So far in this series, we have examined Jesus’s impact on the world, introduced the academic field of historical Jesus work, shown that the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is so firmly established in history that virtually all scholars accept it, examined the various criteria and methods which historians use in determining historicity, and looked briefly at the nature of the gospels as sources. To remind, the purpose of this series since its beginning was the look at the identity of Jesus, not necessarily the historicity of all the events in his life or the reliability of the gospels, etc. We have very briefly touched on these things (having to leave out much) in order to set up and provide a foundation for our ultimate turn to questions of identity. In this post, we will look at several events from the life of Jesus and try to determine their historicity. Continue reading
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the four canonical gospels as historical sources for the life of Jesus. But first, a brief note on how historicity works. Scholar Craig Keener writes:
“It should be understood that when historians speak in terms of probability, we speak only of what can be ascertained by historical methods. We lack historical evidence for most of what has happened in history; no one claims that nothing happened except what we can demonstrate by historical means. As scholars often point out, studies concerning the historical Jesus merely sort available historical evidence according to historical methods; they cannot bring us fully face-to-face with the Jesus who lived, taught, and died in the first century CE. They are useful, however, in providing a way that historians as historians can talk about Jesus, and a critical minimum of assumptions that both Christians and non-Christians can use in dialogue about Jesus” .
It is extremely important to understand this last point: that historical method can only give us a critical minimum of information about Jesus, not all that there is to know about him. Not every single point in the gospels can be historically verified; but that does not render them unhistorical in the sense that we ought to think they never occurred. But, as we’ll come to see, there is a somewhat surprising amount of information about Jesus contained in the gospels that can be verified to fair degree.
So, to begin, what exactly are the gospels? Continue reading
In the previous post in this series, we examined the historical evidence pertaining to the existence of the person Jesus of Nazareth, concluding that the hypothesis that Jesus existed is most definitely the best explanation of all the relevant data and coming to understand why the overwhelmingly vast majority of scholars all agree that Jesus existed. But just knowing that some person Jesus of Nazareth existed doesn’t tell us very much about him, who he was, what he did, why he’s important, etc. To discover these things requires further inquiry, which we will now begin to undertake. Continue reading
So far, I have spent four posts (see here, here, here, and here) introducing the person of Jesus, explaining his historical significance, impact, and influence, and laying out questions that I will be examining in a historical inquiry into his life and identity. Although some readers might have grown impatient with it, I believe it was necessary to take so much time introducing the relevant ideas and issues, before actually beginning the historical process, so as to lay a solid foundation and direction. Whether Jesus is merely the most important human who has ever lived, or else God in human flesh, there can be no doubt to the importance of studying his life and the meaning thereof. As I have frequently stated, I will be conducting this inquiry strictly on historical grounds, with as much objectivity and little assumption as possible; although I certainly will not shy away from looking at theological aspects and perhaps deriving theological implications from the historical facts. For, after all, if Jesus really is the Son of God, to do any less would be a grave injustice.
But for now, we are at the very bottom of this steep climb, and have not yet arrived at any conclusions about his life, excepting its historical impact. So how can we go about learning the historical facts of his life? Continue reading
It’s been almost a month since my last post in this series on the person of Jesus. In the Introduction, we looked at the importance of history in general and argued that Jesus is the most significant human who has ever lived. In Part 1, we looked specifically at what impact the mere idea of Jesus has had on history. In Part 2, we looked at Lewis’ and Tolkien’s conception of the Gospel as a “true myth,” and then we laid out a list of questions to act as a framework/guide for our examination of this history altering man. In this post, we will take a look at the academic scholarship that has been done in the area.
In academic circles, this field of inquiry into the life of Jesus is known as “historical Jesus studies,” and it is Continue reading
In my introduction and first post on the person of Jesus, I discussed what effect and influence the mere idea of Jesus has had on human history over the past two thousand years. That is, the idea of a man who is fully human, and yet also, in some mysterious way, is also fully divine, God in the flesh; not just a god, but the God, the God of the Jews, Lord of all creation and all life; this God, who did not simply leave his throne to become human, which by itself is an unprecedented, overwhelming, simply staggering idea, but a God who became a man lowly and weak, without honor or wealth; and a God who allowed himself to be tortured, humiliated, and ultimately killed, in the most shameful and horrendous execution fit only for the most vile of criminals, before eventually conquering even death itself and coming back to life. The idea of this God-man who died for the sake of, and out of utter love for, all people, for the ultimate redemption, restoration, and recreation of the entire world; the idea of the God-man who in life was completely perfect in all his ways, and showed his followers how to truly live with the highest ethic ever preached on earth; who cared for the sick and marginalized; who above all loved with a love never before or since seen amongst mankind; this is the idea which was born from the story of Jesus of Nazareth; this is the idea which shook the planet and has covered all of human history in its glorious and profound shadow.
But the question arises: this idea, this beautiful and awesome idea, is it true? And how can we know? Continue reading
In case anyone hasn’t heard/read about this yet, last week a lengthy but highly interesting article was published in the Atlantic about the controversial so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” a papyri fragment in which Jesus addresses someone as “my wife.” Although dating and other tests have yet to show any evidence of forgery or tampering, most critical biblical scholars remain unconvinced at its legitimacy. The one word I took away from the story which the article recounts, of the journalist’s journey to track down the ownership of the fragment, is bizarre. I mean, honestly, the story could probably be written into a book better, more exciting, and more mysterious than The Da Vinci Code. I don’t want to write a full post about this now, but here are some things I took away:
- Far and away the most important thing I took away from the article was how impressed I am with its author, journalist Ariel Sabar. His commitment to seeking truth, tracking down answers, and just sticking with the story is extremely rare in today’s climate of fast paced news snippets which are more concerned with entertainment value than accuracy or depth. Most journalists today seem to be more like Dr. King, whom Sabar discusses in his article, who was completely uninterested in digging deeper in the story in order to discover the truth. Sabar, you have my utmost respect. What a wild, crazy ride.
- The whole story comes down to a Mr. Walter Fritz, who is probably one of the most strange and shady persons I’ve ever heard of. You could not pay me a million dollars to trust a single word out of this man’s mouth, even over something so trivial as his favorite flavor of ice cream
- Dr. King, the Harvard scholar in possession of the fragment, and who first brought it to the attention of the scholarly world, in response to the article admitted that it was most likely a forgery. I suspect this had much more to do with protecting her own reputation than anything else. You can read this response here.
- Finally, to add a little humor to what is already a perplexingly, comically ridiculous story, Fred Sanders, a theologian who works with an honors program I will be a part of next year, wrote this little satirical commentary on the whole thing. I highly recommend checking it out, as it is sure to give you a laugh.
I thought this topic would be interesting to you all, and it is related to a subject I am currently researching/writing about. As I mentioned in a recent article, I am writing an in depth series of posts about the issue of the historicity and identity of Jesus. The first of these articles should be finished within the next few weeks. In the meantime, I will also be beginning a new series on Aquinas’s First Cause argument for the existence of God. Thanks for reading!