know nothing about the life of Jesus, let alone have reason to doubt if he was even real. To claim that “Jesus lived a virtuous life” is nothing more than speculated wishful-thinking. Even if there was a Jesus, for all we know he did a lot of naughty things in his life right before (and possibly during) he started his ministry. If that happened, maybe some of his followers knew that, but instead ignored them and focused on telling “but he taught us to do X, Y, Z.” And what did he teach? Something that is antithetical to the notion of “virtuous”….
3) He worked miracles.
Allegedly, according to the legend. Where is the independent contemporary proof that he so much as did a pull-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat trick? There is none.
4) He had a brother named James.
5) He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
Allegedly crucified under Pontius Pilate. Again, where is the independent contemporary evidence? There is none. All the stories come from sources written by people who were not there.
6) He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
And failed to meet all the requirements to be the Messiah.
All the criteria must be fulfilled, emphasis on the All, to become the Jewish Messiah.
1) In Gathering the Jewish Exiles: The Messiah will reign as the Jewish King of Israel and gather all the Jews around the world to Israel. (Duet. 30:3; Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 30:3, 30:27; Ezekiel 11:17, 36:24) But Jesus never reigned as King, nor did he bring all the Jews to Israel.
2) Rebuilding the Holy Temple in Jerusalem:(Isaiah 2:2-3, 56:5-7, 60:7, 66:20; Ezekiel 37:26-27; Malachi 3:4; Zechariah 14:20-21) The Temple was sill standing in Jesus’ day, and destroyed 38 years after his alleged) death by crucifixion, and the temple has not yet been rebuilt.
3) Worldwide Reign of Peace and end of all war (Micah 4:1-4; Hosea 2:20; Isaiah 2:1-4, 60:18) yet since the creation of Christianity, wars have increased. Some fought in the name of Jesus.
4) Embracing of Torah Observance by all Jews: the Messiah will reign as King at a time when all the Jewish people will embrace the Torah and observe God’s commandments. (Ezekiel 37:24; Deuteronomy 30:8, 10; Jeremiah 31:32; Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36:26-27) But not all Jews follow the Torah or the Commandments.
5) Universal Knowledge of God: The Messiah will rule during a time when all the people of the world will come to knowledge and serve the “one true God” of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Zechariah 3:9, 8:23, 14:9,16; Isaiah 45:23, 66:23; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 38:23; Psalm 86:9; Zephaniah 3:9) This has not taken place.
6) From the Tribe of Judah and a Direct Descendant of King David and Solomon: (Genesis 49:10; 2 Samuel 7:12-14; 1 Chronicles 22:9-10). Genealogy in the Bible is only passed down from father to son (Numbers 1:1-18) and there is no evidence that Jesus had this pedigree. The Christian New Testament actually claims that Jesus did not have a birth father (Matthew 1:18-20) from the Tribe of Judah descending from David and Solomon.
All this criteria are found in numerous places in the Jewish Bible. Anyone can claim to be the Messiah, or any group of people can claim that a person is the Messiah. However, if that person fails to meet all the criteria found in the Torah, then he simply cannot be the Messiah. Missionaries and apologists argue that Jesus will fulfill these requirements when Jesus returns during the Second Coming in the future. It is important to understand that this doctrine of a Second Coming is an admission that Jesus did not fulfill the Messianic criteria. This rationalization for his failure provides no reason for accepting him as the Messiah today. Furthermore, the Torah does not have a Messianic installment plan where the Messiah comes, fails in his mission, and then returns thousands of years later to finally succeed.
Missionaries and apologists will claim that Jesus’ performed miracles which indicate that he was the son of God and therefore the Messiah. However we have no real evidence that Jesus performed any miracle. More significantly, even if Jesus did perform miracles, they would not prove that he was the Messiah. The Torah does not say that the Messiah will be recognized for performing miracles, the Torah actually teaches (Duet. 13:2-6) that false prophets can have the ability to perform supernatural miracles.
7) An eclipse and an earthquake occurred when He died.
There was no eclipse during the time of Jesus.
The source she provides to prove the sun going dark for hours…. is a source written 300-400 years after the event. Well, by that logic, I can claim that George Washington and his army crossed the Delaware River under the cover of darkness due to a solar eclipse, not at night, and beat the British forces. (I know it’s that wasn’t even 300 years ago, but still, making a bold claim about something that happened a long time – a phenomenon no one else noted or recorded – and taking that claim seriously is just stupid).
We have second and third hand passages that report to record statements made by non-Christians regarding a darkening of the sun and earthquakes. The first of these comes to us from a 9th century monk who quotes the 3rd century Christian chronicler Julius Africanus, who comments on statements attributed to Thallus and Phlegon . None of the quoted works by Thallus or Phlegon remain, nor does the work by Julius Africanus that presumably makes these references.
Oh, and btw, total solar eclipses can only last a little bit past 7 minutes but no longer then 8 minutes. Not 3 hours. The gospel claiming that there was a total solar eclipse for 3 hours breaks the laws of physics just as much as the Old Testament claiming that the sun stopped in the sky at noon for several hours. Since total solar eclipses can’t last longer 8 minutes, that means Mark 15:33’s claim that there was a 3 hour solar total eclipse is wrong by a margin of 99.96%.
(Source: Mark Littman; Fred Espenak; Ken Wilcox (2008). “A Quest to Understand”. Totality: Eclipses of the Sun. (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press Inc. ISBN 0-19-953209-5. “Eclipse expert Jean Meeus calculates the maximum possible eclipse duration of totality in a solar eclipse is currently 7 minutes 32 seconds.”)
That’s what physics proves, what does history prove? Well, there was a total solar eclipse in the 1st century Israel…. except it happened 4 years BEFORE Jesus was supposedly crucified.
8) He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
Which wouldn’t happen.
Here are rules of the Sanhedrin that were in place at the time according to the Jewish Mishnah:
- No criminal session was allowed at night.
- No Sanhedrin trial could be heard at any place other than the Temple precincts.
- No capital crime could be tried in a one-day sitting. (Mishnah law required that a capital sentence be voted on the day after the trial, so the judges could think on it before taking a life. See the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 5.5).
- No criminal trial could be held on the eve of a Sabbath or festival.
- No one could be found guilty on his own confession.
- No blasphemy charge could be sustained unless the accused pronounced the name of God in front of witnesses.
- The Sanhedrin were allowed to execute people on their own and did not need the Romans to do so for them.
The trial of Jesus according to the Gospels violated all of these rules.
That it was illegal even for Romans to perform executions on Jewish holy days in Judea at that time: Carrier, ‘Burial of Jesus’, in Empty Tomb (ed. Price and Lowder), p. 373-75, 377-78, 382-85 (with Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4.1k-l and 5.5a). See also Carrier, Proving History, pp. 139-41, 154, and 317.
More information on the laws of the Sanhedrin can be found here: The Sanhedrin
The crucifixion scenes in the Gospels are so utterly symbolic and based on the scriptures that as history they are unbelievable. The events of the arrest, trial, and execution defy our knowledge of Jewish law of the time. On the eve of, or during, Passover these are things that they simply did not do. There is also considerable doubt that the Jews would have had any reason to go to the Romans to carry out the execution, or that they would have had him crucified, since the law required death by stoning for blasphemy, which is what Jesus was supposedly charged with. However, “Christ crucified” was already a theme in the teachings of Paul. Crucifixion was a means of execution that was performed by authorities, while stoning was performed by the public. In the apocalyptic and messianic stories of the time where leading figures were executed, the leading figures were executed by authorities, typical heavenly authorities.
9) His disciples believed He rose from the dead.
In Gal. 1.11-12, Paul says he learned the gospel only from a hallucinated encounter with Jesus (a ‘revelation’) whom he experienced ‘within’ himself (Gal. 1.16). He confirms this in Rom. 16.25-26, where Paul says, “My gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ is according to a revelation.”
And Paul was not the only one having visions, he lists many believers hallucinating in Acts.
- Acts 7, Stephen hallucinated Jesus floating up in the sky, but no one else there sees it.
- Acts 9, Paul hallucinates a booming voice and a beaming light from heaven (and suffers hysterical blindness as a result)
- Ananias hallucinates an entire conversation with God.
- Acts 10, Cornelius hallucinates a conversation with an angel, and Peter falls into a trance and hallucinates an entire cosmic dinner scene in the sky.
- Acts 27, Paul hallucinates a conversation with an angel.
Many Christians receive spirit communications (‘ prophesy’), as indicated in Acts 19.6 and 21.9-10. Paul says (meaning the apostles), ‘God revealed [the secrets of the gospel] through the Spirit’ (1 Cor. 2.10). Likewise, in Rom. 12.6, Paul says Christians in all congregations ‘have gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us; if it be prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of our faith’ (and Paul indicates that these prophets were communicating with spirits, which were under the prophet’s control: 1 Cor. 14.19-32).
So what we have is the word of a guy, his mates, and whole congregations that all engage in hallucinations and visions… and Christian apologists would have us believe they are reliable and trustworthy sources.
10) His disciples were willing to die for their belief.
Do we have any proof they did die?
The only martyrdoms recorded in the New Testament are, first, the stoning of Stephen in the Book of Acts. But Stephen was not a witness. He was a later convert. So if he died for anything, he died for hearsay alone. But even in Acts the story has it that he was not killed for what he believed, but for some trumped up false charge, and by a mob, whom he could not have escaped even if he had recanted. So his death does not prove anything in that respect. Moreover, in his last breaths, we are told, he says nothing about dying for any belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus, but mentions only his belief that Jesus was the messiah, and was at that moment in heaven. And then he sees Jesus–yet no one else does, so this was clearly a vision, not a physical appearance, and there is no good reason to believe earlier appearances were any different.
The second and only other “martyr” recorded in Acts is the execution of the Apostle James, but we are not told anything about why he was killed or whether recanting would have saved him, or what he thought he died for. In fact, we have one independent account in the Jewish history of Josephus, of the stoning of a certain “James the brother of Jesus” in 62 A.D., possibly but not necessarily the very same James, and in that account he is stoned for breaking the Jewish law, which recanting would not escape.
So James may have been arrested for breaking a Jewish law, but other than that we have no idea. So how do we know James or Stephen were arrested for their beliefs? How do we know they were tortured? And if they were tortured, how do we know that maybe they did recant, only to have the anonymous gospel authors 50-60 years later write stories that “re-wrote” history by asserting that they all “kept the faith” while being tortured?
Paul is believed to have been killed sometime before the end of Nero’s reign in 68 CE. Dionysius’s letter mentioning Peter and Pauls martyrdom was written about 100 years after the end of Nero’s reign. Tertillian’s source was written in 200 CE.
See the problem here? Even if we agree that Paul and Peter were executed, how can we know they were martyred for their faith? How do we know they never broke faith? For all we know, all of the so-called martyrs dropped their faiths in prison, only for Christian followers generations later re-write history and hype-up the deaths of the first believers.
Given the above shows how little we know, how we don’t have enough proof, to claim the disciples were martyrs as a historical “fact” is dishonest.
11) Christianity spread rapidly in Rome.
And Islam spread rapidly around the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Africa. Mormonism spread rapidly in America. What does that prove?
The reason why Christianity spread rapidly in Rome is because the Christians converted the right people, primarily Emperor Constantine and his successor, who both basically made Christianity the law of the land of Europe’s largest Empire of the Age and outlawed the other pagan religions.
12) His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshipped Jesus as God.
So what? ALL the Jews who lived in 1st century Palestine denied the Roman gods, and they denied the new “Christ god.”
Ten authors mention Tiberius Caesar, who was the Roman emperor who reigned during Jesus’ ministry, within 150 years of Jesus’ resurrection: Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Seneca, Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Valerius Maximum, and Luke (Habermas & Licona, 2004).
Myths include real locations and real rulers to make them more believable, but the existence of kings or emperors doesn’t mean that the mythical character is real. Does King Richard and Prince John prove the existence of Robin Hood?
Furthermore, Jesus fulfilled 330 Old Testament prophecies. These include the following passages (Turek, 2014, pp. 205-206), which determined the Messiah would have the following characteristics:
1) From the seed of a woman (Genesis 3:15)
In other words, the Messiah will be birthed by a woman….. as if there is an alternative??????? This isn’t a prophecy, it’s just common fucking sense.
To my knowledge, the artificial birthing womb hasn’t been invented yet except only in sci-fy movies. So until that day comes, the only option for a person to be born is to be birthed by a woman.
2) From the seed of Abraham (Genesis 1:2-7)
In other words: the Messiah will be human.
Exactly where was Jesus’ proof that validated his ancestry? Was there a birth certificate? Show me the birth certificate!!!
3) From the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10)
The tribe of Judah will reign “until Shiloh,” but Israel’s first king (Saul) was from the tribe of Benjamin (Acts 13:21), and most of the time after this prophecy there was no king at all.
Plus, Jesus never was a king. Nor does he control the obedience of the nations. The verse in Genesis has nothing to do with a spiritual king (Jesus). It says a king from an unbroken line of Judah would rule this earthly world. The line of Judaic kings was broken in 586 B.C. when Jerusalem fell to Babylon, and it was never restored. Not only does this verse say nothing about Jesus, it was a false prediction.
4) From the line of David (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
Christians claim that Jesus is a royal descendant of David, but Matthew (1:12) lists Jeconiah as an ancestor of Jesus — which, according to this prophecy of Jeremiah 22:28-30, disqualifies Jesus as the Messiah.
5) Both God and man (Isaiah 9:6-7)
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.“
Besides the Mormons, who else has called Jesus the “Everlasting Father”?
6) Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
Micah 5:2 The gospel of Matthew (Matthew 2:5-6) claims that Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem fulfils this prophecy. But this is unlikely for two reasons.
1) “Bethlehem Ephratah” in Micah 5:2 refers not to a town, but to a clan: the clan of Bethlehem, who was the son of Caleb’s second wife, Ephrathah (1 Chronicles 2:18, 2:50-52 & 4:4).
2) The prophecy (if that is what it is) does not refer to the Messiah, but rather to a military leader, as can be seen from Micah 5:6. This leader is supposed to defeat the Assyrians, which, of course, Jesus never did. It should also be noted that Matthew altered the text of Micah 5:2 by saying: “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah” rather than “Bethlehem Ephratah” as is said in Micah 5:2. He did this, intentionally no doubt, to make this verse appear to refer to the town of Bethlehem rather than the family clan.
7) Preceded by a messenger and will visit the Jerusalem temple (Malachi 3:1), which had to occur before the Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70 AD.
Malachi does not make clear who the “messenger” is (for all we know, it was supposed to be an angel like in Sodom and Gomorrah), but the verse says God will come to his temple (τὸν ναὸν ἑαυτοῦ) as King and God of Israel (comp. Ezekiel 43:7)… but Jesus never became King. The Gospel of Luke says in 2:22 that Jesus visited the Temple when he was an infant, but even if we permit that happened because Matthew contradicts this by claiming Jesus was hiding in Egypt, to claim that this “fulfills” the prophecy assumes Jesus IS God while ignoring the later half that Jesus was supposed to rule Israel — that last bit never happened. Jesus failed the prophecy.
8) Pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5)
I. Determining the Speaker
“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” -Isaiah 53:1
The first step in understanding any written work is understanding who is speaking and what is the subject of their writing. Isaiah 53 begins with a reference to an unidentified group, denoted by the question, “who has believed our message”. Undoubtedly, this is a hint at the speaker of the passage, and so before we go any further, we need to determine who is “our”. This can only be uncovered by looking back at the preceding chapter, Isaiah 52.
The beginning twelve verses of Isaiah 52 are encouragement to the nation of Israel, telling them not to lose hope, but to trust in God. Israel is described as “taken away for nothing” by the Assyrians, who mock them and blaspheme their god continuously (52:4-5). The author assures his audience that God will redeem Jerusalem and he will “lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations” (52:10). In the last three verses, Isaiah 52:13-15, the tone changes to focus on a servant who will be “raised and lifted up and exalted highly”. Verse 15 informs us that this servant will cause the Gentile kings to shut their mouths, “[f]or what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand”.
In Isaiah 53:1, the “our” is the Gentile kings who are made to see and understand the deliverance of Israel in Isaiah 52:15. The narrative is continued by the author as he speaks from the perspective of the kings and nations who marvel at how God redeems Israel from the midst of great suffering. The depiction of the woeful shock and regret of the Gentiles at the power of the Israelite god is not limited to this passage, but also appears in Zechariah 8:23, for example.
“In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'” -Zechariah 8:23
II. Determining the Subject
We have determined the speaker of Isaiah 53 as the Gentile kings/nations, but we still must determine the subject of the passage to gain a full and comprehensive understanding. Isaiah 53:2 begins to describe the subject.
“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” -Isaiah 53:2-3
Isaiah 53 is one of four passages in the book of Isaiah known as ‘servant songs’. The first song is found in Isaiah 42:1-7, the second in 49:1-6, the third in 50:4-9, and the fourth is chapter 53. Throughout the four songs, the servant is foretold to suffer in the cause of God, who will at last vindicate him after some time. Technically, the fourth song should also include Isaiah 52:13-15, where the servant is actually introduced (also, Isaiah did not have chapter divisions until approximately 400 years ago).
Obviously, Christians believe the servant of Isaiah 53 is Jesus Christ, but there are numerous problems with this interpretation. Most troublesome is the fact that the servant is specifically named in more than a few passages in Isaiah.
“But you, O Israel, my servant…” -Isaiah 41:8
“But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen…” -Isa. 44:1
“Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant…” -Isa. 44:21
“For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen…” -Isa. 45:4
“He said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor’.” -Isa. 49:3
Additionally, Isaiah 52 sets the stage for chapter 53 in ways that further point to Israel being the servant. Chapter 52 describes the subjugation of Israel to the Gentiles (specifically Assyria) and tells of how Israel is made to suffer mockery and abuse at the hands of its captors. In 52:5, God mourns that his “people have been taken away for nothing”. Isaiah 53:8 tells us that under “oppression and judgment [the servant] was taken away” and verse 9 claims that, “he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth”. Not only do both chapters speak of the subject being taken away, but they also indicate that it was due to no real offense that the subject was taken, illustrating innocence. The question of “to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed” (53:1) may implicate Israel as the servant too, since it is declared that, for Jerusalem, God will “lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations” (52:10). Thus it seems very likely indeed that Isaiah 53 is a continuation of the narrative from chapter 52, from the perspective of the Gentile nations.
III. But Why Not Jesus?
I have discussed much of this evidence with Christians who have tried to use Isaiah 53 in defense of their faith, and often times it has ultimately come down to the question of, “why can’t Jesus fit?” Maybe it does refer to Israel, but maybe it still refers to Jesus as well. There are verses in Isaiah 53 that speak of how the servant was “pierced for our transgressions” and how God “laid on him the iniquity of us all”. Even more puzzling are the mentions of how the servant was “cut off from the land of the living” and “assigned a grave with the wicked”. Are these references characteristic of the nation of Israel?
As a matter of fact, they are. In Ezekiel 37:11-14 we read of a vision wherein the house of Israel is compared to dry bones and described specifically as “cut off”. Verses 12-14 speak metaphorically of the “graves” of Israel too, and how God will open them to deliver his people. The references to the bearing of inquity and punishment for transgressions can easily be understood when approached from the appropriate perspective of the Gentile kings from Isaiah 52:15. Throughout Isaiah 53, these kings and nations frequently remark on how badly they treated Israel, although Israel had done nothing to provoke them. The Gentiles then lament that Israel suffered at their hands, for their sins. We also find that Gentile nations had previously laid blame for their conquest of Israel on Israel itself, as Jeremiah 50:7 mentions that the enemies of Israel said, “We are not guilty, for they sinned against the Lord, their true pasture…”
While Israel fits the bill of Isaiah 53 with no problem, applying Jesus to the passage results in some pretty interesting theological difficulties. First of all, when Isaiah 53:5 states that, “he was crushed for our iniquities”, when exactly was Jesus ever crushed? If any of Jesus’ body was literally crushed so that his bones were broken, it would disqualify him from another so-called prophecy beloved by Christians – Psalm 34:20. Secondly, Isaiah 53:7 stresses twice that the servant kept quiet during persecution, and although Jesus does stay silent at most of his trial in Matthew, Mark and Luke, he definitely speaks up in the gospel of John, conversing both with the high priest and with Pilate.
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days…” -Isaiah 53:10
If the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is Jesus, how can verse ten apply to him? Jesus had no offspring, and his days were certainly not prolonged, as tradition has long stated that Christ died around the age of 30. Unless one simply ignores this problem or interprets verse ten as heavy on metaphor – which is not supported by the text – there is a real and insurmountable issue here. Another one is found with Isaiah 53:11, which says that, “by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many”. Even if you accept the footnote in NIV bibles that suggests an alternate translation of “by knowledge of him…”, this verse is still troublesome. Is it knowledge of Jesus that saves us, according to Christianity, or is it faith?
Lifting Isaiah 53 from the surrounding context and viewing it in a vacuum may help Christian apologists easily project Jesus onto the passage, but it is a total butchery of the text and creates far more problems than it pretends to solve. However, there’s still more to be said on the Christian distortion of Isaiah 53.
IV. No Messiah Here
Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew scripture are typically marked with references to a king, the root or branch of Jesse, and associations with King David (Jeremiah 23:5, Isaiah 11:1-5). The passages also speak in a future tense, with terms of finality, such as “in the last days” (Isaiah 2:2, Hosea 3:4-5). If Isaiah 53 is about Jesus, whom Christians consider the Jewish messiah, why are there no indications of messianic prophecy in the chapter? There is mention of a shoot and a root in verse two, but the connection is never made to Jesse or to David. Even more intriguing is the fact that most of Isaiah 53 is in past tense.
Christians may read chapter 53 of Isaiah and note similarities to Jesus, without noticing how it ‘prophesies’ the servant in past tense. To modern believers, Jesus is in the past, but for the author of Isaiah 53, Jesus would have been a few hundred years into the future. What sort of prophecy uses past tense to predict a future event? Not all of Isaiah 53 is in the past though. The first nine verses describe the servant in past tense, and then verses 10-12 shift the tense to the future, speaking of how God will reward and deliver his servant. This is an important detail, because then Isaiah 53:1-9 are NOT prophecy – they simply set the stage for the prophecy in the last three verses of the chapter. Once again, this gives good support to the interpretation that Israel is the servant, as Isaiah 52 encourages Israel to have hope and chapter 53 then predicts their redemption.
It is also worth noting how vague the comments in Isaiah 53 actually are. There is only reference to suffering, not specifically to crucifixion. Nothing is said about Nazareth, Bethlehem, a virgin woman, or any of the identifiable characteristics of Jesus Christ in the bible. Isaiah 53:10 states that God made “[the servant’s] life a guilt offering” too, which is not an offering of atonement like a sin offering, but is the sacrifice made for restitution or compensation, such as when a person would steal, take a false oath, or extort another individual. This seems to fit nicely with the view that Israel, though innocent, was taken captive by the Gentiles, who mocked and abused God’s chosen. Thus to make Israel a guilt offering for the transgressions of the Gentiles would be far more appropriate than Jesus being a guilt offering that somehow redeems the sins of all mankind.
V. Still Unconvinced
Isaiah 53 is such a beloved passage by Christians that it will be rare indeed to ever persuade them of its true meaning. Even if presented with all this evidence and more, they will continue to believe the chapter is a prophecy of Jesus Christ that happens to interrupt the discussion of Israel’s fall and redemption in the surrounding context. Why? Because they have convinced themselves that their holy book is truly miraculous in nature, and Isaiah 53 is justification of that belief for them. Like much of Christianity, the prophetic interpretation of Isaiah 53 is maintained at its core, by faith, not evidence.
But what is truly gained from dogmatically believing the chapter prophesied the coming of Christ? If Israel is recognized as the subject of Isaiah 53 instead of Jesus, no major or minor tenets of Christianity are undermined. Those who cling to the passage as ‘proof’ of their faith are merely preferring to delude themselves in favor of possessing some sense of comfortable (but nonetheless false) certitude. Isaiah 53 is not about Jesus, it’s about Israel, and all the faith in the world won’t change the fact that this is what’s supported by the text. And so another alleged prophecy fails to be anything but wishful thinking on the part of its followers.
9) Cried out to the Lord in anguish (Psalm 22)
Fundamentalists have always claimed that the latter part of Psalm 22:16 “They pierced my hands and my feet” (which we shall designate as Psalm 22:16b) is a direct prophecy of the crucifixion; with the “piercing” referring to the nails going through Jesus’ hands and feet. Although this is not the reading found in the Hebrew Masoretic text, support is claimed from the readings found in a Dead Sea Scroll fragment and in ancient versions of the Bible such as the Septuagint and the Vulgate.
This claim is false, for a few reasons:
The Hebrew Text Behind the King James Version
Despite the claims of its accurate rendition of the original text, the Hebrew equivalent for “they pierced” was not found in the manuscripts available to the translators of the King James Version. Indeed the word rendered in those manuscripts means “like a lion”.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls, is ambiguous at best. The word found there, kaaru, has no known meaning and may actually be meaningless.
A) Before looking at the readings of the ancient versions, it is important to know some preliminary background information about them first.
B) A careful analysis of the readings given in the ancient versions does not support “they pierced” as the correct translation. Indeed the analysis shows that there were two extant readings in the Hebrew text, one being kaari (like a lion) and the other kaaru. The very fact that translators did not translate the latter word consistently showed that even by that time, the meaning of that word was no longer known.
Use of Psalm 22:16b by the Early Christians
No early Christian writer, including the evangelists and Paul, until the time of Justin around the middle of the second century CE, made any explicit reference to the word “piercing” in Psalm 22:16b in relation to the crucifixion of Jesus although there were ample opportunities to do so.
A consideration of the various internal evidence favors “like a lion” as the correct rendering of the word found in Psalm 22:16b.
We can conclude with certainty that there is no reference to the crucifixion in Psalm 22:16b and with some probability that the correct reading there remains “like a lion”.
10) Raised from the dead (Isaiah 53:11)
Read the above. Isaiah 53 is not and cannot be talking about Jesus.
William Lane Craig (2008, pp. 302) says, “It is, of course, indisputable that the New Testament church regarded Jesus as the promised Messiah. The title Christos (Messiah) became so closely connected with the name “Jesus” that for Paul it is practically a surname: “Jesus Christ” (cf. the less frequent “Christ Jesus”). The very name borne by the followers of Jesus within ten years of His death – Christians – bears witness to the centrality of their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Mark’s Gospel opens with the words “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1), just as John’s Gospel closes with the explanation that it was written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (20:31). The question, then, is whether they arrived at this common conviction on their own, or did it represent Jesus’ own self-understanding?”
Does what a mystery cult decided to name their savior at all important? When you just ask the question aloud, it really doesn’t seem important. Even with Christians calling Jesus “God in the flesh” means very little if there was no Jesus.
Think about it: in a Roman-occupied Israel filled with dozens of so-called Messiahs because the people yearn for a savior, does it seem all that surprising that a new mystery cult popping up would take 10 years (as WLC admits) to brainstorm what fancy thing to call their savior to make their cult more attractive?
So the question “did they make it up on their own or was the title a reflection of an actual Jesus?” Well since we have no independent contemporary historical evidence to prove the later, it is reasonable to accept the former.
C.S. Lewis (1952, pp. 50) presents the answer using his liar, lunatic, or Lord argument: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C.S. Lewis’s argument leaves out a fourth option: Legend. Even if Jesus existed, the stories about him are unauthenticated and of questionable accuracy, and we know that the gospel authors kept adding more and more extraordinary tales about Jesus over time — the very thing that is expected to how legends are formed.
On the other hand, if there was no Jesus and he was originally worshiped as a supernatural figure which seems very plausible (like Catholics worshiping the archangel Michael, angels don’t have to be historical), then the 3 L’s used by Lewis all go out the window. It wasn’t Jesus lying, it was the mystery cult that claims Jesus was the risen Messiah OR as the mystery cult grew larger and larger, Jesus the savior evolved from a supernatural figure to a physical one – perhaps deliberately or through misinterpretation. Lewis’s “Liar, Lunatic, Lord” argument ignores the very real possibility that Jesus (assuming he existed) said some of the things attributed to him, but may have been misinterpreted. Many believers will refer to themselves as “Children Of God” (or similar phrasings), but they presumably do not mean this literally. In a similar fashion, if Jesus did refer to himself as the “Son Of God,” he may have intended it as a metaphor that was misunderstood by subsequent audiences. (In fact “Son of God” meant a righteous man, the Messiah or a prophet. Incidentally Christians sometimes describe themselves collectively as children of god while believing that they are ordinary human beings. This did not in any way mean the “physical” son of God, a very pagan belief that Jews considered very blasphemous.)
Another possibility: Jesus was insane. At best, Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet. He was insane, thought the world was going to end, and started a mystery cult that glorified him. Keep in mind this all took place in Roman-occupied Israel in a time were a dozen so-called Messiahs popped up (these ones we know existed), so it’s easily plausible that a group of people banded together around a guy claiming the end was nigh. That was in a bad time where a foreign empire occupied their land, now recall in America (a free nation with many many luxuries) in the 19th century a band of people sold all their belongings and flocked behind a man named Pastor William Miller guaranteeing the world was going to end on October 22, 1844 (spoiler alert: the world didn’t end). If that can happen in America, think of how easy it is for a possibly insane apocalyptic prophet to recruit a bunch of people (esp. poor, hungry, and sick people) into a mystery cult that said the world was going to end and all the believers were going to Heaven where there is no money, hunger or sickness. And btw, that Christian group led by William Miller are called 7th Day Adventists, and when the world didn’t end when Miller predicted, you’d think they would’ve dropped the faith and gone home, but nope cuz faith poisons everything that demands you believe even if facts are against you, so the faithful followers stuck around. Apparently the same happened with Jesus’ following when he didn’t come back as promised. Also, to this day the Adventists call the day Miller was wrong about the world coming to an end as “The Great Disappointment.” Really, these guys are disappointed the world still exists because they are so desperate to leave it (Seriously people, get help and a social life). Despite living in a free nation with luxuries from healthcare to technology, they cannot wait to leave this world. Now can you imagine the high number of people there could have been in an ancient nation that was occupied by a foreign empire in a world? Keep in mind this was ancient times, imagine the hardships of that alone.
Perhaps Jesus (assuming he existed) was a liar. Lewis disregards this because he claims Jesus was a great human teacher. However, much of Jesus’ advice was bad advice. Terrible even. And regardless of his lesson content, being a great teacher doesn’t by fiat logically exclude the possibility that he could lie. Jesus also had great motive to lie, there are presumably a great many selfish benefits to being mistakenly considered a human deity. If we accept the gospel stories as they are, they show us the perks of being considered a human deity include being brought gold as a baby, being lathered in expensive oils as a adult, starting a ministry with a large following in a nation that said a Messiah will come and become King of Israel. That alone sounds thrilling. Since Jesus didn’t want to take the warlord route to overthrow the Romans, he tried the other route by appealing to the poor and sick, make a good name for himself, and then persuade the people that the Jewish expectations of the Messiah as a warrior are all wrong and he is the right version of what the Messiah was meant to be. Once his following his big enough for him he goes to Jerusalem, chases out the wicked tax collectors out of the Temple, and tries to stick it to the Sanhedrin. Unfortunately, things go south for him, he’s arrested then killed. Then perhaps after that, his followers who loved him so much begin to glorify him and turn him into a Legend. Bottom line, Jesus went from Liar to Legend. (maybe he was a bit of Lunatic in-between)
Why would Jesus not set the record straight at his trial? We have no independent contemporary evidence of what happened at the trial, so we have no bloody idea what happened if it happened at all! (And given the Sanhedrin rules of how a trial should take place and operate, we have reason to doubt there was a trial. Read above) But if Jesus did face a trial, for all we know Jesus was taken to court for a different charge (like Stephen in Acts) which he denied the charges but was found guilty nonetheless and killed for it. And as Christians to this very day do all the time, they turn non-persecuted stories into persecution stories – no thanks to Jesus who told his followers having a Persecution Complex is a good thing. So the story surrounding Jesus could’ve been molded to make it look like he was killed for his faith, and as atheists like me know, faith makes people lie and/or believe strongly in a lie (just talk to a young-Earth creationist and try telling me I’m wrong). If Jesus was put on trial as the stories say that happened, perhaps Jesus was insane or maybe over the many years running his ministry he started to believe his own lies. Without any historical evidence to verify anything, we cannot know what happened, and that includes the stories as told by the gospels.
And frankly, I see no reason to trust the reliability of the gospels. The earliest gospel is estimated to be written 45 years after Jesus was allegedly killed. If we are to conclude that a anonymous hearsay account written 45 years after an event is “reliable” then we should consistently do the same for every other similar story. Consider that fifty years after the Persian Wars ended in 479 BCE Herodotus the Halicarnassian (often called the “Father of History”) asked numerous eyewitnesses and their children about the things that happened in those years and then wrote a book about it. Though he often shows a critical and skeptical mind, sometimes naming his sources or even questioning their reliability when he has suspicious or conflicting accounts, he nevertheless reports without a hint of doubt that the temple of Delphi magically defended itself with animated armaments, lightning bolts, and collapsing cliffs; the sacred olive tree of Athens, though burned by the Persians, grew an arm’s length in a single day; a miraculous flood-tide wiped out an entire Persian contingent after they desecrated an image of Poseidon; a horse gave birth to a rabbit; and a whole town witnesses a mass resurrection of cooked fish!
If you can’t bring yourself to believe any of that (even if you believe the supernatural is possible) then you understand how a person cannot bring themselves to believe similar impossible stories like a dead corpse coming back to life after 3 days and walking on water. If all we did was apply Bay’s Theorem to events to figure out their probability to the story of Jesus and his Resurrection, we can reasonably conclude that the story just could not have happened.