The historical evidence for Jesus

February 7, 2012

IN HIS response to my article about Jesus and the early Christians ("Jesus the revolutionary?"), Tristan Sloughter makes an argument that Jesus was not a real historical figure ("Did Jesus exist?"). I didn't spend much space discussing this issue, but some of the authors I cited consider it in greater detail.

Sloughter questions the reliability of the ancient sources I cited who mention Jesus, but the historian Archibald Robertson considers the question from the opposite direction. He points out that "no ancient author whose opinion is known to us questions the historicity of Jesus."

This is significant because there were many critics of the early Christians (orthodox Jews, for instance) who would surely have questioned the authenticity of Jesus if there had been any serious question about the matter. The fact that we have no record of such doubts being raised is thus evidence that Jesus actually lived.

In my article, I did note the unbelievable story that Luke tells about a Roman census in order to claim that Jesus, like King David, was born in Bethlehem. If Jesus was an invention, why fabricate this story rather than simply say that his family was from Bethlehem (not Nazareth) and that he grew up there?

The outlandish tale of a census requiring families to return to the father's place of birth makes little sense unless Jesus was a real person who came from Nazareth.

Sloughter and I agree that most of the recorded stories about Jesus are fictions. But historically, it is common for myths to accrue around the life of someone who actually existed. While certainty is impossible in such matters, the simplest explanation of the available evidence is that there was a historical Jesus whose life was the basis for the later myths.
Phil Gasper, Madison, Wis.

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