The historical reliablity (or otherwise) of New Testament texts

As I have a background in The roman Empire and the Roman family,classical studies, first century Judaism  and the archaeology of ancient Israel  and its texts ,,which I studied under renowned scholars such as professor G Brookes foremost authority on Scroll studies

http://www.manchester.ac.uk/research/George.brooke/publications

http://www.manchester.ac.uk/research/George.brooke/research

Proffesor Brookes is the translator of many Qumran texts( as were several of my other professors who have all submitted works which have been submitted to peer review and are considered reliable and in many cases the chosen texts at universities)

In addition I have  been active in many archeological excavations  and done a large amount of research having read the  dead sea scrolls in their entirety  the Babylonian Talmud ,the gnostic gospels, several translations of Josephus ,Tacitus ,Suetonius ,Pliny and the church fathers  and accounts of relevangt excavations currently underway .I have also studied widely  recent work by  a range of scholars such as

ttp://www.amazon.com/Bible-Unearthed-Archaeologys-Vision-Ancient/dp/0684869136

and William Dever, both sources not at all in favour  of considering biblical accounts as accurate

I rarely use purely Christian sources of recent scholarship and did infact refuse a place on a dig in Israel due to the requirment to sing a too rigid agreement on non disclosure .

so I  been considering some of the negative comments online about the historicity of the New Testament and while it true certain elements such as the Resurrection cannot be actually proved ,it can be proved beyond doubt that Jesus existed ,taught,was crucified.To deny this is to go against all modern scholarship by all leading academics most of whom have no faith or are of faiths other than christinity.Denying the historical existence of Jesus requires an illogical fact denying  system of  belief  ,it requires the “believer” in the non historical Jesus ,denies the reliability of classical authors ,modern scholarship and archaeology.It assumes that authors who had no interest whatsoever in Christianity falsified records about it .Even the strongly anti christian author Richard Dawkins takes for granted the existence of the man Jesus.He writes an interesting article on his site here

http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/20

the mission statement of the site is as follows

Mission Statement for the US Foundation

The mission of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science is to support scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of the natural world in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and suffering.

I think it therefore unlikely that this could be considered the view of a fundamentalist or of an ill educated everyman.

Its also claimed that lack of official references “proves” did not exist.The fact is there are some records of  Jesus life outside the gospels .However records on jewish individuals were kept in Jerusalem and when it was destroyed in the later revolt they too were destroyed or removed.It seems very likely Josephus and some later historians had access to some records and some cite not lost texts.In additon some saved documents such as the dead sea scrolls only survived by being secretly removed and well hidden so it’s very possible other texts will be found in future ,The argument by silence for any  event christian or non christian  has always be seen as useful only in a very limited way and only when supported by other evidence such as lack of archaeological records.

johns gospel jr

It’s also possible to present a case showing that  his body disappeared from its tomb soon after his death ,neither evidence or logic  can tell us why ,perhaps it was stolen ,perhaps it was moved to another site or dragged away by animals or perhaps for the reason given in the Gospels ,that Jesus rose from the dead.

I thought  as it was the Easter season I would share without  major comment all the historical sources referring to Jesus ,the disciples and the early church.I have started by using  non-Christian sources to show it was commonly known that a Man called Jesus who claimed to be the jewish Messiah was crucified under Pontius Pilate and died.

Pontius_Pilate_Inscription

(The so called “Pilate Stone” see  footnotes for context )

I have started with the most well-known and not included  references whose historicity is open to doubt ,I have only included universally academically acknowledged sources

Josephus

Flavius Josephus was born a few years after Jesus death so he is not contemporary to either Jesus or the older disciples but is a recognised source of  first CE  history.

(Ananus) assembled the Sanhedrin of the judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he deliver them to be stoned” (Antiquities XX 9:1).

Re the above extract.

It has been claimed that both Jesus ( yeshua) and James were common names which is true ,what is not true however is that there is any other Jesus which was called Christ at this time ,There were several false Messiah’s but none fitting the criteria mentioned by Josephus.Its necassary to accept that the above reference refers to Jesus or imply that for some unknown reason Josephus lied about some relatively unimportant incident in a section of his history .Josephus was not a christian or particularly interested in them ,the only reason we have this passage is because of his desire to accurately record anything he has heard of occurring at the time.This passage is in fact considered reliable by many wishing to discredit the Gospels and acts as while the account in essentials is the same  its description of James method of execution is at odds with the account in Acts .

Cornelius Tacitus  Roman Historian, c Ad 1oo-110

Tacitus wrote extensively and as a member of the elite  had access to now lost Roman archives and works

          “Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also” (Annals XV.44).
          Lucian (2nd CE)
          “The man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world. . . . Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws” (On the Death of Peregrine).

.

Suetonius ( unclear reference as Crestus can mean other things and because he confuses chronology)

As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chestus  he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome.”

Non Disputed (26.2) he wrote:

          “Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”

6. Pliny the Younger (c. A.D. 112),

        “All who denied that they were or had been Christians I consider should be discharged, because they called upon the gods at my dictation and did reverence, with incense and wine, your [the emperor’s] image . . . they curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do” (Epistles, X.96).
        [Christians} were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse of a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, and never to deny a truth when they should be called upon to deliver it up.”

Pliny is again not a christian and is a reliable historian with a background in administration and law as well as being part of a  well-educated family that included Pliny the elder .It is from Pliny we get the accounts of Vesuvius ,his accounts are so detailed that geologists  now call similar volcanic eruptions Plinian .

Lucian of Samosata ,Satirist

Makes mocking references to Christians

The Nag hammadi texts/Gnostic gospels

These so-called Gnostic gospels are proof that a person existed who became the focus of new beliefs, they were suppressed by the early church and so are a source which was outside the control of the early leaders of  the church and cannot therefore be seen as having been moulded by them.

The New testament letters

These probably date from around 48 CE at the latest or earlier and often refer to Gospel events or teaching and in addition refer to texts of Jesus teaching and or life .The letters are considered valid tools for researching the first and second century and contains many accurate references to events outside the gospels and their style and language is consistent with being written by an educated jew with gentile elements of education .

The gospels  and other NT texts

These are an obvious source and the common reason given for “discrediting ” them is the claim they were not written in the early years of the church.

However scholarship  and archaeology suggests that there were contemporary records of Jesus life and teachings.

1/ Jesus was a rabbi ,rabbis had someone who wrote down their words and its clear from certain phrases in the gospels and letters  that there was some record however scanty being made and its widely agreed that the gospel writers relied on a missing body of teaching ,the teaching is often mentioned by Paul and other writers.

2/Scholarship and archaeology  are  providing earlier and earlier dates for the gospels,a fragment of what used to be considered the last gospel written that of John has been found and dates from the mid 1st century CE ,showing the Gospel of John was in circulation within 20 years of Jesus death possibly much less. (The gospel fragment is early 2cCE ,however analyses of the text suggests an earlier date for the original text ).In addition scholarship also suggests that many NT works ,some gospels and letters were originally written in Hebrew and  or Aramaic  and translated into Greek, most Jews could not speak  Greek as it had unpleasant links in the Jewish mind  with the attempted suppression of Judaism and the enforced Hellenization of the land prior to the revolt of the Maccabees so such  translations would be necessary only once diaspora Jews and gentiles became converts so the Greek NT texts are not necessarily the most ancient.

There are clear indications within the Gospels themselves that they pre date the destruction of the Temple in  CE 70 ,theres are references to temple worship ,temple organisation and the Sanhedrin ,none of these existed after CE 70 .It would be impossible for later writers to recreate this world and its rituals society and vocabulary.

This discredits the idea that the gospels were only written down once the disciples  were dying out and many decades later when memory of the original events had died away .The latest date that can be shown now for a gospel account is around CE50 ,within 15 years of the events described.There are many examples of modern events that are recorded much later .15 years is within easy memory and also its clear from the NT letters that accounts other than the Gospels were in circulation within a few years if not within months of Jesus death.

The tiny John  fragment is in the UK in Manchester’s John Rylands library

http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/searchresources/guidetospecialcollections/stjohnfragment/

NT Letters

The majority of the Epistles are seen as contemporary and contain a remarkable amount of material found in the gospels themselves therefore proving that certain teachings of Jesus were in circulation in the years immediately after Jesus death .Paul in particular had Rabbinic training and his letters frequently make use of a method where a text is quoted and enlarged on,much as Jesus did in the Sermon on the mount were he said ,”you have heard it said ,,but I say …”

The Gospels are inaccurate because of mistakes in translation.

The Gospels have never been proven to have consistent mistakes in ancient translations,its clear some  perceived “mistakes”come from misunderstandings of later biblical translators  .EG when its said Jesus met in the house of a leper ( leper being used in the present not past tense ) Translation research shows that the Greeks mistranslated a word which meant Jar maker as leper because they assumed a context and were unfamiliar with the Jewish original .The Jar maker translation is also borne out by the account a few words later that a woman brought an expensive jar of perfumed ointment to pour on Jesus feet.The 1st century translators would have know that leper made no sense yet translated it verbatim because that was what they felt the text said,if they did this is a strange nonsensical incident they would hardly by likely to make mistakes on other points .

The Hebrew bible texts when compared with earlier texts discovered in the caves nr Qumran show no significant  mistakes in translation between the texts and later codex.

Other arguments

Jesus was made up ,,then he was not a very good creation ,he does not fit the profil of an expected Messiah .

Jesus was real but the disciples invented his death ,,

Jesus disciples made up the crucifixion story,Jesus actually just went off and lived his life elsewhere .Easily  disproved Its makes no sense for people wanting to found a religion to claim their leader was executed as a criminal.Its also impossible in the Roman world for an individual to escape notice to such an extent ,the romans kept records for taxation purposes and a series of local administrators worked with them ,likewise all adult males were registered for their temple tax and records were kept.

If the Gospel writers wanted Jesus to seem dead they would have chosen a more socially acceptable method of death.

s. Cicero  described crucifixion as “a most cruel and disgusting punishment”,the very mention of the cross should be far removed not only from a Roman citizen’s body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears

Re Jesus “got better and walked away”

The argument that Jesus survived crucifixion and went away to live somewhere quietly or left the tomb and died elsewhere is completely untenable.Crucifiction  damaged major bones and nerves  ,no crucified person would be able to walk so well so soon after suffering and its unlikely they would be able to walk properly for the rest of their lives  ,crucifixion nails have been found lodged in skeletons  when the skeleton itself has become disarticulated and was found in a ossary

ankle bone and nail

(See footnotes for context)

For a large number of other reasons Crucifixion was not accidentally survivable ,it was specifically designed to inflict the maximum amount of pain and damage  for the minimum expense and effort on the romans behalf while prolonging suffering as long as possible to provide a visible lesson to other potential miscredients.Theres a brief summary in easy to understand non medical terminology here

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2004/apr/08/thisweekssciencequestions

Josephus tells us

They were first whipped and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were crucified before the wall of the city… the soldiers, out of wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught to the crosses in different postures, by way of jest’

Seneca

see crosses there, not just of one kind but made in many different ways: some have their victims with their head down to the ground, some impale their private parts, others stretch out their arms’.

There is a much more extensive treatment of the subject to be found here by assorted doctures ,this article also contains several references and other works which can be researched

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420788/

ideally the Romans would want victims to survive for well over a day,when it was necessary for whatever reason to have a victim die more quickly the victims legs were broken this meant the person would suffocate .Where victims died before they were expected to they were stabed  with spears as in Jesus case to make sure they were in fact dead.

The only time we hear of crucified people being taken down  alive is in Josephus and was after short time and they were cared for quickly and well but  even then 2 out of the three died

“I saw many captives crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered.

This was a case where the crucified people were reprieved ,Those who were supposed to die ,would die.

Many if not all crucifixion victims were like Jesus flogged,this punishment was so severe it often caused death in it self ,Roman flogging was not do with a whip or branches but with a flagellum a shorter whip which had small pieces of either bone or lead attached to the end of each piece of the whip.

flagellum ends

These would tear flesh and leave open gaping wounds which would become easily infected as the crucified victim was naked for the main part of their punishment and remained so throughout,frequently during crucifixion  or at the time of death victims became incontinent and thus added to the potential infection from infected crosses ,rusty nails and wounds soiled with urine and excrement.

Lastly the soldiers supervising executions  had a strong interest in making sure victims were dead.

Any Roman solider who might make the mistake of taking down a victim of crucifixion before they were  dead could himself be crucified  and would most certainly be brutally punished.

Re “faked” works arguments

I know it is common but illogical for those determined to “prove” there are no historical extra biblical sources for Jesus to state passages have been added later or try to discredit an entire work ,eg Claim Tacitus name was tacked onto a later fake.However its possible to clearly unravel the ages of texts from analisys.No medieval writer would be able to manufacture a fake that would fool modern scholars.I can outline the reasons but the post would become far too long and suggest a general search for those wanting to pursue the issue.

Easy access account of the Pilate stone,other more academic articles exist but often on academic only sites such as Athens web etc

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/historical-notes-pontius-pilate-a-name-set-in-stone-1084786.html

Footnote

It’s also possible to present a case showing that  his body disappeared from its tomb soon after his death ,neither evidence or logic  can tell us why ,perhaps it was stolen ,perhaps it was moved to another site or dragged away by animals or perhaps for the reason given in the Gospels ,that Jesus rose from the dead.

The early premise of the christians was that Jesus rose from the dead, and was primarily preached in Jerusalem but also  in Galilee and elsewhere though we hear little of this iniatly.To convert new believers in Jerusalem where Jesus was buried would have been impossible unless there was no body to produce to discredit the claims  .

Firstly The body must have been buried ,some victims were (rarely) allowed burial ,it could not have been flung on the rubbish pile  or left to rot on the cross ,it would have still been visible and its decay watched

Having been buried the body  could not still be in the tomb or the authorities or Sanhedrin or people mocking the christians would have produced it .It’s also impossible to belive so many people would die for a known lie or easily disproved claim.The people who followed the disciples must have believed there was no body.Its possible Jesus family or friends  removed it ,but unlikely as they would have no reason to do so ,it was common to collect the bones of the dead after a period of time had elapsed and place them in a ossarie so family could have had possession of Jesus remains at some point in the future without trying to transport a corpse in hot weather, having been whipped and crucified  the body would have  putrified quite quickly and been a health risk

Animals could have dragged it away .Tombs had stones so that access could be gained by relative to add new corpses or collect bones into ossaries etc,It’s unlikely that the stones were too light or that animals large enough to drag a male corpse would come so far into the  city area could have got around a stone.

The authorities could have taken it,,but why

The disciples could have taken it ,,how and why

The disciples  went into hiding after Jesus arrest even the pro christian gospels admit the men were hiding behind closed doors ,the last thing they wanted was to be linked to Jesus .It would be just possible for the family of Lazarus to collect Jesus body for reburial as they were wealthy ,but they also lived a long way from Jerusalem and couldn’t have got there and back in time.

Footnote

I have left out from this record the accounts of the church fathers” as though these go back the disciples of John and make numerous references to Gospels and letters in circulation and to other events I realise some readers will dispute their reliability because they were written by Christians .This is again a flawed argument which assumes every christian in direct contradiction to the accounts in non christian writers and in contradiction to accepted christian teaching lies .It is illogical to assume that dozens of individuals who had little contact with each other and across decades and centuries made a pact to lie when most could in fact have saved their lives by admitting it was a lie or by lying on smaller matters.

Footnote

Jesus didn’t exist because his  life  death and  resurrection echo many God murdered and reborn myths,,the world does indeed have many of these myths and yet the gospels do not take the form of Myth narratives and this particular myth is not prevelent in Judaism in any form  either in the second temple era or earlier so it is imposing an alien concept onto the region and era .God reborn myths require a belife in polytheism, the Jews were monotheists and so could not have such a concept fit easily into any belife system.The early “Christians” were also all Jews, they would require a Jewish context for any potential Messiah ” Jesus  presented as the Christ  is not a seperate God but God himself.

Footnote

I have not included the James ossary in this post as I belive this to be a fake and I think this is current academic thought ,(though I may be wrong as I have not kept up with debate on the subject.)

The dead sea scrolls online text

http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/isaiah

online text of Josephus(old transatlion),

http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/

Online text of Pliny

http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/pliny.ep1.html

A translation can be found in persus

Online text of Tacitus

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=tacitus

Online text of  NT and also the Hebrew bible,this site offers the chance to compare different translations side by side

http://www.biblegateway.com/

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About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
This entry was posted in Hathaways of Haworth, New Testment studies, second temple judaisim, Uncategorized, work and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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